Art, Criticism, and Yoga

I heard a friend say recently, “Art needs criticism.”

I am wondering. What needs criticism? Especially something as vital and culturally important as art? In the consideration of creating beauty and significance in this life, what role does passing judgement on the merit of someone’s artwork have? Might we not fall prey to consensus view for our value of what is beautiful and significant? Might we be duped into believing and celebrating something that is not what it seemed to be based on someone’s (even our own) criticism? What happens when the critics have it their way, and there are no more artists, only critics? Critical Art? A perfect world?

The way I see it, the only thing that really needs criticism is critics.

The tradition of Yoga has long held a high appreciation for aesthetics and art. Through the lens of Yoga and its teaching comes a perspective that we live in an ‘Artful’ Universe which by its very existence communicates beauty and significance. To me, this means that with a clear view of things as they are, we might experience immediately a sense of aesthetic delight: stars at night, flowers in full bloom, sea shells, a river bed, fractoccoli!

 

From the perspective of Yoga, judgement is a primary human obstacle to seeing things as they are, and at the same time is the fundamental component to criticism.

Art to me appears to be: 

An arrangement of natural elements and their respective sensational counterparts [space/sound, vitality/feeling, light (color)/form, etc.] around a central essential ideation that communicates beauty and significance. I say ‘ideation’ to point out that no artistic idea, in the real, starts as a wholly formed idea, but rather the movement of that idea (from nothing and nowhere) into itself. I say ‘essential’, for without that, what is left for the natural elements to arrange around? With no central essential ideation, most likely an “artist” will arrange the elements haphazardly, or around a previously produced form in the medium of which their “art” is being rendered (as in the case of a re-made movie, or popular image). When does it stop being art? I do not know. What I do know is that the repeated replication of any form or idea tends to cause its significance and beauty to diminish, move toward being unrecognizable, or be lost altogether.

What does art do?

Art captures attention, and communicates beauty and/or significance. Visual art captures attention of the eye to form. Auditory art captures attention of the ear to sound. In all cases, art captures attention and communicates beauty and/or significance. This is how art affects the enjoyer of it consciously, subconsciously, and unconsciously. Art influences through impression. Art is capable of communicating through boundaries of culture, creed, class, race, age, sex, and pretty much any boundary that an artist is willing and able to cross.   

What does criticism do?

Criticism directs and consumes attention, and either agitates or soothes. Negative criticism consumes attention and agitates. Positive or ‘constructive’ criticism consumes attention and at best soothes or validates (neither of which have anything to do with art! Can you imagine the Water needing your validation to create snowflakes or the chemicals in reaction to make crystals needing to be soothed?!). I have observed even ‘constructive’ criticism to have the pangs of aggression and control. This is how criticism influences. It is itself an impression, though it is run through the lens of the critic’s mind to derive its judgement of ‘the other’; most commonly a mentalized reaction of good and bad, like or dislike, attraction or aversion, all purely subjective and thus through a scope which positions a critic much like a spectator of the night sky attempting to ‘enjoy’ it through the view of a pin hole. Criticism breaks down relationship, by constantly finding or implying fault. The only ‘relationship’ that criticism seems to build is with the voice of the critic in the one exposed to it. Even then, this is not so much a relationship as it is a violent opposition or a passive submission or assimilation.

Is Yoga Art?

Yes, and…it depends. Looks to me like Yoga is art when it is and not when it isn’t. The practice of Yoga may enable a person to see and appreciate more what art and artistry is. I would say that after teaching Yoga for 16 years that criticism has not once fostered any sense of artistry in the practitioners that I have observed. Even when they want it and ask for it! Does Yoga need criticism? I think I can hear a call from the God’s of Yoga right now. They say, “Fuck criticism! How about try friendship.”

Think about it. Do you think you are willing to hear the value of what is being said in critical feedback from anyone you do not deem a friend? Do you think that maybe the platform of friendship might carry the very influence and human affectation we, at the core, intend when the tongue is fast firing away our judgements?

Does art need criticism? What do you think?

 

By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.


