Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leave Your Habits Behind

We all have habits. We all grow into some habits. And our habits become some kind of a safety blanket for us. After doing certain things repeatedly we believe we can do those things with our eyes closed.  We feel so comfortable about where things are, or how they work, that we stop paying any attention to them. So at those times, are we acting based on what we see, feel or hear in the moment? Hardly. We act from our past experiences. We are not being in the here and now. We are not being in the present. Every time we are acting in a habitual pattern we are actually acting from the past.  This is something we do in our lives, as well as on our yoga mat.

When we buy something new, a laptop, a new phone, a new pair of shoes, a car, or when we get into a new relationship with someone, we pay close attention to them. We handle them with care; don’t want to hurt them in anyway. We notice any change in them. Since all is new, we haven’t gathered any habits yet, so we respond to what we see and observe in the present. We notice if our car gets scratched, if our shoes get dirty, or if our significant other is hurt or upset in any way. We clean them up, take good care of them, listen and comfort our significant other. However, in time, we get used to our car, our shoes, and our relationship. We don’t pay as much attention anymore. We get the feeling that they will be there anyway, so why bother, right? Our nice shoes get dirty, but we don’t see it anymore. They get scratches but we don’t see that either. Our car gets a little dent but we say it’s nothing. Our significant other changes his/her hair, but we don’t notice; or they come home upset or tired or in need of caressing, but we don’t realize it. In time, because we gather habits and ways of being, we stop seeing what’s happening in the present and start seeing things with the eyes of the past.

This happens in our yoga practice as well. At our first few classes, everything is new to us, so we pay attention to every pose, and try to make sure our body is getting into the pose without pushing our physical limits. Everything is new, so we pay attention to how we feel in our physical body. However, as our practice advances we do some poses over and over again. We do, chaturanga, upward facing dog, and downward facing dog so many times, that we may stop caring how we do them or how we get into those poses. Sometimes, because we know so well that we can do a certain pose, we may get into it the next day without noticing that that day our body is not actually as open as the day before. So, we may push our physical limits because we are not paying attention to our body that moment, but acting out of habitual patterns we developed in the past. 

When we start acting out of habit, we are actually acting based on the past experiences we had. So, when we look at things or do certain thing, we start looking at them with the glasses of the past, meaning with the picture we created in our minds through our past experiences. Noticing what’s going on in the present feels like it would take too much effort, especially for the things we now believe will be there for a long long time in the future. So why bother to put that extra effort, or even to notice the small changes, right? However, as we move away from the present, and responding to the present occurrences, and keep acting from the past, we are shortening the life of all the items or relationships that we have in our lives.

You complain that your iPhone broke too quickly, or that your favorite boots, for which you paid a lot of money, didn’t last long. However, if you cleaned those boots once a week, maybe died them every couple of months, and took them to a shoe repair store when their heels were worn off, then they would have lasted another year or two. And if you kept this maintenance, they would have lasted for many many years more. The same goes with relationships. We get used to having our boyfriend or girlfriend around. We get to believe that they will be there for use no matter what. So we work hard, run around, run errands and forget to call them, ask them about their day, or call to see how they are doing after a doctor’s appointment. At the end of the day, we think they already know how we feel about them. One phone call less wouldn’t change the fact that you love them, and care about them, right? Well, if you think that, you’d be wrong. A person’s need for attention and care doesn’t stop some time into the relationship. We want our significant others, and our friends to keep caring about us, and show how much they care for us. So why don’t you do it? That few minutes on the phone will mean a lot to the other person. And if you don’t show this care and attention to the people in your life, they may also stop being there for you one day, like those boots you used to have. In order to stay and grow in the relationship one needs to be in the present, see what’s in the present, respond to the present. Once you stop giving life to the relationship, or in anything that you have in your life, it may eventually rot, and maybe even die.

Think about this: You have beautiful, nice looking healthy flowers at home. You water them every couple of days. You care for them. Then, in time you get used to seeing them there. You get the feeling that they will be there forever. So you somehow don’t notice them anymore, and you start watering them less and less, and at the end, one day, they die. What did you expect? However, if you only stayed in the present, you’d see how they brighten your apartment every morning, how their colors added more color to your day, how their beauty made you smile every day. This wouldn’t take much out of your day either. It would only take a second, if only you stay in the present. The same goes with relationships, and everything else in life.

