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Passion & Salt on a Monday April 6, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs;  not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though, because at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.”

 

– me, blogging about Passion/Holy Monday in 2019  

 

Sometimes I feel like the embodiment of an Adam Ant song: “Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?” Well, I do a lot of yoga. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t have my vices. I have a bit of a sweet tooth (cue the laughter from my friends) and while I endeavor to stick to really good quality chocolate, or pastries without a lot of preservatives, I have been known – not often, but occasionally – to grab what’s handy. And then, the suffering ensues. Because, as much as I love it, processed sugar is not our friend and when you mix it with a bunch of additives it might as well be one of the deadlier vices.

Years ago, on one of my busiest days, I was feeling lethargic, hungry, and a little spacey, but I still had one more class to teach. Rather than choose wisely and do something I knew would be helpful, but would take a bit of time, I went for the quick fix: chocolate, but not the good kind. One of the lifeguards at the Blaisdell Y saw me pull my poor choice out of the vending machine and asked if my students knew I ate stuff like that. I shrugged and said I was only going to eat half. Needless to say, I ate it all. While I felt “better” in the short term, the next morning I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I had thieves in my personal temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” (Matthew 21:12 KJV)

 

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Matthew 21:13 KJV)

 – The Gospel According to Matthew

When we don’t treat our mind-bodies as respected temples, we suffer and are sometimes not able to do the things we need and want to do. Even if you’re getting some exercise, resting, and drinking a lot of water, the very nature of our current world quarantine is full of all the things that get us out of balance: extra sitting around, lack of routine, poor eating choices, stress, and isolation. When we get out of balance, we need more of something to get back into balance. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes more water, sometimes more movement.

I will often refer to the fact that our bodies are mostly water as a reason why movement feels good. We are meant to flow and slosh all that salty water around a little. It’s a great visual, and it’s true on a certain level; however, there are even more scientific reasons why it’s good to stay active. One of those reasons is our lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system is a vital part of our immune system. It helps keep us healthy by providing proteins and other nutrients to healthy cells, while simultaneously brushing away dead, damaged, and infected cells. It also maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, as well as aiding in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Unlike the cardiovascular system, however, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. If we want lymph to bring nutrients to healthy cells and also brush/rinse away dead or damaged cells, we have to move our bodies. Any kind of movement is helpful, especially if it engages the whole body. Most physical practices of yoga engage and move your whole body in a very systematic way. So, you could say that the physical practice of yoga almost always has an element of detoxification. There are, however, certain poses and sequences that are considered detoxifying in nature.

Today, Monday, April 6th, is Passion Monday or Holy Monday in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions. It is the last Monday of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer within the aforementioned traditions. Part of the Passion Week or Holy Week observation is to remember the stories and parables associated with the last week of Jesus’ life. The story I most closely associate with this day is the story of Jesus throwing the thieves out of the temple and then having his authority questioned.

Lent and Easter are movable feasts, meaning Passion Monday does not always fall on April 6th as it does this year. April 6th is the anniversary of the end of Mahatma Gandhi’s Salt Satyagraha, a 24-day march to protest the British Salt Tax. On that Sunday morning in 1930, Gandhi prayed, raised a handful of salty mud and proceeded to break the law. He said, “With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire” – which, according to the Gospels, is pretty much what Jesus did when he returned home for Passover and found the temple all awry.

If you are available and interested in a little detox flow and storytelling, please join me for the Common Ground Meditation Center yoga practice on Zoom, today (Monday, April 6th) at 5:30 PM – 7:45 PM.

As Zoom has changed some security protocols, please use the link (here) or on the “Class Schedules” calendar if you encounter any access problems. During this quarantine experience, you can make a donation through Common Ground Meditation Center, which operates on dana/generosity, or you can purchase a package on my Squarespace. Either option can be applied to any class. If you are worried about finances, do not add this to your worry list – I got you, just come to the virtual practice.

There is no music for this practice. However, I have included a couple of songs from my Passion Monday playlist and my April 6th playlist, which you will find below the Kiss My Asana highlights. That’s right; Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is coming at the end of this month. Consider all the information above about the importance of movement and then consider the challenges to staying healthy when your ability to move requires the assistance of other people.

