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The Kindest Step (the “missing” Sunday post) July 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Anger is a mental, psychological phenomenon, yet it is closely linked to biological and biochemical elements. Anger makes you tense your muscles, but when you know how to smile, you begin to relax and your anger will decrease. Smiling allows the energy of mindfulness to be born in you, helping you to embrace your anger.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Tools for Cooling the Flames” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I talk to people and/or watch the news these days, I see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and a lot of reasons for people to be angry and frustrated. Even if you don’t feel particularly angry and frustrated right now, you probably are around someone who is feeling one or both of those emotions fairly strongly. So, let’s talk about your anger (and frustration) for a moment. Or, if that feels too personal and raw, let’s talk about my anger and frustration.

I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, all my life, people have told me I have a great smile. But, let’s be real, when I am feeling really anger and frustrated, my smile probably looks kind of feral – almost like I’m going in for the kill, metaphorically speaking. Even with my practices, smiling during a intense moment of conflict can feel like a big, giant leap… which I’ll get into if you don’t mind if we deviate a little (and if you don’t mind the pun). See, before we get into my feelings of anger and frustration – or even why I might not feel comfortable smiling when I am angry – we have to address the two elephants in the room: (1) the idea that I can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because I practice yoga and meditate and (2) the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Let’s start with the latter, because most people in American are familiar with the stereotype of the angry Black woman (ABW). Although I’m not sure exactly when the stereotype came into vogue, it became a standard trope (a literary or entertainment-based pop culture stereotype) during the 1800’s. The popular caricature device of an angry, sassy, rude, and domineering Black woman became even more popular in with the advent of shows like Amos n’ Andy.

First aired on January 12, 1926, as Sam n’ Henry on WGN in Chicago, the radio show featured white actors (Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll) portraying stereotypes of Black people. The series became so popular in the Midwest that the actors wanted to expand it; however, the studio rejected the idea of radio syndication (which didn’t exist at the time). Since WGN owned the rights to the name, Gosden and Correll rebranded their show as Amos n’ Andy, which premiered on March 19, 1928 on WMAQ and became the first radio syndication in the United States. It was eventually carried by approximately 70 stations across the nation.

In 1930, the series spawned toys and a movie, which featured a racially-mixed cast… plus Gosden and Correll in blackface. Then there was a cartoon – still voiced by the original duo. By 1943, the radio show was being produced in front of a live studio audience and featured Black actors and musicians – who were backup performers to the original creators. When the Gosden and Correll started working on a television version of the series, in the late 1940’s, their previous movie and cartoon experience made them decide to move away from blackface (and to also, eventually, reject the idea of lip syncing with Black actors). When the TV show premiered on June 28, 1951, it featured a Black cast – that was directed to retain the characterized voice and speech patterns Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll had carried over from minstrel shows. The TV show also inherited the radio show’s theme music – lifted directly from the score of what some consider the most racist and controversial movie of all times, Birth of a Nation.

While both the radio and the TV show had critics, they also had legions and legions of fans. One of those fans, surprisingly (to me), was Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the 2012 American Heritage essay “Growing Up Colored,” Dr. Gates talked about his childhood in Piedmont, West Virginia and how (around first grade) he first “got to know white people as ‘people’ through their flickering images on television shows. It was the television set that brought us together at night, and the television set that brought in the world outside the valley.” He also said that he “felt as if I were getting a glimpse, at last, of the life the rich white people must be leading in their big mansions on East Hampshire Street.” Everything was so different from his life and his experience. Yet, to a young Dr. Gates, the TV show Amos n’ Andy was what I Love Lucy was to a young white girl of the same generation. And that’s the thing to keep in mind when you read the essay: perspective and awareness. Audiences only viewed comedy characters as exaggerated impressions of life if they actually knew people like the ones being caricatured. The popularity of Amos n’ Andy, however, was built around an audience that did not personally know Black people. 

“Lord knows, we weren’t going to learn how to be colored by watching television. Seeing somebody colored on TV was an event.

 

‘Colored, colored, on Channel Two,’ you’d hear someone shout. Somebody else would run to the phone, while yet another hit the front porch, telling all the neighbors where to see it. And everybody loved Amos ’n Andy—I don’t care what people say today. What was special to us was that their world was all colored, just like ours….Nobody was likely to confuse them with the colored people we knew, no more than we’d confuse ourselves with the entertainers and athletes we saw on TV or in Ebony or Jet, the magazines we devoured to keep up with what was happening with the race.”

 

– quoted from the American Heritage (Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2) essay “Growing Up Colored” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

There’s another key element to keep in mind as it relates to the ABW stereotype in relation to Amos n’ Andy. When Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll started the radio show Sam n’ Henry, they voiced all of the characters. However, there were some reoccurring characters, like George “Kingfish” Stevens wife, who were not initially voiced. Instead of being heard, Sapphire and most of the other Black women reoccurring in the series were only talked about. Ergo, it didn’t matter if they had a legitimate reason to be upset about something done by their husband, boyfriend, or serviceperson – their anger and complaints were presented from the perspective of the person who was the target/cause of the emotion being felt and expressed. In other words, audiences only heard the male side of the conflict… and, to be fair, they only heard the white male perspective.

Now, if you grew up listening and/or watching Amos n’ Andy you might think, “No, no, that’s not how it was. They would say what they did.” To that I would ask three things:

  • First, are you more inclined to support the person who is telling the story who also happens to be your friend (or someone with whom you are familiar) or are you more inclined to support the person you have never met?
  • Second, if I (as your friend or someone with whom you are familiar) says, “I did this little thing – that yeah, was a little inconsiderate – but, dude, I was sooooo tired/hungry/sad/etc. ….” Do you commiserate with me and agree that the other person overreacted or do you point out that that other person (who, again, you’ve never met) has a point?
  • Finally, does you answer to either of the questions above (especially the last one) change if I explain why the other person was upset with me? (The flipside of this, of course, is does it matter if I don’t explain the why?)

