Chakras, Patterns, #metoo

Muladhara

Yesterday I was noodling around some yoga blogs on the internet and found Nobel’s Yoga in the Dragon’s Den.  Like me, he hasn’t been writing much in the last few years although for very different reasons.  Nobel wrote that his practice has become very regular and almost something that happens in the background of his life in the sense that he doesn’t talk or write about it very much.

This led me to a search around the ashtanga yoga blogosphere and I found a lot of anger and a whole lot of commentaries on Pattabhi Jois, the #metoo movement, and the sense that ashtanga yoga is under fire from the Yoga Alliance.

So many words it made my head spin, and it’s not the purpose of this blog to address them all, but I particularly respected what Kino MacGregor  had to say.  I have never been to India or studied with any member of the Jois family, but many of my teachers have. This topic is potentially divisive (what isn’t?) but also an opportunity for stuck/repressed energy to move, and that’s a good thing. True healing will encompass all, the abused and the abuser.  I say this as a person who has known abuse in her family, and spent years trying to reconcile the knowledge that someone I loved sexually abused someone that I loved.

Which in some ways is why I am where I am, in the psycho-social sphere that I am, today.

None of this is why I chose muladhara chakra, a scanned image from a book, for today’s image, yet it feels appropriate.  I tend to be suspicious of New Agey concepts that are dressed in nice clothes (especially if I detect a whiff of commerce), but the chakras have been in my mind for a while and I’ve begun to research this system of understanding human energy patterns with the idea of including images of chakras in a piece of artwork I’ve been working on for some time.  An interesting find is that, as it turns out, perhaps not unexpectedly, the chakras have evolved as they moved to the west, much like yoga has evolved as it has been absorbed into Western Culture, so much so that the chakras from the ’70s onward look very different and even take on different meanings that might have been somewhat inscrutable to early 20th century Indian yogis.  I am particularly interested in what happens to ideas, systems of thought, and visual patterns as they move from one culture and geographic location to another.  One of the patterns that I use in my work is from a Japanese kimono of unknown origin.  I found it on an image of a British transferware plate in a Martha Stewart Living magazine.  From a kimono to a plate and, perhaps most recently, to a donated piece of artwork, which you could find, if you were so inclined, at the Brush Studios in Lowell on Saturday March 24, 2018 as part of a fundraiser for UMASS Lowell art students:

 

Tail of the Q
Tail of the Q, multi-media panel, 4″X4.”

This post is a bit of a ramble but the purpose of this blog was always to have a place to talk about my ashtanga yoga practice and to interact with others in the blogosphere who have the same, somewhat odd, compulsion.  Lurkers welcome.  To end with a practice update, I’ve been working on primary series and returning to a six day practice.  My hip injury, 3 years later, seems fully healed although it persists in a lingering sense of fear before I begin backbends.  I have to remind myself that in a way, urdhva dhanurasa (backbend or wheel) is no different than Janu Sirsana (a seated forward fold variation), it’s just another way to open the body.

Winter has been long and it has been difficult to go out walking.  This makes it very hard for me to lose the weight I’ve gained, but finally it seems I have some sustained energy to focus on this and have reached a tipping point, a positive feedback loop in which small gains in the practice lead to an increased desire to eat in a healthy way that acknowledges the rhythm of the 6 day practice.  At this point I am about 25 pounds above the weight at which I once began 2nd series, and I wasn’t exactly a skinny yogi then.  No “ashtangorexia” for me.  Seriously I found that term on someone’s blog.

I have never fully abandoned my practice although it certainly changed from the giddy heights of working on kapotasana.  This time around I am determined to build a practice that sustains my life and my spiritual growth, that is not dependent on constant growth and impressive asanas, knowing full well that I am particularly susceptible to the tendency to cling to those very things as if they were the practice.  Always mistaking the finger pointing for the moon.

Finally, an excerpt from a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye, which can be found here:

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Perhaps only someone who has known deep and terrible grief can fully appreciate this poem.  I offer this from my delightful minister and friend, Elea Kemler, to you.

Advertisements

Day 11

Do_more_of_what_makes_you_happy
My favorite Christmas Present

 

I just rediscovered Angela Jamison’s pdf titled “House Recommendations” at a time when I believe I am more ready to hear it than I was at the time I first read it, about 4 years ago.

“Practice and eating are not separate. Eating affects practice; practice changes your experience of eating.”

As an emotional eater, these lessons do not come easy to me.  But then it was David Garrigues who wrote recently that there is more value in the hard lessons than in the easy ones, so I’ll just keep pushing my heavy stone up the mountain and try my hardest to get a little further this time.