All this applies to your yoga practice as well. Leave your habitual patterns behind when you come to a yoga class. Even if it is your ten thousandth downward facing dog, do it as if it is your first. Find your footprints on your mat, find your handprints on your mat, lengthen your spine, and breathe in. That’s what we mean by being in the present. Even if you are doing something for the millionth time, just show genuine attention, because actually every time it is different, and every time it is new.

Notice when you are acting out of habit. You will realize that you feel less. When you are acting out of habit, you don’t smell the newly baked cookies, or hear the dog barking outside. Because when it is just a habitual behavior, you are not actually there, and you are not tuned in with the present and what’s going on around you. When you are in the present, you will notice that your senses are stronger, and you will feel that you are hundred percent invested in what you are doing, even if you are just brushing your teeth. Time will slow down. You will feel your joys more, you will smell newly cut grass, hear the children playing in the park, notice your husband or wife’s soft touch on your shoulder when you come home. You will certainly get more out of life. And being in the present doesn’t take any more time or effort; it just requires you to be in the present. It requires you to see everything with the eyes of the present, not with the colored and foggy glasses of the past, which only shows you how things were yesterday. To be in the present, you just need to think about your work when you are at work, think about what to eat when you are out at lunch, and worry about your future when it is tomorrow (And since when you get to tomorrow it will be today, just don’t worry about it).

Leave your habits behind, and stay in the present. Live more fully. 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Taking for granted

We always take somethings for granted. We take for granted the fact that we can put our pants on standing up, that we can hold our iPhone with one hand and pinch in or out to zoom in or out with our other hand, or that we can sing, and talk as much as we want. However, lately I am reminded that nothing is forever.

One of my yoga teachers who is very dear to me, had a traffic accident and had several of his bones broken in his one leg, which required him to have two surgeries and 3 weeks of bed rest. His full recovery is not promised, and he has a 3 to 4 months of recovery time ahead. A few days ago we learned that my dad’s shoulder muscles are torn, and he is required to have an emergency surgery, which he is putting off. During the recovery time he is not supposed to use his arm or hand for 6 weeks, and then seek physical therapy to fully recover his shoulder functions. And, recently, I have suffered a paralysis in my right vocal cords.

For the past couple months, my voice has been sounding funny at times. I didn’t know what was going on, so I finally went to a doctor and there I learned that my right vocal cords have been paralyzed. They can’t find a reason for this sudden paralysis, and they don’t offer any treatment other than speech therapy. The doctor is saying that I may get my voice back one day, but there is a possibility that it may never happen. I love to sing, and I am a yoga instructor. My job involves me to talk several hours a day, every day, to teach yoga. I used to love to sing at family and friend gatherings. However, right now, I can hardly talk.

I can’t recognize my voice anymore. It sounds like as if I have a cold all the time, or that I am suffering from flu. After I teach a class, I need to rest my voice, meaning I should just sit quietly, without talking. I learned that even if you are not talking, but watching Tv or hanging out in a place that has music, your vocal cords are responding to these sounds, so they are still working. Thus, in order to truly rest your vocal cords you need to sit in silence. So I’ve been learning to sit in silence, the rest of the time that I am not teaching, in order to save my voice for my next class (gives me more time, space and reason to meditate). I used to sing to up lift my spirits, to channel any kind of emotions I have. I loved those vibrations, and I can’t feel them anymore. When I chant, I can’t make some of the sounds and can’t create some of the vibrations. I used to love to sing… I haven’t been able to sing for so long… I can’t even recognize my voice. I don’t sound like myself. My family and close friends keep saying that I lost my sweet, soft sounding, smooth voice. I smile and nod and say that I can at least still speak, but deep down it hurts because I am longing for that voice as well.

I do believe that I am lucky that I can still speak, but it is hard to live with a voice that is not yours. It is hard to stop talking for a significant part of the day. I learned to choose my words; I learned to choose when to talk. I only talk about things if I really believe it is important to talk about them. Otherwise, I choose to save my energy and my vocal chords instead of wasting them on silly subjects. It is like saving your money until you believe you have something worthy of your money. I just never thought I would have this attitude towards talking…

I never smoked in my life. I always lived a healthy life. I practice yoga regularly. I don’t like yelling or screaming. I hardly ever raise my voice. But one day I wake up with paralyzed vocal cords. I don’t know what I have done wrong to hurt them, and the doctors say that it can just happen suddenly. I believe that our bodies always give out signals about what’s going on. If we are not taking good care of them, they give out signs for us to take a notice and do something about it. This time I guess I just missed the signals, and now I am searching a way to get over this state.

