All posts filed under Practice

Imperfect Vessels

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I’m always reading.  Whenever I come across common themes in my reading, I try to make note of it and then think about what that theme means to me in my life, my practice and my work.  Two-weeks ago, in everything I was reading, the word or theme of “imagination” kept popping up.  This week, in two completely different books, the Buddhist teaching of the imperfect vessels revealed itself to me.  This teaching provides a way for us to study ourselves and then develop practices that support our current state of mind.

The first type of imperfect vessel is an upside down vessel.  It’s impossible to fill a vase with beautiful flowers if the vase is upside down.  In this type of vessel, the opening is completely closed off.  In this “closed mind” there is no role for meditation or yoga practice.  It is likely that all of us experience times when our minds are the upside down vessel.  It is just as likely that we can think of someone that we know or have been forced to work with or relate to that seems to have a mind like an upside down vessel at all times.  Nothing you say, no workshop, no training, no professional advice, no class—nothing penetrates or makes a difference.  In my yoga classes I never have to worry about having students with this mind-type because just deciding to take a yoga class is an opening—however small that crack or pore might be.  In general, anyone who reads this and thinks to themselves, “Wow!  Sometimes my mind is completely closed off like an upside down vessel.” isn’t the type of person who has a mind like this all the time.  It’s likely you have one of the other types of imperfect vessels that you are working with.  If you read this and think, “I’m never upside down or closed off.”—well, hate to be the one to tell you, but then it is likely your mind is more like an upside down vessel for most of the time than not.  There is a Buddhist sutra that says, “Things are not what they seem to be, nor are they otherwise.” (1)

The second type of imperfect vessel is the dirty vessel.  This is a mind that is impacted by physical body toxins, being psychologically toxic and needing to take steps or adapt a practice with an emphasis on purification.  The dirty vessel pollutes whatever is poured into it.  So, this mind can study all the teachings and practice yoga and meditation, but all the information received is polluted.  Personally, I’ve been thinking about this a great deal because one of my vices is Diet Coke.  Whenever I get stressed out or tired or lonely or sad or just want to choose a beverage to go with what I am eating for lunch, my first choice is a nice bubbly Diet Coke.  Well, this pollutes the vessel.  I can do all the yoga I want, but my body has to work really hard to get rid of the carcinogens, food coloring, blah blah blah……it’s hard to find any enlightenment when you have to work that hard just to get clear.  Part of my personal practice right now is to make other choices that are nourishing and support the qualities of mind that I wish to enhance through my meditation and yoga practices.

The third type of vessel is the leaky vessel.  This type of vessel has some kind of crack or hole in it and it can’t hold what you put in it.  A mind like a leaky vessel is unstable, there are too many distractions and it feels impossible to make decisions.  The type of practice for this quality of mind requires discipline.  Bringing the quality of discipline into one’s life through regular practice of yoga and meditation, no matter what, is a way to work with this type of imperfect vessel.

The fourth type of imperfect vessel is the tilted vessel.  In this type of mind, you receive teachings, but you are unable to maximize your full potential.  If this is the type of mind you are working with, then practices that are designed to help “right” your vessel are what you would work with.  In this case it is more about fine-tuning the subtle body and making choices about including practices that enhance the flow of energy through the chakras, work with sound and subtle body anatomy with pranayama and visualization.

Self-study and considering our quality of mind at any given time isn’t about judgment.  These imperfect vessels give us the tools to consider our quality of mind at any given moment and step-back from our habitual responses to criticism, stress, fear or confusion.  We can observe ourselves and others with curiosity and drop our attachment to specific outcomes or trying to control ourselves or others.  It’s a way to be more open and creative and find solutions to the challenges that we face with equanimity.

This post written by Sharon Fennimore who is offering a series of workshops exploring five Buddhist sutras in translation starting in fall 2015 in Pittsburgh, PA.

REFERENCES

“Things are not what they seem to be, nor are they otherwise.” is from the Shurangama Sutra. 

