Monthly Archives: November 2012

A to-do list.

I made a to-do list today. It had your normal things on it like: go grocery shopping, pay the bills, wash the dog, and buy stamps. Sometimes those lists can seem daunting. Now imagine  you had to put on that list “remember to breathe”…Thankfully, we don’t have to remember to breathe, or do we? Life begins on an inhale and ends on a exhale. You never have to tell your body to do it again, and again, and again. Can you imagine what life would be like if things in our body needed our attention for them to happen? What if you had to think when you wanted to put a shirt on: “I need to move my arms up above my head to put my shirt on.”,or  if you wanted to smile at someone: “I need to contract my facial muscles to smile”, or “I need to digest lunch now.”? You would be a wreck, trying to do all those things and everything else you are responsible for. Thank goodness, for the things that were ingeniously designed into our survival like breathing, and digesting, smiling and getting dressed. But oddly enough, we do forget to breath, not for long extended periods of time, but enough to interrupt our prana. Prana is our life-giving force.

Have you ever experienced having the wind knocked out of you? It’s frightening and terribly uncomfortable. It strongly invokes panic. You grab at your chest, and bug out your eyes while trying to engage everything you know about breathing as quickly as you can. But the reality is we don’t know that much about breathing. It’s instinctive. Or is it? Instinctive means it is an unconscious skill. This would explain why no one had to or could explain to you how to inhale at birth. It’s already written into our life manuscript. Even though it’s already written into to our behavior, we still can lose sight of its necessity and take on bad habits like shallow breaths and short, incomplete breaths. Sometimes we even go too far the other way where we are breathing too quickly and forcefully, like when we are scared. Our breath is strongly influenced by outside experiences. Which is why we have the ability to impact or breathing from the outside in, even though it happens from the inside out.

There is this expression that goes “Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take, but by the number of moments that take your breath away.” Now why would we want our breath taken away? Because when those moments happen it means we have stopped, we have become fully present. You are never more fully present then when you stop your breath! Which is why yoga practitioners do their pranayama exercises. One of the exercises is to stop your breathing, briefly, but then overtime try to increase stopping it for longer periods of time. This stopping of our breath draws our attention very quickly to the here and now, allowing us to reflect on what’s really going on in that moment. What thoughts are going through us and what effect are they having on us physically?

But what about the moments in life that are more mundane and repetitive? And the way that we breathe into those situations. Those are the moments that are probably more detrimental then having the wind knocked out of you. Because those moments that you are not breathing fully, living present, those moments are like leaving a faucet dripping. You are just wasting your nectar, your ojas, your prana right down the drain.

It’s funny, because as I have been sitting here brainstorming and trying to write this, I have noticed that when I am deep in concentration, I stop breathing. This happens periodically and at other times I was breathing very shallow. If I do not become aware of these moments, what might happen? Well I think the most apparent physical response in our body to bad breathing is feeling tired, dull, maybe even depressed. To me, that’s why yoga and running feel so good. Because they are all about the breathing and my involvement with something that is unconscious in behavior. Both of those exercises take my awareness inward instead of outward. I feel after yoga and running, that I have cleared my head and that I am awake, vibrantly awake.

More moments in life should be like that. With our yoga practice we have the opportunity to take something that is instinctive and make it interesting. My teacher, Tim Miller says that “to be bored, is just a lack of interest.” So let’s make our breathing interesting. The breathing you do in a yoga practice should be done similarly to the way a scuba diver comes to the surface. If the surface of the water represents our mind, then we want to disturb it as little as possible. Breathing needs to be done slowly. You can not rise to the surface quickly in scuba diving or you’ll experience the bends, which is life threatening. Your very own breath begins to poison your blood. Is it possible that our poor breathing habits are poisoning our mind with, laziness, inertia, illness?

The sutra’s talk a lot about breathing, but there is that one that mentions the poison’s of our mind, the “halahala” of our life. Sutra 30, Chapter 1. Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya aviriti bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitatvani citta viksepah te antarayah – the obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusion’s about oneself, lack of perseverance, and instability. Breathing with awareness has the ability to impact all of these afflictions. Breathing with awareness exposes things that might be subtle and constantly ignored by lack of awareness. As sutra 12, Chapter 2 says, “Klesa mulah karma asayah drsta-adrsta janma vedaniyah” – Acts stemming from mental disturbance leave imprints that always show themselves in some form or other, visible or invisible. That should probably say conscious or unconscious. Yoga takes us to what is unconscious, to the things that are buried deeply and very subtle. So what we are looking for in our breath are the things that cause the breath to shift in any way, shape, or form. So in a way, you do need to put breathing on your to do list. Or at least put breathing practice on your list each day, to reflect on the things that might be disturbing your prana. If you make time for this it will give time back to you by giving you more energy, health and stability.

