02.10.10

Why I don’t write about yoga

Posted in Exploration and Questions at 6:21 pm by tracichildress

In this winter’s hibernation stretch, with the holidays behind me, I have discovered something new about myself: yoga has settled simply into my life. This might make more sense with some context. 10 years ago I did a two year apprenticeship with my teacher in Germany; she taught me how to teach; she shared a powerful methodology. From there, I went on to study in India, to do a two year teacher training, to complete a Master’s thesis (& degree) that looked at yoga in our culture and the way folks are excluded from it, and then to work for one of the largest nonprofit retreat centers in the United States, doing curriculum development for them in yoga, mindfulness, and holistically minded/intended events.

This is relevant because it was a whirlwind of ten years of immersion in yoga– as my practice, as an art I share, as an evolving cultural phenomenon, and as a business. I do not agree with the idealization of the practice. I have fought hard to use my position (as practitioner, teacher, business person, and curriculum developer) to push the yoga culture in directions that are more inclusive. I have met and gotten to know a very significant handful of the famous and the not so famous among us in the community.

So when I started this blog, I was sure I would have much to say. However, after a few weeks, I found myself more compelled to write on my other “non yoga”blog (VisionWorks). This was the first sign pointing me to where I am today: realizing that yoga has become part of who I am in a way that it feels unnatural to sort out and ask to stand alone. It is, if anything, simply a tool and a practice in a life I lead and a spiritual inquiry I am committed to.

I recently started an advanced yoga class again. I have maintained a regular practice as I’ve moved with my family to a new city and started our new life, but I have lost interest in adventurous poses in my home practice, so I entered the class not sure how things would go. What I discovered was that I could do all of the advanced poses, and that I enjoyed it. However, I also noted that it wasn’t what it used to be.

The yoga sutra that speaks of asana– stirum sukum asanam– speaks to establishing a seated posture that allows one to sit for meditation. Asana stretcthens the body, the nervous system, gives one access to the breath. From there, we can enter the deeper layers of our beings: penetrate through the kosas (thourgh breath, mind, intellect, intellegence, to bliss). BKS Iyengar teaches that one teaches from the gross to the subtle–from that which we can see to that which we do not see. Asana works similarly: from the gross external inward to the more subtle.

I do not plan to give up my asana practice; I just find myself needing less fanfare.  Yoga has taken me much deeper into (& out of) myself — through  the layers of my being. I don’t claim to have touched bliss– but I do feel that I have come to a more peaceful place and cultivated that capacity in a more accessible way. I can call on my breath, mind, and intellect more easily and invite them to support one another in mundane non-asana oriented moments, the easy and the hard ones.

At an Omega Yoga conference, Aadil Palkhivala once spoke about asana being for the sake of knowing god, and for that alone. Anything else, he said, is ego. If getting your foot behind your head helps you to know God (these are my words now, not his), then do it, and do it again; but if it doesn’t, well, then what is it that it is doing for you? Is it helping you to meet your fuller potential?

Right now I find myself more at peace, more in touch with god (or that sense of larger purpose) with a 10 minute paschimotanasana than with a fast paced 40 pose sequence. Come spring, I may need more speed to access the subtle parts of myself. In the meantime, (and I hope, from now on in my life) that finding myself less compelled to write about “yoga” as a separate experience,  continues to correlate with being content to simply experience it as it unfolds each day, each breath.

01.30.10

Yoga and Mindfulness Practices in the world

Posted in Yoga in the World at 12:20 pm by tracichildress

Yoga & mindfulness in schools & therapy is the focus of this article; very interesting: http://bit.ly/bBYnyp http://bit.ly/bSne7h

Omega is hosting another retreat on mindfulness and yoga in schools: Mindfulness and Education Conference for K-12 grades. The year with Jon Kabitt Zinn, and Dan Siegel  and other very exciting teachers.

Also, in West Philadelphia, I am excited to annouce that my partner and I are starting a school that will integrate mindfulness and yoga into the curriculum: The Children’s Community School.

10.08.09

A forward bending sequence with teaching notes

Posted in Personal Practice, Teaching Yoga at 11:24 am by tracichildress

Focus: forward bends, strong action of legs to give lift to spine, & length to front body

More philosophical focus: to integrate in seated foreword bends: creating a  a platform for the heart that you bring the heart to with ease rather than aggression. Yet you create a firm foundation or space to place the heart on.

