The right teacher

I have an inner conflict and I need to vent, this is my safe haven so I’ll vent here. As I’ve written before I’m a self-study in Ashtanga, I’ve mostly learned it through videos. I do practice once a week with a group, and I like the energy of the group a lot. Lately, I have mixed feelings about the teacher.

I don’t doubt her physical abilities, she is quite accomplished and always training to get better. I dislike her views on yoga, they feel to me very closed minded. She transmits a feeling like ashtanga is the high moral horse of yoga and everything else is rubbish. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love ashtanga, I think it is a fantastic system and it is saving my life. It is right for me at this time in my life. But I don’t think it is the only yoga style that has value. I don’t even think that yoga is the only discipline that has value and leads to a better life. Any serious athlete, be it runner, swimmer, cyclist, martial artist, etc… speaks of that special space of mind where the impossible becomes achievable.
Now, I do have respect for my teacher, and I don’t want to go into a debate over this with her. I’ve been trying to overlook it, but it comes out more and more often and it rubs me the wrong way.
I’ve come to realize that she is what I call in my mind a ‘yoga hater’; criticizing those ‘gyms’ that care about schedules and dare to ‘make up their own routines’. She criticizes online videos, she even posts and tells online teachers that they should stop calling what they do ‘yoga’. She believes that anyone who hasn’t been to India knows nothing about yoga and should not be teaching it (elitist, no?). She frowns and scowls at the mention of meat, and similarly thinks that meat-eaters cannot truly be ‘yogis’. She frowned at me for saying I started yoga due to back pain, as if that is not enough of a worthy cause to practice. She probably never experienced chronic back/joints/muscle pain, and so she cannot relate. I could go on, but I think I made my point.

Whether all of her comments and remarks are true or not is not the point of my discussion and upset over this. I am trying to discover why all of this hits a nerve with me. After all, I really really like ashtanga, and dedicate a significant amount of time and effort to it. And although I’m not there yet, I do seek peace of mind and self knowledge. Why aren’t we in the same boat?
I don’t really want to be in the same boat, as much as I appreciate this system, I do not want to close my mind to other experiences of yoga, body awareness, and self exploration. I do not want to look down on gyms that ‘sell’ yoga. I also sell the set of skills I’ve spent many years building (aka: my job). I don’t want to look down on kind teachers that share their helpful videos online, I relate more to some than to others, but still. Everyone is where they are at, and they give what they can.
In her defense, she really lives by what she preaches. She’s been teaching yoga for free, even though she studies and works as a waitress. This I appreciate very much, and I am grateful to have found the group when I did. She will now start charging for the lessons, and I think it is appropriate.

Truth is, I don’t really like her as a person. She is not a bad person, we just have different views on things. What’s more I gather that the feeling is mutual. She disagrees with my job (corporate), and life views. Although she doesn’t say it, I think she disagrees with my self-learned home ashtanga practice as well. I’m at an impasse. I feel like going to another teacher is like treachery. And also, I don’t want to kick myself out of a rather nice community, even though I feel that she cannot be my inspiration.
There. I said it. It’s a relief to get that out of my system without causing conflict in my community. ***sigh***
Any advice?

Luna’s Castles of the Soul

Another one of Luna’s stories:

I had a dream about the house of Luna, one of them anyway. It was in the dream city I see so often in my mind travels. I’m writing about it before I forget.

It was the house of Luna, the city house. It was part of a large renaissance style building in one of our modern cities, same and yet different. It had a large garden with a hill and grass, open to air and storm even at elevation in the building. The large windows showed the busy street outside. She was quite satisfied to be the keeper of the house.
It had been a temple to old gods, and later a temple to new gods, reconstructed and refitted many times. It’s location had changed throughout the ages, and now it was in a city, unknown to city dwellers. Many were asking for refuge, in the city and yet away from it. A group of monks and disciples, and a misguided young lady from the same place as Luna. And she was the keeper of the house. The storm of the passing of time raged outside in the hilled garden of the house of Luna. The interior remained a safe house.
Luna reluctantly agreed to house those who asked for refuge, the house would now be a safe haven for those who knew where to find it. She had seen the portent brought by black feathered wings and agreed to open her castle.

