The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


Iyengar Leaves This World for the Next

I don’t have a lot to say tonight, but I wanted to at least share something.

B. K. S. Iyengar passed on today.

In looking for a quote to share by Iyengar from one of his books, I came across this passage that I hadn’t remembered underlining in The Tree of Yoga that comforted me:

Death is unimportant to a yogi; he does not mind when he is going to die. What happens after death is immaterial to him. He is only concerned with life –with how he can use his life for the betterment of humanity. Having undergone various types of pain in his life and having acquired a certain mastery over pain, he develops compassion to help society and maintains himself in purity and holiness. The yogi has no interest beyond that.

Iyengar lived this. May we all strive to do the same.

B. K. S. Iyengar was a powerful bright light in the yoga community and will be missed. I, among millions of other Westerns, owe my yoga practice to him. I hope we, as a community, can continue to carry the light in his absence.

This is a lovely personal account by a yogi who happened to be blessed with right timing to attend his funeral rites

NY Times obituary

Namaste.

 

(P.S. This is a quick post tonight, but I will return soon with more. The wedding was wonderful and I am looking forward to share with you)

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Gearing Up for The Approximate Yogi’s First Anniversary!

Hello Lovely Readers,

I can’t believe almost a full year has gone by since I started The Approximate Yogi. It has been such a fun and blessed journey for me. As I reflect over the year, I thought I’d take a few minutes to share with you what I’ve gained from writing the blog.

Then I would love it if you could take a few minutes to share what you have gained. I have a few survey questions below that I would be so grateful if you took a few moments to answer so I can make a better blog in its second year.

My Lovely Little Treasures

A coworker asked me the other day how I found the time to write. I paused for a moment before responding. The time has always found me, whether it was after an exhausting day at work, or a quiet Saturday morning, or a lazy coffee shop afternoon, or, every once in a while, at 3 a.m. when I couldn’t sleep. Once I began this project, the writing always found me. Even when I thought my ideas were all dried up, and especially when I wasn’t planning on writing, an idea came to me that had to be written.

I love that magic. I may be addicted to that magic. So the response that bubbled up to my coworker was, “I’d hate my life if I didn’t write.”

And that’s the simple truth. Throughout most of my life I have dabbled, often with pen and paper, sometimes with paint and paper, or crayon, or needle and thread, in a creative pursuit. Yet the cycle of life leaves me with gaps, sometimes quite large, spaces of time in my life -days, weeks, years, where art just didn’t fit.

I don’t regret the times in my life when there wasn’t anything creative to turn to. I was called away from creativity for good reasons that were a part of my development, and often led to a deepening of my creative sense and purpose once I returned.

But during those times in my life when I didn’t have a creative project in the works, something always felt like it was missing. There was this unnameable empty space. Then I’d rediscover art, and slapping myself on the forehead with a “Duh!” I would remember.

Creating this blog was a big “Duh!” moment for me. It had been a long time since I had done any writing, other than journaling, the occasional poem, and the many many reports I write for work (by the way, I am a speech language pathologist in my day job, in case you were curious, since I tangentially refer to it sometimes). When I decided to start blogging, during a particularly rough time, all of a sudden sunshine came back into my life, colors seemed brighter, the impossible started feeling possible. I remembered again.

I remembered what beauty felt like.

I just read a lovely interview at Copyblogger with writer Elizabeth Gilbert, where she talked about a conversation she’d had with the musician Tom Waits. This is what she said:

Tom Waits told me once that all he does, as a songwriter, is make ‘jewelry for the inside of people’s minds.’ I find that incredibly calming as an idea. (Elizabeth Gilbert) 

does this look like the inside of your mind?

does this look like the inside of your mind?

As do I. It gets at why I write, why we creative types need to create. I often struggle with the value of spending so much time writing (and so much more time in all that surrounds the act of writing). Wouldn’t it be better if I was out there doing something? But maybe what I do, what I hope I do, is create a space for everyone that is out there doing things, to rest their soul. And hopefully this is a beautiful place. I need shiny, sparkly, pretty things for the inside of my mind, and I know that others out there do too -so I create. I want to design a bright space full of hope and colored light (I’m picturing the inside of “I Dream of Jeannie”‘s magic bottle for some reason) for us all to rest our souls, or perhaps discover our souls.

Which brings me to my next little treasure that this blog brought me -discovering other bloggers. A whole new universe of like-minded, different-minded, new-minded writers opened up to me. I was not only inspired by the act of my writing, I was inspired by what I was reading. This often led to more writing in a lovely sparkling spiral.

