Thursday, June 30, 2011

Killer Yoga....Reloaded

If you've read my first blog entitled "Killer Yoga" this is my follow up.

I decided that my first experience was just that, an experience.  I bought a week long pass for $20 on the first day that I took Bikram's Yoga last week.  Of course after I finished the class, I didn't think I'd go back.  I walked out during the last 10 minutes of the first class with a headache, I couldn't mentally remain in the room (nor could I physically at the end) so in my head it was a wrap!  Then I started thinking, it was my first time maybe I could go again.  Who knows?  It might be different.  I should give it another chance.  I started thinking about new students and what kind of things I could share from my experience.  I wanted to try it one more time.... I guess to be sure about it.  Maybe I didn't like it because I felt so bad or maybe I just didn't like it at all.  I am one who loves to investigate and the only way to do that was to take "Killer Yoga" again.

Before I could make it to the lovely city of  Northville I noticed a rash on my legs that we quite uncomfortable.  I noticed it mostly when I walked.  I had a bit of redness and swelling and was obviously having an allergic reaction.  So of course I began to come up with all the reasons that I should not go to yoga.  I told myself that maybe this is my body's way of telling me I should rest.  I might irritate my legs even more if I was active and moving a lot because it became very uncomfortable when I walked.   I was really trying to talk myself out of going to this Bikram's Yoga class.  In my mind I had started planning to go wash clothes and do some reading assignments and other homework for school instead of yoga.  I was trying to do everything except Bikram's Yoga!   I realized that I was trying to talk myself out of going..... So I went anyway.

Maybe the second time was the charm.  As I lay there on my mat, I wondered if on some smaller scale this was what Arjuna when through when he was despondent on the battlefield.  He didn't want to go to war against his kinsmen.  He came up with every reason not to fight a righteous battle.  Luckily for him he had God at his side.  As do we, sometimes we don't think of it in that way, but it's that almost silent whisper urging us to keep on, urging us to do the right things.  That is the silent voice of God.  What we may call conscience.  I digress.  Back to Bikram's Yoga.  I was able to stay in the room, mentally and physically.  The practice was not strenuous for me as it was on my first try.  It was definitely challenging, but I made it through 'til the end.  I felt like I had accomplished something.  Not sure that I want to be patting myself on the back for completing a 90 minute class.  I don't need a reward for doing yoga.  Yoga is the reward!  I am glad that I gave it another try, now I have something to share with my future students.  Sometimes you have to do things even when everything within you is screaming opposite.  Talk it out.  Be aware of the mind chatter that tries to stop you from what is good for you.  It will try to give you a pass to not do yoga or anything else that is good for you with a myriad of reasons.

Killer Yoga Reloaded was still hot, still sweaty, I still had a slight headache when I left, but it didn't last through the next day, it only lasted for about another hour.  I continued to drink water and kept it moving.  My body felt great the next day.  No strain, stress, or muscle soreness.  I went back to my personal practice the next day without any difficulty.  While Bikram's Yoga is still not my personal favorite or preference, I would suggest that anyone who can handle strenuous physical movement try it, at least once, or maybe twice.  I sure am glad that I did. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Killer Yoga

