After practicing yoga for over thirty years down in the big smoke we felt called to move back into nature into an environment ideal to go deeper into the higher limbs of yoga practice. The Vedas suggest that when one comes to the middle of ones life (around 50) to change ones mode of life and spend more time on spiritual practice in nature. This mode of life is called vanaprashtha (forest dweller). This same mode of life is suggested in many yogic texts. We took that quite literally and live now on a mountaintop surrounded by ancient rainforest. Living in nature inspires our practice greatly, which we can then share when we come back into the cities to teach workshops or retreats.
This blog will give you updates of what we are currently working on and it will give us the opportunity to stay in contact with the many people and students we have worked with throughout the last few decades. Of course if you want to post any questions, your mountaintop yogis will do their best to answer them. To sign up for our newsletter please go to http://www.8limbs.com/contact-us/
Here is a new article that I recently wrote for the British Spectrum, where it appeared in this Autumn edition. This article deals with the benefits, individual limitations, risks, possible warm-ups and proper execution of leg-behind-head postures, chiefly Ekapada Shirshasana. In some ways both the name Ekapada Shirshasana as also the English leg-behind-head are misnomers because the leg has to be placed much further down the neck, ideally below the T1 vertebra for the postures to be safe and effective. Benefits I will discuss here only the benefits that I actually felt by practicing these postures over a long time. Leg-behind-head postures are the ideal counter-postures to deep backbends. If you regularly practice postures such as Kapotasana or standing up from Urdhva Dhanurasana then ideally you would counter them by including Leg-behind-head postures into your repertoire. Regular deep back bending will stretch the anterior muscles of your body but also the connective tissue, potentially including the ligaments such as the anterior longitudinal ligament. This needs to be counteracted by postures that work into the opposite direction. Over stretching the front of the body over the long-term through deep back bending can also lead to a loss of stability, which could become detrimental even without impact such as a fall or car accident. The increase in back bending flexibility should be accompanied by an increase in stability. This is exactly what Leg-behind-head postures do at the spine and maybe it would be better if we look at them as complementary to back bending rather that counter-postures. Deep back bending taught me to be more open, non-judgemental, accommodating, embracing and less rigid in situations in which I otherwise wouldn’t have been. It does so by dissolving the protective character-armour around the heart. What back bending did not teach me at all was to stand up and to be unyielding in situations where I needed to, as an example, stand-up against social injustice or environmental devastation. If you picture for example Durvasasana, a posture where you stand upright on one leg with the other leg behind your head you can imagine how much you have to make yourself upright against a compressive force. This respectively confers skills when it comes to oppressive situations. The two are linked because according to yoga, the body is the crystallized strata of the mind and the mind the vaporized or gaseous aspect of the body. The two are not truly separate things but more reflections of each other. Leg-behind-head postures also make your chest strong and increase your breath volume which is great later on for pranayama. They actually strengthen the diaphragm because you have to bear down with it to elongate the lumbar cavity (which increases the lumber intervertebral disc spaces, an important safety precaution). They also strengthen your back-extensor muscles which also makes them a great preparation for arm-balances. Limitations Unfortunately, it’s a myth that everybody can do leg-behind-head postures if only they practice long and hard enough. There is a huge variety in how people’s hip joints are formed, the length and shape of the neck of the femur, the carrying angle of the femur and whether the hip joint is retroverted or anteverted. If all the mentioned parameters in your case are supportive then leg-behind-head will be an absolute breeze. If, however, all these parameters are against you then unless you invest seriously into surgery (I’m joking but you get the point) you haven’t got a chance to put your leg behind your head. It’s important that you understand that because I’ve seen people suffer for years because they thought if only they practiced harder, they could get there. They couldn’t! Risks If your anatomical parameters mentioned above do not support your leg-behind-head or if you are not sufficiently prepared or not warmed up enough you could create arthritis in your cervical discs or of course in an extreme case rupture one of them. You can also produce headaches or a permanent forward-head posture (which in itself creates tension and headaches). Further down your spine you could cause a lumbar disc prolapse and finally you could destabilise or jam your sacroiliac joints. I feel I have to explain this to prevent a gung-ho attitude of just shoving the leg there, which often does more bad than good. You can prevent demerit by proceeding cautiously and prudently. Warm-ups The stronger your abs are the safer will you be in leg-behind-head. For that reason, I always recommend my students to develop abs like Tarzan. Best ways to achieve that is to really burn your abs in Navasana (the posture where everyone chickens out) and to keep trying to get your feet off the floor when jumping through and jumping back (the second posture where everyone chickens out). Once our abs are strong enough we can now go into the warm-up phase. Unless your hip joints are very flexible already it is good practice to prepare yourself through warm-ups. They may be discarded once you have established the necessary strength and flexibility. The problem with this is if people don’t have the underlying support of the deep abs they will compensate by using other muscles and this is what leads to compensation patterns. If you don’t have stability your body is hard-wired to not allow you to work ‘hard’, so you won’t get stronger. It doesn’t necessarily mean that working the posture hard will lead to strengthening the muscle you hope to target if the support strength is not there.
