Help Yourself

Practice vs. Duration Part 3

Today, I came across this article by Naomi Simson, founder of RedBalloon. I think it fits in perfectly with what I have been writing about in my last two posts. I hope that you will enjoy it and join me in putting it into practice.

The Key To Success Is Practice

by Naomi Simson

Dandapani and Naomi Simson

How fortunate I am to have met Dandapani (pictured) on several occasions and to have listened – and embraced what he shares about energy.

I am asked regularly – “tell me the ‘one’ thing that made you successful?” And most do not find my answer uplifting, which is simply “hard work and persistence.”

I pose the question – “Is living a good life the same as a happy life?” The relentless pursuit of happiness is in itself more likely to cause unhappiness.

Does success mean to live every day in happiness… or is success to live a good life? A life full of many human emotions that we experience – not just happiness — does that equate to a successful life?

I found Dandapani’s work insightful and uplifting as part of my relentless quest for understanding the ‘experience of happiness’ and well-being.

As a child my parents would say to me “practice makes perfect.” – And they were absolutely right. What we practice (over and over again) is how we create the neuro pathways in our brains – these pathways can be altered but it takes a great deal of conscious thought.

Dandapani shared:

  • “Practice does not have the ability to discriminate between constructive and destructive patterns.
  • “What ever you practice is what you become good at.
  • “It is a conscious choice about what you want to practice.
  • “There is a difference between the mind and awareness.
  • “Imagine your awareness is a ball of light – As an exercise to see how this works let your mind focus your awareness on a particular thing (the last wedding you attended) – that area of your mind lights up – when it lights up that area of your mind becomes conscious.
  • “Using your will power and your consciousness you can take your awareness to any area of the mind you want to – and you can hold it there for a period of time.

Where awareness goes energy flows

Four areas of focus

1. Learn to Concentrate:

  • Concentration is the ability to keep your awareness on one thing for a prolonged period of time.
  • The more you practice concentration the better you get at it
  • The power of observation is a natural by product of the ability to concentrate
  • The best way to improve your concentration is to practice every day – integrate it into your daily life.
  • (May I suggest you put away your smart phone whilst you practice concentration – and turn off your emails and facebook alerts)

2. Developing your Will:

  • The ‘Will’ has to be cultivated, the more we use your will the stronger it becomes
  • Ways to develop your Will Power:
  1. Finish those things you start (do you finish the sleeping process by making your bed?)
  2. Finish tasks well beyond expectations
  3. Do a little more than you think that you are able to do

3. The art of a balanced life:

“A balanced life is about managing your energy. A balanced life is when we are able to consciously direct awareness in turn energy, in a proportionate way to all the people and things in our life that matter to us.

4. Courage:

It takes tremendous courage, will and self-compassion to break habits. To challenge yourself to live a different way.

Life is energy – harness it and direct it to the ones that you love and what matters most in your life and to the things that are fulfilling to you.

By wisely discriminating where your energy flows we channel it to the people and things that uplift us. We can remain respectfully detached from others.

The key to success is practice –

               all success comes from within.

As I say “If it is meant to be it is up to me.” – I have the power to determine where my energy flows – and as such practice leads to success.

(If you have a chance to attend one of Dandapani’s session – absolutely do.)

Note: The above article, The Key To Success Is Practice, was written by Naomi Simson.

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Practice vs. Duration Part 2

Continued from Part 1…

We have all heard the saying: Practice makes perfect. I have heard myself say it too. A few years ago, Simon, my brother-in-law, who is a life long soccer player and coach, quoted Vince Lombardi:

“Practice does not make perfect.

Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

~Vince Lombardi

Of course it does! So why do so many parents continue to force their children to practice for extended periods of time? Pushing our kids or yourself, through dragged out practice sessions will not automatically an expert make. Regardless of duration, the focus should be on practicing with precision and accuracy for any amount of time. Here is a great article about just this. Click this link to read it in its entirety. The article discusses the benefits of practice outside of sport, music or theatrical pursuits. How practice in everything we do has its place. This may seem obvious but it is often overlooked and definitely rarely practiced. 🙂

“Just remember not to stop as soon as you – or your charges – know how to do it right. The goal in these vital skill areas is not mere proficiency but excellence. The value of your practice, therefore, becomes more intense as you get better at the activity.”

“A critical goal of practice, then, should be ensuring that participants encode success – that they practice getting it right – whatever ‘it’ might be,” the authors stress.

They suggest you want your participants to complete the fastest possible right version of the activity.

Take the example of a youngster learning to hit a baseball in the backyard as her father feeds her slow pitches. It may seem to make more sense to take her to a batting cage where she faces hundreds of 60 mile-per-hour pitches, but that doesn’t allow her to apply the small corrections to her form that is needed to improve. Instead, eliminate complexity until you start to see mastery, and then start building the extras back in.

The law of the vital few – 80 per cent of results come from 20 per cent of our activity – should be applied to practice, they say.

~Harvey Schachter paraphrasing from Practice Perfect by, Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway and Katie Yezzi.

Over the last few years, my husband and I have been experimenting with the duration of our kids’ practice time for their music lessons. It used to be our rule that they HAD to practice piano (or whatever their chosen instrument was to study) for a minimum of thirty minutes each day. But, because we were met with so much resistance (it often took thirty minutes of cajoling or arguing to even get the practice time started) that it became such an unpleasant situation overall. Who wants that kind of energy in his/her life? So we had to rethink the entire process and come up with a solution.

Our solution was to shorten the practice time.

Drum Kit

It seemed too simple and it felt wrong. And part of me was unconfident that any real long term learning would take place because it had been drilled into me that practice meant time and time meant success.

