Devotion, dogma, and ladies holiday

I don’t particularly love take out Chinese food, but my family does, especially my son. I do love fortune cookies though. Not the taste, I only eat them when I like the fortune…I got this one a few weeks ago.IMG_0783.JPG

I not only ate it, I saved it:) Rest not from duty, but find rest in it. I certainly try, but as I’ve thought about it more, in seeing it displayed out where I have it. What does it mean? Should I really fold my fitted sheets into perfect flat rectangles? When I cave into the sensation, that it’s good enough to get them into a puffy folded wad that might be a rectangle, as I’m aware that there are four beds I’m doing this for, and my linen closet is bulging from the past attempt of wadding folding? How important is this duty? Should I strive to do a better job with it? At what point does conceding defeat develop into right action?

I had no idea of moon days, six day a week practice or ladies holiday my first year of practicing ashtanga. Quite frankly, as I got more and more passionate about my practice, I was doing so, just about everyday. Alas, it was difficult to force myself into the mindset, that not doing asana, was also a practice, a duty to be compassionate to my body. There have been times I’ve been frustrated as I’m on the verge of figuring something out and a break, albeit, even a brief one, has seemed to be a detriment. Yet, as well, I have come to appreciate and need these days off from asana. However, there can also be a dangerous monkey mind rationalization in aiding and abetting a complacent laziness in avoiding best effort and progress. How do we wrestle which choice is the right action? How much fear or avoidance plays into a decision not to practice, versus doing so because it is the right action, or duty to rest.

Ladies holiday was the hardest for me to incorporate. I admit, I found the concept antiquated and chauvinistic when I first learned about it. I scoffed and figured, just ignore it. I admit though, there had been times, practice and menstruation just didn’t work well, in rather mortifying fashions…leaks, sounds, and gushes, oh my…sorry too much info, I know. Yet I persevered, until, I started becoming irregular, skipping or spotting. The perks of being a woman at times, oh joy. I wrote it off at first, I’m not getting any younger, living with my daughters hormone spikes, stress, and any other possible option besides utilizing ladies holiday.

I finally asked my teacher about it, because of my irregular skip/spotty cycle. She told me a number of women who don’t always get a period, tack on an extra day or two of rest next to a moon day. That many post menopausal women as well as women with different medical or hormonal reasons who don’t menstruate regularly, take this approach of an extra rest day by either new or full moon, to pick one and make it part of my routine.

In theory, I liked it. At first, it was annoying, as I didn’t always want to, or even remember but eventually it became a habit, but more importantly, my cycle slowly came back to its normal annoyance, and now incorporated, ladies holiday. Rest from asana practice, is not rest, but duty to be compassionate to your body. I can’t say if there is a medical reason why my body went through these anomalies due to heeding or not heeding ladies holiday, but I’ll take my holiday now, mostly with pleasure, but a side of guilt because I am admittedly crazy in my intensity. On that note, Sharath was asked what should we do when we are restless and missing asana on these days in conference last spring, and his answer was to take a walking meditation outside if the weather allowed it, just don’t do asana. I’m enjoying my rest in duty today, rainy, wet and cold, busing trying to figure out if I should ever care to learn how to fold a fitted sheet better.

If at first you don’t succeed…

“A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new”
― Albert Einstein

Stepping out of a comfort zone is scary. I know there are adrenal junkies out there who live for that type of sensation or rush, but I’m pretty sure, I can confidently state, that I am not that person. However, I also know I can push myself, ideally with compassion, to find my edge, to work past fear, and try something new. Granted, it is also important to know your capabilities and limitations. For instance, though I love to sing, my debut on American Idol would only showcase a delusional mad woman with no musical talent what so ever. I always wonder why someone with a terrible voice auditions, do they not know? Are they attempting comedy? Their fifteen minutes of fame? I’d love to see a psychological study that helps me to understand this phenomenon of self harm.

In any case, I tried to push myself this last week by signing up for led intermediate series with Sharath. I’m by no means fully capable in intermediate. I have only just starting finding balance in pinchu, my latest asana. It is quite nice when it happens, especially in one try, like today, but yesterday, it took three and a half tries. In the Mysore room, I’ve got all the time in the world, just battling my own head as I try to get my body and breath to be steady. In led intermediate, it’s one try, no breaks, no extra breaths in down dog, no fidgeting or sitting, just go and do.

