On The Spot

Through the course of a lifetime, we form hundreds of habits. Sometimes, a habit can become so ingrained that we do it unconsciously like how we sit, stand and walk. The practice of yoga gives us a chance to become aware of our idiosyncratic behaviors. When I stand in tadasana, I notice how my shoulders creep up next to my ears, and how my head inches forward in front of the rest of my body. My reaction is to jerk my head back and press my shoulder blades into my back so that my chest puffs up. Before long, standing in mountain pose becomes strenuous. It is much harder to relax into the pose so that the shoulder blades ease down the back creating space for the upper spine and neck to settle into the body. Then, tadasana becomes a serene yet strong pose. Breaking an unhealthy habit by force can be effective in the short run but in the long term, we may find ourselves right back at square one.
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Sweet Surrender

The human experience is sprinkled with joy, pain, hurt, love and loss. Along with the unpredictable nature of our experiences comes the instinctual inclination to avoid circumstances that evoke fear and pain and instead to seek opportunities for joy and pleasure. If we look more deeply into the challenging, difficult and even heartbreaking experiences that enter our lives, there lies a profound opportunity to reframe our perceptions and view each adversary we face as a possibility for further self-discovery. As we surrender to our challenges, we are able to discover just how strong we really are.
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Being

Nothing moves faster than the mind. In the minute that it takes to wait at a stop light, our minds can go over what we did today, how well we did it, what we plan to do next while still listening to the traffic report on the radio. Amidst all this mind chatter, it can be difficult to pause and experience the present moment just as it is. This is why I enjoy practicing yoga. When I step on the mat, I get the chance to open my awareness to the present moment.
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Practicing At Home

One morning, about a year ago, I took out my yoga mat, placed it on the living floor and prepared to do a headstand. At this point, I had done headstand about a dozen times. Each time, it was an extremely uncomfortable experience. My teacher had advised me to continue practicing headstand and observe what I felt in the pose. Since we did not practice headstand regularly in my classes, I decided to practice it at home. As expected, once I got into headstand, I felt discomfort in my neck, shoulders and lower back. I tried to stay with the sensations in body but I was only able to hold the pose for a couple of minutes. After I came out the headstand, I got into child’s pose so that some of the blood could drain out of my head. When I could lift it without getting dizzy, I got onto my hands and knees and pushed up into downward dog. My muscles felt stiff but I didn’t think about it much or try to make any adjustments. Instead, I just stayed in the pose for a while listening to my breathing. Then, I ended my practice with a short savasana.
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Balancing

During class one day, my teacher demonstrated half moon pose. She stood in front of the class stepping her left foot forward and her right foot back. Facing forward, she bent her left leg and reached down to touch the ground with her left hand. Her right leg gently lifted into the air. As she straightened her left leg, she turned her torso to open her heart toward the class and extended her right arm into the air. Then she said, “Once you can do this, you can try to let go of the ground.” She proceeded to pivot slowly on her standing leg so that her torso floated up and her back leg glided downward. Her left hand lifted five inches off the ground. The whole time, her spine was in alignment with her extended leg. Then she floated back down to touch the ground again. She repeated this movement a couple of times before coming out of the pose.
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Pausing

This summer, I took an eight-week course on pranayama, the yogic art of breath control. Halfway through the course, we began to work with kumbhaka, the state of suspended breath. I was a little apprehensive because of my previous experience with breath retention. Regardless of whether the retention was after an inhale or exhale, I always felt like I was involved in self-strangulation. When I held my breath in during internal retention, my lungs felt like they were going to explode. When it was time for the exhale, I couldn’t get the air out of my lungs fast enough. External retention wasn’t any better. Within seconds of pausing after exhalation, my body tensed up. My abdominal and throat muscles tightened around me like nooses. When it was time to exhale, I was sucking down air frantically. Neither experience was pleasant but I had signed up for the course so that I could work more deeply with my breath. This meant practicing everything in the course regardless of whether I liked it or not.
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Savasana

When I’m in savasana, I may look like I’m resting but my mind is far from relaxed. Less than a minute after lying down and closing my eyes, I’m already planning what I’ll be doing after class. When I’m done with that, I make mental notes about errands that I need to run. If I have anymore time, I spend it analyzing past events. My tendency to lose my focus in savasana puzzled me. I didn’t find it difficult to concentrate while I was practicing other poses yet corpse pose was an entirely different matter. Lying on my mat in a darkened room with a group of people in the middle of the day made me feel like I was in preschool again. During naptime while the other children fell asleep as soon as the lights went out, I would just stare at the ceiling thinking and wondering. As an adult, not much had changed. I still find it hard to relax.
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Sangha

One day, my teacher asked me to participate in an asana demonstration. Halfway through class after he had walked around the room observing the twist we were practicing, he asked everyone to get out of the pose except for me. I stayed in the twist while the rest of the class gathered around my mat. As soon as I saw everyone’s eyes on me, my heart started to beat faster and my face became hotter. I dislike being the center of attention. In class, I scrupulously avoid being in the front row preferring to hang out in the back of the room. My self-consciousness prevents me from reacting in a positive or even neutral way when people look at me. I feel that when they do, they can see everything that is wrong with me.
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Inversion Aversion

In January while I was in New York City visiting my sister, I took a yoga class. Near the end of class, the teacher asked us to do headstand. I folded my mat into four and set it against the wall. Then I knelt down, put my forearms on the ground and clasped my hands. When I put the crown of my head on the ground, fear started rising inside of me. I took a deep breath and then let out a long exhale. My anxiety over doing inversions is long standing. I am not one of those people who did headstands or handstands as a child. I did not like the feeling of blood rushing into my head.
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Concentration

Once I took a class with a teacher who asked her students to keep in mind the ABCs of yoga while doing our asanas. The ABCs were attitude, breath and concentration. During the class, I tried my best to keep in mind the ABCs but I don’t think I succeeded. I did not get the opportunity to take another class with her but the experience changed how I thought about my practice. For many months later, I was still thinking about the ABCs especially concentration.
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