20 February 2013

Surya Namaskars - a reflection on the elements

The way I approach the Surya Namaskars can be different from one day to the next.  Though lately it seems that the water element infuses my practice, hence why I tend not to stop in Dog Pose.
Grimmly's comment on my last post prompted me to reflect on the elemental qualities that can be either consciously strengthened through a yoga practice, or arise spontaneously during the practice, depending on our approach and intention.
The Surya Namaskars are an easy way to experiment with the elements:

Earth - stay in each pose for 5 breaths - 5 breaths in Tadasana with arms raised, 5 breaths in Uttanasana, 5 breaths in Ardha Uttanasana, 5 breaths in Chaturanga etc... Focus on the physical body, it's connection to the earth, it's shape and position in space, refine the alignment of each pose, stretch out the muscles, explore and challenge the body's resistance and enjoy the physical aspect of the Surya Namaskars. Let the mind connect fully and thoroughly with the changing sensations in the body as it makes its way through the sequence.

Water - the vinyasa flow, the dance, don't stop in any of the poses (including Dog Pose), just keep moving, marrying breath and body. Feel like a river gently rolling down a mountain as you move through the Surya Namaskars, lightly touching and observing the view as you travel the landscape. Aim for a snake like quality...cool, malleable, close to the earth but not of the earth. Connect with the liquids in the body: blood, lymph, water, sense your watery connection to the moon, ebb and flow in and out of the poses.

Fire - turn up the Ujiyya breath to heat the physical and subtle bodies, engage Mula bandha and keep it turned on throughout the Surya Namaskars. Ujiyya breathing and full bandhas are a powerful combination for transformation. Ignite the agni fire and burn through the obstacles in the body and mind. This can be a slightly dangerous, edgy and exciting way to practice Surya Namaskars. When I focus on igniting the fire energy without balancing it out, my eyes become like laser beams, I get supercharged with an inner intensity, I'm ready to take on the world, but my practice often burns out soon after the Surya Namaskars (usually around Parsvottanasana).

Air - allow the Ujiyya breath to be the focus, listen to it, move with it, use it to tune into the energetic body and the flow of prana that travels to the limbs, through the spine, and through the subtle channels and the nadis. Be sylphlike as you move.  When I practice the Surya Namaskars with the breath as my focus, I experience a vast space through my core channel and the wind of the breath flows through it, blowing out the cobwebs. The prana/breath sparkles and enlivens every part of my body and lifts my mind up with the breezes to carry me into the practice proper.

Poo - sometimes I simply use the Surya Namaskars to stretch and warm up my body (especially in the mornings); other days they are an empty mindless ritual as I struggle to wrench my mind away from the office and into the present. Some days they're a vehicle for me to explore my immediate state of (resistant) body and (monkey) mind.  But every now and then there's an occasional morning when I wake up with my heart full of gratitude for another day, when I can't help but to face the east and perform these beautiful movements as a sacred dedication and expression of bhakti and reverence.

Whatever my mood, as soon as I step onto the mat and raise my arms upward for the first Surya Namaskar, something immediately changes inside.  I tune in and connect my beingness with the ground of all being, I cast off all previous teachings to make way for the truth, and I am carried along with an invisible force, trusting and following its will.  Union.  Body, mind, spirit...and 5 decades of accumulated poo.

19 February 2013

Surya Namaskars - why stop for 5 breaths in Dog Pose?

Flowing through the opening Surya Namaskars, a quiet, meditative blanket wraps around me.
I don't stop for 5 breaths in Dog Pose during Surya Namaskar A.
I never do.   I just keep moving...
ekam... dve... trini... catvari... pancha... sat... sapta... astau... nava... dasa... moving in time with the rhythm of my heartbeat, body and breath intertwined, one continuous thread.
Dog Pose ceases to be a pose here, instead it is a momentary pause between an exhale and an inhale, a fleeting station that I pass on an unbroken journey through the vinyasa landscape.

The haunting sound of Ujiyya breath now echoes through my being, carrying me on to Surya Namaskar B. Only after rising up into the second Warrior and returning via vinyasa to Dog Pose do I stop for 5 breaths. I welcome the rest here and drink it in like a thirsty traveller.   5 breaths is enough to gradually restore balance and equanimity. Exhaling the last breath, I spring lightly forward, inhale and continue on...

Occasionally I have wondered why it is we stop for 5 breaths in Dog Pose during the Surya Namasakars. Beginners may need to rest here; cold bodies may need the gentle stretch to the spine and the hamstrings; the forced pause of 5 breaths calms down the desires, the intensity...
But its not always necessary.
I prefer not to pause, it feels so much better to keep moving, keep flowing.
And it's my practice. I can choose. I can change. And I like that.

2 February 2013

Stop F*cking Around by Craig Harper

Some excerpts from Craig Harper's book called 'Stop F*cking Around'.

Firstly from the chapter called 'Quit Quitting' which lots of wanna-be or has-been ashtangis - like me - who have been trying for years to establish a daily practice, will instantly relate to...

There are squillions of talented people who have spent decades wasting their potential by not following through on their wishy-washy, half-arsed decisions. Or, by not making decisions at all. Talent, opportunities, support crews, plans and intentions all amount to a big fat zero when we don't find a way to keep doing once the initial burst of motivation and excitement fades.

