The garden tips in shadows and an overabundance of vegetables. Yet blossoming among the old stalks of July’s proliferation, are striking flowers. Beauty becomes the fading violet color on a Monarda going to seed or a single coral rose bending toward light.
My being flows in and out of this creation. I am one moment the created, another I am the creator. When life becomes rich in juice, I am both, singing without care for the distinction.
What is practice? There are infinite ways of practicing the yoga poses. Sometimes the pose is hidden in life. Finding that the pose is life becomes the ultimate centering practice. Mindfulness.
As practice “seasons” yoga informs activities which are seemingly unrelated to time on the mat. Tapas (fire, determination) and sukha (joy, ease) play out moment to moment, no matter what activity is engaged.
So many ways we stretch beyond the physical. The way of strength, the way of holding and letting go. The way the breath informs everything.
Sometimes the best practice is not physical.
Yoga is, after all, about the mind as well as the body and the heart.
Just becoming even slightly aware of what is going on up there in the place inhabited with a thousand chattering monkeys, is a profound practice. When breath takes me there, I roll in light and shadow.
Am I ready for what may be found? Can I allow myself to become that single coral rose blossoming amid the dried out stalks and petals in the garden? Am I ready for nirvana? It floats in the very next inhalation. It may arrive in that still pause, the moment between exhalation and inhalation when the monkeys quiet in awe, and simple existence becomes total awareness of being.
For many years, I see-sawed between practicing sitting meditation and asana practice. I was gaining insight into my Self with both kinds of practice. Mind, Body, Heart, were all developing, albeit unevenly.
I could (and did) spend hours a day in sitting practice, to the point of neglecting the needs of my body, my family, my friends. I would continue this way until the niggle within grew, strongly suggesting that I was neglecting my asana practice. Then I’d kick up my asana practice. I was growing more and more comfortable simply being in my body, as well as growing stronger and more supple. New levels blossomed in poses I’d thought were unattainable for me, and so, working even harder, I’d push forward, sometimes to the point of bodily injury.
Both practices yielded many benefits, but I was left feeling chronically unsatisfied with my practice and with myself. If asked about my home practice, I would say as much because I truly felt as if it hardly existed. A sense of incompleteness in my life never lifted. I was a bud that refused to bloom.
Gradually, over time, I developed curiosity about why I couldn’t seem to settle. Was I more of a meditator, or more of a yogini? As I did this, I asked myself questions about what was most needed to fulfill my dharma, my reason for being here now.
The answer led me deeper into meditation in daily life. Meditation in asana practice. Yoga in the kitchen. Meditation while unloading the dishwasher. Yoga in the shower. Meditation while weeding. Walking meditation. Yoga in the garden.
Learning to connect the messages from my senses, the outer world, with my mind, the inner world — I glimpse union. The unfolding of the flower of yoga.
B.K.S.Iyengar tells us in his insightful book, The Tree of Yoga, The Classic Guide to Integrating Yoga Into Your Daily Life, that the flower of yoga is Dhyana or Meditation. It is the union of the outer path of our asana (messages from our senses) and the inner path of asana (messages from our mind). They must both become balanced. When imbalanced, and we’ve all seen advanced practitioners fall this way, even though they’ve practiced long and achieved a high level of ability in sitting meditation or yoga asana, they do not realize the calm bliss that comes only from the full flowering of yoga.
As I (happily!) settle into deeper union of life and yoga, paths heretofore unseen come into view. The garden blossoms. There are more flowers. The journey continues
Have you ever wondered how your teacher could hold a pose for sooooo long? How did s/he not appear straining or tired while you felt as if you could collapse into a ball of jelly? The secret is knowing how to correctly move into the asana.
Intelligent yoga asana is alignment based.The skeletal structure of the body lines up in ways that optimize and minimize or focus muscle use, thereby minimizing energy consumption, and stress. This greatly reduces injury. When in correct alignment, the pose feels right and the yogi can enter the blissful state of sukha despite the effort involved in holding a posture.
It all begins in the feet. Knowing how to lift the arches and neither pronate (dropping the ankles inward) or supinate (dropping them outward), how to spread the toes and distribute the weight on the four corners of the soles (root of big toe, root of pinky toe, inner and outer heel) will take you on many effortless miles of living and walking.
Over and over and over we work to re-pattern the way we stand, sit, walk, and lie down. Observing the habits that have developed since birth, studying photos of folks in indigenous cultures, and then looking at folks we come across in our daily lives can teach us reams about correct posture. I’ll go more into that in a future post.
