What’s your hurry? 

Sometimes in an asana, I notice something seems off, tight, unstable, or just not as deep as I know I’ve felt it go before. The beauty in these moments occurs when I allow myself to notice it without too much angst or frustration . Not that I’m completely letting it go, but instead just trying to figure out why it’s happening from a point of no ego. (Is there such a place? Ha..I don’t know. Maybe minimal ego…) 

I had it happen this week. My up dogs just felt funky lately. My back bend didn’t seem as comfortable and pinched slightly in my low back, going into my legs. Nothing too major, but it seemed to flow throughout practice. I couldn’t tell if it was physical, and where it was possibly originating. A mystery that I hoped wasn’t the start of anything bigger. My other back bends were fine, at least as far as not being painful or restrictive, even if not always as deep as I like. 

The first day or two it happened, I just went with it, noticing the change, but not really figuring out the mystery. Sometimes, these things just slowly ebb away, the same way they creep in. However, I decided to not just fixate on my up dog, but instead feel how each movement of my sun salutations and  vinyasas were feeling. I found the answer. It was all about chaturanga. 

If you’ve ever practiced with Sharath, he has this terrifying way of saying, “what’s your hurry?”, meaning to stay there. It’s especially challenging while everyone is in chatarunga. He greatly dislikes, I thought at least, when someone during led class moves faster than his count in sun salutations and vinyasas. Sharath will hold everyone in chaturanga until the perpetrator comes back to the asana…oh the pain of chilling out in a low plank. I will admit, as I’ve experienced this hold for what seems like an eternity. I’m usually breathing intensely by the end of it, possibly cursing whomever this hapless creature is that has gone out of sync, grateful at the same time that I don’t know, because then I can’t lash out at them to get with the program as my body is shaking from the lengthened hold.

As I was flowing though my first sun salutation, trying to uncover my mystery,  I hit into chaturanga and boom, his expression popped in my head. What’s your hurry? Exactly. I realized in my efficiency of jumping right into my low plank, I wasn’t giving myself time to take a complete exhale. I admit, it was subtle, but yet in concentrating on the basics in each asana of breath, bundha, and dristhi, I realized how fast that component had become and I wasn’t giving myself the few extra seconds of time holding in the asana to finish exhaling. I was so full of stale air, I wasn’t able to take a full inhale in my up dog to allow it to fully express. I started laughing because I finally understood Sharath’s point, it really wasn’t about him wanting us to stay in synch on his count, but to breathe properly in order to do it right. In any case, I haven’t cured cancer or discovered the secret to world peace, but hey, I’m taking a full exhale in chaturanga  now, and I can attest, the difference is quite remarkable, regardless of it being noticible to anyone else. 

Sometimes in practice, these pieces of the puzzle become rote. It’s not so much taken for granted, as just focus has shifted and slowly, insidiously, we start making changes that eventually detract versus enhance progress. There is never such a thing as perfecting the process, just evolving, and noticing with more relaxed but still active intention. I always set intentions before practice, sometimes intellectually or spiritually, but as well physically. I will occasionally put more focus on bundhas, or dristhi, alignment, how high I’m getting my jump back, there is always something to improve or study. So, for now, I’ve decided to notice my exhales, and inhales for that matter, throughout practice when I remember too at least, for now., in how fully I’m capable of breathing. Each side is equally important. Trying to witness the power each breath can enhance in an asana, the exhale of surrender and the inhale of strength and energy. Still learning to breathe…The journey never ends, but awareness is always the first part of change. 

Oh oh Its Magic, you know, never believe it’s not so. 

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W.B. Yeats 

Though I forget this all the time, asana practice is about the overall journey, not the asana itself. In being honest, of course I want to do the asana I’m attempting. I want to figure it out, and find that place of peaceful stability, regardless of how challenging or dynamic, that place does exist. Elusive as it may seem, and variable from day to day, maintaining a steady, calm breath in the most intense asana, can and does happen occasionally. 

I admit, many times, when I first saw someone else try to balance on one leg, headstand, drop backs, legs behind their heads, lotus, lotus in a forearm handstand, Mari D, heck even a foreword fold with a straight back, all these and more, had my mind in a tizzy thinking that is never going to happen. I was in awe, and thought, how am I thinking that I belong in a room with a group of people who could run off and join the circus? I would shake my head thinking I’m just the clown and not a very good one at that because, I’m too fraught with anxiety to laugh at these impossible feats. Doubt, fear, lack of experience, or conversely past failures all used to overwhelm my senses and place imaginary limitations on my capabilities. How much of what we don’t do is based on thinking we can’t because we never have? Just because it may not seem likely, does not mean an asana is out of reach. The mind truly is more rigid than the body. 

In no particular order, here are things I have found to make the process easier. 

We are unique. Stop comparing yourself to anyone else, please. Aspirations are one thing, but envy will get you no where but angry. Personal bests come to mind. We are not just shaped different physically, but with different strengths and weaknesses. That super flexy pretzel in the corner may have no stamina or strength, the amazing inversion guy might have such tight shoulders, his back bend goal is just to get beyond a half bridge, the flat backed folder may not have any twisting capability what so ever. Finally, even if someone looks “good” doing it, it doesn’t mean they don’t still struggle everyday, that the challenge isn’t there, because, it is, it’s just about something different than your own.

Come to practice clean and empty, if you can. A hot shower not only loosens you up, but keeps you from focusing on smelling or feeling dirty when you sweat. Anything in your stomach will just look for a way out, and is uncomfortable at best. 

Say the opening chant to yourself, and/or set a positive intention when you get on your mat. It sets the mind to a place a gratitude right from the start.

