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When Somethin’s Not Right It’s Wrong March 19, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Baha'i, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Hula Hoop, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“I’ve seen love go by my door
It’s never been this close before
Never been so easy or so slow
I’ve been shooting in the dark too long
When somethin’s not right it’s wrong
You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”

– “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome” by Bob Dylan (covered by Shawn Colvin, Elvis Costello, Miley Cyrus (with Johnzo West) and a host of other artists)

 

Happy Spring Everyone! Also, I offer many blessings to those of you who are finishing the 19-Day Bahá’i Fast, and many blessings to all.

Thursday is normally my day off – unless I’m subbing prenatal yoga – and a great day for me to work on my own seated meditation practice. I had planned on posting some meditation audio recorded by my friend-who-is-my-twin; however, as I ran into some technical issues getting Wednesday’s video ready, I’m a little behind schedule.

But, fear not! I still have something fun for you! In addition to being the Spring Equinox, today is a special day for Bob Dylan fans. Today (March 19th) in 1962, Bob Dylan released his self-titled debut album. As Andy Greene points out in a 2012 Rolling Stones article, Bob Dylan’s Bob Dylan came out when everybody – and I mean, everybody – was doing the twist. So, dust off your favorite Bob Dylan vinyl, add a cover (or two) of Bob Dylan songs made famous by other artists, and either practice some twists – open twists if you’re pregnant; do the twist; or (in honor of the Vernal Equinox) practice 108 Sun Salutations.

“I see my light come shining
From the west down to the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

– “I Shall Be Released” by Bob Dylan (covered by Nina Simone, The Band, and a host of other artists)

 

### (THIS, ALL THIS, IS) “TO MAKE YOU FEEL MY LOVE” ###

A Prize-Winning Solution March 18, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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“I am in no way different from anyone else, that my predicament, my sense of aloneness or isolation may be precisely what unites me with everyone.”

– Franz Wright

 

It seems very fitting to me, somehow, that what we sometimes think of as one of the hardest days of the week – Hump Day – during this first week of major league social distancing coincides with the anniversary of the birth of a man who wrote about isolation, loneliness, longing, and death intersecting with kindness, love, faith, and hope. If you are not familiar with Franz Wright, born today (3/18) in 1953, then you might be interested to know that he is the son-half of (I believe) the only father and son to win Pulitzer Prizes in the same category and that Chicago Tribune critic Julia Keller once described one of his collections as being “ultimately about joy and grace and the possibility of redemption, about coming out whole on the other side of emotional catastrophe,” while Denis Johnson supposedly compared his poems to “tiny jewels shaped by blunt, ruined fingers – miraculous gifts.” I know, that’s a lot to take in (and you might need to read that Va. Woolf-like sentence again). The thing is; I think we are in the middle of a Franz Wright poem. So, brace yourself.

I first came across Wright’s poem “Solution” in a 2015 blog post written by Alison McGhee, a New York Times bestselling author who writes and teaches up the street from me. In the post (which I strongly recommend), McGhee wrote about an encounter she had with someone best described as her exterior opposite. Yet the interior movements of the heart, all of our hearts, are ultimately the same – something both McGhee’s short post and Wright’s poem illustrate bluntly, beautifully, and miraculously.

Franz Wright’s “Solution” is something we could all use right now.

“What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.”

Wright’s poems are full of natural spirituality and that oftentimes “heartbreaking human conflict between religion and spirit. The final line of the poem reminds me of 2 Corinthians 4:18 where Saint Paul wrote, “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” NOTE: The New Living Translation translates this passage as “So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.”

PRACTICE NOTES:

Start seated or lying on your back. As your move through your practice today, focus on what is unseen. What are you feeling in your heart, in your mind, in your body? How does what you feel move, shift, and change as you inhale – and, especially, as you exhale? Is what distracts you from this present moment seen or unseen, temporary or eternal? At one point in your body (or mind) does everything – including your breath – overlap and become one?

Prior to this week, Wednesdays were one of my busy days, because I would teach three (3) classes in three (3) different locations: a 60-minute YIN Yoga practice, a 60-minute open-level vinyasa practice, and a 60-minute “slow flow” vinyasa practice. My “Franz Wright inspired” sequences would be heart, lung (as Wright died of lung cancer), and core focused, with some emphasis on arm movements and position since arms are an extension of the heart chakra and also contain the heart and lung meridians.

As I am not currently able to post three (3) different practices, the YIN Yoga link above directs you to a Bernie Clark playlist on YouTube. I have posted a 60-minute vinyasa playlist (see here or below) for anyone who wants it and will email a Soma Yoga/Vinyasa practice to people who normally attend the studio classes.

