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Ch-ch-ch-ch-changing – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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(Happy (belated) birthday to Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K Smith!)

“Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,
 

Then lets it go.”

from My God, It’s Full of Stars (2.) by Tracy K Smith

 

“We learned new words for things.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Practicing yoga in outer space would be really different from practicing on Earth. (I know, it sounds obvious, but when was the last time you were on your yoga mat and thought about practicing in outer space?)

I make note of how practicing yoga would be different in outer space, whenever I’m using a space-related theme or whenever I want to make a point about how people are working – or not working – during their practice. It is all too easy to let gravity do most of the work in certain poses and in certain styles. But, gravity is like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey; the encounter changes the person more than it changes the monolith (or gravity).

One of the big changes that results from practicing yoga is an increased awareness of one’s mind and body, and how they work together. This increase in awareness, however, comes from the very deliberate engagement of the mind and body. It is all too easy in a vinyasa practice to let gravity and momentum dictate the practice, but then we lose the awareness that is an inherent part of the practice. The more we practice, intentionally and mindfully, the more we realize that we are not dealing with a flat void: “It goes on forever, and…”

Now, thinking about engaging the body, some of the differences between practicing in space and practicing on Earth become really obvious. For instance, microgravity would eliminate some of the weight-bearing benefits of the physical practice, which would affect bone density – something already negatively impacted by aging and by being in space. Also, microgravity would change a person’s ability to isometrically engage muscles and joints, which can affect muscle and joint strength – again, something already negatively impacted by being in space.

Isometric engagement occurs when there is static contraction of the muscle (i.e., the muscle is working) without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. This type of engagement can be categorized as overcoming, where the muscles are actively working against an immovable object, or yielding, where a person chooses to hold a position while encountering resistance.

Whether you realize it or not, there is a lot of isometric engagement in the physical practice of yoga. Squeezing your legs towards each other in Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) is isometric engagement. High Plank Pose and Four-Limb Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) involve isometric engagement. Something as simple as rooting down into your sits bones can be isometric. However, while pressing down to go up can create space between your hips and your ribs when you are on Earth; pressing down to go up in outer space creates more space between your sits bones and your practice surface.

For eons, on Earth, isometric engagement has been used to strengthen and rehabilitate muscles. In fact, it is sometimes prescribed as physical therapy, to reduce muscle atrophy when someone is in a cast. On the flip side, NASA research has shown that isometric engagement in space fails to decrease muscle degradation in astronauts. So, while some poses and sequences might be easier in space, the easiness comes at a cost.

“My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Just as practicing yoga in outer space is different from practicing on Earth, practicing yoga in the United States in 2018 can be different from practicing yoga in India in the early 1900’s. People are engaging the practice in very different ways, starting with the concept of group practices and including the loss of meaning that comes from translating words based on their effect rather than their intention. Just like practicing in outer space: it can be fun, but it can also cost us some of the benefits that have allowed the practice to endure.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that yoga is meant to adjust to accommodate the people practicing it. The physical practice (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is situated in the philosophy so that it prepares the practitioner for deep seated meditation. Originally, that meant that just as everybody’s mind and body are different, everybody’s practice was slightly different. So, it makes sense that since the day-to-day engagement of our bodies and minds in different than that of earlier practitioners, our physical practice should be adjusted accordingly. However, every adjustment has to be deliberate and mindful. If it’s not, we run the risk of losing awareness and other benefits of the practice. When you move through the practice, consider all the things that change if you have little to no gravity keeping you grounded.

My God, It’s Full of Stars by Tracy K. Smith

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees notice how you are connected to the earth. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with 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 how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. No, 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. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

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. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

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.

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 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. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

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). 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 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 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). Allow feel the weight of your upper body being engaged by gravity. 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).

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. 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).

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 and then, as you 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 or to Downward Facing Dog.

From Child’s Pose or 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. Give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, 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 in and follow the breath out. Allow yourself to be held by the breath and float within its embrace.

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.”

Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith and I have a few things in common, the least of which is an appreciation of sci-fi, David Bowie, our (shared) middle initial – and how we like to use it. Earlier this year, in an interview with Vogue, Smith noted that being appointed poet laureate made her realize, “I haven’t written enough about blackness, yet it’s part of my consciousness and my lived experience[.]” I recently joined Thomas J. Bushlack for Episode 6 of “Contemplate This!” Apparently, this is something else we share. Time may change me….

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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. ###

Perfecting Understanding – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #7 April 7, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“And now I see with eye with eye serene
The very pulse of the machine;
A being breathing thoughtful breath,
A traveler between life and death;
The reason firm, the temperate will,
Endurance, foresight, strength, and skill;”

– from Perfect Woman by William Wordsworth

The more you practice yoga the more insight you gain, insight into yourself and, also, more insight into the practice. The more you practice the more you may start to appreciate the beauty and the perfection of the human mind-body-spirit. For instance, the body and mind are constantly striving to maintain balance. You can see the natural balancing act in the way we process food and waste, as well as in the way we breathe.

Let’s say, for instance, that a person consumed the perfect amount of calories, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and fluids for their body type and activity level. That person with the perfect dietary habit would still produce waste – a good amount of waste, in fact. Because, the body is a machine that uses what it needs, in order to flush out what it does not need. It may be hard to view the food/waste analogy on the mat, but part of the practice is observing the process of breathing (which is another way the body takes in fuel and releases waste). Part of the practice is noticing how the inhale and exhale are opposite and equal reactions – and how the body reacts to the breath.

Since we were in the womb, our bodies have responded to breathing by extending on the inhale and flexing on the exhale. The reactions are subtle and autonomous, and they mirror the breath in that they are opposite and equal. So, here again is an example of the body-mind seeking balance within the imbalance.

In most physical yoga practices (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition), poses are engaged in a way that exaggerates the body’s natural tendencies – extending on the inhale, flexing on the exhale. This is true even in static poses: we press down to go up or find a backbend on the inhale and engage the core or fold forward on the exhale. Vinyasa literally means “to place in a special way” and is a technique, as well as a style of yoga (sometimes referred to as flow, whereby the poses are linked with the breath – again, in a way that exaggerates the body’s natural tendencies. Vipassana literally means “to see in a spacial way” and is a technique, as well as a style of Buddhist meditation (sometimes referred to as Insight Meditation).

William Wordsworth’s poem Perfect Woman, also known as “She was a phantom of delight,” chronicles the poet’s growing perception and understanding of his wife. When they first meet, Wordsworth (born today in 1770) views Mary as “a lovely apparition” and very literarily refers to her as eye candy, an object that looks good on his arm. But, as they get to know each other better, Wordsworth starts to recognize his future wife as a multi-dimensional human being. Even though he is still slightly in awe of her otherness, in the end Wordsworth’s esteem reaches a point where he can describe her in the same way he might (as a Romantic poet) describe a peer. He develops insight.

People new to yoga often experience a similar evolution of perspective. At first, they may just see the top surface of the practice; they see the obvious physical benefits. Over time, people may start to notice that there is something more going on than just the physical elements. They get more in touch with their emotions and become more of how to manage their emotions. They also start to notice that the practices changes as the body and mind change, and that every day is different. Ultimately, people begin to see things in a special way. They start to recognize the symbolic elements of the practice; how the sequences often mimics life – like “A traveller between life and death;” – and how there is “something of angelic light” in all beings everywhere. As they gain insight into themselves, they may also gain insight into the world.

Perfect Woman – by William Wordsworth

Placing your body parts in a special way, move into Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how much of what you do is now automatic and how much is mindful of the way your mind and your body are in this present moment. Has your understanding of Child’s Pose changed over the last week? Has your understanding changed over the entire lifetime of your practice? Does your appreciation of the pose – even as a simple possibility – change throughout any given practice?

