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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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Thank you to everyone who helped me beta test Zoom on Sunday! More streaming classes are coming and I will post a recording of the class later this week.

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

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

 

### NAMASTE ###

Happy First Friday of Spring! March 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Yoga.
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“The long silences need to be loved, perhaps more than the words which arrive to describe them in time.”

– from God’s Silence by Franz Wright

Yes, it is hard to believe: Yesterday was gray, rainy, cold – even snow for some – and it was the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. I know, hard to believe. Some folks had forgotten all about Spring, it seems. Still others were expecting it to bring some great change… And maybe it did. But, like the old saying (April showers bring May flowers) implies, we have to wait for the beauty.

In waiting for the beauty of being able to offer a video practice inspired by Franz Wright, I was reminded that Wright’s collection after winning the 2004 Pulitzer Prize was entitled God’s Silence. I haven’t read it (yet), but I am suddenly fascinated by the idea of 144 pages worth of Franz Wright poetry curated around the idea of “God’s Silence.” Notice, that’s 144 pages – not 144 poems. (Poets everywhere are now doing the math.) This is the kind of the thing that gets me oddly excited, especially right now, because there is so much I want to know!

I want to know if he is referring to silence that is the response to a prayer or a request (or even a curse); the silence that precedes an answer; the silence that follows the answer (when the questioner is dumbfounded or in awe of the response); the silence when one is pondering the best way to phrase something and therefore measuring their words; the silence of shock (can we shock God?); the silence of disappointment; the silence of wonder; the silence when no one is around; the silence of sleeping children; the silence between one breath and the next; the silence of meditation; the silence of peace; the silence honoring the dead; the silence just before a newborn declares itself alive; or….The list goes on. He could be talking about all of the above. Or none of the above. There are so many possibilities!

What I know is that he starts off with “The telephone ringing / in the deserted city ––– ” and and that one of the poems is called “Solitary Play: Minnesota, 1961.” I feel like this is where we are at, and I’m here for it.

“You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”

– James Baldwin speaking at Community Church in NYC on Nov. 29, 1962

Besides an ultimate love for poetry that gets you through hard times (because you realize someone has been through harder – or, as hard of a time), maybe one of the reasons I’m here for it is because part of my practice involves silence. The kind of silence and stillness that can make people uncomfortable, because it is so powerful. But, simultaneously, the kind of silence and stillness that is the epitome of peace. When Patanjali codified the philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, he wrote, “yogash citta vritti nirodah.” Yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind.

Silence.

Perhaps, God’s silence.

It’s 2 days late and $2 dollars short, but I offer you a video of Wednesday’s practice (inspired by Franz Wright). It’s nowhere near perfect, but I hope it brings you a moment of peace, a moment of ease. I hope it brings you stillness and yes, silence.

 

###

A Prize-Winning Solution March 18, 2020

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

– Franz Wright

 

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

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

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

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

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

PRACTICE NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

 

– from “Nude with Handgun and Rosary by Franz Wright

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

 

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

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

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

– from “Trying to Get Through” by Hothouse Flowers

 

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

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

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

– My usual introduction on March 17th

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

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

FEATURED BIRD POSES IN THE WREN CYCLE:

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

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

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

 

### LET’S SOAR ###

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

### BE WELL ###

MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA: 2019 Offering #19 May 3, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon AND (since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness) it is an invitation to join me for a donation-based class on May 4th.

You can still donate (until May 15th).

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.                               

***

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

– Yoda* in The Empire Strikes Back

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes…. Feel it….it’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata* in The Force Awakens

 

“This level of energetic sensation is what guides my teaching of yoga all these years later. I can teach a walking person the subtleties of a standing pose, for example, because of my energetic experience. I can ‘feel’ the poses, feel how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship. If the energy of the pose is not flowing correctly, I can often adjust the student and enhance his or her experience.”

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about teaching yoga (2006)

What struck me the first time I took a class with Matthew Sanford, and continues to strike me whenever I have the good fortune to take a class from him, is that he teaches from the inside-out – instead of from the outside-in. What I mean by that, is that while a good number of us get on our mats and focus on the outside in order to go inward, Matthew starts inside and works his way to the outside. He was not my first teacher to teach like that. When I started practicing yoga, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of teachers, including my first teacher (Robert Boustany) who taught in a similar fashion. But, when I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t know there were teachers who practiced and taught in a different way.

