Sunday, January 27, 2013

Slippery when hydrated

My back muscles are a bit sore now - yesterday was another teacher training day - 5 hours of yoga!

We started yesterday's class with some energetic exercises - to show the strength of the human mind and what you can accomplish by visualizing energy flow through the body. I had done similar exercises 25 years ago when I was still practising jiu-jitsu - but it still is amazing what the human mind is capable of.

We continued with a bit of Q&A on poses we had questions about - always very helpfull to get a more in depth knowledge on poses.

Then, out of the blue, we had to teach - we had to put our mats in a big circle, all facing inwards and than the first in line started teaching a sun salutation, with all the variants that are possible. After 2 minutes, the next one took over and continued the flow where the first one had stopped..... with 12 people in the group (and the teacher), that resulted in 26 minutes of non-stop sun salutation. It was a great experience, having to teach although not being prepared for it - but OMG,  26 minutes non-stop sun salutations really gets you sweating like a horse.

After that we took a deeper dive in the alignment of a number of poses - extended hand-to-big-toe pose, tree pose, warrior pose, staff pose and seated forward bend. It is good to be corrected in a position and feel the diffference, before you actually have to start correcting others.

To finish the day we did the entire prana yoga flow 1.....

There is one more thing I want to share with aspiring yogi's -- never hydrate your hands just before starting your asana's -- a downward facing dog easily becomes a dog with his face on the floor pose then. I've experienced it once, having to re-position my hands all the time because they were sliding. Now, I always wash my hands before starting asana's -- that's my free tip for you ;-)

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Which type of yogi are you?

Today I completed one month of daily yoga (asana's) - I'm actually quite proud of myself.

The past month, I've not only practised asana's every day, I also read a lot of blogposts from different yogi bloggers.
What I'm about to share is just my observation - no criticism whatsoever.
Yogi bloggers are just people.... people like you and me. And I think I would divide them into 2 groups -- the serious ones and the less serious ones - oh what the heck, the fun ones.

The serious ones - they really take yoga and its life style very seriously - they want to write serious posts that trigger people to think and reflect. They want to inspire.... talk about all the limbs of yoga. If you ask me, they are so deep into the Ahimsa part of Yama, that they feel uncomfortable being funny or provacative as it might hurt people's feelings. Yeah, I did my thinking as well ;-) I don't know what their motivation is - maybe they just aren't that funny.I like to read about yoga, but it doesn't have to be all that serious all the time. You shouldn't take life too seriously anyway, in the end everybody dies..... and maybe that is where my view differs from them as they might believe in the after life. Which kinda reminds me of the lyrics of "Let's go crazy" from Prince aka TAFKAP aka symbol aka Prince - again. He talks about - the after world - a world of never ending happiness, you can always see the sun, day or night.... . He must have been on the North Pole in June or something....

Anyway, moving back to my original thinking. I'm just happy that there are yogi bloggers that like a more humorous approach, a bit more lighthearted, a bit less serious. I believe that these people make yoga much more approachable for newbies.

So that is my observation - there's serious yogi and there's fun yogi....but, where do the "laughter yoga" people fit in? They laugh for no apparent reason, but the one I did a session with in 2007 was very serious about it.... talking about all the benefits of laughter, even if it is fake, and adding on some breathing exercises.

Final conclusion: there are serious yogi people, fun yogi people and laughter yogi people..... and of course a whole lot of people that are not into yoga ;-)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Happiness reflection....

Time for a bit of reflection.

I've been doing daily yoga since December 25th now, so that's 25 days in a row of 10 - 40 minutes of yoga.

One of the reasons I started doing yoga was to see if it would bring me happiness (see my second post on this blog).

There are lots of (obvious) things that can bring happiness - marriage, birth of a child, victory in a sports game,.... the list is long.

Personnaly, there are two less obvious things that spontaneously generated happiness for me: the first one - eating a fresh, still warm rice tartlet. The taste is so comforting to me, it instantly makes me happy - don't know why, don't wanna know why.... it just does.
The second one I discovered last year during a trip to the coast - kiting. I had bought this small kite and tried to get it up into the air. And when it was there, hanging on the strings that I was holding in my hands, I felt instant joy.....again, don't know why, don't wanna know why.... it just happened.

