20 October 2015

The Power of No

Three days of solitude over the weekend was heaven.
There was nowhere to go, no reason to do and no commitments to anyone.
I made sure that my children and partner knew I’d be uncontactable.  They were generous in complying.

It took 2 full days before my mind settled and the quiet descended.  Watching this evolve (or devolve) was fascinating.
I did a little yoga, a few hours of sitting, drank a lot of water and fresh juice, ate kitchiri, finished planting out veggies in my garden, went for a hike in the mountains, and just allowed peace to come about of its own accord.  No formal practice was necessary.  Unwinding happened by simply not HAVING to DO anything, except what I felt like in the moment.

By sheer coincidence (if there is such a thing) I came across a book in the local library on Saturday, ‘The Power of No’ by Claudia and James.  Having followed Claudia’s yoga blog for many years, I felt as if I knew her!  The book is written with great wit and wisdom.
It described what I was attempting to do (or not do) over the weekend – saying no to over-burdensome commitments, taking a break from the frenzy, carving out time to myself, prioritising what is most important in my life (simplicity and purity) and nourishing my spirit to regain balance and equilibrium.
The book is simply a memory jog, but its written with endearingly odd humour that makes it hard to put down.

I got up at 6am this morning to do a yoga practice before starting work.  After 5 minutes my body rebelled.  Movement in the early hours (before coffee) is a shock.  This aging body, starved of yoga, is stiff and unforgiving after the overnight confinement of bed.  But I’m chipping away at the hard bits.
I've noticed my body goes from one extreme to another...some days it is light strong and flexible, other days it's as stubborn and stiff as a board.
Getting out of bed is often physically and mentally painful, but most days, this passes quickly.

Ageing gracefully will take some practice!

So I took the opportunity to practice this evening instead, and it was one full hour of joy: The 10 surya namaskars, all the standing poses, a 15 minute interruption (phone call from my daughter), then fast forward to all the finishing inversions from Shoulderstand to Uth Pluthi with long stays in each.
Chipping away…

My verandah

I seem to be growing a nursery on my front verandah.

12 October 2015

Dark night of the soul

4 weeks have now passed without any yoga.
Not acceptable.  I must start again…

I went to my first yoga class at the age of 14.
That was in 1974.  It lit a spark and I bought my first copy of Iyengar’s Light on Yoga very soon after.
Using that book, I practiced at home for 20 years before committing to regular classes in 1998.  I began teaching yoga in 2001 and ran my own yoga school for a while.
Somewhere in the mid 1990’s I began Tibetan Buddhist meditation, then moved into the Theravadan practice attending yearly Vipassana retreats.  From here, I look back and see years of self analysis, introspection, mysticism, ego dissolution, and letting go, letting go, and more letting go.

Spiritual practice has been a lifelong focus.
But not without anguish.

Over the past year, my yoga practice has hit hard times because another love has entered my life – gardening. 
Well, vegetable gardening to be precise.
Yoga and meditation have been dislodged, relegated to the back seat.

Every morning, instead of being on the mat, I’m on my verandah checking the progress of my little seeds in the hothouse, the baby seedlings on the verandah, the adolescent plants on the shelves.
My grand old verandah has become a rather messy plant nursery.
All my spare time is spent cultivating seedlings, watering and attending to my own food garden, tending my children’s gardens which I’ve just planted out for spring/summer, or reading up on other people’s food growing experiences.

Have I suddenly moved into old age?

I’ve had a few vegie patches at various stages in my life, but this current passion for organic/biodynamic food gardening got fired up when I started work with VitalVeggies almost one year ago, and I’ve allowed it grow and burn out of control.

Meanwhile my spiritual practice, my true love, is waiting for me to come to my senses, and come back home.

Those moments when I am still, I feel the desperation.  It's a deep longing for the quietness of contemplative inner work.
How is it that one can be so happy with one’s outer life, yet feel such desperation and disconnection with one’s inner life.