Observing and taking Yoga classes are part of my yoga teacher training. I've heard about Bikram's Yoga for more than a few years now. Until this point, I was never curious enough to take it.  Maybe the 105° temperature was too much of a deterrent.  I read an article about Chodury Bikram many years ago, and from what I recall nothing about him moved me.  What I do recall is that he studied hatha yoga with my guru Paramahansa Yogananda's youngest brother Bishnu and that he owned several Rolls Royces. Also his yoga studios in America required  students who wanted to become teachers to pay $5000 to become certified in his methods and if yoga studios wanted to teach his methods and bare his name and style of yoga, it had to become a franchise. Names don't impress me nor do fancy cars, but the effects of yoga certainly have impressed me for years.   I am sure that as a teacher I will have students who will ask me about Bikram's and many other types of yoga.  Since one can only speak from experience I decided to take the plunge.  I started in sivasana before the class began so that I could acclimate myself to the heat of the room.  Class began in Tadasana. There I stood in my tall mountain sweating as if I had been transported to Mysore in the midst of summer.  We began breathing in a way that was not familiar to me. Hands clasped under the chin palms facing down. The elbows started out above the shoulders pointed  towards the left and right respectively.  As you inhaled you drew your forearms upward lifting your head backward while making and audible sound with the breath as your elbow pointed toward the ceiling.  As you exhaled you brought your head back down and drew the forearms  together while keeping them away from the chest, with the elbows pointing toward the floor while making an audible expiration.  By the time we finished about 20 rounds of this breathing my body was dripping sweat. Yes, there is a reason why they tell you to bring a towel for your mat.  You actually need one towel for your body and another one for the mat. My 17 ounces of room temperature water was not sufficient, I am sure I sweated out three times as much water before the class ended.  I don't want to sound whinny but the class was killer. Don't get me wrong, I like sweat inducing yoga.   I actually love sweating (in yoga) and prefer the Ashtanga method in my own personal practice however, I'd have to agree with a fellow newbie that left the class about half way through "that was brutal!" he exclaimed as he rolled up his mat and existed the building.
I had to exist the class twice, the first time due to nausea and the final time due to a headache.  I remained outside for the last 10 or so minutes breathing and resting.  I have a fairly strong daily practice but the holding of the postures in that heat was killer.  I did notice that I was able to do forward folds deeper and my head almost touched my knee.  I hadn't been that close to kissing my knee in a long time.  I saw some students in postures doing some amazing things, but I am reminded of what one of my teachers tells us all the time: "stay in the room.  If your mind is elsewhere, you're not practicing yoga, you're getting a good workout.  Yoga is here!" (as he points one finger toward his head.)  I could not be in the room. It was too overwhelming for me.  The postures were choppy, we held most of them for a long time and the heat just wore me out.  I'd been in high heat before though, in classes with multiple teachers on a regular basis so I think that this style and the temperature didn't agree with me.  After the class I said to myself that I'd go back and try it one more time since I bought a week pass.  But the truth of the matter is that I needed to listen to my body.  It was screaming "Oh no you don't".  The headache lasted for half of the next day.  I kept drinking water in hopes that it would subside.  Eventually I recuperated and shortly after noon the next day I was back to normal.  Obviously there are lots of people that love Bikram's yoga.  That's the only style they've practiced and it agrees with them.  I however am not one of them.  I'd tell my students to try out different styles and see what they like.  Would I encourage them to try Bikram's?  Yes, with a caveat!  Here's my experience, yours may be different, go see for yourself, what works. 

This is yoga on the mat!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yoga Teacher Training Retreat: Song Of The Morning Ranch

The Song of The Morning Ranch Yoga Teachers Retreat was amazing.  I have been calling it the best holiday weekend ever!  For me it truly was.  It was full of realizations, clarity, bonding and of course Yoga.

If you have never been to this Yoga Retreat Center, I implore you to go.   It was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of living in the concrete jungle.  There is no cell phone service at the Ranch so be prepared to be completely unplugged.  It is certainly an adjustment from the concrete jungle of city living.  Dare I say that it is a good adjustment.

Learning to be in nature, to give yourself time and space away from the stress that life is sure to bring.
You truly owe it to yourself, at least once per year.  Go on a trip, that's not about business or not about 
doing things.  Make this a trip to just be. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Dangers of Dilution

We had a discussion in our philosophy class yesterday about the word Brahmacharya. It was pretty in-depth in its scope. I was reminded of something this morning as I soaked in the tub with two of my yoga sutras books in tow. There is a danger in diluting the definition of Sanskrit words. Some things can get lost in translation.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2:38 reads:

Brahmacharya Pratistayam Virya Labhah

Brahmacharya = Celibacy or Continence
Pratishthayam = Having established
Virya = Vigor
Labhah = gained

