Now, the teachings of yoga

The Yoga Sutra is the defining doctrine of yoga, delineating;

  • what it is (“to still the patternings of consciousness”),
  • why it is (“so pure awareness can abide in its very nature, otherwise awareness takes itself to be the patterns of consciousness”), and
  • how to do it (you’ll have to read the book to find out!* JK, I’ll tell you. Or try to. It’ll take me a while. Years, decades. Because I’m just figuring it out myself. Or rather continually cycling through periods of striving, thinking I’ve finally got it, scaled the mountain and reached the peak of understanding (ahh, the attainments) only to find myself staring up to the base of a much larger mountain, peak obscured by clouds. And it’s cold. And its easy to forget and impossible to see how far I’ve come already. Allow me to explain… (get comfy, this too could take decades. I can already tell this blog post isn’t turning into what I set out to write. I’ve even changed the title already.)

I am eternally grateful to have dedicated myself to a daily sutra study just days before SHIT WENT DOWN last year.

The 196 Sutras (literally: stitches, each an integral part of one thread) were written by Patanjali (who was either one brilliantly succinct man or a conglomerate of contemporary yogis) and span four books;

  • I. Integration,
  • II. The Path to Realization,
  • III. The Extraordinary Powers (sign me up!), and, finally,
  • IV. Freedom (yes, please).

They begin simply and accessibly enough.

April 28, 2016: Sutra I.1: Now, the teachings of yoga.

A line I breezed over on first read, eager to tear into the meat of it.

My teacher, Cheryl Oliver, has already taught me more than she or I know. A drop in that bucket is the deep respect she aroused in me for sutra 1.1. Very early in my 200 hour teacher training she spent about half an hour on the first word alone. “Now.” Now, an auspicious beginning, a now which your whole life has prepared you for, speaking to your readiness, an eternal now as now is always the time for the teachings of yoga. There is always more to learn. We, eternal students attendant with beginners’ minds.

Finding that much meaning in a word I’d dismissed as filler, a formality, Patanjali’s “Once upon a time” sparked a fascination and respect for the rest. I knew there would be sutras I would not “get” for years and even then only skim their surface for decades to come. Like hearing and dismissing a piece of advice or vocab word 100 times before, finally, aha, I get it. I think.

What better time to start than now? So I did.

April 28, 2016. I fiddled around with each Sanskrit word’s definitions in my half-assed bullet journal and then wrote this: you’re ready. So you know how challenging it’ll be. How scary. You know you’ll learn to see challenge as encouraging; “scary” as exciting. You’ll learn how big enormous your heart is. And how to listen to it. Especially when it hurts. You’ll feel courage as a sensation. You’ll learn you are so strong and so blessed and so connected. So [and then the pen color changes, indicating I’d changed venues/mindset/pen (duh, detective) and was likely trapped in some interminable meeting] distracted and impressed by how his eyes match his neck tattoo in shading and depth [Major ADHD, reporting for duty!]

It’s funny. I got myself all stressed out yesterday, trying to get a 30 day jump on employing my counselor’s suggestion for warding off the birthday blues; celebrate the year that was rather than digging my grown-ass heels in, expression frozen in horror at the irrelevance, physical breakdown, senior citizenship and birthday candles I’m hurtling towards against my will; measuring myself against everyone I’m not and coming up wanting.

This exercise last year was easier. I had accomplishments I could point to.

And it was fun. I wrote a goodbye to all the shit I was done with. A letter I’d forgotten until just now actually.

This year, yesterday, I started freaking out. I should be so much better by now. And then I realized this last year was one of letting go. Of so so much. And I started to feel better, to LET GO of beating myself up (see??). I told myself the growth this year was subtle and immeasurable and so necessary. That though it may look like falling apart, it really is falling together; more and more so the more I trust and let go. And now, rereading what I wrote last April, I see it’s coming true. I haven’t arrived where I want to be but I know I’m heading in the right direction, that I’ll get there. And hey, it’s not about the destination but the journey.

I am so squarely in the journey that I can’t see the shore on either side anymore. Feeling more like I’m drifting (maybe even in the wrong direction, oh god.) than fearlessly, confidently speeding towards my dreams. And what are they anyway? What day is it??

I’m finally realizing it’s not about counting the miles logged or the battles won or the miles yet to go. It’s about being here, now, learning what there is to learn, enjoying what there is to enjoy and continually dragging my mind back to center, out of the past, out of the future, into the now.

* ha that’s how I ended all of my book reports up until third grade when my teacher told me it was time to cut the baby shit. Big kids finish their books (and book reports).

5 things I learned about downward facing dog from my actual dog

This blog has been more dirty than downdog….. UNTIL NOW.

