My Yoga calendar for 2009 is full of empty space to record my daily practice and make notes about my weekly practice – needless to say, I’m spending all that time on the mat just to be able to write something in that awfully cute spiral notebook. Turns out some of my musings might be interesting for you Yogis out there, whether you’re beginners or experienced. You are welcome to post your own insights in the comments.
Here’s the color code of the entries:
- I’m thinking about pride and this whole topic of humbling myself. This craze in „Western“ Yoga makes me mad sometimes; its superficiality is actually the real challenge for all „serious“ Yogis – can we be Yogic enough to stay neutral and not try to prove to all those Wellness-HAWT-booty-Yogis that we’re going for the „real“, „transformative“ stuff? Can we be truly Yogic; welcoming; open-hearted; humble; devoted?
- I discovered Lucia Nirmala Schmidt’s book on CHI YOGA – a blend of the philosophies of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yoga. This is a combination I already discussed a lot with my mother (a Shiatsu practicioner). I start to integrate the guidelines for to adjust my practice to the change of seasons. It’s a good feeling to consciously connect to the world around me. I love the effects – grounding, soothing, calming.
- Like everything else, Asanas too have positive and negative sides. One has to be very attentive and mindful while practicing, always ready to immediately modify or stop a pose altogether when needed. Parsva Konasana, the Side Angle, is a pose in which I have to be extra careful. A little too deep, or a little too long, can seriously drain my energy and make me ill. I usually notice afterwards that I must have been in a slightly unbalanced condition already, and the badly done Side Angle just brought the illness to the surface. I admit I’m proud to notice the „side-effects“ of poses much earlier by now. I’m quicker to notice something is wrong, and to react accordingly.
- This month, my practice is dedicated to my Breath and Heart. I come across an article on Ilse Middendorf (Yoga Aktuell 57), and her life-work dedicated to increase awareness of the breath in all areas of life. This inspires me to ask my „natural breath“ to surge – not only in Pranayama and Asanas, but throughout the day in general. The result is surprising: my breathing gets deeper, more natural and as if guided from an invisible hand that knows me better than I do. I start to understand the often quoted saying about the breath being an independent entity.
- I also join David Newman’s Bhakti Yoga Workshop in Graz. What I learn: Devotion is stronger than Acceptance. Devotion to my self and my imperfections is the door to Transformation. Devotion creates the Commitment that can transform, and even perform miracles (I’ve seen this happening more than once). I also decide to check in more with my heart and not be put off when I seem to feel so little – it’s just because I’m not used to asking myself how I feel with my heart instead of my mind.
- I do a lot of Restorative Poses and Inversions. The deeper I go in the poses, the more layers my consciousness penetrates, the more I feel there’s a lot of sadness welling up that was literally stuck „in my bones“. It’s stuck so deep inside that it „only“ manifests as tiredness at first, but as I dig deeper, I come to its root; a comatose, sluggish sadness.
- Old wounds seem to have healed and integrated, but the first weeks of August, I still spend my days as if in a coma. I wake up feeling dull and tired already. Asana and Pranayama practice „reanimate“ me, but I can’t seem to find a way to carry that verve into the rest of my day.
- I work on opening the awareness of my back body, esp. in backbends. I cultivate cohesion in the back and lower ribs, and the pelvis, by refining the alignment of the oblique abdominals and back muscles.
- In the second half of August, I feel as if I’m intiated into womanhood all over again. I feel like in early adolescence, being secretive and shy, protecting a little ’something‘ that is growing so deep down inside my being I can’t even find words for it. I channel the energy of my Yoga practice to help that change of consciousness grow roots and branches inside me.
- in the last days of August, I re-discover my long-forgotten passion for drawing. I get myself an art-journal, and my passion and joie-de-vivre are lit anew. It is the first time that my Yoga practice serves some other creative outlet, rather than being my one-and-only way of creative expression. Awesome.
- In July, I return to my mat after a pause of fourteen days. In the first week it is so much harder to turn within and experience the sweetness of total immersion. As says Joe Kabat-Zinn: „Not to practice is a wearisome way to practice.“
- I dream repeatedly of performing the full Hanumanasana (The Splits) and Raja Kapotanasana (King Pigeon). From these dreams I remember feelings of buoyancy, stability, poise and tenderness in the heart-region. So I re-modell my current Sivananda-based practice to incorporate the preparatory and full poses. While practicing, I re-experience the exhilaration and delight of my dream-time Yoga.
- I slowly pull myself out of the extreme despair I experienced the past month. Still, it’s a rollercoaster ride. I witness rather scary bouts of anger against my parents and God; heavy fatigue of heart and spirit; and longing for death. What helps are expanded Pranayama and meditation practice, delving into the pain and staying with it.
