External and Internal Choice

What does the term and concept – choice – mean to you?

English language definition: an act of selecting or making a decision when faced with two or more possibilities

A core guiding principle within trauma-sensitive yoga (TSY) is choice – a concept within the western world and English language that comes with freedom, privilege, access…

The action of choosing asks us to be present in the moment…at least – perhaps more present than if being directed.

In TSY, choice is offered within any form (posture) leaving the student to exercise specific neuropathways necessary for choosing.  Often it involves a process of interoception – looking inwards – in order to decide which adaption to the form is most comfortable for them in that moment.

This got me wondering…

Asana, the physical practice of yoga can be done almost anywhere.  Many people have a home/self practice.  Often this route of practice demands more from the practitioner – such as choosing when to practice, deciding on the postures and sequence, creativity etc.  There is limited room for apathy.  Instead, there the presence of self-direction and discipline.

More frequently, people can be found at yoga and fitness studios.  People choose this in comparison to a home practice for a number of reasons – and I would like to place emphasis on two: a) to immerse themselves in classroom environment where motivation is increased within a collective experience, and b) people have an opportunity to focus on directions provided by a teacher.  After a busy day at work where one may be consistently bombarded with problem solving and decision-making, having a yoga experience that is directed and feels healthy could be refreshing.  This certainly may serve a number of people – and with no intent of diminishing that experience I invite you to consider this…

Many of those work day decisions were most likely externally focused – based upon factors separate and outside a person’s inner environment, decisions grounded in intellectual and logical reasoning.

What would the experience be – a person who has been making externally based decisions all day long, comes to a class that invites them to look inward to make choices based on what their bodily sensations were telling them?

Would this send them running in the other direction – too tired to look inward and ‘think’?

Would it strengthen their ability to make effective externally based decisions?

Could it contribute to expanding a practice of ahimsa (non violence), on and off their mat?

I make this distinction because within a TSY oriented class, choice is based upon looking within.  As options are provided, students are invited to choose an adaption of a form that feels most comfortable for them.  This supports the enhancement of self awareness, making decisions based upon bodily sensations – a foreign experience for a complex trauma survivor who’s power to make choices may have been significantly limited, and in order to survive, they tactfully disconnected and dissociated from any bodily sensations and emotions.

Challenging?

Challenging!

The journey of strengthening one’s capacity for making choices can be a matter of life and death for a trauma survivor – therefore the journey of incorporating yoga into their pathway of recovery is a testament to one’s resilience.

All this being said, going inward and exercising the practice of enhancing self-awareness is challenging, even for a person who does not have a traumatic past –

So consider if your “choosing muscles” could use some exercise, and if so – the internal or external pathways?

Searching but not finding, compared to being ever present!

Soundtrack to this blog – Searching by Blackalicious

I just finished a course on the precepts (yama’s) of yoga with Michael Stone and timing is everything!  I’m sure that no matter when I chose to do this course, it would align with life – but I can’t deny the incredible parallel process that emerged from the experience of slowing down to participate more fully in the intimacy of life!

I have a dear friend who often reminds me – “the struggle is the blessing” – a line in the song ‘Searching’ that stands out for me over and over again (as well as many other lines)!!

…And in this day and age, I realize that slowing down really is an art, a practice that requires conscious action because…even if we are simply sitting, being, breathing – we are in action.

Within the searching – I now understand that if I slow down enough, no longer is there a need to search…instead there is listening, watching, feeling…everything is already present!

The first precept is Ahimsa – nonviolence, non-harm.

The first exercise we had to do was sit face to face with our partner, a stranger for me, and answer the question – how do you kill?…and answering the question involved speaking for 20 minutes without interruption to your partner as they listened!  Well, firstly…it sure took a few minutes to get past the ego to authenticity!  What an incredible exercise of vulnerability and how amazing it was to hear and be heard!  I have been engaging with a sitting practice daily, and to witness the responsibility within non-harm is incredible.  It’s near impossible to truly live a life of non-harm to anything on this planet but to exercise an awareness is possible!  Stone (2009) argues,

industrialism is such an all consuming impulse that it’s hard to think outside the box.  In fact we have interiorized the aspects of industrial materialism to the extent that we treat our bodies as resources that should keep up with the impossible pace of increased productivity.  The body, however, just can’t keep up.  We tend to forget that we – our bodies – are nature.  The way we control and repress our own bodies and feelings is reflected in our treatment of other life.” (p. 64)

Meditation, yoga, ceremony…these practices and way of life support ecological intimacy within our bodies and soul.  There are so many layers to life in which we expose ourselves to harm – yet choosing to slow can down provide us with the experience of being present to the ecological system that we are, engaging in the intimacy of each moment.