(This is freely given and freely received. I do not own the rights to these songs, but highly encourage you to buy them!)

“Soon, soon, between one instant and the next, you will be well.”

 

– from “Nude with Handgun and Rosary by Franz Wright

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

 

Exploring the Wren Cycle on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020 March 17, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Religion, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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“So listen people what I tell you now
Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on
Listen people what I can tell you straight
It’s not too late to

Try and get through
I’m just trying to get through”

– from “Trying to Get Through” by Hothouse Flowers

 

All of my in-studio classes are officially cancelled for at least 2 weeks.

When I taught what turned out to be my last few in-studio classes for a bit, I ended by explaining that one of the reasons I was doing my regular March 15th theme, based on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “American Promise” (aka “We Shall Overcome”) speech, was because I recognize that sometimes we step on the mat to help us deal with what’s going on off the mat and, also, sometimes to just have a moment away from what we’re dealing with off the mat. It is a few minutes, or hour, where the practice requires us to be fully present, right in the here and now – without getting sucked into what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Those much needed respites … they are part of how we get through all this. So, keeping that in mind…

Beannachti na fėile Pádraig, dia dhui. Mise Myra. Conas ata tu? Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone. My name is Myra. How are you? OK, since it doesn’t seem like anyone else speaks Gaelic, I’ll stick to English and Sanskrit for the rest of the practice.”

– My usual introduction on March 17th

The physical practice of yoga features a lot of bird poses. I mean, there are a lot, a lot, a lot of poses inspired by birds. Ergo, on Saint Patrick’s Day I usually guide a practice that tells the story of how the wren became the King of the Birds. The legend is usually associated with the Saint Stephen’s Day (instead of Saint Patrick’s Day) and the wren is the villain. However, I first heard about the legend in relation to “wren singers” singing in the round and the idea that it’s great “craic” for the music to never end at a “ceili.” So, when I tell the story, the wren is the heroine…and there are lots and lots of bird poses. (Not all of them, but a lot.)

You can read more about the ideas behind the physical sequence in a post from 2012. At some point on Tuesday, I will record a class for people who would normally attend on Tuesdays at Nokomis. (I apologize for not having it together in time for you to practice at your regular scheduled time.) If you’re not on my Tuesday list (you can message me) or you want to practice now, you can use the poses and playlist below to create your own sequence.

FEATURED BIRD POSES IN THE WREN CYCLE:

  1. The Ruddy Goose: There are two (2) so-called “Ruddy Goose” poses or sequences. Today we’ll just do the first. Come to your hands and knees – or into a standing squat if you need to modify. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. This is a good place to do a little cat-cow. Balance the weight in all form limbs, even as you curl your right toes under and stretch the right leg back. Use your core to lift the back leg up and then, if it’s accessible to you, lift the left arm up. Now, to turn your 2-Legged Table into Ruddy Goose, bend your lifted knee as if you are standing on the ceiling. Hold here for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side (including the cat-cow).
  2. The Wren: My so-called Wren Pose doesn’t really exist, except in the Wren Cycle and maybe in some kids yoga classes. From standing or Downward Facing Dog, make your way into a standing forward fold. Look up and lengthen into a “Half-Lift, Flat Back” position. Find that place where your spine is long, shoulders are relaxed, and core is engaged. On an inhale, stretch your arms back behind you, so wrists are beside the hips. In “Wren Pose” you can wiggle your fingers to “shake your tail feathers.” In a vinyasa practice, “Half-Lift, Flat Back” is one of the repeated poses so whenever you inhale into the half-lift on Saint Patrick’s Day, simultaneously extend your heart-gaze forward and your arms backwards. To release, exhale into a Standing Forward Fold. (NOTE: You can also turn a low lunge into a modified “Flying Wren.”)
  3. Flamingo: Yes, yes, I know, you’re unlikely to see a Flamingo in Ireland outside of a zoo. That said, it’s in my version of the story and comes courtesy of my first teacher, Robert Boustany. It’s a big hip pose, so be warned. If you are not familiar with the sequence, just stick to Standing Splits (from a Standing Forward Fold), which is the beginning of the sequence.
  4. Eagle: Come into Chair Pose, knees over ankles, shoulders over hips, big awkward smile on your face (just cause). Take a deep breath in and the exhale your right arm under your left, taking the double bind or the single bind. Lift the bound elbows up and the move the bound hands away from your face. As you inhale, step your right leg over your left (taking the double bind or using your right toes as a kickstand). Squeeze the thighs together and press the right hip back. Hold the pose for several breaths and then make your way through any additional (2 – 3) standing poses on the right.
  5. “Flying Eagle”: From Warrior I on the right side, making sure hips are balanced (right hip back, left hip forward), stretch up as you inhale and then cross LEFT arm under the right for “Eagle arms.” Exhale and bring elbows to the right knee so that back is flat. Shift your weight forward as you inhale. Engage your core on the exhale and then use your inhale to soar into Warrior III with Eagle Arms. Stretch the arms out on an inhale (as the Eagle spreads out its wings and turns around to claim its crown). On an exhale, sweep the arms backwards into “Flying Wren” and hold. I usually add a Tree Pose here or before the first Eagle (so the other birds can watch the end of the competition). Repeat the Eagle/Flying Eagle/ Flying Wren section on the other side.
  6. Pigeon and Royal Pigeon: These are fully puffed-up Pigeon poses (not one of the One-Legged Royal Pigeon variations). These are big heart openers, so if they are not in your practice modify with the prep pose. For Royal Pigeon, set yourself up for Floor Bow (prep pose) and then bring your head and feet together. For Pigeon, come into Camel Pose and then, if this variation is in your practice, work your head and elbows down to the floor behind you. Bind off with the feet and shins.
  7. Heron: Come into Staff Pose, sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee to the left, with the knee on the ground, if you need more support. Hug your right knee into your chest and then use your hands (or a strap) to hold onto your arches or ankles. In Heron Pose, it is more important for your back to be straight (spine long) and for your to be balanced on your sit bones (fully upright, not leaning back) than it is to have your leg straight. So, first align your head, neck, and trunk. If you can keep your back straight, shoulders over the hips, use an inhale to straighten out your right leg. If it’s accessible to you, you can bring your shin to your chin. Hold for a few breaths, then release into a twist to the right (prenatal is to the left) before repeating on the other side.
  8. Crow: Here’s one of the poses everyone expected. If it’s in your practice, use your Crow for one final vinyasa into Savasana.

