About writing and other reflections

My youngest daughter asked me today if I have a journal to which I replied yes. What do you write in it, se asked. Do you start with ‘dear diary’?

I have been writing a diary for over five years now. It all started when I was living in India, and had recently discovered the mess in my mind. I had just started my Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Prasad Institute, and I had a terrible cough. One of my peers recommended me to go see a homeopath. Most homeopaths have a holistic approach to health, so she was not only interested in helping me cure my cough, she also asked me a bunch of questions about my lifestyle and my personal life. I was actually in a quite tricky period in my life with a big mess in my head, and she recommended writing in a diary every morning after my asana practice. She recommended what is called ‘stream of consciousness’ where you sit in a quiet and calm place, set a timer, and write everything that comes to your mind during that set time. You just write, without a purpose, without editing, without even reading what you write. Just to let thoughts flow.

I don’t know how many notebooks I filled with words that many times didn’t make much sense. It was kind of fun sometimes. I would start writing what I was thinking so it had some kind of structure, but then moved to ‘it is hot’, ‘I am hungry’, ‘What’s that noice?’, etc. It was a very soothing experience. It often felt like I was ’emptying’ my mind, and sometimes I would reach a point where I would stop writing because nothing would come to my mind. This would last for a few seconds, but it was a nice feeling.

I don’t remember exactly when, but I was already back in Norway, when my Yoga teacher recommended I start a diary, and this time, he encouraged me to write structured and coherent texts, but allow my mind to express itself freely. I have discovered that writing for me is a very good exercise. It helps me digest what I learn about yoga, and try to apply it to my everyday life. It also helps me digest situations. I consider myself relatively slow when it comes to interactions, so I often see the whole picture better once I have taken some time and distance from the situation and I sit down with my notebook and pen. Writing helps me get to know myself better too although it has taken me some time to be honest in my writing and not write what I want to believe comes honestly out of my mind.

Writing has also taught me to be patient, understanding and compassionate towards myself, because it has become some sort of conversation between me and myself. It sounds a bit scary maybe, like I am slightly crazy, but, who isn’t?…What I mean with me and myself, is between my impulsive mind that functions out of habit, and the more reflective side of me who always tries to find what is beneath my emotions, thoughts and patterns of behaviour.

Writing has also helped me in many situations to detach. I remember once, I sat to write for the umpteenth time about a ‘problem’ I had, and going ‘wait a minute, I’m tired of this. I need to change my perspective, otherwise I will continue filling notebooks with the same old story.’ And I did. I decided that day to write about the same issue from another perspective, and gradually, I managed to detach.

This blog was born out of this habit of writing. I have to confess that it was my Yoga teacher’s idea. The purpose of it is to share my thoughts, share my experiences to whomever it may help or inspire.

So the texts I write here, often start in my diary, and then I feel like sharing them. The funny part is that during the last six months or so, I have been writing more and more in Spanish, which is my mother tongue. It has become more natural, after years and years of writing in English. My writing has become more varied, maybe. I write maybe with less certitude. Lately, I write about my doubts, but I also write a lot about gratitude. I haven’t been feeling that there is any blog material lately, but today I felt like sharing. One thing that I often write about lately is when I experience the magic of taking one step at a time and living in trust.

I was born a doer, I think. Or maybe, I grew up to believe that I ‘have to’ do. Most of what happens around me feels like my responsibility which I know is nonesens. During the last few months, I have been consciously choosing to sometimes not do and see what happens. Not because I don’t care, but because I have come to realise that it is impossible to have everything as a priority. In addition, I am not getting younger, and I honestly notice how I have less energy now than ten years ago, so I am learning to spend my energy wisely. For my own well-being, but also for the well-being of those around me. I am more patient and act from a better space when I feel rested. So, when the to-do list becomes impossibly long with more than one item that needs to be done almost at the same time, I choose what to prioritise, I focus on that and I hope for the best, and you know what? It almost always works like magic! Some of the items are taken care of someone else, or they are removed from the list, or I realise that the world doesn’t go under if I leave some things for later – or for never…

So back to my daughter’s question. No, I don’t start my diary with ‘dear diary’, and I don’t write every day, but I go back to it quite often. What I write varies. I sometimes write a quote and my thoughts around it. I sometimes write what I like to call ‘poems’, because I feel that what I need to express is so personal, so ‘strong’ that it can’t be put in many words. Sometimes, I write long stories, long reflections, and I still go back to stream of consciousness from time to time.

Casi fin de semana

Pequeños grandes momentos de gratitud.

Lunes: la atención y compasión de un par de oídos en un momento de confusión.

Martes: un par de zapatos secos y calientitos por la mañana para mi viaje en bici hacia el trabajo.

Miércoles: el honor de compartir mi pasión.

Jueves: el espíritu juguetón de un desconocido que me alegró el camino de vuelta a casa.

Nada más bello que una buena risa imprevista en medio de lo cotidiano.

Gracias

Asana practice and energy- how ideas take time to make sense.

I love it when I learn about something that is difficult to grasp so store it in a ‘drawer’ inside my mind. Then, once in a while, I go back to it, explore it, apply it to my own experiences, and evaluate if I have a better understanding. Oftentimes, I have to put it back in the ‘drawer’, until one day, just like magic, a little spark of understanding ignites and I feel I understand a little bit better. To then realize that my understanding is most probably just the tip of the iceberg… Does it happen to you?

