The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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My Evolving Practice

As those of you who are regular readers have probably noticed, I’ve been a less frequent blogger over this past year and I’d like to try to explain why. After my knee surgery, I stopped doing yoga as I recovered. This was unexpected, as I often like to tell people that anyone can do yoga, no matter what the physical (or mental/emotional) limitations are. I still believe this to be true, but I now also see that it is a bit more complicated than that.

While my body weaned off pain medications (not a very long process), and then my physical body, along with the other 9 bodies, slowly recovered (a much longer process than I ever realized), I found that my yoga practice just did not fit into the current space my life was in. This did slowly change as I started to add a few poses to my day. But I still found that Kundalini yoga was still not a style I was interested in accessing.

After knee surgery, which may or may not be related, I began to process some emotions, and began a journey into my emotional state, through therapy that was intense and exhausting. While I still think Kundalini yoga can be a wonderful tool to process through emotions, for some reason it was not right for me at the time. I really needed a gentle approach to life. I continued a sporadic and almost luxurious hatha practice, in which I indulged my body in doing only the poses that felt right for it, without pushing myself. My knee was still healing, so many of the vigorous Kundalini poses, as well as many hatha poses still did not feel right, or I was incapable of doing them. I swan dove into sun salutations, and my practice mainly revolved around that, and the occasional silent meditation when I could muster it, for a long time.

I continued to take a break from teaching, because, since I am only certified in Kundalini, I felt I wasn’t qualified to teach the yoga I was practicing, and couldn’t honestly teach a yoga that I was not practicing.

This past month I decided to give Kundalini a try again. It was no coincidence that emotionally and spiritually I had finally come out of a place of turmoil and was now feeling strong again. I felt that I now had the space (and courage) in my life to begin to dabble back into Kundalini. I’ve been trying a few of my favorite kriyas, which are different for me now, with my new knee and less in-shape body, but also feel good in a new way. I have been especially drawn to the heart opening kriyas. I feel that New Lungs and Circulation is going to be an important one for me in the coming year. This vigorous (but not impossible) kriya works on opening the heart chakra, cleansing the lungs, and freeing up emotions, which seems to fit well with the space I’m in now.

letting go of shouldMy practice is a lot less rigid than it was before. I am only doing Kundalini probably every other morning, or less, and still indulge in those feel-good hatha sessions with some silent meditation on many mornings. Some mornings I don’t do yoga at all, but instead go for a run or a swim, or read or write.

This rhythm of practicing less yoga isn’t new, what is new (at least since I’d gotten more serious about my practice,post-yoga teacher training) is that I let my body dictate where my practice will take me. I listen to how I’m feeling that day, rather than to my mind telling me how I should be practicing. I do not feel guilt for not practicing enough, or not practicing in a specific way, or style, or certain routine.

This holds true for other aspects of my life as well. In other aspects of my life I feel like I am finally saying yes to what my heart and soul want to do, and no to how I think I should behave. It makes sense that my yoga practice is following suit.

In the coming months I will be taking an exciting new journey* that has nothing to do with yoga, but I’m sure that yoga will be a part of it. I have definitely learned through this last year (as I have discovered in other periods of my life as well) that yoga is always there for me. Even if I’m not physically practicing, I am still living the lessons I’ve learned on the mat, and my physical practice is always there quietly waiting for me, just as my mat quietly waits in its corner to be unfurled.

Yoga is not a part of who I am. It is a thing that I do. I think that is something I let go of this year. I had a lot wrapped up in the idea of myself as a yoga practitioner, yogi, yoga teacher. But yoga is not really a part of one’s identity. When I was able to drop that, I was able to drop the “shoulds” I had begun to insert into my practice and, with them, the guilt I felt if I wasn’t living up to what I thought I should be as a yoga practitioner or teacher.

Yoga is a tool that I use to support me in my soul’s journey through this life. I am not yoga. There is no practice I should be doing. There is only what I need to be doing.

As always,

In light and love,

Catie

*My husband and I have decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and continue on living in the Pacific Northwest upon finishing and see where it takes us!

DSCN2789 DSCN2824 Because I promised some wedding pictures too long ago, and because today is our six month anniversary!

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Sing Your Yoga!

