Posts Tagged With: Pattabhi Jois

It’s a good day for a parade!

If I move left, you move left, and if you move right, I move right. If the group moves up we all go with it. We bob and weave, we ebb and flow, we juke and jive, we move together in all directions and pretty much in unison. There is a great comfort in this uniformity. It provides a certain degree of mental safety. There’s a sense of stability because we are all doing the same thing. It’s nice to know the people surrounding me made the same decision I did today –  do your practice. That you packed your yoga bag just as I did this morning to ensure there wouldn’t, couldn’t be any cop-out. That you are breathing, the way I am breathing, that you will struggle as I will struggle, that you will surrender as I will surrender. Not all of these things will happen at the exact same time, but they are bound to happen over the course of our time together, and this provides me great comfort.

Ashtanga yoga does it right. Uniting like-minded people in a room for an hour and half helps us see our similarities instead of our differences. Our community will be built. Our tribe is being formed. You’ve heard the proverb,  “It takes a village.” this is my village. This creation of commonality could be the cure for what divides us and creates war.

I often say to my students “that you have at least one thing in common with everyone one in this room today, and that is –  you wanted to do your practice.” You all woke up with the same plan – “Must practice yoga!” Go beyond that and see that you have even more in common with your classmates. There may be several of you that are mothers, there may be some of you that are runners, some of you raised by a single parent, some with fear of heights, some with a love of classical music, some that enjoy the same beer and some that have fur-children. If we were to stop everyone at the door and survey each person we could probably lump you together  in a bunch of different ways. If we could make you realize all the things you have in common, it would help you feel connected to something that doesn’t have limits. This infinite possibility of connection is bigger than we realize. The potential that comes out of working together way out weighs the struggle you feel when working against each other.

In life, we have many circles. Little communities that make us feel part of something bigger. But why is it that we aren’t feeling more united? We feel that technology is separating us more and more, but everyday I see people uniting in their yoga practice. Especially if its ashtanga yoga, and even more so if its second series that they are practicing. Almost everyone needs help with Supta Vajrasana. I love that we are there for each other  with this pose and that there is a forced eye to eye contact that happens on that last exhale up out of Little Thunderbolt. Yoga has a word for all this uniting we experience in and amongst our yoga friends – sangha. No matter the word, sangha, tribe, school, or parade it means the same thing – stick together.

Nature has been on to this little hidden secret for years. Fish stick together in a school, lions stick together in a pride, when crows stick together it’s called a murder, when giraffes stick together it’s called a tower, and when elephants stick together it’s called a parade. This should make us realize that we are stronger as a pack, than we are as individuals. I know I feel this way when I practice yoga with my tribe.  Animals realize they are safer in numbers, and ashtangi’s do too.

See yoga’s big goal, or its climax to speak of, is oneness. This union with just one thing and this one thing is powerful enough to make us feel complete, whole, connected, whatever you want to call it. Pattbhi Jois often said “Looking…only God seeing.” It’s cool if it’s not “God” for you, but it is a union to something.  When we do our OM we resonate with this one universal sound, and we realize everything vibrates together at some level. Everything and everyone is connected at some level. Recently my sister-in law realized she had met my husband about 15 years before I met him. She was on vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC with her family and my  husband flew her and her sister on a parasail ride up and down the coast. She even has a picture to prove this chance meeting. We say it’s a small world, but is it really? I have several more stories of this kind of chance meeting, as I am sure you do too. It’s time that we realize we are all connected.

I took a workshop years ago with Shiva Rae, it was her trademark trance dance workshop. She had us do this thing that I was positive was never going to work. She had us move around a small yoga room, spinning in circles with our arms out for 10 mins. During that 10 minutes she said ” just keep moving by looking for the open spot and you won’t bump into each other.” You know what?  It worked! What if practicing yoga could be that simple “Just look for the open spot, and move there.” Just like looking for a parking spot at the grocery store. Find the opening, right? Because that’s where the light shines in.

IMG_3328-1041725558-LIf all of us show up on our mats and look for the opening where the light shines in there is bound to be a radiance equal to that of the sun, where for a moment you find yourself completely entranced with the people surrounding you.  That you find yourself in a trance dance with your school of yogi’s – flowing on the same current, the same vibration, going in the same direction and moving as one. That at least once during the practice maybe more, you will feel like one brilliant light, you will sound like one giant lung, and you will feel like a school, or a pride, or a flock. If it’s a really good day you might feel like a parade.