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. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Are you ready to move?

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 5th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 6th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 6th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 6th Practice OR (A Preview of the 2019 Passion Monday Practice)

 

Music for a Passion Monday practice

 

Music for a Salt Satyagraha practice

 

 

### OM OM AUM ###

It’s A Kiss My Asana “Flashback Friday” April 3, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Lent, Life, Loss, Mantra, Mathmatics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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“You want it bad you want it oh so much
There are some things that you should know
Some things that someone like you just cannot touch

 

You weep and dwell on our loss
Stand denied by the nails in the cross
And I for one you for two
Knows no one’s gonna do it for you
No one’s gonna do it for you”

– “No One’s Gonna Do It For You” by The Hellacopters

A lot of people, most people I would surmise, have a moment when they wish all the hard stuff was over – that they could just go to sleep and wake up with their problems solved. Can you imagine what that would be like right now? Can you imagine what it would be like if you fell asleep tonight and, when you woke up, all of this was over? No more pandemic, no more social distancing, no more self-quarantines.

Now, can you imagine what it would feel like if you actually slept through all of this…and woke up to find the world changed? Everyone else has lived their way into a new normal and you are just discovering that the old normal is…history.

Yes, this would make a great story – but it’s not a new story; it’s actually a very old story. It’s a story that predates all the specific details of this present moment, but a story that endures because it touches on some very basic and universal truths:

  1. Suffering happens (This is the first of the 4 Noble Truths from Buddhism.)
  2. Change happens (Or, as Heraclitus put it over 400 years BCE, “You could not step twice into the same river” – which implies that we want things to stay the same.)
  3. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (Joseph Campbell as quoted in Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion by Diane K. Osbon)
  4. As much as we want it to be otherwise, “no one’s gonna do it for you.” (The hard part of adulting, and lyrics from a song by The Hellacopters.)

Just to clarify, the four (4) items above are NOT the 4 Noble Truths, but it’s no accident that they mirror them or that I’ve pulled statements from what appears to be vastly different sources. And yet, and yet…. The reason why these elements can be found in philosophy, religions, comparative mythology, and rock music (even literature and mathematics) is that they are elements of the human experience. We find them everywhere; we find them inside of ourselves.

“You must unlearn what you have learned… No. Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

 

– Yoda in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back (and a quote I used during a 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class)

Kiss My Asana is an annual yogathon, to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program. 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.

This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

We’re doing this, right?

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Since it’s “Flashback Friday,” check out one of my previous offerings dated April 3rd (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 3rd)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 3rd)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 3rd Practice

My next virtual practice is on Saturday. Use the same Meeting ID as last week’s class or, if you were unable to attend last week, check out the “Class Schedules” tab. You’ll find access details in the calendar description for Saturday, April 4th. I’ll post the playlists by Saturday morning.

Also, if you are interested in YIN Yoga, plan to join me and a special guest on Wednesday (April 8th) for a special webinar/mini-practice at 3 PM. Details to be announced.

“No One’s Gonna Do It For You”

 

### KAALI DURGE NAMOH NAMAH ###

Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

FLASHBACK FRIDAY!! March 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Suffering, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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“We gather to weep and to remember; to laugh and to contemplate; to learn and to affirm and to imagine”

– Brett Bailey, Stage Director from South Africa, World Theatre Day Message Author 2014

In As You Like It, William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts.” Art imitates life, which sometimes imitates art (because art can inform our lives). That overlap between inspiration, those being inspired, and those creating the inspiration is one of the beautiful things about art. It’s what makes art alive.

Today, however, the theatres are dark. The front of house is empty. There are no children, über-fans, or well-heeled patrons waiting in the green room, the wings, or at the stage door. On the big stages, there is only a single “ghost light” in place to make sure no one falls in the pit . . . and yet, social distancing means there is no one in danger of falling in the pit. It’s heartbreaking for so many artists and dedicated audience members, and people like me. For most of my adult life, before I started teaching yoga, my professional life was spent behind the scenes – quite literally keeping track of exits and entrances. I worked on legit theatre, musical theatre, dinner theatre, classical and modern dance, as well as opera and musical revues. I worked in different parts of the world; with artists from all of the world, and Friday night was always a big night.

