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Keeping Things Yoga…keeping things yoga – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #11 April 11, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.”

– from Keeping Things Whole by Mark Strand

 

“Are you just an echo?
No, you are everyone.”

– from Are You An Echo?  by Misuzu Kaneko

At the end of my very first yoga class, I learned about the philosophy and meaning of yoga. My first teacher, Robert Boustany, asked me to explain what I did for Houston Ballet, because I wasn’t one of the dancers or one of the musicians. When I explained my role in Production was to bring together the various artistic and design elements during a performance, he said, “Oh, you do yoga.”

Yes, it turns out we can do yoga off the mat, without doing a single pose.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means union. There’s lots of different ways to describe “union,” but ultimately it’s the coming together of two or more elements – with the underlying idea being that once together these elements will work as one unit. The elements can be our mind, body, and Spirit. The elements can be different kinds of energy. The elements can be an individual and a goal. The elements can be an individual and the community, the Universe, or God (whatever that means to you at this moment). The elements can be the Seeker and the Beloved. The elements can be two people whose life experiences are so different on the outside it seems natural that they would approach life in very different ways.

Misuzu Kaneko (b. 1903) and Mark Strand (b. 1934) were both born today and were both considered literary celebrities during their lifetimes. However, they (and their poetry) lived very different lives.

Born Taro Kaneko, Kaneko was able to attend school through the age of 17, despite most Japanese girls of the time only attending up to 6th grade. Her poems started to become very popular when she was 20 years old. Unfortunately, her private life as an adult was so tumultuous and tragic that Kaneko committed suicide just before her 27th birthday. At the time of her death, she had published 51 poems.

When Strand was born in Canada, four years after Kaneko’s death, Kaneko’s poems had been all but lost.

Strand grew up moving around the United States, Columbia, Mexico, and Peru. Raised in a secular Jewish home, he went to a Quaker-run college preparatory school in New York; earned a BA at Antioch College in Ohio; moved to Connecticut to study art and graduated with an MFA from Yale; studied poetry in Italy on a Fulbright scholarship; and finally attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where he received an MA in writing) before teaching all over the East Coast and spending a year as a Fulbright Lecturer in Brazil. In addition to ultimately teaching all over the U.S., Strand won a Pulitzer Prize, served as U. S. Poet Laureate, and was honored with numerous other awards and titles. At the time of his death, at the age of 80, he had published at least 21 collections of poetry, plus three children’s books, several books of prose, and served as editor and/or translator for at least 13 more publications.

To my knowledge, Kaneko never left Japan.

Despite the wildly different details of their lives, both poets wrote about loss and darkness, belonging vs. being alone, how personal perspectives create our world, human’s vs. nature, and personal responsibility. They used different words, but they seemed to share an underlying idea: True power comes from being present with what is despite our desire to possess, change, and understand everything around us.

Are You an Echo? & Benton Island by Misuzu Kaneko / Keeping Things Whole & The Idea by Mark Strand

As you move into Child’s Pose (Balasana), notice the space you occupy. Notice the air moving within you and all around you. Notice how your body and breath shift the air. Breathe and allow your mind to follow the breath into the space within you and the space all around you.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice how the air flow changes when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Find the place where your body like the last wave of sound at the end of an echo, and then curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body.

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core.

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Feel the air above and below your torso.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas).  Notice the length of the spine. Notice how you can engage the air.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas).  As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana). Notice how each side of your body echoes the other side.

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Double how the engagement of each side of the body echoes the other side, and vice versa. Notice the length of your spine. Notice the air between your arms. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement is as fluid as a surfer resting on calm water between the waves.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). If you have Hot Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) in your practice, feel free to add it by lifting the left arm up and reaching it towards the right. Notice how the air shifts around your body as you breathe.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.)Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right).

After the second side of standing poses, move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind are still. Let the breath naturally ebb and flow. Notice the space you occupy. Notice the air moving within you and all around you. Notice how your body and breath shift the air. Breathe and allow your mind to follow the breath into the space within you and the space all around you. Allow your body and breath to spread into the space. Just be.

“Benton Island was still there
floating on top of the waves
wrapped in golden light,
green as always.

– from Benten Island by Misuzu Kaneko

 

“And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.

– from The Idea by Mark Strand

Yoga means union and brings two or more elements together as a unified whole. The elements be our needs and the needs of another. The elements may be someone who needs support and someone who can be supportive. And this is one of the ways the Kiss My Asana yogathon is yoga. Mind Body Solutions and the yogathon bring together people in community around the practice of yoga. They also bring together people who need support with people who can support them. Then, Mind Body Solutions goes one step further: They support the supportive, recognizing that caregivers also need yoga.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem 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 the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem 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.”

NOTE: Two (2) poets, four (4) poems, one (1) additional pose, and an Easter egg brings this practice to approximately 15 minutes.

 

If Misuzu Kaneko’s story resonates with you, because you or someone you know is struggling emotionally, please call 1=800-273-TALK.

 

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

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