26 May 2009

Discipline or Sensitivity

Saturday 23rd May

A quieter non-Ashtanga practice today. Pre-menstrual aches distracted me and sapped my energy a bit.
5As and only 3Bs, standing poses to Utkatasana then I HAD to do a Headstand, the physical urge to invert was strong, a complete reversal of gravity the only remedy available to counter attack the standing pose drain.
Headstand 60 breaths: 8 minutes, then I followed intuitive promptings through a labyrinth of poses.

Which brings up an often pondered issue: when to stick with the sequence and when to deviate…maintain discipline or allow sensitivity?

Ashtanga has a set sequence that is followed without variation (in theory). It is ra elatively rigid and disciplined practice requiring dedication, faith and tenacity. One develops a depth of engagement and intimacy by following the same sequence daily, sometimes for years, and only dedicated Ashtangis get to experience this – nobody else can possibly understand. The practice becomes richer and deeper with time. The backdrop of the sequence forms an expansive arena for endless discoveries.
The Iyengar system is more flexible. Outside of the class sequences directed by a teacher, one practices poses that the body asks for.
Menstruating? Do these pelvic opening poses to bring ease to the organs.
Tired? Do these restorative and inverted poses.
Stressed? Do forward bends to calm the mind.
Depressed? Do a backbend sequence to stimulate the adrenals.
There’s a sequence for every mood and a pose for every ailment. Mix and match according to your body and mind’s needs…all designed to restore balance.

So why do I prefer the intense and fiery Ashtanga system? Because it humbles the ego, and that’s what all authentic spiritual practice should be training us to do – humble the ego and show up its false dominance in our lives.
The ego sits upon a throne and rules our lives, but not with the authority of a true leader. We must expose it as a weak tyrant, humiliate it out of office so the noble and gentle king (our heart) can resume its rightful position and guide our lives in the direction of Truth.
Yes, that’s why I prefer Ashtanga. It demands submission and devotion but through the heat of tapas it purifies the mind and heart.

Still...on those days when my body is not able to comply, I submit to my limitations.
Then I am grateful to have the Iyengar methodology to draw on. I abandon the Ashtanga sequence for the day, release all expectations and choose from the vast smorgasbord of poses in my ‘other repertoire’.
It’s all yoga.

For the final half hour of my 2 hour practice, I sat in meditation today, not something I’d normally do in a Saturday practice at Kosta’s studio.
The sitting re-centred me in my heart and power. Scattered thoughts subside, energy is freed up and channelled into the epicentre, I reconnect with the Divine.
The vibrational charge suffusing my body, though weak, is immediate and I'm glad my body has been prepared for it.

22 May 2009

Practice Log

This will end up being a long post, which I’ll add to in increments, to record my current Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga practice. After the damage done to my back over the last couple of years I’ve almost had to rebuild my entire physical yoga practice from scratch, but this has been a beautiful and humbling experience and a journey rich with learning. Poses that came easily a year ago (like Marichy D, Bhujangasana and Garbha Pindasana) I can’t even get close to now.
But with time, patience and compassion, they will return.
This post is just a very personal record of where my physical practice is right now so in a year or so I’ll be able to refer to it for comparison.

Blessings to dear Guruji, Sri K. Patthabi Jois, who passed away on 21st May 2009, for teaching the Ashtanga method to my teachers David and Simi Roche, and to them both for what they have passed on to me. And blessings to all my other wonderful teachers in the yoga and Buddhist traditions (and to my son, my greatest teacher).