Fibromyalgia and yoga

There it is, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia, I got it yesterday. I already knew it, and yet, to hear it from my doctor was very saddening. He’s been treating my back for over four months now, and every time I go back it is a knotted mess once more. It just doesn’t go away.
It is just a word, and it doesn’t change me, I am the same person I was yesterday. But, somehow hearing it, I felt very sorry for myself. The yoga is helping, but even four months after starting a dedicated practice I still feel a lot of pain. It is less, but still considerable, I still don’t rest when I sleep, I still wake up cramped and stiff. I still feel ants in my fingers and toes, that ropy tightness in the hips, pressure in my neck, knots in my back. I still get mental fog that eats up most of my afternoons. I try to do my work in the respites of it.
If you met me you wouldn’t think I am in pain. No one believes me. I also do sports, I’ve become quite athletic, I’ve started to look athletic, and I’ve gained a lot of forward-bending flexibility. I do sports even if they hurt, everything hurts all the time anyway. Still have trouble to lift my arms, or to arch my back enough to stand up straight.
During the ashtanga practice, the miracle happens, as soon as I warm up my body opens up. I feel warm and alive, I am flexible, I am strong, I can move everywhere. I’ve incorporated a few more backbends at the end of the series, before the full wheel, so it won’t come as such a shock to my spine. When I’m warm I can more or less back bend. I have a beautiful nearly pain free 90 minutes, or two hours if I have time to keep going. As soon as I cool down the pain comes back, sometimes with a vengeance. I take it in stride, I hope it is the pain of healing, and realigning. The more I move the more that I ‘can’ move. Moving is life, stopping is dying, I must keep moving. A couple of weekends ago I went on a long walk in the mountains; about six hours of walking up and down rolling hills. I applied the principles of yogic breathing to maintain my spine open and expand the lungs. Insides pulled up and belly tucked in to support my lower back, lungs expanding up and sideways, not into my belly. Steady, strong (and kind of creepy-sounding) breathing as I walked up the mountains, and the exhilarating burst of energy that comes from lung expansion. I felt less tired at the end of that day, than at the end of every work day sitting in front of a computer. Even than at the end of days when I lay in bed at home without energy or will to pick myself up. Moving is living, starting to move is painful, but sustained, balanced, movement really helps. It gives me hope. Hope is the only thing I have.
This is the year when I will beat it back, I am committed. I’m confident that yoga will teach me how to take control of my nervous system, and stop all the shooting pains. I already feel a change, although there is still a long way to go. Now I need to commit with proper eating and sleeping patterns. I will not give up my life to this, it has taken enough already.
There is hope,
Love and light,
Luna Sol

