30 October 2007

Miscellaneous Ramblings

Tuesday 30th October 2007

Yesterday I had a sore throat. My reaction to this was disbelief because I haven’t been sick or had a cold for so many years. I’d actually forgotten what it was like. It’s so easy to take your health for granted, especially when many years of yoga has brought your system into balance and the practice maintains this. Impeccable health and an abundance of energy are the pay offs of practice.
Today the sore throat is gone. My immune system must have kicked into action yesterday and overpowered the invading pathogens. The childlike visual image I have of all this happening is rather entertaining…armies of little fighters equipped with swords and shields marching in unison towards the bad guys, the fight ensues, the bad guys get neutralised and destroyed, blood splattered over the battlefield, and good wins out over evil once again. Sickness averted, good health restored.

I nearly didn’t practice this morning firstly because it was so hard to get out of bed and then secondly because I thought Renate wasn't coming.

Because of daylight saving time change last Sunday we had to put the clocks forward one hour which means in REAL time, I’m getting up at 4.30am even though the clock says 5.30am. I hauled myself out of bed against my will (or becasue of it), drove in to the Gallery, set up the mats and blankets, lit the incense and stretched my body out while waiting for Renate to arrive. By 10 past 6, she hadn’t so I figured she too was time lagged and the one hour of sleep deprivation had taken its toll.
I debated whether or not to practice and decided to drive home again and walk the dog who I’d left at home alone looking solemnly sad, lonely and miserable. The guilt of leaving her for 12 hours straight had hurt this morning.

Of course as soon as I started to pack up Renate arrived, very apologetic. Quick mental turnaround. Practice is on.
All the seated poses were a delicious treat this morning so I explored them for a few extra breaths and since we'd had a late start and I knew I wasn't going to get through the entire practice, I legitimately justified jumping from Marichy C straight to Baddha Konasana.

Even so, that very rich and satisfying post-practice feeling told me my body had worked my mind over, enough to feel very altered.

“Every practice is a reversal of consciousness”
I can’t remember who said that but it’s true. Yoga practice changes us physically at a micro-cellular, chemical and energetic level. It changes us mentally at a subconscious level by developing our faculty of observation and the mental habit of stepping back from stimulus to observe our reaction before it sweeps us away. And it changes us spiritually, ever so gently raising our spiritual awareness and opening up our spiritual consciousness to prepare for Divine self-awakening.

I’m so grateful for yoga and for all the teachers and practitioners of the past and the present who've keep this tradition alive despite all the trials of our human life.

I’m also eternally grateful to have Renate to practice with – how many times have I said that? Probably not enough. She’s an extraordinary woman. Warm, wise, wonderful and creative and at the age of 59 she has boundless energy and enthusiasma for life which puts me to shame. We’ve been practising Ashtanga together on Tuesdays and Thursdays for about 5 years now (we started off in my shed) and plan to keep up the regular morning rendezvous well into our twilight years.

Renate has an exhibition of sculptures in a major gallery coming up next week in combination with a painter and close friend of ours, Louise Feneley, but since I don’t have any images of Renate’s work, I’ve posted one of Louise’s paintings from the exhibition above.
More of her work is here.

26 October 2007

3 days of practice notes

Saturday 27th October 2007

On the mat
I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve stopped practicing at the shala for a while then sheepishly returned. Today was my second practice at the shala this time back.

It was over 2 hours, but generally mediochre, distractions were everywhere and playing havoc with my level of engagement.
Kosta was practicing next to me, a 4 year old child was running around playing and talking incessantly, a shala visitor from interstate was across from me (young male) asking a lot of questions - we couldn't believe it when he queried the correct breathing in dropbacks (exhale to dropback and inhale to come up) saying he always did his standard three dropbacks holding ONE BREATH!
Distractions are no excuse really. I guess the mind just wasn’t fully immersed in the experience today unless my sum experience includes not being focussed.