When you move into Table Top again check to ensure you are moving with full awareness of your mind and body in the present moment. Double check your alignment. Press down so that the shoulders and shoulder blades are even with the rest of the back and your belly is firm. Engage your locks (bandhas) if that is part of your practice. Notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. So that, as the breath gets long and fine and deep, the movement gets richer – whatever that means to you in this moment. This is the first vinyasa in this practice, notice all the ways you are mimicking your body’s natural tendencies (e.g., extending/flexing, lifting/grounding, creating/engaging, rising/falling, etc.).

Pause with the spine back in Table Top position and then move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit up on a blanket or a block if you have a lot of tightness/stiffness in the back of your body.

Press your heels down into the ground, flex the ankles so the toes reach for the nose, and then spread the toes. At the same time, fire up your thighs and engage the quadriceps (the four muscles at the top of your things) in order to lift the knee caps into their full extended position. Press the sit bones and hands down (with the hands next to the hips). If this engagement is too extreme, bend knees or place the hands behind the hips (but still wide enough to just barely be outside of the hips).

As if they are seeds you are planting, push your shoulders and everything touching the floor, the mat, or a prop down into the earth. Allow your heart to blossom. With your eyes on your nose, watch your breath and notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Engage your locks (bandhas) as described in earlier practices. Changing as little as possible, lift the arms over the head, with wrists in line with the shoulders, and turn the palms up so that the finger tips point towards the wall behind you.

Extend the elbows and, as much as you are able, rotate them towards your nose. Keeping the shoulders down the back, push the whole body down to lift the heart and the arms up. If this is too much intensity for the shoulders, modify by bending the elbows to 90 degrees and extending the wrists rather than flexing them. Again, notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

NOTE: If you want to skip the arm balancing below, move back into the poses after Downward Facing Dog. Another modification would be to do the Downward Facing Dog or “Dolphin Dog” with hands on the on the wall.

For the arm balance Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), return to Table Top – engaging as you did at the beginning of the practice. Curl your toes under; then use your arms and legs, hands and feet to lift your hips up in the air.

Check to 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. Notice if you feel lighter or heavier when your feet are spaced further apart. 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.

If you are staying off of your wrists or need something to minimize stress on the shoulders, bring the elbows to the mat when you are in Table Top and lift your hips up for “Dolphin Dog.”

No matter which variation you choose, notice how and what you feel (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically). Notice how Downward Facing Dog is simultaneously an arm balance and a standing pose; a forward bend, as well as a back bend; and an inversion. Notice how much of the engagement in the Staff Pose variations you can also feel here. How and what can you adjust to experience more of the sensations of Staff Pose?

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. Again, 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. You can play with the position of the arms for a moment; again, noticing the similarities between this pose and the other two poses.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, 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. Engage your locks (bandhas). When you reach your edge, take a moment to notice you feel (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

On an inhale, extend to Half Lift/Flat Back and on an exhale fold into the Forward Bend. If you are modifying and using the Half Lift throughout, keep the back in the position that feels similar to an intense Table Top and use the breath to extend the knees on an inhale and flex/bend them on an exhale. This is the second vinyasa. Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. So that, as the breath gets long and fine and deep, the movement gets richer – whatever that means to you in this moment. Notice all the ways you are mimicking your body’s natural tendencies (e.g., extending/flexing, lifting/grounding, creating/engaging, rising/falling, etc.).

Move back into Staff Pose. 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. 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. 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 or extend both, as needed, and lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Notice the breath, as Spirit, and how it is still moving you towards balance.

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 one of the donation-based classes listed (April 7th and 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. ##

RISING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t have the best start in life. In fact, you could say that much of her early life was very twisted, and “rooted in pain.”

She was separated from her parents at the age of 3. But, the separation wasn’t all bad; she went to live with her grandmother, who was quite prosperous – for a black woman in the South, during the Great Depression.

Life was better, for about four years, but then she was once again unexpectedly torn from her home. She was 7. At age 8 she was sexually abused and raped by a grown man, her mother’s boyfriend. When she reported the assault, the man was arrested, sentenced to 1 day in jail, and then murdered. The little girl blamed her voice for her assailant’s death and so, for about 5 years, she didn’t speak.

