Posts Tagged With: practice

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.

 

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Fast food yoga anyone?

Yoga has succumb to the fast food influence. Everyone wants the cool poses and they want the cool poses NOW! People would also like to pay as little as possible for their time spent doing these trick postures. These circus trick postures seem to be as tempting as the little plastic super hero figurine in a happy meal. The “high” from these postures is addictive, and it has power that can alter your life. But not all things we do are good for us. The surgeon general warns us that cigarette smoking is bad, yet people still do it. So what are we to do when we feel tempted to only be pleasure seekers and pain avoiders? Always start with awareness.

We have gone mad with yoga in the United States with classes called happy hour, wisdom warriors and rockasana. These classes branded with big promises of happiness, knowledge and the “Cool” factor. If anything, when I head to a yoga class I am usually looking for less, not more. I want to walk away feeling liberated of the heavy load I’m carrying. I don’t want to worry about how cool I look, while losing a percentage of my hearing because I’m jamming out to Eminem in Triangle pose. What has happened to yoga in America? In my opinion, it has just become another thing we have tried to control, stamp a label on, and declare it ours. Now let’s see how cheap we can make it, how trendy and nutritionally devoid. Sounds a lot like fast food doesn’t it?

Now I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Natarajasana from the towns people, but I wouldn’t mind stealing a few things away from this Americanized yoga. Like Loud music, cute little names for the postures (like fallen angel and baby grasshopper), lavender-scented hand towels, foot rubs in savasana, and arm balances. Now hear me out, I know I few of you just gasped; If you like loud music, listen to it in your car on the way to yoga because it’s not possible to listen to your breathing in a Rockasana class. Which is the primary tenet of yoga’s methodology. If you like foot rubs, pay a trained massage therapist to assist you in your healing. If you like lavender-scented towels then launder your clothes with a little lavender added to it. Remember the 4th limb of yoga Pratyahara – sense withdrawal, not sense overload. And if you like your practice to have a heavy portion of arm balancing, this could be a good time to examine why? Has your yoga become a place for an addiction? Is this kind of yoga possibly feeding narcissism?

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I know arm balancing postures are very empowering! I’m not trying to say that they have no place in yoga, as they have many benefits, different for each student. I’m not saying that we should take any of these things I speak of away from the students. But teachers should ask the question “Am I teaching this class to be popular? to be famous? to fill my ego and get my number of followers to a million on social media?” or “Am I teaching it for the people who show up? Evaluating their ability and analyzing their patterns of weakness and or stubbornness. Is it for me, or is it for them?” No doubt there is a “high” that can come with being up at the front of the room demonstrating great skill in front of 40 people, their eyes wide from being enamored by your grace and beauty. It is this “high” we must be careful with. I took a great workshop from Sean Corne, a very beautiful and gifted teacher. She said, “do you want to be popular, or do you want to be a good teacher?” That question has always stuck with me through 14 years of teaching. I try to check my motive behind my teaching with that question. Sometimes you have to sacrifice the trick poses so that you can teach an intelligent sequence that informs and educates as you go.

Some teachers do a beautiful job, sequencing, cueing and supporting the student, but too many times I have seen the opposite – where 80% of the students are at a basic level ability, but the teacher is handing out advanced level postures. 20% of the students achieve the asana, 50% are plain sitting it out, 10% are putting in good effort and 20% are setting up patterns of future injury. This is not good teaching. I believe the source of this kind of teaching has to do with the fast nature of the industry now. Yoga studios are graduating large groups of trainees every couple of weeks. This side of the industry is becoming like an assembly line. The fact is that you can get certified to teach yoga in 1 month, accumulating as little as 200 hours of knowledge, and in the end all you have to do is pay your 95$ to Yoga Alliance. Which only proves you finished the training. It proves nothing of your knowledge or commitment. Graduates do not have to take a test, or submit competency of any kind to the governing body of yoga. This seems like a slippery slope for yogas future.