 

 

Hope, Marx, and the Body

I have had the great fortune of studying with and, in some cases, just been able to listen to, some people that I would consider to be genuine geniuses.  My fortune has been so great, that it would not be possible to list everyone here.  One of these people is David Harvey, who I met and studied with when I was a student at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York.  David Harvey is a critical geographer and anthropologist with significant passion for improving the conditions of life for humans everywhere.  Anyone who has studied Anthropology, or perhaps, any social science, knows that, it doesn’t look good for humans.  Almost every ethnography documents some kind of suffering—-the kind that we inflict on each other, the kind that we inflict on ourselves and the tragedies inherent with war, famine, natural disaster, racism, disease and the list goes on.  After six years of graduate work in Anthropology, I can tell you that the research consistently reveals that we aren’t that nice to one another and we don’t like to share.  Therefore, it is of considerable joy to read the hardly lighthearted, yet somewhat hopeful, work of David Harvey.  Specifically, I refer to his Spaces of Hope (2000).  Basically, the news still isn’t good, but Harvey presents small flickering lights in the tunnel of human doom that provoke the reader to become a part of something bigger than themselves in the name of the greater good.  The other risk of reading Harvey is that you have a song in your heart for Balzac, Marx and Benjamin even though you’ve never had the least bit of desire to read their work.

What role does Karl Marx and the body play in all this?  Harvey (2000) suggests that Marx, “…from the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts onwards, Marx grounded his ontological and epistemological arguments on real sensual bodily interaction with the world (Harvey 2000: 101).”  Here, Harvey quotes Marx (1964 edition, 143):

Sense-perception must be the basis of all science.  Only when it proceeds from sense-perception in the two-fold form
of sensuous consciousness and of sensuous need–that is, only when science proceeds from nature–is it true science.

What is not discussed here is how, for many of us, we have lost our sense perception.  Many of us dis-abled our tools of sense perception somewhere along the way and now we move in a most un-sensual way through the world separated from our bodies.  We do not know hunger or fullness and spend a remarkable amount of time in some variation of the over-pose: over-whelmed, over-ate, hunched over, over it, over you, over and under—-trapped.  One of the only sensations we recognize is discomfort.  While this can be seen as negative, this discomfort is an invitation to return to a sensual state and to notice how we feel.  For many adults, this discomfort encourages a first experience with yoga and many new opportunities for health and wellness.

If all you feel is discomfort, there are two things that you can understand that may be helpful:

1-As you are human, and your discomfort is part of your experience, you can now be open to a deeper sense of compassion for all other humans.  I invite you to sit and feel your discomfort and know that you are not alone.  We can use our own suffering as a connective link to all living beings.

2-No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances, if you can feel discomfort, there is still hope!  If you have remained sensual enough to feel this pain, then you can use these sense organs to feel non-pain.  You can use the skills of yoga and movement to wake up these capabilities that you have for something different.  Something better!

Here is a short exercise that you can do for as long as you like or as short as you like and wherever you are right now. This is the exercise of pure sound:

Take a moment to open your hearing senses and listen to sound without  judgment.  No, it isn’t easy when you’d like to throttle your neighbor for power washing his driveway each time you try to take a nap with your newborn.  But, just for the sake of this exercise, hear the power washer minus the judgement.  The same goes for hearing something lovely, like the song of the Cardinal outside your morning window.  You might hear this lovely bird-song and suddenly wish that it would never end, or think of some other time you heard such a song or you might think that it is time to purchase more bird food.   The idea is to just listen—-without the stories, ideas, thoughts and negative or positive judgements.  As soon as your mind starts to wander from the pure sound, let go and return to a sensing of sound.  Don’t get frustrated if this takes work.  It is work.  This work helps us understand the quality of our thoughts and how so very much of our experience is determined not by reality, but by what we are doing with it.  The mind is constantly moving, but the more we can create some space between experience and thought about the experience, the more rested, relaxed and clear we are.  Less angry, less in pain, but more sensual, more open and liberated from the confines of our memories and experiences.

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REFERENCES:

Harvey, David.
Spaces of Hope.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.

