Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mala Beads: The Yogi Accessory I Didn't Have. Who Knew?

Today we did something different. L, Aussie A, and I got up at 6:15 am, had a quick breakfast, and walked into town for lattes and a cappuccino. COFFEE. Yes, you heard that right. An important yogi in our lives confessed yesterday that her current bad habit is coffee. And with that one statement we said to ourselves, well if SHE drinks coffee, why are we denying ourselves?

So we headed out in the dark morning. I was still terrified of the many dogs in this town, but we decided the best plan was to each carry a rock that we could throw at any attacking dogs.
Rocks in hand, we hiked into town safely and enjoyed some delicious drinks at Daily Coffee. In true yogi style, we followed Michelle's advice, and drank our coffee mindfully, enjoying each sip. We also did our daily oracle cards in the coffee house and did our gratitude statements on the walk home. All in all, we felt it wasn't much of a cheat in our detox process!
Today's yoga practice was a very physically demanding one and I was drenched in sweat both times. We're working really hard on our joint flexibility and standing poses with both Michelle and Marita, as well as a number of floor poses and a back series. I nearly got into shoulder stand and plough by myself today, so I'm making some progress at least. Marita worked us exceptionally hard tonight--we took three hours for our theory component with Marita, only leaving one hour for our physical practice. I was thinking with relief, only an hour, how bad can it be? Well I was very wrong. After 12 sun salutations with breath of fire, I was a puddle. The pace continued with our entire standing pose series, with the addition of 15 fire breaths while we held them. The we held them and breathed normally (or tried to) as she adjusted everyone in pose. We weren't allowed to drop our arms as we transitioned from triangle to warriors 1 and 2, which was an absolute killer! Marita shouted encouragement as our arms trembled, declaring, "You are WARRIORS! Not pussycats!" But it wasn't much help. We ended our physical practice with mantras and five minutes of meditation which is challenging for me. But I'll take failed attempts at meditation over super hard asanas any day!
Theory with Michelle today focused on living the yogic lifestyle through the eight limbs of yoga. Physical poses (asanas) are only one limb of yoga--there are seven more. In the western world, we give a great deal of weight to physical poses and often neglect the other limbs of yoga. Today we talked about the first two limbs, which are basically the ten commandments of yoga: yama and niyama. Yama include more social issues in our interactions with others: non-violence (love to all creatures, hence vegetarian and vegan diets), truthfulness (lying uses up energy and causes inner conflict), non-stealing (even things such as other people's time and energy), cultivation and preservation of sexual energy (this inspired lively discussion), and non-covetousness. Michelle challenged us to make an effort in each area as our homework.
As we discussed truthfulness, I could just hear my Grandma saying, "If you're going to lie, you'd better have a good memory." It was interesting to hear how modern yogis have chosen to implement these ten commandments in their own lives. Abstaining from sex and conserving sexual energy is not realistic--especially if a yogi wants to get married and have a family. Michelle said traditional yogis believed that sexual energy should be conserved and sent up to the brain for higher consciousness, but today's yogis believe that sexual energy just shouldn't be wasted and should take place in a loving relationship. 
The rest of our theory with Michelle was on the topic of meditation. She explained how to get started meditating, proper postures for meditation, and mala beads. MALA BEADS? What are those and why don't I have any? It turned out that everyone but Belgian A and I already had mala beads. So that was what Michelle was always wearing around her wrist. I just thought it was a cool bracelet. I soon learned that mala beads are basically like a rosary, and you say a mantra for each bead--there's 108 beads. As Michelle showed us hers and my friend L showed me her beautiful quartz mala beads with a pink tassel, I instantly coveted them. Rule number 5 out the window in no time at all! As I was planning on doing some online shopping at lunch for mala beads, Michelle assured me that she was giving us some next week. At least I didn't have to break out that bad habit of shopping just yet.
After I got over my mala bead excitement (It's a bracelet! It's a necklace! You look like a real yogi!), Michelle explained that many people think that meditation involves emptying your mind and being in complete stillness with no thoughts. This is a misconception. Instead, meditation involves keeping the body still and grounded, focusing on breathing, and allowing thoughts to come and go in the brain without exploring any of them--just observing them and letting them go. This made meditation seem less daunting to me, and I know that I need to get better at this aspect of yoga--research shows the benefits are huge.
Our theory portion with Marita consisted of asana study--which sounds tedious, and it is a little, but it's very informative and essential to becoming a good yoga teacher. We went off on a lot of tangents today and I learned some interesting things. Marita confided that she is a "centre seeker" instead of a sensation seeker. She pursues any activity that helps her find her centre. She advised us to consider the energy value of any foods we put in our mouths and what our bodies can gain from the food in order to eat more healthfully and achieve our natural body weight. Warrior poses and most standing poses give you courage and confidence in facing life, and warrior poses are more about attitude than anything else. And most excitingly, when you are heavily engaged in a yogic lifestyle, it is no problem for your body to burn off a glass of wine or a beer. She advises that if you really crave it, you should have it, but enjoy it mindfully, savour every bit of it, and exercise moderation. Moderation in all things, except in moderation itself!
Don't ask me why I need to go to Greece to learn these things--it's common sense after all, but my mind is very open and receptive, and my intention (we set one each day for our practice) is to stretch myself mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. So there is no time like the present to put these ideas into practice.
My friends at yoga teacher training and the food continue to be a highlight of each day and today was no exception!
 Hummus balls with tzatziki for dipping, sundried tomato and cheese salad on the side!
Spanakopita and beetroot for dinner tonight!

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