Catching Wind, Empowering Practice


So many times I have found myself blown in certain directions. Mostly, though not exclusively, with incredible positive outcomes. Even gale force-like winds and maelstroms, which might have moored me into isolation or thrown me into some catastrophic disaster, would eventually abate and I would land wherever with the softness of a feather. I consider myself blessed to have had such good luck to be propelled so. I also know, that in many ways, I called for it, that I invited the elements myself to move me. Time and time again, I’ve taken myself to some peak, opened my arms in surrender, and like wings unfurled, I would get picked up and thus be transported.

I wondered, however, what would it be like if I participated more in this act of flight? The last year in particular has been about recognizing the difference between flowing with things and flying myself.

It’s been an amazing process, coming to a deeper understanding that all this raw energy can be transformed and directed. That I am not prey or play thing to the forces I perceived to be much greater than myself, but, instead, an active player, instigator, herder of energy.

There is so much in this; the world at large is packed with potential energy, raw, unharnessed. In the microcosm of us, we are likewise full of unrealized vitality and force. When we learn to access this, when we learn to use it skillfully, to move it in certain directions, something huge shifts. We are empowered.

This naturally happens when we practice. There’s this wealth of untapped energy in our bones, our connective tissues, our muscles, our breath, our thoughts and hearts. Our practice helps us soften the gross layers, physical and subtle, emotional and mental, that keep us from connecting with our own physical/metaphysical body.

When we practice with consistency over a long period of time, we start tapping into these energies, which then become apparent in the practice itself. We extract energy from the practice and it fuels us. Our bodies become efficient, so does our breath, we develop an economy of thought and effort and before we know it, we are no longer consuming energy but creating it, so ample that it overflows and drips into our lives causing all sorts of creative bounty /mayhem.

This is my tenth year of yoga practice. It’s not a very long time–I continue to feel like a babe in the woods–but it’s not a short time either. Whatever length it is, it is long enough to observe the effects of practice, how it’s changed, how it’s changed me, how my life has changed because of it.

These days in Cairo’s Nūn Center, there are a number of beginners and some students returning to practice after a substantial break. And naturally the struggles that come with starting an ashtanga practice begin to appear: the body gets tired, the mind wavers, the internal debate on whether to go to class starts when the alarm rings in the morning.

I remember my teacher saying that if you never leave your practice, it will never leave you. I still have those days where doing my own practice is like going to battle with myself. What he said, though, it’s true, and it gets me on my mat, it gets me through the first sticky sun salutation, and, eventually, the practice helps me catch wind.

Mysore Classes here at Nūn continue. Sunday to Thursday, 7:30-10am. This week, we are adding Ashtanga Basic classes Monday and Wednesday at 7pm. These classes can be used as an introduction to the morning Mysore program. Drop ins and all levels are welcome! 

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Fly Your Prayers

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Paris, Beirut, Syria, Iraq, the list goes on. So much darkness all around. There is too much loss, one too many people displaced, everywhere there is suffering. And from practically everywhere, too, at least a week ago, after the attack on Paris, prayers were launched via hashtags towards the darkest places on the planet at that moment. A week on and social media is now abuzz with the backlash from all sides: criticism and fear-mongering.

What to do now? Where do we all go from here? Incredibly big questions for incredibly complex problems, which have a whole lot of history that needs, first, understanding, and then careful and steady undoing. What happens now to all these prayers?

Over the months here in San Francisco, I have had the great opportunity to explore the ashtanga practice and intention-making as medicine with some amazing teachers. There is a great healing energy that comes with declaring one’s clear and simple prayer. It is personal, our prayers are our own but they are also universal. Your prayer for peace and happiness and love–guess what, everyone wants that too! We forget that, ultimately, we want and deserve the same things, yet we continue to build walls of separation–personal and physical and political boundaries.

When we come to our mats and we practice, we open with a mantra. In the western yoga community, there’s a lot of sensitivity about what that is. For me, it’s a prayer. The essence of this prayer honors the great process of being led from darkness to light. We sound this out and then we practice. We plant this sound, this seed, into our body and then we nourish it with our breath, our movement and our attention. And whoever has been really practicing knows that this prayer becomes alive, it grows in the body and blooms in one’s life.