Assume the position shown in photo 1 but initially don’t go as deep into it as depicted. The foot of the forward leg needs to be under the opposing armpit for it to be effective as a leg-behind-head warm-up. If the knee is more bent it will become a lotus warm-up and not contribute to your leg-behind-head flexibility. Now gently lean forward, and let both hips evenly and squarely draw down towards the floor. Make sure that your hips stay square by also drawing the hip of the forward leg down towards the foot of the straight leg. Make sure that you don’t feel pain on the outside of your knee as this could indicate knee-instability. The main thing that you need to be careful with here is to nurture the sacroiliac joint of the front leg. As the name says it’s were the sacrum meets the ilium, i.e. under the upper part of your gluteus maximus. You need to divert stretch away from this area and into the actual hip joint. You need to feel a rotating sensation here which should be increased by actively externally rotating the femur in the hip joint. Be sensitive and proceed slowly. Better to do the posture daily for a few minutes over a long time than trying to push through quickly. Now perform the warm-up on the other side.
warm-up, supine a:
This is a passive warm-up, usable once you have performed the previous one for some time without achieving the desired results. Lie on your back and bend up your left leg, placing the foot on the floor. I found that if you perform this posture with a straight left leg it is for beginners too taxing to keep the hips square, an essential ingredient. Bring now your right foot up towards your forehead and place a sandbag of approximately 10 to 20 lbs on your right foot. Balance it there with one or two hands if necessary. This can be a comfortable reading posture if you manage to hold a book, while balancing the sandbag. I read most of the Ramayana in this position. Feel the opening of your hip joint, do the posture to capacity and then repeat on the other side.
warm-up supine b:
This third warm-up takes it now a fair bit further. It does for the first time require that you put your leg behind your head but because you are lying down, gravity will work with you and that makes it a whole lot easier on your low back. Lying on your back, draw both feet towards your head, keeping them bent at approximately 100 degrees. Point now the right foot and draw it behind your head, using your left arm. Extend your left leg and hip-flex as much as possible. Make sure that your abs are engaged and your hips are square. Exhaling, flex your neck and draw your foot as far down your back as possible. The further down you get it the less pressure is on your neck and correspondingly less stress on your cervical discs. Inhaling, gently extend now your neck and upper thorax and draw your head down towards the floor. Repeat this sequence several times, on each exhale flexing the trunk and drawing the leg further down your neck and back and on each inhalation extending your back, which opens the hip joint further. Once you’ve entered as deeply into the pose as possible hold this point for several breaths. Then repeat the warm-up on the left side. This warm-up is much more strength based and creates a more realistic simulation of performing the full posture. It does not only open your hip joint but also increases core strength. It is safe to say that unless you are extremely flexible leg-behind-head’s core strength aspect is as important as it’s hip flexibility aspect. I suggest to do these three warm-ups until the shin is sitting in the lordotic curve of your cervical spine and does not press against the back of your head. Better even would it be if the shin presses against the upper thoracic vertebrae. However, such extreme levels of flexibility cannot be expected if you are new to these postures. Execution of full posture: knee behind shoulder Once you feel appropriately warmed up and endowed with the necessary abdominal and core strength, sit down with your left leg straight and your right leg bent up and resting on your right arm. During the following avoid as much as possible tilting the pelvis posteriorly because doing so would flex the low back and the more you do this the more stress you place on the lumbar discs as well as the sacroiliac joints. Instead of that focus on movement in the hip joint. Guiding your right foot with your left hand, laterally rotate your femur and draw your knee behind your shoulder. Leg – behind – head As we previously did in the third warm-up (only there supine), now bend your head and upper thorax forward and lift your leg behind your head using your left arm. At the same time draw your leg as far down your back as possible. Be realistic and remember what was earlier said about risks and safety. Inhaling, now return your head, neck and upper chest as much as you can to an upright position. This can only be safely performed if the leg sits somewhere in the lordotic curve of the neck. If it presses against the back of the head there will be too much stress on the cervical discs. Arch back now and concentrate on generating lateral rotation in your hip joint. Keep assisting by drawing your right foot backwards with your left hand. When you feel that the hip joint moving and rotating you have now gained some more space to draw your leg further down the back. Exhaling flex your trunk and neck and at the same time draw your right leg further down your back. Use several sequential attempts if necessary. When you feel that the leg does not move any further, inhale, raise your chest and perform back-extension as much as possible. You can repeat this sequence as often as you feel is necessary to get the leg as far down your back as