Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Short Time of Silence

I took this week off for my birthday (Monday was my birthday, 31!). Part of my week off extravaganza is a trip to NYC. My plan was to go with a few folks and take some classes at the Iyengar Center.

After some deep thinking, I decided to go alone and have some quiet time with myself. Ok, maybe NYC is not the most quiet place. Quiet can be found anywhere - or at least that is what I am trying over the next few days.

I am writing this post on the train. I have managed to make it through the first half of the day with only a few thank yous and an "I love you" to my partner. I have to say it feels sweet - a steady quiet, where the only words will be words of kindness (and my direct needs - food, class, bed).

I recently read another blog post about silent time with yourself. This is something that I have been working with over the past year and a half. At one point, quiet was very difficult for me.

A business trip to Boston helped me to realize my difficulty with quiet time. I decided to eat dinner by myself and read a book. It might sound funny, but it was so exhausting that I got back to my room and passed out. It was only 7 PM! I had never felt so spent.

Since then, I have tried to cut some noise out of my life. I now really enjoy my quiet time in the car - no radio, and a nice walk with the dog - no phone. Taking the time to reflect has been much more satisfying than the regular distractions.

I am excited to spend some time with me and keep it quiet.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Breathing through Padmasana

I was poking through Light on Yoga yesterday, when I stumbled upon Padmasana. I was a bit surprised that a large chunk of the description was about breathing. Few of the postures described in light on yoga discuss breathing - Iyengar leaves that for his Pranayama section at the end of the book (with a few exceptions, of course).

When describing Padmasana, Iyengar quotes the Hatha Yoga Pradipika - "fix the chin firmly upon the breast and contemplating upon Brahman, frequently contract the anus and raise the apana up; by similar contraction of the throat force the prana down. By this he obtains unequalled knowledge through the ascent of Kundalini (which is roused by this process)."

I figured since I was bringing attention back to my Pranayama practice (and since Iyengar thought it was so important to mention in the description of the asana), I would give it a shot. I decided to practice these suggestions for 10 minutes - 5 minutes on each side.

I was surprised how wonderful the experience was. Just like most experiences with Pranayama that I have, I didn't really feel the effects until I returned to normal breathing. When I took the normal breath break in between, I lifted my chin. I immediately wanted to drop my chin and close my eyes and start again. It felt like my chin was being pulled down!

After the second side, I felt an amazing sense of softness. Everything wanted to move in (like it was happening on its own). I thought I was imploding. The feeling of being pulled in was so overwhelming. I could not help but feel a warmth in my belly and chest - the experience brought me to tears. I am not necessarily seeking unequaled knowledge, like the Pradipika states, but I have a feeling that the knowledge has to be an awareness of the beauty in ourselves.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Breathing Below the Belt

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am returning to the roots of Pranayama - normal breath. This evening I began working with breathing below the waist. I read in light on Pranayama that light pressure on the belly on the inhale will help to extend the breath below the belly. So I decided to work with that.

I have a hard time with the belly. When I take an occasional Ashtanga class, I get called out on not having enough Uddiyana Bandha - or belly grip. Teachers always get on me for this! I have been working hard at it for some time.

So, in order to feel the breath moving below the belly, I put a bit of pressure on the belly with my hand. This pressure made it easy for the air to move below the belly. After practicing this way a few times. I tried without the hands with some difficulty. I repeated a few times with and without pressure and am beginning to access it.

I have to admit that I began getting the giggles at one point. It made me think of this web series I saw about a yoga therapist. She asked her client to breath into her vachakara. So funny - worth a quick viewing.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, September 14, 2012

What Does Prana Mean to Me?

The other day I was asked what prana meant to me. My mind went blank - what a complicated question. No matter what the answer is, it could never be complete. After I gave it some thought, I came up with an answer, well... two answers. Prana is life and the gateway to consciousness.

