About the expectations we have

One of the recurring themes in my classes, whether they are meditation or asana yoga, is the fact that we have expectations about how the practice should be. Expectations of form (of the physical matter) in space of the  positions, expectations of reaching forms of mental emptiness or at least peace in meditation. Expectations to bring a part of the body into a certain position (“it has to be like  so to be correct”) or to eliminate any rumination of the mind.

We all live in a world where our goals create ideas, images and objectives . Some of these projections have been passed on almost unconsciously at the cultural, family and societal level. These are very deep conditionings, as they are sometimes called, of which only a few of us are aware because. The  seeds of conditioning are deeply rooted in us from an early age.

Other expectations are, however, created by our own minds on the basis of our experience and that in which we tend to or want to believe. Others are expectations that respond to real needs or to the idea we have about society. We use it to “escape” from what is here now  because, perhaps, what we see now requires an activity, a change and a process (to be started, which can be difficult and painful).

Expectations gradually create an “ideal self” of how one should be and live. And the further reality moves away from this ideal self, the more we feel unhappy and unsatisfied. It is a vicious circle, the more unhappy we are, the more the ideal self moves away.

In one way or another, we are all victims of expectations, projected ideal images and identities in which we believe. In his meditations, my teacher Zen Michael Stone often repeated the mantra of the need to soften in order to detach oneself from what we thought meditation should be to leave room for what it really is. “And it’s nothing spectacular, nothing really happens”, he told us with a hint of a smile. The more we are attentive to this process, the more we realize that projections of how “things should be” invade our whole life, from the mat, to the bed, to the table, to the desk.

The purpose of asana yoga practice is to be free and to become happy. But be careful, not happy like in a Hollywood movie, but happy in the sense of satisfied and present in the here and now. Yet here too we also create “bucket lists”, lists of milestones to be reached, in which we firmly believe as if they were pills of happiness to be collected on the way. We are all in the same boat, I too, when I teach yoga I have expectations towards my students, I want to satisfy them and I am happy if I can see progress.

I believe that we need persistence, openness but also honesty. And it is thanks to these qualities that our practice will really give us freedom and space. It is a long and hard process. The fact of observing oneself, of seeing the reactions to planted seeds that create expectations, is an important first step.

Don’t give up the practice!
Namastes

 

 

 

The freedom that comes from yoga

Every 2-3 months, I renew the quest and ask myself  what yoga practice means for me. This exercise is useful for everyone, but above all for those who, like me, share their practice with many people. What is yoga? What do I really do? And why?

I’m spending a few days at the beach, days of incredible beauty with an unexpected warm sun, empty beaches and warm water and an autumn sweetness that opens the heart. In the morning I wake up at 6 o’ clock, sometimes with the alarm clock sometimes even without, and before the hotel is even waking up, I go down to the beach where I walk, talk with the waves, sing a few mantras, sit and contemplate, do some asanas and just get lost. Usually I return just in time for breakfast at 10am.

When I asked myself again about what this magical, strong, surprising and sometimes humiliating practice is for me, the word FREEDOM came into my mind. And it’s not so obvious to define what kind of freedom it is. The levels and layers of interpretation and expression are multiple.

It’s about freedom to move at my pace, freedom to express what I am, freedom to dig deep into the essence of things.

But also freedom to be, to go in the hotel’s lobby barefoot and smile to the lady who watches my feet with a funny face. Freedom to tell my parents that I am not afraid of being alone, freedom to look in the opposite direction, freedom to play in the waves like a child.

I often think of the line of a song by Janis Joplin “freedom is just another word for nothing else to lose”. I actually don’t quite agree with that. Freedom is when, despite what  Janis sang, you have everything to gain, not anything to lose. Practice allows me to be free, in my body, but also and above all in my mind, so that I am so conscious that I create a true and profound freedom.

Only by looking deep into ourselves, observing everything that comes and goes from the mind, contemplating the inner landscape, metaphorically speaking, I do acquire a knowledge that is the pure essence of  freedom.

Yoga is freedom, to be who you are,  yes. But most of all, to see and take the long time to see who you are and to let it also be. Very thankful, I bow to this practice, that I am no longer “doing” any more. It’s a practice that is revealing herself far beyond anything expected.

