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TAKE A DEEP BREATH! April 3, 2009

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Health, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Philosophy, Science, Twin Cities, Yoga.
4 comments

Smile. You may not know it, but your life just changed.

Skeptical?

Take another deep breath. Now, deepen your expression.

Whether you are new to yoga, a dedicated practitioner, or just someone trying to sort out all of the hullabaloo (and not call it “yogart” in mixed company), a joyful practice can help you find things you didn’t know you needed – and explore gifts you didn’t know you had to offer.

Still skeptical? That’s cool. It doesn’t change the fact that somewhere between that first deep breath and this next one (Inhale….Exhale.) your brain chemistry changed!

And just think, you didn’t even have to step on a mat.

Namaste!

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PASSION, FREEDOM, LIGHT, & TALENT: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Healing Stories, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

– Matthew  24:3 (New International Version)

 

 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:35 (NIV)

 

“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:38-40 (NIV)

 

After throwing the “thieves” out of the temple and between the questions of the authorities, elders, and “spies,” Jesus teaches. Remember, in the historically context – and as far as many would have been concerned at the time – Jesus was simply a renegade Rabbi, a teacher, who was focused on showing his people how to have a closer relationship with G-d. More often than not, he taught in stories or parables. Several of the stories associated with Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday involve people waiting for something amazing and transformative to happen. What is important to note is that each story requires action from the characters.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention “The Parable of the Faithful Servant.” Maybe because they have previously, and privately, questioned Jesus about events that he has said are coming, Luke wonders if the message is for the disciples or for everyone. The Gospel According to Matthew provides a very direct narrative by placing the faithful servant’s story directly before “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” or “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”). Just as in the story of the faithful servant, this second story involves a wedding, light, and being ready. The ten women are waiting for the possibility of being attendants (another word for servant) at a wedding, but it gets dark and they fall asleep. When they are awakened by the pronouncement that the bridegroom is coming, they trim and light their lamps. The only problem is that five (5) of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and failed to bring more. When the bridegroom comes, he can’t see the ones whose lamps are not lit and, according to Matthew, Jesus repeats, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 NIV)

The details that reoccur in each story reinforce the message. First, there is a wedding – a momentous celebration that marks a union, a joining together. Second, the people who are waiting to join the wedding party are somehow in service to the bridegroom. Third, everyone has a purpose – although that purpose is not always explicitly explained. Fourth, everyone has a light and that light must shine in order for someone to be recognized. Fifth, there is no telling when one’s services or presence will be required, so (sixth) everyone must be ready at all times.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14 (NIV)

The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke detail a parable about a landowner (or master) who leaves his servants in charge of some goods. Luke, associates the story with a different narrative, but Matthew places “The Parable of The Talents” directly after the one about the virgins and uses a segue to indicate that while the details of the story are different the message is the same. This time there are three (3) servants and instead of light, they are given talents, a form of currency: one servant receives five (5) talents, another two (2) talents, and another one (1) talent – “each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:15)

Now, who knows where the landowner is going – perhaps to the aforementioned wedding – but what is known is that the first and second servant put their talents to work and increases the wealth, while the third servant buries his talent. (There is also a non-canonical gospel that says one of the servants squanders his talents.) When the landowner/master returns he praises and rewards the servant(s) who increased the wealth, but chastises the one who literally buried his talent for safe-keeping. In Matthew 25:27 the landowner/master points out that if the talent had been put in the bank for safe-keeping, it would have earned interest – thereby increasing the wealth.

Again, the message is clear: it is not enough to sit on one’s laurels and wait for salvation – one must exert effort in some way in order to be prepared.

Another motif in the parables, and one that plays out in the last days of Jesus’ life, is the importance of oil and currency. Some commentary indicates that while Jesus was considered an agitator and a renegade what pushed the elite to get rid of him (rather than to just tolerate him) was when he threw the money lenders out of the temple (see Passion Monday). Eventually, Judas is decides to betray Jesus not only because he is promised “a few pieces of silver” as payment, but also because of he is angered when expensive oil is used to wash Jesus’ feet (see Passion Wednesday). And here, in between the historical events, are the parables about oil and money.

According to Arland J Hultgren – a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – a talent was a unit of weight and, when used as a unit of money it would be valued as that weight in silver. A talent would be worth about 6,000 denarii, or six thousand times a day’s wages. I’ve seen estimates that translate this into U. S. dollars and indicate that one servant received $300,000 USD, one servant received $600,000 USD, and one servant received $1.5 million USD.

Can you imagine, literally, burying $300,000 USD. If you didn’t bury it, how would you put it to work? How would you put $1.5 million USD to work? Keep in mind: it’s not your money. Would you change what you do with the money f you knew you could “earn” $300,000?

Now, flip it around, and consider that you’ve been given a talent…or five: How are you using your talents? How are you using your resources? How are you letting your little light shine? How does your wealth increase because you invest in your talents? What happens when you don’t use your talents?

It is interesting to notice what one values, how one attributes value, and how one uses what they value. Not just on a personal level, it’s also interesting to notice this on a national and/or global level. Passion Tuesday 2019 – and this discussion of talents – falls on April 16th, which is also Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia.

On April 16, 1862, almost nine (9) months before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, U. S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Also known as the Compensated Emancipation Act, the act freed slaves in Washington D. C., and allocated $1 million USD (a little more than 3 talents) to pay Union slaveholders up to $300 per freed slave. As some freedmen had “purchased” their family members, some black people were compensated as Union slaveholders and, eventually, some former slaves would file for compensation if their former masters had not made a claim. An additional $100,000 (less than 1 talent) was granted to pay newly freed slaves $100 – but only if that slave chose to leave the United States and colonize in Haiti or Liberia. The act freed 3,185 slaves in D. C., but did not affect fugitive slaves who were escaping Maryland.

 

“When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

– “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” by John Milton

 

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Anointed / Crescent Warrior (Anjaneyasana)

From Downward Facing Dog or Table Top, step the right foot in between the hands. Another option for getting into Anointed Warrior (Anjaneyasana), also known as Crescent Warrior, is to start in a Half Lift position and then step the left leg back. Either way, the front (right) knee is as close to 90 degrees as possible, with the knee directly over the ankle (and tracking the pinky toe). Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes, like cars on an empty highway. Bring the back (left) knee to the mat and even if you give that knee some cushion, press the top of the back foot down in order to take the pressure off of the knee. Press the bottom of the front foot down for increased stability.

Once you’ve established your asana, inhale and lift the torso up so that your hands can rest on the front thigh. As you exhale, slide the hips back so that they are over the back knee. This will create a square box made from your legs, your hips, and the floor. As you inhale, lift the pubic bone up and notice the space created in your low back and the engagement along the front of the back (left) hip and thigh. If you can maintain the space and the engagement, exhale and sink a little deeper in the lunge. The front knee should stay over the ankle, pressing the heel down.

Once you feel stable, inhale your arms forward and up. Find a heart opening experience. Remember, arms are an extension of the heart in yoga so consider the different ways you can open your heart. Arms can extend overhead with the palms together or apart. You can find goal post arms or invert your Namaskar. Other options include arms wide like angel wings, chest expansion, and supporting the low back. You can also keep your hands on your front knee. Start the back bend in your base. After 5 – 10 breaths, return to your starting position or move into Child’s Pose for a few breaths. Repeat on the second side. Consider all the effort/work required for your heart to be lifted and open: feet and ankles stabilize, legs provide strength, hips allow you to segue from strength to flexibility, the core supports the heart as it lifts and extends.

Anjaneyasana is literally “The Seat of Anjana” and is one of the poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king in the Ramayana. The pose is named for Anjana, Hanuman’s mother, and reinforces the idea that in order to lift and open the heart you have to have a solid foundation – on and off the mat.

 

### NAMASTE: The Light in me honors and appreciates the light that is also inside you. ###

PASSION & #42: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #15 April 16, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Baseball.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma. This ultrahigh level of duty carries with it the requirement that one never does anything that is contrary to this True Self Within. And even if you consider your sva-dharma more narrowly from the standpoint of being true to your profession, you should not hesitate to fight. For a warrior, war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty.”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.31) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sacred texts from a variety of different cultures, tell us that everyone has a purpose. However, even if you don’t believe the old adage, science has shown that people who live a purpose driven life have better physical and mental health and stronger resilience than their peers. It’s a bit of a cycle: we need our mind-body-spirit to fulfill a purpose and fulfilling the purpose strengthens our mind-body-spirit so that we are better equipped to fulfill the purpose.

Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs;  not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though, because at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” (Matthew 21:12 KJV)

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:13 KJV)

 – The Gospel According to Matthew

Passion Monday, or Holy Monday, is associated with the story of Jesus cleansing the temple. According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus is very clear about his purpose as he enters the last week of his life. He understands that there will be suffering (hence, the passion), trials, tribulation, and betrayal, and joy. He knows he will be tested and tempted (yet another passion/suffering). It is unclear if he knows how quickly the suffering will begin, but suffice it to say, it is immediate.

When he returns to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus finds that the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a defacto market place. All four (4) canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus runs the livestock and the merchants out, and overturns the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers. He then begins to heal the sick and to teach, thus restoring the temple to its original purpose. Children praise him and this, along with everything else, riles up the establishment.

