It IS You.

So I’ve been thinking a lot lately, maybe too much.

Mostly thinking about what is posted often on Facebook within the Yoga community.

Workshop here, workshop there. Come learn this, come learn that.  Learn to fly, float, freeze, love, listen, blah, blah, blah, blah. These posters are inspirational and the workshops often highly informational – but I find the abundance of them overwhelming, and can often leave us striving to master a certain series of poses or even doubt our own ability.

It seems we are missing the point. The point?  You ask.

Well…as an Ashtangi – the point is just to practice and to start understanding and trusting the process of the practice by practicing.

This yearning for THE POSE  can often lead us down the ‘head up your ass’ path or as some might call TUNNEL Vision.

(The below is not a pose we are looking to accomplish – but it’s not far off one of the poses in second series).

TunnelVision

While I think it’s nice to have tips to get from point A to point B.  I often think the tips without foundation can do more harm then good.  There is no fast track unfortunately, and accepting this , I find, is critical to the ultimate surrender that is you – the surrender to your yoga – your union.

The point is The Practice.  The practice done correctly IS the teacher.  The practice reveals the teacher that is you.  Every time you practice; 10 minutes, 20 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours – whatever –  provides you the chance to learn more about yourself on that given day.

When we place too much emphasis on the external and lose sight of the internal, we lose the ability to realize that the teacher we seek is staring us down in the mirror every morning.

My teacher Tim Miller said once – that it is important to discern the quantity and quality of information you get.  Meaning – sometimes too much information – too many different views – makes the practitioner crazy.  I even think this is taught by ancient teachers – to pick one teacher, from a lineage,  and stick with that teacher. This is the hardest part…because some days, especially the days you are battling yourself – those are the days you want to jump ship and it is at this point to not jump around – it is at this point that things really begin to shift.

This concept is true of any kind of information we take in or any kind of practice we take up…too much information makes us crazy – kind of like reading WEB MD and then jumping all over the web in search for the cure for the symptom we are dealing with.

So I ask you to simplify…to discern..and be wise in how you apply your efforts and the information you take in – not just in your practice – but also in your life (I will promise to do this with you).  Instead of jumping around – settle down – and just go through the work – one dusty corner at a time.

I have found that when I edit the information I take in and when I simply show up to do the work – the answers are revealed (some answers have taken a long F’n time – but I had some heavy gunk to remove to reveal the truth), and they show up on my time – not on any one elses. This is truly one of the magical mysteries of it all and it’s totally personal.

It’s you and the mat…you and your meditation cushion…whatever it is you practice.  It’s not about the teacher or the workshop – it’s about you.  Ultimately, the yoga practice is meant to be a home practice where we are with ourselves, guiding ourselves…this does require some coaxing – but eventually you become your teacher under the guidance of someone who has experienced what you are going through now or will be experiencing.  Crazy concept in todays wild wild west of yoga studios.

Do the practice – whatever that is for you – find yourself in the work.

Learn to start trusting the ultimate teacher that is you.

New Moon Friday – YOU GO BACK!

I got up excited this morning and went to practice.  Drove into the South End of Boston and scrounged up parking – feeling confident in the ease of being able to find a spot. Then it dawned on me…today is a new moon.  (HAND SLAP TO FOREHEAD and FILTHY FOOLERY FLYING OUT OF MY MOUTH).

Once I came to terms with it, I let it go and drove home casually. I had already had my morning coffee so there was no chance in me climbing back into my bed,  my daughter would be up in an hour.

I took practice.  I brought the space heater into the living room and took it.

My practice has regressed – I’ve gone back to basics and refining.  Not concerning myself with second series at all. Focusing attention on my core and upper psoas.  Finding my back legs in Warrior and grounding through my legs and integrating core into my drop backs – learning how to dangle and softly come down to my finger tips. Working on my breath.

Interestingly enough the below was just posted  from Scott, who is heading up our Mysore program while Kate is in India. His presence creates a sense of awareness for me – that helps me remove obstacles – so his writing is timely.