Even if one company was in rehearsals or in a layoff period on Friday, another theatre was performing. Theatres are usually dark on Monday nights. Not Friday nights. Especially not this particular Friday night, as it happens to be World Theatre Day. Since it was initiated in 1961 by the International Theatre Institute, World Theatre Day has been celebrated on March 27th by performing artists all over the world. Today, many theatres will not celebrate. Others have moved their celebration online.

Each year, an artist is selected from a different host country to write a message about theatre’s enduring role in the world community. This year’s message was written by Shahid Nadeem, Pakistan’s leading playwright and the head of the renowned Ajoka Theatre, who partially focused on the spiritual and transcendental power of theatre.

“Our planet is plunging deeper and deeper into a climatic and climactic catastrophe and one can hear the hoof-beats of the horses of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. We need to replenish our spiritual strength; we need to fight apathy, lethargy, pessimism, greed and disregard for the world we live in, the Planet we live on. Theatre has a role, a noble role, in energizing and mobilizing humanity to lift itself from its descent into the abyss. It can uplift the stage, the performance space, into something sacred.”

– Shahid Nadeem, Playwright from Pakistan, World Theatre Day Message Author 2020

 

It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think no one in my former role will be asking people to turn off their cellular devices – unless someone jokes about the fact that so many tonight will be watching their “theatre” on their cellular devices. It’s weird (and heartbreaking) to think something I have always taken for granted is suddenly not existing as it did.

And yet, if I learned nothing else from doing live theatre, I definitely learned about the temporal nature of things. Everything changes. That’s one of the beautiful – and also one of the most challenging – things about live theatre. It is always changing. You can have the best, most exhilarating performance of your life, followed by one where everything is just a little off. You can have a horrible final dress rehearsal, followed by a standing ovation on opening night. As a professional – onstage and backstage, as well as front of house – part of the job is to stay in the moment.

Staying in the moment requires being fully present with everyone and everything in the moment. We can look back later and work on fixing what went wrong. We can marvel at the unscripted audience reaction we want to figure out how to cultivate again and again. But, right here and right now it is time to turn up the music, turn down the lights, and breathe. The curtain is going up on this day in our lives, and what happens next can be (will be) simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. Like the cherry blossoms (sakura).

Flashback Friday: Today in 1912, First Lady Helen Herron Taft and Viscountess Chinda Iwa, wife of the Japanese ambassador to the United States, each planted a cherry blossom tree on the north bank of the Tidal Basin in West Potomac Park. These trees were part of a larger shipment of cherry blossoms meant to replace the ones initially given as a gift of friendship between the two countries. Normally, at this time of year, thousands of people can be found in D. C. celebrating the brilliance of these trees, just as thousands normally celebrate in parts of Japan and China. Normally….But, today the cherry blossoms are in bloom, while most people are inside, watching the beauty on their screens.

In Japan the fact that blossoms peak at one end of the island at the same time the blossom season is ending on another part of the island is a great illustration of mono no aware (literally “the pathos of things” of “sadness of things”). The fact that we can see this beauty even as we are socially distancing might also be considered the “sadness of things.” However, that very literally translation doesn’t quite work in English because it almost precludes appreciation of the beauty. The Japanese phrase is about simultaneously holding/celebrating/appreciating the beauty and the pain of the change that brings loss. Please check out the following links if you are interested in reading my take on mono no aware as it relates to YIN Yoga (April 5, 2017) or the physical practice of yoga and meditation (April 8, 2019). NOTE: While both posts include a bit of practice, only the 2017 includes a complete (YIN Yoga) practice.

