1-2-3-2-1 – Insights into Thai and Ashtanga Yoga

In the Thai Yoga tradition there is a technique, a path toward understating.

It is not the Way, but a path to discover a direction in which the Way follows, a simple technique.

Technique is needed.

Even Van Gogh needed technique.

But the technique is not the message. It is only a tool for one to discover the Way.

The Thai technique I will describe is very simple. It has been taught for centuries, and the entire Thai Yoga Massage modality is gaining a huge popularity in the West because it is so simple, so effective. Almost like archery. Something so simple. An action so simple, yet also complex. But action that are simple, it creates many participants, many archers, individuals shooting at targets.

I must admit I am just like all other archers.

My teacher, Pichest, though is more like PO-HUN WU-JEN, the great Japanese Zen archery master. I will tell you the story of PO-HUN WU-JEN in a little bit. But first it is important to mention that I was no different than one of these archers. I sat next to my master for many days, sometimes months, but it was not until today that I understood. I always knew that ‘one, two, three, two, one’ was a great technique. I have had my insight on how it is an incredible technique to discover the beginning, the middle and the end. But today I realized that it was a return. It was a full circle remission, to the place where one begins, and where everything lies.

We make so much more of things. I made so much more of the technique.

But that is the nature of technique. You must practice it before you can surrender to it. Without practicing it, without moving into it there is no chance of discovering how to be in it without doing anything. Effortless effort one can say.

1-2-3-2-1 is how it is written in most Thai Massage manuals. When you look at it this way it is even easier to escape its subtle beauty.

That is the problem with the Way, It is so simple, so evident, it is so easy to miss it.

How else can one explain the elusiveness of experience?

Elusiveness, yes. Because if it was evident, we would be living in a different human existence, an existence of the kingdom of Heaven, to paraphrase the words of Buddha, of Jesus, of Mahavira, of Van Gogh.

1-2-3-2-1. Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end, and to return we must go through the middle before we get back to the beginning. We believe we traveled far, and yet we are back where we began.

The Zen tradition, where PO-HUN WU-JEN belongs to, is grounded in the Way. It is very simple, and yet very challenging. In Zen there is a saying: ‘before Zen, mountains were just mountains, rivers were just rivers. When one meets Zen suddenly Mountains seem more than mountains, rivers seem more than rivers. When one attains Zen, mountains return to mountains, rivers return to rivers.

Get it?

Things ARE always, and STAY always.

Confused?

Let’s me share a story with PO-HUN WU-JEN. Maybe one day you will find the discourse Osho gave on this story. It will serve you while you empty your bowels. Did I say bowels?

Maybe I should say bowl.

Yeah, your bowl, your cup, it is so full, you can’t even see how full it is, yet you try and stuff it with more.
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Yoga Interview II

1. How did you start on your journey to yoga?

In 1993, when I was 19 I had a conversation with my college roommate, who was older and had graduated from the University of Chicago about how Michael Schumacher, who just finished his first season as a Formula 1 driver does meditation to keep his heart rate at a low pace while driving.

That was the first time I had ever heard of meditation.

A few months later I read the book ‘Still Life with a Woodpecker’ by Tom Robins and in that book he presented a completely different perspective on meditation, one that went away from just controlling a rather complex part of our body to connecting with something larger than ourselves, and the world around us.

I wanted to know where he got that connection from just doing something physical to something almost philosophical but in a super realistic, understanding the world we live in, deeper way.

So I went to the campus library (this is 1994 now, there is no internet, no Google, no yahoo) and picked up some books on India and meditation and came home with a stack of maybe 8 books.

Most of them were thick, heavy words on the page kind of books, a few were small books with some meditation practices, and one was a purple book and the title was: Dreams of the Soul: The Yogi Sutras of Patanjali by Daniel R. Condron. It had hardly any words on each page, so I figured I might as well start with that one.

Lord knows the surprise I received.

I was always a lover of philosophy and the Sutras changed my world by making the idea of divinity an expression that is to be expienced and not something that one had to believe in the words of others.

God is not a belief but an experience. Like the sweetness of a dragonfruit, and if you have never eaten it, or seen it, you have to trust someone else.

Condron translated the first Sutra into “Yoga is finding God” which I found, at the age of 20 a challenging idea, but also so beautiful.

I finished the sutras in about an hour, and have been doing “Yoga” ever since.

Today’s ‘yoga’ is what we do on the mat, poses and such, but I did not do any poses for 3 months until I came home with the book “The Complete Yoga Book” by James Hewitt (which today I know is copy of Iyengar “Light on yoga” but with drawings rather than pictures), but it was the first time I saw Yoga Poses, and came across the idea of Meditation in Motion (which is Sun Salutations).

I had been doing meditation on the breath up until then, as described in Patanjali’s Sutras, and was excited to do Sun Salutations. I have been doing both ever since.

Today my primary practice is Ashtanga, and I sit for 20 minutes in the morning before I start my practice.
I still read the sutras every year and find new meaning in it, and I like finding new translations.

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Yoga Interview

Where do you currently reside?

Wow, that is a hard question. I reside in the USA, though currently I am in between States. It is rather befitting the use of the word States, since we are all between States of awareness, and the only place to truly reside in is the Awakened State.

-As it stands I am writing these answer sitting on my mattress in the city of Leipzig, Germany where I am finishing an advanced Thai Yoga Massage course. Tomorrow I will be going to Berlin, Germany to teach a 10 day Bikyasa Yoga immersion. I was inspired to create Bikyasa Yoga through my Ashtanga and Hot Yoga practice, as well as Osho teaching and modern music inspiration.

