Tag Archives: svadyaya

My Yoga Diary: An Early Entry

DiaryI have decided to start posting diary entries to this blog, as a way to help others see yoga not as a one-time workout, but rather as a lifelong practice. I have certainly changed in the last ten years, since I started practicing yoga. Here’s a journal entry from 2008, when I was in teacher training:

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“I began doing yoga about two years ago, during my student teaching [for elementary education]. My roommate, Satya, saw that I was depressed. I wasn’t enjoying teaching, and I had never ‘failed’ at anything major before, the way that I felt I was failing at student teaching. I can see now that I had never lived for my own joy before– I was doing what others expected of me and what would earn me praise.

I think some of my relationships and negative habits were tied into this lack of self-awareness, or perhaps more succinctly, lack of self-propulsion. I was attracted to either victims or smart rebels who put up the same front of wit and charm to hide their vulnerability and denial of their true selves. [My ex boyfriend] comes to mind.

Satya was working at a Portland yoga studio at the time, so she got me a discounted month-long unlimited membership. Throughout the turmoil of graduate school and the next year, working at a local school and fighting the tiny voice inside telling me that I actually hated the prospect of being a full-classroom teacher, yoga was one of the only things that consistently brought me deep, unreasonable joy.

After that year, I moved home to Reno to reassess my interests and direction–who I was without teaching [elementary school classes]. I finally had the time to do exactly what I wanted to do during the day–what I would do no matter what, just to make myself happy. Some of those things are writing, yoga, ballroom dancing, and crafts. So I started going to yoga every day at a lovely studio in downtown Reno. I loved the calm, non-competitive nature of this studio, the patient and spiritually aware teachers, etc. I discovered Kundalini and Tibetan Heart Yoga, and practiced Yin and Restorative, all of which I look forward to teaching myself someday. One of my teachers mentioned that she became a teacher because she wanted to do yoga every day, and she knew she would if she taught. ‘Hey!’ I thought, ‘That’s just like me!’ So, I started researching schools, and here I am in Portland, attending CorePower Yoga’s teacher training.

I’m surprised at how many people in the teacher training program really saw yoga as just a physical exercise. I may not be as physically fit as they are (perhaps because I’m still smoking a bit), but my spiritual understanding of yoga is more developed.

(There I go again with my competitive nature. One of my goals is to let that go–but for now it may be a stepping stone to self-confidence, which I found through others’ praise for a long time. Now I’m providing the praise, and I want to work toward an innate sense of self worth that’s not based on how I stack up to other people.)

Further, it’s interesting to see what types of people are in this CorePower training. CorePower, as a school of yoga, is more focused on Hatha Yoga, enlightenment through the physical realm, than say, Tibetan Heart or Yin or Kundalini Yoga. So I guess it’s not surprising that my classmates are really tuned into their bodies. On the other hand, when I express my joy in yin yoga, they usually say that it’s ‘torturous’ to them because they can’t quiet their minds. Humph. And I thought that was one of the most important goals of yoga– inner calm and clarity, and the ability to calm your mind. Then again, I’ve had experience with other schools of yoga as well as Buddhist philosophy through some of my favorite books, like The Joy of Living. So, I guess one of the lessons I’ve learned from this experience is to avoid judgement of others’ paths to joy. There are many paths to joy and self-awareness and compassion, and why should I assume my path is the only “right” way? Gosh, that would make for a boring world!

Another lesson: JOY is one of my primal qualities, and a gift I can constantly give to others. My housemate said I bring others to enjoy life more–I love that. I hope I can do that through yoga, writing, and tutoring.

I’m feeling good about my progress so far–I’ve been practicing a lot with friends. Yoga makes me SO HAPPY.”

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Since the time of this entry I have stopped smoking all together (and at this point I’m not drinking alcohol or caffeine, either). I did continue writing–indeed, now I am a freelance copywriter. And although I never would have anticipated it when writing this diary entry, I am getting back into the schools. I was recently hired as a substitute teacher for Portland Public Schools, and I just completed a P.E. endorsement program last December.

It is very interesting to look back at my mind during teacher training. Some of the same themes in this diary entry have resonated throughout my yoga career–balancing physical fitness and mental peace, not comparing myself to others, focusing on joy. I am glad to share this entry because it tells the beginning chapters in my yoga journey.

If you practice yoga, I encourage you to keep a yoga diary too. Bring it into the room with you and jot down your thoughts before and after practice. It can help you observe your own thoughts and get to know yourself better. This self-study is a basic tenet of yoga–known as Svadyaya in Sanskrit, it is the idea that we can make compassionate choices when we know ourselves well.

Image: by Kevin B. Pixl

 

Personal Renewal through the Chakras and Svadyaya. Or: Spring is Coming!

