There is a little personal stumbling block in the Intermediate series and it just so happens that todays training session started with it. It is a series of poses were a lot of people come up against a lot of challenges. I have been doing this pose for a very long time and although I make progress I quickly digress and then I’m back to feeling like it will never happen and physically not feeling so great which makes it difficult to persevere. This in Tim’s words is something like not practicing with the appropriate amount of effort. Too much the wrong way causes pain in the physical body. For me it sort of is going back to down dog. Anyway not to get specific as it’s not that important. The best part is that my attitude is changing.
Today I assisted, practiced and then had the training. If it sounds like a long day, it is, and physically I did not think I could do another thing let alone a stumbling block asana. As we got closer to the end of the session with about an hour left I was sure we would not be doing another asana. Well I was hoping . . . however I was mistaken. In part of these hump poses in the intermediate series is something I have always struggled with and I never felt like I could move or make any progress. So a few people did a demo, we learned the proper vinyasa count and then he always asks for someone who may have challenges to come up and demonstrate. Keep in mind that everyone who gets up really does not look like they have much of an issue or any trouble at all to me. In any event I could learn something or help someone else so I am going to take that chance and go up to the front. Well I do it and get some feedback and move a little. I do it again with an instruction from Tim, move a little more. It was pretty bad and I have a lot of work but I learned something.
What I am learning is that we have to struggle to get to the other side. For some it will take longer than others. Even though I have been at this for a while there are other things that change and then some things stay the same be mostly the good things get better if you let it especially when you can approach things with a new set of eyes or feelers. I started to sort of give up and but with these new sensations and a new attitude I am looking forward to approaching it all on the mat tomorrow. Besides at the end of the session one of my fellow trainees thought that my approach was “cute”. Not a compliment but as Tim says when we go up to the front to demo, “We take one for the team”. Onwards . . .
When we started to talk about the heart chakra I knew I may get emotional. I was pretty sure it was going to get deep, intense and powerful. At this point with the practice I am open and ready and want to keep going deeper so come what may I’m listening. I came here to get direct knowledge from Tim Miller who every days comes to spend the day with us from 6 am to pretty much 6 pm and if he is teaching a class after our normal session then it’s till 7 or 7:30 pm. He puts in the hours with us and is showing a lot of love to us all. He’s so amazing at this and it all comes so natural to him. He temperament is calm, loving, patient and he is full of the knowledge and he shares stories with us openly holding nothing back it seems.
Tim enjoys discussing Vedic astrology with us and since Friday is linked with the planet Venus it is a day of Bhakti and Devotion. By now we know what this means as the harmonium is situated to be used so we are going to get to do some chanting together. The heart chakra is called the Anahata chakra and this means unstruck wheel. I looked this up to see if I could find a good translation of this and found it in a yoga journal article as follows, “unstruck or unhurt. Its name implies that deep beneath our personal stories of brokenness and the pain in our heart, wholeness, boundless love , and a wellspring of compassion reside.”
We had just come through a good hour going over kapotasana so we have all been tapping into this center. It was like we were so ripe for the discussion when we returned from a break. We all tried to open he heart. As we went on to discuss the heart charka as an energy body Tim said that although we would like to open the heart it cannot be done by force. So how does one open the heart? We all sat thinking and said things like grace, gratitude, devotion and compassion is what we are looking to cultivate deeply. Gratitude helps to develop grace and gratitude cultivates devotion. The chant we do everyday puts us in reminder of that.
Tim’s life must have gone in a whole new direction the day he found the practice or the practice found him. When he talks about Pattabhi Jois, his eyes are bright and full of love and full of gratitude. It’s amazing and beautiful to experience. He talks about the first days when his teachers in California told him that Guruji was coming for three months to teach that first time 1975. When I experience Tim’s teaching I fell like he is the embodiment of Guruji and the closest I can come to the source. What struck the heart chakra today was when Tim spoke of Guruji and how it was possible to do what he did for so long. He spoke of how he loved to teach the students and how teaching was what he lived for. It was when he could no longer teach that he could not last much longer in his body and passed. As Tim said, it’s that divine love and devotion that is the ojas (vigor or fluid of life) and the long burning fuel for the practice. Guruji’s devotion was the long burning fuel for practice.
Today started my first day of practice at the Ashtanga Yoga Center with Tim Miller. The morning actually started with a round of pranayama and we were given a choice to do it as they have been doing or an easier version of the sequence. Since many of us are guests for two weeks and we officially start our training at noon, we went with the standard, experienced, hard core version. It certainly is quite an experience to practice this with one of the masters of pranayama as Tim learned this from Guruji many years ago. I am over the fact that I could die holding my breath and have ways to take whatever breath I need to continue but it was really hard. I will pay attention these next days with Tim and this is something I am going to practice. Feels good, feels right and puts my body at ease.
