Category Archives: Yoga Sutras

Satya, Scumbags, and Chef Boyardee: To Thine Own Self Be True

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Besties back when we were younger and cuter. Sort of.

I was talking with on of my oldest dearest friends today. He and I have been closer than close for nearly 18 years now, having met over a cloud of cigarette smoke and cheap beer in our college dorm in January 1995. In close to two decades of friendship, we have talked about just about everything you can imagine.  We have shared nearly every experience people can share.  We talk in code that I’m sure drives everyone around us insane.  We have yet to find a single life experience that cannot be explained by quoting Steel Magnolias, he gives me shit for being older than him, I give him shit because I’m aging better, and I am responsible for introducing him to the Beergarita and thus the subsequent demise of his liver (sorry.)  We shared an apartment together for a while and we made 3am calls to our mothers to tell them that we loved them and tequila, we once shared custody of a psychotic cat, and we have enough dirt on each other to bury several generations of shame, but there is one thing on which we will never ever ever see eye to eye.  Each and every day we have nearly come to blows over this very important topic and, frankly, it doesn’t seem like either of us will ever budge. It’s vicious and vile, petitions have written, flow charts created, and campaigns waged on both sides to prove definitively who is in the right (duh, ME!,) but still, the war wages on.  Today, that old tired battlefield saw action yet again and I am going to state my position right here and right now for the entire world to see:

Chef Boyardee is disgusting.

There.  It’s out there and I’m pretty sure, since my readers are brilliant beautiful people, that you’ll agree with me.  After all, it is the only way to see things.  It is the only truth there is.

Or is it?

The older I get, the more I’m becoming aware that there is more than one way to skin a cat.  (Side note: who the hell thought of that disturbing idiom?  I mean … wow. Okay, moving on… )  There are multiple ways of seeing things and they can all be right (except that biohazard in a can.) The thing that matters is if it’s right and true to you!  (except for Jason and his beyond unforgivable food choices.)   It doesn’t so much matter what you believe as long as you truly believe it.  It doesn’t so much matter if someone judges what you like as long as you are okay with what you like.  It doesn’t so much matter who you are as long as you are truly who you are.

I grew up calling the lowest of the low “Scumbags.”  If they were disgusting and undesirable and causing trouble, they were Scumbags and I would avoid the holy hell out of them (until I was in my late teens and early 20s and then I’d date them. Oh hell, who am I kidding?  If I was single, I’d still be dating them.)  Anyway, Scumbag was always icky. You didn’t want to be called a scumbag.  However, just like a fungus, certain truths start to grow on you.  Suddenly, the term “Scumbag” doesn’t seem so bad to me at all.  I might even call myself one – but it’s like that whole deal with mama.  I can talk about my mama, but don’t you dare talk about my mama.Don’t you dare call me a Scumbag or I’ll make you eat a can of Chef Boyardee (a fate worse that standing in hellfire.)   There’s even a song that espouses the glories of being a scumbag! The thing is this: if it’s your truth and you’re okay with it, it’s not so bad!

One of the 8 limbs of yoga is Satya: being truthful.  Being truthful doesn’t just mean not lying.  It means being exactly who you are, not hiding your true self from anyone, most especially not yourself.  We MUST be honest about who we are. Lying about who we are, hiding who we are, portraying ourselves as anything other than what we are is not only dishonest, it’s un-yogic and it’s wildly unfair to yourself and to those around you.  First of all, no one is that good of a liar.  People will know you’re not being true.  It’s in the way you carry yourself, the way you defend yourself when no one is attacking you, it’s in your eyes.  And while folks hate being lied to, the biggest truth is that no one will respect someone who lies to herself. Just be who you are.  Just be who you are.  Just be who you are.  Be a queen, a king, a sad sack, a sick soul, a scumbag, a sentient being, a lover, a healer, a hell-bound whiskey drinker, but be it honestly.  TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE!  I’ve tried with all my might to make this blog about my truth, my scroll of Satya, if you will.  I have laid it all out here honestly and, while it hasn’t always been easy nor been openly accepted, I am better off for having done it and continuing to do it.  I spent years hiding who I was.  As a child, I hid my opinions.  As a youth, I hid my disbelief in my family’s teachings. As a young adult, I hid my own self worth.  As an adult, I started to hide the fact that I am not either a  “Scumbag”  OR a “Sadhana Mama,” I am BOTH / AND. It is my Satya and I am so much better for living it openly.  It is my truth.  It is who I am and I am more than okay with that.

Jason will continue to eat that swill in a can and I will continue to see it as dog food in a dish, but that’s okay because we’re both speaking our truth.  The fact that my truth is the correct truth is of little consequence.  What matters is that we have our truths, we believe them, and we’re living them.  That’s what is important.  That’s the Satya.  That’s the yoga of it all.

