Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Observations of a pitta mind

Oh, score! I got a spot right in front of the fan tonight! I set up my mat and waited for class to begin.
I thought about my first real yoga teacher, Robert.  As soon as the temperature would start to rise, he'd
get out the fan and position it directly in front of me.  After a while I didn't even have to ask, he would just
know when I needed the fan on.  I really appreciated that. 

The bhavana for tonight's class was pitta reducing practices.  Remember from my previous blog, pitta relates to the elements of fire and water in our bodies and minds.  When the temperature rises outside, our internal temperature rises, both physically and mentally. In Ayurveda, summer is considered pitta season.  The practice tonight was all about cooling the body and the mind and keeping whatever heat that was generated in the abdominal area. 

We  began with several rounds of pranayama - Shitali breathing.  *This breath has a cooling effect and therefore it is not recommended for practice during the winter.

"Sit in easy pose.  Roll the tongue lengthwise into a tube while the tip of the tongue sticks slightly out of the mouth.  Draw the air through the tongue like sipping through a straw, fill the lungs completely.  Drop the chin into Jalandara bhanda (chin lock).  Hold the breath for 5 seconds and exhale thoroughly through the left nostril"  - YOM teacher training manual

So far, so good. I'm feeling pretty good.  It's warm in room but not uncomfortable.   We transition onto our hands and knees.  Inhaling into dog tilt, exhaling into cat round.  Wait a minute, I'm not feeling that fan at all!
The fan is oscillating but just as it reaches the edge of my mat...... It turns in the other direction! Damn.  It's such a tease, just when I think I'm going to get a little cool breeze -- Nothing!!

No time to adjust the fan, we're onto to slow sun salutations.  After a modified tree pose we do another sun salutation (Surya Namaskar) but a little faster the second time around.  I felt myself enjoying the faster paced sequence more. 

I loved the pauses between the dynamic sequences.  I could feel the heat that was generated during the poses, cool a little during the periods of rest.  ( Although I admit I really did want to open the window) The practice also included several twists which SD reminded us are really good for reducing pitta.
*Note to self:  Eat lunch on Tuesdays so that you don't have to eat dinner before yoga class!  (Twists are not fun on a full stomach).

In keeping with the theme of the class, savasana was longer than usual.  I felt myself wanting to move after a few minutes, I had difficulty staying still and even more difficulty keeping my mind from moving ahead to the next task.  Tonight, savasana was the most challenging pose for me.  Maybe repeating a mantra would have helped. I'll have to try that next time.  Which mantra would be good for reducing pitta?  I'm thinking simply SO HUM.  Listening to the sound of the breath, So on the inhale, Hum on the exhale. 

There are some important things to remember while doing an asana practice during the summer. 

*Don't push yourself
*Back off from your effort a little
*Keep your chin slightly tucked - avoid lifting the chin up
*Do not hold poses for too long
*Include pauses between poses
*Practice twists & forward folding postures
*Long rest at the end of the practice
*Shitali & release breaths whenever you are getting too hot

These are just some of the things that I need to remember for my own practice.  Perhaps you'll find them helpful in your practice as well.

During savasana I did finally feel the cool breeze from the fan.  Or was it the effects of the pitta reducing practice??

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Ask and you shall receive

Since I took my very first steps onto this yogic path I've been daydreaming of meeting a great guru.  My hope was that this great guru would light the way for me to reach this state of enlightenment.  Reading books about the great Indian saints and gurus only makes this desire stronger. 

I've been listening to Autobiography of a Yogi on cd in the car.  If you haven't read this book -  I would highly recommend you read it.  Or better yet, listen to it on CD.  This morning, I listened to Yogananda recount numerous stories about the miracles performed by his guru and other saints. One of the stories was about a woman who was on her way to visit her guru (I lost track of which guru performed which miracles -sorry).  She gets to the train station only to find that her train was leaving. She prayed that the train would stop as she was unable to stand the torture of being away from her beloved guru for a moment longer.  (Here's the miracle) -  The train suddenly stops - she's able to board the train and is soon sitting at the feet of her guru.   At this point in the story the green eyed monster appeared in my mind  as I began to wonder why my prayers aren't answered like that.   Maybe I'm not praying hard enough I thought. 

Back to the story,  the guru says to the woman - para-phrasing here - "Oh, why do you bother me with some frivolous things?  You could have taken the next train" -- Once I stopped laughing I had the realization that my prayers are ALWAYS answered.  Perhaps not always the way  I would like them to be but always the way that's best for me. As the green eyed monster slinked away I reflected  on my various prayers to God.