In three (3) of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) several groups of the establishment question Jesus’ authority and his views on taxes. First he is asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” To which, Jesus asks his own question regarding the authority of the then wildly popular John the Baptist:

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:24 KJV)

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” (Matthew 21:25 KJV)

“And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” (Matthew 21:26 KJV)

Later, in another attempt to trap Jesus, the elders ask him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. He asks them to show him a coin suitable for payment and, when they present a coin with a Roman face on the front – specifically, Caesar’s face – Jesus says, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”.” (Matthew 22:21)

As Passion Week is associated with a movable feast, Passion Monday doesn’t always fall on April 15th, U. S. Tax Day, but it does in 2019.

April 15th is also Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball. It is the day, in 1947, when Jackie Robinson broke the modern day color line (in Major League Baseball) and started Opening Day playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Keep in mind that in the mid-1900’s there was a professional Negro League and prior to that, in the 1880’s, there had been 2, maybe 3, African-Americans playing in Major League Baseball. But times had changed; the country had changed, and baseball had changed. And, in the 1940’s all would change again.

“But if you do not fight this battle of good over evil, you will fail in both your worldly duty and in your duty to your very Self. You will violate your sva-dharma. Not doing the right thing when it is required is worse than doing the wrong thing.”

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.33) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

 

Jackie Robinson Batting Average: .311 / Hits: 1,518 / Home Runs 137 / RBIs: 734

Jackie Robinson was an amazing athlete, excelling in track and field, as well as in football. He was an Army veteran and he would go on to be recognized and honored as a baseball player. In addition to winning a World Series with the Dodgers (1955), he was (the 1st ever) Rookie of the Year (1947) and the 1st African-American to be named Most Valuable Player (1949). He was a six-time All-Star, a batting champion, and a stolen base leader. Despite all that he would accomplish, many would argue – and the stats would support the argument – that in 1945, Jackie Robinson was not the best player in the Negro Baseball League.

Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, and Larry Doby (who would go on to break the color barrier in the ALB) all had better stats than Robinson. Even George Burns (the baseball player, not the comedian) had more steals than Jackie Robinson in the 1940’s. And yet, Branch Rickey, the Dodgers club president, spent 3 hours (in August 1945) talking to Robinson about playing for the Dodgers and about all the racial hostility he might encounter – on and off the field. Ultimately, Robinson asked, “Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” To which Rickey replied, “Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back.” Jackie Robinson said he could be that ballplayer.

When I was a kid, I use to watch my maternal great-grandfather watching baseball. I had no interest in the game, but it was interesting to me that he was so invested. That being said, he wasn’t a baseball fan the way his daughter (my grandmother) was a basketball fan. My grandmother was such a huge Houston Rockets fan that “Rockets” became part of her nickname. In 2017, just a few months before my grandmother died, I watched a little bit of the World Series with her and my mom (her daughter). It was the Houston Astros versus the Los Angeles Dodgers and at one point my mother said, “I wonder which team your grandfather and great-grandfather would have been rooting for.” Not thinking about the history of baseball in that moment, I questioned her question – after all, they were Texas men! But then my mother reminded me that the L. A. Dodgers were originally the Brooklyn Dodgers and that there was a time when “every Black man in America was a Dodgers fan.”

Jackie Robinson’s number (42) was retired by the Dodgers in 1972 and by all MLB teams in 1997. For those of you who don’t follow baseball: when a number is retired it means that no other player will wear that number on their jersey. And yet, if you watch a MLB baseball game on April 15th, you will notice that every player, on every team, is wearing Number 42. Everybody is Jackie Robinson.

“Jackie‘s body was a temple of God, an instrument of peace.”

–  excerpt from Reverend Jesse Jackson’s eulogy of Jackie Robinson (October 1972)

“His leadership helped win 7 Dodger pennants / He eased the acceptance of baseball’s first Black player into the Major Leagues”

inscription on the tombstone of Harold Henry “Pee Wee” Reese, Captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Navy veteran, Baseball Hall of Famer, proud son of Louisville, Kentucky

Despite his personal opinions about integration, Eddie “The Brat” Stanky was one of the first people to “accept” Jackie Robinson as a teammate. They were both second basemen, but (as Stanky was already fielding at second base) Robinson was assigned to first base during his rookie year and he said that Stanky gave him tips that made the transition easier. But, that was all in private. Publicly, he didn’t have a whole lot to say when Robinson first faced insults during games, but Stanky was the first person to publicly take Robinson’s back when fans and players from other teams hurled insults.

Other Dodgers followed Stanky’s example.

Pee Wee Reese is one of the Dodgers who followed Stanky’s early example, but it is Reese’s support for Jackie Robinson that is most remembered, most memorialized, and most celebrated. At some point, maybe in 1947 – but most likely in 1948 (when Robinson was back on second base) – Pee Wee Reese stood beside Robinson and put his arm across his teammates shoulder while they had a little chat. It was an ordinary, everyday, baseball moment. One baseball fans see all the time – and think nothing of it, other than wondering / guessing what strategy is being discussed. Even though it wasn’t a moment that made a lot of headlines, it is a moment that has become iconic: a moment in history captured in a statue, a picture, a movie, and a day.

“Maybe tomorrow we’ll all wear 42, that way they won’t tell us apart.”

Pee Wee Reese, #1 (played by Lucas Black) to Jackie Robinson #42 (played by Chadwick Boseman) in 42

“The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything is…42.”

Deep Thought (voiced by Helen Mirren) in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

FEATURED POSE for April 15th: Revolving Triangle (Parivrtta Trikonasana)

Keeping in mind that everything has a purpose, spend a little time preparing the body for today’s featured pose. NOTE: Revolving Triangle is not prenatal approved unless it is modified.

You can warm up with Sun Salutations and Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) and/or you could practice lie down on your back and practice Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangustasana), starting with the right side. In Supine Big Toe Pose, make sure the left hip and shoulder stay grounded you lower the right leg over to the right. After you’ve spent a few breaths with the right leg over to the right, bring the leg back to center, switch hands (so that the left hand is on the foot or the strap) and move the right leg over to the left, making sure that the right shoulder is grounded. (This twist is not prenatal approved.)

For Revolving Triangle, separate the feet at least 2 fists width apart. If you have tight hips, you may need to take them a little wider. Keeping the right foot in front, step the left foot as far back as your able to and still maintain stability. With both legs straight (no bend in the knees), check to make sure the right hip is reaching back towards the left heel and that the left hip is reaching for the right big toe. Place your right hand on your hip and, as you inhale, stretch the left hand high into the air. As you exhale, reach the left hand forward and down until you come as close to the outside of your right foot as you’re able to come without straining or losing your balance. Your hand can be on the floor or a block. Squeeze the thighs towards each other and extend your spine as you inhale. As you exhale, rotate your upper body to the right. Right hand can stay on your hip or lift up out of your heart. Every time you inhale, squeeze your legs towards each other and reach the ribs away from the hips. Every time you exhale, twist through your core. After 5 – 7 breaths, lower the lifted arm on an exhale. Inhale to look up and lengthen. Bring your hands to your hips on an exhale and stand up on the inhale. When you are ready, do the second side. Once you’ve completed the second side, move into a standing forward fold.

A prenatal option is to sit with legs stretched wide and keep the upper body upright as you rotate it to the right. You want to keep this as an open twist, so consider sitting up on top of something. After 5 – 7 breaths, switch to the second side. After the second side, fold forward and rest in between the wide legs.

 

### Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###

PASSION & PEACE: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #14 April 15, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Lent, Religion.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states…

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

Om

sahana vavatu
sahano bhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navaditamastu
Ma vidvishavahai

Om shanti shanti shantih.

Conscious, subconscious, and unconscious mind /
on every plane of existence

May we be protected
May we be nourished
May we work together with great energy
May our study together be brilliant and effective
May we not hate or dispute with one another

On every plane of existence peace (within us), peace (all around us),
peace (to and from everything we encounter)

 

– Teaching Peace Chant (translation courtesy of Richard Freeman)

“Let us go forth in peace.”

– Final instruction in the Divine Liturgy

In many yoga traditions, the physical practice begins and ends with a chant or mantra. There are mantras that trace the teaching lineage of the tradition as well as a mantra that honors Patanjali, the author of the Yoga Sutra.  Because of the way they end, several mantras are referred to as a şantipat. Pronounced “shanti,” the first root word means peace. It is not uncommon for people to think that the last part (pronounced “pot”) means path – and as it establishes how you want to move forward you could consider it your way or path. However, pat means “falling” or “going,” and these types of mantras are usually translated as “the falling down of peace.” They could also be translated as “going in peace” – which mirrors the final instruction in the Divine Liturgy and one of the last things stated before the Procession of the Palms in some Palm Sunday services.

In the Western Christian tradition, Sunday, April 14th marks the end of the Lenten Season and the beginning of Holy Week. Palm Sunday, also known as Passion Sunday or the Second Sunday of the Passion, is the Sunday before Easter Sunday. It is a time when Christians are getting ready to commemorate the last days of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection: in other words, the Passion of the Christ.
 

