Thank you UCC Grand Junction!

We wanted to thank UCC Grand Junction for helping collect books for the Mesa County Jail library. They can really use more PAPERBACK books, especially non-fiction.

Learning to balance and bend

I saw a student, in just a month, progress from being unable to balance on a leg even while leaning on the wall, to even perform the Tree Asana with some perfection.  And in the same time, he lost his fidgets, his anxiety, his hatred.  He became a friend to his cellmates and podmates.  He became a better man - not by learning to balance on one leg, but by the training required to do so.

To balance on one leg, we must first learn self-control.  To become self-controlled, we must become balanced in our minds.  To become mentally balanced, we must strengthen our heart.  We must not fear falling, we must not hate our weakness.  We must be calm - even as others fall down about us.  And in seeing the weakness of others, we develop compassion for the world, and understand the necessity for our strength.

There is much benefit to learning how to balance.  And to bend.

Feeling compassion without sympathy

It is important to recognize that while the practice of Yoga is a personal one, some generalizations may be made.  Just as they myriad of occupations, professions and livelihoods may require their own sciences and arts and still be encompassed by the practices of Artha Yoga, just as each person may find their own enjoyment of life in a different way and still all study Kama Yoga, so too is the pursuit of Dharma possible to generalize.

The importance of such generalization cannot be understated: in each class, I have the students share something which gives them pleasure in life.  One might enjoy hiking, another fishing, another reading quietly, a good meal, watching television and movies, or even gambling.  It is possible to see the enjoyment each feels is the same, regardless of the expression.  And for most, they are able to sympathetically share in that same enjoyment.

Indeed, the same sympathy is shared when I have the students share in each others' Artha Yoga, and even in the Dharma.

But not all people are capable of sympathy.  Such sociopaths are not necessarily destined to a felonious life of misdemeanoring, and indeed may not only function within society, but come to lead it.  Indeed, the condition of sociopathy lends itself as an advantage to numerous careers.  Overcoming this disability (and it is a disability, whether acquired by birth defect or by traumatic injury) is no different than overcoming any other disability.

It is almost impossible to understand the generalities of Yoga and practice individually without such understanding of sympathy.  For someone who has become or has always been incapable of sympathy, the Instructor must first understand that there are degrees of this disability: some sociopaths are utterly incapable of sympathy, while others are able to partially sympathize.  Distinguishing their ability, the Instructor will be able to modify the lesson appropriately.

The first step will be, regardless of the extent of their disability, to address the sociopath's boredom or discomfort: while other students are sharing and sharing in each others' experiences, the sociopath will be unable to, and the Instructor will notice they are becoming distracted, dejected or bored.  A sociopath may even be self-aware enough to understand their disability, and attempt to emulate sympathy in order to fit in.  If this has already occurred, it is important to stop the exercise, and shifting to some exercise they are able to participate in, restore their comfort level.

When comfort is restored, the exercise can be begun again.

Describing Karma as a tree of various ripening fruits, some of greater or lesser color, is useless when instructing a blind person, or a colorblind person.  And the difficulty of explaining the context of the comparison will result in a failure of Instruction.  However, relating the lesson in terms that the student can understand will result in success.  How, then, can the generality of Artha, Kama and Dharma be explained to someone devoid of sympathy?

There is no singular answer.  But one method which usually works is to interpret the sociopath's experience: though a blind person could never truly understand what a sunset looks like, they can nevertheless appreciate that the subtle degrees by which the evening breeze grows and temperature drops, the evening songs of the birds.  Though a deaf person could never hear the birdsong, they can nevertheless appreciate the color of the bird's plumage, the ease by which it glides through the air, the dance which lures its mate.

Discover the means by which they practice Artha Yoga, by which they practice Kama Yoga, by which they live the Dharma - and if you, as the Instructor, have already gained insight into the generalities of Artha Yoga, Kama Yoga and Dharma Yoga, you will find no greater difficulty in helping the sociopath understand the noble truth of interdependence, and the necessity of compassion, than you would for any more able student.

A disability of any sort can become an advantage, for it forces a person to strengthen their mind and body to overcome their challenge.  Blind Homer read the stories of the stars better than any sighted man because he learned to listen.  The sociopath requires equally little: merely interpret for them what they are unable to feel, teach them to see, to hear, to touch, to smell, to taste - and they will understand what it is to feel.  Share with them the wider world - and they will see their place in it.  Perhaps, they may even come to understand the advantages of their unfortunate condition: for it is their unique ability (as Krishna did) to feel compassion, without sympathy.

No mats and hard floors, noisy and difficult environments

Mats may not be an option for instruction at a Jail or Prison.  However, the Instructor who is used to a mat can prepare themselves for teaching on concrete, very thin carpet, laminate, tile or other hard surfaces - and teach Asanas which reduce the risk of injury for beginning students, should they lose their balance and fall on the hard surface, or find themselves balanced incorrectly to pressure a point.

The Instructor can prepare themselves best by actually giving up their own mat, and seeking these harder surfaces.

