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What Are You Doing (or Not Doing)? March 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryū Suzuki

At some point, we are all beginners, doing something for the first time… or the 51st time. That’s why, on a good day, I love beginners – and I’m always a fan of the wonder that comes with beginner’s mind. Ironically (to some), I am not a fan of beginner’s classes when it comes to yoga. Unless, of course, you consider every class a beginner class, and remember that there’s a reason it’s called a practice. That said, I believe beginners should respect the fact that if someone says a class or a pose is advanced then it is not something you do on your first day…or your 51st day. But, just because a particular class or pose is not intended for someone, doesn’t mean that person can’t practice yoga.

During a practice Bryan Kest said that if there are 60 million people on the planet doing yoga then there are at least 60 million different ways to do a pose. That’s the reason there are different styles and traditions.

“Every age.
Every race & ethnicity.
Every class & socioeconomic status.
Every gender identity & sexual orientation.
Every size, shape, height, weight & dis/ability.

Every body is a yoga body.”

– statement from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition

One of my favorite t-shirts (“This is what a yogi looks like”) came from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, which “is committed to dismantling stereotypes about who practices yoga, who should practice yoga, + what a “yoga body” looks like.” Bottom line: the coalition was established to create awareness so that (a) yoga teachers like me do not have to constantly deal with people walking in the studio and playing some version of the “Oh, you’re the teacher?” game; (b) people can practice yoga anywhere without judgment (or expensive yoga pants that let other people see your expensive underwear); and (c) so that more people recognize that they too can practice – and even teach – yoga.

Historically, yoga was primarily a practice taught for and by men. That’s not to say that women didn’t practice, secretly and quietly, but in the public sphere it was a practice taught for and by men…brown-skinned men, who (early on) often engaged in an ascetic lifestyle. Indra Devi started to change that, but the idea that someone who practices yoga is a thin, very flexible, light-skinned woman with “shampoo commercial” hair and a disposable income is very much a modern stereotype. Not only is it a modern stereotype – it’s a Western stereotype – one around which a whole industry has grown. And that underlying concept is one of the things that can make it challenging for new people to get started in the practice; that, plus the idea that you have to be flexible to practice yoga.

I tell people all the time: most people don’t practice yoga because they are flexible; they are flexible because they practice yoga. Focusing on physical flexibility, however, ignores the fact that the physical practice is also a way to cultivate strength and balance (even flexibility) – in the mind as well as in the body. But, sticking with the body for a moment, consider for a moment that while every pose may not be for each and every body, there is a practice for everybody and a way to practice that allows you to experience the benefits of every pose (even if you have to modify).

Late in 1983, Sri Dharma Mittra, a master yoga teacher based in New York City, started a deep dive into his practice and then started photographing himself every morning. Those 72 photos-a-day eventually became an amazingly iconic illustration of 908 yoga asanas. If you look closely, you can tell that the pictures were not taken at the same time, because in some pictures he is a completely different weight than in others. Like a method actor preparing for a major role, Dharma Mittra reportedly gained, lost, or maintained weight in order to practice certain poses. Because, again, each and every pose is not for each and every body. To force yourself into a position for which the body is not prepared to go isn’t yoga, its torture (and detrimental to your well-being). It is also detrimental to ignore what your body is feeling. One of the big problems with our modern practice, however, is that we are not always reminded to trust what we are feeling.

There is a lot of reasons we don’t trust the way we feel, on and off the mat. On the mat, one of the big reasons we don’t trust ourselves is because we are often faced with the idea that there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced poses. It’s all a matter ratings and perceptions. Grab practice manuals from a variety of different styles, however, and you will find huge differences in how a single pose is ranked according to difficulty. If you want to add a layer of awareness to that, compare those ratings to your own perception of the pose.

