La mujer de viaje, el mat de yoga y El Arco

elarco

I joined six other women in Cabo San Lucas this past weekend to celebrate my youngest sister’s bachelorette. I’ve never been to a bachelorette of any kind before — much less one in Mexico — so it was an eye-opening experience on many levels. 😉 And it was a blast. A truly special trip in which I could get closer not only to my two sisters, but to four new friends.

After a crazy long travel day/day 1 of the celebrations and, as you can expect, very little sleep, I still had to find a spot to roll out my mat for practice. That’s how practicing six days a week works, right? (Very different scene than the last time, back in May, that I went more than 24 hours without sleep!)

Even before I found a daily ashtanga practice, I enjoyed seeking out local studios to try a yoga class in the same way that runners like to see a new city by doing their daily run through the neighborhoods. I remember thinking how upscale Vancouver’s yoga scene was back in 2009, how years before that I realized Dallas had something for me despite my assumptions otherwise, and so on. I still enjoy finding studios when I can, but now I usually practice on my own when traveling.

What was most salient about rolling out my mat this weekend was that I wanted to use the practices less in a location scouting kind of way to get a feel for a town’s surface vibe, but to tap into that particular place’s deeper energy (such yogi talk, I know!). Cabo San Lucas is famously home to El Arco (“The Arch”), which is also known as Land’s End. And it happens to be where the Sea of Cortez meets the Pacific Ocean — so talk about juicy energetic swirls. (Here is a random gorgeous shot of El Arco that I found online.)

The wisdom of yoga and meditation masters frequently returns to the idea that we need to be fully present. In the past, I have used practicing in different locales to learn more about myself, to work through knots, to unload baggage, and all the rest. This weekend, perhaps I found another way of experiencing being present to a place rather than using the place as a tool for my inner work. Not surprisingly, it was through that wonderful piece of real estate known as the yoga mat.

Did it feel any different? I don’t know. But maybe setting that intention helped me be more receptive in general to those coordinates, to the people I was traveling with, and to the strangers I was meeting. One man in a lovely jewelry shop in San Jose del Cabo didn’t seem to roll like the rest of the shopkeepers surrounding him. He told me he was from Mexico City, went to college in at the University of Texas at Austin, and was back in Cabo to help run the family business. And still, there was something I couldn’t put my finger on. Finally, he moved his arm to show me something and I saw his om tattoo. Ah. An Iyengar practitioner, it turns out. One far away from his teachers, and faced with practicing on his own every day. We had a nice talk about that, and that was my memento from his shop. (Not that I didn’t want some of the gorgeous jewelry, mind you. 😉 )

If it hadn’t been for my sister’s bachelorette, I probably would have never visited Los Cabos — would have written off Cabo San Lucas and San Jose del Cabo as too touristy and too much of a party central kind of destination. (I mean, I loved that bars advertised their 2-for-1 happy hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Yes, starting at 7 a.m., you can load up on your cervezas! :-) ) And had I let my preconceptions and prejudices rule my travels, I would have missed out on meeting this shopkeeper. On meeting a sweet and fun gay couple from Seattle on their honeymoon. And on seeing and feeling this amazing part of the world.

P.S. — The pic of my Mysore rug rolled up to double as my meditation cushion is dedicated to C.G., whom I don’t get to talk to or see much, but who I think about frequently. :-)

cabosanlucaspractice

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

In Rebelle Society: Does your calendar rule your life?

The_Scheduler

 

Rebelle Society has published a little piece I wrote titled “Does Your Calendar Rule Your Life: 5 Ways To Fight Serial Scheduler Syndrome.”

Do you ever daydream about a superhero alter ego?

In my reveries, I’m a mad scientist remixing the brain chemistry of the clinically depressed and injecting the chronically unconfident with invisible vials of self-love. I’m changing the world, in short, by sharing one Yoga or meditation practice at a time.

I recently realized I possess a truly epic skill set, but it’s hardly what I would hope for it to be. No, I have this uncanny ability to deprive myself of any free time whatsoever.

My superhero power would probably be to make like a daily-planner-wielding ninja and strike down free time anywhere I sense it lurking.

What’s that on the horizon? Is it a free Saturday afternoon I spot? Bam! Two hours unsullied one nice summer evening? Ka-Pow! Is that really what it appears to be? A free weekend morning? Let’s write some web copy for a fledgling local small business. Or clear out the inbox. Or catch a concert.

Let’s do anything but allow for that particular emptiness that comes with spaciousness of time and effort. Let’s keep moving and saying Yes and Sure and Why Not – because all those actions carry potential. They carry the potential of meeting interesting people and discovering new experiences.

I’m more stoked than Johnny Storm — the human torch — to light my fire for a new mission, however. I’m taking what I’ve learned from my daily Ashtanga Yoga practice about how it’s possible to systematically open up parts of my body — tight shoulders, office-desked hips — and applying it to my habitual pattern of closing in on any open spaces that exist in my mental and physical calendar.

Want to join me on this quest? Here are five ways I’m creating more space in my life.

>>Read the rest here.

rsjuly22

Whenever I’m not blogging here, it’s because of my schedule. Gaps between posts are rarely there because I don’t have anything to share — it’s more that my priorities have to be that juicy householder yogi’s mix of work life, home life, practice and teaching practice (not necessarily in that order).

And to be present enough for my practice and teaching practice, getting enough rest has been especially key the last few months. What used to be needing six hours of sleep has crept up to seven. I’ll chalk it up to increased wisdom rather than the fact that I turned a year older a couple months ago. 😉

Beyond that, though, my proclivities have changed a bit too — I find myself actually craving more tranquility and less intensity. Should I credit India and my first week-long meditation retreat for that? Quite possibly. It reminds me a bit of how Ayurveda taught me that spicy food was actually challenging, rather than appeasing, my digestive needs….