 

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Science of yoga: the vagus nerve

THE FULL POST is only available in Italian for now. This is a breif summary of what the vagus nerve does and how it is related to yoga!

The vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system which manages your digestion, relaxation and healing responses and in turn, helps you to control the health of your immune cells, organs and tissues, and even your stem cells. Twenty percent of the fibers of the vagus nerve control the organs which ‘maintain’ your body (the heart, digestion, breathing, endocrine glands). The other 80 percent of its fibers send information from your gut/stomach to your brain; hence it is responsible for transmitting all those ‘Intuitive’ gut feelings and reactions!

One of the key roles that the vagus nerve plays is acting as the cool down and reset button after you have had a stressful experience. A simple action such as taking deep & long breaths after a traumatic experience will physically stimulate the vagus nerve to communicate with the rest of your body to tell you that the threat is gone and that all of your bodily functions can now return to normal, healing mode.

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When change comes over night, or maybe not

We do feel it, in our body that feels sticky, not flexible, or maybe it is flexible but the “flow” is not there and so it still does not feel flexible. We do feel it when we take a close look in the mirror. We actually know it, because our body, our cells, the seeds we have planted and carry around with us are wise and old, and they do know. The inherent intelligence our body carries along is often silenced down. And yet, it knows.

In the last two weeks I have been guiding my classes using the wisdom of Manipura Chakra. For me this energy centre is crucial, it’s the one that unlocks the upper ones, but also the one that permits us to really connect with the lower ones. When fear arises, our belly sucks in, when we are nervous, our belly speaks, when we are in love, we are not hungry and feel butterflies. When we tap into it we connect to our intuition, who knows what is right. Or when the change is going to come. Because it will come, always.

Then it happens, and yes we are surprised, but not really. The flow knew it, the stickiness knew it. Today I had the occasion to meet up with the reason of a big life change that has happened to me now more than three years ago. I am so thankful for that change that seemed to be so bad, so dramatic and almost cruel at the time. I remember sitting down, literally, and starting meditating and doing Pranayama. Doing that internal work has allowed me to feel that this change was already there way before the painful “surprise”. It allowed me to learn a lot about me and on how I had shut down my Manipura, my intuition. Little by little, the flow, slowly, very slowly, started to get going. And it took a direction that I never could have imagined that way. How can I not be thankful for that change?

How many of us have been stuck with some sort of life changing change that has happened almost over night? Probably everyone in a way or the other. Some of us might think their change is bigger than others change. Some of us might think it wasn’t such a big deal. As bad as it is, there’s some learning, some growing, some valuable process in any sort of change. And change, big or small, is everywhere. Easy to say, hard to do, embracing the change will just help the process. But also realizing that the change, the changed, the changing, is already there in us if we really listen carefully. Sticky, hidden but  there.

To my students: thanks!

Yoga is not about me teaching you what to do, yoga is not about me being a teacher and you being a student. I see my teaching as sharing, me being a link. I see myself as a facilitator and – why not? a translator.  As someone who facilitate your (re-)connection with your spirit and with the Spirit. I use my words, my experience but then, I let it flow.

While I teach, I often walk away to the back of the room, lean onto the wall and watch and breathe while I speak. Watch with my eyes but even more with my heart. I love seeing you doing Yoga Asana, concentrating on the breath, on the pulse of every move, on the sweetness of this practice from the back of the room. I love seeing how you are all doing your thing, how my words guide you into your inner world. When your eyes are closed in Tadasana, I feel your pulse and your presence in the room. This is why I teach yoga. To be in the back row, to feel and breathe with you. I am deeply thankful to be able to support you like that.

This is just about us, feeling, reconnecting and being. The rest, as someone*  said, is just a circus. Oh and it’s a fun circus! I know! We often, all of us, get attached to the outer form, to the Asana, to how it looks. We see our neighbour on the mat next to us, want to be as flexible and as strong as them. This is human.

But also, there are moments where the whole room just breathes, and it’s for these moments that I am doing what I am doing. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart. Thanks for sharing this practice with me, over and over again on the sticky mat. AHO.

*Patthabi Jois.

