Why do I practice Yoga?

Temple reliefs/Relieve en Templo

Why do I practice Yoga?

Yoga is an empirical science, in the sense that it requires us to apply what we learn in order to observe for ourselves the results. In other words, Yoga is not an abstract exercise but a lived exploration that behooves us to bring the practice to life.

From this perspective, it seems important, perhaps essential, to direct our inquiry often to the foundation of our practice. The question “why do I practice Yoga?” is a cornerstone to our practice. Asking ourselves this question helps us examine and reflect on our practice while, at the same time, it ensures that we keep our practice from becoming a mechanical repetition of tasks.

When we ask “why do I practice Yoga?” we are interested in answering the question sincerely and wholeheartedly at all levels, especially through our actions. That is, we incorporate the question into our practice by observing if we are honoring our answer through our intentions and actions.

The answer to this question, most likely, will change over time reflecting our interests, circumstances and stage in life. However, our sincere interest in living the answer will remain unchanged.

And you, why do you practice Yoga?

Namaste

 

Yoga: The Long View

Ancient spire in Ayutthata/Antigua Aguja en Ayutthaya

Short Attention Span

It seems undeniable that we live in times when faster is generally equated with better, at least at the surface level. Many of us feel like the pace of life has gotten too fast, even out of control. One manifestation of this mindset is our urge to save time, even just a few seconds, whenever we can. This pervasive ideology has a connection to the notion of instant gratification, which might be somewhat or quite familiar for many of us. Some people argue that civilization is revving itself into a pathologically short attention span. As a result, we often rush through our actions and activities without making time to be present. This can be called the short attention span perspective. The short attention span perspective can be characterized as a continuous movement of the mind without clear focus. In contrast to the short attention span view, we can think of the focused perspective as clear and focused attention to one moment in time. In other words, while the short attention span can drive us to rush through the present moment, the focused perspective can acts as an excellent way to prepare us for the long view.

The Long View

Obviously, all things in life have an inherent pace to them. That is, some things happen at fast speed, like lightning, others happen slower, like the rotation of the earth around the sun. The focused perspective mindset, by its own nature, concentrates our attention, if very briefly, on specific, discrete aspects of our experience, while the long view tries to deepen our understanding in terms of time.

When we favor only the focused perspective, it is difficult for us to gain perspective and notice changes, tendencies and patterns that develop, shift and transform over time. When we favor the long view approach only, it may be more difficult to relate to the specific circumstances of the present event.
Clearly, focusing on one point is the first step towards maintaining our attention over time. Thus, our focus on the present moment provides the point of access into the long view. The interplay between these two views is exemplified by the Long Now Foundation, an organization concerned with “fostering long-term responsibility” and when they say long term they mean thinking not in terms of months or years but in terms of the next 10000 years. The idea is to link our present actions to long term thinking.

Concentration and Meditation

From a Yogic point of view, we could interpret the focused perspective as the traditional limb of Yoga often translated as Concentration (Dharana), focusing our attention on one point. On the other hand, sustaining our attention on the same point over a period of time is the Meditation (Dhyana) limb of Yoga. We can think about the latter as an expression of the long view approach.

Interplay between Focused Perspective and Long View in Yoga

Yoga has been around, according to different sources, for at least a few millennia, yet its teachings are still astonishingly relevant and applicable today. Thus, it seems that even though the tradition of Yoga has been preserved and transformed over a long period of time, its application, which can only happen one moment at a time, is actualized through the focused perspective. That is, the teachings handed down over time are lived and put into practice in the realm of the focused perspective.

Moreover, for many of us, the short attention span perspective can have a dramatic impact on our Yoga practice, in any of its manifestations. For instance, sometimes, especially with practices that are challenging for us, like sitting still for a specific amount of time, breathing mindfully or moving into a specific posture, we might feel inclined to try to get our practice over quickly, so that we end up rushing through it. As a consequence, our practice betrays the very essence of Yoga, a journey of self-discovery. Rushing through our actions prevents us from experiencing the practice at all levels, particularly keeping us from learning by observing how we deal with frustration, impatience and challenging situations.