What I noticed is that when I find myself in the midst of a difficult situation or crisis my prayer to God is asking that he guide me so that I can "do the next right thing".  When something good happens - my prayer is a prayer of  thanks. God is almost always on my mind - Either asking for guidance or thanking him for his blessings. 

Yogananda's guru tells him that he will always be there for him whenever he needs him. He need only call for him and he will appear.  -- Isn't that what God does?   When we need him - we need only call for him and he will be there to support and guide us. 

Of course my prayers are always answered.  My happy, healthy children are proof of that.  As are the many other blessings in my life.  I just needed a reminder of that today. The little miracle was that I heard exactly what I needed to hear today in the beautiful words of Yogananda.

As for my search for a guru....... Well, I acknowledge that I have and have had many gurus in my life. Everyone I meet is my guru. Each person in my life is there  to assist me in my evolution.  All I need to do is stay present and be conscious of the lessons and the miracles that unfold in front of me day after day.

I accept that I will not always get what I want but I will certainly always get exactly what I need. -- Thank you God for the gentle reminder.......

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food for thought

"Oh, will you give it a rest!" I tell my mind.  My mind shrugs and replies "What can I do?  It's my nature to think".   Just like my crazy dog who bolts out the door at the first sight of a squirrel.  It's his nature to hunt (he's a beagle) so that's what he does.   So too, our minds must do what it was meant to do -- Think. 

I've resigned myself to the fact that I can't run away from it.  Wherever I go, my mind will follow. Rather than allowing my mind to run wild,  I attempt to direct it.

This morning I noticed that I was obsessing over a thought so as I prepared for meditation I decided to read from the Upanishads.  Giving my mind some lovely verses to the think about rather than falling into the negative thoughts patterns. 

Taittiriya Upanishad:

"OM is  the supreme symbol of the Lord.  Om is the whole.  Om affirms; Om signals the chanting of the hymns from the Vedas. The priest begins with Om; spiritual teachers and their students commence with Om.
The student who is established in Om becomes united with the Lord of Love"

I meditated outside today, there was a gentle cool breeze, the birds were singing happily.  After reading for a few minutes,  I sat up straight, closed my eyes, deepened my breath.  Repeating the mantra, meditation came easily today.  As I open my eyes, I was feeling calm, peaceful.

Once again I open the Upanishads:  "If you are in doubt about right conduct, follow the example of the sages"  

You can't run away from your mind but through the practice of meditation, you can learn to still the fluctuations of the thought waves of the mind.  Follow the example of the sages and practice right living, use asana to make your body strong enough to sit comfortably in meditation,  practice one pointed concentration which will lead you to meditation.  Then in meditation your mind can finally  "give it a rest"  -- even if it's only for a little while,  you will feel refreshed, calmer, more peaceful. 

You can run away from the mind but we can, with diligent practice, change the thought patterns.  Let's face it, your mind is going to think - just give it good stuff to think about -- If you have some aversion to the Upanishads - read some other inspirational passages. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

If only I could find the off switch... Oh wait, I did.

After a long and difficult week it felt so good to roll out my mat this morning.  As the class began I realized that I have spend most of the last week holding my breath.  My body felt tense, my mind scattered.  But then, the funniest thing happened.  While I was lying on my stomach in cobra pose I noticed the carpet.  That's right, while SD is talking about feeling the support of mother earth, I'm thinking about the carpet.  What I noticed was that up close, it's hard to see the pattern in the carpet.  Only when you stand up and look at it from some distance can you see the pattern. 

It's the same thing with life in general.  When you're in the middle of a difficult situation you can't really see the whole picture, you can't see the pattern in the carpet.  It's only when there's a little distance that you can see things more clearly.

One of the first steps in learning meditation is watching your breath.  It's a practice in stepping back from your mind and watching yourself think and  breath from the perspective of the witness.  This witness consciousness helps us to see not only how we're breathing but after some diligent practice also other patterns of our minds.

One pattern that I've discovered while "watching my mind" is this repetitive recording that is always pointing out my faults.  Reminding me of all the things that I'm not doing good enough in my life.  All the ways that I'm not making people happy.   This pattern, I believe is the source of my depression. It follows me even to the yoga mat.

When I'm up close to it, it's difficult to see things clearly.  However, when I step back into that state of witness consciousness I can see that this is a pattern.  I see that most times, this recording is not accurate. These thoughts are just fabrications of my mind.  They aren't reality and the problem is that I'm too up close to these thoughts to see that.  

