Comfort or Growth

Comfort or Growth?

While yoga is often marketed as a “peaceful,” “relaxing,” activity it is truly a dynamic and radical practice of self-refinement and transformation. While yoga’s practices aim at the serenity of the mind, yoga recognizes that this serenity is the result of certain internal conditions, not external factors. The practice of yoga traditionally involves eight limbs, and is known as “Ashtanga Yoga.” Ashtanga Yoga contains practices that range from ethical, moral, and personal observances to the cultivation of states of consciousness that transcend physical reality (and even some of its “laws”) and blur the boundaries between oneself and the cosmos one inhabits.
Seen from this view, Ashtanga Yoga is less about seeking an experience of pleasure and comfort in ones body or surroundings, but rather about confronting and transforming the patterns of thought, action, and intention that cause one’s own inner disturbance. In other words, Ashtanga Yoga is about clearing away all blockages or impediments to Union with the Divine. A variety of principles and processes have evolved over the millennia to train the earnest seeker to attain such realization.
This Fall, Living Tradition Yoga cannot promise you a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Our classes will generally (with perhaps the exception of some parts our restorative yoga lesson weeks) not be an oasis of comfort and pleasure. We cannot suggest that coming to class will be a “break” where you enjoy some “me” time. Instead, what we will offer you is a chance to dismantle the compulsion to relentlessly seek pleasure and comfort (a pursuit that appears to have put the planet and its inhabitants under profound distress; in fact, the BBC reports that if everyone on the earth lived at the same level of comfort and consumption as the average American, we would need four earths). In fact, we will instead help you to dismantle the “me” with its endless needs. We will also offer you the opportunity to “Find Comfort in Discomfort,” to quote B.K.S. Iyengar. In our view, true freedom does not involve an absence of adversity, but the capacity to encounter adversity in a balanced and even-minded way. This is what we are out to practice at Living Tradition Yoga.
Of course, the development of equanimity is not an overnight matter. Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutras, and the first to codify the concept of Ashtanga (Eight-Limbed) Yoga, said the practice of yoga must be pursued with relentless determination, faith, great vitality and enthusiasm. He also suggested this pursuit must take place over a long period of time, without faltering, and in the face of any and all obstacles. In light of this (humbling) requirement, a 14-week session seems a bit weak, but, as Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita declares, “no effort on the path of yoga is wasted.”
So what’s the point? It is simple. We assert that our time desperately needs people committed to actualizing the highest potential within themselves. Anyone who has ever achieved anything of substance in their lives (i.e. anyone who has actualized their potential)   will tell you that it took a high level of determination and commitment, over the long term to attain to a goal. With yoga, the goal is nothing less than a human being free of all affliction, negativity, and distress. Such a human being innately imparts well-being and causes all life they touch to thrive. This Fall, of the year 2015, let us make fullest use of this gift of Ashtanga Yoga, and B.K.S. Iyengar’s eloquent and powerful teachings of it, to take strong and determined steps toward creating such human beings and igniting the process of making ourselves, community, the healthiest and most joyful ever. This is our mission and we invite you to share it with us.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga:

  1. Yama: Ethical disciplines (Includes: Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-hoarding)
  2. Niyama: Individual disciplines or fixed observances (Includes: cleanliness or purity, contentment, austerity, self- and scriptural study, and surrender to God)
  3. Asana: Postures
  4. Pranayama: Regulated Breathing Practices
  5. Pratyahara: The withdrawal of the senses from the objects of their attraction
  6. Dharana: Concentration
  7. Dhyana: Meditation
  8. Samadhi: Absorption of the Consciousness in the Self
Chris Briney and Living Tradition Yoga

From Resolution to Realization . . .