(Graphic credit: YogaRose.net, designed by Brittni Stefanides)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Retreat of the mind-monkeys, protests from Catholic peacocks: My first meditation retreat

retreat_view

My first week-long meditation retreat just ended. I’m trying not to be sad about this (though I certainly have techniques to work with if I do just start to bum out or, worse, have re-entry aftershocks), and I’m also thinking about what I’ll tell people who have never been to a meditation retreat who will curiously ask, “So, how was it?”

I’ll want to use words like “inspiring, invigorating, deeply restful, transformative.” It was a game-changer on the same order as going to a six-day-a-week ashtanga practice was. Or I could instead say that it felt like summer camp for my spirit. Rather go horseback riding or kayaking, I had seven glorious days to get closer to nature by letting the mind settle, and then settle some more.

Researchers are demonstrating again and again that that our minds love to be still. Consider the 2010 study “A Wandering Mind is an Unhappy Mind,” which was published in Science. The authors of the study say: “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Using a smartphone app they developed for this study, they found:

Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness. In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.

They also found that on average, “respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except” — you guessed it — during sex.  

More on this later (the research, not the sex).

Perhaps I could talk about interesting specifics from the retreat: How, for instance, on the fourth night, my husband and I made it through an all-night sit with a group of nearly a dozen other folks. I might add some surprising elements about this yaza:

  • It wasn’t that bad! (It helped that we had a great group and a fantastic group leader.)
  • Time had a different flavor that night.
  • The meditation felt restful.
  • By 7 a.m. the following morning, I did my ashtanga practice and it felt rather breezy.

(Here’s more on meditation duration training, by the way.)

yazees

I could talk about how I think using one of the meditation techniques focused on during the retreat helped me to, for the first time perhaps, truly eat mindfully. (Yes, for faithful blog readers: even Ayurveda has not been able to help me achieve this particular piece of what happened this week on the mindful eating front. More on that later too.)

I could also mention that this was my husband’s third time in Southern California, and this Michigan native finally experienced an earthquake — well, OK, it felt more like a tremor than a quake. But it was his first shaking, and it happened during one of the dharma talks Shinzen held – right on cue, too. Of course.

Catholic peacocks and secular Buddhism

peacockPerhaps I would need to take a step back and tell people who ask about the retreat that it was held in Rancho Palos Verdes, California on a gorgeous Catholic retreat center campus. The Mary & Joseph Center features thoughtfully designed gardens and meeting spaces, very sweet staffers, comfortable accommodations and sweeping views of Los Angeles. Another supremely wonderful benefit of this location was that I was able to spend last weekend (was it only last weekend?) with my parents and sisters, who all live in my former home state. (Fun fact: The retreat center is also home to some peacocks. I’ve never spent time with peacocks before, and friends who have have told me about about how loud they are. Now I know why. I think their calls sound like what would come out of an offspring of a cat and a bat. I personally found the peacocks and all their diva-ness endearing, though.)

The retreat was led by Shinzen Young, an American who has spent a significant part of his life studying in hardcore Asian monasteries. He has created a straightforward meditation system called Basic Mindfulness that is completely secular, but absolutely compatible with vipassana techniques.

shinzenShinzen is brilliant to the max and tremendously generous with his knowledge, time and energy. He is also totally accessible, humble and hilarious. (I love that he sometimes wears a hat that he is the first to say might be mistaken to be a Heisenberg hat from “Breaking Bad,” but is actually a hat a student got him from a Blues Brothers movie.) I can’t fully convey to you how inspiring it is to spend time with him, because he leaves you feeling jazzed not only about your practice and your potential, but about all of human existence, really. That’s not always an easy feat, depending on which part of human existence you’re contemplating.

If you’re at all interested, here are some links:

The ins and the outs of mindfulness

Maybe for this post I should simply talk about what mindfulness is – the concrete, down-and-dirty details — in case anyone who asks me about the retreat asks me about mindfulness in general. MIndfulness seems to be the talk of the town of late, with Time featuring it on its cover earlier in the year — using the attention-grabbing word “revolution” in the headline, no less — and with prominent  stories in Wired, NPR, etc.

Shinzen covers it comprehensively in this free download called What is Mindfulness?. One crux of the piece is this part (from page 51, if you’re looking for it) in which he talks about how you can group the effects of mindfulness into five broad headings:

  • Reduction of physical or emotional suffering
  • Elevation of physical or emotional fulfillment
  • Achieving deep self knowledge
  • Making positive changes in objective behavior
  • Developing a spirit of love and service towards others

Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Then again, so does yoga.

orange

If you skip to page 69, you get a taste of how this works:

So how do concentration, sensory clarity, and equanimity work together to reduce suffering?

Any experience of discomfort, whether mild or intense, will involve one or a combination of four sensory elements:

• Uncomfortable physical sensations in your body.

• Uncomfortable emotional sensations in your body.

• Negative talk in your mind.

• Negative images in your mind.

For simplicity, let’s say that the maximum intensity of any of these elements is level 10. Now, let’s assume the worst case scenario: all four elements are at level 10, the maximum body-mind distress that the human nervous system is capable of generating. How much suffering will this cause? The rather surprising answer is—it depends.

What usually happens is that the physical body sensations, emotional body sensations, mental images and mental talk get tangled and therefore mutually reinforce each other. In other words, they multiply together, giving you the impression that you are suffering at level 10 × 10 × 10 × 10. That equals 10,000…and suffering at that level is utterly unbearable. People will do anything to escape from that level of body-mind distress. If distress at that level without escape continues, their thoughts may move toward suicide.

The first step in getting out of this hell involves sensory clarity. You learn to untangle the elements. First, separate the body part from the mind part. Then in the body, separate the physical from the emotional. And in the mind, separate the visual from the auditory.

If your sensory clarity skills are really good, this will dramatically reduce your suffering because the elements are no longer multiplying with each other. You’re experiencing only what is going on, not what seems to be going on. So the elements just add together: 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 equals 40. What a difference between having to carry 10,000 pounds versus only having to carry 40 pounds. The relief is dramatic. But we can do even better.