Also, by giving up soft seats, soft beds, and other cushions when resting or sleeping.

There are benefits to practicing on hard surfaces: it strengthens the bones and the muscles, reduces sensitivity to pain, improves control over the pain/pleasure response, provides greater comfort with the environment, and, ultimately, permits greater vigor.  This is not to suggest that mats are unnecessary, rather it is intended to suggest that the disadvantage can be turned into an advantage.

The floor in a jail or prison may be less clean than the Instructor is used to.  And more noisy than the Instructor is used to.  Certainly not ideal conditions?  With one of the most fundamental preparations for Asanas being the cleaning of the practice area, and a quiet, calm and just environment, this may seem even prohibitive to practice.

However, like the lack of mat, this can be transformed into an advantage: preparatory training for unclean floors include practice in outdoor places, with dust, dirt, among trash piles, in cemeteries or places where the Instructor may feel uncomfortable, in parking lots or along streets and other places which might induce social discomfort, and other places which are unclean.

When a prisoner becomes uncomfortable with their environment, it is an opportunity to help them become more comfortable with discomfort - so that they may be comfortable enough to practice anywhere.  Even in jail or prison.

Become comfortable with your own discomfort, as an Instructor, if you would teach this.

Introduction to Hygiene

The digestive system not only uptakes nutrient, but also helps expel toxins.  In this way, it is very similar to any other organ system.  Even the skin uptakes sunlight (which is made into vitamin D) and other nutrients, while releasing toxin through sloughed skin, sweat, and other secretions.  It is important that the students understand how to detoxify themselves - and basic hygiene, intermediate hygiene, and advanced hygiene can be instructed simultaneously if the principle of using advanced applications to demonstrate intermediate practices so that the principles of basic understanding are understood.  Such integrated lessons are important to mixed classes of any subject..

In basic hygiene, toxins which are emitted by the organs are manually removed: fecal waste is wiped from the anus, mucus is cleaned from the nostrils, the skin, etc.

In intermediate hygiene, the organs are aided in expelling toxins: constipation is cured, the sinuses are cleansed, skin is rubbed off and sweat is induced, etc.

In advanced hygiene, the toxins are avoided: diet is changed to prevent toxins in the gut, the air is affected to be better for the respiration, the clothes are cleaned and modified, etc.

Though the Instructor will doubtlessly understand the principles of hygiene, it bears remark that the elevated lotus, deep breathing, nasal irrigation with drinking water, a vigorous but gentle rubbing of skin, the scraping of the tongue and water washing of the mouth, and meditation are good beginnings for the principle organ systems as these will all generally be possible despite the constrictive environment.

Toxins, if permitted to build up, can impede bodily, mental and even spiritual function.

There is no gain or security in hurting another

It is comforting to see how the Cellys (cell mates) begin to see each other as family, and express both a fraternal and sometimes paternal care for each other, and I would share this with you.

Most inmates learn to first take care of themselves, and having conquered their own distress, discover the distress of their fellow prisoners.  Motivated by compassion - and now strong enough to express that compassion - they do what they might to ease the distress they observe by a process of friendship.

But though a minority of inmates are truly sociopathic, and unable to feel sympathy for their fellow prisoners - or anyone else, this does not stop the development of compassion.  Their victory is especially noteworthy, for they must conquer not only their own distress, but their very nature.  For these inmates, they first learn to take care of themselves, and gaining strength, become able to understand the four noble truths through increasingly rational and logical behavior.  This logicality and rationality is made possible by cultivating self-control - and permits understanding of what is beyond their control.  This permits understanding of their interdependence upon their environment (that their environment can strengthen or weaken themselves), and encourages them to take an interest in making their environment as positive as possible.  This is possible, they discover, by making themselves a positive influence on their environment.  And by this, they ultimately discover friendship - and how to socialize in a healthy way.  They learn, by subtle degrees, to accept their disability in socialization when they comprehend that they no longer must control or manipulate others for gain or defense...only themselves.

Truly, there is no gain or security obtained by hurting another.

Fidgets

Fidgets, distraction and other nervousness can be brought under control by paying attention to the discomfort, and then gently stretching the body part that is restless. Or, if it is a thought which is fixated upon, by grabbing hold of and then letting go of the thought. Or if it is an emotion, by feeling the emotion intensely, and then letting it go. Here, self-control is the perfection, rather than stillness. When self-control is achieved, stillness results – and manifests the contentment required to continue the lesson.

Generalization and Integration

Abstract: Instructors must be taught the principles of Generalization and Integration.

The Yo-G's who attend classes will typically have had prior experience with meditation or yoga, and sometimes even have adopted daily practice.  It is important that their Instructor have a grounding (or at least awareness) of the many systems of Yoga, and an understanding of the many practices of Hinduism - especially those several schools of Buddhism.

REASON: Though the lesson is secularized, terminology and technique will vary between schools and systems, and understanding not only the variants, but the purpose of the variations, will permit better instruction of the students.  And also permit a method of instruction which touches upon the commonalities of all systems and schools.

