Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

Discussion of physical aspects of yoga (on and off the mat)

A Happy Life is an Engaged Life (and Sadhana)

I have spent most of my life practicing one thing or the other.  What attracts me about practicing in the sense of complete absorption that it brings.   For a time, the absorption can be enough.  Ultimately, though, the absorption should bring joy.  I do not really think that it matters what it is that one is practicing as long as steady engagement brings a sense of inner peace and bliss that enables one to be kinder and to offer service in some way.  I have quit some things along the way either because the practice did not bring enough joy or fulfillment or the practice was detrimental to my nature.

I know yoga and meditation are the right for me at this point in my life because sadhana (practice) continues to brings me ever increasing delight.  I do not think of practice as work (though sometimes I need to use some self-discipline to remind myself to practice), but as an invitation to greater depth and understanding of not only the practice, but myself.

I have friends for whom the right practice is not yoga, but something else — a visual art, music, law.  It is not what one does, but how one does it, and whether it brings a sense of fullness to life, a satisfaction with the engagement in the doing, rather than in what the doing achieves.

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Heat Advisory (and Gratitude)

It was already hot when I went out into the garden after I sat for meditation.  I try only to water every third day it does not rain and have used soil supplements such as “soil moist” to make that possible, but it was critical that I water so that the plants survive today’s blazing heat.

Before I went out, while listening to the weather forecast, I drank my second glass of filtered tap water.  I thought how lucky I am to have fresh drinking water from the tap, shelter from the heat, ice if I want it, and water for the garden.  All those warnings to stay inside, keep cool, and drink plenty of liquids are meaningless unless one has access to those things.

I am grateful, too, for my practice.  I know that a slow, quiet practice helps keep me cool and rested,  and that I can get extra enjoyment from the way the heat warms my muscles without any effort at all on my part.  In the heat, stillness is so welcome that sitting is as sweet an activity as I could know.

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Refinement (and the Anusara loops)

One of the things that I love about a slow, therapeutic practice is the joy of delving into details.  Seeking mastery and refinement of understanding can itself be exquisite, even when the subject matter is not of our choosing.  Although I would like not to have places of constraint or tightness in my body, they are a fact of my life.  I find great freedom and delight, though, in exploring in detail how to go into the constraints and untangle them.

Last night, after having taught two classes, cleaning house, and walking 5-6 miles commuting to teach and running errands, my hips and low back were not feeling pained, but they were tight.  Going to bed without a good, long practice was not an option.

So I dug in deeply, working to isolate different muscles better to open them.  One of the things that works best for me to open my hips and low back is to work the Anusara “loops” separately.  When I work the loops independently to refine the major principles, I find it optimal if I move the right and left side independently.  If they are moved as one, I find the tendency is to have the thigh bones and spine shift with the muscles, instead of having them be supported in their optimal alignment by the movement of the muscles.  So, for example, in working kidney loop with refinement, the action of kidney loop lengthens the psoas muscles and brings them more into the back plane of the body, but the inward curve of the lumbar spine remains unshifted.

As I continue to practice, I look forward to ever refining my understanding and ever enhancing the optimal flow of energy.

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Dreams (and Maya)

In classical yoga systems, we are taught that all the world is an illusion (maya) and the only thing that is “real” is Atman (spirit, the One).  I do not subscribe to that belief, but I do believe in the principle that is espoused in the Bhagavad Gita of actionless action — working because it is my nature to work, but accepting that I ultimately am not in charge of the results.  I thus can be fully engaged in my work, but be freer of anxiety, disappointment, and frustration or overcharged attachment to pleasure and success.  From a tantric perspective, I believe it is all real and full and something to be experienced as part of the marvelous complexity of being.

This principle carries over into my relationship to my dreams.  I have always had extremely vivid and present dreams most nights.  Sometimes, like last night, my dreams are full of convoluted challenges and difficulties that could be filled with anxiety.  I used to chew on dreams like that through the day.  Now I wake up and think:  what an amazingly inventive mind I have.  Isn’t the subconscious fascinating?  I pay attention to what lessons might be in the dream  and let them release the dreams from holding on to my day.  As I get more skilled with meditation and yoga, I often can find this place of simultaneous engagement/non-engagement even while I am still dreaming.  This makes it so the dreams have no more hold on my ability to sleep or act than would watching a movie that raises challenging issues.

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The Swimming Spot (and Karunabdhe)

swimming To find water deep enough for swimming and fresh enough for drinking in the desert is absolutely exquisite, sweet, refreshment.  It is love, nectar, and bliss all at once.

