little things (matter!)

i’m training. that’s really all to report. training, training, training. there’s a certain relief (and release) that comes in the back of your brain when you figure out that, you don’t know how, you don’t know why, but whatever you’re doing is working. all you need to do is to keep showing up and it will all work out ok. ‘work out’ being the key method to working it all out.

how do i know?

  1. i stopped wearing insoles in my pk shoes. the mornings after jams when i put my feet on the floor and take those first steps- it doesn’t hurt anymore! ah, sweet bliss!
  2. my landings are quieter. usually.
  3. i have so much more confidence moving around the environment. it’s all starting to fall into place.
  4. i’m practicing more frequently, but getting fewer and fewer scrapes and bruises. radular!
  5. i realized a few jam sessions ago that i actually am strong enough in the shoulders to get over those walls- no need to stop and curse and switch gears before moving on. there are a few other technical difficulties, but i can’t blame weak shoulders anymore so will have to find another excuse.
  6. i can get one of my legs behind my head again (eka pada sirsasana to the yogis). yiHAH!

Here’s an appropriate yogi quote for you: ‘Before you’ve practiced, the theory is useless. After you’ve practiced, the theory is obvious.’ -David Williams

keep practicing. it will all work itself out eventually.


so you want to practice intermediate series?

below is an article i wrote about 2 years ago when an occasional student insisted i teach them 2nd series. i intended it for the Ekam website but couldn’t figure out how to tone it down enough for general consumption. i’ve had my personal battles with learning intermediate series, especially without a qualified teacher. perhaps this was a way to vent my own frustration with learning 2nd series on my own- a process that is still ongoing after 3 years. i did do some research when i was writing the information below- this isn’t stuff i just made up because i think i’m a bad ass. i sympathize with those learning intermediate on their own, it’s a truly devilish sequence of postures and the risk of injury is greater than that in primary series. so if you want to learn intermediate series (from me) i’ll refer you here first. and i’ll be very honest that i’m still on my own journey though this sequence. i truly believe in the criteria outlined below, which is why i am currently not practicing 2nd series, but i do assist others (and believe me, i recognize the ethical issues of this).

‘primary series is for students, intermediate is for teachers, advanced is for demonstration.’ – Sri K Pattabhi Jois.

The intermediate, or ‘second series’ of ashtanga vinyasa yoga is a challenging set of asanas that work deeply into the body and the mind. This series of postures, known as ‘nadi shodhana’ or ‘channel cleansing’, requires the ‘yoga chikitsa’ (yoga therapy) learned in the primary series to create a grounded physical base for this more energetic sequence. The intermediate series is a much deeper practice than the primary series, while being complimentary to it. Just as primary series pulls and twists your physical body, the intermediate series pulls and twists your nervous system and the energy channels that run throughout the body- the nadis. And like the primary series, each posture in the sequence prepares you for the next.

For many students of ashtanga vinyasa, beginning to practice the intermediate series will be the first time the student has experienced the traditional method. Many people (like me) learned primary series all at once from a DVD, a book, at a gym, or at a yoga studio during a full primary series led class. So learning one posture at a time, slowly integrating it into your daily yoga practice, may be a new concept. Like the primary series, the intermediate series of postures can take years to learn- perhaps a whole lifetime.

Learning the intermediate series is rewarding, but takes a serious amount of physical, mental and emotional commitment. If you don’t have the strength and the stamina to complete the primary series and feel energized afterwards, you will not be able to advance in your second series practice. Second series postures are added, one at a time, to your primary series practice, testing your physical and mental endurance. To be truly ready to embark on this next level of your practice, you should be able to answer ‘Yes’ to the following statements:

  1. I have been practicing the primary series at least 4-5 times/week for at least a year. In addition, I am capable of sustaining a 4-6 day/week practice indefinitely.
  2. I know the correct vinyasas for entering and exiting all postures of the primary series.
  3. I can perform all jump backs and jump throughs between each posture all the time, every time, throughout the entire primary series.
  4. I am capable of binding myself in Marichyasana D and Supta Kurmasana. I am able, or nearly able, to stand up from Urdhva Dhanurasana and drop back into the posture unassisted or with very little assistance.
  5. I have the time for my daily practice to run up to two hours in length.
  6. I have attained yoga chikitsa (yoga therapy) and my life is in balance. I am content in my current yoga practice.

Also, review the first two limbs of Ashtanga, the yamas and the niyamas, and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Ahimsa (non-violence): Do I knowingly bring myself to the point of injury in my current yoga practice? Am I able to recognize an injury before it manifests and change to avoid it or ask for help?
  2. Satya (truthfulness): Am I honest with myself with regard to my capability within my practice?
  3. Asteya (non-stealing): Am I taking away time and effort needed in my primary series practice?
  4. Brahmacharya (going with God): Is this truly a good use of my energy? Do I have constancy in my practice, offering it as a prayer or meditation rather than just a physical effort?
  5. Aparigraha (non-grasping): Am I trying to acquire 2nd series rather than seeing it as a daily meditation and act of humility?
  6. Saucha (purity): Am I approaching this new level of my practice with purity, having uncluttered my primary series practice? Am I open to the benefits the practice will bring?
  7. Santosha (contentment): Am I content with my current practice, regardless of whether or not I ‘advance’ in 2nd series? Would I be happy practicing primary series for the rest of my life?
  8. Tapas (austerity): Do I have not just the desire, but the discipline to carry my practice further, despite what it may bring?
  9. Svadhyaya (self-study): Do I seek 2nd series as a way to know myself better? Regardless of what it uncovers?
  10. Isvara-Pranidhana (surrender to God): Can I surrender my practice to a greater power, open to what each day may bring, whether great advancement or serious setback?

