Asana Tutorial: Backbending Goodness

I was working with this yesterday and found it extremely useful. Give it a try and let me know what you think!

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Two straps. One around each thigh, threaded toward the midline creating internal rotation. Bring length of straps between your legs and wrap around outer thighs with crisscross between inner thighs. Pull straps in front of you to create internal rotation in the thighs and pull the heads of the arm bones back.

Next wrap the length of the strap around your upper trapezius muscles threading from the front. The length of the straps will crisscross at the back. Pull down to create internally rotating thighs as you backbend. Pull through to front under armpits, threading under shoulder blades. Maintain crisscross at mid-back. Pull up as you go back. Super supportive!

You can also pull the straps forward and pin them under your hands in downward facing dog. I also put them under my elbows in sphinx pose. Both excellent support.

Yoga in Action: Always Integrity

Always integrity. Always self-respect.

One of my most challenging challenges over the past several years has been how to rectify being a spiritually minded yogi in the modern world. The modern world seems to be to be constantly throwing obstacles to practice at me. Traffic is a bitch. People are stressed out so tension is always running high. My smart phone is always around beckoning me to look at cat pictures.

Sometimes it feels like you can't catch a break. It's one asshole after another; honking their horn, cutting in line, saying hurtful things....

But damn if it doesn't supply some serious fodder for practice. Lately I have been especially challenged by personal interactions. It seems as though the universe has something to tell me, or some lesson to teach me. Dealing with people is hard. It is up to us to interpret the actions of others and respond appropriately. When we can approach this interpretation from a place of self-love, self-respect and total integrity, that's when we are practicing yoga off the mat.

Sometimes, we or the other person perceives something about our actions which we either didn't intend or they misinterpreted. This is common. Human interactions are constantly unclear or confusing and as a result, you have developed your own communication style to combat general weirdness.

It's hard not to take things that someone else says or actions that they perform personally. Yet, it's very rare that someone else is acting a certain way because of something that you did or said. Taking these things personally is a quick path to suffering. Most people are doing what they do out of personal experience and their own way that they've developed to deal with the world and other humans.

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It would be so easy to go through life reacting instantaneously to everything that happens. Most people do this. Someone wrongs you, you wrong them back. Retribution and eye-for-an-eye are really common ways of approaching conflict.

But, what if instead, you were able to step slightly back from the situation and assess. How would responding in an unkind way aid the situation? Would you be acting yogically if you responded negatively?

The most difficult work of yoga happens off the mat. Getting on your mat and opening up your body is a joy. And even when it's hard it usually feels good. On the contrary, acting with integrity in the face of negativity is almost always hard.

To practice, here's what I propose:

When someone else wrongs you, apologize. When someone says unkind things to you, offer them compassion. Maybe you have to go home and sit on your meditation cushion and force yourself to bring that person into your heart and LOVE them. I mean it, love them! Offer them compassion. And act as the yoga sutras suggest.

Yoga Sutra 1.33 says:

maitrī karuṇā mudito ‘pekṣāṇāṁ sukha duḥkha puṇyā ‘puṇya viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta prasādanaṁ
A clear and tranquil mind results from cultivating friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who suffer, joy towards the virtuous and impartiality towards wrong-doers. (Translated by Ravi Ravindra in The Wisdom of Patanjalis Yoga Sutras)

One of the main reasons that I practice is to cultivate peace of mind. And I truly find that the path of integrity and self-respect is the clearest route to serenity.

Yoga as a Useful Tool

You guys know that feeling when you very first like someone and it feels like the world is moving super fast and super slow at the exact same time? It sort of makes you into a crazy person. And it definitely affects the ability of the body to function. In the extremes sleeping and eating even become impossible.

Okay, this might be me right now. My brain is a swarm of bees. My heart is running at top speed.

So, what to do with all this mind chatter and pukey feelings? Why, turn it into a yoga lesson, of course!

It is totally astounding to me to see how easily my body and brain just absolutely fall apart on something like this. My nervous system is totally haywire. After a certain point of years of yoga practice, you think that you can exert some control over your body and mind. But damn, if it isn't really really hard.

