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Thursday, July 23, 2015

Stretching Our Idea Of What We Can Do: Nancy Mau's Annual Yoga Hip Opening Workshop


Nancy Mau’s annual Hip Opening Workshop at Stillwater Yoga in Atlanta stretches your idea of what you think you’re capable of. Stillwater owner, Kathleen Pringle said, “I was so glad to be here for Nancy’s Hip Opening Seminar. The sequencing was so great and the instructions so clear that I was inspired to share many things from her class in my classes the following week.”

The workshop is the “go to” workshop to many students and non-students, especially those who feel they have ‘tight hips’.  Most of us lose flexibility in our hips due primarily to under use. What is most prevalent way we under use the muscles in our hip area is by over doing one common behavior: sitting.

However, even active runners get ‘tight hips’. The repetitive act of running under utilizes and thus shortens muscles around the hips. When this area gets tight, we tend to develop back issues as well because of the way it forces the pelvis to tilt.


In Nancy’s Hip Opening Sequence, she progressively utilized the tight areas around the hips in such a methodical way, many students were surprised at how much more flexible they were by the time they got to Padmasana or lotus pose.  Nancy explains, “The sequence is designed to wake up the muscles in the legs, hips and pelvis while also creating stability, which leads to better alignment for the spine.  For example, standing, balancing, and seated poses, along with twisting poses work to create space and flexibility in the hamstrings, quadriceps, and sartorius muscles, as well as the gluteus medias and piriformis muscles. The same sequence of poses can also reduce injuries to knees and lower back for the same reason.”

Iyengar Yoga is pretty awesome that way. What distinguishes Iyengar
Yoga is not only its precision in alignment, but also its timing of sequencing asana in order to systematically strengthen the body to open and move more consciously. In this way, students reduce injuries and safely increase their range of motion in their poses.

Corinne Lee who is new to the Iyengar system learned a lot about being more conscious in her poses.  She explains,  “In the workshop Nancy said, ‘Be interested in the pose, yet not wanting.’ Her words have resonated in me on and off the mat after her workshop. She talked about when we have practiced a pose a thousand times we may fall into bhrantidarshana or illusion, of a pose. Taking a pose for what it is not. An example of this illusion would be in vrksasana, tree pose, where we sacrifice the integrity of the pose (making sure the pelvic bones are facing forward) by "wanting" to have the balancing knee turn all the way out. She stressed to be "interested" in reaching that final pose but not "wanting" so much that we sacrifice our integrity, our alignment, our awareness for it. Thanks for that little life nugget, Nancy!”

Sophia Terranova a more seasoned practitioner agrees and adds, “Nancy’s hip opening workshop was a wonderfully informative sequence of poses with her instruction helping each pose become attainable at some level for all different ages and stages of yoga study. Her clear and logical instructions and explanations of where to focus your attention and what areas to engage while moving into poses was enormously helpful releasing tense areas of my hips that are tight and periodically ache. Great class and very encouraging! Love it! I’ll be back next time! Thank you.”

In Astadala Yogamala Vol. 3,  B.K.S. Iyengar advised, “Teaching yoga is a very difficult subject, but is one of the best services you can do for human beings.  Work, not as a teacher, but as a learner of the art of teaching.”  When you take any of Nancy’s classes you know, she has done just that, and she continues to refine the art of her instruction. Her clarity and impeccable sequencing, gently opens our mind and body to the possibility that we can do things, we never thought we could do. 

Thank you Nancy Mau.

Namaste.

To learn more about Nancy Mau and Stillwater Yoga please visit, Stillyoga.com.









Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Kquvien's Yoga Karavan goes to Dehlonega Spa Resort



Kquvien Photo by Holly Sasnett



Kquvien lives her yoga heart and soul. When she shares her practice with you, you get caught up in the yoke of her wheel and it takes you places you never thought you'd go.

