April 29, 2010

Asana – Out of Body Experience?

Posted in Mindful Living, Yoga tagged , , , at 12:07 pm by moondeva

Is Yoga Asana supposed to take you out of your body and into the mind? Less body-obsessed and more mindful?

Reading Grounding Thru The Sit Bones the other day, Brenda posted an interesting discussion about the value (or not) of hybrid yoga.

…these should be activities that force you to leave the external world and enter an interior one. Asana should help you get out of your body…. It’s hard work to exercise the brain, but that is what doing yoga …is to me.

My first reaction to “asana should help you get out of your body”, was – Wait a minute, Asana is about being in my body more fully!  I’ve always felt that asana practice helps me make the journey from my brain to my heart. I don’t think I’ve ever described asana as a brain exercise.  But, the reason I love these discussions is that it makes me think through my beliefs. So here goes…

Does asana help people to be less body-focused? Does asana make people less body-obsessed?  The answer to every question in Yoga (and life) is “It Depends”. I could easily answer “Yes” to both these questions. But, it could also be that asana makes us more body-focused.

In our western approach to asana, and in the mass yoga culture images, we are forced to reckon with “perfect asana”, “perfect yoga bodies”, “perfect yoga clothes”, etc.  With the prevalence of mirrored classrooms and yoga magazines with a narrow range of body types reflected back to us, even those of us with the best of intentions to move inward, can get hung up on the external goals and benefits of  the practice. This is the negative aspect of “Body-focused”.

But, for me, asana helps me be more body-conscious in the positive sense. Conscious in my body. Moving consciousess through my body in new ways. Feeling my brain/mind/awareness extending through my whole body through the countless nerve pathways and energetic meridians.  I love to move through asanas  because, at some point when I am moving and one with my breath, I have let down the burden of my mind chatter and to-do list and even my personality; my role as mother or wife or teacher. It feels less like “brain” and more like “mind”. Present Mind. But not out of my body. Through it! 

Is Yoga “supposed” to get you out of your body? Well, classically defined, Yoga is Mediation, an absorptive process that slowly allows you to separate your identity from the purely physical (and mental) and unite with the Pure Conciousness which is formless. Many have, and do, undertake this journey with a disdain for the body – something that is a burden to be overcome. 

Yoga asana, as a prepration for meditation, can certainly make me feel more free of the burdens of the body so that I can experience a calmer mind. But,  since I tend to gravitate toward the Tantric traditions, my perspective is one of respect and delight for this body as a vehicle of consciousness. This body-mind is what gives me the ability to sit in meditation and find Union.  I do not eschew the body, and I strive not to cling to it either. I practice appreciating its usefullness, enjoying its pleasures, and pursuing freedom from attachment.

What is your experience? Do you practice asana to get into the body? out of the body? into the mind? out of the mind?

Are well all just out of our minds? Wait, don’t answer that.


January 2, 2010

Resolutions: Don’t Give Up! Give In.

Posted in Mindful Living tagged , , , , , , , at 2:54 pm by moondeva

Welcome to 2010!
Although I’ve never been a big New Year’s resolution-maker (I set intentions throughout the year), a lot of people find the beginning of the calendar year a motivational time to reflect on their lives and what they do or do not want.
With any resolution, the most important thing that I’ve discovered is to frame the desired change in a positive way, and focus on the underlying need that you are trying to meet. Maybe you’re resolving to get more sleep. Great idea! There are many reasons why you might not be getting enough sleep, and many strategies to get more. Regardless of what your particulars are, in general you are motivated by an underlying need for _______(fill in the blank). Rest? Repair? Quiet? Slowing down? By naming your underlying need, the part of yourself that needs attention knows that you are listening, and that you want to attend to it. You know how good it feels when you’ve been searching for the right word, and then finally, you remember it? Same thing with naming your need. It’s a relief on so many levels.
Now, getting more sleep may mean that you are “giving up” something else, like your favorite late-night tv show or fitting in all the chores before you go to bed. Shift your focus to what you are “giving to” yourself and envision (often) how your life/mind/body will feel once you have given to yourself. You may miss the season finale and the dishes might be dirty when you wake up but, you will also be refreshed, rested, clear-minded, calm, and healthier. Hold these positive outcomes in your thoughts every time you find yourself struggling with your resolve. I like to think of this aspect of a resolution as “Giving In” – giving much-needed care and attention Inward by listening to your needs and responding to them by making healthy choices.
As you listen in, what are some needs that are wanting to be met? How will you meet those needs? What kind of care will you “Give In” ? I’m interested in your process, let me know!
Also, if you want to super-charge your intention setting, you’re invited to my upcoming Sound, Silence & Stillness Mini-retreat. 4 hours of nurturing that’s not to be missed!

December 21, 2009

Making Peace with Winter

Posted in Mindful Living tagged , , , , , , , , at 7:00 am by moondeva

Today marks the first day of winter, the longest night of the year. All over the world people celebrate this change of seasons with fires, candles, and lights to welcome the return of the sunlight and the promise of new life that it brings. 

