Who Decides What’s ‘Proper’ Anyway?

“There’s no ‘properly’. There’s just how it makes you feel.”

~ Keith Richards describing playing guitar

Maybe it was only rock & roll that Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones was talking about, but he did an incredibly good job of summing up my Yoga path and practice, too.

Yoga is about feeling … and letting that feeling blossom from within. 

Yes, there are great books of Yoga wisdom and sutras to guide and inspire us. But, they are just that — guides. They are meant to guide us so that we may find the true reward of Yoga ourselves. From within. Both on and off the mat.

Let’s just talk about the “on the mat” part today.

I know that a lot of my students wish I would spend more class time pushing them into poses … or pulling their arm one way and their leg another.  Isn’t that what Yoga teachers are for?  Pushing or pulling you into something deemed ‘proper’? Something someone has decided is correct or, even, perfect.

But, as I think most of my students know, that’s not my style. Afterall, I could sculpt a body into a beautiful Downward Dog or Warrior Pose. I could move a limb here an inch … or push your hip a schooch in the other direction.

What does that give you? It gives you a fleeting moment of something that may look like it belongs in a Yoga magazine, but isn’t really your Yoga.

It may look all pretty on the outside, but it may hurt on the inside. It may make a muscle tense or a joint ache. You lose the ease. You grit your teeth. You count the moments until you can come out of the pose. 

You lose the Yoga.

I may move a student or encourage a change in the pose with my touch, but that’s merely a suggestion or an invitation to move out of discomfort. But mostly I like to adjust my students with my words, with verbal suggestions that allow a student to find the pose from the inside.

Yoga is about finding the pose on your own … truly owning it and feeling it within you. No teacher can move you there. You have to find it yourself. And, what a great feeling it is when you do.

I wonder if Keith Richards has ever done Yoga? He should. He’s got the right heart for it.

Because Yoga isn’t about doing something ‘properly’. It’s about feeling the spirit of the pose inside, letting it come to life, and letting it shine out.

I hope you’re feeling some good Yoga!  Rock on, Yoga friends!

(And, yes, I AM reading Keith’s autobiography ‘Life‘ … again. One of the five greatest rock-and-roll books of all time. And, a great read whether you love the Stones or not.)

A Day With The Dalai Lama

Last week, His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Charlottesville, Virginia.  I was fortunate to be able to attend both of the events where he spoke.

I took lots of notes, because remembering the things that people say can get in the way of the experience. I have a tendency to forget. It’s much easier for me to just write down the things I want to remember.

I posted a few short reports on my “other” blog: Baseball, Yoga, Life … (and me).

But, I wanted to include the links here as well …

In Part 1 of my “Day with the Dalai Lama”, the Dalai Lama talks about happiness and the benefits of being positive.  Click here.

In Part 2, His Holiness discusses cricket, exposes my baseball-watching habits, recommends a good night’s sleep, and inspires my cat Stevie.  Click here.

There is a Part 3 coming soon … and it will include a discussion on comfortable and fashionable footwear … so be sure to check back.

And, you can always sign up to receive posts from this blog … and from my “other” Baseball & Yoga blog … via email. A sign-up form is on every page.


Yoga’s 8 Limbs ~ More Than Just A Pose

It all began when I was asked a simple question over dinner last week, “How is our Yoga progressing?  Do you see us getting any better?” 
This person has been doing Yoga with me for many years.  And, there’s not a single thing wrong with her Yoga – she tries every pose, including the tough ones; she looks lovely in her poses; she comes to nearly every class.  She is a beautiful and inspiring Yogini!
But, it was a good reminder for me about what it means to “teach” Yoga.  Because, Yoga is so much more than just stretching out on the mat.  Even if the physical exercise is extremely beneficial to the body and the poses look lovely.
Asana is the limb of Yoga we practice most here in the West.  It is the Yoga of movement and exercise.  For most Yoga practitioners in the West it is the only Yoga they know.
There’s just so much more to Yoga than a sticky mat and a Sun Salutation. Asana is just one of eight amazing, powerful, and transformational Yogic limbs.  
We cheat ourselves if we fail to experience the rest of Yoga.

So, because you talked me into it over dinner … and because it’s so important … I’m going to post more frequently on the larger dimensions of Yoga, the pure essence of the practice, and the philosophy that gives us much more than just a supple back and strong arms.

