We are all becoming acutely aware of the difference in connecting for work or pleasure through the medium of technology as opposed to face to face interaction….we are all beginning to struggle with what Krista Tippet in her podcast “on Being” terms “zoomzaustion” and becoming as my beloved calls it “zoom zombies” but this time will pass and what will we have learned from it about connecting through the empty space?
This week I want us to simplify our practice so we can go deeper. To allow ourselves the time to simply be and see if we can stay fully present, this is where we move from doing the pose to being in the pose and allowing the pose to do something for us, a balance I feel I will be working on for the rest of my life.
We have forgotten to how to be guests inside our own homes, our bodies - we either run roughshod over all the compassionate rules of a harmonious house, trying to dominate it - smashing and breaking as we go or we become withdrawn and distant refusing to engage with our host. Whilst we are forced to socially distance from each other we can instead remember how to come home to ourselves. Like a wayward teenager trying to come home and make amends it won’t always be easy, there will be bumps in the road but with time and practice we will find a way back to balance - trust in time.
This is one of my favourite practices as taught to me by one of my favourite teachers Matthew Sanford. Somedays I get there, some days I don’t in itself that shows me how I am showing up each day and what I am bringing with me to the practice. Remember that wayward teenager is going to come home with a whole bag full of laundry!
Laying over a rolled blanket (see image below):
Now allow yourself to be there, feel into the centre of your chest, the seat of consciousness, can you come home to rest in that spot. Let the breath be gentle, natural (I still struggle with this one, once we start to observe the breath there is a tendency to overdo - trust that your breathing is just fine, it is enough)
Maybe this is it, maybe you stay here with this for a while give yourself time to land for a few minutes, hours, days.
When you have come in, taken your shoes off and made yourself at home it is time to explore the other rooms in the house, but you don’t want to lose that sense of ease. So gently from the back of the body, without disrupting the open vulnerability at the heart centre start to extend out through the back of the legs into the heels and beyond then out through the back of the arms and beyond…..none of this extension and expansion is to come at the expense of the ease and openness in the front body - you want to both stay fully present in the heart of the home and also see what lays beyond.
Then release and see how much you were able to both stay at the centre and reach outward simultaneously.
Repeat this as often as you need/can.
Now take that sensation into your practice, try some of your favourite poses done in the same way, can you be in Trikonasana and expand from the heart centre? If it gets lost too quickly in standing try taking your trikonasana down to the floor and find it laying on your back, or if you have wall space do it against the wall - notice how supporting the spine allows the mind to quieten and you to come back home. Once you have found the sensation on the floor or the wall keep practicing carrying it forward into all your poses.
Then practice carrying it forward into your interactions through technology, can you find grounding and stay present in the centre of your chest whilst your mind is being pulled by the glare of technology?
Practice and I know that you can.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks
Following the path…
Sometimes you just don’t know where the path will lead, for example what if you could go into your kitchen and find the moon? Maybe you can but more on that later.
For the path to unfold in this way what is required is allowing, not to be confused with a passive state of inaction, this kind of allowing requires us to be fully awake, to listen to our deepest knowing and follow it up with right action. In 2010 I signed up for a workshop - I had no idea to where it would lead. The workshop was entitled “The Art of Adjusting” and was lead by Matthew Sanford. Fast forward ten years and it turns out I will have made countless trips to Minnesota to keep studying with Matthew and his team at Mind Body Solutions. His pioneering work and devotion to humanity has become more interwoven in every breath I take than I could ever imagine.
The deepest knowing does not come from text books, there is no app (despite what some may try to have us believe) and we cannot Google for answers, this kind of knowing takes stillness and the courage to feel. I say that with full knowing that this is not the easiest path to follow, I began my Yoga practice as an analytical, classically trained student of philosophy exploring existential philosophy from the safety of my A4 notepad - what I didn’t realise in 2010 was that I was about to be thrown into living it.
