Wobblyogi Wednesday – Patanjali 101, Week 3 Notes – Death

My favorite moment this week involved, Judith Lasater’s discussion of corpse pose, Savasana. Death. “By admitting death, Savasana teaches us how to live,” paraphrasing Lasater. She spoke about fully investing in our breath, intentions and movement as we practice asana so that we can let go during Savasana without restlessness.  Most poignantly for me, she connected the experience of corpse pose with our last moments. Will I have invested and lived fully enough to be at ease as I die? Will I be able to let go of my life without regret when the time comes?

The discussion reminded me of raising my girls. I had the privilege of being a full-time mom, even if distracted,  during their formative years. I find myself able to let go because I am comfortable with all the time we spent together as intentful and loving. I trust in our relationship. Maybe the practice of yoga is like nurturing and mothering my life , to build trust and to able to let go with ease when the time comes. Mortality becomes a reminder to live fully. Savasana becomes a reminder to move intently.

The second moment I enjoyed this week involved, Lizzie’s (and her mom’s) comparison between philosophers and yogis. “A philosopher watches the ocean, a yogi jumps into it.” Yoga demands engagement with life, at least in Hatha yoga. As a philosopher, I really like this comparison. I imagine, after watching for years, I got tired and found yoga to be my path towards wisdom beyond knowledge.

The third moment I want to mention is the discussion about whether “witness consciousness” makes us numb and indifferent. Lasater answered with a Kantian aesthetic condition of “disinterested interest” or in her words, “disinterested and fascinated.” For Kant, one can only judge beauty if it there is no ‘self’ interest in the judgment. Maybe,  yogic witness consciousness allows us to be aware without being subject to the intensity of emotional and physical strain.  It permits us to drop ‘self’ or ego-centric interest. Things are not happening TO me. They are just happening. Witness consciousness us to stay in the tension without trying to escape or wallow. Sometimes I call this my anthropologist research mode.

There are so many moments this week that made me think and wonder. Even the idea that vinyasa involves noticing the moments of linking, transition and change as accepting that life is ever-changing. This morning as I was teaching, I almost forgot a part of a sequence on the second side that involved moving from a high lunge, twisted high lunge, back to high lunge then stepping into a pyramid. As I started and noticed my oversight, I laughed and took a step back to recover. The 2 seconds and one step to recover my place seemed like a huge gap, a break in the flow. Despite my initial self-judgement and backward step, staying with the rhymic flow gave me an unanticipated ease the rest of the practice. As long as I keep moving forward (sometimes back) all is well.

May we all keep moving with ease (until it is time for the ultimate savasana).

Thank you, my fellow Patanjali readers.


Wobblyogi Wednesday – Self-Study (svadhyaya)

The kriya yoga component of svadhayaya or self-study naturally resonates with the philosophical imperative to pursue an examined life. In the triad of tapas-svadhayaisvarapranidhana-kriya-yoga (Pada 2, 1st sutra), self-study connects, the seemingly opposing directions of actively approaching the difficult and again actively surrendering. Self-reflection, in the yogic context,  is the necessary intermediate key between engagement and repose, desire and release, friction and ease, heat and light, existential conflict and transcendental subsumption. Self-study, reflection, examination, all actions and events that return us to ourselves are moments when we decide to accept or endure.

In the Patanjali 101 course, Judith Lasater spoke of doing one thing a day that is difficult for us as an exercise of tapas or self-castigation, self-discipline, burning-desire (a jumping off the cliff moment). She also wisely warns that not everything difficult is helpful. The value of tapas “roughness” she explains is that it invites awareness (like an aching tooth and an inquisitive tongue). We decide to make our response to an experience helpful or hurtful. I like to think that awareness leads us back to ourselves to notice and decide whether that experienced difficulty is a practice of self-discipline (tapas) or self-surrender (isvara pranidhana). We’ve all experienced these moments. Many of us appeal to faith and submit to divine will, having done everything we could. Many of us push forward as an exercise of self-discipline and perseverance. In any given situation when and how we decide the tone of our energy is uniquely our own, the balance of discipline and surrender is uniquely our own. Learning when to engage and when to let go, finding our personal edge is a constant inner-dialogue, on and off the mat….. and uniquely our own.

