Posts Tagged With: vidya

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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If Old McDonald had a yoga practice…

I recently read an interesting book called The Dirty Life, by Kristen Kimball. It’s about farming the natural way – no engine based machinery, no herbicides, or pesticides just good old fashion hard work. I’ve always loved the idea of owning a farm but I just don’t enjoy playing in the dirt. I enjoy hard work. I love the simple task of cutting grass with our electric lawn mower. But I just wouldn’t be very good at natural farming because you have to pull the bugs that are eating your plants off by hand and squish them. When it comes down to it, I’m too girly for farming. But I’m not to girly for the work that’s required for a good yoga practice, thank goodness! In this book, the author was writing about her love of farming and I realized her words perfectly described my love of yoga. No surprise, really, because farming and yoga share some similarities. She writes ” I was in love with the work, too, despite its overabundance. The world had always seemed disturbingly chaotic to me, my choices to bewildering. I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences. I knew why I was doing what I was doing, and I believed in it.  I felt the gap between who I thought I was and how I behaved begin to close, growing slowly closer to authentic. I felt my body changing to accommodate what I was asking of it… I had always been attracted to the empty, sparkly grab bag of instant gratification and was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge.”

Even if I just took that last line to describe my love of yoga it would suffice, ” I was beginning to learn something about the peace you can find inside an infinite challenge.”  Yoga is infinite, there are still poses and breathing techniques my body is still not ready for, nor is my mind for that matter, even after having my practice established as a 6 day a week Ashtanga practice, for the past 12 years. But every word in that farming description fits how I feel about yoga.

Downward facing dog, Adho mukha svanasana
Sullivans Island sunrise!

The author says, “I was fundamentally happier, I found, with my focus on the ground. ” Downward facing dog is just that, connecting to the ground, drawing my attention downward and inward. I have always found yoga to be very primal. For starters, you are barefoot the whole class and you’re mostly on the ground with all four’s, or more. How your body is interacting with the ground determines the success or failure of your yoga practice. Headstand is a great yoga pose that can easily help you understand the line that says ” For the first time, I could clearly see the connection between my actions and their consequences.” And because students are usually forced to slow down and deal with what some of the consequences are in yoga, such as injury, or embarrassment from falling down, they are forced to grow and to feel their body changing to accommodate what they are asking of it.

There is also no short cut. A dedicated yogi, one that has stuck with it consistently, knows that the only way you achieve some of the bizarre postures we do, is good old fashioned hard work. The author also says of farming, ” Question: Why is farming like a relationship? Answer: Because you do not reap what you sow. That’s a lie. You reap what you sow, hill, cultivate, fertilize, harvest and store.”  In yoga, you reap what you face, repeat, lift, tuck,sweat through, and breathe into.

But brute strength can only get you so far. There has to be a degree of finesse and a nice increase of knowledge (vidya) with each practice. Yoga is cumulative in effort. The more effort you put forth the more return on your investment. And what are you investing in anyway? Only the greatest gift you have ever received…your health. I recently saw an infomercial for a Pastor selling a book about taking care of your body with exercise, I think they called it “Bod for God”. It’s premise was, the best way you can thank God, and show your appreciation, and devotion to God is to take care of the beautiful body he/she gave you….DUH! I’ve known this for years. The greatest show of thanks I can give to the divine everyday is treating my body well. Just as a farmer has to treat the earth well.

The really good farmer knows what hard work is. A good farmer knows that to produce a crop, a healthy crop, it takes attention to detail. From the grounds composition, to the weather patterns, to the hours of daylight and to the critters/invaders that try and eat his crop, he knows and does it all. A day off means a day that a bug or disease can get a jump on him and destroy his whole crop.  Farmers know their land, they know how to see the smallest change in environment and how that might effect his/her outcome. We all need to become more like farmers. We need to pay attention to the details. We need to know our environment and how it’s effecting our mental and physical well being. If we want to live a productive life, as much as a farmer wants to have a productive crop, then we need to tend to matters.

