ashtanga

Home Practice #7: Devotion

 If you listen gently, all areas of life worth living whisper divinely asking for devotion with an equal dose of relinquishing.  

After two years of home practice and study with occassional weekly, or monthly yoga classes with a variety of great teachers, my practice has left the building! Ashtanga has always called out to me because I saw that it had the ability to free me. My body, my mind, my cells, my heart, my spirit and my soul (my abs too). Like a wave crashing on a rock, or a surfer riding that perfect wave it can be felt in a most undeniable way, from a far distance. Unwavering dedication like to our babies, a lover, or dear friend is what sets the liberation in motion. 

My home practice went as far as it was going to go without a teacher, consistent daily practice and a yoga community. After two weeks of class, I can feel this space inside me opening up in a brand new way. I'm moving forward and getting freer. 
For years I've had this sort of aching feeling in the center of my back. Ironically, my sister and mother also feel this same tension in the same place of their backs. 
That tension is leaving me now. 
I can feel a full body unraveling, like the petals of a flower opening, blossoming. 
It's very tangible and so real, reaching into all areas of my life.

Stress withers away with this practice. It's my daily dose of therapy and pampering. 
The power of a yoga teacher, like a sage, or a spiritual guide has the ability to send people, once in a cocoon, out of their class a butterfly to live the life they have been craving. 
They are true healers and they give us the ability to unveil ourselves. Where there was once pain, there will be portals. My decisions have been so clear lately, which is having a huge impact on the direction of mine and my families future.

All of the teachers have had a profound effect on me, even though I've been quietly moving in and out of class, mostly. Loren Russo and her assists have shown me things inside myself that I didn't know were there. Her adjustments of my twists have shown me how my body should feel and what that energy is that does somersaults inside of me every single day and how to communicate with it.
Although I'm dripping with sweat, she comes behind me like a bright light, gently broadens my shoulders, guides me to turn just a little further, directs my gaze and hand placement. As I'm panting, or grunting, she shows me it's safe to fall back into her, while instructing me to plant myself firmly into the ground with my legs and feet. She seems to know my body better than I do for a few moments.

My legs, arms and back have always been strong, but asking my core to engage in all of this brings up so much emotion. Sensing myself enough to practice Bandhas and body locks could help make this so much easier if I would just listen, but I never not once judge my practice. This is my practice. My practice. My journey of the self, through the self to the self. 
Asking my chest to open widely and allow me to spread my wings dredges tears from I don't know where, but they are cleansing me from the inside out and I won't stop.

Allowing my hamstrings to be melted little by little...
The coconut oil, shea butter, argan oil, breath and agni...are gifts.
Reaching in bow as I watch  myself in the mirror, not resisting in pigeon and allowing the crystal healer that seemed to fly in from the clouds to work his magic on my blockages-
It's all vulnerability taking me deeper, further and changing me into a healthier, happier, clearer version of myself. 

I'm learning to say the opening and closing mantra's. Some of it feels instinctual, like I've been here before. I'm still struggling with some of the flow of the words in Sanskrit, but it feels powerful leaving my lips with a little bit of my soul on it, while feeling the vibrations of those around me. Loren translates the "gist" of what they mean so well. "Because I want more peace of mind and stability in life, I am now going to practice yoga as it has been passed down since time immemorial." Her interpretation, "For the peaceful resolution of the deluding nature of repetitive existence, I bow at the lotus feet of the Gurus, and behold the awakened joy of my own Soul; this is the ultimate refuge that acts like a shaman, a true source of spiritual enlightenment."
Her Kirtan has makes me cry almost every time. All this talk of crying...
I called my sister Kate on the day I didn't leave class with tears in celebration, like I'd reached a milestone. It's involuntary, but I don't want to let it freak me out. I'm diving into those layers of myself and swimming like a dolphin right through the riptides. I'm not alone.
I know there is something waiting there for me. It's me. I won't stop until I find her and set her free more and more. Even if it means crying in a room full of people, dripping sweat, and seriously leaving smelling offensive to those around me.
I'm working on ingesting more and more essential oils & cleaning up my nutrition to remedy the stench effect of hot yoga & Ashtanga so stay tuned and don't let that deter you from practicing with me.
I'll make it all smell like roses soon enough. 

