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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 ###

 

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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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
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.

***

“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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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. ###

 

ONCE UPON A TIME – 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #2 April 2, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Uncategorized.
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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.

***

“Books help us slow down…. Books help us not to rush, books teach us to notice things, and books invite us or even make us sit down for a while.”

– from 2019 International Children’s Book Day message by Kęstutis Kasparavičius (translated from Lithiuanian by Daina Valentinavičienė)

Pretty much everything Kęstutis Kasparavičius wrote about books, in his 2019 International Children’s Book Day message, can be stated about yoga. There’s something that happens when you get on the mat, when you tap into the breath – even when you move with the breath. Like reading, practicing yoga is accepting an invitation to explore.

As someone who loves to read, it is heartbreaking to know that many people around the world (including approximately 43% of adult Americans, in 2003, or approximately 32 million, in 2013) demonstrate a “below basic” (14%) or “basic” (29%) literacy level. There’s no shame in not knowing how to read – and no shame in asking for help to learn or in asking to be assessed – however, not knowing how to read means you miss out on some of the greatest stories, some of the greatest adventures, and some of the greatest learning experiences. Simply put, there can be joy in reading and if you can’t read (or can’t read without frustration) you are missing out on some joy.

Just as I love to read, I love to practice yoga. So, it is equally heartbreaking to know that many people aren’t practicing yoga, because they have had a bad experience with yoga in the past and/or they are unaware of all the different ways yoga can be practiced. Bottom line, yoga is a personal practice and so there is a practice for every person. In fact, since there are over 7.5 billion people in the world there are at least 7.5 billion ways to practice any pose at any given moment. And, there can be joy in the practice.

International Children’s Book Day is celebrated every year on or around April 2nd. This annual celebration of children, books, authors, and illustrators coincides with the anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. Born in 1805, Christian Andersen was the author of short stories, poetry, plays, autobiographical novels, and travelogues. Ironically, he is remembered for the work that was initially overlooked: his children’s fairy tales. It took 10 years and an English translation for Christian Andersen’s fairy tales to be recognized, but ultimately they brought him success, fame, acceptance, and the opportunity to travel and meet writers he admired. Among those writers was Charles Dickens, who – like Christian Andersen – had also grown up without a lot of money and shared a concern for the less fortunate.

Hans Christian Andersen, the author of over 150 fairy tales, was the only son of a shoemaker – who told him stories from Arabian Nights – and an illiterate washerwoman. When his father died, Christian Andersen was 11 years old. Imagine, for a moment, receiving the gift of 1,001 variations of life and then facing the possibility of death stealing that gift. Imagine never having received the gift. How would you view the world, or yourself, without your favorite childhood stories?

FEATURED POSE for April 2nd: Pose Dedicated to the Sage Bharadvaja (Bharadvajasana), aka Stag aka Mermaid

Between the pages of “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Match Girl,” “The Tallow Candle,” The Nightingale,” and over a hundred others, there is inspiration for a whole practice – and not just because of the poses, there are also life lessons and the opportunity for svadyaya (the internal observation of self study). Feel free to play and explore, maybe even get together with your kids and tell one of your favorite stories through the poses, like an interpretive dance.

I picked today’s featured pose, because it can be practiced at the beginning, middle, or end of a practice. Variations of it appear in a variety of practices (including in Pilates) and it can be a prenatal approved twist. It also allows the hips, back, and pelvic floor to tell a very interesting story about how we’re connected. Notice how you feel!

Sit on the floor or in a chair with both sits bones rooted to your supporting surface. If your hips are tight – if there’s compression in your low back and/or hip – sit up on top of something so that your hips are higher than your knees when the ankles are crossed. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are also grounded. Press down in order to extend up. Spend some time bringing your awareness to the breath. Notice how your body (especially your spine) reacts to the inhale, and then to the exhale.

You can move straight into the featured pose. If, however,  you want more movement in your practice, move through some sun salutations and maybe some standing poses, before practicing the featured pose. If you prefer less movement, but have really tight hips, practice a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) and any form of squat before the featured pose. All of the above may be practiced in a chair.

