I am currently taking Victoria Austin’s Pranayama I class, which means I have been practicing breathing exercises at home every day– well, like 6 days a week. One of the main things my body has learned is how intimate my breath and my emotions are. I am also currently recovering from a train-wreck of a 4-month relationship, so I have a lot of feelings going on that are unpleasant, to say the least. I don’t particularly want to be in touch with them, but a regular practice of pranayama combined with a regular asana practice tends to make a person pretty aware of how she feels. Aargh!
Every day we, the students, write down which breathing exercises we did. We include one word to describe something we feel before we practice and one word that describes something we feel after we practice. More often than not, the words I have used to describe how I’ve felt prior to practicing have been words like angry, sad, or anxious. In fact I often feel the need to have a good cry after a pranayama session or asana class. The exercises open my heart. When I am done with my daily practice, however, I also almost always feel more grounded. I feel embodied. I find that this allows me to really say yes to whatever emotions are present without getting bogged down by them. I find myself moving on with my life despite how much I dislike how I feel a lot of the time, and really accepting the reality of my current circumstances. This is progress compared with how I have dealt with break-ups in the past, which has included a lot of laying around, depressed, staring at my bedroom wall. You know what they say: “If you’re going through hell, keep going!”
I took a yoga class a few years ago, and can’t even recall who the teacher was, but I just remember her saying that the word happiness is derived from the word happenstance, which means what is actually happening. So if happiness really isn’t about getting what I think I want or acquiring more stuff or reaching the other side where the grass looks greener to me, then I guess I better get busy learning how to get into this. In pranayama class this past weekend, Victoria touched on this subject. She spoke of cultivating cheerfulness by saying yes to life. I find myself in a place of inquiry about the true nature of happiness. This might sound totally pedantic and pretentious, but I can’t help it– I love the part in The Upanishads that goes: “To action alone are you entitled; never to its fruits.”
LURA ETHRIDGE is one of IYISF's fabulous work-study students, and will be starting her first year in the Teacher Training program in January 2013. You can find her in the office on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
The last few days I have found myself pressed for time. Hurrying through meals, rushing through errands and keeping phone calls and emails brief. This of course has affected my practice. Guilt was the first sensation I experienced as I cut back my time and array of poses, then frustration as I had to forego my pranayama practice two days in a row. Then I surprised myself.
I picked one asana to briefly warm into and to expand upon during this brief busy period. I have been working on widening my chest, tucking in my shoulder blades and extending the front and back sides of my body using my heels and the balls of my feet as cues, then practicing Salamba Sirsasana (headstand) each day. In this boiled down and repetitive practice I have learned much more then I expected to gain in such an abbreviated amount of practice time. I have been able to sense more about this one pose by concentrating on it day after day, I have gained a better awareness not only of my weaknesses in the posture but my strengths as well.
Then I realized what may be one of the most profound experiences I’ve had in my practice. I realized that in order to steady myself from my busy schedule (especially in headstand) I was having to consciously balance and steady my prana, my breath and life energy, during my asana practice to a much great extend then I had previously experienced.
I found that when I suppressed my pranayama practice it resurfaced in my asana practice and that when I had to condense my asana practice I was able to continue to learn from my efforts. Perhaps as a little reminder to return to their nurturing. Little carrots on the string.
CAT JOHNSTON is a work-study alumni and is now enrolled in the 2013 IYISF Teacher Training program. We are blessed to have her as part of our community!