Ashtanga: at home self study

I mostly practice yoga at home, and I mostly learned it from videos (traditionalists will gasp in horror now). A few weeks after I started practicing ashtanga to Kino’s ‘Introduction to ashtanga’ video, I heard of a kind soul teaching on saturday mornings. I suppose I am a shy practitioner and it took me a couple more weeks to join the group.
Lo and behold it was a led ashtanga class. After a couple of weeks I moved to the full ‘primary series’ video by Kino, and even got another video by Mark Darby to experience different verbal cues.
I continued practicing with videos for a couple of months until I learned the sequence, and now I practice on my own. I like my self practice a lot, and though I enjoy the led classes on saturdays and the great people there, I think I get more out of my private practice.
I cannot, of course, reach the full expression of all the poses in the primary series. It does not faze me however, it is a practice of letting go and accepting where I am. Little by little I am gaining knowledge of at least how to activate and stretch the right muscle groups that the poses target. Over the past four months I have reached several poses that at first seemed impossible, and I am still moving toward several others.
A home practice has taught me to be responsible about my body. How far I go is entirely up to me, and what I do with my body is my responsibility. There is no teacher to allow or deny me, and I am my only help. I need to have awareness of where my body is everyday, to know how far I should reach, and where I should hold back. It is a learning process that is teaching me much about myself.
I notice that moving into a new pose requires stretching of the mind as well as the body. For example, a few days ago, I was attempting kurmasana, or turtle pose. It went like this: ok, here we go again, inhale, arm under leg, exhale, inhale other arm under the other leg, great! now, let’s try something new, maybe I can lift my heels as I exhale to get in a little bit deeper. And suddenly, I collapsed to the floor in a very tight kurmasana. I wasn’t expecting it, and I panicked a bit, since it is kind of restrictive, the arms are locked under the weight of the legs and the hips are in a deep stretch. For a moment I thought I would never be able to get out of it. My body was ready for it but my mind wasn’t, however my body is being trained to breathe in such situations and the depth of breath brought peace to my mind. I realized I had been holding my body back since I didn’t believe that I could do that pose.
There are other reasons I like a home practice, I don’t worry about how I look, and whether my shirt is lifting up and my belly is showing. I wear tiny clothes to feel skin against skin in forward bends and arm balances. I’d be too shy to do that in a class. I don’t compare myself to other yogis, there is no competition. There is no mirror, so I look at myself from the inside out, and I try to have as much awareness about my body as possible to put my body in the right alignment. It is a quiet time to myself, the rhythm of my breath tells me the state of my mind and body. Doing the practice is like coming home.
I’ve also gained awareness of where my body needs to move to in order to heal. I’ve mentioned before I’ve had back pain for over 10 years now, a displaced disk. So, some days I practice a more intuitive approach. I’m now doing ashtanga 3 to 4 times a week, I want to build up to 6 days a week, but the endurance and discipline are not there yet. So, on other days, I follow where my body wants to stretch. Squatting, gradual back bending (upper back, arms and neck openers), stretching the quadriceps, and the outer hips, I feel, are missing in the ashtanga primary. At least for my specific body, and my specific set of limitations. I would not be able to do any of that, however, if it weren’t for the space, release and strength in the lower back muscles created in the ashtanga practice.
My home practice is a research into what my body and mind need. Surely, the guidance of an experienced teacher would move the process along faster, but the things I discover on my own are knowledge I know I will keep forever. It is a learning through experience, developing muscle intelligence, learning how to fall safely, learning how to get back up, and taking responsibility for my self.

Ramadan

Ramadan, in the Muslim faith, is a period of fasting from sunrise to sunset during a month. No food, no water, even in summer. I am not Muslim, nor do I know a lot about the religion, but I have a few Muslim friends and I see their devotion and self control as they go through this month. What’s more they do it with true joy and dedication, it is a sacrifice yes, but it brings them happiness.

This go me thinking about two things: the principle of self control, and my own prejudices regarding Muslims.

First, I find Ramadan, an example of self control which motivates to transcend the body and learn that we are not our body. In yoga, such principles also exist, and fasting is regarded as a spiritual activity. How often do we let the body dictate our mood? I know I do… These are some of the conversations in my head almost everyday:  I’m tired today so I’m unhappy, I’m cold, I’m hungry, I’m too hot, I’m sleepy so I cannot focus on work, and my favorite one my back/neck/bones/joints/stomach aches… poor little me…As I see my Muslim friends go through Ramadan, without complaining, and with a smile on their faces, I wonder at the wisdom of such a custom. We live in a non-religious country, they don’t ‘have’ to follow Ramadan, no one would know/care here if they drink water or eat something throughout the day. Yet, they stick to it through the long days of summer. It is truly admirable.

Second, this has made me re-evaluate my own prejudices regarding Muslims. Sure, I don’t like how they treat women, and that is not changing, nor do I like the mixing of state and spirituality to the point of it being a law. Nor the fanaticism that drives to the point of murder, (but I believe that that is more political than religious). These things I don’t like about the Muslim religion. These things have clouded my vision about it, I have not been able to see beyond that and appreciate the deep faith and devotion with which they live their lives. I’m not talking about heads of state or fighting militia somewhere in the mountains, I’m talking about the average people who just go on their daily lives. This daily devotion, I have learned through my Muslim friends. And although I take personal offense when I see a woman with a covered head in a business meeting, I have to admire their devotion and courage to be different in a society that does not endorse them. However their human warmth, their easy smiles, their willingness to always share their food, and their quiet dedication to spirituality is truly an example of faith.

So, here a little shifting of my views with respect to the Muslim faith. I would like to learn more about their spirituality. I like that a veil of prejudice is finally lifting from me, thanks to a few good people who live their lives in an admirable way. It is hard to admit that I’ve been prejudiced and intolerant, but I feel it is a sign that my heart is opening when I am ready to admit it. To all those following Ramadan, my respect goes out to you, you are truly an inspiration.