What is Yoga?

As part of the RYT 200, we were all asked to write an essay as titled, ‘What is Yoga?’.
This is my take on it

What is Yoga?

I think it far easier to answer questions such as’ what is the sound of one hand clapping’ or ‘if a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody to hear it, does it make a noise?’

(the answer to the latter at the end)

Forty years ago, yoga, to me, created visions of scandinavian men and women, all in leotards and all with thick moustaches, as I’m sure they were the images impressed on me when I picked up a magazine about Yoga as a child in a dentists waiting room. Initially yoga for me was a memory of painful fillings.

Now, four decades later, Yoga is the fastest growing activity in the world and the leotards have changed to designer spandex and the dentist’s assistant is an Ashtangi.

Of course most people confuse yoga with asana – the bendy, stretchy stuff.

For some, yoga is endless selfies posted on social media showing off circus act feats, from head stands to handstands wearing designer clothes adorned with Om and Lululemon symbols mostly done in exotic locations or in front of a candle lit mandala or an iconic Hindu or Buddhist deity.

However, are these amazing contortionist images, pictures of someone doing yoga?

Of course not.

They are simply pictures of people showing off circus act feats, from head stands to handstands wearing designer clothes adorned with Om and Lululemon symbols mostly done in exotic locations or in front of a candle lit mandala or an iconic Hindu or Buddhist deity.

You cannot, by definition take a photograph of yoga anymore than you can take a picture of a dream. And whether you have long or short hair or wear a Saddhu beard or are clean shaven or dress in woolly Ecuadorian coats (fleece lined or not), play the pan pipes, eat only gluten free, sport Ganesh tattoos or are able to do a turn on a didgeridoo whilst juggling flames does not make you more spiritual or yogic ‘than thou’.

* As a side note I am considering setting up a male yoga shorts empire which will be branded as BudgieSmugglers (© Kev Ollier 2016) *

Some of the earliest photos of a westerner doing Asana were of the eventually- presumed- murdered, Theos Bernard in the 1930’s. Bernard’s  intention wasn’t for admiration or instagram hits but to show how to execute (possibly a bad choice of word) a particular posture to get an inner result.

theos11

 

Bernard was of one of the most influential Western Yogis of the twentieth century, whose guiding light was to know the truth, free from the trappings and tapestries of illusion.

So is yoga, asana?

Yes but mostly no.

Yoga is said to have derived mostly from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali of which there are 196. Compiled 400 years BC/BCE/CE, depending on your preferred acronym, asana is only referred to three times and yet the whole world now assumes that yoga is asana when asana is, in truth, a very minor aspect.

In the sutras, Patanjali suggests, when practicing asana, for it to be “steady and comfortable”.
“The body is held poised with the practitioner experiencing *NO DISCOMFORT*. When control of the body is mastered, practitioners are believed to free themselves from the duality of heat/cold, hunger/satiety, joy/grief, which is the first step toward the non-attachment that relieves suffering”

Surely that’s the whole point. That paragraph just quoted is probably it –  what yoga is, though I think even that can be minimised and summed up in one word……..but we all like to read volumes and volumes of books saying exactly the same thing, from Buddhist philosophy to the Gita to get to that all encompassing and simple word, so continuing on…

Listed below are traditional rules for performing asanas:

  • The stomach should be empty which means not eating for at least 3 hours before asana
  • During asanas force or pressure should NOT be used, and the body should NOT tremble.
  • Lower the head and other parts of the body slowly; in particular, raised heels should be lowered slowly.
  • The breathing should be controlled. The benefits of asanas increase if the specific breathing to the yoga type is performed.Having practiced asanas for 20 years I have witnessed that very few people follow even these. Navasana makes me tremble. In fact if I want to feel like I have rickets, Navasana ticks the box.The heart of Patanjali’s teachings is the eightfold path of yoga of which asana is only one and with modern hatha yoga aka Ashtanga yoga, this is seen to be ‘what yoga is’

    In brief the eight limbs, or steps to yoga, are as follows: Yama : Universal morality –

    Niyama : Personal observances
    Asanas : Body postures
    Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
    Pratyahara : Control of the senses
    Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
    Samadhi : Union with the Divine

     

    Anyone of us can experience something nearer to what yoga is whilst doing asana.

