Sunday, October 31, 2010

Begin Practice with Awareness

Pratapana - Sanskrit for warm up practices - are part of yoga practice for me. There is nothing formulaic about it, yet there is a logical physiological sequence to follow. Yoga practice for some begins with sun salutations and this movement and sequence is designed to move the joints, stretch the spine, stir up circulation and allows lots of possibilities for adding variations. There are many days when Surya Namaskar (sun salutations) are too vigorous to begin my own practice, or my classes.

People with athletic or dance backgrounds know a good deal about how warming up the body leads into a safer and more productive practice. The body is only one part of yoga practice, and it does benefit hugely from sensitivity to the joints, circulation of energy and natural tightness of specific muscle groups. I recommend moving from the subtle and to more progressively dramatic movements of the spine, the rib cage, the hips, toes, neck, shoulders, well, the whole variety of body parts. The special aspect of this for me is that it is not with a focus on the hip that I would move the hip, but with a focus on the breath.

Breathing in expands the body, naturally moving and stretching more muscles and joints than I can name. Breathing out reduces the inner pressures, relaxing all those muscles and joints into a natural contraction. Yet the breath does much more than that. On a physiological level, the breath brings oxygenated blood into every cell and eliminates carbon dioxide and other "waste" products of the bodies functioning. On a psychological level, the breath draws energy and awakens a sense of fullness, openness, energy, sufficiency, expansion, and possibility with one conscious inhale; and releases, nurtures, calms, relaxes, opens and cleanses on the exhale. With a focus on the breath, all the Pratapana of spinal movements, opening and lubricating the shoulder joints, stretching of hamstrings and discovering mobility in the toe joints become a challenging and deeply moving practice of awareness.

With this level of engagement, your practice begins from the moment you put your attention in "yoga mode." Bringing attention to the breath will change your seat and your sun salutations. These are not exercises solely for the body, but experiences that offer the possibility of being fully present from the very moment that you breathe in and breathe out. The practice then can move in and out of Asana, and on and off the mat.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Deep or Shallow, It's All Good

Some days we go through the motions until that last moment, in Savasana (Corpse Pose, relaxation), when something specific and unnamed loosens. We curl onto one side in the quiet breathing of that precise moment, and nothing else matters. Sitting up, drunk on the softness of our own breath, we realize slowly that this is all we are, and it is everything, the paradox of emptiness. An open space has opened up inside us and is reflected for that moment holds everything we see, hear, feel, think, and wonder.

Some days from the very first moment the day begins there is something open, inviting a looser grip, a willingness to see from all sides and be content with what actually is so.

Must we make this into something else, call it by some Sanskrit name or attribute it to a god or goddess? Do we feel the beginning glimmer of understanding that the deepest part of ourselves is, in fact, as sacred, divine, spirited and open ended as any belief we might adopt?

What makes yoga so potent is how it quietly opens up the mysteries in moment after moment of inquiry. There is no right answer and no pre-requisite. Each of the principles leads to all the other principles. Each of the practices leads into all the other practices. Take meditation, for example. One person can practice for years or for 10 minutes a day and either way find a kaleidoscope of effects, insights, open moments. Is one deep and another shallow, or can we simply accept that there are endless possibilities if we are open to them?

Expectations will change your time on the mat, giving you something to resist, something to judge, an aim that will cloud your experience. It is a marvelous gift to allow the practice to take you to the depth that suits the moment without expectation or judgement -- perhaps floating on the surface, or sinking deeper than you have words to express into a non-dualistic world where the name of this and that no longer hold the key to being.

