My Yoga Story

08/12/2012 19:04


Here is a story I thought I would tell at the very beginning and here I find myself telling it at the very end. This is how Stephen and I met:


Back in 2009, a few months before doing my own foundational teacher training in New York, I had started working at a media agency in Zurich.

I discovered the girl who had held the marketing position before me, Tanja, to be yet another yoga teacher in Zurich. She was very insistent that the whole team at work try out this new teacher she had invited to Switzerland for the summer – some Stephen-from-Asia-guy. My colleague went and reported back that it had been very crowded and quite physical. Not to mention some groupie-girls in the front row. I really didn't need to take class with yet another territorial male yoga teacher, so I decided not to waste Tanja's gift of a free Airyoga class on this.


Tanja had left the position I inherited because she had had a baby. The baby, Kailash, was about six months old, so that summer, she had a ritual and a fire ceremony performed for her the little one. She sent pictures of the outdoor ceremony to the office. One picture showed Kailash in the arms of a middle-aged man with a big straw hat, a soft smile and eyes that revealed a surprisingly smooth-sly twinkle. My boss liked that picture so much that she printed it and hung it on the wall of our shared office space – coincidentally right above my desk.


A year went by. I had started teaching in Zurich and honing my skill. After a year, I decided I was now ready to ask the Airyoga manager if they were in need of subs every once in a while, which again Tanja had been suggesting I do from the get-go. I applied and met up with the manager a few weeks later to discuss my application. Not only did he like the idea of me subbing, but he asked which evenings I was still free, i.e. not teaching somewhere else. It was not until later that I found out about a second Airyoga location opening in January of the following year, 2011. I was offered a few classes there. To make it official, the manager asked me to go take one of Stephen's classes, just to get his ok, as Stephen was now responsible for the recruiting new staff.


So, early September 2010, I went in for Stephen's Monday night. Without expectation. It was earnest yet light. It felt exactly right. After class I went to thank Stephen and to give him a hug. He asked me to stay so we could talk. He said I had a mindful practice and that he could see no objection why I should not become part of the team.


A week later, Airyoga called me and asked if I could take over that above-mentioned Monday night class because Stephen was leaving for Asia to get married and they had not yet been able to find a replacement. This is how, head over heels, I started teaching at Airyoga. Following into footsteps that felt too big for me. But apparently I was ready – ready for my teacher to physically show up in my life.


Only months later, after quite a few tumultuous changes in my life, while sitting in my 300h teacher training with Stephen, I remembered: The photo! All these months, Stephen had been sitting, or hanging, right above my head. Smiling down at me.


A seed had been planted long before the change manifested in my life. I'm not sharing this story just because it sounds good. I know after a teacher training, we have a lot of momentum, but also a lot of doubt. After all, aren't there more than enough yoga teachers in this world? Who needs one more? But always remember, that you have planted a seed. Let this past month be the photo. Let it smile down on you and protect you along the way. And trust that the seed will blossom into whatever shape flower is exactly right for you. Don't forget to water it and don't be in a hurry to pluck it. It will grow, believe me. Obvious or subtle, it will grow.


The Celebration

08/12/2012 17:37


Ironically the last couple of days at Yoga Thailand we were without power (electricity , not yogic power). This is how our last full day of teacher training begins – no light, no fans in the yoga shala, no toaster, no internet. So for our last 24 hours of TT, we are being tested in our yogic ability to truly detach from outside distractions. Or we are being given a chance to focus only on what is: our little sangha, multi-faceted yet tight-knit after as much rain as sunshine.


The day of graduation we have a nice quiet practice with Stephen himself rolling out his mat and sweating with us – 42 bodies moving as one into Savasana. Or as Bhanu puts it: letting the death die, letting the experience come to a close.

4pm, the graduation ceremony begins, and we have no certificates to hand out – no power, no printer. All we have are the very cliche' red roses with silver glitter that I ordered with the Samahita staff.

