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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.
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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!

Quick Announcements and A Thank You! May 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Black Elk, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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First, the thank you:

I am deeply grateful to everyone who participated in this year’s Kiss My Asana yogathon to benefit Mind Body Solutions. It doesn’t matter if you made a donation online, attended a donation-based class, hosted a donation-based class, or asked a question (and, maybe, are still waiting on my answer) – either way, you made a difference in how we view yoga and how we, as part of the yoga community, keep our sacred circle open to all bodies and all minds. During one class in particular, when I listed all the types of people who can benefit from adaptive yoga, I found myself referencing every person in the room. Just a reminder that it’s not about modifications, it’s about the practice.

Thank you, also, to Sandra Razieli for spending part of her birthday weekend co-teaching with me!

Thus far, we’ve raised $855 this year to support the Mind Body Solutions Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

Oh, and by the way, you can still donate here!

 

And now, the quick announcements:

May the 4th is with us! While I am sad to report that I will not be leading any Star Wars yoga classes this year, I am very excited about returning to the Walker Art Center to facilitate meditation during MN Artists Presents: Marcus Young (5 – 9 PM). This free event is kid-friendly and has a lot of mindfully interactive moments. For more information, check out the event page or the Walker’s Facebook page. (Please note: road closures may create delays and detours. Breathe deeply. And may the force be with you.)

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Finally, my YMCA classes will have subs on Friday night (5/5), Saturday morning (5/6), and all day Sunday (5/7). Enjoy!

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2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #8: When Do You Practice? April 22, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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When do you practice? – B (who practices “about once a week,” but not with me – yet)

About once a quarter, someone expresses gratitude for their practice and then asks me when I find time to practice. The question is usually associated with their appreciation of the benefits they experience from yoga and their observation of me not practicing the physical poses when I lead a yoga practice. The “quick and dirty” answer to B’s question is that I practice before I teach. The “not so quick and dirty” answer is that I practice before I teach, while I’m teaching, and after I’m teaching.

The physical practice before I teach may happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes I take a class or a workshop, sometimes I stream a class or use some other form of media. However, since I currently teach six (6) days a week, and teach during peak hours, I find it challenging to take a class. So, more often than not, I find a quiet spot and hit the mat on my own.

When I take a class or workshop, I gravitate towards alignment-focused yoga classes or intensely physical yoga practices with a teacher who emphasizes the emotional, energetic, philosophical and/or spiritual aspects of yoga. (Hmm, sound familiar?) When I practice on my own, the physical elements change based on how I’m feeling and what I’m teaching. In general, I practice a template of the first sequence I’m going to teach. My current practice schedule looks a little like this:

Monday – Yin Yoga

Tuesday – Vinyasa

Wednesday – Yin Yoga

Thursday – open day; rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, meditation and/or other physical activity

Friday – Vinyasa

Saturday – rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, or some other tradition

Sunday – Vinyasa

That’s the “quick and dirty” answer, but there’s a story behind why I practice before I teach.

During my initial yoga teacher training, I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group talking to a teacher named Kim. A few things to note about Kim: first, she was not one of the teachers leading or facilitating the teacher training; second, she was not the stereotypical CorePower teacher; third, she had the brightest smile and one of the biggest spirits. It’s her spirit, I think, that instigated the conversation where she shared with us something she wished she had been told during her teacher training: take a class for every class you teach.

Being young pups, full of the enthusiasm and power that comes from being in an intense learning situation, parts of us dismissed Kim’s advice. We were in teacher training because we loved yoga and couldn’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t take a class (or practice on our own) on a daily basis. We couldn’t imagine that teaching yoga creates a scheduling dynamic which is really different from the scheduling dynamic of squeezing our yoga practice in between our work and family life. We hadn’t yet grasped that once the learning-teaching brain engaged we might not be capable of getting back to a learning-only brain. Many of us, also, didn’t yet understood that teaching hath yoga (the physical practice of yoga) requires actively practicing the yoga philosophy. And that’s where my “not so quick and dirty” answer comes into play.

The 8-limb philosophy of Yoga begins with an ethical component: 5 yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) and 5 niyamas (or internal observations). The yamas and niyamas, like any other moral compass, may guide a person on and off the mat. In the philosophy, these ethical considerations precede the asana (seat or pose) and pranayama (awareness or extension of breath), which means we can use our time on the mat as a way to practice our ethics in a controlled environment. For example, the first and second yamas – ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) – may be practiced by being honest about the mind-body strengths and weakness in order to practice a pose safely. At the same time, second, third, and fourth niyamas – santosha (contentment), tapas (heat, discipline, and/or austerity) and svadyaya (self-study) – may be observed by focusing on the alignment of a challenging pose while also noticing how you react to using a prop, needing/taking a modification, or not completing the pose and, simultaneously,  accepting where you are in the practice.

