An Extraordinary Practice

30 April, 2006

I had a notable practice this morning. I’ve clearly breached some kind of plateau because my practices have been special the last couple of weeks and today’s was truly sweet.

It was unexpected. I was sore when I got this morning from planting trees yesterday (we observe Earth Day each year by buying and planting several trees – this year eight: 2 white spruce; 3 paper birch; 3 white pines). We live on the Niagara Escarpment. Thousands of years ago when glaciers cut a flattening swath through Ontario giving it the undulating countryside of today, it couldn’t grind down the hard granite of the Escarpment. As I said, we live on it – our house and land is on it and it hasn’t changed that much – I can seldom dig a hole even 5 inches deep without having to pull out large stones (we have one bolder the size of small car on our land which may be common where you are, but pretty rare in Southern Ontario…the Escarpment excepted) – digging, therefore, is always a job that requires a pick as well as a shovel – in fact it shouldn’t be called digging – it’s more like scratching or picking or heaving. Anyway, having ‘dug’ eight holes, a foot and half deep for each of the seedlings, I almost took a rest day asana-wise this morning.

I’m glad I didn’t. I got my first wrist bind in Mari B; my feet were off well off the ground in Kurmasana; I got a real genuine Garba Pindanasa for the first time ever. Most of all…Urdhva Dhanurasana…speechless…I don’t know how all of a sudden I can do pukka backbends. And they get better every day.

I’ve never enjoyed my asanas more. I’ve never found it easier to get up and do them…even at 4 or 5am. And of course, I’ve never done them so well. I can only put it down to my new diet – and here there is nothing shockingly innovative ; for years my diet’s been generally quite good, but lately I’ve taken it up a notch and gotten rid of every last remnant of crap – not a fry, chip or spoonful of ice cream in two months. Nor a beer or a glass of wine (nothing but water, green or black tea, or soya milk). I’ve been eating pounds of kiwi, oranges, pears, apples, mangos, broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, spinach, tangerines, tomatoes, peas etc. Raw, steamed or baked. Save the occasionally shaving of cheddar on a veggie burger; no dairy; only whole grains; eggs rarely and even those, only organic free range. My headaches are gone – I mean totally. And my asanas are very definitely here. I’m not remotely tempted to regress. I’m repulsed by the idea of losing all this new real quality on and off the mat.


28 April, 2006

Obviously you respect the guy – he knows his way around the practice. But this article posted by Spiros Antonopoulos really bolsters my opinion of him…

Fifteen days, one month, and then they want to become a big star, be in the magazines…[laughing] All the [ancient] yogis, they didn’t come in magazines. They never advertised themselves. They didn’t say, “Hey, I’m a big yogi”. That’s just ego.

We get so many calls from westerners. They call, “How can I become a teacher?” They write to us, “How can I become a teacher?” You have to become a student first. For a long time. Maybe ten years.

Pukka innit?


27 April, 2006

It happened. Arsenal are in the European Cup Final. After a nervy and tense affair at El Madrigal in Villareal in which Arsenal survived an 89th minute penalty drama to keep the score at 0-0 and go through on an aggegrate score of 1-0. There was precious little detachment and serenity – the focus and concentration was all there but so was too the emotion. Arsenalasana.

We were diabolical. That was the worst I’ve seen us play in a good long time. But as they say, it’s a good side that can play poorly and get the result against quality opposition.

Football’s like your asanas (and not just in that both take 90 minutes) – In either, form doesn’t count for much. Results do. You can do a pose badly or play badly and still get the right result. On the other hand you can play beautifully and get it wrong. It doesn’t matter that you’re streaming sweat and working your heart out, binding everything in sight, or making perfect passes and tackles. All that counts is getting ‘there’. In Football it’s the right scoreline. In asanas it’s being there in the moment. Of course, once every so often the cosmic tumblers fall into place and you get both the form and the results. Theoretically this is the space we get to eventually – in Football or Asansas. Theoretically.

Briefly, I dreamed of getting to Paris the week of 17 May (I even looked up the ticket – British Airways, Toronto-Paris Return C$1,033). Can I swing it? Work makes it a little hard right now, the Money could be scratched together. My wife’s going to London with the girls for two months to visit with her Parents in early May, I could even join them in London for the week and Eurotunnel it over for match day. Hmm.


