Posts Tagged ‘hatha yoga’

Foodies Dilemma – third update

This may be my last update on this subject as I am changing my perspective.  But here’s what has been happening since I last checked in.

  • I have been drinking Kombucha tea and found my body really likes it.

This is funny as the first time I tried it I immediately returned it to the store and said I thought it had gone bad.  This was in spite of the statement on the label saying it has a somewhat fermented taste.  I was convinced that what I was drinking was way beyond fermented.  Sometimes I’m just not ready for something new.  Months later I tried it again.  I bought GT’s Gingeraid.  Love at first sip.  For two months I drank a 16 oz bottle a day.  This is expensive!  The best price I found was New Season’s if I bought it by the case (which I did).  Many cases later, I now brew it myself.  I’ll tell you about that adventure in another post.

  • I stopped eating bread and drinking wine for about two weeks.

The Kombucha tea diminished my desire for these things.  I still made bread.  Strange as this may seem, my love of bread making is entirely separate from my love of eating it.

  • There was a sneaky beckoning moment.

As my body was releasing it’s wish for grain (I wasn’t having any grains – a la South Beach Diet) I bought a Costco size box of cereal for Neil, my husband.  When I considered this purchase later I realized I got it because of my own desire for wheat.  I didn’t eat it.  Sneaky stuff, those wheat taste buds.  I confess, there was a day or two when I told Neil to keep a wide berth as I was a little testy.

  • I have cut way back on my tea consumption and only drink coffee occasionally.

I think this is the Kombucha tea again.  What I long for in the morning when I get up is energy.  Most mornings I teach a 9:00 AM yoga class and don’t eat until after at 11 AM.  So I want energy but not much in my stomach.  Kombucha tea satisfies this need for energy without the jolt of black tea.  In the listed benefits of Kombucha tea it is consider an energy boaster and supports appetite and weight control.

  • I am drinking half my body weight in water (ounces of course).

It became obvious that my body was detoxing.  I had a spell of dizziness and some lymph nodes that were tender.  The water helps to flush everything out.  I switched from my filtered water to Kangen water.  This is still a mystery to me but it may be helping as well.  Check it out yourself.  I also took some chinese herbs that Dr. Marilyn Walkey gave me.  So nice to have support when I need it.  I’m keeping this habit.

  • My drive to lose weight has changed.  I have taken on the resolution to accept ‘what is’ as if I chose it”.

What is true is I have this body and I really appreciate how its supports me in all that I wish to endeavor.  Wanting to lose weight appeals to me but it in itself will not meet my need for happiness.  I am pursuing a mindful path of eating which includes eating bread, drinking wine, and having black tea.  Right now I have this body – I’m choosing it.  If I lose weight, I’ll chose that body.  The main idea is to not believe that the next moment will be better than this moment.  I am thinking of Ram Dass “Be Here Now”.

  • I’m happy.

New Year’s Resolutions – it’s not too late


The sun has begun it’s journey towards the northern hemisphere and still it’s dark in the morning when I arise.   My intellect knows the light is growing and spring and summer are on their way, but still, it’s dark and I wonder: where is that sun?  As I question the growing light of each day I also question the growing light or growth within my own journey.  Sometimes it isn’t easy to experience inner growth.  The familiar habits that impede still appear to take center stage.  So though we sense change is happening we may not have a tangible experience of progress.

I believe it is our wish for change that encourages us to make New Year’s resolutions, whether we acknowledge them or not.  There is something about the beginning of a year that calls us to think of a new start, a change we wish for, a longing to strengthen or cultivate a new perspective, skill, attitude or way of being in our life.  Then the question arises, “How can I really make this resolution come to fruition?  Where is my resolve to face the hurdles that have daunted or stopped me before?”

Most of us have tried the ‘grit your teeth and insist that this time will be different than the last‘ approach to New Year’s resolutions.  I admit I’m in this category.  Each year I secretly intend to make more time for yoga practice, lose 10 pounds, be nicer to myself and others, and find more courage. These are some of my recycled plans that I bring forth this time of year.

A few years ago I did lose 25 pounds and I have made yoga practice more of my daily routine.  As I grow older I find many of my doubts and fears on the wane so I am nicer to myself and others.   Still, there are many resolutions that have gone by the wayside as the march of months goes by.  So what will make this year different?