I practice these elements while I’m physically on the mat, but I also need to practice them when I’m leading other people. For example, I need to consider if the options  I’m suggesting are safe for the individuals in the room and if I’m providing enough options to meet and accept everyone in the room – all while noticing my reaction to things not going the way I planned when my mind-body on the mat was the only consideration. If I’m demonstrating a peak pose, I need to make sure I’ve prepared myself along the way (despite not doing all the preparatory poses) to demonstrate without injuring myself. Finally, after I teach, there are several things I do as a kind of mental Savasana (Corpse Pose), to decompress and allow the mind-body to absorb the work.

Even though I didn’t initial understand them, Kim’s words really stuck with me. In fact, they were some of the most important words I heard during yoga teacher training.

Thanks for the wisdom, Kim!

 

The teachers at Mind Body Solutions are awakening the connection between mind and body in a way that transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential. They say the practice is humanity disguised as yoga. So, clicking here to Kiss My Asana with a donation practices humanity off the mat, in a way that allows someone to practice humanity on the mat. When I’m able, I drop-in to Matthew Sanford’s Monday morning class. Maybe I’ll see you practicing your humanity on the mat!

 

 

### On and Off the Mat ###

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTIONS #5, 6, & 7: IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK…? April 15, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“If you could recommend one book about yoga that really impacted your practice, what book would that be?”

 

“If you could recommend one book about meditation, what would it be?”

 

“Is there a book that would help a beginner like me establish a daily practice?”

– E

There might be more books on yoga and meditation than there are ways to practice yoga and meditation. I know for sure that there are so many books on each it is sometimes hard to narrow things down to a single recommendation. Even if I had read everything that’s ever been printed – and nothing else was ever printed (which would be a shame since one of my teachers is currently working on her first book) – and even if I only focused on books that really impacted my practice, I would still end up with a bag full of books.

Jan 2016 Yoga Books 56

(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

Part of me wants to break this down into a book on the physical practice versus a book on the philosophy; however, sitting with WHY I want to make that distinction, brings me to one very comprehensive option: T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice.

Desikachar was the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher responsible for the resurgence of yoga in 20th Century India. Krishnamacharya taught Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi – who all had a hand in bringing the physical practice of yoga to the West. Each of the teachers mentioned above wrote at least one book which impacted someone’s yoga practice (including mine), and all of them have had books written about them. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga is simultaneously about yoga and about a teacher’s teacher. It is also a practice manual with a heavy focus on the philosophy. Unlike some other books I might refer to as practice manuals, The Heart of Yoga not only offers an overview of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, it includes a translation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (NOTE: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms. Most books on the sutras include each aphorism, plus a translation and commentary for each aphorism. I use several sources for translation/commentary comparative analysis; however, my go-to resource is a website by Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition.) The Heart of Yoga gives practitioners of any fitness or experience level the opportunity to build a physical practice, while also maintaining a connection to the overall philosophical practice.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Nhat Hahn’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Nhat Hahn is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“Practice, practice, practice – all is coming.” ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois


If you find this information helpful, insightful, validating, and/or curious, please Kiss My Asana by making a donation, joining the team, asking a question, and/or joining me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions.

Sandra Razieli and I will co-host a donation-based class on Saturday, April 22nd (6:30 PM – 8:00 PM) at Flourish Pilates+Yoga+Bodywork. I will host a second class on Saturday, April 29th (3:30 PM – 5:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga. Please RSVP via email (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com). All donations will benefit Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIHI OM ##

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #4: IS THERE A WAY TO MODIFY…? April 10, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, pro, Science, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Women, Yoga.
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“I’m not very flexible and when I do yoga, every pose seems to stretch/work the backs of my legs. They are definitely my limiting factor. Is there a way to modify poses, down dog for example, to work/stretch other muscles?” – YogaNovice

YogaNovice’s question about modifying a pose, like down dog, in order to work/stretch other muscles required a little follow-up, because (a) I’m not familiar with the practitioner’s body or practice and (b) the words “stretch” and “work” convey different engagements to me. However, even before asking some follow-up questions, my answers came down to intention and alignment.

Before practicing a pose, consider the purpose of the pose in general and then the specific purpose of the pose within the sequence. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward bend, an inversion, and includes a slight back bend. It can be used to strengthen the limbs of the body, alleviate pain and stiffness in the legs, ankles, feet, arms, wrists, and shoulders – while also helping a practitioner engage core muscles. In vinyasa, it often feels like the least strenuous pose and therefore becomes a re-set moment. As an inversion, it can be exhilarating, since the head is below the heart, but does not require pressure on the head and neck. I refer to it as “a full body stretch” – and yet, all the benefits of the pose may be lost if the pose is misaligned.

