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“Deepening one’s practice” seems to be a contradictory phrase when speaking about yoga. How could we possibly define “progress” in a “holistic” practice that tells us to abandon judgement and expectation? We could twist and turn this to mean anything. For example, it could mean:

  1. Attaining poses that are more challenging, require more strength/flexibility/both.
  2. Finding a deeper meaning to one’s yoga practice.
  3. Discovering a connection to one’s body and breath that was not there before.
  4. Practicing longer as one’s experience progresses.
  5. Increasing the frequency of one’s practice.
  6. Being able to still the mind for longer.
  7. Deepening one’s understanding of yoga philosophy and history.
  8. Employing daily yogic cleansing practices.
  9. Becoming vegetarian.
  10. Incorporating the lessons learned in a yoga practice into more aspects of life.
  11. Taking more yoga training and workshops.
  12. Attaining enlightenment…

…to name a few interpretations. None of the above are completely wrong or completely right. The best interpretation is a combination of all of the above, fitted to your individual needs and practice. How will you know you are deepening your practice? You will know. Because the ultimate effect of practicing yoga will feel closer and closer: presence.

“Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry… all forms of fear… are caused by too much future and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, not enough presence.” ~Eckhart Tolle

And what does presence bring us? Presence brings us acceptance, peace within, and the ability to react thoughtfully, to understand our emotions and our motivations and better interact with the world. If we were all present, would there be war? Would there be violence? Pollution? Oil spills? Big question: would there be disease?

“I sometimes ask my yoga students if they think the world might be a better place if everyone practiced Savasana every day. The unanimous answer is always yes.” ~Judith Hanson Lasater

So where is there room for “progress” in yoga if it is such a practice of presence? Enhancing one’s practice is to cultivate more presence and awareness of self. Presence is a cause and an effect. Presence helps us to understand our bodies and discern what goals are appropriate. As we grow deeper in this practice, we enhance the connection to our bodies and minds, and between them. And then, as we move into more “advanced” forms of poses mindfully, we can extend these lessons to help us learn how to react to the more difficult situations in life. When your yoga practice is affecting more than one realm of your life, that is deepening your practice.


“A man ceases to be a beginner in any given science and becomes a master in that science when he has learned that he is going to be a beginner all his life.” ~ Robin G. Collingwood (Philosopher)

Here we go again! Another 10-week session to explore and deepen our practice together. And that is the overarching theme this time around: deepening one’s practice. It doesn’t matter where we find ourselves on the spectrum of “mastery” in yoga– we deepen our practice each time we step on the mat. And, though it may sound paradoxical, the first step to progressing one’s practice is to always invoke that Beginner’s Mind.

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~ Shunryu Suzuki (Japanese Zen Priest)

To approach each pose this class with a beginner’s mind means a few things:

  1. Letting go of preconceived notions about the pose and letting it take a new shape in your body and mind.
  2. Letting go of past experience with the pose and letting it develop into it’s own expression today.
  3. Letting go of expectations. Every day is different: if we can’t expect our hair to do the same thing everyday, how can we expect our entire body to make the exact same pose each time it is approached?
  4. Bringing your attention to something new in the pose: your breath, the position of your fingers, your toes, the emotions it brings up, the relaxation in your face. Bring something new into the pose, even though you have done it many times before.
  5. Bring back the wonder in the pose. Explore. Soften the face and the mind and enjoy the lines of energy that run through your body.

“The true delight is in the finding out rather than in the knowing.” ~Isaac Asimov

Unfortunately, I let too much time slip by this time around before entering our practice for this consciousness-opening class (and, consequently, have forgotten the class!). However, there is one key pose that helps to stimulate one’s 7th chakra, Sahasrara chakra, and to tie up our journey through the chakras, described below. However, most of all, Sahasrara chakra governs the all important practice of meditation. Sahasrara chakra connects us to something greater– greater than the mental insight of Chakra 6, the expression of chakras 4 and 5, and the primal needs and motivation of the first three chakras– it connects us to the pervasive wisdom of all beings, of the universe, and gives us perspective to understand something deeper about the nature of ourselves and life around us. Just as we practice asana to cleanse our organs, and we bathe to cleanse our skin, the busy mind also needs clearing out from time to time.  All the various forms of meditation, including concentration and insight practices, allow the mind to become more present, clear, and insightful. (Side note: Interested in meditation? A nice book to get you started: Mindfulness in Plain English. Also, check out Jon Kabat-Zinn, the author.)

Sirsasana, or headstand, stimulates the seventh chakra quite directly. Called the “mother of all asanas” due to the effect it has on the brain and mind. The inversion of this pose causes increased and unrestricted blood flow to the brain. This brings increased oxygen, nutrient and vitality providing energy to the mind, clarity of thought and ease of concentration. In class, we learned the importance of all the other chakras in this pose: openness in the heart (and shoulders) to allow the hips to come into the proper position, the will and strength of the abdomen, and the grounding into the earth required for this pose.

To end, a wonderful summary care of the Yoga Journal website (

Focused on transcendence, many people seeking higher consciousness have disregarded the importance of the lower chakras. Yet we all need strong and solid support of our base chakras in order to open to the spiritual in a healthy and integrated way. The lower chakras focus on details such as our home, familiy, and feelings, while the upper chakras develop synthesizing views and wisdom that help us understand the grander order of things. All of our chakras affect one another and ultimately work together. As we learn to use this ancient Indian system to understand our lives, we can gain insight into personal issues that require our attention—and we can use the techniques of hatha yoga to bring our chakras and lives back into harmony.

– By Barbara Kaplan Herring, “Asanas for the Chakra System”

Just me…

2010 Journey

August 2010
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