jump to navigation

Still Dreaming the Heart’s Wildest Dream August 28, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Maya Angelou, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.”

 

– quoted from the poem “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

Take a moment to consider how you deal with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice. You can consider it from your perspective as an individual and/or as part of a collective, a community… a republic. Either way you look at it, consider that your unique perspective – based on your past experiences – determines what you believe is a reasonable and rational way to deal with differences, imbalance, and/or injustice. Just to be clear: “past experiences” include everything you have felt, thought, said, done, and experienced around you. Past experiences make up your “mental impressions” (samskaras) – which, over time, can become vasanas, the “dwelling places” of our habits.

I was thinking about vasanas the other day when I heard Caroline Myss use the idea of living in a high rise as a metaphor for how we live in the world. The point she was making is that, if we live in the penthouse, we have a different understanding of the world and our circumstances than if we live on the first floor (or in the basement). Additionally, she talked about people not really caring about the problems people were having on other floors and she talked about perspective as it relates to the view outside, the vista. All of this made me think about how our perspectives determine how we resolve conflict.

Consider, if you will, that we “might be” in the habit of dealing with difference, imbalance, and/or injustice in ways that are not alleviating our suffering. I put “might be” in quotes, but let’s be real; if we look at some of the events that happened today in U. S. history (from 1862 to 1963 and beyond), we find a lot of suffering. Like a lot, a lot, of suffering. But, there’s not a whole lot of alleviation. We do, however, find dreams, hopes, promises, and possibilities.

As many of y’all know, I’m a big fan of “dwell[ing] in Possibility.” I sometimes wonder, however, at what point that idea becomes counterproductive. At what point do we have to pack up our baggage and move from unlimited possibilities to unlimited probability? At what point do we realize that moving means getting rid of some old, out-dated stuff that no longer serves us?

At what point do we recognize that the problems in the basement (and on the first floor) contribute to the problems in the penthouse – and vice versa? And, at what point do we recognize that we are all in the same dwelling place?

Better yet, at what point do we recognize that it’s time to move from dreams to reality? 

“[We are our] ancestors’ wildest dreams!”

 

– variations attributed to Brandan Odums, Darius Simpson, and others

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, August 28th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “08282021 The Heart’s Wildest Dream”]

“The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there.”

 

– quoted from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig

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

 

### To Have Wild Dreams, We Have to Live Wild Dreams ###

For Those Who Missed It: Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence January 30, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The following was originally posted in 2021. Class information (including “First Friday” information) has been updated. This post does include disturbing (but not explicit) information.

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

 

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

 

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

 

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

 

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

 

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

 

No, actually, they’re not.

 

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

 

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

 

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

 

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

 

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

 

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

 

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

 

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

 

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

 

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, January 30th) at 2:30 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “01302021 Peace for the Martyrs”]

 

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

 

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 4th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) for a special welcoming. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details will be posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

More of What We Need… To Live Well (a Monday post practice note) January 17, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, First Nations, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , ,
2 comments

“When you’re good to others, you are best to yourself.”

*

– #630 quoted from Poor Richard’s Almanack (1748) by “Richard Saunders” and “Bridget Saunders” (a. k. a. Benjamin Franklin)

“I want to use as the subject from which to preach: “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life.” (All right) You know, they used to tell us in Hollywood that in order for a movie to be complete, it had to be three-dimensional. Well, this morning I want to seek to get over to each of us that if life itself is to be complete, (Yes) it must be three-dimensional.”

*

“Now the length of life as we shall use it here is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. (Yes) In other words, it is that inward concern that causes one to push forward, to achieve his own goals and ambitions. (All right) The breadth of life as we shall use it here is the outward concern for the welfare of others. (All right) And the height of life is the upward reach for God. (All right) Now you got to have all three of these to have a complete life.”

