One of the guests arriving to Purple valley for the last retreat of the season with John Scott asked me with interest: ‘You must be a very experienced practitioner? You have been in India for such a long time, working at Purple Valley for a few years…. ‘
This brought me to consider….what makes an ‘experienced practitioner’?
I am usually very good at offering advice, but yet I struggle to follow any myself. I wonder why it is so difficult to think clearly when it comes to oneself. For as long as I can remember, my mind and my thoughts have been spinning in at least 200 km /hour. A friend of mine said to me the other day, when I came to his place to share my thoughts…. “all this yoga and you still think so much, you think too much. Looks as if the yoga is not helping”
I wonder if it is the case, or if, through the practice and meditation, I have managed to at least, slow down the pace of my thinking
Yogaschitta vrtti nirodaha – translating: Yogah – yoga; chitta: consciousness; vrtti: patterns; nirodhah: blocking or stopping
The second Sutra in the first chapter of Patanjali yoga Sutra asks: What is yoga?
Yoga is the tool which helps one to stop the disturbances of the mind. This is yoga. Through the practice, we are try to slow down the activity of the mind and thoughts, to reach inner stillness or self realization. This is the aim, at least, as I understand it. Patanjali follows by offering many different tools for us to reach self realisation – yamas and niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
This all seems very accessible in theory, but why is it not working for me in practice? Or is it working and I am simply not aware of it, how would it be if I was not practicing? I have been practicing ashtanga yoga, in a very dedicated way since the age of 29 – a 6 day a week practitioner since the age of 29. The past 2 years, I am, as well, practicing pranayama and meditation daily.
And before all the ashtanga practice I was experimenting with different forms of yoga. With these years of practice…can I really call my self an ‘experienced practitioner’?
One would assume that I have the most fantastic tools to take care of my own reality issues. Is it really so?
Hmmm, so lets just do a fast reality check. How do I respond to stressful situations and the invasion of thoughts into my life. And what do I actually teach in my classes ?
This year has put me in quite few situations where I have been having the opportunity to actually use the different tools suggested by Patanjali to ease out stressful situations. Have I done it? Well, at least I have tried. Has it been successful? I guess this is the question. The answer is that I do not know.
At the present moment when I am starting the classes that I am teaching, we start with breathing exercises, so far so good.
Then it comes, the full relaxation of the body in a comfortable sitting position, allowing yourself to notice the different sensations that are arising while you are sitting. Also allowing your thoughts to come….watch them, observe them, without reacting. Notice all the different emotions that the thoughts are giving birth to, notice them – but do not react. Just witness, be the observer… Be aware of the present moment, be present in THIS specific moment since the past is nothing we can do anything about and the future is unknown…
It all sounds so good, but in reality, what HAS been happening over the past 2 months is the fact that the witnessing has not been happening. Instead, my thoughts have been spinning at 200 km /hour. They are definitely allowing emotions to flood my being and I am for sure not only observing – but I for sure react to them. There is no meditation happening there at all…and unfortunately it takes me hours, and sometimes days to put my self back on track again, and when the track is found, I lose it very fast. And this is not the first time this is happening, it has been a recurring pattern over the years
I find my self sitting on my wonderful porch, in Goa, surrounded by beautiful greenery and flowers in full bloom, instead of deeply breathing in the fragrance of the frangipani, and remain in the present moment, I find myself biting my nails, having this extra glass of wine with thoughts much more ahead in the future than they should be. Or I find my self running round the block for 2 hours with loud fast music in my earphones, trying to release all the excess energy, which I could have been directing through the Shusumna Nadi towards the crown chakra, to reach higher enlightenment…
I am comforting myself with the thought – without the practice it would have been worse.
The same happens in the asana practice, my full attention should be on the breath, the drishti… instead the thoughts are taking over here as well. Some days it takes me 1,5 hours to quieten my mind. I have days where in the end of the practice I am exhausted from all the thinking. Exhausted from trying to accept the present moment just as it is, without changing anything, exhausted from trying to be present.
Also here – I am comforting my self with the following thought – without the practice it would have probably taken me the full day to quiet the mind.
Is all this making me a bad teacher? A bad student of yoga? Or is it just showing that I am a human trying to evolve, accepting how I truly am, and making my self aware about habitual patterns which are happening over and over again. Observing the ongoing patterns of my behaviour, what I do notice is that the periods of feeling lost and stressed are shorter and shorter, it must be a good sign…and perhaps even a sign that the yoga actually is working. ( or perhaps I am just getting more experienced with age) I am no longer getting stuck in deep lows created by the continuity of life.
Observing my own reactions and my being, I notice that I teach what I need most. The silence of the mind, awareness and observance.
One week ago, John Scott arrived to the retreat and we started our last retreat of the season. I am so, so, so fortunate to be able to practice with this greatly experienced teacher. Who as well is so human, caring and understanding. John held a wonderful short talk, and for you who did not know this, John was the first ever teacher to teach at Purple Valley in December, 11 years ago. Since then he has visited the center a large amount of times, and this season he came twice. I think he feels home here. In fact, he almost started the retreat. Next season he is coming twice as well, and in april he has promised us 3 whole weeks.
Words of John – in my own interpretation
‘Home is a place where we reside within, we need to be home within our body’ – from my understanding, the self is using this physical body as its temporary place to reside. So why not take care of it. Be healthy, not destructive. Do things in life that support the daily living. Because we will live this life in our physical body, and we will experience all the pains created to it by our selves.
Also surround ourself with people that are lifting our being and not taking it down. We are so good in doing it ourselves.
The yoga John is teaching goes beyond the physical practice. He is teaching mind control. From his understanding this is what Guruji was teaching. Many of us have just misunderstood the practice, and we just see postures, just asanas. With John we explore the postures in a different way. The class transforms to a room filled with birds, small dogs, long dogs, short dogs… He teaches us to feel the postures. Perhaps like the old Himalaya yogis were doing when they first gave name to the asanas.
When John is teaching he is doing it in a very intimate way. He is sharing his life experience, both the ups and the lows. He makes the complex philosophy of yoga accessible to all of us, in a very playful way. I love practicing with John. I love john. His energy reminds me of Rolf Naujokat, my main teacher. Both of them are teaching from their hearts. They see is as their mission in life to share their knowledge.
For me John is like Peter Pan. He will never grow old, he will always remain the experimental teacher with a playful sparkle in his eye. Always remembering how it is to be a child exploring his first steps…..
So coming back to my question…what is an experienced practitioner….it must be John. And Rolf.
Somebody who will never forget to explore all possibilities in practice. And perhaps life?