My viewpoint

Interesting views on the practice of yoga.

The Yoga Assembly

I remember how exciting assemblies used to be. All that Rah! Rah! Rah! stuff. When I was growing up, my school would have assemblies for the big rivalry match of all our school’s major sports. They were usually on a Friday and we would be released from class early so that we could attend. The requirements were to wear our school colors and bring your team spirit. The marching band and the cheerleaders would guide us through the school motto and school song. There would be speeches, positive affirmations and some group chanting of the school motto. This doesn’t sound that different from a  gathering at an Ashtanga yoga studio. But instead of using the word assembly, yoga calls this a satsang. By the end of a good old fashion school spirit assembly and a modern-day yoga class you have achieved the same goal, which is to have a group of people resonating the same idea – team spirit, or “We are all in this together!”

I’m lucky that I have the opportunity to teach yoga on Friday evenings and that the people I get to teach are some of the most dedicated people I know. I always joke with them by saying I love my friday peeps way better the monday people, even though a lot of the time they are the same people. The friday crowd has passed on all other possible friday night invites, so they can get their yoga groove on. I mean, it is Friday evening after all, right? The class starts at 5:30 which seems to align with the assembly idea. They have to release themselves from work a little early so that they can assemble with their yoga satsang. We have so much fun in this class. By the end we feel united in the belief that yoga is a great way to start the weekend and a great way to let go of the past week. This group of people seem to support each other like no other.

Second series at The Practice Space, March  2008.

Second series at The Practice Space, March 2008.

I’m sure we could look at the word assembly and see it synonymous with congregation, or a collective. That whenever you gather a large group of people together hopefully the undertone is that you realize you have something in common. Which naturally raises the energy vibration of such a gathering. I have taken many trainings with my teacher Tim Miller over the years. People come to his trainings from all over the world. I have practiced alongside people from Sweden, Japan and Australia, as well as Florida, New York and Oklahoma. By the end of these two-week trainings I’ve made many friends, comrades in the journey of ashtanga yoga. One idea unites us all. Once in the yoga room practicing together, we become like one gigantic lung, one breathing vessel. Creating prana for all of us to share. Prana is called the life force so when people make the joke, “Let the force be with you.”, it’s actually a true statement. In a mysore practice with 30+ other ashtangi’s, no-one is talking, there is only breathing and movement. Yet it feels like we are having a conversation. This must be the language of love. Our love for ashtanga yoga, is our unspoken language. No one is talking, everyone in the room is working hard, but yet there doesn’t seem to be a shred of animosity or jealousy, even though the skill level in ashtanga yoga can vary greatly. There just seems to be harmony. This is the same thing the football coach, track coach and school principal were trying to get us to embody at that school assembly. We are better united, then we are divided. We can get further when the company we keep has a unified philosophy.

There is another interesting element to this type of gathering that I recently stumbled upon. I was picked to serve on a criminal jury trial. The experience was rather sad and depressing but ended up providing me many new insights. One of those was this: strip people of all their identifiers like suits, degrees, jewelry and coiffed appearance, and you realize that you can always find you have something in common with each other. As I was at the  gym where I teach most of my yoga, a few weeks after the trial I noticed the prosecuting attorney, as well as the judges clerk, working out at the gym. What I realized was this… the gym is a great place to join people together even though in our outside responsibilities we are very different. As I saw the prosecuting attorney exercising in her plain white tee and black pants, I realized in this environment, we have no labels. We are all just congregating for our better health. In a yoga room there are no mothers, brothers, housekeepers, landscapers, lawyers, rich, poor, infertile, adopted, fashionable, smoker, alcoholic, and so on and so forth. It’s as if the playing field were leveled back to the most basic truth. Which is we are all human and we mostly all have the same parts. That without labels and identifying responsibilities we are equal.

