On the one hand I can see why monks take themselves out of the regular world – the world of no interruption sounds so appealing sometimes. On the other hand, deep down I also feel that’s cheating, taking the easy way out. But what if each situation presents its own challenges, and, since we all are individuals, we each choose our own path? But what if there’s no judgment on that? But what if we just got over ourselves and got on with our own business?
Practice continues to benefit from warm weather. Yesterday evening took a vinyasa class with M and opened easily into eka pada rajakapotasana and held it comfortably. combination of warm weather and afternoon class makes a difference; I had practiced that posture in the morning and was not able to go as deeply or to hold it as comfortably.
As I finished the morning practice, I realized what time it was and that I wanted to talk with my daughter before I left for work. I had time to either meditate for ten minutes or talk to my daughter. It occurred to me that the impulse might be a distraction, and some might say that the practice is there: to meditate anyway, to feel that wanting to do something else, to let it go. To practice in the face of that strong impulse…
However, I wouldn’t get to see my daughter later, and I had the very strong desire to talk with her then. To not leave it for later. And you know what? This is more important than meditating. You can mediate at any time. You can meditate in the next life. But other people? They aren’t a given. There’s no guarantee we’ll be together another time — in any future life or even in this one. Anything could happen. So I went up and talked with my daughter. And what if that was the practice? To choose to give in to love instead of preventing yourself from expressing it when you have the impulse?
I watched a tv show recently. In it, a woman resisted admitting that she loved a man. This was a big part of the plot. It made me wonder though. In the story she didn’t want to admit how she felt because it would make her vulnerable to certain accusations, maybe even had serious legal consequences. (Because she would have done something illegal because she loved this person.) But what if she just gave in, and admitted she loved this person? So much energy went into blocking that feeling — and this was just a tv show! But it only reflects how we act in real life, which is that we are discouraged from making ourselves vulnerable, and we presume somehow that admitting love, or acting on love, leads to vulnerability. And then what? Vulnerability = weakness = death? But who says that is true? What if vulnerability = exercise of courage = strength = alive?
Class with R on Sunday. We do core work and isolate the muscles around the rib cage that support the body in handstand, beginning in tadasana on the floor, and progressing to the inversion. R has told me before to “pull in” these muscles, while in downward dog, but after that class I am definitely feeling them acutely. One thing about R is, I’ve taken class with him for almost a year and he has yet to repeat a class. He has his favorite sequences but even those he doesn’t use too often. He always brings something new … which is probably why I keep going.
At home, meditation continues. Fifteen minutes, 20 minutes. Again, not terribly exciting, more like mildly interesting. You can really make an effort to focus the mind, and even so find you have wandered not more than 10 breaths later. So, there’s a lot of meandering and bringing back. Training the puppy.
Asana-wise, things come along. It’s lovely to practice in the current warm weather, with the door to the garden open. I practice pincha away from the wall and fall over. Other times I can practice near the wall, and not touch the wall at all. I don’t mind falling, I’m not afraid; it’s just tedious to pick myself up and come back to the pose. I want to practice balancing not falling. at the same time, true, there’s a little thrill at the moment when I move away from the wall. So actually that’s some kind of fear — but not of falling, it’s fear of the unknown. I don’t know whether I will fall or not. It’s a fear of not being in control.
I suppose it would be a good idea to practice more away from the wall, and wear down this residual fear … Learn to stop worrying and love the fall, maybe?
Today am feeling very far from dropping back into full wheel from standing. Possibly farther than I’ve ever felt, despite being well into a regular daily practice. I feel nowhere near ready to catch myself with my hands (without breaking my wrists), and feel all too aware that I’d just land square on my head. In fact, when I tried dropping back to a couch, that’s exactly what I did – landed on my head. Yet, my backbends in general are deepening, like in eka pada rajakapotasana. So, what gives?
