The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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Poetry in Motion: Celebrating National Poetry Month with Yoga

It’s time for a little something different.

Happy National Poetry Month!

Since I’m in a nostalgic mood lately, I found these poems I’d written during my early years of yoga.

Sometimes poetry just has a way of expressing an experience better than prose. What do you think?

 Poses

I.

I watch the falling flakes today as if

in a movie

frame by frame

the huge swirling globes not

falling, but suspended

at different intervals in space until,

touching down,

                     they run out of space.

 

            yesterday, in the middle of a floor pose,

            heal extended to ceiling,

            to blotched fluorescent light, to

            strand of cobweb dangling

            from the stippled water-stained tiles,

my body stretched through space,

                    for a moment, stretched out of the dream.

 

II.

mind

once wrung so taught,

a wet cloth twisted.

 

now softening, untwisting

into a heap

no longer wrought with the weight of things

               falling

                              unfolding

                a moveable mass

 

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The Brutally Honest Story of the Evolution of a Yogi, Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.

Finally it was time to, reluctantly, move back home to Maine. One of the first things I did was look for a Kundalini studio. That’s when I met Kartar (who would later go on to take over my yoga class and half my speech therapy caseload when I left Maine for Arizona, funny how life works) and her little studio, Kundalini Community Yoga, in the front room of a downstairs apartment of the house she owned in the West End of Portland. Sloping pine floors, fire place and old plate glass windows, right beside one of the many fine restaurants in the town. (For a whole week I convinced myself that the smell of steak wafting through the windows as I lay in Savasana was a sign I should eat meat again. I bought one organic grass-fed steak and it was delicious, then I was over it).

I loved the same old Kundalini in this new style from a new teacher, so laid back, yet behind her, years of experience and commitment, knowledge and faith in the practice and what it can do for your life. Then she closed her studio and took a break from teaching.

There was another little Black Age for Catie and Yoga, no more Kundalini and I just couldn’t get into Portland’s obsession with Vinyasa Flow. There was another wonderful teacher, that taught a gentle open flowing hatha –Open Heart Yoga, but the East End Community Center soon closed too and she left with its closing (She has since come back to open a new studio). I was discovering that my first year working may be harder than my first year of grad school, now no longer having the supportive network of my grad school friends and classmates, adjusting to another new city I wasn’t quite committed to being in yet.

I decided to give the flow studio another chance and in the meantime had started entertaining the idea of taking a teacher training, browsing different programs in different tropical locations on the Internet and in Yoga Journal.

teacher training group photo

teacher training group photo and images we created learning about the chakras

I met Heather the next day in her Kundalini class, the same old great Kundalini, another different teacher’s style. She announced that night a teacher’s training would be taking place in a few months in New Hampshire, taught by a wonderfully radiant artist-yogi. It was serendipity; I was in!

The first weekend of the class was a few days after my grandfather’s funeral. Recovering from a cold, overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion, I survived week 1, beginning to meet, slowly and shyly, the women I would spend one weekend a month with for the next nine months, completely transforming my life. I enduring pain and poses I never thought possible, continued through the tears, came out on the other end of a 2 ½ hour long meditation, and began teaching in front of them.

I also started teaching a practice class to a few willing co-workers in our office’s basement. They helping me move the heavy conference table and chairs into the other room once a week, then put them back again. I was beginning to feel like a teacher.

Between yoga and the power of positive thinking, I completely transforming my life into a place I wanted to be. Portland became a wonderful city, my job became one to fall in love with, even the winters I had always struggled to get through I embraced and loved. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And I found my yoga studio. One day Heather was late to class, stuck in traffic. I started talking with another student, who, with more passion than I’d seen in a long time, told me he was opening up a donations-only studio and I should stop by and help out if I wanted. Painting those walls that vibrant sunrise yellow was like therapy to me. Yogavé soon opened and I was subbing for Heather who had come on board and soon had my own class Tuesday nights at 7:30.