I am always surprised by how many people never notice the start of a new season. “Oh, today is the first day of winter?” There are others who are acutely aware of, and dread, the season either for its holidays stresses or lack of daylight and tendency toward depression. How do we acclimate to, and honor the change of seasons in our everyday actions?

While we hustle and bustle to create and enjoy holiday celebrations with friends and family it is important that we recognize what Nature (that also means you!)  is up to. Daylight is at a minimum, plants and animals are slowing, storing up, or stopping for winter,and the weather cools. Nature is conserving energy now in order to provide for new growth in spring.

If you notice you are getting a little more tired, hungry, even a little antisocial, take time to honor your body’s desire to attune with the natural cycles. Go to bed early if you are feeling tired, take some time to sit quietly with your favorite warm beverage and a book, or enjoy a long soak in the tub.

If you can, say no to holiday activities that do not truly nourish you, and if you say yes, make sure you have made peace with your choices so you are not at odds with your conscience. Like, if you have to go to Aunt Sally’s even though you have never gotten along with her, get clear on why you’re going. “Have to” usually means at some level you feel it’s important, otherwise you really wouldn’t go. Name why it’s important to you. Is it the idea of Family? Putting Aside Differences? Seeing other family members who will be there? Participating in traditions? …

To help your body stay in harmony with the shorter days and longer nights, try to get as much exposure to daylight as you can, and try this fun experiment:

When the daylight wanes, instead of turning on the electric lights, light candles around the house, keep the TV and computer off, and let yourself naturally wind down with the early arrival of evening. This is a wonderful time to make a fire in the fireplace if you have one, read or take a bath by candlelight, or just sit and talk with family and friends. You might be surprised that you feel ready for bed a lot earlier than usual – go with it! If you can’t make it from sundown to bedtime without electric lights, try 1 or 2 hours of candlelight before your usual bedtime.

A traditional meditation technique is to sit quietly and comfortably gazing at the flame of a candle. The image of the flame represents clarity, purification, and Truth. You might envision a similar flame residing in your Heart that keeps you connected to your inherent Wisdom, and True Nature which is free of obstacles and impurities.

Whatever tradition that you celebrate, may your season and new year be meaningful and abundant.

December 12, 2009

Sacred Morning Toast

Posted in Yoga tagged , , , , , , , , , at 8:13 pm by moondeva

Yoga Spy asks, when do Yoga Teachers practice?

My practice both before and after becoming a yoga teacher, has always been full of variety. Also, it depends what you mean by yoga practice. Asana? Pranayama? Meditation? Mindfulness? Parenting? It’s All Yoga, right?

My home asana practice has typically fallen somewhere between 1-3 times per week, sometimes 20 minutes, sometime 60. I, like most students, tend not to practice as “hard” at home as I do when I go take a class. I enjoy starting on the floor mostly and then work my way up, and usually end with some time upside down. I usually choose legs up the wall.  Heaven! 

About five years ago, the year after I finished my teacher training, I felt so unmotivated to practice at home and I realized that I had been pressuring myself to live up to some imagined perfect-yoga-teacher-home-practice. I was so passionate about my teaching, but I realized I was also exhausted!  So, I allowed myself to only practice restoratives if I wanted to. Well, I did a mostly restorative practice for a whole year. Because I let myself do what my body craved – the restfulness – I looked forward to my practice so much more. And, interestingly enough, at the end of that year of restoratives, I found that I was actually stronger and more flexible than during my whole year of training when I was practicing 5-7 times per week!

A regular meditation practice has never manifested for me. I sometimes meditate for 5-10 minutes at the end of my practice if the phone hasn’t rung, or (insert excuse here). My meditations usually come more spontaneously. For instance, while reading a great philosophy book, I’ll come across an inspiring passage and I’ll just close my eyes and feel into that idea, watch my breath and body. This is often where I get great inspiration for classes or workshops.

 In general, I have never gotten into a first-thing-in-the-morning asana practice. There’s no way on This Green Earth that I am waking up any earlier than I have to. Sleep is Medicine! After I’ve gotten my daughter off to school, and myself ready for the day, and baby is playing with something interesting, it is my Sacred Time to just sip tea, eat my almond butter/strawberry jam toast, and read my favorite article or blog. Creating the container of a relaxing morning is part of my yoga practice.

Nowadays, I enjoy getting out of the house to take a class a couple  times a month. But mostly I find myself squeezing in a downdog or hip-openers on the living room floor next to the baby. When I’m trying to fall back asleep in the middle of the night after the baby has nursed, I’ll practice my easy breath, or meditate on drawing my senses inward. And, almost every day, I make time for Nap-asana!

I’m a firm believer that the practice should be adapted to fit the practitioner and his/her changing needs and goals. I am also increasingly falling into the camp of Less is More. Like my new favorite teacher, Mark Whitwell suggests, all you need is 7 minutes a day of non-obsessive movement and breath. Ahhh.