Food and the Yogic Body

What is a Yogic body?

A Yogic body is a body that has the willingness, strength, and stamina to withstand the heat and pressure of transformative processes (or if transformation is not your bag, Life will suffice).

From the most gross perspective, one might see a Yogic body as a fit and toned human body that is able to perform what looks like very difficult feats of flexibility and strength while appearing serene. Which is partly true, and from my experience Yoga asks us to consider the ‘body’ and ask, “does it end there?”

From the perspective of Yoga the physical body is the most outward appearing aspect of our self, much like the tip of an iceberg in the Ocean. So when mistaking the physical body alone for the Yogic body, it is like perceiving an iceberg as only the small piece of lonely ice “floating” on the surface. Don’t get me wrong, physical strength and flexibility are very useful for building a Yogic body. In fact, the more tensile strength and ability to relax a practitioner has, the more likely they will be to withstand the charge in the nervous system while building a Yogic body. One way to think of a Yogic body is: the entirety of one’s integrated physical, mental, and emotional being. Plus, one’s entire body of wisdom and deeds. You can see how the iceberg analogy is not far off.

What is it good for?

A Yogic body is good for many aspects of human life:

  • Self-esteem
  • Emotional stability
  • Mental clarity
  • Communication skills
  • A general sense of delight and wellbeing

** Ultimately, Yoga teaches us that a Yogic body is good for being of service in the World and to the ‘Divine Presence.’ However, if that never happens and/or you are not interested in such things, the other side effects won’t hurt to have in your life situation.

Body Chemistry, Cravings, and Mood

Food is a huge consideration for this Yogic body stuff. The process in a human that operates to build a Yogic body is chemically driven. The current chemical composition in our bodies is largely derivative of the food we eat. These chemicals and their composite interactions play a major part in our moods, thoughts, reactions, emotions, as well as the potential turning on of Yogic processes. Where unconscious, habitual and compulsive eating occurs, we tend to waste or block energy and prevent the possibility of said Yogic Processes turning on.

The source of a lot of compulsive and unconscious eating habits is a chemical signal from the gut flora to the brain. The brain forms the chemical signals into cravings and away we go for the proper ‘food’ for the source of the signal (primarily non-human cells)… read more

“If you cannot regulate your mood, you must be addicted to it.”

I know this statement sounds harsh, and that there are plenty of clinical examples to prove it wrong. That is neither the point, nor do I mean any offense to those with genuine mental illness who do not currently have the capacity to regulate their mood. What I mean is that in addition to the psychological scripts that create and maintain our moods, our habitual eating patterns most likely carry the chemicals (or trigger the chemical reactions) which we are addicted to. Very often, these chemicals and reactions cause irritation and inflammation in our body, mind, and emotions, which in turn fuels our reactivity and keeps us in a cycle of toxic behavior. From my experience this tends to be an obstacle to building a Yogic body, for I get used to diffusing and/or discharging the nervous system through food which weakens the system’s ability to hold a charge for any length of time.     

** If you want to see some startling evidence of how diet affects mood and behavior, check out this article about a California prison who switched to a vegan diet and produced radical results in reducing aggression and significantly improving chances of released inmates not being rearrested… read more

What diet interferes with building a Yogic body?

  • High sugar/carb
  • Habitual use of addictive substances: caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, etc.
  • Animal protein when it is not needed
  • Eating foods that one is allergic to
  • High calorie and low nutrition
  • Over-eating

What diet helps to build a Yogic body?

In the beginning, a simple way to look at this is to mitigate adding unnecessary toxicity to your system. Not one diet will work for everyone. Working with principles of diet and body chemistry can help to simplify this consideration.

  • Mostly vegetarian/leaning toward vegan and raw
  • Low carb
  • Mostly fresh cooked vegetables
  • Fresh fruit
  • Significant fat content from healthy fats: seeds, nuts, avocados, coconut oil
  • Appropriate amounts of food

RECIPES!

Please check out Udaya’s own Cheri Rae and Koya Web for videos on how to prepare delicious raw and vegan cuisine, snacks, smoothies, and more.  

