Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sri K Pattabhi Jois says, "All can take practice."

"Ashtanga Yoga is a practice for young Indian boys." Unknown

"Old man, stiff man, weak man, sick man, they can all take practice but only a lazy man can't take practice." Sri K Pattabhi Jois

This week's video post is part of conversation I had about the potential for Ashtanga to reach a wider audience and the necessity to cultivate an adaptable, inclusive model for the sharing of Ashtanga. Many people have been misinformed about who can do this practice. Nearly anyone, regardless of their circumstances, can learn Ashtanga safely with care and intelligence. And if you are already practicing you can develop a practice that will nourish and support you for life.
Sri K Pattabhi Jois believed the Ashtanga practice could serve anyone and everyone. He exuded a love and passion for the method. Through his teachings he ignited the spiritual growth of all kinds of people from all different stages of life. These people did not fit into a single category. If you came to him the only circumstance that mattered was your willingness to learn. He would individualize and adapt his teaching to suit your particular circumstances. Ashtanga Yoga is a treasure, a potent path that leads to Self knowledge. As interest in Yoga increases and more people take up practice, it is essential to interpret and adapt the method to include a wider audience so that more people can join in and be part of this beautiful practice.

Ashtanga for Everyone from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

In the Ramayana when Ravana abducts Sita, he speeds her away in the aerial chariot known as Pushpaka 'flowery'. Ravana had stolen this sweet ride from his cousin Kubera the God of wealth. The pushpaka is made of flowers, contains a palace and can carry unlimited passengers. After Ram, Laksman, Hanuman and the entire host of monkeys and bears destroy Ravana, Ram reclaims Puspaka and they all ride home together in style.
Metaphorically Ram defeating Ravana represents victory of Self over ego driven worldly life. The pushpaka symbolizes the truth that there is a seat for everyone on the chariot that leads home to the Self. Ashtanga Yoga, like Pushpaka, can carry as many as want to ride (not like a motorcycle where maximum capacity is a family of five!)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ashtanga Foundations Diet Part Five: Whole Grains

Greetings! This week I return to the importance of the connection between diet and practice with a fun video where I take you into my kitchen and show you how I make chapati's! The video has humor but don't let that obscure the importance of this post whose message is that whole grains are meant to be in the center of your diet. As always I appreciate your questions, comments, and feedback. (Click on photo to enlarge captions) Enjoy!

Ashtanga Foundations Diet Part Five: Whole Grains from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

GK: From Hard Red Winter Wheat Berries to Chapatis from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Simple Food is Tasty from David Garrigues on Vimeo.

Chapati Recipe (yields 6-12 chapatis)

1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups flour
extra flour for dusting
small portion butter/ghee/vegan spread

water with
sea salt

add 1 1/2 cup WW flour
mix into a dough

Knead dough for 3-7 minutes
adding flour as
necessary to prevent ball of
dough from sticking to
cutting board

preheat skillet on medium high
slice off small section of
dough and roll out into
a thin round. place carefully
into skillet. cook until little
'bubbles' form in the dough
flip when ready and either
finish over open flame or
within the skillet.

enjoy piping hot as is or with your
favorite spread!

With this cooking I enter
the heart of the matter,
I enter the intimate activity
which makes dreams materialize.

Edward Espe Brown

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Puzzle of Pain

Students often complain about and share their pain with me. Universally people want to reject pain and wish it away. Every time I work with someone in pain I wish I could just take it away, and yet, over the years I've seen people be forced to rise up and work through their pain. I marvel at the courage, strength, transformation and healing that can take place due to pain. Pain often has complex origins that defy simple explanations, remedies, and its voices speak to all dimensions of your being, physical, mental, and spiritual. Pain slows you down, restricts your movement, forces you to change your routine, demands that you find different patterns to explore, compels you to focus on unexpected aspects of practice, aspects that otherwise, you wouldn't necessarily choose to go into.

Resisting pain can frustrate you and challenge your resolve to practice and thus it is essential to see that the obstructions that appear in your path, whether physical or mental, are meant to be there for your learning and growth. Somehow you have to trust the process, let go and see the potential openings, the advantages and new directions within the hardship. This is how you find your way deeper into your practice.

