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The seeds we water are the seeds that grow.


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STRUCTURED IMPROV! – Faraaz Tanveer PART 1

“Adventures Abroad” at Taozi Tree Yoga is proud to present…

STRUCTURED IMPROV! – Faraaz Tanveer

PART 1

Holi!

Holi!

Structured Improv!

…That’s my ‘life theme’ these days. To use structures (of thought, practices, groups) that facilitate a deeper insight and experience. And then to improvise within those structures to make them one’s own.  Active and Receptive.  Force and Form.  And out of this dance of seemingly opposing complementarities emerges a movement that is truly unique, in the moment and creative.

An example  of how I apply it  in my yoga practice &  teaching  is to  work with standard  sequences and postures like Ashtanga Vinyasa and Hatha asanas and then to slowly give  space for  the body to improvise and express itself. Any yogic practice is a conversation – listening and talking. And the yogic postures are like beautiful words with deep meaning and energetic connotations that facilitate a deeper conversation. So we ‘talk’ using the asanas and recite beautiful ‘poems’ of the sequences but many times forget the listening aspect. To listen IN while the body is doing a posture/ kriya/ chant and to be receptive and open to what it has to say. Once a feedback loop is established and the activity feeds the receptivity feeds the activity and so on…. That’s when the creative rhythm takes over and makes every  session juicy and deep.

Acro Yoga

Acro Yoga

asana

Ask yourself this question: Do you want to be a tourist or an explorer? Do  you  have a fixed set of ‘sights’ that you  want to visit or are you more enthused by journey itself, moving and flowing and finding your way as you go along, allowing the journey to shape  your map? If you are a ‘yogic  tourist’ life can often be stressful and chances are that many times you  will  find  yourself in places where you feel  stuck; using maps that  are  static and not your own, always running  towards the next destination.

 On the other hand if your main focus is on being a skillful traveler and engaging in a creative conversation with your inner self; your body and your mind, chances are that you will enjoy the journey much more.  And then the practice will take you to places you couldn’t have imagined or aimed for before. The goal is not the achievement of pre set markers but the progressive deepening of awareness.

In Dubai

While thinking about writing this piece I was wondering what structure I could employ to improv.  in? I finally settled for the seven elements/ chakras in our body.  Here I mainly focus on beliefs or conventions that in my opinion should be questioned and reevaluated. I’ve improvised with sentence construction and grammar at a few places, to convey the meaning more clearly. Hope you derive some form of value from the discussion…

EARTH/ Mooladhara: the Body-

…It is in vogue in spiritual/ yogic circles to urge one to go ‘beyond the body’.

“You are not the body.”, “This  body will die eventually.”,“All this is impermanent and will  have to be left behind.”, “Senses lead to delusion. “, “Go beyond the  senses.” … and so  on.

I find that such statements are not helpful at all! Mostly they just tend to cause confusion, disconnect and act as fodder for useless mental gymnastics. What is your experience RIGHT NOW? Are you the body? Do you connect with the world through the senses? No matter what someone says and advises, staying true to one’s own experiences is always the key.

My experience is that I AM the body and I live fully in my senses. This human body is an amazing gift, so rich and juicy and intricate and perceptive. In Vedic mythology it is said that the even the all powerful Celestial beings from the ‘higher planes’ need to take a human birth if they want enlightenment. Body is the door. Body is the key. Body is the temple. Tantric philosophy talks of the microcosm of the body reflecting the macrocosm of the universe. All gods and goddesses (archetypes of energy and intelligence) are mapped on this very body. This body is the ultimate place of worship.  So before talking about going ‘beyond’ the body, let’s first get IN it  fully!

One way of going into deeper states of awareness in the body is to always ‘play on the edge’. In asana practice, always look for the ‘edge’ (of both strength and flexibility) and then play around it.  The edge will vary from day to day and will move over time. As long as you are playing on the edge in the moment, while maintaining full awareness of breath and body sensations, you are deriving full benefits from the practice. In my opinion, this should be the criterion for judging a practice session. Not the external  aesthetics of ‘achieving’ a pose or the ‘feeling’ one gets during and after the session but the ability  to find and stay on the edge and the quality of  awareness throughout the session.

This is not to discount the impetus for achievement and new learning. It is a reminder not to sacrifice depth for breadth.

fun in class

WATER/ Swadisthana:  Emotions-

…are the fuels that run our engines … that move and flow and push and pull and throw and stick and press and propel and project and absorb. Generally we have a tendency  to favour ‘positive’ emotions and avoid ‘negative’ ones.  I also find that sometimes the language and ‘tone’ in the yoga community seems to subtly favour brighter emotions over the darker ones. In my experience all seemingly ‘opposite’ emotions are two extremes of the same continuum. We can feel happiness only to the extent that we have come to terms with our own sadness.   Pleasure is deep when pain is real.