- This month, once more I come face to face with intense pain – I get to revisit the issues from January, but this time, I have the courage to delve down to their roots. Feelings of loneliness, heartbreak, extreme disconnection, and confusion, come to the surface with previously unknown violence. The first two weeks of June, I spend my days trying to pull myself out of intense despair, waking up crying, crying all day long, and then usually experiencing a few intense minutes of Grace and Light in the afternoon, which helps me keep going. Needless to say that my Asana practice resembles the attempt of resuscitation during these weeks.
- I also officially start my teacher training as a Yoga and Restorative Yoga Teacher. Suddenly, my long-cherished wish to become a teacher seems absurd and ridiculous. This self-destructive, self-denying tendency to throw myself away (and deny accountability for my dreams) is another field of investigation in the month of June.
- The chapters on Pranayama in James Hewitt’s Complete Yoga Book help me greatly to deepen my understanding of breathwork. I decide to stop using muscle-locks and bandhas and instead focus on smoothness and fluidity of breath while keeping the body totally relaxed. In concentrate on the waves filling and emptying me. At times, I’m filled with causeless joy, my being flooded by Prana – this must be Amrita, the nectar of the Gods? :-)
- A new Yoga book inspired me to experiment with awareness in the Marmas. This gave my practice greater skillfulness and structure; my poses felt more stable and organized.
- Pranayama-practice yielded fruits in my Asana practice as well. My feel for the breathwork in the poses increased greatly. I realized I had been speeding up my breath too much in the poses, in an attempt to avoid feeling the present moment. On good days I left the mat feeling vibrant and fresh. I caught myself breathing more deeply and consciously throughout the day. My appetite increased.
- Self-acceptance in the face of fear played a big role this month. In the last week of May I opened to being present with myself and allowing myself a kind of honesty I had never (or rarely) experienced before. It hurt many times to uncover the lies I lived and roles I assumed. Through this rather uncomfortable process, my freedom and capacity to love full increased.
- This was a month of opening up to and healing my femininity. There was a lot of pain and sadness welling up, especially from my Yoni. Gentle flows and hip openers, as well as poses performed close to the floor helped me release the pain and remind myself of life’s beauty and grace.
- I started a 100-day morning mindfulness practice, inspired by blisschick. Every morning I sat down for some quiet Ujjayi breathing. I realize Pranayama works best for me before I practice Asanas, and even better in the morning, when my mind is still fresh. Ujjayi is simple, but it’s called the victorious breath with a good reason, it’s so grounding, and it chases the monkeys in my mind.
- I used prayer differently before starting my Asana practice. I cleaned myself before getting on the mat, unified all my centers and opened them for inspiration and guidance. The result was that I didn’t need practice to get me into a ‚Zen-mode‘, I was already there when I started. The following practice flowed beautifully, with a very clear sense of inner guidance about how to enter, work in, and exiting a pose. I felt prepared to work in depth right from the beginning, rather then working my to focus pose by pose.
- Back bends from a prone position, like Cobra, Sphinx, or Wheel: I found an image that helped me root down through the pubic bone in back bends: spread your lower back on the ground just as you would spread butter on bread (from upper back to coccyx).
- It was warm enough to start doing Yoga outside, whee! Outdoor practice gives me a feeling of connectedness, peace and grounding I have rarely experienced that strongly when indoors. The gentle breeze on my skin reminds me to open up, to be gentle and generous with myself and my body. Once more I get to see that Yoga is the art of getting intimate with oneself.
- Revolved Side Angle: On some days, this pose can be a little challenging balance-wise. I was in the garden, my feet in the grass, my upper body twisted, face and one arm up towards the sky. Not a cloud up there, only infinite blue. Suddenly I noticed my eyes were wandering because they were irritated by the monochrome vastness above, and were trying to find „a spot to hold on to“. I had to smirk because the solution to my difficulties finding balance was so speaking of my current situation: rooting in uncertainty by turning to the heart and finding stability inside. Which translates into: squeeeeeze your legs together asymmetrically! Hold on to your mid line! And then relax your eyes into the ’nothingness‘ above!
- In the weeks following my family constellations, Yoga practice helped to open up for the change and healing that had happened inside and around me. My sessions got less and less „spectacular“ from the outside, but I felt things happening on the deepest layers of my being, where my everyday consciousness didn’t reach (yet). Attention and focus were ever more refined – with ups and downs of course.
- Headstand: I connect to and seek guidance from my Higher Self in the preparatory poses so as to shed the fears (of falling) and anything that might be in the way of concentration and body-mind-intelligence. I imagine connecting every fiber and vibration of my being. Et voilà – Headstand has never felt so light and balanced.
- I notice that my Yoga practice has also transformed the way I listen to and feel music – I can literally feel the soundwaves moving and playing in my body.
