Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Aversions September 16, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Earlier this week I posted my list of attachments (here and here). Here’s my list of aversions, with some commentary about each one.

Broccoli

This is going to sound silly, but I hate the taste of broccoli. I read once that some people either have an extra enzyme or are missing an enzyme, and this makes certain foods (like broccoli) taste very differently than they do for most people. I am clearly one of those with weird taste buds, because I can’t find anything pleasant about broccoli. Further, I was forced to eat broccoli as a kid, and that experience has made a simple dislike deepen into true aversion (when I was 12 or so, I actually vomited after having to eat broccoli, and after that my mother never made me eat it again). So my experience with broccoli is both physical and psychological. I know that broccoli has a lot of nutritional value, but I just cannot bring myself to eat it, and I’ll actively and obsessively pick it out of any food I’m served.

Cold Weather

I hate being cold. The books we’ve been reading for teacher training all say that to the true yogi, heat and cold are the same, but I just can’t imagine getting to that point. Part of the problem is surely the lack of sunlight during the winter months – I feel cold and uncomfortable, and then without sunlight I just get depressed. I’ve started taking vitamin D supplements for this and it really does help. However, I really just don’t like being cold.

My Job

There are many things that I appreciate about my job. I’m paid well, I work with great people, my work is respected by my colleagues and I’m good at it, and my company gives back to the community, values its employees, and does provide a valuable service in the world. I’m grateful to even have a job at all in this economy, let alone a job as good as mine. However, I just don’t enjoy the work, and I never have in the five years I’ve worked here. I know that everybody hates their job sometimes and that I need to make the best of what I’ve got, but that’s just hard to do on Sunday nights and Monday mornings when I’m dreading going back to the office. When I imagine spending another five years in this job, I just feel bleak. I try to combat this by taking one day at a time instead of focusing on the long term, by focusing on all the wonderful non-job things in my life, and by trying to do my best at each task at the office regardless of how much I enjoy it.

 

Pose of the Month: Legs Up The Wall September 15, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:32 pm
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Legs Up The Wall 1Pose Name:

Legs Up The Wall

Sanskrit Name:

none

Steps:

  1. Move your mat to be perpendicular to a wall. Lie on your back on the mat.
  2. Draw your knees in and drop your legs over to one side.
  3. Skootch your tush up as close to the wall as you can.
  4. Lift and extend your legs, letting the backs of the legs rest against the wall.
  5. Rest your arms flat on the floor. Close your eyes. Relax here for a few minutes, letting the breath grow deep and even.
  6. To come out, drop the legs off to one side and skootch backwards until you’re able to roll up to a seated position.

Benefits:

This relaxing pose bestows the benefits of any inverted pose – inversions alter the flow of blood in the body, calming the mind, helping with depression, and stimulating the thyroid gland. Placing the body in an inverted pose also works the internal organs and the abdomen, aiding digestion. However, legs-up-the-wall doesn’t require the strength or stamina needed for other inversions like headstand or shoulderstand. Most students can accomplish this pose.

Contraindications:

Inversions are contraindicated for headache and high blood pressure. Some sources say not to practice inversions while menstruating.

My Experience with Legs Up The Wall:

When I was taking vinyasa yoga classes, I had never heard of this pose, so I only began practicing it in the past few years. I love how relaxing the pose feels, how I’m able to let my mind rest. I also love the simplicity of it – I’m able to achieve this pose no matter how I feel that day. As a teacher, my only frustration with legs-up-the-wall is that my front porch doesn’t have enough wall space for all the students in my little class to be able to do this pose at once!

Legs Up The Wall 2

 

Attachments, part 2 September 14, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:35 pm
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For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

On Tuesday I posted the first few of my attachments. Here are a couple more.

My Appearance

I definitely feel like I have major issues with my physical appearance. From a yogic perspective, physical appearance means nothing – we just do these yoga poses to make the body strong, so we can sit in meditation, and having Michelle Obama arms or looking hot in Dancer pose has nothing to do with it. But I constantly feel myself getting caught up in concerns about my looks. Maybe it’s because I was a nerdy kid. I made a big effort to change my appearance and the way others perceive me when I entered high school: I grew out my perm, got contacts, and it made a huge difference in my social life and even in the way I perceived myself. Maybe that’s where I got the idea that external appearance is linked to internal self. Another factor, I think, is that I went to Catholic school and had to wear a uniform, so that when I did get to wear normal clothes, I would agonize for ages over what I was going to wear. I don’t think I learned how to get dressed the way that other kids maybe did. Whatever, appearance is big with me, whether it’s weight, clothes, physical fitness, signs of aging, all of it.

