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Wednesday, March 3, 2021

What's (Your) Truth? (overdue day 21 of 21)

 We talk about truth (satya) a lot in yoga. It's also popular in todays' vernacular to broadcast being "authentic" and "real," but I'm wondering if while trying to express these things (to ourselves and to others) we don't just end up creating more stories that are still less than, well, truthful.

Imagine if you will, one hand you have "your truth" and in the other "your lies." Depending on your level of self-doubt, it is completely possible that what you think is truth might actually be a story you've conjured out of anxiety, depression, and/or ego. The hand holding the lie is actually the truth, and the truth is the actually lie. 

So here's the million dollar meditation point, all completely in my humble opinion. It really doesn't matter if you are going to announce your truth to the world or not. It only matters if you are going to be honest with yourself. So making sweeping declarations about the kind of person (you think) you are only have validity if you not only believe them but live them. If it feels conjured, then it's part of a façade. 

In Sanskrit the word for lie is the same as untruth: asatyam (literally, "not the truth"). Though this seems to linguistically imply there is only black or white, lie or truth, in reality it is one big gray area. Satya doesn't directly mean truth, it implies truth, or essence. or virtue. Adding the "a-" prefix changes the meaning to be the opposite of. So the context of the word carries the significance.

Same in English, though we do change the words to fit the context. We don't necessarily lie about our own story; we fabricate a story, we stretch the truth, we embellish for effect, we hide fact, we have the sin of omission, we gild the lily, we cast shadow of doubt, we prevaricate, we change tone to suggest we feel shame about something. So our truth carries altered essence no matter what if we aren't paying attention to simplifying, and seeing it through the most honest of lenses.

Sometimes it helps to be accountable to someone else when having a truth check in, like in therapy. Sometimes it complicates the process of finding truth. In yoga, our honesty process involves Pratyahara (withdrawing the senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dyhana (single pointed concentration), so it's very much an individual experience. There is no one else to validate/verify what you are finding. It's even more important then, on this path, to feel at home in your own skin, comfortable feeling vulnerable, and confident to feel, period. 

No one "muscles through" the eight-limbs physically or mentally, despite what modern incarnations that show short-cut asana mastery might suggest. No one need to supplicate or suffer at the hands of another, despite what some "gurus" might strongarm from their false pulpits. No one is incapable to doing yoga; there is a way to bring the practice to everyone if the teacher is truthful about their abilities. 

As for the practitioner, it is not for me to say by what truth you or anyone else must abide. When someone comes to the mat, all I can ask is that they consider that what they tell themselves may be as much a story as anything else, so just be in the moment and see if their perception of themselves changes. We need to be able to observe ourselves with open minds and hearts before we can know our truth. It's weirdly NOT intellectual. So we find out truth by following the path, by doing the work on the mat (and off), by releasing the need to hold on to any of the "not truths" and we peel back the pages of the stories we've written until we get a peek at what is deep down. We don't need to shout it from the rooftops, or write a song about it, or make some grandiose statement when we find it. We can just be essentially ourselves.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Day 20 of 21: Change Your Perspective

 Original image by Rachel Byer

The Hanged Man is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. He is hanging upside-down, viewing the world from a completely different perspective, and his facial expression is calm and serene, suggesting that he is in this hanging position by his own choice. He has a halo around his head, symbolizing new insight, awareness and enlightenment. His right foot is bound to the tree, but his left foot remains free, bent at the knee and tucked in behind his right leg. His arms are bent, with hands held behind his back, forming an inverted triangle. There is a halo burning brightly around the hanged man's head, signifying a higher learning or an enlightenment.

What does this represent? Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy. It's opposite is Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.

Why have I posted this image for the penultimate day of my 21 day challenge? Because as I near it's end, I realize it's all about changing perspective. In order to get that alternate view, you have to know where you are - you have to center to get a bead. Once you know where you are, you can see where you've been, and then make decisions about where you want to go.

