Posts Tagged With: ganesha

Paying for patience.

If patience were for sale, would you stand in line to buy some? How much would you want? How do you think they would be selling it, by the hour? Personally I have found my patience level is directly related to how much something is inconveniencing ME. Damn ASMITA – ego! My ego you can make me such a terrible person sometimes. I am usually forced into becoming patient after I have done something stupid while trying to out smart my impatience. Like the proverbial speeding ticket, as you’re speeding to get where you need to be you end up getting pulled over. Naturally, you end up getting where you needed to be, but later. Or how about how your impatience makes you push aggressively against every warning sign your body is giving you, and you injure yourself trying to get one more yoga asana in the “I can do that pose” pile. Which then sets you back weeks from actually being able to do that pose. Do you recognize any of these scenarios? If so, then fall in line behind me for your fare share of patience. It’s marked down to $9.99 a hour! Would you pay that? Either way, you’re going to pay. If you don’t find a little more patience in your life.

I have stuck with Ashtanga yoga for 13 years. The number of poses that haven’t come easy for me out weigh the ones that have. My husband says I’m a diesel. What he means is, I am good at long and slow distances when it comes to running. What I think he really means to say is I am willing to suffer as long as necessary to get something that I really want. What I have come to realize is that I like rubbing myself up against discomfort to find out just how much of it I can really handle. This personality trait works really well with Ashtanga yoga, because there are poses that seem strategically placed to weed out people who can’t handle the discomfort. For all the poses that could scare me off I usually just dig in even harder. I find I am incredibly patient when things are difficult, but terribly impatient in the most mundane moments of my life, like walking my dog.

I think I have the Ganesha spirit inside of me. Ganesha is all about overcoming obstacles. When yoga throws a pose at me that seems illogical to my body, I just trumpet out “Oh yeah, watch me!” then I take another deep breath and carry on. In my practice I have come up against Marichyasana D, Baddha Konasana, pashasana, kapotasana, dwi pada sirsasana and a few others. Here’s what I can tell you about these asanas. Don’t give up, and don’t think they will come quickly. Marichyasana D took me 3 years to bind. Baddha Konasana took me 10 years to get my forehead to the floor and knees down. Pashasana has taken me 13 years on my left and is still a tad elusive on my right. Kapotasana took me 7 years just to touch my toes, and dwi pada sirsasana only happens for me as Yoginidrasana, because of a herniated L5/S1. Even with a consistent 6-day-a-week practice these poses have taken a long time to come around. So why should we do yoga for ten years just to get our forehead down to the ground? What’s the point?

Baddha Konasa. Years of running made this pose a practice of patience.

Baddha Konasa. Years of running made this pose a practice of patience.

The point is, if I don’t walk away from challenges in yoga then it’s likely I won’t walk away from other challenges life throws my way. The point is, I now have a sense of pride every time I execute those postures. No one but me made them happen. But put these things aside and ask a different question. Why would I walk away when I have no ability to predict when I will be able to do these postures? If I would have put a time limit on my yoga practice; that, if these things don’t happen for me in a year then I’m walking away. Who’s to say that the day after I walk away it wouldn’t be the day my hands clasp, or my head touches the floor. I feel there is a greater risk in walking away than there is in seeing it through. Walking away will always leave me with regrets, but seeing it through is like turning the door knob of opportunity. Walking away is like never even ringing the doorbell of opportunity. Sure I have regrets from things I didn’t walk away from sooner, but they are always overshadowed by all that I am proud of myself for NOT walking away from.

Why not walk away from Ashtanga yoga when the going gets tough? When I did bind in marichyasan D no-one dropped party streamers and brought me a cake. No-one read about it in People Magazine. The interest rate on my visa card didn’t drop, the bills in my mail box didn’t go away, the dog I wish would live forever didn’t suddenly defy nature and survive her cancer, and my boss didn’t call me into her office and say “I hear you bound Marichyasana D last night. Congratulations, here’s your new office and a $5,000 raise.” So what is all the hard work for if it didn’t get me any of those things? But keep in mind what I did get…pride. How much is pride worth and would you stand in line to buy some? Do you think buying pride would feel the same as earning it? If two lines were forming one selling pride, and another selling patience which line would you stand in?