Stephen grants me the honor to represent all of us assistants and hand a rose to every newborn teacher, while he sits calmly next to me. Of course, the first person getting their rose is my good friend Andrew, so I lose it right away. For a moment it crosses my mind: “Maybe I am not supposed to give everyone a hug? Is this too emotional? Maybe I'm just to join my palms and bow?” But I don't care. I want to do this. To be the feminine, upright, next to Stephen's seated Shiva-wisdom.


Person after person comes, and suddenly, I realize that with every single one, I have built a relationship. I know how their body moves through their practice, I know a little bit their stories and I know the little light behind their eyes. I know a little bit of the struggles they've had during this month. And as I press the them close to me, I can sense that ,even though the struggles may not have ceased, everyone has gained a new perspective. Everyone has found more space in their bodies to move with obstacles. Like the river does when it encounters a rock: It finds a way to flow around it, it does not stop. Everyone vibrates with something I can only describe as new-found trust in wherever the journey takes us.


And so tears keep streaming down my cheeks. I believe we all look back onto an intense month, including me, or maybe especially me. Yoga really is the mirror, as Andrew reminds me, after we have left Yoga Thailand. Which is why during an intense month of daily practicing and studying, we lose all opportunities to look away. Suddenly we see ourselves up close. At first, it is painful, comes as a shock. But then we realize it is liberating. Here finally, is honesty. And once we see what is, there is something we can work with. We realign, we dig down to the root, we create a course of healing.


Many of us came with questions that seemed to have no answer. Many of us still don't know what will be after. But all seem more grounded, more centered, closer to themselves. When we are closer to our inner home, there is less urgency to reach the outer home.
I think of Donna's Urdhva Dhanurasana which suddenly went all heart-open. The outer layer has shifted along with the inner. Not just for her.


Transformation requires friction”. Another little piece of wisdom, which Andrew points out to me, as we have already left the island behind. We sure all bumped into obstacles throughout this month. We sure all were afraid, have felt inadequate and lost and help- or hopeless. And here we are, coming out the other side.


I know that we often don't see the changes in ourselves until much later. So let me be your mirror: As everyone comes to get their rose I am truly moved because in everyone I see new pieces. Aspects that create balance for their individual being. In the fearful, I see courage. In the wavering, I see determination. In the introverts, I see eyes that meet mine. In the chirpy ones, I see a different vibration called silence. In former tough shells, I see a mother's touch.


And in each and everyone I see unobstructed light.


Truly, a celebration of life.


In eternal gratitude.




How Teaching Teaches Us Effort and Surrender

03/12/2012 13:04


The teacher training is slowly coming to an end. Time is now flying and I really don't want to think about going home just yet. Luckily I have been distracted by my two lectures on methodology, or more specifically, on how to teach yoga to beginners or how to begin to teach yoga. I'm so grateful for this opportunity because not only do I love to teach, but I also love to talk about yoga and teaching.


As I was preparing for these lectures, trying to decide the most important points I want to get across, I realized there are so many aspects that I love about teaching. Even after three years, during which I have taught a lot (sometimes too much), I never once leave the studio not feeling fulfilled.


Teaching seems to always get me out of my head and right into the present moment. It is a little bit like surfing or rock climbing,: There is just no time to think about anything else but “right now.” You become fully absorbed by what you are trying to do: observing, guiding, supporting, holding the space – all at the same time.

Which is probably why after teaching I always feel content and grounded, no matter what silly little drama was holding my mind hostage before the class. Teaching, as all Karma Yoga, completely shifts your focus from self to others. It is a magic trick that always works when you make it less about “What can I get out of it?” and a little bit more about “What can I give to it?”.


One of my favorite sayings for yoga teaching is the phrase: “Teach students, not poses.” It is easy to get attached to how knowledgeable and skilled we have become and to depend on our students' progress to reflect on us positively. So when you catch yourself desperately wanting a student to do a pose better, when you catch yourself being impatient with them, then there's a high chance your ego has gotten in the way. There's no need to feel bad when that happens. After all, it is human. However, we will soon realize that teaching then easily turns into a source of frustration because we are reaching for something. Whereas when we teach from a place of giving, without expecting anything in return, then teaching is always satisfying.


