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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. ###

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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 ###

ORGANIZING THE WORK(ers): 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 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.

***

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

– Delores Huerta (born April 10, 1930)

In some ways, it seems like Delores Huerta has been organizing workers since she was a child. She is a second generation Mexican-American whose parents started off as migrant workers and then divorced (when she was 3) and moved into positions where they could support the labor force – her father as a politician, her mother as the owner of a restaurant and hotel that welcomed a diverse population of low income and farm workers. Huerta was active in a variety of extracurricular activities during her school years and went on to teach elementary school; however, she said, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”

By the age of 25, Huerta was working to improve the economic status of Latinos in Stockton, California. In her 30’s, she co-founded an organization that set up voter registration drives and also co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez. She is known for the motto “Si, se puede.” (Yes, we can.)

“When you have a conflict, that means there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it’s an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue.”

– Delores Huerta

Conflict in the pages of a book can make for a good story. You get to see how things are resolved, usually in a nice neat little package with all the loose ends tied up into neat bows. Real life rarely works that way, and writing the good story where conflict arises and then gets resolved can be just as daunting and overwhelming as real life. And, as we’ve seen recently, it’s a lot of work to establish dialogue between people with viewpoints. It seems like an overwhelming amount of work to change the world.

We’ve all been there: overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the work yet to be done. It doesn’t matter if we are overwhelmed by the work because procrastination has placed us under a looming deadline or if someone presented us with an unrealistic timeline. It doesn’t matter if the amount of work is relatively small compared to something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future. Nor does it matter if the work is related to our profession, our passion, and/or life. In the moment, we sit in some variation of frozen; unable to do anything, let alone the first thing. And yet, just like when you’re playing a video game, the first thing is the key that unlocks the second thing…and so forth and so on. The first thing also gives you the tools to unlock the second thing.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

– excerpt from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott (born April 10, 1954)

Writer, activist, speaker, and teacher Anne Lamott used the story about her brother as the inspiration (and title) of her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The book is a writing course that is also, like all of Lamott’s work, a life course. And, both the story about her brother and her book, prove that my favorite adage from my first yoga teachers is also true about writing: How you do writing, is how you do life (and vice versa).

“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).

– Maty Ezraty

 

Building a yoga practice – or just creating a sequence – is just like developing a new habit. There is some part of us that knows how to do it, but if we’ve never done it before (or it’s been a long time), it seems mysterious, daunting, and overwhelming. Where to begin, or “Getting started” is Lamott’s first chapter. In it, she discusses the merit of telling the truth. In many ways, this is a very good place to start when you’re on the mat. Satya (Truth) is one of the yamas or external restraints (also known as universal commandments) in the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga. If you come to the mat without being honest about where you are (in your practice) and how you’re feeling, there’s a good chance you will hurt yourself. Being honest with your self is a challenge on the best days, but it especially challenging when the focus is moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath. In being honest with yourself, it is just as important to recognize your strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses.

In the first chapter, Lamott also advises using one’s childhood as a starting place. This, it turns out, is also something we do in the physical practice of yoga. Every pose is an asana (seat) and therefore has a foundation or roots that need to be engaged in order to practice the pose. Additionally, the physical practice is also a mental practice as well as an emotional-energetic and psychic-symbolic practice.  What that means is that (a) working the body requires working the mind and (b) each part of the body is energetically and symbolically tied to parts of history and lived experience. The lower body, which supports us for the majority of our lives, is connected to our “Root Chakra” and is related to our first family, tribe, and community of birth. I often explain this connection by saying, “Just as we are biologically connected to people we may not have ever met or will ever meet, we are also energetically connected. Unless you have a specific reason for starting elsewhere, the practice begins with the feet and legs. The beginning can be standing poses (which build strength, as well as flexibility), seated, or supine poses that address the lower body.

There are 29 chapters in Bird by Bird – and they all can be used to breakdown how one builds a practice, a sequence, and or a habit. I’m not going to break them all down at this time, but here’s a sample:

Chapter 2: “Short assignments” – In a vinyasa practice, where we’re moving with the breath it can be fun to string a ton of poses together and move one-breath-one motion. It can also be dangerous. Giving the body (and the mind) easily digestible bite-sized pieces, aka short assignments. Even if you are not practicing vinyasa, give the mind-body time to process the work you’re doing as you’re doing it. Poses like Equal Standing, Wide-legged Forward Fold, Child’s Pose, or a basic seated position like Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can be moments of transition where you pause and breathe. This is true even with vinyasa. (Remember, vinyasa means “to place in a special way” it does not mean “do pushups and a back bend.” You can practice one or two standing poses and then pause for a few breaths in one of the transitional poses before continuing to your next “short assignment.” One really cool rule of thumb I was given during teacher training is to look at the “one-breath-one-motion” idea as changing a single plane or angle within the body. (For example, moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Triangle or Extended Side Angle makes sense in the body, because the feet, legs, hips, and heart stay in the same horizontal plane – and rotation. Moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Warrior III makes less sense because you are changing horizontal and vertical plane orientations, plus changing the body’s rotation.)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

–  Thomas Edison (in developing a practical electric light bulb)

“How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure is failure by default.”

– Aliza Kramer (writing about the Chanukah story)  

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

– Anne Lamott

Chapters 3, 4, & 18: “Shitty first drafts,”  “Perfectionism,” & “Jealousy” (respectively) – It’s very rare that we get something “perfect” the first time around. That’s part of the reason we “practice” yoga instead of “doing” yoga. It’s also challenging to find yourself in a room full of people who seem to know what they’re doing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount the fact that they once started at the beginning and didn’t know what they were practicing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount their hard work and assume that they are naturally strong, flexible, and or coordinated. Jealous comparisons prevent us from seeing the work of others, and also from doing our own work. Consider each time you step on the mat as a workshop moment, where you find ways not to do something and ways to go deeper.

