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Thank you to Nesa by Makers on Unsplash for the photo

 

Black Lives Matter inspired me to learn

I think about learning a lot. How to do it better, how to help others learn, just how necessary the skill of learning is for us to thrive.

When George Floyd was murdered in broad daylight --just for being black + because the police officer kneeling on his neck valued his ability to exercise power over another man's life-- people around the world stood up to protest police brutality and the systemic racism that directs that violence disproportionately toward Black people.

And around the world, people also spoke up to say, "hey, do you not see how this came to be?"

"Do you need a primer on how racism took hold so fiercely in the US? You do? Ok, read this, this, this and this. And when you're done with those, there'll be more."

"Arm yourself with knowledge of what has happened in our distant and recent past so that you can understand what is happening now -- and stand up to fight it knowing things can't stay the way they've been for far. too. long."

I was inspired by the protests -- I always am. But I was even more inspired by that call to learn. I recognized it as both something I needed to do and something I can do to help me speak out against racism. Though I've never thought of myself as racist, it's not that simple. Racism is part what made the US, part of who we still are today. And how much of who you are do you see crystal clearly --the good, the bad, the ugly? Yeah, me either. There's always something about ourselves we willfully or innocently ignore. We have work to do and for many Americans it starts with learning what racism really looks like.

How we learn changes how we speak up

When I wrote a little something on the learning I know I have to do, and voiced my support for Black lives on my meditation podcast, my hope was to share a message of solidarity and also commitment. I'm fairly confident I have work to do in learning how to voice that effectively --and also how to follow through.

And the effort has made me think a lot about how I can authentically and continuously speak and stand up for truth, because that's what I hope to be encouraging you to do in your own lives.

Be true in your movement, be true in your mind, be true in your heart. Be true in action.

So how can we do that?

I think it has a lot to do with how we learn.

My take: learn how to be comfortable with what you don't know while you participate fully from where you are right now.

Let's look at how we learn

As kids are developing, they’re constantly doing things to test out how to behave and grow in the world. They’re primed for learning. It’s amazing to watch.

Adults can get settled into what they know. They can learn in the same haphazard way that kids do, but without any outside redirects, they’re more likely to "learn" things that reinforce what they already know and how they see the world. They’re also less likely to engage in the play that lets them stumble onto new ideas and experiences, because they’re so busy keeping up with their status quo.

Of course, that’s not all adults, and with the boom of online learning courses, we see that many adults want to be learning. So what does the basic process of learning look like? The meta version looks something like this:

  1. take in new information + relate it to stuff you already know
  2. test out your integrated knowledge by doing stuff / saying stuff
  3. learn more, revise your position, improve your skills
  4. repeat pretty much forever — note: this continual process gets easier as you accumulate more knowledge if you're willing to let new information persuade you to change your convictions and actions.

My guess is that everyone finds one of these steps more challenging than the others. I would hypothesize that one in particular is usually the toughest for most people, though I’m not going to guess which. 4 is the kicker for me.

It’s tough because staying at it past the introductory stage, starts to mean more and more self-guided learning. Which means you gotta learn how to learn, while you’re learning. If you can get truly "meta" in your learning, you’ll succeed where you can stick with the work that it takes.

How do we practice learning how to learn?

Getting meta with learning is the job of teachers. So hire one! Seek out a teacher or mentor who knows what it looks like to guide you towards learning independence.

In order to do that, it may help to understand where you’ll benefit most from that teacher’s guidance: at the start of the process or further along the way?

Learning new skills
For me, learning a new skill is waaaay more comfortable. Everything is shiny and new. I have fewer "but, what about —?" questions interrupting my absorption of information.

Though on the flip side of this, it’s harder to accumulate information that’s super new when there’s nothing in your existing knowledge bank to relate it to. That’s something we just know about how learning works in the brain. From my personal experience I recognize it as having no patience for learning something I’m not interested in (when stuff is "boring"). That’s where a teacher who can relate the topic to things I do care about (universal experiences do nicely) will make or break my success. Or having a teacher at all...