For example, when you are hurting, you learn how to practice more gently, you become more humble and less ambitious and goal oriented. Pain also forces you to deal with frustration and the arrogance of thinking that your little conscious mind knows exactly how to go further along your path. Also you are inclined to be more caring, tender hearted, more open, vulnerable, and happier with less. Also, when you are a little down and slightly blue, you become more serious about important matters. You increase your ability to withdraw inwards and cultivate a mental attitude that is more empty and purposeless.

Ganesh is the lord of obstacles, a mascot of Yoga, a rotund, elephant headed, winking, fun loving prankster who loves laddo's (yummy indian sweets) and rides a rat. Since he's in charge of obstacles, he's intimately involved in your Yoga practice! Whenever you encounter an obstacle in your practice, Ganesh the sly trickster is either the instigator and/or the remover of it. He deals in every phase of obstacles: creating, sustaining, and removing them. According to his assessment of your spiritual needs, he plays with obstacles to keep you on track to your secret heart.

He occupies a special place in your heart because he lightens the load of spiritual discipline. Looking within is often painful and unpleasant, in fact, facing your shadow and ugliness is much of what stands between you and Self knowledge. Ganesha portrays an image of playfulness and lightness, through his intervention, you confront and transform the pain, grief, anger, and other heavy blockages within you. His image, his habits, and even his vechicle all contribute to him disarming his devotees, catching you off guard with enough paradox and humor to set an optimal mood for you to tackle your darkness with empathy and grit.

One of Ganesha's main celestial weapons is the noose. The noose symbolizes a physical and mental lassoing of your person, a yoking that happens to you when you become dedicated to a daily practice. This yoking involves tapas (heat, friction, discipline in service of Spirit). Each technique in ashtanga adds tapas, generates energy, and functions in a specific way to bring awareness to your movement and your mental activity. Working physically with asana builds cleansing heat and makes you strong and flexible and able to stay in chosen positions for increasingly longer duration. Bandha's are 'locks' and are used for 'sealing' the torso in order to stoke the internal fire and gather Prana (life force). Vinyasa can be defined as sequential, sacred movement and posture performed with seamless concentration. Dristi is training your self to maintain your gaze where you choose.

You use these techniques like you use a pressure cooker, with attention and care. You utilize discipline, mental power, intention, intuition, and skill to go within and tap your resources. You apply pressure to your self, with the intention of generating creative energy to pierce through and perceive reality. It is important to use caution when working with life force in these ways. It is essential that you take the process seriously and care for and respect your self. It takes tremendous power to courageously look within at your anger, greed, at your various forms of ugliness. And then Instead of condemning your self, or hiding or perpetuating the negative thought patterns, you use your life force to generate simple consciousness, love and empathy. You forgive your self and go to the deep place where you see how unnecessary those patterns are.
And if you get the recipe right, you win the freedom to choose how to share the infinite gifts you've been given.
Here's a line from a poem by Rumi:

Stay in the joy of now
The way is usually downward,
through humility and grief into union.

That center is a flowing spring,
a love and clarity.

I've included a story of how Ganesha is in the right place at the right time to help Shiva and out wit Ravana, the 10 headed demon who represents negative ego. Note that when you practice yoga, you up your chances of being in the right place at the right time ~enjoy~

For her daily prayer ritual Ravana's mother had a small statue representing the mark of Shiva (called the atma linga). Even though the statue was virtually worthless, strangely someone stole it. Ravana preposterously promised her that he would replace the cheap statue with the actual atma linga that belonged to Shiva. To accomplish this nearly impossible task, Ravana traveled to the vicinity of Shiva's home on Mt Kailas and performed severe tapas. He eventually won a boon from Shiva. He asked for and was granted the atma linga. Shiva warned him that whereever he set the icon down it would remain there permanently. So Ravana traveled along towards home. Out in the middle of nowhere he found he had to answer the call of nature. Looking around for something to do with the atma linga, he spied a cow boy tending his herd. He shouted "hey you! come over here. Hold this for me and under no circumstances let it touch the ground. I'll be back shortly". The cow boy (who was Ganesh in disguise!) agreed with a sly smile saying "I will hold it for 30 minutes but not longer." Ravana disappeared and failed to make it back in exactly 30 minutes. Ganesh set the linga down and it began to sink into the ground. Ravana came dashing up and tried in vain to lift it back up. The linga turned into a cow and then completely sank and disappeared into the ground. Ganesh laughed and went on his way. The atma linga stayed in that spot and to this day is a sacred holy ground in India called Gokarna (Cow's ear).

