Saturday, January 31, 2009

A child's practice

I was 10 years old in 1967 when I first saw the book. My father said it was a book about “Yoga” and that I should learn how to do all the poses in it. My sisters and I giggled as we turned the pages to see each new picture of “the pretzel-man.” Little did I know that this wasn’t just any yoga book – it was a first edition of Light on Yoga – by B.K.S. Iyengar. It was given to my father by the surgeon who performed his back surgery that same year. My father said to me “Lie down on your stomach and I’ll show you the pose that will help your back.” He had me lift my chest up off the ground and I had performed what would be the first of thousands of cobra poses to date. “Now I’m going to show you how to stand on your head”, he said. I placed my hands as he had instructed and put my head on the floor. I brought my knees up into my chest and I was up. My first headstand was Sirsasana III. Not a pose I would recommend for a beginner - but I loved it! Thus, in the living room of the house where I grew up I had my first yoga practice. I remember it like it was yesterday.

More than 40 years later I still feel like that 10 year old boy in Sirsasana. There is playfulness about the pose for me. Yet, my practice now is more than the pose. My yoga is about the state of mind that I feel in each pose. I doubt that the physical form of my headstand is any “better” than the first day I did it. Perhaps - but what is better is the quality of awareness when I practice the pose. I am aware of where I “go” in the pose. It’s no longer a performance as it was that first day many years ago. Now it is a sacred practice, and method to quiet and still my mind and sooth my soul.

It’s easy for me to see how the art and science of yoga has survived for thousands of years because it has survived all of my life’s trials and tribulations. Through adolescence to adulthood, personal relationships, business success and failures, emotional upsets, and physical challenges, my practice has always been there. Like the God of my understanding, my yoga is always patient, always kind, always instructive, always nurturing, always loving and restorative. It is my “Fountain of Youth.” It is a place where I can be a boy again. It is a timeless place. I’ve always felt better after a practice – never worse. Always younger and more calm – never older and more agitated. It’s what keeps me going back to the mat. My practice is pragmatic in that way.

Know that once you begin this yogic journey, that it has no end. In 2005 my business took me to India of all places! This was something I had not planned on. I was setting up a nighttime call center in Bangalore for a U.S.-based recruiting company. Working during the nights gave me freedom to practice during the early morning hours. I was graced to find a master teacher – Yoga Praveena Arun H.S. “Arunji” studied with Mr. Iyengar in the early 70’s. He also studied with Mr. Iyengar’s son Prashant, and named his yoga studio - Prashant Yogashraya – after him. Arun and his wife Srimatha taught me how to take my practice to a deeper place. A deeper place physically and spiritually. They showed me the value of holding the poses much longer than I previously had in my practice. They taught me how to feel and experience what the Yoga Sutras have to say about the poses. But, most importantly, they taught me how to allow the practice to be the most important thing – not the pose. I am humbly and gratefully indebted to Arun and his wife for their instruction. It has changed my life and continues to do so today.

My teaching style isn’t for everyone these days. I am becoming a bit more demanding of my students. Proper form in the pose is so essential. These asanas are not random body postures. It is absolutely critical they are done properly as an improperly performed asana can do more harm than good. Ease and peace of mind can only come when there is no more struggle in the pose. Until the pose is “lined up” properly there can be no ease. A proper pose is firm, steady and benevolent. Then the practice takes hold. Then the inner-being –the child within if you will – can be known.

I still work full time in the recruiting business. I’m deep in the mire of the business world. I also still teach 2 to 4 yoga classes a week. I do my best to get in a practice in every day – even if it’s just Sarvangasana at the end of the day. People at work don’t understand why I don’t drink alcohol or eat meat when we go to dinner or lunch. I don’t get caught up as much in politics, market conditions or news of the day as I did in the past. What’s important to me is a steady even breath – like the breath in a pose.

Today I’m more in contact with the lightness and playfulness of that 11 year old boy than I ever have been. There is a timelessness that happens for me when I practice – a feeling that I could do this forever. I love the practice of yoga more than anything, as it is my connection with spirit, God, and my true nature – that of a playful, inquisitive, happy and creative child. I pray that one day I will see you who read this in class - until then – Namaste.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Why Yoga? What's the point?

I think the concept of "Sustained Health" is an interesting one to contemplate.

It's more than just "getting in shape", or "working out." And, it's far more than a "Wellness Program."

When people ask me "Why should I practice yoga?" - my first response is usually "How long do you plan on living in that body?"

Yoga has a positive impact on Sustained Health in 4 ways:

1) Physical - it's one of the very few (if only) activities that balances and re-integrates the entire neuro-muscular-skeletal archtecture back to homeostatis.

2) Emotional - it's an activity that settles the nerves - the neuro-channel-fibers to emotional health

3) Mental - through meditative and conscious breathing, the mind quiets and rests (without falling asleep).

4) Vibratory - (or Spiritual if you like) it heightens one's awareness of inter-connectedness.

Furthermore, yoga has a cummulative effect. Each practice builds upon the previous and a store of health and sustainability is built.

There's really only one challenge to achieving Sustained Health, and that's PRACTICE.