The Johnny Appleseed of Yoga

Picture of Beth Hughes

Beth Hughes

I feel extremely blessed in my life. My marriage has survived for almost 28 years with many ups and downs. Somehow we always manage to find our way home. My children are healthy and both have 4 years of college under their belts (one is finishing up 7 this spring). We are all relatively healthy as well.

I have seen so many examples of how hard it really can be around me and I doubt I can (or should) share them all. Yesterday after church a choir made up of people with special needs sang. I found myself both thankful that my children are intact, and blown away by the abilities of some of these children, and sad. My niece has Angleman’s Syndrome and will never be able to talk; she functions on a 2 year old level even though she is 19. I wish she could participate in a choir like this. One of my students at the preschool this morning has special needs; their class is usually a challenge for me. But they all did well and this child participated well. I found myself thinking that one day they will be in this choir. All of my morning classes went well and participation was high.

My first afternoon class had one child. I found myself thinking during the first half how this is totally not working and I should just stop teaching here, numbers are just too low. But then this child shared things with me about their life that nearly brought me to tears. No child of 7 should experience the things they have. I was able to give them some self soothing activities to do. Then I played a song that speaks to my heart…evidently it spoke to theirs too, they told me they loved it. So right then and there I decided that even if this one child is all that comes for the remainder of the year I’m all in. I then taught gentle yoga and it went well. Continue reading

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Dangerous grammar

Picture of a native indian Medicine Man
I just celebrated my 62nd birthday. My friend recommended that I visit a medicine man living on an Indian reservation in Northern Arizona. He gave me a ticket and whispered in my ear, “Just do what I say and your bedroom will come alive!”

After being persuaded by him, I drove to the reservation, handed my ticket to the medicine man and wondered what would happen next.

The old Indian slowly and methodically mixed the potion, handed it to me, and with a grip on my shoulder, warned, “This is powerful medicine and must be respected. You take only a teaspoonful and then say ’1-2-3.’ When you do that, you will become manlier than you have ever been in your life and remain so for as long as you want.”

I was encouraged by what he said to me. As I began to walk away, I turned suddenly and asked the old man, “How do I stop the medicine from working?”

“Your partner must say ’1-2-3-4,’ he responded. “But when she does, the medicine will not work again until the next full moon.” Continue reading

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Larry Sherman loses 350+ pounds using yoga!

Larry Sherman shows off his reduction in size

Larry Sherman

Larry Sherman lost 350 pounds with the help of yoga! This is an inspiring story that illustrates the power of yoga. You can use yoga to dissolve the knot that is creating an unhealthy relationship between you and your food.

Yoga can help you take responsibility and help you to take control of your life. It does this by helping you calm down. Once the mind-body system calms down you can deal with some of the anger and pain and wade through your emotions to get to your own role in what is happening. Once this happens you can dissolve many internal knots and take charge of your life.

You can find Larry at his blog here. You will find many incredible pictures and posts! Please feel free to pass this inspiring story to others by clicking on like or share buttons!

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Krishnamacharya’s propaganda

Kristhnamacharya performing yoga on top of a child

Krishnamacharya’s guru had set an ambitious goal for him. The goal was no less than changing the course of human destiny. This was to be accomplished by making hatha-yoga popular. Both Krishnamacharya and his guru viewed hatha-yoga as an entrance or a starting point into the larger yoga. Given the unpopularity of hatha yoga, how was this poor Brahmin boy to accomplish his guru’s wishes? Before we go into this let us take a moment to understand why hatha-yoga was not popular in the first place.

Many thousands of years ago, Patanjali propounded the “8 limbs of yoga”. His work was known as “The Yoga Sutras” and his system of yoga was later known as Raja Yoga. The yoga sutras were written in Sanskrit and contained about 196 sutras or short stanzas or paragraphs. The actual number of sutras varies depending on the source as some stanzas were added or deleted but the number of sutras does not vary by much from the number 196 by more than a few sutras. Thus the integrity of the main body of work of Patanjali has been preserved for thousands of years.

Of the eight limbs of yoga, that Patanjali propounded, asanas was one of them. Unfortunately he did not elaborate much on asanas within the yoga sutra itself. This has led to confusion as to what exactly did Patanjali mean by the word asana? The literal translation of the word “asanam” in Sanskrit is “to be seated”. This has led some to speculate that yoga-asana referred to by Patanjali was only with respect to the seated posture while meditating. After all one cannot meditate successfully if you cannot remain seated comfortably for an extended period. It is not surprising therefore to find that yoga-asana (or the yoga of postures or hatha-yoga) was in serious decline at the start of the 20th century. (The confusion of the meaning of word “asana” is unwarranted. The word “asana” in Sanskrit means posture and “asanam” probably refers to the most common posture: that of being seated. It is thought that Patanjali did not find it necessary to propound on the asana practice as it was widely practiced and common knowledge at that time.)

