Posts Tagged ‘being present’
Learning to listen
Since starting Yoga Teacher Training at Boundless, I’ve often stood in awe of my classmates as they describe the subtle movements of muscles and bones that they experience within poses. Before the training began I’d expected that the greatest challenges would be physical, but as it turns out my most significant difficulties so far have been in learning to listen to my body.
In the past I had predominantly attended classes in the more flowing, Vinyasa style. After 2 months of intensive immersion in the alignment focused classes at Boundless, I’ve now begun experiencing yoga in a very different way. While I still love the graceful transitions of Vinyasa, I now realize that I never had enough time to learn to listen to my body as we rapidly moved from pose to pose.
During Vinyasa classes, I realized, instead of focusing on sensations of the body, I would frequently zone out, losing myself as I transitioned through poses that frequently ran in predictable patterns. Muscle memory became the driver and my mind released, bringing about a relaxed, meditative state.
My classes at Boundless typically feature much more unpredictable series of poses, and each session is designed to elicit epiphanies of sensory experience and muscle control. We disentangle the experiences of each muscle group, learning to use specific muscles while releasing others. At the same time, through our practice we develop a conscious awareness of the complex relationships between the bones, muscles, and connective tissue which bind them together. As a result of this intense focus on the actions (and sensations) that comprise each pose, our yoga evolves alongside our knowledge of our self.
Upon discovering the contradiction between the mental surrender of my Vinyasa practice and the self-consciousness I’ve been striving to foster at Boundless, I’ve nearly completely stopped attending Vinyasa classes. Since changing my focus over to alignment-based classes I’ve been excited to find that I’m slowly becoming more attuned to my physical experiences. There’s still much to be said for the fluidity and grace which define Vinyasa, however, and I looked forward to the point at which I feel I’m ready to once again give in to the mental surrender of a flowing practice.
Off the Mat: Mint Tea
One day last week, my carpool delivered me to work early, so I decided to try some tea at a coffee place I’d never been to before. The tea came and I took it too an outside table where I could sit, read and watch people walking by, Without intending to, I did not take a sip of tea, but instead inhaled the tea vapor, through my mouth, where it sprang from the hard palate to the back of the throat. I was not prepared for the sublime clarity of the mint flavor, it was as if the essence of the tea had been transferred directly to my nerve center. I was simultaneously thrilled and sated and felt without need to taste the liquid after that heady mint bounced around my head.
The “taste” of that experience was such that, of course, I hoped the tea itself would be divine. So I took a sip. I don’t know if it was the water the tea was brewed in, or other things that were mixed with the mint , but the tea itself had a strong taste of straw and dirt and! I was shocked and wondered if my taste buds were fooling me after being inundated with the pure mint essence. So I took another sip, but the taste was the same, still unclear and dirty. I opened the cup and looked at the tea bag, which was, in fact, half full of some yellow, straw-like substance. Perhaps it was chamomile, though the tea did not taste of chamomile. Whatever, the taste was quite disappointing!
This happens to me in other parts of my life too. I find myself involved in or observing a unique and wonderful moment, and, at that moment, conscious of it’s special wonder. That experience is often accompanied by a feeling of lightness, connection and deep gratitude. However, instead of being satisfied with that and taking the time to appreciate it fully, I often try to get “more” of that experience, which, of course, immediately moves me out of the moment of appreciation and connection and into a different state altogether: one in which I am alone, trying to accomplish something rather than surrendering to and staying in the experience of that moment. Why do I do that? Why does anyone do that? That’s a whole other blog and lifetime. It could be due to any number of common human faults, from impatience to greed to fear or ignorance.
Lucky for me, awareness is the first step toward change and while I often find a way to “pop” myself out of an experience, I don’t always. The times of being able to relax and be are more frequent than they used to be. And, for this particular Mint Tea experience, I decided to try “mouth-breathing” the tea vapor again, to see what that would be like. YUM! Almost as intense as the first time!
i crave them like tastes
I’ve had to back away from my advanced yoga class, which is hard enough. And today, in the class I now take–still not a prenatal yoga class–I laid on the floor at the end of class, exhausted, and watched as my fellow classmates did pindasana and then its twist.
Ideally, the yoga practitioner, in my case a yogini, observes the fluctuations of the mind as they pass by the observing eye. In this particular case, I now observe and express the craving that came into my mind as I watched these practitioners do a pose that not too long ago, felt safe, comfortable, and challenging for me. I sought poses like this, in fact, because they quieted my mind and challenged the physical body simultaneously.
