jump to navigation

For Those Who Missed It: “Bah Humbug!” & Other SAD Sayings December 19, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Movies, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Happy Holidays!

The following was originally posted for the practice on December 19, 2020. Class details have been updated. 

Yoga Sūtra 2.51: bāhyābhyantaravişayākşepī caturthah

 

– “The fourth [prāņāyāma] goes beyond, or transcends, the internal and external objects.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.52: tatah kşīyate prakāśāvaraņam

 

– “Then the veil over the [Inner] Light deteriorates.”

Patanjali spends a good portion of the Yoga Sūtras extolling the benefits of focusing on the breath and breathing in a way that balances (and calms) the mind-body. The benefits mentioned include physical vitality and clarity of mind. Another, connected, benefit is accessing the part of our mind-body that is “free of sorrow and [always] full of light.” Ultimately, he also points to the powers (siddhis) experienced by those who achieve clarity and luminosity. One such power is the ability to clear see (and understand) past, present, and future.

The ability to see (and understand) past, present, and future is the power of cause-and-effect. It is a power we all have; however it is a power often shrouded under the veil of avidyā (“ignorance”) and illusion. Such ignorance and illusion is part of our lived experience and is further enhanced by experiences that reinforce the ignorance and illusion. Patanjali very clearly indicates that everything in the perceivable world “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom” (YS 2.18), but that we can only see (and understand) what our mind is ready to see and understand (YS 2.20).

It seems like a circle of confusion (or ignorance) out of which we cannot escape. Yet, if we take a breath, things can become a little clearer. We start to see how we are tied – shackled or fettered – to what we know, based on what was previously known.

“‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A year or two ago, if someone had said that people all over the world would be rushing around less and spending more time at home with their family (and occasionally mingling with a small bubble of close friends), most of us would have (unequivocally) thought it was a good thing. If someone had said people would be as focused – if not more focused – on how they could celebrate the holidays and observe traditions as opposed to working, I might have even applauded. After all, I have spent a lot of winters talking about the benefits of slowing down (like everything else in nature) instead of speeding up and have spent many a holiday emphasizing the importance of ritual and tradition.

Those hypothetical conversations, however, would have occurred in another time and place…. a time and place “before.” They would have occurred without the circumstances we face today – circumstances that actually make it easier to be a bit of a Scrooge and/or experience a little SADness. I say “and/or,” but I’m really not sure, when you think about it that there’s always a difference. After all, as much as we see Ebenezer Scrooge as a curmudgeonly miser, who is to say he didn’t have SAD?

“‘Uncle!’ pleaded the nephew.

‘Nephew!’ returned the uncle sternly, ‘keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine.’

‘Keep it!’ repeated Scrooge’s nephew. ‘But you don’t keep it.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a form of clinical depression that affects over 3 million people in the United States each year. About 5% of adults with SAD experience it for 40% of the year and people with bipolar disorder may notice huge mood shifts based on the change in season. Symptoms can include lack of energy, moodiness, changes in eating habits, weight fluctuation, changes in sleeping habits, loss of interest in social engagement or work, difficulty concentrating, and thought of self harm. Most people associate SAD with the “winter blues” or the “winter blahs” – and it is definitely linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain that is related to shorter days and a lack of sunlight in the Fall/Winter. However, people can also experience SAD (sometimes referred to, in layman’s terms, as “Reverse SAD”) in the Spring/Summer.

An old friend of mine who lives with “Reverse SAD” (we’ll call her “Christmas Past”) said that one of the hardest parts for her is the lack of awareness – and that fact that people think you can “just get over it.” That last part is an all too common misconception based on the following facts:

(a) Everyone experiences a shift in their biological clock (or circadian rhythms) as the seasons change, and that shift affects our brains;

(b) A lot of people struggle during the holidays;

(c) For most, symptoms will change as the seasons change; and

(d) When we are experience general sadness we can still feel some level of joy or happiness, but depression can mute people’s overall experience of life.

Furthermore, while symptoms can pass, in the base case, the longer the brain spirals down – and is left chemically out of balance – the harder it is for the mind-body to shift back into balance. When you add in the fact that depression is often accompanied by thoughts of self harming, there is sometimes not enough time for “time” to be the healer.

Unless, of course, “time” is a metaphor.

“‘But you were always a good man of business, Jacob’ faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. ‘Business!’ cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. ‘Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

A Christmas Carol, the novella by Charles Dickens, features a grouchy old business man who is visited by ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come (often referred to in theatrical productions as “Christmas Future”). First published today in 1843, it was the fourth Christmas story the author had written and, like his others, it was influenced by what people were experience at the time and Dickens’s own experiences. First, as a child, Dickens had experienced a change of fortune and ended up, as an adult, having to work his way up from poverty. However, just before writing A Christmas Carol he had visited one of the Raggedy Schools (for destitute children) and was appalled at the conditions. He felt that people who were in the position to do something – not only to improve the children’s living and working conditions, but also their future prospects – should be encouraged to do what they could and that the holiday season was a good time for that encouragement. Finally, people were changing their engagement with the holiday. There were new additions to the celebrations (like the Christmas tree) and people were fluctuating between emphasizing the religious aspects of Christmas and the more secular traditions.

Dickens definitely portrays Scrooge as a bad guy who is redeemable; he just needs a push in the right direction. Various people, including Scrooge’s nephew try to push him into the holiday spirit, but he doesn’t feel it and doesn’t see the value in it. He needs more than a “Happy Holidays” or “Merry Christmas” to counteract his “Bah Humbug.” He needs something to change his engagement of spirit. The ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Yet to Come facilitate this change by talking to him and showing him different perspectives of his own life.

“‘Let me leave it alone, then,’ said Scrooge. ‘Much good may it do you! Much good it has ever done you!’

‘There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,’ returned the nephew. ‘Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round – apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

One perspective is that, left to his own devices, Scrooge would have kept spiraling down. In the process of spiraling down (all the while thinking about the ways he could spiral his bank account up), Scrooge would have continued to make himself and the people around him miserable. Then there is the possibility that he could make the world around him a better place – and that, ultimately, it wouldn’t really cost him much. But, first, he had to be able to see the possibility.

Some people view A Christmas Carol as a secular holiday tale; others see it as Christian allegory. I see both sides of that coin, but also consider that there is a mental health message within the text. Even if Scrooge is a “scrooge,” he also exhibits all the characteristics of someone who is unhappy because his mind-body is out of balance. (When you think about it, it’s not surprising given how much he works, and how little work-life balance Dickens gives him!) All that said, anyone of us can be scrooge. So, it’s important to note that there is a lot we can do to help our mind-bodies find balance. It is equally important to know when we need some external intercession. SAD treatment can include light therapy, talk therapy, changes in diet and exercise, antidepressants, and/or a combination of the above.

“He went to the church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and for, and patted the children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of homes, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed of any walk, that anything, could give him so much happiness.”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, December 19th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “12192020 SAD Carol”]

 

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

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, contact the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

“‘I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.’”

 

– quoted from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

 

### “‘…as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!’” ###

Cowboy, I Moustache You To Go… Over Here (the “missing” Sunday post) November 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, First Nations, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Happy Chanukah!” to those who are celebrating.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, Movember 28th. There are mental health references, but nothing graphic. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Anyhow, Mr. Coolidge – I am going to tell you about the people over the radio. You can’t talk over the radio and use the same type of stuff that you do on the stage, because you haven’t got that kind of audience. Everybody listening in over the radio wouldn’t laugh like this. A radio audience – and I’m not saying this to flatter you, but everybody, you all wouldn’t have come in if you hadn’t had a sense of humor. There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in. They don’t have that over the radio. I am sure you all had to have a sense of humor; it is certain that sex appeal drew nobody in here, and I’m positive that nobody come in to whet their intellect. No, you come in here to get just a laugh, but over the radio you have people listening in there with no sense of humor at all. Anybody can tune in on that.

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From the Broadway Stage to the National Stage, Volume Four, September 1915 –  July 1928  by Will Rogers, edited by Steven K. Gragert and M. Jane Johansson 

It may have been on his lecture tour, maybe even on April 16, 1928, that Will Rogers said, “There has to be something the matter with you or you wouldn’t have come in.” I think that statement could be applied to yoga – as can the rest of that discussion about having a sense of humor and about the difference between sharing space live and in-person versus sharing virtual or recorded space. There’s no denying that there’s a difference. And while it is may also true that people are not drawn in by the sex appeal or to “whet their intellect,” it doesn’t change the fact yoga can be sexy and intellectual, as well as funny – just like vaudeville.

Vaudeville, an upscale version of your garden variety variety show, was a 19th century French invention that experienced a great deal of popularity in North America beginning in the 1880’s. A large part of that popularity can be traced to the “Orpheum Circuit,” which was started when the German producer and American immigrant Gustav Walter built the first Orpheum Opera House in San Francisco. With financial backing from another German-American, Morris Meyerfeld Jr (born November 17, 1855 as Moses Meyerfeld), the impresario opened a second and third Orpheum in a pre-existing theatres in Los Angeles and Kansas City, Missouri, respectively. All three theatres opened to sold out houses and experienced great success. Part of that success was due to the fact that the duo could book entertainers to go from one house to the other and use the publicity in one city to push ticket sales in the other cities.

