Sadhana: Moon no. 1

I've started a Tiny Letter to share my personal yoga practices; a new letter goes out via email every moon quarter. I'll collect the text all here, organized by moon, as a sort of archive. If you like being in on the action, I'd recommend signing up here for the Tiny Letter. It's like getting a love letter in the (e)mail every week, and there are always pretty pictures!


First Quarter

Intention

It's been just over a year since I've completed my yoga teacher training and just under a year since I've started teaching. It's been a pretty magical year, with plenty of highs and lows, and I've come to realize the importance of maintaining a personal practice to help me maintain my equanimity (and equilibrium). The sanskrit word "sadhana" translates roughly to "daily practice." Mine has been a mixed bag in the past, but as of January 9, the first new moon in 2016, I'm committing to a monthly practice that flows from new moon to new moon. Part of a sadhana is seva, or service, and I hope that this letter sparks you to create your own practices.
So, my intention for this sadhana is to cultivate the niyama tapas: self-discipline.

Action

First up is a vira sadhana. From January 9 to February 8 I'm on a fiery, fierce path with the goal of transforming my tendency towards sloth, towards not following through with things. I'm running throughout the winter, kicking up my yoga practice a notch with sun salutations and donkey kicks and maybe, just maybe, I'll finally be able to do hanumanasana. I light a candle daily and take time to focus on the flame. I'm reading Tending the Heart Fire by Shiva Rea and Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith. I'm practicing kapalabhati every morning and drinking hot water and lemon every night before bed. I haven't slept this well in years.

Mantra

Om Namah Shivaya: I bow to Lord Shiva, the inner self, the embodiment of reality and of the universe. Chant along with this version to cultivate personal power.
 
Wise words

"We begin where we are and how we are, and whatever happens, happens." ~ T. K. V. Desikachar in The Heart of Yoga

Try this at home

Kapalabhati is a breathing exercise that energizes the body, releases tension and tones the abdomen. Make sure to sit quietly and practice long, slow breathing after any energizing pranayama practice.

Inspiration

"The image of many Buddhas sitting together speaks to the ability within all of us to become enlightened. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, 'You have to do it yourself, no one can do it alone.' It's a beautiful message: while we each have to do our own work, the power of practicing in community is undeniable." ~ Amanada Giacomini


Second Quarter

Intention

This week's intention: tapas with a side of ishwar pranidam. This last week of Mercury's retrograde has been trying; I had my first migraine in a year on Tuesday, tied to a combo of stress, shoulder pain from two bike accidents three years ago, and neck strain from working too much on my laptop. I mustered up all the self-discipline I could, but it quickly became clear that it was time to surrender and get on some self-care, stat.

Action

Vira sadhana: This week was less fiery than last, though; I skipped a very awesome-sounding yoga jam for a massage. I took epsom salt baths and axed one of my runs, and draped my back over a bolster every day. The good news is that I feel like I've managed to adapt and maintain my practice. I've listened to my body and worked on strong grounding poses that leave my upper body more free, less tense. I read Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter and highly recommend it. This morning Andrew helped me to kick up into a handstand and I've never felt so strong.

Mantra

Om Tryambakam Yajamahe / Sugandhim Pushtivardhanam / Urvarukamiva Bandhanan / Mrityor Mukshiya Maamritat; this is the Mahamrityunjaya (or Maha) mantra. I repeat it three times in a row every day to better my mental, emotional, and physical health. It's also a good one for travelling. You can listen to it here.
 
Wise words

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." ~ B.K.S. Iyengar

Try this at home

Legs up the wall is a peaceful inversion that promotes relaxation and which is especially helpful if you have trouble sleeping. It's an excellent thing to practice if tonight's full moon is keeping you awake.

Inspiration

Artist Simon Beck walks 5-9 hours a day in snowshoes to create stunning snow mandalas.


Third Quarter


Intention

To keep even just a small inner flame alight during a pretty damn busy week.

Action

I spent the last week in publishing meetings in Toronto, which meant I was pulled out of my usual routine. IHappily, I made it to three yoga classes: a fiery flow at 889 Yoga, a late-night yin at Downward Dog, and revisited an old favorite open class at Sivananda. I used the half-hour walk to and from meetings as walking meditation; I missed having my dog, Lou, as a morning companion, but the city's liveliness and constant motion really helped to keep me in the present moment. I have one week left on this vira sadhana, and while I don't feel like I've really ramped up my activity level, I feel like I've managed to keep a small flame tended since the January new moon, which feels like a win in itself.

Mantra & Meditation

Soham, which means I am that. Getting back to the basics, this mantra allows control of the breath by following the natural flow -- the inhales and the exhales -- to relax the mind and improve concentration. Inhale and silently repeat so and exhale and silently repeat hum for equal lengths in and out. 
 
Wise words

"Every path, every street in the world is your walking meditation path." ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Try this at home

A walking meditation asks you to keep your focus, or awareness, on the experience of walking -- as you're walking. You can practice it anywhere, and it's a lovely tool for building focus and concentration. Walking, especially in nature, is very grounding and a good counter to all the time we spend focused on technology.

Inspiration

Research by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Institute at Harvard University has found that walking meditations are highly effective at reducing anxiety, blood pressure, and insomnia, invoking what he called the “relaxation response.” Read more about the benefits of labyrinth walking.


Fourth Quarter

Intention

To finish this first lunar sadhana strong. Spoiler alert: I did not.

Action

I seem to have blinked and missed the past week. That's the great thing about writing these weekly notes; even when I'm late in writing (like this week), it's a good chance to look at why and how I let that happen. Mindfulness in action! I thought about not writing this letter and just waiting for the next one to recap, but the completist in me won out. This is real life! Sometimes you get the flu and you get busy and you stumble at the finish line. This is my practice: to pick myself up and keep going. I did practice this week. I did meditate. I breathed a lot, which I consider a great success, because hey, I'm still breathing right now. I started to look forward to starting my next sadhana. I finally went to see a physiotherapist for my aching shoulder, and we've ascertained that it is in fact my neck that needs treatment following two two-year-old cycling accidents. She's using Gunn IMS to help release old muscle blocks and it is the very best thing ever. I hope this inspires you to start cleaning up your own old hurts.

Mantra & Meditation

I stuck with soham this week, because all I felt up to was reminding myself that I am what I am. A reminder: inhale and silently repeat so and exhale and silently repeat hum for equal lengths in and out. I broke from my usual mantra practice for mediation and started spending a couple of minutes each morning focused on my breath, just being present. It's been really nice.
 
Wise words

"If at first you don't succeed/Try, try, try again." ~ William Edward Hickson

Try this at home

Mindfulness is very much a buzzword these days, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't take it seriously. Pick one task that you have to do, but don't like very much -- mine this week was washing pots after meals rather than letting them pile up -- and give it your full attention. I gave all of our burned-bottom, sticky pots all of my love, and at the end of the week, I was pretty grateful for the number of meals they've cooked, and how many more they have left. I love my old, stained pots a lot. And I minded washing them less at the end, too.

Inspiration

Joy is to serve, to love, and to give. (from the Art of Attention deck)