29 September 2009

A day in the life

Tuesday 22nd September 2009

To appease both my conscience and my self-critic I stepped onto the yoga mat as soon as I got home from work today, a routine that is starting to work for me.

I emerged from deep yoga space two and a half hours later.

Practice was the Ashtanga sequence, but not the Ashtanga practice.
To explain: I did all the primary series poses in order (missing only Marichy D and Bhuja through to the Garbha Pindasana rolls), but I spent 8 good, slow breaths in all the other poses so it was a more internalised, thoughtful, connected practice, not an aerodynamic flight upon the breath.

One of the distinguishing features of Ashtanga vinyasa yoga is the vinyasas between the poses. There's an intelligent reasoning behind this because each vinyasa neutralises the effect of the previous pose.
Take the forward bends and twists for example: after doing one of these poses (or any asymmetrical pose) on one side, rising into the Upward Dog back bend opens the front and both sides of the body evenly bringing the energy on the left and right sides of the body back into balance, then the perfectly neutral Downward Dog counters the Upward Dog back bend: the whole combination setting up a clean slate on which to enter the next pose.

But today, still low on energy from the flu and with a tender back, I had to forego all the vinyasas. Instead of connecting all the seated poses with a vinyasa jump back/jump through, I did a mini seated backbend, a kind of turbo charged Dandasana with fingertips propped on the floor behind me to press a rippling arch up into my thoracic spine. As I stretched up and looked up, the lumbar tension that grips and protects my lower back in the seated forward bends gave way with a sigh of relief.

I spent 5 minutes in Shoulderstand (60 breaths) and 5 minutes in Headstand (40 breaths).
Doing some elementary maths, that means I breathe much slower in Headstand - its an easier balance to hold, almost effortless once I’ve fine tuned the balance. Shoulderstand takes more effort, energy and focus to hold vertical without slacking off.

A typical day in my Monday to Friday routine:

6.30am: My morning starts (I do miss those 5.30am Ashtanga practices, but a full morning yoga practice doesn’t work for me right now)
Walk Buffy
Do a few stretches on the mat followed by a 5 minute Headstand - the few stretches can often grow into a 30-45 minute yoga practice
Walk to work, stopping off at the café for an espresso on the way (this is breakfast, by the way) and to drop off a batch of muffins.

9am – 5pm work
(Lunch is usually a big apple, with a handful of walnuts and fresh dates)

Do the half hour walk home from work.
6pm: Yoga practice (could be anywhere from half an hour to 2 hours)
7.30 - 8pm Dinner: Carrot juice with a shot of fresh beetroot and fresh orange in it
Big bowl of fresh salad stuff with sunflower sprouts and balsamic dressing – often with some fetta cheese and olives thrown in, and sometimes with a side serve of my favourite lentil salad or some German rye bread
Walk Buffy again
8.30 – 9ish: Bake muffins for the local café and the art school students.
10pm: Sit for half an hour – sit is a better description than meditate for what occurs on the cushion at this time of night
Climb into bed some time between 10-11pm with an interesting book to read until my eyes fuzz over, sometimes with a cup of weak tea and a sweet friande.

This is a typical kind of day in my working week, and it's like this maybe three out of the five days.
It's nice. It's quiet. It's solitary. I've dreamed of this kind of life for half of my adult, child rearing years.
Some evenings are different of course: I might get caught up at work meetings that go into the evening, or I have to work night shift until 7.30pm, or I might visit my son, cook his dinner and do his shopping, or visit my daughter on a Friday night etc...etc... but mostly I keep it simple and orderly.
Weekends are unpredicatable, each a new page in the daily journal of a nobody...

18 September 2009

Return to Nature

“When life is simple, pretences fall away; our essential nature shines through.
By not wanting, there is calm, and the world will straighten itself.
When there is silence, one finds the anchor of the universe within oneself.”

Living The Wisdom Of The Tao
The Complete Tao Te Ching and Affirmations
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

I am retreating more and more from the society I am supposed to be part of.
In one way it is a conscious choice based on my observation of the accelerated momentum towards things artificial and unnatural, but in another way I almost have NO choice: everything about western society makes me sick.

For most of my life, I’ve lived on the fringe of this society, one foot in and one foot out, but now I can barely participate in it or even pretend anymore.
Unfortunately working full time has been, and still is, necessary to pay bills, survive and support my son, so I can’t escape completely, not right now anyway.
The best I can do is pretend I’m one of THEM during work hours and outside of those hours, return to the simplicity of a natural life: no computers, no Internet, no TV, pure and natural food, fresh air and Nature, open spaces, slow motion, a spiritual focus, simplicity and solitude.

Eustace Conway hits the nail right on the head when he compares the circular motions that flow through a natural life and the square, box-like structures that surround and confine us in this artificial society:

“I live in nature, where everything is connected, circular. The seasons are circular. The planet is circular, and so is its passage around the sun. The course of water over the earth is circular, coming down from the sky and circulating through the world to spread life and then evaporating up again. I live in a circular tepee and I build my fire in a circle, and when my loved ones visit me, we sit in a circle and talk. The life cycles of plants and animals are circular. I live outside where I can see this. The ancient people understood that our world is a circle, but we modern people have lost sight of that. I don’t live inside buildings, because buildings are dead places where nothing grows, where water doesn’t flow, and where life stops. I don’t want to live in a dead place. People say that I don’t live in the real world, but its modern Americans who live in a fake world, because they’ve stepped outside the natural circle of life.