“The Moon is in Capricorn, which is an earth sign, the element of the first chakra, Muladhara, the root chakra deals with our basic need for stability, or a sense of security.the deity associated with the 1st chakra is Ganesha, who embodies stability.

Ganesh is called the remover of obstacles, delivering us to a place of samatvam, evenness.

 Just as the trees have collected their vital energies back into the ground, we can all take this time to dig back into the roots of our practice.

Breath, energy, focused attention.

From the very beginning, samasthiti, to stand evenly. Fully balanced, mind steady with present moment awareness.

We train to watch the quality of the effort, listen to the breath, learn to see what is at risk, what is getting compromised, as we struggle with the practice,and learn to keep coming back to “samatvam” evenness of breath and of mind.

The yoga sutras says, “that after a long time, of uninterrupted practice ,with a true heart of devotion, we shall find ourselves on firm ground.” Somewhere along the way, we tend to find ourselves striving forward towards an envisioned goal, perhaps a challenging asana we aim to achieve , or the completion of a series of poses.

A “finished practice.”

I find it often takes being stuck in a pose, we may not be fully prepared for, to understand the need to go back and seek more stability and ease in the previous postures. Again and again in my own practice, I go back to rediscover things which I have misinterpreted or misunderstood along the way.

Attempting to explain the basic principles of the practice, as simply as I can, so as to provide assistance to others in their practice, at the same time helps me in my own practice.

It helps to remember we’re all going through this together.

Several years ago when I first came to teach in Boston,  I had an email exchange with my first ashtanga teacher Chuck Miller, asking his perspective on helping students work through difficult postures. I shared an excerpt from his reply on our old blog.

“You go back!” Pattabhi used to say that.

Go back to the beginning. See the pose you are challenged by all the way

Back at the beginning of the sequence.

That was not possible before (to see the relationship) but now that the struggle has ‘lit up the field’ . You can see stuff that was not visible before.

Work harder on it in the basics and then allow it ripen in the ‘advanced.’

It works better that way. It is difficult to control the restlessness in ourselves to do this and it is often not the most popular thing to present…but if you want to teach the real deal it works really well!

I can still hear him grunting “Why you rush ahead, you go back!” I heard that very differently over the years but it is now saying to me go back to being present, go back to the beginning, forget about getting to the end…

“You Go Back!” A good one, but seriously misunderstood!”

And this is exactly where I am.  Recovering from injury – back in Primary – finding new ground, in a different body, with a different mindset.

  “You take practice whole life.” is beginning to make more sense to me – because throughout your life your practice will change.

It was my first home practice of 2013 and it was on the New Moon.  I know that I am not the only Ashtangi who has done this. To the Ashtangi police – it’s not going to become a habit, today was an exception.

=I am entering this new year with new-found strength and ease. Allowing things to come and go as they need.  It feels good…like the exhilaration that comes with catching a wave and riding it.

Go me.

Go you.

Bringing It Home

I have learned that the home practice brings a whole new element to the term discipline. As a mother, part time student, yoga teacher, and business consultant; time is of the essence.  Traveling to my source of yoga practice daily, or even 3 times a week, is super challenging as I am usually bound to deal with some issue going or coming from practice. With husband and baby depending on me to be back by a certain time it has created stress in my life where I don’t need it.

It basically resulted in me also being very conditional with my practice, which, is not good.

Recently, I quit placing ‘conditions’ of perfection around my practice but rather learn  to just practice. In my mind, the home practice cultivates the ultimate guide on your mat in in your life, the ultimate being….YOU.

A couple of things that have helped me.