 

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

The sign says “pull”.

Have you ever found yourself pushing against a door and it won’t open because it’s a door you pull- not push? Do you find yourself chuckling when you realize there’s a sign right in front of you – “PULL”? I find people behave this way in yoga too. Which is, they use the wrong energy to try to achieve a particular result. I see people pushing their hips back while they should be trying to pull their hips forward. I see people pulling themselves up into headstands but not remembering to push down into the floor. I see people pulling themselves forward with their arms, but not pushing down through their legs. It seems a little bit like trying to get people to pat their head and rub their tummies. Why can’t we do two things at once? I thought we were the great multi-tasking society of highly evolved people. Seeing the way people practice yoga always makes me question how effective they really are at multi-tasking? If we can’t push and pull at the same time, we are truly missing the beauty of our universe. It’s made of opposites and it’s how we use these opposites that will truly make us successful.

The space shuttle get’s lift off by pushing down against the earth. It all begins with the way we push down, in every posture. It’s in the downward effort that you get upward momentum. It’s in the setting of your foundation that the posture is constructed. I see the opposite of this all the time in yoga, particularly with headstands. Pushing and pulling are both necessary to stay inverted. You should pull your legs above you using your hamstrings, but all the while keep pushing down with your forearms. Then once you’re there you need to push your thighs back but your hips forward. You need to pull your ribs in, and push/broaden your shoulder blades out. All of the poses we do have opposites at work. Downward dog you push with your arms and pull with your legs. In upward dog you push with your arms, pull with your back, you push with your quads, and pull with your inner thighs. This goes on and on. When you start to look for the duality and learn to use it effectively, the posture will start to stabilize. You can be damn sure that if you are not stable in an asana then you have not yet found this balance of the opposites. As sutra 2.46 says “Sthira sukham asanam”, first – steady yourself. Balance is crucial, it’s why a ship has ballast that keeps it from tipping over to one side, and why a plane can’t land if it is tipping to one side. Even my car tells me when it’s out of balance by sending an alarm when one of the four tires is not equal to the others.
034_34
Let’s look at things that you have probably experienced to help you understand this application of opposites. The first thing I think of is a swing – if you pull to hard with your right arm it immediately makes you swing crooked. How about this… why does someone limp? Because one leg is doing more of the work. Injury or weakness sets in motion a change in their gate. It’s like trying to push a grocery cart with one hand, or riding a bike with one hand. You can do these things, but you should notice that you have to do twice the amount of work and twice the amount of correcting. Where if you would use duality to your favor, you would be exerting less effort. You’d be more efficient and hence experience better balance. Harmony comes through equally applying effort and resistance to all your muscles that are set up as pairs.

You have two groups of muscles – the agonist and the antagonist. The antagonist resist what the agonist is trying to do. When the antagonist resist equal to the effort, the movement is smooth and balanced. The sooner we come to realize this the easier life becomes and the more we learn to ride the duality gracefully. It plays out like this – the Quadriceps oppose the action of the hamstrings and vice versa. Just like the opposite of being lazy, is hard work. Duality exists everywhere. Because it’s such an ingrained part of our life, we forget how these forces can work together harmoniously.

If yoga students would take a greater interest in the way their body works, they would find themselves in a state of auto-correction all the time. They would see that the adjustments that their teachers are making can be made with their own applied effort of the right muscle. As things go, there is either an excessive amount of energy or deficient amount. Tightness is too much energy, where as looseness is too little. Here is an example from one of my most favorite yoga asanas – Urdhva Dhanurasana; if your quadriceps are stiff and tight which means they are short, and at the same time your hamstrings are weak and slack it is no surprise that you would struggle to get up off the ground. And that is just one example, keep in mind you have 640 muscles in your body. Take that idea and apply it to 10/12 more pairs of muscle and then you might begin to understand this amazing kinetic chain that you walk around in all day. This might give you a better understanding to why upward bow is difficult, but not impossible.