 

 

  • Virasana

    • Press the shin bones and tops of the feet down into the floor

    • Press the fingertips down into the floor and roll the inner upper arms away from your body.

    • As you press down with the fingertips and shins, ascend the sides of your body and the center of your chest

  • Dandasana (with hands cupped at your sides)

    • Now the backs of your legs are your base—so fully extend out through the heels as you move the thighs into the floor.

    • Press the finger tips, roll the arms as you did in Virasana (away from center)

    • And using these downward actions to ground you, lift the sides up off the floor, ascend the spine and allow the center of your chest (sternum) to lift

    • Now, for those without low back issues, in order to feel the importance of the leg/base action in lifting and extending the spine, release your legs and compare the lift of the torso without the legs.

    • Now reactivate the legs, extend through the heels and move the thighs down towards the floor & LIFT the chest!

  • Supta Padangusthasana I and II (to bring life into the legs and hips for forward bends, as well as waking up the feet)

    • I: At 90 degrees: Holding the belt in two hands, extend through both heels strongly. Press the thigh on the ground down towards the ground, and again stretch through the heels.

    • II: from position above, take belt in one hand

    • Stretching through both heels and strongly stamping the floor leg thigh into the ground, slowly bring the leg out to the side

    • Keep the right leg pressing into the floor as you stretch out through the left heel. Do not allow the thigh to lift of the floor

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

    • Press whole hand

    • Extend from hands up to hips

    • Fully activate legs as you did in dandasana: move inner thighs towards wall behind you as you reach the inner heels towards the floor

    • Allow center of chest to move towards floor

 

  • Step into Uttanasana (feet apart)

 

  • Tadasana

 

    • Press the four corners of the feet firmly into the ground, as you lift the knee caps up towards the hips

    • Maintaining this upward action, move the inner thighs towards the wall behind you.

    • Now lift the arms into Urdhva Hastasana—the arms extend fully and bring an extension to the sides of the body

 

  • Uttanasana (feet apart)

    • From Tadasana (as above), bend forward to bring the fingertips to the ground.

    • Now pressing the four corners of the feet firmly into the ground, pull up through the legs by lifting the kneecaps. Maintain this as you cut the inner thighs back.

    • The action of the legs allows the spine to release forward. The legs are so active that they become like a mountain that allows the spine to flow forward like a waterfall. (Starting to plant the seed for the idea that forward bends require both ease and effort)

 

  • Uttanasana (feet together)

    • Repeat as above with feet together

 

  • Paschim Namaskarasana (to plant the seed in the body for spine in and chest lifted)

    • In Tadasana (as above) bring hands into P.N

    • In pose: Press the palms evenly together as you bring the edge of the hands into the spine. Bring the spine into the body to ascent the sternum bone upward as you resist the rib cage back.

  • Parsvottanasana

    • Hands on hips, rotate legs so hips are correctly positioned and then look up (both sides)

      • (In position) Fully activate your back leg: extend through the back heel and move the inner thigh towards the wall behind you

      • At the same time, lift the knees strongly up

      • Now lift from the pelvis up to the chest, bringing your head back to look up

      • Imagine your hands in PN (previously)—as you bring your elbows back, recall the sensation of your hands at the back– bring your spine in as your chest ascends

    • Concave (both sides)

      • From above: now maintaining the strong hold of the back heel on the floor, extend forward, reaching the sternum away from the back heel

      • Pull up on the front knee as you reach the fingertips down to the floor.

      • Now move your inner back thigh towards the wall behind you and your sternum away from the back leg to create length in the front body

      • Look up

      • (2nd side I said to imagine an extra pair of hands – I showed p.n—to help to bring the spine in and chest lifted)

    • Final pose (hands on floor)

      • From above: again, reaching through the back heal continue to extend forward with the sternum, bringing the chin towards the shin and the abdomen towards the thigh.

      • Maintain the strong action of the legs as you release the head towards the leg.

