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

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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 ~

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Seriously, Is That All You’ve Got? December 31, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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It is New Year’s Eve eve. And, while I still have things to do in anticipation of the New Year, I am more than ready for the arrival of 2017. Funny thing is, all of us who are “D-O-N-E, stick-a-fork-in-it, done” with 2016, have to admit that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been some memorable and very personal highlights and there have been many changes for the better. Oh, then there’s the fact that this whole “new year” thing is completely arbitrary.

Yes, yes, there are reasons and explanations for why the Western world celebrates a beginning and an ending at this time of year. But, in some ways those reasons and explanations are beside the point. What’s important is that change is always happening – and most of it is beyond our control. Since being out of control can be psychologically uncomfortable, we take control by choosing a transition to celebrate. The celebration is a reminder that everything, including hard times, ends and that the end of one thing marks the beginning of another thing.

We can only hope the new thing is better than the old thing.

Even when, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different ways of marking transitions. One yoga tradition is to practice 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) when the seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices. Here in the West, we have also taken to practice this yoga variation of a marathon when the calendar year changes. (I am again leading the Surya Namaskar malas at Nokomis Yoga (this practice is full) and at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA (3 PM – 6 PM).)

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a moving meditation consisting of 12 poses. The series of poses are linked with breath so that we mimic our bodies’ natural inclination to extend the spine and open the heart as we inhale, to flex the spine and engage the core as we exhale. Or, you could think of it symbolically: as reaching for the sun as you inhale, drawing its energy to the earth as you exhale. Or, you could reach to the Source of all the things as you inhale, surrender to that Source as you exhale. Or…you get the idea. Whether you come to the practice from a physical-mental, psychic-symbolic, or emotional-energetic perspective, this series of poses engages your whole being: mind, body, and spirit.

Since the practice mirrors the cycle of time – the beginning of each breath marking the end of another, the end of each pose marking the beginning of the next – we inevitably find ourselves appreciating it, enjoying it, and then wishing it were done. We can be lost in/absorbed by the effortless repetition (ajapa japa), but then find our brains want a delineated break.

We seek the break, not because we’re tired, per se, but because it’s a way for our brains to absorb the pattern. And, in that moment, we may create the break by asking the question that has been coming up a lot in my practice: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

I can’t remember if it was during an interview or during a teacher training, but I very clearly remember Seane Corn describing a conversation where she said to the Universe, “Bring it; but, bring it gently.” I love that sentiment. It acknowledges that throughout our lives we are going to be faced with challenges, and it simultaneously reinforces the idea that we can be ready to meet those challenges head on. It is a statement sourced in strength, courage, and wisdom – without being braggadocios. In fact, it embodies the splendor of humility.

This secular calendar year, 2016, New Year’s Eve happens to fall on the 8th Night of Chanukah. (Therefore, New Year’s Day 2017 is the 8th Day of Chanukah 5777.) Hod (humility, splendor, surrender, or gratitude) is the eighth aspect of the Divine found on the Tree of Life (in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah). Physically it is symbolized by the left foot and leg. Energetically it is directly connected to Gevurah (Strength, discipline), Tiferet (Balance, Compassion), Netzach (Endurance), and Yesod (Foundation or Bonding). It can also be energetically connected to the 3rd Chakra, our physical core, which is related to our personality, our sense of self, and our self esteem.

I could go on, but what I’m getting at here is that the question (Is that all you’ve got?) isn’t something I’m asking the Universe. I know the Universe has more in store for us. I know it’s going to bring it (hopefully, gently). What I’m really doing, at those moments when I want to throw in the towel, is asking myself the question: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

My early teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Whether we are in the middle of 1 hour, 90 minutes, or 3 hours of yoga – or anything else – we all have that moment where we want to throw in the towel. But, if we pace ourselves, we inevitably get a second wind. And, while I don’t always feel this way after I other physical things I do, in yoga and in life I almost always feel like I could have handled a little bit more. Not that I want to or need to – but, that if I had to, I could dig deep and pull up a little bit more of whatever I need to face the challenge.