For some reason, all these happiness contributors seem to be bring almost instant happiness, that is not lasting that long. It is difficult to maintain the momentum. I don't think that eating my 5th rice tartlet in a row would still bring me the happiness of the first one, a stomach ache perhaps, but that would not make me happy.

During all my yoga practice of the last 25days, I have not felt this kind of happiness to be honest. I felt a bit happy when I could maintain the shoulder pressure pose for 5 full breaths. But not like my kite or tartlet happiness.

So here's my theory:
yoga happiness is not the overwhelming kind that just strickes you by surprise, it is more of a gradually built happiness that will last longer over time - not with extreme highs and lows, but more evened out. At least, that is what I am hoping for....

So what do you think? Does my theory make any sense? What brings you happiness?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A small victory

Day 17 of the online challenge - day 23 of my own 40-day challenge.

Fact: I'm feeling great about daily yoga, and although only half way my challenge, I feel the urge to get on the mat and start doing asana's.

Fact: I've seen my routine growing over time. The first few days, I always did 3 variants of sun salutation (A, A1- with mini vanyasa and B) and the first 4 - 5 asana's of the complete Prana Yoga Flow. Took me about 10 - 15 minutes - but I know from the past that starting something new to vigorously always backfired at some point. I've seen it happen when I picked up running - skipped the first weeks of the start to run program and got injured quite quickly as my muscles just weren't used to the exercise. I also noticed it this summer when on holiday -- there was daily beach volley and although I have only played volleybal at school, I thought it would be a good idea to join all the youngsters for an hour every day. My wife always warns me that I only seem to have two settings when it comes to sports, full on or off - and I agree, if I participate in sports, I always give it 110% - no guts, no glory - no fear - but alas, my body is not always aligned with my mindset. I had to stop playing beach volley after 5 days as I was no longer able to completely stretch my right arm and my elbow was getting quite swollen. Still, it wasn't as bad as 5 years ago when I joined football instead of volleyball during the holiday week, and ended up in the emergency room with 2 swollen elbows and a bruised shin. Guess I'll never learn.

Back to the subject - and the fact that I have learned from the past - good for me. So I gradually moved from the 10 - 15 minute daily routine to a 20 minute routine, as described in the prana yoga flow book that I have. 3 sun salutations and 12 asana's -- good thing is that this mini flow is more complete as it has everything: twists, back bends, forward bends,.... it is all in there.

And now the last few days I do a 40 minute flow - not every day, but when I can make the time - 4 sun salutations and 21 asana's. It gets me a bit more sweaty, but I never want to skip any asana's 'just to get it over with'.

I practice in my living room - in front of a big window that actually works a bit like a mirror when it is getting dark and the shutters are closed. The "mirror" really helps me to correct my poses which is a good thing for a rookie like me.

And finally, I succeeded yesterday for the first time to maintain the shoulder pressure pose for a full 5 breaths -- a small victory (I here Faith No More in my head now.....)!!!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

20 down - 20 to go

Day 20 of my 40-day challenge -- that is 20 days of daily yoga. At the start of my challenge I never had thought I would get here - but the daily routine is getting addictive.

Most days, I do about 25 minutes of Prana Yoga Flow. 3 - 4 sun salutations followed by a series of asana's, including some breathing exercises and a rest in the corpse pose at the end.

A few things have helped me to continue on this challenge:
1) my new mat - it's just really inviting to get on and start doing yoga. I also keep it open all the time, in an area where the kids can play in the living room -- it makes it easier to just get on it and do a first sun salutation ... and start a session.
2) the yoga challenge on -- the challenge is to do yoga every day for the first month of 2013 -- over 2300 people from all over the world joined the challenge and going there every day to post if you did yoga or not, or post some pics, it really creates a sense of community. It's great to read other people's experience and see their pics -- most of their poses are far more advanced than what I can do, but that is OK.
3) my youngest son (10) and youngest daughter (4) have both joined me spontaneously during my yoga sessions - in most cases just for the sun salutations. But it is a great training in teaching, as I need to explain to them what they need to do, while doing it myself. And for the little one, poses get different names like 'the cobra' becomes 'the banana'.

