Thursday, November 12, 2009

One mind is better than two.

You've all heard the saying "Two heads are better than one"

Well - while it may be good to listen to others when working on a problem or seeking advice, the truth is that "One mind is better than two."

This is what Yoga is really all about.

My experience is that all of my problems are a result of a divided mind. I want one thing - yet I'm presented with something different. Conflict. I know I "should" do something - but I do something different. Conflict. I argue, converse, and talk to myself. Sometimes I torture myself with internal dialog. Conflict. The mind creates conflict. Look around the world at large and see if that isn't your experience. All global conflict stems from the mind - no where else.

We all "talk to ourselves." We carry on this internal conversation. One person is chatting away - and another part of ourself is listening. We are a mind divided. Constantly at odds with clear purpose and direction.

Yoga stops this useless chatter. Yes, for the most part it is useless chatter. It clouds clear thinking and effective action. This was the major lesson in the Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna had doubts and hesitations. His mind almost got the better of him. He knew he needed to do one thing - carry on with his duty - but his mind told him something else - wait, stop - don't proceed. He was in conflict because he was a man with two minds. Conflict. Krishna's response to him was that he must just ACT. Selfless Action - was what Krishna defined as Karma Yoga - the Yoga of Selfless Action.

Yoga stills the chatter - stills the thoughts - stills the "twirlings" (vttri's in Sanskirt) of the mind (chitta in Sanskrit).

Yoga is not about "thinking positive" - it's about Selfless Action, and as a result - becoming whole and ONE again.

One mind - aligned with proper and appropriate momentary action - this is Yoga.

Not only is One mind better than two. But, no mind is better than one. This is quantum thought - where the mind disappears completely. This isn't insanity -but rather it is being in "sanity."

For it is our constant thoughts that distract us from the deepest reality of oneness.

Hmm - did I just write that?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"I can't do that!"

Oh man I'm going to ruffle some feathers here - but I"m writing this as much for me as anyone else so here goes...

Nothing drives me more crazy than when I hear someone (usually a perfectly health person say) - "I can't do that."

Ok - I know you can't. It's hard right? I got it.

But the "I can't" statement is a door slammer. It shuts out any possibility that you may be able to do the pose either in the immediate or near future.

Looking further at this mindset you see what is really true. What's true is the "I can't" statement is the ego's smokescreen. Because truly the problem isn't that the body "can't" do the pose. The poses are MADE for the body. The body LOVES the poses.

The problem is always the mind - and the mind lies to us. The truth is either one (or all) of the following....

"I can't do" the pose because...

...I'm undisciplined
...I dont' practice
...I'm lazy
...I'm scared it will hurt
...I don't want to work that hard
...I don't like looking silly trying
...I just don't want to do it.

At least these have all been (and continue to be) true for me to varing degrees.

It's always the mind that keeps us from practicing the pose. The mind stops, stalls, resists, argues, complains, whines and basically keeps us stuck. Furthermore, the mind talks us into believing the crap that it tells us...that my body can't do that. Bully-pucky!

That's why the classic Yoga Sutra (1:2) is - "Yogah chitta vttri nirodah"
Yoga is the process of extinguishing the "chatter" of the mind - the vttri's - literally the "twirlings" of the mind.

Next time you practice - when you hear your self about to say "I can't" - stop it! Don't listen - just breath and feel - let the mind observe but NEVER lead the practice. The practice should always be led by the Guru within. The inner-being - the Atman - who resides in your heart.


Monday, August 31, 2009

Yoga and Vacations. It's not about the pose.

The body is merely a vehicle. Yoga is not about making a "beautiful body" for yourself (although it does do just that quite nicely!)

So, if it's not about the pose - then what is "IT" about?

Here's an analogy to help answer the question - It's the same as a "vacation."

The vacation isn't about what car you drove to get there -or - what airplane you flew. The vacation is about something else besides the vehicle that brought you to your destination.

In fact, it's not even about the destination. Because every vacation is different. Some are in the tropics, some are in the mountains, etc.

So - if Yoga is NOT about the pose -and it's not about where the pose TAKES you- then what is IT about?

