Wednesday, December 31, 2014

From ‘The Reluctant Tuscan. How I discovered my inner Italian’ by Phil Doran


…..Nancy….an interior designer ….. When she sees a house she wants to redo, she gets a look on her face like a fifteen-year-old boy on a topless beach…. she never met a room she didn’t think she could improve.

Our plane landed and taxied to a stop. We then had the pleasure of sitting on the hot tarmac for 45 minutes while the Alitalia ground crew figured out how to open our door.

Buon giorno, signora, Piacere,’ I said, using up ten per cent of my Italian vocabulary

…..a small two-storey affair that had fallen into such disrepair……. I studied the thick accretion of inky residue and pondered the dramas that had played out inside these four walls.
The births, the deaths, the quarrels, the passions. And that was just the goats.

Dino broke down and wept, sobbing through his nose with big theatrical gasps like a clown in a Verdi opera. I was constantly unnerved by the penchant Italian men have for spontaneously bursting into tears.

‘…I still cant figure out why every store and office in this country closes up for a four-hour lunch break in the middle of the afternoon. ………..Why two Italians’ll block traffic by sitting in their cars in the middle of the road having a conversation. Why their houses have three different-sized electrical sockets and yet whenever I go to plug something in it, it doesn’t it in any of them. Why every restaurant but McDonald’s cant be open for dinner before eight o’clock at night. Why its impossible to make an appointment with anybody, and when you finally get one, they’re always late. And finally, how come when you question an Italian about any of these things they look at you like you’re crazy?’

He welcomed us in and as he helped Nancy off with her coat, he asked her about her fungus. I thought this was a rather intimate line of questioning but I soon realized that he was referring to a disease that was attacking our olive trees up at the piccolo rustico.

…why the citizens of these two cities [Florence and Ravenna] despise each other, you have to go back to AD 1309, when Italy’s most renowned poet, Dante Alighieri, was exiled from Florence for political reasons. For years, he wandered Tuscany, venting his fury by writing the Inferno and peopling hell with all the Florentines who had done him wrong. He finally wound up in Ravenna, where he died and was buried. Centuries later, the Florentines realized their mistake and demanded the return of their favourite son’s remains. The Ravennese refused, and to this day there is bad blood.
I have a lot of problems with Italy. Its chaotic, confusing, and oftentimes incomprehensible. But I must confess that I find unabashed delight living in a society where people still get furioso over the bones of a poet who’s been dead for seven hundred years.

Unlike the French, who tend to sink into reverential silence when the food arrives, the act of eating merely increases the Italians need for volume and drama.

Italy leads the world in young men with funny beards.

‘How can he get away with this?’ I demanded.
Rudolfo shrugged. ‘We’re Italian. We live with a million laws and no rules.’

…..thats how things get done around here. They’ll do anything for the mamma.

…it would certainly be good to get back to Los Angeles, where everybody speaks the same language. Korean.

As soon as I stepped off the plane and into a terminal full of my countrymen, I began to notice seismic differences. Americans looked heavier, more serious, more racially mixed, and not nearly as happy as a random crowd of Italians.

…..so I just plunged on. ‘Prendere mangiamo ….uh, uh, suoi polli
She flashed me a look of horrified indignation, quickly huddled her brood together, and ushered them away with such alacrity, I knew I had said something wrong…. I… discovered  that instead of asking if she were taking her chickens out to eat, I had asked if I could eat her chickens.
And we wonder why nations have such a hard time hammering out peace treaties.

During the course of rebuilding our house, we got calls from our ingegnere, the geometra, the carpenter, and so on asking us to come to their office or workshop. Invariably, we’d discover that whatever they wanted to discuss could have been dealt with over the phone. But that’s not the Italian way. They need to see your face, look in your eyes and use their vast array of hand gestures. So dependent are they on hand gestures that an Italian with a missing finger is thought to have a speech impediment.

