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What Are You Doing (or Not Doing)? March 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryū Suzuki

At some point, we are all beginners, doing something for the first time… or the 51st time. That’s why, on a good day, I love beginners – and I’m always a fan of the wonder that comes with beginner’s mind. Ironically (to some), I am not a fan of beginner’s classes when it comes to yoga. Unless, of course, you consider every class a beginner class, and remember that there’s a reason it’s called a practice. That said, I believe beginners should respect the fact that if someone says a class or a pose is advanced then it is not something you do on your first day…or your 51st day. But, just because a particular class or pose is not intended for someone, doesn’t mean that person can’t practice yoga.

During a practice Bryan Kest said that if there are 60 million people on the planet doing yoga then there are at least 60 million different ways to do a pose. That’s the reason there are different styles and traditions.

“Every age.
Every race & ethnicity.
Every class & socioeconomic status.
Every gender identity & sexual orientation.
Every size, shape, height, weight & dis/ability.

Every body is a yoga body.”

– statement from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition

One of my favorite t-shirts (“This is what a yogi looks like”) came from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, which “is committed to dismantling stereotypes about who practices yoga, who should practice yoga, + what a “yoga body” looks like.” Bottom line: the coalition was established to create awareness so that (a) yoga teachers like me do not have to constantly deal with people walking in the studio and playing some version of the “Oh, you’re the teacher?” game; (b) people can practice yoga anywhere without judgment (or expensive yoga pants that let other people see your expensive underwear); and (c) so that more people recognize that they too can practice – and even teach – yoga.

Historically, yoga was primarily a practice taught for and by men. That’s not to say that women didn’t practice, secretly and quietly, but in the public sphere it was a practice taught for and by men…brown-skinned men, who (early on) often engaged in an ascetic lifestyle. Indra Devi started to change that, but the idea that someone who practices yoga is a thin, very flexible, light-skinned woman with “shampoo commercial” hair and a disposable income is very much a modern stereotype. Not only is it a modern stereotype – it’s a Western stereotype – one around which a whole industry has grown. And that underlying concept is one of the things that can make it challenging for new people to get started in the practice; that, plus the idea that you have to be flexible to practice yoga.

I tell people all the time: most people don’t practice yoga because they are flexible; they are flexible because they practice yoga. Focusing on physical flexibility, however, ignores the fact that the physical practice is also a way to cultivate strength and balance (even flexibility) – in the mind as well as in the body. But, sticking with the body for a moment, consider for a moment that while every pose may not be for each and every body, there is a practice for everybody and a way to practice that allows you to experience the benefits of every pose (even if you have to modify).

Late in 1983, Sri Dharma Mittra, a master yoga teacher based in New York City, started a deep dive into his practice and then started photographing himself every morning. Those 72 photos-a-day eventually became an amazingly iconic illustration of 908 yoga asanas. If you look closely, you can tell that the pictures were not taken at the same time, because in some pictures he is a completely different weight than in others. Like a method actor preparing for a major role, Dharma Mittra reportedly gained, lost, or maintained weight in order to practice certain poses. Because, again, each and every pose is not for each and every body. To force yourself into a position for which the body is not prepared to go isn’t yoga, its torture (and detrimental to your well-being). It is also detrimental to ignore what your body is feeling. One of the big problems with our modern practice, however, is that we are not always reminded to trust what we are feeling.

There is a lot of reasons we don’t trust the way we feel, on and off the mat. On the mat, one of the big reasons we don’t trust ourselves is because we are often faced with the idea that there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced poses. It’s all a matter ratings and perceptions. Grab practice manuals from a variety of different styles, however, and you will find huge differences in how a single pose is ranked according to difficulty. If you want to add a layer of awareness to that, compare those ratings to your own perception of the pose.

For example, in the United States, a common way to test or think about flexibility resides in a person’s ability to touch their toes. Uttānāsana (a standing forward bend) and Paschimottānāsana (a seated forward bend) are often featured in a beginners’ class. In Light on Yoga (Iyengar), however, the standing forward fold is considered an 8, the seated version is considered a 6, and the supine version (which I often suggest as a modification for people with certain back issues) is considered a 10. In Jivamukti Yoga, which is a form of vinayasa, the standing variation is considered a 1, while the seated is considered a 2. On the flip side, in Ashtanga, which is a progressive practice and one of the first vinyasa poses introduced to the West, the standing variation appears at the very beginning of the practice (it is part of the warm-up), while the seated variation is considered part of the finishing sequence (ergo, practiced after the body is significantly warmed up). Now compare those ratings to your own perception, and maybe even your own experience.

