Author Archives: Amanda

For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences

Definitions of āsana, Part 3: Nava śarīra saṁskāra

Yoga is full of paradox.  In my teaching lately, I’ve found myself saying one thing about yoga and at the very moment that it is coming out of my mouth, what feels like it’s opposite is ringing in my head, ‘Not so fast, little lady…’

Teaching and practicing yoga require a contemplative mind (‘yes, and’) and humility (there are so many ways to see truth and to know something). Writing about these definitions of āsana continues to fall short of how amazing and transformational the experience can be.  I guess that’s because āsana isn’t something that you can get to the bottom of by reading blogs. It’s an experience that you fully participate in with your entire being.  Only when you’ve spent time doing āsana does reading and writing about it have purpose.  Experience it again and again over time and then these definitions and theory mean something.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re on this blog about yoga, it’s not all theory for you.  You do it. You know what it has done to you. And the teachings and context provides a description and language for something you already know and feel. That’s why I write about it. Writing brings my interior world to the surface. The attempts to express what goes on down there is an opportunity for retasting. It helps make what’s subtle a little more tangible. So here we go. Definition number three.

Like yoga, life is full of paradoxes. One of those centers around our habits and patterns. We need patterns to communicate, to do our jobs, to feel connected to the people in our lives, and to navigate a challenging and vibrant world.  And yet, our patterns can become so impenetrable that we get stuck repeating them over-and-over, even when they get in the way of what we most need or desire. Our communication patterns can leave us having the same argument with a partner year after year. The way our shoulders scrunch up when we’re under stress happens out of deep patterning and we may not be aware of it till we’re having that migraine again.  When our patterns are limiting us or even determining our behavior, then āsana and the process of developing a nava śarīra saṁskāra, or “new body pattern” can help.

This third definition of āsana, nava śarīra saṁskāra, invites us to work with body patterns that we hold, repeat, and carry with us all the time. It’s funny because the pañca maya model (more on this next post) describes 5 interconnected layers of our human system from the most gross to the most subtle. These layers are: body, prāṇa/breath, mind, personality, and emotions.  Body is the first one on the list, suggesting that it is the most gross. We often begin our yoga work with āsana and the body because we can move it and see it move.  Yes this is true that the body is accessible, and some of our body patterns are incredibly subtle. We humans develop our personal postural patterns really early. That postural pattern makes it possible to recognize your friend from behind on a crowded street from 200 feet away even if you haven’t seen them in years. We don’t think about walking. We just walk.  We don’t try to tighten or clench when we get scared. But we do. So, working with body patterns is accessible and also very deep work.

In order for āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences. If we’re set on continuing along the same old lines, then we are going to approach āsana in the same way we do (and have done) everything else. This willingness is the key to letting something new come in. And learning how to welcome new experiences can enrich our approach to āsana practice.

I’ve put together a list below of tips that can help you open to new experiences and get the most out of your āsana practice. You might get a feel from reading the list that inspires or maybe one thing jumps out as something you’d like to try on for a while. Nava śarīra saṁskāra, here we come.

10 Keys for developing new body patterns. Nava śarīra saṁskāra !

  • Invite change! (the old pattern was getting in the way, remember?)
  • Be willing to do things in a new way
  • Have a beginner’s mind. Set aside what you think you know and listen again for the first time.
  • Feel the sensations in your body as they arise
  • Stay curious and open
  • Have patience. New patterns take time to develop.
  • Suspend judgment. You can’t be good or bad at something when it’s a new experience
  • Defer decisions about liking or not liking the activity. (Most of us like the feeling of not being amazing at something. And when we are doing something new, we’re not going to be amazing.)
  • If what you’re doing feels awkward and uncomfortable, you are really doing it! You are exploring something new!
  • And the #1 most helpful and important key to developing a new body pattern…become someone’s student! You need a teacher who is a keen observer, an honest guide, and who has done the work deeply and sincerely her/him/themself. Without a teacher, our patterns are very hard to see and even harder to change.

What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

definitions of āsana, Part 2

On Leave, Watercolor, Amanda Green

Ās śarīra aṅga vinyāsa

We see here another meaning of ās, meaning ‘seat’ or ‘comfortable seat.’

