Tag Archive: sadhana

Spring Cleaning (and Path of Sadhana)

For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending as much time as possible in the garden.  When it is too rainy or cold to be in the garden, I have been doing indoor spring cleaning.  As the days get noticeably brighter and longer, it is delightful to see the new growth in the garden and to polish my treasures and make room to use and enjoy what I have.  I’ve been noticing how the first major activities in the garden make a mess.  Inside, activities such as cleaning out the refrigerator and the closets also makes things seem messier before they they get cleaner.  I’ve persisted, though, and now the garden is teeming with visible new life, unencumbered by the detritus of dead growth on the perennials or spent annuals from last year.  With things I do not need given away or repurposed and things clean and repaired, I can more easily use and appreciate what I have in the house.  It seemed like quite a mess for a while, though, when I was taking things off of shelves and out of drawers and closets in preparation for cleaning.

There can be phases in our sadhana –both asana practice and meditation and related practices — where all the practice seems to be doing is bringing up old stuff.  It seems like we are more physically or emotionally challenged than we would have been if we weren’t practicing. The thought may cross our mind that we would be happier just going to the movies and going on an eating tour of Italy.

Although sometimes strong reactions can mean that a practice is not right for us (at a certain point in time or not at all — similar to a reaction to food), it can also mean that the practice is doing the equivalent of spring cleaning.  Part of sadhana is learning how to react in a more optimal way to what manifests and arises from our practice.  When a host of old memories or emotions arise or we press up against our limits by digging in deep physically to find where and how to rearrange our bones, muscles, sinews, and energy channels to clear an old injury, we have an opportunity to clear out and let go to make room for new growth.  We don’t have to shove the stuff back into our mind-body closet or leave it where it obstructs new growth.  The old patterns and memories come up in practice so we can either release them or change our relationship to them so they can become something that serves instead of weighing us down.

When I get into one of those messy spots, I remind myself how good I feel when I’ve done my spring cleaning, and I try to keep going forward, doing the best I can with the teachings I’ve been given.  I admit that it is easier to persist because I love the actual activity of the practices (though the ones I need to do most can be the ones that are not my favorite, but that’s a whole other train of thought).

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What a Good Murder Mystery Can Teach Us About Sadhana

Surely that’s what life was all about?  Opening doors and peering through them–perhaps even finding the rose gardens there… (Colin Dexter, The Dead of Jericho)

The good murder mysteries — the ones that teach much about human nature and do not dwell graphically on gore and violence — can teach us much about the power of sadhana (yoga practice).  The best mysteries are ones in which the protagonist teaches us by his or her investigation into the mystery that with careful, steady discipline, the application of well-developed technique and study, consistent effort, and an openness to trust intuition tempered by discrimination, we can reveal to ourselves the truth of the matter.  The truth revealed is not just the identity, means, and motive of the murderer (mystery solved), but the knowledge of the extraordinariness of human being in all of its manifestations, both good and evil.

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Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum (and Sadhana)

As it is every year, the Azalea Walk at the National Arboretum fills me with joy and wonder.  “Was it really this splendid last year?” one of my companions asked.  “I go every year,” she said, “but I forget how gorgeous it is!” She comes back each year to remember the beauty and the awe.  So, too, it can be with our practice.  We stop going to class or practicing our meditation or asana for a while because we get too busy.  Then we come back, and we ask ourselves how we could have forgotten the joy and beauty a steady practice brings us, and we are inspired to commit again.

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What a Difference a Month Makes

Here’s an aerial view of the back garden on the equinox after I spent several hours cleaning, deadheading, repotting, mulching, etc.  As you can see, the moss is ecstatic from having had the weight of the snow on it for several weeks.  Coming up in quantities almost enough to pick are lettuce, spinach, cilantro, parsley, chives, onions, lemon balm (always have too much of that — if you’re local let me know if you want some).  The first rosebud emerged sometime between Friday and Sunday.  It is hard to believe that just a month ago, I was blogging about indoor gardening — how to find delight even when snowed under (scroll to the bottom of the linked post to compare pictures of the same view).