Many fingers point to the moon for us to experience yoga in asana, albeit with a different and revised set of distractions from the usual thoughts occupying our minds during our practice. Following and concentrating on one’s breath, having focus points within each pose (drishti), pulling in or up parts of the body rather than wondering what to make for dinner or being anxious of the day to follow or does my bum look big in this Lulelemon swimsuit?

An asana practitioner can spend a lifetime working out and feeling where the perineum is.
One can usually tell when someone is trying to find it as the face pulled is similar to that of a face that’s just eaten a non-agreeable Vindaloo – and there is someone in the loo.  (For the record, the perineum is  on the ‘bridge’ between the anus and the genital area/scrotum and trying to pull that centre up is akin to riding a see saw – you want the calming centre, not the ends)

The yogic distractions, if followed with meditative discipline, will bring you into your body and by default the postures will be deeper and more comfortable as your mind relaxes and lets go, but most modern classes, only having five breaths to work with in each posture, more often than not don’t allow time to get to those ‘spaces’ – for most people, and this could be why ‘Yin’ yoga is becoming more popular. There is fundamentally no difference between Ashtanga and Yin expect the length of time held in an individual posture. Yang is Ashtanga flow, Yin, Ashtanga slow. If we were to stay in each posture in a Hatha Ashtanga class for just one dedicated minute, it would do what Yin achieves, giving space and time for the mind and body to relax and be comfortable – apparently the whole point of Patanjali’s reference to asana.

This seems to be the whole point of asana. Without this aim, all we are all doing is stretching and bending. The mind has to be fully involved in the moment before becoming eventually uninvolved, which is nearing what yoga truly is, as far as my own understanding goes.

The book of books, the Bhagavad Gita concludes that yoga is simply doing what you do in everyday life without any attachment to ‘the fruit of your actions’

Donna Farhi – currently my very favourite ‘yogi’, once asked, in a workshop, what is yoga?. The usual stock answers were forthcoming of course but one girl said, and I paraphrase, that yoga is clearing up after a workshop, it’s helping the old lady across the road, it’s holding a door open for somebody. It’s doing RAOK (Random acts of kindness)

Currently it could be helping refugees in some way or it could even be feeling so much warmth and sorrow for Donald Trump. If you can do the latter, you’re nearly there.

So, what is Yoga? There are 7 billion people on Earth and therefore 7 billion correct answers but for me it comes down to one word.

Is that word, God? The problem with the word ‘God’ – a word I think should be banished from all language is that people perceive God as a person, a person to many in the west who looks a lot like Santa only with more sensible clothes and a longer, indeed eternal, Hell if you’re naughty, than just no presents on Christmas morning

The word ‘YOGA’, same as the word ‘GOD’ can be changed to another word and that is LOVE.

The ‘secret’ is seeing everyone as one of your own relatives or friends. The BIG ISSUE seller or the lady camping out every night in a doorway is your mum, sister, daughter, best friend. The abusive guy in the car that just cut you up is your son, brother, dad having a bad day. The refugees living in squalor in Calais are your family and friends but with all of these it very simply could be you. Compassion and Empathy is part of Love.

Practicing asana may eventually take you so deep into yourself that you can’t do anything else but to feel compassion and empathy, firstly for your own self and then, like gravitational waves from your own heart, to every being alive

Love.

To me that is what Yoga is.

