Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Building a Routine

February 27
The Meditation from the Mat messages today (I’m reading several at a time since it’s a library book and has to go back) have to do with not being too harsh with one’s self and not racing and running through yoga as one would a regular “sport.” If I find myself unable to achieve a posture or the deepness of one – or a state of mind that I feel I ought to be able to – my training has been like most Judeo-Christians, to feel shame and then to be angry with myself. These entries are teaching and remind me that it is not the yoga way. We should observe what happens, and let emotions swirl away. Boredom, frustration? They arise and pass away. If an asana or the pace is difficult . . . rest. In child pose or rest in the posture.
Then there were a couple about how most come to yoga through an exercise-type class, but find themselves hungry for more. They suggest the “more” is the yamas and niyamas. Which at first I suppose it is. How doing the physical, the asanas every day without the yamas and niyamas is like rowing your boat madly all night only to find in the morning you are still tied to the dock.

February 28
I had a long yoga session yesterday. 40 minutes or so. Some parts felt better than others. I still felt jerky and like I wasn’t sure how I should be moving from one to the other. That – how to get from one asana to the next when you haven’t worked up to the full Rishikesh sequence – and how to breathe – when inhale, when exhale – are two weaknesses of the text. I think I remember that in general one exhales as one enganges in movements that bring limbs closer to the trunk and when lifting, and inhale on the reverse. Maybe I can find a reference in the others, or maybe Van Lysebeth says in a general comment somewhere. He doesn’t include it as a part of each asana’s instructions, which I’d prefer. Before I begin today, I’m going to review all the directions for all four of the ones I’m doing, and maybe also the Locust and the first 3 parts of the Sun Salutation.
I realize I’m already spending 40 minutes, but I don’t have to spend as long in each posture or do all of them every day. It shouldn’t take me as long to get my breathing under control and get relaxed before I start as I get better, either.

March 1
[Pelvic pain had been getting increasingly worse; almost went to emergency room night before, resolved to make appt with ob/gyn today. Journal entries much taken up with whether or not to make appt for couple weeks now]

One of the Meditations from the Mat readings is about pride. It is amazing to me how much pride can still be a factor even when I am practicing in a room by myself where no one can see me. No one is going to laugh if I look ridiculous or struggle with something that “should” be easy. No one will ever know how long it takes me to master certain things nor how many mistakes I make along the way. Likewise, there is no one to congratulate me or stroke my ego for doing something well or learning fast. Yet I can’t seem to stop keeping “score” in my head, imaging an audience, imagining what Jim will say when he sees what I can do eventually. Fantasies develop around the first time I get to attend a class with others . . . how they’ll be amazed by my knowledge and stillness and form and grace . . .!!! And then I remember that I won’t know any, or few, of the asanas they do, nor how to move between them. Probably I will breathe wrong, and may have developed all sorts of bad habits. So the fantasy turns nightmarish, with everyone laughing at me, only they are too evolved to laugh – they just feel pity and compassion for poor little me who needs so much correction.
All of this in split seconds, then I realize – “What am I doing? What is the purpose of this again? To impress people when I visit an ashram some far away day? Or a random person who peeps over the fence some summer day? To wow Jim with my new flexibility?” But Pride has long been my enemy, my foe. And spiritual pride is the most insidious. It sneaks up on me in so many guises. Satya – honesty – is the way to combat it. I think to acknowledge that yes, there are parts of me that would like to show off how well they have mastered the asanas is helpful. Especially when I remind those parts that the honest truth is we need a lotof work to deserve the praise of others. We are in this for many reasons: the pursuit of ultimate liberation, health here in this life, increased widom, patience and compassion, better digestion – LOTS of reasons! If the ego’s drive for recognition helps get us through the hard parts, I guess it isn’t such a bad thing. It just can’t be allowed to rule the castle.
Hmmm. What a concept! Observing what is, in oneself, and accepting it! Not slating parts for immediate or eventual demoliton. This is kinda new.
Another reading (several actually) discusses the riches that come from small changes in our daily lives, the “doing the next right thing.” He talks about correcting his flat feet by learning to lift his arches in yoga. But it took a teacher. We can only see so much about ourselves; at some point one needs a teacher with more knowledge and wisdom who can see what you can’t. The Upanishads and Patanjali say if you do the work to get ready, when you are ready the right teacher will appear. But they were written in the social context of India, where there were teachers everywhere. What are my chances here? My only option is to trust their wisdom. Do all the preliminary work. Get as ready as I possibly can, go as far as possible on my own, and see what happens. I can always drop in at the downtown center, too, to see what it is like. I shouldn’t reject it without every visiting.
The third yama is asteya, non-stealing. What are all the ways I steal without thinking about it? Borrowed books unreturned? Work time in which I am unproductive? I think I make up for that in spades. “When we look honestly at the ways in which we’ve been stealing, we come to understand that in each instance, there is an attachment to a specific result that overrides our deeper values.” P.42 “Beneath the attachment we find fear.”
He provides a sutra that speaks to that fear: “When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come.” Yoga Sutra If he’s right, which he surely is, all we have to do is trust. Trust that the Universe will take care of us, will provide what we need and what will give us deep pleasure. If you really, really believe this, there is no need to steal anything from anyone. Not time, food, money, a kiss, a compliment . . . you can just relax into the faith that whatever it is that you need is on its way to you.