Today I wanted to give local runners (and others interested in simply trying the barefoot lifestyle) a heads up of Barefoot runner, Ken Bob Saxton’s appearance at 795 Waterman Road, Forestville, 3 PM on Sunday, June 23. (716-679-8544 for more info.). He’s giving a multimedia presentation of how to go barefoot without hurting yourself. And then they may just do a 5 K country run, barefoot, of course.
The practice of Being rather than Doing offers fulfillment on many levels. My yoga often serves as a refuge to hustle-bustle, grief, stress and struggle of everyday life. Whether it’s an achy back, sore legs, overwhelmed mind, or a tired heart, I know that practice will ease the suffering.
Over the years, this has lured me into a deeper and deeper embrace of a formal, on-the-mat asana exploration. The path to wholeness and health. This is not a bad thing! The moment I land on the mat, feelings of delicious relief swirl through me. Now I can settle into BEING, opening my heart, linking my heartmindbody, and connecting with forces only the inner eye sees; the inner ear hears.
Conjure the stillness of post-savasana, or the centeredness of pranayama, or the contentment you felt after a fav yoga class. Then, despite whatever ails you today, how many parts of you hurt, how cranky or tired you are, head to a mat. Begin with your most beloved yoga pose, and let the bliss flow.
As your practice deepens and cycles through the seasons of your life, the boundaries between the refuge you experience on your mat and in the world will slowly dissolve. Moments will gradually grow where life itself is centered in a sweet contentment that is its own refuge, no matter the circumstances. These are the moments when yoga and life are one and the same practice. Observe and recognize that they too will pass, but observe as well that those moments are the fruit of heading to your mat day after day, year after year.
For those of us living in the cold North, where snow and wind blow often during the winter months, the signs of thaw and retreating snow cover are visual reminders of not only seasonal change, but can also remind us of the daily transformation that occurs in or lives.
Practicing a visualization meditation using the melting snow and greening landscape can help renew and focus our desires for radiant health and well-being.
If it is warm enough outdoors, you can try this practice outside. It’s helpful to change up your routine and take your practices into different environments. You may be surprised at what distractions arise, at how your awareness shifts, and the shifting quality of awareness.
Begin by settling yourself into Meditation Position. This should be a position that you can sit in comfortably for fifteen- twenty minutes.
Practice with eyes gently closed.
Notice the Place you are in. Invite the place to fill your awareness and your being. Invite your being to fill the environment. Take a couple of long slow breaths through your nose feeling the connection of your self and your environment. Allow this enlarged self to settle in your heart center peacefully.
Notice your Physical Self. Settle awareness in the body as you practice observing without judgement, growing compassion and love as you scan your self. Be here for a few moments or minutes, as you wish.
Bring awareness to the Breath without trying to change anything about the breath. Just try to observe the individual nuance of every single breath as it arises, during its fulfillment, as it recedes, perhaps as it pauses, and as it transforms into the next breath. Don’t rush. Take as much time as you like with this phase of your practice.
If you are continuing to relax, and it feels right to continue, imagine your environment as it was covered in snow, with individual shapes blurred and softened beneath the white fluff. Be here for a few moments, as it feels right.
Next imagine the snow thawing and receding from tree limbs and rooftops. Imagine the air warming your skin; the brilliant sunlight dancing in your eyes. In your mind’s eye, invite the green buds of spring to push through the crust of the earth and for some of those buds to blossom into flowers of myriad colors.
If you are ready to take this a step further, imagine your own deepest desire for your life as if it were a dormant seed lying deep within your being. Feel the way you wish to protect that seed and how you’d like the light to reach it. Imagine banks of snow that might be impeding the seed from sprouting, to melt and dissolve. As you do this, touch in with your desire for this seed to fulfill its destiny.
Silently speak to the seed and offer warm words of encouragement. Watch the snow melt even faster as you do this. Observe the way the seed begins to set little white roots and wiggly green leaves as more and more light and warmth reach it.
Continue giving this plant of your deepest desires some love in your own unique expression. Feel warmth spread throughout your being as you do this. Be here for a few more moments.
When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take a couple of deeper abdominal breaths before moving into your day.
Whenever you can, touch in with this beautiful, growing desire that is within you, whether it’s radiant health, or beautiful relationships, or healing, or flourishing creativity, or a life of overflowing abundance; whatever it is, let it become the central force motivating your actions and shaping your days.
I have kept many journals over the years and I have found that there are at least two reasons for keeping a dedicated yoga-meditation practice journal.