Right now, I am appreciating the beauty of being able to share this practice online. I am also very much aware that this too shall change; however, I endeavor to stay in the moment. With that said, I am currently planning to host 7 online classes as follows:

MONDAY 5:30 – 6:45 PM for Common Ground

TUESDAY 12:00 – 1:00 PM & 7:15 – 8:30 PM (both) for Nokomis Yoga

WEDNESDAY 4:30 – 5:30 PM for Nokomis Yoga & 7:15 – 8:15 PM for Flourish

SATURDAY 12:00 – 1:30 PM (Nokomis)

SUNDAY 2:30 – 3:30 PM (Nokomis)

Everyone is welcome to join any class (although you will need to register in advance for the Flourish class). All online classes will currently be on ZOOM and I will post the meeting IDs on my “class schedule” late Friday afternoon. Each class will have a different ID, but that ID will be the same each week.

If you are new to yoga or new to vinyasa, please send me a message (myra at ajoyfulpractice.com) before joining the group. I apologize to my YIN Yoga folks, but at this time I am not streaming any full YIN practices, I will, however, continue to post or link you to the practice.

Those who are able may purchase or renew a package on my online store. Anyone can also make a donation (in lieu of a package) to Common Ground Meditation Center. (Donations are tax deductible.) If you plan to purchase a Nokomis Package please  note that there is a discounted package for students, seniors, Healthcare Providers, and First Responders.

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you.

 

### AS WE SAY IN BALLET, MERDE ###

 

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tantra, Tennessee Williams, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (b. 3/26/1911)

Just because we are alone – and in some cases lonely – is not a reason to go it alone. Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between places.” “Throwback Thursday” is a way to look back, but we can’t actually go back in time, we can’t bridge that distance of which Williams speaks. We can, however, bridge the physical distance of social isolation by reaching out (virtually speaking, of course).

Call, text, email, write a letter, make a chalk drawing, or use any of a variety of technological advances to connect to a stranger or a friend. Remember, we are all in this together – and we will succeed or fail based on how we are together, even when we are apart. Remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Right now, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers.

Love/ loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is an aspect of the Divine. In fact, not only is it one of the ten ways (according to Jewish mysticism) that G-d is revealed to the world, it is one of the 7 aspects people contemplate if they are counting the Omer during Passover. Just like in Eastern philosophies, like yoga, Kabbalism associates loving-kindness with the arms (specifically, the right arm). As you go through your practice – or through your day – bring awareness to how you use your right arm. Are you using it to express your heart or withhold your heart?

“(1) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (3) If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

– 1st Corinthians 13:1 – 3 (the part just before all the “famous parts” people use in weddings, movies, and songs)

Consider, for a moment, that when Saint Paul and Sosthenes wrote their letter to the church in Corinth, before they spoke of what love was, they spoke of what love was not. This is very similar to passages which appear in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, where a teacher – and then his spouse – point out that the Divine is not this or that (neti, neti) thing that is so obvious. The Divine is not (just) what is obviously seen, but what is unseen, what is felt. (Yes, yes, but neti,neti: this is not the throwback you’re looking for.)

We can never really know how much it means to someone when we do something nice for them simply out of the kindness of our hearts. They can say thank you a million times – and we may even feel the sincerity of their gratitude – and yet that feeling pales in comparison to the love they felt from the kindness.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– excerpt from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost (b. 3/26/1874)

For Throwback Thursday, here’s last year’s post about the birthday authors I typically include in today’s practice.

While I am not teaching today (Thursday), I am going to spend part of today and Friday updating my schedule to reflect streaming classes I will start offering Saturday – Wednesday.

Right now I am planning to offer seven (7) classes on Zoom. These are (mostly) during times when I had studio classes and they will be (mostly) open for anyone to attend. You can purchase or renew a package on my online store or you can make a donation to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible and I will receive the bulk of the donation.)

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Yoga means union.

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

Practicing Gratitude November 26, 2019

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

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

– Sara Debbie Gutfreund, on cultivating gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

Things did not go as planned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Garth Brooks

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Peace and A Million Thanks to All of You!

###

 

Just… Look – Part II: Beginnings and Endings September 10, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Basketball, Books, Depression, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Movies, Music, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rosh Hashanah, Suffering, Texas, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women.
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 “To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.”

– from In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver

Today (Monday) is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and my grandmother’s birthday. Had she lived, she would have turned 90 today. Given a few more months beyond this, she would have seen me reach the half century mark. So, this is me, holding space for beginnings and endings.

