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The OK Duality

The words of an acquaintance, recently going through the ups and downs of her life, have taught me something today. Every day, we have a host of experiences. Some are good, some are bad, and the rest are somewhere in between. Some are big things, some are little tiny things, and the rest are – again – somewhere in between. And they all just exist, independent of each other, but influencing our take on each and every one of those experiences.

When those crazy bad things happen, our lives sometimes seem to stop for a while. And they need to, most of the time, so we can process whatever happened, allowing the mind to put it in the perspective of our lives, and help us understand what is means to us. But we’re still living, still having experiences, and some of them are good things. In the context of a recent negative experience, though, those good things, little or small, seem so out of place. After all, this big bad thing just happened; how can we find the space for good?

But these experiences are just there, for our taking, for our evaluating, and for our incorporation into our lives. The bad experiences don’t make the good ones any less, and the good ones don’t make the bad ones any better. If we can honor that duality – that good and bad will occur simultaneously, and inexplicably – we won’t lessen the impact of the bad, but can move forward with both good and bad, big and small, happy and unhappy all at the same time. Respecting the breadth of our experiences, we can at least see middle, even when we can’t quite live in that space at the time.

Stretch the Belly

A short sequence of 10 asanas to help stretch, and strengthen the abdomen.  This practice is not appropriate during pregnancy, particularly after the first trimester, or if you have any recent back injuries.

Estimated Time: 15-20 minutes

Seated Meditation

Sukhasana - Seated MeditationStart with a seated meditation, finding a comfortable sitting position, and allowing the mind to become more still.  As you remain physically still, try to let your attention rest in all of the sensory input you are getting from your physical body.  Some things may feel comfortable, some uncomfortable, and some not feel like anything at all.  Let all of those sensations be observed equally – neither judging nor trying to change them, just being aware that they are there.

Bitilasana – Cat/Cow

Cow (in Cat/Cow) Cat (in Cat/Cow)

On hands and knees, with the hips directly over the knees, and wrists directly under the shoulders, let the belly sink towards the floor while lifting the chest and tail on an inhale.  On an exhale, round the back towards the ceiling, while dropping the tail and head.  The whole time, the hands, knees, and tops of the feet press into the floor.  Continue back and forth for 5-10 breaths.  Allow your attention to focus on the movement of the vertebrae of the spine, and the hinging at the hips and shoulders.

Bhujangasana – Cobra

Bhujangasana Come to laying on the floor, forehead resting on the ground.  Take the legs out behind you, feet hip width apart, and wrists underneath the shoulders.  Before lifting to bhujangasana, press the top of the feet into the floor, tuck the tailbone back towards the heels (pubic bone presses into the floor), press the elbows in towards the sides of the ribs, and reach the head forward towards the front of the mat.  On an inhale, continue reaching forward through the crown of the head, and curl the chest forward and up, while keeping the tailbone curling the opposite direction (towards the heels).  The hands support the pose, but do not do all of the work to lift you off the floor – the muscles of the back should be doing that.

Release back to the floor on an exhale.  Repeat four more times.

Balasana – Child’s Pose

BalasanaCounter the backbend by bringing the heels back over the hips into child’s pose, and relaxing there.  If you take the knees wide (almost as wide as the mat) and the toes together, you may find space for a little more stretch, especially if you take the arms over head.  The primary purpose of this pose, however, is to allow the body to rest and counter the lumbar compression that can happen in the previous pose, so stay in this pose as long as you need to in order to feel released from the previous pose.

Adho Mukha Svanasana to Plank Transition – Down Dog to Plank

Adho Mukha SvanasanaPlankLifting the hips and tucking the toes, make your way to down dog, forming an upside down V.   As you press into the base of the fingers and the fingers, equally across the hand, lift up through the forearm, shoulder blades, and hips.  The abdominal muscles work to support the low back, but the hips lifting up and back help stretch out the abdominal muscles at the same time.  Keep the hips lifted, and press the thighs back behind you, releasing the heels down in the direction of the floor as comfortable.

