Hey, I know it’s been dust and tumbleweeds over here, but we have a good reason: Beerasana’s opening a real live brick-and-mortar yoga studio. The blog won’t die; it’s just in a mini-hibernation until we open. Stay posted on all things Body Electric by subscribing to our newsletter (chock full of gossip!*) and hitting that Like button on Facebook. WE’RE PSYCHED ABOUT THIS NEW VENTURE AND HOPE YOU’LL COME SEE US!
Today’s dispatch from abroad is by our favorite little Ashtangi, St. Petersburg’s own Jade Skinner. She’s been studying in Mysore, India. We’re looking forward to her return to teaching this month!
When you come to the shala to practice there are rules to follow as there should be. Studios in the west I find are too lax. Students bring in cell phones, big water bottles, wear shoes on the shala floor and talk really loudly before class. Listen, that shit don’t fly in India! Leave your shoes outside, turn your phones OFF, leave your water in the locker room, and KEEP SILENCE! The shala is a sacred place where we come to learn the knowledge of yoga, dive deeper into our practice, and we should respect that. All of us are given a specific time to practice and are expected to be there 10 minutes before. Here’s the tricky part… shala time is 15 minutes fast, so this means we need to be there about 30 minutes early. I think they do this to see if you’re paying attention. If you are late it shows that you are not dedicated, not devoted to the practice. You lack respect for the teacher who has taken his time to be there for you and the students who are there to learn.
I’ve watched as Sharath has scolded students for showing up late. He says “What is your time? What time does the clock say? Why are you late? You should really think about what is important to you. If you don’t want to be here, then don’t waste my time and your money!” I’m sure we all can come up with a whole bunch of excuses as to “why?” The answer to the “why?” is about respect. We can have a discussion about that when I return in February. By the way, I was always way early and never late for class!
In the West we do yoga in small classes that we think are too packed. We have the attention of our teacher to help us when we’re looking a little lost or uncomfortable. You don’t have this luxury when you’re practicing at the Shala during the busiest time of the year! Yes, there are assistants in the room and Sharath is walking around giving out new poses, helping a student here, talking to another there, but the adjustments are few and far between.
It’s Tuesday, 22nd of January 2013 and I’m on my mat. I was in Janu Sirsāsana C when I came to the realization that my Mysore (self-guided) practice is like doing math homework, learning to play a musical instrument, or speaking a foreign language. You can pretty much relate it to anything that you’ve done that was enjoyable, but challenging enough that you kept coming back for more. I’m going to go with math since it was not one of my strong subjects, but it rattled my brain enough to keep my attention. Now if you remember in math class the equations get tougher the further you get along. Math equations work two ways: 1.) You have the answer and are trying to figure out the formula; or 2.) you have the formula and are trying to figure out the answer. Mysore practice is in a sense somewhat the same. This doesn’t mean find the fastest way in and out of a pose or even skipping one because you don’t like it. It’s about showing up and putting the work in. Here’s my experience and maybe you can find some relation…
I was given a new pose, Paśāsana (the first pose of second series), about three days ago. I asked Simon, one of the assistants, if he could help me find the missing connection. I said to Simon, “I can’t seem to keep my heels down and stay in the bind at the same time. What am I doing wrong?” In the middle of his own demo Sharath, very directly, said “No demonstration! Let her figure it out on her own!” For a moment I was upset that he wouldn’t help. In my head I was like, “WTF? Does he not see me struggling over here? He has no idea how long I’ve been wrestling with this pose. It’s been over a F*N year!” It left me questioning. “Why am I here if he won’t give me any assistance? What’s the lesson he wants me to learn? Maybe I should just not put in any effort then!” Total mental breakdown.
