Monthly Archives: June 2012

If Old McDonald had a yoga practice…

I recently read an interesting book called The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball. It’s about farming the natural way – no engine based machinery, no herbicides, or pesticides just good old fashion hard work. I’ve always loved the idea of owning a farm but I just don’t enjoy playing in the dirt. I enjoy hard work. I love the simple task of cutting grass with our electric lawn mower. But I just wouldn’t be very good at natural farming because you have to pull the bugs that are eating your plants off by hand and squish them. When it comes down to it, I’m too girly for farming. But I’m not to girly for the work that’s required for a good yoga practice, thank goodness! In this book, the author was writing about her love of farming and I realized her words perfectly described my love of yoga. No surprise, really, because farming and yoga share some similarities. She writes ” I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices to bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it.  I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing slowly closer to authentic. I felt my body changing to accommodate what I was asking of it… I had always been attracted to the empty, sparkly grab bag of instant gratification and was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge.”

Even if I just took that last line to describe my love of yoga it would suffice, ” I was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge.”  Yoga is infinite, there are still poses and breathing techniques my body is still not ready for, nor is my mind for that matter, even after having my practice established as a 6 day a week Ashtanga practice, for the past 12 years. But every word in that farming description fits how I feel about yoga.

Downward facing dog, Adho mukha svanasana
Sullivans Island sunrise!

The author says, “I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. ” Downward facing dog is just that, connecting to the ground, drawing my attention downward and inward. I have always found yoga to be very primal. For starters, you are barefoot the whole class and you’re mostly on the ground with all four’s, or more. How your body is interacting with the ground determines the success or failure of your yoga practice. Headstand is a great yoga pose that can easily help you understand the line that says ” For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences.” And because students are usually forced to slow down and deal with what some of the consequences are in yoga, such as injury, or embarrassment from falling down, they are forced to grow and to feel their body changing to accommodate what they are asking of it.

There is also no short cut. A dedicated yogi, one that has stuck with it consistently, knows that the only way you achieve some of the bizarre postures we do, is good old fashioned hard work. The author also says of farming, ” Question: Why is farming like a relationship? Answer: Because you do not reap what you sow. That’s a lie. You reap what you sow, hill, cultivate, fertilize, harvest and store.”  In yoga, you reap what you face, repeat, lift, tuck,sweat through, and breathe into.

But brute strength can only get you so far. There has to be a degree of finesse and a nice increase of knowledge (vidya) with each practice. Yoga is cumulative in effort. The more effort you put forth the more return on your investment. And what are you investing in anyway? Only the greatest gift you have ever received…your health. I recently saw an infomercial for a Pastor selling a book about taking care of your body with exercise, I think they called it “Bod for God”. It’s premise was, the best way you can thank God, and show your appreciation, and devotion to God is to take care of the beautiful body he/she gave you….DUH! I’ve known this for years. The greatest show of thanks I can give to the divine everyday is treating my body well. Just as a farmer has to treat the earth well.

The really good farmer knows what hard work is. A good farmer knows that to produce a crop, a healthy crop, it takes attention to detail. From the grounds composition, to the weather patterns, to the hours of daylight and to the critters/invaders that try and eat his crop, he knows and does it all. A day off means a day that a bug or disease can get a jump on him and destroy his whole crop.  Farmers know their land, they know how to see the smallest change in environment and how that might effect his/her outcome. We all need to become more like farmers. We need to pay attention to the details. We need to know our environment and how it’s effecting our mental and physical well being. If we want to live a productive life, as much as a farmer wants to have a productive crop, then we need to tend to matters.

It starts with the soil. In the case of the human body, your soil is your mind. It’s where all thoughts begin. It is the point of creation. Your mind needs to be open in order for creative thoughts to flow through. Just like the ground that a farmer wants to plant, it must be loose and fertile, with out rocks, weeds, and bugs. Ground that is compact and dense will suffocate the life right out of any seed. So it starts with the soil, it needs air, nutrients and moisture. Which is why farmers till the soil, over and over until its ready for the seeds. Your mind also needs air and movement, it needs to be fertile for the right things to grow. A yoga practice can do just that. Sutra 1.2 says “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”; yoga can make the mind less fickle, that’s my personal translation. Yoga is a moving meditation. The movement, opens things and the meditation part is like the sun, shining light onto things that need to grow. Meditation is simply the process of observation, which will expose the things that would pull you away from a productive and fruitful life. A yoga practice is equivalent to the farmer walking his acres every morning and seeing what has transpired over night, knowing his land and keeping a handle on the things that can get out of hand quickly.

