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The Kindest Step (the “missing” Sunday post) July 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post for Sunday, July 25th. 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. ]

“Anger is a mental, psychological phenomenon, yet it is closely linked to biological and biochemical elements. Anger makes you tense your muscles, but when you know how to smile, you begin to relax and your anger will decrease. Smiling allows the energy of mindfulness to be born in you, helping you to embrace your anger.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Tools for Cooling the Flames” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

When I talk to people and/or watch the news these days, I see a lot of anger, a lot of frustration, and a lot of reasons for people to be angry and frustrated. Even if you don’t feel particularly angry and frustrated right now, you probably are around someone who is feeling one or both of those emotions fairly strongly. So, let’s talk about your anger (and frustration) for a moment. Or, if that feels too personal and raw, let’s talk about my anger and frustration.

I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, all my life, people have told me I have a great smile. But, let’s be real, when I am feeling really anger and frustrated, my smile probably looks kind of feral – almost like I’m going in for the kill, metaphorically speaking. Even with my practices, smiling during a intense moment of conflict can feel like a big, giant leap… which I’ll get into if you don’t mind if we deviate a little (and if you don’t mind the pun). See, before we get into my feelings of anger and frustration – or even why I might not feel comfortable smiling when I am angry – we have to address the two elephants in the room: (1) the idea that I can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because I practice yoga and meditate and (2) the stereotype of the angry Black woman.

Let’s start with the latter, because most people in American are familiar with the stereotype of the angry Black woman (ABW). Although I’m not sure exactly when the stereotype came into vogue, it became a standard trope (a literary or entertainment-based pop culture stereotype) during the 1800’s. The popular caricature device of an angry, sassy, rude, and domineering Black woman became even more popular in with the advent of shows like Amos n’ Andy.

First aired on January 12, 1926, as Sam n’ Henry on WGN in Chicago, the radio show featured white actors (Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll) portraying stereotypes of Black people. The series became so popular in the Midwest that the actors wanted to expand it; however, the studio rejected the idea of radio syndication (which didn’t exist at the time). Since WGN owned the rights to the name, Gosden and Correll rebranded their show as Amos n’ Andy, which premiered on March 19, 1928 on WMAQ and became the first radio syndication in the United States. It was eventually carried by approximately 70 stations across the nation.

In 1930, the series spawned toys and a movie, which featured a racially-mixed cast… plus Gosden and Correll in blackface. Then there was a cartoon – still voiced by the original duo. By 1943, the radio show was being produced in front of a live studio audience and featured Black actors and musicians – who were backup performers to the original creators. When the Gosden and Correll started working on a television version of the series, in the late 1940’s, their previous movie and cartoon experience made them decide to move away from blackface (and to also, eventually, reject the idea of lip syncing with Black actors). When the TV show premiered on June 28, 1951, it featured a Black cast – that was directed to retain the characterized voice and speech patterns Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll had carried over from minstrel shows. The TV show also inherited the radio show’s theme music – lifted directly from the score of what some consider the most racist and controversial movie of all times, Birth of a Nation.

While both the radio and the TV show had critics, they also had legions and legions of fans. One of those fans, surprisingly (to me), was Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. In the 2012 American Heritage essay “Growing Up Colored,” Dr. Gates talked about his childhood in Piedmont, West Virginia and how (around first grade) he first “got to know white people as ‘people’ through their flickering images on television shows. It was the television set that brought us together at night, and the television set that brought in the world outside the valley.” He also said that he “felt as if I were getting a glimpse, at last, of the life the rich white people must be leading in their big mansions on East Hampshire Street.” Everything was so different from his life and his experience. Yet, to a young Dr. Gates, the TV show Amos n’ Andy was what I Love Lucy was to a young white girl of the same generation. And that’s the thing to keep in mind when you read the essay: perspective and awareness. Audiences only viewed comedy characters as exaggerated impressions of life if they actually knew people like the ones being caricatured. The popularity of Amos n’ Andy, however, was built around an audience that did not personally know Black people. 

“Lord knows, we weren’t going to learn how to be colored by watching television. Seeing somebody colored on TV was an event.

 

‘Colored, colored, on Channel Two,’ you’d hear someone shout. Somebody else would run to the phone, while yet another hit the front porch, telling all the neighbors where to see it. And everybody loved Amos ’n Andy—I don’t care what people say today. What was special to us was that their world was all colored, just like ours….Nobody was likely to confuse them with the colored people we knew, no more than we’d confuse ourselves with the entertainers and athletes we saw on TV or in Ebony or Jet, the magazines we devoured to keep up with what was happening with the race.”

 

– quoted from the American Heritage (Summer 2012, Volume 62, Issue 2) essay “Growing Up Colored” by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

There’s another key element to keep in mind as it relates to the ABW stereotype in relation to Amos n’ Andy. When Freeman Gosden, and Charles Correll started the radio show Sam n’ Henry, they voiced all of the characters. However, there were some reoccurring characters, like George “Kingfish” Stevens wife, who were not initially voiced. Instead of being heard, Sapphire and most of the other Black women reoccurring in the series were only talked about. Ergo, it didn’t matter if they had a legitimate reason to be upset about something done by their husband, boyfriend, or serviceperson – their anger and complaints were presented from the perspective of the person who was the target/cause of the emotion being felt and expressed. In other words, audiences only heard the male side of the conflict… and, to be fair, they only heard the white male perspective.

Now, if you grew up listening and/or watching Amos n’ Andy you might think, “No, no, that’s not how it was. They would say what they did.” To that I would ask three things:

  • First, are you more inclined to support the person who is telling the story who also happens to be your friend (or someone with whom you are familiar) or are you more inclined to support the person you have never met?
  • Second, if I (as your friend or someone with whom you are familiar) says, “I did this little thing – that yeah, was a little inconsiderate – but, dude, I was sooooo tired/hungry/sad/etc. ….” Do you commiserate with me and agree that the other person overreacted or do you point out that that other person (who, again, you’ve never met) has a point?
  • Finally, does you answer to either of the questions above (especially the last one) change if I explain why the other person was upset with me? (The flipside of this, of course, is does it matter if I don’t explain the why?)

Which brings me to my last little bits about the angry Black woman stereotype: It was a really confusing idea to me when I was a little girl. It was confusing because I didn’t know Black women who walked around angry all the time and, just as importantly, when I did see a person who was angry they had a reason to be angry. I will admit that, for most of my formative years, I was sheltered just enough to not understand – or even question – why someone might walk around angry all the time. However, if we go back to the beginnings of the trope – and acknowledge that the stereotype already existed by the 1800’s – then we have to go a little deeper into why Black women might have been angry. And, when we go a little deeper – even just taking a little look at history, regarding the conditions of being a Black woman (or any kind of woman) in the 1800’s – we don’t need to go far before we start finding reasons to be angry.

“If your house is on fire, the most urgent thing to do is to go back and try to put out the fire, not to run after the person you believe to be the arsonist. If you run after the person you suspect has burned your house, your house will burn down while you are chasing him or her. That is not wise. You must go back and put out the fire. So when you are angry, if you continue to interact with or argue with the other person, if you try to punish her, you are acting exactly like someone who runs after the arsonist while everything goes up in flames.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Saving Your House” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

All of which brings me back to today’s anger and frustration.

As I said before, you can look at the news and see that people are angry and frustrated. You can look at your family, neighbors, and friends. You can look inside of your own heart and mind.  While we may have some individual, personal situations about which we are angry and frustrated, we also share some anger and frustration about what we have endured over the last year and that some people, even today, continue to experience. Some of that anger and frustration is even tied to the fact that people are consistently pointing fingers at the (alleged) arsonists instead of putting out the flames. Two other issues we have, as a society, are that we don’t understand the concept of a backdraft and we keep putting matches in the hands of arsonists. (Or, maybe, we never took the matches away in the first place.)

A backdraft is fire that seems to come out of nowhere; but is actually the result of fresh oxygen fueling embers that were previously depleted of air. Embers in an enclosed space can smolder and produce heat even as the fire is dying. Sometimes a fire will burn itself out; other times, however, if the embers are not completely out – e.g., saturated in water or sand – they can reignite in an explosion. This can happen when a door or window is opened or when a portion of the side of the building caves in as the infrastructure fails. A social backdraft happens in the same way. For example, imagine an upsetting situation about which people are really angry and frustrated. The situation, as well as the anger and frustration, is fueled by additional elements – which the “firefighters” attempt to address. But maybe, unlike real-life firefighters, these social responders don’t provide a safe way to ventilate (or “air grievances”). So, the embers just keep building heat and no one notices the air getting sucked in through the cracks or how the smoke is changing colors. Now imagine the original situation gets buried so that it’s no longer in the center of attention. The eyes of the world shift to some other priority, some other injustice. Then, suddenly it seems, a “new” situation arises and the fire is raging out of control. Can you imagine?

“Anger is like a howling baby, suffering and crying. The baby needs his mother to embrace him. You are the mother for your baby, your anger. The moment you begin to practice breathing mindfully in and out, you have the energy of a mother, to cradle and embrace the baby. Just embracing your anger, just breathing in and breathing out, that is good enough. The baby will feel relief right away.”