Chapter 13: “How do you know when you’re done?” – One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that you’re never done. There’s always something to learn about yourself and the practice. There’s always some new challenge that can be built on your foundation. And, it’s fun to see what happens next. That being said, no one can be on their mat 24/7. At some point every practice session comes to its conclusion. If you look at the lower body as your first chakra (or energy wheel) and think of each chakra as a “short assignment,” then you work your way up the body and finish when you reach the crown chakra at the top of your head. Another way to know when you’re done is to break up your “short assignments” with a transitional pose where you can sit and breathe for a moment. Since the ultimate goal of the physical practice is to prepare the mind-body for deep seated meditation, use the transitional pose to assess the mind-body, in order to determine how close you are to stillness. You can be “done” when every part of your body and mind feels stable and at ease enough to be still for 5 or more minutes.

Chapters 21, 22, & 24: “Writing groups,” “Someone to read your drafts,” & “Writer’s block” (respectively) – Sharing your writing with a group is similar to sharing your practice with a group. There is a little extra boost of energy and momentum that comes from people engaged in the same thing at the same time. There is power in the group that can help us go farther than we might on our own. Practicing yoga or writing in a group, especially when people are at different levels, gives everyone an opportunity to learn and grow by considering other perspectives. It can also be helpful – when you’re working on those “shitty first drafts” – to have an outside pair of eyes, someone who can view your practice as it is and as it develops. Ultimately, this is the role of the teacher – someone who can encourage you to continue on your path, make suggestions when you seem to be falling off the path, and offer you next steps you may not have considered. Also, when you feel stuck or blocked, as we all sometimes feel, the teacher, as well as your group, can support you as you step back and take child’s pose for a moment or consider another perspective, maybe even a different way of practicing.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

– Anne Lamott

 

FEATURED POSE for April 10th: Crow & Crane (Kākkāsana & Bakāsana)

As I mention during classes on St. Patrick’s Day, there are a lot of bird poses in the physical practice of yoga. There are legit birds, as well as imaginary and mythical birds. There are birds that fly great distances and those that are along for the ride. One of the most ubiquitous poses inspired by a bird is “Crow Pose.” As I have pointed out in the past, there are some translation issues when it comes to this pose that accessible to people who may not realize it is in their wheelhouse (meaning something they can practice). “Crow” in Sanskrit is Kākkā – which sounds a lot like a crow, but it also sounds a lot like “kaka” which is slang for $^*+ and something a lot of English-speaking teachers are reticent to say in yoga. On the flip side bakāsana, the word we often use for “Crow Pose” is actually “Seat of the Crane.”  Adding to the confusion, Kākkāsana is the prep for Bakāsana (and therefore, more accessible).

If you want to skip the arm balance as an arm balance, you can do the actual pose on your back or prep it in a squat. You can also use props to help with balance. The squatting variation is the only one that is prenatal approved.

Before moving into today’s featured pose, give yourself some short assignments that warm-up the body (Sun Salutations or cat/cow if you are practicing in the squat or on your back); strengthen and lengthen the legs (standing, seated, or supine poses for the legs); create flexibility in the hips; engage the core muscles; broaden the chest area; and strengthen the arms and wrists. When you’re ready to move into the pose, consider each part of the body as its own species of bird.

From your starting position, open the knees as wide as or wider than the hips. Feet can be together or apart, but make a choice and spread the toes wide. Lengthen the low back and sacrum (the flat part of the back), by lifting the pubic bone up on inhale and letting the sit-bones and ribs reach away from one another. Engage your core. Bend your elbows and bring them into your side body so that the elbows are hugging your ribs. This begins to engage anterior serratus, so when you feel muscles squeezing along your rib cage, see if you can actively tighten in that area. Bring your hands to the floor (or the ceiling, depending on your perspective). With elbows bent back and squeezing in, you want your upper body to engage as if you are going into Chaturanga Dandasana. Rise up to your tip toes so that you can place the knees into the armpits. If you are balancing on your hands, knees actively rest on the backs of the arms. If you are on your back, if feels more like your elbows are resting on your thighs. In all variations, keep your shoulders relaxed.

From standing, you can step your feet up onto a block (behind and under your hips) or shift your body forward and back – not to get momentum, but to check the placement of your hands and arms. Once you have established a solid foundation, shift the weight (so that the toes are barely on the floor) and zip up (meaning spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom, and draw the belly button up and back). As you engage the core, the feet float up – don’t panic!

If you are on your back or in the squat, still engage your core and lengthen your spine.

When the elbows are bent this is typically referred to as “Crow Pose.” If you can consistently balance in “Crow Pose,” squeeze everything into your midline and start to straighten the arms. This is typically “Crane Pose.”

Focus on letting your heart soar!

Feel free to play around a little bit and then finish out your practice with a gentle wrist stretch, maybe a Forward Fold with Chest Expansion or that “Gorilla Pose” from last week. Finally, spend some time in Corpse Pose (Savasana) or any neutral pose where you can be still and quiet for at least 5 minutes.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

CH-CH-CHANGES, LIKE A RIVER: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Yoga.
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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.

***

πάντα ρε “  (“panta rhei “ everything flows or everything to the stream)

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (c. 535 BCE – c.475 BCE)

 

“Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust”

 – excerpt from funeral service in The Book of Common Prayer

 

Shift happens…all the time. Or, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus once put it, “Everything changes and nothing remains still…you cannot step twice into the same stream.” Recognizing the temporal nature of everything, including ourselves and our experiences, can be very helpful.  However, it seems to be human nature to resist change and, in doing so, deny that change is happening – which, as the Buddha pointed out, creates suffering.

