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Freedom: Still Making It Make Sense July 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Swami Vivekananda, Tragedy, Writing, Yoga.
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It’s National CROWN Day (unofficially, of course)!

“… so he said to put an end to all misunderstanding: ‘We parted on bad terms.’

The Manageress seemed to construe this as excellent news.

‘So then you’re free?’ she said.

‘Yes, I’m free,’ said Karl, and nothing seemed more worthless than his freedom.”

*

– quoted from “FIVE / The Hotel Occidental” in the unfinished novel Amerika by Franz Kafka

In some ways, we are living in a realistic, surreal world, not unlike the worlds created by Franz Kafka, who was born today in 1883. Like Kafka’s characters, we find ourselves transformed and/or in oddly transformational situations where we are forced to confront things that just don’t make sense. Of course, in order for things to make sense, we need context… reference points… history. In fact, in a letter to Oskar Pollak (dated 27 January 1904), Kafka advocated reading books that shake us awake. This was a follow-up to an earlier letter (dated 8 November 1903, translated by Frederick R. Karl), in which Kafka wrote, “We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours? And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.”

Today in 1776, John Adams wrote a letter to his wife Abigail about how (and why) the “Second Day of July 1776” would be remembered and celebrated for all times.

Today in 1863, the Army of the Potomac forces, led by Major General George Meade, defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia during the third Battle of Gettysburg. The Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) was the bloodiest battle of the Civil War and its conclusion not only halted the confederacy’s invasion of northern territories, it also marked the beginning of the end of the Civil War (but not the end of the battle for long-promised freedom).

Today in 2019, in America’s ongoing effort to make our ideals make sense (as a reality rather than a theory), the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. As I noted last year: “New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.” You can click the previous link for the history and/or click here for more (con)text(ure).

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 3rd) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “4th of July 2020”]

[NOTE: This playlist has been remixed since 2020. It is still slightly different on each platform, but mostly with regard to the before/after class music. The biggest difference is that certain contextual videos do not appear on Spotify. One track may not play on Spotify due to artist protests.]

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

*

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

### Feel Free ###

Doing: Lessons in unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable things (& “impossible” people) [the “missing” Sunday post] January 24, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Love, Mantra, Mathematics, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 23rd (and contains 2-for-1 information related to January 24th). You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“The causality principle asserts that the connection between cause and effect is a necessary one. The synchronicity principle asserts that the terms of a meaningful coincidence are connected by simultaneity and meaning…. Although meaning is an anthropomorphic interpretation it nevertheless forms the indispensable criterion of synchronicity. What that factor which appears to us as “meaning” may be in itself we have no possibility of knowing. As an hypothesis, however, it is not quite so impossible as may appear at first sight. We must remember that the rationalistic attitude of the West is not the only possible one and is not all-embracing, but is in many ways a prejudice and a bias that ought perhaps to be corrected.”

*

– quoted from “3. Forerunners of the Idea of Synchronicity” in Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle by C. G. Jung

*

“This discovery, indeed, is almost of that kind which I call Serendipity, a very expressive word, which, as I have nothing better to tell you, I shall endeavor to explain to you: you will understand it better by the derivation than the definition. I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, one of the them discovered that a mule blind of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right….”

*

– quoted from a letter addressed to Sir Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754, by Horace Walpole (The Right Honorable The (4th) Earl of Orford, Horatio Walpole)  

Causality, the principles of cause and effect, are a big aspect of the Yoga philosophy – and I am, without a doubt, a big fan. That said, I am also a big fan of synchronicity and serendipity. As much as I pay attention to cause-and-effect, I often delight in things that just seem to “randomly” fall into place and things (or people) that show up when I “need” them, but wasn’t looking for them.  Granted, there are times when I consider chaos theory and see if I can trace back to some little thing that started the domino effect; however, I’m also just open to being pleasantly surprised by “accidental goodness.”

Do you know what I mean? Has that happened to you? And how open are you to those kinds of things?

My guess, and it’s not much of a stretch, is that your open-ness, or lack thereof, is based on past experiences. I mean, on a certain level, everything is based on past experiences. We do something new and a new neural pathway is created, a new thin veil of saṃskāra (“mental impression”) is lowered over us. We do that same thing again and we start to hardwire that new neural pathway, the veil becomes more opaque. Over time, our behaviors and reactions become so hardwired, that our saṃskāras becoming vāsanās (“dwellings”) and we believe that our habits are innate or instinctive – when, in fact, they are conditioned.

This is true when things seem to randomly and luckily fall into place. This is also true when are not so fortunate or blessed; when things don’t seem to easily fall into place or when we don’t “randomly” get what we didn’t know we needed. And our physical-mental-emotional response to the so-called “happy accidents” is just as conditioned as our physical-mental-emotional response to things not going our way. We are as much like Pavlov’s dogs as we are like the one-eyed mule observed by the Princes of Serendip. To do something other than salivate at the appearance of certain objects and/or to eat on the other side of the road is “impossible.” But, little changes in the conditioning changes the outcome.

Also, remember that ad about “impossible….”

“Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they’ve been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.  Impossible is not a declaration. It’s a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary.

*

Impossible is nothing.”

 

– quoted from a 2004 Adidas ad campaign written by Aimee Lehto (with final tag line credited to Boyd Croyner), often attributed to Muhammad Ali

Sunday’s practice revolved around two stories related to January 23rd and January 24th. They are lessons on doing (rather than not doing) and opportunities for a little svādhyāya (“self-study’). One of the stories was about an “impossible” person who had to deal with unexpected tragedy and “ridiculously inconvenient” situations and expectations. The other was the story of a person, some might consider impossible, who had to deal with an unexpected, ridiculously inconvenient, unplayable piano. As I’ll explain a little (a little later), I encountered both stories serendipitously, but there was also a little bit of synchronicity related to the second story. 

Again, I’ll get to the backstory a bit later. For now, consider that the habitual conditioning I mentioned above also applies to our expectations of ourselves and of others. So, when we tell ourselves and/or someone else that something is impossible, it is partially because we have not been conditioned to believe that the thing in question is possible. We haven’t seen any evidence that something can be done and, quite the contrary, maybe we have seen someone else “fail” in their endeavors in the same area. Maybe we ourselves haven’t succeeded… yet; and, therefore have decided to give up. 

But, what happens if we don’t give up? What happens if we give our all and then let go of our expectations? What happens if we plan to trust the possibilities and focus on doing what we are able to do, in the present moment?

A version of the January 23rd story was originally posted in 2021. Click here for that philosophical post in it’s entirety.

*

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The Yoga Sutras offers a detailed explanation of the dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns that create suffering. Patanjali described those thought patterns as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He established ignorance (avidyā) as the root of the other four and stated that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then broke down the different ways avidyā manifests in the world – which basically goes back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how avidyā and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of how the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example.

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

*

– Ed Roberts (b. 01/23/1939) in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born January 23,1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, he contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung. When he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that – just as he initially thought that – you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education or physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

After graduating from high school, he attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone else had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on-campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of the other students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads.” They were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings and, therefore, they were able to change policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

*

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

If I remember correctly, I first dug into Ed Roberts’s story because someone on the internet mentioned him and his birthday. Maybe this was in 2017, when there was a Google Doodle to honor him. Or, maybe I made a note to myself when I saw the Google Doodle and then incorporated it into a class the following year. Either way, I had time to dig in.

Perhaps, since some of my themes are date-related and I do keep an eye out for such things, one might not consider my heightened awareness of Ed Roberts as being overly synchronistic or serendipitous. This is especially true considering that my annual participation in the Kiss My Asana yogathon is one of the many things that predisposes (or conditions) me to pay attention to stories about accessibility. If anything, I could kind of kick myself for not digging into his story sooner. 

But, we only know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. The odds are pretty high, though, that I would have eventually come across his story. What are the odds, however, that I would encounter the story of Keith Jarrett, Vera Brandes, and the unplayable piano mere days before the anniversary of The Köln Concert, which was performed and recorded on January 24, 1975?

Ok, I know what you’re thinking.

If, like me, someone was creating date-related content, any time someone landed on their media, they’re very likely to come across a timely bit of information. But, what if the content is not date-related? Additionally, what are the odds if the person (in this case me) is late to the proverbial party and just starts randomly picking content? Without even going into the details of my adventures in podcast-listening (or how many I’ve very recently started picking through), let’s just consider the odds of me picking one out of, say, 40 non-date-related episodes and landing on the one that just happens to coincide with an upcoming date. 

I have no idea what the odds are, and maybe I haven’t provided enough information, but feel free to comment below if you are a mathematician.

