Category Archives: Yoga

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 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.

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…

 

Happy Thanksgiving. (Be like the sponge)

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For some of us, gratitude doesn’t come so easily. Or maybe it’s not the gratitude itself, it’s just hard to receive the things that are offered or given. It’s kind of like the dried out sponge. When you try to wipe up some water with it, the hard sponge just pushes the water around. It can’t absorb what’s there. It isn’t until the sponge has a little time under the running faucet that the outer layers get soaked and expand. The water makes it’s way deeper and deeper until, eventually, the very center of the sponge gets to be pliable and soft and absorbant. After it’s soaked, it can be squeezed out and that’s when it becomes it’s most absorbant self. That’s the cycle. That’s what helps the sponge to be able to bend and flex and hold so much.

My wish is that each of us gets soaked with exactly what we need over and over again. That we get filled and nourished to our very deepest parts. When we are, as we are, we can offer and receive. We can bend and flex.

I’m filled up by this special community of readers, seekers, and students every week and I’m thankful for each of you. Blessings to you and your dear ones on this day of Thanksgiving.

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Start 2017 off right!

Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali 8-week Workshop

c60a222648d350f0e6a193b3146ee9e9The Yoga Sūtras is an ancient and fundamental text of Yoga. Even though it’s over 2,000 years old, the 196 aphorisms continue to be relevant to our modern day practice and life. In this course, we’ll dive into the second Chapter and right into the heart of the yoga journey, looking at what yoga is and what it helps us overcome. Through chant, discussion and practice, we’ll learn how to cultivate balance, clarity, and more meaning in our daily life.

January 12th – March 9th, 2017 (no class 2/2)

Thursdays, 9:30 – 11:00am

Private Studio, SW Austin, TX

$150* through 12/15

click here for more info and to register:
https://www.amandagreenyoga.com/workshops-special-events/

 

The air we breathe

Nora in a pink wig


On Saturday morning, I was sitting for my morning practice. Nora was up early and she came over to me wearing a bright pink wig and a belted tunic to announce that she was going outside. She walked to the door and as soon as she opened it, this damp, warm, earthy air pushed its way into the room and enveloped me. With my eyes closed, I could almost see this blanket of air moving in. This outside air was such a contrast to the cool, dry, climate controlled stuff I had been in. It brought with it all the wonderful smells that come after a rain and with the morning. I widened my nostrils to breathe it in and softened to better feel it on my skin. I was sad that it only lasted a few breaths. But I reflected on what was really gone — the delicious smells and the feeling of the moisture and the tangibility of the air. But, of course, the actual life-sustaining part still surrounded me and was in me. The air wasn’t gone, but my appreciation and awareness of it had changed.

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Thank you, Mr. TKV Desikachar

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Some of the things that have the most fascination for me are things that can not possibly be grasped in one lifetime. I feel that way about ceramics. During my undergrad I had a teacher, Professor Veerkamp, who was not only a great teacher, but totally engaged with clay and the creative process. With thanks to him, I went on to spend 10 years as a ceramic artist and teacher. In that time, I became aware of the multitude of elements when working with clay. I knew early on that I’d never exhaust the creative possibilities or test all the variables. I could make the same form 100 times and it wouldn’t be the same because I’d change along the way.

I feel this way about yoga. I started coming for the physical practice, but as that started to work on me I opened to learning more. I read lots of books and went to lots of classes, but it wasn’t until I met my teacher, Chase Bossart, and through him came to know the work of his teacher Mr. TKV Desikachar, that this learning started to work on me and my relationships. I can see that the well from which these teachings come and the possibilities of personal transformation are profound that I’m not even close to exhausting the possibilities of all there is to learn. The things I learned years ago keep coming back around in more meaningful ways. I’m so grateful to the long tradition of practitioners and teachers who help to make this so meaningful to me.