Below is a playlist that features Irish artist and tells the story in 65 – 90 minutes (with or without the featured bird poses). Some songs on my in-class playlist are not available on YouTube so I’ve left them out. Also, you can easily skip a few towards the end to fit a shorter time frame. The HemiSync track is the last Savasana track. Garth, of course, marks the after party!

(This is freely given and freely received. I do not own the rights to these songs, but highly encourage you to buy them!)

 

### LET’S SOAR ###

Let’s Do That 90-Second Thing! March 16, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Hope, Loss, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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“From everything I saw, knew, and felt, my decision had been made: LaGuardia was out. Wishing or hoping otherwise wasn’t going to help.”

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

We all experience moments where things don’t go as planned or as we want them to go. As Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger said, “Not every situation can be foreseen or anticipated. There isn’t a checklist for everything.” In these moments, we can second guess ourselves, recriminate ourselves, or we can trust what we feel, and then move forward.

Sometimes it is really easy to follow our intuition. At other times we have to practice listening to that still, silent voice inside of our own heart. At other times, we just have a sense of knowing that we must trust our gut and or the funny feeling in the pit of our belly or low back. My whispers of intuition usually happen around books, or discussions about books – and occasionally with music. It happened on September 10, 2001 (when I felt a strong urge to buy a small copy of the The Art of War). It happened at the end of last year during a conversation about the work and life of Ram Das (when I kept insisting he had died, on the day he was actually dying). And, in a similar, roundabout serendipitous and easily chalked up as a coincidence fashion, it happened when I was trying to figure out the appropriate tone and content for my first COVID-19 blog post.

I had an idea – one we will undoubtedly visit later – but I was worried it would come off as a little to flippant and cavalier. I also wanted to make sure there was space within the frame for good information. And, in my musings, I remembered that my new housemate had given me a copy of Pema Chödrön’s Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Note: This was not the only gift in the form of a book that I received last year – or in previous years. And, honestly, I didn’t really remember the title or the titular subject. However, something whispered for me to get the book.

The second featured quote, at the beginning of Chapter One, was Shunryu Suzuki Roshi’s simile comparing life to stepping into a sinking boat. And from that river flowed the rest of the blog post. 

Sunday night, when faced with the news that my classes at the Douglas Dayton YMCA and Flourish have been cancelled, I felt the desire to go deeper. {On your next inhale, go deeper.}

Pema Chödrön writes, “In My Stroke of Insight, the brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor’s book about her recovery from a massive stroke, she explains the physiological mechanism behind emotion: an emotion like anger that’s an automatic response lasts just 90 seconds from the moment it’s triggered until it runs its course. One and a half minutes, that’s all. When it lasts any longer, which it usually does, it’s because we’ve chosen to rekindle it.