The challenging poses at the moment are all lumbar stretch related: Marichyasana A and B, Supta Kurmasana and especially Pindasana. If I stick at them, I can get deep into the Marichys and Pindasana, but it's not without intense sensations digging deep holes into my spinal guts. Supta Kurmasana is still a pale version of what it used to be, my hands grab but my toes barely touch. Can you believe that coming out of Supta K and doing the vinyasa is painfully much worse than actually being in the pose. My body stubbornly refuses to do the arched lumbar curve in Upward Dog after the intense forward lumbar curve of supta K, – I have to stay a few breaths in Upward Dog to ease my lumbar into its natural curve again before moving on.

I pushed Urdhva Dhanurasa out to the max this morning, doing 6 of them and turning up the intensity of each one. My cranial nerves were getting sparky after the fifth one, so much so that I couldn’t see for a few seconds.
Inana was busy down the other end so I stood at then end of my mat for dropbacks and waited, observing the individual activity around the room for a couple of minutes. Assisted dropbacks were pretty easy but she made me stay down on the last one again and held my hips so high in Urdhva Dh that I felt every muscle fibre over my frontal hips ripping apart – it’s was a fabulous stretch from hell, the crowing glory of today’s practice.

In Sirsasana I found the energetic link between the pelvic floor and the top of my head. Drawing energy up from the mula bandha core to the crown of the head in this pose ignites the main energetic channel that runs parallel to the spine, and once you get it happening, there’s no mistaking the sensations that accompany it. The body instantly aligns itself perfectly up and around this vivid pipeline, bringing the balancing point on the top of the head to pinpoint accuracy. Some days I get it, some days I don’t.

Not much else to note. Except I’m glad to be back at the shala again, even if it is only at the Saturday morning class (this is the 8am ‘soft’ version of the hardcore 6am Mysore sessions held during the week). Simi will be back teaching this class soon, but her daughter Inana has been lovely – she adjusts gently (except in Urdhva Dh!) and her presence is unimposing but supportive. It’s been easy to just lay down my mat, do my practice anonymously and receive a guiding hand here and there.

Grace – 4
Flow – 8 up to Dandasana then dropping to 4
Joy - 7
Flexibility – 7
Malleability – 6
Strength – 8
Focus – 3
Determination – 5
Courage – 5
Breath - 7
(60, but who’s counting)

Thursday 25th October 2007

On the mat
Malleability is a physical quality I’ve been noticing, AND looking for in my practice lately. It’s quite different to flexibility.

Wihtout the luxury of a dictionary to consult, I'm only guessing, but flexibility and flex appear to have the same linguistic root, and doesn’t flex mean to bend? Our bodies bend at the joints, and for this to happen, it requires the contraction of muscles on one side and the stretching of muscles on the other side.
Not only do joints flex (bend) but muscles also flex (contract). This quality called flexibility seems to me to describe our RANGE of movement. Flexibility conjures up images of ease and freedom of movement, but not necessarily a deep connection with the body, more of a lengthening and opening built up over time with repetition. And flexibility allows the body to return to its original shape like a piece of stretched elastic.

Malleability on the other hand is different. If you mould something, it keeps that shape. Think of a lump of semi-soft clay…get your hands around it, squeeze it and reshape it, poke a hole in it or through it and instead of springing back like elastic, it accommodates and holds that shape. It’s very substance invites you to mould it into a new form.

More and more I’m noticing this malleable quality at the microcellular level of my body.

An important part of yoga practice is learning how to enter a pose and work deeply in it, strengthening the mind-body connection. And there are different ways to work in a pose – at times we need to hold a pose and gradually release the tension, blockages and restraints that restrict flexibility in the joints and muscle tissues.
But discovering the body’s malleability brings another element to work with in a pose. There’s an earthy, elemental presence in every cell of my body when it's malleable, a complete participation at the cellular level. And there's the sensuality of substance. The muscles feel full, the mind feels full, there’s more feeling permeating the body, the sensations are magnified and enjoyed, body and mind have an earthy sensuality brought on by consummating their marriage.
This is not spiritual. It’s organic. It’s honest, loving, natural, fulfilling and juicy to work with my body when it’s malleable.

I’m sure this earthy quality is directly connected to my mind state but I can’t identify the exact mental correlation yet – what makes up the flavour of my mind on those days when my body’s malleable? The answer is out of my reach.

I don’t always connect to this particular quality, but I"ve begun to notice when it’s not present, probably because I'm looking for it. Some days, my body’s as stubborn as a mule. It gets to a point in a pose and won’t go one millimetre further, at that point retreating and backing away from the edge. There’s no negotiating. That kind of practice is frustrating and only gets worse as it progresses.

