Monday, May 17, 2010

Enjoying Silence

Recently a student thanked me for class and shared her love of the "silent moments" during our practice. She reflected that those moments of quiet are a rarity in our busy lives, something that I'm sure we can all appreciate.

Early in my years of yoga study, I too came to appreciate silence. At first, the intentional pauses during class would seem jarring, and the long-held silence of savasana was very near torture. The busyness of my mind seemed louder than any music or voice. It seemed that when the calm sound of the teacher's voice ceased, the real noise took over...what was up with that?

But slowly I got used to that silence. And funny enough, the noise in my everyday life, which I'm sure I had never even noticed before, suddenly became so obvious! The music blaring from the car radio, the chitchatting in the university cafeteria, the tv playing in the background even though nobody was watching. Where had all this noise come from? Surely I would have noticed this before!

During one especially significant moment I was speeding down the highway rushing to yoga class. As my mind raced "I'm late, I should have left earlier, I'll interrupt everyone" loud music blared from the radio. I hardly noticed. As I kept up this speedy inner dialogue my whole body tensed and my foot pressed more firmly on the gas pedal. Until suddenly I noticed the noise and turned the radio off. With that, my breath slowed, the car slowed and my mind switched to a more mindful, appreciative inner dialogue: "I'm going to yoga, I'm going to nourish my mind and body, it's ok if I'm a few minutes late, I'll enter quietly and everyone will understand".

Since then I've been very mindful of the effect sound has on our well being. Sounds of all sorts have their time and place. Loud isn't always bad, sometimes loud music is just what the soul needs! But the key is to choose how sound will be a part of your life rather than always having it in the background and just never noticing. If I want to listen to music in the car, I do. But sometimes I don't want to and so I turn it off and enjoy the silence. Sometimes I like to play music when I practice or teach yoga, but sometimes my well being or that of my students is better served without music.

Yoga teacher and writer Georg Feurstein says "it is in silence and as silence that we discover our authentic identity, the Self". Ultimately integrating moments of silence into your life will lead you to stillness, which is the ultimate goal of yoga. Here are a few easy ways to experiment with quiet:

- the next time there is a moment of silence during a yoga class, or even a longer silence as in savasana, notice your reaction to it. Don't judge your reaction or label it as "bad", just notice. This will help you understand your existing relationship to quiet. From that place of understanding you can begin to accept the silence. Use your breath as a point of meditation and follow the inhale and the exhale, letting thoughts go as you breathe.

- when you find yourself having a conversation with a friend or family member notice other sounds in the space. Is there music? Is the television on? Maybe you even notice the sound of a fan or a computer humming. If these are sounds you can control, turn them off and notice the change in your attention level during the conversation.

- take 10, 15, 30 or even 60 minutes out of your day and commit to the practice of mauna, or silence (not speaking). The beginning or end of your day, or beginning or end of your yoga class is a good time to practice mauna. Notice the effect that not speaking has on you and those around you. At first you may feel silly or anti social, but as you continue to practice, you and the people around you will come to appreciate the positive effects of silence (even in small doses!)

- turn off the stereo, car radio, television and/or any other electronic device that creates sound when it is not actively being used and enjoyed.

- before you fall asleep at night and before you get up in the morning take a few moments of silence to observe the natural noises during these inherently quiet times. Maybe you can hear birds in the morning or the sound of the wind. In the nighttime perhaps there's music coming from a home nearby or the sound of dogs barking. Acquaint yourself with these natural sounds and enjoy them for what they are. These are noises that already exist around you. When you speak, play music, or turn on the hairdryer these new sounds are being layered on top of the natural noises to create the everyday hum of life!

In silence and stillness,

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Beginner's Blog

There's a new blogger over at Yoga Journal and already I'm loving her posts. She's fairly new to yoga and will be blogging about her experiences as a beginner. So far her posts are funny ("I don't know a hootkatassana from a pranayama") and genuinely reflective of the concerns beginners have when they start taking yoga classes. My favorite line: "What if I'm dying half way through the class, and I have to spend 45 minutes in Child's Pose? What if my pants won't stay up and my shirt won't stay down?"

If you're new to yoga (or can remember a time when you were new to yoga!) you'll enjoy Kristin's insight. And maybe you'll take solace in the fact that other people also worry about their feet/stamina/clothing/flexibility, etc., etc!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

About Anusara Yoga

Thanks to Anusara Yoga on Facebook for alerting me to this lovely clip of writer KB and Anusara-Inspired Yoga Teacher Mindy Willis discussing the practice of Anusara.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Online Bhagavad Gita Discussion Series

This weekend I learned from YogaDork that frequent blog commenter and poster Bob Weisenberg has started an online Bhagavad Gita discussion series. Excitement! I rushed out to Chapters to buy the only copy they had (the version being used is the translation by Stephen Mitchell).

If you're not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita, it is one of the main texts in the yoga philosophy system. It is also widely acknowledged as one of the world's most important literary and spiritual works. Weisenberg, in his Gita Discussion #1 post, says "The Bhagavad Gita is one of the “big three” ancient Yoga texts, along with the Upanishads and the Yoga Sutra. The Yoga Sutra gets 95% of the attention, but it is quite incomplete without the other two. The three together are nothing short of astounding."

Gita Introduction

The Gita is one part of the Indian Epic the Mahabharata. In total, the Mahabharata, which is a very long poem, is longer than the length of the Iliad and the Odyssey combined. Book Six of the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad Gita, takes place on a battlefield at the beginning of an epic war. The good and virtuous clan or army is led by Arjuna, the hero of the Gita.

At the outset, Arjuna is driven on chariot to the space between the two armies where he surveys the situation. In that moment he is overwhelmed by what is about to happen - the imminent death of his friends, teachers and cousins that stand on both sides of the field - and so, he drops his weapon and refuses to fight.

At this point his chariot driver Krishna (who, as it turns out, is God incarnate) begins his teaching about "life and deathlessness, duty, nonattachment, the Self, love, spiritual practice, and the inconceivable depths of reality" (as Mitchell's introduction explains).

The Gita is a beautiful story that teaches the path of yoga (and specifically Karma yoga, the yoga of service). It is an epic poem that shows us the way to one essential truth - the peace and wisdom we seek already exists within us. Through Krishna's monologue we become more aware of this truth.

Online Discussion

If this sounds like something you're interested in exploring, Weisenberg's online discussion will be a great place to start. Already there is a wonderful mix of people taking part - some are brand new to the Gita while others are well versed in its teachings. Together, we'll all be creating an amazing dialogue which will help each of us in our personal Gita study.

The discussion will take place on Elephant Journal. Check out the first discussion post and reading assignment. You can also join the Facebook group to get discussion updates by email.

Getting the book in St. John's may be a challenge. I picked up the last copy at Chapters, but you can check the other bookstores. Also check The Bookery on Signal Hill as they often have hard-to-get titles. I'll do some calling around and update everyone about where to find it. (*UPDATE* there are no copies at either Coles location or at Chapters. The Bookery is closed on Monday's so I'll try them tomorrow).

Here are the online links for the title: Amazon and Chapters. An order from one of these sites won't take long to arrive and you can still follow along in the online discussion until then (the blog posts will remain online, so even if you're reading at a different pace you'll still be able to participate).

While you wait for your copy to arrive I'm happy to lend mine out overnight (the reading assignments are short) to anyone that would like to keep up. Just let me know and we can swap at the studio.

If you plan to take part, leave a comment here. While the big discussion that Weisenberg is initiating will be very beneficial, it's also nice to connect to a local community of people taking part in this type of study!