Posts Tagged With: peace

If it rubs you the wrong way, it’s probably rubbing you the right way.

If only we could remove all the noise and just find silence. Is there really such a thing? How far would you actually have to travel to experience this? The great Rishi’s, back in the day, would head to the Himalaya’s to get their meditating groove on. Whether meditating on a mountain, cave, spare bedroom or at the end of your yoga class there is usually still lot’s of noise. We tend to think of noise (citta) as everything outside our head, but there is a lot of noise inside that ball on our shoulders. Yet no one can hear this inside noise accept you. If I’m sitting right next to someone they can’t hear my noise, thank goodness, because most of it is nonsense. A lot of people believe meditation is about emptying their mind and experiencing silence. If that were the case then the first thing you would need to buy to have a good meditation practice is ear plugs, not a cushion for your bum. Next you would need a well insulated room that keeps down the chance of noise getting in. As much as you can’t remove the outside chatter of birds, cars, dishwashers, wind and the breathing of the person you might be sitting next to, you can’t remove the noise in your head, either.

It’s not supposed to be about that, because its not possible. I mean don’t get me wrong you can experience periods of quiet and they may even be impressively long, but the mind is eventually going to pick the chatter back up. We can’t create an environment insulated from all the things that disturb our peace, but we can make ourselves less easily disturbed.

Baddha Padmasana, Mural artist Matthew Foreman and Joanna Jackson.

Baddha Padmasana, Mural artist Matthew Foreman and Joanna Jackson.

I remember that I never used to encourage students to take breaks while practicing, somewhere along the way, I began implementing this statement. “Take childs pose (balasana) if you need to.” But as of late I have been giving this statement some thought. I have decided in most instances there is no reason to take a break. 9 times out of 10 the reason people drop into child’s pose is agitation/irritation. We bail when uncomfortable, frustrated or up against insecurities. The real truth is we need to be exactly where we are uncomfortable. The only way to get less agitated is to deal with what agitates you. Just like the only way to quiet your mind is to first know what the heck is up there, by listening to it. You can only slow down a wheel that is turning by applying the brakes. What do brakes do? They create friction, they create resistance to the movement. It’s good to rub up against the things that agitate us and really get to a place of using resistance as a tool. The more you expose your self to the agitation the more desensitized you become.

Years ago a had a dog that was afraid of other dogs. So at the time I was volunteering at my local animal shelter and I made a recording of the dogs barking in their kennels and played it back to my dog. At first very softly, than I gradually turned up the volume making sure all the while she was adjusting without much distress. I wouldn’t be doing my dog any favors if I tried to have her live in a world where she was never exposed to another barking dog.

The resistance you have to listening to what’s in your head and the resistance you are experiencing in your body is necessary. It’s like when a carpenter is making a piece of furniture. He makes certain cuts to the wood but the edges end up a little rough. So what does he need to do? He needs to sand down the rough edges. That’s what you are trying to do in yoga. Sand down your rough edges, the places where things are constantly getting snagged. Take for example the Zamboni machine at a hockey game, it comes in each quarter to smooth the ice back to a more safe and playable service. These physical and mental rough spots we have gather stuff every time we come up against them and don’t work through it. Like plague clogs your arteries, these disturbed rough spot’s clog your mind. These points are your samskaras. You can leave them alone and allow them to gather more resistance, more hold over you, or you can use yoga and your very agitated self to change them.

So next time you want your mediation to be perfect, or your yoga practice to be easy remind your self that you are missing the point. You need to get out your tools and become a good carpenter of the mind and body. Or you can think of it this way… you need to hop up on the Zamboni machine of your mind and smooth out the rough spots. Just like when the surface is smooth on a body of water it reflects with perfection all that surrounds it. Just as your mind is doing the same thing, mirroring back to you all that surrounds it. So sit and meditate. Calm the surface of your mind and see the truest reflection of yourself. Our thoughts are like a rock you throw into the smooth body of water, the bigger the rock the more it will disturb the surface. The smaller the rock, well you get the idea. So just as you can rub a rock up against a rough surface to smooth it out and make it smaller. You can rub up against the rough spots and make the things that disturb you have less power over you. Good luck and get to rubbing.

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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

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