Friday, October 19, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry OM

I have the wonderful opportunity to teach two yoga classes at work on Monday as a part of our Employee Health and Wellness Fair.  I think having a Wellness Fair is a great program for an employer to run.  There is a trend, at least according to the HR thought leaders that I follow, of employers focusing on wellness for their employees. 

Work is stressful.  Any work, any level.  If it were not stressful, it would be called “vacation.” Employers and employees alike know this. Work is a fact of life. We all need to find a method to deal with that relentless stress so we don’t go climbing clock towers or let other areas of our lives be ruined. 

For me, this method has been through cultivating a yogic practice.  Not just asana, although that helps incredibly because I sit behind a desk all day, but meditation, chanting, breath control, and the discipline of practice itself helps me to get through the day.

I don’t think anyone would accuse me of handling stress well.  But I think back to when I was in sales or working in kitchens for 12+ hrs. a day.  I handled stress by smoking a lot of cigarettes and drinking a lot of booze.  I ate like crap.  I did nothing to prevent or treat back, knee, elbow, and hand pain.  I was a physical and emotional wreck a lot of the time.

Over the last 8+ years, I have systematically worked to bring my body and mind back to some sort of human level baseline.  It is a work in progress.  This practice has not cured me of all my ailments (physical and mental) but it certainly has helped.  I am in better physical shape and have more sense of purpose than I did 8 years ago.  I have grown further in my career in these last 8 years than in the same time prior.  Of course this causes me to take on more stress, so I continue to practice.

My practice has changed over the years.  What I teach may not be completely appropriate for everyone, but my hope is that some part of it plants a seed.  The movement, the stories, sitting still, saying OM—hopefully something in there resonates with my students so that they can find a path that works for them.

This is all based on my direct experience.  Not something I read in a book, not something someone told me.  I have seen growth first-hand and think that I am in a much better place because of this practice.

There is a lot of work left.  But every OM gets me a little bit closer. I may not be all peacelovehappiness yet, but at least I can get out of bed in the morning.

My boss’ boss is a Churchill fan.  He frequently quotes “Keep calm and carry on.”  Saw this on Dharma Yoga’s page not so long ago and it seemed fitting.  Although I would personally alter it to “Keep Calm and Carry रमा .”

Be well.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The Lighter Side of Death Wobble

Picture this:  You are driving down a straight road.  Once you hit 50 MPH the front end starts shaking. By 52 MPH, it is shaking so bad you can barely hold the wheel.  You break and pull over to the side, and once you are back to 45 MPH the shaking mysteriously disappears.

That, friends, is called Death Wobble.  If you have driven a Wrangler for any amount of time you know what I am talking about.  Why does this happen only at specific speeds, at random times? I have yet to find an answer to that.  Suffice it to say that some times, under some circumstances, things vibrate just right, and the harmonic vibration becomes so powerful that it changes the normal pattern of the machine.

And here’s where the topic relates to a wider audience…

Scary as this can be—think about it—wouldn’t it be amazing if the power of harmonic vibration could be harnessed and used for good?  OK conspiracy theorists, I’m not talking about that thing know as HARP (I said “used for good!”), but I am talking about yoga.

By focusing on the body and the breath in Hatha yoga, we are changing the vibrations within the body.  Call it energy, prana, kundalini, the Force ( ™ Lucas films.  Please don’t sue) or what have you.  We consciously alter the vibrations in the physical body, then those vibrations effect the mind and soon (well, in yogic terms ‘soon’ means multiple thousands of lifetimes) the whole system is vibrating differently.   I have read this (cannot remember where) effect likened to having a bunch of grandfather clocks set against the same wall. Eventually all the pendulums will begin swinging at the same time, in harmony. 

Controlled death wobble used for good.

Hatha is not the only way to do this.  The main drawback with Hatha practice, and even meditation practice (keep in mind it is impossible to ‘practice’ meditation. Meditation is a state where there is no distinction between the observer and the observed.  We can practice placing ourselves in situations conducive to this state, but the state occurs on its own) is that we EXPECT something to happen.  Come on, I know you do. So do I. 