Their plan was to expand through the Midwest. However, Gustav Walter died unexpectedly (after suffering with appendicitis for four days) on May 9, 1898, just three months after the Kansas City theatre opened). Morris (née Moses) Meyerfeld became the circuit’s president and, in order to carry out the original plan, paired up with Martin Lehman. After opening five more theatres, the pair joined forces with the Western Circuit of Vaudeville Theaters (WCVT); hired Hungarian immigrant Martin Beck as a booking agent (the same booking agent that would give Harry Houdini his big break); and eventually created the Vaudeville Managers Association (VMA) with leaders of the Eastern Vaudeville Circuit, like Benjamin Franklin Keith and Edward Franklin Albee II. 

Eventually, the big circuits merged to form the Keith-Albee-Orpheum (KAO) circuit which, after more mergers and acquisitions became Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO), which included the movie studio RKO Radio Pictures, Inc. (later known as RKO Pictures). But that’s jumping way ahead in the story. Not to mention the fact that by the time RKO Pictures formed in 1928, Will Rogers had already filmed almost 50 silent films produced by a Polish-American immigrant named Samuel Goldwyn (born August 27, 1882 as Szmuel Gelbfisz, and also known as Samuel Goldfish). So, let’s step back a minute…

According to The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway, Volume Three, September 1908 – 1915, (by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair) the first Orpheum opened June 20, 1887 and Gustav Walter was booking vaudeville-only bills by 1897. Meaning that when Will Rogers was seven some of the seeds for his success had been planted and by the time he was 18 those seeds had taken root.

After working at his family’s ranch (Dog Iron Ranch), spending some time in Argentina and the Pampas, and working at a ranch in South Africa, “Oklahoma’s Favorite Son” started doing his rope tricks in the circus. First he performed in South Africa with Texas Jack Wild West Circus and then he performed in Australia with the Wirth Brothers Circus. He was about twenty-five when he returned to the United States, roping and riding at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, rodeos, and the vaudeville circuits that were just starting to come together. He was twenty-five when his rope “tricks” saved the day at Madison Square Garden and caught the attention of William Hammerstein (see “Will Rogers” link above), who kept him consistently employed, performing on a New York rooftop, for years.

In many ways, however, that rooftop gig was a bit of a fluke and the success that followed was, again, in large part because of the infrastructure that had been established by the vaudeville producers. Those previously mentioned partnerships, collaborations, and organizations connected audiences that previously had been targeted by niche entertainers and created a circuit that relied on entertainers who could appeal to people in urban as well as rural areas. The circuit would eventually guarantee performers anywhere from 20 weeks to several years worth of performances – something that had previously been unheard of for entertainers like the cowboy philosopher or a certain “handcuff king.”

“Will Rogers, billed as the Oklahoma Cowboy, in a rope act is a feature at the Orpheum this week. He does wonders in rope spinning but you get so much interested in his ‘patter’ that you forget to watch the tricks, as he calls them. He is a monolinguist disguised in chaps, and one of the best ever….

*

PD. Printed in Kansas City Post and Journal, ca. 26 October 1914. Scrapbook 1914, CPpR”

*

– quoted from The Papers of Will Rogers: From Vaudeville to Broadway: Volume Three, September 1908 –  August 1915  by Will Rogers, edited by Arthur Frank Wertheim and Barbara Bair

NOTE: The scrapbook cited above, containing a printed copy of the Kansas City Post and Journal, is part of the collection at the Will Rogers State Historic Park, Pacific Palisades, California (CPpR).

Will Rogers signed a major Orpheum Circuit contract in December 1908, soon after he married Betty Blake (and only days after she saw him perform for the first time). The newlyweds spent the first four months of 1909 traveling the circuit together – something they would continue off and on throughout their marriage. By 1910, Will Rogers was so popular that he was being booked by all the major vaudeville producers and even mounted his own “Wild West” show. For many years, including in 1913 and 1914, he spent the end of summer through the beginning of winter on the Orpheum Circuit. In fact, in August 1914, he started in San Francisco (performing five days at the very first Orpheum theatre); then performed at six California Orpheum theatres plus a non “Orpheum” theatre in California and eight Orpheum theatres from Salt Lake City, Utah to Minneapolis (November 8-14) and Duluth (November 16-21). From November 22-28, he performed at the Orpheum Theatre in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Ten years later, on November 28, 1925, he would be performing in Washington, D. C. and visiting with President Calvin Coolidge.

While I normally reference “the Will Rogers phenomenon” (as it relates to prostate health) at the beginning of Movember, I decided to use that last little bit of trivia to bring awareness to the fact that stage migration also occurs in relation to mental health. Remember, “the Will Rogers phenomenon” is a situation where moving something from one category to another increases the average value of both categories. In medical stage migration this can occur when awareness, testing, and/or overall medical understanding changes diagnosis so that previously undetected illness is detected – which can increase the average life expectancy of people who are considered “healthy” as well as those who are considered “unhealthy.”

Note, the “Will Rogers” links above all go to the same post about prostate cancer diagnosis, but this situation also holds true for other health issues where early detection is the key to survival. It holds true for different kinds of cancer, and also applies to heart and lung issues, diabetes, and mental health issues.

We all know that the last few years have been rough – on every one – and the challenges in life include increased physical, mental, and emotional stress. If we consider these akin to the three-fold sorrows, then we (humans) have the power to eliminate this dis-ease. Eliminating our own suffering, however, requires awareness and communication. In the last few years there has been an increase in people reporting mental health issues and while that can be daunting, consider that every year people have mental health crisis that “no one saw coming,” in part because people didn’t share what they were experience and/or seek help. Some of the discrepancies between men and women’s health, including the fact that 4 in 5 people affected by suicide are men, may come down to socialization.  

It sucks that so many people are struggling, but – believe it or not – an increase in reporting is actually good news. The fact that people are sharing their experiences and seeking guidance, even treatment, is actually a good thing. It’s also the smart thing. 

“When the Oakies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I.Q. of both states.”

*

– Will Rogers

Sunday’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Mov 4th & Will Rogers 2020”]

You don’t have to take my word for all this! Click here for the US Movember website page on mental health, featuring men sharing their own stories. Just click and scroll down.

“I realized, over time, that when I actually began to talk about what I was going through, it actually began to heal me.”

*

– Eric Bigger, quoted on the (US) Movember website

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

 

### ALEC ###

For Those Who Missed It: Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Fitness, Health, Life, Loss, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

The following was originally posted on October 26, 2020. Class details and links (including the video link) have been updated for today.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

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

The practice begins ~5 minutes in….

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

To the Bone (the Wednesday post) October 20, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Music, Pain, Science, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, October 20th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“When the bones are good, the rest don’t matter
Yeah, the paint could peel, the glass could shatter
Let it break ’cause you and I remain the same
When there ain’t a crack in the foundation
Baby, I know any storm we’re facing
Will blow right over while we stay put
The house don’t fall when the bones are good”

.

– quoted from the song “The Bones” by Maren Morris

Unless something goes wrong, our bones are something we very rarely talk about. Sure, when I taught Yin Yoga on a regular basis, my quick-and-dirty explanation for the different engagement was that in vinyasa and other weight-bearing exercises, we are typically squeezing our muscle and skin into the bones, while with Yin Yoga (and Restorative) we want the muscle and skin to melt away from the bones. However, that’s not even completely accurate. While we do squeeze the muscle (and the skin) into the bones in order to move the bones, once we are holding a pose, proper alignment can give us an opportunity to relax some of the muscle and skin. Also, I’ve done some special events where I talk about “Dem Bones” – referencing the way our bones are connected and the song (which, by the way, is virtually impossible to add to a playlist) but, even then, I wasn’t talking about bone health. All that changed today; because today (October 20th) was World Osteoporosis Day.

Originally conceived in 1996, by the United Kingdom’s Osteoporosis Society (and supported by the European Commission), World Osteoporosis Day has been organized by the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) since 1997, and recognized by the World Health Organization since 1998. It is a day dedicated to “raising global awareness of the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis and metabolic bone disease.” This year’s theme is “Serve Up Bone Strength” and there will be a year-long campaign centered around taking care of and protecting the muscles and bones. Of course, the campaign centers around education and awareness about the importance of bone health and what we can do at any age or ability to promote it.

“Those who practice yoga say it is life changing. Those of us who are as flexible as a piece of lumbar are not so sure. I admire yoga’s rich history, more than five thousand years old, but I run into a few mental roadblocks in understanding concepts like grounding and spinal energy. In fact, I was sitting in my slumped-over and crooked version of the lotus position during a special yoga class taught by Bruce’s mentor Matthew Sanford, when Matthew said to a student, ‘Breathe into your spine for God’s sake!’ I had no idea what that meant. The student understood though, and he made proper adjustments. What was remarkable was that both teacher and student were in wheelchairs.

.

