A conversation follow-up to J. Brown article ‘Yoga teacher, Heal thyself’

The article I refer to in the title certainly touches on many interesting points.

I would like to begin with, first remind the reader that yoga is first and above all a spiritual discipline and encourages self-enquiry on many different levels. However, when one starts one may start simply to get rid of pain, or feel fitter and that is ok. Staying at that level forever, is also ok.  Also as teachers, when we begin our teaching journey, we are certainly not in the same place as we find ourselves in twenty, thirty or more years later. I feel we should remember that. We should remember that the practice works through us and takes up places and that Trust in the process is a fundamental pillar and Letting go and any attachment to specific outcomes another one.

Practice also creates changes, over years, that are physiological as well as psychological. Those are such that one, in tracing their own path/journey back may be able to see an incredible journey.

The main point I would like to discuss from the article ‘ Yoga Teacher-heal thyself’ by J. Brown, is the one about a teacher’s practice being different to what a teachers teaches the students.

Bearing in mind the premise I made that yoga is ultimately about the journey of the self – hence there cannot be a practice that is the same for even two people- I am going to go on and share my point of view, based on my personal life process, yoga journey, 30 years of practice and 20 of teaching- where a lot has been taught to me by learning ‘to read the asana in the bodies’ of the students (even there, there are never ending lessons and layers to be learnt, constantly).

I sometimes practice Sirsasana (headstand) wrapping a bandage around my head and eyes before I even sit to prepare for the pose. That day, I may go up, or not even, or I may go up and stay for a long time. Like Arjuna with his arrows and arch, I have shot mine several times, and I have learnt to be focused and yet open, fearless or open to acknowledge and gauge the level of fear and make a discerning choice. I have, through years of practice, refined the spaces in my brain, breath, mind, enough to be able to watch, observe, feel, welcome and, hopefully, respect. Above all, I have learnt the existence in the body, although not always be able to have it instantly, of the feeling that the peace of watchful acceptance has within, and the integrity and honesty in asanas that comes with that.    ‘Performance anxiety’, or attachment to a result or external shape of an asana  disappears as one learns to feel and to take each step for each step, not caring about the end result. The most important thing that I also learnt in that, is to observe the same in life and its challenges and when acceptance is not possible, be open to welcome the journey of working through what is there and then.

One day I may start my practice and feel my lower back feels so tight that that morning my uttanasana will need to be different. I may bend my knees for a while. Allow my spine to release, my abdomen to find its place, my breath. Over time and repetition or sequencing, that initial uttanasana will change, but I am not even grasping after that. I am feeling, I am working from perception. I am watching things like: tight/dense/light/ free/constricted/balanced/ rhythm in the breath/how does the head feel…so many things.

This level of practice takes maturity. It takes patience.

A teacher watches the class in front.

You look at everything. On so many levels as your vision grows as a teacher.

Some things are basic.

Age/ Mobility/Their nature and energy/ The energy of the class as a whole through the class/Is it cold ?/Is it hot?/How often do they practice or are they likely to practice?/ What time of the day is it when you are teaching? -All of these things change our choices, or they ought to.

For me, in that I decide how to take the class that day. Like a chef with many spices available you make a dish on the spot which will never be repeated again, and you also let it go after.

Because practice is for my body and consciousness and my own life process, it cannot be the same as anyone else’s.

Teaching how to develop sensitivity. How to learn to be in the body. How to recognise elemental feelings. How to open enough to one day connect with vibration, prana, sound..is a journey. We all come through different lineages, which have then be digested through our consciousness.  Thankfully the subject is huge and we each have only one drop, as Iyengar used to say, we can pass on.

In an ideal world there should be no trade marks- that is my simple view. No name of yoga styles but a respect and acknowledgement of the lineage that has allowed one to come to presence with their sacred nature. There should be no exams, no performance anxiety, but a sharing with those who sincerely want to learn. But we do not live in that. The path also teaches one to look at what is. And one does the best one can. With that.

Our society requires complying with rules and insurances and other things, which, quite often, contradict the spaciousness of the practice itself and put it in a cage.

Is that a conflict? For sure.

