Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Can You Run Like A Yogi?

When I took up running last Spring, I wanted to run like a yogi.  I found out the hard way that this was no easy task.  Looking at The Yoga Sutras, here is how I made sense of my running experience.  I chose Sutras 14 and 15 from Book One as guidance on how to run like a yogi:

Sutra 1.14: Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.

Sutra 1.15: The consciousness of self-mastery in one who is free from craving for objects seen or heard about is non-attachment.

The message I take away when reading these sutras together is to detach, but stay grounded.  That’s not easy!  It’s tricky to patiently persevere in any endeavor without reaching for a reward to cling to.  In our relationships, in our work, in diet and exercise routines, we learn that when we stay with something or someone for a long time, without break and in all earnestness, we must cultivate patience to see us through our commitment.  Sutra 1.14 tells us we have to stand our ground, and at the same time, Sutra 1.15 says we have to be wary of attachment.  So we are to be diligent, focused and committed, but from a place of detachment to outcomes or end results.  I have been reminded of this so many times by my teachers, in relation to getting too caught up on perfecting the postures or having an ego-driven yoga practice.  In other areas of my life this lesson is a constant struggle, but I find it easier to remember in asana practice.  

I decided to do yoga teacher training when I realized that my yoga practice is something I am committed to for the long haul.  After several years of practicing diligently, I had a six-month hamstring injury; even then, I found modifications and remained dedicated to practicing.  Also, I was able to let go of a need to look good in the postures or push myself to do a particular asana before I was ready.  I still have a mental block with arm balances and I am OK with that.  It doesn’t matter to me when or if I incorporate a lot of arm balances into my practice because I am not attached to being able to do them.  Hopefully that translates into doing them in a safe and strengthening way in the future, rather than from a place of feeling like I have to do them to look good or to complete something.  

My most recent struggle with patience and non-attachment occurred when I decided to incorporate running into my yoga practice.  Initially, that is how I looked at it: it was another physical practice I could do while remaining mindful of the breath and practicing svadhyaya (self-observation).  For the first couple of months I even used mantras as I ran and that really helped.  I thought that through applying yogic principles to running, I could remain detached yet grounded; after all, running is supposed to be grounding; I was running on trails, feeling my connection to the earth.  However, over the course of time, I found myself getting overly attached to running and the results of running.  This attachment started pulling me away from my asana and meditation practice.  I was taking the time away from my yoga practice and using that time to run.  The scales tipped to become imbalanced.  

Even assuming that the running was an extension of yoga, what was happening is that I wasn’t looking at it as a lifelong practice where I was patiently planting deep seeds.  I wanted specific outcomes and I wanted them right away.  I was not practicing vairagya (non-attachment); instead I was signing up for races, not giving myself enough time to rest between long runs and focusing on bettering my times to the detriment of developing strength and improving the quality of my stride.  This quote from Sri Swami Satchidananda sums it up: “If you are unsettled and anxious to get the result, you are already disturbed; nothing done with that disturbed mind will have quality.  So, it is not only how long you practice, but with what patience, what earnestness and what quality also.”  I was being impatient and sacrificing quality in the running, and in the yoga asanas my earnestness had eroded; all of this was due to the attachment I had developed to the running and the goal of getting faster.  What ended up happening is easy to guess: I injured myself.  I did place in a 10K, but then I had to cancel my plans to run a half-marathon because I kept doing long runs close together and focusing on being fast.  When our teacher training started I knew that I couldn’t sacrifice my commitment to yoga or risk injuring myself again.  I will continue to run, but far less often, and if I sign up for a race in the future it will be with these two sutras in mind.  I want yoga to inform every aspect of my life, especially the physical aspect, because we have the opportunity in this lifetime to be tutored by our bodies in our spiritual growth.  

In your own physical practice, whatever that may be, remind yourself that here on this Earth your body is a teacher to your soul.  Instead of accomplishing or achieving, connect to the spiritual aspect of your workout.  We can access this wisdom when are grounded, yet detached.  

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Yoga Teaching and The Tree of Samkhya

As part of our yoga teacher training, our class is required to learn about Samkhya, one of the oldest schools of Hindu philosophy.  As is my wont, I share most of my written work on Meta Vie, so here is what I wrote today about how Samkhya applies to practicing and teaching yoga, and what about this theory particularly appeals to me and why:

The theory of The Tree of Samkhya is very relevant to yoga practice and teaching, because it frames yoga as the process of training our bodies and minds to move from the gross to the subtle through a playful, investigative process.  

The teachings on The Tree of Samkhya focus on shifting from the unmanifest to the manifest and back again, from the subtle to the gross and back again in an ongoing dance that sees creation itself as the method by which pure seeing can be revealed to itself.  I love this theory because it is both spiritual and concrete.  We work with our bodies (matter) to eventually touch deeper levels of consciousness.  I also think of the Tantric teachings that show us how to work with the physical world and with all of the emotional and physical things we may otherwise see as limitations; we can work with these things on our path to liberation, and we don't have to see the physical world or our bodies as something inferior or unreal.  

The main concept of this theory which would help me teach a class is approaching everything we do on the mat as a process of investigative understanding; so, seeing how we feel in a certain pose, experimenting with variations of a pose, directing our attention to the breath and being guided by that, all of these aspects of yoga practice can be pointed out to students to help them better understand themselves and their own bodies (yoga as the science of self-realization).  In addition, in a yoga class I would probably often focus on balancing the energies of the gunas, so I would attempt to arrive at a general intuitive assessment of a prevailing collective energy on a given day (based on the season, the weather, events, the phase of the moon, etc.) and I might tailor the asana sequence to that in order to go with the flow but also bring about balance.  An example: on a particularly bright, clear and warm day in July with a waning moon in the sky, I might go through a mostly rajasic sequence of asanas but then end with a lot of deep forward bends and a longer period of sitting meditation and cooling pranayama to balance out the dominant guna.  In privates I would ask a series of questions to get a sense of the student’s dominant energy on that day and in whatever was happening in his/her life, then I would tailor the asana sequence and guided meditation to the student.  

The one thing from this discussion which resonated the most with me was the view of creation as a way for Source (Brahman, God) to reveal pure seeing to itself.  I wrote down this quote: “The underlying purpose of creation is to reveal pure seeing to itself.”  I like viewing myself and everything around me as a unified emanation of God.  That concept deeply resonates with my being.