Posts Tagged ‘more on yoga’
stress is not gone
yesterday at the end of a private session with a new female client, the woman turned to me from her very first savasana (corpse pose) and said,
so, like, is this not your favorite pose? i mean, are you like the most relaxed person ever? and don’t you do this pose all the time?
i told her yes, savasana is in fact one of my favorite poses, but i don’t do it all the time, and in fact, i said,
when i’m feeling stressed out i’m actually really bad at this pose and sometimes go so far as to avoid it at the end of my practice.
this confused her. she questioned me more on how i could *not* be so totally unstressed as a result of doing yoga.
i told her that it’s not that i”m never stressed anymore–life continues to be life, and to have its natural ebbs and flows. rather, i find myself able to relax more quickly, more precisely, and more deeply.
the greatest advantage of yoga in this context, i told her, is that you begin to witness the coming stress like an arriving storm. just as you put on a raincoat, or get an umbrella, or even stay inside until the storm blows over, you observe yourself in a stressed-out state and access the breath, or do a lengthening pose here and a strengthening pose there.
using these yogic tools helps you move away from the stress response in a way that is difficult to do otherwise.
most important, practice is not at all about doing the poses *better*. it is instead about witnessing the effects the poses have on you more and more clearly.
yoga is one of the world’s main transformative practices of the body and mind.
the body is simple. the mind, on the other hand, has many elements, but its main purpose is to establish pattern as early as possible in order to ensure survival. for example, if every day you forgot how to eat, speak, or sleep, your life would be destructively inefficient.
too much of a good thing, however, is bad. that’s why the first, most potent, and most lasting pattern that nearly all yoga practitioners create for themselves is:
i can’t do that.
I would love all yoga students to check that statement out when they notice it emerging in the mind. the underlying context, the mind’s real statement is:
this is a new thing i’m confronted with, and i don’t understand it. therefore, i am going to stop right here and revert to the pattern of thinking i already know, which creates less immediate stress on me.
(it’s kind of like being in college, when in the freshman eating hall you sit with your dorm mates, class mates, or friends from home. it’s scary to go eat with someone totally new–omg the potential gross digestion from all that stress of talking to someone you’ve never met before!)
the real essence of any yoga class–by definition of it being called a yoga class–is the attempt to evolve, whether that’s through “relaxation,” “working hard,” or “playing your edge.” however the mind defines these terms, these terms are by definition always changing.
i have decided to set a goal: to get rid of at least half of the plastic bags wadded together like petroleum bush in my house by the end of the year, which i estimate can happen if i remember, 90-100% of the time, to take the canvas bags to the grocery store.
I have a car, so i will place two canvas bags to live in the car permanently, which, additionally, should decrease the chances of accumulating new plastic bags, especially from places like Rite Aid.
and so the attention goes
last night, in the yoga class i take, we spent a longer time than usual in the first two poses, down dog and handstand. then, to prepare for some other strength poses and backbends, we did a preparation for this pose. we were near, and with our backs to, the wall, and we had to press the tops of the feet into the wall to lengthen the spine and not give way to the low back.
i found the class very challenging, and i was focused on all sorts of things. but before this class, i had gotten a pedicure, and it hadn’t dried. so in doing this pose, with the tops of the feet and my painted toes pressed firmly into the wall, i lost the superficial benefits of the pedicure.
while i was in the pose, that’s what i was thinking about. during all the other poses, when my toes were not pressed into anything, i was focused on dropping my shoulder blades, lengthening my tailbone, observing my breath — among the requisite details for maintaining a safe and energetically charged asana. but during this preparation pose, i was not focused on anything other than the “ruin” of the time and money i’d just spent.
i don’t remember what the pose felt like. after that point, i occasionally gazed regretfully down at my toes and noticed my difficulty in staying present. at those times, i was not in my body, but in my memory, and in the desire for reality to be other than it was.
so i will not be getting pedicures anymore before yoga class.
yoga and the spine
yesterday, after a restorative class i’d taught her, a client of mine said,
huh, that’s interesting. so restorative yoga is mostly about bending the spine this way and that way, in order to release it.
she was sitting when she said this. when she said “this way” she bent forward; when she said “that way,” she bent backward.
it was a simple moment after a simple practice. What struck me, though, was not that her observation is mostly correct–restorative yoga requires the practitioner to hold poses for long periods of time in order release through the spine in several directions. what struck me was the point my client was making about all yoga poses. the point of yoga is always to release energy through the spine. that’s what makes an asana (pose) different from just about any other practice you could engage in.
one of the markers of the west is its emphasis on the superficial. yoga, by definition, is intended to take us away from that superficiality into deeper levels of consciousness–through the unwinding of the spine. each pose has been designed over thousands of years to enable us to examine the steadiness and ease in each posture–so that we can examine the stillness, or lack thereof, in our own minds.
