Day 26 – Upside Down

26 September, 2010

Tonight, I practiced jumping into handstand. Kicking up is one thing (and that’s not even the way you’re to approach the posture, known in Sanskrit as Adho Mukha Vrksasana – Downward Facing Tree Pose – thank you very much! – but I think I’m still a few moons from lifting into it – the subtle layering of the mula and uddiyana bandhas required for ‘floating’ are definitely a work in progress). It’s not easy work: you must place your hands and build a strong foundation in your shoulder girdle, over which you spring the hips with just enough momentum that you catch your balance, but not too much or you topple over, you have to not be afraid TO topple over – you have to find BALANCE, and you have to be OK with FALLING…these are truths, you want balance? Learn to fall, and learn to like it πŸ˜‰

But the larger lesson here isn’t the mechanics of approaching Handstand (or any other inversion, for that matter)….it is what the asana represents, it is a powerful metaphor for change, or at least looking at things from a different angle. Let’s look at it, shall we?
As I learned in my Asana Technique and Anatomy class, the body consists of three sections that we manipulate to understand balance. It’s gonna get a little insect-science-geeky, but hear me out:
  1. We have a head, the storage space for the brain, the origins of the spinal cord and most of our sense organs (save the integumentary system a.k.a. the skin) – believe it or not, this is the smallest of the three sections (though ALL of us know people that make us wonder…)
  2. The ribcage (or “thorax” for the entomologically-minded) – an armor of bone that surrounds and protects the heart, lungs and the beginning of the gastro-intestinal tract – bigger than the head, and;
  3. the pelvis (or “abdomen”, if you’re still with me on the insect trip) which contains more critical organs that I can even remember (the liver, kidneys, pancreas, gall bladder, reproductive organs – not to mention 8 metres of gut).
Of those 3, the pelvis is the key, “where you send the pelvis, the rest of the body follows” – and it’s true. Normal human posture plants the head, as the lightest, over the ribcage, next lightest, on top of the heaviest, the pelvis. This creates the most stable structure, narrow over wide, light over heavy (think of the Great Pyramid, the tallest structures on the planet til the Eiffel Tower, and even THAT has the same basic plan), the body’s nerves, blood vessels, muscles and their attachments all support this arrangement, hardwired into your DNA.
Now, here’s the fun part…
Inversions ask that we reverse this finely-honed-over-millennia-of evolution configuration, and flip ourselves literally upside down. Truly, it is a scary prospect, wide-over-narrow, heavy-stacked-on-light, but it is possible, though not easy; to achieve this, we must have a sense of alignment and balance and an understand of the control of the energy flowing through our bodies. Yes, bandhas again (i need to devote several posts to this soon, i promise!)…but here’s the cool metaphor-y part that you can grasp without even leaving the most comfortable spot in your bed, inversions ask you to change your perspective…isn’t it simple? obvious much? But it’s true, and deceptively profound in its simplicity, sometimes when you approach a situation in life, the straight-on, most familiar way may not always be the best one for you…just like you have to re-configure your body to achieve these challenging asanas, often you have to re-configure your mind also to find resolution and success when faced with less-than-ideal circumstances. It takes courage, discipline and determination and these are not easy things, but they are worthwhile.
Sometimes, when you just change the WAY you look at a thing, the thing itself changes. So…go ahead, change your attitude, or latitude, the way you approach an asana, a life-altering event, or something as quotidian or mundane as the route you drive to get to work in the mornings…I promise you, it WILL feel different and maybe the straight-on way is the way that works best for YOU…but at least you’ll KNOW. πŸ˜‰
long post (I was inspired tonight)
love
swww
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…to practice, to find energy, but I still try….prayer, teaching and asana and the angels I call friends are my medicine…but at night, I cannot sleep…I mean I CANNOT sleep, it doesn’t matter how exhausted or drained I am (and I have been recently)…the silence of night crawls into my skull and taps away at me “what’s up?? whatcha thinkin’? whatcha doin’? “….and I start to process: the day, the asana I did, what’s happening with one of my yoga groups that I teach, am I too old to essentially start my life over the way I want to (more on this thought later)….I remember “vairagya”….I meditate sometimes, but sometimes I forget to keeping plugging away at the little steps I think I need to find peace…I’m bleary-eyed, tired and rambling (I hope I’m still eloquent though πŸ™‚ )

maybe a haiku before i try to turn my savant-genius brain to the “Off” position, if only for a moment

“i turn the lights off
in my head, the bulb still burns
inhale…exhale…”sigh”

swww

Days 15-19 – a whirlwind

20 September, 2010

So many things have happened in the last few days, friends, I needed to come here and share (in summary, because I KNOW, I just KNOW I’ve been naughty)