When our body is in harmony it feels easy to be human; to be alive, vibrant and capable of some of the craziest looking yoga asanas. At 42 I am still surprising myself. I am still taking risk with my self implied limitations. The space shuttle has put astronauts out there to explore uncharted territories and to continually make new discoveries. Your body is capable of shuttling you to new discoveries. It is in the space of disbelief that you will find that you are pushing yourself into new territories.

Pattabhi Jois was said to have much “Gravitas, meaning his energy pulled people towards him, that what he was putting out was magnetic. Find something that is powerful enough to rotate around, the way the sun is powerful enough to keep our planet in orbit. I have found that Yoga is my sun. It keeps me moving, it keeps me illuminated and well balanced. Yoga is my anchor and my engine all at the same time. I can PULL myself back down to earth with yoga or I can PUSH myself to shoot for the stars. But it’s only going to work if I know how to push and pull myself in all manners of speaking.

Good luck and I hope you find lift off in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

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

Sisyphus has nothing on us Ashtangi’s

Day in, day out, day in, day out, day in, day out, rest day. Day in, day out…get the idea. This is the life of an ashtangi. For most of us, it’s an accurate portrayal of our daily lives, too. On a day-to-day basis, there usually aren’t big changes, but just little ones that pop up. Most of our days have some consistency, or so it appears. But if you do Ashtanga yoga, you know that there can be big differences day-to-day. Because of the sequence being the same, it helps you to realize just how different you really are each day. With the practice having the same format, it’s sort of like a painter always starting with a white canvas. Or you could think of it as being similar to the story of Sisyphus, a character in Greek Mythology.

Sisyphus was condemned to a life of suffering, by the Gods, for his deceitful ways. He was to push a large boulder, up a mountain, every day, just to have it roll down again. Same boulder. Same mountain. Every day. For eternity. He’d find himself standing at the top of the mountain watching the boulder roll back down, and it is believed that on his way down he was left to think about his situation. * It is said by Albert Camus, in the book The Myth of Sisyphus that “when Sisyphus acknowledges the futility of his task and the certainty of his fate, he is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation and to reach a state of contented acceptance.” Camus also says that “[t]here is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.” It is that statement, that makes me say Sisyphus has nothing on us Ashtangi’s. Because unlike Sisyphus, we choose to push the boulder up the mountain in what our daily practice. Every morning we wake up and see “the boulder” waiting for us at the foot of our yoga mat. We dutifully accept our fate, without scorn. All Ashtangis know there will be some dukha along the way, as well as some sukha. We accept that, and practice anyway.

I just read a book called The Dude and the Zen Master, by the actor Jeff Bridges, in which he implies that Camus was trying to say that Sisyphus was a hero. Jeff interprets Sisyphus feelings about his fate as such “Instead of just saying, Oh man, what is the use, he [Sisyphus] finds some interest in his job: Oh look at what happened this time! Funny, I never noticed that little shrub before. The rock sure raised a lot of dust this time when it rolled back down, wasn’t that interesting? Oh here it goes again. Oh, there it goes. Watch it.” If Sisyphus were attached to his outcome of getting the rock to the top then his suffering would be great. But IF he was able to do his work without expecting his outcome to become any different, then he would be free to enjoy the process, instead of the result.

Ashtanga yoga is a process, not a result. That is why Pattabhi Jois said “Practice and ALL is coming” the word WHEN, IF or HOW are not in his statement. Because it’s not about outcome, it’s about process. If you do the practice there is bound to be many different outcomes, but any particular outcome never removes the need for the process. The process of ashtanga yoga is till death, or until we can no longer move our bodies. The Ashtangis that I know celebrate the big anniversaries, 10 years, 15, 25 years of daily practice. All the way to Pattabhi who had over 70 years of practice to see what the ALL was about.

Janu Sirsasana C, day-in, day-out.

Janu Sirsasana C, day-in, day-out.

The practice is the boulder. However, it is up to you whether you push it up the mountain. It’s also up to you whether it feels like a burden, or a blessing. Pattabhi was always saying “You do”. Some say it was his limited/broken english that made him say it that way, but maybe he just didn’t see the need to say it any other way. Such as “You have to do this…” or “When you do that…” or “If you do this…”. He knew, for those of us that do, “You do” is enough. Sisyphus did, but he had no choice. Maybe he eventually realized that the God’s meant “You do” and not “You have to do this.” One statement carries burden, while the other sets you free – Jivan Mukta. The God’s probably thought this work would be good for Sisyphus, so that he could see the error of his ways. We yogi’s understand this. Our practice helps to get rid of our samsara halahala.

