Friday, May 6, 2011

The 'Donut hole'

Things you won't see in an Iyengar Yoga class...
I've just asked another Senior Iyengar teacher why detailed points are given to strengthen the back body and virtually no details, and few asanas, are given about this 'donut hole' of the body. After throwing a rolled up belt at my mid-section, declaring 'would you do that to a 6 year old', 
the explanation was given that the core, or abdominal, area contains vital organs that shouldn't be stressed. But many of us are not like 6 yr olds in yoga and strength from practicing for over 10 yrs and still no specific instructions... even at some higher 'levels' of training. The answers are vague even with Junior Intermediate practitioners I've talked with.
I hasten(ed) to add that this is a searching question for me, a 64 yr old 30 yr practitioner of yoga, not a macho oriented quest for firmer abs at any cost. 

One person asked, "what about Ardhanavasana? Paripornanavasana? Do you not feel abs get their necessary attention with correct alignment in sirsasana variations? I query you with sincere desire to read your response. I agree that Iyengar discipline spends no time addressing the "donught hole" but if the abs benefit structurally from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment is that not adequate?"

Think about the amount of time, effort and detail of instruction devoted to the back body. Think about the instruction in the poses of navasana. The sheer number of poses developing, in minute detail, the attention to the back body is staggering yet we have very little about the 'donut hole'. When asking questions about this I find the answers opaque, only focusing on the seeming fragility or un-disturb-ability of this area of the body. In many of the 'abdominal' poses, urdhva prasarita padasana and navasana, much of the instruction is on the back body, ribs, side body, and the legs. What is said about the abdominals? I don't pretend to know how this has come about, but do know that other traditions have stronger emphasis, and therefore instructions, on the 'donut hole.' I simply, and continually, wonder why? And the answers I get only answer indirectly at best. 

As to the question, "if the abs benefit structurally from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment is that not adequate?" The answer in many cases is no. Incorrect alignment abounds because of lack of attention to the area from ribs to pelvis in my direct experience. 

By the way, my questions and comments are focused on non-acute back pain. I totally understand work done to rehab the back in the traditional Iyengar manner as well as recent studies on back pain and rehabI had years of back problems until Iyengar Yoga. There is no doubt that it helped. That isn't the real question here. What prompts my question is my personal and teaching experience once I began more detailed work in asana WITH more detailed and intelligent action on and in the 'donut hole.' The combination was beyond what I experienced with what may be the limitations of the current method. I have a suspicion it may have been different in the past, like many things. Much of the reaction to my questions seem to stem from a defensiveness of the method, and rote learning of the "don't do abdominals" from somewhere. It doesn't seem to be an either/or situation to me. This seems to be a Both/And situation that can work effectively to 1. reduce back problems with intelligent strengthening of the torso support muscles wrapping the area from the ribs to the pelvis, and 2. integrate more intelligently those same muscles that are uncoordinated and out of touch for many people to more fully perform Vira III, A. Chandrasana, inversions and the posses you mention. Once again, it is not adding a system of crunches; it is working as intelligently with this area of the body as any other and not leaving one to work with a vague notion of drawing strength from the work of other areas, arms, legs, etc.

Be sure to let me know if someone comes up with answers that don't have the tinge of 'Taboo' area on them. I'd really like to know.

Some time has passed since I wrote this and I've had some insights:
Okay, I think I've answered my own questions. Despite the notion in Iyengar Yoga of the taboo abdominal area, due to vital organs being there, we do have something else that gives insight here. In Iyengar yoga we tend to give actions from the muscles to align the bones. Instructions are honed to move a certain area of the body in a specific way that leads to alignment (of the bones). We don't use anatomical terms for muscles, but that's much of what's contained in the instruction set. The abdominals can only move towards the spine and tend to tighten and grip the vital organs. That has been clearly understood. However, the breath can be used to gently and intelligently move the abdominal muscles, thereby preventing 'crunches' from taking over. The slow or rapid exhalation can bring the important muscle, tranversus abdominus, into the field of perception and thus begin to close the 'donut hole.' Unfortunately, we would need to amend the Iyengar Constitution that says we don't teach breath in that way, only in pranayama or when we use breath to initiate action. So I advocate amending the method, as I have described it above, to include a special case for using breath to teach the connectivity to these muscles. Because it works; because we can gain so much from having intelligent action in students; because without it students flounder needlessly waiting for the "benefit to come from asana practiced thoughtfully and in correct alignment." That is, peripherally. Once the 'donut hole' begins being filled in by proper use in this way more can be done to support the body in challenging poses without gripping or crunching. 
This works well in Navasana. The 'aware breath' could be taught prior to introducing this pose, or earlier, and used to instruct correct action in the pose. The proof is that in order to maintain the stability and balance of this pose, the breath must be very restrained and focused. Or, to demonstrate the opposite effect, try doing Navasana while doing so-called "deep belly breaths."  Not pretty.

Certification: income guarantee not guarantee of competency in the long run

Teacher training conveys a vast amount of information in hopes some of it will stick to the student. Over time, Certification is more a guarantee of income than of competence as individuals forget, modify and improvise. To counter that trend, organizations demand continuing education which tends to make the practice rigid, formulaic and without insight. Such is life in the big city...