and thus, we engage in practice. even one of the most demanding poses you could imagine:
is meant to release energy through the spine for the same purpose as the most relaxed you could imagine:
this is what we are learning in a yoga class– how to be steady and easy no matter what the “pose.”
on chakra one, muladhara, in yoga class
experienced in a yoga class, the first chakra comes alive in the legs, eyes, and inner ears. the stronger and more tubular the legs, the more relaxed and receptive the eyes and ears (and, by association, the rest of the senses).
try it. in your standing poses this week, imagine your legs waking up like as though they were controlled by that game litebrite some of played as kids, and see how you feel. post here to tell me what happens.
teacher vs. soundtrack
i’ve lately been pondering my voice and presence in a yoga class. the type of yoga i learned originally, sri swami satchidananda’s integral yoga, teaches a particular language, sequencing, and orientation for students in the class. the vinyasa style of yoga, derived from modern-day ashtanga yoga, also arranges the class (ashtanga more than vinyasa, in this case) in a particular way.
to be sure, most forms of hatha yoga have a style of teaching rooted in similar language (inhale/exhale), sequencing (standing poses before inverted poses), and orientation to what you are actually doing in the room (pray to the divine, or just notice your muscles). today what’s interesting to me is whether or how that approach gets stale if you don’t challenge yourself to renew your approach occasionally.
i wonder what other teachers and students think about the kinds of words they want to say or hear. it’s easy to be rote; you can say the same thing about the same pose every time. on the other hand, the ways of describing the body in space and time are endless — and experimenting too much maddens.
teachers: do you find yourself wanting to repeat yourself sometimes, or are you always thinking of new ways to describe the class experience? students: do you want to hear the same thing week to week, perhaps in order to learn the poses better, or do you like the language fresh and changing each time you come to class?
the search for truth
so i learned last night how to customize my google home page, which was almost as exciting as when i found napster in the 90s. i was totally psyched, too, when, with two clicks from me, igoogle placed bart simpson’s and albert einstein’s daily quotes next to one another.
einstein’s quote for today inspired me to blog, and to let you know that i’ll be talking tonight at boundless yoga about the practice of yoga, 730-9 pm, for $10. we teach non-attachment in yoga, but especially as young, hoarding westerns, it’s hard for us sometimes to imagine ourselves not in possession of all the things we’ve accumulated, including our own intellectual “property.”
so the great man’s statement, “the search for truth is more important than its possessions,” provided me an instant, humble reminder of why i became a yoga teacher in the first place. i hope you can join me tonight. and, thank you, igoogle. you’re so cool!
yoga: from the gross to the subtle, with kim, $10
yoga is the practice of moving from the gross to the subtle. we first learn asana, and how the breath fills the physical structure that we change, pose to pose, moment to moment. once we arrive at the subtler aspects of the practice, what, then, does the practice become?
learn tonight from kim about a brief history of yoga, its basic philosophic tenets, and how the details of the inner world unfold the quieter we become. kim will discuss the value of asana, contemplation, breath, and meditation as part of the yoga ashtanga system, and she welcomes questions about the myriad ways we deepen a yoga practice, both on the yoga mat and out in the world.
yoga class, first and last
i am often asked how many times you should go to yoga class to experience its benefits. it’s a good question, born of the desire to improve; to feel better; to be longer, stronger, more lithe.
typically, i give a standard answer: “well, two times a week is good; three times a week is ideal when you’re starting out.” and then, typically, we talk about impediments to such a “routine,” or about what else one should do (run, workout, weights) in addition to yoga.
lately i’ve been wondering why i answer that way. giving someone concrete data (once/week = this; twice/week = that; three times/week = nirvana) can create stress, because you start thinking, shit! if i only go once, that means i’m less than good! if i go four times i’m more than ideal! personally, i don’t want to create that dialogue.
so, after talking with someone today–actually a friend of a friend trying to help boundless get its vendor credit card rates down–i’ve decided that i like this answer:
breathing is the first and last thing you’ll ever do, and in a yoga class you are essentially re-creating a relationship with your breath. years of behavior, thoughts, and (therefore) movement patterns have stifled the breath and redirected it in inefficient ways. “ideally” (here’s where the word feels so much better!), every yoga class will enable you to reexamine that relationship, such that you are aware of your breathing walking home, going to bed, getting up the morning, going to work the next day.
for some, this relationship will demand daily attention. for others, once every two weeks. still others, those at the top of the bell curve, between two and three times a week is advisable. but that’s only because we’re recreating new memories, new patterns in the system. introduce any “thing” to the mind/ego, and it will jump to the front and say, OK! i get it! i will do that again! er, um, but wait, how do i do that again? what was that thing that worked so well and felt so good? for most of us, the mind, and therefore the body, needs a reminder more than once a seven-day cycle — as in, more than once a week.
let your breath take you to class; let it remind you to start breathing, really. create a a simple intention to start feeling the prana, or qi (pronounced “chee”) flood into the system the way a flashlight bleeds through a dark room. then you’ll know how often to go to yoga class.