possible. Sitting upright The final position would ideally see your leg carried by your thoracic spine, meaning the shin crosses the spine on or below the T1 vertebra. If this is achieved the posture becomes quite comfortable, a bit like as if you would carry a heavy backpack. Note that at this point it is not your neck but your shoulders that carry most of the weight of your leg. Sit now as upright as you can and open your chest fully. Feel the weight of the leg pressing against your spine. Check the position of the low back. Most likely the natural lordosis of the low back has been changed to a slight kyphosis. Your low back should either be straight or only slightly kyphotic to move into the next stage, which is letting go of the right foot. Tuck in with your lower abdominals as much as you can, inhale and bear down with your diaphragm. These actions combined will elongate the shape of the abdominal cavity and create more space for you lumber discs, which helps to protect them from disruption. Reduce the backward pull performed by your left arm and feel the weight of the leg on your back or neck respectively. Sit as tall as possible and once you feel confident let your back take over all weight from your left arm. It is important that you do not attempt this feat if your leg still presses against the back of your head. Your neck is not designed to withstand such a forward force if it is applied so high up (the length of the lever measured from the T1 vertebra will amplify the force) and if you would attempt that regularly you would induce a permanent forward head position. That’s the kind of body position that we often see in people who spend too much time on their handheld devices or in front of computer screens, particularly when the eye-sight is so bad that they need to move the head forward to see better. Ekapada Shirshasana Once you are confident that your back can carry the weight of your leg you may now place your hands in prayer position on your chest. Keeping the right foot pointed often aids in protecting the knee. Keep engaging the hamstrings on the right to continue the action of drawing the leg down the back. Only extremely flexible people can revert that action and work on straightening the leg (active release technique). If you are highly proficient in this posture this will actually get you even deeper into it, i.e. further open the hip joint. Gently drawing the chin backwards can also help in arresting the leg more firmly in place. Sit as tall as possible and flex your left foot and draw the left heel into the floor for stability. Stay to capacity and then take the leg out of position using your left hand. Now repeat all these steps on the left. There are further variations of this posture during which you first bend forward into a Pashimottanasana-like position with one leg behind your head and finally by placing your hands on the floor and lifting your straight leg up into Chakorasana and then jumping back into the plank. Attempt these versions only after you can comfortably perform the steps discussed so far. If you progress cautiously to each consecutive step only once you have become proficient in the previous one leg-behind-head postures will give you long-term benefits without demerits. Enjoy!
As we have recently seen women are still discredited for taking a long time to speak out against powerful men like Brett Kavanaugh. In this article Karen Rain describes the slow and painful process to admit to herself that she had been victimized. She recounts the years it took her to build up the courage to finally own the fact that she had been sexually assaulted. I was there when this happened and when the photos were taken. I second her narration of events.Looking back on this last sentence it feels strange that I should even have to still say this. But Karen wrote this article because there are still too many who doubt her account or re-interpret the actions of Jois as spiritual.When I see these photos memories come alive. For me and many others back in that room, Karen was the worlds most advanced practitioner, our hero. She was the only person that made fifth series look easy and effortless. I’m asking those who still don’t believe her account why did the world’s most advanced practitioner who, looking forward to a stellar yoga career, suddenly turned her back on yoga and disappeared from the face of the earth not to be seen and heard of for 20 years?The answer to this question is clearly visible in the photos that Karen shares. Clearly, she wants “to be a part of building a world that is safer and more welcoming for victims to recognize and report abuse when it happens, where we will be believed and protected”.Part of building that world is that the beneficiaries of Jois need to come out, apologize and explain how they have enabled this abuse. And that call will not go away.Here is Karen’s latest article https://medium.com/s/powertrip/yoga-guru-pattabhi-jois-sexually-assaulted-me-for-years-48b3d04c9456
In this new video Monica explains on a model of the skull what’s important during headstand and what you need to avoid. She also shows how to prepare for headstand by first building shoulder- and arm strength.
Our Greek friends at Modern Yogi interviewed Monica about Ashtanga as therapy and adapting the practice. Monica also talks about whether Ashtanga is for everybody, which role flexibility plays in yoga, and how yoga can alleviate panic attacks. Additionally, she covers the need for self-love when practising and to meditate to connect with the Divine within us. Finally, she explains the importance how one’s relationship with oneself prepares one for satisfying relationships with others. You can find the audio file here. Or the transcript here.