Nadi shodana, aka, intermediate series, is a nerve cleansing sequence. Even in the Mysore setting, it, at least for me, completely jacks up my nervous system. Fight or flight mode used to kick in every single time I tried kapotasana. Mercifully, it does slowly start to either diminish or you get used to it and learn to control your breath enough to stave off the urge to run off and curl in a ball in the corner rocking and sobbing. ( I’ve never actually done that, but I have been tempted! ) I don’t know how it feels for anyone else specifically, but in full disclosure I have PTSD and this sequence has brought many past demons to the surface. Learning to channel my energy in a positive and compassionate way through my breath has been immensely beneficial….but I will save that for another day.

So there I was, in led intermediate. The first day of it was intense and filled with unknowns. I was stopped before my end for a toe drag in bakasana b, at least that’s what I thought. The second day of it, I progressed further through the twists, but Eddie Stern came by me and gently touched my shoulder, and said, hey don’t over do it. I was barely breathing as the count was long and yet painfully consistent. I agreed with him and stopped soon after to watch the rest of the magic until joining back in at closing. My mind had not been as hijacked as the previous day and I was able to truly observe and appreciate the rest of the sequence. I grasped that the intensity of intermediate naturally picks up your own breath count so the hold lasts less time as my breath quickens, but alas Sharath’s count does not, so for instance, in bakasana, the hold in my breath count was probably ten, though the actual count was a slow five, this was true throughout. It made me realize I was stopped more because I just wasn’t grasping how to keep the postures steady and comfortable at such a relentless pace. Yoga Sutra 2:46 sthira-sukham asanam, the posture should be steady and comfortable.

I went home feeling good, regardless of how my practice looked on the outside, I was trying to the best of my capability. I was pushing beyond my slower fidgety Mysore pace and figuring out how to keep my stamina steady enough to persevere with my breathing and longer holds until my last asana on Sharath’s steady and slow count.

In returning on the last day of intermediate, I really just wanted to enjoy the experience. I ended up next to the same lovely Canadian woman from the day before. We had done Supta Vajrasana together. I hate that asana. Truly. One I dread more than most. I think it’s because, before I ever tried it, it looked somehow relaxing or soothing to me. I was completely wrong, and laugh now at the irony of how much I looked forward to finally getting it. Comically it was the one close up picture of me taken over the course of Sharath’s New York tour. IMG_0759.JPGphoto curtesy of Sonia Jones

So, same bat time same bat channel, on my mat, prayers of gratitude before our opening chant, just thinking about trying my best without worrying about it. It was easier! It was no less dynamic or difficult, but my mind wasn’t freaking out saying what’s going to happen?! I had two days of it to get under my skin and into a perspective of concentrating on my breath while letting go and listening to Sharath. I finally made it up to and into Pinchu Mayurasana, my last asana. When I landed, Sharath was standing right in front of me smiling. I smiled too. He asked me if I go further, and I laughed and said not yet. He nodded and said, “good job, now rest and watch.”

Did I need that bit of encouragement? No, that’s not why I practice, but it felt really great to hear all the same. I wasn’t able to attend the last day back at led primary, I was abruptly awoken by a very sick puppy instead. My little Rocky boy had been fed treats by my children that greatly upset his delicate tummy and so taking care of him took precedence.

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He’s lucky he’s so cute!

We never know where tomorrow leads and I’m just grateful I was able to do this now. I am trying to quicken my pace in the Mysore room, and yet not lose focus on working to improve everyday, one step at a time.

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Do your practice, all is coming

I went to my first of a weeks worth of led classes with Sharath this morning in NYC. So many people, so much energy! I was in the later grouping, starting at 8:30, we were all talking and fussing about noisily until about ten minutes before we we due to start and then complete silence took over the room. Sharath made a joke, stating not to be quiet on his account, but we were all in that anticipation mode.

Eddie Stern, of AYNY, got up and spoke to kill the time while Sharath drank his much needed coffee before starting promptly at 8:30. Eddie told two jokes…the first: How many Buddhist monks does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to change the lightbulb and one to not change….we all laughed though he said most people don’t. 🙂

The second: there was a priest and a rabbi at the Vatican trying to settle once and for all which faith was better, the rabbi only spoke Hebrew and Aramaic while the priest only spoke Latin and Greek, so they could only use sign language…first the priest held up his pointer finger and spun it in a circle, the rabbi answered back with a firm one pointer finger, next the priest held up three fingers, so the rabbi answered with taking his one finger and pressing it down into the outstretched palm of his other hand, finally the priest held up a fish, so the rabbi in turn held up an apple. At that the priest said, fine, you win, I’m done. He went out and explained to all first I showed him God is everywhere and the rabbi answered distinctly he is here, next I explained God has come to us as the father, son, and Holy Spirit, but he answered there is just God, finally I showed him the miracle of Jesus feeding hundreds from the gospel yet he answered with the original sin of which without, we would have never needed miracles, I had no more to top that. The rabbi came out next and spoke, saying first the priest told me to round up all the Jews and get them out of here, so I responded give me a minute, next he said I give you to a count of three, and I answered, no, we are staying right here. All of a sudden he pulls out his lunch, so I did too, then he shrugged his shoulders and left…we all laughed, and if was again reminded of the lovely lesson that everything and anything can be misunderstood.