The fact of the shifting, changing nature of our emotions is something we could take advantage of. But do we? No. Instead, when an emotion comes up, we fuel it with our thoughts, and what should last one and a half minutes may be drawn out for 10 or 20 years. We just keep recycling the story line. We keep strengthening our old habits.”

Essentially, we throw more fuel on the fire and (literally) light it up again.

What happens if, instead of adding fuel to the flame, we just spend 90 seconds watching the light flare up… and then go out? What happens if, as we do in meditation and as we do our physical practice of yoga, we just breathe into the moment? What happens if the only story we tell is the non-story, that “doing the 90 seconds thing” story that is no story, only experience. (Someone in Chödrön’s circle refers to it as the “one-and-a-half minute thing,” so think of it however it works for you.)

You can settle into a comfortable position, set a timer, and do this on your own. Or, you can click below (or here if the video doesn’t show on your phone) and do it with me. Either way, the idea is to breathe and feel what you feel, for 90 seconds, without adding any story: no value judgments, no interpretations, and no explanations.

Its 90 seconds. If you practice on the mat with me, you know you can do just about anything for 90 seconds.

 

### BE WELL ###

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

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

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI ###

 

Seeing Clearly Now (or New Vision for a New Year) December 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

– “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The filmmaker Billy Wilder famously said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Wilder’s statement relies on the idea that 20-20 is perfect vision  and implies that stepping back gives us the perspective to see things more clearly because we take in the bigger picture. In other words, once we see the pattern and how everything fits together as a whole, we gain an understanding of the parts. It’s like understanding a word’s meaning when it’s used in a sentence.  Context is everything. Or is it? After all, if we start off with an incorrect understanding of past events, the pattern that emerges is still slightly off. We may see ourselves and our situation better than we did when we were in the middle of everything, but seeing things better doesn’t mean we see them perfectly.

As someone in the United States who has worn glasses for most of my life, I am very familiar with the idea that 20/20 vision is perfect vision (and the experience of feeling like you’re seeing a brand new world when you get new glasses). However, the reality is that that particular gold standard is not only not perfect vision; it’s not even the best vision. 20/20 vision – what is considered normal or average vision is, by definition, what is clearly or sharply seen at 20 feet by the so-called average person.  If you have your eyes examined and the second number is higher than 20 (let’s say, 89) than that higher number means you would have to be 20 feet away from something to see it with the same clarity that someone else (someone with “normal” eyesight) sees clearly from a distance of 89 feet.  On the flip side, someone with 20/2 vision has the eyesight of an eagle and can sharply see something from 20 feet away that mere mortals can only see clearly from 2 feet. While 20/2 vision may seem unlikely in a human, there are definitely people with 20/10 vision. (And, also, there are people with 20/8.)

I say all of this just to point out that, as we enter a new year and a new decade that lends itself to people talking about vision and insight, don’t get too caught up in the metaphor of seeing better in the year ahead just because it’s 20/20. It’s an imperfect metaphor. And, if you insist on using it – for political reasons – keep in mind that we had better “vision” in 2008. (But, that’s another story for another day.) The point I’m making here is that what we really need is more clarity and more insight.

“I think I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day”

– Hothouse Flowers cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

The Sanskrit word “vipassana” is often translated into English as “insight.” A more literal translation is “to see in a special way.” The practice is not just about stepping back; it’s also about letting go. Paying attention to your breath while simultaneously observing your thoughts and physical sensations creates the opportunity to experience everything without getting attached to anything. It’s a bit like riding a motorcycle through your life. As Robert Pirsig describes it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  / On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Like vipassana, the Sanskrit word “vinyasa” (“to place in a special way”) refers to a technique as well as to a style or tradition. The most classical example of vinyasa is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), which is 12 asanas (seats or poses) linked to the breath. Each pose is an exaggeration of the spine’s natural inclination – to extend on the inhale and to flex on the exhale. Practicing a few Sun Salutations at the beginning of a practice is a little like getting in a car to go somewhere specific. The more Sun Salutations you do, the more it feels like a road trip. If, however, you’re only practicing 5 or 10 Sun Salutations (every once in a while), you’re still traveling in the car. Practice 108…now you’re traveling long distance on a cycle. And, yes, that means you have to do your own maintenance. It also means you have to let go of some baggage.

 “But our mistakes also carry our largest lessons. I’m wiser now. I guess the real trick in life is to turn hindsight into foresight that reveals insight.”

 

“Nice way to put it, Cal. What I really hear you saying is that it’s important in life to let our past serve us. Is that right?”

