Turning inward: an experience of Pratyahara


I entered the lobby of the yoga studio expecting the usual class size of about twenty people. To my surprise, there was a crowd of double that size, and the instructor had asked someone to help “set up the room”. I admit, that initially, I had a moment of disappointment, since what I was expecting did not align with what was currently happening, but I quickly let that go, and set out my yoga mat in my “assigned spot” at the back of the room. The room arranger quickly narrowed the space between the mats, so that there was 4″ or less between them. Forty people gathered for practice.

Class began and I immediately slowed my movements, moving carefully and with control, so that I would only use the space on my mat. My breathing slowed as well, practicing the ujjayi breath, conserving the number of breaths taken.

As the class progressed, my focus turned more and more inward. I did not notice the people practicing around me, so close to my own mat. At moments it felt as though I was practicing on my own little mat island on the sea of the wooden studio floor. At other moments, it seemed that the prana cultivated by each individual practitioner was moving all together at the same time through the asana practice. Moving as one. United by yoga.

I moved through the poses, but I cannot even recall all that I did, since this practice for me was an internal one. The theme of the class that day was “freedom”. I truly did feel free in my practice, letting go of my surroundings, my expectations, and simply turning my senses inward.

After the class, my mind was completely free and at peace. In the future, I will approach a tightly packed yoga class with enjoyment.

 

Pratyahara is the fifth of the eight-limbed path of yoga. It is defined as “the conscious withdrawal of energy from the senses”.  For more information, please refer to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, book two.

 

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Contemplation on Dhāranā

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Dhāranā. The sixth of the eighth limbs of Yoga. Also meaning concentration.

Book I. 35 of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Sri Swami Satchidananda’s version): 

Visayavatī vā pravrttirutpannā manasah sthitinibandhanī

“Or the concentration on subtle sense perceptions can cause steadiness of mind.”

Today I contemplated this verse and immediately this memory of experiencing the drum playing at the Drum Tower in Beijing came to my mind. Focus, rhythm, steadiness all present here. The sound of the drums was so loud that I could feel it in my bones. I have this same sense experience chanting OM before or after a yoga class, or when I chant mantras alone or at a kirtan. For me, chanting does bring about a steadiness and peacefulness to my mind and body. The vibrations felt on my lips and the sound that travels to my brain and heart.

The Drum performance:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulou_and_Zhonglou_(Beijing)

Sri Swami Satchidananda goes on to write that such concentration experiences demonstrate a “progression in one-pointedness”. He suggests “concentrating on the tip of the nose”, but you could also practice the next time you chant Om after yoga class.

These are all simply moments of this path of yoga…

Namaste!

 

 

 

A New Now

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Recently, I was feeling quite critical of myself for various reasons. As I sat with my feelings of frustration, sadness, anger, etc. I realized that I was striving to find forgiveness. Forgiveness of myself and of others. At the time, I couldn’t see a way to find this forgiveness.

Since then, and through my yoga studies, I have been exploring what it means to “be present”. Guess what? Every breath we take is a chance for a “new now”. A new present moment. A new beginning. Acceptance of what is happening NOW. NOW and NOW. What happened two weeks ago is not the present. It is not now. Forgiveness can happen in a breath. Its that easy. It might take many breaths for some grievances, but every moment is a new chance.

Today I took a “listening walk” with my dog. I was present with her for the entire walk. I listened to the sound of her nails on the road. Sometimes fast, when the walk just started, sometimes slow, when we were walking uphill. I listened to the sound of my breath. Sometimes jagged,sometimes calm,and sometimes even. Birds chirping, airplanes overhead, cars, etc. I was present for it all. I love taking these walks with my girls. There are different sounds; sometimes bike wheels whirring, laughter, shouts.

I challenge you to try it too. Be in the NOW. Listen to your breath. If it doesn’t work, its okay, on your next inhale, try again.

Radiate Beauty

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Yesterday, as I was walking by a knitting shop, I glanced in the window and saw a group of women knitting at a table. I immediately noticed one woman. She was concentrating on her knitting, but her face, eyes, cheeks, and mouth held such a permanent etching of sadness. She was severely wrinkled, and that sadness must have occurred over decades.

Having just returned from my fifth yoga teacher training weekend intensive, I find that I am quite sensitive to emotional vibes. It was a weekend of emotional growth for me. The style of yoga that was practiced, the music, and the amount of time spent in meditation has created this awareness for me. I am drawn to those people who “radiate positivity”.

Have you ever been in a situation at work or life where someone says something negative, and it seems that everyone has to compete with that statement, making their own negative commentary or complaints?
How did that make you feel? Maybe better for a moment, to get those complaints off your mind, but really—–you just SPREAD YOUR NEGATIVITY!

Instead, what if we all were to let those thoughts go, and FOCUS on the POSITIVE. What is going right? Can we give someone a compliment? Can we share a positive moment from our weekend? By doing this, I think we can increase our own happiness and mood as well as that of others. Instead of creating decades of sadness on our face, we will be radiating BEAUTY.