As you can see from comparing the two photos, things were still growing under the snow or getting ready to do so.  That is what practice is like for me.  Sometimes I feel completely snowed under by an injury or rush jobs at work or personal circumstances beyond my control.  I keep practicing, but I don’t have the time or energy for long practices or full weekend workshops, when it is easy to get to a place of delight.  Other times, things are less pressured, and I feel brimming over with health.  Then practice feels wildly effulgent.  For my garden to offer its full potential (as is true with my practice), I need to spend lots of time and effort in it for the next several weeks.  I know that if I do so, I will be blessed with fullness.

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Sauca (Another Perspective)

My friend and Willow Street colleague Natalie Miller taught a lovely class on Monday night, using sauca as her theme.  She said that she had recently read a book that described the yamas as things we do to be better persons, but that the niyamas were precepts for our spiritual practice to lead us better on the path.  In that sense, she suggested, sauca is about clarity or purity of intention.

What I love about contemplating and practicing with these concepts is that they are so pregnant with meaning; they have so much to offer wherever we are in our life and on our individual path of spirit exploration.  The more we contemplate and visit and practice and discuss, the more we will discover both about the meaning of the concept and about ourselves.

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Heard on the Elevator (and intention for change)

The elevator I rode to my fifth floor office this morning was very full.  Several of the people in the elevator were wearing visitor badges.  As I walked on, I heard a woman say to a colleague, “…if you get a good one, they can do amazing things.  I had a frozen shoulder, and it was just incredible the change from the physical therapist.  I highly recommend [don’t remember the name].”  Her colleague, who evidently had extremely limited range of motion and a limp from something with his hip, said, “that would be great, but I don’t have time for something like physical therapy.”  They got off (slowly) on a lower floor, leaving me and someone I know who works on my floor.

“He obviously does not want to heal or change if he doesn’t have time for physical therapy for something that is debilitating,” I said.  “He would vehemently deny it, if you told him that,” replied my co-worker.  The reality is that if we want to change or heal or grow, we have to make an intention and then stick with it.  Whether it is healing an injury through therapeutic yoga and/or physical therapy or a more internal shift sought through yoga, we must be steady and committed to our intention.

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An Opening

Last night in group practice, we were working on the mini-arm balances.  As I demonstrated a pose, my spine shifted.  From the middle thoracic vertebra right behind the heart all the way up to C7, each vertebra popped sequentially, releasing energy not only from each vertebra, but upward.  I felt an incredible lightness moving from the heart space all the way through the crown of my head.  We talked about it a little in practice, because the fact that some kind of opening had occurred was fully evident to everyone in the group.

As a purely physical matter, opening my thoracic spine is good.  I have degeneration in my cervical and lumbar spine.  Those parts of my spine are very mobile, almost unusually so, whereas my thoracic spine is quite tight.  This imbalance can cause pain and muscle tension, though through therapeutic practice of the Anusara principles, I progressively find a healthy balance of stability and freedom.  Go to any decent physical therapist for neck or lumbar pain, and the therapist will work to open the thoracic spine, which although it should be stiffer (being attached to the ribs and protecting the heart), likely needs to be more mobile to be in better balance with the rest of the spine.

This morning, I woke up still feeling more open around the heart space and noticing a shift in the energy in my upper back, neck, and head, and the sensation of the opening I experienced carried itself through my morning meditation.

We never know when we are going to get an opening in our practice.  I keep coming to the mat and the meditation cushion because I want to be more open, more grounded, more free, more full of energy, more compassionate, more at peace, more in tune with others.  It is fairly rare, though, that I experience a noticeable opening all at once (and the reason to practice should not to be to have wild moments, sensations, visions, etc).

When one comes, though, it leaves open the question:  what will I do with it?  Will I get absorbed in talking about it and reliving it?  Will I think that I can slack in my practice because I have had a big opening?  Will I return to how things were before?  It is easy enough to do.  Just witness the collective energy and momentary hopefulness of this country when it elected President Obama.  Upon not getting instant change and relief, the country has returned to blaming, divisiveness, ineffectiveness, finger-pointing, greediness, warlikeness, and catering to the corporate war machine instead of moving towards universal health care, peace, and “green” energy consumption.  It would likewise be easy for me to have enjoyed experiencing something wild and special on my mat and then go outside to walk to work and be tense and grumbly about the ice on the sidewalks, the snow in the forecast, and the limits I experience in my daily life.  I know there will be some going backwards, but I will strive to take this experience to shift to a more optimal place in my practice on and off the mat.

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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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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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