Thursday, December 13, 2012

Curiouser and Curiouser...

Curiouser and curiouser...didn't sleep...gave up the effort at 4:30.  I couldn't face second series; did primary.  I couldn't face the opening up and wanted a security blanket.  When nothing else can quiet the mental hamster wheel and sooth the body, primary can.  Its gentle stretches down the hips, free anger and self-pity to dissolve.  Where does jealousy live in the body?

It still astonishes me when I look in from the outside, that something that used to waste me fully, the primary series, now soothes.  The pose within that series that took the most time to settle in my body and brain, supta kurmasana, now feels like pouring cold water on an over-heated nervous system.  Steam still results, but nerves cool down.

When I head to Mysore in February, it will be the first time in more than 7 years, that I will experience practicing only primary, with no second as my daily practice.  This is my first trip and I have no expectations of practicing anything else.  I am curious what that will feel like.  The intermediate sequence has asked that I open, and then open, and then open again.  Finally, it's starting to feel like that opening might be tethered to some kind of central core.  More stability would still be most welcome.  Who wouldn't want it to be just a little bit harder to get knocked off their center.  I'm wondering if 4 weeks of primary series practice will provide some needed grounding, or if India itself and the experience of Mysore will provide the nerve-cleansing aspect despite moving through a daily sequence of primary poses.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Ebbs and Flows

Amid the ebbs and flows of a year, it's sometimes nice to step back and assess.  This has been a year of deep change for me; both practice and life have shifted.  Practice works to peel back the layers of story one by one.  I've had the feeling lately, that practice has really gotten it's hooks in this year and took a couple layers off all in one go.  The result is more vulnerability, honesty, and curiosity.  How many more layers?  How deep do the stories go?
There is maybe a natural feeling of ending and beginning as the days get shorter.  Culturally, we're surrounded by reminders that our calender year is ending soon.  It fascinates me to see the variety of expressions of how we meet this season.
I remember a few years back when the stand-up comic and writer, Julia Sweeney wrote a fake Christmas letter.  And yet, while I cried with laughter at the absurdity of the fake family story unfolding, as Julia read the “letter” aloud, I was struck somewhere deep by how much more real it sounded than most of the annual Christmas letters I receive or the annual Christmas letter that I write.

So, although, I will still write a tally of my family's here and there of the year and send it out to the usual list, I have also written a second letter, with perhaps a bit more baring of softness, a bit more soul, and a little less story....though I could still pull out those photos of our family vacation... 

Dear Friends and Family,
I could say that I hope you’re all well and I do, but what does that mean.  We all define wellness so differently.  As for me, I’m still catching my breath.  It’s been a year.  I’ve been up and down so many times I’ve lost track now of which is which.
Amidst moments of fury, I found a current of strength that I never knew existed.  I am myself and enough, just as I am.  What a thing to know fully and viscerally!  So where is the good or bad?   
Amidst moments of angst, I found the love of true friends.  The greatest gift is human connection without platitudes or posturing, a quiet understanding of the fallibility of people and a constant running current of support. 
It is in the raw, unguarded moments that bonds are forged.  By acknowledging my own mistakes and unawareness, my heart has been stretched in a way that makes so much more room for compassion.  We each have our own sharp points and rough spots.  In honest recognition of our own pains and strengths, there is no room left to judge where others sit.  We sit where we are.

So, do I wish you a happy new year then?  Perhaps.  It’s hard to say what “happy” is.  Maybe the best thing to say is that, in the coming new year, I wish you strength and the love of good friends, while in the eye of the storm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

India Bound

It's been radio silence on the blog for a bit...  I've been writing quite a lot actually, just not here, and not about yoga.  Although really, it's all about yoga as I can no longer separate "the yoga" from "the anything else". really it's just that the writing has stayed in the notebook, perhaps percolating for later public consumption.

Amidst the writing and the working has been some future schedule navigation.  I'm in a perpetual process of evolving my time to be spent in increasing bouts on things that I find nourishing and in decreasing blocks on things that I don't.

