By Meryn McClelland
It’s 6:00am and the bells of my alarm startle me from a peaceful sleep. I reach toward my phone and the message, morning yoga and meditation, flashes across the lit screen. I tap snooze, as I always do, ending the jingle. So begins another day. I hit snooze until there’s just barely enough time to complete the tasks which get me out the door on time. This is most mornings.
This has become the routine. It’s been done enough times that on some mornings the snooze gets hit without even a thought. As I rush out the door I think, Ugh, why did I do this again?
We all have habits we aren’t proud of. We all struggle in one way or another with the desire to do better, and to establish more desirable practices.
Habits are the result of the same small choice being made over and over. I choose an extra nine minutes of sleep over and over because in the moment I believe that this will bring me the most satisfaction. At least, more satisfaction than a 6:00am asana sequence.
After enough instances of this same choice being made time and time again, our brains establish the habit and make the choice “without even thinking”. The habit transforms into an automated response. We begin to go about the habits of our days without even thinking. Without even being present.
In this way, I believe that we become what we practice. We are things that we do, and we are the things that we put our energy toward.
Habits are the product of the same small choice being made over and over. What if we can see these small choices as gifts? What if we see each choice as a wonderful opportunity to make positive change in our practices? In this way, we can practice in countless ways every single day.
And, what if we resist the urge to judge ourselves and those around us on the ways we can be better? Practice, in its very essence implies imperfection. Why would we practice something we’re already an expert at?
We practice to learn, grow, and get better. We’re students working toward joy. And so as we learn about the positive habits we wish to manifest in our lives, and decide on the ways we’ll practice getting there, let’s also remember to show care and compassion to ourselves and those around us as we journey on. One small snooze at a time.
For more conversation on this topic, please join in on the comments section below.
What are you putting your energy toward?
What is a habit you would like to change?
How do you work to establish positive habits in your life?
What do your practices say about who you are?
by Viki Distin
While I am not sure of the source of this quote, it has stuck with me for many years. “In most conflicts, the other person is not the problem.” While there are some cases where there is clearly a perpetrator and a victim, most of the time, the problem resides within oneself.
Last Thanksgiving, I had a clash with an extended family member. (Would it be an interesting sociology experiment to determine how many skirmishes occur during family reunions?). I am not sure if there was any resolution or deeper understanding when it was over, but it did allow me to use the opportunity for self-reflection.
The idea that the “other” person is the issue is usually created from the Ego mind. In yoga, the “Ego” mind is the source of suffering for us or others. To dissolve this Ego mind, we continually draw our attention back to our own thoughts, emotions, sensations and conditioned patterns. Taking responsibility for our own issues could be the most sane and helpful approach to living in our world today. The stronger the resistance to doing our own inner work or the desire to point fingers, the stronger the Ego mind likely is.
The first question I asked myself was “Where was I being triggered?” In psychology and disciplines that study the nature of the mind, there is the recognition of emotional triggers. If someone is reacting with intensity or reactivity in a given situation, it is possible that the conflict has very little to do with the current scene, but rather a reminder of something from the past which has created some high-level stress or even trauma. Being on the lookout for triggers is a super skillful technique in building relationships.
The second question I asked myself was “Did I remaincalm and grounded?” One of the direct carry overs from yoga to our everyday lives, is the ability to stay grounded when the world around us feels unsafe, unsupported or foreign. A few years back, one of my students told me that when he starts to feel conflict coming on with his girlfriend, he concentrates on the feeling of his feet beneath him and he is amazed at how the feeling of rooted-ness could help to diffuse negative feelings. Feeling your feet or sitting bones if you are sitting can become a practical tool to staying connected within yourself.
The third area of reflection for me was to witness the pause. The pause can sometimes mean the difference between wreckage and healing. Pause gives us time. Time gives us insight. Insight gives us freedom; and freedom brings the ability to choose a better way of being.
The pause will enable us the ability to witness during the conflict and offer tremendous support. Witnessing your intentions throughout the exchange will allow for reflection on your own needs for growth and transformation. Are you interested in greater understanding or a shift in perspective? Can you notice any feelings of wanting to win or be right? The pause enables us to check out any thoughts of judgment, agendas or biasing. These reactions might hinder deep listening, empathy or the ability to sleep at night.
