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REMEMBERING, COMPASSION – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #19 April 21, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Life of meaning 

Life of hope 

Life of significance

is mine to cope.”

– from an untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott

 “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.”

– from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

Even though I’m running behind and posting this super late on April 20th, what is true of today was true of yesterday: We lost somebody, somebody we should never forget.

We could go back as far as April 19, 1506 (to the Lisbon Massacre) or April 20, 1916 (to the Ludlow Massacre) and 1945 (to the Neuengamme / Bullenhuser murders) – or as recently as April 19, 1993 (to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, TX) and 1995 (the Oklahoma City bombing) or April 20, 1999 (to the Columbine High School massacre): Either way, we lost somebody…somebody who should not be forgotten.

Obviously, and unfortunately, I’m leaving some people out.

I’m leaving out the 47 sailors killed when a gun turret exploded on the USS Iowa on April 19, 1989. I’m leaving out David Beverly who was killed in a shooting at Johnson Space Center on April 20, 2007. I’m leaving out people killed on April 20th in an explosion (2010, Deepwater Horizon accident), a plane crash (2012 in Pakistan), an earthquake (2013 in China’s Sichuan province), and a bombing of a UN convoy (in Garowe in Samolia). That’s over Four hundred, forty-six people I was going to leave out, but didn’t…and yet, I’m leaving somebody out, somebody we need to remember.

Poems are a way to tell a story, to send a message, to inspire, to remember. They can be historically accurate – or not. They can rhyme – or not. They can be laugh-out-loud funny or satirical – or not. The can be somber and serious – or not. They can be visual and/or repetitive – or not. What is a poem if it can be all of these things?

According to one definition from the Oxford Dictionaries, a poem is “both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical.” Another definition, also from Oxford Dictionaries, says that it is “something that arouses strong emotions because of its beauty.” Meaning that maybe somebody, and their life, can be a poem.

Rachel Scott, age 17, loved poetry. She was also the first person shot in the Columbine High School. Neither of those facts are the most interesting part of her too short life. It is likely that had she lived there would be a whole litany of things that made her life interesting; however, given the facts, one of the most interesting things about Rachel is how she lived…and how she is remembered.

Rachel was buried in a casket covered with the words of the people who knew her. Mixed in with the typical condolences were messages of love and gratitude. Rachel was a firm believer in compassion and unity, and what struck her parents after her death was how many people gave thanks for the brief amount of time they knew Rachel. In an effort to continue her legacy of positivity and inclusivity, Rachel’s father and step-mother started Rachel’s Challenge, a non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to reducing violence, bullying, and teen suicide.

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

– from the essay “My Ethics; My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott

Practicing yoga, physically as well as philosophically, creates plenty of opportunity to offer yourself self-compassion, but it also taps into a wellspring of compassion you can offer to others. Remember every time you bend over backwards for someone, you are opening your heart for them. The chain reaction starts with you!

An untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott & For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

(Practice Time ~35 – 40 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees, give thanks for the support and start to consider how you can engage on the inside to lessen the stress on the outside. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the position of the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the sensation of being supported – how the body rests between or on the legs, how the breath deepens. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. Now, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After several breaths, exhale hands to the mat and adjust the feet so that the right foot is more centered and the left foot is parallel to the short edge of the mat. You may need to heel-toe the left foot further away (front to back) from the right foot, but once your right heel lines up perpendicular to your left arch, inhale blossom or cartwheel your arms and heart up for Warrior II (Virabhdrasana II). Arms will end up in the letter “T” position, with the hips and heart open to the long edge of the mat. Bend the right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to get it, but keep the weight balanced between both feet, both legs, and both hips. You may feel a tendency to put all the weight and effort into the front foot and leg; but find the place where you feel balance. Make sure your sits bones are pointed down between the ankles. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior balanced between the past (the left arm and leg), the present (the heart), and the future (the right arm and leg).

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

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

After the second set of Warriors I+II and Dog poses, inhale to Plank Pose or Cow Pose and lower all the way to the floor on the exhale. Point the toes behind you and, with hands by your hips, reach the fingertips in the same direction as the toes. As you inhale, lift your gaze, lift your heart, and lift your arms. As you exhale, lift your legs. This is a variation of Locust Pose (Salabhasana). If there is pain or discomfort in the low back, bring the feet back to the ground and actively press them down to support the heart lifting up. Consider stretching the arms out wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath into your heart and follow the breath out of your heart.