 

“Very well put. That’s it exactly. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – that’s how human beings grow. We’re designed to make mistakes, for mistakes carry growth. We just shouldn’t keep repeating the same one. Turn a wound into wisdom, or, as you said, let your past serve you.”

– Cal and Jack in The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO by Robert Sharma

Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a great way to mark a transition, like the end of a year and/or the end of the decade. While it is a tradition for some to practice the ajapa-japa mala (repeat-remember garland) for a solstice and equinox, many people also practice at the beginning of a new year. My 2020 mala, as well as my Yin Yoga + Meditation, practices are full. However, if you are looking for clarity and insight in this New Year and new decade consider practicing on your own or joining one of the following*:

Tuesday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Common Ground Meditation Center Potluck

7:30 PM – 12:00 AM, Joy Fest (Kirtan) at Saint Paul Yoga Center

Wednesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Beginnings (vinyasa) with Mike, Minnehaha Yoga

AM – PM, Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga

11:00 AM – 1:45 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Tracy Vacura & live Cello music by Emily Dantama, Yoga Sanctuary

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Revolution 2020: Reflect, Release, and Manifest Your Dreams with Drew Sambol, Radiant Life Yoga

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM, Finding Balance in the New Year with Pam, Minnehaha Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Chance York, One Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2020 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, New Year’s Day Kundalini with Nicole Nardone, One Yoga

2:10 PM – 3:40 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Restorative with Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

Friday, January 3rd:

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

Saturday, Januray 4th:

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Post Holiday Total Restoration With Essential Oils with Moya Matthews, Yoga Center Retreat

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Cultivation – Vision Board with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

*NOTE: Reservations are generally required for these events. My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event not listed.

 

The original, by Johnny Nash, which I love because it feels happy, like a blue sky day!

 

The cover, by Hothouse Flowers, which I love because it feels like the storm just ended and you’re taking the deepest breath of petrichor you’ve taken all day!

### HAPPY NEW YEAR ###

 

Practicing Gratitude November 26, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Texas, Twin Cities, Yoga.
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“Just for today I’m going to see the opportunity instead of the obstacle. Just for today I am going to recognize the kindness instead of the apathy, the light instead of the dark, the love instead of the hate, the beauty instead of the chaos, the blessing instead of the lack.

Just for today, I want to say thank You. For the rising sun and the autumn leaves. For the shelter, the water and the food. For my arms, my legs, my eyes, my heart and for every breath You grant me. For the gift of my children. For the Torah and all the myriad blessings it brings into my life. For all this and for so much more.”

– Sara Debbie Gutfreund, on cultivating gratitude

Some governments, like the United States and Canada, dedicate one day a year to giving thanks. Some religions also include giving thanks during certain  holidays and then prescribe practicing gratitude before and/or after every meal. Some even command giving thanks at least once a week on top of that. Then social convention dictates expressing gratitude when you receive a gift, a boon, or a kindness from another person. Science, however, indicates that we should give thanks every day – and multiple times a day at that.

I’m not going to go into the science (you can read about some of the research here and here); however, I am going to take a moment to practice a little gratitude.

One of my favorite songs, by one of my favorite musicians is “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks. This, I know, is a big surprise to absolutely no one who knows me. The song, like all great songs, is also a great story and so, in that spirit, I’m going to tell you a little story.

About 13 years ago, I was at loose ends. I wanted my life to go in a certain direction and it just didn’t seem to be going that way – not professionally and definitely not personally. Don’t get me wrong, my life was mostly good, but I was definitely floundering. I prayed, I mediated, I wrote, I cried for a change – but I also put limits on that change: I wanted things to be the way I wanted things to be.

Around this same time, I was recruited for a job in the Twin Cities. It was the kind of theater job I didn’t expect to do again, in a city I had only ever been to on tour. Ironically, it was one of three cities I had been to while on various tours that had me thinking, “I could live here.” I didn’t consider that whispered thought as a prayer, but it kind of was – and there was definitely some intense emotion behind the thought. Fast forward and, after visiting the Cities (again during REALLY warm weather), I took the job.

Things did not go as planned.

I had a hard time finding an apartment to rent and a hard time acclimating to the Mid-West culture, not to mention the cold climate. Despite a lot of great experiences and the kindness of a lot of great people, I was ready to head South within a matter of months.

At loose ends again, I prayed, mediated, visualized, wrote, sighed, cried, sang, danced around various ideas about what would come next. I decided I would take a yoga teacher training class – because I had the time and the money at the same time that a course was coming up. I wanted to deepen my practice and, while I didn’t plan on teaching, I wanted the ability to answer people’s questions or point them in a help direction. (SIDE NOTE: I had been practicing yoga for almost 10 years and knew a lot of people whose only intersection with yoga was knowing that I practiced.) Also, I had no other plans or, as I might have said at the time, “nothing better to do.” Smile.