  • One of the most beautiful funerals I’ve ever been to
  • A sailing course (Yes!!! I learned to sail a boat! “why?” you may ask, “because it’s OUT there!” – plus I really love being on the water and I wanted to learn a sustainable way to enjoy it)
  • A minor fender-bender (coming home from aforementioned sailing course) and the weird feeling coming from that
  • Hearing that a dear friend who’s been battling metastatic cancer is going through a bad patch – I’m thinking of love, the breath and yellow (lemon) Skittles – don’t ask – to get me through THAT one
  • Challenges at the office – not just for me – but no man is an island, not matter WHAT Simon and Garfunkel say – so it’s been rough
  • Not enough sleep
  • The weird ability to demonstrate every pose I teach really well, and then have those very same asanas whoop my behind in daily practise (who HASN’T gone through this?)
  • Being afraid to stand up from a backbend – I can drop back and am working to control it better, but coming up? Oy vey!
  • Tonsillitis
  • Confusion over whether I can really given my heart to someone.
  • Performance anxiety (not what YOU’RE thinking, it’s innocent) – I was asked to do a yoga demonstration at an event and aside from being sick (tonsillitis) and injured (knee), I was terrified and panicked and RAN. More on this, don’t let me forget it, please!

Right through the whole thing, the practice has been there, a constant, the lighthouse gleaming at times brightly, at times faintly, during the tempest, the calm in the midst of a whirlwind in 5 days. I’m tired, sore, emotional, distracted, a bit blurry….but ever more grateful that this practice has found me, a moving meditation, a place to talk with God, a physical unlocking of doors when I don’t always have the key, a laboratory in a 71″x 24″ x 3/16″ space. For this I am, as always, thankful with all my heart

So the practice is work….that’s OK…after all, it is the Prophet who says “Work is love made visible”

More tomorrow!

SWWW

Readers, I’m so sorry I haven’t been as consistent as I promised I’d be….I’m still practising, but for a number of reason ranging from powercuts to writer’s block, I haven’t been able to share my thoughts with you, and for that I’m sorry.

Lately I’ve been pondering how we handle difficult situations – death, bad relationships, troubles with your job or finances – and what we DO when these things happen. What I know is that we should practice without ceasing, and for an extended period of time. Why, I’m not sure – certainly there’s a moment where you arrive at such clarity in the breath – where the tristhana (the Ashtanga method of uniting the three element of breath, posture and gaze) comes to life within you and you just KNOW you can touch all the wisdom in the universe. Unfortunately, these moments all all too brief, leaving us to often founder in the dark of our anger, grief, confusion and most often, fear. When I practise these days, even with bad thoughts swirling in my head and no clue of how to make it mentally to the next posture, I think “is this a choice from fear or from love”….Really, when you think about it, 99% of the choices we makes come down to those two things.

My challenge to you, count how often you decide from love today, and tell me about it!

love

SWWW

Each morning I go through a ritual of sorts to convince myself to get out of my comfortable bed and go practice on my mat….there are few things that make me feel more alive and aware than when I’m doing asana…but I won’t lie to you, I’m no morning person.

I practice in the morning because it is the best time for me to do so (aside from the fact that you get the clean, cool morning air, your body is stronger and you benefit from having to stretch muscles that have stiffened up during the inertia of sleep) – I work a full-time day job and teach most evenings – but for me, the biggest challenge is getting out of that perfect spot in the bed, when the room is the perfect temperature, and all is good and wonderful in the universe. I have often wondered what that means “Am I really an undisciplined person underneath?” “Do I truly love what I do?” Believe me, I LOVE to practice, and 15 minutes into it, no matter how groggy I was when I awake or how many time I think “my bed is calling me back right now”, I know for sure “This is where I’m meant to be, in this very moment”

I say all of this to say that we don’t always have the reason that we practice in sharp and clear focus, sometimes just to practice IS the reason. This is particularly true when you hit a point when a posture isn’t “working” for you; though the most immediate response may, borne of frustration, be “I don’t want to do this”, push through anyway, give it your best love and attention in that moment, but try not to tie your own worth as a human being to it. Making yoga a sustainable part of your life means two things and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (on of THE foremost treatises on the philosophy of yoga) says it best:

  1. Practice (abhyasa) – means having the attitude of persistence to find peace in the practice, practice must be done consistently and over a long period of time in order for the practitioner to reap its ripest fruit. This means you have to get up and try, even when the bed seems a better option but it also means that you should have a sustainable relationship with your practice, guilt and resentment have no place here. At the same time, your practice shouldn’t be, as Kino put it, “this all-or-nothing thing that you feel you have to do”. Assess who you are and what you feel like each day, do your very honest best and then let go of your expectation of what you think that practice should be, which leads me to:
  2. Non-attachment (vairagya) – the ability to let go of any attachments, fears, desires and delusions you might have about the practice and why you do it. This means that for however long you’re on the mat, make the effort to suspend you ego, certainly the part of it that says “I did this yesterday, why can’t I now?” or “I should be able to do this by now” and just enjoy what it is that you do. Come to your mat with no pre-conceived notions of yourself, begin with the breath and end with the breath.