I was raised Catholic. When I was growing up, my family went to church every. Single. Sunday. It did become monotonous at times. I always adored singing during mass, but I struggled against the unquestioned line that I was expected to agree with in my Catholicism classes. (Somehow that didn’t stop me from going through confirmation, the Catholic rite of confirming adulthood in the Church.) For a long time I was extremely cynical about the Church, its interpretation of the bible, and its incessant hierarchy and focus on power. And I am still wary of the Church as an organization–the Christ-esque-ence of the new pope aside, there’s really no way to erase the horrendous, heart-jarring history of child abuse. Still, this time of year, as life begins to emerge in its chartreuse glory, I am drawn back to Portland’s Catholic churches to celebrate the mystery of rebirth.

I don’t see this as an exclusively Catholic story. In fact, as I’ve been absorbing plenty of Joseph Campbell and Ram Dass lately, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the same event–spring!–through multiple myths. God sacrificing his son for his people–it’s an idea that’s rippled down through the millennia. Egyptian myths tell the same story. And the idea of some form of personal death–going into a cave, a mountain, a grave–and emerging back into the light is also universal across our species. Campbell’s work has allowed me to appreciate the common threads tying together all religions, and Ram Dass’ lecture series on the Bhagavad Gita has given me hope that we can start seeing what we all have in common–an inner ability to recreate ourselves, which mirrors the universal human hero story behind all myths. (I’m drawing heavily on J. Campbell here.) This age-old story of spring, of beauty arising from death, is something that we can all marvel at.

During this regenerative time of the year, we also have a chance to renew our relationship with ourselves through Svadyaya. This is one of eight core ethical guidelines in yoga called the Yamas and Niyamas. They are personal and social observances or disciplines that yogis follow in order to live a righteous life. In classical Indian yoga, students were not taught asana (physical yoga postures) until they had mastered the Yamas and Niyamas. The personal discipline of Svadyaya is self-study. The idea is that by understanding ourselves–including the darker parts that we don’t like to look at–we can better understand others and live kinder, fuller, more compassionate lives. And my own experience is that self-study is a sure-fire way to discover personal rebirth, something light from within ourselves taking the place of something dark.

Examining oneself through the lens of the chakras is a great way to practice Svadyaya. I think of the chakras as highway interchanges for energy. Just as traffic tends to get caught up where highways cross, energy tends to get stuck in these zones of the body. Or, in the case of an overactive chakra, energy can flow too fast, akin to the higher incidence of highway accidents at interchanges. In most yogic systems there are seven chakras, each with its own color, location in the body, and pyschological theme. (If you’re as obsessive about knowledge as I am you can go bonkers with the level of detail about the chakras. Each energetic center is associated with its own seed mantra, gemstones, scents, yoga postures… believe me, the list goes on and on.)

To give you a taste of how the system works, the first chakra, often called the root chakra, describes our relationship with stability. In this part of the body–the very bottom of the torso, often specified as the perineum–we tend to store issues around abundance. Do we believe that we will and can get what we need? If so, our first chakra is likely balanced. This is also the part of the body where we eliminate our waste, and so a blocked first chakra can manifest as an inability to let go of the “trash” in our lives– the people, ideas, and mental habits that do not serve us. In the body, the first chakra is associated with the perineum, the large intestine (see: elimination), the teeth, and the bones. Just as we need strong bones to act as a strong foundational structure, we need personal habits that keep us mentally and physically healthy. You begin to appreciate, I hope, what a huge influence this mind/body energetic system that can have on our physical, mental, and emotional experiences.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been teaching mostly chakra-centered classes. My classes at East West Yoga PDX, West Side Athletic Club, and CorePower Yoga SE are going through the chakras, examining each energetic center at a time. I have felt incredible gratitude at the opportunity to examine the chakras in my own life at the same time as I share this powerful tool for self-wisdom with others. (For instance, after teaching one first chakra class at WSAC, I got really sick, a major alert from my own root chakra.) As I’ve been teaching chakra series for several years now, I am able to draw on notes from past series and layer asana (physical yoga practice) with mantra (yogic hand postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing techniques). Altogether, it makes for an abosorbing, focused class to teach–and to take, judging from the shifts I perceive in my students.

If you’re interested in diving deep into the chakras–a challenging and rewarding journey to be sure!–I recommend reading Judith Anodea’s comprehensive book The Wheels of Life. If you just want a taste of the chakras, come to one of my classes in the next week or two. And by the way, I am starting a new chakra series in my Monday night prenatal yoga class at Zenana Spa. If you’re with child, come join me on March 24, the first Monday of spring break, for a free examination of the root chakra, at our regular class time, 5:30-6:45pm. And please do spread the word to your prenatal friends! 🙂 Then continue coming on Mondays, April 1-May 7, for chakras two through seven.

Namaste,

~Colleen