It that the product of institutionalisation of sacred work, which, by nature does not belong to anyone or anything that we are only humble cathalists for? To me it seems. Other people are welcome to their own views. I have, over years, developed mine.

How does one live with the instrinsic contraddictions of where the practice takes one and how to live in the present context with that? Again, that is a personal process in one’s life, and a very interesting one. Certainly g-string on fancy yoga poses in Instagram are a far cry from the nature of the practice, but it may be that through repetition, that person’s journey will unfold, and maybe they will practice completely naked. Who knows? No one starts knowing already. And we learn forever, that is the beauty of being alive and alert.

Saying yoga teachers get injured etc.

Of course it happens, like in all ‘professions’. Yoga teachers have ‘work’ related injuries like someone on the computer in an office develops rsi. Yoga teachers can also have a car crash. Yoga teachers may have a family and suffers watching their dear ones die of cancer or develop dementia or watch their children going through trauma. Are they immune, detached spiritual bypasser? Maybe some. A lot of us are not. The more practice works through you, the more one integrates their being and starts to feel more, not less. That is part and parcel of the lot. We heal ourselves. In the backdrop there is a clear empty sky. In the foreground, you may have a storm, or you may have the pink clouds. In the front we are human in the background we are consciousness. Isn’t this human place wonderful? And difficult? Are we not lucky to be here?

BKS Iyengar recommendation, if I remember correctly, from maybe 20 odd years ago in teacher training 1, was that one had to practice 2 and ½ time the amount one taught to avoid injury teaching asanas. Look at life, look at social status, look at society, look at gender, look at personal circumstances. How many have circumstances in life supportive of that?  Does that mean one stops teaching? Does that mean one is not practicing when chanting or reciting sutras or observing life, or becoming peaceful within to truly  listen to another? We are always practicing if we are teachers, not just when we perform an asana. Do we teach from what we learn?

Is yoga just asana?

In injury there is a well of learning and deepening.

The thinking of ‘how an asana should be done ‘ and the attachment to that. Is that not in itself a grasping and a limitation? Injury can set one free, interestingly. Although I have learnt my ABC first, and well.

One of my injuries, in 2009- meant I became so fragile I could barely breathe. I was lost to myself. Luckily I had enough yoga behind me to realise that. I wrote maybe 10 hours a day for maybe a month, maybe two, forgetting to eat often I was completely absorbed by the writing. Is that not practice?

Also from that, for a two year period, I watched two sutras in my behaviour and processes every moment of my aware life. The sutra on the obstacles of the mind and the sutra on how to overcome them. I watched the physical sensations as I unknotted from one mindset to another mindset, to no mindset as space came. I practiced savasana (the corpse) one hour a week to help me honour my grief anger and pain and survive it.

Is that a practice for sharing in class? No. I had to teach my beginners the sensitivity of the rotation of their hips, the openness and strength and courage that comes from jumping with wide feet from feet together. The joy and reconnection of opening the armpits when lifting up the arms. I had to bring them to their body and teach them connecting sensation to movement to feeling, and I had to take time aside for me, to practice differently.

Yoga as I see it brings one to integration. You may be a yoga teacher or become something else by the time you blossom. Again, who knows and how much does it matter?

When I practice I never know what is coming. I sit still for a while and feel. Do I teach that? Yes, as much as I can I try and instill the freedom of self-enquiry, perception, and the giving oneself permission to feel and trust-peacefully and passionately both.

In the past I taught women who had been abused, domestic violence and more. I remember one woman who could barely stand on her two feet from fear. I started from watching her body and over time, we worked through to her being able to jump, it was maybe only two feet apart. But those two feet were more than a mile as the journey I shared alongside her. Jump. And return. And again. And look at me. And jump. And spread your arms. And feel your feet. That took a long time. Would I have asked that woman to sit still with a bandage wrapped around her head and eyes? No!  Did I teach her to watch her breath, tiny amounts, through her nose? Yes. But that was not the first thing.

