Today is a day to say Thanks

I’m thinking about this freedom we have been able to experience in the west and offer so much gratitude to those who have fought for it. This year we also reflect and honor the healthcare professionals and essential workers who are enabling us to be safe in this current time of crisis. I feel the lift today and it even feels a little like a holiday, although I know that so much has changed. It’s so sad to think about loved ones lost and perhaps how things may have been handled differently. We keep fighting the fight against the unseen enemy.

I am thankful for being able to see my family, friends and students so often in a new way. We have gotten close and it’s the pulling together that makes this happen. Although everyone’s boat is different we continue to share compassion and love. We have to keep reminding ourselves that our perceptions will always be different and let’s agree that we will not always agree. I’m grateful for my teachers, for being able to share what I learn and for the opportunity to experience this life.

Currently I can be found on the AYM Zoom Room teaching. I am also studying yoga techniques, chanting with my teacher KIki as well as incorporating other movement modalities which I enjoy. I am embracing the opportunity to study, grow and evolve into the best version of myself, pick myself up when I am down and to be in continual acceptance of this life, one breathe at a time.

Home Practice-3/15 to 3/29

Ashtanga Yoga Montclair Shala at 127 Valley will be closed for the next two weeks starting Sunday March 15th. The students at AYM have a deeply rooted self-practice and I hope that you will continue to do what your practice calls you do to on a regular basis at home. My hopes are that you thoroughly enjoy your home practice and that we can come together again in two weeks. The Ashtanga method is in you and your journey will continue wherever you lay your mat down to take practice.

In the meantime, I will be teaching privately in my home Shala. I welcome any student who would like to schedule a private to reach out to me at ashtangayogamontclair@gmail.com for a time. I have some angels, AYM monthly members, who wish to keep their packages auto-renewing and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness, dedication and continuing to support a space for us to return to.

Practice to help with your stress levels and overall wellness in this unprecedented and challenging time. Practice to stay on the path to being more peaceful, compassionate and kind. Keep in touch with me via email, facebook and Instagram. Any questions and calls are welcome.

Wishing you good health,

Deb

The Healing

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When I returned from India in April of 2017 I slowly fell apart and I stopped writing. Truth is, I was falling apart for a while. Physically I was experiencing a tremendous amount of pain in my shoulders. Long story short, I could no longer hold my body weight and to top it off moving in my daily life got worse as time passed. My practice was failing me and I turned to Western Medicine and opinions. I was diagnosed with RA and an X-Ray showed severe arthritis in both shoulder joints. I continued to teach in the Mysore room, however adjustments that were standard were causing me pain. I had some assistants at the time so that was helpful as they could do what I would instruct them to do. I felt really old and the pain depleted me.

Flash forward to Feb 2018, I ditched the medications that shut my immune system down and sought a doctor that would work with me on my diet as well as the right combination of supplements and a body worker that convinced me it was all a postural misalignment. It took a while for me to even consider slowing down. He told me to stop. What he meant was to stop doing anything that caused any pain. I practiced Ashtanga’s greatest hits in a supported way staying close to the floor and modifying nearly everything. Just raising my arms for the first breath in the practice caused pain. Top teachers gave me wonderful suggestions however it took a lot of time for this to pass.

The turning point was Postural Alignment Therapy from the Egoscue method which my bodyworker recommended. We went over the exercises in the book called, Pain Free, and I agreed I would do them daily. I did them so that I could practice, so I could teach and so I could move in my life. In August of 2018 I went up to a specialist in the Egoscue method and we worked on a new menu which was an enhanced series of postural exercises geared to a hip pulling my shoulder forward. This is a simplified version of a condition that presented itself in my physical body. Muscles that were supposed to work to lift my arm sort of quit as I could not access them due to the pain.

Today I practice daily and it is good. It’s not perfect and I modify postures so my practice is always a healing one. I feel pain free in my daily life and for this I am relieved. It took an incredible amount of patience and working properly to start to feel better. I feel stronger and no longer feel depleted. Practice gives me energy and gives me strength. I still do the postural work which I love as it strenghtens areas that are weak. I approach practicing yoga for healing, for strength and for peace of mind. It’s important for me to move; to dance, to walk , to ride bikes, to swim and to practice. I am grateful for the healing and feel blessed to be walking on the path.