In summation I would like to remind the reader that each Yoga practitioner’s diet is a case by case basis, and we are just cracking the surface of what is possible in this consideration. Get started today! Eat well, work hard in your Yoga, and rest deeply.

 

By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.


Brahmacharya

Continuing on from last week’s Sex Blog (which received some interesting comments), I decided to write on the opposite Yogic perspective in regard to sex and sexual energy, Brahmacharya.

Brahmacharya is one of the possible practices in Yoga. It literally means “going after (charya) God (Brahman)”. It deals with the specific use of sexual energy (which for the sake of this blog we will name as the sexual: organs, fluids, sensations, feelings, experiences and thoughts of an individual) for practice in Yoga. Practitioners who chose to attempt Brahmacharya might show it by practicing celibacy when single and monogamy while in relationship. A practitioner of Brahmacharya might even remain celibate in a committed relationship. In other cases, particularly in the instance of a monastic lifestyle, the practitioner might renounce sex and marriage altogether. Whether or not this recommendation of Brahmacharya is practiced strictly or in a more liberal way, “going after God” and celibacy have been entwined in practice in many World Religions and spiritual traditions, including Yoga, for thousands of years.

It appears that the majority of the individuals who renounce sex for God often don’t find the satisfaction and fulfillment they are looking for. And many appear to behave in ways that are misaligned to their stated intention.

This makes me wonder:

“For whom is ‘going after God’ an appropriate and useful context for celibacy?” And if in fact it is not useful, “what is an appropriate context for celibacy on a spiritual or transformative path?”  

Within the realms of human interaction, one of the most dynamic tensions we experience is relating with the opposite sex. When you combine this with the fact that for most living things sex (or procreation) is the strongest motivator; it looks like Nature is giving us an obvious, although humorously hidden-in-plain-sight lesson on what an appropriate context for celibacy might be on a spiritual/transformative path…

‘To grow into a mature and appropriate relationship toward the “opposite” sex.’

The practicality of this view is astonishing. Not only does the practitioner have an unending capacity to grow in this, but the very change in motivation for relating to the opposite sex tends to produce the type of respect and vulnerable connection a long-term thriving relationship requires. And, the bottom line is that it is the very rare practitioner who is genuinely ready to give up sex for God. Eventually, it seems, most of us would reach an impasse where when faced with the choice of “God” on one hand, and a fantastic, tantalizing, juicy sexing on the other, “God” just ain’t gonna cut it.

From the practitioners that I know who attempt it, it looks like the most common form of Brahmacharya is to practice celibacy when single and monogamy when in a sexual relationship. In addition to sex, the practice of celibacy also includes the non-engagement of all sorts of heavy petting, sexual cuddling, internet porn, psychic sex, etc.

For the Yoga practitioner working with Brahmacharya, the act of sexual monogamy becomes something far greater than it might initially seem. It is not done for the mere mentalized ‘rightness’ of it; but rather as an expression of the practitioner’s one-pointed commitment to seeking the Divine in relationship. It is not that one is monogamous or celibate for the seeking of God, rather that the act itself is the seeking. Sexual intercourse in this relationship does not necessarily fall outside the practice of Brahmacharya, provided it is not excessively wasteful, harmful, or abusive.

For the celibate practitioner, sexual energy is directed not outwardly toward another. It can then be directed inwardly, i.e. ‘toward the Divine Presence’. It is still my conjecture that in the beginning, celibacy is best for the purpose of cultivating a healthy, kind, and respectful relationship toward the opposite sex. I also feel that after years of investigation into one’s sexuality and discovering the reality of how it plays out in the world, one might grow into a natural letting go of worldly sexual aim and be willing to direct the entirety of sexual energy to the inward path.

On the path to “God”, The Yoga tradition recommends that one sincerely see and feel into their motivation for actions; ‘awareness’ of the ‘actions themselves’ is not enough, for there is far too much unknown and ignored territory to rest in one’s current knowing of self. Furthermore, the recommendation to renounce the outward use of sexual energy, seems best done as all Yogic renouncing is best done, when the mind/body is prepared and ready for it.