As for the falling tree in the forest. No

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Yoga. Why?

 following on from
https://kevollier.com/2015/05/25/so-18-years-on-to-be-a-yoga-teacher/

I think my decision to do the teacher training has brought up a lot of questions, particularly the one that will I ever teach? I’m not sure I will. I have no intention to but then I hear so many teachers say that they said the same thing right up until they were qualified. But other questions that have been loitering in the back of my mind have come to the forefront and the questioning of yoga has begun; it reminds me of why we should question everything which was brought home to me by David Icke, no less, who’s conference I attended back in 1991, (which was his post turquoise/pre lizard period). He was giving an example of why we should question everything (and in yoga that means questioning the seemingly ‘they know best’ unquestionables).
David’s wife
was cooking something for dinner but before she added this whatever – it – was to a pan, she cut the corners off it and the conversation apparently went something like this:

‘Why do you cut the corners off that?’
‘Well that’s how it’s done, it’s always done like this’
‘Who says exactly?’
‘That’s how my mother has always done it’
‘Yes, but why? Could you ring her and ask her, right now?’
So Mrs Icke calls her mum and asks why she always cut the corners off to which came the reply,
‘We had to, it wouldn’t fit in the pan otherwise’ !

Kev Ollier - David Icke

How often do we leave a slug of tea in the bottom of a cup still? A memory from when there were tea leaves and I always leave a pool of tea and yet I’ve never had tea leaves!

It was at a workshop with Nancy Gilgoff – who is one of the original western students who studied yoga under Sri Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India – where I learnt why we ‘supposed to’ do a 6 day a week practice ( I say ‘we’, but I really mean ‘they’) and not a full 7 days. It was simply because Mrs Pattabhi wanted to go shopping with her husband and so it was changed from a 7 day to 6 day practice to placate her. This would then follow, that had she insisted on three days with her beloved, then the western Ashtangis would be doing a 4 days a week practice.  Who says it has to be so many days a week? Was it just Pattabhi or was it Krishnamachurya, Pattabhi’s teacher, who insisted, and if so, why? Was it because he had nothing better or more pressing to do?

Pranayama-Circle-Encinitas-75-1
Nancy Gilgoff practicing with Pattabhi Joisback in the day

At a Kino Macgregor workshop in London a couple of years ago, she explained that it is not essential to take your arms out to the side coming in to the first sun salutation in a crowded space, particularly if you’re likely to smack your neighbour in the face on the way up. Lifting the arms over the head and joining hands is all that apparently matters.
It was also Kino that expressed that there is so much dogma attached to yoga, especially with Ashtanga, in practices such as Nodi Shodhan (alternate nostril breathing) where she called the action of pressing the fingers into the third eye on the forehead as simply ego – it’s closing the nostrils alternately that matters.

kino_macgregor@yogaconference
Kino

It seems we all expect (without question) that Yoga, especially Ashtanga, has to have tropically heated rooms, so hot that if you close your eyes you could hear tree frogs. Gregor Maehle says that if you want to age prematurely in yoga then heat the room. I quote from a post he sent to Facebook about this very question

“I keep receiving questions regarding whether it’s important or good to heat the yoga shala and whether this aids in detoxing. I also hear people reasoning that the shala should be heated to emulate the heat of the gangetic plains in India, which is supposed to be the native environment of yogis. Now during the 1980 and 90’s I travelled extensively through the gangetic plains but I must say that I found them surprisingly bereft of yogis. On the other hand if you went up into the freezing Himalayas you found that the yogis were stacked up to the rafters. Surprising, isn’t it!
Do you remember that even Krishnamacharya went up into the Himalayas to practice tummo, yoga of inner fire, while sitting on the ice? You can’t practice that down in the gangetic plains.
Nowadays Western yogis are really emphatic about keeping the windows of the yoga shala closed. I remember that neither KP Jois old shala in Lakshmipuram nor the Parakala Matt in Mysore where T Krishnamacharya taught ever had any windows. And I remember that in January at 4.30 AM I always froze in those drafty windowless rooms. And nobody offered to turn on any heaters because there weren’t any!
People who practice in such a fashion usually age prematurely and if you look at them 10 years later they have a washed out and drained look to themselves because of all the prana they lost, by practicing too vigorously under too hot conditions.
Notice that the yogis were very concerned about loosing tejas (inner glow) and one of the ways of preventing that is to rub the sweat produced during pranayama back into the skin.
**This is a technique, however, that should ONLY be used in the context of pranayama and NOT during asana, during which excessive sweating should be avoided**
Hence, do not heat the room too much and if it’s warm outside keep the windows open. Many yogic texts (shastras) state that the shala should be well aired.”