In recent months I have found books on my shelf that, once dusted off, have given me insights to address this question:  Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, A Path With Heart by Jack Kornfield, and No Boundary by Ken Wilber.  In my reading I have once again remembered that everything is here now, there isn’t anything outside myself that I must get.  But not to be naive, I know saying this doesn’t necessarily make it so.  What to do?  I offer this simple practice to you and myself:

  • Choose a New Year’s resolution and identify three (or more) qualities required to realize your intention.
  • Pick the one(s) you experience having right now.  Then identify the one(s) you feel are lacking.
  • Explore what you need to cultivate in order to bridge the gap between what you have in hand and what you believe is lacking or in short supply. In other words, what you don’t believe you have now that would make your resolution come true.
  • It is helpful to identify where in your body you experience the feelings, attributes, beliefs etc. in your list.  Both the ones you have now and the ones you feel are absent or diminished.  If it is one you don’t have now, where would it be if you did?
  • Write your discoveries down, make a poster that represents your resolution, or use another medium to affirm your discoveries.

A few examples:

My friend wanted to experience more generosity in his life.  He saw he currently had a strong sense of curiosity about people but felt he lacked empathy.  Upon looking he realized that when he was judgmental he couldn’t feel empathy.  Without empathy he was cut off from any sense of being with or in communion with the other.  They were an “it” rather than a”thou” in the words of Martin Buber.  In this scenario he didn’t have the experience of generosity that he wanted.  So watching for the judgmental moments would be a strategy for success, even if he couldn’t resist in the moment.  Change begins with awareness.  (see post:  Moralistic Judgements)

Sometimes our resolution focuses on something more tangible e.g. time, money, friendships.  For myself, I would like more time to spend on the things that make a difference in my life.(see post:  Stepping Out of the Stream) I have energy and enthusiasm.  They reside in my heart center when I check in with myself.  I lack consistent courage and perseverance,  These are in my low belly.   When I lose touch with my courage and perseverance I tend to fritter away my time in procrastination, and therefore, don’t have the time I long for.

To work with this, I noticed that when I practice asana (yoga poses), though I have strong deep abdominal muscles, I don’t consistently engage my pelvic floor.  This observation gives me a clue of where to look and how to find my inner connection between my energy and perseverance, my enthusiasm and courage.  I can use this insight both on and off the mat.  On a physical level, this strengthens and grounds my asana practice.  As a metaphor, it reminds me to stay connected to my experience.

Through this simple yet challenging work we begin to experience that everything we want is already present.  The work is to discover what cuts us off from realizing this understanding and make that our practice.  Our resolutions will arrive in their own time.

If you live in Portland, OR, come to my class, we’ll be working with the pelvic floor.  Happy New Year.

More information on the pelvic floor and its importance:

Keep Dancing

Heritage of Yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali:  2.5  Ignorance (avidya) is misperceiving permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure (sukha) in suffering (dukkha), an essential self (atma) where there is no self.

What is the perfect pose, the perfect instruction, the perfect practice?  Where am I going with my yoga practice, what am I getting, who am I pleasing?  In my old age what will I have?   So easy to get lost, to forget the clarity of a moment, to fix an experience, become bored with routine.  Dukkha

A spiritual teacher of mine once told me that our happiest moments often hold the greatest suffering because we refuse to see their essential impermanence.  Avidya

It is wonderful to feel strong, be flexible, to have health and vitality, to move one’s body into extraordinary positions.  Sukha Yet the question arises like the song of Peggy Lee’s:

“Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing”.

The song has notes of despair but it is also possible to hold that idea as a way of working till I live in the direct experience of enlightenment.  Where I don’t see permanence in transience, purity in impurity, pleasure in suffering, an essential self  where there is no self.  So if I am not to fall hopelessly into the mire this sutra speaks of, what does it mean in the context of yoga to keep dancing?  Could I hold dancing as the gradual path?

I experience the joy of a yoga pose.  I love the feeling of my heart center in Trikonasana, the stretch over my back hip and the reach of my top collar bone and arm.  I like how grounded I feel in Downward Dog, the texture of the mat under my hands and feet.  There is power in the Warrior poses and sweet surrender in Uttanasana.  I can do Handstands until my arms will no longer hold me.  Head back, chest open in Ustrasana or snug as a bug in Child’s pose.  I like to hear and feel my spine adjust in Jathara Parivartanasana and sit in the quiet of Gomukhasan legs.

There are lots of poses I don’t care for.  The ones where my body flounders and my mind finds little rest.  But some I have come to like as we have become better acquainted.  Is this dancing?

I like the moments of connection, when insight connects disparate experiences into a whole as vast as space.  For a moment there is direct perception.  An instruction I thought I understood gains a depth I hadn’t experienced before and I think, “Oh, that’s what they meant?”  Or something I read revels a profound insight.  These moments of clarity are fleeting.  Soon I fix them with my thoughts and they evaporate into a memory.  Is this dancing?

