Posts Tagged With: viveka

My name is not George, but I am curious.

One of the best accessories you can bring to your yoga practice comes from a children’s book, also an old wives tale. It doesn’t cost you a thing and it looks better on you than those new yoga pants. What is it…it’s curiosity! You need to bring this to your practice more than you actually need to bring a yoga mat. Mat’s are just for comfort, but curiosity is for transformation. It’s the fertilizer for any life changing work you are hoping yoga will facilitate. In the children’s book “Curious George” George, the little monkey was always on some adventure, all because he was curious. There’s also the old wives’ tale that cats are given 9 lives and their curiosity puts them in jeopardy of running out of those 9-lives. I once heard that if you have found yoga in your current life, it’s because you were a yogi in your past life, and that you will keep coming back to yoga until the work is done. Maybe we yogi’s get something like the 9-lives of a cat for navigating this yoga journey.

I see people all the time coming to yoga with the latest yoga mat, coolest yoga attire and the best sweat absorbing rug, along with the latest prop that they believe will help them execute pincha mayurasana. But I don’t see them bringing any curiosity to their practice. Curiosity is evident in people who are experiencing results and progressing along nicely. But I have seen some people practice for 5+ years and their practice is not evolving. The reason is they have no new approaches. They are going about their practice as they always have: wrought with predictability, smothered with unwillingness and drowning in disinterest. Disinterest is like a wet blanket to the fire of curiosity.

Where does curiosity come from? Do we all get our fair share? Look, right now I am being curious about where curiosity comes from. Can’t get any more curious than that. We were all curious at one time. Around about age 3 we start filling our heads with as much information as our little selves could handle. We did this by using the symbol for curiosity, the question mark (?). So that means that when practicing yoga (but really life in general), we should be asking more and more questions. This is the way out of ignorance (Avidya). In the yoga sutra’s the definition of ignorance/avidya is seeing the impermanent as permanent (Sutra 2.5). For all those people who believe they can’t, they don’t understand yet that everything is always changing. Everything is impermanent. The way through ignorance is questioning the state of things. As sutra 2.26 says Vivekahyatir Aviplava Hanopayah – Uninterrupted discriminative discernment is the method of removing ignorance. So here’s your ammunition for a good yoga practice – How? What? And Why? “When” is not terribly important because if your asking How? What? and Why? the “when” will take care of itself. Too many people set themselves up for failure by taking things at face value, believing what they have heard from others. Life is meant to be questioned, and the more you do, the more you grow.

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One example that I can give is my approach to the sensations I feel during yoga. If I run into pain or an injury, I take it upon myself to find out what muscle the pain is coming from and what that muscle’s function is. I identify and examine; the same way a good detective would examine a suspect. I suspect that muscle is the cause of such pain, but I must first gather all the information that I can about it. I always say when I’m teaching a class that you need to approach your yoga practice the way Jacque Cousteau approached his love of the sea, with curiosity and passion. Before He passed away he had been an explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, innovator, scientist, photographer, author and researcher. All of his great accomplishments were because he was curious. It’s the same thing that had Christopher Columbus sail the ocean blue, and Buzz Aldridge navigating through space. There is endless opportunity for discovery, but only if you question and challenge everything you know and hear.

Next time you want to have a great experience on your yoga mat, don’t try to reinvent one you already had, by wearing the same clothes, or putting your mat in the same place. Do away with predictability. Come at your practice with new eyes. Approach it with what I call the 3-year-old brain. Ask lots of questions, and try a bunch of different approaches. Get used to saying “that was interesting, but what if I did this.” Stay captivated by your body’s adaptability. Be open to uncharted territory. I often say during Surya Namaskar “Inhale and look toward horizon”. Christopher Columbus must have been looking out at the horizon when he thought, “there must be more out there, that we haven’t explored yet.” Keep the horizon in mind, for keeping the dreamer inside of you alive.

It’s probably no coincidence that one of yoga’s fabled character role models is Hanuman, a monkey, just like Curious George. Let your inner monkey do what’s most natural – be curious. Stay open to the idea that ALL things are possible. If you’re not so sure just go roll out your yoga mat and let your teacher and all the students around you inspire you. Dream big, and don’t accept that what seems permanent, is permanent. Curiosity really is your best accessory no matter how good you look in those new yoga pants. Don’t mistake outward appearances, for the real benefit of inner work.

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

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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