Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

Spending time on your yoga mat may be an ideal way to stretch your tight muscles, strengthen your body, and relax your mind. But there is so much more to gain from your practice, especially if you begin to consciously bring what you do on your mat to the rest of your life.

I want to invite you to explore a practice that I’ve been working with over the last several weeks. I call it “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable”.

Most experiences we have (both on our yoga mat and off) are pleasurable or not. What feels good to us we accept and often times, seek out and attempt to hold on to for as long as possible. When something doesn’t feel good to us we push it away, ignore or attempt to avoid it, or try to eliminate it as soon as possible. Sometimes this act of resisting takes the form of judgment.

For example, in yoga class your teacher may guide you into a posture that you find extremely challenging. As you approach the pose you are filled with anger at the teacher for “pushing everyone too hard” or for making yoga into “a game of who’s strongest”. The truth is however, the teacher is simply instructing the class through a variety of postures. You most likely find the pose difficult and possibly feel less-than your fellow yogis for not being able to perform it as well as them. The story that you are telling yourself (in the form of judgment) is how you avoid taking responsibility for your own “bad” feelings.

Not everyone resorts to judgment all of the time. We can deal with non-pleasure inducing postures by taking a water break or going to the bathroom. Another commonly employed distraction is picking the lint off your yoga mat or staying in the pose, but completely collapsing and checking out.

Funny thing is, as soon as the “bad” pose ends and a pose we have deemed “good” is executed we’re happy again, life is great, and our teacher is once again our favorite.

The same thing occurs in life. Things are going our way and we feel great! Something “bad” happens and we feel awful. Some people may have very little awareness of the “bad” times because at the first hint of pain they run so fast they don’t even realize what propelled them to do so. While they may avoid being uncomfortable in the moment, they may also miss out on a lot of meaningful life experiences. Others linger in the “bad” feelings for way to long because they think that’s their only option. In this case, the person may appear to be very skilled at “getting comfortable with the uncomfortable”, but that’s not really what’s occurring. When one truly gets comfortable with the uncomfortable a state of contentment, or santosha, arises. Usually, in this moment, “bad” feelings dissipate and faith in the divine plan dominates. The situation may still be the same, but your state of being in relationship to it has changed.

Next time you step onto your mat experiment with “Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable” using these suggestions. Apply them in your day-to-day life as well and notice how Santosha/contentment increases.

  1. First of all, make a commitment to realize your emotional self.

Everyone is meant to experience a range of emotions which you can essentially plug into two categories: “good” and “bad”. All emotions are valuable resources that we’ve been given. They inform us about what we like, dislike, and basically, what we believe.

You may feel like you are ruled by your emotions. Or, maybe you feel disconnected to your feelings and more “up in your head”. Regardless of your tendencies, being able to realize this aspect of yourself that is emotional can be liberating. Stepping back to recognize how you are feeling can help you release any identification you may have with your emotional state affording you greater objectivity about the moment. Additionally, if you don’t feel easily, choosing to realize this part of yourself is all it takes to wake up your emotional body.

Make it a daily practice to check-in with yourself about how you are feeling

    • in the morning when you awake
    • mid-day
    • at night when you retire
    • anytime you feel triggered in a negative way

Take a few breaths and receive the information your emotional body is offering you.

On your yoga mat, engage in a similar practice. Acknowledge your emotional state of being at the beginning of practice, somewhere in the middle, and at the end of your practice. If a pose has brought buried emotions to the surface or something the teacher says triggers you, check in then as well.

  1. Acceptance.

When you are experiencing an emotion, embrace it. I have found it especially useful to say to myself, “I’m really angry right now, and that’s ok”. Depending on the intensity of my emotion I may need to add, "no one's going to die", or something along those lines.

No emotion is inherently good or bad. In essence they are simply energies moving through us informing us about our perceived reality.

  1. Get Comfortable with the Uncomfortable

This step occurs simultaneously with step #2. After you have acknowledged what you are feeling (step 1) and have admitted to yourself that that is ok, any “bad” feelings lose their power. Suddenly you have become comfortable with what was making you uncomfortable. You have discovered Santosha or Contentment. And with this comes a sense of great freedom.