* Excerpt from Wikipedia.

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

A journey to India.

Not all journeys require a plane ticket. Some journeys are taken in the soul of a person. They never have to leave their current life to have this journey. It happens inside the life they are already living. This is my story with regards to India. I have never been and I don’t know if I’m going to get there. There is this feeling that I am missing out and that I am not as respected inside the yoga community, because I haven’t been to India. I’m not blaming anyone for these feelings, they are more than likely self implied feelings of inadequacy. But none the less, they are my feelings.

Many of the Ashtanga yogi’s I know have traveled to India, some even more than once. Most made the trek there to study with the late Pattabhi Jois, of Mysore.  I have always wanted to go, but have had numerous reasons not to. Some of those reasons are that I am quite fearful of flying, I have never had enough time and money to go for the prerequisite 1-3 month implied time frame, and I am incredibly sensitive to seeing the suffering of animals. Everything I have read and seen of India shows stray dogs and cats running in the streets with their ribs showing. Even some of the cows I have seen photos of seem to be suffering of starvation, even though cows are considered sacred in India. I don’t think I have the strength to see these things and not be broken to pieces by them. I became vegetarian instantaneously, here in the states, by seeing one semi-tractor trailer of chickens being transported for slaughter. My home currently has 3 cats, two dogs and two parrots living in it. And every evening I take care of 3 feral cats in my neighborhood, and this is America. If I go to India, who knows how many animals or children I would want to bring home. Because of these things, I have not journeyed to India but I have been taking a different kind of journey;  the journey of what to do with my feelings of inadequacy.

There seems to be a bit of a divide in the Ashtanga community; there are those that received Pattabhi Jois’s blessing to teach the system, and there are those that didn’t get that blessing before he passed. Just because I didn’t make the many trips necessary to receive this blessing does this make me any less dedicated or deserving than those that have? Am I missing out on some sort of spiritual epiphany? Do we have to leave our lives to find ourselves, or to gain permission? It seems that my dharma is to study here in the states, with my teacher, Tim Miller. Since I practice yoga I have had many spiritual epiphanies without having to go to India. Could India create more or different epiphanies? I’m sure it could, but life really is what we make it. I am taking a journey to India, it just looks different than most people’s. I’m making it a journey inward to the place inside myself where the desire to go to India exists.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

Photo taken by Vatsa Shamana. Vatsa was a student of mine from Mysore, India. He took this picture on a recent trip home.

How am I taking this journey? Well I am studying first and foremost with Tim Miller. He has taken over 18 treks to India, and he was given Pattabhi’s blessing. I have been reading about India and yoga for years now. I am seeking out the wisdom of others and I am doing the most important thing of any journey, which is the study of the self – svadhyaya.

I’m still struggling with that feeling I get when trying to find my place in the Ashtanga community. There is a sort of chronological order to things which I think should be considered, such as Pattabhi studied and taught for 80 years, Tim has studied and taught for over 33 years and I have studied and taught for over 13 years. Though I never experienced India first hand, I have tried to experience it through reading many wonderful books about India. For years now I have been listening to Tim tell stories of India and Pattabhi Jois. I continue to honor Ashtanga yoga as it has been taught from teacher to student; Pattabhi to Tim, and from Tim to me. That’s as direct a path I figured I could get without going straight to the source. It has been what has worked for me. I am proud of my dedication. I am proud of my unwavering belief that Ashtanga yoga is a great way to make my life better.

Through the years of studying the sutra’s I have learned a few things. A great bit of advice from the sutra’s comes from the niyama’s. The niyama’s are about how do I interact with myself. One of the ways to better understand that is self-study, svadhyaya. Svadhyaya has helped me look more closely at why I have felt inadeqaute. What this self-study has made me realize is that we all take different paths and there are many different mountains for us to climb. A very dear friend of mine has climbed Mount Everest. He speaks of the Northeast Ridge being one the harder climbs to the top. There are many faces of a mountain that you can climb to get to the top. I think staring down my own feelings of inadequacy has been like climbing that Northeast ridge. I have had to make peace with myself time and time again about feeling like I am looked down upon by other yogi’s for not making the journey to India.