I was firmly into a daily committed practice. In the mornings if I didn’t want to get up for me, I did it for my students – I owed it to them, was committed to them, they needed a good, prepared, well-balanced teacher. I also taught a few outdoor classes on the Eastern Prom overlooking the bay on beautiful sunny summer mornings.

Life was pretty blissful. But I got restless. I was young, I was free, not yet tied down to the family and relationship I secretly desperately wanted. So I left my oceanside apartment for the desert. The Southwest, a place that had been calling me to return to since I first laid eyes on the alien land in my cross-country trip to Oregon.

After a much shorter and often more pleasant cross-country trip with my mom, I landed in Surprise, Arizona to start a job at an elementary school, all wide-eyed, high hopes of bringing yoga to the kids and this suburban town. Who knows where I’ll be called to teach, as it had called me, no, fallen into my lap, before. Picture 101

No one knocked. In fact, no one answered my knocks, not the PTA or the apartment complex activities director, or my neighbors. And these whole nine months I felt guilt, guilt that I didn’t try hard enough to bring yoga to my new community. This was a desert in terms of yoga, as well. Not a single yoga studio. There was a yoga class in my apartment complex that fizzled, a “yoga club” with a sporadic full moon yoga class and other class times that were inconvenient for me. There was a sort of ashram in Phoenix, but I hadn’t yet found the hour drive just for a class worth it enough. Guilt at my own slipping practice, watching, as I needed to start work earlier the minutes of my a.m. practice slowly dwindling to a consistent 15-20 minutes, then skipping on early meeting days, then skipping just to skip, then the days I do practice more rare than the ones I don’t.

This new development, however, only occurred in the last couple months of my Arizona stay. I did maintain practice through most of my time there, and that is something. But the guilt still lingered. In the end, I felt as if the suburbs had beaten me. I had not conquered. I was a yoga teacher who’s knowledge was being wasted, crumbling. And my own practice crumbling too.

Then I came home to Maine again and yoga had still steadfastly been waiting for me to make my next move.

And then I did. While back in Portland I built up a practice in my new-old life, keeping it through a new relationship, keeping it even though I couldn’t find and really didn’t spend much time looking for a teaching gig. This time my yoga practice was instantly there to ground me in this new period of my life. I knew I wanted this relationship, but I wanted it to be different than the ones before. Yoga helped me open up to my relationship fears, to open up to him. And even though he didn’t practice with me, he whole-heartedly supported my practice, and saw its importance to me.

The relationship soon got serious, and after a while I found myself in a new town, much more rural, still keeping a fairly steady Kundalini practice. Soon the universe opened up again and gave me an opportunity to teach –three of them actually. I started up a little class at my local gym. Then the teachers I worked with found out I taught and I started an after school class for them. When school let out for the summer, I found a new venue to teach at, in a lovely yoga gazebo. When the new school year started, and a new year-round full time job, adult ed approached me to do a class through them.

This was all great, but felt like a bit too much on my plate, teaching twice a week, negotiating a new job, and of course, blogging about it all. This time, instead of my personal practice being strengthened by my teaching, it weakened. I found I only had time to focus on what I’d be teaching, instead of exploring and deepening a personal practice.

So I stopped. I stopped teaching, and for a while I stopped, unexpectedly, practicing. It started up a bit in spurts and sputters that didn’t get very far because in January I injured my knee. And everything stopped.

But, as I healed, as always, I soon found my way back to yoga. This time it was different though. I found I was interested in Iyengar-style asana, rather than Kundalini. I found this gave me the strength, balance, and courage to heal from my injury –body and mind. This was my pre-surgery recovery period.

2014-04-11 07.22.13

my new direction

The period after surgery while I was laid up, I read everything I could about yoga, deepening through study of the texts, and self-study. I’m slowly starting to be able to breathe again and do a few asanas. This is lovely, of course, but I’m also more interested in what my yoga practice looks like off my mat, another aspect of yoga I feel I’d been neglecting.