Next day I’m up against the same wall trying really hard to make friends with Paśāsana. I’m striving to figure out how to stay in the bind with my heels down and not bust my ass. Fear of past injury starts resurfacing in my head. Frustration and doubt set in. Binding or not I’ve managed to find the quickest way in and out. I wanted an answer; no one would give me one, so I didn’t really give it my all. I let my ego take over. Practice was tough, and I learned nothing! Later that night, I watched a clip of one of my teachers, Kino MacGregor, from the film Mysore Magic. In it she says,
Yoga is not an escape. It’s not gonna take away your problems or make you think, ‘Oh, everything’s perfect.’ When I’m practicing, everything that presents itself is an opportunity to use the physical practice as a mirror to look within. The thoughts that come up during practice I find are often indicative of the most repetitive psychological patterns that we have….
It’s Thursday morning and Paśāsana is already on my mind as well as drop backs (that’s a whole other topic). Look, we all have our days and yesterday was one of mine. Today my attitude has shifted to a more positive outlook. My focus is on being fully present, so I can immerse myself more deeply in every asana. As I approached Paśāsana I paused for a moment to sit with my thoughts. I took a rewind in my mind to which asanas (formulas) are preparatory for Paśāsana. Ahhh, lo and behold my favorite of the primary series…Maricāsana C & D. I set myself up for acceptance of whatever was to come and let go of any expectations of what I thought should happen. “Letting go” I find is a precious tool to have in your yoga toolbox.
Paśāsana on the first attempt is almost a success, but lacking a little heart and stability of mind. So I go for it again, and this time with steady breath…BAM..it’s like magic. I nailed it on one side! Finally, perfection (stability of mind and body) of Paśāsana is here! At least on one side that is. Inner glory is going off like church bells! As I wrestle a bit with the opposite side I can feel triumph is on it’s way… “I just have to give a little more effort and it will come” is what I’m telling myself. I have it, but my heels are about an inch away from the floor. I’m driving to hold on and trying to maintain my breath at the same time. Some serious Nadi Shodhana (nerve cleansing) is going on here!! In my head I’m screaming “will somebody please help me for crying out loud!” Right as I’m about to relinquish, panting my ass off like a dog in heat, Sharath steps in to give a little assistance. I almost gave up on hope there for a minute.
Today is Wednesday, the 30th of January 2013. It’s my last day at the shala. I’m on my mat flowing through Primary series with contentment in my heart. No expectations as I arrive at Paśāsana…yay!!!. Once again the struggle to hold on to the bind with my heels down is starting in my mind. My approach this time is more in-depth. Taking the easy road is out of the question! Breathing deeply I took a few moments prepping myself. With concentration I master the connection and nail the left side. “Right side isn’t going to be so easy” is what I’m telling myself. So, I go for it once, twice and I’m already defeated. I didn’t even look around to see if Sharath was watching me. Since three is my favorite number I thought I’d give it one more go. My thoughts were “you can do this! suck in your stomach, twist, grab your hand and lift your ass!” Inching toward Paśāsana for the last time today I did exactly that! And for the first time in over a year I’ve finally perfected Paśāsana all on my own!!!
Exhausted from the many attempts, I plopped on my bum and released myself from the pose only to look up and see Sharath there with a smile. Trust me when I say “he made me work for it!” Laughing a little, he commends me with words of hope “good, very good…now do Krounchāsana and finish.” At that moment, I came to appreciate his teachings. It’s like this: My classmates and I are attending the same school. We’ve all been given homework with the same guidelines to follow. Now we have to show that we’ve been doing our homework. If you really want to figure out that math equation you will! With a little determination and effort the solution will come, right? You’ve got to be dedicated and willing to learn. It’s the same with YOGA! Sometimes you just have to go deeper than you ever have before. If the teacher always gives us the solution to the formula then what good is it doing you? “You’re just bending the body” is what Sharath says. Advancing further in your practice means working harder, contending a bit with what comes up and simply figuring it out. This doesn’t mean don’t ask for help or dwell on it. Dig a little deeper and give it all you’ve got. Later down the road you’ll need that same formula in one or more challenging asanas. In the end you see, I really didn’t need the demonstration after all.