I wanted to share these two principles because they underscore why I love yoga so much, and because I have dedicated my practice to a woman who gave her final breath on Wednesday night, having spent so much time in the service and love of others. She was sweet, giving and quite frankly, extraordinary. She will be missed. I will love and remember her always. RIP Aunty G.

We come into this life on an inhale and leave it on an exhale, but rarely do we pay attention to the breaths between. When we apply the discipline of practice with the ease of non-attachment, we find that our practice can soar to its highest height and plumb its greatest depth. On the days when you have doubt, fear and guilt, remember this, and let THAT be your purpose

with love

SWWW

What do you do on the days that you just don’t wanna talk about it? Today, I’m sad for a family member of a very close friend (a tremendous soul) and my yoga is to breath for her, to breath in hope and acceptance, and to breathe out anger, denial and fear…this is more important to me than any asana…so tomorrow’s practice is for her, for peace, for miracles… I leave you tonight with a chant I’m saying for her, added to my prayers.

this for for you, G., you are loved

Om asato maa sadgamaya, tamaso maa jyotir gamaya, Mrityormam ritam gamaya
Om shanti shanti shantihi

From untruth, lead us to truth. From ignorance, lead us to wisdom. From death, lead us to immortality.
Om peace peace peace.”

more tomorrow!

SWWW

Today I did Sun Salutations, all the Standing Postures all the way to Marichyasana A before my left knee requested a reprieve. Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – (that’s ‘Half Lotus Standing Forward Bend’ for the uninitiated) on the left is still not ready to be safely manifested in this body of mine so I did Tree Pose and counted out the breath

And guess what, people? Something else changed in my practice. Sometimes that happens, you can go days, weeks, even months and you feel like “why am I even DOING this? I don’t FEEL any different, nor more enlightened than last Tuesday” and then all of a sudden, you’re seeing all these new things coming at you….I intentionally went slower in each asana, particularly the left side, to assess what was happening and how it impacted my hip and knee – I actually did Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimatanasana (the seated cousin of the posture I described above) TWICE, and by slowing down, was able to adjust the alignment just a little bit, and suddenly I felt the pose in my hip again (where it belongs, I might add) and significantly less in my knee…brilliant!

Another thing, I could jump through more smoothly and picking up to jump back, I could swing back and place my toe behind me the way my teacher taught me (if you’re wondering what that looks like, look for ‘Kino Macgregor jumping back from Padmasana’ on Youtube, the woman is simply all kinds of wonderful and amazing), suddenly the ‘impossible’ things that I had placed aside to ‘learn in my own time’ were easier to imagine in my body than ever before, and all because I slowed down.

Anyone who knows me knows that I move fast, I walk fast (well, with 44″ inches from hip to toe, I can’t help it πŸ˜‰ , talk fast, type fast and I practise fast. I could finish Full Primary plus finishing AND Savasana in just under 90 minutes….I don’t say this to boast or vaunt myself, but practising quickly was both the result of a shorter breath (asthma-related) and the need to be done early in the mornings before work…even adding postures from Second Series and doing more back-bends took me to 1hr50 TOPS….so this practice was different, I made each moment stretch out, I paused, contemplated and noticed my breath in a new way….Amazing, all the fundamental, subtle little things that pop into your consciousness when you take your time…”Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the moment last…” that’s what Simon and Garfunkel said, right?

There is a tendency in our world nowadays to move at lightning-speed, to get things done to get to the next ‘thing to do’…but listen, the yoga practice offers us an alternative, it says “Hey, slow down, and study yourself for a moment, what are you looking for?”

When you have an injury or a perhaps a setback in life, maybe there’s an opportunity to re-assess yourself, to see inside, to what’s real…and here’s the thing, the thesis of the evening, the point (maybe) to my meandering scribble of thoughts, the REAL is the breath, your soul, the animus inside you; the body is but a shell, a vehicle, a laboratory, it’s the part that IS ephemeral…we are more than the sum of our knees, hips, shoulders and lower backs. But we need the vehicle to have this life…like one of my teachers, Sharon says, we are “spiritual beings having a human experience”. So treat your body well, and listen to it.