Work is wonderful, fulfilling, fun, challenging, and richly rewarding. I get to work outdoors, in gardens, helping people to grow their own organic food.  I am learning so much new and useful knowledge and practical skills every day.

But I’ve allowed the work to encroach on personal time.
My life, and my life focus, are so out of balance that I no longer even recognise that work is actually part of spiritual practice, that there is no separation.
I have split life into fragments and compartments.
Internal and external are not in harmony or union.

So much of my non-work time is spent growing and tending seedlings, researching and absorbing new information, planning out gardens and trying to do it all better that I have lost sight of the ‘big’ picture and lost my connection to it.
The result?  I wake up crying in the mornings.  
My head is often fuzzy and spinning with vertigo.  I am happy and contented one minute, then confused and distraught the next.

Preoccupation is dangerous.

Getting caught up in anything narrows our broad vision down to tunnel vision.  It whisks us away on the crest of a wave, and distracts us from what’s really going on in the deeper psyche.

I have lost touch with the Source.
I have forgotten that I am not this person. 
That there is no ‘I’.
That all is one.

It’s time to step back, untangle my thoughts from the whirlwind of work, enter the expanse of the void, reconnect with the Source.
Spiritual practice is the key to help this process along, to start dissolving the entanglement. 
Yoga and meditation refocus the mind away from the transient external world, towards the infinite, internal universe.
But dammit, it’s not easy to break the mind’s habitual landing platforms, to redirect thoughts onto something other than the frenzy of daily activities.
Neural pathways have formed and hardened, they don’t just break and reroute themselves.  It takes determination, commitment, focus and practice to change those mind patterns.

To break free from the clinging mind I have to deliberately set up some time for solid, solitary introspection, where there will be no external interruptions to divert my focus.

This weekend, I’ll be saying no to all my commitments, no to everyone, This weekend I’ll attempt to rewire the hard drive, change direction and start again.

17 September 2015

A new backbending prop

Another 1 hour evening practice.
Focusing on mulha bandha while moving through the Surya Namaskars intensifies the flow of prana.  My body takes on a brightness, lightness and strength.  Jumps are soft, light, floaty.

Then my phone rings while transitioning from Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana A to B on the first side, and I abandon my leg while in the air.  It’s my son, so I answer.
Note to self – phone gets turned OFF from now on during yoga practice.

I get back on the mat, bandhas, breath, rhythm, flow, energy…all gone.

Oh well, let’s do backbends.
Salabhasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana twice, Supta Virasana, Setu Bandha.  I press up into Urdhva Dhanurasana, arms won’t straighten.  I feel heavy.  I try again.  The second one is usually better, but not tonight.
Thick, tight shoulders again. 
How to release them?

I try a handstand with my fingertips 40cm away from the wall, sort of an arching backbend.  It doesn’t quite work.  I come in closer to the wall, kick up and arch my lumber to drop my back thighs to the wall, still trying to stretch open my shoulders. 
It doesn’t feel good, or safe.  I come down.

I spy the esky at the end of my bed (yes, an esky) and it already has a yoga mat draped over it.  This is set up so my little Buffy has a halfway place to jump when getting on and off my bed.

I pull the esky near the heater and lay over it lengthways taking arms over and back behind my head.  A strap is over my elbows to keep my upper arms parallel.  I lay and wait for the release. It’s not too bad actually.  We often laid over the side of a stage during Iyengar classes, with crown of head and forearms on the floor, knees bent and feet on the stage, then we'd flip our legs overhead, through a headstand and down onto the floor.  They were good, solid classes.
Wriggling backwards down the esky, I try to get into a supported Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana with my forearms on the floor but can’t quite get there without pressurising the top of my head.  Not good.

Enough for tonight.

Headstand: 10 breaths balancing with head barely touching the floor then I allow weight on my head and stay in the pose for a while.

