Spiritual and physical practice

yatra yatra mano yāti bāhye vābhyantare ‘pi vā |

tatra tatra śivāvāsthā vyāpakatvāt kva yāsyati || 116 ||

Wherever the mind goes, externally or even internally, it [discovers] nothing but the state of Śiva. Since [that state] is all-pervasive, where else could the mind go?

(verse 116 from the VBT, the Vijñāna Bhairava Tantra, which is a Shaiva Tantra, of the Kaula Trika tradition of Kashmir Shaivism)

What, you might ask, is the relationship to asana practices? Nothing and everything. When going back to the early times when all these beautiful scriptures were written, they mainly refer to yoga postures as sitting in padmasana for meditation. Or the term yoga just meant meditation. These days we incorporate yoga postures in our spiritual journey as embodiment practice, making direct connections to certain teachings and eventually place them in the body, express or feel them.

Ok, enough, this is not me! I’m following the teachings of Abhinavagupta, the Kaula Trika tradition of Shaiva Tantra, while also looking to the right and left, as there’s so much to learn, understand and consider! Bloody interesting and honestly, not just that, but it’s life changing. I started to understand a bit more of what this whole thing we call life is, what it is that I call “I”. I’m slightly overwhelmed with the amount of teachings and readings in front of me and same time very excited and curious.

My asana practice is still Ashtanga yoga, and even though I sometimes like to just flow or do some Yin yoga, Ashtanga is where my heart is. This too is – next to it being a challenging physical practice – a spiritual path. It’s a very focussed practice, no distractions, no music, no chi chi.

Two different things, that match so beautifully together. I feel there’s no need to have any additional constructs on how we can implement the spiritual teachings into the physical practice – it’s all there already! There are many practices in Tantra, mainly meditations, so moving the body helps a lot. How you move, well, do whatever feels right! I stick with Ashtanga 🙂

Uttanasana

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend) – instead of trying to reach the ground with your hands, ask yourself these questions to tap into a more integrated approach:

– Where is the weight in my feet?
– Do I push my knees back, or can I extend my knees by pressing my calves forward into my shins and then lifting the tops of my thighs up?
– What’s the position of my pelvis?

Check how you are connecting and finally enjoy the experience of being in the pose.

Meditation and the mind

Have you ever wondered how to stop thoughts in meditation?

The simple answer is, you don’t. You can’t stop them, so let them come and just don’t give them any attention and eventually they will pass.

It made a big difference for me once I understood what the mind actually is. The mind is a function of the body, of the brain and through thoughts, it creates our self image. 

All aspects of the mind are verbs, not nouns. The mind is not your enemy, as it’s not even an entity! It’s a believed thought that the mind is a problem. All conflict is due to believed thoughts, while thoughts are mental constructs, that we tend to identify with.

In meditation we aim to connect with our true self and not with one of our body functions. So let the mind do its job, but don’t jump in and let it take over.

If there’s too much going on in your mind, ask yourself, who is talking to whom? It’s the mind talking to the mind. It’s not YOU talking! It’s one of many functions in the body, and it loves to talk non-stop. With itself. While we are listening, believing, and identifying ourselves with these thoughts. Get the roles right. The mind is important, thoughts are, but you are not your mind and you can step away from all these talks and focus on YOU.

If you find your mind disturbing, it might be the mind finding itself disturbing! Consciousness is undisturbed and unmoved, mind is just part of the contents of consciousness.

Meditation is a state of simple basic awareness, dropping into moments of quiet presence. Just be. Accept what is, without reacting or judging. Only the conditioned mind judges.

Too old for yoga?

Never. Get this out of your mind. It might be a challenge to go to a class where everyone else it 20 or 30 years younger, some might be flexible as f***, some do arm balances as if they never did anything else in their life. And there are others, young and stiff like a tree.

Yoga is something you do for yourself, for your body and your mind. It’s not a fitness regime, no space for comparison, nor judgement. Be happy for those who can do things easily, be compassionate for those who have to work more on it. And be with yourself. Grateful that you showed up, doing what’s possible that day. There’s no room for the ego in a yoga class.

Some years ago I was really disappointed when I heard that we should step back from a certain age. Why? I want to continue learning, improving, growing. I want to access at least some of the super challenging postures. And I can. Daily practice does a lot, and I’m not talking about working on a certain posture like crazy, no, just do your practice regularly and your body will change.