But, guess what? You probably already know what I'm going to say, right?

This yoga shit works! Seriously.

Guess when I've been able to actually calm down and relax my jack-hammering heart? Guess when I have been able to remove myself (very slightly) from the tumult that used to be a relatively calm mind? Yoga class, of course. And it's not instantaneous. It's not. It takes about half of class. And that is half of class of seriously focusing on my breath and my breath alone. And it's taken years and years of cultivation of yoga skills to even get to this point.

It takes every fiber of my being investing in a state of calm. But I can do it. And that's the important thing.

A decade of practice may seem like a lot, but it's a drop in the bucket. No worthwhile lasting change can come quickly. This ability to calm oneself down through yoga is usually years and years and hours and hours of practice in the making. It means getting on the mat and sitting down on the cushion even when (especially when) you don't feel like it.

So, how does it work? How can yoga be a useful tool and not just a way to exercise?

The Nervous System (does not lie)

The Nervous System (does not lie)

Take a look at the right side of this chart. I was (am) literally experiencing all of those symptoms. My sympathetic nervous system is in a tizzy. It's like a textbook example. It literally is a textbook example.

The work of yoga is to tap into the parasympathetic system—you can see it on the chart! When you practice well, the heart rate slows. The breath slows. You are less affected by external stimuli.

When you consistently come to practice, you learn to use your parasympathetic system. When the asana work is challenging, you teach yourself to slow your breath down. You teach yourself to get out of your mind and experience fully the body and breath. You respond to the bodily stimulation by encouraging it to chill out.

This is what I want yoga to be for everyone. When I teach, I try to approach it as scientifically as possible, with complete emphasis on breath. Breath as the gateway between body and mind. Breath as the tool that sets yoga apart from other disciplines. Breath as the switch for the parasympathetic nervous system. We need more calm and peace in this world.

Calm of body, soft of breath, quiet of mind.

And in this way, I like to think that yoga can be a most useful tool. So that you can inhabit the beautiful container that is your body, breathe with ease, and fill your mind with peace.

This is me on sympathetic nervous system.

This is me on sympathetic nervous system.

What is Yoga?

I currently have the privilege of teaching yoga to individuals in recovery from drugs and alcohol. They are awesome. They are also a special sort of yogi. Basically they are starting their lives over. Starting fresh. They have this amazing opportunity to begin life again with a clean slate.

Isn't it great to be alive?

Isn't it great to be alive?

And because they're in recovery and working through all the shit that got them there in the first place, they are particularly open. They are looking for something real and sustainable to help them maintain their sobriety and lead fulfilling lives. At least that's what I'm hoping...

So, I sort of see it as my job to provide that real and fulfilling activity. One of the aims of yoga is to open your eyes to what is real. To the reality of the universe, of yourself, of life. Most of us as humans lead our lives as if in a trance oblivious to the wonders of being alive. It's so easy to get bogged down in the mire of day to day crud. If you constantly keep yourself busy with to-do lists, it's easy to avoid examining the reality of being alive.

I am currently reading Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope which is a vast tome of yogic and psychology knowledge. It's packed to the brim with philosophical gems like this one:

"If you want to experience the joyous ecstasy that life offers, there is one commitment that is absolutely fundamental: the commitment to live in the moment. With that commitment as your guiding focus, whatever you do in your daily life is part of your
transformational process. Your commitment to the living in the moment becomes your vehicle for spiritual growth." (p. 113)

And another:

"The goal of the reality project is not to disengage from the phenomenal world, but to turn to embrace it more and more deeply—to discover its hidden depths. And in order to do that, paradoxically, we do not reject the vicissitudes of the embodied life. We do not reject suffering. Rather we turn and go through the doorway of suffering. We turn to embrace our neuroses, our conflicts, our difficult bodies and minds and we let them be the bridge to a fuller life. Our task is not to free ourselves from the world, but to fully embrace the world--to embrace the real." (p 115) 

So. My challenge with these new yogis who are newly sober and eager to embrace reality (maybe?) is to give them a well-rounded experience of yoga. A bit of asana, some breathe work, some meditation, some philosophy and even some yoga nidra. In an hour. Twice a week. How can I fully convey to these people the great depth of what it is I'm teaching? How can I offer them something that awakens them to reality? And the potential for the practice to create real and lasting change within them? What is yoga to these people? What is yoga?

