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The Center of the Puzzle (the “missing” Tuesday post) July 18, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Kundalini, Life, Mathematics, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Vairagya, Wisdom.
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[This is the “missing” post for Tuesday, July 13th. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

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

 

“How is life like a puzzle? Or not like a puzzle?”

 

 

– quoted from the beginning of the practices on May 19th and July 13th

 

If we really think about it, it is not just our lives that are like puzzles. Our practice, our mind-body, even our relationships are like puzzles. There are all these different shaped pieces that sometimes fit together and sometimes don’t fit together. There are all these pieces that look like they could fit together, but don’t actually fit. Then there are all those little clues – like hard edges and different color schemes or patterns – that indicate what fits and what doesn’t fit.

When you are solving a puzzle (especially if it has a lot of pieces and/or it has an intricate design), it’s always helpful to have a picture of the finished product. It’s also nice to know that you have all the pieces (or, at the very least, that you know what pieces you have and which pieces are missing). In this way, our physical bodies – and, therefore, our physical practice of yoga are very much like a puzzle. We know the ankle bone is connected to the shin bone; the shin bone is connected to the knee bone; the knee bone is connected to the thigh bone; the thigh bone is connected to the hip bone; the hip bone is connected to the back bone; and that this construction is duplicated in the upper body. We also know that the muscles, nerves, tendons, and other connecting tissues fit together (and work together) in certain ways.

For instance, we know that the hamstrings and quadriceps work together to extend and flex the knee when we walk. We also know that if one leg is shorter (or stronger) than the other that that difference will affect the way we walk and will affect other parts of our bodies – even parts we don’t automatically recognize as being connected. The same is true if we are missing all or part of one leg or if all or part of one leg isn’t mobile. Even if you consider yourself “able-bodied,” you have probably had an injury that affected your mobility – or maybe you went hiking and messed up your shoe in a way that affected your gait. Or, maybe, you just got a rock in your shoe. Either way, take a moment to think back and consider how the change in one area affected all your other areas as you moved.

“The Cube is an imitation of life itself – or even an improvement on life.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

When it comes to our physical practice of yoga, our sequencing considers how the mind-body is mentally and physically connected and we also consider the energetic aspects of how we are connected. By building each āsana (“seat” or pose) from the ground up, we are able to ensure maximum amount of stability so that we can stretch and/or strengthen with intention and integrity. Similarly, we build the sequence from the ground up so that the mind-body is prepared to do each subsequent set of āsanas. This awareness of how things are connected is particularly important when we are practicing vinyāsa and/or implementing vinyāsa karma in order to achieve a “peak pose.”

While vinyāsa is often translated into English as “flow,” it literally means “to place in a special way.” Classically speaking, the poses are placed so that we exaggerate the body’s natural tendencies and, therefore, engage natural movement (even when moving in a way we might not normally move off the mat). When we forget the intention behind the movement we may find ourselves moving in a way that is counterintuitive and contraindicated by our basic anatomy and the fundamentals of kinesiology. Moving “in a way that is counterintuitive” can be subjective and is not always a bad thing. We definitely learn and grow when we play around with different types of movement. Also, while doing the same practice over and over again can be a great way to gauge progress and master a certain skill, getting “outside of the box” can also highlight bad habits that we’ve been “practicing.” Ultimately, one should always listen to the teacher within and consider if they are really ready to do certain things – especially since, not being mentally ready to do something can be just as dangerous as not being physically ready to do something.

On the flip side, movement that is contraindicated may not always be obvious – especially if we move fast enough and use momentum, rather than alignment and breath, to “muscle” into a pose. However, moving too much and too fast often results in injury. This can be a problem with some “flow” (or even “vinyasa”) practices that are not alignment and breath-based. Remember, just because we can do something (if we do it fast enough and with enough muscular force), doesn’t mean we it’s a good idea. Ideally, a practice works its way towards a “peak.” Maybe that peak is Śavāsana and a deep-seated meditation or maybe it’s a “peak pose” – i.e., something that a random person couldn’t walk into a room and do without being warmed up. Either way, this is where vinyāsa karma comes in handy. Vinyāsa karma literally means “to place the step in a special way.” In other words, it is a step by step progression towards a goal and it is a practice that can be utilized even in sequences where there is no “flow.”