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

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

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

Click here for more information about Rachel’s Challenge.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

 

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

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Baseball, Basketball, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, pro, Religion, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FEELING THE FEET – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2018

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“The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something.”

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

Humans are sensational beings; in that, we are beings full of sensation. And there is no shortage of sensation on the mat. We feel our clothes and the mat, the floor, or the cushion. We feel the fluctuating temperature of the breath and the body. We feel weight in our shoulders or soreness in our joints. We feel… That’s what we humans do. But we don’t just feel physical sensations. We also feel things mentally, physically, and emotionally – and all of that sensation is also information.

Whether we are feeling wonderful or puny, weak or strong, flexible or stiff, wise or ignorant, it’s important to be grateful for the sensation/information, because the sensation/information informs the practice. Even misinformation can inform the practice, but that’s not the big problem with teaching yoga.

The big problem with teaching yoga is articulating what we feel when we’re on the mat, while simultaneously holding space for what other people feel on the mat. It’s a matter, to quote Nikki Giovanni, of feeling despite what we think “we should feel.”

On any given day, someone will ask me some variation of the question, “What should I be feeling in…?” As an English major (and the daughter of my parents to boot), my first instinct is to offer some powerful purple prose describing what is happening in the pose – anatomically – and how that feels in my body. My description might be helpful – especially if the person in question is practicing in my body or practicing in my mind. However, since they are not – ever – my response can be problematic. Instead of being helpful and informative, the words I choose may cause the practitioner to feel they are doing something wrong and that they need to adjust their pose. Sometimes, the thought that their pose is not quite right can also lead to the second arrow…they start to think they need to fix their body.

As a teacher of asana, I am not alone in this quandary. Some teachers avoid the issue by never telling people what they should/could/will feel in a pose. Others have an uncanny knack for going to the other extreme.  A more skillful middle ground would be channeling Dharma Yoga teacher Kim Jeblick and saying some variation of, “I don’t know. Come into the pose. Now, tell me: What are you feeling?”

Because everybody’s body is different, everybody is going to feel something different. There is no shortage of sensation on the mat: Even if you’re paralyzed.

His book Waking describes Matthew Sanford’s experiences being paralyzed at the age of 13 and the subsequent journey that led him to yoga. The book is full of sensation – it is also full of people telling Sanford, and themselves, that he can’t feel anything. Not feeling is the beginning of the story and, it could have been the end, except, Sanford was aware of feeling presence. Somehow he understood that the feeling of presence was an intimate connection between his mind and his upper body. His lower body, however, presented itself as a brick wall, a place where he was not present:

“I am now living in a body that presents silence rather than tangible sensation…. This silence that I perceive within my body came upon me abruptly through a spinal cord injury. For most people, however, the process is slower. It develops through aging. Over time, the body becomes slower to respond, more likely to sit at rest, more content to observe rather than act. But, in each case, the fundamental healing question remains the same: What aspect of consciousness will transverse the increasing gap between the mind and body? The answer will depend upon our healing stories.”*

Sanford goes on to describe how “I hear(s) silence where there is pain” as a means of protection. This is 60 pages in; it’s still the beginning of the story.

As the story continues, Sanford describes an exploration of presence, which is also an exploration of sensation/information – which is also an exploration of the intimate energetic connection between the mind and the body. This awareness of intimacy, plus the alignment knowledge that comes from Iyengar, is what now informs Sanford’s practice, as well as his teaching.

His awareness of presence is also what makes Sanford such a powerful teacher. While other teachers struggle to define how the pose feels on the outside (in order to feel something on the inside), Sanford focuses on the inner sensations and “how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then I observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship.”

As I post this, I have been practicing yoga for 18 of my 49+ years. The only thing I have been doing longer is reading and being a black woman.

“If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power.

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

The Laws of Motion & The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni
(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice where you feel heaviness and notice where you feel lightness. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Again and again, this practice comes back to the roots, back to the feet. Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in 1965, give thanks for your feet and how they support your heart.

“It is appropriate that I sing
The song of the feet

The weight of the body
And what the body chooses to bear
Fall on me”

– from The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni

 

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

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

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

* Matthew Sanford defines “healing stories” as “…the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.”

