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.

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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

Maya Yoga Workshop aka: The “Maui Wowie”

A recap of Maya Yoga with Nicki Doane and Eddie Modestini – at Yoga East, Portsmouth New Hampshire.

I arrived to Yoga East excited for the long weekend with Eddie Modestini and Nicki Doane.   I was met with a warm hug from Kimberly Dahlman, owner, director, lovely teacher extraordinaire.  The last time I saw her, she assisted me in Laghuvajrasana while my calf cramped like a piece of paper getting crumbled and thrown in the trash. That was almost 18 months ago…I was about 5 weeks pregnant and didn’t know it yet.

I walked into the beautiful bright space and looked around for a spot to plant my body. It was full..mats splayed out everywhere.  The sight alone informed me it was going to “get hot in here”.  The room began to fill slowly as I struggled to find stillness.

Nicki and Eddie entered and sat opposite of each other.  Nicki had a small stack of books, that I would soon learn to be her collection of poetry. She began to speak and it became clear the kind of space what was about to get held over the weekend.  Their reverence to the yoga practice was clear…crystal clear.  Yoga, like food, I have learned, can be your medicine or your poison depending on the quality teacher and the quality of the student.

Eddie had chimed in regarding adjustments based on what they see as teachers. “My teacher (B.K.S. Iyengar) told me, ‘Congestion in the body is often the first sign of disease.’ We will make adjustments based on what we see.”  It hit me like a ton of bricks…just the reality of it.  As a teacher I see so many different kinds of bodies and what a typical life without yoga can afflict on the body from the feet to the head, and what that can then lead to internally.

Nicki mentioned a few key ‘skillful’ principles in regards to practice and finding our intelligent edge, some of which I keep in my own tool box…and one new one that is now in my arsenal.

1) The breath: if it get’s held, or you start breathing out of your mouth, or it moves into the upper chest.  It’s time to back off.  This one I  know intimately from my own practice…it’s true.  99% practice 1% theory right?  I tell my own students…the breath is the silent teacher.  What is it Kate said once that Guruji would say?  “Breathing not happening, pain coming”?  Something like that.  My aha moment: Learn how to control and observe what the breath does for you, and your practice will transcend and take you with it.

2) Shaking muscles: “If at any point in the practice the muscles begin to shake and you can not control them with your mind/body or breath. It’s time to back off.”  Nerves (from the nervous system that communicate to the brain) are connected to muscles….if shit is going down and you can’t control it…time to pull your body into the “pit stop”(aka: childs pose).

3) “If the pose is no longer ASCENDING Back off:”  If your pose begins to collapse and you don’t have the ability to continue a ‘lifting’ action.  REST

Note to self:  Reverence does not only apply to ‘advanced postures’, it applies to every single one of them.  

They went on to discuss their blend of both Ashtanga and Iyengar based on their teachers Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois and B.K.S. Iyengar.  They are strong proponents of building the foundation and it would become more clear in their teaching. This philosophy, in my mind is one of the most important things to consider not just in your yoga practice, but in your work, career, strategy, and life.

“When you build a strong foundation, the impossible becomes possible!” Nicki Doane.

Nicki guided us into jiva bandha, as we moved into down dog and focused alignment of our arms,  hands,  fingers, and protecting the wrists by pressing into the Inner Triads of the hands.  We found our feet and ignited our arches, by lifting all ten toes, spreading the big toe away from the pinky, lifting the inner ankles, knee caps, aligning and stacking the limbs  ‘just so’, tuning our instruments called bodies.

“Freedom. From each and every part of our body. Until freedom is gained in the body, freedom of the mind is a farfetched idea.”  B.K.S. Iyengar. 

I was in asana-land man, hanging on for dear life as I hit 2 minutes in Triangle,  a small smile began to appear and sweat beaded off my brow.  I was beginning to feel the flow of it…the energy called Prana, grounded in integrity.  It felt electric,  like someone took that big power switch and turned it ON.

I like attention to detail, I like alignment. I’m the girl who can notice a crooked picture on the wall a mile away.  It allowed me to find success in my work.  It creates focus, a place to expand from, and no space for the mind to wander.  We moved into some slow and deliberate sun salutes planting each foot with care and moved into exploring Triangle over and over…a tradtional Iyengar Triangle, something I teach often in my classes.

There is a method here,  I was noticing, of doing an asana over and over and over again.  There is something academic and intellectual about this exploration. What was felt in the last pose is now integrated and you don’t think about it in the second one, now you start integrating other powerful actions into the posture.  Perfecting it in your body. Then suddenly everything just lights up…you feel as if your inner light is going to begin cracking the skin and just break out.

I heard Nicki remind me to lift my knee caps in Down Dog again. “YOGA IS ABOUT ACTION”.  She said loudly.

“She is right!” I thought.

Note to self: Change requires action and ALL of the time that action requires us to step out of the comfort zone.

I think we did Triangle 10 times (this might be a mild exaggeration but not far off).  I learned how to screw my humerus into the shoulder joint and how to start finding powerful lunges that would lead into a wonderful standing backbend that would leave my already screwy sacrum feeling completely at ease.  We found our way into Savasana and my mind drifted as I heard Nicki read her poem.  I didn’t hear a word…I was completely worked and zoned out….all I heard was the rhythm of the poem, her deep reverberating voice filling the room. Then silence.

     

Ascending by Francene Hart 

(Note:  I found this artist, not knowing she was from Maui, the same Island Nicki and Eddie are from – this is simply the Universe doing its mysterious stuff.)

Reflecting on the day was truly learning the art of ascending.  Engaging of the muscles to lift arches, knee caps, extending, expanding, LIFTING!  Engaging our mind in a manner that allows us to move with integrity and honesty to RISE,  not just to the occasion,  but to life.

