Beyond Asana Blog

Excavating

May 23, 2017
 

I was an archaeology major in university. Following graduation I set off to dig in Europe and the Middle East. Among the most exciting finds of my very limited time as an amateur excavator were: an ancient camel tooth, the remains of a Neolithic dog cemetery and a Bronze age clothing pin.

Our first days on the site were about surveying the land, taking baseline elevation measurements, getting to know the soil composition and making a general plan for excavation based on what was known about the history of the location we were digging.

Once the area had been mapped and gridlines set up we cleared way the initial layers of earth with pick axes, shovels and wheelbarrows. Then, we set to digging with trowels and small shovels, going slower, more carefully. Dirt would go into buckets to be sifted through by the handful.

As we started finding bones and pottery fragments our instruments became more delicate. We began using toothbrushes, tweezers and dental picks,...

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Becoming More of Who You Truly Are: Thoughts on Transformation in Yoga

May 16, 2017

I remember attending a yoga intensive a few months after I began meditating regularly. It was a grey, rainy morning. I woke up late and I was in a really terrible mood. Rushing to get to the program, I waited for the bus in the rain, feeling angry at the bus driver. I was ready, even waiting, for the chance to lash out at anyone and everyone. I walked into the meditation hall still seething with anger and frustration. As I took my seat, inwardly, I heard a man’s voice clearly say,

‘This is not who you are. I will show you who you really are.”

I looked up at my teacher’s picture at the front of the hall and his glance penetrated my being. It cut right through all the negativity I was experiencing. Instinctively, I was able to see myself kicking and screaming with rage as if I was watching my inner tantrum from outside. Inwardly, I bowed and surrendered to him. Waves of emotion arose, tears came. I felt an intense longing to know who I was beneath my...

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Nurturing The Inner Relationship

May 09, 2017

In 1997 I moved to India for a long-term stay at the ashram of the meditation path I had been a student of for several years.  A few weeks after I arrived I was invited to offer seva, selfless service, as the kitchen manager. In this role, I was responsible for overseeing the cooks and the chopping room, planning the menus, ordering the food, managing the budget for a kitchen that served both Western and Indian meals, three times a day, plus morning chai, for over 300 people. Since I had only just recently arrived, the Indian culture and cuisine were still new to me. I didn’t even know the Hindi names of the vegetables. There was so much to learn! I knew this was going to be a time of great expansion for me.

My fellow yogis did their best to support me in learning my new role and from the beginning everything went really well--on the outside. All the meals were tasty and on time and there was always enough food for everyone. But inside, a long held habit of...

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Yoga And Body Image: Thoughts From a Big-Boned Yogi

May 02, 2017

Writer and educator Carol Horton, recently posted this on her Facebook page:

Yesterday, I was leading a YTT [Yoga Teacher Training] discussion on issues in contemporary yoga culture, including but not limited to yoga and body image. At one point, I asked everyone who has ever struggled with feelings that they're "not good enough" in the face of commodified images of the "yoga body" to raise their hands. In a split second, every hand in room shot up, including mine.

Mine would have too. How about you?

Like many women I know, I grew up feeling self-conscious about my body size. Tall, strong, and broad-shouldered,  I was “big-boned” as adults liked to say, which in my mind always translated as fat (even though I wasn’t). I was the biggest on the kickline in high school. I did dance and gymnastics until, as a teenager, it became clear that my body type made it unlikely that I would ever be able to seriously advance in these disciplines. I wanted to hide my...

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Becoming Prana-Rich

Apr 25, 2017

In yoga philosophy, both energy (prana) and consciousness (citta) are considered to evolve directly out of cosmic intelligence (mahat). Mahat is the universal intelligence of Nature. The rocks have universal intelligence. Every leaf has it. Every cell of every creature has it. It is all pervasive and infinite. The genius of nature’s intelligence is self-expression. That is why nature is infinitely varied, infinitely inventive. Prana is our link to this infinite intelligence. What a shame it is that we have such access and ignore its use and development. We are like someone with a vast fortune locked in a numbered bank account who forgets the number and so must scrape by in poverty. We live within our individual consciousness with its limited intelligence, often feeling lonely and puny, when there is a conduit available directly to cosmic consciousness and intelligence. Through this conduit flows prana, joining each individual among us to the highest original principle of...