When you’re ready to practice the featured pose, hug your knees into your chest on an exhale. Take a deep breath in and separate your knees about as far apart as your hips or your mat. On an exhale drop the knees to the right so that the right foot is next to the left thigh. Right hip and thigh are externally rotated; left hip and thigh are internally rotated. Adjust the legs as needed so that the knees are comfortable and the hips are grounded. If you are in a chair, you might need to bring closer together and then tip them to the right. If the left knee is uncomfortable, you can always extend the knee. If you are leaning into one hip more than the other, place something under the grounded hip (unless you are practicing Soma Yoga’s Lighthouse and then there may be a slight lift). If you want more for the hips, place the right foot on top of the left thigh, close to the left hip. Again, make sure the knees are at ease.

Cup the knees with the hands and move through a seated cat/cow: Lifting the heart up on the inhale and curling into yourself on the exhale. Start the movement in the base of the spine – so that you explore the full range of motion in your hips and core.

After 5 – 7 rounds of breath, rotate your upper body to the right. Place your right hand behind your hips, for support or reach for your left hip. If the right foot is on top of the left thigh, see if you can hold the right big toe with right peace fingers. Left hand cups the right knee. Breathe here for 5 – 7 rounds of breath or set a timer and hold the twist for a couple of minutes.

From the twist, you can lower the upper body over the right thigh or (if it’s accessible) rotate the upper body so you can see the space behind your back and then fold, belly down. Another option, instead of the forward fold, is to bring the up body more to center – but while still holding the right knee with the left hand – and reach the right arm over the right ear, towards your left side. Pull the arms away from each other as you inhale (right arm up, left arm down) and rotate your heart and gaze up towards the lifted arm. After 5 – 7 rounds of breath, release to center and hug the knees in. After a few moments, repeat the pose of the left side.

Finish your practice with the heart opener / back bend of your choice, followed by Savasana – or “the Princess in the Pea (after the pea is removed)” Pose. Feel free to substitute a different final pose, but definitely give yourself at least 2 minutes relaxing in stillness.

Here’s some music if you choose the sun salutation route! Are you sure it’s “Just look at the world around you / Right here on the ocean floor” vs “Right here in your pelvic floor?”

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

THE TRUTH IS IN THE PRACTICE: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #1 April 1, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Baseball, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Minneapolis, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
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(details to follow).

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.

***

The 8-limbed philosophy of yoga begins not with the physical practice, but with an ethical component consisting of 10 elements. Many people practicing the physical practice today have never heard of the yamas and niyamas – and yet they come to the mat with a set of core values (even commandments and precepts which are very similar – sometimes even identical – in content).

The yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), bramcharya (walking in the awareness of the highest reality or the divine), and aparagraha (non-hording or non-grasping). The niyamas (internal observations) are saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (heat, discipline, and austerity), svadyaya (self study), and ishvarapranidhana (letting go of one’s efforts back to the source). Since these ethical precepts precede the elements of the physical practice (asana + pranayama = seat or pose + awareness of breath or extension of breath), it makes sense to practice these ethics on the mat. It even makes sense that the more you practice these elements on the mat, the more they start to creep into your life off the mat.

Consider the yamas and their connection to the physical practice from the view of not practicing ethically. When we engage a pose that might cause us harm, specifically because we engage it without considering the truth of our physical, mental, and emotional state, we are not actually practicing yoga. When we are watching what someone else is doing, instead of focusing all of our energy on what we are meant to do, we are coveting their practice and possibly their mind-body. When we step onto the mat without self awareness and/or with the attention of attracting attention, we’re not actually practicing yoga. In fact, when our egos and aspirations are working harder than our awareness, we’re not actually practicing yoga – unless, we bringing our awareness to that imbalance in order to create balance.

Now, just for a moment, consider the last time you practiced “yoga” off the mat – and the last time you didn’t. How did you feel in each situation? Which sensations/feelings were the most lasting? Which remembered experiences bring you a sense of peace, balance, maybe even joy? Almost anytime we accomplish something, there is a sense of power. However, sometimes the power is tainted and sometimes it’s more fleeting than other times. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali directs us towards an experience that is pure, powerful, and lasting.