When you find down dog established, shift the shoulders forward, until they are over the wrists.  Let the tail bone tuck down towards the heels, the belly button lifting up towards the spine so the hips don’t sink, and the chest reach forward, as though it were trying to come through the shoulders.

Go back and forth between these two poses, inhaling forward to plank, exhaling back to down dog, five or ten times, finding the balance between using the abdominal muscles and shoulders for support, and keeping plenty of length along the spine.

Navasana – Boat Pose

NavasanaFrom down dog, come to the floor, and then to sitting.  Bending the knees, place the feet on the floor, hip width apart.  If you have a block handy, place it high up between the thighs near the groin (as high as it can go).  Take the hands behind the hips, leaning back 30-45degrees.

Using the abdomen, lift the head away from the tail, squeeze the inner thighs into the block, and eventually finding that you can support yourself in the lean, and bring the hands from behind the hips so they are in front of you, palms facing each other.  If you feel stable, begin to lift the knees up towards the ceiling, avoiding leaning back any farther than you already are.  If the heels lift off the floor, press through the balls of the toes to work the knees towards straight.

Wherever you stop, hold for three breaths, then release the pose, and the block, hugging the knees into the chest.  Repeat two more times before moving to the next pose.

Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Bridge Pose

Setu Bandha SarvangasanaCome to lying on your back on the floor.  Bring the feet in, hip width apart, and directly under the knees.  Begin with the hands, palms down, a few inches outside of either hip.  Press down through the feet, hands, arms, and shoulders, and lift the hips towards the ceiling as you tuck the tailbone towards the knees to keep the low back long.  Hold the knees strongly hip width apart, neither letting them fall out to the side, or press in to each other.  If you want to go farther, interlace the fingers behind the back and roll onto the outside of each arm.  Press the hands down into the floor as you continue to lift the hips towards the ceiling, and the chest forward, towards the chin.

Supported Setu Bandha Sarvangasana – Supported Bridge Pose (OPTIONAL)

Supported Setu Bandha SarvangasanaIf you have a block handy while in the previous pose, you can place it directly underneath the sacrum (at any height setting), allowing the sacrum to rest on the block, the legs to go forward towards the front of the mat, and the arms to release out to the side.  It should feel comfortable, and like the abdomen is stretching top to bottom, and out to the sides.

Please DO NOT DO THIS POSE if you had any low back pain in the previous pose or this variation causes ANY discomfort.

To come out of the pose, bring the feet back under the knees, press into the feet to lift off the block, and bring the hips back down to the floor.

Apanasana – Knees to Chest

ApanasanaAfter coming down from bridge, bring the knees into the chest.  If it feels comfortable, you can rock from side to side, or up and back a bit.  Then grab the shin of each leg with the hands, and on an inhale, bring the knees up away from the chest, just as far as the arms can reach.  On an exhale, bring the knees back down into the chest, bending the elbows.  Repeat this very small, breath coordinated movement five to ten times, releasing the abdominal muscles and the low back.

Short Morning Practice – Just a Taste

For those who don’t have a lot of time, but want to get a little bit of movement in first thing in the morning, these four poses are a great place to start.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time; consistency is what matters.

Seated Twist – In any comfortable sitting position, sit tall through the spine, gently lifting the crown of the head towards the ceiling.  Keeping your spine upright, inhale the arms up overhead and on the exhale twist to the right bringing the hands to the hips.  On the inhale, twist back to the center bringing the arms overhead again.  The next exhale, twist to the left lower the hands, and again back to center with the arms overhead on the inhale.  Repeat two or three times each side.

Cat/Cow – Starting on all fours, with the hands under the shoulders and the knees under the hips, allow the back to curve up in the direction of the ceiling on the exhale, and lower the belly on the inhale.  Take the full length of the breath to complete the movement and continue as long as feels comfortable.

