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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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…

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.