Sunday, November 20, 2011

Non attachment

Vairagya or the practice of non-attachment is terrifying to me. Perhaps because it feels extremely challenging, perhaps because it forces me to look at my own mortality and the fleeting nature of all that surrounds me and also perhaps because I truly love many of the things that I find myself being attached to and to face the possibility of losing these doesn’t seem like much fun!

Rationally, we know that attachment is useless. Everything is always changing and we are all going to die. Much of our life, however, is constructed around the presumption that this isn’t true.

So, how does this practice work? What does non-attachment look like in the context of a yoga practice? During meditation? As I navigate my life? What does this mean for my goals, my loved ones, my coffee addiction and my future?

After some time thinking about this, here are some thoughts:

When all gets boiled down, whether I’m clinging to an idea, an object, a person or a goal, I’m clinging to an outcome: I want this to happen next. Or: I really don’t want this to happen next! I’m placing some kind of value, either negative or positive, on something that I really can’t control: the future! This means that if my attachments are all related to what I want or don’t want to happen, the practice becomes that of not being attached to specific outcomes.

Simple enough, right? In theory, yes, but this practice certainly isn’t easy. Our attachments are strong. Sure, there are myriad small addictions that we all have. I, for one, really love coffee and it might be a tough to give up my attachment to the effect of caffeine on my body.

There are, however, many more complex and deep-rooted things that I cling to. For example, I daily make tons of assumptions about how the world works, what it means to do good, how to succeed and what are the components, which make up my personality. We also hold many different beliefs about what it means to be accepted and weather or not this is important. Quite often, self-harming behaviors such as substance abuse, addiction and obsession are tightly woven around these ideas. To let go of these types of attachments is much more of a process.

That is why it is a practice. The next question is of course, in the sea of attachments and assumptions that make up the stuff of our lives, where do we begin to untangle this knotted mess?

I think that where this practice begins is in the act of noticing. I begin by bringing my awareness to a few attachments and assumptions I hold. Maybe this leads to the discovery of a few more. I can take it as slowly or as quickly as I need in any moment. I also remember to take on the task of unraveling my attachments with a lot of love, care and as much as possible, without judgment. Maybe it is painful and challenging to let go of certain things and takes quite some time. Maybe this leads to a great sense of relief. Perhaps this means that I have permission to let go of ideas and things that no longer serve me. Maybe, this even leads me to imagine a life where my action isn’t driven by clinging to those things that I’m attached to. Maybe, I teach myself to move through the world without the goal of achieving specific outcomes.

Now, if I get to a point where even a small portion of my actions is not driven by attachment, this practice has the potential to yield staggering and incredible results.

First off, there is the possibility of vastly increased openness; openness to people, possibilities and ideas that likely weren’t on my radar before integrating the practice of non-attachment into my life.

When I practice non-attachment to specific outcomes, my goals can be fluid and open. Instead of having goals, in fact, I can create intentions, sort of mission statements related to the way in which I want to approach my life. My practice becomes one of showing up applying my intention by doing my best in each situation.

I can let go of a good dose of fear. By keeping the reality of being mortal very close in each moment, I can allow for experimentation, change and flexibility without being afraid of what I am going to lose.

The practice is one of love and the expression of love without any expectation of reciprocation in any specific way. I become very generous with my heart as it becomes clearer and clearer that I won’t run out of the stuff that love is made of.

The practice is one of feeling, of examining emotion without self-judgment or reaction. Of taking time with this and after some time, I act! I do exactly what is needed in the moment and remain un-phased by the nagging question which tends to stunt the ability to act selflessly: How is this affirming the ideas I love to believe about myself?

The practice of non-attachment is one of becoming intimate instead with a different question: What is going to happen next?

Can I ask that question without gripping or trying to control the answer?

I think that is the practice of non-attachment…

Happy questing!