Passion (noun): 1. [mass noun] strong and barely controllable emotion; 1.2 intense sexual love; 1.3 [in singular] an intense desire or enthusiasm for something; 2. (the Passion) The suffering and death of Jesus.

 

Origin: Middle English: from Old French; from late Latin passio(n-), from Latin pati- “suffer”

 

– from Oxford Dictionaries

All four (4) canonical Gospels in the Christian New Testament refer to Jesus returning to Jerusalem, for an observation of Passover.  Remember, historically speaking, Jesus was a rabbi focused on getting his Jewish community to be better and more devout Jews. So, he comes home for Passover, but he does so in a way that is quite memorable and jubilant. He rides in on the back of a donkey, a symbol of peace (as oppose to riding in on a horse, which would be seen as a symbol of conquest or war). As he enters the city, it says people welcome him and honor him by laying down palm fronds and sometimes their coats in the middle of the road. (And all of this happens after he raises Lazarus from the dead.)

As part of a Palm Sunday service, Christians will display palms throughout the church and have a Procession of the Palms. Children wave the palms. Similar branches will be used in areas where it is hard to come by palms – leading the day to be called “Yew Sunday” or “Branch Sunday.” The palms waved on Palm Sunday will be burned down to ashes, blessed, and then the ashes will be used for the following year’s Ash Wednesday observations – which kick off the Lenten Season.

Theologically speaking, Jesus was aware of his destiny: the temptation, betrayal, and suffering that would all lead to his crucifixion and resurrection – all intended to usher in an era of peace. He attempts to prepare his disciples for what’s to come, but they are not prepared to go forward in peace, at least not in the way the faithful may be prepared today.

“Jesus shows us how to face moments of difficulty and the most insidious of temptations by preserving in our hearts a peace that is neither detachment nor superhuman impassivity, but confident abandonment to the Father and to his saving will, bestows life and mercy.”

– excerpt from 2019 Palm Sunday homily by Pope Francis

When referring to Jesus’s return to Jerusalem, many Christians will refer to his “triumphant” return. In his 2019 Palm Sunday homily, however, Pope Francis focuses on Jesus’s humility and his ability to surrender to God’s will. Pope Francis said, “He shows us this kind of abandonment by spurning, at every point in his earthly ministry, the temptation to do things his way and not in complete obedience to the Father.”

Even if one is not Christian, there is a lesson in this message and an opportunity for svadyaya (self-study). Consider how you show up when you are challenged and/or things aren’t going your way. Do you show up in a way that alleviates suffering or in a way that creates more suffering?

Eastern philosophies, like yoga and Buddhism, view suffering as imbalance in the natural state of being (yoga and Taoism) and/or the result of attachment to (craving / desire for) a particular outcome (yoga and Buddhism). We all want things to go “our way” and yet more often than not things go in a different way. If we can’t let go of “our way,” we suffer. To find balance and to alleviate suffering, one must detach and practice non-attachment until it becomes a habit.

But, let’s get back to that experience of peace.

“So the redeemed of the LORD will return and enter Zion with singing, crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.”

– Isaiah 51:11, Berean Study Bible

“From an attitude of contentment (santosha), unexcelled happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction is obtained.”

Yoga Sutra 2.42

Isaiah is considered the first of the “Latter Prophets” in the Hebrew Bible and the first of the “Major Prophets” in the Christian Old Testament. Much of the “Book of Isaiah” contains details about what people can expect from and how they can recognize the Messiah or Savior. For Christians, Jesus fits the criteria and, therefore, brings them joy and peace now and in the hereafter. (Isaiah 51:11 and 52:7) It is not only a message that is brought; he also brings salvation (or the promise of salvation).

Consider, for a moment, how much easier life is if the hard stuff is being surrendered to a higher power.

In the second section of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali also talks of peace and joy. He particularly indicates that if someone diligently practices the external restraint (yama) of non-harming (ahimsa) then the people around them will give up hostilities (YS 2.35). Furthermore, he states that practicing the internal observation (niyama) of contentment (santosha) then “unexcelled, happiness, mental comfort, joy, and satisfaction.” (YS 2.42)

Consider, for a moment, what happens if you accept what is in the moment and surrender everything to the moment.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 14th: Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana)

Palm Tree Breathing is a sequence of poses from Jasna’s Yoga that I include in certain practices; sometimes for physical and energetic reasons, sometimes for symbolic and emotional reasons, sometimes for all of the above. The sequence consists of two (2) poses in repetition – Mountain Pose (on the toes variation) (Tadasana) and Forward Fold Pose (Uttanasana). Both poses require strong core engagement (locks or bandhas), strong foundation engagement (asana), and balance, combined with breath awareness (pranayama). While the sequence can be modified by keeping the heels on the ground during the Mountain Pose, finding ease and stability in the Forward Fold is a critical element – and one that is often overlooked or taken for granted.

Standing in Mountain Pose, with feet together or slightly apart, focus on balancing the weight and standing up tall. (Remember, this is also Equal Standing.) Spread the big toes and little toes wide in order to start activating the arches and stabilize the ankles. Squeeze the legs towards one another and spiral the outer thighs in towards your mid-line. Squeezing a block, small book, or small ball between your legs encourages adduction and internal rotation. Use the quadriceps to lift the knee caps up, so that the thighs are firm; lift the pelvic bones up so that the sits bones drop down; squeeze the perineum muscles together and up (like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom); draw the belly button up and back; and the shoulders.

Inhale deeply and – with hands on hips – hinge from the waist as you exhale. Inhale, look up and lengthen so that you are in the Half Lift position (see yesterday’s post). Place your hands on your thighs or bend your knees and place your palms on your thighs. Spend a few breaths in the half lift position in order to find the flattest back position possible – even if that means the knees are bent.

Now, if it’s accessible, places your hands on a floor or a block – so you have closed-chain engagement and, therefore more control over accessing your muscles.  If placing your hands lower causes you to round your spine, bring the hands back to the thighs and use the legs as a prop. Keeping the back flat and the core engaged, start to hinge or fold from the hips. See if you can bring your hands flat to the floor or the block without your low back rounding. (Remember: Low back issues, unregulated blood pressure, eye issues like glaucoma, and certain types of osteoarthritis are reasons to stay in the Flat Back position.)

Keep your weight balanced between hands and feet, arms and legs. You want dynamic tension that pushes your hips and ribs away from each other. After a few breaths, bend your knees, let your chest rest on your thighs, but maintain the core and foundational engagement. Release the arms, but keep the feet, legs, and core strong. While you surround your upper body to your lower body, let something roll of your back, something that no longer serves you. Or, let go of something you know. Or something you want but aren’t getting. If you are in the Half Lift position, whatever you are releasing rolls off when you stand up.

Either roll up, one vertebra, or inhale to a Half Lift and then lift the whole torso up on the next inhale.

If you want to move through Palm Tree Breathing, inhale your arms up for Mountain Pose. Again, make sure everything is strongly engaged. Use a block if you want to strengthen your adductors. Stay on your heels or roll up to your tip toes. Keep your eyes on something that’s not moving. As you exhale, lower the heels, hinge from your hips and fold. At the end of your breath, your heart will rest on your thighs. Inhale and reverse swan dive, maybe lifting the heels as you go, but definitely straightening the knees and rolling up one vertebra at a time until arms are overhead. Exhale and repeat at least 3 – 5 times. Finish with an inhale to Mountain Pose.

{NOTE: The Throat Chakra (the fifth intersection or wheel created by the overlapping of the three (3) primary nadis or energy channels/rivers) is associated with will and determination – specifically, Caroline Myss uses the mantra “Submit personal will to Divine will.” You can think of “Divine” as God, as the Universe, or as the World as a whole. Either way, consider the different positions your neck is in as you move through Palm Tree Breathing, and notice how the breath feels moving through your throat.}

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

MEET MS. BANNING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“All you have to do is open up a little bit and then you’ll be experiencing a part of that person’s soul. It’s just there – in the presence of a beautiful painting, a creation, something created by someone else. This is insight into not who they are physically, but who they are on this other plane. So, what makes it magical, always, is to hear music performed live.”

– Bill Conti

 

“When the audience and the performers become one, it is almost nearly divine, where this oneness can actually meet in some, not physical place, but in some spiritual place, in the middle, not the performers performing, not the audience receiving, but all of a sudden that contact is made and it becomes wonderful.”

– Bill Conti

Everyone does it at some point or another. It doesn’t matter if we sit down to watch a movie, a play, or a television show – or maybe we’re reading a book or listening to a show on the radio – at some point we suspend disbelief. We open ourselves to the possibility of the possibilities being laid out before us…without expectation, without attachment, and without aversion. Just for a moment, we let go of what we know and open to what is.

The job of an artist, like composer Bill Conti (born 4/12/1942), is to create something that serves as a layer or filter, a lens through which the audience sees the world unfold. Composers like Conti will often use motifs (a brief melody that is part of a longer passage) and leitmotifs (a brief melody or motif that is directly tied to a person or event) to reinforce a certain concept or emotion that the creative team wants the audience to experience. In other words, the creative team is creating samskars (mental impressions) and vasanas (in this case, a habitual subconscious reaction). And, when the creative element is iconic – like so many of Conti’s compositions are – we develop an inescapable habitual (and visceral) response to the music that exists long after the music ends. Without even knowing it, the music shapes the way we think, act, and speak – again, long after the movie ends. Think about what happens when you hear part of the theme from Rockyeven when it’s played on a piano.