Origami Swan by Kquvien
Photo by Holly Sasnett
It is no wonder why Kquvien has a Karavan of folks 
that include all types: from doctors, lawyers, and nuclear engineers to writers, musicians, and photographers all dedicated to following her path as she discovers the vast world of yoga. Her summer retreat put like minds together doing what we love in a place that took us away from it all:  


Dehlonega Spa Resort by Lee Barrineau
Friday evening the resort welcome came from a gentle woman whose name escapes me, but her kind heart left quite an impression. She delivered the resort offerings and regulations with earthy compassion and ended it by adding assurance to the group to feel free to walk around safely at any hour. Following the welcome, Kquvien quickly engaged us in the back leg of our standing poses. Standing poses in Iyengar Yoga are designed to open, strengthen and purify our nervous system to bring sharper awareness to our karmindryia's, our organs of actions: the arms and legs. Each pose is a confine, Kquvien explains, from which we can discover more about ourselves like if we take our inner eye off of what is behind us, we lose the foundation for what we are building.

Kquvien Demo Photo by Holly Sasnett
During the class, we merged with the peace of the mountain and slowly let go of our attachments to the city. All levels of students attended and were taken care of accordingly. Kquvien approaches yoga teaching in the same way that she approaches her own practice. She teaches with a plan of no plan to allow and honor those who are present and not force an agenda. Though taking charge, she enables the group energy to mold the class so something bigger can happen. What happened is the classes and the entire retreat took the shape of exactly what we needed. 


Chiara and Laura Photo by Rhonda
As the days passed too quickly, we found ourselves becoming closer. Being mat-to-mat practicing Iyengar Yoga at Stillwater Yoga on a weekly basis and some of us a daily basis for many years, our mistakes, anxieties, fears, anger, exhaustion, and frustration are all exposed. For that reason, friendships born from the mat feel deeper -- more compassionate, more patient, and more joyful.
Reflections Photo by Lee Barrineau




The retreat gave us an opportunity to witness our energetic link in nature. Each evening passed with more heartfelt conversation or a unified silence in awe as the crickets, frogs, and ducks performed their serenade and the fireflies danced over the water.


Morning View by Rhonda

Our mornings began in silence on the porch watching the mountain mist move up to the sky and lift us from our slumber. Prānāyāma was set to begin at 7 am. The first morning, we arrived in the studio early and waited for the hour with our chest lifted in a restorative pose of our choosing. Kquvien had us build a high throne that easily placed us in correct alignment to sit, along with a supine setup at the ready. The practice focused on awareness of alignment, an exploration of the rechaka or exhalation, and a glimpse of pratyhārā through the sanmukhi mudra (san or six openings, where the eyes, ears, and nose are covered to bring the attention inward).The second morning, we practiced outdoors overlooking our beautiful mountain view. On the fortunate request of a student/CDC doctor, we explored some mudrās (gestures) and bandhas, (binds) which are physical locks that hold or direct the prānic (lifegiving) energy


Sutra Study Photo by Lee Barrineau
Our Sutra study in the afternoon was taught in an organic way as well. We reviewed Patanjali's Sutras 1:12-1:14, beginning with abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyam tannirodhah, which states that the way to stilling the fluctuations of the mind is through practice and detachment and ending with Sutra 1:14 sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkārāsevito srdha bhūmih,   steadfast, uninterrupted practice over a long period of time. The question came up: How can we have uninterrupted practice? The answer came through the door later that afternoon as if Patanjali himself sent it to us special delivery in the form of a puppy dog open for love. After as many hugs and ear scratches as she could get, the rest of us went into Sālamba Śīrṣāsāna. We stood on our heads. The puppy stayed.  She wasn't an interruption. She became a part of our practice.

Kquvien has been reading Mircea Eliade's book Yoga: Immortality and Freedom and said he described the purpose of Tapas (disciplined practice) as making us more fit to endure the dualities (read detach, acclimate, accommodate rigidly or subtly depending on the moment)--endure the qualities or states of being or gunas: rajas (firey), tamas (inert), sattva (harmonious). 


