Saturday, November 28, 2009

Who is the real genius?

Are we born with creativity that exclusively belongs to us or is it a gift that passes through us from some divine spirit intent on sharing this gift with the world? The answer to this question has changed throughout history. Taking all the credit for creativity has moments of glory but also causes isolation and suffering.

In ancient Greece and Rome people believed that creativity came from afar from some unknowable source to invisibly assist the artist in their work for some unknowable reason. The artist could not take full credit for his work. The Greeks called this spirit a "daemon". Socrates believed he had a daemon who spoke wisdom to him. The Romans called this creative power a "genius". So the person himself was not a genius but rather was invisibly assisted by a genius. If the person's work was not a success it was not entirely his fault.

During the Renaissance this idea changed. People were put at the center of the Universe. Instead of "having" a genius, people were considered to "be" a genius. This put incredible pressure on the individual to be responsible for everything - success and failure. Since this time artists have suffered from ridiculous expectations causing severe depressions and unhappiness.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of the best seller "Eat, Pray, Love" talks about this idea of creativity. She interviewed Tom Waits, the musician. He was the embodiment of the tormented artist trying to control his creative impulses. One day he was driving on the freeway and began to hear a beautiful melody. He began to panic because he no way to write or record this music. He was afraid he would lose it and never be good enough to create it again. But then he did something that changed his life. He looked up into the sky and said, "Excuse me. Can you not see that I am driving? Do I look like I can write down a song right now? Come back at a time when I can take care of you. Otherwise go bother someone else today." His work process changed when he took the genius out of him and released it back where it came from. His work was the same but the process could be a wondrous collaboration between Tom and this genius that was not just Tom. He felt much freer and released from an enormous self-induced pressure.

If you practice yoga from an ego-centered place, it creates more tension from having to "get" the pose or do it perfectly. But if we come to our yoga practice believing that we are assisted by some divine power we can feel more relaxed. Allowing your yoga to be a collaboration with the divine gives more freedom and embodies the spirit of yoga. Yoga is a union where the sum is greater than the individual parts.

We all have our own individuality. But to believe that is all there is creates isolation and separation. Instead find the balance between individuality and some kind of spiritual entity. Feel gratitude that we are supported on this journey and in collaboration we find inspiration.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The importance of relaxing

During periods of relaxation after concentrated periods of intellectual activity, the intuitive mind seems to take over and produce the sudden clarifying insights which give so much joy and delight.
Fritjof Capra, physicist

Relaxation is one of the key components of building strength. Without relaxing we can burn out both mentally and physically. Look at nature. All of nature knows how to relax. After a storm there is a period of calm, animals take long siestas after a big meal, plants flower and then go into periods of dormancy.

Stress and tension are the opposites of relaxation. When we are tense we barely breathe, which affects how we think and takes an enormous toll on our health. Somehow we often seem compelled to keep going no matter how hard our bodies are screaming for rest.

Research has shown that deep rest is crucial to our peace of mind, emotional well-being, physical health, and high-level performance. Top athletes know how to relax after workouts and before competition. When watching an athletic event, you can often pick out the winners because they appear more relaxed and use their energy more efficiently. Pressure to succeed can be self-defeating when we push too hard.

One of the great gifts of yoga is teaching us how to use the breath and relax our skin, neck and face even during the most difficult poses. Without a layer of softness the pose becomes stiff and unnecessarily difficult. Trying harder is not always the answer to achieving or holding a pose. What is really important is the balance between strength and softness. Meditation, where we focus only on the breath, is one of the deepest forms of relaxation and one of the most difficult.

View relaxation as a gift to give yourself over and over again. Be in harmony with nature and cultivate the ability to breathe fully and deeply. Tension creates tunnel vision. Releasing fear and worry opens the door to intuition and to a world of possibilities.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The experience of art

-The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
Albert Einstein

Art is full of mystery. It goes beyond the surface of the actual work itself. Viewing art awakens our imagination and takes us on an inward journey. We may remember something from our past, question something we think we know, or see possibilities we did not know existed.

Although it is difficult to agree on a single definition of art, everyone would agree that a world without art would feel incomplete. Paintings, sculpture, dance. music and even athletic performances can all be works of art. They all have the power to inspire us to go beyond our everyday thoughts.

Creating art is a means of discovery that unfolds with the exploration of an idea, emotion or fantasy. Art requires physical skill but it is powered by the imagination. What appears effortless is the result of dedication, time and effort. Art has a dynamic quality; it pulses with life.

Each yoga practitioner can be an artist. Just as art that does not go beyond the piece itself is really a craft, yoga that is done just for exercise is really just stretching. It has value but not the same quality as a true work of art.