Concentration Power is defined as the ability to focus on what you want, when you want, for as long as you want. If you have really good concentration power, you can focus on just your emotional body sensations, or just your mental talk, or just your mental images, or just the physical sensations of the pain. That way, at any given instant, you would only have to experience a single “10.” So you can go from a 10,000 to a 10 by Concentration Power and Sensory Clarity alone. This represents a 1,000-fold reduction in distress. The body-mind events have not changed at all. What has changed is your relationship to those sensory events. You’ve gone from a tangled, scattered experience of the sensory challenge to a clear and concentrated experience of it.
A 1,000-fold reduction in suffering without any actual change in the content of experience is pretty miraculous,
but we can do even better!

Let’s say that you’re focusing on just the physical discomfort and your concentration is so great that your mind and emotions have faded into the background for awhile, and there’s just the physical sensation of the pain itself. But it’s still at level 10, which represents the maximum, so that’s still significant suffering.

Now you bring equanimity to that physical discomfort sensation. That means you ask your body to open to its own creations, to stop fighting with the physical discomfort it’s producing. You try to greet each wave of body sensation with a gentle matter-of-factness. At some point you fall into a deep altered state where your body

stops fighting with itself, time slows down and everything gets very still. It then becomes evident that the “10” itself is made up of 2 × 5: 2 units of actual physical discomfort multiplied by 5 units of resistance to that physical discomfort. As the equanimity goes up, the resistance goes down until you are left with nothing but level 2 sensation, which is all that was ever actually there!

And because there’s no resistance, that level 2 sensation flows as a kind of wavy energy and no longer causes any real suffering at all.

That’s how a “Turn Toward It” strategy works to bring relief from suffering. If your level of concentration power, sensory clarity, and equanimity has been permanently elevated through practice, then the associated relief is also permanent. When treatment or medications can’t eliminate the pain, there’s still something you can do—develop sensory clarity to separate the elements, develop concentration power to focus on just one element at a time, and develop enough equanimity to melt the internal resistance. At that point, what’s left of the sensory challenge will flow like a river.

As with any experience like this, I have at least 10 blog posts in my head already, but given that I’m heading straight back to work – I literally arrive back in Michigan 2.5 hours before I have to start the work day on Monday morning — I don’t think 10 posts will happen. I will get to the topics of eating mindfully and the emerging science of mindfulness in future posts.

In the meantime, I am excited to see my sister and soon-to-be-brother-in-law, who will pick us up so that we can enjoy dinner together (eaten more mindfully than ever!) before catching the redeye to DTW. I’m pretty sure the flight it won’t be nearly as restful as the meditation all-nighter, although I have a few more refined tricks up my sleeve now to expand and contract with the experience and not resist the discomfort. 😉

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Vishvavajra as a talisman of stability and ‘grounded, lightning-clear awareness’

vajrapendant

Who are the people, and what are the practices, that give you stability and clarity? I’ve been reflecting a lot about this lately, and perhaps as a result, I’ve been seeking out talismans that represent strength, stability, clarity, harmony. One beautiful traditional image I’ve been drawn to is that of the double vajra. (Apparently, vajra is the Sanskrit term and dorje is the Tibetan term.)

For my second wedding anniversary last week, my husband inspired the gorgeous pendant pictured above to come into my life. And for my birthday, my sisters gifted me with these two stunning handmade vishvavajra pieces:

vajrapendants

I first found out about the double vajra in an Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor newsletter item:

 

doublevajraThe image above is a vishvavajra or double-vajra. I put one in the window at the shala to introduce this image to those who are learning the intermediate series postures named for it – laghu vajrasana (petite thunderbolt) and supta vajrasana (sleeping thunderbolt). The vajra image shows up all over the yoga tradition, and the crossed version is most often found in tantric Buddhism. In Tibet, it’s stamped at the base of statues of ecstatic deities, perhaps to moor them here in the immanent, physical world. This is because the vishvavajra connotes grounded, lightning-clear awareness, and the stability of the physical world. It’s also a kind of amulet warding off delusion and self-deception.

Lightning-clarity can manifest as sudden realization, especially symbolized by the single vajra – a scepter-like image you’ll find on the cover of the most important east-west spiritual book of the last generation, Chogyam Trungpa’s Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. Awesomely, the single vajra is said to have this quality of cutting through – cutting through illusion, cutting through the BS stories we tell ourselves about who we are, cutting through the internal chatter that traps us in self-delusion until the coup by which we slice ourselves free. But the double vajra is said to summon harmony along with insight. I see it as an amulet for scintillating clarity combined with compassion in action. That’s not necessarily us, but it could be.

I have felt more clarity, harmony and stability in the past year than I ever remember experiencing as an adult — despite some challenges like my miscarriage — and I credit a rope of practices and people for this. Individually, the fibers of the rope are pretty numerous. But they might roughly be unwoven into the following four main threads:

  • ashtanga yoga (complemented by the other Indian wellness science of Ayurveda)
  • meditation
  • teachers
  • family and friends

While I have felt so much abundance with all of these stability points — how lucky am I with the intensity of love I have from family and friends? — I haven’t even begun to experience the full intensity of what can come from meditation. I’m fixing that tomorrow, as I head to the orientation of my first-ever weeklong meditation retreat.

What helps shape your vishvavajra?

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Mercury retrograde — or a bumpy post-India reintegration?

dragon

The last several days have been frustrating in that resort-to-tweeting-in-all-caps kind of way. This weekend and today, trusty Monday, have been the most frustrating of all. Yesterday, for instance, after learning about some additional car-related hassles, I dropped a pack of newly purchased Kleenex into a pool of snowy mud that was the store’s parking lot. In that moment I thought, “It feels like Mercury retrograde. This must be Mercury retrograde.”

Then I got it.

If I were in India, I would have been primed for such frustrations and chalked it up to what India does to teach Westerners about surrender. Back at home, though, the default status I expect is that of smooth. And I had even scheduled in some transition time, so that should have been enough, right?