In that vein, I'm headed to Mysore this spring.  I have confirmation from the shala, plane ticket purchased, visa in hand, and have booked a place to stay.  First practice, barring any flight delays, is Feb. 11.  I'm there through March 10.  If our Mysore travels will overlap at some point, please get in touch.

The trip has been several years in the making and the fact that the planning has finally gotten this far, still seems unreal.  I've been doing this practice for awhile now, nearly 12 years.  Although I feel a certain amount of trepidation, knowing that discomfort is always a part of anything meaningful, I still feel there is nothing more exciting than the thought of spending a month having my practice shaken down to the fundamentals, so that I might find out what I'm really standing on.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Digging and Sifting

My internal calendar runs on the academic year.  I was born and grew up in a "college town" to a high school teacher and a college professor-turned administrator.  As far as I'm concerned, the year begins in late August and ends in early May.  June and July don't really belong to the year.  They are part of the fluid time, where schedules are altered and adjustments made for summer...never mind that in the current college town that I call home, summer temperatures begin in March...  If the year were a breath, June and July would the retention, the pause.

I'm gratefully soaking up the city-wide energy that comes with the students as they return for a new year.  I'm ready for a new year and for the boost in energy.

The past year has been one with which I'm sure I will continue to mark time.  There are many years that bleed together.  You can think of an event that occurred and think, "now what year was that...what that 3 years ago or 4?".  And the answer doesn't really matter as the years themselves passed without ever being defined.  They were.  They happened.  They've passed.  There are other years that serve to mark time in some way.  There are the years I graduated from high school, or college, or grad school and the year I got married.  I'm certain this past year will have etched it's mark, when I have finally been able to move past it.

Much of this past year has been a process of trying to parse out sensation from feeling.  Where does actual sensation end and where does feeling complete with story begin?  Sensation can pass through, if I manage not to grab on, morph it into feeling, and tell myself a story about it.

I've spent the spring and the fluid time sifting sensation from feeling.  They sift like soil samples through a stack of sieves.  The actual, unadulterated sensations sift to the very bottom, through the smallest holes.  They are not identifiable or nameable as anything in particular.  They're left like fine dust at the bottom and can be tossed up into the air where they get caught on currents and possibly dissolve completely.  The feelings with their stories get stuck on the top sieve.  Like roots and rocks, they seem solid.  They seem to have meaning, names.

The lesson from the spring and from the fluid time?  Feelings are unreliable as measures of the truth.  Stories are unreliable.  The mind is a changeling and likes constant entertainment.  It can create complexity, and prana draining drama out of dust, sensation.

I have been steadily digging a deeper and deeper hole, sifting as I go.  The lesson from the spring and from the fluid time?  A hole is not enough.  I'm digging a well.

"The entire world is fabrication of thought. Play of mind is only created by thought. By transcending the mind which is composed of constructed thought, definitely peace will be attained, O Rama!
-Hatha Yoga Pradipika 4:58

Monday, July 9, 2012

Tantrums and Refueling

I love that Jill Manning refers to her time practicing with her teachers as "refueling".  My time is teacher arrives in just a few more weeks.
This has been a longish span of time (6 months or so this time) to be on my own for practice.  There is the occasional morning where I'm approaching a tantrum *I-want-my-teacher-now!*

Lone practicing has gotten easier with time and I have found a lot of sweetness in the quiet, early mornings, but it is definitely time for a refueling!

In the meantime, a summer reading of the Hatha Yoga Pradipika for some 1% theory.
Conversation is in "notes" on this page.

Some of my favorite bits from the Asana chapter:
I like the image described in the commentary of asana moving prana to avoid stagnation. As someone who has been working at wetland sites in Florida over the past few years, stagnant water is something very familiar:

When you practice asana, steadiness develops. Prana moves freely, and there is less chance of disease occurring. Just as stagnant water is the breeding ground for all sorts of creatures, when prana stagnates anywhere in the body, conditions are perfect for bacteria to flourish; prana should move like swift flowing water.”