It's about the EXPERIENCE - your experience - Period!

It's about your experience of getting into the car (pose). It's about your experience of traveling to your destination (your inner-Self) - AND - it's about your experience once you're there.

This is what it's about - the experience of living - of going deeply into that experience, and returning to share it with others who desire a similar experience - a similary journey.

Need a vacation? Go practice yoga - and experience the joy of living fully now.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Ultimate Freedom -

The Sanskrit word for ultimate freedom is "Kaivalya."

According to the Yoga Sutras of Panajali, true and complete freedom is experienced when a person is no longer imprisoned by the five afflictions (klesas) common to all of humanity. These afflictions are: ignorance, ego, desire, aversion and fear of death.

The Sutras of Patanjali also lays out a crystal clear path towards achieving this ultimate freedom.

Verse 1:12 reads: "Abhayasa Vairagyabhyam Tanniroddah"

This roughly translates as "...constant and dedicated practice, extinguishes the obstacles to freedom."

Constant and dedicated practice? Constant and dedicated practice of what?!?

So here's the rub - we have to constantly practice these five things:

Recognizing that we are ignorant - that we don't know. This keeps us humble and inquiring.

Surrendering our ego. This keeps us right-sized.

Letting go of our insatiable desire. This give us serenity and peace of mind.

Experiencing the uncomfortable and painful. This gives us stregnth and endurance as we courageously face the distasteful and unpleasant situations and events in our world.

Accepting death as our inevitable and ever-approaching birthright. This gives us clarity in the moment as our end may come at any time.

Ultimate freedom means that nothing has power over me - nothing has control or "hold" of me. I am thus totally free to express my deepest creative self. I am not moved by fear, worry or doubt, anger, lust, pride, greed, etc.

Through constant practice ultimate freedom can be achieved - yet we must practice.

Om shanti shanti peace

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Hold the pose - longer - longer

Why do we hold the pose in our asana practice? Because it takes time to get still and go within. The yoga sutras say "Sthira Sukham Asananam" - Sthira means firm, unmoving, immobile. Sukham means happiness, joy, delight.

Thus, it is by holding the pose - being still in the asana that we can find the inner joy and happiness that exists. That is the only place it exists. Wait for it. Hold the pose a little longer. Move through the aches and pains and itches and twitches that have us come out of the pose a moment too soon - the moment before the miracle happens.

Hold the pose.

Namaskar - Jim

Thursday, May 14, 2009

1 billion breaths

How many breaths will we take in our lives?  No one knows.  How may breaths do we take in a day?  We can probably make that calculation.  How many breaths in a minute?  Let's count:

I just counted off 10 breaths in one minute.

10 x 60 = 600 breaths per hour

600 x 24 = 14,400 breaths in a day

Let's go a little further and assume I breathe faster when I'm excited, etc.  

A good estimate is 25,000 breaths a day.


25,000 x 365 = 9, 125,000 million breaths per year!

I would have to live to 109 years of age to pump out those billion breaths. 

I'm still counting. 

BTW - A billion pennies (to put a billion in perspective) is $10 million dollars.   See the picture to get an idea of what a billion pennies looks like.

Namaste - 

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adrift on a Sea of Love

Cacau Peres working with love.

Jim Coughlin
 Jim Coughlin
powerful force - handle with care
Cacau Peres
Cacau Peres
It is the most powerful force ever, isn't it?And why do so many people keep it away from them? I don't get it...
Jim Coughlin
 Jim Coughlin
it scares them - because it requires complete and utter surrender. And to let go completely is a fearful proposition to those who cling to the belief that they are in charge of their lives. We are all adrift.
Cacau Peres
Cacau Peres
Very nice explanation!!!! Liked it!!!!
Jim Coughlin
 Jim Coughlin
Beautiful image isn't it? Adrift on a sea of love?
Cacau Peres
Cacau Peres
just perfect!
Jim Coughlin
 Jim Coughlin
Om mani padme hum

Thursday, April 16, 2009

It's not about what I want - EVER!

This post may rub some people the wrong way.  My intent is not to offend - but rather to tell it like I see it. 

