Those Damn Vrittis: Maneuvering On The Mat In Times Of Mental Chaos

Occasionally I forget that the whole purpose of yoga is to control the mind  – “citta-vritti-nirodha” – until I’m faced with a mind that is out of control.

This past week in practice, I caught myself a few times spacing out/psyching myself out in a pose for so long that I forgot what I was doing. You know in Ashtanga you typically only hold an asana for the length of 5 breaths. This doesn’t provide a whole lot of time for the mind to wander. The conjunction of the breath, movement, bandha and drishti lends itself to a full absorption of attention. But not always.

For no legitimate or provoked reason at the start of this week my mind was whirling with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of catastrophe, fear of possible bodily harm, fear of the passing of time.

I’ve spoken with other Ashtangis about facing fear on the mat in regards to poses themselves – the fear that arises in deep and challenging backbends for example, or the fear that you will fall on your head, that your back will snap, that your arms won’t hold you, etc., But there are other fears we face in practice that have squat diddly to do with the physical shapes and movements.

These are the fears in the mind, the types that muddle thoughts, shorten breath and whisk you away from the here and now. How does one move past these? How does one brush aside scary visions or worst-case scenario monologues that start overtaking the head and the heart?

Personally what I’m learning, ever so slowly and stubbornly, is the importance of just keeping at it. Sometimes when I’m fraught with emotion in practice, I really want to stop and give up. I want to curl into a little ball and go deeper inside my thoughts, shutting the world out. I want to cease moving and simply lie there, self-absorbed, floating away with my jumbled breathless mind-stuff.

To keep moving is the hardest thing to do…but that movement is powerful. The process of adhering to the rhythm and the pattern of the practice has the ability to move you mentally. The dynamism of the series and the will to keep going burns through the vrittis. By continually bringing one’s attention back to the breath, back to the bandhas and the drishti and back to the flow of in and out, up and down, there is the opportunity to cut through the swirling of the mind’s chaos.

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A Kundalini Celebration

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Colorado yogis and yoginis!

Kundalini Yoga Denver is having a party and you are all invited. We are having our grand opening and would love to have you come celebrate with us. The evening will include a Kundalini Yoga class and gong session, tasty vegetarian treats, yogi tea, and a community bazaar.

The highlight of the event will be a kirtan concert by Matamandir Singh and his band, Avatar, sharing beautiful devotional banis and bhajans.

Mark your calendars for Saturday October 12th from 5:30 to 9:30pm.

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The Song Of The Goddess

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Hail to the Goddess, to the Great Goddess;

To the Auspicious One always hail!

Hail to Nature, to the Propitious One, we

Humble ourselves attentively before her.

To her, the color of fire, blazing like the sun with

 Ascetic power, and who is worshipped for attaining

 The fruits of action,

To her, the Goddess Durga, I go for refuge.

Hail to that raft of swift crossing.

The gods created the Goddess Speech, whom animals of all sorts speak.

This Speech is pleasing to us, this cow yielding food and strength.

She is well praised; may she come to us.

To Kalaratri praised by Brahman, to Vaishnavi, the Mother of Skanda,

To Sarasvati, to Aditi, the Daughter of Daksha, we bow, to the pure Auspicious One.

We know you as Mahalakshmi, we meditate on you as the Shakti of all.

May the Goddess inspire that knowledge and meditation of ours.

Hail to her in the form of the Cosmic Body;

Hail to her in the form of the Cosmic Soul;

Hail to her in her Unmanifest State;

Hail to her in the form of the glorious Brahman.

Through her power of ignorance, she shows herself as the world,

Like a rope appearing as a serpent, wreath, and the like.

Through her power of knowledge, she dissolves the world back into herself.

We glorify her, Ruler of the Universe.

We glorify her whose essence is pure consciousness,

Represented by the word Tat,

And whose nature is undiminished bliss.

It is she to whom the Vedas refer as their goal.

Transcending the five sheaths, witness of the three states of consciousness,

She is also in essence the individual soul,

Represented by the word Tvam.

Hail to her, in the form of the syllable OM;

Hail to her embodied in the syllable HRIM.

To her composed of manifold mantras, that is to you

The compassionate Goddess, hail! Hail!

 •

1.44 – 1.55 The Devi Gita.

 Translated by C. Mackenzie Brown

image from OM from India

Krishna Das’ One Track Heart

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Today Thaddeus and I spent the afternoon in a tiny independent movie theatre we just discovered here in Denver watching a matinee of a heartfelt new documentary about kirtan-wallah Krishna Das.

If you’ve ever been into a yoga studio in America, you’ve probably heard his soulful voice whether you know his name or not. It is truly distinct, carrying with it a power and depth of emotion that is like no other musician or bhajan singer out there. Krishna Das sings traditional devotional songs, mostly in Sanskrit or Hindi. His music though is not pure traditional Indian music. It is presented in a way that is perhaps more accessible to a Western audience while still maintaining the authenticity of the practice of kirtan. Long before he discovered the Mahamantra, Krishna Das was playing the blues as an emotional outlet and his kirtan is infused with that.

This film, One Track Heart, is his story about how he came to be the musician that he is, all through the grace of his Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. It is a beautiful story; a tale of getting lost, finding real unconditional love and happiness, feeling lost from love and then finding it again only to discover it was never truly lost, merely hidden for decades because of fears and illusion.

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Patience Pays…Wait.

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Yogi Bhajan, the great master of Kundalini Yoga, was a man of many wise aphorisms. You know them if you drink Yogi Tea undoubtedly.