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Slowing down the mind patterns

Why has this happened to me? It happens often that we get stuck somewhere and desperately look for answers, look for explanation in our mind. We feel that we have the right to find out or to know. And we think and think, and create stories. We do our own storytelling.

What if we let go of the explanation on why things are a certain way? You could insist on your right of being right, you could insist on your right to find an explanation, you could grasp to words, concepts or ideas. That would maybe bring you somewhere on the very short term, to have a satisfaction of a second making you feel good shortly.

A brief satisfaction like that is not much, everything that you tried to explain so hard is just one of the infinite realities possible. Our mind can work really hard to find many other possibilities. And in fact, in the mid or the long term, those explanations do not bring you much further. They actually put chains on to the freedom of your mind and your intuition. They are obstacles on how we feel.

What if we try to see things as they are now, without getting lost in explanations, things that concern our own history but also things that concern the history of other people, of situations and the worlds around us. If we see things as they are now, there is not much to explain, probably, there is more of being and feeling. And that feeling can be uncomfortable, that’s all right, staying with it will teach us.

One of my teachers uses the word rumination, it’s so appropriate. How much energy do I spend ruminating onto my past, onto what could be different if…

For myself, I am now trying to find more space. Creating space between the thought of having to find an explanation or a reason and the quick reaction of my mind spinning for it. It does not work all the time, but I am on it.

Simplifying my life

During the weeks between Christmas and the beginning of the new year I have been meditating, journalling and turning inside to listen. One thing that has become clear to me is that my life is rather complicated, or maybe complex defines it better. Complex in the sense that I do many different things, some of them apparently unrelated to each other. I live in different places, I have at least 5 toothbrushes spread in 5 homes, I don’t remember where my favourite mala is …

This is me. Sometimes I wonder why it’s like that. But it’s not bothering me, it’s keeping me awake and gives me the opportunity to see things from a different perspective each time and hopefully to share my experiences with others. I have learned to be organised and to live out of a suitcase, as they say. And it works.

Yet during these days of introspection I did find out that there’s a lot I could improve. And when I say improve I just mean simplify. There is still so much complexity in my nomad life. Simplifying is not easy at all. It’s a constant process of re-evaluating what really counts and eliminating what is not important (any more). And the good news is: you are never done. One might say that’s rather the bad news.

I think it’s very positive. We can compare it to yoga asana, you are constantly re-inventing the pose, adapting it, learning new things on anatomical and energetic levels. If you get to a point where you think you are done with the pose, you lost your open view and your capacity to learn further. Likewise, reconsidering the system of what counts in your life, what is important, what makes you feel alive and what not, is a constant process that never ends and that makes us keep a soft and receptive mind.

Because that’s what’s about: keeping open, receptive and flexible. In order to do that, we need space, space that has to be created by taking away “stuff” we don’t need, by simplifying. And of course I am not talking about the physical flexibility. Which, will come anyway once the mind declutters, simplifies and focuses.

Further read on how to simplify your life here.

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One year without new clothes – part 4- I received the most beautiful yoga leggings from my dad for Xmas!

I basically am almost done with completing one year without buying new clothes. There is just another three months to go! And to my surprise, it has been really easy. I never thought that I needed more clothes, there was always enough, and I actually gave away plenty of clothes and reduced my wardrobe even more. I learned a lot about myself and my “patterns” as a shopper, even if I have never been a crazy one, and I am sure this will help me even after I complete the year at the end of March 2017.

That said, I’ll be honest: there is one item I really kept on seeing and having thoughts about. You know I am a yoga teacher, there are days I only wear yoga clothes from morning to evening. I wake up, do my own practice, go teach maybe two or three classes in different yoga outfits. So there was this yoga leggings by Teeki I really liked. Yes. I saw it probably already two months ago for the first time. I couldn’t get them out of my head. I mean, yes of course, they where not a constant thought, but I kept on seeing them: hanging in the yoga studio where I teach and online…

So I told my dad! Yes, I am 40 and yet I tell things like that to my father. And since it was just before Christmas, he simply told me: “well, I will buy them for you as a gift! Actually, that’s great that you tell me about what you wish since I never know what to buy”. I couldn’t say no. Seeing the hotpants (see pict below) probably will make you smile: I felt like a teenager, for the style and for the way this all happened.