The bronze plaque that displayed the name of our bank also announced that this particular institution had been founded twenty years before Columbus sailed for the New World, and every time I walked in, I felt like there were still customers from the fifteenth century waiting for a teller. The bank had computers, but they seemed to be mostly used for sending e-mails and playing video games…..
….Italian lines, by the way are not straight, but round. They tend to coalesce into a loose mob, where everyone seems to be able to follow the threads of many simultaneous conversations at once while never losing track of who goes next.
The wait was endless, but Italians can endure anything as long as they can talk. And their preferred way is everybody at the same time and at a volume we usually reserve for telling somebody the building’s on fire. It got so deafening in there that the tellers had trouble understanding their clients.

A word about Italian chequebooks and that word is drab. Unlike America, where you can order your cheques in lots of twenty thousand and get them printed with everything from Sunset Over the Mojave to a field of Happy Faces, Italian cheques come in only one colour: a faded, plain institutional brown….In a country recognized for style and design, the very birthpace of the Ranaissance, this is an appalling lack of sprezzatura, or what the Italians themselves call ‘the art of living’.

A common feature of every government office in Italy is a constantly ringing phone that nobody ever bothers to answer.

I have no trouble lying to the Italians, because they’re a highly imaginative people who have an ethereal relationship with the truth. They are a nation of natural-born storytellers who love to wrap you up in their yarns. Interestingly, they tend to label such a narrative as una storia, which implies that what they are telling you can be true, made up or a combination of the two. Often these anecdotes are long and quite intricate, carefully crafted to elicit your sympathies, or, failing that, exhaust tyou so you’ll go away.

Italians drive with a ferocity usually connected to a blood sport – horns blasting, brakes screeching, gears grinding – and that’s just getting out of the driveway….

Things happen in Italy that happen no where else on earth. A magical friendliness is spread all over the place like pixie dust. Sure, the salesman in America who greets you when you walk into Circuit City is as affable as a sheepdog, but isn’t that well-practised camaraderie all part of their corporate policy? In Italy, especially in the small family-run shops, the don’t just go for friendly, they actually seek to engage you as a person.
And this can take so many forms, like the local shoemaker who examines your heels and tells you that you don’t need new ones yet. Just walk around on your old ones for quaranta giorni (forty days), and then come back. Or your favourite fruttivendolo who stops you from selecting the shiny red applies and steers you to the ugly brown pugs that wind up tasting more delicious than any apple you’ve ever eaten. When you tell him you want four, he puts five in your bag because four is an unlucky number in Italy, while thirteen is not.

There never was any discernible pattern to the work. Some days nobody showed up. Then suddenly the whole crew would be there with more heavy equipment than Hitler had when he invaded Poland.

…..I realized that I was becoming so Italian, I looked to celebrate at the slightest provocation

….I never cease to marvel at how Italian men will ogle a woman with a blatancy that would get you hauled into court on sexual harassment charges in America.

If I live here forever I’ll never get used to how Italians will come over to your house at any time of the day or night. In L.A. the last person to drop in on anybody unannounced was the Hillside Strangler….One of the more enduring axioms in literature is the idea that life in an American suburb is sterile and emotionally desolate.

For a country that seems to be organized along chaotic lines by a people with a deep-seated sense of anarchy in their souls, Italians dance in a highly structured way.

….in this heavily agricultural area, where the locals are fond of saying that if a man has a woman he’s happy for a day, if he has a cow he’s happy for a week, but if he has a garden he’s happy for a lifetime.

….Fabiola was canonized at a time when it was a lot harder for a woman, alluding to the existence of a glass ceiling even in the saint business.

Being the sons of Italian families, it never occurred to Rudolfo or Stefano to prepare their own meals, wash out a dish, or even pick up the clothes they seemed to drop wherever they were standing.

The two Italian words most firmly embedded in the English language are graffiti and paparazzi. Interestingly, both involve a public display. This tells us much about their national psyche, for the average Italian is motivated by two powerful forces: fare una bella figura (looking good to his friends and neighbours) and non fare una brutta figura (not looking bad to his friends and neighbours)

I think no country on earth benefits from the sunshine more than Italy. When its overcast and dreary, the grey seems to accentuate how everything is slightly threadbare and the villages have an almost shabby, Eastern European feel. But when the sun shines, the ordinary becomes remarkable and the remarkable becomes transcendent.

