Practice, from piano to yoga: what’s it mean?

Aum symbol in red

Aum symbol in red (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I’ve recently begun reading Kara-Leah Grant’s The Yoga Lunchbox, a self-directing guide for committing to your own yoga practice. I’ve only just begun, but can say that hers is an enjoyable voice, self-disclosing and up front. The book isn’t a how-to for yoga per se, but rather a worksheeted, stop-and-think, dig in your heart kind of affair, in which she assumes you’ve been to yoga classes and know what DownDog is, but want to go deeper and make it personal. She also acknowledges the familiar struggles when coming to the mat and offers her book as a tutorial for successfully navigating them and getting your feet under you, or over you, as the case may be.

 

I love reading how other yogis guide themselves through their inner thickets, and I’m constantly reflecting on the question of  “What is a practice?” You might say it’s my own personal koan.

 

My first experiences with practice were piano, tap, jazz dance and ballet – and, yes, as I recall, all at once. I think the doctors had suggested I always be involved in dance of some kind after they were finished with my little but growing legs. The piano was a prelude to guitar, and my memories of it are tactile: the finish on the piano my mother

 

English: A split leap performed during an acro...

This was NOT me. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

bought for my practice, the pleasantly solitary “tock!” of the metronome, and the less pleasant buzz of a kitchen timer. I remember a great deal of discomfort with the dance classes: I didn’t care for the stretchy leotards and no one would ever guess my name was “Grace,” if you know what I mean. Looking back, though, the classes probably provided connection and strength that allowed me to forget for so long that my legs weren’t always so workable.

 

 

So I know a little from useful discipline. And I wonder how yoga practice differs from any of these other types of practice, for someone who feels completely at home doing them. Isn’t practice just practice, after all? Isn’t it really a way of meeting yourself over and over and over again in the same place so you can befriend yourself and study yourself in your natural habitat?

Is there a difference, for instance between yoga and meditation practice, beyond the lack of gross movement in the one and the focus in the other? Does yoga also contain meditation practice with the stillness at the end, or does it become the other when you sit up after corpse pose? Or is the common denominator of “practice” what really matters?

And if the rhythm of meeting yourself in circumstances that you control on  a regular basis for the purpose of observing, befriending and perhaps refining yourself is what really matters, is reading practice any different from yoga practice? Or language practice? Or dance? Or shooting?

I think there is a difference in the type of container you’re creating. That’s my hunch anyway. But I’m also certain that having some practice is better than none. And as I work on my own book about yoga, I’m reminded of the dictum that the map is not the territory. If reading a book about having a yoga practice is a practice that gets you to practice yoga, do you already have to be committed to the idea of practice to finish the book? In which case, why don’t we all just meet on the mat?

I suppose one reason is that we can do both, and there’s joy in reading about you love. Writing about it, too. Thanks for reading.

 

 

 

Experimentation and Pranayam: what do you do with “prohibitions”?

My Very Last Breath

Photo credit: Wikipedia

 

I started thinking about this last December when I was reading a lot about Brahmari, or “Bumble Bee Breath.” I read in several places to always practice Brahmari sitting upright, but never any reason for avoiding other postures. So I asked the writers and what I heard back was that they were simply repeating what they’d read or been taught.

 

I thought a lot about why practicing Brahmari supine or even prone or twisted or inverted might be cautioned against and wondered if it was because of the mid-forehead focus and pranic flow, or because of the deep, seemingly skeletal vibration, it creates in the torso – or some combination.

Memento Mori

Memento Mori (Photo credit: Reini68)

Many of my students use this technique to power down at night or even to encourage deep sleep and some have asked about doing it in bed. While I know that the ideal for all pranayam and meditation practices is to remain alert, when these techniques are used for what might be considered their “side” effects – calming, relaxing, stress release, anti-insomnia – it makes sense not to fight the very thing you’re courting, right?

 

After consulting the many and varied sources – primary and secondary, dog eared beloved books and websites – and finding no discussion of “Why not,” I decided that the only way to tell was to run the experiment. After all, I thought, I was taught Kapalabhati as a seated practice, but I’ve experienced power and kundalini classes in which we combined with Fierce (or chair) pose and even Ardha Navasana (or half-boat).

 

I practiced Brahmari in corpse (modified for hand position) and Viparita Karani primarily, in bed, on the mat, with a cat and in a hat. (Not really; I don’t have a cat.) Having my back on the floor dissipated and dampened the torso vibration more rapidly, so my guess is this is the source of prohibitions against doing so. However, it also released tension in my neck and shoulders (massive for me) and was the perfect pre-sleep ritual.