What I like most about teaching yoga is that it is constantly teaching me. And if you asked mention the most valuable lesson, I would probably say this: Certainly the ever applying lesson of surrender. Of course, teaching doesn't magically heal all wounds and samskaras. So here, too, there are days when we want to feel appreciated and showered with love. We think that this positive echo will come if we put enough effort into it, if we will be radiant amazing teachers. So we begin to strive towards that goal.
In my personal experience, it is precisely that somewhat egotistical effort that will take the wind out of your sails. If you try so hard to be perfect, sitting all zen and erect in your teacher's seat, people will pick up that energy. If you are striving to be perfect, they will feel they have to be perfect, too. Nobody likes that kind of pressure on them, if they are honest. And it is certainly not what yoga encourages us to do. As teachers or students, yoga teaches us that there is actually very little we can or need to control. Whatever needs to end up on our plate, will eventually be served to us. That goes also for our students. In the context of teaching, this means that we can relax and lay back into our teacher's seat. Of course, we should put our best effort into being prepared and knowing our skill. At some point however, we need to realize that whatever needs to flow through us, will emerge. We are just a channel. I have found that it is actually a relief to only hold partial responsibility. The mind can then get a little bit out of the way.


Many people on this training have told me that they don't actually intend to teach yoga. Last but not least, I would like to say, you will all teach, or share, in one way or another. This past month has had an effect on all of us and through our Dharma, we will share that with others. No matter what your Dharma is, if you're a writer, an accountant, a parent or a journalist. Whatever has been awakened here, will flow through you from now on.


01/12/2012 14:01


When I was in my 200 hour teacher training, I was told a Buddhist story about the Bengali teaboy. A Buddhist lama was traveling to teach in Tibet and he brought a Bengali teaboy with him. The teaboy was hopeless, totally unreliable and clumsy and probably even lying and stealing from the lama. The disciples kept asking: “Rinpoche, why do you have such a scoundrel of a teaboy? Let us find you a better one!” The Lama said, “No, by all means, he needs to stay with me. If I'm only surrounded by people who are wonderful, devout and easy to love, how will I have to opportunity to practice compassion?”

In New York they say, that in every teacher training, in every group that comes together, in every family setting, there will be a Bengali teaboy. Someone that just pushes your buttons, a black sheep, or someone who is very honest with you, who gives you feedback you maybe did not want to hear. In New York they call this person “The One”.


Manas delivers what you see and hear from this person. The ego checks in with Chitta, takes a quick look at old Samskaras in the storehouse, and decides that, no, this is for sure a dislike. We don't like to have our buttons pushed or to hear feedback that is not flattering. We don't like people to behave in a way that is inconvenient for us. It is easy then to decide to avoid that person, to not place your mat next to them and not sit with them at meals. I believe however, that if we try to act from our higher intelligence, from the Buddhi, we will recognize, that the people who may sometimes rub us the wrong way, are often our biggest teachers and our biggest opportunities.


The other day, I was talking to someone here who shared a beautiful thought with me: There is 39 (including me, 40) of us and there is only one teacher, only one Stephen. So it is hard to get direct feedback or a good talk with your teacher during teacher training. It also not necessarily a teacher's job to tell you exactly what you could work on. Sometimes you are expected to figure it out yourself from hints that are dropped.

However, Stephen has naturally left an imprint on all of us. And he is awakening qualities in all of us. So we each begin to carry on something of that vein of teaching. So, when we are confronted with a situation that the ego dislikes, it imight just be a teaching delivered to us via another person. This brings my thoughts back to the idea of interconnectedness. All our personas and destinies are obviously interwoven, otherwise we wouldn't be here together for four intense weeks. Our coming here was probably written in the stars long ago.

And just like in Indra's net, at every intersections, there is a multi-faceted jewel. Whenever we make contact, there is something precious – if only we can open our eyes to see it.