– quoted from “24. Dis Ease Yoga” in When Know How This Ends: Living while Dying by Bruce H. Kramer with Cathy Wurzer

The word “osteoporosis” comes from Greek words meaning “bone” and “passage” or “pore.” The condition causes bones to weaken form the inside out and become so fragile that the simplest things can can cause the bones to break or fracture. By “the simplest things,” I mean that someone with osteoporosis can suffer a break or a fracture when they sneeze, make a sudden movement, bump up against something, and/or experience a a minor fall or stumble. Sure, we may think about someone breaking a bone when they have a major fall; but, if your bones are brittle, even stubbing your toe on something and then catching yourself before you tumble to the ground can result in a severe injure. Keep in mind, also, that a minor fracture when you have healthy bones may or may not be a big deal. However, osteoporosis-related fractures can be life-threatening and are a major cause of pain and long-term disability.

According to the World Osteoporosis Day website, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men, age 50 years or older, will suffer an osteoporotic fracture. That works out to millions and millions of people many of whom will not seek treatment. Additionally, statistics indicate that only about 20% of people with osteoporotic fractures are actually treated for osteoporosis. That translates into millions of people who may have a fracture or a break treated, but remain at high risk for more fractures and more breaks and that can translate into a major drain on the healthcare system.

The older we get, the more likely we are to fall and there is sometimes a tendency to handle our bones with care. But, sometimes we go to far in our efforts to protect ourselves and actually create more risk. The human body is designed to move and to stay mobile. Consider the fact that even when we are not moving on the outside, there are lots of things inside of us that are in constant motion. For example, the spine reacts to breathing unless something gets in the way. There’s a micro-extension when we inhale and a little bit of flexion when we exhale. This little bit of movement is one of the ways the spine stays healthy and balanced and one of the ways it supports us and our nervous system. Take away that little bit of movement and we’ve got some problems.

“Jo and I discovered that alignment and precision increase mind-body integration regardless of paralysis. The mind is not strictly confined to a neurophysiological connection with the body. If I listen inwardly to my whole experience (both my mind’s and my body’s), my mind can feel my legs.

.

This is one of those truths that is easy to pass by, like the existence of dinosaurs. But in fact, it should dumbfound us – that, on some level, something as simple as the more precise distribution of gravity can transcend the limits set by a dysfunctional spinal cord. When I move from a slumped position to a more aligned one, my mind becomes more present in my thighs and feet. This happens despite my paralysis. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to a different level of presence, to realizing that the silence within my paralysis is not loss. In fact, it is both awake and alive.”

.

– quoted from “14. Maha Mudra” in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

A few years ago, one of my yoga-buddies, Sister Karen, forwarded me an article about studies showing that some asanas and some styles of yoga are good for bone health. Since she and some of the other people in her community are of an age where they are thinking about their bone-density, she wanted to know what I would recommend. As it turned out, the article mentioned poses that we do in almost every vinyasa practice. In fact, a typical vinyasa practice is a weight-bearing practice. Like walking, another great weight-bearing exercise for the bones, it usually includes a little balance even when you don’t realize you’re balancing.

Remember, whenever you take a step, there is a moment when you are balancing on one foot. We may not think very much of it when we are in the prime of our lives; however, being able to stand on one foot (and then hop on one foot) is an important marker in child development. A toddler has to be able to stand on one foot in order to…well, toddle. By age 5 or 6, a neurotypical child should be able to balance on one foot for about 10 seconds; jump up and land with both feet; jump over an object that is 10 inches high; hop on one foot for about 20 feet (or more); and skip. Keep in mind “normal” falls on a spectrum when it comes to child development there’s no hard-and-fast timeline in terms of when a child goes from balancing on one foot for 4 seconds to balancing on one foot for 20 seconds (which is a marker for someone who is 7 years old). Similarly, some kids will walk on their tiptoes long enough for it to be recognized as a balancing marker, while others will not be super invested in that experience.

The body’s ability to balance is based on continuous communication and coordination between the brain, the inner ear, eyes, muscles, and joints. These parts of our overall system, and the communication between them, make up our proprioception and vestibular systems. Proprioception is how the brain uses the muscle and joints to find the body in space. The vestibular system sometimes called the balance center combines that awareness of the body’s position (in reference to the elements around it) with information about speed of motion (acceleration and deceleration) that is transmitted through the inner ear and eyes. This speed of motion information is largely based on the position of the head. Change one element and we wobble, maybe even fall.

“And I’m free, free fallin’
Yeah I’m free, free fallin'”

.

– quoted from the song “Free Fallin'” by Tom Petty (b. 10/20/1950)

The IOF recommends the following five tips or steps to healthy bones and a fracture-free future:

  • EXERCISE: Exercise regularly to keep your bones and muscles moving. For bone health, focus on weight-bearing, muscle-strengthening, and balance-training exercises.
  • NUTRITION: Ensure your diet is rich in bone-healthy nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and protein. You can combine these first two elements by talking a walk (or run) outside in order to absorb a little vitamin D through safe exposure to the sun.
  • LIFESTYLE: Avoid negative lifestyle habits by maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding smoking and excessive amounts of alcohol.
  • RISK FACTORS: Some bone issues are genetic; so, make sure you know your family history and talk to your health care practitioner about any old fractures or bone pain. Also, talk to your health care provider about any medication that might affect your bone health.
  • TESTING & TREATMENT: One of the big activities around World Osteoporosis Day is bone-strength testing for people 40 years or older and people in other high risk groups. Lifestyle changes and/or medication can help protect your bones. Furthermore, the earlier osteoporosis is detected, the effectively it can be treated.

Remember, in American English “bad” has two meanings. Take a moment to consider what you can do so that you are “bad to the bone” in a way that is “even better than good,” rather than in a way that means your bones are “horrible” or “of quality.”

“I’m here to tell ya honey
That I’m bad to the bone
Bad to the bone
B-B-B-B-Bad
B-B-B-Bad
B-B-B-Bad
(Hoo) bad to the bone”

.

– quoted from the song “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & The Destroyers

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

20211021_002302

“‘Cause these dry-dry bones gonna rise up, gonna rise up

Gonna rise up, gonna rise up
Gonna rise up, gonna rise up
Gonna rise up

.

Take my hand let it set you free
Keep working on your destiny
There’s healing in the air, get touched
Can you feel it ’cause the message is love”

.

– quoted from the song “Dry Bones” by Gregory Porter

.

Have your voted for the Carry app today?

.

.

### … thigh bones connected to the hip bones (and hips don’t lie) … ###

Generally Coming Together (the “missing” Tuesday post) September 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Shemini Atzeret / Simchat Torah, Sukkot, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

Chag sameach!” to those celebrating Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, September 28th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Another classic definition of yoga is ‘to be one with the divine.’ It does not matter what name we use for the divine – God, Allah, Īśvara, or whatever – anything that brings us closer to understanding that there is a power higher and greater than ourselves is yoga. When we feel in harmony with that higher power, that too is yoga.”

 

– quoted from “1 – Yoga: Concept and Meaning” in The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar

If you take even the most rudimentary survey course on the Yoga Philosophy, you will learn that the Sanskrit word yoga means “union” (and you will probably learn that it comes from the root word for “to yoke”). Go a little deeper, however, and you will find a lot of different classical (as well as modern) interpretations of the word, including the idea that it is “to come together” or “to unite.” In our physical practice of yoga, hatha yoga, there is often an emphasis on bringing the mind, body, and spirit together. The reality, however, is that there is already a mind-body-spirit connection. The practice is simply a way to recognize and reinforce the connection. And, just as we are individually connected in a variety of ways, we are collectively connected – we just need a way to recognize and reinforce those connections.

Dr. David DeSteno has a Ph.D. in psychology from Yale University and is currently a professor of psychology at Northeastern University, where he directs the Social Emotions Group – a psychology lab that focuses on “ways to improve the human condition.” To be clear, the lab is not focused on technological hardware but on social behavior. As his bio states: “At the broadest level, his work examines the mechanisms of the mind that shape vice and virtue. Studying hypocrisy and compassion, pride and punishment, cheating and trust, his work continually reveals that human moral behavior is much more variable than most would predict.”

Recently, I came across a Wired article that was adapted from his book How God Works: The Science Behind the Benefits of Religion, in which he points out that in many areas of his (20 years worth of) research, psychologists and neuroscientists are simply (re)codifying systems that have existed for thousands of years in religions all over the world. The overlapping points –where east meets west; where ritual and tradition meet science and the scientific method; where faith meets reason – always fascinate me and also make me chuckle. I chuckle at the hubris that Dr. DeSteno identifies within himself (and other scientists), which relegates ritual and tradition to superstition and myth – forgetting that every old wives’ tale or story from the old country was a way for ancient civilizations to understand the university, just as “science” is the way the modern world understands the university. That same element of hubris is also why sometimes modern scientists forget that they don’t know everything.

At the same time, I am fascinated by the connection between faith and reason and by the way we human beings (sometimes) trust certain things when we experience them directly; trust things for which we have no other explanation than that it is; and at other times can only trust something that has been “scientifically proven.” In this case, “scientifically proven” means that it is quantified and also that the cause and effect can be duplicated. Of course, this makes me laugh, sardonically, because thousands of years of “evidence” is often thrown out as “anecdotal” because of who experienced it and how it was originally documented.

