Equanimity is like . . .

Equanimity

Ready for some formulas? Shinzen Young, the meditation teacher I blogged about earlier this week, offers some physical analogies for equanimity in his Five Ways to Know Yourself manual. It’s a comparison I find very compelling, because if you’re having trouble achieving this state emotionally or physically (and who doesn’t?), it can be helpful to look at similar processes in other models.

Developing equanimity is analogous to:

• reducing friction in a mechanical system (Equanimity =1/F);
• reducing viscosity in a hydrodynamic system (Equanimity =1/µ);
• reducing resistance in a DC circuit (Equanimity =1/R);
• reducing impedance in an AC circuit (Equanimity =1/Z);
• reducing stiffness in a spring (Equanimity =1/k); and
• A solution being thixotropic as opposed to rheopectic. (Thixotropic substances, such as paint, thin out when they get stirred. By way of contrast, rheopectic substances, such as corn starch, thicken up when they get stirred.)

Extending these metaphors, perfect equanimity would be analogous to “superconductivity” within all your sensory circuits. [p. 16-17]

I love that image of stirring a paint can.

What exactly is it, though? Shinzen explores it this way: “Equanimity is a fundamental skill for self-exploration and emotional intelligence. It is a deep and subtle concept that is frequently misunderstood and easily confused with suppression of feeling, apathy, or inexpressiveness.”

And here’s more:

In the physical world we say a person has lost balance if they fall to one side or another. In the same way, a person loses internal balance if they fall into one or the other of the following contrasting reactions:

• Suppression – A state of thought/feeling arises and we attempt to cope with it by stuffing it down, denying it, tightening around it, etc.

• Identification – A state of thought/feeling arises and we fixate on it, hold onto it inappropriately, not letting it arise, spread, and pass according to its natural rhythm.

Between suppression on one side and identification on the other lies a third possibility, the balanced state of non-self interference, namely, equanimity.

And if you read the Three Questions with Angela Jamison post, you’re hip to the idea of equanimity with an edge:


So what did equanimity look like for me this week? I had so many chances to work on this skill set:

  • When my tax preparer, who has had my files for a couple weeks now, bailed on me on Monday — the morning taxes are due — and totally upended my already packed day (all this while I was in the middle of this Ayurvedic cleanse, which made it a bit more energetically challenging for me).
  • When I found out that someone else has also used my social security number (!) to file their taxes, causing me to be unable to e-file. I am hoping this is an honest mistake and not identity theft.
  • When I wanted to write this post Monday night but ran out of both time and energy.
  • This morning, when I had some hideously bad cramps that had me KO’ed on the bathroom floor.

How has your week been? Any chances to work on equanimity?


I can’t say I was perfect this week, but I handled most things — especially the tax bail — much better than I might have otherwise. Rose circa 2009 would have lost it. Rose circa 2011 would have been really frustrated and pretty angry. Don’t get me wrong: Rose in April 2013 was deeply frustrated. I had to scramble to get a sub for my evening yoga class so that I could go to another tax preparer at the eleventh hour. But angry? I didn’t feel that internal heat of anger. In short, faced with a big obstacle, I acted — making calls, finding backups — far more than I reacted. Rose circa 2009 would have acted the same way, but would have reacted with as much, if not more, force, and would have dwelled on the unpleasantness of the situation.

Thinking last year about how to be motivated to have a solid, daily meditation practice — motivated on the level that my yoga practice motivates me, which is a high bar — I knew that what I needed to see would be concrete changes. In yoga, I have no end of moments I can point to and say, “I would have reacted this way/done things this way were it not for my yoga practice.” I needed the same thing in meditation.

I have plenty of examples these days. It’s not that my yoga practice hasn’t made me far less reactive overall — it has done wonders for me. But so far, meditation has helped make certain things — like the very conscious process of trying to not get wound up about frustrating matters in life — less effortful.


Now, about this morning’s post-castor-oil-purgation cramps, which had me on my bathroom floor for some time (I was trying to leave the bathroom to get back to bed to lie down, but I couldn’t make the seven steps to the bed). I tried to stay present and identify the sensations I was feeling, but that gave way to me just lying there, my mind wandering as I breathed with no strategy in mind at all. Shinzen has produced a lot of training materials about managing pain, and I’m curious about the techniques he teaches. Of the many changes I had at finding equanimity this week, I think I was most challenged by this one.

Don’t let this scare you away from an Ayurvedic cleanse, by the way. Everyone experiences the cleanse differently. The rest of the cleanse felt sparkling and light, and the effects are worth all the trouble of sticking to the regiment of a cleanse. I’d write more about this spring cleanse, but due to my work demands, time has not been my own since returning from Xinalani — and, as you can guess, I’ve been trying to maintain equanimity about that.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

A few of us who went on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani earlier this month did so with a goal of leaving behind online and social media distractions. I was one of them, taking my iPad only to write, and using my iPhone for photos and video. Given how intensely relaxed everyone was able to be, I was a bit shy about asking my teacher and our retreat leader, Angela Jamison, if she would be willing to sit down for a YogaRose.net Three Questions set. On the other hand, when else would we have this setting, and this time? So I asked, and she sweetly said yes.

