We all know that yoga is a transformative magical practice that makes us feel fantastic. But sometimes your couch is just so appealing and the walk or drive to the yoga studio just seems too wet and cold. Then a few months later it’s so sunny and nice out that you decide to just stay at the beach rather than go home and practice. But you love your yoga practice and want to make it a priority, so how do you avoid burn out and get on your mat?!
My teacher Sharon Gannon always says that the hardest part is getting on your mat. She’s right! Once you’re there and start breathing and moving, it feels good. And then you want to do a bit more and a bit more, until, ta-da, you’ve done your whole practice! Now part of fighting burn-out and keeping yoga as a sustainable life-long practice is rethinking what your whole practice might be. As an Ashtanga practitioner, there’s a whole sequence you’re meant to get through. But what if you let there be a little flexibility in that? If it keeps you practicing rather than giving up, maybe you do need a day or two where your whole practice is a little less. You also need to watch this and make sure every day doesn’t become a little less. Same thing with days off, a day off a week is essential (plus moon days and ladies holidays) and taking an extra day off occasionally might be a great thing to keep you feeling grateful for your practice. However, giving yourself too much time off just means you lose the rhythm of your discipline and it’s easier and easier to just not practice. So, spice it up! Go a little easy sometimes and let that temper your regular disciplined routine.
Speaking of routine, this is something you might find helpful. As a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, I initially started practicing Ashtanga because it was nice to just submit to a method and practice a sequence that was already established. I felt that if I made up my own sequence, my practice shifted into class planning and I kept thinking of class sequences or what might benefit which student. I also found that some practices I would really dive in and do a zillion backbends and all these advanced postures and then other practices I just wanted to lay on the floor and do supine twists. So I found a little balance and ‘me-time’ by practicing Ashtanga. I just had to submit to the method and that was it! I found it relaxing to know Fridays are Primary series days, end of story! While Ashtanga isn’t for everyone, if you’re a self-practitioner consider practicing a set sequence periodically just to free yourself from coming up with your own practice. Or at least set yourself a schedule of days you always take off and days when you always practice in a particular way, ideally at the same time each day. If you’re a studio goer, you are already lucky enough to have a teacher coming up with your sequence. So put classes into your calendar the way you would a doctor’s appointment and just always attend that class. It’s easier to get there if it’s an established part of your routine.
One more idea, treat yourself! Go to that yoga workshop with the inspiring teacher you want to see, get new yoga leggings, burn a scented candle, go to your favorite studio and your favorite teacher even if it’s a little more expensive. Acknowledge how special your yoga practice is and let it be a part of your life that is a really nice, nourishing routine.
Patanjali gives us a tip to improve our clarity of mind — to think the opposite of whatever is causing us suffering. This sutra, vitarka badhane pratipaksha bhavanam, has always struck me as easier said than done. If your partner has just told you they don’t love you anymore, it’s hard to just decide to focus on how wonderful they are. Swami Satchidananda gives some good tips for this sutra, such as changing your location or spending time with your child to clear your mind & improve the situation. And sometimes this does work and the irritation dissolves. But Buddhism has another approach to solving the problem. Geshe Michael Roach translates this sutra as ‘find the antidote’. So if you feel rejected and heartbroken, you want to feel loved and accepted. According to karma, if you want that result you have to give it away to another. So you have to make another being feel loved and accepted, especially one who really needs that. This is said to eventually but inevitably result in your receiving that back. The problem is that karma is not immediate so you might not notice an improvement straightaway. But you will probably feel better from helping another.
It feels great to be back here in the motherland: Mysore, India. I’m spending a month practicing with Saraswathi Jois, the daughter of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the Ashtanga yoga founder. I’ve only been here a few days but I can already feel the shala magic; this is a potent place. You feel the lineage, as you are in the very place where Krishnamacharya taught Guruji. This morning I gazed at a photo of Guruji on the wall and his smile carried me through all five navasanas! Also it feels very special being here in the shala itself where thousands have practiced before you — as if they all left a little bit of prana there for you to tap into. It also was wonderful this morning to practice Led Primary with around 60 other people; breathing in sync with that many others reminds you that yoga is union and we can all connect to that sense of oneness, even with breath alone.
So I’ll keep you posted on how the month goes and I’ll eat a dosa for you!
— By Special Guest Author Dutzi King
Aparigraha is the concept of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. Whereas parigrah (without the a at the beginning) refers to the desire of keeping possessions, the concept of aparigraha is a self-restraint from greed, especially that kind of greed by which others are hurt, killed, or destroyed, for the sake of what we think is our happiness or our convenience.
I was convinced to lead a very reduced lifestyle, possessing only the most important things, by reading Mari Kondos’ book, The Life Changing Magic of Decluttering. This book suggests only keeping items that sparkle with joy for you. I found that I wasn’t in love with many of my belongings and donated most of them. Now for example I own about 20 clothing items, most of them bought second hand. I realized how much easier it is to deal with an uncomplicated set of clothing, and how important is is to make a good use of all my winter coats; namely, not to hang them in my closet, but to get them to others who really need them.
