Tag Archive: Yoga


Recharging

Hand drawing of a rechargeable battery labeled me, a battery charger labeled yoga, and a plug point enabling access to the energy grid

 

My drawing classes are paying off 😛

I think music, a beautiful performance, nature, a good conversation with a friend are other ways to recharge… but what helps you plug into the Grid and recharge?

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Practice and all is coming

 

 

 

There is something magic about a few sun salutations in the morning.
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Note to a younger friend

I have a younger friend who, apparently, is in many ways a younger version of myself. She struggles with stress, impatience, and anger. So I’d like to share here my story just in case it can help.

Dear friend,

I was a very short-tempered and angry teenager and young adult. I would react very quickly and snap mean remarks to the people who were closest to me and I loved most. I felt very sorry, but by the time I realized I was sorry, it had already shot out of my mouth. It all happened so quickly and I just couldn’t control or stop it. I was high-strung, frantic, probably stressed and scared, and not very happy – obviously – nor very pleasant to be around. I found I was putting barriers of irritation and snarkiness between me and the people I loved and needed most.

Then I started practicing yoga in Greenville, SC. It was not just any kind of yoga. In this yoga, deep breathing was the most important element. I learned to slow down and deepen my breath (ujjayi breathing). This type of breathing alone calms the nervous system. Soon after learning it, I found that just the sound of a few breaths while driving to work calmed and soothed me. The yoga classes themselves aligned breathing, movement, and attention. I learned how to observe myself (body, mind, moods) very closely. How to scan my body in each pose and see what I can relax. To relax my face and keep the breathing slow and smooth even when my leg muscles were getting uncomfortable and shaky after holding a pose for a while. This taught me a number of important things:

  1. That I can make myself feel better. I was, and still am, amazed at the powerful mood changing properties of yoga. I would walk into class a stressed, frantic mess, and walk out floating on pink clouds. The difference was so big and sudden I would tell my teachers that “she sold happiness at $10 a shot; and it’s so good it should be illegal :)” I discovered a deep sense of peace and joy – that everything was already OK – that I am not sure I had ever felt in my life. I learned that I could improve my state of mind and soul without the help of friends or that glass of wine.
  2. To observe myself closely, and to pay attention to my body. As I started observing myself more closely, and scanning my body to feel how things were, time slowed down. I noticed that anger and irritation do not happen as quickly as I thought. They usually start with a tickle and a tensing of the area around the stomach or the heart. With a line of electricity that tenses my shoulders and lower back. I felt it coming long before thoughts and words formed in my head. It is a very unpleasant feeling. I had to breathe through it. But it gave me time to make a decision about whether I really wanted to say something, and if so, what – and how. Many times, I decided I would say something anyway – otherwise, I felt I would have a heart attack. Some times, I was able to at least rephrase things so they were not as abrasive. With time, I got better and better at that. With time, the intensity of the original feelings of irritation lessened. I just don’t get quite that angry anymore. Not that often. Not several times a day. 🙂
  3. I learned that I can keep calm, smooth and soft (just like the ujjayi breath) even if my heart is racing, even if things get painful and uncomfortable. I learned to bear through unpleasant sensations and moments without letting them freak me out. In yoga class, yes, my legs hurt, but it was OK. It was safe. My heart raced and I was dripping sweat. Yet my breath and mind were calm and smooth. I learned to carry that over outside the yoga room. I started with physical pain. I would just try to relax my muscles (tensing intensifies pain), not be scared of the pain, not fight it, and just breathe smoothly and deeply (btw – you cannot feel pain on a deep exhale – just try it. I use that trick when I get injections).

Together, all these things changed my life deeply. Yet, I still struggled with occasional sadness and depression. I was OK, but I wasn’t happy enough. And then, a couple of months ago, I started practicing a tiny bit of yoga (15 minutes) every day. It changed my life all over again. It feels like every day I turn on the joy. I am in awe of the deep mood altering effects of just 4 sun salutations. I do not understand what is happening. I just know that by the time I start the second one, my body and mind seem to light up like a string of Christmas lights. I feel awake. And by the time I’m done, there’s a deep calm and joy that lasts through the day. Here is my dear teacher Liz guiding you through 7 minutes of modified (easier) sun salutations:

I also practice a bit of mindfulness meditation. It is great, but honestly, much harder than yoga. Yoga gets me into that meditative state just by moving my body, which is easier for most of us to control than our minds. I explain that in a different post.

I think the most important thing is that I gained that sense of “everything is OK.” I am less scared. Less insecure. I don’t need to control things quite as much (though that is still a work in progress). I don’t have a strong sense that things must be MY way, otherwise my position (at work) or my sense of self or who knows what will suffer. Everything is OK. That feeling of “everything is OK” is inside. All the time. It just takes going through a few motions (in my case, sun salutations) to unlock the door and access it. What a miracle!

