Monday, June 28, 2010

Book 2: The Book on Practice

Sutra 2.1 "The Yoga of action consists of austerity, self-study and surrender to the Supreme Being."

I've been looking forward to reading my way through book 2 of the Yoga Sutras because it encompasses the sutras that directly relate to the physical "active" practices of yoga. Interestingly, both commentary from Iyengar and Maehle suggest that, of the 4 books in the Yoga Sutra, this one is most applicable to beginners. They describe beginners as those who still have work to do on the outward practices (the limbs before meditation). I'm definitely a beginner.

It also interests me that the first sutra in a book for beginners includes words like "austerity" and "surrender". They both suggest to me that this "Yoga of action" is something that is going to involve some discomfort! Beryl Bender Birch likes to translate "Isvara" (Supreme Being) as "aware presence" or "present moment". I like that translation as it gives this sutra a broader meaning. It suggests that yoga practice is going to involve surrender to what is larger than myself in any given present moment.

Beryl also likes to point out that friction, irritation and general mental suffering arise when we push against the present moment rather than surrendering to it. She's a wise person! if only that wasn't so hard! I've actually gone so far as to throw a kicking and screaming temper tantrum in asana practice...this was years was only one was there to see it. :)
I had tweaked something in my back while at work after several days spent heaving around bags or fertilizer. I was very frustrated that I could not do my "full practice". The result of said tantrum?...a bruised foot.

The moments when I have moved toward surrender have been worth the discomfort every time. That said, I'm not sure it gets any easier to accept that the world is larger than my tiny sphere in it. Ego can be so loud! ...and that I suppose is the reason that Book 2 of the Yoga Sutra is the "Book on Practice". "Practice and all is coming" -S.K.P.J. ...but maybe not all is coming in this lifetime...

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Paying Attention

Essentially every yoga injury that I've had has been the result of one or more of the following:

1. Got in a hurry and moved too fast
2. Wasn't paying attention
3. Was paying attention, knew I shouldn't do something, and did it anyway

I'm going through a phase of little tweaks in asana practice lately...I consider it my body's way of getting my attention. The newest tweak is a funny sort of strain on the back of the right knee. I attribute this one to overzealous flinging of the legs when jumping through. I suspect I hyper extended it and it is pushing back. This one belongs in the "got in a hurry and moved too fast" category.

Asana practice is such a mirror for the rest of my life. I'd say most of the life events where I have the feeling of wanting to back up and try again are also a result of the above three situations. I'd like to think my overall attention has improved over the years...there are less yoga tweaks than early on and I have the sense that there are less "life tweaks" too, but that's harder to say for sure.

The most interesting part for me is that none of the strains or aches of yoga or life have ever been all bad. Nothing has ever been all black or all white...really just different roads to the same place. I can't often see that in the moment though.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yoga Sutra: 1.41-1.51

I haven't posted on the Yoga Sutras in a while...what I imagined as a spring project has rolled into summer...

I was a bit stumped for anything I could say about sutras 1.41-1.51, the last sutras of book one. These 10 sutras describe the transition from the experience of meditation to the experience of samadhi.

I think the experiences described in the 10 sutras fall into the "practice and all is coming" category. When I have such an experience, I'll be sure to let you know. In the mean time, I'll keep working on concentration practice (dharana) as well as the rest of the "lower limbs"...but do read sutras 1.41-1.51 for yourself.
What's possible with practice and time is extraordinary.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Yoga and Change I've been asked this question a few times now...In one student's words: "Is it normal to lose poses?" which she means: is it normal for your expression of a pose to look one way for a while and suddenly one day, it's different? Yes, yes, and yes.

There has yet to be anything static in my practice and I suspect the same holds true for others. While a pose is never the same twice, some changes are more noticeable than others. As a natural backbender, I took my heels without much effort on my first try in Kapotasana. Initially, it was not a pose that I struggled with (although there were and are plenty that I struggle with daily). Some time after, when my teacher introduced the various leg-behind-head poses of second, I lost Kapo. It was puzzling. One day it was there and then one day it was suddenly a crazy intense pose and even my toes seemed very far away. As I wound my way through the experience, over months, Kapo to heels returned, but it's different.

If there was one thing that seemed much clearer to me during the months of that particular transition, it was that the act of doing the pose and noticing whatever was going on was "yoga". The expression of a pose, what it looked like on any particular day, was really neither here nor there. As it has been quoted around the cyber shala: The particular expression of a pose "doesn't last, doesn't satisfy, and isn't me" (-Daniel Ingram I believe; someone correct me if I've gotten that wrong.)

I love Kaivalya's description of a personal body gremlin who moves around hanging out in one place in the body today and settling into a new spot tomorrow. It's such perfect description of the endless little openings and shifts that occur in the body.

The ongoing shifts in my physical practice play back into my mental practice, never letting me get too comfortable, too attached or inattentive in a pose...because as soon as I do, it changes.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Yoga and Life

more on yoga and life...

I'm having a week...can't decide what kind or how I feel about it. Tuesday, I got hit by a car while biking home from work. I'm fine. I have some lovely purple bruises and my left elbow doesn't feel great in chataranga position, but I'm really fine.
Initially, I was just all around pissed off...angry at the driver who failed to yield and who should have had no difficulty seeing me right in front of her...angry about the impending bike repairs.

After something like 9 years of daily Ashtanga practice, though, it seems I can't help but step back and watch all of the inner and outer drama. Noticing is a habit now. I am on one level dealing with all the life stuff (making alternate transportation arrangements, taking the bike in for repairs) and on another level watching my own response to it.

I'm fascinated with how the body responds to the inner drama and vice versa. Wednesday morning, I did a gentle half primary. I wanted to take it easy in case there were any injuries that were slow to appear and I just couldn't face the intensity that I feel in second series. All the inconveniences of being without my regular transportation started to pile up, but I moved through the day with a reasonable amount of steadiness.
This morning, I did most of my regular second series practice with modifications for my left elbow....and as I know well by now, when you open up the body, you open up everything else. Sure enough, by mid-day I was holding back tears and counting the minutes until I could leave work. The physical experience is not separate from the internal experience.

The whole experience reminds me of Susan's recent post. I didn't feel any initial fear or adrenaline during the actual being knocked off my bike part. It took 48 hours for a few tears to leak out and it does have much the same feeling of "backbending weirdness" or "nerve-cleansing tears" as she put it...and in that way it feels familiar.

Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to nice grounding Friday primary practice and then picking up my newly repaired bike at the shop....and hoping for a quiet, uneventful weekend.