As many of you know, my grandmother was one of my constants. Through her example and her work as a nurse (especially for children, veterans, women, shut-ins, and those experiencing end-of-life care), I saw the various stages of life and the importance of being treated with respect and dignity as we all move through those stages. She was the person who always reminded me to be proud of my hair, proud of my body, proud of my spirit, and proud of my life.  And, maybe more than anyone, she illustrated how life is an adventure…an opportunity to fly…a dream…and a dance between the physical and the spiritual.

I’m fortunate in that I’ve had a lot of superior role models, but Miss Jean (aka Miss Jean Rockets) was the elder in whom I saw myself. We were kindred spirits. And I wanted to be her when I grew up. I still do.

At her funeral in June, I was charged with following the Neighbor/Nurse remarks with the family remarks. Even now, on her birthday, I can think of so many more rich and endearing memories that I could have shared. However, I stand by these:

“Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.” Taraji P. Henson started her 2017 SAG Awards speech with those 8 words. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me God; listen.” While her speech goes on record as an awards acceptance speech, it was really a thanks giving, an expression of gratitude for women who were trailblazers and light bringers, a celebration of women who lived lives no one expected them to live. Since today my family charged me with giving thanks and celebrating the life of a trailblazer and a light bringer, I start the same. “Steady yourself heart; talk to me, God; listen.”

Before I was born, she was Miss Jean and she remained Miss Jean after I was born because, as she said, she was too young to be a grandmother: She was 40 then. Even though I didn’t know it at the time, this was one of her first lessons to me – I say me, but really, to all of us: be yourself, define yourself, live for yourself.

That last part, “live for yourself” might seem odd given how much of her life she devoted – and lived – for all of us, and for all of her patients. Long before I knew the words from John 17 (verses 16 and 18), Miss Jean taught me – taught all of us – what it meant to be in the world, but not of the world; to recognize the Spirit in everyone and everything; and to honor mind, body, and spirit through action. She was a living, breathing instrument of God who – as she told me now and again – was stuck together with spit, glue, and chewing gum.

I don’t really remember her chewing gum, but she sure had a lot of gumption. That spirited initiative allowed her to listen to her heart and follow her heart, fiercely – even when it led her to cold places, like Kansas City, and back home again. Clearly, given how far some of us traveled this week, we learned that lesson too.

Miss Jean taught me the power of being still, being quiet, and appreciating your own company. She taught me the power of a smile; the power of getting on your knees at the end of the day and first thing in the morning; and she taught me the power of prayer even when you’re not on your knees. All the way to the end of her life, she taught me the power of the Serenity Prayer: to accept the things you cannot change; to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

She taught me to not only tell stories and listen to stories, but to really hear other people’s stories. She taught, by example, the power of being open to other people’s ideas even while standing in your own truth. She’s the reason we cousins and siblings have the conversations we have.

Robert Frost wrote, “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, / They have to take you in.” But, throughout my life [Pleasantville] has been my home, because that’s where Miss Jean and Paw-Paw WANTED to take us in. It was the place where there were always chocolate chip cookies and a biscuit in the cookie jar; your favorite dessert on the cake tray, sweet tea in the fridge, homemade popsicles in the freezer, baked potatoes and salmon on the grill, Cornish hen in the oven, and the only friends I’ve known my whole life. Standing in her doorway first thing in the morning, stretching and greeting the day and standing in the doorway waving as we drove away, Miss Jean taught me – taught us – to savor life and savor love.

She was passionate about the things and people she loved: music, movies, books, God, her friends, her family, teddy bears, and the Houston Rockets – not necessarily in that order. I could tell you stories she probably wouldn’t appreciate me telling in church, but if she were here to hear me repeat some of our conversations she would just get that sparklingly defiant look and say, “Well, it’s the truth.”

Here’s one more truth: Despite how I started today, I don’t think of my grandmother as a hidden figure. I think of her as a beacon of life and light. I have lived my whole life in Miss Jean’s light. Make sure you heard that right – not in her shadow, IN HER LIGHT! And although her physical body is gone, her light still shines bright. If you have any doubts today, look around you; if you have any doubts tomorrow, look in the mirror: See your life, see your light, and honor it – as she did.