     According to Forbes magazine, only 8% of people actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions(1). Some say it is due to weak will-power, others poor planning, still others say it is unrealistic goal setting or over-enthusiasm. While we are not interested in adding our own opinion to the debate, we have experienced that, as B.K.S. Iyengar says, “Life itself seeks fulfillment as a plant seeks sunlight.” We feel that behind every resolution is that spirit of life seeking greater fulfillment. It is here that yoga sadhana (steady, devoted practice, or dare we say “resolute” practice?) plays a vital role.
     It is certain that the proper practice of Iyengar Yoga will strengthen the life force within the individual. This strengthening is bound to result in a stronger seeking of the “fulfillment” that Guruji mentions in the above quote. As the life force within the practitioner grows stronger, the seeking after fulfillment will intensify. As a result one becomes driven toward fulfillment, rather than merely wishing for it. At this point one could be said to have resolution. Prior to the development of this strong, insatiable drive toward fulfillment–or more accurately, prior to the development of a dynamic and vital life-force to power this drive–most resolutions are little more than wishful thinking. Thus it could be said that a true resolution is a strong desire coupled with a vital drive toward its fulfillment.
     The desire, it seems (and the ancient texts on yoga such as The Bhagavad-Gita or The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali certainly corroborate this) stems naturally and effortlessly from being human. The drive however does not seem to create itself. The practice of Yoga (particularly of Hatha Yoga) plays a key role in the development of this drive. One of the primary aims (and benefits) of Hatha Yoga is the intensification of the flow of prana within the individual embodiment. Said another way: why we do all the asanas and pranayama as Iyengar Yoga practitioners is to remove the blockages and open the “channels” within the embodiment so as to allow the life force (known as prana) to circulate with maximum freedom and power.
     Couple this maximum flow of prana with the inherent drive to “seek fulfillment” and you have the perfect recipe for realization. That is why practice is so essential; that is why we encourage our students, again and again, to “put your well-being (which, in our view means sadhana) first;” that is the resolution we commit to realizing, one day at a time.
1: To read the full Forbes article, click here: The 8%

Honor Through Emulation

In his illustrious life, B.K.S. Iyengar was, first and foremost, a practitioner of yoga. Even as his death was approaching this past August, he continued his own practice and (much to the chagrin of his loved ones who longed to care for him) insisted those around him continue theirs. In honor of his example and the legacy he has left for seekers in yoga, Living Tradition Yoga invites you to set aside some time this coming Sunday (December 14) for sadhana, which is more than mechanical practice, but a searching and sincere quest for wisdom and insight through practice. We are sure Guruji’s wishes would be that not only do more vital people come forth in the world, but also more thoughtful, considerate, caring and vital people come forth.

Perhaps it’s best to use his own words, from his book Light on Life, “I am a man who started from nowhere. After much time and effort, I began to reach somewhere. I literally emerged from darkness to light, from mortal sickness to health, from crude ignorance to immersion in the ocean of knowledge by one means alone, namely by zealous persistence in the art and science of yoga practice (sadhana). What held good for me will also hold good for you too.”

“The Threshold of Bliss”

As many of you already know, I will be travelling to India in about a week to spend the month of July studying yoga at the yoga institute headed by B.K.S. Iyengar and his children, Geeta and Prashant. Forgive me for being redundant but this is an absolute dream come true for me. It has also been described as “an essential rite of passage for an Iyengar Yoga teacher.” When I look back at the previous post, I am deeply moved by what has transpired, by the miracles that have taken place to turn this “dream” into a reality. What an amazing transformation has taken place. In six months, the seemingly impossible has become possible; what I “had no idea” how to make happen has become a happening all it’s own. Soon I will be launching a website that will house the numerous (now daily) reflections and musings (and, though I hate to admit it, palpitations) that I have been writing throughout this experience. For now, I want to turn my attention to a more immediate matter.

