Posts Tagged ‘yoga’

The Dharma of Being You: Ain’t That a Kick in the Head?

I went to my Friday a.m. yoga class and it began with the teacher, Susan, invoking the Bhagavad Gita and a podcast she recently listened to from Hetain Patel, who said “every time I fail to become more like my father, I become more like myself.” The gist of it is that we shouldn’t waste our time trying to emulate aspects of other people we admire—we should become more authentically ourselves. The BG says something to the effect of “it is better to do your own dharma imperfectly than to do someone else’s dharma perfectly.” The closer we get trying to emulate someone else, the less like ourselves we become. It’s such a great lifelong lesson, one I wish someone would teach to every adolescent in this country. But that’s another story.

How foretelling this would be, I had no idea when class began. About halfway through, we went to do pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room, with a partner for assistance. We were instructed to do it twice, kicking up with both legs. So I usually swing right and get up easily. Krissy was my expert assist and I was very close to getting up and sustaining it on my own with no wall, no falling. I must pause here for a second. This in and of itself is an accomplishment. Just a few months ago I was feeling the pose approach, puzzling over how a pose that you get into via momentum of leg kicking becomes something you can do with ease, away from the wall. How do you stop yourself? It’s a reminder that yoga is such a feel-it-out practice; it is not a think-it-through endeavor, although afterward I love deconstructing a pose with the best of ‘em. But as a rule, you have to get out of your head and drop totally into your body when you go upside down.

So, when I switched to using the left leg, I overdid it. On the third kick, I was so off kilter that I kicked Krissy in the side of face. I seriously hope she’s okay tomorrow. I came down hard on the left knee. It was so bizarre. Susan said, “What happened, did you have a spaz attack?” And I said, “Yes, that’s a perfect way to describe it.”

Later in the practice, we did some binding, which I don’t typically enjoy because I always need a strap. There are only so many things someone with short arms and a long torso can do in these situations. It’s frustrating to feel your limitations, especially when it comes ladled on top of a weird experiences such as kicking a teacher-classmate in the face. When there are binds with funky transitions to things like compass pose and then a final end in an arm balance, well, you lose me three quarters of the way through. Not my favorite, but it is what it is, and it’s all part of a practice.

We then moved to the wall, and did some more pincha: regular, followed by hollow back, followed by scorpion. Well, I could not get myself up into a sustained pincha to save my life, for either of the first two. I got into child’s pose and just started crying. I tried to stop judging myself;  my practice is my practice, but it just happens to be public right now. And I admonished myself for not practicing enough at home so that this would be effortless every time, like it seems to be for most other people (I know, problem number one—a ridiculous assumption on my part, but there it is, as fleeting as it was.) I wish I had more spare time to tinker with my poses. Way to go, yoga, for pushing all my creaky old buttons, yet again!

Something wacky happened on the third try, with the scorpion feet. I positioned myself without even thinking about it, and my hips magically floated me up. Suddenly, I was airborne, then tops of the feet took the wall, toes facing down. Magically, out of nowhere, Susan emerged to give me a lift under the sacrum and lower back. If I had the energy to do it again, I would have pulled away from the wall; I was a little crunched and didn’t want to aggravate a weird muscle pull I tweaked a couple weeks ago.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is, we can’t compare ourselves to other people. We can’t even compare ourselves to who we were the day before, the hour before, the minute before. This is liberating and frustrating at the same time. I once remember reading Wayne Dyer talk about how our cells are constantly changing, every second, so that the person I was when I sat down ten minutes ago to start this blog post isn’t the same person I am now. Whoa. Kind of heady, right?

In thinking about this and talking about it, I described this as “my pincha broke today.” Just when you think you have a pose, or you know something, or can do something, your head and your body sometimes don’t cooperate and you’re in a different place with it. I’m not back to square one, exactly. But it’s another reminder to drop any expectations and remain a detached observer. I guess today my dharma was to see what happened when I used an unfamiliar route to a familiar pose, and not let it all get stuck in my head. Even if that meant kicking someone else in the head.

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12 2014

The Great Shift

It’s coming. No, I’m not talking about the Rapture. I’m talking about 11.11.11, which is more than just a cool-looking date. It’s something bigger; intangible, seemingly inchoate. You won’t find any crass marketing schemes, T-shirts, annoying theme songs or in-your-face graphics, like you do with things such as made-up Hallmark holidays, snowstorms, or other extreme weather events. It’s not going to announce itself with a grand flourish.

Remember as a kid when the clock would hit 11:11 and you were supposed to make a wish, as if recognizing the time would bring good luck? I’m sure a math person or a numerologist could tell us how fortuitous it is. Heck, even a gambler could explain it a bit. What I’m talking about goes beyond just a calendar oddity. I’m talking about the dawn of the Age of Aquarius.

Stay with me. I promise, I’m not crazy.

Many people who practice yoga and/or Reiki, or who are otherwise energy workers, body workers, healers, seers, or simply spiritual beings who care deeply about the world around them, have been talking about this for quite a while, and preparing themselves. The Age of Aquarius is a time for us to come together. It’s a time for us to realize we’re all connected, and to break down these artificial yet very tangible walls we build around ourselves. It’s about seeking what’s real, and leading with the heart. It’s about doing good deeds and creating good karma.