In traditional ashtanga yoga, a teacher can hold you back from future postures until you have done the work necessary to move your body into and out of it in a safe and appropriate way. This is just one of the reasons why I love Ashtanga and its old school principals. There is nothing wrong with taking things slow. I love that my Ashtanga yoga teacher, who I greatly respect, doesn’t even offer a 200 hr course. He offers instead two separate 100 hour trainings and they are spaced a year apart. This helps to ensure that the student stick with it for at least a year. It proves a teacher’s level of dedication when they are willing to wait, continue to practice and come back a year later to complete the course.

Now a days, a student can start yoga in February, practice on and off for a couple of months, take a 1 month teacher training, and maybe a few months later they open their own studio and begin teaching something that they have only just begun. This would be like opening a restaurant because you own some cook book’s. Or opening a doctor’s office because you are really proficient at taking temperatures, and giving boo boo’s kisses. There is a reason why so many professions take years of schooling. Many have boards that you must pass before you can practice your profession. It’s the reason why restaurants receive reviews from the board of health, to help prevent you from getting bad food. Who is going to protect the public from getting bad yoga?

Change will come when people no longer want it fast and cheap. When they decide to no longer be glazed over by the shiny big promises of the cool poses and fancy tricks, but start to enjoy the simplicity of what yoga can do for you – like a better nights sleep. Maybe it’s time to teach “bran muffin-nutritionally packed” kind of yoga, with thoughtfulness to the actual students that show up and organized progressively towards a specific posture. Instead of teaching a “donut-empty of nutrients” kind of class, devoid of any substantial thought and or observation to the students participation and progression. These kind of classes that has as many arm balances thrown in as possible, with each one behaving like a sugar spike the way nutritionally devoid food behaves. These sugar spike postures are bound to create a big crash, or as I have seen – a real crash to the very hard and unforgiving floor.

Yoga is a lifelong journey that requires time on a yoga mat – alone and with a professional teacher. It requires time to digest and adapt the information. It requires the student making wise choices to practice with qualified teachers who have done their time on the mat. So don’t be afraid to ask your teacher qualifying questions like “How long have you been teaching?”, or “With whom have you studied?” There are enough qualified, elder and senior teachers out there – with more than 10/15 years teaching experience. You don’t have to settle for the studio that is the closest, the cheapest, or even the fanciest. That could be buying you yoga devoid of any expertise.

Keep your awareness sharp and make sure you aren’t falling for nutritionally empty yoga. Be ware of gimmicks. Play with those postures within reason. Stay aware of some of the poisons there are in a yoga practice like aversion and attachment.

When are you an addict? When you are so attached to something that it causes you great suffering to go without. It’s easy to get addicted to just about anything. By constantly re-examining your motives you will keep your addictions in check. Go for sustenance, commit to the long haul and enjoy the subtle flavorings of a good practice with a very qualified teacher. Sometimes the best flavors come out of a long slow cooking process. Soak in the wisdom from the years some of these teachers have invested. Be willing to let your yoga progress slowly at times. A good teacher will help you do that by calling you out on your aversions, and your attachments. And always try to remember this simple advice from the yoga sutra’s.

Sutra 1.12 Abhyasa Vairagyabhyam Tannirodhah. Mental fluxes are restrained by practice and non-attachment

Sutra 1.14 Sa tu dirgha kale nairantarya satka-rasevito drdhabhumih. Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnest.

Sutra 2.3 Avidyasmita raga dvesabhinivesah klesah – There are five primal causes of suffering: ignorance of your True Self and the value of spirituality, egoism and its self-centeredness, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, and clinging to life out of fear of death.

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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.

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Unsaid

I recently inherited a parrot from my husband’s family. They have had this bird for over 40 years.  I have been working on bonding with him. During this process, what I have really been working on is communication without words. He does speak, but he probably doesn’t comprehend the use of his words, as he will often say “Hello” as I am leaving. But he has mastered the appropriate greeting for my return. He joins our dogs in barking to announce my arrival. I guess he figured since they do it, so should he. It’s very funny seeing your parrot bark. But than again I see people mis-use language all the time. I also see people mis-use inflection and mannerism with their words. So why is it we are so dependent on words instead of what they evoke? We use words to mask so much of what we really mean. This is why I love the stripped down simplicity of a mysore yoga practice. There are no words, at least none spoken, but there is a language. It’s a beautiful language filled with support, encouragement and understanding.

