Sunday, March 13, 2011
First off, Japan is really devistated right now. Thousands dead. Many more homeless. I just read a report that said the earthquake even shortened the Earth's day length a tiny bit. But what concerns me most is the state of the damaged nuclear reactors. There has been a resurgence of hype over the glory of nuclear power to replace oil-based energy sources, coupled with a downplaying of the possible dangers, which are many. I'm pretty sure I have written something about nuclear power in the past, but for now, I'll just say, given where we are at in terms of containment and waste storage - it's absolutely idiotic to think nuclear power can be a global energy savior. I hope the folks working on the damaged reactors in Japan get it under control really soon, but some damage has probably already been done.
Meanwhile, I spent the weekend in a pressure cooker of a yoga workshop. Jim Bennitt is a Chicago based teacher of tantric vinyasa yoga. His classes were well rounded, but really challenging. In terms of asana or physical pose work, I'm used to Iyengar-based classes that focus on holding single poses, watching alignment closely, and learning to embody the pose to the point where your mind moves deeply inward. Kind of posed meditation you might say.
The same meditative movement inward is a desired outcome of vinyasa, but it's more through regular body movement and breath coordination and awareness that the same thing comes about. In the past, I did a short stint of Kundalini yoga, which has a fair amount of flow in it's asana work. But I don't recall doing the kinds of challenging poses and variations of those poses as we did this weekend.
I had a couple of periods where I got lost in worries that I wasn't much of a yogi, and similar such negative self talk. This morning, just having fears about doing headstand (which I ended up doing a modified version) spun me out for a good ten minutes. I fumbled up basic asanas like table pose that I had been doing all weekend, and was jittery in others enough that the teacher ended up doing multiple adjustments and then stood in my general area for part of the pose sequence.
I'm writing this in part as a reminder that beginners mind can be easily obscured when you've been doing something a long time. In fact, as soon as I settled into a triangle pose this morning, and forgot about the coming harder poses, and also whether I "looked good" doing any of it, everything seemed to flow just fine. My years of experience were mostly irrelevant, as was the fact that I didn't have much experience with this kind of fast paced, asana practice. I was just there, doing each movement, watching each breath, and letting it unfold as it would.
An experience like this, where you are with a large group for a period of time is also a great opportunity to witness comparing mind. During the pose sequences, a person could easily go from "wow, I'm so great at this!" to "I'm absolutely terrible!" in a matter of minutes. It happened to me a few times. Friday night, I had a few rounds of "I'm terrible at this," as I barely kept up with the pace. And this morning, I had another moment of I'm terrible in the beginning of practice, and then a moment of "I'm pretty good" as I held shoulderstand up tall and straight while others around me struggled. While sitting meditation yesterday, I was aware of the years of zazen practice behind me as several people around me had a hard time staying still. So, lots of comparing mind was had by me, and I can imagine plenty of others in there.
As with longer Zen practice, doing a more intense period of yoga, especially when it incorporates much more of the eight limbs than your average asana-heavy class, is really beneficial. In fact, it's easier to be more well rounded when you have more time. I have seen it in my own life, where either the yogic asana with a tiny bit of pranayama or the Zen zazen and sutra chanting dominate. It's been rare that both have been balanced expressions for me. Or, perhaps the balance is stretched out - one season more focused on one, another season the other.
Part of doing yoga teacher training is to try and develop more synergy between these two sets of practices (and two powerful, cousin spiritual traditions) in my life. It's been done before, so I know it's possible. And that's the direction I have been heading in for awhile now.