This is a good read on Chakras from Tanrikstudies.org. While the author doesn't go beyond Sanskrit texts, the back and forth between China and India between the 6th and 10th Centuries was vigorous. Thus, it is not surprising that these ideas about a visualized and somaticized inner body transcending time and space would show up and develop at that time in both places with a huge variety of characteristics. I might also point out that the so-called "emotions" he refers too could also be thought of as theatrical expressions of mood in the South Asian context. That is, solo ritual expressions of mood were, like deity visualizations, connected to theater and dance as pervasive cultural narrative. This post is just a teaser for my next big post on Monday...Oprah and Synesthesia.Read More
Strengthness with a Twist: A blog about internal martial arts, theatricality and Daoist ritual emptiness
Brand New Book: TAI CHI, BAGUAZHANG AND THE GOLDEN ELIXIR, Internal Martial Arts Before the Boxer Uprising. By Scott Park Phillips. Paper ($30.00), Digital ($9.99)
Also buy: Possible Origins, A Cultural History of Chinese Martial Arts, Theater and Religion, (2016) By Scott Park Phillips. Paper ($18.95), Digital ($9.99)
Workshop Travel Schedule
Daodejing Online Open for New Members - Click for Info: Next meeting, Sunday May 19th, 8am to 10am (MT) (5/19, 6/16, 7/14, 8/18)
Portland, OR—June 1-2 PURE ANIMAL Workshop
Los Angles: 5th International Martial Arts Studies Conference (May 23rd-24th)
Los Angles: 13th International Daoist Studies Conference (June 20th-23rd)
Please come to my workshops in San Francisco/Oakland [Nov. 29th and Dec. 2nd] Read about them and sign up at the Soja website: sojamindbody.com/schedule/ (make sure to click on "Adult Workshops"). You can also see Anna Valdiserri's and Rory Miller's workshops there, I highly recommend them.
I would like to spend a little time pitching my workshops here. The copy text is challenging to write because I'm in uncharted territory. I'm a cowbody doing my own thing.
The Circus Daoyin class is my attempt to bust yoga people out of the "prison" of the yoga mat.Read More
Shandor Remete, Shadow Yoga, Chaya Yoga : The Principles of Hatha Yoga. North Atlantic Books, 2011.
I'm taking a greater interest in yoga lately, especially since I started my, Daoist Circus Yoga for Kids, the funnest yoga class for kids ever. (Scroll to the bottom of the link.)
This book is small, elegant and I got a lot out of it. That surprised me because frankly, most books are just personal spin, and reiteration, especially books about movement and spirituality.
This quote in the introductions shows his commitment:
“I have also studied other disciplines: martial arts and the ancient Kathakali and Bharatanatyam dance forms of southern India. What has become apparent to me is that there is a common basis in the preparatory forms of all of these disciplines.”
Zander (as his students call him) often recommends his students study martial arts because they are too WEAK! And as irony would have it, quite a few talented and dedicated students of his have come to me to study or exchange ideas. I really should have read this book a few years ago, but better late than never.
On the primary goal of yoga he has this to say:
“Yoga is a spiritual system that deals practically with the process of enlightenment. The final goal is to differentiate the soul from everything that is not the soul. The method of yoga teaches the individual to discriminate, or to see the differences between these two things.”
I find that a bit troubling, mostly because he doesn't define soul and the word is so loaded with meaning in English. He doesn't even translate it back into Sanskrit as atman, although I think that is what he means. After thinking more deeply about the totality of the text, I started to think that when he says soul he means what we call in Chinese the three Hun, and this would be differentiated from the seven Pö. But more on that below.
He explains the the process is about skillfully reducing fixed patterns, and that if this end goal is kept in mind, the steps on the path will be self-revealing.
This was probably my favorite quote from the book:
“It is little understood that flexibility of the whole body can be achieved through the proper manipulation of the ankles, wrists, and neck. When these five regions are flexible the entire system softens and gains elasticity.”
By stating this he is suggesting that flexibility is always available and that mostly people practicing yoga are profoundly misunderstanding the subject. His biggest complaint is that people do not practice, nor do they comprehend the importance of, the preliminaries.
He has quite a bit of stuff about out-side the body perception and practice. This seems a bit rigid and formulaic to me, but else where he explains that the order and content of learning is not inherent and can be skipped by some people. Micro-macrocosm stuff like this planet is connected to your liver, can be read as jindan (golden elixir) instructions, but in the modern era I think we can skip right to talking about these visualizations as having a function in the perception action chain of motivations for movement. We agree on the importance of this kind of content but disagree on how to present it.
