contentment and stress

Elsie’s theme for this week’s class (http://elsieyogakula.wordpress.com/) “Learner’s Inherit the Earth” spoke deeply to my ongoing struggle to find what I’m called to do. I’m working with Samtosha – contentment – and trying to discern whether the appropriate application is to find contentment in what I have – which is pretty great in a lot of respects – or to pare down to find contentment in simplicity.

 Part of what I like about this class is that she does unexpected things like different side facing poses on different sides (don’t worry – she balances later in class ) ) and she talks about moving from the strength of what you know with clarity into the unknown. And every yoga pose, every yoga class, every moment (see Ram Dass quote below) is an opportunity to see and be anew.

So how this works out for my current conundrum: Do I learn contentment by surviving stress and taking those skills to a gentler place to face new challenges, or do I strive to find contentment in the midst of my current situation, which I find challenges the edges of my tolerance?  If I go to greener, sweeter pastures, am I running from the very thing which could grow my soul the most? Or, am I taking the best care I can of the gifts I’ve been given?

Guess it’ll take a few more yoga classes, more meditation, some walks by the ocean and maybe not thinking about it for a while to decide that one. Thanks, Elsie, for deepening my understanding in this struggle by your teaching, and for giving me new perpective and tools for peace.

Peace, love & understanding for us all.

Core Strength… Up Side Down

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Image by Neeta Lind via Flickr

When you change your perspective, you change your perspective. Tautology?  Not for yogis! Going up side down involves so many parts of our bodies and psyches which we mostly take for granted that doing it consciously really can help you shift your consciousness.

And the way I’ve been teaching headstands has helped me and my students focus on core strength, both abdominally as well as soulfully. So first, I will tell you that head stand is not recommended for people with neck problems, strokes, glaucoma. For me and many people I work with it also involves falling a bit, so clear out any obstacles – furniture, dogs, shoes – and arrange for a soft place to land. If you are worried, place blankets or pillows around. Mostly, practice mindfully: As always, practice honesty with yourself about your own body and practice nonviolence with yourself. Pushing beyond your own limits only grinds samskaras deeper, it won’t dissolve them faster.

So often when we’re getting into headstand we place our hands and forearms on the ground near a wall, interlace the fingers and put our head in the cradle we’ve created. If, however, you find you’re still using the wall to stay upright, take a step back and give yourself more support. Then you’ll find your core strength with more clarity and can explore how that feels while you build it.

The abdominal muscles and the back muscles work together to support you. The back of the belly is just the front of the back. The muscles that we count on, mostly unthoughtfully, through most of our lives to support us while sitting, standing, walking are the same muscles we’re using in headstand to hold ourselves up. So why don’t they work as well?

Because of the imbalances of everyday life right side up. Just as we overcome natural, instinctual fears of falling when we go up side down, we overcome the natural and habitual ways we “hold ourselves up” both physically and psychologically through the challenges and joys of our days. We’re learning new ways and connections to the deep muscles of alignment. So give some thought to what you align yourself  in your everyday life as you’re preparing for this sequence. (The sequence I’ll describe is tadasana – malasana – bakasana – shirsasana and reverse).

Start in tadasana a couple of feet from facing a wall. Close your eyes, hands in anjali mudra in front of your heart. Inner spiral your thighs, press them apart, connect through your feet. Feel the back of the pelvis become open and your abdomen firmly supporting your spine. Roll your shoulders up to your ears and melt them down your back, feeling your sternum curl up to the sky and your heart open from the strength of your stance. Relax your tongue, and open your eyes.

Move your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Squat. You might want to use a blanket under your heels so you are fully supported, if they come up off the ground. Press the outside of your elbows into the insides of your knees and visa versa, hands still in anjali mudra. You are now in malasana, garland pose. Melt into the garland.

From here, place your hands on the floor in front of you, inside your knees and just in front. Keep your knees on or near your elbows. Dive forward, intentionally placing the crown of your head on the floor about six inches in front of your hands (you’ll know where it feels a comfortable distance). If your knees aren’t already on your elbows, bring them up one at a time. You are now in what is commonly called “tripod”. Your head and the palms of both hands are on the floor, the knees supported on the rigiht angles of the arms. You can stay here to explore, or …

Bring your awareness to your belly. Spend a minute really exploring what you are feeling there. When you are firmly rooted in this place, consciously begin to bring your knees in & up using the strength of your belly. Feel the muscles come back and feel the stretch from your sternum to your pelvis. When your legs are overhead, notice the relationship between your belly and your back in keeping them there. Allow yourself to sway and notice the emotions coming up. Touch them with your consciousness gently but keep your attention in your core. Make your legs strong, inner spiral the thighs, point & spread your toes, feel your calves hug into the bone. Shine your heart out towards your hands. Notice how this affects your balance.

When you are ready to come down, Focus on your breath, steady and smooth. Bend your knees and tuck in & down til the knees are on your elbows again and then rock back through bakasana into malasana, resting for a moment before stretching back to standing. You may now be ready for sivasana, or you may want to explore some one sided balance poses, such as vrkasana or garundasana.