I have a problem with "systems" that profess to help you "GET WHAT YOU WANT."  It really doesn't matter the brand of system - Tony Robbins, The Secret, The Laws of Attraction, Norman Vincent Peale, the Power of Positive Thinking.  All these systems (in my opinion) are flawed.  

The reason I believe these "Control your mind/power/intention to get what you want" programs are flawed is because the basic premise - that if you get what you want you will be happy - is erroneous.   It's a lie!

Being "happy, joyous and free" has very little to do with what I want.  All my problems - all of them - are a result of things I 've wanted.  All of them!  

It is my experience that getting what I want is the cause of my pain and suffering.   Getting what I want never creates happiness - only temporary pleasure.  Happiness is not about getting what I want.  

The reason "Getting what I want" causes pain and suffering is because there can never be enough "stuff" - enough money, success, riches - to satisfy the ego's craving desire.   Additionally, the things that I want - that my mind tends to "grasp" for - are all fleeting and impermanent.

A quick story.  It was 1966 - I was 9 years old.  It was just before Christmas, and I remember thinking to myself...

"...if I only had a remote control P-51 gas powered airplane I would be totally happy and satisifed."  

I wanted that airplane.  I saw it in the model airplane store.  I showed it to my mom and dad (because I knew by this time there wasn't really a Santa Claus).  I told my parents it was the ONLY thing I wanted and if I got it I would never ask for anything again.  I obsessed on that airplane.  I envisioned myself flying the airplane in the field near our house.  I envisioned all  my friends liking me because I had the airplane.  I could think of nothing else. 

I craved the airplane.  Have you ever craved for something like that before?  Be honest!

Christmas morning came and I got the airplane!  I was so excited.  I had made it!  I had arrived!   Life was good.  I didn't even bother to wait for my sisters or parents to open their presents (selfish and self-centered as I was).  I ran outside with the plane to fly it.  My dad helped me start it.  It didn't work as smoothly as I thought it would at first - but it did eventually start.  We got the engine screaming at a high RPM.  We let the plane go.  Up it went - and down it came, crashing into the hard pavement of the cul-de-sac in front of the house.  Broken wing, broken prop, broken dreams. Disappointment.   

We tried to fix the plane but it was never the same.  I got other planes after that.  Then one Christmas several years later I remember craving for a bike - and I thought to myself - "...I remember this feeling - where did it lead before?"

That was then.  The selfish dreams of a 9-year old boy.  What's changed?  Nothing much really. I still have rising cravings for cars, houses, jobs, titles, vacations, clothes, experiences, relationships, - you name it - I've craved it. And none of it has added one ounce of "happiness" to my life.  At best, the things have added moments of pleasure - but fleeting at best.

There's a great quote in the book of Ecclesiasties about this..."Vanity of vanities - all is vanity." The story is about how King Solomon (the Bill Gates of his time - the richest guy in the world) can have anything in the world he desires - anything "under the sun" - yet nothing brings him satisfaction - nothing he can grasp - nothing his eye can see - nothing his mind can think of having - brings him peace.

So what does bring happiness if it's not getting what you want?

BEING WHO YOU ARE - and being of service to others.  This is the definition of Karma Yoga - selfless service.  Doing without concern for the results.  Following spiritual principles of Ahimsa (non-violence/kindness), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (restraint) and Aparigraha (non-hoarding).    This brings happiness (to me anyway) because it aligns me with a larger purpose. 

It's not about getting what I want - it's about being who I am and thinking of others from a spiritual frame of reference.   Seems like it wouldn't be very fun.  In practice - it's wonderfully fulfilling.   


Monday, April 13, 2009

What do you practice - when you practice?

We know for a fact that this practice of yoga is thousands of years old.  The word YOGA is mentioned in early texts dating back thousands of years.  Karma Yoga - the yoga of selfless-service, Bhakti Yoga - the yoga of devotion, Jnana Yoga - the yoga of self-inquiry, and Raja-Yoga - the Royal yoga as espoused in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.