(Thus) have I heard that Prince Siddhartha Guatama of India was born into a family of great wealth and great privilege.  As pointed out at the beginning of this series, Siddartha means “one who has accomplished his goal” or “one who has achieved his aim” and – as far as his family was concerned his dharma (or goal) was to one day take over as ruler of his father’s lands. (The title “Buddha,” which means “Awakened One,” would come later in his life.)

Siddhartha knew nothing of pain and nothing of suffering, having been shielded from the existence of sickness and death, until the age of 29. Upon seeing the suffering of others, his life trajectory changed and he renounced the life he knew in order to find a path that would alleviate suffering. At the age of 35, tradition tells us, he articulated The Four Noble Truths:

  1. Suffering exists
  2. Suffering is caused by attachment, clinging, craving
  3. There is an end to suffering
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering

In some traditions of Buddhism, understanding and accepting these four noble truths is the key to waking up and there are a number of practices specifically designed to bring awareness to change happening every time you inhale, every time you exhale. In fact, the very act of sitting and watching the breath can illuminate the Four Noble Truths and the temporal nature of our existence.

The history of Japan and Japanese culture is full of change. Depending on where you look you may find an acute juxtaposition between accepting change, keeping a tradition (without change), and actually celebrating change. For example, most of the Buddhist world celebrates the Buddha’s birthday on May 8th or a day determined by a lunar calendar. Many temples in Japan, however, started celebrating on April 8th every year, when the country switched over to the Gregorian calendar in 1873.  During the Flower Festival, which is the birthday celebration, people will pour a sweet tea made from fermented hydrangea leaves over where small statues of the Buddha.

For an example of people celebrating change, look no further than the sakura (cherry blossom) season that is beginning. The Cherry Blossom Festivals that are currently kicking off (or ending, depending on the region) is completely separate from the Flower Festival associated with the Buddha’s birthday.

Sakura usually begin blossoming in the southern part of Japan and, over a matter of weeks, eventually blossom across the whole island. However, by the time the blossoms peak in the North they are already out of season in the South. The delicate flowers literally blow away like dust in the wind. For the heart and mind to hold the beauty of the moment when the flowers peak, with the awareness (and sadness) that the moment is already passing, is known as mono no aware (literally, “the pathos of things”). Mono no aware may be translated as “empathy towards things,” but there’s really no set words in English to express the feeling of wonder (“the ahhness”) inextricably tied to the longing and deep sadness that accompanies loss. This is what is – and yet, without some kind of mindfulness practice it is easy to separate the two sensations or to be so overwhelmed by the twin emotions that we focus on one to the complete exclusion of the other. Focusing on what feels good and appealing, while avoiding what doesn’t feel good results in more suffering. It also creates suffering when our longing for what has passed causes us to miss what is. (Not to mention, it causes us to continuously confront the illusion that we can go back to a moment in time, in the same way we think we can cross the same river twice.)

If you look at the history of sitting in Japan, you will also find lots of change – and sometimes a resistance to change. What is now commonly considered the proper way to sit in Zen Buddhism, as well as in day-to-day life, is seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”). Seiza is kneeling so that the big toes overlap (right over left) and then sitting on the heels. Women are taught to sit with the knees together, while men may be taught to spread the knees a little. In the modern times, this type of sitting is ubiquitous and considered respectful; however, prior to the mid 14th century and up to the late 16th century it was consider proper and respectful to either sit with legs to the side or cross-legged. Cross-legged was, in fact, the preference for many warriors as it was believed that a cross-legged position would not hinder a samurai if they needed to draw their sword.

“The way up and the way down are one and the same. Living and dead, waking and sleeping, young and old, are the same.”

 – Greek philosopher Heraclitus of Ephesos (DK22A1)

 

In the physical practice of yoga, the “proper way to sit” is in way that is stable and comfortable enough for you to focus on your breath. Notice that in Yoga Sutra II.46 (broken down in yesterday’s post) Patanjali uses the words sukham asanam which can be translated as “dwelling in a good space.” The flip side of a good space is dukha “a bad space” – or, more acutely, “a space of suffering.” As you move into this next pose, make sure you are not dwelling in a space of suffering.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 8th: Auspicious or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana)

Auspicious Pose or Gracious Pose (Bhadrasana) appears in classical texts like Gheranda Samhita (c. 17th century) as a pose similar to seiza. In more modern texts it is depicted as a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana). Either variation can be in the beginning, middle, and/or the end of a practice. In fact, if you are doing a variety of poses today, you can return to your Auspicious pose the way your return to Downward Facing Dog, or Equal Standing, and notice was changed or shifted.

For the classical variation, be mindful of the knees and hips as you come to your hands and knees and bring the tips of the big toes to touch. Spread the knees as wide as you are able and then sit back on your heels. If there is a lot of pressure on the knees, sit on a block or blanket. You may also need a blanket or towel under the feet for this variation.

For the second variation, bring your feet together, like a prayer, in front of your hips (rather than behind). This variation is easier on the knees and feet. You may still need to sit up on a blanket or block. Especially if the hips are tight, you slump into the low back, and/or the knees are up higher than the hips. In this variation you can also adjust the feet (bring them closer in or further out) to bring more ease to the knees.

You can sit up tall with the hands resting on the thighs. Another option, which is very nice for the shoulders, is to lift your heart up (into the beginning of a backbend) and cross the hands behind the back so that you can grab the toes, the heels, or (if your feet are in front) the opposite hip. Make sure you are not leaning back, but instead are arching your chest up. Be mindful that you are not straining or compressing the low back.