*

*

– quoted from “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church (in Chicago, Illinois) by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (04/09/1967)

This is just a quick note related to the practice associated with Common Ground Meditation Center on Monday, January 17, 2022 – Martin Luther King Day for many in the USA. MLK Day is a “floating” federal holiday in that it happens on the third January of the year, but that is not always the same date. This year it happened to fall on the anniversary of the birth of Benjamin Franklin (b. 1706) and Sebastian Junger (b. 1962). A lot of times, this third day in Monday is a day when I just share one of Rev. Martin Luther King’s sermons, but I took a slightly different approach to the same message.  We don’t have to go that deep to see that all three men – and the words of all three men – are related. The men, their work, and their words are all related to how we live and how we can live better lives together.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to take anything away from Dr. King – and I am, in no way, comparing their contributions to society – but, as I mentioned on Saturday, sometimes I think that despite all the quoting of Dr. King that people do (especially this time of year), we’re forgetting the message.

How we treat each other matters.

Click here for the 2021 MLK Day post with links to two of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sermons.

Click here for the 2021 post about Benjamin Franklin and Sebastian Junger.

“The findings are in keeping with something called self-determination theory, which holds that human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered “intrinsic” to human happiness and far outweigh “extrinsic” values such as beauty, money and status.”

*

– quoted from Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger

You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

### MORE AGAPE, PLEASE ###

Focus/Concentrate on Peace and Non-violence (the Saturday post) January 31, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

[This is the post for Saturday, January 30th. You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“This is an invitation to a high location
For someone who wants to belong
This is a meditation on your radio station
If you like it you can sing along”

 

– quoted from the English lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman

 

After reviewing the first two chapters of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras, over the last two weeks, I decided today was a good day to progress. Not coincidentally, the third section of Patanjali’s treatise is the Chapter or “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progression”** and it picks up where the second section (the Chapter or “Foundation on Practice”) leaves off: with the sixth limb of the 8-Limb philosophy, dhāraņā. As I have mentioned in class before, when I first started diving into the Yoga Philosophy, I was taught that dhāraņā is a Sanskrit word for “focusing” – which it is. However, the word can also be translated as “concentration” and “directing attention.”

 

Some might say that the more classical traditions use concentration; but, Swami Vivekananda (who first introduced the philosophy to the Western world) and T. K. V. Desikachar (whose father was responsible for the resurgence of the physical practice in India and, therefore, the introduction of haţha yoga to the West) both translate it as “holding [the mind to…].” I tend to stick with “focusing”, because it provides a way to track the intensity of awareness/attention as we progress from the fifth limb (pratyāhāra, “sense withdrawal,” which is pulling the senses and mind into a single point) and the eight limb (Samādhi, which is spiritual absorption that comes from meditation).

 

Yoga Sūtra 3.1 deśabandhah cittasya dhāranā

 

– “Dhāranā is the process of holding, focusing, or fixing the attention of mind onto one object or place.”

 

Throughout the first (“Foundation on Concentration”) and second (“Foundation on Practice”) chapters, Patanjali reinforced the power of fixing the mind on a single point. We often, as instructed, start with the breath as it is generally the most accessible and it can be infused (or paired) with the other suggestions. For instance, you can breathe in love and exhale kindness. Or, breathe peace in and peace out. Either way, whether it is an idea, a concept, a sensation, a physical/tangible object, or a person, Patanjali also reinforced the importance of choosing wisely – because eventually the goal is to become one with the object of your focus.

 

For this reason, we do not focus on busyness; we focus on a peace. We do not focus on violence, but instead on non-violence. We focus on the joy and the light, not the sorrow and the darkness. If we cannot be assured that a “model” person or historical figure is virtuous and free of desire, then we focus on ourselves in that virtuous and liberated state. This is the practice as recommended by Patanjali.

 

Now, I know, I know; someone is thinking, “But what about all that talk about cittavŗtti? Isn’t that literally busyness of the mind? Or how about, when you mention people who are suffering and all the times you tell us to ‘bring awareness to all the different sensation/information?’ Aren’t those contradictions?”

 

No, actually, they’re not.