Yet, this really warmed my hearth. It’s not the first time I receive clothes as a gift this year, I probably received more than I usually do. From people who knew what I was doing and had the impression I needed some “fresh” stuff. But also from people who did not know what I was doing. Each time I got some clothing from someone, I was super happy, really appreciating, holding the item, caressing it, feeling the fabric, smelling it.

Thank you all for your gifts and support and feedbacks. I still have three months to go!

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Playa Negra, Costa Rica: thank you!

You are the place on earth that gave me the biggest pains in my life: a divorce, being mobbed, threatened and feeling fear and being unwanted. I had a severe surf injury on my right leg that took me more than a year to heal, and many other little injuries in my heart and body. The count is very long. But besides the many scars and wounds, I kept coming back mainly because of the surf, but also for some mysterious pull I still felt towards you. Of course, I own a little house in Playa Negra, some might say. I could have sold it or just don’t give a damn anymore, I will answer. So from my first move to Costa Rica in 2002, I kept that place in my heart somehow.

A couple of years have passed, the wounds have healed, the scars are still there, I have a hole in my leg. They remind me of deep teachings and keep me awake. In the last two years though, things started to shift. I started to develop a profound bond with Playa Negra again. I feel your energy, black, destroying and yet constructive. Makes me think of Kali, black and bloody. Yet necessary to reconnect with nature and build up trust, love and peace.

In 2016, I was blessed to stay in Costa Rica over two months, I hosted my first yoga holiday (retreat) there. It was amazing and I am still smiling of joy when I think of my group of yogis enjoying their time there. This year Playa Negra also made me (re)encounter with a very special person. When I think of all the events in my life that lead up to this, I can’t ignore the fact that everything came for a reason. So wow, Playa Negra, the black and painful beach, has become a big source of joy and love. As it should be, and I am deeply thankful to that.

There is a nice teaching in all that. Something I am also often asked by students when they struggle in their practice, be it yoga-asana or other practices. It takes a lot of time and pain is there for a reason. I once read that you are never given a struggle you won’t be able to overcome. It’s all teachings and blessings being put on our path to make us grow. Key is to stay with it, stay with the unpleasant. Trust your work, keep up the practice, and with patience let things unfold.

I needed your teachings of destruction and pain, to find ease, joy and love. AHO.


Playa Negra, december 2016.

 

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One year without new clothes – there is more to let go of – part 3

I am in the process of clearing my wardrobe again, as I often do when seasons change. It’s definitely getting colder and I don’t need all those tank tops, dresses and t-shirts. This is the moment where, with some time and honesty, I stand in front of my wardrobe and see all those items I did not wear the whole summer and maybe not even the summer before. But how nice is that dress! “I will surely wear it on the beach next time!” My intent of living a year without getting new clothes is helping me out. I did not buy anything new, and yet there is so much I haven’t wore.

I have learned to walk through Banhofstrasse, admire the beautifully (and luring) arranged shop windows without entering and buying anything, I can try to really send off that t-shirt to the recycle bin this time!

It’s not an easy process. What I have observed is that once you start letting go, once you start softening in one field of your mind/body, there will inevitably be another field that makes it’s way to your awareness where you notice tension and a potential of a lot of work left. It is an unending story! When I see my wardrobe now, it hasn’t received anything new (besides some gifts) and yet there is so much I did not use and could let go of.

We can apply this to many other fields of our lives: the mind, the body, our way of living. There is still plenty space to make space and to create room.

I am extremely thankful to the practice, yet, I observe that all I have worked myself thorough is just the tip of the iceberg. This can seem very frustrating, because if I look at myself, what I was 10 years ago and what I am today, I see two different humans. At least I think so. Yet I have just opened some doors, that where hiding other doors that for sure hide more doors to open. With this practice, we become aware of the unending potential of our lives. And also of the unending work that lais ahead. As Richard Freemand said, and I think I even saw him wearing a t-shirt saying it: “Yoga ruins your life”.

There is still more to let go of, this can apply always and for each and everyone of us.  Keep the work up! Namaste.

 

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These will not make it to summer 2017!