Posts tagged ‘yoga’

My Swim Gym Can Heal your Spine – Part 1

Nine months ago I joined a gym. I didn’t join to use its machines, but mainly to swim, use the sauna and steam room. However the gym also offered yoga classes, so I have returned to a yoga practice that I abandoned about 10 years ago. The results of this regime have been good. I am certainly stronger and more flexible than when I started. Small bodily complaints, like my left thumb feeling painful (from arthritis ?) and an intermittent twinge in my left knee have both mostly gone away. My body shape has also improved, and a friend of my daughter said I looked younger this year than last. I have more energy and my gait (walking) has improved. My heart feels stronger too. All extremely positive.

This must be down to my regime. Looking into my swimming practice I wanted to understand why swimming is so good for me. Firstly I don’t just swim, but also do various exercises in the water,  many derived from yoga. Because my body is supported by the density of the water I am able to move in more weight-free ways than on the yoga floor. I’ll describe these in detail in another post, but today I want to discuss something different.

I knew vaguely that in evolutionary history we emerged from water to become land-based animals. Doing some Googling I discovered that the creatures that emerged were called Tetrapods (4 legged) and these eventually led to all land-based animals. But I also knew that somehow we derived from fish. But what exactly does that mean? What do we have in common with fish? After all. they live in water and we live in air. We die in water and they die in air, so what is it that we share with fish? The answer is that we share our bony structure with them. The fish gave us a skull, a vertebra (spine or back-bone) and ribs. We are all vertebrates.

The fish’s spine is covered with connective tissue, and their muscles are held in place (to the bones) by this tissue. This enables the fish (not all types, but most) to move its body (or dorsal (rear) fin) in a wavy side to side motion, which is how it swims. Now here is the interesting point. The connective tissue which covers the spine of the fish has evolved and moved in humans to the gel-like substance which is found only in the discs which separate our bony vertebrae. When these discs dry out, they cause problems, such as bulging or being compressed. This is what we refer to as slipped discs. Now I can’t tell you how to keep your discs wet, although I suspect that if you eat well, sleep enough and do some regular exercise (like swimming or yoga) you might be able to keep them in a healthy state.

Here’s where my regime comes in. We are two legged animals, and the weight of our upper body is supported by these discs, piled vertically one on top of the other . When we were four legged, the weight was distributed more evenly on our front and back limbs, and the spine didn’t have to work so hard.  Now when we swim, we take on the posture of fish, and our spine is once more held horizontally and not vertically, which gives the spine great relief. And since our weight is supported in the dense water and we float, the spine and discs are free to move as we swim. In the water it is easy to move our upper body and pelvis from side to side and we can also swim down into the water and up again (I see this as dolphin-like), bending the spine and giving it a great deal of exercise. I believe my swimming, which emphasizes these movements, is one of the keys to my current good health.

One other benefit of being in the water which is more spiritual than physical, is the fact that in embryo, we are surrounded by water not air, and I believe when we swim and submerge in water our subconscious mind (which is body-based) remembers that floating sensation in the womb, which must have been a pleasant one.  What is there not to like ?

 

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July 23, 2017 at 5:01 pm Leave a comment

My Glorious Publishing Career Part 1

I have now made all of my books into ebooks, so it’s a good time to look back and reflect on my illustrious publishing career. It’s been an interesting ride so far, and I hope it continues. Book six is about to come out, and I think it’s going to be a bit of a breakthrough.

For the record, my first 5 books are: The Spiritual Teachings of Marcus Aurelius, The Spiritual Teachings of Seneca, The Spiritual Teachings of the Tao, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga and The Living Wisdom of Socrates. The new one is called I Survived a Secret Nazi Extermination Camp and is coming out in September.

I started writing by accident. In 1997 I thought it would be a great thing to make an audio of The Tao Te Ching, the 2300 year old Chinese Taoist classic. And one day it just happened. I visited Martin Palmer in Manchester and told him this was a book I would love to record. He told me that he made religious programmes for the BBC and maybe he could arrange a recording studio. But who would read it? I hadn’t thought that far ahead, so I needed to think about good actors who could handle the text. Ideally I hoped to find someone who knew the book, but failing that, I needed someone sensitive to ideas and feelings. I settled on the late Nigel Hawthorne, who didn’t know the work but threw himself into the project with great enthusiasm. He did a remarkable job, responding very well to Martin’s directions regarding the meaning of the sometimes inscrutable text. Once we added music to Nigel’s voice, we had a very fine recording of the classic.