When we think about acting responsibly towards the environment a lot of space is given to recycling, using energy saver light bulbs, abolishing plastic shopping bags and plastic water bottles or having shorter showers. However, if you analyse how much CO2 each of those measures save it’s actually not that much. If you would add up all of these and put on top going car-free and vegan, avoiding air travel and converting your energy to solar, the sum total would still only be a fraction of the one single measure of bringing one less child into the world.Having a single child less will save 58 tonnes of CO2 each year for each parent’s life. Here’s the report https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jul/12/want-to-fight-climate-change-have-fewer-children.This powerfully drives home the point that if we want to survive as a species and biosphere we need to reduce global population. Since decades the UN waffles on about us soon reaching peak-humanity (the point from which population growth becomes negative). But just recently the forecast was again upgraded from 9.5 to 11.4 billion and this is on top of a 40 year history of upgrades. Already in 1999 humanity’s demand of planetary resources exceeded Earth’s supply capacity by 20% (Wackernagel, M.; Schulz, N.B.; et al. (2002). In 1999 our population was 6 Billion. Take 20% off (the amount that we exceeded), that’s 4.8 Billion. Wackernagel and Schulz calculation, however, does not even take into account fossil fuel depletion, which increases our carbon footprint one-hundredfold.If we are really generous for a moment and waive the hundredfold increase (otherwise it just makes the estimate too pessimistic) and simply say let’s half the 4.8 Billion number to take into consideration past fossil fuel usage. This would bring us to a carrying capacity of Earth of 2.4 billion humans. That’s roughly the number we had at the end of WW2, which was the beginning of global capitalism and the great acceleration of trade and worldwide industrialization.I’m not too fussed whether we set the limit of sustainable population growth there at 1945 or during the 1960’s or even as late as 1970 (3.7 Billion) when Earth Overshoot Day started. The point is we as a global community are living far beyond our planetary-resource means. Taking short showers and using reusable shopping bags and water bottles is great. It’s great for giving us a warm fuzzy feeling in the belly that we did something good. But it’s not enough. We need to do more.Each child born comes with an enormous carbon footprint. For each additional human we have to fell more rain forest and turn it into food plantations. Each additional person takes up resources that we need to share with all other species that have a right to exist as much as we do.But there’s more to that. They do not just have a right but we actually need them. The more diverse the biosphere is the more stable it is. More and more species evolved over time to increase the stability of the biosphere, which consists of homeostasis, maintaining the parameters that guarantee life on the planet on an even level. These parameters such as temperature, PH, and/or chemical composition of soils, atmosphere and oceans are not existing accidentally but are maintained by the biomass, i.e. the total mass of all organisms on the planet. The more diverse this biomass is the better it is at doing that job.Currently we have started a process of mass extinction of diverse life forms. Every day we are making plants and animal species extinct. As biodiversity decreases the capacity of the biomass to maintain homeostasis (evenness of bio parameters) decreases, too. Good news is, there are actually organisms that don’t have a problem with that. There is a domain of microbes called archaea. They are amazing. They can live at the rim of deep-sea volcanos in 900 degree hot water and metabolize the emitted sulphur. They have been found hundreds of meters under the sediment of Lake Titicaca (the world highest and deepest lake in the Andes) where they would have lived without oxygen for a billion years. Their secret is that they can adapt to the most hostile of environments and the reason they can do that is that they are not specialized at all. Because of their low level of specialization, they can survive everything we do to the biosphere. To them it will be water on a duck’s back.To turn that around, the organisms most vulnerable to the current mass die-off of species are the most specialized. The most specialized of all of those is us, you and me, homo sapiens, as we like to call ourselves. Look at us couch-potatoes and perceive the amazing bio-support-system in place by all other species. By killing off all of the other guys (since 1960 we have lost 85% of the worlds wildernesses and killed more than two thirds of all wild mammals) we are literally pulling out the rug on which we stand. We can’t live without the biosphere.Back to the outset and the quoted article. In order to live in harmony with all organisms we need to reduce human population so that their population can again grow. This can only happen through education and choice. About a decade ago the then Australian treasurer Peter Costello stated that for the Australian economy it would be the best if each couple had three kids. He said, “One for Mummy, one for Daddy and one for the taxation office”. In the light of the above information I’d like to turn this around. For the biosphere it is better if we have less children for example one per couple. One for Mummy, one for Daddy, minus one for Planet Earth.Don’t get me wrong. I do not have the right and do not wish to dictate anybody their rate of procreation. Neither wished Peter Costello. But his suggestion (which is still echoed today by politicians, economists and business people around the world) is that we need to grow. More GDP, more industrial output, more consumption, more expenditure, more taxes and to guarantee that all, more population. In order to continue to thrive as a species including the surrounding biological community we need to shrink all of these factors and above all, population.The first step towards that is information and education. We need to drill through the doctrine of continuous growth perpetuated by those who run our economies. They do maintain this doctrine because they only look towards the next electoral cycle and the need to show a budget plus, growing stock and real estate values, etc. This growth, however, while it may look good in the short term, in the longer view looks to societal collapse.
