Friday, July 18, 2014

A Day with VAYU (Air or Wind)

The element of "Air" represents those things that we cannot physically see, but whose presence is clearly felt upon in our lives. It is associated with Spirit or Soul. It cannot be captured nor held in the hands. Instead we can see it like the ripples in water, the fallen leaves dancing in circles, dust swirling in our path and the playing in a young girl's hair.

Today I had a unique day "off." And I mean really off. My dogs were not at home nor was my husband or anyone else. I had not classes to teach or take, no phone calls to make. I had no laundry to do nor any chores that fell through. No, it was a pure day open.

I awoke early, looking about for a clue of how to start my day. I noticed that the bird feeders out back were empty, so I looked about and found a half a bag of seed in the kitchen. Filling up the the bird feeders, I immediately began enjoying many colorful visitors: cardinals, bluejays, goldfinches and more. The neighborhood pesky squirrel seemed to have moved on for the day, to which I was thankful.

My kitchen table had been piled with Turkey feathers for some time. I had anticipated making smudging feathers to sell and give away, and had made a few but stopped. Today they seemed to be beckoning me, so I sat down at 8:30 and finished up around 2:30 - some 27 smudging feathers completed. I also ate about 5 snacks in between, but who is counting? I listened to beautiful yoga music and inspiring chants, sang and crafted the day away.

I had left the back door and windows open all day to feel the beautiful breeze and listen to the many chipping birds. It was really a wonderful experience to enjoy. But after the smudging feathers were cleaned up I was not sure just what to do with myself. I walked outside and felt the summer breeze along my body. I walked to the mailbox to retrieve the mail and came around the back of my house, noticing quite a nice shady spot by the trees. There was a bird's feather in the grass for me - I always think of finding feathers as receiving a present.

I stopped to think about all the air elements in my presence today.


I went inside and snatched up my yoga mat, and headed outside to that little spot where I practiced yoga for about an hour and a half. In that time various butterflies and birds came by to say hello, cackle above my head or land on my mat. It was an inspiring practice where I truly felt the presence of, well, something else with me.

I'm not quite sure why I have been given this day with sacred vayu. But I truly appreciate it. There have been many thoughts of friends and family who have passed today. I choose to look at it as their acknowledgement of my thoughts of them. There is a comfort in that today.

Maybe another element will grace me with it's presence tomorrow.
Namaste, Vayu.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Mental Mishaps: Lessons on the Lake

Last weekend I had one of those moments: do or die, fight or give up - make it or be forever lost.

The day started out beautiful. The third day of a holiday weekend, I found myself itching to get out of the house and "do" something. Two days of mulling around was enough. My resting self had peaked and I was ready to tackle something. I called  neighbor, on a whim, and asked her if she knew of any local places that we could go kayaking or canoeing. Sounded like a nice idea. And as luck would have it, a local state park by my house was open and rented such things for $5 an hour. So, my husband, step-daughter and I packed a lunch and headed to the park.

We sat on the bench and ate our lunch overlooking the lake and the many dragonflies that inhabited it. I looked on as people leisurely paddled in singles or doubles around. The lake extended pretty far and some folks had ventured to the far end while others had simply floated near the launching area, paddling a little, looking at frogs, and talking. The later was the condition that I was looking for. I was not out to set any kayaking records - I just wanted to get outside into nature and enjoy myself.

Lunch eaten, we headed over, rented our kayaks and launched into the lake. We opted for our own kayaks rather than buddying up. This seemed like the best idea, especially since the lake had suddenly become busy and double boats were at a high demand.

I did not notice any tailwind as we headed out. My stepdaughter, the athlete, was far ahead, paddling continually and moving towards the far end. My husband was in tow. I guess that meant we were moving out...I should have known better. But as we moved further away from the dock, the murk, lilies and pond-scum became thicker and more dense to paddle through. Waving some off my paddle nearly through me into the water, so I realized quickly that I had to work through it and not fight it...allow some pond scum here and there. All in all, the ride out to the farther end was nice and went smoothly.

I gazed back and realized, "wow, we really are far out here." My step-daughter had just turned and started heading back, husband following. I turned as well. But I didn't want to head straight back. The constantly paddling out there had worked up some sweat and muscle in my arms and I felt a slight twinge in my lower back starting to creep up. No, what I really wanted to do was float there for a while. I guess I could have, but my family was moving ahead of me fast and furiously and I could either stay out on the lake by myself or start paddling back. So I did...paddle back, that is.