Always a fool,


Monday, October 24, 2011

Choosing community

So here we are, months after my last post and this fool’s life has changed and shifted dramatically. While I still sip a cup of ritual coffee as I pen these words, most of the rest has changed. When I last wrote, I was a guest in a foreign city for a finite amount of time. Not only that, I was intentionally disconnected from any form of employment. I spent months in San Francisco doing little more than reading, drinking tea and practicing yoga (exaggeration included…)

A transition period ensued between that life and my settling in Montreal. During this time, I took full advantage of August’s bountiful warm and sunny demeanor to eat blueberries, reconnect with friends and family and ride my bike around big lakes and on small islands. I also did spend some time fretting and worrying to some degree about the future, one that didn’t seem to have much direction other than teaching yoga in Montreal. August was a truly amazing time for me. I got the chance to put all sorts of principles into practice and watch yoga come to life in a completely new circumstance. My situation had the potential to generate a lot of needless anxiety. My yoga homework was to be present to the anxiety and simultaneously find joy, steadiness and ease within this unknown and new territory, and it worked out pretty well! This felt like a clear affirmation of the potency and power of the tools I am being taught and beginning to use in my life. I was shown through direct experience that this process is sound and does indeed help me to accept my humanness in a diversity of circumstances.

How exciting!

Autumn has me settling in and working to find people and spaces in which to share all that I’ve learned about yoga on my epic pilgrimage to the northern California coast. What has been truly amazing about this transition, this return, has been to observe my reactions to sameness, to familiar places and people, watching myself going through a long and drawn out transition in which I didn’t know what was to come.

Now, the always-terrifying task of putting myself out there in the world is upon me. Oh the things I’m learning about myself and about yoga in the process of doing that…

About here…

Landing in a new community is a very exciting thing indeed. And I’ve been really fortunate to choose a community, which is rich, diverse, vibrant, dynamic and bountiful. Already, I’m being given the opportunity to practice with a diverse group of people, in many different settings and everywhere I turn, people want to practice yoga. It is strange to be faced with the reality of a place when I’ve been concocting a strange question mark filled fantasy about it in my mind for months.

About yoga and community…

A surprise that I hadn’t expected about teaching yoga is the incredible capacity it has to bring people together. If only for us to come together to share our practice, it is worth doing. There are incredible teachers in each and every one of my students. If there is a willing student, no matter where or who they are, it is absolutely exhilarating to share this practice with them. I am really actively relishing in this joy and newness and sincerely hope that this feeling never goes away! A piece of advice given me from a great teacher often comes to mind: Let yourself be transformed by your students.

About the fool…

Ah, the fool. Here the fool is finding her place, standing still, gardening and nurturing one place for a while. Should be scary really but it’s not. If feels stimulating and exciting and I don’t think that this fool has lost any of her foolishness from standing still. In fact, from being in one place, the foolish tendencies only become that much more obvious. The fear of complacency and boredom has dissolved as I watch myself in action in this new space. I am witnessing myself wedge into nooks and crannies in which to teach and learn, resisting too much comfort and actively engaging with the opportunities I’m being given to ask the question: is this what I’m here to do? I can trust in my foolish tendencies to always provide a cliff edge only a few paces away!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Giving it up

The dictionary defines sacrifice as the act of offering plant, animal or human life to a deity as an homage, to surrender or give up, to permit injury or disadvantage for the sake of something else. The etymology of the word translates in english from its latin roots as "to do or to make holy".

It is impossible to consider the idea of sacrifice without dancing with the light and goodness of humanity as well as it's shadow. When I thought of writing this piece about sacrifice, I had really not considered the negative historical connotations of the word. The idea of sacrifice in my imagination was light, beautiful and positive. I easily could have adapted my writing and used the word "offering" or "gift" in order to stay closer to the original vision I had of this piece, one in which I would try to soften the idea of giving things up and to make it more appealing and digestible. I was interested, however, in my reaction to what I found when I looked up the more general meaning of the word: "Whoa, sacrificing sometimes means to injure, to kill... that's not good at all!"