 

By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.


SEX and Yoga!

Yoga as an embodiment practice will make your sex better. In fact it may make it so good that you lose yourself in the throes of ecstasy and thusly be dis-embodied. A sort of ‘little death’. A finding of Self by losing your self; and in the sanctity of sovereignty, with recognition and holding of, fondness and appreciation for the other, come to what is more…     

My girlfriend is pleading very kindly and lightly (which is sexy) for me to write a blog that is more storytelling and not so enlightening and informative. Ok baby. I’ll try. xox.

Here’s a story for you. Joe Yogi attends a hot (100+ degrees) Power Yoga class. About ¾ of the way through this particularly hard and humid class, the teacher says in a sultry tone, “notice the energy we have all created together.” Joe, laying there in a puddle of his own self, takes a few breaths to relax and become receptive to the room. In addition to the ‘feel good’ chemicals in his blood telling him that this form of exercise is enjoyable, Joe rather notices that the room is sort of oozing and dripping with some other olfactory impressions. The smell of the student’s’ bodily emissions in the room is so potent that it is way past the ordinarily attractive levels of this human scent. Most of the adherents in this Hot Yoga class are wearing the hottest leading Yogic trends, and leaving very little to reveal of form and function. Joe is exhausted, chemically ‘high’, and he very quickly loses this impression as the teacher finishes up the class. Joe spots a fellow Yogini on the way out of class and who has stayed behind to discuss Vedic Astrology with the instructor. Joe is suddenly very interested in Vedic Astrology! In fact, Joe senses some strong compatibility with the still sweating star talking Yogini. As it turns out, Joe’s ascendant is the strongest influence in her relationship House. Joe feels that he may have just run into the love of his life! What do you think intrepid reader? Can Joe trust his senses and feelings? Does Joe have to impulsively “go after” another fantastically compatible Yogini? Is a mind/body/nervous system overwhelmed and flooded with sexual energy an experiential base ground for recognition of authentic connection? Who knows?

Everywhere people are putting out their signals and tuning their antennas for sex. A hair twirl here, and a lip bite there. Quick and nearly unnoticeable (and some not so unnoticeable, especially if it is not one’s own lip they are biting!) attempts to draw sexual attention. The clothes, the car, the confidence, the money! Mostly learned behavior that becomes habitual and unconscious. Footwear and every kind of fashion for proper hiding and revealing of sexy bits… **Now trending in cold climates – Yoga pants with butt-high knitted leggings! – It is a feast for the eyes, and ocular nerves are straining to get in line for a plate full.

What is this impulse that influences and drives so much of our daily life both conscious and otherwise? Not just from a sociological or cultural view, but from a ‘meta’ view? What does the lense of Yoga have to offer to this question of sexual drive and motivation?

What is the role of sex from a Yogic perspective?

  • To be the platform for the replication of species, and thereby participate in the evolution of species
  • To serve as way of building and sharing intimacy  
  • May play a role in evolution of Consciousness
  • It embodies the sensation and feeling of the Mood of the Divine
  • It is a total distraction and a waste of energy
  • It’s going to happen! Stop fussing over it!

From a Tantric Yogic perspective it is the Great Goddess of Creation herself which acts out this urge to create more. She has been apparently separated from her “Beloved” and in an attempt to regain the sensation and feeling of Oneness, she brings the various parts of Herself together in sexual union – Her modus operandi is to make more of Herself. She sets up scenarios where the play of the species can achieve this. Birds and bees for plants. Bars, rock concerts, and now Yoga studios for humans.

What unlocks the potential of sex to transform an individual?

  • Yo! Sex transforms you. Especially monogamous sex with the same person for years
  • Yoga might suggest that the ability to voluntarily relinquish the want and need to have sexual pleasure for one’s self can expedite the finding of keys
  • Non-interference: the willingness to let the body act and respond organically without one’s psychological script getting in the way

I’ll leave you with a quote from one of Udaya’s most outspoken teachers, and an addendum I have added myself:

“If you want good sex ladies, get your man to do Yoga!”