Judith Lasater asks us to consider each pose as a question to ourselves. How does it feel to be in a forward fold, can I release even further? Instead of telling my body where to go and what to do, can I ask my body and notice the response? Can I be disciplined enough to practice a pose difficult for me and surrender to the attempt?  How does the dance between self-discipline and self-surrender work for me?

An unexamined life may not be worth living, but yogic practice demands more…. the ability to let go.  So difficult.  Letting go requires discipline. Self-study holds us in that uncomfortable and unresolved human tension.

Wonderful second week of the course! Also very much enjoyed the conversation about cultivating contentment, another exercise of discipline (of not engaging in the negative) and surrender (letting go to what we cannot change).

I’m inspired by the importance of personal practice precisely to allow myself time and space for my own questions (poses) and aware responses. As Lizzie said, in order to find my “personalized dosage” of awareness, of svadyaya, self-study.

Honored to be “self-studying” with all of you,

the wobblyogi



Wobblyogi Wednesday – ‘Nirodhah’ Finding Resolution

“In yoga, philosophy, and practice are married,” says, Judith Hanson Lasater in the first Q&A section of her (and her daughter’s) course, Patanjali 101.

Further on, she explains that to understand Patanjali intuitively we have to feel moments of self-doubt, to feel how our memory pulls us away from the mat, to feel how our to-do races us forward, to pause when we feel a pose, to let go when we have difficulty in a pose, it is not only doing the pose but also “thinking” the pose. How do I feel, respond, and think as I’m moving on the mat and then maybe begin to think about how we move in the world.

During my graduate studies in philosophy, I was never asked how I “feel” about a particular philosophy. The prejudice against feelings in philosophy stems from a fear that feelings  are subjective, volatile and obstructs clear, rational thinking and most importantly dialogue. We cannot connect and converse with others through emotions. To someone who says ” I just love Plato,” I cannot respond or negate her/his emotions. I can’t say, “No you don’t.” I can only respond and argue with reasons. The philosophical primacy centers on sustaining dialogue.

The nature of dialogue in yoga is different. Instead of philosophical intersubjective, the yogic dialogue  happens within the self as an appeal to the inner divine. What some yoga practitioners share are the Patanjali’s practices, most share the asanas. As a philosopher, yoga helps me feel what I understand of the world, but most importantly how I feel about my own responses. For me, the co-action of breath, movement and thought is what attracts me most to the material spirituality of yoga.

I look forward to learning more during the next 5 weeks.

The first week of the course centered on the first three sutras of the Patanjali and the mountain pose.

Yogah Chitta Vritti Nirodhah.

In choosing a Patanjali translation, Ms. Lasater recommends noting the translation of the word, nirodahah. She likes the word “resolved”, and explains, “I no longer use my mind to get stirred up. I can stand back and feel resolved, feel free. From that space the freedom to choose my actions.”

Here are seven other translations of the sutra:

  1. Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of mind. – Edwin F. Bryant
  2. Yoga is the restraining of the mindstuff. – Swami Vivkeananda
  3. Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased it identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception. – Mukunda Stiles
  4. Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. – Chip Hartranft
  5. Yoga is the uniting of consciousness in the heart. – Nischala Joy Devi
  6. Union, spiritual consciousness, is gained through the control of the versatile psychic nature. – Kindle edition of Patanjali
  7. The restraint of the modifications of the mindstuff is Yoga- Sri Swami Satchidananda.

Here is a pdf that compares four translations of the sutras side by side in a chart for my fellow yoga-nerds.

May we all find our own translation through practice,