If your teacher is a good teacher, he or she has learned to teach a great class, no matter the reason that each student is there. They shouldn’t teach a better class to a lawyer, than to a housekeeper. You don’t favor the tall over the short and you don’t draw attention to the mother, over the motherless. We are a satsang; a community of people who ultimately  agree that yoga is good for us. Which is why each person wakes up in the morning and packs their bag with yoga clothes and a mental commitment to get it done, whether they struggle or float gracefully thru the sequence, whether they can do headstand (sirsasana), or sit in lotus (padmasana), whether they can stay the whole hour and a half, or just an hour. Take off the make-up, the fancy or ragged clothes, jewelry, pull back the highlighted or dull hair into a ponytail, with your beach towel or your yogi toes, no phones, no degrees, for the most part no apparent differences, and no openly different opinions (no doubt the opinions and labels vary widely). These things aren’t necessary to practice, you never need to know them. All you know is the person to the left of you wanted to do yoga today. The person doing backbends behind you, wanted to do yoga today. The person taking early savasana, wanted to do yoga today. So yoga has done it’s job, it has united us, yoked us together. It has assembled us, in more ways than one. We have congregated under the same roof, under the same sun, and under the same belief that yoga is good for us. Wether practicing in Japan, Portland or a tiny town in Boardman, Ohio, yoga works. If you have ever wanted to be apart of something that has no prerequisite, this is it. You can be a Democrat, Republican, Buddhist, Episcopalian, third child of eight, high school drop-out or cancer survivor. All accepted and invited, no questions asked. Really. The only underlying question is “Are you willing?” Because when you are “We are all in this together.”  We are all the same.

So, atha yoganusanam. Samastitihi!

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Ordinary happiness.

Happiness is a part of you. It’s always there, you’ve just forgotten where to look. It’s a lot like a cat’s tail. It’s always there, yet one day, they turn around and are surprised to see this “thing” moving. So they start swatting at their own tail. Dog’s do it too, running in circles chasing their tail. Not realizing that their tail is a part of them. Then when they finally do catch their tail they don’t seem to know what to do with it, like the way people don’t seem to know what to do with happiness when they find it. Some people have been telling themselves the same depressing story of their life for so long they don’t know how to live and embrace anything other than what they have convinced themselves of. They’ve caught their own tail and now don’t know what to to do with it.

This can be a similar problem to the way some people believe the 8 limbs of yoga work. Or better yet the way karma works. Karma and the 8 limbs of yoga are not linear. It’s not if I do this…I will get that. We live in a culture strongly based on immediate gratification. Life can be like that stick at the amusement park that tells you when you are tall enough to ride the ride. We have to experience growth first, before we can have some of the things we want in life. No amount of standing on our tip toes will solve the problem. It’s just not time, we are not ready yet. Understand that if you rode that ride now your life would be in danger. Somethings we are just not ready for. Are you really ready to be happy?

I once experienced very linear karma but in most cases it’s more of an accumulative thing. This lady was riding my bumper at 6:00 in the morning down a two lane road. She decided to pass me crossing the double yellow line and was immediately pulled over by the cop that was behind her. She was so focused on where she needed to be, that she forgot to focus on where she actually was. But in most cases doing the right thing, the good thing, won’t pay off in some immediate result. But there will come a day where those right actions will leave you right where you are supposed to be .

If we are always focussed on where we are going instead of where we are, we miss the joyful moment that is unfolding right in front of us.  What makes you think you are not happy right now? Is it that someone else’s happiness looks different than yours? Is it that happiness didn’t show up on your timeline? Is it that happiness didn’t have enough bells and whistles for you? Is it that no one is there to witness it? A lot of the time we are happy, we just won’t admit to it because there is no audience. There is no one there to congratulation you for your happiness. The truest kind of happiness is the happiness  you can experienece in your most ordinary moments. These are the easiest moments, but we seem to label them the least worthwhile. So many times we are laying our happiness on the behavior of others. If they would only do this, show up here, give me that, tell me this, I’d be happy. How can happiness be based on so many conditions? Aren’t you the only one responsible for your happiness?

Happiness is already there, just let it out.

Happiness is already there, just let it out.

This is why I love a good home yoga practice, and why usually I find so much happiness in it. The only person I am counting on in that practice is myself. The only person I could let down is myself, if I don’t do the practice. But most times I find that once far enough into the practice, whether its going good or bad doesn’t seem to determine my happiness. What I usually experience is my happiness comes out of being grateful that yoga is in my life, and that I’m well enough to practice. I’ve gained enough experience to realize a good yoga practice isn’t made by its outward appearance but more so by what you get for your effort.

Happiness doesn’t come wrapped in shiny paper with a bow around it. If you’re looking for happiness to look like a party and that you are the guest of honor, don’t hold your breath. Instead breathe (prana) into the life you have that’s just wrapped up in the ordinary things, and stop chasing your own happiness tail. Happiness is all around you, and available to you when you stop demanding it look, act, and behave a certain way. And if your not getting the happiness you feel you deserve maybe you should start telling yourself a new story or take another look at the story you already have. But remember, your happiness tail isn’t going to be attached to someone else’s bottom. Thomas Edison’s once said “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.“, you  might say this of happiness as well. Happiness is independent, and we all already have it inside us.