In class on Friday night we were discussing this verse. We spent a considerable amount of time on this topic. We read from multiple translations and they all have something to offer to the subject matter. The crux of the matter here is the word Bramacharya. It is sometimes translated as moderation, continence or celibacy (the latter being the most common translation amongst writers of Indian origin). I must admit that when I read the word continence I think about those Depends or Detrol commercials. What is incontinence? It is not being able to retain. So continence must its opposite. In this case however we are talking about sex, or sexual energy. Not just the physical act of sex but even the mental focus on sex. Where your consciousness goes, the energy follows. When brahmacharya gets translated as moderation, the essence of it gets lost in translation. It is my own personal feeling that celibacy is not a palatable word or practice for many if not most westerners. This is why I believe western writers translate the word to mean moderation. However, by doing so I believe that they dilute the meaning and effectiveness of the practice (no matter how well-intentioned they are). A vow of brahmacharya is not for the feint at heart. It is a withdrawal of the energy from the sexual center and transforming it. It is powerful creative energy. Ultimately we can use the energy to create children, ideas, art, music and a myriad of different things. Sexual energy is creative energy and by withdrawing it from the sex center we can find ourselves transformed on so many different levels. This is the wisdom of the sages of old. By keeping the teaching free of dilution you are able to grasp and utilize the power that is stored and created by the practice of brahmacharya. Celibacy is nothing to be feared. Our western culture expends a lot of energy talking about sex, snickering about other people and whom they have sex with and being told that we are sexual beings and to be free and open with sex. We are not taught how sacred sex is. Not in a religious dogmatic, “thou shalt not” kind of way, but in an energetic way. Energy gets shared and mingled before the physical act of sex. You transmit energy from the eyes of one to the other. Just think, you can give your beloved a look that says it all without speaking. This is a very potent powerful energy. Think of what you can do with that energy if transferred to other creative endeavors. In my own personal practice (years ago) I practiced brahmacharya for several months, during that time I used that energy for meditation and the devotional practice of Chanting. I learned to play the harmonium and devoted lots time to playing and singing, this took me within to a place of peace that passeth understanding. It can be channeled into writing for writers, art for the artist or whatever moves you creatively. Try it without judgment for a predetermined period of time and practice your chosen creative expression during this period. Come up with one thing that you focus on so as not to scatter your efforts. In this way you will see, like the yogis of old, that brahmacharya is a powerful force for creativity.

This is yoga off the mat!


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Study to show thyself approved

I was sitting here reading, studying the yoga sutras and answering homework questions.  All of a sudden I found myself lost in the Sanskrit invocation to Patanjali.  I was supposed to be answering what the five kleshas (obstacles) are.  The chanting of the Sanskrit words lifted my consciousness.  There was a noticeable vibrational change that was so obvious to me while chanting.  I felt a subtle concentrated energy in my third eye.  I've always felt that there was something to chanting that just lifts the mind out of worldly consciousness. Even though I was a bit sidetracked from my homework, I was determined to intone these difficult Sanskrit words that were strung together like a tight string of pearls.  There was a sweetness to it, during and after that chanting.  It calmed my mind and made me unaware of obstacles.  Maybe that was just what I needed because I was trying to study and solve my summer childcare problem at the same time, with some feelings of consternation. Those Sanskrit verses gave me a break from the obstacle that I was ruminating on.
  One of the earlier questions in my homework was: Practicing Kriya Yoga brings what results?  My answer: it decreases obstacles and brings samadhi.  Well, I don't have samadhi yet, but the self imposed suffering from the obstacle has certainly decreased.  Kriya yoga in this instance means the yoga of action (not the spiritual technique given through initiation).  By the action (kriya yoga) of chanting this invocation to the great sage Patanjali, the waves of my mind were stilled (Chitta Vritti Nirodhah).  Yes, there are many different ways to practice yoga and it is moving and proving itself in my life the more I study and practice.  This reminds me of when I was a little girl, my mom gave me a bible and in it she wrote "Study to show thyself approved" (2 Timothy 2:15).  Though she didn't know it at the time, I would certainly follow that path, in yoga it is called svadhyaya (self study).

This is yoga off the mat!


Sunday, June 12, 2011

Caught up in concepts?

There are so many commentaries on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  I have recently read the sutras all the way through, without the commentary.  The first book that I had on the sutras, has been in my possession for at least 5 years.  I have never been able to finish it.  It is a difficult and dry read.   Mind you, I have no problem reading things that are philosophical and heady.  Case in point: I've been reading "God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita" (Gita commentary) by Paramahansa Yogananda for years as well as the thin but consciousness shifting book "The Holy Science" By Swami Sri Yukteswar.  I'm trying to figure out what my problem is, or if I even have a problem at all.

