Monday, June 10, 2013

Seuss Salute

Some people are naturally athletic.  Others are incredibly artistic.  Others, still, are musically inclined or mathematically brilliant.   We all have gifts into which we can tap.  Mine is none of the aforementioned talents.  It is, instead, the ability to write in rhyme with ease.  

As you might imagine, while most of the participants in my training cringed when given the assignment yesterday to "write rhyming cues for Sun Salutation Letter A", I was quite giddy.  Who knew my heretofore relatively useless talent would serve me well in Yoga Boot Camp?!

And so, I give you, Sun Salute A cues, Dr. Seuss style.

At the top of your mat, you will begin
Hands at heart center and then breathe in.
Reach your arms to the sky, long and tall
And as you exhale, towards the earth you fall.  

Inhale, lift halfway, elongate your spine
Exhale fold forward, you’re doing fine
Bring your hands to the mat, hop or step back your feet
High to low push up, stay on your breath’s beat.

Inhale, roll your toes, lift your head, chest and gaze
To warm up your spine, which moves in six ways.
Exhale, lift your hips, find your inverted V
Show off your sweet yoga asana for all to see.

Before moving forward, breathe five times, keep track
Inhale, half lift, now straighten your back.  
Exhale surrender, bring your chest towards your thighs
Inhale, reach up, follow your hands with your eyes.

Exhale, ground your feet, come to Samasthiti
Pull your hands to heart center, in prayer they will be
This is the end of sun salute letter A
Relax, take a breath and say namaste.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Confessions of an Imperfect Yogi

I have a confession to make:  I am not perfect.  Shocking, I know.

We yogis tend to get caught up in the concept of being yogic vs. unyogic  Guilty as charged.  I typically won't judge people's yogicness if they are not involved in yoga culture... but you bet your sweet bippy I occasionally catch myself thinking "how incredibly unyogic" about the yoga teacher who posts all kinds of "SYS" (shi... ummmm... stuff yogis say) on Facebook while wandering around the world spewing hateful things towards others.  *Blink*.  The irony of my views on this is not lost on me.  

I also confess that, at times, I swear like a sailor.  It's true, I do, though I often add the word "asana" (which means body posture) to my swear words, which makes them more yogic, n'est ce pas?  There is a certain emphasis that can only be expressed through the word fuckasana.  Clearly.

So, in honor of being an imperfect yogi, I thought it might serve me to closely compare my behaviors with the yamas and niyamas to see how I stack up in the yogic world.  The yamas and niyamas are the ethical guidelines of yoga, the foundation of skillful living, and, therefore, play a part in determining one's true yogic mojo... yomojo, if you will.

The Yamas (Universal Morality)

Ahimsa is compassion for all living things.  It means not to injure any living thing, and to show kindness, compassion, friendliness, consideration to all people.  I strongly believe in the concept of ahimsa... unless you are a fish, in which case, I will eat you... or unless you threaten my children or others who are dear to me, in which case, as my friend Yogarina would say, "I will get all ninja warrior on your ass-ana".  And, since I already showed my hand on the whole not loving the yoga teachers who profess SYS publicly while snarling their way through their daily lives, I must confess that I do not love all people, though I do, indeed, go out of my way to be kind, friendly and compassionate as much as possible.  Frankly, though, this can be a challenge at times because there are plenty of jackass-anas in this world.

Satya is a commitment to truthfulness.  We must consider what we say and how we say it, how it affects others, and understand that honest communication is the foundation of any healthy relationship.  I confess that I actually have this one down pretty pat.  I learned a long time ago that the truth does, in fact, set you free.  However, I may have only loosely interpreted satya a time or two when writing school absence excuses for my children in which I accidentally wrote "appointment" instead of "leaving early for vacation".  I might also do something like decide to write an educational blog post about the yamas and niyamas under the thinly veiled guise of discussing my imperfect yogicness.