In some cases, continuing education creates a two-tiered system: 1. pass the exams by telling them what they expect to hear, and 2. teach in a more intuitive style when not being examined. Now that's a stressful life.

Yoga-nomics - Let them eat cake!

What is astonishing to the writer of the article is the idea that payments to Social Security recipients should come before payments to US bond holders. But that's what should be done, I think! Some hold the wealthy lenders as having a prior right over the poor and elderly and will cause untold suffering, if they have their way. To their way of thinking, if we don't pay Senior Citizens the consequences are not nearly as catastrophic.

Their policy is "Let them Eat Cake!" 

A more complex and less obvious set of circumstances occasionally occurred in the 1980s, when the advance tax transfer could not be invested in certificates of indebtedness because the limit on Federal debt had been reached and the Treasury was prevented from issuing new debt. Longer-term obligations then had to be redeemed in order to pay benefits. When the Treasury's cash balances became extremely low, these obligations were redeemed prior to the payment of benefits in order to create borrowing authority and use it to borrow from the public the cash needed to make the benefit payments. This practice also enabled the Federal government to continue other, non-Social-Security financial transactions for a longer period than otherwise could have occurred. As a result, the Treasury action was viewed by some as an inappropriate use of Social Security funds and was the source of considerable controversy. In retrospect, however, it was agreed by most knowledgeable observers that Treasury had few options and had taken the best course of action during a very difficult period.
We have a situation of sustained low interest rates for Treasuries. This, it seems to me, is a guaranteed way to deplete Social Security faster. If this is so, isn't this the wealthy exploiting the elderly in a form of class warfare?

What is really going on here?
Oh, and the government has borrowed money from Social Security for decades leaving behind approximately $2.5 trillion in IOU's. I'm not sure how much interest is charged on these IOU's...
I've only found one reference to the interest rate that the Social Security Trust fund get's from IOU's at

More background at

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Tao of Enron - excerpt from the book Dead Boys

Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia
"Our Goddess isn’t gracious, nor loving, nor any of the other fine words we impute to her in our prayers; she’s fickle, fickle as a kitten, and yet we think the same old blessings repeated for eternity can win her affections. Not so!” He cupped his hands above his brow. “We have to shake her up to keep her close! And feeling that truth in my bones, I placed what little time remained to me on the tabletop, and cursed the Lady with all my might,...-- and lo, when I stood up again, I was richer..." From the preaching of Brother Griswold

When I read this excerpt from Dead Boys by Gabriel Squailia, I thought, "Maybe blasphemy really can bring luck to some people if the ruling gods' attention is gained by spitting right in their eye." This is a dangerous path, for sure. But greed brings people to perform strange acts. It has the tinge of the 'left-handed' paths in various spiritual traditions; going so far in the 'wrong' direction.

One of the curses further on in this chapter is very contemporary:  “May all statistical improbabilities impact thee unfavorably!” This was the downfall of the stock market in 2008 when all the mortgages went South as a result of banks poorly assessing the statistical risks of sub-prime loans. The improbability (black swan) manifested itself but only after making tons of money for the blasphemers!!! Of course, few were punished.

So, how  did the author come up with the Tao of Enron?

Perceptive, but the perversity of attracting god's attention through misbehaving is twisted.

"There's a scene in the documentary, "Smartest Guys in the Room" where these two traders are talking while they're forcing power blackouts in California during the forest fires, and it's really obvious that they equate the grandmothers they're killing with the money they're making on some cosmic level," answered Gabriel.

Dead Boys is a novel chock full of such insight as well as entertaining banter, inspired characters.

Light-hearted and macabre, Dead Boys’ comic-book flash illuminates a framework of Buddhist philosophy and classical allusions that give it an appeal far beyond the boundaries of generic fantasy.

Strong Reactions

In all my hate-ful relationships I've always found the way out is through understanding the pain and suffering of the oppressor, or hated one. This is different from pity, forgiveness, or condescension. Often, I find that I can trace the very qualities I revile in others to my own behaviors, thus understanding the root of the aversion.

When I react strongly to some external object, person and/or occurrence, there lies the bed of karma. Usually it is rich with insight. If I do a little work, the true self is revealed!

This applies to my reaction to the killing of Ossama bin Laden as well as the woman who condescended to me over the weekend. It is in my perception of the offenses that freedom lies. The stronger the reaction that arises in me, the more I am dealing with something from my past, out of touch from my conscious mind. Fear arises and one strikes out.

In Yoga, we are led to not dwell on these occurences of the fructification of karma, but rather see our true Self more clearly through the acting out. This way we can see out habitual patterns more clearly and perhaps free ourselves from aversion and attrachment.

For really difficult personalities, where denial and avoidance are strongest, other techniques are required. In cases of drug and alcohol addiction, for example, denial is strong and consciousness of the implications of our actions is weak. Then the only course of action is to look at the behaviors in detail and set out the exact nature of the wrongs done. In this way karma is revealed; through seeing, finally, the repitition of similar behavior. Also, it is necessary to make amends as a way of rejoining the flow of the community, be it family or society.

Knowing where to start is often the biggest step on any journey.