I think that the definition that I found really merits some careful consideration. There can be negative and positive repercussions to making a sacrifice. Where is the line? How do I minimize the damage? Finally, how can the shift take place where sacrifice means no one gets hurt?
On the surface, sacrifice is something which directly goes against the unspoken rules within our culture which dictate the following (and I generalize): Permanent comfort and personal gain are symbols of status and success. These are to be obtained at all cost.

The general trend of the individualized culture in which we live would have us believe that to give something up, especially when we don't have to do so is a silly idea. Also, that success comes from holding tight all that we have and guarding our assets and lifestyles with vigour.

If we define sacrifice as the act of giving something up in order to benefit something else, however, even within these parameters, we are unconsciously making sacrifices all the time. We give up our time and lives to create security and material wealth for ourselves and our children. We give up our health in order to satisfy immediate needs for stimulation, entertainment and general comfort. We give up our planet's health for the advancement of industry, production, more stuff and the ability to instantly satisfy any needs we may have.

This becomes very complicated when we begin to try to place an ethical value on these sacrifices. Are we creating more damage than good? Are these sacrifices worth it? Are they conscious? Who is being hurt or exploited? Where do the ethics of such sacrifices come into play and who is being held accountable? What is an acceptable amount of wealth for one person or group of people to accumulate before we can safely say that we are making sacrifices that are not ours to make? These are some questions that roll around in my head all the time as I observe myself interacting in the world and as I strive to live in harmony with the people, plants and animals around me.

By asking important questions, we can begin to shift and brighten our awareness around these choices and perhaps begin to make different ones, yes? What happens next? Do we begin to live unpleasant and austere lives which are boring and don't involve any entertainment, stimulation or stuff? Does positive and conscious sacrifice have to be hard, painful and difficult? Perhaps not necessarily, but let's look carefully at what is going on when we make choices deliberately with the goal of reducing suffering.

So, I'm trying to help, to heal, to brighten, to make holy. Sounds simple, yet this brings up a whole new set of challenging questions to be pondered. What is the direct and indirect impact of my action? Am I acting in a certain way for recognition? Am I trying to help someone else, myself or both? What happens in the case where I have to chose between one or the other? Is it always going to feel great to give something up that I know will help? If it feels challenging, should I still do it? If it feels great, does that mean that it's wrong? What are some thing that I know create harm that I find particularly challenging to give up? Can I honestly look at that shadowy part of myself and find peace with it or is there a tendency within me to justify not making those sacrifices I really don't want to make?

In essence, by looking at these questions, I can see that there are times where sacrifice is appealing and digestible and there are times when it's not. I believe that the idea of giving stuff up has gotten a really bad rep in our current culture. I believe that sacrifice has the potential to bring us joy, peace and knowledge about ourselves when enacted with intent. But truly, it is important that when we make a sacrifice, we wholeheartedly embrace the reality around what we give up, what we guard and what we make space for. I believe that the act of making sacred can happen everywhere and with all things. I believe that sacrifice can humble us and helps us appreciate the abundance in our life more fully. Lets make our gifts, offerings and sacrifices conscious and ethical. Let's challenge ourselves, maybe only once in a while or maybe every day, in small and in big ways to give something up. Let's be open to the possibility that it won't be all bad, that it might teach us something or shift a perspective. Maybe through sacrifice, we will discover an exciting and new possibility. Let's do it invisibly sometimes too, so that we're clear about our intent and it isn't just about others thinking we're great. Lets make our choices intelligently, consciously and with passion. Let's see where we can create more sacredness, more balance and more beauty in the world through our actions. What could possibly be a greater gift than that?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Tending to the fire

In this article, I would really like to talk about fire in how it applies to practice and reaches beyond me to shape communities and the globe. At it's very foundation, I think that the question of heat cannot be addressed without looking at the equally important question of how to cool things down. The question of quelling the fire is perhaps even more important, especially globally as we need to figure out ways of cooling things down if we want to continue to thrive on this planet.