Recent years saw frequent bad publicity for inversions like shoulder-stand and headstand. Most of that circled around arthritis of the cervical discs, which can be accrued in both postures, whereas headstand additionally is singled out for demerit incurred through increased pressure in the head. All of that can be avoided by performing the postures to a high standard. That means that in shoulder-stand any pressure or weight born on the cervical vertebrae must be avoided and in headstand pressure on the head must be minimized.I have previously described in my various books and also in previous articles on the two postures how to do that. The problem though seems to be persisting and only recently I read an article describing shoulder-stand and headstand as balancing postures in which only alignment matters and no exertion at all should be felt. To prevent demerit, however, it is essential to look at both postures as strength postures. Before I describe this approach let me quickly recap why we are performing inversions at all and preferably even hold them for longer.One of the fundamental texts on yoga is the Yoga Gorakshataka, Goraknath’s One-hundred Verses. In this slender text the siddha devotes 10% of the stanzas extoling the virtues of the inversions. He considers them the most straightforward way to attaining pratyahara, the fifth limb of yoga. The purpose of pratyahara is to gain independence for external or sensory stimulus. As long as one is dependent on sensory stimulus success in meditation practice is difficult to obtain.The relation of inversions to pratyahara is as follows: In Yoga Yajnavalkya we find the image of the pranic body (subtle body) being like an aura that during resting extends 12 angulas (approximately 25 cm or 10 inches) beyond the surface of the gross body. Particularly during any form of agitation pranic protuberances extend out much further and attach themselves to sense objects. As soon as the prana has attached itself to a sense object the mind then interprets this as “just wanting to have it”. The connection between thought and prana has already been described in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, where we find the sentence, “Where prana goes there goes vrtti (thought) and were vrtti goes there goes prana. As milk and water once mingled are difficult to separate so mind and breath cannot be kept apart.”As soon as the pranic body has made contact with a sense object the mind will interpret that contact as “needing to have it”. This could be a person that you intensely desire only to ask yourself years later after an acrimonious marriage break-up, “What was I thinking?” It could also be an initially promising business venture that ends disastrously or the decision to invest to the hilt in real estate only to see the real estate prices dropping and you losing your shirt. There are of course many less dramatic instances in which this mechanism is at work but the important structural element in all of them is the seeming lack of choice. We “just needed to!” What if there was something that could intercept these pranic protuberances latching on to the sense objects. In this case the thought, “I just want it”, will never occur. There may then still be an impulse but it will never be accommodated by a lack of choice.There are actually such techniques in yoga and we call them pratyahara techniques, i.e. techniques designed to obtain independence from sensory stimulus. They come in broadly three baskets, amongst which are pranayama techniques (chiefly breath retentions), Raja Yoga methods (mudras and bandhas during meditation) and Hatha Yoga methods. Ideally of course all three approaches are combined, there is not one better than the other. Hatha Yoga’s approach to pratyahara consists of arresting prana in the throat chakra (through shoulder-stand) and in the third-eye chakra (through headstand). The Hatha Yoga approach is obviously the easiest to implement. You will find little beneficial influence on your mind if you hold headstand or shoulder-stand for only one or two minutes. Longer inversions though have a beneficial effect on the mind and readiness for meditation that is so profound that I found it baffling.With the stage now set with our investigation why we should extend inversions let’s look into how we can do so safely. Please treat this article only as an adjunct to my descriptions of the inversions in my books, where you find contraindications such as high blood pressure in which case inversions should not be practised and other aspects of the postures described. Here I want to focus only on a single aspect of the inversions and that is the strength aspect.During shoulder stand students often wonder whether they should press the back of the head into the floor or the chin into the chest (as we would during Jalandhara Bandha). The answer is “both”. Both actions can be performed simultaneously by withdrawing the neck as far as possible into the thoracic cavity as a turtle does when withdrawing its head. This is akin to the movement you would perform if in an upright position you would try to hunch your shoulders around your ears. You can also think of it as trying to touch the ceiling with your toes in shoulder-stand. Alternatively, you can think of it as sucking your entire spine upwards and away from the floor. In all of these instances the effect is that the backs of the cervical vertebrae are lifted off the floor. If you cannot lift them off the floor you should use a blanket or two to place your shoulders on with your head on the floor. If you intend to hold shoulder stand for longer I would in all cases suggest to use blankets as a prop. The yardstick for holding shoulder stand should be our ability to simultaneously press the back of the head into the floor and the chin into the chest, being created by withdrawing the neck into the thoracic cavity and thus lifting the spine off the floor and pressing