Yoga from the inside out

Chapters 1-2

The first two chapters have not struck a chord that resonates with me quite strongly – at least not yet. I mean, what the author is saying makes sense, but at this point I’m still left with a lot of questions. First, the things I have noticed and enjoyed are the pictures. The pictures are of women who don’t have the typical “ideal” size 2 body. The pictures are apparently of ordinary women who have adopted yoga – this aspect of the book is inspiring and goes well with the message Sell is making about body image being less about cultural acceptance and more about a connection with the self.

I appreciate Sell’s description of her struggles with eating disorders and body images, but a lot of this is hard for me to relate to. Female body building is something I have no familiarity with, nor do I understand the feeling to eagerly want to be sculpted and full of muscle. Of course though, as a woman, body image is a highly relatable topic. Wanting to be ideal and work towards a perfection is something I completely resonate with. What struck me was when Sell mentions that at the point she had actually attained a perfect body and everything the ideal would dictate her to have, she also realized that other aspects of her life were lacking. She mentions being unhappy and frustrated, and her husband even commented to this effect. I guess the next question would be asking if working towards perfection would be worth those losses. The obvious answer is no, but how do you stop caring about the ideal?

This brings me to my next confusion – how to dissociate. Maybe the book is not advocating dissociating altogether, but rather with the “Sleeping World”. If the sleeping world is all you’re familiar with, then dissociating with it seems very daunting and maybe even impossible. This is the point I am at right now. I understand Sell’s statements about the artificiality of the world we live in that is guided by superficial obsessions and unrealistic and commercial guidelines. I get it. I just don’t know what would fill a world without some of the superficial things we worry about. Maybe Sell would say that this concern of mine is all part of and perpetuated by the Sleeping World, but nevertheless, I picture a very empty world. When I am reading this book so far I am reminded of my first encounter with learning about Buddhism. How everything is suffering, and ultimately we should want to leave all this suffering behind. I initially loved this concept of everything around us meaning nothing. However, as I’ve grown in experiences and in relationships, I realize that having these things that may cause suffering may be better than having nothing and therefore feeling nothing. I look forward to reading where the rest of the book is headed, because I am on the fence right now regarding the good/bad of this Sleeping World.

 

Chapters 3-4

Alignment is what I have decided is the take-home point in these two chapters. I like the substance of what Sell talks about, but I still feel like she is talking from the perspective of someone who has had these wonderful revelations and conquered so much and become this yoga genius of sorts who is fully in tune with what yoga is spiritually and physically – and yes, obviously these traits do probably describe her otherwise she never would have written an entire book about yoga and her thoughts on it. I guess my point is that it’s hard to converse with someone who is not at that some point of epiphany yet. They can agree with what you’re saying, and it can make sense to them, but the significance of what you’re saying may not really hit them at that moment. I am kind of that person right now who wants to learn more, gets what the spirituality is about, but I need to experience it for myself to really appreciate it.

But still there were things that stuck out to me and just made sense. There is a part in one of the chapters where the I Ching is quoted. This quote talks about how we should focus on replacing the bad with something good instead of focusing on how to battle the bad. I think this is an excellent idea and something I never thought about. I have mentioned before that part of my problem of getting the ball rolling in situations has to do with wanting a perfect plan as to how to proceed. If I just focus on positive changes, then I never have to worry about devising a battle plan for the bad habits, because they will inevitably fall by the wayside. I’m going to try to implement this idea, it seems very simple. Something else that provided clarification was one of the passages talking about finding your way inwards, not trying to find a way out. I think I may have initially interpreted the first couple of chapters as pointing to yoga as a means to ignore and stay away from the things in the world that are misleading. I am beginning to understand more and more that yoga is actually a tool to see inwards. I know in class we have talked about finding our true selves, and all this is beginning to make more sense. The personal stories that pepper the book make the application of all the philosophical talk more understandable.

 

Chapters 5-6

I laughed when Sell commented that some people would think it was ridiculous if they heard the teacher say something like “lifting the skin below the kidneys upwards”. In class when we are in corpse pose and Dr. Schultz says to release the back of the throat, or something that involves movement of inner organs, I never thought how funny it actually sounded. I actually like being led through these instructions because it makes me more aware of my body at that instant. Like when we are instructed to release the tongue from the roof of the mouth, 9 times out of 10 my tongue was clutching the roof of my mouth, and I hadn’t realized it until that specific instruction.

 

I like the idea of yoga not being about the physicality or the intellect in understanding every single philosophical tenet behind each pose. I like Sell’s description about simply opening your heart as being sufficient to practice yoga. I don’t know if I have done this yet, because I am still full of skepticism, but I know I am trying to. Speaking of trying, I did not know that trying in yoga isn’t desirable. Sell talks about her instructor saying that we shouldn’t try, but we should just let our bodies be as we are doing the pose. I am not really sure about this statement, because I perceive any effort to adjust my pose, or being aware of my correctness/incorrectness as indicative of trying. Can you really practice without trying? I think of someone who doesn’t try as someone who doesn’t care. If anything, “trying” describes my entire semester experience with yoga so far. I have tried to understand what I’m doing wrong, tried to correct this, tried to practice enough, and tried to not focus on the fruits of yoga. The hardest part is trying to not focus on the improvements I want. When I feel more flexible one day and then regress to feeling less limber the next, I am more frustrated than I was before the initial improvement.