I recently read a book by William Gibson called Spook Country.  It’s the first time to my knowledge that Gibson has included a character who practices yoga.  That’s really a side note because it wasn’t a major part of the book.  More interesting is Tito, the “IF” or “illegal facilitator,” a young man of Cuban/Chinese and possibly Russian origins who is part of a family who trains to, well, I guess to facilitate illegal activities.  He seems to have specialized knowledge of martial arts and how to blend in and be anonymous.  He can slip in an out of places quite easily and use tremendous balance, coordination, strength and grace to extricate himself from dangerous situations.  What’s interesting is that Gibson shows us Tito’s mental process, how he keeps himself focused in difficult situations.

Somewhere along the line Tito has studied the Orishas, what I understand to be deities or semi-deities of African Origin.  He focuses on them so intently in various situations that they guide him and he even feels at times to be inhabited by them.

It hit me then, during practice yesterday, that it’s not unlike the focus we develop during practice.  The concentration on breath, bandha and drishti, the presence of Ganesh in the room, the study of Hindu deities from the Bhagavad Gita and other sources, these are all methods or ways of connecting our inner reality with something larger. In other words, the focus on the qualities of Ganesh that help a yogi to stay connected to her breath on the mat are not unlike what Tito is doing as he navigates a world of renegade CIA agents and other obstacles.  Our obstacles our different for sure, but our methods?  I see a resemblance.

I think I’ll reread the book from a new perspective.

 

Day Two

Ganesh_studio
When Ganesh resides in an artist’s studio

David Garrigues wrote recently in an instagram post:

“In yoga you have to accept that progress may be slow.  You have to be patient when learning eludes you. The effort that appears to yield no progress is not wasted. It’s your job to remain equanimious (sic). Your unceasing equanimity is the key that can unlock a treasure chest. Pushing against a stone that won’t budge has the potential to yield more gold then coasting along with a stone that has no resistance.”

Slow indeed.  Patient indeed.  What truer words have I heard lately?  Yet today I dropped back for the first time in several years.  I’m still working on the “unceasing equanimity” part.  I’ll let you know when I’ve got it down ;D.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Useful

Cascade
Cascade, Monoprint with silkscreen, Akua ink on paper, 2016.

I have been rereading my neglected yoga blog in an attempt to retrace my steps.  In many ways I have not been able to get back to the woman I was.  Grief has been a potent force in my life and I am slow to recover, so I search here for clues to my own healing.

I am still practicing more or less daily yoga at New England Yoga in Littleton, MA.  Practice is as practice does, and I struggle to keep my mind on my mat and to enact the moving meditation that is at the heart of the primary series of Ashtanga yoga.  I dream of getting back to 2nd series, but at the moment there are obstacles.

What I can say is that in the intervening years my art has matured a great deal, and I am embarking on a new adventure to find ways to make more work and to bring it out into the world through exhibits and sales.

Without any self-pity or excuses, what time I might have used for this blog in 2016 has been spent in resisting the damage of our current political administration.  I’m not sorry, it has, I believe, been necessary.  There are many ways to serve.

Still, this space for writing and contemplation seems exquisitely useful, and I intend not to abandon it altogether.  See you in 2017.

 

 

 

 

Time and Linearity

AI2015-03PRweb
Q QUO

Someone asked me last night how long I’ve been been practicing Ashtanga.  I’m not sure when to start the count.  I probably took my first led Ashtanga class about 10 years ago, but I was a flibbertigibbet for some time.  And I had already begun teacher training in a style of vinyasa yoga.

I’d say the real starting point, when it became a more or less a daily practice, was in the Summer of 2011 when Sue P. and I went to Burlington Vermont for an intensive teacher training week with David Swenson. Still a baby practice to be sure.

Don’t even ask me how long I’ve been practicing yoga, I probably won’t give you an honest answer.  Decades.

Which sounds all braggart, I confess.  But not to worry, I’m solidly back in first series after a series of Unfortunate Events (sorry Lemony Snickett).  First there was Lyme’s disease, which didn’t turn chronic but did lead to a 5 pound weight gain, and just as I was recovering from that I lost my only sister to drug addiction in the midst of the worst winter of my life.  Perhaps I will write more about Chris later. If I seem to gloss over it here, it’s more out of a lack of readiness and a sense of rawness as I approach the one year anniversary of a profound loss that has affected every aspect of my life.

No, I’d much rather write about the awful winter, pounded by snowstorm after snowstorm and ice dams and roof leaks and broken down old snowblowers and a husband who went to China 25 times in one month.  Or at least it felt that way sometimes.  You have no idea, or maybe you do if you’re from New England, how very grateful I am for this mild winter, and that some days I’m tempted to kiss the bare asphalt of my driveway, just for being there, un-iced.

Five pounds turned into 20 and I was never a skinny Ashtangi anyway, I started losing poses.  Or rather, I never got back to 2nd series after putting it aside for a while after the Lyme’s diagnosis.  Then even first series poses like Marichyasana D became difficult, then impossible. A hip injury surfaced, and, to my horror, stayed, until I eliminated backbends from my practice and left my teacher.