But, what happens if we notice what happens? What happens if we start studying our habits and noticing the things that appeal to us and the things to which we have an aversion? What happens if we investigate why we do the things we do? What happens if we practice a little non-attachment and look at ourselves from an objective vantage point – one without the veils of our experiences (i.e., without the samskaras and vasanas?

“dŗşțā anuśravika vişaya vitŗşņasya vaśīkāra sanjñã vairāgyam ” (YS I.15)

 

dŗşțā                              seen or perceived

anuśravika                  heard or revealed in scripture

vişaya                            object, subject, matter of experience

vitŗşņasya                    free of craving or desire

vaśīkāra                        state of mastery, control

sanjñã                           awareness, consciousness, knowing

vairāgyam                   non-attachment, neutral, without attachment or aversion

 

“We are all ready to read / Just as we are born knowing what we like”

– from “The Foundation” by Thievery Corporation

 

In order to master the mind and the fluctuations of the mind, one needs to not only practice continuously and with reverence (abhyasa), as Patanjali indicates in Yoga Sutra II.14, but also with non-attachment (vairagya). Since, however, we have attachments – meaning things and people to which we have attraction or aversion – part of the practice is observing our behaviors and then gradually detaching, or letting go, of our attachments. As we consistently practice letting go, it becomes a habit so that the attachments do not form. This means that, like so many other elements in the Eastern philosophies, the practice of non-attachment is a technique as well as a state of being.

The easy misconception is that practicing non-attachment means that one forcing everything away and becoming numb. In fact, the opposite is true. When we move through our days without noticing why we lean one way or the other, then we are numb to our true nature and, in the process, we miss certain elements of our lives. If, however, we can lift the veils of our habits we start to notice more about ourselves and the world around us. We start to notice cause and effect, but we also start to interrupt behaviors and patterns that lead to suffering.

 

“In the back of your mind, when you say you want to write music for the movies, you’re saying that you want a big house, a big car, and a boat. If you just wanted to write music, you could live in Kansas and do that.”

– Bill Conti

 

An example that Swami J uses to explain the difference between detachment and non-attachment is that of two (2) ex-smokers. In this example, they both stopped smoking years ago. One smoker, however, sees a cigarette or smells smoke and immediately begins craving the cigarette. When the first former smoker recognizes that craving, resists acting upon it, and then let’s go of the desire (or allows the desire to pass) this person is practicing detachment. On the flip side, the second former smoker no longer has the craving; when there is no conscious or subconscious desire to smoke there is nothing to release and that is the state of non-attachment. (Anybody want to go down this particular rabbit hole?)

 

 “There’s a higher place that I have no illusions about reaching. There’s a sophistication and aesthetic about composers who only write only for the music’s sake.”

– Bill Conti

 

FEATURED POSE for April 13th: Half Lift or Upward Forward Fold Pose (Ardha or Urdhva Uttanasana)

There are certain poses that are easy to overlook when moving through poses one-breath-one motion or when you are predisposed to think some poses are more important than other poses. One such overlooked pose is Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana), which is also referred to as Upward Facing Forward Fold (Urdhva Uttanasana). In Sun Salutations it may be considered a “gateway pose” – because it bridges the gap between standing only on the feet and the inclined series where you are standing on hands and feet (or only on hands). If you take a moment to let go of your attachment or aversion to the pose and really examine it, you will start to notice that it’s not only a bridge, it’s also a ferry.

From a standing (or seated) position, exhale and bring your heart to your thighs (bending your knees if you have low back issues and or tight hamstrings). As you inhale, look up and lengthen the spine. Place your hands on your thighs, or bend your knees and place your elbows on your thighs. Making sure that your shoulders are pressing back, find a little bit of Cow Pose (to make sure you have a “flat back”) and then gaze at your nose or third eye center. Engage your core by zipping up (spreading toes and balancing on all corners of the feet; squeezing the perineum muscles together and up; drawing the belly button up and back). Breathe here for 3 – 5 breaths (inhale + exhale = 1 breath).

As you’re breathing here, see if you can maintain length in the spine while also starting to lengthen the legs. If it is accessible to you, reach the hands down to the floor or a block – but only if you can do so without losing the extension in the spine. Notice how you react to being in this pose.

After the requisite number of breaths, exhale and see if you can bring your heart to your thighs without losing the extension in the spine. Inhale, use the whole breath to look up and lengthen again. Exhale, and use the whole breath to fold. Inhale to your flat back; bring hands to hips as you exhale and then lift the torso up as one unit.

Consider how Upward Facing Forward Fold contains elements of Equal Standing / Mountain Pose. If Sun Salutations are in your practice, move through a couple of sets and see if you can maintain your flat back (looking forward) position all the way through Chaturanga Dandasana. This is a fun practice to do with a small ball balanced on your low back! (See if you can keep the ball on your low back until Downward Facing Dog (or your back bend).

Upward Facing Forward Fold is a great pose to do with hands up against the wall and arms extended. It is prenatal approved; just widen the legs to make room for the baby. If you have low back issues, unregulated blood pressure, eye issues like glaucoma, or certain types of osteoarthritis you may find that Upward Facing Forward Fold is a better option for you than Forward Fold (Uttanasana). If that is the case, you can do the above sequence just by bending the knees on the exhale and straightening them on the inhale. Honor your body, but also watch your aversion (or attraction) to modifying your practice.

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

WE CAN BEGIN AT ANYTIME: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 13, 2019

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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind – white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started”

 – excerpt from “Looking Around, Believing” by Gary Soto (born 4/12/1952)

Ever look around and wonder why we begin where we begin? Every wonder if we could start our yoga practice with a different pose? Or if it even matters where we start? For that matter, what would happen if we started earlier in life? Or later?

Okay, okay, some of those are purely rhetorical. And, as the title of this post clearly states, “we can begin at anytime” – but, what about the place/position in which we start?

If you are exposed to different styles and traditions, maybe through a single teacher or through your own curiosity, you will find that some styles and traditions always start with the same pose – but that “same pose” is not universal. Some practices start with Child’s Pose (Balasana). Some start with Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samastithi / Tadasana).Some start with the practitioners on their backs; still others start with practitioners in a seated position – but even then it’s not necessarily the same seated position.  Why all the variety? Let’s go deeper.

There’s something to be said for tradition. If you look back at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are no asanas (or poses) detailed. Instead, Patanjali provides critical instructions on how to practice the poses. Specifically, he instructs “cultivating a steady/stable, easy/comfortable/joyful seat/pose” (YS II.46) and then proceeds to explain how the awareness and extension of breath (pranayama) extends out of finding balance in the body. Classical sacred texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 15th century), Gheranda Samhita (early 17th century), or Shiva Samhita (circa 14th – 17th century), mostly list sitting on your sits-bones poses and begin with some variation of a cross-legged position. In all cases, the focus is on having an elongated spine, with the head balanced above the shoulders and hips, and effort balanced with relaxation. This type of pose reminds one of a meditation seat and is a great way to remember that the physical yoga practice is also a meditation practice, with the ultimate meditation state as its final goal. Emotionally, energetically, and symbolically, starting in a seated position indicates that the practice is a time for study, contemplation, and devotion.

Ashtanga, one of the first vinyasa practices to come to the western world, begins with Mountain Pose (Tadasana), which is also the first pose featured in B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. It is a foundational pose, in that there are elements of Mountain Pose (which Iyengar also refers to as Equal Standing) in almost every pose. When standing, there is particular emphasis on balance – left to right and top to bottom – and on the extension of the spine, which is supported by the engagement of the core. It is a pose which can be practiced on the feet, in a chair, but also lying on one’s back. It’s a great starting place, because it is a great reference point: you can come back again and again and notice the changes you have brought about in your body. There is, however, another benefit of starting in Equal Standing / Mountain Pose – it is standing at attention and so it is a signal that the practitioner is ready for what comes next and, more importantly, ready to move in any direction. Like certain sitting on your sits-bones poses, this is one of the most neutral starting positions simply because you can easily move from it into almost any position.

Child’s Pose is a great place to start, because one’s head is down and (like a child preparing for a nap) one is less likely to be distracted by external surroundings. There is a physical turning inward, as well as an emotional and energetic turning inward. Even though this can be a hard pose to hold if you have knee issues, it offers a lot a physical benefits: there is an opportunity to release the low back; an opportunity to open the hips; an opportunity to compress the abdominal area and thereby stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (in order to calm the body); it’s a baby inversion; and it is a great opportunity to stretch out the front of the legs. Most importantly, perhaps, is that once again the spine is long and there is balance. There is also a symbolic reason for starting in Child’s Pose: the beginning of the practice marks the birth of the practice (and practices that start here often move through a symbolic life cycle).

