May 13, 2013 § 7 Comments
Neither do my wrists and shoulders for that matter.
The past month has been a ridiculous whirlwind of house-hunting, which came to an end last Friday when our offer was accepted for a 3-bedroom house straight out of the 1950s. Apart from the oak hardwood floors, the rest of the house is long overdue for an update, which will bring its own set of adventures. Still, it was a relief to see the end of open houses, market analysis, multiple-bid scenarios and nerve-wracking days. My body is starting to let go of the low-grade tension and clenching of the past month and in its current state, it’s a body I don’t recognize. Shoulders as achy and stiff as I’ve never seen, a cranky left wrist in every upward dog (something to do with the shoulders perhaps?), and now, an amorphous ache in the right hip/lower back area that feels as if it needs a good application of castor oil. Hip and back pains trigger paranoia like nothing else. I wonder if I tore a ligament/dislocated a disc/over-compressed something in backbending….the list goes on.
This stiff body I find myself with has made for practices that are more intuitive and open, and less about feeling the need to do every single pose up to Bhekasana. The focus is on nurturing, grounding and healing with the breath – the best tool I have to carry me through periods of high stress and high anxiety. It never fails to amaze me how different and energized I feel after just 5 Surya As and 3 Surya Bs, no matter how hesitant or faffy I was before getting on the mat. I’ll have to keep that in mind once we start the joyful process of remodeling and all it brings. Breathe breathe breathe.
May 8, 2013 § 2 Comments
“Meditation teaches us how to let go. It’s actually a very important aspect of friendliness, which is that you train again and again in not making things such a big deal.
When you have pain in your body, when all sorts of thoughts are going through your mind, you train again and again in acknowledging them openheartedly and open-mindedly, but not making them such a big deal.
Generally speaking, the human species does make things a very big deal. Our problems are a big deal for us. So we need to make space for an attitude of honoring things completely and at the same time not making them a big deal.
It’s a paradoxical idea, but holding these two attitudes simultaneously is the source of enormous joy: we hold a sense of respect toward all things, along with the ability to let go. So it’s about not belittling things, but on the other hand not fanning the fire until you have your own private World War III.
Keeping these ideas in balance allows us to feel less crowded and claustrophobic. In Buddhist terms, the space that opens here is referred to as shunyata, or “emptiness.”
But there’s nothing nihilistic about this emptiness. It’s basically just a feeling of lightness. There is movie entitled The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but I prefer to see life from the view of the Bearable Lightness of Being.
When you begin to see life from the point of view that everything is spontaneously arising and that things aren’t “coming at you” or “trying to attack you,” in any given moment, you will likely experience more space and more room to relax into.
Your stomach, which is in a knot, can just relax. The back of your neck, which is all tensed up, can just relax. Your mind, which is spinning and spinning like one of those little bears that you wind up so it walks across the floor, can just relax. So shunyata refers to the fact that we actually have a seed of spaciousness, of freshness, openness, relaxation, in us.
Sometimes the word shunyata has been translated as the “open dimension of our being.” The most popular definition is “emptiness,” which sounds like a big hole that somebody pushes you into, kicking and screaming: “No, no! Not emptiness!”
Sometimes people experience this openness as boredom. Sometimes it’s experienced as stillness. Sometimes it’s experienced as a gap in your thinking and your worrying and your all-caught-up-ness.
I experiment with shunyata a lot. When I’m by myself and no one’s talking to me, when I’m simply going for a walk or looking out the window or meditating, I experiment with letting the thoughts go and just seeing what’s there when they go.
This is actually the essence of mindfulness practice. You keep coming back to the immediacy of your experience, and then when the thoughts start coming up, thoughts like, bad, good, should, shouldn’t, me, jerk, you, jerk, you let those thoughts go, and you come back again to the immediacy of your experience.
This is how we can experiment with shunyata, how we can experiment with the open, boundless dimension of being.”
(From Pema’s book-How To Meditate)
Sunday was a difficult day – obviously – so thanks for bearing with a rather down and out post, and for reaching out to ask if everything was ok. It was and it is. Once the emotional tempest blew over I found a couple of gems on the Internet (who would’ve thought!), chief among which was this status update from Mysore San Francisco’s Facebook page. Pretty much sums up how I feel when it comes to managing my stream of emotions and cultivating an attitude of observance rather than engagement with strong emotions. So hard, dammit. But that’s what each new day is for, innit? To try and try again.
May 5, 2013 Comments Off
There are some days when all you can do is to just let go and be overwhelmed by the desire to hit the reset button. To move someplace else. A place where you can be anonymous, cut off from everything and everyone that has come to define your life so far.
Some days a fresh start is so attractive. Being anonymous in a foreign land, with a blank slate of relationships, free of the baggage that’s accumulated in your current ones that have become too heavy, complex and baffling to deal with. Starting anew, with the insights into the mistakes that have been made, and to try not to repeat them.
Some days life shows you, tenderly, how that which brings you the most effulgent joy is also capable of laying on the deepest pains. Pain that makes you sit up and ask: why do I subject myself to this? Should I resist? Should I walk away?
