Tag Archives: contentment

Contemplations on Happiness, Peace, and Asana

The pursuit of happiness came on like a storm, furious, powerful, and unrelenting. I was in my teens when I decided that being happy was what I wanted to do with my life. I am sure it came about as a snarky response to the big question of what I was going to do with my life. It seemed like a reasonable goal in the midst of a maelstrom of inner confusion when facing the big teenage mystery of what the picture of my life might become. And as a teenager I believed that it did not matter what kind of career I had, what kind of lifestyle I had, how much money I would make, where I would live, all of that was secondary to the first and most important goal, happiness. Diligently like the idealist and rebellious adolescent I was I pursued this goal, finding myself in many wild and delightful moments full of happiness and yet always knowing something wasn’t quite right. Just because I was seeking happiness did not mean I was happy. Just because I thought that those other aspects of life were secondary to my happiness at the time did not mean that any of them were. In fact, as a low blow to my idealist rebel teenage self I have found that many of those aspects of my life are great contributors to my  happiness as an adult. In spite of my great efforts to be happy first I have often found myself unsatisfied, unfulfilled, and in a semi-constant state of inner tumult looking for that which would scratch my itch for joy. Having an itch after all is a natural part of life. We all experience desire and longing. However, as I eventually found for myself, the pursuit of happiness can become an unrelenting oppressive force menacingly disturbing the peace.

Unlike my youthful merciless pursuit of happiness, the pursuit of peace approached more discreetly, like a great novel, the first pages drawing me in, and the further in I went the more interesting and compelling the experience. Different from the blatant and obvious benefits of pursuing happiness the benefits of pursuing peace reveal themselves more subtly, almost clandestine in their disclosure. Leaving one satisfied at a taste of the mystery, its savory and sweet flavor lingering offering room for pause, contemplation, connection and serene delight.

Everyone comes to the mat for a different reason, yet it is probably safe to say that at the heart of all of our pursuits is peace. We cloak our desire for peace in the pursuits of happiness, fulfillment, satisfaction, health, patience, generosity, strength, flexibility, resilience, our hunger for connection to others and to something bigger, the list goes on. However, we must beware that in these worthwhile pursuits is a tendency for obsession and myopia, discipline turned into obligation, and misguided attempts to better self at the expense of self acceptance. A very famous yoga sutra, and the only one of the 196 teachings to even mention asana, states:

2:46 Sthira sukham asanam.

Asana is a steady, comfortable posture.

 If it is steady and comfortable that we seek than we must stop looking for the places we can be better and contentedly accept where we are. In the practice of self-acceptance we can become more calm and peaceful, more relaxed and allowing. This does not mean complacent, but rather naturally cultivating the ripe and loving environment for transformation, rather than trying to force it. In the end everything will change, there is no question of that. So, in the meantime we have the opportunity to enjoy the transitions in peace. Practice effort and surrender. Notice how the trees effortlessly and gracefully drop their leaves, and in step with the season we are invited to drop our own leaves, whatever they may be, and settle into the steady comfortable posture known as life.

 

 

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Legs.

Legs.

Loving on our bodies in general is not exactly encouraged in our culture. The pressure for us, as spirits in form, to perfect the form, rather than tend to the formless, is real. We live in a weird time and place where the focus on the external is far sharper than support for the depth of process it takes to look at what lies beneath. Pockets of pure perspective (like a community at your local yoga studio), do exist. Seek them out. Find a yoga teacher who inspires you to look with respect, rather than mistrust, into your body, as a step on the path of awareness. The following practice is all about dissolving the confusion and negative language around legs. Let’s call it “leg-loving-life-giving-practice”.  See what twenty minutes or so of exploration, stabilization and gentle stretches can do for your legs, those amazing limbs that carry you about all day long.

Put your feet up.

Legs up the wall helps to drain excess pressure, like the kind that builds up after a lifetime of mostly living on your feet, from your lovely legs. Lie down on the floor and kick your feet up. Five minutes.

Fold forward.

Find the position of your pelvis that allows your spine to move toward the earth with gravity in a forward fold. Start standing, using the strength of your legs to rock your pelvis forward and back, and get familiar with both actions, as they are both useful. Then, apply the forward tip of the pelvis to your forward fold. That means that your lower back is below your tailbone as you reach to touch the earth. Bend your knees as much as you need to maintain that alignment. Your back will thank you and your legs will actually be stretched (not stressed). One to two minutes.