During a recent visit with one of my teachers the conversation turned to this idea that your final thoughts at the time of your death will determine how you will spend your next life.  Keeping that in mind, I have to wonder what the next life has in store for me if what I'm always thinking are thoughts of how I'm not good enough.   Scary, isn't it? 

So how do I stop this recording?  Any suggestions? Here's my thoughts. (feel free to share your thoughts via a comment post) Since it's the nature of the mind to think and my mind inevitable goes into this same pattern of thinking, I need to give my mind something else to think about.   This is where the mantra comes in. 

Over the last few years I have learned many beautiful mantras.  Some are short, some are more complicated.  Since this pattern has been ingrained in my mind for so many years I think it's best to choose a longer, more complicated mantra.   I say that because my clever mind has learned how to think crazy, random thoughts and repeat a short mantra at the same time!  When I notice this recording playing in my mind, I begin to repeat the mantra.  Whenever a thought enters my mind, I go to the mantra.  My  hope is that with constant re-training of my thought patterns, with the use of a mantra, I may find some peace of mind.  I may see that the pattern in the carpet has changed.

Here's a beautiful mantra and it's translation.

Om sahana vavatu
sahanau bhunaktu
saha viryam karavahai
tejas vinav adhitamastu ma vidvishavahai
Om shanti, shanti, shantih

Om, may we come to know universal oneness.  May the Divine move through us.  Together, give us energy and courage to gain clarity of mind. Through practice, let our hate turn to love so that we may live peacefully together.  Om peace.

The other thing I noticed while I was  up close and personal with the carpet is that my yoga mat stinks - literally. It's time to put this mat in the wash!!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Can you please be quiet?!

Silence is golden.  The movie theaters reminds us of this every time we go to the movies.  So why is it that no-one is listening??  I read somewhere once that what makes music is the silence in between the notes. (I'm not a musician so I have no idea if that's true but it sounds good). 

Yesterday, I spend 9 hours sitting in a hospital waiting room.  My husband was having surgery to repair his rotator cuff.   When we first arrived at the hospital at 6am, the TV in the waiting room was already on.  I sat there for about an hour and a half. I had intended to read but the TV was so loud I couldn't concentrate.  So I watched infomercials, one after another.  So many products promising to improve my life and make me less stressed.  Doesn't anyone realize that just by turning off the TV my life would be improved and I'd feel less stress?

Later I was sent to another waiting room.  I was so relieved to find that the room was empty and quiet.
This was about 7:30am.  I sat in a chair, took some deep breaths, closed my eyes and began repeating my mantra.  That lasted about 5 minutes before I was joined by a hospital worker.  She was an elderly woman who came into the room like a tornado.  She quickly put on the TV, started coffee, noisily arranged her knitting on the desk and set up her phone and clipboard.  It wasn't long before the room was filled with people.  All of them talking.  Talking about nothing.  I suppose it was the hospital worker's job to keep the patients families company while they waited.  Other hospital workers would come into the room to chat with her.  She seemed to know everyone and every one's business (which, by the way, she happily shared with everyone else). 

Doesn't this woman know that silence is golden?  I know other people too who are simply uncomfortable with silence.  They feel like there needs to be talking in order to feel connected with others.  I wonder why people are afraid of silence.  What's scary is thinking about how much chatter is probably going on in their minds while they are talking about nothing.   I know it's exhausting when my mind is filled with so much chatter.  It's this very reason that I  look forward to moments of silence.  It's what brings me to the mat each day.  The promise that the silence will improve my life and make me less stressed. 

Those rare moments in between the thoughts is where meditation happens.    It's those moments in between the thoughts that we find bliss.  It's in those moments between the thoughts that we feel our connection to the Divine.  When we're feeling connected to the Divine, we are connecting with everyone and everything. 

It's okay to be silent sometimes.  You don't need to fill every moment with chatter.  The silence creates space for peace and calmness.  When we're quiet we can listen to God speaking to us.  If we are constantly talking how can we ever hear the whispers of God?  Take a little time today,  sit outside (It's a beautiful day today) just listen.... Is God talking to you? Maybe it's the birds that are bringing you God's message.  Are you listening? 

Silence is Golden.  Not just in the movies but in life.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

F.U.N. - Fun!!!

What do you get when you put one yoga instructor in a gym with 90 elementary school students?  Chaos, of course. 