As my friend Tom Bushlack pointed out in a recent post on alignment (and misalignment), B. K. S. Iyengar and his Light On Yoga are the first resources many people in the West mention when discussing alignment.  Other great alignment resources include Leslie Kaminoff and his Yoga Anatomy, as well as Dr. Ray Long’s series of books. Many of these may be a little much for a yoga novice and, therefore, I also recommend Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. Ultimately, however, the greatest alignment resource is practicing with an anatomy-focused teacher (like Matthew Sanford or the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions).

Alignment-focused yoga offers the opportunity to use props for better engagement. So, rather than muscling into a pose and experiencing strain or injury, props enable a practitioner to find the balance between effort and relaxation and to, as Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras (2:46 – 2:48), cultivate a steady (or stable), easy (or joyful) seat (or pose). A person could use a wall, blocks, blankets, an extra mat, a strap, and/or another person in order to find more balance in pose.

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

Here’s a practice to help YogaNovice find more ease in Downward Facing Dog. Read through the sequence before practicing it, and remember to check with your health care practitioner before starting any new exercise. Each step below may be practiced in 1 minute increments.

  1. Establish what your body feels like when standing in a neutral (spine and hip) position, like Tadasana/Samasthiti (Mountain Pose/Equal Standing).
  2. Establish what your body feels like when the spine is in neutral Table Top (on hands and knees, with shoulders and elbows over wrists and hips over knees) versus when inhaling into Cow Pose (spinal extension), exhaling into Cat Pose (spinal flexion).
  3. If it is accessible to you, move into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. Release/relax.
  4. Sitting on a block or blanket (for extra support) and with your hips and back against a wall – or sitting on a chair with spine in a neutral position, lift your arms overhead with fingers pointed toward the wall (palms will be facing the ceiling). Play with how the arms and back feel when the legs are fully extended versus when the legs are slightly bent (at the knees). Once you’ve established a leg position that feels like balanced effort, then, play with how the arms and back feel when the arms are fully extended versus slightly bent (at the elbows). (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.)
  5. Stand, facing a wall, with feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart and arms extended at shoulder height so that the fingers barely touch the wall. Then, maintaining the established arms’ length, flatten the palms and fold until the back is “parallel” to the ceiling. Now, notice how it feels when the knees are bent versus straight, (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.) Next, experiment with the arm position to find balanced effort. Don’t forget: Balance comes from all accessible limbs sharing your body weight!
  6. If it is accessible to you, move back into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. This time, curl the toes under and actively press the hands and feet down while actively extending the spine into a mini-back bend. Relax after a few breaths.
  7. From Table Top (on hands and knees with a neutral spine), curl the toes under and lift the hips up into an upside down “V” for victory, with spine and thighs pressing towards the space behind you. Now that you’ve moved into the shape of Downward Facing Dog, active the pose as follows:
    • Make sure middle fingers are pointing forward (with fingers spread wide), pressing into the thumb and first finger (so there is less weight on the outer wrist). As much as you’re able, maintain the hand position and rotate the elbows towards the knees.
    • If experiencing wrist issues, use a wrist guard or return to hands and knees to set-up Dolphin Dog.
    • As you lower your head and shoulders, make sure big toes are parallel to each other. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, Iyengar recommends placing feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart. Note that in an actual Iyengar class, Matthew Sanford has commented on how people have their feet too close together – in part, because we’re often practicing someone else’s alignment (versus our own body’s alignment). (This kind of individual instruction is why practicing with an alignment-focused teacher is invaluable!)
    • Spread the toes and let the heels reach towards the earth, but don’t focus on pressing/forcing the heels into the earth. Bend the knees, as needed, to achieve the previously experienced lightness of balanced effort. (Extreme knee flexion may mean you bring knees to the mat and practice an active Puppy Dog.)
    • You’ll find in an Iyengar practice that props may be added under the head, heels, and hands to provide support. A teacher can provide hands-on assistance to encourage the hips to lift as the spine extends.
  8. Release/relax in Balasana (Child’s Pose) with toes pointed behind the body and arms resting by the hips. If Child’s Pose is not accessible, lie on your back.

Yoga requires patience and dedication. In the Yoga Sutras (1:12 – 1:16), Patanjali emphasizes that mastery comes from combining abhyasa (repeated and consistent practiced) and vairagya (non-attachment). Consistently practicing the above over a period of time is one way to experience abhyasa; practicing any of the steps above as an alternative to practicing Downward Facing Dog as it appears in a book or a magazine is a form of vairagya.

YogaNovice AMS

Thank you, YogaNovice, for helping me fulfill my 2017 Kiss My Asana commitment. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out one of the classes at Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

 

Please consider joining the yogathon by making a donation, joining the team, and asking a question.