Every encounter we have, pleasant or unpleasant, is probably not a coincidence. Often we don't like to see it that way and the ego feels bruised when someone gives us un-called for feedback. The default reaction is then: “Who are you tell me? You are in no way ahead of me!” Still, I believe that whatever emotional reaction we have to another person's input or mere presence, it is always a message if we are willing to see it that way. Whatever someone's motivation may be for the comment or behavior you didn't like, maybe we can just trust that it is exactly what we needed to hear or see. We can trust that teachings come, all the time and not only from those people who we have elected to be our teachers, to play that part in our life.


I believe that honoring the teachings life brings is also a way to honor your specific chosen teacher. It means they have affected you because you are ready to make sense of the hints that are given to you. You have recognized the underlying thread of the net in which we are all interwoven. You have grown to trust life.











The Male Principle in Yoga

28/11/2012 17:43

  A word about the guys: Out of the 39 trainees, only 5 are men. Which is not unusual in the yoga world. Men that have never done yoga, usually think it's something for softies. I have to say that however, most men that I have met in yoga are usually very masculine. That doesn't necessarily mean that they act or look very macho. What I mean is, it's easy for the male principle to manifest in them, more so than the feminine.


Hatha Yoga, often translated as the yoga of force, easily brings out masculine qualities in all of us. Physically it is about strength, about integrating the core and creating heat, about actively setting muscles and bones into proper alignment. Mentally and energetically it is about focus, about drawing in, about understanding and about the clear analytical mind. All qualities associated with the masculine principle.


Often, as I watch men get deeper into the practice, I also see this principle manifest more and more. They like to ride on the wave of their strength, to challenge themselves with what is already their predominant quality – strength and integration as opposed to organic, expansive energy. Even as I look back on how my own practice has evolved over the last few years, I have to admit, it has become more masculine. I have become stronger in my core, I do arm balances and inversions, which I would never have imagined. For me, the male principle has created balance, because I started out too loose and organic, with insufficient integration of my core. But lately I sometimes feel like my body is hard, although it still looks feminine and soft. Still the sensation is sometimes like the layer underneath has grown rigid and rigorous.


The literal meaning of Ha-Tha is actually Sun-Moon, meaning that this yoga is a search for the balance between lunar and solar, between feminine and masculine principle. I once had a great explanation from Stephen why in yoga we seek to balance things first. (Hence all these rounds of Nadi Shodana). With our practices of Pranayama and Asana, we create a lot of energy. This energy will be fed into whatever is. If an extreme prevails, it will be reinforced. So, the masculine principle will almost get out of hand – even for us women, who tend to have to be very masculine because of the way society, the corporate world or even our mind has conditioned us. The wise and healthy thing is to balance the energy in your practice and in your life. In other words resist the temptation of always just feeding our extreme, which is usually what we prefer.


It makes me smile when one of my guy friends here tells me about his intention to perform Dhauti Kriya (sticking a rubber tube down your esophagus and squirting out water through it) in order to open up the heart chakra. I laugh mostly at myself, because I originally had had the same idea. But suddenly I realize that we often end up wanting to use the male principle of action, of doing. We like to think we can make things happen even when they cannot be forced. A lot of openings and milestones in yoga come to their full expression through the feminine principle: through non doing and letting go. Or as the Anusaris would say, by opening to grace. Which is something you just cannot make or do. Just like Stephen says about Samadhi: You can set up for it and do all the preparatory work. You can set the table for your guest and send out an invitation. After that you can only patiently wait for it to happen.


It is one of the most difficult things for us to do in yoga: this feminine aspect, this non doing. The softening into what is. We are so trained to the idea of: if you work hard, you will see results, if you do that, then this. In my experience, that's not the way it works. Real shifts happen when you let go, when you are willing to give up. Not that the male principle is wrong. It creates the important foundation for transformation to happen. The setting of the table. But when you have that, then I believe, you need to get out of the way, and let a more subconscious, intuitive wisdom take over for you.