This little girl moved back and forth between her mother and grandmother at least twice more before, in the span of three weeks, she graduated from school and gave birth to her son – all at the age of 17.

Given her background, few would be surprised to learn that this little girl grew up to be a streetcar conductor, a fry cook, a sex worker, a singer, and a dancer. All noble endeavors; however, the real twist to the story is that this little girl rose above the expectations of herself and others.

This little, whose older brother called her Maya (as in, “Mya Sister”),  grew up to become a writer, a poet, a journalist, an activist, and an inspirational teacher known around the world for and by her voice – a voice of wisdom, courage, love, and light.

Marguerite Annie Johnson, known as Maya Angelou, would have turned 90 today.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– from Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

My first yoga teachers use to say, “How you do yoga, is how you do life.” On the yoga mat, everything has a purpose. Bringing your awareness to the importance of the moment – even when you’re not sure of the purpose – is part of the practice.

Remember: No matter how twisted the situation, never underestimate what you can do with an inhale, a pause, an exhale, or a pause. No matter how twisted the situation, never underestimate the ability of your heart and spirit to rise above.

Still I Rise – by Maya Angelou

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Notice how the front of your heart is protected, but the back of your heart is exposed.  Feel the breath moving through your heart as you inhale and, also, as you exhale. Let the breath create space, awareness, around your heart center.

After a few minutes in Balasana, make your way into Table Top – hands and knees to the mat with shoulders over elbows and wrists, hips over knees – or into a seated position if that is more accessible. As you exaggerate your body’s natural tendencies with Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence, notice how the inhale opens your heart to the world and the exhale turns your heart inward. Here is the “bowed head and lowered eyes,” but here are also the gifts, the hope, and the dream of being alive.

Once you feel the physical and emotional connection between your mind-body-spirit, set up for a Sage Twist*. Move into a seated position with the left leg extended in front of you (so that the left heel is on the floor) and the right knee bent (so that the right foot is 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. (Feeling like you’ve got diamonds at the meeting of your thighs is all on you!)

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.

Use every inhale to press down in order to lift up – creating more space between your ribs and your hips. Use every exhale to twist and rinse – engaging that space. 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. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Switch the legs and repeat the Sage Twist instructions in this paragraph (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend or extend both, as needed, and lower down onto your back for Savasana. Maya Angelou wrote, “But still, like air, I’ll rise.” (In the first link above, you can hear her son recite, “But still, life LIFE, I’ll rise.”)

Notice that as long as you are breathing (i.e., as long as you are alive), your heart will always rise.

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 one of the donation-based classes listed (April 7th and 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: The Sage Twist video features Dianne Bondy, another one of my favorite teachers focused on keeping/making yoga accessible.

Here’s a funky Easter egg.

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

 

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

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When do you practice? – B (who practices “about once a week,” but not with me – yet)

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

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

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

Monday – Yin Yoga

Tuesday – Vinyasa

Wednesday – Yin Yoga

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

Friday – Vinyasa

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

Sunday – Vinyasa

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for the wisdom, Kim!

 

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

 

 

### On and Off the Mat ###

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

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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

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

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

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

Yet another reason I love Dianne Bondy! July 19, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Love, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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(Not that we really need more reasons, but if you’re viewing this through your email you might need this link.)

### THIS IS WHAT A YOGI LOOKS LIKE ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #27: You’re a Wonder, Wonder Woman! February 29, 2016

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“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

– William Moulton Marston in “The American Scholar” (1943)

 

If you had asked me, years ago, what I admired and found so endearing about a certain friend of mine, I would have floundered a bit. Oh, it wasn’t that I couldn’t have come up with hundreds, maybe thousands, of platitudes – after all, she’s authentic, fun and funny, quirky, one half of an amazing couple, emotionally intelligent, beautiful and strong, driven, unexpectedly deep, full of grace and love …. See, the list goes on. No, the issue wouldn’t have been finding words to describe Amber K. (Yogi #27); the issue would have been capturing her essence. The issue would have been describing the multidimensional heart beneath the surface.

