Excuses, excuses

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Let me start by saying I read a fabulous article called Ashtanga:aging and fatigue, this week by Chad Herst. Please read it here. So much of what he talks about is valid and compassionate, as a practitioner who didn’t start practicing until I was 43, I can attest I know what an aging body feels like! Yet, like with anything, it can lead to a rationalization to just give up. Kind of like cheating on a diet, then deciding to binge because you’ve already had a piece a cheesecake.

Obstacles will always arise in our path, that is just the way life works. I swear, everyday, yes every single day, I have very specific reasons come up inside me telling me what I can’t do. My brain is very good at telling me how tired I am, my back is tight, my shoulders are sore, my thumbs hurt, my allergies are kicking in, my balance is off, my ankle is numb, etc. Many days, during my first few sun salutations, I am fighting the urge to just curl right into child’s pose and give up.

You know what? The majority of the time, it’s nothing but blah, blah, blah. I am no masochist or sadist for that matter, I can usually differentiate between discomfort and pain that leads to injury, there is a difference. I promise I’ve never had a day saying I wish I hadn’t practiced today. Not once. Granted as Chad stated in his article, practice isn’t always pushing it to the next level either, but I will add, balancing it, with an honest assessment is key. Cliches abound all about this phenomenon. “Most things in life are difficult before they are easy.”and “Pain is your friend.” Both come to mind, and yet I hate cliches and overuse them…oh the irony.

I’ve come to the mat with chronic discomfort, fatigue included. I subjectively don’t call my past rheumatoid arthritis damage pain. It’s not that it can’t be hurting on any given day, because, sometimes it just does. No rhyme or reason, (another cliche!) just waking up and there it is. Sometimes it’s my back, many days it’s my thumbs, rarely my ankles tweak just to mix things up a bit. Each time the pain is significant, of course I fear another bad flare. Combined with that is just the regular aches and pains of being human like sleeping funny on your neck. These are not injuries to be concerned about per se, and though, I fully get my brain telling me I’ve got an ouchie, it’s not something to throw in the towel about. (More cliches, sigh) I wonder sometimes, what part of me is so resistant? Is it fear? Is it knowing how intense a specific asana is? Is it being lazy? Is it frustration? Impatience? Disliking the asana I’m struggling through?

I’m sure it’s all those things with a dash of ego thrown in to the recipe just to make it all the more dramatic and all about woe is me. (Another one! ) Let me stress, I abhor pain, it’s vile and simply hurts. I try to avoid it like the plague. (I like that one) However, I know that laying in bed all day, (a onetime fantasy for me) barring being very ill, actually is not beneficial to me, or anyone. I’ve done it, on chemo. Laying waiting to have energy does not give you energy. I know this as a fact.

Use it or lose it. (It’s true, but I really dislike this cliche) I have felt like I couldn’t move, seriously, I’ve been so severely flared in my RA the only way to get downstairs in my house was to sit on the stairs and scooch down one step at a time, crying because it hurt to just get myself in the kitchen to make a cup of tea. Looking back, I empathize with that sickly soul, but wish I had been given advice to pick my ass up and try a little harder. Yes, tough love( more cliches really?) and I’m not sure I would have taken it before I was ready to, but alas I know better now. This does not in anyway mean, that I would push through a true injury, assessment, rest as needed, and modification if necessary. Work with a trusted instructor as well as medical intervention if needed.

As crazy as it sounds, movement makes the worst of that pain of discomfort go away. Even when I had to bump my way down those steps, by the last one it was always a little better than the top! It also creates more energy. Movement can not straighten my middle fingers back to normal, but for the most part, action gets the circulation going, which ultimately gets me feeling better. By no means should you practice to a point that you are too exhausted or injured to function. Practice is a support to living as well as a foundation to a lifestyle. The foundation must be tended too, or it starts to slowly crumble away. That does not mean catching your ankles at all costs, but it does mean giving your best effort, in any given day, for that day. It also means that some days you will be sore, but in that sweet way. My quite winded point is, yes pay attention, avoid injury, if not the aging process, but don’t let your mind stop your potential, as all this babble arises, just acknowledge it, see what’s real and then let it go and practice to the best of your capabilities.

Conference notes March 23, 2014

Last conference of the season…

Sharath opened by stating this was it! He wondered if any one had any doubts or questions, because as he put it, without them there are no answers. ūüôā

Someone opened by asking about count, is it a mantra?

Sharath basically stated it’s a count no more no less. His son was sitting next to him and started the count, “One!” It was very funny and cute.

Ahimsa came up next from a more philosophical perspective of the point that there are infinite consequences..how do you decide what is ever right?

At first Sharath humorously stated if we dwell on every possible outcome we’d never leave our beds! However, though fate may exist with everyone having a time go be born or a time to die, ensuring your actions are purposeful is all you can do. Think first. God has given us all the power to think and gauge our choices. Yoga helps make you wiser, utilizing the tools of all the limbs helps you to think more clearly. By enacting the eight limbs, the impurities of the body and mind can be destroyed, so spirituality and wisdom can grow inside.

Sharath said his wife was helping him with his hair and back in his oil bath yesterday, and they were talking about spirituality. He said he told her that children are born pure, up until about five years old there is really nothing but a good heart and stable mind. As we age and are exposed to more trauma, people, places, knowledge, it gets more confusing and disturbing, to latch on to that earlier place but the process of yoga can bring your mind there again. Bringing the senses inside to see your true nature, versus all the outside perceptions and distractions.

Asana starts the process, and then curiosity takes hold first to ahimsa, than satya and the transformation starts. It goes deeper and deeper, into your actions and changes how you act as well as how you treat others.

As an aside someone asked later about the importance of ahimsa over satya in possibly hurting others through what you say…his answer was that there is an art to learning how to make others understand without humiliation or judgement.