I still feel myself swimming away from Kundalini, and back to my hatha roots, but even more I’m curious about the origins of yoga and its evolution, and how it fits into our society. I find myself wanting to give all styles of yoga a try. I want to know as much as I can about the practice, and I don’t want to have an opinion about any of it yet.

I can’t wait till my knee heals to really get back into the physical practice in a new way, but until then, this period of bodily stillness has opened up so much, and given me a much needed kick in the pants in my evolution as a yogi.

 

 

Related Reading:

A different perspective: on the bastardization of yoga, like indigenous traditions by low-brow pop culture (good stuff in the comments section too): http://www.rebellesociety.com/2014/04/01/on-the-bastardization-of-yoga/


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The Brutally Honest Story of the Evolution of a Yogi

Part 1

opening my heart to the practice

opening my heart to the practice

Yoga. Since my first class at the YWCA–on cheap carpets and a beach towel under the low tiled ceiling, with the fluorescent lights turned off— I knew it was for me. My mom and I drove an hour each way to that class, getting up earlier than a teenager would like for the eight-week long beginner series. We might have done two series before we stopped. Life got too busy, the drive got too long. But the seed was planted.

Soon I went to college and found a new teacher that would instill the practice in me, really hook me for good–eventually. I went to the first class with a friend as a college freshman. It was in a community center, a beautiful open space –high ceilings, wood floor expanding between large stained glass windows of the old converted church.

I wasn’t quite ready I guess because it took me a whole year before I returned. When I did, boyfriend in tow (the only yoga class I ever got him to), even when the teacher questioned, I lied and said I’d never been, to get the first class free –not a very good karmic start, but I used the poor college student defense to overcome the guilt.

What began as a questionable start, soon formed into a regular event for me, letting the stresses of college go, for at least an hour. In the summers, I’d bike myself there in the late afternoon sun on my beat-up lime green bike I got for free. Then I’d carry that bliss back with me on my twilight ride home.

I had so many revelations on the church floor on the shared rubber mats. No, actually, by that time I owned my own. I bought it with a gift certificate at a little boutique shop for $45, the only store I could find one in. (Now you can buy a mat at CVS or Walmart for cheap, everyone’s got one, or two.) Oh, and the too-big yoga pants I bought at Ames because I needed something I could move in, I soon traded in for a more form-fitting pair that I still wear today. Actually, I’m wearing them now, as I write this. (I still wear the other ones too, only as snow pants over another pair in the winter, that’s how big they are!)

I had so many revelations about my body, my muscles and my mind in that beautiful spacious room. I learned so much, and to this day I still call upon ways that teacher described poses to get myself into them. He taught in Iyengar style, with such detail and care in every pose and breath. I learned the fundamentals and he taught them well.

I also dabbled into meditation at a weekly informal class in the university’s chapel room. Each week we’d explore a different form of meditation, learning how to sit with silence, sit with breath, even a laughing meditation.

Then I had to take a break from his classes for a semester when I went to Ireland, where the only yoga class I took was taught by an old Irish man in a suit. I kid you not, it was the oddest thing. It was more like a calisthenics class, or the warm-ups you’d do before gym class. I happened to be stretching in the front row as I’d come in a bit late. I remember he made fun of me for mixing up my right and left, and the whole class laughed.

I did not return, but instead discovered that I remembered some of the poses and sequences I learned in my classes back in Maine and I could actually practice them alone, getting up mornings before my roommates, taking over a little space in the back corner of the living room of our little flat. I was actually quite surprised that my body remembered so many of the poses and seemed to flow from one to the other, giving myself what I needed.

So in Ireland I discovered a home practice. Ever since, every place I live I find a spot that I dedicate to my yoga practice. Even hotel rooms, there is often a space between the bed and the window, if I move a table or chair and that becomes my yoga studio.

