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Stripping Things Down, or, the Yoga of Hell No

15 Jan

I went to Mysore at a new studio in town this morning at 6am. Ironically, the teacher did not come because he has school that morning. The gym did not mention this on the schedule. So I bumbled through practice on my own, and was able to go very slowly and very carefully. It was interesting, and I had to laugh at myself once I realized the teacher was not coming. I was so nervous about meeting a new teacher, and he wasn’t even there! Just like life– I get myself all worked up over nothing in the end. Once I relaxed and realized that it was Ashtanga business as usual, I was able to drop more deeply into my body than I have been able to in a long time.

On the way there, I was thinking about how long the journey has been between being over 300 pounds and a drunk cocaine addict to standing on the front of my mat at 6am in Austin, Texas in very sober samasthiti. To get to this point, there has been a lot of subtraction. Subtracting the drugs and alcohol, subtracting over 100 pounds, subtracting excess material possessions, distractions and unhealthy relationships; ultimately, subtracting a whole lot of thoughts and closely held beliefs that did not serve me. I’ve heard Ashtanga repeatedly described as “The Yoga of No” and in my case, it seems to be the Yoga of hell no. Hell no I don’t want to stay up late. Hell no, I don’t want to go to a bar with you and get totally f*cked up. Hell no, I don’t want to eat that junk food and hell no, I don’t want lots of distracting noise and chaos in my life. These things just don’t do it for my anymore. I realized that I was yogastoned after practice this morning—very similar to accustomed (the high you get after accupuncture), but a lot sweatier. I’ll take the yogastoned over really being stoned any day.

I belong to the World Wide Metta meditation mailing list, and I received their newsletter this morning. There was a piece by Thanissaro Bhikkhu called “Stripping Things Down” that made a lot of sense to me:

We can think of renunciation as a process of simplification. That’s a word with a nicer ring to it nowadays: You want to simplify your life, to cut away the unnecessary clutter. But either way, whether you call it simplification or renunciation, there are hard choices you have to make. And so it’s best to look at it as a tradeoff. You can spend your time on activities that give immediate results that don’t last very long, or on activities that give more long-lasting results but take more effort, more time, more patience, require more precision. Ultimately you realize that the best trade is the one where you give up lesser forms of happiness for more long-lasting ones, ones that speak to the really deep issues in life.

Yes, and yes.

Tomorrow is a Moon Day, which is a perfect day to connect with others in loving kindness and do a practice of metta meditation. Well, every day is a perfect day for this, but I really like knowing that somewhere out there on New and Full Moons, there are other people metta-ing.

Link to the original article here: http:///gallery.mailchimp.com/ea2e5620a6396a3fc34db91d5/files/D_Stripping_Things_Down_Part_One.htm

Metta, Movement, Dedication

12 Oct

 

From the website, mrtwsg.com. “Metta Round the World”, subtitle is “The World Needs Your 15 Minutes.”

 

I’ve really been struggling to get up early to practice lately. I find my natural night owl tendencies to be extremely difficult to combat. The early morning cold stiffness can also be disconcerting, sometimes even scary. I get worried I am going to tear the crap out of something! I do like the peacefulness of the morning, and I enjoy the moment when I am on my mat in my little Slayer Shala all alone as the sun starts to just barely rise. But man, some days it is just brutal. I also have no social life since I go to bed at like 8:30 during the week! I even joined an online Ashtanga group for practitioners who need support for their early morning practice. I jokingly call it Ashtangi Fight Club since it’s closed to everyone but group members and we don’t talk about it except on the anonymous level. The first rule of Ashtanga Fight Club is…you don’t talk about Ashtanga Fight Club AND you have to get up at 4:45am.

I came up with an idea to motivate me in the morning. I’m dedicating each practice to a different friend or family member who is either struggling with a health problem or is having some sort of difficulty in their life. I make a special playlist for them and then post a song and a dedication to them on my Facebook page. I do some Metta meditation for them both before, during and after my practice. During the times I want to give up, I remind myself that this is for Albert or Cassandra or Denise or Chris–then I don’t want to give up because it’s for them! It’s been an interesting shift in my Ashtanga practice; I find the whole practice session is almost like moving Metta meditation. I also don’t get as angry with my body and its injuries; I’m more forgiving and peaceful.

Update: I realized the youtube video that I had linked to in this post was not working. I was digging around for something else to post and I came across this website, Metta Round the World: http://www.mrtwsg.com/about/what-is-mrtw/

MRTW does a global metta practice on Full and new Moon days—how convenient for Ashtangis! This Monday is a Moon Day, so I am going to contribute my metta meditation that day from afar, since I can’t teleport to Singapore. I love the idea of other people from all over the world meditating at the same time.

October is here, and I have been practicing Ashtanga since the end of March. Obviously, the Ashtanga experiment is no longer an experiment; I’m 100% hooked! I did drag myself to some yin yoga classes here and there, but otherwise I have been plugging away at learning the Primary series. It feels good to no longer be a yoga refugee; I don’t have to hop around from teacher to teacher or style to style anymore. I have a plan and an entire system to study. And it’s a loooooong haul plan—this business is going to take some time. Like the-rest-of-my-life kind of time…surprisingly, I feel just fine with that. Considering what a die-hard commitment-phobe I am, that’s shocking. I look forward to the day when I can study with Kino MacGregor or go to the Confluence. I look forward to the day when I can finish an entire led Primary series class without relying on an arsenal of props. I look forward to my next ass-kicking Ashtanga workshop with Jen Knox. I look forward to tomorrow morning’s practice. I look forward to being changed from the inside out.

Lake Over Earth

11 May

Whenever I have doubts about how I am living and whether it really fucking matters at all (why bother with all of this yoga and service and  metta meditation crap when I could be binge eating cookies and pizza or, better yet, drinking beer and shots of Jager), I get a little nudge that sets me right. I do love the I Ching…from May 9th’s  conversation with The Oracle:

Hexagram 45: Ts’ui/Gathering Together (Massing)

“Every step of progress leads not only to our own success, but to a better world and heightened spirituality in all beings. Our smallest self-improvement is of the greatest importance to ending suffering in the world, and to bettering the human condition, for how things are in the world is a reflection of the accumulated effort of human beings to follow the good within themselves.”  Carol K Anthony, A Guide to the I Ching.

There Is No Try, There Is Only Do

6 May

Image

 

The first week of May is already coming to a close and I am still plugging away at Ashtanga. I realized that I only lifted weights twice in the month of April. This week I went to the gym once for some cardio and that’s it. Very, very strange. My body is definitely changing. People keep saying that I look taller, which is odd. My smallest pants are looser. The lovely Indian lady who threads my eyebrows grabbed my face yesterday and said, “Your face so skinny! Losing so much weight! What you doing?”. We ended up having a whole yoga and vegetarian food conversation. Stuff is moving around and I am having weird surges of emotion on the mat. I am surprised, pleased, freaked out and sore as f@%k. Metta meditation seems to not only be happening after practice, but is also happening all day long. I find myself spontaneously “metta-ing” at people in my office, people in traffic, animals…it’s odd. I am also more accepting of the fact that I am still grieving and I’m feeling more connected with the anger and other uncomfortable emotions that I have roiling around inside of me. I don’t get this whole yoga thing at all, and it’s OK. Thanks to Ashtanga, I’m a neophyte and I like being a Yoga Newcomer all over again.

I’ve been reading a lot of other yoga blogs lately. I came across an interesting post the other day that was critiquing the “Hallmark Card” positivity of some of my fellow bloggers as well as the tendency to blog about how hard it is to get on the mat and actually practice. It seems there’s a whole school of Hamlet Hallmark Yoga Bloggers that I am utterly unaware of—talking lots about yoga but not doing it. There’s a whole lot of doing going on in my world. Sometimes it’s pathetic, sad, klutzy, lurching “doing” but I’m doing, dammit. Sometimes it sounds like there’s a herd of stampeding elephants in my yoga room, but luckily no one is watching.

As far as Hallmark-isms, I am probably the last person to be espousing any sort of forced positivity. If I’m positive, happy, or blissed out on any given day, I fucking take that shit and run with it. And if I am not, then I’m not. This week is the 15 year anniversary of my abuela’s death and the one year anniversary of my Dad’s death.  I’ve been crying a lot lately and wanting to put my fist through a wall and that’s how it is sometimes. To deny this is futile. I’m human. People who want me to sugar coat my grief and anger are not people I need to hang with, period. That doesn’t mean I am going to actually put my fist through a wall anytime soon, but sometimes the most appropriate outlet for my emotions is the yoga mat. I ran from this when I started doing yoga years ago. I will never forget the day that I first had a full-on meltdown on my yoga mat. I had just finished a class with my first “hatha yoga” teacher, Michelle, back in Florida. We were in child’s pose and all of a sudden I was sobbing hysterically, my skin was crawling and I started hyperventilating. I had to get up and leave the room. I was scared to practice again after that! That was the tipping point for me where yoga stopped feeling blissful and started feeling scary. My practice started getting patchy after that, and the meltdowns started happening more and more on the mat. The only time they didn’t happen was in Bikram class, so I started exclusively doing Bikram until I got into my bike accident and stopped doing anything at all.   

The one thing I am NOT doing right now is going to take an actual led Ashtanga class. I am scared shitless, and keep telling myself all kinds of stories about how hard and humiliating and awful it will be. WTF, man? There are some challenges here, but the most serious challenge is between my ears. Fear and Loathing in my cranium, for reals, son. Yeah, so there are only a few led classes in town and they all seem to be at times when I am at work. I could use my Bikram two month pass (*shudder*) or try another style, but I am utterly uninterested in that. I am instead considering changing my work schedule so that I can attend the one class I found that is a “Short Forms” class. Shit is getting serious when I start thinking about changing my work schedule!