Italians like to come early and stay late, so a social gathering tends to become a marathonlike test of a hosts endurance.

The party lasted all evening and well into the night. Our neighbours could scarcely complain about the noise, since they were the ones making it. Italians may never sweep all the gold medals at the Olympics or establish a permanent colony on the moon, but when it comes to having a good time, no people on earth can touch them.


It would be difficult to imagine a land where one could eat so well from just the bounty of the nearby forests, fields and sea.

From ‘Hero on a Honda. Reflections on India’ by Anthony Richard Farmer


Given the potential for violence; driver to driver, driver to pedestrian or driver to animal, I saw no offensive gestures, no calling into question race, religion, gender or parentage, no shirt pulling, head-butting or punch-ups. In India….
I haven’t encountered any impatience with feral animals either, no matter how offensive or inconvenient their actions. Indeed, the norm is to show kindness and compassion, at worst indifference, towards animals in the street. Unwanted food waste is deposited in specific places for animal consumption…. I watch water, seeds and fruit placed on walls and on rooftops for birds, rodents and primates to consume. Non-violence and compassion contribute to the easy going nature of India. Kindness, inclusion, patience and respect are the hallmarks of Indian society.

…..the lake-side residence where Rudyard Kipling lived and began to write The Jungle Book…..The house is whimsical, set at the end of a large lake, surrounded by hills, filled with water lilies and litter in equal measure. It’s a small palace, so picturesque ……..its very unlikely that any lake in the Western World would be so full of rubbish, here piled up at the downwind end. It’s a disgrace but this is India and comparison is odious.

The once glistening streams and rocky rapids now flow like black smelly treacle, clogged with litter. Wedged uncomfortably between hotels with names like The Hillock, The Hillstone ……tribal families eke out a living but they’re unable to wash in the streams and have less and less land on which to grow a few crops. Their goats eye the lush hotel gardens while sifting through the garbage on the street for food. No-one takes much notice of the state government notices declaring Mount Abu a ‘plastic-free zone’.

India welcomed me and I felt immediately at home, inspired by color, landscapes, buildings, customs and the industry and warmth of its people. The India I encountered was playful and innocent……
No matter where I went, who I met, I never felt unsafe. I experienced no unpleasantness, no discrimination, no harsh words, no resentment. Everywhere, I encountered open-hearted welcomes, sunny smiles, genuine curiosity, delightful humor, and unconditioned inclusiveness. Indian people, from all walks of life and in all circumstances were kind, joyful and generous; Indian people made such an impression on me. I tried my best to engage India at street level……..No lofty observations from exclusive hotels. Always I found generosity of spirit, sometimes it was quite overwhelming and most often from those who had the least to give. That I didn’t speak their language made little difference.

So much of India has entered my soul and will remain there forever.

From ‘Kevin and I in India’ by Frank Kusy


The journey was once again very bumpy and dangerous. The only light relief came from the bus’s ticket collector, with his periodic cries of “We stop now! five minutes for tea and urine!”

Andrew shook his close-cropped head in puzzlement when I asked him his future plans. “You know something?”, he remarked. “I’ve been right round the South-East Asia circuit now – I’ve been to Sri Lanka, to Thailand, to Burma and every other damn place – and I’ve found all these places pretty much alike, and very easy to get grips with. But India! I’ve been here over a month already, and I’m still no nearer to understanding it than when I first arrived! I expect I’ll have to hang around until I do understand it ….”

….Nepali women ….were nearly all beautiful, and nearly all pregnant. They appeared a good deal more open and friendly than the women of India, and the relationship between the two sexes here in Nepal seemed altogether more close and natural.

The more I saw of India, the more I liked it. Wandering through the streets and observing the many herds of sacred cows, for instance, I could now view them as amiable, benevolent spirits rather than unnecessary public nuisances. ……..Now I could see some of their value. Not only did their endless patience and calm stoicism contribute some sense of order and tranquility to busy Indian streets, but they also managed to keep the accumulation of waste and rubbish on the road down by eating a remarkable amount of it.

