Newness in Each and Every Moment

Every day, every hour, every minute offers us the possibility of NEWNESS. But, how often do we see that potential?
How routinized is your every day, every hour, every minute?
The composer John Cage said, "I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I am doing." His composition style certainly reflects this sentiment -- he was an extremely innovative and provocative composer.

I myself am extremely routine oriented. I love a good schedule, and a finished to-do list and all the "good" habits that I've incorporated as I try to be a better human. But sometimes, life can feel like a series of morning meditations and brushing (and flossing!) my teeth. I don't mean to lose the spark, but the day-to-day grind can make it a challenge.

The same could be said for our ASANA practice, our time on the mat. Do you tend to always do things the same way? Can you approach each practice with an openness to NEW experience, NEW pathways, NEW information?

Yoga practice teaches us to be IN THE NOW. The more I practice, the more I'm interested in the SUBTLE nuances of my body, breath, heart and mind. The deeper I dive into meditative work, the more often I find myself IN THE NOW, taking a breath, enjoying the MOMENT.

Yoga in Action: Your Inner Light of Awareness

Over the course of my recent study, I keep coming across a "buzz-phrase" that really pleases me. It is: your inner light of awareness. It refers to the you who you really are. At your core. Not your job or your life experience or how anyone else perceives you. It is simply and basically you. The you who you are now and have always been. Not who you strive to be, or who you have been.

It's beautiful, right? 

Your inner light of awareness.

like this, but on the inside!

like this, but on the inside!

Another way of thinking about this is as your dharma. My main sanskrit guy Nicholai Bachman defines dharma as "the underlying substance that does not fundamentally change but simply appears differently over time." (The Yoga Sutras Workbook, pg 56) In Indian culture, dharma is like the law or the fundamentals of the way things are. If you think of this in terms of yourself, your dharma is the fundamental structure of you that does not change.

I was pretty caught up in trying to understand dharma for awhile, because I was confusing it with dharmic purpose. This is a concept that my father hammered into our brains all throughout our childhoods/college/continuing today. Your dharmic purpose is the thing that you were put on this earth to do. The thing that you can provide to humankind that no one else can. Your dharma is more like your essence. It's what makes you, well, you!

For a couple of years recently, I was desperate to figure out what it was that I was put here to do. I thought it was something that if I meditated on it and thought about enough, that it would come to me in a big shocking epiphany!

I discussed it with my teachers, my friends and my partner. I thought about it in the car and on the cushion. I need answers, damnit!

I've given up the quest for a solid answer to the "what is my dharmic purpose" question. It's not that I don't want to know. I really really want to know. I still think about it a lot. It's just that I don't really think I need to know now.

 If I really needed to know now, wouldn't I know?

Over time, I have been able to loosen the hold that it has on me. Letting go of the thinking that "if I can just discover my dharmic purpose, then everything will fall into place!" My focus now is cultivating santosha (contentment) with what currently is.

Santosha with my very own inner light of awareness. To be content is something we could all strive for a little more. To be content with who we are, at our very essence.

Can you connect with your inner light of awareness? 

Yoga in Action: Finding Joy in the Process

We are so "finished pose" oriented in this country. Nobody wants to be the schmuck who doesn't look like B.K.S. Iyengar in their one-handed handstand, right? It's pretty common to see an intense amount of strain from a student who just isn't ready to go deeper.
I always try to give a few options of steps along the way to a peak pose--something like, "your first option is to work pigeon pose, when you're ready, you can add pigeon with the thigh stretch and for those of you who are quite open in your shoulders, you might try eka pada raja kapotasana."

Inevitably these initial suggestions go unexplored. Everyone jumps directly into what they perceive to be the "final posture." They cram their legs and arms into extreme angles, forgetting entirely to breathe, or to be present or to find any joy in this process of yoga. And this is how injuries happen and this is how people come to the conclusion that they "aren't good at yoga." 

The process of joy in this one took some work.
When I went to India to study with the Mohan's (see a post on that here) I was struggling between an orientation that was largely based in asana (posture) and one that was more interested in the movement of prana (life force/energy). I had just come off a week-long tantra intensive that was very um, intense in the pranic realm. I had ruffled my accrued lifetime of yucky stuff (karma) and wasn't really sure of how to best proceed.

The man himself, Krishnamacharya
The Mohan's are like the most pragmatic yogis that you've ever met. They teach Yoga Therapy as developed by Krishnamacharya. You know that guy? The one who taught all the modern day masters?

Ganesh, the son of the Mohan's, is trained as a medical doctor and an ayurvedic doctor. So yeah, he's pretty into wellness. And he happens to be one of the best teachers I've ever had. This is why--he's incredibly thorough and every single thing that he instructs is based on breath. The reason that you would go to a yoga therapist and not a physical therapist is because yoga connects to the breath and it creates an energy (prana) in the body that you don't get from doing exercises alone.
Breathe! Be present! Find joy in the process!

