Friday, August 31, 2007

Practice, practice, practice...

The following interviews are with two die hard practitioners of Aikido and Ashtanga Yoga. Recently, in my latest newsletter, I discussed how important it is to have a practice that one can return to day in and day out regardless of life's circumstances.

"Practice" can be most any activity that brings you closer to state of equanimity, balance, or peace. Depending on life's circumstances, this can be a daily walk around Green Lake or perhaps two hours of medita
tion every morning at 5 a.m. (not I said the fly!)
Rolfing is a vehicle that can inspire you to find a discipline that best suits you. Time and time again, clients have discovered a new found energy to pursue endeavors that they had once pursued more fully. This, more than anything, can be deeply satisfying to witness as a Rolfer. Also, those who have had little or no desire to explore somatic or spiritual disciplines before, have found their curiosity stirred.

Please enjoy the following interviews. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Also, if you would like a subscription to my newsletter, just let me know!

Interview with Kimberly Richardson:


How has Aikido changed you?

Over and over again. At the bright age of 22, just out of college and grieving the death of my mother, I was in search of meaning and short on self-esteem. One of my first teachers said, "Aikido is about waking up!" That advice has framed my study. The practice of Aikido has given me a way to learn who I am-expand my spirit, sharpen my senses and open my heart.

How long have you practiced Aikido?

I have practiced Aikido most days for twenty-nine years.

Please describe the evolution of your practice.

I came to Aikido as a dancer. I loved the spiral movements, the spinning and tumbling. Unlike any study I had ever done, I found myself showing up for practice each day with very little effort-as if I were teleported to the dojo. The year that I began training, I was a student at the Naropa Institute (Boulder, CO), and practicing meditation with the revered Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trunga Rinpoche. The lessons I gleaned on that fire-red cushion were evoking - to be quiet for the first time in my life felt unworldly. But most of the time I struggled to sit on that cushion. So my surprise when I found something that I could hardly wait to do each day. I could practice moving and being quiet simultaneously.

The psychological lessons I have learned from Aikido have guided me in facing the major events of my adulthood, both happy and devastating. It has helped me shape myself as a therapist and as a teacher; inspired me to sow the seeds that create lasting friendships and community and informed me about the power of compassion and forgive

What about your practice fascinates you at the moment?

Aikido lets us see the laws of the universe in action. Because we can experience that big is in small and yin is in yang, we can aspire to imitate the movements of nature. We can stand straight and resolute like a redwood tree, roar like a raging river or float like a cumulous cloud. The movements can make us feel gratitude for the gift of our lives and give us a context for seeing how we are all connected.

The transpersonal aspect of the practice compels me. Every day I step on the mat I look for that aspect of spirit that resides under and or behind who I think I am.

What challenges do you face with your practice?

1. Injuries challenge me. I know that I learn precious lessons from them.

2. Balancing the art of trai
ning with the art of running a dojo is intriguing. I am grateful to those who have helped me create and sustain our school and I pretend sometimes I am a monk in study-just to slow it all down.

3. The learn and forget part-maintaining the faith that things I knew 20 years ago are in there somewhere and bound to show up again.

Why do you do it?

For all of the reasons stated above.

Interview with Troy Lucero:

How has Yoga changed you?

Hmmmm... Well, it's been nearly 20 years now. I started formal practice in 1988. So, I think it's a bit hard to separate how yoga has affected me with how life has affected me. I hope it's helped me to become a healthy, sensitive and more loving human being.

How long have you been practicing?

20 years of formal asana (posture) practice is the straight answer. However, when I was 8 or so, back in the early 70's, I saw this variety show called, "That's Incredible." One evening they had a loin-cloth wearing yogi on the show. As I remember it, which could be faulty of course, this guy climbed into a Plexiglass box all tied up in a knot. Then they dropped the box into some water and left him there for a portion of the show while they went about the business of showing other "incredible" things. They'd check in on him every now and then to show that he was indeed under the water and getting no extra air. After a while they lifted the box out of the water, let him out, and everybody oooohed and awed.

I was impressed enough to start working on holding my breath for longer and longer periods of time. This was my first sustained pranayama practice. I've been obsessed with breath practice ever since. So, I guess we could say that I've been practicing for 35 years although I wasn't to get any formal instruction in pranayama for another 16 years.

Please describe the evolution of your practice.

Without writing a book about the details I think it would be fair to say that my practice has gone from gross to subtle and back to gross while continuing to pay attention to the subtle. In the beginning it was important to learn technique, build strength, relax into flexibility, and develop the ability to concentrate for longer periods of time. I spent the first 15 years or so practicing in the traditional format, working at pushing the limits of my body to perform more difficult and complex poses.

These days my asana practice is still quite vigorous but not nearly as complex. I've learned, more than a few times the hard way, what the limits of my flexibility are. So, even though I still work at my flexibility, I tend to pay more attention to the subtle aspects of practice: clean concentration, center of gravity, stability, efficiency of movement, freedom of breath, strength with ease, noticing the interplay of opposing forces, staying sensitive with what is internal and while maintaining a relationship with what s external and just generally noticing how my mind works; noticing what are my beneficial and detrimental habitual patterns.

What about your practice fascinates or intrigues you at the moment?

I think what's fascinated me for a while now is the oscillation of awareness between the periods of self absorption and internal dialogue and the moments of being able to step out enough to make a true connection and have a real relationship with the world outside my body and my own personality.

What challenges do you face with your practice?

From day to day I have the same challenges as everybody else. Just showing up on the mat can be difficult when the list of things to do that keep a modern life organized seems endless. In the bigger picture, facing the reality of the slow and inevitable disintegration of the body can be difficult. This is especially true for those engaged in body centered practices. We learn to love our bodies and the amazing things they can do. And naturally we get attached to them.

The ironic thing is that yoga is ultimately preparation for death and letting go. So far as I know, the 10 out of 10 statistic hasn't been disproved yet. "No one gets out alive" as the saying goes. I'm remembering something my grandmother, a true church lady, said. We were talking about the preponderance of acquisitiveness when she commented in her Northern Virginia accent, "Some people seem to think they are going to take it with them when they go, but I'm afraid they're mistaken!" Ha! I loved that woman!

So, when we practice Yoga, we begin to witness the natural processes of the body and our relationship with it. These are processes that have been developing from the beginning of life on the planet. In the end, someone who has practiced well, hopefully will be able to cut through the natural fear of the unknown and give up with dignity something that he or she has never truly owned in the first place.

Why do you do it?

Primarily, it's fun. I love the situations when all the variables line up, the lines of communication are wide open, and a student (or students) and myself drop into the "Aha" moment together. It's those moments that keep me believing that Yoga is such a great vehicle for our times. For me, it carries the best potential for waking up to the brilliance and awe of human experience.