Coming home

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I want to be comfortable. That is a pretty broad statement to say the least. I want to feel comfortable in my skin, in my mind, in my body and soul. Comfortable with me and who I am or who I continue to evolve into being.  It seems that my identity is caught up with what I do instead of who I am inside. I’m a mom, a daughter, a sister, a studio owner, a yoga practiioner, a woman, a friend and the list goes on with the outside things that I identify myself with. All great things of course and I am super proud of what I have accomplished. I will continue to forge ahead with these goals I have, however being comforable has this level of acceptance to it. Living in acceptance for the good and the bad, for the happiness and the sadness, for what you recieve and what you give. How comfortable are we with living in accectance for what is?

Going to India and practicing Ashtanga yoga is not necessarity the way be be comfortable. There is a lot that goes on from the first day in the Shala to the last days. I have to say that coming to Mysore this time was like coming home for me as there is this big family of people going through similar expereinces.  From the beginner to the more advanced practitioner, everyone is in this transformational mode.  Every student is focused inside the Shala. I personally think I know what to expect although we work to teach ourselves to let go of these expections. When we let go of expectations is when the yoga can begin.  Whan we let go of expectations we allow ourselves to transform.  Part of this transformation for me is what I call coming home.  When we let go of expectations we allow ourselves to evolve and grow.

It was interesting as this last month I realized that my self imposed limitations were just that and in my mind. There was this level of consistency that I experienced in my practice. It had to do with the physical asana, having just the right assistance where I needed it as well as doing what was expected. Mentally I was pretty consistent, except for the day when…well that’s another story. In any event, I felt surrounded by a support system inside this practice space. One of the shifts that happened was that mentally I tried not to judge my practice or get disappointed if something did not go as I expected or would have liked it to go. I made a pact with my mind that I would try to accept what happens on the mat and leave it at that. The first month, some emotions came up which I label the struggle.  So many judgments as well as other emotions kept creeping into my mind as I practiced.

So here I am feeling comfortable, trusting in the assistance I recieve daily when I need it. I remember to embrace the built in tools of the method. I am ready to do my backbends seeing the person who has been helping me consistently nearby, pretty much at my mat.  It’s so hot so I’m working to improve my breath as it gets fast and choppy. I have some preconceived notions about what ending well means in my practice. I drop back, come up. She hasn’t moved as she is patient. She encourages me with her eyes. I drop back again, come up and Sharath is there. This is not the plan I had in my head. Most of the times, I am very comfortable being taught by the wonderful teachers in the room who he has as his assistants. I have to clear my mind again from these thoughts. He stepped in because he knew I was getting very comfortable. I quickly decide that it’s enough of this dropping back so I cross my arms in preparation for the final backbend. He is ready for me although he would have waited for me to drop again. I figure, why would I do that and I decide I’d rather not. This is all in the time it takes for nod my head, cross my arms and ready my breath. I go back and we catch from the air just as I have been doing. He moves my hand up a little. I work with him as sometimes I shake my head no with others. I’m looking at my nose, trying to breathe the best I can.  When I come up, I don’t grab him this time. I’m pleased but truthfully I’m more relieved and maybe even surprised.  I get adjusted in the forward fold. This all left an impression, because I did not think I had much to do with this. Turns out it’s me that I have to trust. I say that Sharath is shedding some light in many ways and that day working with my mind was what I needed. It’s not about the doing but it’s about where is your mind. Can you really be one pointed and focused? Can you go beyond a self impossed limitation and be at home? I have to leave this experience here for now. I’m ready to come home in more ways than one.

Joy in the Process

Most times the valuable lessons are the ones when we are struggling, persisting and have the patience to keep working at something to reach whatever goal we had in mind. Every one has something different even though we are all in the same class. This is how it works in all Mysore rooms. I’m in the KPJAYI University right now where everyone has a different project. All of us are studying Mind Control through the various sequences and postures that are part of our personal practice. We all come together in the Shala to do our daily Sadhana and we are taking part in this Sangha. It’s effective and keeps us on the right path to this journey that we have come across called Yoga.

The journey for me this far has been one of self-discovery and change. The first month here I took the time to settle into my routine, do my practice and to heal. Healing was not going to be automatic but persistence and patience is built into the method to aid in this process. The consistency with the practice was the first key to new discoveries. Getting up the same time each day, eating properly for the practice, getting proper sleep and treating yourself with loving kindness sets up the environment for the best possible outcome. My best possible outcome this time around is only to feel at home in my body and to have peace in my mind.

