27 July 2012

Searching and Finding

Day 1 Friday 

A strong intention has now been set and sealed:
My bedroom has been rearranged: instead of having my bed under the window in the centre of the wall and my yoga mat in the long space next to the bed, I've moved the bed to the corner of the room and my yoga practice space is now in the middle of the room. 
It is a yoga room now, not a bedroom.

The morning was spent getting my physical environment in order: cleaning up my house, doing some shopping, washing clothes, all really part of a mental spring cleaning. 

Sipping on my green smoothie for lunch (red grapes, banana, pear, orange, pineapple, spinach, kale, spirulina) , I contemplated what kind of yoga practice to do this afternoon. 
I felt like a change, something fresh and completely different to challenge me. The hot yoga classes were a new challenge for a while until the novelty wore off. Likewise, the wrist weights injected a quick fix, so did videoing my practice.
Seems like I've been looking for inspiration to revitalize my interest in yoga practice.

I want to fall in love again.

Seek and Ye Shall Find

These phases of seeking stimulation come and go, they are a natural part of the journey, like the seasons or the ebb and flow of the tides - there are times when I need a steady, consistent and internal practice (autumn, winter?) and there are times when I feel the need to explore new possibilities, extend beyond the known horizons, play with the fresh energy of spring: that's usually when I return to a yoga classes, or look for new sequences and poses that I wouldn't normally include in my practice.

I'm aware that this undercurrent of energy leads me out into new territory; I am equally aware that the universe is often waiting for me at the other end, waiting with just the most perfect thing that I need right now to propel me forward on my journey.

Therefore I seek, sometimes in the dark, knowing that something is out there waiting for me to find it.


Youtube Yoga Videos

I checked out Youtube for some new sequences to practice with. 
Three of Sadie Nardini's core sequences looked useful - working on my deep core strength helps build support for my unstable lower back. I did the first two sequences back to back (Weight Loss and Yoga Flow) as they were only about 30 minutes each, the third one was a rather disappointing cool down sequence. The challenge of so many Warrior lunge variations satisfied my physical needs and the novelty of being led through an unfamiliar Vinyasa sequence was fun.

Not until I found what the universe had in store for me did I realise how easily I'd been seduced and satisfied with superficiality...


Lino Miele

You see during my internet travels seeking new sequences, I unwittingly stumbled upon Lino Miele's DVD1 Primary practice.

It wasn't until later in the evening that I watched bits of this and right from the first minute of watching, I knew this was it. I was spellbound.

This video of Lino practicing is the most beautiful practice that I've ever witnessed. 
Pared back to it's essential purity, with full vinyasas, all movements riding on the the waves of the breath, no frills, no embellishments, no ego.
The only verbal instructions are the quiet methodical vinyasa counts. 
The background music is hypnotic Indian chanting; the studio setting is perfect - it is bathed in a a warm orange glow (devotional colour) and light filters through etherial white curtains; the filming is non-intrusive yet every movement is clearly visible. 

This demonstration of the ashtanga primary series is so much more than inspiration for me, it is what I've been searching for. 

Tonight, having watched a a few small sections of the video, I can barely wait to practice tomorrow under Lino's hypnotic spell.

Mind cleaning

Instead of heading bush for my monthly 3 day retreat, I decided to stay at home this weekend and clean up my house, my body and my mind.

Of those three, my mind is in the biggest mess.

The plan:

Day 1 Friday - morning: housework and run errands; afternoon/evening yoga and reading

Day 2 Saturday - a morning and evening Yoga practice; afternoon bushwalk and at least 3 hours meditation in between

Day 3 Sunday - a morning and evening Yoga practice; plus 5 hours meditation.

25 July 2012

The yoga of Jesus

Abwoon is the Gayatri Mantra in disguise:

This majestic and moving rendition of Abwoon was recorded by the amazing Lisa Gerrard with Patrick Cassidy.
Abwoon is the Lord's Prayer sung in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke.



Translation:

O, Birther of the Cosmos, focus your light within us — make it useful
Create your reign of unity now
Your one desire then acts with ours,
As in all light,
So in all forms,
Grant us what we need each day in bread and insight:
Loose the cords of mistakes binding us,
As we release the strands we hold of other’s guilt.
Don’t let surface things delude us,
But free us from what holds us back.
From you is born all ruling will,
The power and the life to do,
The song that beautifies all,
From age to age it renews.
I affirm this with my whole being.