When I returned, my old teacher’s class soon transitioned to its new location, less spacious, and no longer a bike’s ride away, and I was busy with life and moving.

These last 11 years of my life there have been periods of not practicing as well, like when I moved cross country with that same boyfriend I dragged to class. Sure, I did a few sun salutations in the dirt and pine needles of our camping spots on the way out and I must have occasionally done some down dogs in our apartment, but I don’t remember much yoga going on when I first moved to Eugene, Oregon. It was always there for me though, just quietly waiting. It was the Dark Ages of my yoga practice and beginning to become a dark time for me too, not adjusting well to this big change and big move, watching my relationship with my boyfriend very slowly and quietly deteriorate for reasons I always knew and I’ll never know.

One night, just needing to get out of the house, get away, needing something, I stumbled upon a class at YogaWest, sounded good and I knew how to get there, on Hilyard Street. “Kundalini Yoga” – never heard of it, but yoga’s all the same, right?

Wrong. Woah! What the hell was this?!? Funny breathing, weird poses, where was my relaxation? Where was my flow? I slipped in late, after the tune in, I’m sure. The teacher was this young bearded man all in white with a funny thing on his head talking about how wonderful it was to wake up at 4 in the morning before the sunrise, take a cold shower, then lather himself with oil to start the day.

“Freak!” I thought in my head. “Get me outa here!” I left feeling very discouraged –worse than when I went in.

Eventually my boyfriend and I entangled ourselves from our nearly four years together. I started a post-bac year before grad school, as a complete and utter mess. But time heals, in school I again found a meditation class I went to inconsistently and caught a yoga class every once in a while –back to “normal yoga.” It was a powerful, fast-paced flow, with this instructor that was so hot he made me blush to watch him practice, eagerly standing in line for his after-class hugs, in a hip part of town that was near the funky bike recycle shop. I stopped going because he was too distracting.

Then there was the teacher in the church basement in jeans who taught for free. They weren’t the best classes I’ve ever taken, but he was true, and I learned. He gave us little seedlings from his greenhouse one night. I was sad when I couldn’t make mine live.

I made friends at school and among my new housemates. Things were looking up. But grad school was getting stressful and my closest friend suggested I take a yoga class with her at a studio right next door to her new apartment –YogaWest.

“Hell, no, I won’t go!” I protested. But she assured me the experiences she’s had there were nothing like the Kundalini class I described to her. It was a female teacher, all women class on a Saturday morning and she’d make me pancakes after class. Plus, she said, Sikhs were cool people. So I finally agreed to go (if mostly for the pancakes).

The first class I still didn’t like, but I felt pretty amazing afterwards, must be something there. Second class, the same post-class bliss buzz, the air smelled fresher, the birds chirped sweater – I was alive! I kept going, buying 10-class passes. It was my new drug. Between Kundalini and my weekend lover I survived my first year of grad school. The sex didn’t last, but the yoga did.

…Stay tuned for Part 2 next week…


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Meditation in Action

sTreeOfYogaIn my last post I discussed asana as I understood it through B. K. S. Iyengar’s The Tree of Yoga. But it is too big and beautiful a book to just stop at asana. Since I’ve finished reading it, I’d like to process a little more of it with you and get to the heart of it, the heart of yoga itself.

Yogic Background

Most of The Tree of Yoga is based off the source text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (next on my yoga reading list; let’s see if it takes me another 10 years to get to it!). In it, Patanjali breaks down yoga into its parts. Iyengar interprets these parts for us in practical modern terms.

According to Patanjali, yoga is an eight-fold path (eight limbs, which is where the name ashtanga comes from). These eight limbs can both be broken down into smaller branches, and put together into three larger parts.

Ok, stick with me for a bit!