Whatever your truth is, STAND IN THE LIGHT OF YOUR TRUTH.  Don’t hide.  Don’t cheat yourself or the world of who and what you are.  So Hum.  I am That.  I am That.  I am That.  I am That I am That I am That I am That I am.

Namaste

 

 

 

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#365yoga Day 174 – Hold on Loosely: The Importance of Long Hold Yoga

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It’s Thursday which means one thing to me: it’s Long Hold yoga day.  I love Thursdays.

Yoga comes in many forms and I love them all.  I love fast paced flow with the bells and whistles of inversions and arm balances.  I love the slow and gooey level 1 (gentle) classes, restorative practices, and the styles that blend it all up.  What can I say, I’m a yogadork!  I have  a very special place in my heart for Long Hold yoga, however, and you should, too.

The 5th limb of yoga (Ashtanga) is Pratyahara, which essentially means “withdrawal of the senses.”  It means to dive within yourself, to focus inwardly, to disallow distraction or interruption from outside sources. Practicing Pratyahara teaches us to stay in our own bubble of bliss (samadhi,)  and contentment (santosha)  regardless of what is going on in the world around us. Pretty groovy and useful tool to have, eh? Long Hold yoga facilitates the practice of Pratyahara in a number of ways.

Sound

I usually teach it with ambient / chant / trancelike music or no music at all so that the practitioners aren’t distracted by lyrics or driving beats of the more popular music I sometimes use.  I don’t speak as much.  It’s really hard to listen to your inner voice when your teacher is rambling on. On days like today, we might practice with either the big doors open or even practice outside on the deck so that the world comes to us and we are surrounded primarily by the music of the earth and our breath.  Sometimes less is more.

Strength and Surrender

from Yoganonymous.org

There is a misconception that it is easier to hold a single asana for 1 – 2 minutes than it is to flow through 6 asanas in 2 minutes.  Untrue! Even a relatively “simple” posture such as Virabhadrasana 2 can become  a challenge requiring your focus as you approach 2 minutes! It is a journey you take in each and every posture.  The first 30 seconds are easy.  The second 30 seconds start to require focus.  The third 30 seconds require directed breath. The fourth 30 seconds require strength and surrender.  It is the last 30 seconds of each posture in which Pratyahara comes in. Hatha yoga is based on dualities (sun and moon, light and dark, strength and surrender.) You learn how to put strength into the parts of your body (and mind) that are required to hold the posture while surrendering the parts of your body that are not required at that time.  You might hear me say, “You don’t need your jaw to hold this.  Release it.  You don’t need to use your toes for this, soften them.”  Most often, however, you’ll hear me say, “You don’t need your 2 eyes for this.  Close them and find out what your third eye (intuition) is showing you.” You’d be amazed at how wise you are and how many answers to your life’s questions come up when you take the time to listen to yourself. Life is all about things that are hard in some areas and easy in others.  Long Hold yoga gives you practice at recognizing which parts of your life need full attention and  in which parts can simply relax and go with the flow.  Hold on loosely, dontcha know?

Sweat

Yoga is detoxifying.  It brings things up from all parts of your body and mind and many of those things need to be released. If they aren’t, bad things happen.  Imagine a pressure cooker with no vent – KABLAMMO!!  Sometimes things are released from the body through the breath, sometimes things are released from the body through tears, and sometimes things are released from the body through sweat.  Sweat has purifying powers! Holding asanas for extended periods of time bring all your junk up and you sweat it out.  Awesome!  It happens even during simple postures.  Try it: right where you sitting right now, lift your left foot so that your leg is straight out, or lift one arm out directly in front of you parallel with the floor. Hold it there for 2 minutes. NO cheating, 2 full minutes. I’d be willing to bet my tie-dye pants that you started building up some heat, maybe not a sweat, but heat.  Now imagine doing a slow flow of asanas for an hour, holding each for 1 – 2 minutes.  Hot, right?  It’s like taking a shower from the inside out. You leave purified and pleased!

Synchronicity of Mind and Body

There is a very clear and important connection between the mind and body.  This is one of the main concepts of yoga.  Knowing it and believing it, however, doesn’t mean that it always comes easily or instantly.  It takes time for the body to hear and understand what the mind is saying, just as it takes time for the body to send messages to the mind.  Holding postures for long periods give the body and the mind to have a full conversation.  Imagine trying to read a love sonnet using abbreviated text speak.  It would take forever for you to translate what was being said so it makes sense and if you did it out loud, you’d sound like a jumbled fool. Allow yourself the time for your mind and body to say sweet nothings (and sweet everythings) to each other. It will make all the difference.

