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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 ###

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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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Daoism, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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 “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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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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.

~

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Kundalini, Life, Loss, Mantra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mirabai Starr, Music, Mysticism, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tai Chi, Tantra, Taoism, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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 ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #3: Be Where You Are! February 3, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, James Baldwin, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mantra, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Sukkot, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“There is never time in the future in which we will work out our salvation. The challenge is in the moment; the time is always now.”

– James Baldwin

 

 “Yes, I understand that every life must end, uh-huh / As we sit alone, I know someday we must go, uh-huh / Oh I’m a lucky man, to count on both hands the ones I love/ Some folks just have one, yeah, others, they’ve got none / Stay with me… / Let’s just breathe…”

“Just Breathe” by Pearl Jam

 

There are people who spend a lot of time worrying about what’s ahead of them or what’s behind them. Lao Tzu says, the first group is depressed and the second group is anxious. He also mentions a third group, a group of people who are present and at peace. Like that third group, Ann G (Yogini #2 or Yogi #3, depending on how you keep track) takes life as it comes.

That’s not to say that she doesn’t have her moments of worry or anxiety – Ann G is a mom, after all – but she somehow manages to ride the ebbs and flows of life; rising and falling, as if surfing through life is the most natural thing in the world. I have watched her literally, figuratively, and physically fall down and get back up. And, like a surfer catching the big waves, she always seems grateful for some aspect of the wild ride. In the end, isn’t that what the practice is all about? Isn’t that what life is all about?

The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one’s key to the experience of others.” – James Baldwin

Not running from something / I’m running towards the day / Wide awake // A whisper once quiet / Now rising to a scream / Right in me // I’m falling, free falling / Words calling me / Up off my knees // I’m soaring and, darling, / You’ll be the one that I can need / (and) Still be free // Our future’s paved with better days” – Eddie Vedder’s “Better Days”

Ann G is one-half (or maybe it’s more like one-fifth, when you start counting kids) of an incredible love story. Stay tuned for the other half…or fifth.

In the interest of full disclosure, Ann G’s favorite musical moment may have happened with another teacher. Which I think is totally groovy!

Speaking of other teachers, Sandra Razieli just joined a joyful team!We taught together at last year's Sukkot retreat and this is our third year asking you to Kiss (Our)Asanas!Check out her yogathon promo video!

~ SO HUM , HUM SA ~

New Year, New Intentions? December 8, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Loss, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Taoism, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Women, Yoga.
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“Searching for an answer / Where the question is unseen / I don’t know where you come from / And I don’t know where you’ve gone…”

Amen Omen by Ben Harper

We are closing in on the end of 2015. And many of us are wondering, “Where do we go from here?” or “How do I go on without him/her/them?” or “Now what?”

It’s those unseen (and unspoken) questions lingering between our readiness to be done with some parts of this year; our desires to move on; and our need to let go of the old – so some healing can begin – that can create fear-based behavior and make us move into deep hibernation. But, as much as I’m a fan of hibernating in order to heal, I’m more of a fan of putting things in perspective and moving on. So, let’s remember that this year hasn’t been all bad.

Remember, for instance, if you set an intention at the beginning of the year and now realize the “stars aligned” to help you reach your goal. Maybe you wanted a new experience, a new job, a new love – or maybe you wanted to heal as an old experience, job, or love passed out of your life. Either way, with all the craziness (and scariness) we’ve seen in the world this year, I think it’s important to remember our own personal highs-and-lows, ebbs-and-flows, risings-and-fallings.

Sun Salutations (surya namaskar) are a moving meditation which mimics the natural tendencies of our bodies and our lives. We rise, we fall, we ebb, we flow – and, if we do enough of them, we experience highs and lows. Practicing a 108 Sun Salutations is the yoga equivalent of a marathon. Like a distance runner, we repeat the same steps over and over again; finding our breath, finding our rhythm – until there is no difference between our breath, our rhythm, our minds, our bodies. We become the cycle, we become the circle or ring (mala). In essence, we are practicing effortless repetition (ajapa japa): where a whisper becomes a scream and then drifts away to silence. (See link above; it’s so worth it!)

I’ve started the past few new years with this 108 ajapa-japa mala practice because it is a great way to reflect on the past, wipe the slate clean, and prepare for the new year. Again and again, it is a way to take Ranier Maria Rilke’s suggestion to a young poet and “live the question (in order to)….live your way into the answer.”

If you’re available or interested, click on the links below for more information about 108 Sun Salutations events on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day:

 

If you’ve started a new year with this practice, please share your experiences below!

 

~ May you be healthy and strong (and accept your limitations with grace) ~

 

 

 

 

Gazing Into the Heart December 14, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Taoism, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“SOLUTION” by Franz Wright
What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given all the things that have happened in the world; however, somehow last week I was caught off guard by people’s request that I hold space for their sadness/grief/anger/fear. And yes, this is something I do on any given Sunday. It’s even, on a certain level, what I signed up to do. And yet, for one blinding moment I was pissed – I mean really royally pissed – to come back from my working vacation/week of Thanksgiving/week of fellowship and find all was not sunshine and light in the world.

As is recommended, I sat with the anger. The anger passed. I got back to my baseline, and I got back to work.

But that’s the short, simple version of the story. And, it’s not nearly as real or messy or satisfying as the whole story.