For 20 days (ish) now I've been writing about practicing yoga and meditation, and how they relate to me personally, how I've been instructing in my classes and reflecting back on new techniques and lingering thoughts. As much as I started out with intent for this to be "life changing" at some point I was just going with the flow, waiting for it to end because it was just another task to have to complete. It's not that I don't think about yoga every day, it's just that my thoughts aren't always noteworthy for sharing. Yet I committed to putting them into the blogosphere for the sake of argument, to fulfill a promise, and to see what insight I might divine from it.

Like some of my classes on Zoom, with the blog, there's an audience that doesn't really get to chime in one way or the other except in after comments. Essentially I'm journaling, and it feels empty sometimes, like I'm a lone semantic alchemist trying to conjure golden expressions of genius out of random metal words and phrases. 

That being said, during this process I have been partaking in two different type of learning. I have this Yoga for Mental Health training with Cindy Beers ( where I have been immersed in lessons on mindfulness to help recognize, alleviate, and work with depression, PTSD and stress within the boundaries of a yoga practice.  I also have started on a path to some sort of certification in biological/exercise science, and have enrolled in a Introduction to Kinesiology class. Going back to formal "college" was huge in conquering my fear and anxiety that almost prevented me from graduating back in 1988 (but that's a story for another time). 

The 21-day yoga challenge didn't necessarily make me better at yoga pose, or an expert at meditation, but it led me to dive more deeply into learning. Something sparked that quest for higher knowledge, and fueled the confidence to finally enroll. 

The Tarot card above (which traditionally would be shown with a man) kept popping up in my mind the past week or two, and when I was trying to find just the right picture this one came up. I think it's beautiful and represents where I am. People often see images like this in Tarot and think "Oh, that's bad!" If you look more deeply at the image you can absolutely see that even though the person seems bound and "hung" they are not in distress at all. It occurred to me that they are in fact holding tree pose, with their hands on the back and front of their power center (third chakra), and hanging not by an external force, but with strength of their own leg from the tree. Tree pose, one representing growth, strength, nature, connectedness. In this position, upside down, perhaps it could mean the tree can grow where it chooses, even upside down. Just because circumstances are odd, doesn't mean that you can't thrive; you just need to get centered. 

The scene isn't gruesome, but serene, acrobatic, and even calm. Not bad at all. Tarot cards like Death and The Fool likewise aren't bad but depict something about change. They aren't meant to frighten or disgust but help the reader or even casual observer look at things with a different perspective.

So that's where I am with this practice. Thinking about how these past 20 days have given me insight to what is really important, and how I might proceed to stay true to what I need. Next time I need a reset, I'll remember to stand on my head!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Day 19 of 21: Yoga Nidra

In a Yoga Nidra meditation, you are guided through a body scan with the intention of the mind settling into a relaxes state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep.

There are many guided meditations you can find online, and one of my homework assignments was to write/record a Yoga Nidra practice. So, I am posting mine here for you to try. 

It is just 20 minutes start to finish, but to prepare for this meditation, you'll need to lay down first and get settled (I didn't do a long intro I just went right into it). You can do so on a mat, or a bed, or sit in a chair, but make sure you are warm and comfortable and safe. Ideally you wouldn't need to move, but there are no "points off" for having to adjust if you are uncomfortable.

(Truth be told, I did a two hour Nidra once and I think started snoring 1/2 way through, and once I was bumped awake, realized that the flesh around my tailbone was numb because we were on a wood floor with no props. I don't think suffering through this is the way to go so get yourself comfortable.)

What you'll hear on my very rudimentary recording is me guiding you to pay attention to certain body parts, slowly and methodically, hopefully encouraging a trancelike state of mind. 

I feel like this could be used for a good morning wakeup or even an afternoon nap refresher. Let me know what you think!

Friday, February 12, 2021

Day 17 and 18 of 21: Honoring Commitment

Fell off the blogging wagon for a day, but I promise you I was practicing yoga without fail. So here's two days worth of updates. I absolutely was Om-ing and trying to figure out what it meant to me as I wander through this week, and today, I came across this gem in A Year of Living Your Yoga

Whatever you do, do it with an open heart. Maybe you agreed to do something, but now you wish you hadn't. If you do choose to follow through in the end, do so with willingness and interest. You will suffer less and so will the others around you.