“But if we remove the theology—views about the nature of God, the creation of the universe, and the like—from the day-to-day practice of religious faith, the animosity in the debate evaporates. What we’re left with is a series of rituals, customs, and sentiments that are themselves the results of experiments of sorts. Over thousands of years, these experiments, carried out in the messy thick of life as opposed to sterile labs, have led to the design of what we might call spiritual technologies—tools and processes meant to sooth, move, convince, or otherwise tweak the mind. And studying these technologies has revealed that certain parts of religious practices, even when removed from a spiritual context, are able to influence people’s minds in the measurable ways psychologists often seek.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Throughout the year I reference a lot of different rituals, customs, and traditions from a variety of different cultures, religions, and philosophies. I do this because I firmly believe that we human beings have more commonalities than differences. Some of those commonalities involve the ways in which we come together as spiritual communities and the power of those get-togethers. As I have mentioned before, there are certain times of year – often around the changing of the seasons – when everyone and their brother seems to be getting together for some communal ritual. These times are powerful in that they are steeped in faith; however, when you look at the Jewish community around this time of year, it becomes obvious that the power is in the faith as well as in the coming together – the yoga, as it were – of the community.

For instance, there are some devout Jews who will begin preparing for the New Year 40 days before Yom Kippur. Then there are people who only come to services during the High Holidays, the “Ten Days of Awe / Ten Days of Atonement.” This latter group includes people who identify as culturally and/or ethnically Jewish. Then, just a few days later, people celebrate Sukkot – and now the coming together includes, according to the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament, people who are not Jewish in any way, shape, or form. Power is increasing, as is knowledge – which is also power.

“The Talmud tells us that one of the things that is in constant need of “bolstering” and improvement is Torah study. Thus, we say “Chazak” to strengthen ourselves in Torah study.

 

It’s crucial to review the Torah we’ve learned so as not to forget it. This is why, after finishing a portion of the Talmud, we say “Hadran alach,” “I will return to you.” Similarly, when we finish a book of Torah, we say “Chazak,” in other words, “We should have the strength to review what we learned.”

 

Likewise, when a person does a mitzvah, we say “Yasher koach” (“More power to you”), meaning, “Just as you did this mitzvah, may it be G‑d’s will that you do many more mitzvahs!”

 

– quoted from “Why Say ‘Chazak’ Afer Finishing a Book of Torah?” by Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin (posted on  chabad.org)

When I explain Sukkot to my yoga community, I specifically mention that it takes place over seven days (as explicitly stated in Devarim – Deuteronomy 16:15) and is celebrated over eight days in the diaspora. The extra day is actually “a second day festival” which, when observed, applies to all major holidays. For the Jewish diaspora (i.e., the community residing outside of Israel), a “second festival day” was established about 2,000 years ago to reconcile the fact that a new month started with the sighting of the new moon at the Temple in Jerusalem and then that sighting had to be communicated to the world at large. In addition to building in travel time (since this was before telecommunication and the internet), religious leaders took into account the fact that messengers may not arrive (in an appropriate period of time or at all). People within the Orthodox and Conservative Jewish communities are primarily the only people within the diaspora who still observe this second day, but the timeline can get a little confusing when holidays overlap.

 

While I often reference the extra day when it comes to Sukkot, I haven’t always mentioned that for some (excluding the diaspora) the eighth day is its own separate celebration: Shemini Atzeret, literally “The Eighth [day] of Assembly.” Furthermore, this eighth day has its own rituals, traditions, and prayers – specifically, the prayer for rain and the prayer to remember departed souls. Traditionally, this is NOT a celebration for “[all] who live within your city.” It is immediately followed by Simchat Torah (or, for some, the second day of Shemini Atzeret), which is a celebration of an ending that is also a beginning.

As prescribed by the Talmud, the Torah – which consists of the “Five Books of Moses” – is read publicly over the course of the year and traditionally people are not meant to go more than three days without reading the Torah. The five books are divided up into 54 portions, known as Parshah (or Sidra), which are read weekly and accompanied by special blessings. Each week a special group of people are selected to read the designated portion during services. There are times when two portions are combined. The most notably combination occurs when the end of Devarim – Deuteronomy (33:1 – 34:12), known as V’Zot HaBerachach Parshah, is immediately followed by the reading of the first chapter of Bereishit – Genesis. This double reading occurs on Simchat Torah (or the second day of Shemini Atzeret). Simchat Torah literally means “Rejoicing with/of the Torah” and services are traditionally filled with singing, spontaneous dancing, and more gratitude… which is more power.

“Gratitude, for instance, is something we had studied closely, and a key element of many religious practices. Christians often say grace before a meal; Jews give thanks to God with the Modeh Ani prayer every day upon awakening. When we studied the act of giving thanks, even in a secular context, we found it made people more virtuous…. We’ve also found that when feeling gratitude to a person, to fate, or to God, people become more helpful, more generous, and even more patient.”

 

– quoted from the (09/14/2021) Wired article entitled, “Psychologists Are Learning What Religion Has Known for Years: Social scientists are researching what humans can do to improve their quality of life. Their findings echo what religious practices perfected centuries ago.” by David DeSteno

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “06162020 Abe’s House & Soweto”]

 

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

 

– Mother Teresa

 

If you are interested in more information about the work of Dr. David DeSteno, click here to check out the Wired article referenced above.

 

### Peace, Strength, Courage, Wisdom, Love, Kindness, Compassion, Joy, YOGA ###

 

 

Pace Yourself (the “missing” Sunday post) September 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Dharma, Fitness, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Poetry, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Chag sameach!” to those observing the High Holidays. “Many blessings,” to everyone and especially those celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi!

[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, September 12th, which featured poses for runner’s (or walkers… or people who sit a lot). You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

“Start with a dream. Chase after it. Run with it. Hold FAST to Your Dreams. (Your dream is worth chasing.)”

 

– A little inspiration from Run Like Rel

The old Downtown Minneapolis YMCA was always full of people working to maximize their time. Some thought about how they could spend their time and, always seeming to come up short, the ultimately sacrificed what they wanted to do for themselves or what they could do for others. Then there were people who really inspired me, in part because they figured out ways to help others while they did what they loved. Some of those inspirational people were people who run, like Chris Scotch and Deb B, who found established organizations (and people) who could benefit from their running. Also on my inspirational leader board: twin sisters Jessica and Ariel Kendall.

To be honest, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the twins apart in the beginning except for the fact that one came to yoga regularly and one loved to run. They both were interested in inspiring kids and helping kids bridge achievement gaps while developing confidence and leadership skills. The runner, “Rel” had an idea – a dream, really – that they could help others through running. So, she started a blog, created some coaching and mentoring opportunities, and partnered with some already established corporations, races, and non-profits. Then off she went, running – on and off the trails. Things look really different today than they did in five, going on six, years ago, but the sisters are still encouraging young people to “Run like Rel.” There are several lessons in that little story; lessons you can run with; lessons about how life is more like a marathon than a sprint.

Speaking of marathons…

The Battle of Marathon was notable for a number of reasons. It marked the end of King Darius I of Persia’s attempt to invade Greece and allowed classical Greek civilization to be firmly established. Although Darius the Great’s son, Xerxes I, would be more successful than his father, the battle in 490 BCE was a turning point in history that lead to the beginning of “Western Civilization” as we know it. One might even argue that the modern concept of democracy might be very different were it not for the Battle of Marathon.

Ancient Greece was made up of city-states or “polis” consisting of an urban area protected by walls and/or geographic barriers and a high point or “acropolis” (city-top) which contained the religious and municipal buildings. At one point there were thousands of city-states, including Corinth (Kórinthos), Thebes (Thíva), Syracuse (Siracusa), Aegina (Égina), Rhodes (Ródos), Árgos, Erétria, and Elis. Each one had its own form of government and culture. For example, Sparta (Spárti) had two hereditary kings with equal power and a “council of elders,” plus a strong army.  Athens (Athína), on the other hand, operated under a form of democracy whereby all adult male citizens (living within the city walls) had an assembly in order to a vote. While each city-state had its own governing philosophy and would sometimes battle against one another, they were invested in this socio-political structure and would, therefore, fight together against tyrannical powers like the kings of ancient Persia.

King Darius was particularly angry when citizens of Athens (Athína) and Erétria came together in 498 BCE to support the Ionian Revolt (499 to 493 BCE). But, once his forces regrouped and squashed the revolt, he set his eyes on the Greek city-states. He eventually destroyed ancient Erétria, but – despite outnumbering the Athenians (and the thousand or so Plataeans that joined them) by over two to one – his army was once again thwarted.

“He cometh from the purple hills,
Where the fight has been to-day;
He bears the standard in his hand—
Shout round the victor’s way.
The sun-set of a battle won,
Is round his steps from Marathon.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Eucles Announcing the Victory of Marathon.” by L. E. L. (Letitia Elizabeth Landon)

The Battle of Marathon makes for a good story. It’s one of those inspiring stories of the underdogs prevailing and it’s one of the stories that bolstered the ancient Greeks morale. In fact, the story of how the Athenians, with the assistance of a relatively small group of Plataeans, conquered the enormous Persian army is also notable because it is one of the earliest recorded battles. There are, however, some discrepancies in what’s recorded. For instance, depending on who you ask (and how they track time), the Battle of Marathon either happened on August 12th or it happened today, on September 12th, 490 BEC. Then there’s the story of an Athenian who either saw a Persian ship turn in the direction of Athens and ran for miles in order to make sure the city’s defenses were raised or was sent from Athens to Sparta to ask for reinforcements and then ran back to let the assembly know that the Spartans were in the middle of a religious festival and would not be joining the battle. Then there’s the fact that no one can agree on said hero’s name: was it Pheidippides or was it Philippides? Or, wait; was it Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles?