I'm getting ahead of myself though. Let me first begin by explaining something very important that I continue to learn through the study of ecology and the philosophies of yoga. Our actions, while they may seem separate actually unravel outward from ourselves like spirals. They affect us on a personal level, extend to our close friends and family, reach beyond to our geographic and chosen communities and in an increasingly globalized world, our actions reach far and wide to other people and ecosystems that we may never see or encounter in our lives.

It is easy to recognize and understand the more direct impacts of what we do in our bodies, family and community but in order for us to thrive, we must hold space in our awareness for all the disparate and challenging effects of what we do that may not appear to be so obvious.

Here, I chose to approach the topic of fire in a very linear way but know that it is best to consider this idea of how our actions have heating or cooling effects more like a web. No place, person, breath, orchid, garbage truck, television set, siberian tigre, banana tree, jelly fish, wooden chair, pair of sunglasses, convertible sports car, child's laugh, machine gun, violin or Beatles song exists on its own... yep, we're all in this together and I, for one, love living on this planet and want to continue to do so for a long time.

The role of fire in yoga practice, as far as I understand it, is simple enough. I aim to burn through or to digest what is no longer needed. Fire is built through movement and breath. Digestion is often spoken about as a fire and I want to cultivate the ability to digest things quickly and efficiently so that my fire burns bright and clean. So that I'm not carrying around anything extra that could weigh me down, I cultivate a healthy dose of fire in practice to help keep me light.

Fire is important. It is also really empowering and exciting to feel the effects of creating my own fire. I love to move my body under my own steam and to recognize my own well of energy and the incredible things it allows me to do. Now, the flip side of this is that I need to learn to cool down, to be still, to reflect, to sit, to lay down, to close my eyes, to exhale, to release and to let go. This is an essential part of a balanced practice (or life!) It is in the reflective and cooling aspects of practice that I can begin to integrate the benefits of having created that fire and to increase the potency of those benefits.

If I keep the fire going non-stop, I may injure my body, I may fry my nervous system and will likely, both literally and figuratively, burn out. When the scale tips in the opposite direction, I might experience depression, weight gain, lethargy and likely some discomfort and anxiety around all those things. What I'm learning through my practice here is that both heat and cool are essential. Balance is key and also, a work in progress where constant tweaking is necessary to continue to work towards balancing the heat and the cool in life.

This brings me to a wider part of the spiral, that of community, friends and family. Working with friends and family is a bit more tricky than a personal practice because it involves other people. It also has the potential of bringing the greatest joys, lessons and healing. One way to consider and relax into healthy relationships and friendships, I've learned, is to know that we will likely experience fire (or sparks, coals or sweat) and ice ( or snow, hail or sleet). This dynamism keeps us alive, aware and can remind me of balance. I want to chose to interact with people in a way that will nurture and enhance everyone involved especially when I remember the web and the potential ripple effects of something as simple as smile versus a frown.

Finally, we come to global action. First, we remember that as part of the whole, actions that benefit us and our communities without harming others are one way we can start to create change. It becomes trickier when we recognize those things we do that very directly affect people and places we can't even see and may not in our lifetime.

On a global scale, the fire is burning out of control. We are burning fuel and other sources of non-renewable energy at a speedy pace while simultaneously destroying the earth's built-in energy regeneration systems such as forests, oceans and rivers. Gross imbalances can be seen in the form of addictions, disease, huge discrepancy between the rich and poor, eating disorders and the list can go on and on.

On a global scale, the action that is currently needed falls squarely in the category of cooling and burning less... With the exception of lighting a fire under our own bums and the ass of our politicians, we need to slow down, to consume less, to consume responsibly, to educate ourselves, to make our living in a way that is non-harming and to figure out how to work with all those things within our minds that make it challenging to do these things.

The practice of yoga has shown me yet another way to continue to think about fire, heat and energy. As I am practicing yoga, I'm choosing to spend my time in ways that don't require anything to be burned other than perhaps a fire in my belly lungs and heart. With each breath, we act. With the gifts and privilege we've been handed in the form of healthy bodies, food to eat, clothes to wear and a bed in which to sleep, we need to put out the fires we have created and restore balance to this planet, our home.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Successing at life

A question which has been on my mind lately as I carefully consider how to go forward in my life at the conclusion of these blissful months of practie and study, is what it means to acheive success, how I will define this and what steps I'm willing to take in order to get there. In many ways, my time spent practicing yoga has really shifted some of the beliefs I didn't even realize I held around living a successful life.

