Saturday, December 31, 2011
Śrāddha (श्राद्ध, shraaddha), Hindu ritual performed for one's ancestors, especially dead parents
Śraddhā (श्रद्धा, shraddhaa), the Sanskrit term for "faith", in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism.
B.K.S. Iyengar, in his translation of the Yoga Sutra defines it this way:
"trust which comes from revelation, faith, confidence, reverence"
On the cusp of a new year and on the tail of a visit with family, I find myself leaning hard on the practice: shradda.
Occasionally, when I've been jumping into Bakasana B, but not landing it, because I was holding back, not really going for it, my teacher has said to me: "Shradda, Christine. Trust it."
Those are words I remind myself of over and over again. Shradda. Trust it.
There are big risks ahead. There have been days in the past weeks where I felt like I was drowning in uncertainty. Waves of fear and doubt were knocking me over. Doubt voiced by well-meaning people was swamping my confidence to the point where I felt knocked to the beach, eating sand.
A recent post on Deborah's blog touched a nerve as I was reminded that I have the opportunity to explore this relationship with fear, doubt, and trust daily. As she shares from her workshop with David Garrigues, second series is very much about risk-taking. It is not, however, blind risk-taking in a close-your-eyes-and-throw-yourself-over-the-cliff type of risk taking, but rather a practice in walking toward what you know you can do with eyes wide open...even when it scares you more than anything.
Yoga Sutra 1:20 says "Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency." -Iyengar translation
...and I'm reminded that life, which the practice mirrors, must be pursued in the same way.
Shradda. Trust it.
Friday, December 9, 2011
Thursday, December 1, 2011
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I've been thinking far too much lately...plotting, analyzing, figuring, psychoanalyzing, and projecting.
The feeling of walking into the pre-dawn calmness in the studio was a very soothing one. There was nowhere else I wanted to be. I wanted nothing from the practice other than the space and time to step out of the mind and just be in the body for a little while. Tensions from the week rolled off as the familiarity of moving and breathing took over. I was startled out of my reverie of contentment as I watched things happen in my practice that I have been working towards for a long time, in some cases for years. One breath after another, inhale, exhale, watching impossibilities become possibilities, finally surprised into laughter.
The mind is a funny animal.
Much thanks to Karen who ages ago posted a link to Frontal Cortex...a blog on neuroscience. I've been an avid reader ever since. It's interesting to see that neuroscientists and Ashtangis often ask the same questions...we just apply different experimental procedures as we explore the ways in which those questions might be answered.
Thoughts from the neuroscientist folks on the mind:
A clip: "In recent years, however, neuroscience has dramatically revised our views of mind-wandering. For one thing, it turns out that the mind wanders a ridiculous amount. Last year, the Harvard psychologists Daniel Gilbert and Matthew A. Killingsworth published a fascinating paper in Science documenting our penchant for disappearing down the rabbit hole of our own mind. The scientists developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals, asking them about their current activity and levels of happiness. It turns out that people were engaged in mind-wandering 46.9 percent of the time. In fact, the only activity in which their minds were not constantly wandering was love making. They were able to focus for that."
A clip: "Since the Israeli psychologists began studying loss aversion in the early nineteen-seventies, it has been used to explain a stunning variety of irrational behaviors, from the misguided decisions of investors—they refuse to sell losing stocks—to the stickiness of condo prices in the aftermath of a housing bubble. It’s been used to justify our fondness for the status quo—the present may stink, but we still don’t want to lose it—and the cowardice of N.F.L. coaches, who are far too afraid to go for it on fourth down. Loss aversion even excuses our social habits: studies have shown that it generally takes at least five kind comments to compensate for a single criticism. (The ratios are even worse for criminals: a person convicted of murder must perform at least twenty-five acts of “life-saving heroism” before he is forgiven.) This is an impressive amount of explanatory firepower for a theory rooted in hypotheticals.
Sunday, October 23, 2011
I chose gymnastics and loved it until the day that our teacher yelled at me for not activating my "core" muscles when doing a handstand over the vault. She was spotting and as I was bendy but not strong, I sort of crumpled. Also, I was 11 and hadn't the faintest idea how to find my core muscles.
More than 20 years later, I am still mesmerized by movement and feel compelled to seek it out. Now, 2 years into taking a weekly modern dance class, I'm struck by the parallels, the sort of complementary language, of modern dance to Ashtanga vinyasa yoga.
There is technique underneath both disciplines for sure. My calves and adductors in particular feel it after dance, but like the Ashtanga practice, with steady attention and practice, the technique is improving.
...but like the Ashtanga practice, there is always more than technique. I have watched dancers with near perfect technique that catch no one's attention because there is a quality missing underneath the precision. I might call that quality, energy, or maybe surrender, or maybe love.
This past Friday was a small group in dance, just 2 of us "regulars", which gave our teacher a chance to dance with us. Our teacher particularly makes me smile because she has been extremely patient with my complete lack of technical expertise in dance. She asks only that I work at it....and she looks like a normal person. She does not have a "ballet body". She is incredibly fit, amazingly strong and when she's really dancing, you cannot take your eyes off of her.
Watching a friend practice the next morning and waiting for the moment when my help would be needed in an assist, I was struck by the similarities to watching my dance teacher.
The technique may be the language, but the energy created by love and devotion to any discipline expressed through movement is mesmerizing.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
On a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the gambler
We were both too tired to sleep
So we took turns a-starin'
Out the window at the darkness
The boredom overtook us, and he began to speak
He said, "Son, I've made my life
Out of readin' people's faces
Knowin' what the cards were
By the way they held their eyes
So if you don't mind my sayin'
I can see you're out of aces
For a taste of your whiskey
I'll give you some advice"
So I handed him my bottle
And he drank down my last swallow
Then he bummed a cigarette
And asked me for a light
And the night got deathly quiet
And his faced lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy
You gotta learn to play it right"
I know it's not the Yoga Sutra or anything, but really, if it came down to it, I think Patanjali and The Gambler could hang out.
I spent a really amazing week with my teacher doing morning Mysore with a small group of 3 or 4 people a couple weeks ago. For a change, I wasn't injured or grieving or sleep deprived. For 5 days I really worked at practice and it was wonderful. I returned home and promptly got sick...woke up with a fever on Monday morning and it stuck around for the next 5 days...yuck.
While sulking over a "bad" week last week and a not especially stellar start to this one, I've caught myself labeling them. After all this time and practice still labeling them as good weeks and bad weeks as if I really have any idea what the broader repercussions of the decisions I make will be.
