Thursday, August 4, 2011

Here's Your Mat, What's Your Hurry?

"As I make my slow pilgrimage through the world, a certain sense of beautiful mystery seems to gather
and grow."

Sometimes the fastest way to speed things up is to slow down. The longer I practice the more I realize this.  We may sometimes feel that if we speed through life or our practice, we'll get more done, become stronger, wiser, more enlightened. But in reality, the fast pace we set for ourselves more often than not finds us exhausted, out of time, cluttered and clouded.

The fact is that slowing down often allows us not only to see, feel, and experience what is present with a fullness that can't be felt when rushing, but it also allows us to touch our awareness upon the areas in our lives that we purposefully or unknowingly avoid.  When brought face to face with where we are stuck, resistant, angry or creating suffering, awareness awakens the possibility of giving ourselves permission to feel, breathe and work through the blockage. 

Let's face it, we live in a fast-paced world that only promises (through technology) to get more harried.  It takes strength and trust to maneuver through our days. We develop this by practicing steadiness. The sage Patanjali declared that our asana practice should embody what he called sthiram sukham or steadiness and ease. The idea is that if we establish a steady body by practicing postures (asana) and breathing (pranayama), a steady mind will follow suit and we will develop the inner and outer strength and self-trust to meet any challenges - both physical or emotional - on and off the mat.

We repeatedly bring our caffeine fueled world to the mat or meditation cushion by trying to rush through the practice, by pushing ourselves beyond where we should be or by being distracted instead of aware.  We often make the mistake of thinking that if we move fast enough through our asana practice, we'll "advance" more quickly or that by going faster we'll be getting "more".  Yoga teaches us that to get stronger inside and out, we must slow down and connect with the currents of energy within. When we ask ourselves, "Where can I soften in this pose"? or "Where is the edge between opening and force in this moment"? or "Where is the line between too much effort and not enough?", we offer ourselves another chance to deepen, release, strengthen and find steadiness. To truly advance in our practice, we must find unshakable peace and steadiness in the most basic postures and moments. How can you stand on your head with ease if you can't find unwavering stillness and awareness while standing on your feet?  When we slow down our physical practice we build strength and endurance faster than if we rely on momentum.  When we tune into being rooted and awake - physically, emotionally and spiritually - we open the door to finding those same qualities while experiencing challenge on our mats or in the world.

Until next time...try these two short practices:

First, establish yourself in your breath.  Breathe deeply and slowly through your nose.  Once fully aware of and connected to the breath, practice each of the following poses, staying for 10 full breath cycles (a cycle is a long, full inhale and long, emptying exhales):

Tadasana (Mountain Pose). Feel your feet rooted, energy rising from the earth through your feet, and the breath energizing but also steadying your body.  

After 10 breaths, fold forward into:
Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold).  

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog)

Plank (yes, 10 breath cycles!)

Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down Dog)

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Fold)

Tadasana (Mountain Pose)

Wisely, and slow. They stumble that run fast. – Shakespeare

Try Your Hand 
by Jonathan Foust

1. Sit comfortably and shake out your hands, as if you were flinging water off your fingertips. Deepen your breath slightly. When your hands feel energized, place them on your thighs, palms facing up. Take a few moments to focus on the sensations in your hands. Feel, if you can, the pulse in your fingertips. 

2. As your breath deepens, see if you can activate your belly, diaphragm, rib cage, and upper chest. Breathe deep into your belly. Fill your upper chest with air at the top of the inhalation, then see how much you can relax with each exhalation.

3. Imagine a light at the core of your being. As you breathe in, let the light pulse a little brighter. When you exhale, let it pulse a little dimmer. You can even give it a temperature or assign a color to the sensations in your belly.

4. With each breath, imagine this energy filling your chest and shoulders. Feel it flow down your arms and into your palms. Notice light and warmth filling your chest cavity, your rib cage, your arms, your hands.

5. Rest your awareness in and around your hands. Feel the air touching your palms, fingers, and thumbs. Feel the outline of your hands and the space between your fingers. When you're ready, gently lift your hands off your body just enough to release them into the air, then let them be perfectly still. Relax your shoulders, arms, and palms.

6. Then lift your hands as slowly as possible, almost imperceptibly. Feel the smallest movement in your awareness as you continue to life your hands. See how much you can slow down. Imagine the molecules of air rolling between your fingers. See if you can slow the motion down so much that your hands feel as if they're moving by themselves.

7. When it feels right, turn your palms toward each other. As your hands come together, pulse them ever so slowly. Imagine, if you can, the edges of the energy field between your hands. You may feel as if you're holding a ball of pulsing energy, or as if your hands were opposite poles of a magnet. Your mind is relaxed but also aware, witnessing the flow of sensation into your hands.

8. For the next few minutes, let your hands move naturally and your mind observe the smallest details of sensation. At some point, bring your hands to a place on your body that needs healing or attention.

 In your own time, let your hands come to rest in your lap and sit for a few more minutes in silence

"Surrender the mind's need to know, the ego's desire to control...
Every moment is the journey.  You are always in the midst of it,
always there, always arriving, always setting out.  Your focus on
the peak moments or the goal misses the point.  Awareness is
everywhere.  Awareness underlies the most mundane, day-to-day, 
utterly unremarkable, he-said, she-said, just-burned-the-rice moments.
Either you bring awakening with you into every single experience, or you 
are only half alive." -Danna Faulds

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