You will have heard me reference Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in class, they are a collection of 196 aphorisms exploring the path to enlightenment through Yoga, they are essentially the roadmap to something essentially indescribable. They are fascinating to explore and the depth of meaning that can be packed into a few words never ceases to amaze me. Each time you look more is revealed, but that is the magic, because it is not about words on a page - it is about the ability of the reader to see, to get still and quiet enough to listen which is exactly what we are being asked to do in our practice and in life. The power of the sutras is in the dynamic between you and the words; as the power of the pose is in your relationship to it; as the parts of the pose only come alive in relationship to each other and so on - can you feel the depth of the rabbit holes we are being invited to fall down?
One of the first and most profound things I learned with Matthew is that in order to truly be with people, to be in dynamic, you need to take a good look at yourself first so as to avoid the pitfall of projecting your own suffering on to others. We all have suffering, admittedly it comes in all shapes and sizes, all colours and textures, but there is no one of us who has not felt the sting of losing someone or something precious, who has not felt the knock to our sense of self from something we never saw coming. And so begins the lived work of the Yoga sutra:
1. अथ मोगानशु ासनभ ॥१॥
The Sutras are written in Sanskrit which is a devotional language, ‘Atha’ means now, when we explore the sutras we learn that the first word of each holds the most weight so consider for a moment the weight of the first word of the first Sutra - Now - in essence it is all there, in that utterance - Now - this moment. However because this is Sanskrit there are more layers, more depth to the moment - ‘Atha’ also signifies that we are asking for a blessing, opening the doors to be supported on this journey. The full aphorism means - Now, with prayers for divine blessing, begins our exploration of Yoga.
So we have begun.
So we must proceed.
2. मोगणित्तवणृ त्तणनयोध् ॥ २॥
yogah chittavritti nirodhah
Yoga is the stilling of fluctuations in consciousness
Or getting out of our own way for long enough that we can drop into the deep knowing, there is already enough work here for several lifetimes.
Glennon Doyle in her book “Untamed” says:
“How to Know:
Moment of uncertainty arises.
Breathe, turn inward, sink.
Feel around for the Knowing.
Do the thing it nudges you toward.
Let it stand. (Don’t explain.)
(For the rest of your life; continue to shorten the gap between the Knowing and the doing.)”
She too is living it, as we all are - you do not need to be locked away in an ivory tower of academia or living the life of a hermit in the mountains - as I mentioned before maybe you can simply go into your own kitchen and find the moon, which brings me to this weeks practice - Kitchen Asana.
It is easy to avoid practice because we don’t feel we know enough of we don’t feel we have the right props, if we are to believe the images in the media Yoga can only be practiced in beautifully maintained, pristine, minimalist spaces - not true! - Yoga is for living ‘Now’ in whatever state we find ourselves in this moment. Kitchen Asana (practicing using the kitchen counter, the kitchen chair, the kitchen table etc) is a study in working with what you have got and letting it support you, in surrendering to the truth that in this moment you are enough and have everything you need to step forward on the path.
I leave you today with last words from Annie Hickman, long time student of Mind Body Solutions. read more at the student blog:
In Nature's time....
One of the curious side effects existing bi-continentally is witnessing the unfolding of nature simultaneously in two climates. The gift of noticing how it is not bound, as we so often are, by calendar time. How Spring here emerges at a different time to Spring there and realising the principles with which nature organises itself are fully removed from those with which we might like to try and organise it; nature’s seasons are moved by something deeper than our external imposition of squares on the calendar.
Our Yoga practice also asks us to examine the principles according to which we organise ourselves. Classical practice of Yoga is not limited to the Asana (posture) practice we are so familiar with, it is in fact an eight-fold path (Ashtanga). The Sutras lay out this path as a road map, the steps are the same for all but the timing or journey for us each will differ and unfold according to our commitment to: Tapas (practice), Svadhyaha (self-study) and Isvara Pranidhana (surrender) - we each move along the path according to something deeper than our own illusion of control.
