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Preview: A Wall, Two Roads, A Streetcar, and A Hot Tin Roof walk into a yoga studio… March 26, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tennessee Williams, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

– excerpt from the poem Mending a Wall by Robert Frost

 

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

– excerpt from the play “Camino Real” by Tennessee Williams (The first sentence is also the epitaph on his grave)

There are people in the world who will say you haven’t read poetry until you read Robert Frost, and Southerners in the world who will say you haven’t seen a play until you’ve seen Tennessee Williams. Born 77 years and over 2,000 miles apart, these two literary icons shared a birthday (3/26) and way with words that can make you pause, look again…and again. Once or thrice you may even wonder how many ways you can see/interpret/understand what has been said, and how it applies to your life.

One of Robert Frost’s most famous, and perhaps most popular, poems is about the “road not taken” – even though people often mistake it for “the road less traveled.” The poem is about as much about perspective as it is about the way we tell a story (and the fact that the way we tell a story can change the story).

Maty Ezraty once said that every yoga practice should be like a good story. And, with any story, each character has a different purpose and a different point of view. In our practice, each pose/sequence gives each part of our bodies and minds an opportunity to tell their story. There are hundreds of poses and hundreds, thousands – maybe even millions – of ways to move into and out of pose. And each one of those ways gives us another way of looking at the story. The tricky thing is, sometimes we keep coming back to the story the same way. While we may all have a favorite story we read again and again, what happens when we view the story from a different perspective?

“We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

– excerpt from the poem “Mending a Wall” by Robert Frost

Parighasana (Gate Pose) stretches the pelvic area and hamstrings, while also engaging the sides of the torso and abdomen eccentrically (up side) and concentrically (down side). According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, the pose “keeps the abdominal muscles and organs in condition and the skin around the abdomen will not sag but remain healthy. The sideways spinal movement will help persons suffering from stiff backs.” Another aspect of the pose is what happens to the heart area – not only physically, but emotionally.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

– excerpt from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

Swami Rama from the Himalayan tradition said that we have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left side; an emotional heart on the opposite side, which for most of us is on the right; and an energetic heart that connects the two. Additionally, in yoga and other Eastern healing arts, energy for the heart flows through the arms. In Parighasana, we have the opportunity to open up the shoulders (physically) and open the gates on all sides of the heart (emotionally and energetically).

Two of my favorite lines from Robert Frost poems speak of wisdom and delight, and the gift that comes from giving our whole selves. Every time I step on a yoga mat, I experience the wisdom and the delight. I also experience a plethora of gifts. One of those gifts is how the practice affects the mind. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick acknowledges that he is an alcoholic, but doesn’t seem to want to give up his drinking because, “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” But then, as his father points out to him, there is the morning.

Yoga brings peace without the hangover. Another thing to consider is that the practice has a way of opening the heart so we can get to the violets.

“To me, its meaning is simple. The hard, the cold, the oppressive will—at long last—be broken apart by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.”

– Patricia Clarkson explaining way she was quoting Tennessee Williams during a 2009 HRC New Orleans Dinner speech

### NAMASTE ###

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What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###