Postscript
Off the plane back in Heathrow ………I returned straight home and ate a simple meal of rice and yoghourt – the nearest thing to an Indian ‘thali’ I could find.
Then I ran a bath, my first in four months, and discovered on the scales that I was two whole stones lighter than when I had left England. Finally, I climbed into bed, faintly aware of the deafening silence in the streets outside, and slept for a whole day.
I woke up feeling like I had been wrung through a mangle backwards. Then, as consciousness returned, I found myself thinking of my next journey. Where would I be going? Why, back to India of course.
Most people do.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thoughts … … …


The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity – William Butler Yeats

There is a significant saying that while sacred shrines and tirthas purify and sanctify all mankind, the sacred shrines and tirthas are themselves more sanctified and divinized by the Holy Men and Saints who grace them with their passing footprints or prolonged presence.
-          Sri Swami Tapovanam

Self-redemption must come ultimately from ourselves. The external props such as temples, idols, and gurus are all encouragements and aids. They must be intelligently used to help build up inner perfection.
-          Swami Chinmayananda

Gandhiji used to say, ‘True democracy is not run by twenty people sitting in Delhi ….I would like to distribute these power centres in seven lakh villages of India.’
-          From ‘Swaraj’ by Arvind Kejriwal

Shaq pe hai yakeen to, yakeen par hai shaq mujhe …kiska jhooth jhooth hai, kiska sach sach nahin … Jaan loon ki jaan doon, main rahoon ki main nahin
-          From the film ‘Haider’

He who would go to sea for pleasure, would go to hell for a pastime
-          Old French Proverb

….the two stages of sea sickness described by a wise man: “The first stage is when you think you are going to die. The next stage is when you wish you were dead.”


Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
Or what’s a heaven for?
-          - Robert Browning

From ‘An Indian Summer. A Personal Experience of India’ by James Cameron


Why do I come, I wonder; why am I here? For twenty-five years I have been asking, at this first fatigued moment in the steaming heat of the Indian dawn, this first encounter with the opaque evasive velvet official eyes – why must I return to this tormented, confused, corrupt, futile and exasperating place as though I loved it, as though I needed it, as though I had to be forever reminded of its hopelessness and the splendor of its sorrow?
Yet if I ask this question, why then, when I am not there, do I miss it so? Each time I arrive my heart so quickly sinks, yet each time I leave India I know there I something of me I have left behind …… There is no sense to it…..

I was briefly seized by the sudden unreasonable happiness that comes to me with the steamy touch of India in the early hours.

I loitered fretfully at the counter, waiting as one always does for the inspirational phrase that will convey despair without passion; they looked back at us with patient, courteous indifference, hoping we would go away. They had all the time in the world and we had not; they could afford to wait.
In this situation India will always win. There is no purpose in being right if one is powerless. To give way to anger is to surrender…..

Hindu custom requires an obligatory daily bath, and I have never been anywhere in India where it is not manifestly obeyed; in the most wretched and abominable quarters of the city dawn finds the hungry derelicts and street-sleepers lining up at the stand-pipe for the meticulous body-wash ritual. An Indian man or woman has to be lowly indeed not to wear fresh laundered cotton on the body; however exiguous and worn the dhoti or sari may be, it is rarely soiled. Yet Indians of all varieties ……..will promenade through streets of almost indescribable filth and neglect, littered with refuse and debris, gutters adrift with ordure. Picking their way through the muck with a skillfully intuitive indifference, since they do not see it.

The Hillcrest Hotel was, as the airport man had foretold, clearly was not the Taj. Hotels that accept one without reservations at six in the morning rarely are.

If Hindus invented caste, the English invented the Club…… the Raj paid its respects to the most insulting custom of the society it affected to despise, and created Anglo-Saxon Brahminism……

These non-Indians – perhaps because they were non-Indian – the English adopted as their favourite sons, and greatly did the Parsi community prosper thereby…

…..really good South Indian coffee is incomparably the best, just as the bogus coffee to be found in Delhi and the north is unchallengeably the worst.