Here are the eight, and their subcategories/principles that define them:

  • Yama –the five principles of which are: ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (freedom from avarice), brahmacharya (control of sensual pleasure), and parigraha (freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one’s needs)
  • Niyama –the five principles of which are: saucha (cleanliness), santosa (contentment), tapas (ardour), svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara-pranidhana (self-surrender)
  • Asana –“the various postures which bring the physical and the physiological functions of the body into harmony with the psychological pattern of yogic discipline (pg. 8).”
  • Pranayama –“the science of breath, which connects the macrocosm to the microcosm and vice versa (pg. 8).”
  • Pratyahara –“the inward journey of the senses (pg.8)”
  • Dharana –“concentration, focusing the attention on the core of the being (pg.8)”
  • Dhyana –meditation
  • Samadhi –“where the body, the mind, and the soul are merged with the Universal Spirit (pg.9)” or “diffusing the soul into each and every part of the body (pg. 73)”

These eight limbs can be divided into the three different levels of yoga:

1st: Yama and Niyama have to do with the social and ethical aspects of yoga, like the dos and don’ts of life in society.

2nd: Asana, pranayama, pratyahara have to do with your personal physical and mental practice, which lead to “the evolution of the individual, the understanding of the self (pg. 5).”

3rd: Dharana, dhyana, samadhi aren’t really part of the practice, but more like the product. They are the “effects of yoga which bring the experience of the sight of the soul (pg.5).”

Woah, I know that was more than a mouthful! But it had to all be said. The Tree of Yoga takes the rest of the book to go into more detail explaining these principles. The more you come into contact with these words, hear them repeated, and explained in different ways, they do all begin to slowly make sense and fit together.

I won’t go into Iyengar’s beautiful tree analogy here, you’ll have to read it for yourself. But these are the foundations of all yoga, no matter what the style or school. To me, it seems, the style or school (i.e. ashtanga, Iyengar, Kundalini) has to do with the interpretation of these eight limbs and where the emphasis is put.

The Nature of Meditation

Anyway, it was in a chapter near the end of the book,”The Nature of Meditation,” when this all seemed to click and I could see both the big and the small pictures. Iyengar’s main thesis of the book, it seems, is to place the physical practice of asana (hatha yoga) at the center of getting at all the other aspects of yoga, even meditation.

Before reading this I had always had the idea that the asanas are really just warm-ups for sitting down to meditate. Now, you can, and should, certainly be doing each asana with meditative mindfulness, but it didn’t seem like you could get at samadhi from asana alone.

Iyengar takes a different approach. He seems to see meditation, and everything in that third tier –concentration, meditation, enlightenment, as something that can be achieved during and through an asana practice. And this was finally making sense to me by this chapter.

The ultimate goal of meditation is not to reach enlightenment just while sitting on your nice meditation cushion in complete silence, but to maintain that state in everything you do in your life. Meditation is not wisdom, not the answers to all the questions in the universe we are seeking in a cave somewhere. Meditation is to help us live our lives the best we can, to live it through our highest possible Self.

So, I kinda had all that before (and when I say this, I mean “had” as in understood it on an intellectual level, not experiential, which is the tough part!). But Iyengar puts the body back into this equation –and why not, we can’t get rid of our bodies in this life. And by putting the body back into it, he activated it for me. He writes:

“When we become aware inside and outside, we can have the experience that meditation and physical action are not separate, that there is no division between body, mind and soul (pg.146).”

He goes on:

“You may practice meditation and develop awareness when you are sitting quietly in a park, and it comes quite easily. But when you are busy working, your life gets dominated by thought and it is hard to have total awareness. When you practice asana, pranayama and pratyahara, you learn to be totally aware –you develop awareness in your whole body while you are engaged in action. Then you can become totally aware in all circumstances. In a park, while you look at a tree, you forget yourself and you are one with the universe. Why can’t you learn to be one with the universe of your own world –that is to say, your self and your body? This way of looking at daily life is total awareness, total integration and meditation (pg. 146-7).”

maybe less of this?

maybe less of this?

Woah. This means my asana practice (as meditation in action) may more easily translate to meditation in the actions of the everyday than my previous idea of what meditation was.