Front Porch Friends by Rhonda
Later a student mentioned, that BKS Iyengar spoke in Light on Life about doing our āsanas from the heart, and not the head. Mircea Eliade adds in his book Yoga: Immortality and Freedom about being led by our thoughts by not thinking. Allowing the movement of chatter in our head to run our lives prevents us from acting from our heart. As we discussed more, the lesson presented itself as if from the ethers and because of its universal applications it was received and readily absorbed. Our higher mind is in the heart center, the seat of the divine, not the chitta vrittis  acts of our brain.


Our entire Sutra lesson rolled up like well-used yoga mat with Sutra 3.35 hrdyye cittasamvit, which Iyengar translates: "By saṁayama (concentration, meditation, absorption) on the region of the heart, the yogi acquires a thorough knowledge of the contents and tendencies of consciousness." 

The weekend gave us a delicious taste of that. Our connection to Kquvien, to the practice of Iyengar Yoga, to each other, and to the singularity of energy that animates us all seemed to foster a kind of concentration, meditation, and absorption that created a natural parinama, a transformation born of our unified desire to be open to receive it.  
Thank you, Kquvien

Group Photo by Holly
Group Photo by Henry


Namaste.

Special thanks goes to Kathy Koenigsberg for organizing it all and bringing her sparkle to the group.







Saturday, May 09, 2015

Mother's Day Tribute to a Magical Mom.

About nine years ago, two months after Mother’s Day, I lost my Mom. In my last memory, lying next to her, I held her hand and she let go. She didn’t pass that night. In fact, I didn’t understand why she let go of my hand. However, for Mom even dying became a teachable moment. It seemed as if she knew what she was supposed to do at every stage of her illness, so we learned from it.

She knew she had to let go. Let go of her attachments to this world: her roles as a professional realtor, a mentor, and a dutiful friend. She knew she had to release her attachment to being a loving sister and mother of the five heirs to her wisdom, passion, and sense of humor. I had a hard time letting go of that fact. The feeling of her freeing her fingers from their interlace with mine rewound in my heart time and time again after she passed.

Months later, I had a dream that she came to my bedside and took my hand. It felt like there was a distinct sense that she was in a different place than me, but the energy of her love and mine intertwined again. Mom made a point to say things when she was still alive that made us believe she'd be around us after she died, like she said she'd be a Cardinal. I think the Cardinal is one of the most frequently seen birds aside from the Robin. She didn’t want us ever to feel alone. When Cardinals fly by me, or perch on my porch I pause a moment and think of her. The energy of her love swoops in with a full wingspan and wraps her warmth around my heart.  Happens every time.

One evening, my printer turned on (without anyone turning it on) and printed out a page with Mom’s name on it.  It was a legal document on my computer, but not one that had been in my printer queue or even one that had been pulled up or edited for over six months. It woke me up in a fright. I can’t bring much logic to this incident, except to say that the very next day someone broke into my house and took my television. Luckily, I wasn’t there.  But my printer’s mysterious 'wakeup call' the night before felt like a warning of some kind. It stuck with me. I took the lesson from the experience and reinforced the security of my home.

A year or so later, driving home from a meditation class, I thought to myself, ‘Mom, why haven’t you tried to talk to me. I’d listen. I miss you. I want to hear from you.' Not two minutes later, I stopped behind a big white truck. The height of the truck put its license plate in direct line with my eyes. I did a double take.  It said, “I LUV U”.  I looked down and the state on the plate said, “Montgomery” where my mother was born.  Now, I don’t know about you, but I appreciated the synchronicity of these two events. Needless to say, I like to think of it as Mom giving me a timely and wonderful, heartwarming response to my question.


Who knows what’s on the other side of life. I don’t. However, I will say, my Mom set things up for us before she left this world, so it feels like she’s still very much a part of our lives. So this Mother’s Day, I’d just like to celebrate what great mother’s do to keep us believing in the possibilities of life and anything that might be beyond it. I love you, Mom!  Happy Mother’s Day.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Triangles of Breath - New light from an old lesson by Prashant Iyengar

This week Kathleen Pringle taught a pattern of prāṇāyāma based on something that Prashant Iyengar taught in a class at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute many years ago. It is a pattern that I have found myself wanting to practice more and more.

