Tuesday, July 20, 2010

What helps your practice?

Wow--can you believe we're midway through July? SoCal has been so temperate that it hardly feels like summer yet, but I know the season is well on its way!

This summer has been a blessing in many ways. For one thing, things have just... changed around here. I've changed, my routines have changed (a little ;-) and I've been trying new things. Contrary to what I initially thought, I've discovered that my yoga practice is enhanced when I add new things to my life. It's such a great realization--I don't have to clear my life to focus on my yoga practice; so long as I get myself there and give 100%, the practice continues to unfold. 

In the last couple of months, away from school, experimenting with new ideas, I've learned that my practice is enhanced by a few things in particular: 

  1. Meditation: In the past year, I've been working on cultivating a meditation practice. (In particular, Tonglen has been really helpful. Helps you develop concentration and provides a path to really meeting and conquering the demons haunting your life--I find it a bit "easier" than traditional, "focus-on-your-breath" meditation.) I've noticed that my mind is calmer in the hot room when I meditate daily. I am able to focus more deeply in each posture on an aspect of my body. Today, for example, I thought so deeply about the standing leg in Eagle pose. It was like each muscle in my thigh came to life! I still have days when my neurotic stuff can take over, but I find that to be less and less of a challenge.
  2. Sleep! Who knew that sleeping enough would be so helpful? :-) School isn't in session, and my external stressors are low. I'm able to get a solid eight hours of sleep almost every night, and it makes such a difference when I'm in the yoga room. Must remember to commit to sleep when the semester starts! 
  3. Eating well and when needed: This is another luxury afforded by my summer break from teaching. You know how it is when you don't have time to prepare the food your body needs, or eat when you're actually hungry. And, worst of all is forcing yourself to eat because you're on a tight schedule. 
  4. Whey protein shakes: While we're on the topic of eating well, I gotta give a shout-out to whey protein. I don't eat meat except for fish anymore, and even that is a rarity. As a result, I've gotta be careful about eating enough protein. A friend turned me onto whey protein shakes in the morning. A little almond or soy milk, some powder and a selection of frozen fruit and you've got an amazing-tasting shake. Plus, it feels so nice and light in my stomach that I can practice yoga an hour after I drink one. The attention and time spent making the shake each morning is like a meditation, too.
  5. Not having attachments to the outcome of the practice: This is huge. I have got to admit. Ironic as it sounds, I would actually have anxiety going into class. I'd set up these weird expectations for myself--hold Standing Bow the whole time! Don't sit out a posture!-- and then I'd beat myself up or congratulate myself depending on the outcome of the class. Madness, I tell you. Also, totally common and normal. But I think these expectations need to go. The last couple months, I am able to notice when I hold a posture the entire time, or when I feel particularly focused in class, but I seem to attach less judgment to it. And that's a great feeling. There's that great quote by Courtney Mace, Bishnu Ghosh, yoga champion about competition: "[Competition] happens every time you step into the hot room, and it’s a competition between the ego and the soul. And the soul always wins." I'd take it a step further and say the soul wins so long as you're taking up the struggle against the ego. Being there (in yoga, in meditation, whatever) just helps us see that the ego has always been powerless in the face of soul. 
Ramble, ramble, ramble. Enough of that! I'm curious. What helps your practice?           


SylviaG. said...

And I´d take it even one more step further: once you crush the hard shells of your ego and peel the softer layer of your soul, your spirit unfolds, which is a transcandent feeling/experience. Of course, only with hard work and real real tough battle. You may have to "kill yourself" in class (which I think is pretty much killing your ego). I recently had a similar experience which is almost impossible to describe. :)

I thought of other things that enhance MY practice and I only came up with "laughter"...? as trivial as it may sound....so laugh a lot during the day, it releases the "happy hormones" which makes your practice so much easer :))

anna said...

Tonglen is an amazing practice - I've only done it a few times though. I can't say my meditation is regular, but I do practice.