For example, in the United States, a common way to test or think about flexibility resides in a person’s ability to touch their toes. Uttānāsana (a standing forward bend) and Paschimottānāsana (a seated forward bend) are often featured in a beginners’ class. In Light on Yoga (Iyengar), however, the standing forward fold is considered an 8, the seated version is considered a 6, and the supine version (which I often suggest as a modification for people with certain back issues) is considered a 10. In Jivamukti Yoga, which is a form of vinayasa, the standing variation is considered a 1, while the seated is considered a 2. On the flip side, in Ashtanga, which is a progressive practice and one of the first vinyasa poses introduced to the West, the standing variation appears at the very beginning of the practice (it is part of the warm-up), while the seated variation is considered part of the finishing sequence (ergo, practiced after the body is significantly warmed up). Now compare those ratings to your own perception, and maybe even your own experience.

What’s the difference? How you practice – and part of how you practice is what you do and what you don’t do as you practice.

Today in 1930, the Motion Picture Code, also known as the Hays Code, was adopted by Hollywood. Inspired by a document created by a lay Catholic and Jesuit priest, Hollywood censor Will Hays initially came up with a list of 36 “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.” The code was officially enforced from1934 until 1968, when it was replaced by the Motion Picture Association of America rating system that is still in place today. Today’s practice is inspired by this concept of ratings. While today’s playlist (available on Spotify and YouTube) is not full of soundtracks, it is cinematic.

My advice to beginners is my same advice to people who have been away from their practice for a while and/or people who have to come up with a new practice schedule:

  1. Respect yourself and the space. Again, if someone refers to their class as advanced, believe them. (To paraphrase Maya Angelou, if someone tells you what they are about, believe them the first time.)
  2. Find a time and place (when we are able to go out and about again) that is convenient so that you commit to your practice.
  3. Don’t worry about what we call the poses; pretend like you’re playing Simon Says, but…
  4. Listen to your body!!!! If your body says don’t do it, then Simon didn’t say it. Some things will be uncomfortable, but don’t ignore pain. Pain is your body telling you something is not right.
  5. If you can breathe, even with a machine, you can practice yoga.
  6. Ask questions. Question everything. If you can’t do it during the practice, talk to the teacher before or after the practice. There’s no shame in not knowing something you don’t know.
  7. Trust your practice. Even if it’s your first day, take a moment to breathe and remember the words of Saint Teresa of Avila…

“If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”

 – from The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila  

I’m offering two (2) classes on Tuesdays. These are open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

You can access either of today’s practices live via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone.  (For additional details, check the “class schedule” tab.)

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 12 Noon – 1:00 PM CST is 610-189-542, https://zoom.us/j/610-189-542  ONE TAP: +13126266799,,610-189-542# US (Chicago).

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM CST is 216-720-410, https://zoom.us/j/216-720-410 ONE TAP: +13126266799,,216720410# US (Chicago)

Also, Wednesday is the beginning of April, which means Kiss My Asana is coming to you! Keep an eye out for how this year’s yogathon has changed, and how it’s still all about keeping the practice accessible.

### INHALE, EXHALE ###

 

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tantra, Tennessee Williams, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (b. 3/26/1911)

Just because we are alone – and in some cases lonely – is not a reason to go it alone. Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between places.” “Throwback Thursday” is a way to look back, but we can’t actually go back in time, we can’t bridge that distance of which Williams speaks. We can, however, bridge the physical distance of social isolation by reaching out (virtually speaking, of course).

Call, text, email, write a letter, make a chalk drawing, or use any of a variety of technological advances to connect to a stranger or a friend. Remember, we are all in this together – and we will succeed or fail based on how we are together, even when we are apart. Remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Right now, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers.

Love/ loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is an aspect of the Divine. In fact, not only is it one of the ten ways (according to Jewish mysticism) that G-d is revealed to the world, it is one of the 7 aspects people contemplate if they are counting the Omer during Passover. Just like in Eastern philosophies, like yoga, Kabbalism associates loving-kindness with the arms (specifically, the right arm). As you go through your practice – or through your day – bring awareness to how you use your right arm. Are you using it to express your heart or withhold your heart?