"People say that what we're seeking is a meaning for life. I don't think that's what we're really seeking. I think that what we're seeking is an experience of being alive, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive."-Joseph Campbell

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Illusion is not the Self

Rem Koolhaas building at IIT, Chicago, IL

It seems to take a very long time to let go of the basic framework that every little thing I think or feel is real and important. Yet I can sense that this shift is happening. It comes forward when I can laugh at the way I feel aggravated in my interactions with the guy from the garage when he disrespects my schedule and commitments. It appears as I kneel in happy confusion in the midst of a challenging yoga class when the teacher has called for an asana that is totally incomprehensible to my tired brain-body connection. It slips up to the surface listening to my sister on the phone creating analogies for herself to explain my experiences. No hard feelings, no reruns, no regrets or disappointment, no shame attaches to the moment.

Why is it so hard to let this aspect of self-importance go? Perhaps my "Western" cultural orientation is part of the gripping on this, that deeply embedded concept that the defining structures of intelligence and self respect require assigning importance to the fleeting and impermanent. Several people have expressed to me that they do not want to live into an old age when they can no longer "be themselves." I see this as gripping at the control mechanisms that are probably operating in them all the time to "be themselves" as a construction defined by these same ideas, judging themselves as to their worthiness. Letting go of that grip will not change who they are, if they can accept who they are in the first place. The question of worthiness of self is a puzzle of endless pieces that will never be complete as long as we keep any piece clutched in our tight grip.

The yogic path has no guarantees, no warranty, no hierarchies of grace or benefit. Each moment offers the entirety of being present, and demands the entirety of being, a self that is not separated into bits. This is not some super-high-concentrated-focus-entirely-on-something state of being. In some quite absurd way, really anyone can accomplish this way of being if they can let go of the self-importance and criticisms, allow themselves to be open to the truth, and accept the impermanence of all the mental constructs. This sounds huge and maybe even scary. The fear is a part of the construct material that we can really just leave on the bench and simply walk a distance away. It isn't gone, it just doesn't have to be the puppeteer holding our strings. It can become another one of these lovely objects we can observe and appreciate. Fear helps us identify our attachments, among other things. It serves as a warning that there is something on the path to observe as we take our next steps.

No one has the blueprint that shows who I am supposed to be, or how this particular life of mine is meant to go. There is nothing I can do that is untrue to my self. I may feel preferences, even have strong opinions, and act with passion and conviction, but all of that can be turned in any direction and none of it is good or bad. Without the judgments, criticism, gripping of attachment, there is ease, some open spaces of freedom, even as I do something silly and give that mechanic more fodder for his attitudes. Perhaps my humor on the mat as I fail to pretzel into a "yoga pose" is supportive to someone else in the room, and I've long since learned not to tell my sister how to interpret her own thoughts! So I am "being myself" all the time, learning how this works, and living with a kind of spaciousness in everything.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Staring Down Fear & Its Partners

Claude Monet, Haystacks, Art Institute of Chicago
Every twinge in my shoulder starts a little fear reaction that I can see coming. I feel the twinge and I see the fear right there. Then I stretch out the shoulder and know that even if some day I can no longer stretch away the pain, I do not need to succumb to the fear. The changes we go through can teach us a lot about our attitudes of attachment, judgement and fear.

Loss is a very distressing aspect of caring about other people, or about objects, or about systematic ways of doing things. Loss enters into a deep partnership with fear. It can be as simple as mourning that glove, now abandoned in the gutter having fallen out of the pocket, once treasured as a souvenir of a wonderful trip to a beautiful place. It might be the sorrow and denial while sitting at the bedside of a dying loved one, knowing that even these moments of tortured breathing are marks of a presence that will be taken and gone. Perhaps it is just that lapse in memory of how to make that origami figure so familiar and easy from childhood, but now beyond memory's reach.

So here we all are, surrounded by our desires for things, our craving to have the next moment go the way we want it to go, to control the level of pain for our loved ones, and to avoid pain ourselves. We live in a web of our attachments to people, patterns, behaviors, and preferences. Every part of our existence has potential to threaten us with something we fear to lose, or make us feel we must defend against loss. Sometimes it boils down to fearing change in those persons, things, systems. The relationship is not what it used to be. This hip is not how it once was. Vision and memory, endurance and strength, digestion, clothing size, the very voice with which we sing, all these aspects can and do change. It is our attachment to them as though they were or ought to be permanently a certain way that causes so much suffering and fear of loss. We measure and judge, hold tight and lose.