  • Begin by finding a space that will work for you.
  • Observe the space with import as this intention will help you keep it clean. This will reduce likelihood of wanting to pounce out of your down dog to put away clothes or begin dusting  (been there).
  • Try to be consistent in your efforts and the time you can practice.  Remember effort is different than achievement.  Focus on effort.
  • Practice for the sake of practicing.
  • Don’t be afraid to start small (even if you have a FULL practice). It’s the small changes that are more likely to stick.  25 minutes of quality practice is awesome!!!
  • Approach your home practice like Mysore practice.  Do a little at a time and just let it begin.  Remember “BEST IS THE ENEMY OF THE GOOD”.
  • As Prem and Heather say – “Quality NOT Quantity”

The benefits of practice are attained by consistency of effort.   A home practice is very different than being with a group or even in a Mysore room, by nature of the energy surrounding it (mentally and physically).  It requires a little more effort mentally but also a little more ‘softness’ in the approach.  My relationship with the practice and with myself has changed as a result, to become softer and less rigid on the mat (and in life).

Oftentimes students become crippled without a teacher or the group, and this is not the point of the discipline.   It has taken me years to learn this. The idea is to be able to use the tools provided, so that we can come into ourselves,  by ourselves.

Showing up is 75% of the battle, and a home practice really nails the concept of just showing up for yourself.  Isn’t that what it’s all about?

As they say in Mysore, “You try.”

Sandra

NOTES:

This does not replace some good quality time with a qualified instructor or guide.  A teacher/guru is essential in working through many of the road blocks along the way.  Just sayin’.

Also, this concept is not just applicable to Ashtanga yoga…The Art Of Practice applies to our lives, it’s just this particular discipline has helped me recognize the benefits of just approaching many things like ‘practice’.

Cross Bridges As You Come To Them

While goals are important it is important to remember to be grounded in exactly where you are.  In our attempt to plan,  we create bridges to cross that are based on assumptions. Wheels begin to spin and often we begin to over anticipate, over communicate, and create more chaos than is necessary.

Stay steady in exactly where you are and be wise in decisions.  Don’t rope yourself and others into what is unknown.  Change is inevitable between point A and B.

Cross Bridges When You Arrive To Them

Eventually you will be presented with just the right amount of information you need to make a choice.  Until then stay steady…when the time comes…TRUST that you will know exactly what to do – because…you WILL.

Keep up the practice,

Sandra

Wellesley High School 2012 Graduation Commencement Speech by David McCullough , Jr.

This speech is not only relevant to those of Wellesley High School graduation class of 2012, this speech is relevant to anyone looking to better understand meaning and happiness in this thing called life. ~ Enjoy

Wellesley High School English teacher David McCullough, Jr.’s faculty speech to the Class of 2012 last Friday. Here it is, in its entirety, courtesy of Mr. McCullough:

Dr. Wong, Dr. Keough, Mrs. Novogroski, Ms. Curran, members of the board of education, family and friends of the graduates, ladies and gentlemen of the Wellesley High School class of 2012, for the privilege of speaking to you this afternoon, I am honored and grateful. Thank you.

So here we are… commencement… life’s great forward-looking ceremony. (And don’t say, “What about weddings?” Weddings are one-sided and insufficiently effective. Weddings are bride-centric pageantry. Other than conceding to a list of unreasonable demands, the groom just stands there. No stately, hey-everybody-look-at-me procession. No being given away. No identity-changing pronouncement. And can you imagine a television show dedicated to watching guys try on tuxedos? Their fathers sitting there misty-eyed with joy and disbelief, their brothers lurking in the corner muttering with envy. Left to men, weddings would be, after limits-testing procrastination, spontaneous, almost inadvertent… during halftime… on the way to the refrigerator. And then there’s the frequency of failure: statistics tell us half of you will get divorced. A winning percentage like that’ll get you last place in the American League East. The Baltimore Orioles do better than weddings.)

But this ceremony… commencement… a commencement works every time. From this day forward… truly… in sickness and in health, through financial fiascos, through midlife crises and passably attractive sales reps at trade shows in Cincinnati, through diminishing tolerance for annoyingness, through every difference, irreconcilable and otherwise, you will stay forever graduated from high school, you and your diploma as one, ‘til death do you part.