One of my favorite lessons from Yogi Bhajan comes in his words about patience. This affirmation, or prayer, is sometimes used in Kundalini meditations and kriyas. It is mesmerizing and soothing to me. It is a comforting reminder, an order even, to trust in Grace, to embody myself fully, connect in with my best self and be receptive to the blessings. This requires surrender and pure faith.

Recently I’ve not been feeling so embodied, patient or happy with my day-to-day life. The process of looking for work has been challenging. Dealing with all the rejection from different shops and companies has been frustrating, to say the least. I really want to work, to be a part of a creative group environment, but it’s taking time to get there.

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Essential Oil of the Week: Tulsi

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Tulsi, also known as Holy Basil, is a very powerful and sacred plant. Indiginous to India, parts of northern and eastern Africa as well as Taiwan, it is cultivated today all over Southeast Asia. It is also grown and venerated in Hindu temples around the world. If you’ve ever been to a Vaishnava temple, you will see the beautiful Tulsi-devi plant being lovingly cared for. Next to the lotus, tulsi is the most sacred plant in India. Tulsi-devi is regarded as a goddess and a consort to Lord Vishnu. Pujas and prayers are performed to her and the tulsi leaves are taken as a sacrament.

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Pain – Practice – Gratitude

The past few days in my Ashtanga Yoga practice I’ve been struck with awe at the returned ease and joyful simplicity in my asanas. Since October I’ve been struggling with a very painful SI joint injury.  There were days when the spasms in my low back were so sharp and debilitating that I could barely make the shapes of any basic pose. It hurt to sit in the car, to stand up, to bend forward, to bend backwards….my back pretty much hurt constantly.

It was really frustrating and discouraging. Sometimes I could surrender to it and find patience and focus on other things. But often that catastrophe mindset would set in and I would begin to lament that my asana practice would never recover, would never be the same, would certainly never improve, that I would be stuck with this pesky pain for the rest of my life! I didn’t trust the practice, I didn’t trust my teachers and I was falling into fear.

But I kept practicing. I took a few extra days off here and there. I stopped trying to do dropbacks or leg behind the head stuff, I moved cautiously and slowly. I worked really hard with my teacher David while I was in India to build strength and to adapt my Second Series poses to bring more stability into my sacrum. Somedays it felt better, somedays it felt worse – there was no linear trajectory of healing with this injury. But I kept practicing….

And over the past few weeks, the pain is less and less noticeable. And now it’s gone, much to my surprise and relief. My practice is moving forward and even with these months of injury, it has improved in many ways. I have a new sense of awareness about my bandhas, the orientation and rotations of my legs in poses and of my own limits and needs in my personal practice.

I could have taken these past 6 months off practice. I could have fallen prey to my fears that the practice is just too hard, too dangerous, too much. But instead, I let the practice, in modified forms, heal me. My body is stronger for the work that I’ve put in during this time of injury. My faith is strengthened as well. My trust in the power of this tradition and this practice has been bolstered by this experience.

For all this I am so grateful.

I am grateful for my teacher David Garrigues for his amazing support and asana mastery.

I am grateful for my teachers Joan and Eric of Ashtanga Yoga Denver for their patience and open hearts.

And I’m so grateful for Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and the lineage of teachers who have shared this profound practice throughout the ages.

Blessings and Love.

Frances

PS – Today is the last day to enter into the Kharma Khare free yoga mat giveaway! DO it!

Attention, Intention and the Ultimate Drishti

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I’m home now from a truly fantastic weekend in San Diego at the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. The whole thing was even better than I expected. It was delightful to see a few yoga friends and be surrounded by the energy and passion of all these dedicated practitioners and teachers. Having the focus of Ashtanga made it quite different from other yoga festivals and conferences I’ve attended before.

I practiced Mysore on Saturday and Sunday. The Mysore room was incredible with 4 of the main teachers adjusting with at least 4 other assisting teachers – super duper shakti! I got some great adjustments, including a kapotasana B adjustment with a towel around my upper back that offered so much space in my shoulder joints that I didn’t want it to stop – it felt so good! I’m never felt that way in kapo before.

The stories shared by the teachers were truly inspiring. I loved hearing all about Guruji, but it also made me a bit sad that I never got the chance to meet him. I kind of feel like I missed out! But the teachers each shared beautifully that Guruji’s energy is alive today in the practice and carried through in the lineage of the teaching. They each spoke sincerely about how his wisdom and love remains present in their own lives through the daily experience of practicing his teachings.

I loved David Swenson’s analogy of Guruji as a stately grandfather tree in the forest. When the tree falls, a huge space is left and nothing can fill in that hole. But, with the new opening in the canopy, all the little baby trees have room to shoot up and are fortified by the fertile ground created by the grandfather tree’s remnants. So sweet.

One other theme that was clear throughout all the workshops and panel discussions was the essential nature of yoga as a practice of attention and concentration. This is clear straight off the bat in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In Ashtanga we must pay attention to the tristana of breath, bandha and drishti and to the sensations in our bodies to ensure longevity and safety in asanas and cultivate self-awareness.

By learning to pay attention on the mat, we can begin to cultivate more attention in other aspects of our life. One day these bodies will crack and asana won’t be available anymore so it’s imperative to extend the practice of yoga beyond the physical shapes into the practices of conscious living, parenting, partnering and working in a positive and meaningful way in the world.

Eddie shared this by saying, “Through attention, we can live with intention.” From an intentional and conscious stance in our life, we can turn our focus to what really matters – to the ultimate drishti, the polestar for life – for as Guruji, “to see God everywhere.

 

For more coverage and reflections on this wonderful event, check out the recent posts from Maria at Serene Flavorful and Bobbie Jo and Steve of The Confluence Countdown.

 

Love and Blessings,

Frances