Beyond Asana Blog

Learning to Listen

Apr 15, 2021

 

When I attended the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, India in August 2000, most of the classes were taught by Geeta and Prashant Iyengar.

BKS Iyengar was also there most days, doing his own practice in the back of the room. In almost every class he would step in and teach for a little while.

One day, while he was instructing Triangle pose, he yelled across the room an instruction that was meant for me. It was about adjusting my left foot, but I didn’t catch it. He then came over, stood on my mat and said to me,

“You want to learn yoga, but you don’t even know how to listen!”

And so began my ongoing inquiry into the relationship between listening, learning, and yoga. 

Listening to others means paying attention, giving up your agenda, being available to receive another’s words. True listening is a generous act. We give the other person the gift of our presence.

Turned inward, listening requires that you...

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Why Spring?

Apr 08, 2021

 

It’s that time of year here in Sutton when the calendar says it’s Spring but there are still little patches of snow here and there. Where there isn’t snow there’s mud. The trees are mostly bare with just the tiniest hints of new growth. It’s still a pretty barren landscape.

We know, though, that in a few weeks nature will burst forth with new life. There’s an innate potency that will awaken the earth, the trees, the flowers, and the birds.

Yoga teaches that this potential for creating, for bringing new life into being is within all of us as well.

In Chapter 10 of the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells Arjuna where to look for him in the things of the world. He says things like,

“Among animals, I am the lion,”
“Among birds I am the eagle,”
“Among letters I am A.”

In that long list he says,

Among seasons, I am spring, which brings forth flowers. (10.35)

I’ve always been...

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Within Your Reach

Apr 01, 2021

 

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  

-Clarissa Pinkola Estés


I fully believe that the only way to effect meaningful change in the world is to begin with our selves.

Yet, I still sometimes struggle with the enormity of the world's suffering and how that contrasts with the privilege I enjoy of being able to spend the amount of time that I do practicing and thinking about yoga, and "working on myself."

I know better than to consider this selfish, yet sometimes it feels tinged with self-indulgence, a sense of luxury and entitlement.
Shouldn't I be doing something more timely, more urgent, than contemplating the nature of the Self? 

But then I remember that all of us are entrusted with a small corner of the world to serve in our own unique way.

For some people it takes the form of political activism, or fostering children or animals, or fundraising...

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The Process (and Pulsation) of Aligning

Mar 25, 2021

 

At ease, in the present moment, spacious, clear, grounded, centered, calm, settled.
 
These are some of the words that describe my experience of being in alignment in my asana practice yesterday – a lower-body focused practice of seated hip openers and twists.
 
Articulating beneficial experiences in yoga strengthens them.

Therefore, I invite you to explore your own process of moving into alignment:
 
- How do you go from feeling out of sync to synched up? From scattered to sorted? 

- How would you describe the movement toward unity and wholeness that comes from bringing the pieces and parts of you into greater harmony? 

- What words convey the experience of feeling aligned in your body and being?
 
To get you started, perhaps it’s helpful to share a bit about my experience. For me, alignment is a process that moves in pulsation. 
 
On the one hand, there’s a deconstructive aspect: I sense where there’s...

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Flow, Reimagined

Mar 18, 2021

 

I stood on a small bridge near my house the other day, focusing on the movement of a freshly defrosted stream flowing beneath me. 

I’ve observed and listened to this particular stream before, but I experienced it differently this time.
 
Instead of my usual feeling of moving head-on into the flow of the water, I felt the energy of the stream supporting me from behind. 
 
I imagined myself moving forward like that stream - with grace, tenderness, and the support of the universe at my back.

The feeling of letting go and being gently propelled into the flow was incredibly comforting.
 
It was a powerful lesson in the value of temporarily releasing everything: our fears, worries, anxieties, and also our ideas, plans, and goals.

In that release, trust emerges.

Trust that we’re supported.
 
Trust that we’re part of a bigger flow of life.

Trust that when we soften enough and manage to move into harmony with that flow, our own...

