Over the years, our minds and emotional selves get clogged with junk unless we do something to clear things out and to avoid repeating old negative patterns (in yoga–samskaras).
Our bodies, too, get clogged with junk energies that take us off-balance and ultimately manifest as illness unless we take care to eat well, exercise, sleep regularly, and avoid undue stress.
A home filled with junk has its own samskaras and can prevent us from dissolving and liberating those of mind, body, and spirit.
Do meditate, live a healthy life, and surround yourselves with only that which cultivates a more beautiful and generous life. You will likely be happier for it.
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
The guy in the Apple store in Georgetown who showed me why I really wanted to walk out of the store with the IPad 2 had never heard the song “New Toy.” The year it came out, I was in London studying and being tragically hip; he was a year old give or take a few months. I suggested he find it on ITunes.
Three days of Ipad 2 ownership later, “New Toy” kept running through my head. Oh my god, and then I started hearing Nina Hagen infiltrating from the past. Was I really in New York when this song came out and kind of out of my mind? Yes I was. Does anything we experience ever completely fade away? Probably not, which is why the great yoga masters advise us to be careful what we bring into our consciousness, lest we establish new samskaras that draw us away from the light.
Last night at group practice, after doing a centering focused on using yoga to dissolve samskaras (see yesterday’s blog post on this topic), I told the group how I had been inspired by a Facebook exchange between Noah Maze and Desiree Rumbaugh — stalwart beacons of inspiration to the Anusara community — about the benefits of doing 108 sun salutations with four two-minute handstands interspersed in the practice. I then had everyone come to the front of the sticky mat, hands in front of their hearts and began. For the first five (surya namaskar A), all I did was call out the poses and the breathing and count, though I almost never teach sun salutations without enough breaths per pose to be able to think about alignment. For the next few salutations, I started throwing in some variations. As we continued, I started asking the students to notice their alignment. Were the places where they are challenged with alignment starting to show up? (Yes, most definitely so.)
After the 16th salutation, I revealed that we could not possibly fit in 108 salutations into the practice time. I advised that we will do handstand at 16 instead of 32. We then went into handstand, with students having the option of half handstand or full handstand. I remained quiet for the first 45 seconds and then started calling out the time in 15-second intervals. For students who needed to come down, I suggested they try to go back up until the two minutes were over, even if it took multiple tries. The timed handstand generated all sorts of groaning and commentary, but it all had a light-hearted enthusiasm for being invited to a challenge.
After the handstand, we got going again. “Are your knees hyperextending?” I asked one student for whom that is a tendency. “Kidneys full?” I asked of another. “Root your index finger knuckle; shoulders up in chaturanga” was a good reminder for those getting tired. I threw in more variations to slow things down and to give more time to be careful with the alignment. There is no point in an elective challenges if it is going to cause injury.
It was becoming progressively more obvious that the more we pushed ourselves, the more the places where our bodies most habitually misaligned were starting to go (just the way our less than optimal emotional tendencies start coming into play when we are faced with upheaval and loss if we do not stay conscious and try to remain in alignment with spirit). “Are you still opening to grace?” I asked after a few more rounds. Everyone laughed and found renewed strength to stay in alignment and to keep up the practice.
After several more, with only 15 minutes remaining for the class before allowing time for meditation and savasana (final relaxation), I took the class from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to balasana (child’s pose). What a rush of relief and ecstasy! “Just enjoy,” I suggested. “We need to be able to take the moments of grace, of respite, of sweetness, of pause, and not fritter them away worrying about what just happened or what is to come. Knowing how to do that is one of the blessings of yoga and one of the ways we can prevent samskaric build up.
We then moved into a cool down. With the various challenges of embodiment with which this group was working and the time limitations, a full 108 salutations with the corresponding handstands would not have been appropriate for this particular practice. But everyone left both exhilarated and more relaxed for having mindfully challenged themselves, seeking to stay aligned while not knowing just how much of that daunting number the teacher would ask of them.
I have spent most of the last three days working from home so that I could be on site while repairs ensuing from the earthquake and hurricane were done. I’ve been luckier than most in the path. The damages I sustained from these extreme forces of nature can all can be repaired with relative ease. The leak in the living room was from gaps between the house and the windowsill and the porch roof and the house. The leaks in the upstairs bathroom were from screws attaching the skylight to the roof having been shaken loose. The 100-year old gutter pulled away from the house and sprang some leaks, but can get wait another year or so with just being patched instead of replaced. The cracks in the brick and the mortar dislodged and completely washed away call for repointing before winter, but that was going to have to be done in the next five or six years anyway. Several more things got loosened or lifted up or away from where they were supposed to be, but that is why god made caulk guns and foam sealant in spray cans.