If this were one of my yoga classes, I’d end by saying, “Namaste,” which is a Sanskrit word that literally means, “I bow thou,” and is often translated as “The light in me honors and acknowledges the light that is also in you.” However, today, I’m finishing up one of our last conversations and sending my grandmother off with words from Joy Unspeakable by Barbara Holmes. Holmes wrote,

“For Africans in bondage
in the Americas,
joy unspeakable is that moment of
mystical encounter
when God tiptoes into the hush arbor,
testifies about Divine suffering,
and whispers in our ears,
“Don’t forget,
I taught you how to fly
on a wing and a prayer,
when you’re ready
let’s go!”

### Ecclesiastes 3:4 ###

 

 

Quick Thank You and Announcements May 4, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Sukkot, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”

– from Song of Myself (2) (1892 version) by Walt Whitman

First, the thank you:

Officially speaking, Monday (4/30) was the last day of the 5th Kiss My Asana yogathon. I am happy to say, we helped Mind Body Solutions meet their goal of $60K while also raising awareness about their work and mission! Thanks to your support Mind Body Solutions will be able to:

  • Create digital content and resources for students and teachers around
  • Partner with organizations supporting cancer patients, victim-survivors of sexual assault, and more
  • Provide workshop scholarships to aspiring adaptive yoga teachers
  • Offer free yoga classes to military veterans and their loved ones
  • Launch new programs like Living ‘til the End
  • …and so much more!

I am eternally grateful to everyone who donated online or via the donation-based classes. (If you wanted to donate, but missed the end of the month, this link still works!!!)

I am also super grateful to everyone who read (and sometimes commented or liked) the 22 posts featuring poetry-based practices. However, we’re not finished. I still have 8 more posts featuring 8 more poetry-based practices and, hopefully, you will join me as we finish out this journey.

Feel free to keep commenting (online and in person). Also, please keep yoga and Mind Body Solutions in mind if you or someone you know is dealing with trauma, loss, and disability. (Don’t forget: Mind Body Solutions works with everybody – included health care providers and other caregivers!)

And now, the announcements:

The George Wellbeing Center is officially open! I will be teaching the very first group class in this first-of-its-kind YMCA holistic health center tomorrow (Saturday, May 5th) beginning at 11:30 AM. (Psst, some classes – including mine – are free during the month of May!)

Located on the second floor of the Dayton Y (in Downtown Minneapolis, see link above) and developed in coordination with the George Family Foundation, the Center was made possible by a grant from Bill and Penny George. It will feature services based on three (3) core tenets:

  • Be Aware: Assessments, programs, lectures and coaching that empower clients to be central agents of their own health.
  • Be Centered: Exercise and movement programming, mindfulness and meditation and other mind-body approaches.
  • Be Restored: Personal services such as massage and acupuncture to aid in chronic stress reduction, pain relief and exercise recovery.

Services are open to the public and, as I mentioned earlier, some classes will be free during the month of May!

Please join me 11:30 AM on Saturdays for a yoga class focused on preparing the body and mind for meditation (or contemplation). This class will include asana (seat/pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath/breath extension) in a way that transfers the practice from the mat to the cushion and into your day-to-day life.

And, one more….

Mark your calendars, because the next Sukkot/Gratitude retreat will be September 28th – 30th. Details to follow, but just wanted to give you a heads up, because we are back on the road! (So, maybe give yourself an extra day before or after!)

### THANK YOU & NAMASTE ###

 

SINGING BOUT MY STUFF – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #21 April 27, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Langston Hughes, Life, Lorraine Hansberry, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Ntozake Shange, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Please join me tomorrow (Saturday, April 28th) for a donation-based class at Flourish! Click this link for details.

