Kathleen commented that “It is not about the “stuff” but about being with each other and spending time with those that we love. It is also about taking time for self.” Both thoughts I want to hold close to my heart during this new year. Spending time with those we love, and I include MYSELF among the beloved, is a core practice. Any nigglings of alienation dissipate when I am present to love. Self-doubt, one of my “corrupting nigglers” also wears thin in love’s presence. In the presence of love, I know who I am ….and feel good, spiritually and mentally healthy, and whole.
For K., A copy of Esther Myers’ book beautiful and honest book, YOGA & YOU Energizing Yoga for New and Experienced Students, is awarded. Esther passed away in 1994. Though I was never fortunate enough to have a class with EM, her struggle with breast cancer as well as her honesty describing the daily ups and downs of yoga practice continue to inspire me. Fortunately for us, her teachings live on in this text. Kathleen, I hope you enjoy, learn, and your practice is inspired in 2011!
Perce wrote that it was during a yoga practice (don’t you love those little epiphanies that arise out of nowhere during practice ~ I sure do and they remind me that my BRAIN needs yoga as much as anything else) that she realized she had many items already on her shelves that her family would enjoy. Don’t we all, Perce!
Thanks for the reminder to look around and mentally, or in your journal, inventory, your assets. There are so many gifts already in our possession, from the “stuff” we own, such as the jewelry you mentioned in your comment, to the personal characteristics we’ve developed over the years, such as an ability to listen and be present to another person.
For you, a book that was on my shelf: Mira Mehta’s How To Use Yoga, A Step-by-Step Guide to the Iyengar Method of Yoga, Relaxation, Health, and Well-being. Perce, I hope the precision shown in the writing and the clear photos in this book will assist the alignment and sukham (happiness) in your practice.
Continuing the discussion on the triad of yogic practice: FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH, today’s post focuses upon BALANCE in our practice and in our lives.
Many students, particularly elders, join a yoga class because they wish to improve their BALANCE. This is not surprising because during every decade of living we lose considerable ability to BALANCE. Unbalance is due to several reasons, the most prominent being loss of muscle mass. It’s easy to see then, that building STRENGTH is a critical component of developing BALANCE.
Having said that though, there is considerable difference among students and for a variety of reasons, younger students sometimes have worse balance than elders.
Maybe we need to question the essential existence of BALANCE in the world and in our lives. What is BALANCE exactly?
Is balance an achievable state or a momentary state?
Is BALANCE a construct of the mind?
Is physical balance different from mental or spiritual balance?
Can one be achieved without the other?
Is BALANCE synonymous with enlightenment?
Is BALANCE possible without flexibility or strength?
In the type of meditation I teach, vipassana, the heart of the practice is being present with mindfulness and equanimity. In vipassana we use sitting on a cushion and walking meditation as our two primary forms of practice, but we also emphasize that the practice happens in each moment of your life, not just during the times of formal meditation. The same is true for hatha yoga; the time you spend on the sticky mat is your formal practice, where you learn to strengthen and stretch your body and to concentrate your mind. However, the deeper intention of yoga is to create a state of fluidity and flexibility in body and mind such that you can handle the inevitable physical and mental stresses and strains that arise in your life. If you practice with this intention, it doesn’t matter what your poses look like.
Having thus returned to our SELVES (if you’re not there yet, please breathe, rub your ears, feet, hands, feel and acknowledge the grounding points of your BODY), we recognize that BALANCE can definitely improve with daily hatha yoga practice. Nearly all of the standing poses (The warriors, triangle, standing forward bend, standing wide-angled forward bend, right angle, half-moon, the standing “revolutions”) as well as what we typically call the BALANCE poses (tree, dancer, standing big toe pose) provide development of our physical balancing skills.
Does our mental or emotional outlook affect how we “perform” the poses on any given day? There is some truth here, but how much? Yogic Lore, and my first adult teacher, repeatedly said that yes, indeed, if we are feeling agitated, our tree pose will be wobbly, we’ll sway in triangle, etc.
My experience,however has been otherwise. Sometimes it’s the pose that brings me into balance on monkey-mind days!Sometimes, placing my body in a very precarious position, pushes my mind – and heart – to settle down and focus so my body can remain upright.
