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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The Brutally Honest Story of the Evolution of a Yogi, Part 2

You can read Part 1 here.

Finally it was time to, reluctantly, move back home to Maine. One of the first things I did was look for a Kundalini studio. That’s when I met Kartar (who would later go on to take over my yoga class and half my speech therapy caseload when I left Maine for Arizona, funny how life works) and her little studio, Kundalini Community Yoga, in the front room of a downstairs apartment of the house she owned in the West End of Portland. Sloping pine floors, fire place and old plate glass windows, right beside one of the many fine restaurants in the town. (For a whole week I convinced myself that the smell of steak wafting through the windows as I lay in Savasana was a sign I should eat meat again. I bought one organic grass-fed steak and it was delicious, then I was over it).

I loved the same old Kundalini in this new style from a new teacher, so laid back, yet behind her, years of experience and commitment, knowledge and faith in the practice and what it can do for your life. Then she closed her studio and took a break from teaching.

There was another little Black Age for Catie and Yoga, no more Kundalini and I just couldn’t get into Portland’s obsession with Vinyasa Flow. There was another wonderful teacher, that taught a gentle open flowing hatha –Open Heart Yoga, but the East End Community Center soon closed too and she left with its closing (She has since come back to open a new studio). I was discovering that my first year working may be harder than my first year of grad school, now no longer having the supportive network of my grad school friends and classmates, adjusting to another new city I wasn’t quite committed to being in yet.

I decided to give the flow studio another chance and in the meantime had started entertaining the idea of taking a teacher training, browsing different programs in different tropical locations on the Internet and in Yoga Journal.

teacher training group photo

teacher training group photo and images we created learning about the chakras

I met Heather the next day in her Kundalini class, the same old great Kundalini, another different teacher’s style. She announced that night a teacher’s training would be taking place in a few months in New Hampshire, taught by a wonderfully radiant artist-yogi. It was serendipity; I was in!

The first weekend of the class was a few days after my grandfather’s funeral. Recovering from a cold, overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion, I survived week 1, beginning to meet, slowly and shyly, the women I would spend one weekend a month with for the next nine months, completely transforming my life. I enduring pain and poses I never thought possible, continued through the tears, came out on the other end of a 2 ½ hour long meditation, and began teaching in front of them.

I also started teaching a practice class to a few willing co-workers in our office’s basement. They helping me move the heavy conference table and chairs into the other room once a week, then put them back again. I was beginning to feel like a teacher.

Between yoga and the power of positive thinking, I completely transforming my life into a place I wanted to be. Portland became a wonderful city, my job became one to fall in love with, even the winters I had always struggled to get through I embraced and loved. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And I found my yoga studio. One day Heather was late to class, stuck in traffic. I started talking with another student, who, with more passion than I’d seen in a long time, told me he was opening up a donations-only studio and I should stop by and help out if I wanted. Painting those walls that vibrant sunrise yellow was like therapy to me. Yogavé soon opened and I was subbing for Heather who had come on board and soon had my own class Tuesday nights at 7:30.

I was firmly into a daily committed practice. In the mornings if I didn’t want to get up for me, I did it for my students – I owed it to them, was committed to them, they needed a good, prepared, well-balanced teacher. I also taught a few outdoor classes on the Eastern Prom overlooking the bay on beautiful sunny summer mornings.

Life was pretty blissful. But I got restless. I was young, I was free, not yet tied down to the family and relationship I secretly desperately wanted. So I left my oceanside apartment for the desert. The Southwest, a place that had been calling me to return to since I first laid eyes on the alien land in my cross-country trip to Oregon.

