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.

Lessons From A (Snowboard) Legend

Craig Kelly Memorial at Baldface Lodge, BC, Canada. PHOTO: Chris Wellhausen

I met Craig Kelly in Alaska in April of 1998.  I was snowboarding there with a group from Burton Snowboards back in the hey day of the uproar.  The days were extra long – sundown at 10pm – and we were spending our time up at the Alyeska resort.  We got snowed in – a consistent wet heavy dump for nearly 4 days.

The resort had shut down access to the mountain – and helicopters weren’t running – so it meant that for most of us, we were piddling time at the hotel bar talking nonsense,  hanging in the hot tub, throwing donuts in the parking lot, or just plain being silly.

Craig was good friends with friend of mine, and we got to talking.  He was incredibly intelligent, charming, and if you were spiritually aware in any kind of way – you could get a whiff of his spirituality. I think anyone who spent as much time in the backcountry and traveling some of the most remote and beautiful places in the world as he did, is bound to have a strong connection to the rhythm of the universe and mother nature.

One day – a few of us took a ride into Seward and on the way there Craig would gaze up at the mountains.  He would see lines, places to explore, find opportunities to play.  From inside the car his finger would just point and then run down the glass of the window as if drawing the line he would pick and run through the trees.  He was in his own world for that moment.  This wasn’t some ‘dude’ who just liked to ride…this was a guy in where the soul of the sport action permeated his entire being.

I found out on our way into Seward that he practiced Yoga.  He alluded to it in a way where you could tell that it (yoga) had begun to have an effect on him.  I think it’s hard NOT to be spiritual when you are surrounded by the beauty that he was most of the time, but his practice, the yoga practice, was helping to draw him into what he would do next in his life.  He had said that he started practicing as a way to deal with an injury he had sustained…and as most of us come to the practice – from an injury, looking for another method to heal, strengthen, help, or just improve – we find that with dedication it transforms us – and allows us to truly follow our heart.

My family is from Ecuador and he had mentioned that he wanted to drive through South America to surf and just immerse himself in the culture. He did that…he pursued his dream and shortly after returning would pursue his vision to be a backcountry guide in British Columbia. 

When he passed away I was floored.  I knew, however, he had found peace in exactly what he had chosen.  He chose a path that felt authentic and true to him – he walked away from the hype of the industry and stayed pure to what he loved.  He became a transmitter of  mountain knowledge and know-how to others.  A guru of the backcountry if you will.

I heard him say once and I can’t quite exactly remember how it went – but it was something like, “Some people say when they get on the mountain they get lost or they lose themselves, when I am on the mountain…I feel like I’ve found myself, that I’ve stepped into myself.”

That’s what we are doing every time we step on that mat – we are tapping into ourselves as opposed to checking out.  Yoga was happening to him before he even started an asana practice…it happens in those moments where are so tapped into your pure self that all concepts of time and space disappear.

We are found in the moment we are lost in…completely in sync with everything around us.

Not running against, not running away from, but observing and creating.

In 2003 I went to the Transworld Snowboarding Conference in Banff,  and they paid tribute to Craig Kelly.  His wife was there, and his baby daughter, she was probably around the same age as my daughter now.  It was a powerful tribute..and there was a picture of Craig in savasana along side a river bed on his South American road trip.

I won’t ever forget it.

Craig was a teacher and a beacon for many.  His resolve is something that I admire tremendously. I am forever inspired to find that courage to remain true to myself every day.

The Guru That Is Pain

2012 taught me how to soften my grip on my practice and not beating myself up on the mornings I didn’t make it.  Being a new parent and creating rhythm takes time. My home practice started SUCKING wind the latter quarter of 2012 – plus I worked through some physical shit in my lower back (Sacro Illiac) and glutes. Let’s just say I kept leaving practice achey and had a dull pain in day to day life for about 4 months.   

David Keil’s article nails my experience- and I worked with my Chiropractor, Dr. Michael Meleander for a month.  He came highly recommended by Josh Summers – who had also seen him for work.  Regardless of where you are in your practice – pains show up.

It seems my pelvis is crooked , this is very common in most of us and sometimes it’s muscle related and sometimes it’s structure. The offset pelvis could of been there before pregnancy..but pregnancy and post-partum exaggerated it as a result of carrying a child, horomones, ligament shifts that happen during and after pregnancy.The joys of being a woman!

