Beyond Asana Blog

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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It's Physical, And It's More Than Physical: Working with Yoga Related Injuries Part 1

Mar 14, 2017

If you’ll indulge me for a couple of paragraphs, I’d like to share a brief history of yoga and my knees. As a flexible body type I was always able to achieve deep hip opening poses in yoga. Then, after about 10 years of practice, my knees started to feel the impact. The first time was pretty dramatic.  I was in an advanced yoga retreat with my teacher and about 30 senior students. We were practicing Mulabandhasana. As you can see in this photo, it’s a pose that takes the knee into full flexion combined with extreme external rotation of the leg, i.e. bent and turned out. As I moved into the pose I felt the dreaded “pop” in my outer right knee. It was the tibia, the shinbone that forms part of the knee joint. It had slid out of place and got stuck there. For a few seconds I couldn’t straighten my leg, until it popped back in and the knee joint started moving again. This was terrifying, to say the least. I can still feel the wave of fear...

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What's The Right Thing to do? Working With Physical Challenges, Injury And illness in Yoga

Mar 07, 2017

If you stick with yoga long enough, and perhaps not even very long, it’s certain you’ll be dealing with the question of what to practice when you get injured or sick. Do you forge ahead and get to class even when your sciatica is flaring up? Do you stop practicing completely when your physio tells you you have a torn meniscus? How do you adapt your practice after you injure your shoulder playing tennis? How do you know what’s right?

It takes sensitivity and awareness to respond to changes in your physical condition and adapt practice appropriately. Therefore, working with an injury or illness can actually be a turning point in your yoga if you approach it as an opportunity for learning and self-discovery.

I’m going to set aside the hot topic of working with yoga-related injuries for the moment because they bring up a whole other set of important and nuanced questions that I’ll explore separately down the road. Here, I’d like to address how you...

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Practical Tips For Making Practice Really Happen

Feb 21, 2017

Here are some ways I’ve found to make consistent and satisfying home practice really happen:

  1. Schedule it. Put it in your agenda(s) and prioritize it as an important appointment with yourself.
  2. Have a reliable way to remind yourself (post-it notes, phone alerts and texts to yourself are all good!).
  3. Think about what you’re going to practice the night before.
  4. Seek out input from a teacher you trust for sequences and guidance on what will serve you best.
  5. Commit to a minimum amount of practice times weekly that you will not go below and hold yourself to it.
  6. Have props visible.
  7. Have a practice buddy.
  8. Practice as early in the day as you can.
  9. Be flexible: If you get sidetracked from your planned practice, reschedule it and reformulate your plan as necessary. It's better to do less than nothing at all. 
  10. Take hold of the wisdom of yoga and teachings of other sacred traditions for inspiration and to move through resistance and...
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Is Independent Practice Essential in Yoga?

Feb 14, 2017

What is independent practice and is it really necessary?

I learned how to downhill ski in my early 20’s. I avoided it until then because I have a big fear of heights. But there I was, visiting a friend who was working in one of the most beautiful resort towns in the Swiss Alps and decided to go for it. I signed up for a one-week of Swiss ski school. Everyday, our group would follow our instructor down the mountain like little ducklings following their mother. I learned all the basics of managing the various types of ski lifts (one of my biggest fears), and navigating the beginner slopes, stopping, slowing down, making turns. I was in good hands and supported every step of the way in learning how to turn, control my speed, stop and get up when I fell down. By the end of the week I felt capable and ready to forge out on my own.

The safety of the group and the guidance of an instructor I trusted quickly gave way to insecurity and low-grade panic. I was on my own, with no one...

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The Nautilus Shell as a Symbol For The Evolution of Yoga Practice Part 2: Finding Perfection in The Imperfect

Dec 15, 2016

The nautilus shell is a symbol of proportional perfection. It is a logarithmic spiral, a pattern found throughout nature in the form of spiral galaxies, plants and flowers, animal horns, and even the flight patterns of some birds. There is a sense of perfection, symmetry and order to spirals in nature like the nautilus shell. They remind us of a mysterious yet somehow very real harmony underlying the outer, sometimes chaotic dance of our lives. The beauty and perfection we observe in nature helps us remember the subtle, mystical world that lies just beneath the surface of our ordinary, usual awareness.

Yoga echoes this idea that there is a transcendent, unchanging reality that is full, perfect and whole. It’s overlaid in everyday life with the ups and downs of material existence, which at times can seem and feel so completely imperfect. The image of the nautilus reminds us of a larger perspective, what Ram Dass calls “The God’s eye view of life.”  It...

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The Nautilus Shell as a Symbol For The Evolution of Yoga Practice: Part 1

Dec 15, 2016

The ancient chambered nautilus shell is a potent symbol for our evolution and growth as yogis. As the animal grows, it builds larger and larger chambers for itself to live in. It seals off the smaller ones, which are then filled with gasses that allow it to stay buoyant as it moves through the ocean waters.

The spiral itself is a universal symbol of movement, energy, and expansion that radiates from the center out. In the Tibetan tradition it symbolizes the origin of the universe. In the Yoga tradition Kundalini Shakti, the power of spiritual evolution, is described as a serpent power that sits tightly coiled at the base of the spine, spiraling upward when awakened within a seeker.

Like the chambers of the nautilus shell, we can view our path as yogis as evolving into progressively more expanded states of being. Over time, the lessons we’ve learned, the knowledge we’ve gained and assimilated through practice and reflection become part of who we are. We use the deeper...

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