 

Going back to my students and reporting my findings after several weeks of practice and experimentation, they told me they’d been secretly doing it, too -and loving it – reporting the same findings.

 

Hence my question: what do you do when you hear a pose or technique is “contra-indicated” for you or a position or whatever? Inversions are verboten women menstruating, goes the common wisdom, but many report loving the practice.

 

I’m all for respecting the wisdom of the ages, it’s part of what led me to yoga after all. But the discipline of heeding instruction is balanced by the wisdom of listening to my body, in my experience. How do you maintain this balance? Is there a line you won’t cross?

 

Related articles

 

Savasana Meditation: Gift from yourself, to yourself with Green Tara by Taos Winds

Recline in Savasana and allow your day to melt and your practice to dissolve the obstacles to your true gift while listening to this meditation on soundcloud.com.  Leave a comment andgift with ribbon let me know how you use these recordings. Do you play them during savasana, before bed, while falling asleep or save for a treat?

Safe Place Visualization mp3 (link to SoundCloud)

If you liked Tracy Weber’s Safe Place Visualization, try this narration with Taos Wind’s “Green TaraIMG_0099in the background. Find your spot, sitting or lying in Savasana, and melt into your safe place. You’ll find it nestled in your badlands. When you’re fully blissed, head on over to Taos Wind’s website and check out his newest Chakra recording – my newest favorite for practice. Leave a comment if you love it, too!

 

Safe Place Meditation for Relaxation

Today’s Meditation is a gift from our guest, Tracy Weber of Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, Washington. Thank you for this relaxing interval, Tracy!

……………..

One of my favorite meditations allows me to transport myself to a place I love. Sometimes I imagine sitting in front of a roaring fire. Sometimes I walk along the ocean. Sometimes I feel the rough surface of a dock I used to frequent over twenty years ago. Our bodies respond similarly whether we actually visit our favorite locations or simply imagine ourselves there.

The next time you need a vacation, there’s no need to wait save up money or accumulate vacation hours. Try this simple visualization meditation instead. The more senses you involve, the more deeply you will immerse yourself in the experience.

Safe Place Visualization Meditation

1.      Sit comfortably, with your spine erect and the crown of your head floating up to the ceiling. Sitting either in a chair or on the floor is fine, as long as you are physically comfortable and your spine is in “neutral.”

2.      Allow your eyes to close and your focus to go internal.

3.      Notice your breath—without intentionally trying to change it. Feel the warmth and coolness of the breath at the tip of your nostrils. Allow your mind to focus on and pay attention to this feeling of the breath. The breath will be your anchor.

4.      Bring to mind a place in which you feel calm and at peace. It can be a real place you have actually been, or it can be a place created by your imagination. Any place will work as long as it feels serene and safe to you.

  • A cabin next to a crackling fire
  • A forest
  • An ocean beach
  • Cuddling in your living room with your dog, cat, or favorite human.

5.      Imagine yourself in your peaceful place using all of your senses.

  • What do you see? The blues of the sky? The multiple colors of a rainbow? Froth from the ocean waves? Fields of purple or yellow flowers?
  • What do you smell? Freshly mown grass? The brackish smell of the ocean? Vanilla candles? The delicious aroma of baked cookies?
  • What do you hear? The crackle of a fire? Purring of cats? The breath-like sound of the ocean? Birds singing or chirping?
  • What sensations can you feel? The heat of the sun? Coolness of a light breeze? Tight or relaxed muscles?
  • What do you taste? The salt of the ocean? Sweetness or bitterness on your tongue?
  • What do you feel internally? Are you hungry? Full? Do you feel happy, relaxed, or peaceful?

6.      If your attention wanders (and it will!) just notice it, and invite your attention back to the sensation of the breath at the tip of your nose. Then return to your peaceful place and begin again.

7.      Continue this meditation for 10 minutes or longer if you’d like.

No matter where you are, you take this safe place with you. Visit it any time you need to feel safe.

Tracy Weber, founder of Whole Life YogaToday’s meditation post is a gift from our guest, Tracy Weber founder of Whole Life Yoga, an award-winning yoga studio in Seattle, WA. She was certified through the American Viniyoga Institute’s yoga therapist training program, and she is registered at the highest level offered by Yoga Alliance (E-RYT 500).  In 2004, Tracy developed Whole Life Yoga’s yoga teacher training program. She has personally trained over 200 yoga teachers since then.Tracy originally came to yoga for relief from chronic back pain, and she rapidly discovered the balance and stress relief yoga provides. Tracy believes that the benefits of yoga are much broader than physical exercise, and that yoga can help people achieve what they want in all areas of life.