March 2
My yoga practice really is taking 40-45 minutes every day and leaves me in a great state of mind to meditate. I guess I need to get up even earlier or something so I can add 30 minutes, or at least 15, of that to my routine. I have to begin making some kind progress on knowing my Self. I feel panicky about it, as if I’m racing the clock, which surely isn’t the right frame of mind in which to find the most healing parts of myself. Maybe after I see the doctor I’ll be able to let some of the anxiety go.
Wow. The first reading included the quote, “Our vision is beclouded and the pathway of our progress is obstructed until we come to know that God can and does express as Good in every person and every situation.” – Ernest Holmes. Rolf talks about how students come to him with anxiety over physical ailments and problems in their lives and he used to tell them that those were opportunities to be mindful. Now, he says, he thinks about it as an opportunity to pay closer attention to what we do, and to put our faith in our ability to heal. “We are not meant to be on the edges of our seats, anxiously paying attention so that we can control events and outcomes. We are meant to stand firmly in the postures of our lives, bearing witness to the moment, to our experience of the moment, aware as we do so that, in the words of Charles Johnston, ‘we are encompassed and supported by spiritual powers’.”
Maybe all I need to be doing right now is be aware of myself experiencing this pain. Stand in it, and do my best to feel the support of the universe. Have faith in my ability to heal myself. Yesterday I did have a cool moment of feeling the earth spinning on its axis, me a part of it, held by its gravity. Have faith in healing like I have faith in that, that I won’t fall off the planet.
The last yama is chastity, brahmacarya. Temperance. Literally, to walk with God. Gates makes the loud point, or point loudly, that to interpret this as celibacy is to miss the point.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Really Learning Yoga

February 26, 2009
I read a bunch more of my new yoga book and I found it so helpful! I’d like to know if he wrote others and if so, buy them. He explains things in such detail, gives both Hindu and Western biomedical reasons for doing things. He gives explicit, motion by motion instructions for each asana, provides alternate instructions for beginner and adept, even down to where our concentration should be. For example, beginners generally need to focus on carrying out the movement correctly. As one gets better, one’s focus shifts to carrying the movements out correctly, slowly, without jerking, and being sure all uninvolved muscles are relaxed. During the static stage, beginners should focus on breathing, then on immobility. Experts should focus on the specific part of the body the asana targets: the organ, muscle, etc.