### JAI JAI GURU DEV (SHINE ON) ###

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #3: IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET A LIST OF LAST MONDAY’S POSES…? April 5, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Daoism, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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 “Your last Monday Yin Yoga class was the best class I’ve experienced in a long time. Today’s class was almost just as good.  Is it possible to get a list of poses from last Mon, or, might you have a repeat of the class sometime & I could make a list of the poses?

 

By the way, the Yin classes are more frequently & for longer periods lowering my neuropathy pain in my feet.  Thanks for your medicinal touch.”

– G

Yin Yoga has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which maps out the vitality of the body’s organs through a system of meridians located in the deep tissue of the body. As we move into spring, my Yin Yoga classes are focusing on the gall bladder Meridian (running down the outer perimeter of the body) and liver Meridian (running up the inner thigh) – which means lots of hip opening.

The long, prop-supported holds (typically, 3 – 5 minutes) in Yin Yoga may appear similar to poses in a restorative practice; however, Yin Yoga can be significantly more “intense” than a restorative practice. By “intense,” I don’t mean active. In fact, Yin Yoga is, in some ways, the opposite of our other Hatha Yoga (physical yoga) practices. Rather than addressing the outer musculature (the muscles we can see, shape, and tone), Yin Yoga addresses the body’s fascia, deep tissue, and connective tissues. The practice may also decompress areas around the joints. One of the best online resources for Yin Yoga is Bernie Clark’s aptly named yinyoga.com, where you will find pose details, a community forum, and links to Clark’s YouTube channel.

My regular students are always welcome to take a picture of my “playbook” (see below).

March 27 Alvarez and Sakura YIN

(Please note:  These practice details are intended for individuals who already have a Yin Yoga practice. Before starting a new practice, be sure to check in with your health care provider. Most importantly, remember that although you may experience health benefits from your practice, this practice information is not intended as medical advice or as a means to replace medical care.)

Since my so-called hieroglyphics can be a little tiny or hard to read, here is an outline of the Monday Yin Yoga class from March 27, 2017 a.k.a. Julia Alvarez’s Big Day, a.k.a. the anniversary of the day First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda planted cherry blossoms in D.C.:

  • Legs-Up-The Wall (for centering and integration): Sit sideways on the mat, so that the side of your hip is up against the wall; then pivot the body so the legs swing up and the back reclines on the mat. The trick is to keep your bottom on the wall. (For more release in the hamstrings, back, and hips, place the feet on a chair or table so that hips, knees, and ankles are resting at 90 degree angles.) Hold for about 2 minutes with back on the floor or a blanket. For additional decompression, bend the knees in order to use the legs to lift the hips and add a block, making sure not to pinch the spine. Hold for another 3 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” – on the wall (counter-pose): Remove the block and move into Butterfly (feet together like a prayer, knees open up like the pages of a book) with legs on the wall for about one minute. Use “Sleeping Butterfly” or a Squat on the wall to set a personal intention, which will keep you on the wall for another minute.
  • Dragonfly, on the wall: Stretch your legs out (on the wall) as wide as they’ll go, and support the legs by placing a block between the wall and each thigh or by placing blocks or a bolster on the outside of each thigh. Hold for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” (transitional pose) and Fetal Position (transitional pose)
  • Wide Legged Child’s Pose (with arms bent on floor over head): Props may be placed under the hips and/or under your chest. If you have a bolster, you can recline your whole body on it. Hold for 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition into about 1 minute of gentle movement to break up the stillness.
  • Half Shoelace or Half Square sequence: Sit with legs extended in front of you. If there’s compression in the low back and/or hips, sit up on top of a blanket or block. Hug right knee in and lift it over extended left leg. You can either rotate the top leg so the knee points to the left foot or slide the top leg to the side so the ankle rests on the bottom thigh, right below the knee. (If elevated, you can place a blanket or towel under the extended shin – to soften the experience at the back of the knee. If you have a hamstring issue, you could sub “Full” Shoelace or Square by bending the bottom knee into the appropriate position.) Twist upper body to the right and hold for at least 1 minute. Rotate back to center and fold until you feel a change, support the change and hold for at least 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to lift the body, unravel the legs and give them a rub or a hug. Lean back on the forearms or recline with back on the floor, windshield wiper bent knees for about 1 minute.
  • Repeat “Half Shoelace or Half Square” sequence on opposite side and Counter-pose Moment.
  • (Prone) Frog or Dragonfly: Face the long side of the mat and set up props as needed. For (Prone) Frog, come into table top; spread the knees as wide as they’ll go, with ankles under the knees (when you look down the legs) and hips pressing back. Extend the chest forward and recline on forearms and/or props. Prop the thighs. For Dragonfly, sit with legs in front of you and spread wide; prop as needed for low back and lean forward until you feel a change; prop the change. Hold for 5 minutes
  • Counter-pose Moment: (Prone) Frogs Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition; Dragonflies use inhale to rise up, hug the knees into the chest and then recline to windshield wiper bent knees. Gentle movement for about 1 minute.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly”: Set up props so upper back is supported, behind shoulder blades, and head us raised slightly above the chest by a prop that supports the nape of the neck (where head meets the spine). If thighs do not touch the ground when legs rest in position, place a block under each thigh. Hold for 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Mindfully, move off the props.
  • Savasana (with props, as needed): Hold for at least 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Be easy and gentle as you move out of Savasana and into a fetal position. Give yourself a moment before sitting up and closing out your practice. Namaste.

