Hi, I’m Bettina. What I'm working on : Forget to slouch. Relaxing is freedom. Choose life.

Articles tagged “yoga history”

Why change yoga styles?

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When I started out with yoga, I tried every kind of yoga out there: Iyengar, Ashtanga, hot yoga, Acroyoga, Jivamukti, whatever. I wanted to learn from every style and take from every style what worked for my body. The magpie style worked really well for a maximizer like me: I took the best from every teacher and left the rest.

Over two years ago, I stopped teaching yoga because I started learning a new style. I wanted to go in deep and so I left my magpie vinyasa yoga practice behind.

Some people ask me why.

How can I choose and commit to one yoga style?

I’ll answer the question using a parable from yoga history.

David Gordon White in his 1996 book The Alchemical Body tells the story of a siddhi (power) contest between Gorakh and Allama-Prabhu, two accomplished yogis:

Gorakh is very proud of his yogic accomplishments, bragging that no sword can cut through his body, polished to the hardness of a diamond through his craft. 

So when Allama Prabhu takes a sword to Gorakh, its blade shatters on his adamantine body.

When Gorakh raises his sword to Allama Prabhu in return, its blade passes through his body, which is wholly ethereal.

Allama Prabhu then chides Gorakh, saying that such bodily density is merely the mark of a density of illusion (103).

After this, Gorakh puts down his sword and asks Allama Prabhu to take him on as his student.

Yogis Talk : David Wells about Thai Yoga (Reusi Dat Ton)

Thai Yoga aka Reusi Dat Ton Painting

Funny how you start stumbling down paths when you start studying yoga.

I stumbled upon David Wells’ information about Thai yoga aka Reusi Dat Ton and was curious about this other branch of yoga I had never heard about. Since one of my earliest Yogis Talk interviews with a yogi who had meditated in Thailand, I was curious to learn more about movement and meditation traditions there.

To find out:

  • how Thai yoga is different from Indian hatha yoga
  • what to do, according to Thai yoga, if you get a leg cramp (Edited on August 8, 2012 : oops! that should have been foot cramp) or have shoulder problems
  • how to mix different yoga styles to your benefit
  • how David persuaded a living reusi (rishi) to teach him traditional Thai Yoga

Listen to my interview with David below or download it from Soundcloud by clicking here.

David Wells of Wells Yoga

Want to learn more about Thai yoga?

Get in touch with David through his website Wells Yoga or take one of his yoga classes in California.


All photos from David Wells

Reading Notes from The Poets of the Powers by Kamil V. Zvelebil

Brihadeeshwarar Temple, Thanjavur, India

I’ve been diving deep into yoga history by reading. One book I recently read, The Poets of the Powers: Magic, Freedom, and Renewal by Kamil V. Zvelebel, has translations of Tamil Siddha poetry. It’s a thin volume, only 144 pages with footnotes included, so it was a good introduction to this group of yoga practitioners I had only heard of in passing before.

Tamil is one of the languages in South India and refers also to the culture of the people who speak the language. The Tamil Siddha school of thought is a branch of tantric yoga, with a distinct character of social radicalism and an emphasis on magical powers. A distinction of tantric yoga is the belief that liberation is possible in your human body and not just at death, which lead to technique of yoga to ensure a healthy body. The body is the seat of the experience of liberation. If your body was weak, in pain, or unbalanced, how could you experience bliss or become liberated?

What is the sign of absolute and true liberation?

The physical body aglow with the Fire of Immortality.

(Uroma risi nanam 12) p. 58

Even though Zvelebel says that the first Tamil Siddha poet was active between the seventh and eleventh centuries, it would be a mistake to think Tamil Siddhas were only active in medieval India. Zvelebel claims that the Siddha doctrines are still a vital undercurrent in modern-day South India albeit hidden from public view.

Shiva Linga with Garland of Flowers

Written in an intentionally enigmatic language, where words embody multiple meanings, the Tamil Siddha poems can be mystical or vulgar and direct. For example, Civavakkiyar who was writing immediately before the tenth century wrote (p. 87):

Why, you fool,

do you utter mantras,

murmuring them, whispering,

going around the fixed stone

as if it were God,

putting garlands of flowers around it?

Will the fixed stone speak–

as if the Lord were within?

Will the cooking vessel,

or the wooden ladle,

know the taste of curry?

The misogynist language in some of the Siddha poems really bothered me. All of the poets translated in the book were men, and women, specifically the bodies of women, were temptations for them.

WARNING WARNING: Easily offended sensibilities, please stop reading now.

Loving Couple (Mithuna) Indian Sculpture

Pattinattar wrote (pp. 99-100):

Their mouth smells of flesh.

Their hairy mess is smelly.

The pus in the blackened eyes smells

and their limbs stink of their discharge.

The chasm of the vulva stinks.

Should my mind be attached

to these women

who smell of their

sensuality?

In the Appendix Zvelebil shares health tips from his Siddha informant in Madras in 1968 (pp. 126-127):

Hints regarding the physical and mental health

Food

1. Eat only if hungry.

2. Never eat when tired; never eat when emotionally upset.

3. Chew your food thoroughly, well mixed with saliva.

4. Between meals, eat only fresh fruit, or fresh fruit juices.

5. Add to your daily diet great quantities of mor, i.e. yoghurt or buttermilk.

6. Always eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables, if possible.

Sleep

7. Try to sleep at least eight hours daily. The best sleep is before midnight. Sleep with your window open, naked, head toward the North, the feet slightly raise.