The yoga teacher training focused on teaching us how to teach yoga. Within a few months, that’s exactly what I was doing: teaching yoga. I started teaching two to three classes a week in the homes of some friends to whom I will always be grateful (Thank you, Erin! Thank you, Kirsten! Thank you, Inger!).

I said I would keep teaching classes until I went back to Texas. Then I thought, I wonder what life would be like if I did this teaching thing on purpose. I applied to the YMCA (Thank you, Daniella!); set up an interview/audition (Thank you, Courtney!); and also met with a teacher who was starting a new studio (Thank you, Solveig!) I went from three classes in three spaces, to 15 in 5, and now am back to 13 in 5 – give or take in any given week. Along the way, I have met some of the most incredible people – some students and some the friends and family of students – and some of these incredible people I have the extra pleasure of calling my friends. (Thank you, everybody!)

And, if even one of the aforementioned prayers had been answered the way I wanted them to be answered, I wouldn’t be here, doing what I’m doing, surrounded by the amazing people I’ve met on and off the mat.

“Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayers. Remember when you’re talking to the man upstairs, that just because he may not answer, doesn’t mean he don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered…some of God’s greatest gifts are all too often unanswered…some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

– Garth Brooks

Just in case, I missed the point, this morning the Universe peeled back the curtain and winked. On my way to a class (I wouldn’t have been teaching if my holiday plans had gone as planned), I sat on the train next to a woman a lot like the women from my grandmother’s neighborhood – women who used to ask me the questions about yoga that I didn’t know how to answer. We spent about 15 minutes talking about her low back pain, her knee replacements, and her balancing challenges – especially during winter – and yoga might help her.

Not for the first time, I turn to the Universe…and wink back. Thank you.

(Click here if you don’t see the video.)

 

I’m teaching my regular classes tonight at 7:15 PM and Wednesday at 12:45 PM.

No classes for me on Thursday and Friday, but I’ll be back to my regular schedule on Saturday.

 

Peace and A Million Thanks to All of You!

###

 

Foundations 2019 July 29, 2019

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

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

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

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

John Cage

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Talent works, genuis creates.”