What’s the difference? How you practice – and part of how you practice is what you do and what you don’t do as you practice.

Today in 1930, the Motion Picture Code, also known as the Hays Code, was adopted by Hollywood. Inspired by a document created by a lay Catholic and Jesuit priest, Hollywood censor Will Hays initially came up with a list of 36 “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.” The code was officially enforced from1934 until 1968, when it was replaced by the Motion Picture Association of America rating system that is still in place today. Today’s practice is inspired by this concept of ratings. While today’s playlist (available on Spotify and YouTube) is not full of soundtracks, it is cinematic.

My advice to beginners is my same advice to people who have been away from their practice for a while and/or people who have to come up with a new practice schedule:

  1. Respect yourself and the space. Again, if someone refers to their class as advanced, believe them. (To paraphrase Maya Angelou, if someone tells you what they are about, believe them the first time.)
  2. Find a time and place (when we are able to go out and about again) that is convenient so that you commit to your practice.
  3. Don’t worry about what we call the poses; pretend like you’re playing Simon Says, but…
  4. Listen to your body!!!! If your body says don’t do it, then Simon didn’t say it. Some things will be uncomfortable, but don’t ignore pain. Pain is your body telling you something is not right.
  5. If you can breathe, even with a machine, you can practice yoga.
  6. Ask questions. Question everything. If you can’t do it during the practice, talk to the teacher before or after the practice. There’s no shame in not knowing something you don’t know.
  7. Trust your practice. Even if it’s your first day, take a moment to breathe and remember the words of Saint Teresa of Avila…

“If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”

 – from The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila  

I’m offering two (2) classes on Tuesdays. These are open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

You can access either of today’s practices live via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone.  (For additional details, check the “class schedule” tab.)

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 12 Noon – 1:00 PM CST is 610-189-542, https://zoom.us/j/610-189-542  ONE TAP: +13126266799,,610-189-542# US (Chicago).

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM CST is 216-720-410, https://zoom.us/j/216-720-410 ONE TAP: +13126266799,,216720410# US (Chicago)

Also, Wednesday is the beginning of April, which means Kiss My Asana is coming to you! Keep an eye out for how this year’s yogathon has changed, and how it’s still all about keeping the practice accessible.

### INHALE, EXHALE ###

 

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

Sunday Stillness March 29, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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person kneeling inside building

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

“Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an alter
Of wood in a stone church”

– from “Kneeling” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

From the very moment we are born, we are moving towards stillness. Since the practice is a reflection of life (and “how we do yoga is how we do life”), it makes sense that the moment we hit the mat…we are moving towards stillness. Savasana, the seat of the corpse or Dead Man’s Pose, is the peak pose for almost every practice – even when it is not advertised as such – and despite the t-shirts, it is the pose that most often gets skipped (or shorted).

So, what are we missing?

To find out what we’re missing, let’s very intentionally and very deliberately move towards stillness. Join me on the Zoom mat, Sunday at 2:30 PM for a 65-minute practice featuring the poetry of R. S. Thomas (b. 3/29/1913), a man once described as ” a poet of…the unanswered prayer, the bleak trek through darkness….”

Sunday’s playlist is already posted on Spotify and will be available on my YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the inspiration behind the music, check out this Kiss My Asana post from 2019.

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

A Joyful Practice is (officially) Zooming! March 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Vairagya, Yoga.
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man wearing mask

Photo by Quaz Amir on Pexels.com

Zooming! Is that even a word? It is now. The calendar is now updated with information about live, (virtually in person) practices happening weekly. So far, everyone says it feels pretty much like their regular, good old joyful practice!

Once you have the meeting ID, you can use the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or a telephone to access the meeting. Meeting IDs are different for each class time, but each ID will remain the same from week to week. You must register for the Wednesday night (Flourish) “Slow Flow” – but you only need to register once. (At this point in time you do not need a password for any of the practices.) I am working on making playlists available on my YouTube channel and on Spotify.