We set up a chair in the retreat center’s dining area, and you can hear the waves of Xinalani Beach below her as she speaks. (Thanks to the gorgeous lapping of the waves, if you have headphones, I think that’s the best way to listen to these videos.) The videos are listed first, and then some thoughts follow.

What is radical f-ing acceptance? (Hint: Think equanimity with an edge.)

What are the slowest openings? (Hint: Think about the places with the least tangible structures.)

What are questions to live by? (Hint: Think about orienting questions that keep teachers close.)

Radical f-ing (or is it effing?) acceptance

At the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2) shala, we talk a lot about radical f-ing acceptance, so this has become part of my vocabulary.

As an AY:A2 apprentice, I had the chance to observe Angela teach a workshop in Canton, Mich., last month for a group of mostly vinyasa yoga-based practitioners who didn’t have radical effing acceptance in their parlance. This discussion came up in the context of a student’s question about what she can do about the feeling that her ribs are being crushed in twists like marichyasana C. Instead of launching into an anatomy answer, Angela starting by talking about a two-step process that can help remove resistance in our practice.

The first step involves this radical effing acceptance, which can help take that first level of judgment out of the picture: “Most of the time we’re subtlely kind of fighting with our experience,” she said. She explained that learning on a subtle level to cut the nervous system’s circuit of attraction-repulsion — to learn how to step away from the fight for a minute — is a skill in and of itself, and it’s not an easy one. The next step is to work with the energetics of this: “OK, this is information. It is what it is and it’s OK. If you don’t have that baseline of just radical acceptance, you won’t actually get access to all that information.” In step 2, in other words, if you’ve confirmed that you’re safe, then can you see if there’s a way to relax? Is there a way to let that experience flow?

Yoga practitioners in the ashtanga lineage know that asana is just one of eight limbs, and the physical practice is not the end all, be all of the practice. But it’s so easy, in that moment of trying to twist and bind — or get your leg behind your head or whatever — to not get caught up in it, and only it. Using a two-step process like this can help us turn every challenge in our asana practice — and we all know how many there are every day, much less over time — into a teachable moment for our nervous system.

‘Almost no experience in the body is solid’ — except perhaps thought forms

In that same workshop, Angela noted that in most poses, there is no stasis in our bodies. “Almost no experience in the body is solid — ever. Even when we’re lying in savasana for 15 minutes, there’s almost no stasis,” she said.

The most solid aspect, for instance, of what happens in the body’s zone that includes the belly, diaphragm and ribs — which are so much air and water — are our thought forms. “If we have a thought form of, ‘Oh, this is what my belly is, and I have this belief about it’ — that’s pretty stable. And we reinforce it and we think it again, and that stays. But really, in the meantime, the physical and energetic structures are always moving,” she told the group.

And maybe in that moment, a practitioner can simply exhale.

That idea made immediate sense to me — at the same time, it blew my mind to view our body-mind connection this way. Thought forms as more solid than what is actually happening in a body? Absolutely — I mean, think about eating disorders and socially constructed self-hatred-driven body image issues that both women and men deal with.

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

Although the Xinalani ashtanga retreat, held the first week of March, was set in a secluded paradise, there were workshops each afternoon for teachers and aspiring teachers that talked about everything from karma yoga to questions to live by, which is the focus of the third question above.

We also talked about when it’s appropriate for someone to start to teach ashtanga yoga. Angela writes about this in a fantastically candid blog post she wrote a few days ago on the AY:A2 apprenticeship program:

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

We talked about this last point — that move from scarcity motives to abundance motives —  in detail during the retreat. While there is a kind of useful fire that can be generated from scarcity motives, there are dangers if someone doesn’t actually believe he or she has all the money, attention, sex and power needed, because that leaves open the opportunity to use the teaching to try to get it.

“Usually it’s not appropriate to teach ashtanga until the transition of scarcity needs to abundance motives has been met,” she said during one of our workshops. Here’s an example: Coming from a place of scarcity motives, other yoga teachers and studios can be seen as competition; from a place of abundance motives, the same teachers and studios are viewed as colleagues. It’s a world of difference, and it can have such a significant impact on how someone chooses to transmit the practice, interact with students, run a business, and everything else that surrounds the act of teaching.

My next beach reading

Back to the third video about questions to live by. Asking yourself: “Who am I and why am I here?” as a way to remain alive in an experience, no matter what it is — I’ve tried this since the retreat in ways large and small, from eating choices to teaching schedules, and it’s been interesting how it generates slightly different answers than I might get from thinking about an issue without these types of big-picture questions.

This reminds me that I want to reread the Bhagavad Gita. Again. I’ve read the classic Eknath Easwaran translation twice in the last couple of years, but on the retreat, Angela mentioned Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, published in 2007 by Graham M. Schweig. It sounds like a lovely translation, and I will start it as soon as I can get my day job to stop being so demanding. (In other words, if only I had a beach to read it on without any distractions . . . .)


Want to watch one more video? See Angela discuss “What is mula bandha?,” which was part of this Xinalani retreat blog post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.