Weeds can quickly take hold and suffocate a plant. How many weeds are there growing in your head. A great example of a weed in your mind is a repetitive, negative thought where you are putting yourself down. That will suffocate anything good that’s trying to grow in your mind. Where a narrow mind is like dense soil, the density will not allow anything new to come into your perspective, leaving you stuck in repetitive patterns, that are producing the same results (this is the hala hala, poison). The bugs are like other peoples thoughts and opinions that have come in and tainted your view point, especially if you haven’t formed your own well thought out opinion first. Too much rain will drown the crop, because too much of anything is bad…moderation! Too little light, rain or nutrients is also bad. Just remember this, in yoga it is the terrible two’s that will get you in trouble; too much, too soon, too fast, and too little rest. It’s all about balancing opposing forces (dwandwa, twoness – duality).

Be the best farmer of the crop you are trying to produce in your life. I know and believe Old McDonald would have been a great yogi, had he had the time. Who’s to say he wasn’t a yogi, just without the asana’s? Keep this last thought in mind from The Dirty Life ” Of course we have a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you thought you were moving in a direction that was right.” Just like sutra 1.12 says “Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah.” ; steady practice with non-attachment, steady practice with non-attachment,  steady practice with non-attachment, worth repeating because that one is tricky.

And one last thing to keep you steering the plough in the right direction is this line from a documentary I recently watched called Enlighten Up,” It doesn’t matter what you are doing, but why you are doing it.” We can so easily forget the why because we are so focused on the what.  For me, when I’m on my mat it goes back to what the Author, Kristen said which is “I knew why I was doing, what I was doing, and I BELIEVED IN IT.” Well said.

Old McDonald had a yoga practice E  – I – E  – I  Ommmmmmmmm!

I believe in yoga, enough said.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Summer music

Heartbreaker      3:13       MSTRKRFT

Sulk      6:18      Trust

Hearts On Fire      4:53      Cut Copy

Start Shootin’      3:37     Little People

Remind Me Radio Edit      3:40      Röyksopp

The Look      4:38      Metronomy

Come On Closer      3:47      Jem

(The Forgotten People)      3:11      Thievery Corporation

For What It’s Worth (India Dub)      4:57      DJ Drez

Loud Pipes      3:47      Ratatat

The Unfallen Kingdom      3:48      Gramatik

Surrender Ur Mind      3:06      Kay Dee

Desire Lines      6:27      Meanderthals

Wild Moan      3:30      Bootstraps

Finally Moving      4:38      Pretty Lights

In Your Nature (David Lynch Remix)      3:34      Zola Jesus

Feel Good      6:12      Lemongrass

Colors At Night      4:54      Castlebed

To Build a Home      6:11      The Cinematic Orchestra

Fortyfive      3:03      Bootstraps

Mothers      5:03      S. Carey

Categories: For the beginner | Leave a comment

Inhabiting Your Space.

Proprioception should be a less intimidating word, but when I say it to people, they give me that furrowed brow look that says “huh?”. Proprioception is the ability to know where your body is in space in relation to other objects. It’s what allows you to walk around a dark room at night and not bump into things. But I find so many people are in the dark about where their bodies are in space. I want to bring some light to this problem, and if I do you will have fewer stubbed toes, less bumped knees, knocked heads, bruises, and overall mishaps. And if you are one of those infamous close talkers, you might find you’ll have better conversations. I can’t tell you how many times I have backed away from a close talker because I felt my personal space is being compromised, possibly not allowing me to be as attentive as I would like.

We are all pretty aware of movement. Our arm just doesn’t move randomly and without our noticing, thank goodness, or we’d all be a bull in a China shop. For the most part, most of us have refined our movements to be able to look and move like everyone else. Until you put people in yoga poses, then the truth comes out. Most people are just touching the tip of the iceberg in their understanding of muscle movement.

I am choosing to link coordination and proprioception together. But let me be clear – I am not a scientist, at least not by degree. By personal interest, I am a scientist in behavior. I am constantly testing, experimenting, researching, analyzing and interpreting my abilities. I’ve read enough to be well informed of the limits of the human body, but I like to test what I have heard and read it through my own body. Figuring that as I go, I might find some contradictions, as well as some very clear affirmations. But at least I will have developed new skill sets along the way. With every new movement, I am gaining sensitivity. It is this sensitivity that is informing me towards more graceful and coordinated actions. This sensitivity allows me to know the difference between 1 inch and 1 foot of space between me and anything else I might come in contact with.

