Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Here's to the Practice!

I'm off on vacation starting tomorrow, so this will be my last post of the year. I'm planning for some real time day job, no teaching, no blogging. I'll be spending the next week having some leisurely morning practices (with no hurry to be at work on time!), spending some quality time with my husband and some time with friends.

I'm ending the year on the blog with a quote by Tim Miller from the 'Guruji' book.

Guy Donahaye asks this question:
"Where do you think the legacy of this practice will go after Guruji stops teaching?"

And Tim begins his answer with this:
"Years ago, those of us who were practicing ashtanga yoga and feeling great benefit from it would say to each other that it's only a matter of time before this stuff catches on."

It has, of course, "caught on". :)

...and the legacy is all of us...those who practice in a shala, those who practice with groups, those who practice at home alone.

So my toast to the New Year: Here's to the Practice!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Yoga Sutra 2.18-2.25: Moving the Viewfinder

Yoga Sutras 2.18 - 2.25:

"Nature, its three qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas, and its evolutes, the elements, mind, senses of perception and organs of action, exist eternally to serve the seer, for enjoyment or emancipation. The gunas generate their characteristic divisions and energies in the seer. Their stages are distinguishable and non-distinguishable, differentiable and non-differentiable. The seer is pure consciousness. He witnesses nature without being reliant on it. Nature and intelligence exist solely to serve the seer's true purpose, emancipation. The relationship with nature ceases for emancipated beings, its purpose having been fulfilled, but its processes continue to affect others. The conjunction of the seer with the seen is for the seer to discover his own true nature. Lack of spiritual understanding (avidya) is the cause of the false identification of the seer with the seen.
The destruction of ignorance through right knowledge breaks the link binding the seer to the seen. This is kaivalya, emancipation."

-translation by B.K. S. Iyengar

This is a big chunk of Yoga Sutra for a single blog post, but as they all sound to me to be moving towards the same point I thought I'd just post this whole section.

What I'm hearing from this section of the Yoga Sutra:
I need the world to push against. I need all the things that irritate me and frustrate me and amuse me and impress me. I need something to be attached to in order to catch myself in a moment of attachment and get a glimpse of what that looks like. It's in knowing what attachment looks like that I can begin to see what non-attachment looks like. Practice has given me a method of really hearing how loud the world in and outside my mind is. It's only now that I know what the noise sounds like, that I notice when it's missing, when it's gone quiet.

"The conjunction of the seer with the seen is for the seer to discover his own true nature."

Something I that catches my attention throughout the Yoga Sutra that is echoed again here is Patanjali's suggestion that this non-attachment is a process. He does suggest that disentangling ourselves from all the stickiness is possible, but also seems to suggest that we won't learn to step out of our "relationship with nature" until we have spent some time tangled up in the web of defining ourselves and the situations we find ourselves in.

"The relationship with nature ceases for emancipated beings, its purpose having been fulfilled, but its processes continue to affect others."

I notice a sort of back and forth in life of feeling more deeply tangled in situations as they arise and then feeling space from them. Much of the feeling has to do I think, with where I'm standing when I look at life stuff. Moving the viewfinder has a lot to do with what I see and how caught up I feel in "nature" versus how much space I feel.

A great recent post by Patrick got me thinking more about what happens when you stand somewhere else.
Here's an excerpt:
"Nurture's not easy if you're a boy, especially if you're one with good exposure to gender politics. Obviously, nurture is marked feminine in this culture. I was having lunch last week in the campus center and sitting near a table of about eight college guys: sporty, trendy, loud. The energy coming off them, the sheer extroverted testosterone, was absolutely tactile, touchable, visible. Instinctively, I didn't care for it, because those guys mocked me for years when I was in my teens, but then I re-looked at them, imagined them as guys who'd maybe gotten curious about the US yoga trend and walked into my room. And that changed everything; they became powerful bodies with curiosity, with shyness, and immediately I developed a sort of intimate empathy with them. Just to play with it, I let my view switch from one to the other, reinventing the human beings in front of me by means of different lenses. Then it became very funny and amusing and I turned someone that I used to be, into a tool in my toolkit."

I love that! What if the next time I feel stuck, when I feel absolutely glued to one definition of a situation, what if I just stood somewhere else?

"The destruction of ignorance through right knowledge breaks the link binding the seer to the seen. This is kaivalya, emancipation."

Friday, December 10, 2010

It's Not Discipline, It's Love

Several years ago at a workshop, I remember David Williams saying that he didn't do a daily Ashtanga practice because he was disciplined, but because he just loved the practice. (paraphrasing here as I didn't write it down)
...I also remember wanting to roll my eyes when he said that...

Of course daily practice requires discipline! Getting out of bed is hard!...but I think I do really understand what he meant. I love this practice. I couldn't walk away from it if I tried.

This week was definitely a testament to that. I was grumpy from the first sound of the alarm on Monday and I'm not sure I've fully shaken it off yet. Unseasonably low temperatures made leaving the warmth of the covers for a COLD studio a struggle. (My studio space is unheated, since I live in Florida and most of the year it's not an issue.) I have so much respect for those of you up north who do this...I don't know how you manage it! A combination of the cold weather, ladies holiday and a headache that I couldn't shake for 3 days left me feeling distracted and like a lead weight most of the week. I'm sure all the extra sugar I've eaten lately didn't help matters. ;)

Discipline alone would not have gotten me out of bed this week. Only love of the practice could manage to drag me out to the studio, turn on the space heaters, and nudge me into the first surya namaskara. Once I was there, I was still glad to be there...despite the lead weight body and distracted mind.

David Williams might be on to something...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Think of Your Practice in Terms of Decades...

A student of Tim Miller's once said at a workshop that I was attending that Tim had advised her to think of her practice in terms of decades rather than in days or months.

It's been more than 10 years now since my first led Ashtanga class. I've been hanging on for about 9 years of regular practice; it's been a mix of Mysore classes and home practice. The biggest shift in that time has been a move from focus on the physical to focus on the mental. I found the primary series exhausting and daunting for a long time. I don't now. It's comfortable, familiar and soothing to my nervous system. On the one day a week that I practice primary now, it's a joy to do.

It's interesting to me that although the poses that present my daily challenge in the intermediate sequence ask increasing physical efforts from my body, it's really the mental challenge in this sequence that I find the hardest. Kapotasana is an intense, deep stretch, but it's really the mental challenge of convincing myself to go there and then to stay there that I wrestle with. It's much the same with Karandavasana. That pose asks so much strength from my body. The biggest challenge for me is staying with it and using all the strength that I have to do what I can. It is so easy to let the mind convince me that "I can't" and then give up and fall out before I really have to.

A similar shift has mirrored practice on the mat in my life off the mat. I started practice with a lot of physical irritation. I wasn't crazy about the body I was given and would have gladly traded it in for a different model. I felt glued to body image issues lingering from childhood and teenage years.
...and while there are still ghosts of that "stuff" that I notice from time to time, I am physically generally comfortable now.

The big lesson of the first decade for me seems to be: "when the body goes mostly quiet, you can really hear the mind...and it is LOUD!"

The primary series has done it's work and for the most part left me with less "physical white noise". Now I watch the second series push all my buttons and listen to my mind yell in protest. I can't wait to see what the next 10 years will bring. :)