And another translation:

Abwûn
O cosmic Birther, from whom the breath of life comes,

d'bwaschmâja
who fills all realms of sound, light and vibration.

Nethkâdasch schmach
May Your light be experienced in my utmost holiest.

Têtê malkuthach.
Your Heavenly Domain approaches.

Nehwê tzevjânach aikâna d'bwaschmâja af b'arha.
Let Your will come true in the universe (all that vibrates) just as on earth (that is material and dense).

Hawvlân lachma d'sûnkanân jaomâna.
Give us wisdom (understanding, assistance) for our daily need,

Waschboklân chaubên wachtahên aikâna daf chnân schwoken l'chaijabên.
detach the fetters of faults that bind us, (karma) like we let go the guilt of others.

Wela tachlân l'nesjuna
Let us not be lost in superficial things (materialism, common temptations),

ela patzân min bischa.
but let us be freed from that what keeps us off from our true purpose.

Metol dilachie malkutha wahaila wateschbuchta l'ahlâm almîn.
From You comes the all-working will, the lively strength to act, the song that beautifies all and renews itself from age to age.

Amên.
Sealed in trust, faith and truth. (I confirm with my entire being) Amen.


The Aramaic word for prayer is slotha. This literally means" to trap" or "to set a trap." Thus prayer implies"setting your mind like a trap so you may catch the thoughts of God" - in other words, "to trap the inner guidance and impulses that come from your inner spiritual source." Prayer can also mean a state of mind in which we still our personal thoughts and project nothing outward, almost as if, one was receiving from within. It is an alert state of total sensitivity, attentiveness and awareness.

23 July 2012

Better than TV

video

Recording my yoga practice is a new fascination.  I get to watch a stranger doing yoga. 
And how weirdly eerie it is to critically observe my persona from an outsider's perspective (the hair is gross, so is the green top, the posture could improve, the face resembles a cadaver...etc...), and yet have access to that stranger's inner world and an intimate knowledge of their entire life and psyche.
I observe the transitions between poses (graceful and meditative), I see what areas of the stranger's body are open or blocked, I notice when short cuts are taken, challenges avoided, where the practice ebbs and flows, deepens or becomes shallow. 

I watch it all objectively as a yoga teacher would watch a student and make suggestions on alignment, how to untwist the torso so they don't fall out of Vashisthasana B again, how to adjust the arms and legs slightly in Uttana Padasana so they are parallel, where the body needs to release more in a twist, or the chin to draw in...overall how to soften and enjoy the practice yet maintain the steady glow of tapas.

What is important about this is that viewing my practice has provided renewed inspiration and passion for it.

For the practice on Saturday afternoon I chose Week 45-50 from Iyengar's Light on Yoga course as a very rough guide, not attempting, or even considering attempting the entire sequence from start to finish.

I set the laptop up to film, then turned inwards towards the practice.

Afterwards I made a delectable raw salad for dinner and ate it while glued to the replay, critically evaluating my yoga practice, enjoying my Saturday night yoga entertainment.
Eccentric behaviour????


From Wikipedia:
According to studies, there are eighteen distinctive characteristics that differentiate a healthy eccentric person from a regular person or someone who has a mental illness (although some may not always apply). The first five are in most people regarded as eccentric:[6]
  • Nonconforming attitude
  • Idealistic
  • Intense curiosity
  • Happy obsession with a hobby or hobbies
  • Knew very early in his or her childhood they were different from others
  • Highly intelligent
  • Opinionated and outspoken
  • Unusual living or eating habits
  • Not interested in the opinions or company of others
  • Mischievous sense of humor


I can unashamedly admit to having all those traits, except for 'opinionated and outspoken'.