My point is that all of this also happened around the same time that we are all dealing and sometimes battling with change. It happened during a time when the whole world is facing the conflict that can occur when our past and ingrained behaviors, habits, and responses bumps up against the desire for new behaviors, habits, and responses. What are the odds of coming across the historical version of what the comedian Seth Meyers calls, “The Kind of Story We Need Right Now”? What are the odds of coming across the story of a man who did what he considered impossible because of his past experiences, his preconceived notions, and other untenable circumstances?

Keep in mind, this is not only the story of a man who did something he considered “impossible,” it’s also the story of a man who did something that, on a certain level, he didn’t want to do.

You can, as I did, listen to the Cautionary Tales with Tim Hartford episode entitled, “Bowie, Jazz and the Unplayable Piano” where ever you get your podcasts. Had I listened to it just a few days sooner, it might have changed the January 8th playlist.

“You always want to make it as good as it can be, but… But when you have problems that you can’t do anything about, one after another, you start forgetting what you’re actually doing, until it’s time. And that’s one of the secrets….”

*

– Keith Jarrett in a 2007 interview about his (01/24/1975) Köln Concert

In the 1970’s, 15-year old Vera Brandes started organizing jazz concerts and tours. At around 17, the German teenager started organizing the New Jazz in Cologne concert series. The fifth concert was scheduled for 11:30 PM on January 24, 1975, and it was going to be the first jazz concert at the 1,400-seat Cologne Opera House. The concert would feature a twenty-nine year old jazz pianist named Keith Jarrett, performing improvised solo piano pieces. Yes, that’s right, he was going to make it up as we went along –  and the sold out concert would be recorded. (According to last.fm, the tickets were 4 DM [Deutsche Mark] or $5.)

Here’s a few other salient details about the American pianist: He has perfect pitch and garnered some international attention (as a classical pianist) when he was in high school in Pennsylvania. He started playing gigs in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music and moved to New York City after about a year. In the Big Apple, he started making a name for himself, playing with jazz greats like Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Jack DeJohnette, and the Charles Lloyd Quartet. By the mid-to-late 1960’s, he was playing and recording with his own trios and that’s around the time that Miles Davis invited him to join his jams (alternating and/or playing with Chick Corea).

Keith Jarrett and his own band of musicians – Charlie Haden, Paul Motian, (eventually) Dewey Redman, and a handful of other similarly accomplished musicians (including Sam Brown) – recorded over a dozen albums for Atlantic Records from 1971 to 1976. In that same time period, one iteration of the quartet recorded an album for Columbia Records; but then the label dropped him – theoretically so they could promote Herbie Hancock. Right around the same time the Columbia-door closed, another two others doors opened: Keith Jarrett and his quartet got a contract with Impulse! Records and he was contacted by Manfred Eicher, a German record producer and co-founder of ECM Records.

ECM stands for “Edition of Contemporary Music” and the label is known for high quality jazz and classic music – and musicians who give the side-eye to labels. It was a great creative dwelling place for musicians like Keith Jarrett and Steve Reich, whose music I have also used in some practices. The professional relationship between Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher led to the “European quartet” collaborations, solo piano albums, and, eventually, to that legendary concert in Cologne, Germany.

Here’s another important thing to know about Keith Jarrett: He has a reputation for being very, very particular about concert conditions. He doesn’t like audience distractions, especially when he is improvising, so – at the height of his career – audience members were given cough drops during winter concerts and he would sometimes play in the dark to prevent people from taking pictures. He is known for vocalizing while he plays jazz (but not, notably, when he plays classical music) and reportedly led people in group coughs.

Like other musicians, he is also very particular about the instruments he plays – and this is where we meet “the unplayable piano.”

“KJ: When I was a teenager, my youngest brother had a lot of issues, and didn’t go to school. He couldn’t go outside, so he couldn’t have friends, so he was basically a prisoner in my mother’s house. There was an upright piano there. And occasionally, my brother, knowing zero — meaning really zero — about piano, would work out anger or frustration, which he must have had gobs of, by going to the keyboard and just playing some shit. He didn’t know what notes he was hitting or what would come out. But I realized there were moments that were so good and they came from his ignorance. I’m not sure he even knew they were good moments. But I found myself thinking: how would a pianist ever — how do you approach that if you know the instrument?

 
DS: How do you find the accidental goodness?”


*


– Keith Jarrett in response to David Shenk’s question about having a willingness or eagerness to fail, in “Keith Jarrett, Part II: The Q&A” by David Shenk (published in The Atlantic, October 13, 2009) 

Keith Jarrett is known for eschewing electronic instruments and equipment. Obviously, he appreciates the “need” for recording equipment and he has recorded music while playing electronic instruments. But, it’s not his jam – and it’s definitely not the kind of thing he would request for a solo piano concert in an opera house in 1975. No, someone like Keith Jarrett, at that point in his career, for that concert, would request the piano equivalent of a Rolls-Royce. And that’s exactly what he did; he requested a Bösendorfer Model 290 Imperial, also known as the Imperial Bösendorfer or just as the 290.

The 290 is Bösendorfer’s flagship piano. It is an exquisitely beautiful concert grand piano with an equally memorable sound. In fact, it was specifically designed to be grander than any other piano on the market in 1909. And I mean that in every sense of the word grand. It has 97-keys and a full 8-range octave. For 90 years, it was the only concert grand piano of it’s kind. In 1975, it was easily recognizable by any professional pianist… but probably not by random stagehands (who hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano) and possibly not by a teenage concert organizer (who also hadn’t had any reason to deal with such a piano). 

Keith Jarrett, however, immediately knew that something was off when he arrived at the Cologne Opera House to find a Bösendorfer baby grand on the stage. To make matters worse, he was tired after traveling and not sleeping for two days, his back hurt, and he was suffering from food poisoning. To add insult to injury, the piano was badly out-of-tune and basically broken. Some of the keys and the foot pedals, one of the distinguishing features on the 290, didn’t work properly. It was simply a rehearsal piano or something someone had put in a backstage corner to warm up their hands before the curtain went up. It was too late to find and move a new piano. Even if they could find what had been requested – or something close, like the Bösendorfer (which would have been 5 keys shorter) – it was raining and Vera Brandes was warned that moving such an instrument in that type of weather would make it impossible to tune in time for the concert.

“Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s not there.”

*

– Miles Davis

Improvisation – in comedy and in music – is known for things like not breaking the flow (so, not saying “no”); and the concept of “yes, and…;” staying present; and being open to change.  But, Keith Jarrett had made up his mind. He said no to that baby grand piano. He declared it categorically “unplayable” and said the concert needed to be canceled. And there’s no indication, anywhere, that he was being a diva. He was just being realistic given his history and his frame of reference. The fact that he was sick and tired just made everything worse.

But the indomitable Vera Brandes had a different history and a different field of possibility. She convinced him that she could find someone to tune (and repair) the piano onstage, which she did. She sent Keith Jarrett and Manfred Eicher to a restaurant to grab a quick bite to eat. In some interviews, Keith Jarrett has said that they didn’t eat much because (a) he wasn’t feeling well, (b) there was a mix-up at the restaurant and their meal was delayed, and (c) they had to get back to the theatre. At some point along the way, they decided to keep the recording engineers – because they were going to get paid no matter what – and record what the musician expected to be a horrible and embarrassing disaster of the first order.

But it wasn’t. It wasn’t not even close.

Instead, the three improvised movements, plus the encore of “Memories of Tomorrow,” became the best selling solo album in jazz history and one of the best-selling piano albums. In the Spring 2019 issue of Daedalus, Dr. Gerald Lyn Early, who has consulted on several Ken Burns documentaries (including Baseball and Jazz), pointed out that Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts changed the sound and people’s understanding of jazz (not to mention, who played it); “…made solo piano playing commercially viable by showing that there was a considerable audience for it[;]” and “…proved that the public was willing to take such records seriously…”

From the very first notes, which sound like the warning tones the audience heard in the lobby before the show, Keith Jarrett carried the audience on a sonorous piano journey unlike anything they had ever heard. The album has been praised by musicians, critics, and publishers alike. It was included in Robert Dimery’s book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die. Eventually, much to the composers dismay, parts of the composition became movie soundtracks. Many wanted Keith Jarrett to transcribe and publish a score of the concert, which he finally, begrudgingly, agreed to do in 1990. The transcribed score, however, came with a very intentional caveat.

“For instance, on pages 50 and 51 of Part IIa there is no way to obtain, on paper, the real rhythmic sense of this section. There is much more going on on  the recording, but this “going on” does not always translate into notes on paper. Many notes are inferred by the rhythmic sense; others depend on the harmonics or attack of the previous note(or notes). So, writing down all the notes would give more of a false view of the sense of this section than selecting some notes. And yet, even this selection cannot reveal the real sense of this section as an improvisation, where listening is what determines the music’s strength.