But because I have been experimenting with shorter duration activities for myself, (bed stretches, Tabata’s, 4 minute mornings, short bursts of house cleaning etc.), I speculated that the same theory could apply to the kids lessons and possibly everything!

Now, what you must remember is that we are talking about kids and kids are not very different from adults. Kids in fact, grow up and in most cases mature into adults. So, logically, the training for a mature adult begins at birth (this is often overlooked, too). Most kids, from my experience, do not like being told what to do, and interestingly I have also noticed the same characteristic among adults. Just because they have chosen said extra-curricular activity does not always indicate that they will want to do or practice said activity. Most often kids want to do what they want to do, which now-a-days has more to do with external stimulation via computer screens and less and less to do with self-generated imagination and creativity.

So this is what we did. We sat down with the kids and reviewed how our current approach wasn’t working out very well and that we had come up with an idea that we would like to try.  Our son likes to play video games (and is very skilled for his age), so in an effort to make everyone happy we have allotted him one hour of screen time per day, (dare I say) on school days; on weekends he gets more time; and in the summer months we experiment with allowing the kids to self-regulate (ha!). During the week, he can use that hour however he likes, i.e., all at once or he can break it up. This is what he usually chooses to do:

When our son wakes up in the morning, he goes through his checklist of personal obligations (on his own):

  • Bed stretches (his version)
  • Personal grooming: brush teeth, wash face etc. (remembers to flush toilet, keeps his sink area tidy etc.)
  • Makes his bed
  • Gets dressed
  • Good-morning greetings
  • 10 minutes drum-kit practice (Sept.– June/ Monday to Friday)
  • 15 minutes video games/ screen time
  • Breakfast
  • Packs up school bag
  • (Sometimes another 5 – 15 minutes video games/ screen time)
  • Clean/brush teeth from breakfast food
  • Leave for school

Five days a week he practices his drum-kit for 10 minutes and once per week has a thirty-minute private lesson; and never practices on the weekends! The results have been remarkable. OK, he is a talented kid, and he really gets the concept that if you’re going to bother doing something-then try to do it right the first time. So for those ten minutes he practices with accuracy and precision.

If you are going to bother spending any amount of time doing something, doesn’t it make sense to be as focused as possible?

Yet, in the same breath, he is still a kid and even though we think he has the makings of a great musician, we do not want to break his spirit by forcing him to practice, even though we know he might grow up to appreciate having studied an instrument outside of school. We have learned that what motivates one child does not work for another, so we practice working with their individual personalities – what a concept! 🙂

Puppy

We think of our kids a little bit like dogs. When we were learning to train our puppies, we were taught that the puppy, being a pack animal, had to know that the human was the alpha. But what was equally important to understand was that using force to discipline a puppy will only cause fear, and break the puppy’s spirit. We wanted brave, good-natured and confident dogs not submissive dogs. Our job as dog owners is to learn how to communicate with our pet. We think the same thing can happen to humans. We want our children to grow up into contributing members of society who are confident and can think for themselves. The training for such an adult begins at the beginning. We need to learn how to communicate with our children and teach them how to make decisions, not control them.

How many adults do you know who were forced to practice an instrument that they disliked as a child/teen, excelled at it, but discontinued playing it? I know of many who played at very high levels but lacked the passion; they played mechanically and tell sad stories of the instrument that they had really wanted to play but weren’t allowed. Just as it is true that kids do not always know what is good for them and parents need to make executive decisions, like if you start something then you should finish it (you can quit after you finish the term), and you should do your best, you don’t have to be THE best. We think that giving our kids the opportunity to be consistent with their shorter practice time sets the tone for their individual success. It also maps out the potential for a successful and varied adult life.

Practice vs. Duration

If I don’t like doing something,

 generally, it means that I’m not very good at it.

Backstroke

When we are not good at doing something, generally, it means that it doesn’t come naturally and so it is much easier to push it aside and focus on what does. In my opinion, the only way to get good at something, or to be able to perform better at something is to practice. Is practice synonymous with time? I don’t think so. But, to explain this we need to talk about two elements: 1) being consistent 2) correct information.

Pool Lap Lane

I immersed myself into swimming about five years ago. Sure, I could swim to save my life, but I didn’t know how to perform any of the strokes with much proficiency or accuracy. The bottom line is that I didn’t know what I was doing at all; so I took lessons. I didn’t really like doing backstroke, and when I heard my internal dialogue say so, I knew that I would have to work on it (meaning practice) to change my opinion of that stroke. It didn’t and doesn’t mean that I have to spend a lot of time doing it, but rather, when I do practice, I practice with my whole being. I dissect the mechanics of the movement to understand what it is that I don’t like about it. Now I like it, because I can do it, because I understand it – because, I understand what I need to do. But, to be clear, being able to do something well doesn’t automatically make it easy to do. In fact, each time I revisit the backstroke (or any stroke for that matter), I focus on the precision of each micro-movement, which makes up the whole and I continue to break it down, which makes it more challenging. This is why my practice sessions are relatively short, because they are intense. Now at the time of posting this, I can barely recall having any dislike for backstroke anymore…like water under the bridge.

“Practice, practice, practice.” ~Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Many people still believe that in order to become an expert at something, one must make an investment of nearly ten thousand hours worth of practice. This is a very popular held belief; it is not one of mine. This may sound like a contradiction but actually there is a distinction within this concept. Yes, I agree in practice, it is at the core of my being. What I disagree with is the statement of time. Duration or the amount of time spent practicing is meaningless. You can sit and practice for hours or years and still be mediocre at the thing you are practicing. Breaking down your body with hours of intense practice does not an expert make! Especially if that practice is done incorrectly. Intellectually, however, you may have become an expert in its theory. But, we all know that it is the application of theory, which is the goal. In other words, book knowledge vs. experience; a balance of both is ideal.