We never really even know which cards we're holding let alone how they'll play out in the big game. I make my best guess based on what I think I know and am wrong again and again.
"Now every gambler knows the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away
And knowin' what to keep
'Cause every hand's a winner
And every hand's a loser
And the best that you can hope for
Is to die in your sleep"
Friday, October 14, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
I'm in Miami this week for 5 days of practice with my teacher. I always blanch at the cost of getting a place to stay down here, but I'm being rewarded with 5 days of practice in a group of just 4 students...yes just 4! I'm soaking up the attention. :)
...and in other news I was named a 'Versatile Blogger' by Nobel! Thanks Nobel...my first blog honor!!
The rules for acceptance of this award are these:
1) Thank the person who gave me this award and link them back to their post.
2) Share 7 things about myself.
3) Pass this award along to 15 recently discovered blogs and let them know about it!
Right then, check off number one.
Number two, seven things about me on no particular topics:
1. I'm a biologist in my day-job...native plant conservation, soil and water quality issues, that sort of thing.
2. I love the beach, but don't often make the trip...even though it's only a couple hours away.
3. I love the season in Florida that makes many Floridians flee the state...the hot humid summers...stellar practice weather!
4. My current favorite pose is nakrasana. It just feels so goofy and fun.
5. I'm terribly inept at all things mechanical...you'd never know that I come from a family of engineers.
6. One of the few things I miss about living up north is picked-from-the-tree-ripe apples.
7. One of the few things I miss about living in Miami is picked-from-the-tree-ripe mangos.
and 15 versatile bloggers....the envelope says:
1. Inside Owl...my hand's down, all-time favorite read in the blogosphere.
2. Reluctant Ashtangi...I know Kai has stopped writing, but the archives are still up and she a great attitude about practice and life.
3. Susananda...posts don't appear often, but when they do I can always seem to relate.
4. Yoga for Cynics...title says it all
5. Stardust and Fairy Magic...painting with words
6. Massivist Missive...incredible photos...like a photo journal of a thought
7. Leaping Lanka...great blog. If you are new to Jason's blog, be sure to go back and read the archives of their trips to Mysore...good stuff!
8. Furry Wombat...amazing photos!!...and always a good read.
9. Chin to My Shin...definitely a way with words. It's like you're there, walking in her shoes.
10. City Mouse Trailing Spouse...this one is a recent discovery for me. Love reading about the challenges of keeping practice and teaching going through life's transitions.
11. Comments from a Yogi Anatomist...the best info on practical anatomy advice anywhere for Ashtangis out there. I might be biased though, since David is my teacher.
12. Beets Butter and Mountaintops...honest, heartfelt, good stuff.
13. Damn Good Yoga...a great chronicle of daily practice life.
14. The Confluence Countdown...a newish blog, great read and especially fun for those going to the confluence (me!) as we countdown to the event.
15. Friday Bear...this one has nothing whatsoever to do with yoga. I just have a thing for bears....and who wouldn't like to see a cool bear picture in their google reader every Friday. :)
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
...but leave it to this practice to keep quietly peeling back the layers even when I'm not really looking.
The one thing that I have been noticing in practice lately is a feeling of heaviness. I ignored it for awhile, not liking at all what it seemed to be pointing to....arg. My weight had crept up. I am very much an emotional eater and after a roller coaster spring, too much cheese and chocolate had made themselves felt.
So began the food experiment...today begins week 5.
What happens if I explore food in the same way as I might explore my asana practice?
The findings so far?...
I've constructed a number of patterns based on early mixed messages about food, health and body image. These patterns aren't serving me, but I'm finding the process of beginning to dismantle them very uncomfortable...uncomfortable in the early years of leg-behind-head kind of way...uncomfortable in the way of any pose that leaves you whimpering on the mat, staring into the face of fear and doubt. There is a lot here that I don't want to see.
The practice is good at being the rough spot to rub against as I shed habits like skin. Despite it's proclivity to point me directly at all the uncomfortable places, I trust it. I trust it because out of the years of practice is slowly coming a realization that I am not broken. I am enough just as I am.
Tuesday, September 6, 2011
The Mysore style Ashtanga practice always reminds me of this quote from A Wrinkle in Time...
"Mrs Whatsit: A sonnet is a very strict form of poetry is it not? There are fourteen lines, I believe, all in iambic pentameter. That's a very strict rhythm or meter, yes? And each line has to end with a rigid rhyme pattern. And if the poet does not do it exactly this way, it is not a sonnet, is it?
Calvin: You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet? A strict form, but freedom within it?
Mrs Whatsit: Yes. You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself. What you say is completely up to you."
The practice also reminds me of childhood piano lessons. I spent what seemed like an interminable amount of time practicing technique, learning notes, counts, scales. I was taking piano lessons because I wanted to play music, to create that indescribable feeling when a great song hits you and changes you.
Years went by before I could see that underneath great music is technique and to create great music that is outside the framework of technique takes an incredible depth of understanding of the framework itself.
I never really looked for that kind of depth when it came to playing music and I remain a very mediocre pianist.
I think I'm only just beginning to appreciate the kind of freedom that can be created from surrender to the strict form that is Ashtanga yoga practice.
Thursday, September 1, 2011
...and any one who knows me really really well might ask me why?
I have a teacher. I was done sampling teachers and searching in that way on a morning in November in 2005.
I was at a small group, week long, Mysore workshop...just 4 people and our teacher. Late in the week, I was having a "tight hip" sort of day. It was the moment for supta kurmasana and it just wasn't going to happen. My hips were tight and both legs were not going to go. My teacher didn't push it, just helped me with one leg at a time and did so with no sense of disappointment or impatience in me or my practice. It might be the first time I ever really stopped fighting that pose and just let it be. That was it. I had found a teacher.
I've dropped into the occasional Mysore room in other cities while traveling for work or visiting family. These visits are a bit like any other visit to a new place. They're fun, but there's also a certain feeling of wanting to be "on my best behavior", to be polite and considerate...all those niceties that were well honed in my mid-western upbringing.
...but I'm not sure there can be much "nudging of edges" until you drop the niceties....and that I think builds on trust that only comes in time.
...so why the Confluence then...5 of the most senior western teachers, sure...but I've never met any of them.
Patrick has touched on the reason here
and Owl has reiterated the reason here
...here is an excerpt from Owl's post that so beautifully describes the reason I am going to the Confluence:
"The sophisticates who have done the work and then just let their awareness open up... who have the discipline to stay open and let stuff continue to happen to them... these are the ones who are more alive than we are."