*

So – we are at, let us say, a picture of an improvisation (sort of like a print of a painting). You cannot see the depth in it, only the surface. 

*

As a result of all of this, I am recommending that any pianist who intends to play THE KÖLN CONCERT use the recording as the final-word reference.

*

Good luck!”

 *

– quoted from the “Preface” to THE KÖLN CONCERT: Original Transcription, Piano by Keith Jarrett

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

[NOTE: If it is accessible to you, please consider using the Spotify playlist as it contains the original music referenced in the practice. Even better, if you already have the album!

The original recording is not available on YouTube (in the US) without a “Premium” membership and, after listening to several different “interpretations” – which do not / cannot include the vocalizations – I decided the Fausto Bongelli sounded the closest to the original. Sadly, one movement is missing and so I used a recording by Tomasz Trzcinkinski, who was the first person to record the music using the transcription. There are also now transcriptions for other instruments – which I didn’t sample, even though I think some of them would be lovely. There are also “covers” using electronic instruments, which I’m considering a hard pass (even if it seems contradictory to the theme), out of respect for the composer. ]

*

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

*

### My Takeaway: Today is tomorrow’s yesterday. If there’s something in your life – in your field of experience – or something in your past that makes certain things seem impossible, in this present moment, then knowing that – understanding why it seems impossible to you, then pick something. Pick some really small thing that you can start doing – or that you can actually do right now – that changes your history moving forward. So that your field of possibility expands. So that tomorrow – maybe not 24 hours from now, maybe not even 48 hours from now, but at some point, what was impossible becomes possible…. Consider that we are doing things today that were considered impossible “yesterday.” ###

Cowboy, I Moustache You To Go… Over Here (the “missing” Sunday post) November 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy Chanukah!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, Movember 28th. There are mental health references, but nothing graphic. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Anyhow, Mr. Coolidge – I am going to tell you about the people over the radio. You can’t talk over the radio and use the same type of stuff that you do on the stage, because you haven’t got that kind of audience. Everybody listening in over the radio wouldn’t laugh like this. A radio audience – and I’m not saying this to flatter you, but everybody, you all wouldn’t have come in if you hadn’t had a sense of humor. There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in. They don’t have that over the radio. I am sure you all had to have a sense of humor; it is certain that sex appeal drew nobody in here, and I’m positive that nobody come in to whet their intellect. No, you come in here to get just a laugh, but over the radio you have people listening in there with no sense of humor at all. Anybody can tune in on that.

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage, Volume Four, September 1915 –  July 1928  by Will Rogers, edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson 

It may have been on his lecture tour, maybe even on April 16, 1928, that Will Rogers said, “There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in.” I think that statement could be applied to yoga – as can the rest of that discussion about having a sense of humor and about the difference between sharing space live and in-person versus sharing virtual or recorded space. There’s no denying that there’s a difference. And while it is may also true that people are not drawn in by the sex appeal or to “whet their intellect,” it doesn’t change the fact yoga can be sexy and intellectual, as well as funny – just like vaudeville.

Vaudeville, an upscale version of your garden variety variety show, was a 19th century French invention that experienced a great deal of popularity in North America beginning in the 1880’s. A large part of that popularity can be traced to the “Orpheum Circuit,” which was started when the German producer and American immigrant Gustav Walter built the first Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. With financial backing from another German-American, Morris Meyerfeld Jr (born November 17, 1855 as Moses Meyerfeld), the impresario opened a second and third Orpheum in a pre-existing theatres in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively. All three theatres opened to sold out houses and experienced great success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the duo could book entertainers to go from one house to the other and use the publicity in one city to push ticket sales in the other cities.

Their plan was to expand through the Midwest. However, Gustav Walter died unexpectedly (after suffering with appendicitis for four days) on May 9, 1898, just three months after the Kansas City theatre opened). Morris (née Moses) Meyerfeld became the circuit’s president and, in order to carry out the original plan, paired up with Martin Lehman. After opening five more theatres, the pair joined forces with the Western Circuit of Vaudeville Theaters (WCVT); hired Hungarian immigrant Martin Beck as a booking agent (the same booking agent that would give Harry Houdini his big break); and eventually created the Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) with leaders of the Eastern Vaudeville Circuit, like Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II. 

Eventually, the big circuits merged to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit which, after more mergers and acquisitions became Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), which included the movie studio RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (later known as RKO Pictures). But that’s jumping way ahead in the story. Not to mention the fact that by the time RKO Pictures formed in 1928, Will Rogers had already filmed almost 50 silent films produced by a Polish-American immigrant named Samuel Goldwyn (born August 27, 1882 as Szmuel Gelbfisz, and also known as Samuel Goldfish). So, let’s step back a minute…

According to The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, Volume Three, September 1908 – 1915, (by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair) the first Orpheum opened June 20, 1887 and Gustav Walter was booking vaudeville-only bills by 1897. Meaning that when Will Rogers was seven some of the seeds for his success had been planted and by the time he was 18 those seeds had taken root.

After working at his family’s ranch (Dog Iron Ranch), spending some time in Argentina and the Pampas, and working at a ranch in South Africa, “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” started doing his rope tricks in the circus. First he performed in South Africa with Texas Jack Wild West Circus and then he performed in Australia with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He was about twenty-five when he returned to the United States, roping and riding at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, rodeos, and the vaudeville circuits that were just starting to come together. He was twenty-five when his rope “tricks” saved the day at Madison Square Garden and caught the attention of William Hammerstein (see “Will Rogers” link above), who kept him consistently employed, performing on a New York rooftop, for years.

In many ways, however, that rooftop gig was a bit of a fluke and the success that followed was, again, in large part because of the infrastructure that had been established by the vaudeville producers. Those previously mentioned partnerships, collaborations, and organizations connected audiences that previously had been targeted by niche entertainers and created a circuit that relied on entertainers who could appeal to people in urban as well as rural areas. The circuit would eventually guarantee performers anywhere from 20 weeks to several years worth of performances – something that had previously been unheard of for entertainers like the cowboy philosopher or a certain “handcuff king.”

“Will Rogers, billed as the Oklahoma Cowboy, in a rope act is a feature at the Orpheum this week. He does wonders in rope spinning but you get so much interested in his ‘patter’ that you forget to watch the tricks, as he calls them. He is a monolinguist disguised in chaps, and one of the best ever….

*

PD. Printed in Kansas City Post and Journal, ca. 26 October 1914. Scrapbook 1914, CPpR”

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway: Volume Three, September 1908 –  August 1915  by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair

NOTE: The scrapbook cited above, containing a printed copy of the Kansas City Post and Journal, is part of the collection at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Pacific Palisades, California (CPpR).

Will Rogers signed a major Orpheum Circuit contract in December 1908, soon after he married Betty Blake (and only days after she saw him perform for the first time). The newlyweds spent the first four months of 1909 traveling the circuit together – something they would continue off and on throughout their marriage. By 1910, Will Rogers was so popular that he was being booked by all the major vaudeville producers and even mounted his own “Wild West” show. For many years, including in 1913 and 1914, he spent the end of summer through the beginning of winter on the Orpheum Circuit. In fact, in August 1914, he started in San Francisco (performing five days at the very first Orpheum theatre); then performed at six California Orpheum theatres plus a non “Orpheum” theatre in California and eight Orpheum theatres from Salt Lake City, Utah to Minneapolis (November 8-14) and Duluth (November 16-21). From November 22-28, he performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ten years later, on November 28, 1925, he would be performing in Washington, D. C. and visiting with President Calvin Coolidge.

While I normally reference “the Will Rogers phenomenon” (as it relates to prostate health) at the beginning of Movember, I decided to use that last little bit of trivia to bring awareness to the fact that stage migration also occurs in relation to mental health. Remember, “the Will Rogers phenomenon” is a situation where moving something from one category to another increases the average value of both categories. In medical stage migration this can occur when awareness, testing, and/or overall medical understanding changes diagnosis so that previously undetected illness is detected – which can increase the average life expectancy of people who are considered “healthy” as well as those who are considered “unhealthy.”

Note, the “Will Rogers” links above all go to the same post about prostate cancer diagnosis, but this situation also holds true for other health issues where early detection is the key to survival. It holds true for different kinds of cancer, and also applies to heart and lung issues, diabetes, and mental health issues.

We all know that the last few years have been rough – on every one – and the challenges in life include increased physical, mental, and emotional stress. If we consider these akin to the three-fold sorrows, then we (humans) have the power to eliminate this dis-ease. Eliminating our own suffering, however, requires awareness and communication. In the last few years there has been an increase in people reporting mental health issues and while that can be daunting, consider that every year people have mental health crisis that “no one saw coming,” in part because people didn’t share what they were experience and/or seek help. Some of the discrepancies between men and women’s health, including the fact that 4 in 5 people affected by suicide are men, may come down to socialization.  

