Monday, October 18, 2010

Finding the Middle: Satva

The Samkhya school of classical yoga philosophy describes the universe and all its qualities using three main humors, called Gunas. These are Rajas, Tamas, Sattva.

Rajas is generally building, full of fire, or energizing, while Tamas is generally grounding, calming, and inert. The skillful negotiation of the two brings us to the precious middle path, Sattva. If we went into a yoga class feeling sluggish and tired and came out feeling wired and spastic, we would not have served ourselves other than to experience the opposite end of miserable. Instead, we use the balance of steadiness and ease (in the yoga Sutras, Patanjali calls these sukum and sthirum) to bring us to the place where we feel both energized and calm. We are neither looking to be revved-up and wired nor to be too sluggish and sleepy, but rather to optimize the perfect balance, the Sattvic state. This is why savasana is so essential at the end of an energizing yoga practice. This is also why it sometimes helps to go on a gentle walk after a very relaxing practice. Middle feels like home.

For those of us who love to bliss out on Rajas and train or play really hard, don't worry. Just remember that there is a time to sit and meditate too. Also, those of us who could indulge in Tamas and stay on our cozy meditation cushions all day long and then celebrate with a box of Hatch Family Chocolates, well, maybe you could try at least walking to the Avenues to get your chocolate.

Most importantly, these principles remind us that balance is not only comfortable, but optimal. If you need to add more Tamas to your life, more ease, come to my Restore class at Sego Lily (see schedule on the left side of this email). If you could balance out some sluggishness by adding a little Rajas, come to my flow class on Tuesday morning. Yes, it's early but it feels great.


Monday, October 11, 2010

OM: Adding Your Voice to the Family of Things

Om is a word which is derived by joining the first vowel in the Sanskrit alphabet with the last consonant. Om acts like bookends for everything that could be said with language. By chanting Om, we essentially add our voice to the larger voice of everything else that is. Our yoga practice is, in part, a conversation between us and the world around us. It is one way of invoking a divine presence, the creator of all things. The keeper of the symbol OM is the elephant God, Ganesh. Often, you'll see the symbol OM inscribed on the palm of Ganesh.

When we chant OM as a group at the beginning of yoga practice, we join our voices together and thereby yoke or bind ourselves together, as one modern yoga scholar, Douglas Brooks, says, like solders going into battle, bound together in order to serve and protect each other.
I like the idea of adding my voice to your powerful presence. I also like adding my voice to the mighty voice of everything else that is. I feel it allows me to participate whole-heartedly in this marvelous, paradoxical, and mysterious game of life.

Mary Oliver really understood this when in her poem, Wild Geese, she says:

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

She points to the fact that you don't have to do anything special to be of value. You "only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves." You just have to be. All parts of us, even despair are beautiful aspects of the landscape, just like the rain, the sun, the prairies and deep trees. Nature, specifically geese as they call to us as they fly over head, reminds us that we too belong in the big family of things. And more than that, nature offers itself to our imagination, to our remembrance of belonging.

The next time you hear the geese fly over head, their call "harsh and exciting," call back to them, " Om."

I'll meet you in class. We are bound together like migrating geese on our way back home.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Just Haven't Earned it Yet, Baby.

Often, when I get bogged down, I'm unsure and rendered immobile by the decisions I need to make or overwhelmed by the feats I feel I must accomplish, instead of worrying about all the logistical details, I often remember my first task, which is to go inside. I practice yoga and meditate and thereby nurture the relationship with that deep part of myself. Then, all that needs to happen, as well as the energy to act, will often rise to the surface from that sure place. I can't go wrong with this method. This method invariably helps me to put my worries and fears into perspective and sometimes gives me the clarity to make radicle changes I'd not even previously considered.

I sometimes think that when I need to make those big life-changing decisions, it is much harder to find this inner place of stillness if I haven't sought a entrance into this place on a regular basis. Some truths can only be discovered by the compounded practice of weeks, months, and years. I hear the iconic words of The Smiths in my ears, "You just haven't earned it yet, Baby." That's why the idea of a practice is so settling. Practicing mindfulness, through yoga or meditation, brings us to this reassuring place on a regular basis and builds a foundation of mindfulness that will help us weather any storm that passes through our life. One could do worse than to practice yoga every day, even if for only 10 minutes; or meditate, or listen to music, or go on a walk in the park, deliberately leaving your cell phone at home, whatever will put you into that place of the timeless, whatever will connect you with your deeper self. And from that place, you know that you'll never be lost.

This week, I invite you to draw inward with whatever practice that makes you mindful. We'll be holding sneak preview classes at Trolley Square starting this week. We'll be in the old Banana Republic space.