I proved it, you can learn headstand, forearmstand, you name it, no matter the age. The key is not only regular practice, but also listen to your body. Never do something while your body says no, not today. Accept. Same here, no matter the age. The only difference when it comes to age is, that the older we get, the longer it takes. Not just physically, also the mind kicks in. All of a sudden there is fear. Don’t fight it, don’t ignore, but embrace it and it will slowly melt. Yes slowly. Be patient. I know, patience is nothing I was born with!

However, the last 2 years I experienced some push backs. I had to pause my practice a few times due to injuries (not yoga related!) and it was so difficult to come back to my daily Ashtanga practice. Age? Maybe, maybe not. I accept it and go slower. Reminding myself, it’s for me, there’s no competition. Not even with myself.

I allow my practice to change. It’s not about this doesn’t work anymore, I can’t do what was possible a few weeks ago, it’s about change. Allow your practice to change. Some asanas might get more difficult all of a sudden, while others become accessible.

There’s another level – while working physically, yoga is also a spiritual practice. Ageing is a great teacher to embrace who you are and continue your journey, even if it looks different.

Spiritual practice

Do you have a spiritual practice? What even does that mean?

I have to admit, this is a term I always tried to avoid. When I was young, we associated spirituality either with religious people or those we thought are kind of “kuku”. Many years later I found myself on this path… It’s such a complex topic! It can have different meanings, relations and practices for everyone and for sure it’s not a box to put someone in.

I found these statements about what spiritual practice is and I can really relate:

Spiritual practice is any conscious personal action or experience, motivated by the intention of understanding and integrating the whole of you physically and spiritually, body, mind, heart, and soul.

Spiritual practice is also the individual effort to internalize and experience that which seems beyond and separate as not only connected but also as an integral authentic expression of self.

We are all spiritual beings, the question is, are we aware of it? And do we use it? Well, you can just live your life, trying to make the most out of what is given and that’s it, what else can you do?

One other option is to understand who we are and what our purpose, our dharma is. Learning about the energies within and around and work with them.

I felt called to the latter. Eventually I was forced into it, when I had a bad accident, long time ago. I was pretty clear, there’s something in my mind that has to change. I didn’t know what and how, but looking back, this was the moment it all started.

My path so far wasn’t using the highway, but rather going in curves through the mountains. I learned many different things, and the beauty was, that always one led to the other. Often I wasn’t even clear why I learned something, but I never had any doubts that whatever showed up was right. Or important for me.

Right now I’m head over toes about Tantra, Saiva Tantra. I’m reading books, attended an academic studies course and I’m in the midst of a 3 months immersion. I feel like everything I ever learned all of a sudden integrates, immersed in me. I’m kind of un-peeling myself. Same time getting new tools, new doors to open, new practices – new experiences. I feel more connected to myself, my energy levels on a never known high, which is so beautiful to notice. Yes, I’m still on my way, awareness, awareness, awareness…. but the frequency changed.

It’s when duality starts to become oneness, the energies collaborate. The moment when we can be loose and natural, expressing awareness, authentically in its absoluteness, then we start flowing with the river, merging into the ocean. 

Ashtanga Police

Commitment has a downside. When practicing Ashtanga Yoga we commit to practice 6 days a week. And yes, there are days, when I can’t manage to get up that early. Days when I feel weak. Days other plans cross badly. 

However working at home allowed me all of a sudden to practice in the morning, bringing more flexibility into my life. What a relief! And still, there are weak spots. The moment I notice I won’t practice at all, or time only allows for half the series, or I even practice and test a class I will teach later that day instead of doing my practice…. I feel bad. 

I can hear the Ashtanga Police knocking on my door. Guilty.  

Isn’t this – yes, bullshit. Let’s get it clear: 

Listening to my body has become my priority. When not feeling good, I go slow and I listen, I feel. Eventually practice less, or do Yin Yoga. I might even just sit and meditate, followed by some pranayama. 

When I didn’t sleep the night, staying one hour longer in bed might be more important. Being prepared for my classes a must and this too can be my practice once in a while. Everything is practice.

