Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad
Playing the Edge of Mind and Body - A NEW LOOK AT YOGA (Page 4)
Joel Kramer Yoga Journal, January 1977
Trying to be attentive does remove one from what is going on and therefore is not attention. One does not do Jnana Yoga by trying to force attention to the structures of thought to find out what thought's limits are. Since the edges are there, one does not have to seek them. A thought, although more elusive, is as much a fact as a bird or a tree, so all it takes to see it is objectively looking. The simplicity of Jnana Yoga is made difficult in that the brain is so conditioned by thought and so habit-bound in its mental structures that the shift of consciousness from thought to attention at first sounds mysterious. When thought thinks about this shift either through reading about it or by remembering a previous occurrence of it, thought tries to bring about this shift. This is impossible as the shift does not occur within the field of thought. Yet this quality of attention, this shift in consciousness, is available at any instant, for one can be attentive even to the fact of one's inattention.
You only really learn Hatha Yoga by getting on the floor and doing it. You learn about Jana Yoga by doing it, too. Even though the learning is not a mechanical accumulation of skills, you can learn about the nature of the mental processes, which are mechanical, and that keep this shift in consciousness from happening. The very doing of this allows the shift to occur.
Although I have presented Hatha and Jnana Yoga as separate, ultimately they are not, for each complements and completes the other. I have found that Jnana Yoga is not only helpful in doing Hatha Yoga, but necessary. Hatha Yoga is a miniature universe containing within it in its own form all of the problems of so-called ordinary life: ambition, image making, the subtle or not so subtle intrusion of comparison and competition, the pleasures of accomplishment, the dislike of regression, the frustrations of not having expectations met, and of course, the potentially ever-recurring specter of fear. Fear of aging, of dying, of one's own sloth and laziness, of not measuring up to standards, of not making it (whatever 'it' is) - these and other aspects of life display themselves in Hatha Yoga in a particularly direct and poignant way. Awareness of the structures of thought that come out of physical exploring is an integral part of the process of exploring the body.
In exploring mental conditioning you find that psychological tightness conditions and tightens the body. The common phrase 'up tight' is ordinarily used to describe a mental state. When you are up tight you can notice how the body is also physically tightening. These habitual body tensions that over years bring about stiffness are the repository of internalized mental states. Opening up in physical Yoga opens you up mentally and opening up mentally aids in the opening of the body. I look upon Hatha and Jnana Yoga as two sides of a coin, as mirror images of each other. They are different routes of exploring what it is to be a human being.
Many features of other traditional approaches to Yoga such as Karma Yoga (the yoga of action in the world) and Raja Yoga (which is Patanjali's specific combination of different Yogas) are incorporated in this approach. Tantric Yoga, which traditionally is a blending or merging of the male and female, can involve an edge playing in relationship which reveals other aspects of conditioning. Bhakti or the devotional aspects of Yoga that involve a surrender to what is, comes out of a deep seeing of how the universe works.
Serious people within an historical epoch have always re-examined and redefined the thrust of importance - which later becomes tradition, to be redefined again as times and the movement of consciousness evolve. The way I have answered the question 'What is Yoga?' is in one sense not traditional. Yoga has always been a synthesis of personal experience and tradition - a blend of the new and the old. Indeed, an integral part of the tradition of Yoga is to be continually reinterpreting what Yoga is. It is this flexibility at the heart of Yoga which has allowed Yoga to be meaningful for thousands of years.
QUOTES FROM JOEL'S WORKSHOPS
"Yoga is a process of coming to terms with oneself, of accepting one's limitations and working with them."
"Yoga is a discipline that breaks through the rigidity and set patterns of aging. It opens you to change and growth."
"Yoga is one of the quickest ways to control how you feel. There are lots of predictable ways to make yourself feel bad, but few sure ways to make yourself feel good on a daily basis."
"As one ages, thought patterns become more rigid, just as your body becomes more rigid. Through yoga, you can age elegantly and keep resilient."
"A mind that fears pain builds structures to protect itself. To be self-protective, is to become rigid."
"You cannot stay the same. You either get more rigid and crystallized, or you move to be more flexible."
"It is interest that keeps you alive - more than diet, exercise, etc. Newness keeps you alive... Infuse a quality of newness into everything you do."
"The only mistake there is, is a mistake you don't learn from."
"Yoga is a living process. The heart of yoga does not lie in visible attainments; it lies in learning and exploring."
"The secret of doing yoga is just to start, and let yourself stop whenever you want to - instead of having an idea of how long you should do it. This keeps yoga from becoming a cage to
"Work up a five minute routine for yourself (or whatever is realistic for you now) that you can really do, no matter busy you are or how bad you feel."
"Make your yoga the most important thing you do in a day - even if you only do it 5 or 20 minutes, give it your total focus and care."
"Remember that the very essence of yoga is the attention you bring to it, the exploration, the creativity involved."
"The key to yoga is being in the breath."
"Yoga is a play in patience...a willingness to be where you are...and being interested wherever you are."
"If you play with your limitations and edges, the postures come automatically."
"Yoga gives us openness and energy...and the strength not to be blown away by that energy."
"If you spend more time in asanas you do well, or on the more flexible side, you create more imbalance."
"Vary your yoga practice - make it creative. One day you could make deepening and staying in the breath your total focus; another you could do only a few postures and hold them longer; do a pose and then a counterpose; do all the postures you don't ordinarily do; do just cycles (standing postures, headstand, etc.; work mainly on backbends once a week."