 

Remember, at least two lojong or “mind training techniques” from Tibetan Buddhism support the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, who said, “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” Furthermore, one of Patanjali’s goals was to bring awareness to how the mind worked in order to work the mind. By bringing conscious awareness to the busyness, the violence, the sadness, the darkness, the lack of virtue, and the suffering, we also bring awareness to our own choices and the ability to choose peace (within us), peace (all around us), peace (to and from everything and everyone we encounter). Notice that that is the end of the Shantipat; and it is also the benefit of focusing on peace. It is also the benefit of going back to the beginning of the philosophy and focusing on the first yama (“external restraint” or universal commandment): Ahimsā, “non-violence / non-harming.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.35: ahimsāpratişţhāyām tatsannidhau vairatyāgah

 

– “In the company of a yogi established in non-violence, animosity disappears.”

 

Today is one of six days designated as “Martyrs’ Day” in India. This Martyrs’ Day is the one observed on a national level as it is the anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination in 1948. Today is also the day, in 1956, when the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s house was bombed and the day, in 1972, that became known as “Bloody Sunday” in Northern Ireland. Since 1964, when it was first established in Spain, some school children around the world observe today as a “School Day of Non-violence and Peace” and, in 1998, Gandhi’s grandson (Arun Gandhi) established today as the beginning of the “Season for Nonviolence” (which ends on April 4th, the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination in 1968. All of these remembrances and observations, just like the observation of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, are dedicated to the goal of honoring the lives of the victims (or martyrs) of past injustices and eradicating the violent tendencies that create more tragedies, crimes against humanity, and overall suffering. Today’s observations are also based on the foundation of ahimsā, one of the guiding principles of Gandhi, King, and those unarmed protesters in Northern Ireland.

 

Mohandes K. Gandhi was a lawyer by training and trade, who had studied all of India’s religions and philosophies, including Christianity and Islam. He was influenced by the writings of the poet and Jain philosopher Shrimad Rajchandra, William Salter (who was instrumental in the foundation of the NAACP), Henry David Thoreau, the English philosopher John Ruskin, and Leo Tolstoy – on whose farm Gandhi and some of his followers trained in the philosophy of nonviolent civil disobedience. Eventually, Gandhi would equate truth, satya (which is the second yama) with God and center all of his public actions around God/Truth and āhimsa.

Gandhi was shot by a Hindu nationalist today in 1948. Although there is some debate around this, his final words were reportedly, “Hé! Rāma.” (“Oh! Lord.”) – which is the epigraph embossed on his memorial in Delhi and part of a legacy that he prophesized a few months before he died.

“I believe in the message of truth delivered by all the religious teachers of the world. And it is my constant prayer that I may never have a feeling of anger against my traducers, that even if I fall a victim to an assassin’s bullet, I may deliver up my soul with the remembrance of God upon my lips. I shall be content to be written down an impostor if my lips utter a word of anger or abuse against my assailant at the last moment.”

 

– quoted from a prayer discourse, Summer 1947, as printed in All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

“Have I that non-violence of the brave in me? My death alone will show that. If someone killed me and I died with prayer for the assassin on my lips, and God’s remembrance and consciousness of His living presence in the sanctuary of my heart, then alone would I be said to have had the non-violence of the brave.”

 

– quoted from a prayer speech, June 16, 1947, as printed All Men Are Brothers: Life and Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi, as Told in His Own Words, by Mohandas K. Gandhi (Compiled and Edited by Krishna Kripalani)

 

To my knowledge, no one was ever arrested or charged for throwing a bomb on the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s porch today in 1956; but, witnesses saw the man get out of his car and toss the bomb before it exploded. Dr. King was speaking during a mass meeting at First Baptist Church, but his wife Coretta Scott King, their 2-month old daughter Yolanda, and a neighbor were inside. No one was injured, but the damage was done and a crowd of supporters quickly grew outside of the home. When King returned home, he said to the crowd, I want you to love our enemies,” he told his supporters. “Be good to them, love them, and let them know you love them.”

