I’ve made it over the 300 week mark. Say what?!
What an amazing journey this has been! Some would say long but I’d say worth every single week!
The asana practice for this month’s teacher training was all about arm supported poses. Quite frankly, the harder or shall I say hardest asanas out there! Before the workshop we received multiple handouts on the anatomy of the shoulder joint as well as the biomechanics of the associated joints. I took a read through ahead of time and thought to myself, we will have our work cut out for us!
The upper extremity, in some cases, is the poor, neglected area of the body. The larger, more stable pelvis tends to get all the attention. This is no exception in my practice. Yes, I use my upper body but do I really USE my upper body to my advantage? Over the years, I’ve felt my mobility start to wane as I focus more on my hip and back (this week leading up to the workshop being a prime example). Even though I prepped ahead of time, I never know what learnings will come from my workshops.
The biggest take away was about alignment. I’m fully aware of scapular retraction/protraction/elevation/depression and humerus flexion/extension but it is one thing to have book knowledge and the other to put it into practice. Judi, the senior teacher, was adamant that we had proper alignment in the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints. Her main focus was on pronation of the wrist and external rotation of the humerus.
Another way to say it was the arms acted like ropes, you know, the rotation of the rope fibres curling around to provide integrity and support. The bones (ulna and radius) and muscles (forearm flexors and extension, too many to name) below the elbow going one way and the bone (humerus) and muscles (biceps and triceps) going the other. This opposite action around the elbow joint amazingly lengthened the arm and made it as solid as a taut rope.
The triceps was the key for me. How often have I outstretched my arms without really engaging my triceps to their full capacity?
Lots…and my posture (read: that hunched forward position) definitely can show the internal rotation of my humerus!
We went through multiple variations of Adho Muhka Svanasana (downward facing dog) to ensure we had proper movements before we headed into more complex poses as Chaturanga, Purvottanasana (inclined plank), Vasisthasana (side plank), Bakasana (crow pose), Parsva Bakasana (side crow), Mayurasana (peacock pose), Pincha Mayurasana (upright peacock, forearm stand) and Adho Muhka Vrksasna (handstand).
Thankfully, the pre-work we did, although exhausting, was exactly what we needed for the advanced poses. In every asana, I continually focused on the proper alignment, always thinking that my strength and foundation is coming from my wrist, elbow and shoulder joints.
In Tadasana, we mindfully worked through proper alignment in shoulder hyper-flexion, adduction and extension (similar to the arm movement initiation of sun salutations). What might have seemed like old hat or easy movement, was very difficult to do with full attention to alignment. Subsequently, my arms had increased mobility that even showed up in Utkatasana (chair pose).
Very much welcomed mobility!
Although I write about the physical, we also dove into the third Pada of the Yoga Sutras. We talked at length about Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (pure absorption). To be honest, I see these words on paper and since they are still somewhat foreign to me, I find it difficult to recall what they mean. Yet, after the workshop, I have a better understanding of the link to mindfulness and what Samyama is (the three - Dharana, Dhyana and Samahi - together constitute perfect disciple and self-control).
So much more work I need to do more on the philosophy! Probably another 300 weeks to do so!
It's one thing to learn all the physical poses in yoga, how they are "performed" and their Sanskrit name but there is a whole other side of yoga - the philosophy of practice.
Over the last couple weeks, I've come across the word "tapas" in my reading and while participating in various yoga DVDs. It stopped me in my tracks because I thought "tapas" meant food, appetizers to be exact. What does that have to do with yoga?
Well, like many words, there are multiple meanings and definitions for one single word. So in fact it can be used on a restaurant menu but also in the context of yoga philosophy.
I had to know more...
And in drops Patanjali again as Tapas is found in his writings. It is under his second limb of the eight limbed yoga system otherwise known as the Niyamas, or suggested observances. Tapas is referred to as austerity.
Okay, so sounds like non-indulgence. I've found others write about tapas as discipline or the means of doing the work. The word "tapas" in Sanskrit means "heat" and has been referred to the "fire within".
So how does this all fit?
Judith Hanson Lasater wrote it well on her website:
"This is the spirit of tapas: the willingness to follow through with difficult decisions while maintaining compassion for all the effects that those decisions might have for self and others. Tapas is ultimately measured in the consistent willingness to begin practice again and again, over and over again to bring awareness to this very moment. Ultimately nothing is more difficult than consistency. "
My many weeks of working on downward facing dog may be an example of tapas for me. In Yoga as Medicine book, Timothy McCall writes that downward facing dog is a good pose to build tapas.
Also, for me, pigeon pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana) this week and quite frankly, every time I practice this pose, it takes not only physical energy but mental toughness to get through holding the static hip stretch.
But others argue that it isn't about being pushed in a pose that works on tapas.
Regardless, the presence of this word popping up over and over the last while fits into others areas of my life. It has me thinking that I've been building tapas as a parent and as an individual wanting to contribute in this world.