It sucks that so many people are struggling, but – believe it or not – an increase in reporting is actually good news. The fact that people are sharing their experiences and seeking guidance, even treatment, is actually a good thing. It’s also the smart thing. 

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

*

– Will Rogers

Sunday’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Mov 4th & Will Rogers 2020”]

You don’t have to take my word for all this! Click here for the US Movember website page on mental health, featuring men sharing their own stories. Just click and scroll down.

“I realized, over time, that when I actually began to talk about what I was going through, it actually began to heal me.”

*

– Eric Bigger, quoted on the (US) Movember website

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

 

### ALEC ###

First Friday Night Special #9: “The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself from…” (a post practice post) July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #8 from July 2nd. This was a restorative practice with opportunities with a lot of stillness and silence.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“On June 7, [Medgar] Evers spoke at a rally in Jackson. The speech Evers gave was one of the most emotional of his career:

‘Freedom is never free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them….’

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2 – A Short but Heroic Life: The Jackson Movement” of The Assassination of Medgar Evers by Myra Ribeiro

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, this is the time of year when I my mind keeps thinking about Freedom, Liberation, and Independence. Since I was born in Texas, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life. And, even though I don’t always mention it around this time, I often think about what it must have been like for Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) and the other enslaved Mende, West Africans who revolted on the Amistad around July 1, 1839 – and how John Quincy Adams (then a 73-year old former president and, at the time an active member of the House of Representatives) helped them secure their freedom through the U. S. Courts system. I think about how Caesar Rodney, a Delaware delegate of the American Continental Congress and Brigadier General of Delaware Militia (just to name a few of his roles), rode two days in – across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams; enduring extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms; all while suffering from suffering from asthma and wearing a face mask to cover his cancer-ravage jaw – just to represent his constituents and “vote for independence” today in 1776. And, I know, he wasn’t specifically riding for me (or people like me), but that’s not the point.

My point in bringing him up every year is the same reason I think about (and want others to think about) why John Adams (who would go on to become president) thought people would be celebrating today, July 2nd, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” (according to a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776). It’s also why I talk about a descendant of slaves who was born today in 1908, given the name Thoroughgood Marshall, and grew up to become chief counsel for the NAACP and a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Finally, it’s why I’ve been known to reference Medgar Wiley Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was born today in 1952, worked as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP, and served in the United States Army during World War II – before he was assassinated because people objected to his efforts to overturn segregation and enforce voting rights for African Americans.

Within that last sentence is my ultimate point: Freedom, Liberation, and Independence require effort – effort that should be celebrated rather than taken for granted and/or forgotten. While I highlight the efforts that take place on a national, constitutional, and legal front, let us not forget that freed, liberation, and independence also have to be achieved on a personal front. And that too requires effort: physical, mental, emotional, and energetic effort.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In Yoga Sūtra 2.18, Patanjali breaks down the composition of the “objective world” – that which we can sense – and explains that “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. He goes on, in the subsequent sūtra, to further breakdown the range of the inherent forces that make up the world, thereby giving some explanation as to how one might understand (and even attempt to explain) the nature of things. However, in Yoga Sūtra 2.20 he throws a bit of a curveball – one he had already warned was coming: We can only see what our mind shows us.

In other words, we can only understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised when we are ready to understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised. Furthermore, as long as we are stuck between freedom and bondage, we will interact with others through that same paradigm. We will do things that create suffering and, therefore, create bondage. Here I am talking about physical and legal bondage as well as mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bondage. There are, after all, multiple ways to hold someone back or hold someone down. And, on a certain level, it doesn’t matter if that “someone” is our self or someone else. Ultimately, our belief in bondage goes hand-in-hand with our attachment to the things that cause suffering. Just as effort is required to break physical and legal shackles, effort is required to break mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual shackles.

Just a few years before I did my first yoga teacher training, I was in a situation where most of my yoga practice was through an online practice group and via Steve Ross’s Inhale. Yes, it’s had for even me to imagine myself getting up for a yoga class that was broadcast (on the Oxygen Network) at 5 or 6 AM, but that’s what I did off and on for about 6 months out of a year. I loved the practice so much that at one point I looked up his book. Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About is where I first heard two of my favorite elephant stories – although one is really, really horrible.’

According to the horrible story, circuses train elephants by shackling them when they are very young. The metal shackle is first attached to chain (maybe about 12 feet long) that is driven into the ground with a metal stake. You can imagine what happens if the young elephant manages to pull the stake up and make a run for it. After some years, the metal stake is replaced with a wooden stake. Then, the stake is removed but the chain remains. Eventually, the chain is removed and then, finally, the shackle may be removed. Despite no longer being physically tethered, the adult elephant has been conditioned to stay within a 12-foot radius – and so it does.

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

– quoted from The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7 and 1.11) by Thomas Byrom

What is true about the elephant is also true about human beings (and the nature of human beings): effort is required to shackle someone and effort is required to be free of the shackles. The effort and the shackles can be physical. They can, simultaneously and independently, also be mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. As an example, consider something that has been in the news pretty much since the tignon laws were passed in New Orleans in 1786: Black people’s hair.

Tignon Laws required women of color to wear head coverings in public so that, no matter how fair (in complexion), how “elegantly” dressed, and/or how (legal) free the woman might be she could be identified as someone who could – under the “right” circumstances – be bought and sold at will (just not her will), and thus could be treated accordingly. A similar law, established in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1776, prohibited women of color from wearing shoes – again, with the intention of subjugating the women. In both cases, the women the laws were intended to shackle turned the restrictions into fashion statements that extended beyond the statutes. They kept their spirits up and took back some of their power… but they were still marginalized.

As integration moved into the workplace, some American corporations created employee manuals which included acceptable and unacceptable hairstyles and/or blocked the advancement of certain people based on their hairstyles. While many were (and are) quick to say that the hairstyles in question were “unprofessional,” the hairstyles were (and are) consistently traditional ways to manage and style Black hair. By traditional, I mean that you would see these hairstyles in pre-colonial Africa. Equally important, these are hairstyles that could/can be achieved without harsh chemicals. In other words, they are natural….yet, they were deemed unnatural by people with different hair textures and types.

On July 21, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, upheld an earlier ruling in favor of Beverly Jenkins (in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance Inc.) – although they had previously restricted how far the ruling could be applied. Ms. Jenkins had sued her former employer (in Indianapolis) on the grounds that she had been denied “promotions and better assignments” and was ultimately terminated “‘because of her race, sex, black styles of hair and dress,’ in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C, 2000E et seq. and 42 U.S.C, 1981.” The basis of her lawsuit? She wore her hair in an afro.

Despite the aforementioned 1976 ruling, a New York court ruled against a woman who sued American Airlines in 1981, because (the court) decided that “an all-braided hairstyle is a different matter” than an afro, because it was an “artifice.” Strictly speaking in terms of word meanings, “artifice” is defined as “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.” Keep that definition in mind when you consider that the same New York woman who was told that she could not braid her natural hair and keep her job “even if [the hairstyle was] socioculturally associated with a particular race or nationality,” could use lye to straighten her hair (so it appeared a different texture) and then curl it (or even dye it) and still keep her job. She could do all of that even though it would result in a hairstyle “associated with a particular race or nationality”… it just happened to have been the politically acceptable race.

There are similar cases over the last forty years, including situations with school children and even student athletes who have been allowed to wear their natural hairstyles one week and then told they had to cut their hair – or not compete – another week. On July 3, 2019, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.

“Back in 1964, a hotel manager named James Brock dumped hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool that Black protesters had dived into as a form of protest against segregation, leaving the swimmers with chemical burns. In 2018, a white man demanded that a Black woman show her ID to swim at a private community pool in North Carolina, despite there being no official rules at the time stating that she needed to show any form of identification to enter the area. When she rightfully refused, he called the police.”

– quoted from the July 30, 2020 InStyle article entitled, “Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel on Her Haircare Routine and Why More Black Women Should Get in the Pool” by Kayla Greaves

Recently, as in today/Friday, it was announced that swimming caps designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics. This was decided by FINA (Fédération Internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation), the Switzerland-based governing body, who said (a) that the caps – designed in conjunction with an Olympic athlete – “[did not follow] the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Now, if you don’t see a problem with this situation, I don’t blame you; however, I would encourage you to consider – visualize even – the makeup of the people making the decision and the makeup of the people being affected by the decision. Consider, also, the governing body’s “best knowledge” doesn’t really include a lot of Black bodies. Alice Dearing, the Olympian who worked with Soul Cap, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event. Ever.