Sleep

I feel really attached to sleep. This sounds stupid but really isn’t. I’ve read that getting enough sleep is critical to daily happiness and even to personal relationships, because we treat others better when we feel better ourselves. For me, my sleep issue is pretty childish: I don’t want to get up before 6 am. It’s bad enough that it’s dark out at 6 am, don’t make me get up at 5. This was actually a pretty big factor in me turning down a job a few years ago (and I don’t think I’ve ever confessed to anyone what a big factor it was) – the job was 8-5, and there was a long commute, so I would’ve had to get up at 5:00 to be there on time. I took a 9-5 job instead. I guess the flip side of not wanting to get up early is that I don’t like to go to bed early either; it’s just not part of my natural rhythm. 9:30 pm is about the earliest I can go to bed, and if I go to bed any earlier I just lay there. There are things I enjoy doing in the morning – I like going running or doing yoga, and it’s such a great feeling when it’s 7:00 am and that’s already done! But don’t push it. I know that at some point if I have a child I will likely be getting up very early every day, but honestly, not much besides a screaming infant seems worth it.

Next time: my aversions! Don’t worry, I’m the kind of person who tends to like things rather than hate things, so I have fewer aversions than attachments.

 

Attachments, part 1 September 13, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:38 pm
Tags: ,

For our homework this month, we were instructed to make a list of our likes and dislikes, attachments and aversions. The purpose of this exercise isn’t to see if we like ice cream or whatever – we’re intended to look critically at ourselves, at the attachments and aversions that hold us back in our spiritual practice. Attachment and aversion are actually two of the kleshas, or obstacles to achieving enlightenment; when one is focused on enjoying pleasant experiences or avoiding unpleasant ones, then that person won’t be focused on meditation. Pleasant things come and go, and so do unpleasant things, but the true Self remains unchanging and unaffected by momentary events. Plus, even if you’re not worried about spirituality, it’s a good idea to examine your attachments and aversions: what’s really so great about this? what bothers me so much about that? The answers could be surprising!

Here’s my list of attachments, with some commentary about each one.

Chocolate

I’m not sure if this falls under the category of “attachment” or “addiction”, but it seemed right to list it here. I used to have a much bigger issue with sweets – I could eat a whole bag of mini candy bars or an entire package of cookies (or, heck, raw cookie dough) in one sitting, just while watching TV or studying. I’ve worked hard to become more conscious of this and control it better. I purposely choose dark chocolates and try to avoid more processed sweets; I cut back on the sugar when I bake; I don’t keep many sweets in the house or at my desk at work; I’ll pack just four chocolates in my lunch and then space them out over the whole afternoon. Still, I find myself needing those little chocolates to get through the day, and when I don’t pack any I’ll sometimes have to make a candy run just to get by.

My husband, F

This is probably my biggest attachment. When we were first dating, F and I spent two years long distance, and I was constantly afraid that something would happen to keep us apart; now we’ve lived together for almost three years, but I still sometimes get that feeling, that our life together is somehow too good to be true and can’t last. Losing him is my worst fear.

Comfortable Lifestyle

When I was in grad school I was broke. I worked three jobs and my parents put money into my bank account every month. I had a roommate and an affordable apartment, and I lived cheaply, keeping careful track of every penny, but I still couldn’t afford many things. I would patch my jeans repeatedly because I couldn’t afford new pants, and a hot date out was a milkshake from Burger King. Now that I’m older, I have a lot more expenses (mortgage, house bills, car payments), but I also make a lot more money than I ever did before, and so I have a lot more financial freedom to buy clothes, shoes, organic food at the grocery store, and nice dinners out. I know it shouldn’t matter but I feel really averse to losing these things. I remember how it felt when I couldn’t buy pants – pants! Kind of necessary! And I don’t want to go back to that. I’m definitely more loose in my spending than I could be, but part of me feels like the reward of getting to where I am should be that I don’t have to count my pennies anymore. On the other hand, although I do give to charity, and pretty generously, I always feel like I should be doing more, that I’m selfish with my money. The other issue with this attachment to a comfortable lifestyle is that it means I need to stay in my current job – for financial reasons, I don’t feel I can leave my job unless I find another job that will pay me comparably. But more on worklife when we get to aversions.

Next time: Two other things I feel overly attached to! And then, some aversions!

