Friday, May 28, 2010


Practice is life. The two are not separate, just two expressions of the same thing. The time I spend on my mat is a chance to remove extraneous variables and watch myself respond to triggers. What happens when I am tired or uncomfortable? I notice impatience and frustration come up. Hmm. What to do with that? I can express it by forcing poses and letting the breath disintegrate into a raspy mess. Experience suggests that I'll be happier with another choice. So, what to do then? Sit back, watch the physical expression of frustration. Notice areas of tension. Concentrate the breath there. Notice what happens on the inhale. Notice what happens on the exhale. Use what is accessible, body and breath, to change what is not.

Asana practice is a laboratory for my life. It's a place to remove the complications of extraneous circumstances and look at the essence, fundamentals and common threads. It's my chance to slow down the pace and catch myself in moments of fear, discomfort, or ego...and to see what happens when I choose a different response than what I might elect out of habit.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Random Practice Thoughts

I woke up feeling rested a few minutes before the alarm this morning, which is unusual as I get up pretty early. Despite the moon day, I had plans to practice. I started the first sun salutation and discovered that apparently my last attempt at karandavasana yesterday was one attempt too many. Arms were sore and serratus was really sore. Ah, the results of over-enthusiasm. A few years ago, I probably would have pushed through it. Today though, I cut it short and dialed down the intensity. I'll enjoy primary that much more tomorrow.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Yoga Sutra 1.40: Objects of Meditation

"Mastery is achieved when the mind can concentrate on any object from the smallest atom to the entire cosmos." Sutra 1.40 Maehle translation

The two translations of the Yoga Sutras that I use the most were done by Iyengar and Maehle. It's interesting to me that the commentary in both translations of this sutra is similar. They both talk about starting to learn to pay attention by using more accessible "objects of meditation" and working up to more challenging ones. It seems to me like a parallel to challenging the breath through asana practice. You start the practice with fundamental asanas. When the breath is steady and easy, you add more challenging asanas, pushing the edges of maintaining a steady breath. It makes sense to me that steadying the mind would work the same way. Start with the basics, then, when the mind is steady, add more challenge.

Ultimately, I suppose the two are really not that separate. Pranayama is, after all, using breath control to control energy and mind. Breath is both an object of meditation and a physical reflection of the steadiness or unsteadiness of the mind.

...I do have the feeling though, when it comes to a steady mind, I'll be working on the basics for a long time...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Purging the Clutter

Through a very generous gift from a student, I am now the proud owner of a pile of Ashtanga primary series Dvd's and books. Among the set is a copy of Matthew Sweeney's 'Vinyasa Krama'. I happily took the book off my amazon wishlist and commenced reading.

Something I read has been on my mind for a couple days now. He says, (and I'm paraphrasing as I don't have the book where I'm writing from) "It's very difficult to quiet the mind in a cluttered space." He's speaking in reference to setting aside a space for yoga practice. Well, my studio space is tidy and uncluttered, but the rest of the house...hmmm...not so much. An artifact of my recent busyness is an accumulation of piles of stuff.

This weekend's activities: purging! I actually love the feeling of throwing out and giving away stuff. The feeling of getting rid of physical stuff is very cathartic, almost as if I'm tossing mental and emotional gunk out with it...and maybe the mental quiet of yoga practice will stay with me a little longer if the rest of my physical space is as tidy as the space I set aside for asana practice.

Happy Friday Everyone!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Wise Words from Beryl Bender Birch

Ah, the whirlwind continues, but I'm going to squeeze in a blog post anyway.
After a year and a half of part-time work, then a lay-off, then more part-time work, I'm back to full time work...a mixed blessing. It's exciting work with great people, but does inevitably soak up much energy and time. I expect blog posting to be a bit erratic as the new schedule sorts itself out.

I spent the past weekend having some recharging time. I was fortunate several years ago to be able to complete a 200 hr teacher training with Beryl Bender Birch. I completed the 200 hrs in bits of a week here and a weekend there over the course of about a year and a half. I try to make it to at least one weekend with Beryl every year. There is nothing like having actually done the practice for something nearing 40 years to give you perspective on things! I always leave the weekend with Beryl feeling clear-headed and heart-warmed. This past weekend was no exception.

I usually don't take notes, but this time I did feel like there were a few things that I wanted to write down and thought I'd share here.
So here are a few of Beryl's thoughts from our afternoon discussion session:

"A single thought has a physical expression."

"Yoga is so much like scientific inquiry. Verify things with your own experience."

"Pranayama is energy management. If you can learn to manage your energy on the mat, then you can learn to manage it "out there"...but before you try to manage the energy layer, spend some time learning to manage the physical body."

"Don't squander your life. Do what you can with what you have to ease the suffering of others when the opportunities arise."
---I have always admired Beryl for the way she ends each session of each workshop by reminding us to take the focus off of ourselves and start looking around.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Pantanjali on Practices for Quieting the Mind

In Sutra 1.33-1.39 Patanjali goes on to list examples of the many kinds of things that we can apply our attention to in order to still the mind. The list is diverse. There really is a practice for everyone. In fact in 1.39 Patanjali basically says that: "The mind can also be stabilized by meditating on any suitable object". (-Maehle translation)

Other practices that Patanjali mentions that can be used to quiet the mind:

1.33 "Clarity of mind is produced by meditating on friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the miserable, joy toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked."
1.34 "Or from exhalation and retention of breath (prana)"
1.35 "Or by contemplation on an object that helps to maintain steadiness of mind and consciousness."
1.36 "Or inner stability is gained by contemplating a luminous, sorrowless, effulgent light."
1.37 "Or by contemplating on enlightened sages who are free from desires and attachments, calm and tranquil, or by contemplating the experiences of dream-filled or dreamless sleep during a watchful waking state.

I am grateful to have found a practice that works for me. I did my fair share of "practice shopping" early on. I spent a few years trying classes in this style of yoga or that style of yoga. It wasn't until I settled in to one practice and was consistent about it that change started to happen. The focus on the physical body and breath as my meditation object works for me. The focus on bandha is subtle enough work to last me for a lifetime. Perhaps next lifetime I will be ready to focus on a quality of light?