The poses:

Headstand and a few variations
Shoulderstand and a few variations
Supta Padangusthasana
Anantasana
Vashisthasana A and B (I fell out of B on the second side)
Paschimottanasana and Parivritta Paschimottanasana
Janu Sirsasana and Parivritta Janu Sirsasana
Krounchasana
Akarna Dhanurasana
Padmasana with a twist to each side
Baddha Padmasana
Yoga Mudrasana
Matsyasana
Uttana Padasana
Supta Virasana
Baddha Konasana
Ardha Matsyendrasana
Marichyasana C
Urdhva Dhanurasana x 2
Paschimottanasana
Savasana


video
Vashisthasana A and B (falling out of B on the second side due to an obvious torso twist)


video
Matsyasana and Uttana Padasana

14 July 2012

Videos of my stiff practice


Below are a couple of videos from this morning's practice - the first one is from Prasaritta Padottanasana through to the Warrior poses and then on to three attempts at a handstand. 
I did balance for the final handstand before awkwardly tipping over.

This entire practice was difficult and painful - not sure if that shows from the outside. I can certainly see it in the video - my lumbar looks stiff, my bum sticks up in chaturanga, I'm only getting halfway down into the bend in Utkatasana and the warrior lunges....ugh.

The morning was cold, the room was cold, my body was cold. Being at the tail end of a bout of the flu, my lungs are glued up with clag which has gotten into all my joints. This morning's stiffness didn't ease up as the practice went on. Wanting to keep moving to warm up, I only stayed a few breaths in each pose which made it even more superficial and disembodied. I didn't want to be challenged or stretched today, so my mind wasn't present in my body, it was sulking somewhere else in silent rebellion. Every pose and every vinyasa was laboured. 



It's been a while since I did any yoga, a week and a half I'm ashamed to say.  After getting back from the solo retreat, I came down with flu, though not as bad as everyone else at work.  But it has kept me protective and inactive, and rest has been paramount.

After the handstands, I did Paschimottanasana, Purvottanasana and Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana, then a short backbend sequence culminating in ONE very stiff Urdhva Dhanurasana.   It felt awful, but good, if you know what I mean.

So no surprise that this morning's practice was a short one.

Later in the day I got back to the mat for a 7 minute headstand and a shoulderstand, then continued on with a few supine abdominal poses, three passive backbend variations with a block, and some cross legged forward bends.

Some days it's a struggle just to overcome my desire to NOT do yoga.
















3 July 2012

Solo Retreat - Day 3

"All true wisdom is only to be found far from the dwellings of man, in great solitudes."
- Knud Rasmussen

Retreat - Day 3, Sunday 1st July 2012

I wake at 6.30am and watch the sunrise, a gentle tangerine glow over a black treetop canopy.

A crow lands on a nearby bough, caw, caw, caaaaaaaawww....I slither quietly to the toilet before the surfers next door emerge into hangover heaven.

Back in the warm tent I slide into meditation.

It comes easily as I let go into the exhilarating descent like a surfer, or skier, riding wild, my mind softening to go with it, no need to harden, or grasp for the known, or try to control, just flow.
Delight arises within my solid but light filled body.

This feeling only comes after meditation hours have accumulated - surely there must be some kind of scientific ratio of sitting hours x time; like this feeling just doesn't arise with 7 hours of meditation over 7 weeks, but it will arise after 7 hours in two days.

My face is warmed by sunshine entering the tent between thick patchy clouds. Body and mind settle, condense and quietly glow, my spine delicately realigns itself and I feel the release of subtle tensions, and cells rejoicing as they sparkle in freedom. Breath is silky smooth, mind alert. From inside this space I'm able to pierce through thick layers into a vast expansive and raw reality - it's wild and primitive in here. I long to BE this Truth.

Wind swirls through the treetops and a fine shower of rain scatters upon the tent, then passes. A single bird twitters, whistles, tweets, chatters, in a delicate and complex language,  individual words and syllables precisely articulated in joyful birdsong. Other birds interject, but this one bird is both the maestro and the court jester, he's the bard singing the story of the wind and the rain.


Digestion meditation

Breakfast is coffee, half a banana and a few spoonfuls of yoghurt. 
I sense the yoghurt molecules being absorbed by my upper palate, somehow cooling my brain long after the rest has been digested. 
In a meditative state it's easy to sense how agitated the body becomes during digestion - my breath is faster and deeper, sucking in more oxygen to fuel the digestive processes, hormonal release sparks frenzied physiological activity as they run riot through my bloodstream - I watch with subtle senses the cogs and wheels spinning, the amazingly intricate functioning of this human body. 