Do people live in circles today? No. They live in boxes.

They wake up every morning in the box of their bedroom because a box next to them started making beeping noises to tell them it was time to get up. They eat their breakfast out of a box and then they throw that box away into another box. Then they leave the box where they live and get into a box with wheels and drive to work, which is just another big box broken up into lots of little cubicle boxes where a bunch of people spend their days sitting and staring at the computer boxes in front of them. When the day is over, everyone gets into the box with wheels again and goes home to their house box and spends the evening staring at the television boxes for entertainment. They get their music from a box, they live their lives in a box! Does that sound like anybody you know?

You don’t have to live like this because people tell you it’s the only way. You’re not handcuffed to your culture! This is NOT the way humanity lived for thousands and thousands of years, and it’s NOT the only way you can live today!”

(Excerpt from 'The Last American Man' by Elizabeth Gilbert)

The seductive promises of escalating technology, fancy new gadgets, fast food and fast information have lured us away from Nature and hypnotised us into believing we are separate from and superior to Nature.
An affluent, super-intelligent society? I don’t think so.
Our spirits are starving.
What I see around me is mass somnambulism and mindless consumerism; even yoga has become tarted up and packaged as an attractive consumer item.
And most people I know are either over-stimulated or medicated with TVs and iPods and spending sprees and a continuous barrage of information that's irrelevant to their daily life.
Not to mention the advertising that is continuously drip fed direct into our bloodstreams.

Why don’t people see this?

Wake up everybody.

Open your inner eyes and look at everything you’re doing, why you’re doing it, how much and what you're buying, the culture that you’re perpetuating and supporting.

Pierce and penetrate with your laser vision into the centre of everything in your life.
Because everything we do and every small occurrence has meaning and significance and is shaping our rapidly evolving life in a whirlwind of changes; the final form we evolve into from this process will be evident only at the point of death…it will exist for one fleeting moment…then be extinguished with our last breath.

Wake up to what is REAL and ALIVE in your life right now, because it is truly beautiful, and every moment we spend unaware of this is a moment we’ve lost forever.

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Swine Flu?

It takes an occasional crisis to rip me out of a pathological mindset and fling me into the bright clear space of unknowing and renewal.
The word crisis actually means decision or turning-point.
So to me a crisis is not a negative event but a wonderful opportunity for change, a natural part of a cycle of death and rebirth.

My recent crisis wasn’t life-threatening, just a bout of flu (possibly swine-flu, but I wasn’t about to see any western doctor to get it diagnosed).
It hit me like a bus on Tuesday 1st September. I spent 4 days unable to move out of bed, then a few more days recuperating. I lost 3 kgs and detoxed all the caffeine and negativity out of my system.

I’d attempted to do a yoga practice that morning, not knowing that I was about to succumb to the flu. My journal entry describes the yoga practice as “a gentle and painful attempt to open up my body.” My muscles were achy and my joints so stiff that I felt 90 years old. My lungs and throat felt windy, my head heavy. The first sign of illness is a stiffening of the joints; I think it’s the body’s method of enforcing rest and shut-down so that maximum energy can be put to the immune system’s internal battle.

The most interesting observation of the flu week was my fluctuating lower back pain. For the first 2 days in bed the pain was excruciatingly agonising (I screamed every time I had to turn over in bed until I worked out how to override the urge).
Then it happened...at 2am on Day 3 I woke up to a wave of nausea and got out of bed to head for the toilet . Some time later I woke up again to find my head planted heavily on the floor. I’d passed out unconscious a few metres from the bed.
Later that morning I realised all my back pain had disappeared. “Praise the Lord…a healing miracle has occurred” (or so I thought at the time).
Although still very sick with the flu that day, my back was completely pain-free and super-mobile for the first time in 3 years.
Something had changed.

Four days spent gravely ill and confined to bed was as effective as a detox retreat.

This is what I wrote in my journal the following Tuesday, one week after the onset of flu:
“What a wonderful opportunity to start over with a clean slate. My body feels light and clean, apart from the respiratory infection that has clogged my upper plumbing.
After the first 2 days in bed my mind was still spinning work-stuff around in my head as fast as the final spin cycle in teh washing machine. Eventually my mind spun itself dry and stopped regurgitating the same old stuff. Day 3 was a revelation...I’d completely forgotten what a clear mind was like.
I really have to be vigilant to keep my head clean from now on.
Before the bout of flu I’d regularly try to meditate for half an hour before bed and end up giddy from the spinning whirl of thoughts. It was crazy in there, no space or opportunity to calm the mind at all – too out of control.
How did it get like that?
My mind has finally been purged of those obsessive thoughts about work that were playing over and over, compulsively, monotonously.
So I am grateful for the flu; this physical and mental spring clean was way overdue."

Apart from a residual thickness in my respiratory system, I’ve mostly recovered from the flu now but returning to a daily office environment has brought with it the return of lower back pain and stiffness - not half as bad as before the illness, but still it is a clear indication of where and how my body stores the accumulated poison of dis-ease.