 

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

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

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“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– from How Things Work by Gary Soto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– from Between Words by Gary Soto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

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

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

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

Yet another reason I love Dianne Bondy! July 19, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Love, Music, One Hoop, Philosophy, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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(Not that we really need more reasons, but if you’re viewing this through your email you might need this link.)

### THIS IS WHAT A YOGI LOOKS LIKE ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #27: You’re a Wonder, Wonder Woman! February 29, 2016

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“Not even girls want to be girls so long as our feminine archetype lacks force, strength and power. Not wanting to be girls, they don’t want to be tender, submissive, peace-loving as good women are. Women’s strong qualities have become despised because of their weakness. The obvious remedy is to create a feminine character with all the strength of Superman plus all the allure of a good and beautiful woman.”

– William Moulton Marston in “The American Scholar” (1943)

 

If you had asked me, years ago, what I admired and found so endearing about a certain friend of mine, I would have floundered a bit. Oh, it wasn’t that I couldn’t have come up with hundreds, maybe thousands, of platitudes – after all, she’s authentic, fun and funny, quirky, one half of an amazing couple, emotionally intelligent, beautiful and strong, driven, unexpectedly deep, full of grace and love …. See, the list goes on. No, the issue wouldn’t have been finding words to describe Amber K. (Yogi #27); the issue would have been capturing her essence. The issue would have been describing the multidimensional heart beneath the surface.

 “Make a hawk a dove,
Stop a war with love,
Make a liar tell the truth.”

“Wonder Woman Theme” by Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

 

“… beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes.”

– attributes of Diana Prince, as described in “Wonder Woman (Vol 1) #159”, April 1959

People back in 1941, had some of the same concerns we have right now: debates over gun control and birth control; struggles with equality in the work place; war around the world, especially between people with different ethnicites and religious beliefs; politics and economy being driven by the war efforts; and immigration issues related to the war. The list goes on. What’s different, perhaps, is that towards the end of 1941, psychologist William Moulton Marston, inspired by his two wives, gave the world the hero they so desperately needed: Princess Diana of Themyscira, aka Diana Prince, aka Wonder Woman. She was a role model – not just for women, but for everyone.

NOTE: The original Wonder Woman was not born an American, but she defended the United States and all its inhabitants. She had a strong relationship with the divine – which was the source of her powers. She was so dedicated to the truth that she had a “Lasso of Truth” – along with a healthy physique, indestructible bracelets, and a tiara (cause, duh, princess). I’m pretty sure her invisible plane had a nonexistent carbon footprint. And, unlike other classic superheroes, she wasn’t from outer space – or tasered by an alien race, she wasn’t poisoned by something (like a radioactive spider), she didn’t have mutant DNA, and she wasn’t driven by childhood traumas or struggling with dark triad psychosis. Wonder Woman was just all human – unapologetically strong, fierce, proud, beautiful, intelligent, humble, and compassionate. When she faced challenges (like losing her powers) she found a solution (learning martial arts). She focused on restoration rather than retaliation and believed people could be redeemed.

If you look at Amber K. and see Wonder Woman, you’re getting closer to the truth.

 “Stop a bullet cold,
Make the Axis fold,
Change their minds,
and change the world.”

– “Wonder Woman Theme” by Charles Fox (music) and Norman Gimbel (lyrics)

I’m convinced Wonder Woman was a yogi. Look at the evidence: She consistently exhibited strong mental focus and clarity, plus her agility was a sign of balance between strength and flexibility. Also, her capacity for turning loving-kindness into a game changer was reminiscent of the siddhis (so-called “supernormal powers” outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras). Finally, consider how the world would be a really different place if more of us interacted with each other the way Wonder Woman interacts with the people around her.

By the same token, Amber K. is a verified yogi as well as a belly dancer. She is generous with her comments – both positive and negative – in a way that is constructive and insightful. She works with and around her limitations with grace – never complaining, always breathing through what comes up. Her interactions with herself and the people around her imply a certain level of respect for herself and the people around her. Her personal and professional interactions also require a certain level of awareness about the rhythm of life, how things ebb and flow. I guarantee you, the world would be a really different place if more of us related to each other the way Amber K. relates to the people around her.

