AngelRide a lesson in Seva

 

angelride-siteicon

I have been busy lately getting ready for AngelRide  https://www.angelride.org  – an organization that raises funds to support the Arthur C. Luf Burns Camp.  This camp is  the ONLY one for children with serious burn injuries in United States. The Arthur C. Luf Children’s Burn Camp is a safe, natural outdoor environment for kids ages 8 to 18 from around the world who have survived life-altering burn injuries and the opportunity to make memories that will sustain and inspire them through difficult times ahead.   It provides important life changing experience that allows serious burn injured kids to be kids – all free of charge to them and their families.  Kids come from around the country and even the world to have a life changing summer experience.   A large group of firemen form the core of the camp volunteers. Others, even some of the former campers, become counselors to pass down their experiences and inspiration to the next generation.   http://ctburnsfoundation.org/arthur-c-luf-childrens-burn-camp/

burn camp

There is a lot of work as you can imagine in planning and putting on an event of this size and the number as well as the energy and passion of the volunteers is amazing- I am glad to be a small part of it.  I volunteered to run the ‘SAG’ or support and gear group.  Our job is to travel the route encouraging the riders, as well providing any support we can such as directions, drinks, snacks, or a lift if in need.

 

The burn camp is a beautiful setting and I counted myself lucky to be a part of this.  The burn camp volunteers and counselors are just amazing people who dedicate so much to this important cause.

 

The Friday before the ride, a 70-mile bike ride by the way, is filled with getting the camp ready, bringing supplies to all the rest stops, as well as many other activities. Looking out over the camp lake, I thought now this would be a perfect location for a quick yoga practice before the activities start!

lake

 

So Friday night, I set my alarm and looked forward to doing an early yoga practice.  Unfortunately, by the time I got to the lake with my mat, I was running late.   I had to start the day’s planning and make sure everything was ready.  I felt disappointed.  “Rats, I am missing out” I thought “what a bummer” Then, I thought about those kids that were coming this summer and the hardships they face each and every day – how could I be thinking about me! I was a bit embarrassed. This day was really all about them, as well as giving the riders the best experience that they can have during their long ride.

 

In Sanskrit, there is a term Seva that means the act of selfless service. Seva is composed of two words saha “with that” and eva, which means “too”.  Together it has a meaning of compassion for others and to uplift others together.

 

If there was any time for seva this was it – a time to serve and not think about myself.  I put away my yoga mat and threw all I had into the service of the day.  The funny thing I realized is that I wasn’t alone – all the others involved in AngelRide were also performing seva. The many other volunteers and participants were all in this together.  The more I supported and cheered the riders, the more I enjoyed the experience together with my fellow volunteers and riders. By each doing our individual seva we were making something greater for the community.

bike rider

 

The ride was a great success and we were all happy to help this worthy cause.  I did my yoga practice that night and found myself more centered, more at ease in body and mind.  The gifts of seva are given to both the ones we give service to as well as to the ones doing the serving.  What a yogic lesson in life!

 

Happy Spring! Lunge Pose

lunge

 

Crescent Lunge or Alanasana pose

Note:  A good rule for doing yoga poses is that if it hurts, don’t do it.  Also, check with your doctor before starting any activity.

 

Crescent lunge increases strength and flexibility, while stabilizing the front and back of the body.  This pose uses your chest muscles, arms, shoulders, stomach, back muscles and even more! It is a great pose to start a yoga practice with.

 

For your Crescent Lunge or Alanasana pose start in downward dog.  If this is too difficult, you can also start in table pose.  On an in breath, lift your left leg up and step forward with your foot ending up between your hands.  Your knee should be as close to 90 degrees as you can.  Adjust your front foot.  Drop your right knee to the floor.  Press the top of your back foot into the ground or press the balls of the foot into the ground with the ankle raised.   Stay here or raise your hand skywards.  Tighten your stomach inwards and upwards.  Reach with your arms but notice if your shoulders start to rise upwards.  If your shoulders do rise up, encourage them to resettle on your back.

Without moving your legs, squeeze them toward each other – the left foot pulling backwards and the right foot pulling forward on the mat.

Your back foot should also feel energetic with a pressing action coming from the balls of your back foot if it is pressing into the floor.   If it is not, try it by coming onto the balls of your back foot.  Bring your hands to your hips and slowly rise on your back leg until you are in an upright position.  Feel your hips and ensure both the left and right hips are even – without either being forward of the other.  Bring some sensation into your mid body by tightening your stomach in and upwards.  Now, lift your hands to the sky and align the inside of your arms with your ears. If you want, you can clasp both hands together leaving the pointer fingers reaching upwards.  Pay attention to the back thigh and ensure that it is not drooping downwards.  There is enough going on here if it seems too much, drop the back knee to the ground.  Hold only as long as it feels good, then repeat on the other side.

 

Try a crescent lunge and tell me how it feels to you!

 

Competence and Consciousness

Noel Burch developed a model called the four stages of consciousness  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_stages_of_competence.

This model is used to explain how we learn a new skill.  According to the model we learn new skills and pass through these stages.  (Note:  We can use the term skill or competence below)

Stage 1  Unconsciouness incompetence – we don’t know that we don’t have a skill or even that we need to learn it.

