Saturday, March 5, 2011
I wish there was a way I could convince everyone I know (and don't know, for that matter) to give yoga a chance. I had a conversation with the eye doctor (this was the first time I'd seen this particular eye doctor, by the way) the other day that went as follows:
Eye Doctor: "So, what have you been up to?"
Me: "Oh, you know! Stuff!"
Eye Doctor: "Well, what kind of stuff?"
Me: "I teach yoga at the YMCA - you should come to one of my classes!"
Eye Doctor: (laughing dismissively) "Oh, sure, and be the only man there, right?"
Me: "No! I have men in my classes."
Eye Doctor: (after a disdainful grunt) "Yeah, men who would hit on me."
UGH. Ugh, ugh, ugh, for SO many reasons. Not the least of which was the inflection of his voice that betrayed his homophobia. He went on to tell me about a show he had watched in which the main character blamed his idiosyncrasies and problems on his "hippie-dippie mother who did yoga." I calmly smiled and said I'd love to see him at any one of the classes I teach at the YMCA so he could form his own opinion about yoga based on actual experience.
That was a disappointing interaction, yes, but let's talk about something a tad more positive.
Pranayama is composed of two Sanskrit words: prana and ayama/yama. Prana translates as life-force - it is the energy behind all life expressions. Ayama means a lengthening or restraining and yama means to restrain or hold back. So pranayama translates as "to restrain or master the life force." Swami Kripalu taught that most people expend their life force through indulgence and stress so much that it becomes very weak and is barely felt. There is all sorts of yoga philosophy to learn when it comes to pranayama. You could get lost in a sea of information about nadis and the sushumna, the physical, subtle and causal bodies, the flow of energy, the purification of the aforementioned nadis, the awareness of prana, and so on and so forth. I love yoga philosophy, but my guess is that I'd lose the eye doctor's interest pretty quickly if I tried to shovel that much new information at him in an effort to convince him to try my yoga class. To be honest, it's hard to explain to someone that something they do all day, every day - BREATHE - can actually be done differently, more mindfully and with complete awareness, and have a profound effect on how they feel and their overall health and well-being. But believe me (or TRY IT FOR YOURSELF!) - it really, really can, and does.
I tried to teach an entire class on pranayama in December, and I didn't feel as though I did a particularly good job. Teaching breath work is truly a skill that has to be developed; Micah Mortali, who I had the great privilege to meet at Kripalu, has an amazing CD called Inward Diving that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn more about yogic breathing. He teaches seven basic yogic breathing techniques, and then offers a flow practice that you do with a blindfold on. The flow is incredibly powerful, and I can say from first hand experience that incorporating it into your personal practice regularly truly cultivates increased awareness and expanded consciousness. Done every now and then, it's kind of like hitting a reset button on yourself - which can come in handy when you're having a particularly crappy day, or when you're having a great day and want to experience it even more fully.
Why all the pranayama talk? Well, I have a plan. In an effort to start blogging more frequently, I'm going to explain and then write a little something about my personal experience with various pranayama techniques every day this coming week. It's a good way for me to practice articulating breath instruction, and it'll get me blogging again, which I need to do. I might even ask for some input (guest posts!) from some of my favorite people, and fellow Kripalu YTT graduates, about their experiences with pranayama. (Yes, Miss Nina, I'm thinking of you and the day we spent an eternity learning Dirgha pranayam.)
(photo credit: Fe 108Aums)