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Tag Archives: Art
Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks and feels in a different way, each according to the image of himself he has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action, we must change the image of ourselves that we carry within us. What is involved here, of course, is a change in the dynamics of our reactions, and not a mere replacing of one action by another. Such a change involves not only a change in our self-image, but a change in the nature of our motivations, and a mobilization of all parts of the body concerned.
Our self image consists of four components that are involved in every action: movement, sensation, feeling and thought. The contribution of each of these components to any particular action varies, just as the persons carrying out the actions vary, but each component will be present to some extent in any action.
In reality our self-image is never static. It changes from action to action, but gradually these changes become habits; that is, the actions take on a fixed, unchanging character.
All behavior, as we noted before, is a complex of mobilized muscles, sensing, feeling and thought. Each of the components of action could, in theory, be used instead, but the part played by the muscles is so large in the alternatives that if it were omitted from the patterns in the motor cortex, the rest of the components of the patterns would disintegrate.
At any single moment the whole system achieves a kind of general integration that the body will express at that moment. Position, sensing, feeling, thought, as well as chemical and hormonal processes, combine to form a whole that cannot be separated out into its various parts. This whole may be highly complex and complicated, but is the integrated whole of that system at the given moment.
We have already seen that the muscles play the main role in awareness. It is not possible for change to take place in the muscle system without a prior corresponding change in the motor cortex. If we can succeed in some way in bringing about a change in the motor cortex, and through this a change in the coordination of or in the patterns themselves, the basis of awareness in each elementary integration will disintegrate.
A fundamental change in the motor basis within any single integration pattern will break up the cohesion of the whole and thereby leave thought and feeling without anchorage in the patterns of their established routines. In this condition, it is much easier to effect changes in thinking and feeling, for the muscular part through which thinking and feeling reach our awareness has changed and no longer expresses the patterns previously familiar to us. Habit has lost its chief support, that of the muscles, and has become more amenable to change.
Excerpt from Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais
The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they’re hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.
Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. pPranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga—like asana—and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.
How can so many experts offer such different approaches to pranayama? In part this variety results from the brevity of the ancient texts upon which our modern practices are based. Patanjali‘s Yoga Sutra, for example, says that lengthening the exhalation can help to reduce disturbances of the mind, but doesn’t offer detailed techniques for doing that.
“Different people come along and interpret these very succinct verses in different ways, and then they practice based on their interpretation,” says Kripalu’s Yoganand. “Yoga is so powerful that people tend to get an effect almost regardless of what they do. So someone says, ‘I did it this way and it worked, so I must be right,’ and someone else says, ‘I did it completely differently, but it worked, so I must be right.’ Since neither can convince the other and since they both have experience to support their beliefs, they go off and generate two schools. It makes perfect sense that no one can agree. Everyone’s experience is different.”
In the West you can even find teachers who counsel us to step with caution into traditional pranayama practices. When students aren’t well prepared, they say, classical breathing techniques can actually distort natural and organic patterns of breathing, forcing us into rigid and controlled ways of being.
“Most people begin yoga with so many pre-existing blocks and holding patterns that to introduce a controlled breathing regime right away further concretizes the blocks,” says Donna Farhi, yoga teacher and author of The Breathing Book (Henry Holt, 1996). “I think it’s extremely important to remove the blocks and holding patterns first, to reveal the natural breath that is our birthright. And then it can be very interesting to explore the subtle movement of prana through formal pranayama work. But for the most part this controlled practice is introduced too soon and often only obscures the unconscious forces that drive the breath-holding patterns.”
Viewed alongside one another, these varied perspectives offer us the unsettling yet inspiring prospect that there may not be one right way to reap the gifts of pranayama. As teachers, we need to offer a range of tools to our students and let them use their experience and discrimination to discern which approach works best. Each of them must decide for themselves which method steers them closest to yoga’s ultimate gift: the ease, balance, and inner quiet that reveals the very heart of life.
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Teaching Pranayama by Claudia Cummins
“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”
“There is no such thing as an empty space or an empty time. There is always something to see, something to hear. In fact, try as we may to make a silence, we cannot.”
“It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else.”
“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”
“The highest purpose is to have no purpose at all. This puts one in accordance with nature, in her manner of operation.”
“I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.”
“It is not futile to do what we do. We wake up with energy and we do something. And we make, of course, failures and we make mistakes, but we sometimes get glimpses of what we might do next.”
“When you start working, everybody is in your studio- the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas- all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you are lucky, even you leave.”
I certainly had no feeling for harmony, and Schoenberg thought that that would make it impossible for me to write music. He said, “You’ll come to a wall you won’t be able to get through.” I said, “Well then, I’ll beat my head against that wall.”
“What I’m proposing, to myself and other people, is what I often call the tourist attitude – that you act as though you’ve never been there before. So that you’re not supposed to know anything about it. If you really get down to brass tacks, we have never been anywhere before.”