Strengthen.

Harvest the power of all the muscles from your feet to the core of the pelvis. Hug muscles to bone and draw, like you are pulling on spandex, from the furthest points (toes), to the nearest (pelvic floor and base of spine). Play with keeping the muscles strong, and softening skin around them, to avoid over-strengthening, or becoming rigid with power. If you can breath and move, the power is good. Thirty seconds in a couple of standing poses with this fluid strength will build confidence and grace.

Lengthen.

For legs that go on forever, connect them to your solar plexus. Rather than the very limiting idea of legs ending at the tops of the femur-bones, give yourself an extra foot or so of gam by expanding the concept to the center of your body. It’s a literal connection, you don’t have to make it up, just change your mind about where things begin and end. From right around there, the psoas muscle extends, giving freedom of mobility and stability to your legs. See how it feels to move from here (above your navel, below your heart, deep along the center-channel of the spine), and allow your spectacular gams to grow. Take some time to shift your perspective, on and off the mat.

Relax.

Either with your knees over a bolster, supine, or returning to legs up the wall, give your limbs another sweet respite. Five minutes.

Yours,

Suki

Pause And Enjoy The Present.

This summer I miraculously grew a watermelon. Last spring without too much attachment to the outcome I flippantly stuck a couple seeds in the ground. I was not so attached to the outcome because in the past I have tried to grow melons, and until this summer have met with tomato sized cantaloupe success, which I consider minimal at best. My husband who knows more about these things says growing this giant watermelon is a spectacular feat at our altitude. I based on my minimal experience largely agree. He harvested it yesterday, before whatever was chewing on it enjoyed it before we could. In my garden much is going on this week, the harvest of the watermelon, the squashes fading from absolute abundance to one or two, the corn fully grown, brown peaking out amongst what was all so green only a few weeks ago, has notified me that a transition is taking place.

One thing I really appreciate about nature is that even in it’s inconsistencies it’s pretty consistent. The nature of nature is cyclical, and in fact all things are cyclical, though it is more evident in some places than others, growing seasons, birthdays, and yearly calendars. Viewing the nature of creation in all of its forms through a cyclical journey clarifies an understanding of the ever expanding and contracting cosmology of the universe and all life. From nothing all things arise, the barren earth before a planting, the unknown before the big bang, an empty womb before conception. After the seed has been planted, the rise of manifestation is an expansion into its fullest state of being, like my watermelon. The high point of manifestation in its fullest forms is like the fullness of an inhale, alive, vibrant, mirroring qualities of our life’s journey that resonate with emotional feelings of love, satisfaction, elation, joy, and contentment. Holding to the pleasure that exists in such full-filling experiences is a natural desire, however it is as futile as holding onto our breath at its fullest point. Were we to hold our breath we would eventually pass out and our body in its own intelligence would return to breathing. The bottom of our exhale, like the top of our inhale reflects another aspect of the nature of this conscious, animate, feeling journey we call life. In the emptiness there is an echo of the lower emotional states of being such as sorrow, discomfort, distaste, grief, frustration, and other experiences of this nature. It is human nature to want to resist spending much time in these experiences, being drawn to the full and bright feelings that reside at the top of the inhale, and to not wish to pause in places that are dark and cold and scary like the basement at the bottom of an exhale. Yet life is not so stagnant, so simple, so one way, life invites us to experience the flavor of the dark and hard times so that we can have the contrasting experience of the full and bright moments of elated delight. It is in fact the harder, more challenging and difficult places in our lives that are the birthing ground for the desires, motives, and intentions that eventually become the joy-filled satisfactory moments of our content.   Exhaling metaphorically and literally therefore, is a necessary part of the bigger equation of the cycle of manifestation, from the height of a manifested expansion begins a contraction. The watermelon is harvested, eventually it will be eaten, all its life digested and composted into the energy of the barren earth or body from which something else will arise. Our Universe will continue to expand until it changes course and turns in upon itself in a black hole. Each of us who has the great opportunity to be alive, will die. Our lives, no matter how much we may try, we only have little control of, because life is a series of happenstance and circumstance. The Earth will continue to tilt on its axis and rotate in the habitual pattern it has displayed for millennia and the growing season will only be so long. Having awareness of the nature of seasonal timing and knowing that the only control I may have in my ability to grow a garden outdoors requires responding to the opportunity to grow in good timing and to harvest in good timing. Like growing a watermelon most of life is a dance with a partner who is doing their best to guide us through the steps of our lives with as much ease as possible, and like learning to train a dog, we come to see overtime that this dance partner has a language of its own.