Self-Awareness and Acceptance

So now that you’re all freaked out thinking that Long Hold is too hard and is not for you, I come in with the true importance of the class: you learn more than ever who you are, what you can do, where your edges are, and how to acknowledge and honor them. Two minutes is a long time!  It is difficult.  It is challenging.  It is hard work.  Here’s the secret, though: no one expects you to hold every asana exactly as you’ve always done it for the entire 2 minutes! Listen to your body and honor what it is saying!  Virabhadrasana 2 is done with arms out parallel to the floor at shoulder height.  It becomes hard for the shoulders to hang in there (and, of course, you do it on both sides, so you’re looking at 4 minutes of elevated arms!) So what do you do?  You find a modification and give yourself permission to take it.  In this case, bring your hands to heart center or to your waist. Holding a lunge?  Drop a knee.  Holding Navasana? Hold on to your knees.  Or how about this: Take Balasana (child’s pose) whenever and for however long as you want!  Spend 2 minutes in child’s pose.  Take a seat and hang out in Siddhasana for a couple of minutes.  Heck, throw a Savasana into the middle of your practice if that’s what your body tells you!  No one knows your body better than you.  I know I certainly don’t.  I alway say, “It’s your practice, not mine, so make it what you want / need it to be.”  Practice listening to yourself in Long Hold (believe me, everyone modifies at some point or another, even me,) and then you’ll be so used to it when it comes time to use that practice in other classes and even, gasp, in life off the mat!

Try it.  Hold on loosely and let it all go.

Join me for Long Hold yoga on Thursdays at 5:45pm at Yoga Sol, 210 St James Street, Columbia, MO. You’ll be so glad you did.

Namaste

The Yoga of a Clean House

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I’ve been grouchy lately.  Not all the time, certainly, but I’ve been having more than my fair share of snarky moments.  I’ve been getting frustrated easily, have been highly impatient, and generally dissatisfied with … stuff.  When I do that, I tend to take out my frustrations on my family for “forgetting where the dishwasher lives,” or “confusing the kitchen chairs with the closet,” or “forcing us all to live in a toybox!” Then I run around slamming cabinets, throwing shoes into closets with a little more force than necessary, and throwing endless things in the trash or recycling.  You know, throwing a fit.

Classy, eh?

People tell me all the time that cleaning your house while your children are still growing is like shoveling your driveway while it’s still snowing outside.  Yep, I see that, but guess what?  We DO shovel while it’s still snowing.  Know why?  Because it’s a heck of a lot easier to shovel a little bit of snow twice than to shovel a hell of a lot of snow once.  It’s also easier to clean up as you go along than it is to haul out 18 years of crap at the end of childhood.  Ever seen Hoarders?  ‘Nough said.

For me, the condition of my house is a representation of the condition of my mind.  When I am calm and cool and collected and caring for myself, my house is usually well put together with beds made, floors mopped, showers scrubbed, and clutter gone.  When I’m not caring for myself, when I’m scattered in thought and action, when I’m confused and unclear, my house is usually a pit.  Floors are covered in dog hair and mud, dishes are undone, beds are not made, and the showers are … well, they look like the showers of 3 men.  I can tell when my life is spinning out of control and is unmanageable when my house is out of control and unmanageable.  It’s just the way I am.

Learning this about myself has been a great thing.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that this is actually a Yogic concept! It makes perfect sense that the mind and the surroundings are related.  When my house is a wreck, I know it’s time to clean not only my mudroom, but also my mind.  Of what do I need to let go?  Where can I straighten something out?  What cobwebs of past thoughts and beliefs do I need to sweep away?

I spent about 4 hours scrubbing my house yesterday.  It was time, not because the house was all that messy, but because I knew my mind was in need of a clearing out.  I knew that I was taking out my own uncertainty and muddled thoughts on the person who left the  popcorn bowl in the living room.  It wasn’t about the bowl.  It’s never about the bowl. As I scrubbed and dusted and straightened and mopped, not only the dirt in the house cleared, but so did the clutter in my mind.  I found myself using Ujjayi breath and other Pranayama as I worked.  While my body was doing the work, my brain was reaping the rewards.

Yogic, indeed!

The house is clean and I am settled today.  I am content, happy, freed, and certain.  I am clear.  I am in order.  I am Yoga.
And so is my house.

Within You and Without You: the practice of Pratyahara

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Yoga is all the rage these days.  You hear of everyone and their brother and sister doing yoga.  Celebrities are photographed and published in glossy magazines espousing the many benefits of yoga.  Clothing retailers are getting in on the goods by selling yoga clothes.  There is even a movement to make Competitive Yoga an Olympic sport (DO NOT get me started on that one….)  It’s everywhere – or at least it seems to be.