If you have unregulated blood pressure issues, let your breath flow naturally in and ebb naturally out. If you find you are holding your breath or panting, ease out of the pose. If you are in overall good health, and they are in your practice, you can add your bandhas.

Dwell in this good space (sukha asama) until you have to move out of it (because it has become the “bad space” ( dukkha asanam). Be mindful that you ease out of the pose with the same awareness you used to get into it. Find some gentle, micro-movements to release the joints.

 

(Click here if you do not see the video.)

### NAMASTE ###

WHAT MAKES A WARRIOR HAPPY: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #7 April 7, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Black Elk, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, William Wordsworth, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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.

***

“Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

“sthira sukham asanam” (YS II.46)

sthira           steady, stable
sukham       easy, comfortable, joyful
asanam        seat (meditation posture or pose)

Patanjali, who outlines the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, does not spend a lot of time talking about the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition), which is a combination of asana and pranayama. About asana, the third limb, he indicates that one should cultivate – or continuously maintain – steadiness and ease. He goes on to explain that this cultivation, or “perfecting,” requires relaxing the effort and “allowing the attention to merge with the infinite,” which, in turn, brings a sense of “freedom from suffering.” Furthermore, he states that pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, begins to occur as a result of the perfected and balanced pose.

At first glance this all sounds really odd. How do you relax the effort without falling over? And, if you’re worried about falling over, how can you possibly pay attention to anything other than not falling over?

“Simple causal reasoning about the feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and the second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument. This makes reasoning based upon cause and effect tricky, and it is necessary to analyze the system as a whole.”

 

– Karl Johan Aström and Richard Murray, Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers

It turns out that the two limbs create a feedback loop: if you can find balance between effort and relaxation (steadiness and ease), you will start to notice the breath, the parts of the breath and (as Patanjali points out in II.50-51) the breath becomes long, fine, and seamlessly continuous (or infinite). Simultaneously, if you observe the breath and adjust your body in order to find the position where the breath is long, fine, and seamlessly continuous, you will have found the physical balance between effort and relaxation. Finally, finding that physical balance will result in mental balance and clarity which, Patanjali explains, reveals inner light. (II.52)

“Whose high endeavors are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;”

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

While Virabhadrasana literally means “Hero Friend or Brave Person Seat,” in English we almost always translate it to “Warrior Pose.” Yoga practices which utilize standing poses (even if you’re seated in a chair) will inevitably include at least one of three Virabhadrasanas. However, there is also a seated pose (Virasana, accurately translated as “Hero Pose,”), a “Humble Warrior,” a “Shackled Warrior, and there are several poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king, which all may also be referred to as “Warrior” poses. We may think of any number of warrior-like attributes we want to embody when practicing these poses. The question is, how often do those attributes include balance, generosity of Spirit, self-knowledge, happiness – or any of the other qualities William Wordsworth (born today in 1770) uses to describe the character of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson?

Wordsworth’s poem “Character of the Happy Warrior” (circa 1806) is similar in context to W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” (circa 1939). They are both intended to eulogize and memorialize. The biggest difference in the two poems, however, is that Auden’s poem is pure satire and reveals a person who cannot actually exist. Nothing negative can be or is said about Auden’s “citizen.” On the flip side, Wordsworth was honoring the recently deceased Lord Nelson, who was praised for his leadership skills and persistence, and was known as a British hero of the Napoleonic Wars – despite being a strong proponent of slavery. Still, the flattering depiction in the poem is a legacy that lives beyond the man himself. The term “the happy warrior” enjoys a place in the English lexicon as a great way to summarize the character of a person (usually a man) who exhibits “our human nature’s highest dower” (or gift).

“We can perhaps change the whole world but it will not help us. On the contrary, if we change ourselves, then the world is automatically changed. Change in the world will come naturally, inevitably, spontaneously, as we bring about this change to ourselves.”

– Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati *

FEATURED POSE for April 7th: “Happy Warrior,” II variation (Ananda Virabhadrasana)

{*A quick shout out and thank you to Elias Lopez Garcia of Happy Warrior Yoga, for (unknowingly) helping me narrow down which warrior pose to feature today. If you appreciate this experience, please “like” his video, linked here and embedded below.}

This “Happy Warrior” variation can be done with or without warming up the body. Keep in mind, however, that this pose is asymmetrical and requires externally rotated hips. If you have hip and/or balance issues, use cat/cow or some sun or moon salutations as a warm up. You can also move into a wide-legged seated pose like Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana) or a squat – either Yogi Prayer Squat or Horse/Goddess Pose – with all four corners of your feet grounded, plus toes and knees turned out for external rotation and abduction.

When you are ready to practice “Happy Warrior,” spread your legs so that the ankles are underneath the wrists or between each elbow and wrist. Make sure the toes are all pointed in the same direction and that the feet are parallel to each other. With the arms spread wide, breathe deeply in and out, making sure that you feel open and grounded. Notice your breath. Adjust your position if you are not feeling stable and comfortable, or if the breath is not naturally deepening.

After a few moments, lift your arms up and out, making a “V” shape for “5-Pointed Star” (also known as “Big Asana” and “Hallelujah Asana”). Crown of your head is the fifth point of the star so press down to lift the body up. Inhale the corners of your mouth up towards your ears and exhale, relax your jaw, for “5-Pointed Smile.” Breathe here and notice how you feel as the sensation of the smile spreads out through your fingers and toes, as well as the corners of your mouth and the crown of your head.

