Top 13 Posts Of 2013

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Another year is drawing to a close. I am so grateful for your continued support and readership. Lila has grown and shifted over this year, just as I have. Even though I’m not posting as regularly as I once was, new readers are finding their way here and that is an exciting thing for me.

As I review the many posts from 2013, these are the top 13 that sparked commentary and heightened readership in no particular order….

 

1. This Is Why I Practice Yoga

2. Why I LOVE/HATE Pure Barre

3. Kitchari: Healthy and Nourishing Cleansing

4. Why Mysore Style Practice Is So Darn Special

5. Meditation For Prosperity and Abundance

6. I’d Rather Be Bad At Ashtanga Than Good At Something Else

7. On (Not) Losing Weight For My Wedding

8. My Magic Scar-Removing Oil Blend

9. Let’s Talk Yoga Clothes

10. Yoga Is Dangerous

11. Love Letter To My Leotard

12. How To Get Up In The AM Yogi-Style

13. Roller Coaster Of Love: Ashtanga Style

 

I hope you enjoy perusing these posts and I look forward to sharing more thoughts, reflections and photographs with you in the new year.

With Gratitude and Love,

Frances

 

 

image of me via Adonye Jaja

Those Damn Vrittis: Maneuvering On The Mat In Times Of Mental Chaos

Occasionally I forget that the whole purpose of yoga is to control the mind  – “citta-vritti-nirodha” – until I’m faced with a mind that is out of control.

This past week in practice, I caught myself a few times spacing out/psyching myself out in a pose for so long that I forgot what I was doing. You know in Ashtanga you typically only hold an asana for the length of 5 breaths. This doesn’t provide a whole lot of time for the mind to wander. The conjunction of the breath, movement, bandha and drishti lends itself to a full absorption of attention. But not always.

For no legitimate or provoked reason at the start of this week my mind was whirling with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of catastrophe, fear of possible bodily harm, fear of the passing of time.

I’ve spoken with other Ashtangis about facing fear on the mat in regards to poses themselves – the fear that arises in deep and challenging backbends for example, or the fear that you will fall on your head, that your back will snap, that your arms won’t hold you, etc., But there are other fears we face in practice that have squat diddly to do with the physical shapes and movements.

These are the fears in the mind, the types that muddle thoughts, shorten breath and whisk you away from the here and now. How does one move past these? How does one brush aside scary visions or worst-case scenario monologues that start overtaking the head and the heart?

Personally what I’m learning, ever so slowly and stubbornly, is the importance of just keeping at it. Sometimes when I’m fraught with emotion in practice, I really want to stop and give up. I want to curl into a little ball and go deeper inside my thoughts, shutting the world out. I want to cease moving and simply lie there, self-absorbed, floating away with my jumbled breathless mind-stuff.

To keep moving is the hardest thing to do…but that movement is powerful. The process of adhering to the rhythm and the pattern of the practice has the ability to move you mentally. The dynamism of the series and the will to keep going burns through the vrittis. By continually bringing one’s attention back to the breath, back to the bandhas and the drishti and back to the flow of in and out, up and down, there is the opportunity to cut through the swirling of the mind’s chaos.

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Yoga Is Dangerous

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Whenever William Broad of the NY Times writes a sensationalist article, the yoga blogosphere gets all in a tizzy.

I’ve never participated before because, well, I don’t really think it’s all that important.

I am well aware that yoga is dangerous, because being a human being is inherently dangerous.

I know that every morning that I get out of bed there is potential danger lurking, but being afraid of that is debilitating and will not serve me in the slightest.

Inhabiting a human body means that you will inevitably experience pain, trauma, disease, degeneration and death. There’s no escaping it.

Practicing asana is certainly no more dangerous that running, climbing, skiing, or stepping down off a curb to walk across a busy street.

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Asanas In The Gardens, Part 1

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Last week, Thaddeus and I did a little photo shoot at the lovely Denver Botanical Gardens with our friend Alison Hathaway of Red Shoes Photography. 

I want to share with you a few pictures from this wonderful experience. As you might know, I am normally very hesitant to have my picture taken doing asana. Honestly, I feel kind of silly and narcissistic practicing yoga in public.