Which brings me to my last little bits about the angry Black woman stereotype: It was a really confusing idea to me when I was a little girl. It was confusing because I didn’t know Black women who walked around angry all the time and, just as importantly, when I did see a person who was angry they had a reason to be angry. I will admit that, for most of my formative years, I was sheltered just enough to not understand – or even question – why someone might walk around angry all the time. However, if we go back to the beginnings of the trope – and acknowledge that the stereotype already existed by the 1800’s – then we have to go a little deeper into why Black women might have been angry. And, when we go a little deeper – even just taking a little look at history, regarding the conditions of being a Black woman (or any kind of woman) in the 1800’s – we don’t need to go far before we start finding reasons to be angry.

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Saving Your House” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

All of which brings me back to today’s anger and frustration.

As I said before, you can look at the news and see that people are angry and frustrated. You can look at your family, neighbors, and friends. You can look inside of your own heart and mind.  While we may have some individual, personal situations about which we are angry and frustrated, we also share some anger and frustration about what we have endured over the last year and that some people, even today, continue to experience. Some of that anger and frustration is even tied to the fact that people are consistently pointing fingers at the (alleged) arsonists instead of putting out the flames. Two other issues we have, as a society, are that we don’t understand the concept of a backdraft and we keep putting matches in the hands of arsonists. (Or, maybe, we never took the matches away in the first place.)

A backdraft is fire that seems to come out of nowhere; but is actually the result of fresh oxygen fueling embers that were previously depleted of air. Embers in an enclosed space can smolder and produce heat even as the fire is dying. Sometimes a fire will burn itself out; other times, however, if the embers are not completely out – e.g., saturated in water or sand – they can reignite in an explosion. This can happen when a door or window is opened or when a portion of the side of the building caves in as the infrastructure fails. A social backdraft happens in the same way. For example, imagine an upsetting situation about which people are really angry and frustrated. The situation, as well as the anger and frustration, is fueled by additional elements – which the “firefighters” attempt to address. But maybe, unlike real-life firefighters, these social responders don’t provide a safe way to ventilate (or “air grievances”). So, the embers just keep building heat and no one notices the air getting sucked in through the cracks or how the smoke is changing colors. Now imagine the original situation gets buried so that it’s no longer in the center of attention. The eyes of the world shift to some other priority, some other injustice. Then, suddenly it seems, a “new” situation arises and the fire is raging out of control. Can you imagine?

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Embracing Anger with the Sunshine of Mindfulness” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I think, sometimes, that if we “have a handle on” our anger and frustration, we can convince ourselves (and others) that we are not actually angry or frustrated – that it’s just something in the ether. I think, too, that some people even believe that if they don’t lash out at others or express their anger in a stereotypical way then they aren’t actually angry. But, the truth is that there are different ways to express anger and frustration just as those emotions can manifest in different ways and at different times. Some people are all about lashing out (physically and/or verbally); others express themselves in a mindful way; still others get passive-aggressive. Some people go out of their way to avoid the conflict all together and don’t resolve the situation (which may defuse their anger and frustration or it may heighten it) and still others get super-duper quiet.

Here I’m tying anger and frustration together, even though frustration is just one manifestation of anger. However, anger can also manifest as irritability, defensiveness, and resistance. Since these emotions are inevitably tied to conflict, they are mentally connected to discernment. In other words, the angrier we get, the harder it becomes to make wise, skillful decisions.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was another elephant in the room – the idea that someone can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because they practice yoga and/or meditate. Like the stereotype of the ABW, this has its roots in some superficial truth, but ultimately it is just another stereotype. I say it all the time: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices are not intended to make you numb to emotional and mental experiences. In fact, instead of being numb, you may find that these practices allow you to feel more. They also can help you see more and, therefore, enable you to make better decisions.

One way to understand this is to look at the connection between emotions and the mind-body. Emotional experiences – like anger, frustration, fear, and even joy – have the ability to hijack our central nervous system. When an emotion takes our nervous system for a ride, we either want more of the experience or we want to escape the experience. Like fear, anger and frustration can activate our sympathetic nervous system, thus engaging our fight-flight-freeze response. When this happens, we get tunnel vision and everything narrows down to what is needed for “survival.” We not only see less, we hear and feel less. In certain extreme situations, blood is diverted from our digestive and immune systems into the limbs that we need to fight, flee, or escape through collapse (which is the freeze response). Additionally, anger and frustration are often fueled and driven by fear – creating a feedback loop that leaves us highly sensitized and over-stimulated. If we get into that feedback loop, as many of us have over the last few years (and especially this last year and a half), we can become like a stick of dynamite that has been placed next to a lit match after the fuse was soaked in gasoline.

Of course, there is something really special about the emotional “elephant” that practices yoga, meditation, and/or some other mindfulness-based practice (like centering prayer). Such a person has the tools to deal with their emotions in a way that is wise, loving, and kind. I did not choose those last three randomly. In Eastern philosophies and some medical sciences, every emotion has a flip side: for fear it is wisdom; for anger it is loving-kindness.

We can think of anger and frustration as emotional pain (because that’s what suffering is) and, in this case, they are signs that something needs to change. They can fuel change in a way that is constructive or destructive. But, in order to make the decision to resolve conflict in a way that is constructive, we have to be able to see as clearly as possible. We have to be able to be able to see the possible.

Which takes us back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile – and how, sometimes, that feels like a giant leap to me.

“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

As I said before, I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, if we are to believe the people around me, I have a great smile. But, I have a hard time faking a smile when I’m angry – which is kind of the point. Add to this practice, my self-awareness – or, in this case you could call it self-consciousness – about how I am perceived as a Black woman… especially when I am angry. Something that I do all the time seems like a giant leap; because suddenly smiling, even softly, during a conflict, can come across as menacing.

I know, I know, most of you who know me personally don’t think I’m scary – especially since I am so small. But, trust me when I tell you that there are people who have been scared of “me”… or, at least, their perception of me. And, sometimes, that makes me a little angry.

[Feel free to insert a hands-thrown-up-in-the-air emoji.]