I am particularly grateful for discovering Jennifer Pastiloff‘s 5 Most Beautiful Things Project, which allowed me to reconnect with all the little beautiful moments in my life I’d been skipping over and taking for granted. It is an amazing practice to stop and notice how truly spectacularly beautiful this world is, to take a moment to be present in it, to bask, even, in this beauty.

Delving Deeper

Like teaching yoga, this blog has given me the opportunity to delve deeper into both the practice and philosophy of yoga and meditation. I have enjoyed exploring, with you readers, aspects of yogic philosophy I wanted to learn more about. I have enjoyed learning more about Ayurveda, and trying new healthy foods and recipes.

It has held me accountable to keeping up a steady practice. Writing has always been a way for me to process not only my thoughts, but my emotions, my feelings about a thing. In writing blog posts on yoga and meditation I have been able to discover more about what it means to my life, how it fits in my life, what it offers me, and what I have to offer others because of it.

New Friends

Here are a few other blogs/sites that have been an inspiration to me this year:

Rebelle Society -Where I go to find a little creative pick-me-up

alohaleya, wearing her heart on her blog -Often after reading a post of hers, I felt I could have written it myself

Body Karma -an inspiring yoga blog

from midnight oil -written by a high school classmate of mine; it’s been fun to create a friendship years later in the blogosphere

Genine’s Art Blog -Where I go when I want to look at happy beautiful art

Your Turn

Thinking of the future of this blog, I’m sure it will continue its evolution. Won’t you be a part of it and help me create an even better blog for year two? Please take a moment to answer these 6 quick questions below.

Namaste!

Thank you so much for taking the time to fill out the short survey. It is very helpful to me. Also feel free to add any other thoughts in the comments section of this post on what you hope to get out of The Approximate Yogi blog, or how I could make it better.


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My Slowing-Down-Take-it-Easy-Keep-Me-Sane Yoga Practice

I want to share what my yoga has looked like for the past two weeks.

My knee is not quite doing its healing thing as quickly as I’d hoped. One initial ER trip, one orthopedist visit, and one MRI later, we are still not sure what is going on. I only have one more day until my follow-up appointment, where we can actually look at the MRI with the orthopedic doctor, and hopefully find out some answers. Until then, I am on the couch, counting down the hours. This waiting game would be a lot more challenging without yoga. Yoga is what’s keeping this typically active girl sane right now!

Despite the frustration of my situation, there is a lot I can find to be grateful for. I am very grateful my injury wasn’t worse, and that, for the most part, I am pain-free. It is also a wonderful opportunity to be present with what is, and really explore patience (more about this topic later, I’m sure). Since this is the first significant injury I’ve ever had, I am given the chance to really understand what it is like to be less mobile and bendable in a way I never could before (a real benefit to me as a yoga teacher).

And also, to my surprise, my hurt knee has renewed and deepened my yoga practice. In the midst of my “off-season yoga,” I have all of a sudden found myself steeped in the practice once again.

First of all, since I am spending a lot more time sitting with my leg elevated and lying down than I’m used to, by the end of the night there is a pain in my lower back. This gets me up and out of bed quite early in the morning. So right there, one of my most difficult struggles, just getting out of bed, becomes moot. I welcome waking  up, moving my body.

Since I’m up early, I have plenty of time to stretch out my quiet morning. I start by making some warm water with lemon. I then take the mug over to my dining table to cool, while I start my standing practice. It’s funny how I have developed a new routine to my morning practice, and how quickly I have come to rely on its ritual.

I then take a few deep breaths and tune in while standing, since sitting on the ground is still a challenge. I could probably find a kriya or two that I could do with some slight modifications, but I have just been doing a series of warm-up poses instead, which has felt right.

If you’re looking for a gentle yoga practice, especially if you have any knee issues, or for a good warm-up, you may want to try this.

Here is what I do:

Standing Poses

  • Mountain pose –Standing tall, I take a few breaths to feel my body grounding through my toes, testing my weight to find an okay balance between and within each leg
  • 1 forward bend, remaining in the position for several breaths, fingers reaching to the floor, until the backs of my legs and lower back are feeling nice and stretched.
  • 4 more faster forward bends in rhythm with the breath (inhale arms up, exhale swan dive them down to the floor)
  • Downward dog –from my forward fold I am able to walk my hands out into a downward dog (triangle pose in Kundalini terminology). I was so relieved to discover, after a few days, I could comfortably do this stretch, one of my favorites.
  • Side bends -inhale right arm overhead, exhale bend to left side, inhale left arm up, exhale bend to right side