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The hamster wheel of my greed.

I just passed my year mark of writing my blog. Geez it went fast. I am pleased that I stuck with it, even though at times I was doubting myself and finding it hard to create space to do it. But since it’s another new year, essentially another circle around the sun, I’m left with that reflective feeling. Which naturally pulls me to the place of gratitude. I am so thankful that people read my blog. But I need to keep the reality in sight that I’m not doing it expecting thanks. I’m doing it to hold my feet to the fire and to challenge myself by doing something that makes me uncomfortable.

There is nothing comfortable about writing for me. You all know why and that is because we all have a harsh critic that lives inside our head. No matter the activity, there is always a voice available to bring down the gavel of whether something is good or bad. Even without that voice, there is always the available sound of silence, where you can hear the crickets rubbing their legs together while you wait for the social media world to respond, waiting to hear that someone likes your blog, so that you are validated as a blogger. But if you look around you’ll soon pick up on the vibe that now a days there is nothing original about being a blogger. Everyone can do it and many do.

So, I remind myself that even though it’s nice to receive the support, it’s not the reason why I blog.  I blog to sharethe knowledge I have gained on my yoga mat. And yes, I do blog so that I can put things on paper. These are my ideas that I find worthy of exploration. I definitely do this to see an idea to its end. However, I have found that often times my ideas have no end, and a very poor beginning. I often find putting an idea on paper to be intimidating.  The whole sharing thing too, really rattles me. The process of sharing can really bring up stuff. I found myself a few years back getting ready to host a teacher training on yoga. As I was getting information together, I found myself confronted with my greediness (Aparigraha). That I didn’t want to share what I thought to be some of my greatest insights, cues and ideas behind yoga. I wanted to hang onto these secrets that I felt I had come to on my own merit of hard work. I found it hard to release these things that I felt were my personal gain from yoga, instead of seeing them as my personal contribution to yoga. I had this fear that if I gave up my secrets that I’d be helping someone else get ahead of me or they’d come about it easier than I did. That doesn’t really make me sound all that nice now does it? No, but it does make me sound human. That voice in my head  saying “I must get ahead, I must get ahead, I must get ahead!” – little does that voice know that because of greediness, it’s  a lot like running in place on a hamster wheel. You can not get ahead until you stop grasping things so tightly. So, I had a moment where I guess I got tired of holding onto all my secrets, or maybe I came up with a new angle of how giving away all my secrets would get me ahead, or maybe, I hope, I came to a place where I ditched the “I” and came on board with the “we”. That in helping other people grow, you grow as well.

5 simple words that changed me.

5 simple words that changed me.

What you get out of “we” and not “I” is growth. I started sharing some of my insights with the new eager yoga students and I found that in my sharing, I grew. That the actual holding on was holding me back. It was in the letting go that I changed. Recently a saw a funny magnet that read “Let go or be dragged.” When I read that it was like my Wiley Coyote moment of getting hit in the head with a anvil. It spoke of my behavior louder then anything else has. It was 5 tiny words. “Let go or be dragged.” See, I’m a grasper. If I were going to admit to you my dependency… it would be GRASPING! I grasp, and I grasp to things tightly. I do this out of comfort. The comfort you feel by staying the same. The definition of same/saym/ •adj. 1.unchanging 2. unaltered 3. constant 4. monotonous. Even though monotony might give you comfort, you might also come to realize it makes you boring, predictable and dull.

One of the reasons I am still so addicted to yoga is because it has changed me. My body and mind are different. Everytime I’m on the mat something new springs up. Yoga, when practiced  is a lot like a river. When you stand in a river the water touching you is always different, because there is movement. It’s never the same water twice that passes over your feet. That’s how yoga feels to me. Even if while practicing I’m resisting change, it is inevitable because of the movement the practice is facilitating. When I started to see this I became more willing to let go. To let go of ideas, to let go of the tricks I figured out to do a pose more gracefully, to let go of things I felt only my ears had heard from my teachers. How did I  let go of my grasping? I shared as much as I could with those (9) first time yoga teacher wannabe’s. Now I do it every time I teach, by not holding anything back. By being an open vessel of information. Is all my information right, well for me it is, because it has worked. That doesn’t make it absolute, it just makes it one path, or maybe a better way to say it is my ideas are just one river you could take to flow into the great ocean of information on yoga. Sharing will change you. It’s uncomfortable and makes you feel vulnerable, but it has movement and that movement will take you places. Places you never thought you would go.