When it comes to dealing with anger and frustration, I definitely use the Eastern philosophy model as a foundation. I get on the mat, the cushion, and/or the walking trail and I consider how Chinese Medicine associates anger and frustration with the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Gallbladder Meridian is yang and runs from the outer corner of the eyes up to the outer ears and top of the head and then DOWN the outer perimeter of the body – with some offshoots – before ending at the fourth toe. Liver Meridian is yin and runs UP from the top of the big toe up the inner leg; through the groin, liver, and gallbladder; into the lungs; and then through the throat into the head, circling the lips and finishing around the eyes. (This is an extremely basic description!) Since YIN Yoga is based on Chinese Medicine, we can hold certain poses that target the hips and side body in order to access the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Other times, we just bring awareness to how we feel in those areas associated with the meridians – knowing that “prāņa (‘life force’) follows awareness” – and perhaps do poses that highlight those areas (superficially) in order to cultivate more awareness. This is what we did on Sunday.

Another thing we did on Sunday was incorporate lojong (“mind training”) techniques from Tibetan Buddhism. These are statements that can be used as a starting point for meditation and/or contemplation. They can also be used, in this context, as affirmations and reminders. For instance, in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh explained one of his personal rituals: “Each morning I offer a stick of incense to the Buddha. I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.” This is like the lojong statement #21 “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” To me, this is not only about cheerfulness; it is also about showing up with a sense of gratitude, wonder, and awe. This activates my practice of shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santosha (“contentment”) – which means I am less likely to think (or say), “[That person] always does this or that.” If I can let go of past insult and injury (about which I can do nothing since it’s in the past), I can focus on the present issue. I will also consider how doing something loving and kind – for myself, for the other person/people in the conflict, and/or for some person not involved in the conflict can change the energy.

You can think of these practices as personal de-escalation techniques. They are the steps you take (and the tools you use) to offer your inner child a little comfort and to start putting out the flames so that they stay out. They can also be the tools you use to make sure there will be no backdraft and no new fires. This weekend, when I randomly stumbled on the Big Think clip quoted above, I added a new perspective to this practice: I started thinking about the “kindest” next step.

“And the idea is that, for the person being creative, all their doing is making a small step to the next most likely possibility – based on their assumptions. But, when someone on the outside sees them doing that, they think, ‘Wow! How did they put those two things that are far apart together?’ And the reason why it seems that way is because for the observer they are far apart. They have a different space of possibility.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience, the founder and director of the Lab of Misfits, as well as the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently and the co-author of Why We See The Way We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision.  One of his missions – in fact, the primary mission of the Lab of Misfits – is to get people to know less, but understand more. I know, I know, that sounds so weird and counterintuitive, but ultimately it is about questioning and delving deeper into what we think we know, in order to gain better understanding of our areas “not knowing.” It is about gaining better understanding of our selves by letting go of our assumptions and being open to possibilities.

The clip I ran across was specifically about creativity and perception, which got me thinking about how we perceive one another during a conflict and how that perception contributes to our ability to construct a viable resolution or, conversely, how our perceptions lead to more destruction and conflict.  How do we de-escalate a situation between people who may perceive the conflict (and each other) in different ways? One obvious answer is Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile. It’s a really good answer… but “my” history and my perception of how I might be perceived – based on history – makes it seem like a giant leap. Even though I am in the habit of smiling all the time, I am not in the habit of being angry or being perceived as an ABW. So, to combine the two requires practice and an awareness of my “space of possibility.”

In considering my space of possibility, I started thinking about what the kindest next step might be in a certain situation. For example, let’s say that I’m getting angry at something someone keeps saying to me during a conversation and/or I am frustrated by how I react to what they are saying. To suddenly compliment the person who is insulting me might come across as disingenuous. That might be a big leap for them to understand – especially if they are insulting me on purpose. But, somehow, we need to reach an understanding between the two of us (or just between me, myself, and I). Reaching that understanding requires bridging a proverbial (and verbal) gap – which we can’t do as look as I keep getting “hooked” by the thing they keep saying and they keep getting “hooked” by the way I am reacting.

So, what’s the next step that is also kind? I could practice the four R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve) and maybe even that fifth R (Remember). I could just take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that I promised to enjoy today. I could do all of that and preface the next thing I say. After all, sometimes naming what you are experiencing – even if you just say it to yourself – can make a big difference. Of course, be mindful about how you preface and name what you are experiencing – otherwise, you might come across as snarky and sarcastic.

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

Commentary: Do not hold on to anything – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

 

“5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

Commentary: There is a resting place, a starting place that you can always return to. You can always bring your mind back home and rest right here, right now, in present, unbiased awareness.”

 

6. In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.”

 

– quoted from Always Maintain A Joyful Mind: And Other Lojong Teachings on Awaking Compassion and Fearlessness by Pema Chödrön

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for 04102021 Si se puede & Birds”]

 

“It is a small step that begins the journey of a thousand miles.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 64” of A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

A Second or So to Dream (mostly the music w/date and theme post links) June 23, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Life, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, TV, William Shakespeare, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“They say a dream takes only a second or so, and yet in that second a man can live a lifetime. He can suffer and die, and who’s to say which is the greater reality: the one we know or the one in dreams, between heaven, the sky, the earth

 

– quoted from the closing narration of The Twilight Zone, episode “Perchance to Dream” by Charles Beaumont (episode directed by Robert Florey, aired November 27, 1959)

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, June 23rd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06232020 MidSummer’s Night Eve”]

 

You can read more about tonight’s “dream” in last year’s post from this date, as well as how it’s all connected to tomorrow.

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

 

### 🎶 ###

 

We Do What We Do September 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hope, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Taoism, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Beauty cannot exist without ugliness.

Virtue cannot exist without vice.

Living, we know death.

Struggling, we know ease.

Rising high, we know the depths.

Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite, therefore we work without conscious effort and teach without agenda.

We enjoy everything and possess nothing.

Our accomplishments do not emerge from our ego, so we do not cling to them.

Thus they benefit all beings.”

– (2) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

A few months back, I posted about chaos theory; and if you watch one of the pendulum models (see below it can seem like so much craziness. However, when faced with so much confusion, I have to remind myself of the following:

  • we’ve seen this pattern before;
  • it makes no sense if you get caught up in the momentum;
  •  all the movement is, in fact, moving towards stillness;
  • and that, from the perspective of natural law, there is a moment when all of the movement is, in fact, “effortless effort.”