When I feel contentment I know deep in my being that everything is going to be ok. I realize that I’m not going to die, life will continue to go on, and I also remember that it will only be a matter of time before change occurs and this “moment” will then be a past memory stored away in my mind.

Have fun exploring! Let me know if you have any questions and please share any comments!

In light,

Amy Patee

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Yoga for a Strong Core

Take advantage of these special classes and offerings that focus specifically on the core!
Everything held at One Yoga Studio unless otherwise noted.
Core Strength Yoga Class, Wednesdays, 10:45-11:45am, Ongoing/Drop-in
Master Class—The Core, Saturday, January 30, 3:00-5:00, Preregister to reserve your spot
Special Class—Uddiyana Bandha for Core Strength, Sunday, January 31, 6:00-7:15pm, Drop-in
Yoga for a Strong Core Teacher Training Level 1: Power in the Pelvic Floor, Dates TBA

My mission as a yoga teacher is to help people connect to the truth of who they are. This is my personal quest as well, to know who I really am—and to live from this place of authenticity.

Inspired by this mission, I find that my focus in teaching is to get people to go inside of themselves. The entry point is the body and the way in is to begin feeling. But, as a species, we have become so disconnected. Being up in our heads all the time, our bodies tend to feel numb and/or way over-stimulated. So much so, that being in them is difficult and uncomfortable.

The beauty of yoga is that this disconnect to our body is taken into consideration. The practice of asana (postures) works to return the attention of our mind, which is also our energy and power, to the sacred domain of ourselves.

As the body starts to move through unfamiliar and possibly challenging positions, a connection must be made between the body and the mind. This can be painful, irritating, uncomfortable, and disorientating. When we are vacant from our body for long periods of time, other negative energies tend to accumulate. Often, these energies are unresolved emotions that if left unprocessed, can wreak havoc on our health and peace of mind. These are the underlying energies that contribute to diseases like cancer. Moving, feeling, and paying attention to the body means getting in touch with these energies so they can be resolved and cleansed from the body.

I refer to this period as the “thawing out stage”. If you’ve ever been frost-bitten you’ll understand this analogy. Once the body thaws, greater sensitivity is achieved. You will find you can feel your body so much more. You may have profound breakthroughs in regards to your range of motion or your ability to perform a posture you could not do before. You become more present.

Once people have made it through the first thaw, my aim is to help them go deeper to their very core. The physical core of the body, once penetrated, opens doorways to the subtle world of energy which is what yoga is all about—bringing us back to our energetic essence.

The physical structures of the core are the pelvis and spine along with their deeper musculature, the “corset” of musculature surrounding the mid section of the body, the internal organs, nervous system, and the endocrine glands. These anatomical places offer a tangible reference point to help anchor the mind inside our physical center.

As we connect to these deep physical structures within, we get closer to our energetic reality and expansive states of mind are accessed. This is where immense creativity and limitless energy are found. Many people will experience their chakras clearly when they arrive within this inner space.

To help you more fully enter the sacred domain of your personal core, try these things during your next yoga practice. Teachers, guide your students inward using these ideas.

1. Create an intention to connect to your core self.
Intention is everything. You can take a class at a health club and spend a whole hour working your “core” but that does not mean you will arrive at the truth of who you are. An intention aligns your mind with your actions and helps you arrive at the destination you desire. Be clear with yourself what your aim is and the end goal you wish to achieve.

2. Center yourself and check in—Sift through the layers of your physical reality.
As you dive deeper into yourself make sure you pause long enough at each border of your physical reality to breathe and just be.
  1. Be aware of and feel the space around your body. The boundaries of the room you are practicing in or the four corners of your yoga mat are sufficient borders to reference.
  2. Be aware of and feel your skin/outer shell of your body. Acknowledge the space you physically occupy. Visualize yourself, but then try to feel yourself—your skin. Do a once over of your body by stroking the skin with your hands. This can awaken the skin’s sensory nerves and sensitize you to your outer body casing.
  3. Be aware of and feel your muscles/tissues, bones, organs. Go deeper into your physical self and explore what your capacity is to feel these structures. Notice if emotions arise that you would rather not feel or if the mind distracts you away from yourself as you move further inward.
3. Be aware of and feel the breath’s movement through your inner-body chambers
Deep breathing naturally creates movement throughout the whole core of the body. However, you can also regulate the breath and direct its movement to instigate specific effects. Imagine your breath is like a flashlight. Breathe in and shine the light of your breath and awareness around your inner core space. Visualize it first, and then try to feel it.
  1. Pelvis
  2. Abdomen
  3. Ribcage
  4. Neck
  5. Head

4. Make your navel center home-base for the attention of your mind
Explore moving from your center. With your focus on your navel, initiate all of your movements into and out of every yoga pose from this place. Experiment and note the impact it has on your body and state of mind.

