Although I never specifically studied ashtanga yoga, my life and practice have been influenced by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois‘s yoga and his offerings to the west. I practiced a good flow this morning to honor his teachings and his life. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois died earlier this week at the age of 94.
Unless you have to wear a uniform, there is probably a little flexibility in what you can wear to work (aren’t we lucky to live such a bountiful lifestyle that this is a dilemma). A tie might be required, etc, etc. You can always choose, at a minimum, to have clothes that fit properly and allow some freedom of movement.
My choice to be comfortable rather than “lawyerly” in my office attire except for special occasions possibly has impacted my career, but it is salutory for me on a day-to-day basis to wear clothing that is appropriate for the weather (when we dress inside for the weather outdoors, we need to use less energy for heating and cooling; wouldn’t it be great if we could get everyone to do this) and allows for freedom of movement (this includes shoes).
When I pick out my clothing, I want to be able comfortably take a full breath (think waistline), easily raise my arms overhead or interlace my hands behind my back (how do the shoulders, chest, and back fit), do uttanasana (coverage, waist line, tightness around the legs, back, and shoulders), and run for the bus (tightness of clothes and shape of shoes; forget heels). If you need to wear a jacket, there still is nothing stopping you from wearing a shirt underneath that allows for free movement nor having the jacket properly fit.
There are a lot of ways our choices can enhance freedom rather than constrain it. Choosing to wear comfortable clothing (which usually is better able to be cleaned at home than at the dry cleaners — helps the environment) and comfortable shoes (which helps avoid bone deformation and possible surgery — good for you; good for the environment), is just one of many.
If you are looking for a good way to practice and enhance your standing poses, please check out this video by John Friend. If the link doesn’t work for you, go to Yoga Journal on-line and go to their videos section.
I never cease to marvel at the wonders of technology. I never cease to be grateful for my teacher and the teachings. Don’t take anything for granted.
Here’s a good way to invite in the day (if you have more time, do longer holds for the various standing poses):
Balasana (child’s pose) with hands stretched out.
Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog)
Dynamic movement between downward facing dog and palakasana (plank pose).
Uttanasana (standing forward fold) to tadasana (mountain) with hands on hips to rise.
Standing sun breath.
Modified sun salute series (tadasana, uttanasana, (A) lunge on both sides with uttansana in between, adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana; (B) virabhadrasana I on both sides with uttanasana in between, adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana; (C) parsvokonasana on both sides, adho mukha svanasana, palakasana, lower through chatturanga, bhujangasana, adho mukha svanasana). Add trikonasana and ardha chandrasana if you have time.
Handstand or half handstand.
One more sun salute variation, with eka pada rajakapotasana (pigeon pose) on both sides.
Seated twist and forward bend of your choice.
Seated meditation (five minutes or more).
Have a great day!
Whenever I am studying with John Friend, and we are invited to move into balasana I recall as story he told of seeing Gurumayi move into the pose. He told us of the reverence with which she did the pranam — the bowing forward to touch the earth as she went into the pose. I like to start my asana practice with balasana because it reminds me to honor the teachings, the history of the practice, my teachers, and myself for coming to the mat. I think of the name of the pose, and I am reminded of the wonder (abhuta) of being embodied. I think of how children marvel and delight at everything they encounter. It is all new for them, but we can cultivate the sense of everything being new and wonderful. When we cultivate a sense of wonder, it brings us to the other meaning of bala, which is strength. For our lives will be stronger and fuller, if we can approach each pose on the mat, and each moment on and off the mat, with wonder and interest.
Balasana is also a good way to start the practice because it is a sweet, gentle way to open up the hips, groins, low back, and shoulders. It is a good way to shift from more active poses towards savasana because, as a forward bend, it is inward-going and quieting.
It is a good thing, I think, to do what one can to prepare for eventualities, to take reasonable precautions. It is not optimal, though, to allow fear and anxiety prevent us from living fully each day. I choose to continue to face fear and discomfort in my asana practice, as well as just doing the poses for which I have an innate affinity. I practice poses that bring up fear, dislike, discomfort, and general aversion. I do not ignore my fears and discomforts. I learn why I have them; I practice more assiduously the preparatory strengthening or stretching poses that will give me more support in the deeper poses, so that I can be in a place where I know when my fears are appropriate cautions and when they are unnecessary anxiety.
