Thursday, October 27, 2011

Too Much Thinking

This morning was one of those mornings where I just craved the practice.

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.
It’s impossible to overstate the influence of Kahneman and Tversky. Like Darwin, they helped to dismantle a longstanding myth of human exceptionalism. Although we’d always seen ourselves as rational creatures—this was our Promethean gift—it turns out that human reason is rather feeble, easily overwhelmed by ancient instincts and lazy biases. The mind is a deeply flawed machine."

Sunday, October 23, 2011


Most Friday evenings I take a modern dance class at the studio that feeds the local ballet company in my city. I wanted to take dance as a kid, but I also wanted to take gymnastics and the parents ruled that I could choose one.

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

The Gambler

"On a warm summer's eve
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

-The Gambler
The Gambler has been stuck in my head this morning. I don't know why, but am throwing it out there. We might as well all be humming it together.
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
Or maybe the best that I can hope for is to learn to stop fighting it, to reach back into the time that I spend on the mat and pull out the practice of leaning into the honesty of discomfort. I can lean into the act of playing the best hand I think I have always knowing I will never hold all cards.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Life and Practice

After a long week, I've spent the evening watching back to back episodes of 'My So Called Life' (the best TV show ever!). I was 16 when the show aired so not only was I the "target audience", I very much wanted to be Angela Chase.

Watching the show always leaves me with the feeling of being transported back in time. For just a little while after I turn off the show, I can almost physically feel again the agony of each long, uncomfortable moment that was me at 16. I alternated between manic elation and furious anger. There was no ease, no equilibrium, no equanimity.

Which gets me thinking of course about whether anything has changed. Am I a "grown up" now or am I still too hooked on the excitement of dramatic ups and downs to realize how tired they leave me?

I am reminded often that I very much need the mirror that practice provides each morning. It's a daily, unflinching reflection of all that I still hang on to and all that I am still grasping after. I'm grateful that beyond the reflection the practice also provides the tools to realize the stillness and deep quiet that is possible in the moments that I take a deep breath and let go.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Happiness is...and A Blog Honor

Happiness is being sat on by your teacher and then having your leg squashed down your back! I so love my teacher's adjustment for eka pada sirsasana...ahhhh. I just cannot get into that sticky bit deep in the hip on my own.

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 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'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 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 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. :)