If you are new to yoga or new to vinyasa, please send me a message (myra at ajoyfulpractice.com) before joining the group. I apologize to my YIN Yoga folks, but at this time I am not streaming any full YIN practices, I will, however, continue to post or link you to the practice. Also, keep on the lookout for a special YIN Yoga webinar coming soon!

Those who are able may purchase or renew a package on my online store. Anyone can also make a donation (in lieu of a package) to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible.) If you purchase a Nokomis Package note that there is a discounted package for students, seniors, Healthcare Providers, and First Responders.

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Also, some recorded practices will be available at a later date.

Looking forward to seeing you on the (virtual) mat!

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

 

FLASHBACK FRIDAY!! March 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Suffering, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine”

– Brett Bailey, Stage Director from South Africa, World Theatre Day Message Author 2014

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Art imitates life, which sometimes imitates art (because art can inform our lives). That overlap between inspiration, those being inspired, and those creating the inspiration is one of the beautiful things about art. It’s what makes art alive.

Today, however, the theatres are dark. The front of house is empty. There are no children, über-fans, or well-heeled patrons waiting in the green room, the wings, or at the stage door. On the big stages, there is only a single “ghost light” in place to make sure no one falls in the pit . . . and yet, social distancing means there is no one in danger of falling in the pit. It’s heartbreaking for so many artists and dedicated audience members, and people like me. For most of my adult life, before I started teaching yoga, my professional life was spent behind the scenes – quite literally keeping track of exits and entrances. I worked on legit theatre, musical theatre, dinner theatre, classical and modern dance, as well as opera and musical revues. I worked in different parts of the world; with artists from all of the world, and Friday night was always a big night.

Even if one company was in rehearsals or in a layoff period on Friday, another theatre was performing. Theatres are usually dark on Monday nights. Not Friday nights. Especially not this particular Friday night, as it happens to be World Theatre Day. Since it was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Day has been celebrated on March 27th by performing artists all over the world. Today, many theatres will not celebrate. Others have moved their celebration online.

Each year, an artist is selected from a different host country to write a message about theatre’s enduring role in the world community. This year’s message was written by Shahid Nadeem, Pakistan’s leading playwright and the head of the renowned Ajoka Theatre, who partially focused on the spiritual and transcendental power of theatre.

“Our planet is plunging deeper and deeper into a climatic and climactic catastrophe and one can hear the hoof-beats of the horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We need to replenish our spiritual strength; we need to fight apathy, lethargy, pessimism, greed and disregard for the world we live in, the Planet we live on. Theatre has a role, a noble role, in energizing and mobilizing humanity to lift itself from its descent into the abyss. It can uplift the stage, the performance space, into something sacred.”

– Shahid Nadeem, Playwright from Pakistan, World Theatre Day Message Author 2020

 

It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think no one in my former role will be asking people to turn off their cellular devices – unless someone jokes about the fact that so many tonight will be watching their “theatre” on their cellular devices. It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think something I have always taken for granted is suddenly not existing as it did.

And yet, if I learned nothing else from doing live theatre, I definitely learned about the temporal nature of things. Everything changes. That’s one of the beautiful – and also one of the most challenging – things about live theatre. It is always changing. You can have the best, most exhilarating performance of your life, followed by one where everything is just a little off. You can have a horrible final dress rehearsal, followed by a standing ovation on opening night. As a professional – onstage and backstage, as well as front of house – part of the job is to stay in the moment.

Staying in the moment requires being fully present with everyone and everything in the moment. We can look back later and work on fixing what went wrong. We can marvel at the unscripted audience reaction we want to figure out how to cultivate again and again. But, right here and right now it is time to turn up the music, turn down the lights, and breathe. The curtain is going up on this day in our lives, and what happens next can be (will be) simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. Like the cherry blossoms (sakura).