So I’ve had a few practices lately where my body hasn’t been particularly flexible (bendy) but it has been very malleable. Like today. I did a full 2 hour practice not shying away from any pose. Went from start to finish with a body that enjoyed working with.

Grace – 4
Flow – 7
Joy - 5Flexibility – 4
Malleability – 8
Strength – 8
Focus – 7
Determination – 8
Courage – 7
Breath - 7

65. I can’t resist adding them up.

Tuesday 23rd October 2007

On the mat
Practice was laborious today. It isn’t about mindfulness or personal growth or spiritual connection at the moment, it's all about my lower back which has concreted itself into immobility.

I face it in every practice now and all I can do is chip away at it in each pose poking at it in each pose with a little ice pick, wishing I had a jackhammer.

So with my mind complaining more than my body, I ploughed slowly through the seated forward bends up to Marichyasana C, doing my best to neutralise the frustration, but by then the beastly back was so locked up it was almost sickening.
Five long, deep Urdhva Dhanurasana backbends saved me from the impending torture of self flagellation.

Since I don’t have TV, or read trashy magazines, or indulge in anything that ‘normal’ people do for light entertainment, I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to do.

I’m going to measure my practice. (yes I know it’s ludicrous to measure one’s practice, but it’s my entertainment today).
Each quality is ranked on a scale of 10 (yes, very anal)

This is today’s assessment (You'll see I’m not a generous marker):
Grace – 3
Flow – 4
Joy - 3
Flexibility – 3
Malleability – 2
Strength – 8
Focus – 5
Determination – 7
Courage – 7
Breath 6

Which only adds up to 48 out of 100 so today I’d fail if this were a yoga school examination!

The point of the exercise of course is trying to measure and compare the ebb and flow of qualities in my practice. It’s my personal record of what qualities are present or lacking in my body each day and comparing that to the changing ecosystem in my mind.
I’m absolutely convinced that our state of mind (both conscious and sub-conscious) manifests in our body. I just haven’t worked out the algebraic formula to decipher the code.
Hence my practice assessment.

Yoga practice doesn’t have to be all serious spiritual stuff…and svadyaya (self-study) can be fun, especially if you don’t take your Self seriously.

24 October 2007


Sunday 21st October 2007

Surfing this morning was a bit disappointing, too windy to be anything but a non-stop battle with no victory in sight. The wind was hot, northerly and offshore (this is good) but about 20 knots (bad). It swung around to a strong side-offshore so I emerged from the water a kilometre down the coast from where I’d paddled in, exhausted from 20 minutes of battling the waves and wind and catching only a couple of rides.

I walked over the sand towards the rocks, put my board safely out of the wind under a low overhanging rock, then turned around and walked back into the waves in my wetsuit to play…at least make the long trip down the coast worthwhile.

I love the wildness of the relentless waves here. I love springing lightly up over them and diving sleekly into their backsides like a dolphin, over and over. It feels like an improvisational dance, the ocean leading, me following its curves and its unpredictable moves, receptive but alert to its fickle nature. Fully present.

There’s nothing on earth that can match the awesome fluid power of the ocean’s currents as they pass through you. After a short time it has cleansed me from the inside out.

Thoroughly sea-soaked I wandered back to the car, eyes water-glazed, long hair tousled into perfectly natural, wind-dried ringlets, my body salty and clean, my energy clear and quiet. I was sitting at a safe distance on top of the rocks now, gazing back out at the unpredictable swell lines looming higher as they came closer, breaking into white crests peeling from one end to the other.
I wish I was back out there. On that wave, right there.
I pull on my hat, squint and gaze longingly out to sea, gently mesmerised for a while.
Gradually the spell wears off.

Driving back to the city, the ocean beckons from behind. I keep driving. Re-entering a landscape of concrete, polluting cars and mass consumerism, something feels painfully wrong.
Whizzing down the freeway a huge red sign on the other side catches my eye…”Wrong Way, Go Back” it says. God speaks to us in mysterious ways.