 

Pose of the Month: Shoulderstand September 12, 2011

Filed under: Pose of the Month,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 8:28 pm
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Shoulderstand 1Pose Name:

Shoulderstand

Sanskrit Name:

Salamba Sarvangasana (“salamba” means “supported”; there are other forms of shoulderstand practiced without arm support)

Steps:

  1. Begin by lying flat on your back on the mat. Bend your knees and walk your feet close to your sitting bones.
  2. Pressing your arms into the mat, lift your legs, curling your thighs in to your chest and your knees toward your face, lifting your pelvis and back off the floor.
  3. Shimmy your shoulders together underneath you. Place your palms against your back for support. Press your upper arms into the floor and lift the pelvis to be over the shoulders, so that the torso is perpendicular to the floor.
  4. Try to work the elbows closer together so that the upper arms are parallel. As you lift, walk the hands up your back (towards the floor) – this will give you more support as you lift your hips. (It may help to put your palms against the skin of your back; if you find your hands slipping, try lifting your shirt and placing the hands against your skin.)
  5. Begin to lift the legs into the air. Bring the thighs and finally the lower legs in line with the torso, so the whole body is a long, straight line perpendicular to the floor.
  6. Find your balance here. Your weight should be in your upper arms, your shoulders, and a little on the back of your head – there should be no weight or pressure on the neck.
  7. Press the legs together. Press the balls of the feet toward the ceiling. Activate your thighs, buttocks, and abdominal muscles to help hold you up.
  8. Keep breathing. Keep the body active throughout the pose; press through the upper arms and keep the shoulders engaged.
  9. To come down, gently lower the legs, bringing the knees down to rest on the forehead.
  10. If you wish, take plow pose: lower your toes to the floor above and beyond your head, extending the legs and keeping the torso perpendicular to the floor. Clasp the hands behind your back and press the arms into the floor.
  11. Coming out, keep your head resting on the floor and press your fingertips into the floor while you gradually roll out on a curved spine. Follow shoulderstand with fish pose as a counterpose.

Shoulderstand 2Benefits:

Shoulderstand is known as the queen of yoga postures (headstand is the king). Inversions alter the flow of blood in the body; this can calm the mind, help with depression, and stimulate the thyroid gland. The muscle control needed to hold the body in an inverted pose works the internal organs and the abdomen, aiding digestion, and builds strength, toning the legs and buttocks. Shoulderstand, when done properly, stretches the neck (when not done properly, it can turn into neckstand, which hurts the neck, so care is needed!).

Contraindications:

Those with serious neck injuries should not practice shoulderstand, or should do so only under the supervision of an experienced instructor. Using a stack of folded blankets to support the shoulders will help those with neck problems to practice the pose.

Shoulderstand is contraindicated for headache and high blood pressure. Some sources say not to practice inversions while menstruating. If the student is experienced, shoulderstand can be practiced until late in pregnancy, but if you don’t already practice the pose, you shouldn’t begin practicing shoulderstand after becoming pregnant.

My Experience of Shoulderstand:

When I was a teenager, I didn’t have a phone in my room, so I always used the one in my parents’ room. The second floor of the house had been converted from an attic into bedrooms, so on one side of my parents’ room the ceiling slanted all the down to about two feet off the floor. As a teenage girl spending long hours on the phone, I sometimes got bored and would lie on the bed and walk my feet up the ceiling. So, when I attended my first yoga class years later, I had no trouble doing shoulderstand – it was just like talking on the phone in my mom’s room! Being a silly teenager had paid off for once; I’d been doing a supported shoulderstand for years and was comfortable with both the mechanics of the pose and with being upside down in general.

As I progressed through my yoga practice, my shoulderstand has improved even more, especially recently as I began paying close attention to the logistics of each pose with an eye to teaching. Now my husband says that my shoulderstand looks kind of freakish, like my head isn’t attached to my body, which I think means that I’m doing it right.

Unfortunately, not everyone grew up in my parents’ house, and for many people shoulderstand is really challenging. I’m discovering this firsthand by teaching a small weekly class at my home. Teaching shoulderstand for the first time was hard for me, and a few of my beginning students just couldn’t do it. One person will need to work on her core strength to make this pose achievable. I want to try teaching the pose with blankets for additional support, and I also want to teach some other inversions so that students who can’t manage shoulderstand yet will have some other options.

Back to my own practice, I really enjoy shoulderstand: how strong I feel in the pose, and the feeling of being upside down. For right now I am taking a break from doing headstand because of neck pain, so coming back to shoulderstand feels good and helpful.