I especially liked this from the commentary for the translation that I'm reading:

"Mind is not static; it is a vibrating mass of conscious energy and is moulded into whatever shape you give it. When a person lives for material pleasure, the mind becomes absorbed in the material reality. If it is absorbed in negative and debauched things, then it becomes that way. If it is absorbed in the subtler experiences then it can come closer to the atma. This is a process which involves the total restructuring of the entire organism right down to the minutest cell.”

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Hatha Yoga Pradipika: How to Practice

Week 2 summary and thoughts for the Hatha Yoga Pradipika reading are up on the facebook page for anyone who wants to read along or comment.

Here are some of my favorite bits from the commentary in this section (Chapter 1 vs 1-16iii):

Believing in one system, following it for a while and then leaving it for another, leads nowhere.”

Environment plays a major role in influencing the results of sadhana.” “Essentially, Swatmarama is saying that the hermitage should be simple, clean, practical and very natural.” “Let us say that for the average person it is enough to have a room set aside and to devote thirty minutes to sadhana every day.

Keep the yamas and niyamas in mind and let them develop naturally.

Good stuff!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hatha Yoga Pradipika: 'Swamiji on Hatha Yoga'

So, I was thinking on a new yoga-related reading project and settled on the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.  I had a copy.  I hadn't read it.  ...and I was curious about it.

I wanted to dig a little deeper into the reading though than a quick perusal-and-throw-it-back-on-the-shelf.  So, remembering how much fun it was reading Chogam Trungpa with Owl's group, a couple summers back, I threw out the offer for others to read this with me.  I'm extending the invitation to anyone who reads here to join in reading and/or commenting over the summer

The conversation is being held on the Ashtanga-Yoga-Gainesville facebook page.  You can find a reading/discussion schedule there.

Here's an excerpt of my thoughts on the introduction to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

"Swamiji who is responsible for the introduction defines Hatha Yoga as “a preparation for higher states of consciousness”.  He refers to the yogi/sage Matsyendranath who noted that “true meditation” needed preparation and a foundation.  Swamiji seems to be suggesting that the preparation and foundation for meditation can be established through the hatha yoga practices.

It’s interesting to me that “pradipika” means “self-illuminating”.  The title can be translated as “Light on Hatha Yoga”, but I think it also suggests a broader meaning, that the hatha yoga practices themselves are self-illuminating.  As Ashtangis, I think we’ve heard this before.  “Practice and all is coming.”…as in: do the practice and the practice itself will begin to help us distinguish illusion from reality.

Swamiji seems firm on a couple points:
1) Most of us cannot begin to control the mind with the mind

2) Most of us could not handle it if we were able to control the mind immediately when we begin practice.  The body at the gross level and energy at the more subtle levels aren’t able to manage that kind of control—we wouldn’t know what to do with it if it happened.

3) Points one and two are why we begin practice with the body."

Friday, June 1, 2012

Breathe and Move with Attention

Tonight was my last dance class for the season.  Just about every Friday evening, you can find me taking modern dance classes at the studio that feeds our local dance company.  We have the summers off, so no more dance until September.

My teaching bio on my web page says this: "The joy of movement without performance and of meditation in motion keeps her practicing"...and it is very much the truth.

I am not a very coordinated dancer.  I often end on the wrong foot and I'm slow at committing the movement to memory.  The incredible feeling of movement in the body makes up for all of that.

It feels wonderful to move to body, to feel the release of deep stretch, and to feel to steadiness of strength.

Sometimes we make practice too complicated, ask too much from it, and expect too much from it.

Most of us were born with full capabilities to breathe and move.  As children, there was no other way to breathe and move than with full attention to the moment.

On a clear day, practice is just a returning to simplicity.  Breathe and move with attention.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Resistance is Useless!