Chair Poses (but not “chair pose”)

forward fold

forward fold

  • Seated in a chair beside my dining table with my good leg planted on the ground, my other leg is elevated on another facing chair, or on a low box in front of me. My meditation pillow is now a cushion for my foot. I lean back against the chair and sip my lemon water between poses.
  • Sitting forward fold – with both legs up on the chair in front of me, I bend towards them. Sometimes I hold the pose, sometimes I inhale to half-way up, and exhale to the deeper bend, repeating this rapid movement, giving a more active stretch
  • Spinal twists, hands on my shoulders, fingers face forward, thumbs behind, inhale left, exhale right, 1 minute

    spinal twist

    spinal twist

  • Shoulder shrugs, inhale up, exhale down, 1 minute
  • Neck rolls, 5 on each side

And that’s the hatha portion. I can’t say I don’t miss a more vigorous practice, but that’s where I am. And that’s where that patience practice comes in.

Meditation

I’ve been doing a combination of different meditations that add up to a total of 31 minutes. (After 31 minutes of meditation all of the cells and rhythms of the body are affected. The endocrine system is balanced. The chakras are balanced.)

  • Sometimes I start with five minutes of breath of fire, if I’m feeling like I need a little more energy, otherwise I end with five minutes of silent meditation or bi-furcated kirtan kriya
  • Then, Meditation to be Rid of Internal Anger. This is my new 40 Day Meditation. Another choice made by my knee, since I was originally doing a 40 day kriya that I can no longer physically do. I was planning to do this one after that. The universe said, nope, let’s work on that anger now, not later.
  • I end with 11 minutes of Healing Meditation (Ra Ma Da Sa), and send that white healing light to my knee, as well as others around me that could use this healing energy.

More on Meditation to Be Rid of Internal Anger

This is a 15-minute long, two-part meditation. In the first part, you use strong arm movements with clenched fists, chanting “Har.” The second is a still and silent meditation with hands calmly folded at heart-center. Read the full description here.

I am only on Day 12, so I don’t have a lot to say about it yet. Some mornings I really feel like I’m going deep into the anger in the first half. Cracking into that space of neutrality in the second half has been a bit more challenging, but there are moments.

Now, you may wonder why I chose this meditation. (It’s probably something I’ll be writing more about as the 40 Days continues.) I wouldn’t say I’m a person with anger issues, but often, if there is a negative emotion to go to, anger is it for me. My gut reaction to many situations is anger. This typically mild-mannered gal may have a bit of the Irish temper in her, that is, of course, and unfortunately, most often reserved for those she loves most. I did notice yesterday, during an instance that I would have normally gotten angry at myself, I stopped mid-thought and changed course. Could it be working? I had the realization that the first and worst anger is towards myself, and that’s the anger I need to let go of first as well. I’m getting there.

Do you have a story to share about an event in your life that changed your yoga practice? I’d love to hear about it. Post in the comments below.

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Embrace the Unexpected

I am sitting on my couch, looking out the window on this frightfully windy day, and I am watching a flock of birds attempt to fly against the wind, and fail. They are flapping their wings and merely hovering in midair by the force of it. Some dive down to the ground in defeat. A little one is actually blown backwards. I’d never seen anything like it. I watch them over and over again do this.

I think to myself, willing their safety, why don’t they just decide to go in another direction for the day? They’re just birds after all, where do they have to be? Why struggle so hard?

Then I realize I could be giving myself this exact same advice. Two days ago, I sprained a ligament in my knee while skiing. In the grand scheme of things, I am quite alright and I am so grateful it wasn’t worse. But it has put me out of commission, needing to take time off work, and rely on someone else to make me meals, get me things, or help me take my socks off. Strategizing a hobbling trip to the bathroom in the middle of the night becomes a major feat.

Then there is the business of my yoga practice. Remember my post from earlier this week –how I was going to get back on track, restart that energizing morning practice with a new 40-day kriya? Well, that plan flew out the window. Doing daily crow squats is just not an option right now.

Ok, universe, you have other plans for me.

Well, I’m perfectly functional from the waste up, and there’s no bodily prerequisites to meditate. So that’s what I did. I have been experimenting with chair yoga for the past two mornings, focusing on lungs, heart, arms, neck, figuring out what exercises I can do from there. Then I end with a 31 minute meditation.

This morning I decided it would be helpful to do a healing meditation. With upturned palms, I envisioned myself pulling in this energy from the universe. The white healing light coursing through my body, ribboning around my knee joint. Since there’s plenty to go around, at the end I sent some of it out to others I know in my life that could use some healing. For now, this meditation feels right. Tomorrow I may try another.