I'm going to Confluence because I want to here the stories of "The sophisticates". If practice on the mat can differ so much from one day to the next even within the same body, then how different must the experiences of these 5 senior teachers be....and yet when I hear them speak or when I read what they have to share, there is a feeling that they have all arrived in a very similar place.
There is a sense that they take themselves and their lives very lightly.
More than anything else, during the 4 days, I am looking forward to hearing about the work that they put in to make such lightness possible. I've seen video clips of asana demonstrations by most of the teachers that will be at the Confluence workshop and they are beautiful to watch, but it is their lightness and ease in life that has impressed me far beyond what they can accomplish on the mat.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
Monday, July 18, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
These weeks of practice with my teacher are something that I look forward to like nothing else. Months of quiet home practice alone mean that a week of practice with my teacher stands out in stark relief. I work harder; practice is more intense and digs just a little deeper than in the quiet mornings alone.
I've managed to tweak my SI joint again...arg. I'm mentally preparing to modify leg-behind-head if needed, but still hoping I won't have to...ahhh attachment (*wry smile*).
So as I look forward to the upcoming week of practice with my teacher, I want to share a couple posts from other Ashtangis who've written recently on what it means to have a teacher and to be a student.
First from David Garrigues: Guru Purnima 2011
and then from Alex Medin interviewed by Deborah Crooks: Talking with Alex Medin
Friday, July 1, 2011
I've been working on karandavasana for a couple years now and I'm really coming to love this pose, not of course because I do it with any special amount of grace. I definitely don't. I'm learning to love it because of the kind of work that it asks for.
The more days that go by as I practice this pose, the more aware I am of where my work is and where it is not. The physical strength to do the pose is building slowly and is becoming a little more accessible each day, but really I've been content to wait for it. I'm not one for a lot of extracurricular preps in order to "get" a pose. I'm more apt to just make a couple attempts in each practice and then move on....a sign of laziness perhaps, but that is where my practice sits at the moment.
The work that has me especially intrigued with karandavasana at the moment is not the physical work. The longer I do this pose, the more I see how much of this is in my mind. It fascinates me to step back and watch the mental processes change and evolve each day as I approach this pose. If I am going to take the pose as far as I can physically on my own without any assist from a teacher, I absolutely can't let the mind leave the present moment. As soon as I think one step ahead of where I am physically, the pose is gone. If I think about making the lotus while jumping into Pincha position, I go right over into a backbend. If I think about landing the lotus while I'm trying to move the legs into lotus, I fall out with no lotus.
It fascinates me and amuses me to watch the mind get bored and try to rush the process each time. I can almost hear it: "Are we still doing this pose? Why is this taking so long? This is too slow; let's move on to something more exciting."
When I finish karandavasana, I can almost feel the mental strength building...like chaturangas for the mind
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I'm reading Richard Freeman's 'The Mirror of Yoga' at the moment and Richard has this to say about ordinary practice:
"When you practice non-exotic, everyday yoga--looking deeply at the ordinary experience, becoming more honest and more kind--there is a great sense of relief."
...and then I saw this beautiful post by Laine who says:
"It's funny sometimes, when you realize how utterly ordinary heartbreak is. When you are sitting in yoga class looking at your toes and realizing that if you tried to put what (and who) broke your heart into words it would just sound so ordinary."
I taught a modified Ashtanga class to a group of older folks for about a year and one of the students who was just about to turn 80 surprised me one day after class. She had been coming to class maybe once or twice a month for a few months and had just finished reading the book 'Eat, Pray, Love' before class. After class she wanted to know: "Were we going to get enlightened soon then?"
Despite her nearly 80 years of life experience, she was still looking for a way around the ordinariness. She expected more drama from her fledgling yoga practice and was, I think, a little disappointed when it seemed to her like nothing dramatic was happening in her practice. Eventually we didn't see her in class much anymore, so it's hard to know whether she would have ever seen the relief on the other side of the boredom.
I'm suspicious of anything too exciting, but that doesn't stop me from getting hooked in by drama. The farther I go up, the farther down there is to come. One of the aspects of Ashtanga that originally attracted me to the practice was the routine nature of it..same poses, same order, everyday. It was only once I really dug into the practice that I found all the upheavals within the ordinary routine of practice. Dig any one hole deep enough and whatever's below ground will come spurting out for sure.
I agree with Richard. The ordinary, non-exotic kind of yoga practice is enough and is a relief. Ordinary practice and ordinary relationship has enough depth and vibrancy to last lifetimes.
I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, 'Committed', the sequel to 'Eat, Pray, Love' and I think she would agree with Richard Freeman. Ordinariness is a relief.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Friday, June 3, 2011
I've been in several Yoga Sutra study sessions at workshops with Beryl Bender Birch. In each session the idea of non-attachment has come up at some point. Beryl will often have us go around the room and name something we're attached to. The same answers always come up: partner/spouse, children, family, pets, career, house, city...and someone always says yoga. The idea of non-attachment to non-living things that are none-the-less important is generally something that the group has no trouble wrapping its collective head around...but then the group starts to wrestle a bit with the idea of non-attachment to the living beings that are important to us. How do we reconcile non-attachment with love?
I was at a workshop with Beryl only few days after her husband of 20-some years, Thom Birch, had died suddenly. We wrestled with these same questions at that workshop and I saw what it looked like when someone with 30 years of yoga practice came to face this question in a very direct way. Beryl grieved for the husband she missed, but not in an overly-dramatic, grasping way. Years of practice of non-attachment meant that she was able to let go with some amount of grace. Years of love meant that it still hurt.
I do not yet have her grace.
A week ago, Asha, our beloved mix breed dog was diagnosed with liver disease. There is no cure and very little that can be done to treat it. The prognosis from the vet is that she might live 2 more years, or maybe considerably less...they just really don't know. She's only 3 1/2 years old and is very much a "fur-baby" so this is especially tough. I find myself wrestling with these same questions of non-attachment and love. When the liver function is reduced to the point that she can no longer enjoy being a dog, will I be able to make the right decision?...a decision that comes from loving non-attachment?
Ultimately, these events are what I practice for. Nearly every day on the mat these questions come up even if I don't catch them at the time. When I do a pose, realize it's not happening, resolve to revisit it again the next day, and let it go, I set a pattern of non-attachment. When I give in to frustration because things aren't going as I'd like, I set a pattern of grasping, and of attachment.