“somebody/anybody
sing a black girl’s song
bring her out
to know herself
to know you
but sing her rhythms
carin/struggle/hard times”

The Lady in Brown with all the other Ladies from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

“somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff
not my poems or a dance i gave up in the street
but somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff
like a kleptomaniac workin hard & forgettin while stealin
this is mine!
this aint yr stuff
now why don’t you put me back
& let me hang out in my own
Self”

The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

I said it before, and I’ll say it again: The danger in not telling your story isn’t only that it might not be told, it’s also that someone else might tell your story. Someone else might, to quote the choreopoem, run off with all of your stuff. And, if someone else tells your story, they may (at best) leave out your rhythm, your tone, and what is most important to you. At worse, however, someone else telling your story can objectify you or turn you into a caricature, a living breathing stereotype come to life on the page – or on the stage.

Up until recently, certain individuals had a hard time telling their own stories in a way that they could be heard, seen, and validated. They didn’t have the money, the prestige, or the influence. I say this knowing full well that certain marginalized groups (people of color, women – of almost any color, GLBTQI, people who practice certain faiths, people who have been abused by people with power, the physically disabled, and the mentally disabled…just to name a few) still have a harder time getting their stories told, heard, seen, and validated than people who identify in a way that is not marginalized. Slowly but surely, that is changing. Still, as hard as it is, it would be harder were it not for people like Lorraine Hansberry and Ntozake Shange and works like Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf.

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up. Don’t pass it up. Use it. Good luck to you. The Nation needs your gifts.”

– from a speech to Readers Digest/United Negro Fund creative writing contest winners (May 1, 1964) by Lorraine Hansberry

Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun was inspired by real life events. It was also the first play written by a Black woman (and directed by a Black person) to appear on Broadway (1959). At some point during high school, I read excerpts from Lorraine Hansberry’s play What Use Are Flowers? and her autobiography To Be Young, Gifted and Black: Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. Reading her words, I thought, “I could be that. I could write, I could act, and I could represent the world…as I see it.” I can only imagine where I would be if that idea – of being on stage while putting my work on stage – hadn’t been cemented in my mind. But, there it was, an inspiration not unlike the Langston Hughes poem that inspired the title of Hansberry’s most famous play. And, like a raisin in the sun, my dream kinda got deferred.

I auditioned for The Sunshine Boys during my first semester of college. The directors kept asking me to read with different people who were auditioning, which I took as a good sign. Unbeknownst to me, they weren’t considering me for a role on stage. Instead, the directors asked if I would be their assistant. I said yes and then found myself in the role of their stage manager… and their producer and their publicist. Fast forward 7 years and I was working as a professional stage manager for the writer/director who’s most famous play was the second Broadway play written by a Black woman: Ntozake Shange.

“hey man
where are you goin wid alla my stuff?!
this is a woman’s trip & i need my stuff”

– The Lady in Green from for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

 

In 1974, Shange and four other women started performing the choreopoems that would become for colored girls…. Seventeen years after Hansberry’s Broadway premiere, Shange’s work found its way to the Great White Way. (I say, [It] found its way,” but in truth, Ntozake is (to this day) a force of creative nature and moving across the country was the least of the things she did to shepherd her work.) Twenty years after she wrote and first started to perform the poems, Shange was in Houston directing a revival.

Ntozake Shange was not the first arts and entertainment legend with whom I worked – and she would not be the last – but holy cow did she leave an indelible impression. I worked with her twice and both times I was struck by her unwavering commitment to her own vision. While it is not unusual for a director to be strong, fierce, and artistically determined, she was one of the first woman (not to mention one of the first women of color) with whom I worked who was unapologetic about who she was and what she wanted. Also notable, she saw the world and, therefore, presented the world in a very different way from the mainstream. She was (and is) defiantly herself, singing her songs, dancing to her own rhythms, and – in doing so – giving us permission to do the same.

Everybody has a rhythm, a cadence, a pace of life and one big part of the physical practice of yoga is to find your rhythm and to move to it. Your breath sets your pace, but even within the pace there is room to (physically) harmonize. Find your pace, find you rhythm, and let the movement tell your story.