Ekapada-Gregor
Gregor Maehle

Then there was the time that I was at one of the Brian Cooper workshops in Glastonbury. I respect Brian immensely, particularly for his ability and total honesty and his very dry sense of humour (at least I think it is). He was asked by one student as to what is the point in getting a leg behind your head and his answer was “there is no point, what’s the point to any of the postures, fun? To show off at a party?”  I love Brian.

brian
Brian Cooper

Of course, the BIG question is why do yoga? Usually you have to keep asking why to each answer you give yourself before you get to the crux of an answer and one that might surprise you. Was it really to be fitter? You could ruin your knees and go jogging to do that. Was it to try and stave off the inevitable, to look good, to feel young again-  or was it to go within, to your ‘true’ self? Maybe the first answers are what you think are honest ones yet maybe deep down it was the latter we seek. Eventually in yoga, to those that stay the distance, that turning inwards, will happen to everybody and surely that’s the idea? Yoga is a non-religious spiritual practice. It is not for atheists. If you’re an atheist and you’re practicing yoga then it’s simply not yoga – it could be exercise, it could be gymnastics but it certainly is not yoga, whatever the sign says above the door, and it really should go without having to keep reminding ourselves that there are eight limbs of yoga and the physical is just one, the lesser one at that, and more ‘yoga schools’ would be beneficial to teach, or to at least discuss, the heart of yoga – the other seven limbs.

Asana is by far the easiest limb to master. One’s self is the holy grail.

kala

Kino MacGregor Primary Series DVD review

At Amazon UK

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the amazon link

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years now with the last six of those being Ashtanga with a teacher who some consider to be one of the best Ashtanga teachers in the UK – Jane Piddington, who teaches in and around Glastonbury.

So my bar is already high.

This xmas I was bought this DVD as I wanted to do an extra practice at home with what is as close to my teacher as possible, and this DVD is the MUST HAVE DVD for home practice.
It is like being at a class only with a virtual 1 to 1 feel. It’s the perfect compliment to anyone’s Ashtanga practice and it is the real deal, the pure primary series.

Kino hasn’t filmed this run through from her own design or as a fitness video. This is a pure lineage teaching, passed down from her own teacher, Sri Pattabhi Jois who himself was a student of Krishnamacharya. Kino was and still is the youngest western woman to be certified to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.
She has completed the challenging Third Series and is now learning the Fourth Series.

If you practice to this DVD you have the solid guarantee that you are practicing the pure teaching and that in itself is worth it’s weight in gold. Kino is one of the world’s best and most dedicated yoga teachers spreading the word globally.

This DVD is simply a treasure for anyone already taking their Asana yoga practice seriously.

Kino is at
kinoyoga.com
photo_kino17
and to LIKE on facebook for news and info at

www.facebook.com/kinoyoga

Jane Piddington is at
ashtangavinyasayoga.co.uk/
jane-piddington
and to LIKE on facebook for news and info at
AshtangaYogaGlastonbury

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Kino MacGregor – Bad Girl Yogi

It had to happen and it has. The holier than thou brigade have fired their angry arrows at the rising star of Ashtanga Yoga, Kino Macgregor, and they’ve thrown these white hot coals because Kino, in their opinion, is not adhering to the yoga philosophy laid down thousands of years ago and that’s the point, it was laid down thousands of years ago.