Special Treat! (for planning your yoga retreat)

Today and next Monday we’ll be sharing yoga and meditation tips with Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, pigeon pose on beachWashington. For today’s post, head on over to wholelifeyoga.com and check out my guest post there. While you’re there, peruse all the yoga goodness Tracy has to offer – it’s a wonderful blog!

What are you still doing here? Head on over to wholelifeyoga.com get some ideas on creating your own home yoga retreat!

Savasana Meditation: stream and light

English: Wyming Brook in winter.

English: Wyming Brook in winter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recording of today’s guided meditation during savasana, a relaxing opportunity to let your body melt into earth and water, air and light. Enjoy! Let me know how you use it and what you think: leave a comment below!

 

 

Mind and Life Talks with HHDL

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India

14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are 3 things I look forward to in January: blooming hyacinths, stillness in life and house and the Mind and Life Talks. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with the world’s top scientists, going on year 26, live stream from here.

Right now I’m watching a conversation about brain development, childhood discipline, neglect and training, and the Dalai Lama is teasing the speaker, who really wants to talk about neuroplasticity. A religious and political leader who chooses to use his influence to cultivate theoretical discussion about the forefront of our understanding of mind-brain science is simply inspiring and inoculates me against cynicism for at least half a year. Which explains why I’m here watching the talks live on a Friday night. Geek out.

Discussing what happens to neurons and dendrites – particularly in early development – under stress, how their growth is stifled and stunted, and  the relationship of stress to vigilance and emotion, I am reminded how crucial my practice of yoga and sitting meditation is to my peaceful life filled with hyacinths, hugs and humble quietude.

Having experienced profound trauma in my early life, I’m keenly aware that my

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

brain fits into the categories being discussed. Diagnosed more than 2 decades ago with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yoga, meditation and tai chi were crucial in putting my life and insides together anew. They are not, of course, panacea, and occasional “tune-up” visits to a therapist for EMDR, talk therapy and guided meditation are incredible tools. My life with this history has been an incredible teacher for me. I have been constantly reminded of the value of silence in life as well as the need for teachers and community to provide a context for practice.

The Mind and Life discussions help me understand myself and reinforce the value of my practice. More than that, though, they make me hopeful and optimistic about the future. Scientists sitting down to explain complex research – their life’s work – in lay terms to a passionately interested leader who expends his resources to bring them together, and a whole youtube channel dedicated to making these discussions freely available: I find comfort in this set of facts, in the caring and careful attempts to understand ourselves and in the reminder that I have a practice that gives me tremendous power to heal intergenerational trauma – mine and others. Time to go sit. See you on the mat.

Today at Sarvodaya's Early Morning meditation

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

3 part yogic breath: meditation between abundance and stillness

 

Dirgha, or three part yogic breath, is the basis for pranayam. The first portion initiates the body’s relaxation response, and the entire thing is an exercise in observation and transformation through attention. We start every class with this meditation and I’ve finally produced a recording I’m willing to share. It has audio issues, so don’t expect pro quality – it’s my first one! Let me know how you enjoy the content and I’ll continue to post as I become more comfortable and my equipment gets better. Comment below to let me know how this works for you.

 

 

Meditation Helper

MHP

Timers are a fantastic way to create a container (my current favorite notion, thanks Jen Louden) for your practice, and have been mentioned a couple of times in posts and comments lately, so I thought I’d say something about the one I use and love. I’ve tried half a dozen or more over the last six months (when I started using aps… I know, I’m behind!) and this is my go-to. I use it for my personal yoga and meditation practices as well as classes, private lessons and even meetings. People love it when I not only end on time but a pleasant meditation bell concludes the discussion period.

Meditation Helper Pro is the easiest to use, most elegant, pleasant, modifiable and effective timer I’ve used. My top three criteria for a meditation timer:

  • pleasant, real-sounding bell
  • infinitely modifiable for length and intermittent bells
  • easily modifiable for same

Meditation Helper Pro meets all of my criteria. The wizard makes it easy to create and save or modify a program, the standard bell is my favorite and available on the free ap though on the pro ap you can use others or ringtones from your phone. I have a simple 20 minute profile, an evening meditation profile with bells every 2 minutes and a double bell 2 minutes before the end. I have a 75 minute profile for class and 30 and 60 minute presentation profiles.

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Meditation Helper Pro will even remind you with a custom message (mine says “Sitting makes you happy.”) and keep a log for you so you can view your patterns and make adjustments. Are you a data freak? This is the ap for you. Do you just love elegance and simplicity in the tools you use, so you can get down to what you’re doing? This is the ap for you. Do you need a pleasant interface and sound to continue using a timer? This is the ap for you. Go to the ap store and try it out. Let me know how it goes? Leave me a comment below, let me know what you use and love!

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.