We all have the possibility to lose something we truly think we’ll have with us forever. Once again I am reminded not to take anything for granted. Nothing is forever. If you think it is, that’s a delusion. And if you love to sing, sing. And if there is something you want to tell someone, do so. Because one day, you may not have your voice to say those things. Don’t even take that for granted. Because I learned that sometimes people get their both vocal chords paralyzed, and can hardly talk or cannot talk at all.

In my yoga practice, I try to practice non-attachment, and this situation I’m in is a trial for me. I will go to speech therapy, and try to win back the functions of my right vocals. And during this time, I will need to learn how to be ok, and even be great, with what I’ve got: my left vocal cords.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Growing Pains

We change. We grow. We sometimes grow out of things. We grow out of sleeping with our stuffed animals, we grow out of watching cartoons, drinking milk before going to bed every night, we grow out of our clothes. Growing out of these kinds of things seem normal to us. It seems like the natural part of growing up. However, growing up and growing out of things doesn’t stop when we become an adult; they continue as we continue to live.
            As we continue to live, we change with what life brings to us. In time we may grow out of friendships. Some people, who used to be very close to us, may become acquaintances, and along the way we make new friends. As we grow and change what we expect from our friends and from people who are close to us change. Thus, the relationships change. How many of us are still in touch with all of our close friends in high school? Most of us just stay in touch with a few of them, and don’t get to see the rest of the class regularly. As we continue to live, we continue to grow, and the changes within us bring changes in our life. Things that used to seem appealing in the past don’t seem that way anymore. Even though it sounds and seems very saddening, this change is an integral part of life.
            Sometimes we can’t wait to move to the next chapter in our life, but sometimes we feel saddened by the end of an era. Some of these changes make us feel upset, such as breaking up with a boyfriend or a girlfriend, growing apart from a close friend, or a group of friends, quitting your job after many long years, moving to a new city, or a new country, etc. People may start moving towards different directions, and may not enjoy each other’s company as they used to, or get along as well as they used to. Moving on seems like the best step. However, all the memories, shared experiences, the comfort zone they have created in their lives in time might have prepared this step to be a very saddening one. We don’t want to let go off the things we got accustomed to, and people we grew close with along the way. We don’t want to move away from the comfort zone we’ve created for ourselves in our lives. Every time you start a new job, at a new office, with new colleagues, you enter into a new zone. Even if you quit your job voluntarily, you feel nostalgic about the friends and habits you have to leave behind.  The separation from the things we’ve been used to, and people we’ve been used to may be disheartening. It may be heartbreaking when we are going through that experience. However, if we can just embrace this new phase in our life, we may find this change liberating.
Taking that next step into the unknown and going towards that direction may be tough and scary. Nevertheless, these changes are actually coming from within you. You probably have been feeling like some kind of transformation has been taking place for a while. So, when you embrace this transformation and reflect it in your life, you may actually feel like you are embracing who you have become, and allowing yourself to be who you are. When you do that, you may realize that it is beautiful to surrender and let yourself flow with the natural cycle of life.
Don’t be afraid of the changes it brings. If you are feeling that change within you, then you have already started that journey. It may be time to stop being scared, and start taking pleasure in that change. Allow yourself to be yourself.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Breathe Through The Pain