Sun

8. Take frequent sun-baths; however, do not get too much sun at one stretch.

Breathing

9. Breath deeply, rhythmically, slowly, regularly and relaxedly. Be conscious of the speed and rhythm of your breath.

Walking

10. Walk at least two hours daily.

Sex

11. Regular and frequent sexual intercourse is beneficial. However, be master, not slave of your sex-life. Oral-genital sex is not harmful; on the contrary, it is often desirable. Visualize yourself as the creative Siva, and your partner as your (i.e. Siva’s) sakti, energy. Let her lie on you, and drink your sperm; let you suck her discharge of pleasure (curatanir).

Mental attitudes

12. Never give up. Never be idle. Try to maintain always a cheerful and positive attitude. There is no harm in satisfying a desire, when the satisfaction destroys it. Do not suppress forcibly any desire. Liberation is always here and now with you. If you cannot believe in god, it does not matter. Believe in yourself, in your own existence. Find out the source from which you came.

Conclusion : The Poets of the Powers: Magic, Freedom, and Renewal is a strange little book that serves as a good introduction to the Tamil Siddhas. It’s definitely not Yoga Journal. Pick it up and connect to the roots of one subset of yoga before it became what it is today.

If you have read The Poets of the Powers, what do you think of it? Or what do my reading notes make you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: swamysk, Natesh Ramasamy, wallyg

Gifts for the Book-Loving Yogi

If you’re like me, you’re starting to get presents ready for Christmas. Even though I personally don’t celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, I love how it brings people together and gives me an opportunity to think about what people I care about might like as a present.

I love giving and getting books as presents because, chosen wisely, they can open a new world, spark new ideas, and maybe, just maybe, teach you something new. If you have a yogi or yogini in your life who loves to read, here are some books I’d suggest for them.

Books for the history buff yogi/yogini

David Gordon White’s Sinister Yogis led me to read his two previous books on the history and pre-history of medieval practices of yoga, The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India and Kiss of the Yogini: “Tantric Sex” in its South Asian Contexts.

What I like and relate to in his research is that he focuses on practitioners of yoga. He doesn’t analyze texts about yoga or that have influenced yoga teachers. Rather, he looks at how yoga was practiced and understood by the people who practiced yoga and the people who came into contact with yogis. Yes, the yogis he writes about are mostly men. But the story he weaves about sinister yogis who steal people’s bodies is utterly compelling, even though this is an academic book complete with enough endnotes to make its own little book.

Most compelling for me as a yoga teacher is his analysis of the different meanings of the word yoga in different textual contexts and time periods. Yes, yoga as a word and concept has existed for billions of years–but it has not always meant the physical poses we practice in contemporary yoga classes. Otherwise, how could yogis have been sinister?

Skipping from medieval India to the twentieth-century, Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice argues for the influence of Western bodybuilding and gymnastics on the development of the physical postural yoga classes we have today. Since Singleton’s research focuses on Krishnamacharya, whose students later founded Ashtanga yoga and Iyengar yoga styles, he doesn’t address all the different yoga styles currently practiced today. But for anyone interested in the roots of contemporary yoga, read this to find out more. Globalization has been happening for a long while longer than we thought.

And for those who read German, Mathias Tietke’s Yoga im Nationalsozialismus: Konzepte, Kontraste, Konsequenzen addresses the history of yoga in the 1930s in Germany. I haven’t read it yet, but from the reviews and my personal conversations with him, the book seems a vital cautionary tale. Even for those who don’t have a connection to Germany, his book addresses how the ideas of karma and discipline may be abused. These two ideas may not have anything to do with yoga but is a part of the context from which it can be taught.

For the philosophically minded

Let me just let Sakyong Mipham speak through his own words from Ruling Your World: Ancient Strategies For Modern Life:

Contemplating worldly gain and loss reveals that we spend part of our life trying to get it together, and the other part watching it fall apart. As soon as we have time-“I have a whole hour free”-we are losing it. As soon as we make a friend, we’re losing him. As soon as we have fame, it becomes tinged with notoriety. As soon as we have wealth, we’re losing it. Looking for something new to gain helps us forget to look but a few seconds back at the last thing that we lost. Fabricating this chain of desire is how we keep ourselves in samsara [the cycle of desire and suffering]. We are using instability to try to make stability. We’re investing in hope and fear, banking on denial of a simple truth: all the pleasure the world can offer eventually turns to pain. Everything we gain is subject to loss. Why do we put all that effort into gain when, in the end, we are going to lose it?

Or something practical, for those of you who are action-oriented:

When we want to pin the blame on somebody – even ourselves – the most creative thing we can do is wish that person happiness instead.

All the things you know that are true in your heart but have yet to really sit down and experience for yourself are in this book.

For the Yogi or Yogini who wants to eat healthier

Getting someone a book with the word ‘diet’ in the title might be asking for trouble, but Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet: Eat Your Veggies, Ignite Your Spark, and Live Like You Mean It! is different. It’s about feeling good and living well & sustainably rather than losing weight. She tells her awesome story of how she kicked cancer through lifestyle and eating changes. And she’s a lot of fun! Who else do you know would describe her cancer as a ‘shit pickle’? So if you know anyone who wants to make changes in what they eat, this book is a fun way to learn from someone who’s healed herself through diet changes.

For the DIY gift-giver

If you want to give a present that you make yourself, print out one of the free e-books on my Resources page. To save trees, print two pages to one sheet of paper as well as on the front and back sides of the sheet. Customize the cover with a drawing or design.

 

Any books on your wishlist this year that you think other yogis might like? Tell me in the comments below!

xoxo,

Bettina

PS: And to be fully upfront, I do get a percentage of the sale from Amazon should you buy any of the books through my links.