Really enjoyed reading Stretch – The Unlikely making of a Yoga Dude by Neal Pollack! He’s so honest and blunt about his extensive journeys through yoga practices, workshops, conventions, that – as a guy and newbie to yoga – it was hard to put the book down. Over and over again in the book, he skewers the phony “open your heart to the possibilities of the universe” and “feel good” culture of western commercial yoga inc., and finally comes to resonate and find inner-peace in the deeper guidance of Richard Freeman and in-depth analysis of the ancient yoga texts. Drug-use, fart and sexist humor aside, I learned A LOT about yoga!
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Are they practicing breath control? No. Are they practicing postures? No. Are they desperately seeking meaning and a connection with divinity? Yes. Are they pulled in one direction by the wants of the body, and in another direction by the wants of the spirit? Yes. Do they cope day to day with grim realities of suffering and loss in a place where, “gravity is stronger and you can feel it pulling you closer into the earth everyday”. Yes.
These are the very themes of yoga. Beautifully captured in picture and sound in the 2003 film “Searching for the Wrong-Eyed Jesus“.
The picture above is a seal unearthed in the 5,000-year-old Mohenjo-daro excavation, showing a human-like form sitting in a yogic pose. In Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Mircea Eliade covers a similar archeological find from the site (p.355):
But the most important fact for our investigation is the discovery at Mohenjo-daro, of an iconographic type that may be considered the earliest plastic representation of a yogin. Here, the Great God himself, in whom the prototype of Siva has been identified, is represented in the specifically yogic posture. Sir John Marshall describes the figure as follows: “The God, who is three-faced, is seated on a low Indian throne in a typical attitude of Yoga, with legs bent double beneath him, heel to heel, and toes turned downwards. … Over his breast is a triangular pectoral or perhaps a series of necklaces or torques. … The phallus [is] seemingly exposed, but it is possible that what appears to be the phallus is in reality the end of the waistband. Crowning his head is a pair of horns meeting in a tall head-dress. To either side of the god are four animals, an elephant and a tiger on his proper right, a rhinoceros and a buffalo on his left. Beneath the throne are two deer standing with heads regardant and horns turned toward the center.” One of the most recent writers to express an opinion on the question, Stuart Piggott, writes: “There can be little doubt that we have here the prototype of the great god Shiva as the Lord of Beasts and the Prince of Yogis; he may have been conceived as four-faced, and with his four animals looks to quarters of the earth.
The concept of “immortality” lies deep in the core of Indian spirituality and the religious traditions of many other cultures. Its probably not a coincidence that one of the first and, still, most influential books on the history of yoga is entitled, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom by Mircea Eliade (you can read the book online here)
Most of the time, this refers to some part of a person – the soul, spirit or otherwise – that lives on forever after the physical body decays. That we are able to recognize and ponder our mortality and the suffering of the physical body, is an integral part of why, in the first place, we seek to practice religion (covered here).
I mean, no one ever took the concept of immortality LITERALLY, did they? Perhaps not. Until now. Check out the trailer for a new movie that opens tonight in New York City on the science of Aging: To Age or Not To Age – a film by Robert Kane Pappas. At the center of this film is likely the so-called longevity gene known as SIRT1 (covered earlier here).
Posted in artist, Mindfulness, tagged Consciousness, dualism, Meditation, Mind, Patañjali, Paul Cézanne, Practice, Religion and Spirituality, Yoga, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali on July 3, 2010 | Leave a Comment »
The painter Paul Cezanne is oft remembered as an extremely focused artist who deeply scrutinized and meditated upon his subjects. “The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”, he once said, as well as, “With an apple I will astonish Paris.” His work tried not to capture an object as seen by the naked eye, but rather to capture the momentary experience of an object that is perceived by a thinking, feeling individual. “For an Impressionist to paint from nature is not to paint the subject, but to realize sensations”, seems to capture his effort to use painting to capture his deep inward and outward reflections of everyday life.
In some ways, this reminds me of yoga, when, with much practice, one becomes more adept at paying attention to specific details in time and space and reflecting deeply upon one’s inner reactions to the outer world. I thought that one of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, “Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.” (I.2) sounded a lot like the master painter patiently working alongside a river who said, “Here, on the river’s verge, I could be busy for months without changing my place, simply leaning a little more to right or left.”
With this in mind, I dug into a few quotes from Paul Cezanne and ran them past some of Patanjali‘s yoga aphorisms. I think both Patanjali and Cezanne were working very hard at being present and mindful in the moment and trying to unify their outward and inward experiences – one through yoga and one through painting! Here are a few selected quote pairs with Cezanne on top and Pataljali below:
“When I judge art, I take my painting and put it next to a God made object like a tree or flower. If it clashes, it is not art.”
“When consciousness dissolves in nature, it loses all marks and becomes pure.” (I.45)
“A puny body weakens the soul.”
“Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit” (II.46)
“Right now a moment of time is passing by! We must become that moment.”
“Study of the silent moments between rising and restraining subliminal impressions is the transformation of consciousness towards restraint.” (III.9)
“The artist makes things concrete and gives them individuality.”
“Constructed or created mind springs from the sense of individuality” (IV.4)
“There are two things in the painter, the eye and the mind; each of them should aid the other.”
“Consciousness distinguishes its own awareness and intelligence when it reflects and identifies its source – the changeless seer – and assumes his form.” (IV.22)
“Optics, developing in us through study, teach us to see.”
“An object remains known or unknown according to the conditioning or expectation of the consciousness.” (IV.17)
“If isolation tempers the strong, it is the stumbling-block of the uncertain.”
“Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness” (I.12)
“I could paint for a hundred years, a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing.”
“When the object of meditation engulfs the meditator, appearing as the subject, self-awareness is lost. This is samadhi.” (III.3)
“Don’t be an art critic, but paint, there lies salvation”
“Practice is the steadfast effort to still these fluctuations.” (I.13)