Sonia Simone writes: “I recently heard Yo-Yo Ma giving an interview about how he got started as a cellist. As it happens, Yo-Yo’s parents are both musicians, and had high musical expectations for their little son. So when Yo-Yo was three, they gave the boy a violin.

And Yo-Yo hated it. Wouldn’t practice. Wouldn’t focus. Didn’t have any zest for it. His frustrated parents finally gave up in disgust.

And then little Yo-Yo saw and heard something amazing, something that surprised and delighted him. Something that he knew was exactly what he wanted to play. It was a double bass — the violin’s really, really big brother. Now that was more like it.

He and his parents split the size difference, and Ma began to study first the viola and then settled (at four years old) on the cello. By seven he was a recognized prodigy, performing for Eisenhower and JFK, and by eight he played on national television, conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

To have become so skilled between the ages of four and seven, he must have put in untold hours of practice. But they were hours spent on something he adored.

~ by Sonia Simone

Watch Karen X. Cheng. She wanted to learn how to dance in one year. You can too. You can learn anything if you set your mind to it. I have done it; I taught myself how to swim (I haven’t had a lesson in three years or so, but I keep on practicing, refining and researching. I taught myself how to do a Freestyle Flip Turn via GoSwim.tv and I continue to refine it. But don’t think that you need 10,000 hours to accomplish anything worth while. What you need is the WANT, the DESIRE and the WILL. And from that WANT comes the discipline to be consistent with practice. Just don’t kid yourself though, the practice has to be great! Practice with precision. Do it right, then practice again the next day and the day after that.

Read this: How To Become More Unstoppable Every Day

There is so very much to say on this subject; check back for Part 2…

In the meantime: Keep Learning. Be Consistent. Be Healthy. Be Happy. Smile.

Every Hour on the Hour

Every Hour on the Hour

What fun! Last night while tucking my kids into their beds, I was discussing with them the importance of keeping the body moving throughout the day. I try to impart that doing 30 minutes to one hour of intense physical activity per day does not cancel out the negative effects of prolonged sitting. This article written in 2011 from The New York Times discusses the subject: The Hazards of the Couch.

“Many of us sit in front of a computer for eight hours a day, and then go home and head for the couch to surf the Web or watch television, exchanging one seat and screen for another. Even if we try to squeeze in an hour at the gym, is it enough to counteract all that motionless sitting?

A mounting body of evidence suggests not.

Increasingly, research is focusing not on how much exercise people get, but how much of their time is spent in sedentary activity, and the harm that does.”

It is the kids summer holidays after all, and aside from registering our kids for some half day camps or a week of one hour swim lessons, as a family we have agreed that summertime is the kids time to have their own kind of down time. My husband and I are a lot more lenient about how much time they spend on screens each day. I am usually busy in the kitchen, grocery shopping or doing various household chores and when I’m lucky I can sneak in an hour here or there of my own screen time to write posts like this one; but not all at once. I usually have to jump up from my desk to let the dog in or out, or for various other Mom-job reasons. For example, I started writing this post about forty minutes ago and have gotten up from my seat about twenty times already.

View from Top of Grouse

Both my husband and I are hyper sensitive to the immobility induced factor which is screen time of any kind. My husband works from home and all of of his work involves screens and conference calls. He has figured out how to ensure that he does not become chained to his desk. Quite simply: He moves. He stretches at his desk. He does push ups. Between calls he’ll run ten flights of stairs, which at most takes a minute and a half. He’ll do a set of chin ups. He’ll walk the dog. And a couple of times per week from Spring till Fall he’ll hike Grouse Mountain (Grouse Grind). Aside from that he spends 15 minutes in the gym three times per week lifting heavy weights and sprints a mile at the track once or twice a week. He just turned 52 years old and is getting better all the time.

So back to the kids. Last night I was pointing out how easy it is for them to spend hours a day on their handheld device, Wii or desktop computer, without moving. My son paraphrased that he should get up and do something every forty-five minutes. So I leaped at the opportunity and offered that starting in the morning we could experiment with a little bit of activity every hour on the hour! They loved the idea. Concepts are fantastic, but meaningless without action.

By 8am this morning, my son had already spent one hour on his computer! I had already done my bed stretches and morning routine and while putting in the first load of laundry of the day, I told my son that it was time to start his Hour on the Hour Practice. But he countered, “It hasn’t been an hour yet.” It’s quite amazing how quickly time slips away when we are staring at a screen.

True to his word, he got up from his chair and did 50 high knees, then got back to his screen. (He did eat breakfast)

9am: Son did 10 Push Ups followed by a doorway chest stretch. then back to his screen. (I did them after him and he complemented me on my form which made me laugh).

9am: Dot slept in but did her first set of 25 Jumping Jacks to start.

10am: Son and I did 25 Jumping Jacks, then back to his screen./ Dot did 5 Pull Ups.

11am: Son, Dot and I did 10 times flight of stairs.

12 noon: Son will do 5 standing roll downs, I will do 5 Sun Salutations, Dot will do 50 high knees.

We will do nothing until later in the day because we will go to the pool for 1:30pm. I will swim for 30minutes while the kids have their one hour swimming lesson.

I wanted to share this with you today. It is simple, yet it takes self-discipline to make it happen. Precision of movement is paramount but we cannot even begin to work on that if we haven’t got a regular daily practice under our belt. We have to know what we are doing before we can work on the details.

Try to understand this very important point: The amount of time we spend doing an activity is meaningless if what we are doing is done mindlessly without precision.