Thanks, G, for your question. I’m always so glad to see you in class and (of course) super grateful your yoga practice is helping you feel good!

If anyone else out there is grateful for the way yoga helps you feel, please share your practice and consider Kiss(ing) My Asana with a joyful donation.

 

### Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi Om ###

2017 Kiss My Asana Question #2: Why 108? April 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 31-Day Challenge, Baseball, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Chicago Cubs, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tai Chi, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The number of words you use to answer these questions is going to be divisible by 108? Why 108?” – the obvious questions

The significance of 108 is something pondered pretty much whenever people get ready to practice 108 Sun Salutations (for New Year’s Day, Spring/Fall Equinox, and Summer/Winter Solstice). It is considered an auspicious number in a variety of disciplines and traditions. So much so that if I listed 108 reasons, I might still be missing some. Swami J has a pretty comprehensive list; however, here are some of my favorites:

  • 108 is a harshad (or, “great joy” bringer) number in mathematics, meaning that it is divisible by the sum of its parts (1+0+8=9; 108/9 = 12)
    • Note also 1+2 = 3; 12/3 = 4 and 108/3 = 36; 3+6 = 9; 36/9 = 6
  • 108 is a prime example of numbers being exponentially powerful {(1, raised to the 1st power) multiplied times (2, raised to the 2nd power) multiplied times (3, raised to the 3rd power), i.e., 1*4*27}
  • 108 suitors pursue Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • In Buddhism, the 108 feelings or sensations humans experience result from external/physical and internal/mental stimuli (2) being received through our senses and consciousness (5+1) multiplied times our perception of sensation as positive/pleasant, negative/painful, or neutral (3) multiplied times our ability to experience feelings or sensations in the past, present, and future (3). {2*(5+1)*3*3}
  • In Eastern religions and philosophies, a mala used to count repetitions during meditation contains 108 beads – or a fraction of 108, and this coincides with an old school Catholic rosary which allows you to count out 10 decades, and provides 8 additional beads (for mistakes). The cross would be considered the guru bead.
  • In some religions there is only one God; however there are 101-108 names for God.
  • In an Indian creation story, God as Dance (Nataraja) creates the universe through a dance containing 108 steps or poses; and, there are 108 forms of dance in Indian traditions.
  • Some martial arts forms contain 108 steps or poses.
  • According to some yoga texts, there are 108 nadis (energy rivers carrying the bodies vitality) intersecting at the heart chakra.

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

  • The 108 double stitches on a Major League baseball are hand stitched; AND
  • It took 108 years for a much loved baseball team to break a curse (that may or may not be real) – and they did it in the 10th inning with 8 runs!

Finally, it would be seriously auspicious if a couple of people (2) Kiss(ed) My Asana by clicking here and donating $54 each. Or, you know what would be a real joy bringer? If a certain number of individuals (108) clicked above and donated $108 each.

For those of you doing the math: $25 shares a “Beyond Disability” DVD with a home-bound person living with a disability; $250 provides four yoga classes at a battered women’s shelter or veterans center; $500 provides full tuition for an Opening Yoga Teacher Training Workshop; and $1000 transforms the life of someone living with a disability by providing them an entire year of adaptive yoga. While these numbers focus on the people directly receiving the service, consider how yoga affects not only the individual on the mat, but everyone that individual encounters off the mat.

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Are You Ready? Are You Ready…to Kiss My Asana? April 1, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

It’s that time again! Spring? Yes, but also it’s time for Kiss My Asana. For the fourth year in a row, I am joining joyful yogis everywhere to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

Matthew Sanford and the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions are committed to a yoga practice which “transcends ability and disability, opens people’s lives to new possibilities, and transforms the delivery of health care.” The annual yogathon is a virtual four-week challenge open to anyone, anywhere, and it’s pretty much open to any way you want to do more yoga, learn more about yoga, and share more yoga.

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

Then let’s get started. There are a lot of ways to help raise awareness and resources during the month of April. Here are just a few suggestions.

Erika teaches a Vin-Yin class at Nokomis, and her KMA class will be a Slow Flow Vinyasa. The classes I host (or co-host) will be inspired by the practice principles featured in the adaptive yoga DVD “Beyond Disability” as led by Matthew Sanford. (Please RSVP using the links above if you would like to join one of these donation-based classes.)

