Monday, August 31, 2009

Sthiram and Sukham: Stediness and Ease

Of the 196 versus in the Yoga Sutras, there are only two which speak uniquely about the quality of our asanas, our yoga poses. The Yoga Sturas summarily advise asana to be negotiated with the skillful balance of , Sthiram and Sukham, stediness and ease. In our asana practice, if we do too much too quickly, our body will stiffen and resist the movement or release and we will likely injure ourselves, If we don't do enough, we get bored--we don't feel the exhilaration and joy of moving and approprately challenging our body.

Each pose, and even our practice as a whole, should be balanced between these two qualities of Sukaham and Sthiram. When we get the balance just right, something magical happens: suddenly, everything feels amazing and the pose comes alive! At that moment, you feel like you are the center of the universe and that you could stay in that position for the rest of time. For a moment everything makes sense. And to a samll degree we are able to tast that allusive True Self we are searching for in yoga practice. One may go for months or years without ever experiencing this feeling but as we continue to practice regularly and negotiate Sthiram and Sukham, sooner or later, you too will have this experience. As we become more skillful in our practice, we will find it easier and easier to get into this perfect balance of Sthiram and Sukahm.

Our yoga practice is the mirror of our lives. So, when we then apply this teaching of balancing Sthiram and Sukham to our practice of every-day living, we feel how the effects of balanced living affect our experience at home, the office, kids, and our relationships, including the vital relationship with ourselves. Just like in our yoga practice, things will come alive. And just like our yoga practice everything will make sense.

This week in practice, I'd like to find a fun sequence of poses where we can use our power of negotiation to find a test our perfect balance, looking for that "yoga glow" you get when everything feels right. Then, once our bodies are warm, let's do some long, slow, and deep muscle releases that will help us seek for balance in a different way. I hope we can all walk out of class feeling balanced between body, mind, and spirit with the desire to apply this same balance to all of the other aspects of living.

I'll see you in class.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Yoga Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook

One of my favorite and most useful books in my library is one called The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook. Its bright yellow hard-backed cover makes is durable so I can take it with me everywhere and easy to find Open Heart Great SAlt Lakewhen I'm in a pinch. This Survival Handbook, contains a lot of information; you know, practical and essential know-how for things like giving your cat the Heimlich Maneuver, how to escape your car when it has been completely submerged in water, and how to escape from killer bees.

One section that is glaringly absent from this essential how-to is a section on what to do for those "Worst-Case Scenarios" involving your yoga practice. So, in the interest of helping humanity avoid any preventable disasters (and I realize I may be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for this) I would like to offer my own appendage to this already very informative book. I offer this information from personal experience either in practice or teaching. It cannot be overstated that I have experienced or seen everything in a yoga class--EVERYTHING.

What to Do in Class When Your Cell Phone Rings
1. Look disapprovingly at someone else in the room.
2. Pretend it didn't ring and pray the battery in your phone dies.
3. Calmly walk over and silence then turn off your phone. Under NO circumstance should you answer the call.
4. If you are a doctor or have a young child at home who may call you during an emergency, tell the instructor before class that you will put your phone on vibrate and if in the rare circumstance it should ring, that you'll discretely leave and take the call out of the studio.

How to Come in Late to or Leave Early from Class
If possible, plan your day to arrive early, and leave unrushed but I'd personally rather people come late or leave early than not come at all.
1. If coming late, while standing outside the studio, unroll your yoga mat and place it longways over your shoulder. Do not whip open your mat in the studio.
2. If possible, scout a spot in the studio to place your mat quickly and quietly.
3. Listen and make sure to come into the studio after the class has chanted and once the class begins moving.
4. If you are leaving early, tell the instructor beforehand that you'll be leaving. Plan to sit or rest in savasana for a few minutes before you leave.