Taking the long view as the background of our experience can serve as a reminder that Yoga is a personal journey of self-discovery, by definition a lifelong process. Knowing that we have the rest of our lives to practice, can give us the patience to accept where we are today, hence enabling us to immerse in the specific practice mindfully. Not long ago I read the wise opinion of a well respected Yoga master, David Swenson, where he stated that “We must think in terms of decades when practicing and teaching yoga. The strongest trees in the forest grow the most slowly.”

Taking this long view, can foster a different approach to our practice, so that we practice intelligently, that is mindfully and at our own level so that we can continue practicing steadily over the years. Another well respected Yoga master, David Williams, provides insight into this process in his student newsletter by saying that “The key is being able to continue practicing Yoga for the rest of your life. From over 30 years of observing thousands of people practicing Yoga, I have realized that those who continue are the ones who are able to figure out how to make it enjoyable. They look forward to their daily practice and nothing can keep them from finding the time to do it. It becomes one of the most pleasant parts of their day.

Maybe we can meditate on this question: How would my practice be if I remember that I have the rest of my life to practice?

Namaste

Simple guided meditation with Rubén

 

Open and receptive mind

Onions/ Cebollas

Everything is always the same

Do you ever get the feeling that life is just the endless repetition of day after day with very little variation from one day to the next? Many times it feels that life is just a succession of irrelevant actions that we perform mechanically. As a result, we often feel bored and it seems that our actions do not really matter. For some of us, these feelings can be devastating and paralyzing. Other people react by searching for extraordinary experiences that awaken a feeling of aliveness. There is another, easy option.

Opening to Newness

One of the reasons many of us find new places exciting and exhilarating is that visiting a place we have never visited before, besides offering new and interesting things to do and see, helps us shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive. In this state, we sharpen our senses to register as many aspects of the new environment as possible. This is the direct result of being interested in experiencing the new place. Then, it is not surprising, that the new place seems to exude something special that makes us feel vibrant and energized. Although it cannot be denied that the specific place and its characteristics influence our response to it, the quality of our participation, in other words, our openness and receptiveness, contribute greatly to our experience of the place. Indeed, it often happens that repeated visits to the same place start to diminish our excited response to the place, and its special glow vanishes. In many occasions what is missing is the spark in our eyes that brings aliveness to our perceptions.

Beginner’s Mind

A mind that is open and receptive, and therefore unclouded by preconceived notions, is often called a beginner’s mind. When we think we know what awaits us, the sense of possibility is greatly, if not completely, extinguished. Making up our mind beforehand reduces our opportunities for learning because our attention and energy are engaged in comparing the new situation with our expectations. On the contrary, when we approach new situations, people and places with our minds and hearts open, we step into a state of boundless potentiality because our previous knowledge and conditioning do not interfere in the experience. This is actually one of the wonderful advantages of being a beginner. Moreover, the capacity for being in awe that we observe in many children and young people is largely a result of not deciding on the outcome of an experience before immersing in it. When we think we already know, we close ourselves to the possibility of learning and stagnate instead.

Mindful action vs. Mechanical Action

Given the inclination that our mind and body have for developing habitual patterns of behavior, it is not surprising that our beginner’s mind seems to fade away rather easily. Indeed, our ego’s need to feel in control tends to override the beginner’s mind, effectively replacing the feeling of awe and newness with one of overconfidence or under confidence –depending on the traits of our individual ego. As habit and conditioning convince our minds that we already know what will happen, our attention is drawn away from the event in which we are participating, preventing us from participating fully. When our attention is not completely focused on what we are doing, our actions become mechanical instead of mindful, and thus, we are unable to respond appropriately to the particular circumstances of that specific experience. In those cases, even when the results of our actions are what we expected, our lack of presence in the moment prevents us from truly appreciating what the experience is about.