Part of nature s language is that it is cyclical, another piece of the puzzle seen in nature it that all things that manifest into form manifest from the inside out. Seeds contain all of the information for a fully grown plant, they root in the deep dark earth from where they unfold and break out and through evolving eventually into their fullest potential before the contraction of their inward turning spiral. One common thwarting conception of us humans is to perceive ourselves from the outside in, which in many ways dims the brightness of our individual and shared journeys. This is because not unlike nature we grow and expand from the inside out, not only in our waistlines, more importantly in our mental perceptions of life and our emotional responses to it. When we are mentally small our emotional responses mirror our mental perception, therefor the journeys into the underbelly of life’s experience we see as an act of victimization rather than a seed of good fortune and joy being planted. When we allow our perception to be expansive enough to see the good, the potential of the good, and our own ability to be resilient and adaptable our emotional experience reflects this with a feeling that is brighter even if our life circumstances do not appear to be this way on the surface. When we come to understand the cyclical nature of life, the expansion and the contraction, we become less resistant to dancing with a partner we cannot see, and more comfortable witnessing the present moment which is always a transition of some form or another.

Noticing that things are always changing, always in transition, invites us to acknowledge that we don’t need a special moment to pause because in fact any moment can be a special moment of pause. Taking that pause invites an awareness of the present. The awareness of the present, is where the gift is, that is why they call it the present. Pausing and reflecting at the end of a growing season, a multi year cycle of life, a midday in a week of work, or any point in a round of breath is the foundation upon which we get to choose our perception and our response to life’s invitations, which most often is the only control we really have in this dance. What we may witness in that point of self reflection may invite us to enjoy a moment of satisfaction, or to plant sooner next year. Either way this awareness allows us to move like nature from the inside out, from our hearts into the world.

Like harvesting a giant watermelon in a high altitude kitchen garden, the potential to live a life of joy, meaning, value, and satisfaction is always present, no matter the appearance of the circumstances.

photo

Fat Cat, Fat Watermelon, we grew them both!

With Love, In all ways, Always in Joy,

Genevieve

What is Yoga?

What is yoga? Where did yoga come from? What is the point? What determines a “strong” or an “advanced” yoga practice?

As yoga becomes more and more popular the world over, and more and more people practice it in one form or another, an individual does not have to be a student of yoga at all, does not have to ever have set their foot on a yoga mat or into a yoga studio to have asked themselves, or another, any and or all of the questions above.

Perhaps a piqued curiosity of yoga led you to a local yoga studio like Shree and you excitedly jumped into a yoga practice without hesitation. However, most people who wish to answer these questions were probably more like me at the beginning of their yoga journey. Timid, shy, afraid to join the spandex-wearing crowd because of self imposed ideas of limitation leaving them feeling unfit to fit in.

Like most people who come to the mat I was encouraged to try it by many before I ever let my curiosity overcome my fear and allow an open minded perspective create new space in a mind that had previously been full of preconceived ideas of yoga being just about the stretching and the stretch pants. Nearly a decade ago when I began my yoga practice and I allowed myself to cross the threshold of fear into curiosity where I could begin to answer the aforementioned questions for myself the most logical place to seek out information was at a yoga studio. These days, in the age of high speed internet connections, researching and studying yoga and the variants between the many schools and philosophies of yoga has become not only more easily attained for the curious seeker, but also perhaps, even more confusing.  After all, where do you start?

At the top of the Google search page for Yoga is a link to the home page for Yoga Journal, a magazine dedicated to the culture of the practice. Yoga Journal is a wonderful product that has served the yoga community for years and is a fantastically informative print magazine, as well as online version, yet does not concisely answer any of these questions previously stated. Next on the Google search engine page is the Wikipedia link for Yoga. Like Google and the many other wonderful bits of information that are readily at ones fingertips with the advent of high-speed internet Wikipedia has become a widely used resource, and for good reason, it quickly gets to the point.  At the top of the Yoga Wikipedia page, above the brief synopsis I have come to trust and rely on as the concise and generally accurate information I seek, however, is the following disclaimer.