At Geeta Iyengar's Birthday Intensive back in December of last year, she teased us about our prāṇāyāma practice. She said we get it over with as quickly as we can so we can say, "I did my Ujjāyī. I did my Viloma."

Guilty.

Even though I have heard Geeta's voice in my head ever since her workshop, other chitta vrittis (again read chatter) would inevitably sneak in and make me wonder how I would have the time to fit everything in my day that I needed to. The thoughts actually got in the way of my practice.  They shortened time. I couldn't stay present long.

This week, I could. The pattern Kathleen shared with us kept my attention and focus. Earlier in the class she talked about how BKS Iyengar explains in Light on Life that our vertical actions in āsana practice bring intelligence and our horizontal actions bring wisdom. She also spoke about atha, which she defined as the 'eternal now' as in the first sutra of Patañjali, 1:1 atha yogānuśāsanam, which BKS Iyengar translates as, "[...] now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga." Prashant's pattern of a breath seems to bring attention to the vertical and horizontal actions, and a peak at the eternal now.

His pattern is an inverted triangle pattern that Kathleen introduced during our Viloma I practice.  Like an āsana practice, there are many different types of prāṇāyāma you can practice.  Viloma means against the grain.  Basically, it's three or more equal volumes of breath taken in sections along the trunk of the body and separated by equally timed pauses. Viloma I might go something like this:  after a full exhalation, inhale and pause, inhale and pause, inhale and pause,  a very small inhalation and slow, soft, smooth exhalation - all followed by a normal inhalation and exhalation as needed.

With this new triangle pattern to focus on during Viloma I, the concentration required on the vertical and horizontal actions seemed to bring about a deeper sensitivity to their differences. Last week, Kquvien DeWeese gave lessons on the direction and focus of our eyes during poses. When we look up or down, on the horizontal plane, hard focus, soft wide and expansive focus - all bring about different sensations in the mind and body. The pattern brought about a similar realization and yet my eyes were closed and my focus inward.

What's more, with my intense focus and concentration on this pattern, the Sutra 3:53 Kṣaṇa Tatkramayoḥ saṁayamāt vivekajaṁ jñānam came into play. This is a Sutra that Nancy shared during Spring Training last weekend. Nancy has talked about Kṣaṇa often in her Saturday classes.  I kept saying to myself that I would remember the word and research it more, but by the end of class the word would escape me. I lost my focus; therefore, it didn't stick with me.

It did this time.  I wrote it down.  I looked it up and I could associate its meaning with glimpses of experiences in my āsana practice.  I also got a glimpse of why Nancy shared it. And in Kathleen's prāṇāyāma classes this week, I got to be with its meaning a little more. Now I'm beginning to hold onto a bit of understanding.

BKS Iyengar translates this sutra in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali as "by saṁayama on moment and on the continuous flow of moments, the yogi gains exalted knowledge, free from the limitations of time and space." Saṁayama literally means holding together, it's the integration of concentration, meditation, and self-realization. When I finally took the time to read the commentary on the translation, it opened me up to something much bigger that my teachers have been trying to teach.  It turned on another light. We've all experienced time expanding. Unfortunately, it's usually only in a tragedy situation (read my blog Expanding Time in a Moment).  However, the idea of learning how to sustain being that present all the time is pretty incredible. An infinitesimal moment, now that could put a new angle on our day. I know I've enjoyed the peek at the possibility. I am forever grateful for my teachers who care enough to keep learning and sharing their experiences.

Namaste.

#StillIyengar #StillLightingTheWay #StillwaterYoga  #Stillit.









Monday, April 20, 2015

SPRING TRAINING AT STILLWATER YOGA - FINDING FAITH AND COURAGE

When you've studied and trained in Iyengar Yoga as long as is required for your Level 1 Assessment, which is a minimum of three to four years (or as long as it takes for you to be truly ready) and even longer for Intermediate, Junior Level or above Assessments, hearing the rumor that Iyengar Yoga may not offer Assessments after this year until 2017 took many of us aback. The chitta vrittis (read chatter) in my head whispered, "but what if I don't pass this year?" Fortunately, we all recovered from any lapse of focus and put our eyes back on what mattered: our Spring Training at Stillwater Yoga.