Plus, I have enough bad body baggage and insecurities about my flawed practice that the thought of having it recorded for all to see is rather frightening. But nevertheless, we all had a lot of fun with this shoot and it’s good for me to realize that my body or practice doesn’t need to be “perfect” (whatever that means!) to be beautiful, beneficial and joyful.

My Ashtanga yoga practice is such an internal and deeply personal thing that I don’t normally feel comfortable displaying it physically for others. I prefer to write about it honestly. Even so, blogging is such a visual media and I have often written posts about practice and thought, “I wish I had a decent photo of me practicing for this post.”

And that is where Alison and her gifted skills with the camera came into play….

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Oh Hello Old Friend

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These past 3+ weeks, my dropbacks simply have not been working. I’ve had this sticky stuck achy feeling all through my mid-back that prohibits me from arching past a certain point. It literally feels like a road block.

Let’s not even talk kapotasana, which I dread on a daily basis. With the combination of my back and shoulder inflammation issues, this pose just makes me want to throw in the towel…. so, moving on…

This pain in my mid-back. I’ve been ignoring it, since it wasn’t too bothersome or restrictive and instead have just been sitting out on dropbacks for awhile. Until this Sunday, during afternoon practice when I was all loose and warmed up and decided that after a solid half-primary and half-second, I should give ’em a go.

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Introducing Kharma Khare + A YOGA MAT GIVEAWAY!

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Hi Lila readers.

Happy Monday! I’m excited to introduce you to our newest sponsor, Kharma Khare! These awesome folks are donating one of their amazingly cushy yoga mats to one lucky reader. Keep on reading to learn how to enter into this giveaway!

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Kharma Khare is an eco-friendly, socially-conscious company making top-of-line yoga mats. They are the most environmentally aligned yoga mat company out there and on top of that, they give 10% of their profits to yogically-oriented charities. I’ve been practicing on a Kharma Khare mat recently and I love how sturdy and comfortable it is. One of my pet peeves with yoga mats is when they slide around on the floor, or when you’re doing a vinyasa and the drag over your toes action actually picks up the mat and makes a hump which you then have to stop and fix. Annoying. In order to avoid this I have to use a good substantial mat. There are already enough distractions in practice (uh, hello monkey mind!) so the last thing you want is a slippery flimsy yoga mat!

Kharma Khare mats are seriously solid. They are made out of recycled (and carefully detoxified) rubber tires. These old tires are burned down, cleaned of toxic chemicals and separated into granules that are combined with an organic adhesive to be stamped into 72″ x 24″ yoga mats. A Kharma Khare yoga mat is so strong that it will last you your entire lifetime of practice. But, if you decide you want a new mat, they have an exchange program so you can send back your old mat, which they will burn down and process to make a new one, and then send you new one at half-price. Pretty cool.

One thing I really dig about this company is that their product and their message is not about looks, it’s not about the superficial qualities of the mat or the practice (I mean, seriously, you’re just going to be standing and rolling around on it, it’s not like it needs to have sequins and match your neon luon!). What Kharma Khare focuses on is the quality, durability and environmental impact of their product.

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I’m an Ashtangi – I like function and form. I love that I can roll in garbha pindasana on the comfortable cushion of this mat without any pain on my spine. I like that it has a firm grip so that my hands don’t slide in down dog. I love that after a few Surya Namaskar, once the heat begins to build in my body, the grip in my hands and feet gets even better on this mat (compared to some mats which get much too slick as soon as you even slightly perspire). I love that it stays put right where I lay it on the floor. It’s heavy (8 pounds) like a Manduka Black mat, so it’s not necesarily the mat I would travel with, but for those of you with a home practice or you keep your mat in the car to drive to your studio, it’s an awesome choice.

I’m really pleased to have Kharma Khare as a sponsor on Lila and I hope you check out their fantastic product and enter into our little giveaway!

To learn a more about this wonderful company, watch this short video:

And now, THE GIVEAWAY!

One lucky Lila reader will receive a Kharma Kharma yoga mat (worth $145)!