As someone with a type-A personality, I sometimes struggle with the idea of “effortless effort.” Don’t get me wrong; I can be still, I can relax. However, there are certain times where “doing nothing” feels like the wrong choice. I’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe this. Many in the Western world have been conditioned and socialized to believe this. But, not doing is still doing and “effortless effort” is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, sometimes, it takes a great deal of effort to let go.

In a 2009 blog post, Meditation Oasis (Mary and Richard Maddux) refers to a the Wikipedia description of “Wu Wei” – which literally means “not-doing doing” – as “’natural action’ giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing.” This makes me think of Alan Watts meditation where he describes breathing as something that happens to us, but also something we can engage – and, once engaged, it is something we do deeply without effort. Meditation is like this. Life is like this too, and Taoist philosophy points to “Wu Wei” as a way to act and/or experience action in daily life. On Meditation Oasis’s blog, they describe meditation as “the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.” This too, is what Patanjali advocates in the Yoga Sūtras, “resting in your own true nature.” (YS 1.3)

 “The most fluid and yielding substance will flow past the most rigid with the speed of a racehorse.

That which does not hold a particular form can enter even that which seems impenetrable.

This is why we practice “effortless effort.”

We act without ado.

We teach without arguments.

This is the way of true happiness, but because people prefer distractions and noise, it is not a popular way.”

– (43) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

In commentary on wu-wei, Dr. Martin says, “This phrase implies pure action in the present moment without any accompanying resistance, second-guessing, or worry. In the practice of wu-wei we just “do what we do.” The more awareness and acceptance we bring to the present moment, the more wu-wei is possible. This can take the form of either energetic activity or relaxed waiting. Like acceptance, wu-wei is not passive….” The sounds great, but I wonder how it works in situations where things are steadily spiraling out of control, where there is deadly chaos and we can’t seem to find the center point. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker and am reminded that we have to bend the arc. But, how do we do that without more harm? How do we do that with ‘effortless effort?”

 “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker

Dr. William Martin wrote a book on the Tao and activism, which I have not read yet. However, Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga are philosophies that encourage experiencing the present moment – which requires stillness. So, today we are going to move into stillness.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Today’s playlist is dated March 29th or 03292020.)

Going with the flow…

### BE THE FLOW ###

FLASHBACK FRIDAY!! March 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY 12:00 – 1:30 PM (Nokomis)

SUNDAY 2:30 – 3:30 PM (Nokomis)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

CH-CH-CHANGES, LIKE A RIVER: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept 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 a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with this concept/theme 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.

***

πάντα ρε “  (“panta rhei “ everything flows or everything to the stream)

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (c. 535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

 

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

 – excerpt from funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer

 

Shift happens…all the time. Or, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once put it, “Everything changes and nothing remains still…you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Recognizing the temporal nature of everything, including ourselves and our experiences, can be very helpful.  However, it seems to be human nature to resist change and, in doing so, deny that change is happening – which, as the Buddha pointed out, creates suffering.

(Thus) have I heard that Prince Siddhartha Guatama of India was born into a family of great wealth and great privilege.  As pointed out at the beginning of this series, Siddartha means “one who has accomplished his goal” or “one who has achieved his aim” and – as far as his family was concerned his dharma (or goal) was to one day take over as ruler of his father’s lands. (The title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One,” would come later in his life.)

Siddhartha knew nothing of pain and nothing of suffering, having been shielded from the existence of sickness and death, until the age of 29. Upon seeing the suffering of others, his life trajectory changed and he renounced the life he knew in order to find a path that would alleviate suffering. At the age of 35, tradition tells us, he articulated The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering

In some traditions of Buddhism, understanding and accepting these four noble truths is the key to waking up and there are a number of practices specifically designed to bring awareness to change happening every time you inhale, every time you exhale. In fact, the very act of sitting and watching the breath can illuminate the Four Noble Truths and the temporal nature of our existence.

The history of Japan and Japanese culture is full of change. Depending on where you look you may find an acute juxtaposition between accepting change, keeping a tradition (without change), and actually celebrating change. For example, most of the Buddhist world celebrates the Buddha’s birthday on May 8th or a day determined by a lunar calendar. Many temples in Japan, however, started celebrating on April 8th every year, when the country switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.  During the Flower Festival, which is the birthday celebration, people will pour a sweet tea made from fermented hydrangea leaves over where small statues of the Buddha.

For an example of people celebrating change, look no further than the sakura (cherry blossom) season that is beginning. The Cherry Blossom Festivals that are currently kicking off (or ending, depending on the region) is completely separate from the Flower Festival associated with the Buddha’s birthday.

Sakura usually begin blossoming in the southern part of Japan and, over a matter of weeks, eventually blossom across the whole island. However, by the time the blossoms peak in the North they are already out of season in the South. The delicate flowers literally blow away like dust in the wind. For the heart and mind to hold the beauty of the moment when the flowers peak, with the awareness (and sadness) that the moment is already passing, is known as mono no aware (literally, “the pathos of things”). Mono no aware may be translated as “empathy towards things,” but there’s really no set words in English to express the feeling of wonder (“the ahhness”) inextricably tied to the longing and deep sadness that accompanies loss. This is what is – and yet, without some kind of mindfulness practice it is easy to separate the two sensations or to be so overwhelmed by the twin emotions that we focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other. Focusing on what feels good and appealing, while avoiding what doesn’t feel good results in more suffering. It also creates suffering when our longing for what has passed causes us to miss what is. (Not to mention, it causes us to continuously confront the illusion that we can go back to a moment in time, in the same way we think we can cross the same river twice.)

If you look at the history of sitting in Japan, you will also find lots of change – and sometimes a resistance to change. What is now commonly considered the proper way to sit in Zen Buddhism, as well as in day-to-day life, is seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”). Seiza is kneeling so that the big toes overlap (right over left) and then sitting on the heels. Women are taught to sit with the knees together, while men may be taught to spread the knees a little. In the modern times, this type of sitting is ubiquitous and considered respectful; however, prior to the mid 14th century and up to the late 16th century it was consider proper and respectful to either sit with legs to the side or cross-legged. Cross-legged was, in fact, the preference for many warriors as it was believed that a cross-legged position would not hinder a samurai if they needed to draw their sword.