Oh, and did I mention that I’ve never seen Wonder Woman/Diana Prince and Wonder Woman/Amber K. in the room together? Makes me wanna go, “Hmmm.”

 

“Steve is impressed with Diana’s understanding, compassion, and belief that people can change. ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘Where I was raised we were taught that good must triumph over evil; and that women and men can change.’”

– Excerpt from Ink-stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology By Jennifer K. Stuller

 

“I did nothing! It was Wonder Woman!”

– Captain / Major Steve Trevor in the Wonder Woman series

Amber K. is one of those people who consistently reminds me that we don’t have to stop practicing yoga just because our bodies and minds (or even our personal situations) change. But, changes in our mind-body may sometimes require a change in the way we practice. And, ultimately, that’s the beauty of yoga: it meets us where we are, accepts us as we are, and embraces all that we are.

Mind Body Solutions and the KISS MY ASANA yogathon raise awareness about the fact that our physical practice of yoga can change to accommodate our needs. If we (or a teacher) have the knowledge base to change and grow within the practice our yoga practice will advance – which doesn’t always mean we’re doing more “advanced” poses. Sometimes the challenge is accepting our limitations with grace. Sometimes, to get the most benefit out of the pose (and our practice) we have to fully commit to the modification. William Moulton Marston said, “Every crisis offers you extra desired power…. Besides the practical knowledge which defeat offers, there are important personality profits to be taken.” Our time on the mat allows us to cultivate life skills we can use off the mat – but, here again, we have to turn inward and be honest about what we find. We have to keep moving, keep breathing, and keep flowing.

Please, KISS MY ASANA if you are grateful for what you find in your yoga practice! Your donation will help others find a practice for which they too will be grateful – and the circle will be unbroken. Remember, Lynda Carter said, “You know that if you can affect one person’s life in your entire lifetime in a positive way, that your life is worth living.”
 

A big giant thank you to the 15 yogis who held the space and shared the practice 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.

2016 Kiss My Asana #12: The Fixer February 13, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“…every person is obligated to say, ‘For my sake alone the world was created.’ That doesn’t mean the world is mine to consume everything indiscriminately (although God does want us to enjoy the pleasures of this world).

What it does mean is that we must take responsibility for any problem in the world. If you recognize a problem – whether it be a piece of litter on the street or a major social issue that needs adjusting – you shouldn’t just say ‘someone else will deal with it.’ There is nobody else. In God’s eyes, the rule is: You saw it, you fix it.”

– Aish Rabbi on Tikkun Olam

 

Underlying the mystical Jewish concept of tikkun olam is the idea that everything and everyone was once part of a divine whole, that everything and everyone is somehow disconnected, and that everything and everyone has a role in putting the pieces back together again. In modern times this concept is often translated as “repair the world.” However, some scholars also refer to tikkun olan as “establish the world” – which brings me to another of my favorite ideals (the story of the 36) and one of my favorite yogis (Meghan G, #12).

According to the Talmud, there are always at least 36 righteous people in the world. These Lamed-Vav Tzadikim (“36 righteous ones”) are also known as Nistram (“the concealed ones”); so called because they are unknown even to themselves. They live quiet, unassuming lives. They do the right thing as much as they are able – simply because it is the right thing, and they are able. They are so humble they could never imagine that they will “greet the Shekhinah” – Divinity in a feminine form – or that their very existence ensures humanity’s continued existence.

If we let go of dogma, add the idea of the Tikkun Olam to the concept of Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, and use the result as a model to guide our lives, we might just embody the “Prayer of St. Francis” – or a Pearl Jam song.

When something’s dark, let me shed a little light on it
When something’s cold, I wanna put a little fire on it
If something’s old, I wanna put a little shine on it
If something’s gone, I wanna fight to get it back again

– Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” from Los Angeles 1 USA 9-30-2009 concert

 

I’m not going to say Meghan G is one of the 36 – but, I’m not going to say she’s not. What I will say is that she lives and practices, on and off the mat, with a powerfully humble and grace-filled awareness. Her awareness stays fixed on the idea that while we may feel disconnected, we are all connected to (and through) the Divine. She reminds me of the “sort of optimistic and playful melody and lyric” side of Eddie Vedder’s personality that Stone Gossard says we glimpse in “The Fixer.”