Stage 2   Conscious incompetence – we are aware that we don’t have a skill and are bad at it.
Stage 3  Conscious competence – we know that we have a skill
Stage 4  Unconscious competence – we have a skill and we can do it without thinking.

ladder

You might be able to relate to  this model by how you started developing your yoga or meditation practice.  We all start by not even knowing that we need to do yoga or meditation.  We may then realize that we should do it but cannot.  Perhaps we go to a yoga studio and  started our journey feeling pretty badly about our abilities!  We kept at it and then, at least for a few  poses or perhaps a few moments, seem to magically be able to ‘get’ a yoga pose, flow, or still the mind.

But, is there something beyond this? Is there something beyond just developing the ability to do yoga in your sleep?   If you are going through the motions, yes you are doing the poses, or sitting on the meditation cushion and  yes,  you are meditating  but you may not be doing it mindfully.  We need to bring a focus and attention to our practice and what we are doing even if the physical body becomes very good at it.

In our meditation we start just by sitting, then, over time, as we become more comfortable, the mind stills, we bring a focus –  perhaps to the breath.  We learn to stay with the breath and watch with single pointedness.  Perhaps, for just a moment, perhaps for many moments.  We stay alert, not drifting, dozing, or following one thought to another until the bell rings and our time is up.

So the next time you are on your yoga mat and find yourself going from one pose to another, see if you can focus your attention on the action.  Bring mindfulness into your practice – then bring it to the rest of your life and whatever you are doing.

In every pose, repose

quote-relaxation-in-every-pose-there-should-be-repose-b-k-s-iyengar-93-73-95

 

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar(14 December 1918 – 20 August 2014), was one of the best yoga teachers we have seen in this world.  He opened up the world of yoga to many and his influence is felt strongly across the yoga community.  I have recently been rereading Light on Life  and, thought I would share with you some of Mr. Iyengar’s advice – obtained over many years from an active practice and teaching.

Balance activity with passivity

Some poses seem to be more energetic than others.  Resting in chair pose seems to be a contradiction – but can we become more passive and settled even in our most active poses?   Is there somewhere in your body that you can relax into even in your more strenuous poses?  Are you efforting too hard in an attempt to power into a pose?  Perhaps you are missing some of the juicy lessons by going so hard.  It may serve you better to approach in a more softer manner.  Bring inquiry to each and every pose you do.  Allow your mind to focus not so much on the efforting but more on the relaxing feelings in other parts of the body when you do the pose.  You may surprise yourself and find relaxation even when you are really struggling.

Pacing your yoga practice

Some of us are Type A – always going at max speed.  We are on all the time.  I like this poster below.  But does this advice best serve us in every activity?  Where can we slow down and enjoy when we do our yoga practice?

 

coffee

 

Bring balance to your whole yoga practice

Bring some balance to your practice by mixing up active poses with the passive ones.  Don’t think of the passive poses as just giving you a time to rest and relaxation- really explore what they are teaching.  Bring a sense of focus to your body no matter what you are doing.

Extending to relax

Bridge the gap between bringing effort in a pose and brining a feeling of surrender into the pose.  To stretch little deeper, go to the place where you feel a good stretch, not to the point of pain, and stay in the pose.  It may take some effort to allow you to stay this way. Take a deep breath in, exhale outwards, relax, and try stretching just a little deeper.

 

 

 

 

Living with our thoughts

thought by thought

 

It’s amazing what our minds can conjure up.  Our thoughts flit and wander from one to another, thinking back to a tender moment, then perhaps drawing out feelings of revenge, rage or anger, bounding to things real, imagined or events that happened or not.  Waking from a dream, feelings can arise leaving you in a state of panic thinking something happened to you that didn’t – it was just part of your dream thoughts.  The body reacts, and stress is induced.

 

I like this quote.  “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened. ‘ It is usually attributed to Mark Twain but this isn’t the case. No one really knows who actually said it.  After all, it sounds like something Mark Twain would say.   This attribution to Mark Twain is made up, not real, part of our group collective consciousness.  Part of our attempt to attach meanings to everything in the world.

 

In our day to day, we seem drawn to grab onto thoughts and let them take us wherever they may go.  The mind wanders again and again.  When the power of the present thought recedes, we take flight on another, then another.  The mind seems never to be still.  We worry when the mind goes off this way, sometimes willing our mind to return to the old thought and patterns of thinking.

 

This is where a meditation practice can help by embracing this property of jumping from thought to thought.  For this practice, we practice going for the ride, not trying to exert control.  By allowing our minds to go where they may, watching the thoughts in our minds come and recede, and practicing letting go of trying to hold onto them and attach meanings, we practice non-attachment.

It can help us reclaim a sense of calm when we realize we don’t have to control each and every thought that arises.  We don’t have to attach any importance to one thought over another.  Whenever a thought takes us on a flight of fancy, we just notice what the thought has become, notice that our mind has moved on, and focus on the new thought.  When we need to recenter ourselves, we return our attention to our breath, living in the experience of just breathing one breath at a time.  No judgment, no interpretation on what the last thought meant, even if it is from a dream, just let the mind be.

 

The next time you approach your meditation practice, try meditating in this way.  Stay open to whatever comes up.  Just notice.  Don’t label. You can focus your attention to the feelings that come up when you have a particular thought.  Don’t try to analyze, just observe, and when your mine wanders off, let it wander.  No control. Let go of the old thought and turn your attention to the new one.  You don’t have to feel bad that your mind has wandered, just let your awareness go to the next thought.  Breathe in. Breathe out.  Moment by moment let your mind focus on whatever comes up.