Inspired Practice

Arboles/Trees

Ujjayi breath

One type of breathing that is especially helpful in focusing our attention is called ujjayi. Ujjayi, meaning victorious, is a type of breath in which we constrict gently the back of the throat. Ujjayi breathing produces a sound in the throat similar to the sound of the ocean. Using ujjayi breath during asana practice helps to anchor our attention on the continuous and smooth movement of our breath.

Learning

The easiest way to learn ujjayi breath is to:

  • Open the mouth and breath through the mouth as if trying to fog a mirror in front of us, the sound is clearly audible in the back of the throat
  • Relax the neck, soften the jawbone and mouth and breathe like this a few times until it feels that the breath is flowing smoothly
  • Gently bring the lips together
  • Keep breathing smoothly through the nose while listening to the sound of your breath
  • Check that no tension is emerging in the face or neck

Movement and sound

When learning ujjayi breath, there may be a tendency to make the sound of the breath louder than it needs to be. Keep in mind that we are using the sound for focus and feedback, so just make sure that you can hear it. As we become familiar with this way of breathing, we can allow ujjayi breath to become the main axis of our asana practice. In other words, we anchor the practice on the integrity of the breath, always paying attention to the quality of each inhalation and each exhalation. When the flow of breath is firmly established, we can choose to let the breath initiate the movement for optimal synchronization between physical movements and the movements of the breath. In essence, if we cannot hear the movement of our breath there should be no physical movement.

Ujjayi advantages

Using ujjayi breath in asana practice has numerous advantages:

  • Focuses our attention on the present moment
  • Helps us verify that our breath is smooth and continuous
  • By constricting the passage of air, it helps to strengthen our lungs
  • Gradually increases lung capacity
  • Strengthens our abdominal muscles
  • Helps to improve concentration
  • Brings a meditative quality to our practice

As in any other aspect of Yoga practice, there is no need for forcing our breath when performing ujjayi breathing. Ujjayi breath should always have integrity, i.e. the breath is not forced, or strained, and it does not collapse either. On the contrary, our ujjayi breath should feel comfortable and smooth throughout the practice. Using ujjayi breathing helps us develop awareness of and sensitivity to the qualities of our breath, thereby fostering awareness and sensitivity in our Yoga practice. Moreover, bringing our attention to the breath gives us insight on our own physical, mental and emotional states. As a result, we become better able to adjust our breath to suit our needs and circumstances in our Yoga practice and in every day life.

Enjoy the sound of the ocean in your throat the next time you practice Yoga.
Namaste.

P.S. For an excellent article on breathing:
http://www.movingintostillness.com/book/yoga_breathing.html

 

Breathing Awareness

Ocean/ Mar

Two oceans

We can think of the earth as being surrounded by two oceans, an ocean of water and an ocean of air. The perpetual movement of these two oceans is the result of the interaction between the energy of the sun and the energy of the earth’s gravitational pull. The movement of these two oceans is essential to life as we know it. Similarly, the movement of air in and out of our body is the most evident manifestation of the circulation of energy that keeps us alive. It is not surprising that there is a whole set of practices in Yoga, known as Pranayama, dedicated to bringing our awareness to the breath. Developing awareness of the connections between our breathing patterns, our body, our mind and our emotions can help us develop a better understanding of who we are and of how we act.

Breathing as the focal point

If we understand Yoga as a journey of self discovery that integrates the actions of our breath, body, mind and spirit in order to be fully present, then it seems appropriate to find a central element to anchor and guide our Yoga practice. One of my favorite Yoga teachers, Erich Schiffmann, says in the beautiful video Ali Mac Graw Yoga Mind & Body, that the breath is the single most important element in Yoga practice. Given our mind’s inclination to focus on past or future and our body’s proclivity to develop habits, it makes a lot of sense to anchor our practice on the breath because the breath can only exist in the present moment. In addition, focusing on the breath as the main element in Yoga practice helps us remember that the quality of our life experience is closely connected to the quality of our breath.

Observing the breath

The easiest place to start is to observe our natural, spontaneous breath. An easy way to do this is to lie on a folded blanket on the floor with our back resting comfortably against the floor, our head aligned with the rest of the body, our knees bent and our feet flat on the floor. Closing our eyes we rest our attention gently on the movements of our abdomen as it rises and falls with each inhalation and exhalation. We do not need to change anything in the way we are breathing; we just lie there witnessing the breath, noticing any sensations, emotions, thoughts and feelings that emerge in the process. We can try this for 8 to 10 rounds (each round consisting of one inhalation and one exhalation). This can be quite relaxing.