  • You can challenge yourself by practicing one thing (an asana, pranayama, or a meditation) every day for 30 days.
  • You can use yoga to embody your favorite story, song, emotion, poem, prayer, visual art, person, or moment in time.
  • You can blog, tweet, instagram, or Facebook link about how your yoga practice on the mat transforms your experiences off the mat.

This is all good, but “What,” you might ask, “are you (Myra) doing as the virtual part of this year’s Kiss My Asana?”

Good question. As you may have noticed (especially after last year), I love questions. I’ve fallen for “Questions” by R. S. Thomas and, like the Creed song quoted above, my personal playlist currently features question-centered songs by Fink, X Ambassadors, Ed Sheeran, Cole Swindell, and Garth Brooks (naturally)!

 

In my favorite “Letters To A Young Poet” passage, Ranier Maria Rilke urges Franz Kappus: “… try to love the questions themselves…. the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

 

Oh, and did I mention that questions led me to yoga teacher training?

 

When I started practicing in Texas, I often encountered people whose only intersection with yoga was me. These people had questions – lots and lots of questions. I, unfortunately, had no answers…other than telling people they could come with me to practice. When some of my teachers suggested teacher training, I thought, “Sure, someday. Then I’ll know some answers – or, at least, know a resource where someone could live (or practice) their way into their own answers.” Flash forward to “someday” and I’m in Minneapolis attending a teacher training focused on teaching people how to teach – and everybody had to teach.

 

So, last year I asked people questions. This year, you get to ask me questions. Answer word count will be divisible by 108.

Want to ask me a question? You can make a comment below, ask me before or after a class, or send an email to myra at ajoyfulpractice.com. Subscribers to ajoyfulpractice.com will receive my answers as they are posted – or, you can check back here throughout April.

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

Seriously, Is That All You’ve Got? December 31, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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It is New Year’s Eve eve. And, while I still have things to do in anticipation of the New Year, I am more than ready for the arrival of 2017. Funny thing is, all of us who are “D-O-N-E, stick-a-fork-in-it, done” with 2016, have to admit that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been some memorable and very personal highlights and there have been many changes for the better. Oh, then there’s the fact that this whole “new year” thing is completely arbitrary.

Yes, yes, there are reasons and explanations for why the Western world celebrates a beginning and an ending at this time of year. But, in some ways those reasons and explanations are beside the point. What’s important is that change is always happening – and most of it is beyond our control. Since being out of control can be psychologically uncomfortable, we take control by choosing a transition to celebrate. The celebration is a reminder that everything, including hard times, ends and that the end of one thing marks the beginning of another thing.

We can only hope the new thing is better than the old thing.

Even when, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different ways of marking transitions. One yoga tradition is to practice 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) when the seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices. Here in the West, we have also taken to practice this yoga variation of a marathon when the calendar year changes. (I am again leading the Surya Namaskar malas at Nokomis Yoga (this practice is full) and at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA (3 PM – 6 PM).)

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a moving meditation consisting of 12 poses. The series of poses are linked with breath so that we mimic our bodies’ natural inclination to extend the spine and open the heart as we inhale, to flex the spine and engage the core as we exhale. Or, you could think of it symbolically: as reaching for the sun as you inhale, drawing its energy to the earth as you exhale. Or, you could reach to the Source of all the things as you inhale, surrender to that Source as you exhale. Or…you get the idea. Whether you come to the practice from a physical-mental, psychic-symbolic, or emotional-energetic perspective, this series of poses engages your whole being: mind, body, and spirit.

Since the practice mirrors the cycle of time – the beginning of each breath marking the end of another, the end of each pose marking the beginning of the next – we inevitably find ourselves appreciating it, enjoying it, and then wishing it were done. We can be lost in/absorbed by the effortless repetition (ajapa japa), but then find our brains want a delineated break.

We seek the break, not because we’re tired, per se, but because it’s a way for our brains to absorb the pattern. And, in that moment, we may create the break by asking the question that has been coming up a lot in my practice: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

I can’t remember if it was during an interview or during a teacher training, but I very clearly remember Seane Corn describing a conversation where she said to the Universe, “Bring it; but, bring it gently.” I love that sentiment. It acknowledges that throughout our lives we are going to be faced with challenges, and it simultaneously reinforces the idea that we can be ready to meet those challenges head on. It is a statement sourced in strength, courage, and wisdom – without being braggadocios. In fact, it embodies the splendor of humility.

This secular calendar year, 2016, New Year’s Eve happens to fall on the 8th Night of Chanukah. (Therefore, New Year’s Day 2017 is the 8th Day of Chanukah 5777.) Hod (humility, splendor, surrender, or gratitude) is the eighth aspect of the Divine found on the Tree of Life (in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah). Physically it is symbolized by the left foot and leg. Energetically it is directly connected to Gevurah (Strength, discipline), Tiferet (Balance, Compassion), Netzach (Endurance), and Yesod (Foundation or Bonding). It can also be energetically connected to the 3rd Chakra, our physical core, which is related to our personality, our sense of self, and our self esteem.