All four of these yoga practices are very different that what most westerners today would consider yoga.  Very little - if any - of the focus was on the postures/poses (asanas).  If fact, only the Raja Yoga as described by Patanaji even mentions asana or posture - and even then - he only mentions it three times (2:46, 2:47 & 2:48).

So if all this ancient talk about yoga had very little if anything to do with asana or posture, what was it about?  And when they talked of PRACTICING yoga - what were they practicing if not postures?

Verse 1:12 of Patajali's Yoga Sutras gives us a hint - 

Abhayasa Vairagyabhyam taniroddah - meaning:  Constant Practice (Abhyasa) of Detachment (Vairagyabhyam) is the method to still the movements of the mind (tanirrodah).  

The practice of yoga was to "redirect" the mind - to "still the movements" of the mind - to "focus" the mind.   And, the practice was to do this through either detachment, service, devotion or Patanjali's eight-limbs or "ashtanga" yoga, which included deep meditation.

Therefore, for today's practitioners - in addition to practicing sirsasana (headstand), practice compassion.  In addition to practicing sarvangasana (shoulderstand) practice detachment from the result of the pose.  In addition to practicing uttanasana (standing forward fold) practice looking inward at your true self. 

This is the practice - the practice of quieting, redirecting, focusing the mind to be a servant and not a master. 

I heard a great phrase which captures this inward journey to the anandamaya kosha (the innermost sheath of our true nature).  The statement was this:

"Now that I know who I am, I don't have to be who I was."

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Ice Melted - then....

I'm preparing to teach an 8-week Yoga History and Philosophy class I do every year for our Advanced Yoga Studies Program at Downtown Yoga in Pleasanton

I tend to start the "history" part a little further back each year. 

The last glacial epoch started about 110,000 years ago and ended about 15,000 years ago.

If you believe the fossil record, then during this time it appears there were three (3) different species of "Man."  Neanderthal, Cro-magnon and what we now call "Modern Man" - or Homo sapien sapien all show fossil remains which overlap at concurrent periods (40,000-50,000 years BCE)

Yes, they all existed at the same time!  I think if you were able to transport yourself back in time, then you'd place your money on Neanderthal to be the survivor of the three.  He certainly seemed more "robust", bigger jaw to chew food, that sort of thing. 

But alas, the "Ogre" of the lineage - Neanderthal - dies out in Gibraltar around 24,000 years ago and Cro-magnon doesn't seem to go much farther than the caves of France where he painted stories on the cave walls and ceilings of great hunts.  

So around 12,000 years ago the ice starts melting and we come out of the Pleistocene epoch and into the Holocene period - the age of man.  We are the survivors of the lineage.  The theory goes that just prior to all the ice melting completely over the Bering Sea - an industrious bunch of hunters and gatherers march into the Western Hemisphere.  It's hard to image today, but much of North America was under a sheet of ice 2-miles thick.  There's still some controversy as a new find in Monte Verde, Chile show carbon-dated remains of a village that dates to 14,500 b.c.  How did those people get there before the ice melted?

Regardless - back in the "Old World" three major river valleys are formed from the flow of glacial melt.  They are - The Nile in Egypt.  The confluence of the Tigris & Euphrates in present day Iraq, and the Indus & Saraswati rivers in present day Pakistan. 

The river of life.  These river valleys were lush, and everything living went there.   Fertile soil as a result of the river sediments were perfect for growing and early farming starts.  

Since people didn't have to "run after" food anymore, groups of people start forming early settlements, cities.  One of the earliest neolithic sites in the Indus River valley is Mehrgarh - which conservatively dates to 9,000 BCE.  This site was recently discovered (1973) and is located just  a few miles from the Pakistan city of Quetta - near the Bolan Pass into Afghanistan. It appears that Mehrgarh may be as old a Jericho.  

Mehrgarh is the first and earliest city of what would become a the great Indus Valley Civilization (IVC)  - which spanned several thousand years.  Harappa is a city further north - near present day Lahore, Pakistan - becomes one of the larger cities of the IVC in 3,000 BCE.  