So, universe, I get it:

  • As discussed in my last post, you want me to read Murakami.
  • What happens in Mysore — equanimity for everything, all the time — should not stay in Mysore. I should maintain that sort of meta receptivity to whatever comes now that I have returned to my normal routine.

***

When I was in Mysore, one of my favorite night-time wind-down routines was to find a video or three on meditation teacher Shinzen Young’s ExpandContract YouTube channel.

Here’s a sense of his way of thinking about expansion and contraction:

Expansion and Contraction can take many forms…

  • Increase in intensity is Expansion; decrease in intensity is Contraction.
  • Speeding up is Expansion; slowing down is Contraction.
  • Spatially spreading through the body or elsewhere is Expansion; shrinking is Contraction.
  • Puffing up is Expansion; thinning out is Contraction.
  • Outward pressure force is Expansion; inward pressure force is Contraction.
  • Stretching is Expansion; squeezing is Contraction.
  • When your attention is scattered, that’s just Expansion!
  • When your attention is gripped by something, that’s just Contraction!

Sitting here now in my kitchen, I can see that through this lens, it’s not so much that I miss being in India (though I do); my life is here, in Michigan. It’s not that I miss the structureless days, because actually, I had a fair amount of structure (though of a slightly different type than I am accustomed to) to my days in Mysore. It’s not that I miss only being able to think about and experience yoga, because that is not how Mysore went for me either.

Perhaps it’s that I tasted, maybe for the first time, an extended period (a glorious month!) in which I could access a sense of deep, deep expansion. Though my days were structured, I could still, if I wanted, take 45 minutes to do one thing. The concept of multi-tasking was half a world away. The only times in my life that I’ve had this since childhood, probably, has been on vacation — perhaps why time off from work matters so much to me. Getting to be off the clock and getting to experience other cultures thousands of miles away are virtually the only ways as an adult that I have experienced that depth of expansion; the farther away I am from my life back home, the more I can be in tune with what is around me without worrying about all the things I normally worry about.

So for the past week, anything that I have felt as a contraction, I have either lashed out against, per my once-typical pattern of unleashing my temper like a dragon’s snarl (unexpected presentations thrown at me at the last minute) or recoiled from (driving in yet more snow without the security of snow tires — I drove to work with my husband three days last week just to avoid that anxiety).

To mix perspectives a bit, I was thinking this evening about expansion and contraction from the perspective of the gunas. Perhaps it’s not useful and even misleading to mix it up like this, but I’ll throw out what I thought about anyway: The way I’ve experienced the past week, expansion would — for me — roughly map onto tamas, and contraction would map onto rajas. I know from rajas; my normal daily life is rajas, and being able to hold onto that little injection of tamas that I found so nourishing in India would just feel so sweet right now. Except it can’t last — unless I find equanimity. Equanimity — and not a boarding pass back to Mysore — is my ticket to equilibrium, or a more sattvic state.

Um, no matter how you view it, this is hard. Can I just buy a plane ticket instead?

***

This morning, while straining to listen in on a work conference call and waiting inside the dealership’s lobby for the mechanics to fix my tire pressure monitoring system sensor, I was mentally retracing my steps at home to figure out where I had lost my keys (it would only be the first time today that I lost them).

Lost keys in the midst of all this, really? I couldn’t help it — I checked one of my favorite single-purpose websites: Is Mercury in Retrograde?

And this was the answer:

mercury

Deep exhale. I am trying to reintegrate post-India — DURING MERCURY RETROGRADE.

Lord, help me get through this month. :-) Thank goodness for ashtanga yoga and meditation — or everyone around me would surely politely ask me to start looking for a flight back to India.

(Photo taken at the “Golden Temple” in Bylakuppe, Karnataka)

>>The Mysore dispatches:

My month in Mysore, by the numbers

Total miles flown to get to India: 8,839. And yet somehow, I always felt at home over the course of the month I was in Mysore.

Etched

On engraved rings and Mysore marking you.

Lingua franca
The language of practice. And of sugar. And of awkward good-byes.

In due time
In the midst of the spicy masala mash of sounds that is India, I’ve been listening to Jack Kornfield’s soothing, raita-like voice read from his A Path with Heart, and I love this part: “Love in the past is simply memory, and love in the future is fantasy.”

Profiles of ashtangis telecommuting from Mysore
Need to work while enrolled at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in India? These ashtanga yoga practitioners have done it, and they want you to know it can be done. See what tips they share for how to make it work while working from Mysore.

So you helped get an ashtangi to Mysore? Thank you, truly.
So, ashtangi with the “Mysore, Karnataka” Facebook location tag — who helped get you here? Perhaps you can send them a note of thanks if you haven’t done so in a while.

Temple tour to Belur, Halebid, Shravanabelagola
I didn’t come to Mysore, Karnataka to be a tourist. But it was wonderful to be one on this moon day, doing a 208-mile round-trip drive and hitting three ancient temple sites.

Happy Sankranti
Sankranti is one of the few Hindu harvest festivals celebrated in India that’s tied to the solar calendar. And it’s a new year of sorts! What an incredible month. I was in Mysore for the New Year’s Day holiday that I adore so much. Now we have Sankranti, with is promise of auspicious beginnings. And I didn’t realize until after I arrived that the day I fly home will be the Chinese New Year.

Thank you, interwebs and wifi
When I was playing my trip to Mysore, I kind of thought that the ideal way to experience this trip would be to unplug. Man, was I wrong about that one.

Castor oil baths and not (particularly) getting things done
Rest day + castor oil! I think when you’re studying yoga in India, my day so far would have been considered productive. At home, this should have all been done by noon.

And then there were four — led classes, that is
From healing to teaching, from deepening to escaping, everyone here obviously has a unique and personal story about whey they’re here right now. But is there something drawing us, collectively, at the dawn of 2014?

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

[Mysore dispatch] #gratitude #possibilities

meditation mat

MYSORE, Karnataka — My first meditation of the year! Sixty beautiful minutes spent on the rooftop of the building where I’m staying — followed by a lovely Indian breakfast of upma and chutney, along with the perfect cup of chai.