I now needed distribution to get the audio (it was a cassette at that time) into shops. Someone introduced me to Rupert Lancaster at Hodder and Stoughton and after he listened to the tape he offered me a deal. A year later, he rang to ask if I had any other audio ideas. It just so happened I did (or at least I did once he put the idea into my mind). I gave Rupert four ideas and he responded best to the notion of recording The Meditations Of Marcus Aurelius.

To be continued (possibly).

August 26, 2014 at 8:39 pm Leave a comment

The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga

Yoga Kindle Cover

I finally managed to produce my first e-book, The Spiritual Teachings of Yoga , which I wrote with my former wife Jo Manuel in 2002. The book has sold consistently in print, and in the past few years has become a resource for yoga teachers in training.

Many yoga courses include some philosophy into the mix, so that the root of yoga is not forgotten. Yoga philosophy is difficult to penetrate, and if it’s not taught well can be very confusing and off-putting. Jo and I wanted to write a book that presented the philosophy in as clear and accessible a way as we could, without simplifying it or dumbing it down.  This collaboration seemed to work. I wrote the exposition of the book (with input from Jo) and she tackled the writing of the 3 classic Yoga texts (with some editing from me).

I had a 4 book deal with Hodder and it was at Jo’s suggestion that I proposed the yoga book. Unfortunately I had always had a difficult time getting into Indian philosophy texts, although I felt very at home with Chinese ones. What held me back was both the strangeness of some of the ideas and the Sanskrit in which these ideas were expressed. Some Sanskrit words- like yoga and karma – are quite well know, but nama and niyama for example have less profile. Jo thought that having to study these yoga texts would force me to persevere and get a handle on them.  Once I understood them I could communicate that understanding to others in a language they could appreciate.

So when wannabe teachers have to read the Bhagavad Gita, or the Yoga Sutras, or the Upanishads, they can turn first to the chapters in our book that give them background and explanation.   After this, it’s easier for them to gain entry to the texts themselves, and hopefully to understand what they are saying.

The book also has some really fascinating material on the history of yoga. I know an author shouldn’t be saying his work is fascinating, but when I was making the e-version I had to revisit the book, and it just struck me that there are some very rare sections of interesting material. This was the result of my months of preparation and reading. There is a mountain to read in yoga, but my guiding principle in writing was that I needed to research until I became expert enough to convey the ideas in an interesting way. I wanted to be able to see the field and the trees at the same time. Many experts who know far more than me have perhaps lost site of the field and are only seeing the trees, while those who have not penetrated far enough are only seeing the field and missing the trees.

I wish the book the best of digital success.  If you read it or have read it, a review on Amazon or Goodreads always helps

 

 

June 30, 2013 at 1:15 am 3 comments

Standing On Others’ Shoulders – Part 1- (don’t hold your breath for Part 2)

I think it’s time that I started standing on my own creative feet and stop standing on the shoulders of others. In my case that means old philosophers – both east and west.  My first 5 books were all about philosophies or philosophers: Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, Taoism, Yoga and Socrates. I explained the ideas behind the philosophy, followed by key texts I had referred to.

My latest book – I Survived A Secret Nazi Extermination Camp – is entirely different. The first part of the new book is a short introduction to  the little known but infamous Nazi death camp called Belzec. In this isolated, forested camp in SE Poland,  the Nazis killed an estimated 650,00 Jews and Gypsies.  The time between arrival by freight train to death in a gas chamber was only two hours. Rudolf Reder, a Polish Jew, managed to stay alive for four months as a worker in the camp, before making a miraculous escape. By the end of the war, Reder was the only survivor of the camp, and he gave a Witness Statement recounting his experiences.

It is this Witness Statement of Reder’s that forms part two of the book. He recounts the horrific, pathetic and harrowing events that took place in Belzec, and the cruel and criminal acts of the Nazi and Ukrainian guards.  It is a difficult account to read – one man recounting the hell that the Nazis’ madness had created, and which he saw first-hand.