Marx, Karl
1964 edition, The Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844.  New York

FREE Guided Meditation Webcast

Guided Meditation Recording

Oh no!  Did you miss the live webcast? Download the MP3 and listen at your convenience and practice as often as you like (but not while driving–PLEASE)!  The recorded meditation will be available within an hour of the end of the live webcast.

Online Book Club Courses

I offer an online book club that features my favorite books on Buddhism, meditation, yoga, philosophy, anthropology, science, the body, anatomy, energy and more.  You can enroll anytime in my book club style course on the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths.  The cost is $25 and we spend five-weeks on this book: Dancing with Life by Phillip Moffitt.  The cost of the book is not included in the participation fees.  Start anytime and read and watch the videos and complete the worksheets all at your own pace and convenience.

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Interdependence Meditation

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Guided Meditation on Interdependence

 

In honor of Independence Day, I have decided to host a guided meditation on interdependence that you can experience from anywhere by calling-in on your phone.  This will be a live guided meditation experience.  All you need to do is dial-in to the conference call and then put your phone on speaker, get comfortable and enjoy the meditation session.  It doesn’t matter if you fall asleep and start snoring because the callers are muted.  You can even listen as you wash dishes or take a bath.  I am requesting a $10 karmic offering for the meditation, but payment is not required. There is a payment button below the sign-up if you do wish to make an offering for the meditation.

Date:

Monday, July 1, 2013
Time:

8:30 pm Introduction and basic meditation instructions for beginners
8:45-9:15 pm Guided Meditation
9:15-9:25 pm Closing (all times are Eastern USA)
Access Code:

Sign-up below and you will receive an e-mail with the dial-in number and access code on Friday, June 28th

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NEW Online Meditation Course

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Four Noble Truths: Insights and Meditations

In this five-week online course, we will explore the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism through Phillip Moffitt’s book, “Dancing with Life: Buddhist Insights for Finding Meaning and Joy in the Face of Suffering.”  The course includes guided required reading of this text and instruction in a variety of mindful meditations that help build compassion and insight.  Introductory tuition $25.

You can start the course at ANY time and have immediate access to the first unit upon enrollment.  You have five weeks to take the course from the date you start.  There is no schedule to keep to or required group activities.  Read at your own pace and engage with the videos, worksheets and guided meditations in whatever way is most helpful for you.  No grades.  No pressure.  No requirements.

This course is for you if:tangka

  • You want to feel less anxiety, stress and depression
  • You want to learn more about fundamental concepts in Buddhism
  • You need a flexible program that allows you to work at your convenience
  • You wish to increase your capacity for compassion

This course is for yoga and meditation students of all levels who want to know more about Buddhism and wish to learn metta meditation techniques to either start or refresh a daily meditation practice.  This is an intellectual, personal and shared journey into meditation practices that are inspired by insights related to the Four Noble Truths.  These are secular practices that can be incorporated into even the most busy lifestyle.

Dr. Dean Ornish has described the core textbook for this online course as, “…a profound book about the relationship between happiness and suffering.  It is filled with wisdom about how to live a more effective and satisfying life.  I recommend it for anyone who is struggling with change in their lives.” (From the back cover)

Do you want to improve the quality of your health on your own time, at your own pace and in the comfort of your home, office or local coffee shop or park?

Do you need an affordable meditation program that doesn’t require you to also pay for transportation, childcare, meals and housing?

Are you looking for new inspiration and meaning for your existing practice?  Are you a yoga or meditation teacher that wants to incorporate more meditation in your own practice and your teaching?  

Do not delay!  You will learn simple techniques for relieving stress, tension and anxiety on the very first day of the course—even before you read one word of the core text!

A Pep Talk for You!

Click HereA Little Pep Talk Just for YOU

How many flexible people do you know?  Let’s be honest here—you don’t actually KNOW anyone who is flexible.  If yoga required flexibility, then 15 million people in America wouldn’t have been practicing last year.  But, they did.

How many thin people do you know?  If yoga required you to look fabulous in stretch pants, then 15 million people in America wouldn’t have been practicing last year.  But, despite the fact that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, they did. And, by the way, I bet you look awesome just as you are.