Allow the softness to speak all of its natural wisdom and fly freely within that space. 

Share your practice stories with me! 

Thanks for reading. Sarah xx


Home Practice #6: New Moon of Completions and Beginnings

Uninterrupted practice

I feel like starting and ending the blog there because that's the single most valuable advice when it comes to mastering the art of yoga, surfing, or life- Uninterrupted Daily Consistent Practice. A new teacher who has been guiding me, Irene Pappas says, "There are no shortcuts, only baby steps to consistency. Fall in love with the journey because really that's all there is."

Giving it away

There's something about sharing that keeps me moving forward. I remember the day Lezele looked at me and saw that I could put my feet flat on the ground while in downward dog, which is not easy considering most people have to work at having flexible hamstrings and since my home practice has wavered I'll need a few days, or weeks of consistent practice to get that back. Even Lezele who most certainly is a gifted yoga girl, has to work towards hamstring flexibility. She was really impressed and asked me how I did that. I told her, "because I've been practicing every single day." That was the day she began practicing daily and THAT is what got her to where she is now doing scorpion pose and handstands. She is teaching and guiding me now. That is the way it works when you give it all away. Having the ability to pay forward what I gain from my strength training was a game changer. The way to have that capability with yoga would be to take the leap and do the training to advance my practice and be able to teach others. I've been talking about a teacher training for years. I wrote in my journal and in my blog, that I would give myself two years to prepare for a yoga teacher training and in March of 2016 it will be two years. Time is such an illusion. Where does it go?

November is for Nurturing Dreams- it's my birthday month so there's no better time to begin again. Even when we're living our dreams we still have to be sure to nurture them if we want to keep them alive. They are constantly evolving just like everything else.

What I realized about myself is that right as things start getting good and just before things take off, I stop. It might be stress, time, pain, fear, distractions, autoimmune disease, or something else, but I stop and then have to start all over again. I convince myself that first I need to eat cleaner, get healthier, shrink my breasts, make stronger abs and THEN I'll practice again. But, when I see my teachers practicing in a cast, or after back surgery, despite traveling and being in tight spaces- I know I'm making things up when I convince myself to stop. There's never a reason not to try even if it's the laziest practice known to man for a day, or more- it's still better to do it. 

That's exactly the time to keep going just when I feel like stopping. Pushing past the obstacle of wanting to give up may not feel or look graceful at first, but afterwards there's a glow that everyone will see and feel. I think that is what feeds whatever that universal energy is we all share. That's a reason not to stop. 

I'm recommitting to an uninterrupted daily yoga practice. Developing a strong personal practice, or home practice has always been super important to me. Doing this prior to finding a teacher to take me through my training was always my vision. Although I may face sickness from the cleansing taking place, pain from the metamorphosis taking place, this time I WILL NOT STOP. No matter how ugly it gets I'm going to push through to the other side of that barrier and of that suffering. I'll be sharing that with all of you. 

These are my baby steps to consistency. I believe that what we choose to focus on becomes our reality and that we can create any reality we choose. Over the next two months I'll be breathing in my new story and breathing out the old.

Who wants to enter into 2016 feeling really empowered and and commit to a daily practice with me for the rest of the year, then keep going? 

Home Practice #3 Snow Yoga

January 2015 

The tools we gather in our youth and innocence are more valuable to us now than ever before


#snowyoga2015
Photo by Lulu (Lezele A. Chrispin)

It really is all in our minds. 
If it weren't for my thoughts I could get into a full split right now. 
My mind believes I have limitations I do not. 
Sense the tight spots resisting and release them with breath. 
  
