As 2012 comes to a close, some of us celebrate the good that has entered our lives and reconcile that which has brought sadness, insecurity, or anger. This kind of emotional (vichara), or self-reflection, is a powerful way of releasing the past and making space for new life to flourish. I often celebrate the New Year by making a list of my intentions for the year to come — writing down what I want for myself, using affirmative language, and, of course, making it all sound yogically kosher: "In the year to come, I'll serve my students with joy. I'll experience abundance in my spiritual, emotional, and material life. I'll live within my heart and center and respond through love." Stuff like that. This year I intend on spending more time consciously recollecting my words and actions of the previous year... Something that's not always easy, but I find that it is exactly what I need sometimes.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that Vichara/Self-Reflection is a way of clearing the underbrush out of our inner field. When we make up our mind to look clearly at our own unconscious actions, or the inner murk that can hide our less savory motives, we dissolve a lot of the sludge that we carry around in our heart. The miracle of (Vichara), or self-reflection is that it creates a current of self-awareness that can bring transformation all by itself. The process of recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go is the precursor to letting go of the negativity and self-judgment embedded in the memories of actions we might regret.
Looking at ourselves honestly is not easy for most of us. Often it's downright uncomfortable. Our habits of self-justification, blame, and denial are sometimes deeply rooted. Some of us have a hard time admitting our successes. Most of us have an even harder time admitting our mistakes. One reason for this is that we identify so closely with our usual way of doing things that we don't believe that we can change. Sometimes we don't want to! However, the more you get in the habit of looking back at your day, week, or month and clearing your discomfort, the more automatic it becomes.
And so this morning I spent time rearranging my alter and my inner-self to reflect my new focus and intention for the upcoming year -- Gratitude and Self-Healing. The essence of an altar is to honor Divine energies, express gratitude, give offerings and ask for blessings and protection. My last alter was focused on opening my heart and so it had pictures of people I hoped to forgive or send love and compassion and peace towards... My new alter includes a picture of my grandparents and of my love, Mike. Other little things are here and there. A mala that I gave to my Grandma about a year before she died. Flowers and a rose quartz mala that Mike gave me. Crystals, incense, and pictures of deities that create a loving feeling in my heart... A quote that moves me, which I posted in the last blog entry, but you can read it here if you like.
While I was adding a few finishing touches on my new space, I became just a little bit sad... The idea of purposely spending time meditating on my own self-healing and continued gratitude for everything, well it's a little bit intimidating. And then, this song came on my iPod (Into your arms - Ashana). Perfect timing. I closed my eyes, naturally fell into a meditative position, my left hand went into Gyan Mudra, while my right hand rested on my heart... and I surrendered... to myself, to my past, to the future.
I sent love to my past, present, and future self and to everyone I love... Despite having a following moment of slightly wet lashes, it has been a good day. This new alter seems to create a feeling of peace and harmony with the way my life is at this moment. I feel more gratitude for the people in my life, the memories I have, whether good or bad; the experiences I've endured or thrived in... So today, I adjusted my alter, spent about 25 minutes in seated meditation, practiced Anusara Yoga and then went running/frolicking with my dog Gracie. I feel really whole and happy today. I hope you do too.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.
When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.
This morning when practicing, I had a moment when I realized the difference between doing and being in each posture.
Through the years, I have practiced and flowed through the same sequence with minor changes here or there depending on the part of my body that needed love.... and even though the sequence remains essentially the same each time I practice it, the richness lies in finding newness and presence everyday in a pose I do every single time my feet touch the mat.
Some days it is a struggle. Other days everything seems to flow with ease and effortlessness.
Yesterday I went downstairs to my yoga room and laid my mat out and then just stood there thinking about how I had not practiced yoga in four days and that my body was probably going to be stiff and not as limber as it usually is (not really a good way to start a practice = with self loathing, disappointment etc). As I was flowing through my sequence I became aware that I was annoyed with my body and with myself for losing balance in my life... I even punished myself with words internally: "Four days Ashley! You're not a good yogi... etc".
The lack of flexibility in my back while in Bhujangasana (Cobra) annoyed me. Chaturanga annoyed me because my arms felt weak. When I attempted to "float" back to the front of my mat to be in Ardha Uttanasana, I literally slammed my feet down instead of lightly placing them between my hands. Ugh, the frustration! When I went into my first Uttanasana (Forward Fold) I was unable to touch my head to my knees because my hamstrings were too tight. All these things bothered me. I was aware they bothered me, but it seemed that becoming aware of it wasn't enough to make my feelings change immediately. At least not yet.
Over time I felt my hips loosen up. My head touched my knees, my shoulders gave way and my heart opened up and I became aware that my body was returning to me. I held Bakasana (Crane Pose). It felt good and I smiled.... but the battle with my ego did not end there. I started flying through my asanas... focusing on the future, on Savasana. On being done with this practice. On being able to say to myself, "Good job, you practiced, you did it".
I was quickly going through poses, my teeth were tightly shut, I was not breathing properly, I was subconsciously just trying to be done. One hour later and many attempts to come back to center or be kind to myself resulted in me simply ceasing to practice. I stopped. I just stopped and I stood there and I thought to myself, "What's up with you? What do you want?" So I lied down on my mat, closed my eyes, and I did not move or think for 20 minutes. And it felt good... and after 20 minutes I sat up and decided that I would just stay here all day until I forgave myself for being so silly one hour earlier.
After Savasana I picked up my yoga notebook and my copy of the Yoga Sutra's. I have had this kind of practice before in my life and with a little research I found the following lesson:
Practice and Non-Attachment
Two core principles: Practice (abhyasa, 1.13) and non-attachment (vairagya, 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests (1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs (1.2), and allows the realization of the true Self (1.3).
I felt so much better after reading that. I let go of my attachment to what I thought my body should feel like and what my practice should look like. Some days it's a struggle. Other days everything seems to flow with ease and effortlessness. Accepting that this particular practice wasn't like others before it, and being with whatever has changed, gave me an experience on the mat that I can utilize in my daily life. I am grateful for that.
After giving in to my body and lying down in Savasana, I found total satisfaction with scaling back, and becoming less concerned with how far I've come, and more into how deep I can go. It's never ending. Instead of spreading myself thin, I found unlimited abundance with simply being where I am.
"It's the same sequence, but everyday is different."
This mornings practice was different, just as I knew it would be. I found joy in my breath and in my body. I felt happiness that I was sore, that my hamstrings were even tighter than they were yesterday. It can be easy to get caught up in the accomplishment of postures, like I did yesterday with Bakasana and when I thought to myself that I would feel better if I could just say to myself that I did the whole practice, however with that, there is little experience with Grace. With being in the pose and the joy that I can even be in the pose, as I am.... Merely Doing a practice lacks the presence and reward of Being in the practice; of simply being.
Balancing the effort of my practice with non-doing becomes a subtle practice in and of itself.
It's the same sequence, but everyday is different.
Now, this morning, I've come to a point where I've listened to my inner voice, and pressed on a bit further, knowing that nothing has been lost, and nothing is really gained by doing so. All is already available, and always has been.
It's so cool how our teachers in all their forms -- e.g. a book, yourself, an asana -- have a way of subtly teaching us these vast and important lessons. Do you know what I mean? :) Feel free to comment below.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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by Amy Ippoliti
Enlightenment Is Your Nature: The Fundamental Difference Between Psychology, Therapy, and Meditation
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