Since she draws from her experiences with different styles and traditions, Seane Corn will sometimes start practices from a standing position, sometimes from a sitting on the sits-bones position, and sometimes in Child’s Pose. During her vinyasa teacher training, however, she also points out that starting the practice on one’s back, creates openness and receptiveness. When you start on your back, you are also physically supported (along the head, shoulders, elbows, arms, hips, and heels) in a way that may allow the spine to easily align. The more supported and aligned you are, the more comfortable you might be and, therefore, the more receptive. Additionally, lying on your back indicates some form of Corpse Pose (Savasana) which, when considered in the context of reincarnation, can also be the symbolic “beginning” of the life cycle. (For example, if you start in Corpse Pose you can easily rollover into Child’s Pose and then stand up on all fours and then eventually stand up on your feet).

“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– excerpt from “How Things Work” by Gary Soto

Where you begin your practice can set the emotional and energetic tone of the practice. And, while a good starting position will allow you to go anywhere (even if some poses require more movements than others – think 6 degrees of separation), some starting positions specifically prepare you for what’s to come. For instance, starting in Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana) legs, prepares the body for hip opening, while sitting in Hero’s Pose (Virasana) stretches out the front of the legs and knees (similar to Child’s Pose).

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Easy Pose (Sukhāsana)

Easy Pose (Sukhāsana) can be the beginning, middle, and end of your practice. Sitting on the floor, with shoulders and hips aligned, bend your knees so that shins/ankles are crossed and each foot rests underneath the opposite thigh (i.e., right foot is under left thigh). Tilt the sits-bones slightly back and root them down in order to lengthen the spine.

Hips should be in line with or higher than the knees. If there is compression in the back and hips and/or if the knees are higher than the hips, sit up on top of something (making sure your stability is not compromised by the prop you’re using for support). If the knees are uncomfortable, experiment with the hips being higher than the knees, switching which leg is in front / on top, and/or squeezing the legs closer or further away from each other and from the hips.

Once you have your legs crossed, wiggle your arms and then let them rest on your thighs – palms up if you want a little energy, palms down if you want to be grounded. You can take any seal (mudra) or leave the palms open and relaxed.

Stack your spine as if you have coins in your back, with the largest denomination on the bottom so that you end up with a dime, a nickel, and a penny on top of whatever hair is on your head. Relax your shoulders and jaw, creating a little space between your lips and teeth. (Not so much space that someone could look down your throat to see if you still have your tonsils, but enough space so that the mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, and tongue can relax.)

Gaze 4 – 6 feet in front of your belly button and either softly shutter your eyes or blur your eyes through that focal point (drishti). Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes and begin to notice your breath and the parts of your breath.

At the beginning of the practice, see how long you can sit and breathe in Easy Pose before you get distracted. Notice the first three (3) things that distract you. For instance, if your mind wanders away from your breath and you start thinking about something outside of the moment, your #1 today is “Thoughts.” If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find your body getting a little antsy – in which case, your #2 today is “Sensations.” (Sensations can be pain or discomfort in the body that makes you want to move, the feeling of being too hot or too cold, and or the feeling that something needs to be scratched.) If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find yourself feeling like it’s time to move or that you’re getting sleepy and then you could label your #3 today as “Emotions.”

Obviously, the examples above are generic examples and you may experience them in a different way or in a different order. However, note how long it takes for you to be distracted.  You could also make a note of how many times you bring your awareness back to breath. Keep in mind, this (bring the mind back, again and again) is the practice.

Make a note regarding your experiences during the time allotted and then move through any set of yoga poses or some other physical activities. If you notice specific physical discomforts/distractions, focus your practice on strengthening of relaxing the areas of the body that distracted you. If you found you were having a lot of mental distractions, challenge yourself by doing something that requires your complete attention. (If you’re looking for a practice, click here and see how Gary Soto’s poems inspired last year’s 12th offering.)

When you come back to the pose, set the timer again and notice what happens.

“Beneath my steps, my breath”

– excerpt from “Oranges” by Gary Soto

(for my twin and her best friend)

 

### NAMASTE ###

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #11 April 11, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness

What was your reaction to all that “empty” space? Did you react the same way you do in a yoga class when the instructor suddenly stops speaking? Did it make you nervous? Did you think it was a mistake? Did you think I was posting about the first photograph of a black hole? Did you notice it at all?

Today is the birthday of Misuzu Kaneko and Mark Strand; two very different poets, who lived very different lives in very different places, but who wrote poems on very similar themes. Today is also the second “Throwback Thursday” in Poetry Month – so click here to read last year’s post about their lives and poetry.

“We cannot say that emptiness is something which exists independently. Fullness is also the same. Full is always full of something, such as full of market, buffaloes, villages or Bhikshu. Fullness is not something which exists independently.

The emptiness and fullness depends on the presence of the bowl, Ananda.

Bhikshu’s look deeply at this bowl and you can se the entire universe. This bowl contains the entire universe. This is only one thing this bowl is empty of and that is separate individual self.

Emptiness means empty of self.”

– excerpt from Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana)

Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana) is a foundational pose – some might even call it a “beginner’s pose” that can also be very challenging. One way to work the pose is to notice the “empty” spaces around and in the body and to make those “full” of engagement.  Triangle can be practiced early in the practice (with very little warm-up) or as part of a standing pose sequence. Thighs, hips, and heart will be externally rotated. This pose can be done from a seated position. It is also prenatal approved (even encouraged). Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Pādāngustāsana) is a reclining pose with similar engagement.

While standing in Equal Standing/Mountain Pose notice the “empty” space around your body. Move into the space on your left by arching the upper body to the side (similar to a Hot Half Moon, see KMA 2019 Offering #2). Notice the sensations in the spine and back. Repeat, or echo, the movement on the right. Come back to center.

This time, move into the space by stepping or floating your feet apart so that the feet are under the wrists or between the wrists and the elbows. Notice where you’ve parted the air and also how you are filling the space. Turn your right toes out so that the right heel would bump into the middle of the left foot if the legs were together. On an inhale, stretch out your collar bones; as you exhale reach your right forward until you reach your limit (and have reached the end of the breath). Inhale your right arm down and the left arm up, so that the arms are lined up over the right ankle. You can use a block to lift the floor up if you need more stability. As you exhale, move your right hip towards the left hip. Notice where “the air moves in / to fill the spaces where [your] body’s been.”

Notice the “empty” space between your legs. It is full of an invisible triangle.  Reinforce your awareness and engagement of this triangle and then sit on it by dropping your sits-bones towards the top of the triangle. Now that the thighs and hips are rotating up, engage your core and extend your spine. Consider that to extend your spine, you have to move the ribs and spine into a different position than they were in Hot Half Moon. Notice that as the spine lengthens the “empty” space beneath the right side of your torso is filled with a triangle (formed by the torso plus the right arm and leg). Gaze up, out, or down, but make sure the neck is comfortable.

After 30 seconds to 1 minute, engage your core and lift the torso up and return to Equal Standing. Repeat, or echo, on the other side.

If Triangle is your whole practice today, finish up by lying on your back with arms and legs spread wide. Notice how it feels to be spread out, to occupy so much space. Now, draw your legs together and arms into your sides for Savāsana. Breathe and allow the breath to extend out into the space you filled when your arms and legs were wide.

If Misuzu Kaneko’s story resonates with you, because you or a friend struggle emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

ORGANIZING THE WORK(ers): 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

– Delores Huerta (born April 10, 1930)

In some ways, it seems like Delores Huerta has been organizing workers since she was a child. She is a second generation Mexican-American whose parents started off as migrant workers and then divorced (when she was 3) and moved into positions where they could support the labor force – her father as a politician, her mother as the owner of a restaurant and hotel that welcomed a diverse population of low income and farm workers. Huerta was active in a variety of extracurricular activities during her school years and went on to teach elementary school; however, she said, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”

By the age of 25, Huerta was working to improve the economic status of Latinos in Stockton, California. In her 30’s, she co-founded an organization that set up voter registration drives and also co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez. She is known for the motto “Si, se puede.” (Yes, we can.)

“When you have a conflict, that means there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it’s an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue.”

– Delores Huerta

Conflict in the pages of a book can make for a good story. You get to see how things are resolved, usually in a nice neat little package with all the loose ends tied up into neat bows. Real life rarely works that way, and writing the good story where conflict arises and then gets resolved can be just as daunting and overwhelming as real life. And, as we’ve seen recently, it’s a lot of work to establish dialogue between people with viewpoints. It seems like an overwhelming amount of work to change the world.

We’ve all been there: overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the work yet to be done. It doesn’t matter if we are overwhelmed by the work because procrastination has placed us under a looming deadline or if someone presented us with an unrealistic timeline. It doesn’t matter if the amount of work is relatively small compared to something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future. Nor does it matter if the work is related to our profession, our passion, and/or life. In the moment, we sit in some variation of frozen; unable to do anything, let alone the first thing. And yet, just like when you’re playing a video game, the first thing is the key that unlocks the second thing…and so forth and so on. The first thing also gives you the tools to unlock the second thing.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

– excerpt from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott (born April 10, 1954)

Writer, activist, speaker, and teacher Anne Lamott used the story about her brother as the inspiration (and title) of her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The book is a writing course that is also, like all of Lamott’s work, a life course. And, both the story about her brother and her book, prove that my favorite adage from my first yoga teachers is also true about writing: How you do writing, is how you do life (and vice versa).

“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).