That's the rub, people. The reason that yoga works isn't because people with flexible hamstrings have more fun (bumper sticker?). It's because yogis who practice regularly just automatically start to slow down and experience more of life. When you base your practice on your natural cycle of breath, and you really really pay attention, you can't help but be more aware. And when you become more aware, it's easier to realize to all of the beautiful things that exist in a day, or in a moment!
And in my experience it becomes easier to appreciate small things at first and then larger things like being alive, and having friends and family and the fascinating world.

The process of yoga is a process of tracking down joy--true inner joy that can only come from you. The next time you're in class and your teacher gives you options, maybe try the first, fully connected to your breath and fully connected to a sense of joy before moving on to step two.

Breath of Life: Pranayama

Breathing like a MoFo
Isn't it kind of awesome that breathing counts as doing yoga? Well...let me be specific. Awareness of your breath and breathing in a purposeful way counts as doing yoga. Hurray!

There are so many components to breath that it can be hard to choose a main focus.

Am I concerned with the anatomical and physiological aspects of the breath?
In that case, I could talk about the movement of the diaphragm, the muscular support from the thoracic cavity, the role of the spine, potential positions of the tongue and throat, oxygenation of the blood and cells, etc.

If I want to focus on breathing in meditation, then I would be concerned with breath as a tool for concentration, controlling the breath to be even and equal, breath retention, lengthening inhales or exhales for achieving certain outcomes; again potential for lengthy and heady dialogue.

I think one of the loveliest things about the breath worth discussing here is its magnificent simplicity coupled with its enormous complexity. Ah yoga, you slay me with your dualities. In its simplest form, breath is just one inhale followed by one exhale. This pattern repeated over and over thousands upon thousands of times is our life-sustaining mechanism. No breath, no life. At its most complex, breathing performs so many functions for the body that it's overwhelming to consider them all.

The ancient yogis were aware of the energetic potential of breath and devised exercises to use it for the purposes of enlightenment. These complex ways to move breath are out of the scope of this current post but the fact that breath has such a capability is certainly worth noting. Using breath in this way--controlling, moving energy, containing--is what is known as pranayama which is the fifth limb of raja yoga.

The breath is one bodily function over which we have control. Think about it, you can't control your heartbeat or your digestion, but you can direct your breath to an area of the body, lengthen or shorten it, be a belly breather or a chest breather, and practice any number of types of pranayama. Isn't that completely fascinating and moves you to get out there and get your breath on?

In the coming posts, I intend to explore some specific ways to breathe so that you may have a more aware, more present and more healthful existence.
See you then.


India Part 4 or No Choice but the Present

You know how when you start practicing quieting your mind and suddenly you notice that you are very very rarely quieting your mind? You should maybe try moving to India.
The level of noise and stimulation necessitates an extreme level of attention to the present moment.

Thinking that I might sit and enjoying a few quiet moment on the bus the other day, I proceeded to soften my breath and begin to turn inward and !! honk! mere seconds (moments?) later I am awoken from my reverie. Joke's on me though. I can't be mad or annoyed about the noise. I was supposed to be meditating and quiet my mind, but it was a distraction that brought me back to the present.

The scene of the blog.


Thank you India for this humbling reminder. The present is now and I am fully here.

India Part 1 or Holy Mother (of chaos)

Um. India.
Let's start by saying that I'm currently in the "Detroit" of India. So whatever images that conjures up for you are probably pretty damn similar to reality. People, buses, bicycles, motorbikes, and of course no Indian road would be complete without tons and tons of rickshaws. Which are the focus of this post...

Yesterday we took a rickshaw or "tuktuk" as they're lovingly called from Injambakkam where we are staying, to Chennai. The drive is pretty far because we're living about 30 kilometers south. Yes, I said kilometers...no, I don't totally know how that translates into miles-something like two k's per mile?
The point being that it was far and heavily trafficked and we were riding in an oversized covered trike. Next to buses. And cars. I think that our driver was the most adventuresome tuktuk master in all the land literally weaving in and out of impossibly small spaces for over an hour. I am sure this is what everyone says...in fact, I know this is what everyone says. "My driver was the craziest, etc, etc. But seriously.
This guy.


Me, I was utterly panicked for the first, oh hour or so. I was gripping the seat, I was gripping Veronika, I was gripping for dear life. But finally (after a seriously tense hour) two things occurred to me.
The first was that I probably wasn't going to die (most importantly) and the second was the utter sense of peace with which this guy managed the incredible stimulus around him. The whole situation reminded me of when you first start yoga and you're pretty sure that you might die and there are so many things going on and you're just gripping all of your muscles for dear life, but pretty soon (most likely in savasana) you recognize the incredible possibility for peace which arises out of your practice.


In the tuktuk, after I remembered that I have breath, and then remembered that I have breath awareness, I began to be able to ease up on the intensity of my gripping. And bit by bit I opened up this breath awareness to a greater awareness of what was actually happening. Better said I opened up to a different possible reality.
And then finally I allowed our driver's sense if peace to eventually become my own sense of peace, things got a lot more enjoyable. So that's my lesson from Chennai; finding serenity amid the beautiful commotion. Accepting this new flow of life to which I am being exposed and learning to find the underlying possibility of peace.