"Resistance is useless!"
-The Vogons

Wrapping up a series of thoughts on why I practice and on the gratitude I feel for all that surrounds the practice...

Similes and metaphors abound as we try to describe how and why the practice works. My current experience in practice is shining some light on my physical body as a manifestation of all that takes place in the mental and emotional body.

With each day that we wake up and live our lives, we create patterns, habits, and tendencies. They show up physically even when we are unaware of them or choose to be unaware of them.

Sharath has been quoted quite a bit recently about the importance of starting a yoga practice with asana....and just maybe I am finally starting to understand viscerally what that is all about.

Practice, done with raw honesty, makes us aware.

And then: we have a choice. Change the patterns, habits and the tendencies or face the very physical consequences.

Although practice does have a way of bringing things out and up at a rate that we are capable of working with them, it is still often deeply uncomfortable. I'm finding that a mental and emotional tug-of-war is being reflected physically, as if practice itself is echoing Tim Miller, "Avoidance is not the answer."

I can twist the emotional and mental thoughts that arise to mean anything I'd like. I can create stories that allow complete avoidance of all that arises mentally.

But physically, I can't get away.

That the yoga practice starts with the physical to address everything else is genius. It makes perfect sense.

And for that, I am painfully grateful.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012


Grateful today for....amplification!

Lately, I'm finding that practice digs out whatever the state of my mind is and amplifies it. It's as if the practice is making absolutely sure that current actual state of mind and nervous system are blasted from the body's speakers louder than the stories I tell myself. If I'm irritated, it's reflected back at me 10-fold. If I'm energized, frustrated, excited or depressed, it all comes back at me.

This sort of "in your face" presentation of the state of my mind and nervous system is not always welcome in the moment...I'm still working on that. But really, when I'm having a moment of raw honesty, I'd rather know.

If I can see it, hear it, and taste it, then I can get to know it.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Whew! Where did a week go???

For the past few weeks, I've been focusing on all that I am grateful for within and surrounding the Ashtanga practice. It's interesting to me that I'm in the midst of a longish stretch of both physical and mental discomfort in practice and yet I'm at the same time more grateful than ever that it is there.

During the actual asana practice I feel like I'm alternating between a piece of stiff taffy being stretched from both ends that just won't give and a porcupine with all quills out and on guard. Right about the time for an attempt at kapotasana, I feel like I'm choking. From the outside, it sounds like the breath is light and even. From the inside, it feels like I've swallowed an apple whole and it's stuck.

...and yet I wouldn't trade any of that for anything. Amidst all the tugging and self-resistance is emerging a clearer picture of what exists below the surface. I can choose to leave all the "stuff" there, hidden underwater. I can stuff in down farther, gloss it over, or paint it a different color, but it is still there. Likewise, I can find some activity to dull the discomfort of what is (food, drink or internet anyone?!), but that doesn't change it.

Tim Feldman had a great article on Elephant Journal recently that very articulately discussed the perception that a yoga practice should somehow always leave you "happy".

Tim has this to say: "Yoga aims at bringing light towards what really is and to find the courage to see clearly and the peace to accept whatever arises without the necessity to remove or change it. If grief is there, if anger is there or if pride is there, our yoga practice is sure to slowly strip away the layers of subconscious veils in a timely fashion, appropriate to what we can handle. Methodically, like a surgeon’s scalpel we uncover years of psychological armor, escapism and denial and by doing so we slowly reclaim a life beyond it all.

 Even though we rarely like to admit it, we are all the kind of person who runs away from our fears, denies our anger and blocks out our selfishness only to justify the whole story to your own advantage."

Mental and physical ease in asana practice come and go. They change with the seasons and they change as life changes.

I might add to what Tim explored in his article. For sure the comings and goings of discomfort as layers are peeled back is a normal part of an honest may also be one of the only places I will not be judged for it. There is little space among work, home, and other life interactions for staying with the "unpleasant" emotions. We are encouraged to change them, fix them as they make everyone else uncomfortable too...