Two-time Olympian Enith Brigitha, born on Curacao, swam for the Netherlands in the 1970’s and became the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games). She also set five short course records and won a silver medal and two additional bronze medals at the World Championships (and some say she would have won an Olympic gold were it not for circumstances beyond her control). She was swimming during a time when, in America at least, de-segregated pools was still a new concept, and not one that was evenly enforced. She was also competing at a time when no one else looked her in the pools where she was competing. In pictures, her hair is cut short. If you look at a picture of her with her peers, all fresh from the pool, some of the other young ladies also have short hair; however, like today, the majority swam with ponytails or pigtails.

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith became the first African-American woman to score in a NCAA final and the first to be a first-team Division I All-American. In 1999, Alison Terry became the first Black woman to make a U.S. National Team when she qualified for the Pan American Games. In 2004, Puerto Rican-born Maritza Correla became the first African-American to represent the United States at the Olympics – she won a silver medal as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. That same year, a French swimmer named Malia Metella won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle – which was the highest individual Olympic placing for a Black female swimmer. Ten years later, at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, a Jamaican swimmer named Alia Atkinson became the first Black woman to win a swimming world title. Just a few months later, at the beginning of 2015, there was the first all African-American podium an NCAA swimming championship, when Division I athletes Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds placed first, second, and third (respectively) in the 100-yard freestyle. Simone Manuel would go on to become the first Black woman to win Olympic gold as a swimmer (2016), setting an Olympic and an American time record in the process. Since 2016, she has won three additional individual world championship titles and is planning to compete defend her title in Tokyo.

“‘It is kind of emotional as well… Being a swimmer in a predominantly white sport just exacerbates it in my mind so I am just hyper aware of everything. I am the only Black swimmer on the deck every day. That is something I have always noticed, but now it affects me. All those feelings you suppress as a kid.’

[Natalie] Hinds said there are situations that she sees all the time from people comparing he hai to a poodle, to specific comments about her race.”

– quoted from the September 1, 2020, Swimming World article entitled, “Natalie Hinds Discusses ‘Fighting to be Equal,’ Using Her Platform in Fireside Chat With Elizabeth Beisel” by Dan D’Addona, Swimming World Managing Editor

Natural hair, regardless of race or ethnicity, is classified by curl type – typically ranging from “straight” which would theoretically fall in a 0 or 1 category to 3 graduating types of 2, 3, and 4. So, there are 6 types that are visually recognizable as “wavy,” “curly,” and/or “kinky.” As mentioned above, Enith Brigitha wore her hair short. In 1988, Sybil Smith’s hair was relaxed (i.e., chemically straightened) and in most pictures it appears relatively short. That same is true of Malia Metella. Alison Terry’s hair appears to be 2 (B or C, but maybe 3A) and Maritza Correla’s hair appears to be type 3; meaning they could both (theoretically) pull their dry hair into a ponytail and when their hair is wet it would still hang around their shoulders. This same seems to be true for Alia Atkinson and Lia Neal.

Natalie Hinds appears to wear her hair natural, sometimes with braids, (and possibly has a 4A curl); but, in most of her public facing pictures she’s wearing her swim cap – and her hair is clearly pushing the limits of the cap. Simone Manuel sometimes wears her hair long, and has been featured in articles about natural hair care where she said (in 2020), “…I’m someone who genuinely feels that if you want to be successful in something, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And for me, part of that is my hair.” No shade to my hometown-sister – and I get that chlorine is harsh on hair – but I can’t helping wondering when one of her peers had to “sacrifice” their hair for their ambitions. I also can’t help but think of a dear, dear friend of mine, who is slightly older than me, and who once said that when she was growing up (here in the States) she didn’t realize having natural (unprocessed) hair was an option.

Even if we disregard all of the stereotypes about Black people and swimming that have been perpetuated over the years, the bottom line is that this is the bulk of FINA’s “knowledge” related to Black hair and Olympic swimmers. Take a moment to really notice that even as I have grouped the ladies and their hair, I’ve left out some significant facts pertaining to why their hair is so different – even within those groupings. Even more to the point, I’m willing to bet money that most of the nine athletes mentioned above use completely different hair products than the other aforementioned athletes.

“Intelligence is connected with the brain, but behind intelligence even stands the Purusha, the unit, where all different sensations and perceptions join and become one. The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Letting go of what binds us and restricts us requires effort. It often requires external as well as internal effort – although, more often than not, those two go hand-in-hand. However, we can’t begin the process without acknowledging our tethers: our shackles, our chains, and our metal or wooden stake. We have to recognize what is being done to us, what we are doing to ourselves, and what we are doing to others.

This can sound all theoretical and metaphorical, but one way to think about it is to just acknowledge where you are holding tension in your mind-body. What is limiting you physically? What mental and/or emotional limitations are in balance? Even if you don’t completely understand (or believe) the energetic and spiritual ramifications of those physical-mental-emotional blocks, take a moment to consider what freedom, liberation, and independence mean to you – and then go to your “Freedom Place” and feel those embodied qualities.

Just like people have “Happy Places” that we can visualize (or sometimes, remember), I think it’s a good idea to have a “Freedom Place.” Your Freedom Place might be your Happy Place. It might be a real place and/or a real memory. Of course, it could just be a feeling, a combination of sensations. No matter how you come to understand it, know that in your Freedom Place you can take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day, because you are:

  • Free of fear, doubt, anxiety, grief and anything else that shackles us (and others).
  • Liberated from the bondage of judgement and strong emotions or passions – which, remember, comes to us from the Latin by way of Old French and Middle English, from a word that means “suffer.”
  • Independent of responsibilities and burdens.

In your Freedom Place, you are carefree, but not careless. In your Freedom Place, there is no tension in your body or your mind and you recognize your possibilities. Of course, to feel this free we have change the condition of our hearts and minds – so that we change our understanding. To liberate ourselves from judgement (including self-recrimination), we must develop some insight into the attachments (shackles) that lead to suffering. Finally, being independent of our burdens requires us to lay our burdens down. When we lay our burdens down, we can either walk away from what no longer serves us – and maybe never served us – or we can choose to pick up our opportunities. Just so you know; opportunities are lighter than burdens. Furthermore, when we have a lighter load, we can share someone else’s load without feeling like it’s an imposition. When our load is light, we gratefully and joyful, can help others.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Even when we can’t name everything that holds us down and holds us back, even when we don’t find it particularly helpful to name things, we can come to the mat and start the process of releasing, relaxing, and breathing. Remember, breath is our ultimate (“pranic”) tool. We can use it to bring awareness to different areas in the body and then to release tension in those areas. We can use it to create space and then, also, to engage space. It can set our pace in a moving practice and allow us to stay centered and grounded in every practice. The way we breathe can affect our mood (and overall emotional state) in positive way or in a detrimental way. And, while the goal in yoga is always to take the deepest breaths you’ve taken all day, some practices cultivate a deeper breath right off the bat. One such practice is a Restorative Yoga practice.

You can think of Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga as 1st cousins – in that they resemble each other on outside, but the internal experience is different. There are a lot of times in a Yin Yoga practice when people can’t wait to get out of a pose (and there may be a lot of groaning and moaning as they come out). With Restorative Yoga, however, sometimes people want to stay in a pose a little longer – even when the pose is held for twice as long as you would hold a Yin Yoga pose. There also tend to be more sighs than groans (and less cursing of my name). Both practices can be really prop-heavy, but it is (in some ways) easier to practice restorative without the props. The practice we did for the July “First Friday Night Special” featured three of the most common Restorative Yoga poses, a very soft twist, and a super sweet variation I recently learned from Aprille Walker, of Yoga Ranger Studio. (Because, like you, I’ve been practicing online.) There’s also a lot of silence and stillness!

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “030521 Give Up, Let Go, Trustful Surrender” PLEASE NOTE: I recommend doing this practice in silence or using one of the first two tracks on the playlists. The first tracks are similar, but only YouTube has my original choice for the 2nd track.]

### “FREE YOUR MIND / AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW” ~ En Vogue ###

Let Me Reintroduce the Practice (the Saturday post) January 24, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Saturday, January 23rd. It contains some examples not included in the class. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.]

 

“I fell in love, like many people do. We do that as well. And it became ridiculously inconvenient to have my attendant pushing me around in my wheelchair with my girlfriend. It was an extra person that I didn’t need to be more intimate. I learned how to drive a power wheelchair in one day. I was so motivated to learn something that it changed in many ways my perception of my disability and of myself. She jumped on my lap and we rode off into the sunset or to the closest motel.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

Last week’s practice included a quick a quick summary review of the “Samadhi Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Concentration), in which Patanjali explains (in 51 sūtras) how the mind works and how to work the mind. This week’s practice focuses on reintroducing the practice that Patanjali introduces in the “Sadhana Pada” (Chapter or Foundation on Practice), which is 55 sūtras outlining the 8-limbs of the Yoga Philosophy.