Flashback Friday: Today in 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda Iwa, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States, each planted a cherry blossom tree on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. These trees were part of a larger shipment of cherry blossoms meant to replace the ones initially given as a gift of friendship between the two countries. Normally, at this time of year, thousands of people can be found in D. C. celebrating the brilliance of these trees, just as thousands normally celebrate in parts of Japan and China. Normally….But, today the cherry blossoms are in bloom, while most people are inside, watching the beauty on their screens.

In Japan the fact that blossoms peak at one end of the island at the same time the blossom season is ending on another part of the island is a great illustration of mono no aware (literally “the pathos of things” of “sadness of things”). The fact that we can see this beauty even as we are socially distancing might also be considered the “sadness of things.” However, that very literally translation doesn’t quite work in English because it almost precludes appreciation of the beauty. The Japanese phrase is about simultaneously holding/celebrating/appreciating the beauty and the pain of the change that brings loss. Please check out the following links if you are interested in reading my take on mono no aware as it relates to YIN Yoga (April 5, 2017) or the physical practice of yoga and meditation (April 8, 2019). NOTE: While both posts include a bit of practice, only the 2017 includes a complete (YIN Yoga) practice.

Right now, I am appreciating the beauty of being able to share this practice online. I am also very much aware that this too shall change; however, I endeavor to stay in the moment. With that said, I am currently planning to host 7 online classes as follows:

MONDAY 5:30 – 6:45 PM for Common Ground

TUESDAY 12:00 – 1:00 PM & 7:15 – 8:30 PM (both) for Nokomis Yoga

WEDNESDAY 4:30 – 5:30 PM for Nokomis Yoga & 7:15 – 8:15 PM for Flourish

SATURDAY 12:00 – 1:30 PM (Nokomis)

SUNDAY 2:30 – 3:30 PM (Nokomis)

Everyone is welcome to join any class (although you will need to register in advance for the Flourish class). All online classes will currently be on ZOOM and I will post the meeting IDs on my “class schedule” late Friday afternoon. Each class will have a different ID, but that ID will be the same each week.

If you are new to yoga or new to vinyasa, please send me a message (myra at ajoyfulpractice.com) before joining the group. I apologize to my YIN Yoga folks, but at this time I am not streaming any full YIN practices, I will, however, continue to post or link you to the practice.

Those who are able may purchase or renew a package on my online store. Anyone can also make a donation (in lieu of a package) to Common Ground Meditation Center. (Donations are tax deductible.) If you plan to purchase a Nokomis Package please  note that there is a discounted package for students, seniors, Healthcare Providers, and First Responders.

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you.

 

### AS WE SAY IN BALLET, MERDE ###

 

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tantra, Tennessee Williams, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (b. 3/26/1911)

Just because we are alone – and in some cases lonely – is not a reason to go it alone. Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between places.” “Throwback Thursday” is a way to look back, but we can’t actually go back in time, we can’t bridge that distance of which Williams speaks. We can, however, bridge the physical distance of social isolation by reaching out (virtually speaking, of course).

Call, text, email, write a letter, make a chalk drawing, or use any of a variety of technological advances to connect to a stranger or a friend. Remember, we are all in this together – and we will succeed or fail based on how we are together, even when we are apart. Remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Right now, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers.

Love/ loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is an aspect of the Divine. In fact, not only is it one of the ten ways (according to Jewish mysticism) that G-d is revealed to the world, it is one of the 7 aspects people contemplate if they are counting the Omer during Passover. Just like in Eastern philosophies, like yoga, Kabbalism associates loving-kindness with the arms (specifically, the right arm). As you go through your practice – or through your day – bring awareness to how you use your right arm. Are you using it to express your heart or withhold your heart?

“(1) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (3) If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

– 1st Corinthians 13:1 – 3 (the part just before all the “famous parts” people use in weddings, movies, and songs)

Consider, for a moment, that when Saint Paul and Sosthenes wrote their letter to the church in Corinth, before they spoke of what love was, they spoke of what love was not. This is very similar to passages which appear in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, where a teacher – and then his spouse – point out that the Divine is not this or that (neti, neti) thing that is so obvious. The Divine is not (just) what is obviously seen, but what is unseen, what is felt. (Yes, yes, but neti,neti: this is not the throwback you’re looking for.)