Each day is truly different in this practice. Weak, strong, flexible and stiff, this practice does not lie. It reveals the process if you let it and it asks you to be patient. Today I fell down … twice. In the falling we get back up and in the missteps we aim to get back on track. The first fall was in balancing, which was early in the practice and in a posture I have been doing for a long time. I noticed Sharath call out the drishti in led yesterday, so I was changing it up and trying it out. I NEVER usually fall here and looking back I feel lucky I did not hurt anyone. This is happening with the eyes of my teacher Sharath on me. I’m also positioned in the first row just two mats from the middle.

This whole process of practice is not an easy thing. The mind tells you that you can’t or asks you why you want to do this. I know that I am better all around if I take practice and move into the challenges that I face. Today I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to do my last posture at all or I thought I could do it but not give to much energy to it.   Remembering that the method has these built in tools to help us focus I persisted when my mind was telling me something else.   Once again more lessons from my morning practice. I fell again doing something else. In the end I was able to finish and do what my practice calls me to do. Falling became something not so big a deal at all only to take lessons from it.

For me a lot of what I learn on how to deal with difficulties and challenges comes up on that rectangular mat I spend nearly 2 hours of every day on. Living in India helps with that as well and the life experience here is transformative. My sons are very supportive of my personal yoga journey however get somewhat annoyed when I use the asana practice to explain to them about hard work and persistence so I am careful not to mention asana and I do a pretty good job dancing around the subject when I’m trying to relate a personal experience these days. Today as my youngest struggled with overdue assignments and classes that are great but really difficult, I thought about my last posture. I told him keep at it, just keep at it and don’t stop. You will get through this and you will be glad that you did. I told him he might have to struggle a little, ask for help when you need that hand moved and someone will be there to pick you up if you ask them. Otherwise pick yourself up and keep moving forward. He’s encouraged because like me we are doing and studying what we love. It’s not easy but there is joy in the process.

 

Life in the Pause   

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Card from my son Parker

I’ve been reflecting these days on how when we stop to enjoy how we are getting to where we are going, life happens. In other words when we stop rushing around to one thing or another and take a pause we can experience life in a whole new way. I come from a place of being busy. Then when I trained myself to look at my life as FULL, I felt a little better. I mean it sounded better, it sounded pretty productive, however I think it was the same. I looked at my life in terms of how much I could get done. I measured my self worth from that with not much time to pause.

These days in India are full of self-reflecting. I have goals. I want to finish that epic novel, study, learn and make progress in what I do. I keep myself as a student of yoga here. In the meantime, I think that the real joy is in the process and in the learning, in the connections and in the experience. In terms of measuring progress, well that’s sort of objective, meaning it is not always this linear line that goes up. There is progress in every way we may be moving as wisdom and learning is there.

This week was full of surprises, synchronicity and special moments. They weren’t planned events so to say and they fed me in so many ways bringing joy and a sense of feeling connected. They happened in between my breaths as I took a minute to pause. It was from meeting a new group at a café for breakfast, joining a group on a walk around the lake, lively discussions for a late dinner, seeing old friends in new places, rooftop gatherings, saying yes to an adventure, to following the cue and seeing where you end up, it has all been wonderful and relaxed.

I think about the practice of asana and what Sharath says about patience in the method. It’s about patience in the method and enjoying the journey, our own personal journeys with the practice, and our own personal journeys in this life. I notice and am more aware of the silence in between the breaths and know that therein lies this pause where a lot of what we are yearning for lies. It’s quiet and reflective and peaceful. It’s not scary there; it’s living and experiencing who we are in the pause.

Signed,

Grateful One

It’s All Going to be Okay

It’s 10 days that I’m here in India with lots of things settling in now. I came here for healing, to practice with Sharath and to settle my mind. I have persisted, been patient and worked hard not to judge. The biggest issue was judging myself and not being as compassionate as I could. I have a strong faith in this practice as a healing one. The warmth here feels good on my bones.

The first week is hard for everyone. There is excitement and a continual letting go of any expectations. We are human, we get excited and we are hopeful. We want things to go well and then we are reminded that we are not in control. We just have to do our best everyday. We aim to do our best preparations and move forward.

Registration is always very exciting and there are lots of discussions around start time. I’m comfortable, tell Sharath that I’m in for 3 months and my times are as good as they can get, meaning there shouldn’t be too much in the way of moving me in the time that I am here.   It’s very early and the discipline of the practice starts just after New Year’s Day with led primary.

