Saturday, June 27, 2009

Waiting for the moment to reveal itself

Quieting the mind and being totally present in the moment is a subtle yet difficult art. We have the illusion of control and try to accomplish tasks by willing our way with effort. The idea of allowing whatever we are trying to accomplish to reveal itself to us might seem absurd. Yet in the stillness of the moment is when we receive our greatest gifts.

Eugen Herrigel went to Japan to learn the art of archery. He studied with a Zen master who tried to teach him over and over again to wait for the moment when the arrow would release itself without his control. For months and months Eugen would practice sometimes trying to trick the master to make it look like he had found this magical moment. Sometimes he believed himself that he had let the arrow release itself, but the master had a keen awareness that could not be fooled.

In his book, Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen described what the master was trying to teach: "This state, in which nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected, which aims in no particular direction and yet knows itself capable alike of the possible and the impossible, so unswerving in its power this state, which is at bottom purposeless and egoless, was called by the Master truly "spiritual". It is in fact charged with spiritual awareness and is therefore also called "right presence of mind". This means that the mind or spirit is present everywhere, because it is nowhere attached to any particular place. And it can remain present because even when related to this or that object, it does not cling to it by reflection and thus lose it original mobility. Like water filling a pond, which is always ready to flow off again, it can work its inexhaustible power because it is free, and be open to everything because it is empty. This state is essentially a primordial state, and its symbol, the empty circle, is not empty of meaning for him who stands within it."

A huge part of reaching this state is focusing on the breath. This is the practice of yoga. Focus on the breath. Feel the pose reveal itself to you. When the effort becomes effortless, when you feel free and strong, when your breath is full and easy, you are practicing the art of yoga.

The art of yoga and the art of archery are really the art of living. When we live from our heart center, when we can feel our breath, when we can pause and let the world reveal itself to us, when we can be detached and truly live in this moment, we have found a precious gift. Connecting with grace, a higher power, the power that breaths all of life; this is the key to inner peace and an ease where life flows with an unattached joy and a simplicity that sets us free.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Honoring the Sun

Summer solstice is a celebration of the longest day of the year. It is a time of light, but it is the beginning of days becoming shorter and moving toward darkness. Light and darkness are opposites but they work together. We cannot know light without knowing darkness and we cannot know darkness without knowing light. These opposites complement each other in a symbiotic way.

There are four times in the cycle of a year that have unique turning points. The Summer Solstice, the Winter Solstice marking the longest night and the Spring and Fall Equinox where the days and nights are exactly equal in length.

The solstices test the edges. The days and nights cannot get any longer. There has to be a return to the middle. The opposite is seeking balance. The equinoxes find the perfect balance. But this perfect balance cannot be maintained for long either. So the cycle continues and repeats itself - testing the edges and returning to balance.

This cycle is mirrored in yoga practice and in life. We test the edges, we test our limits. The edges are where we learn but this is also where we need to change direction and move back toward the center. Just as the summer solstice lasts only one day, we do not stay at the edge.

In yoga we move into our poses slowly with awareness and sensitivity. We reach the edge with a softening and expansion, enjoy a taste of that edge and then gently move away with the breath. We can retest the edge but it is not a place to linger. Just as nature pulses, we pulse with our breath.

With a fiery core with an expansive light, the sun illuminates and gives life. In yoga move from your core, your belly, your fiery center and expand outward. On an inhalation fill up with the energy of the sun feeling an inner brightness and fullness. Feel the inner lightness radiate outward. On the exhalation. soften and let go. Just as the sun is a source of renewable energy, respect your edges so you do not burn out or injure yourself. Return to your center to renew and rejuvenate yourself. Feel your inner light align with the brilliance of the sun. We are all manifestations of the same energy. Let the sun inspire your heart to be open and free.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Feeling the joy

The Tarahumara Indians of Mexico’s Copper Canyon are probably the fastest long distance runners in the world. Christopher McDougall is a runner who was constantly injured from running and decided to live and study with the Tarahumara Indians. They run barefoot or in the simplest shoes and are extremely healthy and joyful. His experiences are documented in his book "Born to Run".

When asked what are some of the secrets you learned from them he replied, “The key secret hit me like a thunderbolt. It was so simple, yet such a jolt. It was this: everything I’d been taught about running was wrong. We treat running in the modern world the same way we treat childbirth—it’s going to hurt, and requires special exercises and equipment, and the best you can hope for is to get it over with quickly with minimal damage.

Then I meet the Tarahumara, and they’re having a blast. They remember what it’s like to love running, and it lets them blaze through the canyons like dolphins rocketing through waves. For them, running isn’t work. It isn’t a punishment for eating. It’s fine art, like it was for our ancestors. Way before we were scratching pictures on caves or beating rhythms on hollow trees, we were perfecting the art of combining our breath and mind and muscles into fluid self-propulsion over wild terrain. And when our ancestors finally did make their first cave paintings, what were the first designs? A downward slash, lightning bolts through the bottom and middle—behold, the Running Man.”

When we practice yoga with joy we are experiencing true yoga. If we practice yoga like it is something we must do and treat it like a competition we miss the true essence of yoga. If your neck feels tight and you are holding your breath, pause. Find the place where you can expand and feel the softness. Find your inner joy. Let that feeling radiate throughout your body. Express joy in your pose.

Remembering joy and having a playful attitude is the key to less injury, achieving more and experiencing our true nature. Sure, there will always be times where we forget our joy, when things are tough and when we feel alone. But just as everything in nature pulses, we can always return to the joy of the abundance of life. Letting go and being able to go with the flow is key to feeling the joy. Releasing expectations is difficult but it holds a freedom and yields many benefits. Believe in your innate beauty. Return to simplicity to experience the complexity of nature. Find abundance in the seemingly mundane. Align with nature to run with the wind.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Empowerment is contagious

What does empower mean? It's oldest meaning is "to bring into power". But today empower has many meanings. We can empower ourselves and we can empower others. So rather than having power over others it is about coming into your own power and helping others do the same.

When we are empowered we feel confident, free and energized. Empowerment means we believe in our capabilities. We believe we can change, make changes or just be who we are. We have choices and we feel that sense of upliftment that comes with feeling strong and having the ability to meet challenges.

Practicing yoga poses creates a feeling of empowerment. We ask our bodies to do things that we do not normally do in our daily lives. Accessing these hidden parts of our bodies helps us to feel more whole and more appreciative of how amazing our bodies are. We have to put the pieces of the puzzle together to do a difficult pose. If we do not use our breath, engage our muscles yet still find the softness to relax and expand, it will not be possible to hold many of the standing balance or arm balance poses. But when we do put all these pieces together, we feel empowered.

When we practice empowerment it is contagious. People gathered together with a common goal can empower each other. The feeling begins to spread and grow into a energy field that keeps expanding. There is often a vibration of empowerment in yoga classes. We uplift each other as we breath, engage and explore together. This is the power we want to embrace on and off the mat.

So take a moment to close your eyes. Feel your breath. Feel how the breath empowers your life. Feel the energy of the air, earth, sun, and nature around you. Notice how when you lengthen your spine, connect your shoulders onto the back, lengthen and align your neck with your spine you feel empowered. Aligning with your intentions, aligning with nature, aligning with your inner power brings the freedom that is our inherent gift for this journey of life.