Practice Self Forgiveness

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Photo by Michael Tutaan, Boracay, Philippines

The great irony, perhaps, of diving deeper into this physical practice is how metaphysical it becomes, the more advanced the posture, the more subtle the mind and the heart. How, for example, taking one’s leg behind the head is less about the openness of hips, the ability to internally rotate the leg while lifting the center and, with it, the back–though all fundamentally a part of the process–than it is about cultivating patience and perseverance.

Once in a while, I ask myself, what have I learned? What is new, especially when there are no new postures to investigate or obsess about? It has been two years, almost, since I’ve studied with my teacher in Mysore and my practice seems to be greatly about establishing a steady rhythm, building strength and getting comfortable. Some days are tougher than others, I must admit, developing strength seems to have come with loosing a certain amount of bendiness. And establishing a life in one place, as I have done this year in Egypt, comes with an entirely different set of challenges that sometimes get in the way of the smooth flow of practice.

For me, I think one of the greatest lessons of cozying up to the intermediate series these last two years is learning to forgive myself.  I may have not overcome my own expectations, they creep up on me still while on the mat (not to mention off the mat!), but it’s never so hard as before. Mostly, because I’m not as hard on myself as I was before. Often, I find myself humorously observing the struggles, the days I ate pasta and how that feels in titthibhāsana, the days I can’t get a good grip on the mat in karandavāsana and fall, the days I get on the mat late and I’m so tired that I’m practically crawling through the practice. It’s all ok, I can’t always be my best physically though I can still put my best effort forward based on the conditions that I am given and that I allow myself.

We cause so much undue suffering with unforgiving thoughts: why can’t I do it, what’s wrong with me, why am I not good enough? Such fluctuations of the mind are debilitating, they stall us, not just mentally but physically too, they keep us from moving forward. And thus the relationship between the mind and the body continues. So, instead, let’s be kind to ourselves, let’s be sweet and also honest. Be honorable, admit when it’s hard but do not harden because of it. Forgiveness in itself is a deep and fulfilling practice.

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The Teacher’s Energy

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Veronique coming into Virabhadrasana A

Veronique coming into Virabhadrasana A

I love that precious time in the morning, when everything is quiet, and the teacher self practices, breathing his or her energy into the space, laying down the blueprint for the class to come…

Things have gone full circle again as I return to Osaka, this time to cover for Veronique Tan, who took over the Spirit Mysore program after I subbed for it 9 months ago. For the last three mornings, I have worked the mysore room with Veronique, assisting some familiar practitioners but also a lot of new ones.

And I am inspired–just as I imagine many of the students (there was a record number of students today at 27) who came to class this morning to send off their teacher. It’s amazing what one person can do in 9 months. And while Veronique herself relates that the program did not begin to grow until the spring months and humbly points out she’s not done much out of the ordinary–as an outsider with an inside seat I see things differently.

Barring certain logistical restrictions and external factors, for students to show up, the teacher must shows up first. And mere attendance will not do. For a teacher to truly show up they must practice in the same way they want their students to attend to class, with consistency and dedication, with flexibility and also compassion. First and foremost, the teacher must practice, really truly wholeheartedly practice–not for the student but for one’s self, not with any attachment to any particular goal other than to simply practice. Ideally, he/she must teach as he/she practices; ideally, he/she must live as he/she teaches–at least, as best as humanly possible.

In the last year, I have learned a great deal from not just the experience of teaching and the interaction with students but also from the teachers I have had the good fortune to cover for and learn from. I know I will continue to learn in this space even with Veronique all the way in Mysore, India. Lots to look forward to here at Spirit, where I will be subbing the Mysore program from July 1 to August 31.

Pyramids of Practice

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Pyramids of Practice

Spent the last weekend in Dashur, in the outskirts of Cairo. It was awesome to drive to our destination and to have the Dashur “bent” pyramid pop out of the landscape–the pyramid serving as proof of how incredibly mysterious and surprising life is, how much of it we don’t understand, how compelling it is, so full of untapped power and potential.

And so it is with practice. It can feel everyday, the landmarks looking so familiar. With regular, daily practice, we already know the way. It’s easy to take things for granted. To go on automatic.

Then something shifts. And we are suddenly aware of its power. It pops up like a great pyramid, an enigma, that pushes boundaries. It wakes something within us with a sort of strange understanding that goes beyond words. And we bow to it, with humility, with grace, and let it work its magic.

PHOTO: Dashur Pyramid. Speaking of magic: Inner Dance in an hour and a half in Ashtanga Yoga Cairo in Zamalek. 5pm. Yalla!

 

Resolution Starts with Practice

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Resolution Starts with Practice

So ends the first teaching week of the new year. Some folks are slow to restart their practice after the holidays, while others–like myself–want to get on with 2014 with guns blazing.

Whatever pace we begin with, one thing is certain: this fresh start has us making intentions, resolving to do this or to do that, to NOT do this or NOT do that. Maybe it’s to master a posture or, at the very least, perform it with some sort of adequacy. Maybe it’s to practice daily or twice, or thrice a week.

The thing is, when it comes to practice, you just need to practice. Show up–whether it’s on your own to self practice or to a mysore or led class with a teacher. Show up. Be present. And it simply starts.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said it best: “Practice, practice, all is coming…”

Feliz Fin de Semana a todo!/Happy Weekend to all! Fresh start again next week, hope you see yourself on your mat!

Photo: Pazzifica signage greeting students at the studio foyer. I am teaching here in Barcelona at Espacio Vacio in Yoga con Gracia till March 7. Monday to Friday morning mysore starts at 7am and finishes at 9:30am. Evenings are Mon/Wed 6-8pm, Tuesday/Thursday 6:30-8:30pm.

Feeling Feedback

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Feeling Feedback

There I was at kapotasana (pidgeon pose) yesterday morning nearly a week since touching heels. The New Year’s revelry in Sinai, trek back to Cairo, and travel to Barcelona–where it has taken some days to settle in both in life and in practice–had taken a toll on me. Needless to say, it was an intense five inhales and exhales.

As I sprung out of it, I felt an old emotion in my chest, a soft explosion, a subtle but potent release. I gasped aloud, grateful that I was alone self-practicing because crying came so very naturally with the breath. I felt my heart. I was surprised and relieved to feel a release from an old ache, which had been hiding so very stealthily in my body.

There you are, I thought, pulling myself together and getting on with the rest of practice–still crying, mind you.

Sometimes we can see it coming, this wave of emotion from some deep down place, moved out of its hiding place by one or a combination of unpredictable factors: real life events, an hour and a half of deep concentrated effort, strong intentions, a deep stretch or posture…

As a teacher, it’s quite a sight when you’re watching from a distance. The signs can be so clear, the flow of practice perturbed by the movements of the heart and mind. We actually look as delicate as we feel at these moments. The breath changes. The vinyasa stutters. The posture wobbles. Brows furrow. The face changes.

Other times it catches us unawares, and it feels a little bit like being an innocent bystander observing some great but secret shift happening in the mind, heart and body. And then it passes…sometimes softly, other times not so.

When it comes–and if you practice long enough and with enough consistency, these moments certainly will come–we must honor them. We must give ourselves enough space to observe this process called yoga, to learn the lessons that come, to work out what needs to get worked out. But this too needs to be balanced with a healthy amount of surrender, of letting things go and simply getting on with it, returning to the breath, returning to the steadiness of practice.

Photo: Mat laid out for my own practice this morning after the mysore class at Pazzifica Ashtanga Yoga in Barcelona. When I look at this photo I see a very special meeting place, where me and the deep down parts of me get to know each other intimately.