Urdhva Padmasana.

Yoga is the best way to do a breathing practice. To push your body in and out of postures a few times a week and to watch closely the fluctuations that come up, like the bubbles that come to the surface from the breathing tank of a scuba diver. Our mind ripples easily. Luckily yoga calms the fluctuations of the mind through pranayama and meditation/observation. A scuba diver must wear a heavy tank of air to breath underwater. But this is not how we should feel when walking around in our body. Let’s not get to a place where breathing feels difficult and tiring. Let’s let our breath be liberating. Let’s make breathing our lifeline to the here and now. When ever you are feeling overwhelmed, let you breath draw you inward to the present. Let’s not add anymore then what we already have on that to-do list. Be grateful breathing happens without your thought, but that when you do bring it to your attention you are forever reminded to live a life that is taking your breath away. Away to the now, which is where life IS happening.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

“When-to-say-when”

Our country has a “say when” problem. It’s something I am reminded of every Tuesday evening in my neighborhood when people put their trash out for the week. Trash just seems to over-flow. Don’t even get me started on the fact that some people aren’t making an effort to recycle. This “when-to-say-when” problem exist in other ways. Credit card debt is a great example of, yep you guessed it, they didn’t say when to the fact they had no more money. “When-to-say-when” is showing up in the form of obesity, too. People are not realizing when they are full, and so they keep eating. People keep buying more, and more, and can no longer park their cars in their garage. We are overflowing in our homes, bodies and trash cans. We are living in a world where we feel pushed all the time for more, and more. So it’s no surprise to me that the “when-to-say-when” shows up in the yoga room. Yoga is where I would like to address the problem. As I am not a financial advisor and I am not a dietary expert. When is enough…ENOUGH?

It’s all about what you grasp and and how you grasp it.

Aparigraha – Grasping would be the word yoga would use to describe this affliction. The sutras advise us on grasping in the yama’s, the 1st limb of the ashtanga yoga system. Sutra 30, Chapter 2 says “Aparigraha sthairye janma kathamta sambodhah” – For one who establishes a non-grasping attitude gains a deep understanding to the meaning of life. Holy crap, that’s a big one. Aren’t we all searching for the meaning of life? Well, I’ll tell you this; The meaning of life is not greed. We are not here to strip the earth of all it has to offer. We are not here to strip each other of the light we were all born with, and we are definitely not here to strip our body of its vitality.

But we are stripping our body of its vitality (prana). What we put in our body, what we do to our body, and what we think about our body can either be good for us, or bad for us. What we really need to come to understand, is there is a great benefit to emptiness. That it is ok for our bellies to be empty. It’s definitely ok for our minds to be empty. That is why a meditation practice is so good for us. It gives us time to clean out some of the clutter in our mind. Just like not eating for a while allows our body to become empty, and allows digestion to take a break.

What about what we do to our body? You might think I mean to suggest doing nothing, in the case of our body. On the contrary, we need to move our body to empty it of past scars, patterns (samskara) and waste. But even in yoga people come at their practice with greediness. They want to be able to do this pose, and to do it now. Like the girl from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, Violet Beaureguard, who turns into a giant blueberry from her greediness. “I want it, and I want it now!” That kind of thinking in yoga will likely lead you to injuries, fatigue and even disinterest. Burn out is a great example of greediness (aparigraha).

People walk away from yoga all the time and they say things like, I got bored, or I don’t have time anymore. If you have ever fasted, you are blown away by how much time you get back in your life when you are not eating food, preparing food, buying food, and even thinking about food. At least that’s what I learned from the two fasts that I have done. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t eat, that would be crazy. What I am saying is we can eat less, spend less and we can always make time for things we value the most. As far as boredom and yoga, I don’t understand it. Because for as long as I have been at this, I have never been bored. Ever! I find my body interesting and always changing. There are ways to keep things interesting though; things that can stave off the boredom excuse, practice at a new time of day, try a new teacher, or better yet, realize that your boredom might be a reflection of your will power. Your ability to see things through, even when they can become as routine as brushing your teeth.

