Monday, October 31, 2011

Attached to Asana

Nature is always telling us something, but rarely are we listening.  I think I'm in tune with what my body is telling me, but I'm also aware of my Western upbringing when it comes to "pushing yourself."  Last week, I was moving right along through all the asana classes and felt great.  By Saturday evening, the ease in my body was slowly being replaced by a sore butt.  Sunday morning I was still feeling up to my normal personal practice routine, but in retrospect I took it a little too far and it only takes one or two centimeters of "pushing" before nature really kicks it up a notch to make sure you get the message.  I got the message loud and clear after a few too many, too intense forward bends.

This of course started a cascade of thoughts in my mind from anger (directed at myself) to a sense of loss, to almost panic.  Thanks to being exposed over and over again to the notion of awareness and how thoughts influence emotions, I was able to just sit with the thoughts and wait for them to pass.  Don't get me wrong, I'm no yogi yet, this still took me more time then I would like to reflect on at this point.  It's said that a yogi only needs one breath to calm the mind.  After the initial thought/emotion circle passed, then I was able to see the situation for what it really was.

Obviously, it was there to teach me something, at least one thing if not more.  Clearly, my body told me something at some point, but I turned my awareness away from that, even if it was only for a few moments.  More importantly it left me wondering: am I that attached to asana and the external benefits it has on my body that I panic at the thought of not being able to touch my head to my knees for a few days??  That is when I realized how ridiculously un-yogi I was being.

After all, the aim of yoga is not to touch your head to knees or hold a headstand for 20 minutes, but rather to work with your body as a tool to work deeper with your mind and even beyond that.  I won't get too philosophical on you today, no worries.  I'm just trying to convey the sense of attachment that we all struggle with in some way, whether it's material things, people, or even our own body.  All of these things are merely existing for some time.  Sorry, that is getting even deeper in the philosophical black hole.

Now that my body made sure that I'm aware of the changes going on, I am more aware of it during asana practice.  Nature always knows how to get your attention and change your intention.  Today I found myself enjoying my practice even more because I had to really give my body some more good intentions as I entered different poses.  It's like I had to gain my body's trust again, so you can imagine how funny my internal dialogue was as I attempted a forward bend. 

If we can't yet manage to be aware of nature as a whole, maybe we should all just start with our own body.  It's always telling you something.  Learn to listen.         

Monday, October 24, 2011

Meeting me halfway

My first yoga experience came in the form of a VHS tape that my parents bought for me when I was around 14.  I was having trouble sleeping at the time, so relaxing before bed with this 30 minute asana practice seemed to help.  Little did I know at the time that yoga would continue to find it's way into my life in many forms always leaving a desire for more, mostly more understanding. 

Now, more than ten years later here I am in Rishikesh, India, trying to dive deeper into the experience of yoga.  Although I am halfway through my teacher training course, I feel as if I am only seeing my own reflection in the vast ocean that we call yoga.  It may sound strange, in fact many things I'm about say will probably sound strange, but yoga is an infinite concept; it always has been and always will be.  For this reason, yoga can be described and experienced in an infinite number of ways.  Lucky for you, I don't have an infinite amount of time or understanding and I believe that the best way to understand yoga is through experience.  After all, that is what brought me here in the first place.  I experienced that there was more to yoga than a one hour asana (posture) class.

As a side note, I realized recently that my emails to family and friends usually go something like: "everything is great, there is too much to say, I'm learning a lot, etc etc."  I try not to include too many philosophical ideas, but they sneak in from time to time.  I'm sure these emails have left some confusion, or maybe people just think I've really lost touch with reality at this point.  I definitely have lost touch with what was my reality.  I would like to write something that others could contemplate on, but truthfully I'm writing this for me.  With all the information that is coming in, it's somehow necessary to do some thinking "out loud."    

Since the beginning of this year I came to rely on yoga for many reasons.  It became a great way to let go of stress, increase my concentration, and become more aware of my body.  Of course, the physical benefits are great too, but a healthy body cannot exist without a healthy mind and this was a struggle for me over the first half of this year.  Although every day here my understanding of yoga is being challenged and evolving at the same time, what I'm finding to be key factors in the understanding of yoga is balance and awareness.

