Thursday, October 11, 2012

Circular Breathing

I have been taking a new class and this new experience has taught me a few things about myself. Although I have allowed myself to calm down a bit, it is usually on my own terms. Learning to be comfortable, calm, and relaxed in new situations feels like a new test, one that I am embracing wholeheartedly. The first big test for me is what the teacher calls circular breathing. This is basically breathing normally, but taking out the natural short pauses after the inhale and after the exhale. So the practitioner is always either inhaling or exhaling - no breaks.

At first, this breathing technique made me a bit panicky. I always dive deeply into the pause, finding comfort and quiet in the pause. I don't necessarily hold the pause for any longer, but I like the silence and quiet that comes in the pause. (try it sometime!!) So when the teacher said that this type of breath was relaxing, I was shocked. Relaxing? I feel panicked!

Then I asked myself, "is the technique making me panic, or am I making me panic?" That is when a door opened up. I started to observe myself. What was causing these emotions? Is there something I am doing that is making me feel this way? Is there something else going on?

Well, after some observation, I realized what I was looking for. Because I took out the pause after the inhale, I was rushing to get to the exhale, causing me to speed up the exhale. And also speeding up the inhale after my exhale. My heart was then beating a bit faster, making my body curious about what was going on. My breath was making my subconscious think there was something wrong. It went into panic on its own - as it traditionally would in such a situation.

It just goes to show that Pranayama is a very conscious practice. We have to always ask questions of our self - pinpoint what we are feeling and why. And also allow ourselves to stay with that feeling to understand what and why. My first response was to blame and judge the technique, when in fact it was me that I needed to look at.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Getting Older

So I just celebrated a birthday. This birthday does not end in a "0" or a "5". For this reason, I found myself saying, "this is not a major mile stone." "It is not a big deal." And even though it was not "a big deal," I found myself sort of down about it. It feels like a big deal. I am another 365 days older. After some investigation, I think I am ready to move on and feel good about this change in my life.

I have determined that every year is a major milestone. Last year, I celebrated my 30th birthday. A big year, a special year. But what makes 30 more special than 31?! Every year we have is special, every day we have is special. And every year, day, and moment should be treated as such.

What smacked me into reality was a short discussion I had with an older man. He asked me how old I was. I didn't realize, until after I said it, that I sort of grumbled my way through the statement of my age. As though 31 was a death sentence. He then told me that if I was feeling old now - wait until I feel what 70 feels like.

I said, "I am looking forward to it." And I am. Not because I don't have a choice (I obviously can't look back at it), but because I wonder what I will be like. What will happen to me in the next 39 years - what will shape who I become. I have many new moments ahead of me. I might as well enjoy them, be ok with them, be sad about some, be happy with some, and be overjoyed by some as they come.

What does all of this have to do with yoga? Well, I feel like I reached a crossroad. I crossed a certain line in my life. I found myself clinging to that line, not ready to cross it. Clinging to something: my age, my past... It made me think of the Kleshas - specifically abhiniveśāḥ (fear of death or clinging to life). I have been so down about getting older - is this a fear of death? Of getting older? Am I ignorantly holding onto my life?

This has made me start to think about the way I am spending it. It is time to take things slower - and do more things for me, my spiritual life, and practice. Be with my moment now.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Coming Out of Stagnation

Because of traffic this evening, I could not attend a regular class I like to attend. So, I decided to attend a class at a studio that is closer to home. I have been meaning to try this studio for a long time. I could not make it to the basic class, but there was an advanced class afterward. I had this feeling that the instructor would not be excited about a new student taking an advanced class - and I was right. The teacher did not want me in that class, but pulled me into the end of the basic class. I was so glad that he did.

Immediately, the teacher began to call me out on my little habits. Press down the back heel, activate the side of the foot, extend fully. Funny enough, that 20 minutes really woke me up. I got back home and jumped right into my normal practice, moving quickly in and out of poses. Then it struck me - I am doing it again! I was not even working with the corrections I had just gotten.

Then there was the wake up - take some time with it. Feel it. Sure enough, feeling the poses, taking time, and really trying to fully activate my legs and arms, extending, etc, fully woke me up. I have unconsciously let go of feeling in the poses - really feeling the extension and the full amount of sensation - I have been backing away. I tell my students not to do that all of the time!! What an incredible wake up call. Wow!

The poses in full extension not only provided feeling in the pose, but I walked away from the mat with a much broader open outlook. I was excited to do things, get active, and do some things on my list that I have been putting off. I say in my classes that what we learn on the matt we can take to our life off of the mat. I am glad I got the chance to see it again.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Back to Work - What I Learned While I Was Away

So, I just returned from my vacation -  a week away from my full time job. I feel truly blessed to have had the experiences I had. I caught up with old friends, tried new things in my yoga teaching (I still did that on my "week off"), made some important life decisions, and got some much needed rest. One of the best things that came out of my week is a renewed interest in my Pranayama practice.

What stirred this new interest was my two days in New York City. I attended 4 classes at the Iyengar institute. This was week four of the month, so all of the classes I attended were restorative/pranayama classes. What I really enjoyed about these classes was the level of exploration and curiosity that the teachers brought to pranayama. Looking at breath in all of the poses, the feelings, sensations, and overall interest and focus they brought inspired me as a practitioner and teacher. I am realizing (again), that even though I have been practicing for some time, I need to look at my practice as a beginner again. Go back to examining my practice with a beginner's mind. Everything should be new each time, entering the pose with new examination and thought.

It is this type of exploration that will benefit my students when they attend my classes.