Sanyama Saturday July 23rd, 2016

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Sanyama Saturday July 23rd, 2016

Work. Keep digging your well.

Don't think about getting off from work.

Water is there somewhere.

Submit to daily practice.

Your loyalty to that

Is a ring at the door.

Keep knocking, and the joy inside

Will eventually open a window

and look out to see who's there.

~Rumi


 

For Pattabhi Jois, the third and fourth limbs of yoga were not stages of yoga that the student passes through on the way to the further limbs. To him, the third and fourth limbs were the necessary, permanent foundation of the practice that needed to be reinforced on a life long daily basis. In mastering limbs three and four, the student masters all the limbs. To any question concerning other limbs of yoga, Pattabhi Jois would invariably urge students to take serious practice of asana and pranayama and then those types of questions would answer themselves  ~From an article by David Garrigues featured on Elephant Journal
Ashtanga (Vinyasa) Yoga is Patanjali yoga, ~Sri K Pattabhi Jois  

 

Ashtanga yoga is the study of the 8 limbs of yoga described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi.  The Sanskrit word Ashtanga translates to Eight (Ashtau) Limbs (Anga).  

 

So the goal, or end game is Samadhi - Ecstasy, peace, divine connection with self and all others, enlightenment, and the steps to get there are all laid out for us in the 8 limbs, each one leading or preparing us for the next...why didn’t Pattabhi Jois start with the first limb then?  

 

Well, for one thing, Ashtanga yoga is meant to be a “householder practice”, meaning it is meant to be practiced by regular folks, who have jobs and families, and worldly pursuits.  When Krishnamacharya’s teacher, Brahmachari, encouraged him to take a wife and raise a family and teach yoga to other householders, including women, he and Jois developed this concentrated approach to yoga practice (sadhana), meant to keep the body strong and mind/spirit peaceful so that the yogi could attend to all their householder duties (job, family, etc).

 

Jois felt that starting with the Asanas was best, as once the body began to become strong, and the practice began to purify the nervous system and calm the mind, the first two limbs would begin to fall into place.

 

The first two limbs are:

Yamas -  Ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, aparigraha

Niyama - Saucha, santosha, tapas, swadyaya, ishwara pranidhana

 

Something magical happens with a regular daily physical practice of asana. As you begin to feel stronger, your mind becomes calmer and you find that you need less to feel happy and contented.  So there is no need for harming yourself or others (ahimsa), lying (satya), stealing (asteya), seeking physical pleasure (brahmacharya), or craving material things (aparigraha).  

 

You also find, once you commit and surrender to a daily practice, that it pays off on your mat when you keep yourself clean and organized and ready for practice each day (saucha), accept the results of your efforts without judgement (santosha), come to your mat regularly, even though you know it will not be easy (tapas), study yourself and your reactions, and maybe crack open an ancient yogic text (Svadyaya), and surrender to the process of knowing your true nature (ishwara pranidhana).


And so it goes...Asana practice begins the wheel spinning, begins the process of digging, leading us into our breath, our mind, and our true self.

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Sanyama Saturday March 5, 2016

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Sanyama Saturday March 5, 2016

One way to describe a  Mysore-Style class is to say that it is like receiving a private lesson in a group setting.  Go ahead - check my class descriptions...its there :-)  

But it occurs to me that this may not really paint a complete picture of what Mysore style practice or Self-practice is all about.  The term "Independent Study" comes to mind:

Philip Candy, the Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Southern Queensland, in his classic text “Self-direction for lifelong learning” (1991, p 13), quotes Forster (1972, p ii) while defining independent learning/study.

1) “Independent study is a process, a method and a philosophy of education: in which a student acquires knowledge by his or her own efforts and develops the ability for inquiry and critical evaluation; 2) it includes freedom of choice in determining those objectives, within the limits of a given project or program and with the aid of a faculty advisor; 3) it requires freedom of process to carry out the objectives; 4) it places increased educational responsibility on the student for achieving the objectives and for the value of the goals”.

Sounds familiar right?  All the time I have new and prospective students interested in learning Ashtanga, but are resistant to attending a Mysore class as a beginner.  They want to be led through the series, thinking that they will memorize the sequence by being guided through it repeatedly.  Here's what happens...they get bored...OR they get hurt...and they don't come back.

