Friday, 21 June 2013

Zen mind, Ashtanga mind, Beginner's mind.....

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts mind there are few." (Suzuki, 1970)

The japanese have a phrase, shoshin, which means "beginner's mind". The line above is from the Book "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind" by Shunryu Suzuki, which presents the basics of the practice of Zen, from the details of posture and breathing in zazen to the perception of non-duality. Yet in my mind, Suzuki's opening mantra has as much to do with the practice of ashtanga as it does to the practice of Zen.

Suzuki says 'I am interested in helping you keep your practice from becoming impure." I love this.

For a while you will keep the beginner's mind, the excitement of getting on the mat, going through the familiar postures, being given new postures, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, it is likely that you may lose the 'limitless meaning of original mind'. 

Suzuki states that our original mind includes everything within itself, it is always rich and sufficient within itself, it does not need external 'stuff' to complete it. "You should not lose your sufficient state of mind". However, the mind's "richness and sufficiency" does not meant that it is full by any means, in fact  the "original mind" is empty, open and always ready for anything.

I love the story of Aldous Huxley, who got to the point where he was so high all of the time, he got his vocabulary dow to just one word "extraordinary!", everything was "extraordinary", everything was blowing his mind all the time! That sense of awe is with everything that faces you on a day to day basis, you should look upon with the eyes of a child almost, with a fresh view, no pre-conceptions, language drops away, so there is just you and the experience.

"Self centred thoughts limit our vast mind". When we have no thought of achievement on the mat, when we just get on it and do the practice, accepting the way our bodies and minds are behaving at that given moment, we have no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then, Suzuki says, we can really learn something.

"When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless....then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with other beings and can actually practice." 

There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen to practice Zen, or a deep understanding of Ashtanga to practice Ashtanga. Never say you know what the practice is, because as soon as you do, something will change which will make you question the practice again. This is the practice of Zen, of Ashtanga, always be a beginner.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Chakra bandhasana and why getting your heels in kapotasana is completely worth it!

I am a massive advocate of back bending and spinal health and truly believe that keeping the spine healthy is key to a healthy body and mind. Vanda Scaravelli says that the function of the spine is to elongate and in this elongation elasticity and youth are regained. I completely agree. Not only is your spine strengthened on a physical level but mentally, FEAR is removed, which can be the biggest obstacle to living a happy and fulfilling life.

When I first tried kapotasana I went into complete panic mode and it was the most horrible, scary experience ever. I never thought I'd enjoy the posture. But I've persevered with it, trying to break the posture down, work out its mechanics to make it easier and more comfortable.

My posts on this blog are always only taken from my own experiences and I try to convey the posture through how it feels in my body. In a previous post on back bending I mentioned drawing the shoulder blades together and down the back. This seems to be the key to a comfortable kapo too. At the pelvic floor there's lots going on too! The tops of the femurs inwardly rotate, the sit bones draw together, the pubic bone draws down and the tailbone tucks under. This drawing in of the 4 corners of the pelvic floor seems to help to stabilise the pelvis but also seems to channel the energy from the pelvic floor upward. It could be mula bandha, but I'm not sure, not yet anyway!

So from drawing the spine out from the pelvic bowl, the sternum is lifted and the shoulder blades draw down the back. (nb. pulling shoulder blades down does not mean crunching the lower back - you're still lifting up). The drawing down of the shoulder blades seems to give that space to the thoracic spine to extend. When dropping back keep pushing forward into your thighs, inwardly rotating the tops of femurs to give space in the SI joint and for the tailbone to tuck under. Do not let your head touch the floor! Just keep pushing into the thighs, slowly creeping the fingertips alongside the feet, pushing and creeping in. Keeping the shoulder blades close to the spine and the elbows in tight. This is how I managed to get the heels on my own from the air in yesterday's practice. Once you have the heels you can actually relax into the posture. With the spine in extension like this it feels as if a channel opens from the pelvic floor up to the cervical spine which channels the breath. Sound strange I know. Maybe its sushumna nadi? Clear of granthis, giving ease to the posture, I don't know... but what I do know is that once you get the heels the posture IS easier, because the breath stabilises!!

And the other benefit of getting your heels is that the arms/shoulder blades are in the same posture to get your ankles in chakra bandhasana, which I got last night for the first time too! A tip for this one - activate where necessary, relax where possible (in the words of David Swenson!) But again, once you have bound, the whole thing is a lot easier!

Monday, 3 June 2013

Dear God, I actually said 'Thank you for the beautiful energy in the room tonight'...but meant every word...

There were only 6 students...

The young fit twenty-something girl, the lady who's practiced yoga for the past 20-odd years, the young enthusiastic guy just digging his newly found practice, the triathlete, the older man breathing into every posture and the energetic, seasoned practitioner who just can't get enough...

I wasn't feeling myself at all... I was out of sorts, but the energy of this group of students in this room at this time, warmed my heart and made me feel cosy inside. I am grateful for your presence tonight. Gratitude.