I have also had to confront my feelings of jealousy to those that have found a way to make the trek to India. There is a sutra that reminds me how best to embrace others. If I do this, then I am at peace. Sutra 33, chapter 1 Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatah citta prasadanam – The mind becomes serene when it cultivates friendliness in the presence of happiness, compassion in the presence of unhappiness, joy in the presence of virtue, and equanimity in the presence of error. If my fellow ashtanga yogi’s are also letting the sutras guide them in life then it should be abundantly clear that they would not judge me based on whether or not I have been to India, and that they should really not judge me at all. So if they are not judging me, then how do I escape the feelings of “You’re not good enough”?

I escape these feelings by doing another practice. The times I have wanted to walk away because the road was getting rough are too numerous to count. But what tells me I am deserving of respect with or without a stamp on my passport, is that I haven’t walked away. That I haven’t given up, instead I have given in. I believe there is a big difference between giving up and giving in. Giving in means softening, to become more malleable, to adapt, to adopt new patterns and philosophies, to keep going inward a.k.a. svadhyaya! But giving up means you walk away. “When the road gets rough, the going get tough” and every practice I do when I’m tempted to walk away makes me tough, resilient and deserving of respect. The only real respect I need is self-respect. I respect myself greatly and I’ve gained most of that respect from not quitting. I know that I am authentic, honest and that I live yoga instead of just doing yoga. My yoga filters into everything I do and I didn’t need to go to India to get to this place. This place was already inside me. I just needed to journey inward. Every time I stand on mat and chant the invocation, I invoke Krishnamacahrya, Pattabhi, Tim, India and my own inner guru. I’m accumulating a little more dust on my lotus feet. The feet are the symbolism of the journey and so far I’d say that my journey has been pretty great right here in my own back yard.

Years ago when I was thinking about moving I asked my teacher Tim “Where should I go.” I said “I want to move somewhere where Ashtanga yoga is popular and booming.” and he said “Why don’t you go somewhere it’s not and bring it to life.” That’s what I have been trying to do for 8 years now in Charleston, SC. It has been a long, slow process, but right now I think we have a pretty darn great community, even if it is small. I appreciate each and every person that loves the practice as much as I do here in my small town some 7,000 miles away from India. The story goes that Krishamacharya daksha (payment) to his teacher was that he had to go out into the world and be a householder and teach yoga. I felt like Krishnamacharya when Tim said why don’t you take the road less traveled and bring Ashtanga yoga to people who haven’t experienced it. It’s what I’ll be doing today, tomorrow, and the day after that. It’s not easy, but if Krishnamacharya didn’t quit, Pattabhi didn’t quit, and Tim hasn’t quit, then neither will I. Even when it’s hard and I am feeling inadequate I just do what they have all done before me. Practice, Practice, Practice. As my teacher says “the only thing that removes doubt is experience.” I have that, 13 years strong. Today will be no different. “Ommmmmmm. Vande gurunam charanaravinde….

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

SURPRISE!

13 years of practicing Ashtanga yoga, whew! Is that a good thing? Is it worth celebrating? Absolutely. How did I celebrate it? Well the same as I do everyday, by unrolling my mat and doing another practice. No cake with candles, no party hat’s, no invited guest… just me, myself and I. But wait… if I have done thirteen years of yoga is there any “I” left? Yep. I haven’t transcended the ego yet. But do I really want to? No, it’s what gets me on my mat. It’s what gives me the courage that a weaker ego might back away from. I still believe my potential is limitless. I still believe, even though 13 years older, that I can do more than I could at 28. So that’s what makes this worth celebrating.

I was told by my teacher years ago that I should always remember my first experience with yoga and always remember my first teacher. What I have learned from that advice is it will keep you humble. As you practice, you automatically improve. That is only if you practice consistently. As the late, great Pattabhi Jois would say “Practice, practice, practice…all is coming.” With so much improvement it’s possible you can lose sight of the place you started. It’s kind of like that Oscar winning moment for an actor where they thank their high school drama teacher. Where we start, is our anchor. We are aiming for buoyancy in yoga. Our ego more than anything else needs to stay tied down, or it can carry you away. It’s a lot like those buoys in a harbor that are markers to tell the ship where the channel lies.