Part three is an account by me ( a kind of memoir ) about how and why I came across this Statement of Reder’s. It’s partly about my family and partly about my relationship to the holocaust, and its victims.  A few years ago, I decided to search for my Grandparents’ roots online via JewishGen which led me to discover hundreds of ancestors. This search ultimately led me to Lublin, and it was on a visit to the Majdanek Concentration Camp that I found Reder’s Statement. At the same time I learned the fate of my grandfather’s family – those who he left behind had been sent from their homes in Lublin to be killed in Belzec .

How is this book different to the other 5? Of course it’s much more personal. I am not writing about dead philosophers but about the terrible fate of my own (newly discovered) family. It’s about history, but told in a personal way. I’ve set out my reflections on what I was learning, and my own memories were part of this discovery.   Obviously I am not a survivor of the camps and no known relative of mine had been one either. We were Americans, not Europeans. All my grandparents emigrated to the USA in the early 1900s, and my parents and all of our family had been born in America. Growing up, I never realised that my grandparents had left family behind – parents, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles. It is the fate of those family members that my search revealed, and my memoir reflects how I came to terms with this dark knowledge.

June 28, 2013 at 9:26 pm 1 comment

Breath Of The Gods- The Origins of Yoga

On Friday I went to see a film about the origins of yoga called Breath of the Gods at the ICA in London. Besides the fact that the cinema subjected us to a tsunami of ads before the film started, the screening was quite interesting. It was good to see some of the places where the yoga teacher Krishnamacharya worked and lived, to see his brother-in-law Iyengar teaching and talking, and to have Desikachar (Krishnamacharya’s son) act as the filmmaker’s guide. However the film left out so much about the history of yoga, and even of Krishnamacharya’s own story. It would have been good to see the cave (if it still exists) at Mt. Kailasha where K. learned yoga from his guru, and it would also have been interesting to see the ruins of Mohenjo Daro, the ancient Indus Valley civilization where the seals of Shiva sitting in a yoga pose were discovered.

Seeing the actual places where K taught and lived gave a reality to his life, especially with the extensive use of old b/w footage of the yoga that was taught at the Maharaja of Mysore’s palace. These sequences were quite evocative, and I could have watched them all night long.

The film inspired me to re-read Desikachar’s book, Health Healing and Beyond, which was about his father’s life and teaching. The book reveals that K was quite short even though in pictures you get the impression of a tall and powerful man. I think it was his own power and steely determination that gives the impression that he was tall. I had forgotten that Desikachar was Krishnamurti’s yoga teacher, after Krishnamurti approached Krishnamacharya for lessons. Father passed the sage to the care of his son.

Krishnamacharya was as much a healer as he was a yoga teacher, and his influence in helping yoga to be a therapy in the west is not widely know. He was also a great Sanskrit scholar.

The film has given me impetus to doing something similar about Taoism, something that I have been thinking about for a number of years.

March 3, 2013 at 5:10 pm 1 comment

From My Old Journals – Getting Rid Of Old Emotions

A few items from a journal that I’ve been keeping since 2001

Nov 16 2001- Every book that I write gives me the chance not only to learn more but also to practise more. The systems of Stoicism, Tao and Yoga may seem very different, but what they all share is the need to reduce desire in order to gain a new view of life, one that is larger than just our limited ego,  and that can extend into the cosmic realm.

Nov 26- As we progress in yoga, as the process of yoga works on us, we find that the old and tired emotions that clog up our bodies’ energy- the pain, bitterness, disappointment, sorrow, grief, worry- all the feelings that discourage us and get us down, that stop us from being who we truly are- these old and dead emotions can be removed, can be breathed out, sweated out, shat out, shouted out, to allow the good and strong emotions  that we inherently have and are made of to start to express themselves again, so that our thoughts, speech and actions can become the expression of our essence, the self – expression of who we are, a oneness without any second, a unique and whole organism, self-directed and self-reliant, able to live without fear, with courage secure in the knowledge of who we really are.

What do we fear? Krishnamurti says that we fear the past and the future. So time is our fear, and time is Qi, the movement of chi. The fear of the future is the fear of dying, of loss in the future, of the unknown. But this fear can only be embodied in us by the past, by fears that we have experienced and remember. This is the conditioning of fear that haunts us in the present.

May 6, 2009 at 3:57 pm Leave a comment


The Blog That Fell From The Sky

Reflections on an age of anxiety.

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