Each day I wake up a little begrudgingly knowing I made a commitment to post because I'm trying to create a habit of getting my ideas generator used to working more than sporadically. This in turn will help make my classes better, me happier, my life in general more fulfilling, and my family and friends may find me more pleasant to be around. 

So missing a day of posting means that I let myself down. Plus I forget any of the juicy ideas that did come up during the experience. They may not be noteworthy to anyone but me, but the ship has sailed once 24 hours have passed. Like having an amazing dream, and not telling anyone or writing it down, and by the next day it's just hazy memories like a partially erased tape or warped photo. 

Plus the past three-ish days I have been battling migraines and the medication has left me feeling like I have a swiss cheese personality, so recapturing any of the flashes of insight from yesterday are difficult.

I do remember that the book listed above offered the idea of meditating on thing (person or object or idea) that brings your happiness, and allowing that sensation to fill you. I thought it might be interesting to combine the mental image of this with an Om vocalization.  I like the idea of infusing the Om practice with another object of focus - like dedicating the practice to an object of love or happiness. I had chosen my son. However in hindsight I may have been overcomplicating the practice a bit at least as a beginning meditator. I will have to discuss this with my mentor and research a bit to see if chanting and imagery are advised. I didn't get any feedback from the class (yet) so we will see. 

The migraine effect continues today, and I was rummaging around my brain to find a way to keep people interested in the Om practice. I brought out the singing bowl thinking that we would use that to guide our Oms, but I forgot that I don't have a striker to elongate the sound, and my foggy head and voice were unable to match the note of the bowl so that my "singing" fell so flat it was comical. 

After a few anti-sonorous attempts I croaked out a few Oms but I didn't feel good about them. Directly afterwards I read the aphorism above and laughed quite literally out loud. I mean, I made my best attempt with sincerity, so hopefully no one suffered (more than already was). I meant well, my heart was in it, but my literal pain and drug affected brain could not cash the check!

This post is part apology, part confession, and all receipt reminder for future me when this happens again: keep the commitment, but you don't have to try so hard. I'm thinking don't scramble to "entertain" just stick with what you know. A simple Om practice would have been very grounding me for me, would have worked just as well for the class, and fulfilled the obligation 100% (and I'd feel far less guilty). 

Note to self: I really have to find a bowl striker.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Day 16 of 21: Connecting to the Source

To further my Om practice, today I led the class in a two-minute session. The daily reading from a book ( I often garner inspiration offered the idea of choosing a word on which to focus a daily intention. Today, I chose Om/Source. 

The daily idea not only suggested choosing a word, but also noting how that word presenting itself throughout the day. Did a situation arise where it was important to remember that word, or perhaps you saw an example of it? Did you need to remind yourself of that word to help you maintain focus during your practice? What does that word mean to you? Examine the reasons why you chose it, both obvious, and perhaps more subconscious.

This week being “Om” week I wanted to stay consistent with my practice, and Wednesday we work on our core, so using the idea of “source” (centering) seemed to fit the theme appropriately. Sometimes I’ll pick an intention for practice, but partway through class my mind has been racing and I forget the exact word I’ve chosen as the intention, so this one I was sure to remember!

I also wanted to change up the opening meditation practice, so instead of just three rounds of Om, I told class that we would do two minutes of meditation on our chosen “mantra” to be recited aloud or in our own minds, but I would also be turning off my microphone so that my voice would not be interfering with their meditation. 

For two full minutes (timed on my Google Home Mini) I vocalized my Oms. I found myself smiling, and enjoying the sonorous quality, and to my surprise not feeling left wanting when I transitioned to silence. I am starting to embrace the idea of the quiet after the Oms being part of the “rebirth” or “fourth state of consciousness” and something to be enjoyed as much as the chanting itself. It’s almost like the spirit of the Om remained in the room, even if the sound itself wasn’t perceived.

At the end of class, I gave everyone the opportunity do a three-Om chant with me by enabling their microphones, but as far as I could tell no one took me up on it (yet). I still allowed my voice to ring out clearly, from my source, my center with the purest of intention to theirs in the spirits of one-ness. 

Om, indeed.