Special Class – Total Yoga Experience: Asana and Beyond.

Yoga is much more than physical exercises. Yoga is a complete system of practices that create a deep-rooted sense of stillness & awareness. The Total Yoga Experience is a unique class that offers students at all levels an experience of Yoga that integrates body, breath, mind & spirit. In this class we will work from the outside in, from the outer body into more subtle aspects of our being.

The Complete Yoga Experience consists of:

  • Asana- physical postures that synchronize movement & breath
  • Nidra- guided relaxation for deep release and clarity
  • Pranayama- breathing exercises for focus & concentration
  • Chanting- for breath awareness & concentration
  • Meditation- sustained focus & concentration for stillness

This practice is an integrative exploration of diverse traditional Yoga techniques. This is an excellent class for students to become more familiar with various Yoga and meditation techniques. . For more experienced practitioners, this class provides an excellent way to deepen and strengthen their practice.

Date: Saturday, August 23/2008
Time: 2:00pm a 5:00pm
Length: 3.0 horas
Cost: $35 Advanced registration/ $40 at the door
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, registered with Yoga Alliance.
Studio: St. Petersburg Yoga – www.stpetersburgyoga.com
Address: 275 16th St. N. 33705, St. Petersburg, FL – map
Phone: (727)-894-YOGA

 

 

Experiencia Total del Yoga en Bogotá

Clase Especial en Bogotá – Colombia : Experiencia Total del Yoga: Más allá de las Asanas.

La Experiencia Total del Yoga es una clase única que ofrece a los participantes de todos los niveles una experiencia de Yoga que integra el cuerpo, la respiración, la mente y el espíritu.

Esta clase usa varias técnicas de Yoga en una secuencia que relaja el cuerpo desde afuera hacia adentro, desde el nivel físico hasta los niveles más sutiles.

La Experiencia Total del Yoga incluye:

  • Asana, ejercicios físicos en los que se sincroniza el movimiento con la respiración.
  • Nidra, técnicas de relajación guiada para crear calma y claridad profundas.
  • Pranayama, ejercicios de respiración tradicionales para mejorar la respiración y ayudar a optimizar la concentración.
  • Cantos para enfocar la mente, la respiración y el cuerpo en preparación para la meditación.
  • Meditación guiada para sostener la concentración y encontrar calma y la claridad.

Esta clase está enfocada a personas interesadas en explorar diversas técnicas del Yoga de manera integral. Esta es una clase que sirve como introducción al Yoga y a la meditación. Participantes que tengan más experiencia con el Yoga pueden usar esta clase para afianzar su práctica y explorar diferentes técnicas.

Fecha: Miércoles, 6 de Agosto, 2008
Hora: 5:30pm a 9:00pm
Duración: 3.5 horas
Costo: $65000 por persona
Instructor: Rubén Vásquez, instructor registrado con la Yoga Alliance en los Estados Unidos.
Dirección: Calle 106 # 22-05, Bogotá, Colombia
Teléfonos: 2137851 – 6376903

 

 

Simplicity: Do what we are doing

flower/flor

Keep it simple

Frequently our minds tend to complicate things. The mind thrives creating elaborate systems of thought composed of nicely packaged concepts and ideas. This is not a bad thing; in many cases those complex systems built by the mind are quite useful. However, very often the complexity of those systems obscures what is otherwise simple and clear.

The documentary film How to Cook Your Life follows zen chef Edward Espe Brown as he guides zen practitioners in exploring the connections between cooking, zen practice and life. Among other clear and powerful messages in the movie, there was one that I enjoyed because of its utter simplicity. Espe Brown says something like: “do what you are doing; if you are chopping carrots, chop carrots, if you are kneading dough, knead the dough.” It sounds like a message that is too simple. Yet its simplicity is imbued with deep wisdom. This succinct message highlights the importance of mindful action, paying attention to what we are doing.

Doing things for real

When we are fully present, doing what we are doing, we participate and we engage in all actions for real, wholeheartedly. Consequently, all of our attention is focused on the tasks at hand. That is, we become one with the activity in which we are participating. This alignment results in mindful and meaningful actions. Our actions are instrumental to learning and, thus, mindful actions result in deeper knowledge which, in turn, enables us to continue learning and growing. Moreover, our complete participation also prepares us for future actions and circumstances, including learning to accept the outcomes, positive or negative, of our actions.