 

The Ashtanga Experiment, Week 4

21 Apr

 

 

I can’t believe I made it a full four weeks of almost daily Ashtanga asana and meditation practice without imploding or something. Considering how much fear I used to have about Ashtanga, I am amazed at how kind of into the practice I actually got. Is it difficult? Yes. Do I have moments where I am thinking, “What the fuck am I doing on this yoga mat right now?”? Oh hell yes. I also spend quite a lot of time laughing, either at my playlists or at how godawfully inflexible I am. Most days, I am pretty eager to get home from work and lock myself in the Slayer Shala and get my yoga on. I actually bought myself proper yoga clothing, which is a miracle of miracles. For years, I was so screwed up about my body image and so engulfed in my eating disorder that I would not wear any form-fitting clothing, ever. It didn’t matter if no one was going to see it but me, it was not happening. I finally got sick of getting tangled up in my pajamas and in struggling with track pants that fit me 75 pounds ago and now look like a clown suit. If I am going to dedicate 5-6 days a week to practice, then I need to have clothes that are functional. I’m not saying I went all Lululemon and shit, but I did hit Old Navy and actually invest in the right size active wear. It still kind of freaks me out, but it definitely makes practice way easier.

I now do not have to go to me knees during any of the plank portions of the sun salutations, and I need to take fewer (ahem) extra breaths. I added some new asanas, and I am now doing up through the dreaded Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, which was my nemesis in Bikram and is still my nemesis. Sorry, I mean, I am making friends with this asana (yeah, right).

My body is still going through a phase of total rejection at the gym. The last time I went to lift weights, my right side seized up again. I was really annoyed and agitated about this. I was talking to a friend who is a yoga teacher and ashtangi, and I started almost sobbing hysterically when I told her that I think I have to give up lifting weights. I am terrified to do this! I’ve been lifting since 1998 and it is something that I truly love. Unfortunately, I think it is truly fucking me up right now and I don’t know how many more clear signals I need before I stop. Not lifting this week as an experiment (me and my experiments).

Things are certainly easier now than they were four weeks ago. I am going to keep going. If a 42 year old who needs to lose 50 more pounds can do this, then Pattabhi Jois was right—anyone can do this practice.

 

 

Now I Know Why They Call It Mysore

12 Apr

‘Cuz my ass is way SORE! Dude! Does this get better? I am three days deep into Week 4 of the Ashtanga Experiment and man, I am sooooore. Like bodybuilding sore…triceps, chest, shoulders, abs, thighs, hamstrings, ass. Even my toes and my hands for chrissakes!  I am noticing some improvements in my flexibility in a few areas, and the Darth Vader breath and bandhas are getting a lot better. The soreness is pretty crazy, though. Maybe there are some more experienced ashtangis out there who can give me some tips?

One thing I’ve been doing at the end of every practice is 15-20 minutes of metta meditation while I am in savasana….covered with a purple slanket! All I need are some white Nikes so that some of my fellow cult members can come abduct me.

My mom got me the Slanket as a strange Christmas gift. At first, I scorned it and let my dog sleep on it and now I have succumbed to its evil fleecy and (probably sweatshop manufactured) charms. I know, metta meditation in a slanket is probably not what Pattabhi Jois envisioned for his students at the end of practice. Clearly I am a rule breaker in general/have no idea WTF I am doing…like the Pantera Vulgar Display of Power (Yoga) soundtrack for yesterday’s practice isn’t a big raging clue or anything.

The Metta Sutta

30 Mar

For those of you who are curious, here it is:

Karaniya Metta Sutta: The Buddha’s Words on Loving-Kindness
translated from the Pali by
The Amaravati Sangha
Alternate translations: Ñanamoli | Buddharakkhita | Piyadassi | Thanissaro
This sutta also appears at Khp 9.
This is what should be done By one who is skilled in goodness, And who knows the path of peace: Let them be able and upright, Straightforward and gentle in speech, Humble and not conceited, Contented and easily satisfied, Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways. Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful, Not proud or demanding in nature. Let them not do the slightest thing That the wise would later reprove. Wishing: In gladness and in safety, May all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born — May all beings be at ease! Let none deceive another, Or despise any being in any state. Let none through anger or ill-will Wish harm upon another. Even as a mother protects with her life Her child, her only child, So with a boundless heart Should one cherish all living beings; Radiating kindness over the entire world: Spreading upwards to the skies, And downwards to the depths; Outwards and unbounded, Freed from hatred and ill-will. Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down Free from drowsiness, One should sustain this recollection. This is said to be the sublime abiding. By not holding to fixed views, The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision, Being freed from all sense desires, Is not born again into this world.
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