We have become too dependent on words. There is a big difference between just speaking words and actually communicating. Communicating takes listening. You won’t always hear in words what the person actually means. Just like my parrot can’t always tell me what he wants. I have to become a very good listener via body language, and the use of his feet and beak to really understand what he wants. If not, then I usually end up being the recipient of a harsh bite. This same thing happens in yoga sometimes. If you aren’t being an active listener to the teacher, or the warnings from your body then you may get bitten by the hard truth of injury.

I have taken classes over the years where the teacher offers just words; no inflection in their voice, no adjustments through their hands and no darshan either (which is a loving glance). I have found through the years of study with my teacher, Tim Miller, that during his mysore classes, he often  uses darshan as a tool, for encouragement. His hands on adjustments also offer communication. I know that when my teacher touches me firmly and with confidence, it means he has confidence in me –  that I am capable of going where he is trying to take me. It says to me loud and clear “You can do this.”  So what about inflection? I can tell you that my parrot knows how to use it, when he’s not getting the attention he wants, he will get louder and louder until he is noticed. Just the same, I can calm him down with a softer voice and a gentle touch. There is nothing worse to me then a monotone teacher. It sounds to me like they are bored, which I do believe some teachers are. They have lost their “Joie de vivre” for teaching. Pitch and tone can go a long way in expressing the joy there should be in a good practice.

I recently taught a class that seemed like they were all visual learners. It was as if 70% of the class had no ears, only eyes to guide them. Imagine how complicated life must be if they can only understand conversations by what they see and not by what they hear. Where has the art of listening gone? When did we become so dependent on sight. The problem with sight is it is filtered through our preconceived mind (samskaras). This is why  people  recount a story differently even though they all witnessed the same scene unfold. Sight is not reliable, but it is helpful. Even sound is not terribly reliable, because you can read between the lines. But your sense’s are reliable. In order to understand my pets and my pets to understand me, we have to sense each others needs. I have a house full of animals and none of them speak english, but they all speak patience, thank goodness. Because we humans are sometimes selfish in our interpretations of our animals needs. They are so patient with my ignorance of their world and their communication. They however comply to everything I ask, in english. They are good listeners.

Mysore yoga gives us a chance to become better listeners. We have the opportunity to listen to our breathing, thoughts, sensations and our dreams. The quiet of the practice allows room for patience. When in a classroom environment where the teacher is barking commands there is little room for patience. People often feel rushed in a led class, but not mysore. It’s a beautiful practice that has movement as it’s language. Not facial expression, not words, not inflection – just movement. It’s like a liquid conversation. I’d say it’s like a painter painting. The paint is going on the canvas, but it’s blending with other colors. During a mysore practice, our movement blends, each of our movements is like a brush stroke, each person a color. There’s a group effort in mysore style yoga even though no one is doing the same thing at any one time. It probably looks like chaos to an outsider. But for those of us practicing together it’s like a symphony. We each move a different way and experience different struggles. One instrument playing alone can make beautiful music but a symphony leaves an impression.

We need to bring the simplicity of a mysore practice into all of our practices. We need to be less dependent on what we hear and see, and more receptive to what we are feeling. A great musician feels what they are playing. The music that moves you the most did so because you felt it instead of just hearing it. It touched something inside of you. It’s no coincidence that the 4th chakra/the heart chakra is called “the unstruck sound”. This is a sound that you don’t hear with your ears. You feel this sound with your heart. That’s what we’re getting in touch with every time we do a mysore practice. The brain uses language, but the heart uses feelings.

