Music! For your flow

Happy Sunday!

Here’s a flow mix that I love to use in my home practice and for my classes. I love this instrumental flow for its shape: starts gentle, like you’re entering a rainforest, builds up in intensity without being distracting (5 minute plank anyone?), and ends with a releasing and renewing background for savasana.  Music is important to me on and off the mat, and finding something that I connect with can be challenging! This one really hits the spot. If you’ve got a go-to song or mix for your practice, I’d love to hear it!

 

Art! A human botanical garden

Travis Bedel a.k.a. Bedelgeuse does some really cool collages combining human anatomy and flora/fauna taken right out of a botanical garden. These pieces, like the one he did above of the flowered lungs, gave me visual inspiration for yoga cues such as “taking a deep, fluid breath” and “breathing deeply, expanding the ribcage”.

We’ve been diligently coloring our anatomy lessons for teacher training, and it’s really given me appreciation of even the small things I do, like lifting a hot cup of tea to my lips, or swiveling around on both feet when I realize I went the wrong direction. Isn’t the human body amazing?

Enjoy!

————-

Image Credit: Travis Bedel

On balance (my no-asana sick yoga practice)

This has been an interesting week! I came down with the stomach flu last Tuesday and spent the week recovering from fever, stomach pains, and digestive issues. Ugh. Thankfully, my agni (fire of digestion/metabolism) is pretty much back to normal. Since my body was telling me to SLOW THE HELL DOWN, asana was not an option. But here’s how I did yoga anyway (without really knowing it):

I was out of balance

Boy was I.  My digestive system was definitely off balance, and so was my day to day life. Spent the first day in bed, angry at myself: “Why now?? Why did I get sick, when I’ve got x,y,z to do??” As if I had control over when or if I got sick. As if this was a terrible, terrible sickness (it was not — though it sure felt like it at the time). As if missing or postponing what I had to do was the end of the world. Hello asmita, my funny and contrary little ego! How much you’ve taught me by puffing up my own importance and bursting that bubble again and again.  But how is this yoga?

I was doing a balance pose! Like swaying in vrksasana (tree), wobbling in garudasana (eagle), or tumbling from ardha chandrasana B (half moon B),  I was off balance, and my mind and ego had some choice words to say about it.

I was meditating

Ok, this one I was aware of doing. I put on some guided meditation and did some reclined (OK, sweaty fetal position) meditation. Greeted my thoughts, tried to punch my ego to submission, fell asleep, woke up and took some Tylenol, tried meditating again with reduced fever/delirium, tried to punch my ego a little less, and phew, that’s enough for now.

Did I reach samadhi? No. Did I become aware of my thoughts and feelings about where I was? Absolutely.

I was building awareness

By watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, no less.  A show where the main characters are living unbalanced lives, with unchecked egos, while being blatantly unaware of all this.  How on earth is THAT yoga?

It helped me see my own ego. The over-the-top situations the gang get themselves into in the show often end up biting them in the ass, and hilariously so. It helped me realize how funny the ego is, the belief that you are separate and unique from everyone else. Seeing the humor in my own anger, misery, and self-centered thoughts, I was able to laugh and become more present, to be where I was.

All in all, it was a good week.  In our teacher training book club, we’re reading The Fire of Love by Aadil Palkhivala, and last week we discussed the chapter on Balance.  Aadil makes a great point about the appearance of balance vs true balance.  Though we’re often told there’s a right way to balance our lives — by eating right, exercising right, acting right, thinking right, feeling right, being right — the act of balancing isn’t static. In fact, sometimes it’s balancing to do something that may appear imbalanced to others. This week I lived that. I slept most of the day, didn’t eat much, watched tv, and didn’t leave the apartment. If I lived every week like that, I’d be in bad shape. But this week, it was just what I needed.

 

On dristi, the yoga gaze

This week in Teacher Training we discussed the meaning of dristi, or gazing point, in asana practice. It is the focus point for your eyes as you hold a pose which often helps continue the pose into the neck, an extension of your spine, and head.

But what is dristi, really?

Dristi is a Sanskrit word that can be translated to: attitude, vision, eyesight, opinion, wisdom, point of view, beholding

Ok. So clearly, it’s not just a place for your eyes to chill, glaze over, squint with effort, or what-have-you as you “breathe into the physical sensations” of your Virabhadrasana (Warrior) II.  Another clue that there’s more to it than meets the eye (pun intended!): the phrase divya dristi can be translated to “intuition”.

In my asana practice, I’ve found that the dristi is a connection of what’s going on inside me, physically-mentally-emotionally, to the outside world. It is the single point my eyes focus on, but also represents the one-pointed attention that I strive for in meditation, that true appreciation of “Aha! Here I am”; it is also the integration of all the different things I’m doing with my muscles/joints/bones; it is also the awareness of the thoughts I have when I’m in the pose (which can be inwards: man, this twist feels great on my spine! and outwards: wow, that guy really has this pose down!); it is, in some ways, how I see the world.

Ahh, perspective.

I think dristi can also change your perspective. For example, in Trikonasana (Triangle), gazing upwards towards your top fingertips creates an uplifting, rajasic energy, while gazing downwards toward your bottom fingertips creates a grounding, tamasic energy.  Have you ever been in a pose where your perspective was literally changed, such as Setu Bhandasana (Bridge) or Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel), and it changed how you saw or felt about something in your life? It can be a subtle transformation, but I’ve noticed that the more I practice yoga asanas, the more flexible and open my mind becomes, like thawing out your fingers after spending a cold winter day outside.

If asanas are not part of your practice, changing your surroundings by going outside and taking a walk, going for a drive, or taking a bus/train ride can clear your mind and change your perspective too. What I love about yoga is that you can take your practice anywhere, beyond the ebb and flow of your daily/weekly/monthly/annual yoga class. That is why Patanjali’s first Yoga Sutra speaks so clearly to me: atha yoga anushasanam, now is the time for yoga.

——–

Photo credit: Jamie Chiu

On letting go of thoughts

When I first began meditating, I tried very hard to empty my mind of thoughts. Because that was the point, right? Once your mind is truly empty, you reach samadhi and are free (whatever that means). But the more I tried to push out my thoughts, the harder they pushed back. Like Newton’s Third Law, each push at a thought led to an equal and opposite pushing back from the thought back into my mind. Then I realized something.

I was putting judgement on having thoughts running through my mind. Thoughts were bad, no thoughts were good.  I was very attached to the idea that I needed to achieve no-thought-ness, and the more I clung onto that idea, the further I was from making it a reality!

But I stuck with it.  Feeling like a single young sapling in a wide open field being whipped around by a storm passing through, I stuck with it. And with practice, time, and varying degrees of patience, I slowly started to let go of my thoughts. Instead of rigidly fighting the storm with my small branches, I relaxed and let the storm bend me instead of break me, knowing that storms come and go, and this one too shall pass.

Thoughts still come during each of my meditation practices. In fact, rarely do I feel a moment of true no-thought-ness. But now, I can let these thoughts go. Instead of seeing my mind as a bucket holding thoughts, I see it as a river, with thoughts flowing through it. When I become aware of a thought, I greet it “hey there, friend” and wave goodbye “see you next time”.

Whether or not you have a regular meditation practice, and even if you’ve never meditated, sitting down for a few minutes can open your eyes to how fluid and evolving your thoughts are.  And over time, you may recognize recurring thought patterns, samskaras, that show up again and again. That means you’re on the right track! Observe, and breathe. Thanks for showing up — see ya next time.