This experience led me to think: Surely we know now, as a yoga “culture,” what we know intuitively. Yoga is not about mashing the body into a shape for that goal alone, but rather, to stay in the pose and watch the reaction(s) of the mind. In my case, until the end of 2009, I will be watching my mind as I watch others’ poses. I post this reflection in honor of the attachment–ones that surprise me daily as my body swells and the lil’ lady grows–to what used to be “my practice.”
Yoga is indeed about letting go.
so i notice every morning in the shower that the thoughts start to creep in. the worry, the fears, the unsettled, unanswered questions.
then i go and sit to meditate, hair still drying and mouth fresh with the taste of mint, and i stare at the screen of my mind as i would at a movie screen. i ask myself:
what’s the thinking today?
and i go from there. for 10 or up to 40 minutes, depending on the day.
it’s kind of like holding back a busting dam, that process of recognizing the thoughts in the shower in the morning before meditation as they come tumbling and stumbling in, like wayward drunks, knocking over the still sleepy docility of my otherwise calm mind, jarring me into dull annoyance.
this is why meditation works. it is an extremely simple equation in that it gives your mind someplace to go when the thinkin’ starts cookin’.
you must practice being in this space. otherwise your thoughts run you over: they will think you.
the yang and the yin of it.
i heard here three or four times today a quote by an unidentified woman, telling the NPR Reporter that for the downwardly spiraling economy,
there are no silver bullets here…The best the Fed can do is throw pillows down to soften the landing.”
i’ve been telling students in class for the past week that if you are feeling tired, lethargic, and/or mildly (or more) morose, it’s totally normal. it’s time for the Winter Solstice.
in our hemisphere, we are on the cusp of the shortest night and longest day of the year. there is a lot of information here to describe the metaphysical, scientific, and ritual aspects of this moment.
for the body, which is comparatively depleted of energy from the sun, layers of darkness enter. this is the time when mentally we can reflect (or meditate) on the things we want to shed–just as the earth here is allowing most of its plants to die.
no matter what your asana practice is right now, be aware of your overall energy levels and practice around that. this is an important time of year to let go–no matter how you define the verb.
last night i was at an anniversary party and had a few glasses of champagne. the mood was celebratory (local business = success!), the music consistently danceable (de la soul and prince!), and the people watching and food delicious.
i slept well, but not well enough, of course, to get up and do my pranayama practice, which is a goal for tuesdays. instead i slept in and wished i could sleep more. my body was recovering from that bit of alcohol, technically a poison that the body has to work harder to remove in order to return to “normal.”
a learning for a yogini aiming to be consistent in her practice above all else, when she still loves champagne and a good dance party.
i think everyone is well served touching their own tailbone once in a while. for sure they should check out that bad boy during yoga class.
though this might not be the case for others, i find my own tailbone (coccyx, actually, and check out the groovy diagram on wikipedia) to be thinner and, well, bonier, somehow, than i always imagine it to be.
this is the base of your spine, the thing that holds you up so well. it’s amazing to think that the tailbone is where it all goes down.
right round baby right round
On this side of the dateline, we tend to define karma as the apostle Paul did: “Man reaps what he sows.” “What goes around, comes around.”
I’ve always had trouble with the term “karma yoga” as defining good acts, because then you aren’t you still attached to getting only goodness in return? it seems to me you can do anything and still be practicing karma yoga. What if you’re ok with doing something neutral or negative, and with being prepared to experience that same thing some point in the future?
Asking for negative acts to come back to you might even been like saying “bring it” to the universe.
Lately, I am examining karma by being aware of an emotional state I am uncomfortable with, for example, depression, sorrow, anger, or frustration. I drive almost every day, and I often feel “cut off” by someone rushing to their job, home, a bar, their dying grandmother. My heart jumps as the other driver speeds past me and into my lane, my breathing changes, and at least 50% of the time, I find myself reacting in anger. this anger comes from the fear of experiencing an accident.
as i experience this sensation, i imagine that i have done that exact thing to someone before. when i wedge in this stop sign on the road of my own reaction, a mental shift occurs:
1) My negative emotion changes or goes away.
2) I see immediately the universe’s answer to a previous demand from me entitled, “bring it”.
9 times out of 10, i can recall an instance in which i have acted toward someone in exact the way that i am currently uncomfortable with.
in savasana, there is an excellent opportunity to navel gaze. imagine your thighs–and indeed the bones of the thighs and legs–dropping toward the ground to such a degree that the tops of the thighs feel flat and smooth.
or at least like rolling hills. calm, rolling rounds of earth.