I like this. I like it a lot. And of course you can see why you would need to practice yoga daily for the rest of your life! This isn’t something you just get one day on the mat and then “get” one day off the mat, and you’re done with yoga.

He ends the chapter with this lovely thought:

“You and I are runners in meditation, but we have not reached the goal (pg. 148).”

and more of this?

and more of this?

At least it’s a beautiful course! See you on the road.

But wait, am I totally giving up seated meditation? Probably not. But I like this new perspective on yoga that the book gave me. And there’s still more! He ends with two beautiful chapters on the art of yoga, and teaching yoga.

Do you have any yoga texts you love by other yogis? I’m looking for more good reading. 

(Note: This scheduled post was written on 3/16/14 as I take a break from writing to heal post knee-surgery.)

Resource: The Tree of Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar


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My Yoga Family Tree

my new modified tree pose, coincidentally the shirt I'm wearing says "We'll get there eventually"

my new modified tree pose, coincidentally the shirt I’m wearing says “We’ll get there eventually”

I neglected to mention in my last post, since I didn’t want to sound whiny, that just about as soon as I returned home from my trip to Portland I got sick, and have been sick all week (the whole gamet –stomach bug to head cold to sinus infection, which is of course horrible timing. There, I’ve sufficiently held the pity party!).

So in this time of being laid-up, lacking any energy to do any yoga, I’ve been reading a lot about yoga instead. And since I process better when I write, I thought I’d share some of the things I’m reading.

Interestingly, I’ve been drawn to Iyengar-style hatha yoga as my knee is recovering and getting stronger, finding it hard to access the Kundalini kriyas. Later, as my knee got stronger, I probably could have physically accessed them, but there was something in my mind that was not interested in going there. I felt the need for static instead of dynamic poses, for moving slowly instead of the rapid movements characteristic of Kundalini. I was still very much enjoying exploring these hatha poses, remembering back to when I had first discovered them, and first discovered yoga. With this bum knee, it was like I was discovering the poses for the first time all over again.

So, as I waited for the library to get my new batch of books I requested, I opened up some old ones on my shelf I have to admit I had only read pieces of, rather than cover to cover. Both by B.K.S. Iyengar.

Light on Yoga

loyThe first I dug out as a guide to the poses –Light on Yoga. Now, I don’t think this book is really meant to be read cover-to-cover. Since most of it is a detailed list of poses with descriptions of how to do them, it is more of a reference book. But it does have a hefty introduction and a few other sections that I’d never read before. The introduction is really a great overview of ALL of yogic philosophy. For me, it was a nice review of concepts that I learned slowly over the course of my teacher training. If I hadn’t already learned them I think I would find it really confusing, but instead it was nice to refresh my memory, and come at it from a slightly different perspective (Iyengar versus Yogi Bhajan). It was somehow nice to affirm that all yoga (or at least these two styles) is the same and has the same fundamental goals and philosophy behind it, just different ways of getting there.

Tree of Yoga

Then, I moved onto The Tree of Yoga. A book, I have to confess, I’ve had on my shelf for probably about 10 years and still haven’t finished. I’m committed to it now and will finish this time! The book is based on lectures given by B.K.S. Iyengar on yogic philosophy, specifically how yogic philosophy and the spiritual aspects of yoga relate to and manifest in the physical practice of poses, or asanas.

Iyengar emphasizes again and again that the main purpose of yoga is union of body, mind, and soul, in order to create union with the Universal Spirit. I’ve always been drawn to Iyengar-style for its deliberate and slow experiences of each posture. That each posture in and of itself is a place of meditation, that a whole universe is going on in your body during each pose, and each pose is an entirely different universe. By this I mean, there is so much going on in the body and mind that we are often unaware of, slowing down in the poses helps us begin to be aware.

sTreeOfYogaThis awareness just deepens over time. When I first start practicing a pose, I am only aware of the muscles of action –the very pose itself. But slowly more awareness opens up. I then notice the muscles of inaction, and often discover they too are active in their own way, or sometimes reactive. There is balancing, stabilizing, stretching, releasing. Then I can start to focus on the breath in the pose. Then it can start to become meditative…and deeper and deeper.