We can practice being okay just as we are. We can practice accepting that we are okay just this moment. Maybe we are not the same as we "used to be" and perhaps we can not hang on to that which we once treasured, but in this very moment, yoga can help to return our focus again and again to the conditions in this moment. We can let go of comparisons to past and stop threatening ourselves with diminished conditions of the future. We can release the attachments that corner our loved ones or erase the genuine moment for the sake of the role being played in a context set just so. There is enormous freedom from the ordinary pain of fear, when we can take things as they are, and let curiosity open the possibilities available now. Perhaps they are not the same possibilities of a few years or months, days, or moments ago. Who is the judge of what is loss and what is gain? In visiting my family recently I was struck by how very much everyone still has in the way of possibilities, regardless of what might seem like limitations. The biggest impediment to those possibilities seems to me to be the fear of loss and its partners, attachment, judgment and grasping. When those lose their grip, there is so much more time for happiness and joy.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Constancy of a Shape Shifter: Taking In the Truth

Yoga is not really a religion, but there are definite principles that underlie all the various families of practice we call "yoga." There are some deep connections between Yoga and Buddhism, Yoga and the Hindu practices, and actually with most of the major spiritual belief systems. This is clearly because all of these structures have to do with how we conduct ourselves, how we treat each other, and how we approach the hardest parts about being human in the world and understanding what can only be seen as the mysteries around us.

photo by j.r.meredith

Truth is one of those underlying principles that seems relevant in every belief structure. This idea of truth sometimes seems like a shape shifter. In any given moment we can know something to be true that is simply no longer true in the next moment. This is not falsifying the truth, but requires that we live in the present moment. Memories are notoriously slippery in terms of what they hold and what they shift around. If we color the moment with interpretations, then the memory we hold of it will also slide around as our view changes with time and distance. If we can actually take in the truth of that moment, it is complete in and of itself and does not require us to add or change elements. We can take it in just as it is. Eventually we can learn to see that everything is subject to conditions, and that conditions by their nature are impermanent.

This is a very hard thing to do. It is like telling someone to let go of something without moving... but in fact we can do that too.

In a yoga practice it is probable that you will run into yourself at every turn. Much as the practice may promise you a release from the definitions and constraints that bring you discomfort and suffering, it will open all the possibilities, not just the ones that feel like letting go and floating in a sea of beautiful colors. There are very specific physical things that happen through a physical yoga practice. Of course, muscles strengthen, lengthen, loosen, tighten; breath changes, opens, shortens, lengthens, and quiets. The mind, meanwhile, attaches, detaches, interprets, tells stories. The mind is busy noticing, taking notes, questioning, smothering feelings and highlighting feelings, and so forth. The yoga mat is a great place for noticing how you, very specifically you, deal with all kinds of circumstances and expressions of yourself. It helps to start with what is actually happening, and notice the intricate weaving that the mind does all around that. Just notice it, and let it go.

So what is actually happening? Is that the truth? It is a good start. In any Asana or posture there is potential to notice changes and shifts, whether you are sustaining the pose for several breaths, or moving in and out of the pose again and again. It is not like a law of averages or finding a median where the way it feels more often or most of the time is the truth... the truth is in each moment of the Asana. It can take time in a practice to accept that which is in any moment as true. The fear, hostility or desperation that arises as you twist for the sixth or tenth time in Utkatasana (Chair Pose), and the relief, determination or urgency that arises as you release back from that twist into plain Utkatasana, the flood of gratitude, blame, or shaky surrender as you fold into Uttanasana (forward fold) or rise into Tadasana (mountain pose) are all true. We don't have to keep a catalog of all of these truths. The hip will hold on to some of it, the heart to some, the mind to some. Next time you take on the twisting either that day or in another day's practice, you will hear the echos and feel the stories rise. This is you in action and is the seat of your explorations about yourself and truth. Yet the twists will have their own shapes that next time, and learning to accept that which is now, that which is this moment, is truly the path of truth, the conditional nature of our experiences and the deepest understanding of impermanence.