Asteya is not taking anything that does not belong to us, that has not been freely given.  Easy, peasy, lemon squeezy, you say, right??  Maybe.  Let it be known that I am not a kleptomaniac.   Go me!  However, asteya is not quite so simple.  It not only applies to not stealing shit-asana, but also to things like not taking advantage of situations in which people have entrusted things to us or confided in us as well as to using something for anything other than its intended purpose.  I'm down with all that... I am trustworthy and can keep a secret.  However, there is also the notion that asteya applies to being considerate of others' time.  Here's where I might falter, as it is possible that, within my lifetime, I have been late a time or two or three thousand.  It is also possible that the end time on my classes is usually more of a suggestion than a hard stop.  I apologize profusely to all of my students whose time I have stolen.  I will try to end on time...ish.

Brahmacharya is the concept of sense control, used mostly in the sense of abstinence.  There are a few different interpretations of this, of course, and it does not necessarily imply celibacy.  Hallelujah, 'cause if you've read the research on how yoga can enhance your sex life, you would see that idea as a cruel joke.  I like the concept that brahmacharya means responsible behavior, which allows us to move towards the common goal of truth, and that using our sexual energy to deepen connections and in ways that do not harm or betray others, is a way to develop our spiritual selves.  Sense control is a tough thing for many of us to achieve... but it's one of the yamas in which I get to collect quite a few yomojo points.

Aparigraha is neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth.  OK, let's be real.  I have a lululemon habit I need to feed, and I like to take tropical vacations.  A lot.  I need to acquire either some wealth or a sugar daddy in order to do those things.  My fine sense of brahmacharya rules out the sugar daddy option, so I'm stuck with working my ass-ana off to afford the imaginary lifestyle to which I would love to become accustomed.  Don't worry your pretty little heads about my yomojo here, though, because aparigraha also means only taking what we have earned so as not to exploit others.  Perhaps most importantly, it means letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that the only constants in life are impermanence and change.  I have lived long enough to learn that practicing non-attachment allows me to live more freely and fully and that shit-asana happens, there are no guarantees, yet life marches on, and so, too, must we.

The Niyamas (Personal Observances)

Sauca is purity and cleanliness.  I shower.  I breathe.  I practice.  This would indicate that I at least have some of the basics of inner and outer cleanliness covered, thank goodness.  However, more important than the physical cleanliness is that of the mind.  It is about cleansing it of disturbing emotions... hatred, anger, greed, delusion, pride, lust.  Fortunately, I am not greedy, lustful, ego-driven or hateful.  I am not delusional... well, at least not as far as I know.  However, I confess, every once in awhile, I get angry.  The anger is rarely directed at other people, though, so I've got that going for me.  When I lose my patience or temper, I remind myself that the only thing in life we can truly control is how we respond to that which we can not control... and we can control so little, really.

Santosa is contentment, being at peace with one's life, even when it presents challenges, and understanding that there is a purpose for everything.  We cultivate contentment to accept what happens and be happy with what we have instead of wishing for that which we do not.  This is really difficult.  I am a believer that life presents us with the same curriculum over and over again until we learn the lessons we are supposed to learn.  I used to live by if/thens, if onlys, and when/thens and wished I had that which I did not, rather than living in the moment and appreciating all that I had.  I was presented time and time again with the same curriculum and it wasn't until a certain pair of boots walked into my life and some non-value added relationships walked out (ok, so maybe I pushed them out) that I learned the lessons.  The ability to find inner-peace in the midst of chaos is one of the most empowering things I have ever conquered.  What's my secret, you ask?  Yoga.  I learned this on my mat.  Therefore, I get a gold star and extra yomojo points, and maybe even a vegan cookie.