5. Establish inner body connections in every yoga pose
Lastly, once your navel has directed you into a pose and you are steady and stable begin to make inner body connections between your home-base and your periphery. As if you are playing a good game of “connect the dots” start to internally “see” and “feel” the head connecting to your navel, as well as your hands, feet, and tailbone. Every pose will become a unique expression of your own inner starfish. Physical integration and connection supports a feeling of wholeness in the mind. Additionally, linking up the energy of your core with the periphery of your body invites your authentic self to emerge in the outer world!

Have fun exploring. Please leave any questions and/or comments you may have.

And, be sure to check out my Core offerings listed at the top of this blog!

In light,
Amy Patee

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Practicing and Teaching Yoga--Mind Awareness

The following post is an excerpt and/or summary from my forthcoming book: Teaching Yoga—A Definitive Guide.

Body, breath, and mind awareness—I consider the cultivation of these three things fundamental to the practice and attainment of yoga. When you gain awareness of all three, in the moment, you place yourself (sometimes unknowingly) in your center where you align with your soul or essential self.

At first, when this alignment occurs you may have a euphoric feeling. You could feel extremely peaceful, joyful, and in-love with yourself, others, and life. At the same time, this alignment can leave you feeling emotionally overwhelmed or nauseous. You see, our essential self vibrates intense bliss; much different than any bliss that we experience in our regular day-to-day life. When you align with your essential bliss, the potency of the experience burns away impurities--or anything that does not align with that vibration of truth. For most all of us, we have accumulated a lot of impurities. Therefore, the ecstasy of union/yoga is often a “good pain” or a “hurt so good” kind of feeling.

For example, many years ago I was going through a deeply profound healing process within myself. I was practicing a vigorous form of yoga on a daily basis. Most of my practice sessions would last from 2 to 3 hours! I would sweat a tremendous amount and feel light and spacious at the end of practice. One day, however, as I rested in savasana, completely “spent” from the rigors of my practice I went into an altered state. A vision came to me. I saw my entire body engulfed in the color red and I experienced an extremely deep state of inner peace and contentment that I had never felt before. Slowly the vision dissipated and I got up to attend to the rest of my day.

A few hours later after relaxing and reading I stood up and stretched my body and yawned. Suddenly, I started to sob uncontrollably. My whole body cried for over an hour. As I sobbed I heard an inner voice coming through that said, “Everything is already ok. Everything is already ok.” These words became like a mantra in my head as many veils over my eyes were lifted. I saw for the first time consciously, an aliveness that penetrated everything around me. I remember staring at my plants, touching their leaves, and continuing to sob over the fact that they too were alive, like me.

As you can see, although I was experiencing a euphoric and expanded state of being, I was also feeling a tremendous amount of pain. Through alignment with my true self I could see all the ways I had been misaligned and it hurt! All the years of disconnect, all the years of forgetting, all the pain from being separated from my most beloved Self. It was a “good pain”.

So, when considering the topic of Mind Awareness, I want you to understand that discomfort is natural and should be expected. It is within the realms of the mind where all the big stuff happens. It is the mind that programs your physical body, the flow of your breath and energy, and it is the mind that underlies your emotional states of being. If you can become the master of your mind you are enlightened.

Most people are working on the physical body (annamaya kosha) and energetic/breath body (pranamaya kosha) in their yoga practice. This definitely impacts the realm of the mind (manomaya kosha and vijnanamaya kosha), but the impact won’t be permanent until the body, breath, and mind are all equally viewed with conscious awareness. This is when true change occurs. This is when self-realization happens.