The IVC left a script of sorts and "seals" - yet there is no "Rosetta Stone" to decipher the language.  The IVC are not the ancestors of the present day people in the region.  There is still debate over how the "Aryan" peoples populated the Indian Subcontinent.   Yet, the IVC civilization does die out after quite a long run.  However, they leave us an interesting clue as to when this practice of "YOGA" actually begins.  A seal in a rock - an image - is it a man?  a god?  a beast of sorts.  The seal is known as the "Pashupati Seal" - a lord of the animals.  The seal seems to depict a person sitting in a yogic position - there is still some debate over this.  The image has three faces - some speculate a "pro-shiva" - the first Shiva lord.  

Soon after the IVC disappears - we get some poems, songs, stories - they are what we now know as the Rig Veda (2,000 BCE?) - the first and earliest Sanskrit scripts of a spiritual, religious nature.  They tell of the "gods" - Indra , Agni, Vayu - and of the "long-hair' ascetic (yogi) who"... holds fire, holds the sky and reveals everything so everyone can see the sun, long-hair declares the light."   This "long-hair" (Kesin) is described in verse - 10.135 of the Rig.  He seems to be the pre-curser to the Upanishadic Yogi's.  

From here we get quite an abundance of literature which tell us of the practice of Yoga - the practice of inquiry, the practice of meditation, the practice of selfless-service.  The Vedas, the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-Gita all begin to "clarify" the practice - and the practice is one of meditation. 

563 BCE - the Buddha is born and at 35 years of age decides to sit under a tree until he "gets it" - that's determination.  Luckily for him and us, he discovers the middle-path and becomes enlightened.  He teaches the Four Noble truths and the Eightfold Path for 45 years.  Yes, the Buddha was a yogi.  

More to come....

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Facebook posts - Thoreau and "letting go!"

Machen MacDonald "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone." - Henry David Thoreau

49 minutes ago · Comment · 
Marcelle Allen at 10:43am March 31
I like this... My mind is wondering to fully understand it. What does it mean to you?
 Jim Coughlin at 10:46am March 31
Thoreau is the best!
 Jim Coughlin at 10:52am March 31
Machen - tell Marcelle that Thoreau - being part of the "Enlightenment" crowd of the late 1800's- was truly a "yogi" of the times - much like Gandhi in the 20th century. In fact much of Gandhi's non-violence work was inspired by Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience. 

This particular quote -from his book "Walden" - talks about how man's desire is his downfall. Much like the message in the Bhagavad-Gita - the lesson is to "Renounce and enjoy" - 

In a materialistic world, things tend to own us (not the other way around as we hope or believe). Thoreau teaches that "richness" is the ability to not want -to leave it alone - to be fine without it but to not feel lack because you don't have it. 

You could have it if you want, but you don't NEED to have it. The overwhelming desire to "grasp at stuff" isn't there. Thus, ultimate freedom and "richness!"
Marcelle Allen at 11:03am March 31
Jim thanks for the insight. I now remember reading Walden in college... I like how you describe the ultimate freedom is not having to 'grasp at stuff'... I was recently bummed to not get something of importance to me, this post is helping me be thankful for not having it & to remain abundant anyways. Extremely grateful Jim!
 Jim Coughlin at 11:11am March 31
Cool - yeah - it's a hard concept to get - even harder lifestyle to practice - this thought that desire is truly our enemy. Completely contradictory to most mind-sets.

In yoga we call it the "Klesas" -The "afflictions". There are 5 - they are: Mis-perception (i.e., Illusion), Ego, Desire, Aversion and clinging to life. If you can handle those - you got a good chance to have a pretty peaceful and serene life - regardless of any circumstances.

Good luck!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What does it MATTER?

Wow- it's been a while since I wrote - so today I get to be fully META-physical with you.

The pre-fix "meta" is defined as "behind or beyond" - as in meta-carpal and meta-tarsal (beyond the carpal/tarsal) It's also defined as "change" in words like Meta-physics. 

But in my experience - the word Meta-physics really talks about things on a quantum level - a level "behind or beyond" classical physics. 

Jim??!?!?!  What does this have to do with YOGA?