A time of nourishment

I am in the middle of Yoga Teacher Training now, which is aptly called, “Live in Total Yoga”. That’s really what this process has been for me, not only a training program, but a lifestyle change, and a mind shift. My daily routine now incorporates daily yoga and meditation practice. Everyday I go to my mat at 5:30am. Sometimes my practice is full of power and energy. Other days, it reflects a quiet mood, or a need to conserve the energy inside myself. When I’m feeling tired or sick, a restorative practice using all my yoga props (bolsters, blankets, etc.) is just perfect. Usually I follow a fairly regular sequence, but I’m always open to what might pop into my mind or my feet. I try to work on a new or challenging pose each day too. My youngest daughter comes in halfway through my session, and either sets herself up on the couch as my audience, or requests an airplane ride on my feet. If she’s feeling perky, she will get out a mat and practice too.

Not only has this training changed my daily routine, but it has also shifted my mental perspective. As I delve deeper into historical and philosophical texts, I am letting go. Peeling away the layers. Unnecessary worry, judgement, criticism, fear. What have I found underneath it all?

Joy…

Sunrise in Wisconsin
Sunrise in Wisconsin

The time is now.

My sister has a magnet on her refrigerator that says, “Leap, and the net will appear.”
I am here, ready to leap into my next life challenge.
Tomorrow I head off to begin my 230 hour Yoga Teacher Training. This has been a dream of mine for many years! Actually, the first time that I tried yoga, at home, following a suggested routine in a book, I had a moment where I thought that there could be something in my future with this. Many years and two children later, I am at the point where I can finally explore this opportunity.

My training actually started a couple months ago, as I began my daily yoga practice and tackled the many reading assignments that were required. During that time, emotions of all kinds were swirling in my head.
Am I truly ready? “YES!”
This was a hard one…I wonder, am I the only trainee who isn’t able to do Headstand yet?
Instead of beating myself up about it, I admit I have a fear, and I practice the pre-requisites and make myself stronger and ready to do it. I will be the understanding teacher who recognizes that this is ok, and knows how to help other people like me. I won’t be out there showing off random feats of yoga asana.

There is ever-present guilt in my head too. Guilt that I am not 100% present for my children or my husband right now. Guilt that I should get out there and help bring in some money. I wondered how much money teaching yoga will actually bring in. Probably not much, at first! IMG_20140621_142917I’m also really EXCITED that I can do this work for myself. After trying out various options in China to do some work, it was VERY clear that the environment did not support me working. That was ok. I took a year and relaxed a bit and took care of myself and my family.
This training is not just physical, but extremely mental and spiritual. I am taking a close look at myself and my faults. Sometime during the past decade, something inside myself shifted. I’m not sure what happened, or when, but I am really looking forward to getting that piece of me back. I’m going to do the work to make that happen.
Daily meditation practice is also a requirement in this process. What a wonderful thing! I think that meditation is more grounding than a yoga practice.

My blog will be evolving this year, morphing into more about yoga and being a Mama at the same time.
I hope that you will join me on this journey!

Got Wildlife??? Check.

I admit, while we were living in Beijing we suffered a bit of nature deficit. Our neighborhood was regularly sprayed with strong pesticides, so all the microscopic wildlife my girls saw were cicadas, mosquitos, spiders, and some other moth-type creatures. As far as birds, the magpies were always there, and sometimes hummingbirds. That was about it. I suppose you could count the street dogs as wildlife.

The grayish dog that lives next to DD's Market.
The grayish dog that lives next to DD’s Market.

I do not have to worry about this issue anymore. Our backyard is FULL of creatures. Yesterday, my eldest held a baby snake. (non-poisonous) We are very lucky to have a naturalist living across the street from us, so anytime we have a snake siting, I call him over. We do get our share of copperheads. Also this week, I was getting my coffee ready one morning, and there was a small red fox looking at me from my back patio. YIKES! I had been told by another neighbor that a family of them live between our houses, but I hadn’t seen the evidence yet. I think this one was attracted by the scent of the rabbit that lives under the forsythia bushes in my backyard…

Our naturalist across the street is also lending my daughter his night-vision camera for her to capture some of our wildlife on film. She wants to submit some photos to a National Geographic Kids contest. Here is a photo he took with this camera. She is hoping to catch some deer or the fox.

Steven's Deer photo
Steven’s Deer photo

She also found tadpoles in an old baby pool a few weeks ago. She gathered some up in a small tank to observe. It turned out that they were tree frog tadpoles. Now we have a complete tree frog terrarium set up. She contributed 1/3 of the cost from her allowance. We had quite a lengthy discussion about proceeding with the tree frogs as pets, and my daughter committed to caring for them and helping to pay for food and supplies. We had to try several types of insects to find what they like. It turns out that wingless fruit flies are their favorite tasty meal. We have three male and two females living in our tank in our family room now. DSCN1448

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No worries about lack of nature here…

The Space Between

In a lot of ways, the transition back to living in Raleigh is very similar to our time of transition to Beijing. We are rediscovering Raleigh with a new perspective. Looking for the best sushi and Chinese restaurants, finding our favorite outdoor spaces, experiencing moments of dismay or confusion when a business has closed (Locopops) or moved. Getting together with friends and family. We are re-connecting with our house. I am trying to make it a home again. I have not started hanging pictures or art on the walls because it is a chance to make changes, and this is really exciting. The girls have grown up a bit. My youngest daughter doesn’t need toddler items in her room anymore. It needs to be made into a little girl space. My older daughter needs a space to express her changing personality.

We are in “a space between”. We have arrived. We are far from settled in. We await our “stuff” that is traveling across the world by boat and plane to come back to us. For the girls, their bedrooms don’t feel “theirs” yet. We sleep in “rental beds” and use “rental pillows” and “rental plates”. Its not quite a comfortable feeling. Our house is somewhat hotel, somewhat home.
I am not rushing this time of settling in. I am taking time each day to NOTICE the sky. The beautiful sky that for so many days was gray and oppressive in Beijing. I have started a 30 day(maybe more) photography project with my sister to capture the subtle changes in the clouds, color, and light of the sky. Here are some of my favorites:

Wrightsville Beach Intercoastal
Wrightsville Beach Intercoastal

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See more on my instagram account at namaste_75.

I have found that I am not as “attached” to material things as I once was. I know that there is a chance that all of my “stuff” could be lost or damaged at sea. I am not even too attached to this house anymore. The important thing to me is that I am with my family and we make our home where we are. My roots have grown deep into the earth, and have spread to the other side of the world.

My repatriation to the US: Week 1

It has been almost seven days since we’ve been back in Raleigh. We had some good and bad luck in Beijing during the last couple days. The good luck was that we were able to check thirteen bags without occurring any extra fees!!! The bad luck was that our youngest daughter had a fever the last couple days and we had to treat her with fever reducer throughout the entire fourteen hour flight back. She was fine once we got here.

First impressions of the US:

Clean

Lots of overweight and obese people

BLUE SKIES: I will never take this for granted again!

Crisp looking air

Perfect strangers feel they can make comments or ask about your personal business. No offense taken, I was just surprised.

The flight attendants on the flight back were really rude/impatient towards the Chinese people. I was ashamed for them, and sad that this is the impression they made to people that could be visiting our country for the first time.

The hotel we stayed in smelled like bleach. You don’t smell bleach much in China.

Wide roads, no litter, lots of green grass

BIG cars

Last night was the first night that my youngest slept through the entire night. This is significant progress! We’ve stopped taking jet lag naps, and are trying to push through the afternoon. My brain fog is starting to lift. Not without an embarrassing moment earlier in the week, when I was to meet my friend Veda at a coffee shop and went to the wrong one! It wasn’t until I was sitting at the table waiting for my food when I looked at the window and saw the name of the place that it clicked. Luckily for me, she just laughed. We’ll try again next week.

Another observation that I had today is that American men feel they have the right to leer at women. I have the right to dress as I please, without feeling like the man behind me is undressing me in his mind. I never felt this AT ALL in China. Men do not do this.

The cultural attitude towards children is very different in China. Children are precious. Adults who are single, married, old, or young love children and believe that you are so lucky if you have one. If you have two or more, then you are truly blessed. Today I was at a casual dining restaurant where you order out of a case and a line forms behind you. Of course, when you are getting over jet lag, making decisions at 5:30 pm is not easy. Any family in this situation takes a bit of time to get the orders in and the needs of each person met. So I was a bit offended when one person in a childless couple said to the other, “I’m just waiting for these people to get out of the way.” It took a lot of strength to ignore that and move on.

Brian and I had lunch at a casual shopping plaza Chinese restaurant today. We’ll keep trying. If you have suggestions for us for the best Chinese in the RDU area, we’d appreciate that. I’m really looking forward to shopping for ingredients at the Asia Market and cooking my own dishes.

The girls are getting adjusted to the house again. My little one woke up this morning and said she loves the house. It was like Christmas in July as we opened some boxed toys that they hadn’t seen in a year. I have been slowly opening up the boxes of things we left behind. It’s tiring. Some things I’m already putting aside for my Fall Yard Sale.

One of the best things about being back is seeing family and our dog. We have a lot of catching up to do! Skype doesn’t compare to getting a real hug or having my dog snuggle up.

I got behind the wheel of a car again this week. WOW! What independence! I love it! We had to remind my eldest to shut the car door, because there is no driver to come behind her.

I really missed American music too. There was one radio station that played Western music, and you had to use a VPN to listen to Pandora. (Facebook too)

Oh, I can’t believe I forgot to mention using my cell phone on a 4G network and having instant access to google from my phone. What a concept! Using the internet with a FAST connection. I actually had two phones in China: my US phone, which I carried around in case of a US family emergency, and my Chinese cell phone, which had horrible texting capability and would lock up or turn off unexpectedly. Brian got really good at interpreting my garbled texts over the last twelve months.

Its good to be back!