Just one of those days…

Eka Pada SirsasanaI’ve been sore all week..  Between Kapotasana, walking 10Km a day into town and back and practicing in the cold weather, I’ve just felt more aches and pains than I like.  But with some great baths in my mum’s full length tub, lots of hot tea and some very conscious breathing both in practice and in pranayama, despite the soreness, practice has been fun.

Today when I woke up, I wanted to give my front a rest (and lower back a little) from Kapotasana.  I’ve been doing 3 Kapos a day for a while now and after the long walk yesterday, I just wanted to practice primary.

But like it has been happening, my leg behind the head has been staying longer and longer, and today things just felt right in supta kurmasana.  So after practice, I played around with it.  I got the 5 breaths on the right leg and about 2.5 breaths on the left.  I know I need to get it further back and sit up straighter, but without trying to avoid a pun, today I got a foot hold on the pose.   I’m not normally like this but I literally just sat around the house for the next few hours grinning.

Book Review: Taking the Leap by Pema Chodron

Taking the LeapIn a word: her best.  I loved the ease and practicality of this book.  I feel that the book gives just the right amount of theory with an equal dose of “how to”.  Some take aways from the book are:

1.  She had a great analogy of how humans are like little kids with a case of poison ivy.  When we feel discomfort, like the itch of a rash, we instantly need to escape from it.  To scratch if you will.  We spend a lot of time trying to escape our reality by trying to scratch our way to feeling better.  And you all know what happens when you scratch the poison ivy rash.

She then takes this analogy further into the Buddhist idea of Shenpa (or getting hooked).  She explains it as feeling discomfort and then spiraling into patters that we desperately try to escape.  It is a chain reaction where something, your thing, gets you and then the kicking in of the pattern you have with dealing with (or not dealing with it in this case).  Somebody says something, an addiction tempts you, a relationship dynamic kicks in…..you know what I’m getting at. They are those moments in life that you really feel that you have no control and watch yourself almost as a third person keep demonstrating the same behavior over and over again

2.  The importance of pausing between stimulus and your reaction.

3.  Be honest with yourself via:

    1. Listening to your natural intelligence,
    2. Show a natural warmth to yourself and others, and
    3. Remain open to people, experience and yourself.

4.  If you can drop your story line of judgement or predictions, this lessens the Shempa…it reduces the ease of which you get hooked or set off and allows you to remain in the present moment.

5.  Meditation is not a striving but a way to relax.  You have what you need already, and meditation is there to help you see that rather than convert you into something better or new.

6.  Make friends with yourself and be OK with things as they are.  If you can make friends with yourself, have compassion for yourself, then you can have compassion for others.  This is demonstrated in 3 steps:

    1. Maitri–loving kindness towards all living beings as well as trusting oneself.
    2. Act from the heart towards others
    3. Put others before you and expect nothing in return.

7.  Tonglen is a practice of taking in and sending out.  The idea of taking in the world around you and giving part of yourself back. It removes the “all about me syndrome”

Those main points are ones that really stuck with me.  To sum up, this direct quote from the hard cover book (p.86) really spoke directly to me after my experiences in Mysore, India when studying at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Center (KPJAYI).  I’ve been there two times in the past year and each time I’ve gone, I can’t believe the level of ego, unfriendliness and self centeredness by the majority of the Ashtanga Yoga students.  All of those hours on the mat and listening to Sharath teach yet they go right back to “I’m the center of the universe” mode after they roll up their mat.  Pema’ writes:

“I’ve known many people who have spent years exercising daily, getting massages, doing yoga, faithfully following one food or vitamin regimen after another, pursuing spiritual teachers and different styles of meditation, all in the name of taking care of themselves.  Then something bad happens to them and all those years don’t seem to have added up to the inner strength and kindness for themselves that they need to relate with what’s happening.  And they don’t add up to being able to help other people or the environment.  When taking care of ourselves is all about me, it never gets at the unshakable tenderness and confidence that we’ll need  when everything falls apart.  When we start to develop maitri for ourselves, unconditional acceptance of ourselves, then we’re really taking care of ourselves in a way that pays off.  We feel more at home with our own bodies and minds and more at home in the world.  As our kindness for ourselves grows, so does our kindness for other people”

That was the big take home.  I’ll be posting up more on Mysore and my experiences there this year but her writing in the above paragraph was my mindset as I walked around the dusty streets of India very perplexed at the overall atmosphere of a so called yoga shala.

You can get her book here on Amazon and I’d be interested to know your thoughts or point of view or how it helped you.

The uselessness of New Year’s Eve

The dinosaur that is New Year's EveI can’t stand New Year’s eve.  I get the symbolism and a new start and a time to reflect, but for the very few that actually use it as a tool, it is a more of a lame attempt to talk more talk than actually walk.

If you want to start a change in your life, the last thing you need is a lot of pomp and circumstance and a count down; you’re not jumping off a cliff to impress a girl in Thailand.  Change is gradual and “an easing into” if you will.  If you need the ceremony, then pour a hot bath and slowly slide into it.  That illustrates more about personal change than fireworks, over committal and a hang over.

The other aspect is the showiness so many people feel about announcing it to the world to keep themselves accountable.  I agree that to some extend  sharing your goals with others does help in keeping you on track, but only after you have a well thought out plan.  And in a plan, I mean:

After you have that well established and tested, then invite people into your plan and change.

The bottom line is that you don’t need a magical day nor a movie like send off into your personal endeavors.  It simply takes some ambition, a backbone and tenacity mixed in with some humour, patience and curiosity.

Photo Credit

A collection of asanas

 

The dropback, coming up and walking the hands towards the ankles

A shift in focus for a daily Ashtanga practice

Transition from kapotasana

Transition from kapotasana

I’ve had a daily Ashtanga practice for 4 years and I’ve been to Mysore twice.  I practice everyday, never miss and consider myself very dedicated.  However, in the past few months, my focus has shifted from the physical push of the asanas and the constant chasing of the tail to progress further in a series to really trying to cultivate a feeling of mind/body connectedness during and after each practice.

This shift has become very evident in the past week as I’ve been getting closer and closer to grabbing my heels in Kapotasana.  But rather than having the all familiar drive to keep pushing and pushing, being OK with the soreness, the never ending seeking for daily motivation, I’ve found myself not really caring.  And it goes beyond not caring, it is just not wanting to continually work that hard each day for an intense few minutes as I try and walk my hands closer and closer to my heels.  I find that the shift in needing to strive interrupts my calmness and honestly, enjoyment of the practice.

Perhaps, I’m just in a eddy of the usual flow of practice and I’m happy just maintaining the physical practice but deepening my breath, concentration and overall feeling of wellness.  The practice still moves at the traditional pace, but the longing/wanting for a new pose has been lost.  I’m OK with holding and enjoying the feelings that the practice produces, rather than base my feelings on what I did in the practice.   It is a nice phase to be in.

Continual Growth via effort, honesty and humility.