IMG_3964CROP

The current Ashtanga yogi’s take their philosophy and teachings mostly from those of Krishna Pattabi Jois who himself was the ‘student’, as it’s commonly known nowadays  though it may have been known as ‘disciple’ at the time, of Krishnamacharya who preached that one should make yoga propaganda and to get the message out there. I support that one.

krishnamacharya

Krishnamacharya in a thong

From my own experience the world would be a totally different place if everyone practiced yoga. I think it should be taught in schools as part of Physical Education and also as part of Religious Education as yoga crosses both boundaries. One only has to pick up an Ashtanga yoga book to know that there are eight limbs of which the asana’s (physical postures) are only one. The eight limbs are very similar to the Buddhist eightfold path and also to the Ten Commandments though in Yoga, which is, or at least originally was (he says controversially), a hindu philosophy there is no commanding going on which is also the case with the Buddhist eightfold path – there is no reward and no punishment for following or for not following except that from and for your own self.

yoga_asana31

Yoga in schools has already courted controversy as it’s ‘not Christian’, which is like most people then in the west, because for most people who say they are Christian, it’s just a convenience so they know what to put in that blank box on passport and census applications.

Kino has been pointed at for her style of yoga clothes – talk about attachment and aversion! It gets hot in an ashtanga  yoga class and I wear as little as I can get away with (vest and shorts and when it gets really sweaty the shorts get rolled up as high as is possible to go). In the warmer parts men mostly just wear shorts and in some cases, I will sit down before I say the next word – speedos ! – and women wear bikinis, but so what? If people are getting distracted by this or fearing that a bout of lust might come upon them, then that, at least, shows them where they’re stuck. This clothes fascism is akin in some ways to the Catholic Church not allowing female priests, cardinals or popes although I think the only reason for that is because the celibate men have all the frocks.

kino%20macgregor%203

Kino is trying to get yoga on to TV.  This has amazingly upset the upper brethren of Mysore yogis. What seems to be the yoga moan lately is whether yoga should or shouldn’t be an Olympic event or whether yoga should become prime time TV. The argument mostly being that the Asanas, what most of the world think is yoga, is not the whole yoga. My personal opinion on this is that when people come to yoga for whatever reason, they are all the better for it and some, probably quite a high percentage, eventually dig deeper and begin to want to breathe properly, try to then maybe regularly practice meditation which leads on to greater empathy and compassion and kindness and bigger eyes to see the world with.

kino_in_gb_0

If the population would frown at yoga on TV, yet sit glued to Strictly Come Dancing or the greatest karaoke show on Earth (X Factor) or watch endless programmes about chefs who cook with varying degrees of alcoholism and bad language, then abandon hope all ye who enter etc.  Yoga will be on television, this much is for sure and there are many great teachers out there who will embrace the medium and hopefully for the right reasons and Kino should be right up there and lead from the front.

Like it or not, according to Bloomberg, ‘Yoga is the fastest growing industry on Earth’ (and without any TV!). Bill Harper of Yoga Journal announced, ‘it’s not just an activity, it’s a lifestyle’. Are these facts a bad thing? Maybe only to the brethren of the mountain ‘Holier’ which is quite a bit higher up the valley than ‘thou
Kev Ollier at Kino Macgregor workshop London

My naked half leg (bottom right hand corner) at the end of a Kino workshop in London, England

Everyone has their own path to their own G-D and that’s as it should be and whether the path is pathless or not is irrelevant.

see also, ‘Kino MacGregor, London’ at
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/30/kinomacgregor/

and
‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
https://kevollier.com/2013/05/30/yogamat/

and
‘Kino DVD review’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/01/05/kino-macgregor-primary-series-dvd-review/

Kino’s ‘how to’ videos are here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwSX7NnE-uU&playnext=1&list=PLBAA695702548F199&feature=results_main

The article this post addresses by Kino is at
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/confessions-of-a-loved-hated-ashtangi-kino-macgregor/

Kino MacGregor, London.

I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!


Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.


We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.

The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).

The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.

Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.

Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.

        This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.

After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!

Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!

Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.

In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/