“Art’s purpose is to sober and quiet the mind so that it is in accord with what happens.
“Our intention is to affirm this life, not to bring order out of chaos, nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply to wake up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and desires out of its way and lets it act of it’s own accord.”
Up and down the main street through downtown Santa Cruz there are similarly odd and intriguing performances of compositions by musical pioneer John Cage . It’s part of a celebration in honor of Cage’s 100th birthday (Cage died in 1992).
Cage studied classical music and later experimented with radically altering the landscape of musical possibilities. He’s inspired musicians across many genres, from new age to ambient and contemporary classical; avant-garde to noise and punk rock. Cage is perhaps best known for his experiments with silence and using techniques of randomness for composing music. He was deeply influenced by Zen Buddhism.
Perhaps his most famous composition, 4’33’’, is performed by musicians who sit with their instruments and don’t play a single note, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. The piece was partly inspired by Cage’s visit to a soundproof room. He was surprised when he heard two sounds inside the silence (…and it wasn’t Simon and Garfunkel). A sound engineer told Cage the high-pitched sound was his nervous system and the low sound was his blood flowing.
In meditative practices of Buddhism and Hinduism, these sounds are sometimes referred to as “nada.” I’ve heard Vipassana teachers and Buddhist monastics talk about these “sounds within silence,” which can be concentrated upon to bring deeper focus and calm. Baba Hari Dass, a Hindu guru who has maintained a vow of silence since 1952, once wrote: “The inner sound, nada, can be that of a flute, bells, sitar…”
John Cage’s experiments with sound, silence, and music remind me of some musical—and spiritual—ideals to live by:
- Music can come from anywhere: crickets, ocean waves, a cactus, a human heartbeat. We just have to remember to listen.
- Keep opening to the possibility of hearing and making new music.
- Listening to sounds without judgment is a great practice for increasing our capacity to listen to ideas and beliefs of others without moral judgment.
- We each have the freedom to decide where we draw the line between music and not music (if we draw that line at all).
Excerpt of Article Sound, Silence and John Cage: Four Musical and Spiritual Ideals to Live By By John Malkin
I don’t work from drawings or color sketches. My painting is direct. I usually paint on the floor. I enjoy working on a large canvas. I feel more at home, more at ease in a big area. Having a canvas on the floor, I feel nearer, more a part of a painting. This way I can walk around it, work from all four sides and be in the painting, similar to the Indian sand painters of the West. Sometimes I use a brush, but often prefer using a stick. Sometimes I pour the paint straight out of the can. I like to use a dripping, fluid paint. I also use sand, broken glass, pebbles, string, nails or other foreign matter. The method of painting is a natural growth out of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.
When I am painting I have a general notion as to what I am about. I can control the flow of the paint; there is no accident, just as there is no beginning and no end.
Sometimes I lose a painting. But I have no fear of changes, of destroying the image, because a painting has a life of its own. I try to let it live.
For most of my art-making, yoga career, it would be set up with yoga practice in the morning then painting during the day. I decided I was actually going to merge the two. One day I just put my feet on the paper and practiced making the drawing at the same time.
When you are heading into new territory, it is helpful to have a map. Hiking in Yosemite, you need a topography map showing the mountainous terrain. In New York City, you need to know the city blocks and major sites to orient yourself. Within yoga, a different guide is needed—one that charts the landscape of the self. The koshas, “layers” or “sheaths,” make up one such map, charted by yogic sages some 3,000 years ago. Written about in the Upanishads, the kosha model navigates an inner journey—starting from the periphery of the body and moving towards the core of the self: the embodied soul.
According to the map of the koshas, we are composed of five layers, sheaths, or bodies. Like Russian dolls, each metaphorical “body” is contained within the next: annamaya kosha—the physical body; pranamaya kosha—the breath or life-force body; manomaya kosha—the mental body; vijanamaya kosha—the wisdom body; and anandamaya kosha—the bliss body. This is not a literal anatomical model of the layers of the body, although you can find physiological parallels to the koshas, like the nervous system and the “mental” body. As a metaphor, the koshas help describe what it feels like to do yoga from the inside—the process of aligning what in contemporary language we often call “mind, body, and spirit” or “mind-body connection.”
From the kosha perspective, yoga helps us bring body, breath, mind, wisdom, and spirit (bliss) into harmony. Like a tapestry, the koshas are interwoven layers. You have no doubt experienced this in your own body: When you are tense or strained, your breath becomes shallow, your mind becomes easily agitated, and wisdom and joy seem far away. When you are filled with joy and communion with life, these feelings permeate your entire being. Separating the strands of the tapestry is a way to look at how your whole being can become integrated or in discord. The kosha map is not a rigid truth but a template for exploring the mystery of being alive.
Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, You Are Here, by Shiva Rea