Sunday, October 24, 2010

Pratipaksha Bhavana

This is a blogpost from *way* back when (circa 2008, see below)...a recent email from a new friend took me back to it... so I share it again this morning. I'll call it an encore!

Last week, I taught a class on pratipaksha bhavana, a method suggested by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras for working with negative mental states and overcoming paralysis by cultivating, acting on, or even just entertaining its opposite. It's been such a useful practice for me in every arena in my life and when my life or my heart is beset by fear or stagnancy, I always turn to it.

You see I am such a thinker (aka, obsessor). My mind will attach to one thing and pre-occupy itself with that one thought excessively. Having a healthy dose of the air element, I will run things over and over again in my mind yet also being who I am (in all my many splendoured facets) I tend however to keep working with it only in ONE way. Usually the first way it struck me. To the exclusion of all else.

Let's call this the Capricorn banging her head into the same brick wall syndrome. Yet never connecting that practice to the headache that follows. Yoga and meditation have been fabulous for helping me make that connection (my head thanks you) and Patanjali's method has been invaluable for helping me find a DOOR in the wall.

Whenever I am stuck or mired down - in my actual life or in my thoughts - I practice this now.
I contemplate, entertain, imagine, and YES sometimes even act out the opposite. Of what I'm feeling, what I'm thinking, what I'm believing, and what I'm doing. Have a read... 

Saturday Samskara

These days I've become a bit of homebody... It's not that I'm actively avoiding group socializing on the weekends but, with our cold and wet weather and adjusting back to my daily work routine, I've just been rather enjoying the regular date with my couch on Saturday night. An engrossing book, delicious meal, glass of red wine or steamy mug of hot chocolate and I'm all set! It's become an easy and even enjoyable pattern.

In Sanskrit, my Saturday night habit (or RUT) is called a samskara. Like a deep groove in the road, a samskara is a tendency/habit/path that we keep tracking into. It is easy, comfortable, and almost inevitable that no matter which way we steer, we will tend to fall right into it. There are only two ways to break out of a well dug samskara. First, we have to be aware of and acknowledge our tendency or habit AND second, we have to create a new pattern.

Happily approaching preparations for last Saturday's evening meal, I received a last minute invitation from a good friend offering a new possibility. Party. People I didn't know. All the way across town. She dangled enticing descriptions of the house, the people, all of the planned activities.... But you know, my first instinct was still to say no. The deeply entrenched pattern emerged.

However, some delicate, whispering voice inside my head said, why not? The voice got louder. Why not do something completely different, completely random, completely new? What my friend Diane offered was enticing and beguilingly so. It was outside my usual plans and so much so that I made a quick and intentional decision to open up to the possibility of something new.

Where did this choice take me?
Handmade pizzas cooked in a handmade outdoor pizza oven.
A decadent hour baking in a handmade outdoor sauna
An invigorating post-sweat swim in the winter sea (ME? I don't even swim in CHCH during the summer!?)
Bowl after bowl of decadent homemade ice cream
A rocking all night jam session (drums, guitars, piano, trumpet, and various creative uses for nearby cutlery, glassware, and/or pots and pans) in the warmth of heat pump and high energy fueled living room.


And these people do this almost every weekend?!?! Where have I been...?

Before any asana, before any finer detail of anatomical alignment, the very first principle of Anusara Yoga is Open to Grace. Feel the breath and open to the bigger picture. This means that I make the choice to take a pause and actively release my usual and oftentimes self-limiting ideas of who I am, what I think I can do, and where I think the ceiling is on the roof of possibility.

On the yoga mat this means I open up to the belief that maybe this pose is possible for me today. That maybe I can turn to my breath and follow it for just an extra count longer this time. That maybe if I just move and breathe and celebrate the glory of my existence in this body, this place, right at this very moment that all of the trouble I left behind at home may have a new perspective when I return.

And on last Saturday, this meant that when I left behind my couch, my book, my mug of hot chocolate, and simply showed up open and willing, I allowed myself to experience and enjoy one of the most fantastic and impromptu gatherings I have been to in a very long time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Prioritizing Principles

Yesterday I had a three hour meeting with a friend who I am thinking about going into business with. Over the course of that time we discussed many things - the exciting possibilities of partnership, potential creative ways of structuring an agreement, the financial and technical nuts and bolts. Then from playfully exploring all the bits and pieces, we finally returned to what brought us together in the first place ...  