Is this yoga?

Is this yoga?

Yesterday we were ending class with baddha konasana before savasana. One or two of them was complaining of the stretch. I told them to think about leading with their sternum as though they could lay their heart center down onto their feet. Well, they thought that was pretty hilarious. And one of them asked if that was the goal. 

Now, I probably could have just said that "yes, putting the head to the ground and the heart on the feet was the goal of the pose" and left it at that. But no. No! I owe to these people in flux to give them something more.

Here's what I offered:

Me: If the goal of yoga was to be flexible, then any gymnast could come in and automatically be good at it. 

Student: But that's not the case?

Me: No. 

Student: Really?

Me: Really. The goal of yoga is not to be flexible. What good is that going to serve you in your life? The reason that we do a practice on the mat is to learn to deal with difficulty. We purposefully put ourselves into challenging postures to see how well we can continue to breathe and be present. So that when shit comes up for you in difficult times, you have some tools for knowing how to be present and how to deal when life is challenging. If you can stay in the moment and be clear about what's going on in the mind, then you are doing yoga.

It was simple. It was a 2 minute little philosophy lesson. It made me feel so alive and present in myself that I was instantly filled with joy. I don't know what they think about it now or if they have even thought of it since. But in that moment, I was exactly the sort of teacher that I want to be.

Going In

If I were to make a guess, I would say that this post will get about 7 reads, whereas my posts about asana are read by dozens. There are a number of reasons why this is so. Namely the current craze of yoga as a workout and a purely physical activity to enhance the sculpt of your abs. We as Americans are constantly trying to better ourselves not through reflection or introspection, but rather by weighing less and looking more beautiful on the outside.

I think it stinks a little, but also it's very much cultural. With the constant distraction of smartphones, money, bigger and better "stuff" it's no wonder that we aren't particularly capable of "going in" and doing internal work. Why is that? Because it's hard.

chakra system, very much "in"

chakra system, very much "in"

It's a heck of a lot harder to sit down and watch your breath than it is to go to a yoga class with rockin music where you are constantly moving and doing. In other words, modern yoga is commonly just another distraction for our already "monkey" minds.

The process of going inward is outlined in the last 4 limbs of the 8-limbed yogic path. The first of those limbs is pratyahara which is the "turning-inward" of the senses. It's essentially the process of quieting the mind by turning off your awareness of that which is outside of you and moving toward awareness of what is happening on the inside. From here, your work moves into concentration meditation (dharana), meditation without a point of focus (dhyana), and finally samadhi which is full absorption into your current task at hand.

So, what to do?

The work of coming regularly to your meditation cushion to quiet the senses takes a mature and sophisticated student. This person has to be willing to sit still, be quiet and examine the nature of their own mind. This is scary business at times. Part of living on the surface and not delving too deeply into the depth of the mind has to do with our notions of keeping ourselves safe. If we can just cling to tangible "real" physical things and keep our mind preoccupied with those, then we don't have to go deeply inside and see the shit that makes up our minds. Sometimes what's in there is crummy and needs some tending to, which can be painful.

Me, going in.

Me, going in.

Now, don't get me wrong. I do the physical practice of yoga on an almost daily basis. I am firmly committed to keeping my body healthy and well as I age. But, at the same time, I use my daily practice as a way to examine myself. I watch my breath. I watch the whirls of my mind. I watch the sensations happening in the body. I pay attention to me much as a scientist would. Constantly observing and at  the same time, constantly trying to stay present with what is.

If you are someone who is not ready to commit to a regular meditation practice, all is not lost. There are ways to be reflective and introspective without a daily practice (though, the work is much more satisfying if you can make it every day!). For more accessible internal work, try just noticing when you experience something truly joyous or beautiful. Observe the sensations in your body/mind that arise as a result. Observe the thoughts that come up and whether you cling to the "goodness" or whether you can let it all go.