śarīra – body

aṅga – limb

vinyāsa – a special arrangement

My girls are closing in on the end of the first quarter of their school year and we all seem to have bumped up against the same wall this week.  Hazel announced that she hates school (or at least all the school work). Nora expressed her wall-hitting with a seriously grouchy and argumentative attitude. Dave admitted to feeling a little blue. And when I woke up on Monday morning, I thought, “Here we go again…” I caught myself feeling like Monday was something I had to hold my nose to swallow and that this Monday would be stamped out just like all the Mondays before. I was not excited.  

I practiced yoga that morning, and I’m glad I did because something changed. It didn’t happen instantly, but over time, as I breathed and moved in a special way, I began to feel present. Āsana practice reminded me of something really important – this day, which happens to be a Monday, is the moment I’m alive. In āsana, we connect with what is happening – I’m breathing… I have a body that moves and feelsI can only feel this now So much is happening… So much is possible. Yoga is a practice that helps make the wonder of the moment available again. It helps me remember how I would like to show up for my life. If normal and ordinary feel like going through the motions or ‘getting through the day,’ then practicing āsana in a way that is not ordinary helps me reconnect to what is special about being alive. This kind of practice is vital to having a meaningful life.

This definition of āsana tells us that practice looks different from what is regular and ordinary in other ways, too. If we work at a desk job that is highly analytical, āsana practice might focus on standing postures and have a focus that is more relaxing for the mind.  If we cut hair for a living, standing much of the day, talking to clients, and squeezing and working the hands and wrists, then a quiet practice, reclined postures, and gentle hand and wrist movements in the opposite direction could provide a break from the ordinary. Live alone? You may enjoy attending a regular group class where you get to enjoy the company and companionship of others.  Climb mountains? Drive a bus? Care for small children? Surf? Swim? Work as a cook? Clean houses? There’s a regular or ordinary set of movements that goes along with each of these activities and we look for what is not ordinary when designing an āsana practice.

There’s more to āsana practice than the primary orientation of the postures. For many of us practice is not normal because it’s one of the few times we turn our attention away from what is happening outside of us and direct the attention to something more quiet and subtle within.  Attention to the breath, to the quiet communications of the body and our emotional experience can be a special aspect of āsana practice and a special way of being.

Practice isn’t ordinary. It is special.

Āsana is about being and becoming

Definitions of āsana, Part 1

Almost Three, Watercolor, Amanda Green

The root of the word āsana comes from the sanskrit root, ās. This can mean, “being or becoming.”  If āsana is rooted in being and becoming, what does that tell us about what we are practicing? How does this context and this definition give us guidance for our practice? This is a big topic to kick off our series, but this idea is the container in which all of our other definitions exist, so it is a good place to begin.

When I think about ‘being,’ it feels simple. An apple can be an apple, but it can’t be an orange. Even those weird apples that were at our grocery store a few years ago that had been injected with an artificial grape flavor were still apples. A rotten apple? Still being apple. Apple juice? Still being apple. Being is basic and essential.  The things that were true about my being when I was an infant are true about me now. No matter how we dress it up, how it ails, ages, or changes, we are being until the end.  

Becoming is happening at every moment. What we do and the experiences we have inform our next ones. If we are doing the same things over and over again, then we are becoming the person who acts and reacts in the same way we always have.  If, instead, we have different experiences, then we are becoming a ‘different person’. We can react and respond to things in a fresh way.  This is one of the most hopeful ideas in all of yoga.  Becoming is continually happening. That means we can help to create who we are becoming by choosing and participating in experiences that generate the kinds of feelings we want more of.

Āsana is one of the experiences where we can practice being who and how we want to be. Do we want to be more accepting of our struggles? We can practice acceptance in āsana.  Do we want to have more peace and calm? We can practice āsana in a peaceful and calm way. When our teacher recognizes a pattern of tension, straining, or distraction is present in our practice, they might help us to see that and encourage a better way of practicing.

Daily āsana practice is an experience that can shape the moments that follow, and repeated regularly, it has the potential to shape the way we live out life. With breath and movement (and sometimes sound and intention) as our tools, āsana invites us to become increasingly present and conscious.  This definition reminds us that āsana is doing something to us, and it invites us to experience something of our essential nature. You and I are invited to become who we are.