And it will. Being human and all.

While we all intend to transform our lives, or part thereof, sadly, intentions aren't actions. And they certainly aren't results. Intentions don't require any effort, sacrifice or courage and intentions don't produce lasting positive change. Some people have intended themselves into depression, frustration, cerebral chaos and even old age.

That's gotta suck.

For a range of reasons, many of us have wasted more time, talent and opportunities than we'd ever like to consider and, in the process, created our own personal Groundhog Day. Some of us have been setting the same goals, losing and regaining the same weight, making and breaking the same promises, having the same pointless conversations about he same mindless crap, avoiding the same issues, making the same excuses and, let's be honest, fucking around for years. 

Perhaps it's time to quit quitting?

While motivation will come and go, it is our total commitment to a project, process or goal that will get us over the line. It's also the thing that will keep us going even when the emotional state of motivation is absent. When the journey is not comfortable, easy or fun (welcome to life), it is our commitment that keeps us proactive and productive.

So, my questions to you are:

1. What are you totally committed to?

2. When will you quit quitting?

And from a later chapter called 'Don't Rely on Motivation':

If there's one thing we know about motivation, it's that it comes and goes.

It's temporary. 

When we rely solely on the emotional state of motivation to get us to our destination - wherever that might be - we're inviting frustration, disappointment and failure, because, on its own, motivation is not enough to get the job done.

It needs some transformational allies.

Successful people - no matter what the endeavour - find a way to stay focused and productive - even when those feelings of excitement, enthusiasm and anticipation elude them. People who need or expect the transformation journey to be an ongoing rollercoaster of excitement should consider operating from a different paradigm.

A more practical and realistic one.

Sometimes the change process is a bitch. And that's okay. Sometimes, it's messy, uncomfortable and painful. Sometimes, it's a total fun-fest and sometimes it's mildly terrifying. That's okay too. Life is not a workshop, a book, a theory, a rehab session or a shoulder rub. It's a crazy, messy, unpredictable, dynamic, multi-sensory experience. And, in the middle of all that mayhem, misery and joy, it's your job to find a way to do what most won't - persevere.

To keep taking ground. To get the job done.

People are often surprised to hear a Motivational Speaker say that motivation is not the key to transformation. Sure I could call myself a Commitment Speaker but I probably wouldn't get much work. When our commitment to transformation is total and non-negotiable, then our day-to-day level of motivation becomes irrelevant.

Of course it's nice to 'feel' motivated, excited, pumped and focused but in its absence, make sure you find a way to keep those wheels turning.

And from the start of the book...

Be honest. Do you ever get sick of you? Me too.

Me, that is. Not you.

Are you ever a dickhead? Like, a great big self-saboaging dickhead? Thought so. I can tell. I know about these things. Besides, you have that goofy I-can-be-a-dickhead-sometimes look on your face. For someone who's pretty smart, are you amazed at how stupid you can be? Me too.

You, that is. Not me. :)

Have you made the same mistakes like five million times? Even though you know what not to do? Do you keep doing the same stupid things with the same people, while hoping that things will somehow work out this time?

And how's that going for you?

Thought so.

Yes, smart people do stupid stuff every day. It's called being human. We're complex and wonderful creatures with an amazing ability to fuck things up and then stand back and wonder what happened. Did I mention this book might get a little technical from time to time?

We all want to produce better results in our world but, interestingly, sometimes the only thing standing betwen us and awesome-ness (a word) is us. Our stinkin' thinking. Our I'll-show-you reactions. Our not-very-clever decisions and our look-at-me-I've got issues behaviour.

Shut up, he started it.

That's right, more often than not our biggest challenge is staring at us every morning in the mirror. With that goofy face. You. Me. Dumb and Dumber. For a range of curious reasons we highy evolved creatures have an uncanny ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. To do what doesn't work. Over and over. And then to rationalise our lack of results. And do it all over again.

Of course, self-sabotage comes in many forms.

We can find it in our procrastinating, our time-wasting, our avoidance of certain issues, our excuse-making and our finger-pointing (did not, you did). We might see it in our over-thinking mind (shit, that's exhausting), our poor self-esteem (please love me), our self-limiting beliefs, our unhealthy eating (more cake anyone?), our addictions and destructive habits (just one more, I promise) and the amazing ability we have to hand over our personal power to situations, circumstances and other people.

Any bells ringing yet?

And while we all have a capacity to shoot ourselves in the foot, the good news is that we also have the potential to do some pretty spectacular stuff and create real shift when we (1) use - not waste - what we've been given (2) think less and do more (3) be solution-focused, not problem-obsessed (4) stop waiting for the mythical 'right time' (5) stop trying to keep everyone in the world happy and (6) don't allow our ego to call the shots.

Not only is self-sabotage exhausting and destructive, it's also completely unnecessary. So, if you're finally done with the crap results, now's probably a good time to identify your self-sabotaging behaviours, attitudes and habits and to consciously go about the business of changing them.

At the end of the book Craig's final words are:

So, there you have it: thirty simple yet powerful principles to help you change your life.
Now stop fucking around and get some shit done.

You're welcome.