The Ego mind will sometimes choose the path of least resistance and play the blame game. This is much easier than turning the light of awareness back to our own humanity and vulnerability. Looking at our own thoughts, sensations and feelings may require self-acceptance and maybe even forgiveness. As difficult as this route is, it is the only one that will cultivate vitality and inner peace. At the end of the day, we can tell ourselves lots of “stories” about the other person. The story that is most useful and true is the story that you tell yourself about you.
By Tina Vander Klok
At the threshold of each seasonal transition my kids and I plod down to the storage room and rummage through bins searching for a particular set of books. In June we dig for pages lined with sunshine and beaches, in September the topics we seek are school and apples and harvest. December we hunt snowflakes, christmas trees and colorful lights. And then comes March. March maybe holds the most anticipation. Christmas has it’s obvious excitement but March has a charm all its own - spring. For months we wait through ice and snow and all things winter. We enjoy the powder while longing for green. We cuddle up by fires, warm liquid tucked between our hands and soak up the short days and long rest. Then the month turns to three and we stretch out our limbs, open our hearts and turn to the sun. “Awake!” our bodies cry. Take a deep breath, get outside and take in the joy that brings us northerners to tears. And we do. When the thermometer hits fifty and the sun shines bright, we throw open our windows, tuck our boots away and slip into our shorts as quickly as possible fueled by a little fear that the warmth might not stay. We know better of course and yet we do it anyway. We breathe into the spaces that have been hunched over, tight and playing defense and we exhale deeply.
And then it’s spring.
Julie Fogliano may have coined it first. Maybe not. Either way And Then It’s Spring maintains its place at the top of the list as our favorite springtime book. It pulls at my heartstrings as it narrates so aptly our journey through spring. The hope, the worry [Will it ever come? Will it stay?], the preparation and finally the transformation. The more I ponder and observe the more I’m convinced that spring is a mirror for the journey that unfolds within us. We step out in faith that something will happen. We meditate, practice asana and pranayama, we eat well, learn and find our teachers. We spread seeds and hope for rain. It doesn’t look promising at first, bleak even, and our path may be filled with a mirage of change but we step anyway. We plant anyway. Fools play really. And then a hum awakens within us. The hum feeding something but we’re not quite sure what. We trust it’s important - a sign maybe or sweet song encouraging us to keep on. We do so with childlike glee. Even if it snows a little, we’ve built up enough momentum to get us through. Change pulses through our bodies and enlivens our minds. And still we wait, ears tuned and hearts ready.
This is spring. The push/pull, desperation and euphoria, beautiful anticipation of it all.
One of the things I find most helpful as the seasonal transition occurs is to stay grounded and balanced. Spring draws dormate energy up as seeds spring to life and thrust skyward seeking the sun. Branches transform from lifeless to budding and the wombs of creatures pulsate with expectancy. There’s a vibrancy and beat about spring. It’s easy to lose our feet and sail to space. Couple this with a body sloughing off hibernation and the heaviness of winter, we can quickly find ourselves congested, anxious, on edge. So we ground, we root and then we rise.
Below you’ll find a handful of practices to incorporate this spring. Based on Ayurveda or “the science of life”, these suggestions are built on an ancient tradition rather than the here today, gone tomorrow health culture we currently experience. My hope is they’ll help you set roots so your growth can be anchored, enduring and alive with pleasure.
May you stay firmly rooted as your inner child dances with excitement and radiates the promise of spring.
FIVE AYURVEDIC PRACTICES FOR SPRING
Dry brushing is exactly what it sounds like. Brushing your dry body. At first glance this may fall in the kooky category but it’s a simple practice with immediate gratification. Dry brushing helps to slough away dead skin while stimulating circulation and lymphatic movement. This practice is best integrated into your morning routine as it is invigorating by nature. I love dry brushing because it’s easy to incorporate, accessible and simple to do. For more information and detailed instructions visit Joyful Belly, My New Roots or Banyan Botanicals. Note: If you have a significant vata imbalance this practice may not be appropriate for you at this time. Skip ahead to the oil massage and enjoy that while working with your diet and, if possible, an Ayurvedic professional to restore harmony.