When I can get myself/ego/identity out of the way, there is room for grace and for love even amidst pain.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I've still been reading my favorite blogs around the Ashtanga yoga blogosphere though and a few days ago, one of Nobel's posts especially caught my interest.
Nobel asks: Is Ashtanga practice by itself sufficient for a core-centered practice?
The real answer to any good question is, of course, "that depends".
On a pretty good day, I realize that there is not going to be a point in life when things stop changing. I thought for a long time that things would settle down, be steadier, when [insert next personal milestone here] happened...when I finished grad school, got a job, got a better job, moved to a different town.
I credit my Ashtanga practice for the few clear moments when I realize that steadiness doesn't come from having just the right life situation. It comes from the inside out. I make steadiness happen or I don't as the case may be.
Nearly everyday I feel like there is some uneven ground beneath my feet. Many steps I take are uncertain ones and some feel more like giant leaps into the unknown....so what to do and where to go when the ground opens up underneath you?...back to the practice.
My short answer to Nobel's question in the comments to his post was this:
Yes, Ashtanga yoga is enough for a core-centered practice, as long as you're not in a hurry. If we are talking specifically about the physical strengthening of the core muscles, I think the time it takes to develop core muscles depends somewhat on body type....just like some people increase upper body strength faster than others, the core muscles develop more quickly in some bodies than others. I watch students in my Mysore room work diligently at practice, but some still develop strength and lightness sloooowly.
...But is that really what we mean when we ask about Ashtanga as a core-centered practice...just really awesome abs?...or just the ability fly our legs through our arms and land? If this is it, then Pilate's or some time at the gym might be a better match.
...But as I've watched practice change me over the years, I've watched it provide access to a true source of steadiness that gets stronger over time even as life events shake up the ground underneath me. The longer I practice, the less I'm concerned about whether my core muscles are physically strong enough to do any one pose or transition in particular.
Nearly 10 years of practice and I still can't lift up and clear the floor with my toes when I jump back....But amid crazy busy schedules and all kinds of changes this past year, I'm still standing. It leaves me with no doubts about the core-centeredness of the Ashtanga practice.
...Or maybe core-centered is not really the right phrase. Maybe we should call it a "root-centered practice" Steadiness starts from Mula bandha, the root lock and as Nobel puts it in a recent post, like a root for a tree "it [yoga] sustains you" .
Thursday, May 5, 2011
I've been doing the primary series for a while now....long enough that several years ago, it stopped feeling hard. There are still places in that series to work (Hello jump through and jump back!) and I imagine that there always will be work to do in primary if I look for it....but it doesn't feel hard like it did at the beginning.
I think the change in perception comes from two places. One, the obvious, I'm stronger and more flexible. I can move in and out of postures more efficiently and with less effort. The second reason that I suspect primary seems easier, is that I tend to compare it to the feelings I have practicing intermediate...which is a whole different kind of challenge.
...so back to Sharath's led class... Besides an odd missed count or two, there were two poses that really caught my attention when I was practicing along with the streaming. The first was headstand. The second was utpluthi. I noticed them both for the same reason. I realized as Sharath was counting that I don't usually stay in either of those poses for that long. Somewhere along the way, I had started cheating myself of chances to work on increasing strength, something I keep saying I want....interesting. As I was hanging out there in headstand, waiting for Sharath's voice to say I could come down, I noticed something. It's not that I'm not strong enough to stay there. Actually, I noticed, I am. What really happens is that my mind gets bored. Mentally, I start to wander off topic. I start thinking about breakfast, how late I am for work. I let the mind talk me into something it finds more exciting.
I'm noticing this is really the beauty and the challenge of intermediate series for me. It's building on the willingness, developed in primary, to stay and breathe where I'd rather not. In all the places in intermediate where I tend to "give up the pose early", it's really not the body that I'm wrestling with, it's the mind. Karandavasana is not so much about the strength to hold myself up, but more about having the mental willingness to lock the attention onto tiny shifts in balance for the duration of the pose and most importantly to keep it there. When the mind goes, the pose goes.
If I'm really working in my intermediate practice, then the series of poses added over the last couple years by my teacher, pincha mayurasana, karandavasana, mayurasana, and most recently nakrasana, produce a kind of mental anguish by the time I'm done. My body will feel good, very alive, nicely stretched, muscles gently sore...but my mind will feel like a wrung out sponge.
...just when I find that, physically, I'm getting stronger, it becomes clear that there are whole other dimensions of strength.
Monday, April 25, 2011
Yoga Sutras 2.49-2.53
"Pranayama is the regulation of the incoming and outgoing flow of breath with retention. It is to be practiced only after perfection in asana is attained. Pranayama has three movements: prolonged and fine inhalation, exhalation and retention; all regulated with precision according to duration and place. The fourth type of pranayama transcends the external and internal pranayamas, and appears effortless and non-deliberate. Pranayama is not only an instrument to steady the mind, but also the gateway to concentration, dharana."-translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
Breath…I have so much to say about breath that not many words comes out. The more I feel about the importance of something, the harder it is for me to say something coherent about it.
During most of the day, most of the time, I think most people rarely take a single full breath. It’s the source of our energy and we sip at it.
If we do nothing else, as yogis and yoginis, let’s teach the world to breathe. It could change everything.
Friday, April 8, 2011
I don't often talk about the specific asana ins and outs of my practice on the blog. I don't talk much about it because I think reading about it would be boring. That doesn't stop me from talking about it to friends and family in person...but after a few minutes of "pose chatter" their eyes start to glaze over. :-) I get up. I do the poses. Some days they go more smoothly than others. Over time there is more ease, less effort....yawn...
...but I'll deviate a bit today for a short rant and a bit of self pity....fair warning.
At the moment, I hate mayurasana. I've never really hated a pose before. There were, and are, lots of poses and transitions that I struggle with. For any number of reasons, that doesn't especially bother me. I've waited years for things to open enough to do a full expression of a pose. Again I've worked for years to strengthen things enough to hold a pose together. There never seemed to be a reason to hurry.
...so what's the difference with mayurasana?
I think it comes down to belief.
For a long time, (like years) I didn't really believe that this practice was something I could do with any sort of skill or grace. I could muddle my way through the fundamental poses, laugh about how weak my upper body was when trying to hold chaturanga, and that was okay. I was a "smart kid" with a venomous hatred for all things "sporty" and a knack for breaking things as I clumsily knocked them off counters. A hike in the woods?...great, count me in for sure. A game of kickball?....oh god no. I used the words of others, of family, of friends to reaffirm what I thought I already knew...physical grace was for other people.