I’d always felt that BALANCE was one of my weaker skills, but I’ve found that over the years, as I’ve gained flexibility, coordination, and strength, especially in the hip and thighs, that my BALANCE has shown remarkable improvement.
Concurrently, as I’ve strengthened the connection with my core, my inner being, the balance I feel in my life -off the mat – has undergone remarkable transformation. For many years, I felt as if I was not leading “my” life. Now I know, and it’s with a deep, often unconscious, knowing that I am the compassionate creator of my own life.
Balance resides in the being. What happens outside is another question.
Meditation & Asana Practice: To take your balance further, practice the above-mentioned poses, and observe how your emotional and mental states effect the physical pose. Do you enjoy greater balance in the morning or in the evening, on still versus windy days, in summer or in winter, in a class or when alone. How much do energies outside of your SELF affect you?
YOGA JOURNAL activity: five-minute free write on balance in your life, recording some of your observations from practice. Feel free to share some of your reflections with other yogi-nis in the comment section on this page.
Anxiety–that little squirrel itching away inside of us–eating up the bliss of contentment–where does it come from and why do we suffer so?
The world itself seems to be made for worrying over. Look at the mess we’ve created. Wars, hunger, FOX news, slave trafficking, plastics, kudzu, crack cocaine, potholes, tainted tomatoes, heck traffic circles give me a touch of anxiousness! How are we to deal with all of this in a way that creates peace and love around the globe and in ourselves? Because we haven’t even begun to list all of the “natural” stresses that come along in every single life. Stuff like job security, retirement, moving, the frailties of the homes we call our bodies and our minds, and the ultimate, at the root of it all stressor: death, the long goodbye.
I’d like to tell you that I NEVER suffer from that skittery internal rodent, named WORRY, but I do. Today I am sitting with my anxiety over some x-rays taken a couple of days ago. I have a VERY active imagination and I can easily spin out on the possible negative implications these pictures are going to speak about my back, hip and knee….I don’t give much thought to the positive things I may learn about my joints. The worry comes despite my best efforts at containment. It shows up even when my head says “No need to worry; the world spins along in its own manner with or without your pet, anxiety. Look at yourself in this present moment: everything is not perfect, but you are still breathing! Acknowledge the gifts you have right now. You can worry about blah-de-blah when and if there is something REAL to worry about. AND if there is indeed something REAL to worry about, HELLO–your worry is not going to help at all. So Get a Grip and enjoy life FULLY. Ditch the hungry animal, stress. Go do a backbend for goodness sakes!”
I’d like to say that I have not lost chunks of my life to that darned hungry critter, Anxiety. It’s the force behind the desire to go numb. And the human species has developed a rather impressive array of methods to go numb. Anxiety has a creepy cousin named Craving. Addictions, (and we all suffer myriad forms of cravings), are created because we want to stop the fear, often disguised simply as discomfort. It’s often an unconscious process learned early in life.
JOURNAL MEDITATION: List all of the cravings you presently experience or have experienced in the past. Leave some space between them. When you have captured as many as you can think of, go back and try to remember when you first experienced the desire. Again leave some space for further elaboration. Don’t worry about complete thoughts, just get them down on the paper. You can always go back later to clean it up.
After a day or two, re-read your entry and then add your thoughts about how any of the cravings affect your present life.
Choose one of the cravings and meditate upon it. Allow any feelings associated with the “hungry rodent” to surface. It’s important that you don’t judge the feelings, attach any importance to them, or create a storyline about them. Just sit with them. Watch them with full “allowingness” as a part of your Self. Love them as parts of yourself. Love them for what they teach you about emptiness. Would you still be reading if you didn’t have them? When they pass, breathe deeply and gratefully.
OK, so this little exercise sounds so easy–your experience may or may not be simple. Use it however you can. Smile if you can, and if you can’t, accept that too. My own experience is that sometimes I can let go of the craving and let it pass. Then there are other moments….. but I dedicate my life to these teachers. Why? Because I love my Self…and I want to love ALL of myself.
Time to go now and watch the rodents teach me about emptiness. I’ve got some nuts to feed them.