You could also journal 5 good things and 5 difficult things that happened to you each day. Reflect upon why you consider them good/bad and how you reacted to each of the experiences. That work should take you about 5 minutes before you go to sleep.

If even that is too challenging, next time you're in the car or riding the bus, do the same sort of work but just mentally. Scan the events of your day and notice how you categorize them (good/bad) and why. Did you react as per usual, or did you experience a new type of reaction?

The more you can tune in to the inner-workings of the mind, the closer you will be to understanding your choices and decisions along this path of life.

Yoga in Action: Repect for the Earth

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Happy Earth Day!

Part of our practice as a modern yogis is practicing compassion and a mindful approach to living. This is a constant challenge in a world of fast-paced technology, instant gratification and the constant desire for bigger, better and more. It is a major challenge too, to offer the same practices to the earth as we would to say, another person.

At times, I feel like my mind belongs to someone else with the way it grasps at material things. I mean, really? After all this work of non-attachment and I still haul an entire u-haul around every time I move?

But, it's all just practice in the end. And in my opinion, yogis should be at the forefront of practice when it comes to respect for the earth. Treading lightly on this planet comes naturally to those who practice such deep respect for their own bodies and minds.

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Here are some of the simple things that we can do to balance modern life with a yogic life:

  • Garden your own veggies.
    This is typically super simple and very rewarding, giving you the chance to nurture your future food as you would nurture your yoga practice. Also gives you the chance to be outside and connect with life. For an extra earth-friendly approach, collect rainwater to use on the garden, rather than relying on the hose.

  • Get an eco-friendly yoga mat.
    They are a little more expensive, but typically last longer. The eco yoga mat that I am currently using is from Yogasana. It's made of cotton and woven in India. They have great bright colors and a strong texture to help you connect to your hands and feet.

  • Buy secondhand yoga clothes.
    For those of you who know me, you know that I buy pretty much everything secondhand. I find SO many yoga clothes this way. Expensive brands that people have donated after just a couple of wears. 

  • Stop buying bottled drinks.
    Get a filter for your water. Make your own kombucha (I do this and it's super simple). Make a huge pot of ginger tea, bottle it and keep it in the fridge for when you crave a sweet drink.

  • Buy local/organic food.
    I know this one seems like a no-brainer. But it can be a hard leap to take when the expense is considered. Once you dive in, you'll never go back. Organic food is better for you and better for the earth. You can get a CSA box from a local farm on the cheap. Usually they are organic and have lots of interesting new things for to try. Also, it's just about farmer's market time for most places. This makes it easy to do local eggs and meat as well.

  • Turn off lights, use the heat/air conditioning within reason
    Duh, right? Not so. Our idea of comfort is way out of wack in my opinion. If it were up to me, we'd turn on the air-conditioning two weeks out of the year in July/August when it's unbearable.

  • Bike/walk/run/skip/scoot/ride the bus
    Cars are bad news. I drive a car. Often. But in a perfect world, I would not. I would walk and ride my bike. This is one for my own personal work.

  • Bring your own tupperware for leftovers
    As a server, I see so much waste go out the door in the form of to-go containers. This one is particularly easy. Just keep a couple in your car and grab em before you go in to eat.

Got any other ideas? Tell me what they are, and I'll include them!

  • Use a Mooncup/Gladrags for your moon cycle, ladies. 
    Thanks to my friend Lacey for reminding me about this one. Rather than create extra waste from tampons or pads, I use a Mooncup. It saves money, lasts for 10 years and isn't putting any harmful chemicals into my body. 

Yoga in Action: Being True to Yourself

So, I've been teaching for 3 years now. Not too much time, admittedly, but enough time to have a decent grasp of my own style and what works well for students and what works less well. As someone who has to promote myself as a small business, as well as continue a personal practice, I am constantly looking for ways to improve myself as a teacher and student and bring in more people.