“The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (DK22A1)

 

In the physical practice of yoga, the “proper way to sit” is in way that is stable and comfortable enough for you to focus on your breath. Notice that in Yoga Sutra II.46 (broken down in yesterday’s post) Patanjali uses the words sukham asanam which can be translated as “dwelling in a good space.” The flip side of a good space is dukha “a bad space” – or, more acutely, “a space of suffering.” As you move into this next pose, make sure you are not dwelling in a space of suffering.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 8th: Auspicious or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana)

Auspicious Pose or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana) appears in classical texts like Gheranda Samhita (c. 17th century) as a pose similar to seiza. In more modern texts it is depicted as a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana). Either variation can be in the beginning, middle, and/or the end of a practice. In fact, if you are doing a variety of poses today, you can return to your Auspicious pose the way your return to Downward Facing Dog, or Equal Standing, and notice was changed or shifted.

For the classical variation, be mindful of the knees and hips as you come to your hands and knees and bring the tips of the big toes to touch. Spread the knees as wide as you are able and then sit back on your heels. If there is a lot of pressure on the knees, sit on a block or blanket. You may also need a blanket or towel under the feet for this variation.

For the second variation, bring your feet together, like a prayer, in front of your hips (rather than behind). This variation is easier on the knees and feet. You may still need to sit up on a blanket or block. Especially if the hips are tight, you slump into the low back, and/or the knees are up higher than the hips. In this variation you can also adjust the feet (bring them closer in or further out) to bring more ease to the knees.

You can sit up tall with the hands resting on the thighs. Another option, which is very nice for the shoulders, is to lift your heart up (into the beginning of a backbend) and cross the hands behind the back so that you can grab the toes, the heels, or (if your feet are in front) the opposite hip. Make sure you are not leaning back, but instead are arching your chest up. Be mindful that you are not straining or compressing the low back.

If you have unregulated blood pressure issues, let your breath flow naturally in and ebb naturally out. If you find you are holding your breath or panting, ease out of the pose. If you are in overall good health, and they are in your practice, you can add your bandhas.

Dwell in this good space (sukha asama) until you have to move out of it (because it has become the “bad space” ( dukkha asanam). Be mindful that you ease out of the pose with the same awareness you used to get into it. Find some gentle, micro-movements to release the joints.

 

(Click here if you do not see the video.)

### NAMASTE ###

RELAX * RELEASE * REST * RENEW * HEAL – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2019 December 18, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Advent, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Football, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Taoism, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Start the New Year with a 2-hour retreat into yourself. Enfold into the wisdom of your heart and let your heart’s desire unfold. Be inspired.

Despite our modern day penchant for fireworks and parties, a new year begins much as it ends: quietly. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we observe the secular New Year when much of nature is hibernating. We hustle and bustle, struggling to start, continue, or end. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, things and beings are waiting.

Waiting…it seems so passive and unyielding.

Waiting…it is easy to forget the importance of resting, relaxing, and being still…letting things germinate and take root.

Waiting…. In many philosophies and religions, including the Abrahamic religions, great emphasis is put on the importance of waiting, specifically because something or someone is coming.

Yet, no one really wants to wait for our dreams to come true. We want it now! And, we want to be actively working towards that goal. Unfortunately, sometimes, we forget about the importance of waiting…resting…reflecting…planning.

As one year ends and another begins, we are given the opportunity to reflect and plan. We can reflect on the events of the previous year – and how we dealt with them. We can plan for a new year of events – and how we want to deal with them. Making a resolution, even informally, seems natural to some and inevitable to others. It can also seem futile when you consider that (according to some statistics) only about 8% of people who make a resolution actually follow through with them.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep?

Resolutions are just like any other goal or dream that has a lot of expectation attached to it. In order for us to succeed we have to be all in – otherwise, we falter at the first obstacle. In order to be all in, we have to understand what it is we really want or need.

Ask yourself, how does this goal or desire serve me?

Every goal, every desire, every resolution has a purpose. Tapping into the power of the purpose, how the goal or desire serves us, allows us to connect to the underlying intention. Intention is compelling. Intention is the driving force that allows us to see an opportunity to succeed where we might otherwise falter.

Consider this sports analogy: Let’s say you’re a football team with a stellar passing game. Everybody knows your team has a stellar passing game; but, when you’re in the zone it doesn’t matter that the other team is trying to sack your quarterback or intercept every pass – there’s always a pocket, there’s always a hole. The problem comes in when you’re not in the zone and/or when you’re playing a team with an exceptional defensive line. A professional team, ideally, has practiced other options. However, even the pros play to their strengths and, sometimes strengths become blind spots. When it feels like everything is on the line – but nothing is going their way – that’s when we hit our blind spots. And, even the pros can end up in a situation where they’re strengths no longer serve them. Even the pros may forget that there are different ways to achieve the goal.

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker outlines a formula for success which he calls the Creation Equation. Simply stated, the sum of the intensity of your desire plus the intensity of your efforts to achieve the goal has to be greater than the intensity of the resistance. Keep in mind, the resistance can come from a lot of different sources – including other people. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the intensity of the resistance increases when your desire gets misplaced or transferred.

In the aforementioned sports analogy, for example, both teams have a strong desire to win. Each team’s desire represents a portion of the other team’s resistance. When practicing, however, the team with the stellar passing game focused their desire on having a stellar passing game. On the other hand, the exceptional defensive line focused on stopping everything. When it’s game time, the latter doesn’t care what you throw at them, they’re intense desire (i.e., their focus and their intention) is on stopping everything – by any means necessary. That intention puts them in the zone.

Every year, at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations, I lead a guided meditation which includes a group sankalpa that I then incorporate into my Saturday classes at the YMCA. The word sankalpa means will, determination, vow or intention. It can also mean resolution. But, the difference between the English and the Sanskrit is that within the Sanskrit word there is the vow and the way to achieve the vow, there is a guiding principle and the dedication to following it. A sankalpa combines the desire with the effort. To connect and to stay connected to that highest vow, it is important to clear the mind and focus/concentration/meditation on the heart’s desire.