One of the things that I appreciate about the practice of the Yoga Philosophy is that it is practical. Granted, the Buddha (historically) did not agree. I have heard that, in his time, yoga as a philosophy was not widely practiced by householders and the Noble Eightfold Path was his codification of a practical practice for all. However, I feel that Patanjali also did this with the Yoga Sūtras. I feel that way because I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice yoga just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, practice Buddhism – just as I have seen people, from all backgrounds, struggle with integrating the 8 elements of either practice into their lives. More to this point, however, is the fact that Patanjali starts off the second section of his practicum talking about “Yoga in action” (kriyāyogah).

Even before breaking down the 8 Limbs, Patanjali offers what some have called a prescription for achieving the state of yoga that will cease the fluctuation of the mind. This prescription is a combination of what he will eventually explain are the last three “internal observations” (niyamāh): “austerity or heat” (tapah), “self-study” (svādhyāya), and a trustful surrender to the Divine (īśvarapraņidhāna).

These are things anyone can do – if they truly understand what it is they are doing. Part of the problem in the modern world (and Buddhism runs into a similar problem) is that people get things twisted. They focus on what’s happening on the outside, superficially; rather than what’s happening inside. Even if they know that tapas can be defined as “heat, discipline, and austerity” – as well as the practices that cultivate the same – they might look at a really sweaty physical practice and think, “Oh, no, I can’t do that. That’s not for me.” And, while those styles and traditions can be a form of tapah, they are not the only form – and it is possible to do those very hot or heated practices and not cultivate discipline or austerity, which begs two questions: What are you practicing? What are you accomplishing?

“From a practical standpoint then, svadyaya is the process of employing the power of discernment and maintaining a constant awareness of who we are, what we are trying to become, and how the objective world can help us accomplish our goal.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.1 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Having previously established (in the first chapter) how the mind works and how to work the mind, Patanjali reiterates the purpose of yoga (“union” of mind-body-spirit and an end to the causes of suffering) – this time as it specifically relates to afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns. He gives a more detailed explanation of those afflicted thought patterns by describing them as ignorance, the false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and a fear of loss/death. He establishes ignorance (āvidya) as the root of the other four and states that this groundwork is established no matter if the ignorance is dormant, attenuated, disjointed, or active. He then breaks describes the different ways of āvidya manifests in the world – which basically takes us back to the ways in which we misunderstand the nature of things – and explains how the other four afflicted thought patterns rise up.

There are examples of how āvidya and the other four dysfunctional/afflicted thought patterns manifest all around us. There are, therefore, also examples of the sources of our ignorance can be the path towards freedom, fulfillment, and more clarity. One example of this is how some people view those that are not considered “able bodied.” Think about the activist Edward V. Roberts, for example. Known as the “Father of the Independent Living” movement, Mr. Roberts was born today (January 23rd) in 1939. By all accounts, he spent his formative years as a “regular” boy. Then, at the age of fourteen, contracted polio – this was in 1953, two years before the vaccine ended the polio epidemic. The virus left the active, “sports-loving” teenager paralyzed from the neck down, with mobility only in two fingers and a few toes. It also (temporarily) crushed his spirit. He initially spent most of his days and all of his nights in an 800-pound iron lung and, when he wasn’t in the iron lung, he used “frog breathing” – a technique that uses the facial and neck muscles to pump air into the lungs.

Now, if you are someone who has not interacted with someone with a disability, you might think – as Ed Roberts initially thought of himself – that he was a “helpless cripple.” You might, like him and one of his early doctors, back in 1953, think that there was no point to his life. You might think that he couldn’t do yoga; couldn’t get married (and divorced); couldn’t have a child; and definitely couldn’t do anything to change the world. But, if you think any of that, just as he initially thought that, you would be wrong.

“There are very few people even with the most severe disabilities who can’t take control of their own life. The problem is that the people around us don’t expect us to.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

 

Just to be clear, to my knowledge Ed Roberts didn’t practice yoga. However, he did practice Shotokan karate. Also, it is interesting to note that (a) the glottis or empty space at the back of the throat that is engaged to practice Ujjayi prāņāyāma, is the same area he would engage to breathe without the iron lung and (b) once he changed his understanding of himself – let go of his “false sense of self” – he was able to change the world.

Even though he could attend school by telephone, Zona Roberts, Ed Roberts’s mother, insisted that he attend school in-person one day a week for a few hours. She also encouraged him to think of himself as a “star” and to advocate for his own needs. So, when he was in danger of not graduating from high school, because he hadn’t completed driver’s education of physical education, he pushed back on those who would limit him.

He not only graduated from high school, he also attended the College of San Mateo and the University of California Berkeley – even though one of the UC Berkeley deans wanted to reject him because someone had had an unsuccessful bid at college and the dean viewed all people with disabilities as a monolith. At Berkeley, Mr. Roberts pushed to have on campus housing that would accommodate his needs and, once that was established, pushed the university to admit and provide the dormitory experience to other people with “severe disabilities.” The Cowell Residence Program became a model for universities around the world.

Mr. Roberts and some of those students in the Cowell Residence Program referred to themselves as the “Rolling Quads” – and they were very active in changing people’s perceptions and understandings, and therefore changing policy and infrastructure. “Curb cuts,” the ramped opening between a sidewalk and street, are one of the changes that resulted from their activism. After Ed Roberts graduated with a Bachelor’s and Master’s in Political Science, he went on to teach at an “alternative college;” to serve as Director of the state organization that had once labeled him too disabled to work; and eventually co-founded the World Institute on Disability (at Berkeley). His activism – including protesting at the San Francisco offices of the Carter Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare and testifying before Congress – led to the creation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1990).

“And I literally went from like 120 pounds to 50 pounds. I also discovered how powerful the mind is, when you make up your mind.”

 

– Ed Roberts in a 60 Minutes interview with Harry Reasoner

In the second chapter Yoga Sūtras, Patanjali continues to emphasize the importance of the practice by explaining how the afflictions can end – with meditation being one of the methods – and also outlining the connection between these afflictions and karma (“work, effort”), which can be a never ending cycle of action and reaction. In explaining this connection, Patanjali (like the Buddha) points to how the causes of suffering can also be the way to “fulfillment and freedom” from suffering. He also breaks down the composition of the “objective world;” the three properties of energy; the four ways in which we can understand or sense everything in the objective world; and reiterates the power of the mind – both in its ability to delude and its ability to achieve clarity.

In his discussion of personal power, Patanjali expounds on how powerful the mind-body can be and how that power is magnified when combined with the power of the Divine. He also explains that this power, fueled by two levels of “unshakable discerning knowledge,” which fall into seven categories. After laying out this foundation, Patanjali states (just like the Buddha does after him) that his path leads one to the “end of suffering.” The remainder of the second chapter is devoted to outlining the 8-Limbed philosophy, and explaining the benefits of the first 5, as follows:

1. Yamās (External Restraints or Universal Commandments): Non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, an awareness of one’s connection to the highest reality, and non-grasping/non-hording

2. Niyamās (Internal Observations): cleanliness, contentment, heat/discipline/austerity, self-study, and a trustful surrender to the Divine

3. Āsana (Seat or Pose)

4. Prāņāyāma (Awareness and mastery of energy)

5. Pratyāhāra (Withdrawing the Senses, inward)

6. Dhāraņā (Focus or Concentration*)

7. Dhyāna (Concentration or Meditation*)

8. Samādhi (Meditation, Perfect Meditation, or Spiritual Absorption*)

 

*NOTE: Different English translations are based on different traditions.

Patanjali very specifically states that the five yamās (“restraints”) are “universally applicable” and are not limited by an individual’s identity and/or circumstances. Anyone and everyone can practice them! He emphasizes the importance of cultivating an awareness of opposites, which can be useful in attenuating negative and afflicted/dysfunctional thought patterns, especially in the absence of or in conjunction with the 10 elements of the ethical component. He references seven steps (or stages) or prāņāyāma, as awareness of breath, and basic practice instructions related to the three parts of the breath. He then references a fourth state or experience, which transcends the other parts of the breath.

His explanation of the direct benefits of the first five limbs illustrates how each limb takes you inward in a way that can be partially measured by external factors. Additionally, he points to how the “mastery” of the third limb allows one to practice the fourth limb, the mastery of which allows one to practice the fifth limb, and so on. Even though he does not go into a great deal of detail (with regard to the final three limbs), Patanjali’s breakdown of progression in the practice is shown to also apply to those higher limbs: dhāraņā, dhyāna, and samādhi.