To expand my skill-set and business acumen, I tend to look to yoga studios/teachers who are successful. What do they offer that brings so many people in? What is it that yoga practitioners are looking for in a teacher, studio, class format, etc.?

And I have to say that it's impossible to collect this type of information and not allow it to inform your own personal methods. When you take someone's class, it's only natural that you learn something new and begin to transmit that information in your own way.

I have been moving around the world for the past 5 or so years. I have studied with some incredible teachers all around the world. Here are some of my biggest influences over the past years:

Theresa Murphy, Omaha, NE

Lucie Konikova in Prague, Czech Republic

Ben Vincent in MPLS

Laurel Van Matre in MPLS

Rod Stryker of Para Yoga in Boulder, CO

Ganesh Mohan of Svastha Yoga in Chennai, India

This is an eclectic bunch of individuals with many different styles and approaches. I love being open to all different types of styles and being able to incorporate them into my own teaching. Theresa Murphy, my biggest yoga influence calls herself a "cross-pollinator" implying that she gets her information from multiple sources. I can't help but be the same way. When there are so many traditions and methods out there, why would you not experience as many of them as possible?

It is very challenging for me not to get mired down in the yoga pop culture muck. And the notion that one particular way/method is the only way is very prevalent in Western yoga culture. If you want people to buy your brand, you have to promote it as the brand.

What I have recently realized is that through my knowledge-seeking, I have strayed from teaching in my own very personal way. I have lost track of teaching in a way that is completely true to me. Not that I have not been teaching well or am disappointed with myself, but I have been learning so much really new material and trying to rectify it with my own personal style. And, I came to realize that it isn't really working. Part of the challenge of being a good teacher is transmitting the knowledge you obtain in a way that is clear and meaningful for your students. And you can't really do that if you're teaching in another teacher's style/way. For me, the most important thing is to be completely true to myself.

This is not to say that we shouldn't be open to the vast expanse of knowledge that is out there. And I wouldn't trade my experience/studies for anything else.  But it became clear to me that I've been trying to share information without first making it my own.Armed with this revelatory knowledge, not to mention yogic information, I forge on.

This is me.  

This is me.

 

There is so much to learn on this path.

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? 

Finding Contentment in the Chaos

India can be an extremely frustrating place. It's hot. It's really chaotic. Indians swarm you to offer you rides in their rickshaw, necklaces, directional advice, etc. It's loud as can be—horns, music, traffic. It's dirty.

Last year, everything about being in India was novel for me. I drank it all in. I enjoyed every experience, even those that were loud, chaotic and dirty. I was just so happy to be here that I even found joy in the painful and frustrating times. This year, things feel different. I feel annoyed by Indians and chaos. I can't help it. I don't want to be annoyed. I want to live in the present and appreciate the fact that I'm in INDIA for crying out loud!! But something keeps rising up in me. And it doesn't feel like joy. It feels like suffering.

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It feels a lot like when I was a teenager. I don't know what you were like when you were teen-aged, but I was angry. All the time. Anything and everything could upset me. And did. And not only was I angry, I was anxious to be out of whatever situation I was currently in. I believe I could characterize it as a constant state of non-contentment. Unless something was a completely novel situation, I was instantly bored and looking to move on.

This approach to life has (luckily) abated with time. I think part of it is maturing and recognizing that not every situation has to be completely enriching and fabulous. And (I would like to think) that most of my new life approach is due to my work on the mat/cushion. I've slowed down. I've learned to appreciate small details and things that we generally perceive as "mundane." 

So much sweetness in the simplicity

So much sweetness in the simplicity

I think a lot of this appreciation has developed out of my asana practice. Coming to the mat daily and doing the same poses hundreds and then thousands of times can really put into perspective one's ability to find something new in a repeat situation. And no matter how many times I do trikonasana, I can still find some new sensation and some amount of joy to just "be in it." This is how I should approach every repeat situation. What about this can I find to appreciate? Even if my brain/body is telling me not to feel content?