Moon meditation 

At 12 o'clock I rise from morning meditation, walk outside to stretch my legs, and gaze up in search of the moon. I can't see it. Thinking it should be a little lower in the sky than yesterday, I scan the entire sky spectrum, squinting, frowning, annoyed at the patchy cloud cover obscuring her. After 5 minutes, I give up. She's elusive today.



I need to study the moon positions more closely.

I want to know her more intimately.

Lately I've found a clandestine comfort in my growing awareness of the moon; her stealthy movements are predictable, she'll always be somewhere in the sky, even when she's on the opposite side of the earth.

Looking up into the sky seeking the moon, and by chance glancing upon her shadow light, my human presence turns into myth; I'm teleported outward into deep space on invisible wings. It's like stepping beyond the flames of an open fire and entering a timeless dimension.
Primordial elemental fire energy - or primordial elemental moon energy.

The moon connects time from our ancient past through to the present, and future.
She was born to be with the earth, she is earth's secret admirer, always there, revolving around her soul mate, always following, ever present, circling.


After lunch I return to sitting.
I have somehow become moony, mystical, female, liquid energy.
I breathe long, full moon breaths. They revolve, in and out.

Obsessed with the moon, I am caught up in her magick spell and cannot meditate.

Sometimes the mind goes where it's never gone before, and stays.

2 July 2012

Solo Retreat - Day 2

Saturday 30th June 2012

It's still blustery today, with occasional downpours.

Morning espresso, dark, smooth and milky, decadently sensual out here on the tip of the peninsula. Meditation can wait.

I read, write, then venture out for a courageous walk along the windy beach. There's only a metre of beach to walk on, I'm sandwiched between toe licking waves and sharply rising scrubby sand dunes. Nothing much on the stretch today, lots of cuttlefish, no shells. I photograph a strangely shaped feature rising seamlessly out of the sand like a dinosaur, and pick up a large feather, 50 cm long, possibly from a pelican, to take home for my 8 year old granddaughter. She'll surely lock her bedroom door, fill it with ink and try her hand at calligraphy.

My face sparkles with wind swept mist. A fast travelling dark raincloud to the north has just missed me, but the wind has stolen its edges and brought me the leftovers.

Sinking through deep wet sand, my walking is comical, and my feet are in danger of being left behind, buried at the bottom of each footprint; climbing up and over the wet sand dunes into a headwind feels no different to climbing a mountain. This is my workout for the day.


Yoga

Back in the tent, I'm surprised to be sweating; I peel off two layers and settle in for a long asana practice before lunch.

I do all the standing poses with a couple of modifications to accommodate the low canopy. My feet and legs feel remarkably strong and clear, powerful conduits that connect me to the earth.

Each pose takes me deeper into my subtle senses; the clarity with which I can 'see' inside my body is astounding me. Focussing on the prana moving up and down the central spinal channell brings each pose into perfect alignment without the need for external directions - it happens organically and naturally. It's most evident in the asymmetrical forward bending poses, especially Parivritta Trikonasana, Parsvottanasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Padottanasana: If you want to try it, pause halfway down as you enter one of these poses, engage mula bandha and focus on the prana moving up and down the spine for a few breaths (inhale to draw prana up from mula bandha, exhale to send it back down again) and notice how both sides of the body start to automatically line up around the central core axis. It's a beautiful revelation to discover alignment happening from the inside out.

Unable to stand fully upright in the centre of the tent, I can only do Utthita Hasta Padnagusthasana A with the front forward bend; continuing on to an upright UHP B is impossible, I must drop my head into Jalandhara Banda (chin lock), which is an odd variation to this pose, and not nearly as fulfilling as the lovely blossoming open feeling that comes with the chin and chest lifted and heart wide open.

I find a more successful modification ing Utkatasana and Virabhadrasana A: I do these poses with hands holding elbows above the head. This arm position is less strenuous than the fully extended arms above the head position, so it allowed me to stay longer in the poses, focus more fully on my lower body position, while also allowing for a greater shoulder opening (the elbows are easier to pull back in this position than in the fully extended position, giving more shoulder opening). Probably a good arm position for beginners.

