Friday, June 17, 2011


Yesterday, struggling to keep up with tweets, I was knocked down by this one:

“There is no such thing as an advanced variation. My body can not be more advanced than yours. It's just mine, and yours is yours.”

Whoa. Talk about changing my teaching in three quick sentences.

This came from Michael Taylor, a yogi I've followed for a while. In his profile picture, he’s rocking a pretty awesome pose. I’ve never practiced with him -- I’ve never even met him.

Though I am an active, vocal advocate for yoga for every body, I know I think of variations of poses in an hierarchy. And I know I have refered to them in the context of the hierarchy in my classes. Students who might have been turned off by this: please, please accept my apology.

Interestingly (or obviously, I suppose) I owe this same apology to myself. This hierarchical thinking about the poses has infiltrated my own practice, as well. I can hear myself thinking as I take a “prep” pose that someday, maybe someday, enough practice of the “prep” will lead me to the really cool “advanced” version, as if where I am isn’t good enough or doesn’t count. I’m going to have to turn that tape off -- I know it too well.

Of course, in yoga teacher training, like everyone else, I learned about the beauty of the beginner’s mind. But am I always able to get down with it and love it? Apparently not. It is so easy to be wowed (by others). And so easy to compare (mostly me to whatever is “better”). And even easier to discount (my own practice because it isn’t as awesome as _________). Easier to get my head out of my own practice and out of the moment. So I need to listen to Michael Taylor to pay back my practice the honor it is due. A more advanced practice does not exist. There is only the practice. My pose is just mine, and yours is yours.

Many people, myself included, begin practice with eyes closing and tuning into the breath. This begins to move the gaze -- the attention, really -- inward to what is important. Each of our hearts is the unique crystal of our own practice, the divine essence that we share with everyone and everything. Looking inward keeps our eyes off other people’s mats because it just doesn’t matter what is there.

When I read Michael’s tweet, I immediately thought of how it tied back to so many of the yamas and niyamas, yoga’s ethical guidelines. It speaks to Ahimsa in not thinking violent thoughts towards oneself, to Asteya in not coveting what someone else has, to Santosha in practicing contentment, to Svadhyaya, knowing oneself, and Ishvara Pranidhana, surrender to something bigger than oneself. And back to the concept of the beginner’s mind: in the start of each practice, we begin, and we are still beginning at the end. This openness to what is, this willingness to allow the breath to bring us into the pose (whatever version), without judgement, is pure love.

Just as I know my breath is mine and yours is yours, so it is as well with the asanas and all the other elements of the practice. We are not categorized or divided by how we practice, we are united by the very fact that we do it. Thanks for reminding me, Michael.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The List

Inspired by beautiful fellow yogini Nancy at Flying Yogini, I started thinking about (and drafting) my yoga bucket list. It goes on and on and on already! Maybe too much, in fact, as my yoga journey got fired up a little later in life than some, and there might not be time for it all. But yoga is about being here, now, in the present, so I have to believe that the right items will be checked off my list -- as I know they will be from my friend's list.

But one item on my list sticks out to me: I want to have a more yogic household, a home and family more inspired by and in tune with the principles and philosophies of yoga I hold dear. What struck me about this item is that there is nothing to stop me from doing this RIGHT NOW. I am responsible (with my dear husband, of course) for the way in which we treat each other, what we teach our children, and how our house is kept. We are not just inhabitants of this house, we are instead the light of this home, together and collectively.

Let's be honest: a lot of times I don't feel like such a divine light and the home doesn't feel much like a beacon either. A home with two little children isn't all blissed out all the time. There are plenty of raised voices and crying, unhealthy foods, clutter everywhere, frantic movement. Not exactly like an ashram, if you know what I mean. But at the root of all the madness is our love for one and other and our gratitude for the great lives we have. And here is the seed of our yogic home.

So here I will begin to sow the seed and see what flowers forth. Maybe I just need an easy to do list to get things going. Here are a few things I think we can do to start:

- Be more conscious of how we communicate with each other, being mindful to honor each other as the divine beings we are

- Actively integrate seva, selfless service, into our family life

- Be on my mat more often: in keeping with that old saying Happy Mama, Happy Baby

- Incorporate a yoga practice (an age-appropriate one) into the kids' lives more regularly, and find ways to practice yoga with my husband

- Work to de-clutter our home wherever possible so we have fewer distractions and more peace

- Persevere in cooking the healthy, vegetarian food I love, even when it seems too time consuming or tiring

It's the start, I think, of something wonderful -- and it could grow into much more: a way for us all to be a part of and relate to the world around us in a most positive way. I have more ideas that might be a bit more involved, but I need to find a steady comfortable pose for our home life, so to speak. When we make adjustments in our asanas, it takes practice to make them flow. To deepen, we move to the edge and then back off just slightly so we can soften and sing. So it will be in making changes in our home -- it will take practice. But like Sri K. Pattabhi Jois said, "Practice ... and all is coming."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Down in the dumps

No, no, not those dumps.

The other dumps. I'm dumping into my hips in lunges (and many other poses, of course), and it's getting more and more annoying in my practice. I'm finding it particularly inhibiting in lunges in Surya Namaskar when I have to step the back foot forward, and there I am. Stuck in the front leg hip. I have to really push off to move the energy and my body forward. No good. It certainly doesn't feel good on my tender ankle. In fact, it feels like yanking. And I'm pretty sure there's no yanking in yoga.

I know what you're going to say. You're not working from your core. Well, duh. I know. Ever since the "quick" c-section I had four years ago, it is hard to access that core strength. And honestly, I hate the word core. Oh I know, there's no hating in yoga, either. But as soon as I hear that word, I feel like I'm in a screaming Jillian Michaels workout. I'm not a big fan of that sort of thing. More importantly, I don't want my yoga to be reduced to one muscle group. And yet my yoga isn't going anywhere without my abdominal muscles.

So today I revived a cue I learned from Debbie Kurilla, one of my YTT teachers. Hug in to the midline. I like this a bit better and avoids that other word. It's a little more imagery-based than just saying engage your abdominals. For me right now, I think that works. It's a little gentler -- after all, it's got a hug in it. Gentler feels good -- and feels far way from that workout-bunny paradigm. I had some success applying this cue to my standing balance poses -- poses that are particularly challenging for me. So let's see where this takes me.

Here's the thing: I know that my issue with my abdominal muscles is more than just an issue with the muscle fiber. Stuff has built up there -- the trauma of a difficult birth experience and probably more --to be uncovered and tended to with love. Thus begins that endeavor. As I know it is more than just my body, I know that more than just asana needs to be applied here. This calls for my whole yoga.

So I guess this is just a riff on my last post -- it's about honoring where you are, wherever you are. Or maybe it is the beginning of a much different deeper post.

I know everyone has these practice hurdles to jump -- wanna share yours?