Finally, students wanting to learn intermediate series postures will need to attend Mysore-style self-practice at Ekam Yoga for at least a month before any postures are added. This is so we can observe your current practice, work with you where necessary, and ensure an open, honest relationship between student and teacher moving forward. Traditionally, postures are given by the teacher, not asked for by the student- are you ready to surrender your practice and trust another to guide you? We as teachers are also slowly deepening our own practices with these postures and that resources regarding the intermediate series are currently thin on the ground in South Africa. We are doing the best we can, grounded in a respect for ourselves and our practice, and with awareness of our own strengths and limitations. We are all a part of the journey.

Goal Setting Part 5: SHARING is caring

a few last things about goal setting and then i’ll stop. i promise.

1. write your goals down. seriously- if it isn’t written down it isn’t a goal. the writing process takes those nebulous thoughts that float around in your head, those desires and dreams for your future, and makes them real. and attainable, if you’re willing to accept the challenge and change and opportunity they bring. writing the goal down is like an invitation for it to manifest in your life and sometimes it’s the hardest part. so remember- it can only get easier once it’s written down.

2. sharing is caring. share your goals with relevant people. they will help you, they will encourage you, and they will be inspired by you. and it’s really cool to get feedback from people, and exciting to be able to share the little steps along the way. really, don’t be shy. one christmas my entire family sat down and did goals at the dining room table and that’s when we decided to hike kilimanjaro together. which we haven’t yet. but for those few hours we were together as a family, affirming each other’s ideas and dreams, which in the end was more important.

2. don’t get discouraged. as you know i’ve been doing goal setting for years. i write them down and print them and post them on my pin board at work. a few years ago i was really frustrated with my job and with the reviews i was getting and resolved to increase my overall annual evaluation score from 2.8 on a scale of 1-5 to 1.4, if 1 is the highest and 5 is the lowest. because, to me 2.8 is a 3, which is just average, and i know i’m better than average.

my boss was visiting and he noticed my goals and he read them. we discussed the new goals/task lists for the coming year and i told him about my goal to achieve an overall score of 1.4 on my next annual evaluation. he said that he had read that and thought it amusing since he was the assessor and he was the one that decided my score, not me. at that instant in time the following things crystalized for me:

  • my boss was an asshole. i lost a lot of respect for him in that moment- he had the opportunity to mentor me, and to encourage and inspire me and he failed.
  • most importantly i realized: if i write a goal, i OWN the goal. it’s MY goal. i have the power to achieve it and i will own it like a BOSS! if anything i wanted that 1.4 even more now just out of spite. NB: motivation can come from unlikely places.
  • i was inspired by a new goal: to ensure this guy was not my boss in nearest possible future. which i achieved by using this, and a few other examples, to illustrate the toxic nature of the working relationship.

so don’t be discouraged by the occasional speed bump, or asshole, that gets between you and what you want to achieve for yourself. remember this is about you and your path as you define it. forgive yourself and don’t get caught up in the little things, stay focused on those big things and don’t forget to grow.

i will not post anymore blogs on goal setting until 25 December, 2012.


Goal Setting Part 2: build a FRAMEWORK

i used to list my new year’s resolutions and goals in a haphazard way, like a to-do list; because it’s so easy to make a quick list of what you need to do. there are lots of little, individual things i’m working on. improvements, things i’ve always wanted to do. you know, little things. but these little things are actually part of a greater framework called ‘my life’. so sometimes it helps to take a step back and look at the bigger picture to get an idea of how you can get your goals working together efficiently.

for example: when you create your shopping list, you group your items by store or store section? like all your fruits and veggies are together because they’re in the same section of the grocery store. my parents actually go one further- they make their to-do lists in order of the loop they will drive through town to get everything. so if the grocery store and the bank are across the street from each other, they’ll hit the grocery store on the way out and the bank on the way back because then they’re both right turns. because in america right turns are easier than left turns. yes, they’re that anal. you can see the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

so…building a framework to get the big picture.

the big areas of my life are health, career and personal. and yes, it’s a rip-off of how lululemon does it. why reinvent the wheel? the way i use these categories has changed over the years. for example: health used to be the exercise routine i wanted to be on. then i added emphasis on the mind (education/training). now i’m viewing it as a space to integrate the activities/goals of mind, body and spirit creating a juggernaut that can be used to achieve my personal and career goals. when i start grouping my goals i also provide a blurb about why this area is important to me. it gives me a point of focus and keeps me from being redundant across different areas.

Heath: i want to live to be 120. my body, mind and spirit have to be working together to attain this goal. and it’s no use living to be to 120 if i’m not firing on all cylinders.

my Body is the vehicle that gets me to where i need to be, it needs to be operating in peak condition.

  • Goal 1: go to the dentist by march 2012
  • Goal 2: get a baseline mammogram by june 2012
  • Goal 3: stick to my strength/conditioning and yoga schedules throughout the year, adjusting where appropriate. don’t forget to have fun!

my Mind is the driver, it needs to be awake, alert, and able to negotiate everything life throws at me.

  • Goal 1: meditate (dhyana) once a day for 20 minutes
  • Goal 2: investigate learning sanskrit
  • Goal 3: allocate time and funds to practicing for 3-4 weeks with [unnamed yoga teacher] in 2012

My Spirit is the engine, make sure it’s operating positively and streamlining communication between the body and mind to make me whole.

  • Goal 1: stop beating yourself up all the time by practicing tapas and svadhyaya
  • Goal 2: find balance (saucha) in the things you love to do

as you can see, most of these aren’t SMART goals, they’re broad-brush overviews of what i think are some key areas pertaining to my health that i’m going to work in this year. i’m going to continue working on my career and personal areas and will post them in a future blog. for now, what are your key areas? what areas can you group your goals into to save time and work more efficiently this year?