Speaking of ease, I made a conscious decision that I was not going to hold myself so tight today and create more stress in my body. I was here to experience the teachings here and not to judge myself. These days it seems that every day I step on the mat I have some stress that does not seemed to be relieved by practice. I feel like I make it worse by stressing over the fact that I cannot relax certain areas of my body. I have rushed practices, early practices and then practices when I would rather be having a nice lunch or nap. Not easy with all this mind stuff going on, so these next two weeks I get to be a student and to focus on going within and to try to practice some yoga. How great is that? When I was at AYNY this past January, I said to Eddie that it is great to teach and to be sharing the teachings, great to practice but the best life is that of the student. He could not agree more.
I practiced primary series today and something happened. I relaxed, I breathed and I stayed with my drishti a lot of the time, (the guy doing third was pretty awesome to watch however). The room at AYC is really cool and we line up facing each other. The room is pretty with nice light and I felt comfortable there and at home strangely enough. Being a practitioner for a long time and knowing the proper vinyasa helps so much even though many practitioners are doing their research poses, I did not get distracted by it. Tim and Natasha work the room and true to form and like I always say you always, always get what you need in the Mysore room. Tim’s adjustment in a standing asana was well received and so right on and then Natasha’s adjustment in Marichasana C was again so much of what I needed. My breath was erratic in the twist and she helped me to calm the breath so that I could relax into the asana. She stayed with me for a while so I could feel the relaxing of my body in the asana and then she took me deeper.
Back bending being my obsession and even thought they are hard for me I have been enjoying the process. I did them in my normal fashion and then Tim came over after observing them, we did the drop backs. I paused and he said “to the head” and my head touched the mat. It was the easiest time I have every had with this and I stayed in my legs and on the final I danced my hands in and he sort of let me find the balance there. He helped me to find the space with his adjustment and when I came up I said, ” I see”.
The forward bend reminded of me when I cried some time ago but I did not this time. I thoroughly enjoyed Natasha’s massage like quality and I was very serene and calm. I finished and as I walked down the stairs to my car, I knew I was right were I was supposed to be. I am so very grateful for that and for feeling that every decision I made to come here, committing to this training was going with the flow of my life.
There are many qualified teachers in the Ashtanga system and I happened to find myself in the company of Boulder’s finest. Here is what the website says about them, “Located in the heart of downtown Boulder, the Yoga Workshop, which was established in 1987, is the one of the oldest and most well established Ashtanga yoga studios in the United States.” I also thought I saw something about it being unassuming and welcoming and so peaceful but perhaps that is my spin on it.
Being from the East Coast I certainly had to adapt. Anyone who has taken a class with Richard or studied with him can understand the concept. I tried to soften enough to fit in, slow it down, enjoy the time there and my practice. Although Richard was not present you could certainly feel his prescence. The first time I met Richard I was so excited to practice. Little did I know what I would be in for. On the first inhale I was out of breath long before him and I realized then that he would be different and that his focus was different. At the time, I did not have the patience nor the experience with the practice as I bring today. So looking back I have to laugh at my immature thoughts of what he was trying to teach us. I knew little of bandhas and breath in the beginning and had enough strength to “just do it” if you know what I mean.
Since my first meeting with Richard, I have attended workshops and classes and have worked to understand his teachings and methods. Putting them into practice is not easy. Things are different but things are the same. I know the sequence, I teach the sequence, I’m working on what I need to work on and meeting myself there. So in this room of practitioners who float, fly and bend (well some anyway), there are also those who are new to the practice, new to the system, stiff and unable to bind, bend or balance. They used the wall, props and had really little assistance to “get into” the asanas. They came to practice what they need to work on and seemed to be meeting themselves there.
I’m grateful to be able to find places to practice the method like the original in Boulder and to also be a holder of a space, a shala, a studio in Montclair, NJ where people can come and meet themselves on the mat and am honored to be holding the space for them to do just that. I love being a student of the system always and passing on the knowledge that I learn from being a student.
The hills and valleys of the practice. Do you know them? Can you sort of feel where you are? I remember when I was biking through the hills of Tuscany some time ago. It was a really cool trip and I there were these rides that we would set out to do everyday. We did not know the routes and they were different every day but you knew there would be hills to climb. I don’t want to get into that here but I was thinking about Ashtanga and the journey it takes, those hills and then being in the valley or just going straight and riding along sort of enjoying the scenery.