Abhyanga or Oil Massage
The word “massage” may be enough enticement to give this one a try. One of the most balancing and grounding practices Ayurveda has to offer, self-massage with oil truly connects you with the loving, nurturing one within. It’s benefits are many: imparts muscle tone, lubricates the joints, increases circulation, stimulates the internal organs, assists in detoxification, calms the nerves, deepens sleep and on and on. Sunflower oil is a fantastic choice for the spring season as it’s one of the more neutral oils. For instructions visit The Chopra Center or Banyan Botanicals.
Traditionally known as the season of Kapha, early greens tend to be astringent for a reason. Mucus has a way of building up over winter and spring invites a mass exodus of phlegm. If you’re no stranger to the springtime sniffles, nettle may be a buddy to invite over to play. Nettle aids in strengthening the nervous system, increases circulation, reduces inflammation and histamines, and increases ojas (put very simply, the essence of assimilation). Purusha Ayurveda has a lovely overview if you’d like to learn more. It’s worth noting that although nettle is beneficial for all three doshas, if taken in excess an imbalance in vata may occur.
Food & Water
Spring ushers in an overwhelming urge to purge. We clean our homes, clean our cars and look to switch up our diet. It’s tempting to hop on the pendulum and let it carry you away from the heavier foods of winter on to singing the salad balad. The thing about transitions is that they are just that - transitions. Moving from one extreme to other can be detrimental (think backbend to forward fold - ouch!). I’ve found the best foods for seasonal shifts are simple, easy to digest and relatively bland. Kichari/kitchari (traditional or soup), ghee, stewed fruit, seeds (pumpkin and sunflower), and cooked root veggies offer balanced nutrition without creating stress for your digestive system. Specifically in spring, the earth offers early growth like cilantro, stinging nettles, asparagus, ramps and leeks perfect for gently clearing out stagnant mucus. When choosing food think warm, light and easy to digest, just like the season itself.
And then there’s water. I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of drinking pure water. For a more in depth look at water check out Joyful Belly. Dr. Vasant Lad recommends Ayurvedic Gatorade to increase the proper absorption of the water we do drink. Spring may be a nice time to add a splash of apple or pomegranate juice to aid in the dispersal of excess mucous. I will also add that slightly warmed water is ideal. I keep a pump thermos on the counter filled with warm water so it’s on hand the whole day through.
Dr. Lad's Ayurvedic Gatorade
pinch of raw sugar, honey or maple syrup
pinch of salt
juice of one-half lime or seasonally appropriate juice (optional)
1 cup water
Mix the sweetener, salt and water together until well blended. Add the juice and mix again.
Bare your Feet
As soon as it’s warm enough, throw off your shoes, spread your toes, sink your heels into the earth and walk barefoot in the grass. Listing here all the benefits may be helpful but in my experience there’s no substitute for trying it yourself and letting your own participation speak. Walk slow, feel fully, breathe deeply.
Peace to you, peace to all.
By Jamie Koslowicz, RYT 500
For many of us, the new year is a time of reflection. We evaluate where we are and where we'd like to be. For many yogis, we begin to do this every time we step on the mat (do you see how powerful consistent practice would be!) and eventually this practice begins to happen off the mat, moment to moment and breath by breath. I have found two yogic concepts have been very helpful in the process of growth or transformation.
Abhyasa means consistent practice. The ability to keep going when it's hard or when things aren't going in the way we thought they would. The ability to jump right back on the bandwagon when we've fallen off. It's commitment to where we are going. Abhyasa is persistent effort that gives us lasting change.
To balance this effort, and equal in importance to abhyasa, is vairagya. Vairagya is the practice of non-attachment. It is the letting go of pain and pleasure that will no doubt lead our minds astray (if we are not aware of it). It's the ability to not be so attached to our path, that we get frustrated or angry when life doesn't go in the way we thought it would. It's the ability to let go of self-judgement when we haven't met our goals. It helps us to forgive "mistakes" or obstacles on our path. It allows us to go with the flow of human life.