Naturally, we can come at the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) from a purely physical viewpoint and sequence accordingly. However, the system of yoga includes a mental and subtle body awareness which can also be accessed and harnessed through the poses and movement. Kundalini, Tantra, and Svaroopa are some of the yoga systems that specifically engage the energetic and subtle body through the practice of āsana; however, there can be tantric elements in any yoga practice that considers the way the mind-body-spirit is “woven” together. For instance, when I mention how the energy of our “first family, tribe, and community of birth” contributes to how we cultivate friendships with people we may perceive as “Other,” that is an element of tantra. When we warm up the core in order to have more stability in balancing poses, that is an element of tantra. When we open up the body in order to loosen up areas that may be holding stagnant energy, that also is an element of tantra. Notice, (especially as it relates to the last example) that any of these examples can happen outside of a “vinyasa” practice. Notice, also, that there is no reference to balancing the different types of energy associated the difference sides of the body… although, that too is tantra.

“The problems of puzzles are very near the problems of life.”

 

– Ernö Rubik

So, you can see how our mind-bodies and, therefore our practice, are like puzzles – like a giant Rubik’s Cubes. On a certain level, however, our lives – and relationships – are different from a physical puzzle; because we don’t start with a picture of the finished product and we don’t know if we have all the pieces. Let’s be honest, we don’t even know if all the pieces we have are for a single puzzle. Despite these differences, we can take a page from the life of the creator of one of the most popular toys of the 80’s: we can visualize the picture we want; see what fits and what doesn’t fit; be open to the possibilities that are around us and inside of us; and use the tools at hand.

Born in Budapest, Kingdom of Hungary on July 13, 1944, Ernö Rubik started off as an architect and architect professor. He studied at the Secondary School of Fine and Applied Arts, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (where he joined the architecture faculty), and the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts and Design, also known as the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (where was a member of the Faculty of Interior Architecture and Design). As a professor, he wanted to build a three dimensional model he could use to help his architecture students develop spatial awareness and solve design problems. He started off with 27 wooden blocks, which would have worked great if he just wanted a static three dimensional model. But, Rubik wanted something he could easily move into a variety of shapes. That was his vision.

Now, one thing to keep in mind is that this particular creator didn’t just have a background in architecture (with an emphasis on sculpture). He was also the son of two parents who were themselves creators: his father being a world-renowned engineer of gliders and his mother being a poet. Although, Rubik is quick to credit his father as one of his inspirations, it’s best not to ignore the fact that he grew up watching both of his parents creating things that delighted others.

So, he had a vision and he had pieces to his “puzzle.” He even knew how everything fit together. He just didn’t know how everything would move together. Then one day, while walking on a cobblestone bridge in Budapest, he looked down and realized if the core of his model resembled the cobblestones he could twist and turn the pieces accordingly. Violá!

Ernö Rubik had the vision (a “picture” of the final product); the pieces and how they fit together; and he was open to different possibilities so that when (metaphorically speaking) he stumbled on the cobblestone, he recognized the opportunity. Finally, because of his father’s experience as an inventor, he knew how to apply for a patent and what was needed to take something to market. Even though he ran into a few problems along the way – after all, he was doing all of this under a communist regime – he eventually licensed his invention, the “Magic Cube” to the U. S. based Ideal Toys. Invented on May 19, 1974 and renamed “Rubik’s Cube” in 1979, the toy was introduced to the world in 1980. The toy was so popular that it led Ernö Rubik to create more three dimensional puzzles, including Rubik’s Magic, Rubik’s Snake, and Rubik’s 360.

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

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

Even though all of Ernö Rubik’s puzzles can be viewed through a geometric and mathematical lens – and even though they mostly rely on the engagement of a central core – there are some differences between the puzzles. Rubik’s 360 requires a certain amount of manual dexterity that is not required to manipulate the other toys and Rubik’s Snake can be a bit like origami, in that the toy can be made into different shapes. But, perhaps the most puzzling of all is the original Rubik’s Magic.

The original Rubik’s Magic has eight interwoven black tiles with rainbow rings painted on the front and the back. In its “unsolved” (flat, rectangular) state, the front of the tiles show three rings side-by-side and the back of the tiles show pieces of three rings that will be interlocking when the puzzle is solved. The puzzle can be manipulated to make a ton of different shapes, like a star, a box, a bench, and even a toy chest. In fact, in the “solved” position, the rectangle becomes heart-shaped. The tiles fold and unfold horizontally and vertically, in tandem and individually – which means they flip into each other, over each other, twist, and can be rolled like a wheel. Later iterations of the puzzle featured images (like the Simpsons going to the beach, Harry Potter playing quidditch, and dinosaurs) that create a bit of a story.  

