24 October 2008

Coming Home

Saturday 25th October 2008

Practice just isn’t quite the right word for what I do on the yoga mat in those early hours.
The word practice to me implies either:

1) something we do in preparation for something else (like practising a speech for the big event), or

2) something we do in order to get better at it (like piano or tennis practice).

For so many years I’d approached morning yoga practice as a time that was separate from the rest of my life, a time to return to centre, a time to reconnect with my inner world and fertilize my little plot of spiritual soil in the hope that something beautiful would grow out of it.
After practice I’d go off into the outer world – work, family, commitments, friends relationships – and try to retain at least a little of that calm, clear and vast mindstate throughout the day.

But lately the boundaries between my inner and outer life have been shrivelling up as they amalgamate into one totally amazing Life.

The sacred is a permanent presence – not confined to my morning yoga practice but permeating every waking moment. Mundane activities, 9-5 work, cooking and caring for family and dog, all these are now lovingly performed and seen through the eyes of a softly awakened and reverent heart.

So once we have awakened to the mystical dimensions of life, what happens to our practices of prayer, contemplation, devotion and the daily rituals of yoga, chanting or meditation, the vehicles we chose to help us get there?

From Jack Kornfield:
“In one way, nothing happens. We continue the same practices, often with even more care and dedication; they remain important ingredients in a sacred life. However we do them in a radically different way.
With spiritual maturity the basis for these practices shifts away from ambition, idealism and desire for self-transformation. It is as if the wind has changed, and a weather vane – still cantered in the same spot – now points in a different direction: back to this moment. We are no longer striving after a spiritual destination, grasping for another world different from the one we have. We are home. And being home we sweep the floor, make nourishing meals, and care for our guests. When we have realised the everlasting truths of life, what else is there to do but continue our practice?

Of course we also need our continuing practice. We can still become lost, entangled, caught up in the difficulties of modern life. Our continuing practices cleanse us, steady us, remind us of what is true. Our daily practices help us stay balanced, attend to our body, keep our heart open, strengthen our ability to offer clear love. Our practice becomes like cleaning house. We do not just clean the house once and forget it. It is a regular task and a pleasure to live in a clean house, to honour all who enter. But the house is not who we are, and no amount of ambitious cleaning will change the nature of our life.
We practice to express our awakening, not to attain it.”

On The Mat – notes from Tuesday 21st October 6am practice:

A 2 hour practice. My body felt quite naturally strong and richly organic – a very nice feeling. Getting out of the city and spending time in nature does this to me - I’ve been climbing up and down mountains and soaking up the pure prana from the trees and wildlife, filling up my reservoir of vital energy.

Daily Ashtanga yoga practice is a very accurate barometer with which to measure our vital energy, not only on a macro level (generally feeling strong, weak, tired, energised etc) but also on a micro level, in the individual poses, where we can notice those places in the body where the flow of energy is blocked or stuck.

Ashtanga is not only a barometer of vital energy but a tool to increase it.

I’m always surprised at the little energetic openings I get during yoga practice, how each tiny adjustment in a pose can release or redirect the flow of energy. My inner ear picks up on all the little crackles and pops that mark an energy spurt through a blocked nadi. It’s the sweetest feeling – nothing like it - can't explain it. For some reason I get a lot of little energy pops around the bridge of my nose, which is just under the spot where the Ida and Pingala nadis meet in the Ajna Chakra. Very interesting…

An excerpt about nadis taken from here:

Nadis are not nerves but rather channels for the flow of consciousness. The literal meaning of nadi is’flow’. Just as the negative and positive forces of electricity flow through complex circuits, in the same way, pram shako (vital force) and manas shako (mental force) flow through every part of our body via these nadis. According to the tantras there are 72,000 or more such channels or networks through which the stimuli flow like an electric current from one point to another.

These 72,000 nadis cover the whole body and through them the inherent rhythms of activity in the different organs of the body are maintained. Within this network of nadis, there are ten main channels, and of these ten, three are most important for they control the flow of prana and consciousness within all the other nadis of the body.
These three nadis are called ida, pingala and sushumna.
Ida nadi controls all the mental processes while pingala nadi controls all the vital processes. Ida is known as the moon, and pingala as the sun. A third nadi, sushumna, is the channel for the awakening of spiritual consciousness. Now the picture is coming clear; prana shakti- sushumna.
You may consider them as pranic force, mental force and spiritual force.
As sushumna flows inside the central canal of the spinal cord, ida and pingala simultaneously flow on the outer surface of the spinal cord, still within the bony vertebral column. Ida, pingala and sushumna nadis begin in mooladhara in the pelvic floor. From there, sushumna flows directly upwards within the central canal, while ida passes to the left and pingala to the right. At swadhisthana
chakra, or the sacral plexus, the three nadis come together again and ida and pingala cross over one another. Ida passes up to the right, pingala to the left, and sushumna continues to flow directly upwards in the central canal. The three nadis come together again at manipura chakra, the solar plexus, and so on. Finally, ida, pingala and sushumna meet in the ajna chakra.

On the Mat – notes from Thursday 23rd October 2008 6am practice:

This morning’s challenge was to overcome the incessant mental chatter as I steadily made my way through Primary sequence. Years of analysing every yoga session have taught me that practising with a distracted mind (one that keeps obsessively returning to the same sticky thoughts over and over - usually something to do with work) will quickly drain all energy away til I’m left with none.

The Surya Namaskars today were an exercise in bringing my mind back to my breath, my body and the present, over and over.
It's slightly annoying when I lose count of how many I’ve done – was it only 4 or have I done 5, maybe it was only 3 – STOP GUESSING you have NO IDEA how many you’ve done! Indisputable evidence of a faraway mind.

But thanks to the wise sages of ancient times, yoga and meditation have been devised and passed down through generations to help us bring our minds fully into the present.

And so I skilfully used the tool of yoga to tame my wild monkey mind this morning.
A hundred times I had to bring it back to the present before it finally decided to stay.
Thankfully, by the time I got to the Marichyasanas I was rewarded with a clear and curious mind and was able to watch the effect of every small movement and adjustment as if it were on a huge wide-screen TV.

Enduring a sacroiliac injury for over a year while still practising yoga has shown me just how potent the Marichyasanas are for opening up this area of the body. All the preceding seated poses stretch the hamstrings and spine but they also gently prepare the sacrum for a total reconfiguration that is systematically developed in the Marichyasanas. With an injured sacroiliac joint, the Marichys are impossible, so are Bhuja, Kurmasana and Supta-K-No-Way! – these poses are all about increasing movement in the sacroiliac joint and each pose in this group (from marichy A to Supta K) builds on the one before, with Supta K requiring the ultimate curvature through the sacroiliac and lumbar spine.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been slowly rebuilding these poses only as much as my lower back is allowing me to...pixel by pixel.
In reality I’ve been rebuilding my entire practice from the very beginning. The Primary sequence I'd been working on for years has been totally destroyed and now I have a second chance to learn EVERY pose again in a very different way, with an awakened heart and different eyes that can see in a new and beautiful way.

I'm so grateful. Practice is imbued with a fresh curiosity, a beginner’s mind, a child like wonder.
To get on the mat now and enter the practice is an extraordinary journey into deep inner space, and so, so different this time around.
And through the process of osmosis, my entire life seems to have taken on this very same quality. Practice and Life have become One.

“The end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time”
- T. S. Eliot

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