 

Yoga in the News: Yoga, Annoying? Surely Not! September 10, 2011

Filed under: yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 2:25 pm
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Just spotted this article: Annoying? Yoga? Surely Not! I feel like I ought to be offended but instead I think it’s hilarious. Because we yoga people do all of this stuff. We hug too much and use yoga vocabulary that sounds silly and talk about how the universe has plans for us. Definitely keep your flip flops handy, but keep coming back too.

(Tagging this post with my “yoga for beginners” tag, because this is stuff that beginners should know in addition to the useful things I posted about before!)

 

Books: Bhagavad Gita September 9, 2011

Filed under: bhagavad gita,books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 2:06 pm
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The Bhagavad Gita, translated by Eknath EaswaranThe Bhagavad Gita is one of India’s best known scriptures. It tells the story of Arjuna, a warrior on the eve of battle who has lost heart and become uncertain as to his duty. Arjuna turns to his spiritual guide, Krishna, for answers to all the key questions of life, questions about wisdom and service and spirituality. The battle that Arjuna is about to fight is the perfect metaphor for life and the interior battle we all fight to live a life that is meaningful and fulfilling. The Gita, in essence, is a manual for how to live.

For my yoga teacher training, we were asked to read a translation of the Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. On the back cover, Easwaran’s version is described as “reliable” and “readable”, and this is definitely true. Easwaran opens the book with an introduction to the Gita, setting the scene, and then each chapter of the Gita opens with a brief introduction that explicates the content of that chapter. This makes the story easy to follow, and really helps in understanding the context of Arjuna’s and Krishna’s conversation. The endmatter of the book includes a section of notes (typically, helpful insights on issues of translation), as well as a glossary of Sanskrit terms and an index. Easwaran’s version really focuses on making the Gita accessible for the reader, so this version is a great place to start if you’re reading the Gita for the first time.

I had read the Bhagavad Gita previously, in Stephen Mitchell’s translation. Mitchell is known as a translator of ancient poetry – he’s done the epic of Gilgamesh and the Tao Te Ching, among others. The great thing about Mitchell’s work is that he finds a way to take this ancient poetry written in another language and capture not just the meaning but the beauty of the language. Easwaran’s translation of the Gita is verse, but Mitchell’s translation is poetry. The last time I read it, I was looking mostly at the poetry; I decided to read it again, and this time, it was really enjoyable to read the book in a different context, looking more at the content, the instructions for how to live. Definitely got more out of it this time.

When we were assigned to read the Bhagavad Gita for class, I chose to read both versions back to back. I didn’t try to do a line-by-line comparison (that would defeat the purpose of reading it at all, really). Instead, I re-read the Mitchell translation, and then read the Easwaran translation, in the hope that reading both versions would deepen my understanding. I think it did, but I also felt a little burnt out by the time I got to the end of the Easwaran version. I definitely want to reread both versions again, but next time I’ll space them out more.

 

Revelation # 56: Yogis are not missionaries September 8, 2011

Filed under: reflections,yoga,yoga lifestyle,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 4:46 pm
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At last month’s yoga teacher training weekend, one concept really struck me and has stuck with me. It’s the idea that yogis aren’t missionaries. Now, nobody ever said that they were, but I was raised Catholic – my childhood religion classes were filled with stories of missionaries, going out into the wild to educate and spread the good news of Jesus. Such people were held up as heroes for us to emulate. Coming from this background, the concept of spreading the word and converting others to your faith is very familiar to me.

Which is why it blew my mind when I realized that yogis aren’t missionaries. It’s a concept that just doesn’t fit in with the yoga worldview. Sure, if you seek out a yogi based on a sincere desire to learn, the yogi will teach you, but he’s not going out looking for students. That’s not his job.

Yogis don’t preach or proselytize because they believe that each person has the responsibility for his or her own spiritual development. In the Yoga Sutras and in the Bhagavad Gita, it’s made clear that your responsibility is to yourself first; you should take action primarily to preserve your own calm mind. Consider the parakarmas: this wisdom, straight from Yoga Sutra I.33, is intended to help you in your relationships with others – to help you treat others better, yes, but mostly to help you live in the world and still keep your serenity. According to the scriptures, your job is to take care of yourself and your own spiritual development. It’s not your job to worry about anyone else’s. The yogi knows that he’s on a good path, but he also knows that there are other paths that people can follow, and that’s up to them. The yogi isn’t responsible for saving the world; instead, he leads by example, practicing kindness and service, demonstrating the goodness he wants to see in the world.