“My bottom walk-away experience that I believe I carry with me every day is that my father never settled for anything and always fought for everything. And he always, always followed his gut, followed his passion, went with it no matter who was against him, and oftentimes there was more people against him than it was for him.

 

So I’ve always followed my gut and followed my passion. And in so many different speeches, he would always encourage that person to look within themselves, find their passion, follow it. You can’t… You can’t go wrong with your gut. You can’t go wrong with your passion. Don’t ever settle. He never settled. I’ll never settle. I carry that with me every day, and if there’s anything he loved to pass on, it’s just go for it.”

 

– quoted from “A Day in the Life of Ed Roberts: Lee Roberts Talks About His Father, Ed Roberts” by Lee Roberts

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

 

### OM AUM ###

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 37 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 ###

SINGING BOUT MY STUFF – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #21 April 27, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Langston Hughes, Life, Lorraine Hansberry, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Ntozake Shange, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Please join me tomorrow (Saturday, April 28th) for a donation-based class at Flourish! Click this link for details.

“somebody/anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/struggle/hard times”

The Lady in Brown with all the other Ladies from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

“somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff
like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
this is mine!
this aint yr stuff
now why don’t you put me back
& let me hang out in my own
Self”

The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: The danger in not telling your story isn’t only that it might not be told, it’s also that someone else might tell your story. Someone else might, to quote the choreopoem, run off with all of your stuff. And, if someone else tells your story, they may (at best) leave out your rhythm, your tone, and what is most important to you. At worse, however, someone else telling your story can objectify you or turn you into a caricature, a living breathing stereotype come to life on the page – or on the stage.

Up until recently, certain individuals had a hard time telling their own stories in a way that they could be heard, seen, and validated. They didn’t have the money, the prestige, or the influence. I say this knowing full well that certain marginalized groups (people of color, women – of almost any color, GLBTQI, people who practice certain faiths, people who have been abused by people with power, the physically disabled, and the mentally disabled…just to name a few) still have a harder time getting their stories told, heard, seen, and validated than people who identify in a way that is not marginalized. Slowly but surely, that is changing. Still, as hard as it is, it would be harder were it not for people like Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange and works like Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Don’t pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts.”

– from a speech to Readers Digest/United Negro Fund creative writing contest winners (May 1, 1964) by Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by real life events. It was also the first play written by a Black woman (and directed by a Black person) to appear on Broadway (1959). At some point during high school, I read excerpts from Lorraine Hansberry’s play What Use Are Flowers? and her autobiography To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Reading her words, I thought, “I could be that. I could write, I could act, and I could represent the world…as I see it.” I can only imagine where I would be if that idea – of being on stage while putting my work on stage – hadn’t been cemented in my mind. But, there it was, an inspiration not unlike the Langston Hughes poem that inspired the title of Hansberry’s most famous play. And, like a raisin in the sun, my dream kinda got deferred.

I auditioned for The Sunshine Boys during my first semester of college. The directors kept asking me to read with different people who were auditioning, which I took as a good sign. Unbeknownst to me, they weren’t considering me for a role on stage. Instead, the directors asked if I would be their assistant. I said yes and then found myself in the role of their stage manager… and their producer and their publicist. Fast forward 7 years and I was working as a professional stage manager for the writer/director who’s most famous play was the second Broadway play written by a Black woman: Ntozake Shange.

“hey man
where are you goin wid alla my stuff?!
this is a woman’s trip & i need my stuff”

– The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

 

In 1974, Shange and four other women started performing the choreopoems that would become for colored girls…. Seventeen years after Hansberry’s Broadway premiere, Shange’s work found its way to the Great White Way. (I say, [It] found its way,” but in truth, Ntozake is (to this day) a force of creative nature and moving across the country was the least of the things she did to shepherd her work.) Twenty years after she wrote and first started to perform the poems, Shange was in Houston directing a revival.

Ntozake Shange was not the first arts and entertainment legend with whom I worked – and she would not be the last – but holy cow did she leave an indelible impression. I worked with her twice and both times I was struck by her unwavering commitment to her own vision. While it is not unusual for a director to be strong, fierce, and artistically determined, she was one of the first woman (not to mention one of the first women of color) with whom I worked who was unapologetic about who she was and what she wanted. Also notable, she saw the world and, therefore, presented the world in a very different way from the mainstream. She was (and is) defiantly herself, singing her songs, dancing to her own rhythms, and – in doing so – giving us permission to do the same.

Everybody has a rhythm, a cadence, a pace of life and one big part of the physical practice of yoga is to find your rhythm and to move to it. Your breath sets your pace, but even within the pace there is room to (physically) harmonize. Find your pace, find you rhythm, and let the movement tell your story.

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

(Practice Time ~40 – 45 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees, bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the position of the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the sensation of being supported – how the body rests between or on the legs, how the breath deepens. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Make sure your shoulders and elbows are comfortable. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. Now, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

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 your awareness of your body 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 – as if you are going to spring off the mat, 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 shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the 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.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). 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. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. 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. Notice your joints and how the angle of your body changes the sensations of your joints.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Push through your hands and feet to stretch the full body in this position. Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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 use the hands on the thighs to 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. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you have lost some of the sensation/information in the back of the legs, return to the Half Lift/Flat Back. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

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 press 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 muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Change as little as possible when you stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and 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. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

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). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, 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. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. 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 and breath are seamlessly fluid.

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. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, isometrically engage the adductors by squeezing the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Make sure your back thigh is firmly engaged and lifting away from the floor (unless, you are modifying for stability). Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come.

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). This pose is sometimes referred to as “Anointed Warrior,” indicating the warrior is blessed, prepared, and ready. Consider how it feels to be chosen.

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). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

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, first time through, 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). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

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 Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog. While in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push the hands and left foot into the earth to create more space. Then push through the hips and both heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate how gravity pulls on the lifted leg and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog.

If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

Exhale and step the right foot in between your hands for Low Lunge. If the foot needs help reaching the space between the hands, lower the back knee so that you can use your hand to scoop the leg forward. (NOTE: Never go back with the hands, as this will cause you to crawl off the mat as you move through the practice.) Take a deep breath in to extend the spine and then use the exhale to heel-toe the right foot towards the right. At the same time you are creating space for the hips, lower the back heel down to the mat (even if that means you have to step the back foot up). Remember, the hips will go where the toes point them; so, place your feet in the position that allows the hips to be parallel to the short/front edge of your mat. One your feet are flat on the floor, inhale your arms and heart up for Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Let your hands melt down if you are manually adjusting your hips. As you inhale, isometrically squeeze the thighs towards each other. As you exhale, use the front foot and leg to push the front hip back. Use the back foot and leg to push the back hip forward. Press down to inhale arms and heart up. Make sure the sits bones are pointed down. You can even repeat the earlier hip adjustment from Crescent Lunge/Anointed Warrior. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior chosen and ready to answer the call to action.

After several breaths, exhale hands to the mat and adjust the feet so that the right foot is more centered and the left foot is parallel to the short edge of the mat. You may need to heel-toe the left foot further away (front to back) from the right foot, but once your right heel lines up perpendicular to your left arch, inhale blossom or cartwheel your arms and heart up for Warrior II (Virabhdrasana II). Arms will end up in the letter “T” position, with the hips and heart open to the long edge of the mat. Bend the right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to get it, but keep the weight balanced between both feet, both legs, and both hips. You may feel a tendency to put all the weight and effort into the front foot and leg; but find the place where you feel balance. Make sure your sits bones are pointed down between the ankles. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how this Warrior balances the perspectives of the past (the left arm and leg), the present (the heart), and the future (the right arm and leg).

After a few breaths, step back to Downward Facing Dog or step forward into a Forward Fold. From Downward Facing Dog, firmly push your hands and feet into the ground, glide your body forward until the shoulders are over the wrists and the arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lengthen your neck so that your cervical spine continues the line of the rest of your spine and your head is lifted, eyes forward. This is the beginning of Plank Pose. You can always bring your knees down for extra support, but keep the thighs firm. If you are skipping the arm balances, repeat Half Lift / Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend with arms reaching forward and wrists flexed so that palms face away from the body. This can also be done seated in Staff Pose.

Lengthen the spine so that it is parallel to the mat and you have similar engagement to Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. Spread your fingers and toes, push into your thumb and first finger. Resist the earth and use that resistance to push the shoulders into your metaphorical back pockets. Rotate your elbows towards your belly button and broaden across the collar bones. Find Equal Standing/Mountain pose in this position. Resist the urge to lift your hips away from the mat or let them flop down. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale to Child’s Pose, inhale to the backbend of your choice, and exhale to Downward Facing Dog and repeat the sequence on the left side, starting with the Three-Legged Dog.