In its April 1, 1985 issue, Sports Illustrated published a profile of Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, a rookie baseball player in training with the New York Mets. According to the article, Sidd could accurately pitch a fastball at 168 miles per hour (270 km/h) – compared to the record at that time of 103 mph (166 km/h) and today’s record of 105.1 mph (169.1 km/h) held by New York Yankees pitcher Aroldis “the Cuban Missle” Chapman. Above and beyond his extraordinary pitching ability (not to mention his French horn playing abilities), one of the things that made Sidd noteworthy and newsworthy, according to the article, was that he had learned “yogic mastery of mind-body” – and this, Sidd claimed, was the source of his pitching prowess.

Just for a moment, step onto your mat as No. 21 Sidd Finch would step onto the mound, one shoe on and one shoe off. How do you find balance within the imbalance? How do you stay true to your core values, even as you strive to go deeper? At what point in the practice do you realize: It’s not about what you could be doing; the practice is all about what you are doing.

KEY POSE for April 1st: One-Legged Mountain Pose (Eka Pada Tadasana).

Come to Samisthiti/Tadasana (Equal Standing/Mountain Pose), either standing on your feet or sitting in a chair. Bring awareness to how you balance your weight, left to right, on whatever is supporting you – feet, legs, knees, etc. Play around with shifting your weight forward and back, left and right. Rock, sway, shift, explore, play. Then find stillness within all the motion: press down into all four corners of your seat. (If you are standing or sitting with feet flat, big toes and little toes spread as wide as they are able and press down; then press into all four corners of both feet). Find engagement in the thighs so that they are firm. Sits bones drop down (and back if you are seated) so that pelvic bones tilt up. Engage the pelvic floor (perineum muscles squeeze together like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom); belly button lifts up and back (or, you can think of it as zipping a zipper up from your bottom up to your belly button). Spine is long, breath is deep. Changing as little as possible, step or shift your weight to the left as you inhale. Exhale as you left the right knee and toes up toward the chest (ankle is flexed as much as you’re able). Hold the knee and toes up, as high as possible, for at least three (3) breaths. Set the right foot down and repeat the balance on the opposite side. Play around with lifting the knee on the inhale; keeping the arms by your sides or lifting them up in the air or spreading them out like wings; and moving one-breath-one motion.

Explore what happens if you squeeze the knee with both hands or hold the big toe of the lifted leg and extend the lifted leg forward or out to the side. Explore what happens if you tip your body towards the standing leg. If you have warmed-up with sun salutations or some other activity, consider what happens if you extend your lifted leg straight back and orient yourself so that lifted-leg side is in Mountain Pose on the wall behind you. Consider what happens if you throw an imaginary pitch, or add a twist.

Add a little music as you like.

Come back to Samisthiti/Tadasana (Equal Standing/Mountain Pose) and consider what your mind-body need in order to ease into a final pose, where you can breathe and be still for 2 – 5 minutes. Do whatever poses allow you to get comfortable, and then get comfortable.

 

* As far as I know, everything I’ve stated above is true. *

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

 

 

Can You Handle the Truth? December 23, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 40-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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This time last year I wrote, “2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.”

Little did I know how true that statement would be.

Oxford Dictionaries define “true” as an adjective meaning “in accordance with fact or reality…genuine…real or actual…accurate or exact…. in tune.” True can also be used as a verb when applied to something that is bringing “(an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.” It originates from Old English words meaning “steadfast, loyal” and is related to a Dutch word meaning “faithful” and a German word meaning “loyal to.”

I could continue going down the rabbit hole, examining the meaning and origins of all the target words, but ultimately we know the truth when we see it…or hear it. Or do we?

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking promotes the power of insight and intuition; of knowing without knowing why we know something is true. Yet, Malcolm Gladwell also points out that, “We have, as human beings, a storytelling problem. We’re a bit too quick to come up with explanations for things we don’t really have an explanation for.” In other words, the brain gets in the way of the heart.

Our brains make us humans notoriously bad witnesses. Our brains fill in the gaps to make sense of puzzles we’ve created and, theoretically, to preserve the idea that we are not ignorant about things we are supposed to know. We make up stories, even when we’re the only one paying attention to the story in our head. In Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Dr. Oliver Sacks wrote, “The brain needed to stay incessantly active, and if it was not getting its usual stimulation…, it would create its own stimulation in the form of hallucinations.”

Oxford defines “hallucination” as “an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.” This last year, really the last two – going on three – years, it’s felt a little like the quality and state of being true was a hallucination. People say one thing and do something completely opposite. People accuse one another of lying. Technology allows us to morph our faces, our voices, our words, and to create realistic holograms of people who are no longer living. More and more it seems that everything real is an illusion.