This Ashtanga journey, or lets say ride for fun, is different for everyone and then again there is a lot that we all can relate to. Right now for me practice is exciting. I figured out how to breathe better (thank you netti pot) and I feel ready. I feel ready to sort of see where it goes without expectation nor fear. You see I have these spots in the practice that I would like to gloss over and those spots I come up every day and I am trying to figure out how to get the fearing out of it. So attention to my breath and the asana that I am on, in other words, staying in the present, seems to be working for me. Oh yes and being mindful of my drishi and for me I have to M.Y.O.B This last thing is pretty helpful as well. These days I’m feeling an ease with the practice and a certain ease with the spots in the practice, those asanas, that I thought I could do without. They are becoming my sweet spots in practice, they are becoming my friend.
I know the valley very well too and the times when you are tired and you can’t breathe any better and you can’t do any better and you just want to feel better and more at ease with it, with practice, with life even. I’ve been frustrated, annoyed and angry with practice, with circumstances, with myself and others. It is not easy. It is not easy to stay with something and ride it out especially something that you could say I’ll do it tomorrow or maybe I just won’t even do this anymore and then the mind starts this justification process. The mind is pretty powerful and will convince you that what you are thinking is right! What’s is all for anyway? I am not going to go into the standard things we tell ourselves, that’s been written before and is nothing new. What I love about this and practice is that you can relate this to other things happening on your life journey.
I see people in the valley and I see people at the top and all in between. Just like life we have to ride this out. For me the answer is in getting on the mat and feel where you are, experience where you are and accept where you are, the circumstances . . . everything. Acceptance is the key as without this you cannot move beyond anything and that’s when we get stuck. So for now, know that for every uphill ride we make there is a downhill and go slowly on the downhill, pay attention and enjoy the ride for:
“Chi va piano va sano e va lontano” . . . (that’s italian for “one who goes slowly, goes healthy and surely over a long time” – anyway that’s my translation for it)
I’ve been feeling very grateful these days and I am starting to feel what it may mean to fully embrace Ashtanga yoga. For one thing it does not seem to be so easy, but surely this is worth every effort. I raised my kids while I tiptoed on the path, diving in at times and then feeling that I could only do what I could do, pulling back just enough to make it right. It was a delicate balance back then and this was before I knew about the layers I would start to peel away. What would it mean to “embrace Ashtanga”? To put it simply, it’s getting on the mat, doing your practice and letting go. It means learning very day when you are on the mat and off the mat. It means facing the difficulties in the practice in a way that this yoga is teaching me to do and then bringing it into your life.
These days I have become aware of what is possible with what I’ve got and to also find ways to change and grow. Embracing Ashtanga is to be patient with oneself, to be persistent in what you want to do, not be be hard on yourself and to bring your best self to the mat every day. It is a practice that does not lie to you and surely there are no shortcuts. There is a community that is more like family these days and a built in oneness among practioners.
Today I came up against what I could do and what I wanted to do. I worked very hard to stay in the present and stay with the breath. I would like to skip those things that are difficult and cause me to stumble. I also know that it is through the stumbling that I can continue to grow and continue to embrace the practice. I love the poses and there are days when I love going to the edge. It is that edge that can keep moving as you grow. It just does not stay the same and for that I am grateful. I faced something today in practice that is difficult to fully express into words. I stayed with it, faced the mind stuff and have a sense of coming right up it. I figure if I don’t go right up to it, I will never get through it and so I get to the edge, embrace the practice and its teachings and then life off the mat seems so much easier. This perhaps is the lesson.
When it comes to practice we have choices. We know the sequence; we know what we are setting out to do. We are teachers and we are students. We seek out other yoga practitioners and flock to a Mysore room to do our practice. We go across the country to practice for a weekend or go across the world to practice for a month. Who am I?
I’m an Ashtangi. When we enter a space to practice with a teacher or on my last experience a group of teachers and they happen to be the pioneers of the system you stand tall. You want to do your best and you want to practice with all the best intentions. You want to make every breath count, flow through the sequence, stay focused and tap in to the source. You have someone watching. You have teachers teaching. You have this talented group of lineage holders watching you to see how they can impart something of the teachings to you and have it touch you and have it make a difference.
Turns out we are human. When we are in the Mysore room we just want to do our best. Someone is watching, someone is there perhaps to help or to support us with our struggle. No one is there to do anything for you; instead they are supporting you in your personal endeavor to do the practice. There is a shared energy in these rooms that most of the time is very helpful with doing your own practice. It is just natural to bring everything you have to the practice in the Mysore room.