What it means to practice yoga is to have faith, let go, trust in yourself, and work hard. The āsana practice of yoga is to bring stability to the mind and body. All the rest will follow. Yoga is that opportunity for us to become the observer, to feel every bit of comfort and discomfort that arises. Not to escape, but to be fully present with our breath, body, and mind. Sometimes we have to face ourselves on the mat and ask “what do I want out of my practice? What do I want in life?” Do the inner work and you will find the answer. Yoga is lifelong and goes much deeper than the physical. Sharath says that Yoga should be practiced 365 days, 24 hours a day.
I’ll leave you with this quote from “Giving up the Green Bitch” by Graham Hancock.
To live is to bring insight and give us the chance to change our behavior in the future, to be more nurturing and less toxic, to be more considerate of others and to be more aware than we were before of the incredible privilege the universe has given us by allowing us to be born in a human body – an opportunity for growth and improvement of the soul that we absolutely must not waste.
~ Jade Skinner
David Foster Wallace, from his 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, “This is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life.”
If you worship money and things – if they are where you tap real meaning in life – then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you. On one level, we all know this stuff already – it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they’re evil or sinful, it’s that they’re unconscious. They are default settings.
They’re the kind of worship you just gradually slip into, day after day, getting more and more selective about what you see and how you measure value without ever being fully aware that that’s what you’re doing.
And the so-called real world will not discourage you from operating on your default settings, because the so-called real world of men and money and power hums merrily along in a pool of fear and anger and frustration and craving and worship of self. Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the centre of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.
That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
Some people would take offense at a stranger nitpicking their spelling. And some people would take the opportunity to be awesome.
Subject: lose vs. loose
hi philipp, i really like your blog [Balanced Action]. i just subscribed so i wouldn’t miss any posts. so, i’m just trying to be helpful when i say that in almost every one of your posts you misspell the word “lose.” it’s not “loose.” this is probably only distracting to a handful of us, but since the word comes up so often i thought i’d mention it.
anyway, great work!
Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it! I apologize for my spelling mistakes. English is not my first language.
Thank you. Im going to work on my spelling.
Here I am again.
Went through my last couple of posts and fixed the mistakes. Oops.
I finally got it: loose = adj, lose = verb.
Hey this helped me a lot :-).
I live in Switzerland, the land of chocolate. As a sign of appreciation I would like to send you some chocolates. What type of chocolate do you prefer: Dark or milky? If you send me your address, I will send you some chocolates.
We got a nice discussion going on Facebook about yesterday’s post. This response seems worthy of its own entry. So, take it away, Chris Rish!
As your life goes on, each day, month and year becomes a smaller and smaller fraction of your experience. When you were 8, a year was 1/8th of your experience and that was probably a whole lot to you. As we age, each day becomes one part of the sum of our total experience. For me, a year is now 1/40th of my experience. But next year it will only be 1/41th of my life experience.
So time marches on at the same pace, but each week feels faster and faster, because compared to that sum of experience, that single measure of time, whatever it is, is less and less of your life.
I think the real trick is finding the now that can make even that smallest fraction significant. A long kiss, being in a siiick tube inside a beautiful wave, the manatee that rolls over and gives you its belly, a beam reach in a sailboat on a sunny day when it’s warm and blowing 15 knots. Everyone has their own special moments. The trick is being completely there when it’s happening. It’s one of the reasons I surf. In a very za-zen way you can only be right there in that moment doing exactly that thing on that wave or you flail completely. You might anyway.
For another example, I was at an amazing show with Marta last week. Galactic with Cory Glover played the State Theater laying down some New Orleans dumpster-funk for real. It was one of those times you can’t help but shake your butt because once the funk grabs hold of you…I think you know what I mean.
But there were quite a few people there at the show who were more interested in taping/filming the performance with their phones. The phone mediates the experience in a way and makes it derivative. Sure, you can watch it later, but were you really there when it happened, or were you hiding behind your phone?