- Headstand: I spent some preparatory poses working on my breastbone-shoulder-elbow alignment. Then, before entering Headstand, I concentrated on the alignment of this base and, from this alone, my feet got light and seemed to lift up on their own. A feeling of total bliss.
- In a very simple standing pose I suddenly feel like the sun is rising behind my breastbone. A feeling of warmth, love and joy radiates through me, a feeling that everything will be more than OK, that in fact, it already is.
- I experiment with the Marmas, esp. the ones in my feet. The result is a growing sensation of strength, stability and organization in my body.
- While working on balancing the body in each pose, it occurred to me that for this to happen, balance in the visual field is essential. I focus on creating even relaxation in both eyes while holding a pose and on looking softly to a spot right in the middle of my visual field (I tend to wander slightly to the left or right with my eyes). My body responds immediately.
- Some poses I have now „mastered“ meaning that I can tap into embodying or being that pose very quickly. The result is a feeling of total content, immersion, a calm bliss, as if my cells were all smiling from the inside out.
- I read about the theory of bi-polar breath types developed by Erich Wilk; it helps hugely to understand why certain breath-, movement-, and alignment patterns simply don’t work for me. Since I am a lunar type, I make sure my morning Yoga practice is very (!) calm and grounding so as to not waste the little energy I have in the morning. My evening Yoga remains a mixture of vigorous and slow.
- I deal with a lot of anger, frustration and self-hatred at the beginning of the month. At first it appears in hip-opening poses that I hold for longer than one minute. After a few days the slightest adjustment of hip- and pelvis-alignment is enough to make these feelings come to the surface. Another couple of days later, it was all over.
- Warrior II: I push gently from my front hip joint into front knee to lift out of the hip to create space and balance. More and more, I feel like a radiant sun in this pose.
- In Yoga, one of the most fascinating works is to witness the release of pure emotion that has been locked in the body tissues. The emotion is pure – not connected to a seeming reason, origin, root, or cause. Therefore, to the mind, it is inexplicable, maybe even scary, and difficult to relax into.
- The more I refine my awareness of the subtle energies in each pose, and with growing clarity, I see more and more that Yoga is a highly intricate ART – the more I learn, the more I see what there still is to be learned.
- While working with the Root Lock (Mula Bandha; energetical and physical „lock“; contraction of the pelvic floor) in Pranayama, I pay attention to the reactions in my facial muscles; the muscles around the temples and the jaws have a tendency to contract together with Root Lock. A „perfect“ Mula Bandha is achieved when the whole rest of the body is totally relaxed. The energy brought into the body with the breath is retained inside the body by the root lock, and only when I am completely relaxed can I feel the energy distribute evenly across my being.
- Work with the floor as first building block of each pose. Imagine it as part of your body.
- I apply Iyengar’s suggestions about moving into my core in each asana by relaxing eyes, temples, forehead, inner ears and tongue. „When your eyes and temples are tense, the pose is done by Ego.“
- Upavista Konasana (Wide Legged Seated Forward Bend) is pretty much the most challenging pose on an emotional level that I know. The stretching of the hip and compression of the front part of the joint is squeezing out all the locked up anger and frustration I must have gathered in 100 lifetimes (at least!). Result: I’m shaking with anger and crying at the same time. Kind of like a torpedo fish stranded on a Yoga mat, mmmh…
- Do a little better every day, but never from the ego, always stretching and reaching from the heart.
- Standing poses with a twist or opening of the front body (Triangle variations, Warriors, …) demand focus and integration of the entire back plane of the body, as well as an equal stretch through both legs.
- Imagine moving like a blooming flower. A flower can’t be forced to open, but it has the will to do so. It will unfold to its maximum, naturally.
- In Pranayama, I imagine the universal breath breathing me, and all resistance and tension melts.
- When I move from the heart, I can move deeper in the pose, but there is never strain afterwards. There are no side effects. The goal is not reaching (ego), but unfolding (heart/intelligence).
- I let my spine flow and move intuitively in seated position/all fours/Down Dog and I notice that this balances the two main Nadis (two energy channels on sides of the spine). This can be noticed in the equally opened nostrils after the flow practice.
- Bad food = sluggish mind! It’s pretty amazing how overeating or eating the wrong foods hinders my ability to feel my body on a cellular level (don’t worry, that’s not necessary for your survival).
- Alignment happens very naturally when I experience the space around me as a friendly support I can lean into with my entire body surface, so as to release any kind of unnecessary tension.
- It’s harder to really feel what you don’t see, like your back. I notice that many times when I’m failing to bloom in a pose, I have simply not integrated my back body. Awareness of the entire back plane is essential to refined alignment, which is: harmony, ease, radiance.