The first day of 2017, is just another day on the calendar; just another day in our lives. It’s a beginning and it’s an ending. So, yes, celebrate, set an intention, and move on.

But, don’t forget that this liminal or transitional moment is also a middle. And, ultimately, the most significant thing that’s changing is your awareness and your perspective. Start noticing what you’re doing when you ask a question like “Is that all you’ve got?” Start noticing what you’re doing when your answer to the question changes.

Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

~ Happy New Year, Happy New Perspective ~

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 ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #8: A Peaceful Warrior February 8, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“in the Bhagavad Gita you teach us Bhakti
your divine past times are so sublime / they open the heart and reassure the mind
providing us shelter when the monsoon lingers”

“Krishna Love” by MC Yogi

 

a peaceful soldier who used his mind / to fight for the rights of human kind
but not just people, animals too / and his basic teaching “God is Truth”
he joined Muslims, Sikhs, & Hindus / Christians, Buddhists, Jains, and Jews
all the many paths that lead into / the light that shines bright inside of me and you

(chorus)
Be the change that you wanna see / in the world, just like Gandhi

“Be the Change” by MC Yogi

 

We live in a world where people think power has to be loud, obnoxious, and brash. That change has to come like a tornado or a monsoon, dramatically altering everything in its path. But, change is always happening – even when we don’t notice it happening. And, some of the most powerful people I know are doing powerful things in the world – quietly. Listen, really listen; look, really look – and you will find little seeds of change deliberately (and quietly) taking root, blossoming, and making the world a better place.

Like a seed taking root, Yogi #8, the aptly named Krishna, quietly strolled into class one day a couple of years ago and quietly blossomed. Truth be known, he had blossomed long ago – but he won’t tell you that unless you press him. In fact, most of what I know about the truly amazing things Krishna has done in industry, in our community, and in the world, I learned by paying attention: listening to other people toot Krishna’s horn; noticing when he had meetings with people planning community outreach; or realizing an amazing show of support during a personal crisis was all organized by Krishna. In appreciating some of the feedback he has given me over the years, I recognize that Krishna has more dharma wisdom and knowledge in his pinkie toes than I have in my mind and that he could easily teach my classes, but for some reason he’s listening, practicing, learning, and being present with me.

Some days you will see him front and center; some days he is anchoring a back corner or making up one part of a 108 surya namaskar circle. Sometimes he is contemplating the teachings with a group; sometimes silently letting his thoughts settle between laps in the pool; sometimes putting the dharma into action by wiping down another person’s mat; and sometimes he is laughing hysterically in amazement (at how I explain ancient wisdom for the modern mind to grasp). But he is definitely present. And, in being present, he is definitely contributing.

Engage in action, do your work, but with full control of your mind and senses. And be aware that the work you do should contribute in some way, directly or indirectly, to the higher good of humanity.”

– Krishna’s advice to Arjuna in The Bhagavad Gita 2:7

 

 

 

It’s no accident that Mathea’s and Kirshna’s posts feel like a call to service. This week, as MC Yogi says, is “Dedicated to all Spiritual Activists, Truth Seekers, and Peaceful Warriors Worldwide.” The people I’m highlighting are in our midst. Pay attention, listen, bring a friend or family member to class, and please consider making a donation to KISS MY ASANA! Every bit of action (karma) makes a difference.

 

~ OM ~

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Algebra, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kundalini, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Whirling Dervish, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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!”

###

New Year, New Intentions? December 8, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Loss, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Peace, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Taoism, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Women, Yoga.
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“Searching for an answer / Where the question is unseen / I don’t know where you come from / And I don’t know where you’ve gone…”

Amen Omen by Ben Harper

We are closing in on the end of 2015. And many of us are wondering, “Where do we go from here?” or “How do I go on without him/her/them?” or “Now what?”