Me & Tim, Yoga on high, Columbus, Ohio - 2005.

Me & Tim, Yoga on high, Columbus, Ohio – 2005.

People in your life can be great buoy markers. People that have inspired you. People that keep you on the right path. Kind of the like the bumpers in a pin ball game, keeping the ball in play. Hopefully the company you keep are people who keep you on the right track and also keep you humble and grounded. This is why one of my buoys is my teacher Tim Miller. He knows just the right dose of guidance to provide each dedicated student, and he is not over indulgent in handing out compliments. You have to earn his respect and you might not even know when you get it. But he did this one thing that led me to believe I had earned his respect. He remembered my name, time and time again, even if it had been a year since I last saw him. It’s no easy task, I am sure, to remember his students names. He travels all over the world teaching workshops. And he still teaches a full-time schedule at his own studio. But yet every year, I head back to study with him, he remembers my name, where I’m from and even what some of my problem asana’s are. This has always inspired me and I try to emulate him. (www.ashtangayogacenter.com)

Some of my other buoys are my dedicated students that show up again and again and that live some pretty crazy, busy lives. Yet they unfurl their mats day in and out. These are the students that bring good vibes into the space. These are the students that want to grow, that don’t accept “no” from their bodies, or minds for that matter. The ones that lay down a path of hard work that ultimately gets them to their yoga aspirations.

Me & my grandfather -  1983.

Me & my grandfather – 1983.

My grandfather was another great buoy, even though he is no longer of this world. His example inspired me. He never complained, yet he probably had things to complain about. He had an 8th grade education, held down two jobs and raised 4 daughters, half his life by himself, as his wife died young. He built his own house with his own hands and lived in it for 60+ years. He tended an acre land for a garden to feed himself and his family. He lived through the depression and appreciated everything in his life. He always dressed impeccably, darned a hole in his sock and polished his shoes. He made me once sit at the dinner table until I finished my dinner and I learned to appreciate what I had been given.

Georgia Marathon, 2010

Georgia Marathon, 2010

My mother is also one of my bumpers that keeps me on the right track. She gives so generously to others. She is always, sewing, cross stitching, knitting, baking something for someone. Things made from her love of these hobbies, as well as the enjoyment it ultimately brings the recipient. She, like her father, cooked 98% of all meals we ever ate as a family. No microwave, no frozen entrée, food that is fresh and healthy. My mom always made me go to school. I ended up graduating with perfect attendance through all 14 years of education. My parents didn’t let me walk away from commitments. My Dad believes in seeing things through and that hard work and persistence pays off. They are why I have finished 4 marathons, and only missed a handful of yoga practices through 13 years. I was raised by a hard-working family. Hard work doesn’t scare me. If anything, it motivates me because the reward at the end, I do believe, is greater. Hard work will always reward you with self-esteem. You can not lose from hard work, you can only gain.

These are the people I celebrate every time my yoga anniversary comes around. Maybe I should bake them a cake, put on a party hat, and invite them over to celebrate my anniversary. But since some of my buoys can’t be where I am, and vice versa, I just hold them in my heart for the whole month of February. Is it a coincidence that yoga came into my life the month of february? The month of love, the month that celebrates the heart? I think not. I love yoga! I fell in love my very first class, and more and more each day. Even the bad days. This is the month for me to be thankful for the people who gave me what is necessary to take the long road, and not look for the short cut. Have you ever thought who you’d like to have over to dinner to say thanks to? Have you ever thought about what you would say to them? Is “thanks” enough? Does it encompass what you feel? I recently read a great anonymous quote that said ” You haven’t really lived until you have done something for someone who can not repay you.” These people I cannot repay, at least not in dollars. But I can repay them in respect and admiration. I can also repay them in behavior by carrying on some of the great morals and ethics they taught me and being an example to others.

