Friday, August 20, 2010

Knowing When to Eat the Cake...

Ashtanga yoga practice seems to have quietly, when I wasn't looking, rearranged my life. Others have noticed that it has happened to them as well. Slowly, habits change almost imperceptibly. Diet changes and sleeping patterns change. These might seem like obvious changes made to accommodate a strong physical practice....but lately I've noticed 2 new layers emerging.

First, I notice that while I'm inclined to stay with the patterns of diet and sleep that provide the most energy for morning practice, I'm not attached to them. Most of the time I'd rather minimize sugar and go to sleep early...but sometimes I'd really rather eat the cake with a complete acceptance of the after-effects of cake. If I was looking in from the perspective of someone who had never done this practice, I might expect it to, at some point, squash any desire for the "complete experience of cake" (literally and metaphorically speaking), but that is not what has happened. Instead, practice is slowly providing the space to see what I really want in a particular moment. It's increasing engagement with life (cake and all!) rather than avoidance of it.

Secondly, ...and I wonder if this is the influence of second series... I notice changes in relationship habits. New habits in relationship are emerging in the same way as lazy habits of choosing food without awareness were quietly subverted by practice and emerged as new habits of choosing food that is sustaining. As a self-described introvert (time to set the label aside perhaps?) habits in relating to the people who daily cross my path have, until recently, been sliding down a well-worn groove probably first carved out in my pre-teen years. Slowly, practice subverts what I thought I knew about myself. Layers peel off one by one and I am surprised by moments of openness and contentment.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Evolution of Practice

Fair warning this post is a bit rambling and mostly just a collage of thoughts about practice that have been tossing around in my mind.

My practice over the past few years has been an adventure, physically, emotionally, and mentally. I made the transition from primary practice to intermediate practice in the traditional way. My teacher added on one pose at a time making for a loooooong practice for a few years before my practice was "split". Those long practices opened me and drained me. I went through phases of "post-practice euphoria" (which I remember someone in the blogoshpere referring to as the "really good mood" side effects of second that!). I went through phases of feeling "too open", a feeling of overwhelming vulnerability. I went through phases of feeling anxious, a kind of post-practice anxiety hum throughout the day.
Phew!! When they called the sequence "nerve-cleansing" they meant it.

When my teacher split my practice a year ago, practice seemed to shift into a new phase. At the same time my practice was split, my teacher suggested I do the newly shortened second series only practice with full vinyasa....all the way up to standing and back down between each pose. He also suggested I do it that way for 3 weeks before I decided how I felt about it...good call on his part. For 3 weeks, it felt really HARD! Every time I came up to standing, there was a wave of seems I had some breath work to do. By week 4, I loved the new practice. While there were still unsettling "nerve-cleansing" experiences, I felt like there was some ground underneath me again.

Practice seems to have shifted into a new phase once again. Strength has been slowly building to support the openness. Practice is feeling strangely steady and strong although it's now accompanied by a bit of unfamiliar tightness. I'm loving the new steadiness, but am interested to see whether this will be a short-lived phase or whether it will stick around awhile. :)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Mental Gymnastics

After a very full week, I keep thinking of that far side comic where the student raises his hand and asks his teacher, "Mr. Osborne, May I be excused? My brain is full."

It's been a very mentally, emotionally challenging and busy my practice focus for this morning was breath. I set my attention on the breath and set my intention to watch the thoughts as they went by with minimal intervening.

What I noticed:

No wonder I'm so tired! By the time I'd finished the primary series I'd mentally relived most of my week and rehearsed everything I was set to do later in the if living the week once wasn't enough, my mind decided it needed to go back and do it over again.

My mind is very inclined to rewrite every decision and situation so that I'm in the right and feel validated....ick.

My mind was very busy mentally planning, organizing and manipulating all potential activities for the day, the next day, the day after that.

Mentally, I spent lots of time in the past and in the future...but in this moment?, not so much.

My mind paused twice for a few poses each time and I had a brief glimpse of mental quiet. One pause towards the end of standing poses into dandasana and a second pause at kurmasana and supta kurmasana. This second pause especially interests me as this was the pose that I struggled with for years in primary practice. It still amazes me that after all the years of intense uncomfortable work in this pose, it now gives a the feeling of soothing my nervous system and quieting the mind like nothing else.