Zander describes a three body system which is like the Chinese one: the Causal Body karana sharira, the Subtle Body sukshama sharira, the Gross/Physical Body sthula sharira. I think this corrisponds to shen, qi and jing.
He describes kosha which are traps (or perhaps cavities?) which interweave the three bodies together, there are 7 of them according to a yoga text he references. These are what hold the 7 shadow bodies together.
Zander explains the very complex relationship between breathing and posture, but then says that all of this is preliminary to breathing without any fixed pattern.
There is a chapter on Nauli kriya which was outside my knowledge base. On further consideration I noticed it looks a lot like the chair pose in Paulie Zink's daoyin, and a lot like one of the basic movements of Tibetan trulkhor. I hadn't considered this type of yoga before but it might prove very useful for people differentiating the dantian from the kua.
The title of the book comes from this quote:
"The appearance of the body is nothing but frozen shadows.” -- Allama Prabhudeva.
“The shadows are seven in number: the shadow of joy, the shadow of the intellect, the shadow of the mundane mind, the power of principle, the gross structure, the luster of the skin, and the shadow on the ground. Each shadow is a blockage of light.”
Elsewhere he describes them differently, so I don’t think he intended this list to pin it down. They are all obstacles, but they are the obstacles we happen to have to work with. I could plumb these further: luster of the skin is probably radiance, shadow on the ground is probably pure earth power, the power of principle is probably bio-mechanics and jin or ground-path power, intellect is probably having preferences, the shadow of joy has me a bit stumped but I'm guessing it is unconsciously obscuring our animal nature with nice-ness.
I thought of hun and pö as a translation of soul and shadow bodies into Chinese. In Chinese cosmology, the hun and pö exist as a form of polarity holding us together during our life, and they disperse at death. The hun are said to disperse within the first three days (they go up!), but even in a normal death the pö can take up to seven years to disperse (they go down!). This is why proper funerals are so important in Chinese culture, there is a danger of creating a ghost if the pö don't fully disperse. In a sense we can think of the pö as unresolved conflicting emotions and weak or desperate desires. If a grandparent dies really wanting a cigarette, there is a chance they can pass on that conflicted emotion to a child as some quirky behavior. That is a psychological "ghost" but there are other types. A desire for power or revenge would tend to be more demonic than ghostly, but essentially made of the same ephemeral stuff.
An immoral, or xian, in Daoist cosmology is a person who has a complete death at the moment of death. That is, their hun and pö completely disperse instantly because they have already completely differentiated them (like Zander is suggesting is the goal of yoga: to differentiate the souls from the shadow bodies). Thus great immortals like Zhang Daoling rose up in broad daylight with their dogs and chickens at the moment of death.
Zander offers a translation of the term samadhi as “absorption." I think that is exactly the way to translate it if we are talking about a movement tradition like daoyin, theater, or martial arts.
Anyway it is a small elegant book and I recommend it!
I went to an Acro-Yoga class the other day. It was fun, lots of young people excited about learning movement. The funny thing is everything we did in the class was actually the same as the acrobatics I learned in my 20's. They have just tacked the word yoga on the end. Cool?
So that got me thinking about Paulie Zink's comment to Paul Grilley that ended up inventing Yin Yoga. Zink basically said something to the effect that yoga is too yang and it needs to be balanced by yin. Practically speaking from the five element theory that frames Daoyin, most yoga is heavy on the wood element (naturally extending and growing) and also on the metal element (strength and holding poses or shapes). He suggested adding the earth element which is very relaxed stillness for extended periods of time. Earth practice is good for meditation and goes deep into the ligaments. It is a very individual practice because at that level of relaxation we are all structurally diverse. That is what modern Yin Yoga adds to the practice.
So I was looking at the Yoga calenders for various local studios in Boulder and I noticed that some of them were having like one or two days of Yin Yoga a week. That makes a lot of sense to me.
Then I noticed that they had Kundalini Yoga one or two days a week too. (My wife went to a Kundalini class and loved it so I think we are going to be a mixed household for the near future.) Kundalini is the fire element that the standard Yoga class is missing. Smart.
I know that there is Yoga and then there is Yoga! Like people are doing all sorts of experiments and I think that is great.
But that still leaves out the element of water. Modern Yoga is still weak on the water element.
The basic partner acrobatics we were doing has one person being the "base" supporting the other person being the "flyer." Learning the role of "base" involves strenght and range of power exercises while weighted. That is the metal element again. Being the "flyer" means having a very relaxed fluid body so that one can balance in the air on the "base." That is the water element.