Seated poses are deep, long and internal and follow part of the Ashtanga Primary sequence:

Paschimottanasana

Purvottanasana

Ardha Paddha Padma Paschimottanasana

Triang Mukha whatever-its-called

A very long - 20 slow breaths on each side - Janu Sirsasana, that reminded me of the long poses my first 'real' yoga teacher used to hold me in, the kind that transported you to another dimension and changed you irrevocably in a way you couldn't articulate

Janu Sirsasana B done with an open twist

Janu Sirsasana C, held way past the comfortable edge, very deep experience

Marichy A, B and C

Navasana plus some additional core strengthening moves

Baddha Konasana

Upavista Konasana

Urdhva Paschimottanasana, a balance where I love to just stay and stay, increasing the depth every second, connecting the core mula bandha lock with a lifting of the heart and corresponding minute adjustments to draw the legs in breath by breath, a divinely delicate balancing act.

Bhujangasana, Salabhasana, Dhanurasana...

Then Urdhva Dhanurasana, twice, gently ripping open tissues and nerves that need to be liberated.

Alternate knee to chest squeezes after Urdhva Dh, repeating each side a couple of times to deepen the position, then again on each side, this time lifting my head and shoulders up and pressing my lower back into the floor to fully reengage my stretched flaccid front body.

Shoulderstand, Halasana, Karna Pindasana, Padmasana in Sarvangasana, Pindasana, Matsyasana, Uttana Padasana.

No Headstand - I know from trying it on previous tent retreats that my feet push the tent canopy up too much, so just a few minutes in Baddha Padmasana suffices today, then into bed and under the blankets for Savasana.

Camp lunch is my favourite greek salad, prepared with sunflower sprouts, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, capsicum, avocado, black olives, a small chunk of fetta cheese and for the finale: I tip over a delicious concoction of cooked green beans soaked in balsamic dressing.

Not a completely raw salad but insanely delicious, nutritious, gourmet camp food.

Eating lunch I realise how lucky I am to have the freedom to be here, in a tent, doing this. It is pure joy. I bow down in humble and unabashed deep gratitude for this lifetime, for all that I have in my life, and for all that I have been given in the past that has led me to this moment....here in a tent, under a tree, on a wildly beautiful, stormy day...


Intrusion

Early afternoon and the surfers arrive, two carloads. They pitch tents in the camp area next to me, undeterred by the wind and rain.

I have to share the camping ground, the solitude, and graciously relinquish my attachment to the silence.

They drive off looking for surf in the mid afternoon and I greedily make use of the quiet couple of hours to sit in undisturbed meditation before they return.

It's Saturday night, the guys are in full swing, and with no chance for peaceful meditation out here in the supposed wilderness, I bury deeper into the blankets and turn into an invisible fly on the wall of a wild drunken let-loose boys party. Somewhere behind the black stormy clouds, the moon is wide awake with me tonight....

1 July 2012

Solo Retreat - Day 1

Friday 29th June 2012


I arrived at the campsite at 11pm last night (Thursday) after a 4 hour drive and put up the tent quickly during a lull in the rain. Less than one minute after I zipped up the door opening did the rain come pelting down again. And it was relentless all night. I had to get up twice during the dark raging storms to rehammer the tent pegs down and fasten the cover sheet again.  




Even so I woke up after a wild and disturbed night to find one end of the mattress soaked and had to hang out the bedding to dry between showers this morning. 








Friday (Day 1) is a mixture of sitting meditation, reading and some physical activity around the campsite. Downpours are regular and blow in quickly from the west making it too risky to walk over the dunes and along the wild beach today. After sitting for 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon, I succumbed to the overwhelming urge to get some energy moving through my stagnant body - a couple of brisk circumambulations around the campsite perimeter in the frisky wind got ramped up to a jog.

Having the entire campsite to myself gives me the luxurious freedom to do whatever I like (like not brush my hair, like leave the door open when taking a pee in the drop toilet, like doing Trikonasana in front of my tent, like jogging around the campsite 8 times).

Wintery weather makes this a mostly tent bound retreat. Wind is violently whipping the tent, another downpour is imminent. Lucky I brought a pile of books to keep me occupied between meditation sessions.

