Lessons from Nepal #5 - It Comes from Within

Imagine a boat, any type of boat will do.  The boat is taking on water, and in danger of sinking.  What is putting the boat in danger?  I'll explain some ideas, and answer the riddle at the end of this blog post.

I found the people of Nepal to be happy, gentle and strong.  They have the abiility to face adversity with a smile, a shake of the head, and the phrase "what can we do".  I witnessed drivers waiting in gas lines for 4 days.  I witnessed shop owners cleaning their shops and patiently waiting for tourists to return (as hotels were nearly empty).  The Yoga Sutras call for us to have these same qualities. 

स्थिरसुखमासनम् ॥४६॥  (Sthira Skuham Asanam)

sthira = (nom. sg. m.) strong; steady; stable; motionless
sukham = (acc. from sukha) comfortable; ease filled; happy; light; relaxed
āsanam = (acc. sg. n./nom. sg. n. from āsana) asana; posture; seated position; physical practice

This text is often something to strive for in our physical practice, which is a great goal.  Finding the balance between stable strength and comfortable ease is a challenge.  It is a great way to make sure you aren't pushing too hard, but is there more?  What if you could face your entire life this way?  What if you could find a way to face the challenges that come from the outside with a new perspective?  If you can remain strong yet happy and relaxed, despite all adversity, how would this change your life?  These are the exact qualities that I admire about the people of Nepal.  They have this Sthira Sukham stuff down like nobody else!

So, back to the boat.   In my eyes, it is the water inside the boat that is the problem.  How can you change from the inside, so that you remain strong, steady, and happy without letting the water get in and sink your boat?  It is something that I strive for, and something that my yoga and meditation practice bring me closer to achieving.  Look within yourself for the answers.  

Namaste - Beth

  

Support in Yoga and Life

"I do it myself!"  Most children utter this phrase starting at a very early age.  A little later, there is generally a stage when Mom & Dad don't know anything.  Such striving for independence is vital for survival in our culture, and is a necessary evil.

When we get older, we generally learn how much support our parents or caregivers actually gave us.  Without support, it is much more difficult to open ourselves to new experiences. 

Yogis can often behave the same way.  Our vision gets clouded, and we think being able to "do it myself", without the support of a prop (a block, strap,  chair, blanket, the Yoga Wall, Aerial silks, or even our beloved mat), is somehow more valuable.  Sometimes, even if you can do the pose without a prop, a prop can be a huge benefit.      

Here are a few ways that props can be helpful:

1.  They allow the experience of poses that were previously unaccessible.

2.  They help us find the balance between the sthira and sukha (steadiness and ease).

3.  They allow us to have new experiences in familiar poses.

4.  They allow us to experience the benefits of poses for a greater period of time.

5.  They teach us how to engage our lesser used muscles.

6.  They teach us to stretch our less flexible muscles.

7.  They make inversions and balancing poses more accessible.

 

OK, so yoga props can be great tools for everyone,  now what?  We take our yoga back our everyday lives!  Look for a way that you can or BE THE PROP for someone else.  Supporting someone else will bring joy to both of you.  

Be OK with accepting support.  Sometimes when we are able to soften, listen, and accept help, we are able to reach new places on and off the yoga mat.  Your non yoga prop may be a person, tool, discussion group, religious group, or anything else.  Whatever it is, maybe you've been resistant to the prop that is the very thing that will facilitate a new experience or skill.  Using a prop is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of mental strength, and awareness.  

Go into the rest of your day.  Realize that support is a wonderful thing!  Analyze your needs for props on and off the mat, and search for a way that you can be the prop for someone else.

Namaste - Beth 

Also, enjoy this short video of Dr. Geeta S. Iyengar speaking about the Yoga Rope Wall. 

Action

Action is movement with intelligence. The world is filled with movement, What the world needs is more conscious movement, more action.
— BKS Iyengar, Light on Life

How often do you go into autopilot in your daily life?  How often do you take your daily commute, interact with people (including your family), do your daily work, and fail to see the details, satisfied to simply react?  Have you caught yourself saying things like, "that's just how I am, I can't help it".  If so, you are fooling yourself.  We all have the ability to take more action and less reaction if we make the effort. 