(PS. That's not me in the image, I'd freeze without my wetsuit)

12 October 2007

So You Think You Can Yoga

Saturday 13th October 2007

On first thought it seems strange that yoga is a noun and not a verb since in the modern context, it’s something we actually DO each day (or week). We get on the mat but we don’t yoga, we DO yoga, or if we want to describe the act of yoga, we say we ‘practice’.
“to practice’ is a verb…’to yoga’ isn’t.

But thinking a little more about it, yoga does correctly turn out to be a noun, because yoga is a state of being.
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. And as all yogis know the word yoga literally translates as ‘yoke’ or ‘union’.
Yoga is the state of union that we aim for when we practice, whatever form that practice takes.

Similarly meditation is not something that we do. Meditation isn’t actually sitting in Padmasana and relaxing the mind, or sitting and focussing on the breath, or sitting and visualising a symbol, or even walking with pure awareness.
Meditation (dhyana) is the pure state of mind that results from these processes if they are successful.

Just a string of random thoughts that came out of ‘So You Think You Can Yoga’.

On The Mat
I went to a class at the shala this morning.
It seemed like I hadn’t been to the shala for over 6 months but when I checked back over my blog entries, the last morning Mysore class I went to was in early June. Only 4 months ago.

With David and Simi both overseas there are no early morning Mysore classes during the week, people just go in and practice on their own. But on Saturday’s, David and Simi’s daughter Inana takes the Mysore class. I thought it started at 8am but when I got there at 7.40am the timetable on the door said the class was 8.30-10.30am. What to do? Walk around the corner to Cibo’s for a pre-practice espresso, against all my better judgement.

So my first practice back at the shala was a bit jittery. When Inana helped me in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, my extended leg was not far off vertical in both A and B, but it was doing an espresso shake. Core bandha power was missing for most of the practice as it often is when I start back at shala classes, I guess it’s because there’s less internal focus, my mind just that little bit more distracted and concerned with public performance instead of the usual fully internal gaze.
Even so, it was a very full and unforgiving practice, all hard work with no slacking off, perhaps a little too heavy on intensity. Not until Upavista Konasana did I remember the yearning to ‘dance my yoga’, but it was way too late in the practice to lighten up.

Urdhva Dhanurasana was amazing. Four of them, very authentic in intention and execution. I stayed up in each one for five long breaths, pushing my spine deeper and deeper towards the centre of my body, pushing my feet deeper and deeper into the ground to work my legs more than ever, adjusting the upper thoracic vertebrae just below my neck to open and extend across my armpit chest. I walked my feet in, I walked my hands in. I did not wimp out.
After the final one, I signalled to Inana to help me with dropbacks. She has a such a lovely supportive touch. I raised my arms, and at that crucial point of liftup and archback, she touched the mid thoracic spine to increase it’s curve just as I’m reaching back.

For the first dropback she got me to stay in Urdhva D for five breaths before coming up and while down there, she firmly but gently lifted under my hips to keep them up high for the duration of the supposedly 5 breaths. But since my breath sped up, it was about 50 breaths. The nerves in my lumbar/hip area were on full alert, tissues and ligaments streeeeeetching over and above their usual limit. The pull through the front hips was almost blinding, but I stayed and stayed. Then up I came up. We did about six dropbacks with the breath after that, down and up again.
After that, I was immortalised and in dropback heaven.

A tiny revelation came to me in Sirsasana today. I squeezed my inner ankles, inner knees and inner legs together while I was working in the pose and it woke up a magic spot, an energetic point where mula bandha originates, somewhere between the sacrum and pubis, it’s sexy and powerful at the same time. If you try the squeeze, keep the sacrum pressed forward and the front thighs pressed back, this alignment’s critical to activate the energy of the sweet spot.

The Light in my Life

Friday 12th October 2007

On The Mat
At 6am I got up and drove to the Gallery to do a practice before work. Nice to be there on my own for a change, the quiet solitude of personal practice is now familiar territory, like a home away from home. The gallery space was a bit messy today, the floor strewn with nails and paint cans, a few paintings propped up around the walls - a new exhibition opens here tonight and it’s only half hung – work will be panic today, and then I’ll have to stay on for the exhibition opening…quite a long day.