 

― quoted from “Two – Putting Out the Fire of Anger: Embracing Anger with the Sunshine of Mindfulness” in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames by Thich Nhat Hanh

 

I think, sometimes, that if we “have a handle on” our anger and frustration, we can convince ourselves (and others) that we are not actually angry or frustrated – that it’s just something in the ether. I think, too, that some people even believe that if they don’t lash out at others or express their anger in a stereotypical way then they aren’t actually angry. But, the truth is that there are different ways to express anger and frustration just as those emotions can manifest in different ways and at different times. Some people are all about lashing out (physically and/or verbally); others express themselves in a mindful way; still others get passive-aggressive. Some people go out of their way to avoid the conflict all together and don’t resolve the situation (which may defuse their anger and frustration or it may heighten it) and still others get super-duper quiet.

Here I’m tying anger and frustration together, even though frustration is just one manifestation of anger. However, anger can also manifest as irritability, defensiveness, and resistance. Since these emotions are inevitably tied to conflict, they are mentally connected to discernment. In other words, the angrier we get, the harder it becomes to make wise, skillful decisions.

Earlier, I mentioned that there was another elephant in the room – the idea that someone can’t/won’t have strong “negative” emotions because they practice yoga and/or meditate. Like the stereotype of the ABW, this has its roots in some superficial truth, but ultimately it is just another stereotype. I say it all the time: yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness-based practices are not intended to make you numb to emotional and mental experiences. In fact, instead of being numb, you may find that these practices allow you to feel more. They also can help you see more and, therefore, enable you to make better decisions.

One way to understand this is to look at the connection between emotions and the mind-body. Emotional experiences – like anger, frustration, fear, and even joy – have the ability to hijack our central nervous system. When an emotion takes our nervous system for a ride, we either want more of the experience or we want to escape the experience. Like fear, anger and frustration can activate our sympathetic nervous system, thus engaging our fight-flight-freeze response. When this happens, we get tunnel vision and everything narrows down to what is needed for “survival.” We not only see less, we hear and feel less. In certain extreme situations, blood is diverted from our digestive and immune systems into the limbs that we need to fight, flee, or escape through collapse (which is the freeze response). Additionally, anger and frustration are often fueled and driven by fear – creating a feedback loop that leaves us highly sensitized and over-stimulated. If we get into that feedback loop, as many of us have over the last few years (and especially this last year and a half), we can become like a stick of dynamite that has been placed next to a lit match after the fuse was soaked in gasoline.

Of course, there is something really special about the emotional “elephant” that practices yoga, meditation, and/or some other mindfulness-based practice (like centering prayer). Such a person has the tools to deal with their emotions in a way that is wise, loving, and kind. I did not choose those last three randomly. In Eastern philosophies and some medical sciences, every emotion has a flip side: for fear it is wisdom; for anger it is loving-kindness.

We can think of anger and frustration as emotional pain (because that’s what suffering is) and, in this case, they are signs that something needs to change. They can fuel change in a way that is constructive or destructive. But, in order to make the decision to resolve conflict in a way that is constructive, we have to be able to see as clearly as possible. We have to be able to be able to see the possible.

Which takes us back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile – and how, sometimes, that feels like a giant leap to me.

“This also, then, leads on to the idea of whether or not the brain ever does big jumps – or does it only ever do small steps? And the answer is that the brain only ever does small steps. I can only get from here to the other side of the room by passing through the space in between. I can’t teleport myself to the other side. Right? Similarly, your brain can only ever make small steps in its ideas. So, whenever you’re in a moment, it can only actually shift itself to the next most likely possible. And the next and most likely possible is determined by its assumptions. We call it ‘the space of possibility.’ Right. You can’t do just anything. Some things are just impossible for you in terms of your perception or in terms of your conception of the world. What’s possible is based on your history.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

As I said before, I love the work of Thich Nhat Hanh and, if we are to believe the people around me, I have a great smile. But, I have a hard time faking a smile when I’m angry – which is kind of the point. Add to this practice, my self-awareness – or, in this case you could call it self-consciousness – about how I am perceived as a Black woman… especially when I am angry. Something that I do all the time seems like a giant leap; because suddenly smiling, even softly, during a conflict, can come across as menacing.

I know, I know, most of you who know me personally don’t think I’m scary – especially since I am so small. But, trust me when I tell you that there are people who have been scared of “me”… or, at least, their perception of me. And, sometimes, that makes me a little angry.

[Feel free to insert a hands-thrown-up-in-the-air emoji.]

When it comes to dealing with anger and frustration, I definitely use the Eastern philosophy model as a foundation. I get on the mat, the cushion, and/or the walking trail and I consider how Chinese Medicine associates anger and frustration with the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Gallbladder Meridian is yang and runs from the outer corner of the eyes up to the outer ears and top of the head and then DOWN the outer perimeter of the body – with some offshoots – before ending at the fourth toe. Liver Meridian is yin and runs UP from the top of the big toe up the inner leg; through the groin, liver, and gallbladder; into the lungs; and then through the throat into the head, circling the lips and finishing around the eyes. (This is an extremely basic description!) Since YIN Yoga is based on Chinese Medicine, we can hold certain poses that target the hips and side body in order to access the energy of the Gallbladder and Liver Meridians. Other times, we just bring awareness to how we feel in those areas associated with the meridians – knowing that “prāņa (‘life force’) follows awareness” – and perhaps do poses that highlight those areas (superficially) in order to cultivate more awareness. This is what we did on Sunday.

Another thing we did on Sunday was incorporate lojong (“mind training”) techniques from Tibetan Buddhism. These are statements that can be used as a starting point for meditation and/or contemplation. They can also be used, in this context, as affirmations and reminders. For instance, in Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, Thich Nhat Hanh explained one of his personal rituals: “Each morning I offer a stick of incense to the Buddha. I promise myself that I will enjoy every minute of the day that is given me to live.” This is like the lojong statement #21 “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” To me, this is not only about cheerfulness; it is also about showing up with a sense of gratitude, wonder, and awe. This activates my practice of shoshin (“beginner’s mind”) and santosha (“contentment”) – which means I am less likely to think (or say), “[That person] always does this or that.” If I can let go of past insult and injury (about which I can do nothing since it’s in the past), I can focus on the present issue. I will also consider how doing something loving and kind – for myself, for the other person/people in the conflict, and/or for some person not involved in the conflict can change the energy.

You can think of these practices as personal de-escalation techniques. They are the steps you take (and the tools you use) to offer your inner child a little comfort and to start putting out the flames so that they stay out. They can also be the tools you use to make sure there will be no backdraft and no new fires. This weekend, when I randomly stumbled on the Big Think clip quoted above, I added a new perspective to this practice: I started thinking about the “kindest” next step.

“And the idea is that, for the person being creative, all their doing is making a small step to the next most likely possibility – based on their assumptions. But, when someone on the outside sees them doing that, they think, ‘Wow! How did they put those two things that are far apart together?’ And the reason why it seems that way is because for the observer they are far apart. They have a different space of possibility.”

 

– quoted from the 2017 Big Think video entitled, “The Neuroscience of Creativity, Perception, and Confirmation Bias by Beau Lotto

 

Beau Lotto is a professor of Neuroscience, the founder and director of the Lab of Misfits, as well as the author of Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently and the co-author of Why We See The Way We Do: An Empirical Theory of Vision.  One of his missions – in fact, the primary mission of the Lab of Misfits – is to get people to know less, but understand more. I know, I know, that sounds so weird and counterintuitive, but ultimately it is about questioning and delving deeper into what we think we know, in order to gain better understanding of our areas “not knowing.” It is about gaining better understanding of our selves by letting go of our assumptions and being open to possibilities.

The clip I ran across was specifically about creativity and perception, which got me thinking about how we perceive one another during a conflict and how that perception contributes to our ability to construct a viable resolution or, conversely, how our perceptions lead to more destruction and conflict.  How do we de-escalate a situation between people who may perceive the conflict (and each other) in different ways? One obvious answer is Thich Nhat Hanh’s suggestion to smile. It’s a really good answer… but “my” history and my perception of how I might be perceived – based on history – makes it seem like a giant leap. Even though I am in the habit of smiling all the time, I am not in the habit of being angry or being perceived as an ABW. So, to combine the two requires practice and an awareness of my “space of possibility.”

In considering my space of possibility, I started thinking about what the kindest next step might be in a certain situation. For example, let’s say that I’m getting angry at something someone keeps saying to me during a conversation and/or I am frustrated by how I react to what they are saying. To suddenly compliment the person who is insulting me might come across as disingenuous. That might be a big leap for them to understand – especially if they are insulting me on purpose. But, somehow, we need to reach an understanding between the two of us (or just between me, myself, and I). Reaching that understanding requires bridging a proverbial (and verbal) gap – which we can’t do as look as I keep getting “hooked” by the thing they keep saying and they keep getting “hooked” by the way I am reacting.

So, what’s the next step that is also kind? I could practice the four R’s (Recognize, Refrain, Relax, Resolve) and maybe even that fifth R (Remember). I could just take a couple of deep breaths and remind myself that I promised to enjoy today. I could do all of that and preface the next thing I say. After all, sometimes naming what you are experiencing – even if you just say it to yourself – can make a big difference. Of course, be mindful about how you preface and name what you are experiencing – otherwise, you might come across as snarky and sarcastic.

“3. Examine the nature of unborn awareness.”

 

“4. Self-liberate even the antidote.

Commentary: Do not hold on to anything – even the realization that there’s nothing solid to hold onto.”

 

“5. Rest in the nature of alaya, the essence.

