Memory as a Modification of the Mind

I had an enthralling yoga experience while on my last visit to India, and have begun a new relationship with memory as a result. I am very grateful to Binod for the invitation to join him at the S-VYASA Yoga University for a 2-day yoga workshop last weekend. S-VYASA is outside of Bangalore, and was founded by an ex-NASA engineer and another man – both of whom have many people who consider them a guru. I have been practicing yoga in the United States for 17 years, and have never experienced anything like this kind of yoga.

I am also grateful to Komol, who hosted Binod and I for the weekend, and with whom I had many interesting conversations as I absorbed the experience. Here is a picture of the three of us on the campus grounds.

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I learned about satvik food – low spice, vegetarian, energetically enriching food, and how delicious it is. I participated in a Hindu havan ritual – mantras and offerings to a fire in the middle of a prayer circle. I learned a specific yoga asana series for relieving stress. I attended other asana practices. I had a traditional Ayurvedic massage – and learned what it’s like to be totally marinated in oil and then steamed until I was nice and tender. I sat in the audience of a guru, named Mohanji, and learned about the Bhagavad Gita and the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, and asked questions and received answers about the workings of the inner self.

After the meeting with Mohanji and discussions with Komol, I became fascinated by the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. At the bookstore I purchased a copy of them, with wonderful commentary by I.K. Taimni – it was the same book that Mohanji had with him. They are essentially instructions on how to do yoga. Not yoga as in the physical exercise. The second sutra says “Yoga is the inhibition of the modifications of the mind” – basically calming your mind. Further sutras then go on to explain how the mind works, and then how to still the modifications. There is much more, but that’s all that’s necessary for me to say right now.

There are only five types of modifications of the mind – right knowledge, wrong knowledge, fancy (imagination), sleep, and memory. I have been so intrigued by the notion of categorizing everything that happens in my mind into just five categories. And particularly memory. So often when I’m left to myself in meditation, driving, waiting, what is in my mind is a memory – replaying something from the past. Just the act of labeling this activity has changed my relationship to this “modification” of my mind. I feel certain that after some practice I will now be much more capable of stilling this modification. I have not settled into anything about this yet, but this discovery is a meaningful one for me.

Stuck in a Rut? Change Your Routine

I was recently in a serious rut in my yoga practice and have been able to break out by changing my routine.

I couldn’t practice for more than a few minutes. It started with an injury I sustained in early June. I hit my head hard on the bottom of a pool, compressed my spine, and dislocated a rib. I made the decision to not do any physical exercise for a while to let myself heal. At the same time, my duties at ILANTUS became more demanding, so it was easy to just wake up and work, instead of my usual habit of doing some yoga first thing in the morning. In retrospect, this was not a good decision.

I didn’t practice any yoga for almost two months. None. Didn’t even break out my yoga mat. That’s the longest no-yoga stretch since 1996 for me. When I realized I needed to get going with yoga again, I began each attempt at practicing the same. For the past many years, about 90% of my yoga practices begin with the same set of standing asanas (yoga poses) – a set of warrior poses, and warrior variations. It was this same set of asanas that I started doing again this month, when I needed to startup yoga again. The problem was I couldn’t stay engaged for more than a few minutes. My mind would distract me, my body would feel resistant – it just didn’t feel good.

Then, I decided to try a different start – a sun salutation series. The sun salutation series moves through multiple poses quickly, one move for each breath. In the warrior series I had usually been doing, I hold each asana for many breaths before moving to the next.

When I do the sun salutation series to start, I am able to stay in the practice. And sometimes I then move to the warrior series, and sometimes onto other asanas. I’ve been doing this for a week now. My body still feels tighter than it did before the injury, but at least I’m moving and starting to loosen up. It feels like I’ve broken out of my rut, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it if I didn’t change my routine.

At Last – Yoga in India

After 16 years of practicing yoga, quite diligently at times, I have had my first practice in India. I arrived in Bangalore at 1 AM on Tuesday morning. First I practiced relational yoga all day at my company’s Bangalore office. And this morning, a solo physical/meditative practice.

I haven’t written many posts lately – this is my first for 2013. I started a new job that has been an all encompassing endeavor. I am the VP Services for an identity management “next generation systems integrator”, as we like to call ourselves – and we are living up to that calling.

We have an office in Bangalore, and two-thirds of my team work here. I run the Delivery Services group – responsible for the successful delivery of our one-time project based work. Over the twelve years we have been in business, we developed some of our own intellectual property, and just this year started to market and sell those products. I provide a lot of strategy and planning to that end of the business as well.

I addressed the entire office (about 75 people) with what I’m doing at ILANTUS (the company I now work for). Our goal is to meet the demands of the American business technology consumer. The strategies we will follow to achieve this are: 1. Increase Quality, 2. Become a Learning Organization (learn from what we’ve done before and each other), 3. Execute in Smaller Batches with Shorter Cycles.

Quality for us has two components – technical quality and interactional quality.  To get to interactional quality – increased flow and understanding of information between employees, our customers, and our partners – we are focusing on how we can execute in Smaller Batches with Shorter Cycles. This creates more feedback, and gives the opportunity for adjustments / improvements in how we interact and what we are doing.

And when I’m talking about interactional quality in the workplace, there is more than a good chance that the lessons will be extrapolated into other aspects of our employees’ lives. It’s all about making the world a better place. And that too, is what yoga is about.

Which brings me to this morning – it’s Wednesday morning in India as I write this. I was awake at 5 (I can thank jetlag for that). I took a walk around downtown Bangalore. I got back to the hotel and found the eighth floor gym, with wonderful views of the city and surrounding mountains. No one was there. A yoga mat was folded on a large wicker basket. I accepted the invitation and had absolutely delightful yoga in India.

One Definition of “living on the edge”

I like yoga. I’ve been practicing steadily since 1995. I’ve had some good teachers in my life, and one great one. Sofia Diaz. She makes yoga about your life and in her classes I have learned many things about myself and the way the world works. I was practicing in my living room the other morning and something that she often says entered my head. It has entered many times before, but this time I made a connection between it and how effective I am at getting things done, being creative, and building the best relationships I can.

“Yoga begins at the point of failure.” On the yoga mat it means staying in asana (loose translation: a given yoga pose) until you can stay no longer. Your body starts to give up, but more relevant and salient is your mind starts to give up. When I start to feel the point of failure, I often think of it as being on the edge.

Back to the other morning. In approaching the edge of my asana, I realized that’s where change happens. That’s where you grow. It’s where you create. It’s where you connect. In my yoga that morning, I started connecting that to other aspects of my life.

For example, I collaborate a lot in my life and my work. I also lead and facilitate a lot of collaboration efforts. When I’m talking to others about a plan of action or brainstorming ideas, if I stay where it’s comfortable, I can get to something that will work. But if I can stretch my understanding of the problem at hand and reach toward others and their ideas, the collaboration can go much further and the output will be levels above.

The added bonus about getting to the edge is that whatever you do there, not only is it better, it gets done faster. The double bonus is that you feel great when you are there. There is nothing but you, the others in your awareness, and what you are creating.

Now, back to that morning yoga in my living room. Moving through asanas, I let my mind sit with the concept of always being at my edge. “Wow, I would get a lot done, I’d be doing it all really well, and I would feel great all the time”, I thought. All of the sudden the phrase “living at your edge” made a lot more sense.

My mind then wondered how could I get to the edge more often? How could I stay at the edge? How could I get myself back to the edge when I got too far away? By that point, I was in savasana, the final yoga asana called “corpse pose”, where you lie on the floor on your back and spend no effort on anything. The edge of letting go. I let the questions go. More about this in future posts.