It’s those unseen (and unspoken) questions lingering between our readiness to be done with some parts of this year; our desires to move on; and our need to let go of the old – so some healing can begin – that can create fear-based behavior and make us move into deep hibernation. But, as much as I’m a fan of hibernating in order to heal, I’m more of a fan of putting things in perspective and moving on. So, let’s remember that this year hasn’t been all bad.

Remember, for instance, if you set an intention at the beginning of the year and now realize the “stars aligned” to help you reach your goal. Maybe you wanted a new experience, a new job, a new love – or maybe you wanted to heal as an old experience, job, or love passed out of your life. Either way, with all the craziness (and scariness) we’ve seen in the world this year, I think it’s important to remember our own personal highs-and-lows, ebbs-and-flows, risings-and-fallings.

Sun Salutations (surya namaskar) are a moving meditation which mimics the natural tendencies of our bodies and our lives. We rise, we fall, we ebb, we flow – and, if we do enough of them, we experience highs and lows. Practicing a 108 Sun Salutations is the yoga equivalent of a marathon. Like a distance runner, we repeat the same steps over and over again; finding our breath, finding our rhythm – until there is no difference between our breath, our rhythm, our minds, our bodies. We become the cycle, we become the circle or ring (mala). In essence, we are practicing effortless repetition (ajapa japa): where a whisper becomes a scream and then drifts away to silence. (See link above; it’s so worth it!)

I’ve started the past few new years with this 108 ajapa-japa mala practice because it is a great way to reflect on the past, wipe the slate clean, and prepare for the new year. Again and again, it is a way to take Ranier Maria Rilke’s suggestion to a young poet and “live the question (in order to)….live your way into the answer.”

If you’re available or interested, click on the links below for more information about 108 Sun Salutations events on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day:

 

If you’ve started a new year with this practice, please share your experiences below!

 

~ May you be healthy and strong (and accept your limitations with grace) ~

 

 

 

 

Changing Loss Into…. March 11, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Loss, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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 If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude. ”

– Maya Angelou


“You must take personal responsibility. You cannot change the circumstances, the seasons, or the wind, but you can change yourself. That is something you have charge of.”

– Jim Rohn

 

Knowing that change is constant doesn’t always make it easier to accept. Change is especially hard when you don’t feel ready for it and/or it is thrust upon you unexpectedly. And sometimes the worst part about the latter kind of change is the scary feeling which comes from not knowing what comes next.

I’ve been there. I get it. On a certain level, we’ve all been there. But, even if you lose your job, lose a loved one, or lose both in close proximity, don’t lose hope.

Easier said than done (that not losing hope thing) – especially when we define hope as “feeling expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.” But, what happens if we let go of our attachment to things being a certain way and looking a certain way? What happens if we have the old fashioned kind of hope?

Trust is implied in the modern definition of hope, and it is also an archaic definition of hope.

Again, I get it: It is hard to know what or who to trust when the rug has been pulled out from under you. So, start with what is inside of you. Trust that if you can take a deep breath in, you can take a deeper breath out. Have faith that if you take that deeper breath out, and follow it with a deeper breath in, you can look forward to that even deeper breath out. Keep going and feelings of hopelessness will (slowly, but surely) dissipate.

This is not a quick fix or a miracle cure. Neither is it a medical treatment. It’s a practice. Interested in taking the practice deeper? Close your eyes and imagine your breath as light – moving down your spine as you inhale, back up your spine as you exhale. Want to kick it up another notch? Focus on your breath while listening to one of the following mantras (see first links for translations) focused on removing obstacles and darkness:

Gayatri Mantra

Baba Hanuman

 

Above and beyond everything else, reach out to others. You are not alone; so, there is no need to suffer alone: Ask for help.

~ Om Shanti Shanti Shanthi Om ~

Remembering Things To Come – Getting Ready for 2015: A New Year of Possibilities January 3, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.
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“It is happening again. It is happening again. [Deep breath in. Deep chuckle out.”