What my left hip felt yesterday made me laugh at myself. How hard I was willing to work to close off from that truth, and to tell a different story. The hip kept prompting me to see the moment and I could watch my mind work to wind and unwind its attachments and interpretations. Today, this moment, is simply today, this moment. The more space I can give the truth, the clearer my practice is too. And when that attitude comes off the mat, well, try it and you will see why it is an underlying principle in all deep spiritual practices! By the way, there really is no getting around it, either. It is there whether we take it in or not. The amazing revelation in all this is that taking in the truth brings authenticity into everything. Imagine that! No wonder so many seekers give their lives to the search.

Monday, October 18, 2010

We are not all monks

Yoga class feels so wonderful, and adds new dimensions to life. The body and mind begin to awaken to possibilities that seemed unavailable before. Someone suggests a book and through reading and taking classes a new way of understanding begins to develop. Breathing comes more consciously, maybe even time is starting to organize around getting to yoga class. But we are not all monks.

Can a person who has children, a job or two, health issues, an erratic schedule, or any other kind of routine actually develop a regular practice or even begin to include a truly deep inquiry into their life without feeling always there is not enough time and they never know enough? How does yoga fit into a regular life?

The basic principles underlying yoga are the Eight Limbs spelled out in Patanjali's Sutras, but even if you have never seen that, or heard of that before, they will help you integrate yoga into your life. They are simple, like doing no harm, or releasing judgmental mind and attachment through not grasping at that which is not yours. Perhaps when you see things as they truly are you will understand that your practice accepts you just as you are too.

Here's what I mean. You can only get to yoga class once a week. Is that a yoga practice? Yes. You carve out fifteen minutes a day to do some stretching you remember from class, and before you go to bed you spend five minutes in quiet sitting, to still yourself and refresh yourself for the night. Is that a yoga practice? Yes. Maybe you try to get to class two or three times a week and then don't go for a month and half. Is that a yoga practice? Well, you tell me. Do you bring your awareness to your breath while you wait for the subway in the morning? Do you center your weight over your feet and release your spine to rise, relaxing your shoulders, your jaw, your eyeballs while you wait for the elevator? Do you look at your neighbor and their children with open minded compassion as they try to resolve conflicts, without thinking judgmentally about them? Then yes, that is a yoga practice.

Yoga is not a mat-based activity. The yoga mat and the asana practices are one part, one way in. The practice offers insights and ways of being present that have no boundaries about bodies and mats, about inversions or even pranayama (breathing practices). All of that helps cultivate your awareness so that you can have a yoga practice throughout your days and hours, with or without a yoga mat handy. Does that mean that you can quit setting aside time for classes and asana, for meditation and a direct focus on the inquiry? No, I don't think so. But it helps deepen your understanding of the practice if you can let it slip off the mat and still recognize it.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Repetition & Layers

In my own practice and teaching I allow myself freedom to explore the moment itself. This might mean that I do not follow a set routine, or series of movements or set up with preparatory thoughts, chants, or breathing patterns. Maybe this seems to be a lack of discipline, and perhaps it is. Maybe this is learning to listen and hear the deep teachings that are embodied in my physical self, and perhaps that is so too. There were periods of time when my practice was similar, day to day. Same pattern of warming up the joints, same pattern of following the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) series of Asana, and adding in a this and a that of twist, or hip opener, of working towards inversions, then a similar series of forward bends and cooling down towards Savasana.

Recently in preparation for a training program through the Arthritis Foundation, I began following a DVD of the most basic Tai Chi foundational movements. Each little movement is preceded by the very same warm ups and followed by the very same cool down exercises. Once again I am in that phase of doing the same movements in sequence, adding in a little this or that of the previously learned lesson plus the new form, and then doing the same closing sequences.