If you want to be that person…here’s what you gotta do:

1. Like Kharma Khare on FACEBOOK (while you’re at it, like LILA BLOG too if you haven’t already!)

2. Pick a Lila post that you like and then SHARE it on Facebook/Twitter/whatever form of social media you dig.

3. Come back to this post and COMMENT letting me know that you’ve liked and shared. Be sure to include your email address so that I can contact you if you win!

The winner of this giveaway will be randomly chosen on Sunday April 21 at 10:08am MST.

Best of luck!

Blessings,

Frances

The Ashtanga Yoga Confluence Ganesha Puja

We are here in San Diego for the Ashtanga Yoga Confluence. It’s such a lovely place and I feel so grateful for this opportunity to practice with these gifted and devoted teachers. It all kicked off with a Ganesha puja led by Eddie Stern. Our amazing friend Sarah is here, among other awesome Ashtangis. Tomorrow we begin with a Led Primary Series with Dena Kinsberg!

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Love and Blessings,

Frances

Processing.

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Time for a little honesty.

More than five times a day right now, I think to myself “I wish we hadn’t come to India this year.”

My yoga practice is the only thing holding me on this beautiful and wretched subcontinent. But sometimes that’s not enough.

I realize I’m blessed to be here, to have this time to work closely with my teacher and get a nice tan, but even so, I’m struggling and I wish I was back home.

Yesterday I barely made it through standing series before I crying. These were the first real tears of the trip. I guess it was just a matter of time. There was no specific trigger per se, just the overload of emotions and fatigue. Simply standing there breathing in samasthithi was enough to open the floodgates.

I’ve had this low-grade headache for almost a week now. It comes in waves but is ever-present. Not surprisingly, this has significantly lowered my tolerance for just about everything. I’m feeling super sensitive and I’m finding that my feelings are getting hurt left and right.

By now, I’ve resigned myself to my modified practice. I’m not expecting to make massive leaps and bounds this trip. I’m not concerned with getting new poses or deepening my backbends.

Honestly, with my SI pain the way it is, I’m lucky if I can do supported dropbacks at all. And that’s fine.

David is helping me work with my condition, to build strength and stability. I’m barely doing kapotasana (DG says it’s “irrelevant” right now, which is kind of amazing. I wish it was always so!). Instead I’m spending time each day squeezing a rubber ball between my thighs like crazy as I slowly and cautiously repeat and hold ustrasana and laghu vajrasana.

Despite my relative patience and acceptance of this time of injury, it’s still kind of lame to be the gimp when so many people around me are getting new poses, pushing themselves to deeper levels and then discussing the intricacies and challenges of their new asanas all the time.

Today I finally snapped at Thad, “I don’t want to hear about how hard galavasana is one more time! I don’t give a sh*t!!!!”

Yea, I know, best little wifey ever, right? But seriously, come on, of course it’s hard, it’s fricking third series, it’s supposed to be hard!

Sigh…

Okay, here’s another thing.

On our third full day here, I checked my email for the first time and received some news that really shook me up.  It was so upsetting initially that I became dizzy, nauseous and very faint. I’m Victorian like that. If my corset was any tighter I probably would have fainted then and there.

Since then, I’ve experienced a roller coaster of emotions from diabolical rage, disgust and panic to utter hopelessness, resignation and disinterested apathy. Over the past few days, this situation keeps returning to me, at times making me very sad and upset but then passing over, leaving me complacent and empty inside.

Often in life it seems like we get to a place with one of our personal challenges where we think we’ve “won”, when we believe we have  finally learned the lesson we needed to learn, experienced the growth necessary to move on and it’s now over. But this can be misleading.  For me, I’ve found that often I resolve an issue only to a certain degree, when, tired of the work involved, I push the emotional remnants under the carpet, disengage or deny it all, under the guise that I’m practicing non-attachment. I temporarily forget or ignore the issue, until life throws it back up at me with a wicked vengeance.

This is what is happening now.

It’s easier the second or third time around of course. I’ve spent so much psychic and emotional energy unpacking it, contemplating, trying to learn and forgive. That work was not in vain, but it’s not finished either.

In this sense, I’m thanking my lucky stars that I’m on the other side of the world during all this. I’m kind of glad I’m not easily accessible to my family. I’m extra glad I don’t have access to a phone. So much less damage is occurring because of my absence.