Yoga is a breathing practice. We all hear this over and over again. However, if you are someone like me who practices Ashtanga and Vinyasa, you may realize at times that you are more caught up in the poses than concentrating on your breathing. This happens, against all your efforts. Yesterday, though, in my Ashtanga practice, I experienced what a strong breathing practice yoga is.
Yesterday someone who is very close to me, and my family passed away very suddenly. There were no sicknesses that gave us any warning, nothing… She was only my mom’s age… All deaths are hard for people who are left behind, and this one certainly shook us greatly/heavily. 
We heard the news yesterday, and since then I had been feeling like I can’t breathe. As if someone is sitting on my chest, and not allowing me to take deep breaths, or give out long exhales. I was feeling like I could only take short inhales, leaving me feeling like I can’t breathe. When I woke up this morning, it was hard to get out of bed. It was as if I had balls and chains attached to both my ankles, and I had to drag them with me every step I take. I felt heavy and lethargic. Nevertheless, I got dressed and went to mysore class to do my daily Ashtanga practice.  I had already told my teacher about the devastating news the night before. I needed someone to know my pain…
When I came up on my yoga mat, and started practicing, I was practicing and thinking that I was breathing just fine, until my teacher walked up to me and gently said “long exhales”. I let out a long exhale, and that’s when I realized that I was still holding my breath… It was as if I was afraid of giving out long exhales, because I didn’t know what else I would be letting out if I allow myself to let go… My teacher whispered in my ear, “Your practice and breath are stable enough. So today your practice is to keep her in your heart and in your mind during your practice. Let it pour out”. As soon as I thought of her, it was like opening the doors of a dam… Wow… how much was I holding in? Tears rolled down my eyes. I was trying to breathe while I was crying and my whole body was shaking because I was still trying to hold back. The tears were rolling down my cheeks, and I was holding myself not to let out a cry.  I literally couldn’t breathe. One thing you can’t do without, when you are practicing yoga, is breathing. “Long exhales”, I reminded myself. My body already knows the whole primary series, so I directed all my attention and awareness to my breathing. And my practice turned into a breathing practice.
All my concentration and awareness were on my breath. In every single pose, I was in the pose but already forgotten about the pose; I was just trying to lengthen my breathing. I was counting my inhales, and exhales. Inhaling in five counts and exhaling in five counts every time. My body already knew the poses; I didn’t need to worry about getting in the pose. What I didn’t know how to do today was breathing. It wasn’t easy… It wasn’t easy to keep her in my mind and heart, and still breathe smoothly…
I realized that the past two days I have been dealing with the situation and keeping a straight face by not thinking about her… The knowledge was in my head, but I was pushing away the feelings in order to get through the minutes, the hours and the day. However, right now I was thinking about her and trying to soften every part of my body, especially my throat and breathing… I realized that that’s the actual practice of working on your feelings. Allowing those feelings to stay on the surface, simultaneously softening your throat and your face, and breathe smoothly, letting those feelings go through the whole body with every inhale, and release it out with every exhale.
Even while I was in Savasana I had a moment where I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was choking again… My teacher came and touched my throat, “soften here” he said. I softened my throat and there it was: the key to breaking out of the feeling of choking, and figuring out how to breathe again was softening your throat.
My practice lasted two hours and I didn’t even realize how time passed. Every day my practice lasts two hours, and at the end I always feel exhausted. I always feel the hard work of the past two hours. Today, I was feeling soft. Emotionally drained, but at the same time soft and refreshed.  I didn’t feel like the practice lasted two hours. It was as if I went on a journey through time, and I was waking up two hours later feeling lighter than the way I did two hours ago…
I poured my sadness, devastation, and heavy load of the feeling of helplessness out with my breathing all through out my practice. Since after the practice I can breathe better, and I keep reminding myself to lengthen my breathing… I breathe through the pain; I let it travel to every part of my body, let myself feel the pain, and then with an exhale release that pain keeping my throat, my face, my fingertips as soft as possible…
In Ashtanga practice, even though we may do the same poses over and over again day in and day out, what we practice may change. And these days my main practice is breathing… breathing through the pain…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ready for transformation?