In Yogic Philosophy the physical body - the "Food" body (annamaya Kosha) is the grossest body. There are subtler and subtler "sheaths" behind this body - (prana, mana, vjyana, ananda, etc). Thus, the BLISS body - or Anandamaya Kosha - is really a META-body. 

Why I practice yoga is to experience these subtler "bodies" or sheaths (koshas).  I try to continually "go inside" until finally - my experience becomes a focus on an infinitesimally small point in the center of my being.  This point isn't necessarily a physical place as it can appear to MOVE from place to place.  Sometimes (and mostly) it's between my eyebrows.  Sometimes it's in my heart.  Sometimes it's in my gut.  This point then becomes everything.  So the smallest point imaginable and one that you can barely focus on - instantaneously becomes all pervading and overwhelmingly large. 

It's both smaller than small and larger than everything!  How can this be?  It's because that is what I am - and that is what you are.  Within each of us is the still point of creation - which is the same thing as the entire universe.  It is a meta-physical realm - a  realm beyond classical physics - which is how scientists now refer to the world of quantum mechanics.  

In a quantum world - nothing works like we expect or know in our classical physical world.   Entities can be in two places at the same time (actually ARE the same entity in two places), can communicate with each other across vast distances of space and time seemingly faster than possibly thought (speed of light) and have properties of waves and particles at the same time. And beneath everything you see in the world right now - this quantum mechanism of physics is taking place.  

So, matter doesn't matter - what matters is the meta.  What's behind, beneath the matter that changes everything. 

That's what I do when I hold Trikonasana for 5 minutes.  Or Sirsasana for 10.  I experience the subtler bodies, the koshas, the quantum, the meta. 

Om mani padme hum 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Stan and Ollie (and Richard) thinking of NOTHING!

Richard Rosen is a brilliant student of yoga. Well-travelled and experienced in the art and science of yoga - he is the author of The Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama , Pranayama Beyond the Fundamentals: An In-Depth Guide to Yogic Breathing with Instructional CD , and Yoga for 50+: Modified Poses and Techniques for a Safe Practice

Richard has taught at our studio on a few occasions. I like his teaching, although he says that he's like "..bock beer. I'm an acquired taste!"

And that is what I love about Richard - his sense of humor. I got a kick out of this little post he threw up on his facebook page last week regarding "thinking of nothing." Enjoy:

I first heard the phrase "think of nothing" of all places in a 1939 Stan and Ollie movie titled The Flying Deuces (one level I suppose below Flying Aces). As soon as I came across this phrase it began popping up in unexpected places. The question is: How is it possible to think of nothing? If you're thinking of nothing are you then thinking of something? What is the experience of nothing like, in all the universe is there a place where nothing is? Abandon all thoughts, then don’t think of anything. ~Svatmarama, Hatha Yoga Pradipika (4.57), 14th century CE The wise man should make his mind freestanding (niralamba) and not think of anything. ~Shiva Samhita, 5.210, 15th century CE?

SCENE: Stan and Ollie have joined the French Foreign Legion, so that Ollie can forget a failed love affair with a Parisian beauty. Out in the desert, they’re assigned to laundry duty, and it isn’t going well. Stanley is making his usual fine mess of things ...

OLLIE: Haven’t I got enough trouble without you making it tougher?
STAN: Well, it’s your own fault. If you hadn’t fallen in love with Georgette we wouldn’t be here.
OLLIE: Will you stop reminding me of that! Here I am trying to forget, and you keep talking about it all the time. Now here’s another day wasted.
STAN: Well, maybe you don’t try hard enough. If you can’t forget, why don’t you try and pretend to forget?OLLIE: How can anybody pretend to forget?
STAN: Well, I know if it was me, I’d sit down and relax, I’d close my eyes, and I’d concentrate and I’d think of nothing. Wouldn’t be long then, that’s what I’d do.
OLLIE: Say, I think you’ve got something there.
STAN: I know I’ve got something. Why don’t you take a whirl at it?
OLLIE [sits down, supports his chin in his hands, and closes his eyes]
STAN: Now don’t think of anything.
OLLIE: I won’t.
~Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, The Flying Deuces, 1939

Thanks Richard!