I recently just finished reading a great book about the idea of what’s left unsaid.  Yoga isn’t about what’s said, it’s about what’s not said. Enough with language. Animals are hard to understand if you are expecting to hear words/language. Animals use movements to express moods and desires. My parrot drops his head when he wants petted, or he squats low and quickly flutters his wings when he wants me to come to him. My dog raises her bum but lowers her chest when she wants to play, my cat head butts me when she wants petted. When these things fail, then animals will use sound –  barks, squaks and meows, but first they trust their instincts and their instincts are to communicate with movement. Let’s try to not worry so much about what we are saying and more about what we are doing. There’s a great quote that keeps it simple “Actions speak louder than words.” Let’s take action, get on your mat and leave the words at the door. It’s just better to leave somethings unsaid.

Shhhhh, just listen. Ushtrasana, Camel pose.

Shhhhh, just listen.
Ushtrasana, Camel pose.

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Staying a float

They say that if a rip current is pulling you out to sea, relax and let it pull you, then swim parallel to shore until it releases you and then you can swim in. This is counterintuitive advice but it is life saving. In most cases panic sets in and people who find themselves in this dire situation behave more like salmon and swim aggressively against the current exhausting themselves and putting themselves in greater danger. There are moments in life where we will feel like we are getting pulled out to sea, losing sight of the shore. We all need to find a way to stay afloat at different times in our lives, to stay on the surface of the disturbance and not get pulled under. This is a lesson in life worth learning, because there will always be things that pull at you this way and that. You can exhaust yourself fighting it, or you can let go and float. I see people all the time in yoga that practice like salmon, working hard and throwing themselves around the room. I feel as though people don’t watch enough nature shows, because if they did, they would realize that salmon die at the end of this journey. There is a better way to practice yoga and a better way to get through the rip currents of life.

Staying afloat in Urdhva Padmasana - upward lotus.

Staying afloat in Urdhva Padmasana – upward lotus.

Yoga is supposed to look effortless, not just for those that have done it for years but for every student beginner to advanced. Imagine if flying didn’t look effortless to a bird or if running didn’t look effortless to a cheetah. Yoga doesn’t have to look like a struggle, nor feel like one. It’s as simple as stop fighting. But don’t you hate when people take complicated things and make them sound so simple? Which almost seems like an insult for those that are struggling. I know first hand those people don’t mean to make it sound so simple, but in a lot of cases it is. You just need to get out of your own way.

We human beings are natural graspers. That should be an obvious truth because we have thumbs. All the grasping (Aparigraha) we do eventually becomes a pattern. It’s these patterns that we need to break. Those patterns are the rip current. Negative patterns pull us further away from the person we are capable of becoming. The shoreline symbolizing where we are at peace, with two feet firmly planted. What’s the first thing we do when we are knocked off our feet? We grasp, we reach out for anything to stop our fall. In the Ashtanga yoga invocation the chant speaks of these samaskaras (mental impressions/ patterns) and the halahala (poison) they can become. One of these patterns of grasping I find in yoga is this inability to drop our heads back physically, as well as mentally. In order to float you need to be able to just drop your head back. We don’t seem to trust our necks. It’s as if the neck symbolizes the connection from our bodies, to our minds. When energy doesn’t flow through the neck freely in becomes a holding pattern. I find it always helpful to take into consideration that we are mostly water. So why is it so hard to behave like it? Water can cut through stone. Given enough time and repetition the stone will yield. All the more reason and proof to make yoga a lifelong commitment. To give your body enough time to yield, you must repeat an action you wish to change.

The danger of a rip current lies in the fact that they can not be seen, but they can be felt. Not everything we do in yoga can be seen to the eye, but everything we do can be felt. I always say you need to approach all poses with a greater-than and lesser-than approach. Do I need more of this sensation or less? Yoga needs to be about the sensations that arise and our abilities to be sensitive and responsive to them. To not overreact, nor do too little, but to find the current of energy most productive that will carry you down the river of progress. To stay afloat in your yoga practice for years and years to come, it’s about adapting to where the body is on a daily basis. Not to how you wish it was, but to its current state. To stop fighting up-stream against what’s not and embrace what is. So many students over look the daily state of their practice because they are too busy looking at how they wish it was in the future. It’s sort of like wanting to have a baby but not wanting to be pregnant. Things take time. If students would remember to look at how far they’ve come, they might be able to see that this current they are fighting against might actually be moving them in a better direction. So maybe they should go with flow and just see where it takes them. Relax and realize that swimming upstream is only for the salmon. Just go where your practice takes you.