Learn to breathe. Let the asana teach you how to breathe, that is just one of the many gifts practice gives back. Steady, equal breaths timed to movement are the key to any forward progress. If it becomes labored, find a safe rest place like tadasana, dandasana, down dog or up dog to hold until your breathing calms during Mysore practice. Be compassionate but aware. 

Relax. Surrender to the process. Twists happen when we stop grasping and start paying attention. Tension in the mind, creates tension in the body, tightening muscles instead of lengthening. The first time I really felt right in pashasana was when I, in pure exhaustion, let my weight go completely into my feet and released all the tension from my shoulders and spine. 

Let yourself be a witness instead of a participant in an assist sometimes. Body awareness can be different from one limb to another, let yourself feel how the instructor worked your body into it instead of rushing to help them, just pay attention. 

Hint of a smile. In otherwords, don’t be too serious. There are no failures, just attempts that didn’t work. Laugh when you can, accept your flaws with compassion, they won’t get any better with a critical lens but a receptive one. Allow yourself a chance to grow and learn. Non-attachment at its finest! 

Show up. Come to the mat everyday you can. If you don’t make an effort, nothing will change. Even if you only have 15 minutes, do your sun salutations and a simple closing. I promise, you will feel better for the grounding you’ve given yourself for the day, and your body will thank you next time you get in a longer practice.

Stability matters. It’s how the asana feels, not how it looks. I know, when teaching, I’m looking to align, but it’s not to help for the pretty selfie, but to prevent injury and for the stability of the Self. 

The action is everywhere. Each asana recreates tadasana or dandasana, so to speak. No matter what else you are attempting, your feet, hands, head and spine are on duty, engaged and dynamic, but not tense! 

Flourish is pretty but not necessary. Learn to be efficient instead of fidgety. Take the time to learn the steps to get into an asana, but once you do, work on consolidating the steps to the proper breath count. Save your energy for the practice, stamina grows over time, give it a chance to happen. 

Bundhas are the base. Once you find your bundhas, everything becomes easier. Check in on hooking your engagement of bundhas at the start of each count, right before your first inhale, if you can’t find them, you are not stabile. 

Dristhi. The looking place ties it all together. Outward distractions can’t take hold if your gaze stays close and focused. It’s hard enough to quiet inside the mind without worrying about what’s happening across the room. 

Stop thinking with perimeters that limit your mind’s perception of what you can and can not do. Self defeating mind sets halt the limitless potential of possibilities. Let trust overcome fear. Never give up, but please surrender to the process. 

Build heat, work to the best of your capabilities that day and sweat! Internal heat is an important piece of the puzzle. 

Don’t skimp on your closing sequence. If you don’t have time for a full practice, this is not the area to leave out. Regardless of where your struggles may be, keep away your ego of progressing forward if today is not the day, avoid rushing and leave enough time to close and rest. The closing inversions and lotus postures all work at bringing the benefits of practice to the right places. As well, “taking rest” calms your breathing to a regular pace at the end of practice so you can be fresh for the rest of your day. 

Patience. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Enjoy the journey. Do your practice and all is coming. 

Standing on my soapbox, empathy is not a dirty word. 

I have a confession to make, I get really frustrated by judgements. I know, I know, that in of it self is judgemental, I guess. But why is karma a bitch? Why if I exhude positive vibration should I only expect positive results? Why does the expression what comes around goes around used to take satisfaction in another’s problems or punishments?  None of these thoughts are compassionate, because sometimes bad things happen, to everyone.

About a month or so ago, an acquaintance I’ve known about five years, overheard me giving someone encouragement about recovering from an ailment that I had myself some time ago, she has seen snapshots so to speak, of some of the challenges in my life. Her response was to turn around and chime in, saying something like, “Oh my god! What have YOU done to deserve all this?!” The first thought that popped in my head was, not a fucking thing, but thanks for assuming the worst of me, like I deserve any of this crap! Instead, though, I took a breath and chuckled at my thoughts before saying out loud, “I am just grateful to be alive, I don’t view it that way.” A completely true statement. 

Of course I get upset, doubt, cry, throw pity parties, wake up cranky for no good reason, yell, just like every other person on this incredible planet, but I hope that the love I feel in my heart outweighs all that. Life isn’t fair. It’s not doled out in measured increments of hardships and pleasures based on how kind or good you are. I refuse to make that subjective list, claiming how I’m better than someone else, because it’s not that clear cut, and it’s not for me to decide. The choices come from how we handle things. Living in envy, woe, or anger is poison to the soul. Does it matter who wins the lottery?  We can’t always control what happens, just our reaction to it. 

Life is filled with consequences to our actions, that is karma. Karma on the other hand is not a baby born with cerebral palsy, getting cancer, having a drunk driver crash into you, being raped…I could go on as there are so many tragic and painful episodes living in this world, but to claim karma is using me as a pawn beholden to pain and suffering is just a sick petty version of victim shaming. 

If I walk around like an ass all day, chances are I won’t be treated very well, that is karma. If I’m smiling and happy all day, most likely I’ll be met with smiles as well, again karma. Me burning my hand today making a Dutch bunny? A distracted accident, and a lesson learned about metal handles staying really hot, even ten minutes out of the oven! Lying, cheating, stealing, reckless behavior all have logical consequences…and choosing to try to understand or empathize with someone’s bad behavior does not condone it, but it might lead to a positive step in halting further bad behavior. Be an activist, but do it with compassion instead of anger. Awareness comes before change. Ignorance can only be enlightened through receptive knowledge. 

Though I’m sure I’ve said this before, I find I’m most critical when I’m not happy with something in my own life. It would be nice if we could just look inward to our own actions and thoughts as those are truly the only ones under our command. Be grateful for something, anything. Make a Dutch bunny! It won’t make life an easier, but it tastes delicious, just use on oven mitt!