Of course, the idea that everything we are experiencing is a dream, an illusion, a delusion – or a computer generated program – is nothing new: It’s part of the foundation of many philosophies, including yoga. Another part of philosophies like yoga and Buddhism is that there is a path to seeing things clearly, and that seeing things clearly is liberation.

“To live on a day-to-day basis is insufficient for human beings; we need to transcend, transport, escape; we need meaning, understanding, and explanation; we need to see overall patterns in our lives. We need hope, the sense of a future. And we need freedom (or at least the illusion of freedom) to get beyond ourselves, whether with telescopes and microscopes and our ever-burgeoning technology or in states of mind which allow us to travel to other worlds, to transcend our immediate surroundings. We need detachment of this sort as much as we need engagement in our lives.”

– excerpt from Hallucinations by Dr. Oliver Sacks

The fourth and final section of the Yoga Sutras focuses on liberation. Liberation, as Patanjali describes it, involves lifting the veil of ignorance and seeing the truth about everything, including ourselves. Patanjali also explains that the barrier/veil of ignorance can be thinned and then dissolved by birth, herbs, mantra (ajapa-japa), tapas (practices of intense discipline/austerity), or meditation. (YS 4:1)

Clarity; right view; seeing the truth – whichever way you describe it, it seems to be lacking in our current version of reality. And, as the war on truth continues, more and more people will desire it. If you are longing for a new year where you are in tune with your core values and connected to your intuition, consider starting 2019 with a practice, like yoga, which fits into that final definition of truth (see above): something that is bringing (an object, wheel, or other construction) into the exact shape or position required.

The following practices include at least three of the liberating methods mentioned by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras:

Monday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Annual New Year’s Eve Celebration and Potluck, Common Ground Meditation Center (PLEASE REGISTER HERE)

 

Tuesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Solar Powered Sadhana with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat (Please register)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Year’s Day – Restorative Yoga with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary (please register, only 2 spots left as I post this!)

10:00 AM – 12:00 PM, New Year’s Day – All-Humanity Class with Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions (Please register)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM, New Year’s Day Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:30 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:15 PM, New Year’s Donation Class with Indu Arora, Devanadi Yoga (please register)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, Vinyasa, Minnehaha Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Greg Hines & live Cello music by Cory Grossman, Yoga Sanctuary (please register)

12:00 PM – 1:30 PM, New Year’s Day Sankalpa with Justyn O’Neill, Radiant Life Yoga (please register)

12:15 PM – 2:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA (open to YMCA  members and their guests)

12:30 PM – 3:00 PM, Sankalpa~New Year Intentions workshop with Shelley Pagitt (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2019 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga (please register)

4:30 PM – 6:30 PM, Restorative + Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat (please register)

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

 

Saturday, January 5th:

1:00 PM – 3:30 PM, New Year’s Intention Setting Ritual with Amy Patee (please register)

 

Sunday, January 6th:

9:30 AM – 5:30 PM, Vincent Yoga New Year’s Retreat: A Day of Reflection, Illumination and Resolution

 

My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event that is not listed above.

 

~ OM SHANTI ~

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! ~

CAPTAINING BODY AND SOUL – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #17 April 18, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Baseball, Basketball, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, pro, Religion, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly;”

– from “Man In the Arena”  by the then former U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

The psychiatrist M. Scott Peck started his most famous book (The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth) with the words “Life is difficult.” He then outlined the attributes of a fulfilled human being. Bottom line: Life requires a lot of work, discipline, non-attachment, love (as an action). In some ways, Peck highlighted the same values President Theodore Roosevelt emphasized in his “The Strenuous Life” and “Citizenship in a Republic” speeches. These same qualities are valuable on the mat, as well.

Yoga, the philosophy as well as the physical practice, can be hard. Our bodies and minds fall into the rut and the groove of our habits, building strength and flexibility that may also contribute to stiffness and weakness. Our bodies want to bend where they are already flexible and resist where we are strong. If, however, we continually and habitually engage our bodies in this way we develop imbalances which ultimately breakdown the body. Yoga is one way to transcend unconscious behavior patterns, because it brings active awareness to our personal tendencies. But, that awareness doesn’t magically appear when one steps on the mat. It’s not petrichor (the smell of rain on dry soil). One must work for that awareness.