If some of the people that walked away from yoga were willing to tell the truth, they would probably tell you it was because it became confrontational. Things weren’t happening as they wanted, on the time line that they were trying to control. By doing yoga, I have learned how much I try and control everything. There are the graspers/over indulgers, the lazy/lack of perseverance and then those that are steadfast and diligent.  The graspers are going to run into injuries and resistance, and the lazy/lack of perseverance will run into boredom and slack, the kind of slack that allows you to “cut yourself some slack” for not practicing. The diligent/steadfast type will embrace the practice with humility and become willing to relinquish their control.

Yoga is a process, and usually a slow process. There will probably be a handful of poses you will excel at right at the start, but the rest will take time. I like to say, “Your body didn’t get this way over night.” The tightness, weakness, and instability crept in when you forgot to make time for your health. (If you don’t believe me, read my  blog called “Paying it forward.” ) What are we willing to sacrifice time for; people will wait in line for hours to get the new i-phone, or to see the latest trilogy movie, spend hours tailgating before the big game, or camp out in chairs in 32 degrees for black friday shopping deals so they can cram their houses, garages, body and wallets with greed. If we don’t make time for our body it will break down and the wheels will fall of, so to speak. It’s amazing how quickly people will get to a doctor when that happens, and then want someone else to fix what they broke.

It’s time to eat less, spend less, buy less, throw away less and do more. More yoga, more meditation and most of all more reflection on why you roll two full garbage cans to the curb? Why do you have to work more to pay off greater debt? Why do you have an injury that won’t go away? Why do you need to buy more clothes, because you’ve out grown the old ones? Why do you need to take more pills to fix the things that are failing you? If you could just make a little more time in your life for exercise, stop making the excuses, don’t over do it and see it thru even when it gets hard, boring or routine, you would be doing yourself, your family, your employer and the earth a great favor. The new year is fast approaching, don’t make the promise that this year you’ll do this, wake up tomorrow and make it a lifetime commitment, not a January one.

Let this yoga sutra guide you. Sutra 30 Chapter 1 –  Vyadhi Styana Sansaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitatvani citta viksepah te antarayah – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about oneself, lack of perseverance and instability. If you are struggling with “when-to-say -when”, then you just need to look at the “when” as ” Now”. As the very first yoga sutra says “Atha yoganusanam.” – Now, yoga.

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Having the time of my life.

Pattabhi Jois, or affectionately called Guruji!

Many would agree that the Grandfather of Ashtanga yoga was Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, or affectionately called, Guruji. He kept time for Ashtanga for over 80 years. According to the stories my teacher tells, at age 13 Pattabhi ran away to take up study with Sri Krishnamacharya. Krishnamacharya was the keeper of time for yoga before Guruji. If you take to Ashtanga yoga now, you are then keeping time for the system. The Hindu Goddess Kali, the mother of time knows that we all want more of it. Why then do we treat time so cruelly? Wasting time? Some people keep time with grace and ease. From all the stories I have heard of Pattabhi Jois, he did just that. At 80 years old, he looked just as strong as 20 years earlier; assisting the many yogi’s that would line up at his door in Mysore, at all hours. So why are so many killing time, running out of time and forgetting that time can be on their side?

Yoga reminds me to appreciate the time I have and to choose more wisely how I use it. It helps me to slow down and be more present. When we are present we are using our time the way it was intended. When we dwell on the past, or worry about the future, we are trying to manipulate time, to control time, or steal time. The best way to understand time is to know that time has a rhythm. It’s that perpetual tick, tock that time functions on, an even swinging motion that allows time to stay balanced. So, if it is balance that we are looking for, then maybe we should learn more about time.

Pattabhi did so much for Ashtanga for 80 years. He was steadfast in his teaching. His presence in the community reached all corners of the earth, and when he spoke of yoga it was clear and precise. Now the job falls on the fathers and mothers of ashtanga yoga, which would be people like my teacher ,Tim Miller. He has been teaching what he learned from Pattabhi for 32 years. This time line falls on me as well because of the 12 years I have studied with Tim.