Sharath led us beautifully of course, then spoke afterwards about the practice. He said many people confuse the yoga sutras meaning, that chitta vritti nirodahah is not stilling the mind to have mind control, but to calm the mind. That we all flit with our thoughts like a monkey but we should strive to be still like a kuala bear, calmly sitting in the tree. He reminded us it’s all practice. Practice first and formost, 99% practice and 1% theory. It’s never just the reading or even the asana, it’s putting all of it into practice, that is what’s spiritual about it, the yamas and niyamas. As an example he said someone can know their religious texts and go to temple, or church or their mosque regularly, but if their daily life encompasses doing bad things, all their theories mean nothing without practicing trying to do right action❤️

Ashtangi weekend!

Ok..so I’m tired. Waking up at 2:30ish every morning to practice at the shala before sunrise, while not really shutting down until after 9 pm on a good night, is catching up to me. I’ve been weird ( more than usual) weepy and forgetful. Sigh…not operating at full gear is tough..and I was in denial about it until this morning. Too many monkey brain distractions, not enough Hanuman. Did you know hanuman never gets fatigued? I wore someone else’s black haviana flip flops back home from breakfast…

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Now, granted, black flip flops are quite common, and I was distracted by the pack of monkeys that were climbing over our heads and sitting on the fences around us.

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Photo credit..Brian Ennis!

But, I was not wearing my black havianas this morning! When I went back for the exchange, everyone laughed as I put back on my red Toms..

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The Saturday and moonday combo this weekend of two days off is a much needed respite! I think it’s not just me either, as even Sharath lost his count a couple of times in led primary this morning, chuckling to himself about needing stronger coffee. I’m not much of a napper, so for now relaxing poolside at a local resort watching swim lessons😉

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Temples tomorrow after a good nights sleep!

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. 🙂

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!

Concerto

Though I know a basic ashtanga ritual everywhere is led primary, usually on Fridays. There is something to be said for waking up at 2:30 in the morning to be ready and waiting at a gate at 3:30 with a large group of others doing exactly that too. Sitting in quiet anticipation and contemplation for lights to come on and doors to be opened for a led primary series with Sharath. The first notes start with the rattling of keys and doors inside, we arise as one, getting ready to gently surge forward as a mass to head up a stairwell through a bottleneck doorway to find a spot for our mats to align tightly inside the shala. Bags quickly tucked in changing rooms, last minute bathroom breaks. Talking if at all is bare minimums, energy is saved for asana. The fine tuning of quiet stretches, small mantras and prayers still us until Sharath comes out of his office and we all come to standing at the front of our mats.

From the moment Sharath steps forward to conduct the chant, the energy sweeps around us all, in synchronized breath and movement. The melody is our breath, while his count is our rhythm. The beauty of the orchestration, arises in not just the intensity, but also in letting go. In the speed, proximity of bodies, and staying in breath count, the balance of just doing the best you can, in that moment, that day, really comes into to a crescendo for the week. The choreography of bodies having to sometimes acquiesce full form over consideration and safety of those around you, working together. Finding the sweet spot of asana, comes, I think more easily in just giving up because the count is already there, comically I think in Mysore style I don’t realize I’m there yet sometimes, there is a fine line with working too hard in effort, that led forces you to let go.

I was really sick with either food poisoning, a bad 24hour flu, whatever, the day before, and honestly didn’t know how any part of my practice was going to work. Just grateful to be well enough to wake, shower, and make it to my mat. I wish I didn’t need those reminders of illness or hardships to break away from the ego of self criticism and all the other stuff and just always appreciated practice everyday with that same sense of non-attachment. Regardless, I’m still looking for the ease in the effort. It’s just more difficult to find when your mind stresses as your body tries to relax, caught up in being your own teacher. In led, at least once the sequence is fully ingrained, the mind can find the stillness by letting the conductor lead the way.

Conference Notes March 9th, 2014

Sharath’s son was sitting on stage as we all waited for conference to start today, when his father joined him, a playful mirroring of son to father played out. Sharath sat in padmasana, then he did, Sharath rose in uthpluthi and after beat, so did his boy. It was a sweet moment we all enjoyed with laughter. Sharath said his training in yoga started the same way, as he was a boy in uthpluthi mirroring his Grandfather. Someone then asked if the whole family practiced yoga? Sharath answered, yes, then paused and said sometimes with much humor.