I've seen very fit athletes and experienced vinyasa yoga practitioners daunted by the Primary Series in its entirety the first time they do it.  There is a lot of repetition of movement (chaturanga/up dog/down dog) -- challenging for the body --  and long strings of postures that are similar but incrementally deeper -- challenging for the mind/ego.

I say this not to scare anyone away - quite the opposite!  Come to class!  Learn the Ashtanga Vinyasa practice!  

BUT PLEASE! (pretty please with sugar on top...just consider it...really...please?)

Start in a Mysore style setting.  Take it in slowly, in sips, not gulps, so that your body and mind can fully absorb the benefits.  This practice is strong medicine, but not the kind to pinch your nose closed and swallow without tasting.  This is the slow-release kind of medicine...its all in there, but the full benefits are absorbed over time, with practice and devotion and enjoyment! 

Since opening AYSR, I've been offering Intro to Ashtanga courses each month, and several people have completed the course, and continued on to attend regularly (YAY!).  This is in such stark contrast to what I saw all the previous years I've been teaching in this area.  What is the difference?  I believe its the expectation from the beginning that students are responsible for much of the learning, within the set curriculum (See #4 above). Also the consistent schedule helps...students can get used to coming regularly when they know it will be at the same time every day...even 6am :-) or they can practice at home on their own schedule (see #3 above). Everyone begins the practice at the same place, with the same movements, but each person progresses at their own pace, and some with variations as the teacher and student see fit (See #2 above).  Being actively involved in setting the course for their own practice sets students up for deeper personal inquiry and discernment in practice (see #1 above). So...yes...I would say:

Ashtanga Mysore practice is Independent Study of the Eight Limbs of Yoga

I was a home practitioner for several years before I went to a class.  I had been led through portions of the practice when I initially learned it, and then was expected to practice on my own between sessions.  So I was nervous entering my first Mysore class - didn't know what to expect, etc...but I'll tell you - once I went Mysore-style, I never went back!  

There is something so moving about being in a room with others - each of us working independently, but all feeling connected by our common struggles.  I remember distinctly one day at the end of class, Kathy Hallen came up to introduce herself to me and asked me about my practice, where I had learned, etc.  I couldn't speak...I burst into tears! Ha!! I was just feeling so full of love and grateful to be there and to have found this group of people who were as crazy as I was about this practice!!  Its such a strange connection, really.  Those of you who have been in a Mysore setting know...its such an intimate relationship to practice next to someone, but you may not even know their name!

Now...I will admit that I have not historically been the kind of person who does well with independent study scenarios.  My college had, as its only option for College Algebra (required for graduation), a self-paced, independent study format...it did not go well for me...I'll tell that story another time...maybe...BUT I believe it was the subject matter that tripped me up.  I have no passion for algebra.  It's not that I can't do it, or can't learn it...I just have no interest...sorry to all the math lovers out there ;-)  I've also not traditionally been the most self-motivated, self-starter kind of person...on most subjects that is...

So I feel like its a strange thing that I've become so immersed and obsessed with Ashtanga yoga...a decidedly independent study of yoga for the strongly self-motivated, and when I look around in a gathering of Ashtangis, I often feel like the misfit...I'm usually quite content with how my practice is going.  I'm not usually the one asking how to perfect a pose or if there are "supplemental workouts" that could enhance my abilities on the mat.  I don't say that to brag, its just how I feel about it.  But I've been fortunate to have found a teacher  in David Garrigues that sees I am capable of more and asks it of me.  Otherwise I probably would have stopped doing this a long time ago. 

But immersed and obsessed I have become! And for me the hook is definitely the physicality of it...the movement, the breath, the feeling of my whole body WAKING UP!  Learning that I actually AM a self-motivated, independent learner, continuously curious about what I am capable of...continuously testing my own personal boundaries, and expanding those boundaries.

Anyhoo... 

I just feel so lucky to have found the thing that, for me, keeps me curious, engaged and wanting more every day.  Have you found yours?

P.S. I ordered the book by Philip Candy quoted above...gotta love Amazon one-click ;-)

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Sanyama Saturday January 23rd, 2016

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Sanyama Saturday January 23rd, 2016

2015 was a tumultuous year for me.  I spent February in India with my teacher, David Garrigues, which I am immensely grateful for.  Turns out I needed that time to step away from “regular life”, step deeper into my practice, and get strong in preparation for what was to come.  A year filled with tragedy and loss, pride and joy, and an inspiring new endeavor.  