The Eight limbs of classical Yoga are:
Yama - Universal Vows
Niyama - Ethical Observances
Asana - Posture (to abide)
Pranayama - Expansion of vital energy through regulation of breath
Pratyahara - Withdrawal of the senses
Dharana - Concentration
Dhyana - Meditation
Samadhi - Bliss
The Yamas and Niyamas are further broken down into five principles a piece, I will share a very simplified description of each below although each could warrant a dissertation in itself:
Ahimsa - Non-Violence
Satya - Truthfulness
Asteya - Non-covetousness
Brahmacharya - Cultivation of moderation
Aparigraha - Non-greed
Saucha - Purity, cleanliness
Santosha - Contentment
Tapas - Focused practice
Svadhyaya - Self Study
Isvara Pranidhana - Surrender
Notice that there is a constant sense of deepening within the map laid out by the eight-fold path and also that it is not entirely linear in the way we might like to control and classify things. We do not have to fully master and ‘sign off’ Ahimsa before we progress to Satya, nor do we have to live trapped in a pursuit of ‘perfection’ or ‘become certified’ in the Yamas before we progress to the Niyamas, Asana and so on. We only need a willingness to try, to be aware. Although our practice will naturally evolve according to our practice of the limb that precedes, each limb also exists within the other, they intersect and develop within and alongside each other for as long as we continue to practice. Some of the later limbs cannot even be manifested wilfully, they will emerge only as the time is right as the principles that went before have become ripe within the practitioner - just as we cannot will the tree to blossom or fruit according to our schedule but only allow it to do so when the conditions it requires are all present - not in our time, in nature’s time. (Isvara Pranidhana)
So how do we cultivate the ripening within our Asana practice. You will notice the sequences I am giving you these days do not necessarily contain as many poses as we might do in a class, that is because I want you to go deeper, to feel more as opposed to doing more, and for that to happen we require the spaciousness of time, a surrender to nature’s time.
Prashant Iyengar speaks of organisation he says “To be organised is to have everything in its place at one and the same time. To be organised means that all is required is available when you need it. You have all your parts. When you are in the Asana you should be like an organised house. Everything should be in its place at one and the same time.
Do not do at the cost of some other part.
What is the point of something being in its place when it is not wanted and not being there when it is wanted? The ankle is there, but not in its place when it is wanted. When the teacher shouts “ankle” you put it in place and then the shoulder is not there in its place”
Try to practice this week with that in mind, can you work within your awareness to organise your asana. This takes us away from the habit of always trying to do more or learn more, instead Prashant says “Learn to co-relate, get organised”
Notice how observance of all of the Yamas and Niyamas are interwoven with practicing this way.
Galway Kinnell - 1927-2014
Wait, for now.
Distrust everything if you have to.
But trust the hours. Haven’t they
carried you everywhere, up to now?
Personal events will become interesting again.
Hair will become interesting.
Pain will become interesting.
Buds that open out of season will become interesting.
Second-hand gloves will become lovely again;
their memories are what give them
the need for other hands. The desolation
of lovers is the same: that enormous emptiness
carved out of such tiny beings as we are
asks to be filled; the need
for the new love is faithfulness to the old.
Don’t go too early.
You’re tired. But everyone’s tired.
But no one is tired enough.
Only wait a little and listen:
music of hair,
music of pain,
music of looms weaving our loves again.
Be there to hear it, it will be the only time,
most of all to hear your whole existence,
rehearsed by the sorrows, play itself into total exhaustion.
waterfalls and exploration.....
Waterfalls have a special significance for me, they have brought both love and flow into my life. When we allow space for the sensation of flow we acknowledge our obstacles yet allow ourselves to stay open, curious; to listen to what part of our story they are intersecting with and find new or different ways of moving with and around them. Flow requires both the courage to listen deeply and a willingness to change direction in order to stay on our truest course.
As an only child in the pre-digital 1970’s I spent a lot of time entertaining myself - I was an explorer - one of my favourite things to do was to take a mirror and hold it at waist level facing up to the ceiling then try to walk around the house - my feet (body) were on the ground, but my eyes (perception) were seeing only the reflection of the ceiling - I loved the strange sensation of getting to a light fitting and feeling the involuntary twitch of my leg to step over something that I knew deep down wasn’t really beneath my feet. Sometimes when we come up against an obstacle a little shift in perspective can be all it takes to help us find the true ground beneath our feet.