So….the article that started me off on this sharing highlights some potentially good points, although I could not help feeling a finger pointing and a judgement coming from a grasping at a fixed reality of how things have to be to be correct.  That is not where the practice took me.  Practice took me to a place of embracing it all. How big is the attachment to fixed ideas of various sorts? Equinimity, I have come to believe for me is the temporary place where I sit in complete peace, aware of my sacred  nature. However, I have also come to realise that there is a boundary between empathy and compassion and that boundary sits in compassion to oneself -oneself with shadow and all. In that place, equanimity becomes a temporary feeling of peace in practice within oneself, but not always a possible reality of what required by life and its circumstances. In that place there are times where one simply has to survive, act.That simple. And to breathe, again.

There is for many a non-monastic-choice with family and children and the priviledge of the challenges and pain that come with that choice; the rawness of emotions without spiritual bypassing and the use of wonderful tools to help holding all of us in life denying none of it.

The core value at the base of all other is AHIMSA TO THE SELF, without which, all others fail. Where is that when we have all of these rules of how things have to be to be right on such big levels? We have to come from a place of openness, not knowing. Then see, hear, and travel with what is, day by day, step by step. What is this perfection seeking obsession if not another grasping?

Sutras:

II.3

Avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah

The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.

I.33

maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam

Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.

As I said, since 2009 I have also developed my own ‘critical’ view of these sutras, applied to my own life experience and processes.

In Yoga

Annamaria Sacco – with gratitude to all the teachers that have come before me and to those who have shared their knowledge with  me.

Home-ly practice

Those who know me as a teacher, know I am not interested in students developing an externally looking perfect asana, as much as instead, over time, the students growing, learning the abc of poses  well first and then I am interested in them developing an awareness of ‘the spaces’. The spaces being the pelvic cavity, abdominal cavity, the chest cavity, our throat, our head. I am interested in that developing, so that they can become independent of me, creative and even teach me their findings.

Developing a sensitive listening over time, is fundamental to us growing in our personal practice.  Knowing the abc of the body movements to begin with is a necessary step to finding the way into these spaces. Learning to focus a necessary milestone, to find eventually the asana. The focus becomes a quiet observing awareness of the whole as well as the particular, over time and in the end even that phase passes and we are being ‘asaned’, moved, healed from the inside, we become receptive and receivers of the flow of prana within.

Over time, over a long time, the practice evolves and that listening takes us to an honesty where the pose becomes internal. It is difficult to catch in a photo. It becomes the pose of an evolution, which becomes involution, introspection- a sacred journey in honouring our body as a vehicle that day after day serves us through wnat we are called to do.

Svadhyaya – journey of the self,  and ahimsa_ non violence to ourselves in how we practce, become deeply connected as masks of the self start dropping away as we slowly observe, are, become, or ‘un-become’.

My practice this morning started with a thought of both relief and guilt at the same time. Relief : finally there was enough space to have the luxury to be on a floor alone. Guilt : I was not using that space to be downstairs with my parents. I watched that and took a breath in.

My neck and upper back have been feeling the strain of these last 6 weeks, from when my mother nearly left us to getting her as settled as it is possible, back at home.

All of those emotions, all of this holding , sometimes well, sometimes less so, were showing very clearly this morning in my upper back and neck aching area to start with, so that is where I started practicing.

I remembered Guruji writing in one of the first pages of Light on Yoga, that we could practice everywhere-most homes had blankets, tables, cushions and chairs. So I started.

As the layers of stress started to get undone, I felt like an onion being peeled. Always more tension showing, more subtle, deeper.

Two chairs for my uttanasana/ adho mukha svanasana, with my head between the chairs and my legs bent at the knees to allow the realease of the back, the freedom of my abdomen and the lightness of my neck and head- the chairs taking the weight of my shoulders. I stayed til the release of tension felt enough to allow me to move on.

Sirsasana between the two chairs. Hello abdomen how are you? Breathing.

I was walking in town and went past an ironmonger a couple of days back. There was a roll perfect to cut a matt out of. Matt rolled up… chair viparita dandasana. These weeks have taken their toll. Legs have to be bent, but my belly loves it and my back and neck say a huge thank you.

I let the body lead when I practice. It is a dance, the body shows me the place that is ready to open more, a bit at a time.

