Monday, November 22, 2010

Yoga Sutras 2.12-2.17...the Grinchmas Edition

Haven't posted much on the Yoga Sutras recently, so here's a section to ponder on...

Yoga Sutras 2.12-2.17
The accumulated imprints of past lives, rooted in afflictions, will be experienced in present and future lives. As long as the root of actions exists, it will give rise to class of birth, span of life and experiences. The wise man knows that owing to fluctuations, the qualities of nature, and subliminal impressions, even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrows, and he keeps aloof from them. The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided. The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation.
-Iyengar translation

This is definitely a time of year when I have difficulty getting off the hamster to speak. I leave most family gatherings feeling insecure, full of self-doubt and just generally picked on. As the lone liberal yoga teacher, field biologist and vegetarian of the family, I do stand out...despite efforts to stay quietly in the background. The rest of the family have sensible stable jobs mostly having to do with either numbers or computers. "The holidays" leave me with that panicky feeling that you might get in a cave if you were afraid of enclosed spaces or on the edge of the Grand Canyon if you were afraid of heights. I have the urge to bolt and hide from all things "holiday" related until the whole business is over. Those who of you who love this time of year can feel totally free to think I'm terrible person...I understand.

How much of what I feel at this time of year is a mental and physical response to a pattern set off by a date on a calendar that I allow myself to respond to without pause....maybe not an "imprint of past lives", but an imprint of past decades for sure. Patanjali seems to me to suggest, that if I don't change the pattern, I'm doomed to repeat it, Groundhog's Day style, for a long time.

It reminds me of a great recent post by Claudia talking about our chances to pause and make the decision to do it differently this time.
She says: "I cannot always control the first arrow, my dad will die, my sister will stop talking to me, that will come, it's life. I can however, work on my reaction to this arrow, I can control my own reaction, observe what happens in me but not react, clean up my own neurosis."
...beautifully said and so true. That in essence is our work.

I like this section of the Yoga Sutra because it suggests that all the patterns we have created...even the "holiday dread" can be changed. "The pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided."

Unfortunately, it also suggests that there is work to do to shift the pattern and that work is mine to much easier to complain about others.... "The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation."

Right then: I am not my job, my political views, the food I eat (or don't eat) and neither is my family. Despite their concern over what I do with life and my puzzlement over what they do with theirs, we do care about one another...and I think Patanjali would agree that if we can keep the focus there, it is enough.
"The cause of pain is the association or identification of the seer (atma) with the seen (prakrti) and the remedy lies in their dissociation."

Friday, November 12, 2010

Yoga and Injury

I'm going to dive in and write just a little bit about something that stirs up a lot of chatter from time to and injury.

It's on my mind because, of course, I've managed to injury something...sprained my thumb actually. Apparently there is not really a good way to fall out of Mayurasana. I went too far forward, panicked as I realized a face plant was imminent and when into some weird roll to the side...unfortunately with my arms pinned underneath me...ouch!
As injuries go, it's not really too bad. Most of the swelling went down in a couple days and I'm able to practice on it. Palms to the floor is no problem; I just can't reach the thumb around to bind anything at the moment.

The whole process of working through injury and all the muttering that surrounds the topic is so interesting to me! I'm always puzzled with the view, often from those who don't actually practice yoga of any style, that when an injury happens, someone was doing "bad yoga". Often it's the pose itself that gets the blame; chakrasana gets mentioned in this context as does chaturanga. (Check out a great article on chaturanga, injury and the shoulder joint by David Keil.)

First of all, it just seems unfair to have this expectation of perfection from anything physical. If I twisted an ankle playing basketball with friends or stumbled over something in the street while going running, no one would bat an eye! Secondly, If my attention to the present moment were so steady that it never wandered and I was always perfectly aware, then I wouldn't need asana practice...I'd already be enlightened!!

Right then, now have the ranting out of my system...on to some thoughts on the process of working through injury...

Over the course of about 9 years of regular practice, I have tweaked things from time to time. Thankfully, it hasn't happened often and only in 2 cases has it taken more than a couple weeks to heal. Every time though, I've gone through a similar mental process during practice while modifying to accommodate the injury. Injury always seems to prompt a super steady focus in my practice. The thought of having to give up practice completely or that I might make the injury worse seems to draw in all my attention to every breath and movement. I follow each movement so carefully, scanning the body to see how the injury is responding to every shift.

It always gives me a lot to think about as far as attention during practice and what practice really consists of. It's always just a little bit humbling to back up (so to speak) and modify poses that I'm used to doing full expression of. This is a good thing! It reminds me practice is whatever I can do with my best effort at paying attention. If this is really to be a lifetime practice, then there will likely come some day when I will have to let full expression of some pose go. Better to start practicing that now from time to time.

As Ashtangis we have 3 places provided to place the attention: breath, bandha and driste. When my body points out very clearly that I wasn't paying attention, it's a reminder to refocus my attention on the fundamentals.

Monday, November 1, 2010


A third and last post of my thoughts on David Keil’s adjustment workshop…
Whether a workshop is great or just ok depends for sure on the quality of the presenter’s material and how they share it, but I think it also depends on the group of participants. The adjustment workshop in Savannah was especially good because everyone really wanted to learn.

All the time spent assisting others and being assisted got me thinking…we never really practice alone.

Even early in the morning, when I’m the only one in the studio or when I throw my mat down in a quiet spot somewhere, ostensibly to practice alone, my practice is really not "mine". It's really a cumulative product of everyone who has ever guided me, assisted me or just breathed alongside of me...along with my own "stuff" of course. When I think “I” have just done something new that I’ve never done before in my asana practice, I should really be thinking “we”. I might be doing the action, but the credit goes to everyone who was along on the ride.

If I think of it like this, it gives the ego’s hold on thoughts of "achievement" a good shake. This shifts my feelings to ones of gratitude and makes me smile. I realize that we never really practice in isolation. The community and lineage is always present.