Interestingly, I was a long jumper in high school and I think that helped me refine my skill of proprioception. If your foot stepped over the launch line it was a scratched jump. Just like if a high jumper knocks the bar with their body when jumping, it’s no good. These spacial relationship’s are a great way to learn muscle movement and just how much it can be refined. So how is it that so many people show up on yoga mats across the country, year after year, and they don’t seem to be inhabiting their body. Some people wear their body like an over size suit, just flopping it around with out any life in their limbs, almost with a sense of bagginess. As if, if it weren’t for their bones they’d fall to the floor. Then there are those people that wear their body like a suit of armor, rigid and unpenatrable. Their movements have no fluidity and they seem expressionless and motionless.

Triangle pose, Trikonasana. Photo by Zsolt Haraszti

The one pose, as a yoga teacher, I endlessly become a bit saddened by is Triangle, or trikonasana. It is one of the trickiest poses for people to execute properly. As many times as I will physically place students in the best example of the pose, week after week, they still execute bad alignment. One of the easiest ways to fix this problem is to give people a reference point, something for their bodies to work with or against, that will help them  perceive their body position. What I do is put them up against a wall, and try and have them make themselves as flat as possible against that wall. (There is more to it then that, but for now I’ll leave the description of triangle brief as this isn’t about triangle). This always seems to work, but the moment you bring them off the wall back on their yoga mat the pose seems to just disintegrate.

It is that word that I want to focus on: disintegrate. Or better yet it’s direct opposite, integrate. Yoga is the practice of integrating muscle movements into our perception. Yoga is a great way to work on your body feedback system. The more feedback you become aware of, the more refined your movements will become. But how to make people listen to the feedback is the question? No matter how much information and physical support I provide some students still do not execute the pose well. Maybe it’s a laziness issue or a poor health issue. But whatever the case, I can’t teach people to want what I want for them, they must want it.

The yoga sutra’s talk about a list of obstacles that will effect your development in life, your ability to integrate your perception of yourself in space as well as in behavior. Sutra 1.30 Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitavani citta viksepah te antarayah. Translated – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about one’e self, lack of perseverance, and instability.  I have found you can’t really teach people to be less lazy or less careless. I have found that you can inspire caring and inspire effort, mostly by example.

This is why with my teaching style ,I will demonstrate yoga poses in a two pronged approach: I will first show them a bad example, and then start to integrate from that form right into a good example so they can see how I move my body onto different planes with different energies. I have found this to be a very useful teaching method, as more and more, I feel we are becoming a society that learns more through our eyes then we do through our ears. There are three available approaches to yoga teachers in informing their students. First is words, second should be example and third should be touch. I don’t start out with touch first, because all that sometimes happens is, I am moving them into the correct position. I’m the one doing the work, not them. When students constantly want to be adjusted it can be a sign of laziness, they want you to do the work. I will intervene only after they have tried. After they try and perceive where their body is, and what might be holding them back, then I can assist them with touch. This is where, if the student is interested, yoga will expose patterns of movement that are not always working. In this exposure, the student becomes enlightened. This enlightenment will give them greater perception, greater understanding of their body in space. which is ultimately going to lead to gracefulness, coordination, sensitivity, and integration.

This will happen on your yoga mat if you come to your practice with all the necessary tools available to you: health, alertness, confidence, concern, energy, moderation, truthfulness, perseverance, and stability. Now, if you do not have all these things at the start, then yoga’s journey should help you get all of these things. Your teacher should be inspiring and provide you with the best possible guidance. But remember, it doesn’t lie on the teachers shoulders. You must care. You must want more knowledge, more health, more energy, etc.. As my teacher says, “experience removes doubt”. The best way to get started is to get on your mat and experience inhabiting your body. Work to become more perceptive of the details, the things that aren’t always “in your face” obvious. Shine some light on what has become dull. The trade off will be fewer stubbed toes in the middle-of-the-night trip to the bathroom, or fewer bumped elbows on the corners of things, and better posture,  greater health, or overall a generally good feeling about your body and how you are inhabiting it.

You know that feeling when someone has put their yoga mat down too close to yours, when you feel like your space has been invaded. Well, what I want for you is to invade your body, to become more in it, and not of it, to be more connected, instead of disconnected. Proprioception is space invading instead of space evading. Avoidence is not the answer. As sutra 2.3 says Avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah. Translated – the causes of suffering are ignorance, egotism, excessive attachments, unreasonable aversions and fear. Being in the dark can be scary and dangerous. Use yoga to become enlightened, to reduce your suffering and to make you very perceptive. This inward perception that you will strengthen will also deepen your outward perception of the world around you. This is illuminating, it’s like turning the lights on inside your body.

Each room in your home has a light for you to navigate it, so do your muscles. Treat each muscle like a room. You have approximately 640 muscles in your body so it’s like living in a mansion. Take care of this body that is your home. Turn on the lights, open the windows and doors so that energy can flow through. Yoga is feng shui for your body. It’s time to create good Qi. The life force is within you, go find it.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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