Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Yoga...It’s about the journey, not the destination

I hear time and time again from my students things like, “I’ve been practicing yoga for 6 months and I still can’t reach my toes.” Or, “When I do wheel pose my arms won’t extend straight.” And, “I can’t get my heels to the floor in downdog yet, what’s wrong with me?”

My answer to them in every case is, “It’s about the journey, not the destination”.

Let me clarify. Many people believe that to be a successful yogi you must be able to perform all of the yoga postures perfectly. And that in doing so, they will be “good”, “enlightened”, or “better off than when they started”. The truth is however, is that yoga asana practice is a means to increasing body awareness so you can begin to get in touch with your inner experience of feeling, thinking, and being. Additionally, as you perform the various asanas you encourage balance in your body and mind. This balanced state of being allows you to sit and meditate with ease. Meditation is also a yogic practice; it’s just not as popular right now!

When you let go of the idea that there’s a final destination that you’re working towards in your asana practice, then what? Your goal-oriented self may feel bored, uninterested, or just plain old confused about the purpose of practicing at all. The part of you that’s addicted to “doing” may be nauseated with the idea of “being”. But, I guarantee, as you surrender your need to “get someplace” you will discover greater depth in your practice and within yourself that is very intriguing. When you make this jump, you are truly beginning your yogic journey inward and neither your practice nor your life will ever be boring again.

Let me help you make this jump. Apply these suggestions to your practice.

1. Begin by establishing healthy “outer” alignment.
“Outer” alignment teaches you how to execute a pose. It tells you to align your knee over your ankle and your hands in line with your shoulders. This allows you to embrace the general shape or outline of a pose safely and with ease. You must begin here if you are new to the practice and/or learning a new pose. While you will be engaged in a degree of “doing” as you establish your outer alignment, it provides the necessary structure for you to go deeper into the subtler realms of sensations, feelings, and thoughts.

"Outer" alignment may be assisted by using props and modifications to make the pose fit your unique body.

2. Breathe, relax, feel
Once you’ve struck a pose, breathe. Relaxed breathing in and out through the nose coincides with a relaxed body. Being relaxed does not infer you are collapsed or not-working. It simply means you have discovered a balance of effort and ease or strength and softness all at once. When you are breathing easily and are relaxed in your body you can feel more easily what’s happening inside yourself. This is where you want to get to.

3. Realign or adjust yourself from a place of “inner” body awareness
As you begin to feel your body from the inside-out you will become more aware of where you are misaligned. “Outer” alignment will only get you so far. Even if your knee looks perfectly aligned to the external eye, the intricate work of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and nerves beneath the skin may be telling another story. When you are in a feeling-mode during asana practice, your sensitivity to how your inner body is working becomes more apparent. You can fine-tune each position more accurately from moment-to-moment-to-moment.

Alignment is not a set equation. It is an ongoing process which requires constant dialogue between the body, mind, and breath. When these three merge, the experience of spirit surfaces; I call this Ultimate Alignment.

When you experience Ultimate Alignment, you may feel immense peace, a sense of expansiveness, a deep connection to everyone and everything, and always, a quality of ‘being love’. Ultimate Alignment reveals to you your inherent state of wholeness.

Ultimate Alignment will surprise you when you least expect it. Rather than seeking it out, stay engaged consciously in the process of breathing, relaxing, and feeling. Ultimate Alignment will emerge more and more frequently as you cultivate greater and greater presence in the moment.

4. Work your edge
When you perceive a yoga posture as a destination, you arrive, set up camp, and then, often times, check out until the teacher guides you into the next pose.

However, when a yoga pose is approached as a journey, there is never a dull moment. Rather than becoming bored, you constantly “work your edge” to keep your mind’s attention enthralled with what’s happening inside of yourself.

Can you go deeper or stretch further? Can you release or relax more? Can you continue to breathe easily as you do this? Have you stopped yourself short because you “think” you can’t go any further? Are you scared of pushing yourself to find out? Do you feel uncomfortable emotions surfacing? Do you let yourself feel them or distract yourself by moving and/or thinking about something else?

“Working your edge” does not necessarily mean stretching as deeply as you can. And, it definitely does not mean pushing through painful sensations. When you “work your edge” you are engaging intensely with yourself: feelings, sensations, and thoughts. In simpler terms, you are challenging yourself to remain present to what is.

5. Be confident and stay humble.
Even if you completely accept the fact that yoga practice is about the journey not the destination, that doesn’t mean you can’t ever relish in finally being able to touch your toes or having mastered a new posture. It can feel great to witness your own growth on any level: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.

At the same time, let your new found confidence be equally matched with a degree of humbleness. Be thankful for the practice, your body’s ever increasing vitality, the breath, your mind, and the teachings. There is still much more to discover, I promise!

6. Have fun!
Your essential nature is one of bliss. If your yoga practice is always serious and intense, lighten up! Although yoga can provide you with quiet, inward time that you desperately need in your life, remaining light-hearted about it all is good for your soul! Laugh at yourself, smile, and have fun!