 

“I’ll say your prayers, I’ll take your side
I’ll find us a way to make light”

– Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” from Los Angeles 1 USA 9-30-2009 concert

 

In 2009, when asked if the title of “The Fixer” referred to him, Vedder said, “My answer is, aren’t we all? Maybe I’m wrong to think that, but it seems like we are…. I’m thinking more on a worldview or a community view.” In a later interview, he would also say, “This is a reminder song to me, to stop fixing.”

If you attend a traditional class led by Matthew Sanford, he might greet you by asking what ails you. He has said that, when people come to his teacher training, he often asks them, “Who are you trying to fix?” Ultimately, both questions lead to the awareness that while we think we need to fix (or establish) ourselves – in order to fix (or establish) the world – what we are really “fixing” through our practice is our awareness. The connection is already there; our yoga practice is just a way to awaken it! Please KISS MY ASANA to help Mind Body Solutions transform the way people think about their mind-body.

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

2016 KISS MY ASANA #7:Wouldn’t Take Nothing For My Journey Now! February 7, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Helen Keller, Hope, Karma Yoga, Langston Hughes, Life, Loss, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Choose my instruction instead of silver, knowledge rather than choice gold, for wisdom (Sophia) is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Proverbs 8:10 – 11

 

“One does not accomplish great ends in some by-and-by future, O Warrior. Only in the present can you hammer out real achievement….To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success or failure. This mental evenness is what is meant by “yoga” (union with God). Indeed, equanimity is “yoga”!

Bhagavad Gita 2:47-48, abridged

 

Where to begin was the challenge in writing today’s post. Do I focus on Yogi #7’s inner light? Her outer beauty? Her kindness? Her intelligence? The strength of her character; and, the fact that she and I in a room together is like an exclamation point on “I Dream a World” by Langston Hughes and the similarly named speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?!?!?!?

Hmm, maybe I should just focus on the practice. But, even then, I could write a book about what a privilege it is to be a small part of Yogi #7’s practice.

Mathea (Yogi #7) has the strength, the grace, the focus, the discipline, the wisdom, and the devotion to practice anywhere. What she doesn’t have is the luxury to spend all her time on the mat – she’s a householder (meaning she has the luxury of a lovely family, an extended circle of friends, a variety of interests, and a demanding job). Still, she could choose to practice anywhere. And, being a true yogi, she would appreciate and learn from the experience. So, whenever Mathea walks through the door, grins, giggles, asks a question, offers guidance, learns something new, or breathes in my vicinity I feel truly blessed.

“Living well is an art that can be developed: a love of life and ability to take great pleasure from small offerings and assurance that the world owes you nothing and that every gift is exactly that, a gift.”

– Excerpt from Wouldn’t Take Nothing From My Journey Now by Maya Angelou

Even more than appreciating the gift that is her presence in the present, I appreciate Mathea’s constant (albeit tacit) reminder that our yoga practice, like life, is a messy, messy process – and an unexpected heroine journey which requires us to fearlessly play with wise caution.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. God Himself is not secure, having given man dominion over His works! Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold. Faith alone defends. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. To keep our faces toward change and behave like free spirits in the presence of fate is strength undefeatable.”

– Excerpt from Let Us Have Faith by Helen Keller

 “There’s nothing in the world that’ll ever take the place of God’s love. / Silver & gold couldn’t buy a mighty touch from above. / When my soul needs healin’ I begin to feelin’ His power, / I can say thank the Lord, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.

– “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing” (traditional gospel)

 

“Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

Philippians 3:17

 

Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”

 “What you’re supposed to do when you don’t like a thing is change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. Don’t complain.”

– Excerpts from Wouldn’t Take Nothing From My Journey Now by Maya Angelou

There are people who appreciate the benefits of their yoga practice just as much as (if not more than) Mathea and I appreciate ours. However, not everyone has the privilege we do. Not everyone has the luxury of walking into a studio or a gym anywhere on the planet and practicing with whomever is leading. Not everyone feels welcomed. Not everyone knows they can practice yoga – even in a wheelchair, or a brace, or after experiencing trauma and loss. Matthew Sanford and Mind Body Solutions are changing how people think about yoga; they are transforming how people integrate their mind-body on and off the mat. You can KISS MY ASANA if you want to be part of this change!

~ Jai Guru Dev Jai Jai ~

Happy Wisdom Day: To Noble Kings January 16, 2016

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~