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Day 21, The Perfect Time For A Tune Up February 1, 2011

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 21-Day Challenge, 40-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Philosophy, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.

Day 21

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things
I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr


Life happens. As long as you’re breathing, there’s no getting around it – life. As I said on Thursday, “Life is unexpected, surprising, and miraculous – it is full of the unexpected” The unexpected came in waves this past week and weekend and so, by Sunday, I felt lucky to get out of bed. Albeit, a little later than usual and with much more to do than normal. Playing catch-up meant I barely had time for my 5-minute meditation and a 20-minute asana practice. I was struggling; and, when I struggle I feel the need for a tune up.

When something mechanical – a car, for instance – needs a tune up, we take it to a professional. It’s a job that happens without us. But, when I think of tuning up as it relates to yoga, I think of a more personally interactive process. I think back to my years working for the ballet. Professional dancers take class every day; orchestra musicians start every performance by tuning up together. So, to me, tuning up means a bunch of people breathing together and running through the scales or the basics. Tuning up, is tuning in. Of course, sometimes other people are not available. So, you tune/turn to something elemental.

There is nothing more elemental than breath, and the sound of your breath. So, the first step is always to focus on the breathing. Then, to deepen the breath. Finally, when tuning, I find it’s nice to combine the breath with a mantra. Then, more often than not, I add a little movement. Asana, Pranayama, Dharana, Dhyana – half of the 8-limbs of yoga – are a great way to tune in and tune up.

Because it sounds like breathing and because I have some really great recordings of it, “So Hum/Hum Sa” is my default class mantra. My students may even say I over use it, but I’m not sure that’s possible. Still, when it came to Sunday’s practice and classes I ended up going with a mantra more in keeping with my current mindset: Om Namah Shivaya.

Om Namah Shivaya can be translated or interpreted in a lot of different ways. On a very basic level, it is considered a bhakti mantra, a devotional hymn. “Om” is the sound of the universe; the vibration under everything. “Namah” is honor or respect. “Shivaya” is a name for the divine. Of course, that last part can be the sticking part, because those of us in the West tend to view the divine in very different and conflicting ways – which is why I like to go deeper, look at it from a yoga perspective.

Yoga, on a basic level, is all about connecting the mind, the body, and the spirit. In the physical practice of yoga, we usually consider mind-body-spirit connection successful if we can be fully present and fully aware of what we’re doing at any given moment. But the ultimate connection is union with the divine. Samadhi, the 8th limb outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is considered enlightenment: the fundamental and conscious awareness that we are connected to all things, all people – and yes, to a divine spirit.

Breaking it down, “Om” represents an individual’s conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind – it is the sound of our full awareness. “Namah Shivaya” represents the 5 elements that are inside of us and all around us: earth, water, fire, air, and ether (spirit). When we repeat this mantra on a personal level, we bring our full awareness to all we are, all that is around us, and all we are capable of creating or enduring. I usually correlate this mantra to the middle of the Serenity Prayer: the courage to change the things I can….However, the more I think about it – meditate on it – the more I realize it’s the whole enchilada. This mantra tunes you in to what is inside you and all around you; it wakes you up to what you can accept and what you can change.

On a physical level, Sunday’s practices became about being upside down. My students would probably say we did Standing Splits (Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana) 50 billion times. In reality (and 60 minutes), however, we could only do 3 on each side. Each time we came at it in a slightly different way and each time, theoretically, was an opportunity to take it deeper. On a subliminal level, each one was also an opportunity to accept, to change, and to distinguish the differences between what we could change and what we could accept.

In between my second and third class, I completed my 18-Minute So Hum Meditation. I was sitting in a chair, on top of a block, and at some point the motion detectors turned out the lights. It was peaceful, but more than anything it reinforced how tired I was. I planned to do one of the video practices when I first got home. However, after my third class, all I wanted was a nap.

My nap almost became a good night’s sleep. At 5 AM Monday morning, I woke up fully clothed and tried to do the Evening Sequence with Kate Holcombe. I lasted about 10 minutes. Normally, I would beat myself up about this, consider it a failure. But after the last 21 days, all I could do was accept it. And go back to bed.

The challenge that came in like a lion, went out like a lamb.

Or, so it would seem.

~ Om Namah Shivaya Om ~


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