So my challenge is going great - 20 down, another 20 to go!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Aarti bye-bye-ji

The Ayervedic lunch was really  nice - it tasted good and it made me feel really healthy.

After the lunch, we had to go to our rooms and sleep for 2 hours. Swami Mario said that this was to break up the normal day routine that people always follow - breaking the day in 2 with some sleep could result in new insights bla bla bla -- I had made up a number of excuses in my life to pursuade my kids to take a rest in the early afternoon, especially when I wanted a break for myself.... but I would have never thought of this reason. Oh well...

Sleeping for 2 hours in the middle of the day, in an uncomfortable and too short bed, with a few kids yelling and screaming outside.... no need to say it did not work out like it should.

Two hours later, the group rejoined in the central room. We sat in a big circle, and I was hoping that swami Mario would have asked the others what they thought of the weekend so far, similar to the discussions he had had with both my wife and I.  Unfortunately he didn't... I felt it was a missed opportunity. And I know it is wrong to judge, but he disappointed me in not listening to people's frustrations. Maybe he could only handle one on one confrontations, and not with an entire group.

Luckely, we started the first actual yoga session - Sivananda yoga for 1.5 hrs. This was what I had come for.... and it was really good. We ended the yoga session with a mindfulness exercise - a complete bodyscan.

I was so happy about those 2 hours - until one of the monks came into the room to tell us we were going to be late for the 'aarti babaji'....

This was my cue - I called swami Mario into our room, and thanked him for the past 2 hours of yoga and mindfulness, but told him that the time had come for my wife and I to end the weekend. He was surprised .... I explained that by leaving now, I could leave with a 'good' feeling - that feeling would quickly go away if I had to attend another 'aarti babaji' or attend one of his karma yoga sessions.

And while the rest of the group were in the 'aarti babaji', it was aarti bye-bye-ji for us as we took our bags and left for home.

One thing was clear, if we would ever consider a yoga weekend again, we would check and double check the program to be completely sure what we would end up in.....;

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Digging in the dirt

Karma yoga....

If I remember correctly from the description of the program of the weekend, it said something about doing light tasks like helping in the kitchen. I thought that we might learn how to cook Ayervedic food by preparing our own meals.... unfortunately, I was wrong. The only thing we were allowed to do in the kitchen, was the dishes...

After our breakfast, we went into the central room where we did the breathing exercises in the morning. Swami Mario gave us the introduction to karma yoga, or "yoga of selfless service".
Basicly it means you do thing for others or a community without expecting something in return. He told us how he had worked for days in the summer to help build one of the buildings of the ashram and how good he felt doing that.

Since there was 10 of us, he had decided to let us do karma yoga in smaller groups. My wife was put together with 2 other women. They had to vacuum the ashram. Another group of women was told to clean the toilets and showers. As for me, I was put in a group with the other guy and his wife.... and we had to work in the garden. The 'monks' had the idea to move part of the garden to another spot - so we had to remove the fence that was around that part, dig out all the plants they wanted to keep and then spade the entire area so it would look clean. And we were asked to do this mindfully.

I was lost for words (and then again I wasn't). So we had to do all the unpleasant taks in the ashram, while the 'monks' would walk around "peacefully" and basically do nothing? Without even having had a first decent exercise in how you should do these kind of things mindfully?

The grass and weed in the garden was so high, I could hardly see the plants that we were supposed to move, let alone the fence we were supposed to remove. I was really annoyed but glad to see that my 2 team members shared the same feeling. We started venting our frustrations and were aligned as a group - this was unbelievable.