I really enjoyed the surya namaskars, watching my body warm and loosen up over the first few rounds, responding to the message of my breath as it started to go staccato and get caught in the B’s. I consciously smoothed it out by turning down the mental intensity.

I went straight into Parivritta Parsvakonasana B without even doing A, (this is the version with bound hands), which was a leap of faith or absolute madness but luckily I was up to it today. The pose was strong, the front leg bent fully to 90 degrees and the back foot glued to the floor (unlike the photo in the link). The low twist in this pose burrows all the way into my inner lumbar, the area of my body that’s in a permanent state of anxiety. I suspect it might be finally opening after all these years of being unconscious/dead, but it’s not a pleasant process.
I have a continual urge to twist and crack something big down there, do some massive reconstructive adjustment. My lumbar area has this annoying inner tickle which I can’t get to, and the urge to scratch it and scrape it and clean it out is driving me mad. It’s as if the cement blockage that’s been lodged here for 30 years is starting to soften and now that it’s thick presence is being felt on an emotional level, my psyche wants to detonate a bomb in there and nuke it off the planet.
Along with this urge to contort my lumbar and release it’s tight core is the associated danger of injury so I’m having to be extra careful now, this area’s very unstable. An earthquake is rumbling around my lower spine.

After Parivritta Parsvakonasana I attempted Pasasana, yes, way out of sequence and context but my body was pleading for extra twisting. My fingers touched on one side but that wasn’t the goal…I needed to bend deep in the hips then twist that central spot in front of my sacrum to feed my masochistic hunger- a tidal wave of pain, fear and emotion arose, it was deep work but great therapy.
With a 6.30am start it was never going to be a full practice since I like to be out of the Gallery by 8am. After my flirt with Pasasana I went back and completed the rest of the standing poses, did a few forward bends without vinyasas, a few good backbends to dig in to my lumbar a bit more, then a fully fleshed out finishing sequence. All delicious and satisfying.

Light – this is the elusive quality that I’ve misplaced. It’s missing from my yoga practice and it’s missing from my state of mind. The connections we make between our yoga practice and the rest of our life reveal the extent and depth of our spiritual practice. What is happening in our physical body as revealed on the yoga mat is a true and accurate indication, an untainted reflection of our state of mind.

If I’ve learned one thing from all these years of yoga practice, it’s the interactive connection between the body and mind – what’s happening on one level ripples through to the other, like a two way mirror reflecting our constantly changing thoughts and emotions.
Tight mind= tight body, deluged with sadness= heavy body, fallen in love= body light and full of joy. Every thought we think registers somewhere in the body, think it over and over and you thicken the neural pathway establishing a habit pattern in the mind which lodges more deeply in the corresponding part of the body.

Those times when my state of mind is clear and positive, I feel like I’m filled with Light and I naturally emanate Light and Love into the world around me, my eyes sparkle and my body’s at ease, my yoga practice is light and open.
This Light is the expression of our true nature, the divine core that is pure and crystal clear, the source of the Light that lies deeply buried beneath layers of muck.

Yoga is the front-end loader that clears the muck away.

The muck is all a combination of negative thoughts and the misguided beliefs that produce them. Both Yoga and Buddhism use the term ‘Ignorance’ to describe the state of not-knowing, the state of being unaware of our Divine Light and how to release it.

Thinking, thinking, thinking…it’s like a can of worms inside my mind right now, but I guess the good news is I am seeing it. The inner Light and expression of my Divine Self is temporarily obscured and blocked by the dense accumulation of self centred thoughts.
So…how do I reverse this trend (yet again)?
Step 1. Awareness of the problemStep 2. Take full responsibility for my own state of mind (not blame life’s circumstances)
Step 3. Determine precise action to fix the problem
Step 4. Find ways to remember the Light, all day long
Step 5. Give thanks for this beautiful life

When I re-read my last post (So You Think You Can Dance), I can see how my intoxication with the dance program is really an unconscious yearning for that Light.
By analysing why I fell in love with the program, I was attempting to identify what’s lacking in my life. I seized upon the dancer’s creative vitality, I wanted to feel that again, I want to dance, I want to fly.
Dance expresses the divine spirit through movement, grace, ease and space. As we move our bodies through physical space, extending through limbs and extremities, we are opening up our bodies, dissolving blocks so they become free of obstacles and purer vehicles for the expression of divine energy. Dance make us children again.

