March 26: Bali Spirit Festival, Fun and Games in the Jungle

Yogis and yogini from all over the world converge on Ubud, Bali for four days of music, yoga and dance.  The Bali Spirit Festival is on its final day of celebration. Practice: I attended a yoga class by taught by Danny Paradise yesterday.  Danny is trained in the ashtanga tradition, but he teaches an experimental and playful class. He was one of the first westerners to be trained in ashtanga yoga and is responsible for introducing such famous people as Sting and Madonna to yoga.

In addition to ashtanga, Danny has also studied and practiced with numerous teachers of other Yoga forms as well as various martial arts including Karate, Kung Fu and Tai Chi. His influences in Spirituality have come from Krishnamurti, teachings of Buddha, Jesus, Shiva, Yoga, as well as numerous Shamanic traditions of Native North and South Americans, from indigenous cultures of the Pacific, Tibet, Africa and South East Asia. Some of these traditions also include Mayan, Egyptian, Hawaiian…

Danny gave a quick lecture on the health benefits of yoga, encouraging people to practice in order to feel good late in to life and to avoid the suffering most people experience in the years before death.  Additionally, Danny spoke about the “little death” experience of ayahuasca, a psychedelic shamanic medicines, encouraging people to come to peace with the transitional experience of death in this lifetime.

A highlight of the festival for many people is the music.  Last night was no exception. My new friend Marcus Thomson (aka “Deva”) rocked the stage along with such acts as a Canadian band “From Deli to Dublin.”

Today the festival is free to the public and most of the classes are geared for kids.  I’m looking forward to a final night of great world music.

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March 24: Mother of Twins

Honor the asymmetries of the body. Work towards balance, but love yourself in every moment, just the way you are.

The more you practice yoga the more sensitive you become to the subtle asymmetries of your body.  Yoga asks us to draw towards the center and to look for balance, but this is a constant practice rather than a goal that must be reached.

I have a laundry list of imbalances in my own body: the arch of my right foot likes to pronate, I broke my left arm making it weaker than my right, my left shoulder is double jointed, and my left IT band is tighter than my right.

When I was first practicing yoga, I was very frustrated to realize that my left and right sides were not the same.  I felt like I would never gain control of my right foot and couldn’t help but feel defeated by my asymmetries.  My perspective has changed.

Instead of finding frustration in my asymmetries I try to love each side of my body and allow the sides of my body to learn from and heal each other.

I consider the left and right side of my body to be my children, my twins.  Just like individual siblings, the different sides of my body have had different experiences and enjoy different things.  I do my best to love and honor each side of my body completely, and to allow the difference in my twins to inform and influence each other.

Asana Practice: My imbalances are most apparent in the ashtanga yoga standing poses.  I have a hard time grounding my right foot and my left hip is far more stubborn than my right.  Add to this the pain I’ve been working with in the left side of my upper back and nearly every pose feels different from one side to the other.

The brilliance of yoga, is that my asymmetries actually guide me to be more knowledgeable about my practice and to take the healing deeper.

In ashtanga yoga, the standing poses are done in the same order every day.  First you do the right side and then you do the left.  Day after day, you feel in to the subtle differences between the opposing sides.  For some poses I am better on my left side and for others my right side feels more natural. 

I allow both my difficult and graceful sides to inform each other. My natural side teaches my difficult side about grace.  In exchange, through the process of mimicry and discovery, my difficult side can bring awareness and understanding to my asana practice allowing my natural side to be imbued with not only grace and ease, but also consciousness.

Over the last few weeks I have settled in to poses that were impossible for me to do before.  Specifically revolved triangle pose (Parvrtta Trikonasana), and revolved side angle pose (Parivrtta Parsvakonasana), which are now accessible to me.

Parivrtta Trikonasana from Yoga JournalI am watching my body surrender in to new shapes and enjoying the process my twin sides are taking.  Just like a proud and caring mother, I’m carefully watching, perceiving both the successes and the hesitation of different parts of my body.

Through exploration and awareness, the twin sides of my body learn and teach each other. Through support and love the sides of my body influence the entirety of my body to go deeper in to

Lesson Learned: Asymmetries in the body are a valuable learning tool.  Use the easy side to teach the body what a pose should feel like.  Through the process of mimicry and exploration, the challenging side will ultimately teach you how to go deep in to the pose in an informed manner.