Pride is like food for our spine. It pulls your shoulders back, and you seem to stand a little taller. Especially if it came from sweat and hard work. The pride I gain from overcoming one difficult asana gives me fuel to over come the next, and the next after that. I think pride is what gives our eyes that little twinkle. Look into an ashtangi’s eyes after their practice, you’ll see that twinkle. I think pride settles our heart, and it strengthens our convictions. It is limitless in all that it gives. The beauty of pride is it best earned with patience. Patience is the real hero. Its sort of like how your body makes a shadow; patience shines a light on areas that are weak. As you work through those areas you get stronger and then can do more. Pride is just the after effect of your patience.

I love those moments where the Universe laughs at me for thinking I have control over all that’s around me. When the ego boast the “ME! ME! ME!” cry and all you’ll end up hearing is the Universe laughing. The ego may drive you to want more asanas, but sooner or later the ego becomes weak. What takes over when the ego walks away…the heart. Its inside the heart that patience lives. Don’t be afraid to let hard work pay off and to see things through. There will be no party, and probably no checks will be written, but there will be a sense of great pride. Pride like that can make you feel as strong as an elephant. Hopefully that elephant like feeling you experience is Ganesha pointing out to you that you are overcoming obstacles. So, put away your wallet because patience can not be bought. But I promise you, if you don’t find some you will end up paying for it.

Patiently moving into Kapotasana.

Patiently moving into Kapotasana.

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

The largest land animal has a lot to teach us.

I have always had a thing for elephants, yet I have never met one personally. Sadly, I worry I never will, but that’s for another time. I have read many books about elephants, where they are the lead character. One of my favorites is Modoc, by Ralph Hefler. I shall share a list with you at the end of this of all the great many elephant stories I have read for all the elephant fanatics like myself. Once I started practicing yoga, I found it comforting that in the mythology of yoga there is a character named Ganesha. Ganesha is an elephant headed figure considered to be very sacred amongst yoga practitioners. Which, for me, was a good thing because it made picking my  Ishta Devata very easy.

Ganesha Statue.

What is an Ishta Devata, you might ask? It’s something that you resonate with. But by definition it is a “cherished divinity”. It might be an energy that you devote your practice to (Bhakti yoga), or it could be described as a force that makes you calm and steadfastness in your direction. It could be a feeling that you do not doubt. I have never doubted that an elephant head God-like figure wouldn’t be a good match for me. I find elephants to be exquisite in their beauty, impressive in their grace (even though appearing outwardly clumsy). They show great empathy in their family network and they exemplify what a support system should look like. They seem to embody the ability to grieve and they are pregnant for 22 months. So they must be amazingly strong, wouldn’t you say? In the mythological symbolism of the Great Ganesha, he is considered the deity of choosing for removing all obstacles. He is a great archetype to honor at the beginning of all new endeavors to help assure that your path will be obstacle free.

However, I prefer to think of Ganesha as a source of strength that I can go to, to overcome my obstacles. I do not like the notion of removing obstacles because I strongly believe it is the obstacles I have met and overcome that have shaped me into the resilient person I am today. Obstacles require creative thinking. Obstacles make our travels less linear and more meandering. It’s the terrain of life that gives our journey shape, the up’s and down’s, in’s and out’s, and the back and forth. To share with you a truth about linear travel, I can tell you this: I live where it is very flat and many roads tend to be very straight. Nothing feels more exhilarating then when I get into the mountains a few hours away. The curving, climbing, wrapping, and descending shapes of the road and the scenery that goes along with it always takes my breath away. Roads like that seem to bring out my adventurous spirit.

If all my obstacles were removed wouldn’t that make my journey easy and uneventful? If the troubles that lie ahead were taken away for the sake of my comfort, what would I appreciate? It’s usually in the uncomfortable places that I find myself most alive and even willing to be daring. Being comfortable sets up the likelihood that I might become dull (styana). Dullness isn’t exactly a label I’d like to wear. I don’t know about you.

I align myself with Ganesha when standing face to face with an obstacle. I take strength from this Divinity because Elephants embody so much of what I need. What’s one of the first things you might need when facing a obstacle?  Family, friends, right?  Elephants live in great family structures that are very loving, supportive and even adoptive at times of loss. They set up a system of what’s called allomothers, whose job it is to look after the young calf and help it along. I need people around me, that support me, and help me along when I’m facing an obstacle. Don’t you?