In learning, I'm driven by what lights a fire in me, as well as by the opportunity for engagement with other people (teachers, students). This is probably true for lots of people. And then there are the folks driven more by a desire to conquer the unknown and complete what they set out to do. For them, the "interest" or "delight" in the topic may matter less than getting the information they need or the fun challenge of learning. They are more likely to get "learning how to learn" — and it seems that just the process holds their interest. I believe we can all learn how to engage in new material this way.

Improving on existing skills
As you can probably guess, I find improving in an existing skill something of a challenge. Without a teacher or some outside push to help guide my efforts, it’s not only a challenge, it’s really uncomfortable.

Our drive to change our knowledge, perspective, and behavior can come from within, but it usually starts with the emotional impact of some external influence —something that inspired you, or scared you, or made you mad, or sad. A motivating factor can push you past the discomfort of learning more.

I say discomfort because going deeper into knowledge or skill is not a direct trajectory. It's not "keep doing what you've always done (that you're comfortable with) until you're a master." It's a process of compounding knowledge and skills — of learning that there's more to it than what you know. That seems obvious when written out like that, but when you’re in the thick of it, the what you don’t know sometimes feels like it’s threatening what you do know —that learning more will prove you wrong in your existing knowledge.

As a yoga teacher with an interest in anatomy, my knowledge of the "right" way to teach movement and shapes in yoga has changed many times over the years. And at every shift that shook up my trust in the knowledge that let me do my job with confidence, I felt like an ass. I felt like it was my fault for getting it "wrong" up until now. I cared more about my students’ well being than whether or not I was right or wrong, thank goodness, so it was just a feeling I had to deal with, not something that prevented me from moving forward. But it could have been.

When expanding your knowledge base, you have to let the new knowledge in, to be willing to adjust your perspective and how you operate in the world based on that new information, and change your behavior. It's like learning a whole new skill --only now it's doing it where you have skin in the game. Skin in the game, if you think that adjusting how you move through life means you were wrong before. If you think that changing your perspective demonstrates a failing on your part.

When you can learn that adapting is a sign of your "fitness" for life, rather than of your weakness or failures, you play the game differently. If we can all let growth through knowledge excite us and inspire us, maybe we'll go after learning with more fervor --and grace.

It’s never too late to learn

I learned all this as an adult. An adult who has made it through lots of really stellar schooling all while thinking I could learn just by doing more of the same, on repeat.

It is possible, of course, to pick up a new skill or information set without really being open to growth and change.

But learning something that rocks your world, takes a willingness to be open to new ideas and facts. And a willingness to move through life operating at full throttle just with the facts you have now inside of an awareness that they are not all the facts. That you are doing your best with the info you have.

In order for all of us to feel confident moving through the world in this way, we need to build an environment where all statements and questions posed in an open-hearted, willing-to-be-wrong spirit are given space and validity.

Building a safe space for learning and growing is what I see so many in the Black Lives Matter movement doing. I certainly look to the voices that come with history and facts, and are inviting and open, even when they show their anger and pain (as well folks should) —and so far, that's all I've witnessed. The spirit of inclusion and camaraderie is so much more powerful than that of division and hate.

Learning with you,
esther

Thank you to Andy Witchger for the photo.

 

BLACK LIVES MATTER. WE ALL NEED TO BE SAYING IT.

Mov/ed is about learning to learn — and what I'm learning right now is many many many of us have a lot to learn about racism in our country and how to stand up against it.

I've been deeply inspired by the Black Lives Matter protests and by the rush of information that's being shared to educate white people (primarily), where they have been innocently or irresponsibly ignorant of our history and the racism that permeates our society.

This past week, I listened to Black history podcasts 1619 and Uncivil, read numerous statements on the lynching of George Floyd and the need for police reform, and bookmarked anti-racist reading lists here, here, and here. So far, all of it has been gut wrenching and none of it has been surprising. But even though I'm not surprised to learn or be reminded of white abuse of Black people - through physical and social violence, through policies and laws - I don't carry this trauma with me everyday. Which means when I don’t see examples of racism up close, I forget to look for it in the policies of our institutions and laws of our communities. But hopefully I don't need to explain white privilege to you.

But I’m ashamed of myself for forgetting. For being ignorant. So I’ve been chewing on "how can I change what I do? From effectively nothing to something?" It took me an embarrassingly long time to realize that I can start by learning the truth of our history + present. So that I can’t forget. So that I spot racism from a mile away and have a few tools to speak up against it.