Take a moment to consider what happens if your life is like the images on a Rubik’s Magic. Yes, you might see your life as disconnected circles or you might see yourself as separate from the other people around you. Consider, however, what twists and turns, flips and rolls, get you connected. Or, more accurately, get you to recognize that you are already connected. If you see one side of you Magic as the image of how your life is at this moment, consider that the other side is the image of some goal, desire, or experience you’d like to achieve. The pieces are there, again, you just have to flip, twist, turn, and roll things so that you’re relaxing on the beach or grabbing the golden snitch.

Again, the pieces are already there; it’s all just a matter of “placing things in a special way.” When we look at our lives – or even other people’s lives (if you check out the link above) – through the energetic system of our practice, we start to develop more awareness about the puzzle. We even might start to realize that we are the center of the puzzle.

 

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”

                                                                                          

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

Tuesday’s  playlist available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for the “06032020 How Can We See, Dr. Wiesel” playlist.] 

 

 

 

“A good puzzle, it’s a fair thing. Nobody is lying. It’s very clear, and the problem depends just on you.”

 

 

– Ernö Rubik

 

 

 

### Only A Little Puzzling ###

 

 

2017 Kiss My Asana Question #2: Why 108? April 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 31-Day Challenge, Baseball, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Chicago Cubs, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tai Chi, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The number of words you use to answer these questions is going to be divisible by 108? Why 108?” – the obvious questions

The significance of 108 is something pondered pretty much whenever people get ready to practice 108 Sun Salutations (for New Year’s Day, Spring/Fall Equinox, and Summer/Winter Solstice). It is considered an auspicious number in a variety of disciplines and traditions. So much so that if I listed 108 reasons, I might still be missing some. Swami J has a pretty comprehensive list; however, here are some of my favorites:

  • 108 is a harshad (or, “great joy” bringer) number in mathematics, meaning that it is divisible by the sum of its parts (1+0+8=9; 108/9 = 12)
    • Note also 1+2 = 3; 12/3 = 4 and 108/3 = 36; 3+6 = 9; 36/9 = 6
  • 108 is a prime example of numbers being exponentially powerful {(1, raised to the 1st power) multiplied times (2, raised to the 2nd power) multiplied times (3, raised to the 3rd power), i.e., 1*4*27}
  • 108 suitors pursue Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • In Buddhism, the 108 feelings or sensations humans experience result from external/physical and internal/mental stimuli (2) being received through our senses and consciousness (5+1) multiplied times our perception of sensation as positive/pleasant, negative/painful, or neutral (3) multiplied times our ability to experience feelings or sensations in the past, present, and future (3). {2*(5+1)*3*3}
  • In Eastern religions and philosophies, a mala used to count repetitions during meditation contains 108 beads – or a fraction of 108, and this coincides with an old school Catholic rosary which allows you to count out 10 decades, and provides 8 additional beads (for mistakes). The cross would be considered the guru bead.
  • In some religions there is only one God; however there are 101-108 names for God.
  • In an Indian creation story, God as Dance (Nataraja) creates the universe through a dance containing 108 steps or poses; and, there are 108 forms of dance in Indian traditions.
  • Some martial arts forms contain 108 steps or poses.
  • According to some yoga texts, there are 108 nadis (energy rivers carrying the bodies vitality) intersecting at the heart chakra.

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

  • The 108 double stitches on a Major League baseball are hand stitched; AND
  • It took 108 years for a much loved baseball team to break a curse (that may or may not be real) – and they did it in the 10th inning with 8 runs!

Finally, it would be seriously auspicious if a couple of people (2) Kiss(ed) My Asana by clicking here and donating $54 each. Or, you know what would be a real joy bringer? If a certain number of individuals (108) clicked above and donated $108 each.

For those of you doing the math: $25 shares a “Beyond Disability” DVD with a home-bound person living with a disability; $250 provides four yoga classes at a battered women’s shelter or veterans center; $500 provides full tuition for an Opening Yoga Teacher Training Workshop; and $1000 transforms the life of someone living with a disability by providing them an entire year of adaptive yoga. While these numbers focus on the people directly receiving the service, consider how yoga affects not only the individual on the mat, but everyone that individual encounters off the mat.