Trying to Be So Good

27/11/2012 22:01


The tension before the final exam is palpable. After meals everyone is rushing off to their rooms or to their study groups to review philosophy, anatomy and alignment principles. Everyone wants to be prepared and to do so good.


This reminds me of a story Stephen once told us before an early morning Pranayama practice in Zurich. He used to go once or twice a year to see Tiwari in Kavailadhyam. He shared how every time he went, he wanted to be so good for his teacher. This always caused a little bit of stress, and only after many years, he said, he was finally able to relax about his progress. It was then that little shift in his attitude that became a great shift in his practice.


Isn't it funny how we always think we have to be so good for others to love and appreciate us? Isn't it absurd how we think growth and transformation means we have to become a better person? And isn't it interesting how that happens even to the best and most experienced of us? It is a great gift to find a teacher who inspires you and who can guide you on many levels, not only on the mat. The pitfall however can be that we become consumed with the effort to please our teachers – and by that I also mean the inner teacher or our informal teachers – and with the need for their appreciation.


As Stephen mentioned yesterday in his discussion of Aparigraha (non-grasping, non-hoarding), this Yama is not only about materialistic attachment. We also like to identify with approval, with the certainty that we are doing great. So, a great deal of our energy ends up being channelled into this effort of distinguishing ourselves from others. Or we try to emulate and imitate others because we think they are way ahead of us.

However, in the attempt to be different and excellent, we only strengthen the grasping reflex of the mind. “I will be happy when I have this. I will be satisfied when I am this.” We never solve the root of the problem, because temporary satisfaction does not equal permanent contentment (Santosha). We are constantly chasing after something other than what is. We only reinforce the dualism: “I am bad now, I want to be better.” The root of all suffering. And certainly not respectful and loving towards ourselves (Ahimsa).


Or to be quite straightforward: In my experience, constantly comparing and trying to be someone you are not is extremely frustrating and painful. It is an aggression towards yourself. But I will also say, it is difficult to own yourself, to be confident and be true to yourself. Especially in front of your teacher who you idealize and you want to be so good for.


However, in my experience this may be the most important part of the yogic process: Get to know all of yourself and then learn to be true to yourself. Own all that you are. And be confident that whatever your potential is, that's exactly what you were meant to give to this world.


Also remember that your teachers are not standing on the other side of the river, waving to you to cross over. They are swimming only a few strokes ahead of you. They have been where you are. They remember and they understand your struggle. They don't want you to be perfect, they don't want you to be a copy of themselves. They want you to express all of your potential, the way it manifests in you – whatever that may be.


I can see the light in all of you – always.

Dropping the Story

25/11/2012 21:47


When I started doing yoga, my body was overly flexible, and what was worse, I had no idea what that meant. I didn't know that most of my lower back pain was due to my genetically inherited hyperextensions. It took a long time for me to build up the strength to, literally, hold things together. Or maybe it wasn't even so much the strength as the awareness and coordination of not letting the bones and joints rattle all over the place, barely held together by my way-too-loose tendons. Yet slowly I learned to align my body in a different way, more pulling in than expanding out, more integrating than exploding.


It is interesting that my mind has a similar quality of excessive looseness. It can easily go from satisfaction and ease to impatience and anger to sadness and compassion back to smiles... and all of that in under 10 minutes. Here too, I have had to teach my mind techniques of pulling back by witnessing with awareness. Over the years I have learned to not react so quickly to the fiery impulses of my temper. I have learned to locate the root of my default reactions. I have learned to explain to myself what they are about, such as, usually when I get angry, it is mostly out of fear to seem inadequate.