Don’t think you have enough money for yoga?  Yes, studying yoga and meditation is an investment.  But, in 2010 the cost of heart disease in the United States was $444 BILLION DOLLARS (source).  This is a no brainer.  Invest now in practices that immediately improve the quality of your life at a fraction of the cost that chronic illness and disease imposes on your life later.

Stop making excuses.  Making an investment in yoga and meditation will bring you greater returns through your lifetime than almost any other class, exercise or weight loss program or activity.  The benefits of yoga are 100% proven and have stood the test of time.  You aren’t going to get any more flexible sitting here at your computer.  Maybe you aren’t flexible and you have a few extra pounds you carry around with you.  You and everyone else.  Buy a mat, put on your stretch pants and show up for class.

If you are breathing, you can do it.  No matter your age, physical fitness, education, size, weight, flexibility, health status—-you can do this.  Yoga and meditation are just words for a variety of simple techniques for using what you arrived here on earth with–your body and your breath—to bring you relief from tension, stress and fear.  The tools of yoga are free, but you must use them to receive the benefit.

Yes, you need your own mat.  Yes, you need your own meditation cushion. No, you don’t need to buy $140 yoga pants.  A quality mat that is made out of non-toxic materials is going to cost you about half of what a new pair of sneakers cost.  If you care for it well, then it might last you 10-years.  Your meditation cushion is a lifetime investment.  Mostly, you just need your body and your breath—free.  Don’t get tripped up by all the commercialism around yoga and the advertisements that would lead you to believe that all yoga practitioners are 16-year old former acrobats.  Real people, with real bodies and real budgets do yoga all over the world every single day.  And, if you happen to be a 16-year old former acrobat, great—yoga is for you too!

Yoga and Meditation Classes with Sharon Rudyk

This Week: Starting Monday, April 29, 2013

GROUP CLASSES: This MONDAY I am teaching an all levels (and when I say “all levels” I truly mean that everyone from absolute beginners to advanced students will all feel comfortable and get a great practice) yoga class at Mookshi Wellness Center.  Class is from 10:00-11:00 am.  Just $5 for your first class at Mookshi!  (LOCATION: 401 Biddle Avenue, 2nd Floor above Biddle’s Escape Cafe, Regent Square, Pittsburgh)

I have availability for private sessions or yoga spa treatments this TUESDAY afternoon and evening as well as THURSDAY in the morning, afternoon and evening.  Please call me to schedule (412) 855-5692.

Women of all ages with irregular menstrual cycles, PCOS, PMS, infertility, painful periods or other pelvic pain should check out my personalized womens’ holistic health and lifestyle counseling sessions.  Most women find some (if not a great deal) relief within six-sessions.

I have some private childbirth education and birth doula availability in June and July.  I will not be accepting births for August or the beginning of September.  Please contact me for FREE consultations for June or July or late September through November 2013 births.  Call (412) 855-5692.

I am offering a discounted introductory rate on my NEW Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training online course (will regularly be offered for $1,000, but this special introductory rate of $500) to the first 15-people to register (starts in June 2013 and ends in November 2013).  Please send me an e-mail if you are interested in learning more about this online training opportunity: sharon@yogamatrika.com.  Application is required and all participants must have completed or be in the process of completing a 200-hour teacher training program or have similar experience.

Are you doing yoga “right”?

This is a re-post of one of the most read blog posts I have written in the past 5-years.  This originally appeared in the blog in February 2009.  It’s a great reminder as we start the new year for a healthy and safe way to approach your practice.

Both new yoga students and more experienced yoga students, at some point in a class or practice, may wonder if they are doing a particular pose correctly.  Many students wish that instructors would just come over and correct their pose or hope that, in time, they’ll start to get it right.  Most new students are sure they can’t possibly be doing yoga right and many experienced students have developed poor alignment habits that feel right, but are blocking them from deepening their asana practice.

This is why we all, regardless of experience level, need to continue to take classes, workshops and find instructors that provide encouragement and assistance in deepening our practice at all levels.  Even the Masters have a guru.

A well-trained instructor has studied principles of alignment and guides from their tradition in methods for breathing, moving during and between poses and various modifications for asanas.  It is their job to verbally instruct students and make physical adjustments that keep students moving towards these ideal alignments and to encourage students to deepen their pose while maintaining safety.