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Are You Ready? Are You Ready…to Kiss My Asana? April 1, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

It’s that time again! Spring? Yes, but also it’s time for Kiss My Asana. For the fourth year in a row, I am joining joyful yogis everywhere to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

Matthew Sanford and the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions are committed to a yoga practice which “transcends ability and disability, opens people’s lives to new possibilities, and transforms the delivery of health care.” The annual yogathon is a virtual four-week challenge open to anyone, anywhere, and it’s pretty much open to any way you want to do more yoga, learn more about yoga, and share more yoga.

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

Then let’s get started. There are a lot of ways to help raise awareness and resources during the month of April. Here are just a few suggestions.

Erika teaches a Vin-Yin class at Nokomis, and her KMA class will be a Slow Flow Vinyasa. The classes I host (or co-host) will be inspired by the practice principles featured in the adaptive yoga DVD “Beyond Disability” as led by Matthew Sanford. (Please RSVP using the links above if you would like to join one of these donation-based classes.)

  • You can challenge yourself by practicing one thing (an asana, pranayama, or a meditation) every day for 30 days.
  • You can use yoga to embody your favorite story, song, emotion, poem, prayer, visual art, person, or moment in time.
  • You can blog, tweet, instagram, or Facebook link about how your yoga practice on the mat transforms your experiences off the mat.

This is all good, but “What,” you might ask, “are you (Myra) doing as the virtual part of this year’s Kiss My Asana?”

Good question. As you may have noticed (especially after last year), I love questions. I’ve fallen for “Questions” by R. S. Thomas and, like the Creed song quoted above, my personal playlist currently features question-centered songs by Fink, X Ambassadors, Ed Sheeran, Cole Swindell, and Garth Brooks (naturally)!

 

In my favorite “Letters To A Young Poet” passage, Ranier Maria Rilke urges Franz Kappus: “… try to love the questions themselves…. the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

 

Oh, and did I mention that questions led me to yoga teacher training?

 

When I started practicing in Texas, I often encountered people whose only intersection with yoga was me. These people had questions – lots and lots of questions. I, unfortunately, had no answers…other than telling people they could come with me to practice. When some of my teachers suggested teacher training, I thought, “Sure, someday. Then I’ll know some answers – or, at least, know a resource where someone could live (or practice) their way into their own answers.” Flash forward to “someday” and I’m in Minneapolis attending a teacher training focused on teaching people how to teach – and everybody had to teach.

 

So, last year I asked people questions. This year, you get to ask me questions. Answer word count will be divisible by 108.

Want to ask me a question? You can make a comment below, ask me before or after a class, or send an email to myra at ajoyfulpractice.com. Subscribers to ajoyfulpractice.com will receive my answers as they are posted – or, you can check back here throughout April.

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #26: Mastering the Art of SODOTO February 28, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Even in the animal kingdom, the ability to search and reapply know-how is a key attribute that moves a species from survival to prosperity.

 

Just as the guru tutors the novitiate so does the goldsmith his apprentice. The same is true for officers and engineers and in all fields where the mastery of craft is a matter of certification. The greater enlightens the lesser. The maxim is “See One, Do One, Teach One” or as the sensei might say ‘SODOTO.’”

– Excerpt from The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing, Part II – Creativize by Jeff DeGraff

 

During my first year teaching, a student approached with questions about yoga teacher training. He had been practicing long before I arrived, but now he was ready to consider the possibilities. We talked about his goals, and the will/determination driving those goals. I gave him a summary of the big teacher training programs in the Twin Cities. A few months later, someone else approached me. I had the list (and the highlighted bullet points) ready. Those first two students, and many of the ones who came later, ended up completing yoga teacher training and started teaching. Sometimes I would even take classes from them. Often I would refer others to them. At least one of those early students who became the teacher began teaching other students how to teach! Eventually, I discovered trainings were changing and growing in the Twin Cities; so I started updating the list.

