Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What's on Your Bucket List?

Hello friends!  It's been forever since my last post.  Where has my favorite month of Feb gone?   Anyway, life rolls on and so does yoga, of course. 

I wanted to say congratulations to the lovely and dedicated yogi Teri G for getting into handstand during Monday's 10:30 class.  After her graceful inversion, she proudly shared that handstand was on her bucket list.  Very cool to cross that off. 

Handstand, or adho mukha vrksasana in sanskrit, is a pose that I refer to as high guts, but low tech.  This pose consistently stirs up feelings of fear in many yogis.  We're upside down, so far yet so close to the ground and relying on our puny arms to keep us from crashing onto our heads!  If, however, we have a consistent practice that includes sun salutations, therefore lots of down dogs and planks, then most likely we have the physical strength required for handstand.  It's quite often our mind that keeps us from getting into the pose not our body.  Yoga is a wonderful way to identify and possibly overcome our fears.  How nice to acheive such an accomplishment in a safe environment as your mat.  So, bravo Teri! 

Do you have a bucket list?  Whether your list includes yoga poses or not, a yoga practice can enbolden us to be brave in the world.  Our practice on the mat is a metaphor for how we live our lives and how we approach everything.  Trying new poses on the mat is a great way to be courageous in a relatively low-risk way, a great way to increase our risk-tolerance.  With this increased risk-tolerance, maybe we can try that new career, go back to school or have that sensitive conversation we were dreading (see my dilemma a few posts back...).  Be brave in your practice and take that into the world and maybe cross some stuff off your list.  Namaste, be brave and see you in class! 

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sub for Saturday's Classes

Hello friends and yogis.  I will be away tomorrow and have a substitute at the Center and at Yoga Madre.  Sonya Perry will teach both classes for me.  She is great and has a warm, gentle spirit.  She also makes you hang out in goddess pose FOREVER!  It will be worth it, I promise.  Check it out.  Namaste and see you next week in class.

The Yamas and Niyamas 2011: Ahimsa

The first limb of Patanjali's 8 limbed yoga is the Yamas which translate to mean a "restraint that we willfully and joyfully  place on ourselves to focus our efforts...that allows us to head toward fulfillment of our dharma, or life purpose."    The very first yama the ancient sage discusses is ahimsa which is commonly taken to mean practicing non violence.  Ahimsa is the first step to becoming mindful of what we are feeling and therefore staying present--this being paramount in the practice of yoga.  By feeling what we are feeling in the physical body, we can prevent hurting our bodies and practice non violence first and foremost on ourselves.

While this practice sounds logical and maybe makes you think "well, duh of course, I'm not going hurt myself," it's not that easy.  When we hit the mat, whether at home or in a class, we encounter ourselves, our thoughts, our emotions and the dreaded EGO!  This latter part of ourselves is often what can make us stop practicing ahimsa and start working too hard in that twist or triangle pose.  We may think that we need to bring our belly to our thighs in a forward fold because the teacher said so and because that skinny girl next to us is doing it!  Crazy but true.  Our ego can talk us in to doing unhealthful things under the guise of seeking approval or trying to win, be first or be best.  As a dreadfully competitive person myself, I admit that this is something I struggle with both on and off the mat.  As mentioned in an earlier post, the ego has it place in our lives to help acheive goals and to help us support ourselves and our families.  If not in check however, it can be detrimental by causing us to heedlessly follow it down dark and dangerous paths where our bodies may not be ready to go.  Our yoga practice is a time when we can exercise being non-competitve and non-indulgent to our ego.   This is when we need to stop, listen to the ujjayi breath and feel what is actuallty happening in the body. 

Aadil Palkhivala, an Iyengar teacher, says that by feeling what we are feeling we are actually prevented from hurting ourselves.  To push beyond our physical limits requires that we actively strive to do so thereby disassociating from what we feel.  Pushing beyond our physical limits happens separately from feeling and being in touch with the body  These are two different actions and we can't do them at the same time.  Thus, if we actively associate with the sensations in our body, we have stopped pushing the body.  So to practice non-violence to yourself, simply feel what you feel.  No harm shall come your way on the mat as a result.  This being said, we do want to exert ourself and challenge the body in order to receive the benefits of our practice.  Remaining mindful and centered, however, should prevent pushing beyond our physical limits.