DownDog (with breaks in Child’s Pose) – From all hands and knees, check that the hands are shoulder width apart, fingers spread wide, and then tuck the toes and lift the hips up and back to make an upside down V.  Press into the knuckles and fingers, lifting up through the hips, and the heels relaxing down towards the floor.  Whenever you get tired, bring the knees down and rest the hips on the heels for a break.  Repeat down dog three or four times.

Chair – Come to standing.  With the feet hip width apart, engage as much support as you can find in the feet, inner thighs, fronts of the thighs, and hips.  Keep the knees hip width apart as you bend the knees and take the hips back, the weight transferring into the heels.  Keep the abdominal muscles supporting the low back, and lift the arms forward, and overhead, keeping the tops of the shoulders relaxed.  Hold for three to five breaths, and then press into the feet to come back to standing and release the arms.  Repeat two more times.

Returning After a Break

You haven’t seen any new posts in a while, as I’ve been dealing with the symptoms of the first trimester of pregnancy. It’s a great opportunity for evaluating what is really important in your life when your body wants lots of sleep and your stomach can’t handle a lot of food.

Most of us overschedule ourselves, or at least try to. It may be that you find you’re always going from one scheduled activity to another, or that you just don’t have time to “be” because little things keep coming up. Either way, you feel too obligated, too pressured to slow down. But are you really? Do you actually need to be doing all of those things? Is it really your own need that has you doing all that, or is it something else, something external?

It’s not that there is any one right answer, but something we have to figure out for ourselves.

Pregnancy is one of those times that really forces you to re-evaluate these things, as your body, your baby, needs more from you than you might have had time to give, previously. If only we can remember those things we learned once the kid is older!

Yoga in Medical News: Yoga and Asthma

http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/151558.php

A 10-week program of twice-weekly classes – which include pranayama (breathing techniques), and once weekly home practice, improved scores on a questionairre about overall health, well-being, and daily life by 42%.

Compression

Sometimes, life gets compressed.  Life moves along at it’s “normal” pace, whatever can be defined as normal, and then BAM! drama from everywhere converges.  Maybe this compression should be considered “normal”, and the periods of calm inbetween “expansion”, because you can bet on the whirlwinds of life gathering to a storm every now and again.

As yoga encourages us to study ourselves, these times provide excellent opportunity to examine our role in bringing about the drama.  Do we need the whirlwind as big as it is?  Do we need the compression as tight as it is?  To what can we say “no, you know what; this really *can* wait.  the consequences are ok to deal with”?  And to what do we say “this really does need attention, right now, regardless of these other things that are going on”?

This has come up in my life, as the culmination of the details of a layoff, my puppy’s surgery, and the decision on a major teacher training.   Never mind the complete mess I’ve left behind in the kitchen for my husband, never mind the grocery shopping undone.  Nor all the tasks I have at work and in my business after work.  It makes for quite a whirlwind.

But when I ask myself, in the moment, what is really important?  What can’t wait?  The answers become rather clear.  That doesn’t mean that there isn’t still a messy whirlwind of life compression to deal with.  But you only have the crucial, vital stuff left.  And that becomes easier.  Not easy.  Never easy.  Just easier.

The Finer Shadings of Avoidance

2.5 antiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih avidya
Ignorance (avidya) is of four types: 1) regarding that which is transient as eternal, 2) mistaking the impure for pure, 3) thinking that which brings misery to bring happiness, and 4) taking that which is not-self to be self.

Ok, we avoid things.  Why?  The yoga sutras categorize it into four main reasons – we’re messed up temporaly, we can’t see the trees for the forest, we love misery, and we don’t know who we are.  Ok, that’s the harsher version, and a bit over the top, but I do it for literary effect.

Here one day, Gone the next

What is eternal? Ask a physicist, and he or she might say energy.  But that all decays into unordered chaos anyway.  The rut you’re in seem pretty eternal?  Are you eternal?  No, no.  That one’s obvious – we all die.  What about your family history and heritage?  No, no.  There are families we’ll never know about.  Maybe for a few thousand years, if you’re really good.  Well, then what about the earth we’re on?  No.  The sun will eventually explode and the planet will be gone.  Our galaxy?  Well, black holes and all.  So… Nothing really eternal.