And that is when the gust force winds seemed to kick up. Had they been there on the way out? Cause I thought I was paddling pretty hard! Rapidly my kayak started to push backwards, turn, and if I didn't catch myself, probably would have been floating backwards, backwards! My sudden thought was, "crap!" Only it was another more colorful word that I used.

I yelled to my husband, but he was far ahead of me and paddling fast. My arms were tired, the sun was hot and I realized that it was time to just push through - something I am not a fan of doing, to be honest. It seemed like the harder I paddled, the more furious the wind blew into me. If I stopped just for a moment to rest, the boat came to an immediate stop and began to move backwards. "Crap!"

I paddled harder and harder against the wind, arms screaming, back aching, and mind beginning to wonder why I hadn't just stayed on my comfy patio furniture reading a yoga book. I had to stop, I just had to. The wind immediately began to me push backwards. The dock seemed miles did my family. My bottom lip started to tremble and I felt tears welling up in my eyes. My mind kicked in, "You can't do it. You are too tired. You have to go to the side, pull the kayak out of the water and walk all the way back through the woods. You are too tired. This pond-scum seaweed stuff is slowing you down. You do not have enough strength. Your back is hurting. You suck." It went on and on.

I noticed my husband look back and see that I was pretty far away. He stopped, seeming to wait for me. Why didn't he look like he was being pushed backwards by the hurricane winds? My ego, the same one that just told me that I couldn't do it, chimed back in, "Go now. Let him see that you can do it. You can't let him see that you are weak."

I began paddling again, with a smile on my face. I was reminded of the story of the duck: zen-like on top, but paddling like heck underneath. That was me. It was all show. I was really dying out there. My mind was laying into me and I was ready to wave the white flag. I stopped again. I had to. I wanted to cry - bad thoughts poured back in again. This struggle went on and on and on until I caught myself in the midst of it. I realized what was happening. I had that "epiphany."

I sat up straighter in my kayak, and pulled my lower belly in. I began breathing deeply through my nose and paddled smoothly with my breath. By only looking right ahead of me instead of further away, I soon found paths through the pond-scum and into smoother, more clear water and then the kayak opened up. The wind was present, for sure, but suddenly the effort was less. My arms were still sore - as was my back, but slow and steady was winning the race. And before I knew it, I was back close to the dock with my family, awaiting to pull in.

I got out and smiled at my family and to myself. I didn't give up. I really wanted to, but I had made it back. That one hour seemed like 10 minutes - or 20 hours, depending on how I think about it. My mind surely felt like it was 10 minutes, but my body would have sworn I was working for 20 hours.

I was reminded how easy it is to fall prey to the ego and let the mind pull you down, making life more challenging than it needs to be. I recalled a lecture with a visiting yogi who told the crowd at Princeton University some years ago that people make up all their problems. Sure, I do it. I am human. Sometimes I figure this out sooner rather than later and other times I need to learn some other lesson first. I learned many lessons on the lake that day, went home and ate a huge piece of ice cream cake from Carvel that I found sitting in the freezer since Father's Day.

Power Kayaking.
Ice Cream Cake.
Life is good.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Pt 4. My Septoplasty Operation: 1 Month After

Well, it has been one month since my operation and I am doing really well. I am very glad that I took the plunge and had it done. Overall my breathing has changed and increased dramatically through my left nostril (sometimes I feel sorry for the right one, it had it good for so long).

Each day is still a slightly new experience for me. I never know if I am going to wake up with a drippy nose or not. Some days my nose feels like it is dripping all day long, but when I blow it there is nothing there. This new sensation is all a part of the healing process. I should be using more saline nasal spray in my nose, but most days I just forget to do it. For this reason, the left nostril is a little dry at times, but still overall so much better than before so I cannot complain.

When I first had the operation, the new influx of oxygen literally left me with a feeling of being "high." I had so much extra energy and felt amazing. I still have more energy than I did before the operation - for real. I wake up earlier than usual (for me) most days and, funny enough, seem to want to go to bed earlier too. This new shift in energy for me reminded me of the nadi channels and the connection to the nostrils.