“This article is about the umbrella term yoga which includes both religion, philosophy, and practices. For one of the six Hindu philosophy schools, see Rāja yoga. For the popular yoga that explains and emphasizes the physical practices or disciplines, see Hatha Yoga.”

In this disclaimer alone are eleven possible avenues of information one could venture down in order to answer the simple question, “What is yoga?” The Wikipedia synopsis translates the Sanskrit “Yoga” into it’s more literal meaning of “yoking together” rather than explain briefly what is yoked in Yoga and how. Should one continue to seek the answers to these simple questions via the World Wide Web, they will most definitely have the opportunity to become more informed, yet as I mentioned before, there is a great potential they will also become more confused.

Akin to the failings of finding viable and concise answers to these simple questions on the prodigious blogs and articles published daily on the internet and in publications like Yoga Journal, one may also find these answers hard to come by in a yoga classroom setting as well. This, in my opinion, is one of the greatest failings of the rapid growth and popularity of yoga in western culture today. Yes, the health benefits of Hatha Yoga (yoga in its physical form) are many and great, however the exercise is a tool to be used as a means to the end, and not the end itself.

Yoga is to yoke, to bring into balance. As I was taught, Yoga is also another word for discipline, which is rooted in the word disciple, meaning student of. In this vein, Yoga becomes the deliberate and repeated act of bringing into relationship all aspects of oneself into a well-rounded nature; body, mind, and spirit. The practice of Yoga consists not only of the physical (Hatha Yoga) and breath exercises (Pranayama), it includes focus and meditation (Dharana and Dhyana), the practice of the withdrawal of the senses (Pratyahara), and the study of the philosophical principles through which one can create a sustainable lifestyle of ethics and morals to better ones relationships with self as well as with community (Yama and Niyama, as well as Raja, Kriya, and Bhakti Yogas), and not in this specific order. It is through the yoking of oneself and the continuous return to disciplined practice that attachment to the body and the concepts of the mind as well as the emotions of the heart fall away with ease. It is then in this place that radical freedom or the transcendence of the self (Samahdi) is obtained.

Where did yoga come from? What is the point? What makes an advanced practitioner?

The origins of yoga are up for debate, however it seems to be pretty clear that no matter the “School” in which you study your yoga, “Ashtanga”, “Iyengar”, “Bikram”, “Anusara”, “Hatha”, “Vinyasa”, “Kundalini”, “Kripalu”, “Bhakti”, “Kriya”, “Raja”, and on, all modern Yoga is rooted in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Sutras are a series of philosophical threads (Sutras) that explain in detail the many aspects of the practice dating back to 400 CE. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is in effect then, the questionable source of debate. Were they actually written by one person, or was Patanjali just the guy who decided to transcribe the teachings into a concise* format? (Using the word *concise loosely as the book is a series of four parts with 196 teachings.) The Sutras have been translated and interpreted many times and is the source for all pertinent information on yoga, if not concise, viable for any who are truly interested in being a disciple of yoga.

In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states;
Yoga Sutra 1:2, (Book 1, Sutra 2)
Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah
Yogas=Yoga; Chitta=of the mind stuff; Vritti=modifications; Nirodhah=restraint.
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.
(Translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda)

This mind stuff being the attachments, expectations, sufferings, disappointments, resentments, hopes, fears, happiness’s, stories, and endless chains of chatter by the mind.

So, what’s the point?

I like to tell my new students “I want you to leave happy and the instructions are an invitation not a command. Please do whatever you need to do to leave happy.” Not only do I want my new students to leave the class happy, I want all of my students to leave life happy, this is why I teach yoga. In essence I feel that the teachings of yoga, and the continued practice of yoga enable any level of student of yoga to surrender their beliefs and feelings of limitations as well as their attachments with more ease, and eventually learn to set new ones down as quickly as they picked them up. Inevitably this practice leads to more happiness. The long term sustaining of this state of quiet mind stuff makes an advanced Yogi. Perhaps this Yogi can do handstand, perhaps not. Perhaps they know all of the Sutras, perhaps not. The advanced practitioner responds to life with ease, open to the invitation of enjoying being no matter how life appears beneath or beyond the surface of their skin.