– Robert Schumann

~~~ AUM ~~~

MOVING INTO STILLNESS: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #18 (for Day 29) April 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on May 4th.

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

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

                                                   do yoga. share yoga. help others.                               

***

“Movement is a language spoken by us all. Movement is a universal language that belongs to everybody If only we open our senses and listen. Listening is what is required, listening without interference, listening without judgment, listening in silence and allowing the movement to pass through the body in the moment, because everything inside us and around us is in motion, constant motion. This is when the body doesn’t lie because it is listening to its truth and manifesting it.”

– excerpt from Karima Monsour’s message for 2019 International Dance Day

“….Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart.  All through history”

– from “The Other View from the Window” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

It may seem odd, to some, that on International Dance Day (4/29) I was thinking about stillness – and silence. The thing is, as a yoga teacher and practitioner who likes to keep things in context, I am hyper aware that the physical practice of yoga is traditionally a way to prepare the mind-body for stillness and silence. Not for nothing that Patanjali defined yoga as “citta vritti nirodaha” (ceasing the fluctuations of the mind). Also remember, the practice is a mirror of our lives and we are, from the moment we are born, moving towards stillness. In that context, our “final pose” is always our peak pose.

Yes, yes, I know – the “final pose” is the pose that people routinely skip or that teachers (myself included) sometimes give the least amount of time. And yet, the “final pose” is the most important pose; it is the time when the mind-body has an opportunity to absorb and process the work/effort of the practice. It is when we rest, when the parasympathetic nervous system is paramount, that we digest. We digest what we consume physically – in terms of food, drink, air, etc. – and also what we consume through experience. The parasympathetic nervous system is also associated with creation.

“For the first twenty years you are still growing,
Bodily that is; as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It’s the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.”

– from “To a Young Poet” by R. S. Thomas*

 

“early April
out in my bathrobe
and gardening boots”

– Hilary Tann

 

 

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest whose poetry is often compared to the landscape of Wales and the work ethic of the Welsh people. He was born March 29, 1913 – so, not an April poet to the date, but the timing of his birthday does get me thinking about poetry and poets at their essence.

Hilary Tann was born November 2, 1947 – so not an April poet either. But, she is a Welsh-born composer who lives and teaches in Upstate New York. In 2015, Tann released a composition set to seven (7) of Thomas’s poems. The music manages to capture the essence of the poems – as well as the poet. Perhaps it helps that Tann is also a published haiku poet who has been inspired by the same natural elements as Thomas. It definitely doesn’t hurt that Thomas himself recites the poems. But regardless of why it works, practicing to Seven Poems of Stillness is like practicing in an empty, abandoned cathedral with the wind carrying in a voice and notes that seem to echo one another. When one ends and the other begins you might question that you ever heard the other: it is as if they are one and the same.

“There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl
calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away.”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

Above I placed the words “final pose” in quotes, because although I often refer to Savasana (or its modification) as the final pose, the truth is it’s really the penultimate pose: Every practice inevitably ends not with Savasana, but with a seated (on your sits-bones) pose. The physical practice ends where the breathing practice and the seated meditation practice begin.

“…It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in
the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and
falling”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

FEATURED POSE for April 29th: Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) or Hero Pose (Virasana)

As I mentioned in this year’s April 8th offering, seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”) in Zen Buddhism is a kneeling position. It places the body in a similar position to one the body is in when kneeling on a kneeler in a church pew or at a prie-dieu (literally “pray to God”) desk. It is one of the few poses not contraindicated by a full stomach and is prenatal approved. With modifications, these poses are accessible to almost anyone. (The big exception to practice these poses would be certain – but not all – knee issues.)

The big differences between Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) and Hero Pose (Virasana) are the placement of the knees and feet, which in turn affects the placement of the hips. For Thunderbolt Pose, both the feet and the knees are pressed together. For Hero Pose, the knees touch, but the feet (and shins) are spread wider than the hips. If you have tight quads, tight hips, and or knee issues, you will need props for these poses. Helpful props for Thunderbolt and Hero include a bench, meditation cushion, blankets, and/or blocks. You do not necessarily need all of these – and you can definitely get creative with common household objects instead of using “yoga props.” If you feel these poses are not for you, even with props, you can practice by sitting in a chair.

To come into either pose, start on your hands and knees, with your toes pointed away from the knees. You’ll either bring your knees and feet together, for Thunderbolt, or bring your knees together and spread your feet apart, for Hero. (Note, the position of the knees and feet is the opposite of the Auspicious Pose described in the April 8th offering.) For Thunderbolt, sit on the heels. For Hero Pose, sit in the space between the heels. If the hips don’t touch the ground in Hero Pose, place a prop underneath the hips. In both poses, you want the hips grounded. If the ankles are uncomfortable (in either pose), place a rolled up blanket, towel, or shirt (even socks) under the ankles and feet. Another ankle option (for Thunderbolt only) is to curl the toes under so that the toes point towards the knees. If there is too much pressure on the knees (in either pose) place rolled up blankets, towels, or shirts between the hips and the shins/heels.

Once you’re seated in the pose, spread the toes and press down into your foundation in order to extend the spine. Ribs and hips are reaching away from each other. Engage your pelvic floor and your core. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Hands rest on the thighs, with palms up if you want a little energy or palms down if you want to be grounded. With the chin parallel to your legs, close your eyes if that is comfortable for you. Listen to at least one (1) of the Seven Poems of Stillness.

Each track of Seven Poems of Stillness is 2:25 – 4.36 minutes long. The entire composition is 24:53 – which is a pretty nice length for a seated meditation. Whenever you feel like you’re done with the pose, lean forward and ease out of the pose. Take a moment to stretch out your legs, maybe rotate your ankles or flex and point your toes. If you are practicing both poses, start with Thunderbolt.

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

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

 

(*NOTE: To a Young Poet is not one of the seven featured “stillness” poems, but as a little something extra, here’s a beautiful variation of it.)

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #17 (on Day 28) April 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Poetry, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

What I’ve seen in my lifetime –

and in the last few days, weeks, years

is that us human beings:

                                                We’re capable of anything.

We are full

                                                   of possibilities.

BIG possibilities…and little possibilities

Great acts of LOVE / great acts of hate

We can CREATE. Or destroy.

It’s all the same energy – I think /

it’s all about how we CHANNEL it.

It’s a choice. &

                                           To choose PEACE requires WISDOM.

– MKR, April 2019

 

April is one of my favorite months – not because of the weather, the coming flowers, or even because of the opportunity to Kiss My Asana. (Although, let’s be real, Kiss My Asana in April does make April rock!) No, I love April because ever since 1996, April is National Poetry Month. Organized by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry…all poetry…every kind of poetry, and every kind of poet. The organizers say, “[I]t has become largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.”

If you go to poets.org (see link above), you will find official events, poems, and opportunities to read, write, and share poems. They actually have a list of “30 more ways to celebrate” – which means you could celebrate poetry every day, possibly in more than one way.

Over the years, I’ve celebrated poetry month in different ways. One of my favorite ways to celebrate combines my love of poetry with my love of music and yoga: a poetry-themed yoga class featuring music inspired by poems. Depending on when Easter and Passover fall, I can sometimes offer (at least) one poetry celebration for all of the classes I teach. Sometimes it’s an “April is Poetry Month” class, featuring a playlist of different music and poets. Other times, if a poet’s birthday falls in April, the class only features music related to the birthday poet and/or their poetry. (But, let’s be real, I do birthday poets all year long!)

As we finish out the 6th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon and another April full of poetry, I’m going to finish up my online offerings with some of my poetry playlists. First up: “April is Poetry Month.” (This is an extend playlist featuring poems set to music and songs that sample poems. Psalm 23 as the music for Savasana.)

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Spend a moment in stillness. You can be in any pose; however, you want to make sure you are comfortable and that your spine is extended and that you feel balanced on the left and right side of your spine. Notice how the vertebrae of the spine stack one on top of the other. Check in with your breath. Begin to extend as you inhale and engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. So that your inhale creates space and your exhale supports that created space. Make sure you’re not slumping on the exhale. No matter your position, roll the shoulders down and back – squeezing the shoulder blades together – and notice how that affects the front of your chest. Let your mind settle into your heart, knowing that wisdom is a heart practice.

You can warm-up the spine with Cat/Cow or Cat/Puppy. Moving one-breath-one-movement, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine rounds (flexes) on the exhale for Cat/Cow. For Cat/Puppy, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine stays long as you flex at your hips and sink the hips to the heels on the exhale. This warm-up can be done in a seated position, a standing position, or on hands and knees.

To move into Cobra Pose (literally “seat of the snake”), you need to lie down flat on your belly. This is not a prenatal friendly position. If you are pregnant, you could modify Cobra Pose by placing a bolster or blankets underneath the thighs (ensuring that your baby-belly is not compressed). Other options include standing and using the wall as you would use the floor (again, not compressing the baby-belly) or picking a different back bend (like Camel or Cow). Whichever choice you make, you always want to be mindful with back bends so that you do not hyper-extend the belly.

Once you are on your belly (or have arranged props for a prenatal variation), straighten out the legs and point the toes behind you. Place the hands directly under the shoulders – so the elbows bend back and squeeze in like grasshopper legs. Make sure the elbows are behind the back, not squeezing into the ribs. (NOTE: There is a “Baby Cobra” variation in some styles of yoga where the hands are in front of the shoulders. However, that is not the variation I am describing.) From toes to hips, squeeze the legs together as you inhale. Engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. Next time you inhale, press the feet, the pubic bone, and the hands down in order to lift the heart and ribs off the mat. Look up, but do not over extend your neck. Make this pose a poem about your foundation and your core – not a poem about the strength of your arms.

Roll the shoulders down and back to push the heart forward. Make sure you are not compressing your low back. Keep breathing. After about 6 breaths, exhale and lower down to your prep position.

Once you have the basic shape and engagement, there are lots of possibilities. You can practice Cobra Pose with your arms hovering off the mat or you could isometrically engage the arms and pull your heart forward by engaging your arms as if you are lying on a skateboard and propelling your body forward. This will be isometric engagement, because the arms engage as if you are moving, but your arms don’t move. Another option is to extend your cobra: Press down and lift up until the arms straighten. Again, shoulders are down and back, hands are under the shoulders even when you extend. Keep the front hip bones on the mat even if you extend your Cobra Pose.

If you want to practice Cobra with some movement, “Bowing Cobra” can be done with the nose and forehead lowering straight down on the exhale (and then inhale to lift back up) or turn your head to one side when you exhale. If you turn your head on the exhale, lift back up to center on the inhale and then turn the opposite cheek to the mat on the exhale. A “Writhing Cobra” is similar to a “Bowing Cobra” except that you start with your head turned so that right cheek is on the mat and as you inhale you look up and lift up on the left, move your head/eyes from left to right during the same inhale so that you lower down on the right side when you exhale. During the exhale, your head/eyes complete the circle so that you end up lifting up on the left when you inhale. After 3 – 5 circles, reverse the circles and writhe in the other direction.

Once you finish practicing Cobra Pose, move into Child’s Pose or Puppy Dog. If you want to stay off of your knees, you can lie on your back with legs stretched out of knees hugging into your chest.  After a few breaths, finish with Corpse Pose (Savasana) or return to your starting pose – sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying on your back or belly. Scan your body and settle into your breath.

 

### NAMASTE: The poem in me honors and appreciates the poem that is also inside you. ###