Shared vision and a set of macro, guiding principles. 

Ooooo ... I just love principles. 
They offer my structured, steadfast Capricorn heart a sense of being grounded in something real, supported by a base while at the same time they appeal to my anti-establishment, anti-majority ethos (where this comes from ... not so sure!) that detests "rules" for the sake of "rules" and black or white as my only two options.

No surprise perhaps that I practice and teach a style of yoga that operates on the play of five universal principles. These five principles form a foundation by which anything situation can be examined, tested, understood, managed, AND expanded. The principles offer a road map, an ever present reference point to finding and abiding in a place of spacious freedom even in the midst of a most confronting challenge. Headstand or heartbreak. Principles have set me free!

On the mat, I use all of the different "shapes" and sequences of the physical asana to practice remembering, aligning, and celebrating thru my body an adherence to my central vision. The position of my body may change, the shape of my body may change, even the state of my body may change but the principles, they never change. I find this truly empowering. I am never helpless or alone. In fact, I have an ever steady reference point, a guide that I can keep coming back and my experience with the principles in practice proves them true over and over again.

Beyond the yoga mat, I have made it a practice to contemplate and remember the values by which I want to live my life and to use this vision to consciously create real, tangible principles that can support me in any endeavor and in any relationship. It is the times in my life when I forget or ignore my principles, when I operate out of fear or from the "shoulds" that I get into trouble...placing myself into a situation that is not serving me - health, happiness, heart.

I have a lot going on at the moment. And in the midst of all the momentum, I have felt a little lost.

Last week I was simultaneously teaching a full schedule of Anusara Yoga classes and private sessions, attending a five day yoga intensive with a yoga teacher of another style, drafting a business plan, exploring a partnership agreement, investigating commercial real estate options, looking into rental and residential sales options for a house, designing flyers and promo materials for a visiting guest teacher, planning my next session of classes, visioning my Immersion program for next year, and getting ready to go overseas and see my family for three weeks.  

All of the things listed above are tremendously excited. When it rains, it pours they say. And with the rain, the garden of possibilities is definitely growing. At the same time however I have been left feeling totally overwhelmed, exhausted, and while I've modestly shuffled forward on many things, there were no confident strides taken toward completion, decision, manifestation of any one thing.

As my biz partner and I wrote a daunting list of things that will need to be discussed, decided, and implemented ... the first task we set for ourselves before moving any further forward is to pause the momentum and get clear again. To write down our vision, put into words the concrete principles that will guide all actions, all decisions. In doing this, we not only create a road map but we touch back on intention. When I remember my intention, the worrying over small things melts away and I reconnect with the joy of creating again.

In Anusara Yoga, we have an expression - the highest first! 
As I look back again at my list of to do's, at the plethora of decisions and moves big and small that must be made before I board a plane on Wednesday morning, I'm trying to telescope out... to change my perspective... not get swallowed up by momentum and minutia. I'm not looking for difference, for complications, for drama ... Instead, I'm looking to see how all of these things connect and relate to each other and how all of them together can align with and represent my central vision. 

Skillful life like skillful yoga. 
Looking for ways to bring together rather than tear apart.
Prioritizing principles.
Setting intention.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Following in the Wake of ...

The word Anusara is often translated as "flowing with Grace", "to step into the flow", "to align with the flow of Nature". Sometimes we Anusara teachers will shorten, sweeten, and make it meaningful  by saying it means "follow your heart".

As a lover of all things lyrical, I thought these translations and the concepts they evoked were beautiful. However, as a stubborn obstinate pragmatist who needs to see, comprehend, and tangibly feel things, I felt challenged to find relationship to this concept "flow", "flow of Nature", "Grace" within myself. In fact, I felt far from it!

Somewhere deep inside these words touched me but in my practice it seemed that I only skimmed the surface of a real embodied understanding. My practices felt effortful, my body felt heavy, and many things - asanas (Handstand, Hanumanasana, Eka Pada Khoundinyasana), deep meditation, and a trusting heart - felt so far out of reach. The more I worked to achieve these things, the more they eluded me. 