In my yoga teacher training program we were encouraged to get the yoga sutras commentary, however we didn't have to all have the same book.  I remember seeing the Satchidananda version recommended for another teacher training program and I'd never read any of his writings before so I decided to get it.  First portion - great.  Loved the anecdotes, explanations and expositions on what Patanjali conveyed and how to apply it to the modern world.  But while reading the second portion as I was preparing for class this week, I was taken aback.  The portion I was reading was on ahimsa.  Ahimsa is commonly translated as non-violence.  In this translation he said that it went even deeper than physically acting out against another, he translated it as non harming.  When you look at ahimsa that way it becomes an all encompassing practice that goes beyond physical acts of violence and vegetarianism. 
    As I read further, the author said that Gandhi had not yet perfected ahimsa, and basically that maybe if he had perfected it,  his assassin would not have had the thought in his mind to kill him.  That was the most jarring and unexpected thing that I've read in a yoga treatise.  I am wondering why this chitta (mind stuff) is affecting me so much?  I've ready several books about Gandhi's life. I've read about his death and how even as he was being shot to death, he put up his hands in a sign of benediction for his killer. So in my mind this is nothing short of perfection of ahimsa.... Who right now would bless their killer even at the moment of death?  For me this made Gandhi a true modern day exemplar of Christ's teachings, even though he was a Hindu by birth.   
   There was this thought in my mind that says that there is this tendency to say that, all things that are bad we attract to ourselves (while that may be the case many times) this statement makes it appear as if people don't have free will to do horrible things (i.e. kill Gandhi, or MLK, or insert name here).  It's so hard not to get bogged down in the idea of karma and the law of attraction but it seems like everyone throws those two things around when they don't have a way to explain things.  It's simple easy and very neat.  There is no need for further investigation because those two laws just take away the need for further exploration.  Am I over thinking it, or are some things just oversimplified too often?  I have no freaking idea.  I just know that those words about Gandhi almost made me put the book down entirely.  Or shall I say that particular commentary.  I know that I can be an all or nothing kind of person and that is something that I'm working on changing, so I gave myself a few minutes.  I put the book down and picked it back up when I was ready to have another go at it. But in all honesty for my own expansion of understanding and desire to delve further into the sutra's I've already ordered a different  commentary (of which I am awaiting delivery at the time of this writing), and I'm almost sure that I will also be purchasing the commentary by B.K.S. Iyengar as well.  (I will also finish the commentary that I started with, by Sri Swami Satchidananda)

Question to the readers:
When reading a concept or idea in a scripture or book of spiritual substance that is difficult to process or believe, what do you do with it?

Thanks for reading my ramblings here.  I'd love some feedback if you've had any experience with the sutras or something along those lines.  I don't claim to have the answers, but I am certainly exploring the depths of yoga.  I owe it to myself and my future students.

This is yoga off the mat!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Sanskrit: Yoga Words and Wisdom

Sanskrit: Yoga Words and Wisdom
This week I thought I would introduce a Sanskrit word because we teach yoga classes here at Irene’s and also because yoga has a metaphysical component that, on a personal level, I think should never be divorced from its physical practice.

The word is Titiksha.  Titkisha on the surface means discipline. It also means patience, endurance, forebearance, evenmindedness or equanimity.  By bearing whatever comes your way, without letting it sway your mind, body, or emotions in one direction or another you are practicing titiksha.
I usually practice the physical aspect of Titiksha by going out in the cold weather with lighter clothing on and conditioning my body to be as comfortable in the cold as it is in the warm summer months.
Mentally/Emotionally I practice titiksha by doing the following: when someone says something that would normally be upsetting to me I don’t respond negatively and I just let the mind rest in whatever they say.  Then, I do a mental check list and ask myself: is any of what they said true, and are there changes that I need to make in my behavior or character?.  On the flip side, I do not allow myself to be elated by praise any more than I am upset by blame. By doing this the mind and body are calm, both of which the practice of yoga encourages.

I am noticing that as the weather warms up and I am practicing in heat and humidity that my body resists at first.  The mind chatter starts by telling me it’s too hot.  This is going to be awful, the sweat is going to pour, etc.  Then the practice begins.  The conversation in my head continues at first, and then gradually it gives way to the breath of the practice.  I love yoga because if I just breathe, the thoughts subside and it’s just me on my mat practicing.  Titiksha starts with the mind.  You cannot control the body unless the mind first cooperates.

Yoga, when practiced in its fullness, can offer you a new way of dealing with the challenges and triumphs of everyday life.  Yoga can help free you from emotional upheavals and mental stress in a way that is natural, non-evasive and as inexpensive as a few really good books and good meditation techniques.
Try practicing titiksha with effort and determination., I’m sure you will see the benefit of this practice in many areas of your life!

Book Suggestions:
specifically read  pages 200- 205

The above version is one of several that I’ve read It’s very to the point, clear and concise.  It makes sense and gives clear analogies that you can associate with modern life.

Several people in my teacher training class are using this version and I like that it breaks down each sanskrit word and gives you multiple meanings, it makes it clearer and forces you to examine it a little further than the simplicity of the sutra on the surface.