Maintaining the internal sensation of the smile, even as the expression on your face softens, exhale to turn the right toes out so that the right heel lines up with the middle (or center) of the left foot. You may need to bring your hands down to your hips for balance. Once you establish this heel-to-arch alignment, bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to reach. Make sure that the knee is over the ankle, tracking the pinky toe. Check to make sure that you are balancing your weight between both feet, both legs, and both hips. Double check the hips to make sure the back (left) hip isn’t getting cocky and sitting higher than the right.

Inhale and lift your arms straight up in the air over your head. Check to make sure that your hips are open wide (away from each other) and that the shoulders are directly over your hips so that when your arms are raised the upper body looks like it’s in Mountain Pose (Tadasana)/Arms Over Head Pose (Urdhva Hastasana). On an exhale, lower the arms just enough to go back to the “V” position. Gaze up, straight over your heart, and press down in order to lift your head up.

Embody the internalized sensation of the smile. Simultaneously, think of your favorite warrior, agape or otherwise, and embody what you see as their best characteristics. Now, embody your best characteristics – all simply in the way your hold your body. After 5 – 7 breaths, release the pose and move back into the starting position. Repeat the pose on the other side.

 

### Jai Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###

 

PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE; SOMETHING’S COMING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #6 April 6, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Yoga.
add a comment

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.

***

“Practice, practice, practice; all is coming.”

– Sri Pattabhi Jois

 

“sa tu dīrgha kala nairantairya satkārā asevito dŗdha bhūmih ” (YS 1.14)

sa                                    that (practice)

tu                                    and, but, definitely

dīrgha kala                  long time

nairantairya                continuously, without interruption

satkārā                         with devotion, sincerity, respect, reverence,positivity

asevito                         cultivated, attended to

dŗdha-bhūmih           with stable , solid foundation, rooted, firmly-grounded

One of the most succinct and brilliant commentaries on Yoga Sutra 1.14 came from Sri Pattabhi Jois, who introduced one of the first vinyasa practices to the West. The Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced forms of the Ashtanga practice are an established set of sequences intended to be practiced consistently and in a way that allows the practitioner to build a practice from the ground up.

Since the beginning of the year, we have been building a practice from the ground up (On Saturdays) using Course I of B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga as physical inspiration. During the last part of the summer, I usually spend a few Saturdays breaking down and exploring the Ashtanga Primary Series. Anyone familiar with the two forms will notice, as I hope people will this summer, that what Iyengar refers to as “Important Poses in Course I” looks a lot like the Primary Series. This is no coincidence. Even though they were coming to the practice from different perspectives – Iyengar was a sickly child when he started; Jois was a robust teenager – they practiced with the same teacher and at the same time. Given that biographical context, it makes sense that certain poses consistently practiced result in a mastery of those poses.

However, in the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali barely mentions the physical practice of yoga. Additionally, he doesn’t just suggest consistent practice. He explicitly states that results come from practicing consistently, without interruption, and with devotion /respect/reverence for the practice. But, if he’s not talking about (or not only talking about) being able to do challenging poses on the mat, what is coming?

 

“[The world] is a wonderful place only when we have a positive mind. For someone with a confused, negative mind, the world is chaotic and ugly….

What is more important than understanding the dynamics of this powerful mind and keeping it healthy, organized, and sharp? What is more urgent than protecting it from inner unrest and stupor? What should take precedence over preventing our mind from being consumed by fear, anger, jealousy, greed, and endless cravings?”

– from The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tugunait, PhD

 

In the mid-1880s, the British East India Company (and then the British government) enacted a series of salt taxes, which made it illegal to produce or possess salt without paying a tax. By 1930, that tax represented 8.2% of the British Raj tax revenue – and it meant that even if you lived in a coastal town like Dandi, you had to pay the tax, or suffer the consequences. Mohandas Karamchanda Gandhi decided salt would be the focus of one of a direct action, non-violent mass protest. When questioned about using salt as the focal point of his satyagraha, Gandhi said, “Next to air and water, salt is perhaps the greatest necessity of life. It is the only condiment of the poor. Through this injustice, the British exploit the starving millions, the sick, the maimed, and the utterly helpless. The salt tax constitutes the most inhuman poll tax that the ingenuity of man can devise.”

From Wednesday, March 12th until Saturday, April 5th, 1930, Gandhi walked over 240 miles so that he could reach the sea shore in Dandi in order to break an unjust law. He woke up in Dandi, on Sunday, April 6th, prayed and illegal made salt at 6:30 AM. The satyagraha against the salt tax would continue for almost a year. It would, ultimately, be one of the inspirations for Civil Rights Movement in the United States and would be one of the first times that women were actively involved in a protest in India.

Over 60,000 Indians (including Gandhi) would be jailed before it was all said and done. But, when Gandhi began the march he was only accompanied by 79 men devoted to truth (satya).

“Truth (satya) implies love, and firmness (agraha) engenders and therefore serves as a synonym for force. I thus began to call the Indian Movement satyagraha, that is to say, the Force which is born of Truth and Love or non-violence, and gave up the use of the phrase “passive resistance” in connection with it, so much so that even in English writing we often avoided it and used instead the word “satyagraha.”

Even though thousands would join them, the 80 men who started the march with Gandhi (and many who would join in along the way) were people who practiced a dedication to ahimsa (non-violence/non-harming) and satya (truth). Since Gandhi once said, “God is Truth” and another time said “Truth is God,” there was also a commitment to recognizing a day-to-day awareness of a higher purpose, meaning in life, and supreme consciousness. This is one way to look at bramacharya. Finally, along with the business and logistics of the campaign, people participating in the march had to sleep outside, often wore a single white garment, and were dependent on villagers along the way to provide food and water for them to wash up. This means they practiced aparagraha (non-attachment), saucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), and tapas (discipline/austerity). They chanted and sang devotionals to keep their spirits up, which can also be a way of practicing isvarapranidhana (releasing one’s efforts back to the source).  All told, the satyagrahis actively practiced all five (5) of the yamas (external restraints/universal commandments) and four (4) of the five (5) niyamas (internal observations) which make up the ethical component of the philosophy of yoga.