And the people kept asking, again, and again…and again. But they weren’t always people who regularly practiced with me. Once the person who asked was someone I just knew from a neighborhood coffee shop. Once, someone visiting from California before entering Kripalu teacher training, emailed me for additional tips as she approached her finals. Once a woman approached me after I subbed her regular class – she was already in a training program, but seriously considering dropping out over a major theological issue. By the time Yogi #26 (Annamaria) approached me it had occurred to me that maybe my presence as a teacher reminded people that they had something to offer the world. It was as if, after years of ruminating and precontemplation, something in them woke up and shouted, “If she can do that, I can so do that!”

 “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on. Wax Off. Breathe – in through nose, out the mouth. {Sound of inhale, sound of ‘ha’ out} Wax on. Wax off. Don’t forget to breathe – very important. Wax on. Wax Off. Wax on…”

– Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

Daniel: So, you’re suppose to teach and I’m suppose to learn….

Mr. Miyagi: You learned plenty.

Daniel: I learned plenty. I learned how to sand your decks, maybe. I waxed your car. Paint your house. Paint your fence. I learned plenty – right!

Mr. Miyagi: Ahh. Not everything is as seems.

– Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

 

Yoga teacher training requires adjusting one’s life off the mat, in order to spend more time on the mat – even when the mat is all in one’s head. That adjustment can be extra hard for a modern day householder – who already has to balance life-at-work with life-at-home, life-at-play, life-with-family, life-with-friends, life-with-oneself, and life-with-one’s-spirit. Adding to all that, teacher training requires doing things over and over again, even when your arms no longer want to move, until whatever you’re doing becomes hardwired – hopefully without all the bad habits you’ll discover along the way. And, the more yoga you do, the more your personal yoga practice changes. Your body is different; your awareness of your body is different. Whereas before part of your mental challenge was letting go of all your regular daily life chatter, once you go through teacher training you’ll find yourself judging the poses (or the teachers) and thinking about how you’d cue the sequence you’re practicing if you were teaching your students – especially if your students are very different from the people surrounding you at a major yoga studio.

As a modern day householder, Annamaria decided pursuing teacher training was totally worth the personal investment. She wasn’t looking at teaching yoga as a stepping stone into a new career. She wanted to start with a basic 200-Hour training, which typically involves more than 200 hours worth of curriculum, and gradually add blocks which would enable her to serve in some underserved communities. Like me at the beginning of my yoga journey, she was inspired by the people around her who might find yoga beneficial – but didn’t (or couldn’t) want the benefits to come at the price of a new outfit and an $18 – $20 drop-in fee. Right now, we’re converging – still discussing what comes next as she evolves and grows as a teacher – but evidence of divergence is hard to ignore. Soon, Annamaria will do things as a yoga teacher that I will only ever dream of doing. She’s going to be one of our greats.

 “What I think is very special about this is that he’s one of our great teachers, and great spiritual luminaries, and that there was anything that I did that inspired him…that inspires me. And it touches me. And it makes me feel like I’m on the path that I prayed to be on. So, I feel blessed to have had that reflected back to me – through the eyes, and through the words of the, one and only, Wayne Dyer.”

India.Arie talking about Wayne Dyer talking about her song inspiring his teachings

 

 “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

– my father paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton

I grew up surrounded by teachers: my dad’s a professor; his mother was a school teacher; Sunday school teachers reign on both sides (starting for me with my mother’s grandmother); and one of my cousins taught people how to drive buses and trucks. All that before even mentioning all the behind-the-scenes mentoring, guiding, and teaching we take for granted because, ‘Hey, that’s what moms do, right?’ Loving school as I did, certain teachers always had a special place in my heart. Annamaria’s dedication to going deeper on behalf of her yoga students reminds me of my favorite teachers.

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I noticed myself referring to some people as “my yoga teacher” and others as “my yoga instructor” – for a moment I wondered why my subconscious mind would so consciously make that distinction. Then I wondered if it was true; was there a difference, and (if there was a difference) was it my perceptions of the teachers’ perceptions?

During my yoga teacher training, there was a lot of discussion about people who teach yoga and people who teach asana. Looking back, I realized that even though all my early classes included basic elements of the yoga philosophy, some teachers were focused on instructing us how to exercise the bodies, while others were focused on teaching us how to engage the mind-body connection on (and off) the mat. In the end, we teachers are like everybody else: We teach what we know.