When outlining the philosophy of the yoga in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali put particular emphasis on the combined power of the last three (3) limbs of the practice: focus, concentration, and (perfect) meditation (YS 3:4-6). He also mentioned that there are five (5) ways, including tapah (“training the senses” or “austerity”) and samadhi (“meditation”), to reach higher awareness (YS 4:1).

The New Year’s Day japa-ajapa mala if 108 Sun Salutations is a vigorous practice which fits into the category of tapah and can involve samadhi. While not vigorous, a Yin Yoga practice, which involves settling into a special series of poses for long holds, also fits into the categories of tapah and samadhi. Both can clear the mind so that you can bring your full awareness to your heart’s desire.

My 2019 New Year’s Day mala is full, but I will post other practice opportunities. Also, I am excited to offer a Yin Yoga practice with guided mediation (5 – 7 PM). If you are interested in joining me for this special candlelight practice on New Year’s Day, please email me (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com).

WHO: Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: A Yin Yoga practice addresses the deep tissue and connective tissue through a special series of supported poses held for 3 – 5 minutes. Props and awareness of the body creates an opportunity to relax the outer musculature. This candlelight practice also includes guided meditation.

WHERE & WHEN: Nokomis Yoga at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

WHEN: Tuesday, January 1, 2019

COST: This is a donation-based event. Since space is limited, please email Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com to save your spot.

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR! ~

JUST SITTING & BREATHING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #3 April 3, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Mathmatics, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“To breathe! Oh poem we cannot see!
Pure space exchanged continually
For one’s own being. Counterpoise,
In which I come to be, a rhythm.”

– from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 1 by Ranier Maria Rilke

 

“feel how your breathing makes more space around you”

– from Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 by Ranier Maria Rilke

Regardless of what you practice or how you practice yoga, breathing is an essential part of the practice. In fact, the physical practice of yoga, Hatha Yoga (regardless of the style or tradition) is a combination of the third and fourth limbs of the philosophy of yoga: asana (“seat”) and pranayama (“awareness” or “extension” of breath). As the body is a container for the breath, the asana is a way to direct the breath, as well as a way to connect the mind and body.

Connecting through the breath is also a way to bring about change in the mind and body. Literally speaking, Hatha Yoga may be translated as “sun-moon union” or “by-force union.” The power of the practice comes from the uniting of opposites. It is by the force of the breath that we bring about change.

Sir Isaac Newton stood on the shoulders of giants, in particular Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Johannes Kepler, and published his laws of motion in 1687. Three hundred and thirty-one years later, these physical laws first published in the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica still hold up: (1) that an object at rest remains at rest and an object in motion remains in motion – unless acted upon by a force; (2) that the rate of change in momentum is directly related to the force applied, and the direction applied; and (3) that there is an equal and opposite reaction to every action.

Every time we breathe, especially if we observe the body’s natural reaction to the breath, we are seeing these laws at work. Take a deeper breath in and that action results in a deeper breath out. As, the breath enters the body the belly rises; as the breath leaves, the belly falls. Simultaneously, the diaphragm rises and falls, enters and leaves – but, in the opposite direction of the belly. Also, on a much deeper level, the spine extends as we inhale and flexes as we exhale. Our physical practice of yoga is simply a way to observe natural phenomena at work.

Our physical practice is also a way to observe natural phenomena from a philosophical standpoint. For example, Daoism views everything in existence as the manifestation of four (4) actions: entering and leaving, rising and falling. As we inhale, things and people come into our lives, things happen around us. As we exhale, things and people leave our lives, things change around us. Notice the thoughts and emotions that arise. Notice how the thoughts and emotions settle.

Sonnets to Orpheus II, 29 – by Ranier Maria Rilke

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Make yourself comfortable and stable enough to focus on the breath. Notice the inhale, the pause, the exhale, the pause. Notice how the body reacts to each part of the breath. Notice how the inhale creates space and the exhale allows you to engage that space.

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. Begin to move with the breath in an exaggeration of your body’s natural tendencies: Inhale and extend the spine into a back-bend with the belly dropping down (this is Cow Pose). Exhale and flex the spine so the belly is drawn up into the spine (this is Cat Pose). If you sit hunched over a computer all day, you might try the “un-Cat” instead.

As Ranier Maria Rilke writes, “Move back and forth into the change.” Match the movement to the breath and notice the natural balance of the breath being reflected in the movement. Notice how your mind settles into the rising and falling, the ebbing and flowing. Notice how your mind settles into the present moment – even as it changes.

After a few minutes of Cat/Cow or the “un-Cat” (from the link above), move into Corpse Pose (Savasana). Notice the rising and falling of the belly as the breath enters and leaves the body. Feel the breath in your spine. Notice the breath that leaves the body is entering the world, and vice versa.

Breath is spirit. In fact, in the old languages, people used the same words for breath that they used for spirit: Prana in Sanskrit, Qi in Chinese, Pneuma in Greek, Ruach (in the body) in Hebrew, and Spiritus in Latin. So, feel the force of your spirit in the body and in the world.

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 my donation-based classes (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. #

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTIONS #5, 6, & 7: IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK…? April 15, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“If you could recommend one book about yoga that really impacted your practice, what book would that be?”

 

“If you could recommend one book about meditation, what would it be?”

 

“Is there a book that would help a beginner like me establish a daily practice?”

– E

There might be more books on yoga and meditation than there are ways to practice yoga and meditation. I know for sure that there are so many books on each it is sometimes hard to narrow things down to a single recommendation. Even if I had read everything that’s ever been printed – and nothing else was ever printed (which would be a shame since one of my teachers is currently working on her first book) – and even if I only focused on books that really impacted my practice, I would still end up with a bag full of books.

Jan 2016 Yoga Books 56

(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

Part of me wants to break this down into a book on the physical practice versus a book on the philosophy; however, sitting with WHY I want to make that distinction, brings me to one very comprehensive option: T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice.