This Friday, I will be launching a program inspired by the sense of what a profound gift it is to have this privilege to travel to India and study yoga at R.I.M.Y.I. (see previous post for translation of the acronym). I am clear that I am about to be altered profoundly by this experience. Transformation of some kind is guaranteed. Having to turn outward, outside myself and my own best efforts and thinking to realize this opportunity has compelled me to consider what I might offer in return for the gift of its realization. In other words, I knew it would take something beyond what I could see as possible for this trip to happen. Specifically, I needed more money than I could see generating in the six months it has been since my application for study at the institute was accepted. Of course, my mind went over the how and the only way I could see how was to ask for financial contributions. I am so moved by the contributions that have come in, the encouragement that I have received, the additional students that have taken the time to attend my classes. A wise man once said, “There’s no such thing as something for nothing.” Going to India is SOMEthing, in my life.

So I have been asking myself, What can I give? And, after much thought and discussion and prayer, here’s what I’ve come up with: I can give the best thing I have. The best thing I have is this practice of yoga. The best thing I have (after my wife and son, but I am not willing to give them) is this opportunity–is my practice of Iyengar Yoga and the promise of transformation that it is to be confirmed for study at R.I.M.Y.I. for a solid month. Said another way, the best thing I have to give is myself as a conduit for the life-changing power of this experience to flow into the lives of others. At some point in this process, it became crystal clear: It is my job to connect as many people as possible to the Grace of the Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar and his teaching of yoga. That, as far as I can tell, is the something I can give. And I’m absolutely sure it is the something I very much want to give.

So, although I feel I have asked so much in some ways, I have one more request to make: please do me the service of allowing me to be this conduit, and to give this experience to you. I am willing to give everything I’ve got, and everything I “get” that I can translate into something in the “outer” world. My question, then, is “would you have it?”

If so, here’s the best way I can see to transmit this transformation to you–the best way I can see for you to participate in this pilgrimage in a way that changes your life for the better: It is a program called Light on Yoga: Detroit. The program is designed to connect you and your practice of yoga to the experience of travelling to India to study with B.K.S. Iyengar and his children, Geeta and Prashant, thus giving you a “real-time”, if not firsthand experience of the transformation that occurs there. The program will continue through the entire Summer Season, starting this Friday (20 June, the weekend of the Summer solstice) and concluding 21 September (right near the fall equinox, although it truly doesn’t conclude for many years, or even lifetimes). The program will be “book-ended” by a series of workshops. In between there will be regular writings and journal entries from me as a regular snapshot of the inner (and at times) outer terrain of the journey. There will also be conference calls which allow for a more immediate and more intimate connection to the process as it unfolds. (I am particularly excited about the call that I will host, from India, shortly after the holiday known as “Guru Purnima,” the full moon of the Guru and the day when the “guru principle” or “energies” are at their peak.) Finally, I am creating a website (nearly finished) to contain all the daily writings, as well as to house in-depth practice support material, and various inspiring, online material to inspire your own strong forays into the field of yoga.

Clear as mud, hey? Let me put it into bullet points (if for no other reason than that I love using them) So, here’s Light on Yoga: Detroit, in a nutshell:

  • Donation-based workshops this weekend, 20 and 21 June (more on that below)
  • Access to a website containing my daily writings and reflections from the pilgrimage, as well as additional material to support and inspire your practice
  • Access to conference calls (one from India) to connect you more intimately to the process and ensure you are participating in the best possible way
  • Chance to participate in a summer-long yoga program that connects you to India and RIMYI from wherever you are
  • First option to register in the “concluding” workshop series 19 – 21 September

If you are wondering how to participate, it is simple: There is a suggested donation of $25 to participate in all of the online activities. (If you have already made a donation, you will automatically be invited to the conference calls and be given access to the website.) You could also participate in one, or all, of the workshops this weekend and automatically be given access to the calls and website as well. The suggested donation for the workshops is $50. But here’s what I wanted to say about this:

I feel I have received such generosity, such Grace, in realizing this dream of traveling to India, that I deeply desire to give back. Therefore I have decided that, though donations will still be happily received, I am not going to close the program to anyone who sincerely desires to participate in it solely because of a financial limitation. Just as I have received support in overcoming my own financial limitations and thus being able to travel to RIMYI, I would like to extend that support to others who wish to experience and practice yoga in this way.So, for the workshops this weekend, as well as the online program, I am opening both to all students with a sincere desire to practice yoga with an unprecedented level of devotion and depth, and a sincere commitment to participating in the program fully. There is space for you and your payment takes the form of “paying” attention and investing the time to practice, study, and learn. So, however you’d like to participate, whatever the level of your financial ability to contribute, you can begin here by following this link: Light on Yoga: Detroit Summer Program Registration. If you’d like more information about the program (be sure to note that this weekend’s workshops will be held at the Royal Oak Senior Community Center, not at our studio), click here: Light on Yoga: Detroit Program Description

I hope you will seize this opportunity to journey deeply into this rich experience with me this summer. I look forward to sharing this journey with you. I’ll conclude with a very apt quote from B.K.S. Iyengar: “You, my readers, must understand that you are already starting from somewhere. You have the beginning already shown to you, and no one knows in what wholeness and felicity you may end. If you take up any noble line and stick to it, you can reach the ultimate. Be inspired but not proud. Do not aim low; you will miss the mark. Aim high; you will be on the threshold of bliss.” (Light on Life, pg. X; Rodale Press)

RIMYI Dreams

I’ll admit it, travelling to India may be everyone’s idea of a good time. For some (certain unnamed family members and those loving folks who advised my wife and I to make other plans for our honeymoon several years ago), travelling to India isn’t even a good idea. For me, however, the idea of standing in the presence of Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, and studying yoga inside the institute that he has built has become, well, a bit of an obsession. The more I study Iyengar Yoga, the more I fall in love with Iyengar Yoga. It’s that simple. And so, the desire to be near the man, and the family, who has created this inspiring yoga methodology has grown in me, to a burning point.

I feel some readers might be a bit interested in the History of this longing. For others, I will hope you will see in this story an age-old truth that yogis, mystics, and spiritual thinkers have espoused throughout the ages: namely the idea that your deep, driving desires become your destiny. The ancient yoga text, the Brihadaranyaka Upanishads states this idea almost verbatim; authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoureau, and Wolfgang von Goethe espoused it: the father of the “Self-Help” movement, Napoleaon Hill, wrote about it in the 1920s, Tony Robbins and other motivational speakers today say the same thing: Dreams of a certain calibre are capable of seemingly causing their own fulfillment.

I should back up here and say that there once was a time when I wouldn’t set foot in an Iyengar class. At one time, I would drive nearly 2 hours from Bellingham to Seattle, WA to take a yoga class, but never made the 10-minute bike ride to the local Iyengar Yoga studio to study with a rare and precious Senior-level teacher. (Ironically enough, I flew from Detroit to Seattle, then made that same, 2-hour car ride to that studio in Bellingham–the one that used to be 10 minutes away by bicycle–to take my Introductory-Level certification test.) So this desire to study at the feet of B.K.S. Iyengar was not always with me; quite the contrary, in fact.

By 2005, however, this was hardly the case. By then I made the decision to resign my affiliation with another yoga method to pursue Iyengar Yoga teaching and certification solely. It was then, that the desire to travel to India began to take root in me. It was also then that I realized that to be eligible to study at the Iyengar institute (officially named the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute or “RIMYI” for short) I needed a minimum of eight years’ practice of Iyengar Yoga plus the endorsement of a senior-level teacher. I began my Iyengar studies in 2002. This meant I would be eligible to attend classes at RIMYI in 2010.

So much about my Iyengar Yoga experience has required (if not forced) and, ultimately blessed me with patience. So there I was looking at five more years of study before I’d have the chance to get to India. But in 2008 a door opened slightly. A special set of events were arranged at RIMYI in honor of Guruji’s 90th Birthday. Though the events would not include any participation in yoga classes at the institute, there were no requirements or restrictions set for attendance. Tracy and I began to make plans to attend, but those plans were soon cut short by a combination of hesitation, a short time span to prepare and implement the trip, a seeming lack of funds for the trip and, quite significantly, the terrorist attacks in Mumbai (where our tentative flight would have been landing) in 2008.  So again, the plans were postponed.