So I’ve done it, with blogging I have found another way to grow, to change. I’d like to “thank” WordPress for making it easy for me to grow. I’d like to thank all the people that jumped into my river to feel the rush of movement in their own lives by opening up their mind to my ideas. Each and every person that has read, liked and or commented on my blog has taken that little step in sharing and I’d like to say “thank you”. It means the world to me that you share your thoughts. I hear them, value them and I use them to help me keep growing, to keep pushing through how uncomfortable I feel sometimes putting my words on paper. Thank you for helping me to grow, for helping me to let go so as to not be dragged.

The first 9 ladies I shared my growth with. Julie, Rachel, Jodie, Stephanie, Beverly, Janet, Polly, Christina, Me, Gwen.

The first 9 ladies I shared my growth with. Julie, Rachel, Jodie, Stephanie, Beverly, Janet, Polly, Christina, Me, Gwen.

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Bruce Lee would have loved Ashtanga yoga.

Surrender and come out with your hands up. That would be some great advice for how to begin a yoga practice. Surrender…ekam, inhale! There’s a lot of talk about surrendering in yoga, but I find that it is a concept that people can’t seem to grasp the meaning of. I have seen two very different types of people in yoga – those who try to force the body to surrender , with inappropriate effort, while paying no attention to their mind. Then you have those that seem to walk through the door already surrendered. These are the one’s that move their body around like limp noodles in yoga, while also paying no attention to their mind. Surrendering in yoga is not a physical act, but a mental state.

Yoga sutra 1.12 says “a steady practice, with non-attachment will stop the mind from fluctuating.” –   Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah. Bruce Lee, a great Martial Artist said that exact same thing this way:  “Any technique, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.” Or he said it another way  “learn the principle, abide by the principle, and dissolve the principle.” He is saying, let go of everything you know, be open to what you don’t know. Now, there is this other  suggestion that is a short cut,  sutra 1.23 ” Isvara pranidhanat-va” – Or the goal can be obtained by surrendering. But sadly, the problem with surrendering is people take it to mean giving up, which seems negative. To give up, means that you are no longer moving forward. Stagnation is not the answer. Surrendering still creates movement, just not in a predetermined way.

I think of surrendering as giving in. Giving in, in yoga, is like going down the rabbit hole in Alice and Wonderland. The garden is a representation of your mind, your “citta vrtti”. You must go into the garden/mind to explore what is in there. Yoga is the exploration of the mind. The mind has a lot of contradictions. Remember, at first Alice was too big to fit through the tiny door to the beautiful garden, so she drank from the glass and shrunk. But then, she was too small to reach the key on the table to unlock the tiny door to the garden. Too big/too little, too tight/too loose,  too strong/too weak; in one yoga class you might experience all of these contradictions. The way to not be plagued by these contradictions, is to be like water, to surrender.

Surrendering in Ustrasana.

Surrendering in Ustrasana.

Giving in, is what water does. Bruce Lee said “Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.” By going inward with our attention, outward things start to make more sense. But, if we look outside to understand what we feel on the inside, it doesn’t translate. If you approach yoga this way, it becomes dangerous. It’s what happens to people when they take everything that their teacher says to heart and they never question it. That is just regurgitated information. You have to question what you hear, and look inward to see if it resonates with your truth. You must always stay individualized in your practice and never surrender to someone else’s information. Surrender to the translation of  the information. Take what you hear and feel, then dissect it until what’s left has been authenticated. Authenticity in your practice is when the truth has been established. Keep this yoga sutra in mind 2.36 “Satya pratisthayam kriya phala asrayatvam” – For one established in truth, the result fits the action.