Conversion

Willie

On Sunday mornings, our local radio show has a great gospel music hour. The host plays an hour of really moving hymns, Willie or Dolly singing spirituals or some old recordings on a scratchy record player. I’m always happy when I’m in the car at the right time to catch a few songs.

This Sunday, I heard the song, “I saw the light” and it made me think about conversion and about the moment when something is clear – something seems possible that didn’t before or something changes and you can’t (or really don’t want to) go back from this light-filled peace and knowing. You want to eat well, you want to change the way you relate to your partner, you want peace all the time. You want the perks of conversion.

I saw the light, I saw the light

No more darkness, no more night

Now I’m so happy no sorrow in sight

Praise the Lord I saw the light

This song might give the impression that once converted, once you see the light, then that’s it. The event is done and then there’s no more darkness, no sorrow in sight and perhaps at some level this is true. Maybe, with a spiritual conversion, you can feel held by a higher power in a way you didn’t before and that brings great comfort and does, indeed, relieve some existential darkness. But that’s not really all that’s required.

If your conversion is of the ‘healthy eating’ variety, then true conversion, real life change, would come from the day to day eating choices that you make. You might see that eating cheetos and icecream in front of the tv every night is having a negative impact on your life. You might see the light, but if you don’t implement the change, then there will still be sorrow and darkness in the form of declining mental and physical health.

If I realize that the relationship I’m in isn’t good for me and have this light of knowing but I don’t take steps to change the problematic stuff in the relationship, then the knowing doesn’t lead to the end of that particular source of sorrow either.

I fully believe that we can lessen our suffering and that of others. It can be born of our own choices and actions and it can come through grace. I’ve seen it happen in my life. But this idea that we can have an experience, even one that truly changes how we behave and how we see, and then there’s no more night ever, is misleading.

At the end of the day, there’s still night. We need it. We need the time to rest and digest and to experience the other stuff that happens in those dark quiet hours. Bats, opossums and many other phylum of creatures do their best work at night. If we try to convince ourselves that it no longer exists, there will be some serious cognitive dissonance.

Maybe seeing the light means that we see more clearly how things are. We see that darkness comes at the end of the day, and we accept it for what it is. We know that some suffering is a part of human experience and rather than pretending it should no longer exist, we approach it with deference. We are kind to ourselves when we feel sorrow and support others when they are going through dark days. Instead of continuing to exist in this dual-idea of light or dark, we can relate to the darkness and through this, we really do see the light.

grieving and change

 

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Here we are again, mourning the loss of people killed and facing a very difficult and complex problem of what to do about it. One side says gun control. Another says no way. One side says immigration reform. The other side has a message of unity. It’s a lot of us vs. them. I’m often discouraged and overwhelmed by what seems like insurmountable differences of people who actually want the same thing— a country where people enjoy freedom and relative safety for themselves and their families.

I’ve been reading the book, Difficult Conversations, How to discuss what matters most, a book written by people of the Harvard Negotiation Project — a research project that develops and disseminates improved methods of dealing with conflict. Just last night I came upon a passage that gives me hope. It’s kind of long, but I think it’s really good.

Remember: You Can’t Change Other People

In many situations, our purpose in initiating a conversation is to get the other person to change. There’s nothing wrong with hoping for change. The urge to change others is universal. We want them to be more living, to show more appreciation for our hard work, to accept our career choice or our sexual orientation. To believe in our God or our views on important issues of the day.

The problem is, we can’t make these things happen. We can’t change someone else’s mind or force them to change their behavior. If we could, many difficult conversations would simply vanish. We’d say, “Here are the reasons you should love me more,” and they’d say, “Now that I know those reasons, I do.”

But we know things don’t work that way. Changes in attitudes and behavior rarely come about because of arguments, facts, and attempts to persuade. How often do you change your values and beliefs – or whom you love or what you want in life – based on something someone tells you? And how likely are you to do so when the person who is trying to change you doesn’t seem fully aware of the reasons you see things differently in the first place?

