Monthly Archives: October 2016

Yoga as Psychotherapy

Earlier this year I took a Psychology class at Antioch University as a personal interest alongside our MA.

For a few years I’ve been meeting psychotherapists and psychiatrists who are starting to recognise somatic practices – particularly yoga and meditation – as powerful tools in their therapeutic toolbox. Many of them are training to become yoga teachers so that they can offer their clients something beyond talking therapy, medication or any of the other healing modalities found in the clinical setting. I’m trying to do things the other way round, and to bring what I know about the healing properties of somatic practices into my understanding of psychotherapy.

Part of our research in the psychology course was learning about the work and advancements of the western world’s most prominent psychoanalysts and therapists. Each week we surveyed the contributions of maybe 20 key (white, male) theorists and their personality theories, the acceptance of which have been largely responsible for our private, clinical-based treatment of the self in western culture.

What struck me, as I was reading up on Albert Ellis – an American psychoanalyst of the 1940s who developed Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy as a way to engage his client’s sense of responsibility for their thoughts, deeds and actions – is that his theories on positive psychology and thinking, of reframing negative thoughts and cultivating deep self awareness all stem from early Indian yoga philosophies, namely those of the late Hatha and early Buddhist period.

In fact, not only did Ellis seemingly appropriate early spiritual psychology’s understanding of the observer and the observed but he also understood just what yoga philosophy at a later date developed: namely that our world, our reality, is shaped by our thoughts and that the world ‘out there’ is a pure reflection of the world within. He understood too what neurosis and mental affliction are caused by: namely an inability to separate one’s self from one’s thought processes; an over-reliance on the idea that we are separate and independent from others rather than part of an interconnected whole; and attachment to the pain of the past as correlative proof of a doomed future. Drawing directly, it seems, from the lessons of the Bhagavad Gita, Ellis asserts that the key to happiness is to act, to be involved and driven in one’s life and to relinquish the idea of having absolute control over everything.

Ellis’ Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) has an ABC of procedures that are viewed in successive order when working with a client: Continue reading

Reflections of an American Yogi in Siddipet

by Allie Berger

It’s monsoon season in India, a fact made obvious by the small puddles edging the open central courtyard in which I’m standing, leftover from yesterday evening’s downpour. The courtyard belongs to a small English-medium primary school in Siddipet, Telangana, a small city a few hours outside of Hyderabad. I’m at the front, with dozens of schoolchildren facing me, eagerly reproducing the asanas I demonstrate, trying to visibly breathe deeply so that I can see them doing what I say. Here I am, a white, American woman, come to introduce Indian kids to yoga. At least, that’s what it must look like from the outside—a lightly veiled recapitulation of colonial themes. The reality of the situation is a bit more complex, though I won’t rule out the possibility there are some underlying colonial structures inescapably present somewhere in the mix.

It was not a coincidence that I was in Siddipet this summer, but neither was it my original purpose to go there to bring the knowledge of yoga to the children of Telangana. Rather, as is the case with so many things in India, my circumstances were tied to family. The school I described is run by a woman I call Ammakka, a Telugu word for “aunt” (literally, “mother‘s older sister”). Of course, she’s not my aunt either by blood or marriage, but rather by association; Ammakka is the older sister of the mother of my best friend, Sai whom I’ve known since we were eight. As I spent more and more time with her family, it seemed out of place to call them “Mr. and Mrs. Muddasani,” and I didn’t have the cultural vocabulary yet to call them “Uncle and Aunty,” so I eventually just began to call them “Mom and Dad” and to adopt all the Telugu familial terms toward the extended family. (And it’s taken me literally years to understand these words and map what relationships they denote.) So, having already been to India once without visiting “the family,” it seemed overdue for me to make the pilgrimage to Telangana to see all of my Ammakkas and Peddanannas.

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Truth, Yoga, and Authenticity

by Ana Maria Rydell

In 21st Century Yoga, the chapter entitled, Our True Nature Is Our Imagination: Yoga and Nonviolence, we are reminded, “Enlightenment… is the ultimate cognitive dissonance.” This has resonated with me as I have struggled to come to grips with several incidents in the past year where the uncomfortable energy of disingenuousness has been glaring in contrast to the course of study we are exposed to in the pursuit of a Master of Arts degree in Yoga Studies, here at Loyola Marymount University.