It is for this reasons that Krishnamacharya’s guru asked him to propagate and spread hatha-yoga throughout the world. He viewed hatha-yoga as a vital limb of the 8 limbs and saw its decline as a threat to the entire system of Raja-yoga. No doubt Krishnamacharya was brilliant and had mastery over the subject. But he was living in poverty in a remote corner of India, utterly devoid of resources and means to carry out the task assigned to him. What made his task even more burdensome is the fact that nobody was interested in doing hatha-yoga. The correlation between the physical and the mental was not at all clear at that time. Hatha-yoga was viewed as a form of physical exercise and consequently viewed as much inferior to the mental and spiritual practice of meditation. Either people were interested in learning the scriptures or practicing meditation. Nobody saw any benefit in doing hatha-yoga. How was then, Krishnamacharya to propagate hatha-yoga?

Krishnamacharya was desperate. To attract attention he resorted to what he would later call as “propaganda”. He would hold demonstrations where he would ask his students to perform extremely difficult and challenging postures. In one of the pictures he is seen as standing on top of one of his student who is doing a backward bend! Later on he would say that these “stunts” were not to be performed by lay people and were done only for the purpose of attracting attention. In fact hatha-yoga like all the 8 limbs of yoga is an inward-oriented practice and is not done for enhancing the ego but instead done for diminishing it. The fact that a yogi of the caliber of Krishnamacharya had to resort to such demonstrations speaks to the level of his desperation.

At one stage, Krishnamacharya even resorted to the stunt of doing a demonstation of stopping his heartbeat for a few minutes. It is not clear what he did, and there is some controversy over the fact whether the heartbeat can actually be stopped. In experiments with other yogis it has been shown that though the EKG continues to show contractions, there is no measurable pulse and heartbeat, probably due to the severe restriction of blood flow to the heart. Whatever may be the case, Krishnamacharya managed to attract attention. Very soon European and American doctors were making a beeline to witness this phenomenon and were able to attest to the fact that they could not hear any heartbeat even using stethoscope.

As Krishnamacharya’s fame spread he managed to attract a small but dedicated number of key students. These students went on to become great teachers in their own right and as a result hatha-yoga spread to all parts of the world. If you practice hatha-yoga today, you must bear in mind, that this may be the result of Krishnamacharya’s propaganda!

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What is a sutra?

Sutra on dried banana leaves

Imagine you are the author of a Sutra. Why would cutting down one word give you immense pleasure? To understand this, and to understand what is a sutra continue reading.

The word sutra is derived from the verbal root siv, meaning to sew. The medical word suture also comes from the same root. The word sutra is meant to potray the idea of a “thread holding together” a collection of paragraphs to form a manual conveying a single idea.

Sutras are also related to brevity and conciseness. The idea is to pack as much meaning in as few words as possible. Why is this so? To understand this one has to go back thousands of years when the sutras were composed. Paper was not invented then and text was written on dried leaves. This was not only time consuming and expensive, but also viewed as unreliable. Text written on dried leaves was prone to destruction or decay. War, famine, floods, mass migrations, plague, and other disruptions made it extremely difficult to carry around elaborate texts written in long form on dried leaves, and preserve these across generations.

A better way had to be found to convey and preserve ideas over a period of thousands of years. A system was invented whereby ideas were written down in extremely short form and these were then memorized and passed on from generation to generation. Brevity was hence of the essence. Every word was a burden that had to be carried on by subsequent generations. Consequently the authors of a sutra spent enormous energy in condensing their idea in as few words as possible. It is said that if the author of a sutra could cut out one word from his sutra then he got as much pleasure as he would get on the birth of his first son!

Besides being short, the sutra had to be complete, unambiguous, and logically consistent. It had to describe the subject completely in as few words as possible while being structured in a logical and consistent ways so that there was no need to refer to any other text to understand the subject.

The way sutras were learnt was that they were first memorized. After the complete text was memorized only then the teacher would explain the meaning of each stanza one at a time. The process of memorization was that the teacher would chant one whole stanza and the students would then repeat after him multiple times. Once the teacher was satisfied that the stanza was committed to memory he would move on to the next stanza. The pronunciation and meter of the recitation was important. Mispronunciation could render the meaning of the words to be different from what the author intended. That is why a lot of care was taken to make sure that the rendition was accurate and faithful to the original. The author of the sutra had to take care that the sutra was composed in such a way that it made it possible to chant and memorize it.

Sanskrit language was also part of the system. (Though this was not the only language in which sutras were written.) The language was created to be mathematical and precise. The idea was that the meaning of the words would in themselves convey the idea rather than rely on context that can change with time. It can be debated on how successful this was as commentators on the various sutras debate on what the original authors meant. But the fact that we can still talk about and largely understand what was composed thousands of years ago speaks to the success of the system.

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