“(1) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (3) If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

– 1st Corinthians 13:1 – 3 (the part just before all the “famous parts” people use in weddings, movies, and songs)

Consider, for a moment, that when Saint Paul and Sosthenes wrote their letter to the church in Corinth, before they spoke of what love was, they spoke of what love was not. This is very similar to passages which appear in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, where a teacher – and then his spouse – point out that the Divine is not this or that (neti, neti) thing that is so obvious. The Divine is not (just) what is obviously seen, but what is unseen, what is felt. (Yes, yes, but neti,neti: this is not the throwback you’re looking for.)

We can never really know how much it means to someone when we do something nice for them simply out of the kindness of our hearts. They can say thank you a million times – and we may even feel the sincerity of their gratitude – and yet that feeling pales in comparison to the love they felt from the kindness.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– excerpt from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost (b. 3/26/1874)

For Throwback Thursday, here’s last year’s post about the birthday authors I typically include in today’s practice.

While I am not teaching today (Thursday), I am going to spend part of today and Friday updating my schedule to reflect streaming classes I will start offering Saturday – Wednesday.

Right now I am planning to offer seven (7) classes on Zoom. These are (mostly) during times when I had studio classes and they will be (mostly) open for anyone to attend. You can purchase or renew a package on my online store or you can make a donation to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible and I will receive the bulk of the donation.)

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

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

It’s Bach’s Day Too! March 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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“[Music] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.”

– Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685)

According to the Old Style / Julian calendar, March 21st, is the anniversary of the birth of the composer Johann Sebastian Bach. Born in 1685, Bach’s statement about music also works as a statement for yoga: [Philosophically speaking, yoga] should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the re-creation of the soul, where this is not kept in mind, there is no true [yoga], but only an infernal clamour and ranting. People who think of yoga only as a form of exercise are often surprised that there’s more. One can only imagine their surprise if the walk into one of my classes – especially on My March 21st, when the playlist starts with Bach and then becomes a soundtrack for other events that correspond to this date in history. Imagine their further surprise when all of that is just the background to a deeper practice.

On Saturdays I typically teach a 90-minute practice at that is primarily attended by a dedicated group who are interested in the yoga philosophy as well as asana and asana philosophy. For the past few years, we start in January and “build a practice from the ground up” physically as well as philosophically. Physically, we start with the beginning of a specific practice or sequence and either explore it for about 30-weeks before continuing to a new practice built on the original or, as we did this year, we start with a basic set of poses and start building around it. Philosophically, in years past, we have explored the 8-limbs of yoga, as well as how the 7 chakras correspond with 7 yoga paths (hatha, tantra, karma, bhakti, mantra, yantra, and jnana). Last year, we started moving through the Yoga Sutras – which worked perfectly as there are 51 sutras in the first chapter.

This year, we started physically moving through the warm-up and asanas that Ram Dass illustrated in Be Here Now, and just recently started using that sequence as a “finishing sequence.” (If you’ve been attending the Saturday practices and/or are familiar with the sequence, that’s your practice today.)

Philosophically, we decided to continue last years work and make our way through the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras. Today, March 21st, is the 12th Saturday of 2020. I am including a bit of background for those who are just now joining this journey and a bit of last week’s commentary since so many had to miss the class. For more on the sutras, you can check out Swami J’s website or purchase the series of books by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD – both associated with the traditions of the Himalayan Masters.

Yoga Sutra 1.1:  atha yogānuśānam

– “Right here, right now (in this auspicious moment), yoga (or union) instruction begins”

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras is the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Concentration” and Patanjali begins by explaining how the mind works; atha, right here, right now. In this present moment each of our minds is processing multi-bazillion bits of information/sensation – which results in a constant fluctuation of the mind (cittavŗtti). This restlessness and agitation of the mind, in turn becomes restlessness and agitation in the body – and this becomes obstacles to the practice (or to our goals). At the same time, he explains that our thoughts fall into two (2) categories: afflicted thoughts (i.e., thoughts which cause pain) and not afflicted thoughts (which may ease pain, or at least not cause pain). Finally, Patanjali explains how to work the mind – using the mind’s own ability to concentration/meditate – in order to rest the mind and, therefore, the body.