Because learning makes us aware. It forces us to see the world in a different way. And I'm pretty sure with new awareness, you can't go back to seeing it the old way.

Racism and injustice are ugly, and hard to stomach, and I for one suck at facing injustice head on. But it's time to buck up + do it anyway. And, because I believe anyone who wants to can learn anything, I know I can learn how to stand up against racism. And of course, it's not like it should be hard. But it will likely be emotional and uncomfortable, it will certainly take up space and time that I currently give to other interests. So it will be work, as all learning is. And that's just what it takes.

I'm looking to organizations that are offering education to help anyone learn the history they need to know, learn the strategies they can take to face injustice and help right the wrongs, and learn how to keep at it until it's part of their everyday.

If you want to join me in dialogue, please let me know. I'm not sure yet how I will offer space for that dialogue (though I always enjoy a good 1:1 chat!), or whether it's better for me to point you to other resources for dialogue, but I will keep you posted.

esther

What makes a habit?

We talk a lot about "good" habits and "bad" habits, but not so often just about "habit". What makes a behavior a habit? Can any behavior be made into a habit? Should all desirable behaviors be cultivated into habits?
 

Good vs bad... vs not at all?

"Good" and "bad" behavior is often blamed on "good" and "bad" habits. When you make "healthy" behavior habits, it's "easier" to stay healthy, and vice versa. If you want good behaviors, then maybe it follows that all you need to do is set up good habits... right?

Perhaps. But let's consider the *years* we give to forcing habits that just don't stick.
 

2 reasons habits don't stick

Reason #1, in many cases, is that we don't try very hard. Like me deciding to work on my new house every weekend, and then getting to the weekend and thinking, gee, "this is not going to be as much fun as I imagined." At least I got the dining room cabinets painted before giving up.

Creating intentional change in our behavior, like adopting a new habit, takes effort, at least a little bit. No effort, no change, no new habit. (I'll talk about that side of things next time.)

Reason #2, in just as many cases, is that we try too hard and burn out. Like with my plan to do a full-body strength workout every morning and literally burning out my stamina. And I know better! But even still, it sounded so doable in my head.

What if these are cases of trying to habituate the wrong things?

Maybe the habits we choose aren't well suited to us?

Or maybe the behaviors we choose aren't well suited to being habits?
 

Habits that just don't fit

In my house projects example, the idea came to me during a season of anticipation and excitement and change. Once I added back in the normal rhythms of my life, I quickly realized that the fun I had with the first project was a special occasion joy. Not an everyday joy. Not the right kind of pleasure to make into habits that lift you up.

When it comes to habits you're electing to adopt, maybe watch out for "should." I thought I "should" work on my house because, it needs it. But it doesn't need it that badly, working on it pulls me away from other things I love, and my husband *likes* doing house projects. So why did I think I needed to?

Are there any behaviors you think you "should" adopt that, that aren't absolutely necessary, and that when put through the joy-o-meter you can see: you just don't want to? Behaviors that would take you away from doing things you do love? Can you afford to drop the "should"? If so, hot potato that unnecessary behavior, my friends!
 

Behaviors that shouldn't habit

What about things you love doing all the time? They're good habit candidates, right? You'd think, right?

In reality, what I've observed is that these super-joy behaviors lose some of their presence when they are forced into habits. You'll get them done, and with gusto, but as in my case with the daily workouts, they become obsessions of habitual perfection, rather than the originally joyful practices that they once were.

It's a slight distinction, but a behavior you're invested in lends itself best to being a practice, something you do consciously, with choice and room to adapt. Not automated as is the case with something you do by habit.

Making a conscious choice takes more effort than following a habit. That's why we like habits!

Making an effort with the important things will make your connection to them stronger and adaptable to you as you change with life. And practicing conscious choice makes it more likely that you'll learn new things along the way, keeping your brain active and vibrant.

Do you have any behaviors like that? Stuff you do by rote that you think is doing you good, but is long overdue for a re-think and some conscientious engagement?

Perhaps give it a think, and next time we talk habits on the mov/ed podcast, I'll invite you to put some new choices into action.