I am present to the responsibility I have to slow down, to be present, to understand non-harm and so much more in order to sustain life on this planet.

Consider how does an awareness of your body contribute to the health of our biosphere, Mother Earth?

Stone, M. (2009).  Yoga for a World out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action. Boston, USA: Shambhala Publications.

Gratitude…

How deeply can we sink into the ocean of gratitude?

We strive for joy and happiness to complete our lives, the essence of feeling truly alive…and I wondered what was beneath that?  What supports happiness or joy?

I had an experience in life that felt quite profound at the time – I say at the time because I believe this experience is possible to relive within many moments.  With time, space, and on going reflection of this moment…the experience continues to open new doorways.

Are you curious about the moment?…it was actually several moments of living, breathing, being, feeling the swells of the deepest, most abundant and expansive tide of gratitude stir within.  It was as if the full moon evoked a spring tide, pulling the deepest currents to the surface of my consciousness to be embodied within the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual planes.  Everything made sense.  Life had accumulated and continues to accumulate – all the impossibilities, challenges, riches, burdens, loss, gifts…

…it left me curious and with questions.

…is it possible for the essence of gratitude to be found within the layers and hardships?

…what is required of us to explore this essence during times of crisis and hardship?

…consider what contribution gratitude may bring within the moments of abundance or moments of darkness?

How deep is the ocean of this essence?  How can one tap into this ocean at any point in life?  Is it possible?

How can gratitude shift consciousness?

How can gratitude support being myself?

Sooo many questions…any answers…any feelings or thoughts?

Yoga contributing to social change?

Yoga contributing to social change.

Yoga as a tool for social change.

A revolution beginning in the heart…

A revolution expanding into communities and beyond…

For many years I have been tumbling these thoughts around my mind, rounding out the edges of ideas, massaging the questions, and observing…

The west continues to tighten its grip on ‘yoga’ – stretching the imagination of classical Yogi’s in India.  The practice reaches across a broad spectrum of possibilities in present day culture.  Many people are drawn to yoga for a diverse spectrum of reasons…and westerners continue to flock to studios to catch the craze!  All generations are exploring the practice, from little people experimenting with their flexible young bodies, to the elderly aiming to soften the edges of aging.  The practice is not limited to any one ethnicity or cultural background.

The invitation is out for anyone who is curious to move, breath and observe…or embrace the stillness – all qualities of the natural order of life.  The dharma.

Prisoners are practicing.  Seniors.  Under-served youth. Veterans.  Survivors of life threatening illnesses.  Injured bodies.  Those with damaged minds.  Those with hurt hearts.  Those wanting to participate in life…and so many more…

All this being said – if we look to the beginning of the eight-limbed path of Patanjali’s yoga, we return to the restraints and observances…the ethics and morals possible to integrate into everyday life.

So what could be possible if those named above or those who went to simply stretch, get fit, exercise, socialize, move, breath…invited a curiosity investigate – why yoga?

What if their practice deepened into an inquiry of their expressions, postures, breath – into the layers of restraints and observances…compassion, truth, and integrity that reside within?

AND –

What if the looking inward at all the layers of gifts, manifested outward into community and daily life?

Could yoga contribute to social change?

Could yoga be a tool for social change?

Could yoga start a revolution beginning in the heart?

Could this revolution expand into communities and beyond…?

With the practice touching so many lives and integrating into western culture – anything is possible!  Right!?

Strive for the impossible, for what was once impossible is now possible!

November = shoulder season!

How did it get to be November!!?  A month considered the shoulder season in Canada – unpredictable weather, not quite enough snow to play in and a wide range of temperatures making it hard to plan outdoor adventures.

So if moving in synchronicity with the season, sticking close to the biorhythms of Canada’s shoulder season – then perhaps it’s a good month to explore shoulder stands and inversions?!!

All kidding aside – within western context, shoulder stands and inversions aim to improve circulation and promote metabolic balance within the body.  We spend our days standing and walking, allowing the predictable pull of gravity to do its work on our musco-skeletal structures, fluid, and energetic layers.  Taking time to turn the body upside down stimulates our nervous system and supports the increase of mental alertness and clarity.  In yogic philosophy, inverting the body supports the flow of energy through our central meridian.  In anatomical terms, the central channel connects to neurological pathways linking to our endocrine system – inversions support balance and irrigation of these pathways.

…And an inversion can be done at any time…you don’t have to warm up for a restorative moment!  At the end of a long day in my head or on my feet, I often return home to a few minutes with my feet up against a wall, my back resting on the ground, arms out stretched!

During a time of year than can be dreary with lots of cloud and rain, temperatures dropping, we begin to turn inward.  A simple posture to reawaken a foggy mind or tired feet can be a blessing as we transition into winter!