Posts Tagged ‘flow’
Last year I wrote an article, Retail Therapy For The Economically Recessed, which touched on the yogic restraint of aparigraha (non-hoarding, non-grasping). At the time, I approached it from the angle that most do; one of resisting the urge to consume ever more stuff and not taking more than you need.
While this is an important perspective to consider as the annual American orgy of consumption (aka the “holiday season”) approaches, I believe it only scratches the surface of how we can apply this yama (self-restraint) in our everyday lives. By observing other aspects of aparigraha, we can make the world a more civil and happy place to live. Isn’t that what the yamas are all about anyway?
It seems we’re always grasping for something we think we don’t have enough of; possessions, people’s attention, a great looking pincha mayrasana, or the accolades of others. One aspect on non-hoarding that comes to mind is the need for us to apply it to everyday conversations. You can live a most frugal and materially unselfish life but if you tend to dominate every conversation you’re in, you’re probably not living with aparigraha.
Sure, we all have something to say and want to be heard, but not hoarding the conversation and leaving space for others to offer their thoughts makes for more harmonious interactions. Besdies, we do learn more by listening!
I’m not saying you shouldn’t speak your truth – far from it. What I am saying is that in speaking your truth, explore your own intentions and ask yourself if you are allowing space for others to speak theirs as well. This also means taking the time to listen. not just finding someplace else to be (mentally or physically) when its someone else’s turn to speak.
What about other ways we interact with those around us, like the way we occupy space on the sidewalk, the studio, or the grocery store? After over a decade of living abroad I’m often still in culture shock when I see the way Americans physically occupy space, with little awareness or regard for how it affects others. Yes, I believe aparigraha applies here as well.
Sure, this hoarding of space can take the form of trying to have the biggest house, the biggest car or staking out your own 2 acres of space at the beach but its often much simpler than that.
It doesn’t matter whether its a group of friends walking five abreast on the sidewalk (and expecting everyone else to move out of the way) or the ones who block an entire grocery aisle with their cart while standing with their hands on their hips looking at an item – we Americans are space-hoarders.
As a tall guy with long arms and legs, I’ve always been hyper-sensitive about not taking up too much space since if I’m not mindful about it, its just going to happen – especially in a crowded yoga studio. I often joke that the reason I wanted to teach yoga was because it seemed that only at the front of the room could I fully stretch out my arms…but I digress.
Sure, we’re a country with a low population density and a cultural need for “personal space”, so we do seem to come by this one honestly. But, as our public spaces become more crowded, a little less space-hoarding and more personal awareness could go a long way to improving everyone’s quality of life.
Of course being mindful all the time that we’re not monopolizing a conversation, taking up too much space or too much of someone’s time can seem like it would require a lot of effort. Luckily, there is an easier way; living in abundance. As studio owner and author Meta Hirschl says in her book Vital Yoga: A Sourcebook For Students and Teachers; “Aparigraha also means gaining awareness and focusing on our inherent sufficiency instead of deprivation.”
So, instead of feeling the need to say everything you want to say in every conversation, living in abundance reminds us of the richness of thoughts and ideas someone else may have – which helps us to actively listen and engage others in real conversations, not a series of monologues. It also releases us from the feeling of insecurity that we need to grab space and attention while we can, lest an opportunity be lost.
And finally, living in abundance makes us aware of just how fulfilling our lives can be. If we practice this each day with a sense of gratitude, it won’t be long before we’re living with aparigraha without having to think about it.
So, in the coming weeks as the deluge of advertisements bombard us with messages designed to tell us what we lack, by living in abundance and gratitude we can blissfully smile and breathe our way through the season.
Plus, the space we’ll be leaving in the aisles of those stores by our absence will make it easier for others to embrace aparigraha in some way as well.
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal, November 2010.
Yoga for Skiers and Snowboarders – with Chris Courtney, E-RYT
Prepare to hit the slopes!
Find out how yoga can enhance your skiing or boarding season!
Never done yoga but love to ski or snowboard? No fear – this workshop is for anyone looking for a way to improve their skiing through yoga. The only requirements are curiosity and an open mind.
Interested in finding core strength, body awareness, and balance that will help take your skiing to another level? Tired of dealing with tight hips or sore lower back muscles after a weekend on the slopes? Want to learn how yoga can help prevent skiing-related injuries?
With this 2 hour workshop, you’ll learn how you can use yoga to improve your strength, flexibility, stamina, balance and breathing to improve your skiing and boarding. Whether you want to prevent injury or take your skiing or boarding to the next level, this workshop can help you on the way to achieve your goals!
This workshop consists of three parts:
- Identifying where you need stability and agility – we’ll highlight the key areas of the body and explore how they relate to increasing performance, improving balance and control over your skis/board, building endurance, and preventing injuries.
- Improving stamina, building strength and increasing flexibility – we’ll move through a sequence for overall conditioning and strengthening which addresses the target areas we identified in part one.
- Learn effective pre- and apres- ski sequences to speed recovery time after a day on the slopes.
Taught by yoga teacher, avid skier (Alpine, and Nordic) and mountaineer Chris Courtney, RYT 500
To book this workshop at your studio or ski resort, please contact Chris at email@example.com
Picture yourself fully present in a pose during yoga class when suddenly, the teacher adjusts you in a way which throws you off balance (either physically or energetically). Perhaps he twisted you forcefully into your revolved triangle or she grabbed and adjusted your feet in headstand in a way which did not seem very supportive, but more corrective.
In another class, the teacher gently and quietly approaches you and provides a gentle hands-on assist which is supportive and allows you to more fully feel the energy of the pose (asana). And in most classes adjustments (if any), are given verbally and focus on foot and hip placements, etc. While such verbal adjustments (not to mention clear instructions) are necessary, they still seem incomplete.
I’ve come full circle on the entire question of hands-on adjustments in yoga after years of either not being adjusted while everyone else was (I’m a pretty tall guy so teachers didn’t always know what to do) or felt unsafe as a teacher forcefully tried to move my body in a way it wasn’t ready for.
After spending the last few months doing some intensive training with Doug Swenson in South Lake Tahoe (which included many days and hours of practicing gentle hands-on adjustments), I’ve come to embrace a new appreciation of them and now count myself as an enthusiastic supporter.
Doug Swenson’s four golden rules of yoga adjustments, as he taught them, were to:
- Enter and exit quietly
- Breathe with the student – on their inhale and exhale
- Be a guardian angel for your student – allow no harm to come to the student (or yourself)
- Be mindful of hand placements and avoid potentially inappropriate ones
What I find so refreshing about this approach, as we learned it from Doug, is that its not so much corrective as it supportive. In fact, calling them adjustments is something of a misnomer since his methods are more akin to an assist. Of course I really depends more on the teacher than on the student. And what I’m talking about here are not the potentially perilous issues of human touch, asking permission first, nor liability issues but rather a matter of intention.
So, in addition to Doug’s four golden rules of yoga adjustments/assists, I humbly added the following to my own approach:
- Its their asana, breath and intention, not yours.
- Be there to support and not to “fix”
If I give an adjustment which forcefully twists or lifts a student into a “fuller expression” of the pose, I could not only potentially hurt the student, but would be allowing my ego and energy to interfere with (rather than support) their experience. At the same time, if I provide a gentle hands-on assist which supports them in the energetics of the pose in a way which allows them more fully open into it themselves, then I am supporting their intention and practice.
Such corrections focus on the core of the body rather than on hand and foot placement or hip direction. That said, I’ve already found that most students will correct their own hands and feet once their core energy is gently assisted into moving in the right direction (and not just moved into the right direction).
And even while being gentle and supportive, it can be disruptive for a student when, instead of the teacher getting on the student’s inhale/exhale breathing pattern, they approach and tell them student to inhale when they are just starting their exhale. See Doug’s rule #2!