I sit in half Padmasana for a long time - perhaps ten or fifteen minutes.
It is quiet in here, after yoga, inside my head.  Perfectly balanced, hauntingly silent, I am looking out from inside the central point of a spinning top, from deep inside the eye of a tornado.  This vast peacefulness is familiar.  I remember it, I have missed it, this silent, fathomless abode that is home.  The yoga is working.  The amnesia is lifting.  

16 September 2015

Director and Observer

A 1 hour evening practice tonight.  Deep, intense, focussed, quiet.

Supta Baddha Konasana and Supta Virasana (both on a bolster to destress my body from the day’s hard physical work)
Cross Legged forward bend
Supta Padangusthasana
A very long Paschimottanasana
Baddha Konasana – I released into this pose, much more than usual tonight.  There is deep emotional tension stored in my muscles that restricts opening in the hips. Although slightly frustrating on one hand because I used to easily go forward flat to the floor, on the other hand it's a fascinating challenge to gently overcome the resistance and observe the pose unlocking the tension.  I take heart knowing that there is corresonding opening in the mind and heart as the body physically releases emotional trauma.
Janu Sirsasana
Parivritta Janu Sirsasana – a twisted side bend from a very wide Janu Sirsasana
Upavista Konasana
Marichyasana A
Marichyasana C
Shoulderstand, Halasana, Karna Pindasana

During practice my focus is laser sharp, internal and microscopic, I am moving through my body with great precision, watching and feeling tissues tightening and relaxing, muscles and hard tendons releasing, joints opening, blood flow stopping and starting, all while working in the poses. 
My mind is split: one part is directing the pose and managing the balance between intensity and release.  The other part is observing the effects and monitoring degrees of safety, intensity, progress.
Yet another part is feeling love, joy and gratitude, for being alive and being able to do yoga.

Yoga unites all these parts into one seamless whole that is much greater than what we can possibly imagine.

15 September 2015

Early morning practice

"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark."
Rabindranath Tagore

Here in Adelaide spring has just arrived. 
The mornings are still chilly, but the days are filled with promise.

I made a pact that I’d get up at 5.30am today.
I step onto the mat at 5.45 and as I begin my sun salutes, I am rewarded with a symphony of birdsong.

Body has morning stiffness, but that was expected.

Surya Namaskar - I rise up, I bow down, I repeat this many times over in a cycle of movements that warm my body. 
Surya Namaskar is truly a bowing down to the magnificent energy of the sun.  As I perform these sacred movements, I feel humbled and honoured to be practicing as the sun once again rises over the horizon to warm this side of the earth.

I move through the standing poses, aware of the early morning restrictions in my body.  Slight modifications are needed for Parivritta Parsvakonasana and Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana, and I’m happy with that – doing a yoga practice that will wipe me out or cripple me for the rest of the day is no longer practical. 
Transformation must come slowly, gently, organically.
Yoga practice must nourish my body and mind, and provide energy, love, balance and inspiration for the day.
This is Buddha’s middle way and the sensible wisdom of age.

After the standing poses, I kick up to a handstand.  Still feeling a bit heavy.  I may have added a couple of kilos over winter and just noticing it now.

Practice time is running out.  I have to be finished by 6.45am. 
I abandon the sequence and choose what I need to do: Janu Sirsasana, then simple backbends: Salbhaasana, Dhanurasana, Ustrasana.
I won’t even attempt Urdhva Dhanurasana this morning.  The risk of injury is high.
Supta Padangusthasana is the backbend counter pose today.
I finish with some inversions: Shoulderstand, Halasana. Matsyasana, then Headstand.
Savasana for 5 minutes.

With only half an hour after practice to get ready for work and have breakfast, there is no time for writing or reflection.

Now, late at night, I can look back and reflect.  It feels like a dream to have risen early and done a practice this morning.  Magic and mystery suffused those quiet early hours.

There is a tribe who chant, pray, dance and bow to the sun in the bewitching hours before dawn.  They seek union.  They are yogis.