It is not the emotions themselves but our thoughts about these emotions that keep us stuck. If you allow yourself to be open to all emotions and have a willingness to feel deeply, you will be surprised how the ‘real thing’ is very different from the warning on the label!

We come to the mat with our emotions and it will be foolish to  deny them in the quest for a picture perfect, ideal  session. If we acknowledge and let the emotions seep in and fuel our practice, it is surprising how much energy is freed up in the process. Instead of fighting with them, acknowledge them and go on with the practice. Don’t let the thoughts ‘about’ them distract your attention or change the basic structure of the practice but let the feelings themselves  run free and allow them to bring some element of  improvisation into the  practice. It maybe the speed, transitions and ‘mood’ of  a flow, the choice and duration of  holding asanas or doing breath work or the choice, volume and tone of a  chant. If you let emotions overpower you and let them  dictate  your practice (interfering with the technique, depth of attention or making you skip steps) it  is  a problem. Equally problematic is when you completely deny their existence and aim at a ‘consistent’ practice that does not  reflect  your present state of being.

FIRE/ Manipura:  Ego-

…the favorite whipping boy of all  spiritual talk. Fixing, removing, suppressing, ‘dealing with’, sublimating….. all the nasty  things  that  we want  to do to this poor friend! In my experience a healthy, fully formed Ego is the first step towards real growth and wisdom.

It is not possible to lose something if you don’t HAVE it!  In Indian tradition it is said that when the Ego is  Ripe,  it  falls off on its own accord, like a  ripe fruit.  So the emphasis  should be on working towards a healthy  Ego , fully self  aware  and  working  consciously  towards  its  self  interest. In the process you  may realize that the  highest good  for  you  is in actions that also bring about  the highest  good  for  others.  That’s when our sense of personal self  acts as a  doorway  for  a more intuitive sense of the universal.

Another way in which a healthy attitude towards the Ego can find expression is having a sense of personal style. A point of view that is true and unique for  your  personality. I often find that yoga practitioners get  lost in the sea of quotations and ‘wisdom teachings’, always aware of the ‘correct, spiritual answer’  to all questions. Then the spiritual journey is just a task that needs to be completed, a burden. This also applies to more tangible  practices. An unquestioned adherence to any style or recommendation is never helpful. Questioning, being creative and having a point of view are  all essential  perquisites for  making a teaching one’s own.

certification 1

I am often  surprised by how often yoga practitioners talk about , “ How should  I feel right  now?”, “ Where should I feel this?” , “How am I  supposed to deal with this?” and so on. Some pointers with regards to safety are understandable, but too much doubt with little self awareness does not leave any room for exploration or new insights.   In some tantric traditions it  is  said  that, “ The only sin is lack of awareness.” I agree.   If the main focus  is on deepening self awareness, all peripheral questions get answered by and by.

Why do you do yoga? I do it because I feel it is beautiful. It is poetic and puts me in a state of flow. Healing, growth,  wisdom etc.  are  all outcomes of being able  to  access that beautiful  place. That’s my point  of  view and that’s what I share in my style  of facilitation. What is yours?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

by  the  Ganga

***This has been a special guest post by Faraaz Tanveer. He was one of my yoga teachers at Rishikesh Yog Peeth, in Rishikesh, India, in November-December 2012. He is truly an amazing teacher, so full of wisdom. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness in this post, we can’t wait for Part 2!

faraaz 2

***Check us out on Facebook- Taozi Tree Yoga– for more on our travels and shared yogic words of wisdom***

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Hey! Hey! We’re the monkeys….

IMG_7792

I recall vividly the discussion with Peter Clifford last year in Bali about the one thing we practice yoga to relieve. Monkey Mind. We all suffer from the workings of our mind. A constant stream of thoughts that jump around inside of our heads like a hyper wild monkey. It is hungry and feeds off of the attachment to thoughts. With out awareness of this condition we  go through life latching on to whatever seemingly important thought enters our heads and then we instantly attract a gaggle of other jumping monkeys to join in. The thoughts will come regardless if you are aware of them or not, the trick is to let them go, only then the mind is tamed. The ultimate objective of yoga is to TAME the workings of the mental ‘chimpanzee’ through asana (postures), pranayama (breath), and dyana (meditation)… How appropriate it is for us that we are practicing the taming of mind surrounded by actual monkeys while behaving like the animals ourselves.

Don't feed the monkeys.

Don’t feed them. They will keep on coming.

Some days it is easy and I float through the day feeling Ommm-tastic and light.  Other days it isn’t so easy and after a few hours of class I feel exhausted from my over active mind. There is so much to think about these days… Getting married, moving “home” (wherever “home” might be)… what to DO with life… add infinitum.

Monkeys! Outside the classroom, with Veronica and I.