Surya Namaskars – 5 As: I step through the first 2 or 3 until I get the breath going and Mula Bandha supporting my back, then I begin to jump all the vinyasas. Starting slow, I pick up speed and intensity as I travel through them. Still not easy to float forward like I used to, as I jump the weight of my airborne legs pulls through my hips and as yet my back hasn’t mended enough to support this weight.
Surya Namaskars – 5 Bs: good to be feel strong enough to be doing 5 again instead of 3 and I’m keeping the back heel grounded as I step forward now. My starting squat is actually quite deep and my arms extend forward (parallel to the floor) before they rise and lead me into Utkatasana. It’s graceful and feels like I’m raising my hands and heart in a prayer to the sky.
Padangusthasana and Pada Hastasana – remembering to widen my elbows and draw my shoulderblades in like flat plates. Simi once watched me working in this pose (a few years ago), smiled sweetly and said, “soft but strong”. I’ve never forgotten that.
Trikonasana – to the right I can still only get my hand to my ankle on a good day because of the restriction in my right hip. Left side is a toe grab. Such a complex pose with so many little parts that can be adjusted.
Parivritta Trikonasana - a good, strong pose, hand to floor, spine straight and hips aligned (I think). It soothes rather than aggravates my hips and lumbar. This is the first standing pose where I fully engage and feel the energetic effects of drawing up the inner legs, an instruction that has a subtle but powerful energetic effect that stimulates mula bandha. Such visualisations prove that we can move energy (prana) with our thoughts.
Parsvakonasana - still troublesome – after bending my right leg I can’t always lean my body weight to the right without supporting the descent. The muscles supporting my right hip must still be in a very weak state. Some days I can only do the modification, supporting my weight with the elbow on the knee; other days are better and I get to the full pose and can gradually work strength into that hip by pressing the right heel firmly into the ground. Left side no problems.
Parivritta Parsvakonasana is also a challenge. I used to love doing this deliciously twisted spinal pose to it’s fullest. Now the modified version (opposite elbow to knee and hands together in prayer) is where I start while I sus out my body’s current state of elasticity (which changes daily). On a good day I can assume a rather weak version of the full pose with the top arm extended and my back heel grounded.
Prasaritta Padottanasana A, B, C and D - all good, crown of head to floor, another pose that comes alive when I draw the inner leg energy up into my pelvic floor. With almost all of the forward bends, both standing and seated, the strong forward tilt of the pelvis (variously instructed by teachers as "lift and pull back the sitting bones", "draw the pubis back between the legs", etc) is enhanced enormously by a little counter movement - drawing the top of the pubic bone slightly INWARDS toward the tailbone.
Parsvottanasana – another favourite (I have many), a very workable pose, it feels almost perfect if there is such a thing as a perfect pose. Nose is close to shin and hips are square (I think). I love the challenge of coming up from this pose in a perfect line from tailbone through crown with a deep core strength in teh lower abdomen. I work my feet strongly into the ground to build leg strength and focus on pulling up quads to safely and fully stretch the hamstrings in preparation for UHP.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana – another favourite that always tests my focus. I can hardly believe how well I do this one at the moment, I rarely topple or teeter. Foot is as high as my eyeline to the front and a little lower to the side. On good days the final unsupported hold to the front isn’t drooping with the 5 breaths.
Ardha Baddha Padma Parsvottanasana – this pose gave me a lot of grief during the chronic back injury period but I've got it back again. Although I never really lost the pose on either side, for a couple of months I couldn’t come up from the first side as my right hip wouldn’t support the weight of the movement. I had to unfold my Padmasana leg and put it down before coming up from the forward bend. But this has slowly changed in the last couple of months and it now feels safe to come up correctly…even keeping hold of my big toe until I’m fully up to standing. I love working the “pull up the inner legs” instruction in this pose, especially applying it to the Padmasana leg – little things adjust that take great sensitivity to notice but when my mind watches the subtle internal dynamics that occur within a pose my internal awareness deepens.

19 May 2009

Spiritual Vitality

Saturday 16th May 2009

“Spiritualia videri non possunt nisi quis vacet a terrenis.”
trans: Spiritual things cannot be seen, unless one is emptied of worldly things.

“Contemplation will be denied to a man in proportion as he belongs to the world.” St Thomas Aquinas

“A man must withdraw his desires form all the ambitions, the external satisfactions and the temporal interest this world has to offer, for spiritual things cannot be appreciated or understood by the mind that is occupied with superficial and merely external satisfactions.”
Thomas Merton

5 weeks have passed since the self-directed retreat. From past experience I know that the more permanent psychological/spiritual changes that result from a retreat cannot be seen, felt or understood until at least a couple of months after.
Initial feelings of peace, wellbeing and commitment to practice often wear off within a few weeks while deep within the unconscious mind the more permanent changes are being established.

My intensified yoga practice is the most visible outcome of the retreat, but it is simply an external manifestation of an accelerated inner practice. The subtle psychological changes that continue to evolve and shape my inner life since the retreat are difficult to articulate but their effect on my yoga practice is evident.
The retreat must have removed some samskaras and obstacles; it has unleashed an intense wave of desire for liberation.

Most noticeable since the retreat is a profound sincerity and commitment to the spiritual path and an infusion of spiritual vitality, an abundance of energy and joy that is manifesting in this strong desire to practice – not just yoga, but meditation, contemplation, anything that will intensify this presence of God. My eyes and heart are steadfastly fixated on the inner gaze that penetrates Reality.

Every moment of every day is now experienced through a penetrating lens. I am seeing through the thickly encrusted layers and into the heart of everything.

It is scary and beautiful to be this close to the Divine…my own heart and Truth.
There is no compromising, nothing is negotiable. It's all or nothing.
The fire that has been lit in my heart is growing stronger every day, burning away anything irrelevant in my life, anything that doesn’t align with my deepest Truth. I cannot take part in petty conversations with false personas. I want to rip people open and expose their hearts so they can touch the divine source of their being. Only then can we really communicate.
My heart beats faster as it expands, the air is charged with impending contact, transformation, fusion.

I practice yoga almost daily now:
today: Saturday 7am practice with Kosta - over 2 hours
yesterday : Friday 6am Ashtanga Primary practice with Renate in the Gallery - 2 hours
Monday/Tuesday/Thursday: a variety of solo practices both Ashtanga and Iyengar.
Traumatic restrictions in my lower back and hips are loosening, allowing enthusiasm and joy to replace the subconscious resistance to practice that has stifled me for over 2 years.
I have now broken the 2 year habit of hitting the snooze button and sleeping in every morning. My heart is pouring into my practice.
And most evenings I am religiously making the time to sit in meditation/contemplation before bed.

I WANT to get up early and practice daily, I am burning with the desire to practice; the Beloved Creator is drawing me into his centre and the way in is through the elevated mindstate created within practice.