After a much shorter and often more pleasant cross-country trip with my mom, I landed in Surprise, Arizona to start a job at an elementary school, all wide-eyed, high hopes of bringing yoga to the kids and this suburban town. Who knows where I’ll be called to teach, as it had called me, no, fallen into my lap, before. Picture 101

No one knocked. In fact, no one answered my knocks, not the PTA or the apartment complex activities director, or my neighbors. And these whole nine months I felt guilt, guilt that I didn’t try hard enough to bring yoga to my new community. This was a desert in terms of yoga, as well. Not a single yoga studio. There was a yoga class in my apartment complex that fizzled, a “yoga club” with a sporadic full moon yoga class and other class times that were inconvenient for me. There was a sort of ashram in Phoenix, but I hadn’t yet found the hour drive just for a class worth it enough. Guilt at my own slipping practice, watching, as I needed to start work earlier the minutes of my a.m. practice slowly dwindling to a consistent 15-20 minutes, then skipping on early meeting days, then skipping just to skip, then the days I do practice more rare than the ones I don’t.

This new development, however, only occurred in the last couple months of my Arizona stay. I did maintain practice through most of my time there, and that is something. But the guilt still lingered. In the end, I felt as if the suburbs had beaten me. I had not conquered. I was a yoga teacher who’s knowledge was being wasted, crumbling. And my own practice crumbling too.

Then I came home to Maine again and yoga had still steadfastly been waiting for me to make my next move.

And then I did. While back in Portland I built up a practice in my new-old life, keeping it through a new relationship, keeping it even though I couldn’t find and really didn’t spend much time looking for a teaching gig. This time my yoga practice was instantly there to ground me in this new period of my life. I knew I wanted this relationship, but I wanted it to be different than the ones before. Yoga helped me open up to my relationship fears, to open up to him. And even though he didn’t practice with me, he whole-heartedly supported my practice, and saw its importance to me.

The relationship soon got serious, and after a while I found myself in a new town, much more rural, still keeping a fairly steady Kundalini practice. Soon the universe opened up again and gave me an opportunity to teach –three of them actually. I started up a little class at my local gym. Then the teachers I worked with found out I taught and I started an after school class for them. When school let out for the summer, I found a new venue to teach at, in a lovely yoga gazebo. When the new school year started, and a new year-round full time job, adult ed approached me to do a class through them.

This was all great, but felt like a bit too much on my plate, teaching twice a week, negotiating a new job, and of course, blogging about it all. This time, instead of my personal practice being strengthened by my teaching, it weakened. I found I only had time to focus on what I’d be teaching, instead of exploring and deepening a personal practice.

So I stopped. I stopped teaching, and for a while I stopped, unexpectedly, practicing. It started up a bit in spurts and sputters that didn’t get very far because in January I injured my knee. And everything stopped.

But, as I healed, as always, I soon found my way back to yoga. This time it was different though. I found I was interested in Iyengar-style asana, rather than Kundalini. I found this gave me the strength, balance, and courage to heal from my injury –body and mind. This was my pre-surgery recovery period.

2014-04-11 07.22.13

my new direction

The period after surgery while I was laid up, I read everything I could about yoga, deepening through study of the texts, and self-study. I’m slowly starting to be able to breathe again and do a few asanas. This is lovely, of course, but I’m also more interested in what my yoga practice looks like off my mat, another aspect of yoga I feel I’d been neglecting.

I still feel myself swimming away from Kundalini, and back to my hatha roots, but even more I’m curious about the origins of yoga and its evolution, and how it fits into our society. I find myself wanting to give all styles of yoga a try. I want to know as much as I can about the practice, and I don’t want to have an opinion about any of it yet.

I can’t wait till my knee heals to really get back into the physical practice in a new way, but until then, this period of bodily stillness has opened up so much, and given me a much needed kick in the pants in my evolution as a yogi.

 

 

Related Reading:

A different perspective: on the bastardization of yoga, like indigenous traditions by low-brow pop culture (good stuff in the comments section too): http://www.rebellesociety.com/2014/04/01/on-the-bastardization-of-yoga/


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In Search of an Authentic Practice

You may have noticed lately there has been less posts about specific yoga and meditation techniques. I have been hinting I’ve been a little yoga-lite lately. This has happened in the past when I have taken a break from teaching. I took this break, firstly, to allow myself more time for some other writing projects (which you’ll hopefully hear more about later), but to also develop my yoga practice for myself, not for “yoga teacher Catie.”