Working in tandem the commitment (abhyasa)to our chosen path is what allows us to get there. The ability to let go of attachments(vairagya) allows for much less suffering on the journey.
By Dr. Kathryn “Kat” Kilpatrick
As the New Year unfolds it's a perfect time to bring awareness to becoming a better human being. One of the ways that can be done is by addressing the question “how do I want people to feel in my presence?”
The energy and emotion you bring to the room, your posture, your expression, the tone of your voice, all affect personal interactions. The more comfortable you are with yourself, the more comfortable people around you will be.
Looking closely at your breath and posture are two ways to improve the interactions you have with the people around you.
The relationship of breath to empowered emotions
Your breathing is directly related to your emotions and each emotion creates specific breathing patterns. By understanding this dynamic you can change your emotions by changing your pattern of breathing.
Picture your breathing the last time you really became upset. Your breath typically becomes shallow and choppy. If pain was involved there’s often a tendency to hold your breath or breath in gasps.
The breath patterns that occur with emotions typically take place unconsciously. By bringing awareness to your pattern of breathing, and intentionally changing the pattern, you acquire a tool for taking charge of emotions.
If you’re anxious about a meeting where it’s important to leave a good impression, look closely at how you’re breathing as you go into the meeting. The unconscious breathing pattern associated with anxiety can be thoughtfully replaced with the pattern associated with relaxation and you’ll find yourself feeling more empowered.
A relaxed pattern of breathing is slower and deeper than the pattern associated with anxiety. By consciously adopting a slow and deep breathing pattern your interaction will change and the impression you leave behind will be dramatically different from that associated with an anxious interaction.
The relationship of posture to empowered emotions
Just as your breathing pattern relates to your emotion, the same is true for your posture.
Take a moment to assume the posture of what you picture of someone who is depressed, shy and insecure. How do you feel when taking on that posture? Do you feel vibrant or depressed?
Now take a moment to stand in the Superman stance. When you stand tall, legs spread slightly apart, chest up, hands on hips, are you feeling empowered?
It all begins with awareness
Posture and breathing are two important principles in the practice of Yoga. Bringing awareness to your posture and breathing throughout the day can be powerful tools for creating personal change in the New Year
By Viki Distin
Owner, Cascade Yoga Studio
Recently I talked with a student who asked the question “How do we know we are on the right path?” He avidly meditates and his question was leading to specific experiences while meditating, but I answered in a different direction. The practice is a good one if we are responding differently to the world. If we are noticing less cravings (attachments) and aversions (avoiding), or appropriately reacting in relationships, then you know your compass is pointing north. So, we can judge our practice by the fruits of our practice.
This answer came to me from an unlikely source soon after I began yoga. I asked my pastor about my practice and if it was conflicting with my faith (this was 18 years ago and there were articles being published about the evils of yoga…). She replied that the best litmus test of any spiritual practice is to consider the fruits. If the practice is cultivating patience, kindness, self-control, courage, confidence or any number of positive qualities, then you can rest assured you are on the right path.
In yoga how do we bear these precious fruits? While the answer is a simple one, getting there is not easy. The definition of yoga is the ability to calm the mind. There are different schools of thought. Where some are in the camp of calming the mind, by directly working with the mind (meditation), other camps support stilling the breath (pranayama) as the means to calm the mind. While the means maybe different, the goal is still the same- a still mind.
The downside of mainstream yoga in the west is the dilution of the very practices which define it. Yoga which is only physical, cannot be called yoga, simply by the definition of it. If the practice does not have as its intention calming the mind, maybe it should be called something different, like sophisticated gymnastics or stretch and flex. But don’t call it yoga.
There are many valid reasons to begin a yoga practice. When I began practicing 2 decades ago, my goal was to feel better. I think the goals of feeling better (less stress, more energy, less pain, or more connection) are very common reasons to begin rolling out a mat. While personally I felt better right away, it was several years into my practice that I realized for long term health or the absence of dis-ease, it was going to take more than just the physical postures. Vibrant health is a tricky balance and for those of us lucky enough to practice, yoga is the best health insurance ever invented.