What makes yoga postures so darn special?

Relaxing, watercolor, Amanda Green

Introduction: Is yoga the same as stretching?

For a long time, my yoga practice was about mastering certain postures.  I worked really hard to stick a handstand.  I went to vinyasa class and wanted so badly to be able to defy gravity and float my feet from downdog to that forward bend at the front of the mat.  Fancy arm balances? Yes, please.  Bend further? No problem. Big, dancer-like transitions between postures that took me high and then low? Bring it. I worked out. I got better at all of these things and even had moments of of feeling that particular kind of strength, balance and presence in my body that I was seeking. I also got increasingly more sensitive, an enduring shoulder injury, way too much flexibility in important joints, and the realization that this kind of practice was not sustainable.

Was I doing yoga? Does the ability to hold a handstand for 30 seconds make someone good at yoga? If I look at a yoga postures in a magazine and try to do the stuff I see, does that count? How we answer these questions depends on how we define yoga practice and what we think āsana (aaah-sun-uh, the practice of postures) is for. In the next few posts, we’ll look at several definitions of āsana, considerations for structuring a practice, and a few of Patañjali’s yoga sūtras that will give us a sense of what postural practice is all about and what we can look forward to when practice is well established.  

Seventeen years after my first yoga class, how I practce āsana is really different from those early years. With the guidance of my teacher and support of peers, my yoga practice is now slow, safe, and satisfying to me in very deep and essential ways. I practice at home, in the quiet. Breath is way more interesting that balancing on my hands. In times when I’ve been injured or in pain, I have ways to stay connected to my practice. And most interestingly, my mind operates much more attentively and peacefully.  I can imagine doing yoga like this for the rest of my life.

Here’s the sneak peak for the series…

Part 1: Āsana is about being and becoming

Part 2: What we do in āsana is not normal or ordinary

Part 3: For Āsana to help us operate in a new way, we have to be willing to have new experiences

Part 4: Āsana reaches all parts of our being

Part 5: Vinyāsa krāma: start where you are and take the necessary steps to reach your goal

Part 6: Prevent future suffering (Yoga Sūtra II.16)

Part 7: Āsana should be stable and comfortable (Yoga Sūtra II.46)

Part 8: Āsana helps us loosen the knots and reduce resistance (Yoga Sūtra II.47)

Part 9: The result of āsana practice: we will not be affected by extremes (Yoga Sūtra II.48)

9 solutions for difficult times

Girl reading, watercolor, Amanda Green
Girl Reading, Watercolor on paper, Amanda Green

Yoga practice isn’t about rising above or rejecting our humanness. Instead, yoga can help us learn to accept, heal and develop our human nature. An amazing guidebook for this process is the Yoga Sūtras, authored by the ancient sage, Patañjali. 

The first chapter of the yoga sūtras dives right into one of the universal and unavoidable experiences of being a person on this planet… each of us will have some really hard stuff happen in our lives. At times, we may be able to move through these difficulties. That doesn’t mean we won’t feel the feelings, grieve, get angry, suffer or realize something about ourselves in the process.  What it does mean is that we aren’t stuck.

There are other times when the hard stuff will stop us in our tracks leaving us heavy in the chest, stuck with a negative outlook, a shaky body, breathing that is short and shallow and with a mind that is unable to focus. When we see these symptoms (Yoga sūtra I.31), we need help. Patanjali provides us with nine ways that we can seek support and balance during these times.

  1. Connect to a belief or faith in a higher power.  Can we sense and be comforted by the possibility or even the knowing that something bigger than ourself is at work in our lives? In difficult times, we may not know how things will work out but if we trust that it will, this faith can help sustain us. Yoga sūtra I.23
  2. Go deep in one principle. Let your attention and your energy focus on one perspective or method for sorting through the stuff that’s coming up in your hard time. Yoga sutra I.32
  3. These attitudes will be very helpful in moving through the hard stuff: friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion for those who suffer, support for those doing good work in the world, and for those who are doing bad and upsetting stuff, maintain emotional distance. If that kind of emotional equanimity isn’t possible, then you may need to establish physical distance.  The point with this last one is for you to do your best to stay emotionally and mentally balanced. Yoga sūtra 1.33
  4. Practice breathing with a focus on exhale and pause after exhale Yoga sūtra I.34
  5. Notice how the senses are operating. Are they leading you or are you leading them? Yoga sūtra I.35
  6. There is a place inside of you that is full of light.  This place can’t be darkened by sadness or grief. If you know the feeling of this place and can connect to it during difficult times, it can be a relief and comfort. Yoga sūtra 1.36
  7. Someone who has come through hard stuff of her own can be a great support. Yoga sūtra 1.37
  8. Dreams can offer insight into a difficult situation. Yoga sūtra I.38
  9. Meditate on something that you like and that is appropriate for your difficult situation. Meditation is best guided by a teacher who you trust, and who knows you well. Yoga sūtra 1.39