This is why, I often say, “What happens in the mind happens in the body. What happens in the body happens in the mind. And both affect the breath.” If you take a deep breath in (right here, right now) and a deeper breath out (right here, right now). You not only bring your awareness to the present moment (right here, right now; every time you consciously inhale and every time you consciously exhale) – you also, affect the body and the mind. In fact, that is one of ten practices Patanjali describes in the first chapter: focus on your breath.

Yoga Sutra 2.11: dhyānaheyāstadvŗttayah

– “Meditation destroys the mental tendencies (associated with affliction/pain)”

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras is (the “Chapter (or, more literally, Foundation) on Practice. It is basically Patanjali – way back in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th BCE – recognizing and acknowledging that everyone on the planet can’t just drop into a deep-seated meditative state. So he starts explaining the elements of kriya yoga (“yoga in action”) and how the practice of training the senses, exploring within, and letting go of aversions and attractions attenuates the effect of afflicted/pain-producing thoughts. To do this, however, he first gives us a deeper understanding of how afflicted thoughts produce pain.

“Samskaras – the drivers of our mental tendencies – manifest in the form of memory. We are able to remember something because the subtle impressions related to the object have been store in or mind. Because they are hidden beneath thick layers of the forces of time, the mind is not aware of their existence. But like a seed that lies dormant until spring brings moisture and warmth, samskaras awaken when the conditions inside and outside the mind are conducive.”

– Pandit Rajmani Tigunait’s commentary on sutra 2.11

 

Using seeds as a metaphor or a simile for our thoughts, words, and deeds is a very common teaching tool. In previous weeks, the metaphor I used was a backpack containing a still soft, but sculpted, piece of clay. Let’s say you’ve molded a little figurine (whatever comes to mind) or a tiny cup; but, something causes you to place the molded clay into your backpack. For some reason, the clay stays in your backpack, getting tossed around, even a little mushed, as you go about your days. Every once in awhile you brush your finger across it when you’re looking for something and you think, “What’s that? Oh, yeah….” And whatever emotions you were feeling in relation to making the piece, or having to toss it in your bag before it was finished, flash up.

Later, you might even pull the piece of clay out, notice that it’s smashed and decide to completely smash it and start again or restore it to some close proximity of what you did before. Someone else could feel it or see it or see you remolding it and have a completely different experience, but this is your experience – and now this new layer of experience is attached to the clay, just like the oils from your skin. Even if you “buy a new backpack,” a piece of the clay finds its way inside. (YS 2.10) Unless, of course, you have “trained your senses, explored within, and given up your aversions and attractions – in which case you can discard the clay when you switch backpacks or you can recognize what it was and decide to treat it as a fresh piece of clay ready for a new project. (YS 2.11)

 

Yoga Sutra 2.12: kleśamūlah karmāśayo dŗşţādŗşţjanmavedanīyah

– “The reservoir of our actions is rooted in affliction/pain that is experienced in seen and unseen lives”

For anyone wondering: Nope, I had no idea this week’s sutra was going to keep us firmly grounded in the “seen and unseen.” Previous translations I’ve used for comparative analysis talk about “current life and future life,” “this life and the lives to come,” and “at the time of the action or (another time).” The bottom line, though, is still the same.

All of our experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds have consequences. Some consequences occur “immediately” and we easily see the connection between cause and effect. Other times, there is the distance of time, space, memory, and/or ignorance (or lack of awareness), which causes the connection to be “unseen” by us. Yet, cause and effect is still there, and so it becomes even more important to recognize that, as Pandit Tigunait points out, “Impure karmic impressions cloud our mind with desire, greed, confusion, and anger, and become the drivers of negative, destructive actions. Pure karmic impressions create a positive mental atmosphere, awakening virtues such as love, compassion, kindness, and selflessness, which then become drivers of positive, constructive actions…. Causing intense pain to someone who is fearful, diseased, or stingy engenders a highly, negatively charged karmic reality. Betraying someone who trusts you or harming a high-caliber soul committed to intense austerity also engenders a highly potent negative karmic reality. This potent negative karma ripens quickly.”

