Category: Yoga practice


Practice and all is coming

 

 

 

There is something magic about a few sun salutations in the morning.
1240423_10151515047272242_1918442434_n

Advertisements

Meditation stats

I think when the average reaches 10 min something magical will happen – LOL!

20130817-132633.jpg

Triangle experience

I am reading and delighting in Stephen Cope’s book The Wisdom of Yoga: A Seeker’s Guide to Extraordinary Living – a very warm, personal and et scholarly take on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

There’s lots (too much) to reflect on and write about this book, but here is a passage I want to share. It is a person’s experience in triangle pose (incidentally, one of my favorite poses):

… When I moved down into Triangle Pose, I slowly turned my head upward to gaze along my outstretched, reaching left arm. Energy kicked in again, and I felt my body light up like one of those energy charts on the wall at my acupuncturist. I felt all the lines of energy from my left foot up through my spine, and then through the crown of my head, from my sternum up through my left arm and simultaneously down through my right arm which reached toward the ground.

It was the reaching that did it, I think. Reaching up out of the center. Up toward heaven, down toward earth. With my heart and sternum open. And feeling my legs and abdomen so strong. I dropped my left shoulder slightly back, and this opened my sternum and heart even more.

In a flash, I felt energy stream through my arms and legs, pumping blood and heat. The hard shell of my body melted into liquid light, and there was no more posture. Only energy and light and heat and pulsing and oxygen. No me. No effort. No form. Just life. There was no more reaching now – or at least I was not the one doing it. Only a kind of effortless streaming. …

One of the reasons I love triangle pose is because of the deep stretch in my back. But the more important reason, I think, is because of the way it makes me feel. I love the feeling of grounding and rooting safely through the legs while flying my arm upward and opening my heart to the experience. I love the expansiveness of this pose – it helps me grow in all directions, while keeping a safe, strong, and grounded center. I have very rarely had the experience of feeling the energy signature of a pose. It requires being very still and present, and all of a sudden, there is more to a pose than muscle and effort – there is a signature emotional state and a precise meaning that eludes my words, however.

I am not saying that we should practice asana looking for and hoping for these extraordinary experiences. I am  just saying that we should be open to the possibility that they might happen. And that the stretch of a limb might be much more than that – it might be moving energy in that direction.

Have you had any experience of energy while practicing asana? Please share!

Resources:

Triangle pose description and instructions from Greenville Yoga and from Yoga Journal (the latter with video).

Liz in Revolved Side Angle pose

Liz in Revolved Side Angle pose

I really liked the way Stephen Cope explained the difference between yoga asana and meditation. If the goal is to settle the mind (more about the theory related to that in a later post) – yoga asana does that bottom-up while meditation does it top-down.

Meditation involves a concentrated effort to bring the mind back to a focus object (e.g. breath), whereas yoga, by facilitating the alignment of movement, breath, and attention, achieves that mind settling more effortlessly (even if with more sweat!).

That explains why I fell in love with yoga asana – and why I think I prefer it over meditation, even though I really hate to sweat.

My practice at Greenville Yoga lead me through beautiful states of mind and emotion that were achieved without me really trying to alter my emotional state. They were an unexpected side-effect of asana practice. They were powerful experiences of mood altering, that happened without much outside intervention (such as alcohol, or a conversation with a good friend). It was the first time ever for me that I discovered that I can do something relatively simple (move the body with the breath, pay attention to the body as I do so) and make myself feel 1000% better in 1 hour. I discovered self-soothing (better late than never). I used to tell dear Liz that she sells happiness at $10 a pop. That it’s so good it shouldn’t be legal. 🙂 I should not, however, underestimate the importance of the asana teacher. As I found later, even though practice is mine (my body, my breath, my attention), the beautiful, mood altering experience doesn’t happen every time, in every class. Liz has the gift of orchestrating a flow that takes you there, and, in my opinion, offering her energy as a ladder you can climb on to get to the floaty pink clouds easier, faster.