For brief moments in practice lately, I've a had a pause where I remembered at that moment, I didn't need to fix anything, I could just be there. That time was dedicated to just being there. It was in those moments where the pressure to "fix it" lifted, that there was quiet and ease. For that and for all that practice brings up, I am grateful.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


Ok, show of hands, anyone else sleep-walking through practice this week?

Stating that I am not a fan of the spring time change would definitely be an understatement. I find it downright painful every year and it takes me about 4 weeks to fully adjust...ick.

All the same though, I still love early morning practice. The bonus for starting a bleary, post-time change, early-morning practice, is that I'm too sleepy to think. Instant mental quiet!

One of things I'm most grateful for once I shake off the sleepiness and get started, is the solitude. No one wants anything from me at 5am. :-)

Sunday, March 11, 2012


We never really know what effects the small, and not so small, actions that we take will have.

More than 10 years ago now, I was taking "vinyasa flow" classes at the local yoga studio when one teacher started teaching a once-a-week traditional led Ashtanga primary series class.

I tried the class. It kicked my butt. My life changed forever.

It sounds so melodramatic when we say "this practice changed my life", but anyone of us with a consistent practice knows that it has and did. This practice has a way of reordering our lives and generally for the better. One of my friends recently said "I know this practice will carry me through anything". Yes, it has, and it will.

Fast forward from 10 years back to present time. I moved away from the town where I was first introduced to the Ashtanga practice. I met my teachers. I moved back to the town where I first met my practice. I left the town where my teachers lived. I wanted to explore sharing the practice. I started to teach Mysore classes. here I was back in the town where I was first introduced to this amazing practice and serendipitously, I found the person who first introduced me to this practice, still teaching.

...and from his example I met a true expression of generosity.

He welcomed me into his classes and graciously supported me teaching in this same town as well. I have always felt comfortable enough in his classes to do an honest practice. I have had the wonderful benefits of being absorbed into the Ashtanga community that he is responsible for starting.

This Ashtanga path has kept me energized and honest through many ups and downs. The person responsible for getting me started on this path is taking a break from teaching, after 15 years, so I wanted to write a post to send some waves of gratitude out there for him and for all the teachers that quietly do their thing. They may not make the magazine covers, but they show up, they teach their classes, and they change lives.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Not Thinking

Ahhhh....a nice, quiet, meditative practice. I am so grateful for the mental quiet.

The time I set aside on the mat for "not thinking" is a relief, especially in the times when drama is swirling around. During that time on the mat, I'm not responsible for thinking up great ideas and I'm not responsible for solving complicated problems. My only "job" is to follow the breath. Amongst the busy life-stuff, it's a relief to know that once I step onto the mat, for the next hour or two, all I have to do is breathe.

Nancy Gilgoff said something at the Confluence that stuck with me. She said: (paraphrasing here) when you notice yourself thinking, pick up the pace of the breath until it's occupying your attention again and your mind has stopped getting in the way.

I'm having fun exploring this; I'm playing with mind and breath.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Back from the Confluence

I'm back from the Confluence. I'm happy to say that I got what I went there for.

Last fall at registration time I posted about my reasons for going to the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence.

I said this: "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.

It is that lightness and ease in life that captured my attention over the 4 days. The Confluence came at a good time for me personally. Personal drama ratcheted up in the days before getting on the plane to San Diego, so that I was mentally screaming when it was finally time to pack the bags.

I left with two questions:
1) How do I do this with some semblance of equanimity?....practice, teach, work, maintain my relationships...
2) Is it worth the work to try?

I came back with some answers:
1) Sometimes you don't do this with any kind of equanimity. Somewhat like asana practice, life practice is often a teeter totter between effort and ease, which refuses to balance steadily on a point. You keep trying, note that you feel like nothing is changing, and are astonished when it does.
2) Yes, yes, and again yes.