Shifting into Beginner’s Mind

Fortunately, there are simple ways of shifting into beginner’s mind. The idea is to recognize that every moment, every here and now event, is a unique moment that has never happened before and that will never happen again. Even if the circumstances appear familiar, this moment is not the identical repetition of the past. Becoming aware of this uniqueness gives us the opportunity to be fully present. Here are some ways to shift from habitual mind into beginner’s mind:

  • While eating, pause and shift your spoon, fork or knife to the opposite hand.
  • While writing or drawing, pause and write with your non-dominant hand.
  • While brushing your teeth, use your non-dominant hand.

Of course, we can choose to see these changes as disruptions that slow down our efficiency. On the other hand, we can choose to view the resulting change in pace as a way to focus our attention on what we are doing. Many times, these shifts help us see the quality of our experience and its characteristics.
A less obvious way to shift into beginner’s mind is to pause, breath and observe the salient sensations in our body. By drawing our attention to the breath and the sensations we are experience we make a choice to be mindful, to be fully present. As a result, we are able to realize that every moment is unique in time and space. Consequently, we automatically shift into a state of mind where we are open and receptive to the uniqueness of the present experience.

Beginner’s Mind in Asana

In Yoga asana practice, every time that we assume that we ‘already know (or mastered) a specific posture’ we move away from mindful action and into the territory of mechanical repetition. Hence, we effectively close ourselves to the possibility of learning that results from mindful action. Not to mention, that we close ourselves to experiencing the pose because our attention is absent from the process. In contrast, approaching any posture (even one we have practiced on many occasions) with an open mind gives us the opportunity to learn something new, about the pose and about ourselves simply by acknowledging that the pose is unique. Focusing on the sensations and the breath has an important side effect: it makes it harder to injure ourselves, because our mindful curiosity and exploration with new eyes and fresh mind helps us pay attention to the feedback we constantly receive from body, breath and mind.

In Yoga asana practice, we can try something simple such as:

  • In a pose like mountain or downward dog, close your eyes, feel the salient sensations of the pose, then shift your body weight to the left side of your body, close your eyes and again feel the sensations, noticing any differences. Open your eyes and shift your body weight to the right side, close your eyes, feel and compare. Then find the perfect balance between the sides, feel and compare.
  • In a familiar pose, lengthen the inhalation or exhalation focusing on the most noticeable sensations resulting in the ribcage area.
  • In a familiar pose firm up the muscles in your arms, legs and torso and feel the resulting sensations. Then make the muscles as soft as possible while remaining in the same pose, feel and notice.

Life is an ongoing ever changing flow of events and circumstances that unfolds in unique ways to respond to the variations of the myriad participating elements. Life in itself is vibrant because it is never the same. Therefore, mechanical actions result in lifeless results. Whatever method works for you, I hope that activating your beginner’s mind brings a refreshing perspective on your world.
Namaste,

Rubén

 

Relaxing at the end of the day

Icon/ Icono

In these times when it seems that our lives continue becoming busier and busier, relaxing at the end of the day is much needed. Here is a simple and easy suggestion that might help you let go of the day and release stress.

Preparation

This pose can be practiced upon arriving home or in preparation for going to sleep. Place a folded blanket on the floor against a wall. Take your shoes and socks off and wear comfortable clothing.

Legs up the wall – Viparita Karani

Legs on the wall \ Piernas en la pared

  • Start sitting on the folded blanket with your knees bent, your feet flat on the floor and the wall to one of your sides (either left or right) so that the outer side of your hip joint is close to the wall.
  • Using your hands for support, recline on your back while lifting the legs up and turn so that the back of your thighs are resting on the wall.
  • Make sure that your lower back and the back of your pelvis (sacrum) are in contact with the floor. Allow your arms to rest on the floor beside you with your hands separated one foot away from your pelvis. This is the pose, legs up the wall – Viparita Karani. (See the picture above).
  • Now, we’ll use our breath to relax and to bring awareness to the pose. Without making any changes, notice the subtle movements of your breath. Notice the sensations that accompany each movement of the breath. Do this for several rounds of breath.
  • Gradually, focus your attention on the exhalation. For several rounds of breath, each time you exhale let the thoughts in your mind drift away.
  • Now, focus on the inhalation. Deepen your inhalation without forcing while observing closely the sensations in your body.
  • Notice if there are any specific sensations in your body that require your attention as your continue breathing comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and let go of any control over your breath. Just relax.
  • Stay in this pose for several minutes.
  • When you feel ready to come out of the pose, mindfully bend your knees toward your chest.
  • Roll to one side and slowly come into a comfortable sitting position.
  • Take a deep breath, notice any differences in how you feel now as compared with how you felt before doing this practice and enjoy the rest of your day.