Be moving, be mov/ed!
esther

The Breathing Diaphragm

The diaphragm is a muscle. It looks like this from underneath:

Diaphragm inferior view

Diaphragm inferior view. Image by OpenStax, CC BY 4.0

And like this from the front (sort of):

 

Lung and diaphragm

Lung and diaphragm. By National Cancer Institute, Public Domain

And from the side, "e" is the space where the diaphragm lives, between the lungs + heart above and the abdominal organs below.

Body cavities from the side

Body cavities from the side. By OpenStax from the Textbook OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology Published May 18, 2016 CC BY 3.0

What does the diaphragm do?

The diaphragm is a big player in making air come into and go out of your lungs. It flattens down when you inhale and domes up when you exhale.

When the diaphragm flattens down, it removes force on the lungs, thereby decreasing the pressure in the lungs to less than atmospheric pressure, and air rushes in to make up the difference (fill the empty space).

When the diaphragm domes up, it pushes on the lungs, thereby increasing the pressure in the lungs to greater than atmospheric pressure and air is pushed out to bring the pressure back to normal.

Breathing action with core + diaphragm

Breathing action with core + diaphragm. By cruithne9,CC BY-SA 4.0

The diaphragm is contracting (or doing work) during the flattening down action. It pulls its center tendon down towards its peripheral tendons on the spine + ribcage.

The diaphragm is releasing (not doing work) during the doming up action. It releases the pull on its central tendon to return to its original relaxed position.

Diaphragm action

Diaphragm action by SportEx

This is of course the simplest version of what happens. In practice, it is quite a bit more complex with several more players determining how you breathe.

Want to practice breathing with this new information?

Inside the podcast episode (coming soon) is the full story on the above outline and several guided breathing practices to help you apply the information and make it usable practical knowledge.

Practicing with you,
esther


Photo by Jonas Weckschmied on Unsplash

 

Every teacher was once a student. But somehow (prevalence of hierarchical authority and fixed mindset?), this fact fades from notice as soon as a teacher gains students’ respect.

Or at least, I never thought about my teachers as students. It wasn’t until I started to teach myself, that I realized that it’s fundamentally critical that teachers, leaders, and really everyone, is continually learning new things.

And if teachers are learners, they’re students. And all students have homework!

Yoga Homework

Just like any movement practice or feat in which you want to improve your skill, yoga has "homework" — known as the "daily practice."* These days, it’s often referred to as one’s "home" practice to distinguish it from going to a yoga class (which contributes to your learning, but isn’t designed to help you with your specific practices).

Yoga teachers typically encourage their devoted students to practice at home everyday. Which modern-day students invariably, at some point, find difficult to sustain. Eventually real life challenges the everyday-ness of it, and real life wins. (Which, total aside here, is why in the ISHTA lineage* there is so much focus on making meditation relevant to your real life by linking the experience to your actions and thoughts.)

And at this point of despondence, students look to their teachers anew and ask:

"what should I do?"

"what do you do?"

Somehow the latter follows as if the answers would be the same to both questions. And in some traditions, they might be. But yoga is a practice by and for the individual (strong ISHTA perspective there), so there should be no expectation that a student’s practice would sync up with her teacher’s.

So my answer to the first question is likely to be "let’s schedule a time to review what you’re doing/not-doing now and look at what might be useful for you."

And because there might be a little overlap between our two unique practices, I’ll also answer the second: "Well, I’ll tell you what I do now in case it’s helpful to know, but it’s not necessarily what you should be doing."

In the overlap of challenges and comforts that we face through our separate practices (of anything), some solace, inspiration, and guidance might indeed be waiting to be found. Because, really, one human to another, we’re not all that different, even though we’re also entirely unique 😉

And so, because so many of you have asked, and because I hope it can be useful to your yoga education, I'm going to share my current morning practice with you.

Esther's Morning Practice

At least, what I have scheduled. I give myself 90 minutes.

  • Wake up and do the necessary things, which sometimes includes checking twitter (just because it makes me happy)
  • Joint warm up, which I recorded for you as a Yoga Whenever, so you can try it for yourself. This is definitely one of those overlap moments 😉
  • Meditate (using hum sa or sat yam kriya)
  • Strength workout or yoga asana
  • Record thoughts on "meds + moves" (meditation + movement!)