When we think about practice, it sometimes can be a big undertaking. It’s overwhelming on your own and the system has built in support around the world. Today I practiced, alone, and not even in my own home. I was glad to take practice and yet feel so much gratitude for the Mysore room that I call home at AYM and for the practitioners who share their energy and come to do their best no matter where in the world we gather.
Namaste to that and see you on the mat!
It is interesting to me to think how far I have come in the process of thinking positively and trusting in the universe. This is a practice in itself for sure and I thought this seems so simple but has to be shared. In reflection on my life, I have had a lot of fear and mostly the fear that I have felt and that continues to rise it’s ugly head (I know that’s a judgment) would always go back to my inability to control a situation or disappointment in an outcome not going my way. Mostly the fear and anger would come from not being able to control something or someone else.
Practice has been and continues to be a very useful tool for me. My abilities to let go and let God are practiced daily on my yoga mat. Bringing this into my daily life is something else. Here as well, it is interesting to see how far I have come. Recently I wanted to escape one part of my life that I have been doing for some time and wanted to have someone tell me that this was no longer serving me. Then it would be easy for me to justify this planned escape. But alas no one would go there, no one would back me up. These thoughts were mine and mine alone and I would have to work through whatever I had to work through on my own. My mind and me. The mind is so powerful and will really convince you of anything either negative or positive that you want to set out to do. The mind will tell you have you are happy, sad, angry, fearing and will convince you of your likes and dislikes. It has a preconceived notion of what is good or bad for you and what you can or cannot do. I’m taking about that monkey mind. I remember when I first heard that term and did not really grasp how or what monkeys and the mind have in common. I quickly figured it out and could picture what this terminology referred to and I started to experience this for sure. I pictured my thoughts hopping like a money from topic to topic never finishing what it set out to figure out. I understood the power of mind and why I needed my yoga practice and why it is necessary to be quiet so you can figure things out.
Since no one would give me license on the planned escape I secretly wanted to orchestrate, I recently decided to change my attitude and this goes back to my original concept of the power of positive thought. I practiced this from time to time for fun and sure enough if I thought negatively, then things just would be crappy and I would not feel at ease, feeling like I was swimming upstream or something. Fighting the current so to speak. With positive thoughts and positive energy around whatever I was doing or attempting to do, even if the outcome did not appear to produce, with positive thought I felt better and then I would figure that was the way of the universe and not something I could actually control. This came at a very good time before me and my minds sabotaged any of the gifts and benefits I was receiving. I thank my yoga practice, sitting in my attempt to meditate, reading and delving deeper so that I am able to hear, able to be present and able to swim with the current and trust, trust, trust . . . that I am right where I am supposed to be right now.
I was thinking the other day how we all just want to get it. Patience and grace are traits that sometimes do not come naturally to me personally and it is something that I observe in myself given the opportunity. For which, I might add, are many. Life has a way of testing us and testing our limits. Testing how we handle situations, circumstances and relationships and when we handle these things with patience and grace we sort of feel like we handled it well. When you catch yourself breathing through those certain situations that cause us to pause that is when the yoga is working in our life. We may even feel like we are evolving and give ourselves a pat on the back. So be it, it is well deserved.
The thing is, life is always changing. People around us change, circumstances change, weather changes and we grow, we age and we evolve. When I get on the mat, I know that all I can bring to my practice is what I have that day. No matter how much experience one has, it is the same thing. It is an evolution and every day we are learning more about ourselves and trying to find the peace within or just trying to get through. The thing is that you have to keep showing up for it and showing up for life. I mean you don’t say okay I get this life and now I can go on and do something else. You keep living right? You keep having these experiences, through the joys as well as dissappointments and just keep on keeping on to see what is on the other side. Yoga practice seems to be my metaphor for life.
I think that practice is about enjoying the evolution of the practice. In Ashtanga, there are obstacles that are put in front of us, just like the tree or the live wire you sometimes have to step around. You know that that tree that is blocking the road or the live wire will not always be there. I started yoga on this day some years back not knowing how taking that fork in the road would play out. I looked at it as a sign when the class started on a milestone birthday those years ago. I remember the blockages, wondering how I could achieve the asanas that were put in front of me or even how I could possibly keep showing up for this. I had my obstacles that’s for sure. It is interesting to look at the evolution and ponder the years passed but then feeling like it was only yesterday that I could not stand on my head. I keep showing up for practice and more importantly I keep showing up for life. I don’t feel like I have to get it in one practice or on one day but if I keep at it, all is coming and what more do I need.