What else do Elephants have that might inspire me during times of challenge? They have thick skin, hence the name Pachyderm. This thick skin is why they have no true predators,except for humans.:-[  The only time you will see an elephant down is from illness, age or humans. When I am confronted with difficulties, it is no time to become thin-skinned. It’s time to toughen up.

Of course, one of the most apparent traits of  strength comes from the fact that they are sturdy creatures, not easily knocked down. Matter of fact, they seldom lie down at all. They need almost 22 hours a day to feed themselves to keep up their energy for their 600 mile migration during the dry season. There is no time for the weary. They can travel many miles on their four sturdy legs. Elephants have to constantly stay on the move for food and water, for the sake of survival. When I’m facing a challenge its necessary to keep moving forward. It’s time to keep up my energy with things like yoga, a good diet, and people around me that will encourage me. Staying in one place creates stagnation – movement is the answer.

Now their most charming physical attribute is of course their trunk. How could I possibly see inspiration from their trunks? Their trunk is a great representation of strength and flexibility. Their trunks are sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass or strong enough to break the branches off a tree. Like sutra 46 chapter 2 says “Sthira sukham asanam” You should be at ease and steady in your asanas. Learning to be strong and flexible is about becoming balanced between opposites (dwandwa)? Their trunks can be very delicate because it has over 150,000 separate muscles fascicles, it is also highly innervated making it extremely sensitive. It is said, in the yoga tradition, that the human body has over 72,000 nadi’s (or little rivers, energy pathways) that act as our information highway. In order to keep our nadi’s functioning well we need to become aware of bad energy in our body which would create an energetic traffic jam of sorts. We need to stay sensitive when facing obstacles and yoga is great way to do that.

Then of course there is their form of communication. They communicate mostly at a pitch that we humans can not hear. Even they aren’t really hearing it. They are FEELing it. Their feet are designed in such a way that they are able to feel vibrations traveling miles to them through the ground. The sensitivity that they have in their feet and trunk allows them to communicate miles apart and at times reunite a family group that had gotten separated. This communication allows them to survive some pretty challenging conditions. But the most amazing thing about this type of communication is that it requires great sensitivity. It requires that they feel information instead of seeing it, or hearing it. The human species is far to dependent on sight and sound. So much so, that we love to hear the sound of ourselves speaking and to see ourselves in a mirror. Instead we should  trust what we feel. Our gut instinct can be a great resource in time of difficulty. It’s this sensitivity that will allow our decision-making through difficult times to be less reactive and more responsive. Sensitivity can be refined when practicing an OM. Try to feel it, instead of hear it.

Sutra 30 Chapter 1 describes everything that an elephant is not. “Vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitatvani citta viksepah te antarayah.” Translated – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about one’s self, lack of perseverance and instability. Sri Swami Satchidananda interpreted this sutra as such ” Remember, yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacities. We all have the strength but we don’t seem to know it. We seem to need to be challenged and tested in order to understand our own capacities. In fact, that is the natural law. If a river flows easily, the water in the river does not express its power. But once you put an obstacle to the flow by constructing a dam, then you can see its strength in the form of tremendous power.

I look to elephants, all shapes and sizes, fact and fiction to guide me through my obstacles and to overcome difficulties. I go to Ganesha for strength and wisdom. I am reminded by the great elephants that we are here to help each other along, like  elephants do in their herds. Horton from Dr. Seuss said “A person is a person, no matter how small.” We are all trying to get over different obstacles, at different times, and of course from different places. Let’s just remember “I meant what I said and I said what I meant. An elephant is faithful 100%.”  – Dr. Seuss. We could all use a trunk to hold on to, sturdy legs to stand on, thick skin to cope, sensitivity we trust, and a family to count on. Let’s be inspired by Elephants and remember to pay homage to Ganesha.

Om Gum Ganapati Namaha! 

Great Elephant Reads:

Modoc by Ralph Helfer

To the Elephant Graveyard by Tarquin Hall

The Astonishing Elephant by Shana Alexander

The Elephant Keeper by Christopher Nicholson

The Cowboy and his Elephant by Malcolm Mac Pherson

The Inconvenient Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

Hannah’s Dream by Daine Hammond

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

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