The consistency with practice is the healer. Each day I have a routine, which includes coffee, a light drip of a hot shower and a yin like session before walking to the Shala. It’s a short walk and I take it briskly as there is a slight chill in the air. I usually bundle up, which feels good. You can’t be attached to anything when you enter that room. You are the “one more” and you go where he nods you to go. Short one, tall one … I’m medium, so today he said tall one and I went as there were only 5 of us waiting. I was the tallest in that bunch! Of course, he did not miss to mention, “You are tall one?” Whatever. I rolled out my mat and smiled inside.

As I explored my final pose and figured I’d learned enough to move on, I went on to back bending. Today with the added poses of intermediate, I question my energy and the quality of my breath. I push up for one and Sharath is standing there. He is busy telling things to others waiting but he’s still at the edge of my mat. Even though back bending is your time, you have to do it without delay, so I go up again and then I am up, all the time working hard not to feel rushed and I still have to drop back on my own. One back, two back and he’s ready for me. I want to be ready so I take some breaths and he nods. He drops me back and on the final one I touch and I walk, he says a little more and I go as I am reminded when I did not keep going and he motioned to me how close I was last year with his thumb and forefinger. I was disappointed then, as I had not trusted myself or could not find the little bit more. This time, I trust, I’m taking charge of that nasagri drishti and I walk and walk and touch my heels. both sides. He’s pleased. No mater what, I am doing the work and it’s all going to be okay.

These things get you thinking. This practice gets you feeling. How does it keep working for me year after year? We keep learning from our experiences and then we continue to learn to surrender with faith and trust. Yes, It’s going to be okay, cause it has to be no matter what. There are lessons in the method all the time. It’s really all going to be okay.

Guruji lives here

Guruji lives here
Guruji lives here

I remember the day in New York when I was in the led class with Guruji very clearly.  It was nearly 11 years ago. I had been practicing Ashtanga for a few years and I had recently come home from a business trip where I hurt my back and had to go to the ER to get my muscles to relax. I had an x-ray and was sent home with a prescription for Valium and Percocet. No diagnosis, just that my lumbar spine was pretty flat and what they did for me should relax the muscles that would not release. I was practicing in my hotel room and threw my back out when I mindlessly threw my legs up for headstand. It was very painful and I knew nothing of why this would happen or how to get back.  When I got back to my home studio I actually wrote my teacher and told him I was going to take some time off. Basically I was going to do restorative and spend my time, money and energy in restorative sessions with another master teacher.

I did not want to quit but I was in pain. My Ashtanga teacher at the time was pretty fixed on regular practice and that the practice can heal you. The way I understood what he told me was that my issues may be something with the emotional body and that I may be holding onto some past trauma. I was taught to trust in something bigger than myself and to respect the primary series.   I don’t think you can teach someone to have faith however my teacher who had a ton of faith in the practice, influenced me. He went onto explain to me that I needed to understand that it is a big practice and that I would have to ease back in slowly. This to me was not how I did things when I first started. I did not really know how to do things less than 100%. I had to learn and I continued.  Also practicing the led class in the city seemed like a big deal and although I was hesitant, I went.

Fast forward to today. As usual, I started my day in the Mysore room at AYM teaching. I dressed, but then I thought to myself, where is that shirt? Something was pulling me to find it. I dug around and found it. It’s a shirt that says, “Guruji lives here” across the chest.  Later in the day I was sitting in my car and saw Eagle’s post about Guruji and the dates. I did not know that today is the anniversary of Guruji’s passing and I looked down at my shirt and smiled.  Charles Secallus encouraged me to practice with Pattabhi in NYC those 11 years ago and I am forever grateful and feel blessed to have ventured on the path and to have had that opportunity to meet him. Since those days, I have met so many wonderful lineage holders of this tradition over the years and each one has left an impression on me that I carry in my heart. They say that all who practice this tradition carry Guruji in their heart. Practicing Ashtanga yoga is the tool that has helped me in the best and worst of times. Today I pause and am grateful to the practice, the way he taught it and all the seeds he planted who have turned into some pretty awesome teachers and lineage holders. Thank you Guruji for giving me my voice through all I have learned and continue to learn and a practice that will keep unfolding. Keep moving, keep breathing and do your practice. “Practice and all is coming”-Pattabhi Jois

A Breathing System

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I’ve been posting some new classes and after rereading I thought to myself how does anyone really now what I’m talking about?  I keep saying Mysore like everyone has this clear understanding. I use the word to describe something, a style of practice and if you practice in this method you understand what goes on in the Mysore room.  One way to learn about it is to observe a session or class however the best way is to participate.