As in all my yoga experiences, there are many levels in the moment. In the breath itself, there are textural changes. There is deep cultivation of awareness as balance shifts from side to side; the arm motion balances the leg shift, and the one hand posture stabilizes the movement in the other hand. It is so beautiful to find once again my attention drawn to feeling the energy in the core of my body in response or as the starting point of the movements.

The role of a good teacher definitely includes bringing the student back from the edge of their effort to the deeper principles. Dr. Paul Lam, who originated this series of Tai Chi for Arthritis, encourages the student to focus on one principle at a time for a period of their practice --for example a few days or a week with focus on balance, gentleness, fluid motion, soft inner energy, or breath in the core -- and then return again to focus on one principle at a time. Repeating the same warm ups, practicing the new forms, closing with the same cool down movements as I focus my attention on my shifting balance, or the spaciousness in my joints becomes a new experience each time I revisit the deep principle.

Try sitting in Sukhasana - a comfortable cross legged position. Imagine you have never done this before and just notice how it feels to be sitting just like that. Breathe into it for a few breaths. Now let your body make the adjustments that offer the support to free your spine, add the props, and bring in the subtle shifts that soften your foundation. Allow your breath to relax your jaw, your heart, your eyeballs. Now simply sit, with your attention on letting your body release and be open to the possibilities. How many times have you brought your body to the mat and sat it down without noticing that it was you, there, on the mat, being yourself? You can now bring all your awareness to any aspect of being, perhaps an intention is forming in your heart, perhaps the breath is now reaching into the back body, perhaps you can feel the flow of energy along your spine.

Doing "the same thing" is a brilliant light to shine into every aspect of your being. Repetition is never "the same thing." Is every inhale the same? Opening like the unfolding petals of a flower, your ability to be present in the moment will bloom with your focus and awareness.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

At the Beginning, Give It a Minute

Vinyasa is great fun and good to get energy circulating. You can work through the breath, move in the flow of energy, stretch and build muscles, surprise yourself and find yourself moved by the sequence of events. Vinyasa in sanskrit, means "to place in a special way." It combines movement, energy flow, and placement. Lots of yoga studios offer Vinyasa flow as a way to release from the constraints of the judging mind and the stagnation of personal patterns, as well as to unblock the lines of energy so that the final cool down and relaxation are that much deeper.

Vinyasa is hard on a body with physical constraints (think Carpal Tunnel issues, tight hamstrings, back trouble or knee replacements), and especially for people who are new to a yoga practice. It can be a struggle to keep up, to find your way, even to get the breath going in and out as instructed. Not knowing what is coming next or how to align oneself can make it impossible to use the prop that protects or enables. That initial scramble can sort out quickly for some, and be a source of serious injury for others. It can feel 'hard" in a way that is not inherently part of yoga. "Hard" in a learning curve kind of way. "Hard" in the "I am not good at doing this" kind of way. The newness of the postures and the constant movement can make modifications tough to figure out, adjustments hard to fit in between the instructions, and understanding of the basic principles a little vague. Of course a good teacher helps with all of this to some degree. For more experienced practitioners, Vinyasa can ratchet up into more and more physical challenges integrated into the flow, pressure to keep up, try the "harder" variations and, occasionally, emphasizes personal expression in the flow that can be more involved with ego than with cultivating nonjudgmental awareness and the foundational breath. Again, good teaching can help draw a student's attention back to the practice and out of the performance of Asana.

