Sunday, 17 February 2013

Ashtanga Tour 2013 and Mysore nightmares!

Getting quite excited about my upcoming ashtanga world tour. Got my letter from HR last week formally stating final leaving date of 30th June 2013 and have worked out that my final day at work would be 18th June-ish. Planning on setting off 29th June to Portugal. Yesterday I visited STA travel to get an idea if my itinerary is possible on a RTW ticket. Proving quite tricky, but I think the girl will sort it, I will know Monday! Places where I had taken out of the trip have also been put back in, so it's more varied now than I've thought of over the past few months. Anyway here's how it's looking to date:

2 months Yoga Farm Portugal (Olieros)
2 months Mysore
2 months Bali Ashtanga (Prem and Radha) Fitting in the 2013 conference
2 months Kerala (Lino and David Garrigues)
Aus - Byron Bay (Dina Kingsberg)
Hawaii (Maui)
US - Santa Monica (Chuck Miller) Boulder (Richard Freeman)
Canada - Toronto (David Robson and Michael Stone)
US - NY (Eddie Stern)
Home (Possibly June depending on cash flow ;)

I actually cannot believe I'm doing this, a whole year away studying with lots of amazing teachers. But I'm worried about India and getting sick and generally finding it difficult. It's worrying me a lot, nearly to the point where Mysore was taken out of the itinerary! Then I spoke with one of my teachers Manu, who said Mysore was a 'no brainer' and I had to go. He's now taken to using this trip against me in the Mysore room when I'm being lazy,

'Michelle! Not long 'til your trip, 5 months? Do it again!!' Funny!

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Benefits of meditation, preferred conditions and postures

It is thought that meditation practiced regularly has many benefits. It is said that meditation lowers the levels of blood lactate, which can reduce the occurrence of anxiety attacks. It can build self-confidence as you feel more centered and can concentrate better; it can increase levels of serotonin which influences moods and behavior, helping with depression, headaches and insomnia; it helps regulate blood-pressure, reduces stress and tension and can help with PMT. Research has shown that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex – brain waves in the stress-prone frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex, resulting in becoming calmer and happier than they were before meditation. (Allen, 2003)

For me, meditation is just ‘sitting’. The pure and unadulterated act of sitting as still as is possible, until body drops away and mind becomes still. Of course, this is far from what actually happens when I meditate. My body is still. Well, still until I feel the need to re-adjust my spine and just work a few niggles out resulting in a few ‘clicks’ which then my mind gets all caught up in and starts thinking, ‘man, these clicks weren’t there before I started this yoga business’, and ‘maybe I should hold off on all that back-bending work, kapotasana is such a bit** anyway..’ etc etc. Then there’s this issue of settling the mind. That bloody ‘citta vritti’, that ‘monkey mind’! In a normal 40 minute sit, 30 minutes is normally settling in, the last 8 are normally getting somewhere near settled and peaceful and the last 2 are normally when I peak out of one eye at the timer, realise there’re only 2 minutes left, then punish myself for the next 1 minute 56 seconds because I’ve just looked at the clock…. Does this sound familiar?!!

Nevertheless, the pure act of getting up early than thou, sitting and trying to become still, physically and mentally, is making me a better person…to whit: I think it’s making me a better person. More mindful of how I treat myself in order so I can get up so early in the morning, my reaction towards external influences and my general compassion and actions towards other sentient beings.

Preferred Conditions and Postures for Meditation

“The room of sadhana should have a small door, without window, holes or cracks, being neither to high nor to low. It should be spotlessly clean, wiped with cow manure and free from animals or insects. Outside there should be an open platform with a thatched roof, a well and a surrounding wall or fence. The appearance of the hermitage should be pleasant.” (HYP: 43)

Whilst the above description of the yoga hermitage as prescribed by the siddhas for yoga practitioners may have been well and good back then, these days the yogi generally finds him or herself in in a quiet (or not, due to pets/ambient noise of crying babies, husband hoovering etc.) room in their house, relatively tidy (or not!) and warm (if you can afford to have your heating on these days)! Some yogis, including myself set up a little shrine, this is generally if you are lucky enough to have a room dedicated to your practice, maybe with a statue of the Buddha, a statue of Ganesha (the maker and removed of obstacles), some incense and some candles.