I'm grateful to the those who had the idea to try to pull this event together. I'm grateful to the teachers for sharing their talents in the Mysore room, but really more importantly for sharing some of their lives with us. I'm grateful to all of those who have dedicated their lives to sharing this practice. It is this practice that is able to push me towards the most honest expression of my life and for that I am grateful as well.

Friday, March 2, 2012


...I'm spending a few days here: Ashtanga Yoga Confluence

The larger Ashtanga family has gathered here for a few days and I'm delighted to be a part of it.

Tim Miller says it this way: "Most of these folks I have met at some point, either through their attendance at a workshop I taught in their area or their participation in a teacher -training course or retreat. It feels a bit like a family reunion—nieces and nephews and cousins all coming together for a big celebration. My fellow teachers at the Confluence are like brothers and sisters that I rarely get a chance to spend time with."

Indeed it is a family and I am grateful that this practice is one that inspires and supports community. I am traveling with my husband who is braving all the yoga chit chat to join me on this trip as well as several friends/students who are also part of my family as I see it.

I'm feeling surrounded by love and am grateful for all who are a part of this family.

"There’s a gathering of spirits
There’s a festival of friends
And we’ll take up where we left off
When we all meet again"
-Carrie Newcomer

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Making Space with Breath

Sunday and Monday slipped by with no post. Suddenly, I've arrived at Tuesday already.

I am grateful that the practice that I do is a breathing practice. I am tired on top of tired today. I managed daily minimum practice: 5A, 5B, lotus...

Everything is tight, body is tight, mind is certainly tight. I suspect mind is actually driving the body at the moment. There is more ease at the times when it happens the other way around.

Despite me, the breath manages to slip in, make just the smallest of spaces between tightly coiled thoughts, and soften the edges.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Practice as Shovel

Today's gratitude goes out to the digging that the practice does. This weekend is the big weekend for beginning my spring/summer garden, which means I'm spending a good bit of time with my shovel in hand.

...which gets me thinking about practice as a shovel. It's a great tool for digging deep and bringing things to the surface that you had no idea were buried.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Paying Attention

Today, I'm recognizing gratitude for the method of practice.

Pay attention to breath, pose, and driste.

Get distracted.

Become aware of distraction.

Bring attention back to breath, pose, and driste.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Opening up the Telescope

"What a curious feeling!" said Alice. "I must be shutting up like a telescope!"
-Lewis Carroll from 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'

Today's Ode to Practice: stretching. Yes, just the plain old stretching part of yoga. Ask someone who has never done yoga and has no interest in it, what yoga is about and they often answer something like, "Yoga? That's like stretching, right?"

Well, no, not really, but stretching certainly happens during the process of exploring an asana practice.

Right now, I feel like Alice in her telescope analogy. My body shut up completely during "crisis mode" and now that it feels like we're tidying up the mess, I'm looking to figure out how to open up the telescope once again.

Owl once suggested that maybe all the fiddling and fussing on the surface of our practice that we do in the early years of exploring it, protects us from the depth we're not yet ready for. I'm wondering if my intervening tightness is not similar in a way. Possibly the body is wiser than I give it credit for. I can only process so much at one time. Perhaps I store the rest in the body for later assimilation.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Setting Boundaries

Today the aspect of practice that I'm grateful for is the framework set by the practice, the boundaries. Note, I did not say I like them, just that I am grateful for them.

I know that one of the reasons for the depth of understanding that I've gained from this practice is that I made an agreement to work within the boundaries of the practice. The depth comes from the the compromises I make when I bump up against the edges of the framework. It's uncomfortable and I sometimes don't like it, but I am grateful for it.

I think it's important that I've made that choice voluntarily. No one makes me do the poses in order. There are no yoga police to make trouble if I only do the ones I like. If I did whatever I wanted, I would inevitably do what is comfortable, what feels good, and what I'm "good" at. I would not be challenged and I wouldn't grow.

I'm aware now that so much more is possible than I ever imagined....but those possibilities are only there because I submitted to the practice, boundaries included.