Which is another loss.  A big one, losing a teacher.  I loved my teacher, but we came to a parting of the ways.  He is an amazing teacher, so all I will say is that his teaching stopped working for me. I am still grateful for everything I learned from him, and the meticulous attention to the details of the practice, the exquisite refinement he instills in the students who study with him for a long time.

I am grateful, so very grateful, for Sue’s new mysore program at New England Yoga.  I can’t even tell you how walking into that room makes me feel, and how after barely 4 weeks of practice there I feel at home in a small group of familiar faces, many of whom are already dear to me.  I could kiss the floor of her studio, although I probably won’t considering the number of feet that tromp around that space.  I am in love with this quiet, accepting space.

The point, if I have one, is that the practice isn’t always linear.  Oh sure, when you’re first learning, particularly if you’re somewhat in shape, it grows by leaps and bounds and there’s always that next pose on the horizon.  At some point in a maturing practice there are bound to be setbacks, injuries, life events that force you to stop relying on the next pose for sustenance and inspiration.  This, of course, has been written about before.  But perhaps it’s good to hear again.  Sometimes I watch other people struggle on their mats (which reveals more about my lack of focus than their practice) and I want to tell them to relax, to let go of the struggle.  Of course I want to say that to them, because, right now at least, it’s what I most need to hear.  My daily goal in the mysore room is to focus on my breath and let whatever happens happens.  David Swenson once said that Ashtanga is like a knife, you can use it to hurt and you can use it to heal.  Right now, I’m just working on the healing part.  The flying, binding and heel grabbing bits can wait.

 

 

 

New, Anew, Renewed

AI2015_01PRweb
Ustrasana Verte

An ambitious title, perhaps.  We may have to take things in stride.  I had a wonderful teacher, and I learned so much from him.  But as I found myself saying to my new/old teacher, he was the perfect teacher for me, until he wasn’t.

Many things were not at all his fault.  I got Lyme’s disease over a  year ago, lost my little sister to addiction nearly a year ago, and fell into a funk.  Gained weight, lost momentum, lost the mental ability to focus on a lengthy practice.  I tell you, you don’t even know the things you can lose until you lose them.  Not surprisingly, perhaps, I got hurt, a deep long standing hip injury that I tried for some time to work through.

It started, rather innocuously, as a curious reluctance to drop back into urdhva dhanurasa (wheel posture).  In the context of my practice, I’ve been dropping back for years and I’ve never been afraid of backbends, but something happened, perhaps while I was working on kapotasana, and over the course of a year things went from bad to worse.  Finally I decided to stop doing backbends for a while, and, for this and other reasons, to stop going to the shala.  I have seen a difference, less hip pain, and none of the variety that wakes you from sleeping.  Now the hip is sort of clicky, a bit sore if I tilt my pelvis, pushing the tail bone backwards and allowing it to nutate.  Doesn’t feel quite optimal, but it’s better.

Somewhere in all of this it was suggested that it was all in my head.  And there’s something to that, only what’s in your head can lead to an injury.  Like Albus Dumbledore said to Harry within the confines of a dream, that doesn’t make it any less real.

When Sue Pentland, the woman who first taught me Ashtanga, announced that she was (finally!) starting a mysore program, my heart soared.  This for sure is exactly what I need right now.  A place to practice with people I know and love in a beautiful , divinely heated space with a teacher who accepts me as I am in this moment, whatever that is.  Mostly she leaves me alone to heal, offering gentle assists and suggestions from time to time.

It’s perfect, and yesterday I bought a monthly pass.  My only goals involve breath, bandha, and drishti.  Although I can’t pretend that I don’t want my practice back the way it was, and the excitement of adding on new postures in 2nd series.  But that will either come, or it won’t.

Meanwhile, I am renewed.

 

2 People on My Mat

IMG_4536Completely unrelated photograph of a flowering tree.

Sometimes there are 2 people on my mat.  This is not ideal.  There’s the now me, the one who should have eaten less and practiced more in the preceding week.  The one who can’t seem to put weight into her hands in chakrasana and continuously bungles the jumpback from bhujapidasana.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Somewhere behind me, or a bit to the side, there is a shining, glowing version of myself.  The one I can see out of the corner of my eye.  The one who manages effortless, seemingly weightless transitions. It’s my potential self, who binds in places I can’t bind and who calls on reserves of strength and energy she has built up over a week of eating and living in a way that supports her practice.

The real me, who stayed up too late after a glass of wine/ really good movie/ vampire coyote shape shifting mass fiction novel, doesn’t quite have those reserves available, is clunkier and less focused than the woman I imagine, but more solid and real.

I  am grateful for the ethereal version of myself, without her I would never have the courage or the wherewithal to grow, to learn to jump through, to breath when things get difficult.

But sometimes I cling to that ideal to the point of denigrating the actual me.  To seeing my potential self as a should, as another stick to beat myself with when I don’t measure up.

Perhaps at some point, perhaps even this Summer, the two selves will be more closely in alignment.  Perhaps I will learn to live more comfortably in my skin.

This is the journey.