Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Twelfth Class

Sunday – quadruple play.

Morning: Restorative yoga practice with Shannon. She showed us an icon of Siva Nataraj. Here is the typical presentation of the image:

In this image, Siva is the image of God, creating existence through the dance, while wielding the destroying fire in one of his left hands. One of his hands gestures to his lifted foot, symbolizing freedom from earthly bondage, the other foot stands on a demon symbolizing ignorance. Another of his right hands is raised to the “stop” position, bearing a jewel, reminding us of the value of stopping the mind chatter and replacing it with single-point focus. He is also the destroyer God, one of his left hands bearing the flame of fire that puts an end to all things. He is ringed by fire, symbolizing the endless cycle of creation and destruction, from the occurrence, sustenance, and end of a single sound – OM – to the arising, existing, and subsiding of a single thought – to the life of a person, the existence of a civilization, and the arising of all creation.

The image of dancing Siva that Shannon brought to class was unusual – instead of merely lifting one foot from the ground, he lifted it all the way to the back of his head, showing the connection of the basest part of the body – the sole of the foot – to the highest. Her image also held in one right hand a drum to symbolize creation and music, countered by the flame in the left hand, symbolizing ending.

Shannon then led a discussion of the yamas and niyamas – the ethical principles set forth in the Yoga Sutras.

The yamas are ethical principles for interacting with others – ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truth-saying), asteya (not stealing), brahmacharya (sexual restraint or abstinence), aparigraha (not coveting). The niyamas are principles for conducting and relating to oneself – saucha (purity), samtosha (contentment, equanimity), tapas (heat, spiritual austerities), svadhyaya (study of scripture and of one's self), and ishvara pranidhana (surrender or connection to the divine).

I wasn’t taking notes during this session, so I can’t sketch out Shannon’s presentation. I did find this on the web that seems to approximate the yama discussion:

I haven’t found a reasonably good summary of the niyamas. If others do, please post a link.

Lunch time – lecture on stress management, with an emphasis on nutrition. A couple of highlights: (1) not surprisingly, yoga and meditation are high on the list of ways to deal with stress; (2) interestingly (to me, at least), a study showed that brain activity in those who regularly practice yoga/meditation when under stress behaves quite differently than those who do not. The meditator group appeared to respond to stress in the same ways that they responded to meditation, while the non-meditators tended to shut down those parts of the brain entirely when under stress. The presentation used at the session looked somewhat canned, so if someone remembers the name and website of the company, the presentation might be available on line, which would allow you to check the footnotes on the academic studies it referenced.

Afternoon: shortened posture clinic and practice on the Crescent Lunge series of poses.

Starting in downward dog, first, call the next pose:

Low Lunge. Cues: Inhale, raising your right leg to the sky; exhale and sweep your foot forward, placing it between your hands; square hips forward;

Crescent Lunge: Inhale, raise your torso and arms to the sky.

If you have a group of beginners who just aren’t getting it, put them on their knees and demonstrate these poses for them.

5x breaths in Crescent Lunge.

Next: Revolving Crescent Lunge: Inhale, reach up; bring hands together at heart center; revolve right, keeping hands together; put left elbow on right knee; forearms forming a vertical line; hands to heart center.

Next: Runner’s Lunge: Place hands to mat inside of lunged foot; turn out front foot 30 degrees; stay on hands or lower to forearms; stay on back foot or lower to knee.

Next: Extended Side Angle: Inhale back foot flat; place right elbow on right knee; lift left arm to sky; open hips to the side.

In teaching beginning classes hesitate before coaching students into advanced versions of the postures. Egos are very hard to avoid even in beginning classes, and if you coach one student into a more advanced form, you’ll be suggesting to the others that they should go there, too. If they’re not ready for it, you can frustrate them. Also, going for a pose you’re not ready for can lead to injury. Better to let beginners opt for intermediate classes than to let the beginner sequence creep up.

Next: Side Plank: hands to mat and step forward foot back into High Plank; feet together; drop heels to the right, lift left arm to the sky.