The books were hastily borrowed from a local library after work on Thursday, an hour or so before I left: 

Books

"Seeking Silence in a Noisy World: The Art of Mindful Solitude" by Adam Ford
I read this from cover to cover on Friday morning. Adam is a retired Anglican priest and has studied and lectured in many spiritual traditions including Buddhism and Hinduism.
A lovely balanced book that extols the beauty of finding silence and peace in nature and solitude.

"The Ragged Edge of Silence" by John Francis, well known for Planetwalker and for his 17 years of silence and 24 years of walking.

"Coming to our Senses: healing ourselves and the world through mindfulness" by Jon Kabat-Zinn
The sheer size of this book puts me off opening it until I get back.  I can tell this book is rich and is best left to many late night readings to absorb the wisdom.

"Be Bold! and discover the power of praise" by Susan Mitchell, a surprisingly insightful book into the extraordinary power of positive language to uplift, motivate and inspire one's self and others.

"The 21-day Conscousness Cleanse" by Debbie Ford...hmmm....some good stuff in this book but ....

"True Belonging" by Jeffrey Brantley and Wendy Millstine.

"The Future of Ice" by Gretel Ehrlich. The front cover described it as 'A Journey into Cold'. 
It turns out to be a stunner of a book, poetic, intense, part travel memoir, part environmental message, but a wonderful meditation on cold places.
One line on the back cover of the book caught my eye this morning:

"the blustery scenery provides beautiful metaphors for the storms inside her head." 

And this describes my experience perfectly...

Outisde my tent the wind rants and raves, beating the tent in it's haphazard frenzy. At night it doesn't let up; dark stormclouds blow in fast, drop their bucket loads of rain on my tent as they pass through, then continue on their merry way over landscape. Periodically the sun shines out from between passing clouds and twittering birds suddenly announce their presence.

Behind me, always in the background, the ocean roars wild, free, uncontained, pounding the shoreline with its heavily loaded storm waves.

The blustery scene is not unlike the storms inside my head... 

Turning inward, I watch the wild cacophony of thoughts pounding at the shoreline of my consciousness. Travelling beyond the turbulent surface, deeper and deeper, I move toward the quiet that I seek.

I notice how attached I am to these surface thoughts, how much importance I give them, how caught up in the story I am, and how this perpetuates their prime time position in my head: thoughts and worries about work and my performance are uppermost, things I have to do, looming deadlines, strategies to deal with co-workers.

To move beyond these thoughts, I have to let go of my clinging, and then let go of the Self that is doing the clinging. 


Death Meditation 

And so I call forth the powerful death meditation to help me:

I did a death meditation in it's entirety when I was here last month on my 3 day retreat.

I'd been planning to revisit the death meditation for a while, but knew the place and time had to be right to gain real benefit. So on the last 3 day retreat I followed Ana Forrest's instructions from her book "Fierce Medicine" writing down the very personal insights and revelations that arose as the meditation progressed.
Many years ago, while formally studying Buddhist practice, I did a full death meditation in the Tibetan tradition under the guidance of a lama - the Tibetans have mapped the physical, emotional and mental process of dying in minute scientific detail - it was a real life experience in letting go and dying that I shall never forget.

Today, for the purpose of this meditation, I locate myself at the moment of death, and fully immerse my self in the unfolding scene, dropping down through the levels and into the arena of my eternal soul, letting go of everything that occupies my surface mind. For now, at the point of death, it no longer matters.

I let go of all thoughts about work, knowing that my worklife is finished at the point of death;

I let go all of thoughts about my family and children, I say goodbye and understand that I no longer have to think about them or worry about their future, they were fellow travellers in this lifetime and will continue on their own journeys without me;

I let go of all thoughts of becoming anything, of working towards anything of hopes and dreams that never eventuated; I let go of all my schemes and plans for things in the future - here at the point of death I have no future.

I let go of all attachments - to my children, my friends, to this body that has carried me, to the beauty of the earth itself, the trees, sunsets, the air, and all the lovely sensuous things I've enjoyed.

I let go of all memories and scenes from the recent and far past - at the point of death I am now crossing through a doorway into a new dimension and must discard all of these if I am to cross the threshold. 

I am now in the doorway that separates this lifetime from what awaits beyond...

Here, in the doorway, having completely let go of all ties to my life, is where I begin meditation...here, on the threshold, free as a bird, I can enter and merge into the quiet eternal depths of this timeless universe...