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Remember the Highest

Mar 11, 2021

 

Tonight is the Hindu celebration of Mahashivaratri. It is the night dedicated to Lord Shiva, who represents the divine, auspicious, and eternal essence that exists in all things. One of the traditional ways to honor this occasion is to chant Lord Shiva’s name throughout the night. 

I first celebrated Mahashivaratri during my first monthlong visit to India in 1995. I still remember standing on the roof of a temple pavilion in the darkness of the early morning hours, listening to the sounds of Om Namah Shivaya being chanted in a courtyard below.

As the syllables of the mantra rose up into the night sky to be received by the heavens, I too was transported into a mystical, majestic, and pristine realm of purity and peace.

It’s been 20 years since I last celebrated Mahashivaratri in India. But I still vividly remember those exquisite nights of chanting. When I become quiet, I can sometimes even touch that place of transcendent awareness.

Each year, I look forward...

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Falling Behind

Mar 04, 2021

 

A number of participants in our recent Triumphant Heart course on the Bhagavad Gita have confessed that they’ve fallen behind in our coursework (which isn’t a big deal, since students have full access to the course for one year.)
 
It's worth taking a closer look at the dreaded “falling behind.”
   
Here we are at the beginning of March (already!) It's just about that time when we might feel like we're lagging on projects we've started, plans we've made, or intentions we've set for ourselves.

I, myself, am already behind on an online program I’ve recently joined and on a number of other goals I have for this year. 

I know the sheepish kind of energy that can come with confessing one has fallen behind.
 
I invite you to shift this disempowering dynamic, right here, right now.
 
For one thing, falling behind not only might happen, it's likely to happen. 

Pivoting to meet the unexpected demands of the moment is...

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One day you'll be right

Feb 25, 2021

 

Live every day like it's your last, and one day you'll be right.
 
This was one of my father's favorite sayings. He always chuckled after he said it. Incidentally, it's memorialized on a customized mouse pad we inherited when he passed away (after a good and full life) in 2018. It's a daily reminder that he ended up, of course, being right.
 
Sometimes I think this is the understanding that gives you the biggest bang for your buck in terms of re-zooming your perspective, remembering what's really important, and living each day to its fullest.
 
No wonder the Buddhists make it a practice to contemplate their own death every day.
 
Acknowledging the fleeting nature of our human existence: What else can so quickly and effectively help us discern what's worth holding onto and motivate us to let go of what isn't?

Yoga practice creates the space – both in your day and in your mind – to get back to what really matters....

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Poke the Embers

Feb 18, 2021

 

This winter, I’ve finally mastered the art of getting our wood-burning stove roaring and, not only that, keeping it hot all day. It’s amazing how, even when the fire appears to be nothing but ashes, all it takes is a little poking around and suddenly the ashes come back to their red-hotness, ready to ignite another log.
 
Of course, the heat was always there, it just needed a little nudge.
 
This strikes me as a useful metaphor for rekindling the spark of enthusiasm for yoga. The art of making your practices new - again and again and again – is something all long-time yogis get really good at doing.
 
After a while, you realize that enthusiasm is something you need to bring to your practice, rather than something you’ll always receive from it.
 
Self-reflection is how I stoke the embers of my love for yoga. Noticing how my practices work for me reminds me of their value. That’s what keeps me wanting to come back.
 
...

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Do You Love Yourself?

Feb 11, 2021

 

I was blown away when I read how Sophie Gregoire Trudeau began the foreword to my book, Evolving Your Yoga, by asking, “Do you love yourself?" (download the full text of her foreword here).

Little did she know that this exact question had been at the heart of my yoga journey from the start.

Although we’d been friends since she graduated (with high honors) from a teacher training I led in 2013, I’d never fully shared with her my own struggles with unworthiness, insecurity, and lack of self-confidence.

Like many women I know, I grew up feeling critical of my body shape and size. Strong and broad-shouldered, “big-boned” as adults liked to say, I felt self-conscious and uncomfortable in my body.

I don’t think Sophie knew that this was what led me to embrace yoga not only as a physical discipline, but as a path toward learning to step into my fundamental goodness and worthiness, and to begin truly caring for...

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