I take the chair and place it an an angle so its back is at the top of the thighs and my forhead find its earth spot to rest on on its seat. I become quiet for a while.  When I come out there is a spot behind the heart calling, a chest desperate for more space. Diaphragm calling too. I go to the sofa bed I have been sleeping on for a while and hang off it in viparita dandasana. Sadly, without the legs being straight to balance the lightness of the pressure on the head, it is a loaded pose, there’s no balance, no peace that way. My legs first thing this morning, are not ready to be straight as yet.

My teacher Firooza said once we have to be like a good cook, looking for which spices are in the kitchen when we practice.  I look for a chair and turn it upside down on its legs. Supported supta virasana. It is a beginning. It makes me realise the tightness of the skin and level just below, the spaces between each breath and the size, how high near the level of the skin they are.  I patiently settle. I watch until that starts to shift into relaxation and stay for a while.

My belly still calls…blankets and cushions -paryankasana . Without the head support it is too strong. The cushion goes at the back of the neck at an angle. Perfect.  The thighs are tight. I stay with the breath. Over time, the pose comes with its peace. Finally my ribcage starts to show, it was so overpowered  by everything else.

I look around again for somewhere to hang from. The only thing is the table. I try and find that I am scared, so…i drag the armchair near the table to help and hang off the table, my legs supported and my trunk releasing…now my ribcage and lungs have all the space and balance, my abdomen is deep, my head clear. My body feel spacious inside and light. There is clarity and fullness in the breath  now. The path has been cleared.

Ready for savasana. Savasana, ready at last to receive.

Here are my companions, careful spices selected by observing the feelings in the body.

 

BlesSings

Annamaria

Breathe. The preliminaries.

 

This audio file was recorded maybe three years ago. It was meant to become a cd with another three, which I keep meaning to record.

Since then, a few friends and students have been using it to relax, to help them fall asleep, to get familiar with the movement of their breath and their belly.

At the base of the listening, keep in mind the concept of sound, rhythm and fluidity. Do not go for size, the rest will come once you become one with the sound. Once your attention to sound breath and rhythm become one.

I hope you enjoy it.

BlesSings

Annamaria

Yoga in action. Life.

    cof

When practicing asanas and teaching for years merges with life, one of the many instances.

Today I found myself receiving a call at 7:30 am to go downstairs to my parents. My mother’s legs were trapped in the bars of the bed.

She recently had a blood clot in her brain and these last few weeks have been a journey in supporting her  and my father, through whatever was needed, from mental, to physical, to practical, environmental, to working through stages of setting up support to hopefully last for a while, until the next shift happens.

Practising asanas is not only a physical exercise, it is a discipline which trains one to focus, to observe, to discern and to feel.

Our nature learns to feel quieter and more spacious over time, and things such as changes in the speed of our speech, or breathing rate, again, over a long time, may occur.

That sense of well being gives an imprint which initially stays with us for a short time as sensation, as memory and that ultimately becomes embodied into a new way of being.
This new way of being gets translated in daily life- the true place-for me, where yoga occurs.
It gets translated into skills like observing from a place of peace, what the problem is, aside from the mayhem which may surround it. It gets translated into a skill of learning to see what is, or in as much as possible trying to do so.
It gets translated into skilful listening skills to hear what is being said to be able to meet it as best as one can.
It gets translated into, at times, rather than listening to the reported speech, into trying to understand the original context instead, exactly like when, in correcting an asana, at times, it is best to ask the student to repeat from the start to find the root of what went wrong, rather then fixing the obvious external thing, which may be an arm out, when what went wrong was a hip rotation instead at the cause of it.
All is a matter of integration. A matter of listening. A matter of discerning.

The asana can be found in listening to your mother’s words and detecting the fear, or the need to rest for a while.

The asana can be found in your coming home and realise the emotions of the day, or its speed have been such, you need time out to listen to your belly and breathe a while to reset.

The more familiar one becomes with one’s own feeling of center/grounding , breath and in my case I also get a lot of feed back from my belly and my brain, the more one becomes acquainted with themselves, the more, life becomes human, real, and there is a calderon big enough to embrace it all.

Over time, I will share some grounding techniques and more insights, a bit at a time.

 

This is the first of a series of post of Yoga in life seen from the perspective of my personal life journey and the teachings I absorbed over the years.

BlesSings

Annamaria