shoulders, elbows and back of the head into the floor. This needs to be a continuous effort and if at any point you are getting tired of it come out of the posture.Let’s look at headstand next. Briefly visualize the difference in size of your cervical and lumbar vertebrae. The lumbar vertebrae are huge so that many large muscles can attach to them that support your low back. The vertebrae themselves have to be incredibly strong to withstand the many opposing forces of the muscles attached. Different to that the cervical vertebrae. Compared to the lumbar vertebrae they are minute and this is so because they are designed to hold and carry little beyond the actual weight of your head. The head makes up on average between 7 – 9% of the body’s weight. If you consider that during headstand the head does rest on the floor and does not need to be carried the arms and shoulders should carry about 80% of the body weight so that the normal, average load on the cervical vertebrae is not exceeded. This makes for a serious arm and shoulder work-out. You need to feel that these body parts are carrying the weight. Do not relax in the posture by simply balancing on your head. If at any point you feel that a lot of weight is bearing down through the head simply come out of the posture and rest in Balasana. The strength to hold your weight is only gradually improved over time. Improvement can be sped up by placing more emphasis on the vinyasa movement and other strength postures suck as forearm balance.You will find that if you develop your strength and take the weight off your head and cervical discs in both inversions that their benefits can be enjoyed and demerit minimized.
Just in case you missed Earth Overshoot Day or in case somebody told you things are getting better or even stated that everything was just perfect, please read on. According to a new study we are consuming our planet’s resources in EVER-ACCELERATING destructive volumes. Hey, that means things are not just getting worse, they are getting worse faster.This year humanity had devoured the entirety of Earth’s annual resource output on the 1st August. That was two days earlier than in 2017. Earth Overshoot Day is defined as the date in the year at which consumption exceeds nature’s ability to regenerate. This overshoot was first recorded in 1970 when it took place on the 29th December. The article says, ““Our current economies are running a Ponzi scheme with our planet. We are borrowing the Earth’s future resources to operate our economies in the present. Like any Ponzi scheme, this works for some time. But as nations, companies, or households dig themselves deeper and deeper into debt, they eventually fall apart.”That’s the important thing to realize, the whole world economy is actually a giant Ponzi scheme. Remember Bernie Madoff? The problem is that all of our smart leaders know that but are still calling for economic growth. Economic growth leads to short-term rising tax-revenue and rising income for corporations and (sometimes) private households but in order to do so we are liquidating and monetizing the very asset that ensures our continued existence, our biosphere.We need to reduce and shrink our economies not increase them! The article makes suggestions how the situation can be improved. For example, if we all would go vegetarian the Overshoot would be pushed back by 10 days. I’d imagine if we’d all go vegan that would be significantly more. Important is that we don’t wait for our governments to lead because many of them as a result of our political system are anyway in the pockets of the multinational corporations. It’s the choices of each individual consumer that matter most.For more suggestions how to improve our situation and context please go to https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/jul/23/earths-resources-consumed-in-ever-greater-destructive-volumes
Today I want to honor the woman who blew the whistle on sexual abuse in Ashtanga-culture, Anneke Lucas. As Beryl Bender Birch recently said in a podcast even back in the 1980’s everybody knew about Jois’ actions. While everybody knew and few confronted Jois, it took one very brave person to be the first to publicly write about it and thus initiate a platform on which more women can now speak out. And it took a grueling past to create such braveness. Here is Anneke’s story replete with TEDx Talk in which she talks about being sold as a six-year-old to a paedophile ring and her 30-year long journey of healing. It’s one of the most touching talks I’ve ever seen. My hair was standing when she said, “the top-down model is trauma-based. At the top are the psychopaths, the sickest people, at the bottom are the most vulnerable people , in the middle are those who are traumatized by the system but are trying to do good”. It is my long-held suspicion that any form of power exerted over another must at its core contain some form of abuse. Any reworking of our culture must entirely do away with the top-down model. Thank you, Anneke, for such insight and clarity. For article and video please go to http://theshiftnetwork.com/blog/2018-07-09/metoo-rouses-yoga-community