May your yogic journey be blessed with many twists and turns. May your heart be light, may you experience Ultimate Alignment, and may you know the magnificent being that you are!

In light and love,
Amy Patee

Thursday, February 4, 2010

What’s causing my pain and how can I heal it?

Looking beneath the radar for answers….

We all suffer from pain. Maybe it’s a sore shoulder that’s got your attention, a gut ache, or an all-consuming sadness. Whether physical or emotional, pain can keep us from living our lives to the fullest and experiencing our innate sense of wholeness and feeling of well-being.

Sometimes we are in pain for obvious reasons like stubbing our toe, getting a paper cut, or having a loved one pass away. But the source of our pain can also be elusive or what I like to call “beneath the radar”. As a yoga teacher, I often hear from students about their physical aches and pains. Yet, almost always, there is no knowledge of why they are hurting. They may guess it to be the result of an old injury, general weakness, or simply getting old. But, when I tune into their pain, another story is revealed. You could say that I’m seeing “beneath their radar” and what I often discover is that the root of their pain is patterns of negative thinking and feeling.

This, of course, makes complete sense when you understand that the body and the mind are intimately woven together. The body is tangible, physical, and easy to touch, feel, and see. The mind, on the other hand, which encompasses our feelings and thoughts, is much more subtle. Because of this, the body often becomes the messenger of bad news. That is, the news our minds have selectively attempted to forget, ignore, repress, or hide.

Amazingly, I have watched chronic pain, both in myself and my students and clients, disappear for good when the underlying emotional-mental fracture has been brought into the light.

Do you have a nagging pain that limits you in some way? Let me walk you through some simple steps that you can do to get in touch with the source of your pain and create true healing on all levels. Incorporate these suggestions during your next yoga practice and let me know what you discover.

1. Realize that your body and mind are connected.
If you are not convinced of this, it will obviously be difficult to uncover the underlying negative emotions or thought patterns wreaking havoc on your health.

2. Consciously make a body-mind connection
Lucky you, every yoga class facilitates this! All you need to do to make a body-mind connection is to bring your attention and/or awareness to your body. Bringing awareness to your breath as it moves in and out of your body is also useful. As you do so, tune into any sensations occurring and feelings that are flowing.

Some people will have an easier time doing this than others. If you struggle connecting to your feelings or sensing your body, be patient with yourself and keep practicing. Yoga asana is a superb tool for increasing body awareness. With consistent practice you will “thaw out” your numb spots and begin to feel more and more alive and connected to your body.

The ultimate aim is to be able to “live from your center”. This means you are engaged with the outer environment but deeply tuned in to your inner environment at the same time. You maintain your body-mind connection throughout all aspects of your life.

3. Shine the light of your awareness upon your pain
While you are practicing maintain an awareness of the part of your body in pain. Breathe into it and observe how it is impacted by the different postures. Realize at first glance, you’re not seeing the whole picture. There may be a blind-spot obstructing your line of vision and keeping you from discovering the source of your pain.

The light of your consciousness, however, can illuminate those dark areas to help you see more clearly. Go into the pain, let yourself feel it, accept it, be curious about it, and interested in it. Notice what you are telling yourself about the pain. Understand that the story is not the result of the pain; the pain is the result of the story (I guarantee, some rendition of it has been around for a long, long time). It is our minds that program the physical body. Most importantly, maintain your body-mind connection and be open to realizing the truth.

4. Accept and then eliminate any negative energies you discover
As you penetrate your pain with your awareness you may discover tremendous feelings of sadness or anger. You may even remember an old traumatic experience and realize you do not feel resolved about it. Accept what is. It is our tendency to push away what doesn’t feel good, but as you’ve learned, this does not “fix” any problems. Sooner or later, the body will express any old hurts so they can be addressed. With acceptance, most emotions will run their course unimpeded and simply release. This happens fairly quickly. However, when extreme amounts of negativity have been accumulated (which is not uncommon) I recommend utilizing a clearing technique to help eliminate the excess. One really effective approach that I use can be read about here.

5. Seek further assistance. Sometimes we need a guide to show us the way
If after exploring the above steps you have no “break-throughs” I highly recommend seeking the help of a healer and/or guide of some sort. It is no easy task to see through your own blind-spots (they’re called this for a reason!).

If you live in the Minneapolis area feel free to contact me to learn more about my Energy Work sessions. I specialize in uncovering people’s blind-spots and have over 10 years of experience working in-depth with the physical and energetic bodies. Read more here.

We are meant to live joyfully in our bodies. When this is not the case, we don’t have to accept it and just settle for a life of pain. The body never lies. It is always communicating to us whether we are living in alignment with our essential state of wholeness or not. When we feel pain, the body is simply saying, “You’ve disconnected from your state of wholeness, please look at this so it can be resolved and you can come back into alignment.” Making a body-mind connection is crucial. Listening is key. From there, the truth will unfold and you can once again experience your innate sense of well-being: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

Thanks for reading! Please leave any comments and/or questions.
In light,
Amy Patee