teaching as divinely selfish service
Karma Krew Peace by Peace Yoga Challenge
all i have learned
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Sutra Saturdays: 1.4
Sunday Routine - Maxi (Hurricane Edition)
In the immediate wake of the New Year, the phrase “It’s all about finding balance for me” is oft-repeated at Flow. We step into the open canvas of January ready to move and groove, with our fresh aspirations and intentions at the fore. But actual balance? Can we really find it? We have what it takes, right? Perspective. Challenging work. A weekly yoga and/or meditation practice. Time for friends, family and socializing. Rituals to keep us grounded. Technology to engage (or disengage) and entertain. Play and inspiration surrounding us. So why, then, at the end of the day, do we feel exhausted or overstimulated? Agitated or edgy? Why is living a balanced life so elusive for most of us?
Ayurvedically speaking, Vikriti means “manifest imbalance” or “current state of health”. These definitions might seem at odds with one another, but actually, our current state of health always comprises certain manifest imbalances. The trick is to quickly identify when and where we are out of alignment, and use as a filtering lenses what we know of Ayurveda (methods of self-care); yoga asana (organizing pranic intelligence of the body); and dharma (study of the truth) to bring ourselves back into a state of satva (natural balance). One way to counteract, and even to heal, such asymmetries is to understand how the five elements that govern all matter and form bring to bear on our bodies, minds and spirits. I asked Flow teacher, Jessica Lazar, a long-time practitioner of ayurvedic principles in her own life, to share some tips for restoring balance in the midst of a dynamic, urban life flow.
Ether (Akash) – That which creates. If you are experiencing excess ether, you may find yourself lost in thoughts, schemes, and imaginary narratives that have little to do with the present moment. You start lots of projects, but rarely finish any of them. When you wake in the morning, you have a ton of plans, but by the evening, you have little to show for your intentions. You are a dreamer, possessed of paper scenarios that you hope to “someday” carry out. It’s challenging for you to follow through with things. You are often late for appointments, and people who love you know not to rely upon you. You aspire to stay in touch with friends, but actually doing so never seems to happen.
To provide counterpoint to excess ether, it is important for you to establish a routine. Set an alarm. Wear a watch. Force yourself to make a schedule at the beginning of the day, and then stick to it. Even though you don’t “like” to be tied down, force yourself into routines that will anchor your day. Do alignment-based practices, like Iyengar and Anusara, that will connect you to the present moment. Once your ether is back in balance, you will be able to enjoy your naturally imaginative and open nature.
Air (Vayu) – That which moves. When you have excess air, you may find yourself distracted by every thought and feeling that passes across your third eye. In fact, your thoughts and emotions run you all around, like the tail wagging the proverbial dog. For all your running, however, you lack stamina, especially in relationships, which are very challenging for you to commit to, or to see the deep value in, because you prefer to be alone. You have a hard time seeing the big picture. Even when you do find a person or a job you love, you may generate all kinds of reasons why you should get up and go, because being in motion is your homeostasis. You pick up—then put down—practices and systems of moral and ethical order, because you are unsure of what is really true and good to follow. You guard your own space jealously, which leads you to feel solid, separate, and alien—especially in group or family settings—which is why you gravitate toward flying solo.
To minimize the effects of excess air, seek out those who tend to see clearly (fire people). Invite the fire practices, like pranayama and vira asanas, onto your mat, to give you strength to follow through and stay the course. Seek out types of yoga that draw on a set series, like Ashtanga and Jivamukti. Tether yourself to other human beings, and cultivate appreciation for the balm of relationships in your life. Make your house your home. Invest in others. Practice karma yoga (acts of selfless service) to take you up and out of your own story. Commit. Repeat. Commit. Repeat. Once your excess air is in a proper amounts, you can enjoy your naturally expansive, spacious nature, and do so with the ones you love, instead of all on your own.
Fire (Tejas) – That which heats and converts. If the fire element is overabundant in your life - you may find yourself attracted to all things rajasic (charged; hot). You can’t get enough spicy food. Your literary genres of choice may include thriller novels and tear-jerker films. You gravitate toward intensity, and if you are really out of tune, just may create conflict with your friends and family members to put yourself at ease. This predilection for high vibrations can leave you feeling overstimulated, however, unable to access peace of mind or a good night’s sleep. When you are run down, you tend to get quickly irritated. As an extrovert, you can be, by turns, delightful and radiant, and then, impatient and unpleasant. You fall prey to extremes.
If this sounds familiar, make some conscious shifts away from the heat. Instead of doing routinized forms of yoga, that tend to build core power and heat, try the unctuous denominations, like Prana Flow (fluid, dance-like movement) yoga, or the seated, quiet practices, like yin (posture-dwelling) and bhakti (devotion expressed through mantra and prayer) yoga. Build breaks into your day, and abandon any line of work that has you running all day long on adrenaline. Be mindful that your speech and actions reflect your intention to be compassionate. Be with those who are cool-headed and possessed of sound judgement. Seek counsel often to make sure you are not stepping on toes. Enjoy forward bends before bed. Schedule “go nowhere; do nothing” into your day minder. Move and speak slowly. Then, when your fire is in check, share your naturally warm, radiant nature.
Water (Aap) – That which flows and lubricates. If you have excess water - you may find yourself drawn to entertainment and the arts at the expense of much-needed practical endeavors. You adore poetry, music, and digging into novels, but you just can’t make ends meet. In fact, the mere idea of working for a living is too much for you. You feel overburdened by the thought of holding it down and being responsible, and may rely heavily on others to do this for you.
To dry out your watery well, engage in ways to build your ego and create more fire. Do lots of solar-plexus strengthening, kapalabati pranayam (fast belly breath) to tap into your core power. Make it your intention to memorize a sequence of postures, then do them just like that for a week. The following week, switch the sequence, memorize it, and practice anew, but according to the set series. Use lots of mudra in your practice to illustrate your intention to stay with the shape from beginning to end. Then, when you feel that your feet have found shore, bask in your own beauty and fluidity.
Earth (Prithvi)– That which stabilizes and holds. When earth is in overabundance you may hit snooze more than once each morning. The sun may be shining on your pillow, but you pull the covers up over your head and close your eyes against the light. You may struggle with depression. Inertia. Negative thinking. Some days, it seems like a challenge just to get dressed, and you are known to your friends to go into periods of hibernation where you are unreachable.
To lighten the heavy effects of too much earth, spark up your daily routines. Add a little caffeine to your morning, or a cold shower. Do kriya to awaken your senses, and rub yourself down with a mildly astringent oil, like sesame infused with a few drops of rosemary, to give yourself a jump start. Play uplifting music. Dance, move and play. Spend time with children, and force yourself to be spontaneous whenever the opportunity arises, even though it feels a little scary. Once tempered by light and warmth, you earthy nature will again feel soothing and peaceful to those around you, and to yourself.
Understanding how the five elements are moving within you is the divine Leela (passion play) of our lives. Your yoga practice is a great place to start your exploration of the principles of alignment, the pragmatism of Ayurveda, and the respite of seated meditation. Let’s get started so you can begin to heal all your body-mind-spirit imbalances. If this resonates with you, consider joining Jessica Lazar for Living Your Yoga, or Shawn Parell in Yoga of the Subtle Body, where we will dive into these concepts more thoroughly, and set ourselves up for a year of blissful equanimity.”