Why do I keep posting about this subject? As far as I know only about half a dozen Ashtanga teachers have come out with apologies about their past actions and concrete support for the assaulted women. To me it looks as if 99% of Ashtanga teachers and this includes most of the big hitters are simply just hoping for this storm to blow over. To make matters worse those who dare to speak up are constantly questioned about their “agenda”. Why are those who remain silent not questioned about their agendas?I do not think that our current culture-wide approach to the problem works. I see Ashtanga today as being in a similar situation as Bikram Yoga in 2012 prior to the publications of Hell Bent: Obsession, Pain and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Bikram Yoga by Benjamin Lorr. The book initiated a public discussion that ultimately even if it took years swept Bikram Yoga and its founder away. Ashtanga’s own Hell Bent, Matthew Remski’s book, will be published shortly. While Ashtanga die-hards can discredit him by simply saying that he is an enemy of Ashtanga, the general public will not fall for that. It will not do that because most of its members are not married to Ashtanga. The general public will simply look at the very strong evidence showing that there is a culture of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse within Ashtanga, which is not addressed by its members.We cannot protect Ashtanga by trying to assassinate the messengers. Because there are now too many. What we can do is listen closely to the victims and offer support and apologies for enabling abuse. Then we need to engage in a soul-search and ask ourselves how our Ashtanga-culture can be changed to avoid any form of sexual, physical and spiritual abuse in the future. We need to ask ourselves how do the power structures that continue to deny such abuse are capable of changing and if not in how far we as a culture want to continue to support them?In this spirit I am here offering another testimony of an assaulted woman, Jubilee Cooke. I think that especially us teachers who make a successful living off Ashtanga owe it to these women to listen to them, start a dialogue and implement changes in our culture of which little has happened so far. If Ashtanga is close to your heart please read this article and support us to bring about a culture of transparency, accountability, dialogue and healing.For Jubilee’s article please go to http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/why-didnt-somebody-warn-me-a-pattabhi-jois-metoo-story-jubilee-cooke/
One of the last times that I sat in K. Pattabhi Jois’ afternoon student meeting (called “conference”) I looked at a photo of Ramana Maharishi that was hanging on the wall. I asked Jois, “how come Ramana is considered spiritually liberated but he hasn’t done any asanas in his whole life”? I didn’t mean any harm with that question. I was just curious. There are several potential avenues an answer could take and I was simply curious which one Jois would take. But he never got to answering the question. A storm of protest started and I was screamed down by about 20 other Western students. It was considered “questioning the guru”. The screaming subsided after about 2 minutes. KP Jois’ looked around somewhat baffled and then went back to discussing his previous topic, rasam recipes. The interesting thing here is that it was not KP Jois who rebuked me but it was actually the cult followers who formed a protective wall around the guru and prevented that he was questioned. I realized that the initially motley community of practitioners had by then morphed enough into a cult that it did not warrant returning to the Jois shala. To this day close adherents to the Ashtanga cult tell me that they feel they must have faith and that questioning was “coming from the ego”. Here I am trying to make a case that questioning is a good thing, for you and for authority. How did we get to a point that questioning is a bad thing and that it shows disrespect for the teacher? The attitude is not new. In his “The Last Days of Socrates”, Plato shows how Socrates constant questioning of established Athenian authorities invoked their ire until eventually they have him sentenced to death. But Socrates main interest is to get people to question themselves, to question how they know what they know. In other words, he asks them to question the means by which they arrive at a certain knowledge. He wants to lure them away from statements such as, “I simply know” or we could say he wants to disperse blind faith in our pet beliefs. Via Plato and Aristotle ultimately Socrates’ way of questioning lead to the formation of what today is Western Science. Whoever is going through some form of scientific training learns to not accept statements of existing authorities at face value. You are trained to perceive holes in their argumentation and to collect evidence to falsify their assumptions. But this attitude is not exclusive to the West. Here a passage from Gautama Buddha from the Kalama Sutta: “Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by thinking, ‘This sage is our guru.’ [and therefore, what he says is right]. When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skilful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.” The Buddha here says that we shouldn’t simply defend a position because it is held by an authority that we value, not just because we have faith in it. We must research and prove it for ourselves or reject it. Critical thinking and questioning is not an invention of the West. It was always engaged in by the greatest minds of both East and West. Let’s continue this great tradition. Personage versus position A big part of what is modern Ashtanga Yoga boils down to personality cult. A position is deemed right and duly defended not because of its intrinsic value but merely because of who holds the position. So-and-so says its right and therefore it must be right. I think it would be a great step forward if we could start looking at the beliefs and assumptions that define Ashtanga Yoga independent of who holds them. I was asked repeatedly who I am critiquing with certain statements. As if it wasn’t interesting to inquire into a particular position without knowing who holds it. If we know who holds the position the refutation of the position can be declared invalid because the person that holds the position can’t be wrong. I purposely try to avoid attacking people or a particular person. In our culture there is strange way of avoiding change. Whenever there is a problem, people are always looking for the person or persons that is responsible. Once the person is found they are condemned, shamed and/or “held accountable”. The