jump to navigation

Lucky (Day) 13 January 23, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Karma, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Philosophy, Science, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
add a comment

Day 13

Nothing comes from nothing

Nothing ever could

So, somewhere in my youth, or childhood,

I must have done something good.

– Maria and the Captain in The Sound of Music


Yoga Day USA 2011 was a great day for union. Ironically, I started the day without a physical practice. Sure, I sat for 5 minutes and I thought about asana – and I did demonstrate some poses when I taught in the morning – but I didn’t do what I would consider a significant amount of hatha yoga. Yet and still, when I sat down on a block in the empty studio to do my 18-Minute So Hum Meditation my body felt OK, and my mind and spirit felt open to the possibility of a deep seated meditation. More than anything, however, I felt lucky to be on the mat – even though, literally speaking, I wasn’t.

Part of the reason I felt so lucky, this morning was because I was looking forward to attending the wedding of some very special friends. To end “Union” Day USA with this extra special union seemed incredibly apropos. Another reason I felt so fortunate was that I had just finished guiding a 90-minute class focused on Drishti (sight/gaze/focal point) and it’s connection to Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation), and Samadhi (union with divine/enlightenment). I did a companion class on this theme twice on Friday. The Saturday morning class was much smaller than the Friday classes, yet I was blown away by the energy and focus of every person in the room. When we got to the guided meditation, I faced expressions ranging from relaxed to ecstatic. Energetically, my body-mind-spirit felt like the room was packed. People seemed to be making the connection…getting it…coming together.

At an earlier point, however, I felt like I made a mistake. During a point of relaxation, when I typically say, “Don’t check out,” and encourage people to tune in to the theme, I made what might be considered a yoga faux pas. As I recited the 8-limbs of yoga and tied together how the practice of Drishti enhances Dharana and Dhyana – which in turn can lead to Samadhi – I said, “If you practice, and you’re lucky, you can reach Samadhi…” Whoops. I considered trying to correct the statement, but I let it stand and moved forward. As it turns out, this may have been my moment of truth.

We often think of luck as chance, a random accident of some kind. First and foremost, however, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines luck as “a force that brings good fortune or adversity” or, as “the events or circumstances that operate for or against an individual.” In the philosophy of yoga everything we do or think is karma – an action – which determines how future events proceed. By practicing yoga, we actively and consciously attempt to create events and circumstances that operate for us; we attempt to actively and consciously create our own luck. Hatha Yoga, the physical practice of yoga, literally means “by force union.” It is, accordingly, another form of creating one’s own luck.

So, yes, at the end of Yoga Day USA 2011, I feel lucky to have a yoga practice to call my own and to be a small part of so many wonderful practices. I also feel lucky because today’s video sequence was 20-Minute Tension Release Shoulder Openers with Kate Holcombe. Not only was this a perfect way to end a long day, it was exactly the kind of practice my body needed.

At some point directly after I finished the Day 11 sequence, which featured some shoulder rotation exercises in anticipation of backbending, I became aware of a little soreness around my trapezius muscles. Also, moving my neck in certain directions produced a sound very similar to the sound produced when milk is poured over Rice Krispies. None of this was particularly painful, but it was odd and a little disconcerting. I figured it would all come out in the wash, but I really didn’t do too much to actively help the restoring process along. At least, not until this evening’s practice.

A yoga practice can make you feel like you just had a massage, or it can highlight the areas you need massaged. Holcombe’s practice is restorative by nature and, in this case, really made me aware of the muscles I need to relax in order to get back to what passes for normal. The simple, repetitive motions made me very aware of the imbalances in my shoulder girdle. The best part, however, was Holcombe encouraging the viewer to note the differences on each side and to repeat the sequences accordingly. While not billed as a vinyasa practice, the order of the poses and the emphasis on linking breath to movement fits under the definition of vinyasa.

I especially appreciated the bits of pranayama included throughout the video. Holcombe has me rethinking my avoidance of Sitali Pranayama, cooling breath control. In the past, I’ve eschewed this type of breath control because (a) the tongue roll seemed prohibitive and (b) I rarely feel the need to cool my body down through breath work. On the rare occasions when I do want to actively use my breath to release some heat, I simply open my mouth and sigh. Sometimes I might even stick out my tongue and roar. I don’t think to do Sitali Pranayama. It’s just not part of my practice.

Holcombe offered a modification, which encouraged me to try the practice. To my surprise, I was able to produce the tongue roll. It wasn’t easy; but, with practice, I bet I could roll right into it. The temperature in my room was a little cool, which may be the reason I was struck by how incredibly cold and dry my tongue felt during the inhales. One thing I didn’t hear was any instruction on pulling the tongue as far back into the mouth as possible (during the exhale) in order to lubricate the tongue. Just closing the mouth over the tongue doesn’t seem to do enough. It’s possible this information was included but I just didn’t hear it. I also didn’t hear any cautions about times or conditions when practicing Sitali Pranayama is contraindicated.

My other a-ha moment with regard to Sitali Pranayama came when I started to realize why B. K. S. Iyengar writes, “This pranayama cools the system.” I’ve read of people cooling their body temperature with this breathing method, but tonight’s experience made me aware of how it calms and soothes the body and the nervous system. I am curious to see, as I continue the practice, if I eventually find it as calming on the parasympathetic nervous system as Nadi Sodhana Pranayama (Alternate Nasal Breathing).

Finally, I should admit that while I love props and understand their value in any practice – including a vinyasa practice – I didn’t practice this sequence in a chair, as demonstrated. Props are not always readily available. I’ve been known to get creative: using Legos and hand weights as blocks, or hardcover books as a foundation. Tonight, however, I just didn’t want take the extra time to find an appropriate chair. So, I got creative. I practiced parts of the video in Sukhasana, Siddhasana, Dandasana, and a modified Virasana. I even tried a Navasana prep position (knees bent, feet on the floor) to create more space for my back to round. Lucky for me, the sequence worked just fine in a comfortable, seated position – directly on my mat.

~ Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu ~