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We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programing…. April 21, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Confessions, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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I have a confession to make: I haven’t been practicing what I preach and, after almost 3.5 weeks of all-nighters, my body had enough and demanded a little rest. As a result, I am sorry to say that I have had to put the blogging on hold and take a couple of days off.

Thanks to Vance G and Nancy B for agreeing to cover my Monday classes on Earth Day (4/22)! You can check the “Schedule” tab for updates on my classes, but at this point I am planning to teach on Tuesday (assuming I get my voice back) and will still host the following two (2) donation-based events as part of the sixth annual Kiss My Asana yogathon:

Saturday, April 27th (2:15 PM – 4:15 PM) at Nokomis Yoga (2722 E 50th Street, Minneapolis), as part of the Karma Yoga Project

Inspired by Matthew Sanford’s teachings, as well as the spirits of everyone practicing yoga together – regardless of their size, shape, or physical and mental abilities – this practice includes partner work and is open to all abilities. We’re going to have some energetic fun and donate all the proceeds to Mind Body Solutions. Space is limited. NOTE: There is an accessible bathroom available in an adjacent business.

 

Saturday, May 4th (4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork (3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis)

A very wise teacher once said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” Another said, “Close your eyes. Feel it….it’s always been there. It will guide you.” On this very special day we will explore the power of the Force that surrounds, penetrates, and binds everyone – regardless of size, shape or physical and mental abilities. This practice will include partner work and is open to all abilities. Space is limited. NOTE: This space contains an accessible bathroom.

Please RSVP to myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com if you would like to join one or both of these practices.

 

I am MBS 2019

 

~ NAMASTE ~

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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 ###

WHAT MAKES A WARRIOR HAPPY: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #7 April 7, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Black Elk, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, William Wordsworth, Wisdom, Women, Writing, 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.

***

“Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

“sthira sukham asanam” (YS II.46)

sthira           steady, stable
sukham       easy, comfortable, joyful
asanam        seat (meditation posture or pose)

Patanjali, who outlines the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, does not spend a lot of time talking about the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition), which is a combination of asana and pranayama. About asana, the third limb, he indicates that one should cultivate – or continuously maintain – steadiness and ease. He goes on to explain that this cultivation, or “perfecting,” requires relaxing the effort and “allowing the attention to merge with the infinite,” which, in turn, brings a sense of “freedom from suffering.” Furthermore, he states that pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, begins to occur as a result of the perfected and balanced pose.

At first glance this all sounds really odd. How do you relax the effort without falling over? And, if you’re worried about falling over, how can you possibly pay attention to anything other than not falling over?

“Simple causal reasoning about the feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and the second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument. This makes reasoning based upon cause and effect tricky, and it is necessary to analyze the system as a whole.”

 

– Karl Johan Aström and Richard Murray, Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers

It turns out that the two limbs create a feedback loop: if you can find balance between effort and relaxation (steadiness and ease), you will start to notice the breath, the parts of the breath and (as Patanjali points out in II.50-51) the breath becomes long, fine, and seamlessly continuous (or infinite). Simultaneously, if you observe the breath and adjust your body in order to find the position where the breath is long, fine, and seamlessly continuous, you will have found the physical balance between effort and relaxation. Finally, finding that physical balance will result in mental balance and clarity which, Patanjali explains, reveals inner light. (II.52)

“Whose high endeavors are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;”

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

While Virabhadrasana literally means “Hero Friend or Brave Person Seat,” in English we almost always translate it to “Warrior Pose.” Yoga practices which utilize standing poses (even if you’re seated in a chair) will inevitably include at least one of three Virabhadrasanas. However, there is also a seated pose (Virasana, accurately translated as “Hero Pose,”), a “Humble Warrior,” a “Shackled Warrior, and there are several poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king, which all may also be referred to as “Warrior” poses. We may think of any number of warrior-like attributes we want to embody when practicing these poses. The question is, how often do those attributes include balance, generosity of Spirit, self-knowledge, happiness – or any of the other qualities William Wordsworth (born today in 1770) uses to describe the character of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson?

Wordsworth’s poem “Character of the Happy Warrior” (circa 1806) is similar in context to W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” (circa 1939). They are both intended to eulogize and memorialize. The biggest difference in the two poems, however, is that Auden’s poem is pure satire and reveals a person who cannot actually exist. Nothing negative can be or is said about Auden’s “citizen.” On the flip side, Wordsworth was honoring the recently deceased Lord Nelson, who was praised for his leadership skills and persistence, and was known as a British hero of the Napoleonic Wars – despite being a strong proponent of slavery. Still, the flattering depiction in the poem is a legacy that lives beyond the man himself. The term “the happy warrior” enjoys a place in the English lexicon as a great way to summarize the character of a person (usually a man) who exhibits “our human nature’s highest dower” (or gift).

“We can perhaps change the whole world but it will not help us. On the contrary, if we change ourselves, then the world is automatically changed. Change in the world will come naturally, inevitably, spontaneously, as we bring about this change to ourselves.”

– Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati *

FEATURED POSE for April 7th: “Happy Warrior,” II variation (Ananda Virabhadrasana)

{*A quick shout out and thank you to Elias Lopez Garcia of Happy Warrior Yoga, for (unknowingly) helping me narrow down which warrior pose to feature today. If you appreciate this experience, please “like” his video, linked here and embedded below.}

This “Happy Warrior” variation can be done with or without warming up the body. Keep in mind, however, that this pose is asymmetrical and requires externally rotated hips. If you have hip and/or balance issues, use cat/cow or some sun or moon salutations as a warm up. You can also move into a wide-legged seated pose like Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana) or a squat – either Yogi Prayer Squat or Horse/Goddess Pose – with all four corners of your feet grounded, plus toes and knees turned out for external rotation and abduction.

When you are ready to practice “Happy Warrior,” spread your legs so that the ankles are underneath the wrists or between each elbow and wrist. Make sure the toes are all pointed in the same direction and that the feet are parallel to each other. With the arms spread wide, breathe deeply in and out, making sure that you feel open and grounded. Notice your breath. Adjust your position if you are not feeling stable and comfortable, or if the breath is not naturally deepening.

After a few moments, lift your arms up and out, making a “V” shape for “5-Pointed Star” (also known as “Big Asana” and “Hallelujah Asana”). Crown of your head is the fifth point of the star so press down to lift the body up. Inhale the corners of your mouth up towards your ears and exhale, relax your jaw, for “5-Pointed Smile.” Breathe here and notice how you feel as the sensation of the smile spreads out through your fingers and toes, as well as the corners of your mouth and the crown of your head.

Maintaining the internal sensation of the smile, even as the expression on your face softens, exhale to turn the right toes out so that the right heel lines up with the middle (or center) of the left foot. You may need to bring your hands down to your hips for balance. Once you establish this heel-to-arch alignment, bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to reach. Make sure that the knee is over the ankle, tracking the pinky toe. Check to make sure that you are balancing your weight between both feet, both legs, and both hips. Double check the hips to make sure the back (left) hip isn’t getting cocky and sitting higher than the right.

Inhale and lift your arms straight up in the air over your head. Check to make sure that your hips are open wide (away from each other) and that the shoulders are directly over your hips so that when your arms are raised the upper body looks like it’s in Mountain Pose (Tadasana)/Arms Over Head Pose (Urdhva Hastasana). On an exhale, lower the arms just enough to go back to the “V” position. Gaze up, straight over your heart, and press down in order to lift your head up.

Embody the internalized sensation of the smile. Simultaneously, think of your favorite warrior, agape or otherwise, and embody what you see as their best characteristics. Now, embody your best characteristics – all simply in the way your hold your body. After 5 – 7 breaths, release the pose and move back into the starting position. Repeat the pose on the other side.

 

### Jai Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE; SOMETHING’S COMING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #6 April 6, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, 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.

***

“Practice, practice, practice; all is coming.”

– Sri Pattabhi Jois

 

“sa tu dīrgha kala nairantairya satkārā asevito dŗdha bhūmih ” (YS 1.14)

sa                                    that (practice)

tu                                    and, but, definitely

dīrgha kala                  long time

nairantairya                continuously, without interruption

satkārā                         with devotion, sincerity, respect, reverence,positivity

asevito                         cultivated, attended to

dŗdha-bhūmih           with stable , solid foundation, rooted, firmly-grounded

One of the most succinct and brilliant commentaries on Yoga Sutra 1.14 came from Sri Pattabhi Jois, who introduced one of the first vinyasa practices to the West. The Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced forms of the Ashtanga practice are an established set of sequences intended to be practiced consistently and in a way that allows the practitioner to build a practice from the ground up.

Since the beginning of the year, we have been building a practice from the ground up (On Saturdays) using Course I of B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga as physical inspiration. During the last part of the summer, I usually spend a few Saturdays breaking down and exploring the Ashtanga Primary Series. Anyone familiar with the two forms will notice, as I hope people will this summer, that what Iyengar refers to as “Important Poses in Course I” looks a lot like the Primary Series. This is no coincidence. Even though they were coming to the practice from different perspectives – Iyengar was a sickly child when he started; Jois was a robust teenager – they practiced with the same teacher and at the same time. Given that biographical context, it makes sense that certain poses consistently practiced result in a mastery of those poses.

However, in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali barely mentions the physical practice of yoga. Additionally, he doesn’t just suggest consistent practice. He explicitly states that results come from practicing consistently, without interruption, and with devotion /respect/reverence for the practice. But, if he’s not talking about (or not only talking about) being able to do challenging poses on the mat, what is coming?

 

“[The world] is a wonderful place only when we have a positive mind. For someone with a confused, negative mind, the world is chaotic and ugly….

What is more important than understanding the dynamics of this powerful mind and keeping it healthy, organized, and sharp? What is more urgent than protecting it from inner unrest and stupor? What should take precedence over preventing our mind from being consumed by fear, anger, jealousy, greed, and endless cravings?”

– from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tugunait, PhD

 

In the mid-1880s, the British East India Company (and then the British government) enacted a series of salt taxes, which made it illegal to produce or possess salt without paying a tax. By 1930, that tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue – and it meant that even if you lived in a coastal town like Dandi, you had to pay the tax, or suffer the consequences. Mohandas Karamchanda Gandhi decided salt would be the focus of one of a direct action, non-violent mass protest. When questioned about using salt as the focal point of his satyagraha, Gandhi said, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life. It is the only condiment of the poor. Through this injustice, the British exploit the starving millions, the sick, the maimed, and the utterly helpless. The salt tax constitutes the most inhuman poll tax that the ingenuity of man can devise.”

From Wednesday, March 12th until Saturday, April 5th, 1930, Gandhi walked over 240 miles so that he could reach the sea shore in Dandi in order to break an unjust law. He woke up in Dandi, on Sunday, April 6th, prayed and illegal made salt at 6:30 AM. The satyagraha against the salt tax would continue for almost a year. It would, ultimately, be one of the inspirations for Civil Rights Movement in the United States and would be one of the first times that women were actively involved in a protest in India.

Over 60,000 Indians (including Gandhi) would be jailed before it was all said and done. But, when Gandhi began the march he was only accompanied by 79 men devoted to truth (satya).

“Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian Movement satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance” in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha.”

Even though thousands would join them, the 80 men who started the march with Gandhi (and many who would join in along the way) were people who practiced a dedication to ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming) and satya (truth). Since Gandhi once said, “God is Truth” and another time said “Truth is God,” there was also a commitment to recognizing a day-to-day awareness of a higher purpose, meaning in life, and supreme consciousness. This is one way to look at bramacharya. Finally, along with the business and logistics of the campaign, people participating in the march had to sleep outside, often wore a single white garment, and were dependent on villagers along the way to provide food and water for them to wash up. This means they practiced aparagraha (non-attachment), saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), and tapas (discipline/austerity). They chanted and sang devotionals to keep their spirits up, which can also be a way of practicing isvarapranidhana (releasing one’s efforts back to the source).  All told, the satyagrahis actively practiced all five (5) of the yamas (external restraints/universal commandments) and four (4) of the five (5) niyamas (internal observations) which make up the ethical component of the philosophy of yoga.

One could argue that, since people had to consider their feelings on the subject and make the decision to join the movement, they were also practicing svadyaya (self-study), which is the niyama I did not include above. Either way, the practice of Gandhi and the first 79 men set the tone for the movement. They were steeped in a way of life and a way of thinking that enabled them to respond rather than to react and to work towards change without being attached to the results. More than anything, the legacy of the salt satyagraha was, according to Jawaharalal Nehru (who would go on to become India’s first Prime Minister) how it changed the mindset of the Indian populace.

“But the real importance, to my mind, lay in the effect they had on our own people, and especially the village masses…Non-cooperation dragged them out of the mire and gave them self-respect and self-reliance…They acted courageously and did not submit so easily to unjust oppression; their outlook widened and they began to think a little in terms of India as a whole.”

– Jawaharal Nehru

 

Fast forward to the United States in the 1960’s and you, again, see the agency given to the people through a faith-driven, grassroots movement. Fast forward to today and we see lots of grassroots efforts and lots of agency being given to the people. But, very little of it is firmly-grounded in a practice.

 

“How you do yoga is how you do life.” – my first yoga teachers

I sometimes parrot my first yoga teachers because I see the value of what they taught – forward and back; because, how we do life is also how we do yoga. If we show up without reverence and discipline we become careless and we may hurt ourselves or we hurt others. If we practice from a point of being selfish, we become more selfish. If we are attached to a certain outcome, we may miss opportunities to learn and grow – and we are more likely to give up on the practice (and ourselves) at the first setback or struggle.

On the flip side, if we practice with an understanding of how we are connected to the universe (and all beings in the universe), if we understand that there is a purpose to every inhale and every exhale, and if we are focused, then we see the practice building up. If we are honest with ourselves about where we are physically and mentally, on any given day, we can be mindful and honor our limitations with grace. If always do our best and always let go our efforts, we find that we are also letting go of the struggle. Peace is coming.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 6th: Corpse Pose, (Savasana)

Savasana is, quite possibly, the most important part of a physical practice. Literally “Seat of the Corpse,” it marks the end, or the death, of the practice. It is more than an opportunity to relax, release, and rest. It is also an opportunity to integrate the efforts of the mind-body-spirit and, in doing so, maintain integration of the mind-body-spirit. It is an opportunity to let go of our efforts and let our bodies and minds absorb the work we’ve done. It is an opportunity to trust that – having planted, watered, fertilized, and otherwise nourished our seeds – something bountiful and pleasant will come to fruition. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament indicate that [we] shall reap what [we] sow; however, what is often overlooked is that in this context, “sow” is what we will be given or what we have earned. There is, absolutely, benefit to resting when you need to rest and if the body is so relaxed that you fall asleep well then…your body and mind are telling you that you need more sleep. The thing to keep in mind is that savasana, like all the other poses, is a seat and gives you an opportunity to focus, concentrate, and even mediate on a single point of focus.

To reach the point where you can turn inward and withdraw your senses from the external is a large part of the practice. A large part of that sense withdrawal (pratyahara), which is the fifth limb of yoga, is the ability to keep bring your mind back to your point of focus whenever it drifts away (or, whenever you start drifting off). This is the practice.

Set a timer for 5 – 15 minutes, depending on what else you’ve done as part of this practice.

Lie down on your back with arms by your sides and legs stretch out. If the low back (or anything else) is not comfortable with the legs extended flat on the floor, place something under the thighs so that the back relaxes. Place the arms by the hips, palms up. If this is not comfortable you can, again, place something under the arms or place the hands palm down on your hips. Make whatever micro-movements you need to make in order to be still and find balance on either side of your spine. Close your eyes, if that is comfortable for you, and gaze at something that’s not moving (e.g., your third eye, your heart center, or the tips of your nose).

Allow the back of the head and the shoulders to be heavy. Allow the elbows and the hands to be heavy. Allow the hips and the hills to be heavy.  As the heavy parts sink down and become grounded, let your eyes and your checks soften. Relax your jaw and shoulders. Swallow so that you can relax your throat. Starting with 10, count backwards on the exhales and let every exhale be an opportunity to relax, release, rest. Once you reach 1, let the breath naturally flow in and ebb out. Mentally watch the breath as if you are a guard at a castle gate: watch the breath come in through the nose; know how it feels. Watch the breath come out of the nose; know how it feels.

When your times goes off, take your time move out of the pose and then to make your way to a seated position.

 

Click here if you can’t see the video.

 

 

### Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

 

THE POSSIBILITIES OF DELIGHT & WISDOM: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #5 April 5, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Loss, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, 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.

***

“When Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose” she used capital P’s to juxtapose possibility and prose. (Yes, she capitalizes house as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Her Possibility was Poetry; it allowed her to move beyond the confines of her physical house, as well as beyond the limits of her physical body and mind. Poetry allowed her to move beyond her seemingly mundane, commonplace (dare I say it…), prosaic life. It took her deeper.

 

Every April, I ask my classes, “What if the “P” stood for Pose? What if it stood for Prana? Could you dwell in that possibility? Could you go deeper?”

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month.”

– from the beginning of my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offerings  (poetry from “I dwell in Possibility” by Emily Dickinson, with music by Margaret Far)

The beginning of a practice is full of possibilities. There is the possibility that the practice will (to paraphrase Robert Frost) begin with delight and end with wisdom. Of course, the minute you come into the first pose, you start to limit your next set of movements. After all, how many different ways can you move out of a comfortable seated position, Equal Standing (Samastithi), Corpse Pose (Savasana), or Child’s Pose (Balasana)? OK, ok, the standard starting poses are the standard starting poses for a reason: while there are only so many ways you can move out of them, they still provide a good starting point for an infinite number of possibilities.

But, what if you never really came out of the pose?

The aforementioned starting poses still seem to provide ample opportunity for a lot of possibilities. After all, you can do a variation of the standing pose Triangle (Trikonansana) in a seated position – on the floor or in a chair or on your back. The question is: If Child’s Pose is the modification for every pose (as I say at the beginning of almost every practice), how do you “do” Triangle Pose in Child’s Pose?

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand”

– from “The Stolen Child” by William Butler Yeats, with music by The Waterboys

FEATURED POSE for April 5th: Child’s Pose, variations (Balasana)

NOTE: Even though Child’s Pose (Balasana) is considered a foundational or “beginner” pose, it is not for everyone. You can definitely place a bolster, pillow, blanket, or block between your hips and heels in order to take pressure off of the knees. You can also put a blanket under the knees. Sometimes it is helpful to place your hands or a prop under your head. For some, however, these options are still not enough to make Child’s Pose accessible. If you need another option, lie down on your back with your feet flat on the wall in a way that is comfortable for your knees. Another supine option is to bend the knees with the heels resting on a stable surface in such a way that your knees are comfortable (ideally, you want to make sure the surface is wider than your hips). Either way, follow the cues below as it makes sense from the supine position.

Stand on your hands and knees, stacking shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, and hips over knees. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knees as wide as you feel comfortable – which may mean your knees are touching, as far apart as the mat, or somewhere in between. Sink your hips to your heels and lower your forehead and nose to the mat. Arms can be by your sides or reaching on the floor over your head.

As noted above, you can cross your arms or use a prop to support your forehead and use any combination of props to support your hips and knees. Take a moment to get comfortable and then allow the breath to deepen.

Keeping the breath steady, bring your awareness to how your body feels and what it might need to be a little more comfortable, a little more stable, and a little more joyful. Visualize yourself practicing a simple twist, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Forward Fold (Uttanasana), Horse/Goddess Pose, Warrior I & II (Virabhadrasana I & II ), Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), and Revolving Triangle Pose (Parvritta Trikonasana). Consider how you work your body in each pose and how you feel when you come out of the pose. Now, you’re going to do all of those poses while still in Chid’s Pose.

“Well your faith was strong but you needed proof”

– from “Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen with music by Jeff Buckley

Simple Twist: Inhale and reach the arms overhead as you also stretch the ribs and hips away from each other. As you exhale, thread the right arm under your left armpit so that the right palm faces up on the left side of your mat. Turn your head to the left so that the right cheek and shoulder are on the mat. Adjust as needed to make sure the knees, right arm, and neck are comfortable. You can always place a prop or the left arm under your head in order to support the neck. The left arm can also stay on the floor – reaching overhead – or you can lift the left arm straight up in the air, opening a little more into the twist. Another option is to lift the left arm on an inhale and then exhale and bring it behind your back, reaching for your right hip or thigh. Make sure the hips and heels stay as neutral as possible. If you are on your back, you may need to brace the left forearm against the right upper arm.

This is “Thread the Needle.” Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths and then release and switch to the other side.

Downward Facing Dog & Forward Fold: Return to your hands and knees for a moment. Either separate the knees and the feet so they are the same distance apart, or bring the knees together and feet together. Inhale to Cow Pose and as you exhale curl your toes under. Inhale and walk your hands as far forward as they will go without the hips moving away from the heels and with the elbows coming to the ground. As you exhale, let your heart melt down. If you are not feeling a bit of a back bend, start over and check your alignment as you go. If you are feeling too much of a back bend, place something under your forehead. If you want to feel more of a back bend, look up. Once you have extended your spine, press through your arms and heels, keeping the hips high, and breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. This is a “Puppy Dog” variation.

Release the back bend by letting your whole body melt down. Arms can be reaching on the floor over your head or down by your sides. Relax everything. This is your modified Forward Fold. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Horse/Goddess Pose & Warrior I: Spread the feet and knees as wide as is comfortable for you. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and then bend the elbows to 90 degrees, keeping the elbows in-line with the shoulders and palms facing the floor (or ceiling, if you are on your back). This is your modified Horse/Goddess. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Release into modified Warrior I by inhaling your arms overhead (still on the floor). Warrior I typically creates an opportunity to stretch out the front of the back hip and thigh, as well as the back of the back calf. To modify this engagement, stretch your left leg straight back and curl the toes under. Focus on reaching the hips and heels away from the arms and heart (and vice versa) for 5 – 7 breaths. Hug the left knee back in towards the chest and repeat on the right side for the same length of time.

