learning stillness

Practicing every day

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The Importance of Imagery

  One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying with my teacher is the importance of imagery in practice. Which has gotten me thinking: if, as Guruji famously said, your “whole life is practice”, then I need to start cultivating images to support me beyond the asana. This year has been a big one. Many, many changes and challenges and opportunities. It’s hard not to feel storm tossed sometimes. So the other night, when I was having one of those moments when you’re afraid and you don’t know what of (Holly Golightly called it the “mean reds”) I wrote wrote this to myself. It helps, somehow, so I thought I’d share it…


 Why do you fear the storm raging around you. The waves may break and pull at your shore line, churning the very floor of the sea. The vast ocean surrounding will drag debris onto your shore, leaving a pile of the things you though were long ago drowned and dead at your feet. The sky is dark, I know. The wind is fierce, stinging your cheeks and burning your eyes The rain comes in torrents and it is hard to see; harder still to hope. Do not fear the flashes of lightning and the deafening claps of thunder. Do not despair as all of your carefully constructed defenses fail you, one by one. 

  But you are a lighthouse. You were made to withstand this. Shine your light and do not doubt that what you have to give is important. These things that are outside of you? They have always been out of your hands; you only tricked yourself into thinking you had control over them. Do not be afraid. You will be here when the storm ends. Your exterior will be little worse for the wear, maybe. Some work will be required to sure your foundations. Yet understand that your light is not dimmed.

  Your light cannot be dimmed. It is the essence of you, and the reason for you. And remember, when it seems to be too hard and dark and frightening, that you chose to build your home out here. You knowingly set yourself on this edge, where the elements sometime rage unchecked. Remember that you chose this place for a reason. There is work to be done here. Your work. So continue on.



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The Thaw

“Cold changes water into ice or snow. 

Discernment shows the three different states are not really different.

When the sun of the consciousness shines,

the plurality dissolved into oneness.

The universe appeared throughout permeated with Shiva”

-Mystical Verses of Lalla, A Journey of Self Realization

A little over a month ago the first day of spring arrived, but I was still filled with winter. My back was hurt from over work all winter and my practice was slow and uncomfortable for weeks, and I was impatient and frustrated. Then I got sick. Really sick, with strep throat and a fever that put me in bed for over a week. There was no progress to be made in my asana practice. No pranayama to be performed through swollen glands a raw, red throat. Only reading, writing and self-contemplation could be practiced, and I wasn’t in the mood for either. I didn’t want to look too close, afraid of what I might see.

I was angry at my body. I felt as though it were betraying me. Angry that is showed the cracks in my armor and allowed anyone and everyone to see how vulnerable I really am. Coming back to practice the first week or so after I was sick I was weak and sore. My hands shook, my head swam and tears kept escaping my eyes, falling without my permission; without any control. My body was telling on me, telling anyone and everyone who cared enough to look just how much pain I was in, emotionally and physically. I felt… naked.

There is something about working with your body that is powerful and transformative. It allows me to challenge myself, to go to the places I fear to go, in the safest way possible. I allows me to push myself and to nurture myself. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way in my fervor to be competent and practically perfect, I had gotten myself turned around and lost in a maze of chitta vrittis (mind fluctuations.)

The Yoga Sutras list the five kleshas, or root causes of pain, as being avidya (the absence of awareness of the Self), asmita (a sense of “I am”), raga (attachment to pleasure), dveda (holding onto pain), and  abhinivesha (clinging to life or survival at all costs). In my eagerness to follow the rules I created for myself, I became lost and almost immobilized by my self-doubt. (As David said at the most recent AYS Sunday talk, “the mind loves rules, it loves to put itself into a prison.”) I had become attached to what my body was able to do previously, to what I thought my body should be able to do as part of a pre-determined progression, and to the value I thought that ability gave me. I had lost the wonder of feeling the movement of my breath and of the incredible journey within myself that was possible with each Surya Namaskar, each standing posture. I had forgotten why I practice in the first place.

The body is an amazing thing. It is an amazing experience to feel the perfection of physics and creation at play through your bones, muscles and skin. Your practice is a wonderful place to play with, learn about and experience your consciousness. It is the safest place for me to engage in the things that scare the hell out of me and to learn from them. Ashtanga is a practice of carefully constructed sequences and each series is set as it is for very good reasons. One thing follow the other and there is a progression, but it is not always as linear as we think. The practice is not about mindlessly following the rules, even if they are rules you’ve created for yourself. Practice is about remembering who you really are. It is about waking up to the truth of your Self, which can never be changed. It is about seeing “the plurality dissolved into oneness ” and setting yourself free. Even if you are the one who imprisoned yourself in the first place.