The steel inside of  buildings has to give, the tires on our car’s have to give, the clothes we wear have to give, the trees in your yard have to give. If things don’t give, they break. To surrender, or to wave a white flag means that two opposing entities want a truce. It’s time to negotiate. I’ve always said that in yoga, your breath plays the role of negotiator. The breath is aways trying to be neutral to the opposing energies. We tend to come to yoga fairly exhausted because we are constantly being pulled in opposite directions, like when our work responsibilities butt up against our desire to play. This will create a feeling of conflict. So what better way to resolve conflict than to call a truce, to surrender and negotiate. Yoga helps you figure out what it is that will make you feel at peace, no longer conflicted. The physical practice of yoga will take your body back and forth between flexion and extension, between inhale and exhale. With this, you will start to find the balance point. Not contraction, nor relaxation but the two energies in harmony. Having both energies in harmony gives the body adaptability; fluidity like water. Water adapts to the shape of a glass, bottle, or bucket that its contained in.  You can either do the asana, or you can BE the shape of the asana.

Surrendering is also the process of letting go. Bruce Lee said ” In building a statue, a sculptor doesn’t keep adding clay to his subject. Actually he keeps chiseling away at the essentials until the truth of its creation is revealed without obstructions. Thus, contrary to other styles, being wise in Jeet kune-Do (or Ashtanga) doesn’t mean adding more; it means to minimize, in other words hack away the unessential.” Eliminate your preconceived ideas of yoga, eliminate how you think your practice will go, eliminate what you think a pose should look like, and surrender to how fast you think you should be progressing. Surrender doesn’t mean to give up, too quit, or to walk away. It means to let go of thoughts that limit you. Yoga is the practice of subtraction, learning to listen for the truth and eliminate everything that doesn’t align with it. In order to really call a truce,  you have to be willing to hear new ideas, and to be open, and receptive. If your going to surrender… you have to let go.

On a yoga journey not everything seen or heard will make sense. But if you take a rigid mindset into yoga, it will break you. Another great Bruce Lee insight is ” The softest thing can not be snapped.” Be willing to give in to new ideas, be willing to take out old ideas. Where there is a will, there is a way. If you are not willing to be any different than you already are, then don’t unroll your mat. Bruce Lee would have been a great ashtanga student and teacher. It’s no surprise to me that some of his greatest insights align with the yoga sutras. He was a disciplined man, a student of adaptability and a master of his craft. He realized that “A teacher must never impose this student to fit his favorite pattern; a good teacher functions as a pointer, exposing his student’s vulnerability (and) causing him to explore both internally and finally integrating himself with his being.” Keep it in mind that “The height of cultivation” whether cultivating awareness, flexibility or skill, “always runs to simplicity.”  So stand at the top of your mat and start by surrendering. Keep it simple. As Bruce Lee would  have advised “Be water my friend.”

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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.

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“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.

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We’re getting the bandhas back together!

Ugh Bandhas! For a yoga teacher, they are one of the hardest things to teach. For starters, you cannot show them to people. So You’re left with trying to explain something to people that on a day to day basis fluctuates a bit. Also, in the yoga world there’s this talk that you should be doing bandhas  24/7. That’s a tall order along with everything else we have to do. But they are interesting, and once you start to figure them out for the first couple of times, they actually become very intriguing. If you can execute them properly, they will make things easier. Maybe “easier” isn’t the right word. But instead, they will make things more accurate. Or an even better idea is they will direct your energy. When I do them to the best of my ability they seem to keep my practice on track, kind of like the way trains follow rails. But there definitely seems to be a learning curve to them. At 13 dedicated years of Ashtanga yoga practice, I think I’m still on that curve.

Chaturanga Dandasana. Holding it is a good bandha check.

It seems like with every new pose I take on in my yoga journey, there is a new process of learning how to use my bandhas properly. They are not as easily executed in every pose. Yes, for the most part they are an energetic movement that is inward and upward. I think of their engagement a lot like the way a suction cup engages to a surface. That when you engage your bandhas, in essence you are creating a sealing effect of keeping your energy secure, stationary. Once this seal or mudra has been executed, you then can work to direct your attention to the innate lightness we all are capable of. It’s as the yoga sutra’s say, Sutra 46 chapter 2, ” Sthira sukham asanam; a yoga asana should be steady (sthira) and at ease (sukham) at the same time.” But the most truthful part about that sutra is its order. Sthira is first, because you can not be at ease if at first you are not steady. A seal or mudra happens when two things come into agreement or alignment. Right? Your front door won’t seal closed if the door is not aligned?