He provides lists of incorrect movements, common mistakes, and then some pictures. So for each asana, there are like 3-7 pages of text and 2-4 of pictures. No wonder he only covers a handful of them (10). Plus a quick run through of one version of the Sun Salutation. He has chosen one of the series developed and taught by Shivananda at Rishikesh – the place I want to go. The home of Integral Yoga, which has spawned Yogaville here in the US, and a couple of others. The full Rishikesh Series in this book is Breathing, Self Awareness, Salutation to the Sun, then:
Sarvangasana (Candle – Shoulderstand)
Halasana (Plough)
Matsyasana (Fish)
Pashchimattanasana (Forward Bend)
Bhujangasana (Cobra)
Shalabhasana (Locust)
Dhanurasana (Bow)
Ardha-Matsyendrasana (Spinal Twist)
Shirsasana (Headstand)
Uddiyana or Nauli, Shavasana (Relaxation)
He provides a chart suggesting when to integrate which postures; not in weeks, but in stages. When you feel you’ve made good progress on stage one, integrate the things from stage 2. So yesterday I did breathing, self-awareness, sarvangasana and matsyasana, both twice. They felt great. I was jerky and shaky, had little control, but it felt wonderful to be doing them. Felt right. Also in the category of what I should be able to do are cobra and spinal twist. I’m thinking of reading about and doing them today. Then on days when I have time I’ll do the whole set; when short, I’ll alternate or be able to pick from 4 which I want to work on, instead of just the 2.
Later: So today I ended up doing all four asanas. I had a much smoother rise and descent in the shoulder stand, but I need to check on the Fish, to see if I was doing it correctly, because it kind of hurt my head, and yoga shouldn’t hurt. Case in point – that other book I had, which in fact was published by Yoga Journal but tried to strip out virtually all spirituality, had photos and instructions for each asana including the Cobra. But it was an entirely different thing. Entirely! In the other book, it was basically a push-up. I couldn’t really figure out what was different.
In this one, he shows how the arms should be positioned, adds a step that was lacking, and then explains how the upward motion should be driven by the head and the neck. The arms should be as relaxed as possible. So it is not at all a push up; it has nothing to do with strengthening the arms! I did feel – still – that I was rushing everything. But the ones I had done before I was able to be more mindful in/about. So I’m hopeful that as the newness wears off, the urge to rush and the distraction level will, too.

Since I’m really practicing now, I’ve returned to reading Meditations from the Mat. Today the reading was about how we commit to a practice, a lifestyle, a priority, and if we really are comitted, our lives rearrange themselves around that almost without effort. From that commitment, then, when renunciation is necessary, when it comes time to give something up, we will actually be ready, so that it will not feel like a death, but like a new birth. I know that feeling – there have been times in my life when I changed so much that some old habit just didn’t fit anymore. And when I realized it and gave it up or had it taken away, I thought it would be hard and it wasn’t. It just felt right, and life got even better and fresher. A gift from the commitment you made to the new practice.
Is that how it will be with smoking? That’s what I’m hopingand praying for. Guess the practice and commitment has to come first though. The other gift is that the practice sustains us through all times/seasons/moods/etc. You don’t know, when you make that commitment, if the next year is bringing you trips abroad, promotions, status – or illness, loss, death. You know there will be days when you will excel at your practice – yoga, meditation or whatever – and days when nothing will go right, and lots of days in the middle. But the point is that you just keep doing it, every day, and in that way it will always be there for you. If good times come, it will keep you grounded. If disaster comes, it will be your life line, keeping you sane.
In exchange, all you really have to give is the effort of overcoming the initial inertia. That “Oh, I’m so comfy on the couch and I don’t feel that well and I don’t have that much time today” feeling. Because once I get over that feeling and just do it, I love it. It isn’t like exercise, like aerobics, which is just torture all the way for me. Not at all. It feels good. It isn’t torture, or painful, or like giving up anything. It is pure gain.

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