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Finding The Balance of Right Effort

Apr 18, 2017

Yoga teachers, you know the type: the over-eager student who can barely sit through your centering and can’t wait to get moving. This is the high-achieving student whose intensity is apparent from the sparks flying from their fingers in the first Downward-Facing Dog. This person pushes it to the max in every pose. The idea of ever choosing a less intense variation of a pose? Out of the question! And then, there is the other end of the spectrum. This is the reluctant, overly-cautious student, who might just choose to lie in Savasana for 90 minutes given the choice. I’m exaggerating, of course, but most of us tend to lean toward one of these two extremes in our approach to practice. Not only that, we might also see a bit of both in ourselves. It’s not always so obvious how to balance our effort in practice.

How do you know if you’re trying too hard in yoga? Or not hard enough? How do you know when it’s right to persevere? When it's time to let go?...

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Sthira-Sukha: The Fundamental Paradox of Practice

Apr 10, 2017

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing how to work with the fundamental paradox at the heart of yoga practice  on the physical, energetic, mental and emotional levels.

Sthira Sukham Asanam

Posture should be steady and comfortable.

Yoga Sutra 2.46, Trans. Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

This central teaching, that posture should reflect a balance between steadiness and ease, stability and comfort, provides a context for working with the fundamental paradox of yoga in asana practice.  

While in the original context of the Yoga SutrasPatanjali was referring to the meditation posture (asana here means ‘seat’), sthira and sukha have been extrapolated to become a basic pulsation we work with to balance physical expression in asana.

Sthira and Sukha of course also represent all the polarities within us: the sun and moon, yin and yang, active and...

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Getting Comfortable with Paradox

Apr 04, 2017

There’s a fundamental conundrum in our journey as yogis. It's the fact that we are embodied spirits. We have a finite life, a body, an individual identity with its personality and preferences. At the very same time, yoga tells us, we also have a mystical, expansive, sublime, and ultimately infinite nature. Both are truths.

Spiritual wisdom, therefore, is also always paradoxical because it reflects this dual-perspective on human existence and our journey toward self-knowledge as essentially a dance, like the swing of a pendulum, between the two polarities of body and spirit, fleeting and eternal, mundane and sacred.

As long as we are alive, the essential paradox of being an “embodied spirit” might never fully be resolved. And that’s okay. In yoga we are asked to get comfortable with it, and even celebrate it. We recognize the absolute, transcendent, unchanging nature of our being, while simultaneously embracing the reality of our relative,...

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The Unlayered Self

Mar 27, 2017

It’s the end of March here in Montreal. As all Quebecers know, the arrival of Spring here can scarcely be distinguished from the continuation of winter. Snow is still piled up on the sidewalk outside the studio as I sit down to teach my Friday class. The students, like me, are all bundled up. Though the coats, hats, scarves and gloves came off in the reception area, the layers remain: Leggings covered by legwarmers, socks still on, tank tops covered by long-sleeved shirts and those by cardigans. We feel safe and cozy beneath the layers that protect us from the elements. As we start to move and build heat, the layers slowly come off. For me, there is joy in simply moving the body, free from all the layers.

On another level, of course, we all bring layers of different sorts with us to the practice. The various roles we play, the other people and things we are responsible for, indeed to the full spectrum of our life experience past and present. In some form, all these come to...

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It's More Than physical: Working With Yoga-Related Injuries, Part 2

Mar 21, 2017

Here’s last week's part 1 on the topic of yoga-related injuries that addresses common causes of yoga-related injuries and tips to avoid them.

Thanks to research and investigation, not to mention the woefully infamous 2012 New York Times headline, Can Yoga Wreck Your Body?, the conversation around yoga-related injuries has greatly expanded over the past several years. Notably, through Matthew Remski’s WAWADIA project, many long time practitioners are now sharing stories that document and explore the multi-layered and often nuanced psychosocial and cultural dynamics at play in both acute and chronic yoga-related injuries.

What to do if you get injured during practice

It seems obvious, but I’ll say it anyway - stop and rest! Lying on your back with your knees bent is usually a good, all-around resting pose. Breathe gently if possible, exhaling through the mouth to soothe and relieve. Ask for assistance and do whatever is needed...

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