Off to study yoga in Austalia

In just a couple of weeks I’m off to Australia! I never thought I would travel this far in my life.

This trip started a year ago when I became curious about the student/teacher relationship that is so important in eastern traditions. In yoga this relationship is fundamental as it is the vehicle for passing on the teachings of yoga from teacher to student. In this tradition yoga is considered alive; the teacher knows yoga intimately, she has experienced for herself the benefits of the practice over a long period of time and teaches from direct experience. I wanted to understand and experience this strange and esoteric relationship, to receive the teachings of yoga from an experienced teacher.

Dena Kingsberg teaching in Mallorca

Last spring I met Dena Kingsberg in Mallorca. Dena studied directly with Sri K. Pattabhi Joice for many years, and is a senior teacher in the lineage of ashtanga yoga. While I was attending her workshop, I discovered that she offers a training called Committed Practitioner Intensive in Australia. For three consecutive months during three consecutive years, Dena receives students from all around the world in her Byron Bay yoga shala to pass on the traditional teachings of ashtanga yoga. This was exactly what I was looking for, so I seized the opportunity to submit my hand-written application.

Just this past September, I received the incredible news that I had been accepted. It was a huge surprise which awakened both excitement and terror. I feel that I’m making a step towards something totally unfamiliar and I hope to be up to the task.

New year’s resolution: I’m starting gratitude journal

 

Notebook

Here’s my new year’s resolutions:

1. Keep a gratitude journal.
2. Refrain from complaining and criticizing.

The gratitude journal came first

I had read about it online and it sounded like a good idea, but I resisted getting it started. I had a feeling I wouldn’t be very good at it and I was right! The first couple of weeks I could only find one thing to write down every four days or so.

My one rule is that I can only write down those things I feel sincere appreciation for in that moment, not the things I know I should be grateful for. When I get a feeling of joy, accomplishment or gratitude, I write it down in my notebook. Example: if I get payed a compliment, if it’s a nice warm day, if I see something beautiful, if I have a nice conversation, if I think of someone I love, I write it down.

Sometimes the things I’m thankful for surprise me

One of my first entries was about the moon. I was up early to go to the airport when I noticed the full moon outside my window. It’s silent beauty caught me off guard and reminded me that there’s a whole mysterious universe beyond the weight of my luggage or the amount of cash I had in my wallet. I thanked it for the spacious feeling it gave me.

girl with hatThe gratitude practice keeps me attentive to what’s going on in and around me. I have to focus on good sensations, even the small ones. Then I have to name them. There are so many nice little moments in a day that pass by unnoticed. Since I started this practice, I’ve come to feel content even on a couple of crappy days. It felt unusual and nice.

No complaining!

Now, on to the refraining practice. It’s embarrassing to write about this because it is a big challenge for me. Yes, I complain a lot! I criticize myself, my circumstances and I complain about other people. I’m always looking for someone to blame. It feels really good, like scratching an itch. It’s a temporary escape from uncomfortable situations. It is also a bad habit that keeps me feeling completely powerless.

I read somewhere that criticizing reinforces self-criticism; that’s what inspired me to change habits. Seeing the flaw in everything makes me hyper-aware of my own flaws and ignorant of my gifts. I want to value myself more, and contribute something good to the world. I also want to be pleasant to be around.

The cool thing about these two practices is that they reinforce one another. Even though I’m just getting started, I’ve already noticed a subtle shift. For example, it’s way easier to notice those things I’m grateful for when I’m not complaining. Also, my mind feels a bit lighter, since I have to drop the usual grumpy monologue and find something else to think about and bring up in conversation. It’s also becoming obvious that I’ll have to find new ways to deal with those things I don’t like.

How is your gratitude practice? What benefits do you notice?

Massage and Meditation in Boulder, Colorado

 

shambhala center in boulder colorado

I love Boulder Colorado!  It is home to three important schools of my favorite disciplines: Rolfing, yoga and meditation. This is where I studied Rolfing back in 2006 and now I’m back to study yoga with  Richard Freeman at his studio, The Yoga Workshop. On my way to and from class I walk right past the  Boulder Shambhala Center which has a spectacular meditation room that is open to the public all day!

portrait of Liz Stewart, structural integration practitionerI used my free time to check in with one of my first Structual Integration (Rolfing) teachers, Liz Stewart, whom I adore! Liz is genuine and down to earth with a fantastic laugh and a great sense of humor. I’ve always felt at home around her. I admire her as a teacher because she poses great questions and is skillful at helping you figure things out for yourself. She is creative, fun, non-dogmatic and practical.

Today Liz invited me to do a four-handed Rolfing session on one of her clients. This means we worked together on the same person. The trick to four-handed work is to connect to the other practitioner and work together. I’ve rarely done four-handed work so today was a treat and an honor. What follows is a recap of today’s session:

Our client today was Wendy. After a visual evaluation of her posture, the session begins. I rest my hands and listen to the liquid sensation of fascia swimming under my fingers. Soon, I can feel Liz. It is easy to feel the continuity between our hands as we work with Wendy’s body. It feels good, Wendy’s muscles relax as she gets more  comfortable.

Liz and I take turns leading then following. As the session progresses I notice that my hands know what they’re doing, I don’t have to think about it. I’m participating in a tactile dialogue with all of my  senses, I feel open and relaxed. Our hands pulsate back and forth, giving and receiving,  surfing the waves of information that come in through our fingers. It is a whole body experience, my senses are engaged, I am alert, open, attentive.

I notice that the less I think about what I’m doing, the more everything is working in concert, effortlessly. It is easy to hold a light conversation while my hands are free to follow what they feel. Wendy is very receptive to our touch, she’s enjoying the session and so is Liz. The session has a relaxed and comfortable feel, of course with four hands we do twice the work with half the effort. It is very nice.

The little gem I take from today’s experience is about how tricky my rational mind can be. I have painstakingly learned tons of useful though somewhat complicated models to understand the body’s structure. The only problem with that, however,  is that they can cloud my vision and make me lose sight of the actual person I have right in front of me. Today has been a wake-up call to tune into a more energetic, empathic and symbolic way of perceiving my clients. I need to let go, at least temporarily, of the more analytical techniques and follow my hands.

Can you relate? What are your thoughts?

Yoga Essentials with Richard Freeman

lotus flower

This past week has been very exciting. I’ve met Richard Freeman and Mary Taylor in person, which is quite exciting after having known them only through online videos. They are a truly amazing pair of yogis: caring, humble and knowledgable.

I started off the week on the wrong foot, literally! I sprained my ankle right before my trip to the US and was quite distraught at the idea of not being able to practice during the week-long immersion. Luckily, Richard and Mary teach a very sustainable approach to yoga. Mary was attentive to my needs and stressed the importance of maintaining continuity in one’s yoga practice while being careful not to re-injure the body. I learned to use different props and to adapt my practice to my situation. It was very empowering.

Richard is truly an exceptional teacher. It is rare to meet someone who understands the intricacies of eastern philosophy and relates them with humor and ease. You can sense that he speaks from experience when he describes the various stages of yoga as well as the more subtle aspects of the practice. His particular style of leading the asana class has helped me find a spaciousness in my body that feels like I’ve had Rolfing. I am also more aware of how much I regularly practiceholding lots of tension, straining my breath and pushing my body.

Throughout the course of this week, a lot of scattered bits of information that I’ve gathered here and there have begun to fall into place. A lot of questions have found their answers, for example: why do we practice? How should one approach the practice? How does one measure their progress? I’ve been given some solid guidance.

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