Also, let’s be honest, when I started practicing yoga, I didn’t really get what my teachers were doing or how they were doing it. I just assumed that if you practiced (the physical practice) eventually you would start to understand the energetic practice. Years later I would discover that that’s just not so: Some people can practice for decades and never realize what it is that’s actually happening inside themselves. And, perhaps, some people don’t believe or care.

“The act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.”

– George Lucas explaining “The Force” in a production meeting for the Empire Strikes Back (quoted in Star Wars: The Anointed Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau (1997)

 

“That I could feel such things so quickly – the loud rush produced by simply taking my legs wide, the upward energetic release produced when hands-in-prayer was done with yogic precision – meant that those phantom feelings had not left me. Instead, they had been waiting in silence, waiting for me to let them back into my conscious experience. Consciousness does not abandon us. It is only denied.”

 – Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about his first yoga experience with Jo Z (2006)

When I first started practicing yoga, I was surrounded by professional dancers and musicians – people/athletes who used their bodies for work. I was the odd duck, not because I was the least flexible person in the room, but because I had the least body awareness. Part of what made those first practices so dynamic and compelling, was the focus on what we could do.

Think about that for a moment. For 60 – 75 minutes, everybody’s mind-body was focused on what each of us could do in that moment. Nothing else mattered. The practice was intentionally personal and accessible. It never occurred to me that yoga could be, or would be, anything else. However, after I went through my first yoga teacher training and started teaching, I realized something that astounded me and broke my heart: not everybody knew yoga could be accessible. Not everybody knew there were different ways of practicing. And, as a result, people would not practice (or would stop practicing) because of something they couldn’t do.

“Yes, everybody can do it…. It’s just the Jedi who take the time to do it…. Like yoga. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it; but the ones that really want to do it are the ones who are into that kind of thing. Also like karate. Also another misconception is that Yoda teaches Jedi, but he is like a guru; he doesn’t go out and fight anybody…. Well, he is a teacher, not a real Jedi. Understand that?”

– George Lucas answering questions in a Return of the Jedi story conference, July 13 – 17, 1981 (quoted in The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by J. W. Rinzler (2013)

 

“Jo and I discovered that alignment and precision increase mind-body integration regardless of paralysis. The mind is not strictly confined to a neurophysiological connection with the body. If I listen inwardly to my whole experience (both my mind’s and my body’s), my mind can feel my legs.

This is one of those truths that is easy to pass by, like the existence of dinosaurs. But in fact, it should dumbfound us – that, on some level, something as simple as the more precise distribution of gravity can transcend the limits set by a dysfunctional spinal cord. When I move from a slumped position to a more aligned one, my mind becomes more present in my thighs and feet. This happens despite my paralysis. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to a different level of presence, to realizing that the silence within my paralysis is not loss. In fact, it is both awake and alive.”

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about his yoga practice (2006)

May the 4th is a special day for Star Wars fans and a day when I love to teach “Star Wars Yoga” inspired by Matthew Latkiewicz. When I realized one of the days I was considering teaching a Kiss My Asana donation-based class was May the 4th, I almost rescheduled. At first I thought, ‘How can I make the class fun, informative, and accessible?’ Then I thought, ‘How can I not?’

MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA

May final 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class will be Saturday, May 4th ((4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork, 3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis) Please join me on this very special day when will explore the power of the Force that surrounds, penetrates, and binds everyone – regardless of size, shape or physical and mental abilities. This practice will include partner work and is open to all abilities. Space is limited.

NOTE: This space contains an accessible bathroom.

Please RSVP to myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com if you would like to join this practice.

(*NOTE: Ever notice how some of the most memorable “wise teachers” in Star Wars are short, funny looking and have enormous eyes (or glasses)? No? Okay. Maybe it’s just me.)

FEATURED POSE for May the 4th: Downward Facing Wookie

Downward Facing Wookie is a pose with several variations, many of which can be practiced without warming up. Most variations are also prenatal approved.

If you are coming into the classical version (what most people will think of as Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog), start in Table Top with hands and knees on the mat. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists and hips over knees with the feet the same distance apart as the knees. Inhale and lengthen the spine, maybe even moving into Cow Pose (to exaggerate the spinal extension) and then exhale to use the arms and legs to push the hips up into the air. You want your body in the shape of an upside down “V” or a capital “A” without the bar across the center. Check to make sure fingers and toes are spread wide with the middle fingers pointed forward, most of the weight in the hands concentrated on the thumb and first fingers, and the big toes behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. To stretch out the spine, bend the knees slightly and find what feels like Cow Pose. (Don’t make it about looking up; make it about extending the spine.) Once the spine is long, ribs reaching away from the hips, see if you can straighten the legs. Even if the legs stay slightly bent, push the spine towards the things, the shoulders towards the hips, the hips towards the ceiling, the thighs towards the space behind you, and let the heels release towards the earth. Balance the effort between the arms and legs. This is a full body stretch. Gaze at your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes – but make sure your neck is still long and ears are between the straight arms.