You may have noticed that people around you seem to be in transition, trying to create more meaning, more authenticity, more things that matter, in their lives. I can’t tell you how many of my friends, family members, and acquaintances fall into this category, and not all of them are yoga students, teachers, spiritually-inclined, or healers (although some of them, admittedly, are.) Case in point: I was at my chiropractor the other day and one of the secretaries was talking to me about how she started meditating and has been reading Deepak Chopra. Now, granted, Chopra’s been around for a while, but how many people actually start doing what he suggests? She said she’s meditating for 20 minutes a day, twice a day, and I congratulated her. Most people can’t sit still for more than five minutes and simply observe their own thoughts without judgment.

The “Age of Aquarius” song may be running through your head by now, and you may be thinking about the ways in which history repeats itself–certainly that plays into this–until we learn from it properly. (This is true on a personal level, too.) I might argue the genesis of this goes back to 9-11-01; we’ve perhaps been preparing for it for a full decade. A terrible event showed us ways in which hatred destroys human lives, and Americans came together in ways that many of us had never experienced before. Many people decided to shift careers, change jobs, stop working, start working, or otherwise alter what their “life’s work” was. The mantra of “life’s too short,” became a painful understatement as much as a mantra.

It also explains why we elected a very different kind of president, who ran a very different kind of campaign built on people coming together and trying to get past the negativity of politics; the fact that he’s African-American is almost beside the point but not totally unrelated. Obama evoked the best of the ’60s grassroots but for this new age we’re finding ourselves in, and is trying, so far as I can tell, his damnedest, to do some good with his presidency in a very difficult time of economic crisis. We elected someone smart, literate, and who told us that he wasn’t afraid of making tough choices. Hold aside your judgment as to whether or not you think he’s doing a good job, quiet any latent cynicism about politics for a moment, and just try to remember what that felt like when the 2008 presidential campaign season kicked into full gear. It was exhilarating for many of us to see someone like Obama.

It may even also explain why green living and eco-friendly are everyday, mainstream terms. We’re trying to become more accountable. Surely, we can’t ignore global climate change, and we’re moving toward educating ourselves (In my town, I see this in Nurture Nature Center). Companies have incentivized the process of recycling with programs such as Recyclebank (even my city has enrolled the residents in it for recycling pick ups!), which basically operates on game theory. If we are doing even just a little bit, we’re making a difference toward healing the planet. It’s no accident, either, that as a country we’re reaching a tipping point on taking stock of where our food comes from (granted, documentary filmmakers have helped us in this regard–so have authors such as Michael Pollan). I would also say it explains the surge in farmer’s markets, the rising interest in buying fresh, buying locally, and eating seasonally and sustainably.

Globally, we’re seeing the collapse of currencies. We’re seeing it in the shifting tides of politics in the Northern rim of Africa. We’re seeing the member countries of the Euro come together and argue about whether or not they should function as a unit, and what those responsibilities mean, and what kinds of consequences are required when those responsibilities have been shirked. We’re seeing the massive problems that result when egos and nationalism get in the way. We’re seeing what happens when the banks behave unethically. We’re seeing the error of our selfish ways, as a people. The question is, are we going to do the right thing? Are we going to be able to move beyond just recognizing where we’ve screwed up, as a nation, and keep going toward the greater good?

I’ve had a lot of things tumbling on my mind in the past year or two, and I’ve been through some amazing experiences that are hard to explain. And they’re more often than not the kind of experiences that when you do put them down, type them, commit to them, they seem strange, unbelievable, or completely conjured. Suffice to say, I am experiencing a lot of shifts and going through my own spiritual awakening. When I was in my 20s, I had this odd sense that I was going to wake up sometime in my 30s and become Buddhist. I didn’t know how it would happen, that it would come as a result of a yoga practice, one which resumed because I was trying to heal myself physically after childbirth. When I started it up again, in early 2009, little did I know I was doing something way more sneakily beautiful, powerful and life-altering than that. I’ve dipped in and out of yoga for more than ten years, but this time it stuck because it needed to stick. I just didn’t know it; it’s completely gobsmacked me and changed me on a cellular level. I know my dosha (thanks, D.); I’ve stopped drinking coffee and (mostly) drinking alcohol and eating foods that do not resonate well with me. I’ve turned into a baker who hardly eats the things she makes, which is okay because most of the time they’re for someone else–but that’s another story entirely. I’m trying to laugh at all the crazy first-chakra clearing that’s been happening in the past month or two, thanks to the love and good humor of  my yoga teacher C.  I’m reading my Jack Kornfield and trying to maintain something resembling a regular meditation practice (not always succeeding). All through this, I’ve kept at yoga. The more I practice, the more it teaches me things I didn’t realize I needed to be taught. And although I’m not a card-carrying Buddhist, I’m headed somewhere toward the Far Eastern world of spirituality, even as much as I resist labels.

I’m trying to make sense of these shifts, these moments. I’m trying to doubt myself less and go with what feels authentic and real. I’m trying to be more compassionate toward myself and allow myself to be open toward others in a really meaningful way, to make each exchange with others count. I am also trying to just laugh about it more, and take it a little less seriously. I am finding that magically, mysteriously, the people I need to be “on my team,” as my healer-friend J. says, appear. When I share these experiences with other people, and learn that I’m not alone, I am tremendously comforted by the fact that we’re all, on some level or another, slowly transforming. We just have to open ourselves up to it, ask for help and guidance, and go forth with love, grace and humility.


11 2011