A half a mile away on foot in certain directions, this swimming spot was invisible.  All that was readily apparent was dry heat and scrub.  Sometimes, we feel similarly separated from inner nurture and support amidst the challenges of the world.  When we are steady with our sadhana (yoga/meditation practice), we will more and more easily find our own inner bathing spot — karunabdhe (ocean of compassion, an aspect of shiva), even as we engage in and encounter the vagaries and tribulations of daily life.  When we know the ocean of compassion is right there in which to bathe whenever we need refreshment, we can engage more fully and with more light and compassion, better to serve and love and delight, whatever difficulties come our way.

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Nilakantha (and personal strength and practice)

It takes incredible strength to take on the sorrows and poisons of others.  How many times have you witnessed someone who is awe-inspiringly dedicated to bringing out change to society, but does so at the expense of his or her own health or intimate relationships?  Have you felt yourself getting worn down by trying to make things better?

The archetype of Nilakantha (who drank up the poison churned up by the devis to save humanity) includes what most of the tales of Shiva tell us:  that Shiva was able to drink the poison and become stronger from the experience because he was already strong from deep, long term practices.

When we ourselves wish to serve, we must serve ourselves also, and perhaps first.  To have the strength and boundaries to ourselves live richly and fully while serving those who are suffering or wreaking destruction without such service destroying ourselves means we must have a practice that enables us to come from a place of light even when going into darkness.  (Doesn’t get much more challenging than that).

To some extent, for modern yogis, this includes a physical practice.  For all yogis, it means a steady practice of meditation and a way of life that aligns with nature.

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Of Course I Have Already Seen Harry Potter (and being open to what comes)

I went on Saturday evening after teaching two classes and a workshop.  I arrived at the 5:20 show of Harry Potter just as the opening credits were rolling, having intentionally missed the ads and the trailers (17 minutes of them by my clock).  After the movie was over, and I was walking to catch the bus home, I overheard a young woman loudly giving a blow by blow to a friend about the ways the movie was unfaithful to the book.

I was raised to think the book was always better.  I read all of the Mary Poppins books (yes, there are several), first seeing Mary Poppins in college.  In the books, Mary Poppins has quite an edge; she is not the saccherine being of the movie.  I’d read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory years before I saw the first movie.  The book is fantastic.  The movie is its own art.  The list could go on.

I’ve taken these days — thank goodness I never did realize the ubiquitous adolescent dream of being a movie critic — to just enjoying movies about books for their own sake, without undue comparison.  (It does help, sometimes, though, to be familiar with the books on which the movie is based, for example:  Cheri).

If it had not been for the yoga practice, I do not know whether I could have reached a stage where I could watch the movie without comparing it to the book after my Woody Allenesque how to watch a movie upbringing.  To be open and fully accepting of what comes takes many forms.  This is just a very small and rather unimportant one.  Having come with no expectation of the movie being faithful to the book, though, gave me a much greater possibility of enjoying it for the bit of summer afternoon entertainment it was.

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Serenity Saturday Today (at Capitol Hill Yoga)

If you are in town today and feeling the need for some R&R, please come join us at Capitol Hill Yoga (scroll down the page, past the Itsy Bitsy workshops, for SS info) today for this month’s Serenity Saturday.

It has been a long work week, and yesterday I though that I’d like to be taking a two hour afternoon restorative workshop myself this weekend.  Last night I gave my self serenity Friday night (not so alliterative).

I’d been feeling a bit testy, and my thoughts were starting to be somewhat all over the place.  I stepped back and thought about all that I’d put into my consciousness in the past couple of weeks: how many work telephone conferences and meetings in which I’d participated, how much the email and other computer communications, how many errands, movies I’d seen, parties I’d gone to, etc.

Diagnosis:  overstimulated.  So instead of going out and getting more stimulated (which can be the immediate reaction to feeling like one wants to get away from work and errand thoughts), I stayed home, cleaned the house, and did a long combination restorative, recumbent, and forward bending practice.  This morning I woke up refreshed and newly receptive, ready to teach all day and share the yoga.

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Nataraja (and dancing blissfully in life)

A work colleague of mine graciously said to me that he did not know how I got through certain meetings without yelling, he did not know if he could do it.  I replied that lots of yoga helped.  “Maybe I should get back to transcendental meditation,” he said, “but I found it did not really help; I should find something, though.”

I said that I tried to think of the challenges at work as just part of the dance that yields such rich abundance for me.  The discussion carried on, and we not only resolved the minor problem that had led to the phone call, but also felt a deeper connection that will make it easier in the future to resolve work issues that we mutually encounter.

What I like best about the myth of Nataraja is that the dance is not for the purpose of creating the world or with any particular design, but for the sheer bliss of dancing — anantatandava.  The dance makes possible both destruction and creation, but it is not its reason.  When we engage in the dance of our own lives, yoga invites us just to dance fully with wonder at the rich diversity of experience.  We make choices and seek to be more aligned, but ultimately we are just dancing.

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