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March 25: Caterpillar Envy

This morning I noticed a small pile of dirt walking.  Curious, I approached.  It turns out this small pile of dirt was actually a caterpillar building a cocoon, or perhaps emerging from one.

I was reminded of a visual dialogue I’ve been having with the environment around me since I arrived in Bali several weeks ago.

During my first week of mysore with Prem and Rada, I was greeted by a caterpillar.  Emerging from savasana, I rolled on to my side and sat up.  A caterpillar was resting on my mat in the same place my body had been laying.

Through the dreamy energy of savasana I didn’t question how the caterpillar managed to avoid being squished.  Instead, I felt deeply, the shamanic message of the visit…  Transformation is coming.

Over the next several weeks, in different environments, I saw single tiny caterpillars dangling from trees.  They seemed unphased by the fact that they were  precariously hanging from the end of a long piece of silk.  Focused on the project of building their cocoon, these small little creatures were hard at work and completely engaged with the moment.

Butterflies dance all over Bali and grace exquisite moments with a touch of magic.  The same can be said of the people of Bali.  No moment is left without a touch of grace.  Even as you drive down a wild street on your motorbike, a woman can be seen placing an offering box full of flowers and rice in the center of a busy intersection to protect the drivers.

I’ve felt my outer shell softening during my stay in Bali.  But the softening has only been possible because I’ve wrestled with uncomfortability and gained strength. Bali is a jungle, chaotic and wild.  It is a kingdom of ants and the people must fight to maintain control over their physical space.  Energetically, there are tons of distractions and spiritual “obligations” and it can be difficult at times to stay on task. It requires extreme perseverance to accomplish things here and you learn fortuitiveness and strength of will around things you really care about.

The metaphor of the caterpillar, guarded with spikes, but oh so soft and vulnerable, emerging as a Goddess creature, winged and free, speaks to me.  I’ve wrestled with uncomfortable emotions here.  I’ve had to learn to stick to my path despite others wanting me to follow theirs.  I’ve wrestled with the environment, demanding the ants and other insects provide, at least, a small sanctuary to rest my head.  And through this, I have gotten stronger.  I feel like soon, perhaps as I write, I will be emerging as a Self, capable of flight, no longer needing spikes to feel safe.  Instead, I will be able to rest in the emanation of beauty to protect me.  I will be able to fly free and dance.

Ashtanga Practice: Staying intensely present in the moment is the key to yoga.  Contained on your mat, wrestling and breathing with a posture, focused on the mission at hand, it is possible to emerge transformed.

My morning mysore practice, here in Bali, has helped maintain structure while I’m undergoing great change. Ashtanga doesn’t have the bells and whistles of other forms of yoga, but it allows you to churn through chaotic spaces with control.  The gift of flight at the end of practice allows you to see the ground you covered, but the journey itself is all about the moment.

Lesson Learned: Allow the challenges of your life, both on and off the mat to strengthen you so that you may remove your protective barriers from the world.  Emerge in flight, full of beauty, protected by the awe of those around you.

I feel like I’m resting in my cocoon, waiting to emerge a fully empowered butterfly.

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March 20: A day of Devotion

Today is a day of rest from yoga.  I will be spending the day in devotion.

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March 19: Super Moon

Honor the great rhythms of the universe.

Tonight the full moon will appear larger than it has in 20 years. The moon’s orbit places it closer to the Earth, and it will appear 14% larger, than usual. Take a moment to appreciate this beautiful moment and allow it to fill you with wonder.

Asana Practice: Traditional ashtanga practice includes one day off a week and no asana practice on the full and new moon.  Today, Saturday is my day off for the week.  Tomorrow is the full moon rest day.

My body is grateful for the time off. I had a massage yesterday and I spent about an hour relaxing in a pool today.  I find water very healing, especially during the full moon.  I start my moon cycle on the full moon and I feel very watery during this time of the month.  My hormones can cause my emotions to be unstable.  It is imperative that I honor mother moon during this time and fully relax and surrender.  If I can find the beat of my heart and the sway of the tide in my body, then I can find peace.

Blessings on this beautiful day of rest.

