Saturday, 28 June 2014

Keep summer with you

Chase bubbles

Seven Arrows Sunday

I went to Seven Arrows, my friends' beautiful retreat center in Jersey, for Summer Solstice. We sopped up every sweet drop of the longest day on Saturday: Chanting in the sunrise from the dock, stretching in the green grass, eating, savoring, offering, making, burning, loving, sitting by the water under twinkling stars... It was very fine. Then on Sunday, a little stillness. Reflection. Space for whatever wanted to land—just like a butterfly—to land. To be, for a little, then fly away. Longing, melancholy, deep contentment... and just... birdsong.

I picked up my friend's guitar in the yoga studio. The window and doors were wide open onto the grass and trees. My friend lay on the wood floor. I played and hummed whatever came. It felt good.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Go slow

It occurs to me that one rarely hears people saying, "Oh my life is just too simple! I wish it were more complicated!"

This thought came to me as part of the process of readjusting from life in India back to life in New York, and was followed by another one: Slow down. Simplify.

Later that night, I saw a clip on YouTube of Liz Gilbert, talking about how she assimilated what she'd learned at the ashram she'd visited, which had partly inspired her book Eat, Pray, Love. Here's what she said:

"It's like protecting this little match that I lit in India, and I feel like my job now is to cup my hand around it and make sure that the shearing winds of capitalism and industrialism and competition don't blow it out. And that involves moving slower. Saying no. Rejecting some of the aspirations that I might otherwise have had. Being content with what you already have is an art form that leads to a peace that can't be replaced by anything else."

Simplify. Slow down.

So I decided to practice the first sequence I ever taught. Nice and slow and simple. Make room for learning and light.

Warm ups, Surya Namaskar. High lunge/Vira 2 flow, Trikonasana. Prasaritta Padotanasana. Vrksasana with hands in prayer, focus on Shushuna Nadi. Setubhandasana. Supine twist. Badakonasana. Savasana.

I went to India

I went to India. To see my friends, and my teacher, and myself.

I'd been warned about going to India in May. That it would be too hot and too wet. The people at the ashram suggested August would be more pleasant, and I was far more likely to be able to spend time with my teacher. Even when I got to the ashram, one devotee cheerfully told me, "Oh, you've come at the wrong time!"

I had "low" expectations for my visit—in that I just didn't know what I was going to get. And what actually ended up unfolding was so joyful and full and perfect. A wedding in Bombay with the dearest new friends imaginable; in Kerala, my teacher singing and giving darshan and giving out masala dosas; after that, being drizzled in warm milk at an Ayurvedic center in green palm paradise. Huge opportunity for reflection, and gentle dismantling, softening, and re-wrapping of the self.

It was as if having a blank slate makes room for surprise.

While I was at the ashram, I saw a sign on the wall in the Indian accommodation office, quoting my teacher; it talked about expectation making beggars of us. It took me some time to digest this. It seems to me that expectation is so often about wanting—we want (or don't want) something so badly that we'll do anything for it.

I felt very open and curious in India. What was interesting to me is that the expectations started happening when I got home. With work, and people I wanted to see, the things I'd been longing for while away, the habits that had been humming along...

Expectations around the unknown—around travel, adventure and discovery are one thing. But expectations where you already have a lot of related experiences, narratives and patterns can be harder to manage. So I've been trying to make space for life here to bloom and be what it is, just like in India. And I'm practicing this on the mat. Letting the experience and the poses be new, and letting sitting be now. Giving myself the luxury of being present.

This joyful sequence is designed to open the heart and quiet the mind.

Shivananda sun salutations. Surya Namaskar A, B. Utkatasana twist, lunge twist. Vira 2/high prayer flow. Trikonasana, Parsvokonasna. Ekapadarajakapotasana, starting with leg bind/chest open, then fold. Salabasana, Dhanurasana. Sphinx, Bhujangasana. Frog. Restorative sphinx. Forearm plank/dog flow. Sirsasana. Ustrasana. Reclined twist. Happy baby. Paschimotanasana. Suptabadakonasana. Savasana.