Tapas does not translate from Sanskrit into "small plate of food".  Rather, it refers to disciplined use of energy... the ability to heat the body in order to cleanse it.  Tapas is about keeping fit, eating well, and paying attention to breath and posture. It also refers to our ability to handle our inner urges without any outer show.  OK, so perhaps the Twizzler I just ate doesn't constitute "eating right",  I may have fallen off the cardio workout wagon recently, and my yoga teacher might have called me out on holding my breath at one point last week.  However, I recognize my imperfection here as this practice continues to be a work in progress.

Svadhyaya is self-study and refers to activity that cultivates self-awareness, the goal being to have it in all we undertake, and to develop the resulting ability to recognize and accept our limitations.  This self-reflective consciousness teaches us to be centered and non-reactive, and to extinguish our undesirable tendencies. The ability to handle difficult circumstances in a non-reactive way has been one of the greatest things I have learned along this yogic journey, but I am far from perfect at it, as evidenced by the fact that I got a lil' impatient at the man driving in front of me today who clearly didn't need to be anywhere until next Monday afternoon.  That said, the past two years have provided me with countless opportunities for self-reflection, understanding, compassion and the practice of non-reactivity in some of my life's most challenging situations.

Isvarapranidhana is the celebration of the spiritual and means "to lay all your actions at the feet of God."  Regardless of one's religion, isvarapranidhana requires that we consider, recognize, and appreciate that there is a higher power directing the course of our lives.  I consider myself to be deeply spiritual, but do not feel that I must sit in a church pew week after week in order to feel my connection to God and the divine.  I feel closer to God climbing a fourteener than I do in an organized church service, though I will happily do both as appropriate.  I do, indeed, take time each day to recognize the many blessings in my life, but I am far from perfect within the practice of this niyama.

The reality is, of course, that we are all imperfect, yet somehow, we are perfect in our imperfection, and this doesn't make us unyogic.  I would argue that our ability to recognize our imperfections, to embrace them, maybe even to celebrate some of them makes us not only more yogic, but also more human.  Being yogic brings to mind things like loving-kindness, compassion, acceptance, and non-judgment, yet, when we see our own flaws, we don't always extend these things to ourselves.  Perhaps we should.

The Zen Master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being "without anxiety about imperfection".  Be free.  Be alive.  Be perfectly, beautifully, fabulously flawed.  Be yogic by understanding that we are all, indeed, perfect in our imperfections.

Yamas Playlist

Monday, June 3, 2013

Scattering Sunshine!

What do you get when you gather 90 yogi(ni)s on a rooftop with sunny skies and perfect temperatures?  You get a beautiful practice with incredible energy.  Many thanks to all who attended and to Rebecca who not only took these great pictures, but also provided ahhhhh-mazing assists!

Yogis arriving on their mats and soaking up the sun.  We figuratively associate sunshine with happiness on a regular basis, but there is scientific evidence that sunshine does, indeed, boost our mood!  A study out of Boston University showed that an hour of asana (body posture) practice in the sun increased the level of GABA in the brain by 27%.  Low levels of GABA are associated with depression.  

Our theme was bringing sunshine into the lives of others and appreciating those who bring sunshine to ours.  We committed to scattering sunshine throughout our worlds and creating sunshine even on the cloudiest of days; for in doing so, we can not keep the sunshine from ourselves.  

Spinal twisting and sun saluting in the radiant sunlight.

Sunglasses, sunscreen, bikinis, hats... all part of the practice.  

Your sunshine comes from your soul, who you are at your core... so heating up the core can only increase your ability to scatter sunshine, yes?!

Going out on a limb here... 

I asked participants to close their eyes and find their tree poses.  It was challenging, unsteady, even scary, for some.

However, once they extended their arms, held each others "branches" and scattered their sunshine to one another, their trees grew taller, steadier, more rooted.  Trees need sunshine in order to grow.

"Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much."
~ Helen Keller 


 Free flowing... 


Thank you for sharing your sunshine and your practice with me.  I am humbled by and grateful for your presence.  I am so blessed to be able to do what I love and, therefore, love what I do.  Namaste.

Sunshine Playlist