Yoga, as it transforms your body, transforms you psychologically, mentally, and it ends up transforming your life. Some of us go in to it maybe looking for that transformation, and some of us just go in without knowing what will hit us. The yoga practice itself, and the adjustments that you get, slowly open your body, and every bodily opening lead you to experience some kind of change; sometimes immediately and sometimes later on in your daily life.
            These openings happen every time you practice yoga. Sometimes staying in some poses takes you there, and sometimes getting an adjustment in a familiar pose.  Staying in some poses may feel really strong, such as Fire log pose (Agnistambhasana). Some adjustments may bring up this feeling as well, such as the adjustment one would get in Baddha Konasana. These are very strong hip openers. Fire log pose (Agnistambhasana) can’t really cause any injuries, and even though it has no threat to your survival, a lot of people immediately want to get out of this pose after 2 or 3 breaths. They resist staying there. Hip openers bring up a lot of intense feelings and sensations. These are probably the emotions we put aside and never wanted to deal with in the first place. However, even though we think we put emotions aside when we don’t want to deal with them, and assume they are thrown out with the garbage, they still stay somewhere in our bodies, and our hips are one of those places. And, when we stay in a hip opener pose, even though we don’t know why, we want to get the hell out of that pose and move on. Probably it is because it will make you face the feelings you feared to face once, and because it will make you face yourself, and things that you have been eluding.
Once you start practicing yoga, and you embrace the challenge and the softness that it contains all at once, then you want to keep getting on that mat. It lures you in. As you welcome it, it starts shaping and changing your body and the way you breathe. By practicing and also getting adjustments, the places, which are blocked in your body, start opening, and you get shaken off from where you have been stuck for years. If you allow these changes in your body, then it gets carried in to the rest of your life. And slowly your yoga practice creeps up from your mat into your daily life, without you even noticing.  Then, slowly, it can shake your core, and destabilize you, eventually ending up destabilizing your life.
No one really tells you about this though when you are at your first yoga class. No one tells you what kind of a journey is waiting for you. No one tells you that if you open yourself to it, your yoga practice is there to take you on a journey within. It will show you your weakness, where you are stuck and blocked; it will show you how you act from your ego over and over again, sometimes by praising yourself, and sometimes thinking that you are not good enough. It shows you that all is coming from ego’s perfectionism, and you are actually perfect the way you are. It will show you your darkest places, the places that you have been hiding from yourself. It will make you face yourself, all of yourself, from top to bottom and each and every corner. It will show you the dark, and then the light, and expect you to accept them all. No one tells you about any of this. However, if you embrace the first coming changes, you are hooked anyway, and you are just waiting for the next ride that will take you deeper within…
What happens as you keep coming on your mat is that, as you keep up with your daily practice, the changes in your body get reflected in your daily life. If you are ready for these changes, you take them in.  You welcome all the changes. Without even knowing, instead of resisting them you welcome them, meaning you are ready for them, and you are ready to get shaken off and get destabilized and experience some life changing transformations. You are ready to go from black to white almost. However, this happens only if you embrace these changes.
If you are content with your life, if you want to keep it the way it is, and don’t want to move anything from its current place, you may not welcome every opening. Some poses may make you want to come out of them all of a sudden, and some adjustments may feel strong, because it is disturbing you mentally. You may want to be holding onto where you are in your life. You may want to keep things the way they are; your relationships, your job, your social life, etc. You may want to hold on to where you are in your life, and that gets reflected in your body. Then when you are getting an adjustment you may want to pull off, because you don’t want to be pushed any further to experience any more opening, because you don’t want to open up more in life, you don’t want to look deeper. You want to stay where you are, which results in strengthening where you are already strong, and turning your head away from the places where you feel weaker keeping your dark sides in the dark, pushing them more under the rug. If that’s the case, then your body contracts in the pose, not allowing it to open more or not accepting any adjustments. If you are not ready for a change mentally, then you will not allow your body to experience such an opening in the asanas (yoga poses) either. You will hold onto wherever you are, the way you are holding on to it in life.
On the other hand, if you have been waiting to crawl out of the life you’ve been living, and habits you have acquired over the years, then this will all feel like a beautiful blessing, a bliss almost  (After every time I am squashed in Paschimottanasana I sit straight with closed eyes, and watch the effects it has on my body, and a smile creeps up on my face. It feels like bliss). Every opening destabilizes you, but you only welcome it. It shakes you out of your comfort zone; you lose your balance for a while, and you need to put hard work and effort to get your balance again. You may even have to take everything apart in order to put them back in order again, because they start not making any sense to you anymore in the way they had been organized. You need to take everything apart, to put them back in order in a way that they make sense to you again.  It is hard to find your stability again, but that’s why you are here anyway: to work on yourself, to allow this change, this transformation to happen. Your job is yourself, everyday, and you get on your mat to welcome it. If you are thrown out of your comfort zone, and you will be, you feel like you are weak, you are imperfect, and you make mistakes, this is the time for you to work on all those. Every time when you are face to face with your dark sides, it is an opportunity to confront them, and not run away. When you do that, when you confront yourself and dark sides, it turns into a great breakthrough in your personal growth… but if you take a step back and turn and walk away, you are missing a big opportunity to grow…
Your yoga practice will point out your weaknesses; it will make you confront yourself day in and day out. If you are not ready to work on yourself, you will want to walk away…. All I can tell you is, come back on your yoga mat with your heart open, to accept it all. Do your yoga practice from your heart… When you practice yoga with an open heart, then you will keep your heart open for the other experiences that will come as a result of your practice. Let your practice come from your heart and enjoy the ride…