I wasn’t too far off the mark and the more I reflect and tease this out, the more conscious I am becoming of the work to be done, and the closer I’ll get to uncovering the light of my life.
This spiritual path is not an easy one. Travelling from darkness to light, facing my shortcomings, is tedious and painful, more like pulling teeth actually.

5 October 2007

So You Think You Can Dance

Saturday 4th October 2007

At least once a fortnight I spend Friday night at my daughter’s place for a mother/daughter bonding sleepover. We used to watch multiple episodes of Prison Break together in 7 hour marathons withour the interruption of inane advertisements, sometimes we'll watch a DVD, but our current obsession is “So You Think You Can Dance”. She tapes the episodes during the week so we can eat dinner (and dessert) together in front of the replay while her 3 year old daughter soaks up the female bonding vibes.

We just LOVE this program.

The dancing is inspirational, the contestants are gorgeous, vibrant, emotional, creative young people of real character and courage. Their immaturity and flaws are revealed with warmth, their hopes and dreams made obvious, age has not yet mellowed or dulled them.
The structure of the entire competition from the initial en-masse auditions to the cream-of-the-crop finals is really well thought out. My only criticism is the replaying of the judges comments when reviewing the previous night's performances - for me this drags the suspense of the final decision over my tolerance line.

We viewers get close to the dancers as they are miraculously teleported live, right into our living rooms. The informal clips from rehearsals and interviews really give us behind-the-scenes insight into who they are and the effort they put into this program, and I get way too involved with these creative kids.
Which explains why I cried when Jessie was cut from the competition.
She was asked what she’d miss most...she paused for a long moment then replied “Pasha” (the dance partner she’d become so close to) with such a raw truthfulness not usually revealed on national TV, and I understood instantly. Dancers communicate through their bodies and those contestants are paired together under extreme circumstances and have to develop a most intimate creative relationship, the extent we could only imagine.
With that one answer, Jessie connected straight into me, and in that instant, the rich compression of all her emotions and experiences were revealed, it overwhelmed me.

Boy, am I ever sucked in…can you see why I can’t have a TV in my house – I’m much too vulnerable.

But, being a yogi, and a contemplative person who is always exploring my own reactions, i can't just watch and enjoy. I must delve into why I enjoy. What is this program revealing to me about myself. Interesting stuff is starting to emerge as I plug into my subconscious and tease this out further.
The pull of this program for me excites an enormous human yearning to live life to the full, to express emotion, to be real, to experience the incredible highs that come when our natural urge to express and communicate is channelled through a creative force (eg. dance, art, music) and then brought to fruition through hard work, discipline and endurance.

Is this missing from my life? Am I unconsciously seeking from those dancers the inspiration of youth, a hidden desire to shake off the cobwebs of middle age comfort and wake up to Life?

Yoga fulfils this to a certain degree because it takes me into unfamiliar territory where I keep discovering a constantly deepening inner universe, where I connect to an unknown but strangely familiar force, but yoga's a solo journey and the juiciness of Life comes from our interaction with others. How long can you dance with yourself? Perhaps I seek to merge and dance with the force of Life itself.

Although there’s a lot going on in my outer life which is more than enough to manage, amidst all of that, my soul yearns to deeply connect with Life, to sing and dance on the brink of ecstasy, shed tears of joy and grief, love fully without boundaries and express truth without compromise.
Dance is spontaneous and creative, and the product is ephemeral. You dont' have anything to show for it when it's finished except a feeling and a memory. It'snot like painting or music where you can view or hear the product of your creative impulse.
Dance exists only in the moment.
Another reminder to live my life fully, only in the moment. The moment is all there ever is.

Gee...if I hadn’t started writing down my train of thought about a TV program I’ve been sucked into, this basic lesson would have gone unnoticed.

This has been an interesting post for me, an unexpected, unedited ramble, but the simple act of writing freely with no agenda or direction while the mixed up thoughts are unravelling themselves, has been a very revealing and psychotherapeutic process.

So thank you to the producers, directors and participants of that program for bringing all this to my attention.

I will now have to get up off this chair and dance for my life.