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“A state of mind is always temporary.” ~Jack Kornfield

A huge part of yoga is the practice of letting go. Something I’ve been contemplating quite a bit lately is the letting go of judgment. The past two weeks, I’ve noticed much more anger, frustration, and judgment have welled up within.. and I didn’t know why. Recently, I had a visiting friend who I don’t see all that often..and I was Grumpy Grumps-A-Lot. And it made me feel badly that I couldn’t be not-grumpy – and faking cheerful giddy is for high school cheerleaders, something I’ve moved beyond. At first it was hard to recognize. Well, at least the reasons why were hard to recognize. I hadn’t felt like that in years, and I felt like I was losing my mind. Turns out it was due to a hormonal imbalance, but that’s beside the point. Practicing yoga teaches us to recognize the emotions that rise up in order to observe the root causes without judgment, so that they may pass. So just saying “oh it was all hormonal,” in my mind, is a cop-out for an opportunity to grow. Sure, perhaps my hormones did make me a little “get-bent”, but what caused the insanity was not the anger and frustration that manifested, it was my self-judgment of “why is this happening? why am I going crazy? why can’t I just let it go? WTF?” I noticed I was expressing my anger in my teaching – though my students may not have known it at the time.. I mean, it’s Ashtanga.. the Primary series is what it is. I was never aggressive with my adjustments, I just noticed myself being overly cautious to adjust in a hands-on manner because I didn’t want to physically express my frustration upon another person. So in that regard, my students might have sensed a pulling away from my usual hands-on approach.

Clarity is a funny thing. I discovered the root cause to the hormonal imbalance and rectified it. But it took a few more days to realize some other underlying causes to the wells of anger, frustration, and judgment. Of course, meditating on these emotions helped clear the cobwebs so that I could see what lied beneath. Tuesday morning, I taught a very aggressive Primary series – to which all the students responded with “that was great!” and the like. And I appreciate that they had a wonderful experience, that my pushing them as I worked out underlying issues in myself opened windows of self-reflection. Of course, *enter another self-judgment* I begrudged myself for working out MY issues while teaching THEIR class. Teaching is a time to give everything to the student, not work on my own issues – that’s what my practice is for. Perhaps a yoga class is catharsis on both sides – I always say I learn more from my students than they learn from me.

It wasn’t until the evening Primary series that same day I had a window open up for myself. I took it a bit different since I only had a couple of students, and they are open to having me play with it a little. I didn’t follow the exact layout of Pattabhi Jois *gasp*, but in that “rebellion from tradition” I discovered something beautiful. I threw in some Intermediate series poses in appropriate places, I held them in each pose a little longer and reduced the number of vinyasas, and instead of cueing alignment issues (since this pair is pretty spot on in their alignment), I discussed more the feelings of the posture – what does Uttitha Parsvokonasana feel like within you, and not on you..or what emotional whispers rise up as you work in opposite directions in Paschimottanasana or Marichyasana. Cues of that nature.. There was much laughter and experimentation when we tried some of the more challenging poses. It was a release I think we all needed. Then my Thursday morning Ashtanga, I taught in the same manner.. more self-reflective than alignment-based. The energy is the room was focused, inward. Whether they knew it or not, I feel that each one in the room touched a little Pratyahara. Again, all the students seemed to have an enlightening experience – no matter how fleeting. This is merely my perception of the events, and what is truly happening within them only they know.

So with the clarity of the underlying issues – beneath the physiological (hormonal imbalance) – I seemed to have rediscovered why I teach yoga and it re-inspired my desire to practice yoga (a whole blog post in itself on that one). Maybe because it had been so long that I needed to experience such a physiological insanity so that I could realize I was still self-judging on a subconscious level. My feeling badly because I felt grumpy is a judgment that needs to be released. Just let go and observe the grumpy. Sometimes people feel grumpy and it’s okay.. even yoga teachers get grumpy, frustrated, angry. Yoga teachers are still students of yoga on the same path as our students we teach every day – it’s our experiences and perceptions of the path that differ, but we’re all walking side-by-side. Those who have moved beyond the path are enlightened and having tea with the Buddha..but us mere mortals area still working through the cobwebs.

~Namaste

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“Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” ~Winston Churchill

Take the courage to sit down and listen to your body. Let the hustle and bustle rest for a while, and simply listen. Listen to the molecules within your body. Listen to the cells individually, on a microscopic level. Listen to the bones – the hips, the knees, the ankles, shoulders, wrists..even the knuckles of each individual finger and toe. Listen to the breath as it moves in and out of the body, through the nose. Listen to the lungs as they expand against the rib cage and massage the heart. Listen to the visceral organs as they digest or rest from digestion. Listen with courage. This internal listening, this internal focus is a practice in Pratyahara (sense withdraw, drawing inward and freeing yourself of external distraction) – one of the 8 limbs of Raja Yoga.

When you really listen to the body, you can hear the whispers of body’s requests. Even during an asana practice, listen. If you can’t hear your body (through internal focus) or your breath (both physically and mentally), then your thoughts are drowning out the calls. Listen as you move between the postures – listen to the knees as they bend into Virabhadrasana (warrior), listen to the ankles as they stablize in Vrksasana (tree pose), listen to the heart and back as you open in Ustrasana (camel), listen to your abdominal muscles as they carry you through Chaturanga Dandasana (four-limbed staff). This focus will improve your practice, both anatomically and psychologically. By becoming more in tune with the quiet whispers, you’ll be less likely to injure yourself and more likely to reduce the severity of the injury if one occurs. If we ignore the warnings our body tells us, that’s when injuries occur – through distraction.

Beyond the physical whispers, there is also an element of emotion. Listen to the emotions that arise when you take a deeper Ustrasana or Matsyendrasana (spinal twist). Listen to the emotions that arise at the beginning, during, and the end of a yoga class – note how they may change or resolve over the course of one class.

The body will tell you what it needs, if only you listen. The practice of listening will eventually extend beyond the four corners of your mat.

“Often I am still listening when the song is over.” ~M de Saint-Lambert

When the practice is over, the knowledge is still there.. we simply have to continue listening. As your practice develops and grows, you’ll eventually notice the length increasing in your post-Shavasana bliss as well as the brief moments of epiphany occurring more regularly. You’ll become more aware of your body, more in tune with the symphony of physical, psychological and emotional feelings and energies that reside within. More importantly, you’ll become more aware of how you move through the molecules of the world, and how these emotions and energies affect your day-to-day actions and thoughts. It is this greater state of awareness that we receive through dedicated yoga practice – including meditation, concentration, pranayama, asana…all of the 8 limbs.

~Listen

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