Lots of single parenting lately due to circumstance beyond our control and what.I.hope.will.have.huge.impact-type project (not yet revealed!) that has been taking up a place (and space) in my mind and heart for a while. Both have pushed me and being consistent in vision and awareness has been key.
As with anything that is worth it, being consistent and enjoying the process (even when it sucks - ya pigeon pose, I'm talking to you!) is essential.
So, bring it on! How are you building tapas?
So this Patanjali guy, what's he all about? I've noted him before and even said I've started to read his work, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali but I don't fully understand who he is.
I picked up a copy of the Yoga Sutras, and if you don't know, it's someone else's interpretation of his Sutras that you'll find. Over 22 classical interpretations exist which doesn't include contemporary interpretations. I have Mukunda Stiles version because it proposes to be interpreted with the practice of yoga in mind. Okay, good place to start if I want to be a yoga teacher one day.
Here is what I've found out so far based on Stiles book...
"Patanjali is to Yoga what Buddha is to Buddhism."
His sutras are guidelines to self-realization. In other words, I see it as suggested recommendations to follow to achieve the most ideal yoga practice...and maybe life.
His Sanskrit name can be interpreted as "a lover of God" and thus, he isn't looked upon as the "one" or "creator of yoga" but a spiritual leader who shares his suggested way to practice.
And his book is separated into four sections with a total of 196 "antidotes". I haven't got much further in understanding the four sections. It seems that each section has a theme that touches on the nature of yoga, the practice or disciplines of yoga (I.e., the eight limbs of yoga), the manifestation that occurs with yoga and liberation gained from yoga. Kinda heavy and ooverwhelming to me at this point!!!
Stiles writes his interpretation in prose, kind of like a poem. My hope is that reading his version, it will be easy to understand and process what it's all about. Well, maybe. I can't say I'm an avid reader of poetry!
I haven't made it too far so more to come with answering questions about Patanjali.
Back to reading...and hopefully a peaceful pratice this week,
I'm reading an excellent book by Robert Holden called Be Happy. It was one of those random pick ups from the library from the shelf of recommended non-fiction reads. I partially think its the cover that drew me to it - colourful dots in a circle. Nonetheless, it has been an excellent read about his happiness course. My favorite quotes are:
"Your ego can desert your heart, but your heart cannot leave you. Thus, the enduring qualities of the heart - such as love, wisdom, courage, strength and hope - are available to you the instant you make yourself available to them."
"You do not deserve happiness because happiness is free - there are no conditions."
"...the more grateful you are, the more present you become."
"Sometimes in order to be happy in the present moment you have to be willing to give up all hope for a better past."
"To be happy is to love. To love is to be happy."
There has not been one mention of yoga in Holden's book yet, to me the connection is obvious. The ideas in his quotes align with what my understanding is of the philosophies of yoga. Has anyone EVER left a yoga class unhappy? I harbor the guess that the percentage is low if not insignificant. It has been a pleasure exploring my happiness with his book and as I read, my yoga practice almost always pops up in my head.
Now I alluded to the fact it is "my understanding" of yoga philosophy. And with that, I just started to crack the spine of another book - Yoga Sutras of Patanjai. I know very little about Patanjai and thus, have one of the many interpretations of his Sutras. Thank you library, again.
I dove in head first with my eyes searching for the word happy or happiness. I didn't have to go far to find it...
"By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards happiness, compassion towards suffering, delight towards virtue, and equanimity towards vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened."
I, 33 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Happiness, as individual as it is, fits well with yoga in my books. It is one of the main reasons I do it and want to share it one day with others as a teacher.
With it being Thanksgiving this weekend, it was time to reflect on what we
have in our worlds and what we are most grateful for.
How often do you reflect on what you are thankful for? More than once a year?
I find that my yoga practice is the time where I reflect the most. It quiets the mind and allows for a focus on what is important (no multitasking allowed!) I
particularly love the yoga teachers who ask questions and allow for inner
reflection at the beginning, middle and end of class. It's almost like the yoga
practice is then more of a mental challenge versus a physical challenge.
What resonates a lot during my individual practice is the power, grace and beauty of the human body. I am grateful that my body allows me to move and breathe, which nourishes the mind, body, and soul.
In the writings of Patañjali, an ancient yoga scholar, he writes of the Eight
Limbs of Yoga. I know the very basics of his writing from my academic yoga class but I thought to myself there must be somewhere in his writings where he references gratitude. I went searching and found that under the second limb, Niyamas, or the "rules" or "laws" of personal observance, he highlights a similar idea with Santosha. Santosha might align well with gratitude. It is being satisfied with what one has. Maybe in other words, thankful for what we have?
I will leave the readings of Patañjali for another day but practicing yoga daily,
weekly, monthly sure allows me to reflect on what I am thankful for more than once a year!
And I'd be remiss if I didn't reflect on what I am thankful for beyond my yoga practice.
It is in these moments that I am most grateful...the wonderful people I
have in my life (the newest edition exploring the world!)
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.