But as the "flyer" gets better he/she actually becomes very strong and able to hold powerful shapes in the air, while the "base" becomes more fluid and able to do the balancing for the "flyer," dynamically moving the "flyer" around to different positions. They switch back and forth between metal and water, metal and water--or in Daoist alchemical terms between cinnabar, mercury and gold. This type of theater is, after all, an enlightenment teaching tradition.
So anyway, I'm thinking about trying to teach straight Daoyin to the Yoga world and perhaps I can explain it via the metaphor of adding more of the water element to practice. As I'm fond of saying, "Your downward dog needs to wiggle its tail and scamper around the room!"
I recently read The Yoga of the Yogi: The Legacy of T. Krishnamacharya, by Kausthub Kesikachar. It's not my intention to review it here, I'm not qualified to comment on his organization of Yogic theory and philosophy. I picked it up to learn more about the founder of modern yoga, who he was, his education, and his training. It does cover that material in a terse way, but as an American reader of history, I would have benefited from a lot more inclusion of historical context and clues about how his relationships to specific people influenced his decisions to pursue knowledge. Anyway please don't take my opinion as a review of the book.
The one thing that really caught my attention was that the author maintains a ritual practice of putting his guru's sandals on his head. He also tells us that the tradition dates all the way back to the time of the Ramayana. He frames this ritual practice around faith and devotion, but he also says that everything can be transmitted this way--meaning that because the practice is pure revelation, it transcends method.
What's that? I can learn Yoga from putting sandals on my head? But who even thinks about questions like this? They just throw these comments away. Even people who do the sandal practice just talk about faith and devotion. Only someone of the highest level would even think of suggesting such a practice.
It just occurred to me that if my students were to put my old shoes on their heads they might learn a lot faster. I have new found respect for Yoga. After 30 years of martial arts practice I understand why and how this works, however; 1) none of my students would do it, 2) if I explained it, none of them would understand it, 3) if by chance they did understand it, I would have to kill them.
Which brings me to another book which I am also not going to review: When the Body Becomes All Eyes: Paradigms, Discourses and Practices of Power in Kalarippayattu, a South Indian Martial Art, by Phillip B. Zarrilli. I believe I wrote a review of this book some time ago and decided not to publish it. The two things that interested me about Zarrilli's work, the theater connection and the China connection, don't get worked out in this text. Too bad. One thing I loved about the book was that he put everything he had to say about "Paradigms and Discourses" in the first chapter and outright tells the readers to skip that chapter unless they are a disembodied head stuck inside an academic box! Yes.
On page 45; "[In] playwright Bhasa's version of Karna's story, Karnabhara, which illustrates the divine gift of power (sakti) which requires no attainment from the practitioner. When a messenger gives Karna Indra's gift of an 'unfailing weapon whose sakti is named Vimala to slay one among the Pandavas', he asks, 'when shall I gain its power (sakti)?' The messenger responds, 'when you take it in [your] mind, you will [immediately] gain its power.'"
What? No hard work? No training? This is correct, this is the highest level. Do you really know what it means to put sandals on your head? Do you really know what it means to put a sword inside your mind?
Here is the Talk I gave!
Wikipedia offers a nice overview. Here are the important quotes:
The Sanskrit word yoga has many meanings, and is derived from the Sanskrit root "yuj," meaning "to control," "to yoke" or "to unite." Translations include "joining," "uniting," "union," "conjunction," and "means." The word yoga may also derive from the root "yujir samadhau," which means "contemplation" or "absorption."
[Patanjali gives this terse definition] "Yoga is the inhibition (nirodha?) of the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta)".
Hatha Yoga is a particular system of Yoga described by Yogi Swatmarama compiler of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika in 15th century India. Hatha Yoga differs substantially from the Raja Yoga of Patanjali in that it focuses on shatkarma," the purification of the physical body as leading to the purification of the mind ("ha"), and "prana," or vital energy.
If this is accurate, there is a strong possibility that Yoga and the Daoyin--Tai Chi--Shaolin matrix have a common origin, or that at least they all stem from a common notion of what a human being is. I would summarize the method of Daoyin as--- "yoking" a purified physical body to "that stuff which animates us" (qi or prana) and then "yoking" that to a larger active spacial mind. ---The use of the word purification here could also mean distillation or total differentiation.
The jing and qi must be purified or distinguished, they can not be mixed. If the physical body (jing) is mixed with prana/qi the result will be gross motor or fine motor movement. All three types of movement are controlled by the spacial mind, however in the case of "yoking" or Daoyin the spacial mind does not effect the body directly it must first unify with the qi/prana which then acts as an intermediary pulling (or pushing) the whole physical body along. So fine motor movement, like typing, is almost impossible to do because it requires direct mental control of the fingers.
