keskiviikko 4. joulukuuta 2013

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Who's the Yogiest of Them All?

Yoga community is like a big, dysfunctional family - somehow we are drawn together, but inspite of our good intensions, we can't always play very nice. Yogis love to talk, argue and even shout in order to defend what seems to be "the right way". Hot topics can vary from philosophical "what is yoga" (sure way to get an argument going), to detailed discussion on the best alignment of the foot in warrior asana, to tastiest green juice recipe or comparing the best yoga mat. One of the issues that sometimes comes up is whether or not to have mirrors in the yoga studio. As usual, some are for and some deeply oppose. Opposing arguments say that mirrors make the yoga practice superficial and take away the internal focus. Those in defend, stress the importance of seeing the alignment of the body.

 What interests me, is the deeper issue behind all of this. One of my bikram yoga teachers always started the class by saying "Look yourself in the mirror. Recognize the teacher." My other teacher Baron Baptiste shouts in his trainings "See yogis, see!". What to look? What to see? What IS actually in the mirror?

 One thing is certain - when we step into the yoga room, it is filled with mirrors. Whether they are actually hung on the wall or laid down on the floor disguised as yoga mats, there is no escaping. 

You see, yogi, the world as we see it, is nothing more than our inner reflection projected back to us. It is our own view of things and how we see ourselves that stares back to us. Sometimes we like it, sometimes we cannot stand it. The tricky part is, that none of it is real. It's all one big, fat lie that we have created in our mind. What we see in the mirror or what our practice reveals to us, only shows us our lie. It can be wrapped into a beautiful package: "Oh, how amazing am I! Did you see how I could lift my legs up in Tripod? I am so much better than this girl next to me, I wonder if she saw me doing it! I am such a good yogi!" Or it can play devil on your shoulder saying things like: "I can't stand the way I look. I still can't even touch my toes and my thighs look fat. I am a failure. Why did I even bother coming here? That girl next to me did just a beautiful Tripod and I can't get my hands touching the mat. I can never be as good as she is." Ego lives in comparisons. 
These two discussions seem very real for the individual - for as longs as we identify ourselves with them. But, what every spiritual seeker is yearning to see, is the reality of who we are. 

In yoga we speak about Self-realization. It simply means seeing ourselves the right way, not identifying with the mind and it's ego based ideas, but seeing beyond that. Awakening to Self-realization is shifting perception from identifying with the mind/ego/persona/form = FEAR into our true being that is LOVE/Light/energy to give it a few names. The beauty of this is, that once we really get this, we understand that this is true for all of us. We are not separate from each other but in this together. In reality we are the same being. There is no comparison, no separation. No need to fight, since the only fight that's going on is against our twisted mind. 

 So mirrors aren't good or bad - they simply show us where we identify and they have a real purpose in that. To me asana practice, using my mat as a mirror, shows me what's going on in my mind and what's the latest in my ego's lies and tricks. I work hard to release myself from these ideas and one breathe at a time I let go of them. Layer by layer, asana by asana, breath by breath I slowly let go of what is not serving me. Asana is simplified to prana, breathe, moving the body - there is no comparison with my previous practice or with my fellow yogis. I see things as they are, not through my mind's colored and distorted perception. 

 This is an ongoing battle, one that I take on every day. In the yoga room it's quite apparent, outside it gets easily cluttered. I notice sinking back into my head, admitting defeat to my ego, loosing the ability and the beautiful gift of being present. But luckily I have my mirror to keep me on track. It doesn't lie. I lie. And then my heart softly whispers - it's not the real you. See, yogi, see. And looking closer, the lie disappears and for a moment my inner world and outer world are in perfect alignment. A glimpse of my true Self is revealed and it's beauty is beyond this realm. 

 So yogis, use the mirrors - they are seen in every conversation, in every asana, in every urge to be right, in every self-defeating or judging discussion that goes on in the head. Take a real close look what kind of distorting glasses you are wearing and just let them go. Practicing that, is practicing yoga, the union. Uniting the mind and the spirit, uniting one self with Self and through that with others. No need for comparisons, no need to be right. Simply Being is enough.