 “Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– The teaching philosophy of T. Krishnamacharya, described in Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings by A. G. Mohan

 

If you follow a certain yoga SODOTO trail, like you might follow a tiny creek or a small drop of water into the earth, you will find the following: T. Krishnamacharya, a great scholar of all the Indian philosophies, taught his brother-in-law B. K. S. Iyengar, a very sickly teenage boy, who grew up to teach Jo Zukovich, whose “realization that yoga is a wide-ranging subject” enabled her to teach Matthew Sanford how to “cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.” If you’re following the tiny creek, you may realize that Matthew Sanford is the beginning of a waterfall. If you’re an MIT scientist following the small drop of water into the earth, you may realize that Mind Solutions is giving us an opportunity to take the ancient practices of yoga airborne. Be a tiny bubble of air – KISS MY ASANA once more with feeling!

A big giant thank you to the 15 yogis who held the space and shared the practice during my donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th(details coming soon). If you’re interested, there are still spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two). Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

~ JAI GURU DEV, JAI JAI ~

Happy Wisdom Day: To Noble Kings January 16, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mathematics, Men, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Today we celebrate the birthday
of a man who believed in angels and dreams.
We know he believed in the latter,
because he told us straight up,
“I have a dream…”
He was a man of faith,
who believed he could hear God’s voice (when Mahalia Jackson sings).
But did you know that
Dr. Martin Luther King
believed in living a three dimensional life?

– the beginning of my 2016 Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday class

 

This week has been a week of wisdom and legacy – or, maybe, that’s the legacy of wisdom. Monday was the birthday of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (b.1/11/1907), one of the leading Jewish theologians and philosophers of the 20th century, who said, “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy.” And, after each of my Monday classes, at least one person mentioned how inspired they have been (throughout their lives) by the blessing of Rabbi Heschel’s life. The thing is, on the outside, these people couldn’t have been more different (from each other and from Heschel) if they tried – and that’s the living legacy of Heschel: on the inside, we are all amazed by evidence of the Divine; on the inside, we are all seeking a relationship with the Divine.

“I prayed with my feet.” – Rabbi Heschel when asked if he found time to pray when he was marching to Selma.

The idea that one can pray with your whole body is not a foreign concept to me – nor would it have been to Rabbi Heschel, who was a professor of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). According to Marcus J. Freed (whose The Kabbalah Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment combines weight training and yoga with Jewish mysticism), seven of the “10 Divine energies that emanate different attributes of God…are located in the body.” Malchut (Mastery/Nobility), Freed explains, is associated “with the hands, feet, and mouth. This makes perfect sense on reflection , as these are the organs that we can use to master ourselves and to complete the relationship with others, depending on the words we speak and the way we interact (e.g., Who we are giving to or walking towards and away from).” In Rabbi Heschel’s words and deeds we see this explanation of Malchut-Mastery/Nobility embodied.

Although Malchut-Mastery/Nobility is feminine in nature, it is often referred to as “Kingship.”And, today January 15th, we started the celebration of a King. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (b. 1929) was born in Atlanta, Georgia, four days and 22 years after Rabbi Heschel was born in Poland. Their beginnings seem as disparate as their appearances. But, go deeper and the similarities reveal themselves.

Both men descended from prominent religious leaders. Both men experienced ethnic persecution. Both men were called and ordained – and both men believed part of their calling was social action. By directly influencing Vatican II and by marching from Selma with Dr. King, Rabbi Heschel’s life became an instrument of the Divine used to combat racism, which he called “man’s gravest threat to man – the maximum hatred for a minimum of reason.” And, of course, Dr. King, himself, epitomizes a non-violent struggle for freedom, equality, peace, and brotherhood.

“Our concern is not how to worship in the catacombs but how to remain human in the skyscrapers” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Oh, there will be a day, the question won’t be, “How many awards did you get in life?” Not that day. It won’t be, “How popular were you in your social setting?” That won’t be the question that day. It will not ask how many degrees you’ve been able to get. The question that day will not be concerned with whether you are a “Ph.D.” or a “no D.” It will not be concerned with whether you went to Morehouse or whether you went to “No House.” The question that day will not be, “How beautiful is your house?” The question that day will not be, “How much money did you accumulate? How much did you have in stocks and bonds?” The question that day will not be, “What kind of automobile did you have?” On that day the question will be, “What did you do for others?” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (from “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”)

In 1954, at the age of 25, Martin Luther King, Jr. became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. Some sources state that his first sermon, his trial sermon at Dexter, was the earliest version of a sermon he would give throughout his life: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.”* Reading and listening to a 1967 version of Dr. King’s sermon, I am struck by the similarities between King’s description of a complete life (based on Judeo-Christian texts) and the concept of yoga (union) as described by Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (“The Song of the Lord”).