Sharath then dove right into a discussion on ashtanga. Ashtanga has eight limbs, four external exercises that effect the body and the mind. Within those are five sub limbs of daily life, the Yamas. Ahimsa, do no harm . He stated it’s within you, no one watches you all the time but you. Satya or truthfulness, being true to yourself and others. Asteya, meaning, not stealing. As Sharath pointed out, even in asana, only take what is given to you in parampara, in this way true yoga comes through. Brahmacharya, defined as celibacy, but not as we understand it in the western sense. Sharath emphasized this as very important, being devoted to your partner and your partner being devoted to you. And finally, Aparigraha, not taking more than you need and not accepting any higher levels with deserving through effort.

The Niyamas are the other subset. Shaucha, or cleanliness has two types, antah shaucha and bahir shaucha. Antah shaucha is internal, pure thoughts, thinking and action. We cleanse the nervous system with asana and ideally keep the body pure with healthy eating, going a step further stating as a Brahman he is vegetarian, as killing an animal goes against ahimsa. He stated that he understood there were cultural differences amongst us all, but that over time the body changes to craving a more purified diet, citing examples of too much cholesterol or sugar, being junk, and toxic. Bahir shaucha is conversely external cleanliness. Keep our environment clean, our bodies, and MATS! (to much laughter) Santosha or contentment was something he stated everyone needed. To have internal happiness and satisfaction with what you have, keeps suffering at bay. Tapas, Sharath stated, are having a disciplined life. Having structure and stability, like a set schedule for waking, sleeping, practicing. By having a timetable, you are able to hold off on many disturbances in your life, which in turn clears your mind for sadhana, it is impossible otherwise.

Next was self study or swadhyaya. Sharath asked what was self study? Watching a you tube clip or video of asana? No. To deepen your practice it is important to gain knowledge. Read manuscripts and deepen your learning of God to gain more clarity in your practice otherwise it is no different than going to the gym. It’s important to know what you are doing. Gain knowledge reading and asking a guru for guidance. There must be effort, a guru can push you, but you must be willing to put in the effort. No climbing, no coconut.

The last niyama is ishwarapranidhana. A connection to one Devine. Sharath spoke of japa, as a tool for this purpose, chanting everyday, meaningfully, with good thoughts, pure, from your heart. He spoke of connection through a church, temple, or other house of worship, but stated it shouldn’t be because you are forced to be there like a child with their parents, it needs to come from you. He brought the discussion back to his son, initially sitting by him, mirroring his actions. He said that is how he learned yoga with his grandfather. The connection came from within himself and grew, never forced.

Yes, asana, usually comes first, but to bring clarity and meaning to your practice, you need the yamas and niyamas. Spirituality follows when you practice in this way. Your outward appearance doesn’t make you spiritual, transformation happens from within.

Q&A…

What if I like lots of faiths/gods?

Sharath simply stated choose one. He then told a joke. A Christian, a Muslim, and a Hindi all fell in a well, as they were Indian, they couldn’t swim(laughter) first the Muslim prayed to Allah, “Oh please save me Allah!” And he did. Next the Christian said, “Oh please save me Jesus!” And he did. Last the Hindi cried out, ” Krishna, Shiva, Ganesha, Rama oh please save me!” All came but they were so busy fighting over who should do it, he drowned. Everyone laughed as Sharath explained westerners have a harder time trusting and surrendering to faith. Faith gives you internal strength, keeping you stable through adversary.

Proper knowledge of faith and culture is important in this. Everything in India is colorful, but have proper knowledge. Understand what is the purpose of the god, like Ganesh being the remover of obstacles. What is the goal? More importantly gain knowledge of your own first, then explore, there is so much to learn. All the Hindi gods are part of the one whole God. Jesus was the greatest yogi with his message. There is only one supreme God, the universal.

Next a woman asked about home practice, the difficulties of it, three kids, who is her teacher…

Sharath said family is the biggest most important yoga, and three children is very hard 10th series. (Much laughing) he said to have patience, and follow one teacher as often as you can, get a picture of Guruji for energy flow so you are not alone. Teachings won’t die, even when the body does. As for himself, he only ever had one teacher, Guruji. That was right for him, this lineage was enough.

Sharath said life is like 4wheel drive. There will be different terrains, off road, on road, smooth, bumpy, changing all the time. Yoga is life terrain management. You can handle many things when you have yoga.

Everything is one

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