An alternative option

If ,for any reason, the pose does not seem comfortable, you can do this practice resting on the floor with your knees bent and your legs supported by a chair as indicated in the image below.

Legs on chair \ Piernas en la silla

Either pose can also be an excellent way to relax your legs and lower back after walking or after spending a long time standing up or sitting.

Taking time at the end of the day to relax, gives us the opportuny to connect with our inner silence, so that our minds and bodies can release tension and get a well deserved break. Many people find that doing this exercise before going to sleep help them sleep more soundly.

Have a wonderful practice!
Namaste.

 

Yoga and diet

Mercado/ Market

Food Confusion

Eating is a privilege not available to all the people in the world. It is promising to know that more people are working to bring awareness to these issues. Many of us are fortunate enough to be able to choose what we eat. However, in recent years, deciding what to eat seems to have become a complex task. Partly, the complexity may indicate that there are more food choices and also a grwoing interest in issues related to food, eating and health. For instance, there are excellent blogs devoted to issues related to choosing our food like What to Eat, The Ethicurean and Eat Local Challenge, as well as increasing numbers of books dealing with food and nutrition, such as The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, What to Eat, as well as numerous others. And that does not include the growing list of books related to food allergies or the ever changing offering of diet books. When there is so much information, making informed choices can be a daunting task.

A simple question

What to eat? is a very simple question with growingly diverse and complicated answers. Perhaps, the complexity of the answers increases when we consider the multiple levels of relationships between food and the world around us. In other words, when we pause to consider the relationships between us, our food and the world around us we start to understand that those relationships are multilayered and often far from simple. As we learn more about food we find that there are significant issues related to the safety of the food we eat, its origin, and what it consists of. The immediate connection between food and health, however, continues to draw our attention. For instance, the fact that food allergies have increased 400% in the last two decades should make us think about the food we eat. Moreover, according to the World Health Organization a combination of changes at the global, social and personal levels influences diet in ways that result in increased chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, stroke and some forms of cancer (some of these diseases are also known as “Western Diseases” because of their connection to the typical diet in industrialized countries in the Western hemisphere). Although some academics have recently suggested that the effects of the epidemic of obesity are exaggerated, the trends in the U.S. indicate significant changes worth considering. According to the World Health Organization “obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally.” Besides, specific eating habits and food industry practices have significant ecological impacts that also need to be considered.

Michael Pollan’s most recent book, In Defense of Food (based on his article Unhappy Meals), provides a simple answer to the question what to eat to maximize our health: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants“. Pollan’s clarification of his simple answer –which makes up his book, indicates that eating for optimal health has become complicated partly due to the deep web of connections between the food industry, marketing and the food politics of our times. Pollan’s proposes a set of rules of thumb that help readers clarify what is considered food, what food to eat and also how to eat it. As the author acknowledges, the existence of his book is a testament to our confusion about eating.

Yogic Diet

Figuring out what to eat for optimal health is not a new concern. From the perspective of Yoga, the oldest classical surviving text on Hatha Yoga, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (15th century CE) indicates in chapter 1, verses 59 through 65, the foods that Yogis should avoid, the foods that are beneficial and the appropriate amount of food to eat. When looking at some of the numerous online resources about Yoga, it does not seem that any of these resources refer back to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika regarding food and diet. This is understandable, partly because of differences due to time and geographic location, and partly because there are certain practices advocated by the ancient treatise (although not necessarily the ones related to food) that seem rather extreme and perhaps inappropriate. In general, contemporary resources note that the Yogic diet is a vegetarian diet. However, when you read a definition of vegetarianism a number of labels emerges: ovo-vegetarian, lacto-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, veganism, fruitarianism, raw veganism. Moreover, the food section of the Yoga Journal includes articles about vegetarianism, veganism, raw food, and also advise on being a caring carnivore.