It is said that asana prepares the mind for meditation. It makes a lot more sense to me now, after comparing asana practice with a lot of time (for me) spent cross-legged on a meditation cushion this past weekend. The latter is so much harder. You have to expend much more volitional control, whereas asana kidnaps you and takes you to that beautiful place without you having to try that hard.

There is something about the effort of the body, having to pay attention in order to balance, or to integrate the opposing directions of many yoga postures (the sideways, length, and downward bending of triangle, for example – you can’t hold your body in all these seemingly opposing directions without paying attention. The same with a simple forward fold where your shoulders and upper back are open and not collapsing down. Everything goes down, but shoulders go up, away from the ears.) Asana really kidnaps attention, and a practice of continuous body scanning during asana (paying attention to every finger and toe, scanning the body to relax unnecessary tension, remembering to release the jaw) really helps focus the mind, and integrate it with breath and body movement.

While I want to further develop my meditation practice, it has become clearer to me than ever before how powerful asana is, and that, if I am ever to share any of these practices with other people, I would like to share yoga asana. I think it is an effective entry point in this beautiful realm of alleviating suffering – one that, in spite of its physical nature, is much more accessible to people in Western societies.

Practice, and good things do happen.

Not burning out

Nice reminder that all it takes to regain energy is just regular practice.

 I got this DVD after hearing my teacher rave about Sarah Powers. The DVD is one of a 2-part series (the other one being Heaven). Sarah uses yoga asanas
to guide the flow of energy into the body. Here, energy is conceptualized in the Chinese Yin/Yang system. The Earth DVD includes predominantly standing sequences – lots of warriors, tree, horse (temple), chair poses with barely any counterposes. The poses are supposed to help you draw Earth energy into the belly (a chi energy center). I found that the sequence didn’t progress smoothly – no warm-up, no cool-down. It was not paced like a typical yoga class. I was fairly tired at the end of the day and I did not keep up with all the standing asanas. I did like, though, that all movement was slow and coordinated with the breath.

As I lay in Shavasana at the end, I felt a monstrous stomach ache creeping in. I do get heartburn now and then, so I cannot make casual attributions here, but I’ll just say that, unlike most yoga classes, this one did not make me feel any better afterwards.

One Zantac, two Pepto Bismol, two hours and a ginger tea later, I wonder: Why is it necessary to innovate yoga? Why merge it with the Chinese energy system when yoga is already very tightly associated with another ancient healing system, Ayurveda? How do we know that this innovative energy work we’re doing here is not harmful? How and why did it come about? How do we know what we’re even doing here? It takes tremendous intuition, perception of energy flow and experimentation to figure out what we’re even doing. Honestly, Sarah Powers looks too young to have had the time to do all this in her lifetime (this one, at least).

What if it was not Earth energy that I needed right now – or ever? I have a strong kapha dosha (the Ayurvedic equivalent of Earth) – did I just aggravate it? When I read “balancing” Earth energy I interpreted this in the Ayurvedic sense, which means compensating with the opposite. I am not sure what I just did… Ayurveda teaches how to identify what your system needs at any given time, depending on disposition and season. It then teaches how to balance energies with their opposites. This can be done through a combination of diet, asana, herbs, etc. I think I might have just taken a pill without a prior diagnosis to determine whether I even needed it and now I’m dealing with the side effects.

Most likely, there’s more to insight yoga than I can glean from this DVD, but so far, I think I’ll stick with traditional yoga and Ayurveda before buying into innovative hybrid styles.

 

Hello, there. Namaste.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks, with more work crises and dramas than necessary. The kind that make people upset and stay up at night. Important deadlines, too. It’s not quite over, but today I took some more time than usual to sit with things and process them.