Ahimsa goes beyond our asana practice and into our lives in other ways, of course.  It goes without saying that we should never be violent toward our fellow man.  But what of other sentient beings on this planet?  What about the planet itself?  Vegetarianism a common way many yogis practice ahimsa.  Some yogis are practicing vegans, pescetarians or flexitarans as my lovely friends Nancy calls herself.  Whatever your choice regarding food, maybe choose to shop at your local farmers market, buy organic, fair trade products or free range meats, poultry, fish and/or eggs.  Essentially, make conscious choices regarding your food for your body and the planet in an effort to practice ahimsa. 

So friends, be kind to your body, the earth and all sentient beings.  All it takes is feeling what you're feeling and making conscious decisions in order to practice ahimsa.  As you practice this first yama, know that you, like Gandhi said, will be the change you want to see in the world.  Namaste and see you in class.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Study of the Yamas and Niyamas for 2011: Satya

Hello yogis!   It's been far too long since I blogged.  Unsure why except to say I get sidelined by life and by my general fear of writing for a public forum.  So here goes:

A major part of practicing yoga is the adherence to the Yamas and Niyamas.  In Patanjali's 8 limbed yoga as described in his Yoga Sutras, these are first 2 limbs.  The 5 Yamas are often translated to mean "restraints or attitudes that we ought to avoid," while the 5 Niyamas are described as "actions and attitudes that we should cultivate in order to overcome the illusion of separation and the suffering it causes," according to Judith Lasater in the Yoga Journal.  Asana and pranayama are the 3rd and 4th limbs.  So without even doing a bloody down-dog, you can still practice your yoga!

Today I want to address Satya, which translates as truth--truth in our feelings, thoughts, words and deeds.  I bring this up first even though Ahimsa is the initial Yama to be mentioned by Patanjali because satya is challenging for me!  I often ask students to live their satya while on the mat in class.  That is, keep that leg straight even if your belly is miles away from it.  Practice the poses honestly without succumbing to the little cheats that call and tempt us--yes, even me, every day, my friends.  By living and practicing your truth on the mat, we will not hurt ourselves and therefore follow and live another Yama, ahimsa or non-violence.  It is our ego, our competitive side that takes us off the truthful straight and narrow, causing us to push when our body is tired or at its limit.  This submission to the ego can easily and often result in injures (this I know all too well, admittedly...).  So, by being honest with ourselves on our mats, we can ensure a safe and productive practice. 

Why so tough, satya? Well for this conflict averse yogi, I can say that it is the interpersonal stuff where my satya becomes weak.  I am great on the mat, lousy with friends.  Satya was brought to the fore recently because of a relationship conflict that am I trying to navigate.  This is actually a situation between my daughter and a friend of hers.  Now, these are 6 year olds, my friends and well things can get sticky at times and call for mitgation by mommies and daddies.  This particular school chum of my daughter's doesn't seem to care for her anymore and frankly treats her poorly--we are unsure why, but it is persistent and is basically bullying at this point.  Other means of improving the relationship have not proven fruitful so, as parents must sometimes do, I need to step in and talk to the friend's mother--my friend!--about why we are taking a relationship hiatus.  Are you kidding, me talk out this delicate, sticky issue out with my friend who I really like?  Oh the horrors!!  I am a dreadful wimp in this way.  I'd much rather take a level 1000 yoga class, leave a complete sweat ball and then come home to clean mine and every other house on the block than talk to my friend about her ill-behaved child.  You get the picture. 

Sooooo I devised a wimpy and vague strategy to explain why we will not be hanging out together in the future and ran it by my forthright, therapist friend.  "Wow," she said, "This all sounds like a lot of work!"  And she proceeded to tell me how she would just say it in a straightforward manner.  My stratgey involved basically not that, therefore it was me not being honest and not practicing satya.  As a result my relationship with the kid's mom would not really be authentic now would it, whether it was strained or not?  But really, do I have to tell the real truth here?  Ah yes...My therapist friend is right.  It's hard to do.  Satya is hard to live.  But certainly the results will be authentic, whatever they may be. 

I haven't tackled this conversation yet, but am inspired to do so.  THIS is much harder for me than sirsasana, hanumanasana and kurmasana combined!  I will report back on this matter.  Practice your satya whatever that is.  Namaste and see you in class. 

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The January Bump

What a great day in class!  I can always tell that it's January by the great attendance in class--21 new and old friends in Yoga Madre's 11:00 Saturday class.  I call it the January bump.  So great to see everyone.  Whether you're committing to a new health regimen or just renewing your commitment to yoga, thanks for coming to class. 