It starts with the soil. In the case of the human body, your soil is your mind. It’s where all thoughts begin. It is the point of creation. Your mind needs to be open in order for creative thoughts to flow through. Just like the ground that a farmer wants to plant, it must be loose and fertile, with out rocks, weeds, and bugs. Ground that is compact and dense will suffocate the life right out of any seed. So it starts with the soil, it needs air, nutrients and moisture. Which is why farmers till the soil, over and over until its ready for the seeds. Your mind also needs air and movement, it needs to be fertile for the right things to grow. A yoga practice can do just that. Sutra 1.2 says “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”; yoga can make the mind less fickle, that’s my personal translation. Yoga is a moving meditation. The movement, opens things and the meditation part is like the sun, shining light onto things that need to grow. Meditation is simply the process of observation, which will expose the things that would pull you away from a productive and fruitful life. A yoga practice is equivalent to the farmer walking his acres every morning and seeing what has transpired over night, knowing his land and keeping a handle on the things that can get out of hand quickly.

Weeds can quickly take hold and suffocate a plant. How many weeds are there growing in your head. A great example of a weed in your mind is a repetitive, negative thought where you are putting yourself down. That will suffocate anything good that’s trying to grow in your mind. Where a narrow mind is like dense soil, the density will not allow anything new to come into your perspective, leaving you stuck in repetitive patterns, that are producing the same results (this is the hala hala, poison). The bugs are like other peoples thoughts and opinions that have come in and tainted your view point, especially if you haven’t formed your own well thought out opinion first. Too much rain will drown the crop, because too much of anything is bad…moderation! Too little light, rain or nutrients is also bad. Just remember this, in yoga it is the terrible two’s that will get you in trouble; too much, too soon, too fast, and too little rest. It’s all about balancing opposing forces (dwandwa, twoness – duality).

Be the best farmer of the crop you are trying to produce in your life. I know and believe Old McDonald would have been a great yogi, had he had the time. Who’s to say he wasn’t a yogi, just without the asana’s? Keep this last thought in mind from The Dirty Life ” Of course we have a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you thought you were moving in a direction that was right.” Just like sutra 1.12 says “Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah.” ; steady practice with non-attachment, steady practice with non-attachment,  steady practice with non-attachment, worth repeating because that one is tricky.

And one last thing to keep you steering the plough in the right direction is this line from a documentary I recently watched called Enlighten Up,” It doesn’t matter what you are doing, but why you are doing it.” We can so easily forget the why because we are so focused on the what.  For me, when I’m on my mat it goes back to what the Author, Kristen said which is “I knew why I was doing, what I was doing, and I BELIEVED IN IT.” Well said.

Old McDonald had a yoga practice E  – I – E  – I  Ommmmmmmmm!

I believe in yoga, enough said.

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The Secret

Do you ever feel like some people know something that you don’t? Does this make you paranoid? It could, or you could think it makes you curious. Curiosity gives you that drive to keep going, to figure out what you don’t yet know. I always say the greatest thing you can show up with on your yoga mat is curiosity. Your greatest asset in yoga is not your black Manduka mat (even though I do love it), or a cute outfit, or a yoga companion; but instead, it’s that insatiable need to ask more questions and always look for your own answers.

The definition of curiosity: “eager desire to know”. Oh, I love that! It is not defined as just a desire to know, because that is not enough. It’s the eagerness that makes it so great. This gets even better. I looked up the word eager: “enthusiastic”. Ok, we’re getting somewhere. Didn’t that just simply spell out why  curiosity is your greatest life companion? We should be enthusiastic about the opportunity to expand our knowledge (vidya). Sadly, the greatest contradiction to this idea is, the old wives tale that “curiosity killed the cat.” Well, if a case of the curiosities is what I must die from, then I accept. I accept it enthusiastically!