If you have wrist issues, you can use a wrist guard (which looks like the floorboard for a door) or a towel / blanket to lift the wrists up higher than the fingers. Another option for wrist and shoulder issues is to practice with the elbows and forearms on the ground, with elbows shoulder width apart. All other alignment is the same for this variation that is sometimes referred to as Dolphin Dog.

Downward Facing Wookie is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward fold, a back bend, and an inversion. If you want to skip the inversion, one option is to stand arms length from a wall (with finger tips barely touching the wall) and then hinge from the hips until the palms are flat on the wall and the ears are between the arms. The same alignment principles apply as with the earlier variations; push through the heels of the hands and the heels of the feet to get the spine as long as possible. This variation can also be practiced with forearms on the wall.

Another option is to practice in a seated position. One seated variation, whether you are in a chair or in Staff Pose (Dandasana) is to stretch the arms over your head and then flex the wrists so that the palms are pushed up towards the ceiling (fingers will point behind you). In this variation, push through the heels, thighs, and hips in order to extend the spine and push the palms up. All the same alignment principles apply.

There is also a variation of Downward Facing Wookie that can be done with the feet on the wall, but that’s a variation will save for another time.

Doesn’t matter which variation you practice, on May the 4th let’s see if we can prove Alan Tudyk (aka K2S0) wrong about that vocal cry. Everyone, lift up one arm or leg, take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, and ROAR it out.

###

RIP Peter Mayhew

May 19, 1944 – April 30, 2019

###

 

PASSION, FREEDOM, LIGHT, & TALENT: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Healing Stories, Uncategorized.
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

– Matthew  24:3 (New International Version)

 

 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:35 (NIV)

 

“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:38-40 (NIV)

 

After throwing the “thieves” out of the temple and between the questions of the authorities, elders, and “spies,” Jesus teaches. Remember, in the historically context – and as far as many would have been concerned at the time – Jesus was simply a renegade Rabbi, a teacher, who was focused on showing his people how to have a closer relationship with G-d. More often than not, he taught in stories or parables. Several of the stories associated with Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday involve people waiting for something amazing and transformative to happen. What is important to note is that each story requires action from the characters.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention “The Parable of the Faithful Servant.” Maybe because they have previously, and privately, questioned Jesus about events that he has said are coming, Luke wonders if the message is for the disciples or for everyone. The Gospel According to Matthew provides a very direct narrative by placing the faithful servant’s story directly before “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” or “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”). Just as in the story of the faithful servant, this second story involves a wedding, light, and being ready. The ten women are waiting for the possibility of being attendants (another word for servant) at a wedding, but it gets dark and they fall asleep. When they are awakened by the pronouncement that the bridegroom is coming, they trim and light their lamps. The only problem is that five (5) of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and failed to bring more. When the bridegroom comes, he can’t see the ones whose lamps are not lit and, according to Matthew, Jesus repeats, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 NIV)

The details that reoccur in each story reinforce the message. First, there is a wedding – a momentous celebration that marks a union, a joining together. Second, the people who are waiting to join the wedding party are somehow in service to the bridegroom. Third, everyone has a purpose – although that purpose is not always explicitly explained. Fourth, everyone has a light and that light must shine in order for someone to be recognized. Fifth, there is no telling when one’s services or presence will be required, so (sixth) everyone must be ready at all times.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14 (NIV)

The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke detail a parable about a landowner (or master) who leaves his servants in charge of some goods. Luke, associates the story with a different narrative, but Matthew places “The Parable of The Talents” directly after the one about the virgins and uses a segue to indicate that while the details of the story are different the message is the same. This time there are three (3) servants and instead of light, they are given talents, a form of currency: one servant receives five (5) talents, another two (2) talents, and another one (1) talent – “each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:15)

Now, who knows where the landowner is going – perhaps to the aforementioned wedding – but what is known is that the first and second servant put their talents to work and increases the wealth, while the third servant buries his talent. (There is also a non-canonical gospel that says one of the servants squanders his talents.) When the landowner/master returns he praises and rewards the servant(s) who increased the wealth, but chastises the one who literally buried his talent for safe-keeping. In Matthew 25:27 the landowner/master points out that if the talent had been put in the bank for safe-keeping, it would have earned interest – thereby increasing the wealth.