How to Keep from Coughing in Savasana
In this desert climate and with all the ujjai breathing (whisper breath) we do during class, it's common to have a dry throat at the end of class.
1. Hydrate before class and keep water close to your person.
2. Most studios allow students to bring water to class. Swig several ounces right before savasana.
3. If you feel a cough coming on, focus on a different chakra than your throat chakra and repeat this mantra, "I am hydrated. I am calm. I am the ocean. . . or something."
4. If you begin coughing, discretely leave the room and find liquid.

How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Severe Body Odor
Unfortunately some practitioners do not apply the ancient yoga philosophy of Sauca (pronounced sow-cha), the virtue of cleanliness, in body, mind, spirit and relating to personal hygiene.
1. Focus on pranayama (breath work) that emphasizes your exhale.
2. Slip the odiferous individual a copy of the yoga sutras with highlighted passages pointing to this philisophical point of cleanliness
3. Remember that we are all sentient beings (though some of us have more acute senses than others) and each are part of the Whole, even those individuals who have really, really, bad B.O.
4. If you realize that you are the one with the B.O., discretely find a restroom and rinse your pits. Hand sanitizer contains mostly alcohol which kills bacteria. Rubbing some under your armpits may neutralize the odor. Shower regularly and use deodorant.

What to Do When You Are Trying to Impress Somone and Can't Do the Pose.
1. Fake a cramp.
2. Mutter in semi-audible tones that you are tired from performing this same pose (which is usually very easy) earlier on that day in your 3-hour personal practice and need to rest.
3. Complain that you learned how to do the pose differently.
4. Perform a different pose that you can do very well.

What to Do When You Have a Real Muscle Cramp
The exact cause of muscle cramping is not well understood. Cramps are thought to be the result of overexertion and fatigue of a muscle and loss of vital minerals such as Sodium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, and Magnesium. Oxygen deprivation is also a possible cause for muscles to cramp (inefficient energy resources in the muscles when oxygen is deprived).
1. Stay well hydrated to prevent cramping.
2. Ease your way into and through each pose. Practice the balance of steadiness and ease (Sthirum and Sukam) while performing every pose, especially if it is an unfamiliar pose or you have previously fatigued the targeted muscles.
3. Maintain your deep and slow breathing. Oxygen may help muscles perform regular energy production. See Krebs Cycle
4. Increase the aforementioned minerals into your diet by eating bananas, watermelon, low-fat milk, kale, spinach, leafy greens, or broccoli however make sure that these foods are appropriate for you Prakruti according to the Ayurveda model.

How to Avoid Passing Gas in Class
Yoga is designed to be very cleansing . . . on several levels. Unfortunately social norms don't support all methods of cleansing caused by yoga.
1. Avoid eating at least two hours before class.
2. Visit the restroom before class.
3. If you feel air moving in your digestive organs, descretely leave class, visit the restroom and practice a squat pose until gas is releived.
4. If you or someone proximal does pass gas, apply similar methods as sections: How to Survive if Someone in Class Has Sever Body Odor and What to Do In Class When Your Cell Phone Rings

How to Avoid Doing Partner Yoga Postures with "Sweaty Guy"
1. Fake a cramp
2. Invent an injury and explain that you will need to do a different pose.
3. Pretend your cell phone rang, that your a doctor and need to take the emergency call.
4. Use this opportunity to use the restroom.
5. If you are the "Sweaty Guy," consider bringing a towel to class or and perhaps and extra t-shirt to put on in case you are partnering in poses.

For your own copy of The Complete Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook, please support our fabulous local bookshop, The Kings English Bookshop at 15th and 15th


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sankalpa: Planting the Seed of Intention

I believe intentions are powerful. Salkalpa is the Sanskrit word for our intention and is likened to planting a seed. Setting intentions has everything to do with what we feel we are worthy of in this world, and then having the courage to ask for what we want. Yoga is one way of holding a conversation with that something that is larger than us. Yoga is a practice of becoming mindful, and conditioning body, mind, and spirit to do something about our intentions. It is preparing the soil for our intentions to grow.