Gandhi once said, “ If you think spirituality and politics are different, you understand neither spirituality or politics.” We can apply this statement to the everyday politics of our public and private lives. How many times have you been in a situation where the speech of an individual does not match the truth of his or her actions? Or maybe, it is yourself who feels forced to act in a way that is less then honest to what you believe. Hopefully, these instances are not often occurrences in your life, for there is mental stress and discomfort in the experience of holding contradictory ideas, and acting in a way that is opposed to them. This can be said for being on the receptive end of a less than genuine moment, as well. In this regard, authenticity may be a moral imperative.

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After Beatles left the ashram: pieces of histories on rock music and modern yoga in the 60-80s

By Zipei Tang

Like many other stuff, the intertwine of yoga and rock music starts with the Beatles. Let’s start with them leaving the Ashram in Rishikesh.

Few years ago I went inside that ashram and among all the crazy graffitis there’s the “meditation egg“ where John said:”I just kept hearing music in me head” and wrote the whole album. The sound effect is actually superb, but at the same time, the energy in it is a little imposing—just like the story.  Owe to numerous Beatles’ biographies, memoir, interviews and documentaries (37films about them just in 2015 ), their story in the ashram is pretty much clear.  However, the “abandonment” of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is still covered by a mysterious smoke,  except from the death of Brian Epstein. Paul himself already expressed several versions of reasons. However, without emotional attachment, pure practicality, they left because they came to their senses.
As expected, Ringo was the first one to leave, being the funny one of the group, he is more sharp in a practical way . The two who stayed longer—John and George, on the other end, were more intuitive and experimental. In Syman’s “The Subtle Body” it briefly touched on the departing of the band from Rishikesh: None of the Beatles stayed for the duration of the teacher training. Ringo left after ten days or so at the ashram. He and his wife missed their kids and he had never planned to stay long. Paul left after five and a half weeks. “I’m going away a new man,” Paul is said to have confided to Nancy Cooke de Herrera, whose job was to minister to the foursome’s more prosaic needs. George and John stayed on for a while longer…George and John left abruptly. “We believe in meditation, but not the Maharishi and his scene,” said John on the Tonight show, in mid-May of 1968.”
From that May on, many pieces of stories happened regarding the music and yoga of that time, especially psychedelic rock and “modern American yoga”, in forms of “transcendental meditation” “ecstatic experiences”, “mind shifting drugs” and general well being of the world.
Looking into the history of the “psychedelic yoga age”, as a Chinese female who grew up under no influence of this history, it is truly fascinating, intriguing, worth-pondering, and amusing. Moreover, this American fashionable yoga is not a legit thing in eastern eyes, for us, yoga is traditional, a revived old star: it’s cool as it is a great practice, but without the coolness from the glitter halo of its culture. In contrast, the word “yoga”, traveled with the sound of Sitar in Beatles’ white album, flew oversea to America, met with an edgy Harvard chemical professor, put a sour candy on its tongue, and bumped into the massive hippies. This “yoga”, hit hard on the baby boom generation, physically/ mentally/ not-so-spiritually/ but definitely culturally. It influenced the people, musicians as the most important part. And the music culture echoed its energy right back to “yoga” and shaped it into this glamorous and consumable idea to the masses. Music and yoga stimulate and lifted up (or brought down) each other in history, while the guitar and the sitar generally sweep.
Another thing is that it happened fast. And up to today, there’s the after-winds. They are still “blow‘in”. But the wave subsided and has became a joke nowadays. Hence the fake album cover above.
Just the summer after the Beatles left India, Swami Satchidananda, brought the game of yoga up to another level, by talking about it in front of the massive in Woodstock.
Swami Satchidananda at Woodstock with festival organizer Michael Lang.
In his Speech, Swami Satchidananda said to the people on the vast grass land:
“America leads the whole world in several ways. Very recently, when I was in the East, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi met me and asked me what’s happening in America. and I said, “America is becoming a whole. America is helping everybody in the material field, but the time has come for America to help the whole world with spirituality also.” And, that’s why from the length and breadth, we see people—thousands of people, yoga-minded, spiritual-minded. The whole of last month I was in Hawaii and I was on the West Coast and witnessed it again….So, let all our actions, and all our arts, express Yoga. Through that sacred art of music, let us find peace that will pervade all over the globe. Often we hear groups of people shouting, “Fight for Peace.” I still don’t understand how they are going to fight and then find peace. Therefore, let us not fight for peace, but let us find peace within ourselves first.”
Almost 50 years after this talk, I read this piece of speech and can’t help thinking: It’s really touching and beautiful. But hey, is it really the case? Because  the “Yoga-minded” people he mentioned, is a polished title. That people have another name, that is…
 