Again, the message is clear: it is not enough to sit on one’s laurels and wait for salvation – one must exert effort in some way in order to be prepared.

Another motif in the parables, and one that plays out in the last days of Jesus’ life, is the importance of oil and currency. Some commentary indicates that while Jesus was considered an agitator and a renegade what pushed the elite to get rid of him (rather than to just tolerate him) was when he threw the money lenders out of the temple (see Passion Monday). Eventually, Judas is decides to betray Jesus not only because he is promised “a few pieces of silver” as payment, but also because of he is angered when expensive oil is used to wash Jesus’ feet (see Passion Wednesday). And here, in between the historical events, are the parables about oil and money.

According to Arland J Hultgren – a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – a talent was a unit of weight and, when used as a unit of money it would be valued as that weight in silver. A talent would be worth about 6,000 denarii, or six thousand times a day’s wages. I’ve seen estimates that translate this into U. S. dollars and indicate that one servant received $300,000 USD, one servant received $600,000 USD, and one servant received $1.5 million USD.

Can you imagine, literally, burying $300,000 USD. If you didn’t bury it, how would you put it to work? How would you put $1.5 million USD to work? Keep in mind: it’s not your money. Would you change what you do with the money f you knew you could “earn” $300,000?

Now, flip it around, and consider that you’ve been given a talent…or five: How are you using your talents? How are you using your resources? How are you letting your little light shine? How does your wealth increase because you invest in your talents? What happens when you don’t use your talents?

It is interesting to notice what one values, how one attributes value, and how one uses what they value. Not just on a personal level, it’s also interesting to notice this on a national and/or global level. Passion Tuesday 2019 – and this discussion of talents – falls on April 16th, which is also Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia.

On April 16, 1862, almost nine (9) months before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, U. S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Also known as the Compensated Emancipation Act, the act freed slaves in Washington D. C., and allocated $1 million USD (a little more than 3 talents) to pay Union slaveholders up to $300 per freed slave. As some freedmen had “purchased” their family members, some black people were compensated as Union slaveholders and, eventually, some former slaves would file for compensation if their former masters had not made a claim. An additional $100,000 (less than 1 talent) was granted to pay newly freed slaves $100 – but only if that slave chose to leave the United States and colonize in Haiti or Liberia. The act freed 3,185 slaves in D. C., but did not affect fugitive slaves who were escaping Maryland.

 

“When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

– “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” by John Milton

 

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Anointed / Crescent Warrior (Anjaneyasana)

From Downward Facing Dog or Table Top, step the right foot in between the hands. Another option for getting into Anointed Warrior (Anjaneyasana), also known as Crescent Warrior, is to start in a Half Lift position and then step the left leg back. Either way, the front (right) knee is as close to 90 degrees as possible, with the knee directly over the ankle (and tracking the pinky toe). Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes, like cars on an empty highway. Bring the back (left) knee to the mat and even if you give that knee some cushion, press the top of the back foot down in order to take the pressure off of the knee. Press the bottom of the front foot down for increased stability.

Once you’ve established your asana, inhale and lift the torso up so that your hands can rest on the front thigh. As you exhale, slide the hips back so that they are over the back knee. This will create a square box made from your legs, your hips, and the floor. As you inhale, lift the pubic bone up and notice the space created in your low back and the engagement along the front of the back (left) hip and thigh. If you can maintain the space and the engagement, exhale and sink a little deeper in the lunge. The front knee should stay over the ankle, pressing the heel down.

Once you feel stable, inhale your arms forward and up. Find a heart opening experience. Remember, arms are an extension of the heart in yoga so consider the different ways you can open your heart. Arms can extend overhead with the palms together or apart. You can find goal post arms or invert your Namaskar. Other options include arms wide like angel wings, chest expansion, and supporting the low back. You can also keep your hands on your front knee. Start the back bend in your base. After 5 – 10 breaths, return to your starting position or move into Child’s Pose for a few breaths. Repeat on the second side. Consider all the effort/work required for your heart to be lifted and open: feet and ankles stabilize, legs provide strength, hips allow you to segue from strength to flexibility, the core supports the heart as it lifts and extends.

Anjaneyasana is literally “The Seat of Anjana” and is one of the poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king in the Ramayana. The pose is named for Anjana, Hanuman’s mother, and reinforces the idea that in order to lift and open the heart you have to have a solid foundation – on and off the mat.