Prana can be translated as wind or air. In the body, that is translated to breath. And breath is the symbol of life. When a baby takes in their first breath, they enter into the world. And after they take their last breath, they leave it.We cannot live without air. Without air, the body would last minutes. It is the base function to life, setting in motion the other systems of the body - the fuel for the fire.

In addition, I consider prana to be the gateway to consciousness.

I have a story that helped me come to this conclusion:

I learned first hand that breath affects out thoughts, emotions, and even affects us physically.This came to me in a yoga asana class. I was struggling in class, realizing that I was almost to the point of physical exhaustion. This particular class had a student assisting as well as a teacher. The student walked up behind me, noting that I was clearly struggling. Not only was the class physically demanding, but I felt that I could not continue, and I was beginning to feel panic and fear. They gave me what I consider to be the best verbal assist I have ever gotten. They said, "pull energy from your breath."

My first reaction was, "yeah sure." But what did I have to loose? So I tried it. And, of course, it was a huge help. I began to deepen and slow my breath. My mind then focused on the breath, instead of the idea that I could not do it. Then I started to shake a bit less, which calmed my emotions a great deal, proving to me that I was not about to drop dead. My breath had calmed my thoughts and emotions and even made the pose physically easier. I realized later, that my body had gone into a subconcious reaction. I was having trouble, so my subconcious mind began to create a pattern - my breath sped up, which sped my heart rate, and made me think that my body was at the brink. Once my subconcious mind began affecting my concious mind, my emotions started to get involved., bringing me to a level of panic.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Pranayama, the control of breath, is referred to as a practice that "lifts the veil." In my opinion, that veil, or one of the veils, that it lifts is the veil separating consciousness, the subconcious, and unconciousness. One of our goals in yoga is to bring the subconcious into conciousness - and pranayama can do that. Breathing is the one body function that can be done uncounciously, subconciously, and conciously:

  • Unconsciously: We can breathe when unconcious. Without any thought, our body knows to breathe - automatically.
  • Subconsciously: Our subconcious reactions can create breath patterns - just like in my example earlier. My brain created a pattern, and when I got into that pose when I was tired, my body forced a faster breathing pattern.
  • Consciously: Try to stop breathing for a moment. Now start again. Speed up your breath. Shorten your breath. Deepen your breath. We have the power to do it all - to conciously control our breath.
No other body system can be operated in these three ways. For example - you can't just stop your hear beating. You can't stop hearing or seeing consciously. Or can we? Some of us have heard stories of yogis being able to slow their brain patterns and even slow their heartbeat close to a halt. How did they learn to do that? What gateway did they have to cross?

By an awareness of breath and control of breath, we can affect mood, emotion, and even physical reactions. Taking ownership of the breath in consciousness, begins to lift a veil that thins the lines of consciousness - bringing the subconscious into consciousness. The breath is really the body's most base function. It is the first domino to fall, which then activates other processes in the body. By bringing consciousness to this aspect of our being, we open the gate to a much deeper level of consciousness. This then provides us with the tools to access deeper levels of consciousness, the subconscious, and perhaps even the unconscious

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Yoga Weird - Empty Yourself Completely

Sadhana is a search for what to give up. Empty yourself completely
     - Nisargadatta Maharaj

I recently had a conversation with a colleague who felt that the separation of the mind and soul is frightfully scary. What then? What is left? One of the largest fears of humanity is that nothing exists after you die. Nothing but pure darkness and silence. How scary.

The same fears can be associated with what yoga is intended to do. The Yoga Sutras state that the goal of yoga is yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah, or "yoga is the stilling of the mind." Identification of the mind as the true self, or what we are, is often referred to as ignorance. So that leaves us with the soul (atman).

We think, react, act, and communicate using our minds. The minds are the exact opposite of silence. So why would one want to separate themselves from that? Why would people walk knowingly into that darkness? One of the scariest parts is being ok that there is silence there, quiet there, nothingness there. But, it is this silence, this nothingness that is true bliss itself.