Commentary: There is a resting place, a starting place that you can always return to. You can always bring your mind back home and rest right here, right now, in present, unbiased awareness.”

 

6. In post-meditation, be a child of illusion.”

 

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

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for 04102021 Si se puede & Birds”]

 

“It is a small step that begins the journey of a thousand miles.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 64” of A Path and a Practice: Using Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

 

### What Would Hanuman Do? ###

 

First Friday Night Special #9: “The Effort to Free/Liberate Yourself from…” (a post practice post) July 3, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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[This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #8 from July 2nd. This was a restorative practice with opportunities with a lot of stillness and silence.

You can request an audio recording of Friday’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.]

“On June 7, [Medgar] Evers spoke at a rally in Jackson. The speech Evers gave was one of the most emotional of his career:

‘Freedom is never free… I love my children and I love my wife with all my heart. And I would die, die gladly, if that would make a better life for them….’

Five days later, Medgar Evers was dead.”

– quoted from “Chapter 2 – A Short but Heroic Life: The Jackson Movement” of The Assassination of Medgar Evers by Myra Ribeiro

Like a lot of people associated with the United States, this is the time of year when I my mind keeps thinking about Freedom, Liberation, and Independence. Since I was born in Texas, I’ve celebrated Juneteenth all my life. And, even though I don’t always mention it around this time, I often think about what it must have been like for Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinqué) and the other enslaved Mende, West Africans who revolted on the Amistad around July 1, 1839 – and how John Quincy Adams (then a 73-year old former president and, at the time an active member of the House of Representatives) helped them secure their freedom through the U. S. Courts system. I think about how Caeser Rodney, a Delaware delegate of the American Continental Congress and Brigadier General of Delaware Militia (just to name a few of his roles), rode two days in – across muddy roads, rickety bridges, slippery cobblestones, and swollen streams; enduring extreme heat, dust, and thunderstorms; all while suffering from suffering from asthma and wearing a face mask to cover his cancer-ravage jaw – just to represent his constituents and “vote for independence” today in 1776. And, I know, he wasn’t specifically riding for me (or people like me), but that’s not the point.

My point in bringing him up every year is the same reason I think about (and want others to think about) why John Adams (who would go on to become president) thought people would be celebrating today, July 2nd, as “the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America” (according to a letter he wrote to his wife Abigail on July 3, 1776). It’s also why I talk about a descendant of slaves who was born today in 1908, given the name Thoroughgood Marshall, and grew up to become chief counsel for the NAACP and a United States Supreme Court Justice.  Finally, it’s why I’ve been known to reference Medgar Wiley Evers, the Civil Rights activist who was born today in 1952, worked as Mississippi’s field secretary for the NAACP, and served in the United States Army during World War II – before he was assassinated because people objected to his efforts to overturn segregation and enforce voting rights for African Americans.

Within that last sentence is my ultimate point: Freedom, Liberation, and Independence require effort – effort that should be celebrated rather than taken for granted and/or forgotten. While I highlight the efforts that take place on a national, constitutional, and legal front, let us not forget that freed, liberation, and independence also have to be achieved on a personal front. And that too requires effort: physical, mental, emotional, and energetic effort.

“Who is free? The free must certainly be beyond cause and effect. If you say that the idea of freedom is a delusion, I shall say that the idea of bondage is also a delusion. Two facts come into our consciousness, and stand or fall with each other. These are our notions of bondage and freedom. If we want to go through a wall, and our head bumps against that wall, we see we are limited by that wall. At the same time we find a willpower, and think we can direct our will everywhere. At every step these contradictory ideas come to us. We have to believe that we are free, yet at every moment we find we are not free. If one idea is a delusion, the other is also a delusion, and if one is true, the other also is true, because both stand upon the same basis — consciousness. The Yogi says, both are true; that we are bound so far as intelligence goes, that we are free so far as the soul is concerned. It is the real nature of man, the soul, the Purusha, which is beyond all law of causation. Its freedom is percolating through layers of matter in various forms, intelligence, mind, etc. It is its light which is shining through all.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

In Yoga Sūtra 2.18, Patanjali breaks down the composition of the “objective world” – that which we can sense – and explains that “has a twofold purpose: fulfillment and freedom. He goes on, in the subsequent sūtra, to further breakdown the range of the inherent forces that make up the world, thereby giving some explanation as to how one might understand (and even attempt to explain) the nature of things. However, in Yoga Sūtra 2.20 he throws a bit of a curveball – one he had already warned was coming: We can only see what our mind shows us.

In other words, we can only understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised when we are ready to understand the freedom and fulfillment that is promised. Furthermore, as long as we are stuck between freedom and bondage, we will interact with others through that same paradigm. We will do things that create suffering and, therefore, create bondage. Here I am talking about physical and legal bondage as well as mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual bondage. There are, after all, multiple ways to hold someone back or hold someone down. And, on a certain level, it doesn’t matter if that “someone” is our self or someone else. Ultimately, our belief in bondage goes hand-in-hand with our attachment to the things that cause suffering. Just as effort is required to break physical and legal shackles, effort is required to break mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual shackles.

Just a few years before I did my first yoga teacher training, I was in a situation where most of my yoga practice was through an online practice group and via Steve Ross’s Inhale. Yes, it’s had for even me to imagine myself getting up for a yoga class that was broadcast (on the Oxygen Network) at 5 or 6 AM, but that’s what I did off and on for about 6 months out of a year. I loved the practice so much that at one point I looked up his book. Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga: 7 Reasons Why There’s Nothing to Worry About is where I first heard two of my favorite elephant stories – although one is really, really horrible.’

According to the horrible story, circuses train elephants by shackling them when they are very young. The metal shackle is first attached to chain (maybe about 12 feet long) that is driven into the ground with a metal stake. You can imagine what happens if the young elephant manages to pull the stake up and make a run for it. After some years, the metal stake is replaced with a wooden stake. Then, the stake is removed but the chain remains. Eventually, the chain is removed and then, finally, the shackle may be removed. Despite no longer being physically tethered, the adult elephant has been conditioned to stay within a 12-foot radius – and so it does.

“Forever and truly free,

The single witness of all things.

But if you see yourself as separate,

Then you are bound.”

“If you think you are free,

You are free.

If you think you are bound,

You are bound.

For the saying is true:

You are what you think.”

– quoted from The Heart of Awareness: A Translation of the Ashtavakra Gita (1.7 and 1.11) by Thomas Byrom

What is true about the elephant is also true about human beings (and the nature of human beings): effort is required to shackle someone and effort is required to be free of the shackles. The effort and the shackles can be physical. They can, simultaneously and independently, also be mental, emotional, energetic, and spiritual. As an example, consider something that has been in the news pretty much since the tignon laws were passed in New Orleans in 1786: Black people’s hair.

Tignon Laws required women of color to wear head coverings in public so that, no matter how fair (in complexion), how “elegantly” dressed, and/or how (legal) free the woman might be she could be identified as someone who could – under the “right” circumstances – be bought and sold at will (just not her will), and thus could be treated accordingly. A similar law, established in the French colony of Saint-Domingue in 1776, prohibited women of color from wearing shoes – again, with the intention of subjugating the women. In both cases, the women the laws were intended to shackle turned the restrictions into fashion statements that extended beyond the statutes. They kept their spirits up and took back some of their power… but they were still marginalized.

As integration moved into the workplace, some American corporations created employee manuals which included acceptable and unacceptable hairstyles and/or blocked the advancement of certain people based on their hairstyles. While many were (and are) quick to say that the hairstyles in question were “unprofessional,” the hairstyles were (and are) consistently traditional ways to manage and style Black hair. By traditional, I mean that you would see these hairstyles in pre-colonial Africa. Equally important, these are hairstyles that could/can be achieved without harsh chemicals. In other words, they are natural….yet, they were deemed unnatural by people with different hair textures and types.

On July 21, 1976, the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, upheld an earlier ruling in favor of Beverly Jenkins (in Jenkins v. Blue Cross Mutual Hospital Insurance Inc.) – although they had previously restricted how far the ruling could be applied. Ms. Jenkins had sued her former employer (in Indianapolis) on the grounds that she had been denied “promotions and better assignments” and was ultimately terminated “‘because of her race, sex, black styles of hair and dress,’ in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C, 2000E et seq. and 42 U.S.C, 1981.” The basis of her lawsuit? She wore her hair in an afro.

Despite the aforementioned 1976 ruling, a New York court ruled against a woman who sued American Airlines in 1981, because (the court) decided that “an all-braided hairstyle is a different matter” than an afro, because it was an “artifice.” Strictly speaking in terms of word meanings, “artifice” is defined as “clever or cunning devices or expedients, especially as used to trick or deceive others.” Keep that definition in mind when you consider that the same New York woman who was told that she could not braid her natural hair and keep her job “even if [the hairstyle was] socioculturally associated with a particular race or nationality,” could use lye to straighten her hair (so it appeared a different texture) and then curl it (or even dye it) and still keep her job. She could do all of that even though it would result in a hairstyle “associated with a particular race or nationality”… it just happened to have been the politically acceptable race.

There are similar cases over the last forty years, including situations with school children and even student athletes who have been allowed to wear their natural hairstyles one week and then told they had to cut their hair – or not compete – another week. On July 3, 2019, the CROWN (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair) Act (SB188) was signed into law under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (of 1959) and the California Education Code. New Jersey and New York adopted similar versions of the bill and other states, including South Carolina, are following suit. But, those laws don’t protect people in all over the country and they don’t apply outside of the country.

