Posts Tagged With: samskara

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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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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“When-to-say-when”

Our country has a “say when” problem. It’s something I am reminded of every Tuesday evening in my neighborhood when people put their trash out for the week. Trash just seems to over-flow. Don’t even get me started on the fact that some people aren’t making an effort to recycle. This “when-to-say-when” problem exist in other ways. Credit card debt is a great example of, yep you guessed it, they didn’t say when to the fact they had no more money. “When-to-say-when” is showing up in the form of obesity, too. People are not realizing when they are full, and so they keep eating. People keep buying more, and more, and can no longer park their cars in their garage. We are overflowing in our homes, bodies and trash cans. We are living in a world where we feel pushed all the time for more, and more. So it’s no surprise to me that the “when-to-say-when” shows up in the yoga room. Yoga is where I would like to address the problem. As I am not a financial advisor and I am not a dietary expert. When is enough…ENOUGH?

It’s all about what you grasp and and how you grasp it.

Aparigraha – Grasping would be the word yoga would use to describe this affliction. The sutras advise us on grasping in the yama’s, the 1st limb of the ashtanga yoga system. Sutra 30, Chapter 2 says “Aparigraha sthairye janma kathamta sambodhah” – For one who establishes a non-grasping attitude gains a deep understanding to the meaning of life. Holy crap, that’s a big one. Aren’t we all searching for the meaning of life? Well, I’ll tell you this; The meaning of life is not greed. We are not here to strip the earth of all it has to offer. We are not here to strip each other of the light we were all born with, and we are definitely not here to strip our body of its vitality.

But we are stripping our body of its vitality (prana). What we put in our body, what we do to our body, and what we think about our body can either be good for us, or bad for us. What we really need to come to understand, is there is a great benefit to emptiness. That it is ok for our bellies to be empty. It’s definitely ok for our minds to be empty. That is why a meditation practice is so good for us. It gives us time to clean out some of the clutter in our mind. Just like not eating for a while allows our body to become empty, and allows digestion to take a break.

What about what we do to our body? You might think I mean to suggest doing nothing, in the case of our body. On the contrary, we need to move our body to empty it of past scars, patterns (samskara) and waste. But even in yoga people come at their practice with greediness. They want to be able to do this pose, and to do it now. Like the girl from “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, Violet Beaureguard, who turns into a giant blueberry from her greediness. “I want it, and I want it now!” That kind of thinking in yoga will likely lead you to injuries, fatigue and even disinterest. Burn out is a great example of greediness (aparigraha).

People walk away from yoga all the time and they say things like, I got bored, or I don’t have time anymore. If you have ever fasted, you are blown away by how much time you get back in your life when you are not eating food, preparing food, buying food, and even thinking about food. At least that’s what I learned from the two fasts that I have done. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t eat, that would be crazy. What I am saying is we can eat less, spend less and we can always make time for things we value the most. As far as boredom and yoga, I don’t understand it. Because for as long as I have been at this, I have never been bored. Ever! I find my body interesting and always changing. There are ways to keep things interesting though; things that can stave off the boredom excuse, practice at a new time of day, try a new teacher, or better yet, realize that your boredom might be a reflection of your will power. Your ability to see things through, even when they can become as routine as brushing your teeth.

If some of the people that walked away from yoga were willing to tell the truth, they would probably tell you it was because it became confrontational. Things weren’t happening as they wanted, on the time line that they were trying to control. By doing yoga, I have learned how much I try and control everything. There are the graspers/over indulgers, the lazy/lack of perseverance and then those that are steadfast and diligent.  The graspers are going to run into injuries and resistance, and the lazy/lack of perseverance will run into boredom and slack, the kind of slack that allows you to “cut yourself some slack” for not practicing. The diligent/steadfast type will embrace the practice with humility and become willing to relinquish their control.

Yoga is a process, and usually a slow process. There will probably be a handful of poses you will excel at right at the start, but the rest will take time. I like to say, “Your body didn’t get this way over night.” The tightness, weakness, and instability crept in when you forgot to make time for your health. (If you don’t believe me, read my  blog called “Paying it forward.” ) What are we willing to sacrifice time for; people will wait in line for hours to get the new i-phone, or to see the latest trilogy movie, spend hours tailgating before the big game, or camp out in chairs in 32 degrees for black friday shopping deals so they can cram their houses, garages, body and wallets with greed. If we don’t make time for our body it will break down and the wheels will fall of, so to speak. It’s amazing how quickly people will get to a doctor when that happens, and then want someone else to fix what they broke.

It’s time to eat less, spend less, buy less, throw away less and do more. More yoga, more meditation and most of all more reflection on why you roll two full garbage cans to the curb? Why do you have to work more to pay off greater debt? Why do you have an injury that won’t go away? Why do you need to buy more clothes, because you’ve out grown the old ones? Why do you need to take more pills to fix the things that are failing you? If you could just make a little more time in your life for exercise, stop making the excuses, don’t over do it and see it thru even when it gets hard, boring or routine, you would be doing yourself, your family, your employer and the earth a great favor. The new year is fast approaching, don’t make the promise that this year you’ll do this, wake up tomorrow and make it a lifetime commitment, not a January one.

Let this yoga sutra guide you. Sutra 30 Chapter 1 –  Vyadhi Styana Sansaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabdhabhumikatva anavasthitatvani citta viksepah te antarayah – The obstacles that distract the mind are illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, overindulgence, illusions about oneself, lack of perseverance and instability. If you are struggling with “when-to-say -when”, then you just need to look at the “when” as ” Now”. As the very first yoga sutra says “Atha yoganusanam.” – Now, yoga.

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