One could argue that, since people had to consider their feelings on the subject and make the decision to join the movement, they were also practicing svadyaya (self-study), which is the niyama I did not include above. Either way, the practice of Gandhi and the first 79 men set the tone for the movement. They were steeped in a way of life and a way of thinking that enabled them to respond rather than to react and to work towards change without being attached to the results. More than anything, the legacy of the salt satyagraha was, according to Jawaharalal Nehru (who would go on to become India’s first Prime Minister) how it changed the mindset of the Indian populace.

“But the real importance, to my mind, lay in the effect they had on our own people, and especially the village masses…Non-cooperation dragged them out of the mire and gave them self-respect and self-reliance…They acted courageously and did not submit so easily to unjust oppression; their outlook widened and they began to think a little in terms of India as a whole.”

– Jawaharal Nehru

 

Fast forward to the United States in the 1960’s and you, again, see the agency given to the people through a faith-driven, grassroots movement. Fast forward to today and we see lots of grassroots efforts and lots of agency being given to the people. But, very little of it is firmly-grounded in a practice.

 

“How you do yoga is how you do life.” – my first yoga teachers

I sometimes parrot my first yoga teachers because I see the value of what they taught – forward and back; because, how we do life is also how we do yoga. If we show up without reverence and discipline we become careless and we may hurt ourselves or we hurt others. If we practice from a point of being selfish, we become more selfish. If we are attached to a certain outcome, we may miss opportunities to learn and grow – and we are more likely to give up on the practice (and ourselves) at the first setback or struggle.

On the flip side, if we practice with an understanding of how we are connected to the universe (and all beings in the universe), if we understand that there is a purpose to every inhale and every exhale, and if we are focused, then we see the practice building up. If we are honest with ourselves about where we are physically and mentally, on any given day, we can be mindful and honor our limitations with grace. If always do our best and always let go our efforts, we find that we are also letting go of the struggle. Peace is coming.

 

FEATURED POSE for April 6th: Corpse Pose, (Savasana)

Savasana is, quite possibly, the most important part of a physical practice. Literally “Seat of the Corpse,” it marks the end, or the death, of the practice. It is more than an opportunity to relax, release, and rest. It is also an opportunity to integrate the efforts of the mind-body-spirit and, in doing so, maintain integration of the mind-body-spirit. It is an opportunity to let go of our efforts and let our bodies and minds absorb the work we’ve done. It is an opportunity to trust that – having planted, watered, fertilized, and otherwise nourished our seeds – something bountiful and pleasant will come to fruition. Both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament indicate that [we] shall reap what [we] sow; however, what is often overlooked is that in this context, “sow” is what we will be given or what we have earned. There is, absolutely, benefit to resting when you need to rest and if the body is so relaxed that you fall asleep well then…your body and mind are telling you that you need more sleep. The thing to keep in mind is that savasana, like all the other poses, is a seat and gives you an opportunity to focus, concentrate, and even mediate on a single point of focus.

To reach the point where you can turn inward and withdraw your senses from the external is a large part of the practice. A large part of that sense withdrawal (pratyahara), which is the fifth limb of yoga, is the ability to keep bring your mind back to your point of focus whenever it drifts away (or, whenever you start drifting off). This is the practice.

Set a timer for 5 – 15 minutes, depending on what else you’ve done as part of this practice.

Lie down on your back with arms by your sides and legs stretch out. If the low back (or anything else) is not comfortable with the legs extended flat on the floor, place something under the thighs so that the back relaxes. Place the arms by the hips, palms up. If this is not comfortable you can, again, place something under the arms or place the hands palm down on your hips. Make whatever micro-movements you need to make in order to be still and find balance on either side of your spine. Close your eyes, if that is comfortable for you, and gaze at something that’s not moving (e.g., your third eye, your heart center, or the tips of your nose).

Allow the back of the head and the shoulders to be heavy. Allow the elbows and the hands to be heavy. Allow the hips and the hills to be heavy.  As the heavy parts sink down and become grounded, let your eyes and your checks soften. Relax your jaw and shoulders. Swallow so that you can relax your throat. Starting with 10, count backwards on the exhales and let every exhale be an opportunity to relax, release, rest. Once you reach 1, let the breath naturally flow in and ebb out. Mentally watch the breath as if you are a guard at a castle gate: watch the breath come in through the nose; know how it feels. Watch the breath come out of the nose; know how it feels.

When your times goes off, take your time move out of the pose and then to make your way to a seated position.

 

Click here if you can’t see the video.

 

 

### Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

 

STILL RISING, STILL SINGING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

***

April is not only the standard month for Kiss My Asana, it’s also National Poetry Month. Every year I figure out a way to treat each class that I teach to at least one “April is Poetry Month” practice, full of poems set to music. For my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offering, I profiled poets, featured poems, and offered a practice inspired by the poet and their poetry. Since I don’t always teach on Thursdays, this year’s offering will include “Throwback Thursday” links and, at least once, a profile and poems that didn’t get posted last year.

As it happens, I am subbing today ( Thursday, April 4th) – which also happens to be the anniversary of the birth one of our greatest poets, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou would have turned 91 today.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– from “Still I Rise,” by Maya Angelou

The more I see people suffering, fearing, and living in confusion, the more I am amazed by the heart’s ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, and even playful. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that we have a limited capacity for pain – there is only so much anyone of us can handle before we pass out – but an unlimited capacity to experience love and joy. The heart rises up, always.