The yoga sūtras acknowledge that there will be times when life knocks you down. It’s an inevitable part of the human experience. When these situations arise, it’s tempting to spend energy imagining the ways they could have been avoided, to feel like it isn’t fair, or to dwell on how much we don’t like what we are going through. If we stay in that mindset for too long, that is a signal that we need some help. In realizing this and seeking a new way of working through a situation we learn about ourselves– about fraility and strength.  Of what we can endure and of the forces that are in waiting to help us to keep going. This list from the yoga sūtras may seem simple at first glance, but when we need help like we may not have needed before, the profound nature of these solutions shines.

… aaaaand we’re back

india ink portrait of child
I look forward to featuring some of my paintings on this blog. We’ll kick it off with this one…
Nora in line’ by Amanda Green

It has been about a year since my last post and almost three since I’ve blogged regularly. When I brought my blog to a pause, the stuff I was going through in my life seemed too vulnerable and personal to write about.  Back then, so much was changing and it felt as exhilarating as it was destabilizing. I guess I needed to let the stuff gestate for a while. I needed time to float in quiet, dark amniotic murk. But I seem to have outgrown the holding place.  It just isn’t cushioning me in the same way anymore.

My home life has a different vibe now that my girls are in middle and high school.  My personal yoga practice and relationship with my teacher have changed and developed. Marriage is the best it’s ever been and my work life has a nice rhythm. While lots of aspects of my life are steady-eddy, there are other things that are really stirred up. I’m grappling with the messiness of being human, trusting spiritual aims in the midst of life responsibilities, clumsy attempts at becoming more clear and present, and other stuff, too. Writing facilitates something for me. Feelings and ideas get integrated and understood a little differently when I make the effort to translate them into words. Seems like an interesting time to rev up the ol’ blog-engine again.

As I dedicate time to writing, I want to acknowledge that the shift isn’t a purely internal event. There are those of you who have contributed with your patient and subtle offerings of encouragement along the way. Thanks.

This platform is more for enduring messages and not so much for the time-specific offerings. If you’d like to spend more time together and hear about workshops, classes, special offers and invitations to take your practice to a new level, you’ll find those in my monthly emails. I hope you’ll sign up for that by clicking here or on the link in the blog sidebar.

Stay tuned.

More to come!

Grief, loss, and the changing season

This afternoon, I gathered up the shoes I’d left around the house and as I dropped the flip flops and sandals onto their spot on the closet shelf, I lingered to look longingly at my warm winter boots. Temperatures in Austin, TX are still reaching 86 degrees, but mornings are cooler and there’s a crispness to the evenings. We’re moving out of Summer and I’m yearning for the change to cooler, boot-wearing weather.I feel another kind of shift happening, too. We had too many deaths in our circle of loved ones this season. My grandfather, a friend, a beloved uncle. We miss these dear people. Though I continue to grieve, something is shifting. Like the seasonal change, the initial stages of grief are gradually giving way to the next. And I welcome that shift.I’m glad that time and experience allows for change and that yoga can help with the patience, the digestion and the expression of so much of what goes along with living life and loving people. I’m grateful for the practice but mostly for the many dear students and friends who keep showing up and help me to do the same.