That's it! These days, I'm learning most from the last part, recording my thoughts... which leads to questions, which leads to looking things up, which leads to more questions, and ... you get the idea.

I hope this is useful to you and that you discover the perfect practice to keep you learning, always! I'd also love to hear how you put together your practice. What works for you? Why does it suit you? If you want to share, click the big bar below!

Moving with you,
esther
  

share your practice with me

 


* Glossary terms!

  • [Yoga] Practice: all the techniques you practice regularly to deepen your understanding of yoga. That's just one way to define it!
  • Lineage: yoga is taught from teacher to student, and thus the philosophy and practices of yoga are identified by which line of person to person sharing (and evolving/developing) they come through. That's a yogi's "lineage".
And you can get that gentle joint warm up YWAG here if you want to try it for yourself!

When it comes to the breath, I’m not a very disciplined yogi.

Or at least, that’s what I think whenever I find myself next to an ashtangi who’s even 1:1 inhale:exhale purrs along steadily, pose after pose, sequence after sequence.

In ashtanga yoga (**the modern style of asana practice, not the yoga sutra's eight limbs), the steady ujjayi* breath during asana seems to be paramount. That's not not the case for me, but in my tradition of ISHTA yoga, doing what’s useful for the individual comes first, so there aren’t really any hard and fast rules that everyone observes, because, duh, we’re all a little bit different. And given my gut-driven fear of not doing things the way I’m supposed to, I am so much better off in environments where I’m asked to think for myself, not follow rules someone else sets down.

And while I do have a pretty strong control of my breath faculties, some days I’m a little bit jealous of the "ashtanga steady breath" discipline.

Why? What’s so great about breathing evenly?

I suppose nothing much, on its own. Many of us do it much of the day long… in those "normal" moments when we’re not stressed, anxious, depressed, racing about, or doing anything that feels like an "up" or a "down."

You know, normal!

So, how many of us have days —or yoga practices— that are mostly devoid of ups + downs? Heh, not this girl, that’s for sure. But that’s where the discipline of the breath can help.

breathe normally, breathe evenly as a practice

Here’s how: let’s say you’re doing something that requires only about 50% of your attention, meaning you’ve done it many times before and it’s in the good ol’ "muscle memory" (**strong neural connections that fire without much executive oversight, not actually anything in your muscles).

During this routine task, what is your mind doing?

Whatever your mind is doing that's what your breath is mimicking. Like right now, writing this, I’m thinking about word choice more than I am breathing fully, because every. word. matters. (dammit.)

And if you’re flowing through your daily sun salutation but hemming and hawing about a work meeting, then it’s a pretty sure bet that you’re not enjoying your flow much... because you’re probably not breathing much!!!

so let's breathe

Can we make a pact, just for a week, to breathe instead of think when doing something routine? It can be sun salutations, walking the dog, washing dishes— you pick. And since not thinking sounds impossible, as a compromise, let’s just pay attention to breathing.

Make your breath even (1:1 in:out) and it will be easier to come back to if/when you start thinking about something else.

More soon on the technical side of how this all works, but in short what we're practicing is using the breath to stay present in our awareness. That’s training us to have access to a calming breath, grounding breath, or even a get-up-and-go breath when we need it, for those moments when thinking smart and open is crucial.

It’s training us to use the breath to make our ups and downs a little less extreme, or maybe within our power to monitor and choose.

I think that's pretty friggin’ super.

Esther


FOOT NOTES!
** a double asterisk means "heads up, here comes a note for all you yoga geeks who, like me, appreciate the academic details." If that’s not you today, just skip over, I still love you!

* and a single asterisk means glossary term!

Ujjayi is a pranayama or conscious manner of breathing that is commonly used during yoga asana practice to encourage focus on the breath and steadiness of mind and body. It is a somewhat athletic breath practice and can be quite challenging to sustain during a full-body flow sequence in which you do not need to stop moving (like the sun salutation).

Now you want to learn ujjayi? I guess I will have to create that guide next 😉

Captain Marvel drawn by Dexter Soy in "Captain Marvel: Earth's Mightest Hero," writer Kelly Sue DeConnick

 

Who are truth heroes?