I get why students “preference” a practice which is athletic, fun and energetic - because it matches our world. One doesn’t need to look far to see how our culture is attached to adrenaline. A world, which is spinning faster, higher, more bold and overstated, is our new norm.
The problem with this new norm, however, lays in its inability to mitigate our stress levels, health or ease of living. The antidote to stress according to yoga is a practice which is slower, quieter, lower (grounding) and subtle. The speed is actually super-duper important. A fast practice could lead to momentum taking over, losing the core muscle engagement or becoming mechanical and just another place to check out. If a slower, quieter yoga practice sounds boring or unappealing, then perhaps the central nervous system is overstimulated. Baby stepping towards stillness maybe a remedial step, as long as the student is clear about their intention and keeps their compass pointed in the direction of calming the mind. If students continue to practice in a way which is exciting for the nervous system, they may never come to know the promises of yoga.
Yoga practiced in its entirety (philosophy, asana, pranayama, withdrawal from senses, concentration and mediation), will not mean perfection, actualization or enlightenment. Yoga will allow the student to become more conscious of their patterns or unskillful ways of being. It is the awareness of these patterns, which is the breeding ground for transformation. Some may feel initially like this is the “un-fun” part of yoga, but eventually self-awareness can be stimulating and inspire us to stay on the path.
While we may use our practice to hone skill in action, we can also use our practice to make space for living in the brutal truth of our humanity. No matter how dedicated or long term our yoga is, we will still be human. One of the best fruits we can nurture is the acceptance of our imperfections. It sounds counterintuitive, but yoga can both make us better people and allow ourselves the grace to fall short. As we become more accepting of ourselves, we become more accepting of others and their imperfections.
As students become savvy consumers of yoga and demanding more depth than McYoga (fast food yoga, not to be confused with the rapper…), my hope is they ask questions. “Do I feel energetic but calm?” “Am I moving more skillfully in the world?”, “Do I feel more connected to myself, others and the world?”, “Do I entrust myself?”, “Do I feel comfortable with silence and stillness?”, “Can I accept and even delight in my imperfections which make me unique?”
If the answer is yes, then you have a keeper.
By Viki Distin
Owner, Cascade Yoga Studio
“Wherever you are attached, there you will go.” Kirpal Singh
One of my dear friends is extremely devoted to her Lenten practice. Every year she puts serious consideration into what she will sacrifice or add to her life. One year she drank nothing but water; no caffeine, no pop, no alcohol. Over the years she has worked with many habits, lifestyles and longings in order to deepen her faith.
As yogi’s, a big part of our practice is the cultivation of letting go. In order to surrender parts of ourselves, which could be stunting our spiritual growth, it is necessary to investigate what we are attached to. In yogic philosophy non-attachment is one of the 5 Yama’s (restraints) called aparigraha, and it translates as non-possessiveness, or non-clinging. These attachments which bind us, could be material objects, experiences, excessive yin, excessive yang, agenda’s, roles, judgments, toxic thoughts, values, people, identifications, sensory stimulation, the stories we tell ourselves, expectations, emotions, food, work, alcohol, drugs…..the list is of course, endless.
Some claim that ashima or non-violence is the primary yama, while others make the case that cravings or attachments are at the root of all other yama’s. “ Rolf Sovik, PsyD, president of the Himalayan Institute in Buffalo, NY says, “Craving—imbalanced desire—is the great challenge in life. Its symptoms are the willingness to harm, to lie, to steal, to over-indulge, and to mistakenly possess. It is not that the Yama’s are commandments, but that they are clues to recognizing craving, as well as the antidote to it in its various forms. If I am lying, I must be attached to something. But what? And what will life be without that attachment?”
My father, who has a major in philosophy, went to great lengths to make sure that his children and grandchildren were grateful for their blessings and not become overly desirous of things. While the tactics may have been unorthodox and sometimes strange, his intentions were good. When my kids were little, he would take them to Toys-R-Us and march them up and down the aisles, just so that he could say “No, you can’t have that.” They left the store empty handed and my father “bequeathed” to his heirs, this little lesson of “non-attachment”.