– from D. J. Shadow’s “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit)” / “Transmission 3” on Endtroducing…

If your computer, iPod, Cd player, or other music maker is on repeat – and you’re listening to D. J. Shadow’s debut album – the end is the beginning, and the last words are prophetic.  Sometimes when I play this song in class, everything syncs up and we are starting the second side of a challenging sequence: so, we are at the beginning, the end, and the middle – and the words are highly prophetic. Last year, as I prepared to lead 108 Sun Salutations for New Year’s Day, I realized everything was syncing up: we were at the end of one year, the beginning of a new year, and in the middle of a week – and I was getting ready to do 108 Sun Salutations three (count them, 3!!!) times. Suddenly, D. J. Shadow’s chuckle was highly prophetic.

But, the fact that I counted out 324 Sun Salutations – and that several people (myself included) spent part of New Year’s Day thinking D. J. Shadow’s highly prophetic words with utter disbelief – isn’t what started me thinking this song should be one of our 2014 theme songs. No, my reasoning was a little deeper than that.

“Why would we want to go back to where we were so many years ago?” (D. J. Shadow)

We just can’t seem to help ourselves. On the mat, we find our thoughts involuntarily wandering to situations and people seemingly out of context. Try as hard as we might to stay focused on the here and now – as opposed to that arbitrary thing that happened in 1979, with that person who shall remain nameless – our mind seems to have, well, a mind of its own. It goes back again, and again, and again, like a random paragraph from Swann’s Way.

Somatically speaking, such thoughts may not be as random as they appear. Yoga teaches us that we hold our experiences in our bodies. So, it stands to reason, when we’re working the body we are also working though our years. The physical practice sometimes becomes a practice of systematic reflection. Pose-wise, we often move from Child’s Pose (Balasana) or Corpse Pose (Savasana); through the approximation of learning to stand and walk – think Table Pose to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to Forward Fold (Uttanasana) to Equal Standing/Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana) (video); then we explore and play; until we slow down, move into Corpse Pose (Savasana), and ultimately roll over to start all over again. Energy-wise, we typically move from our childhood (first chakra/wheel), through our developmental stages (second and third chakras/wheels), into our “maturity” stages (fourth and fifth chakras/wheels), and then to the unknown that lies beyond (sixth and seventh chakras/wheels).

But, even people who don’t practice yoga spend a fair amount of time reflecting on their lives. At the beginning and end of a year, right around our birthdays, whenever we experience one of life’s big milestones, and/or when the seasons change, we think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Making resolutions (or just good old-fashioned planning) seems like a natural part of this reflection process, because as long as we are are actually living there is some part of us wanting to learn and grow. Yet, a good portion of us will get stuck thinking about the past, and approximately 80% of us will set goals we won’t achieve – which, at some point will have us lamenting the past. Perhaps equally significant is the fact that regardless of when we celebrate a new year or a birthday – or even observe the changing of the seasons – we will almost always find ourselves in situations we’ve dealt with in the past.

“And why should we want to live a life that’s past and never more?” (D. J. Shadow)

The wise old wives tell us we’ll repeat the same situations until we learn the lessons. And, let’s be honest, sometimes we’re that kid who keeps failing the class. What the wise old wives don’t tell us is that we can move on to the next grade, but we’re still going to be struggling with the same material. We can blame our (master) teachers, we can blame life, we can even blame the wise old wives; however, at some point we need to cowboy (or cowgirl) up and take responsibility for being where you are.

Karma is a word we throw around, sometimes without really thinking about what it literally means. We focus on the idea of destiny, fate, or retribution and reward. However, karma is the Sanskrit word for work, action, deed. It is everything we think, say, and do. Obviously, one way to think about karma is in the context of reincarnation. But, what if you don’t believe in reincarnation or the idea that you will keep living lives until you live (or get it) “right” – whatever that means? Have you considered what happens if you just look at this life you’re living and the ramifications of the work/karma you’re doing? Have you considered the fact that everything you think, say, do in this moment leads to another thought, word, and deed in the next moment? Look back at that last link where Don Juan speaks to Carlos Castaneda in Journey to Ixtlan.