Pantanjali's "inhibition of the modifications of the mind," may simply be describing the discarding of all fine and gross motor control. Perhaps it also includes the discarding of artifice, effort, and the maintenance of fantasies. That would put it pretty close to an early definition of Laozi's key concept: wuwei (not doing, or non-aggressive intentionality).
A quick scan of blogs dealing with the question of "yoking" turned up this:
Importantly, yoga did not mean “yoke” or “union” in its classical usage, despite what most yoga teachers and popular writers on yoga say today. But, as many contemporary scholars of Indian philosophy will point out, it would indeed be odd for yoga to mean something like “yoke” or “union” since the objective of Patanjali’s yoga, as it is laid out in the Yoga-Sutra, is for the yogi to recognize and realize the true nature of the universe – i.e. that pure consciousness (purusa) is distinct from mere matter (prakrti), which includes our minds and our thoughts. In other words, the yogi does not seek union or oneness with the world; rather, he seeks to liberate himself from his attachment to the worldly.
And I would respond that to distinguish consciousness (spacial mind and qi) from matter (body mass and ideas) is simply a returning to our original nature. I would tend to describe our original nature as a functional order rather than a "union" since "union" is really a matter of perspective--whether we call it one, two (one 'yoked' to one) or three (one yoked to two) really depends where "we" are standing. Does "our" original nature really have any fixed limits? Sounds like liberation to me!
First of all to the LA Times. The one thing newspapers like the LA Times used to have over TV news was something called investigative reporting. It involved finding experts and insiders who had something to say about a particular topic. The reporter would get in a rental car and go visit these insider/experts, see what they were up to, and put together a summary of their opinions and knowledge. Now any expert with something to say or insider with experience to reveal has a blog. The LA Times has lost it's reason d'etre.
The piece the LA Times published on Yin Yoga is just a puff piece for somebodies yoga teacher. Free advertising for a friend loosely veiled in the mystique of "research." Come on, the reporter googled Yin Yoga, talked to the first two people who picked up their cell phone. It took all of twenty minutes to research.
My greater sympathy goes to Paulie Zink. He is the holder of an extraordinary Daoist Lineage of Dao Yin. Dao Yin, like all things Chinese, is very hard to put in a box. It is first and foremost a hermit's expression of a life dedicated to the Teachings of Laozi. The particular lineage he holds includes master level circus and martial arts training. Did a Dao Yin hermit decide he'd had enough of the mountains and join a traveling performance troop, or did a master performer retire to the mountains? Either way Dao Yin is way more than Yin Yoga. I've never seen a yogi as good as Paulie Zink. Dao Yin technology is just higher. Regular yoga is like a computer with excellent connectivity, interface, and compatibility, but not much memory. Dao Yin is like a high speed super computer with 2000 years of memory, but little connectivity (it's best taught in a small group or one to one), an obscure interface (it requires an enormous time commitment to learn), and is useful for only two things--being in the circus or being a hermit.
Did the "founders" of Yin Yoga study with Paulie Zink? Yes they did. Was Zink the first person to use the term Yin Yoga? Probably, it sounds like something he would say. But the Yin Yoga people didn't study long enough to learn Dao Yin. What they are teaching is just smart exercise for hip urban professionals. It doesn't come close to the Dao Yin Paulie Zink practices. What they do works because it is simple and easy to learn.
Laozi's Teaching's, the Daodejing, has chapter after chapter describing the fruition of a Daoist life as "obscurity." This is not some mysterious power that will allow you to win friends and influence people, it's real obscurity. In fact, the fifth Xiang'er Precept is: Avoid Fame, Practice Obscurity. (See this article for more on Xiang'er and the Daodejing.)
A few years back, Zink moved from Hollywood to the hermit lands of Montana. He seems to be hoping that he can travel around the country and teach workshops a few times a year and perhaps pick up a few high end private students (people like Madonna?). The depth of Paulie Zink's knowledge would be appreciated in any circus town, like San Francisco or Montreal. He could live in a sound proofed apartment with a nice private garden and teach at a circus school. The one in San Francisco already has three contortion teachers, but Zink's knowledge and open hearted generosity would be a welcome addition. I've seen him take the most twisted up funky stretchy poses and turn them into loco-motor movement. Elbow stands become bunny hops with a fluffy tail. Static warrior poses become dragons skittering across the water. I'm not kidding. This stuff is amazing.