Next: Chaturanga dandasana.

Next: Upward Dog

Next: Downward Dog

Next: Utkatasana

Next: Prayer Twist to the right: lower hands to heart center; knees bent; spine extended; left elbow to right knee; forearms in straight line; hands at heart center.

Next: Utkatasana

Next: Prayer Twist to the left

Next: Crow: release to center; feet together; hands to mat; drop hips to squat; knees to forearms above elbows; lift one foot; lift second foot; bring toes together; look 6-8” forward; play with the pose.

Crow is hard. Notice and verbally acknowledge when students get it – even when they get the very beginning of it. The acknowledgement makes a tremendous difference in their experience.

Next: Child’s pose.

We then practiced this sequence.

The last ten minutes of the afternoon session was a brief meeting with Shiva Rea. She described herself as less of a teacher and more of a river guide, pointing things out to others on the river with her. She noted that there are different kinds of spirituality and categorized them loosely as cultural, genetic, and native. She suggested that yoga accesses native spiritual elements common to all.

She then led us in a visualization: we were sitting in a half circle two or three deep around her. She asked us to close our eyes and imagine that we were sitting in meditation under a huge banyan tree. The roots of the tree, deep in the earth, are those who have practiced yoga before us, for thousands of years. The branches of the tree above us are all of the various yoga practices that have developed today. One of the characteristics of banyan trees is that once the branches extend, they drop down their own roots, back into the soil. We, meditating beneath the tree, become the roots dropping from the branches, back into the earth.

From there, she suggested that teaching yoga should be a natural outgrowth of the yoga that we have individually internalized. As we had only a short time together, she suggested that we think of each moment having a fiber that runs through it into the next. She suggested that where we were in our teacher training was like the “ah” stage of OM, the beginning of a new experience. She said that yoga was like a great ocean that no one has fully explored, nor could fully explore, as it changes daily, renewing itself.

She related that fifteen years ago, she almost didn’t sign up for teacher training herself, but she recognized that something inside of her was in an evolving phase. She could ignore the feeling for a while, but then answered the call. She said that any background can be valuable, as yoga is an open system. If students are open even to nothing more than the physical experience of yoga, don’t judge them for it. Yoga cannot be separated into physical and spiritual. It is inherently spiritual.

Relax insistence or metrics to judge a yoga practice. It is not hierarchically dependent, nor measured by outer accomplishment. It is a state of being. Students will come to classes to gain a glimpse of being who they are. How we live should not show only ideals, but also who we are as individuals.

Evening: Shiva Rea. She began by introducing us to three or four kriya yoga practices, emphasizing rhythmic, dance-like movements. Once the basic motion was established, she encouraged us to find our own internal rhythms and to follow them.

She offered the following remarks before moving into the physical practice:

The quantum view of existence recognizes no difference between matter and energy. If it helps to think of this as pure science, please do so. Energy is the entire universe in motion. Yogic worldview is that energy put in motion creates a unified consciousness. In any state of nature, yoga teaches that if you attune, you can sense vibrations, whether that’s in the wilderness or in your grandfather’s chair.

Energy in motion moves in waves, whether sound or EMF. The principal ground of reality is that all is in motion and moves in waves. In the womb, we are surrounded by and filled with fluid. Some estimate that when born, we are 90% water. As we age, that can decline to 60%. Seek fluid power in your yoga practice. Rather than assuming a “solid” or static yoga pose (she modeled Warrior II), try moving into and through it fluidly.

We’ll start tonight with the kriyas. Only focus on the experience of a body in motion. Become the motion. Feel the fluidity of the body. If you are feeling stiff, move fluidly. Feel your own pules. Avoid tissue habituation. Don’t let yoga make you feel less flexible than you really are. And there are no tickets for non-compliance. No one has authority to make us feel so strange in our own bodies. Second – notice what it feels like to perceive and attend to the motion of the body. I’ll teach you a Dancing Warrior series.