My chrirpractor used Active Release Technique on several parts of my psoas, gluteal minimus, and piriformis, erector spinae, etc…he discovered adhesions throughout my psoas as  a result of trauma during the labor and delivery of my daughter .  This created a contracted psoas – long story short –  AY YI YI.  I had a pain in my back and a pain in my ass.

The good news – is the work with my Chiro added more awareness and learnings into my body.  Also I am more balanced :).  I realized that my practice post pregnancy was probably not as integrated as it needed to be and I was essentially practicing in a very different body than before pregnancy.Things are feeling better and the pain has shifted and my practice has improved in terms of stability and refinement.

My key learnings:

1) Heightened awareness of bandhas & breath.

2) The imports of engaged feet, legs  and the affect of this on your pelvis, core, and therefore spine – and also gaining insight into how the body compensates to make up for what is not being used.  In my case – upper back over working – creating a shorter/contracted psoas –  pulling on lumbar vertebrae – affecting pelvis, hips, and even upper back/neck.

3) We often avoid pain in the form of ignoring or denial.  This is the human condition and is addressed in the Yoga Sutras.  I ignored – I am human.

4) Shedding light on the source of the pain requires the tools of courage, honesty, compassion, and results in more courage, heightened awareness,  and stability.  Maybe even some better decision making in the many corners of our life.

5) You Go back.  Rediscover and refine foundations – “ripen in the advanced” .

6) The human body is amazing.

7)  Yoga asana reveals what is going on in the body  as a result of emotional trauma,  physical trauma, and some our own doing through lack of awareness and old patterns. It shows up in the various stages in a lifetime of practice.

8) Pain is a powerful guru from within,  if we are willing to learn.

9) Practice IS a lifetime…we have to learn how to ride the waves.

If you are working with a chronic injury, inflammation, and discomfort over a  period of time and it doesn’t shift – GO SEE A SPECIALIST (recommended by someone you trust)! Take rest if you need – but as some wise person said – “avoidance is not the answer”.

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.

Happy 2013!

God Damn!  I’ve been struggling for a week to write this post.  I have been avoiding this blog as a result of a very busy Holiday season and just allowing myself some necessary breathing space.

Needless to say 2012 was powerful year in terms of change, gaining confidence, and clarity.

So as we charge ahead into 2013 may we take the deep learnings from 2012 to allow us to move into the new year with Bold Intentions, Stronger Belief In The Self, and a hearty dose of COMPASSION in those moments we stumble.

This blog may shift slightly – but one of my key learnings is allowing things to just unfold.

2012 Rest In Peace….Onward.

Conviction

The western trend of yoga has diluted much of the conviction and actual hard work involved in the practice.  Emphasis on attire, music, and trendy studios (I believe) has created a lack of truly understanding the essence and work that brings forth benefit from this philosophy and practice.  About 2 months ago I was struggling with the need to conform to meet popular demand in order to continue teaching.  I almost wavered, thinking that in order to teach yoga I had to change,  to blend into what seemed ‘acceptable’ or popular.

I didn’t.

What helped me was a simple motto.  “I want to be a good teacher, NOT, a popular one.”

It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.  

Muhammed Ali

The result?  My staying true to what I believe in, in my heart – and who I am as a teacher resulted in a revered Ashtanga based studio, to invite me to come teach there – not because I am popular, but because of my convictions and style of teaching.

The lesson?  Once you find your niche and believe in it with your whole heart – stay true to it.

You may come across a moment in your life that you find yourself having to answer a question that might challenge your beliefs or begin to do something that just doesn’t feel right or align to your values.  You feel it in your body….this IS awareness and intuition.  Learn how to listen to it.

Don’t cave.

A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble.

Mahatma Gandhi

Whether you are a teacher, entreprenuer, artist, or professional – stick to your beliefs and values once you define them.  You will find that the people you draw towards you, whether they are clients or customers, will be easier to work with because they believe what you believe, and they become your stewards.

Transitions

Well…it’s that time again.  That crazy space between summer and fall.  It’s a powerful energy shift in many of our lives; school beginning, traffic changing, new learning, new schedules, a change in the air creating upheaval internally and externally. Transitions can often surface sensations of discomfort, avoidance, fear, excitement, and eagerness.