All this being said, I maintain that there is never a “right” way to do a pose.  If you are a perfectionist with a deep commitment to making sure that you do everything right, then this idea might drive you crazy.  The key to your asana practice is coming to terms with the idea that it isn’t how a pose looks that matters, it’s how it FEELS.  In a culture and society that makes appearance a significant priority, this might be an uncomfortable truth.  This is why we practice—–first, we shake our commitments up and then we work honestly with our physical reality.  Having the support and guidance of a fabulous instructor and a community of other students cheering us on is very important.

Yoga Matrika provides a lot of props that you can use to help poses feel better–cork wedges, bolsters, blankets, straps, cork blocks and meditation cushions.  We use these props to extend our reach and grasp and open the body in gentle and supported ways.  If you don’t know how to use a prop, just ask your instructor or watch experienced students to see where they place their block, blanket or bolster to support their pose.  Using props isn’t cheating!  When you use a prop it means that you deeply understand the alignment principles of a pose, feel that your body needs additional space to apply those alignment principles and that you are in touch with how you feel in your body.

Many of us carry stress in a habitual way in our bodies and have created patterns of movement that are adaptations to this stress.  For example, many people lead with their chins—-sticking their chin out and causing stress in the upper back and neck.  Many of us feel a rise in our shoulders with stress and have daily life-tasks that cause us to round in the upper back and shoulders.  Most of us sit in chairs all day long or spend time waiting for buses with a heavy backpack dangling from one shoulder or the other.  These adaptations manifest themselves in our yoga poses too!  The challenge is to identify these places where we hold stress and allow the alignment principles of asana (poses) to help us open and release.  When this happens during practice, many students have an “ahhhhhhhhh” moment and most students feel more grounded, balanced and even after a class.

Here is a guide to getting it “right”:

1) Each and every time you practice, you have a different body to work with.  Accept that “improvment” and “mastery” are not linear in yoga.  On Monday, you might be able to touch your toes.  On Thursday, you may feel tight and not be able to even look at your toes.  Being in touch with these feelings and changes is an important part of yoga.  It’s not about deepening the pose over time, it’s about working with the pose at THIS time.

2) If something hurts, then you really are doing it “wrong.”  Yoga requires effort and skill, but there should NEVER be pain involved. No pain during your practice and no pain after your practice.   If you are the type of person who tends to “over do it,”  then my recommendation is that you try to do every pose in a practice to 75% of your ability.  See how you feel the next day.

3) Let your breath be your guide.  During your practice, check in with your breathing pattern.  If you feel out of breath or are holding your breath, this is a sign that you are pushing yourself through your asana practice.  Slow down, exhale deeply and allow a fresh inhalation to guide your pace.

4) Ask yourself often: “Does this feel delicious?”  If the answer is yes, then you are doing it RIGHT.  If the answer is no, then move around a little to shift your pose or focus or breathing pattern and see if you can move into a sweet spot.  There are no rules and asana are not static.  Sometimes even a slight shift in weight or a bend in a knee or releasing your jaw can make a big difference.

5) Accept the learning curve!  There is a learning curve.  When you start anything new, it takes time to get a feel for it.  This applies equally to basket weaving, piano lessons, swimming and yoga—–anything new feels new, unfamiliar, and strange.  Sometimes this feeling can last a while.  Sometimes it comes back after a long time gone.  As you continue to make a commitment to your practice and roll out your mat more often, the flow and patterns and names of asanas and instruction cues will start to become more and more familiar.  You will gain confidence.  You will feel FABULOUS after your class.

When you take a group class, it is your responsibility to modify your practice in a way that works for you.  During class, if you need to slow things down while everyone is speeding up, then you should always feel free to come into child’s pose to lie down or sit down and breathe.  At Yoga Matrika, you will notice that many students are modifying their practice and not everyone is doing the same thing at the same pace at the same time.  A group class isn’t a coordinated event like underwater ballet.  Instructors provide suggestions, guidance, information—but YOUR body and YOUR breath determine what happens on your mat.