In Buddhism, there are four (4) Bhramaviharas (Divine Abodes, meaning that they are the “special dwelling places of the Divine”). I call them the heart practices, even though (technically) there are more than 4 “heart practices” in Buddhism. The bramaviharas are the unlimited capacity for loving-kindness or goodwill (metta), an unlimited capacity for compassion (karuna), an unlimited capacity for empathetic joy (mudita), and an unlimited capacity for equanimity (upekkah) – which serves as a checks and balance for the others. While these are attitudes believed to be inherent to the human spirit – something found deep within each heart – these are also attitudes to cultivate. And, you find techniques to cultivate these attitudes in various Buddhist traditions, but also in other major philosophies and religions.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are Lojong or “mind training” techniques, which consist of approximately 59 aphorisms or slogans that can be used as meditation points. The first states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” There are four (4) preliminaries: maintaining an awareness of the preciousness of life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; contemplate on how ego driven pursuits result in suffering.”

The other statements are also simple. One such slogan is “In all activities, train with slogans.” Another is, “Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

As you move through your practice, take a moment to offer yourself loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity awareness that all beings suffer and all beings deserve an end to that suffering). As Dr. Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Try a little tenderness.

FEATURED POSE for April 4rd: Camel Pose, hands on floor variation (Ustrasana)

Begin in table top (hands and knees to the mat), in a seated position, or in a standing position with knees bent and hands braced on the thighs. Inhale love, exhale kindness. Move though a few cycles of breath until the mantra (“love” on the inhale and “kindness” on the exhale becomes seamless.) Continuing the mantra, inhale and lift the heart and hips into cow pose. With an exhale, shift into a Halloween cat pose. Move one-breath-one motion, waking up the spine and engage the spirit of metta.

After 5 – 10 full cycles, sit back on the floor or a block with the knees and feet two (2) fists width apart or stand up straight on your feet. Make sure your knees are comfortable. Offer yourself some compassion. Scan your body and as you notice the places where you are holding discomfort and disease, think to yourself, “I see your suffering/I care about your suffering/May you be free of suffering/May the causes and conditions of your suffering end.”

Adjust your body so that it becomes more comfortable. If needed move through a series of sun salutations changing the back bend with each one so that the back bends are progressive (e.g. cow the first time, sphinx the second time, any cobra the third time, extended cobra or Upward Facing Dog the fourth time.) If needed add a twist before the first set or after the last set. Return to the earlier kneeling position with hips between the knees. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and energetically.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

The standard way to start Camel Pose is to stand up on the knees, giving yourself a little cushion (again with the thighs apart about 2 fists width apart) and bracing the hands at the waist or behind the back. If you are practicing this pose while standing on your feet, start with the standard variation. However, if you are kneeling or seated try the variation with knees and feet 2 fists width apart, but sit back (so hips are grounded on the floor, the chair, or a block) and place the hands on the floor, your feet, or a block. For all variations, gaze is right in front of your eyebrows.

If you are standing on your feet, inhale and lift your heart up and out towards your focal point. As you exhale, move your gaze a little higher up or, once you’re gazing at the ceiling, a little further back. The heart keeps rising as you inhale, opening as you exhale – until you reach a physical limit with your hands still at your back or (if it’s accessible to you) you can walk your hands down a wall into an extreme variation of full wheel (Urdhva Dhanuarasana).

If you are seated and leaning back, take an extra round of breath to extend your spine and then begin lifting your hips towards your focal point as you inhale, ensuring your core is engaged as you exhale. Once you’ve lifted the hips almost over the knees you may hold where you are or start lifting the heart on the inhale and moving the gaze on the exhale (as described above). The hands can stay grounded or move to the low back for support if the hips are stacked over the knees.

In all variations, make sure the neck is long. There is a tendency to drop the head back, over extending the neck, in order to go deeper. This actually compromises the integrity of the pose. Make sure, also, that the hips stay in line with the knees. This pose is prenatal-approved and can be practiced with a wall to support the front of the hips and also with a combination of props behind the hips.

After a few rounds of breath, come into any pose where you can relax and release without strain. Close your eyes and breathe. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One lojang statement says, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” When you feel joy in your experience, cultivate that attitude so that you can feel it for others when they experience good fortune.

Round out your practice with a forward fold that matches the intensity of your back bend. For example, if you felt comfortable in the pose and did not feel you were overexerting, you might take Child’s Pose. If you felt like you were working very hard – but still not overexerting – you might take Child’s Pose or a forward fold with your legs stretched out in front (Paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (Uttanasana). If your back feels strained even after you release the back bend, come into a supine forward fold: either lay on your back with legs lifted up in the air or practice Legs-Up-the-Wall (or on a chair). Remind yourself that each part of your body, and each part of your mind, deserves to be free from suffering.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

Allow your body to relax, release, rest – and breathe. As you settle into Savasana or the final pose of your choice, remember all beings everywhere deserve to be free from suffering.

Want more? Here’s the “Throwback Thursday” link to last year’s profile and practice.

### Dr. Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

ONCE UPON A TIME – 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #2 April 2, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, 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.

***

“Books help us slow down…. Books help us not to rush, books teach us to notice things, and books invite us or even make us sit down for a while.”

– from 2019 International Children’s Book Day message by Kęstutis Kasparavičius (translated from Lithiuanian by Daina Valentinavičienė)

Pretty much everything Kęstutis Kasparavičius wrote about books, in his 2019 International Children’s Book Day message, can be stated about yoga. There’s something that happens when you get on the mat, when you tap into the breath – even when you move with the breath. Like reading, practicing yoga is accepting an invitation to explore.