We prepare the soil of our intentions by making the time (even just a few minutes daily) to clear the chatter in our minds. Clear your mind, and then tune in and plant the seed of what you want. The seed you plant, your Sankalpa, could be for greater health, mental or spiritual clarity, an improved relationship, a better work situation, financial abundance, world peace, a lifetime supply of chocolate, or anything else. As we start our yoga or meditation practice, we give ourselves a moment to reflect on why we are practicing, even if what we need or want seems like it has nothing to do with yoga postures. Then, as we practice, each step, each breath, each yoga posture, is a move forward, in that direction, a dedication to our Sankalpa.

Our internal conversation could go something like, "I may not know what to do to help make the world more peaceful, but that is my intention and at this moment silencing my distractions and practicing Warrior II is the step I'm taking toward that end." Remember that yoga is a gift to help us understand a bigger picture of who we are. With that greater experience and knowledge, with that health and clarity, we have the tools to accomplish what we set out for. At other times, our attention and effort of yoga are a type of preparation, so that we eventually can see more clearly and act more purposefully. Some might even see yoga practice best as a prayer in body and breath. In any case, it is starting the conversation with the universe regarding what we'd like to see grow in our lives.

Whether consciously or not, or with clear wise purpose or not, we are intending things all the time. Where are you putting your mental, emotional, and physical energy? Like one of my teachers, Judith Lasater says, "What is worrying, but praying for what you don't want."

So, what do you want? Put it out there. Then work and watch and see how God or the Universe (or whatever you feel is that bigger "something") responds. Be ready to learn from that response. Open your mind to possibility, but do not deceive yourself. We are not dictators in this large universe; we are not in complete control (thank goodness!), but we can confidently join our voices in the song, confidently twirl our bodies in the dance--creating with Life, in a partnership. In this cosmic game of chess, Sankalpa is making a move and watching to see what comes next. This is yoga, aligning ourselves with what's bigger.

Be thinking about what you need or want in your life. Come to class with this intention and place it on the proverbial altar. We'll plant the seed and watch how it grows.

The following is a very old mantra (taken from a hymn in the Rigveda) that you may want to learn as you are working with your Sankalpa.

Gayatri Mantra

Everything on the earth and in the sky and in between
Is arising from one effulgent source.
If my thoughts, words, and deeds
Reflected a complete understanding of this unity,
I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment

oṃ bhur bhuvaḥ svaḥa
tat savitur vareṇyaṃ
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo naḥ pracodayat


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Satya: Truth

If it hasn’t happened already, there will come a time when we stop trying to produce that infallible vision of ourselves and allow ourselves the radical permission to be exactly what and how we are. This permission revolves around the yogic principle of Satya or truth. To be honest with who and where we are, both our strengths and weaknesses, allows us a solid platform from which we can skillfully step to the next place. We stop trying to be everything that we’re not and finally find how perfectly we belong to exactly where we are.

With intention, direction, work, and most of all appreciation for our present situation, our dreams of where we want to end up will start to fill out. If we feel stuck, indecisive, depressed, or angry, our truth is to speak to that place. We can speak to all our situations with yoga, an embodiment of all our inner landscapes.

What we want is within our reach; it’s simply laced with a bit of irony: the key to fulfillment in the future is to be content now. If we’re committed to the honesty of where we are and are content for what is, knowing things change, we create a bridge of present content moments which links us to contentment in our fulfilled future. Without present contentment, without appreciating the truth of where we are, we may find ourselves where we previously hoped for only to discover our habit of malcontent, and, disgruntlement, wishing we were back where we started or somewhere else. We’re back in the viscous cycle of hoping for anything but what is true, what is here.

Our main task as I see it is to understand where we are, where our love lies, and bravely organize our lives to focus on what matters most.

I hope that this truth and brave path may lead you to yoga this week.

Here is an offering I learned from my teacher that you may want to use in your meditations:

By the power and truth of our simply practice,
May we and all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May we and all beings be free from sorrow and any causes of sorrow.
May we and all beings never be separated from that sacred happiness which is beyond sorrow.
And may we and all beings live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion.
And may we live recognizing and honoring the equality of all that lives.

Sarva Mangalam (May the greatest goodness unfold)