About this set-up: I found the perfect little rug for meditation at the local Loyal World Super Market. (I guess it’s supposed to be used as a welcome mat for the home?) It’s got enough thickness so that I don’t mind being on a hard surface. It cost 255 rupees, or about $4.11. (As a side note, for anyone with kids or a yoga-inclined pooch, I think this would triple as the cutest Mysore rug for yoga practice.)

Because I couldn’t fit my meditation cushion or meditation bench in my suitcase without going over the weight limit, I decided I would rely on folding my yoga rug over my two “whatever” cushions to make the perfect cushion for the way I like to sit in meditation. (I’ve found that sitting in virasana pose is the way that’s happiest for my pelvis and low back.)

I’m looking forward to my month spent studying at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute — and to my month of a mini-meditation retreat. I was talking to my friend Karen last night about how New Year’s is, hands down, my favorite holiday of the year — a way to revel in a cross-cultural celebration focused on new beginnings and boundless possibilities.

In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

When the challenges start to roll, remind me of this post, will ya? :-)

Cheers!

>>More Mysore dispatches:

Emptying the cup

‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice

Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR

What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

 

The art and science of surrender (car accident edition)

Grace.jpg

Look at that photo. It’s something else, isn’t it? Somehow, I managed to step right up out of the driver-side door without so much as a cut. I’m saving this photo to my phone and my work desktop as an inspiring memento of three instructive reminders from yesterday’s rollover:

1. While an accident can pin you down, it’s the kindness of strangers that will really floor you.

A woman whom I’ll just call V. hugged me — hugged me tight, wrapping my entire short frame in her radiant maternal embrace — as soon as I stepped out of the car. She hugged me and asked if I was OK for quite some time as other kind strangers offered other ways of help, starting with the cool guy who opened up the car door that allowed me to get out the first place.

I accepted a ride to the hospital for tests because I was most concerned that I felt fine but could have a hairline fracture. I just kept thinking about the angle I stepped out of the car from, and about how many times I had rolled over. (Surprisingly, the air bags did not deploy.) Anyway, the paramedic and his crew? Fantastic in every way. The trauma team that ran a battery of tests to make sure there wasn’t deeper damage? Awesome. (They also thought they were comedians, which I appreciated. They said that had I been wearing Lululemon, they would have spared cutting my clothes. Luckily, I have other panopticon-branded AY:A2 tanks.)

This tank would have been spared the shears in the trauma room 3 if only they had been Lululemon. ;-)

This tank would have been spared the shears in trauma room 3 if only they’d been Lululemon. ;-)

The police officer who showed up? Sweet — down to accommodating my request that when the tow truck show up, he rescue not only my mobile and wallet, but also my Mysore rug (what can I say — it’s a security blanket). He totally came through.

2. You never know.

Really, you never know. So you might as well not sweat the small stuff. (More on this in a bit.)

We all tell ourselves this and I’m convinced we all believe it, deep down. But we tend to believe it most when Big Life Events happen — not during the day-to-day. This helped me recommit big-time to keeping my eyes on the prize as moments as possible every day, not just on days like this.

3. Relaxing, rather than resisting, helps in any kind of situation.

Anyone who has struggled to learn how to go up into a yoga headstand has probably at one time or another heard the instruction to relax while falling out of it.

Let me be clear: I think I wasn’t harmed because of my guardian angels, pure and simple. But, more than 24 hours later, I am still stunned that I walked away untouched, and it was a reminder that the tremendous relaxation you can feel when in something like a multiple-roll spill like this comes in handy. Had I tensed up and locked my arms on the steering wheel, for instance, who knows what might have happened.

As meditation teacher Shinzen Young formulates it:

Pain x Resistance = Suffering

Post-accident, I’m going to take this to heart and not let myself get freaked out about the expense — especially given that it’s coming just ahead of when I’m looking at taking four weeks of unpaid leave to go study in Mysore. I could do the math, or I could look back at the rollover photo and shake my head again at how I was not hurt and no one else was either.

Shinzen offers this related formulation too:

Taste of Purification = Pain x Equanimity

Trying to avoid suffering is one thing. Can I reach this level? That’s a tall order but I think it’s possibly within reach, if it stare at the rollover photo enough. And if that doesn’t work, I can look at my tiny little rental, which somehow makes me laugh. I think my huge Saka cargo mat bag fits in the trunk . . .

Fiat rental

Back to sweating the small stuff

For anyone willing to read past the list portion of this post, I’ll say that the feeling I had yesterday was similar to the feeling I had during the accident I experienced maybe a decade ago now, when a guard rail saved me from going over a mountainside in northern Vermont after I had skid on black ice. The same time-slows-incredibly-dooooown phenomenon happened yesterday when I couldn’t correct out of the median: I quite calmly observed what was happening and figured that one of two things — both out of my control — would happen. I would either die or be severely injured, or I would be protected and would be fine.

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t on some level want to work on not sweating the things that don’t matter. To different degrees, we all want to stay out of the fray when it comes to getting worked up over things we know — we know! — just don’t matter in the end. But dammit if the small things just have a tremendous capacity to gnaw, goad, get under the skin. For me, the most recent big little problem that I got truly pissed over just happened this past Friday — and this is at a time in my life when I have learned to surrender more than I ever have.

Equanimity via different paths

In my world informed by the discipline of ashtanga yoga and by meditative technologies, it seems to me that there are three pretty reliable ways to make progress on keeping it together in the face of life’s really annoying agitations:

1. Go through a tough experience.  

This year has been an interesting one. I witnessed my husband in more pain than I had ever seen him, as I watched helplessly in the ER as he tried to pass a kidney stone. I was back in the same hospital’s operating room (OR) not too long after that for my D & C after my miscarriage. I was back yesterday in the ER — with the same nurse who helped my husband! — for the tests to make sure I wasn’t hurt.

2. Get on your mat six days a week to practice a series that at first seems impossible, then seems doable, then eventually seems impossible again, and so on.