We don’t always have control over our circumstances, but we always have control over our actions (thoughts, words, and deed). We don’t, however, make decisions in a vacuum. Part of the practice is recognizing that are current actions are informed by our previous experiences, thoughts, words, and deeds – and what we do in this moment, is going to inform what happens to us (and what we do) in our next moments… even if that moments are years away.

 

### BE KIND TO YOURSELF & TO OTHERS ###

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Life…. March 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Mantra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

 

Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do. However, all of that can change in the next moment – because that’s life; as long as we are alive everything changes.

(Say that first part with me: Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do.)

Right now, we are all on a sinking boat. There’s a chance we’re close to shore and can touch bottom and there’s also a chance we are way out to sea, but no one knows for sure. Some folks are screaming and jumping into what might be shark infested waters. Some folks are sitting back pretending like nothing is happening. There are folks frantically trying to bail out the water. Still others are putting on their life jackets and preservers and inflating their life boats. Bottom line: The boat is still sinking.

“The transcripts of our conversation also show how Patrick’s choice of phrasing was helpful to me. Rather than telling me what airport I had to aim for, he asked me what airport I wanted. His words let me know that he understood that these hard choices were mine to make, and it wasn’t going to help if he tried to dictate a plan to me.”

– from Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters by Chelsey B.”Sully” Sullenberger

Some people, most people, will survive and it is up to each and every one of us to do what we can do to increase the possibility of survival. In accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Yoga Alliance, consider doing the following:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or use appropriate hand sanitizer for 20 seconds).
  2. Clean mats, props, and gym equipment (as well as desks, phones, and door handles) frequently.
    1. If you’re using a studio/gym mat or other equipment, clean it before and after usage.
    2. If you don’t already own and use one, consider buying your own mat and/or purchasing a skidless yoga “towel” you can place over a studio mat.
    3. Cover props with a towel, bring your own props, or (when appropriate) reduce your props.
  3. Space and stagger your mats if you are coming to a group class. Take a deep breath if a class is cancelled or you are turned away because class size is limited.
  4. Practice good health and wellness habits by getting plenty of sleep, staying physically active, managing your stress, drinking plenty of (hydrating) fluids, and eating heart healthy foods.
  5. If you have been traveling (especially internationally), practice at home and avoid large groups of people for at least a week. (WHO and CDC are recommending 14 day self-isolation for people who have traveled internationally or been in contact with someone who may be ill.)
  6. If you are sick (and/or coming down with or getting over a respiratory illness), practice at home. There are lots of online resources for various types of yoga and other physical activities. (I will add links and post some sequences.)
  7. Monitor daily reports from WHO or the CDC only as much as you are able without increasing your anxiety.
  8. Practice compassion. Acknowledge that there are a lot of people suffering, in a lot of different ways. If you can help someone, without undue risk to yourself, do so.
  9. Avoid touching your face and practice coughing/sneezing etiquette.
  10. Be mindful. Be patient. Be kind. Breathe.

As I post this, my classes at the YMCA, Nokomis Yoga, and Flourish are continuing as scheduled. If, however, you purchased a Flourish package and elect not to attend classes in the next few weeks, you will be given a studio credit. Common Ground Meditation Center has cancelled all programming through March 29th. I will update my calendar as things change.

I will continue to give people the option (at the beginning of class) to opt out of hands-on assists, but the reality is that I am extremely limiting assists for the foreseeable future.

(Let’s say it again: Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do.)