Exercise is multifaceted.

First things first. Take responsibility for your health. Once you develop a consistent daily body maintenance practice I can help you to see and fine tune the details.

And while you are at it, drink some water every hour on the hour!

On Valuing Your Life

How to Be Compassionate

Valuing Your Life

by His Holiness the Dalai Lama

“So, this human life is a precious endowment, potent yet fragile. Simply by virtue of being alive, you are at a very important juncture, and carry a great responsibility.

You can achieve powerful good for yourself and others, so becoming distracted by the minor affairs of this lifetime would be a tremendous waste. Resolve to use this lifetime in this body effectively, urging yourself on from the inside and seeking whatever assistance there is from the outside.  You should use your fleeting life for your benefit and that of others.  Physical happiness is just an occasional balance of elements in the body, not a deep harmony.  Recognize the temporary for what it is.  Do not assume that there will be time later.

Meditative Reflection

  1. It is certain that I will die.  Death cannot be avoided.  My lifetime is running out and cannot be extended.
  2. When I will die is unknown.  Human lifespan varies.  The causes of death are many, and the causes of life comparatively few.  The body is fragile.
  3. We are all in this same tenuous situation, so there is no  point in quarrelling and fighting, or wasting all our mental and physical energy on accumulating money and property.
  4. By mistaking what deteriorates moment by moment for something constant, I bring pain upon myself as well as others.  I should reduce my attachment to passing fancies.
  5. From the depths of my heart, I should seek to get beyond these cycles of suffering created by mistaking what is fleeting for permanent.
  6. In the long run, what helps most is my transformed attitude.

Being aware of impermanence calls for discipline – taming the mind – but this does not mean punishment, or control from the outside.  Discipline does not mean prohibition; rather, it means that when there is a contradiction between short-term and long-term interests, you sacrifice the former for the latter.  This is self-discipline, which is based on understanding the cause and effect of one’s own actions.  This type of discipline offers protection.  A tamed mind makes you peaceful, relaxed, and happy, whereas if your mind is not disciplined in this way, no matter how wonderful your external circumstances, you will be beset by fears and worries.  Realize that the root of your own happiness and welfare lies in a peaceful and tamed mind.  It is also a great benefit to those around you.

Human beings have all the potential necessary to create good things, but its full utilization requires freedom.  Totalitarianism stifles this growth.  Individualism means that you do not expect something from the outside, or that you are waiting for orders; rather, you yourself create the initiative.  Therefore, Buddha frequently called for “individual liberation,” meaning self-liberation, rather than freedom achieved through large-scale political or military action.  Each individual must create his or her own discipline.  If they are exploited by afflictive emotions, there will be negative consequences.  Freedom and self-discipline must work together.”

 

From: How to Be Compassionate, pages 51-53. 

Translated by Jeffrey Hopkins, Ph.D. 

Genuine Transformation

Genuine Transformation
My cousin Justin Kalef is currently teaching Logic at Rutgers University. I had a chance to chat with him briefly at a family dinner over the 2012 winter holidays. It was around the same time that I was mulling over the contents for the article I was composing on belief. Justin was the perfect person to ask some of the questions that I was working on. He told me what he tells his students on their first day of class, because from his experience teaching, it is inevitable that at some point during the course, one or some students will come to him completely overwhelmed.

We were talking about belief and how our beliefs can affect our ability to make long lasting change in our lives. When he said the following phrase:

“…but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become, 

it won’t be difficult at all.”

How great is this sentence? I think we could all do well to repeat this to ourselves daily. I asked him if I could use it for my belief article, and then I thought better of it…let’s tell the entire speech. So here you are, sit back and soak up these wise words.

“One of the things I do at the start of all my courses

is tell my students to think of the course like thinking of a physical training program (weight lifting or running). Suppose, I say, your goal is to run a 10k run in four months, but you can’t even run down the block now. Or suppose that you want to be able to do a shoulder press with fifty-pound weights in four months, but right now you can only do it with five-pound weights and you can barely lift ten-pound weights.

50 pound weights

These things are possible to achieve in four months’ time. If you go through a training program and are able to reach your goals by the end, you’ll be able to look back down the mountain when it’s all over and say:

‘Wow, I started out that far down and look where I am now!’

Looking down the mountain.

Look How Far You’ve Come!

Ideally, you’ll be able to do that at several points: each month, you should be able to look back to where you were the previous month and be impressed with how far you’ve come. If you can’t do that — if at the end you’re exactly where you were at the start — then that’s a sign that it didn’t work.  If you haven’t progressed in a month, then something went wrong. You didn’t commit enough or your guide didn’t find a way to climb the mountain — maybe both.

So my promise (I tell them) is this: I have worked out a path that you will be able to follow with me to the top of the mountain. There are some things you’ll be able to do at the end that you just can’t do now: here they are (and I set them out plainly). The mountain is high, but my path will allow you to get there a little at a time. If you need to go slower at some points, there are other paths for those times. And if you’re committed to it, you’ll see each month that you’re far in advance of what you could do the month before. That’ll be proof of your progress, and I make the promise to you now that you can make it if you follow my plan.

However, there’s a flipside to that. Logically speaking, if there’s something you’ll be able to do a month from now that you can’t do today, that same something must be out of your range today. And the things you’ll be able to do at the very end are way out of your range today. That comes with the course being a worthwhile one for you, but some people can find it scary.

They say, ‘I can’t do that!’

And they’re completely right:

They can’t.

If they could already do it, there would be no point in their taking the course!

Think of it this way (I tell them): if you can only shoulder-press with five-pound dumbbells and can barely lift the ten-pound ones out of the rack, then of course you can’t shoulder-press the fifty-pound ones. You might resolve to do it anyway, but you’d fail. You just can’t do it. That’s why you’re training toward that goal.