Monkeys! Outside the shala, with Veronica and I.

Monkeys inside the shala (normally unacceptable but they got in anyway) hahaaa.

Inside the shala (normally unacceptable but they got in anyway) hahaaa.

We literally spend 10 hours a day in our yoga shala. 10 hours! Some of it is sat directly on the concrete floor, some of the time we sit propped up in our castles built of bolsters, pillows and yoga blocks. We practice 3 hours of asana a day and have the occasional opportunity to “monkey” around with our postures. The majority of the time is spent listening to our incredible teachers, Baskar: yoga philosophy, Natwar: Anatomy and asana, and Roshon: an entertaining, heartfelt and spontaneous flow of anatomy and his personal philosophy combined. Each teacher has a unique style that we have come to love. For example, Baskar (philosophy) spends the hour of class time telling us fables or “short” stories that have a faint link to whatever sutra (from Patanjali’s famous Yoga Sutras) we are studying. Often the stories are hard to follow but we all hang on knowing that the punch line will be well worth it. He also has a repertoire of “jokes” that are hilarious (coming out of him)… he shares them at the end of class, time permitting… we LOVE them.

Roshan...

Roshan…

Natwar, our fabulous anatomy and asana teacher... shows us how its done...

Natwar, our fabulous anatomy and asana teacher… shows us how its done…

Monkey see, monkey do. Josh ;)

Monkey see, monkey do. Josh 😉

Baskar's lecture...

Baskar’s lecture…

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JOKE EXAMPLE: There were 3 ants walking along. The first ant said, “There are 2 ants walking behind me”. The second ant said “There is one ant walking behind me.” The third ant said, “There are three ants walking behind me”. Why did the third ant say this?

Answer: He was a baby ant! Intellectually unstable he was… there weren’t really three ants there… it was a crazy talking baby ant.

There are 10 of us from all around the world taking the YTT 300 together:  Hugh, Kristen, and myself (US), Veronica (Mexico), Ross (UK), Stine (New Zealand), Pricilla (Brazil), Naira (the UAE), Josh (Canada) and Chuu-I (Singapore). Then there is Faraaz, a young Indian man who joins us for our classes and has facilitated a number of his magical yoga nidra classes (yogic sleep). It’s a great group and the variety of personality types and styles of BEING have provided each one of us ample opportunity to grow. We help each other by simply being us…

Precious Naira.

Precious Naira.

Hugh, Stine, Ross, Kristen and I.

Hugh, Stine, Ross, Kristen and I.

Josh and Pricilla, "monkeying" around...

Josh and Pricilla, “monkeying” around…

The "gangsters" with Faraz, and Ross

The “gangsters”Pricilla and myself with Faraaz, and Ross

So far it has been a spectacular few weeks… as I write this we are sitting overlooking the Ganges River at Devraj Coffee Corner German Bakery. There are monkeys frolicking around the wires of the bridge and a few sluggish cows that have decided to take a wander across it, unaccompanied. Ross and I wonder what business they have waiting for them on the other side. Something interesting always happens while watching the Ganges… yesterday we saw a floating body, today we saw a dramatic bull fight on the bridge in which people had to jump out of the way to avoid being pummeled by the giant animals. Oh India. We sat down at the coffee shop next to a kind man named Jim, from Tampa bay Florida. He studied yoga at Sivananda Ashram here in the 70’s. A recovering human soul… he specializes in yogic therapy for people with addiction/mental health problems, we hit it off and had plenty of things to talk about. What a coincidence/blessing to sit down next to exactly the man I needed to talk to. We had a very moving conversation over looking the river and I had to say it was for sure a huge God moment.

Jim, Ross, and myself overlooking the Ganges.

Jim, Ross, and myself overlooking the Ganges.

Rishikesh, India.

Rishikesh, India.

Tomorrow it is back to class we go, heading into the final weeks of our India trip and also ending our year long global adventure. There will continue to be plenty of time for us to practice working with our monkey minds.  Just like when one gives a monkey a biscuit, it attracts more monkeys, the mind is the same, if you entertain one thought it invites others to follow. The biggest lesson I have learned so far is that I have a choice about whether or not to keep feeding my monkey mind. It has taken a long time but gradually it is getting easier to ACTUALLY follow my breath rather then jump onto any engaging or seemingly important thought that enters my mind. When I make the conscious decision to follow my thoughts, I know I can expect more hungry monkeys. Today I decide whether or not to feed the monkeys. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t, but today there is a choice. Thank you yoga.

Ross teaching a class.

Ross teaching a class.

Stine and Ross listen to Roshan intently...

Stine and Ross listen to Roshan intently…

Kristen and Hugh study up...

Kristen and Hugh and Josh study up…

Monkey waiting for class to start...

A monkey waiting for class to start…