As OvO has so eloquently put it, put yourself on the mat to undertake a systemic series of constraints on the ego.

During the ambulance ride to get the tests that would confirm that I am indeed OK, despite what my mental images of the accident scene would have me believe, I was talking to a paramedic-in-training who said, “I’m just not flexible enough to do yoga.” It was a little awkward to talk to this student, with my neck in a restraint and my body secured to a long spine board per standard operating procedures when being taken to a trauma unit (with a rollover at 70 miles per hour, which is what the speed limit is in Michigan, an accident like this one is considered a trauma, even if you can talk and walk and attest you feel fine).

I started to try to explain that that isn’t what yoga is all about, but instead it out something like, “You don’t need to be flexible to start yoga. You gain that flexibility as you go.” Finally, realizing my words were being garbled by the fact that I couldn’t really move my jaw too much, I said, “You should give yoga another shot.”

It wasn’t my most persuasive elevator pitch for yoga, which last year I decided might go along these lines: “Using the body to get beyond the body, a 6-day-a-week Ashtanga practice rewires us to experience life without filters created by illusion.” Aka neuroplasticity ftw!

3. Get on a meditation cushion every day

I’m going to give embarrassingly short shrift to this one because I technically should be getting back to dealing with my insurance company. But I’ve been truly amazed at the results this past year of keeping at meditation.

Why meditate?

And a fourth?

In any case, having tried these three paths, I’ve found that each contributes a different type of instruction/reminder, and the lasting effects vary. It does seem like the synergistic effects are most powerful when all three are experienced together.

Interestingly, I had spent the earlier part of yesterday afternoon engaged in fun conversations with other area yogis are planning on studying at the Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India, and the theme that kept coming up again and again was: To truly experience Mysore, you have to surrender to the experience.

So by the end of the month when I travel to Mysore, perhaps I’ll understand first-hand that I can add another sure-fire way of learning to surrender? That one would be labeled as: Make the sacrifices you need to make to get to the shala in Mysore. 

!

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Don’t worry, ghee happy

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When my alarm went off at 3 a.m. yesterday, I gradually came to and inside my head I sort of heard Bobby McFerrin humming “Don’t worry, ghee happy.”

Must be cleanse time.

Last October I went through my first Ayurvedic cleanse, the transformative effects of which I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog. In April, I went through my second cleanse and realized how much had changed in six short months — my habits and cravings would have been unrecognizable to my former self.

And here we are, my third cleanse. I decided that given my my long apanic summer, I wanted to do a slightly longer cleanse this time. So rather than the four- or five-day main cleanse of ghee in the morning followed by three meals of kitchari, I’m doing seven days. For one thing, it means bigger doses of ghee than I have done in the past — and the cumulative effects of all this means that I need even more down time this time around, especially in the first half of the day, when I have been especially tired (the second half of these past few days have felt fine, which is interesting).

I was surprised that I was able to give up snacking after the first cleanse. And totally renovated the contents of my pantry and fridge, booting foods that worked against me.

What I wasn’t able to do was to stop multitasking while eating meals — but a year out, this new habit of just eating while eating has started to stick. I’ve also been a lot better about being outside with nature and taking walks; the evening walks I take with my husband are such special times for me.

Another big change I have noticed is that since my miscarriage and since I have spent more time on the cushion in a daily meditation practice, I have finally started to genuinely invite more spaciousness into my life. My calendar is still crazy, but I feel less boxed in by it all. And I routinely make the choice to not to something if I absolutely don’t have to do it — with more frequent blogging being one of the chief habits I’ve let go of. I miss it, don’t get me wrong, and at any given time, I probably have two or three ideas for posts floating around in my head. But I’ve keenly felt how much more valuable even 20 or 30 minutes of quiet time are to my psyche.

It’s a work in process for sure, but it is probably the first time in my life that I feel I have the right tools to help me slow down. Since high school, probably, I’ve always said I wanted a less hectic schedule, but I never knew how to make that happen, and maybe I was not fundamentally open enough to the concept either. Now I feel like I naturally gravitate toward space and quiet.

A few articles have been making the social media rounds lately that espouse the benefits of stepping back:

And for the people who grind in the communications world, there is this new post on 10 ways you know you’re working too much. No. 10:

10. You’re at a major league sporting event, supposedly enjoying the game, but are instead coming up with “Ways you know you spend too much time working” blog posts.

So I admit that I am at a Detroit Tigers game right now as I wrap this post up. I wrote most of it on the drive here, as my husband drove. I know, with five tablespoons of ghee down the hatch this morning, I should probably be doing my wind down to bed right now. But it’s the post-season, and this was the only game against the Boston Red Sox my husband and I could make. So I edited the rest of my day to try to accommodate this quality time with my husband.

Like I said, making space for spaciousness and down time is a work in progress. I may not be going to bed, but my phone will be hitting the sack as soon as I hit “publish.”

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Moment-to-moment practices

I take it as a good sign for our meditation practices that in packing for a brief getaway to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, my husband and I packed our meditation cushions.

meditationcushions

Last month, without leaving mid-Michigan, we both had the happy coincidence of getting time with two extremely clear, direct, accessible and accomplished meditation teachers: Shinzen Young and Sister Sayalay Susila. I’ve written about Shinzen and why I’m drawn to his scientifically inclined outlook.

Sister Susila is a Buddhist nun from Malaysia, and she was delightful. (More recently, I also had the chance to attend a one-day session with Ajahn Sucitto, whose teachings I found beautifully poetic and refined. I will be seeking out more of his teachings as well. Here is Ajahn Sucitto’s blog. )

Despite being introduced to meditation by my father at a very young age, I think it has taken years of practicing yoga to get me to be able to accept a meditation practice. Some people are naturally drawn to turning inward, but I always experienced my mind as too restles and my body as too stiff to want to regularly return to long sits; yoga was my meditation.