Stillwater Yoga owner, Kathleen Pringle is dedicated to training and assessing teachers. As one of only a few Senior Iyengar Instructors in the Southeast, she conducts Teacher Training in Atlanta as well as other states. Her curiosity and fascination with the mobility and stability aspects of poses with various body types and issues is infectious. She takes us on a journey of learning that I wish all academic teachers could witness. Charlotte-based instructor, Erin Bailey explained, "I feel like Kathleen is a great fit for me as a teacher. I appreciate how gentle she is. Since I am a very sensitive person, I am glad that she puts compassion towards her students as a very high priority. She comes across as patient and a very careful communicator in all aspects of her teaching. And her beautiful smile alone is enough to put anyone at ease."

In Atlanta, students come from far and wide to study with her. Teacher in training, Kim Blitch drove from Kentucky despite the fact Kathleen will be in her town in a few weeks to teach another training. Kim said, "Kathleen is an inspiration. Her dedication and love for Iyengar Yoga is obvious as a teacher and as a student.  She is generous with her time and knowledge for which all of her students benefit."

Learning from those in the Iyengar system who have more knowledge is what distinguishes an Iyengar Instructor. Iyengar teachers never stop learning. For example, mentor, Kquvien DeWeese is away for a few weeks training at two different workshops with Senior Advanced instructors, Patricia Walden and Manouso Manos. One of the ways Kathleen continues learning is by going Pune, India every winter to study with Geeta Iyengar. 

Kathleen's ever-growing mastery of training teachers showed itself immediately. She set a seamless pace for the weekend by having us pick poses to teach in Nancy Mau's Saturday morning Level 2 Purva Pratana Sthiti or backbending sequence and then grouping us to fulfill a task. By focusing on our task together (eg. listing the linking actions between three poses in our sequence) each person in the group became a visible and viable part of our training. "We bonded right off the bat," said Phyllis Rollins of The Yoga Center in Charlotte, N.C.  


Phyllis demos a bad pose so Kathleen can 
teach us the correct hands-on adjustment.
We learn from Kathleen and we also learn a great deal from each other. In fact, Kathleen even learns from us. For example, she may witness common tendencies that teachers in training might have teaching specific poses. She shares those tendencies with us so we learn to avoid them. Aspiring Intermediate Junior Level Instructor, Phyllis Rollins explained, "I enjoyed working with the individuals to practice teach and get feedback on some of my problem poses."

Practice teaching is an important part of teacher training. Kathleen creates a safe space for us to brave the act of teaching some of the poses in our level syllabus. To keep us on our toes, she has the 'students' purposefully do common wrong actions to help us train our eyes to see them. "Kathleen makes the process supportive and helped me focus on the areas of my teaching that need improvement. It was a very positive experience for me," Phyllis concludes.

The secret to a great Iyengar class or training session is having some of what Patricia Walden calls your 'Yoga Vitamins'.  Nancy Mau explained in her seemingly flawless Level 2 class on Saturday that those 'yoga vitamins' are from Sutra 1:20 śraddhā vīrya smrti samādhiprajñā pūrvakaḥ itareṣām. śraddhā(faith) vīrya(trust)  smrti (memory) samādhi (concentration) and prajñā (wisdom) pūrvakaḥ.  BKS Iyengar translates this in Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali as,"Practice must be pursued with trust, confidence, vigour, keen memory and power of absorption to break this spiritual complacency."

In training, we have to put ourselves out there so we learn the most we can in the time alotted. That takes faith and courage. Luckily, Kathleen sets a tone of compassion that emanates to all of us. Erin adds, "It warms my heart to feel the support of everyone in our group. The feeling is certainly one of 'we are in this together' rather than that of competition."