The Yoga of Stand up Comedy

My husband, Dave, is hilarious and he has a great appreciation for comedy.  His sense of humor made me fall for the guy back in college and it’s a big part of why our relationship and our family life is still so much fun. One of the things Dave looks forward to each year is the Moontower Comedy Festival. It’s a weekend of mostly stand up comedy acts and with our passes around our necks, we get to see a variety of shows over the course of the festival.  Some shows showcase up-and-coming comics who each take the stage for a five-minute set. Mid-size venues feature a line-up of comics who are onstage for ten or fifteen-minutes.  And at the end of each night, the headliners, the comics who have been in the business for a long time, get an hour on stage to stand there and talk…and be funny… with only a microphone. I’m convinced that this is one of the hardest things that anyone could attempt to do, but somehow, the comedians make it look easy.

All the people in the festival are good, but some are really amazing, and those amazing ones always make me think about yoga. We have this idea that yoga happens on a colorful rectangular mat and involves pretzel like postures, but that’s not the real story. Yoga is a way of being and the comedians who flow with their material, timing, and audience embody this state. They are also themselves. Who they are comes through, and they aren’t trying to be anyone else. The Bhagavad Gita says that it’s better to do your own dharma imperfectly then to do someone else’s perfectly. This is true in comedy. In the best acts, the comedian is coming through.

When I’m in one of those audiences, time passes differently. I laugh because I’m connected to the person on stage, the jokes and the stories, and I can relate it to something I know within myself. I’m not the only one who feels it, either. These comics draw the biggest crowds. When we can feel the flow, the yoga, we know it and want to be around it.

How do these comedians get to be so good?  How do they reach this state of yoga?  They don’t get good by standing in front of their bathroom mirrors trying out all their jokes on themselves. It involves hundreds if not thousands of hours practicing their particular craft. They get up in front of crowds for five, and fifteen minutes at a time until they have the chops, the nerves and the material to deliver. They practice doing what they want to be able to do.  Patton Oswalt started doing comedy in 1988.  Colin Quinn – 1984. Chris Hardwick – 1991. Maria Bamford – 1998. I bet all of these people have had moments early in their respective careers in which they felt this flow, this state of yoga. Almost all of us have. But the cool thing is, with practice, it can happen with much more predictability and regularity.  Do it enough and eventually, it is possible to be in this state nearly all of the time.

Yoga’s definition holds a meaningful truth for each of us. We might not aspire to be comedians, but many of us do want to achieve a level of comfort, focused attention and flow within ourselves.  We want to get out of our own way and be ourselves, even if it’s a little messy and imperfect sometimes.  And here’s where our definition of yoga has to expand even further beyond mats and pretzels. The way that we move toward this state of being, a state of yoga, is through practicing yoga. That practice can involve rubber mats, but it doesn’t stop there. Practice supports us most when we bring that way of being in all that we do – into our relationships, the situations we encounter, and the way that we relate to our very own needs, desires, fears and passions. It would be nice if we could watch someone do something amazing and then decide to be there ourselves, but it doesn’t work that way.  We can’t will ourselves to have mastery of a skill or way of being.  The only thing we really can ‘do’ is practice and give ourselves the experience, again and again, of the way we want to be.

Yoga is a consciously created experience

I have a memory of sitting on the floor in my elementary school library, listening to a special guest who was there to talk to us about dental hygeine. I guess she was a hygenist from a local dentist’s office because she wasn’t someone from the school. Her hair was neat and she had an overly enthusiastic, “talking to children so they’ll be interested” voice, but I still liked her. She sat on a child-sized chair, which meant when she brought out the model of perfect, plastic, bright white teeth and a giant toothbrush they were right at eye level. She showed us how to brush the teeth and gums in circles. She even let a few of us take a turn. After that, she brought out the dental floss and went through that routine. That’s the first day that I ever remember hearing that I should floss my teeth.

In my twenties, I got married and moved to Seattle. I went for a dental check up at a new office. I didn’t like the dentist, but I had a great hygenist and she was a committed advocate of flossing. I think she talked about it for half of my cleaning. She said something like, “Do you brush your teeth twice a day?” I made a sound something like aaah-haaa. “Well, it would be better for you to replace that second one with flossing. You’re only cleaning two sides of your teeth when you brush! People are shocked when I say that, but it’s true. The floss gets the other two sides that your brush can’t reach.” That made as much of an impression on me as the lady in elementary school. Still, I remained only an occasional flosser.