The Bhagavad Gita captures the moment when the young prince Arjuna pauses in the middle of a civil war. He literally steps into the middle of the battlefield and contemplates laying down his arms. He says, “I shall not fight,” (BG 2:9) even though he is on the righteous side of the conflict. His close friend and charioteer, Krishna, reveals himself as “the Divine Teacher” (i.e., an avatar of God). Krishna then proceeds to explain the nature of the soul as well as the various types of yoga (union paths) by which a person may live a life connected to the Divine.

Last year, during the 50th anniversary of those seminal Civil Rights marches in Alabama, I drew a parallel between Krishna and Arjuna’s relationship in the Bhagavad Gita and the relationship between (Representative) John Lewis and Reverend Hosea Williams. Then I saw the movie Selma, and realized the filmmakers created a similar conversation/relationship between (Representative) Lewis and Dr. King. (The movie version even took place in a chariot/car!) Now, in Dr. King’s first sermon, the conversation about dharma (law) or one’s duty in life; karma (action) or one’s responsibility to others; and bhakti (devotion) or one’s love for God is directed to us.

“When you know the true nature of the material world your grief is destroyed; when you understand the true nature of the Spirit, bliss is acquired…. Divinity is subtle and beyond comprehension. It appears to be many but is one undivided.” – Krishna, Bhagavad Gita 13:1, 16

And when you get all three of these together, you can walk and never get weary. You can look up and see the morning stars singing together, and the sons of God shouting for joy. When you get all of these working together in your very life, judgment will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream…. When you get all three of these together, you will recognize that out of one blood God made all men to dwell upon the face of the earth.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”

(*NOTE: The three (3) links above for Dr. King’s sermon will take you to the same page, which contains the written text, as well as an audio recording of the text. You may also purchase recordings of Dr. King’s sermons and speeches on Amazon.)

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

MULTIPLYING YOUR POWER EXPONENTIALLY (TO THE POWER OF 108) January 3, 2016

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“(1, raised to the first power) times (2, raised to the second power) times (3, raised to the third power)”

– One of John G’s responses to my question about other people’s favorite reasons 108 is significant

 

“That’s the way, I remember it, I remember it that way / From the day, I was living there, I remember it that way /
Some of our stories fade as we grow older / Some get sweeter every time they’re told / That’s the way, I’ll remember you that way”

– “That’s The Way I Remember It” by Chris Gaines (aka Garth Brooks)

Memory is a funny thing. It is more about perspective than reality – and, as such, the days and moments we remember change as we remember them. On the flip side, our perspective shapes our reality.

So, if we remember ourselves overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges, we will put on our big boy/girl panties, keep our chin up, and ride through the next storm. If, however, we forget we survived the challenge, forget that we found a way to make the obstacle the way (to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius), and only remember how hard it was to ride while soaking wet, we’ll stop riding – which is just another way to say we stop living.

Doing 108 Sun Salutations is a wet and wild ride! While doing it, people experience all kinds of things. There are moments when they aren’t sure they’ll make it one more breath – let alone 6. 12. Or 20. There are moments when they wonder how they got talked into doing it in the first place. There are moments when they feel like I’m a toddler saying, “Again!” There are moments when they can’t believe they aren’t done – or that they’re still standing. There are moments when they feel vibrant and alive. There are moments when they are amazed at everyone moving and breathing together. There are moments when everything outside of the present moment ceases, stops.

Then, there is the moment when they finish – and, as Patricia and Elizabeth said first, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. And that’s what most people remember. That’s the reason people keep coming back to do it again, and again, and again.

A feeling of accomplishment, especially when it comes from harnessing the power of awareness (mind), community (body), and breath (spirit), produces a combination of momentum and clarity. Momentum and clarity are one way to consider the two kinds of energy that make things happen: Shakti (Prakriti) and Shiva (Purusha).