Going in circles

So: if there’s something you want to be able to do and already can do, then any training program designed to get you there is a waste of time and will only take you in a circle. So any reasonable goal must be something you can’t do yet.

And that means that any reasonable goal you have must be something that’s impossible for you to do!

Still, the situation isn’t hopeless. There’s one — and only one — reasonable way to see your training: your training takes something that’s currently impossible for you to do and makes it possible by changing you from someone who can’t into someone who can. So today, you can say ‘I can’t do this — but I can transform myself into someone who can.’ And that’s the key to training: transforming yourself into someone with more powers than you have today.

This is literal transformation: mentally or physically, you’ll be a different person with different abilities. You’ll even have different desires and values: things you find frustrating now won’t be to your future self, and things you find tempting now will be less so.

Genuine self-transformation can be very difficult in the short term,

but it’s only difficult for who you are now.

For the person you will become,

it won’t be difficult at all.

Today, you say to yourself “Living by this routine is so difficult — when will I be able to do the things that I want?” But perhaps you’re only thinking of what the present version of you wants: not the future you. If your self-transformation is to be successful, the routine will not remain difficult. You’ll miss it if you don’t  follow it.

So instead of saying: “This is difficult for me,”

say: “This is difficult for me now,

but I’m transforming myself into a person for whom it isn’t difficult.”

Otherwise, you run the risk of leaving it up to your present desires to choose the values and habits of your future.”

-Justin Kalef

 

 

Navasana into Handstand

Navasana

I practice physical (Hatha) Yoga

and mental (Raja) Yoga.

I am not sure it is possible to do one without the other; just as we cannot inhale without exhaling – they go together. However, as we all know, there are different levels of practice to any art or science. Similarly, it is possible to be breathing every waking moment of the day and yet by days end be completely unaware of having experienced the incredible life giving exchange of oxygen.

“When the word Yoga is mentioned, most people immediately think of some physical postures for relaxing and limbering up the body. This is one aspect of the Yogic science, but actually only a very small part and relatively recent in development. The physical Yoga, or Hatha Yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the real practice of Yoga – namely, the understanding and complete mastery over the mind. So the actual meaning of Yoga is the science of the mind.”

-From the Introduction The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Yoga is subjective and in Western culture this is very much the case. No one can define for another what Yoga should be. Once we choose to practice anything, we make it our own.

We can choose to simply go through the motions and be done with our practice, whatever that may be (Yoga, running, swimming, Tai Chi, etc.), and check it off our master list of things to do for the day, or we can choose to practice with intention, focus and purpose. It takes the same amount of time to do either and no more effort. It comes down to choice.

My Yoga practice over the last eighteen years has had its own evolution; years of intense continuous practice to some years with very little to none at all. There were moments when my ego subconsciously struggled with attaining physical goals to moments like right now where I feel deeply satisfied in practicing without a goal. The practice is the practice – just as I am beginning to understand, to really understand that there is only now.

It is definitely an interesting state of mind to observe oneself; like a spectator to my own thoughts and to my own physical practice. With this in mind I am sharing a video that I put together as an example of what practice can do.

I began filming myself as a tool to analyze my alignment. At the same time I realized that there aren’t many videos out there that actually show, through the progression of time, how we can improve with consistent practice. We often see photographs of the final product, or experts demonstrating the final product, which is important, but I think it is equally important for beginners to see that regardless of ability, we all have to start at the very beginning – our own beginning.

This video shows what 12 weeks of practice looks like (bloopers and all).

At this point, I would like to bridge the idea of practice with time. In this video I am demonstrating my attempts at doing Navasana (boat) into Handstand, which is the thirteenth posture in the Ashtanga Yoga Primary series. I get to Navasana by the fifty-minute mark and only spend about three to four minutes on this particular sequence. I proved to myself what an impact short duration practice can have. I only spent three to four minutes, two to three times per week on this.

But in the same breath, achieving the physical is actually unimportant. I realize this may come across as a contradiction, and I am fully aware of this, but I think that this is what makes it such an interesting state of mind. An important element of the physical and mental Yoga practice is about confronting one’s ambition and learning to manage it.

“Real yoga is what you can’t see. It’s invisible.”

-David Williams

I filmed this after about a year of an on-again regular home-based Ashtanga Yoga practice, which included Surya Namaskara A & B, the Standing Series, the first twelve seated postures, three backbends followed by the closing sequence, practiced two to three times per week. (A total of forty-five minutes for each practice session).

I did very few jump through or jump back vinyasa because doing them in previous years seemed to cause irritation (in hindsight, I realize now that because I was out of balance I would unknowingly compensate at my shoulders or neck or back etc.), so I made the executive decision to leave those vinyasa out and see what would happen.

July 2012, I felt that it was time to add on. The thirteenth posture in the series is Navasana. From all my years of practice I never attempted the handstand, which is part of that progression. I would always just do a seated lift, and carry on, which was typically taught in classes and I was not told to do the handstand by my teacher in Mysore class. Since I was reviewing and studying from John Scott’s manual, I took it as a sign that I should attempt it. Again, this felt like walking the tight rope of ambition…

Traditionally, in Ashtanga Yoga, the student should not proceed with postures until the preceding postures are attained with adequate proficiency. This makes perfect sense to me. In previous years though, when I would go to classes, students of all levels would be herded through the entire primary series regardless of ability. I decided I wouldn’t do this anymore. There is a reason for practicing the same thing over and over again until the body and mind is ready to add on. Western culture, tends to override theory with the customer is always right and wanting a perceived moneys-worth-of-a-workout. It is OK to proceed at a snail’s pace because being able to contort oneself into a pose doesn’t mean anything without Raja Yoga.

“Real yoga lives in everyday interactions, like being nice.

It’s the unity we can create around us.

If it were just about gymnastics, then Olympic medalists would be swamis and gurus. “

– David Swenson

In the video you will see that at the beginning I couldn’t even do a handstand to gradually understanding the transition from the seated lift attempting to pivot into the handstand. Now, hold on a second. I feel like I should clarify something. Yes, of course I could do a handstand in a gymnastics kind of way. But doing a handstand in a Yogic state of mind is very different. Try it sometime.

But what is important for me to share is that it is the process of practice that is the goal, not the goal of attaining the pose or sequence. I may never be able to move seemlessly from Navasana to Handstand, but that really doesn’t matter to me. If we truly understand what practice means, then we understand that a pose is never attained, no matter how beautiful of an image we see of one, because it continues to grow and transform with each practice.

We age. Life happens. We change. We grow.

And naturally so does everything we do.

Our body shifts and changes so much with every day as does our mind (from thoughts and experiences) that each day when we practice we are completely different from the previous day.

To me, this type of physical Yoga, is an incredibly thorough system of physical therapy, which makes its ancient beginnings so remarkable. As we progress through the system, if we take care and not rush through with ambition, our body will become innately prepared for the next posture. But this takes time and practice.

“Practice, and all is coming.”

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

Practice without ambition. Practice with focus and with a desire to learn with each breath. Practice being in the moment and not thinking about what comes next.

;

You will notice that I have sped up the video in some areas; however, I have not slowed it down at all. Shortening twelve weeks of practice (approximately 144 minutes of total practice time into a 5minute video has its challenges).

As an aside, I just wanted to explain that most of the seated postures in Ashtanga Yoga are only held for five breaths, which amounts to approximately one minute each. In the big picture, this does not seem like a lot of time. But when you practice regularly, then you will know that when we focus our attention on a task, a lot can happen in one minute; this is more profound than spending more time without focus. It makes a difference and it this which contributes to change.

I will talk more about focused practice vs. duration next time.

What Is Normal?

We Are All Weird, by Seth Godin

Seth Godin published a little book in 2011 called We Are All Weird. Click on the title to read an excerpt.

You’ve really got to think hard about this:

Being normal is based on what the average person does, through conformity.

Following this logic, I am, therefore, far from normal. Not in every way but in many ways. But I’ve known this since I was a kid. Most of us so called “weird” ones have been OK with our standing. We know we’re different. But there are many who are still learning to accept their differences and with every ounce of their being resist their nature and struggle to fit in or to be “normal-like-everyone-else”.  I would like to encourage everyone to be true to who you are, not who you think you should be; there is a difference.

Let’s talk about food for an example.

On occasion people say this phrase to me: “Well, you’ve got to live!” Often in reference to doing things that they know that they shouldn’t be doing; for instance consuming certain foods or drinks.

Eating Contest

Eating Contest

Since when, why and how did engaging in risky behavior equate living? And why is it so often about consuming substances? Is it that charge of adrenaline that is so titillating – oh, how it wakes us up like we have never been awake before and bang! we feel alive. Again, let’s do it again, but let’s push the envelope a little further this time. It is a heavy question with reasoning that could fill the infinite scroll down potential of any blog. I think the adrenaline rush associated with extreme sport is a little different from the rush derived from consuming substances, but they straddle the same hemisphere. So if you will, allow me to ramble for a minute.

At a restaurant, about sixteen years ago, when I was just dating my husband, he said to me, “If I’m going to risk my life why would I choose to do so by doing something as unadventurous as eating mussels?” I fear, most people are ignorant of the toxins present in the foods or drinks they choose to consume. Some restaurants actually have a disclaimer on the menu where items such as mussels, clams and raw oysters are served.

Cooked Mussels

Cooked Mussels

I am very aware that how I conduct myself is not the norm. The fact that I feel like I am “living” everyday without sacrificing anything, would categorize me once again as weird.

Definition of Sacrifice:

“an act of giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy. We must all be prepared to make sacrifices.”

Must we?

Ah…sacrifice. It is such an interesting word, such an interesting feeling. It has been a long road of learning, but I can honestly say that I am at such a place where sacrifice does not exist. There is nothing that I would have to give up to be where I am. I make time to focus and take care of myself everyday because that is where I want to be. I eat well all the time because I want to – because it makes me feel great; and because really, for me there is no alternative.

It seems to be more difficult for others to accept that I have accepted that celebration and reward does NOT come in the form of food or alcohol or excess. I am right where I should be and continue to learn more about my body, mind and health each day. I have chosen to represent this sentiment with a photograph of a bee in flight, just approaching a flowering chive. Why? Because bees have focus and it seems to me like they enjoy what they do. It comes down to perspective.

I choose not to eat or drink anything that disagrees with my system. I choose not to eat or drink anything just to please a host or because it was a gift. The story of The Hungry Coat: A Tale from Turkey comes to mind when I think about this, because one thought always leads to another.

I won’t finish off something just to prevent it from going to waste. Forcing food to go through my body before it becomes garbage is no different than just throwing it away in the first place. Both are equally wasteful, but the former causes bodily harm. Better to learn not to prepare so much or order so much food. It is OK to have leftovers…I rely on them.

We can choose to make a thoughtful, informed choice or we can choose to sacrifice. In the end we have still made a choice. If we are going to bother to choose, shouldn’t we choose wisely?

“You can choose a ready guide in some celestial voice.
If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.
You can choose from phantom fears and kindness that can kill;
I will choose a path that’s clear-
I will choose Free Will.”