Part of that process of submission for me has been learning to set the boundaries intelligently, feeling out where not to be so rigid and where to keep on doing the bits that are uncomfortable, when I'd rather not. This is a process for a lifetime and I expect it to keep evolving as long as I keep practicing.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Today's 'Ode to Practice' is adaptability. This practice can be whatever I need it to be: hard, easy, strong, restorative, dynamic, or quiet.

This morning I woke up with a sore throat. Yippee, apparently the stress and lack of sleep have caught up with me and now I'm sick...arg. Unless, I actually have a fever, I still do some practice even when I don't feel great. "Some practice" doesn't mean every last pose that I'm working on though.

One of the most challenging, but important things that I learned in the first few years of my practice was how to do less. I'm still learning and exploring the ways that practice can be adapted to support whatever is going on with me now.

Today, practice was sun salutations, fundamental standing, modified closing and rest. It was short, quiet and low-energy, but still helped ease the transition from sleep to "semi"-awake.

Monday, February 20, 2012


Today's 'Ode to Practice' is rest. My brain is currently full of thoughts. They're not just any thoughts, but loud pushy thoughts that keep shoving the other thoughts around and competing to see who can shout the loudest.

It might make sense then that sleep with all this mental noise is difficult. Efforts to sleep on Saturday night earned me about 3 hours of actual sleep and about 6 hours of restless tossing and thinking.

Sunday night is the last day of my practice week; my practice week is shifted over a bit from the norm. Monday is the day I take as a rest day at the moment. Sunday night, I usually join students and friends to practice with the other Ashtanga teacher in town. Sunday night is primary night.

It seems that a soothing quiet primary was needed. There are, I think, good reasons that everyone finishes their practice week with primary no matter how many sequences they practice during the rest of the week. One of those reasons is a need for rest.
Soothed nervous system=soothed body=soothed brain=finally getting a solid nights sleep.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Yoga as Life-Raft

Every now and then, what I think I know isn't. Everything is turned on it's head.

"Well!" thought Alice to herself. After such a fall as this, I shall think nothing of tumbling down-stairs!"
'Down the Rabbit Hole'--Lewis Carroll

This is 'Yoga as Life Raft' time.

So as an Ode to Practice, for the next 45 days, I'll post one of the things that I love so much about the Ashtanga vinyasa practice. These are all the reasons it sustains me when I have the feeling that the ground has given way beneath me.

Tonight's Ode to Practice: The primary series feels like a security blanket. One of the greatest gifts that the primary series has given back after all the time I've put into it, is a sense of comfort. For nearly an hour and a half I get to fold forward or curl into a little ball. My nervous system is soothed.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cultivating Attention

A few mornings ago in practice, I noticed something that made me laugh.

I was in headstand, finishing up practice, and startled myself into laughter with the realization that I had been completely lost in a daydream. It was funny to me how far I had come only to arrive back in the same place.

Early on, when a pose is new, it usually requires my full attention. In the case of headstand, it was downright scary! I was very bendy and found it difficult to glue everything together in a way that would keep me stable. Each practice at about shoulderstand, I would remember that headstand was next. The butterflies would start. I'd steel my nerves and set it up. Toppling over felt like a very real possibility, although I rarely actually went over.

Fast forward a few years....

I had a moment a few years ago where I realized that headstand had become "just a pose". There were no more pre-pose-butterflies. In fact, I didn't really think about it at all....just moved into the pose on the count and then back out again when it was time.

That headstand has now evolved into a place where I can become completely lost in a day dream, shows me how far I have come physically...and reminds me why practice is not about the poses. Maintaining awareness and attention has to be a choice. Therein lies the practice....because apparently with enough time and practice, I can be unaware just about anywhere.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Tool of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga

...just coming off a string of weeks of low energy, anxiety, and irritability. I've kept quiet on the blog in an effort not to dump much of that here.

The odd and sudden drop in energy and surge of irritability was accompanied by tightness surrounding my right hip...think of the feeling of having the right hip wrapped in immobile steel bands...ick!