For the record, Herodotus (“The Father of History”) – who was born shortly after the war and in an area ruled by Persia – wrote about a professional messenger named Pheidippides or Philippides who ran from Athens to Sparta and then back again. Said messenger would have run 240 kilometers (150 miles) each way – which today would be considered an (ultra) ultra-marathon. Herodotus made no mention of a messenger running from Marathon to Athens. Instead, he wrote about the messenger’s encounter with Pan – which fed into the idea that the Athenians won because Pan caused panic in the hearts and minds of the Persian military and also explained the relatively ornate shrine to Pan under the Acropolis. Herodotus concluded that the Athenians quick marched back home to prevent a coastal attack – which makes sense since the Greeks were outnumbered ten to one by the Persian navy, which was basically just guarding their ships.

The story of someone running from Marathon to Athens appeared around the 1st century AD in an essay by Plutarch that referenced an earlier work that would have appeared about a hundred years after the time of Herodotus. This was serious commentary, however, around the 2nd century AD, Lucian of Samasota wrote a satirical piece about the same story. Only the messenger’s name was different: in the earlier works he was Thersipus of Erchius or Eucles; in Lucian’s satire he was back to Philippides. Regardless of his name, this particular messenger would have somehow had to run around Mount Pentelicus (also known as Mount Pentelikon). The longer of the two routes would have been approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) and would have taken him up some foothills before a final descent into Athens. The other route, of 35 kilometers (22 miles), was shorter, but would have included a steep climb (of over 5 kilometers or 3.1 miles) right at the beginning.

phidippides

The runner announcing victory with his last breath has been the inspiration for a lot of art, including an 1834 sculpture by Jean-Pierre Cortot (entitled “The Soldier of Marathon announcing the Victory”) and a painting by Benjamin Haydon, which was published as an engraving by S. Sangster in 1836. The engraving and the accompanying poem by Letitia Elizabeth Landon (L. E. L.) referred to the messenger as Eucles. However, when Luc-Olivier Merson painted the messenger in 1869 – in what I consider a halfway decent, one-armed variation of “Cobra Pose” – he is back to being “The Soldier of Marathon.” Ten years later, in 1879, Robert Browning wrote the (relatively short) poem “Pheidippides” and not only changed the name of the runner, but also his path (alas, he did not change the hero’s ultimate demise). According to Browning, Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta to Athens, then ran to Marathon and then back to Athens. For anyone keeping count: that would be about 550 – 560 kilometers (344.2 – 350 miles) in a matter of days.

As astounding and impossible as those distances might seem, the more modern accounts depicted the messenger as a professional runner – someone who had trained to run distances – and became an inspiration for the organizers of the first Olympic Games. From 1896 until 1920, the Olympics hosted a race that was approximately 40-kilometer (25-mile). In 1921, the “marathon” was standardized as 42.195 kilometers (or 26 miles, 385 yards).

Today there are over 800 marathons held around the world, many of which have wheelchair divisions, and millions of people training to go the distance. There are couch-to-marathon training programs designed to prepare people in 12 weeks or 24 weeks. There are even “Zombie” training programs, because (let’s be real) if being chased by brain-eating Zombies won’t get you running then nothing will. One big lesson from these training programs is that every day can get you closer to your goal – even the rest day – and that’s one of the key elements to pacing yourself.

“—at least I can breathe,
Fear in thee no fraud from the blind, no lie from the mute!

 

Such my cry as, rapid, I ran over Parnes’ ridge;
Gully and gap I clambered and cleared till, sudden, a bar
Jutted, a stoppage of stone against me, blocking the way.
Right! for I minded the hollow to traverse, the fissure across:
‘Where I could enter, there I depart by! Night in the fosse?;
Athens to aid? Tho’ the dive were thro’ Erebos, deg. thus I obey–
Out of the day dive, into the day as bravely arise! No bridge
Better!’–when–ha! what was it I came on, of wonders that are?”

 

– quoted from the poem “Pheidippides” by Robert Browning

If you’ve run a little or a lot, you know it’s important to pace yourself – and the key elements to pacing yourself as you run can also be important elements to pacing yourself on and off the mat. As people within the Jewish community head into the last five days of the High Holidays, which are part of the preparation for this New Year, I thought I’d offer some tips on pacing yourself. The first list is inspired by runners and the idea of preparing for a marathon. The second list (further down) is a method of self-care called P.A.C.E.

  1. Take it day by day. One of the lessons we can take from Pheidippides (or Philippides, or Thersipus of Erchius, or Eucles) is that we are only guaranteed this present moment. So, consider how you want to spend the time you’ve been given. Remember, every breath you take is the beginning of a new moment, a new day, a new week, a new month, a new year. How do you want to spend your time? Also, with whom do you want to spend your time? Finally, how does your time (and how you use it) serve you and the people around you?
  2. Keep breathing. In a vinyāsa practice, where we move as we practice, our pace is set by the breath. Breathing is also critical in a foot race (of any duration). So, you have to figure out a way to keep breathing in different positions. Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras tells us that the “secret” to breathing deeply is a steady and stable, easy and comfortable – even joyful – foundation. Throughout most of our practice, we are on our feet; so, it’s good to check in with how your feet feel. (This is also a reminder to all runners and potential runners: If your feet/shoes don’t feel steady and stable, easy and comfortable – maybe even joyful – before you get moving, you might be headed towards an injury or some plantar fasciitis.)
  3. Keep your goal in mind and keep moving step by step. If you are anything like me, once you envision a possibility and decide where you want to go in life, you want things to hurry up and happen. You may not mind the work, you may even enjoy it, but you can still be impatient – and that’s when it’s important to remember why you’re doing what you’re doing and that every step counts just like every day matters. When thinking about your “goal” consider if you’re all about the journey or if you’re in it for the destination. One caveat, however, is to not focus so much on the medal or physical prize you may receive in the end. Think, instead, about how the goal serves you (how it brings you peace, balance, maybe even joy) and how it will feel to accomplish your goal. Finally, map out your steps!
  4. There’s a mountain, there’s always a mountain. It doesn’t matter which version of the story you use, the runner always has to get around the mountain (and it’s a forest filled mountain). The mountain is a reminder that every one of us is going to run into an obstacle at some point in our journey. Like the Athenian, there are some “mountains” we know are coming (when we map out our steps) and, therefore, we can consider different paths. One obvious obstacle, on and off the mat, is that we’re going to get tired and run out of steam. Another is that you could injure or strain something. What’s your plan for those possibilities? How do you encourage yourself to keep going? Who else encourages you and cheers you on?

The stoic Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that the obstacle is the way. So, if you are prepared to dig down deep inside of yourself in order to get around (or over) the obstacles you know are coming, then you can also dig down deep when you run into the obstacle you didn’t expect.

  1. Stay positive and keep breathing (again), even if you have to let something go. In truth, there are a lot of other tips that runner’s use when training and when racing, but a positive attitude is always helpful and I keep coming back to the breath because it is one of our primary sources of fuel. We can’t get where we are going if we’re not breathing. Also, poor breathing can cause the body to tighten up and not function properly. So, if you want to stay loose and keep moving, you have to keep breathing. Finally, many of the stories (and pictures) of the “Marathon runner” indicate that he dropped all of his belongings so that he could run faster. Take a moment to consider what’s weighing you down and holding you back. Take a moment to consider that there’s a fine balance between a healthy ego that helps you get things done and an overblown (or defeated) ego that becomes yet another obstacle.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāṇāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

  1. Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.
  1. Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)
  1. Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?
  1. Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

“‘Remember to enjoy it’ says [running coach Tom] Craggs, ‘sometimes take the headphones out, suck the crowd in, when you get to those last few miles dedicate each one to someone important in your life. You’ll bring it home and have a fantastic race.’”

 

–  quoted from the Runner’s World article entitled “Last-minute pacing tips for your best half-marathon: You’ve put in all the hard work in training, but here’s how to make sure you stick to race pace.” by Jane McGuire

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 
 

### Born to Run, or Walk, or Roll (or Rock and Roll) ###

Just a note… August 15, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Music, One Hoop, Poetry, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

As previously announced, I cancelled today’s class and will “re-zoom” the regular schedule tomorrow. If you are on my Sunday mailing list I sent you a previously recorded practice. If you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing!

“We count the broken lyres that rest
Where the sweet wailing singers slumber,
But o’er their silent sister’s breast
The wild-flowers who will stoop to number?
A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:—
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!”

— quoted from the poem “The Voiceless” by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. (b. 08/29/1809)

A couple of days ago, a friend was laughing as they told me about the scene playing out in front of them: people in a boat enjoying the feeling of having the wind at their back, without any thought to the effort their return trip would require (when they would be heading into the wind). A year ago today, I posted a bit of philosophy related to being caught in an eddy and I am struck by the synchronicity: It seems we are always in the middle of something and, since we can’t go back (not really, not truly), we must find a way to move forward. Of course, progress requires effort.