 “Make a hawk a dove,
Stop a war with love,
Make a liar tell the truth.”

“Wonder Woman Theme” by Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

 

“… beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes.”

– attributes of Diana Prince, as described in “Wonder Woman (Vol 1) #159”, April 1959

People back in 1941, had some of the same concerns we have right now: debates over gun control and birth control; struggles with equality in the work place; war around the world, especially between people with different ethnicites and religious beliefs; politics and economy being driven by the war efforts; and immigration issues related to the war. The list goes on. What’s different, perhaps, is that towards the end of 1941, psychologist William Moulton Marston, inspired by his two wives, gave the world the hero they so desperately needed: Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman. She was a role model – not just for women, but for everyone.

NOTE: The original Wonder Woman was not born an American, but she defended the United States and all its inhabitants. She had a strong relationship with the divine – which was the source of her powers. She was so dedicated to the truth that she had a “Lasso of Truth” – along with a healthy physique, indestructible bracelets, and a tiara (cause, duh, princess). I’m pretty sure her invisible plane had a nonexistent carbon footprint. And, unlike other classic superheroes, she wasn’t from outer space – or tasered by an alien race, she wasn’t poisoned by something (like a radioactive spider), she didn’t have mutant DNA, and she wasn’t driven by childhood traumas or struggling with dark triad psychosis. Wonder Woman was just all human – unapologetically strong, fierce, proud, beautiful, intelligent, humble, and compassionate. When she faced challenges (like losing her powers) she found a solution (learning martial arts). She focused on restoration rather than retaliation and believed people could be redeemed.

If you look at Amber K. and see Wonder Woman, you’re getting closer to the truth.

 “Stop a bullet cold,
Make the Axis fold,
Change their minds,
and change the world.”

– “Wonder Woman Theme” by Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

I’m convinced Wonder Woman was a yogi. Look at the evidence: She consistently exhibited strong mental focus and clarity, plus her agility was a sign of balance between strength and flexibility. Also, her capacity for turning loving-kindness into a game changer was reminiscent of the siddhis (so-called “supernormal powers” outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). Finally, consider how the world would be a really different place if more of us interacted with each other the way Wonder Woman interacts with the people around her.

By the same token, Amber K. is a verified yogi as well as a belly dancer. She is generous with her comments – both positive and negative – in a way that is constructive and insightful. She works with and around her limitations with grace – never complaining, always breathing through what comes up. Her interactions with herself and the people around her imply a certain level of respect for herself and the people around her. Her personal and professional interactions also require a certain level of awareness about the rhythm of life, how things ebb and flow. I guarantee you, the world would be a really different place if more of us related to each other the way Amber K. relates to the people around her.

Oh, and did I mention that I’ve never seen Wonder Woman/Diana Prince and Wonder Woman/Amber K. in the room together? Makes me wanna go, “Hmmm.”

 

“Steve is impressed with Diana’s understanding, compassion, and belief that people can change. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘Where I was raised we were taught that good must triumph over evil; and that women and men can change.’”

– Excerpt from Ink-stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology By Jennifer K. Stuller

 

“I did nothing! It was Wonder Woman!”

– Captain / Major Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman series

Amber K. is one of those people who consistently reminds me that we don’t have to stop practicing yoga just because our bodies and minds (or even our personal situations) change. But, changes in our mind-body may sometimes require a change in the way we practice. And, ultimately, that’s the beauty of yoga: it meets us where we are, accepts us as we are, and embraces all that we are.

Mind Body Solutions and the KISS MY ASANA yogathon raise awareness about the fact that our physical practice of yoga can change to accommodate our needs. If we (or a teacher) have the knowledge base to change and grow within the practice our yoga practice will advance – which doesn’t always mean we’re doing more “advanced” poses. Sometimes the challenge is accepting our limitations with grace. Sometimes, to get the most benefit out of the pose (and our practice) we have to fully commit to the modification. William Moulton Marston said, “Every crisis offers you extra desired power…. Besides the practical knowledge which defeat offers, there are important personality profits to be taken.” Our time on the mat allows us to cultivate life skills we can use off the mat – but, here again, we have to turn inward and be honest about what we find. We have to keep moving, keep breathing, and keep flowing.