“Back in 1964, a hotel manager named James Brock dumped hydrochloric acid into a swimming pool that Black protesters had dived into as a form of protest against segregation, leaving the swimmers with chemical burns. In 2018, a white man demanded that a Black woman show her ID to swim at a private community pool in North Carolina, despite there being no official rules at the time stating that she needed to show any form of identification to enter the area. When she rightfully refused, he called the police.”

– quoted from the July 30, 2020 InStyle article entitled, “Olympic Swimmer Simone Manuel on Her Haircare Routine and Why More Black Women Should Get in the Pool” by Kayla Greaves

Recently, as in today/Friday, it was announced that swimming caps designed for natural Black hair will not be allowed at the Tokyo Olympics. This was decided by FINA (Fédération Internationale de natation; English: International Swimming Federation), the Switzerland-based governing body, who said (a) that the caps – designed in conjunction with an Olympic athlete – “[did not follow] the natural form of the head” and that to their “best knowledge, the athletes competing at the international events never used, neither require to use, caps of such size and configuration.” Now, if you don’t see a problem with this situation, I don’t blame you; however, I would encourage you to consider – visualize even – the makeup of the people making the decision and the makeup of the people being affected by the decision. Consider, also, the governing body’s “best knowledge” doesn’t really include a lot of Black bodies. Alice Dearing, the Olympian who worked with Soul Cap, will be the first Black woman to represent Great Britain in an Olympic swimming event. Ever.

Two-time Olympian Enith Brigitha, born on Curacao, swam for the Netherlands in the 1970’s and became the first woman of African descent to win an Olympic medal (bronze in the 100 and 200 freestyle at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games). She also set five short course records and won a silver medal and two additional bronze medals at the World Championships (and some say she would have won an Olympic gold were it not for circumstances beyond her control). She was swimming during a time when, in America at least, de-segregated pools was still a new concept, and not one that was evenly enforced. She was also competing at a time when no one else looked her in the pools where she was competing. In pictures, her hair is cut short. If you look at a picture of her with her peers, all fresh from the pool, some of the other young ladies also have short hair; however, like today, the majority swam with ponytails or pigtails.

In 1988, Boston University’s Sybil Smith became the first African-American woman to score in a NCAA final and the first to be a first-team Division I All-American. In 1999, Alison Terry became the first Black woman to make a U.S. National Team when she qualified for the Pan American Games. In 2004, Puerto Rican-born Maritza Correla became the first African-American to represent the United States at the Olympics – she won a silver medal as part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team. That same year, a French swimmer named Malia Metella won a silver medal in the 50 freestyle – which was the highest individual Olympic placing for a Black female swimmer. Ten years later, at the 2014 World Short Course Championships in Doha, a Jamaican swimmer named Alia Atkinson became the first Black woman to win a swimming world title. Just a few months later, at the beginning of 2015, there was the first all African-American podium an NCAA swimming championship, when Division I athletes Simone Manuel, Lia Neal, and Natalie Hinds placed first, second, and third (respectively) in the 100-yard freestyle. Simone Manuel would go on to become the first Black woman to win Olympic gold as a swimmer (2016), setting an Olympic and an American time record in the process. Since 2016, she has won three additional individual world championship titles and is planning to compete defend her title in Tokyo.

“‘It is kind of emotional as well… Being a swimmer in a predominantly white sport just exacerbates it in my mind so I am just hyper aware of everything. I am the only Black swimmer on the deck every day. That is something I have always noticed, but now it affects me. All those feelings you suppress as a kid.’

[Natalie] Hinds said there are situations that she sees all the time from people comparing he hai to a poodle, to specific comments about her race.”

– quoted from the September 1, 2020, Swimming World article entitled, “Natalie Hinds Discusses ‘Fighting to be Equal,’ Using Her Platform in Fireside Chat With Elizabeth Beisel” by Dan D’Addona, Swimming World Managing Editor

Natural hair, regardless of race or ethnicity, is classified by curl type – typically ranging from “straight” which would theoretically fall in a 0 or 1 category to 3 graduating types of 2, 3, and 4. So, there are 6 types that are visually recognizable as “wavy,” “curly,” and/or “kinky.” As mentioned above, Enith Brigitha wore her hair short. In 1988, Sybil Smith’s hair was relaxed (i.e., chemically straightened) and in most pictures it appears relatively short. That same is true of Malia Metella. Alison Terry’s hair appears to be 2 (B or C, but maybe 3A) and Maritza Correla’s hair appears to be type 3; meaning they could both (theoretically) pull their dry hair into a ponytail and when their hair is wet it would still hang around their shoulders. This same seems to be true for Alia Atkinson and Lia Neal.

Natalie Hinds appears to wear her hair natural, sometimes with braids, (and possibly has a 4A curl); but, in most of her public facing pictures she’s wearing her swim cap – and her hair is clearly pushing the limits of the cap. Simone Manuel sometimes wears her hair long, and has been featured in articles about natural hair care where she said (in 2020), “…I’m someone who genuinely feels that if you want to be successful in something, then sometimes you have to make sacrifices. And for me, part of that is my hair.” No shade to my hometown-sister – and I get that chlorine is harsh on hair – but I can’t helping wondering when one of her peers had to “sacrifice” their hair for their ambitions. I also can’t help but think of a dear, dear friend of mine, who is slightly older than me, and who once said that when she was growing up (here in the States) she didn’t realize having natural (unprocessed) hair was an option.

Even if we disregard all of the stereotypes about Black people and swimming that have been perpetuated over the years, the bottom line is that this is the bulk of FINA’s “knowledge” related to Black hair and Olympic swimmers. Take a moment to really notice that even as I have grouped the ladies and their hair, I’ve left out some significant facts pertaining to why their hair is so different – even within those groupings. Even more to the point, I’m willing to bet money that most of the nine athletes mentioned above use completely different hair products than the other aforementioned athletes.

“Intelligence is connected with the brain, but behind intelligence even stands the Purusha, the unit, where all different sensations and perceptions join and become one. The soul itself is the centre where all the different perceptions converge and become unified. That soul is free, and it is its freedom that tells you every moment that you are free. But you mistake, and mingle that freedom every moment with intelligence and mind. You try to attribute that freedom to the intelligence, and immediately find that intelligence is not free; you attribute that freedom to the body, and immediately nature tells you that you are again mistaken. That is why there is this mingled sense of freedom and bondage at the same time. The Yogi analyses both what is free and what is bound, and his ignorance vanishes. He finds that the Purusha is free, is the essence of that knowledge which, coming through the Buddhi, becomes intelligence, and, as such, is bound.”

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.20 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

Letting go of what binds us and restricts us requires effort. It often requires external as well as internal effort – although, more often than not, those two go hand-in-hand. However, we can’t begin the process without acknowledging our tethers: our shackles, our chains, and our metal or wooden stake. We have to recognize what is being done to us, what we are doing to ourselves, and what we are doing to others.

This can sound all theoretical and metaphorical, but one way to think about it is to just acknowledge where you are holding tension in your mind-body. What is limiting you physically? What mental and/or emotional limitations are in balance? Even if you don’t completely understand (or believe) the energetic and spiritual ramifications of those physical-mental-emotional blocks, take a moment to consider what freedom, liberation, and independence mean to you – and then go to your “Freedom Place” and feel those embodied qualities.

Just like people have “Happy Places” that we can visualize (or sometimes, remember), I think it’s a good idea to have a “Freedom Place.” Your Freedom Place might be your Happy Place. It might be a real place and/or a real memory. Of course, it could just be a feeling, a combination of sensations. No matter how you come to understand it, know that in your Freedom Place you can take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day, because you are:

  • Free of fear, doubt, anxiety, grief and anything else that shackles us (and others).
  • Liberated from the bondage of judgement and strong emotions or passions – which, remember, comes to us from the Latin by way of Old French and Middle English, from a word that means “suffer.”
  • Independent of responsibilities and burdens.

In your Freedom Place, you are carefree, but not careless. In your Freedom Place, there is no tension in your body or your mind and you recognize your possibilities. Of course, to feel this free we have change the condition of our hearts and minds – so that we change our understanding. To liberate ourselves from judgement (including self-recrimination), we must develop some insight into the attachments (shackles) that lead to suffering. Finally, being independent of our burdens requires us to lay our burdens down. When we lay our burdens down, we can either walk away from what no longer serves us – and maybe never served us – or we can choose to pick up our opportunities. Just so you know; opportunities are lighter than burdens. Furthermore, when we have a lighter load, we can share someone else’s load without feeling like it’s an imposition. When our load is light, we gratefully and joyful, can help others.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Even when we can’t name everything that holds us down and holds us back, even when we don’t find it particularly helpful to name things, we can come to the mat and start the process of releasing, relaxing, and breathing. Remember, breath is our ultimate (“pranic”) tool. We can use it to bring awareness to different areas in the body and then to release tension in those areas. We can use it to create space and then, also, to engage space. It can set our pace in a moving practice and allow us to stay centered and grounded in every practice. The way we breathe can affect our mood (and overall emotional state) in positive way or in a detrimental way. And, while the goal in yoga is always to take the deepest breaths you’ve taken all day, some practices cultivate a deeper breath right off the bat. One such practice is a Restorative Yoga practice.