I know if you translate the word “bandha” you actually get the definition as a lock, like a lock at a dam. A dam couldn’t work effectively if it didn’t seal properly. In my opinion “to seal” would be more appropriate definition. So how do you get this alignment to take place, to create this sealing sensation? Let’s be real. The bandhas are more sensation then they are an anatomical action. I mean don’t get me wrong, there are specific muscles involved. But even if you know definably which muscles to contract, does that then make bandhas automatic? Absolutely not. Especially interesting is that even when we do know which muscles to activate, we don’t tend to be the most adept species at things that are subtle. We are definitely much more in tune with gross movements. But that’s the beauty and the mystery of the bandhas. Which is that they, more than anything else in yoga, are teaching us about the subtle, sensitive, and more mysterious side of the practice.

Here’s another way that you can try to understand the use of bandhas in your practice. Have you learned yet how to drive a stick shift car? Just a sidebar: You should, because you never know when or why you might need to drive a stick shift car. What a process it is, right? Intimidating and yet so liberating once you master it. Well, bandhas are a lot like the clutch in the stick shift experience. You must learn how to operate it to get the car in gear and maneuver your way through traffic. Seems like it should be an easy enough process, but using two feet and one hand, all coordinated together turns out to be a lot harder then you would think. Sounds like the things we do in yoga. Sometimes yoga and stick shift driving have that feeling of trying to pat your head and rub your belly at the same time.

You first have to take your foot off of the brake to get anywhere. In yoga, for some of us that means getting the “I can’t” thoughts out of our way. Doing yoga thinking “I can’t” is a lot like driving your car with your foot on the brake. Then you have to push down on the accelerator while easing off the clutch smoothly at the same time. If not, you will bounce the car forward or stall out completely. They are subtle movements, it requires a sensitivity of how much to release the clutch and how much to push the accelerator. You might think of the clutch as the mula bandha and the accelerator as uddiyana bandha. They must work in unison. You can’t have one with out the other, and you must first engage the one before you can effectively engage the other. In yoga, mula bandha is sometimes called the roots and uddiyana bandha is called the wings. You could say then that mula bandha is the element of sthira and uddiyana is the element that creates the ease of execution, sukham. Just like you have to ease off the clutch and push down on the accelerator.

What’s interesting, is when you first learn how to drive a stick shift car, you are taught on a flat surface because it’s easier. But then when it’s time for you to refine your stick shift driving skills, you have to try it on an incline. It is a whole lot harder to know what degree of effort to apply to the gas and how much to release the clutch, all at the same time while  worrying about drifting backwards. The smaller the hill the easier to figure out. Just like the easier the yoga asana, the easier it is to activate your bandhas. But the more things in an asana that you have to pay attention to, the harder it seems to be to remember to engage your bandhas. You put people upside down in yoga and it seems that the last thing on their radar is bandhas. Lucky for them, bandhas automatically engage a bit when inverted, not completely though. Asking people to engage their bandhas when attempting a new, more advanced asana is a lot like trying to ask the driver to take their foot off the brake when sitting on a steep hill, in a stick shift car.

Sometimes we might accidentally let our bandhas out, and then our energy flows but without any guidance. However, we need to have the ability at a moment’s notice to activate the bandhas and get our energy and attention back on track. First, learn how to find and use your bandhas in easier poses, then as you advance you will know what to do with them. Bandhas are much more fun when we know how to use them to make our practice freer and lighter.  Bandhas are most effective when activated together.

You may not remember this cartoon from the 1970’s; The Super Friends. It had these two characters named the Wonder Twins. According to wikipedia “The Wonder Twins powers are activated when they touch each other and speak the phrase, “Wonder Twin powers activate!” This phrase is unnecessary and just a habit of theirs. Physical contact, however, is required. If the two are out of reach of each other, they are unable to activate their powers. As they are about to transform, they would each announce their intended form. “Shape of…”, “Form of…”” Our Bandhas are a lot like that. They need to operate together .And when we do activate them, they allow us to take on new forms and shapes.

Me and my brother just before releasing the fish I caught the summer of 1980.

