Beyond Asana

Sometimes we can only delve deeper into the unknown by setting aside the known for a little while. This Axis Yoga Teacher Training student’s desire to deepen their sadhana practice required a relinquishment of their more familiar asana practice. They faced a challenge familiar to many who try to begin a meditation practice; wondering if we are doing it “right” and feeling some discomfort in being alone in our own mind. This student’s courage to experiment with their practice lead to more patience, love and understanding for both self and others.

 

Beyond Asana: My Goal

For my second experiment I aimed to deepen my personal sadhana practice. I have always known that yoga is more than just an asana practice, but fell short on incorporating Pranayama into my own practice. I avoided Pranayama because I was not comfortable meditating alone, and questioned if I was even doing it correctly. When we practiced sadhana during class I always left feeling content, clear minded and at ease, I decided I wanted to cultivate these positive outcomes into my own everyday life.

Prior to this experiment my yoga practice consisted of getting up at 5 a.m. oil pulling, a gentle oil massage, shower and then 30-45 minutes of asana practice followed by 5-10 minutes of mediation. I had to be finished with this whole routine by 6:20 a.m. so I would have time to get ready and off to work. Some days if I were running late or if I felt inspired to add more asana or take longer holds the first thing to go was my pranayam practice. On the days when I did have adequate time to mediate I was unable to get comfortable and found myself thinking about everything I had to do that day. I would tell myself I would sit for at least try for 10-20 minutes, but would be so restless after 5 minutes I stopped trying.

I was aware that needed more time to meditate, but figured at least I was doing everything thing else in my routine, so what was the harm in not meditating. After sharing this issue with a teacher, he suggested I work primarily on my sadhana practice and leave out my asana practice. Therefore, I hypothesized if I devoted my morning routine strictly to sadhana I could deepen this part of my practice and add it together with the asana practice later on. I also hypothesized that a consistent personal sadhana practice would welcome the same peace and mindfulness I achieved during our class sadhanas.

Beyond Asana: My Routine

I kept my same 5 a.m. wake up time and performed the same oil pulling, oil massage and showering routine as I had. I felt it was necessary to clean and awake for my practice and the ritual made me feel like I was preparing for something special. I then went to spare bedroom to practice with nothing, but my mat and a few pictures of family and friends on an altar. I started by setting an intention for how I wanted my day to go, often asking for more patience and understanding towards others. I then sang the Gayatri mantra, performed the Four Purifications and then sat quietly and meditated.

Beyond Asana: My Experience

I looked forward to getting up every morning and performing my routine, especially singing the Gayatri Mantra. Some days I would sing it three times and other days I did not want to stop and sang it at least ten times one morning. The Mantra made the space my own and the action of singing relieved some of the pressure I had felt in the past about sitting alone with my thoughts. My first week I successfully sat in silence and for a maximum of 20 minutes, and as the weeks progressed I was able sit for 40 minutes, some days going over time. My first week I felt I had more energy, relied less on caffeine, and was overall clear minded and content.

My second week of this experiment, I began to experience very vivid dreams of events that had happened to me in the past. These were event I did not remember or perhaps chose not to remember, but knew they had happened. I, myself was not the main character in the dream, but rather watched the same event I had as experienced happen to another person. I was an outsider looking in on my own life’s history. I did not feel nearly as happy or clear minded my second week as I had my first and debated stopping my pranayama practice because I did not want to be burdened by these dreams every night. I did not realize how much I lived my life day to day, and chose to ignore how past experiences shaped me. It was not a pleasant experience to look at a direct reflection of myself, but realized it was something I had avoided and needed to finally face. My second week could be described as an inward discovery of myself, where my life’s path had led me and where I wanted it to lead me.

By the third week of my experiment, my practice started to come full circle and felt calm, happy as I did the first week. Diving deeper into my subconscious was difficult at times, but in the end I had gained perspective on my life. In my dreams I had experienced events as an outside party, allowing me to suspend judgments about myself and move forward rather than feel stuck by one event in my life. The intention I began during my third week was asking for more patience and understanding of myself therefore allowing for a greater amount of self-love.

Beyond Asana: My Outcome

This experiment helped me deepen my own personal sadhana practice and I become comfortable with meditating alone. Of course there were days when I struggled to relax or questioned if I was doing it “the right way”, but I just reminded myself of an Iyengar quote I had heard “Breath is the king of mind.” That quote took the strain and pressure off focusing my mind and allowed me to just sit in silence and focus on my breath, and things fell into place from there.

Starting a pranayama practice separately from my asana practice helped me grow and strengthen a piece of my practice that was once weak and deficient.  I gained the peace and clarity I had hoped, while discovering pieces of myself I had left unexplored. This experiment helped me to see my life’s path more clearly and strengthened my emotional immunity. I feel I have more love, patience and understanding for others because I have more love, patience and understanding of myself.