But decluttering doesn’t seem to get the whole aspect of aparigraha. We live in a consumer culture, and somehow we do not seem to realize where our belongings, and therefore our responsibilities start and end. In the US, every person in average creates 4 pounds of trash – no, not recyclables – trash every day. In this country alone we make more than 200 million tons of garbage each year. Seventy percent of that could be recycled, but it is not. The biggest problem seems to be plastic. Over the last ten years we have produced more plastic than during the whole of the last century. Fifty percent of the plastic we use is used just once and then thrown away. Billions of pounds of plastic can be found in swirling convergences in the oceans making up about 40 percent of the world’s ocean surfaces. One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans. (http://www.ecowatch.com/22-facts-about-plastic-pollution-and-10-things-we-can-do-about-it-1881885971.html)
It seems that living a vegan lifestyle is not enough and is still causing a lot of harm. My greed, my parigraha, shows up in eating pre-packed convenience food. Yummy vegan cheese cake for example, double wrapped in a plastic container. Or a delicious tea or coffee in a wax lined paper cup that can’t be recycled.
Living in Europe, the only place for groceries I went to was a small organic neighborhood grocery store. No need to drive. I took my bike or walked. All liquids were filled up in recyclable glass bottles. Greens and fruit were sold without any wrappers. Everything else I bought on bulk and put them in my own containers (http://www.biolino.net). In Berlin, we had seven different bins in front of our house: One for paper, one for hard plastics, one for soft plastic, one for glass bottles, one for compost, one for aluminium, the tiniest one for waste. I was not aware of what was going on outside my little recycling world.
Now, I have been living in the USA for two years. I am realizing I have to do something about the trash problem and my consumer habits. Through research I found the zero waste movement. French born, California based, activist and writer Bea Johnson is one of the founders of this campaign and my new super hero (http://www.zerowastehome.com). Bea is teaching ways to say no to plastic and packing in the first place. Carry your own napkin, reusable cup and spoon with you at all times. She showed me that I can bring my own containers to Whole Foods, without being embarrassed. I started to make my own vegan cheese cake again (much better anyways) with items I bought in bulk. The next time I fly, I will definitely bring my own re-usable cup. The trash created on airplane flights is enormous. The only thing I can do about the waste problem we have is change my own habits.
This past week I spent in Shanghai and I was lucky enough to teach some workshops on yoga asana and assisting. Shanghai was amazing: a city of gargantuan buildings, centuries old gardens, crowded alleyways, neon and incense. The pollution is a problem but everyone was very welcoming and I found lots of great vegan food. A great example of the kindness and hospitality that I experienced in Shanghai was at a restaurant where the Mandarin-speaking waitress spent at least fifteen minutes with me and my language app to figure out exactly what hotpot I could eat that would be vegan. (Su-schi). Then she wouldn’t even accept a tip and gave us extra kumquat and watermelon! Teaching there was a pleasure. Students were very attentive and eager. They asked great questions and were quick to assimilate any instruction. It’s funny, yogis worldwide ask the same questions! Mostly about sacro-iliac joints! Even with a language barrier, I felt like we were able to connect about not just yoga asana but yoga philosophy as a whole. These connections spanning the globe between enthusiastic yogis remind us of our sameness — the oneness of being.
This past November, I traveled to Maui (a great hardship obviously!) to practice with Manju Jois, the son of Sri K Pattabhi Jois. He taught a workshop on second series at Nancy Gilgoff’s shala, The House of Yoga & Zen. I had never practiced with Manju before but I was excited to learn from someone who grew up with this practice and has so much experience.
The week was incredible. In the morning we had Mysore practice. Manju’s sense of humor was evident and every morning he instructed us to, ‘torture yourselves however you want’. Joking aside, this freedom of practice felt very liberating. Since I felt like I didn’t have to do anything, I chose to do it. I love my Ashtanga practice but it is difficult to step onto that mat ever morning and sometimes (who am I kidding? Most times!) it feels like it would be nicer and easier to just have a second cup of coffee rather than try to reach back for my ankles. Manju was gently reminding me that I am the one choosing this practice and that I’m privileged to be able to do it.
Then his assists were amazing. I felt completely supported. I’m only 5’4” and Manju is shorter than I am but he picked me up off of the floor. His assists were gentle and intuitive, the product of decades of teaching. And he always had a smile for everyone as well as encouraging words. We also were lucky enough to have Nancy in the room helping Manju. She gave great alignment tips, always referencing what she had been told by Guruji. Her assists were gentle but firm, skilled in pinpointing just the right spot to align not just our physical bodies but our energy as well. In a great practice, effort becomes ease and we are moving with the energy flow of our subtle body. With such experienced teachers, it was a gentle and playful Mysore room where we felt obliged to put forth our best effort but without getting too wound up in ego or attachment.
