Friday, December 30, 2011

The End of the Beginning

Happy New Year! Time to change your life!

Only a year ago frustration and helplessness seemed to be the normal course of my life for the foreseeable future. The job I once loved had gone supernova and quickly fizzled out. Disillusioned, I went to bed dreading each morning, and spent many nights drinking away the previous day. When the layoff notice finally arrived I was anxious but emotionally relieved.

My apartment, which once felt like a warm home became infested with inconsiderate, destructive and dishonest neighbors. Rodents appeared. Pipes exploded. Something died under the porch and began to smell. IT IS TIME FOR A CHANGE life screamed from every audible angle.

Halfheartedly I went on job interviews but the thought of sitting in a cube, no matter how cool the company, depressed me endlessly. When it seemed I was close to clinching a writing job at a well known, well funded start-up, I had a panic attack. Not a slight feeling of nervousness or trepidation, a full blown can't-breathe-chest-caving-in-seeing-stars-need-to-lie-down-so-I-don't-faint panic attack. As crazy as it seemed, I put the kibosh on any additional forward momentum with the position. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was the right decision. Clueless about what would come next, I vowed that my next "life move" had to be one about which I felt 100% confident.

For a long time a voice in the back of my head had lingered, whispering ideas about working in fitness. Helping people change their lives for the better seemed an inspirational way to earn a living. With my newly found unemployed free time, I began hitting the yoga studio hard. Sometimes twice a day. Each class was like a therapy session, forcing me to look at myself and the choices I'd made to get to the spot I was in. Svadhyaya. No one else was responsible for my unhappiness. If I wanted to be miserable, it was my choice and mine alone. If I wanted to be happy, I could choose to be happy. The moment I sincerely understood the truth in that, life became much simpler.   

As you now already know, I chose to take a chance and pursue my aspirations. I've completely changed careers and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. In the past, fear of the unknown stopped me from pursuing all sorts of things. Now I choose to eliminate fear from the vocabulary of my life. I am grateful for the year 2011 and will remember it as the year in which I began taking responsibility for my choices and emotional well being. It is the year I began living life deliberately instead of letting it just happen around me while hoping for something to change. I began practicing the mantra "Nothing changes if nothing changes." And then I lived it.


New Year's has always been one of my favorite holidays, and this year seems extra special. In 2012 I will begin my new career, celebrate one year without cigarettes, and TEN years with the love of my life whose unwavering love and support have been absolutely critical. I will continue to make our new apartment a home, and begin the rest of my life with joy and gratitude. In hindsight, it seems ludicrous that I ever felt helpless. I am the person most empowered to change my life, just as you are the person most empowered to change your life. Don't accept the expected because it is normal, expect normal to be exceptional.

Happy New Year!
W/Marc and Rebecca, the people who helped me change my life.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Book Response - The Science of Pranayama

Hmmm...She doesn't look like a scientist.
         When I chose The Science of Pranayama to read for this essay, I had hopes that it would teach me how to increase lung capacity by practicing Pranayama, or about the effects Pranayama has on brain function. I did not expect a graphic colon cleansing lesson involving Vaseline and a “small bamboo tube 6 fingers long” in the excerpt on Basti, nor did I anticipate the lesson that the mind will control itself, “without emission of even a single drop of semen for 12 years” but those are exactly the lessons I learned. It seems that the science of Pranayama according to Sri Swami Sivananda, is very much an art.
         The first section of this book is dedicated to the “Shat-Karmas” or “Six Purificatory Processes.” During our yoga training, we’ve come to learn them as Kriyas. According to Sivananda, it is imperative that these processes be executed and mastered by “Those who are of a flabby and phlegmatic constitution only” in order to prepare for the practice of Pranayama. How an overly flabby person would execute Basti the way it is described in the book is a mystery to me, but apparently it is just such a person who would benefit most. The book contains an interesting full page black and white photo of a man wrapped in a cloth performing Dhauti. In the photo, about a yard of the gauzy fabric needed for Dhauti is being pulled from his mouth into a dish of tepid water laid at his feet. In the book, all six Shat-Karmas are said to cure asthma, however Dhauti is also said to cure fever and leprosy. This would be an excellent time for the science portion to back up these ancient practices as there must be some anatomical, scientific root to the claims of alleged cure for such specific ailments. Disappointingly however, not even a slight explanation is given.
         In Sivananda’s explanation of Neti, it is performed with a thin thread dipped in glue and not with the more commonly adhered to Neti Pot. This practice replaces the stream of saline water with the thread for purifying the skull and curing rhinitis. Trataka, Nauli and Kapalabhati are explained very minimally compared to the first three processes in this section of the book, though Kapalabhati is explored in depth later. Trataka is claimed to induce clairvoyance in the practitioner, while Nauli “destroys all intestinal disorders” and Kapalabhati “destroys all the disorders of phlegm.”
         In the second section of The Science of Pranayama the “Five Essentials” needed for proper meditation and Pranayama practice are discussed. When these essentials are met, then eventually the practitioner will be able to “retain the breath for 3 Ghatikas (one hour and a half) at a time,” when this is achieved the “Yogi gets many psychic powers.” Once again, I would be fascinated to learn if holding the breath for ninety minutes is humanly possible, and if so, what physical effects is has on the body and brain, but there is no science offered. Some time is spent discussing the proper location for practicing Pranayama, along with the best time of day, and what kind of person is best qualified for the practice. The “Dietetic Discipline” is described with the most detail, offering promises of levitation for those that consume the proper food and drink at the appropriate times during practice. Sivananda also explains which foods are forbidden (salt, sour foods, mustard and oil are some examples) with no explanation as to why they are harmful to the practitioner.
         Ideal postures for practicing Pranayama are then discussed including Padmasana,Svastikasana, and Samasana. Siddhasana, or “The Perfect Pose” however, should be noted as “not suitable for ladies” for some unexplained reason. Ironically, the bikini clad women on both the front and back covers of the book are sitting in this pose.
Back Cover. This is an ancient don't, ladies!
During the portion on the three Bandhas the reader learns that the entire purpose of the practice of Pranayama is to awaken the sleeping Kundalini and eventually achieve Samadhi, as “the goal of life is self realization.” According to the author, Kundalini is “the source for all occult powers” and is awakened by inhalations and exhalations which are measured by various units of duration including “Matras” and“Angulas.” Some other benefits of Pranayama include “the power of thought reading…levitation…psychometry, clairaudience…moving about unseen by anybody in the world…the power of entering the body of another man…the power to remain always young.” It seems the Pure Yoga Teacher Training is holding some knowledge back from its humble students. It is fascinating to read such claims, and it is interesting that the author also states that one who achieves any of these outrageous powers must never reveal them to any living person. These achievements must always stay within the yogi so they are not perverted by those only seeking entertainment. I hope my love of David Blaine is acceptable, I don’t believe he wants to pervert any ancient knowledge.
There are sixteen different types of Pranayama exercises explained in this book. Included are all of the practices we’ve discussed in class. The explanations of each are very instructional, with no scientific reasoning or offering given. My favorite Pranayama explanation is that for “Murchha.” The practitioner is instructed to “Retain the breath till you expect fainting then exhale slowly…this makes the mind senseless and gives happiness. But it is not suitable for many.” Indeed. The title of this book is at best misleading, though it was still an interesting and sometimes unintentionally comical read.