Desikachar was the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher responsible for the resurgence of yoga in 20th Century India. Krishnamacharya taught Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi – who all had a hand in bringing the physical practice of yoga to the West. Each of the teachers mentioned above wrote at least one book which impacted someone’s yoga practice (including mine), and all of them have had books written about them. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga is simultaneously about yoga and about a teacher’s teacher. It is also a practice manual with a heavy focus on the philosophy. Unlike some other books I might refer to as practice manuals, The Heart of Yoga not only offers an overview of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, it includes a translation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (NOTE: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms. Most books on the sutras include each aphorism, plus a translation and commentary for each aphorism. I use several sources for translation/commentary comparative analysis; however, my go-to resource is a website by Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition.) The Heart of Yoga gives practitioners of any fitness or experience level the opportunity to build a physical practice, while also maintaining a connection to the overall philosophical practice.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Nhat Hahn’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Nhat Hahn is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“Practice, practice, practice – all is coming.” ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois


If you find this information helpful, insightful, validating, and/or curious, please Kiss My Asana by making a donation, joining the team, asking a question, and/or joining me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions.

Sandra Razieli and I will co-host a donation-based class on Saturday, April 22nd (6:30 PM – 8:00 PM) at Flourish Pilates+Yoga+Bodywork. I will host a second class on Saturday, April 29th (3:30 PM – 5:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga. Please RSVP via email (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com). All donations will benefit Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIHI OM ##

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #3: IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET A LIST OF LAST MONDAY’S POSES…? April 5, 2017

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2 comments

 “Your last Monday Yin Yoga class was the best class I’ve experienced in a long time. Today’s class was almost just as good.  Is it possible to get a list of poses from last Mon, or, might you have a repeat of the class sometime & I could make a list of the poses?

 

By the way, the Yin classes are more frequently & for longer periods lowering my neuropathy pain in my feet.  Thanks for your medicinal touch.”

– G

Yin Yoga has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which maps out the vitality of the body’s organs through a system of meridians located in the deep tissue of the body. As we move into spring, my Yin Yoga classes are focusing on the gall bladder Meridian (running down the outer perimeter of the body) and liver Meridian (running up the inner thigh) – which means lots of hip opening.

The long, prop-supported holds (typically, 3 – 5 minutes) in Yin Yoga may appear similar to poses in a restorative practice; however, Yin Yoga can be significantly more “intense” than a restorative practice. By “intense,” I don’t mean active. In fact, Yin Yoga is, in some ways, the opposite of our other Hatha Yoga (physical yoga) practices. Rather than addressing the outer musculature (the muscles we can see, shape, and tone), Yin Yoga addresses the body’s fascia, deep tissue, and connective tissues. The practice may also decompress areas around the joints. One of the best online resources for Yin Yoga is Bernie Clark’s aptly named yinyoga.com, where you will find pose details, a community forum, and links to Clark’s YouTube channel.

My regular students are always welcome to take a picture of my “playbook” (see below).

March 27 Alvarez and Sakura YIN

(Please note:  These practice details are intended for individuals who already have a Yin Yoga practice. Before starting a new practice, be sure to check in with your health care provider. Most importantly, remember that although you may experience health benefits from your practice, this practice information is not intended as medical advice or as a means to replace medical care.)

Since my so-called hieroglyphics can be a little tiny or hard to read, here is an outline of the Monday Yin Yoga class from March 27, 2017 a.k.a. Julia Alvarez’s Big Day, a.k.a. the anniversary of the day First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda planted cherry blossoms in D.C.:

  • Legs-Up-The Wall (for centering and integration): Sit sideways on the mat, so that the side of your hip is up against the wall; then pivot the body so the legs swing up and the back reclines on the mat. The trick is to keep your bottom on the wall. (For more release in the hamstrings, back, and hips, place the feet on a chair or table so that hips, knees, and ankles are resting at 90 degree angles.) Hold for about 2 minutes with back on the floor or a blanket. For additional decompression, bend the knees in order to use the legs to lift the hips and add a block, making sure not to pinch the spine. Hold for another 3 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” – on the wall (counter-pose): Remove the block and move into Butterfly (feet together like a prayer, knees open up like the pages of a book) with legs on the wall for about one minute. Use “Sleeping Butterfly” or a Squat on the wall to set a personal intention, which will keep you on the wall for another minute.
  • Dragonfly, on the wall: Stretch your legs out (on the wall) as wide as they’ll go, and support the legs by placing a block between the wall and each thigh or by placing blocks or a bolster on the outside of each thigh. Hold for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” (transitional pose) and Fetal Position (transitional pose)
  • Wide Legged Child’s Pose (with arms bent on floor over head): Props may be placed under the hips and/or under your chest. If you have a bolster, you can recline your whole body on it. Hold for 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition into about 1 minute of gentle movement to break up the stillness.
  • Half Shoelace or Half Square sequence: Sit with legs extended in front of you. If there’s compression in the low back and/or hips, sit up on top of a blanket or block. Hug right knee in and lift it over extended left leg. You can either rotate the top leg so the knee points to the left foot or slide the top leg to the side so the ankle rests on the bottom thigh, right below the knee. (If elevated, you can place a blanket or towel under the extended shin – to soften the experience at the back of the knee. If you have a hamstring issue, you could sub “Full” Shoelace or Square by bending the bottom knee into the appropriate position.) Twist upper body to the right and hold for at least 1 minute. Rotate back to center and fold until you feel a change, support the change and hold for at least 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to lift the body, unravel the legs and give them a rub or a hug. Lean back on the forearms or recline with back on the floor, windshield wiper bent knees for about 1 minute.
  • Repeat “Half Shoelace or Half Square” sequence on opposite side and Counter-pose Moment.
  • (Prone) Frog or Dragonfly: Face the long side of the mat and set up props as needed. For (Prone) Frog, come into table top; spread the knees as wide as they’ll go, with ankles under the knees (when you look down the legs) and hips pressing back. Extend the chest forward and recline on forearms and/or props. Prop the thighs. For Dragonfly, sit with legs in front of you and spread wide; prop as needed for low back and lean forward until you feel a change; prop the change. Hold for 5 minutes
  • Counter-pose Moment: (Prone) Frogs Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition; Dragonflies use inhale to rise up, hug the knees into the chest and then recline to windshield wiper bent knees. Gentle movement for about 1 minute.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly”: Set up props so upper back is supported, behind shoulder blades, and head us raised slightly above the chest by a prop that supports the nape of the neck (where head meets the spine). If thighs do not touch the ground when legs rest in position, place a block under each thigh. Hold for 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Mindfully, move off the props.
  • Savasana (with props, as needed): Hold for at least 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Be easy and gentle as you move out of Savasana and into a fetal position. Give yourself a moment before sitting up and closing out your practice. Namaste.