This strange tightness has come and gone a couple times a year or so for at least the last 5 years of my practice. I don't know where it comes from and I don't know where it goes. It pops up suddenly, with no warning that I'm aware of and it goes just as suddenly.

This morning it was gone. Practice this morning was smooth, light, and full of energy...ahhh. :)

...which brings me around to something that has been tossing around in my head for a bit. What is the Ashtanga practice for then? Why do it when it feels uncomfortable?

My personal answer to this question has evolved over the life of my practice and I expect it will continue to do so as more years of practice go by.

There are any number of cliches, rumors, and labels put on both the Ashtanga practice and on the practitioners. I've heard that Ashtanga is too "hard" (both as in challenging and as in opposite of soft). I've heard that Ashtangi's are too "type A". I've heard that Ashtanga is "about the poses".

It's interesting to me that I've heard all of these things from people who do not have a consistent, long-term Ashtanga practice. what does my Ashtanga practice do then?

It is slowly teaching me how to breathe in any situation. It is a tool to get into the mind and slow down time long enough to take a conscious breath. Hopefully, in that breath, I see the situation a little more clearly and react out of a more open, steadier place.

I suppose from the outside, it might be hard for those looking in on a Mysore room to see that. It is easy to get distracted by the movement on the outside and miss where that precision, control, ease, and effortlessness come from.

The longer I do the practice, the more aware I am of how versatile a tool the Ashtanga vinyasa practice is. The practice itself does not have the qualities of "hard" or "soft" or "type A". The practice itself is a tool; it is neutral. How I use the practice generates the particular qualities. Anyone who has maintained an Ashtanga practice for a number of years knows that the quality of your practice changes daily. The longer I do this practice, the more I learn about how to use this tool for what I need it for at any particular time. It's a tool that helps me meet myself, both the light and dark aspects whatever that is at any particular moment....and when that meeting happens the practice enables me to keep breathing.

It's interesting to me that I often run into people who have never done yoga who have the idea that a class or two of yoga will make them always "calm".

I'm not sure exactly when this continuous "calm" happens, but I suspect it comes at some point AFTER you've done the work of meeting every last aspect of yourself.

When I've seen all there is to see of myself and am no longer afraid of it, appalled by it, and can still breath with it, perhaps at that point there is true calm. In the meantime, I'll continue to be grateful to have found this practice where I'm learning to how keep breathing no matter what happens. In that breathing practice, opening, steadiness and calm begin.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Breath and Opening

I'm spending a few days pulling in as opposed to reflecting out. I'm in Miami practicing with my teacher....5 whole days to be a student. :)

Practicing here is not like practicing anywhere else. The space where my teacher has morning Mysore class holds 5 students at a maximum. The space is small, intimate, and there is nowhere to hide. You could imagine that the adjustments and attention from an experienced teacher in that small group could spoil a person!

The best part for me personally about that space is the constant sound of David breathing. Even when he is on the "far" side of the room, I can still hear the sound of full, even breathing. As my attention sinks deeper inward, it starts to feel almost as if the room itself is breathing...inhale, expand, exhale, contract.

The Ashtanga Vinyasa practice really is a "breathing practice". With each trip I make here, I find the breath leading me into a steadier, lighter practice.

On this trip in particular, I started the 5 days of practice with some stress in my mind that had dug itself deeply into my body. In practice the day before I drove down, I had the feeling that I just wasn't getting any breath into those tight areas where I had deposited the stress for dealing with later.

In the first practice here, I felt like I was fighting my own body: trying to send breath into tight areas, realizing that I would have to let those tissues open if I was going to get some breath in there, noting that I felt some resistance to opening up... all that I didn't want to think about right then would open up with the tissues...because of course it would...

Slowly after 4 days of practice with David, things are opening up and sliding back into place. One more day of practice to try to deepen the breath just a little bit more, working to carry that back with me into my solo practice and teaching practice