 

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

MEET MS. BANNING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“All you have to do is open up a little bit and then you’ll be experiencing a part of that person’s soul. It’s just there – in the presence of a beautiful painting, a creation, something created by someone else. This is insight into not who they are physically, but who they are on this other plane. So, what makes it magical, always, is to hear music performed live.”

– Bill Conti

 

“When the audience and the performers become one, it is almost nearly divine, where this oneness can actually meet in some, not physical place, but in some spiritual place, in the middle, not the performers performing, not the audience receiving, but all of a sudden that contact is made and it becomes wonderful.”

– Bill Conti

Everyone does it at some point or another. It doesn’t matter if we sit down to watch a movie, a play, or a television show – or maybe we’re reading a book or listening to a show on the radio – at some point we suspend disbelief. We open ourselves to the possibility of the possibilities being laid out before us…without expectation, without attachment, and without aversion. Just for a moment, we let go of what we know and open to what is.

The job of an artist, like composer Bill Conti (born 4/12/1942), is to create something that serves as a layer or filter, a lens through which the audience sees the world unfold. Composers like Conti will often use motifs (a brief melody that is part of a longer passage) and leitmotifs (a brief melody or motif that is directly tied to a person or event) to reinforce a certain concept or emotion that the creative team wants the audience to experience. In other words, the creative team is creating samskars (mental impressions) and vasanas (in this case, a habitual subconscious reaction). And, when the creative element is iconic – like so many of Conti’s compositions are – we develop an inescapable habitual (and visceral) response to the music that exists long after the music ends. Without even knowing it, the music shapes the way we think, act, and speak – again, long after the movie ends. Think about what happens when you hear part of the theme from Rockyeven when it’s played on a piano.

But, what happens if we notice what happens? What happens if we start studying our habits and noticing the things that appeal to us and the things to which we have an aversion? What happens if we investigate why we do the things we do? What happens if we practice a little non-attachment and look at ourselves from an objective vantage point – one without the veils of our experiences (i.e., without the samskaras and vasanas?

“dŗşțā anuśravika vişaya vitŗşņasya vaśīkāra sanjñã vairāgyam ” (YS I.15)

 

dŗşțā                              seen or perceived

anuśravika                  heard or revealed in scripture

vişaya                            object, subject, matter of experience

vitŗşņasya                    free of craving or desire

vaśīkāra                        state of mastery, control

sanjñã                           awareness, consciousness, knowing

vairāgyam                   non-attachment, neutral, without attachment or aversion

 

“We are all ready to read / Just as we are born knowing what we like”

– from “The Foundation” by Thievery Corporation

 

In order to master the mind and the fluctuations of the mind, one needs to not only practice continuously and with reverence (abhyasa), as Patanjali indicates in Yoga Sutra II.14, but also with non-attachment (vairagya). Since, however, we have attachments – meaning things and people to which we have attraction or aversion – part of the practice is observing our behaviors and then gradually detaching, or letting go, of our attachments. As we consistently practice letting go, it becomes a habit so that the attachments do not form. This means that, like so many other elements in the Eastern philosophies, the practice of non-attachment is a technique as well as a state of being.

The easy misconception is that practicing non-attachment means that one forcing everything away and becoming numb. In fact, the opposite is true. When we move through our days without noticing why we lean one way or the other, then we are numb to our true nature and, in the process, we miss certain elements of our lives. If, however, we can lift the veils of our habits we start to notice more about ourselves and the world around us. We start to notice cause and effect, but we also start to interrupt behaviors and patterns that lead to suffering.

 

“In the back of your mind, when you say you want to write music for the movies, you’re saying that you want a big house, a big car, and a boat. If you just wanted to write music, you could live in Kansas and do that.”

– Bill Conti

 

An example that Swami J uses to explain the difference between detachment and non-attachment is that of two (2) ex-smokers. In this example, they both stopped smoking years ago. One smoker, however, sees a cigarette or smells smoke and immediately begins craving the cigarette. When the first former smoker recognizes that craving, resists acting upon it, and then let’s go of the desire (or allows the desire to pass) this person is practicing detachment. On the flip side, the second former smoker no longer has the craving; when there is no conscious or subconscious desire to smoke there is nothing to release and that is the state of non-attachment. (Anybody want to go down this particular rabbit hole?)

 

 “There’s a higher place that I have no illusions about reaching. There’s a sophistication and aesthetic about composers who only write only for the music’s sake.”