Exploring the realm of the mind is advanced work in many respects. For instance, in Raga or 8-limbed Yoga, the body and breath are first tamed and regulated before the practice of meditation is encouraged. In meditation one becomes very intimate with the workings of the mind. At this level, you are learning to really master your attention or energy and become the commander of your own self and life.

Our minds are amazing tools we have been gifted with. But, when we lack awareness of them, they can be infiltrated with immense darkness that stands in our way from living in alignment with our soul. Gaining mastery of the mind will require you to face the darkness that lurks there. Again, this can be equated to the “hurt so good” feeling. Gaining awareness of your mind will transform your entire life. But gaining awareness of how you have allowed your mind to control you in many negative ways may be painful—but liberating. Are you willing to go for it? Do you want to become enlightened and learn to be the master of yourself and your life?

If so, here are a few ways to cultivate awareness of your mind in your yoga practice and/or in your teaching.

1. Hold the intention to know the truth of who you really are.
Believe it or not, very few of us really understand the potential we carry within ourselves. Instead, we believe ourselves to be who we’ve been told we are by various “authority” figures, including parents, teachers, the government, and society at large. I consider myself a seeker. I strongly believe there is more to discover, more to know, more to embody; and I want it. Do you? If so, consider the idea that you don’t know yourself yet and hold the intention that you want to.

Teachers, as a spiritual guide to your students, you have the ability to facilitate awareness and promote personal and global evolution! This is exciting and a gift. How do you want to use it? Educating your students about their Whole Self is key. Let them know, there is more to discover about themselves and yoga is one way of getting there. Suggest the idea that the happiness they experience in their life now is only 20% of the happiness that is available to them. Can you even imagine this? It is the truth. Encourage your students to embrace the intention “to know the truth of who they really are”.

2. Ask why.
To begin exploring the mind you must begin to question it versus just accepting everything it thinks! The best place to start is when you are faced with something that makes you uncomfortable. Instead of settling, instead of just accepting what is, ask why.

For instance, in yoga practice, your mind proclaims “handstand isn’t for me” and you sit that pose out and sulk because it looks like so much fun. Ask why! This is when things get juicy. Maybe your mind tells you “because you are weak” or “because you weigh too much” or “because you’re not talented enough” or “because you are scared of failing”. Whatever the answer is, do you believe it? Is it true? Why is it true? Why do you have to believe it? Like I mentioned earlier, darkness lurks in the mind and works to keep us disempowered and victims to our own lives. Whatever you are experiencing in life, don’t let your mind make up its mind without your conscious approval! Ask why!

When you are teaching challenge your students to gain discernment of their mind’s unauthorized authority over everything. When a student says, “I’m just too weak to do that pose” show them the way. Help them start small to build the strength they may need. Or, bust through their mind’s illusions and support them in possibly trying something for the first time. For me, these are often the most satisfying teaching moments . . . a student’s exhilaration after turning upside down for the very first time or reaching their toes when they believed it would never be possible. Don’t let them be a victim to their mind’s preconceived notions about what is and isn’t possible. The sky’s the limit!

3. Learn to simply observe your mind
In addition to dialoguing and/or questioning your mind’s programming, learning to simply sit back and observe the chatter is useful as well. What story is the mind currently engaging in?

I think of the domain of the mind as a giant library filled with millions of books. In any given moment the mind has hundreds, maybe even thousands of books open, reading and acting out overlapping stories all at once! It’s exhausting; which is why we remain unconscious to most of the chatter. But, becoming conscious of it empowers us. Instead of letting the story be our reality, we can see it as it really is, a story. At the same time, we gain the power to change the story to something that may suit us better.

As a teacher, I like to offer periods of silence during class, sometimes I will interject during a quiet moment with, “what story are you telling yourself right now?” And then I guide them back to the breath and the sensations in the body. Additionally, I offer short meditations, usually at the end of class when the body is more able to sit comfortably. Sometimes I offer meditations that work to train the mind into silence, such as focusing on the breath. But, other times, I just invite students to sit and be and just observe what is.

It can take a while before one realizes how much is going on in the mind! But, if adequate body and breath awareness have been cultivated, the realm of the mind will become more conscious.

Have fun exploring! I welcome any comments . . . until next time. . . Be the best person you can be!

In light and love,
Amy Patee