This is our last newsletter; from now on we are moving to a blog format. You will be advised by email of new blogs.
Bali News - June 2015
Well to be exact, I'm now on Nusa Lambogan, an interesting little island, where you get watch the sunset over Bali, Mount Agung to the right (photo left). Today I learnt to ride a scooter... the main mode of transport on the island. You can hire a buggy or hale I funny jeep looking bus. The island is home to a healthy mangrove forest and apparently some pretty impressive reef surf breaks. At the right time of year (we may be a little early) you can also snorkel with the beautiful Manta rays, that feed off the plankton rich ecosystem of neighboring island Penida. Fingers crossed.
Back to Bali though! We just finished our first advanced level immersion training, with a very satisfied contingent of yoga teachers and 1 experienced student. It has confirmed what we want to be offering and who might benefit most from the training. Definitely a way for teachers to upgrade, but it also came up 'thumbs up' for Tony, who is not yet a qualified teacher. I think he found the training very inspiring.
The morning started with 2 hours of meditation and pranayama, followed by ocean swim and fruit based breakfast. We then had a stimulating hour of philosophy, moving over 12 days from Patanjali, through Vedanta to Tantra. The asana practice and afternoon practical sessions evolved around designing practices specific to individual needs, covering common problem areas.. hips, necks, backs. Our review of teaching methodology explored managing multi-level classes, class design with progression in mind and adjustments to provide safer and more effective poses – again very specific to individual assessment... And this is just to name a few things...
Anyway it was great and can't wait to do it again next year. I've also visited a few venues for a retreat in Bali also.
I always learn from teaching. There's nothing more challenging and inviting of consideration when your students ask great questions coming from deep practice and you've got to look deep inside.. maybe for a few days to find some genuine answer.
One exploration was that of considering some of the subtleties in the practice of awareness or mindfulness based meditation.
Formal meditation technique involves a mix of concentration and open awareness – 2 sides of the same coin - the former narrow focused, the latter broad. Concentration techniques include focus on breath or a body area, mantra or the cultivation of a particular intention, like loving kindness or gratitude. In open awareness the object of focus is constantly changing. It feels a little like standing on a groundless floor as we observe whatever enters that field, with more focus on the awareness than the object.
Certain technique and instruction develop ease with one aspect or the other. In meditation though, via either
pathway the mind may become calmer and you may still into a pleasant, absorbed state. (If you review past newsletters on the subject you will note that meditation doesn't require a calm mind, in fact it is highly unlikely when we are occupied in busy daily life. You can be aware of a busy mind and this is still a valuable meditation.) On retreat though it sometimes happens that the mind does get calmer and this is lovely, by all means enjoy it...but keep the focus still on awareness. Awareness is the important recognition. Awareness watches a busy mind and a calm mind. This is very subtle and will surely be very confusing if you are new to meditation, but stick with it and you'll get it in not too long.
So on our recent Anzac retreat and in the Bali training meditation guidance was given from both these angles and it brought to my mind 2 possible subtleties that experienced meditators might like to consider.
The first is to remember that the awareness that watches the calm and the busy mind is the important thing and that realization of this awareness (aka the witness/observer) is not confined to a formal meditation sit. And further the realization of awareness is not a psychological concept. Words can only point to it and we may only grasp it fleetingly through any waking moment, but we recognize it when we are it.
The other thing is to stay focused on awareness in formal meditation and know that it is different to a calm or absorbed mind state.
Don't think that a calm mind is awareness. An absorbed state may become samadhi (a very absorbed state), but awareness is still aware of it. Awareness doesn't cease to exist (confirmed by spiritual texts), absorption comes and goes. Awareness is our true nature there to be revealed; it doesn't require us to gain anything, including a calm mind or a transient state of absorption.
So anyway hope that's cleared something up or may have created some healthy confusion.
Another thing we explored during the Bali training was counterpose. With Craig and I both having studied yoga therapy with Dr NC (tradition of Krishnamacharya in Chennai), we both agreed this tradition gave some really good guidelines for counterposing that we have both incorporated into our teaching and therapy programs.
Poses should never feel like a strain. Counterpose is not to counter strain; it maintains a balanced action around the joints. If you have a balanced sequencing of poses in your practice based on what your teacher has lead, you may take counterpose for granted, but these guiding principles from this tradition that might help to bring more balance to your practice.
With respect to practice sequencing some poses are symmetrical (eg. Uttanasana – straight standing forward bend) and others assymetrical (eg. Parsva uttanasana – stride leg forward bend; Trikonasana – triangle pose; Virabhadrasana – Warriors).
Counterpose usually is a symmetrical pose (with respect to the spine) that is performed to ameliorate residual effects of prior poses focus. Generally no more than 2 assymmetrical poses should be done before a counterpose. Eg. Trikonasana, Virabhadrasana; then Uttanasana. It is best if it is in the same direction as prior strong pose, but less intense and a flowing sequence. For instance a strong backbend, might be followed by a flow cat to down dog and then cat to childpose.
It makes sense from an anatomical view and it feels right. See how it feels and ask me when I'm back in class if not clear.