Garland of Letters in Philadelphia a place with a pulse has become a refuge. 
Something about this space helps me clear through the mud and come out a lotus. 
A gentle, yet firey spirited white bearded yogi and nurtured therapist wander throughout. 
Garland is an oasis filled with a world of cultures, healers, educators, beauty and so many sacred in-describe-ables
Recently they sent me home with the antidote for a dense San Francisco-like fog that began to hover around my yoga practice. Sandalwood suggested by Kevin Starbard, "what it smells like in India's Temple's" and attending the Hatha classes held with Dr. Pratap were my prescriptions. 

I lit the incense like a torch in my yoga corner where I breathe like a dragon, focus and hug myself into a playful, thoughtless, fearless state.
The billowing clouds of smoke seemed to chase away the fog and penetrate the air with something new."Sarah, there you are" I said. It opened me right up, again
I was like a new born baby in no time (a dab of Dr. Green's green honey also helped.)

I'm freer, happier, younger and closer to my origins everyday.
It doesn't have to make sense.
I can feel it working.


"This is something we all can create and master it's been around since the human spirit" Kino MacGregor on Yoga, stillness and inner peace. 

Quite a lengthy timeline to tackle.
The academic and scholarly portion of this study is extensive and seems to constantly expand, while it blows my mind. The history and lineage in discussion predates Christ. The Bhagavad Gita, The Sutras, Sanskrit, Goddesses, Diety's, Ayurveda, Lands, Ancient texts, teachers of teachers, Guru's and treasured secrets that light the path during the battle for self-mastery.

*The list goes on and on spurring questions like, "Ashtanga" shouldn't it really be called "Korunta" which started it all? (Korunta, the ancient text by Vamana Rishi, teacher of Rama Mohan Brahmachari who then taught Krishnamacharya in Tibet who then taught Guruji or Sri K Pattabhi Jois who studied the Korunta and brought the Ashtanga Yoga system, which means eight limbed yoga described as disciplines by Patanjali: restraints, observances, posture, breathing, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation, unification of subject and object.) 

Patanjali , the great Sage who wrote the Sutras I believe it's unclear if Patanjali was a she, he or even an actual being- the philosophy seems to be accessed through practicing the asana's.
Ashtanga Guru Pattabhi Jois  says, "...99% is practice..." 


That's where the real learning happens it's there in the posture itself
Hence, I'm crawling out from under the piles of book, dusting off my limbs and exploring my own timeline. "I'm practicing," says Kate Ryan Maring.

Sense the tight spots resisting and release them with breath. 
Practice being like an infant alive with instinct, sucking on your toes (Ella inspired) without hesitation, fear, or apology.
Find the focus point. Breathe. Relax. Soften. Surrender. Repeat.
*each posture has a specific gaze: nose, belly button, sky...
and 
*the method that makes it work, like pressing forward on the sacrum after stabilizing your pelvis and internally rotating the thighs to get into an easy Ustrasana relaxing the neck and using the natural form of the cervical spine
I have to really pay attention to the looking points (drishti/focus points) or I can easily drift away and topple over. Intellectuals fall victim to this particularly in headstands"wait where am I...?" Timber!
It's mystifying sometimes when I fall. I may not see it coming because I'm looking inward, you know? I'm really deep inside of myself I have disconnected from senses and don't feel a damn thing!
But, once you learn how to fall you fear it less.
Guruji said to Kino when she was struggling, "Asana(postures), Pranayama(Breathe), Drishti(focus withdrawing from the senses) Do this for many, many years and you will find peace."

Talk to your body with not one thought of anyone or anything else in existence.
It's on the cells of the body the secrets of the universe live.
It's where the lessons are learned and downfalls are revealed. 
Struggles overcome.
Battles won.
Diseases cured.
It's where you will get to play hopscotch with your genuine self, roll down grassy hills with reckless abandon.