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange

(Practice Time ~40 – 45 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees, bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the position of the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the sensation of being supported – how the body rests between or on the legs, how the breath deepens. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Make sure your shoulders and elbows are comfortable. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. Now, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After the second set of Warriors I+II and Dog poses, inhale to Plank Pose or Cow Pose, lower all the way to the floor on the exhale, and then rollover. Take a full body stretch; reach through your fingers and toes. On an exhale bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor. Consider the story of being fully supported. As you exhale, hug your right knee into your chest. Move the right ankle and/or knee as needed. Find stillness and then inhale to extend the right leg up towards the ceiling, with the ankle flexed so that the toes point down. Give the right leg support, first by pressing the left foot down and then by interlacing the hands behind the thigh or shin. Focus on pressing the heels away from each other as you inhale (right heel up, left heel down). This is the beginning of Supine Big Toe Pose I (Supta Padangustansana I). Consider how each foot and each leg has a different perspective as you stretch (don’t pull) the right leg towards the crown of the head. If you can maintain the extension of the right leg – without bending the right knee or losing the engagement of the left heel – feel free to extend the left leg out on the ground.

After about a minute, bind the right leg with the right hand. If you can grab the big toe with the peace fingers without bending the knee, feel free to do so. Otherwise, if you need to bend the knee, use some kind of strap (on the heel) so that the right arm and leg are as extended as possible. Left hand moves to the left hip/thigh or stretches out like a “T” to serve as a stabilizer. Making sure the left hip (and heel) stay connected to the ground, exhale and lower the extended right leg over to the right. Again, only go as far as you’re able to go without the left hip lifting up and without the left knee and toes collapsing to the left or to the right. Once you find you your edge, use the inhales to press the right hip and heel away from each other; use the exhales to flex the ankles and stabilize through the left hip and heel. This is the Supine Big Toe Pose II (Supta Padangustasana II).

After about a minute, use your core to lift the right leg back up to center and then let it float down to the floor. Place the left leg next to the right and notice how each side of the body feels. As you inhale, take a full body stretch and repeat the Supine Big Toe Poses I & II sequences on the left side.

After the second side of Supine Big Toe Poses I & II, rollover to your belly. Point the toes behind you and, with hands by your hips, reach the fingertips in the same direction as the toes. As you inhale, lift your gaze, lift your heart, and lift your arms. As you exhale, lift your legs. This is a variation of Locust Pose (Salabhasana). If there is pain or discomfort in the low back, bring the feet back to the ground and actively press them down to support the heart lifting up. Consider stretching the arms out wide.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the end of the choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf, the women repeat the words, “I found god in myself / & I loved her/I loved her fiercely.” Regardless of the production, this powerful moment brings all the women – and all the colors of the rainbow – together. When I worked on that anniversary production in 1994, I was (as I think everyone is) on a path to/with God, but I hadn’t started on the yoga path. And, even though I had heard of yoga, I had no idea it was an eight-limb philosophy culminating in Samadhi, which is sometimes translated as “perfect meditation” and sometimes as “union with Divine.” So, I never considered why the rainbow might be enuf. Nor did I previously wonder if each woman’s personality is reflected in the color of her costume as well as in her poems.

Even if you’ve never practiced yoga, you may still have heard or seen the colors of the rainbow associated with seven points along the center of the body. In yoga and Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science), the energy of the body flows through energy channels or rivers (nadis) which overlap to create energy wheels (chakras). There are more than seven chakras in the body, but the three primary nadis overlap at seven points and these are associated with the colors of the rainbow, starting with red. The lower chakras are associated with tangible or physical elements of being, while the last three (sometimes four) are associated with the metaphysical.

The term metaphysics was first applied to the work of Aristotle in reference to topics sequentially appearing beyond discussions on the physical or “natural” world. It has come to mean anything beyond the physical or beyond our understanding of the physical. Even if you are only interested in hatha yoga (the physical practice regardless of style or tradition) stepping on the mat is a first step towards transcending the physical. It doesn’t matter if we practicing standing on our feet or sitting in a wheel chair, at some point the practice takes us beyond what is easily explained. At some point we may even stop trying to explain and just be, just breath…and feel what we feel – even when we’ve been told/taught that there’s nothing to feel.

The opportunity to feel something, anything, is why I keep asking you to Kiss My Asana! If you Kiss My Asana this weekend, your donation will be doubled thanks to the generosity of the Calmenson Family Foundation.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely given. 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. ###

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

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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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