January 2008 – Staying connected to your Practice

Staying connected to your Practice

This time of year most of us make time to reflect on the past as well as look ahead and make resolutions for our betterment—ways we want to behave or habits we want to improve.   Yogis do this as a daily practice!  We take time to look at our actions of the past—adjusting our attitudes when necessary and making a conscious effort to stay within those attitudes throughout our upcoming day.  This practice helps keep us true to our resolutions by constantly checking ‘back in’ with ourselves—we reconnect with how we want to behave on a daily basis instead of once a year!

Establish a practice by making a ritualistic time either in the morning or evening to reflect and resolve—this does not have to be some formal meditation time, it can be over your morning cup of coffee or before bed in the evening.  Just find a time that suits you and make it sacred 🙂

What is yoga? And what does asana have to do with it?
Yoga is not postures—yoga is not even the breath!  Yoga is union—realizing there are ‘not two’ of Us, but only One.  Yoga is about releasing our ego identities.  Our ego identifies us (and it serves a purpose as it gives us the confidence we need to do our dharma) as separate from you—but in reality we have a deeper Self that is in all of us the same.  Living yoga is about living our life with this realization.  Whatever I do to you –to anybody else or even to another country I also do to myself!
The word Namaste is about greeting someone on that “soul plane” it means the higher Self in me greets the higher Self in you.  This is how we want to deal with others, soul to soul, not ego to ego.

So what does asana have to do with that?  We can use asana as a tool to realize when we are operating on the ego plane.  When you start to notice yourself struggling or worrying about having a pose or not having a pose—you know you are on the ego plane!   We are just here to do our dharma with these tools (being our body) that have been given to us—so all we can do is the best we can with these tools!  It does not matter if our tools have tight hips or tight shoulders-doing the practiced will benefit whether you can put your leg behind your head or not!
The postures keep us healthy so we are able to do our dharma!  There is nothing esoteric about the postures—Ashtanga yoga is a scientific approach to keeping the body healthy—each group of postures works through the body in a systematic way—from the breathing system, to muscular/skeletal systems, to the organs, to the circulatory system, to the nervous system, to the endocrine system, etc.  It is a progressive series of poses that is meant to be done in a certain order for a reason!!  Nothing magical or mysterious about it!
To help us not identify with just the external physical element of the postures I put together a list showing all the poses and their primary purpose in our body—this list is posted on my website and in the studio.  If you have a particular ailment that a certain pose will cure, Pattabhi Jois says you are to hold that pose for 25 breaths.
Here is a link to the list: Click Here.

Stay Grounded in your Practice
This time of year with winter winds blowing and vata energy high, grounding ourselves in our practice is important.  There are several ways to do this, the first is with routine, set up a weekly routine of your practices—be realistic!—a little practice every day is better than a two hour practice once/week!  A nice way to start up a daily practice (5-6 days/week) is to take 5-10 minutes each day and do Surya Namaskar 5x, the three closing lotus flowers, and take rest.
Another method for grounding is paying attention to your grounding in all your asana!  When standing pay attention to the grounding through your feet, when in down dog, pay attention to the grounding through your hands and feet, while sitting—ground through your sitz bones, and when lying ground through the parts of your body that are in contact with the floor.  Try this while we sit here, rest your hands on the floor, lean forward and lift your hips up—without a conscious ground you will feel your body weight as a “dead weight” through the heel of your hand only (possibly stressing your wrists) . . . now spread your fingers a little apart, ground more through your entire hand—feeling the base of your knuckles on the floor and slightly grip with your finger tips.  Keeping this grounding through your hands, lift up your hips again (with an inhale of course!)—feel how you feel grounded by the support of the earth and yet your body is lighter and more energetic.
When we have a solid ground—rooting into the earth building a stable foundation—from this support we can then grow and expand—lifting, lengthening, and rising in a secure way.  Feeling which areas of our body come into contact with the floor helps us draw upon that stability and connect to the Earth energy rising through our body—we in turn can use this stability to rise to new heights in our poses.  This will keep us balanced between rooting and rising—too much rooting will make us lethargic, too much rising will leave us with an unstable base.  As you practice today pay attention to the rooting and rising qualities of our practice.

Staying connected to the breath
Breath affects the deeper energetic and emotional aspects of an individual (we also have scientific evidence that deep breathing calms our nervous systems—which in turn affect many other major functions in our body!).  When we have control of our breath we are easier able to control our mind—or that is pull away from the inner dialogue in our heads.  When we add synchronicity of our movement to our breath this teaches how to take these positive breath affects off the mat into our daily lives.
Most of us are able to stay connected to our breath during a posture, but we also want to pay attention to staying connected to breath and movement as we move into and out of poses.  No matter how many breaths it takes you to get into a posture, keep your breath and movement synchronization—many times we hold our breath as we work on getting into the poses that are tight on us.  Even if you can not wrap and bind on one inhale, keep breath and movement synchronicity as you take as many breaths as you need getting into a posture.
When we fidget in our practice, pause, check our toenails, fix our hair or clothes we break the moving breathing synchronicity allowing for thought intrusion—when we allow thought intrusion we usually experience ego stuff!
Nancy says sometimes we need to do ‘sloppy yoga’—not that it is really sloppy but if we are fidgeting too much with the posture we are just to wrapped up in thinking about it and go right into the ego identity.  This takes us further away from Yoga.

When we ebb and flow in rhythm—body and breath—we are easier able to pull away from our ego identity and connect to the deeper Self.

Daily practice–you have to do the work
One of Pattabhi Jois’s ‘famous quotes’ is “yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory”.  My interpretation of this means you have to do the work!  You can read about the benefits, study the affects of the poses and how to do them— but you need to do the work to actually experience yoga!  Nancy’s interpretation on this quote is it shows us how individual this practice really is, Pattabhi Jois is teaching us with this quote that we need to go within and look inside to investigate ourselves and not always to look to the external or someone else for the answer.  The answers are inside of us and Pattabhi Jois has just given us a framework to go inside and do the work.

And a quote from Nancy’s on daily practice:
Nancy: A daily practice brings about a gauge in your life. For me, it’s been a way to know who I am in the moment. And it’s the only thing in my life that is something I do everyday; it’s the same practice. So no matter what else I’m doing,  if I’m traveling, if I eat differently, everyday the practice being the same repetitive practice gives me a way to judge myself in a non-judgmental way but in a way of seeing, how am I doing? How am I holding up to the stresses of daily life? It’s also the only time for me that I can take my mind out of my daily life and become free in a spiritual sense to investigate myself, my true Self.

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