After the second set of Warriors I+II and Dog poses, inhale to Plank Pose or Cow Pose, lower all the way to the floor on the exhale, and then rollover. Take a full body stretch; reach through your fingers and toes. On an exhale bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Consider the story of being fully supported. As you exhale, hug your right knee into your chest. Move the right ankle and/or knee as needed. Find stillness and then inhale to extend the right leg up towards the ceiling, with the ankle flexed so that the toes point down. Give the right leg support, first by pressing the left foot down and then by interlacing the hands behind the thigh or shin. Focus on pressing the heels away from each other as you inhale (right heel up, left heel down). This is the beginning of Supine Big Toe Pose I (Supta Padangustansana I). Consider how each foot and each leg has a different perspective as you stretch (don’t pull) the right leg towards the crown of the head. If you can maintain the extension of the right leg – without bending the right knee or losing the engagement of the left heel – feel free to extend the left leg out on the ground.

After about a minute, bind the right leg with the right hand. If you can grab the big toe with the peace fingers without bending the knee, feel free to do so. Otherwise, if you need to bend the knee, use some kind of strap (on the heel) so that the right arm and leg are as extended as possible. Left hand moves to the left hip/thigh or stretches out like a “T” to serve as a stabilizer. Making sure the left hip (and heel) stay connected to the ground, exhale and lower the extended right leg over to the right. Again, only go as far as you’re able to go without the left hip lifting up and without the left knee and toes collapsing to the left or to the right. Once you find you your edge, use the inhales to press the right hip and heel away from each other; use the exhales to flex the ankles and stabilize through the left hip and heel. This is the Supine Big Toe Pose II (Supta Padangustasana II).

After about a minute, use your core to lift the right leg back up to center and then let it float down to the floor. Place the left leg next to the right and notice how each side of the body feels. As you inhale, take a full body stretch and repeat the Supine Big Toe Poses I & II sequences on the left side.

After the second side of Supine Big Toe Poses I & II, rollover to your belly. Point the toes behind you and, with hands by your hips, reach the fingertips in the same direction as the toes. As you inhale, lift your gaze, lift your heart, and lift your arms. As you exhale, lift your legs. This is a variation of Locust Pose (Salabhasana). If there is pain or discomfort in the low back, bring the feet back to the ground and actively press them down to support the heart lifting up. Consider stretching the arms out wide.

After several breaths in Locust, exhale to release the pose. Inhale to Table Top and then exhale to Downward Facing Dog. Use an inhale to lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes if you are in Downward Facing Dog). Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step or “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. This pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

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 you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

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 – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. 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 offer yourself some compassion by bending your knees as needed.

Now, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath into your heart and follow the breath out of your heart. Feel what is in your heart.

At the end of the choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the women repeat the words, “I found god in myself / & I loved her/I loved her fiercely.” Regardless of the production, this powerful moment brings all the women – and all the colors of the rainbow – together. When I worked on that anniversary production in 1994, I was (as I think everyone is) on a path to/with God, but I hadn’t started on the yoga path. And, even though I had heard of yoga, I had no idea it was an eight-limb philosophy culminating in Samadhi, which is sometimes translated as “perfect meditation” and sometimes as “union with Divine.” So, I never considered why the rainbow might be enuf. Nor did I previously wonder if each woman’s personality is reflected in the color of her costume as well as in her poems.

Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, you may still have heard or seen the colors of the rainbow associated with seven points along the center of the body. In yoga and Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), the energy of the body flows through energy channels or rivers (nadis) which overlap to create energy wheels (chakras). There are more than seven chakras in the body, but the three primary nadis overlap at seven points and these are associated with the colors of the rainbow, starting with red. The lower chakras are associated with tangible or physical elements of being, while the last three (sometimes four) are associated with the metaphysical.

The term metaphysics was first applied to the work of Aristotle in reference to topics sequentially appearing beyond discussions on the physical or “natural” world. It has come to mean anything beyond the physical or beyond our understanding of the physical. Even if you are only interested in hatha yoga (the physical practice regardless of style or tradition) stepping on the mat is a first step towards transcending the physical. It doesn’t matter if we practicing standing on our feet or sitting in a wheel chair, at some point the practice takes us beyond what is easily explained. At some point we may even stop trying to explain and just be, just breath…and feel what we feel – even when we’ve been told/taught that there’s nothing to feel.

The opportunity to feel something, anything, is why I keep asking you to Kiss My Asana! If you Kiss My Asana this weekend, your donation will be doubled thanks to the generosity of the Calmenson Family Foundation.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely given. 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. ###

FEELING THE FEET – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2018

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“The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something.”

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

Humans are sensational beings; in that, we are beings full of sensation. And there is no shortage of sensation on the mat. We feel our clothes and the mat, the floor, or the cushion. We feel the fluctuating temperature of the breath and the body. We feel weight in our shoulders or soreness in our joints. We feel… That’s what we humans do. But we don’t just feel physical sensations. We also feel things mentally, physically, and emotionally – and all of that sensation is also information.

Whether we are feeling wonderful or puny, weak or strong, flexible or stiff, wise or ignorant, it’s important to be grateful for the sensation/information, because the sensation/information informs the practice. Even misinformation can inform the practice, but that’s not the big problem with teaching yoga.

The big problem with teaching yoga is articulating what we feel when we’re on the mat, while simultaneously holding space for what other people feel on the mat. It’s a matter, to quote Nikki Giovanni, of feeling despite what we think “we should feel.”

On any given day, someone will ask me some variation of the question, “What should I be feeling in…?” As an English major (and the daughter of my parents to boot), my first instinct is to offer some powerful purple prose describing what is happening in the pose – anatomically – and how that feels in my body. My description might be helpful – especially if the person in question is practicing in my body or practicing in my mind. However, since they are not – ever – my response can be problematic. Instead of being helpful and informative, the words I choose may cause the practitioner to feel they are doing something wrong and that they need to adjust their pose. Sometimes, the thought that their pose is not quite right can also lead to the second arrow…they start to think they need to fix their body.

As a teacher of asana, I am not alone in this quandary. Some teachers avoid the issue by never telling people what they should/could/will feel in a pose. Others have an uncanny knack for going to the other extreme.  A more skillful middle ground would be channeling Dharma Yoga teacher Kim Jeblick and saying some variation of, “I don’t know. Come into the pose. Now, tell me: What are you feeling?”

Because everybody’s body is different, everybody is going to feel something different. There is no shortage of sensation on the mat: Even if you’re paralyzed.

His book Waking describes Matthew Sanford’s experiences being paralyzed at the age of 13 and the subsequent journey that led him to yoga. The book is full of sensation – it is also full of people telling Sanford, and themselves, that he can’t feel anything. Not feeling is the beginning of the story and, it could have been the end, except, Sanford was aware of feeling presence. Somehow he understood that the feeling of presence was an intimate connection between his mind and his upper body. His lower body, however, presented itself as a brick wall, a place where he was not present:

“I am now living in a body that presents silence rather than tangible sensation…. This silence that I perceive within my body came upon me abruptly through a spinal cord injury. For most people, however, the process is slower. It develops through aging. Over time, the body becomes slower to respond, more likely to sit at rest, more content to observe rather than act. But, in each case, the fundamental healing question remains the same: What aspect of consciousness will transverse the increasing gap between the mind and body? The answer will depend upon our healing stories.”*

Sanford goes on to describe how “I hear(s) silence where there is pain” as a means of protection. This is 60 pages in; it’s still the beginning of the story.

As the story continues, Sanford describes an exploration of presence, which is also an exploration of sensation/information – which is also an exploration of the intimate energetic connection between the mind and the body. This awareness of intimacy, plus the alignment knowledge that comes from Iyengar, is what now informs Sanford’s practice, as well as his teaching.

His awareness of presence is also what makes Sanford such a powerful teacher. While other teachers struggle to define how the pose feels on the outside (in order to feel something on the inside), Sanford focuses on the inner sensations and “how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then I observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship.”

As I post this, I have been practicing yoga for 18 of my 49+ years. The only thing I have been doing longer is reading and being a black woman.

“If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power.

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

The Laws of Motion & The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni
(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice where you feel heaviness and notice where you feel lightness. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet.

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 your awareness of your body 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.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, 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. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. 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.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

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. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, 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. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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 muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and 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). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, 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 and breath are seamlessly fluid.

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). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend.

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, first time through, 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). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. 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. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

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 Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: 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 can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Again and again, this practice comes back to the roots, back to the feet. Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in 1965, give thanks for your feet and how they support your heart.

“It is appropriate that I sing
The song of the feet

The weight of the body
And what the body chooses to bear
Fall on me”

– from The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni

pexels-photo-267313.jpeg

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.”

* Matthew Sanford defines “healing stories” as “…the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.”

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

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

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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.

 

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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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