I could go on, but what I’m getting at here is that the question (Is that all you’ve got?) isn’t something I’m asking the Universe. I know the Universe has more in store for us. I know it’s going to bring it (hopefully, gently). What I’m really doing, at those moments when I want to throw in the towel, is asking myself the question: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

My early teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Whether we are in the middle of 1 hour, 90 minutes, or 3 hours of yoga – or anything else – we all have that moment where we want to throw in the towel. But, if we pace ourselves, we inevitably get a second wind. And, while I don’t always feel this way after I other physical things I do, in yoga and in life I almost always feel like I could have handled a little bit more. Not that I want to or need to – but, that if I had to, I could dig deep and pull up a little bit more of whatever I need to face the challenge.

The first day of 2017, is just another day on the calendar; just another day in our lives. It’s a beginning and it’s an ending. So, yes, celebrate, set an intention, and move on.

But, don’t forget that this liminal or transitional moment is also a middle. And, ultimately, the most significant thing that’s changing is your awareness and your perspective. Start noticing what you’re doing when you ask a question like “Is that all you’ve got?” Start noticing what you’re doing when your answer to the question changes.

Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

~ Happy New Year, Happy New Perspective ~

REAL(LY), TRU(e)LY GRATEFUL (Thanksgiving Schedule & News) November 22, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Life, Mantra, Minneapolis, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
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When I first got back to Houston, a man I didn’t know inserted himself in a conversation with my mother; I only got to see a handful of friends; it took a really long time to walk a few blocks; I ate way too much sugar; and I took a yoga class many of my students would hate.

Wait! What? That doesn’t sound right. In fact, it doesn’t even sound like me. And the truth is that while the facts above real(ly) happened; they are not true.

In his book Open Heart, Open Mind, the Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche describes how something can be “real but not true” – and offers the words as a mantra which allows us to check in with our attitudes, our perspectives, and the past conditions which establish both. The bottom line being that we view our current circumstances through the lens of past experiences. Mindfulness-based practices like yoga and Buddhism create the opportunity to examine our kleshas – or, how our thought patterns color our experiences.

So, if I were to re-frame what happened as I actually perceived it: When I first got back home to Houston, a man I’d never met before asked if I needed help with my bags (I did); I made plans to spend the day with friends who are like family to me; I spent part of the afternoon on a walkabout with two of those friends, exploring their neighborhood and quacking as we ducked; I ate a lot of dessert; and I took a yoga class with some super groovy hip openers!

Yeah, still colored, but suddenly the events are joyful. Suddenly there is room for gratitude.

“Gratitude awakens another way of being in the world, one that nurtures the heart and helps to create a life of meaning and purpose. The old barriers no longer confine us and the old fears no longer constrict or claim us. Gratitude opens us to freedom, a sense of generosity, and connection to the wider world.” – Angeles Arrien

“I didn’t say, ‘We can be grateful for everything.’ I said, ‘We can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity. And even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that’s given to us…. Most of the time what s given to us is the opportunity to enjoy, and we only miss it because we are rushing through life.”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast

Right now, a lot of people are struggling to be grateful. That’s super real. It’s so real that we sometimes forget there is more to life than struggle. We struggle so much we actually look forward…to more struggles. However, it’s also true that each of us has something for which we can be grateful – and, we get to choose how we spend our time and energy. We get to choose how we look forward.

 “There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” – Leo Christopher

When someone gives us a precious gift, we give thanks. So, thank you to all the people who have spent time with me this year – on and off the mat. Your presence reminds me to appreciate every aspect of the practice, and every aspect of life. Your presence reminds me of all the ways one can practice. Thank you also, to the very talented teachers covering my classes this week – and to the people who show up for those classes. Thank you all for the opportunity to learn and grow and love within this practice.

Every time I step on a mat, I learn something new. Maybe I learn it from the teacher that’s leading the group; maybe I learn it from the teacher on the mat; maybe I learn it from the teacher within – either way, my future self is grateful. This week, “Do something that your future self will thank you for.” (unknown)

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

The Nokomis Yoga schedule will be as follows:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 22nd @ 12:00 PM (60 minutes with SARAH)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 22nd @ 7:15 PM (75 minutes with ERIKA)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 23rd @ 4:30 PM (60 minutes – CANCELLED)

Sarah Kalweit and Erika Peterson both teach regular classes at Nokomis Yoga. For more on their teaching, check out their bios.

The Wednesday night Slow Flow at Flourish will be cancelled on November 23rd. Please join me on November 30th.