You can think of Restorative Yoga and Yin Yoga as 1st cousins – in that they resemble each other on outside, but the internal experience is different. There are a lot of times in a Yin Yoga practice when people can’t wait to get out of a pose (and there may be a lot of groaning and moaning as they come out). With Restorative Yoga, however, sometimes people want to stay in a pose a little longer – even when the pose is held for twice as long as you would hold a Yin Yoga pose. There also tend to be more sighs than groans (and less cursing of my name). Both practices can be really prop-heavy, but it is (in some ways) easier to practice restorative without the props. The practice we did for the July “First Friday Night Special” featured three of the most common Restorative Yoga poses, a very soft twist, and a super sweet variation I recently learned from Aprille Walker, of Yoga Ranger Studio. (Because, like you, I’ve been practicing online.) There’s also a lot of silence and stillness!

“Practiced regularly, [Frog or Child’s Pose] also improves your breathing and your elimination…. The quality of our elimination is directly tied to the quality of our respiration. And, so, tension in the low abdomen and back can directly impact the quality of our ability to eliminate regularly.”

– Scott Blossom, explaining detoxification benefits of Mandukāsana

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “030521 Give Up, Let Go, Trustful Surrender” PLEASE NOTE: I recommend doing this practice in silence or using one of the first two tracks on the playlists. The first tracks are similar, but only YouTube has my original choice for the 2nd track.]

### “FREE YOUR MIND / AND THE REST WILL FOLLOW” ~ En Vogue ###

Needing to Move, a little or a lot (the Tuesday post) June 29, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“Some days or weeks when you are practicing, the mind will be calm and easily concentrated, and you will find yourself progressing fast. All of a sudden the progress will stop one day, and you will find yourself, as it were, stranded. Persevere. All progress proceeds by such rise and fall.”

 

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.30 from Raja Yoga by Swami Vivekananda

It happens to all of us, at one time or another: We hit a wall, an obstacle. In Yoga Sūtra 1.30, Patanjali names nine obstacles to the practice – which are really nine obstacles to anything: disease, mental inertia (or laziness), doubt, lack of enthusiasm (sometimes translated as carelessness, lethargy or sloth, clinging to sense cravings, false understanding, an inability to reach the goal of concentration, and an inability to maintain the goal. These nine obstacles coincide with four physical-mental experiences. Naming these obstacles (and the arising experiences), when we experience them, can be helpful in helping us (as Marcus Aurelius instructed himself) find the way forward.

However, there is a tendency, for some of us, to really dig into WHY we hit the wall. We want to know the “why” so that we can avoid it in the future – and there is merit in that. Such inquiry can benefit us, can directly and indirectly benefit those around us, and can also benefit people we have never met and will never meet. However, sometimes, all that digging into what was can itself become an obstacle. Sometimes, all that inquiry can keep us from moving forward.

Before I move forward with this line of thinking, let me point out that we can sometimes get stuck because of our perceptions about moving forward. Moving forward looks different to different people and/or in different circumstances. For example, I just heard about a junior Olympian who, for a variety of reasons, had to take a break from training. Moving forward for her looks like getting back to training. On the flip side, if you (or someone you know) were stuck in a toxic, maybe even physical and/or mentally abusive relationship, moving forward looks like staying out of that relationship. It also means staying away from similarly toxic relationships – because, otherwise, you’re stuck in the same pattern and not moving forward at all. Even if the people in these scenarios are getting unstuck at the same time, the way they move forward is going to look different.

So, clearly, to move forward we have to move. Right? Well…. Yes, and no.

Even before we get to the no; let’s talk about the yes. The human mind-body is designed to “flow” or move. Not only is the basic construction of the mind-body conducive to moving, one of its primary systems, the lymphatic system, functions through movement. The lymphatic system is part of the cardiovascular (or circulatory) and immune systems, and is also connected to the digestive system. It plays a crucial part in our overall health and requires muscular movement (contraction and release) in order to function.

Movement serves as the pump that moves lymphatic fluid through the lymph nodes strategically located throughout the body. The lymphatic fluid brings in the cells that kill abnormal cells and foreign substances (which cause disease); can re-circulate protein cells; washes away dead cells and debris; and carries that (liquid) waste to the kidneys so that it can be flushed out of the body. The lymphatic system also helps the body to absorb (nutritional) fat and removes excess liquid from the body, in order to prevent inflammation that can lead to disease. The very act of breathing facilitates the movement of the lymph. But, it moves it in a limited fashion; which means that, when someone is unable to move their muscles on their own, having externally provided manipulation/stimulation can be helpful (and that can occur in a lot of different ways).

So, yes, the human mind-body needs to move. The question is, on any given day, how much movement do you need? And how do you know what kind of movement you need? My friend and fellow yoga teacher Sandra Razieli once said that sometimes she starts moving and if she feels better she keeps going. On the flip side, if the movement she’s doing doesn’t make her feel better, even a little bit, she changes what she’s doing. (I identify Sandra as a “fellow yoga teacher,” but honestly she’s a movement facilitator and has a knowledge base of kinesiology and neurophysiology that exceeds a basic knowledge of āsana.) Sandra’s guideline is consistent with a similar one from Wade Imre Morissette, a Canadian yoga teacher and musician, who once said that if you finish your yoga practice and you don’t feel a little better than something went wrong.

“The nine obstacles described in the previous sutra rob the body of vitality, strength, stamina, and agility, and the mind of clarity and peace. The absence of these obstacles is the ground for joy. Their presence is the ground for pain, which in turn leads to four other debilitating conditions: mental agitation, unsteadiness in the limbs, disturbed inhalation, and disturbed exhalation.”

 

– quoted from the commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

It makes sense that people who are, for the most part, in “the business of movement” would tell people to move. And, sometimes, you might come to a practice and be amazed that the teacher “magically” knows the kind of movement you needed to feel better. You might even be amazed when, a day or so later, you attend class with another instructor and they are “magically” leading a practice with similar elements. Of course, part of your amazement comes from (1) not considering that we all have mind-bodies that are subjected to similar external factors; (2) while there are a lot of different ways to access certain parts of the body, people in a similar region (who were trained in a similar style/tradition) are going to be most familiar with the same methods; and (3) certain things are needed in order to safe and mindfully access certain parts of the mind-body. People “in the business of movement” are also going to tell you that it’s important to be still, to not move – that’s why we have Śavāsana!

If you look at anything in nature, including your own mind-body, you will find evidence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Third Law of Motion: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is how nature finds balance, by moving between extreme states of imbalance. Things ebb and flow; we inhale and exhale; muscles contract (eccentrically and concentrically) and then release. Just like a motorized vehicle, we have an accelerator and a brake in the form of our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems.

The sympathetic nervous system, which is associated with the fight/flight/freeze response, is related to action. The parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with our ability to rest/digest/create, is the opposite reaction. They go hand-in-hand. We need one in order to have the other. And, sometimes, we find that we are not fully engaging in one because we are not fully engaging in the other. We are out of balance. We are stuck.

Again, when we are stuck, we have to figure out what is going to move us. Maybe it’s a really vigorous vinyasa practice or a ViniYoga practice (where there’s movement, but it’s not inherently “super sweaty. ”Maybe it’s a more static “Power Yoga” vinyasa practice. That said, what we need might be a Yin Yoga practice, a Restorative Yoga practice, or something in between those aforementioned practices (like an Iyengar Yoga practice). Or maybe what we need is to dance or walk, play catch with the kids, and/or do some somersaults – and it has absolutely nothing to do with yoga. We may not always know what we need, but we know when we need something to move us forward.

“That man [my father], sitting on his plastic mat in 1970, was lonely. His search had brought him to a place he didn’t quite grasp, one that lacked the reassurance of a clearly traveled path in front of him. I have my own version of that loneliness. I, too, am searching for something transformative. While I do have a yoga teacher, we have never lived in the same city. While I do practice where yoga is more widely accepted, I do so from within a paralyzed body. I do not know where the work is going, or even what is possible. But, while the work may be solitary, the impetus comes from loving the world, from wanting to join it. I wonder if he knew this, too.”

 

– quoted from “Part Three: Yoga, Bodies, and Baby Boys – 12. Taking My Legs Wide” of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Which, brings me back to yoga – or, really, any group activity (even on Zoom) – where you can tap into the collective momentum of the community. Taking a class on Zoom, YouTube, or any other virtual platform is not the same as taking a class in person. However, it can have similar advantages: there’s (still) a sense of community; someone else keeping track of time; someone keeping you accountable; and someone offering suggestions and (sometimes) “magically” knowing what you need. What happens, however, when you show up and the movement being suggested isn’t what you need?

First and foremost, it is important to remember that “This is your practice.” is not just something that we say. We say it because it’s true. Second, there are a lot of different ways to get into (and out of a pose); different ways to practice a pose/sequence; and most importantly, there’s more than one way to access a certain part of your mind-body. If your instructor/teacher doesn’t offer you options, ask for them! Finally, one of the advantages to a virtual practice, is that if you find that the movement isn’t exactly what you need in that moment, you can turn off your camera (if you’re live) and just take advantage of the other benefits to practicing in a community – and you can do so without the stigma or confusion that can sometimes occur when you do your own thing in a public setting.

“Self-nurturance is a key to taking care of the body. Resting when we need to rest, eating well, exercising, and giving the body pleasure all help to keep the first chakra happy. Massages, hot baths, good food, and pleasant exercise are all ways of nurturing ourselves and healing the mind/body split that results from the mind over matter paradigm. We cannot be integrated and whole if the two polarities are pitted against each other. Instead, through the body, we can have an experience of mind within matter.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2, Chakra One: Earth – The Body” of Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, June 29th) 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 “10202020 Pratyahara”]

 

Last year’s post on this date came at the practice from a slightly different perspective!