Today I had the pleasure of teaching yoga to the students of New Foundation Charter School in Philadelphia as part of their health fair.  During the 5 hours of teaching yoga I made some interesting observations.  The most obvious was that the students who were the best behaved were the students who's teacher was present and involved.  A more subtle observation was the kid's level of self-consciousness.

The younger kids just came in and had fun. They all wanted to show off what they could do.  The flipped and "crab walked"  all around.  They were so free and happy.  There was no sense of guardedness that I noticed from the older students.  I started to wonder at what age do we start feeling self-conscious?  Is it just a rite of passage or did something happen that makes us self-conscious?   From today's observations, I would say that it happens around 5th grade.  It's usually the time when most kids hit puberty. Maybe that's what makes some kids so self-conscious.

It takes a little time to get 90 students to put their shoes on and leave the gym before the next group comes in.  At one point, one of the 8th grade teachers comes into the gym and asks the group to leave.  "It's 12:01 and we're suppose to be in the gym at 12:00"  he says.   He must be a pitta, I thought.  He wanted to know exactly what I wanted his students to do.   Funny guy......  A plan?  He wanted me to have a plan? Was he kidding?  He did a really good job of keeping his students on task.   Later on, I was having lunch in  the teacher's lounge.  This same 8th teacher was there.  I didn't know anyone and was feeling a little self-conscious myself.

The teachers were talking about the activities planned for the last couple of weeks of school.  Picnics and field trips.  Most of the teachers were looking forward to it.  Not the 8th grade teacher.  He likes things to be structured and orderly he says.  He much prefers to be in the class room where it's more controlled -- I was right, he's a pitta.   LOL.   He is more comfortable in his own environment.  So were some of the kids.  Some just ran around like wild animals.  Others,  stood  there, unsure of themselves.  They weren't comfortable when they didn't know what was expected of them.  Was it puberty or Pitta?

Flexibility is another thing, when do we lose it?  The younger kids could do the most amazing things with their bodies.  The older kids - a big percentage of them couldn't touch their toes.  How does that happen?

My conclusion is that it's so much more fun to be 6yrs old than it is to be 13yrs old.  Since there isn't much we can do about growing up and getting older maybe we can hold on to just a little bit of being 6yrs old  by trying to have fun. Experience joy.  Look for joy.  Do silly, fun stuff and forget for a little while to be self-conscious. 

What do you get when you put one yoga instructor in a gym with 90 elementary school students?  Fun, of course!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Namaste

SD was reading my mind again tonight.  At least that's what it seemed like.  I wonder how long you have to be a yogi before you can read minds.  Remember that movie with Mel Gibson?  The one where he could read women's minds.  Would you like to be able to glimpse into someone's thoughts?  I would imagine that we'd be surprised to know that what goes on in other people's minds is not that different than what's going on in our own minds. 

So I wasn't going to go to class tonight. Believe it or not I actually considered not going.  I've been so cranky lately and just didn't want to go. I did go to class however, (I'm such a creature of habit)  and I'm glad that I did.  I chatted with another student about a book we're reading as I walked in. I'm greeted with a hug from SD. As I sat chatting with a couple of really lovely women before class I feel my mood start to shift.  The bhavana (intention/theme) for the class was letting go of the negative self-talk.  Changing those negative
beliefs we have about ourselves.  The negative belief I struggle with the most is  "I'm not good enough".  It's the one that's been playing in my mind almost constantly lately.

As we moved through the practice, I was uncomfortable in my body.  I was feeling pain in my lower back and my shoulders.  I was unable to do the poses as deeply as I usually do. I love pigeon pose but tonight it felt like torture on my hips and lower back.  Just as  the negative self-talk begins in my mind I hear SD say, breath in love.......  The hardest thing to do for some of us is to love ourselves and to recognize our own Divinity.  Why is that so difficult?

I was sweating..... I hate sweating.... but tonight it felt good to sweat.  My  mood was definitely shifting. Even though physically I was feeling tight I felt a sense of release during the practice.  Like the crankiness and negativity I've been feeling was being physically released from my pores.  (I know that's gross - but that's what it felt like).

 I don't think it's so much that SD is a mind reader but that he's just recognizing that all our struggles are the same.   My worries are the same as your worries.  My struggles are the same as your struggles.  When we acknowledge that, then our sense of separateness begins to fade and we recognize the Divinity in each other.

The word Namaste means the Divine in me recognizes and honors the Divine in you.