Then two years ago, I had an experience that radically changed this. Attending John Friend's Intermediate/Advanced Weekend Workshop in North Carolina, I found myself in a familiar place - an aching body, an effortful approach to my practice, and my heart full of doubt.

During these kinds of workshops, John will often stop the flow of the practice and ask a student to perform a demonstration in order to illustrate a particular action or particular series of actions within an asana. As he drew us all together in the middle of the room, his eyes scanned the crowd. Instead of asking any of the workshop participants or assistants to demo, I was surprised to hear him call over from across the room his tour assistant and merchandising manager Tiffany.

Now I have had the privilege to get to know and practice alongside this inspirational yoga goddess so I already knew that she was capable of demonstrating some wild and beautiful asana! 

Instead of asking her to strike any one pose, John invited Tiffany to stand at the top of the mat and close her eyes. He asked her to soften her outer body and open to the sweet pulsation of the breath that represented the divine flow of Shakti, the creative power of the universe, within her. He invited her to tap into the three qualities of this breath, the spanda of all creation - arising, sustaining, and dissolution - and to feel herself within and supported by that flow.

John talked Tiffany through one of the most challenging and complicated sequences of yoga postures that I have ever seen. Nearing the end of that three minute sequence, my heart overflowed and tears streamed out of my eyes. 

I had seen challenging and "advanced" yoga before. Yet here, it was not the difficultly of the postures or even the seamless way they were strung together that affected me. What moved me so much about Tiffany's demonstration was the sheer effortlessness, the unparalleled balance of strength and softness and the deepest sense of trust that was evident in her movements. There was not a moment of being "out of breath". In fact, she was so deeply IN breath as the flow of Nature embodied.

Tiffany trusted John but the faith I saw her moving from was even deeper than that. In those moments, she was within, she WAS the divine flow of the universe. In every moment, in every transition she began with a softening, a radical sensitivity. She waited for the breath, the flow of Grace, and then she moved in tune with that flow like a skillful, patient partner in a creative and joyful dance. 

In watching Tiffany's demo, I realized what it was that was missing from my practice. The part I had forgotten... 

You see, I had been trying to do it all by myself. All of my effort, all of my intention (even in all of its goodness and authenticity) was self generated. I had been forgetting the very first principle of this yoga that I practice - Open to Grace. Universal first. Follow in the wake of the bigger energy ... Grace, Nature, Shakti, Life.

It was a huge reminder to me to stop trying so hard to lead the dance. 
To soften my effort enough to feel the pulsation of Life always there to support me. 
To always remember that Spirit is embodied in me, as me. 
To co-create with this flow of Life, with Spirit in a way that makes more beauty. 

Embodying my Bali Bliss

Sweet Tiff & Holly inspiring us all
John Friend's Bali Retreat 2010

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Something About Sundays...

Sundays are my favorite days. Even when it's not raining. 
But today, it IS. And it's just PERFECT.

What I love about Sundays is that I give myself permission. In fact, it is really the only day that I truly let my self disciplinarian tendencies go and embrace a healthy and delicious dose of much needed self indulgence.

For instance, it's 9am and cold outside. I am still in bed with the heaters on, a hot water bottle at my feet, computer on my lap. The first thing I have put in my mouth (after a glass of water but before breakfast) is a homemade dark & white chocolate chip, almond & apricot cookie. It is not gluten, dairy, or sugar free. It was made with lots of flour, butter, and chocolate. It was divine. I am simultaneously and playfully writing this blog, brainstorming ideas for a children's book, planning how to perfectly poach my egg, and thinking that a hot chocolate and foreign film will suit me perfectly this afternoon.

On Sundays, I don't have to worry about planning or cooking dinner. We go to Des's parents place and I relinquish total control over my sometimes stringent rules about food and embrace whatever is put in front of me. It's delightful and absolutely freeing! Quite hysterical sometimes in fact. Who would have thought that this former vegetarian (10+ years) would relish so gleefully lamb roast, pork and fennel sausages, and any soup that includes bacon?