So, what is yoga? Yoga is a series of precise steps of dedicated practice taken toward freedom. Yoga is a spiritual practice that uses the tools each human is born with to facilitate their personal growth on and off the mat. Yoga is multifold, and a lifetime of learning. Yoga is an invitation to enjoying life through learning to surrender with ease. Yoga is all of this and so much more, and that is why the answer to this question is hardly ever concise. If you were thinking of trying yoga but havn’t yet, please take the leap over the threshold of your fear into a wonderful exploration of you, your limitations, your freedoms, and your willingness to change those boundaries at any moment. If you are a seasoned student, thank you for spending time with yourself, your spirit, your community, your skills and your liabilities both on and off the mat, and thank you for being an ambassador to what I feel is one of the most rewarding of disciplines to undertake.

If you are still curious and the questions still feel unanswered, in asking and seeking, you are doing yoga. It is when we come to know that we have stepped out of the classroom.

With Love, Always, For Giving, In Joy,
Genevieve

Just One More, Class 20

In the old days class twenty would have marked the moment of crossing the finish line of the Spring or Autumn Yoga Challenge at Shree Yoga Taos.  However in 2014, we decided twenty wasn’t enough and twenty-one would be an appropriate upping of the ante for those like me who fervently take the plunge regularly.  In the old days I would have experienced an elated delight toward the end of class, just like the experience I had this evening when my body made an inner exclamation of and undying love of yoga and being in my body.  Unlike challenges past, as I finished class this evening there would not have been just one more class looming in the distance.

Many times in my life I have been asked, “What is it you love about yoga, what brings you back to the mat?”  My answer to the question has always been true and despite the many years that have gone by it continues to be the same.  “There is always more room”,  I answer with confidence and ease.  The longer I practice the more often I experience more room in my body even if it is limited in its movement.  I experience more room in the energetic body followed by more room in the relaxed quality of my muscles.  No matter the spaciousness or limitations of my physical body I find there is always more room in my mind after I practice, less judgement, less criticism, less running around in circles on the same thought, any thought, be it expansive or limiting, dissipates like vapors off a hot cup of tea.  Mostly however, the thing I find most appealing is that there is always more room in my heart to love and be loved, to experience joy no matter my physical surroundings, freedoms, or limitations.  This spaciousness in my heart translates directly to my spirit which always feels after a yoga practice unlimited in its expansion, unlimited in its knowing, unlimited in awareness of time and space, unlimited in it’s eternal presence and connection with the eternal heart of all hearts.  Even if my awareness of this radical unlimited spaciousness of my spirit is only for just a tenth of a second, I have the great joy of experiencing it every time I come to my mat.

When I was doing my yoga teacher training my teacher Bea Doyle so brilliantly said, “It does not matter what type of yoga you practice, it is ultimately a spiritual practice.  A student may say that’s not for me and align them self to a rigorous physical practice with a teacher who never touches on the spiritual aspect of the yoga.  However, it is inevitable they will find themselves asking “does this serve me?”, and no matter the answer, the question itself is spiritually based.”  Bea calls this “the back door approach.”  Bea is a remarkable teacher who has a subtle way of including the spiritual qualities of the practice without ever sounding dogmatic or off putting.  Perhaps that is because she was a math teacher for twenty years?  I feel so fortunate to honor her as my teacher and I often hear her wise and intelligent voice in my head, as well as in other teachers at Shree who have also studied with her.  Like Bea, I do my best to bring the spiritual aspects to the classes I teach, however I know I am not as subtle about it as she is, being that subtle wouldn’t suit me as it would not be authentic.  Authenticity is another valuable teaching I learned in her spacious and beautiful studio Bhava Yoga on Central in Albuquerque, authenticity, spirituality, asana, spaciousness, how to string instructions together, and so much more.