IMG_4792 It has certainly been eye-opening for me, a person who has never been injured before, to experience moving more slowly. It has been a way to bring more mindfulness to every action in my life. All of the little activities I typically take for granted throughout the day –getting a mug from the cupboard, bending down to pick up a towel, getting up to answer a knock at the door – have become little studies in movement. The knowledge that this struggle is temporary, and my limbs will soon move back into their effortless everyday dance is constantly present. I can’t help but feel so grateful for every small movement now.

Then there is the fact that I can’t go to work, which is harder for me to accept. But really, I’m just human after all. Where do I really need to be when my body needs to heal? The world will go on without me. So I take this opportunity to be still, to think, to read, to write, to heal.

I’m not sure how those birds in the wind made out today, but I know I’m gonna be just fine.

I’d like to send this thought out (with much love) to anyone who is healing right now:

Wherever you are in this process is where you need to be. If it is a place of discomfort, it will not last. It’s all going to be just fine.

birds

Healing foods for the joints:

If anyone is experiencing a similar joint injury, I’ve been doing a little research online and in my yoga books as to healing foods I can be eating that I thought I would share:

  • For breakfast my fruit and veggie smoothies are still a good choice, or oatmeal. These are some things you can add to either a smoothie or oatmeal (complex carbohydrate good for muscles) to make them even better: ground flax seed (for omegas), wheat germ (for trace minerals), Vitamin E oil (for healing tissue)
  • Lots of colorful fruits and vegetables, especially dark leafies, and berries for Vitamin C and bioflavonoids, carrots for Vitamin A
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids, like those found in fax seed or salmon
  • Protein, plant or animal-based
  • Zinc, found in supplements, or barley, wheat, crab, oysters
  • Golden Milk (read recipe here) –this is a yogic recipe for lubricating the joints, the milk supplies you with calcium and Vitamin D, turmeric has all kinds of good properties (including anti-inflammatory), plus it’s really yummy and comforting!

Healing Meditation:

Here is the full instructions to the meditation I described above: Healing with the Siri Gaitri Mantra (Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung). And click here for a truly beautiful version of the mantra that goes with it, by Snatam Kaur.

Resources: Healing Muscles and Joints,

Food Remedies for Strains and Sprains,

The Aquarian Teacher, Level 1 Teacher Training Manual by Yogi Bhajan, PhD


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If I Only Have 10 Minutes, This is the Yoga I Do

Some mornings are just too busy for a full practice, but I can almost always squeeze 10 minutes on my mat –and it does make the difference in a busy day. Today was one of those days, starting very early in the morning and ending late, so I’m also going to try to write this post in 10 minutes!

Here’s what I do:

  • I start by tuning in with the Adi Mantra.
  • Then I warm up with a few of my favorite warm-ups:
    • Sufi Grind, aka, sitting cross-legged and just rotating your torso in a circle, warming up the spine, getting all the morning kinks out
    • Cat-Cow, then move into
    • Downward Dog, then move into
    • either standing forward bend or child’s pose, depending on how tired I still am
    • I may do a sitting forward bend, or 1 nice slow sun salutation (Surya Namaskara), or a favorite pose of the moment
  • Then I do 3-5 minutes of meditating, keeping it to a simple one
  • I end with a long Sat Nam, spend a moment setting an intention for the day, and bow in gratitude for the precious gift of a day before me (really sets the right tone for the day)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And there you have it, set for a busy day, so set that alarm 10 minutes earlier or skip doing your hair 🙂

 


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5 Most Beautiful Things

Another wonderful thing that came from starting this blog is discovering all the amazing bloggers and yogis out there in the world that I never would have come across on my own. And all of their really inspiring creative ideas. One of them is Jennifer Pastiloff, who blogs at Manifestationyoga.com.

Her idea is this – “Every hour stop what you are doing and write down the 5 most beautiful things to you right in that moment. Every hour or as often as you can! You can also post pics in addition to writing them down. Just connect in some way and find the beauty.” You can read more about the project here on her blog.

I love this! It is similar to a practice I do –to get myself out of a bad mood I think of all the things I am grateful for, which often starts by looking around me at the beautiful things (read more about my gratitude practice here). You can’t help but feel gratitude for the world around you after getting into this habbit.

So I have been stopping a few times a day to record my 5 most beautiful things in the moment for the past few days, and it really is a wonderful practice. Each little list becomes its own poem of a moment.

Here are a few of mine:

5/25/13, 5:39 p.m.