I think the idea of JUST PRACTICING without expectations is so wonderful. So many people never give themselves the chance to sit out a set when needed. The room changes, the humidity changes, the body changes, sometimes you NEED to do it.

By allowing myself to skip sets when needed I love practicing all the much more. It's adaptable to me, who I am, what's going on TODAY.

It gives me joy to go into the studio cause I know I'll always be nice to myself while there. But students frequently need to be reminded about feeling things vs. gutting it out.

Lady J said...

Having non attachments when you practice is so hard! I struggle with that all the time. The other day I was sick and I went in to class just to try to sweat it out and it was great because if I couldn't do a pose I didn't hate myself for it. It was ok.
Some days I have to go to the back of the room to humble myself and to remember I'm there for myself and not the teacher.
I've been thinking about trying whey protein. Do you ever use it as a meal replacement? Breakfast for example.

bikramyogachick said...

Oh boy, I've been absent from my practice for a month now. Going back tonight.
Water and breath will be the only things that help me tonight! :)

waylon said...

I don't know what helps my practice really. Just going. Getting my fanny in there and going for it all the way. I agree that the 'killing yourself' line means killing the ego. Bringing the mind back into the brain - out of unconsciousness. Anything else I would say is stuff we prolly already know. Hydrate to the max, give pranyana breathing 190 percent maximum effort cause it sets the tone for a great class, listen as closely to the teacher as possible for clues that you've missed/forgotten. Just going man. That's what it's all about for me. :)

Yolk E said...

What fantastic, illuminating comments!

Waylon, "bring the mind back into the brain." They say it all the time in class, and we need to hear it all the time!

Sylvia, what a moving comment. Thank you. You're right that we pull back the layers to our soul, but I don't think it's the end result that we're gunnin' for--continuing on the journey itself is all we need to do.

Thanks, J! Keep working on the no attachments bit. Easier said than done, huh?? And I love a whey protein shake for bfast--I like the vanilla-flavored ones, and blend with whatever liquid and frozen fruit I have got on hand. You can also add some psylium or flax seeds for fiber. Man, that drink keeps you going, and you get 1/2 a day's protein right there!

Let us know how the practice went, M! We have you in our collective thoughts.

Thanks, Anna, for sharing the student and teacher perspective!

Ladiladida said...

Amen sista! Not having attachments to the outcome of the practice is huge and makes the whole thing so much more worthwhile.

Things that help my practice other than the usual hydrate, what I eat and routine:
1) Maintain my inner smile - sometimes this becomes an outer smile but just keeping lightness of heart and joy helps tremendously when one is destroying the ego and "struggling" - sometimes this becomes a mantra or something that I say to myself through-out the practice.
2) Stretching outside of the room! Long-held stretches that use gravity. I just started doing this and wow it's really helping alot.
3) Surrender to where I am - similar to letting go of attachment but put this way it seems more real and PRESENT rather than something I will eventually do in the future. I can surrender to where I am today in my practice. If I start there, I'm never quite sure where I will end up and that's a wild and fun ride.
4) Give myself permission to practice at home, with or without heat, and within the time limit I set. I am the master of my life and if I say today I am going to just do a quick warm-up and just do one set of the standing series in the comfort of my living room then that's-a-what-a-I'm-a-gonna-do! It's better than nothing and always informs my practice the next time I step into the studio.
5) Extra sets - right after class after a 2 minute savasana, rock out another set of a posture you want to work on, then do another savasana. If your body is warm, you can rock a set out any time.

Most of this stuff are things I'm just starting to do this past month and I'm feeling it's right for me in this place in my journey.

Kirsten Flower Petal Blooming said...

Quite simply what helps my practice most.. is by going more :)

Anonymous said...

"Being the observer" definitely helps my practice. Trying to observe without judging, like you were talking about.

And at the end in savasana really truly letting go and knowing I will start fresh the next time I hit my mat.

Torri :-)

Yolk E said...

Thanks for dropping by, Kristen and Torri!
Definitely... the more mat time you put in (or the more "cushion time" for meditators!) the more unfolding can happen! :-)