Many of us dream of the easy life: a life in which opportunities arise without complications and we move effortlessly through our day in a happy state of bliss. In search for this idyllic state of living, we dread obstacles and disdain struggle and conflict. Yet, we need the resistance of opposing ideas, the clash of contrasting expectation, and the work of climbing the metaphorical career ladder, in order to for us to grow.
Resistance is around us all the time. In yoga class, we always have at least one body part touching the earth. This floor-bound body part not only secures us to the land but also creates a force in which we can utilize to expand. We push against the floor, to find more lift. In physics force is possible when one object interacts with another. There are different types of forces in physics but a uniform concept states how much force is applied by one object is met with the same amount of force. For example, in handstand if we don’t press away from the earth, we sink. When we push against the floor we activate our muscles and find the bodily support and length needed to align in the posture.
Resistance is often considered to impede our flow and thwart our growth. Yet, just as there are at least two opposing actions occurring at all times, resistance can foster and hinder our personal expansion. In the yoga world, there is always a discussion about awareness, to mindfully look at your present circumstances. Many of fight change and we fight against obstacles. We see these obstacles as a place of struggle rather than a stepping stone for growth. In class, we are reminded to be attentive to our mental, emotional, and physical state without judgment. This is because in yoga we come to realize that the most of the resistance we meet is from our own struggle against change. As we grow, we bump up against our own issues, rejections, fears and insecurities and we retreat, hide, and try to shove the feelings back into the bag we carry them in.
When we cave-in to our self-doubts, we are walking our path like someone blindly moving through a dark forest hoping not to drop into a ditch. Instead of recoiling we must address these feelings of inadequacy head-on. When we realize that our fear holds power and strength, we can use that force to help us grow. To utilize resistance for your own optimal development, you must become aware of what you are bumping up against. With proper awareness and self-realization, you are able to flourish seemingly effortlessly.
I spent my childhood summers in a small fishing village off the coast of Western Canada. I remember the times I would jump in the icy ocean and tread water attempting to get back on the dock. Without a rock to push off of, climbing out of the water was a struggle. Many of us live like this – trying to tread water, not realizing that each obstacle that comes to us is a place from which we push off. We cannot allow ourselves to become afraid of what we butt-up against, we cannot let that stop us, rather we must find a way to move through, around, or even better, step-up on the bumps in our path.
In the natural world circles are abundant: earth, sun, tree rings, your eye pupils. Almost every ancient culture uses the circle as a symbol to represent a myriad of meanings including the cycle of life, spiritual growth, completeness, and unity. In Hindu mythology, every time you take the shape of Natarajasana, dancer’s pose, you embrace the cycle of birth, life, and death.
Nataraja, King Dancer, holds a drum representing the primordial sound of creation; in another hand he holds fire symbolizing death; and balancing on one leg, as he lifts the other, Nataraja dances within the fire of samsaras, or life habits that often inhibit us. In a dance of “continual loss and instantaneous regaining of balance,” Nataraja reminds us that all of nature dances in the cycles of birth and death where there is neither beginning nor end. Because of this infinite movement I see the circle as the ultimate symbol of balance. Read More
For the last few weeks I have felt lethargic, unmotivated, and what I deemed as super lazy. Today I realized that I am not lazy but rather a bit depressed. I didn’t have to probe too far to recognize that my feelings were due to feeling unworthy and unaccomplished. Of course this is a wall many of us bump up against. We all have feelings of unworthiness at times. We are all susceptible to uneasy feelings that creep in and take over when we are not looking. The test is how we deal when these feelings do creep in; when we acknowledge they exist. Read More
Adenocarcinoma. Cancer. Lodged quietly in the tissue of my uterus.
I forget to breathe for what must be a long time. Everything around me goes out of focus. Outside the windows the sky is blue and the world is humming right along without a skip. But I can’t move.
In the Japanese language, the word crisis is denoted by two symbols: one represents danger, the other opportunity.
In my practice, I often hear teachers say savasana (corpse pose), is the most important, and most difficult, pose. In my experience as a student and a teacher, I have notice that two things often happen in savasana: students fall asleep or they daydream. The common challenge of savasana is to not fall asleep or think about your day. Rather savasana is a time for rest and reconditioning the mind. Read More
A misconception is people need to be flexible to do yoga—and any picture of a person twisted into a pose supports that idea. The physical practice of yoga is not about getting into the pose but rather about the process of getting into the pose. When people are flexible, they often shape themselves into poses and look great doing it but that doesn’t mean the pose is done correctly. Often the muscles are not engaged and the person is folding, sitting on, and hanging from their joints. This looks pretty to the untrained eye, but can create some problems in the person’s body.
As yoga students, we all strive to embody yoga in our lives – both on and off the mat. We practice awareness. We try to be healthy and kind. We try to meditate. We practice ahimsa, non-violence, by being okay with not meditating. We try not to judge others and more importantly, we try not to judge ourselves. As yoga students, we know that our practice off the mat is often harder than our practice on the mat. Read More
My favorite Hindu myth involving the sages Vasistha and Vishvamitra entails a lesson in tapas, “inner heat.” In my simplified version of the story, Vasistha gets mad and curses Vishvamitra to become a heron. Vishvamitra retaliates by cursing Vasistha into a crane. As a heron and a crane these sages began to fight. Tearing at each other’s throats and flapping their wings, they topple down mountains, destroy living creatures, and knock the earth over. The Hindu god, Brahma, witnesses the devastation these two are causing and strips them of their bird natures. When they calm down, Brahma chastises the sages and exclaims “You are both creating obstacles to your tapas by your passionate anger, so give it up!” The two sages, ashamed, hug each other in forgiveness.
Tapas, often translated to mean “inner heat,” or “fiery discipline” is a tool to achieve personal and spiritual enlightenment. Tapas is sometimes considered a rigid practice of castigation and severe discipline, yet, according to T.K.V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga, tapas is not penance but “the process of inner cleansing” by building heat through asanas (poses) and pranayama (breathwork). Like Desikachar, when I hear the word tapas I do not associate it with austere, strict, and rigid behavior. Rather, I connect tapas with the consistent flow of energy generated through our thoughts, the beat of our heart, and the intention of our actions. I believe tapas to be the perseverance and faith we dedicate to our path.
As humans, we have wishes, we create goals, we dream of desired outcomes, and from these dreams we brew the energy needed to transition our dreams into reality. Yet, as humans, in one way or form, we also experience mesmerizing enchantments that tempt us away from our path. In the story of Vasistha and Vishvamitra these two sages fall from their path. Like us, they get seduced by emotion and thoughts. We all get swept away and tapas is the energetic force that helps us realign our focus with our heart.
We can spend so much of our life being angry, blaming others, and all this external focus will only result in destroying ourselves. As fire burns things up, our energy can burn us up, burn us out, or fuel us; we need to harness our energy and direct it in a mindful manner. We must speak, listen, and act as if everything we do has significance. We must act as if our hearts are beams of light and what we direct into the world, good or bad, will be absorbed by the people meet, the trees we see, and the air we breathe. When Brahma scolded the two sages, he scolded them for generating such heat in negativity: what we think, we can become. Our own energy is the power that can steer us. Like Vasistha and Vishvamitra, we can allow it to overpower us in devastating ways or we can open ourselves up to the bright potential that lies within us.
Desikachar, T.K.V.. The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice. Rochester: Inner Traditions, 1995. Print.
Aristotle is quoted as saying “The energy of the mind is the essence of life.” Our awareness and perception of life is the reality of how we extend our energy outward. Where we focus our attention, and how we focus our attention, is how we interact with the world. Think of days when you walk with a smile on your lips and a skip in your step and how everything is wonderful and great on those days or the opposite when you are grumpy, rushed and hostile and see only the annoyances of your day. Our thoughts are energy and consciousness precedes matter. To live our life in a state of mindful consciousness we must move with awareness. Read More
The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year and we had a special extended practice with Shannon Kluever this year. Here are some poems and other inspiration from that event.
One day the sun admitted,
I am just a shadow.
I wish I could show you
the infinite incandescence
that has cast my brilliant image!
I wish I could show you when you are lonely
or in darkness
the astonishing light
of your own being!