  1. Our love –can’t stop thinking about it
  2. That lazy feeling and knowing there are 2 more days to enjoy weekend
  3. How my face hurts from laughing and talking w/ my best friend and my mom
  4. My mom’s love and her unconditional acceptance of me
  5. The rain on the windshield blurring the outside world, me in here enclosed in this warmth

5/27/13, 10:09 a.m. san.fran 013

  1. House to myself
  2. Day of writing ahead of me
  3. Bright blue sky
  4. Big puffy floating white clouds
  5. Running after lawn furniture in the wind

5/27/1, 11:29 a.m.

  1. Sun unexpectedly warming my bum as I do a forward fold
  2. Hair blowing in the wind
  3. Dandelions mixed with cherry blossom petals on the ground
  4. Mummified earthworms on my patio
  5. My mind cleared by the crisp fresh air

5/29/13, 7:38 pm

  1. cool air on skin from open window
  2. arm extended strong in triangle pose
  3. coming into my own as a yogi
  4. patience
  5. single droopy purple tulip by the big rock

 5.26.13 (9)

I also want to mention a pretty cool essay contest Jennifer Pastiloff is hosting for the 5 Most Beautiful Things Project, where you could win a retreat with her. Find out the details about it here.

Right now, in this moment, what are the 5 most beautiful things in your word? Please share in the comments section or on my facebook page –I’d love to hear them! And share with Jennifer too!

Namaste!


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Practice Gratitude Every Day

This is a good time of year to think about gratitude (actually, any time is a good time to think about gratitude!). I’d like to share how I end my morning yoga practice every day. And if I don’t have time to do yoga in the morning, I still do this, even if it’s while I’m in the shower. First, I close by setting an intention for the day –that I keep this energy I feel right now; that I can help the students I work with; or some days, that I can just get through the day. Then I send some positive energy to anyone in my life that could use a little extra.

Lastly, hands in prayer pose, I bow, saying “Namaste.” Namaste –I bow to you, thank you. I make sure I say this word at least once a day. I try to think of at least one thing I am truly grateful for and really feel that gratitude for a moment. If I have more time, the moment lasts longer and I list many things I am grateful for, letting that feeling really grow.

This is very easy to do on days I’m feeling great, but more important to do on days I’m not feeling so great, or grateful. But every day, I can come up with at least one thing to be grateful for, and naming that can subtly shift the day’s tone or my mood.

You can practice gratitude throughout the day –walking by a smiling child, catching the sunset at its most beautiful moment, catching an eagle perched by the side of the road. When I’m blessed with these moments of beauty I give a silent “Namaste” to the universe. Or sometimes if I am all by myself I put hands in prayer pose and give a loud Namaste, acknowledging the gifts the universe offers. Taking the time to be grateful for the little things in life really puts you in a good mood!

But, again, it is the times that I’m not in a good mood that this practice can be more meaningful. Sometimes I find myself in a really bad mood, maybe for no reason, or maybe I’m having a pity party for myself over something in my life. Right there I have a decision to make –am I going to continue this negativity, spiraling my mood downward, making it harder and harder to crawl out, or am I going to try to change it. If I have the motivation to change, practicing gratitude is what I go to. I set aside my negative thoughts, and list all the things I’m grateful for.

Sometimes this is really difficult to do. I’ve found myself trying to do this driving down the road and just starting with a tree (I like trees). “I’m grateful for that tree,” I grumble. “I’m grateful I caught that green traffic light. I’m grateful I have a car to drive and enough money to put gas in it. I’m grateful for the job I have that provides me these things and many more things.” Then it becomes easier from there. And maybe I’m not feeling like singing to the world at the top of my lungs, but I am at least out of my negative thought spiral and in a more neutral space. “Ok, that kind of still sucks, but there are many other things in my life that are pretty good too. I can deal with this.”

Gratitude is a powerful tool. Feeling grateful for what you have opens up the door to receive more of it. Gratitude opens your heart up to giving love, giving love opens you up to receiving love, and then you are set on an upward spiral that could take you anywhere.

Today I felt deep gratitude for my mother, as I baked some sugar cookies, using her recipe she had recorded for m009e in a recipe book she made for me. I remembered all of the times her, my brother, and I spent baking these cookies in the kitchen over the years, and was filled with such warm, loving memories. She gave me that love. As I think of how grateful I am, I feel that love, and it becomes infused into my actions, today it was the cookies I was baking. I get to pass on that love to those I share them with, hopefully adding a bright little surprise to their day.

What are you grateful for today?

(The philosophy found in The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne which I listened to as a book on tape years ago, gave me this wonderful gratitude practice. For more information on The Secret, visit the web site here.)