Now it’s been five years since I finished that teacher training, five years since Shree opened it’s doors, five years of regular teaching which amounts to thousands of hours, maybe seven yoga challenges including autumn and spring, and countless hours of time on my mat at home, in class, and elsewhere.  Tonight as I was rising into locust pose (Salabasana), a pose that for all these years of practice has not only alluded me, but also brought that discomforted “why am I doing this?” question to mind, I felt surprisingly and amazingly good.  “Ah, I love yoga!” exclaimed my body as we repeated the pose and an old mystery became clear.  “Ah, I love that there is always more room.”  I reminded myself to mark that moment as an important one on my path of always learning, and like the invitations of my teacher suggested, I moved on.

This evening I attended Liz’s 5:30-7:00 pm class knowing it would be subbed by Doug Gilnet.  In this challenge I have made a concerted effort to get to all the wonderful teachers at Shree’s classes.  With the exception of Kelly who is out of town, I have been successful.  Class was a perfectly paced slow flow of back bends and forward bends.  With my new awareness of the high point of my hip, and the ever changing strength and flexibility of my muscles through this winding yoga journey I felt really really great through tonight’s entire practice.  Music is my favorite drug and in my world always makes life more delightful, for his class Doug offered his students a really gentle mix of beautiful music to support our time on the mat.  Traditionally yoga was taught by men, I find the quality of a mans voice while teaching yoga to be inspiring, steadfast, secure, and supportive, and Doug’s voice fits this description.  Doug generally teaches at Shree on Monday afternoon’s from 3:30-5:00 pm, he also heads the yoga program at Ojo Caliente, where he can be found Tuesday through Friday should you desire to take yourself on a really nice personal yoga and soak retreat.  However you find your way I highly recommend attending Doug’s class, I am confident you will leave like everyone left class tonight, calm with a peaceful serenity across your face.

Now, as darkness begins to blanket this magical town I so fortunately call home and I contemplate the solar eclipse taking place with tonight’s full moon, thinking this must be the dark side of the moon Pink Floyd spoke of, I restfully reside in my inner light, ever-growing like the expanding universe and the spaciousness of my heart.

One more to go, yet so many more to come.

When a new galaxy comes into creation do you think perhaps the conscious intelligence that breaths us all ever states “just one more”?  Who knows?  I know, I don’t know the answer to that question, yet the universe continues to expand, as does my heart.

With love from my big spacious heart,  and the ever expanding curiosity of my spirit and mind, good night, sweet dreams, in joy,

Genevieve

Genevieve’s Spring Yoga Challenge, Class 12

Tonight I attended Liz’s Gentle/Restorative yoga class after a day long adventure to Ojo Caliente.  When Liz offered up the invitation to move into contentment I found that it was not hard for me to step in to such a feeling after having a quality relaxing day.  Relaxing and taking the time to do activities one enjoys, from my perspective, is an important piece to the overall puzzle of a happy and meaningful life.  Hot springs, yoga, chocolate, lots of sleep, good movies, quality time with those I love, these things are important to me and add to the overall feeling of content I experience from day to day.

Santosha is the Sanskrit word for contentment, it is also a fundamental practice in the eight limbs of yoga.  Practicing contentment is easy when life is easy, like a day at the hot springs, yet contentment requires mindful effort when life is throwing you through the ringer, like the sudden shock of loosing someone you love.  Fortunate for us life is not always the same, steady, easy, clear, and without challenge, if it were, I think it would become quite boring.  Rather, in the undulations of the ever changing state of what is, is the ever enhanced opportunity to respond to what is however we choose.  When we learn that we can respond and not react to the experience we are having in the right now, then we are really setting ourselves up for happy, meaningful, and successful lives.  If we constantly live in a state of I have no control, and reactionary to the world around us, then we perpetuate an inner cycle of discontent.  Choosing our response to the ever changing-ness of the world does not mean that all things will always be outwardly awesome, it just means that we can say “life is good” no matter the experience we are having, and this is the embodiment of Santosha.

And “life is good” for it is a blessed, short, and fleeting gift.  We are here today with all the potential to enjoy right now however it shows up, and well, this moment and what we make of it is all we have before we are gone tomorrow, or the next day…or whenever our expiration date arrives.  I hope it does not arrive any time soon for any of us, and in the meantime may each of us continue to choose quality of life in all the ways that make our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies happy.

Enjoy your evening with a contented heart.

Love, always, in all ways, for giving,

Genevieve