South Indian domestic servants are grand masters at the art of fiddling about, which is to say of achieving the absolute minimum of accomplishment through the expenditure of the most conspicuous activity. I have seen a bearer swab a table all the way round a single pencil left lying there. This is clearly more difficult and time-consuming than lifting up the pencil, but it also implies greater assiduity and consideration: If the master wants the pencil exactly there, so be it, the few square inches of dust it conceals will be his responsibility, not mine.

…..the wavering khaki figure of the room-sweeper, craving the privilege of entering to flap his cloth with a dedicated lack of purpose around the floor, his attitude simultaneously absent yet anxious, his role to achieve invisibility as befitted his station in lie and yet to demonstrate enough small fuss to justify his job: a delicate duality…He was a sweeper, and his function therefore to be a sweeper, not necessarily effectively to sweep. He fulfilled the role society required of him merely by associating himself as nearly as he could with the dirt in which he dealt; his efficiency was of minor importance.

…I could never walk like an Indian. No European could imitate the extraordinary flexibility and maneuverability of the Indian hands. Indians talk with their hands as they dance with their hands. There is none of the Latin shoulder-shrugging, eyebrow-raising, broad-swinging gestures, but a continual rippling of the palms and the fingers, with each nuance moulded out of the air, as though sculpturing syntax out of space.

I love dusk in India more than anything else in the world. ….Half a mile away a herdsman was sitting on a hillside singing quietly to his cows – a long and seemingly formal song, inexpressibly soothing. I knew I should never belong to India, but at these times I came very near to it.

….Jaipur is a somewhat dull city by day, angularly laid out ….Its appearance is at first desolatingly ordinary; only when you realize that its remarkable modernity was laid out by Maharaja Jai Singh II in 1728, when London was sixty per cent a slum, does it being to seem admirable. By evening it became enchanting.

Just outside Jaipur lay Amber, the ancient capital, an exquisite place in a stifling gorge. It is possibly one of the half-dozen finest ruins in the world.

….the United States is one solid mass produced society to an extent India can never be; in India one is not driving through a country but a continent, the invisible frontiers here are truly ethnic dividing-lines – here the beards will be cut otherwise, the saris tied differently, the languages incomprehensible to each other three hundred miles apart.

….Gandhi …..had to be butchered to stop him becoming the conscience of India. He would indeed have been a terrible embarrassment today.

…General Dyer took ninety Gurkha and Baluchi mercenary soldiers to that densely crowded square and coldly fired 1605 rounds into their unarmed bodies, killing 379 and wounding more than a thousand. ……In Britain the sum of £26,000 was subscribed as a testimonial to General Dyer’s devoted gallantry …..I am eternally surprised that the Indians can ever forgive us. They do so of course because, unlike the Irish, they forget.

We had come to Madras, which we both love, although it is hard to say why….Madras has not the second-hand self-importance of new Delhi not the hysterical ugliness of Bombay, it is a million miles from the despairing horrors of Calcutta. It is an agreeable, rather boring place; it is the sort of place I would be if I were a town.

…how offensive to a cultivated Indian an object like the Taj Mahal….can be…. Indeed it has style. Nevertheless it is a monument erected by an occupation force, a foreign gesture in a foreign taste …..It is the arrogant expression of conquerors who believed (as did Sir Osbert Sitwell in the 1940s) that Hindu art and architecture was repulsive, greasy and vulgar, and who set about destroying every major Hindu temple they could get their hands on. They were vandals, albeit they built the Taj Mahal…..the expression of the Islamic ubermenschen. The beauty of the Taj Mahal makes some Indians want to be sick.

….when the British took over India….they learned about India from the Nawabs and the Nabobs. The language they learned was a variant of Persian, not Sanskrit, let alone Tamil or Telugu. It was one more aspect of a theory I have long developed: the peculiar affinity of the English ruling class with Islam. It expressed itself in generations of British favour to Muslims in India at the expense of Hindus; in the Middle East in tacit preference for Arabs against Jews, and for much the same reasons: Hindus, like Hebrews, tended to be clever and even literate, and certainly argumentative, while Muslims shared many of the deep-seated characteristics of the Anglo-Saxon elite – an intuitive resentment of culture, an amicable contempt for women, a proclivity for riding about on horses, a pleasure in discipline, a covert hemophilia…… One of the Indians’ problems in this regard is of course the fact that Islamic art, being aseptic and austere, is far more generally acceptable than classic Hindu art, which is voluptuous and sensual and at its best most explicitly sexual …..Representations of the Taj Mahal travel the world on picture-postcards; accurate photographs of the carvings of Khajuraho would be seized by the Customs.