So, this second trip to India has been one of lesson learning for me. It's fascinating to watch myself move through this incredible country for a second time. To see my reaction to India when it's no longer novel for me. It's amusing to be present with my anger, however silly it seems. It's great for me to have the insight to even realize that I'm experiencing non-contentment and then see what I can do about it.

There is nothing like taking yourself out of your comfort zone to put your work to the test. Looks like I better keep on getting back on the mat/cushion upon my return.

Letting Go in India

Disclaimer: This blog post is confessional in nature. 

 

You have to pretty open-minded when you're in India. There is a certain "go with the flow-ness" required if you are planning to have an enjoyable time. Goodbye personal space—hello several Indians pressed into places generally reserved for lovers. Oh, you don't like pooping in a hole without toilet paper? Or you're not into starving dogs following you around or trash everywhere? Wait, you don't like acrid smells accosting you at each turn? Now would be a good time to work on letting some things go, for instance: clinging to your cultural notions of cleanliness and personal space, desiring to be comfortable at all times, expectations about your experience, etc. the sooner you can detach from those types of clinging, the sooner you can begin to enjoy yourself.


Luckily I feel pretty capable of this sort of short term "letting go." I think I'm able to see India for what it is even if it makes me momentarily uncomfortable. It's so different from how my life is usually that it's somehow simple not to sweat the small stuff while I'm here.


But I had to come all the way to India to see what I haven't been so capable of letting go in the long term. To see some of my own personal painful clinging patterns took a complete change of normalcy. 

When people first start practicing yoga, one of the hardest things to release or let go of are our previous patterns of holding tension and our patterns of breathing. Just telling someone that they are tense or should breathe to release tension isn't going to automatically make it so. It takes a realization of the disruptive patterns before you begin to release them. The same is true for many of our life patterns. 
Whether or not we realize it, we continuously cling to our ways of doing things and notions of how we think things are/ ought to be. 


When I got to India, I met up with my dear pal Veronika a few days before our training so that we could catch up after a year of not seeing one another. We talk about everything at great length. She's a great listener and we can talk about a single subject for hours. Or maybe days.


So. You guys. 

I found myself quite regularly coming back to two subjects. At first a little too regularly. And then slightly desperately. And then. Geez, I could actually hear myself whining.

It took me thousands of miles and seven months to realize that I am not letting go of my past relationship. Or rather, I am not letting go of the plans that I had for the two of us—a family, a home, a life together. What can I say? The end of it was a pretty huge blow and I had thought we were going to be together forever. And  I made plans according to my expectations. But we aren't together, which makes these plans obsolete. And it's time to let it go. Existing in a state of dukkha (suffering) because I'm unwilling to resist clinging to what could have been is no longer useful. 

Additionally, I have realized that it isn't too useful for me to cling to the job/lifestyle/achievements that I wish I had. It's okay to dream of course and important to have goals. But it isn't okay to grasp for and cling to those things if you don't have them. It just isn't. You have to let them go and appreciate what you do have. Sometimes you have to let these things go while you're in India. Find your breath. Be love and peace. And let go.

Antarayas: Obstacles to Practice

I think that a good first post for the new year is one in which I explain some reasons that it can be so hard to practice. Despite all your good intentions of making it to the mat everyday, meditating 3 times a week or just trying to be more present as you go through life, there are some legitimate hurdles which can stand in your way.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali (the codifier of the sutras) outlines nine antaraya(s) (obstacles) to regular practice (sutra 1.30). These are basically ideas your mind comes up with to avoid practice. The mind likes its current state—as it can direct you and your actions with its incessant thoughts. Why would the mind want you to practice regularly and thus gain some control over its behavior? It wouldn't. So here's what it comes up with:

The 9 Antaraya(s)

  1. Vyadhi (disease or illness) 
    In most cases, this is a legitimate reason not to practice. Practice can be physically painful or mentally difficult if you have some illness or incessant pain. If this is your current barrier to practice, go back to bed and vow to return to regularity when your health has improved. 
     