So, dear friend, I hope my story helps you. And if I can help you with some customized advice, I’d be happy to. But really, the best advice I can give you is this: go to a class. Community Yoga is wonderful. Start with Tammy or Debra.

With love,

MV

A day without morning yoga

By all “objective” measures I had an easy day today. Yet as I was walking from the parking garage to my office building for the first meeting of the day, I felt a sense of tiredness, discomfort, and sadness that I haven’t felt in a long time (2 months, to be precise). As I was wondering what was going on, I remembered that I had to leave the house in a hurry and I didn’t practice my 15 minutes of yoga this morning.

The day got worse, but in a very familiar way – one that once was my normal. I felt tired and frazzled, very frazzled. The peace and joy that have accompanied my daily life for the past couple of months were nowhere to be found, just faint memories without any truth in the present moment experience. It’s like I forgot to turn them on today.

By the time 5:30 came around I was desperate to make it to yoga class and get into child’s pose for a few minutes. I felt much better after class, like I always do, and sat for meditation as soon as I got home.

Today, I wondered how I even got through life until 2 months ago when I started practicing just a tiny bit of yoga every day. The difference in the tone of my day is huge. I am amazed at what a big difference just 15-20 minutes a day can make. I’m addicted.

Dear darling self, remember that.

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.

“it is not the movement itself, but the quality of attention we bring to the movement that makes postures qualify as yoga”

 

“…hatha yoga: through teaching us to attune in the most visceral way to the spontaneous wisdom of the body, this ancient path takes us all the way to union with the mind of God. … The physical is revealed to be spiritual. The spiritual is revealed to be physical. … Most of us who start out on the yoga mat do not realize that, if we dedicate ourselves to practice, it is only a matter of time until the mat becomes an altar.”

From Stephen Cope, Yoga and the Quest for the True Self

Dare to create (but…)

[cross-posted from my CGT 512 blog] – with some special notes about yoga and innovation here.

One of the things I love most about Purdue (and makes me feel at home here) is that I get to work with so many people from all around the world. I can’t help but notice the legacies of various educational systems leave on students. These are just my observations, and I’m most probably over-generalizing here, but here I go:

We often hear complaints about the American education system: kids don’t learn the fundamentals; they can’t spell; critical thinking suffers. People coming from educational systems such as China, India, and (I’d say) Romania do learn the fundamentals. They can understand and synthesize ideas. Their work endurance is much higher. They simply put in more hours without expecting to have as much fun.

And then I saw in the news this story about a 17-year old girl who built a neural network that diagnoses breast cancer that’s 99.1% sensitive to malignant cells, in her trials.

And then I stumbled upon this company that makes plush toys from your dog’s photos in order to generate funds for animal shelters. It began with a little girl’s idea and her insistence, and, of course, parents who went along with it. 

My observation is that people like me, who come from the Romanian, Indian, Chinese educational systems (they must have some things in common) are really good at learning, understanding, explaining information. But we are afraid to create. I know in Romania at least, we are told that we first have to master all that came before us before we can start creating. It is a daunting task, and by the time we’re done, it’s often too late. We have this reverence for the “great thinkers”… I remember how shocked I was when I first started grad school in the U.S. that you could argue with Aristotle. “What do you mean, question Aristotle? He is ARISTOTLE!” I am still amused, outraged, and in awe of American irreverence and the freedom people take (even people who don’t understand Aristotle well) to just argue – to improve, to innovate, upon Aristotle’s ideas (and by “Aristotle,” of course, I mean any big name).

Creativity and innovation cannot be attributed solely to the educational system. Culture and economy inform entrepreneurial spirit. And yet, the question has been bugging me, What kind of educational system does it take to foster creativity and innovation? What are some practices that we should include in the way we teach and learn, that will encourage and foster creative, innovative thinking?

I leave you with a TED talk by IDEO’s David Kelley on building creative confidence. It doesn’t answer my question, though, so please let me know. What have been your experiences in school that you feel have helped foster your creative, innovative thinking?

As much as I love innovation in technology and as smitten as I am with new and shiny things, I am very conservative, though, with innovation in yoga. I don’t think it’s necessary. I think it can even be dangerous. I think there is value in preserving a tradition that has been developed over years of very deep practice. Unless you have practiced enough yoga to be able to feel and control prana and know how it is affected by asana, I don’t think you are in a position to innovate. You may, but you don’t really know what you’re messing with and what the consequences may be. I am appalled and scared by this trend that every yoga teacher create their “brand” of yoga. It must be a result of making yoga a product that is marketed and needs to be differentiated from other products, I guess. I understand that every teacher sees something that others do not, from their own personal angle, colored by their own personal experience. I understand teaching from their own perspective, teaching what it’s like from them. After all, every teacher shares her/his own energy. That’s different and unique enough for me.

 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.