I'm sure swami Mario noticed my frustration when he asked if everything was OK. I told him that we would need some tools like a hand mower before we could even start the karma yoga. He asked me to go with him to the shed in the back to look for the tools I needed. I sensed that he just wanted to seperate me from the team... and I was right.

"How do you like it so far" he asked while walking to the shed - "I don't, not at all" was my spontaneous reply. So in the shed, instead of looking for tools, we had a long discussion - on how the program he communicated was unclear and how the rest of the group was sharing my feelings and were not getting what they had expected (but did not speak up for some reason). It was a good discussion and he insisted on ending it with a hug.... ok, what-ever.

My wife had finished her tasks and called me on my way back to the garden. She wanted to have a private discussion with me. I had promised her to behave, guess I just had crossed the line by going into discussion with 'swami' instead of doing the karma yoga.
"If things continue here like they have done so far", she said, "I want to leave this evening and not stay for the Sunday".....
I was soooo happy - she had had a similar discussion with swami Mario and now we were both on the same page.... this type of karma yoga and the aarti babaji - not our cup of tea.

Time for Ayurvedic lunch....

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

I am not alone....

just a quick in-between post before I continue to share my first yoga weekend experience.

I found a website -  - where people can create challenges and invite others to participate / join them.

Guess what, there was a yoga challenge to practise yoga every day for the first month of 2013!

Suddenly I am one of over 2250 people who decided to do daily yoga in January 2013 - fits nicely with my 40-day challenge (so I am actually 7 days ahead of the rest, but will need to continue for 3 more days in February to reach my own challenge).

Sharing it is an extra motivation - knowing others are walking the same path makes it easier to persevere.... Game on!

PS. Today, 25 minutes of Prana Yoga Flow!

Monday, January 7, 2013

We will, we will .... worship you?

After the offering ceremony, we were allowed a quick drink before we would start the "aarti babaji".

When booking the weekend, I had googled "aarti babaji" just to know what it was and what to expect. Apparently, google doesn't know everything, so I left it to be a surprise for the weekend - but since it was scheduled 3 times, I hoped it was some sort of asana's or mindfulness exercises.

On Friday, we were already told that the ashram was build to honour a guru called Babaji. If I would have known that babaji was a person's name, I would have probably googled the "aarti" part alone, only to find out it was a religious ritual of worship (wikipedia's words). Before I knew it, we were sitting in a church-like setting, women on the left, men on the right, and were handed a little booklet in Sanskrit (with Dutch subtitles). There was a monk playing the harmonium and then the chanting began - and we were off....

I started reading the Dutch translation of the Sanskrit texts and got a flashback to my youth. I went to a Catholic school and we had to go to church quite often. The mass was what we called a singing mass - the priest would sing most of the hymns which resulted in them getting stuck in my mind forever. This was exactly the same thing to me, but replacing Jesus with Babaji....

For myself, I had struggled long enough wheather or not to believe in a supreme being, and I was at a point where I had had it with all sorts of worship.....  "aarti babaji" was too much for me to comprehend. The worship of another human being was not my cup of tea.... sure, I was a big fan of Freddie Mercury and loved the way he could play a crowd, but I consider that admiration. Maybe Babaji was a Freddie Mercury for these monks... who knows.

I was glad the whole thing was over (another hour well spent - not)  - finally we could have some breakfast.

The good thing about breakfast was that I could get a sense of what the others were thinking of the whole experience so far. Maybe I needed to open up even more to the experience. Surprisingly enough, the majority was not getting what they expected ... and most of them were not really happy about it either.

Anyway - the next item on the agenda was the Karma yoga - finally something that already was called yoga .... I was really looking forward to it.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The rice, the rice, the rice is on fire....

Let me tell you about my first ever "yoga" weekend.

It was a few years ago - the yoga magazine I always bought displayed these mouth watering yoga retreats - one week, warm climate, wonderful scenery, yoga classes.....yep, my wife and I defenitely wanted to try that.
As yoga rookies, we wanted to be sure it would be our cup of tea, so we decided to look for a yoga weekend closer to home (risk reduction, just in case - I'm still a rational person).