Some days are characterized by the uncanny sense that you’re a specially chosen candidate for a life of endless disappointments. As if your destiny lies in learning how to deal with the underside of each relationship – the painful disappointments that they bring, the broken trust, the immense loneliness. Some days it is just too painful to bear.
May 2, 2013 § 10 Comments
Recording this for posterity: Did three crash-free dropbacks today, thereby invalidating the narrative that “I won’t ever be able to dropback on my own”. Today’s event was necessary to prove the intuition I’ve had for a few months now – that my body is ready and fully capable of doing this, if I can get my mind out of the process for long enough. I need to work through this on my own, in my own space, without recourse to a pair of supporting hands or a familiar voice telling me “you’re fine”, “bend your knees” “yes, you can do it”. My teachers had become my crutches, and it was time to cast that away. The entire process took about 15 minutes I think. 15 minutes of pep talks, deep breathing, false starts and just hanging, frozen, in mid-air trying to figure out how to “bend my knees” to bring me closer to the floor without crashing.
The work that lies ahead is in cutting down that pep talk time, engaging the arms more so that they stay straight on landing and now, working on standing up. The journey never ends does it?
Still, I did it. I’m one step closer to demolishing the demons in this pose (are dropbacks really a pose?) and while the work continues tomorrow, today is reserved for basking in the glow of contentment and the ability to say “I did it!!”.
April 29, 2013 § 7 Comments
The coming month will be an experiment. We have a teacher visiting the studio for the month and, instead of signing up, I chose to do a home practice for the duration of his visit. There are a couple of reasons for this, but above all, I’m really craving for some practice “downtime”. No teachers, no workshops, no new tips or asanas, just me and the breath and the mat. I don’t have a very good track record of solo practices (I think I can count the number of times I’ve done it on one hand), but I knew I made the right decision last week when I finished my last group practice at the studio and found myself looking forward to some solo practice time. Looking forward to it. Now that’s something new. Maybe the prospect of practicing on the Lifeboard has something to do with it (new toy!), or maybe I’m just entering a different phase in my practice. Today’s session was all about figuring out the right temperature for the practice room. I heated it a little too much I think, got a headache by the time I started the seated postures and it got progressively worse. So, short practice today, with backbending, some experiments in Urdhva Dandasana and of course, a looooong savasana with the bedroom door open.
Looking forward to what tomorrow brings.
April 26, 2013 § 3 Comments
If you’re looking for some of the most challenging situations to practice equanimity, try buying your first home in the craziest, hottest, most expensive property market in the US. We are about to put a bid on a place that fits all our criteria – it’s in our current neighborhood, it’s a house (as opposed to an apartment), it’s got lots of natural light and a beautiful yard. How do you shop for houses, do the legwork involved in evaluating its details and features while keeping the big picture in mind that you may not get it after all? How do you spend your days not thinking about all things property and mortgage-related, i.e., have a life? How do you not get swept up in dreams of how you will use the house: a meditation room, a photo studio, outdoor dinners….etc?
April 23, 2013 § 4 Comments
My Mysore story began with the Sharath and Saraswati tour a year ago, so it’s nice to come back and reflect on how things have changed. Back then there was a lot of buzz, from within and without. A big group of us from the home studio made the trip south to practice with S+S for the first time. The Vanity Fair article on Sonia Jones and the Jois Yoga enterprise was still a hot topic of conversation, and the Jois yoga studio was replete in its high-end retail glory. There were photographers and videographers, as well as the “who’s who” of Ashtanga practicing alongside the rest of us. I was terribly anxious about practicing led for five consecutive days, seeing as how a six-day practice week was still the exception rather than the rule at that time. And then to do the first class and be completely swept away, absorbed, into the collective experience of the breath, which sealed the deal on my decision to head to Mysore. It was a heady, endorphin-filled time that kept me going for many weeks afterwards.
This year, things are much more low-key. First of all, they’ve cleared the shop floor and turned it into a huge waiting/changing area between classes. The “shop” is now about a fifth of its original size hidden behind screens. A lone photographer stopped by for just one class (per session – there are two sessions each day). And there’s just a smidge more space around each mat, compared to a year ago. Waking up at 5 to walk the half-block to the shala is sweetly reminiscent of those dark Mysore mornings, and seeing familiar faces from my recent trip is both surreal and sweet. The practice itself is sweeter than ever, and, dare I say it, easier compared to a year ago. There is more steadiness, fewer fluctuations, stronger and louder breaths. There is surrender to the count and all of its Sharath embellishments.
I have to confess that I wasn’t all that excited about making this trip – the 3rd in a span of a month – given the demands of real life on my time and energy. I just wanted to be home for more than just a few days at a time, I wanted my life to go back to being “normal”. Well, the first ekam on Friday took care of all doubts. Whatever detractors may say, there’s no denying the fact that Sharath’s able to pull together a critical mass of people and orchestrate an experience that’s quite unlike any other. A led class with him is more than just about perfecting each asana or lasting his count for Uthpluthi. It is a return to the basics, a stripping away of the faffing and mental chatter that sucks away at our energy and places us firmly on the mat to do just one thing: breathe. It is an experience that is both sublime and quotidian, filled with joy and love from both teachers and students. While I won’t be able to make it to Mysore every year, I can’t say the same for Encinitas. Looking forward to the 2014 edition of this tour.