We’re seeing more and more of this in modern life. Watch the people around you hide behind their devices at the first sign of a social situation. We’re living lives mediated instead of actually lived. That’s one reason I love the mat.
For that time we’re together in class. I can be sure, I’m really there with you and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that hour. Even if it’s a smaller and smaller fraction of my life each time I see you.
Love this post, btw…
peace and aloha,
I have this idea I’m trying to flesh out, about how we experience the passage of time. Being a kid lasted a forever. Days, summers, and years crawled by, and it took a lifetime to become a teenager. Even then, with the busyness of high school life, I marked off the days to graduation in my planner like an inmate serving a long-term sentence. Time in my twenties moved more slowly than time does now, and it doesn’t seem dependent on how packed my days are, because I’ve become less and less busy through my life (so far). So my idea is that we experience time differently based upon how much time we’ve experienced. Like, time travels exponentially faster as time travels. Katelyn suggested we gather experience like a snowball gathers snow as it rolls down a hill, although that of course implies a slowing. Maybe more like an avalanche picks up speed and mass as it crashes down a mountain.
I definitely don’t think we get smarter, as in quicker or wittier, as we get older, but it does seem like we get wiser. How do we define wisdom? I think it’s a recognition of repeated patterns. I also think it’s the knowledge that we aren’t witness to any objective reality, but are interpreters of a messy, contradictory world, full of compromise and grey areas. So, what if as we get older it just takes us less time to process everything? Not just because we’ve seen it before, but because we’ve learned to live with uncertainties and indeterminacies. Now, that’s the kind of thing we’re supposed to be wary of, as in the story of the three pots. We’re supposed to stay open-minded, leaving room for new ideas and experiences. But does that actually happen? Is that even possible, or desirable? I think rather than the idea of leaving “room” in our minds for more stuff to come in, we actually exercise flexibility. As more and more experience piles up, we don’t really throw out any old foundations (unless they were built on a sinkhole to begin with, in which case we have mid-life crises, born-again episodes, and nervous breakdowns). Instead, we stretch a bit, fine-tune and bend, growing new webs only as needed.
The earth spins once a day, and orbits the sun once a year, but I think the subjective way we experience time is just as real. But why? Can faster, more efficient pattern recognition, with the ability to accept the unknown and unknowable, be the answer? We also thought maybe time just travels more slowly when you’re miserable. And, “time flies when you’re having fun.” This could be more valid. Being a kid and an adolescent and a young adult were all a lot more miserable than being an adult is, unless you’ve had a very unfortunate adulthood. But let’s think about lonely old people, as in the Magnetic Fields song, “When You’re Old and Lonely.” The lyric goes:
when you’re old and lonely
and the rush of life is past
days go by too slowly
and the years go by too fast
Does that make any sense? That days can creep by, but the years still fly? I dunno. Humor me and discuss.
Yoga is not an escape. It’s not gonna take away your problems or make you think, ‘Oh, everything’s perfect.’ When I’m practicing, everything that presents itself is an opportunity to use the physical practice as a mirror to look within. The thoughts that come up during practice I find are often indicative of the most repetitive psychological patterns that we have. You know, you find yourself thinking self-deprecating thoughts, or you find yourself thinking self-limiting thoughts. Or you find yourself, you know, hating yourself or uncomfortable in your body or something. During your practice, you get this opportunity to have no other excuse, so you can’t say, ‘Well, that was a trigger, they did that to me.’ It’s just you and your thoughts.
My experience is that, some days you have a practice where a lot of this inner dialogue is there, and those are the days I kind of feel like you’re actually doing a lot of the work of burning through the obstacles. Because all of those thoughts, for me, they’re like the obstacles that come up in your mind.
— Kino MacGregor
That’s what I’m talking about. (Thanks, Jade and Andre for the vid.)