Understanding this has been a big realization for me. I feel that I’ve found a good spiritual path for myself in yoga, but I don’t have to go out and shout about it. There’s no onus on me to try to convince anyone else that this is a good spiritual path. My path may not be for everyone. What’s more, as J has said all along, my spiritual practice is private; it’s my own and not anyone else’s business. This too is different from how I grew up: in Catholicism, demonstrating your faith in community is important. For me as a yogini, community is still important – the community of yoga classes that I attend and the classes I will someday teach, as well as the community I find in my local Unitarian Universalist church – but ultimately my spiritual practice is personal.

I want to be a yoga teacher, which means sharing my yoga and my spirit with my students. But being a teacher doesn’t mean being a missionary. I believe yoga has the power to heal both bodies and minds, but I don’t have to go out and advertise that or force that belief on anyone – as long as I work hard and put myself out there as a teacher, people who need yoga will find their way to me.

 

Books: The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras, by Nischala Joy Devi September 7, 2011

Filed under: books,yoga philosophy — R. H. Ward @ 4:13 pm
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The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman's Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga SutrasNischala Joy Devi’s interpretation of the yoga sutras offers a different take from most traditional translations. Devi set out to write a book that explicates the yoga sutras from a heart-centered, more “feminine” perspective. She realized that most of the existing translations of the sutras were written by men, and she noticed many of her female students commenting that the sutras didn’t seem to relate to them. Devi set out to complete a more accessible text for women. She sought for her book to embrace both thoughts and feelings (rather than separating thoughts from feelings, which is often done in Western culture). She generally uses the terms “consciousness” and “heart” where the customary translation would read “mind” and “thoughts”.

Overall, I think Devi’s technique was effective.The first time I read the sutras was in this translation, and it was difficult for me; I’m not sure how I would have fared with a more traditional translation. At least with Devi’s version I felt as if the book was intended for ME.  For the most part, Devi uses real life examples that made sense in relation to how to practice the sutras in a real woman’s busy life.

On this reread, I was also simultaneously reading Sri Swami Satchidananda’s translation of the sutras; Satchidananda was Devi’s spiritual teacher, so it was very interesting to see where the two of them interpret the sutras differently and where they have a similar approach. In many instances, Satchidananda and Devi say much the same thing, but Devi couches her language in ways that feel more familiar and welcoming for a modern woman. Part of me wants to call this “the sutras – lite”, but it’s not light at all, it’s just a different take that… well, doesn’t feel quite so difficult, even though it’s the same material.

One thing I would have really liked in this book is a glossary; Devi naturally uses a lot of Sanskrit terms. The first time I read the book, it took me several months to complete it, and reading it over such a long period of time, I definitely got my dharmas and dharanas and dhyanas crossed. There is an index, which is helpful, but rather than looking up where the word first appeared and then going there to refresh myself about the definition, it might have been more effective just to have a glossary. (Satchidananda’s translation does include a glossary.)

Overall, I recommend this book for women who are looking to deepen the spiritual side of their yoga practice or meditation. I also recommend it for men who, like me, don’t connect so much with the mind/thoughts rhetoric in spiritual books.

 

Yoga in the News: Anti-gravity yoga? September 5, 2011

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 5:14 pm
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A friend sent me the link to this: Anti-gravity yoga class. The pictures are pretty amazing, but I can’t imagine I would do anything but fall the hell out if I tried that stuff. At the bottom of the photo blog there’s a link for more information; that link doesn’t work, but here’s the correct one. I love how the “suggested clothing” listed includes “shirts with sleeves that cover under arms”, but half the people in the photo on that page are wearing tank tops or halters. Maybe those people have greased themselves so the hammocks won’t catch on their skin?

Don’t get me wrong, props can be incredibly useful for yoga practice, especially for people with a limited range of motion, people recovering from injuries, and people with disabilities. Props can make yoga accessible for such people and help them to become fitter, stronger, and more flexible. At my yoga center, however, we’re taught that all you need for yoga are your own bare feet and a mat (and you can make do without the mat). Props can be wonderfully helpful, but the goal of using props should be to get to the point where you don’t need the prop anymore. A trend can be fun and exciting, but we shouldn’t lose sight of what yoga is all about: making the body healthy and calming the mind. I think if I were hanging upside down from an orange hammock I would have some difficulty calming my mind. (I could be wrong. I would totally love to find out!)

Anti-gravity yoga class at Om Factory in New York

(Image from http://photoblog.msnbc.msn.com/yoga, Shannon Stapleton / Reuters)