On Discipline

In Jainism, Kevala Jñāna (Sanskrit: केवलज्ञान) or Kevala Ṇāṇa (Jain Prakrit: केवल णाण), "Perfect or Absolute Knowledge", is the highest form of knowledge that a soul can attain.

DISCIPLINE: ORIGIN Middle English (in the sense [mortification by scourging oneself] ): via Old French from Latin disciplina ‘instruction, knowledge,’ from discipulus (see disciple ).

Recently there was an article in the Wall Street Journal regarding French parents vs. American parents.  It was an article on discipline, and how we approach it differently as a culture. What I found interesting is the French don’t see the word discipline as punishment but rather as ‘educating’. In a nutshell the article was about how French parents teach their children how to wait; in a restaurant, at home, at the park, in public, while their parent is on the phone etc…This struck a huge chord for me, particularly someone who practices Ashtanga vinyasa and who is a new parent.

Several weeks ago I had a discussion with a colleague regarding  a friend of hers who went to a Mysore class and was told to stop and take rest by the teacher.  My colleague said, “can you image how that made her feel?”. Of course this did not sit well with this student, she is an ‘advanced yogi’ right?  More than likely they suffered a mild sense of humiliation, was confused, and or wanted to prove that they knew what they were doing.  She never returned.

There are no other yoga practices that I’ve experienced where a teacher will tell a student to stop mid way through. There is a reason for this in the Ashtanga system, and understanding it is an important part of the practice, and also part of the Hatha yoga lineage of teacher/ student relationship. It is easy for us to succumb to the emotion, to be angry, or have the desire to continue – this is the ego.  How we handle being told ‘NO’, ‘Please wait’, or ‘Stop’ – IS part of the learning.

I have been teaching regularly now for only a little over 2 years and practicing for 12 – and through teaching and practicum, completely realize and value the Ashtanga lineage and system.  There is no ambiguity, and nothing superfluous within the system/series. Every breath and asana is a ‘prescription’. The practice is an incredible teacher.  It has ‘worked’ in terms of taming my bad habits and or completely making me honest and aware of them, particularly my patience. See, I can be a big brat.  I want it NOW. Give it to me NOW. Like full on Veruca Salt.  This has been something that my practice has helped me discern, and yes, being humbled in the process was critical in in this lesson.

We live in a world and culture where we are rewarded just for participating, and can get what we want when we want.  Learning to be at ease with not getting what we want (which is desire) is a mastery of the senses and part of real life.  The real good stuff requires time, devotion, dedication, and discipline (higher knowledge) – because “the sweet just ain’t as sweet without the sour.”

From what I have learned in my own practice, the yoga (the yoking) is what happens through the practice and implementation of the 8 limbs (which take learning), and the teaching of a traditional yoga lineage (Hatha, Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, traditional Vinyasa Krama, etc…)  is similar to that of a martial art. There is a highly regarded teacher, who helps students understand the etiquette, discipline, respect, self-confidence, and breathing and meditation techniques of that lineage.

Similar to that of a martial art, in Ashtanga there is a series of progression (1st – 6th series), each has it’s reason for existence and different effects on the gross, subtle, and causal bodies.   Also, this teacher, sensei, guru is a transmitter of a lineage, and generally there is an import of honor there (which is a discipline).  In most martial art centers or traditional yoga studios there are images of their master teachers, honoring them. I value this and I like knowing where it all came from.

If you have ever had a great teacher you have experienced first hand that the relationship between you and them becomes stronger over time. A good teacher can help you overcome many obstacles during your (life)time practicing (physically and mentally), introduce humility to an overzealous student (something very hard for our culture), and encourage a student who is ready for new challenges to step out of the comfort zone.  These teachers are hard to find, and in my mind, extremely valuable.

I can only write from my own experience…and after thinking deeply about this and from practicing other styles of ambiguous asana yoga in my early years, it is the Ashtanga lineage that has provided me the most in terms of foundation, discipline, humility, and courage. In thinking back on my colleague’s friend who went to the Mysore practice – I would have asked some hard questions. “Why did you feel uncomfortable?  What was it that made you not want to go back?”  Chances are those answers and some hard self-study would reveal that the Ashtanga system is exactly what that student would need in order to change ‘pre-conditioned’ notions and patterns deep inside.    An advanced yogi is always a beginner, doesn’t have to contort their body into advanced postures, can detach from a practice, has nothing to prove, can just be with exactly what is.

“It’s in those places of discomfort where the teacher exists”, my other friend Josh would say. Ashtanga, is not all gooey and lovey most of the time,  and  it’s not very democratic. It’s made me fall on my head, stomach, laugh out loud, swear like a truck driver, bust out in tears, and sometimes just step away…it is in that very relationship that I have journeyed into deep corners of my mind and body to unearth truths that I did not believe or know existed about me (some gorgeous and some that needed discarding).  It’s taken me nearly 12 years to realize it to this level. It requires us to be in those places of discomfort to question, move through, evolve, find ease, so that the learning presents itself and the mind becomes sharp.

For me, the word discipline no longer has a negative connotation, but rather implies action and awareness on my part.  As a new parent I want to ensure my daughter LEARNS how to be with herself in the times of discomfort. How I handle NO or PLEASE WAIT is how I will teach her.   Consistency, discernment, repeating, confronting, pushing aside distractions, being with, and learning,  are words I associate with discipline.  I am far more comfortable being rejected, turned down, told no, and respecting a teacher that tells me to wait – it takes awareness and practice – and sometimes I ‘lose it’ – but I can bring myself back far easier than before.  I am not above or below – but exactly where I am.  I am so thankful that I have the ability to see this now – because not only does it make me a better friend, parent, student, and teacher…it makes me a better human.