Love and Light

lauantai 23. marraskuuta 2013

My Dog is My Guru

In my many yoga travels and trainings I am quite often faced with the question "Who is your guru?". Traditionally yoga practice has been passed from a guru to a student following a certain lineage, to secure the purity of the practice. In modern day yoga this teacher/student role is sometimes misunderstood. The guru becomes somebody who holds keys to 'spiritual enlightment' when in reality this 'spirituality' is our birth right, something universal that binds us together as human beings. 

I've been quite fortunate in my yoga path to have had opportunities to train and take workshops with some amazing teachers like Baron Baptiste, Craig Villani, Tiffany Cruikshank,  and Kathryn Budig. Eventhough I really appreciate their talent and skills in teaching, none of them is my Guru. My real-life guru is not a human being at all but a very much spiritual being - my 5 year old parson russell terrier Nana.

Nana came to my life in a time when I was going through some sort of spiritual crisis. I had just come out of a relationship where I had witnessed how an intelligent, life-loving, wonderful man fell in the trap of religion (fundamental type), losing the real message of spirituality and closing the tender whispers of his own heart. I felt tremendeously sad and frustrated and powerless. Not one real-world woman could ever compete with the love of God and promised mansions of the amazing afterlife. But, when we face obstacles there is always an opportunity for growth. When my anger and frustration subsided, somewhat rebelliously I decided to start doing things that had been labelled as 'satanic'. This wasn't very hard since pretty much everything outside the teachings of this one little church were included.  It was time to re-introduce myself to yoga (labelled as VERY bad so it offered some extra solace to my hurt pride and ego.)

When I was in my mid twenties I had started ashtanga yoga practice which I very much liked and followed for two years. I remember a moment when I had a crystal clear thought: 'Yoga will be your life in the future, but you need to live first.' This realization was so clear that I dropped the practice and went on living my life of ups and downs until my spiritual crisis brought me full circle back to yoga. But, I had had enough of any too constraint form of thinking, so instead of ashtanga I chose the 'black sheep' of yoga and registered to a bikram yoga class. Breathing and bending in the 105 F and listening to the steady flow of words that the teacher was repeating, I fell in love with the practice then and there. 

Hot yoga in it's different forms is still my favourite practice and I now own a hot yoga studio. This practice has healed me a lot and I love the fact that it's stripped down to focus on the physical side of yoga. It's by no means a non-spiritual practice if one chooses to see it that way, but spirituality is not something that is stressed or expected. So no gurus in the hot room, but somebody had heard my cry for understanding spirituality and my real-life guru was on her way. 

Nana the Dog came and conquered my world and heart with one sincere gaze from her hazel-brown eyes and with her ever wagging tail. She keeps my reality in check by living fully every single moment of each day, one breathe (and usually a hop) at a time. She doesn't well in the past or plan the future. She takes life as it is. She forgives quickly and her love is always accepting and unconditional. She's not focused on the form of people but sees the spirit. She's not prejudiced but gives everyone equal chance with complete trust to their good heart. She spends many hours of the day playing and being curious. She's always in a good mood unless she's sick - then she quietly let's the body heal itself, but doesn't feel like a victim. She rests when she needs to, and literally jumps to seize every opportunity to experience something new. She stretches her body to perfect updog and downdog and then walks on without pondering over how it went or if the dog next door does it better. She has given herself a job as the-head-of-security, watching the yard from the window - a task she takes very seriously. No squirrel, cat, dog, bird or a stranger will get pass her ever watchful eyes and they are greeted with a high bark. When she rests, she does that with equal passion, complete stillness and relaxed body in a perfect savasana. She can be quiet and still for a long time, just staring in the air, reminding me the importance of meditation and quieting the mind. 

Her most precious teaching is her way of being - her ability to embrace life fully with joy and happiness, to welcome every day with renewed trust and enthusiasm. She has hands down the biggest heart of anyone I've ever met in my life and she's not afraid to show it. In her I see a spiritual being, equal to any human, a teacher who knows how this life should be experienced to gain happiness. My dog is my Guru and I feel happy about it. Next time you meet an animal, take a moment to connect with them. They have a message to us humans and it's one of love and presence - something we are too quick to forget. Namaste (and a woof!)

Nana the Dog keeping guard (while wondering where to hide her precious bone - another daily task is to change its hiding place.)