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Kemetic Yoga

By Trang Huynh

The other day I came across an online article titled “8 Signs Your Yoga Practice is Culturally Appropriated—And Why It Matters,” but don’t worry, I will not be talking about cultural appropriation (for the most part). What caught my attention was actually something only briefly glossed over by the cultural adviser of the article: East Africa’s Kemetic Yoga. The adviser, Nisha Ahuja, referenced South Asian and African Yoga as being the victims of cultural appropriation. But what is East African Yoga? I had to learn more.

A thorough Google search, a Reddit search, and a brief academic database search only returned two sources: KemeticYoga.com and a WordPress blog. Sadly, there was no Wikipedia page to be found. KemeticYoga.com—which also offers a 200-hour Yoga Alliance teaching certification—states that Kemetic yoga came from the “ancient Kemetic people who built pyramids and gave the world mathematics, architecture, chemistry, engineering, medicine, and religion” (KemeticYoga.com). The Kemets are who we refer to now as Egyptians. According to Kemetic Yoga, there is a man named Shu carved onto the back of a wooden chair in the tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamen. Shu represents the concept of breath, which gives life to our physical bodies, following the ancient Kemetic Scientific System of Cosmology. While Egyptologists have known about Shu for thousands of years, no one ever equated him with yoga, but “when we do a casual examination of his position and the symbols carved on the chair which includes the sun disk at the top of his head and two Cobra snakes, the connection with yoga becomes obvious” (KemeticYoga.com). In this context, the sun disk is equated with the Sahasrāra Cakra and the cobras with Iḍā and Piṅgala nāḍī.

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Breath of Gods: Film Highlights

by Ashley McKeachie

I have studied in the lineage of Sri T. Krishnamacharya and T.K.V. Desikachar since 2010, and while I have focused primarily on their teachings, I wasn’t as well versed in the history of the family and Krishnamacharya’s effect on his famous students. But I was pleasantly surprised by the new knowledge I discovered by watching the various family interviews, videos of Krishnamacharya performing asanas, some “lavish reenactments,” and shocking personal accounts of his influence on his most famous students, B.K.S. Iyengar and Pattabi Jois. These are the ten most interesting things I’ve summarized about Krishnamacharya from the documentary film, Breath of Gods – A Journey to the Origins of Modern Yoga, produced in 2012.

  1. The actual videos of Krishnamacharya floating into headstand and shoulderstand are masterful.

A magical confidence exudes from Krishnamacharya’s movements, and it’s more than a demonstration or performance. You see him taking his time, transitioning from one posture to the next, and it is breathtaking. Continue reading

Mainstream Spirituality and Positive Thinking: How Did We Get to This Point?

Gabriela Ayala- Cañizares

I walked into a cafe from a short bike ride and the first sentence I hear is, “So let’s meditate on that to decide what the best course of action is.” I have no clue what the context of this conversation is. This pair of people look “normal” in all regards. I also cannot assume that I know what this person means by saying, “let’s meditate”. All I can confidently interpret from this is that the language of such practices that include meditation have become common in day to day conversations. Terms like meditation and mindfulness are no longer reserved for private group meetings or yoga studios. From a limited perspective it feels that this acceptance has only just begun but the truth is that this language has been prominent in Western culture and the acceptance of that has come and gone through history but has never fully disappeared from the culture.