I’m looking forward to celebrating this anniversary every February. I am very thankful to the one person I had a dinner conversation with 13 years ago that said to me the same thing I have said to many people since…”Yoga is not what you think. It’s not just stretching, just give it I try. I think you’ll be surprised.” He was right. It’s not what you think, it’s so much more than we can even imagine. 13 years in, it’s still surprising me.

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

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

Stacking stones, stacking bones.

Moonlight beach, Encinitas, CA 2010

I have studied with my teacher, Tim Miller many times and in many different places. I have been to Mexico to study yoga under a thatched roof that is 20 yards away from the Carribean Sea and I have studied in his hometown of Encinitas, CA, where his studio is also just a stretch from the pacific ocean and here in my hometown of Charleston, SC, with many beaches available. My 1st  visit out West was to take his first series Ashtanga teacher training back in 2008. I remember going for my first walk on the beach and being challenged to shift my preconceived notions of what a beach is. I grew up having to travel to the east coast for some beach time, where the water is warm and sea shells are washing up on the beach everyday like individual precious reminders of the creation that’s going on under the sea. I would seek to collect memories amongst the vastness and variety of shells that would wash up on the beach. This was one of my favorite past times. Well, the Pacific isn’t anything like the Atlantic. The Pacific water is very cold. When I was there it was 54 degrees. It’s clearer than the east coast. You can see your feet getting bright red from the cold water, if your standing knee deep in the ocean. But the oddest thing to me was the lack of shells. Instead, what was scattered on the beach were stones – smooth stones, that varied in color and shape, but were all relatively similar in appearances. I was first disappointed, as I find it very meditative to walk a beach looking down at each step to see what washed up, artistically-crafted shell I can find. I can seem to do this for hours, peacefully. Since these stones were my only option I decided to start collecting them. Each one in my hand was different and when I stopped expecting them to be shells, I started to see the beauty in each one. The ocean had been rolling and polishing them to the smoothness and shape that made them each very individual. But, what was I going to do with a handful of stones?

There is a practice of stacking stones in Buddhist cultures, where the stones are stacked as prayers. The number of stones might correlate to the number of family members. These stone prayers were stacked around temples. Closer to home, when I was young I remember being taught about hiking safety in girl scouts. We were taught to mark out trails using sticks or  stones in the form of arrows to guide us safely back to where we began. You will see fancier renditions of this by some hikers who will opt to stack stones instead. I have hiked a few trails in my time and have come across these expressions. They always leave me wondering…How long had they been there? Who stacked these and why? How many other people had walked past and been intrigued by this natural art? So I decided to take a whirl at stacking stones, and it became a very interesting experience for me.

I started with the collecting process, which naturally made me feel like a little girl again collecting things from nature. Carrying them back in the hem of my shirt, excited to see my loot dropped in a pile at my feet. I knew since I wasn’t going to spend a day frolicking in that very cold ocean, this could be a fun way to spend a day at the beach. So as I started to make a stack of stones, I kind of figured I’d do one, and that my attempt to balance stones would be a passing interest. But after I stacked one, I began the second, and then the third, until I had 5 stacks of stones. I started to enjoy the challenge of pairing the stones. The effort it took in patience to find the stones perfect balance point and the delicacy required to stack stone number 6 on number 5 without affecting all the stones below. You might get to stone 4 and knock them all down while adding stone 5. This process was slowly forming a very quiet space in my mind. I had begun to appreciation each stone’s character points that were ultimately going to influence their balance point. I started to see the parallels that stone stacking had to the alignment process of my bones in all the asana’s I had traveled out here to learn from my teacher’s 30+ years of experience.

I remember a workshop I took within my first year of practicing yoga with Rodney Yee. I remember him demonstrating a pose called Trikonasana (three angled posture). He taught me a great lesson that day. It was the art of refinement. Small movements create a chain reaction in all areas of the posture’s alignment. Rodney Yee’s background was ballet. So he seemed to be demonstrating an impeccable understanding of his body and the ability to influence it’s alignment with a intelligent approach to movement, which was done without force. At the time, I am pretty sure that I was coming at my yoga practice with all braun and no grace. After seeing him make a few tiny movements and watching his posture go from what seemed disintegrated to integrated, it opened my eyes to a whole new approach to alignment. I had to find the balance point of each individual muscle and have the patience to allow all the muscles to work together with appropriate effort and sensitivity. Much like Patanjali’s yoga sutra 2:46 “Sthira Sukham Asanam” : Asana’s should have equal parts steadiness and ease.