Distractions

It seems quite simple to just do what we are doing. However, why is it that many of us find it difficult to accomplish this? The distractions in our daily activities seem endless. They emerge in varied shapes and guises, and what they have in common is that they manage to take our attention away from what we are doing. When we follow the source of distraction the quality of our participation diminishes and the outcome of our actions is affected.

Improving the quality of our attention

In Yoga is a practice we talked about Yoga practice as a laboratory where external sources of distraction are reduced, therefore, making it easier for us to focus and sustain our attention.

Here is a suggestion to “do what we are doing” when we are practicing Yoga.

Let go
For the first couple of minutes of your practice, allow anything that is not part of your practice to drift away with each exhalation.
Set your intention
Repeat to yourself with full attention and feeling: “I will focus my undivided attention on this practice, here and now”.
Engage your attention
Give your mind a simple task to do in order to keep it from getting distracted. For instance, ask your mind to observe the sensations at the points of contact between your body and the ground with each exhalation, or notice, to the best of your ability, what happens during the transition between each inhalation and each exhalation.
Accept
Practice according to your intention with engaged attention, and whenever your attention gets distracted, gently bring back your attention, inhale, smile and continue practicing.

Notice that these suggestions might be useful to focus while doing activities other than Yoga.

As usual, try these suggestions a few times and notice if they have any influence on the quality of your participation and on the overall quality of your practice. As you practice this way you strengthen your ability to concentrate on and off your Yoga mat.

Namaste

 

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Is there somebody else practicing Yoga on your mat?

Lluvia/Rain

Is there somebody whispering in your ear?

I recently remembered a video about Ben Zander, a truly inspirational teacher. In the video (at 3:10)



he says that, generally, a musician on stage is not alone, that there are two people on the stage, one trying to perform a musical piece and somebody else who whispers in the musician’s ear: “you didn’t practice enough….do you know how many people play this piece better than you do?…….here comes the part that you messed up the last time…” and many other disruptive words.

When we practice Yoga on the mat, we may find disruptive voices emerging in our practice. For instance, we may hear our personal assistant who continually goes over a list of phone calls, appointments and pending tasks, or the cook absorbed in planning the meal we’ll have after practice, or the competitive coach urging us to outperform ourselves or the person next to us, or the image consultant striving to bring our attention to the style, color and appropriateness of other people’s attires.

This is the most important moment

In the video, Zander underscores the importance of being present when he says: “This is the moment, this is the most important moment, right now”. I wholeheartedly agree. Indeed, I feel that there are no other moments. We are here and now and we cannot be anywhere else.

In another video (2:10)



Zander says that a total transformation takes place when we see that “we have been hiding, taking ourselves away, not taking risks by sitting in the back row of our lives”.

To me, the transformation Zander talks about is activated by being fully present. Immersing ourselves in the present moment makes us realize that all the voices that try to draw us away from this moment are keeping us from seeing clearly that every moment brings with it the knowledge and resources needed to respond in a life-affirming and most appropriate way to its specific questions and challenges. Thus, it is essential that we are attentive to this moment.

Befriend your body and mind

In my opinion, Yoga practice is an appointment we create with ourselves so that we can learn more about who we are. However, our minds and bodies, with ther inclination to follow habits, may sometimes be disruptive, bringing our attention away from the present moment. Although exerting control is one possible, but not very conducive, approach to focusing our attention, I prefer Vanda Scaravelli’s approach. Vanda Scaravelli wrote in Awakening the Spine, we must give our bodies: “clear directions dictated not by ambition, duties or reactions, but by precise and lucid perception of what we feel. If we are sensitive to the requests of the body, it will responde spontaneously in an unexpected, effortless way. We must create a relationship, make friends with our bodies as well as with our minds.

Thus, instead of seeing our body and mind as potential obstacles that need to be controlled by force, we can choose to befriend our body and mind so that we can enlist their help to support our intention of learning and developing sensitivity. Paying full attention and being curious to learn is enough motivation to be fully present. As a result, our yoga practice helps us discover and integrate the myriad relationships between body, breath, mind and heart. When there is integration there is no room for distraction, there is only room for doing things for real. When this happens, even for just one second in one pose, the practice is transformative as we see the possibility of expanding this approach to everything we do. Consequently, everything we do becomes the best expression of who we are and, thereby, it will be unique, genuine, creative and innovative.