I was beginning to feel inauthentic in my home practice. I was practicing, almost exclusively, kriyas I was going to teach in class that week. I found myself thinking about what I would say to the class during each exercise, reciting this script in my head. Even in my meditation, I would find myself rehearsing little monologues or things I’d tell my students to help them get back on track in the meditation -meanwhile, I was way off track!

offering up my practice to my Self

offering up my practice to my Self

So I decided to stop. I decided to give teaching a break until I cultivated an authentic practice for myself, that I could call my own, not my students. Don’t get me wrong, I think as a teacher it is important to keep up a practice for your students, and to plan well for classes, but there also needs to be a yoga that is just your own, and I had lost that.

I lost it because I lost some time, I started a new job that I had to get up a lot earlier for, I wanted to devote more time to other pursuits, so something had to give, and it was my personal practice that took the hit. But that was something I didn’t want to sacrifice, so I decided to take a break from teaching instead. I know I will come back to teaching (I miss it already), but I need to find some balance in my practice and life before returning to it. So in November I said goodbye to my classes with a bit of a heavy heart, and hoped that taking this time for my own practice will only make me a stronger teacher when I return.

Offseason Yoga

Then I stopped practicing all together. At first, I just told myself I needed a little break before starting back up. Then the holidays hit and it was easy to use them as an excuse. Then a couple more excuses came up that I won’t get into here, and before I knew it my practice was non-existent most days, a few casual stretches other days, interspersed with an earnest attempt at meditation here and there.

I don’t regret this little break. I read an article the other day about running. It talked about how even professional runners have an offseason. I liked that idea, the last couple months were my off-season for yoga.

I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect little yogi, so it kind of all came to a head, and I fell into what often happens with perfectionists -I got fed up and dropped it altogether. (If it’s not perfect, why bother doing it at all?)

I needed an offseason. I told myself it was nice to feel like just a regular, normal person again, not someone trying to be this enlightened being. But now I miss it, and there are no more excuses left not to get back into it.

So this morning was preseason. Rather than pick right back up where that little perfectionist yogi left off, I needed a gentler approach. If I was really going to re-discover my own practice I needed to do it in a way that was good for menot my idea of what a practice should be. It was hard to not let that perfectionist sneak in. I ended up sleeping past sun-up and my fiance woke up at the same time

But,” little miss perfectionist yogi says, “it is best to do your yoga in the predawn, it’s easier when no one else is awake and you have the space all to yourself. You’ve already failed. You should just give up and maybe try again tomorrow when you can get it right.”

Ritual of Recommitting

Okay, shutting that voice off like shutting off the snooze, I get up. I decide that even though the sun is up, the day is starting, there are other elements of my practice I could implement that would still make it comforting, still make it feel right. I return to ritual. I get up, brush my teeth, and make myself some warm lemon water. I get my cushion out, tune in with the Adi Mantra, and begin some of my favorite stretches, while taking breaks to sip my warm and soothing drink.

This is feeling good. But, besides creating ritual, I need to create a commitment to make this practice last. Choosing a kriya or meditation to practice for 40 straight days has always been a great way to keep me on my mat day after day. I choose a kriya that is something I want to work on in my life. That creates motivation to stick with it right there. But I also choose one that is short enough that I could make the time commitment to it as I build my practice back up. I pick Balancing the Head and Heart. This is a kriya I’d been wanting to try a 40-day practice of for a while now.

Again, since I’m only in preseason, rather than jump right into the full times and have my arms be super sore tomorrow, I start with the minimum times. Now they’ll just be a little sore, that good sore. So I’ll take a few days to build up to the full times, and I’ll add a few days onto the end of my 40 days.

Thank you for allowing me to share, openly and honestly, the state of my yoga practice these days. I will keep you posted on its progress, as usual, and hope to explore some new kriyas and meditations with you that I have been wanting to try for myself.

In the meantime, any teachers out there: Do you ever feel this way -that your personal practice suffers from being a teacher? And if so, what do you do to get through it?


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Yoga, Why Bother?

My post a couple weeks back brought up another question that I have been asking myself for the past month –why do I do yoga? Why do I meditate? Is my end goal enlightenment? Or do I simply do it to survive? I guess I oscillate between these two reasons.