And yet we’re so worried about how our homes will look when company comes over.  In the grand scheme of things, it’s rather transient, to say the least.

Purity

Mistaking the impure for the pure?  Well, that sounds kinda fru-fru, no?  But if you think of impure as having impurities in your water, or dirt on your clean floor, you can start to get the idea of how they affect the nature of what is pure.  Separating that out is hard, of course, but once the impurities are removed, there is more clarity – and less ignorance.

The sutras argue that not knowing what is pure and impure is a form of ignorance, a form of avoidance.  It colors our thoughts to think of something as other than what it is.  And really, that’s just a basic tautology – we label things as pure and impure, and draw conclusions and inferences from there, and mislabeling them will have us draw incorrect conclusions.  It may not be a life-changing difference, in many cases, but maybe, when it’s all added up, those little difference do change our lives in subtle, but significant ways.

Happiness and Misery

Thinking that we’re getting happiness out of things that actually bring us misery?  That never happens, no?  (Feel free to laugh heartily here.)  I suppose the holidays are the best example of this.  We have fabulous intensions of wonderful family gatherings that should be warm and loving, but are really tense and uncomfortable.  Or perhaps the workout that we chose, not because it’s the one we like, but it’s because it’s the one we’re told will make us lose weight the fastest, though we are miserable and eat an extra piece of candy on the way home from the gym to soothe our mind.

Figuring out what is real happiness is hard, and figuring out what is real misery as opposed to just mental resistance to a challenge is even harder.  But there’s resistance to a challenge, and there’s misery.  Neither of those are happiness.  The former may help us improve as a person, when we overcome it, but the later?  It just makes us miserable.

The Self

And the last form of avoidance – mistaking the not-self for the self.  No, no, I don’t mean all of high-school, though there’s a lot of that too.  Nor do I mean trying to make the boss like you at work.  I mean really trying to convince yourself, making yourself believe that you are something you’re not.  Maybe you’re artistic, but you want to earn the money (and, you think, respect) of an engineer.  So you try to convince yourself that you are an engineer, and not painter.  Or perhaps you simply are not a parenting type, but your family, your culture, insists that you’re wrong, and you try to convince yourself otherwise.

It may not be easy to figure out what the true self is.  I find, in the American culture of externalities, of conformation, of craziness, it’s a lifetime journey.  At least I hope it is, because then I might be able to get somewhere in this lifetime.  But at least the search is interesting, and trying to figure out what is not the self is just as important as figuring out what is the self.

The Color of Avoidance

2.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha
There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas):
1) igorance or avoidance of the true nature of things (avidya),
2) egoism of the mind over the consciousness (asmita),
3) attachment to thought patterns or objects (raga),
4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha),
5) attachment to these states or fear of the loss of them as death (abhinivesha).

avidya, my friend.  Well, I suppose, not really my friend.  But it seems a frequent companion.

How often do you find yourself saying “oh, I can get all this done today” when  – if you really honestly evaluated the situation – you would know that you were overextending yourself?

How often do you find yourself with an unpleasant task, perhaps a mound of laundry, a garden full of weeds, a boring assignment at work, a messy garage to tidy, or something else, that you just overlook, not really seeing it for what it is?  And then, one day, you notice “Wow, my backyard isn’t a yard, it’s a jungle of weeds.”  (And now, you see that I am not a big fan of cleaning.  I definitely am working on my avoidance of the true nature of entropy in my house.)

I’m tempted to believe that our culture encourages this.  We have so many options, so many distractions, available to us, that it’s easy to overlook something, and focus instead on something else.  We can hang out with friends, read a book, watch a TV show, go to a concert, play a computer game… The list is endless.  All instead of looking at what is really around us.

You can argue that it doesn’t really hurt us to do this, that it is good to let go of the hangups of having all our laundry put away, an impecable garage (which isn’t really the centerpoint of our life, after all), and so on.  But what if we do the same thing to ourselves?