As you build a yoga posture, it becomes just like stacking stones. First you have to have a good foundation, which is why it’s just standard to do yoga on a firm service. Then you have to start from the bottom and work your way up.  It begins in our feet, hands, arms or our sit bones (Ischial tuberosities). It really just depends on the asana that you are trying to build. It begins at the part of the body that will have the most contact with the floor. But what isn’t always paid attention to is that even once your foundation is set, the way you stack the rest of the stones/bones matters too. It’s the teeter totter principal. Too much weight in any one direction will throw off how the load is carried.

As I am looking at each rock and feeling its weight and character in my hands, I have to try and feel for it’s balance point. I would roll the rock around to feel where it was heavy and to try and find a flat, smooth point. We can do this to with our bones by contracting back and forth between the opposing muscles that make the bone move in a given direction. The size and strength of a muscle can influence the impact it has on the movement of the bone. So you start to look for misalignments, areas where there is not equal movement. We all get the same muscles but we don’t all develop the same. Some of us have stronger abductors then adductors, or quadriceps vs. hamstrings, or core vs. back strength. These disproportionate make up is bound to create bad mechanics in our movements. But yoga is the process of tuning us into these things with awareness being the tool. Training our sense’s to feel more intimately stress and strain on the joints and ligaments. Sometimes, one of the only ways you can know what balance feels like is by pulling your body out of balance in both directions. Then start refining your movements slowly to where the center point lies.

It’s the pendulum swing. Sometimes you have to try the good and the bad to find what is just right. It’s very much a Goldilocks approach to yoga. Is the porridge too hot, or too cold? Does my pose need more of this, or less? Looking for the greater then and less then symbol in each muscle to find the appropriate give and take to the movement you are trying to isolate. Give it a try: tilt your pelvis posteriorly, and then try and tip anteriorly, and then try and negotiate the neutral point, where there is no stress on the pelvis as it comfortably holds a neutral position.

There was an interesting scenario that happened a couple of times when I was trying to stack the stones. Even though 5 stones seemed perfectly balanced if I placed the 6th stone wrong it caused the other stones to misalign. This is what is going on in our bodies everyday, under our skin, beneath our muscles. There is disintegration instead of integration. My teacher, Tim, likes to talk a lot about integration. It’s a great word to describe a balanced yoga posture. If we pick up a bad pattern of movement in our hip, it can create a reaction outward from there. An example is, if the hip is not functioning optimally, then it may create a strain and weakness in the knee. Or, it can create a imbalance all the way up in to our shoulder eventually affecting our neck. You could relatively look at areas of the body as representations of each stone you are trying to stack. 1st stone – ankles, 2nd stone – knees, 3rd stone – hips, 4th stone – lumbar spine, 5th stone – thoracic spine, 6th stone – cervical spine, and 7th stone  – the head. It’s not only about the bottom stone/bone, it’s about how they all work together and distribute their weight on one another.

It took me about 2 hours to collect and balance 5 towers of stone. And in that time, I learned a lot about my level of patience. I learned that speed does not assist delicate things well, and that force will not create balance, and that center isn’t as it outwardly appears. Center is where things meet, they don’t compete and they seem harmonious. Can I describe yoga asana’s that way? I can now. During my attempts at asana’s, day in and day out, I am looking for a point of balance that I feel my way into patiently and gently. When I move this way the poses that I’m striving for comes surprisingly easy. So, I say : if your having a hard time with your asana development, then take a break and go stack some stones, and see what you can learn. Then go back and try and stack your bones with the same interest, sensitivity, kindness and maybe even a little prayer while you do it. Stacking stones on a hiking trail will always get you back to the beginning. Maybe reminding ourselves of how far we have come from that beginning by looking back down the trail for the markers will give us a greater appreciation for our progress and abilities. Stop on this yoga path every now and then and stack some stones so that you don’t lose your way by being clouded with frustration and lack of patience.  Pattabhi Jois said “Practice…and all is coming. ” Whatever it is we practice, stacking stones or stacking bones?

Successfully stacked stones!

Categories: Asana, For the beginner | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: