One More Time with Acute Focus

I’ve told you all of my friend and teacher, Kyczy Hawk before. She says so many wise and funny things that I think I could probably publish my own book called The Kyczy Compendium, but as she is a published author with multiple useful and readable books under her belt with another on the way, she may take umbrage at me mining her sayings for my own gain. Luckily for her, she has little to worry about on that front, as posting here on my blog every couple of weeks is about as disciplined as I can be at this point in my life.

I have the great privilege of assisting Kyczy at her Somatics class at Willow Glen Yoga every week, where we both work. Somatics is made up of a different series of movements which may build on each other in a class. Each movement set is carried out slowly and conscientiously in repetition of approximately 6-8 times. It’s a wonderful practice, that I highly recommend. Click here for more on Somatics. A few weeks ago, we had finished most of a set of Somatics exercises and she said, “One more time with acute focus, in case this was becoming ordinary”.

For whatever reason, this struck me. First off, it enriched my mind/body experience of my class that day. But also, our days are made of routines, and even when something isn’t routine, our brains try to make them so as quickly as possible. How much in a day do we perform unconsciously? As a matter of surety, I will die someday, and so will you. Why don’t we do our best to see the ordinary as extraordinary? With all of the random chance everywhere, with all of the systems in our body just pumping away, with all the crazy random chance that makes life suddenly go from one direction into another one altogether, I challenge us to try to bring that attention, that acute focus into our daily lives, or maybe just even a part of our lives. Let me know if you try it.

 

 

Kindly rejecting our own expectations

In pretty much every class I teach is that there will be at least one person that berates themselves for their difficulty in approaching a pose. For example, a student of mine may be working towards Dancer pose, which is a balancing pose as well as a backbend. At the first sign of wobbling, or of falling out, the response is often “I can’t balance!” or maybe, “I’m just so weak” or “I have no strength!”.

What’s behind this unhelpful dialogue? In what universe is anyone expected to be able to do something perfectly every time, or even the first time?

I imagine the underlying thinking must be some variety of the following:

I can’t do this

I look dumb trying to do this

Everyone else can do this except for me

People must think I am really weak

I will never be able to do this

But, here’s the thing. The person who is doing it right now while you aren’t either really worked hard to get there, or has some genetic privilege in their favor. A perfectly executed yoga pose may take hours, or maybe even hundreds of hours to refine. And, here’s a secret you may not know. Yoga giveth, and yoga taketh away. You can practice a pose for a long time, and one day, it may not feel good in your body. Or you may have lost access to it due to illness or injury, or mysterious forces. And, that’s the practice. Yoga (despite what all those glossy magazine covers may indicate) is a practice of non-attachment, of being present with what is vs. what we want it to be. It may come back, it may not, and there are still other things to explore. Yoga isn’t just about one pose, or about perfection. Suffice to say, among many other benefits, yoga makes us more comfortable with our imperfections.

First things first though. Start speaking in the present tense. If you can’t restrain yourself from absolutes, at least put a time frame on them. Say, “I can’t balance today”. “Today, I feel weak”. Today may not be your best day, but you don’t know what tomorrow holds yet.

 

 

 

A Watched Pot…

So, I was making steel-cut oats the other morning (yes, very hippy…I even add chia as a topping) and I had one of those thoughts that seemed ridiculous on the surface, but became more interesting to me the more I thought about it.  I was waiting for my water to boil, and I turn to my husband and intone “a watched pot never boils”.  Nothing new there, right?  But then I said, “Well, maybe if you are a Zen master, the pot is always boiling.”

Silly, right?  And, I promise you, I wasn’t hitting the Mary Jane.  Here’s the thing.  Watching the pot and anxiously waiting for it to boil and get to the next stage is agonizing, because all you are thinking of is the next stage.  But, if someone is truly in the moment, there’s no attachment.  So, when the pot boils, it’s a delightful surprise.  And I suppose (although believe me, I have no experience with this level of mindfulness or patience) that at some level of enlightenment, there is no difference between a boiling pot, and a non-boiling one.

When I was in teacher training with the esteemable Noell Clark, she gave a piece of advice that had to do with protecting our necks.  As cell phones have become a near constant of our lives, our necks have taken the burden.  She offered a piece of advice–use the headrest in our vehicles.  I took that to heart.  I use it all the time.  Not only is it good for my neck, but it’s kind of like I’ve surrendered to being in the car.  My aggravation level visibly decreases when I just relax, and rest my head.  It takes my monkey mind away from living in the destination, and brings me into the present, which allows me to find contentment in what I’m doing.

Making oatmeal, driving a car.  What else can you just surrender to so that the end result is a pleasant surprise?  Let me know in the comments.

Misery on the Mat

Not so long ago, I was having what was known as a bad day.  I was under pressure from a lot of directions, and feeling overwhelmed, and irritable, and all those things that happen to constitute a bad day.  The next morning, I woke up early, as I do, and headed off to my yoga class.  I had some extra time, so I took it.  What happened was magical.  Each movement was languid, and I absolutely luxuriated in it.  My breath was long and slow.  I held every pose for double the length.  It almost felt like I was moving in warm soup, with slow pressure and easy movement.  At a certain juncture, I realized that in a sense, my mat had become my magic carpet and had lifted me a bit above from my despair.  And further, I realized that all of those situations that were distressing me were already ghosts.  It had already happened!  It wasn’t still happening.  And then I was able to live in the moment, there in my practice.

At the end of all of that, I realized that my yoga practice has never been so good as when I am a mess.  The more miserable I am, the more I can show up to my mat, push everything aside and really be present in my practice.  Happiness rarely gravitates me conscientiously to the mat, not without a lot of effort at least.  My mind wanders, and I have to wrestle it back in.  I’m thinking about all the fun to be had, and my balance suffers.

This is where yoga truly becomes a discipline.  I can always make it to the mat miserable.  Making it when I’m happy takes commitment.  I’m happy to say that over the last three years, I’ve kept my commitment, but it’s taken me years of doing yoga to finally build that consistency.  Because of the steady practice, this time, I had the skills and the focus to have an almost out of body experience, which gave me true wisdom in my situation.

When do you practice yoga?  Can you find your pattern?  Let me know how it goes for you in the comments.

Foundational Integrity

This week, we’ve had Peter Bertero visit us at Downtown Yoga Shala.  I didn’t get to meet with him during his workshop on Saturday, so I booked a private session with him.  When I was a new student of Ashtanga a couple of years ago, we had the great privilege to have him as our teacher for an extended period of time.  Because I was new to this style of yoga, I was still struggling through everything, and trying to rush through the poses.  I famously remember him telling me to start over once, and to do the standing sequence again, but more slowly, which, as you might imagine, was miserable.  But, I never rushed those poses again.

Well, in my private session, I got the same advice, but for different reasons.  As my practice has grown to about 90 minutes, without even meaning to, I would move through it like I was “mowing the lawn.”  My intention hasn’t stayed with every pose with integrity.  I’ve been putting my focus on the new things I’m trying to learn to master, and less on my foundation, from which all ability springs.  So today, I did things differently.  I didn’t worry about doing every single pose.  I luxuriated through my sun salutations, breathed every moment of the standing postures, holding them for twice the length.  I didn’t worry about my “goal” of busting through every single asana.  In this way, my old practice became new again.  In refining each of my foundational poses, it felt new.  I went deeper, intentionally moving my body in new and challenging ways, building off of what I already knew.  I wouldn’t have been capable of feeling these poses in this way before, because my abilities have deepened, but had I not revisited my foundation, I couldn’t really progress in the new poses either.

Recently, we received a bounty of acceptance letters for our two almost kindergarteners for their schooling.  I’m kind of one of those people who prefers being hemmed in by decisions sometimes.  “Oh well, I didn’t get xyz, I guess it’s up to fate!”  Nothing sends me into a tailspin of anxiety like too many open doors.  Well, we got a bunch of open doors, and ultimately, it came down to one school vs. another.  Both are good choices, but I found myself wanting to go with the path of least resistance, picking the closer school, going where I know we have friends.  Finally, I went and revisited my initial choice, and had a bit of a realization.  I remembered my foundations for what I wanted for my children.  What is my educational philosophy?  Well, it’s this one!  So, why was I getting so distracted with everything else?

It’s living in the “and then, and then, and then”.  On the mat, I do this, then this, then this, and phew!  I’m done!  For schools, I was thinking in a fear-based way.  Will it be hard to volunteer?  Will the drive be too long?  And darn it, our best friends aren’t going there!  My children will be late and friendless…but then I remembered that everything changes anyway. Being locked in worry and anticipation doesn’t mean that you can avoid upheaval.  It’s coming for you, no matter how much energy you expend trying not to let it happen.

Only by finding my foundation again could I progress in my yoga practice.  And is “progress” what I am after?  What does that mean to me?  Do I want to do a bunch of show-offy things?  Well, yes, but that’s not all I want.  I want to be present.  I want to live the moments that I am living, not thinking of the next thing.  So for now, until it’s not right anymore, I am going to focus on my foundation.  Today, that’s where I put my energy, and not only did it feel like something fresh, difficult, and spectacular, it also brought me to my best headstand yet.

Think about where you’ve gotten distracted.  What is fundamentally true for you that you’ve let slip to the sidelines?  Dig back down to the concrete, and then rebuild your house.