We can continue the process of exploring our breath by gently, without forcing, deepening our inhalation and exhalation. As we observe our breath we might notice that sometimes the inhalation/exhalation is not smooth but irregular and uneven. In such cases, it is helpful to breathe more slowly and softly until the whole breathing process is as smooth as possible. Again, we can take this opportunity to notice any sensations associated with different ways of breathing. As we deepen our breath some questions may start emerging, such as am I breathing correctly? Should my inhalation start in the chest or in the abdomen?

Breath integrity

When those questions emerge, one viable way to finding answers (besides asking our Yoga instructor) is to explore the options that we have. For instance, we can breathe normally for a few rounds of breath, and then we can initiate the inhalation in the lower abdomen for some rounds of breath, noticing the differences in the sensations that result. Then we return to spontaneous breathing. We can try different ways of breathing, always paying close attention to how we feel as a result. As we explore our breath we start noticing patterns and how breathing in specific ways helps to create different sensations.

A useful guiding criterion for choosing how to breathe is integrity. In other words, when our breath has integrity, it feels energizing and nourishing. Furthermore, when the breath has integrity it feels whole, unimpaired and unobstructed with neither inhalation nor exhalation collapsing. Obviously, it is important that we adjust our breath to the requirements of what we are doing. Consequently, in some cases, the breath may need to be more energizing while in other cases we may need for the breath to be calming and relaxing. However, even though the characteristics of the breath may change, breathing with integrity will ensure that the breath is supporting our actions.

Developing more awareness of the connections between the breath and how we feel can be useful in choosing the best way of breathing in particular situations. I hope this is helpful to start exploring your breath and to become more aware of the connections between your breath, your state of mind and your emotions.
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

 

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

 

Clear Vision

Row of Buddhas/Fila de Budas

Visual Clutter

Our eyesight helps us understand, navigate, interact with and participate in the world. Often, venturing out into the world offers us an encounter with what some people call visual pollution, particularly in urban areas:



However, visual clutter is not constrained to outdoor spaces. As the presentation The Story of Stuff shows, many of us own too many things. Hence, the growth of self-storage, organizing and junk removal businesses. If we have more stuff, it is quite likely that we’ll have more visual clutter. Although, I agree that some clutter gives a home personality and character, too many things in our field of vision become distractions that compete for our attention. Of course, anybody browsing the web is aware of the prevalence of visual clutter on many websites.

Focus

One way to deal with visual clutter is to maintain focus on one object to ignore competing stimuli. There are numerous Yoga techniques aimed to improve our ability to focus. There are also useful techniques to relax the eyes and develop concentration at the same time. But, sometimes we might notice that even with our eyes closed we continue to process visual information. Just as we argued in the previous post about silence, it is important to withdraw our minds from processing information all the time. This is what I call visual silence.

Visual Silence

Although we rest our eyes during our sleep, resting our eyes during our waking hours brings multiple benefits to our health, to our concentration and to our sense of peace and relaxation. These are the steps to practice visual silence in 5 minutes:

  • Turn off any potential sources of distraction and interruptions like telephones, TV, stereo.
  • Dim the lights, or turn the lights off and light a candle(s).
  • Place a folded blanket on the floor. Lie down with your knees bent, feet flat on the floor, arms resting on the floor alongside the torso, palms of the hand down.
  • Make yourself as comfortable as possible.
  • Exhale deeply without forcing.
  • Close your eyes gently.
  • Rest your attention on your right eye. Without thinking, analyzing or judging, just observe any sensations on your right eye.
  • Relax the muscles around the right eye and allow your right eye to release tension and sink down gradually.
  • Keep your attention gently focused on your right eye. If any internal images emerge allow them to drift by.
  • Stay with your attention resting on your right eye until your right eye feels as relaxed as it can be.
  • When you feel ready, shift your attention to the left eye.
  • Notice any differences between the two eyes.
  • Allow your left eye to release any sensations of holding.
  • Relax the muscles around your left eye.
  • Keep your attention on your left eye, allowing the eye to be restful.
  • When you are ready, focus effortlessly on both eyes and enjoy the feeling of relaxation for as long as you like.
  • Open your eyes gradually, allowing time to adjust gradually.
  • Notice any differences in your eyesight and in how your eyes feel. You might notice that your mind and breath also feel more relaxed and restful.

As usual, I would suggest that you try this technique, for 5 minutes a day, for one or two weeks paying attention to any effects you observe.

Results

As a Pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) practice, the visual silence technique frees our minds from the processing visual information continuously. This practice teaches us to relax consciously, resulting in physical and mental relaxation and clarifying our vision and our way of seeing.
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.