For today, simply, the Eight Limbs of Yoga.
I’ll hope to go more in depth later.  The eight limbs, taken together, comprise a true and complete Yoga practice.  One limb can’t thrive without the others.  They all support and build upon each other.  One without the others is not really Yoga.
Yoga dates back to the Vedas – spiritual and life scriptures that came from ancient India thousands of years ago.  
But, the structure of Yoga and its eight limbs was first written by Patanjali in The Yoga Sutras, which dates to about 200 AD.  While Patanjali did not create the limbs of Yoga, he is a considered to be the first sage to put them together into a written framework that can be studied and followed. 
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
1) The Yamas ~ rules governing moral and ethical behavior toward others.  Much like the 10 Commandments, the Yamas warn us against bad behavior and poor lifestyle choices.
2) The Niyamas ~ the keys to personal care, behavior, and healthy lifestyle.  Things we should do to be more fulfilled, more vibrant, healthier, and kinder individuals.
3) Asana ~ the traditional exercise and fitness component of Yoga.  The practice most commonly known and practiced in the West.
4) Pranayama ~ control of the breath and focused breathing practices.
5) Pratyhara ~ withdrawl of the senses, drawing the senses inward and closing off of external distractions.
6) Dharana ~ one-pointed focus, controlling the mind fully to concentrate on a single point of focus.
7) Dhyana ~ Meditation, absorption in a single thought or point of focus for an extended period of time, particularly meditation on the spiritual.
8) Samadhi ~ the pure bliss that comes through success in the other seven limbs.  Samadhi is the culmination of the limbs of Yoga, creating a perfect, sustained meditation that is the complete and pure absorption in the object of one’s attention.  The mind must be in perfect balance for this to occur. 
Although we think of the Yoga we do in class as simply Asana, we also try to experience some of the higher limbs.  We always include Pranayama in our practice.  We try to incorporate the spirit of Pratyhara and Dharana into our practice.  And, we touch on meditation as a very simple introduction to Dhyana.
The goal is to work at these first seven limbs.  The eighth, Samadhi, or purest of bliss, is the gift that comes from our commitment toward perfecting all the others.
For most of us, Samadhi will be a rare and fleeting thing.   
And, so our best course is to simply make time for the journey … to explore and experience all of the limbs of Yoga to their fullest.  When we do, Yoga can, quite simply, change our lives.
P.S.  I would love your questions and comments to keep the discussion going and to help steer future posts and conversations.  I’m going to label these posts as Yoga 101.  So, you should be able to click on the Yoga 101 label on the blog to see all of these philosophy and deeper discussions in one place.

White & Gold — A Balancing Breath

The “White & Gold” breath is a mindful way to fully expand the lungs, draw in fresh prana (the life force that surrounds us), balance and harmonize the body’s rhythms, and empty out negative congestion in the body (those things that slow us down).

We practiced this breath in yoga class on 9/14 … and we will use it in next week’s classes as well. (So you can try it out before class if you like!)

Sit comfortably. Or lie down (if you promise not to snooze). It is possible to do this breath while sitting at your desk or sitting in traffic. (I wouldn’t advise you to do it while driving … but I have been known to slip a breath or two in when going from here to there.)

Just relax a bit and find your breath. Try to ignore the other distractions of life, and just listen to air as it journeys in through the nostrils and finds it way into the lungs and journeys out through the nostrils. This sound of the breath can be very quieting for the body and mind. (I always like to imagine that even as I am doing nothing – being completely lazy – the restful rhythm of my breath is carrying on … sustaining and renewing me.)

After a minute or two, begin to focus on just the right side of the body. Imagine the breath coming into the right side of the body as though it were a vibrant and radiant white light, flowing into the right nostril and filling the body – filling the head, the torso, the right arm, and right leg – with healing prana white light.

As you begin to exhale, gently move your awareness to the left side of the body and imagine the left side of the body exhaling fully – from the left leg and left arm, from the left side of the torso, and the left lung – sending a strong golden light of empowerment and cleansing out through the left nostril.

So, the in breath becomes a vibrant white light for healing, coming into the right side of the body, and the out breath becomes a radiant golden light of cleansing and empowerment as it goes out through the left side of the body.

Try this for several breaths and then switch sides. With the white light now coming in on the left, filling the left side of the body, and the golden light now moving through and out on the right side.

This is not the alternate nostril breath we sometimes practice in yoga, where we physically block one nostril as we breathe. Instead, we are simply using our inner awareness – our imagination – to focus our attention on the breath … to pay attention to just one side of the body as the breath flows in and out.

By moving attention from right to left we help to not only calm the nervous system, but to harmonize and balance the energies of the body.

Visualizing the healing energy of the in breath as a white light is a nice way to remind ourselves of how healing our breath (and yoga practice) can be. And, as we cleanse with the golden light of the out breath, we also are reminded of our own personal power – that we can, indeed, rid ourselves of stress and other challenges. We can control our tension and stress and we can let it all go … with simply a breath.

I hope you enjoy this nice little practice. Play with it … and simply breathe!