These past few weeks my practice has fallen apart. And as much as I try to put it back together, the desire and passion for it just hasn’t been there. I go through these phases every once in a while. So rather than get too concerned I try to just observe, and be ok with the space I’m in and the feelings I’m feeling. It often happens after a stretch of practicing really intensely, of being super conscientious and honest, really giving it my all.

Then something shifts and I need a break. But there is a part of me telling myself that no, I don’t need a break, I need to push through, I’m close to something, close to some breakthrough probably. This is just a bit of shaktipad, right?

(Side note: Shaktipad is like the adolescence of spiritual development –the time when things can fall apart. It is that make-it-or-break-it period when things stay fallen apart, or come back together even more beautifully than before. Students enter this third stage in spiritual development full of doubt and rebellion, and, if continuing on this path, come out of it with a deeper commitment and less doubt. You can go through this more than once.)

Be that as it may, I’m breaking. Then another part of me says, just be a normal person for a little bit. I need a rest from thinking about dharma and karma, thinking about how the foods I eat affect me, a break from considering if that thought or that action is “yogic” or not. I took my yoga on vacation with me, diligently continuing to meditate, completing a 40-day, and getting up early to do the yoga my body craved, but now I need a vacation from my practice! Or do I just need one from my own mind in my practice?

So, every so often I let this happen. I let myself remember that I can function as a human being without my sadhana. Then another memory also soon happens –yes, my life really won’t fall apart if I skip yoga for a few days (which that little Type A part of my personality really does need to hear, to ease up that pressure I always put on myself, to let go of making yoga into yet another attachment of mine), but I am better at functioning as a human being with yoga. I have a little more energy, I am a little more inspired, a little kinder.

I don’t need my yoga practice, but I want it.

When I don’t do yoga I don’t fall apart, but this is what happens:

I have this underlying tiredness hanging on to everything I do and try to do. Because I didn’t start my day with yoga, I didn’t clear away that sleepiness. When I don’t clear the sleepiness, it just lingers. I remember this feeling, this always being just a little bit tired.

It’s pretty yucky.

I’m a little grumpier, a little edgier, a little more emotionally charged when it comes to dealing with difficult situations. For example, I got in a big fight with my father, I almost cried driving in Boston traffic. My fiancé has been asking me when I will start another meditation.

Yoga takes the edge off.

So here’s how I gently get back to it:

There's nothin' like a simple sun salutation to make me fall in love with yoga all over again

There’s nothin’ like a simple sun salutation to make me fall in love with yoga all over again

I make myself sit down on my mat. I tune in. Then I let my body take it from there, doing the stretches and poses that feel right, feel the best, make me remember why I love yoga. Oddly, even though I primarily practice Kundalini yoga this tends to be some flowing Iyengar-inspired moves. I guess it takes me back to my roots, back to when I first discovered yoga and made it mine.

I make it mine again. I take it for what it is, and for what I am. I’m not a yogi in the cave. I am a householder yogi, and as such sometimes I just need to give myself a break. Take that Type A back out of my yoga, let the yoga conquer me, rather than trying to conquer it.

Then after a little while I am ready to recommit. I get over myself, and I just do it. I set my alarm, I get up out of bed, I go do yoga.


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6 Travel Yoga Tips –Just Because You Go on Vacation Doesn’t Mean Your Practice Has To

Here is an article on how to take your yoga practice with you when you travel, which I wrote for Spirit Voyage’s blog: Click here to read it.

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Class of the Week –Perfect for Beginners or Recapturing that Beginner’s Mind

After Sunday’s post on how I got into Kundalini yoga, it seems fitting to do a beginner’s class for this week. This is my favorite beginner kriya because it is a great overall workout, and many of the poses and breath techniques are pretty fundamental Kundalini and used in a lot of other kriyas or warm-ups. It’s also a great warm-up for a deeper meditation practice, and a kriya I find myself coming to when my own practice has strayed or gotten a little stale. The meditation is another great one for beginners because it really teaches you how to watch the breath. But it’s also great for anyone because it is very relaxing and a powerful stress reliever.