In the Ashtanga practice the transitions are marked by the vinyasas between the asanas.  The 3 vinyasas are: Exhale – Chaturanga Dandasana, Inhale – Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (Up Dog – Inhale), to exhale – Adho Muka Svanasana (Down Dog).   I often find that these transitions are uncomfortable for many and therefore there is an urge to move through them quickly, avoid them, or not really learn to break them down.

If you have been practicing for some time but still struggle through these transitions, take advantage of the energy around you to slow down  and connect inside these breaths and movements.  Perhaps allowing space for proper evacuation on the breath in your chaturanga while staying grounded through your hands, and integrated through the rest of your body.  Setting yourself up in chaturanga dandasana sets up the heart center and core up nicely for urdvha mukha svanasana.

If you are beginner and still finding friction with these transitions or have been avoiding them, now is a great time to take the opportunity to break down these poses and perhaps start working on gaining strength and start cultivating a relationship with them.

If you can begin to change your approach to transtions in practice, think about how that might apply to the rest of your life right now?

There are a number of videos on line with tips for these poses.  I find that if Chaturanga can be aligned with both mind and body, Up Dog is a whole new ball game.

Tips for Chaturanga for Kino McGregor:

Tips for Up Dog:

Tips For Down Dog:

In the end – these videos are great – but they don’t replace applying the principles in your own practice.

Now is the time to be vigilant in your efforts – particularly in these crazy transitional times- be concious of all the new energy and perhaps opportunities that are coming along – move with awareness and intelligence – and be compassionate with any emotional rough patches or resistance to change.

Change is inevitable – learning how to be inside of it with equanimity is the practice.

Be well,

Sandra

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’.

“Best Is The Enemy Of The Good”

Recently,  Keith came outside as I was beginning my practice early one morning (we are all early birds in this castle) and said happily “YOGA!”

“Gotta do what I gotta do.” I said.

“Perfect is the enemy of good, right?”  He said.

Pause.

“Totally.”  I grinned.  Because, I knew exactly what he meant.

I had one of the best home practices in a long time.

” The best is the enemy of the  good.” ~Voltaire

I think we are all too familiar with the voice inside of us.

“If only I had this – then I would do/get that.”

“I don’t have the time I ‘really’ need to do it (practice, go to the gym, run, clean, start a project, cook a healthy dinner), therefore I won’t.”

“If it were this….then it would be that”.

“If I can’t make it to the studio, then I won’t practice.”

The voice telling us that all conditions must be a certain way before we begin or do anything that we know might improve our lives (or change it). The weather reporter as some people call it.

The other perfection advocate within us is the one that keeps pushing, forcing, advancing, tweaking, changing, until this illusion of perfection is achieved.  This can often leave us burned out…defeated…hurt.

Sometimes,  good – is exactly all we need.  I think Mick Jagger coined it perfectly – “You can’t always get what you want, but you get what you need.”  For me, this has been a huge learning as of late and it has helped me in cultivating a home practice that may not be what it is in the studio, but, the fact is, over time, it could be.

Perfection is just an endless pursuit. It is not an actual.  Ever.

You don’t have to be a yogi to experience this.

An infinite distance lies between nothing–the unsaid comment, the unwritten letter, the undone act–and something, no matter how much room for improvement remains. In comparison, the distance between that something and perfection is barely noticeable at all. www.edbatista.com

It’s about effort.  NOT getting it right every single time.  Chances are within those efforts we catch glimmers of perfection or as some would say “excellence”.

“99% Practice, 1% Theory”, Right?

Keep practicing,

Sandra

 

Harmony

My lovely friend and Ashtangi – Cyndi Laird, Supta Kurmasana – a most challenging pose for ‘free breathing’. Photo from www.ashtanga4life.com

‎”Asana practice should be a harmonious experience, never a struggle. The manner of breathing into a wind instrument — a flute, for instance — can create either a grating screech or a melodious song. The body, too, is an instrument. If used skillfully, as in the unison of movement and breath, the resulting posture is a useful and harmonious experience. When performed with the graceful orchestration of all its parts, asana can become a music of the body, breath, and mind. Such music moves everything it touches.”

~A.G. Mohan