By looking at this question through a different lense, I am discovering more and more the contradictions which tend guide action under the pretense of acheiving something which will generate happiness in our lives. Here are a few thoughts on the topic.

First things first, the moment I start thinking of success as something that happens outside of this moment, I'm automatically toast! Watch how quickly this can happen in two very distinct ways.

#1 Defeat before I've even tried: " If I'm not acheiving my very narrow and specific vision of being successful now, I never will and it's not even worth it to try. Best to react and get out of this uncomfortable situation in any way I can..."

#2Suffer now, feel great latter: " I recognize that I'm not happy, not living in alignment with my values, not experiencing life in a fulfilling or affirming way, perhaps I'm contributing to an unhealthy body, an unhealthy planet and I'm not spending any time nurturing my space, my relationships, my creativity or myself. It'll all be worth it when I acheive (insert a likely skewed vision of success here) latter though and at that point my life will be perfect and flaweless or at the very least much better than it is now."

Now, when expressed so blatantly like that with just a dash of exaggeration, these statements seem ridiculous in their complete lack of logic and reason. I would be lying, however, if something along these lines didn't pass through my being in one way shape or form on a pretty regular basis.

So, what is the practice of working with and transforming these ways of thinking? First, I need to deeply undertand the relationship between my desires and the circumstances of my life. As long as I'm fighting the reality of what is going on around me and the factors over which I have no control, life will be very challenging indeed! Second, I need to cultivate whatever it is that I want to acheive. If I practice with anger and frustration, I will become very good at being angry and frustrated. To endure the present moment with the blind hope that through suffering and self-harm now, I will achieve happiness and ease latter is akin to planting an apple tree with the hope of harvesting mangos. By practicing the way I want to be in the world, I become better at it and it becomes easier and easier to practice.

The second quality that I think becomes a huge factor in the way we define our effectiveness in the world is the quality of our action. From the moment we take our first breath to our last exhale on this planet, we are in action. This means that each and every moment is of great importance and not one single moment is more or less important than another.

I think that a common trap for folks like me, those who want to affect big change, who see all sorts of problems in the world that need fixing is that small changes and small moments don't seem important enough... Now, it has been a huge challenge for me to fully comprehend the fact that bigger is not necessarily better, especially if the quality of the action gets lost along the way.

As things stand now, consumerism has a devastating impact on our fragile and finite planet. As rich western people, we have much to learn about the ways in which we chose to act. In many ways, we have the greatest responsibility to change our actions if we want the planet to survive.
In response to this I must act in a way that is not harmful, not hurting and not adding to the problems that I see "out there". I begin by seeing myself as part of the ecosystem and part of the planet, which means that any problem that exists outside of myself is also alive within me... I do my best to care for the most direct part of the planet that I have access to, my body. I find ways to quiet my mind so that my action, in every moment that I'm practicing is not taking from anyone or anything else what is not rightfully mine. Once I am able to do this, I can move through the world in a way where I'm less reactive, which leads me to consume still less of what I don't need and which will not lead me to any lasting sense of happiness. By clearing and digesting the pollution in my mind, I become a person who is able to move through the world without creating as much damage or destruction.