By the way, the best scenario for the origins of Shaolin gongfu (Kung Fu) is that 1000 years ago (early Sung Dynasty) someone who had learned this half-hermit, half-circus storytelling art of Dao Yin, was living in the Song Mountains around Shaolin Temple and offered to help out by teaching the orphans some discipline. Most large Temples were also orphanages. Perhaps he had given up a child to a temple many years earlier and felt guilty about it. Meir Shahar suggests in his ground braking book Shaolin Temple, that one of the roots of Shaolin is probably Dao Yin. He also says that martial arts heroes were already in the written literature of the time, the literature itself having grown out of theater!
Chinese culture doesn't fit into boxes. Most likely the development of Chinese movement culture happened in a topsy-turvy, a little bit here, a little bit there kind of way. Give a sword to a Dao Yin master and he's gonna stretch it to the limit. He's gonna do something wild and explosive, something soft and silky, something spontaneous and never seen before. That's the fruition of Dao Yin. That is the physical expression of the teachings of Laozi-- our limitless nature--Daode. (Dao= limitless unnameable nature, De=a person's unique expression of Dao.)
Dao Yin is a treasure. The version I learned doesn't have all the circus stuff or martial arts in it. So in some senses it is a lot easier to learn than Paulie Zink's material. But what I learned is still a hermit practice. In order to practice I built a dedicated elivated room in my isolated apartment. I called it the sky palace. When I moved, I dropped that practice. Modern Qigong is namby pamby soft and flowery compared to Dao Yin. The Dao Yin I learned is a little like yoga but it's noisy and rambunctious, it gives you bruises, and must be practiced everyday with for at least 3 hours with meditation. Zink's Dao Yin probably requires closer to 8 hours of practice a day. Dao Yin doesn't make you feel like putting on a suit and heading to the office, it makes you feel like spontaneously doing nothing. Perhaps it would be unfair to call it the art of disciplined fooling around, but you get the idea.
When I met Paulie Zink in LA at a workshop he was teaching, he was traveling with a disciple who lived with him in Montana and seemed to be learning everything. I'm very happy about that. His disciple spoke very little. I asked him a few questions and I had to lean in close to hear soft spoken answers delivered directly from his heart. A natural hermit. Paulie Zink's oldest student also came into town for the workshop. He was very generous to me, answered questions and gave me some tips; he lives in a high desert town I'd never heard of halfway between LA and Las Vegas. He too is a Hermit.
Here is his youtube channel.
Neither precept gives us much to go on. The article retreated to the standard American office protocol; people in positions of power should not abuse their power. Do not coerce your students to have sex with you. Duh.
I was disappointed. Had I been writing the article I might have said something about how Yoga classes generally have a hypnotic quality. All the Yoga teachers they posed the question to talked about the importance of creating something elusive called "Sacred Space." In a Yoga class the teacher will go through a series of requests. Do this, now do that, now relax, now take a breath (as if you would forget) now do this progressively more difficult thing, now relax, now do this, now do abracadabra-vinyasa (half the class doesn't know what this means but they all pretend they do and just follow someone else). In short suggestions followed by compliance followed by more difficult or unusual requests. Hypnoses.
Until recently, perhaps because of my contrary nature, I have had an aversion to thinking about hypnosis. But no more. I'm into it (more blog posts coming up!), and I think it's an important tool for learning.
In the context of Yoga as hypnosis, the question comes up, do Yoga students have conscious will? If they have given over their conscious will to their teacher, then how can they consent? Notice I didn't say "free will," I said "conscious will." Hypnosis probably requires that the person being hypnotized freely give over control of their conscious will to the hypnotizer.
This is possible because conscious will is probably an illusion. You can wiggle you foot four different ways--
1. you can plan to wiggle it and then wiggle it,
2. you can think "I'm wiggling my foot" while you are wiggling it,
3. you can think, "wow, I just noticed that I was wiggling my foot unconsciously,"
4. or you can wiggle your foot and not even know you wiggled it (but a machine can measure it).
We usually prefer to believe we are having sex because of a conscious decision, certainly that is the legal requirement, but in reality we may be acting on mostly unconscious "factors," like hormones and smells and conditioning. We may be just telling ourselves that we are entirely free agents. I don't know.
Daoism is clear about this. Sex is OK if you are trying to have a baby. Otherwise it's a really inefficient use of jing and qi.
Most martial arts classes are not too hypnotic, but there is a continuum on the one hand between;
• classes where students independently run most of their own workout and come together to do two person routines or competitive activities and...
• classes where a teacher guides the students through a slow series of suggestions, many of them about illusive qi flow and the visualization of colored clouds.
So my, my dear readers, I leave it in your hands to answer the question: Should You Have Sex With Your Qigong Teacher?
UPDATE: (I've decided I'm going to start teaching Taoist Yoga sometime this Fall.)
UPDATE: Here is a weird blog on Sexy Yoga from China.