"... It's like psychotherapy without the 'why' just experience it." Kino MacGregor says on practicing. 
Among what I am drawn to in the Ashtanga method is the way it exhausts me to relax me; still your mind which is the real body part we are alchemizing. Everything else follows.
It's a stoking the fire method I realized recently when the cold rolled in and I was pulled to build more heat in and around my body (hence the smokey incense which I haven't used in years, fire ignites. Moxa is great for this also.)

It went like this, 
 I ran out of excuses, It was raining, 30 degrees and dark, I felt the wind give me a push and so I ran anyway (I have a history with braving the elements.)
In moments it was Bikram 105 degrees hot.
Agni (fire) was ripping through my bullshit and dripping down my back.
I ran all the way home like a fucking Viking and I'm so happy I did
(See results on Strava Run titled, "Winter Fairy. Blink Green.")
This took my practice higher just when I felt like caving in. 
When I stopped running, I got into my first headstand.
I was alive and bending like a baby, again.
It took months, but on 1-6-15 I got onto my forearms in headstand and can completely flatten my hands onto the ground when bending down to touch my toes without much bend in my knees, or injury to those around me.

It dawned on me while being nibbled on by cold winds roaring over the bridge exiting Penn's campus. 
It's me I'm bending into, rushing into my splits to get to me, falling on my mat while Liana tries to show me how to slow down, to get to me.
I'm in there, I can see the real me, and I want to play with her.

"Subtle Truth: you are what you love" Rumi.

It doesn't all have to make sense.
I can feel it working.
Keep practicing. 


References: 
The Bhagavad Gita Translated by Eknath Easwaran.
The Power of Ashtanga Yoga: Developing a Practice by Kino MacGregor. 
Liana Cameris, Yoga Goddess Instructor, Spirit Dancer, Light and Guider West Coast USA.
Caroline Ashurst, Acupuncture Practitioner and Yogini at heart in Philadelphia PA
Garage Yoga with Ashtangi Liza DiGaetano in SanDiego

Garland of Letters Book Store with Kevin Starbard Thai Massage Therapist Philadelphia, PA.
Yoga Research Society and The Sky Foundation with Dr. Vijayendra Pratap, Ph.D., D.Y.P.


Thanks for reading.

Sarah

Home Practice #2 Listen



Murphy's Law- nothing is as easy as it seems. 
 I am a Murphy so it goes.

"change, release, repeat." This has been my mantra lately. 

Releasing stiffness feels the same as releasing fear.
It melts away the more I try. 

A Growl. A Grunt. A sigh. A long hummmm, haaaaa or aaaahh.
A moan. A melody. A giggle. A tickle. A dance.

A lot of pain from a little stretch reminds me that I promised myself I would live a certain way and I get closer each day. I take notes on what makes it more difficult and try to reverse those behaviors.

This is not a race. You are not running, Sarah Kelly. You are not playing tennis.
It's a seduction. A delicate, precious interaction that can not be rushed. No negotiating.
You are engaging in a relationship with yourself.

As I practice, I have trouble remembering to soften.
Allow myself to bend and fall slowly. Succumb.
Give it time. Abandon thought. Give it a bit more muscle from the core.
Soften again.
Allow the process to unfold.
This can not be pursued or it will run away. Do not rush it and spoil the fun.

Sometimes a little breakaway can be a great assist.
Getting away from people makes you less available to them, but it also makes you more available to yourself. (This always makes you a greater contribution later.)

Personal time is filled with lots of lessons.
"Listen" says Rumi.

October 2014 Continuing to master the Primary Series

Home Practice #1 Shower Yoga



I yogini while I cook dinner, in the shower, while I work, talk on the phone, run to work, watch Shameless episodes, scrub up messes, while I'm having sex (this one is my favorite- a proven way to get your feet behind your head without even realizing it.)
If I think about a posture or even smell it, I immediately get into it.
Without hesitation, or any thought. Actions are everything. The more I do it the better I do it.

After a ton of graceful guidance from the local yoga schools and body workers in Philadelphia - I have taken my practice home with me.

