Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What did you learn?

Asana is like an ocean - you have to immerse yourself in it completely and explore its bottomless depths. Any asana can take you to a state of yoga. But if you just remain on the surface, your experience of yoga will remain limited. It will only be physical exercise. -
Sharath Ji

Coming home is always interesting. The flood of questions never cease. Me, I'm quiet. When we turn inward we tend to talk less, eat less, need less. Content to be, yet committed to my work in a world of turbulence and in a city of sleepless souls, I float like a ghost, alien to it all. I imagine it's similar to the experience of a diver emerging, feeling the affects of change in pressure. We've been diving deep here.

To build on Sharath's beautiful analogy, sometimes you step into the water and and you just don't know how deep it is. I remember clearly when I visited Montauk this summer how one moment I was standing waves up to my waist and then the ground was gone. Yoga can be like that. Most people have no idea of the depth when they first stick their toes in. The water is cloudy and mysterious. But as it starts to settle, more layers are revealed.

We approach yoga from the physical standpoint because yoga is a state to be experienced. Though it can be discussed and analyzed, ultimately it is felt. So, you come in and you start to move your body and match those movements to your breath. Perhaps over time you feel a little lighter, more flexible, stronger. Maybe you start noticing some other changes as well, temperament, sleeping, eating, cravings, desires, more awareness of choice in action. For some people courage increases and will power also builds.

One day you may have a feeling of nothingness in an asana when eyes are steady on dristhi and ears on breath. Then deeper questions may arise.

For each practitioner the experience is unique. Some will dive in very fast, but may race back up for air when they see how bottomless it is. Better to practice as Guruji always advised, "slowly, slowly, all is coming". When you are ready the right question comes bubbling up to the surface and the appropriate answer is there in the book you happen to be holding, or out of the mouth of your teacher or sitting inside your heart where it's always been, just waiting.

I've been diving deep here, but the deeper I go the more I feel the vastness of my landscape, the bottomlessness of this ocean. I will not be able to tell you I now know yoga, just like I couldn't return from Montauk and tell you I know the the ocean. And it will not be too helpful for me to recite to you what I learned, just like a simple recounting of the sand, shells, and water wouldn't give you more than an outline of the beach. Rather, I will take you out into the water and I will show you where to go and when you are ready I will guide you deeper and you won't ask, "what did you learn?" You will feel it for yourself.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Downward Defenses

Sick in India, as you can imagine, is not too much fun. And this weekend it hit me. The whole body aching, nose running, cold, flu thing. I tried to stomp it when I felt it coming, but when you are practicing mat to mat and the bug is in the shala, that bug is coming for you strong.

Luckily Saturday is our rest day. No class. But what about Sunday? Sunday is led intermediate, probably the hardest class of the week. I woke up and I was not feeling too hot. Should I practice? The body was barely up, yet the mind was already jumping like a monkey with its excuses and justifications.

It is in these moments that the value of the habit of daily practice is so recognizable. In fact, yoga practitioners are notoriously disciplined especially in their morning routine. Each morning when the alarm goes off I sit up. No Snooze! I give thanks for the new day so full of potential. I turn on the geyser which heats my bath water, and go prepare the coffee. (Yes, my guru was more than fine with coffee.) Drink the coffee. Take the bath. Yoga clothes on. Chanting. Sitting practice. Maybe some writing, and off I go.

Routine can be very powerful, especially in freeing the mind. See, the monkey mind is stuck kicking and screaming and having its predictable tantrum, but yoga has made the master mind strong. The monkey mind will say anything to get us back into bed, so the master mind has to be very smart. The master mind says, "Don't worry, of course I'll let you go back to bed if that's what you really need, just go turn on the geyser in case." The monkey mind screams, "Your head feels like a ton of bricks. You're sick. Get back in bed!" But the master mind says, "Maybe you're just tired. Go fix the coffee. You love coffee. You can always drink it back in bed."

Well, once I had my coffee and my hot bath I did feel a good deal better. I did the fever test (You shouldn't practice with a fever.) and I didn't think I had one. I could breath through my nose and I was already caffeinated, washed and dressed, so I guessed I should go. I'm not going to lie; I didn't feel too well as I headed over. My body felt weak and I was getting out of breath very easily. My monkey mind said, "How are you going to practice when you can even walk without getting out of breath?!"

My master mind said, "If you have to stop, you'll stop." "Plus, you know what's going to happen, right? You are going to have an annoyingly good practice."

And I knew that that was the truth.

Annoying because of course we don't want to be sick, and we don't want to admit that the trying so hard we do when we are well is actually what often gets in our way. My teacher always says how some of the best practices are on those days when you barely made it to the mat. And I agree. On days like today, when the body is a little bit tired and a little bit sick, it simply can not hold any tension which is not completely necessary. Because of this we float in and out of poses with ease. All defenses gone, we just are. And that is yoga.

On a side note, later today, our teacher asked us if we want a day off for Christmas and nearly everyone preferred to practice (except those with kids, fair enough!). AND when he was asked if maybe he wanted a day off (which, with the shala packed from 4:30am-11:30am and evening classes and a family, would not have been unreasonable) he laughed and said he'd rest when he was gone. Surrounded with that kind of commitment, who is going to call out sick!

Friday, December 9, 2011

That f*ing bird ate that worm!

India. Many of us come to here to "find ourselves", discover truth, deepen our spiritual practice. In India, land of sensory overload, we strive to look inward and find stillness amongst the chaos. How?

Have you ever traveled to a foreign place where nobody knows you? When you go somewhere outside your zone and where you are surrounded by strangers, you have a real chance to experience yourself. Without the preconceived notions and role expectations that solidify us into one version of ourselves, we could be anybody. Perhaps it is that we don't know who we are, but only the outer layers of who we have become.

This week our teacher reminded us of the importance of remaining in and relishing the unknown. The moment we think we know is the moment we cease being students and can learn no more. What an infinitely greater choice, then, to remain curious, seeking deeper and deeper levels of understanding.

To understand, we must try to observe ourselves from a place of neutrality. We don't say to ourselves, "That f*ing bird ate that worm. What an ass!", so why do we apply that harmful judge and jury voice to ourselves and loved ones? Just watch and ask questions. Be as a child. Try observing someone or something easy to be open to at first, and move toward those who are harder to understand as your ability to observe in neutrality grows.

Recognize, that learning how to observe without reprimand does not mean you have condoned any action. You are building a skill. By remaining curious of the world around you, you will strengthen your relationships, peel away layers, and see what moves those around you to act. Eventually you will be able to turn inward and discover your own true nature.

As we enter holiday season with all it's fluctuating energy, take a look and simply ask, "who am I?" Am I daughter, husband, father? Am I playing a role or writing the play? We can't have all the answers. We must not or the joy of being a student of the world is lost. But we must ask the questions, dive into the darkness, live in unknown.

With the greatest gratitude to my teacher. -L

(Pictures from India HERE)