Lovely energy dance to this sequence from Yoga Journal, followed by sitting meditation, which gave me the chance to realize what I’ve learned in this couple of difficult weeks:

The importance of pausing. I was writing a lot, under deadline. By a lot, I mean 8-10 hours a day. I used a computer timer that remided me to take a 5 minute break every 60 minutes. I used some of these breaks for meditation. At the end of the day, I was not exhausted. The breaks helped my ideas re-focus and flow. Pacing myself this way enabled me to work longer, while feeling less tired, and overall, producing better quality work. The last day, with the finish line in sight, I didn’t have patience to take breaks. I pushed right through it. I shouldn’t have. I felt, tired, frazzled, and drained of ideas. I could not maintain focus for as many hours as the previous day. I also started most days with a brief sitting, and ended them with a 21-minute meditation. The morning sitting helped me focus my ideas and energy for the day. It got me ready. The evening one, helped my mind process and organize the day and wind down for sleep.

The importance of sitting. I happened upon this blog post. I tell myself all of these, too. That I try to practice permanently, be mindful all the time. Well, good. It does not substitute sitting. It’s not as powerful as pausing and sitting. Continuous mindfulness helps with actions and reactions in daily life, but it does not provide enough space to process. Sitting is important. And by sitting, I mean actually sitting. I was too tired to sit, and my back hurts when I sit in meditation. So I tried it lying down, especially in the evening. It is much harder to focus the mind and to remember to bring it back to the breath when lying down. They knew something, didn’t they.

The gift of finding acceptance and compassion in a crisis. There’s this person who’s very angry with me right now. So angry, she cannot stand to be in the same room with me. We disagree on some work issues. I am upset, too. I disagree with her judgment and her actions in the past week. But while sitting today, I saw this thought: “I disagree with you, but I have love and compassion for you because I know you are acting out of love and care for someone else.”

That you can hurt someone by caring about them too much. The theme of caring about vs. taking care of has been on my mind for a while now. I know I need to balance those out better. And here it comes again, from another angle, in another context. I am witnessing a situation where caring so much about someone that you become blind can hurt the very person you care about. I care deeply about my students. I think the trust they put in me to let me mess with their minds is a holy gift. I take it seriously. I see them (or I try to see them) for the people, the souls, the minds that they are. But all this happens within the constraints of a system that requires evaluation, grades, standards, and rules. I can see how when you care about a student so much you want to break the rules for them.

Breathe. I’m still learning that. When experiencing discomfort, breathe. That’s what yoga teachers tell you: Sit with it, breathe into it. I can do that in temple pose. But I forgot to do that when a friend hurt me, or a colleague disappointed me. I finally took the time to breathe, while moving in familiar yoga poses, and then I sat with them. 3 minutes each. Some of them, who are more upset with me than others, got 6 minutes. I experienced each one of them as a knot in my heart. So I sat and I breathed into the knot, until, luckily, I saw some clarity, and the knot melted. “I feel love and compassion for you. I know you are a good, even if not perfect, person, and I accept you for who you are.” It applies to all. The friend who hurt me, the colleague who disappointed, and, yes, to myself.

There are many good things that happened in the past two weeks, and I am grateful for them. Work successes, new students, babies being born in the family, new friends. The next big lesson will be to learn to give the good news just as much attention, energy and time as the bad ones.

What have you learned lately?

Namaste,
Mickey

Seen on Twitter

Through the wonderful serendipity of Twitter, I came across someone’s description of yoga:

… body moving silently around the breath …

Off the bandwagon

I’ve fallen off the bandwagon. I haven’t practiced yoga in… 2 weeks? Three? Not complaining, the last time I practiced was at one of my most favorite places in the whole world, Greenville Yoga @ North Main.

But it’s been a couple of those weeks when I could not spare that hour, I’ve had so much to do. Plus some weird sinus stuff that makes me dizzy, gives me headaches, and makes my eyelid swell.

No worries, I’ll be back… But for now, I have a question: What do you do when you feel “iffy” – sort of sick, but not very sick? You still function, but you can feel something’s off… Do you practice? What is your practice like during those times? Or do you give in to the call of the couch and warm blankie?

Pooky as a kitten in his cozy blankie