What’s your favorite pose right now and why?

My favorite pose? Interesting. I always get my students to appreciate how they tend to have poses they like and poses they don’t like, and then to rephrase it in such a way that they realize that there is no pose we should “like” or “dislike.” Rather than moving between edges, discover the meaning behind Lao Tzu’s words: “rather than have edges, be soft, and those who find softness, find the highest place in the world.”

-None the less, since my primary practice is Ashtanga in the morning and Yin in the evening, I must admit I enjoy “saddle” tremendously right now, and maybe because I have a left ankle issue at the moment and it seems to help it.

Where is your favorite place to practice?

I love Tim Miller’s studio in CA. It is my favorite place to practice because of the respect and love I have for Tim as my teacher. I have yet to meet his equal, both in calmness, understanding, and the love his gives all his students.

-I love practicing outside as often as I can, and one of the most serene places I have practiced was over looking the waters in the Island of Iz in Croatia. Granted that is not the most accessible place for a daily morning practice, but in my traveling world, neither is Tim’s studio.

Thus I end up enjoying each morning and the sheer fact that I even get to practice. Sometimes it is in a spacious yoga room, sometimes it is in a rest stop in the USA, sometimes in a small hall way in a hotel room.

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5 Poses to Increase Hip Range of Motion

by Gabriel Azoulay and Elina Sinisalo

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When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” (~Lao Tzu)

What if you could let go of all the unnecessary tension in your body? The tension in your mind? The chaos in your heart? What could you become?

YinYasa Yoga teaches you to open up your body and open up your mind, expanding and transforming not just your Yoga practice but your entire life through the simple practice of letting go.  This article introduces YinYasa Yoga and a hip-opening practice inspired by Paul Grilley’s work and sequenced by Gabriel Azoulay. It is specifically aimed at improving range of motion, reducing pain, achieving postural balance, and discovering inner Stillness.

We carry so much tension in our bodies, both physically and mentally. From a biological perspective, without this tension we would not sustain life as we know it. Gravity, the major culprit to our structure, both aims to destroy us, yet allows us to enjoy the incredible experience we call life. With Gravity in mind we can appreciate how the human body is an amazing work of Art. It is made up of a strong yet mobile skeletal frame, muscles that enable movement and flexibility, and connective tissues such as ligaments and tendons, which provide stability at the joints and allow muscles to act. Naturally the make-up of our bodies extends far beyond that, but from a simple physiological standpoint, our goal is to enable optimal use and functioning of these parts.

Due to sedentary lifestyles, sleep patterns, injuries, or over-use, our bodies begin to take on less than-optimal postural habits. Today’s modern life means that some of us spend too much time sitting and working in front of computers or watching TV, and we counterbalance our inactivity with hardly any time spent moving our bodies through the full range of motion through stretching, strengthening, or actively releasing the built-up tension. Others of us take on so many sports and activities that our bodies simply can’t keep up with the demands placed on them.  The end result is an imbalance, with certain muscles getting stronger and tighter while counter muscles become weaker and underused. Repercussions echo throughout the entire body, many of which go unnoticed. Low back pain, for instance, can be a result of years of accepting minor strains and avoiding movements that challenge the spinal muscles. Consider that sitting on the floor or squatting to use the toilet engages a balance between our stomach muscles and our Spinalis group (the muscles of the spine); we enjoy the comforts of chairs and sofas and sitting toilets, but as a trade-off we lose the benefit from these natural balancing mechanisms.

Our self-restricted movements translate into a sense of inflexibility that can express itself as pain when we attempt to reach our toes. Backbends, which are literally moving away from Gravity, become a thing of the far past. We attribute our growing stiffness to the aging process, but this is just an excuse. What we really need to do is recapture our childhood and re-teach our bodies and minds the flexibility that we once knew and enjoyed. Pain-free flexibility and balance in body and mind can all be achieved through the practice of YinYasa Yoga.

YinYasa is an expression of Yin Yoga, a practice introduced to the Yoga world by Paul Grilley. The term YinYasa was coined by Gabriel Azoulay, who has spent the last 20 years communicating the physical and spiritual benefits of Yoga and its sister practices through classes, workshops, and publications. Paul Grilley’s work on the term Yin Yoga is well recognized, and a simple Google search will provide great details on both the term Yin and why it is used in reference to Yoga. We will address the quiet aspect of Yin Yoga, but first need to consider the term nYasa. Derived from the word VinYasa, which literally means “placing something on another,” VinYasa often refers to Yoga poses composed together based on the movement of the breath. It inspires us to understand that a house can only feel secure if the foundational stones are placed correctly. If even one stone is positioned incorrectly the whole structure will fall apart. Thus VinYasa refers to an intelligent sequencing of poses to achieve a greater whole. The great sage Vamana Rishi was the first to use the term in relation to the scientific work of Patanjali, who described a step-by-step path to spiritual awakening. Patanjali described an Eight-step path, which when followed in order, would enable the practitioner to arrive at their destination, much as a builder laying down stones in the right order would reap the benefits of a safe, warm, and foundationally-sound structure.

Following this simple understanding, Vamana Rishi said: “Vina VinYasa Yoga Asanadin NaKriyat” – ‘Without vinYasa, yoga poses should not be taken,’ which can be interpreted as: “Without the proper placement of poses, yoga practice should not be done.” YinYasa is the proper placement of Yin Yoga poses to achieve a greater whole, whether it is freedom in the hips, greater range of motion in the low back, or stronger knees.
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