We can never really know how much it means to someone when we do something nice for them simply out of the kindness of our hearts. They can say thank you a million times – and we may even feel the sincerity of their gratitude – and yet that feeling pales in comparison to the love they felt from the kindness.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– excerpt from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost (b. 3/26/1874)

For Throwback Thursday, here’s last year’s post about the birthday authors I typically include in today’s practice.

While I am not teaching today (Thursday), I am going to spend part of today and Friday updating my schedule to reflect streaming classes I will start offering Saturday – Wednesday.

Right now I am planning to offer seven (7) classes on Zoom. These are (mostly) during times when I had studio classes and they will be (mostly) open for anyone to attend. You can purchase or renew a package on my online store or you can make a donation to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible and I will receive the bulk of the donation.)

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Yoga means union.

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

Walk with me…a mile, or 54. March 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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Thank you to everyone who helped me beta test Zoom on Sunday! More streaming classes are coming and I will post a recording of the class later this week.

In the meantime, remember this: 55 years ago today, Tuesday, March 24th, Civil Rights protesters stepped into Montgomery County (Alabama). The next morning they would stand in front of (but not on) the steps of the Alabama State Capital Building. It had been a long journey…even longer than the 5 days and 54 miles it took them to arrive from Selma, Alabama. And as he stood in front of (but not on) the steps of the capital, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how much longer the journey would be.

For anyone who is interested, here are two (2) posts I wrote (in January 2019 and January 2016)about the experience of some of those marchers, and how it works out on the mat.

 

### NAMASTE ###

So Many Birthdays, So Many Stories, So Much Music… March 22, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post contains a link for “Save with Stories” – a partnership with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. You’ll find the link in the sentence (below), “Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.”

Maty Ezraty, a yoga teacher of teachers, who died last summer, once told a teacher, “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)”

Take a moment to go little deeper into the middle of your story, because that’s where we are: the middle of our stories.

People often tell me (as someone told me just this weekend) that one of the things they like about my classes is the story, as well as the way the poses and the music tell the story. The practice is always a way to tell our stories. It is also a way to process our stories, every time we inhale, every time we exhale. As I was reviewing Sunday’s playlist (March 22nd), I realized it not only tells the stories of some great storytellers celebrating birthdays today (as I intended) and is a way to process our current life-plot (as I intended), it also reflects my story as a lover of stories.

James Patterson (b. 1947, in Newburgh, NY), is a bestselling novelist and children’s book author whose books can always be found in my parents bookshelves. Doesn’t matter if it is mystery, suspense, romance, or science, Patterson keeps you in the moment and keeps a Chekhovian promise (which we’ll get to in the end). One of his protagonists is a 12-year old orphan named Max Einstein. Like her namesake, this Einstein is a genius with wild (in her case red) curly hair. She is told that her story combined with her emotional and intellectual quotients are why she is considered the world’s “last great hope.” Patterson wrote, “If we are to help save the human race, we must recognize the humanity in all, no matter their station in life.”

For his part, Patterson has donated over 300 million books to school-aged children and the military, over $70 million to support education, and endowed over 5,000 scholarships for teachers.

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930, in New York City, NY) is a legendary musical theater composer and lyrics, as well as an award-winning film composer. He has won 8 Tony Awards (more than any other composer), 8 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and was awarded a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In all my time working in theater, I can’t say that I ever worked on any of Sondheim’s musicals (or the musicals of our final birthday composer), but I’ve seen my fair share of both their works – and can definitely sing along.

Also born in New York City, NY, in 1941, poet Billy Collins has been called “The most popular poet in America” and has served as United States Poet Laureate (2001 – 2003) and New York State Poet (2004 – 2006). Collins considers “humor a doorway into the serious” and begins his poem “Picnic, Lightning” by quoting Vladimir Nabokov. In Lolita, the protagonist says, “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning)…”

The poem’s title is also the title of a collection of poems which my friend Mimi gave me in a moment when I was overwhelmed by grief. Fast forward almost a decade and, as if in a poem, I was dancing with Billy Collins on Nicollet Island and giving him a piece of Collins-inspired poetry. Even now, I can feel it…I can feel it…the joy of the moment, the joy of being alive; which fits in with his secret theory.

In a 2001 interview with The Paris Review, Billy Collins said, “I have a secret theory that people who are addicted to reading are almost trying to recreate the joy, the comfortable joy of being read to as a child…. Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.