Tias Little, yoga and meditation teacher from Santa Fe, speaks often of the attachments to moments. We preference certain moments over others. We desire the pleasant ones and avert the unpleasant ones. We tend to lose our anchoring to the present moment because we may be eager for the next one.
This disconnect could happen because something unpleasant may be arising in this moment and so we disassociate. The training of our yoga and sitting practice allows difficult emotions or thought patterns to arise and be ok with them. Rumi wrote that the wound is the place where light enters.
It is challenging when things from our personal history are unearthed, and the recognition that life is in a constant state of flux, can offer support. When we can deeply understand that change is occurring in our natural world as well as our interior landscape, then it becomes easier to loosen our grip on what will inherently ebb and flow.
We can take comfort that the “struggle” is simply a changing phenomenon, which will not last.
Turning our attention inward through meditation or a contemplative yoga practice will enable us to require fewer things from our external environment. Of course yoga, while super effective in this task, it is not the only method of inner work. That too could be an attachment. Dream work, counseling, fasting, journaling, rituals, or other means of self-awareness may also untangle our attachments. Initially, there may be some crusty bits to break through and if the means does not have this element, it is likely not deep enough to be effective or sustaining.
Eventually, we begin to sense the boundless riches, which can only be found inside. Carl Jung expresses this idea: “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” Connecting to ourselves with intimacy will start to fill our cup, so the pull of external needs will fade away.
As we become committed to this inner work, it is useful to remember that it is a lifetime journey. Little by little we chisel away at what doesn’t belong. Being compassionate with ourselves will go a long way. Rilke wrote: “Be patient with all that is unresolved within your heart. Try and love the questions themselves.”
In regards to our physiology, there are organs in the body for detoxing like skin and the liver. While yoga supports this detoxification process or “letting go of toxins”, as yogi’s, two physiologic functions are of particular interest; the exhalation phase of the breath and the health of the colon. There are numerous pranayama (breathing), practices to lengthen the exhalation and as yogi’s we do actually contemplate our bowel movements! But that is a whole other blog.
In our physical asana (postures) twists, forward folds and prostrations, will serve to promote letting go in the body. The quintessential practice of savasana is one of the best ways to practice surrender. In this posture of rest where we are not distracted by sound or movement, we can become aware of secret pockets of holding or tension within the body. At first it is helpful to think of the weight of the bones dropping into the earth. Over time you might feel like you are the earth, soft and receptive like soaking up a spring rain.
Many years ago during teacher training, there was a meditation teacher who shared a parable, which illustrates the beauty of letting go. The parable of the marble steps and the marble statue. One day, the marble steps said to the marble statue, “Life’s not fair. People walk and stomp on me all day long, while they come to admirer and worship you!” The marble statue said to the marble steps, “When the artist came to form us, you hardened and resisted so that all he could do was form you into steps. When the artist created me, I softened and allowed the creator to mold me into this magnificent statue.”
May we all use our yoga practice to learn the art of letting go, and be formed into our magnificent true selves.
By Viki Distin
Owner, Cascade Yoga Studio
This past holiday my nephew shared with me; "Aunt Viki, my fiancé has me doing yoga now. I am not good at it, but I feel great afterwards!" If I only had a nickel for every time someone told me that they can't practice yoga because they are not good at it.
So here is the real clincher... you can't be good at yoga. This concept of doing something without a reward, or accolades of any kind might not fit into any category, which we are familiar with. It might be one of the reasons why it is difficult for people to identify with.
Most of us have worked hard since the second grade reaching for that GPA, ACT, blue ribbon, title, trophy, attention, crossing the finish line, top of the mountain peak, financial compensation or any other external reinforcement. Goal setting or signing on for "my peak challenge," can be an excellent method for motivation and helpful for maintaining focus. But yoga doesn't fit into the genre of performance, and this is what makes it so healing, transformative and balancing the rest of our accomplishing lives.