What I find interesting about looking at the damage is that the worst of it was at places that previously required repairs during my 21+ years in the house; some of these, based on the way the ceilings had already bulged or cracked when I moved in were evidently chronic trouble spots perhaps since the house was built. Why those places? It could be the soil on which the house sits, the direction it faces, the activities of neighbors, the presence and absence of trees around the house, the minor, but daily tremor caused by the D6 bus. If something was going to come apart at the seams in the house, it is not surprising it came apart where it is inclined to come apart and even less surprising that Hurricane Irene created more damage because the house was already fraying at the seams because of the earthquake (and the continuing aftershocks). The places that came apart under stress were the places where the old repairs did not reintegrate fully into the integrity of the design and function of the house. Those are still are the vulnerable spots, the places most likely to come apart in a blizzard or a hurricane or an earthquake. The better and more thoughtfully integrated into the rest of the structure of the house a repair, though, the more likely it is to cease to be a spot for future repairs. Some old repairs that were done mindfully have ceased even to be remembered as places where a repair was required.
The same sort of pulling apart at the edges, at the weak spots, at the less than optimal repairs of old injuries, as happened with the house in the past few weeks, happens to me when challenges and opportunities for personal growth pile on, as they have been doing for me for the past several weeks, starting with things wholly unrelated to the weather. Although I am taking things in stride and with ever more flexibility and openness the more I practice, I can feel my familiar default setting–anxiety and sadness–emerging at the stress points. None of the personal things that had come up before the earthquake and hurricane, nor the impact of both and the preparation for the latter, alone would have been enough to shake me up much. As they become a basketful, though, I can feel my old tendencies closer to the surface with each thing that gets added into the experience.
Just like the places where the house tends to come apart, my tendency to get anxious and the triggers for the anxiety are familiar spots. They have been there for decades. Perhaps they came from another life. For the house, the original spots may have started with the materials–the character of the trees and stones and mud and ore out of which the house was built. Some of my stress points I recognize in my parents and my grandparents whether or not they come from previous lives of my own, some are related to my physical make-up, some from the exact place and time of my birth.
These tendencies of ours are samskaras — the ingrained patterns that are the results from our actions, impressions — some deeper than others — in the very fabric of our being that shape how we behave and respond to what comes, thus creating more samskaras. The more we respond in our habitual way, the more imbedded become the samskaras and the more they keep us from being conscious of and aligned with the fullness of being. One of the key benefits of practicing (meditation and other practices) is to lessen how impressionable we are, that is, to make it so that new stresses do not deepen old patterns or create additional patterns that take us out of alignment with the flow of being.
As I feel old stuff getting churned up, I seek to dissolve and benignly release it through my practices, while steadily, and as mindfully as I can, doing what needs to be done to get on with this fully-engaged householder life at this wild time. It is one of my intentions to practice sufficiently so that I will be able to be in the flow and respond in the highest no matter what comes. There will likely be more and greater challenges than what I have already in this lifetime experienced.
A samskara is generally defined as an impression left in us by a past action or experience. I found myself thinking about the process of samskara yesterday, when I went with long time friends of my family to watch their son taking class at the summer program at the Kirov Academy of Ballet.
I have not watched a ballet class (except on the occasional film) since I was actively studying ballet as a teenager and young adult. I have long been conscious of how ballet imprinted my body image and way of looking at myself, but have not found a space before where I was able to look at this aspect of my history with fresh eyes.
What was different yesterday, was that I was observing with openness. I was sitting with people I have known all my life, sharing their warmth, love, and parental pride for their son, rather than concentrating on my own history. It brought back memories, but not in the same way that sitting by myself or with a girlfriend, watching a documentary has done.
In this open state of reflection, I witnessed something that I knew at some level, but had not given much thought to before: how much having taken thousands of hours of ballet class has informed the way I teach. My tendency in my own practice and in my teaching to see the details of alignment and to try asanas repeatedly until it seems that I or my students have experienced the alignment in the most optimal way for the day is straight out of my experience in ballet class.
Softening and witnessing instead of feeling or judging from past experience gives the possibility of shifting from samskaras, even ones that are very deeply etched into body and mind. Being with my friends yesterday, of course, gave me the joy of seeing the spectacular dancing of these young men and the delight of connection. It also gave me the unexpected gift of a moment of understanding how the Anusara principle of “opening to grace” allows us to shift. When we are open, nonjudging witness consciousness (an aspect of “opening to grace”), that is when we have the possibility with each thing we repeat, to experience it new without being bound by our samskaras.