~Rush the Band, Freewill

But clearly, weird is subjective. I think it is pretty weird to consume things that are known toxins, which contribute to lowering life expectancy, have potential side effects, which may contribute to birth defects, known diseases and cancer. And yet in the normal universe, which is parallel to my weird universe, this is considered living, by letting loose and not being so serious.

“I want to be normal!” – not me, thanks.

Just about everyone wants to be normal. Kids want to be normal; they want to fit in. They learn it at a young age. If they don’t conform they will be excluded.

“Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone…

In the high school halls

In the shopping malls

Conform or be cast out…

In the basement bars

In the backs of cars

Be cool or be cast out…”– Rush the Band, Subdivisions

They want to be able to eat or drink what everyone else does without thinking about the after effects or repercussions; they want to live in the moment. They want to live.

A few years ago when my husband and I were hosting our annual Canadian Thanksgiving feast, one of my guests, knowing that I was deep into the experimental phase of eliminating certain foods from my diet (to heal myself), said that she just couldn’t do what I was doing. So I asked, “I didn’t realize there were any foods that disagreed with your system.” Her: “Oh, yeah there are, but I eat them anyway and pay the price the next day.”

What?!

To me that’s CRAZY, insane even. I told her that I thought so. 🙂 

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. ~Albert Einstein

Except in this case I don’t think people are expecting different results. And we call THAT normal?! Only because the masses are doing it. If everyone is doing it, then it must be OK.

After that conversation, I started asking other people if there were foods or drinks that they knowingly consumed which caused a delayed negative reaction. One person told me that they would eat certain foods knowing that they would have to be practically connected to the toilet for the following three days. “OH! But it’s so worth it going down.”

Really?

This is the original more familiar version of the famous song Crazy – by Gnarles Barkley. I’ve transcribed the lyrics below so you can read or sing along. While looking for the song I came across this slower version, which is outstanding. I have posted the link here in case you want to have a listen.

“I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind

There was something so pleasant about that place.

Even your emotions had an echo 
In so much space

And when you’re out there Without care,

Yeah, I was out of touch, But it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough

I just knew too much

Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy? Does that make me crazy?

Possibly [radio version] Probably [album version]

And I hope that you are having the time of your life


But think twice, that’s my only advice



Come on now,

Who do you, who do you, who do you, who do you think you are,

Ha ha ha bless your soul


You really think you’re in control

Well, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy, I think you’re crazy

Just like me

My heroes had the heart to lose their lives out on a limb

And all I remember is thinking, I want to be like them

Ever since I was little, ever since I was little it looked like fun

And it’s no coincidence I’ve come, And I can die when I’m done

Maybe I’m crazy, Maybe you’re crazy, Maybe we’re crazy

Probably

Uh, uh”

We need to practice thinking about what we practice.

We can choose.

Modified Sun Salutation

Upward Salute – Urdhva Hastasana - Person perf...

“If this is how my body feels at twenty-one,

it worries me to think about

how it will feel in ten to twenty years.”

– Travis Nelson

Travis is a swimming coach and lifeguard at the pool where I swim. One day last year (September 2011) he asked me if I could recommend some exercises for his back. He told me that his lower back was sore and he thought that he should do some exercises to strengthen it.

I offered that it might be more complex than that and that focusing on strengthening the back could very possibly make things worse. There could be a whole host of possibilities as to why he feels pain and discomfort in his lower back. Oftentimes, this type of pain stems from imbalance. Meaning that some muscles may be over developed while others are underdeveloped and therefore being overworked. When our muscles are balanced, “not too tight and not too loose” then our joints are better supported and will work better on demand. Anyone can use brute force to blast through a set of an exercise or sprint to the finish line while in pain or not. But as far as exercise and physical movement is concerned, in my mind, exercise is about establishing a bio-mechanical functioning body. Sport on the other hand is about times and points. But as you will see, most professional athletes spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting the accuracy with each micro-phase of each movement.  It is this concept of precision, which is what I hope to relay in this site.

My conversation with Travis lasted no more than 4 minutes. I suggested he start with the 3-Hip Stretches and I showed him very quickly (pool side) how to stretch his psoas. He is the ideal student. He actually followed-up and did these exercises.

For quite some time afterward, in my mind I could not stop hearing him say: “If this is how my body feels at twenty-one…” and I wanted to share these words with you. So, I caught up with Travis and asked him if I could film him saying what he said to me in that first conversation. It was funny, because I wanted to assure him that I could edit the filming in the case he was uncomfortable, to which he assured me that it wasn’t a problem because he is an actor. Fantastic! He surprised me by walking me through what I had taught him in those few minutes from a few months earlier. You will see, I think he did very well.

Below is the long overdue video that I promised Travis that I would put together so that he would be able to see what the sequence looks like in its entirety. This is the modified Sun Salutation that I do each morning.

My Morning Routine (20 minutes):

  1. Bed Stretches (2 – 5 minutes)
  2. Wall and floor stretches with Travel Roller ball & roller (3 – 5 minutes)
  3. Modified Sun Salutation (3 – 4 minutes)
  4. 4 Minute Morning (week 3 – DAY 7) (4 – 5 minutes)
  5. Walk in a figure-8 (30 seconds)

Down the road I will put together a video to break down the finer points of the modified Sun Salutation. The first step for anyone is to learn the sequence by memory; once that is achieved then we can begin to fine tune and deepen our understanding.

Note: These stretches/ exercises are appropriate for my body but may not be for yours. Use caution when trying anything new. I find it works best to err on the side of caution. Begin with one exercise and repeat that one exercise for a week or so, until it is committed to memory, only then consider adding on.