Always observe your own capabilities and needs, listen to your own inner guru (the only one who matters!).

contentment

“As long as you have certain desires about how it ought to be

you can’t see how it is.”

 ~Ram Dass (ramdass.org)

 

There’s a difference between how you feel about how your life is and how you feel in a moment. But is contentment a feeling? Contentment seems to be an approach to activities, a choice to be present for what we’re up to in a given moment and to make choices with attention and quietude. It takes recognition of what is necessary in a given situation, not according to social convention or an external authority, but a recognition of what the situation, the people, conditions, your own feelings require for support and happiness. Contentment is giving, to ourselves and others, whatever is required to release that moment and let the next be revealed.  To be able to see this is to be able to see to the heart, the core & the essence. To be able to choose according to what you then see then takes courage. Then, perhaps contentment will follow.

Samtosha – Contentment

umbrella-alone-beach.jpg  Vacation started today at about 11:30 am, after about 20 hours in uniform, and with a spring in my step. The spring was as much for the feeling of  satisfaction of good night’s work as for the knowledge that tomorrow night I’ll be somewhere beautiful I’ve never been before. Wide open mental spaces.

With the ease of vacation ahead, contentment isn’t hard. Or shouldn’t be. Contentment is one of the qualities which supports and reinforces the changes in consciousness that yoga practice cultivates. Here’s what todays Yoga Journal Daily Insight Email had to say about it.
Samtosa is a niyama, or guiding principle of yoga. This principle encourages us to develop contentment. It prescribes the merit of striving to be grateful for what we have rather than yearning for new and different things. The word “samtosa” is also sometimes translated as happiness, because, by finding contentment with what we have, we also find joy, relaxation, and peace. ”

 So here’s my contentment conundrum: I have a career in a high volume service where my skills are kept at an edge by sheer repetition, where I have excellent people around me and opportunities to grow as a medic and a manager. The volume generates it’s own stress, though, and predictable burnout. The schedule was fantastic when I was single, but feels like it splits my heart now that someone else also occupies it.

 I may have an opportunity to join a rural service, and this would offer its own challenges such as longer transport times and fewer people on scene. The money is less, the prestige is less, the opportunity for management advancement in EMS is less. The burnout is less. It fits better with my life as a yoga teacher. It doesn’t make me want a cigarette.

Where does samtosha take me with this decision? Remain content in the midst of rich opportunities with a high price, or find contentment with less. Less stress, less of what hardens my heart about what I do, less adreneline, less money… but more wide open space.

This is what I will be sitting with as I drive and camp and walk and eat fresh fruit. It feels like a crossroads, a decision about who I’m going to be. I guess we never know that until we wake up in that person’s bed, after having the dreams and fears that the person we will be will have. Perhaps what I need to do is take an honest look at the dreams and fears I have today. Truth and honesty, clarity, presence. This is what I will keep coming back to, this is what I will seek and cultivate on the road. I’ll let you know what I find.

Questions?

Did you visit today with a specific question or topic in mind? Do you have burning yoga questions about philosophy, alignment, asana, practice? Tell me what you seek! Leave me a note in comments or write at yogaguides@gmail.com . Tell me if you found what  you were looking for and want more or if there’s something you’re seeking. You might just find your answer here.

San Diego Yoga & Surf

Short practice today between shifts. Lots of twists and backbends stretching my chest and shoulders.  Frees my heart.

Vacation begins on Monday. I’m embarking on one of my galavants. Destination: Southern California. Right now my plan is to camp in one of the State or National Parks, avoiding resorty places. But the point of a galavant is the no-plan plan. Pick a general destination and … go! Anyone know of any cool, laid-back, quiet places on the beach in the general So Cal area? I just want to practice on the beach and learn to surf. Ahhhh…. Anyone have any favorite studios in the general San Diego area?

 On the way back I’m treating myself to a workshop in Chandler, AZ with Mukunda Stiles. I’ve read his translation of Patanjali’s Sutras & my teacher studied with him, so I know of him only by reputation, but I’m very excited. You can learn more about his work at  www.yogatherapycenter.org . I highly recommend his Sutra translation. It is poetic & nuanced and his embodied spirit Tantrism really shines through.

So, please leave me suggestions for the So Cal area! I’ll write about the places I visit and the things I learn.

Teaching you, teaching me

I had the most lovely surprise today for my Noon class: two of my students from the senior center  arrived at the studio promptly at Noon.  I volunteered at the senior center for a year and fell in love with that class. My decision to stop teaching there was difficult, so the opportunity to teach some of those people again was such a gift!

One of the reasons I left the Senior Center (aside from the main paring down reason) was that I had been teaching those targeted classes so long I was having difficulty teaching more intense classes. To build my repetoire I needed more exposure. I’ve been teaching these more vigorous classes for six months or so, though I’ve only suceeded at teaching at this faster pace for about three, and I’m enjoying it immensely. I still struggle because I want to comment on all the beautiful, small details of especially the simplest asana such as Tadasana, DownDog, Fierce Pose. But getting swept up in the energy of the class makes it easier to choose the one thing that will energize most of the students in that pose.