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.)

 

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).

 

 
 

### You’ve Got To Move It, Move It! ###

 

RELAX * RELEASE * REST * RENEW * HEAL – NEW YEAR’S DAY 2019 December 18, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Advent, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Football, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Taoism, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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Start the New Year with a 2-hour retreat into yourself. Enfold into the wisdom of your heart and let your heart’s desire unfold. Be inspired.

Despite our modern day penchant for fireworks and parties, a new year begins much as it ends: quietly. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we observe the secular New Year when much of nature is hibernating. We hustle and bustle, struggling to start, continue, or end. Meanwhile, beneath the surface, things and beings are waiting.

Waiting…it seems so passive and unyielding.

Waiting…it is easy to forget the importance of resting, relaxing, and being still…letting things germinate and take root.

Waiting…. In many philosophies and religions, including the Abrahamic religions, great emphasis is put on the importance of waiting, specifically because something or someone is coming.

Yet, no one really wants to wait for our dreams to come true. We want it now! And, we want to be actively working towards that goal. Unfortunately, sometimes, we forget about the importance of waiting…resting…reflecting…planning.

As one year ends and another begins, we are given the opportunity to reflect and plan. We can reflect on the events of the previous year – and how we dealt with them. We can plan for a new year of events – and how we want to deal with them. Making a resolution, even informally, seems natural to some and inevitable to others. It can also seem futile when you consider that (according to some statistics) only about 8% of people who make a resolution actually follow through with them.

Why are resolutions so hard to keep?

Resolutions are just like any other goal or dream that has a lot of expectation attached to it. In order for us to succeed we have to be all in – otherwise, we falter at the first obstacle. In order to be all in, we have to understand what it is we really want or need.

Ask yourself, how does this goal or desire serve me?

Every goal, every desire, every resolution has a purpose. Tapping into the power of the purpose, how the goal or desire serves us, allows us to connect to the underlying intention. Intention is compelling. Intention is the driving force that allows us to see an opportunity to succeed where we might otherwise falter.

Consider this sports analogy: Let’s say you’re a football team with a stellar passing game. Everybody knows your team has a stellar passing game; but, when you’re in the zone it doesn’t matter that the other team is trying to sack your quarterback or intercept every pass – there’s always a pocket, there’s always a hole. The problem comes in when you’re not in the zone and/or when you’re playing a team with an exceptional defensive line. A professional team, ideally, has practiced other options. However, even the pros play to their strengths and, sometimes strengths become blind spots. When it feels like everything is on the line – but nothing is going their way – that’s when we hit our blind spots. And, even the pros can end up in a situation where they’re strengths no longer serve them. Even the pros may forget that there are different ways to achieve the goal.

In The Four Desires, Rod Stryker outlines a formula for success which he calls the Creation Equation. Simply stated, the sum of the intensity of your desire plus the intensity of your efforts to achieve the goal has to be greater than the intensity of the resistance. Keep in mind, the resistance can come from a lot of different sources – including other people. Another thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the intensity of the resistance increases when your desire gets misplaced or transferred.

In the aforementioned sports analogy, for example, both teams have a strong desire to win. Each team’s desire represents a portion of the other team’s resistance. When practicing, however, the team with the stellar passing game focused their desire on having a stellar passing game. On the other hand, the exceptional defensive line focused on stopping everything. When it’s game time, the latter doesn’t care what you throw at them, they’re intense desire (i.e., their focus and their intention) is on stopping everything – by any means necessary. That intention puts them in the zone.

Every year, at the end of the 108 Sun Salutations, I lead a guided meditation which includes a group sankalpa that I then incorporate into my Saturday classes at the YMCA. The word sankalpa means will, determination, vow or intention. It can also mean resolution. But, the difference between the English and the Sanskrit is that within the Sanskrit word there is the vow and the way to achieve the vow, there is a guiding principle and the dedication to following it. A sankalpa combines the desire with the effort. To connect and to stay connected to that highest vow, it is important to clear the mind and focus/concentration/meditation on the heart’s desire.

When outlining the philosophy of the yoga in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali put particular emphasis on the combined power of the last three (3) limbs of the practice: focus, concentration, and (perfect) meditation (YS 3:4-6). He also mentioned that there are five (5) ways, including tapah (“training the senses” or “austerity”) and samadhi (“meditation”), to reach higher awareness (YS 4:1).

The New Year’s Day japa-ajapa mala if 108 Sun Salutations is a vigorous practice which fits into the category of tapah and can involve samadhi. While not vigorous, a Yin Yoga practice, which involves settling into a special series of poses for long holds, also fits into the categories of tapah and samadhi. Both can clear the mind so that you can bring your full awareness to your heart’s desire.

My 2019 New Year’s Day mala is full, but I will post other practice opportunities. Also, I am excited to offer a Yin Yoga practice with guided mediation (5 – 7 PM). If you are interested in joining me for this special candlelight practice on New Year’s Day, please email me (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com).

WHO: Everyone is welcome!

WHAT: A Yin Yoga practice addresses the deep tissue and connective tissue through a special series of supported poses held for 3 – 5 minutes. Props and awareness of the body creates an opportunity to relax the outer musculature. This candlelight practice also includes guided meditation.

WHERE & WHEN: Nokomis Yoga at 5:00 PM – 7:00 PM

WHEN: Tuesday, January 1, 2019

COST: This is a donation-based event. Since space is limited, please email Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com to save your spot.

~ HAPPY NEW YEAR! ~

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

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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOVING THE PRACTICE – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #14 April 14, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Surya Namaskar, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that it is a life-long practice. I love that the practice, like a laboratory or a playground, is a safe place to explore. I love that at the heart of the practice…is more practice, which prepares you for more practice. And, I also love how each part of the philosophy prepares you for the next limb, so that, when practiced simultaneously, each limb takes you deeper and higher. My favorite analogy of this is that it’s similar to climbing a tree:

You use the lower limbs to climb up to point where you can settle in and look around. In settling in, you stand or sit on one limb, while holding on to the trunk and a second limb. You can continue climbing, climb back down, or move out to the side, all depending on how you use the limbs.

I love that even someone new to yoga can recognize it as practice. Just today, in fact, someone commented that it was helpful to think of it as a practice – rather than a habit. I love that! I love too that when you get in the frame mind of “practicing,” (rather than perfecting, or even mastering) you are forced the stay present. The body changes and the mind changes, therefore, the practice changes. Even if you practice a tradition where the sequence stays the same, everything else – including your awareness and understanding – changes from one moment to the next, one breath to the next, one pose to the next, one…. You get the idea.

Truly practicing yoga requires staying present and observing oneself. In fact, svadyaya (self study), is one of the internal observations (niyama) at the beginning of the philosophy of yoga and, as such, it is one of the cornerstones of the practice. If you study yourself, it you invest the time, you will find your practice. I say that, because I truly believe there is a practice for everybody and a practice for each and every body (and a practice for every mind). It is not “one size fits all,” despite how it sometimes appears from the magazines and boutique studios.

There are practices that use a lot of props and practices that barely use props. There are practices where people spend a lot of time lying down on their backs, practices where people spend a lot of time sitting, and practices where people spend a lot of time standing. There are practices where people hold poses for long periods of time and practices where people seem to be in perpetual movement. There are practices where people do the same thing every time and practices that change with the weather. There are practices with music, and practices without music. I could go on, but, let me step back.

In the early part of the 20th Century, when Sri Krishnamacharya started a resurgence of Hatha Yoga practice in India, people practiced together, but they practiced what they needed. So, individual practice in a group setting – something you rarely see in the States, unless you are practicing Ashtanga Mysore-style. When Krishnamacharya started sending his students out into the world to teach, they essentially taught their own personal practice: alignment-focused, vinyasa-focused, breath-focused, and person-focused. Don’t get me wrong, none of those first practices to hit the Western fell very far from the Kirshnamacharya-tree – they all include elements of alignment, vinyasa, pranayama, and individual awareness. However, there is also just enough division for the yoga traditions to look like the various schisms which produced Protestant churches.

And, personally, I love that! Not the division. No, I love that there are so many styles and traditions – so many paths.

all the many paths that
lead into / the light that
shines bright inside of
me and you

– from Be the Change (Niraj Chag’s Swaraj Mix) by MC Yogi

Pick up a copy of B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and you will find poses and sequences for targeting certain body parts, various ailments, and for people who want to progress in the practice. Pick up Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health and you will find the same type of information, plus details on to use props in order to enhance your practice. Pick up David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual and you will find detailed instructions on how to modify (and progress) within one of the most physically vigorous physical practices. Pick up T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga or Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti Yoga and you will find the physical practice mixing with the philosophy in a way that takes if off the mat. Pick up Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life or Sarah Power’s Insight Yoga and now, the practice is clearly meditation. Pick up Jinjer’s Stanton’s Yoga For Every Room in Your House and you quite literally discover that you can practice yoga anywhere!

On and on it goes – and that’s the point. The practice is perpetual and eternal – if you practice. But it is way too easy not to practice.