Here goes:

1. It’s supposed to feel SO. GOOD. Blissful. Freeing. Watching her dangle her spine from her hips, you know she’s making juicy space between her vertebrae; stretching away the stresses of the day. That’s the point! The point is not to look like your neighbor, or to show off your kickass yoga hiney (though thinking about shining that fantastic boot to the ceiling can seriously help your alignment and energetics). So often, especially when practicing in public, we obsess over making the shape look a certain way at the expense of our comfort and expansion in it. Shoulders crunched up like earrings, lumbar spine hunched, tongue glued to the roof of the mouth. We are not fucking around.

blog forward facing dog.PNG
forward facing dog.

2. It’s okay to bend your knees. This pose is only about the legs insofar that the legs should be positioned (thighs internally rotated, pressing back) to support the release of the spine. Get that cockamamie image of grounded heels our of your head! If it happens, it happens, but it’s not the point. Yes, we want to press our heels downward, and slightly away from each other but only to optimally align the femurs to release the hips and spine.

In yoga, “it’s not about how far you go, but how you go.” I can’t tell you how many times I and millions of other yogis have injured ourselves trying to make a pose “look” a certain way; operating with that mentality (on and off the mat) is a surefire way to get hurt. I don’t blame you for trying. But stop it!

Do you think Winnie The Pup’s heels are down? No! Her heels are like a joint higher than we tend to think they are anyway. So, take your hamstrings out of the equation by gently bending your knees. Hell, bend them a ton. And if you start to feel the burn in your quads, BONUS. You’re getting stronger.

3. Her weight is 65+% over her haunches. Ever been adjusted in DD and the teacher latches onto your hips and leans back behind you w/ every ounce of their (albeit sometimes 90 pound) self?

You should be SO light on your hands. 

Um….. how??
In yogic alignment (and really when we’re trying to get anything right in any realm of life) we begin with the foundation; let’s start w/ the legs. And by legs I mean feet. Doe-Ray-Me-Fa’-Sew-La-Tea-D’oh

Feet are active, toes spread, arches lifting (achieved by pressing through big toe mound and lifting inner ankles), heels drawing energetically away from each other. That heel action has the effect of internally rotating our femurs, giving us more room in our hips to eventually straighten into our legs. For starters though, allow your knees to bend gently (especially if you’re one of my hyper-extenders).

The weight that is in your hands should be in your knuckles and fingers (which are clawing back towards you). Specifically, root down into the first knuckle of your index finger, where your pointer finger meets your palm. PLEASE. DO THIS. I didn’t for ten years and my wrists and shoulders are in bad shape because of it. Rooting down here grounds our shoulder blades onto our rib cage, home base. Safe. The rib cage then absorbs all the shock rather than the wrist bearing the brunt. Speaking of wrists, wrist creases should be parallel with the front of your mat.

Practice with your hands on the wall (making a square with yourself, the wall and the floor; wrist creases point strait up) to get the feel. Let your body remember this new way and rewrite your habits.

Finally, bring your gaze back. To thighs, navel, whatever your neck can handle while reaching crown to the mat.  Every time I give this cue in class, at least half of the hips shift back 2-3 inches, just by shifting their focus. Where attention goes, energy flows.

4. Navel is – wait…. do dogs have belly buttons?

No.

Right??

Okay, call it low belly – low belly is hollow, flying back to the spine and up into her rib cage, which is broad, full of breath and life.

5. This will feel more pertinent for my AZ brethren, as our fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk days feel just around the corner: I’ve been so hot in class that I knew I would pass out if I didn’t stop. I now know we come equipped with a remarkable thermostat regulator; our breath. When you see a pup panting, they’re releasing internal heat. Through pranayama (breath control), we can raise and lower our core temperature.

Believe it or not, downward facing dog is a resting pose. Let it be. Set your alignment up and then… Check in. Feel your breath, or, in my case, MAKE SURE YOU’RE BREATHING. If your breath is ragged or you’re too hot for comfort, open your mouth! Dispel heat the ol’ fashioned, four-legged way. We generally want to inhale through the nose, but please always feel free to exhale through your mouth and blow off some steam.

Try a Lion’s breath! Exhale with a roar through an open mouth reaching your tongue tip to your chin. You’ll sound insane so maybe save it for your home practice unless you have confidence of steel and give zero fucks (which, PM me, I want to learn your secrets and be just like you). Alternatively, just really give it your all whenever a teacher offers it. Let it feel good.

And there you have it. Please please please please please reach out if you have any questions.

I intended to include a picture of Winnifred in all her downward facing glory, and might have taken a brief intermission from writing this to chase her around the house and play bow at her. No dice. You can’t always get what you want. So, instead, here’s a video of her taking down a Great Dane (puppy. but still).

Peace, Love, and High Fives.