Don’t forget to tune in with the Adi Mantra before beginning. I just came across this great quote from Yogi Bhajan on the importance of this when asked if there is any time you don’t need to tune in with the mantra: “Is there anytime when a pipe is not fitted with the gas tank and you can fill the car? This mantra is for tuning the flow of personal energy with universal energy. That’s a fact.” (See this post for more tips on starting a practice.)

Kriya for Elevation

This kriya works systematically through all the chakras, starting with the lower ones and works on bringing that energy up to the higher chakras, where it is most useful to us. If you are a beginner, start with 1 minute for each exercise. If you’ve been practicing for a while, 3 minutes for each exercise makes this a really great tune-up for the body, and a very uplifting practice.

The kriya uses Breath of Fire for some of the poses. You can find an explanation of how to do this breath here. It also uses mulbandh, or root lock after some poses. Read about mulbandh here.

Find instructions on Kriya for Elevation here.

Meditation for a Calm Heart

Heart Hands

Calm Heart (Photo credit: D-Gernz)

I start with 3 minutes in a beginner class, but you can do it much longer. It works on the heart and lungs, and works on finding that still point within the heart. This is a great one to do if you find yourself in conflict in a relationship, with others, or with yourself.

Find instructions for this beautiful meditation here.

If you try this or have done it before, I’d love to hear your experience of it in the comments below. And of course, any questions as well.

Sat Nam!


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Focus on Eighth Chakra, the Aura –Protect and Project!

Most discussions on the chakra system include chakras 1-7, but in Kundalini yogic philosophy the aura is considered part of this system, as the eighth chakra. What is an aura? It is an electromagnetic field, surrounding the body of a person, animal or object. The aura combines the effects of all other chakras. It acts as a filter, filtering out negative influences –thus protection; and it establishes your sense of domain, your being –thus projection.

Notes on the eighth chakra: “When the [aura] is strong, and the other chakras are aligned and functioning well, your presence alone seems to work and direct many of the forces in the universe to effortlessly fulfill your desires and needs (The Aquarian Teacher).” When strong, your aura can fill a room!

Physically, it is associated with the skin. Since it acts as a protection or filter, working on the eighth chakra protects against illness. Strengthening the aura taps into our natural healing powers for ourselves and others. It connects us spiritually with the Infinite.

Yoga for the eighth chakra: Strengthening the Aura (found here). This quick kriya works on expanding the aura. It is good for digestion, and really works the arms and upper body. The times of each of the 3 exercises can be gradually built up. imagesThis kriya contains a fun and challenging exercise called “triangle push-ups,” as pictured here, but don’t worry they are easier than they look. Remember to keep your head down, looking out past your feet so you don’t strain your neck.

Meditation for the eighth chakra: Healing Meditation (found here). The mantra is “Ra Ma Da Sa Sa Say So Hung.” In class we sang to Snatam Kaur’s beautiful version of this mantra (listen to it here). This song is found on her album “Grace,” an amazingly beautiful collection of songs and mantras.

While chanting this mantra you can think of someone in your life that could use some healing (this can be yourself) and visualize them in white light, while sending them the healing energy of this mantra.

“Ra” means sun energy; “Ma” is moon’s energy; and “Da” is earth. “Sa” is the energy of the cosmos, or the Infinite. And the last part, “Say So Hung,” connects you to the energy of the Infinite  -“I am Thou.” End by sending this prayer to the person you would like to give healing to.

image: Satsang Live

image: Satsang Live

Well, we have come to the end of our journey through the chakras. I have really enjoyed teaching and deepening my own experience of them. Thank you!

Is anybody trying out any of the kriyas or meditations? Did anyone discover, as I did, a particular chakra that could use a little tuning up?

Resources: Art and Yoga: Kundalini Awakening in Everyday Life, by Hari Kirin Kaur Khalsa; The Aquarian Teacher: Level One Instructor Textbook, Yogi Bhajan, PhD; Meditation as Medicine, by Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, and Cameron Stauth