I was fortunate in that my first teachers were like Yoda: they focused on what a person could do. They didn’t focus on what they (the teacher) could practice; they focused on what each individual could practice. We were still challenged, but we were challenged in a way that encouraged us to play, explore, study, and practice. The result of such engagement was an awareness of all the different ways someone could practice. And, that awareness, led to a deep acceptance – which is the path to true love.

“I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,”

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mike Eisner)

(Practice Time ~ 20 – 30 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Breathe into your heart and consider what you can appreciate about this moment. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet. Notice what you can love about your body and your mind in this position.

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

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Move, as if this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

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

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

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

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

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

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

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

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

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

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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

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

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. Give thanks for the gentle compression and massage that starts to calm your system and prepare you for the final meditation.

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

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

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

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Take a moment to notice how falling in love with your practice allows you to fall in love with yourself.

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

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

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

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

WORKING TOGETHER – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 12, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– from How Things Work by Gary Soto

If you practice yoga (or anything) long enough – sometimes it only takes a few seconds, sometimes a few hours, sometimes days, sometimes months – you start to notice how things work. If you practice yoga (or anything) long enough – sometimes it only takes a few minutes, sometime a few weeks, sometimes years, sometimes a lifetime – you start to notice how everything is connected. The awareness of interconnectedness develops on and off the mat.

But, let us just begin with awareness on the mat.

The physical practice, hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition, is a combination of the third limb of the philosophy (asana, seat) and the fourth limb (pranayama, awareness or extension of breath/life force). Again, regardless of the style or tradition, building a pose starts with establishing a base – that’s the seat – and then building from the ground up so that you can breathe – that’s the awareness of breath. This makes sense, right? I mean, a carpenter does not build a house by magically floating a chandelier over an empty space and then building the ceiling, followed by the walls, and then the foundation. And, even if they used a crane instead of magic (to hold up the chandelier) at some point they have to figure out a way to remove the crane. One method makes sense, and is sustainable. One method might be a fun experiment, but eventually leads to chaos and a big mess.

Vinyasa is a technique as well as a very popular style of physical practice in the West. It involves the linking of breath and poses, but the way in which it is practiced can look and feel very different – depending on how and why things are connected. When we think of vinyasa as “flow,” instead of the literal “to place in a special way,” we may miss why some poses feel natural when linked together and why other sequences feel awkward and clunky.

Vinyasa karma is the science of placing things in a (special) way that leads to a step-by-step progression towards a goal. There is an element of vinyasa karma in every good practice – even when the practice is not a vinyasa practice. Here, I am defining a “good” practice as being one where you feel your time on the mat was well spent and that time leaves you feeling more connected. And, over time, you may notice that it is the sequencing of poses which creates that sense of connectedness.

Sequencing can also help us gain more awareness of how things work, because it brings our awareness to how we prepare. When we are focused only on the outside of the body, and not on the inner engagement or the breath, we miss the opportunity to prepare for the next pose or the next breath. Yes, the body and the mind can do amazing things – including, if we desire it enough, contort into one pretzel shape after another – but, some amazing feats are not sustainable.

For instance, if a non-dancer or non-gymnast starts off a physical practice with a big back bend like Camel Pose (Ustrasana) they may find the legs are a little shaky, the hips sink back, the core collapses, and the upper back is stiff – in fact, they may find the only thing ready for the pose is a hyper-flexible neck: Notice the difference. One the flip side, a person who works hunched over at a desk or an assembly line all day can progress into the pose if they first do something to engage the strength of the legs; the flexibility of the hips; the stability of the core; and the flexibility of the full spine, shoulders, and arms. What they do to achieve these effects depends on the style and tradition and, ideally, on the individual needs of their mind-body-spirit.

As another example, consider how you move into a balancing pose. Some people establish a base, shift the weight, engage the core, and “float” up. They then spend their time in the pose breathing deeply in, breathing deeply out. On the other hand, some people “jump” into balancing poses. They often get lucky – which means they don’t immediately crash and burn, but they may spend the whole time in the pose worried that they are going to crash and burn. Yes, everybody falls down. The question is what did falling down teach you?

The body and the mind have a way of naturally finding balance within the imbalance. When we mimic the body’s natural tendencies, we feel stronger, more flexible, more open and lighthearted, more grounded, and more at ease within ourselves and our surroundings. When we feel more connected to ourselves and our surroundings, we also have more awareness into what is. More awareness leads to more insight, which enables us to respond, rather than react, to the situations in which we find ourselves. (Note: Vipassana is a very popular technique and style of meditation that literally means to see in a special way.)

Great teachers, on and off the mat, have said, “You don’t have to believe me. Try it for yourself.” In “Looking Around, Believing,” Gary Soto wrote, “How strange that we can begin at any time.” Begin now.

How Things Work + Looking around, Believing + Between Words – by Gary Soto

(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how your body rests between or on your legs, and make sure your knees are comfortable. Remember, you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale.

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

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

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

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

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

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

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

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

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

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

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

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

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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

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

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

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

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Classically, the physical practice is intended to prepare the body and mind for deep seated meditation. This final moment is an opportunity for your body and mind to process and absorb what you’ve done during the practice. Find a place where your body and mind are still. Let the breath naturally ebb and flow. Breathe and allow your mind to follow the breath into the space within you and the space all around you.

“Love,
The moon is between clouds,
And we’re between words
That could deepen
But never arrive.”

– from Between Words by Gary Soto

If you practice long enough, you start to notice how everyone is connected.

Poets, philosophers, preachers, students of dharma are all fascinated by the inner (and outer) workings of the world, how everything and everyone are connected. You see it in the poems of Mark Strand and Misuzu Kaneko, as well as in the poems of Gary Soto. You see it in the sermons of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and in the dharma talks of Thich Naht Hanh. You see it in Martin Buber’s concept Ich und Du; that we only truly exist in relationship. You see it, again and again, and yet….It is so easy not to see it.

One of the reasons I practice yoga is to actively and mindfully see the connections. Moving through the practice is like moving through life, with all of its twists, turns, and challenges. Sometimes, like in the practices I’m offering this month, we symbolically move through the stages of life: from the pose of a child we learn to stand up, to walk, to play and explore, and finally to slow down and rest. We do this every day, we day this every lifetime. Still, no part of us does it alone – everything is connected.

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

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

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

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

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #8: When Do You Practice? April 22, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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When do you practice? – B (who practices “about once a week,” but not with me – yet)

About once a quarter, someone expresses gratitude for their practice and then asks me when I find time to practice. The question is usually associated with their appreciation of the benefits they experience from yoga and their observation of me not practicing the physical poses when I lead a yoga practice. The “quick and dirty” answer to B’s question is that I practice before I teach. The “not so quick and dirty” answer is that I practice before I teach, while I’m teaching, and after I’m teaching.

The physical practice before I teach may happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes I take a class or a workshop, sometimes I stream a class or use some other form of media. However, since I currently teach six (6) days a week, and teach during peak hours, I find it challenging to take a class. So, more often than not, I find a quiet spot and hit the mat on my own.

When I take a class or workshop, I gravitate towards alignment-focused yoga classes or intensely physical yoga practices with a teacher who emphasizes the emotional, energetic, philosophical and/or spiritual aspects of yoga. (Hmm, sound familiar?) When I practice on my own, the physical elements change based on how I’m feeling and what I’m teaching. In general, I practice a template of the first sequence I’m going to teach. My current practice schedule looks a little like this:

Monday – Yin Yoga

Tuesday – Vinyasa

Wednesday – Yin Yoga

Thursday – open day; rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, meditation and/or other physical activity

Friday – Vinyasa

Saturday – rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, or some other tradition

Sunday – Vinyasa

That’s the “quick and dirty” answer, but there’s a story behind why I practice before I teach.

During my initial yoga teacher training, I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group talking to a teacher named Kim. A few things to note about Kim: first, she was not one of the teachers leading or facilitating the teacher training; second, she was not the stereotypical CorePower teacher; third, she had the brightest smile and one of the biggest spirits. It’s her spirit, I think, that instigated the conversation where she shared with us something she wished she had been told during her teacher training: take a class for every class you teach.

Being young pups, full of the enthusiasm and power that comes from being in an intense learning situation, parts of us dismissed Kim’s advice. We were in teacher training because we loved yoga and couldn’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t take a class (or practice on our own) on a daily basis. We couldn’t imagine that teaching yoga creates a scheduling dynamic which is really different from the scheduling dynamic of squeezing our yoga practice in between our work and family life. We hadn’t yet grasped that once the learning-teaching brain engaged we might not be capable of getting back to a learning-only brain. Many of us, also, didn’t yet understood that teaching hath yoga (the physical practice of yoga) requires actively practicing the yoga philosophy. And that’s where my “not so quick and dirty” answer comes into play.

The 8-limb philosophy of Yoga begins with an ethical component: 5 yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) and 5 niyamas (or internal observations). The yamas and niyamas, like any other moral compass, may guide a person on and off the mat. In the philosophy, these ethical considerations precede the asana (seat or pose) and pranayama (awareness or extension of breath), which means we can use our time on the mat as a way to practice our ethics in a controlled environment. For example, the first and second yamas – ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) – may be practiced by being honest about the mind-body strengths and weakness in order to practice a pose safely. At the same time, second, third, and fourth niyamas – santosha (contentment), tapas (heat, discipline, and/or austerity) and svadyaya (self-study) – may be observed by focusing on the alignment of a challenging pose while also noticing how you react to using a prop, needing/taking a modification, or not completing the pose and, simultaneously,  accepting where you are in the practice.