No, commencement is life’s great ceremonial beginning, with its own attendant and highly appropriate symbolism. Fitting, for example, for this auspicious rite of passage, is where we find ourselves this afternoon, the venue. Normally, I avoid clichés like the plague, wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot pole, but here we are on a literal level playing field. That matters. That says something. And your ceremonial costume… shapeless, uniform, one-size-fits-all. Whether male or female, tall or short, scholar or slacker, spray-tanned prom queen or intergalactic X-Box assassin, each of you is dressed, you’ll notice, exactly the same. And your diploma… but for your name, exactly the same.

All of this is as it should be, because none of you is special.

You are not special. You are not exceptional.

Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests, your glowing seventh grade report card, despite every assurance of a certain corpulent purple dinosaur, that nice Mister Rogers and your batty Aunt Sylvia, no matter how often your maternal caped crusader has swooped in to save you… you’re nothing special.

Yes, you’ve been pampered, cosseted, doted upon, helmeted, bubble-wrapped. Yes, capable adults with other things to do have held you, kissed you, fed you, wiped your mouth, wiped your bottom, trained you, taught you, tutored you, coached you, listened to you, counseled you, encouraged you, consoled you and encouraged you again. You’ve been nudged, cajoled, wheedled and implored. You’ve been feted and fawned over and called sweetie pie. Yes, you have. And, certainly, we’ve been to your games, your plays, your recitals, your science fairs. Absolutely, smiles ignite when you walk into a room, and hundreds gasp with delight at your every tweet. Why, maybe you’ve even had your picture in the Townsman! [Editor’s upgrade: Or The Swellesley Report!] And now you’ve conquered high school… and, indisputably, here we all have gathered for you, the pride and joy of this fine community, the first to emerge from that magnificent new building…

But do not get the idea you’re anything special. Because you’re not.

The empirical evidence is everywhere, numbers even an English teacher can’t ignore. Newton, Natick, Nee… I am allowed to say Needham, yes? …that has to be two thousand high school graduates right there, give or take, and that’s just the neighborhood Ns. Across the country no fewer than 3.2 million seniors are graduating about now from more than 37,000 high schools. That’s 37,000 valedictorians… 37,000 class presidents… 92,000 harmonizing altos… 340,000 swaggering jocks… 2,185,967 pairs of Uggs. But why limit ourselves to high school? After all, you’re leaving it. So think about this: even if you’re one in a million, on a planet of 6.8 billion that means there are nearly 7,000 people just like you. Imagine standing somewhere over there on Washington Street on Marathon Monday and watching sixty-eight hundred yous go running by. And consider for a moment the bigger picture: your planet, I’ll remind you, is not the center of its solar system, your solar system is not the center of its galaxy, your galaxy is not the center of the universe. In fact, astrophysicists assure us the universe has no center; therefore, you cannot be it. Neither can Donald Trump… which someone should tell him… although that hair is quite a phenomenon.

“But, Dave,” you cry, “Walt Whitman tells me I’m my own version of perfection! Epictetus tells me I have the spark of Zeus!” And I don’t disagree. So that makes 6.8 billion examples of perfection, 6.8 billion sparks of Zeus. You see, if everyone is special, then no one is. If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless. In our unspoken but not so subtle Darwinian competition with one another–which springs, I think, from our fear of our own insignificance, a subset of our dread of mortality — we have of late, we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it… Now it’s “So what does this get me?” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic — and in its way, not even dear old Wellesley High is immune… one of the best of the 37,000 nationwide, Wellesley High School… where good is no longer good enough, where a B is the new C, and the midlevel curriculum is called Advanced College Placement. And I hope you caught me when I said “one of the best.” I said “one of the best” so we can feel better about ourselves, so we can bask in a little easy distinction, however vague and unverifiable, and count ourselves among the elite, whoever they might be, and enjoy a perceived leg up on the perceived competition. But the phrase defies logic. By definition there can be only one best. You’re it or you’re not.

If you’ve learned anything in your years here I hope it’s that education should be for, rather than material advantage, the exhilaration of learning. You’ve learned, too, I hope, as Sophocles assured us, that wisdom is the chief element of happiness. (Second is ice cream… just an fyi) I also hope you’ve learned enough to recognize how little you know… how little you know now… at the moment… for today is just the beginning. It’s where you go from here that matters.