But these days, when Sister Susila says something like, “You must contemplate impermanence until cravings drop away” (which I took as, “force won’t rid you of your cravings”) or “The body is not solid the way you think. With concentration and wisdom, you see the body and mind as they really are . . . so you can accept your body being old with equanimity” — well, I believe it deeply, because I’ve spent years returning again and again to the mat, which is nothing if not a constant reminder of the ever-changing nature of the body and the mind. I think I needed these years of a yoga practice to get here, though. Simply contemplate impermanence? Not concrete enough.


In case anyone who happens on this post is interested in Buddhist concentration and insight meditation practice, I thought I would share Sister Susila’s handy one-pager on the mental factors of mindfulness and wisdom needed in vipassana (opens as a PDF).


The Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Facebook page frequently posts about meditation, and this little gem was posted a while back:

Real meditation is the highest form of intelligence. It is not a matter of sitting cross-legged in a corner with your eyes shut or standing on your head or whatever it is you do. To meditate is to be completely aware as you are walking, as you are riding in the bus, as you are working in your office or in your kitchen—completely aware of the words you use, the gestures you make, the manner of your talk, the way you eat, and how you push people around. To be choicelessly aware of everything about you and within yourself, is meditation. If you are thus aware of the political and religious propaganda that goes on ceaselessly, aware of the many influences about you, you will see how quickly you understand and are free of every influence as you come into contact with it. (Jiddu Krishnamurti, Collected Works, Vol. XIII, Individual and Society, p. 323)

I haven’t blogged since April because my work demands have been relentless again. There were periods that I felt a saturation — experienced as a lowered tolerance for external stimulation. And I wondered whether meditation could eventually help shield me from feeling drained during times like these. I want to achieve an unstickiness with my job — to be “free of every influence as you come into contact with it.”

In the meantime, though, I’m simply looking forward to putting down my meditation seat in a different setting.

P.S. — About the meditation seats above. The cushion on the left is the ubiquitous kapok zafu cushion. The meditation seat on the right is the very light — two pounds — and portable Salubrion Meditation and Yoga Seat that I got from DharmaCrafts.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Equanimity is like . . .

Equanimity

Ready for some formulas? Shinzen Young, the meditation teacher I blogged about earlier this week, offers some physical analogies for equanimity in his Five Ways to Know Yourself manual. It’s a comparison I find very compelling, because if you’re having trouble achieving this state emotionally or physically (and who doesn’t?), it can be helpful to look at similar processes in other models.

Developing equanimity is analogous to:

• reducing friction in a mechanical system (Equanimity =1/F);
• reducing viscosity in a hydrodynamic system (Equanimity =1/µ);
• reducing resistance in a DC circuit (Equanimity =1/R);
• reducing impedance in an AC circuit (Equanimity =1/Z);
• reducing stiffness in a spring (Equanimity =1/k); and
• A solution being thixotropic as opposed to rheopectic. (Thixotropic substances, such as paint, thin out when they get stirred. By way of contrast, rheopectic substances, such as corn starch, thicken up when they get stirred.)

Extending these metaphors, perfect equanimity would be analogous to “superconductivity” within all your sensory circuits. [p. 16-17]

I love that image of stirring a paint can.

What exactly is it, though? Shinzen explores it this way: “Equanimity is a fundamental skill for self-exploration and emotional intelligence. It is a deep and subtle concept that is frequently misunderstood and easily confused with suppression of feeling, apathy, or inexpressiveness.”

And here’s more:

In the physical world we say a person has lost balance if they fall to one side or another. In the same way, a person loses internal balance if they fall into one or the other of the following contrasting reactions:

• Suppression – A state of thought/feeling arises and we attempt to cope with it by stuffing it down, denying it, tightening around it, etc.

• Identification – A state of thought/feeling arises and we fixate on it, hold onto it inappropriately, not letting it arise, spread, and pass according to its natural rhythm.

Between suppression on one side and identification on the other lies a third possibility, the balanced state of non-self interference, namely, equanimity.

And if you read the Three Questions with Angela Jamison post, you’re hip to the idea of equanimity with an edge:


So what did equanimity look like for me this week? I had so many chances to work on this skill set:

  • When my tax preparer, who has had my files for a couple weeks now, bailed on me on Monday — the morning taxes are due — and totally upended my already packed day (all this while I was in the middle of this Ayurvedic cleanse, which made it a bit more energetically challenging for me).
  • When I found out that someone else has also used my social security number (!) to file their taxes, causing me to be unable to e-file. I am hoping this is an honest mistake and not identity theft.
  • When I wanted to write this post Monday night but ran out of both time and energy.
  • This morning, when I had some hideously bad cramps that had me KO’ed on the bathroom floor.

How has your week been? Any chances to work on equanimity?


I can’t say I was perfect this week, but I handled most things — especially the tax bail — much better than I might have otherwise. Rose circa 2009 would have lost it. Rose circa 2011 would have been really frustrated and pretty angry. Don’t get me wrong: Rose in April 2013 was deeply frustrated. I had to scramble to get a sub for my evening yoga class so that I could go to another tax preparer at the eleventh hour. But angry? I didn’t feel that internal heat of anger. In short, faced with a big obstacle, I acted — making calls, finding backups — far more than I reacted. Rose circa 2009 would have acted the same way, but would have reacted with as much, if not more, force, and would have dwelled on the unpleasantness of the situation.

Thinking last year about how to be motivated to have a solid, daily meditation practice — motivated on the level that my yoga practice motivates me, which is a high bar — I knew that what I needed to see would be concrete changes. In yoga, I have no end of moments I can point to and say, “I would have reacted this way/done things this way were it not for my yoga practice.” I needed the same thing in meditation.

I have plenty of examples these days. It’s not that my yoga practice hasn’t made me far less reactive overall — it has done wonders for me. But so far, meditation has helped make certain things — like the very conscious process of trying to not get wound up about frustrating matters in life — less effortful.