Ever since I took my YTT, I have been very sceptical to talk about flow of energy and chakras in my classes simply because they are concepts that are very difficult to grasp for me, and I don’t want to teach something that 1) I don’t understand 2) I haven’t experienced. Some years ago, I bought a book about chakras and tried to ‘work on my chakras’ as described in the book for some months, without noticing any change. Most probably because of lack of understanding, perseverance and proper guidance.

After studying a bit more about the Tantra and Hatha traditions this year, I have come to understand that in order to work with the chakras, one needs to be initiated into one of these traditions. This said, the practice of yoga asana does have an impact in the flow of energy inside our body. This is not ‘mystical’ energy as we have a tendency to believe, it is oxygen, blood circulation, flow of nutrients, stimulation of the nervous system, etc.

If you think about it, our lifestyles allow us to move in very limited ways. Even if we are conscious about getting enough exercise, most of the time, the range of movement is limited. The big advantage of yoga asana is that the different movements and poses allow us to mobilise joints, and strengthen and stretch muscles that we probably otherwise don’t give much attention to on an everyday basis.

I have experienced to feel heaviness, discomfort or even pain in certain body parts and then focus my asana practice towards these and other body parts directly connected to them feeling much better afterwards. The key, I think is to have a regular practice that allows us to get to know our body well, and to start creating a mental list of movements and poses that we know have a good effect in our body. In order for our asana practice to be of benefit for our body and mind, we need to be curious both about the practice and about our body and mind.

So in this sense, yes, the yoga asana allows the energy in our body to flow better by strengthening, releasing tension and keeping our joints healthy. That is maybe ‘level 1’ of my understanding of energy. ‘Level 2’ would then be the flow of prana. Which I do understand but I don’t fully grasp. So, I continue practicing, I continue observing and learning. This is such a fun journey! 🙂

What is Yoga? – my own understanding.

I asked this question to a group of fourteen year old students this week assuming that their definition would be in the lines of ‘stretching exercises’. Some of them didn’t know, some of them defined yoga as stretching, relaxation, and breathing exercises. None of these definitions is wrong, but they are incomplete. But then, one girl said ‘It is a way to relax the mind so we can deal with life better’. This is very close to what I understand as yoga after studying and practicing for some years, and it really surprised me how matter-of-factly she said it. She has never practiced yoga before nor does any of her family members.

If you have been study and practicing, you might know that there are many different definitions of yoga “Yoga is union”, “Yoga is skilfulness in action”, “Yoga is the cessation of the waves of the mind”, just to mention some. These definitions stem from different traditions in which the means to yoga vary but the goal is the same: self-knowledge for self-transformation.

The supreme goal of Yoga is to realise that we are more than what we perceive and think, but in my view, there are sub-goals that can bring immense benefits to our life and the lives of others if the goal of self-realisation feels too lofty or far to reach.

Traditionally, Yoga is seen as a science and the object of study is the self. Each path has its own definition and set of theories and techniques to lead the practitioner towards better self-understanding, thus guiding her gradually towards a state of lasting inner peace and clarity. One could simply say that Yoga is not the goal, it is the means, and more than a specific technique or practice, it is a mindset.

Stretching can be part of the yoga practice if one chooses to start the inner journey through the physical body by practicing asana (yoga postures). However, the physical practice is not limited to stretching. It is an invitation to self-exploration and self-understanding to make appropriate choices for our mental and physical health. Ideally, we practice yoga asana to keep the body healthy, agile and strong. A healthy body allows us to cultivate a calm mind. So, the asana practice does not need to be complicated or strenuous. In order for it to be Yoga, it needs to be practiced with clarity of intention. If the intention is self-knowledge, you are practicing yoga. If your practice leaves you invigorated but with a calm state of mind, you are practicing yoga. If your practice brings you injury, stress and the pursuit of the perfect pose, you are not practicing yoga. You are practicing physical activity. There is nothing wrong with it, as long as you are clear about it.

What many don’t know, is that Yoga can be practiced without the physical practice. There is Dhyana Yoga, or Yoga Meditation where one works systematically towards slowing down the mind in order to let go of misperceptions and misconceptions of who we are and the what world around us is. The main goal is to achieve a state of stable concentration that will lead to what is called samadhi. Samadhi for me is still too difficult to grasp, so my meditation practice is still focused on slowing down the mind for a more peaceful and centered attitude towards life.

There is also Karma Yoga where we live our practical life with full awareness and an attitude of sacrifice. Through action, we also get to know ourselves better, and we gradually change our attitude acting with clarity, pure intentions and for the benefit of the whole. Karma Yoga is a prefect path in our times since we all have to live a practical life, and through the change of attitude in our actions, we cultivate a calmer state of mind, allowing us to live a more meaningful life.

The list of different Yoga paths continues, and most of the time, these paths intertwine. This means that one can practice both yoga asana and meditation and be active in the world following the principles of Karma Yoga. What is required from us is to be clear about the main goal of Yoga and to be willing to do the internal work of self-study and reflection with the guidance of scriptures and a teacher.

Whatever your goal of practicing yoga is, and whatever path you choose, be clear about what your intentions are. If you go to a yoga class with the intention to get a workout, that is good. If you go to a yoga class with the intention to relax, that is good too. If you however want to make deeper changes in your life through the practice of Yoga, you need to know that it requires perseverance, self-responsibility, study, and lots of practice. Preferably through the guidance of a teacher who will be able to point you towards the right direction.

In all humbleness, as a yoga teacher, I aim to help my students explore the different aspects of Yoga. Hopefully this will lead them towards the wish to find a way to self-understanding so they can choose the right practice for them. However, the search and the responsibility lies in the student. I have my own teacher that guides me but I am encouraged to practice, observe and reflect and never take anything as dogma.