I’ll give you one more story of how I see the bandhas operating before letting you run off and experiment with the cause and effect of bandhas in your asana. Have you ever been fishing? When I was young and before many years of being a vegetarian, I went fishing a few times from a shore of  Lake Pymatuning, in Ohio. Nothing fancy. We used the worm, weight, and bobber system. In order to catch the fish we needed the worm to dangle below surface, so we put a tiny weight on the fishing line. Nothing that was too heavy that would cause the line to drop to the bottom of the lake, but enough weight to give the look of the worm dangling. Then a foot or so above that on the line we attached a plastic red and white bobber to allow the line to float so that we would be able to see when the fish took the bait. The weight on the line is your mula bandha and the bobber giving the line buoyancy  is uddiyana bandha. We must be grounded, but buoyant in our asana’s. Just as it can be tricky to catch a fish, it will be tricky to catch your lightness of being. As my teacher, Tim Miller says “somethings in yoga can be taught but other things must be caught.” Go fish for your bandhas. Be patient, be sensitive and don’t be too attached to your results. Sutra12, Chapter 1, “Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah; Steady practice, with non-attachment, will stop the mind from fluctuating.” Just as I let go of all the fish I did catch, we need to learn to let go of our expectations. If you always want to go fish for the biggest fish out there, you might miss out on the beauty of the little one’s.

So let’s get the bandhas back together and make another great album. Maybe we’ll call this bandha album,  THE ROOTS and WINGS, or THE CLUTCH and ACCELERATOR, or  The WONDER TWINS, or The WEIGHT and BOBBER? But no matter what you know or think you know about the bandhas, they are definitely worth your consideration and examination. Whether you think of them as a suction, clutch, roots, wings, super hero powers, weight and buoyancy, or anything else creative you have heard, they are a necessary tool to the practice. Before you know, it you will be reeling in your bandhas. They will help create a greater mastery of the mystery.

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Rinse and Repeat.

The human body seems to respond a lot like cotton and not enough like spandex, but it should and it can. When you wake up in the morning, it feels like you have shrunk. Isn’t it true that we shrink as we age, too? So you move about and by the middle part of the day you feel like your old self again, comfortable for the most part in your own skin. Like your favorite pair of cotton jeans, a little snug at first, but then a little movement and they break right in to that perfect fit. How can we become more like spandex and less like cotton? Cotton continues to stretch and expand to what seems like no limits. Where spandex holds with a good fit and maintains its original shape. Spandex stretches to great lengths where cotton will tear. Is it all in the fibers? In the memory of the threads?

Your body has a memory doesn’t it? Can’t you still feel an old injury in your body even if it happened 5 years ago. That memory is made up of weakness and now scar tissue. Scar tissue is actually a form of protection in the body trying to create stability. The body even responds to injuries by leaving external scars. Similar to those jeans, once they rip at the knee they will no longer be able to be repaired to their original state. They usually rip at the knee because you weakened that area from repetitive action, around those cotton fibers. Injuries tend to happen at the weakest area in clothing, as well as in the body. Interesting thing about spandex; it will usually thin down before it will actually tear.

Ardha Matsyendrasana, Half Lord of the Fish Posture.

So, if there is memory in our bodies, what can we do with that? Well, just as our memory can fail us as we age if we do not keep the brain active, our bodies can fail us in muscle memory if we don’t keep the body active. The solution is to agitate the body. What? That doesn’t sound positive, but it is. Agitation to the body is a lot like the agitation process of your washing machine.

Imagine this, you’ve worn those favorite jeans of yours and stretched them and soiled them so the only solution to getting those jeans clean and back to their original shape is to wash them. Water will cleanse them with the help of a little detergent and movement of that water will agitate the dirt right on out of there. Then they will be spun to be rinsed clean and then place in the drier in a nice warm, tumbling cycle. They’ll come out as the jeans you so know and love and that are getting the greatest miles out of your $. Jeans more than anything are worth every penny we pay for them ,as they hold up so well. As I have witnessed, we become very attached to some of our jeans. So much so, that we are still putting on a pair from 1992.

Yoga to our bodies is a lot like the wash cycle is to our clothes. All the various movements in yoga agitate the body. Without that agitation the body would become very stagnant. I’m going to make the assumption you all know just how bad and smelly stagnant water becomes. Movement is the key to health. It keeps energy flowing and in the sake of water it keeps the water oxygenated. Movement to the human body also keeps it oxygenated. Anaerobic vs. aerobic, greater demand of oxygen, right?

Ok, so here’s my best example: there are two ways you can show up to yoga. You can either show up like a loose, baggie pair of jeans that have torn and become ragged at the edges, or you can show up as a pair of jeans that have a bit of give to them because they are made with a bit of spandex. So they adapt, but keep their form. How do you show up as one over the other? By doing yoga as often as possible.