Please, KISS MY ASANA if you are grateful for what you find in your yoga practice! Your donation will help others find a practice for which they too will be grateful – and the circle will be unbroken. Remember, Lynda Carter said, “You know that if you can affect one person’s life in your entire lifetime in a positive way, that your life is worth living.”
 

A big giant thank you to the 15 yogis who held the space and shared the practice my donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th(details coming soon). If you’re interested, there are still spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two). Space is limited.

2016 Kiss My Asana #26: Mastering the Art of SODOTO February 28, 2016

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“Even in the animal kingdom, the ability to search and reapply know-how is a key attribute that moves a species from survival to prosperity.

 

Just as the guru tutors the novitiate so does the goldsmith his apprentice. The same is true for officers and engineers and in all fields where the mastery of craft is a matter of certification. The greater enlightens the lesser. The maxim is “See One, Do One, Teach One” or as the sensei might say ‘SODOTO.’”

– Excerpt from The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing, Part II – Creativize by Jeff DeGraff

 

During my first year teaching, a student approached with questions about yoga teacher training. He had been practicing long before I arrived, but now he was ready to consider the possibilities. We talked about his goals, and the will/determination driving those goals. I gave him a summary of the big teacher training programs in the Twin Cities. A few months later, someone else approached me. I had the list (and the highlighted bullet points) ready. Those first two students, and many of the ones who came later, ended up completing yoga teacher training and started teaching. Sometimes I would even take classes from them. Often I would refer others to them. At least one of those early students who became the teacher began teaching other students how to teach! Eventually, I discovered trainings were changing and growing in the Twin Cities; so I started updating the list.

And the people kept asking, again, and again…and again. But they weren’t always people who regularly practiced with me. Once the person who asked was someone I just knew from a neighborhood coffee shop. Once, someone visiting from California before entering Kripalu teacher training, emailed me for additional tips as she approached her finals. Once a woman approached me after I subbed her regular class – she was already in a training program, but seriously considering dropping out over a major theological issue. By the time Yogi #26 (Annamaria) approached me it had occurred to me that maybe my presence as a teacher reminded people that they had something to offer the world. It was as if, after years of ruminating and precontemplation, something in them woke up and shouted, “If she can do that, I can so do that!”

 “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on. Wax Off. Breathe – in through nose, out the mouth. {Sound of inhale, sound of ‘ha’ out} Wax on. Wax off. Don’t forget to breathe – very important. Wax on. Wax Off. Wax on…”

– Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

Daniel: So, you’re suppose to teach and I’m suppose to learn….

Mr. Miyagi: You learned plenty.

Daniel: I learned plenty. I learned how to sand your decks, maybe. I waxed your car. Paint your house. Paint your fence. I learned plenty – right!

Mr. Miyagi: Ahh. Not everything is as seems.

– Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

 

Yoga teacher training requires adjusting one’s life off the mat, in order to spend more time on the mat – even when the mat is all in one’s head. That adjustment can be extra hard for a modern day householder – who already has to balance life-at-work with life-at-home, life-at-play, life-with-family, life-with-friends, life-with-oneself, and life-with-one’s-spirit. Adding to all that, teacher training requires doing things over and over again, even when your arms no longer want to move, until whatever you’re doing becomes hardwired – hopefully without all the bad habits you’ll discover along the way. And, the more yoga you do, the more your personal yoga practice changes. Your body is different; your awareness of your body is different. Whereas before part of your mental challenge was letting go of all your regular daily life chatter, once you go through teacher training you’ll find yourself judging the poses (or the teachers) and thinking about how you’d cue the sequence you’re practicing if you were teaching your students – especially if your students are very different from the people surrounding you at a major yoga studio.

