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Going With The Flow, When There’s An Obstacle In The Way December 31, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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If we learned nothing else in the last year, it was that things don’t always go according to (our) plan.  2017 was a year that, for some of us, seemed to go awry even before it started. There were times when we fell down and wanted to throw our hands up. But, instead, many got up…and kept moving forward. There’s merit in that.

I didn’t think I needed a personal reminder of the merit of moving forward, no matter the obstacles. But then I started confirming my plans for the New Year’s Day 108 Sun Salutations and well…let’s just say William Butler Yeats had it right:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

In 2013, I started leading a New Year’s Day morning japa-ajapa mala practice of 108 Sun Salutations. A year later I added an afternoon practice. At times I thought about renting a space and combining the two, but I ignored the writing on the wall. I was in the flow of my own making, totally and utterly attached to the momentum that worked for me.

So, this year I was thrown into a bit of a tailspin when I discovered I needed to relocate the morning practice. I kept moving forward, confirmed a new location, and, for the sixth year, the practice is full.

Then, on Wednesday, I learned about a scheduling issue that resulted in the cancellation of the afternoon 108 practice at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Thankfully, anyone who was planning to attend that practice can scroll to the end of this blog post for options which will allow them to keep moving forward.

And there’s merit in that. Not just merit in the idea that we keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles. There’s something to be said for letting go of our attachments and going with the flow.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we rollover and play dead when things don’t go our way. Nor am I suggesting that we jump on a band wagon headed for Hades just because there’s a lot of momentum pushing us in that direction. Instead, what I’m suggesting requires going a little deeper – into ourselves and into the situation – in order to leverage the momentum in a skillful manner. What I’m suggesting requires understanding the powerful dynamics of movement(s).

Vinyasa, a popular form of Hatha Yoga (the physical practice of yoga) is often referred to in English as “Flow” or “Yoga Flow.” Three (3) of the 12 poses in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) are so ubiquitous in the West that some practitioners think those poses are what makes something a vinyasa practice. All of which contributes to people overlooking a key element of the style and tradition: the meaning/intention underlying the practice.

The word “vinyasa” comes from the words “nyasa, “ which means “to place, to touch, to apply” and “vi,” which means “in a special way.” In a Vinyasa yoga practice, poses are placed so that, in theory, the movement matches the human body’s natural tendencies (to extend/expand on an inhale; to flex/contract on an exhale) and practitioners can move one breath (to) one motion (i.e., flow). When we match the movement to the breath, the movement becomes seamless and very much like a dance – or a moving meditation.

Similarly, the name of the insight meditation technique and tradition “vipassana” literally means “to see or to recognize” (“passana”) “in a special way” (“vi”). In Insight Yoga, Sarah Powers wrote, “So vipassana is the art of seeing or relating to life freed from the mesmerizing power of our entrenched prejudices and preferences. This unconstricted view breeds insight into the underlying nature of things.”

Therefore, if we can see and/or recognize the underlying nature of ourselves and our surroundings (causes and conditions), if we have insight into the evolution of ideas (starting with the desires, which are the seeds of these ideas), then we may place or apply ourselves in a way that works with the flow of energy, rather than against it. The very thing that stood in our way (the obstacle) becomes our way. Or, as Marcus Aurelius wrote is his personal notebook, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

In a 2014 Psychology Today review of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way (which is a great handbook on old fashioned stoicism), Dr. Alex Lickerman refers to situations that train us to deal with challenges, stating, “… when victory over external barriers is contingent upon victory over internal ones, the greatest benefit a situation has to offer us is training—by which I mean a challenge that forces us to grow in a way that makes achieving our goal possible.”

To me, the physical practice of yoga (any style or tradition) or a seated meditation practice are ways to train the body and mind for the challenges of life. Each practice comes with a different set of challenges, and a different set of obstacles. Every practice, in its own way, pairs internal barriers with external barriers, and (because so many of my practices are vinyasa practices) a different set of ways to go with the flow.

2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.

Let’s start it off with a practice, or two.

Monday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan (Yoga Center of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park – REGISTRATION)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 12:30 PM “Set Your Course!” with Nora Gordon (Big River Yoga – REGISTRATION)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Practice with Nancy Boler (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations & Restorative Yoga with Vie Boheme (Radiant Life Yoga – REGISTRATION)

12:00 PM – 2:30 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Aubrey Weger & live music (Yoga Sanctuary Mpls – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Kate L and Rachel R (CorePower Maple Grove)

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM New Year’s Day with Ian M (Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, members & their guest)

1:30 PM – 4 PM “Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention” with Ben Vincent (Vincent Yoga at One Yoga – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

2:00 PM – 3:45 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis (Blaisdell YMCA, members & their guests)

Tuesday, January 2nd – “What’s In A Name?”

Wednesday, January 3rd – “New Beginnings”

Saturday, January 6th – Epiphany / “Manifesting Your Intention”




108 Sun Salutations? Check! Now What? January 3, 2013

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Food, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.

Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is the marathon of yoga. Of course, if you’ve never trained and then run a marathon, your body doesn’t know the difference. So, when you’re done, treat yourself as if you just ran 26 miles. Smile, breathe, and congratulate yourself. Maybe go out for some pasta. Definitely take Kathy T’s advice and enjoy an unapologetic 108-minute nap. (Best advice ever!!!)

Then what?