People were angry, of course, but no one who knew the Kings would have been surprised by the minister’s words, after all, he was influenced by Howard Thurman, Tolstoy, and Gandhi and had been teaching this message since (at least 1952). In 1957 (when he gave the sermon twice in a matter of days), he said, “I try to make it something of a custom or tradition to preach from this passage of Scripture at least once a year, adding new insights that I develop along the way, out of new experiences as I give these messages.” He would continue to teach on love and non-violence until his assassination on April 4, 1968. (In an odd case of tragic synchronicity, Mrs. King, who was not hurt when the house was bombed today in 1956, would pass away in Mexico today in 2006. She was 78 years old.)

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

There was a “Bloody Sunday” in the United States in 1965, but it was not the first and neither was it the last. To my knowledge, the first “Bloody Sunday” was a London conflict in November 1887, that was followed, the following Sunday, by more protests and more violent conflict. The protests and subsequent violence were related to unemployment and the “Coercion Acts” in Ireland, as well as the continued imprisonment of William O’Brien, an Irish Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Over decades and decades of generations, there would be more “Bloody Sundays” – including some in late January and some related to the conflict between the British and Irish. There would even be the 1965 one in the United States, but the “Bloody Sunday” that happened today in 1972, started as a peaceful protest in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland.

Also known as the Bogside Massacre, this conflict started with peaceful, unarmed Catholic protesters marching in opposition of the internment camps that were part of Great Britain’s “Operation Demetrius” (which would ultimately result in the arrest and imprisonment, without trial, of 342 people suspected of being involved with the Irish Republican Army (IRA) and the displacement of 7,000 civilians). In full view of the public and press, members of the British Army (1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment – also known as “1 Para”) shot 28 unarmed civilians, 13 of whom died on the spot. A fourteenth victim died from his injuries four months later and the remaining 14 were injured either from gunshots, rubber bullets, flying debris, and (in the case of two) impact from vehicles. Many were shot while fleeing or helping the other victims. Most of the casualties were 17, but they ranged in age from 17 to 59.

Within a couple of days, the British government began court proceedings overseen by The Right Honorable The Lord Widgery (John Widgery, Baron Widgery) who was serving as the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales. The Widgery Tribunal cleared the British soldiers and authorities of any blame, but described some of the shooting as “bordering on reckless.”

In 1998, a second investigation, chaired by The Right Honorable The Lord Saville of Newdigate (Mark Saville, Baron Saville of Newdigate) began proceedings. This 12-year inquiry would declare the killings “unjustified” and “unjustifiable” and concluded that soldiers “knowingly put forward false accounts” about the protesters being armed, throwing bombs, or presenting any threat. As a result of the Seville Inquiry, British Prime Minister David Cameron issued a formal apology and police began an investigation.

It is worth noting, I think, that the Parachute Regiment had been involved in questionable shootings on civilians before the tragic events today in 1972 and that they would be involved in more afterwards. Despite the fact that the Saville Inquiry was criticized for taking 12 years to reach a conclusion, it would take another 5 years before a former member of the Parachute Regiment was arrested and questioned. As of March 2019 (4 years after the arrest and nearly 47 years after the massacre), no one had been prosecuted and the court had decided there was only enough evidence to prosecute one person “soldier F” (also known as “Lance Corporal F”) – and then only for two of the murders, with the possibility of a single charge of attempted murder being added during the trial.

“How long?”

 

– quoted from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s March 25, 1965 speech after the march from Selma to Montgomery and from U2’s 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday”

 

The Irish rock band U2 has more than one protest song in their repertoire, including the 2000 song “Peace on Earth,” about a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland, and the 1983 song “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” which appears on the album War. Many have said that War, their third album is not only stylistically edger than their first two albums, but that it also marks a transition in mission and message. Even though they have undergone more stylist changes over the years, one would be hard-pressed to listen to a whole U2 album after War and not understand that their music was art with a purpose. In fact, in Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984, Simon Reynolds wrote, “U2 turned pacifism itself into a crusade…” and mentioned the white flag – a symbol of peace and (trustful) surrender – that was a fixture throughout the War tour. Reynolds also talked about the religious and spiritual beliefs that infused the band’s music.

But, for the sake argument, let’s say you missed all that. You can take a look at their lives off the stage and see evidence of the same message and mission that’s in the music. From Bono to the Edge, from Adam Clayton to Larry Mullen Jr., the band mates have lent their time, their talent, their energy, and their financial resources to charitable efforts that have made an on-the-ground difference in people’s lives as well as well as in the global community.

Inspired by the lives of non-violent protesters like Gandhi, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the non-violent protesters in Northern Ireland, the members of U2 (even in their 20’s) had an appreciation for the lessons and teachings that cross geographical, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and political boundaries. This appreciation is evident in their most recent single, “Āhimsa,” which is a collaboration with the composer and award-winning producer A. R. Rahman. Born in Madras (which is now Chennai, Tamil Nadu), Mr. Rahman said the song celebrates ethnic and spiritual diversity in India, as well as the spirit of non-violence and peace.

The 2019 song features Mr. Rahman’s two daughters (Khatija and Raheema) singing in Tamil, a South Asian language that is one of the official languages in parts of India, as well as in Singapore and Sri Lanka. The Tamil chorus comes from the Thirukkural (Sacred Couplets), a classical South Indian text (circa 500 CE) written in 1,300 (7-word) couplets. The kurals (“couplets” or verses) are divided into three sections that focus on virtue, wealth, and love – and they emphasize non-violence on a variety of different levels. The recently released song uses couplets 313 and 319, from the first section, under the “Aesthetic Virtue” heading “1.3.8. Not Doing Evil.”

“Even when a man takes revenge on others who hate him, in spite of him not hating them initially, the pain caused by his vengeance will bring him inevitable sorrow.” (313)

 

“When a man inflicts pain upon others in the forenoon, it will come upon him unsought in the afternoon.” (319)

 

– quoted from the English translation of the Tamil lyrics of the song “Ahimsa” by U2 and A. R. Rahman, featuring Khatija and Raheema Rahman (translation from IntegralYoga.org)

 

Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

**NOTE: Patanjali called the third section of the Yoga Sūtras “Vibhūti Pada,” which is often translated into English as “Foundation (or Chapter) on Progressing.” There are at least twenty different meanings of vibhūti, none of which appear to literally mean “progressing” in English. Instead, the Sanskrit word is most commonly associated with a name of a sage, sacred ashes, and/or great power that comes from great God-given (or God-related) powers.

The word can also be translated into English as glory, majesty, and splendor – in the same way that Hod (Hebrew for “humility”) can also be observed as majesty, splendor, and glory in Kabbalism (Jewish mysticism). Also, just as hod is associated with prayer in Jewish traditions, vibhūti is associated with a form of committed devotion to the Divine, like praying or chanting. Finally, hod is the eighth sefirot (or “attribute” of the Divine, out of ten) on the Tree of Life, and vibhūti can be the manifestation of great power “consisting of eight faculties, especially attributed to Śiva, but supposed also to be attainable by human beings through worship of [God].” The “progressing” to which English translators refer, is the process by which one accepts the invitation to a “high[er] location” or plane of existence.

DON’T FORGET! It’s time for a “First Friday Night Special!” Please join me this Friday, February the 5th (7:15 – 8:20 PM, CST) when we will be “observing the conditions” of the heart. This practice is open and accessible to all. Additional details are posted on the “Class Schedules” calendar!

 

### GIVE PEACE A CHANCE ###

 

More of What We Need (the Monday post) January 19, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

[This is the post for Monday, January 18, 2021 – Martin Luther King Day for many in the USA.