I say the anger passed; however, really it felt like it diminished or receded to a place where rather than reacting to the craziness in the world I was able to respond in an appropriate manner. But, before that happened, I had to acknowledge that what I was feeling was anger. I know people who are angry all the time – and they have very valid reasons for their anger – but we don’t always acknowledge or articulate the emotion. Oh, sure, we may act angry or spew angry words, but consider the last time (the last angry time) you took a deep breath and explained to someone, “I’m really angry.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever articulated the emotion without directing it at someone or something? Have you ever gone deep beneath the emotion, and found what’s beyond it (as opposed to what’s behind it)?

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

When I first came back from Texas and started reacting, I hadn’t heard Gina Sharpe’s super skillful teaching on Suffering and the End of Suffering (see Thursday’s link below). All I had were emotions (mine and other people’s), desires/requests (mine and other people’s), signs from the Universe, and what I’ll call Divine messages. And I was resisting all of it! I wanted to focus on metta (loving-kindness) meditation or tonglen (giving and receiving) meditation, or sitting in compassion. You know me; I wanted to do that joy thing.

But, when I got on the mat, what came up was the need to be where we were. To feel what we were feeling. To validate and honor what was in the heart – and all that was in the heart.

Here’s a glimpse at a week of heart gazing:

Tuesday, December 2nd: We started with eyes open; I counted down and then had people quickly shut their eyes. In Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (b. 1963) wrote, “The timing of the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights said, ‘You have no need for sight. Listen.'” Pratyahara (sense withdrawal, Yoga’s fifth limb) heightens our awareness. This heightened awareness happens even if we just withdraw one sense. It also happens when we are in a crisis situation similar to the hostage situation that takes place in Patchett’s beautifully written novel.

“She sang as if she was saving the life of everyone in the room.”

And while listening to Maria Callas, Ingrid Michaelson, Indie.Arie, Nelly Furtado, Jj Heller, Pink!, Raya Yarbrough, Sylvia Syms, Kate Bush, Dinah Washington, Amy Lee (of Evanescene), – my examples of “beautiful singing” – I asked people to breath as if they were hitting the high notes.

Ultimately, Bel Canto is a multilayer, multilevel love story set during a horrible crisis. It shows the heart’s ability to feel more than one thing at a time. But, more than that, it shows the heart always wants to find a way to love.

 

Wednesday, December 3rd: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose) and asked people to gaze into their hearts – while listening to the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne (b. 1948).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words about gazing into the abyss seem applicable (maybe even prophetic) when dealing with Heart of Darkness on Joseph Conrad’s birthday (b. 1957). Conrad wrote his short novel after his own experiences in Africa in the late 1800’s and while his own words best describe the world he sees, I think the world he sees is the world in his own heart.

I resisted this book and this birthday, in part because literary greats like Chinua Achebe criticize Conrad and his work as racist and xenophobic – and I don’t think there’s any way to get around that. Neither did I want to seem to celebrate a depiction of racism given currents events in Ferguson and around the United States. However, Professor Peter Mwikisa said Heart of Darkness can be “…the great lost opportunity to depict dialogue between Africa and Europe…” and that makes me wonder: Are we, right now, losing an opportunity for dialogue in the U. S.?

Or, are we just not ready for dialogue?

“People look to me and say / Is the end near, when is the final day? / What is the future of mankind? / Don’t look at me for answers / Don’t ask me / I don’t know.” – “I Don’t Know” from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz

 

Thursday, December 4th: I usually don’t teach yoga on Thursdays. This was, however, one of the Thursdays when I facilitated my meditation group. We sat briefly and then listened to Gina Sharpe’s Suffering and the End of Suffering. The discussion around the talk, current events, and the additional resources (see below) also informed my weekend classes at the YMCA.

 

Friday, December 5th: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose), again gazing into the heart – this time with the intention of listening to the heart until it, as Gina Sharpe puts it, flutters. Physically, emotionally, and musically, this was a heart focused class.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…

 

Saturday, December 6th: Same beginning as Wednesday and Friday, but this time Bear McCreary’s Taiko drums sounded like the heartbeat and Anne Frank’s thunder.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.” — Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

 

Sunday, December 7th: In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that today was “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, in a moment, 2,300 people died. As a result of the attack, the United States entered World War II and, subsequently, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States entry into the war saved countless lives. Yet, in the moments when we dropped the bombs, 149,000 – 266,000 people died (this includes POWs). So, we begin with a moment of silence for all.

~ Taps + 1 minute of silence + Reveille ~

Feeling stuff is hard, messy, icky work. But, the moment you feel is also the moment you heal.

“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”  — Anne Frank, May 3, 1944

“Third we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil- Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”  — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

 

Sunday’s class ended with the same Larry Yang quote from Friday. Both classes also ended with a reminder to honor your work/karma*:

  • Hands at heart: Honor what is in your heart, as what is in your heart becomes what is in your mind.
  • Hands at third eye: Honor your thoughts, as they become your words.
  • Hands at mouth: Honor your words, as they become your deeds/actions.
  • Hands back to heart: Honor your deeds/actions as they give the world a glimpse into your character and pave the way of your destiny.

Thank you to everyone who was in class last week, as well as to everyone in my meditation group. Thank you also to my housemate Meghan (who listened to me explaining that I was angry). Thank you to all of my family and friends (who help me return to my baseline of joy). Thank you to the teachers (on and off the mat, musical and otherwise) who inspired the messages behind these classes. Thank you to Eileen for the Sunny Side post and video that made me cry. And, finally, a special shout out and HUGE, TEXAS-SIZED Utkatsana Woohoo!, to Carolina at YogaOne’s Heights location, whose Humble Warrior flow inspired this week’s physical practice and helped me remember the power of being “a great spiritual warrior.”

 ~ NAMASTE ~