Figuring out a posture from the inside takes time. It is very different than learning a series of dance steps. One doesn't always need to be negotiating all the details, yet there are depths of understanding that only come with time, time in the pose. Take a simple pose, like Balasana (Child's Pose). This is very often offered as a "resting" pose, yet is difficult for many people and as with so many Asana, offers a very deep practice. The hip creases are drawing back, pelvis lifting, spine curving; knees are deeply bent, tops of feet press into the floor, while the shoulders are spreading open, the heart widens as it sinks, the ribs center pulling back towards the spine, and the third eye rests on the earth. Breath is into oneself. What's so simple about this? For some, the bend is beyond their capacity in the knee or spine. For others it is the internal quality of breath in the ribs against the thighs, the leaning of the heart inward that brings the emotions forward. Perhaps it is the openness in the back ribs, the breath ballooning over the kidneys that shifts the attention, or it could be simply feeling the earth below you, supporting your shins that lets the tension release from the back of your neck. Where does the mind go? Perhaps it begins with making all the little tweaky adjustments of ankles or shoulders, but if you stay there a minute other experiences begin, and perhaps your attention will shift.

Passing through Balansana for a moment to catch your breath is a wonderful thing too, like that moment when you take your shoes off after being in them all day. But in every Asana there are hidden treasures, secrets about yourself, illuminations about existence itself that come with time, time in the pose. So if you feel you are struggling and thrashing about in Vinyasa classes, give yourself a minute in your own practice or find a class that can slow it down for you. Spend a few breaths -- perhaps starting with 3 -- in each aspect of exploring Asana and your strength, flexibility, awareness and inner sense of alignment will catch up to you. Take that sense of balance back to Vinyasa class and see what a different experience it can be.

As a student once said to me, "There is just so much to think about all at once, including wondering what I am thinking about!" Letting this go, allowing the experience to get beyond thinking into experiencing the moment itself, is possible in one Asana or flowing through a Vinyasa. Try different approaches until you find the one that gives you the time you need to integrate and align yourself safely.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Props & Then Some

Give yourself what you need. Put the block under your hand. Give support to the elevated leg. Use the strap.

Yoga is not an exercise in "How do I get into this posture?" The practice is one of "How do I find myself here?"
Using and supporting principles of alignment, so that you gain the most benefit from your foundation in any pose, you can build the strength, encourage the flexibility, open the heart, release the joint, let the mind free of the constraints of judging yourself.

Sounds simple, right? "Find the support you need and use it." Perhaps it is spending ten minutes reading poetry before a stressful meeting to give you that sense of spaciousness in which to see with clarity and listen clearly. Why not take that plum with you as you walk to the train so you can focus on what you are doing and let go of the worries of whether you will find something you can eat later when you need a boost? Perhaps it is spending more of your practice time reconnecting with your feet instead of pushing through the complicated program you had set out for yourself.

It is wonderful in Trkonasana (triangle pose) to use a block under the hand on the floor. It doesn't matter if you "can do it" without the block. Give yourself the space to stretch the spine naturally, to let the neck be easy, to breathe into the sweet rotation of the ribcage. Perhaps you will find out that you have been reaching for the floor... perhaps when you take that block away you will find that the energy from that hand on the floor can now reach up through your opening heart.

Sit on the block in Virasana (Hero's Pose). Give your knees this new openness and see what happens. Perhaps your feet will relax in a way you have not imagined, or your breath might just reach further down to your root chakra because of the new relaxed length in your spine. Perhaps when you take the block away, you will feel that same deepening, lifting, ease, now that you know it is in you.

Wrap a strap gently around your lower ribs, crossing it in front of you and letting the straps rest gently in upturned hands. Then just breathe. Feel the way your whole body is supported by the soft wrapping strap, the way your hands gently move with the movement of the strap responding to your own breath. Close your eyes. Let the strap support your focus, enliven your sensitivity to being, find yourself existing in more than three dimensions... just breathe. Any time in your practice perhaps you can now bring that same level of awareness to your lower ribcage, noticing how the breath relates in that moment.

Navasana - Boat Pose- is so delicious with hands helping the thighs lift, or taking just one leg at a time, letting the other leg or foot hold steady. Let the lower back feel its length, allow the inner groin flexors to ease a bit. Try letting go and keep your focus on that feeling of steadiness rather than on the tension in the muscles. What do you need to help relieve the stress you feel? Find the source first, and then give it support.