This distance is giving me the space and time I need to find balance and acceptance.

My yoga practice is offering me the opportunity to process these difficult emotions, to work through the pain and hurt.

Processing is not easy work. And being in India is not easy either. It’s as if this place purposefully confronts you with your shortcomings and challenges. There’s no escaping it.

But, as we often say,

“Better out than in.”

 

Here’s to working it out…

 

Blessings,

Frances

Thali Tuesday and Coconut Party Time.


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Yesterday a group of 18 of us piled in a few taxis and ventured into the city of Trivandrum.

We know a number of the other yoga students here from attending this Mysore intensive last year and from practicing at DG’s studio in Philly. But there are some newbies too, mostly Europeans. Our little outing yesterday was a fun way for us to get to know each other better.

We went to a celebrated vegetarian thali restaurant in the city. Thali are traditional South Indian meals that consist of many little dishes, both sweet and savory, served on a banana leaf with chapati, pappadam and rice. As soon as you finish one dish, a server is scooping more food onto your plate whether you want it or not.

We all stuffed our faces and had a very convivial time – practicing 2+ hours of Ashtanga in this heat definitely works up an appetite!

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With full bellies, we traversed the chaos of center city to get to the shopping oasis of FabIndia. This is a great store found all over India that sells high-quality, well-priced clothes, accessories, bedspreads and other home decor all made of hand-blocked cotton and silk by Indian artisans. Thaddeus and DG both rock the FabIndia signature fitted vests and I love all the beautiful printed kurtas. They are the perfect thing to toss on over yoga clothes for going out to breakfast or to dress up in for temple.

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Afterwards a few of us ventured into the market place to help Thad find a small, 1 and a half octave harmonium so he and I can chant while we are here. We were unsuccessful but it was still quite the entertaining adventure to pop in and out of all the different music shops in town.

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Another highlight from yesterday was arriving home from practice to discover a local man high up in the trees above our apartment tossing down coconuts. He had tied a rope around this ankles, scaled up the slender trunk with a huge rusty knife in his hand and was hurling palm fronds and green coconuts all over the place.

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After he descended, the proprietor of our place popped out with a bunch of straws. Our friendly little coconut man, started chopping them open for us to drink the fresh juice.

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Warm coconut juice is not quite as refreshing as the cans from the Whole Foods cooler (hate to say that…) but the novelty of our impromptu coconut party on the porch was way cooler.

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Thanks for reading Lila.

Love and Blessings,

Frances

Why Is Kapotasana Such A B*tch?

Katoasana is one of “those poses”. It’s one that gets a lot of attention. It is a posture that people love to analyze, idolize, criticize and agonize over. Ashtangis adore b*tching and bragging about kapo. “Getting” kapotasana is a turning point in the practice. Mastering it is a major milestone.

When I was first given kapotasana at the start of this year, I did not understand what the big whoop was. I immediately took to the pose. I’m not saying I loved it, but it didn’t make me feel like I was going to die. Within the second week of practicing it (this was when I was in India with DG), I could catch my heels with his help no problemo. I always felt awkward going into the pose (still do) but I could breathe in it and it didn’t make me want to scream/faint/puke/cry/other standard Ashtanga symptoms.

But then something happened. That “something” is still a mystery, but it happened nonetheless. And boy does it suck.

Now I abhor the darn pose. The mysterious pinching bursitis-like thing in my shoulders (coming up on a year now – kind of can’t believe it’s been bugging me this long) makes that specific rotation of the arms agonizingly painful. My lower back feels like it’s going to snap and when I get out of the pose, nausea sets in. Now, I get it, I understand the hoopla – I too dread kapotasana!

Of course, it must be admitted that I’m not practicing with the regularity or intensity that I was when I first got the pose with DG. Honestly, given the crazy schedule that I’ve had this year, paired with all the traveling, illnesses and injuries, I’m lucky if I do all my Second Series poses more than once or twice a week. Shameful, I know. I hope that when we start practicing again regularly at a shala in the coming weeks here in CO that maybe my body will get adjusted to it again.