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI ###

 

Foundations 2019 July 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

John Cage

 

Saturday mornings at the Y, just like any morning, is a great time to explore the physical and philosophical practice of yoga. However, I am partial to my Saturdays since I have 90 minutes to engage in the practice of exploration. For the last few years, I have started the new year with a “Building From the Ground Up” sequence – each Saturday adding more poses and another layer of the philosophy. Sometimes I still tie-in a meditation point specific to the date, and to whatever aspect of the philosophy is on tap for the day. Sometimes, however, it’s just straight philosophy and an opportunity to consider the meditation through movement. Whatever I plan for the year, usually wraps up around the end of July – when we start breaking down a different physical practice, the Ashtanga Primary Series.

This year, philosophically, I decided to sequentially move through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Each week breaking down a sutra with commentary. (This week will be YS 1.31.) Physically, we have been breaking down a course of poses outlined by B. K. S. Iyengar in Light On Yoga.

The Saturday class is not an Iyengar class; however, (as teachers like Seane Corn have pointed out) if you are going to practice vinyasa, it’s a good idea to practice Iyengar as it will give you the solid foundation and insight into the asanas (poses).

Iyengar’s Course I is 30 weeks of detailed practice, specifically intended to build a physical practice from the ground up. While they are not limbs themselves, abhyasa (continuous practice with devotion) and vairagya (actively practicing the art of letting go or non-attachment) definitely make up the fertile soil from which the 8-limbs of yoga grow and thrive. And, they are key elements to the courses that appear in the appendix of Light On Yoga.  At first, each set of poses is practiced for two (2) weeks before additional poses are added to the sequence. Later, some sequences are repeated for three (3) or four (4) weeks – and sometimes the order of the sequence changes. The 30-week course is followed by a 3-day course, which is slightly different from the 30-day course since the asanas are timed. Finally, there is some guidance on adding sun salutations (surya namaskar) to the physical practice and a list entitled “Important asanas in Course I.”

“If these asanas are mastered then the others given in this course will come even without regular practice.

– B. K. S. Iyengar writing about the “Impostant asanas in Course I”

The important asanas list, when followed by the sun salutations, looks and feels a lot like one of the first vinyasa practices to appear in the West, the Ashtanga Primary Series introduced to Sri Pattabhi Jois.  This is not a random coincidence. While Iyengar and Jois were in very different physical/health conditions when they started practicing yoga, they practiced at the same time and with the same teacher: Sri Krishnamacharya. The practices they introduced to the West – just like the physical practices introduced by some of Krishnamacharya’s other students (including Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikichar, and A. G. Mohan) reflect their own personal practices – which were the result of the physical and mental needs. Remember, classically, the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) prepares the practitioner for deep-seated meditation. Ergo, even though they might practice the same poses, a very sickly young boy may use a different method of practice than a very active teenage boy.

(Side Note: It is also not a random coincidence that we generally start exploring the Ashtanga Primary series at the end of July: instead the timing coincides with the birthday of Sri Pattabhi Jois.)

YMCA classes are always open to members and their guests. If you are a member, please feel free to join us for class at any time throughout the year – and, feel free to bring a guest.

For further reading, check out Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar; Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikichar; Ashtanga Yoga the Practice Manual by David Swenson; The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD (Note: This is Part 1 of a series and only includes the first section of the sutras. There are many translations of the sutras, a great online resource is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on swamij.com.)

“Talent works, genuis creates.”

– Robert Schumann

~~~ AUM ~~~

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Black Elk, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, William Wordsworth, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

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

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

“sthira sukham asanam” (YS II.46)

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

### Jai Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###

 

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

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

– Sri Pattabhi Jois

 

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

sa                                    that (practice)

tu                                    and, but, definitely

dīrgha kala                  long time

nairantairya                continuously, without interruption

satkārā                         with devotion, sincerity, respect, reverence,positivity

asevito                         cultivated, attended to

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Jawaharal Nehru

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Click here if you can’t see the video.

 

 

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

 

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

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

The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

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

 

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

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well your faith was strong but you needed proof”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

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

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

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

– from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Maya Angelou

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

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

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

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