“… everything in the world is a force, a pull or a push. In order for us to be pushed or pulled we need to be like a sail, like a kite in the wind. But if we have a hole in the middle of our luminosity, the force goes through it and never acts upon us.”
Carlos Castaneda

The Second Ring of Power

Twisted Learning

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My lower-back and shoulders carry and give voice to many of my fears and frustrations. My shoulders get stiff and my lower back becomes sensitive (if I am not careful with it, sensitivity becomes pain). The past few days have been like this and I’ve been practicing accordingly. I try to practice twice a day:

  1. In the mornings I practice mostly lying on my back. This anchors the center of my body and allows me to work gradually on mobility, strength and flexibility with relatively low-weight-bearing postures. The core posture is a lying twist.
  2. In the evenings my practice varies – but generally it’s focused on standing postured working towards a seated posture.

Both practices including a Pranayama breathing practice and a short meditation.

This post is dedicated to the lying twist to demonstrate the vast potential of subtle variations and attention to detail that can be applied in a single asana.

The Core Posture

I will be focusing on a basic core posture – where (1) the arms are opened to the sides; (2) the knees folded close to the chest and placed on the floor; (3) the head is rotated to the side opposite of the knees.

twist_core

If you try the core posture directly you may find yourself experiencing some limitations such as (1) knees that do not reach the floor; (2) one knee is on the floor while the other floats in the air; (3) the arm opposite the knees cannot reach the floor; (4) the shoulder opposite the knees cannot reach the floor; (5) the knees move away from the chest to a more open position.  A gradual exploration of the posture may shed more light on it for you.

twist_core_escapes

Moving into the posture

Finding an accessible &  comfortable starting point is always useful in approaching our limitations in asana. In this case lying on your side will do the trick – arms & knees are placed  one on top of the other and the head is rested on the floor facing the same direction as the entire body.

twist_start

From this position we will use Ujjayi breath to grow into the posture. With every inhale start opening up – the top arm reaching away from the body and lengthening. The head follows the arm – you can do this with open eyes and keep your gaze on the moving hand. Go as far as your breath will take you and your body will allow. The first time you do this don’t go beyond 90 degrees. As you exhale bring everything back to the starting position. Repeat this numerous time, going a bit further every time. Take as long as you need.

twist-open1twist-open2twist-open3twist-open4

Every time you feel a limitation, slow down and come to a stop. Try to find what is limiting you. If it’s a physical limitation try to identify a place in your body where you feel the most stretch or a pain. If it’s a limitation of mind – such as fear or insecurity about moving on – try to see what is the source of the inhibition.  Don’t automatically extend beyond your limitations, revisit them once or twice more and see if something changes.

Staying in the posture

If, after numerous movements your arm reaches the floor or close to it then you can stop moving, stay in the position you’ve reached and focus on your breathing. If you arm is in the air, keep it active, stretching away from the body, don’t let it go limp. You may find that breathing is enough to keep you moving around the place you’ve stopped. As your inhale to the chest the arm and shoulder may rise and as you exhale they may sink back down. It may find it’s way to settle on the ground and it may not!

twist_stay

You may also find it useful to place the second arm (the one on the side of the knees) on the knees to keep them fixed on the floor.

twist_handonknee

Then you can turn your attention to harnessing the range of movement created by the breath. As you inhale try to hold your position (this may cause some tension to build in your body), as you exhale try to embrace the sinking movement and relax “into” the space created by the exhale. You may find that with each breath your posture opens up and expands. Stay active, the outstretched arm should remain active and focused on length – all the way to the tips of your fingers. Try to maintain a quality breathing pattern – locational or directional breathing and a quality sound of ujjayi. An active breath keeps the posture moving &  active  on a subtle level.

Coming out of the posture gradually

We will use the movement of the breath to start moving out of the posture. As you inhale and your chest begins to expand, allow your arm and shoulder to rise from the floor.  As you exhale allow it so sink back down (it doesn’t have to reach all the way to the floor).  With each breath extend the range of movement allowing the arm to rise further up until finally it goes beyond 90 degrees and you come all the way back to the starting position.

twist_close

From there  you can roll back to a centered lying position. Stay here a few breaths, observe sensations that may come to you, see if you notice any differences between the two sides of your body. When you are ready you can begin this entire sequence on the other side of the body.

twist_end

Coming out of the posture directly

If you feel up to it then you can come out of the posture in directly. Using an inhale, simultaneously twist your head back to and raise your knees back to a center position. As you exhale bring your arms back alongside your body.

If you’ve been following this practice then you’ve spent some time working on one side and since this is an asymmetrical posture it is recommended that you do the same on both sides.

Expanding through our limitations

I’ve been told that people with a handicap in one of their senses often compensate by developing enhanced sensitivity in other senses. For example a blind person may develop refined hearing to compensate for his lack of sight. I believe that physical limitations (which we all have) can facilitate similar development in our practice. If we embrace our limitations and work with them, they may lead us to a refined practice.

I’ve extensively studied and practiced many forms of lying twists over the years. But now, thanks to my sensitive lower back I can breath better in a twist, I have more range within the posture and it is more accessible to me then ever before. I discovered these qualities by gently shifting my consciousness from trying to “fix” my lower back to  working within the limitations it imposes on me. I am looking forward to applying what I’ve learned to other forms of twisting, lying & standing, and other asana as well. Finally this brings into interesting light obstacles and frustrations which are what got me started in the first place.

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time” T.S. Eliot

Posted in Basic Movement, Yoga | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 17

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“Discernment follows the form of reasoning, reflection, joy & unity”
Translation by Paul Harvey

The process of meditations is a gradual movement from distraction toward containment. You can experience this on a gross level in a short meditation and you can experience this on a more subtle level over years of meditation.

When you start off meditating (assuming you are not in a monastery or a retreat) the mind is occupied with everything and anything, this is the nature of mind.

meditation01Then gradually ( = waiting patiently & softly, without expectation, without judgment) the mind settles a bit and releases some of its preoccupations. The first thoughts to go are the “easier” ones, those that stay are more immanent and can take a bit more waiting.

meditation02

When the mind is settled it is able to start focusing on one object. At first the mind may still dance around and the relationship with the object comes and goes.

meditation03

With some practice the mind is able to hold an object steadily and for a longer period of time.

meditation04

Eventually subject-object duality ceases to cloud perception.

meditation05

Practice tips:

  • asana and pranayama practice shorten the time it takes to make this journey.
  • a simple and supportive object to place your attention is on your seated position.
  • a caring teacher can give you a supportive meditation focus, choosing a focus for yourself indulges your mind (like a kid will go for candy).
  • one effective meditation practice will carry you through years of practice, don’t change it like you change socks.
Posted in Meditation, Models & Metaphors, Yoga, Yoga Sutra, Yoga Texts | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours

CATcerto

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In what do you believe? Enjoy :)

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Twitter Weekly Updates for 2009-08-30

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What is Arjuna’s Problem?

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The Bhagvad Gita is a famous Hindu text. I studied the first 3rd of the text on retreat and I’ve read two translations. There is something that captivated me when I first encountered the text, though now I have less space and need for it, though it does call out to me. So over the past week I’ve been revisiting some of my notes and I came across two ideas that shimmered for me and I though to share. One is the cultural setting of the text and the other is a curious perspective about it. But, for the uninitiated, a brief orientation.

What’s the Story?

The Bhagvad Gita is a long poem and actually a part of an even longer poem called the Mahabharata.  The Bhagvad Gita begins with a description of a battle that is about to take place. The story that led up to it is not unlike a modern soap-opera:

  • There’s a blind king Dhritarashtra who has 100 sons called the Kauravas.
  • The king has a brother Pandu who has 5 sons called the Pandavas.
  • The Kauravas are a feisty bunch and they managed to cheat the Pandavas out of their rightful inheritance of land… which brings us to the war.
  • Due to the familial relations between the king and his brother, there are friends, teachers & pupils on both sides of the battlefield.
  • Arjuna is one of the five Pandavas and is said to be the greatest warrior alive – master of the bow and arrow.
  • Arjuna was required to choose between Krishna (God incarnated) and Krishna’s army.
  • Arjuna chose Krishna.
  • Krishna’s army is on the side of the Kauravas.