Now, I don't think it is a bad thing to have a desire to accomplish, to be creative, to enjoy ourselves and to live a fulfilling life. When we first start to question the place from which we have been operating and making decisions in life, it's astounding and sometimes disconcerting to realize that our goals have been greatly shaped by family, cultural and societal beliefs. The danger comes when we don't stop to ask some very key questions around our own beliefs, when we don't give ourselves space to be wrong, to change, to shift or to try out a different way of being in the world. It is a very special gift and important responsability that we have in times like these to spend time contemplating these really fundamental questions around the direction we want our life to take and how we want to be in the world:

How do I define success? Where did I learn this? Does my success include the success of my family, my community, the ecology which is my home, the planet? Does my vision of future "success" depend on an unhealthy compromise in my current life? What are my goals grounded in? What is at the bottom of what I aspire to? Am I spending time engaging with my family and community to work with and further define a vision of what we want to create together? Is my success defined by recognition, approval, money, material gain, a sense of being right? How often do I allow for the possibility that I've been wrong? How often do I re-examine and come to a new definition of success to fit the changing circumstances of my life? Am I nurturing and practicing the ability to become more flexible, more open, less reactive, stronger, compassionate, loving and whatever else fits into the vision of the person I want to be?

The final piece that is both challenging and crucial is faith. I don't mean faith in some magical force that will come down and make all the worlds problems go away but simply faith in others. Faith that people next door, down the street and across the globe are working towards creating a more harmonious place to live. Perhaps this doesn't look the same for others as it does for me but this does nothing but add to the potency of what change will occur. In fact, we are much stronger together than separate. Without this piece, I surely would have to solve all the worlds problems by myself, but despite the overwhelmingness of life at times, I am responsible for placing my faith in the fact that I'm not alone and that there are allies out there that I may never even see or touch. They are there none the less and they sit, breathe, act, smile and love in every moment that I am here doing the same.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Beginning to work with story

It is safe to say that many of us come to the practice of yoga because of story. It might be one of dissatisfaction in our life, weather through a physical injury or perhaps a sense that there is a lack of meaning in the things that we do. Alternately, the story could be about an incredible, exotic and transofmative practice that we call yoga and we come to the practice from a place of feeling very curious about what this is all about.
Often, we experience very positive shifts as a result of a yoga practice. However, when the practice does not match up to our expectations, we feel somehow cheated. From a yogic perspective, it is always when story(what we expect) and reality(what actually happens) don't match up that we are unhappy.
We are taught through yoga to neither cling or grip to stories that we like and also not to retract or move away from those stories that we don't like so much. In essence, to remain non-reactive to whatever comes up in our life is what will lead us out of suffering and to a place of peace and contentment.
Now, this is much easier said than done. These instructions seem to lead us to a passive and inactive life. We know, however, that yoga is a practice of action and that through yoga, we are lead to take right action in all the facets of our lives.
Now, I happen to be quite fascinated with story. I love to listen to the stories that others may have to share with me. I have formally studied storytelling practices in the form of theatre and arts and I continue to be a student and avid observer of the way in which our stories shape us. I am learning more and more everyday that story is one of the most poserful driving forces behind human action.
For me, the instruction to simply not react presents a significant challenge. I have to ask myself, where do I start? On one hand, we can act with a complete lack of awareness of what stories do, on the other, it becomes possible to work with their power to transform our world. What happens in between? Of course, it is a process that has no tangible goal or destination as story continues to spring up with each new breath, blossom, rainstorm, meal, heartbreak, moment, birth, death, and beyond. For me, the process of identification and study of story spans those that tell of myth, legend, human and natural history, current event, personal life stories those of relationships, etc. How do I work with and through all this to figure out what to do?
I study the stories which are written down and famous, those which have been tested by time and have survived. Those that have come alive across the world in very diverse cultures.
I listen to those who want to share their stories, especially the young and the old, who's stories are not the same as mine.
I chose the stories that are allowed in, nurtured and fed. I must be careful not to foster those that feed my ego by keeping me in a sense of feeling very right about something.
I notice the story that hides in places where I may not have noticed them before... find the assumptions hidden in the sporting events, the billboards, the magazine covers and newspaper headlines, my own mind. I try to notice what these are leading me to believe and wonder what stories aren't being told in their place.
I gobble up stories that feed, nourish, inspire me as much as those that challenge and keep me sharp to the action that is needed in the world, that I might know what is right and continue to know as the world changes.
We live in a culture which, superficially sees things as black or white. The world we have created is of good and bad, of right and wrong, where positions are what define us. It is very easy fo find reason to seperate, segregate and point at others as the cause of our problems. When I follow this tendancy, stories do not serve me, any other person, my community or the planet. When I gently reverse this tendancy to seek and search for the comon threads that weave all our stories together, when I excavate until I understand in a new way, through a new story that we all share the experience of being human, of being alive, that is where the story works. That is where it is wonderfully helpful and useful.