So, in that interest, have you assumed responsibility for being here?

“This is not a dream….We are unable to transmit due to conscious neural interference….You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are….” (D. J. Shadow)

At some point, on or off the mat, we all want to skip to the end and reap our rewards. We want to ignore the seemingly random thoughts and sensations so we can get to the good stuff. We want, not only a passing grade, but all the accolades which come with it. We want, not only what we’ve earned, but also what we desire. And, at some point, on and off the mat, we are confronted with….what we’ve already done.

I started this post on January 3rd (2014). It was intended as a “sample” of themes and motifs for the year (2014). But, the year got away from me – and this post sat over in the draft column…waiting to see if I’d dust it off and update it. Or, if I’d just trash it. I’d like to say it was waiting patiently. But, that’s not how my mind works. So, sometimes, it was taunting me. Other times it was encouraging me. Finally, it was speaking to me.

Not surprisingly, a year later (to the date) it sounds a lot like D. J. Shadow….

Things that are happening again:

108 Sun Salutations – New Year’s Day 2015

7 Saturdays – Journey On and Off the Mat (Dates TBA)

Exploring the Wren Cycle – March 17, 2015

Kiss My Asana Yogathon – April 2015

New Things: ?????

 

~ May your new year be happy and free ~

 

#PrayforPeace August 2, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Lent, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Ramadan, Religion, Science, Suffering, Sukkot, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Yoga.
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A funny thing happened when I was getting ready for the classes I do at the end of Ramadan. I say “funny” meaning “ironic,” but it’s also something that got a laugh. And, it was also something incredibly profound and fitting.

Reba McEntire released a new song.

For the last three (3) years, at some point during the last 10 days of Ramadan – and for 2 – 3 days after Ramadan, my class themes focus on this holy time for Muslims. My “lessons” are pretty basic: I outline Kriya Yoga as described in the Yoga Sutras and briefly explain that “ritual actions” which combine purification/training of the senses, self study in the context of sacred teachings, and dedication to a divine source occur in every major religion and philosophical practice. (Think, for example, about Lent, a Vipassana retreat, Sukkot, Passover – or Ramadan.) After explaining the basic premise of Ramadan, I outline the Five (5) Pillars of Islam; and break down six (6) Articles of Faith. I point out that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism are all Abrahamic religions – meaning they share one historical origin. I also talk about the importance of the last 10 days with regard to Laylat al-Qadr and the power of prayer, especially as it relates to peace. And, as always, I try to include poses and music which reinforce the message.

OK, before I go any further, let me answer the two (2) most popular questions: Why would you do that? What’s it to you?

More often than not, I pick a theme because it has MEANING. The all caps means it has BIG meaning, so big that (dare I say it) it is universal. Or, at the very least, is accessible to a large group of really diverse people. The theme is a way to get everyone on the same page. And, getting everyone together (on the same page) is one definition of yoga.

Going deeper, going off the mat: It is also an opportunity to expose people to information that might not otherwise discover or seek out on there own. The Twin Cities have a large Muslim population – and, an estimated 1.6 billion people in the world practice Islam. However, many people in the West (including here in the Twin Cities) only know about the faith when it is in the news. And, unfortunately, Islam is in the news a lot because of negative situations. (Keep in mind, the majority of the people in the world who faithfully practice a religious faith are not making the news!) So, here again, is an opportunity to practice yoga – to come together.

If I play a song with lyrics during a Ramadan class, then the musician is Muslim. That’s been my personal modus operandi. I realize that within the Muslim community there is debate about what is permissible (halal) when it comes to music. I have considered only playing a cappella  music or voices accompanied only by percussion; however, in the end I’ve played a wide variety – all inspirational and devotional in some way. And, again, all songs with lyrics are performed by Muslim musicians.

This year, however, I felt like something – a song – was missing. I kept going back and forth between my Ramadan mixes and music in my library that I had chosen not to use. Nothing extra fit. So, for the first class, I left well enough alone. But, I still had that nagging sensation. Between classes, I was surfing the internet and I came across Reba’s new song Pray for Peace.