The Yoga of Service

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

There are many ways to practice yoga.

I am not talking about how many variations of downward dog we can do or how long we should hold headstand for, rather, there are many approaches to dedicating ourselves to the aim of yoga; the emancipation of our inborn spirit from the limitations of our own perception.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that one such path, is karma yoga, the yoga of selfless service in which one “Act[s] for the actions sake alone, without attachment to the fruits of action”.  Initially, this may seem like a pretty straight forward and overly simple approach to spiritual development.

“What? No handstand?”

Karma yoga is primarily a mindset, in which one performs acts for the collective welfare.  In karma yoga, one becomes an agent of the creation, in service of the creation.

This is a very different point of reference than our habitual tendency to perform acts for our sole gratification.

History gives us many examples or great heroes of selfless service.  Names like Mahatma Gandhi, Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu and Thich Nhat Hahn come to mind.

This list may seem a little daunting and, the truth is, you don’t have be Mother Teresa before you can be a conscious agent of goodwill and compassion.  Remember, karma yoga is a mindset, it’s more about how we approach what we are doing, than the result necessarily.

The path of karma yoga will look different for everyone, based on their particular circumstances and tendencies in life.  For some, listening attentively to someone (rather than interjecting Your better idea) is a selfless act.  For others, it may mean starting an orphanage in Mozambique.

Each of us has a particular role (dharma) to fulfill in the great playing field of the universe, one that inevitable requires that we take some action, of some kind.  Our very own heart beat depends on this principle.

Yoga practice brings peace and insight to our role within the creation.  Karma yoga is the way in which can foster greater good in the lives of others, indirectly supporting our own development.  As it turns out, we are not so separate.

Becoming Who You Are

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”     

-C.G. Jung

I love the above quote.

Not only is it a privilege to grow into who you are, it takes courage.

The truth of who we are is always silently knocking at our door through all of our interactions and even our own thoughts.  Eventually the door must and will open.

New doors are opening at Axis as we prepare to launch our 300 hr. yoga teacher training.  Maybe “opening” is not the right word…. more like flinging open.

More and more I feel like Axis’ work is to be of service, to support individuals in becoming internally resourced so they can affect positive change within all of their life activities. This is not just an idea, I’ve seen it in action with all of the students who have come through our door.

And, as Jung eluded to, opening the doors of positive change is a process.  Even if we feel stuck in our particular circumstances, which can feel so daunting at times, the pathway is always there, silently beckoning.

The good news is that you do not have to “…become who you truly are” in isolation.  In fact, with the support of community, the journey can be a very joyous, empowering and even fun.

Whether it is through our latest 300 advanced training or one of our monthly community classes I invite you to open the doors of self discovery more fully, receive the support of the collective and contribute more courageously in all arenas of your life.

Yours in the Spirit, Tradition and Service of Yoga.

Derik

Wanted: Sleep

Insomnia can wreak havoc on your life. And that’s just what this Axis Yoga Teacher Training student was starting to experience. The Axis YTT program provided the platform for this student to experiment with Ayurvedic treatment of insomnia. Ayurveda, the sister-science to Yoga, has helped many students deal with their own health conditions. Experimenting with the Ayurvedic principles they learn in class allows students to have a greater understanding of the benefits of this ancient system of medicine. Here we see yet another story of success.

Wanted: Sleep – Vata Imbalance

In the most recent past I was experiencing vata imbalances. As a result, I wasn’t sleeping as well as I should have been; close to 3 hours a night at the most. According to the Ayurvedic Home Remedies by Vasant Lad, vata induced insomnia is caused by stressors and sometimes depression. Furthermore, my insomnia was becoming a problem. I was falling behind in my classes and not healing from strep a few weeks prior. Thus, I decided that my Ayurveda experiment was going to be designed to overcome my sleeping issues.

To begin, I basically followed a regiment recommended by Lad. This includes dietary remedies, oil massages, and meditation practices.

Wanted: Sleep – Dietary Remedies

It was suggested in the Ayurvedic Home Remedies book to drink warm milk before bed. Considering that I prefer not to drink dairy milk, I substituted with almond milk. I thought this was also a good idea since the book also suggested that one add blanched or crushed almond to their warm milk as well. Moreover, I would also stir in nutmeg and cardamom. I enjoyed this nighttime concoction because I wasn’t drinking tea before bed and consuming.

One remedy I did begin with, but did not continue, was garlic milk. To put it simply, it was gross and I didn’t want to drink it.

Another dietary element I added to my daily routine was cherry juice. The book however, stated to eat a dozen or so cherries a day, yet it was not cherry season. Needless to say, I bought pure cherry juice from the store. I figured it would have near the same vitamins that help decrease fatigue and insomnia. I drank about a cup a day.

Lastly, I would not eat any food about four hours before bed. This way my digestive process would not keep me awake.