Now, if this is going to work in the story that is my yoga practice, and more importantly, if this is going to translate into the world I continue to create, I must continue to be a student of the practice and to surrender to the journey it takes me on. I notice my reactions or stories as I practice yoga and meditation. I bait my mind and body into difficult situations to practice the way I respond to situations in my life, that I might act with courage, strength and grace. Because if the story of practice is teaching me anything, it is teaching me about my stories and about the story that I want to create and those I want to be a part of during this crucial time on earth.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Is it yoga?

The origin of the word yoga can be translated from Sanskrit as meaning many different verbs and nouns. A few of these include but are not limited to: joining, uniting, union, conjunction, to control, to yoke, to unite, intimacy, means, contemplation or absorption...

This is a simple and broad definition and it is important to keep it in mind and to come back to this origin throughout practice, especially as we begin to peel away layers of understanding and want to go deeper. However, for our purpose here, I would like to outline some important principles that apply to the practice we know today. This, in order to help me concretize what can seem like a very broad amalgam of ideas, styles, exercises and schools of thought. So, here are some of the fool's principles to keep in mind for beginning yoga practitioners such as myself. These may also be useful to apply to any other “practice” for those of you who do not specifically practice yoga very much, or at all.

A yoga practice can take many forms.

In fact, it takes a slightly different form in each and every one of us who practice as our bodies all express themselves slightly differently. Some practice alone, others in communities. Some of us love to sweat and work hard while others prefer to sit, move slowly or chant. The important thing to remember is that all modalities are valid as long as they work… Anyone who claims that their way is better has missed the point entirely. Every body is different and there is a yoga practice for everyone who has interest. I love to try on different styles of yoga and to have fun with figuring out what works for me on a given day or week.

Yoga cultivates awareness.

This principle works on so many levels, the most basic of which is the physical body and breath. Taking time out of our life to spend time with our body will do wonders for your awareness of where exactly your pelvic floor, hamstring muscle or humeris bone are located, how they work and what they feel like as we move the body. The mysteries of other discoveries that can come from the cultivation of awareness are vast and best left for another time, when there is not so much to say about practice…

Yoga is efficient, fills a need and evolves with its practitioners.

As I learn more and more about the history of yoga I am surprised to find out that ancient yoga practice resembled very little of what we practice today. Yogis of the past practiced many different modalities such as meditation, study, concentration practice, chanting or devotional practices and service. In the Yoga Sutras, a foundational yogic text written by Patanjali about 2000 years ago, there are eight limbs to this practice, only one of which is yoga asana (the physical postures). This begs the question: Why do we devote so much of our time to asana in our current practice?

It feels very much that the reason we are drawn to asana practice in this day and age is that there is a significant need for us to become more grounded in our bodies. Our lifestyles have externalized many of the processes by which we move and interact with the world, often taking us further and further away from the materials that our bodies are made up of. When we come to yoga, we are often sick, weak, stiff and distressed. The body is thus a very intelligent entry point into this practice. Asana is an efficient way to come to awareness and presence, one that is accessible to everyone who breathes. Again, this is the most simple and basic way in which the practice works efficiently and the more I practice, the more I discover how this continues to apply in more subtle ways down the road.

Yoga is a practice of action.

This means that it works only when I do it. Finding a practice which I enjoy, can sustain and that addresses any issues I may be working through is key. Because to practice is to act and the practice can only live in this action. To return time and time again to my body and breath is what keeps the practice alive.

Yoga brings balance and reverses tendencies.