Then in the afternoon, Manju covered the assists for second series. He was hilarious as he demonstrated what not to do. His experience allowed him to be super concise about the movements comprising each assist. He gave one or two assists for each posture and we practiced them on each other. Manju also was very mindful of our own safety as teachers. I tend to injure myself assisting more than practicing. I’m so careful about the student that I forget about myself. I’ve gotten much better about this over the years but I still occasionally slip up. Manju, with his experience, was very careful to teach ways to assist without placing any strain on the back. This was super helpful!
To finish the class, Manju lead us in chanting a long, beautiful series of shanthi mantras – an inspiring way to quiet our minds and connect to the still place in our hearts.
The most fun though was when Manju told stories of Guruji and growing up in India. His story of awakening at 4 am to ‘strange noises from the kitchen’ was super funny – it turned out to be his father in durvashasana, standing up with his leg behind his head.
My magical time in Maui reinvigorated my devotion to this practice.
Satsangatve nissangatvam, nissangatve nirmohatvam, nirmohatve nishchala tattvam, nishchala tattve jivanmuktih, bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam, bhaja govindam mudha mate. —Shri Adi Shankaracharya from Carpata-Panjarika
Good and virtuous company gives rise to non-attachment. From non-attachment comes freedom from delusion. With freedom from delusion, one feels the changeless reality. Experiencing that changeless reality, one attains liberation in this life. I-AM is the ocean of awareness. Realizing this, one feels, “I am not the body and mind, although I have a body and mind.” Realize Govinda, realize Govinda, realize Govinda in your heart, O wise one!—Interpretation by Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati
A good yoga studio is a community. It is a place where we care about and support each other. The community is always in flux – new people coming and going – but there is always a feeling that you are welcome and that others care about you.
This past holiday, I was pleased to feel like we had indeed found that community at Jala. We participated in a holiday gift lotus organized by Naama Gidron, owner of the Motion Center Yoga Collective. A gift lotus is a delightful name for a gift drive, this one to benefit refugee families from all over the world who’ve been resettled from UN Refugee Camps to here in Providence, RI. When Naama asked me if we would participate, I automatically said yes but then the holidays crept up on me. Before I knew it, it was December 10 and I hadn’t even put up a sign yet. I put up a sign and announced it in a few classes, thinking we’d get at least a few donations. I was blown away by everyone’s generosity. Our gift lotus benefited a family from Burundi who have been living in Providence for about a year and have 5 children. The father is now working at a local linen factory but transitioning to a new country and language is still very difficult. Our yogis, especially a few enthusiastic givers, made sure that this family had boots, underwear, sheets, clothes, pots and other essentials, as well as some exciting toys for the children. I feel so grateful to have such wonderful yogis practicing at Jala, who eagerly thought of the needs of others at such a busy time; Jala yogis gave not just financial resources but also their time to make sure the holidays were special for this family. Being in such a wonderful community satsang is inspiring for me and I’m grateful we encourage each other to look to the highest in ourselves and others.
Parivritti Ardha Chandrasana — Rotated Half Moon Posture
Well, it’s snowing outside but hopefully we can all feel that spring is right around the corner here in Providence, RI. We’ve had a few days in the sixties and the daffodils and crocuses are in bloom. This potent balancing pose will help you feel ready for spring! The twist helps aid digestion and feels cleansing — I think we all feel a bit sludgy and slow as winter ends and twisting creates a sense of lightness in the body. The balancing part of this posture is hard work! Rebecca is modeling it below with a block (catch Rebecca Van Laer on Jala’s spring schedule!), which helps to keep the hips square. It’s possible to also do it without a block but you have to work hard to keep that alignment through your hips while also opening the shoulders up for the twist. The key is to reach through the body, that helps the hips not sag and distributes the weight out of the standing leg hip. So reach up through the top hand and down through the bottom hand, press the bottom foot into the floor while reaching back through the lifted leg and forward through the head. Internally rotate your thigh and lift your inner thigh up towards the ceiling. This elongation of the body engages the bandhas and will help keep you rotating open without the standing leg hip shifting outwards.
If you’re having trouble lengthening through the back leg, try doing this posture with your back leg pressing into the wall and your bottom hand on a block. That will give you something to press into and help you keep your hips square. You could also try it with the top hand pressing into a wall to help you rotate further.
Try practicing this twist for five breaths on each side. You can do it anytime to feel springy and energized!
Hi yogis! I’ve been getting requests to publicize the March playlist I’ve been using in my Jivamukti classes at Jala Studio in Providence.
Here it is!
Superpoze — Opening (Fakear rework)
Orent — Sweetness
Tom Rosenthal — Go Solo (Cargo Remix)
Novo Amor — From Gold (James Carter Edit)
Petros & Friends — Shiva
DJ Drez — Sweet Radha (feat. Kirtaniyas)
DJ Drez — Maha Dub (feat. Kirtaniyas)
Marti Nikko & DJ Drez — Jaya Radha Madhava
Tupal — Angel
Tupal — Seaflowers
Lapsley — Brownlow
Snatam Kaur — Ong Namo
Yogini — Bliss
I’m on Soundcloud as bristolcm if you want to see some of my other yoga music likes!