No matter how raw or new to the system you may be you will get through it. Our Spring Training happened to be Atlantan, Corinne Lee's first Iyengar Teacher Training. Her openness to learning and willingness to put herself out there in an egoless way served as a reminder to us all to keep a beginner's mind. Corinne shared this about her experience, "Being new to the Iyengar lineage of yoga, I was thoroughly impressed and challenged by the rigorous and seemingly dogmatic practice and overall mindset. But I realized after my first teacher training, that the rules are there to keep your practice safe and steady as you progress into more advanced asanas. The Iyengar queing and sequencing has definitely strengthened and deepened my practice to a whole new awareness and communication with the mind-body connection."

Like Phyllis, I chose poses that I knew I needed work learning to teach. I'd done my homework, studied the material, and knew the primary actions; however, knowing it and teaching it through the Iyengar Method are two very different things. Kathleen explains, "In Iyengar Yoga, you teach one-on-one even if you are teaching a large class."  Everyone gets seen.  Therefore, we train not only to learn the actions of the pose, but also how to observe each student and know how to help support them where they are, further them along, or correct any wrong action that might come up for them.

After the Saturday Level 2 class where we each taught a pose, Erin Bailey of Charlotte admitted "Nancy Mau is a tough act to follow." Nancy's expert demonstrations, her economy of words in instruction, her clear and succinct corrections, not to mention her seamless linking of poses and yoga philosophy gave us a prime example of what we should all be aspiring to.

Becoming an Iyengar Instructor challenges every part of you in a very fulfilling way. You have to keep taking your 'yoga vitamins'. Your faith, trust, memory, and concentration are tested constantly. You transform and discriminating wisdom follows. Patañjali encourages us not to give up and not to loose focus with the Sutra (of which he has about 196 of them) that comes just after Sutra 1.20.

In Sutra 1.21 tīvrasaṁvegānām āsannaḥ, which BKS Iyengar translates as, "The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice." The goal is Samadhi and here I will use the definition of that to be self-realization in every fiber, cell, and synapse. Self-realization so you can share what you have learned with an honest and pure heart. You can deliver your simple demonstrations and clear instruction with enthusiasm and ease.

I believe Corinne Lee saw the results of that vigorous and intense practice in Kathleen's Spring Training, "Once you've sat through an Iyengar teacher training with Kathleen, you can understand why she is so highly respected and well-known in the Iyengar community. Her succinct teaching approach paired with her genuine tenacity for the practice and her dedication to her students is inspiring."

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this article. To Nancy Mau for showing us how it's done and once again allowing us to teach in her class.  To my training peers who I've enjoyed learning from and getting to know better. And of course to Kathleen who is committed to passing this great lineage along with the utmost dedication, integrity, and respect. 

If you'd like to learn more about the Iyengar Method visit iynaus.org and our Southeastern Iyengar Association at iyase.org. To learn more about Kathleen Pringle and her other great instructors please visit stillyoga.com #stillteaching #stillinspiring #stillwateryoga  #stillit.


Namaste.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Fooled by Form and Other Thoughts on the Journey To Self-Mastery - Part 2

"When stability becomes a habit, maturity and clarity follow."  - BKS Iyengar Light on Life


As an advertising writer and creative consultant, I am more than aware of how our human desires are enticed with sensual displays of everything from electronics to food and fashion to pharmaceuticals. However, as much as we like to blame advertisers for the many ills of the world, they can also do a lot of good. They can change behavior, caution, educate, employ, and raise money for good causes just to name a few. 

Those of you who are old enough to have children may have experienced how the exponential growth and omnipresence of advertising is beginning to teach our kids the need for discrimination. Learning to make wise choices is integral to finding balance in an over-stimulating, ever-changing world. The eight-limbed path of yoga is a well-tested systematic way to build the intelligence of the mind so we can think, speak, and act with discriminating wisdom.

It's been said advertising can get you to try a product or service, but only a good product or service can get you to buy it again. Learning to build good products is an art. Most of us have heard our parents say, "Well they don't make [insert product] like they used to." These days, we've come to believe some products are built with embedded obsolescence. In other words, after a certain time, it's actually made to break down so you have to buy a new one. It seems as if some manufacturers have lost their passion, drive, and sense of integrity when developing new products.