Shakti (Prakriti) is nature in action and stillness. Like the seasons, it is the power of change and movement. It is symbolically female and thus gives birth to ideas so that they move from the brain or heart and into the world. Shiva (Purusha) is pure consciousness. It is arrogantly untainted by doubt, fear, or prejudice. It is symbolically male and thus provides seeds of awareness. Everything and everyone in the world is created when an idea – which is a single (or series) of electrical impulse(s) in the mind – meets the step-by-step plan that makes the way for things to happen.

 “As my teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait explains: Tantric masters discovered long ago that the success in both the outer world and the spiritual realm is possible only if we awaken our latent power, because any meaningful accomplishment and especially the attainment of the ultimate spiritual goal requires great strength and stamina. The key to success is “shakti” – the power of the soul, the power of the divine force within. Everyone possesses an infinite (and indomitable) “shakti”, but for the most part it remains dormant. And those whose “shakti” is largely unawakened have neither the capacity to be successful in the world nor the capacity to enjoy worldly pleasures. Without access to our “shakti”, true spiritual illumination is not possible. Awakening and using “shakti” is the goal of tantra.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

A few Sundays ago I ended a conversation (with Terre and Jill at the Blaisdell Y) by saying, “Everything is tantra.” Meaning: Everything is the weaving of “the richness of spiritual experience and the fabric of everyday life into a single vibrant tapestry.” (Rod Striker, The Four Desires). You feel this weaving in the 108 mala when you have to deal with your personal limitations (physical, mental, and emotional) in order to connect the movement with the breath, and your mind-body with the spirit of the group. You feel the weaving when you recognize your heart’s desire – and start making it a real thing in the world. In The Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says “to attain what was previously unattainable” (i.e., coming together with your goal) is one way to define yoga.

Yoga and Hindu philosophies, however, are not the only places where you find this idea of weaving the seen and the unseen, the profane and the sacred. It is a fundamental aspect of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mysticism. It is why the Dervishes whirl; it is why anchorites and anchoresses (like Julian of Norwich) withdrew from the world; it is, on a certain level, why people say Mazel tov!

As I mentioned at the end of the 2016 New Year’s Day practices, I often find myself wanting to wish someone, including myself, “Mazel tov!” Just before New Year’s Eve 2015, I ended a journal page with the above blessing and then thought, “Good luck…that doesn’t sound quite right in this context.” But it felt right. So, I went deeper.

I knew that “tov” means good – and that in the Jewish tradition something is good because it is meaningful. But, to discern the meaning of “mazel,” I turned to Aron Moss, who writes on chabad.org:

“The word mazel literally means ‘a drip from above’ (in reference to the zodiac)….Thus mazel is the influence dripping down from the stars.”

 

“There is another meaning of the word mazel that is more relevant to the phrase Mazel Tov. Mazel is the term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul. The mystics say that only a ray of our soul actually inhabits our body. The main part of the soul, our mazel, remains above shining down on us from a distance.”

On special occasions, Moss says, we feel the power of that drop splashing down into us. It is a moment when we are consciously aware of our unlimited possibilities. It is a moment when we feel we can accomplish anything. And a critical part of success is remembering that feeling!

Completing 108 Sun Salutations is as much a symbolic accomplishment as it is a physical/mental/emotional accomplishment. That symbolic feeling may last for a few hours, a few days, or – like a drop of mazel – you may feel it splashing into you throughout the year.

I hope the latter will be the case for everyone reading this.

If you were not one of the 51 people who started 2016 with me or with a sense of accomplishment, do something now (!!!) that is the symbolic equivalent. Try something new, something you didn’t realize you could do, and (maybe) do it with some friends. Most importantly, do it with awareness. Then, once you’ve harnessed your power, set an intention (not a resolution, but a promise to yourself) to remember this powerful feeling.

2015 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I am an instrument of peace and love. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”

2016 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I have what I need to fill the world with love and light. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”


 

I am humbled, honored, and continually amazed by the presence of the people who share their practice with me. Know that you will be a great source of inspiration to me - and others this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you - 108 times over!

If you haven’t already done so, please check out my 2013 New Year's follow-up, which includes a link to the (password protected) Recovery 101 sequence.

 

Aron Moss ends his mazel article with the following blessing, which I offer to you:

“May this drip of inspiration from your soul above not dissipate, but rather have a positive and lasting effect, that from this event onwards you should live your life with higher consciousness. You should be aware of the blessings in your life and be ready to receive more and more…. Good mazel!”

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