When I got to Marichyasana A today and was able to ground myself through BOTH hips, I could FEEL the posture in a different way….it was deep, it was different and I know why…and I was “feeeelin’ groooovy”

more tomorrow!

SWWW

Day 4

4 September, 2010

I didn’t do much today….some seated hip openers. Pigeon and Double Pigeon, both ouches for my left hip. When oh when will my knee stop hurting so?

Forgive me for being pithy, I’m processing a disappointment and I’m not even quite sure WHY I’m disappointed in the first place. Ponder ponder….

I PROMISE to be more wordy (and practice-y) tomorrow!!

SWWW

Day 3 – Were you worried?

3 September, 2010

SWWW here, did you guys think I wasn’t going to blog today, or even worse, that I wasn’t going to practise today (gasp!)? Well, here i am! (fanfare)

OK, typically Ashtangis would do their practice as far as they are taught from Sunday through Thursday (I was given the first five postures of Second or Intermediate series – don’t let that term ‘intermediate’ fool you – by my teacher Kino) and then on Fridays we do Primary Series only. It’s a way to wind the body down before the rest day on Saturday. I think it’s brilliant, and so do my very sore muscles on a Friday morning.

BUT, since I managed to injure myself by pushing too hard (Type-A much?), I’ve wanted to transition back into ‘full-on’ mode slowly, patiently testing my hip and knee for what is possible right and what simply is not. It is a humbling thing, pain, particularly when you SAW it coming…I knew my knee was twinging, but pushed right past it anyway…tough pill for my ego to swallow BUT I know coming out of this injury I will have some greater understanding of the whole hip-knee-ankle connection and how subtle yet powerful it all is. And it is.

So….I took a Guided Vinyasa class tonight – that’s why my entry today is so late, but you know what they say… πŸ™‚ – with Donovan, a powerful Ashtanga/Vinyasa teacher whom I sometimes sub for and who’s filled with such faith and power, it’s staggering. So Donovan knows I had a wonky left hip and, God love him, gave us an amazing mΓ©lange of twists and hip openers that were SO deep, I almost fainted from the joy of it.

Let me just say this, if yoga is FOOD, then hip openers are that favourite comforting dish when you’ve had simply the worst day, they’re NOT easy, they take TIME, but they give you SO much in the end. After Sun Salutations (with a twist, of course, if you know Donovan, you’ll understand me perfectly) and standing forward bends, he gave us Lizard Pose (I’ve never know the Sanskrit to this, or if there IS a Sanskrit name for it) and yummy Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) and Mermaid Pose (see Lizard Pose)…and then Supta Hasta Padangusthasana (reclining hand-to-big-toe pose)…and then, oh my gosh people, and then….wait for it….Happy Baby pose!!!

If you’ve never done happy baby pose, I weep for you (well, not really). But get on the floor and try it now, go, lie on your backs and bend your knees, grabbing your big toes and drawing your knees down to the floor while trying to keep your lower back still on the floor. Go on, try, I promise, no one’s watching, or if they are, they’re jealous of you right now. Ever seen an infant do it (usually just before they stuff their toes into their mouths – babies are too cool)? Don’t they look…HAPPY?

And it made me think “child-like”, this practice brings you back to a state of innocence almost, using the breath to calm you, to let go of what you think and surrender to what you feel. Surrender, and goodness, did it feel good!

On the mat, it pays to be like a child, always exploring and questioning, but always true about how it makes you FEEL. Yoga should always leave you feeling good, and tonight, it did just that.

more tomorrow!
SWWW

OK, today I made it through the Sun Salutations, the Standing Postures, and stopped at Paschimatanasana B…I’m deliberately starting back slowly, and it’s amazing to me how quickly the body responds to what you give it…the body is tremendously honest, isn’t it?

Our minds certainly can lie to us, but you can’t put one over on your knee, or back or tight left hip. You can tell yourself “I NEED that pair of skyscraper heels” or even “I can’t live without (insert your latest obsession here)” (mine is “True Blood”), but when my left knee screamed “STOP!!!” when I tried to do a deeper Pigeon pose on my left side before my practice, I got the message clearly.

Another thing I noticed was how much easier practice today was than yesterday, somehow my breath seemed fuller, deeper; my gaze at each dristi felt sharper, the postures almost seemed to drift away (except Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana – my left knee cried – I did Vrkasana -Tree Pose – instead), there was a joyful ache in my left hip as I moved into Parsvakonasana – Side Angle Pose – on that side. I thought “Connection! maybe this is the way to get into my hip deeper so that I can free my knee of pain”

The deep lesson of this practice, and, I think, yoga on a greater scale, is to be very present in each moment, measure your practice and your life with the breath, but don’t be measured BY it.

More tomorrow!

SWWW