The next time you feel that there is a distracting presence sharing your mat, choose not to take a back seat in your practice and gently invite your mind and body to contribute that energy into the process of self-discovery. As we practice this more and more, we will become better at participating fully and actively in our Yoga practice and, perhaps, also in our lives.
Namaste

 

The gift of silence

sunset in Koh Lanta/atardecer en Koh Lanta

“In the attitude of silence the soul finds the path in a clearer light, and what is elusive and deceptive resolves itself into crystal clearness.” Mahatma Gandhi

Noise

Many of us associate the holidays with giving and receiving gifts. However, if you feel that you already have enough stuff, you can still give yourself a gift that is positive, transformational, free and truly priceless. The gift I am talking about is the gift of silence.
We live surrounded by numerous sources of sounds and noises. It can be argued that we live in an increasingly noisy world.

In addition to the growing number of sound and noise sources in our surroundings, the level of loudness is increasing also. Here is a brief and eloquent example of what is called loudness war:

It is not surprising that many of us feel that there is too much noise around us.

Pratyahara

One of the limbs of Yoga is called pratyahara. Some authors, like T.K.V. Desikachar (in The Heart of Yoga), and A.G. Mohan (in Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind) talk about pratyahara as a practice in which we withdraw our minds from processing the information perceived by the senses. Pratyahara, calls our attention to the importance of taking a break from constant processing of sensory stimuli. Most of us find that our minds are continually jumping back and forth, with external sensory information contributing to distract us even more. This is where pratyahara can be a gift that we can really appreciate. There are numerous techniques conducive to practicing pratyahara, the gift of silence is a very simple one.

The technique step by step

It is important to notice that hearing a sound is a process. The sound is emitted by an external source and is received internally by our hearing organs. Once we register the sound, we proceed to process the sound in different ways. Thus, the gift of silence is a practice that requires actions at both levels, external and internal.
First, to give yourself the gift of silence, you create a clear intention to find silence for 5 minutes a day.

  • Set your intention to allow silence to emerge for the next 5 minutes, even in the midst of seemingly uncontrollable noise.
  • Pause whatever you are doing.
  • Notice the sources of sound/noise in your immediate environment. Then you consciously turn off those sources, such as radio, TV, mobile phone, computer, ipod, etc.
  • After removing the external noises, observe if there is an internal process that continues producing “mental noises”. Often these noises are incomplete thoughts floating in our minds. Instead of trying to turn those “mental noises” off, we simply notice them and allow them to drift away. This is generally much simpler than one thinks, because the string of incomplete thoughts can be quite incoherent. Any time a new source of noise, internal or external, emerges notice it and let it fade away.
  • Notice all the different sounds that contribute to the sensation of noise. Perhaps you can start by listening for distant sounds, but do not try to identify or concentrate too much on any particular sound. Just acknowledge the sound and continue moving your attention gently from one external sound to another.
  • Notice that as you focus briefly on one sound the other sounds seem to fade away.
  • Gradually move your attention to closer sounds.
  • Eventually you notice the sounds closest to you.
  • Without changing anything notice the sound of your own breath.
  • Then open to hear all sounds at once, it seems paradoxical, but amidst all the sounds you might find that you are in perfect silence.
  • After 5 minutes, you can choose to turn on whatever sources of sound you wish to hear.

The results

It happens often that we feel a sense of tranquility and clarity as we immerse in the experience of silence. Consequently, sometimes you might feel that you want to continue the experience of silence for a little while longer. To see if this practice makes sense, and if it is useful to you, set your intention to try it everyday for 2 weeks without interruptions. Also, pay attention to any changes you notice as you continue practicing. For instance, you may find that observing silence helps you think more clearly, feel more relaxed and notice patterns of behavior that cause you to be distracted. Sometimes we find that immersing in the experience of silence can help us while we do your daily activities.
Giving yourself the gift of silence plants a seed for powerful transformation. This is a gift that does not cost anything and does not require a specific setting, instruments or equipment. This is a practice that can be done at any time and that can help us focus, reflect and relax.

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

 

The quality of our participation

Ancient astronomic observatory tool/Artefacto antiguo de observacion astronomica

Multitasking Required.
Although various studies indicate that multitasking slows us down, it seems that multitasking continues to be prevalent . Now it seems that we are often in multitasking mode, talking on the phone while driving, working on multiple projects at once on the computer, for instance checking e-mail and listening to a podcast while we work on a specific task. It is not surprising that multitasking does not seem conducive to learning. However, more and more, job descriptions indicate that experience with multitasking is required. But is multitasking bad in itself? Multitasking, more than working on several tasks at once, is shifting our attention from one task to another.