One day, my wife found something on the internet - a "yoga and mindfulness" weekend in the north of Holland. Not exactly the warm climate we had hoped for, but driving distance and at a local ashram in a wooded area. The program was not 100% clear to us - welcome and introduction on Friday,  on Saturday it said something about offering in the morning followed by 'aarti babaji' (thanks Google for not clarifying), ayurvedic breakfast, karma yoga (which was described as helping in the kitchen - so maybe we could learn how to cook ayurvedic food),  ayurvedic lunch, relax time, yoga followed again by 'aarti babaji' and ayurvedic dinner......and the same thing on Sunday (except for the dinner). With an open mind, it sounded OK and since we had no other programs to compare to, we decided to give it a try.

We arrived on Friday evening, just to get to know the group of people we would spend the weekend with. I was one of 2 men in a group of 12. No worries. The group was diverse but everybody seemed to be looking for something..... I introduced myself as a rational person, looking for a yoga experience and starting the weekend with an open mind to see where it would bring me.

Saturday had an early start - 5.30 AM wake up to take a shower - you needed to enter the little temple for the offering ceremony clean - no shower, no ceremony. At 6.00 AM we were on our yoga mats doing breathing exercises - it was the first time I did breathing exercises ; alternating nostril breathing, ujjayi breathing ... it made me feel good and made up for the early wake up call.

With clean lungs we had to put on a wrap and head for the temple. The door opened and there was a open fire in the middle of the room - the upper half of the room was filled with smoke - goodbye clean lungs, why did I do those breathing exercises? Why did we need to shower to come here when we were going to leave smoked anyway? I started repeating to myself - keep an open mind, keep an open mind.... it is all about the experience.....

We had to sit one after the other (like children pretend to be on a train) - the smoke was now above our heads like grey clouds packed with snow. We all got a bowl with approx. 1 kg of rice brokens and then we were ready to go.

Three 'monks' would lead the ceremony - we just had to sit and listen to mantras in Sanskrit and when we heard 'svaha', we had to repeat 'svaha' and throw some of the rice out of our bowl into the fire, always with our right hand and little bits each time. 'Svaha' is similar to 'Hail', in case you were wondering. This lasted for almost an hour, and while we were all throwing our rice, the monks themselves threw in flowers, apples, bananas, a coconut.....

As a food engineer I couldn't stop thinking - what a waste of food.....  1 kg of rice equals 16 portions - times 12 people equals 192 portions and then all the seemed to me that this rice could have been used better at a local shelter.

One thing was clear - this whole offering was not my cup of tea..... so after an hour, it was on to the next chapter of the weekend, on with an open mind to 'aarti babaji'.....

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Order long yoga mat: check!

Hooray, hooray - I just ordered my longer yoga mat - I found it on a website that was advertised on Facebook (of all places) -- . Good thing is, they have a European website (and judging on the telephone number, their EU offices are in Antwerp).

Just have a look at their description of the mat:

The Manduka eKO mat is the only choice for those who want a high-performance, durable yoga mat and are passionate about protecting our planet. The top surface is an innovative, proprietary closed-cell natural rubber. The sea-grass texture finish and superior cushioning are kind to your body and the environment. This natural rubber mat uses a toxic-free softening process and is completely free of foaming agents and plasticizers found in other mats. The eKO represents a bright future for eco-friendly yoga mats - it leaves behind no footprint in landfills, but will definitely make a lasting impression in the studio.

Just reading it makes me feel professional and sustainable at the same time - like a real yogi....

Most important thing for me however is that I will finally be able to fit both my heels and my head on the mat when in corpse pose (with 10cm spare!!)

Today is also my 10th consecutive day of asana practice - that's day 10 of the 40-day challenge. I must say that daily asana's are already getting under my skin - if I can not practise in the morning, I'm already thinking when I will be able to fit in at least 20 minutes of practise later that day. And you know what - it feels good, I'm always happy that I made time to do my asana's. In the end, that was one of the things I was aiming for in the first place - happiness.

Got to go - my yoga mat is calling!