– Maty Ezraty

 

Building a yoga practice – or just creating a sequence – is just like developing a new habit. There is some part of us that knows how to do it, but if we’ve never done it before (or it’s been a long time), it seems mysterious, daunting, and overwhelming. Where to begin, or “Getting started” is Lamott’s first chapter. In it, she discusses the merit of telling the truth. In many ways, this is a very good place to start when you’re on the mat. Satya (Truth) is one of the yamas or external restraints (also known as universal commandments) in the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga. If you come to the mat without being honest about where you are (in your practice) and how you’re feeling, there’s a good chance you will hurt yourself. Being honest with your self is a challenge on the best days, but it especially challenging when the focus is moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath. In being honest with yourself, it is just as important to recognize your strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses.

In the first chapter, Lamott also advises using one’s childhood as a starting place. This, it turns out, is also something we do in the physical practice of yoga. Every pose is an asana (seat) and therefore has a foundation or roots that need to be engaged in order to practice the pose. Additionally, the physical practice is also a mental practice as well as an emotional-energetic and psychic-symbolic practice.  What that means is that (a) working the body requires working the mind and (b) each part of the body is energetically and symbolically tied to parts of history and lived experience. The lower body, which supports us for the majority of our lives, is connected to our “Root Chakra” and is related to our first family, tribe, and community of birth. I often explain this connection by saying, “Just as we are biologically connected to people we may not have ever met or will ever meet, we are also energetically connected. Unless you have a specific reason for starting elsewhere, the practice begins with the feet and legs. The beginning can be standing poses (which build strength, as well as flexibility), seated, or supine poses that address the lower body.

There are 29 chapters in Bird by Bird – and they all can be used to breakdown how one builds a practice, a sequence, and or a habit. I’m not going to break them all down at this time, but here’s a sample:

Chapter 2: “Short assignments” – In a vinyasa practice, where we’re moving with the breath it can be fun to string a ton of poses together and move one-breath-one motion. It can also be dangerous. Giving the body (and the mind) easily digestible bite-sized pieces, aka short assignments. Even if you are not practicing vinyasa, give the mind-body time to process the work you’re doing as you’re doing it. Poses like Equal Standing, Wide-legged Forward Fold, Child’s Pose, or a basic seated position like Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can be moments of transition where you pause and breathe. This is true even with vinyasa. (Remember, vinyasa means “to place in a special way” it does not mean “do pushups and a back bend.” You can practice one or two standing poses and then pause for a few breaths in one of the transitional poses before continuing to your next “short assignment.” One really cool rule of thumb I was given during teacher training is to look at the “one-breath-one-motion” idea as changing a single plane or angle within the body. (For example, moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Triangle or Extended Side Angle makes sense in the body, because the feet, legs, hips, and heart stay in the same horizontal plane – and rotation. Moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Warrior III makes less sense because you are changing horizontal and vertical plane orientations, plus changing the body’s rotation.)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

–  Thomas Edison (in developing a practical electric light bulb)

“How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure is failure by default.”

– Aliza Kramer (writing about the Chanukah story)  

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

– Anne Lamott

Chapters 3, 4, & 18: “Shitty first drafts,”  “Perfectionism,” & “Jealousy” (respectively) – It’s very rare that we get something “perfect” the first time around. That’s part of the reason we “practice” yoga instead of “doing” yoga. It’s also challenging to find yourself in a room full of people who seem to know what they’re doing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount the fact that they once started at the beginning and didn’t know what they were practicing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount their hard work and assume that they are naturally strong, flexible, and or coordinated. Jealous comparisons prevent us from seeing the work of others, and also from doing our own work. Consider each time you step on the mat as a workshop moment, where you find ways not to do something and ways to go deeper.

Chapter 13: “How do you know when you’re done?” – One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that you’re never done. There’s always something to learn about yourself and the practice. There’s always some new challenge that can be built on your foundation. And, it’s fun to see what happens next. That being said, no one can be on their mat 24/7. At some point every practice session comes to its conclusion. If you look at the lower body as your first chakra (or energy wheel) and think of each chakra as a “short assignment,” then you work your way up the body and finish when you reach the crown chakra at the top of your head. Another way to know when you’re done is to break up your “short assignments” with a transitional pose where you can sit and breathe for a moment. Since the ultimate goal of the physical practice is to prepare the mind-body for deep seated meditation, use the transitional pose to assess the mind-body, in order to determine how close you are to stillness. You can be “done” when every part of your body and mind feels stable and at ease enough to be still for 5 or more minutes.

Chapters 21, 22, & 24: “Writing groups,” “Someone to read your drafts,” & “Writer’s block” (respectively) – Sharing your writing with a group is similar to sharing your practice with a group. There is a little extra boost of energy and momentum that comes from people engaged in the same thing at the same time. There is power in the group that can help us go farther than we might on our own. Practicing yoga or writing in a group, especially when people are at different levels, gives everyone an opportunity to learn and grow by considering other perspectives. It can also be helpful – when you’re working on those “shitty first drafts” – to have an outside pair of eyes, someone who can view your practice as it is and as it develops. Ultimately, this is the role of the teacher – someone who can encourage you to continue on your path, make suggestions when you seem to be falling off the path, and offer you next steps you may not have considered. Also, when you feel stuck or blocked, as we all sometimes feel, the teacher, as well as your group, can support you as you step back and take child’s pose for a moment or consider another perspective, maybe even a different way of practicing.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

– Anne Lamott

 

FEATURED POSE for April 10th: Crow & Crane (Kākkāsana & Bakāsana)

As I mention during classes on St. Patrick’s Day, there are a lot of bird poses in the physical practice of yoga. There are legit birds, as well as imaginary and mythical birds. There are birds that fly great distances and those that are along for the ride. One of the most ubiquitous poses inspired by a bird is “Crow Pose.” As I have pointed out in the past, there are some translation issues when it comes to this pose that accessible to people who may not realize it is in their wheelhouse (meaning something they can practice). “Crow” in Sanskrit is Kākkā – which sounds a lot like a crow, but it also sounds a lot like “kaka” which is slang for $^*+ and something a lot of English-speaking teachers are reticent to say in yoga. On the flip side bakāsana, the word we often use for “Crow Pose” is actually “Seat of the Crane.”  Adding to the confusion, Kākkāsana is the prep for Bakāsana (and therefore, more accessible).

If you want to skip the arm balance as an arm balance, you can do the actual pose on your back or prep it in a squat. You can also use props to help with balance. The squatting variation is the only one that is prenatal approved.

Before moving into today’s featured pose, give yourself some short assignments that warm-up the body (Sun Salutations or cat/cow if you are practicing in the squat or on your back); strengthen and lengthen the legs (standing, seated, or supine poses for the legs); create flexibility in the hips; engage the core muscles; broaden the chest area; and strengthen the arms and wrists. When you’re ready to move into the pose, consider each part of the body as its own species of bird.

From your starting position, open the knees as wide as or wider than the hips. Feet can be together or apart, but make a choice and spread the toes wide. Lengthen the low back and sacrum (the flat part of the back), by lifting the pubic bone up on inhale and letting the sit-bones and ribs reach away from one another. Engage your core. Bend your elbows and bring them into your side body so that the elbows are hugging your ribs. This begins to engage anterior serratus, so when you feel muscles squeezing along your rib cage, see if you can actively tighten in that area. Bring your hands to the floor (or the ceiling, depending on your perspective). With elbows bent back and squeezing in, you want your upper body to engage as if you are going into Chaturanga Dandasana. Rise up to your tip toes so that you can place the knees into the armpits. If you are balancing on your hands, knees actively rest on the backs of the arms. If you are on your back, if feels more like your elbows are resting on your thighs. In all variations, keep your shoulders relaxed.

From standing, you can step your feet up onto a block (behind and under your hips) or shift your body forward and back – not to get momentum, but to check the placement of your hands and arms. Once you have established a solid foundation, shift the weight (so that the toes are barely on the floor) and zip up (meaning spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom, and draw the belly button up and back). As you engage the core, the feet float up – don’t panic!

If you are on your back or in the squat, still engage your core and lengthen your spine.

When the elbows are bent this is typically referred to as “Crow Pose.” If you can consistently balance in “Crow Pose,” squeeze everything into your midline and start to straighten the arms. This is typically “Crane Pose.”

Focus on letting your heart soar!

Feel free to play around a little bit and then finish out your practice with a gentle wrist stretch, maybe a Forward Fold with Chest Expansion or that “Gorilla Pose” from last week. Finally, spend some time in Corpse Pose (Savasana) or any neutral pose where you can be still and quiet for at least 5 minutes.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

NEVERTHELESS, SHE SANG: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #9 April 9, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Marian Anderson, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“Nevertheless, she persisted.”

– Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (2/7/2017)

 

“[I’m] surprised that the words of Coretta Scott King are not suitable for debate in the United States Senate….”

– Senator Elizabeth Warren (2/7/2017)

 

Sometimes triumph comes because someone surrenders; sometimes it comes because someone persisted. If you go back in history you will find examples of both happening on any given day – including this day.

For all intensive purposes, the American Civil War ended today in 1865. Contrary to what some might say or believe, the war effectively ended when Confederate General Robert E Lee surrendered 28,000 rag-tagged and starving troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox, Virginia. Sure, some resistance continued then (and now), but Lee really didn’t have a choice.