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Caution! Many distractions ahead!

People everyday hop into their 2,000 pound loaded weapon and drive it at 70 mph facing other 2,000 lb. weapons driving towards them at 70 mph with a small grassy space of approximately 15 feet between them. That requires a great deal of trust on each and everyone’s part. The preparation for this starts at age 15. At such a young age, and after only a few hours of study and practice they are unleashed on the world as acceptable drivers. It’s crazy how we are all so anxious to drive and explore the world thru these heavy machines that have the potential to become dangerous if not driven carefully. So to help us stay safe and limit the amount of damage such a large piece of machinery could inflict, the roads are riddled with all sorts of warnings to the dangers we face when exploring the world. There is the “Caution- slippery when wet” warning, the “curvy road ahead” warning, the “65 mph hour” warning, the slow down “school zone” warning, the caution “deer crossing” etc… If you have driven a car, you know this is just a small sampling of warnings available to us when behind the wheel. Even the cars we drive themselves have warnings. There are the brake light warnings, saying that “I’m slowing down”, the turn signal warnings, hazard light warnings signaling that “my car has broken down”, and the “Watch out! I’m backing up warning”. With so many warnings it’s amazing that we are so eager to drive and to commute in this chaos each and every day. Yet we can be so unwilling to listen to the many warnings that our body signals to us each and every day we venture out on our own two feet.

Yoga is a place where we become very good at interpreting all the unspoken warning signs that our body elicits. Here’s an example of a warning sign that the body might give: “Warning! Warning! You are carrying too much weight for the frame of your body”. What does this warning look like you might ask? Well it looks the same as a car carrying to much weight for it’s frame. It collapses, things buckle and the suspension looks shot. In humans it shows up as the classically buckled/knocked knee and flat foot. These people will make endless trips to the doctor pointing all the blame of this pain they are experiencing to their knees and none of the blame at themselves. I recently heard a great quote which said “be careful when you point your finger because there are still 3 pointing back at you.” If your knees are rubbing together when you walk it’s probably like driving around in a car with no shocks. I’d say that the cautionary sign this would equate to is “Caution! Falling rock!”. The sign I’m talking about warns you the earth has a possible tendency to collapse. The human frame when put under too much pressure also has the possibility to collapse.

Rocks Falling Symbol Sign

Our body warns us a lot like these signs do. The greater the risk the more warnings it sends us. Just like as the risk increases while driving they will warn us more frequently and intensely of the dangers approaching with bright colors like red’s and yellow’s, or by adding lights that blink, or even rumble strips. When we practice yoga we are being bombarded all the time with similar warnings’. Feelings that tell us to approach with caution, to slow down, to use our brakes, or to not ride to closely to the person in front of us. Sometimes when we practice yoga we are hot on the tail of the person in front of us. It’s as if we want to be better then them, faster than they are and we definitely want to get to the next pose first. Sometimes on our mats we never use our brakes. Instead we just jam our foot on the accelerator, even though the teacher reminds us that we have brakes available to us at all times. The external brake is Mula Bandha and the internal brake is humility. The teacher may pause class to discuss alignment and give cautionary warnings necessary for the next pose, and yet sometimes we choose not to listen and jump right into it with-out any guidance, because we must get there before anyone else. It’s like the people that see the speed limit is 65 mph but decide that they know best and that 80 mph is better. But is it safer?. We also know that to drive 80 mph makes us less fuel efficient. Why is efficiency so under-rated?