There are a lot of people, myself included sometimes, who get so caught up in the pros and cons (not to mention the worst case scenarios and hypotheticals) that we don’t ever leave the dock. We become like “the voiceless” in the poem, who go to our graves “with their music still in them. Too often it is because they are always getting ready to live. Before they know it time runs out.” I think that group also includes those who spend a lot of time thinking about what they woulda-coulda-shoulda done if they knew what they knew now. Then there are those who rush heedlessly and needlessly into dangerous waters without giving a care to the safety and well-being of themselves or the rest of their crew. They consider that really living!

There’s a possibility that Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. thought his son (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.) fell into this latter category when he left his senior year at Harvard University in order to enlist in the Union Army – and maybe he was. Personal politics and bad science aside, however, the story of father and son (as well as the weird, complicated story of their political, religious, and scientific beliefs) points to a third possibility: There are sailors who diligently gauge the conditions; dip a toe in the water; and make sure they are always prepared for what’s to come. To be like those sailors, we must prepare to win, even when the odds (and conditions) are stacked against us. 

“Wendell,” as some called Junior, survived the Civil War (despite seeing his cousin fall on the Confederate side and despite several near fatal experiences); possibly saved a sitting president; and went on to become Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and a much lauded Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). Despite his personal politics and bad science, he is one of the most-cited legal scholars and one can argue that our society is better off today because of his efforts. The fact that I (and possibly you) find some of his views absolutely abhorrent doesn’t change the fact that lawyers will continue to build on his precedents in order to establish a more perfect – and progressive – union. And, I’m not convinced he would have been bothered by that.

Bottom line: We don’t have to agree with anything he did and/or thought, but what we cannot argue is that he showed up when he could, prepared to do what he thought he could, and then he did it. That’s the lesson of the third category.

“Viewing life as a race or a contest – an occasion for functioning and nothing more – was a basic Holmesian theme. When Yale awarded Homes an honorary degree in 1886, he responded: ‘I never heard anyone profess indifference to a boat race. Why should you row a boat race? Why endure long months of pain in preparation for a fierce half-hour that will leave you all but dead? Does anyone ask the question? [Is there anyone who would not go through all it costs, and more, for the moment when anguish breaks into triumph – or even for the glory of having nobly lost?] . . . Is life less than a boat race?'”

“For Holmes, life was a horse race, a boat race, a trek to the North pole, a plunge over Niagara Falls, a duel with swords, and a neck-risking game of polo. It might even be a game of cards. ‘Why do I desire to win my game of solitaire? A foolish question, to which the only answer is that you are up against it. Accept the inevitable and do your damnedest.'”

– quoted from “Chapter Two, A Power-Focused Philosophy: A Noble Nihilism” (pages 21 and 23) of Law Without Values: The Life, Work and Legacy of Justice Holmes by Albert W. Alschuler

This is the second year in a row that I have needed to cancel class today, August the 15th – although for very different reasons. As stated above, if you planned to practice today, be fearless and play! Sing! See what happens. If you are on my Sunday mailing list, I sent you a previously recorded practice that you can use during the time you have set aside – or during another convenient time. Feel free to email me or comment below if you want the recording and/or to be added to the Sunday list.

Sunday’s playlist (for the substitute practice) is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04252020 Ella’s Shy & Fearless Day”]

Previous blog posts related to today’s practice are linked above.

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

### Om Lila Aum ###

The Practice of Observing Where You Are (and keeping notes) August 10, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The following was originally posted August 10, 2020. I’ve added some links and class details have been updated.

“Every man is a valuable member of society, who by his observations, researches, and experiments, procures knowledge for men.”

 

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Insight, which can be viewed as “seeing something in a special way,” can be cultivated through observation. If you think about it in this way, then any knowledge and insight you can for yourself can also be useful to others. This is true when we observe anything in the world – including ourselves.

So, pick something. It could be your breath, it could be a certain way you’re feeling, it could be a sensation in or on your body, it could be a thought (or a series of thoughts) playing around your head, but pick one thing and then observe it. Observe it as you do “that 90-second thing.” Observe it as you walk on your way or move through your practice. Notice how things shift and change.

Of course, just the fact that you are bringing awareness to the something changes it and changes the way you move in relation to it. What if, however, you bring your awareness to your center? What if you observe how you move in relation to your center and then after a pose or a sequence of poses, you pause and observe the “something” that you picked at the beginning? This becomes a practice about cause and effect, and also a practice about orientation. The only question is: Where’s your center?

When you consider moving from you center, you have several from which you can choose. You can pick your physical center (top to bottom) which is your solar plexus, or your left to right physical center which is your spinal column. Alternately you could pick one of your energetic centers: heart chakra or the center axis defined in various traditions (which essentially corresponds to the area of your spine). Here we are consciously choosing a navigation point, but consider that even when we don’t consciously choose a center for observation or movement, these centers still serve as guiding points, constant lines of reference. When you pick one as your focus it becomes prime – and, just like a cornerstone, it gives you direction.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

The cornerstone for the Royal Observatory, Greenwich was laid today (August 10th) in 1675. It is the home of Greenwich Mean Time (0:00:00) and the Prime Meridian Line which is the primary constant running East and West and the globe. King Charles II established the observatory as well as the position of the Astronomer Royal who the king declared was “to apply himself with the most exact care and diligence to the rectifying of the tables of the motions of the heavens, and the places of the fixed stars, so as to find out the so much desired longitude of places for the perfecting of the art of navigation.”

The observatory has been used throughout its history as a basis for the measurement of timekeeping and mapping. At one time, the Prime Meridian was marked by a metal strip (of various materials), but has been marked with a green laser shining north across London since December 16, 1999. The first Astronomer Royal was John Flamsteed, whose observations and calculations where communicated to scientists like Sir Isaac Newton. Newton actually used comet observations and calculations of Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (who succeeded Flamsteed as Royal Astronomer) in order to prove certain theories in Newton’s Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Although we may think of the Prime Meridian as 0⁰ 00’00, it is actually slightly East of center (0⁰ 00’00.417), which requires an adjustment on other lines of navigation in order to provide accurate geographical coordination. Discrepancies aside, even the original line would have been incredibly helpful to Ferdinand Magellan, who set sail today (August 10th) in 1519, with the intention of circumnavigating the globe. Magellan named the Pacific Ocean “peaceful sea” – even though it wasn’t peaceful or a sea – and the Strait of Magellan is named for him, as he used it to sail from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. After three years, a mutiny, a ship wreck, a ship defection, and a change of course for one ship, one of Magellan’s original ships completed the journey around the world. That ship, the Victoria, contained 18 of the original 270 seamen. Magellan, however, was not included in that number who completed the journey.  He was killed in the Philippines (by a poisoned arrow) after involving himself in an indigenous land dispute.

“The profession of astronomy is limited for men, and must necessarily, under the most favourable circumstances, be still more so for women. At the present time there are less than half a dozen women in England who are following astronomy as a profession, and it is improbable that there will ever be employment for more than twenty, either at Greenwich or elsewhere.”

 

– Isabella Jane Clemes, one of four “Lady Computers” who started working at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890*

As you are navigating through your practice, you have the opportunity to explore your body and mind, as well as keep a catalog of all you encounter. In this way, your body and mind are like the Smithsonian Institution, which houses an observatory, 4 research centers, a publishing house, a national library, 16 museums, and the National Zoo. It is the largest museum, education, and research complex and it was established legislation the United States Congress passed today (August 10th) in 1846.

James Smithson was a British scientist who spent his life traveling and gathering information. He never married and indicated that if his nephew and heir died childless then Smithson’s estate should be used to establish an institution for “the increase and diffusion of knowledge.”

At the Smithsonian, you can find thousands of items related to nautical and astronomical observation, time keeping, and Magellan – including a number of navigation devices named for Magellan. Consider, for a moment, what you will find when you explore your own mind-body. Consider, also, how what you find increases your knowledge about yourself (and maybe the world).

“… it is in knowledge that man has found his greatness and his happiness, the high superiority which he holds over the other animals who inherit the earth with him, and, consequently, no ignorance is probably without loss to him, no error without evil, and that it is therefore preferable to urge unwarranted doubts, which can only occasion additional light to become elicited, then to risk by silence letting a question settle to fest, while any unsupported assumptions are involved in it.”

 

– James Smithson (quoted from his notebook)

Please join me today (Tuesday, August 10th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “04192020 Noticing Things”]

NOTE: This is a 2-for-1 playlist. You can start with Track #1 or Track #14.

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

 

*NOTE: Isabella Jane Clemes, Alice Everett, Edith Mary Rix, and Harriet Maud Furniss all started working as “Lady Computers” at the Royal Observatory on April 14, 1890. They were joined by Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) and others in 1891. According to a study published in 2010, 667 women attended  the International Astronomical Union (IAU)’s General Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in August 2009 – indicating that worldwide there were well over fifty-five times as many women in astronomy than Clemes ever imagined.