Again, we begin in the body and eventually realize that the effect trickles into all aspects of life. We come and stretch parts of us which tend to be tight, we strengthens those which tend to be weak and we rest and restore those which are broken or need a break. A mindful practice will work to help me identify my tendencies and gently work towards helping me freak out less in a difficult pose, which in turn will help me freak out less when I’m in a difficult situation. More and more, research is showing that this mindful reversing of tendencies is really powerful medicine for the brain. As we identify patterns and deliberately change them, the shape of our neurology actually has the ability to shift and change and this can continue to happen for the duration of adult life.

Finally, if it’s not opening your heart...

…keep practicing, it will eventually. Really there’s not much to say about this one… it’s a simple and beautiful practice to open the heart. Life will always provide different, new and interesting ways to help us learn and re-learn the practice of loving kindness both to ourselves and to others.

So, let us return to the question.

If I’m not working from a place of balance, identifying my tendencies, increasing awareness and opening my heart, I have to wonder what I’m really doing and weather it is in any way efficient or even if I can say that it is a practice. Weather your practice is asana, relationship, vocational work, cooking, writing, running marathons, playing an instrument, walking the dog or climbing a mountain, the question, when framed in this way, can always be asked. Is it yoga?

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Packing light...

“The fool carries on his back all the possessions he might need.”

I took this quite literally and proudly thought myself such a good little fool for a time as I have never indulged in any excess with regards to material possessions. Not until I plunged, head first, into the extreme darkness that the north provides, was I able to see all that I was actually carrying much more than I care to admit.

“Don’t be stingy with yourself,” said Randall. These were the words spoken to me by a powerful elder and teacher that I was privileged to know in the great northern Yukon last year. This simple phrase of advice came at a particularly important time. I had never really thought about it this way before. I was a beginner in the practice of non-stinginess and didn’t really understand its subtlety or nuances very well…

“Don’t be stingy with yourself.” The words really struck a chord.

What does this actually mean? Well, it’s a wonderful idea because its opposite is generous. If I’m not stingy, that means I’m kind, generous and bountiful with myself.

For me, it has come to mean many things, which may seem counterintuitive at first, but read on anyways…

Being generous means not coping out of a difficult situation and watering down my experiences.

It means not tricking myself into believing that I can achieve any sense of lasting peace from anything outside myself.

It means not cheating myself out of the most complete and present experience possible.

It means to sleep when I’m tired, to eat when I’m hungry, to move when I’m restless, to laugh when it’s funny and to cry when it’s sad.

If I go out when I’m tired, run when I’m hungry or eat when it’s sad, that is most certainly not a great exercise in generosity, I slowly came to discover.

Now there’s one point that I can’t emphasize enough in the practice of partaking in generosity. Some of you may recognize this through line from a previous post: The outside factors of life really don’t have to change much. Most actions can be executed from a place of stinginess or generosity. It’s really up to me! My experience has been that similar actions executed from a place of generosity are likely to yield different results but these changes are generally good ones and will happen naturally and gradually over time.

Once again, my yoga practice becomes the perfect laboratory in which to test this theory. When I practice poses or asana in yoga, I can approach the practice from a place of rigidity and self-harm: “I’m not flexible enough.” I really just want a stronger body.” “Why can’t I fully get into this pose.” Or “My balance sucks!”

Where things get really juicy, however, are when I am generous and open. When I understand that these beautiful expressions I am able to explore in my body are a gift, which are to be received and offered back with a spirit of the utmost humility, grace and generosity, then things begin to truly transform.

Thus far, this fool’s journey has been in part, the story of learning to be generous with myself. Sure, I pack light in the material sense, stay away from heavy or expensive objects about which to worry and fret. But I have been known to carry around stuff of another variety... beliefs, thoughts and addictive behaviors that ultimately need to be abandoned in order to become lighter.

Now that I’ve thought about it and begun to put this into practice in my life, I find that I’m often amazed at all the different and new ways I can find to be generous. I’m still very much a beginner but I continue to find that the question is almost always worth asking: Am I being stingy or generous? The answer is seldom a dull one…