I have to admit, most often I don’t get to this level of deepening. Practicing with my “new body” (post knee-injury) made me realize this again, and kind of relish in the slowing down, seeing just how slow I could go. My practice went from many poses to only a few in the same amount of time.

New things I gleaned about asana from The Tree of Yoga

Iyengar describes asana as pose and then repose, which really gets at what I described above. When I’m practicing an asana, too often I move on without the repose part. I pose, then pose, then pose, without taking the time to get at where the good stuff can be found –in the repose. He describes repose as:

“reflection on the pose. The pose is re-thought and readjusted so that the various limbs and parts of the body are positioned in their places in a proper order and feel rested and soothed, and the mind experiences the tranquility and calmness of bones, joints, muscles, fibres and cells.”

I love that repose has a double meaning, because this second step in the asana is a repose too –repose the noun: resting, in a state of calm and quiet. This is the time to connect body to mind, mind to soul. He writes:

“As the body is contracted or extended, so the intelligence is contracted or extended to reach every part of the body. This is what is known as reposing; this is sensitivity. When this sensitivity is in touch equally with the body, the mind and the soul, we are in a state of contemplation or meditation which is known as asana. The dualities between body and mind, mind and soul, are vanquished or destroyed.”

Good stuff, right?

Later, he adds to this idea of the asana that you must also taste it, taste its energy which I love.

“The essence, or taste, of energy has to be felt in the fountain of your body when you are performing asanas or pranayama.”

So we really do have a whole world going on in each and every pose. This is something I too easily and often forget.

Thanks for letting me process with you and I hope that maybe you were able to find it helpful too. I definitely recommend both of these books. The Tree of Yoga has many more beautiful nuggets in it, and covers all aspects of yoga. Asana was just the one on my mind tonight.

And, if it seems I have been focusing a lot on other yoga, besides Kundalini, it is because I have been. I haven’t abandoned Kundalini though. I am just taking some time to explore yogic philosophy in a broader sense, and through a different angle. I began my yoga journey in a more Iyengar-style class, so this has always been there, and there have always been aspects of this yoga that I miss in Kundalini. And aspects of Kundalini that I miss in hatha. I think I am now taking the time to reconcile the two in my life and strike some sort of balance.

Do you practice more than one style of yoga? How do you reconcile the differences? Or do you?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Please leave a comment if you feel so inclined.

(Note: This is a scheduled post written on 3/15/14 as I take a break from writing to heal post-knee surgery. By the way, the surgery went very well and I am recovering nicely.)

Resources:

Light on Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar

The Tree of Yoga, by B. K. S. Iyengar

Related:

10 Things That Make Kundalini Yoga Different from Hatha Yoga

Styles of Yoga

Iyengar Yoga’s official web page

Light on Yoga (aka “The Book”)


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Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside

Ok, I don’t usually do multiple posts a day, but this is a quick one that I couldn’t resist.

Here’s a photo of some of the non-yoga things I have been up to inside this winter since my body and the weather is determined to keep me there!

cultivating succulents & making stamps

cultivating succulents & making stamps

I have to credit the composition style to Geninne Zlatkis at Geninne’s Art Blog. And, actually, the inspiration to start making my own stamps as well!

I haven’t figured out how to link other’s posts, but here’s some other cool interpretations at Weekly Photo Challenge: Inside


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Sing Your Yoga!

On the first and third Saturday of every month, something pretty magical happens at Portland Yoga Studio. This is the night they hold kirtan.

Kirtan is a form of devotional yoga, in which a group participates in call and response chants. These chants are in Sanskrit, and call on the names and graces of various Hindu Gods or the Devine at large. The meditative practice of kirtan brings the chanter closer to union with the One, with everyone. More important than the words of these mantras is the sound. Sound is a powerful healing tool when used in this way.