Unfortunately this is completely counterproductive.

I have found that by incorporating sound into my practice (I won’t say ‘singing’—more on that in a  post to come) by reciting mantra has a more immediate effect than practicing asana, pranayama, and meditation. 

The effect, of course, is shutting up the noise in my mind by replacing it with a different vibration: The Hanuman Chalisa, Sri Ram, Sitaram, Rama Bolo, The Mahamantra, The Gayatri Mantra, Mantra for Purification, etc.

As part of my regular practice, I set a timer and recite softly, under my breath, the mantra or song. This has largely replaced seated meditation. 

The main reason I know it works is because, more often than not, I am surprised when the timer goes off; meaning that I forgot I was sitting about on the floor muttering under my breath for a set period of time and I was so concentrated that I forgot my surroundings.

And, I discovered, I actually enjoy this recitation.  I feel better when doing it. Seated meditation, for me, can be a bit of a chore. Which would I rather do?  The choice is obvious.

Recitation is much easier to do throughout the day than other forms of practice. I’m not breaking into asana at work (never mind the picture from last post…).  I’m not pulling out my mala to do japa while waiting in line.  But I will hum mantra.  I will sing it out driving to and from work (and scream it when death wobble occurs).

Does not matter what the song is or what it means—I do know enough of the English translation of The Chalisa to narrate it in general terms, but feel no need to get the translation down.  I was given the Mantra for Purification and was told that I am not to know the meaning.  Doesn’t matter.  I like the sound of it.

Controlled harmonic vibration it truly the basis of everything.  The significance of Gen. 1.3 is not “Let there be light,” it is “God said.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Life Lessons from Handstand: Forget You Can't Do It

Handstand is one of those poses which immediately causes people to thing “I can’t do that!” You are balancing your entire weight on your hands.  In my class, that means you are doing that in the center of the room.  Like all asana, it is comprised of 3 parts: entry, held expression of the pose, and exit.  To ‘do’ the pose means to do all 3 parts.  A war cry, flip and thud against a wall is not a handstand.  Crashing to the ground afterwards is not a handstand. Purposefully and mindfully approaching a preparatory step, even if neither foot leaves the ground, is a perfect handstand.

There are so many things working against you in this pose: Gravity, for one. Fear. Strength.  Gravity.

It took me countless attempts, with countless cartwheel escapes before I became, frankly, so annoyed with not hitting the pose that I no longer cared if I ever hit it. 

And once I gave up thinking about hitting the pose, I began to hit it.

The trick, I found, to learning handstand is very simple: you have to forget you can’t do it.

If we look at someone in a handstand and immediately begin to compare ourselves to that person, yes, never having done the pose you most likely cannot do it.  Just because something  is ‘impossible’ right now does not mean it is ‘impossible’ forever.

Handstand provides an opportunity to work on how we react to our limitations.  We first have to accept that our version of the pose will not match someone else’s expression of it.  So we begin by trying. Donkey kicking those legs up with all the brute force you can muster.  Or you meekly and half-heartedly lift one foot a centimeter off the ground.  But you keep trying. Experiencing frustration, questioning why you are doing this.  But you keep trying.

And something funny happens. With continued practice the fear and frustration begin to fall away.  You adapt and change.  You develop your expression of the pose—which may not ever be a complete balance on your hands. But it is your pose, the correct pose for you.

How many times during the day to we face adversity.  Do more with less.  Answer all these e-mails and phone calls. The job needs to be done yesterday.  Reassignment. Reorganization. Make dinner. Pick up kids. Flat tire in the rain. Splinter.

We can let fear paralyze us. We can get angry at the situation and fight against it. Or we can forget it—whatever ‘it’ may be—is impossible and start doing it. Maybe we will succeed or maybe we will not. Maybe we will have to re-define what success looks like.  When we try (paraphrasing MK Gandhi as I write this on his 143rd birthday) with full effort, we achieve full victory.

And if you can do the impossible (ie-getting out of your own head enough to try handstand, not necessarily hitting the arm balance) in one area of your life, than you can do it in another.

Handstand is not just gymnastics, it is a laboratory for learning to deal with life.