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March 17: Sacred Circularity

Closing your eyes and connecting with your sacred channel allows kundalini to flow.

After my mysore class this morning, I rushed uptown on my motorbike.  I started a hooping workshop today, just outside of Ubud Bali called Sacred Circularity.

The workshop is more than a technical hooping workshop and instead specifically focuses on the transformative qualities of hooping and how to use hooping as a spiritual path.

It is exciting to see that so many different disciplines are channeling the fundamental principals of yoga. Specifically, hooping allows people to connect to their energy body and to learn how to awaken their kundalini energy.

I’m only joining a small portion of the retreat to take classes from Anah (aka. Hoopalicious).

Anah’s workshop focuses on staying in the moment and finding your personal flow.  She started today’s class with her student’s blindfolded. I’ve never hooped blindfolded and the experience was beautiful. This simple act transformed hooping in to an energetic experience connecting me instantly with the now.

Asana Practice: Anah is also a yoga teacher. Her yogic knowledge allows her to instruct people’s body movements with grace, as well as, connect people with their internal world.

If you’ve never hoop danced before, be careful making assumptions. For years I assumed hooping was merely a playful activity and I had a hard time taking it seriously.  In the last few months, I picked up a hoop without judgment and began to see its transformative qualities. Similar to yoga, hooping helps you connect with your core.  As you advance in the practice, you connect deeper and deeper with your central channel and the physical act can be transformed in to a spiritual practice.

Lesson Learned: Physical practices that connect you to your central axis can help awaken kundalini energy.

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March 16: Filling in the Gaps

Avoiding difficult poses may weaken an already vulnerable area of the body.

My neck is weak from a spinal fracture ten years ago.  Since then, I have avoided many postures that put pressure on my neck and my neck has become increasingly weak.  In the last year I experienced a backlash from my injury and I’ve begun to reconsider my choice to avoid difficult postures.

Asana Practice: Since my injury, I have avoided fish pose and shoulder stand because my neck felt vulnerable in these poses and I was worried that I was collapsing my neck and putting to much pressure on my neck joints.

See for instruction on fish pose.

Doing an ashtanga mysore practice daily has forced me to approach the same postures, in the same order, on a daily basis.  I’ve begun to see and ultimately question habitual thoughts about my practice.

The first week of mysore I stuck to my habitual patterns. I avoided fish pose and only stayed in shoulder stand for a few breaths.  Over time, I realized that it was fear rather than sensation that was keeping me away from these poses.  I began to explore.

Fish pose in particular has been very difficult for me since my accident ten years ago.  My neck felt vulnerable in the pose and I never gained anything from doing it.   Upon greater reflection, however, I realized that it was the way I was doing the pose, not the pose itself that I needed to erase from my practice. When you feel yourself disengaged and not activated, your alignment is probably off. Once I acknowledged this fact, I was able to explore new ways of approaching fish pose.

Over the last few weeks I have begun to integrate fish pose in to my mysore practice.  Each day I stay in the pose a little longer and each day I learn how to strengthen my vulnerabilities.  Specifically, I have learned how to press in to my head and how to keep my spine long.  Additionally, I have learned to ask for assistance to get in to the pose deeper so that I could actually work the pose more.

Today was a breakthrough.  I felt strength in an area of my neck that has been largely lifeless for the last several years.  I began to see that I can strengthen and protect my neck by engaging this vulnerable area.

I am extremely grateful to be in the company of competent teachers who know when and how to push me and who know the mechanics of the body intimately.  I often hear them telling veteran students to do modifications in order to instruct their movement and prevent injury.

There is a time to push and there is a time to back away.  Rarely is their a time to hide.

The presence of my teachers helps me have the confidence to try things I am afraid of.  I am beginning to strengthen an imbalance that I thought would be with me for the rest of my life.

If there is a pose you avoid because of a weakness or injury, consider doing a modification rather than avoiding the pose entirely. Find a knowledgeable teacher to help assist you in devising a plan that will help you strengthen an imbalance.

Lesson Learned: If you avoid a pose due to fear or weakness, consider an alternative.  Find a modification that helps inform the biomechanics of a difficult asana.  Work with a mentor that can help keep you safe while also encouraging you to grow.

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