As you commence, then, and before you scatter to the winds, I urge you to do whatever you do for no reason other than you love it and believe in its importance. Don’t bother with work you don’t believe in any more than you would a spouse you’re not crazy about, lest you too find yourself on the wrong side of a Baltimore Orioles comparison. Resist the easy comforts of complacency, the specious glitter of materialism, the narcotic paralysis of self-satisfaction. Be worthy of your advantages. And read… read all the time… read as a matter of principle, as a matter of self-respect. Read as a nourishing staple of life. Develop and protect a moral sensibility and demonstrate the character to apply it. Dream big. Work hard. Think for yourself. Love everything you love, everyone you love, with all your might. And do so, please, with a sense of urgency, for every tick of the clock subtracts from fewer and fewer; and as surely as there are commencements there are cessations, and you’ll be in no condition to enjoy the ceremony attendant to that eventuality no matter how delightful the afternoon.

The fulfilling life, the distinctive life, the relevant life, is an achievement, not something that will fall into your lap because you’re a nice person or mommy ordered it from the caterer. You’ll note the founding fathers took pains to secure your inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness–quite an active verb, “pursuit”–which leaves, I should think, little time for lying around watching parrots rollerskate on Youtube. The first President Roosevelt, the old rough rider, advocated the strenuous life. Mr. Thoreau wanted to drive life into a corner, to live deep and suck out all the marrow. The poet Mary Oliver tells us to row, row into the swirl and roil. Locally, someone… I forget who… from time to time encourages young scholars to carpe the heck out of the diem. The point is the same: get busy, have at it. Don’t wait for inspiration or passion to find you. Get up, get out, explore, find it yourself, and grab hold with both hands. (Now, before you dash off and get your YOLO tattoo, let me point out the illogic of that trendy little expression–because you can and should live not merely once, but every day of your life. Rather than You Only Live Once, it should be You Live Only Once… but because YLOO doesn’t have the same ring, we shrug and decide it doesn’t matter.)

None of this day-seizing, though, this YLOOing, should be interpreted as license for self-indulgence. Like accolades ought to be, the fulfilled life is a consequence, a gratifying byproduct. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. Go to Paris to be in Paris, not to cross it off your list and congratulate yourself for being worldly. Exercise free will and creative, independent thought not for the satisfactions they will bring you, but for the good they will do others, the rest of the 6.8 billion–and those who will follow them. And then you too will discover the great and curious truth of the human experience is that selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself. The sweetest joys of life, then, come only with the recognition that you’re not special.

Because everyone is.

Congratulations. Good luck. Make for yourselves, please, for your sake and for ours, extraordinary lives.

David McCullough

This Morning I Practiced – By Eric Jeffers

This writing is from Eric Jeffers, who wrote a note on Facebook, which made its way around.  When I sometimes feel that yoga is too much about a teacher or a ‘rockin’ playlist…I get a gentle reminder of why the Ashtanga lineage has meant so much to me.

Silence, independence, learning to trust and believe in yourself…exactly where you are.

This morning I practiced.

It was very simple. I unrolled a mat, said a few words softly to myself, and began.

Nobody asked me to open or expand anything. I was not instructed to take anything from one level to another. No one asked me to melt any part of my body. It was never suggested that I should embody some concept or another. I didn’t hear anyone speak their truth. No one assured me that I could manifest anything I wanted. It was never suggested that I would be happier if I bought some new product. I wasn’t told to pursue any bliss. Spirit was neither mentioned nor invoked. No one used the word energy. Nobody implied that I could be stronger, more beautiful or more free than I currently am.

In fact, no one spoke at all.

I spent two hours moving through a familiar sequence of poses. I did this practice in a warm, quiet room listening to my breath and the breath of those practicing nearby. I was assisted by a gentle and patient human being who, for the most part, left me alone to do my work. At the end of my practice, I lay on the floor completely still for a long time.

When I was done, I quietly left. People smiled at me on my way out. I smiled at them.