“I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life, the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach that highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.”

– from “The Strenuous Life”  by U. S. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

People who only like to do the things they are already good at doing tend not to appreciate their first yoga experience – unless they get really lucky. That said, people who only like to do the things they are already good at often benefit the most from yoga, because right off the bat they are being challenged.

Yoga has no shortages of challenges. Obviously, there are challenging poses and sequences in some styles and traditions. However, no one style or tradition has a monopoly on challenges. Yin Yoga and restorative traditions are also challenging, because one of the most challenging parts of yoga (especially for beginners) is staying present on the mat and in the body. Equally challenging, in this day and age, is being still and being quiet.

We live in an over-stimulated world that often values quantity over quality, and being right over everything.  Being right looks different in different situations; but, ultimately, it compels people to look at others, on and off the mat, to find the epitome of everything. The problem – and thus the challenge – is that nobody else has your body, nobody else has your mind, and therefore nobody else has your practice.

Yes, absolutely, there are alignment principles, movement, and action related to every pose and every sequence – and this is valuable information a teacher passes to a student. But that’s only the beginning of the practice. Ultimately, the practice is what happens when the student starts to process, synthesize, and activate the information in their own body and mind.

Another big challenge is applying elements of the philosophy – which at first glance seem to have nothing to do with the mind-body. One of the reasons my early teachers said, “How you do yoga is how you do life,” is that each of us comes to the practice with instinctual and conditioned behavior. Whether we think about it or not, each of us also steps on the mat with a moral compass, which we use to guide us in the way to treat things, the way we treat other beings, and the way we treat ourselves. Starting with the beginning of the philosophy means we mindfully gut check out thoughts, our words, and our deeds on the mat. If we get in the habit of being mindful about our actions (karma) on the mat, we are conditioning ourselves to behave in a similar fashion when we are off the mat. Truly, it doesn’t matter which compass you use. It could be the 10 Commandments (which hold significance in all three Abrahamic religions) or the Buddhist precepts, just as easily as it could be yoga’s yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) and the niyamas (internal observations).

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

One of my favorite parts of practicing yoga is the opportunity to engage the story behind the poses. This can be a literal and energetic engagement, focusing on the inspiration behind the poses or it can be a symbolic engagement, focusing on attributes that come to mind based on the name of the pose.

Virabhadrasana is most often translated into English as “warrior pose.” This is fitting given the story that Shiva, in a fit of anger, tears out a lock of his hair and creates a great warrior. But, the word “virabhdra” literally means “hero friend.” So, when you move into a Hero Friend Seat, it is interesting to consider the qualities of a hero friend and those of a warrior, as well as the times when we recognize warriors as friends and the times when we do not.

Some people may feel a little odd or uncomfortable with the idea of embodying the qualities of a mythological or historical character. This way of practicing may feel too much like moving through the Stations of the Cross or observing Passover – and, in fact, these are similar ways of engaging the mind-body-spirit. These are also ways of practicing that move beyond the physical; which makes people uncomfortable. But, the practice is always more than physical. At the very least, it is physical and mental – at the very most it boundlessly extends into every aspect of our beings.

William Ernest Henley and President Theodore Roosevelt were both soldiers who, at different times in their lives, had to deal with physically debilitating dis-ease. Their words continue to inspire others, because they speak the truth about the human spirit. “Invictus” is Latin for “unconquered.” To paraphrase Prince Henry, it is knowing that, if you have the will, anything is possible. If nothing else, focus on that quality of yourself.

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees notice how the strength and power of your body at this moment. Focus on what you can do. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. No, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released. You are engaging what is solid and true within you, what is solid and true all around you.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up – as if you are going to spring off the mat, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

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

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

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and use the hands on the thighs to press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Allow feel the weight of your upper body being engaged by gravity. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and press up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

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

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). This pose is sometimes referred to as “Anointed Warrior,” indicating the warrior is blessed, prepared, and ready.

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Captain this boat and give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath in and follow the breath out. Allow yourself to be held by the breath and float within its embrace.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem in mind. It doesn’t matter if you set aside one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga. Or, as this year’s tag line states….

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