The 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice, in the spirit of generosity (“dana”), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“The Greek language comes out with another word for love. It is the word agape, and agape is more than eros. Agape is more than philia. Agape is something of the understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill for all men. It is a love that seeks nothing in return. It is an overflowing love; it’s what theologians would call the love of God working in the lives of men. And when you rise to love on this level, you begin to love men, not because they are likeable, but because God loves them. You look at every man, and you love him because you know God loves him. And he might be the worst person you’ve ever seen.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

The Civil Rights Activist and (1964) Nobel Peace Prize winner Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929. Since 1986, the third Monday in January has been a federal holiday designated as his “birthday” – even though it was not officially observed on the state level until 1991 and it wasn’t until 2000 that every state actually acknowledged the date with his name. However, even to this day, there are states that combine the observation of Reverend King’s birthday with the acknowledgement of the rights for which he fought or with the celebration of people significant to the Confederacy.

Even in this, the United States is conflicted.

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was one of the greatest orators of the 20th Century. One of my personal MLK Day traditions, as a yoga teacher, is to share his words. Specifically, I am in the habit of sharing his sermon on the “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” (which is a natural follow-up to the practice about Benjamin Franklin’s instruction to “live well”). However, this year, it seems like a lot to focus on the three elements within that sermon (the length of life being one’s inward concern; the breadth of life being the outward concern for others; and the height of life being “the upward reach for God”). Reverend King, himself, acknowledged that “A lot of people never get beyond the first dimension of life.” So, this year, I thought we could focus on one thing – just one, simple, little thing that can make a huge difference. This year, I turned to another of his favorite sermons: “Loving Your Enemies.”

I often lament that I cannot truly share the power of his speeches and sermons in class, because I cannot replicate and share his cadence and emphasis (let alone the power of hearing his words along with the congregation or audience). But, I can share that with you here. It doesn’t have to be today, or even tomorrow, but sometime soon, take a moment to listen (or read) one (or both) of these sermons.

As I have noted before, you can find similar teachings on love in other religions and many of the Eastern philosophies. I truly believe that if more of us live these ideas – fully integrate them into our being – we can all live well.

 

“Loving Your Enemies” – audio and transcript (from November 1957, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, Montgomery, Alabama)

 

“The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life” – audio and transcript (from April 9, 1967, Chicago, Illinois)

 

“There’s another reason why you should love your enemies, and that is because hate distorts the personality of the hater. We usually think of what hate does for the individual hated or the individuals hated or the groups hated. But it is even more tragic, it is even more ruinous and injurious to the individual who hates. You just begin hating somebody, and you will begin to do irrational things. You can’t see straight when you hate. You can’t walk straight when you hate. You can’t stand upright. Your vision is distorted. There is nothing more tragic than to see an individual whose heart is filled with hate.”

 

– quoted from “Loving Your Enemies” sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (11/17/1957)

 

If you are interested in some of my previous posts on Reverend King, you can find my January 2016 post here and a thread of related posts here.

 

 

### DREAM ON, DREAM ON! ###

We Do What We Do September 1, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hope, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Taoism, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“Beauty cannot exist without ugliness.

Virtue cannot exist without vice.

Living, we know death.

Struggling, we know ease.

Rising high, we know the depths.

Being quiet, we understand noise.

Everything gives rise to its opposite, therefore we work without conscious effort and teach without agenda.

We enjoy everything and possess nothing.

Our accomplishments do not emerge from our ego, so we do not cling to them.

Thus they benefit all beings.”

– (2) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

A few months back, I posted about chaos theory; and if you watch one of the pendulum models (see below it can seem like so much craziness. However, when faced with so much confusion, I have to remind myself of the following:

  • we’ve seen this pattern before;
  • it makes no sense if you get caught up in the momentum;
  •  all the movement is, in fact, moving towards stillness;
  • and that, from the perspective of natural law, there is a moment when all of the movement is, in fact, “effortless effort.”