Can you open up to the question of whether you need support? Can you allow yourself the openness to find the truth of this question in yourself? Exploring this on the mat, in the practice, off the mat, in your life, is not so hard to do as it might seem. Start with using the props, softness under your head in Savasana (Corpse Pose), or a simple block under your knees in Sukhasana (Easy Pose - cross legged seat) might just make room for your awareness to wake up, your attention to focus on something other than the muscular, and your breath to move you.

Once we learn how to find the support we need in the moment, our strength can develop. Each time you find yourself saying, "How can I support myself here?" you are also asking, "Where is this binding coming from, where is this blockage of my energy?" This is the deeper question ... and helps to explain why the support we find and give ourself is so enabling. If you seek out where the struggle is taking place in you, and make the shift to ease that, the freedom that comes is unpredictable and authentic.

Oh, by the way, you can always use the breath if you have nothing else handy.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Inquiry or Grasping?

Reaching for your toes, pulling on your hip, twisting your neck more to move that shoulder, bouncing on your feet to throw your legs towards the wall in an inversion.... Are these actions explorations of how the body works, about how the energy moves, about where the foundation really rests, or are they striving for that goal -- that shape -- that affirmation of self. How do we shift from the mind set of grasping into one where the goal is no longer the driver of experience? How do we allow the practice to move more freely from the dictates of the judging mind?

For me the grasping seems to come from a set of sources: Either I am challenging ideas of whether I am able or unable, which can also be seen in terms of judging whether I am good or bad; or I am responding to inhibitions based on fear. Every time I practice yoga I am faced with discomfort somewhere along the way. It might be in my hip joint on that first deep internal rotation. It might be in my mind in the form of disappointment as I release my attachment to Padmasana (Lotus) in Sirsasana (headstand). When discomfort arises, I watch my desire rise and take note where it is pushing me: to escape or to push through, to applaud my attempts or exaggerate my failures.

The pattern set by grasping is either holding on tight to something I don't want to release or of reaching beyond what actually is in an attempt to get somewhere else. What the practice teaches me every day is that I can see that pattern and not fall into it, nor do I have to react to it. I can nod at it and proceed to breathe up through my core into my upside-down self or make space around my racing excited heart. I might apply Ujjayi breath (ocean-sounding breath) to support me and search my body for clues as to where the resistance has really taken hold. Where there is desperation, I see it and acknowledge it. Where there is sadness, I see it and acknowledge it. Where there is determination, I see it and acknowledge it. These are aspects of myself and I do not reject them, but I begin to ask a new set of questions about them. How can I use that energy to open more fully, to see where the energy leads, without striving towards an end point?

The inquiry is a source of continuous growth no matter what the condition of the body. This is part of the magic of the yoga practice. My heart goes out to those students in yoga classes, desperately throwing themselves again and again in an effort to find an inverted posture. The support in the body is not available when jerked around by grasping. It is the release of the goal, the deepening breath, the softness in the foundation, the lift in the core, the open space between the collarbones, the clarity in the mind's focus of attention. It is the letting go into the twist, the inversion, the cross-legged position, the arm balance, the stressful meeting, the standing-on-the-platform-when-you-miss-the-train.

What I am doing there on the mat is the same thing I am doing off the mat. I am exploring. I am seeking a balance between discovery and failure, between being set in my ways and limitlessness. The practice of yoga offers the opportunity to explore what there is beyond the grasping, the striving and the judgments. It keeps me aware of my goal-setting tendencies, and helps me see the context in which I am driven to set those goals. It helps me see the goal as a marker of my own measuring, judging self, and that there is much more than that for me to experience, share, and enjoy. Nothing prevents the discomfort, but it is not so uncomfortable if I can see it for what it is.

This reminds me of breaking in new shoes. The practice goes little by little to stretch and shape around the truth of the foot, supporting and changing the foot a bit as it goes, until the exploration is free and natural. And when the shoe fits well, there is no end to where the foot can go.