As someone who loves to read, it is heartbreaking to know that many people around the world (including approximately 43% of adult Americans, in 2003, or approximately 32 million, in 2013) demonstrate a “below basic” (14%) or “basic” (29%) literacy level. There’s no shame in not knowing how to read – and no shame in asking for help to learn or in asking to be assessed – however, not knowing how to read means you miss out on some of the greatest stories, some of the greatest adventures, and some of the greatest learning experiences. Simply put, there can be joy in reading and if you can’t read (or can’t read without frustration) you are missing out on some joy.

Just as I love to read, I love to practice yoga. So, it is equally heartbreaking to know that many people aren’t practicing yoga, because they have had a bad experience with yoga in the past and/or they are unaware of all the different ways yoga can be practiced. Bottom line, yoga is a personal practice and so there is a practice for every person. In fact, since there are over 7.5 billion people in the world there are at least 7.5 billion ways to practice any pose at any given moment. And, there can be joy in the practice.

International Children’s Book Day is celebrated every year on or around April 2nd. This annual celebration of children, books, authors, and illustrators coincides with the anniversary of Hans Christian Andersen’s birthday. Born in 1805, Christian Andersen was the author of short stories, poetry, plays, autobiographical novels, and travelogues. Ironically, he is remembered for the work that was initially overlooked: his children’s fairy tales. It took 10 years and an English translation for Christian Andersen’s fairy tales to be recognized, but ultimately they brought him success, fame, acceptance, and the opportunity to travel and meet writers he admired. Among those writers was Charles Dickens, who – like Christian Andersen – had also grown up without a lot of money and shared a concern for the less fortunate.

Hans Christian Andersen, the author of over 150 fairy tales, was the only son of a shoemaker – who told him stories from Arabian Nights – and an illiterate washerwoman. When his father died, Christian Andersen was 11 years old. Imagine, for a moment, receiving the gift of 1,001 variations of life and then facing the possibility of death stealing that gift. Imagine never having received the gift. How would you view the world, or yourself, without your favorite childhood stories?

FEATURED POSE for April 2nd: Pose Dedicated to the Sage Bharadvaja (Bharadvajasana), aka Stag aka Mermaid

Between the pages of “The Princess and the Pea,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Little Match Girl,” “The Tallow Candle,” The Nightingale,” and over a hundred others, there is inspiration for a whole practice – and not just because of the poses, there are also life lessons and the opportunity for svadyaya (the internal observation of self study). Feel free to play and explore, maybe even get together with your kids and tell one of your favorite stories through the poses, like an interpretive dance.

I picked today’s featured pose, because it can be practiced at the beginning, middle, or end of a practice. Variations of it appear in a variety of practices (including in Pilates) and it can be a prenatal approved twist. It also allows the hips, back, and pelvic floor to tell a very interesting story about how we’re connected. Notice how you feel!

Sit on the floor or in a chair with both sits bones rooted to your supporting surface. If your hips are tight – if there’s compression in your low back and/or hip – sit up on top of something so that your hips are higher than your knees when the ankles are crossed. If you are sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are also grounded. Press down in order to extend up. Spend some time bringing your awareness to the breath. Notice how your body (especially your spine) reacts to the inhale, and then to the exhale.

You can move straight into the featured pose. If, however,  you want more movement in your practice, move through some sun salutations and maybe some standing poses, before practicing the featured pose. If you prefer less movement, but have really tight hips, practice a Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana) and any form of squat before the featured pose. All of the above may be practiced in a chair.

When you’re ready to practice the featured pose, hug your knees into your chest on an exhale. Take a deep breath in and separate your knees about as far apart as your hips or your mat. On an exhale drop the knees to the right so that the right foot is next to the left thigh. Right hip and thigh are externally rotated; left hip and thigh are internally rotated. Adjust the legs as needed so that the knees are comfortable and the hips are grounded. If you are in a chair, you might need to bring closer together and then tip them to the right. If the left knee is uncomfortable, you can always extend the knee. If you are leaning into one hip more than the other, place something under the grounded hip (unless you are practicing Soma Yoga’s Lighthouse and then there may be a slight lift). If you want more for the hips, place the right foot on top of the left thigh, close to the left hip. Again, make sure the knees are at ease.

Cup the knees with the hands and move through a seated cat/cow: Lifting the heart up on the inhale and curling into yourself on the exhale. Start the movement in the base of the spine – so that you explore the full range of motion in your hips and core.

After 5 – 7 rounds of breath, rotate your upper body to the right. Place your right hand behind your hips, for support or reach for your left hip. If the right foot is on top of the left thigh, see if you can hold the right big toe with right peace fingers. Left hand cups the right knee. Breathe here for 5 – 7 rounds of breath or set a timer and hold the twist for a couple of minutes.

From the twist, you can lower the upper body over the right thigh or (if it’s accessible) rotate the upper body so you can see the space behind your back and then fold, belly down. Another option, instead of the forward fold, is to bring the up body more to center – but while still holding the right knee with the left hand – and reach the right arm over the right ear, towards your left side. Pull the arms away from each other as you inhale (right arm up, left arm down) and rotate your heart and gaze up towards the lifted arm. After 5 – 7 rounds of breath, release to center and hug the knees in. After a few moments, repeat the pose of the left side.

Finish your practice with the heart opener / back bend of your choice, followed by Savasana – or “the Princess in the Pea (after the pea is removed)” Pose. Feel free to substitute a different final pose, but definitely give yourself at least 2 minutes relaxing in stillness.

Here’s some music if you choose the sun salutation route! Are you sure it’s “Just look at the world around you / Right here on the ocean floor” vs “Right here in your pelvic floor?”

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