– Bill Conti

 

FEATURED POSE for April 13th: Half Lift or Upward Forward Fold Pose (Ardha or Urdhva Uttanasana)

There are certain poses that are easy to overlook when moving through poses one-breath-one motion or when you are predisposed to think some poses are more important than other poses. One such overlooked pose is Half Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana), which is also referred to as Upward Facing Forward Fold (Urdhva Uttanasana). In Sun Salutations it may be considered a “gateway pose” – because it bridges the gap between standing only on the feet and the inclined series where you are standing on hands and feet (or only on hands). If you take a moment to let go of your attachment or aversion to the pose and really examine it, you will start to notice that it’s not only a bridge, it’s also a ferry.

From a standing (or seated) position, exhale and bring your heart to your thighs (bending your knees if you have low back issues and or tight hamstrings). As you inhale, look up and lengthen the spine. Place your hands on your thighs, or bend your knees and place your elbows on your thighs. Making sure that your shoulders are pressing back, find a little bit of Cow Pose (to make sure you have a “flat back”) and then gaze at your nose or third eye center. Engage your core by zipping up (spreading toes and balancing on all corners of the feet; squeezing the perineum muscles together and up; drawing the belly button up and back). Breathe here for 3 – 5 breaths (inhale + exhale = 1 breath).

As you’re breathing here, see if you can maintain length in the spine while also starting to lengthen the legs. If it is accessible to you, reach the hands down to the floor or a block – but only if you can do so without losing the extension in the spine. Notice how you react to being in this pose.

After the requisite number of breaths, exhale and see if you can bring your heart to your thighs without losing the extension in the spine. Inhale, use the whole breath to look up and lengthen again. Exhale, and use the whole breath to fold. Inhale to your flat back; bring hands to hips as you exhale and then lift the torso up as one unit.

Consider how Upward Facing Forward Fold contains elements of Equal Standing / Mountain Pose. If Sun Salutations are in your practice, move through a couple of sets and see if you can maintain your flat back (looking forward) position all the way through Chaturanga Dandasana. This is a fun practice to do with a small ball balanced on your low back! (See if you can keep the ball on your low back until Downward Facing Dog (or your back bend).

Upward Facing Forward Fold is a great pose to do with hands up against the wall and arms extended. It is prenatal approved; just widen the legs to make room for the baby. If you have low back issues, unregulated blood pressure, eye issues like glaucoma, or certain types of osteoarthritis you may find that Upward Facing Forward Fold is a better option for you than Forward Fold (Uttanasana). If that is the case, you can do the above sequence just by bending the knees on the exhale and straightening them on the inhale. Honor your body, but also watch your aversion (or attraction) to modifying your practice.

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

WE CAN BEGIN AT ANYTIME: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 13, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind – white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started”

 – excerpt from “Looking Around, Believing” by Gary Soto (born 4/12/1952)

Ever look around and wonder why we begin where we begin? Every wonder if we could start our yoga practice with a different pose? Or if it even matters where we start? For that matter, what would happen if we started earlier in life? Or later?

Okay, okay, some of those are purely rhetorical. And, as the title of this post clearly states, “we can begin at anytime” – but, what about the place/position in which we start?

If you are exposed to different styles and traditions, maybe through a single teacher or through your own curiosity, you will find that some styles and traditions always start with the same pose – but that “same pose” is not universal. Some practices start with Child’s Pose (Balasana). Some start with Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samastithi / Tadasana).Some start with the practitioners on their backs; still others start with practitioners in a seated position – but even then it’s not necessarily the same seated position.  Why all the variety? Let’s go deeper.

There’s something to be said for tradition. If you look back at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are no asanas (or poses) detailed. Instead, Patanjali provides critical instructions on how to practice the poses. Specifically, he instructs “cultivating a steady/stable, easy/comfortable/joyful seat/pose” (YS II.46) and then proceeds to explain how the awareness and extension of breath (pranayama) extends out of finding balance in the body. Classical sacred texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 15th century), Gheranda Samhita (early 17th century), or Shiva Samhita (circa 14th – 17th century), mostly list sitting on your sits-bones poses and begin with some variation of a cross-legged position. In all cases, the focus is on having an elongated spine, with the head balanced above the shoulders and hips, and effort balanced with relaxation. This type of pose reminds one of a meditation seat and is a great way to remember that the physical yoga practice is also a meditation practice, with the ultimate meditation state as its final goal. Emotionally, energetically, and symbolically, starting in a seated position indicates that the practice is a time for study, contemplation, and devotion.