Warrior II & Triangle: Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and gaze to the right. Breathe in this modified Warrior II for 5 – 7 breaths. If you want to experience the back leg engagement, again stretch the left leg straight back and breathe.

Moving from modified Warrior II, you may need to bend your elbows in order to stretch your right leg out like a “T”. See if you can get the right knee and ankle up as high as the hip. Once you have reached your limit, press the foot down (either big toe side down or foot flat) and gaze in the direction that feels most comfortable for your neck and shoulders. Again, left leg can be bent or extended. Breathe in this modified Triangle for 5 – 7 breaths.

Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.

Revolving Triangle: Starting with your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose, move into the earlier twist (“Thread the Needle”) with right arm threading under the left arm pit. Bend the left elbow so the left hand is flat on the floor under your nose. Using the left hand for support, take a deep breath in and stretch the left leg out like a “T” so that right fingers and left toes are reaching toward each other. Brace the foot into the floor. The left hand can stay in a support position or move into one of the positions described at the beginning. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. (NOTE: It is possible to do this modified Revolving Triangle with the right leg extended back, but that variation of Universal Yoga’s “Dragonfly” requires quite a bit of hip and low back flexibility.)

To unravel the twist, bring the left hand back into its support position (in front of the nose) and unthread the needle before hugging the left knee into the body (which brings you back into Child’s Pose). Spend a few breaths in your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose and then repeat on the second side.

Stay in Child’s Pose or move into Savasana or a comfortable seated position. Spend some time in the stillness, allowing the breath to be “the air a staircase” and notice how you feel.

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

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

“…will the neighbours say, / ‘He was a man who used to notice such things’?”

– from “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy, with accompanying music by Sir Jon Lord (recitation by Jeremy Irons)

As I’ve mentioned before, during Poetry Month I like to highlight poets and poems in some classes with playlists featuring poems and music inspired by a single poet, their poetry, and their life – or, a playlist featuring a variety of music-poem combinations. The music-poem combinations referenced throughout this post are part of my playlists.

Want to hear more? Stay tuned! The extended playlist is coming to my YouTube channel soon. In the mean time, here’s the link to the beginning of my 2018 KMA offering, featuring a poem-practice per day.

### Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

STILL RISING, STILL SINGING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, 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.

***

April is not only the standard month for Kiss My Asana, it’s also National Poetry Month. Every year I figure out a way to treat each class that I teach to at least one “April is Poetry Month” practice, full of poems set to music. For my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offering, I profiled poets, featured poems, and offered a practice inspired by the poet and their poetry. Since I don’t always teach on Thursdays, this year’s offering will include “Throwback Thursday” links and, at least once, a profile and poems that didn’t get posted last year.

As it happens, I am subbing today ( Thursday, April 4th) – which also happens to be the anniversary of the birth one of our greatest poets, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou would have turned 91 today.

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

– from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

The more I see people suffering, fearing, and living in confusion, the more I am amazed by the heart’s ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, and even playful. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that we have a limited capacity for pain – there is only so much anyone of us can handle before we pass out – but an unlimited capacity to experience love and joy. The heart rises up, always.

In Buddhism, there are four (4) Bhramaviharas (Divine Abodes, meaning that they are the “special dwelling places of the Divine”). I call them the heart practices, even though (technically) there are more than 4 “heart practices” in Buddhism. The bramaviharas are the unlimited capacity for loving-kindness or goodwill (metta), an unlimited capacity for compassion (karuna), an unlimited capacity for empathetic joy (mudita), and an unlimited capacity for equanimity (upekkah) – which serves as a checks and balance for the others. While these are attitudes believed to be inherent to the human spirit – something found deep within each heart – these are also attitudes to cultivate. And, you find techniques to cultivate these attitudes in various Buddhist traditions, but also in other major philosophies and religions.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are Lojong or “mind training” techniques, which consist of approximately 59 aphorisms or slogans that can be used as meditation points. The first states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” There are four (4) preliminaries: maintaining an awareness of the preciousness of life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; contemplate on how ego driven pursuits result in suffering.”

The other statements are also simple. One such slogan is “In all activities, train with slogans.” Another is, “Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

As you move through your practice, take a moment to offer yourself loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity awareness that all beings suffer and all beings deserve an end to that suffering). As Dr. Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Try a little tenderness.

FEATURED POSE for April 4rd: Camel Pose, hands on floor variation (Ustrasana)

Begin in table top (hands and knees to the mat), in a seated position, or in a standing position with knees bent and hands braced on the thighs. Inhale love, exhale kindness. Move though a few cycles of breath until the mantra (“love” on the inhale and “kindness” on the exhale becomes seamless.) Continuing the mantra, inhale and lift the heart and hips into cow pose. With an exhale, shift into a Halloween cat pose. Move one-breath-one motion, waking up the spine and engage the spirit of metta.

After 5 – 10 full cycles, sit back on the floor or a block with the knees and feet two (2) fists width apart or stand up straight on your feet. Make sure your knees are comfortable. Offer yourself some compassion. Scan your body and as you notice the places where you are holding discomfort and disease, think to yourself, “I see your suffering/I care about your suffering/May you be free of suffering/May the causes and conditions of your suffering end.”

Adjust your body so that it becomes more comfortable. If needed move through a series of sun salutations changing the back bend with each one so that the back bends are progressive (e.g. cow the first time, sphinx the second time, any cobra the third time, extended cobra or Upward Facing Dog the fourth time.) If needed add a twist before the first set or after the last set. Return to the earlier kneeling position with hips between the knees. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and energetically.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

The standard way to start Camel Pose is to stand up on the knees, giving yourself a little cushion (again with the thighs apart about 2 fists width apart) and bracing the hands at the waist or behind the back. If you are practicing this pose while standing on your feet, start with the standard variation. However, if you are kneeling or seated try the variation with knees and feet 2 fists width apart, but sit back (so hips are grounded on the floor, the chair, or a block) and place the hands on the floor, your feet, or a block. For all variations, gaze is right in front of your eyebrows.

If you are standing on your feet, inhale and lift your heart up and out towards your focal point. As you exhale, move your gaze a little higher up or, once you’re gazing at the ceiling, a little further back. The heart keeps rising as you inhale, opening as you exhale – until you reach a physical limit with your hands still at your back or (if it’s accessible to you) you can walk your hands down a wall into an extreme variation of full wheel (Urdhva Dhanuarasana).

If you are seated and leaning back, take an extra round of breath to extend your spine and then begin lifting your hips towards your focal point as you inhale, ensuring your core is engaged as you exhale. Once you’ve lifted the hips almost over the knees you may hold where you are or start lifting the heart on the inhale and moving the gaze on the exhale (as described above). The hands can stay grounded or move to the low back for support if the hips are stacked over the knees.

In all variations, make sure the neck is long. There is a tendency to drop the head back, over extending the neck, in order to go deeper. This actually compromises the integrity of the pose. Make sure, also, that the hips stay in line with the knees. This pose is prenatal-approved and can be practiced with a wall to support the front of the hips and also with a combination of props behind the hips.

After a few rounds of breath, come into any pose where you can relax and release without strain. Close your eyes and breathe. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One lojang statement says, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” When you feel joy in your experience, cultivate that attitude so that you can feel it for others when they experience good fortune.

Round out your practice with a forward fold that matches the intensity of your back bend. For example, if you felt comfortable in the pose and did not feel you were overexerting, you might take Child’s Pose. If you felt like you were working very hard – but still not overexerting – you might take Child’s Pose or a forward fold with your legs stretched out in front (Paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (Uttanasana). If your back feels strained even after you release the back bend, come into a supine forward fold: either lay on your back with legs lifted up in the air or practice Legs-Up-the-Wall (or on a chair). Remind yourself that each part of your body, and each part of your mind, deserves to be free from suffering.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

Allow your body to relax, release, rest – and breathe. As you settle into Savasana or the final pose of your choice, remember all beings everywhere deserve to be free from suffering.

Want more? Here’s the “Throwback Thursday” link to last year’s profile and practice.

### Dr. Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

One of the Greatest and Simplest Tools – 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #3 April 3, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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add a comment

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.

***

“Are you sleeping? / Still dreaming? / Still drifting off alone.”

– “Sleeping” by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova

“And he became old in as many days as he had slept years;”

– Diogenes Laertius writing about the philosopher Epimenides

Upon hearing that the short story author Washington Irving was born April 3, 1783, some might suppose that today’s peak pose will be Savasana. Such an assumption, however, would mean that “some” are making the same error as Rip Van Winkle.

“The great error in Rip’s composition was an insuperable aversion to all kinds of profitable labor.”

– from “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

Contrary to popular belief, Savasana, which is sometimes used as a starting pose, but is most commonly practiced as a final pose, is not the time to take the deepest nap you’ve taken all day. Instead, Savasana (Seat of the Corpse) marks the death of the practice and creates an opportunity to practice the final four limbs of yoga (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and Samadhi).

Swami J of the Himalayan tradition says, “The willingness or unwillingness to withdraw attention from sensory experience is a significant dividing line between those who experience true meditation and those who experience only physical relaxation.” Pratyahara (sense withdrawal) is the fifth limb of yoga and serves as a bridge between engaging the mind-body in order to connect with the spirit and recognizing that the mind-body-spirit connection eternally exists. It allows one to direct their attention towards a single point, without distraction. That point could be light, love, the sun, God (whatever that means to you at this moment), your parents, or some aspect of the divine (such as loving-kindness, peace, or playfulness). That single-pointed focus, dharana, is the sixth limb of yoga. Over a long period of time, dharana becomes dhyana, concentration. Over a long period of time, concentration becomes meditation – maybe even that “perfect meditation,” Samadhi, which is sometimes referred to as “union with divine.” Symbolically, Savasana is the opportunity to release all worldly concerns and goods, to release your efforts and your awareness back to the source of all things.

“Rip’s heart died away at hearing of these sad changes in his home and friends, and finding himself thus alone in the world.”

 

– from “Rip Van Winkle” by Washington Irving

All that being said, it is not uncommon for people to fall asleep in “Corpse Pose.” Moving through the physical practice is preparation for a deep seated meditation; however, in a day and age where we have trained ourselves to be in perpetual motion, to multi-task, and to be sleep-deprived, calming the body and the mind, naturally creates an opportunity for a nap. This is especially true if we are holding a lot of residual tension or stress – which may be keeping us from sleeping well at night. And, it is true that Rip Van Winkle was presumed as dead as so many of his friends and family.

But, we’re still not spending the whole practice in Savasana.

“One of the greatest and simplest tools for learning more and growing is doing more.”

– Washington Irving

FEATURED POSE for April 3rd: Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana)

Washington Irving’s short story “Rip Van Winkle” is paired with “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Yes, yes, that is a story about another “sleepy” Dutch settlement and a ghost. But, it’s a headless ghost, and the last thing we want to do during the practice is loose our heads! Delving a little deeper, you will find that both stories feature the appearance and/or reference to the ghosts of Henry Hudson and the crew of the Halve Maen*, a Dutch East India Company boat whose name, in English, is “Half Moon.”

There are at least two (2) variations of Half Moon that regularly appear in the physical practice. The first, a “Hot Half Moon” can be done at any point in the practice and does not require a lot of warm-up. It can also be done seated or lying down, is prenatal approved, and can be embellished. To practice “Hot Half Moon,” come into Samastithi (Equal Standing), either standing or seated with feet together or slightly apart. Inhale arms overhead and, as you exhale, come into a steeple grip so that index fingers are extended like a church steeple or like the main mast of a sailing vessel. If it’s accessible to you, places the thumbs one next to the other. If it is more comfortable, cross the thumbs – and make sure to change the cross when you come back to center. Inhale reach up and length; exhale and lean to the left so that the left hand/arm pulls the right hand/arm over to the side. Make sure weight is balanced in the feet, legs, and hips – so that even though you are leaning left, you are still engaging the right. From the thighs, start to rotate the body up towards the left armpit and gaze up towards the right elbow (if that is accessible and comfortable). After 3 – 6 breaths, inhale to center. Like Rip Van Winkle after his long nap, notice what’s changed and then switch to the other side. After the second side, feel free to move between the sides one-breath-one motion. Ultimately release back to Equal Standing.

Ardha Chandrasana, as it appears in a vinyasa practice, is a standing balance similar to Triangle Pose (Trikonansana) or Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) without the bind. Since this variation of Half Moon pose requires leg strength, flexibility and strength in the hips, and lots of core strength, I recommend moving through a warm up sequence like Cat/Cow and/or some Salutations plus some standing poses. For the standing poses, consider an externally rotated sequence with Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II), Triangle (Trikonasana), and Extended Side Angle (Parsvakanasana). You could also practice Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangusthasana) and pay particular attention to how you root down through the (heels of the) feet and stabilize with the core. In all the poses, extend through the arms and collar bones.

After preparing the body, make your way into Triangle Pose. On an exhale, gaze down. On an inhale, shift the weight into the front leg (so it appears you’re moving into an awkward Side Angle Pose). Exhale and zip up by spreading your toes, squeezing your perineum muscles like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom, and lifting the belly button up and back. Once the core is engaged, inhale and stand on the front leg. Reach the lifted foot towards the wall behind. It might be feet away, but you want to engage your lifted foot and leg as if you are standing on the wall behind you. Reach the lifted arm up with the same awareness and intensity that you’re using to reach the lower arm down. Find balance within the imbalance. After at least 6 breaths, exhale to Extended Side Angle and inhale to standing. Again, take a moment to be like the newly awakened Rip Van Winkle and then move to the second side.

Ardha Chandrasana can be practiced with your back or your lifted foot against the wall. You can also make the pose easier by placing the lower hand on a block and folding the lower arm against the back into a half bind. (The half bind will lower your center of gravity. As with the first variation, this variation of “Half Moon” is prenatal-approved: Just keep in mind that your center of gravity is continuously changing while you’re pregnant.

After practicing any variation of “Half Moon,” move into a gentle forward fold – such as Child’s Pose (Balasana) – or, sneak in another “pose of the day”: Hands-to-Feet Pose (Padahastasana), which is often referred to as “Gorilla Pose,” but today you can call it “Chimp Pose.”

Now, as you like, Savasana!

(*SIDE NOTE: The Halve Maen set sail on April 4, 1609. On July 25, 1609, some of the crew assaulted a village in Nova Scotia. In 1610, Henry Hudson headed out in a new ship, the Discovery. Hudson, his son John, and the non-mutinous members of the ship disappeared in the spring of 1611.)

 

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

 

Preview: A Wall, Two Roads, A Streetcar, and A Hot Tin Roof walk into a yoga studio… March 26, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tennessee Williams, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

– excerpt from the poem Mending a Wall by Robert Frost

 

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

– excerpt from the play “Camino Real” by Tennessee Williams (The first sentence is also the epitaph on his grave)

There are people in the world who will say you haven’t read poetry until you read Robert Frost, and Southerners in the world who will say you haven’t seen a play until you’ve seen Tennessee Williams. Born 77 years and over 2,000 miles apart, these two literary icons shared a birthday (3/26) and way with words that can make you pause, look again…and again. Once or thrice you may even wonder how many ways you can see/interpret/understand what has been said, and how it applies to your life.

One of Robert Frost’s most famous, and perhaps most popular, poems is about the “road not taken” – even though people often mistake it for “the road less traveled.” The poem is about as much about perspective as it is about the way we tell a story (and the fact that the way we tell a story can change the story).

Maty Ezraty once said that every yoga practice should be like a good story. And, with any story, each character has a different purpose and a different point of view. In our practice, each pose/sequence gives each part of our bodies and minds an opportunity to tell their story. There are hundreds of poses and hundreds, thousands – maybe even millions – of ways to move into and out of pose. And each one of those ways gives us another way of looking at the story. The tricky thing is, sometimes we keep coming back to the story the same way. While we may all have a favorite story we read again and again, what happens when we view the story from a different perspective?

“We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

– excerpt from the poem “Mending a Wall” by Robert Frost

Parighasana (Gate Pose) stretches the pelvic area and hamstrings, while also engaging the sides of the torso and abdomen eccentrically (up side) and concentrically (down side). According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, the pose “keeps the abdominal muscles and organs in condition and the skin around the abdomen will not sag but remain healthy. The sideways spinal movement will help persons suffering from stiff backs.” Another aspect of the pose is what happens to the heart area – not only physically, but emotionally.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

– excerpt from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

Swami Rama from the Himalayan tradition said that we have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left side; an emotional heart on the opposite side, which for most of us is on the right; and an energetic heart that connects the two. Additionally, in yoga and other Eastern healing arts, energy for the heart flows through the arms. In Parighasana, we have the opportunity to open up the shoulders (physically) and open the gates on all sides of the heart (emotionally and energetically).