I am never tired of my yoga practice.  It does not bore me or seem of little value.  I am always learning something.  If not about my own practice directly then something new about my students which in the end informs my own study.  It is so wonderful to see another’s body and communicate in such a way that they share the perception.  For a moment our eyes join and the veils of separation lift.  I experience love in these moments and hold such gratitude for my students.  Is this dancing?

Patanjali speaks of the pitfalls, the subtleties of ignorance.  When I think I’m clever, or my practice is about accomplishment, when I think I am teaching and feel separate from my students, I am in the state of ignorance.  The shades of this ignorance are vast.  Occasionally I wake for a moment, but in general, I work within ranges of distorted perception.  But in the moments of lucidity when the veils lift I experience the freedom Patanjali speaks of.  I believe it is these moments which inform my experience, let me know what is possible, and keep me dancing.

The Horse Ride

Heritage of Yoga

Hatha Yoga Pradipika: Describe my most significant experience in my yoga practice.

The Horse Ride

Floating.  Floating like a mist above, around and through my body.  I am not out of my body nor in it.  The Rap music pulsing through the window from the house next door, beating the waves of the soft breeze.  Not here, not separate, just present.  No words to describe, just present.

Was it only this morning I was experiencing a moment in my childhood?  Deep in the trauma of an event.  Images, sensations merging with memory.  Remembering.  I knew this happened.  Heard the stories, believed the power of yoga to release memories, trauma held in the cells.  How appropriate I muse, cells.  Little prisons holding captive events too painful to face in the moment.

How many times had I told the story of crying even at the thought of the big backbends, Urdhva Danurasana, Wheel pose.  Watching others lift effortlessly, their arms and legs unfolding as their spine lengthen into an arch.  Up they went in one smooth movement while my own body struggled to find the strength to lift and then could barely hold the pose.  They made it look so simple.  Fluid motion, not chunky and straining like my own.  Then the fear I felt each time before backbend practice and the relief when it was over.  Relief that barely covered the disappointment.  Relief  that this part of the week was over (1).  I had made it through without falling apart.  I wouldn’t have to face that pose again.  I could go home and maybe from time to time try it again.  Sometimes it seemed like I was making progress, but always the dread.

I told my students that it was because of opening the heart.  It was a big heart opening pose.  That wasn’t it, I knew that now.  True it had taken a long time to shed the layers of clothes I wore covering my chest and shoulders.  I could do that now, wear sleeveless tops that left my shoulders bare.  That was the clue I never grasped.  I was always so sure it was my chest I was hiding.  Big breasts I thought, too vulnerable.  It wasn’t big breasts, it was shoulders.  Bare shoulders that exposed my secret.

Ten percent less mobility in the left arm my teacher had told me.  That was good to know.  Reasons why it was hard to do some asanas.  The accident I would say.  I broke my left arm as a child, no physical therapy in those days.  An event that was hardly a blip in my family history, not anything anyone would recall years later.

Knowing I had to work that arm had made improvements.  I stood straighter and learned to do handstand and other poses.  Yoga had taught me to find a core strength and work from that awareness.  But still the fear, dreading each time I had to attempt wheel pose again. I knew now,  my body had finally released its secret.

I wanted to ride the horse, Beau Crest El Dorado Genius, Elmer for short.  Funny, I was afraid of big horses and Elmer was a big horse, sixteen hands at least.  Somehow that day was different, I wanted to ride him.  My sister had been riding him that morning and I wanted a turn.  The stirrups were too long but my sister wouldn’t help, too much trouble.  I got on anyway.  It was just around the track, it would be ok.

What spooked him?  A car, other horses, I don’t remember.  The reins pulled away only the ends in my hands.  Bouncing on the saddle, barely staying on.  I watch the cars on the freeway on-ramp as I passed them.  Dreamlike, details in slow motion as Elmer moved at a dead run.  Then the sharp turn into the trees, still on.  The fence, ready to jump but he stops and I fall hard onto the packed ground.  Then lying on the cot in the dark, cool room off the office.  Someone is rubbing horse liniment on my shoulder.  My red and white seersucker blouse open.  Embarrassed, there are men in the room and I am a young girl.  Someone calling my mother.  Maybe they’d asked, “Do you want your mother?” “Yes”,  I would have answered.  When my mother comes she is angry.  She hadn’t wanted to drive to the stable this morning.  I sit in the back seat of the Ford station wagon.  Was I crying?  I can’t remember.  Mother asks, “Do you hurt?”  It doesn’t hurt but I say, “Yes, it hurts.”  We go to the doctor where the x-ray shows a break at the top of the humerus.  I feel relief.  There is now a justification for wanting her to come get me.