Thanks, G, for your question. I’m always so glad to see you in class and (of course) super grateful your yoga practice is helping you feel good!

If anyone else out there is grateful for the way yoga helps you feel, please share your practice and consider Kiss(ing) My Asana with a joyful donation.

 

### Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi Om ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #25: What It Means to Journey with Insight February 27, 2016

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“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”

– Lao Tzu

 “He who asks a question is a fool for a minute. He who does not ask remains a fool forever.”

– various sources

When I decided to ask people 7 questions as part of my 2016 Kiss My Asana commitment, I greatly underestimated how many times I would feel foolish and how much I would learn. Even if I had spent more time thinking like a research scientist, I’m not sure I could have anticipated the insights that came up when Yogi #25 (Helen) volunteered to answer the questions.

 “All the insight we will ever need to live well will come from fully being who and where we are.”

– Excerpt from Zen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane WorldZen Miracles: Finding Peace in an Insane World by Brenda Shoshanna

Aha moments, also known as (intellectual or emotional) epiphanies, require a certain amount of awareness and knowledge. But no matter how prepared one is or how hard one works at it, no one seems to be able to mass produce “Eureka!” moments on demand.

In Your Brain at Work, and his Psychology Today blog of the same name, David Rock relates neuroscience research which indicates that “while it seems unlikely we can ‘control’ when we have an insight, it’s now very clear that we can dramatically increase the likelihood that an insight emerges.” According to the research, the elements required to help your brain produce more “aha” moments are the same elements practiced in meditation: Quiet; Inward-looking; Having a positive mood (i.e., being slightly happy/open/curious); and Non-Attachment/Beginner’s Mind.

Patanjali’s outline of the yoga philosophy begins with Yamas (External Restraints – what B. K. S. Iyengar refers to as “Universal Commandments”) and Niyamas (Internal Observations). The fifth and final Yama is Aparagraha (Non-Attachment); the Niyamas include practicing Santosha (Contentment), Svadyaya (Self-study), and Ishvara Pranidhana (Letting Efforts Go Back to the Source). Practitioners of various traditions of Buddhism will note that the teachings of the Buddha also emphasize non-attachment, contentment, self awareness/study, and skillful effort – which, in certain circumstances, may be non-effort.

Helen didn’t know the questions before I asked them – and I actually asked her an extra question. But, since she brought to the table a strong background in psychology and meditation, perhaps it was pretty natural, instinctual even, for her to do what I always suggest at the beginning of a practice – go deeper.

 So often we can invest so much energy trying to repress the thoughts that most trouble and distress us, that we don’t spend the time needed to properly understand, heal and grow from these often insightful and potentially liberating thoughts.”David Cunliffe

After her final answer, Helen and I spent a few minutes talking about some of the questions. In particular, we discussed Question #5: What words or sounds do you try not to utter in class?

Unbeknownst to Helen, Question #5 was partially inspired by people who have told me they don’t like to practice yoga in groups because they feel self-conscious about farting in public, and it was mirrored after James Lipton’s question about a person’s favorite curse word. If you’ve watched the other videos, you’ll notice that the answers to Question #5 vary; however, one thing the answers have in common is something Helen very insightfully pointed out. The answers to Question #5 inevitably relate to things society pressures people to suppress even though they are things naturally arising (and descending) in our minds/bodies. In other words, they are things are bodies/minds want to release.

Several meditation practices and dharma talks, as well as psychological and neurological studies, focus on what happens when we suppress emotions and natural bodily functions. These discourses often will also detail the ways our bodies and minds become polluted, and methods for cultivating more wholesome habits (i.e., habits which do not lead directly to suffering). However, one of the things that struck me as Helen and I talked is how much energy we humans spend conforming to what society has deemed “normal” – even when society’s scale is skewed, artificial, or incomplete.

We see beautiful people in magazines or posters striking a pose – without any information about what it took for them to achieve that pose. We get annoyed when someone the needs of someone other than ourselves disrupt our desires – without ever considering what’s most important or how we can compromise. We create spaces we say are inclusive, but which are – almost by definition – exclusive. Then we value that exclusivity with our time and money.

 “There are times to let things happen, and times to make things happen. Now is that time. You will either make things happen, watch what happens, or wonder what happened.… The choices you make today sow the seeds for the future.”

– Excerpt from No Ordinary Moments: A Peaceful Warrior’s Guide to Daily Life by Dan Millman

 

Dianne Bondy, a Canadian yoga teacher and a leading voice of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition, leads workshops and teacher trainings which remind us that the philosophy of yoga does not describe a yogi as having a particular skin color, body type, socioeconomic or education level. Nor does it prescribe a particular ethnicity, political persuasion, gender or sexuality. Nowhere does it state that you can’t practice (or teach) yoga because you aren’t flexible, strong, and 100% fit. In fact, great teachers like B. K. S. Iyengar (who early in life suffered from malaria, typhoid, and tuberculosis) might not have practiced yoga at all if they had been born in the U. S. in the mid-20th century, because they wouldn’t have been deemed healthy enough to practice. If you feel me, don’t just say “Amen!” or “Ase, ase, ase!” Do it: Kiss My Asana – because we all create the spaces where we practice union (yoga).

 

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.

 

 ~

HONOR YOUR HEART AS IT’S DESIRES BECOME YOUR THOUGHTS,

HONOR YOUR THOUGHTS AS THEY BECOME YOUR WORDS,

HONOR YOUR WORDS AS THE BECOME YOUR DEEDS,

HONOR YOUR DEEDS AS THEY CREATE THE WORLD.

~