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Archive for February, 2012

February Student of the Month

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Angela Cano, who is from California, was living in London with her husband when a friend recommended my teaching to her. We started with private sessions, which led to Angela signing on for the ISHTA Teacher Training. Angela became a mother for the first time a year ago and has now returned to the US. She is currently writing a book.

How has yoga changed you?

In more ways than I probably even realize! Physically, I am stronger now than I have ever been, and this is very noticeable when I am doing other forms of exercise (running, weight training, etc). But perhaps the most amazing change is in the development of my self awareness. Yoga, in combination with meditation, has given me the wonderful gift of understanding myself at a new level.

How do you hope it will change you in the future?

I hope this level of self understanding will continue to deepen.  When I practise yoga, I am able to centre myself, and I’d like to become more skilled in centring myself in various situations off the mat – especially the stressful ones.

Has doing yoga given you any important insights about yourself?

Countless insights.

Would you share one with us?

The most profound insight I have had recently is that a less rigorous yoga practice can actually be the best thing for my mind, body, and soul. I have been an athlete and runner my entire life, and working out has always been a part of my day and a vehicle for stress relief. Until recently, I believed that the more stressed I was, the harder I needed to work out in order to relieve the stress. I now understand that slowing down and doing a less rigorous practice will build less heat in my system and therefore relieve the stress more effectively.

If you had started yoga at seventeen, would it have changed your life?

Certainly.

Please tell us how.

It would have enabled me to begin the journey of self discovery that much earlier, which would have resulted in my making different, more conscious choices.

If you could be a yoga pose, which one would you be?

Vrksasana (tree pose).

Why?

Tree pose is about setting your foundation, rooting down strongly into the earth, finding and keeping your balance while at the same time reaching towards the sun – and you do this no matter what might be happening around you. I want to strive to bring this same approach into every day of my life.

What is your favourite thing to do after a satisfying session of yoga?

Walk and reflect. I always find that I have some of my most insightful, calm, and peaceful moments after I leave the mat. These are the moments I relish, and I try to maintain this energy through the activities of the day that follow.

Do you have a favourite yoga quote or saying you would share with us?

“The breath, body, and mind all work together. If one of these is agitated, the other will follow. If one is calmed, the others will follow.” This simple yet life-altering concept was one we learned as a part of the ISHTA 200-hour training, and I continue to remind myself of it on a regular basis. Whenever I’m feeling agitated, it is typically because I’m moving so quickly that I’m not breathing adequately and my entire system suffers. Breathe, breathe, breathe…just breathe.

Between Heaven and Earth: Mountain Pose

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

Mountain Pose (Tadasana) is the foundation for all the other yoga poses. Feet, legs, spine, neck, head are arranged one atop the other in perfect alignment, balancing each section of the body and allowing the breath and prana to circulate freely. The look of the pose is solid and stable, but it is not inert or indolent. The mountain is the centre, the focus of attention, and it may seem locked into time and space, but inside and all around there is great activity.

Consider the series of woodblock paintings by the great Japanese artist, Hokusai (1760-1849), Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji; in these, Fuji, the sacred Japanese mountain, is portrayed from multiple perspectives: dwarfed in the distance by a great wave seen in close-up; in snow; on a balmy day; through the piers of a bridge; in the far distance, seen behind rooftops; casting its own reflection in a lake, etc. In these marvellous scenes, people may come and go: working, travelling, at play, at rest; and Mount Fuji—always present, always dominant—seems to change in any number of ways, according to the artist’s perspective, drawing us on to unexpected feelings and insights. Hokusai’s fascination with the mountain demonstrates that a monumental shape, when seen through a creative eye, can assume many forms and meanings.

Let us remember, then, when we assume Mountain Pose, that however simple, basic, and one-dimensional tadasana may seem in yoga photographs, its subtleties are many. If we practise this pose with integrity, aware not only of what is inside us but what is outside, others may come to see us as Hokusai saw giant Mount Fuji: endowed with silent majesty but capable of infinite variety. And, what is more important, we may come to see ourselves with the fresh, unfailing eyes of a great artist.

ʘ

If you would like to reacquaint yourself with the steps to a perfect Tadasana, visit http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/492

The Making of ISHTA. H is for Hatha.

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

ISHTA Yoga is made up of three elements: Hatha, Tantra, and Ayurveda. Hatha is a system of purification and transformation often associated with the physical practice known as asana. In Sanskrit, Ha means solar energy and Tha means lunar energy; conjoined, they represent the balance of opposing forces in our bodies (e.g. strength and flexibility) which can be achieved through diligent practice.

Hatha Yoga is more than a physical discipline, however; exercising the body is only the first step towards exercising control of the mind. Asana should be accompanied by pranayama (breath control), which will soothe the fluctuations of the mind (vrtti); then the student can begin meditation. Through meditation comes the self realisation that leads to enlightenment (known as Samadhi, the state of bliss or oneness).

Yoga is all too often seen by the public as a physical sport, and the media tend to play along with this because yoga poses are photogenic, and the newfangled styles of yoga, such as Bikram (“hot” yoga) emphasise the cult of the body. It makes for attention-grabbing copy. But even if Bikram can tame the flesh, what about the spirit, which knows nothing of overheated rooms? For Patanjali, the author of the legendary Sutras (aphorisms), asana without the accompanying disciplines (moral observances, breathing, meditation, etc.) is not true yoga. In fact, in the entire book of Sutras, asana is only mentioned twice, reflecting the lack of emphasis that Patanjali placed on it. According to B.K.S. Iyengar, the author of the indispensable text, Light on Yoga, yoga is also more than body work: he says there must be “steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.”

In order to yoke together the vital, contrary energies of the Sun and the Moon—the Ha and the Tha—an ideal yoga practice must embrace both the body and that which animates and transcends it. That is why ISHTA yoga emphasizes meditation and makes it a crucial element of class work.

The Power of Ritual

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

I was in India recently, teaching a group of yogis staying at the Shreyas Retreat in Nelamangala near Bangalore. One evening after practice I went to a puja ceremony at the Santoshimata Temple close by and watched as the priest painstakingly followed the steps of the ritual offering to the Goddess: water, rice, flowers, incense, prasad (sweets), spices, and lit candles. Having made his oblations, he chanted a number of mantras, rang the temple bells—loudly!—and then knelt in silent prayer before offering prasad and the blessed water to the temple guests. The priest’s precise, unhurried movements were a pleasure to witness. It was a graceful ceremony, and I felt transported.

In the West, we tend to regard novelty as desirable and routine as tedious, but we can, with some effort, infuse our daily activities, secular or spiritual, with thought and care, and make them seem fresh again and again, just as the priest was able to do with a ritual that he had probably performed thousands of times. Our routines do not have to be circular and self-defeating, if we approach our tasks with love and an open heart. (Interestingly, the word routine comes from the French word “route” meaning path or way, which alone implies that there has to be a destination for one’s repeated activities!) The lesson, if I have learned one from the priest at the Santoshimata Temple, is that the more often one performs the same task, the more assiduous one should be about it: instead of hurrying, slow down; instead of wishing for the end, relish each moment; instead of resisting, yield to the beauty of repetition.

If your yoga practice has begun to feel a bit flat, turn routine into a ritual by treating every part of the sequence as an offering: consider at every moment what you are doing and put your whole self into it. Follow the advice of the renowned guru Pattabhi Jois, who told his students: “Practise—and all is coming!”

With each breath discover the joy that comes with repeating familiar, much-loved actions. Your practice will come alive and seem new once more. And, before too long, so will you.

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