This practice of explaining my reactions to myself has been very helpful, just like all the little techniques of inner thighs in and back or grounding the big toe mound. However, even the best techniques become outdated. I caught myself yesterday in the following situation: I was practicing on the mat next to my friend. Because I am such an ambitious Pita-person I was trying to impress with my yoga practice (believe it or not). All of a sudden, I realized I was trying a little too hard and started to bring myself back with the my usual story of: “Yes, that's because I was raised to believe that if you give your best, if you try hard enough, you will eventually be successful and people will appreciate you and your skill.”I suddenly however, also realized, I keep telling myself stories about myself. I constantly try to find reasons and explanations for me being the way I am. In a similar preventative way I had been avoiding deep backbends out of fear to go back into being too loose.


Both, physical and mental, have been good techniques for a long time. But nothing ever stays the same and we outgrow even the best techniques. So, I find myself laughing at myself for still needing to make up a story and a justification every time the fire flares up in me. I am also finding myself drawing a breath of relief as I hear Stephen say:“Use the technique, but then know when to drop it. It is easy to get too attached to the technique, because it has been useful for a while, but then you never just get to experience the present moment.”


It's true. I'm often so obsessed with aligning the pose so I don't collapse into my hyper extension, that there's barely any time to actually feel the pose. Or I'm so worried with finding an explanation for my boiling temper that I can never simply let myself be pissed off for a moment. And frankly, this whole re-aligning body and mind all the time can feel quite compulsive and constricting if overdone.


So whatever your story is, about why you can't do Kapalabhati when everyone's pumps are a different rhythm, or about how you can only meditate in the evening, or about how you can only pass an exam if you have all the detailed information... Maybe you can drop that story. All these explanations of “My body just doesn't do that” or “That's just not for me”. Maybe you can drop the (defensive) technique that has seemed so useful for a long time. Maybe you can just experience and let the present moment be your teacher.


Or like Stephen said today, as apparently Richard Freeman is fond of saying: If you want to let go of something, first give it some space to exist.

On the Subject of Meditation

24/11/2012 18:14

Most of us struggle with meditation. Often that's also due to misunderstandings such as, you should eliminate all thoughts to be in the proper meditative state, or, you have to be have stilled your thoughts in order to meditate. (And let it just be said here, meditation is one of the many yogic practices to still the mind. And no, there will always be thoughts arising from the pond-like obscure depth of your consciousness - question is, will you give them your attention or will you just let them pass you by?)

This afternoon our trainees were put into groups of three and everyone was to present two personal issues in their practice. The other two in the group were then to present hands-on strategies and tools to deal with these issues in a daily practice. I have to say, I was impressed as I sat with most of the groups and just listened to their discussions. The little exchange that stuck with me the most was precisely one on issues with meditation. The question that was asked was quite original - as I thought. 

If you're mind is already calm, already harmonious and sattvic, would you still sit down and meditate?

Or you could also ask: If a runner has a good day and they feel like they could go on for miles and miles without the pulse quickening, would they still go for a run? Of course, they would. Purely because of the pleasure of running lightly and effortlessly. Meditating on a "good day", without having to make the constant effort of bringing your mind back, bringing your mind back... It's simply beautiful and soothing.

But then, as the Buddhists or Classical Yogis would say, the purpose of all practices, especially meditation, is to train and tame the mind. And the mind is like a muscle: If you use it every day, it stays supple and nimble, or in the mind's case, sharp and on point. In other words, repetition is key. This is what we call the formal meditation practice: Taking time to sit down every day, even if it's just for ten minutes, and exercising that muscle. Even when you feel you don't need it, or, on the opposite polarity, when you feel like today is impossible.

It's like drills for an emergency evacuation in a school building. They may seem pointless, but if you don't create a habit in a routine situation, chances are very high that the strategy won't work in a state of emergency. So, by practicing daily, we create a habit for the mind in a calm and secure situation. So that whenever we do end up in a more stressful situation, we elevate our chances of keeping the mind calm(er) i.e. slipping into informal meditation. Such as: You're leaving to go to Italy to see you family, but as you get to the airport, you are told at the check-in that you're not listed as a passenger although you booked your tickets month ago. They send you to different desks all across the airport and boarding time is getting closer and closer. (And yes that really happened to me two months ago, just in case you were wondering). I remember a time when I would have thrown a fit and been hysterical not to mention yelled at the airport personnel. Of course, nowadays I still get a bit agitated, my pulse quickens, but I catch myself. I take a breath, think clearly and orient myself towards the solution. Do what is necessary, buy a new ticker, find out what happened later. That is only possible when the mind is already used to clarity and to not getting unsettled so easily.