  2. Styana (apathy, dullness)
    This obstacle may arise if you begin to have doubts about your progress, don't see immediate benefits from practicing or momentarily don't care about the positivity which practice can provide. Styana is a mental state, but can also be present physically if you are feeling heavy and dull. In order to overcome this obstacle, you can do a small scan of the benefit of practicing, to remind yourself of why you do it, or you can get up and practice asana to increase your tapas. Tapas (fire) will increase with each practice and encourage you to continue to do so.
     
  3. Samsaya (self-doubt, lack of confidence)
    This state of being can happen to the best of us, though some are better at overcoming it than others. A state of doubt about your ability, being, or place in the world can cause this antaraya to flare up. One way to overcome it could be to make a list of the things you are good at or the ways in which you personally improve the world. Another possibility could be to do a metta meditation in which you offer deep compassion to yourself. Here is a metta meditation which I recommend: Metta  
     
  4. Pramada (unclear thinking, intoxication)
    This type of mind-state can occur literally from being intoxicated, or possibly by being intoxicated with a very strong emotion, such as fear or anger. When you are in this frame of mind, it can be incredibly difficult to step back and assess the situation to act appropriately. One possible way to overcome it is to make sure that each time a state of unclear thinking pops up for you, you step back and take 5 deep breaths before reacting. Simple and possibly very effective. 
     
  5. Alasya (fatigue, feeling tired)
    Happens to the best of us. If it's a persistent feeling, you may consider your sleeping and eating habits and whether or not they are conducive to healthy living. I for one used to be consistently tired until I cut meat out of my diet. Not that it's the answer for everyone, but happened to work well for me. If you want to practice, but can't seem to muster up the energy, you may consider a yoga nidra (yogic sleep) which is a practice of deep deep relaxation. If this appeals to you, find a recorded copy so that you can be completely focused on your practice. 
     
  6. Avirati (sensory preoccupations) 
    This whirls of the mind are often sensory or sexually focused. These thoughts can be difficult to overcome once they arise. The best you can do is to try and bring your mind back to your task at hand. Reward yourself for any progress made.
     
  7. Bhranti-darsana (erroneous seeing) 
    This type of obstacle is present when you think that there is only one way of viewing the world, which just so happens to be your way. Or thinking that you are always right or the way that you do things is the penultimate way to do them. It's difficult to accept that other approaches can be equally effective. This type of thinking is present in fundamentalist religions, certain school systems and in political thought. One way to overcome this obstacle could be to practice seeing another point of view. Each time a situation occurs in which you feel uncomfortable or offended by someone else's actions, take a moment to try and view it from their perspective. Assess the possibilities for why they acted the way that they did. This isn't fool-proof and may sometimes be mysterious to you, but by and large this is a very powerful practice to accepting the inter-connectedness of humanity. 
     
  8. Alabdhabhumikatva (not being grounded) 
    In order to progress healthily and sensibly, you must establish a solid foundation of understanding at each level before moving on. In this obstacle, you are attempting to understand or practice something for which you are not ready. It can be very tempting to try advanced level practices of asana, pranayama or meditation, but in some cases can be dangerous. It might be at too high of a level for you to grasp or incomprehensible due to a lack of pertinent knowledge. To overcome this antaraya, make sure that your practices are appropriate and grounded before moving on. 
     
  9. Anavasthitatva (instability)
    This state is related to the previous one. This barrier to practice occurs when you do progress to the next level, but are unable to maintain it as a practice and fall back to the previous level. To overcome this obstacle, you must practice patience and perseverance. It is also helpful to think that this happens to everyone practicing and that all of those individuals picked up the pieces and continued on.

So, I hope this post was somewhat enlightening on how difficult it can be to maintain a regular practice and also offered some common sense practices for continuing. I must say that this post was largely inspired by the work of Nicholai Bachman and his translation of the Yoga Sutras. Without this, I never would have been so insightful on the antarayas.

Ganesha

Ganesha

Lastly, I want to say that Ganesh the Hindu god is the "remover of obstacles". One general way to overcome any troubles in life is to chant a mantra to Ganesh. My favorite is om gam ganapataye namaha.

Om on! Happy practice in 2013.