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Meditation – It May Not Be What You Think

Buddha Seated in Meditation (Dhyanamudra), Ind...

I meditate every day.

But not in the way you might typically associate with meditation. When I meditate, I am moving. Sounds kind of wrong, doesn’t it?

Most of us have pre-conceived ideas with what meditation is. We tend to conjure images of a person sitting quietly, legs crossed in lotus, arms extended with the back of the wrists resting gently on the knees. Chanting OM. We imagine a blank mind, so still, devoid of any thing at all. Possibly, why so many people dismiss it as something that they could never do. How does one do, well…nothing?

Meditating Outside

About fourteen years ago, I went to a two-day meditation workshop. We were a small group of about 8 women. Some had a lot of experience meditating, (they taught others how to meditate) and me, with no formal training. We spent the first day reviewing a lot of material and practicing finding the meditative state. The second day, each of us got a chance to be connected to brainwave biofeedback technology.

I was surprised to learn that I was able to easily recreate a “meditative state” while the seasoned meditators were shocked to learn that they had gone too far, into Delta – that means asleep!

Let me give you some backstory. Growing up, I was always an active kid. I was good at imitation and did well in gymnastics and dance. I often got to play the lead in our year-end dance recitals. I remember well, discovering the meditative state then, though I had no idea that that was what it was. I just thought of it as “going on automatic pilot”. The recital began, and before I knew it, it was over and we were taking our bow. How did I get there, having performed every step? It was like a dream. I understand now and from the biofeedback, that I must have been performing in a ‘meditative state’ of sorts.

It still happens today, but now because I understand better what it means and the usefulness of it I enter my active meditation with purpose, it doesn’t so much just happen anymore. This is why I have always preferred to exercise alone. I don’t and won’t listen to music and definitely don’t and won’t have a conversation when I’m doing my body maintenance. When I practice any kind of movement I allow myself to fall into a meditative state. For me, that means focusing on what I am doing – deeply – not falling asleep! 🙂

This is what I focus on when I practice active meditation:

  • The repetition, precision and accuracy of each phase of each movement pattern
  • The myriad details that occupy the alignment of my skeletal structure
  • My breathing (pattern, tempo, capacity)
  • Still the fluctuations of the ‘mind-stuff’ (thoughts come and go, this is natural, meditation for me doesn’t mean that I have to have a blank mind – meditation is a dynamic practice).

When I am not meditating, but in full-on-go-mode, as in ok, kids are in school, I’ve got six hours to get as much done as possible mode, my brain is moving very quicklyI often think about a lot of different things at one time. Of late, this phenomenon has been occurring at what seems like an exponential rate. I attribute it, primarily, to having cut gluten out of my diet. I feel more awake; synapses seem to be firing more effectively. I still fall back on my old ways of course, which feels like a paralyzed state of confusion, how do I mentally organize, catalogue and categorize ALL the things that I have to get done along with the things that I want to get done. This is our daily practice and it is always changing. At this point I play a game with myself, as soon as I think it, I do it (within reason of course). So far it is working wonderfully, which segues to the following.

Recently, I came across this sentence:

The human brain processes 40 thoughts every second.

Photographer Isabel M. Martinez captures the beauty of the hyperactive mind in her collection Quantum Blink, which reconsiders the moment as we know it. Her muse? Electroencephalography, a measure of electrical activity in the brain.”

– Fast Company, October 2012

So, I looked her up and this is a portion from her “artist statement”:

“According to quantum mechanics we have forty conscious moments per second, and our brains 
connect this sequence of nows to create the illusion of the flow of time. So, what would things look like if that intermittence were made visible? This body of work explores that hiccup, that blink, that ubiquitous fissure in the falling-into-place of things.”

Perhaps all of us don’t really realize the potential of our awake state. How much we could potentially accomplish by tapping into our seconds of consciousness. Now THAT would be living in the now. If you stop for a moment and really conceptualize the meaning behind the above sentence: 40 thoughts every second. In my mind this encapsulates every possible stimuli, from temperature, sound, light/darkness, smell, touch, texture, images, language, meaning, movement (intentional or automatic), and so on. This is huge. It’s no wonder advertising and media have got us wrapped around their subliminal fingers. This is why we find ourselves buying things we don’t need but think that we do.

By practicing a moving meditation we learn how to distinguish between the fluctuations of the ‘mind-stuff’. We learn how to distinguish between time sensitive thoughts (actions that need to addressed in the moment) and learn how to dismiss those that are not. It is not easy and that is why it is recommended to be practiced daily. It is important in supporting a calm and patient mind.

In Sanskrit: Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah

Yogas = Yoga;  chitta = of the mind-stuff;                                   vritti = modifications:  nirodhah = restraint.

The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.

“If the restraint of the mental modifications is achieved one has reached the goal of Yoga. The entire science of Yoga is based on this. If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience Yoga.”

The Yoga Sutras Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

 

And it is for this reason that I feel that exercise and meditation are such good teammates. The point of exercise in my opinion, aside from enjoyment, because really that goes without saying, is to maintain a functioning dynamic human structure. To do that, we must tap into how we move with intention and precision and be present (in every second) as we effect movement.

So, you see, for me meditation isn’t about doing nothing, but rather the training of a state of complete focus and calm where clarity is nurtured because the fluctuations are restricted. It is a practice that translates into everything we do.

Next time I will discuss the phases of creating movement within the meditative state. I will explain HOW to get to this stage, keeping in mind that everyone’s stages and phases will look completely different. I realize that this idea can seem WAY OUT THERE for the beginner, and with this in mind I will endeavour to break it down!

We have to crawl before we can walk.

Meditation

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