There are so many things that we discuss here that come back to balance and/or awareness.  We practice asana to bring awareness to the gross aspect of the body so we can eventually expand that awareness to gain control of the mind.  Through regulating our thoughts in the mind, we can further regulate the body and preserve the flow of prana (energy) in that body.  Furthermore, we influence the flow of prana through pranayama (breathing exercises).  In these practices we bring our awareness to the breath to help calm the thoughts and to balance the activity between the right and left brain which is necessary for meditation and advancement in yoga.  There are also cleansing techniques used specifically for bringing about this left and right brain balance, which is manifested in the body when both nostrils are open. It continues like this in a network pattern of everything effecting every other thing on the subtle mind and consciousness level and the gross body level. 

In case you didn't get the message through the last confusing paragraph, yoga is more than a 90 minute, three times per week, get a hot body workout.  The physical body will look better for sure, but that is not the aim of yoga.  It's a journey of you meeting you time and time again, on and off your mat.  It's about finding balance between the two opposing forces that exist in everyone.  It's about expanding awareness of mind, body and soul (or consciousness, or whatever you decide to call "it"), where the ultimate goal is free will.  You may say that you already have free will, but think about that next time you have road rage that seems out of your control and get back to me.  

For me (and for now), free will means that I am influencing any given situation and all of my actions are voluntary, as opposed to involuntary reactions.  I don't know a single person who has achieved this, but it's told here that those who do achieve this go to the Himalayas for renunciation.  I think it's not because they don't want to help others, but because they have the understanding that each person is responsible for his or her own path in yoga or any other tradition.

As one of my teachers here says, "if you are confused, need not be."  Just start experiencing an asana class from time to time and see what happens.  I'd be happy to help when I'm back in November :-) 

Until next time remember that yoga is always happening.   

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Life in every photo

When I arrived in Rishikesh, I decided to commit to taking an interesting photo of myself every day while I'm here.  Of course, this is partly just to capture my experience and be able to show others a bit of my life here.  Plus, I usually don't take a lot of photos of myself, so it is somewhat challenging.  Beyond that, photographs seem to have the ability to take us back to a particular moment.  They evoke emotions, smells, sounds and an awareness of what was going through the mind when it was taken.  So, maybe that is why I decided to do this.  Or maybe it's to sharply contrast that although I'm changing internally, it may not be easy to notice externally.

Here are some of my favorites so far..  

in the beginning...

chakra coloring

heat up

a lot of things happen in this space



Sunday, October 9, 2011

Hunger of the mind

My first week here at Rishikesh Yog Peeth is coming to an end.  It feels like I've been here for longer than a week and only a few minutes at the same time.  The days go by so quickly, yet so much is happening externally and internally during that time that I sometimes lose track of when a particular event occurred.  At one point last week I spent a good five minutes trying to determine whether I took a certain photo that morning or the day before (it seemed important at the time).  Of course, getting up at 5:30 am every day makes a huge difference on how one perceives time and the length of a day. 

Just to give you a little more insight on what's going on here, we start the day with herbal tea and some cleansing practices (neti pot and kapalbhati pranayama).  Then we have about 90 minutes of asana practice, which we start with some chanting to help calm the mind and bring awareness to the breath.  After asana, it's breakfast and lectures on philosophy and anatomy before lunch.  Our evening asana class start at 5:30 pm and lasts roughly 90 minutes.

Since Rishikesh Yog Peeth is in the process of building an ashram, we are staying in a guesthouse that they have turned into a yoga center.  It's definitely more luxurious than I expected to find, but it's still India.  The important thing is that I started feeling really at home here in a short time.  The energy here is so inviting and open that it would be hard to not feel at ease. 

So, that covers the basics, but what am I really doing here?  Well, if you know me even a little bit, than you know that I have a never ending desire to learn and since starting to practice yoga asana in the states, I have had many questions about the why behind the postures and practices I've learned.  I also was just curious about India and how yoga here is different or similar to yoga in the west.  Those are important reasons, but honestly I decided to come here based on a feeling, an inclination, my intuition, or whatever else you chose to name it.  I am so grateful that I did.

I am learning a lot about yoga and so far what I find the most fascinating is the philosophy.  It has given me a lot to think about and brought up a lot of ideas that I have heard before but struggled with understanding.  We have had the opportunity to have intriguing discussions surrounding the definition of yoga, the goal of yoga, the nature of consciousness and so much more.  I will share more but right now I need to handle these things in my own way and time.

As for the anatomy, I just have to say one thing and that is that I am so thankful for Roshan teaching about the body as it's own greatest healer.  Many people here don't have the same health science and anatomy background that I have, so it's refreshing to know that more and more people are educating themselves on how to care for the body according to nature.  I have my father and my own experiences to thank as well.