Truth heroes are my kinda superheroes!

I got into reading superhero comics because a) my husband shares from his 31,000+ piece library and b) I am a movement super dork! The action is phenomenal 😉

But of course, the action is just a metaphor for the internal battles that make the characters people we relate to.

The real work for any superhero is in first deciding to use their special abilities, then learning how to use them responsibly, and finally choosing to help others. And because of their choices, we call them heroes.

How can you be a truth hero?

Truth heroes are the super people who seek out truth everywhere… and then do something useful with it.

Sometimes that's easy and it’s what you want to do anyway. Aaand then there are the oodles of times when facing the truth is scary… and taking action is downright petrifying.

I see it on the yoga mat. I see it in the gym. I see it in meditation. In just one example, we hide from facts in our efforts -- like not being ready to "level up" in a posture, or needing rest when we want a workout, or telling ourselves that minute of meditation was enough. Why do we hide from being where we are, needing what we need?

The reasons of course are individual and often call up a complex bundle of fears that have nothing do with your practice. But if you're hiding from yourself in the low-stakes world of yoga, where else might you be hiding from facts and truth?

One step at a time

Rather than tackle that question head on, maybe keep this contained to your yoga practice, which should be a safe space to be, to learn, to change what you want to change. In that safe space, you can, over time, get to know yourself, the facts about yourself that you avoid, the truth that scares you.

And who knows, you might just surprise yourself in standing up for the truth outside of your practice. If you've been practicing yoga or deliberate movement education for any stretch of time, you probably already know what I mean.

You know It won't always be easy. But you (we!) can do it.

It might take deliberation and preparation. 

It might take the support of a friend (no hero fights alone). 

It might take practice (fail, get back up, learn something, try again).

And that’s as it should be, because those are steps that make heroics possible.

And while I’m borrowing the name "hero" (and its over-the-top-ness!) from comics, it was through yoga that I uncovered my own inner truth hero. After deciding to try yoga, learning how to embrace its "good" and "bad", and eventually choosing to let yoga teach me a thing or two about being true in myself, I learned that "truth" is not personal or obvious — and of course, rarely easy.

It takes heroes to bring it to light.

Truth heroes like you, I hope.

Maybe this is the first time you've thought of yourself this way. Maybe you think I'm talking nonsense. Either way, I invite you to sit with the idea that you can champion the truth -- even if it's just within one sphere of your life.

And I'd love to know: what does "truth" mean to you? Share your thoughts with me here.

since we're talking heroes, here are 4 superhero comics I love!

THOR
Thor 2014 - Jason Aaron run
I love this Thor story. Maybe it's just because a woman wields the hammer, but I think it has more to do with the fact that it's a powerful tale and soooo beautifully crafted.
Writer Jason Aaron, Artist Russell Dauterman
Full credits + more info >>

SPIDER-WOMAN

Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman!) does her hero-ing while pregnant! As if making a tiny human weren't enough... I relate to her though because she's sassy and doesn't really like to play by the rules and stands up for the underdogs and misunderstood.
Writer Dennis "Hopeless" Hallum, Artist Javier Rodriguez
Full credits + more info >>

MS. MARVEL

Kamala Khan (Ms. Marvel) is a truth hero for sure. I think it's what makes her such a respectful change agent. Wilson's writing is instantly compelling. Start reading now, Kamala will make her way to the big screen for sure!
Writer G. Willow Wilson, Artist Nico Leon
Full credits + more info >>

CAPTAIN MARVEL

Carol Danvers has a long history, but I was introduced to her when she picked up the name "Captain Marvel" (having been known as Ms. Marvel in the decades before), as written by Kelly Sue DeConnick. That run started out with artist Dexter Soy, whose images I love, and I was immediately attracted to the overall storytelling of the comic. That and, I mean c'mon, the gal can fly in space. 
Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick, Artist Dexter Soy
Full credits + more info >>

The artist on the cover above is Ed McGuinness. Here is art by Dexter Soy:

Captain Marvel drawn by Dexter Soy

Tuesday indeed.