There are energy channels in the body. The yogic system calls them the "nadis" and of all the nadi channels (72,000 is the most consistent number listed in any yogic text, although others list many more or even "countless" numbers of nadis), they are two of the three most primary. The other one is "Sushumna nadi," which is the central channel that runs through the middle of the body and where the infamous "Chakras" line up within. Ida & pingula, depending on which text you read, run on either side of the body terminating int he nostrils, or start one each side of the body, criss-cross like a helix at each chakra center, terminating back on the same side of the body. 
oldest picture of the "Nadis"
The theory of the energy of each nadi is that Ida, being on the left side, is that of cooling, lunar, feminine energy that is nurturing and said to control the mental processes. Pingula, therefore, is the right side, masculine, solar and said to control the somatic (body) processes of the body. 

So taking this home, my left nostril was mostly blocked and the right side of my nostril was taking in most of the air - or in yogic terms "Prana," lovingly known as life force energy. Now, let me tell you that prior to my surgery when dealing with the imbalance each day that I found most of my energy at night and always slept in later than most people (teenagers not included). I definitely considered myself more of a lunar-type personality. Now that I've had the surgery, my energy patterns have shifted and balanced with more solar energy. 

Interesting. What does it mean? Well, it means my pranic energy intake was imbalanced and now I am feeling more balanced. That's about it. My husband says I'm 46 and I'm getting old and going to bed earlier, that's what it is. But, as a yogi I know and understand that there is a greater significance to it. Either way, I am glad that I did the surgery and am hoping that this blog is still helping others determine that they may also need a similar one. 

So thank you for listening, caring, and sending all of your healing energy my way.
The End.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Yogi Corner: Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Pratyahara

The most famous part of the Yoga Sutras is called the "eight limbs." Sometimes referred to as branches, these limbs are to be worked on until the impurities are dwindled away in order to achieve yoga. For July we will discuss the 5th limb, that of "Pratyahara."

"Sva Visayasamprayoge Cittasvarupanukara Ivendriyanam Pratyaharah." 
B.2, V.54
Translation: When the senses withdrawal themselves from the objects and imitate, as it were, the nature of the mind-stuff, this is pratyahara.

Ah, the senses. Most of us have a feeling that without them, we could not understand the world. Imagine a world without the sense of smell, sight, hearing, touch and taste. In an instant if all of those senses were lost one might have a feeling of complete loss and confusion - a disorientation to the world around him. And one would be right too. The idea is to lose that connection to the world around you, and delve into the world within you.

"The senses are like a mirror. Turned outward, they reflect the outside; turned inward, they reflect the pure light. By themselves the senses are innocent, but when allowed to turn outside they attract everything and transfer those message sot the mind, making it restless. Turned inward, they find peace by taking the form of the mind itself" - Sri Swami Satchidananda.

This limb and those following begin to create quite a challenge for a yoga aspirant to understand because they ask of us to understand the esoteric nature of the mind when in truth our mind can only understand what it has been programmed to know through our senses. The idea is that this "knowledge" is limited. It is like the saying that a computer is only as smart as the person who programmed it. There are limitations to the full scope of knowledge of our nature. This is why pratyahara is so important.
Let's assume that you are with me so far. How does one achieve pratyahara? Do not look to Patanjali for the answers. He ends Book 2 of the Yoga Sutras with the following:
"Tatah Parama Vasyatendriyanam." 
B.2, V.55
Translation: Then follows the supreme mastery over the senses.
Ok, thank you Patanjali for the detailed information. So we look towards other master yoga teachers such as Satchidananda, who have given us insights over these esoteric concepts. Over the years I have come to understand that the following practices will help us to gain pratyahara:
1. Breathing practices
2. Meditation
3. Asana practice
4. Any activity requiring our full concentration
It has been noted that pratyahara assists in pain management, something that I myself experienced a few years ago when I experienced a situation that resulted in an emergency appendectomy. I wrote about it in my blog back in 2011. Here is a quick link if you are interested in reading or re-reading it: How I Found Bliss in the E.R. This article was also published in "Elephant Journal" on the internet around that same time. 
I have read that pratyahara, dharana and dhyana (the following two limbs) often all come at once. That was certainly my experience. It is interesting that in the month of July, a month that is mostly known for vacationing, socializing and recharging oneself through total sensory experiences, that we are looking at pratyahara. We have almost 5 full weeks in July. Why not experiment with the awareness of each of the senses for one week. Journal about your experience of each sense in different circumstances or try meditating on each. See what you uncover in these experiences, so that we can move into dharana for August.