The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.

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This Too Shall Pass April 9, 2010

I just floated home after Ximena Gutierrez’s Jivamukti class at Past Tense Studio (one of the places where I teach yoga).  Today’s theme was “This Too Shall Pass” – a phrase with which I am very familiar from a variety of spiritual paths and programs.  The premise is to remain detached from and have faith through all experiences – positive/negative, good/bad, easy/difficult.  Because eventually, all will change.

Over and over and over.

Complementing the normally uplifting effect of Ximena’s classes (and today’s perfectly crisp and sunny weather), I am feeling quite light-spirited from fasting.  I have not had a “solid” meal since Wednesday evening.  For this liquid fast, throughout yesterday I drank: many glasses of water with fresh organic lemon, cayenne and honey; one cup of fresh-made carrot/celery juice; two cups of Yogi Detox tea; and two bowls of miso soup with lemon juice and seaweed flecks to balance my blood sugar with proteins and aminos.

As you know from last night’s post, I attended a Kirtan yesterday.  Combined with my daily Sadhana, the fast removed many physical distractions and heightened my focus on the task at hand – chanting my devotion to a Higher Power.  Again citing Native American ritual, I remember that many people fasted for 24 hours prior to our sweat lodges, to intensify their presence within the ceremony.  Last night, I definitely felt more connected and aware during the event.

I have tried fasting a number of times throughout my decades of exploring spiritual paths and natural health.  Being prone to hypoglycemia, straight water fasts and the legendary “Master Cleanse” (water, lemon, cayenne, honey) do not work well for me.  At Yoga Teacher Training, we were invited to fast every Thursday with the cleanse formula – and for one day at a time, I did fine.  Overall, longer fasts that combine cleansing and nutritious liquids, juices and broths leave me the most energized and strong.

For example: in class this morning, lifting myself into wheel was like flying into the sky heart-first, with limbs dangling lightly below.

For me, fasting is easier if I remember that “This Too Shall Pass.”  The first day can be very challenging.  Every smell or reminder of food brings a hunger pang.  But I simply remind myself, “That food will be there when I finish my fast.  No need to dwell on it now.”  (Just like all those times I thought that depression or bliss would last forever – “Balance will return when this condition dissolves.  Be present with the emotion for these moments.”)

Today, after morning Sadhana and this journal entry, I will break my fast with a simple bowl of steel-cut oatmeal, cinnamon and fresh organic ginger.  I’ll ease back to a clean diet throughout the day, probably munching on dried goji berries and perhaps a bowl of miso with collards and onion.  All good tonic foods.

For dinner tonight, I’ve been invited for salmon at my friends’ house (yes, I eat fish – maybe I’ll journal about my choice to eat fish sometime) and am to bring a chocolate dessert!  Most likely, my fish portion will be small; and I might take a moment of conscientious indulgence for a small bite of dessert.  But maybe not.

More will be revealed.

The point is that I am willing to grow along this path of yogic life.  This fast did not take a bunch of planning.  I decided on Wednesday evening to stop eating for a day, and was going to break the fast without going to yoga class this morning.  But I went anyway, because I was feeling so great after last night’s Kirtan and yesterday’s liquid diet.  And if I didn’t have dinner plans this evening, I might have kept going through this day and beyond.  This clarity, lightness and serenity that comes from cleansing is a beautiful gift.

And of course, This Too Shall Pass.  And that’s A-OK with me.  OM Shanti.

“Be good, do good, feel good.”  – Swami Satchidananda