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…