 
 

### WHERE IN THE WORLD ARE YOU? ###

Using the “hook” to get unhooked (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[This is a “missing” post for Tuesday, July 20th. You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“You’re the only one knows me
And who doesn’t ignore
That my soul is weeping

 

I know I know I know
Part of me says let it go
Everything must have it seasons
Round and round it goes
And every day’s a one before
But this time this time

 

I’m gonna try anything that just feels better”

 

– quoted from the song “Just Feel Better” by Santana, featuring Steven Tyler

In my last “missing” post, I rifted on vedanā (“feeling,” “sensation,” “vibration”) – especially as it relates to music – for a variety of different reasons. First, “there’s a message in the music” and music is a great way to tell a story. Looking at South African President Nelson Mandela’s story through a musical lens, gives additional insight into the person who inspired so many people around the world. It gives insight into how a man burdened with so much found a way to “just feel better” than his circumstances and to keep moving/pushing forward. Additionally, putting ourselves in his shoes (or the shoes of someone like Emile Zola or Captain Alfred Dreyfus) is an opportunity for svādyāya (“self-study”).

The second reason is that I’ve always loved music and, even before I started practicing yoga and meditation, I had some understanding of the power of music on a physical-mental-emotional level. I have used music to get myself motivated, to shake myself out of funk, to stay focused, and even to settle into (and even savor) a particular kind of mood. So, I’ve always been fascinated by research into the benefits of music. Finally, I love a good “hook” and have found (as a teacher), that music can be a good tool to getting unhooked.

In musical terminology, a “hook” is a musical phrase that grabs the audience on every level – mind, body, and spirit. Sometimes it’s the lyrics (like “Free Nelson Mandela”); other times it’s an instrumental riff that may change the rhythm and/or the intensity of the chords. Phil Collins’s drum solo in the middle of “In the Air Tonight” is a classic example of an instrumental hook. The hook in Coldplay’s “Fix You” combines an instrumental hook (when the music swells and the electric guitar kicks in with an escalating riff) with a lyrical hook that the audience has been primed to sing-a-long.

Take a moment to notice something. Notice that if you know any of the three songs I just mentioned, it doesn’t matter how long ago you last heard them, your mind immediately conjured up the hook(s) and you quite possibly felt a sensation that you associate with the song(s). Maybe, you even felt transported to an experience you had in the past related to the song. All of that is the power of the “hook” – which harnesses the power of the mind – and all of that is vedanā.

“Tears stream down your face
When you lose something, you cannot replace
Tears stream down your face and I
Tears stream down your face
I promise you, I will learn from my mistakes
Tears stream down your face and I

 

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will try to fix you”

 

– quoted from the song “Fix You” by Coldplay

 

Born in Autlán, Jaslisco, Mexico today in 1947, Carlos Santana is definitely someone who understands the power of music. You could even call him “hook” royalty, because he most definitely understands the power of how a single moment in a song can keep people coming back again and again. He started busking in his teens and, along with other buskers, formed Carlos Santana’s Blues Band around 1966. The band, which originally included Santana plus David Brown (on bass guitar), Bob Livingston (on drums), Marcus Malone (on percussion), and Gregg Rolie (as lead vocalist and electric organist), was signed by Columbia Records after a few years on the San Francisco club circuit. By the time their first album was released in 1969, the band’s name had been shortened to “Santana;” there had been some personnel changes (Bob Livingston for artistic reasons and Marcus “the Magnificent” Malone* for legal reasons were out, replaced by Mike Shrieve and Michael Carabello, respectively); and the instrumentation had expanded (with the addition of Nicaraguan percussionist José Chepito Areas, guitarist and vocalist Neal Schon).

While the lineup has changed multiple times over the years, Santana and his band are known for psychedelic musical fusion that combines rock and jazz with blues and African and Latin orchestration. He has been listed as number 20 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top 100 guitarists of all times and has received 10 Grammy awards, three Latin American Grammy awards, and have had 43.5 million certified albums sold in the United States and an estimated 100 million sold worldwide. He and the original band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 – right around the time a whole new generation was discovering the “black magic” that is Santana.

Released in 1999, Santana’s eighteenth studio album, Supernatural, is a chart-topping, record-breaking album of collaborations. The album reached number 1 in eleven countries (including multiple weeks on the United States – where it is a certified multi-platinum album); produced several hit singles; and won eight Grammy Awards – including Album of the Year and Best Rock Album; and three Latin American Grammy Awards (including Record of the Year). In fact, the album won so much in one night that when Sheryl Crow won for Best Female Rock Vocalist, she thanked Santana “for not being in this category.” The album has sold an estimated 30 million copies worldwide and features some incredible musical hooks – hooks that reinforce why vedanā is sometimes translated as “supernatural touch.”

“‘Some songs are just like tattoos for your brain…  you hear them and they’re affixed to you.’

 

The image of the tattoo is telling…. But looking beyond the literal change in the ubiquity of tattoos across generations, the metaphor Carlos chose, songs equaling ‘tattoos for your brain’ is telling. It reinforces the status of Carlos as a master of formulaic and “hooky” pop songs with highly memorable melodies.”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 9: Carlos Speaks: Interpretations and Rebounding Questions” in Carlos Santana: A Biography by Norman Weinstein

Like so many other people in the 60’s and 70’s, Carlos Santana practiced meditation under the guidance of a guru. He became a disciple of Sri Chinmoy in 1973, and received the name “Devadip” – which means “the lamp, light and eye of God.” That same year, Santana and the band collaborated with John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra to produce an album of devotional (jazz fusion) music called Love, Devotion, Surrender. The album not only honored the teachings of Sri Chinmoy, it was also a tribute to John Coltrane. Later, Carlos Santana collaborated with Coltrane’s widow, the Alice Coltrane, who was herself a practitioner of yoga and meditation. Their album, Illuminations, mixed classic jazz with “free jazz” (an experimental type of improvisation) and East Indian music. By the early 1980’s Carlos Santana and his wife Deborah had ended their formal relationship with Sri Chinmoy, but the band’s music still reflects a focus on spirituality. Additionally, when he accepted his Grammy Awards in 2000, he spoke about using his platform to promote joy and said, “For me, that’s the most important thing, is to utilize music to bring harmony, equality, justice, beauty and grace upon this planet.” He also said, “The most valuable possession you can own is an open heart. The most powerful weapon you can be is an instrument of peace.”

“Live your life and just be yourself cause you’re somebody special cause somebody loves ya
Your life so just be yourself cause you’re somebody special cause somebody loves ya
Someone loves your life, life, hey hey I can see you shining shining I can see you shining With light light hey hey I can see you shining shining I can see you shining bright”

 

– quoted from the song “I Am Somebody” by Santana, featuring WILL.I.AM

There was a time (not too long ago) and a place (pretty much every place in the world) when people who did not fit certain standards were considered “less than.” Sometimes such people hidden away from society; sometimes they were subjected to medical experiments; and sometimes they were ostracized and institutionalized. And, if we’re being completely honest, there are places in the world, including countries in the “First World,” where those kinds of things still happen. The people who have historically been in danger of such foul treatment fall into a lot of different categories. However, the bottom line is that in mistreating them – even by just ignoring them and pretending like they were a “problem” that would go away – society negated their humanity and the fact that they were somebody, somebody special.

When we (as individuals and/or as a society) negate someone’s humanity – for any reason –, we not only forget that that someone is somebody, we forget that they are “somebody special cause someone loves [their] life.” We also forget that they have the ability to shine and to make the world a better place.

I mentioned that a lot of different people have been subjected to such foul behavior over the years. However, today my focus often turns to a very specific group, a special group of athletes, and the member of American “royalty” who had had “enough” – and who made it her personal mission to change the way certain members of our community were treated. Today, July 20th, is the anniversary of the Special Olympic Games. First held in 1968, in Soldiers Field in Chicago, Illinois, the Special Olympics organization sprang from the initiative of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who’s older sister Rosemary had an intellectual disability.

“But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”

 

– quoted from “Welcome to Holland” by Emily Perl Kingsley ©1987

 

Normally, I reference both Santana and the history and mission of Special Olympics on July 20th. I also typically share a piece written by Emily Perl Kinglsey that some people appreciate, but that pushes some people’s buttons. I share Kingsley’s essay-poem, called “Welcome to Holland,” because I think it eloquently illustrates a person getting hooked and then getting unhooked. Furthermore, I think it brilliantly underscores the fact that when we get unhooked we can be more present, more fully present with ourselves and those we love.

 Since this class date fell on a Monday last year (and there was no playlist), I didn’t mention Santana – nor did I mention that the eldest Kennedy daughter was born during a pandemic or any of the other really tragic elements of her story. Neither did I mention that other Kennedy family members created laws, policies, and organizations that support the humanity and dignity of people with disabilities. I did mention, however, that Rosemary Kennedy’s favorite things included music and dancing. I don’t know who her favorite musicians were or what kind of dance she liked, but we can guess – based on the time period and the fact her older brothers often “waltzed her around the ballrooms.” That said, I can’t help but think that a girl who loved music and who loved to dance would have gotten “hooked” by the music of Santana.

“First of all, the music that people call Latin or Spanish is really African. So Black people need to get the credit for that.”

 

– Carlos Santana

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Click here (or above) for the 2020 blog post about Special Olympics.

 

As mentioned above, Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone was replaced just as Santana and the band were beginning to experience extreme success. Malone was convicted of manslaughter, served time in San Quentin State Prison and then ended up homeless. During the summer of 2016, he was involved in a bizarre accident that has left him in a care facility. In some ways, his life has been tragic. In other ways, he has experienced some immense beauty and magic. Twice in his life, those moments of immense beauty and magic involved Carlos Santana.