Our final birthday storyteller is Baron Lloyd-Webber, or more properly styled, The Lord Lloyd-Webber…better known as the EGOT Andrew Lloyd Webber (no hyphen). Born today in 1948 (in Kensington, London), he has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, 2 film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He is an EGOT because he has won an Emmy Award, 4 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award (Oscar), and 7 Tony Awards – as well as 8 Laurence Olivier Awards and a plethora of other awards.

And now, back to that Chekhovian promise.

It was Anton Chekov who said that if there is a rifle (or a pistol) hanging on the wall in the first chapter/act, it must go off in the second or third. He told another playwright, “It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

Whenever we step on the mat, there’s a part of us that is making a promise. Whenever, I put together a sequence there’s a part of me that thinks about that promise, as well as about that second Sondheim song (“Putting it together…bit by bit…piece by piece”) and Maty Ezraty’s sequencing advice about the middle (the heart) of the story. I consider how can I build up to a big heart opener and how we each need to process our own personal story in order to not only lift and open our hearts, but to also support our lifted and open hearts – especially in a time when it is so easy to close off.

Maty Ezraty said, “Practicing yoga is a privilege. And with this privilege comes a duty to be kind, to share a smile, and to offer yoga from the mat into the rest of your life.”

Here’s a mini-practice (5 minutes) which you can use it as your whole practice as the beginning/introduction portion of your practice and finish with a deeper back bend (even if it’s the same back bend – just with more awareness, more breath, and more smile.

 

### NAMASTE ###

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###

Happy First Friday of Spring! March 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Yoga.
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“The long silences need to be loved, perhaps more than the words which arrive to describe them in time.”

– from God’s Silence by Franz Wright

Yes, it is hard to believe: Yesterday was gray, rainy, cold – even snow for some – and it was the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. I know, hard to believe. Some folks had forgotten all about Spring, it seems. Still others were expecting it to bring some great change… And maybe it did. But, like the old saying (April showers bring May flowers) implies, we have to wait for the beauty.

In waiting for the beauty of being able to offer a video practice inspired by Franz Wright, I was reminded that Wright’s collection after winning the 2004 Pulitzer Prize was entitled God’s Silence. I haven’t read it (yet), but I am suddenly fascinated by the idea of 144 pages worth of Franz Wright poetry curated around the idea of “God’s Silence.” Notice, that’s 144 pages – not 144 poems. (Poets everywhere are now doing the math.) This is the kind of the thing that gets me oddly excited, especially right now, because there is so much I want to know!

I want to know if he is referring to silence that is the response to a prayer or a request (or even a curse); the silence that precedes an answer; the silence that follows the answer (when the questioner is dumbfounded or in awe of the response); the silence when one is pondering the best way to phrase something and therefore measuring their words; the silence of shock (can we shock God?); the silence of disappointment; the silence of wonder; the silence when no one is around; the silence of sleeping children; the silence between one breath and the next; the silence of meditation; the silence of peace; the silence honoring the dead; the silence just before a newborn declares itself alive; or….The list goes on. He could be talking about all of the above. Or none of the above. There are so many possibilities!

What I know is that he starts off with “The telephone ringing / in the deserted city ––– ” and and that one of the poems is called “Solitary Play: Minnesota, 1961.” I feel like this is where we are at, and I’m here for it.

“You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”

– James Baldwin speaking at Community Church in NYC on Nov. 29, 1962

Besides an ultimate love for poetry that gets you through hard times (because you realize someone has been through harder – or, as hard of a time), maybe one of the reasons I’m here for it is because part of my practice involves silence. The kind of silence and stillness that can make people uncomfortable, because it is so powerful. But, simultaneously, the kind of silence and stillness that is the epitome of peace. When Patanjali codified the philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, he wrote, “yogash citta vritti nirodah.” Yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind.

Silence.

Perhaps, God’s silence.

It’s 2 days late and $2 dollars short, but I offer you a video of Wednesday’s practice (inspired by Franz Wright). It’s nowhere near perfect, but I hope it brings you a moment of peace, a moment of ease. I hope it brings you stillness and yes, silence.

 

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