If we ignore the true nature of who we are, in favor of who we think we should be, is that really so benign?  If we avoid the true nature of what we are called to do (our dharma), is that really “no big deal”?  Or is it going to affect everything else that we experience in our lives?

I can hear some eyerolls out there.  You may think I’m either a new-age-hippie-freak, spent a little too much time drinking the psycho-yoga punch, or am just a bit wacked out.  But try thinking about it at a “less big deal” level.  If you always wear sunglasses, it is going to affect everything you see.  If you always wear earplugs, it is going to affect everything you hear.  And if you always avoid what is really there – externally, but internally as well – it’s going to affect how clearly, fully, and authentically you can see the world as it truely is to be seen by you.

None of us are perfect at this, and it can be a frustrating, life long effort.  But the effort, the journey of exploring this avoidance, this lack of knowledge, it is one of experience, of life.  And what more can we ask for ourselves, but to live full of life.

Feeling a Little Too Colorful?

In the quest of quieting the mind and finding equanimity, the idea of the coloring of thoughts (kleshas) is presented in the yoga sutras.  Thoughts that are turbulent, cluttered, and unquiet are likely colored by one or more of the kleshas, and just being aware of it is a good start in reducing their influence over our thoughts.

2.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinivesha pancha klesha
There are five kinds of coloring (kleshas):
1) igorance or avoidance of the true nature of things (avidya),
2) egoism of the mind over the consciousness (asmita),
3) attachment to thought patterns or objects (raga),
4) aversion to thought patterns or objects (dvesha),
5) attachment to these states or fear of the loss of them as death (abhinivesha).

This is my own take on the translation of this sutra, for brevity.

Over the next few days, I’ll go through each one, in my day.  Try doing the same yourself.  See what you learn about yourself.

Just Let it Go

Ever have a bad day – heck, a bad week, month, or year – and had someone tell you “oh, just let it go”? Depending on just how bad that day was, did it tempt you to violate the first yama, ahimsa (non-violence) in some fashion or another? I doubt any of us wants to feel that way, but we feel that we just can’t help it. There’s too much stress from our bad day.

Of course, the sutras have an answer. They always do.

Sutra 2.1:
tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah
The yoga of action consists of three parts: purifying the senses (tapas), contextualized self-study (svadhyaya), and devotion and release into that which is more than our ego-self. (ishvara-pranidhana).

(It’s worth noting that the last part is my own take on the interpretation.)

So, even the yoga sutras, which are supposed to be a guiding instruction in all this is saying “just let it go”.  Well, yeah.  That’s what the whole eight limbs is all about.  Self-control of the self, observances in relationation to others, physical exercises, breath work,  sensory withdrawl, concentration, meditation, enlightenment.  It’s all so easy, and we all have these simple lives that give us plenty of time to practice this.  Oh, wait… that first sentence up there…

That’s where I think the yoga sutras give us a little insight that can help us.

Sutra 2.5:
antiya ashuchi duhkha anatmasu nitya shuchi sukha atman khyatih avidya
There are four types of ignorance: thinking of the transient as eternal, mistaking the impure as pure, thinking those things which really bring misery will actually bring happiness, and mistaking that which is not the true self for the true self.

How much of our stress from the day, the week, the whatever, comes from this avidya (ignorance)?  Are you stressed over something in our job that we think is a big, long-lasting “THING”, that really is fairly transient in the grand scheme of our lives, and the lives of everyone around you?  Or perhaps you are stressed by thinking that completing everything on that overly detailed to-do list will make you feel happy, when you’ll just feel miserable trying to achieve an unachievable goal?

But when we’re in the middle of our stress, can we even think of these things?  I know I have trouble with it.  Taking a look at the sutras, though, using them to remind us “LOOK!”, can be a little kick in the behind, a little nudge that even if we don’t have time to go to an hour and a half long yoga class, and do half an hour of meditation before bed, we can do a little bit of work to get a little closer to an uncluttered mind, a calm body, and understanding our true self.