Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

Two Approaches to 4am

One can appreciate the beauty of the pre-dawn two ways:  staying up through the night or waking up early.  I almost never stay up through the night, but find myself waking up in the pre-dawn hours frequently lately, especially when we have not been getting any rain, and the rain finally arrives in the wee hours.

Classical yogis advise that the early morning hours are optimal for practicing.  I have been choosing, when I awake in the very early morning, to go into my studio and practice, rather than struggling to get back to sleep.

I find that I am less tired and more productive if I take this invitation to practice rather than worrying about sleep deprivation and struggling to rest.

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Devil in the Details (and jnanam bandaha)

The second sutra of the Siva Sutras is “jnanam bandhaha” (knowledge is bondage).  In the context of the Siva Sutras, this tells us that getting caught in trying to acquire knowledge of the manifest world and all of its infinite minutiae can lead us away from a sense of connection to a universal spirit.

We have the phrase in the work place that the “devil is in the details” both because getting caught up in the details can take us away of accomplishing a desired result and because the details need to be worked out to realize the result, and the details (not the theory) are the hard part.  At the societal level, for example, working out the details of a health care bill and how it will actually function seems to be preventing us, as a society, from offering health care to all.  On our yoga mats, we need to understand the details of physical alignment so that the practice strengthens and optimizes our health, rather than taking us physically and energetically out of alignment, but we do not want concentration on the details to take us away from heart and spirit.

The “devil may be in the details” but we cannot stop the details from being part of our existence.  As much as we need not to get so bogged down in the details that we have discord, distrust, unhappiness, and ineffectiveness, we also need to cultivate knowledge of the details.  As beings embodied in space and time in the manifest world, we need to cultivate knowledge so that we can recognize when the details are not in optimal alignment, so that we have sufficient knowledge, strength, intuition, and subtlety to be able to shift the details so that they lead towards good for ourselves individually and collectively.

What a devilish conundrum.

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Minding the Gap (and vinyasa krama)

One meaning of the phrase vinyasa krama is “the yoga of sequencing.”  This is the art of knowing how to practice in an order that will be most optimal for where you are in space, time, and health in any given practice.  Part of a true practice of vinyasa krama, like beautifully played music or an exquisitely presented music, is the silences and the pauses.

I’m sure you have all seen the “mind the gap” warning, the admonishment to notice the space between the train and the platform, the place where one thing ends and another begins.  In that case, it is presented as a warning of danger, but it also can be seen just as an exhortation to be mindful.

When we are truly mindful of the space between things — both spatially and temporally — then we are better able to honor what has just come and to be open and conscious for what is to come.

In our yoga practice, noticing the space between coming in and coming out of the pose helps keep us aligned in the transition and enables us to better reap and experience the benefits of the pose.  The reason we are advised always to practice savasana at the end of any practice is so that we will have a good pause between a practice and going back to our other activities.

Off the mat, taking time to pause in between thoughts and activities, helps us appreciate little moments of joy during a busy day.  It also helps us sequence our day more optimally and can prevent mistakes and misalignments by giving us time to be more aware of what will work best next.

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Softness (as part of the first Anusara principle)

In this society, we tend to think of softness as a negative.  If being soft is collapse, laziness, inattentiveness, etc, then it would indeed be a hindrance to growth inner and outer.

We need to soften, though, in order to open or change.  When baking a cake, we allow the shortening to soften so that we can cream it with the sweetener.  When a seed germinates or a fledgling emerges, the shell softens so that the new life can burst forth.

When I soften as part of the first alignment principle, it is not a collapse, though it does have an aspect of easefulness.  It is necessary to soften to invite the support of the subtle energies, to fully experience all the pose has to offer, to expand with light from the inside out.  Softening when we start a pose is like the softness of early spring that allows the vigor of full growth to expand.

Being soft in this way — on or off the mat — makes possible the growth of inner brightness and strength that actually makes us less vulnerable then would creating or keeping a hard and brittle shell that can bind or break.

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Reminder (blog copy of newsletter)

Dear Friends,

I hope you are having a rich and full summer.

To celebrate the yoga with John Friend, the delightfulness of the Pacific Northwest, and to get a break from routine — in a word to take a vacation — I will be out of town next week.

While I am on break (September 1st and 2nd), no Wm Penn or house classes.  They resume as usual on Tuesday, September 8th.

There are wonderful subs for Willow Street classes this Saturday, August 29th, but there are no classes at Takoma Park, Willow Street, Labor Day weekend (Saturday, September 5th).

Upcoming:  Free class week at Willow Street on September 12th.  Start of the new session September 19th.

Serenity Saturday, September 19th.

See you soon.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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It is the days

when I have too many different things to do that sitting for meditation and doing a little asana is most important.  We always have 25-45 minutes.  It is just a matter of understanding where they are and how we want to use them.

Having sat sweetly for 25 minutes, I am calm and relaxed as I get ready for work, take care of the garden (if only it would rain), wait for a meeting with a contractor, etcetera, etcetera.

I do not believe in using the benefits of practice to enable multitasking, but on the days when everything coalesces in a less than optimal way, I am grateful for the calm center it provides.

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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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