Some yogi’s these days are taking up with new teachers and new styles of yoga every few months. Not seeing any one thing through for very long. That would be like a child being relocated to a new home every few months, breaking up the opportunity to feel connected to something bigger than him or herself. What’s bigger then the individual self? Family. Family becomes a network of people that you can go to, to help you feel your roots, for what grounds you. The great thing is we are born into a family, but we can also make a family  by the company we keep. The Ashtanga community does this very well. Whether we take study with Richard Freeman, Eddie Stern or Tim Miller, we still feel like a family because all these great teachers studied with the grandfather of Ashtanga yoga, Pattabhi Jois. I am reminded of the family that I am a part of every time I go study at Tim’s studio in California. As I am surrounded by so many dedicated yogi’s. We are sharing our struggles and triumphs together.

Pattabhi was such a good teacher and such a good man that the one thing he really seemed to bring about amongst all his students is respect. All the great teachers of Ashtanga yoga seem to respect each other. For the 12 years that I have studied with Tim, I have never once heard him speak ill of another teacher. If anything, he almost always seems to give props to other teachers, especially in their differences. I think this kind character is why I continue to study with him.  I think this is partly a side effect of Tim having had such a great teacher himself. From all the stories I have heard and books and articles I have read about Pattabhi, he seems to have been a man of impeccable character and grace, with an amazing sense of humor and lightness of being.

I think Ashtanga yoga has this whole time thing pretty figured out. It takes time and lot’s of it to see the pay-off of yoga. I never understood my teachers statement that “Nobody should teach yoga until they had at least practiced consistently for 10 years.”. Now, I understand this statement. The amount of growth I have experienced in theses 12 years would be hard to show you. But I remember my struggles, and they leave me in a state of gratefulness. Grateful to have such great teachers, grateful for my health, and grateful to be wise enough to not take time for granted.

If time weren’t such a great teacher, I think the practice would be only 30 minutes or 40 minutes long, instead of an hour and a half. But I think the sequences were set up in such away to wean out those who aren’t willing to make time for their practice. Now that’s not to say that you can’t and won’t occasionally need to do a 30 minute practice. Most Ashtangi’s know what they have to sacrifice to roll out their mats. Time also teaches us by how our body changes over time.

Baddha Konasana.

Times greatest lesson is probably exposing impatience. Through my journey there have been several poses that I have become very impatient with. They were not progressing for me quick enough, which naturally pushed me towards aversion. Because these poses were so difficult and confrontational, I would rather not practice them. But I am grateful for my early wisdom to know that the only way I was going to improve in these poses was due diligence. My greatest teachable moments have come from  difficult postures like , baddha konasana, Marichysasana D, virasana and kapotasana. These poses marked milestones. Baddha konasana took 9 years to get my head and knees down. Marichysasana D took 3 years to bind, and somedays it can still be elusive. Virasana took about 4 years and kapotasana took about 10 years just to touch my toes. My teacher likes to call poses like this speed bumps, necessary intrusions to slow you down, to expose your grasping (aparigraha). I could have walked away when it got hard, but I didn’t. Time is what I have available and I’ll make good use of it.

It’s annoying that some poses come and go. The body is always evolving and changing. Some poses that were once easy become hard, and hard poses can become easy. These moments always make me chuckle. As we age through our practice, poses are bound to change. I find that I practice much slower in my home practice now compared to when I was 28. That is why Patanjali gives us the secret to the longevity of a yoga practice, sutra 12 chapter 1, ” Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah” STEADY practice, with non attachment, will stop the mind from fluctuating.” Steady like time. Not when it’s convenient. Not when it’s easy! Everyday consistently. Pattabhi knew this, Tim knows this, and I know this.

I heart Guruji!

It’s going to take me time to become half the teacher Pattabhi was. It’s kind of like marinating; the longer you soak in the juices, the more flavor you’ll have. All these great teachers are making the practice rich with history. Ashtanga has been around for almost 100 years, fairly unchanged. Each person that carries the flame of ashtanga in their heart is adding to the well spring of authenticity and history of this great practice. Each time we practice, it’s a way to say thank you to all the teachers of the system. Thank you for keeping time with such grace. Thank you for making our Ashtanga community a family that we can feel part of, even when we are rolling out our mats 3,000 miles from Tim’s studio, or 9,000 miles from the birth place of ashtanga yoga, Mysore, India. I feel connected to each and every person that is doing their part to keep Pattabhi’s work alive. I feel honored to be carrying this torch that has been carried by many. We are a family of great students and teachers. The light of this torch is dispelling darkness, with just a little yoga. I’m having the time of my life studying and teaching yoga. Light your flame, and don’t waste anymore time.

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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