There is no Ashtanga Police 😉 They won’t come and knock on my door to put the guilty stamp on me. It’s this voice in me talking. Time to make a deal with this voice and send the so called Ashtanga Police to the land where the pepper grows. And once and for all, stop judging myself.

Guess what? This too is Yoga. This too is commitment.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash

Pigeon oh pigeon!

The king of the so called hip openers. A pose that shows me clearly the difference of both sides of my body. My right, the yang, the masculine side is very open, while the left, the yin, the feminine tends to be bitchy. Yup, I know. There’s work to do! 

A pose made for Yin Yoga, where we stay 3 to 5 minutes (or even longer) in a pose. This way we can reach the deeper layers in the body, the connective tissue and the fascia. Excellent to unclench where they stick together and release tension.

What I love about staying long in this posture is the power of working with the breath. Breathing into certain places can create space there, literally cleaning up, like a broom. And all of a sudden you notice that you became soft. Floating. Accepting. Releasing. Exhale all the stuff out, that has manifested in your body without you noticing. Leaving with the flow of your exhales.

And to come back to the physical part of it, pigeon pose increases external range of motion of the femur in the hip socket and same time it lengthens the hip flexors.

Asana or tapas?

A posture is achieved when effort stops and the mind is merging meditatively into infinity.

In morden yoga practices, we call the postures asanas. However, following Patanjali’s yoga sutras, the term asana only refers to a seated posture, literally asana meaning „seat“. This could be Padmasana (Lotus pose), or any other seated pose, with the aim to sit firm and still for a longer period of time. Obviously this is not Bharadvajasana, as in the picture!


Interestingly in the early times of yoga, any standing and dynamic postures have rather been named tapas. Studying the yoga philosophy we might find the term tapas translated as devotional austerity, but literally it means „heat“.

So, how comes that we are calling the postures asanas? Shouldn’t tapas be the better matching term for what our physical practice is today? Well, our asana practice today has at least a similar ambition – through steadiness and ease, reaching a state of moving meditation.

Ashtanga

Good morning practice! 

I played with the 2nd, the intermediate series recently – fuuuuun! While some of the super fancy transitions and advanced inversions are still out of reach for me right now, I was quite surprised that many postures are fully accessible for me and I’am quite close to others. 

Someone said once, if you always do the same, you can’t expect different results. Well, I don’t agree when it comes to the yoga practice. In the Ashtanga method we do exactly that, we practice the same sequence, the same postures every day. And with this slide more and more into a moving meditation. But not just that, with practice, the body opens, we go deeper and deeper into the poses. Once in a while I try a posture that I couldn’t access before and notice that all of a sudden I can. Without even working on this specific pose. The body changed.

And I’m transitioning more and more into the next series. A new chapter to start, exciting!

Rest

You need to slow down before you can speed up.

Who is busier? Who has more important things to do? Are you in a competition of who can get more out of the work day? Obsessed with your to do list? Is this where you find your value? Do you feel comfortable being driven by chaos and fear?

Do you feel something is wrong with you when welcoming the idea of rest?

It may not feel safe to rest for different reasons, but what if you just give yourself permission to? What if you would trust your desire to calm down? To just breathe?

I sometimes feel like living in two worlds. One being the yoga world – no, I’m not only talking about the asana practice, but about all the practices, such as meditation, yoga nidra, mindfulness, breathing techniques etc. The other world being the business work, the daily challenges, high speed and useless competitions. 

Never underestimate the practice of rest and calm. Many years ago, I had a breathtaking experience during a yoga nidra session – I left my body. Relaxing was never easy for me as a named control freak, so you can imagine my surprise. I was fully conscious, feeling, seeing, yes even thinking something like, gosh what’s happening here? It was such an incredible experience and when I told my teacher about it, he just smiled at me, saying, so you experienced your subtle body! Congrats!

It was as if all the theory, all the teachings proved to be true. I’ve got a glimpse. This was just the beginning. I understood, that conscious rest and sense withdrawal isn’t just being lazy and hanging around, but can be an intense experience of another dimension. It doesn’t has to go to the extreme each time, but it is about nourishing the body, recharging, connecting. Meeting your true self. 

So let’s merge both worlds in a sense of implementing the calmness into the crazy.

Let’s do it together, join my 3 weeks course, „The Transformation“