When we practice, we fly our prayer. It grows wings and it soars.

It’s really good to see people express their prayers, their hopes, even their admonishments during these difficult times because it shows that we as a community of human beings acknowledge that the world should not be like this. But how do we now live in these prayers, how do we breathe life into them, and walk into them with grace, how do we take these hashtags and sounds and ideas and bring them into a living practice that can support substantial change?

I feel personally challenged by this, how can I be this prayer, for myself as much as for everyone else.  I know it will look different for me in my life as it will for someone else. But I hope that we all start to do so, to really live in these prayers.

I want to close with a poem from Rumi that a friend sent a couple of days ago just as I was starting to write this blog. These questions are very old and perhaps we should defer to wisdom of the Sufi poet:

What will our children do in the morning?
Will they wake with their hurts wanting to play, the way wings should?

Will they have dreamed the needed flights and gathered the strength from the planets that all man and woman need to balance the wonderful charms of the earth?

So that her power and beauty does not make us forget our own.

I know all about the ways of the heart-how it wants to be alive.

Love so needs to love that it will endure almost anything, even abuse, just to flicker for a moment. But the sky’s mouth is kind, its song will never hurt you, for I sing those words.

What will the children do in the morning if they do not see us fly?

Mysore Sunday, Final Session

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So much of my most precious interactions happen on a rubber mat with students while teaching in a Mysore space. Where else do you get to meet someone in this way, slowly over time, whilst they quietly cook in the juices of their own humanity, turning over with each deliberate breath and movement the fluctuations of the mind and heart.

It’s like getting to know someone without any context other than what plays out in the half-hour, hour, hour and forty-five minutes that one practices. Story-telling is minimized, so is the drama. The body is so intelligent. The practice is so precise. I love meeting in this way. It is so raw and real… and honest.

As a mysore teacher, the challenge is to meet as honestly as well. To cut out the superfluous, the desire to people please, the need to teach, so that the practice can do it’s thing. I often have to remind myself that the best thing that I can do is to get out of the way. The opposite is also true, when it arrises; it’s important to recognize when it’s a good time to get involved, when support is necessary.

Meeting in this way, in mysore-style classes, it is looking into a mirror and seeing who you are at that one moment. Sometimes, what I see is glorious. Other times, I see that I am one hot mess. All of it is ok and also, none of it matters. By meeting, we submit to an alchemical process, a world of change.

It has been incredibly special to lead the Mysore Sunday classes here in Mysore SF twice a month. Please come to class, I love to meet with you. I will also continue to assist Magnolia Zuniga in Mysore SF until December 10, 2015 before heading back to Asia to prepare to study with my own teacher in Mysore, India.

Catching Wind

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The wind of practice–how to explain this, how even in the most humid of rooms (such as the one I am currently practicing in here in Mysore, India) there is this light energy that sweeps one up, and we fly, breezing from one posture to another, flowing through the different layers of body: the physical body, the mind body, the pranic body.

It is the energy of the room, we are lifted by the breath, our own and the collective breath, as well.

For some years now, I have relished this phenomenon here in Mysore. I have enjoyed being blown about; surrendering to it has been a journey, and I have often greatly delighted and surprised at where this wind has taken me. Furthermore, this wind blows quite far and has propelled me to all sorts of places, all sorts of life lessons and experiences.

The time comes, however, when we must pilot these winds, when we must actively participate in our own flying, when we must take responsibility for determining our directions, for the strength of our own breath, when soaring whichever way is a choice not a matter of happenstance.

And when this time comes, do unfurl those sails, do allow the wind to power you, as you steadily take the wheel, steering yourself to wherever new or old lands you feel compelled to go to, taking support from the wind but– all the same– doing your own flying.

PHOTO: Among the toys and trinkets for sale at Nanjangud’s Shiva Temple during Shivaratri last month. Karnataka, India.