I will practice again tomorrow.

Maintaining Momentum

Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving ~ Albert Einstein

Implementation of my ‘new life strategy’ has been boding well for me in terms of managing my life, expectations, and improving overall well-being.  Not only am I feeling better about NOW, my yoga practice has also changed significantly.  My awareness is deeper and I find that I am cutting through the mental bullshit and getting to the clearing in my mind and body more expeditiously. I am finding new depth and strength on a more subtle level on the mat and off.

When we go from feeling stuck to developing a strategy and then taking action – we create momentum – we send other things into motion.  Things begin to happen – we taste the savory nature of small successes and begin to feel energized and motivated.  The challenge?  Maintaining it.

A couple of things I have learned in maintaining momentum in life/business:

1.  Keep your goal visible:

  • In business I always liked to keep my goals visible.  This was something I could always use to speak into and use to determine actions of my team.
  • When thinking of designing your life – create a vision that includes short term, mid term, and long term goals.  Let this vision include words and images that inspire and keep you motivated.  A vision board may not be your cup of tea, but the reality is we all need something to remind us of what we are actually working towards.
  •  Make it dynamic.  Your vision may change as a result of a new idea – and that’s okay.  If you get a fresh idea include it…this IS part of a creative process.  Also, if an old idea just doesn’t jive any longer – let it go.

2.  Revisit & remind yourself and others of your goals.  Companies do this monthly and or quarterly based on results….shouldn’t we do the same?

  • Determine what’s worked and what hasn’t.
  • What new actions need to happen or old actions need to go.
  • Remind yourself and your support group or team – this goes a long way in maintaining momentum and motivation.

3.  Capitalize on the energy from one success to move to the next – immediately.

  • The best time to do something is when you are inspired to do it. Not only are you more motivated after a success you are also energized. Use this energy while you have it.

4.  Consistency/Discipline in your actions:  Whether you’re in business or dealing with a personal transformation – staying disciplined to the tactics/or actions is important particularly over long periods of time (I thank my ashtanga practice for giving me this discipline).

  • Look at your weekly goals and determine the daily actions necessary to accomplish those and do your BEST to do them daily.   I like to use certain days for certain actions.
  • Build in a buffer knowing that life is going to ‘happen’.
  • Be realistic with your time and action list.  Focus on the priority goals and perhaps get rid of anything superfluous.

5.  Be the Tortoise – as in the Tortoise and The Hare.  Keep moving forward with modesty and perseverance (this goes hand in hand with consistency).

  • Are you familiar with sprinting out of the starting gate the suddenly stopping when you’ve gained traction? This quickness and overzealous nature can lead to burnout, exhaustion, injury (if dealing with exercise or even yoga), or taking too long of rest (i.e. a vacation).  The result of this means you end up falling behind and then racing to catch up again.
  • Consistency cultivates steadiness. Peaks cultivate burnout (in some shape or form). Valleys cultivate laziness or dullness.
  • Set yourself up for success by creating an achievable and realistic pace as well as being aware of your efforts.

6.  Create Balance:  We all need to take a break from our regimes in order to re-fuel. Think of a road bike team that works together.  They are moving forward at an aggressive pace, but at certain times the front rider drops back to draft and rest.  They also have rest days built into their practice.  They create a pace and strategy that is fervently moving forward and manageable over the long haul.

  • Include YOU in your time management or schedule.  Time for personal growth (classes, etc…), reflection, and your health (eating well and exercise).
  • Take rest on days your body or mind demand it or better yet, include days of rest in your schedule.  Make sure the rest is consolidated and actually rejuvenating. More than a day here or there may be a warning sign that you’ve been working too hard (this would apply to even to too much exercise).
  • If you find that you are swinging too far up or too far down in terms of your efforts, get to a place where you can regroup and then set up a paceline or strategy that is achievable and do your best to stick to it.

Momentum requires diligence and steadiness.  These are just a few tips, but I would love to know what are some of the things you currently do to maintain momentum and consistency in your efforts?

And remember, it’s all just practice…