We can have an influence, but here we need to be especially careful. The paradox is that trying to change someone rarely results in change. On the other hand, engaging someone in a conversation where mutual learning is the goal often results in change. Why? Because when we set out to try to change someone, we are more likely to argue with and attack their story and less likely to listen. This approach increases the likelihood that they will feel defensive rather than open to learning something new. They are more likely to change if they think we understand them and if they feel heard and respected. They are more likely to change if the feel free not to.

What this means is that posting a rant or meme on facebook isn’t going to bring two sides together. Yelling at the other side… not the answer. If we want to see something shift in these bi-partisan issues, each of us can make efforts to understand, hear, and respect the other side.

 

Stone, Douglas, Patton, Bruce and Heen, Sheila. Difficult Conversations, How to discuss what matters most;  Penguin Books, 2000

Balance and self-care sometimes involves brownies

 

kids crossing a stream

Ask yourself the question how as a woman, mother, wife, teacher do you find ways in which to nourish yourself and stay balanced in your life. What are some of the things you do? You can write 2-3 paragraphs. 

I’m teaching yoga at a retreat this summer and I’ve been given this writing prompt as a way of sharing what I have to offer as a teacher during the 5-days in Ojai, CA. I have to laugh, because over the last few months I’ve been kind of hard on myself about all the things I’m not doing. Lately, a lot of my nourishing routines and hard won ‘good’ habits are slipping. As I sit down to write this, I’m finishing off my second brownie… and it is way past 8:00pm.

It’s not just the brownies. On this side of a big family trip, house guests, and a bout of sickness, my body is kind of tired, so I’m not rising before the sun. Instead, I do my yoga practice after I get the girls go to school. I’m not pushing myself to strive and accomplish quite as much during my work-week because the weather has been so beautiful and the garden calls to me. I have an exam that’s coming due, but instead of studying during the 30 minutes before the girls are home from school, I read my first romance novel. I found the discarded book poking out from under a bush as I walked through the neighborhood with a friend. On the cover I could see a little drawing of a cabin and hearts pouring out of the chimney. The title, in its fancy golden script, shone in the sunlight : Manhunt, by Janet Evanovich. I picked it up and slipped it into my purse, deciding to read it all the way to the end. And I have.

There have been times when I prided myself on all of the things I’d do each day in the name of balance and self-care. For about a year, I had an expanding list of do’s and don’ts taped next to my bathroom sink so I wouldn’t forget the recommendations of my Āyurvedic practitioner. I wrote out the prayer that I wanted to recite to begin my day and kept that at my bedside. The details of my yoga practice were in a special binder next to my mat so I could stay true to what my teacher gave me. These routines and special efforts were really important, as was the sense of empowerment and pride I felt when I did what I intended to do. It helped me to see that I can play an active part in how I feel. These routines made it possible to live in a more conscious and intentional way. Through this period, with the guidance of people who know me and care about me, I saw how engaging with simple things, earnestly and sincerely, does truly nourish.

Right now I’m discovering that my path to balance and nourishment doesn’t look the same as it did two years ago. I need to be easier on myself. After all, the occasional brownie at 9pm isn’t the end of a good life lived. And balance isn’t a destination. We don’t arrive at “Perfectly Nourished” and then just hang out there for the rest of our lives. It’s an ongoing process. Just like we have to eat, drink, and breathe every day, we need to continue to nourish ourselves in other important ways, again and again, each day. As time passes and we change, the ways we care for ourselves may change, too. Rigid and disciplined routines, though very necessary to help me establish good self-care and empower myself, aren’t what I need at the moment. Now, nourishment is coming from a schedule that is more spacious and spontaneous. I’m more balanced as I learn to look with less judgment and more compassion at the moments when good habits slide. It comes from time with family, time with friends and a community of people who are also engaged in this process. We support each other along the way.

 

Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th! IMG0172

REAL LIFE. REAL TOOLS.

AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments to receive your discount. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

 

This class begins May 10th, and it’s free! Yoga for Addiction Recovery