As someone with a type-A personality, I sometimes struggle with the idea of “effortless effort.” Don’t get me wrong; I can be still, I can relax. However, there are certain times where “doing nothing” feels like the wrong choice. I’ve been conditioned and socialized to believe this. Many in the Western world have been conditioned and socialized to believe this. But, not doing is still doing and “effortless effort” is not the same as doing nothing. In fact, sometimes, it takes a great deal of effort to let go.

In a 2009 blog post, Meditation Oasis (Mary and Richard Maddux) refers to a the Wikipedia description of “Wu Wei” – which literally means “not-doing doing” – as “’natural action’ giving the example of a tree growing. It is doing growing, and yet it is not doing.” This makes me think of Alan Watts meditation where he describes breathing as something that happens to us, but also something we can engage – and, once engaged, it is something we do deeply without effort. Meditation is like this. Life is like this too, and Taoist philosophy points to “Wu Wei” as a way to act and/or experience action in daily life. On Meditation Oasis’s blog, they describe meditation as “the art of allowing the mind to experience a natural state.” This too, is what Patanjali advocates in the Yoga Sūtras, “resting in your own true nature.” (YS 1.3)

 “The most fluid and yielding substance will flow past the most rigid with the speed of a racehorse.

That which does not hold a particular form can enter even that which seems impenetrable.

This is why we practice “effortless effort.”

We act without ado.

We teach without arguments.

This is the way of true happiness, but because people prefer distractions and noise, it is not a popular way.”

– (43) quoted from  A Path and A Practice: Using Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching as a Guide to an Awakened Spiritual Life by William Martin

In commentary on wu-wei, Dr. Martin says, “This phrase implies pure action in the present moment without any accompanying resistance, second-guessing, or worry. In the practice of wu-wei we just “do what we do.” The more awareness and acceptance we bring to the present moment, the more wu-wei is possible. This can take the form of either energetic activity or relaxed waiting. Like acceptance, wu-wei is not passive….” The sounds great, but I wonder how it works in situations where things are steadily spiraling out of control, where there is deadly chaos and we can’t seem to find the center point. I think of Dr. Martin Luther King paraphrasing the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker and am reminded that we have to bend the arc. But, how do we do that without more harm? How do we do that with ‘effortless effort?”

 “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”

– quoted from an 1853 sermon by Theodore Parker

Dr. William Martin wrote a book on the Tao and activism, which I have not read yet. However, Eastern philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, and Yoga are philosophies that encourage experiencing the present moment – which requires stillness. So, today we are going to move into stillness.

Please join me today (Tuesday, September 1st) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Today’s playlist is dated March 29th or 03292020.)

Going with the flow…

### BE THE FLOW ###

Walk with me…a mile, or 54. March 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

Thank you to everyone who helped me beta test Zoom on Sunday! More streaming classes are coming and I will post a recording of the class later this week.

In the meantime, remember this: 55 years ago today, Tuesday, March 24th, Civil Rights protesters stepped into Montgomery County (Alabama). The next morning they would stand in front of (but not on) the steps of the Alabama State Capital Building. It had been a long journey…even longer than the 5 days and 54 miles it took them to arrive from Selma, Alabama. And as he stood in front of (but not on) the steps of the capital, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how much longer the journey would be.

For anyone who is interested, here are two (2) posts I wrote (in January 2019 and January 2016)about the experience of some of those marchers, and how it works out on the mat.

 

### NAMASTE ###

Take Another Look Tuesday January 15, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Karma, Life, Men, Peace, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Wisdom, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

Even though most (but not all) of America will celebrate/observe it on Monday, today (Tuesday, January 15th) is the actual birthday of a man who believed in angels and dreams; a man of faith, who believed in living a three-dimensional life; one who believed you can hear God’s voice when you hear Mahalia Jackson sing. Today is the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King.

If you didn’t catch it the first time (or want to take another look), here’s a 2016 post about wisdom and legacy.

~ Jai Guru Dev Jai Jai~

 

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“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

pexels-photo-267313.jpeg

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

“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. ###