I need to accept my starting point. I thought the analogy of the roadmap was hilarious. It’s true – if you don’t accept your starting point, you’re going to get lost and will all the instructions will be irrelevant. I find this idea especially relatable. When I don’t like something, I do everything but accept its existence. I go so far as to lie to myself so I don’t have to deal with whatever ugly situation is at hand.

 

Chatpers 7-8

I’m leaving this book much happier than when I entered it, because it’s given me something to guide myself by. A lot of the things Sell mentions are good ideals to work towards, even though some of the means she describes are not very “everyday” (like having a guru relationship, or a kula). Compared to Waking, this book was more spiritually oriented. I think I would have loved this book more had I read it a few years ago, when my head was still floating up in the clouds somewhere. I think the past few years have grounded me and made me a little more wary of spirituality, but ironically this wariness has still made me more desirous of being a part of spirituality. I actually feel tired after reading this book. Sell described a hundred and one things she did to find herself, and a lot of the process involved a lot of crying and anguish. I doubt myself in terms of ability to go through this, but when Sell comments on the deathbed as being a place where we are remembered for things beside material obsessions, I realize that this is true. I don’t think many people think that far ahead and plan for how they’re going to be remembered.

In general I felt less captivated by this book than I did with Waking. They were both totally different and took different approaches to revealing what yoga can do. Maybe it’s that Sell proposes a path that seems more difficult. I acknowledge that being worried about weight and looks and fashion is silly, but I don’t know if I’ll stop caring about those things. Maybe finding a balance is more important than eliminating those concerns altogether. I do think we live in a world where everyone tends to be centered on themselves, so the idea of being God-centered seems relevant. Then again, finding myself and focusing on my inward journey sounds self-centered too, but in a good way.

When I further compare it to Waking, I think that Sell learned a lot of her philosophical reasonings through practice over the years, whereas Sanford may have kind of “figured it out” because of the situation he was in. Sell provides a lot to aspire to and for that reason alone the book was worth reading. There were a lot of idealistic ways of thinking, and  a lot of it seems impractical, but maybe seeming impractical just shows how much I am dependent on this sleeping world. Obviously the things Sell describes are attainable – she attained them herself.

The last day of class

I wanted to write about practice on the last day of class. This particular day was significant because it felt like a LONG time since we had been in class (as I wasn’t there on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving). While I enjoyed the movie and what not, I think I should have been practicing more than I had over those few weeks.  I’ve commented before on how I’ve noticed myself doing favorable poses more than those that are more trying, but I really noticed the effects of this on this particular class day when we did both headstand and shoulderstand. Over the semester I’ve been practicing headstand frequently, probably more than any other pose. Even though I’m determined to master shoulderstand in the same way that I feel I’ve improved on headstand, on Thursday the last day of class I felt that I may have actually backtracked in my improvement. I had gotten to the point where I could get up sort of quickly, even though rolling back and starting with my feet against the wall is still necessary. The last day of class, however, I had more difficulty rolling back to the wall and getting up, and staying up. The whole time I had even managed to get up I felt like a skyscraper ready to topple over. I was definitely disappointed at realizing that my shoulderstand felt sloppy and not improved in the way it should have been at that point. I was happy, and surprised, that the poses we did (triangle pose?) where we spread our feet out and turn to one direction, bend that knee, and then reach down while extending the other hand and looking up  – were much easier. I did not have nearly the same magnitude of difficulty balancing as I did the first handful of times we did that pose. Also, afterwards I realized that I probably should have added breathing exercises as one of my favorite poses/exercises. These exercises are something that I am genuinely excited to continue and see how they change my respiratory health. Until this class, I never even thought of the concept of posturing myself in ways to “open the chest”. I am more aware now, (for example when lying flat) of the difference between feeling like my lungs are kind of crunched in, as opposed to being opened up outwards.

Practice blog – Thanksgiving week

To catch up on some of my practice blog, I thought I’d write a bit about how practicing yoga was over Thanksgiving. This particular week I did not find myself rolling out the yoga mat much during the middle of the week, but rather I spent some time doing headstands and some balancing poses at the start of the week, and then poses towards the end of break on the weekend. I noticed that the days in between this start/end period of yoga showed made some changes in my abilities. Doing a head stand seemed more difficult at the end of the break, whereas at the start it was not. I’m not sure if the combination of eating and taking “thanksgiving break” too literally produced this effect, but I was a little disappointed that only a few days of not even merely stretching made me feel almost lethargic when it came to practicing yoga again. Another disappoint that particular week was when I was trying to show my parents all the wonderful yoga abilities I’d acquired..trying being the key word. I didn’t think tree pose or mountain pose would be quite as impressive as standing on my head or shoulders, so I tucked in my shirt and manuevered myself on the floor assuring my family I knew what I was doing. The only problem was that I couldn’t manage to roll over to the point of getting my feet against the wall and getting upright from there (into shoulder stand). The first few failed attempts frustrated me into making further attempts even further from success. The most annoying part was that my parents seemed to think that I’d never really learned to do the pose to begin with. I guess yoga doesn’t necessarily work on demand like that. The only thing I gained that evening was a threat from my dad that he wouldn’t pay my hospital bills if I fell over and broke my neck.