It also seems that, to the mass public, yoga = Asana.  While it is true that Asana (postures, poses, the physical movement) is an important part of yoga, it is far from all encompassing.  The Sutras of Patanjali, the essential bible for all yogis, states that there are 8 limbs of yoga that make up the yogic lifestyle.  Asana is only one of those limbs.  Each limb is important and much has been written about each one.  We all have to find a way to live our lives to the best of our ability using these limbs as a guide.  One of the most questioned limbs is the 5th limb: Pratyahara.  And, being the kind of person I am, I want to dive in and look at the one that is the most … um … abstract.

Pratyahara means Withdrawal of the Senses.  Why would anyone want to do that?  Sounds are good! Tastes are good!  Smells are good!  Sights are good!  Yes, this is true, and lemme tell you, I love good things!  According to Patanjali, however, Yoga is the “restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”  In other words, directed focus in the midst of distraction.  Being centered.  Being devoted.  Being on track.  Being present.  Being internal.  Being – without being swayed.  Pretty hard to do that when your kid is screaming at his brother, you can only smell the burnt popcorn left over from movie time, your belly is growling because the popcorn burned, you are working on your grocery list in your head, and someone washed your favorite sweater on hot and now it’s fitting you like a 3 year old’s scuba suit.  At times like this, it helps to withdraw from all that stuff and get really centered and focused in order to stay cool.

Pratyahara, however, also comes into handy when nothing else is going on at all, because it’s really an illusion that nothing is going on – something always is happening, even if it’s only in your brain.  Have you ever listened to the chatter that goes on inside your brain?  We all are constantly talking to ourselves in our heads, even when we don’t want to, mean to, or even realize we are doing it.  Quite often, this self talk is negative and harmful.  We tell ourselves we can’t, we shouldn’t, we don’t deserve.  We tell ourselves we’re not good enough, smart enough, thin enough, flexible enough, enough enough.  These judgments play no part in a yogic lifestyle.  They distract us from our greater purpose. They detract from the holy beings that we are.  They sabotage the whole job we are put here to do – to hold and share The Divine Light that lives in us all.  No wonder we are edgy, scattered, dissatisfied, soul-hungry human beings!

What would it be like to quiet the chatter?  What would it be like to see, smell, taste, touch, and hear what goes on without letting it inside?  What if we were inside a bubble, completely present in the moment, but essentially untouchable? What if, no matter what, nothing could ever harsh our mellow?  This is what Pratyahara is all about.  Pratyahara gets us to a place where we are focused, present, aware … and our mellow is untouchable.

So how do we do this?  The same way we do anything – PRACTICE.  Many folks practice Pratyahara while in Savasana.  This is an excellent place because you are alone with your thoughts and your body isn’t doing anything other than maintaining it’s vitality – heart is beating, lungs are breathing, but nothing else is moving.  For me, however, I practice all over the place and one of my favorite places to practice is on my mat during my physical practice of yoga.  Somehow, when my body is doing one thing, I can focus and see if my mind is busy doing another.

When I dedicate my Asana practice to the limb of Pratyahara, I change things up a bit.  While I’m fond of Vinyasa (flow) style yoga, Pratyahara requires me to slow down and use less engaging music (my favorite being instrumental music backed with ocean waves,) or none at all.  I often will do much of my practice with my eyes closed so I’m not distracted by what I look like in the mirror,  if my mat is straight and aligned, or whatever.  With my eyes closed, I can release my judgment.  I begin to see with my third eye and intuition takes over.  I also hold my asanas for much longer than I would in a Vinyasa series.  When we hold our bodies in pose for an extended time, our bodies release endorphins that help us feel empowered and alive.  We gain an awareness that we can overcome discomfort (be it physical or emotional or mental.)  We also can really hear our mental chatter with clarity.  Once we hear the negative things we tell ourselves (all lies, by the way,) we can clear them and make room for beautiful acceptance (the truth.)  Our breath pushes away that which does not serve us and it also brings us new tools and awareness for a better existence off the mat.  Finally, I include a lot of binds in my physical practice.  Bound poses encourages us to surrender, to let go, and to let us be OF this world instead of IN this world.  When we are bound, we are forced to be totally present.  Our bodies are still and, thus, we can focus our energy on stilling our minds. When all of these things come together, we can find ourselves pulled out of our flesh until we exist as pure Prana – life force – that flows through all living things.  We get out of ourselves to become our best selves.

Release+Acceptance+ Surrender= Pratyahara=  Freedom

Pratyahara is a practice.  It is something that must be worked on daily.  It doesn’t always come naturally or easily, but it does come.  I am  learning about this and know it will be a life long study.  Yoga, in all forms,  is not a way of  living, it is a way of being – within myself and without.

Namaste