Ashtanga, one of the first vinyasa practices to come to the western world, begins with Mountain Pose (Tadasana), which is also the first pose featured in B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. It is a foundational pose, in that there are elements of Mountain Pose (which Iyengar also refers to as Equal Standing) in almost every pose. When standing, there is particular emphasis on balance – left to right and top to bottom – and on the extension of the spine, which is supported by the engagement of the core. It is a pose which can be practiced on the feet, in a chair, but also lying on one’s back. It’s a great starting place, because it is a great reference point: you can come back again and again and notice the changes you have brought about in your body. There is, however, another benefit of starting in Equal Standing / Mountain Pose – it is standing at attention and so it is a signal that the practitioner is ready for what comes next and, more importantly, ready to move in any direction. Like certain sitting on your sits-bones poses, this is one of the most neutral starting positions simply because you can easily move from it into almost any position.

Child’s Pose is a great place to start, because one’s head is down and (like a child preparing for a nap) one is less likely to be distracted by external surroundings. There is a physical turning inward, as well as an emotional and energetic turning inward. Even though this can be a hard pose to hold if you have knee issues, it offers a lot a physical benefits: there is an opportunity to release the low back; an opportunity to open the hips; an opportunity to compress the abdominal area and thereby stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (in order to calm the body); it’s a baby inversion; and it is a great opportunity to stretch out the front of the legs. Most importantly, perhaps, is that once again the spine is long and there is balance. There is also a symbolic reason for starting in Child’s Pose: the beginning of the practice marks the birth of the practice (and practices that start here often move through a symbolic life cycle).

Since she draws from her experiences with different styles and traditions, Seane Corn will sometimes start practices from a standing position, sometimes from a sitting on the sits-bones position, and sometimes in Child’s Pose. During her vinyasa teacher training, however, she also points out that starting the practice on one’s back, creates openness and receptiveness. When you start on your back, you are also physically supported (along the head, shoulders, elbows, arms, hips, and heels) in a way that may allow the spine to easily align. The more supported and aligned you are, the more comfortable you might be and, therefore, the more receptive. Additionally, lying on your back indicates some form of Corpse Pose (Savasana) which, when considered in the context of reincarnation, can also be the symbolic “beginning” of the life cycle. (For example, if you start in Corpse Pose you can easily rollover into Child’s Pose and then stand up on all fours and then eventually stand up on your feet).

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

– excerpt from “How Things Work” by Gary Soto

Where you begin your practice can set the emotional and energetic tone of the practice. And, while a good starting position will allow you to go anywhere (even if some poses require more movements than others – think 6 degrees of separation), some starting positions specifically prepare you for what’s to come. For instance, starting in Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana) legs, prepares the body for hip opening, while sitting in Hero’s Pose (Virasana) stretches out the front of the legs and knees (similar to Child’s Pose).

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Easy Pose (Sukhāsana)

Easy Pose (Sukhāsana) can be the beginning, middle, and end of your practice. Sitting on the floor, with shoulders and hips aligned, bend your knees so that shins/ankles are crossed and each foot rests underneath the opposite thigh (i.e., right foot is under left thigh). Tilt the sits-bones slightly back and root them down in order to lengthen the spine.

Hips should be in line with or higher than the knees. If there is compression in the back and hips and/or if the knees are higher than the hips, sit up on top of something (making sure your stability is not compromised by the prop you’re using for support). If the knees are uncomfortable, experiment with the hips being higher than the knees, switching which leg is in front / on top, and/or squeezing the legs closer or further away from each other and from the hips.

Once you have your legs crossed, wiggle your arms and then let them rest on your thighs – palms up if you want a little energy, palms down if you want to be grounded. You can take any seal (mudra) or leave the palms open and relaxed.

Stack your spine as if you have coins in your back, with the largest denomination on the bottom so that you end up with a dime, a nickel, and a penny on top of whatever hair is on your head. Relax your shoulders and jaw, creating a little space between your lips and teeth. (Not so much space that someone could look down your throat to see if you still have your tonsils, but enough space so that the mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, and tongue can relax.)

Gaze 4 – 6 feet in front of your belly button and either softly shutter your eyes or blur your eyes through that focal point (drishti). Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes and begin to notice your breath and the parts of your breath.