When I decided to include Pray for Peace in my remaining Ramadan mixes I wanted to be very clear that (so far as I know) Reba is not a Muslim. People seemed to find that statement funny – or maybe it was nervous laughter. Either way, I thought being clear was the best way to respect all the musicians on my playlists. This song, Reba’s call to prayer, was also another way for people to come together.

At first, all you hear are beats/foot steps; then what sounds like bagpipes (and maybe a fiddle). Then, for about 2 minutes, Reba sings, “Pray for Peace.” Over and over. “Pray for Peace.” Even when the lyrics evolve she doesn’t tell you how to pray or to “whom” you pray – she just asks that you pray. And, although the song requests that you pray for peace, the request is open ended: the nature of peace is not defined.

Granted, there was a lot of chaos, confusion, pain, and war going on when Reba wrote the song last year. And a lot of chaos, confusion, pain, and war going on when she released the song. But, I find it very interesting/ironic that this call to prayer was released (for free) during a time when 1.6 billion people on the planet believe their prayers are magnified.

Right about now, somebody is doing the math and thinking, “Well, yeah, 1.6 billion seems like a lot – but that’s only about a sixth of the world’s population.” This is very true. But before you discount the value of those 1.6 billion people, add in all the non-Muslims who were going to pray during Ramadan anyway. Now, add in all the other people on the planet who were meditating, or singing, or sighing, or dancing, or crying, or wishing and hoping.

Now, let’s say all people were on the same page.

 

~ Om Shanti Shanti Shanthi Om ~

Come Celebrate Summer Solstice 2014! June 18, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Health, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.”

– Wilma Rudolph

 

This Saturday, June 21st, is Summer Solstice – the longest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It is the day when our part of the world tilts closest to the sun – and, it seemed to the old world, a day when the world pauses. The Middle English word solstice is derived from the Latin words for “sun” (sol) and “to stand still” (sistere). People all over the world mark this notable  shift with holidays, festivals, and a variety of rituals. One way to mark the occasion is by practicing 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar).

As the sun stands still, let’s move and celebrate the light.

A Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a full mind-body-spirit workout. The full range of motions within the practice, as well as the seamless connection to breath, establishes a meditative state and an awareness of each present moment. Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a traditional way to celebrate seasonal changes, while promoting peace, healing, and personal transformation.

Anyone can do it! Everyone is welcome!

This Saturday. at 9:35 AM, a team of Downtown-Minneapolis YMCA yoga instructors will lead a 108 Sun Salutations as part of the YMCA’s Annual Campaign. Weather permitting, we will be on the Downtown-Minneapolis YMCA rooftop!

• TRANSFORM • RENEW • HEAL • ENERGIZE •

Embrace change, new beginnings, and new opportunities. Close the door on old habits and stagnate energy. Harness the power of a sacred cycle honoring and celebrating the connection between endings and beginnings.

WHO:

Everyone is welcome! Myra, Jared, and Mike K will keep count and offer suggestions, modifications, and encouragement so that even someone who has never practiced yoga can experience the power and benefits of this invigorating practice.

WHAT:

A Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar) is a full mind-body-spirit workout. The full range of motions within the practice, as well as the seamless connection to breath, establishes a meditative state and an awareness of each present moment. Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a traditional way to celebrate seasonal changes, while promoting peace, healing, and personal transformation.

WHEN & WHERE: Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why is it so long?

We will breathe and flow as a community, at a pace appropriate for everyone within our sacred circle. Each round will begin with a dedication and end with a “restorative moment.” The traditional practice, including Savasana (a final resting pose) will take approximately 3 hours.

Since the physical practice prepares the body for a deep-seated meditation, everyone is invited to stay for a guided meditation.

How much?

The Downtown-Minneapolis mala is for YMCA members and their guests. It is also a donation-based class benefiting the YMCA Annual Campaign. Please contact the Downtown-Minneapolis YMCA about parking on Saturday.

 

~ NAMASTE ~