This is not to demean students from working hard in yoga; in fact, it is mentioned in yogic texts. Tapas or effort is required in this practice but non-attachment to the end result is necessary. Tim Miller, who teaches a highly physical style of yoga (ashtanga), says the Western mind is attached to form over substance, substance being our essential nature. However, at the same time as yoga students, we can even become attached to the concept of enlightenment. Yoga is less about perfection or self-actualizing and more about self-acceptance.
A few months ago, my naturopathic doctor told me that he refers women to yoga because it is good for balancing their hormones. To which I responded,
"Dr. D., yoga is also good for men."
Dr. D.: "I have read studies that yoga creates anxiety for men."
Me: "I would assume that would have to do with performance anxiety of practicing in a room full of flexible women."
He smiled and acknowledged this as a certain possibility.
For those brave warrior souls who have ventured into a yoga studio, many report that after class they feel like they have just exercised, had a massage and visited their counselor. Yoga is an inside job, and we may not get the external applause for going to class. However, our insides will thank us eternally. The physical, mental, emotional, relational and the eventual health benefits are numerous and far reaching.
If there are students who feel like they are good at yoga, they have likely missed the point. While it might be motivating to keep working towards that crazy arm balance or nailing padmasana (lotus) in headstand, a yoga student could spend the rest of their lives chasing poses.
So how does one know if they are on the right path? Rather than a command performance, we work hard towards keeping our eyes on our own mats, becoming more aware of subtleties in our bodies, working with the alchemy of our breath, and noticing what is arising at this moment in regards to emotions, sensations and thoughts. If there were a goal in yoga, perhaps it would be to cultivate an unconditional presence. A willingness to be okay with whatever is going on at the present moment.
If these qualities are present in your practice, you are a master of yoga. Notice the feeling of liberation when you don't need an award to prove it... this is the real reward.
By Viki Distin
It was the year 2000 at the Midwest Yoga Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Only a few years into my yogic training, I had developed an affinity towards a strong physical practice. I signed up for workshops with Vinyasa and Ashtanga teachers like Tim Miller, Seane Corn, Jonny Kest and Shiva Rea, who all taught strong, physical classes. Following a workshop with Gary Kraftsow, I asked him and Rod Stryker, "wouldn't it be interesting to conduct research on how Yoga compares to other forms of exercise?"
Both their faces winced in a sweet, considerate way. They looked at each other and then me, responding "I think there might be more interesting topics to research." Later as I thought about their response, I told myself that what they were trying to say was, "Honey (a.k.a. yoga noob), there are so many 'other' aspects of Yoga besides the physical." It was then that I had the light-bulb moment that Yoga is much deeper and more remarkable than just a physical exercise.
This defining moment inspired me to study with teachers like Tias Little, and others who embodied the full practice and taught philosophy, anatomy, sound, alignment, wisdom training and subtle body anatomy. I was no longer interested in mainstream yoga but wanted more of what might be called traditional yoga.
An example of one of the "other" aspects of Yoga which I have discovered, and am passionate about sharing with students, is Pratyhara (or sense withdrawal). The fifth limb in Patanjalis' yoga sutras is about drawing the senses inward. We live in a world of overstimulation and often "max out" our sense organs. One way to promote Pratyhara during our asana practice might be to encourage students while in a difficult pose like utkatasana (chair pose) to soften their eyes or perhaps relax their jaw away from their ears. Keeping the muscles of the face soft during a difficult pose will encourage the inward attention and also train students to not overreact when the going gets tough.
It took many years of studying with sublime teachers and many hours on my own mat to figure out how to teach in a manner which was more than "just an amazing workout." Some tricks of the trade might include: slower pacing, silence, pausing, stillness and attention to sensations to help induce both clarity and peace of the body and mind.
Recently, a friend asked me what was the difference between fitness Yoga and traditional Yoga? I thought I could take this question in a lot of different directions, but decided to keep the answer short and simple.
"Fitness Yoga could be a good doorway in for a lot of people. I only hope they don't stay stuck in the doorway."
By Viki Distin
Although I posted this in the last major election, it seems pretty relevant for a year where we are in hot debate about the candidates.
Have no fear; there's no political agenda here. That's the point of this article--to free you of agendas and overreactions.
This freedom will help open new perspectives. Yoga can help keep hearts open, minds clear, and bodies free from unnecessary tension during the weeks of election stress.