 

One thing that I think helped steady me for this year - TAPAS

 

What exactly is TAPAS?  It is defined as discipline, fire, commitment to the study of the self, intensity enough to burn off the obstacles that keep us from seeing our true nature.

So yes, that has happened over the past few years - an intensity to my practice, and dedication - sometimes even when it doesn’t make sense or isn’t easy.  Making the effort to travel to India to immerse in the practice and in teaching, and fitting in another trip to Germany to refine that learning, even in the midst of deep family drama and obligations - both sad and joyful.  

It would seem as though this would be a time to let go of the practice a bit, back off, place it lower on my list, maybe give up practicing 3rd series for a time...but NO!!  That is what has kept me inspired, engaged, and energized, so that I have a solid base with which to support those I care about.  

It would seem that with all the challenges in the past year - losing my brother to suicide and settling his estate, watching my oldest son graduate High School and go off to college - it might not be the best time to open my own yoga school.  I could have easily put it off until “things calmed down”.  On the contrary, it has been invigorating, inspiring, and given me a full well from which to share what I have learned.

I was in Outer Banks, North Carolina in September for David’s annual In-Depth Study, and would be opening Ashtanga Yoga School of Raleigh the following week.  I asked David for any final words of advice.  He didn’t answer me then, but on the last day, after a week of intense study and practice, looked at me across the mysore room, and said

“Work harder”  I didn’t know what he meant…”you asked for any final advice...that’s it...work harder...at all of it...teaching, practicing...all of it...”  I started to cry.  

What?! Work HARDER?!  Isn’t that what I’ve been doing all year?!  Busting my ass to make it all happen, and keep it all together?!  “It’s so easy for you...”  David said.  What?!  EASY?!  I felt exhausted and raw, and unable to respond…

So I went home and opened AYS Raleigh, and wrote to David about a week later...I understood what he was saying.  There is a lot of the practice that I am at ease with, and I’ve been teaching for a while, and have been apprenticing with David, so I feel at ease with much of that as well.  I have probably the most supportive family and network of friends to help with the nuts and bolts of running a yoga school.  So yes, there is room for me to up the ante, ask more of myself...work harder.  

And that work over the past few months has made me more focused in practice and teaching, taken me closer to my authentic path, and rewarded me with strength and the warm feeling that I have had an accomplished year, rather than a rough one.  I feel ready to take on more - bring it on 2016 :-)

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Sanyama Saturday January 9, 2016

Happy New Year!

This first part of the new year is traditionally a time for resolutions.  The Google definition of resolution? 

res·o·lu·tion
ˌrezəˈlo͞oSH(ə)n/
noun
1.
a firm decision to do or not to do something.
"she kept her resolution not to see Anne any more"
synonyms: intention, resolve, decision, intent, aim, plan; More
2.
the action of solving a problem, dispute, or contentious matter.
"the peaceful resolution of all disputes"
synonyms: solution to, answer to, end to, ending to, settlement of, conclusion to
"a satisfactory resolution of the problem"

So...a firm decision to do or not do something...Ok...that's easy. I have lots of ideas of things I should and should not do in the new year.  More writing is one...so here I am...writing.  And I'd like to do this regularly, so I'll resolve to write about the week each Saturday...ideas and thoughts that come up during practice and teaching, and inspirations I draw from my teacher and fellow students and teachers.  And maybe I'll include some writing around the second definition - the action of solving a problem, dispute or contentious matter. That seems completely appropriate, seeing how most of what we are doing on our mats is just that :-) 

Now for a name, or theme for this weekly writing...well...Saturday Sanyama comes to mind, so I looked that up as well:

Samyama (from Sanskrit संयम saṃ-yama—holding together, tying up, binding, integration). Combined simultaneous practice of Dhāraṇā (concentration), Dhyāna (meditation) & Samādhi (union). A tool to receive deeper knowledge of qualities of the object.

Ok...this seems to fit as well.  The above definition is from Wikipedia, and fits with what I know of the practice from my teacher, David Garrigues.  At the end of each day of his In-Depth Studies he gives us time to reflect on and practice the techniques he has given us throughout the day and week.  It really does help to integrate it all, so that it doesn't just fade away once I am back to my same old routine.  

So Saturday Sanyama it is...I'm looking forward to sharing what I am able to grasp from my practice and each week.  It may not always be profound or deep, but something :-)

Cheers to a new year, and to all there is to learn over the coming months!

Stacy


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