But for now….here’s what happens whenever I attempt this wicked backbend:

I hesitate. I always hesitate.

I speculate if there’s a good way I can just skip it. And then I wonder…. if I stop thinking about it, perhaps the pose will be easier…..but I keep thinking about it and it remains hard. Fail.

So I start talking to myself loudly in my head.

“Well, Frances, no time like the present. Might as well get along with it.”

Then I think about how before he practices kapo, Thaddeus always recites to himself Bhagavad Gita 9.27 about making every action an offering to God. Which gets me to thinking about how I kind of fail at making my kapo an offering because I can’t completely wrap my head around that concept sometimes. Double fail. Oh help me dear Krishna!

And then the Lumineers start playing in my head, singing “It’s better to feel pain, than nothing at all, the opposite of love’s indifference”.

At this point I’m done with all my preps and trials and I’m waiting for whomever is leading Mysore to come over and drag my resistant hands closer to my ankles. As this happens I cringe and my entire consciousness gets sucked into the vacuum of agony writhing deep inside my shoulder joints.

I try to breathe and then I wonder where in the world my mula bandha went?! I contemplate how it’s even possible to keep mula bandha active in this pose.

At this point I realize I’m squeezing my butt cheeks together so freakin’ hard that I’m just making everything more difficult for myself. This sets off a spiral of negative poo-pooing. I get a little pissy with myself for letting this happen. I know I shouldn’t be letting that kind of negative talk get in the way of my practice.

But still, I’m kind of a neophyte.

So indignantly, I agonize “Why is this so damn hard?! I love backbends! I’m good at backbends! They are fun! So why do I suck at this one? Why is this so painful? It shouldn’t be painful! I can do urdhva dhanurasana. I can do a great eka pada raja kapotasana, so what’s the difference? I used to be good at this. It’s not fair. Waah waah waah.”

This lead to me momentarily making fun of myself for saying such whiny ego-centric things. For a brief moment I might even remember that yoga is not about the body! Yes! Step in the right direction. Big deep breath!

And then, the pose is done and I’m on to the next step in my humiliation – suptra vajrasana.  Yicky.

Ah, sweet beloved Ashtanga, nothing simple about you. Even when/if kapotasana becomes “easy” for me, there will undoubtedly be a new even harder pose to learn.

There is always more growth, more healing and more learning to be experienced in this rich, beautiful and challenging practice.

So, what’s the answer to my question?

I guess kapotasana is so problematic because A) physically it’s a big challenge for most bodies and B) it gets the mind stuff whirling. Kapotasana should be given with the advance warning : “Beware – extreme vrittis ahead!”

Learning to calm the mind, to corral those ever-changing whirlwinds of thoughts and feelings, is one of the greatest challenges and benefits of a yoga practice. Because even if you are blessed with a super bendy back and you can grab your calves in kapo, the mind is still an issue.

Sometimes being really “good” at such an advanced pose can be a curse tricking you into getting carried away with self-congratulatory, ego-stroking.

If we identify ourselves by our yoga poses then we are really missing the point, the real transcendental knowledge of yoga, that we are  sat-chit-ananda  — truth, consciousness and bliss. That we are eternal and non-material.

Newsflash! You are not your bendy back or your tight hips. You are a spirit soul. Hallelujah!  🙂

I believe that one of the reasons Ashtanga yoga is such a powerful practice is the constant repetition inherent in the method. By consistently and diligently practicing the same poses, I am given the opportunity to observe my mind and feelings around these poses and how these experiences change day to day.

Hopefully, with attentiveness and practice, I can discerningly address these observations, determining what serves my growth and conscious evolution and what doesn’t. Then there’s the chance for real growth to occur. It’s possible to practice yoga asanas without ever doing this mental work, but that seems like a terrible waste of time, don’t you think?

One lesson that I’ve been blessed with this year (and this is coming from a fiery, fiercely emotional Scorpio!) is that our reactions are voluntary. We can’t control what happens in the world, but we can control how we respond. Knowing this is power. Realizing deeply that you have a choice in these matters is intensely liberating.

How does this all relate to a silly backbend in Second Series? You let me know.

Blessings and Love,

Frances

 

 

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