Before we head up the hill, I set aside time to slip into my yoga room for a simple, hour-long session of asanas. Even my yoga is better on Sunday - I savour the sensation of slipping into my skin to the sultry sounds of Nina Simone. My yoga is so good and so decadently delicious, it feels utterly and brilliantly transgressive. Good thing I'm a tantrika. Blessed be :)

I have created, endured, survived many rough patches where a proclivity for self discipline, self neglect, and self judgement certainly controlled my life. Celebrating ME on Sunday in all my undisciplined, decadent, and perfectly, totally worthy human beauty was part of what I believe really saved my life. By practicing and cultivating allowance (radically unmitigated and unbarred) on one day of the week, I was able (and continue to be able) to invite more and more moments of self nourishment, self love, self IN-joyment into the rest of my week. Like I say to my friends who work 9 to 5, M-F jobs ... you gotta learn to love what you do as you do it. Or change it! You can't live for the weekends (or Sunday) alone.

How do you savour your Sunday? Really, I'd like to know. 
These days, I'm always in the market for new ways to celebrate myself...

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making More of my Morning

In winter time gets very short. At least it feels that way here in New Zealand. 
The day begins late with the sluggish arrival of the sun around 8am and then it quits us so early...
As I am writing, it is 4.50pm and the brightness has already dropped from the sky.

I was one of those people who would bound out of bed - bright eyed and bushy tailed - as my father would say. I spent most of my free time in primary and highschool at the ice rink - playing, practicing, and dreaming of a professional competitive figure skating career. Prime ice time for us figure skaters was early early morning. Before the hockey teams and the general public could come in and tarnish the impeccable and glassy surface of the ice. To get on the ice by 5.45, I needed to be up and out of bed by 4.30am. 4.15 if I wanted to squeeze in a light breakfast and quick shower. Bless my poor parents who drove me everyday...

Although my skating career never led to the Olympics or to any of the longevity of which I had dreamed, it forever instilled in me a love for the earliest wee hours of the morning. The secret hidden times when the stars were still twinkling, the sky shimmering its way from cobalt blue to the warmest shades of pink ... most of the living world was still sleeping except for you and the great wide secret that was life. 

When I first discovered yoga, my proclivity for early morning served me well. I rose before work and stumbled my clumsy but earnest way through a two hour practice on my mat. (Yes, two hours. Did I mention what a stubborn perfectionist I am? Please read post below.) Coming to my mat, I was surrounded by darkness yet as I moved my body and my breath, it seemed as if I was dancing the world alive. The potent potential of the arriving day seemed to stretch before me unlimited and generous with its offerings.

And then, as many ardent practitioners eventually do, I began to teach ... and the longer and more full time my yoga teaching career became, the more my relationship with time and the morning began to shift. Stubborn and stuck in my ways, I fought it really really hard...

Since most of the world opts to work from 9 to 5, it only makes sense that the prime time for yoga classes is in the evening. As my teaching experience and popularity of Anusara Yoga grew, I began to offer classes every single night. As my students progressed and expanded their practice, I followed suit by adding intermediate level classes after my general beginners. You can see where this was going...Late nights, late meals, wide awake at my usual bedtime trying desperately to will myself to sleep.

The whole scheme by which I had organized my life started to crack at the seams. I no longer arose automatically just before dawn - I required the wild banshee like shrieking of an alarm clock. Annoyed and angry at the heaviness of my body and mind, I would throw myself through the motions of my practice without pausing to savour and actually enjoy myself and my breath. I would battle a low level feeling of fatigue throughout my day and in the evening when exhaustion set in, I would silently berate myself for not being "yogic" enough to sustain my energy. 

I had to make a conscious decision that it was OK for my life and my relationship with time to shift. Once I made this decision and really allowed myself to accept its truth, the weight of my own expectations floated off of my shoulders and I began to approach my morning with compassion and a light heart.

I did make changes to my schedule. I no longer teach every night. I forgive myself for not awakening at 5.30am and I set my alarm for 7 but welcome my body to rise sooner if she feels so inclined. To be honest, it's not that often. I gift myself a warm shower and if time doesn't permit me a practice, I put aside my asana til early afternon and savour an earthy cup of tea and a supportive breakfast. 

With this routine I have become happy and comfortable. So why am I writing about it? Because now that I've gone through the rabbit hole and embraced the opposite of my preference, I feel that I am ready to make a shift back, just slightly. 