In 2009, after a conversation with my teacher, Laurie Blakeney, I realized that there was generally a two-year waiting list to get into classes at the institute. So I decided to fill out my application for study in the fall of 2009 and hope I’d get lucky and get in sometime in late 2010.

I filled out my application and submitted it to Laurie for her endorsement. After some discussion, she “signed off” on me and so the ball started rolling. It didn’t roll very far, however. Not long after Laurie endorsed my application, my wife Tracy and I discovered that she was pregnant. Needless to say, the India plans were postponed.

And so, the fire smoldered for a spell but began to rise up at the beginning of 2013. In fact, one of the goals I set at the end of 2012 was to study in India by 2014. In late October, I again filled out my application for study at RIMYI. In early November, Laurie again “signed off” and, a couple of weeks later, I sent my application plus (non-refundable) deposit to the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, first-class, via the U.S. Postal Service.

The evening of 16 December I dreamt. I dreamt that I was practicing yoga. At some point in the midst of this practice, I realized I was being taught by B.K.S. Iyengar’s granddaughter, Abhijata. Soon after, I realized, “oh my God, I’m in India . . . I’m at the Institute.” Then, in the dream, Guruji, B.K.S. Iyengar, appeared. He came into the room where Tracy and I were sitting after class. I cannot remember the order of events of the dream, but certain things stand out as remarkable to me. First, there was a very friendly, warm, familiar quality to our interaction. Secondly, I remember kneeling and touching his feet. This is a custom in India by which students show affection and reverence for their guru and his/ her teaching. For me, it represents an attempt to humble myself and surrender to a higher knowledge—a higher power, if you will—than my own. The third thing I remember is being so moved by the love and affection moving between us, by the sense of ease and belonging in his presence that I began weeping tears of joy, relief, gratitude . . . hmmm  . . .

At another point, Guruji looked me in the eye and said, “Why don’t you stay here and practice.” I told him that we were only registered for the one-day and were expected to leave  at day’s end. He laughed mischievously and said, “well, you do have your monies for classes, don’t you?” I told him we hadn’t brought them because we were told we could only stay for one day, but I assured him that I would make whatever arrangements I needed to make in order to be able to stay on and study, that nothing would stand in the way.

I awoke the morning of December 17, a bit dazed from sleep deprivation (that baby Tracy was pregnant with in 2009 had been up half the night with the croup). Normally I wake and practice for as long as possible before “plugging in” for the day. But I decided to check my email. At the top of the list of new emails was an email from one Mr. Pandurang Rao, secretary at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute. It contained the following subject: “Hi . . .,” and the following message, “Dear Christopher, received your draft for $___ and thank you for the same. As per your request you are welcome in June / July 2014. Please note that the advance is part of the fees and same is not transferable or refundable. Regards,”

So, there you have it: God willing (because it really does look like it’s going to take a power greater than me), I will be attending the Ramamani Iyengar Yoga Institute in Pune, India (home of Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, his daughter Geeta, his son Prashant,  his granddaughter Abhijata, and several other family members) to study yoga from June – July of 2014. I must admit that it seems a bit daunting, arranging my life to spend two months in India with my family. I also must admit that, from a certain perspective it seems foolish, somewhat impractical and definitely irresponsible. From yet another perspective, it seems impossible.  After all, I’m not a monk. I have a house to maintain, a business to run (!), a family to support, mouths to feed. I don’t have two months to devote to studying the yoga methodology developed by a man I’ve never met (and, given that he’s 95 years-old, may not meet). I have only 6 months to arrange this all—the expense, the time off, care of house and business. And India isn’t exactly everyone’s idea of a good time, after all, hmmm . . .  What am I thinking?

God willing, I’m not thinking . . . I’m dreaming. And I hereby put my faith in the notion that makes all the difference!