By practicing the poses that are scary and uncomfortable and learning how to stay grounded, present, and even joyous while doing so, I have learned a lot about how to live in away that optimizes my health (physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial) and the health of those around me, without letting fear, worry or discomfort about dangers, limitations, and pitfalls limit my ability to live fully and generously with a care for the suffering and joys around me. Yes, I took extra care to wash my hands last night right before I started teaching a pre-natal class, but I cannot stop going out and enjoying the spring days or getting my work done for fear of swine flu; I am currently healthy. I am not going to stop supporting local businesses because there is a recession; I still have a steady job and have no reason to curtail my spending, and I have always lived within my income.
Last night in class, I asked why people continued to come to class. “To see how I can expand,” “for the community,” “for the delight,” “for relaxation,” were some of the answers. Orie asked me what led me to teach. The first reason I gave (and the one that was the primary reason for entering teacher training) was that I had been so inspired by what yoga had offered me that I wanted to share it.
The second reason I gave was that teaching helps keep me disciplined about my practice. I cannot abide hypocrisy, and so, I feel compelled to try my best to practice what I teach. I do not always embody fully the teachings in my own life and practice, but I am always trying. Knowing how the teachings and practices have shifted me and witnessing how the teachings inspire my students, leads me to continue to study, to practice, to try and align better on and off the mat.
Today, with a day of stressful meetings and phone calls ahead, it will be a good day to try to live the practice.
When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana. It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated. For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming. After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.
Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice. The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.
When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes? Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding? Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment? Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?
Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses. I would agree.
This morning when I stepped out into the back garden, I heard the sound of clippers on the other side of the fence. It was my back garden neighbor of over 15 years. “Is that you?” I asked. “Yes,” was the reply and we both walked up onto our decks so we could see across the fences. “It must be summer,” my neighbor said, in acknowledgment of it being the first morning of the season we coincided in the garden. “I am so ready,” he said, and we caught up with the winter news and discussed what was going on in our gardens. I told him about Becky, marveling at her wonderful long life of 21 years. “It was time, then,” he commented. “I still miss her, though,” I replied.
Yesterday, several people said to me that they were not ready for summer. Whether people were ready (or not) for the 90 degree weather seemed to depend a lot a preference cold or warm weather.
It hardly matters whether we are ready for a shift in the seasons, the loss of a precious being, or the arrival of gray hairs and degenerative arthritis (I am finding myself not ready for any of these, really).
Life comes to us, ready or not. We can use our yoga practice, especially asana, to help us expand and shift and be prepared for whatever comes, by inviting all of our practice and our growth (which includes both expansion and contraction) a rich exploration. We can experiment with where is our edge, listening to both ourselves and our teachers to discover not only what we are ready for, but also how we react when confronted with that for which we think we are not ready. By seeking the subtle knowledge of when our mind is ahead of our body and when our mind is holding back our body, we can enhance our ability to respond to what comes in the most open, sensitive, discriminating, flexible, and thus, life-enhancing way, on and off the mat.
In the meantime, I give in to the premature summer heat. This morning, I picked spinach and herbs to go with mushrooms from the fresh farm market for breakfast and made a posy of pansies for the altar. Why leave them in the garden if they will just wilt in the heat? It was a great afternoon for a siesta and a treat to be out in the city in the morning unencumbered by sweater or jacket. For my evening practice, I will emphasize deep, cooling forward bends and pranayama. Will I be ready for the cool days to come back at the end of the week? I do not think I will have a choice.
When I am just starting to get sick or fully symptomatic, I feel best doing a very gentle mix of restorative poses and hip openers. When I am starting to feel better, I find that a vigorous practice can help speed the healing process. For me, a flowing, backbending practice serves well to clear out lingering congestion. Clears the mind too.