Have you ever felt, while debating (or arguing over) politics with someone, your mouth becoming dry, hair standing on end, breath quickening, or a clenching of your jaw, belly or buttocks? What may be happening on the physiological level while those darts shoot from your eyes? You may be going into a "fight or flight" protective state, which can be brought on by your central nervous system’s instinctive reaction to perceived states of emergency.
What might your body be trying to protect you from, exactly? Psychologically, the thinking is that you are protecting your ego or sense of self. Your ego involves many things, including your values, beliefs, and opinions. In many cases you have spent a lifetime building this idea of your ‘ideal’ self as a result of your collective ego.
From a yogic point of view, there's no one true perspective. Every perspective is relative to others. It is not “un-yogic” to have an opinion or commitment, but it becomes a source of suffering when we attach to a particular agenda or attitude. It becomes a problem when we are certain that our position is the only “cool,” righteous and just viewpoint. This problem perpetuates itself when we try to recruit and convince people to be like us.
All our judgments, feelings and desires are mental formations developed by the many different aspects of our being, including conditioning. Because of this, we adopt a particular perspective. It's essential to remember that this perspective is limited and subject to change; and certainly in each electoral year!
The fact that things are in a constant state of flux is helpful to contemplate when we get stuck in our small and sometimes petty agendas. If we stay within the box of only what we know, we cling to patterns, which limit our full potential. We may never come to experience freedom.
Our craving for continuity causes the attachment to “the familiar.” We feel safe within the constraints of our self-constructed environments. We overly identify with both the external environment of our homes and jobs and the internal environment of our ideals and beliefs. This confinement removes us from the flow of life.
The practice of yoga enables us to build the stamina and courage to travel to uncertain territories. If we can learn from our yoga practice to step out of our cozy ideas of the known and open ourselves to new ways of being, then we can begin to be free. Through yoga postures, we are moving the body and mind in unique ways to create new neural pathways and offer new perspectives. Eventually we can become free of perspective. A good mantra to have is "All I know is that I do not know". It is healthy to question our ideologies and be willing to have it all wrong.
In the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election, notice if there is some heat or "charge" in your body and mind if and when you debate politics with others or consume a great deal of social media. If you can become a witness to this reaction, then you are beginning the journey of dismantling the conditioning or habitual patterns which may bind you. This requires some practice of course and some savvy to be able to watch the subtleties, which can be causing inhibiting attitudes. Sometimes the little judgments, criticisms or unkind thoughts are subtle but still do not serve us.
There are many ways to shift perspective in the short run. Go for a walk, read something inspirational, or talk to a friend. However, in the long run if we do not get to the root of these negative charges, then like weeds they will grow back. Yoga aims to get at the root by drawing awareness to the negative patterns and then applying the antidote by working deeply within the central nervous system.
We have the potential to be like a diamond which has many sides and therefore able to reflect a brilliant light. This bright light can be a beacon in the year of elections.
1) like, appreciate, or understand
2) discover information after a search or investigation
3) bring out something that is hidden or has been stored for a long time
4) extract from the ground by breaking up and moving earth
The name for this yoga blog was inspired by the Rainer Maria Rilke’s quote:
“Dig into yourself for a deep answer.”
We live in the age of information. We have answers everywhere from Wikipedia, Google, You-tube and Trip Advisor. But as Rilke advises we must "dig" into ourselves for the "deep" answer. We may have to unearth a lot of obstacles before we discover our truths. But as yogis, we make the U-turn of awareness from the outside world to the inside world of thoughts, emotions and digging up conditioned patterns.
Our intention for this blog, is to help students with this process. As yogi’s, we are like archaeologists excavating tension and holding patterns within the body/mind.
Sri Sri Shankar writes, “I tell you, deep inside you is a fountain of bliss, a fountain of joy. Deep inside your core is truth, light, love. There is no guilt, there is no fear there. Psychologists, or most people have never looked deep enough.”
Writings about asana (postures) will be rare, as there is much already written about that. We will explore concepts relating to the other limbs of yoga and other avenues to help students dig deep.