Of course its difficult to fully express this approach to yoga adjustments/assists without demonstrating them in person (or giving a workshop) but I hope that these thoughts can open up a broader discussion of them in general. Why don’t more yoga teachers do them? Why aren’t more yoga teachers trained in them? Why are we afraid to touch? And perhaps most importantly, what will benefit our students the most in their practice?
With deep gratitude to my teacher Doug Swenson
To book Chris for a workshop on yoga adjustmets/assists, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Chris on Twitter at CK_Courtney
The article originally appeared in Elephant Journal on July 27th, 2010.
Buy Less, Live More.
Over the past year, we’ve heard more than a few observers state that the current economic downturn may have arrived just in time to save the planet from our excessive consumption. At the same time, it seems something even more powerful may be going on; this downturn could be helping us cleanse our souls.
While I would certainly not want to make light of the hardships faced by millions as they lose their jobs (and health care), there is no doubt about it: we are living in a new age of frugality. It’s a forced frugality, of course, but the result is the same: more people are learning to be happy with less. Gone are the days of packed parking lots at big box stores and throngs of shoppers exiting with big bags of gadgets and new clothes (often bought on credit). We forgot the difference between what we want and what we need—and many now have no choice but to re-learn this difference quickly.
The longer our economic malaise goes on, the more Americans are learning what millions in Namibia, Peru, and India knew already; happiness does not come from acquiring more stuff, and that “retail therapy” is highly overrated. We now see more people spending their Saturdays together in the park, checking out books at the library or planning a nice family dinner at home. We also see more people realizing that you don’t need to own something (like a flower or singing bird) to be enriched by its beauty.
This of course is bad news for advertisers and retailers, many of whose success depends on making you feel that you are missing something if you don’t buy their products. How will they sell to people who no longer feel that they lack much of anything? It’s much harder to convince you to keep up with the Jones’ when the Jones’ are wearing comfortable old jeans and planting carrots in the back yard.
So how can these businesses (which we rely on for food and jobs) still survive?
Simple: by inspiring people rather than making them feel they lack something. Is it any wonder that so many of the businesses thriving in the current economic climate tend to rely on inspiration to get their message across? And that inspiration must be authentic, otherwise we’re still not convinced.
But are frugality and inspiration enough?
My own father was not a yogi, but he certainly observed the yogic restraint (yama) of aparigraha, or non-hoarding and non-selfishness. A child of the Great Depression, he learned early on not to seek happiness from material things and other outside sources, but to find it within himself (in his spiritual tradition). His constant exhortation to us growing up was that “everything you need is right here” (while pointing to our hearts and heads).
He had never read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, nor its advice that “freedom from wanting unlocks the real purpose of existence”—but he certainly lived it. Today, millions of people seem to be learning the same lesson.
As the US economy began its sharp decline last year, my father feared that many people, after years of seeking happiness through material things, would be unable to cope with the coming hard times (which he had experienced as a boy). So, in the final months of his life while lying in a hospital bed dying of thyroid cancer, he penned one last book titled “Painting The Milkweeds” in the hope that some helpful lessons could be passed on.
Perhaps the most vivid story from the book (and a bedtime story we were often told) was of a Franciscan monk named Brother Aloysius Gilmartin, who embodied the spirit of selfless generosity and non-hoarding.
A prime example of Brother Aloysius’ selflessness happened one freezing Pennsylvania winter during the depths of the Great Depression. Seeing that he did not have anything to keep him warm outside, my grandfather had given Aloysius a new winter coat…and he showed up without it the following day. When asked what happened to the coat Aloysius replied:
“You see I saw an old man sitting on the curb, and he had no coat, so I gave him mine. He needed it more than I did.”
So, now that we are living in similar hard times, we may find we have an easier time looking inward for happiness rather than seeking it through material wealth or hollow achievements. At the same time, with increasing hardship all around us, we have more opportunities to look outward and practice compassion, just as Aloysius did.
What we do with these opportunities may have a lot to do with whether we lose our way again when the “good times” return—or whether we realize that those good times have always been here, provided we make them so for someone else.
This article originally appeared in Elephant Journal in September, 2009.