When I journaled about it, what came out was lack of confidence. I remembered when I was a girl and practicing backbends on the grass, and felt a longing to be able to practice somewhere with such a soft landing. I am a fairly confident person, but I guess we all have our weak spots. Currently what I’m petrified about is driving with my newly licensed daughter. Specifically, I’m terrified about getting into a situation on a hill. I’m not pleased with myself about it. There’s no good reason to be this anxious. My daughter is a very together type of person, her character is and always has been much calmer than mine. I have no reason to doubt her capabilities. She’s told me she has done it with her instructor. So what’s this about the hill then?
The hill situation is that moment you’re rolling backwards. When the engine stalls, and you start sweating. Everyone who drives has been there. You’re faced with letting the clutch out on the upward incline. You might even stall it twice. If you’re not careful you’ll flood the engine. The pressure’s on — you have to perform. If you don’t the horns will start blaring. The traffic will start to back up…
To be honest I have no idea what this has to do with backbends, apart from being aware that there is a lot of potential for emotional reaction when working with these postures.
“Be aware that when learning how to safely bend your back you may experience rational and irrational emotions,” writes Kino MacGregor in an Elephant Journal article. “Sometimes the most flexible students have the most troubling emotions arising when they start practicing backbends….One of the deepest lessons in the yoga practice is about bringing the energy up the spine and cleansing the nervous system. Backbends thrust your full life force up through this central channel and burn through blockages along the way.”
MacGregor’s article ends with a note about a workshop she taught where a naturally flexible student was struggling with standing up and down in Urdhva Dhanurasana. The student blogged about it – she starts off with the very words that came to my mind: The only way out is through.
“The natural tendency is just to run away when things get tough,” says MacGregor, “but the practice of Ashtanga Yoga teaches you how to find your way gracefully through whatever obstacles may arise in your life experience. It just might be a bumpy ride for a little while. Your job is to stay the course and use sound anatomical alignment, deep breathing, and a courageous heart to follow the path.” Emphasis mine: alignment, breath and courageous heart. ABC. Let’s see if I can remember that, and apply it.
Class with D last night. Managed to stay awake during the yoga nidra. D does an amazing yoga nidra. His voice drops an octave, he walks you through your body parts, you feel like you’ve been painted to the floor. Very hard sometimes to stay awake, because you’re so relaxed. You can feel yourself getting deeper and deeper in. If you are careful, and stay conscious, you can remind yourself: stay awake! Because if you can retain awareness, it is a great experience. You end up with the body completely relaxed, but the mind incredibly alert and alive. It’s like you’ve put your body on stand-by and for this period of time, you are just your mind. Yet, unlike meditation, you often aren’t distracted by thoughts. At least I’m not. You are just aware.
And when you come back up out of this state, you feel amazingly awake and refreshed, yet calm and still relaxed. When I leave the studio and walk down the street, I feel super-receptive to all the things that are going on around me: every traffic light, every person I pass, the sensation of walking through the evening, of displacing the air. D is, all around, a very good teacher. But this yoga nidra he does is one of a kind.
It seems absolutely crucial that, whatever you do, to not think too much. Thinking too much is the life equivalent of the roadrunner running past the cliff edge and looking down. He’s fine until he looks down. And it’s maybe not the looking down so much as the stopping, the break in momentum. When you break the flow, that’s when you look down ( = think too much). The important thing is to keep the flow, keep going with it, don’t question where you are, don’t assess it or anything about it.
Put another way: on a bicycle, you have to pedal at a certain speed to stay balanced. If you start to dwell on the mechanics, the physics, to the point where you stop moving, the whole thing falls apart. You’ll fall right over. We hear these messages all the time – just keep swimming, go with the flow, just do it. Just because they’re ubiquitous doesn’t mean what they’re saying isn’t valid.
I’m practicing holding ardha chandrasana ( half moon pose, see here, here and here) without the hand touching the ground. I.e., balanced on the standing leg. It’s an interesting practice, finding alignment along the spine and in the shoulders. I sometimes think of my arms and shoulders as wings of an airplane – I suppose because there is a sensation of flying, or maybe gliding, even though there’s one leg holding you up. It’s that lightness/effortlessness in the torso thing again.
Sometimes I nail it, other times I don’t. Sometimes I wobble and I wonder what the hell is going on, how can it be so unsteady one day when the next day it’s a piece of cake?