Maybe some days meditation seems pointless to you. Maybe this is why we do it anyways.

Dance With It

23/11/2012 18:26


I feel like today was pretty packed with information. So here's an attempt to break it down once more.


This morning Stephen lectured about the loops of energy in the body, a great tool to set up our alignment in the asana practice. However, finding the loops of energy in your “set up” and striving towards correct alignment is not an end to itself. It mainly serves the purposes of putting the body into a shape that is stable yet spacious, so the channels are open, we can breathe freely, and if you like, prana can flow.


This explanation begins to make more sense as we dive deeper into the physical and the energy body and its underlying layers in the afternoon lectures. Finally, Stephen is introducing the trainees to one of my favorite subjects of yoga philosophy: The Koshas, sheaths or layers in English, that make up our whole being.


On the outermost layer is the physical or gross body, called Annamaya Kosha, which we influence with everything that is also gross, like the food we take in or our Asana practice. Then underneath is said to be the Pranamaya Kosha, the subtle or energetic body, where the rivulets of the nadis run, carrying Prana to this second sheath. This sheath is influenced by our Pranayama practice – what else. Further or deeper in is the mental body, the Manomaya Kosha. This is where Manas (the senses) and the Ahamkara (ego) reside. Here we can dig in through Dhyana (meditation) or Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses), but also it is said by applying the Yamas and Niyamas or, really, any way to train the mind. Even deeper in, we find the Vijnamaya Kosha, the astral or wisdom or knowledge body, where the Buddhi, our higher intelligence, sits. The innermost layer is eventually the bliss body, the Anandamaya Kosha, which we can only glimpse once all the other layers have been made light, harmonious, sattvic and porous, so the nucleus will shine through.


I have grown to love the way yoga philosophy explains the restlessness of the mind, because it makes a lot of sense to me. The senses bring in the information, like a camera filming a scene. The ego immediately takes that (so far objective) information and creates a story around it – just like the commentator on TV. The commentary always draws on past experience, on the storehouse of memory, which really only provides two basic types of insight: “This I like – more!” or “This I don't like – get rid of it!”. All our past experience, from this and maybe even previous lives, are stored in our memory. These experiences have been registered by leaving imprints on the surface of our consciousness. Since we like to repeat the same pattern, either like or dislike, over and over again, these imprints are dug deeper and deeper until they turn into grooves, which the yogis call Samskaras. The deeper the groove, the more difficult obviously to get out of that repetitive behavior.


Often our issue is that we instantaneously react to the information that senses deliver. For instance, someone stands to close to me on the tram and keeps bumping into me. My mind immediately connects: too close – getting into my personal space – annoying or threatening – dislike – get rid of it. In the past, I have made the experience that someone standing too close is unpleasant, I lose my personal space, so I have created a Samskara, a repetitive pattern, of reaction. Now that this situation presents itself again, I immediately short circuit and go right into my default reaction: aggression. I vehemently tell the person to back off. Or let's say I have created a different Samskara in the past, based the experience that if I defend my personal space people are going to think I'm selfish and arrogant. So my default reaction will be to suffer silently and suppress my feelings, which can be just as destructive.


I had always been told – from a perspective of modern psychology – that patterns cannot be broken. Which is why it was a revelation for me to discover through yoga, that although they may not be obliterated, they can be attenuated: We can use the pause, the gap, the moment right before we go into default reaction to create a whole other chain of events. This is what is called the awakening of the Buddhi, of higher intelligence, that part of our mind which is smart enough to actually see what's going on.