And yet, we are detoured constantly by them. Look, a shiny new phone. Where did you get those awesome shoes? Can I take a picture of your car? Is that a new lip color? Wait! How did I get here? Where was I? ADD/ADHD comrades aside, our world has become a massive detour sign destabilizing our connection to who we are and why we are here.

It has been my experience that when we apply passion, drive and integrity towards the 8-limbs of yoga, we have a better possibility to extend our life cycle so we are made to last. We can also develop control over the millions of distractions around us. We begin by building stability in the body through the postures. In the postures, we get to know ourselves by learning to ground our feet on the earth and extend our arms and legs and spine. 

Extension creates space in the body. It purifies our nerves and wakes up the skin so it's like every pore becomes an eye showing us more and more of ourselves. What is my left side doing?  What is my right side doing?  Which side is stronger?  Which side needs to work harder? As we progress we move from the skin inwards to the muscles, to bones, to the organs, and suddenly you find yourself wanting to go back and visit this fascinating place again and again so you can explore it more and more.

It's just you, yourself, and the unexplored sheaths of your body that are slowly unveiled as your stability and inward focus expands. You get glimpses of a quiet place deep inside you that offers stillness and peace.  It is from this place of stillness that you gain clarity like you've never experienced before. The moment you question it, you lose it.  The chatter in your head returns but like any other pleasurable occurrence you want to try to go back to it again.

Fortunately, along the way you have learned that with practice and detachment you build on the stability you've gained and the experiences of stillness, peace and clarity begin to grow too. You begin to be able to apply this stability and clarity to other aspects of your life. Over time, your desires and attachments are put in a perspective you can see with more eyes than you knew you had.

,,,To be continued. 

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Fooled by Form and Other Thoughts on the Journey to Self-Mastery - Part 1



     "Mastery of the body is the gateway to mastery of the mind"  - BKS Iyengar Light on Life


Yoga is a path I stumbled upon on my way somewhere else. It attracted me because it expanded on a mind-body concept that I'd gained from ballet without a promise of tutus or toe shoes. It offered something better: Freedom. The Cliffnotes version of yoga might be as follows: Mastering yoga precepts brings the discipline to master postures, which leads to mastering the breath, which leads to mastering thoughts and desires, which leads to one-pointed focus, which leads to supreme stillness that leads to self-realization. Mastering anything takes a lifetime of practice, discipline, and commitment. 

Most of us have encountered the idea of mastery at some point in our life. We are driven to become proficient at something in hopes of some reward.  As children, our first reward is usually some form of acceptance or love. Smile. Pick up your toys. Say 'thank you,' and master the social skills your culture demands and you gain acceptance into your tribe. School rewards your mastering the skills the 'system' deems important to becoming an active member of your community. Employers reward you with raises for mastering the skills the 'corporation' figures will give them the most return on their investment. Like Pavlov's dog, we learn very quickly that if we do something 'they' want we get a treat. 

We have been trained well, and yet the process of modern existence has distanced us further and further away from our connection to our own body. It's wild to consider that America's Puritanical beginnings have nothing over the digital society of today in its ability to isolate us from our own skin, but I'm beginning to believe it. Whatever we think we need these days takes on some form outside ourselves. It's beginning to get dangerous where we don't even think for ourselves. As former Harvard Business Review editor, Nicolas Carr asserts in his latest novel, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us. 

Iyengar Yoga is not an ascetic practice of denying the body or the material world. Being part of a household, neighborhood, or community are all opportunities towards self-mastery. The simple duties of cooking and cleaning can become wonderful exercises in mindfulness. However, by living at the speed of society these days, we have become automatons. BKS Iyengar says in Light on Life, 'They move from bed to car to desk to car to couch to bed, but there's no awareness in their movement, no intelligence."  We continue doing the same thing in order to attain some nebulous prize that promises to gratify our ego. What we discover is that no matter how much we get it's never enough. Reverend Jaganath Carrera explains in his book Inside the Yoga Sutras that if we believe something will give us happiness or pleasure, we are doomed to repeat it. However, the feeling is fleeting, so the craving returns, which is why he says fulfilling desires will never eliminate them. 

...to be continued.