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.

 

 

 

 

 

Meditation Challenge

commit_to_sit

This month, I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge with a commitment to sit in meditation every day in February.  Last year over 23,000 joined following the program outlined in Real Happiness.  Each week, different meditation practices will be offered.  The commitment is small.  Each day takes less than ten minutes of time.  The first week will focus on a concentration practice.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and sharing my experiences. If you’ll be doing this challenge, let me know!

Registration is still open if you want to join us.  Have you ever done a meditation challenge before? If you have, I’d love to hear about it!  If you join,  I’d love to hear about that too!

Here is the link    Commit to Sit 

 

 

 

Alternate Nostril Breathing – Nadi Shodhana

alternate nostril breathing

 

Nadi is a Sanskrit word that means channel.  Shodhana means purification.   In the yogic tradition, Nadi Shodhana is thought to purify the subtle channels of the body. Alternative nostril breathing is a breathing technique that activates the parasympathetic nervous system to produce a sense of calmness.  Some studies have shown that Nadi Shodhana can reduce feelings of stress as well as fostering a feeling of well being.  It may also increase your ability to take fuller, and deeper breaths.  As with any breath technique, if this one causes you any discomfort, discontinue. There are plenty of other techniques out there.

Try alternate nostril breathing the next time you meditate. Start by sitting in a comfortable position.  Take your right hand, and fold the pointer and middle fingers into your palm.  Place your ring finger near your left nostril with your thumb near your right nostril.  By alternatively opening and closing your nostrils with your ring finger for the left nostril and your thumb for the right nostril you will be able to breath using just one nostril at a time.

Exhale.  Close your eyes, and use your thumb to close your right nostril. Start the first round by inhaling slowly from your left nostril.  Close your left nostril with your ring finger, and, at the same time, let your thumb come off of your right nostril allowing it to be open.  Slowly, exhale through your right nostril.  When your breath is completely empty, slowly inhale through the right nostril. Once your lungs are full, close off the right nostril and exhale through your left nostril until your breath completely empties.  Inhale again fully through your left nostril.  Repeat.

Try to complete ten to twenty breaths of alternate nostril breathing or more if you can.  If holding your arm in front of you becomes tiresome, hold the elbow of your right arm with your left palm for support.

 

Now, the Present Moment, and Mary Oliver – Part Two

In this blog pose, we continue exploring Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day.

Here are the final four lines:

 

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

 

These lines can bring up some distressing thoughts, confronting a harsh truth that most of us wish to ignore.  Life as we know it will end – perhaps even sooner then we wish.  When it does, the poem asks us to question ourselves – have I done everything I should have done or wanted to do?  Perhaps we have been pushing to the future something we have always been intending.  Perhaps we haven’t done all that we might have wished to?

 

But, to me, the last question of the poem offers hope.  Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?  What are you going to do NOW that you could,  should, or want to do?  What will you do with your own time?  Take a few moments of your precious time to do some introspection. It is a good, deep question to ponder on a cold winter night.

 

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What is it you want out of life?  Are you getting it now?  To me, this poem is a call to action.  It tells us to  focus on our own life’s plan, to live in the now, to take action in this current time, and to make a plan for our future, by figuring out what we really want out of life.  Then, attempt to do it.

 

Start now.  Create a plan as a guiding arrow for your life’s direction, but, always, live in the present.  It is ok to change your plan, (for after all it is only a plan), but if you do, do it freely, and eagerly, and follow your new path with equal zeal and vigor. 

 

The last five words of the poem are the heart of the matter – your wild and precious life.  Your life is indeed precious, your life wondrous and maybe a bit wild!

 

Don’t let these special and precious moments escape you without noticing them anymore.  Make a plan to set a direction for your own path.

 

Use the insights to keep you focused in your yoga and meditation practices.  Savor each and every time you step on your mat.  Take these thoughts into your life off of the mat as well.  Set a direction for what you want to do, yet, live in the present moment.  Follow your arrow, but maintain awareness with each breath and with everything that you do.  Create your sense of purpose, keeping alive a sense of wonder as you live and explore the world with your one wild and precious life!

 

Remembering Mary Oliver

 

remembering mary oliver

 

 

A Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Now, the Present Moment, and Mary Oliver – Part One

Mary Oliver, a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, has died at the age of 83.  What she left behind is a treasure trove of poetry that brought forth feelings and deeper meanings in the natural world and beyond.  She has been compared to having the vision of Ralph Waldo Emerson and according to Bruce Bennett her award-winning book American Primitive has the “primacy of the primitive”  (July 17, 1983 New York Times).   She could often be found walking the lands of Cape Cod which holds a special place in my heart.

 

One special quality of her poems is the feeling of ‘nowness’ – being in the present moment and a sense of wonder.

 

Read the beginning her poem called A Summer Day.

 

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean-

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

 

 

The questioning attitude of the poet, that feeling of being a witness and part of an experience happening in just this present moment, now and at no other time, the joy of witnessing  – just a small wonder. All this shines through clearly in her poetry.  We seem to take for granted the little things that make up our lives passing though the world without really noticing.   Mary Oliver reminds us just how special our world really is.

 

 

photo by dan dvorscak

(photo by Dan Dvorscak)

 

In Sanskrit rasa( रस)  means the tastes of life.  It can be something you see, a beautiful flower that takes your breath away; something you hear, possibly music; or even something you read, perhaps this poem. Whatever it is, it evokes such sensations that we pause and notice.  These sensations are generally hard for most of us to put into words.

 

But, you are part of the process that creates these feelings of rasa.  The rasa does not exist by itself.  It is neither in the object nor just inside you.  The experience needs both the object and the observer.  The feeling is intertwined, formed by the relationship between the seer and the object. Or perhaps, think of rasa as a flavor.  The flavor comes from your taste buds interacting with the food you are eating.  You and the food become as one in the experience of tasting.   Without either the food or you there is no taste.

 

 

Wonder, Yoga, and Meditation

 

The rasa term for wonder is adbhuta.  It is that feeling of being surprised, being filled with a sense of admiration, amazement, or even awe at something beautiful or remarkable.  Wonder is also be experienced by looking at something in a new light.

 

Let’s take this attitude of wonder into our yoga and meditation practices.  The next time you take a yoga class, sit for a few moments before beginning your practice.  Focus on the wonder in your amazing body that allows you to do these poses we call yoga.  Feel the sensations that come up when doing each pose.  Right now, marvel at the feelings and sensations that are arising.  Don’t try to imagine what the pose felt like the first time or the last time you did them, rather experience the poses as if you are doing them for the very first time.  If a sensation or movement brings a strong sense of wonder to you, stay with it.  Perhaps hold the pose a little longer than the rest of the class is.  After all, it’s really your yoga class! Your experience is neither in the teacher nor the other students. This adbhuta that you are feeling arises from your explorations with the world.

 

In your next meditation practice, bring something to mind that is truly marvelous – wonderful, delightful, full of awe.  If nothing comes to mind, use the grasshopper experience from Mary Oliver’s poem.  Imagine a grasshopper sitting in your hand eating some sugar.  Imagine what its head looks like. Imaging what the eye of a grasshopper sees and how the world looks from its perspective.  Imagine the wonder of seeing the grasshopper as it takes to the air and flies.

 

grasshopper

 

Take this sense of wonder and experience of mystery of the small things off your mat and into the rest of your life.