For me, kirtan is yoga in another form. Like a yoga class, or my home practice, chanting at a kirtan recharges my spirit, helps me let go of the crap and worries I hold on to, lets me just be. When I lived in Portland, I attended this kirtan group when I could. Last weekend, while visiting the city, I had the chance to go again –actually, I picked that weekend to visit so that I could go.

The space itself holds a lovely energy. Upon entering and settling into the room before the music even begins –this positive energy seeps from the golden and orange walls, perfumes the room. How can this energy not emanate from a space that has held so much beautiful yoga, so much beautiful music –that “good stuff” lingers, it sticks.

Ganesha, photo credit: Google Images

Ganesha, photo credit: Google Images

Kirtonium lead the group this night. This was my first time hearing them, since they took over for the group I used to attend. Although the scene and vibe were a little different, it was still a heavenly night. We began with chanting to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I had my impending knee surgery on my mind, as I settled into my singing voice and massaged my hamstring tendon. My knee is an obstacle even Ganesha can’t remove, I thought to myself. But then, as we were chanting, I had this other thought: Sometimes you can’t remove the obstacle, but you can at least remove the weight behind it. And that’s what happened.

Ah, I was settling into the Naad. Naad, “the essence of all sound,… is the vibrational harmony through which the Infinite can be experienced.” (The Aquarian Teacher Level One Instructor Textbook, by Yogi Bhajan). What is sound? Sound is just vibrations. We are just vibrations. In chanting, we attempt to join our vibrations with that universal current. Yogi Bhajan writes:

“By vibrating in rhythm with the breath to a particular sound that is proportional to the creative sound, or sound current, one can expand one’s sensitivity to the entire spectrum vibration. It is similar to striking a note on a stringed instrument.   In other words, as you vibrate, the universe vibrates with you.”

It took about an hour and a half before I was finally able to let go and take a real deep breath. There is always that one.deep.breath for me in a practice where finally everything is released. And when it came that night, it was wonderful –the entire week exhaled from my body. Ahhhh.

I experience Kirtan in many little moments, as any life experience really, but these little moments are more perceptible while chanting. There was one moment when the Sanskrit chant seamlessly morphed into Allejulah –this word all of a sudden dropped all its modern connotations; it took on its original meaning, it was a prayer, like any other, sung so earnestly, as if I was hearing it for the first time, melding all religions, all faiths –all of us.

Moments of Silence

After each chant, there is always a time of silence. It’s funny that we need to make all this noise –beautiful noise, but noise, no less, in order to truly hear the silence. The juxtaposition of silence after each chant is where the light comes in for me. There was one such moment of silence near the end –everyone’s souls just burst open for a moment. Then slowly, coughs and rustlings quietly took it back, we all closed back up again, but there was that moment. And that’s why chanting as a group can be so powerful. The sound can create such a deep connection with complete strangers.

That was my Friday night. That was my little mini-vacation to an old familiar place before I’m laid up for a while post-surgery. I took a well-worn tour of all my favorite places and people in the city and had a wonderful time.

This post was written last weekend, but I didn’t get a chance to finish it until now. On Tuesday I go in for knee surgery. I am scared, but I will breathe through it! Maybe I’ll even have one of these lovely mantras floating in my mind.

If you live in or near Maine, you can learn more about our kirtan scene at: http://www.mainekirtan.com/

And more about Kirtonium at: http://www.kirtonium.com/

If you don’t live in Maine, I bet you’ll find a growing kirtan community near you if you looked. It is a practice that has really gained in popularity over the last few years. Also, you don’t need to feel like a beautiful singer to join in. Everyone’s voice becomes angelic when it’s joined in chanting in this way -I promise!

Thanks for reading about another form of yoga I practice.

Do you attend kirtans? How will you practice your yoga today? Share with us in the comments.

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