As a modern day householder, Annamaria decided pursuing teacher training was totally worth the personal investment. She wasn’t looking at teaching yoga as a stepping stone into a new career. She wanted to start with a basic 200-Hour training, which typically involves more than 200 hours worth of curriculum, and gradually add blocks which would enable her to serve in some underserved communities. Like me at the beginning of my yoga journey, she was inspired by the people around her who might find yoga beneficial – but didn’t (or couldn’t) want the benefits to come at the price of a new outfit and an $18 – $20 drop-in fee. Right now, we’re converging – still discussing what comes next as she evolves and grows as a teacher – but evidence of divergence is hard to ignore. Soon, Annamaria will do things as a yoga teacher that I will only ever dream of doing. She’s going to be one of our greats.

 “What I think is very special about this is that he’s one of our great teachers, and great spiritual luminaries, and that there was anything that I did that inspired him…that inspires me. And it touches me. And it makes me feel like I’m on the path that I prayed to be on. So, I feel blessed to have had that reflected back to me – through the eyes, and through the words of the, one and only, Wayne Dyer.”

India.Arie talking about Wayne Dyer talking about her song inspiring his teachings

 

 “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

– my father paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton

I grew up surrounded by teachers: my dad’s a professor; his mother was a school teacher; Sunday school teachers reign on both sides (starting for me with my mother’s grandmother); and one of my cousins taught people how to drive buses and trucks. All that before even mentioning all the behind-the-scenes mentoring, guiding, and teaching we take for granted because, ‘Hey, that’s what moms do, right?’ Loving school as I did, certain teachers always had a special place in my heart. Annamaria’s dedication to going deeper on behalf of her yoga students reminds me of my favorite teachers.

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I noticed myself referring to some people as “my yoga teacher” and others as “my yoga instructor” – for a moment I wondered why my subconscious mind would so consciously make that distinction. Then I wondered if it was true; was there a difference, and (if there was a difference) was it my perceptions of the teachers’ perceptions?

During my yoga teacher training, there was a lot of discussion about people who teach yoga and people who teach asana. Looking back, I realized that even though all my early classes included basic elements of the yoga philosophy, some teachers were focused on instructing us how to exercise the bodies, while others were focused on teaching us how to engage the mind-body connection on (and off) the mat. In the end, we teachers are like everybody else: We teach what we know.

 “Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– The teaching philosophy of T. Krishnamacharya, described in Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings by A. G. Mohan

 

If you follow a certain yoga SODOTO trail, like you might follow a tiny creek or a small drop of water into the earth, you will find the following: T. Krishnamacharya, a great scholar of all the Indian philosophies, taught his brother-in-law B. K. S. Iyengar, a very sickly teenage boy, who grew up to teach Jo Zukovich, whose “realization that yoga is a wide-ranging subject” enabled her to teach Matthew Sanford how to “cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.” If you’re following the tiny creek, you may realize that Matthew Sanford is the beginning of a waterfall. If you’re an MIT scientist following the small drop of water into the earth, you may realize that Mind Solutions is giving us an opportunity to take the ancient practices of yoga airborne. Be a tiny bubble of air – KISS MY ASANA once more with feeling!

A big giant thank you to the 15 yogis who held the space and shared the practice during my donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th(details coming soon). If you’re interested, there are still spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two). Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

~ JAI GURU DEV, JAI JAI ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #24: Guiding and Pulling (In) the Light February 26, 2016

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“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear.”

– Excerpt from Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

 

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what’s inside.”

Wayne Dyer

Yogi #24 (Marilyn) gave me some amazingly delicious oranges once. She told me a little of their back story – they had been given to her by a friend who, if I remember correctly, has a grove in California. Eating the oranges gave me great joy (as she intended) and thinking of their back story filled me with awe and gratitude – but it also made me realize that, in reality, I knew very little of their back story.

How many people were responsible for the planting, the nurturing, the harvesting, and the transporting? How were their lives affected by the oranges? Who even had the idea to start all these endeavors? There was just no way to know. In the end, I could only be grateful.

