Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Yoga is...being willing to be surprised

Yoga Sutra 1:3-4 "Then the seer dwells in his own true splendour. At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness." -Iyengar translation

If yoga is that space when the mind is quiet, then that is the point where we can see things as they are. At other times reality tends to be colored by both past experiences and future expectations. I come back to yoga asana practice again and again because it is the most effective way for me to shake off what I already think I know and be willing to be surprised.

A great post by Karen that I read just before this Yoga Sutra got me thinking about practice earlier this week. She wrote about staying with what is really happening rather than seeing what we have been conditioned to expect.

Often, I catch myself coloring a situation with my expectations of how it will go. It is a big leap to give myself the space to approach anything without those expectations.

Because of my body type, backbends have, in the past, come easily to me, but leg-behind-head poses have presented a good bit of difficulty. It has been an adventure to find that the structure and sequence of second series has turned that familiar body pattern on its head! It is not just the poses themselves, but the way in which they are sequenced and practiced that gives second series its intensity.

Earlier this week I went into practice feeling frustrated, not with practice specifically, it was just a general feeling. It's not often that I find much to be that irritated about that early in the morning, but I had not slept well the night before. I started practice and found that the intensity level of the frustration increased with each backbending pose to a point that was very difficult to stay with.

I was stunned to find that when I moved into the leg-behind-head sequence, the poses were comfortable, almost soothing. With each leg-behind-head pose, the frustration and irritation dissipated as if I had come through it and out the other side. I finished practice with a funny feeling of surprise that just when I thought I knew my body and movement patterns, I was wrong.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Yoga Sutra 1:2 Yoga is...

Yoga Sutra 1:2--Yogah citta vrtti nirodhah--

"Yoga is the suspension of the fluctuations of the mind." -G. Maehle translation
"Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness." -B.K.S. Iyengar translation

Mr. Iyengar describes yoga in his commentary on this sutra as "both the means and the end". So, it is yoga when I step onto the mat and work to pay attention to breath, to driste, and to bandha. Occasionally, when there is a brief quiet pause between thoughts, that is yoga too. One is yoga as the means, the other is yoga as the destination.

Maehle translates "vrtti" as fluctuations in the mind and Iyengar translates "vrtti" as movements in the consciousness. Fluctuations and movements sound so innocuous to me. They sound like something that should be easy to manage. Another translation (which I unfortunately did not make a note of) translates "nirodhah" as "no storms". I like that. When I think of all that goes through my mind during the day it feels more like storms than mere movements...hence my love of and need for this yoga practice. :)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Yoga Sutra: 1:1 Yoga Begins Now.

One of the fundamental texts to describe the art of yoga is the Yoga Sutra. As a student of yoga, I have read sections of the Yoga Sutra, but I've never read the whole thing with commentary. This spring, I'm reading my way through it and sharing my thoughts here.

A few caveats:
I'm most certainly not a Sanskrit or any other kind of scholar. I read and share only as a student who is fascinated by what those wiser yogis in the past had to say about this amazing discipline.
I hope you'll all ride along and share your thoughts as well.

Book 1: Sutra 1 Translation: B.K.S. Iyengar
"With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga."

My thoughts:
I have 3 translations of the Yoga Sutra and each translates the first sutra a little differently. The one thing that is common to all of them is the word "now". The path of yoga begins wherever I am when I start. It begins "now". It doesn't begin when I am more flexible or stronger or calmer or wiser. Each day, I get up again and start exactly where I am, "now".

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

David Keil on Chronic Pain and Choosing a Therapist

I sometimes get asked about where to go for therapeutic help with chronic pain issues. Students are often interested in combining yoga with other therapies, but want to know who to see.

My mysore teacher, David Keil, recently wrote an excellent answer to this question that I wanted to share with everyone:

...and he is now writing a blog describing his travels as well...
keep up with David at:

Saturday, January 2, 2010

More Thoughts on Balancing Rest and Asana Practice

Almost universally among hatha yoga practices and styles is the time set aside at the end of practice for rest. Ashtanga yoga asana practice is no different. After time for asana, there is time for rest. During rest there is nothing to "do", no goals, just rest. It's time to let the body assimilate all that I have just asked of it.

(...a side note: Some yoga asana styles and some ashtangis refer to this time as savasana or corpse pose. Pattabhi Jois has reportedly said that savasana is actually a pose at the end of 6th series where, rumor has it, you can learn to stop your own heartbeat!...yikes! For that reason, I'll just refer to that resting time at the end of practice as rest) back to your regularly scheduled post...

Ashtanga often gets a reputation for attracting "type A" people. Certainly, a regular daily practice that may often last 1 1/2 to 2 hours takes a certain amount of dedication. It is also true that Ashtanga offers physical challenges to meet any level of practitioner. However, one of the biggest challenges that I see myself and students struggle with is the willingness to rest. Many practitioners that I meet find it very difficult to just rest without needing to "do" anything at that moment.

I catch myself working through that same mental tug-of-war on especially busy days. I know how important it is to rest after practice. Giving the body time to assimilate the physical practice is a vital part of receiving the benefits of this practice. All the same, it is easy to feel like the "work" is done when the last pose is finished. It is easy to hop right back up after a breath or two in "rest" and be pulled back into a busy day. Each practice that I cut back on rest pulls me into a little less balance.

The yoga sutras say that yoga asana is a balance between effort and ease. I think this extends to the balance between physical practice and rest after practice. My challenge to myself this year both on the mat and off is to keep working to maintain that balance. When I start leaning a little too hard in the direction of "effort", I will be looking for ways to pull back, always looking for balance...and starting each day with enough rest after asana practice

Friday, January 1, 2010

Thoughts on Time Away from Yoga Practice

I started the new year off with a nice long yoga practice and long unhurried rest at the end...ahhh. Practice has been a little stiff for a couple days as I returned from a 4-day camping trip earlier in the week. The hiking and cold weather certainly made itself felt!

It got me thinking about what happens when there is some time off from practice though. Generally, I practice 6 days/week, taking 1 day off per week for rest. The first day of each new practice week after 1 day off is usually a little tighter than other days. As an experiment I have tried not taking a rest day off. Not surprisingly, I was tired! I know a few practitioners that don't take rest days and it seems to work fine for them. I definitely feel better with a rest day...but what about several days off?

I was away camping and hiking for 4 days. I went with full intentions of doing some practice each day, but the weather changed my mind. We were in the midst of a cold snap, in fact the coldest weather we've had all year! Outdoor practice when lows were below freezing and the highest daily temperatures were barely making it to 50 F was not something I could bring myself to do. I am a Floridian after all!

Four days was the longest that I have gone without any yoga asana practice in years. The result? I am all the more convinced of the benefits of regular daily yoga practice with 1 day off each week for rest. Four days without yoga asana practice left me very aware and very grateful for all the benefits that this extraordinary practice provides!

More thoughts in the next post on the balance between practice and rest!