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

    • As above

  • Dandasana

    • As above

    • Here I shared the idea of forward bends being a mix of ease and of work–

  • Janu Sirsasana

    • All stages: Utthita: sit evenly on your left and right side, press the straight leg thigh into the ground as you lift the chest upward

    • Urdhva Hasta: lift the arms up beside the ears, maintaining the downward pressing of the thigh, lift the sides with the stretch of the arms

    • Urdhva Mukha: holding the sides of the feet: press the thigh down into the ground, stretch the arms fully and lift the chest away from the thigh.

    • Roll the inner arms up towards the ceiling and look up to extend the front of your body

    • Janu: Now maintaining the action of the leg and the length in the front body, reach the sternum towards the foot

      • Before the 2nd side: I shared the idea of the forward bend being an act of offering your heart to the alter of your legs—“you wouldn’t set a statue of a god or a precious item on an alter in a violent manner; in the same way, you bring your heart towards a resting place without violence”

 

  • Triang Mukha Padha Paschimottanasana

    • Basically the same directions along the way as above:

    • Utthita: bring both thighs parallel to one another, use a blanket to even the hips

    • Press the straight leg thigh, the shin of the bent leg, a nd the finger tips down into the floor, as you ascend the spine upwards

    • Urdhva Hasta : Now extend the arms upwards to bring more lift to the torso (remember you are preparing to bring an offering to your alter, so take care as you approach your destination)

    • Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana: taking the feet, lift the chin and turn inner arms up towards the ceiling to create maximum length in the front body, then exhale and extend the trunk forward

  • Paschimottanasana

    • Same main points as above but now both legs extended and both thighs pressing down

    • Here I shared the idea of the forward bend being an act of offering your heart to the alter of your legs again

  • Upavista Konasana

    • Extend out through the heels as you activate your knees and press your thighs down into the ground. The action of the legs is circular—extend out through the heels, and then pull up through the knees, press down into the floor. As you work with these actions to ground you, lift your sides and spine.

 

  • Baddha Konasana (in the position)

    • Move your heels close into your body

    • Extend from the hips out and down towards the floor

    • As you do this, lift the chest and lengthen the sides.

 

  • Halasana (in pose)

    • Press your elbows and upper arms into the blankets

    • Lift the back with the hands as you

    • Move the thighs up towards the ceiling

  • Sarvangasana

    • Support your back with your hands as you press the upper arms into the floor

    • As you lift the back with your hands, bring your legs up one at a time.

    • Fully extend the legs towards the ceiling.

 

  • Savasana

  • Swastikasana

 

 

09.29.09

A Backbending sequence with teaching notes

Posted in Teaching Yoga at 5:39 pm by tracichildress

I have written a sequence below along with teaching notes that illustrate how I would link the work to prepare the students for the back bends. I have not written the primary actions for each pose, rather the actions of focus for the poses being taught.

Virasana (to prepare feet for back bends)

  • Press tops of feet and shin bones down into floor

  • With hands cup shaped beside you, press your fingertips down into the ground. Roll your inner upper arm away from your body and

  • Lift the center of your chest up

  • Release trapezeis down the back

Parvatasana in Virasana

  • Maintain press of shins and feet, and lift arms upward. Allow the upward stretch of the arms to bring a lift to the front body and the chest

Dandasana

  • To teach the inward rotation of the thighs while they can see their legs.

  • Roll thighs in towards one another and press them into the floor.

  • As you do this have hands beside your hips and us the action of the legs and hands to bring a lift to the chest. Notice that when you don’t use the legs, you cannot get the chest to lift as much)

Parvatasana in Dandasana

  • Maintain the action of legs—thighs pressing into the floor– as you lift the arms up, lift the chest more and more. Notice the connection between the legs working and the chest’s ability to lift. If you do not have back problems, release your legs and try to lift—then again, activate and lift.

Adho Mukha Svasana

  • press whole hand

  • extend from hands up to hips

  • fully activate legs as you did in dandasana: move inner thighs towards wall behind you.

  • Allow center of chest to move towards floor

Step into Tadasana

Urdhva Hastasana

Baddanguliasana

Virabhadrasana II (to further connect leg action to extension in front body and lift in chest & to show connection of tailbone in/down and chest up)

  • Press back foot strongly into ground and fully extend the back leg as you bend the front leg to 90 degrees.

  • Release buttocks down and lift chest up.

Virabhadrasana I (teaching the back leg inner thigh back, tailbone in/buttocks down and chest up)

  • Hands on hips

    • (from start position facing forward): press back heel into floor and move the inner thigh of the back leg toward the wall behind you.

    • Release buttocks down and lift chest towards the ceiling

    • Maintain these three points as you bend front leg.

    • When you reach 90 degrees with front leg, check these points: inner thigh of back leg back—buttocks down and chest lifted.

    • Move inner back thigh back as you lift the chest up further

  • Hands up (full pose)

    • Here, encourage students to allow upward motion of hands to lift chest and front body more—maintaining the action of back leg: inner thigh back & buttocks down. This also teaches the head back position needed for back bends

Tadasana

  • translate the action from above in Tadasana: dig the feet into the ground and then lift the chest without pushing thighs forward—inner thighs back

Step into Adho Mukha Svasana

Come to abdomen:

Chaturanga dandasana

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Place your hands on the ground beside your chest

  • Spread and press both hands into the floor, squeeze your elbows close into your torso

  • Tuck your toes under and move your inner legs up towards the ceiling strongly— bring dandasana and Tadasana action to legs here– this should lift the thighs slightly off the ground

  • Maintain these actions; hands pressing, toes tucked, thighs lifted, and on an exhale, lift the body an inch off the ground

  • Lower back to the ground

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Place your hands on the ground beside your chest

  • Press the tops of your feet into the ground (as in Virasana)

  • Extend back through legs and lift your inner thighs towards the ceiling/ away from the ground

  • Pressing into the floor with the tops of your feet and the palms, straighten the arms and lift body off the floor, look up

  • Now again, press tops of feet and hands into the ground and lift the inner thighs and chest up towards the ceiling. Look up.

  • Come down

Dhanurasana

Recall lift of chest against back leg in Virabhadrasana I, and lift and extend similarly here.

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Bring the center of your buttocks (the tailbone) down towards the floor as you

  • Bend your legs and reach back to take your ankles

  • Exhale and lift the thighs and the chest off of the floor

  • Lift your head to look up

  • Move the chest and ankles away from one another to lift up more

  • Come down

Adho Mukha Svasana

Salabhasana

  • Be on your abdomen

  • Bring your arms alongside your body

  • Move the center of your buttocks (tailbone) toward the ground to stabilize the pose.

  • Stretch the arms back towards the toes and the toes out beyond the body

  • Maintain this as you lift your head, and then

  • At the same time, lift your arms and legs off of the floor

  • Stretch back through your finger tips and toe tips as you reach the center of your chest (sternum) forward in opposite direction.

  • Come down

Ustrasana

  • Come to a kneeling position. Knees hip width apart and the tops of the feet on the floor. Thighs perpendicular to the floor

  • Press the chins and tops of feet strongly into the ground.

  • Lift your chest in the opposite direction.

  • Maintain position of the thighs and bring the hands to your hips

  • Bring shoulder blades into your back, bend the upper body back without releasing thighs forward and bring your hands to your heels.

  • Again, press the feet and shins down, fully extend your arms, and lift the chest strongly up.

  • Release head back,

  • Lift head and come up.

Adho Mukha Svasana

Bharadvajasana in chair

Ardha halasana

(short) Salambha Sarvangasana

Svasana

09.28.09

Karma Kitchen

Posted in Yoga in the World at 4:37 pm by tracichildress

Karma Kitchen is (from thier website) “run by volunteers, their meals are cooked and served with love, and offered to the guest as a genuine gift. To complete the full circle of giving and sustain this experiment, guests make contributions in the spirit of pay-it-forward to those who will come after them.” Check it out; they have a blog with stories from their guests too: http://www.karmakitchen.org/story.php

Practice and spiritual progress

Posted in Exploration and Questions, Personal Practice at 12:19 pm by tracichildress

In Isherwood’s commentary to his translation of the yoga sutra (I.30-31, pg. 65), he writes: “Conscious feelings , however, exalted, are not the only indications of spiritual progress. We may be growing most strongly at a time when our minds seem dark and dull. So we should never listen to the promptings of sloth, which will try to persuade us that this dullness is a sign of failure as long as we continue to make an effort.” This has been an important idea for me in the last year. It has been a point of meditation and I feel I have grown from contemplating it.

I recall an introduction to a book of poetry by Mark Strand, one of my favorite poets. In it he writes of a year in his life when he found himself always in his garden and never at his desk writing. He struggled that year with a sense of sadness and lack of worth—questioning whether or not he was really a poet. I recall reading this with a sense of understanding, and since have continued to observe my own fear of not being something because I don’t appear to be doing it in a particular way. I like to recall how Mark’s introduction ended—by writing that the very book in my hand, the collection to which the story was an introduction had indeed been written that very year. He had not sat at a desk or written, but none-the-less, the poems in that book had been born and nurtured in that year—to be recorded later in a frenzy.

I think that this is something like faith—belief that we are exactly where we should be and trust that once on the spiritual path, dedication will always take us home. Writing and being creative—in addition to my yoga pracitce—help me to remember this, again and again.

 

09.26.09

Sequence for Shoulder Mobility

Posted in Personal Practice, Teaching Yoga, Yoga Sequences at 7:16 am by tracichildress

 

Focus of class: circular action of chest: trapezius down the back, shoulder blades into the back, sternum lifted (rotation of arms to help this action)

 

  • Supta Baddha Konasana

    • To create an organic opening in the chest, open arm pits, and prepare for the class

    • I would probably have students come into this pose as they arrive to class then begin in Swastikasana for sitting

  • Swastikasana

 

  • Virasana

    • Press tops of feet and shin bones down into floor

    • With hands cup shaped beside you, press your fingertips down into the ground. Roll your inner upper arm away from your body and

    • Lift the center of your chest up

    • Release trapezeis down the back

 

  • Virasana demo—I would show the action from the side and the back – show what it looks like when my inner shoulder blades come into my back from behind & then from the side show how this allows me to lift the sternum bone. Then I would have them repeat.

 

  • Urdhva Hastasana in Virasana (teach rolling arms towards ears, traps down back and shoulder blades into back to open arm pit chest)

    • From above, lift the arms up in line with the ears

    • Roll the inner edge of the arms towards your head and ascend the fingertips towards the ceiling

    • Bring the trapezius muscles away from the ceiling, move the shoulder blades into the back and lift the center of your chest towards the ceiling

 

  • Parvatasana in Virasana

    • Maintain press of shins and feet; interlock the fingers, turn the hands away from you and lift the palms up to face the ceiling. As the upward stretch of the arms brings a lift to the front body and the chest, secure the shoulder blades in the back

 

  • Stretch legs out in front in dandasana (to release the knees)

 

  • Adho Mukha Virasana (connect to action in Parvatasana above)

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana (from hands and knees)

    • Press whole hand – look at your arms, now roll the arm (the fold of the arm) away from you. Maintain that action of the arms and lift the hips as you straighten your legs

    • Extend from hands up to hips

    • Fully activate legs

    • Allow center of chest to move towards floor

 

  • Tadasana

    • Now in Tadasana, bring the same awareness to your chest and shoulder blades as we did in Parvatasana and Virasana —create the circular action we’ve been working on.

    • Press into the ground with the feet, lift the sternum bone,

    • Bring your shoulder blades into the back and again, lift the sternum bone up towards the ceiling

    • Extend the arms fully towards the floor and lift the sternum up in opposite direction

 

  • Urdhva Hastasana in Tadasana

    • Same points as above in Urdhva Hastasana in Virasana

  • Trikonasana

    • Hand on hip

      • With hand on hip, press the back heel into the ground and move the sternum in the opposite direction to fully extend your sides

      • Now maintain that as you bring your trapezius towards the waist, the shoulder blades into the back, and then move the sternum towards your chin.

    • Arm extended

      • From above, extend the upper arm

  • Ardha Chandrasana (hand on hip)

    • Bring the principles from Trikonasana into your Ardha Chandrasana.

    • Along the way—hand on hip in Trikonasana—repeat as above—then come into pose.

    • Extend back through back foot as you reach your chest in the opposite direction

  • Virabhadrasana I with hands on hips—elbows back—

 

    • (From start position facing forward): press back heel into floor and move the inner thigh of the back leg toward the wall behind you.

    • Maintain that and bend to 90 degrees

    • With hands on hips & elbow back, bring shoulder blades into back and lift the sternum up

 

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Sirsasana

  • Adho Mukha Svanasana

  • Adho Mukha Virasana

 

  • Bharadvajasana (in final position)

    • Press the shin bone and top of foot down into the floor

    • Roll the inner arm away from your center,

    • Lift the chest & bring the shoulder blades into your back

  • Setu Banda Sarvangasana

    • Chatoosh Padasana on blankets holding the edges of the mat to get the action of shoulder blades in—roll arms away from you and bring shoulder blades into back—as you press strongly in to the ground with the feet, ascend the sternum to the ceiling

  • Sarvangasana

    • Translate this action from Chatoosh Padasana into your shoulder stand—arms roll out from your center, hands lift the back and help to bring shoulder blades into your back.

  • Savasana

09.24.09

Practice is personal; Practice is shared

Posted in Personal Practice, Yoga in the World at 6:57 pm by tracichildress

In moving towards samadhi, we move towards a union that is neither human nor not human, but is larger than that. We seek to connect ourselves to something that has always been there but that we have not been able to see or touch. We do this in hatha yoga practice by learning to understand it in our bodies. Our bodies are not separate from coming to understand, they are central. And at the same time, they are bodies: flesh and bone and holding place for our lived experiences in the world. The yogic path is very physical, very human, and indeed deeply indebted to the personalities and cultural nuances that inform the relationships between teacher, student, and training institutions.

My practice and its place in my life has been a consistent unfolding and in-folding. It has been like breath, something that moves in and out, alternately expanding and contracting, expanding and contracting. Like breath, which transforms in subtle ways the air of which it is made, this practice has been subtly shifting my body, my life, my way of being in the world for some time now. It is somehow simultaneously new and yet not new, my own and unavoidably not really mine at all.

I can frame this poetic exploration in terms of practice itself. There is that which we take in as practitioners: the inhalation, so to speak, which can include the texts written about the practice, the technique developed sometime and passed along, the methodology created by a man in India, the teaching of our teachers, the books we turn to learn about it. Then there is the exhalation, the letting go, the giving back, the discovery, which includes the personal experience of yoga unfolding as we practice alone, the act of teaching what we know to friends or students, the development of a methodology, the refinement of an approach to postures.

We are transformed by and dependant on both parts of this practicing. Like breathing, like inhalation and exhalation, they involve the same essence, somehow. Inhalation and exhalation involve air: It is the same air that travels in and out of the body, only it is not. It has traveled through a body, through a system and then is released back into the air. It comes from and returns to its own essence, though it has been through something, which has changed it. It is inherently transformative, though admittedly subtle. In Hinduism, our breathing, our connecting to and with that air is called the ajapa-mantra, or the unconscious repetitive prayer (So’Ham, Ham’So). We inhale (he/it/she am I) and we exhale, (I am he/she/ it). By just showing up and breathing, we connect to something bigger than we are, bigger than our breath. We connect to it, take it in, and then let it go. We cannot hold it; we can only participate in it as it moves through us.

I often experience my practice this way. There is the inhaling (the training, the classes, the technique) and the exhalation (what I do with what I take in on my mat, in my body, as I practice, and then as I teach). Both are powerful and vital, but they are different. And for me, there is an inevitable tension in the relationship. There is a large unknowable mystical presence, like air that moves in and out of us, that I move with in my practice and there is also the practice that exists outside of me and around me. Because of this dancing, I must move, as well, with the stories, the believes, the opinions about that unknowable, expansive presence, about that air that we are breathing which exist in the practice, its history, its teachers, and its community of practitioners. It is in this space that I have found the most struggle with my practice. Within this chorography, I have encountered movements and rhythms (to extend this metaphor further), which seem somewhat out of line or not quite right for my body and its movement in the dancing. I have felt that some of the choices for music don’t quite feel in line with what I feel when I feel that thing that we imagine this practice is all about.

It seems to be that this thing, which one might call god, love, universe, prana, or something else, is larger than the stories that we tell about it, yet that it is shaped in my body mind heart by my experience of both the mystical, transformative indefinable element of the practice and simultaneously by the stories, personalities, and the other bodies on the dance floor with it. Perhaps this is not unlike breath, which we somehow inevitably share just by breathing. As a practitioner, I come to this place of tension again and again and wonder how to interact with it, how to learn from, how to relate with it.

I like working with the image or metaphor of breath, because everyone breathes and, I think, recognizes that strange intangible yet tangible way that breath is personal, mobile, fluid, and shared. My practice is like that too—I see the form, read/experience the instructions, the geometry, the steps, but I must try it on, become it in order to transform, or even to understand it. And if Freire is right, and I think that he is, when he writes, “I say that reading is not just to walk on the words, and it is not over the words either. Reading is re-writing what we are reading,” then by practicing, I, too, change the practice. The practice cannot be tied down or defined, because every breath alters it.

06.13.09

Opening the body, opening the heart

Posted in Personal Practice, Uncategorized at 6:30 pm by tracichildress

Joy, trauma, transgression, experience, live in the body. I feel resistance to unfolding my history at times, as it inevitably unfolds in the practice of yoga, in the stretching and the creating of space that happens in the practice. Sometimes I experience this resistance in my posture, in the habit of my stance, or in my yoga practice.

I have very fluid joints. When I am comfortable and move, I move fluidly. This fluidity has evolved with me over a life of needing to move and adjust and protect myself with my ability to do so. These are my samskaras (habits). In standing, in my asana practice, I hang in and push into joints that have not had to be held by muscular action. I allow my back to move inward, projecting my chest forward. My tailbone escapes. My back carries responsibility for creating the appearance of strength in me—my lifted sternum comes from my back. And so it is that my samskaras create new samskaras, and I experience pain in my back. I have known this for som time. And as I work to see this habit and to change it, I have made new discoveries. I am now sensing the tightness in the front of my body. I am now learning to lift up towards the crown of my head from within— “to open the blinds of my ribs” as Patricia Walden used to said in class, rather than pushing my ribs out from behind.

These are the elements of my new information, my new discoveries: I push my ribs forward with my back. This makes not only my back ache; it locks my ribs so that I am unable to create space between them. This is about HEART, about letting others love me, trusting love and others (my back), and allowing myself to love and honor myself, and my knowledge (my chest/my ribs). These actions, these habits, are related to the action of my tailbone (to my root(s)). As I bring my tailbone in, as I go to my roots, I feel my heart finding its place in my life, in my chest. My rib cage finds its natural place, my back opens and widens; I begin to love myself; I begin to trust in the love of others; I become conduit for the love of God as God moves in and through me.

This is profound. This is deep. This is becoming present. This is what the yoga sutras call “skill of yogic action” (Yogah karmasu kausalam) (Iyengar). This is seeing that “created or constructed mind springs from the sense of individuality” (nirmanacittani asmitamatrat) (Iyengar, Sutra IV.4). I begin to understand the oneness of living and life—the presence of god in all things and experiences as I learn to see from my heart. My yoga practice teaches me this way of seeing.

Iyengar writes of this in his commentary to Yoga Sutra IV.14: “Truth is One, and we must experience it in its real essence without distinctions. If it seems to vary, that is because our intelligence and perception vary, and this prevents us from seeing the essential truth.” Letting go of habits, recognizing them and permitting them to change is part of the skill of yogic action.  Letting go of samskaras begins to loosen our tight hold to the self—the individual—that we worship, adorn, praise, and berate. This act, this practice of recognizing samskaras is a letting go of the created/constructed mind, that feeling like a self, which frames the little self, the ego. This little self is held in place by habits, which are mine, my family’s, my culture’s.  As I learn to release this, I begin to experience communion with the larger Self, which exists outside of and inside of the self. I begin to commune with God.

I want to come back to HEART. I am working with my heart and its connections to my roots. I have created a mantra for myself:

I open my heart
to love from others,
to love others,
to love myself,
as it is
as they are
as I am.

I choose to be soft in response to life, to keep my heart healthy. To explore the idea of a compassionate warrior, which according to Pema Chodron is someone who recognizes “that the greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds” . Learning to see this involves both our roots and our hearts. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery, writes, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”