At the beginning of the practice, see how long you can sit and breathe in Easy Pose before you get distracted. Notice the first three (3) things that distract you. For instance, if your mind wanders away from your breath and you start thinking about something outside of the moment, your #1 today is “Thoughts.” If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find your body getting a little antsy – in which case, your #2 today is “Sensations.” (Sensations can be pain or discomfort in the body that makes you want to move, the feeling of being too hot or too cold, and or the feeling that something needs to be scratched.) If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find yourself feeling like it’s time to move or that you’re getting sleepy and then you could label your #3 today as “Emotions.”

Obviously, the examples above are generic examples and you may experience them in a different way or in a different order. However, note how long it takes for you to be distracted.  You could also make a note of how many times you bring your awareness back to breath. Keep in mind, this (bring the mind back, again and again) is the practice.

Make a note regarding your experiences during the time allotted and then move through any set of yoga poses or some other physical activities. If you notice specific physical discomforts/distractions, focus your practice on strengthening of relaxing the areas of the body that distracted you. If you found you were having a lot of mental distractions, challenge yourself by doing something that requires your complete attention. (If you’re looking for a practice, click here and see how Gary Soto’s poems inspired last year’s 12th offering.)

When you come back to the pose, set the timer again and notice what happens.

“Beneath my steps, my breath”

– excerpt from “Oranges” by Gary Soto

(for my twin and her best friend)

 

### NAMASTE ###

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #11 April 11, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness

What was your reaction to all that “empty” space? Did you react the same way you do in a yoga class when the instructor suddenly stops speaking? Did it make you nervous? Did you think it was a mistake? Did you think I was posting about the first photograph of a black hole? Did you notice it at all?

Today is the birthday of Misuzu Kaneko and Mark Strand; two very different poets, who lived very different lives in very different places, but who wrote poems on very similar themes. Today is also the second “Throwback Thursday” in Poetry Month – so click here to read last year’s post about their lives and poetry.

“We cannot say that emptiness is something which exists independently. Fullness is also the same. Full is always full of something, such as full of market, buffaloes, villages or Bhikshu. Fullness is not something which exists independently.

The emptiness and fullness depends on the presence of the bowl, Ananda.

Bhikshu’s look deeply at this bowl and you can se the entire universe. This bowl contains the entire universe. This is only one thing this bowl is empty of and that is separate individual self.

Emptiness means empty of self.”

– excerpt from Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana)

Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana) is a foundational pose – some might even call it a “beginner’s pose” that can also be very challenging. One way to work the pose is to notice the “empty” spaces around and in the body and to make those “full” of engagement.  Triangle can be practiced early in the practice (with very little warm-up) or as part of a standing pose sequence. Thighs, hips, and heart will be externally rotated. This pose can be done from a seated position. It is also prenatal approved (even encouraged). Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Pādāngustāsana) is a reclining pose with similar engagement.

While standing in Equal Standing/Mountain Pose notice the “empty” space around your body. Move into the space on your left by arching the upper body to the side (similar to a Hot Half Moon, see KMA 2019 Offering #2). Notice the sensations in the spine and back. Repeat, or echo, the movement on the right. Come back to center.

This time, move into the space by stepping or floating your feet apart so that the feet are under the wrists or between the wrists and the elbows. Notice where you’ve parted the air and also how you are filling the space. Turn your right toes out so that the right heel would bump into the middle of the left foot if the legs were together. On an inhale, stretch out your collar bones; as you exhale reach your right forward until you reach your limit (and have reached the end of the breath). Inhale your right arm down and the left arm up, so that the arms are lined up over the right ankle. You can use a block to lift the floor up if you need more stability. As you exhale, move your right hip towards the left hip. Notice where “the air moves in / to fill the spaces where [your] body’s been.”

Notice the “empty” space between your legs. It is full of an invisible triangle.  Reinforce your awareness and engagement of this triangle and then sit on it by dropping your sits-bones towards the top of the triangle. Now that the thighs and hips are rotating up, engage your core and extend your spine. Consider that to extend your spine, you have to move the ribs and spine into a different position than they were in Hot Half Moon. Notice that as the spine lengthens the “empty” space beneath the right side of your torso is filled with a triangle (formed by the torso plus the right arm and leg). Gaze up, out, or down, but make sure the neck is comfortable.

After 30 seconds to 1 minute, engage your core and lift the torso up and return to Equal Standing. Repeat, or echo, on the other side.

If Triangle is your whole practice today, finish up by lying on your back with arms and legs spread wide. Notice how it feels to be spread out, to occupy so much space. Now, draw your legs together and arms into your sides for Savāsana. Breathe and allow the breath to extend out into the space you filled when your arms and legs were wide.

If Misuzu Kaneko’s story resonates with you, because you or a friend struggle emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###