Being out-manned and outgunned was nothing new for the Confederate army. Previously, however, they had food, supplies, reinforcements, and spirit – so they could rally. This time was different. Lee had been forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond and the Union army stood between him and Confederate reinforcements in North Carolina. They were surrounded. They were starving. They were weary. 6,000 troops had been captured at Sailor’s (or Saylers) Creek just a few days before (on April 6th). And, if we’re being honest, the Confederate troops had fought longer, harder, and more strategically than anyone had expected. But, they had also gotten really lucky – and it looked like their luck had run out.

Lee and Grant were the highest ranking officers in their respective armies and they were acquaintances (having both fought during the Mexican War). After arranging a time and a place to meet, Lee showed up in full dress and attire, complete with sash and sword; while Grant showed up in his muddy field uniform. Grant’s actions throughout the exchange (not to mention his overall personality and tendencies) may indicate that he meant no disrespect in the way that he dressed. It’s entirely possible that it never occurred to him to dress up – or that it didn’t occur to him that Lee could dress up. Either way, Grant stated that he remembered everything about Lee from the last time they had met (and been on the same side of a battle). Lee, on the other hand, said he didn’t remember a single thing about Grant. Lee asked for the terms for his surrender and Grant wrote them out: all officers and enlisted men would be pardoned and allowed to return home with their private property (basically their horse, if they had one), officers could keep their side arms, and all troops would receive Union rations. Grant stated, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.”

The end of the American Civil War led to the end of legal slavery in the United States, but there was/is still a battle for equality. Throughout the decades, the most obvious battle has been that of civil rights and the most obvious battlefield has been segregation and equal access. One of those battles was won today in 1866 when Congress enacted the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (defining citizenship and rights therein), despite President Andrew Johnson’s double veto. Another of those battles was won today in 1939. This time, because someone persisted.

April 9, 1939 was a Sunday – Easter Sunday to be precise – and over 75,000 people gathered on the mall of the Lincoln Memorial to hear a woman sing. But, this wasn’t just any crowd – it was an integrated crowd in a segregated city. And, Marian Anderson wasn’t just any woman. Even though the legendary Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini said she had “a voice such as one hears once in a hundred years [,]” she also wasn’t just any singer. Marian Anderson was the descendant of slaves: an African-American contralto whose talent would eventually earn her the Presidential Medal of Freedom (1963), the Congressional Gold Medal (1977), the Kennedy Center Honors (1978), the National Medal of Arts (1986), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991), and recognition as an international diplomat. Anderson had been scheduled to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D. C., but then told, by the Daughters of the American Revolution, that she could not sing in “their” venue because of her race. Additionally, Constitution Hall did not have the segregated public bathrooms that were required by law. The D. C. Board of Education also withheld a venue for the event. Thus, the battle had begun.

Charles Edward Russell, co-founder of the NAACP and the chair of the D.C. Inter-Racial Committee rallied church leaders, activist, and organizations such as the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the Washington Industrial Council CIO, American Federation of Labor, and the National Negro Congress to form the Marian Anderson Citizens Committee (MACC). Led by Charles Hamilton Houston (whose legal prowess would later earn him the title “The Man Who Killed Jim Crow”), the MACC picketed the board of education, collected signatures on petitions, and planned mass protests. This grassroots effort led several DAR members, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, to resign from the DAR.

“You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.”

–excerpt from DAR resignation letter written by First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

The First Lady went on to enlist her husband, then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt; members of his cabinet; Walter White of the NAACP; and Anderson’s manager, impresario Sol Hurok in order to organize a free, open-air concert. The concert, held today in 1939, attracted more than 75,000 people of various races, ethnicities, ages, genders, sexualities, and political affiliations. Additionally, the concert was broadcast live to millions. (Here’s a picture, just in case you’re one of those people interested in crowd sizes on the D. C. mall.)

 FEATURED POSE for April 9th: Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samastithi  / Tadasana)

Equal Standing (Samstithi), also known as Mountain Pose (Tadasana) is one of the foundational poses in the physical practice of yoga. It is the first pose highlighted in B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. And, as I often say, there is an element of Samastithi/Tadasana in every pose. Whether you are seated, standing, kneeling, or lying down, start to notice where elements of this pose reoccur throughout your practice.

Begin by noticing how you carry your weight. Rock all your weight onto your toes and then rock it all onto your heels. Sway side to side. Play with being out of balance and then stand or sit so that weight is balanced on either side of your spine. If you are standing or sitting with your feet flat on a surface, spread the big toes and little toes away from each other and then down into the ground. Press both sides of the heels down. If you are seated with legs crossed, or kneeling, get grounded though your base.

Now that the arches are starting to activate and the ankles are starting to stabilize, bring awareness to the knees. If you are standing upright (or if seated with legs stretched out in front of you), engage the quadriceps in order to lift the kneecaps up. Thighs will be firm. In all variations of Mountain Pose, press your sit bones away from your ribs, and vice versa. Lift your pelvic floor (squeezing your perineum muscles as if you are trying not to go to the bathroom) and draw your belly button up and back.

As you extend your spine, as your heart and sternum lift up, be mindful about your low back. Make sure you are not bending over backwards. While keeping the heart open and lifted, soften the lower ribs and draw them down into the belly – so that the core becomes more engaged.

Relax the shoulders and jaw. Spread your collarbones wide so that palms either turn forward or rest by your sides facing the body. If the hands face the body, make sure the collarbones, shoulders, and chest are still spreading left to right. Keep the chin parallel to your toes.

Note, this is a great stance for singing or speaking to large groups of people.

Breathe here for a couple of minutes, extending the spine as you inhale and making sure you’re all zipped up as you exhale. Repeat this same sequence while lying on your back.

(Click here if you don’t see the sound bar below, featuring Marian Anderson’s 1939 concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.)

{SIDE NOTE: Marian Anderson’s mother was a Rucker; so I’m claiming her as my own. SAD NOTE: Martin Luther King Jr. was buried today in 1968. CURIOUS NOTE: Marian Anderson died at the age of 96. Having performed on this date (4-9-39), I found it curious to note that she died on 4-8-93.}

### NAMASTE ###

 

CH-CH-CHANGES, LIKE A RIVER: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

πάντα ρε “  (“panta rhei “ everything flows or everything to the stream)

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (c. 535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

 

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

 – excerpt from funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer

 

Shift happens…all the time. Or, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once put it, “Everything changes and nothing remains still…you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Recognizing the temporal nature of everything, including ourselves and our experiences, can be very helpful.  However, it seems to be human nature to resist change and, in doing so, deny that change is happening – which, as the Buddha pointed out, creates suffering.

(Thus) have I heard that Prince Siddhartha Guatama of India was born into a family of great wealth and great privilege.  As pointed out at the beginning of this series, Siddartha means “one who has accomplished his goal” or “one who has achieved his aim” and – as far as his family was concerned his dharma (or goal) was to one day take over as ruler of his father’s lands. (The title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One,” would come later in his life.)

Siddhartha knew nothing of pain and nothing of suffering, having been shielded from the existence of sickness and death, until the age of 29. Upon seeing the suffering of others, his life trajectory changed and he renounced the life he knew in order to find a path that would alleviate suffering. At the age of 35, tradition tells us, he articulated The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering

In some traditions of Buddhism, understanding and accepting these four noble truths is the key to waking up and there are a number of practices specifically designed to bring awareness to change happening every time you inhale, every time you exhale. In fact, the very act of sitting and watching the breath can illuminate the Four Noble Truths and the temporal nature of our existence.

The history of Japan and Japanese culture is full of change. Depending on where you look you may find an acute juxtaposition between accepting change, keeping a tradition (without change), and actually celebrating change. For example, most of the Buddhist world celebrates the Buddha’s birthday on May 8th or a day determined by a lunar calendar. Many temples in Japan, however, started celebrating on April 8th every year, when the country switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.  During the Flower Festival, which is the birthday celebration, people will pour a sweet tea made from fermented hydrangea leaves over where small statues of the Buddha.

For an example of people celebrating change, look no further than the sakura (cherry blossom) season that is beginning. The Cherry Blossom Festivals that are currently kicking off (or ending, depending on the region) is completely separate from the Flower Festival associated with the Buddha’s birthday.

Sakura usually begin blossoming in the southern part of Japan and, over a matter of weeks, eventually blossom across the whole island. However, by the time the blossoms peak in the North they are already out of season in the South. The delicate flowers literally blow away like dust in the wind. For the heart and mind to hold the beauty of the moment when the flowers peak, with the awareness (and sadness) that the moment is already passing, is known as mono no aware (literally, “the pathos of things”). Mono no aware may be translated as “empathy towards things,” but there’s really no set words in English to express the feeling of wonder (“the ahhness”) inextricably tied to the longing and deep sadness that accompanies loss. This is what is – and yet, without some kind of mindfulness practice it is easy to separate the two sensations or to be so overwhelmed by the twin emotions that we focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other. Focusing on what feels good and appealing, while avoiding what doesn’t feel good results in more suffering. It also creates suffering when our longing for what has passed causes us to miss what is. (Not to mention, it causes us to continuously confront the illusion that we can go back to a moment in time, in the same way we think we can cross the same river twice.)