Then, the day came when I had my first cavity. It was two cavities, actually. They found some dark spots on an x-ray between two of my back molars. I’d have to get fillings. I went to the appointment and it was really unpleasant. Nothing hurt, exactly, but I didn’t like the smells, the powder that came off the drill, the grinding, the hands in my mouth or the ache of my jaw when hinged to extra-wide. I didn’t ever want to have to do that again. It wasn’t just knowing I should floss, it was having the experiencial knowledge of the alternative that motivated me to chage my behavior. I began flossing regularly.

Experience is a great teacher. Things that reach us or affect us at an emotional and experiencial level have a much greater impact on what we do and how we respond than mere theory, ideas, or principles. Sometimes things happen in our lives that change us for the better. Sometimes experiences do the opposite. How do we have the kinds of experiences so we’ll benefit and develop into the kind of person we want to become?

We can’t leave it up to chance. As my teacher says, we need to have experiences that are consciously created so that we can connect with what we need to grow. If we spend time each day in a state that lets us feel, understand and experience attention and focus, peace, balance, nourishment, or healing, then it will gradually change us. Sometimes we need the experience of patience so we can weather difficulties we’re facing. The experiences we have stay with us. Yoga is a practice of consciously created experiences. It’s a time-tested system that uses movement, breath, visualization and meditation and when applied in an individualized way, these tools become the means to changing our behavior and way of thinking so that we can have meaningful relationships and lives. If you’d like to know more about this practice and how it can help you, let’s get in touch. I’d be happy to help you experience your best self.

 

 

 

 

As my life shifts and changes … so does this blog

 

Let’s see what’s coming next…

Over the last few months, I’ve been thinking about this blog—how and why I started writing, the friendships and connections that have come because of it, how it has changed as I’ve changed, and where I am now. I’ve taken the last two weeks to see how it feels to pause my weekly writing practice and to reflect on what I’d like it to be now.

This blog started out in 2011 as a way to articulate and better understand things that were happening in my life as a result of yoga. I’d learn something then see it show up in my relationship with my kids or while I was driving or in the midst of an epic battle of house rats, and then take time to put it into words. The process of writing and reflecting provided me with the opportunity to spend more time with some whisp of intuition or to more carefully observe the slippery inner workings of my mind. By attempting to translate the experience or feeling into words, I had something of substance that I could work with and reflect on. It helped make manifest something important yet ephemeral. The process was exhilirating and meaningful. Nearly every week, as I wrote, published, read comments and had conversations my heart would pound in that way that confirmed how important this was to me. Blogging reminded me, in all the right ways, that I was alive, that writing is alive and that I am connected to the people, the ideas, the experiences and the feelings that I want to be connected to.

Flash forward to today, 2017. The experiences, feelings, and insights that were once ephemeral now have substance and staying power in my life. They are foundational to how I operate in my relationships and my teaching. I certainly don’t do it ‘perfectly,’ whatever that might mean, but I am more able to tune in, observe and listen to these more subtle aspects of myself and to operate from that place. Thanks to my friends and teachers at YATNA, my personal practice, and the individual guidance I receive from my yoga mentor, Chase Bossart, I have much of the needed language and framework for understanding what is happening in me and how to respond. Something else has happened, too. I’ve noticed that my attempts to write about all of this aren’t coming as easily. The personal work I’m involved in now is so incredibly intimate and I’m less willing or just less interested in putting into words the mystery of my unfolding spiritual adventure.  This inner work of yoga is really something.

So a change is a-coming. I’ll continue to reflect on what this blog will be for me and for us or maybe we’ll just watch it unfold together as I try out a different format for my posts or shift my focus to something that makes my heart do that thing again. I’ll still write and post, though on less of a fixed schedule. I do hope that we’ll keep in touch in a regular way, dear readers. If you’ve been considering deepening your yoga practice and would like to work together, let’s set up a time to talk – 20 minutes, no charge, and you can ask questions and we can see what we can do together. I’m in Austin, TX, but I’m also online (which means I can meet you anywhere!) CONTACT ME by clicking here.  If you aren’t already on my mailing list, there’s a button on the sidebar of the blog page or you can click here: SIGN UP FOR THE AGY NEWSLETTER  and you’ll get a monthly update on classes I offer, the annual Ojai Women’s retreat, links to yoga research, recipes that support a healthy lifestyle, or other offerings that I think you should hear about. Yay for change. Yay for 2017.

Until next time…