...but I kept practicing
...and the unexpected happened. I got more flexible. I got stronger. I learned to breathe. Each new pose seemed equally impossible, so when some new pose happened in my body for the first time, I accepted it with delight. I was never disappointed when I couldn't do something, because I had no expectations that I would be able to.
...and over time, the practice and my teacher slowly worked to change my belief. Maybe this was possible after all?
I thought I might hit a wall with karandavasana, but no. Even there, my teacher showed me how to break it down into pieces. I patiently worked on each one. There is still alot to do on this pose. It's challenging, sure, but doesn't especially frustrate me, because I can find a way in. As I work on it, it improves.
With mayurasana, for the first time, I am disappointed. I am frustrated to the point of tears, to the point of wanting to stamp my feet and yell that it's not fair. Mayurasana is pushing buttons. The feeling of someone taking a sharp stick and poking at all the tender and vulnerable spots has been a hallmark of second series practice for me. Layers and layers of feelings and experiences that I thought were gone have risen to the surface to be either embraced or burned away for good.
I was still frustrated after this mornings' practice, unusual for me. As I was stomping around the kitchen, my husband asked why I was frustrated. My answer?..."I think my boobs are too big to do mayurasana." ...he burst into laughter.
Yes, it's of course, it's absurd. It's ridiculous in some sense that existential angst is brought on by my attempt to wedge my elbows under my chest and pick my toes up off the floor. Then again, in some sense it's not so absurd. This is a practice designed to help me see what is actually there in front of me. Samskaras by definition, run deep. It takes some creative digging perhaps to bring them up to the surface to be examined.
The more I see, the more my beliefs are challenged....because when you believe so firmly that you can't, what do you do when you see that you can?
Mayurasana is pulling at deep samskaras and asking big questions....am I really enough, just as I am?
My teacher seems convinced that doing this pose is entirely possible for me...with practice of course. This will not be the first time that I lean on his belief in hopes that it will drown out my own doubts.
Monday, April 4, 2011
My trek through the Yoga Sutras continues... ...sutras 2.35-2.39 describe all that comes from following through on the yamas. Likewise, sutras 2.40-2.45 describe what's possible when we follow though on the niyamas.
...but as I wrote in my last post on the sutras, my observance of the yamas and niyamas is definitely a "work in progress". I find that I don't have much to say about all the loveliness that Patanjali describes. Sure, years of asana practice is steering me in the direction of yamas and niyamas. Moments of quiet and clear-headedness are definitely more plentiful than in my pre-practice days....but there are still so many moments of stickiness that any presumption that I really observe yamas and niyamas in each moment is laughable.
As always, the first place that I notice myself getting tangled in all the stuff that I put in my own way is in asana practice. Sunday's practice found me running on the hamster wheel. I watched my mind leave breath and bandha only to attach itself to a situation that was not mine to be concerned about and was really, none of my business....driste violation! Practice is the best mirror I've found.
...which brings me to Yoga Sutras 2.46-2.48 "Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit. Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached. From then on, the sadhaka [student] is undisturbed by dualities" -translation by B.K.S. Iyengar
These sutras are my favorite, probably because, while I would hardly claim to have met perfection in asana, when it comes to asana practice I can at least find a place to start the work. On a clear day, I might even see a little bit of the road out in front of me, maybe even see my footprints behind me and notice some of the places where I've wandered off the road on the foggy days.
Iyengar's commentary on sutra 2.46 has this to say: "But in any asana the body has to be toned and the mind tuned so that one can stay longer with a firm body and a serene mind. Asanas should be performed without creating aggressiveness in the muscle spindles or the skin cells. Space must be created between muscle and skin so that the skin receives the actions of the muscles, joints and ligaments. The skin then sends messages to the brain, mind and intelligence which judge the appropriateness of those actions. In this way, the principles of yama and niyama are involved and action and reflection harmonize."
Mr. Iyengar's comments give me hope. If his vision of the limbs of practice is right, and I venture he knows considerably more than I do on the subject, then my morning asana practice is enough. If I do it with all the honesty that I can manage, then it's all the mirror that I need. Practice and yamas and niyamas will come...or in the wisdom of Pattabhi Jois: "Practice and all is coming."
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
I'm still reading the Yoga Sutras....albeit, slooowly.
Yoga Sutra 2: 30-31 "Nonviolence, truthfullness, nonstealing, sexual restraint, and nongreed are the restraints. The five restraints practiced universally, uncompromised by type of birth, place, time and circumstance, constitute the great vow."
Yoga Sutra 2: 32 "Cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self-study and devotion to the Supreme Being are the observances."
Yoga Sutra 2: 33-34 "If conflicting thought obstructs those restraints and observances, the opposite should be contemplated. Obstructing thoughts like violence and others, done, caused, or approved of, stemming from greed, anger, or infatuation, whether they are mild, moderate, or intense, will result in more pain and ignorance. For to realize that is to cultivate the opposite." -translation by G. Maehle
Thoughts: As far away as I might feel from any of the yamas (restraints) or niyamas (observances) at a particular moment, practice continues to nudge me in their direction. For that, I am grateful. If I look at the list of yamas and niyamas as a list of "How to Be Good.", then what I see is a list of lovely sounding impossibilities. If I look at the yamas and niyamas as a practice that is cultivated (love that word) one breath at a time, then I see the possibilities of change...slowly....with time and practice.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
There are a list of reasons that I might not have practiced this morning.
1. I strained something in the left shoulder/pectoralis on one side in modern dance class a couple weeks ago and it's still sore and tweaky (although improving).
2. I've been doing a lot of biking and I'm feeling tightness in my right hip (where it seems that all tightness in my body resides...), right IT band and outer knee.
3. I slipped in the shower a couple days ago and caught my inner ankle on the bathtub knob....which has apparently sharper edges than I gave it credit for as I now have a long deep scrape where a chunk of skin was removed and a lovely purple and green bruise.
4. I slept on my right shoulder in some way that my body did not approve of and now have strange catches and aches coming from the right shoulder joint.
5. The time changed a little more than a week ago and early morning practice now has me getting out of bed with that slightly delirious feeling of getting up several hours before the sun for a long drive to some far away airport...
...But I practiced anyway.
...and yes I'm getting to driste...
...Because really what I notice and react to has a lot to do with what I see.