I practice these elements while I’m physically on the mat, but I also need to practice them when I’m leading other people. For example, I need to consider if the options  I’m suggesting are safe for the individuals in the room and if I’m providing enough options to meet and accept everyone in the room – all while noticing my reaction to things not going the way I planned when my mind-body on the mat was the only consideration. If I’m demonstrating a peak pose, I need to make sure I’ve prepared myself along the way (despite not doing all the preparatory poses) to demonstrate without injuring myself. Finally, after I teach, there are several things I do as a kind of mental Savasana (Corpse Pose), to decompress and allow the mind-body to absorb the work.

Even though I didn’t initial understand them, Kim’s words really stuck with me. In fact, they were some of the most important words I heard during yoga teacher training.

Thanks for the wisdom, Kim!

 

The teachers at Mind Body Solutions are awakening the connection between mind and body in a way that transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential. They say the practice is humanity disguised as yoga. So, clicking here to Kiss My Asana with a donation practices humanity off the mat, in a way that allows someone to practice humanity on the mat. When I’m able, I drop-in to Matthew Sanford’s Monday morning class. Maybe I’ll see you practicing your humanity on the mat!

 

 

### On and Off the Mat ###

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTIONS #5, 6, & 7: IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK…? April 15, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“If you could recommend one book about yoga that really impacted your practice, what book would that be?”

 

“If you could recommend one book about meditation, what would it be?”

 

“Is there a book that would help a beginner like me establish a daily practice?”

– E

There might be more books on yoga and meditation than there are ways to practice yoga and meditation. I know for sure that there are so many books on each it is sometimes hard to narrow things down to a single recommendation. Even if I had read everything that’s ever been printed – and nothing else was ever printed (which would be a shame since one of my teachers is currently working on her first book) – and even if I only focused on books that really impacted my practice, I would still end up with a bag full of books.

Jan 2016 Yoga Books 56

(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

Part of me wants to break this down into a book on the physical practice versus a book on the philosophy; however, sitting with WHY I want to make that distinction, brings me to one very comprehensive option: T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice.

Desikachar was the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher responsible for the resurgence of yoga in 20th Century India. Krishnamacharya taught Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi – who all had a hand in bringing the physical practice of yoga to the West. Each of the teachers mentioned above wrote at least one book which impacted someone’s yoga practice (including mine), and all of them have had books written about them. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga is simultaneously about yoga and about a teacher’s teacher. It is also a practice manual with a heavy focus on the philosophy. Unlike some other books I might refer to as practice manuals, The Heart of Yoga not only offers an overview of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, it includes a translation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (NOTE: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms. Most books on the sutras include each aphorism, plus a translation and commentary for each aphorism. I use several sources for translation/commentary comparative analysis; however, my go-to resource is a website by Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition.) The Heart of Yoga gives practitioners of any fitness or experience level the opportunity to build a physical practice, while also maintaining a connection to the overall philosophical practice.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Nhat Hahn’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Nhat Hahn is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“Practice, practice, practice – all is coming.” ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois


If you find this information helpful, insightful, validating, and/or curious, please Kiss My Asana by making a donation, joining the team, asking a question, and/or joining me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions.

Sandra Razieli and I will co-host a donation-based class on Saturday, April 22nd (6:30 PM – 8:00 PM) at Flourish Pilates+Yoga+Bodywork. I will host a second class on Saturday, April 29th (3:30 PM – 5:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga. Please RSVP via email (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com). All donations will benefit Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIHI OM ##

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #3: IS IT POSSIBLE TO GET A LIST OF LAST MONDAY’S POSES…? April 5, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Daoism, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Taoism, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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 “Your last Monday Yin Yoga class was the best class I’ve experienced in a long time. Today’s class was almost just as good.  Is it possible to get a list of poses from last Mon, or, might you have a repeat of the class sometime & I could make a list of the poses?

 

By the way, the Yin classes are more frequently & for longer periods lowering my neuropathy pain in my feet.  Thanks for your medicinal touch.”

– G

Yin Yoga has its roots in Traditional Chinese Medicine, which maps out the vitality of the body’s organs through a system of meridians located in the deep tissue of the body. As we move into spring, my Yin Yoga classes are focusing on the gall bladder Meridian (running down the outer perimeter of the body) and liver Meridian (running up the inner thigh) – which means lots of hip opening.

The long, prop-supported holds (typically, 3 – 5 minutes) in Yin Yoga may appear similar to poses in a restorative practice; however, Yin Yoga can be significantly more “intense” than a restorative practice. By “intense,” I don’t mean active. In fact, Yin Yoga is, in some ways, the opposite of our other Hatha Yoga (physical yoga) practices. Rather than addressing the outer musculature (the muscles we can see, shape, and tone), Yin Yoga addresses the body’s fascia, deep tissue, and connective tissues. The practice may also decompress areas around the joints. One of the best online resources for Yin Yoga is Bernie Clark’s aptly named yinyoga.com, where you will find pose details, a community forum, and links to Clark’s YouTube channel.

My regular students are always welcome to take a picture of my “playbook” (see below).

March 27 Alvarez and Sakura YIN

(Please note:  These practice details are intended for individuals who already have a Yin Yoga practice. Before starting a new practice, be sure to check in with your health care provider. Most importantly, remember that although you may experience health benefits from your practice, this practice information is not intended as medical advice or as a means to replace medical care.)

Since my so-called hieroglyphics can be a little tiny or hard to read, here is an outline of the Monday Yin Yoga class from March 27, 2017 a.k.a. Julia Alvarez’s Big Day, a.k.a. the anniversary of the day First Lady Helen Taft and Viscountess Iwa Chinda planted cherry blossoms in D.C.:

  • Legs-Up-The Wall (for centering and integration): Sit sideways on the mat, so that the side of your hip is up against the wall; then pivot the body so the legs swing up and the back reclines on the mat. The trick is to keep your bottom on the wall. (For more release in the hamstrings, back, and hips, place the feet on a chair or table so that hips, knees, and ankles are resting at 90 degree angles.) Hold for about 2 minutes with back on the floor or a blanket. For additional decompression, bend the knees in order to use the legs to lift the hips and add a block, making sure not to pinch the spine. Hold for another 3 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” – on the wall (counter-pose): Remove the block and move into Butterfly (feet together like a prayer, knees open up like the pages of a book) with legs on the wall for about one minute. Use “Sleeping Butterfly” or a Squat on the wall to set a personal intention, which will keep you on the wall for another minute.
  • Dragonfly, on the wall: Stretch your legs out (on the wall) as wide as they’ll go, and support the legs by placing a block between the wall and each thigh or by placing blocks or a bolster on the outside of each thigh. Hold for 3 – 5 minutes.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly” (transitional pose) and Fetal Position (transitional pose)
  • Wide Legged Child’s Pose (with arms bent on floor over head): Props may be placed under the hips and/or under your chest. If you have a bolster, you can recline your whole body on it. Hold for 2 – 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition into about 1 minute of gentle movement to break up the stillness.
  • Half Shoelace or Half Square sequence: Sit with legs extended in front of you. If there’s compression in the low back and/or hips, sit up on top of a blanket or block. Hug right knee in and lift it over extended left leg. You can either rotate the top leg so the knee points to the left foot or slide the top leg to the side so the ankle rests on the bottom thigh, right below the knee. (If elevated, you can place a blanket or towel under the extended shin – to soften the experience at the back of the knee. If you have a hamstring issue, you could sub “Full” Shoelace or Square by bending the bottom knee into the appropriate position.) Twist upper body to the right and hold for at least 1 minute. Rotate back to center and fold until you feel a change, support the change and hold for at least 3 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Inhale to lift the body, unravel the legs and give them a rub or a hug. Lean back on the forearms or recline with back on the floor, windshield wiper bent knees for about 1 minute.
  • Repeat “Half Shoelace or Half Square” sequence on opposite side and Counter-pose Moment.
  • (Prone) Frog or Dragonfly: Face the long side of the mat and set up props as needed. For (Prone) Frog, come into table top; spread the knees as wide as they’ll go, with ankles under the knees (when you look down the legs) and hips pressing back. Extend the chest forward and recline on forearms and/or props. Prop the thighs. For Dragonfly, sit with legs in front of you and spread wide; prop as needed for low back and lean forward until you feel a change; prop the change. Hold for 5 minutes
  • Counter-pose Moment: (Prone) Frogs Inhale to table top and use Cat/Cow to transition; Dragonflies use inhale to rise up, hug the knees into the chest and then recline to windshield wiper bent knees. Gentle movement for about 1 minute.
  • “Sleeping Butterfly”: Set up props so upper back is supported, behind shoulder blades, and head us raised slightly above the chest by a prop that supports the nape of the neck (where head meets the spine). If thighs do not touch the ground when legs rest in position, place a block under each thigh. Hold for 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Mindfully, move off the props.
  • Savasana (with props, as needed): Hold for at least 5 minutes.
  • Counter-pose Moment: Be easy and gentle as you move out of Savasana and into a fetal position. Give yourself a moment before sitting up and closing out your practice. Namaste.

Thanks, G, for your question. I’m always so glad to see you in class and (of course) super grateful your yoga practice is helping you feel good!

If anyone else out there is grateful for the way yoga helps you feel, please share your practice and consider Kiss(ing) My Asana with a joyful donation.

 

### Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantihi Om ###