How hard should you push yourself?

With a smile, unto you feel pain, everyone laughed. But then more seriously, until your body shows resistance. Your body is clever, it knows when to stop. Primary series should take about an hour and fifteen minutes. If you do too many asana, it’s like eating too much food, it can really make you sick. One practice a day is enough.

Why is there “Shala Time”?

Sharath said it was too keep us from being lazy with a laugh. But then said it was a tradition of parampara dating to Guruji always being five minutes early, he felt it was very important to be on time.

Questions about bundhas and stamina, shaking during or after practice?

Bundhas, were briefly addressed with basics stating it was too much information to cover here but there was plenty of information available and that they develop over time and consistency. As for the shaking, this is a high energy practice and the body slowly needs to get used to it over years, again stressing to never do too many at a time.

Certified teacher trainings versus authorization?

Sharath answered saying what can he do? Police it? Yoga can’t be trademarked, it’s like the sun, or air, it just exists. It is his duty to educate, teachers trainings don’t possibly cover enough, in good ones, you end up realizing how much more you need to learn. Everyone needs training and a proper foundation, like the banyan tree, it starts out small and grows slowly, this is yoga. The commitment and sacrifice is great.

When is Shat Kriya appropriate?

When you are Ill. Asana cures in of itself if done properly. For example, primary series is designed to cure internal diseases. The digestive organs are cleansed by pressing on the lower abdomin. Backs are strengthened in forward folds and pain goes away. Belly fat goes away from forward bending. First it makes you fit and healthy, then strong organs and bundhas.

When should you start drop backs?

Not until primary is completed. It is important to have a sound forward bend before drop backs, otherwise you compromise kormasana. Balancing is important, too much of anything can effect the rest of your practice. For example, handstands compromise kapotasana, too many, unneeded, will effect ability to backbend properly. It is unnecessary to do more than your practice.

Coconut oil rubbed on the joints after practice then washed off with hot water will help make the joints more flexible.

What about catching?

Sharath stated without it you can’t see the stars, with a laugh. But more seriously noted it will strengthen your back more after all the foreword folding of primary. He as well pointed out how strong and straight the backs of old yogis were such as Krishanamachara and Guruji.

In closing he spoke of obstacles to practice from yoga sutra 1.30..
Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained — these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles. We can make our minds stronger through practice. While he was on Safari, in a tent practicing as he was getting into kapotasana there was a lion roaring right outside the tent. He smiled and said it was his best kapotasana ever. God bless you all with happiness and prosperity. Namaste!

Who says ignorance is bliss?

I really am enjoying the country and culture of India. it is vibrant and beautiful, with hard working industrious people, adorable children and sacred cows that wander everywhere:-) Yet, still very much a developing nation, and the growing pains that exist with all that. As I most definitely am used to first world rich man problems like whether we lay a new pipe line for oil and the pollution it potentially causes. Here, they have almost daily blackouts, some days more than one. None have mercifully been terribly long. It’s just part of life here, overloading the grid in the heat of the mid day not just in a fluke or bad storm. One happened as I was sitting in the middle of a busy downtown restaurant, no one skipped a beat around me. It’s all in what you are used to.

I wrote a post a few days ago, called Welcome to India. I was really just trying to point out how little I know of India and that my street smarts are rusty from suburban living, not that they were ever great. My point was more that regardless of where you are; New York, London, Paris, Munich, Mysore…you should probably not walk up to a white van full of unknown young men as a woman alone, even if they are the friendliest people out there, because in this world we live in, that is not always the case, and better safe than sorry. However, the comments I made were misunderstood by an unknown stranger who chose anger and threats versus open dialogue.

I admit last night I was in fear going to bed, wondering if he really would come here to hurt me. He had briefly succeeded in creating terror in my body, I felt physically vulnerable as he had not just commented on my blog but a friends as well, explaining how easy it would be to find me here and use violence as a means of retaliation of his misinterpretation of my words.

As a favorite scientist and philosopher, Karl Popper, has so nicely put it, “It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood.” But alas, is rage ever the right choice of action? Where does rage arise and why? Avidya, Samskaras and Kleshas. Ignorance, past wounds, and the impediments we create in our desires, aversions, ego, and false knowledge. I have no idea what types of horrors or abuses this human being has faced, or whether anyone has shown them ahimsa, compassion, and if this person is even capable of acknowledging such acts of kindness. As we all can in moments is it just the lowest level of reptilian brain striking forth as protector of territory?

Yesterday in conference, Sharath spoke of being a young boy and seeing a group of either Japanese or Chinese tourists. He was young and naively ignorant of their purpose in his city. It was also rare to see someone so different visiting at that point, at least in the eyes of a child. I think he said one of his friends dared him to go up and say hello to them, but he said he said no, they know karate and might hurt him. It was a funny story of a child’s innocence and avidya bringing out false assumptions and fears.

As we differentiate ourselves more by culture, faiths, race, politics, sex, diet, how much you recycle, do you eat chocolate? at what point do we choose to decide animosity is ever the right option over debate or discourse? When do we allow fear or assumptions to be better choices than asking why? When did clarification questions get tossed aside? At what point do we allow broad ranged stereo types to override the fact that we are equal as human beings, deserving of compassion? There is a difference between being a mother bear protecting your threatened cub and an ornery bear. I would hope that mindfulness could exist to allow pause before reaction when accidentally coming across a mother bear..time to assess a true threat from false knowledge.

Does having compassion mean being friends? No. It means having respect, allowing privacy, natural compassionate consequences, kindness, or just leaving someone be if you don’t get along well. I know this anger and hatred has nothing to do with me personally. I truly wish they understood the word yoga, union, and grasped that there is room for knowledge and the veil of ignorance to be lifted without ever a violent action or thought.