Yoga journaling can be an important aidto your practice for two reasons. The first is that the act of remembering what and how you practiced provides a running diary of asana in your life. As time passes, this record can become a tool for motivation, celebration, and insight.
The second way that journaling assists your yoga practice is that as you reflect back on what you have done, how you felt, what changed or remained the same, the practice deepens. Yoga, at its heart is about self-reflection and self-growth/ self-awareness.
When recording a yoga session, I include the poses I did as well as my thoughts and insights, what came easily, what my breath was like. See the photo of a random page from my little green book.
Your journal can become a great tool for a personal journey in SATYA, or the development of truthfulness in your life. Try to look at your practice dispassionately, using Witness Consciousness.
A very specific way to keep a mindfulness journal is to record your insights immediately after a practice session, whenever you can. Keep a pen and notebook handy, at the ready, so that it’s easy to remember to write for a few minutes after you have practiced. Dedicate the notebook to this effort.
When recording meditation sessions, include what specific practice you were engaged in. Walking? Sitting? Or did you practice Deep Relaxation? What was your posture?
For any session, it’s helpful to record what challenges were faced, how the poses worked together, and the cumulative effect of regularly practicing. Include a general description of your emotional and physical states at the beginning and ending of the practice.
There are many ways to keep a journal. Consider all of them a part of your mindfulness training. You can ask yourself questions and then free write responses. When you free write, resist the urge to edit yourself so that the unconscious thoughts can freely arise. The pen is not to leave the paper. Just keep the writing flow going, even if what you are writing is gibberish. In the midst of the junk, insights often appear unexpectedly. You may be surprised at what appears on the page!
Another is to record observations using the Witness Consciousness. and then reflect back upon what you’ve written.
You can try different methods on different days as the spirit prompts.
Many students like to draw in their journals and attach photographs. There is no set length or format. If you can only pen a couple of lines, that’s AOK. Sometimes, however, you may feel an inclination to delve deeper as you reflect on your state. Go for it! It’s your record, so personalize it and make it work for you. Marble composition books work great for journals. They are cheap, and easily available. If you work with me through Yoga Coaching, I’ll ask you to send each week’s journal to me in an email.
After a mass request from Garchen Rinpoche to recite the White Tara Mantra for all those who are suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I created this video, so that you may join me and learn the chant too.
Please sing along or recite silently as you learn the phrases. Listen to the sounds of the syllables mindfully as you utter them.And feel the vibration of each part in your body.
Homage to she who protects from the eight perils!
Homage to she who blazes with auspicious splendor!
Homage to she who blocks the door to evil destinies!
Homage to she who guides on the path to the higher realms!
You have continually accompanied me.
Pray protect me evermore with compassion!
6AM: woke up and since I had done supta padanghustasana 1 before falling asleep,I drew up both legs for urdhva pascimottanasa for 3 minutes, then Happy Baby. Thought about the relationship of HB and Supta 2 with the outer rotation of the leg in the hip socket.
Then a series of twists: supine cross- legged, crocodile, revolved belly, half supine virasana, gentle bridge 3.
Was going down to the studio at 7:30, but then S. skyped me from Poland. People first. Karma yoga in action. LOVE. Asana Practice could happen later.
After our call, I cleaned the studio and picked, prepping for the 10 AM class.
I’ve been reading student meditation journals most of the afternoon, so still have not returned to an asana practice.
This evening, though, I took a break and meditated with one of Susan Piver’s 20 minute guided practices. susanpiver.com If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you subscribe to this very accessible meditation teacher’s online OPEN HEART PROJECT. Susan’s got me thinking about the soft front body and the strong back body in meditation posture. How there is no boundary. How they exist simultaneously. How awareness shifts from one to the other. How difficult it is to hold them BOTH in awareness. But in a strange way, it’s comforting to know they are both there. Both.
10 PM In the studio for a two hour session. Pigeon (still difficult on left side as it activates the sciatica), Half handstand, Wide angled seated forward fold with twists, cobbler pose, Downward facing dog pose,sphinx, bow, camel. Really paid close attention to camel as I looked up several articles online regarding alignment. Kept repeating as I played with alignment.Headstand for 4.5 minutes, Child pose with close attention to maintaining hips resting on heels and releasing spine into front of body. Shoulderstand and a quiet Legs Up The Wall, hips on the shoulderstand stack of blankets. Connecting the soft front of the body with the strong back body.Comforted, I was satisfied and went to bed.