Efficiency doesn’t mean you work less, it means you work smarter. Efficiency is strongly associated with wisdom/knowledge. Yoga’s word for knowledge is vidya. Someone lacking it is experiencing avidya. Patanjali’s Yoga sutra 2.4 says – Avidya ksetram uttaresam prasupta tanu vicchinnodaranam translated – Ignorance is the root of all the causes of suffering, whether these are latent, feeble, intermittent or intense. Sutra 2.5 expounds by saying – Anityasuci duhkhanatmasu nitya suci sukhatmakhyatir avidya translated – Ignorance is confusion of the transitory with the eternal, the pure with the impure, pain with pleasure and the relative with that absolute. To work efficiently is what sutra 2.16 epitomizes – Heyam duhkham anagram – future suffering should be anticipated and avoided. That’s what all these warning signs when driving are trying to tell us. Avoid, or approach with caution the bridge that freezes before the road. Avoid, or approach with caution area’s of dense fog (not being able to see clearly should guide you to sutra 2.2 – Samadhi bhanvanarthah klesa tanukaranarthas-ca translated – The intent of yoga is to establish clear perception by removing the causes of suffering.) Avoid, or approach with caution, or at the very least, anticipate what lies ahead. These signs should allow you enough time to react accordingly and allow you to get to your destination safely. As sutra 2.26 says – Vivekakhyatir aviplava hanopayah – Discrimination is the method to end the confusion and bring clarity. If you can’t discriminate where the yellow line in the road is because it’s too foggy, rainy or snowy out, you just might end up in a ditch. When students approach asanas with-out caution they may experience this “falling in a ditch” by experiencing injury, jealousy or worse… narcissism. I heard this joke once that said “If you teach Ashtanga yoga you are narcissist, masasochist and sadist.” Good thing we have the sutras to keep us in line.

It’s important to listen to your teacher, they have traveled this road before. They should know it well and be able to point out to you all the hidden dangers (You should find out what your teachers credentials are). But even more important is to listen to your body. Listen when it says, slow down, approach with caution, turn on your brights to see better, or yield to oncoming ego’s. Become a responsive interpreter of your bodily sensations. Here’s a few of my interpretations; tightness means decelerate, dull pain means take a new route, pain means Stop! Now! Confusion means put on your hazards, ask questions and slow down. Fatigue means you should take the next exit and take a break (Balasana). Tension means take your foot off the accelerator. If you’re experiencing a bumpy ride, it means work with less effort. If your breath is spuddering, it means slow down, you are approaching a school zone. Remember to be a student and learn something new. Holding your breath during yoga is equivalent to stopping where there was only a yield sign. Falling out of poses means it’s time for a detour, you need a new approach. I could go on and on.

Left Winding Road Sign – Sharp Turn Sign

There will always be things that distract you. Why do you think the highway is littered with billboards? Because the mind is a fickle thing, easily tempted this way and that. Even though there are many roads that will lead you up the mountain, not all roads will get you there. If I walked across the United States, it would take me longer, but ultimately I would see so much more along the way and I could notice the details. Or I could drive at a high rate of speed and have it pass by my window as a blur. Take your time with your yoga. Listen to all the warnings. Each is a new detail about your body. Some practices will be 35 mph practices, while others will be 65 mph. As some roads can only be driven at 35 mph in order to be safe, so is true of your ever changing body and state of mind. It’s okay if someone seems ahead of you in yoga, maybe they had an earlier start. People have been ahead of you for centuries. You can not catch up to those that have a 10 year start over you. Let them carve the path that you and others can follow. Your teacher, and his teacher before him, and the one before that have cleared the way a bit by gathering the knowledge collected over centuries and sharing it with you. Trust the process, trust your teacher just as you trust all those people on the road. You trust everyday that they are driving with their eyes open. But just remember this is never blind trust. Always filter it first through your natural instincts. Be careful out there. Many obstacles lie ahead. It might be a bumpy road but “Practice and all is coming.”

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Ripe for the pickin’.