Two of my favorite lines from Robert Frost poems speak of wisdom and delight, and the gift that comes from giving our whole selves. Every time I step on a yoga mat, I experience the wisdom and the delight. I also experience a plethora of gifts. One of those gifts is how the practice affects the mind. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick acknowledges that he is an alcoholic, but doesn’t seem to want to give up his drinking because, “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” But then, as his father points out to him, there is the morning.

Yoga brings peace without the hangover. Another thing to consider is that the practice has a way of opening the heart so we can get to the violets.

“To me, its meaning is simple. The hard, the cold, the oppressive will—at long last—be broken apart by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.”

– Patricia Clarkson explaining way she was quoting Tennessee Williams during a 2009 HRC New Orleans Dinner speech

### NAMASTE ###

What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###

Just… Look – Part II: Beginnings and Endings September 10, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Basketball, Books, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Texas, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women.
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 “To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

– from In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Today (Monday) is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my grandmother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have turned 90 today. Given a few more months beyond this, she would have seen me reach the half century mark. So, this is me, holding space for beginnings and endings.

As many of you know, my grandmother was one of my constants. Through her example and her work as a nurse (especially for children, veterans, women, shut-ins, and those experiencing end-of-life care), I saw the various stages of life and the importance of being treated with respect and dignity as we all move through those stages. She was the person who always reminded me to be proud of my hair, proud of my body, proud of my spirit, and proud of my life.  And, maybe more than anyone, she illustrated how life is an adventure…an opportunity to fly…a dream…and a dance between the physical and the spiritual.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of superior role models, but Miss Jean (aka Miss Jean Rockets) was the elder in whom I saw myself. We were kindred spirits. And I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

At her funeral in June, I was charged with following the Neighbor/Nurse remarks with the family remarks. Even now, on her birthday, I can think of so many more rich and endearing memories that I could have shared. However, I stand by these:

“Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.” Taraji P. Henson started her 2017 SAG Awards speech with those 8 words. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen.” While her speech goes on record as an awards acceptance speech, it was really a thanks giving, an expression of gratitude for women who were trailblazers and light bringers, a celebration of women who lived lives no one expected them to live. Since today my family charged me with giving thanks and celebrating the life of a trailblazer and a light bringer, I start the same. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.”

Before I was born, she was Miss Jean and she remained Miss Jean after I was born because, as she said, she was too young to be a grandmother: She was 40 then. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was one of her first lessons to me – I say me, but really, to all of us: be yourself, define yourself, live for yourself.

That last part, “live for yourself” might seem odd given how much of her life she devoted – and lived – for all of us, and for all of her patients. Long before I knew the words from John 17 (verses 16 and 18), Miss Jean taught me – taught all of us – what it meant to be in the world, but not of the world; to recognize the Spirit in everyone and everything; and to honor mind, body, and spirit through action. She was a living, breathing instrument of God who – as she told me now and again – was stuck together with spit, glue, and chewing gum.

I don’t really remember her chewing gum, but she sure had a lot of gumption. That spirited initiative allowed her to listen to her heart and follow her heart, fiercely – even when it led her to cold places, like Kansas City, and back home again. Clearly, given how far some of us traveled this week, we learned that lesson too.

Miss Jean taught me the power of being still, being quiet, and appreciating your own company. She taught me the power of a smile; the power of getting on your knees at the end of the day and first thing in the morning; and she taught me the power of prayer even when you’re not on your knees. All the way to the end of her life, she taught me the power of the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things you cannot change; to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She taught me to not only tell stories and listen to stories, but to really hear other people’s stories. She taught, by example, the power of being open to other people’s ideas even while standing in your own truth. She’s the reason we cousins and siblings have the conversations we have.

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” But, throughout my life [Pleasantville] has been my home, because that’s where Miss Jean and Paw-Paw WANTED to take us in. It was the place where there were always chocolate chip cookies and a biscuit in the cookie jar; your favorite dessert on the cake tray, sweet tea in the fridge, homemade popsicles in the freezer, baked potatoes and salmon on the grill, Cornish hen in the oven, and the only friends I’ve known my whole life. Standing in her doorway first thing in the morning, stretching and greeting the day and standing in the doorway waving as we drove away, Miss Jean taught me – taught us – to savor life and savor love.

She was passionate about the things and people she loved: music, movies, books, God, her friends, her family, teddy bears, and the Houston Rockets – not necessarily in that order. I could tell you stories she probably wouldn’t appreciate me telling in church, but if she were here to hear me repeat some of our conversations she would just get that sparklingly defiant look and say, “Well, it’s the truth.”

Here’s one more truth: Despite how I started today, I don’t think of my grandmother as a hidden figure. I think of her as a beacon of life and light. I have lived my whole life in Miss Jean’s light. Make sure you heard that right – not in her shadow, IN HER LIGHT! And although her physical body is gone, her light still shines bright. If you have any doubts today, look around you; if you have any doubts tomorrow, look in the mirror: See your life, see your light, and honor it – as she did.

If this were one of my yoga classes, I’d end by saying, “Namaste,” which is a Sanskrit word that literally means, “I bow thou,” and is often translated as “The light in me honors and acknowledges the light that is also in you.” However, today, I’m finishing up one of our last conversations and sending my grandmother off with words from Joy Unspeakable by Barbara Holmes. Holmes wrote,

“For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

### Ecclesiastes 3:4 ###