Until next harm to anybody and benefit to at least somebody. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Let it burn

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to go to a traditional Hindu festival that occurs every year around this time.  It is called Dashahara, among many other names, but if you google Dashahara you should easily be able to find more information.  The basic idea is that it is celebrating the victory of good over evil.  One of our teachers here at Rishikesh Yog Peeth described it as burning negativity, as fire plays a crucial role in Hinduism.

Like many religious traditions, this is also based on an allegory.  From my little understanding of this story, I can say that it is about Ram defeating the demon Ravana in order to save his wive, Sita, who was captured by Ravana.  Ram is able to achieve this with the help of his brother Lakshmana and their follower Hanuman and his army of monkeys.  Got it?  Well, it's not that easy, but you get the idea.

So, we walked to another area in Rishikesh along the river where they had constructed a huge representation of Ravana.  When we first arrived, they were beginning to play out the story around Ravana, which included kids running around him in circles, Hanuman coming with his army of men dressed as monkeys, and a loud speaker of Ravana taunting them all.

There was quite a crowd, westerners and Indians alike.  Shortly after sunset, a lot of fireworks were set off over the river and some accidentally in the river and some just on the ground, hopefully nobody was hurt by this.  Although fire is really important, fire safety seems to take the backseat.  Then it finally came to setting fire to Ravana.

I was all prepared to get a nice photo of this happening as the men approached Ravana with torches and doused his legs with lighter fluid.  Next thing I know, we (as in the westerners who don't know what to expect from this spectacle) are going for the good old duck and cover move.  The entire statue was loaded with firecrackers, big ones, as in I could feel the explosion of the whole thing.  Within seconds there were only a few faces and the wire structure left to tear down.  They take this burning negativity a little more serious than I thought.  Shouldn't we all?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

At a glance

Here is a first look into my journey in India....

Train to Haridwar

Paharganj in Delhi

Looking Closely


On the roof and into the yoga shala

I have so many more, but the dodgy internet connection makes this a time consuming process. I`ll add more as I can. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I usually wait for some sort of complete thought before hitting the keyboard, but there is really so much to say and I would like to say something about India so far, rather than nothing at all.  I tried to come with as few expectations as possible, which I think helped me a lot when I arrived in Delhi.

It was surprisingly easy to get from the airport to the New Delhi train station for about 80 rupees (less than 2 USD).  My suspense of the pending culture shock grew for the 23 minutes I sat on that train.  As I walked up to the train station, I would have to say the first thing that hit me was the smell...the smell of food, people, trash, and most of all pollution.  Of course it was crowded and I had to deal with being hassled from time to time, after all I was the only white person that I saw there.  Overall, I didn't feel that shocked; I think I was just ready to put my things down and get some rest.

It wasn't too hard to find a place to stay in the main bazaar area of Delhi, but walking around even without my big backpack was exhausting.  There is so much going on there between auto and bike rickshaws (like a mini taxi, sort of), shops, street food, dust, fumes and lots of people, it is nearly impossible to focus on one thing or have one single clear thought among the craziness.  I did, however, voluntarily stay in that busy area, so I somehow enjoyed this experience.  

I only spent one night in Delhi before heading towards Rishikesh for the yoga course.  Taking a train from Old Delhi at 5 am was an abrupt way to start the day.  I had to first dodge getting hit by rickshaws as I crossed the street where my taxi dropped me off, then I was at this point a bit thrown off to see easily more than a hundred people sleeping outside and inside the train station.  I found my platform with ease and intuitively sought out a nice person to sit next to while waiting for my train.  That worked perfectly and I had a very easy conversation with a guy who works for a MetLife call center in Delhi.  The good vibes kept coming my way the rest of the day, making my journey to Rishikesh long but well worth it.  This was really my first day in India and I met a few really interesting people who were helpful, welcoming and weren't too pushy about maintaining a long conversation (which I had been warned about from a few friends who have been to India).

I'm still getting a feel for Rishikesh, but it's definitely calmer than Delhi, which is expected since it's smaller and is considered a Holy city (that doesn't stop anyone from the incessant horn honking that drives my ears crazy).  What I can say about it is that it's along the Ganges river with jungle covered hills almost like a backdrop. It's full of color, monkeys and cows.  More on that later.

So that about covers a tenth of what I've experienced so far.  The course started officially yesterday and I am already learning so much and have a lot to digest in the mean time.  I hope to post some photos sometime this week and maybe some more things about the course as well.

I hope all is well!