21 April, 2006

I took a rest day today and it wasn’t easy to accept. My alarm woke me at 4:00 am. The problem was that our baby girl had been doing that all night. Anyway, I dragged my arse out of bed, sat on the loo for a bit, brushed my teeth, looked in the mirror and realised that I was so not up for 90 minutes of asanas. By this time it was 4:30 so, having accepted my complete knackeredness, I fumbled back under covers for another 90 minutes of fitful horizontitude.

I didn’t feel guilty about this – I was just disappointed. I was sad to miss out – which is daft since this was only my third day off in the past 30 days (moonies not included). I love my asanas lately – a couple of nights ago I caught myself actually anticipating and looking forward to the poses I visualised myself doing the next morning.

But not last night. Last night I watched Arsenal put one leg into the European Cup final by beating Villareal 1-0 in the first left of their semi-final. What does this have to do with asanas or yoga? As I watched the game, I realised how far my yoga had come. Indeed the real measure of my progress as a Yogi has been the degree to which I am able to watch my beloved Arsenal with ever-increasing equanimity. I call this Arsenalasana. I was a bit tense admittedly. 1-0 is a pretty slim margin and if the Spanish side had scored an ‘away’ goal, we would absolutely need to win at their place next week. However, as things stand, a draw in Villareal puts into the final for the first time ever – at the Stade de France in Paris against (most likely) FC Barcelona. What a dream final. It’s the one most purists want as there are no two more ‘watchable’ sides in the game today. Villeareal on the other hand are hard to watch (or at least they were last night); they showed no ambition and were more interested in rolling around feigning injury whenever Arsenal broke on a counter attack – the cheating @#$*ers. Was a time when I would have screamed righteous abuse at Villareal for such antics.

Indeed, was a time in the not so distant past when I couldn’t eat before a game (remember that I’m watching rather than playing here) and where, unless Arsenal were up 3-0 at half-time, I was a nervous wreck. And, it’s a good thing they’re a pretty successful side because when they lost you pretty much stayed away from me the whole day. To get a sense of what I was like watch Fever Pitch – the movie based on the book by my fellow Arsenal supporter Nick Hornby (and here I mean the original movie not the crap one that replaced football with baseball – hah! as if you could substitute a mere ‘past time’ for ‘the beautiful game’).

Today I realise that what is worth celebrating is the manner in which they play. The result (most likely a win) is merely a consequence. They play with flair, speed and eboullient panache. At a high tempo with crisp accurate passing and movement off the ball. So I try to watch it in a manner befitting them – with driste…and…(this is the hard bit) detachment and equanimity. Arsenalasana.

A Year of Daily Practice

14 April, 2006

April marks an anniversary for me; a year of ‘daily practice’. Until last year I maintained a 3-practice per week routine (basically asanas were the aerobic component of my strength-oriented fitness regime). Then, last spring I made it a goal to practice every day (except Moon Days). I haven’t always kept it but the key was to set the goal doing so has probably kept me practicing an average of 4-6 time a week throughout the year.

Apropos this anniversary, I’m in some kind of yogic sweet spot. Gone is the sleepy clumsy hapless start to the year that had me wrapping cars around concrete pylons – incidently, my plan to get to Mysore this winter took a financial kick in the teeth when I got that door fixed 🙂 But I am still hopeful.

I’ve been getting back into Iyengar’s writing lately. He has such a beautiful way of expressing what Yoga is about – his analogies truly hit mark. Yoga, he says, ascends on two wings – Abhyasa (Practice) and Vairagya (renunciation or detachment). He goes on to say that one builds the ladder for you to climb upwards towards self-realization, while the other pulls the ladder up behind you. One is positive – an act of commission, analogous to the Sun. The other is negative – an act of omission, analogous to the Moon. Focusing on one is detrimental to the sadhaka (devotee). As he puts it:

Without restraint, the forces generated by practice would spin out of control and could destroy the sadhaka. At higher levels, vairagya without abhyasa could lead to stagnation and inner decay.

As for my asanas. I have only missed 5 days since in the past month – and two of those were Moon Days. Even this week, despite having to go into the office every day and working 12-hour days, I managed to get up at 4 Monday through Wednesday to practice. I feel incremental progress daily.

Meet Your Meat

2 April, 2006

My brother sent me this today from PETA. It’s not for the faint-hearted, but you have the right to know where you food comes from.