And so our story begins.

Cultural Setting

The historical setting  begins with the Vedas – the oldest written texts and roots of all Indian philosophy. This cultural branch of human spiritual development seems to have been very practical – and so it was focused on spiritual pursuit within the settings of family life. The Vedas were off-limits to ordinary people and remained in the hands of poet-priests – who provided guidance on how life should be lived (the Vedas are dominated by carefully prescribed rituals).

The Vedas were followed by the Upanishads – which rebelled against the domination of priests and rituals – this was a period of “power to the people”. God was said to be “within” and therefore available to all. Practitioners were considered heretics, they broke away from the caste system (and their families) and lived in hiding in forests.

Then came Buddhism which brought priest-like patterns back into the picture. Buddhism claimed that enlightenment was achieved under monastic conditions – and not in the typical settings of the Indian family values.

This brings us to the period of the Bhagvad Gita – which comes to rescue family-values. It is a call to arms to reinforce the position that a pursuit of spiritual enlightenment goes hand in hand with full family-life. You can work, get married, have kids and still achieve enlightenment. It is literally a call to action – about living a full life – about pursuing your Dharma. It is tainted with the cultural needs of its time – when it suggests “better to follow your Dharma badly then someone else’s good” – it lays the foundations for social control – manifested in India as the caste system.

Arjuna’s Depression

At the beginning of the story Arjuna asks Krishna (God incarnated, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer) to take him to the middle of the battlefield. Once there he rises to stand and looks to the enemy lines. There he sees his uncles, cousins, friends and teachers. He then collapses back into his seat in despondency and depression saying to Krishna that he cannot fight this war. The greatest warrior alive gets depressed at the outset of the greatest war in history.

The Bhagavad Gita documents the ensuing dialog in which Krishna teaches Arjuna’s the true nature of reality. Simply put – Krishna explains to Arjuna that his own misapprehensions are blinding him. His opposing cousins and uncles are already dead, because that is the nature of things and of their choices. Krishna says to Arjuna that it is his nature and fate (Dharma) to fight this war – and that he must not let his fleeting human nature blind him from his course – “You are a warrior – go and fight your war”.

I recall the first question that Paul set out for us to contemplate when we began studying the Bhagavad Gita – which to this day I feel paints in a simple and relevant light: “What is it that prompted Arjuna in the first place to ask Krishna to take him out into the battlefield knowing in advance what he will find there?”.

I have a feeling that if you peel enough layers from the question, it boils down to the question Vedanta attempts to answer: “What causes the initial disturbance from which all reality manifests?”. I take solace in an answer provided by Samkhya philosophy – which says “Don’t ask – because it doesn’t really matter, all that matters is that we are here now and we are clear about how ‘here now’ works”. I don’t know about you, for me “being here now” is a full-life-job.

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Krishna takes advantage of Arjuna’s predicament to teach him spiritual teachings. Simply put – Krishna explains to Arjuna that his own misapprehensions are blinding him. His opposing cousins and uncles are already dead, because that is the nature of things and of their choices. Krishna says to Arjuna that it is his nature and fate (Dharma) to fight this war – and that he must not let his fleeting human nature blind him from his course – “You are a warrior – go and fight your war”.

I recall the first question that Paul (my teacher) set out for us to contemplate when we began studying the Bhagavad Gita – and with it I will leave you to your own contemplation. What is it that prompted Arjuna in the first place to ask Krishna to take him out into the battlefield knowing in advance what he will find there?

Posted in Yoga, Yoga & Life, Yoga Philosophy | You are welcome to read 5 comments and to add yours