Do you remember your graduation from pre-school? Do you remember all the excitement about starting out the next year at a new school? Each year working your way up to the eventual end – graduation from college. Is it that there is an eventual end that keeps us on track? Is it knowing that at some point we will be given the reward of a title that allows us to keep our nose to the grindstone? What if there were no-end? If there were no diplomas, would you still work as hard as you do and for as long? Is it possible you would work even harder for less – less acknowledgement, less status, less pay? It seems as the human species goes, we do well with things that are going to end but we do terribly with things that have no end. If I told you that you only needed to do backbends 50 more times before you could spring right up out of it to standing, would you be willing to do 50 more? What if I told you it was going to take 100 more backbends, or 500 more? Would you still be as willing to do them? What if I told you all you were ever going to get out of yoga is a better night’s sleep? Would you do it, would you stick with it? I find the hardest part about yoga for some people is the endless effort that is needed without knowing what the results will be.

The most difficult sutra for a yogi says “Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah” – Practice without attachment to a particular result. But if we are putting forth effort, aren’t we aiming for a particular result? Well, how do we practice with out attachment? We must practice patience. I do believe you will ultimately get any result you strive for with enough due diligence. In the same way that you eventually do get to enjoy a nice glass of wine. But keep in mind that wine was first a grape, or even further back a seedling. The process of making a good glass of wine takes a while. If you just consider alone the fact that it takes about 3 years to make a productive grape vine. Let’s not forget about all the TLC that is needed in that three year process to keep that vine healthy, pest free, frost free, drought tolerable, etc. Add to that how the soil had to be cultivated before the germinated seeds could be planted. Then of course, there is the harvesting, smashing, fermenting, bottling etc. It takes from 1 year to 5 years to make a bottle of wine, the extreme being 20 years with reds. If people were only willing to put that much time into their yoga practice. Just think of the limitless potential you could experience by allowing yourself time to mature into a yogi.

Patience. If you try Padmasana before it's time you might risk injury.

Patience. If you try Padmasana before it’s time you might risk injury.

A three year yoga practice could be like growing your deep roots and vines before you are ready to produce a mature fruit ripe for the picking. During that 3 year period processing what you’ve learned. Then you might be ready to be picked, pruned and overall cleansed of the fruit that might be weighing you down and that can be turned into something better. But even then, you might need to sit and contemplate your next phase of yoga, just like wine sits in the fermenting process. You must discard the waste before you can take on a new form – going from your solid state to a liquid state of being. In yoga, we are trying to become more fluid, to become sweeter, to become better with age. Each of us has the potential to add to this world something unique, something that comes from a good exploration process. If we walk away from yoga before the process has had time to really set in, we would be missing out on all the colorfulness that yoga brings to so many. With enough yoga we do become a lot like a red wine. Where it’s hard to get the stain of yoga out of our hearts, just like it is hard to get the stain of red wine out of carpet. Yoga leaves an impression, and a strong one at that, when practiced for years, not months.

Wine doesn’t make it to your lips without having a heritage. Most vineyards are centuries old. The craft being passed down from one generation to the next. The craft being refined with each year by experimentation. From when to pick the grapes, to what to add to the soil, to how the climate produced a specific result. When you are part of Ashtanga yoga, you become a part of that heritage. Yogis before you have experimented. They have refined the craft of Ashtanga yoga. You automatically get an umbilical cord to India. Just like wines have a particular flavor when they come from a particular region, you automatically step into a family tree with the great, great grandfather figures of Ashtanga yoga – Ramamohan Brahmachari, Krishnamacharya and Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, Tim Miller. As each year of your practice goes by, you are becoming a bigger limb on this old, amazing family tree we call Ashtanga yoga. You are fertilizing the soil for the next crop of yogis.

So give yourself time. Don’t be in such a hurry. Be still. Stand in the sun. Receive from the earth what it has to offer. Be gentle when you prune back what you no longer need. Squish out all the flavor that yoga is giving you, and be willing to share it with others. Don’t hold back and don’t be shy to have your own unique flavor. Yoga makes us ripe for the picking. You just never know when you will be picked in life and for what cause. You might get picked to be a mother, you might get picked to be a cancer survivor, or you could get picked to be a civil servant, or picked to write a great novel. Whatever it is you get picked for, yoga will make you humble, sweet, patient, generous and RIPE.

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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.

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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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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).

Categories: For the beginner, My viewpoint | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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