Asana means "seat" and in contemporary yoga we use the term to refer to the posture, carriage, or shape of the body. So, for example, "trikonasana" is a form in which the leg stance create a triangle shape.

esther-triangle

Trikonasana: tri = three, kona = angle, asana = seat, posture, shape

The objective of asana has varied over time. In the Classical period, during which we believe the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (YSP) were compiled, the objective or definition of asana was a comfortable and steady seat that allowed one to be at ease in an upright position during breathing and meditation practices. If there was any exercising of different asana at that time, it seems to have been entirely in service of being able to sit in meditation without being distracted by physical pain or discomfort.

In our modern era of yoga, the diversity of asana and how they are exercised/practiced has grown just a teensy bit. In the YSP (which historians think was compiled around 200 BCE) there is no mention of specific asana or how to attend to them, only that one should sit comfortably for meditation. In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (a text written in the 15th century BCE on physical (hatha) practices that are an avenue for yoga) only 16 asana are described and depicted. Today, there are hundreds of asana! The catalog of shapes and movements that are considered part of "yoga" has expanded dramatically over the last century or so.

Yoga as Medicine, Chakra Yoga, Yoga for Wellness, Yoga Sequencing, Yoga for Dummies, Yoga for Your Type

The objective of the practice of these shapes remains the same for some yogis: to prepare the body for ease in seated meditation. For others, the objective of practicing postures is now more in service of developing a healthy, strong, mobile, and possibly also (subjectively) attractive body. I think that is all great. It does open the door to the query as to whether or not the practice that seeks only physical well-being should still be called Yoga. I say the objective need not matter if the effect is yoga. I think we have sufficient evidence (in this story is one example) to demonstrate that the body can change the mind just as the mind can change the body. Further, more and more practices have been developed and honed over generations of practice because different students needed different tools. It is the power of yoga that it can be adapted to the needs of its practitioners without fundamentally changing.

I use asana, the physical postures, largely as a practice of "being in my body," which to me means moving or being still with a conscious focus on my body, its sensations and experience. I also employ particular asana at particular times to build muscle strength, relieve physical pain or discomfort, relieve mental pain or discomfort, change my mood, and sit in wonder at what I can do today.

What I do, what the practice "looks like" differs depending on which purpose I'm addressing. What exactly do they look like? Well, since I don't tend to take pictures of anything "for fun", I have some work to do before I can show you my practice! I will post something of a photo journal of my practice over the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear about your experience of asana or any physical practice. Why do you practice what you do?

hari om tat sat!
esther

There's a premise in ISHTA Yoga (and I think all yoga) that the objective of daily practice of yoga is to experience undifferentiated or universal consciousness.

But what does that even mean?

I don't know. I'm investigating.

Yoga is also defined as the "stilling of the fluctuations of the mind."

Quieting the chatter of thoughts.
Focusing attention to one thing.
Being immersed in experience.

This idea I can get behind.

I don't need to live every moment of my life in intense focus, but setting myself up for more of those moments sounds like a reasonable pursuit.

That's what yoga is (for me).

Some of yoga's practices help take you directly to the experience of a single point of focus. Others help you engage with the practice of concentrated focus in pretty much any activity or thought. I think of the practices I use as falling into these two over-arching categories:

1). practices that can induce a focused/immersive experience
2). practices that help one be at ease with oneself

I do think the objective of 1 + 2 are fundamentally the same, but the practices in the second category can often be actively employed to make living more joyful, comfortable, and easeful even when you're not in an immersive experience.

So, basically, meditation is awesome. It feels great and we believe it helps your brain change to be geared towards joy + positive thinking (in a super general nutshell). Meditation might be enough to put you in a frame of mind to "solve" all of your "stuff". But it might not be. When it's not, there are all these other activities and strategies you can try out to more directly tackle your "stuff" --activities like moving your body to release pent up energy, or strategies like taking on philosophical views that embrace the valid and valuable role of all creatures and all your fellow human beings.

In my experience, some of us need a lot of category 1 and not much of category 2, some of us need mostly 2 and don't get much out of dwelling on 1, and most of us are aided by a daily practice of 1 and 2.

But, as probably every parent on earth has said at some point, you'll never know what suits you 'til you try 'em!

More on that next time.

hari om tat sat!
esther

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