The concept of personal power through positive thinking and mental visualizations is so imbedded into the American psyche that it is practically invisible. I realized as I was listening to the audio version of Occult America by Mitch Horowitz that my way of thinking and positive nature is not just my personality but is a reflection of the time period in which I grew up and the groundwork that was laid down before me. My generation or the one before, is not particularly responsible for bringing about an acceptance of occult concepts or the belief in personal divinity. These concepts have been present in American history since the early eighteen-hundreds. A solid base has been laid down for the present period of mainstream metaphysical practices. I’m not going to go too far in depth with this history but I do believe it is a particularly vital part for understanding the current mode of being in America and the abundance and acceptance of yoga, meditation, and other esoteric practices. Continue reading

Meditation and Changes in the Brain

Jack Kirkner
Oct. 19, 2016

Harvard Neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain
By Brigid Schulte
The Washington Post
May 26, 2015

Article- https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/inspired-life/wp/2015/05/26/harvard-neuroscientist-meditation-not-only-reduces-stress-it-literally-changes-your-brain/

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It seems like most of the dialogue concerning ‘modern’ yoga centers around the amount of importance placed on asana today versus what was actually practiced in ‘traditional’ yoga. Although it is unclear what role asana played, and to what extent it affected the overall spectrum of yogic practices in the past, what is clear is that meditation has been an undeniably crucial part of the yogic path stemming all the way from the Upanishads of Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Upanishads and the Hatha Yoga corpus to the meditation schools of yoga’s modern era. In much the same way as asana has been given a ‘modern’ treatment of focus and medical research, I thought it would be valuable and important to see how the modern world was processing meditation research that was located in a mainstream publication.
In the article from the Washington Post entitled, Harvard Neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain, we get a chance to see what evidence cutting edge, state of the art research into meditation has to reveal. The author interviews Sara Lazar from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Lazar was one of the first neuroscientists to begin studying the effects of meditation on the brain using modern technology based around brain scans. Lazar was recovering from marathon running injuries and began doing yoga herself to recuperate. More than just the injury recovery, the changes in her overall well being prompted Lazar to begin serious research into the effects of yoga and meditation on the brain.

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Karmageddon Outta Here

by Rob Zabel
“An old soul with a young psyche”. These are the words that Jeff Brown uses to defend his so-called guru. Brown is a long time devotee of kirtan phenomenon and self-styled guru Bhagavan Das, and his 2011 film Karmageddon is an exploration of his conflicted relationship with this unique but incredibly trying figure.
One of the central questions this movie raises is about the roles of gurus and particularly avadhuts in Western society. Bhagavan Das is an initiated Aghori Sadhu, a follower of Neem Karoli Baba, a brief Born Again Christian after receiving a vision of Jesus on the cross before a vision of Neem Karoli Baba urged him back to sadhuism. He was a long time associate of Ram Dass of LSD and Be Here Now Fame (a phrase Bhagavan Das had himself said to Ram Dass), and the controversial Chögyam Trungpa, notorious for his avadhuta ‘crazy wisdom’. Bhagavan Das is of course just as infamous as either of these men in their heydays for his sexual proclivities and drug use. Jeff Brown makes this movie as an expression of his frustrations about his imperfect teacher.
Bhagavan Das represents an american strain of the crazy wisdom tradition that has deep (and possibly non-transplantable) roots in Buddhist and Hindu yogic traditions. The avadhut is one who is in such a high state of enlightenment that duality has been overcome and social norms no longer apply. This is traditionally an explanation for the nudity and other antinomian habits of certain renunciants. This gets interpreted in multiple ways, but among the supporters of Bhagavan Das the avadhut’s behavior is seen as a source of breakthroughs for those around him to overcome their mundane view of the world. He is said, by one formerly angry father, to have killed his own ego so thoroughly that he is now a mirror onto which others project their own hangups. Jeff, despite knowing all these things about his Kali Yoni worshipping  Aghori teacher going into this guru-śiṣya relationship still manages to become disenchanted with his guru’s constant forwardness with young women. Continue reading

Subtle Realities

by Rob Zabel

In reading Mark Singleton’s Yoga Body I came across his brief history of the association between western anatomical terminology and the subtle body of tantra and hāṭha. I would like to dispute some of his conclusions and observations on this point. First, the assertion that Indians would have no familiarity with the nervous system due to a lack of dissection practice in the premodern Hindu world ignores the many vectors by which these anatomical discoveries could have been made. Second, his emphasis on the analogue of the nervous system seems to completely forget the similarly popular associations made with the glands of the endocrine system, as early as Vivekananda’s description of the the pineal gland as the third eye. Furthermore, the idea that the cakras would be a perfect analogue for only a singular human system (e.g. nervous, circulatory, or endocrine) as they are distinguished modernly imposes an anachronistic system of classification on this premodern system.

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