Last week we practiced listening to our stories, the beliefs we hold that affect how we show up in our practice and whilst it is important that we are always gentle with our stories, they have given us something we needed to get us this far, perhaps you also noticed how some of those stories can create obstacles in our practice. This week I want to explore re-framing or exploring a pose from different angles and seeing what we find. Use some of the poses from the first “sequence for uncertain times” in week one to arrive on the mat, then explore approaching Parsvottonasana from Utthita Hasta Padasana, from Adho Mukha Svanasana and from Prasarita Padottonasana to see what the differing approach brings. If doing it all in one day is too much take one approach each day - but be aware of any other variables you might be bringing in if you do it this way - time of day, temperature, digestion etc.
Throughout your practice notice the changing qualities of your key pose in body, mind and breath. How does the it change each time? What do you gain, what do you lose when you take a different route to your destination? Does the different journey change your outlook when you are there? Remember it is not about picking your favourite method, that would be falling into the trap of rigidity, it would be narrowing your horizon again - instead notice the subtler qualities, be curious about how the journey affects the destination and try to let go of fixed ideas about what your practice should be for today - if you begin this way but something calls to you, follow it - maybe you will realise another that pose might help you access something deeper or shift a blockage in this one, try it, play be curious.
Then again at the end of the practice, in Savasana, notice the qualities of the body, the mind and the breath……then notice that there is something else, something more that can witness body, mind and breath….can you notice its qualities too?
And of course we need a poem for the week
Lost by David Wagoner:
Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.
I have had the very great honour of being trusted with my children’s learning these last few weeks, it has given me chance to share with them a mutual love of myth and legend. Whilst reading alongside them I came across this truth “Crucially, myths are also the foundation of religions; they define cultures and codify their values”. Our culture’s myths define our belief system - so the question becomes how are you allowing stories to frame your beliefs around yourself and your practice?
Practice restorative poses this week, create a sequence as a whole or chose just one pose, take your time to be in it but also see if you can catch your feelings in and around these poses, your belief system. Know that you are not “doing it wrong” when these feelings arise - it is all part of the process and the chances are you are right on schedule.
Do you believe you aren’t doing enough, that this isn’t practice? That you should be working harder? Can you reframe what is hard? Stillness is hard, letting go is hard - can you release the grip in the jaw, the belly? For many that is hard.
Do you see it as time for collapse for a nap? Mr Iyengar always said if sleep comes take it as a sign that your system needed it so don’t berate yourself if it happens instead could you find a way to bring more rest to your life? What if you could practice falling awake rather than falling asleep in these poses, what would that feel like?
Are you becoming agitated because you believe you should be emptying your mind and the quiet won’t come? Could you let yourself trust that, for now, the the thoughts will keep coming and that is ok, if you haven’t given yourself space to feel for quite some time, the mind may have some churning to do - let it churn, neither become attached to the churning nor try to fight or hold back the churning, simply step back and allow - trust that over time (minutes, days, weeks, years…) it will settle, it will slow - the thoughts will still wander in from time to time but they will not ruffle the consciousness the way they once did.
How do you feel about taking the appropriate support to find ease within the pose? Do you lay your props out with care the way you would lay the table for a beloved guest, or do you throw them down and hope for the best? Are you not the beloved guest within your pose?
The essence of these poses is to be with yourself, to hear your stories and over time, with practice, find comfort and ease in the pose and in your own skin, to come home to yourself. This is not an easy practice, but it is ultimately a deeply rewarding and restorative one, as Glennon Doyle says “We can do hard things”. Don’t force, just be. Opening the chest can be overwhelming especially if there is underlying grief so if you find yourself there just sit, or lay with your spine supported, find your ground, take in the sensation of support and let that be enough for today.
Finally another poem to accompany the week:
"Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
In this time of uncertainty I have no wish to add to the noise in this world. I leave these writings for those I have shared Yoga with, so our community may continue and flourish - as ever take what you need and leave the rest...