THEORY OF GENERALIZATION: When Hanuman could not identify the herb Rama required, he carried off the entire mountain to Rama.  This demonstrates a method of logic useful for the instructor.

EXAMPLE OF GENERALIZATION: In some systems and schools, meditation is undertaken by attention or control of the breath; in others, the heart (and in others, other parts of the body are attended and controlled).  In some systems and schools, directed meditation techniques are used, in others undirected meditation techniques are used.  Consequently,

  • Loka Hatha Yoga meditation is undertaken in, by and through Asanas which are chosen to permit awareness of both breath and heart by permitting attention to the entire body, and rhythms of alternating directed and undirected meditation are established.  The purpose of the alternation is to improve control over the ability to direct or undirect attention, which is a useful strength and skill no matter the student's personal system or school.
  • Loka Hatha Yoga utilizes many variants of the same Asana to strengthen mind, body and heart simultaneously, and at the same time strengthens the connections between mind, body and heart through self-control - and trains in the exercise of that self-control.  This is the basis of all systems and practices. The student is taught not only the proper performance of each Asana, but the reason for it: understanding how it strengthens mind, body and heart - in secular terms. 
  • This also secularizes the lesson, permitting students who may not be Hindu, and may not have had experience with meditation or yoga, to benefit: everyone benefits from the increased strength.

THEORY OF INTEGRATION: Though Hanuman was able to make the logical "leap" across the Ocean, he bridged the Ocean for those who could not.  This was done step-by-step, but only after the oceans had been calmed by Rama.  Vaishnava practices, especially meditation, provide conditions suitable for Saivas to put into practice those skills of Yoga required for success.    The act of providing the conditions for one's own success, of integrating body, mind and heart - that is the true practice (the exact performance of body, mind or heart merely demonstrates the accomplishment of this integration).

EXAMPLE OF INTEGRATION: Understanding cause and effect, the Instructor will explain the means to effect is through creating conditions.  This will strengthen logic, awareness, insight, perception and ultimately inspire the continence required for competence: it is in this way that the new student will be best introduced to the purpose, objective and means of yoga.


  • The effect of the body on the mind and heart should be understood: in Loka Hatha Yoga, some poses are variated through different breathing techniques: deep, shallow, nose, mouth, quick, slow, steady, irregular, controlled, uncontrolled but observed.  The effect on the ability to achieve the Asana, and the state of mind and especially thought, and the emotional state are all observed.  Such strengthening of awareness and insight are required to understand all the Asanas, and achieve their purpose better.
  • In Loka Hatha Yoga, the breath is understood through a secularized instruction of the Udgitha (Khandogya Upanishad 1.1): conditionality and interdependence are observed by understanding how to take breath (one condition of speech) to make and form a sound, a word, a sentence, and use that language appropriately.  Understanding "Om" and sacrifice is a religious or spiritual practice, but it accomplishes near enough to the same thing to generalize the lesson and understand speech.  
  • Application is always made to the individual's practice, and life.  If the Yo-G has suffered because of the lack of emotional self-control, they are taught first to understand the biological purposes of anger, and encouraged to feel - but not act - upon it.  This enhances self-control and continence.  They are instructed in the means of subduing anger by controlling breath and body with their mind.  They are strengthened against instinctual responses so that even pronounced anger is no longer enough to result in unconscious, unpurposed response.  By strength, they become not self-restrained (eventually all restraint fails), but self-controlled: their nature is subtly altered so that the conditions which resulted in their reaction to anger have been changed and though still "angry," they choose when to act upon it.  They are instructed in appropriate and inappropriate actions not by instruction in morality, but by understanding the effects of their actions.  By coming to understand that they are a part of their world, and how their world can strengthen (or weaken) them, they understand their control over their world lies in controlling themselves - and desire to make the world a better place.

REFERENCE: The Udgitha ("Om") should be remembered: "Meditate on the syllable Om. This syllable is sometimes called the Udgitha because a portion of the Samaveda (the Udgitha) is sung beginning with Om. The nature of all beings of the earth, all material and matter, animate and inanimate, all speech, the essence of the Rigveda and Samaveda can be understood by meditating on this one syllable: by understanding that speech coarises with breath, you can understand the codependent nature of suffering. The meditation of Om is one of permission, of permitting things to coexist, coarise, coterminate: just as when two people come together in friendship and love, they would naturally fulfil each other's desire, so does breath and speech fulfill the other's purpose - and by understanding this, you can fulfill your purpose. By such meditation we understand the nature of sacrifice. The Priest gives an order and says "Om!" When the Hotri Priest (the one charged with invocation and litany of hymns) recites, they say "Om!" When the Udgartri Priest (the one charged with singing the praises of the sacrifice) sings, they say "Om!" Om! Om! Om! All because of the importance of meditating on that one syllable. Whoever knows the meaning of Om, having meditated on it and understood it, and whoever does not understand Om - both would perform the same sacrifice. But whoever does not understand Om would lack the knowledge and faith the sacrifice would bring - and give. This is why it is said there is a secret meaning of Om. - Khandogya Upanishad 1.1"