Now, about this morning’s post-castor-oil-purgation cramps, which had me on my bathroom floor for some time (I was trying to leave the bathroom to get back to bed to lie down, but I couldn’t make the seven steps to the bed). I tried to stay present and identify the sensations I was feeling, but that gave way to me just lying there, my mind wandering as I breathed with no strategy in mind at all. Shinzen has produced a lot of training materials about managing pain, and I’m curious about the techniques he teaches. Of the many changes I had at finding equanimity this week, I think I was most challenged by this one.

Don’t let this scare you away from an Ayurvedic cleanse, by the way. Everyone experiences the cleanse differently. The rest of the cleanse felt sparkling and light, and the effects are worth all the trouble of sticking to the regiment of a cleanse. I’d write more about this spring cleanse, but due to my work demands, time has not been my own since returning from Xinalani — and, as you can guess, I’ve been trying to maintain equanimity about that.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Meditation as the ‘vaccination against future horrific suffering’

Shinzen Young

As I made kitchari yesterday evening for our spring Ayurvedic cleanse — the spring version of the fall cleanse that rocked my world and transformed my eating habits  — I replayed an old interview with meditation teacher Shinzen Young. Part of Sounds True’s Insights at the Edge series, I’ve heard this interview before, but my husband has not, and since we both took our first home practice session with Shinzen this weekend, I thought it would be great for him to hear.

The interview was even better than I had remembered, and my favorite part might be when Shinzen asks the interviewer, Tami Simon (who is also awesome), “If you were to ask me personally, ‘Well, why do you do this crazy ass shit?'” She answers in the affirmative, and Shinzen offers this:

Yeah, personally, it’s because I would prefer the discomfort of a vaccination to the discomfort of getting the disease. It might seem extreme to sit without moving for four hours or to sit all night, you know, without sleeping or to do some of these Native American things, you know, these shamanic ordeals and so forth. This may seem extreme, but given what’s likely to happen to any ordinary human being, I just look upon it as a minor discomfort that’s vaccination against future horrific suffering. Let’s just put it this way, after my father died, my mother began meditating. Now, my father had all of the amenities of middle class North American life, but when it came time to die of lung cancer, he went for a week without sleeping—forget about a night—while slowly suffocating. That is physically as extreme as anything anyone ever put themselves through in the name of spiritual practice. That was nonconsensual, okay? And there was nothing to be done about it; the best of medicine could only take the edge off. So the fact is really big stuff can very likely happen to anyone and if it doesn’t happen on the physical level, it’s going to happen on the emotional level. I would rather train myself now, train my body-mind circuits now, and go through a little bit of discomfort if it means I can live my life without being under the sword of Damocles that there’s only a separation of a phone call between everything’s going fine and your world comes to an end. [at about the 47:45 mark]

What an incredible way to view the power of meditation.

A few links:

(Photo credit: Via Better Brain Better Life)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Shut up and play the quiet

My concert buddy and I drove an hour west to the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids, Mich. last night to watch Shut Up and Play the Hits, the new documentary about LCD Soundsystem’s final, epic (I think “epic” is the right word here) show at Madison Square Garden. It’s a superbly executed music documentary that includes snippets of a great interview of James Murphy led by Chuck Klosterman — thought-provoking and entertaining stuff.

While watching, I thought a little about how much my music tastes have changed. I used to only listen to bands that had the typical rock or pop construction of guitar chords, refrains, etc. Over time, though, I’ve been increasingly drawn to bands that don’t stick to the template — bands like LCD Soundsystem and, more recently, Caribou. These outfits create soundscapes, including lyrics when they’re needed and not including them when they’re not.

I’m a journalist by training, so words are the tools of my trade. But more and more and in different situations, the mantra of “less is more” (something my favorite journalism professor always stressed) has been sinking in. From filler lyrics to the thoughts that run on a loop in our heads, words can clutter so much of our external and internal spaces.

Over the past 11 months, as I’ve been working to deepen my Ashtanga yoga practice by committing to practicing six days a week, I’ve noticed I’m more able to tolerate stillness and quietness while working, running errands or doing stuff around the house. (A big exception is that I do already love quiet yoga rooms — the less chatter, the better.) I used to rely on having a TV on, or music playing, when at home. Basically, these days, I don’t feel the symptoms of withdrawal from chatter/sounds/white noise as frequently or intensely. And I wonder if part of my shifting music tastes is my ability to enjoy more space in my soundscapes. As strange as my description may sound, a track like “Bowls” feels like it has more room now to pulse and resonate.

Speaking of less is more on the monkey mind front: Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor’s Facebook page had this recommendation yesterday:

So if you’re looking for meditation | remixed, give this meditation app a try. I’ve been so swamped lately, but I’ll check out ReWire one of these days — along with another fascinating app called Brain Wave, which says it “uses sequences of binaural tones combined with soothing ambient nature sounds and atmospheric music to stimulate specific brainwave frequencies and induce different states of mind. Includes programs for sleep.” I don’t know anything about binaural tones, but my concert buddy just told me Pearl Jam had an album that used this technique — titled, appropriately enough, Binaural.

Side note: I found out today that LCD Soundsystem-affiliated Juan Maclean practices Ashtanga yoga, and travels to Mysore. You can find the whole interview here (you’ll have to scroll down — I didn’t see any anchors) and here’s an inspiring snippet:

How has yoga now improved your working life as a DJ?

“I practice six days a week no matter where I am or what I’ve done the night before. It has been enormously helpful in keeping my body functioning while maintaining an insane travel schedule. Sitting on planes has become a major job hazard. The yoga gets my blood flowing again, stretches out all those tightened muscles, relieves inflammation, and helps with jet lag.”

How has yoga changed you as a person?

“It’s a little embarrassing but I had a bad anger problem, I would get totally out of control. There were a couple of incidents that were well documented on the internet, much to the dismay of my mother, where I had physically assaulted people while DJing. Whether my actions were justified or not, beating someone up in the middle of a DJ set is completely ridiculous. Since practicing Ashtanga, I’ve calmed down immensely. It’s also made me a generally nicer person.”

So cool to see a DJ who travels extensively make the traditional practice happen! Rock on, Maclean!

(Photo credit: Hierophant’s Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.