So last night and today were mentally gear stripping, and because of that have taught me a lot about teaching. Last night I had someone who hadn’t done yoga in years and someone else very new, along with my wonderful hubby, who is a natural. Prepared to teach an intense, heating, spine curving, heart expanding, hip articulating kind of class, I was thrown back to the mat, so to speak. Back to my roots, to kind, gentle but persistent attention to the smallest of detail, hints of tightness, distress, and coaxed to redirect my expectation and energy. It was the best gift a teacher could get and it reminded what yoga truly is: movement with intention breath; unified heart-mind-body; dissolution of moments breaking up time and seperating smiles; mostly yoga is meeting ourselves on the experimental laboratory of our mats, where we’re committed to remember the truths of our being, to move with love, acceptance and an exploratory sensibility.

Zzzzzzzzzzz….

 Yeah, so this was me today. All day. All through the day I’d been looking forward to being at the Sanskrit seminar.

Made me a feel a little like this when I shook it off:

C’est la vie.

Actually, it’s kind of a pretty picture, but I digress.

I’m not sure why I keep doing things like this…  I only work three nights a week, but they’re long nights & I’m really quite worthless for anything between except sleeping. Accepting this would be wise. But no,  I think, “Sleep?!? Sleep? I don’t need  no stinkin’ sleep!”

Luckily these days the things I get all excited about and try to plan into these nooks and crannies are things like yoga seminars. There’s something inherently incompatible between self abuse and the contemplative nature of these endeavors.

The worst thing: I love sleep! I love dreaming, I love waking up, I love the bed I sleep in & the sheets and the backs of my eyelids.

I guess the whole thing is that life is about choices. Action and devotion are how we create ourselves. It’s not whether or not I learn a little more about this amazing language that matters, it’s how I treat myself and my world in the process.

Come to think of it, I do feel more like this than I would’ve rousting myself from dreamstate 7 hours ago after a couple hours’ of sleep after a weekend of controlled chaos:

Perhaps I did the right thing, if only by accident. And perhaps I’ll drop the guilt of not following through on my plan, my goal, my intention. Perhaps, I’ll just let myself enjoy this one, gorgeous, beautiful life.

Perhaps.

Truth in Practice

   There’s truth in what we call practice. Abhyasa. Practice. Meeting the mat, what you bring, what you loose.

Another restorative practice today after indulging in lots of chanting along with Sonia Nelson via her CD of Patanjali’s Sutras. I’m getting excited for a Sanskrit workshop on Sunday and hope that seeing, hearing, saying and stumbling through some on my own in the days leading up prepares the ground.

I’m in the midst of what sometimes seems a very difficult decision career wise. For the second time in my life I’m considering moving to a less prestigious, lower paying position because it supports a grander vision. Career suicide some would say.   Soul support, is what I think.

At least it’s what i know when I leave the mat each day after asking for, listening for guidance on which way to turn.

I love this translation of I.21 by Mukanda Stiles (whose workshop I get to go to in Chandler in less than two weeks – so excited!) so I’ll leave you with it. Time to meet a man about a job 🙂

“For those who have an intense urge for Spirit and wisdom, it sits near them, waiting.”

Echoes something a Monsignor told me once when I was very small, but very absorbant. 

May you follow your passion and your wisdom today, absorbing and radiating love, truth and beauty.

Restorative Practice

Restorative Yoga is Bramacharya at work: preservation of life force. Bramacharya is one of the yogic values expressed in the eight limbed path.

The difference between restorative & any other style of yoga is both intensity of effort and duration in poses. Rather than working with muscular opposition, hugging in, radiating out, spirals, loops, etc you create a space for your body to melt into the pose. The time spent in both preparation and melting can more greatly emphasize the already meditative possibilities in asana practice. It’s useful to warm the body up to the practice with chandra namaskar – moon salutaions. There’s a jpeg of Chandra Namaskar from a year or so ago below.  http://photos1.blogger.com/blogger/7026/3210/1600/Moon%20Salutations.jpg

Even more than usual, its helpful to work near your minimum edge  when entering intentionally restorative asana. Rather than finding the maximum opening of the hip or shoulder joint and supporting it there, find the very first place you feel what might be tension. Let it resolve before moving deeper with breath and intent. Do this until you find a spot with a little more edge than that first, and support the body at that edge, allowing the opening to happen gradually and enjoying the support you’ve created for yourself.

As always, your breath is crucial – smoothness is key here. Notice all parts of your torso, as their expansion in every direction (not just forward) is part of drawing the breath fully into your lungs as well as emptying. Notice the pauses between breathing in & breathing out, rest in the fullness and release respectively.

Some poses I’m looking forward to after a bit of reflective reading, sutra chanting  and warming movement are side lying over bolsters, twists over bolsters, wide legged forward bend, supported balasana (child’s pose), janu sirsasana, supported reclining virasana, shoulderstand, supta baddha konasana (reclining cobblers pose w/ feet together, torso draped back over nice, plump bolster) and vitparita karani – legs up the wall.  Ahhhhhhh…

Do you ever indulge in the gift of restorative asana?  My ideal is to  have at least one practice a week like this. What are your experiences with staying in supported poses for extended periods of time?