...And what I saw this morning was a studio filled with patches of moonlight. It was warm enough that I didn't need to turn on a heater, so the only sound was that of my own breath. When I looked out the windows, I saw piles of bricks and construction debris...the materials being used to expand the studio space at my house where I teach Mysore classes. Every new pile of materials and every new phase of construction makes me smile.
In the past couple years, spring, especially March and April, have been quiet months at the studio. It's post-"New Year's Resolution" time and pre-summer vacation. It usually trickles down to just 2 or 3 regular students with a committed practice. This year's group of regular students are a particularly committed bunch and we have had quite a few busy days in the studio.
It's a small space, a "packed house" is 7 students....and that's good. It's allowed for lots of individual one-on-one time and helped to build relationships between students. When it's mat-to-mat, it's best to just decide to befriend your neighboring practitioners from the beginning. :)
...so on a recent busy day in the studio, we had a short chat about driste and maintaining attention on our own practices despite the challenge of the close quarters.
What happens when I move my driste?...my attention and actions follow. Many of the random things I wrestle with over the course of a day could be considered "driste violations". Does it matter what someone else did, said or didn't do if it doesn't have anything to do with me, and there is nothing I can do to actively change the situation? No. Those are the moments when I need to put my eyes back on my own practice/life and wrestle my attention back to where it serves some purpose.
How and what I see changes everything that follows. This morning I chose to see much that I have to be grateful for. I can move, breath and I get to spend some part of each day doing what I love most: practicing and teaching Mysore style Ashtanga yoga.
I don't always make that choice. I can share plenty of examples of getting bogged down by driste violations, far too many really. But this morning, I put my mat down in a puddle of moonlight and got on with it.
credit goes to Loo, whose blog you can read here, for the broader idea of driste violations
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The walk slowed to a winding sort of stroll with lots of stopping to look around along the way. I've found that as I read each next sutra, it's nice to let it drift on the wind a bit and see where it settles before I say anything about it here.
Recently, I seem to be running into lots of conversations, posts and articles on the value (or not) of asana practice.
The Yoga Sutras have this to say in 2.29:
"Moral injunctions (yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture (asana), regulation of breath (pranayama), internalization of the senses towards their source (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and absorption of consciousness in the self (samadhi), are the eight constituents of yoga."
When I look at the way my practices unfold each morning, I think each of the limbs is so entangled in the others that there cannot really be a separation of asana from the rest. The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga look in my mental image, more like wild blackberry shrubs complete with thorns and tasty looking fruit, than the graceful, tidy tree often depicted.
Asana, as I understand it at this moment, is a way of placing the body with attention that makes space for the other limbs. At one point in my day or in the evolution of my practice, asansa may look like the primary series. At another, it may look like whatever posture my body needs to adopt to meet the needs of a moment.
I think if I define yoga asana as moving with attention (or sitting...or standing...), then yoga asana can become something that quietly follows me off the mat in the morning and provides needed steadiness and ease during the rest of my day.
...and perhaps with enough time and practice, I'll navigate the tangled brambles that are the eight limbs and just be left with fruit...
Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Here's an excerpt from his post:
"Lately, I've been thinking about the nature of the Ashtanga practice, and how and why I came to practice Ashtanga. There are many questions that come up in the course of my reflections, questions such as: Do all Ashtangis go through the same experiences and processes in the course of encountering and starting the journey of practice? Are there common themes that run through all such encountering-and-beginning-Ashtanga stories? Or is every practitioner's story very different from every other practitioner's, so that there are no commonalities at all? Is Ashtanga for everyone? If it is not for everyone, what kinds of persons is it for? "
Great questions!...and Nobel's blog is a great one for keeping me thinking...
I dabbled in yoga classes of various styles from the time I was 16 until age 23...a bit like dating really...or something like an encounter with the 3 bears. I liked yoga in general, but no particular class was just right.
I went to my first Ashtanga class and that was it. When the time came to move to a new city, I went looking for yoga classes in the Ashtanga style. I wasn't interested in anything else.
...but why Ashtanga??
The one word answer for me is relationship.
As Nobel pointed out, within this yoga practice is structure. That structure let me dig one hole deeply. I've spent the past nearly 10 years digging just a little bit deeper to see where it would take me.
I'm not the first person to point out the similarities in the way Ashtanga practitioners relate to their practice and the way we relate to actual human beings. I've heard my teacher refer to the reasons that he is still "in love with the practice". I have "good practice days" where understanding seems to flow freely and I have "difficult practice days" where the practice and I seem, for the moment, to be at cross purposes.
...but it is that day to day digging within, that results in one deep hole. The path to depth has asked for more patience and commitment than dabbling with a little of this and a little of that, but it has also produced more steadiness, clarity and compassion. If I am going to attempt the same seeming impossibilities daily, I'm going to have to learn to cut myself some slack!
The daily relationship with a set series of poses done in a particular way (with breath, bandha and driste) have provided great opportunities to wrestle with surrender.
Nobel has this to say about surrender:
"All is coming. The practice, by its very nature, demands surrender within effort and effort within surrender: One tries one's best at every posture (effort), and if one doesn't "get" a particular posture today, there's always tomorrow's practice (surrender)."
The Ashtanga practice is subtle this way. What appears to be the same sequence of postures is never really the same twice. If I surrender to the practice as the ultimate teacher and to the guidance of my human Ashtanga teacher, then my understanding of both the practice and of myself evolve continually. As soon as I think I understand, there's more.
This process of meeting seemingly the same practice daily and frequently being startled by something new, is exciting, sometimes intense and often humbling. I don't know nearly as much as I momentarily might think I do and the practice always knows more.
To provide just one person's thoughts on Nobel's questions:
Yes, I think there are commonalities in what practitioners find within the Ashtanga practice, although of course each person's story is their own.
No, I don't think Ashtanga yoga is the technique for everyone. I think everyone could do it, but not everyone will want to....and that I think is key. This is just one path to the center. Patanjali's Yoga Sutra mentions several ways in. The important part according to Patanjali is that we choose the technique with which we can maintain a relationship...whatever that practice may be. Practice consistently, over a long time, without a break and all is coming.
Monday, February 28, 2011
18 years ago now, when I was 16, I bought a VHS video from a discount bin called 'Yoga for Strength'...I should have known then that I'd end up an Ashtangi...
It's what I came to yoga for, what brought me to the mat for the first time: I wanted to be stronger.
Today, is my first practice back on the mat on my own after a week of practice with my teacher. The theme of last week's practices, yes, strength. I've gotten to an interesting part of the particular sequence that I'm practicing. Just when I'm starting to feel a bit tired and distracted, I'm met by strength pose, after strength pose, after strength pose....be careful what you wish for...
