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.

...so 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.