When there is a balance of muscular and organic energy, when their is sensitivity to the alignment and when their is an inner joy that is expressed through the pose, yoga becomes art. It invites us to explore our bodies, our breath and our hearts in a way that is uplifting. The details are as important as the overall picture. Yoga involves using the breath to pulse between the details and the whole pose.

Rather than dispute what is art and what is not art, allow yourself to be open to the possibility that art exists all around us. It inspires us to feel more deeply and to see more clearly. Looking at art or practicing yoga we can reconnect with our inner spirit, we can experience the mysterious as it unfolds slowly layer by layer allowing us to feel deeply and discover more about ourselves and the world around us.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Is it Luck or something else?

Popular belief says that luck is good fortune that is bestowed upon us by chance. Some people are considered to be born lucky because they are successful and happy. We wish people "good luck" before a competition or an important event as if asking some mysterious outside force to help them win or have a desired outcome.

Why do some people seem to be so lucky and others so unlucky? Is it something beyond our control or is it the way some people think and behave? Certainly there is an element of chance in our lives that is part of our good fortune. But luck is more the result of a positive attitude, discipline, setting intentions and taking action.

Michael Phelps won eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics. Was this good luck? Maybe there was an element of luck, but it was more his 12 years of dedicated training everyday, including holidays. It was his ability to focus in a meditative way that he developed even after having taken Ritalin for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as a child. He did not give up when he was behind during the 100-meter butterfly and ended up touching the wall 1/100 second ahead of his competitor in a moment that made history. He was prepared for luck!

There has been serious research that shows that people who are identified as lucky smile more often. They have more positive beliefs than negative beliefs. They ask for things and look for opportunity even in difficult situations. Lucky people align themselves for good fortune.

Yoga can help you become more lucky. When you practice yoga be open to being connected with something bigger, some higher power that is supporting you. Be sensitive to the alignment of your body and to the power of your breath. Explore your limits from the strength of your core. If a pose is difficult for you, let that be your teacher. Learn something new. Remember that every pose is alive and moving.

Luck may appear in many guises. What may at first appear to be misfortune could be the lesson that helps you see other creative options. Thank your lucky stars but more importantly remember that an open heart and open mind pave the golden road of opportunity.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Order in Diversity

Within the vast diversity of nature there is a divine order. This order can be represented mathematically even though all of nature is living and breathing and changing. The Fibonacci numbers, and the Golden Ratio that is related to them, are part of this divine order.

Fibonacci numbers are 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34 etc. Each number is the sum of the previous two numbers. These numbers are found abundantly in nature. Seashells, sunflowers, branches of trees, human and animal body proportions, galaxies, DNA, the solar system all have an order containing these numbers.

When you divide each fibonacci number by the preceding number, the ratio approaches the "Golden Ratio" also known as phi. This number is an irrational number that is never actually reached but is approximated by 1.618. The ratio is obtained by dividing consecutively larger fibonacci numbers, and it alternates being slightly above or slightly below phi. For example 3/2=1.5 (below phi) and 5/3=1.666 (above phi). So there is a pulsation above and below the mean. The decimals go on forever without repeating.

People, animals, plants, art and architecture that we perceive as beautiful all contain the proportions of phi or 1 to 1.618. Dolphins, tigers, patterns on moths and butterflies, penguins and the human body have proportions with the Golden Ratio. Your total height is 1.618 times the height of your belly button. The human body is built according to the Golden Ratio. Phi proportions are found in many works of art such as the Mona Lisa, the Parthenon, the pyramids of Egypt, and Michaelangelo's David.

Phi cannot be written as a ratio because the decimals are infinite. The exact value of phi can never be reached but the journey towards it reveals much of the beauty of nature. In yoga the perfect pose is elusive. Each pose is slightly different for everyone because we are all unique. The journey towards perfecting our yoga poses will teach us many things about our body and how to pulse with the breath. Just as the values of phi obtained from increasing fibonacci numbers alternate above and below the Golden Ratio, in yoga we alternate between drawing into our center and expanding out toward our edges.

There is order in nature and there is order in yoga. The diversity in nature can make it difficult to see the order, and the diversity of yoga poses can make it difficult to see the order that is the same in all the poses. The order is expressed in the actions. Every pose requires stabilizing the foundation with muscular energy, aligning our bodies and moving from the core.

Seeing how the same patterns are repeated in so many diverse life forms and how every yoga pose works with the same principles, suggests that there is something bigger to our world than can be seen or explained by the rational mind. But to open up and be receptive to this energy or power or spirit can help us to feel supported, connected and empowered on our journey.