Something I've heard Beryl Bender Birch say at a few workshops that I've done with her is this: "Don't envy flexibility!" She goes on to talk about this a bit more and the subtext is always this: if you think you want someone's physical flexibility, then you have to be prepared to accept the rest of their life too.
It seems a very broad way of thinking about both flexibility and envy.
It's interesting to me because my default is bendy, but not just physically. The physical is also an expression of my default in life...flexible...the one who accommodates, agrees or easily slips out of the way.
When I came to yoga looking for strength, it seems that, although I didn't see it at the time, I was looking for strength in the broader sense as well as the physical. The two are not separate.
After years of Ashtanga practice, I can say that I found what I was looking for.
I have work to do yet balancing my agreeableness with standing up for myself. That work is found daily, in balancing in a steady handstand and then bending it into a deep backbend. It's found in controlling the transition from a strong neutral standing position into a deep backbend and smoothly returning to standing. It's found in the daily striving for a balance between effort and ease in breath regardless of what sort of pretzel is being asked of the body.
A week with my teacher always leaves me sore, tired and awash in gratitude. I remain in awe of what changes this practice can initiate and ever grateful for my teacher who continues to believe that I can be strong even in the moments when I don't yet have the strength to believe it myself.
Thursday, February 24, 2011
...good to know that I'm working on my challenging poses even in my sleep...
...bad to know that apparently my mind is a little obsessed with this one...
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
...the high point of my day is when my teacher jabs his thumbs into my belly during a "bandha check" and says "yes, perfect."
....really?!...for one whole inhale and exhale there was just the right amount of tension in my lower belly.
...now for all those other inhales and exhales... :)
Monday, February 21, 2011
It makes for some intense practices when the opportunities arise only a couple times a year though.
Today's practice may have set a record for the number of times I looked up at my teacher during practice with a look that said: "Are you insane?!"...and then proceeded to put my best effort towards whatever seemly crazy request was being made.
That is of course why I have a teacher. :-)
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
An interesting relationship between the little pieces and the broad picture of a practice has been sort of flitting around in my mind since the workshop. I've been waiting for it to land and hopefully coalesce into something coherent.
Although we did talk about the anatomy of the bandhas...or as close as you can get to describing the physical access points to something energetic, what stuck with me was the discussion in a much broader sense of rooting and lifting energy throughout the practice.
It started with the discussion of the 3 natural arches in the foot. In just the action of placing the foot on the floor, there is a mulha aspect, found in pressing into the base of the big toe, base of the pinkie toe and the heel. There is also an uddiyana aspect found in lifting up through the arches. After a bit of playing with generally moving the weight around on the feet, picking up the toes, etc., I was a bit startled to feel the changes in energy moving up my body from just these actions in the feet!
We continued in the microcosm vein, looking at the mulha and uddiyana aspects of the hand and the parallels to the actions of the feet when we place them on the floor. There are again mulha and uddiyana aspects to just the action of placing weight into the hands when we place them on the floor.
David is adamant that if the hands are on the floor in a pose, then they are there for a reason. I've lost track of the number of times I've heard David say "Put weight into the hands!" as we fold forward in sun salutations or "Pretend the hand is another foot." as we fold forward in ardha badha padmottansana.
This whole discussion of mulha and uddiyana in miniature got me thinking about all the little pieces that make up the whole practice picture...and wondering about how many little pieces have fallen out of my frame of awareness as poses have gotten familiar and comfortable. The feet and hands are often our foundation in poses. I'm curious to see what happens to the qualities of the practice as a whole as I play with bringing greater attention to the rooting and lifting energies from the base upward.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I've been playing with the pace and fullness of my breath in practice lately and have blogged a bit on changes I've noticed. Changing the pace and quality of breath, changes the quality and energy of my practice. I've noticed it in the moment (during practice) and I've noticed changes in energy post-practice, later in the day.
...but so far, that's all I had done...just change the breath arbitrarily to see what would happen and then make a note of it. I hadn't been setting out to change the breath with any particular intention in mind.
Over the weekend, the importance of controlling the breath in order to control the nervous system kept coming up. This was definitely a "light bulb moment" for me. My default setting is nervous. I grew up with family often encouraging me to make decisions out of fear, to make "safe" choices. I've known for a long time that I don't want to live that way. Some of the best people/experiences that I've known have come out of the sort of choices where you take a deep breath and jump! I've crash-landed a few times too, but I've never regretted taking the risk even when I've landed hard.
What's sort of settled in from thoughts generated over the last weekend is that creating the spaciousness to make choices with the greatest awareness I can manage all comes back to controlling the nervous system....and the way in to the nervous system is the breath.
David talked about the importance of using the breath to manage and reduce stimulation of the nervous system.
My favorite David Keil one-liner of the weekend was in reference to breath: "Take control of the breath, otherwise it's controlling you."
Ah, yes...that is, in fact, exactly what happens when I let the nervous system take the wheel. The breath gets shallow and fast and drives me right into a panic. Suddenly, all I can hear is the refrain of "What if...".
It's amazingly freeing and calming to know that I have a tool to manage the nervous system. I can tame it daily with the breath.
More from David on the anatomy of breath here: http://blog.yoganatomy.com/2010/10/breath-leads-to-bandhas/
Friday, February 11, 2011
I leave every workshop with David remembering why he is my teacher. David teaches with humor, patience and common sense....all three of which are crucial to enjoying a weekend of human anatomy. :)
As a Mysore teacher I generally see the same students in class each evening. As a practitioner, I practice with the same body daily. In both cases, it's easy to fall into patterns, habits and stop seeing clearly. David is a great guide to help me question what I think I know and to help me step out with confidence when, what I find that know, isn't what I expected. What I really got out of the weekend was an opportunity to take a step back and look at the big picture. I've returned again to practice and teach with fresh eyes.
More in the next few days on a few topics that came up during the workshop which I'm still mulling over....but a few anatomy bits from the weekend that stuck with me:
On forward bends: (*waves to Helen*)
-David had 2 things to say that I made a note of:
1) If the hamstring is already torn, David recommends folding forward with straight legs, but not bending as far...not bent knees!
2) To avoid hamstring tears and sit bone pain, he encourages students when folding forward with bent knees to keep trying to actively straighten the legs (without over doing it of course)
There's a great anatomical description with details and an answer to Why? to both of these here: http://www.yoganatomy.com/emailmay10.html
-After an interesting discussion on the "right" or "wrong" placement of everything from shoulders to toes in chaturanga, David made 2 points that stuck:
1) What chaturanga looks like will evolve with the rest of your practice...just like any other pose. The "right" chaturanga is the one that is appropriate for a particular person's body at that point in time in their practice.