In the Ashtanga yoga system, you would place curiosity under the second limb of the system – “niyama” or self observation. The practice of yoga should help you look at your interaction with your self more often. You will see patterns exposed and identify old schools of thought that maybe you have never challenged, maybe they were schools of thought handed down to you from your parents, or your environment. You took them to be true, without any self-study to find if those truths aligned and resonated with you, as you are now. The study of the self (svadhyaya) happens when you become curious. When you allow that curiosity to carry you into the deeper layers of the things you have been told to believe, and you start looking for the things that seem to resonate with you in that place we call our gut.

Our gut instinct should naturally occur. But it can be slowly squashed out of us when people make these statements: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” or “Because I said so.”. We have all heard it from so many different sources, and sometimes there is an inclination to go, “Ok, they must know something I don’t know.” Well, I say, challenge that. What do they know? How do they know it? Where did their information come from? It’s your 3-year-old brain I’m talking about.  The 3-year-old brain is the one that digs for information relentlessly, right? Well hang out with a 3-year-old and it sure feels relentless! 🙂 What, how, why, when, where and repeat.

That is how life’s secrets are found: the things you feel your missing, the things no one is sharing with you. We live in a time where we are bombarded with information. But how much of what is coming at us, have we challenged? I am always surprised when people say to me: “I tried yoga, but I got bored.” I have never understood how boredom can happen in a yoga practice. We have approximately 656 muscles in the human body, and we have 206 bones. With over 858 parts moving in our bodies, there should be no time for boredom. Boredom comes from a lack of interest. A lack of interest can come from laziness (alasya)or aversion (abhinivesah), or from trusting that your yoga teacher knows more than you would about your own body. A yoga teacher should know many things about the body and how it best functions in different asana’s. However, you should never take someones word for it. If you haven’t first applied your three-year old brain to the things the teacher says.

Here’s an example of an internal dialogue of a curious yoga student: “Trikonasana pose – I wonder what that means? Ohh, 3 angled pose. Where are the angles? Oh, there they are. Why should my body be on one plane? Oh, because on two planes, I can’t receive a stretch to my tensor fascia latae muscle. What’s my tensor fascia latae muscle? Oh, it’s at the front top part of my ilium and attaches to my illiotibial band. Where does that go and what does that do? If my TFL muscle is tight, I wonder what problems it’s causing in my body? How does it affect my alignment of my 206 bones? If I can better stretch that how will I feel? When will I be able to grab my big toe? What would I need to do to grab my big toe?” This can go on for a while and after you have tried many things you will start to refine the postures you’re in. That refinement of your body will dispel ignorance (Avidya). You might also start to feel like people aren’t with-holding the secret. Then, you could realize that it doesn’t really matter how it looks, but more important, how it feels and why it feels that way?

Curiosity never really killed a cat. Not unless the cat’s name was “Doubt”. Because curiosity only kills doubt. Curiosity exposes the secrets you feel you have been missing. But it also creates secrets that you now know about your Self (Svadhyaya). I remember a big epiphany that I had. I was just getting ready to start my first yoga teacher training program of 9 ladies that were eager to learn. I was reviewing all my notes and nuggets of information I had learned, so far, in my study of yoga. I found my self grasping to my knowledge and not wanting to share it – out of fear that they might learn all the secrets I had worked so hard at uncovering. The little ego that exists inside all of us was afraid that if I gave it all away, I might not matter as much (which exposed another limb of the Ashtanga yoga system which is aparigrahah – non-greed). I only became the teacher I am now when I stopped coveting the information I have learned. When I openly and willing share all my secrets in hopes they will inform, in hopes they will dispel doubts, but also that they will be challenged.

So the Secret is…Don’t believe everything you are told until you have exhausted your self-study of how that information applies to you. Maybe you do need to be told, to move forward more, or to tilt your pelvis forward, or to exhale completely and then lift. But I promise, even with out those things that seem like secrets, you will figure it all out for yourself, if you just come at it with the eager desire to know!

My teacher, Tim Miller, sharing his secrets with me. Second series Ashtanga Yoga teacher training, 2010. Encinitas, CA.

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

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