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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Calm in the Midst of Terbulence

“The intent of asana is that you are calm in the midst of turbulence. The success…of your practice should be judged by how well you remain centered in the midst of change. Not your leg behind your head or handstand in the middle of the room. Success of asana is measured by how well you deal with the challenges of life.”

     - B.K.S. Iyengar

I recently began working with a group of students who are used to a different teaching style - as well as a different form of asana practice. Many of the students have come from a Vinyasa Flow background - one where they are not spending as much time with or in postures. This has opened their eyes up to a new insight on what yoga is or can be. With this change, some students seem to be rebelling, while others are thriving, becoming more interested and excited.

A few students have noted that this "new style" is much more intense. Many of them backing away from poses, claiming that they are too difficult. Many of them want to rush in and out of poses, not spending the time to feel the pose.

Over and over again, this quote from B.K.S. Iyengar has been coming to mind. Yoga is not just rushing through the familiar - moving through life in the same routine. Likewise, our practice should also be different - attempting to enter into poses in different ways, hold poses, feel poses, and try to find that calm. By doing so, we can then take those lessons into our lives outside of class. Learning to deal with the challenges of life, without the story, excuses, or victim stance.

For beginners, this is not easily accessible. As teachers, I feel it is our duty to keep things new - constantly bringing new challenges, or entering a familiar practice in a new way.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Deflating the Brain

I determined that the best place to start, in bringing a new focus back to my Pranayama practice, was with "normal breath." I will begin working with my normal breathing patterns and build on that.

I had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Carrie Owerko yesterday and she was having us all work with a breathing suggestion. She asked us to think of deflating the brain on every inhale. With that suggestion came the idea of inflating the chest - with an emphasis on expanding the ribs outward. So the deflation of the brain inflates the chest. Then with every exhale, softening the outer barrier of the skin.

I explored this suggestion throughout the workshop and revisited it this morning. This idea is such a simple one, but at the same time is very powerful. Deflating the brain, softening the face inward and inflating the chest does help to create a nice quiet mind. The attention shifts to the chest, bringing me away from my monkey brain thoughts for a moment. The exhale is equally beautiful, as it makes the body feel that much more expansive.

After some time the instructions start to disappear. The focus moves naturally to the chest. I tried to focus on the chest feeling almost liquid (as a futher instruction from Carrie suggested). This idea makes the chest feel less concrete - less hard. The chest then eventually can become even less of a focus. The barrier of the skin feels very thin or almost nonexistent, as though you and the world are one. I found myself feeling connected to outside noise - a car passing, a lawn mower, the dog, even just being part of the silence or white noise.

My mind did jump back to action occasionally, as minds do. Thinking of what I was feeling and why. I even found myself thinking that I needed to write this or that into my blog. I did my best to release thought and instead focus on the feeling. Each time starting over with the simple instruction of deflating the brain on the inhale and softening the outer barrier of the body on the exhale.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Coming Back to the Breath

I have made a decision. I will, from now on, dedicate more time to Pranayama. It is imperative for me to have a more regular breath practice, so I need to dedicate the time to it. My primary teacher has said in the past that the student should make Pranayama fascinating - be fascinated by it. So that is my intention. You will be seeing a lot of posts coming up - I am writing in an effort to make this practice even more fascinating to me, and hopefully inspire the same in you.

To start, I have a few points of inspiration.

First, there is a quote from the Chandogyopanisad that Iyengar quotes in Light on Pranayama that is incredibly beautiful to me. The quote is as follows:

"Even as the spokes are fastened to the hub, so on this life breath, all is fastened. Life moves with the life breath, which gives life to a living creature. Life breath is one's father,... one's mother,... one's brother, ...one's sister, and one's teacher,...the Brahman... Verily, he who sees this knows and understands this becomes the excellent speaker."

Second, when I saw Adyashanti in Boston, he was talking about labels. We are humans - and the air is the air. But when we inhale the breath actually becomes part of us. I love this thought - We are the air and the air is us. We fuse with it, it becomes part of us as we become part of it. 

That is how I would like to make my practice. I want the practice to be part of my life and my life part of the practice.