A yoga mat is a great place to sort out the difference between action and reaction.  If you haven't tried yoga, try different styles with a variety of teachers.  It sometimes takes effort to find something that feels right.  If you're already a yogi, do you habitually move through sun salutations without even remembering that you have feet?  Are you working to breathe with consciousness?  When you catch yourself thinking about the person on the mat next to you, do you loose the action in your legs?  If so, I assure you that you're not alone, but this constant work is part of what separates yoga from simple stretching.

In addition to taking action in yoga practice,  begin to live consciously on a daily basis.  I was recently at a site overlooking a beautiful waterfall.  I spent some time looking at the falls, and then took a few yoga postures.  My friend is a photographer, and captured the scene with his camera.  Upon looking at the photos, I was amazed that I had missed the heart shape that is formed by the canyon.  I have been to this site a number of times, and have never really looked with enough consciousness to see it.  There is beauty and inspiration everywhere and in everyone when we take the time to notice.  

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  I am on a quest to take more action on and off the mat.  I strive for more intelligent movement and less reaction.  Old patterns can be difficult to break, and I am far from perfect in this endeavour.  By living with increased awareness, I begin to enjoy more happiness when I see the beauty in myself, others, and my surroundings.

When deciding to take action and live and move more consciously, it helps to come up with a plan.  Yoga does help, but so do a number of other efforts.  Some ideas are separating from your electronics, capturing your observations with a camera, or journaling.  Decide what methods appeal to you, and employ them.  It takes practice, but taking action, moving and living consciously, will help us connect with the beauty of ourselves and the life and surroundings that we see every day.

 

Namaste - Beth 

Yoga dependency?

While discussing dependency with a coworker,  I stated that I don't want to be dependent on anything, coffee, alcohol, etc.  She challenged me with "you practice yoga every day, so you're dependent on that".  I guess I am, but I have  been pondering the statement since our conversation.

Can one be dependent on yoga?  Well, to some extent, my answer is yes.  I am also dependent on water, food, air and sleep.  Most days I do hit the mat for at least 20 minutes.  Sometimes I'm lucky, and I take an all day yoga workshop.  On the days when I'm not in physical practice, I attempt to maintain a yogic outlook during my daily activities.  Yoga helps me connect with who I am, and I love seeing that yogic bliss after a student has had a particularly good practice.  Sharing that moment is my reason for teaching yoga.  

Yoga offers substantial benefits to the practitioner.  Call it dependent, or call it being a yogi.  Yoga offers numerous benefits.  My students and I have experienced many benefits including, but not limited to increased strength, increased flexibility, improved sleep, decreased pain, decreased anxiety, stress management, improved balance, improved posture, decreased anger, decreased fear, and decreased visits to the chiropractor.  Who wouldn't want to be dependent on something with that many benefits?  

Yoga classes are generally very nurturing environments.  The goal is to learn to meet yourself where you are right now.  There is no competing with others, and no pose that you have to reach.  Yoga can challenge you, or bring you to relaxation and restoration.  Often times, both are experienced in the same class.  If you're not a regular yoga practitioner, find an experienced teacher & start feeling the rewards for yourself.

 

Namaste - Beth

YOGA, MORE THAN PHYSICAL PRACTICE

Yoga's root word means union, or yolking.  When you join the mind, body, and breath, a profound sense of ease and joy can be accessed.  That connection and feeling is what separates the practice of asana (yoga poses) from calisthenics.  As a former distance runner and recreational cyclist, I have noticed similar experiences during those activities.  After the first 2 miles or so, I was always able to connect the patterns of my breath and cadence, and experience an easy, grounded sense of calm.  It was not unlike the feeling that I get during meditation, or yoga practice.

 As a yoga instructor, I find great joy and peace while helping students find that experience.  I am becoming increasingly aware that there are many ways for people to make that connection.  For years, my mother has heard me speaking of my experiences during yoga class, and frequently states, "it's kinda like when I'm quilting".  I'd usually listen respectfully, but I was completely disconnected from her thought process.  Recently, I have observed many true artists, such as the chef, photographer, musician, and painter.  Very much like yogis, these people keenly tune their senses to the task at hand.  What I mean is, that focused ease that is what separates yoga from physical exercise.     

Much like the artist or athlete who is in the zone, the yogi is able to turn inward, and the need to compete with the yogi on the next mat ceases.  As we practice, we begin to carry that grounded, serene feeling into the rest of our lives.  That, is the magic of yoga, and why I practice continually, on and off the mat.


Photo credit Jeromy Dobson

Photo credit Jeromy Dobson

Namaste - Beth