However, whether one has the perfect yoga room or just a few minutes spare away from the family, whatever is going on ambiently around you and one should accept that that is what one has to work with at that given moment.

There are a number of postures (asana) recommended for meditation. Strenuous, asymmetrical, intense or ungrounded attitudes of the body would be unsuitable, since they tend to agitate the mind and cause fatigue. Asana traditionally refers as well to a seat or cushion used to support the body. For most body types a level of steadiness and ease commensurate with samadhi is hard to attain without such support. It is even said that the Buddha, a highly accomplished yogi, bundled grasses into a comfortable and supportive cushion before sitting down to the contemplation that led to his enlightenment….(not just me then ;) (Hartranft 2012: 37)

Asana opens us up to some of our deepest personal conditioning and the suffering it generates, which has a direct connection to citta vrtti, our minds. Thus asana must embody steadiness (sthira) and ease (sukha) not only in an active and external sense, as in selecting a posture but also in an interiorised sense. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika recommends siddhasana, padmasana, simhasana and bhadrasana as the 4 main asana for meditation. But it also then says, “Always sit comfortably in siddhasana because it is the best”. (HYP: 101)

However, as we in the west have issues with being still for long periods of time (both physically and mentally!), due to tight hips and hamstrings, sitting in a kneeling position or kneeling whilst sitting on some blocks is also a satisfactory position, which will not put too much strain on the hips or knees and will enable one to relax. It is not recommended to lie in savasana for meditation. As the HYP states, savasana is meant to enable removal of tiredness and relax the entire body and is essential for developing dharana and dhyana. I have found that meditating in savasana has the tendency to induce sleep, obviously not conducive for meditation. 


Saturday, 2 February 2013

What is meditation? A modern view...

“If from moment to moment your mind dwells on what is and drops it effortlessly at once, the mind becomes no-mind, full of peace.” (Vasistha, Yoga Vasistha)

The above quotation simply describes meditation. The means to meditation being absolute non-attachment to any thought or feeling, pure subjective observation of anything which arises through the sense organs. However, meditation for Iyenga is “the knower, the knowledge and the known becoming one”. (Iyenga, 1979: 22) For Swami Sivananda, “The senses, the mind and the intellect cease functioning. There is neither time nor causation here”. (HYP: 598)

Meditation is often thought of as one-pointed focus. However, the more I think about meditation and the more people I talk to about it, meditation in this day and age is absolute absorption in anything, where time and space cease to exist; painting a canvas, playing a violin, carving a piece of wood, even doing crochet! Hartranft calls meditation “interiorisation”, the shifting of perspective away from externality toward an interiorised point of view. From the outer world or people, things, relationships, to the inner world of the attentional processes with which the external is seen. Or more specifically, interiorisation is the growing sense that awareness is not seeing an object per se, but instead observing a consciousness representing an object. (Hartranft, 2012: 13)

 “We live in an attention deficit society. Our attention is trapped by advertising, the internet, traffic or shopping” (Stone, 2011), even sitting still and thinking too much, sometimes even thinking about thinking too much. Patanjali says that we can train our minds in stages so that we concentrate on one thing, we can hold that object in view for longer and longer without distraction, slowly training and slowing our minds down. This is called dharana. The mind eventually settles and this is called dhyana. Then language falls away, with it all subjectivity and there is a deep stillness where we feel and become part of a greater whole or samadhi

The Buddhist, psychologist and writer Michael Stone translates samadhi as ‘intimacy’. (Stone, 2011: 32) The realisation then complete acceptance and meshing with the matrix of the external world, which I feel is a more inclusive and comprehensible concept of this state, for the western mind. Once one feels intimate with their external environment and realises their connection to every other sentient being on the planet, compassion arises and with compassion comes unconditional love. Samadhi is a fleeting state. With everyday living amongst other sentient beings challenges inevitably arise, which can knock us out of alignment and we can temporarily lose our samadhi, our compassion, our intimacy and love. But this is the challenge of living on this planet, these are the challenges of ‘household yogis’, these times are when we must look back within, act and not re-act and re-condition ourselves to step back out into the world.