Once I began practicing yoga every single day, I saw a lot of changes happening.
I realized what it would take for me to get the satisfaction out of this I was looking for.
I'm constantly visualizing myself getting closer and closer to that more drenching stretch- my toes touching my forehead, my spine elongating, my core strengthening, my splits spreading, my soul awakening, my focus unyielding.

It makes sense to practice at home as a prerequisite to committing to regular studio time.
It's a frustrating and personal process. Transforming is not always something you want to do in a group, until you've come out of your cocoon (maybe that's just me.)

It's like preparing and studying for a test. Know the lingo and how to get into the postures.
This is when the classes will be very helpful. Come with your homework done and then join a community. It was joining a yoga studio that made me realize this. A private lesson or two can also help you along.

The Ashtanga Primary Series is a starting point.
This sets up the foundation for all yoga postures going forward.
Primary Series is that. A series of positions to get your body warmed up to grow in this discipline.
Both studying the Light on Yoga text book by BKS Iyengar, with great focus and a highlighter, and the video instruction of Kino MacGregor spoke to me.

Until my personal practice has evolved to where I will  benefit from time at the shala in India, Kino's studio in Miami, David's Ashtanga school down the street, Rodney Yee's Manhattan digs and Dhyana's homey studio- I'll be gettin' down every day (except moon days), looking for video instruction, text books and doing warrior pose while I brush my teeth.

August 2014 Began Ashtanga training and studies. Mastering the Primary Series.


Below are a few good interviews. See related blog posts for instructional videos. 
*Kino says Guruji said these three things for many years will take us there:
Finding my focus (pratyahara) by looking (drishti) practicing my asana's (getting all twisty) and breathing (pranayama.)






This also made me see me in her- fun story about her humble beginnings,

2 years of studio time pre-yoga teacher training recommended

When we love something, some of us get the urge to jump right in. I won't mention any names, but they have been referred to as, "I love you sluts" (film writer reference.)
Other's so delicately observe, taking each step with careful consideration, so deliberate and respectful. Less messy.

Philadelphia was just voted one of the most yoga friendly cities in the country. I'm inclined to agree.
After 15 years with Rodney Yee and my cozy home mat, which often gets lathered with shea butter instead of sweat, we have embarked on a new future with the yoga community in this city- even extending into my work with UPENN. Ivy League Yogi's are a special sort. Yoga is included in the Physical Therapy model in the cancer center.

Each class brings a new awareness of how much I am capable of, how far I have come and how far I have to go.

Teaching my very bendy toddlers, who are now far more advanced yogini's than myself, is an entirely different platform than what I will be embarking on in the future.
A room filled with strong minds, strong bodies and uplifted souls who will be looking for my guidance, my strength, my healing and my adjustments, to bring them deeper will require me to go deeper.

The Yoga Garden, is a few steps away from home. Among their prerequisites for training yoga teachers- two years of yoga classes in a formal studio setting prior to applying to their teacher training.
They also come recommended by the yoga and Advanced medicine community at Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Today I decided I will be taking the advice to train for two years prior to applying to teach. As part of that training, strength training. 
Yoga is something that takes baby steps, "forces you to go slow into each transition" A. Holmes today as I was dripping buckets of sweat onto my mat, the floor, the blocks, the kind man beside me- just wanting to push through into butterfly...
This requires strength, fortitude, persistance, patience, breath, flexibility that elongates over time, all of a physical and spiritual nature. This practice is challenging and takes time to develop.
Among the other trainings out there, a four year school in the Iyenger style and a Mysore style training, which only exists in India.

I'll be embarking into my first Mysore, India Ashtanga class this week.
That is if I can get my ass out of bed with a butt cracking, 6:30 am start time; 
Disciplines of freedom.
You can also come in and out of this class, as you please, which I find inviting.
Mysore practice honors the flux of the moon, with yin yoga practices, which aim target at the ligaments and even fascia.
Considering I function along the patterns of the moon, I'm called to this practice.

For the next two years, I'll be training in order to practice.