Monday, April 9, 2012

Day 35, 36, 37: Eight Arms to Hold You.

Practicing Yoga's Eight Limbs: your ego's not gonna like it. 

Saturday, April 7, 2012
Home Practice
9:00 – 10:30 a.m.
Intro to Ayurveda Workshop
1:00 – 3:30 p.m.

Sunday, April 8, 2012
Advanced Yin Yoga Workshop
1:00 – 6:30 p.m.

Monday, April 9, 2012
Mysore Practice
6:30 – 8:30 a.m.

Yesterday's Yin workshop could be described much like the yin postures themselves — long, deep, and "oh it hurts so good!". My hips were still singing at this morning's practice even after a long, near scalding salt bath last night. I still have so far to go with opening that area of my body, after so many years of sitting at a desk for most of the day, and riding hunched over on a bike for a good portion of the remainder. It's as though I am slowly and painfully undoing years of neglect and bad habits — like trying to loosen old mooring line knots that are soaked, dried and re-soaked over the years and have are bound like little monkey fists.

Along with the challenge of the physical unbinding, there's the difficulty of stirring up and dealing with old emotions, and as a whole, you need to cultivate a quality of stillness to even to sit in these poses for 10, 15 minutes. That in itself is a challenge for someone (me) that used to have a hard time sitting still.

The yin approach is a way to observe and practice Patanjali's Second Limb of Yoga — the Niyamas, or "observances" — particularly, for me, Santosa (contentment), and Svadhyaya (study of the self). Finding contentment in life's beautiful and carefree moments is relatively easy compared to the practice of being content when we are faced with challenges, external or internal.

When I'm deep in pigeon pose, riding the crest of my 'edge', feeling my hip fascia's tightness, my knee's sensitivity — my body barely bent over my pinwheeled legs, the rest of me supported by props and bolsters galore — and I happen to look up and see the slightly overweight, middle-aged woman across from me in full pigeon with her head draped serenely on the floor in front of her, and subtle moans of pleasure emanating from somewhere within — it can take a real concerted effort to steer my mind back to a place of contentment. To remind myself that we're all unique and one person's wilted pinwheel in another's proud pigeon, and to be happy and fine with where I'm at — without comparing myself to anything external, or even to where I was at yesterday. That to me, is observing Santosa. And a 5 1/2-hour Yin workshop provided plenty of moments to practice that.

Svadhyaya is another Niyama that can come up a lot in a Yin practice. It's often translated as the "study of the higher self", and can be related to those times that we remember and observe the true essence of our beings, which exists deep within us, hidden behind that pesky egoic mind that tries desperately to govern our lives and define our self image. As we work through these difficult external barriers, we can get bombarded with a cacophony of internal ego chatter — negative thoughts ranging from "why the hell am I doing this to myself?" to comparing yourself to others in the room — all of it I like to think of as the petulant child of the egoic mind, kicking and screaming as you put it in the corner for a few hours. It hates to be ignored, and even worse, fears that you might change or ignore it forever. When we are able to observe these thoughts for what they really are, and put them aside without judgement, we are actively studying our higher self — and it's our higher self that is able to be compassionate, loving and generous — all qualities we need more of. At the end of yesterday's workshop, there was nothing but a roomful of awakened beings, all basking in the glow of each other's higher selves. A wonderful way to spend Easter Sunday.

Now, for me, the real trick is to take that feeling, of what it is to exist as that higher self, and bring it out of the shala, into the world and practice it with my loved ones, my dogs, the guy tailgating me on the highway, and most importantly, with myself.



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