There is an expression that yoga is polishing the mirror of your heart. Well, it is cleaning, agitating and drying your body back to its optimum fit. The practice moves vigoursly in a flowing nature. Let’s say that all the movement in a yoga class is the agitation, and the flowing part represents the watery nature of the wash cycle. What would represent the detergent? Well, the filter of your mind. The mindfulness we seek and practice over time becomes a refined process of removal (buddhi). What are you removing? Well the things that dirty us, that cloud our perception, or that leave us feeling grimy. Pessimism, judgement (asmita), fatigue (tamas), dissatisfaction (dvesa), these things (klesa) become a heavy dirtiness to our mind that creates a film over our perception. We then see life through this dirty lens.

When we show up on the mat and work into the postures that agitate the organs, muscles and nervous system, things come up to the surface. If you are practicing with as much clear discernment as possible you will start to see the clutter and negative things that need to be stripped away. Yoga is a process of subtraction (viveka). When you wash your clothes you don’t want them to disappear, but you do want them returned as close as possible to their original state. Your refined skill of observation allows your mind to become a bit like a lint filter. It will take away all the fibers of thought that are no longer supporting your original state. Remember that your original state is that you were already born with everything you need. That you are essentially perfect, before you covered it with makeup, labels and opinions. Each of those things we put on, if not careful, can become another stain or impiedement to getting back to our original state.

We practice to keep coming back to our original state. Your body knows when it is in perfect harmony, your mind knows when it is clear. Yoga brings you back to this place. It’s an intuitive state in the body, that when we find it, we trust it, and know it to be the truth (satyam). It is a place of no doubt. As my teacher has said “the only thing that removes doubt is experience.” We must experience the stains of life, but be able to wash away the ones that no longer align to our truth.

So let’s show up on our mats and use the warm cycle -heated room and movements to better support getting out the grime. Let’s practice fluidly- tapping into the watery nature of our being. Let’s bend, twist, stretch, and reach in to all sorts of agitating positions – the wash cycle. Let’s rinse the body of everything it brought to the surface by exhaling it all out. Let’s tumble dry the body by 1st turning it on it’s head. Then by grounding it in a warm comfortable savasana. Then let’s fold it, into our bodies, by bowing forward (Namaste) and welcoming the practice and our own divinity into our hearts.

If necessary, like shampoo bottles advise “rinse and repeat.” Let’s do it all again tomorrow or as many times as necessary until we are rinsed clean of anything that is not supporting us. Each time we practice, it’s as if we take one cotton fiber and turn it into one spandex fiber. For each practice we take we are accumulating greater ability to stretch back to our original state (Purusa).

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Pump harder, you’ll go higher!

During a yoga practice, I will move back and forth between opposite forces.  I like to think of this work in opposing forces as a swinging energy rather than a teeter totter. When I was little, I never liked the teeter totter quite as much as I did the swings. Maybe it was because the teeter totter  needed two people to make it work. Those two people needed to be of equal weight and desire, otherwise the one who felt the need to be controlling could take the fun out of the exchange of the back and forth. Remember those times when your friend could pin you at the top of the teeter until you either jump off, or they let you back down? The other element I never liked much about a teeter totter was the thumping that could occur between the shifting of sides. The swing though, is smooth and was operated solely on the amount of effort that I would put into it. All I needed was a desire to swing higher, to fly upwards, evenly in both directions, by pulling with my arms, and pumping with my legs. Hanging on to those two chains in my hands and the leather strap saddle for a seat. On the playground, that was what I enjoyed the most.

I think it’s the pulling of opposing forces that draws me into yoga. I like the singular responsibility of managing these opposing energies while on my mat. During one Ashtanga yoga practice I will experience this back and forth in many different ways. It’s this duality that helps us find a feeling of contentment, where we are not conflicted by the energies, but comforted by both the light and dark side of things.

On my mat… I will go from being cold to hot.

On my mat… heaviness will teach me to create lightness.

On my mat… contraction will facilitate expansion.

My strength’s show me my weaknesses.

Movement leads me to stillness

Exhales draw in inhales.

Tightness gives way to looseness

Emptiness gives me a great feeling of fullness.

Laziness is transformed into energy.

Silence is gained from a noisy mind.

Relaxation is cultivated out of tension.

Give it a try and see what happens. If you do, and you were like me when I was young, you’ll feel compelled to jump off the swing set with wild abandon, and free fall for a short time through space to feel the weightlessness that is possible. Only if we are willing to embrace that everything has a risk. Remember everything has an opposite…the risk you take on your yoga mat does have a reward.

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