On the first and third Saturday of every month, something pretty magical happens at Portland Yoga Studio. This is the night they hold kirtan.

Kirtan is a form of devotional yoga, in which a group participates in call and response chants. These chants are in Sanskrit, and call on the names and graces of various Hindu Gods or the Devine at large. The meditative practice of kirtan brings the chanter closer to union with the One, with everyone. More important than the words of these mantras is the sound. Sound is a powerful healing tool when used in this way.

For me, kirtan is yoga in another form. Like a yoga class, or my home practice, chanting at a kirtan recharges my spirit, helps me let go of the crap and worries I hold on to, lets me just be. When I lived in Portland, I attended this kirtan group when I could. Last weekend, while visiting the city, I had the chance to go again –actually, I picked that weekend to visit so that I could go.

The space itself holds a lovely energy. Upon entering and settling into the room before the music even begins –this positive energy seeps from the golden and orange walls, perfumes the room. How can this energy not emanate from a space that has held so much beautiful yoga, so much beautiful music –that “good stuff” lingers, it sticks.

Ganesha, photo credit: Google Images

Ganesha, photo credit: Google Images

Kirtonium lead the group this night. This was my first time hearing them, since they took over for the group I used to attend. Although the scene and vibe were a little different, it was still a heavenly night. We began with chanting to Ganesha, the remover of obstacles. I had my impending knee surgery on my mind, as I settled into my singing voice and massaged my hamstring tendon. My knee is an obstacle even Ganesha can’t remove, I thought to myself. But then, as we were chanting, I had this other thought: Sometimes you can’t remove the obstacle, but you can at least remove the weight behind it. And that’s what happened.

Ah, I was settling into the Naad. Naad, “the essence of all sound,… is the vibrational harmony through which the Infinite can be experienced.” (The Aquarian Teacher Level One Instructor Textbook, by Yogi Bhajan). What is sound? Sound is just vibrations. We are just vibrations. In chanting, we attempt to join our vibrations with that universal current. Yogi Bhajan writes:

“By vibrating in rhythm with the breath to a particular sound that is proportional to the creative sound, or sound current, one can expand one’s sensitivity to the entire spectrum vibration. It is similar to striking a note on a stringed instrument.   In other words, as you vibrate, the universe vibrates with you.”

It took about an hour and a half before I was finally able to let go and take a real deep breath. There is always that one.deep.breath for me in a practice where finally everything is released. And when it came that night, it was wonderful –the entire week exhaled from my body. Ahhhh.

I experience Kirtan in many little moments, as any life experience really, but these little moments are more perceptible while chanting. There was one moment when the Sanskrit chant seamlessly morphed into Allejulah –this word all of a sudden dropped all its modern connotations; it took on its original meaning, it was a prayer, like any other, sung so earnestly, as if I was hearing it for the first time, melding all religions, all faiths –all of us.

Moments of Silence

After each chant, there is always a time of silence. It’s funny that we need to make all this noise –beautiful noise, but noise, no less, in order to truly hear the silence. The juxtaposition of silence after each chant is where the light comes in for me. There was one such moment of silence near the end –everyone’s souls just burst open for a moment. Then slowly, coughs and rustlings quietly took it back, we all closed back up again, but there was that moment. And that’s why chanting as a group can be so powerful. The sound can create such a deep connection with complete strangers.

That was my Friday night. That was my little mini-vacation to an old familiar place before I’m laid up for a while post-surgery. I took a well-worn tour of all my favorite places and people in the city and had a wonderful time.

This post was written last weekend, but I didn’t get a chance to finish it until now. On Tuesday I go in for knee surgery. I am scared, but I will breathe through it! Maybe I’ll even have one of these lovely mantras floating in my mind.

If you live in or near Maine, you can learn more about our kirtan scene at: http://www.mainekirtan.com/

And more about Kirtonium at: http://www.kirtonium.com/

If you don’t live in Maine, I bet you’ll find a growing kirtan community near you if you looked. It is a practice that has really gained in popularity over the last few years. Also, you don’t need to feel like a beautiful singer to join in. Everyone’s voice becomes angelic when it’s joined in chanting in this way -I promise!

Thanks for reading about another form of yoga I practice.

Do you attend kirtans? How will you practice your yoga today? Share with us in the comments.