The Mysore Room is the Yoga Room and the *Shala is the Yoga Studio.  Mysore is a city from which the practice originated and also where yogis in the Ashtanga method go to practice with their teacher. It’s a pilgrimage to the source.   A Mysore session is where you get to do a self paced practice.  That’s after you learn the sequence in the Mysore room under the guidance of your teacher. Your teacher also gives out the new poses and will let you know when it is time to add on to your practice. This applies to all levels of practitioners. There are hands on adjustments, verbal cues and lots of learning.  New sensations, sweat and sometimes the mind is on overload. Your practice is your own and you are instructed in the asana (poses).  The count sounds funny and instructions are brief.  Sanskrit is used for the names of the poses mostly.  For a first timer there are a lot of new things happening.  First timers get instructed, then they get to be independent, but they are not sure that they want to be. The mind is more active for someone new to the mat. Students are instructed to breathe, to let the thoughts go, come back to the breath some more and to come back to doing the vinyasa.  The vinyasa is the coordinated movement with the breath.  Last week someone asked me what I practiced and I said, “Ashtanga Yoga”. They remarked, “Oh is that the one with the breathing?”  I was pleased and replied, “yes, yes, it is.”  and continued to explain that she had given it a perfect description.

The Mysore room is also a place where the teacher can teach you in a semi private way.  The teachings are built off where you left off the last time you practiced at the Shala.  Many times we get in our own way and we opt out.  We leave too early, we try to do it on our own. We don’t trust that this method will work or that we will ever learn what to do. That it’s too hard. Yoga is not easy however in the Mysore method you only are instructed to do what you can do. There is support of the teacher, support of fellow practitioners and a shared energy that helps on the journey. Anyone can practice this Mysore method of Ashtanga Yoga . . . you just have to want to do it.

*Shala is a Sanskrit word meaning, “home, abode”. A Yoga Shala is a ‘place of yoga’. It is a gathering place for students of Traditional Yoga to practice, share, experience and grow.

What keeps you coming back to the mat?

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I have been thinking a lot about what keeps people coming back to the practice.   Truth be told, I have been thinking about why I continue to do so too.  What makes us continue with the things that we struggle with and how do we deal with the journey that is not always an easy one, be it mentally or physically.  I am reminded that this asana practice is a tool for me to stay balanced and let it be the hardest thing I do so that life off the mat is met with equanimity and joy.  When I looked for things to be easier, I was mistaken.  The effort keeps changing and the only limits are the self imposed limitations in my mind. Even with physical limitations practicing yoga is about settling the chitta and not how the asana turns out. The practice is our blueprint. I come back time and again to the dedication, determination, discipline and devotion that is required to us to have a long time journey with the Ashtanga practice which Sharath has spoken in conference time and again.  I also come back to the fact that I have faith in something bigger that myself and see the transformation effects of the practice in myself and others I teach.  There is trust and with trust there is love.  We need to take care of the temple.

I remember being at the juice bar and having conversations about this with people who have been exposed to the method, who say “oh yeah, I’ve done Ashtanga Yoga, but I do ______ now.”  (insert whatever you like here.) They wanted to know why I do it every day.  Instead of coming up with an explanation that would not be easily understood in a brief encounter, I said “It’s what I do.  I practice daily just like I brush my teeth.”  In reality I never understood why runners could run everyday without a big explanation but that I got on my mat and did my practice created a “WOW” effect only because it was a daily *sadhana.

*Sadhana means daily spiritual practice. It is the foundation of all spiritual endeavor. Sadhana is your personal, individual spiritual effort. It is the main tool you use to work on yourself to achieve the purpose of life.

There is certainly a honeymoon period with the practice that can be as little as a month to years.  So what happens after the honeymoon?  What happens when you feel something, a new sensation or even pain.  Do some people get bored and leave.  You blame it on the room, on the teachers who give too much attention or not enough.  I can seriously say that every day I learn something on the mat no matter where I am and no matter how much attention I get. It could be a simple shift in an emotion or thoughts that are easy to let go of or I can see what I am holding onto.    When people say that they don’t have time and have lots of excuses, my thoughts go to the fact that life somehow makes room for the practice if we want it to.

So herein lies the question to be answered in one or two sentences for inspiration. Please email to ashtangayogamontclair@gmail.com

What keeps you coming back to the mat?