Cheri Rae

“If you want good sex men, listen to your ladies!”

 

By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.

 


…anything you think can and will be used against you (and anyone near you), by you.

I am writing this blog because for so long I thought silence was the absence of sound. For most of my life I have been very critical, complaining and commented a lot (both internally and externally) about sounds in my environment: machine noise, traffic, other people’s voices, etc. When I started my Yoga practice I heard, ”Yoga is the stilling of the mind into silence.” So what to do about all this disturbing noise???!!! And why the f-word am I not experiencing any Silence!? The entry into the Yogic mind seems to depend on the understanding that the experience of silence is less the mere absence of sound, and much more the absence of my inner (and outer) commentary, criticism, and complaint about sound. Dig this: sound as we know it on Earth is a pressure wave that has tangible effect (you can hear it) when moving through the atmosphere of the Earth. Take the same pressure wave and project it out into space and it has no tangible effect (you cannot hear it).

Most of my students are women. Most of them have a mate and most of those mates do not come to class. These Yoga practicing women ask me very often about relationship issues such as: fights, arguments, in-laws, parenting, happiness, obligation, commitment, and more. In every situation it seems that someone is not heard and there is some negative emotional reaction on one or both parties.

What to do?

We could get interested in being watchful of our inner dialogue while in conversation. We can notice that most of the sounds we make are usually just a way to make sure that we are recognized by those around us; a sort of futile attempt to be known or to know that we exist. We can start to be less fascinated with what we have to add to a conversation and more interested in that there is communication going on at all. We can start to notice when we are triggered emotionally in a conversation and be vigilant to see that all thoughts which follow that emotion, bolstering it up, and keeping it alive, are not worth our trust and are better off disbelieved!

We can watch for when our tone of voice is not congruent with the words that are attempting to transmit the communication we wish. For instance, when a human mind/body is chronically angry and disbelieving, the vocal tone can come out harsh and sarcastic even when attempting to be kind and agreeable.

The voice can only replicate a sound the ear can hear.

  • What sounds are you listening to and putting in your mind and body?
  • Are you spending time in company that encourages your negative emotional field?
  • Are you spending time in company that reinforces the tones of criticism, complaint, and excess commentary?
  • Are you paying attention to your tone in communication such that it accurately conveys the communication you intend?

Do you suppose that by opening up the faculty of hearing and learning how to listen deeply that you can engage the World in a way that not only builds relationship but brings a sense of energetic delight to what is currently viewed as mundane, ordinary, boring, demanding, and stressful? Yoga says yes!

When my girlfriend comes to me at the end of a challenging day, and she wants to tell me about it, in order for me to hear her and not try to fix every “problem” I hear, I need the skill of allowing my inner dialogue, commentary, criticism, and judgment of the story to either cease or not arise at all. This is not easy, and yet is the very gateway into the Yogic mindset. Who would guess that every man in a relationship at the end of every day around the World has an amazing opportunity to do Yoga just by listening and delightfully not interfering with what is being said by their lovely mate.

How to do this? It is very straightforward. When I hear a “problem” I notice that there is an emotional reaction of distress. This emotion is immediately followed by a bunch of words in my mind about what to do about the “problem.” I don’t believe those words!

Lastly, I would like to say that this is not about not talking or communicating. Rather the opposite, this is about effective communication. This is a practice and the best place to work with opening up your faculty of hearing and listening deeply is in a daily sitting practice. You will eventually see that even silence has a sound and that it is in the moments of letting go the inner dialogue and not feeding it with your attention that the skill in real time application comes.

 

By: Brent Kuecker – Yogi. Musician. Educator.

 

 


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Jules Mitchell. Who doesn't love this girl?! Jules has put her 10,000 hours in to become one of the leading practitioners and teachers in the field of Restorative Yoga. She is a dedicated member of the Udaya family and has been with us since the beginning. As a Yoga Educator and Exercise Scientist, she combines the
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