Multitasking and Yoga
It could be argued that practicing Yoga asanas is a form of multitasking. When we practice a Yoga pose, we continually shift our attention from what we are doing with different parts of our bodies, to our breathing and also to maintaining our awareness fully in the current experience. For instance, sometimes in Yoga classes teachers give very detailed instructions for some or many of the moves. This requires our attention to remain focused. However, keeping our focus on the actions of the breath, body and mind throughout a full practice can be quite demanding and even mentally exhausting. One way our minds deal with these demands is by tuning out some of the instructions, thus avoiding feeling overwhelmed. When our multitasking in Yoga goes well, however, all of our actions integrate, flowing harmoniously and resulting in a vibrant and energizing feeling. If we are unable to integrate all our actions, the outcome may be less felicitous, for example, our mind may get distracted thinking about something else, which may not have a fully negative outcome, unless the distraction happens while we are doing something that truly requires our full attention, like standing on our heads.

Immersing in the experience
Thus, it seems that multitasking can go both ways, depending on its effects on the final outcomes of what we are doing. We can say that multitasking is positive when it enhances the quality of our experience and negative when it detracts from it. Consequently, one possible approach for discriminating the type of multitasking we are engaged in is to observe the quality of our participation. In general, it seems that when we are wholeheartedly engaged in any activity, the multitasking that takes place helps to deepen our attention into what we are doing, thereby further enhancing the quality of our participation. On the contrary, multitasking that draws our attention away from the activity may be an indication that we are not fully immersed in the experience, and that perhaps we are looking for something more interesting or engaging. In those cases when our participation is perfunctory or mechanical, does it even make sense to participate at all? Maybe, we can use a very simple way to confirm that our multitasking is bringing our attention to the present activity. Any time we notice that we are shifting to a different task, we can pause, observe and question what our multitasking is doing, is it helping (by integrating) or hindering (by distracting) the quality of our participation. Answering this question can really help us participate fully in our actions.

Namaste

Trying too hard and finding flow

Flowing on bikes/Fluyendo en bicicleta

Earlier this week I read a brief interview with Shiva Rea , a well known Yogini, teacher and activist. In the interview, Shiva Rea talks about the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make and gives advice for beginning students.

The most common mistake
Trying too hard, according to Rea is the most common mistake that beginning Yoga practitioners make. I would add that this is a challenge for other Yoga practitioners as well. Many of us live in highly competitive societies. As a result, we may bring the same competitive drive into many areas of our lives, including our Yoga practice. In my opinion, that competitiveness leads us to assume that we should be able to do more today than yesterday or last week. The competitive mindset takes us out of the present by pushing us to emulate or surpass our previous ‘accomplishments’.
Rea suggests to keep the feeling of centeredness on your own experience to overcome this common mistake.

The advice
In the interview, Rea points out that, as beginner students of Yoga, we may already be familiar with the experience of Yoga, particularly when we are fully relaxed and present in our current experience. As Rea also notes, “Yoga is just a matter of tapping into something that’s already a part of you”. I guess the underlying advice is to be open to the experience of Yoga by allowing it unfold from a state of relaxation instead of trying too hard to make something happen –which immediately takes us away from the now experience by drawing our attention to some abstract goal. In my opinion, this is related to what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life refers to as Flow, in other words, being fully immersed in the activity you are performing. From Csikszentmihalyi’s perspective the experience of Flow seems to be enabled by having clear objectives, listening to feedback and finding the balance between level of challenge and level of ability. In my opinion, these elements of the experience of ‘Flow’ are encompassed by the Vinyasa Krama approach.

Advice into practice
In a previous post I mentioned that the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali say that the state of Yoga is reached through the combination of persistence and detachment. Since trying too hard can be a sign of our attachment to the expected results of our actions, we can find a practical approach to combine persistence and detachment in our Yoga practice, and perhaps in our everyday experiences. First, since the breath happens only in the present moment, paying attention to the breath focuses our awareness on the present moment and circumstances. Second, in the Yoga Sutras persistence requires practicing sincerely. Thus, still with our awareness on the breath, we use our inhalation to clarify our motivation and intention. Third, we can use our exhalation to relax and let go of any attachment to the results of our actions. Instead, we can focus on being curious about the outcome of our actions, which serves also as feedback for the subsequent action.

To immerse ourselves in the experience of Yoga, we simply let go of our expectations, giving ourselves permission to discover, by observing attentively the feedback we receive in our body, breath, mind and spirit. Paying attention to the breath can really help us focus and participate fully into our here and now experience. Applying these ideas into something simple, like performing a Yoga position, may help us prepare for participating more fully both in the Yoga practice on mat and in any other activity.