But that’s the practice.
Meditation was 20 minutes, I had some extra time today. It seemed like an extra long time, that five minutes. I braced myself. I said, just try it. It doesn’t have to be “perfect” (whatever that is). Just see how it goes.
How it goes is, there are again lots of thoughts, and then the thoughts calm down. Or, it just gets easier to let them happen, but not actually think them. You see them, or sense them, you experience them – but at the same time you’re aware of your breath in its constant cycle. You remind yourself: don’t worry about that, whatever it is you’re thinking. Stay with the breath. Watch it.
Today I wondered why it is that that thoughts should dominate so much. We don’t have to pay attention to them. There are lots of other things going on, just in the body. Why doesn’t the body dominate our awareness? It doesn’t, except when we’re in pain. Or in love, maybe. Or pregnant. And that’s just internally. Externally there’s a whole world to observe and witness.
At a certain point I began to be anxious: about the time, about whether the app would chime when time was up like it’s supposed to (a few times recently it hasn’t), about one foot going cold and the other getting prickly. And then the app chimed and time was up, and I wondered what all that panic was about.
Another 15 minute meditation. This time did not sit in lotus, so legs did not fall asleep. Again, the mind very active especially at first. Then it calmed down somewhat. At a certain point I had the understanding that I was both observing the breath and aware I was observing the breath, and on top of that aware of both of those things. Yet I didn’t think about it too much, but instead carried on observing. The sensation was very much that of being in balance in awareness – and this balance felt very light, like a feather was sitting on top of the mind and breath. It was the same sensation as that of finding balance in handstand, or pincha mayurasana: the same effortless feeling, the same sensation of coming into alignment.
And, like practicing handstand or forearm balance, there was the same feeling of fleetingness, of figuring out where the point of equilibrium is, and learning how to stay there.
It was the first time I’d felt that similarity between mind and body so clearly. It was a real challenge, actually, to keep the meditation going, and not stop and write all this down. It’s the classic writer’s worry: that you’ll forget your idea if you don’t get it immediately onto paper. I’m going to have to get through that, I can see, if I’m going to mediate for longer. Can you imagine on a retreat – where the practice might include abstaining from reading and journaling? Am going to have to practice letting those thoughts – those “great ideas” – go. Otherwise, I would surely drive myself crazy.
Meditated 15 minutes. My mind was very active. Maybe because I practiced later in the day than I usually do? So that by the time I was meditating, I was wide awake and my mind ready to do its thing. Who knows. Maybe.
I’m thinking about building up the length of my meditation practice. I was looking at the website of Michael Stone. I first discovered him through the Yoga Campus course offerings. He’s coming to Europe to teach some workshops in a few cities this autumn; I read the descriptions and fantasize about going to one of them. What’s stopping me? I’m not sure. Money. Time.
Convenience. I asked at the studio where I practice would they be interested in having him there? How does that work, how could that happen? R (one of the owners) said to send him an email about it which I did, but have heard nothing back. I will have to follow up on it when I’m next there.
But the reason I bring up Michael Stone now is because all of his online classes ask for a commitment to a daily meditation practice of 30-45 minutes. I’ve held back in this department for some reason. I can blame time, but that’s a poor excuse. And it seems blindingly obvious as I write this that I don’t really need to go anywhere, or get anything or anyone. I know what I need to do and requires only me to do it. It’s interesting though that my first instinct is to get something/someone from the outside, as though my own resources are insufficient.
The real question is, what happens in 30-45 minutes, that doesn’t in 10-15? There’s only one way to find out…
When you’re writing and it leads you somewhere wholly unexpected, it feels magical. You begin with one idea, a set of ideas, maybe even a structure, and as you write this changes. The act of writing changes it.
The magic of yoga is that by moving you release tension in the body, and this release can calm, relax and even focus the mind. I’m vaguely aware that there are researchers trying to figure you how exactly this works – something to do with the central nervous system. The vagus nerve has received a lot of attention recently – and there’s a cool infographic about how it works and what it can do.