Reconstruction

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Sometimes, we break down. We wear out our bodies with habitual misuse and patterns of misbehavior, which more often than not sneaks into even the most-mindful of asana practices.

I arrived in India all set to dig deep into my personal practice but also incredibly worn out. My back spasmed, an early warning sign, I feel now, asking me to reassess my approach to my body’s habits amd movements. And since then, practice here in Mysore, India has been about slow and steady healing, rebuilding and reconstructing a practice–so that it might be better than before, more sustainable, more long-lasting.

The great lesson of this time has been about the healing properties of practice, particularly primary series, which is apply named “yoga chikitsa” or “yoga therapy,” the space that the breath creates, the heat that slowly allows the body to mend. It has been a great exercise in patience and acceptance, an amazing opportunity to observe the pull of the ego and my own attachment to the physical aspect of practice.

There has been pain of all sorts: body, heart and mind–though what remains is this: a great sense of reconciliation and harmony between the three. Of course, there are all sorts of pains and varying degrees of injury, but this recent experience is a reminder for me that each difficulty, each challenge is a gift, that we are called to have courage enough to unwrap it.

PHOTO: Tower on Kukkarahalli Lake, taken nearly 2 months ago. Today, scaffolding is already off the renewed structure. My back is also very well now, after 7 weeks of practicing only primary series, I returned to practicing intermediate poses pain free . Everything changes with time–so long as we give it space enough to do so.

Birds of a Different Feather

 

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Birds of A Different Feather Flock together. Led Primary Class just this last Friday here in Spirit Yoga Osaka. Will miss these beautiful “winged” creatures.

It was during “ardha badha padmottanasana” that I mused, we are “strange birds”… The posture reminding me a little of these majestic graceful birds, strangely long legged with their head stretching down into the water, like a flamingo or a crane. It’s kind of true, who does this kind of stuff? Day after day? Who finds joy and pleasure in it? Who discovers in these postures a metaphor for their real-life living world? 

 We are strange, colorful birds. Each so different. So bright. Each ready to fly in their own direction. 

And for a brief moment in time, we flock together, traveling without moving–well, except for within the space of our mats, breath of the body. 

In these two months in Osaka, we have shared so many quiet adventures, discoveries, the pulling apart and putting back together of unseen, unspoken things. 

In two and a half hours, I will be teaching my second to last mysore class in Japan. And it is a challenge not to mourn my departure, not to grasp at the moment, but to simply love, to love these strange birds, to enjoy the moment of “being” together, and when time comes, to enjoy with the same fervor and grace, the spreading of my own wings and taking off into a different direction–until we meet again.  

PHOTO: Led Primary last Friday. Two more classes, one this morning and tomorrow. Happy to announce the return of Veronique Tan, who comes back fully recharged after two months in a special program in Mysore India with our esteemed teacher Sharath Jois. 

Lila, Play of Practice

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Looking at the photos above, one cannot escape the physicality of the ashtanga practice. Yes, our bodies take shapes in space. Yes, we move up and down the mat, tumbling back and hopping forward. It can look acrobatic. It can look a bit–at times, a lot–like the play of a contortionist. 

And at times, we get stuck in this play, in what appears like a sportive drama. We get preoccupied with the form, in what the asana looks like, instead of what it feels like. But this too is a part of the “lila”– in Sanskrit, “lila” is used to (depending on the tradition) describe the play between the Divine and the human world, the Absolute consciousness and “prakriti” or nature. And this play exists for our benefit, for our own awakening, so that we may go beyond the drama, that we may go beyond the physical. 

We do not practice sport. In Mysore, India, when I myself study, our teacher often reminds us, sometimes reprimands us! that practice is our “sadhana.” It is a “spiritual practice.”

And that all this play, this lila will lead us to remembering–to remembering who we are; that we are Conscious Soul-Full beings.

PHOTO: Led Primary two Fridays ago here in Spirit Mysore Osaka. Spirit students embodying that beautiful play between the physical practice and deep personal work that inevitably happens along with it.