Namaste

One step at a time – Vinyasa Krama

One step at a time/Un paso a la vez

Doing more
It happens often that we try to do more than we can or that we push ourselves too much. Living in a society that asks that we give our 110% all the time puts pressure on us to go beyond our capacity and ability. However productive that strategy might be, it is not sustainable. Nevertheless, many of us allow that mindset to permeate many, if not all, aspects of our lives. It is, thus, not surprising to find that we end up stressed out and feeling overwhelmed because, even when things are going wonderfully, we feel that we could still “do more”, “be more”, etc. This seems to be a present conundrum for many of us, and it is not uncommon to see the same situation in Yoga classes. We are so oriented to the future goal and to our need to achieve, that we are not fully immersed in the process, thereby ignoring our present circumstances and becoming increasingly dissatisfied.

Vinyasa Krama
There is a sound, logical and elegant principle in Yoga called Vinyasa Krama that can provides guidance that can be implemented in multiple facets of our lives.
According to A.G. Mohan,
in Yoga for Body, Breath, and Mind, Vinyasa Krama “means intelligently placed, orderly steps.” In other words, Vinyasa Krama consists of an intelligent and appropriate progression of steps that takes us in our intended direction. Let’s take a look at this idea in more detail.

Intention
In Yoga, we align our intentions with our innermost essence so that we can honor our intentions through life-affirming actions. In some cases our intention can be as simple as being able to relax more easily or deepening our understanding of something. When the intention comes from our heart, we understand that we have minimal control over the ultimate outcome of our actions. Therefore, we know that it is useless to feel tense and worried about the results. Consequently, we can devote our energy to being the best expression of ourselves in the particular action that we need to take.

Starting point
As in any other activity, once our intention and goal are clear, the next step is to recognize our starting point so that our clear intention can guide our actions to take the most appropriate steps for our current situation.

Step by step
Breaking down the journey into smaller steps can be useful in realizing that the goal may not be as unreachable as it sometimes appears. In addition, by working on the smaller steps consistently we develop the knowledge and skill necessary to take each successive step without wasting our energy reaching beyond our capacity or ability. Furthermore, dividing a task into smaller steps becomes a built-in safety mechanism, because it helps us to progress gradually at our own pace while allowing us to make any necessary adjustments or corrections. Moreover, as we take each new step successfully, our confidence grows further removing unnecessary tension and doubt.
In addition, working mindfully at each stage of the process gives us insight into how we learn and how different approaches work in various ways.

Example
A typical example that comes to mind in asana (physical postures) is the sequence of poses known as Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit). At first, many students new to Yoga find the whole sequence long, complicated and seemingly impossible. However, breaking down the sequence into its constitutive poses makes it easier to learn how to perform each pose safely and appropriately for one’s body. In the process of practicing the individual poses we learn to focus and to breathe comfortably while we allow our bodies to develop the necessary combination of strength and flexibility to practice the poses without harm. As the poses become familiar, it becomes easier and easier to string a couple or a few of the poses together, until, gradually, the body, breath and mind are ready to perform the sequence without any pain or discomfort.

The Vinyasa Krama principle makes our Yoga practice safe and enjoyable by breaking large tasks intelligently into manageable steps aligned with our intention. This principle is easily applicable into our daily lives, to help us become mindful of how to use our energy in constructive ways by working gradually and consistently over time without becoming tense, stressed or getting exhausted in the process.

Namaste.

Beginning

Morning sun rays through haze

After thinking about it for a few months, I have finally decided to get a blog going. In the past years I have enjoyed (and learned from) readying blogs as varied as my interests. In some cases, I have followed the postings on some blogs daily, other times, I have read blogs sporadically. However, I love reading the quality work people create when they are inspired by their passion. I hope to emulate them.
In creating a blog I have two main goals, first, as a person who practices Yoga regularly, I want to reach out, in English and Spanish, to the average householder, someone who might be curious about Yoga or who might have practiced Yoga a few times and would like to participate in a friendly conversation about Yoga and Yoga inspired living.

My second goal is to use this space as a venue to distill my own understanding of the connections between Yoga and everyday life. Consequently, oftentimes I will write about topics that might seem only tangentially related to Yoga. I hope those topics will illustrate ways of living a yogic life, because I believe that Yoga, more than physical exercise, is a system for living consciously. I invite you to join me in this journey.

Namaste