For your body

Relax and pamper yourself. Some research shows ice baths are helpful after a major endurance event. But, if you’re injury free, I’m all about keeping the muscles warm. Especially when it’s sub-0 outside the studio! So, indulge in a hot shower; soak in the tub with your favorite bath salts or bubbles; or combine one of the above with some time in the sauna or whirlpool. Take a restorative or yin yoga class to support and encourage deep tissue relaxation. For the ultimate indulgence, combine all of the above with a massage.

Literally and figuratively, put your feet up. Every pose in the sequence requires you to engage your feet and legs, while simultaneously activating your hips and core muscles. Decompress the lower body parts by spending some time in Viparita Karani (“Legs-Up-the-Wall”). This is a mild inversion that you can adjust as needed. If the shoulders and neck are out of sorts, place a blanket underneath the upper back. If the shoulders, hips, and low back need more tension release, elevate the sacrum and hips with a blanket, block, and/or a bolster. Keep the legs extended if you need the hamstring stretch. However, if they are already feeling overstretched after 216+ forward bends, release the hamstrings by bending the knees at a 90 degree angle and resting the shins on a chair, sofa, bench, or table. If it’s in your practice, explore more inversions.

A little hair of the dog is always good, but don’t go whole hog. Try Surya Namaskar C with Inch Worm and a modified Crescent (to stretch the psoas and quadricep of the back leg). Adding Chest Expansion to the lunge creates a nice stretch through the upper chest, shoulders, and a baby back bend for the low back.

Most importantly, listen to your body. When I finished the practice just before midnight on December 31st, my body was screaming for Gomukhasana (“Cow Face Pose”) legs. The next morning, when I could actually walk, I was really glad I listened. The second day after my practice, I added Garudasana (“Eagle Pose”) arms and Gomukhasana arms to the seated pose.

For your mind

Spend some quiet time just breathing, or contemplating how you felt before, during, and after the practice. A lot of people, myself included, expressed a little anxiousness before the practice. Take a moment to consider how much of the anxiety was fear of the unknown and fear of “failing,” and how much was actually anxiety about letting go.

Consider the different variations and dedications, as well as how you reacted to each. Look back over any notes you made; maybe make some more.

Request additional information about something that was said or done, or music that was played during the practice.

For your spirit

Be still. Soak up, celebrate, and appreciate all you did. Give yourself permission to express any emotions that came up during or after the practice. Recognize that some of your emotional responses are going to come down the road. Notice them; acknowledge them; and honor them.

Review your sankalpa (“vow”, “intention”) and your guiding principle statements. Notice if the still resonate. The intention of the meditation was to start the process of setting an intention. What you wrote or thought during the practice was a first draft. Maybe it worked right off the bat. But if your tongue or mind tripped over the words, then or now, restate it.

Finally, remember that the sankalpa is not intended as a simple affirmation. It’s part of your heart song and it’s a message meant to be sent and received internally. If you meditate or pray, include the words in your mind the next time you sit, kneel, or walk. The next time you practice yoga, think of the words during your Savasana. The vow is particularly powerful when used during Yoga Nidra; so, find or download a class and relax your way to your goal!

For the teacher inside you

Notice where you felt the practice, physically and emotionally. Notice where you didn’t feel it. Being sore after the practice is a common experience; you’ve worked every part of your body, after all, and in some cases you’ve worked harder than normal. And everything you did before the practice was part of your training. The question is: how good was your training? Did you remember to bend your knees – or are your hamstrings sore because you forgot to bend your knees? How’s your core? Do your shoulders and low back ache because you worked the muscles in a different way? How are your feet, hips, and knees? What about your wrists and neck? How many of the 14 muscles in your shoulder girdles feel good versus stressed, sore, or fatigued?

OK, to be fair, that last question was my favorite trick question. Most of us don’t even realize we have 14 muscles in each of our shoulders. The point isn’t (necessarily) to identify them so much as to notice how you feel and to note if your are sore (or not) because you were ready for the practice (or not) or because at some point along the way you forgot to be mindful of your alignment.

Finally, noticing how you feel after practicing 108 Sun Salutations, along with the counterposes, gives you a good indication of what parts of your practice are working and where you can focus a little more awareness during the new year. Talk to your yoga teachers about what poses or sequences can help you build strength or flexibility in your weak areas.

For the teacher who led you

No matter where or when you practice, the person (or people) leading the practice will appreciate your feedback.

The 2013 Nokomis Yoga New Year’s practice was a first for many in my circle and a “multi-first” for me! While I have practiced and co-led 108 Sun Salutations at the YMCA for the Spring and Fall Equinoxes, this was my first time leading solo; my first time doing all 108 at Nokomis; and my first New Year’s practice with the guided meditation. Since I would love to do it again, please let me know how it felt for you. If you have a moment (now, or over the next 12 months), please let me know (via e-mail or comment on the blog) what you liked or didn’t like; what resonated and what fell flat; what you appreciated – even if you didn’t like it; and whether or not you would join me again for this type of event. I know Solveig would also appreciate a review for Nokomis Yoga, if you are on google+.

Many thanks and blessings to the 22 incredible people who shared their New Year’s Day with me. I feel honored and humbled to be a small part of your practice and I appreciate the energy and joy you put into the occasion.

~ Check out Tara Woltjen’s 2011 post on the Surya Namaskar backstory and for the wonderful poem “A Prayer to the Light” (which coincides so beautifully with the practice I included it in our "mindfulness round"). ~

Didn’t make it to a New Year’s Mala practice on January 1st? There’s still time! Several studios (including taraNa in Minneapolis) are hosting the practice on Saturday, January 5th!

Still sore? Recovery 108 is currently password protected.

~ Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanthi Om ~