The urban awfulness of Calcutta has become a cliché of such dimensions that one flinches from even trying to say more about it, with such lasting and eloquent disgust has every aspect of this appalling place been described since Kipling called it ‘the city of dreadful night.’

The inhuman cruelty of Calcutta defiles the normal language of odium…. Its paradoxes are a platitude….. In Calcutta most people are debris, and only too clearly know that they will never be anything else. ….India is a country of beggars; nowhere but in Calcutta is there beggary of such a ubiquitous, various, ever-present and inescapable kind.

From ‘First there is a mountain. A Yoga Romance’ by Elizabeth Kadetsky


India was also smelly. Pier Paolo Pasolini titled his India memoir The Scent of India, though a more accurate rendering of the Italian might have been the stench – “that odor which, little by little, becomes an almost living physical entity,” he wrote. A generation later, Gunter Grass was most impressed by the visceral quality of the filthiness. It seemed to assault his body “like flotsam, thrown in with everything and everybody, skin rubbing skin, sweat mixing with sweat.201D

Bombay smelled exactly as bad as its reputation. There were many things floating on the air currents, things I couldn’t recognize and things I could: roasting meat, soot, fire, shit.

Yoga gives you the strength to ace God when he appears, a yoga teacher once told me.

….one of Iyengar’s phrases: When you still the flickering eyes, you still the consciousness.


From ‘Health, Healing and beyond. Yoga and the living tradition of T Krishnamacharya’ by T K V Desikachar with R H Cravens


…..Francis Bacon ….. “the mind can be enlarged, according to its capacity, to the grandeur of the mysteries, and not the mysteries contracted to the narrowness of the mind”

….Yoga….a word from Sanskrit ….derives from the root yuj, which has two traditional, complementary meanings. The first is “to bring two things together, to meet, to unite.” The second meaning: “to converge the mind.”

….the essence of Yoga, was formulated by the great Indian sage, Patanjali, more than two thousand years ago in this succinct definition:
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively
toward an object and sustain that direction
without any distractions

Each person will have a different starting point, but the fulfilling experience of the Yoga taught by Krishnamacharya will utilize five elements.
The first, and the usual beginning, involves asana, a Sanskrit term for the physical postures of Yoga. The second element is pranayama, consciously controlled breathing techniques. The third element is chanting, partly for its healing effect on mind and body, and partly because it brings us spiritually into contact with something ancient and sacred. Meditation is the fourth element, a means of opening our awareness both inward and outward beyond our usual mental limits. And the fifth element is ritual, so instinctive and universal a human act – and so widely misunderstood

Probably no aspect of Hindu culture has been described more often and more misleadingly than our so-called caste system….. The original division of these functions in society, by divine intention, was to be on the basis of abilities and temperament – not birth. It evolved into an extremely complex system of inherited castes, sub-castes and sub-subcastes handed down from generation to generation. To their credit, the Vedanta schools never had much use for castes…

My father once told me that his guru [at Manasarovar] knew about seven thousand asanas. Of these, my father mastered about three thousand. After more than thirty years of study with Krishnamacharya, I know approximately five hundred or so. My more serious students at the Mandiram will usually teach, perhaps, fifty or sixty postures to their more advanced students. And yet, with less than one percent, so to speak, of what the guru at Manasarovar knew, we witness thousands of individuals developing through Yoga ever greater health, mental clarity, and spiritual capacity.
Still, isn’t it haunting to think of the wisdom once possessed and taught in the Tibetan cave of Shiva’s sacred mountain?

…the path to perfect clarity and freedom… through the practice and mastery of the eight components of Yoga, which are:
1.      YAMA – our attitudes toward our environment;
2.      NIYAMA – our attitudes toward ourselves;
3.      ASANA – the practice of body exercises;
4.      PRANAYAMA – the practice of breathing exercises;
5.      PRATYAHARA – the restraint of our senses;
6.      DHARANA – the ability to direct our minds;
7.      DHYANA – the ability to develop interactions with what we seek to understand;
8.      SAMADHI – complete integration with the object to be understood

YAMA comprises:
·         Consideration toward all living things….simulate friendliness and reduce the anger, dread, and even violent feelings of those around us
·         Right communications ….with sensitivity, without telling lies, and with reflection…..
·         Non-covetousness……
·         Moderation in all our actions….
·         Nongreediness…

NIYAMA comprises:
·         Cleanliness of our bodies and our surroundings…….
·         Contentment, or the ability to be comfortable with what we have and what we do not have. The happiness that comes from acquiring possessions is invariably temporary….
·         Removal of impurities in our physical and mental systems through correct habits of sleep, exercise, nutrition, work and relaxation….

Asana must have the dual qualities of alertness and relaxation…..There must always be alertness without tension and relaxation without dullness or heaviness. These qualities are achieved by recognizing and observing the reactions of the body and breath to various postures….Through asana practices we can also understand how the breath behaves. Breathing patterns are very individual……..the knowledge of breath gained through asana practice is the foundation. Upon it, we begin pranayama, defined as:
….the conscious, deliberate regulation of the breath replacing unconscious patterns of breathing …it involves the regulation of the exhalation, the inhalation, and the suspension of breath. The regulation of these three processes is achieved by modulating their length, and maintaining this modulation for a period of time, as well as directing the mind into the process. These components of breathing must be long and subtle.

There are many combinations, many techniques of pranayama. These, too, must be competently taught. What is important is that an entirely different experience of breathing appears in a state of Yoga. “Then,” Patanjali tells us, “the breath transcends the level of the consciousness.”

PRATYAHARA, the restraint of the senses, occurs when the mind is able to remain in its chosen direction. The senses disregard the different objects around them and faithfully follow the direction of the mind.

DHARANA is the ability to direct the mind toward a chosen object in spite of many other potential objects within reach.

Once this direction is fixed, the mind establishes a linkage with the object. This is DHYANAM, a state in which mental activities form an uninterrupted flow only in relation to the object. While at first our understanding still is influenced by misapprehension, imagination, and memories, a fresh, deeper understanding occurs.
Dharana and dhyanam lead the individual to SAMADHI – an involvement with the object so complete that nothing except its comprehension is evident. It is as if the individual has lost his own identity and achieved complete integration with the object of understanding ….Through sustained discipline…each individual can refine and adapt the mind for sustained direction without difficulty. In this way, the mind reaches the highest state of Yoga – it is simply transparent, devoid of any resistance to inquiry and free from past impressions of any sort.

If, at the end of a program of exercise, the student is breathing hard or the pulse is accelerated, the rhythm and sequence of movement has been too energetic.
The practice of asanas prepares the body and mind naturally for pranayama.

asanas are needed to open the nadis; pranayama is what brings prana into contact with apana, or dirt, and so removes impurities

….the ancients taught that each individual is allotted 21,600 breaths per day in a lie span intended to be one hundred years long. We can draw upon our allotted breaths like a bank account. Through anxiety, short breaths, and unnecessary exertion we may overdraw our account – and so shorten our lives.

Let me emphatically clear up one widespread misunderstanding. Nowhere in the Vedas or in the ancient teachings is it said that you must be a strict vegetarian. Westerners, in particular, seem to believe that to seriously study Yoga it is imperative to adopt a vegetarian life-style. This is not the case, and for some individuals may even be unhealthy…..it is not a commandment embedded in Yoga.

In his ninety-eighth year, my father ….a young doctor ….told him he would die very soon …… “Nonsense!” my father said. “I am not going to die now. It is not in my breath … and I know my breath.”
It is one of the most remarkable things I’d heard him say…..