person is then sacrificed as a scapegoat but the underlying problem is not addressed. In other words, instead of looking at what the problem is we avoid it by looking for the person who causes it. Once the person is found and punished a new person steps into their shoes and the problem continues without change being brought about. The other problem with this approach is that we tend to have so much investment in personages (such as our teachers) that the slightest criticism of a person usually leads to trenches being dug and front lines being drawn. What I think needs to happen are systemic changes, not just changes of leadership. I am hoping for a time in which an argument is judged simply by its inherent merit and not by who holds it. If a particular way of doing things is found to be faulty it should be critiqued based on its demerit and not defended because the position held by a person that is inherently great or powerful.Should we consider that a valid approach or should we think that a position should be deemed right just because a particular person holds it? If it is the latter at what point would we start to hold that person accountable if, for example, they commit a crime such as sexual assault? I think the past has shown us that this is not a viable approach. Do we ultimately serve a person by not questioning their views and actions? Surprisingly I am still getting responses that I should stop questioning the “guru” or the “lineage” and that only by totally “submitting to the guru can I attain Jnana” (yes, I kid you not). I am asking myself if it is healthy for a person in a position of power if the people around them are not challenging them upon displaying destructive behaviour? Today I do think that KP Jois had a personality disorder (for all the greatness that he displayed in other areas) and ironically, I feel now that I let him down for not challenging him on it. Okay, I can weasel my way out of it by saying that I was in a cult and any form of questioning was censored and dis-encouraged by other cult members. But on the other hand, I do know now that Jois reacted to criticism and adjusted his behaviour temporally. In other words, he received too little criticism too late, at a time when his behaviour was already entrenched. Had we all been vigilant back them and as a community told him that his behaviour was wrong he would probably have snapped out of it. The whole episode would have then remained a minor embarrassment in the history of the movement. Now, after decades have passed without us adequately addressing these issues it has grown into a much bigger sore and KP Jois legacy has been besmirched. I think a lot of this could have been avoided had we been insistent with our challenges and questioning early on. Another issue that we need to look into is whether we are not infantilizing authorities when protecting them from questioning. In the episode quoted at the outset of this articles the followers or KP Jois clearly thought him incapable of an appropriate response to my answer. How they arrived at this conviction in less than a second before they started screaming my down baffles me. Are we not being disrespectful when assuming that we know the answer given by an authority or when assuming that a satisfactory answer can’t be given? What does their authority status then consist of if we deny them the possibility to respond? The “Guru”-concept as part of an outdated modernistic view of the self. I placed “guru” here in inverted commas to denote beliefs such as, “the guru is the path”, “the guru must always be right and can never be questioned” and “if you see the guru doing strange things he does so to adjust your personality”, or “the guru is embodying the students mental disorder to heal the student”. In all of these statements the “guru’s” destructive behaviour is rationalized. I could imagine a guru or teacher operating outside of that paradigm and in that case the inverted commas would not be necessary. A guru would then have to be open to be questioned. The problem with terms like “guru” or “lineage” is that they are still operating from a modernistic concept of self. Prior the 1960’s we believed that a person has certain inherent qualities that they exhibit all the time and that do not change. For example, one person is “good” while another person may be called “evil”. This model in the 1960’s gave way to the post-modernistic view of the self which says that we are fluid at all times and incorporate an almost infinite number of different mini-selves which may be predominant at one time or another. Parallel to that in psychology the school of situationism developed, which holds that who a person is and how they act is entirely dependent on situation and in reality, constantly changes with the drop of a hat. There is currently no scientific evidence that refutes situationism. And respectively there is no scientific evidence that a single person can be constantly right or having a trademark on truth. Especially for people who are members of spiritual movements it is very important and healing to look into these concepts. We understand then that no person can be right all the time. A person may display great understanding and insight a lot of the time. But they can never be right all the time. To believe that anybody can is simply a myth that ultimately will leave us disenfranchised. Whatever anybody says at any given time in any circumstance we still have to check for ourselves whether the statement is right or helpful. Of course, it would be great if we would find that one person that will sort us out in return for total devotion. The reality of life however presents us with a much more complex scenario. The one that we need to constantly question what we believe to be right and how we arrived at that belief. And that no person can lay claim to permanent rightness. This is what J. Krishnamurti meant when he said “Truth is a pathless land”.