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ashtanga Foundations: Ujjayi Breathing Part Two Hamsa Mantra

Greetings! Yesterday I attended a very inspiring conference for independent film makers and other artists called diy (do it yourself) days. I came away feeling that in Yoga our vision and goals are exactly the same as other independent artists. (In fact an Indian friend once introduced me to his friends in India as 'David, a Yoga Artist'). Story telling was the subject of the conference and how there's been a major shift in creative endeavors where now nearly everyone has the opportunity and feels compelled to create, to bring forth something important from within, to tell their story in some way that will bring healing and new consciousness to them selves and to an out of control world.

Yoga is about creativity and transformation, about finding your way through your unique, complex set of obstacles to realize your beauty, your power, your gifts, your Spirit. Practicing Yoga helps you to become strong and clear enough to get in touch with your story, with who you are and with what really matters to you. In order to take up and stay with a Yoga practice, I think it is essential to see the connection between your Yoga practice and your creativity, your self as an active participant in the evolution and healing of our world. As Yoga artists, we need to use our budding powers of inner attunement to join in and be part of this slow, steady, creative spiritual revolution.

This week I'm going to continue my discussion on breathing in Yoga practice. When you apply Ujjayi, you tune into, hamsa , the sound of breathing. The sound Hamsa (so'ham) is a mantra. Mantra (man=mind, tra=instrument) means sound formula or instrument of the mind. The hamsa mantra translates as "I am That". "That" means Spirit. Thus when you repeat so'ham, you orient yourself in your sacred center, you train yourself to tune into to the highest conception of what/who you are. An undisciplined or unobserved mind is perhaps the greatest obstacle to accessing creativity, life force and wisdom. You have to be able to combat your mind's negativity in order fulfill your dharma, your spiritual life. Gently tuning into the sound of the breath, you learn to recognize fear, you learn to cut through excessive mental activity, especially the erronous, cynical, critical, and irrelevant thoughts that spin through your head. Using a mantra gives you tools to discipline your mind, you win the courage to create and to share what you create.

When you work with a mantra steadily over long period of time, its significance reveals itself to you and becomes a guiding star. a central reference point for your inner life of thoughts, emotions, reactions, and sensations. You notice how near or far away you feel from the notion of 'So'ham' and rely on it to re- center your self. With enough observation you can begin to re-direct thought and emotion, you can channel your self towards the essence of consciousness which is So'ham I am That, the source of healing and creativity that leads to transformation.

Hamsa is a swan and thus the breath is represented as a bird. The image of a bird in flight is a fitting description of what Guruji meant by "free breathing". Birds take flight, they ride the wind soaring and gliding, enjoying the space and freedom of the heavens. These are the exact qualities you want to cultivate when you breath and flow in practice. You ride the breath. You enjoy space and freedom within the torso. You soar and glide and feel the free flow of Prana as you open your lungs, chest, and heart. Your body, your mind, and your movements synchronize, You become the hamsa mantra, you become inhaling and exhaling, and then every movement becomes a gesture of the whole body expressing so'ham. When you can thoroughly integrate breath with movement, then you stop fighting your self, you become unified, independent, and appreciative.

Hamsa is also another word for the Soul. According to Yoga, we all come into the world weighted down with ignorance even though, within us, the Soul ever remains free like a bird flying high up in the sky, away from the confines and hang ups of the earth. Birds migrate annually at just the right time. From an inner prompting, they journey long and far to reach a destination they know well. Metaphorically the soul travels from here to its true home . From an inner prompting, we migrate from this world to the realms of Divinity where Consciousness resides, to the land Poet/Saint Kabir wrote about in this poem:

I know a land where spiritual flatness does not rule.
Where those alive are not afraid to die
Where the bee of the heart stays inside the flower
and cares for no other thing.

I've included an audio track of the Hamsa Gayatri, a prayer that translates as: Om. Let us meditate on the breath as Hamsa, the pure, white swan of discrimination. May that great hamsa inspire and illumine our mind and bring wisdom. Enjoy!