I'm still standing on the tram and that annoying person is standing to close to me. I become aware that I am annoyed and that I really want to yell at this person (or that I really don't want to say anything because I don't want to seem rude). Let me say the most important thing: Becoming aware of what is going on inside is already AMAZING! Because that IS the gap, the space where you can evaluate and actually have a CHOICE of how to react. And then you can always decide what would be the respectful and compassionate thing to do with regards to yourself and the other person and everyone else riding on that tram. And maybe you decide to go into your usual default reaction mode – but at least you do so fully aware.


Now, I'm going to refrain from talking about the two innermost Kosha, the Anandamaya Kosha – I simply don't have enough experience with it. Last but not least, let me tell you why I love this model of the Koshas: They have confirmed everything I have believed in since I was a little girl, spinning across the floor of a ballet studio. The physical, energetic and emotional/mental components influence each other. Which is why we feel relaxed and blissful after an Asana class or why Pranayama can clear our head. It is why a somewhat relaxed mental state affects our immune and digestive system significantly. It is why things that worried us before an Asana class just seem smaller in the after-picture. It is also why it feels different to practice Asana after doing Pranayama, as opposed to straight into the physical.


Like Stephen says, the Pranamaya Kosha with regards to the Annamaya Kosha, is like the hand that comes into the glove. The glove comes alive and can move although it was certainly physically there before. But my all time favorite thing is how Pranayama affects the mental body, maybe because it has single-handedly changed my life. I used to be so impulsive, emotional, judgmental, irrationally angry, over-analyzing everything, very fiery etc. These tendencies are still there, and I don't kid myself, they will always be. But boy, have they softened! Pranayama has slowly taught me to relax my nervous system enough in order to be able to observe and every once in a while step out of the downward spiral. And every once in a while now, I find the gap. And before I lash out, before I react, I pause. I consider, what would be the compassionate thing to do, towards myself and others? Do I always succeed? Of course not. Sometimes even watching is hard work. You will not believe what the ego still has the guts to babble and advocate even when you are consciously eyeing it in disbelief!


But slowly, slowly the alignment of the mind becomes more spacious, just like the alignment of the body when you apply the principles of loops and spirals (coming up soon). And like Stephen said this morning (and this I loved), it's not about getting it. The loops are are opposing forces; if you get one perfectly, you automatically lose the other a little bit. If you watch too much, you lose your naturalness. If you don't watch, you end up hurting people. So the point is not to get it. The point is to watch, watch the funny dance of the ego and the Buddhi's attempted lead... And eventually, to dance with it.




22/11/2012 21:24


Just a quick one to end this day which came with so much abundance. Today was our second day off from TT Thailand. And today I finally brushed all the stupid excuses aside and learned how to ride a scooter. If I cannot get over the fear of headstand, I can at least get over this. So I told myself.

Two of the guys from our teacher training took pity of a few of us girls and taught us the basics before going on a little tour of the island (waterfall, butterfly garden and dinner and sunset on the beach - amazing!). Now, I don't know if it is the Italian genes or just the adrenaline, but I am hooked! Sometimes I forget how much of my life revolves around this very sattvic and saintly space of yoga (please pardon my sarcasm). So much so that at times yoga is not the getting away part any more. As we go deeper into this practice, especially on occasions like a teacher training, yoga is still our passion, but we begin to take it very seriously - sometimes too seriously. There are moments when it loses that lightness of heart, when we begin to worry about it too much. We end up being a little too much in our head.

Getting up on a scooter today for me was a moment of meditation. The new adventure, the speed and the overcoming of fear blocked out all other thoughts. I was so concentrated on the road and on my coordination that I was completely in the moment. Fearless and free. 

It reminded me of the fact that sometimes not doing yoga is the most yogic thing you can do. My friend Egon always says, no system is complete, no philosophy holds all the answers. Why do I/we expect to get everything from yoga? Sometimes you need to branch out of the loop. And then you find your answers and releases elsewhere. 

Interesting how trying something new can make us feel empowered. So when we eventually come back to our home turf, we are more fearless and more light-hearted. Maybe that is just another proof that all is one.

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