I wear a cotton ribbed stocking that goes around my body and holds my arm to my side.  Left hand sticking out as the shirt sleeve hangs loose.  Then the hives whenever my skin is exposed to the sun.  Strange they all think but don’t make any connections.

Present time. My friend is with me.  She holds me and we gently rock as I tell the story.  Sobs shake my body as the images pass.  The betrayal of love.  Love I, the child, expected, wanted, but couldn’t ask for.  The holding, cuddling and care I longed for from this new mother, new sister.  I wanted to belong to this family I had gotten since the death of my birth mother.

I am floating.  Floating in Savasana.  The events of the morning are gone.  There is no quality, no texture, just being.  Maybe it’s a beginning.

(1)  The Summer Intensive in Berkeley, CA is a week long yoga practice where backbends were generally done on the Thursday of the week.

Hatha Yoga and Enlightenment

Heritage of Yoga

Shakyamuni Buddha: From my perspective, what does it mean to be enlightened or awakened?  Do I want to be enlightened?  Do I think it is possible to achieve enlightenment through the practice of Hatha Yoga?

Enlightenment is the direct experience of one’s true nature and the true nature of all phenomena.  It is the sustained state in which one has the direct experience of the emptiness of mind.  That is, that mind can be experienced but has no fixed characteristics (e.g., location, shape, color, etc.).  It is the direct knowing that our true nature is consciousness which includes perception and experience.

In the state of enlightenment all one’s thoughts and deeds benefit all sentient beings.  One is the state of grace.  It is said that the Buddha had non-referential compassion.  Having transcended duality there was no I, no other; all his actions and words were the expression of enlightenment.  When one is fully awakened there is nothing outside of this awakened state.

Do I want to be enlightened?  I sincerely wish to benefit all sentient beings.  I hold this as an aspiration and the wish to accomplish this as the blessing and fulfillment of my precious human existence.  I value that in this life I have the potential and opportunity to realize my true nature.  I’m not sure I have the intensity of practice to accomplish realization.  There have been moments when my aspiration has been strong.  Years where I have spent hours a day in formal practice.  Formal practice being the time where I hold my awareness in the structured teachings of my spiritual path.  At this time in my life I carry my daily life as my practice.  I do not fool myself by thinking this is enough to bring enlightenment.  I sincerely wish that at some point I will resume a formal practice, for I believe that one needs both.

When I ask myself is it possible to attain enlightenment through the practice of Hatha Yoga alone I must first ask the question: Is Hatha Yoga separate from the whole of the Eight Limbs of Yoga?  The myth of the gradual path is that each step is separate.  Yet my own experience of yoga has shown me that at any moment all limbs are present.  The limitation is our perception of separation.  If we don’t bring the larger teachings of the Buddha or the Yoga Sutras to our asana practice then Hatha Yoga is not sufficient to accomplish a sustained state of enlightenment.

In my yoga practice I develop insight into my habitual patterns, a steadiness of mind, an inner peace, an experience of transcendence.  But how does this arise?  It may be argued that enlightenment may come in any circumstance.  I agree.  Nothing occurs outside of this moment, but there are many moments that surround this one.

If I return to my yoga practice to validate my understanding, I need look no further than the moment I finally pushed up into Urdhva Danurasana after many years of failed attempts. Though I did this one day without any warm-up or daily practice leading in this direction I cannot separate it from all the other things I had been doing:  opening tight joints, releasing held trauma, building strength, hearing the wise instructions of my teachers, and in the end, letting go of the accomplishment itself.

When I practice Hatha Yoga I bring the wealth of all my practice to bear.  If one doesn’t have a spiritual practice isn’t this an insight into why many see yoga as a good workout?  For those who have a foundation in spiritual awareness, yoga practice includes the bounty of our spiritual merit, the truth of our spiritual teachings, the blessings of our teachers, the support and practice of our community and our unflagging aspiration to travel the path and bring it to fruition.  Even the hermit of the Upanishads was not without support (tradition & acceptance by the community) in his search and accomplishment of awakening.

There is a quote from Trungpa Rinpoche that I love, “We all want to witness our own enlightenment.”

Just as it is ignorance to believe we can hold to our separateness and awaken, it is delusion to believe there is realization in Hatha Yoga separate from all our lifetimes of spiritual practice.