If you look at the history of sitting in Japan, you will also find lots of change – and sometimes a resistance to change. What is now commonly considered the proper way to sit in Zen Buddhism, as well as in day-to-day life, is seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”). Seiza is kneeling so that the big toes overlap (right over left) and then sitting on the heels. Women are taught to sit with the knees together, while men may be taught to spread the knees a little. In the modern times, this type of sitting is ubiquitous and considered respectful; however, prior to the mid 14th century and up to the late 16th century it was consider proper and respectful to either sit with legs to the side or cross-legged. Cross-legged was, in fact, the preference for many warriors as it was believed that a cross-legged position would not hinder a samurai if they needed to draw their sword.

“The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (DK22A1)

 

In the physical practice of yoga, the “proper way to sit” is in way that is stable and comfortable enough for you to focus on your breath. Notice that in Yoga Sutra II.46 (broken down in yesterday’s post) Patanjali uses the words sukham asanam which can be translated as “dwelling in a good space.” The flip side of a good space is dukha “a bad space” – or, more acutely, “a space of suffering.” As you move into this next pose, make sure you are not dwelling in a space of suffering.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 8th: Auspicious or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana)

Auspicious Pose or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana) appears in classical texts like Gheranda Samhita (c. 17th century) as a pose similar to seiza. In more modern texts it is depicted as a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana). Either variation can be in the beginning, middle, and/or the end of a practice. In fact, if you are doing a variety of poses today, you can return to your Auspicious pose the way your return to Downward Facing Dog, or Equal Standing, and notice was changed or shifted.

For the classical variation, be mindful of the knees and hips as you come to your hands and knees and bring the tips of the big toes to touch. Spread the knees as wide as you are able and then sit back on your heels. If there is a lot of pressure on the knees, sit on a block or blanket. You may also need a blanket or towel under the feet for this variation.

For the second variation, bring your feet together, like a prayer, in front of your hips (rather than behind). This variation is easier on the knees and feet. You may still need to sit up on a blanket or block. Especially if the hips are tight, you slump into the low back, and/or the knees are up higher than the hips. In this variation you can also adjust the feet (bring them closer in or further out) to bring more ease to the knees.

You can sit up tall with the hands resting on the thighs. Another option, which is very nice for the shoulders, is to lift your heart up (into the beginning of a backbend) and cross the hands behind the back so that you can grab the toes, the heels, or (if your feet are in front) the opposite hip. Make sure you are not leaning back, but instead are arching your chest up. Be mindful that you are not straining or compressing the low back.

If you have unregulated blood pressure issues, let your breath flow naturally in and ebb naturally out. If you find you are holding your breath or panting, ease out of the pose. If you are in overall good health, and they are in your practice, you can add your bandhas.

Dwell in this good space (sukha asama) until you have to move out of it (because it has become the “bad space” ( dukkha asanam). Be mindful that you ease out of the pose with the same awareness you used to get into it. Find some gentle, micro-movements to release the joints.

 

(Click here if you do not see the video.)

### NAMASTE ###

WHAT MAKES A WARRIOR HAPPY: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #7 April 7, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Black Elk, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, William Wordsworth, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

“sthira sukham asanam” (YS II.46)

sthira           steady, stable
sukham       easy, comfortable, joyful
asanam        seat (meditation posture or pose)

Patanjali, who outlines the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, does not spend a lot of time talking about the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition), which is a combination of asana and pranayama. About asana, the third limb, he indicates that one should cultivate – or continuously maintain – steadiness and ease. He goes on to explain that this cultivation, or “perfecting,” requires relaxing the effort and “allowing the attention to merge with the infinite,” which, in turn, brings a sense of “freedom from suffering.” Furthermore, he states that pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, begins to occur as a result of the perfected and balanced pose.

At first glance this all sounds really odd. How do you relax the effort without falling over? And, if you’re worried about falling over, how can you possibly pay attention to anything other than not falling over?

“Simple causal reasoning about the feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and the second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument. This makes reasoning based upon cause and effect tricky, and it is necessary to analyze the system as a whole.”

 

– Karl Johan Aström and Richard Murray, Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers

It turns out that the two limbs create a feedback loop: if you can find balance between effort and relaxation (steadiness and ease), you will start to notice the breath, the parts of the breath and (as Patanjali points out in II.50-51) the breath becomes long, fine, and seamlessly continuous (or infinite). Simultaneously, if you observe the breath and adjust your body in order to find the position where the breath is long, fine, and seamlessly continuous, you will have found the physical balance between effort and relaxation. Finally, finding that physical balance will result in mental balance and clarity which, Patanjali explains, reveals inner light. (II.52)

“Whose high endeavors are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;”

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

While Virabhadrasana literally means “Hero Friend or Brave Person Seat,” in English we almost always translate it to “Warrior Pose.” Yoga practices which utilize standing poses (even if you’re seated in a chair) will inevitably include at least one of three Virabhadrasanas. However, there is also a seated pose (Virasana, accurately translated as “Hero Pose,”), a “Humble Warrior,” a “Shackled Warrior, and there are several poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king, which all may also be referred to as “Warrior” poses. We may think of any number of warrior-like attributes we want to embody when practicing these poses. The question is, how often do those attributes include balance, generosity of Spirit, self-knowledge, happiness – or any of the other qualities William Wordsworth (born today in 1770) uses to describe the character of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson?

Wordsworth’s poem “Character of the Happy Warrior” (circa 1806) is similar in context to W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” (circa 1939). They are both intended to eulogize and memorialize. The biggest difference in the two poems, however, is that Auden’s poem is pure satire and reveals a person who cannot actually exist. Nothing negative can be or is said about Auden’s “citizen.” On the flip side, Wordsworth was honoring the recently deceased Lord Nelson, who was praised for his leadership skills and persistence, and was known as a British hero of the Napoleonic Wars – despite being a strong proponent of slavery. Still, the flattering depiction in the poem is a legacy that lives beyond the man himself. The term “the happy warrior” enjoys a place in the English lexicon as a great way to summarize the character of a person (usually a man) who exhibits “our human nature’s highest dower” (or gift).

“We can perhaps change the whole world but it will not help us. On the contrary, if we change ourselves, then the world is automatically changed. Change in the world will come naturally, inevitably, spontaneously, as we bring about this change to ourselves.”

– Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati *

FEATURED POSE for April 7th: “Happy Warrior,” II variation (Ananda Virabhadrasana)

{*A quick shout out and thank you to Elias Lopez Garcia of Happy Warrior Yoga, for (unknowingly) helping me narrow down which warrior pose to feature today. If you appreciate this experience, please “like” his video, linked here and embedded below.}

This “Happy Warrior” variation can be done with or without warming up the body. Keep in mind, however, that this pose is asymmetrical and requires externally rotated hips. If you have hip and/or balance issues, use cat/cow or some sun or moon salutations as a warm up. You can also move into a wide-legged seated pose like Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana) or a squat – either Yogi Prayer Squat or Horse/Goddess Pose – with all four corners of your feet grounded, plus toes and knees turned out for external rotation and abduction.

When you are ready to practice “Happy Warrior,” spread your legs so that the ankles are underneath the wrists or between each elbow and wrist. Make sure the toes are all pointed in the same direction and that the feet are parallel to each other. With the arms spread wide, breathe deeply in and out, making sure that you feel open and grounded. Notice your breath. Adjust your position if you are not feeling stable and comfortable, or if the breath is not naturally deepening.

After a few moments, lift your arms up and out, making a “V” shape for “5-Pointed Star” (also known as “Big Asana” and “Hallelujah Asana”). Crown of your head is the fifth point of the star so press down to lift the body up. Inhale the corners of your mouth up towards your ears and exhale, relax your jaw, for “5-Pointed Smile.” Breathe here and notice how you feel as the sensation of the smile spreads out through your fingers and toes, as well as the corners of your mouth and the crown of your head.

Maintaining the internal sensation of the smile, even as the expression on your face softens, exhale to turn the right toes out so that the right heel lines up with the middle (or center) of the left foot. You may need to bring your hands down to your hips for balance. Once you establish this heel-to-arch alignment, bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to reach. Make sure that the knee is over the ankle, tracking the pinky toe. Check to make sure that you are balancing your weight between both feet, both legs, and both hips. Double check the hips to make sure the back (left) hip isn’t getting cocky and sitting higher than the right.

Inhale and lift your arms straight up in the air over your head. Check to make sure that your hips are open wide (away from each other) and that the shoulders are directly over your hips so that when your arms are raised the upper body looks like it’s in Mountain Pose (Tadasana)/Arms Over Head Pose (Urdhva Hastasana). On an exhale, lower the arms just enough to go back to the “V” position. Gaze up, straight over your heart, and press down in order to lift your head up.

Embody the internalized sensation of the smile. Simultaneously, think of your favorite warrior, agape or otherwise, and embody what you see as their best characteristics. Now, embody your best characteristics – all simply in the way your hold your body. After 5 – 7 breaths, release the pose and move back into the starting position. Repeat the pose on the other side.

 

### Jai Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###