Reunited

### “Let there be light / Let there be joy / Let there be love /And understanding / Let there be peace / Throughout the land // Let’s work together” ~ Santana ###

 

Curious About… You (the “missing” Wednesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[This is the “missing” post for Wednesday, July 14th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

Q: What’s the perfect gift to give a Tibetan Buddhist nun on her birthday?

A: Nothing.

I have more “punny” Buddhist jokes where that came from; however, since some people appreciate seriousness in their practice, I will move it along.

Wednesday was the 85th birthday of the American Tibetan Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön. About eight years ago, Ani Pema Chödrön, who was born in New York City on July 14, 1936, asked that people observe her birthday by practicing peace. Of course, even if we were to practice in a vacuum, peace requires some compassion and loving-kindness. The practice also requires going a little deeper into our sore spots, our tender spots, our tight and raw spots. You know the spots I mean: those spots people poke and push to get us “hooked.”

“Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

We begin each practice with what some might call a prayer, a wish, or a plea for peace. We also begin with a personal intention. Sometimes we breathe peace in and breathe peace out. Every once in a while I remind you to remember your personal intention. Sometimes we even end with a reminder that peace begins within. However, it can be hard to find peace when someone is continuously doing something (to us or around us) that doesn’t feel very peaceful – or loving and kind. Perhaps we can cultivate some softness, some compassion even, when we recognize that the other person is doing their best. But, even then, there are times when we just feel ourselves getting hot under the collar and losing our awareness. That’s what happens when our buttons get pushed: we lose awareness of who we are and what we’re all about. To borrow a metaphor from Anushka Fernandopulle, we get on the “Peace” Train and suddenly find ourselves headed towards, “OMG, I’m So Pissed”ville.

In the process of that journey, we forget our original intention and we forget all about that “peace within us” (let alone that “peace all around us”).

For almost ten years now, I have spent the month of July sharing Pema Chödrön’s teachings around shenpa and the four R’s: Recognize, Refrain, Relax, and Resolve. I like to also add a fifth R: Remember. This is not the only time I share these teachings; however, it is nice to have a dedicated period of time to really focus-concentrate-mediate on the ways we can get “unhooked.” It also coincides nicely with the Dalai Lama’s birthday and, since it’s midway through the year, it’s also a nice time to remind people that what we do on the mat, can translate into practices off the mat.

A lot of times I use examples similar to the very obvious ones in the quote above. However, since we are usually hooked by our ego – and since I recently mentioned the power of familiarity – this week I pointed out that sometimes the really pretty, shiny lure that hides the sharp hook of suffering is actually our habit of doing things a certain way.

Yes, big surprise (and another Buddhist joke in the making) – we get hooked by our attachments.

“If you are curious, you’ll find the puzzles around you. If you are determined, you will solve them.”

 

– Ernő Rubik

Both Buddhism and the Yoga Philosophy have practices around attachment that involve our belief (sometimes our mistaken belief) that we know something. Maybe we know something is right; maybe we know something is wrong. It doesn’t matter. The bottom line is that we have the belief, we’re attached to the belief, and (therefore) the belief can cause suffering.

Both philosophies encourage us to not only question what we believe, but also to be curious about what we believe, why we believe it, and what’s on the other side of our beliefs. In Zen Buddhism, shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) is the practice of approaching a subject as if for the first time. In Yoga, the second niyamā (internal “observation”) is santoşa which is “contentment.” Both practices require the openness and eagerness to learn that we observe in small children. Both practices cultivate an open-heartedness that, when applied in our relationships, can allow us to be more generous with the attributes of our hearts and less generous with our judgement. Both practices require us to show-up and be present with what is – and both practices give us insight into ourselves.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to a new yoga class with a new teacher. You’ve been practicing for a while, maybe you even teach or have been through a teacher training – either way, you “know your stuff.” The practice starts in a pose that you would normally practice after you’ve warmed up a bit and the teacher offers no other options. So, depending on the day you’re having, maybe you just go into a modification you know; maybe you struggle to get into the pose the way would if you were warmed up; maybe you ignore the suggestion and go into something else; or maybe you are already so fed up that you leave and that’s the end of that.

But, let’s say you stay. You breathe in. You breathe out. Your body is starting to warm up; your mind is starting to focus and – BOOM, they do it again! They cue something different from what you were expecting (and had already started doing) or something that you and the people around you clearly aren’t safely in a position to practice. And, again, they offer no other options. What do you do?

This could continue through a whole practice. And, to be clear, maybe it’s not the sequence that’s the problem. Maybe they just say things in a way that really grates on your nerves. Maybe they consistently call Downward Facing Dog a resting pose (but it’s a pose you recognize is really challenging). Maybe it’s the fact that they never offer alternative options even though most of the people in the practice are not doing what they are suggesting. Maybe there’s too much philosophy for you, maybe there’s not enough. Maybe their voice reminds you of the person with whom you just had an argument. Ultimately, the nature of the issue doesn’t matter.

What matters is what you do when you’re getting annoyed.

Do you RECOGNIZE that something was happening that didn’t meet your expectations? In other words, do you Recognize that you are getting hooked? If so, do you pause for a moment and – instead of doing the thing you would normally do – REFRAIN from doing anything? Do you just take a breath and RELAX? If so, do you RESOLVE to continue with that relaxation, with that mindfulness, and with that intentionality? Do you REMEMBER why you decided to attend the practice in the first place?

Or do you leave the space, completely annoyed, frustrated, angry, and not at all peaceful?

“The peace that we are looking for is not peace that crumbles as soon as there is difficulty or chaos. Whether we’re seeking inner peace or global peace or a combination of the two, the way to experience it is to build on the foundation of unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth—it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.”

 

– quoted from “Unlimited Friendliness: Three steps to genuine compassion” (Winter 2009 issue of Tricycle) by Pema Chödrön

Years ago, I think it was on my 45th birthday, I had plans for a whole day of “wise women.” Even though it wasn’t part of my original plan, it turned out that I was going to be the first “wise woman” in my day, because I agreed to be a guest teacher at a university class on mindfulness. Then I had plans to attend a yoga practice led by one of my favorite teachers, a teacher whose practice inspires me to this day. Finally, I was going to have dinner with a group of some of the wisest women I knew at the time. The university class turned out to be an awesome way to start the day. Then I headed across town for some yoga and encountered a problem; my favorite yoga teacher was nowhere in sight. I figured she just wasn’t at the front desk; so I signed in and got settled, trying not to be too annoyed at the music that was clearly not what my favorite teacher would be playing. I was having one of my best birthdays ever… until the class started and it was being led by someone I wasn’t expecting.

Without going into a lot of detail, I’ll just say that I was “hooked” from the minute the sub said their hello. If you’ve heard me tell this story before you also know that instead of settling in during the integration, I was getting riled up. But then I took a deep breath and reminded myself that there had to be a reason this teacher was at the front of the room. They had to have something to offer. And, if I could let go of my expectations, maybe I would learn something.

Ultimately, the day goes down as one of my favorite days with some of my favorite memories and the birthday rates as one of my favorite celebrations. While I never took from that (substitute) teacher again – and part of me wants to rate it as one of my least favorite classes in almost twenty years of yoga – I definitely got something out of the practice… and it’s something that continues to serve me.

“Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

“Sending and taking should be practiced alternately. These two should ride the breath.

Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

 

 

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

Every culture and tradition around the world places a certain level of value on the virtues of the heart. In yoga, we find instructions to meditate on the various attributes of the heart. We can also view at least three of the “powers unique to being human” as heart practices. I even think of the physical practice of yoga as a way to prepare the mind-body for those heart practices. In Buddhism, four of the “heart” practices are referred to as the “Divine Abodes” (Brahmavihārās): loving-kindness (maitrī or “mettā), compassion (karuņā), sympathetic or empathetic joy (muditā), and equanimity (upekşā or upekkhā). Again, you find these virtues all over the world; however, what you find in contemplative traditions are the practices to cultivate these innately human powers.

Pema Chödrön’s teachings around the concept of shenpa are just one set of many practices found in Buddhism. In Zen Buddhism, for instance, kōans are statements or stories (sometimes considered riddles or puzzles in a Western mind) used as a form of contemplation (although not always of meditation). Similarly, in Tibetan Buddhism, people use lojong or “mind training” techniques which can be held in the heart and mind during contemplation. To “sit” or even live with a phrase does not require a great deal of “thinking,” but it does require a certain amount of patience and openness. One of the goals, in practicing with such statements, is to let the teaching unfold in the same way the heart opens… in the same way a fist unclenches or a flower unfurls. In the process of these practices, one also discovers more and more about themselves, as well as about the world.

“There’s a common misunderstanding among all human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable….

 

A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is.”

 

– quoted from “1. Loving-Kindness” in The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness by Pema Chödrön

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07142020 Compassion & Peace for Pema”]
 

“Prince Guatama, who had become Buddha, saw one of his followers meditating under a tree at the edge of the Ganges River. Upon inquiring why he was meditating, his follower stated he was attempting to become so enlightened he could cross the river unaided. Buddha gave him a few pennies and said: “Why don’t you seek passage with that boatman. It is much easier.”

 

– quoted from Matt Caron and from Elephant Journal

Check out last year’s post on this date (and follow the dates for more on the practice)!

 

### WHY ARE YOU HERE, AGAIN? ###