2)...love this--this is a direct quote "The right chaturanga is the one that doesn't injure you."
More anatomy discussion of chaturanga here: http://www.yoganatomy.com/emailoctober10.html
More thoughts from the weekend to come soon!
Thursday, February 3, 2011
Aurthur says: "It must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays."
Yes, today is that kind of Thursday...not bad, just weird. After some morning scheduling weirdness, I've found myself not doing any of the things I thought I would be doing at work today and doing lots of things I thought I wouldn't be doing.
It's a chance to make a decision: resist the universe or surf the waves as they come. I'm not doing either especially gracefully today. The perfect storm of new moon energy, ladies holiday and Thursday, found me at the Panera buying cookies at lunch time...
So Yay for things that sort themselves out despite my best efforts to get in the way and Yay for cookies!
Tomorrow, off to David Keil's anatomy workshop with a friend...I'm so looking forward to it! Workshop posts to come next week.
Monday, January 31, 2011
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Yoga Sutra 2.26-2.28
"The ceaseless flow of discriminative knowledge in thought, word and deed destroys ignorance, the source of pain. Through this unbroken flow of discriminative awareness, one gains perfect knowledge which has seven spheres. By dedicated practice of the various aspects of yoga impurities are destroyed: the crown of wisdom radiates in glory."
-translation by BKS Iyengar
A couple bloggers (Claudia here, David Garrigues here) reported back on Sharath's recent Sunday conference in Mysore. The report was: all questions can be met with the answer "Do more practice."
This is also what catches my attention in the Yoga Sutras. Over and over again the sutras seem to say the same thing in different ways. Have problems? pain? fear? Do more practice.
My experience in practice has so far backed up the theory in the Yoga Sutras. Not only have I found answers that I didn't realize I was seeking, I've also found that I can live more comfortably than I imagined with all the questions.
Practices of late have been quiet and steady. More tinkering with the breath is teaching me more about how I can change the qualities of my practice. I have lately been moving away from the faster, lighter breath that has been my past pattern. It seems to result in some anxious undirected energy at the end of practice and leaves my nervous system a little irritated and raw. I've been moving toward a slower, fuller breath. For the moment this leaves me feeling steadier as I move off the mat and start all the activities of the day.
Monday morning's practice took place in a puddle of moonlight. There was still enough moon to be shining through the studio windows and it moved from one end of the studio to the other during the early part of practice. As I finished up the sky was turning pink and orange. What's not to love?! :)
Saturday, January 22, 2011
I'll be at David Keil's anatomy workshop soaking up as much as I possibly can in a weekend. It's been about 3 years since I last took one of David's anatomy workshops and a lot has changed. I have new questions about my practice and about students' practices that I'm working with. I'm looking forward to bringing some of those questions to David.
So, that brings me to a question for the cyber shala:
What are your yoga-anatomy related questions that you'd like David to address?
While I have some questions of my own to ask, I'm also happy to pass on any questions to David while I'm there.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
-Lewis Carroll from 'Alice Through the Looking Glass'
Fair warning, this post rambles! The thoughts just never seemed to arrange themselves into coherent related paragraphs.
Much thanks to Nobel for joining in the cybershala and tackling some difficult subjects that get us thinking and talking. He writes a great blog which you can read here.
Recent posts by Nobel (here and here) where he tackles the sticky subject of yoga, weight loss and whether a letter to the editor of Yoga Journal makes valid points...Brave Nobel! :-)
The letter to the editor and Nobel's post have had me thinking about all the changes that have happened over the years that I've maintained a regular Ashtanga practice.
Nobel makes a good point in his post:
"Choosing to blow somebody off for calling me fat isn't going to change certain very basic things about how reality works. Whatever words we choose to use to describe body shapes, the basic scientific truths remain: Biology doesn't care whether I am "fat", "curvy", "round-bodied", "chunky", "big-boned", "[insert your favorite euphemism]". The more pounds I pack on, the harder my body has to work, and the harder my body has to work, the more likely premature wear-and-tear of the internal and external biological systems will occur. We can choose to accept this basic scientific reality, and work with it as best as we can; or we can choose to deny this reality at our own peril."
All that is true, factual, logical....but thinking back over all the changes I've made since beginning a regular Ashtanga practice, I notice the logical and the sensible have had very little to do with making change.
I started practice with lots of residual body image issues hanging on since the teenage years as well as plenty of "not especially healthy" food habits. Ironically, my habits only changed when I stopped trying to change them "because I thought I should"....logic was never enough.
I'd wanted to be thinner and stronger since childhood and no conscious effort to make the changes ever worked, but slowly, as I practiced regularly over years, the habits that weren't serving me, fell away. I lost my taste for my daily diet Pepsi habit (ick, right!) and lost my taste for fried food (even the smell makes me nauseous now). Regular practice provided the mirror. It became easy to know which habits would nourish and which would not because I was living it experientially from the inside out.
This is a common story with Ashtangis. Do the practice, the habits change...The habits changed when I stopped struggling and made space.
Chogam Trungpa says:
"We begin to realize that there is a sane, awake quality within us. In fact this quality manifests itself only in the absence of struggle."
We all start practice with "stuff"...and I suspect we all start with some denial about whatever our "stuff" may be. Weight is an easy kind of "stuff" to pick on because we can see it, but it is just one kind of stuff.
Nobel says: "Choosing to blow somebody off for calling me fat isn't going to change certain very basic things about how reality works."
As a scientist (that's my day job), I agree, but as a yogi, I've been stunned by the number of times what I thought was reality immediately turned on it's head. Things get interesting the moment I think I understand my own reality; they get downright messy when I start to think I understand someone else's reality.
More from Chogam Trungpa:
"You do not have to push yourself too energetically into the path but just wait, just allow some space, do not be too busy trying to understand "reality"."
Nobel is sceptical about the potential to be healthy at every size....and so am I. Current scientific research suggests otherwise. On the other hand, I think the letter to the editor makes a valid point that some words can get in the way of making change, even when they're logical and sensible. Words that sting can get in the way of making space because it is so easy to accept them as a label....and at that point I'm stuck in the ego, defining myself: "I am..."
If my teacher had said to me when I started learning handstands, "You're weak.", would I have kept trying even with that label ringing in my ears? I don't know.