With the new year may come New Year's resolutions.  Do you make them?  I do.  Well, I'm a periennial list maker whatever the day is, but yes, for the new year, I make resolutions.  I have my own little private list, a list I have shared with my husband plus yet another small list that we put together as a family.  The latter for me is a commitment to drink less coffee and for those of you who know me, that's a biggie.  I love coffee, okay!  It's my addiction, I admit it.  My daughter's resolution is to complain less at dinner (regarding the food).  She came up with that one on her own, umprompted.  Pretty good for a 6 year old picky eater.  My husband's is a commitment to eat less in general.  These are all straightforward resolutions on which we can help each other when we witness any transgressions. 

It is said that it takes 21 days of continual practice for any action to become a habit.  Yoga Journal talks about this in their latest issue.  I read once, too that it takes the first 11 days for this action to become easy.  Then after ten more days, the 21 day mark, this said action is supposed to become a habit for us.  Well, this has not ever been the case for me no matter what the proposed new habit or goal.  I just don't work that way.  I can find many reasons NOT to repeat an action.  So if I based my success of my new year's resolutions on this sort of axiom, I would end up feeling bad about myself quite quickly. 

This is what I think:  Dramatic change in humans is completely possible, but it may take longer than 21 days or it may happen much faster than that!  Transformation on any level is deep, right?  Don't worry about time frames.  Just keep at it and observe the transformation.  This is how we need to approach our yoga: Just keep at it and observe.

Namaste and see you in class.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Starting at the Beginning: Why Practice Yoga?

A good question, indeed.  One of the best and simple responses to this question came from yoga teacher Erich Schiffmann.  He explained, during one of his workshops a few years back, that we should practice yoga to EXPERIENCE yoga.  Plain and simple.  So what the heck IS yoga, you ask?  Yoga is the connection between the self and the divine.  Again, plain and simple.  This self is you and this divine is what you deem it to be: Your personified god, your inner light, the universal truth, nature and its wonders, whatever your idea of the divine is.  Thus, yoga can be practiced by all of us regardless of religion or lack there of. 

So, the next nagging question:  Just how do we make this connection?  We connect with the divine through the practice of asana, pranayama (breathe work), meditation and self-study.  Through these practices, we quiet our noisy mind.  We shut out the world with all of its rules, regulations, and mandates of how we should live and who we should be.  Through this work, we connect with ourselves, our deep true selves.  This self is pure and untouched by societal or familial pressures.  This is the self that knows best our path in life, our dharma.   Through this practice of getting quiet and connecting, we come to that union with the divine and hopefully reach a place where we understand that the divine resides in us always.  We also come to a place where realize the interconnectedness of all earth's beings and the universality of our experiences.  As Erich Schiffmann described, each of us are like the white caps in the life's vast ocean.  We are individuals, yet truly and always connected to each other.  To access all of this, we simply practice our yoga and get quiet. 

What is the result of this practice of yoga?  We get to experience that union of the self and the divine.  Through this connection, we can move through life in a more authentic way, aiming to live our dharma instead of bending to the pressures of the outside world. 

Simple enough right?  Well, hitting the mat daily or conquering our fear of handstand reveal that even simple things are not easy.  That's why it's called a practice, friends, instead of a mastery.  It's really darned difficult.  So we try daily to make that connection and to live our true and authentic life while navigating the world with compassion for our fellow beings.  This makes doing that handstand seem actually quite easy, relatively speaking...Namaste and see you in class.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A New Year, a New Schedule

Dear friends:

A belated and resounding happy New Year!  Can you believe it's 2011?  When you're my age, thinking about the year 2011 in my youth conjured up images of either the Jetsons, replete with hover craft-type vehicles and robotic housekeepers OR, while in a dark mood, Bladerunner and it's dark, dank and dangerous Los Angeles.  Well neither images have materialized into reality and here we sit in the San Gabriel Valley enjoying this glorious January weather.  Isn't it amazing how the weather gets its act together each January 1st here in the Pasadena area for the Rose Parade?  Whether or not you're a fan of big parades and or bowl games, you've got to admit that our weather is quite perfect around this time of year.

Okay, so to address the second part of this posting's title, I do indeed have a new teaching schedule.  I have returned to my Tuesday/ Thursday 7:30pm beginning level class at Yoga Madre.  My beginning level classes are always quite strong and, in the past, these Tues/Thurs ones at YM were a good example of that.  So, if you are one my beloved All Levels students, feel free to join me Tues and Thurs.  I promise to keep it challenging for you.  For those of you who stay on the All Levels Mon/Wed, thanks for inspiring me with your great attititudes and hard work on the mat.  The rest of my teaching schedule remains the same. 

I wish your all the happiest and healthiest new new year ever.  Namaste and see you in class.