Weather permitting, I’ll return to Common Ground on Monday, November 30th.

For information on my incredible YMCA subs, please check the online schedules. (Also, please note that the Downtown Minneapolis will run an alternate schedule 11/24 – 11/275)

 

~~ HAVE A PEACEFUL, GRACEFUL, GRATEFUL, & JOYFUL HOLIDAY SEASON ~~

Take the Deepest Breath You’ve Taken All Day – All Day, On Retreat! September 30, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Sukkot, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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sukkot-meditation-2015

What if you had a day, just a day? A day away from your regular routines, worries, and fears…. A day where everything you need is provided. Would you still worry? Would you still fear? Would you grumble and complain?

 

Or would you express a little gratitude?

Scientists, meditation practitioners, monks, and nuns have proven a link between gratitude and happiness. Even considering the possibility that there is something in your life for which you can be grateful, can affect your well-being in a positive way. So, what happens if you spend a day giving thanks for what you have – as well as for what you may have in the future?

Be joyful at your festival – you and your son, and your daughter, and your manservant, and your maid-servant, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow who live within your city.

 

For seven days you must celebrate the Festival to YHVH*, your God, in the place which YHVH* shall choose, because the Lord, your God, will bless you in all your produce, and in all the work of your hands, and you will only be happy.

(*NOTE: YHVH is commonly translated as “the Lord” in English.)

Deuteronomy 16:14 – 15

Every cultural has rituals, meaningful traditions, marking liminal or threshold moments throughout the year. The Hebrew Bible / Old Testament outlines a series of ritual “holidays,” times when people are to gather for reflection, remembrance, and thanksgiving. Sukkot, the Festival of the Tabernacles, is the seventh and final holiday outlined in Deuteronomy, which some people view as a mandate for happiness. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as the Season of Happiness.

But, what is happiness? How is it defined by the sages of various cultures? And how do we make ourselves happy? For that matter, how can we “only be happy” for any given period of time?

The answers to all those questions (and more) are within you. You just have to go deeper.

At the end of Sukkot 2016, join Myra K. Rucker, Meghan Murray, and special guest Kalyani for a day of community, ritual, harvest focused meals, and yoga – all centered around the link between gratitude, mindfulness, and happiness.

WHEN: Saturday, October 22, 2016, 10:30 AM – 9:30 PM (see below for full schedule)

WHERE: St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church (3121 Groveland School Road, Minnetonka, MN), approximately 40 minutes outside of downtown Minneapolis.

WHO: Everyone (sons, daughters, neighbors, strangers) are welcome.

WHAT: Myra will lead two (2) alignment and breath focused yoga practices focusing on gratitude and the ritual of Sukkot, a walking meditation, and conversation to cultivate gratitude. Meghan will prepare yoga-friendly, vegetarian, gluten-free fall harvest meals guaranteed to tantalize the taste buds. Special guest Kalyani (Colleen Buckman) will close out the festival with breath work and music, including selections from her new album Fertile Ground.

HOW: Register online (or offline with Myra) by October 15th.

FULL PACKAGE A (Includes all events and meals*): $125, 10% discount available for senior.

+ Meals are not certified Kosher. Refrigeration is available for any attendee.

….and no one shall appear…empty-handed.” – Deuteronomy 16:16
emptybowls2016

In addition to being a phenomenal chef and baker, Meghan is also an amazing potter, who annually donates bowls to the Powderhorn Empty Bowls fundraiser. You can support this great fundraiser during our retreat by bringing a bowl to donate, purchasing a bowl to donate ($10), or purchasing a bowl as a keepsake ($20, includes donation). Either way, we will use the bowls and fill them with gratitude!

We will provide a limited amount of mats and props. At least one (1) meal and one (1) meditation/yoga practice may be held outdoors. Events are intended to be communal; however, quiet spaces will be reserved for anyone wishing to retreat in silence – and conversation pits will be reserved for anyone wishing to continue dialogue during the silent portions of the weekend.

** St. Luke’s is around the cornder from Mind Body Solutions and less than 2 miles from The Marsh. Contact The Marsh directly if you are interested in reserving a hotel room or utilizing their spa facilities. **

~ We are grateful for your presence ~

Saturday, October 22nd (tentative schedule):

10:30 AM – 12:00 PM Heart Opening Yoga
12:30 PM – 1:45 AM LUNCH & “Guided” Conversation (1 space designated for silence)

2:15 PM – 3:30 PM Journey Meditation (1 space designated for silence / journal writing)

4:00 PM – 5:30 PM YOGA
6:00 PM – 7:15 PM DINNER & “Guided” Conversation (1 space designated for silence)
7:30 PM – 9:00 PM Closing Celebration & “Leave” Taking with Music & Breath by Kalyani (Colleen Buckman)

~ NAMASTE ~