I would like to get back to rising a bit earlier, savouring my secret time, and move into my day feeling unhurried, unrushed, and unfettered. It will be the perfect time to do more writing, to get back on the meditation horse (recently thrown off my rhythym of a two year solid seated practice by travel and sickness!), and perhaps even indulge in a few juicy pre-dawn stretches

I will be patient. I will be realistic. I will be kind. But I will also start making more of my mornings again.

With no classes and no real obligations, weekends are often good practice. So tomorrow ... hmmm... visualizing an early morning walk, a sweet soulful meditation, a bowl of warm porridge (quinoa or oats ... I haven't decided) and time for writing. From there I'll relinquish all expectation and let the day unfold itself, with all its surprises, to me. I'll be ready!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On Not Waiting for the Perfect Moment ... Or How I Came to Write This Blog

An ongoing theme in my life has been waiting for everything to be just right ... Perfect ...
Exactly how I envision/want/need/dream (please insert any number of words carrying high expectations).

I am a Capricorn by chance, American by birth, and a goal oriented, perfectionist by virtue of my upbringing and my culture. Right. Perfect. Exact. This is how it has to be before I will ... open a yoga studio, get on my mat, bake a cake, start running again, sit down and meditate, get married, write a blog ... this list could go on and on ...

When I look back at the times in my life when I have felt the most unhappy, fearful, anxious, angry, sad ... there has been one thing common to them all - ME! Or to be more clear - my created and rigorously adhered to set of expectations, self limited ideas, rules that I’ve imposed on others or on the events in my life. If I dig a little deeper, something else I notice common to all these times of challenge is that the rigid rules that guided me rarely led to an experience of happiness, joy, or delight. More often than not, I would find myself sitting in the box I had so carefully constructed feeling alone and exhausted.

A word that comes to mind is STUCK. I was always inbetween things. Full and ripe with inspiring ideas but unable to manifest any of them because the timing or circumstances was never how I wanted it. Pregnant with possibility yet unwilling to give birth. Ouch.

SO, how did I get here and to this blog that I am presently writing ... ?

“Make More Beauty” is an idea that has been cooking for quite some time yet due to (please see above) ... thus it has been waiting rather lonesomely but patiently on the shelf. While I haven’t been writing about it, I have been trying to live it. In fact, this little phrase has been the mantra around which I’ve been slowly and patiently organizing my life.

About this time last year I had the privilege to attend an amazing weekend retreat in Sydney with Carlos Pomeda, one of the top Tantric scholars and teachers of our time. Over the course of those three days, we rose early for 60 minute meditations, practiced yoga, ate divinely prepared vegetarian meals, and dove into study of the beautiful scripture - the Pratabhijna Hyrdym.

Though PH is rather short, the level of beauty and insight which it unfolds in layers and layers of depth is unending. In this text, the process of enlightenment or awakening is invited to happen in an instant. And continuously, a marvelous mala strand of moments linked together through the thread of ongoing practice. This act of awakening is akin to making the choice to “open your eyes” (unmilayati). It is an invitation and a challenge to view everything that happens to you as having the potential to deepen you. Every single experience becomes an opportunity for awakening.

Lightbulbs went off. This was the teaching it felt I had been waiting for and that I so desperately needed. What I took away from that retreat was that my experience (as it occurs - imperfect, scary, and “untimely”) is where my work is - and it is through the choosing to fully engage the ordinary moments of my life exactly as they offer themselves that I step into my highest dharma as co-creator and artist of my life experience. WOW. 

With this perspective - waking, cooking, eating, walking, talking, meditating, writing, gardening, etc. - all become the material by which I can create ART. 

I wanted to share these ideas and the process that unfolded in some way. I imagined a blog, an article, innumerable teaching themes, even teeshirts (why not?)...

And, as I was waiting (surprise surprise) for the “right” moment (Wordpress or Blogger? what template? what format? what publication? part of my website or separate?) to share my thoughts, the universe offered me an opportunity to cease procrastination and indecision.

Beautiful soul - Bindu Wiles - writer, yoga teacher, creativity coach, buddhist (and on...) devised a most marvelous idea: a 21 Day Writing & Yoga Challenge. 800 words a day on anything, anytime. 5 days of committed yoga practice. Participants from all over the world connected together by commitment, internet, Facebook, Twitter. Fabulous!

So here we are - the first day of the challenge and first entry of my new blog! Today I renew my commitment to yoga, to writing, and to making more beauty.