Labels and Questions

Instead of clarifying the issue, looking at Yoga sources for clues about food and eating may compound the confusion in answering the simple question “what to eat?.” It seems to me that everywhere we look we find different labels that determine (with varying levels of flexibility) what we can, should and cannot eat.

I feel that Yoga is about bringing clarity into our lives. Indeed, our Yoga practice aims to optimize the flow of our physical, mental and emotional energy so that we can participate fully and consciously in the interconnectedness of life. Indeed, our Yoga practice does not consist of a predetermined set of rules that we need to follow mechanically. On the contrary, Yoga practice requires us to pay attention, be mindful and make intelligent decisions that are based on our vibrant connection with life. It follows that the yogic approach to eating should take into account our individual circumstances and needs while facilitating the optimal flow of energy and enabling our full participation in life. Nevertheless, in case of doubt, I would suggest using two questions to confirm our food choices:

  • Does the food I am about to eat optimize the flow of my physical, mental and emotional energy?
  • Does the food I am about to eat help me participate fully and consciously in the interconnectedness of life?

If the answer to both questions is a clear and unequivocal YES!, it is quite likely that the food we are about to eat is exactly what we need and thus will be delicious, nourishing and life affirming.

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

 

 

Reasons to celebrate

Pine needles/Agujas de Pino

Holiday stress
It is not uncommon that the holiday season brings with it conflicting feelings. The holidays are rituals that invite us to change our routine activities and to get together with family and friends to celebrate. Changing our daily routine gives us a chance to see our usual activites from a different perspective. However, we can also interpret these changes in our habitual actions as annoying disruptions or stressors. In many cases the changes to our activities place extra demands on our already busy schedules. So, even if we do not see the holidays as a disruption it is quite likely that some tension and stress may arise. I think the list of reasons for these apparent contradictions in the holiday celebrations can be quite long, from feeling lonely and disconnected, to the regret of overindulgence in consumption of food, drink and stuff. I often talk to people who can’t wait for the holiday season to be over.

Ask a question
Just like the holidays have conflicting facets, a time of joyful celebration and a time of stress and tension, our Yoga practice can also be seen as a celebration of life or a practice that depletes our energy .
When we practice Yoga as a celebration of life, our practice helps us acknowledge, honor and immerse in life as it is, here and now. How do we do it? We pause and ask ourselves: Why do I practice Yoga? What is my intention in practicing Yoga today? Then we listen intently for the answer to come from our innermost essence. When we make this genuine answer the guiding intention for our practice, our Yoga practice unfolds exactly as we need it that day, some times expressed as a restorative practice, other times as a very physically demanding asana sequence and yet other times as a contemplative practice. In every case the practice is a life supporting response to our needs.
Similarly, we can pause and observe our reactions when the stores start dressing their windows with holiday themes, when holiday catalogs start crowding our mailbox and as we make plans for the holidays. Observing and acknowledging our reactions to the holiday season prepares us to ask ourselves questions such as: How do I feel about the holidays? What are my reasons for celebrating the holidays? After we ask our question, we wait silently for the answer to emerge unclouded by judgment. When we are ready AND open to receive the answers, they manifest as clear thoughts, words, feelings or emotions. We know the answers are authentic when they resonate with us deeply. Genuine answers remain, even after deliberate examination, unequivocally clear.

Live the answers
The clarity of the answers make them powerfully compelling. Consequently, we can choose to turn the answer into wholehearted intention that provides guidance for our actions, so that we celebrate in ways that are appropriate and congruent with our deep beliefs, needs and circumstances. By setting aside our preconceived notions about the holidays, we are free to make our participation in the holidays our authentic expression and perfect response to our specific circumstances. As we live the answers, we can still pause, observe and reflect, noticing if the same feeling of clarity from the answer continues to pervade our actions and interactions. In this way our participation in the holidays can be a joyful celebration of life.

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.