“Gratitude is our ability to see the grace of God, morning by morning, no matter what else greets us in the course of the day. That has the effect of making us gracious as well.”

– Excerpt from Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard for What God Wants to Give Us by M. Craig Barnes

Marilyn herself is a lot like those oranges: Bright sunshine on a cold January day and present after long journeys, she is delightful, joyful, and fills me with awe and gratitude – yet I only know bits and pieces of her back story. I know she teaches; I know she heals; I know she loves animals, travel, and bicycling. Bottom line: I know just enough about Marilyn to know she has seen amazing places, people, and things in the world and encountered the very best and, possibly, the very worst that the world has to offer. Yet, she is always kind and graciously grateful, for the smallest things, even when someone has wronged her. And her smile lights up a room, even when she is frustrated.

“No other light, no other guide,
Than the one burning in my heart.
This light led the way
More clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
– The one I knew so intimately –
In a place no one could find us.”

– Excerpt from Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross (translated by Mirabai Starr)

 

“Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, summer and winter?”

– Excerpt from the introduction to Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore

Marilyn practices qigong as well as yoga, which means she’s one of the people who get’s my little energetic puns when I describe one set of arm movements as “Gathering Prana” and the complimentary set of movements as “Gathering Qi.” Both qi and prana are words used to describe the life-force energy that is within us and all around us. Like ruach, pneuma, and spiritus, these are also words which were once used to simultaneously define breath and spirit.

Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, didn’t distinguish between spirit and breath – they were both divinely given and received. Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, believed spirit/breath was the light of the world – it was in them and all around them. Now, the modern mind turns to quantum physics to confirm the Truth our ancestors already knew: We can gather it, guide and pull it; dance with it and in it. Like Marilyn. Or not.

 “Of the deities presiding over light, I am the one for January, loved by all for turning the world’s course toward warmth. Of the wind gods who bring immense good in the world, I am the whirlwind. Of the daytime luminaries I am the radiant sun, and of the lights of the night I am the moon.”

Bhagavad Gita 10:21

 

“Of David: YHVH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHVH is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

– Tehillim (Psalms) 27:1

Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. / Split a piece of wood; I am there. / Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.’”

The Gospel of Thomas 77

 “I sit in my own splendor. / Wealth or pleasure, / Duty or discrimination, / Duality or nonduality, / What are they to me? / What is yesterday, / Tomorrow, / Or today? / What is space, / Or eternity? / I sit in my own radiance.”

– Excerpt from Heart of Awareness: Translation of the Gita by Thomas Byrom 19:2 – 3

One of my favorite sacred texts is the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs). It presents the wisdom of a person whose outside is considered less than ideal, by the people around him. According to one of Ashtavakra’s back stories, he was 12-years old when he walked into the court of the King (who would eventually become his pupil) – and everyone laughed at him. Ashtavakra also laughed, and then he started to cry.

When the King asked why he first laughed, as everyone laughed at him, and then cried, Ashtavakra said, “I started laughing because you saw only my outside. I started crying because I crawled all this way to discuss the Truth with great scholars and all I find here are shoemakers and leather workers.” When the King took great offense and proclaimed his court a court of great scholars, Ashtavakra shook his head and said, “It is only shoemakers and leather workers who are so concerned with the quality of the outside that they can’t see the Truth within.”

I’d like to believe that, in these modern times, we’re not so one dimensional that a shoemaker and a leather worker can’t also be great scholars. Yet, too often, people in a position to teach the Truth get caught up with the quality of the outside. Too often, people in a position to receive the Truth get turned away because their outsides are considered less than ideal. Too often we all forget that we are in bodies together – and these bodies are the ideal vehicle for our spirits. The work being done by Matthew Sanford and Mind Body Solutions allows more people to experience the Truth of who we all are and how we are all connected. KISS MY ASANA if you see the Truth – or the light.

 

My donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th is full; however, I still have spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two.)Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

 

 

~ “If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable – each segment distinct. – Excerpt from Family Politics: Love and Power on an Intimate Frontier Letty Cottin Pegrebin ~