On not knowing

Notes from class in March...

I graduated! Having been so excited. Such a joyful day, after a year of training. I was overwhelmed by bedtime, then the next day felt strange and a bit teary. It took me a full 24 hours to realise I was really sad at this chapter of my life rounding itself up. Of course!

If we expect to feel something, we can get a bit off-center when something else shows up. It's the same with our fantasies of daily life—we set ourselves up for one thing, and get another. It doesn't always have to be this way.

Atha Yoga Nusasanam
-Yoga Sutras, 1, 1

Meaning, Now, Yoga happens. Union is now. Now is Union. Atha.

When we practice asana on the mat—atha, now—we give ourselves little chances to notice and not expect, to see and experience and not judge—or at least notice ourselves doing it, when we do it. As we will.

"Every thought, every feeling, every sensation or action is enlightenment; but we do not realise it... We are never separated from it. There is no need to look for enlightenment in any other place than where we are. It is there, unrecognized, in every moment."
-Spectrum of Ecstasy, Ngalpa Chogyam.

Super-simple sequence, working towards shoulderstand:

Seated meditation, neck warmups, Uttanasana, Surya Namaskar. High lunge with Garudasana arms to widen through scapula. Vira 2 to Trikonasana. Prasarrita Padotanasana with fingers interlaced to open hams and chest, bringing shoulderblades together. Setubhandasana to open chest and shoulders. Supine twist. Apanasana. Sarvangasana. Halasana. Restorative Matsyasana. Savasana.

Letting go

500 Hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training thesis
March, 2014

To want and not to have, sent all up her body a hardness, a hollowness, a strain. And then to want and not to have—to want and want—how that wrung the heart, and wrung it again and again!
—Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

Oh, what it is to cling! How familiar we are with the mechanics of seeking, desiring, and holding on for dear life to a person, a quality, a plan or a dream that may be complete fantasy—and yet how difficult it can be to keep ourselves from repeating the same patterns again and again in our daily life.

Clinging is a huge part of most humans’ life experience. Our tendency to clutch is commonplace—expected, even. The feelings we associate with unsatisfied wanting are the basis for so much literature, so many poems and pop songs; the motivation for political decisions, the source of familial divisions.

And let’s be clear before we go any further, there is a difference between longing and clinging. Longing is a deep throbbing of the heart for something huger than itself; longing has a musical quality. Ancient religious texts hum and sing with longing. It has a resonant, sweet tone, even when tinged with sadness.

Clinging, in its various forms, tends to feel uncomfortable. Try physically gripping on to anything for an extended period of time—the cuff of your sweater, whatever is next to your hand right now—and you quickly see its exhausting, enervating effects. And even more uncomfortable than clinging is letting go of that clinging. Letting go of a known fantasy of your own devising in favor of an unknown reality can be tough. Few of us are well equipped to deal with this. But the good news is that letting go is something that we can address with actual, tangible tools: with tried and tested techniques, as well as compassion and intelligence.

We’ll explore of the dynamics of attachment—how we do it, how it manifests physically and emotionally, and how we might begin to let go—through the lens of Yoga and Ayurveda, and then later from a Buddhist perspective.

Like so many of us, I have wrestled with grasping and the ability (or lack thereof) to let go. Raised in a loving family which fell apart when I was a child, I longed for security and developed a habit of anxious holding-on. It’s taken a committed yoga practice, therapy, and the blessing of some colorful close relationships to begin to see attachment for what it is, and see letting go as a really great option—rather than a loss. I am so happy to be able to share what I have learned, in the hope that we might all be spared a little heart wringing, and that we may instead uncover some ease and steadiness with which to welcome in joy.

And Paradise does come
Paradise comes like a breeze and like a breeze
drifts elsewhere than where we are at the time
and we have no way of following the wind
to the world’s end.
—Gavin Bantock, Joy