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Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

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

 

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

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

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

Sunday Stillness March 29, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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person kneeling inside building

Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

“Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an alter
Of wood in a stone church”

– from “Kneeling” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

From the very moment we are born, we are moving towards stillness. Since the practice is a reflection of life (and “how we do yoga is how we do life”), it makes sense that the moment we hit the mat…we are moving towards stillness. Savasana, the seat of the corpse or Dead Man’s Pose, is the peak pose for almost every practice – even when it is not advertised as such – and despite the t-shirts, it is the pose that most often gets skipped (or shorted).

So, what are we missing?

To find out what we’re missing, let’s very intentionally and very deliberately move towards stillness. Join me on the Zoom mat, Sunday at 2:30 PM for a 65-minute practice featuring the poetry of R. S. Thomas (b. 3/29/1913), a man once described as ” a poet of…the unanswered prayer, the bleak trek through darkness….”

Sunday’s playlist is already posted on Spotify and will be available on my YouTube channel. If you’re interested in the inspiration behind the music, check out this Kiss My Asana post from 2019.

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

FLASHBACK FRIDAY!! March 27, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SATURDAY 12:00 – 1:30 PM (Nokomis)

SUNDAY 2:30 – 3:30 PM (Nokomis)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

So Many Birthdays, So Many Stories, So Much Music… March 22, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post contains a link for “Save with Stories” – a partnership with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. You’ll find the link in the sentence (below), “Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.”

Maty Ezraty, a yoga teacher of teachers, who died last summer, once told a teacher, “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)”

Take a moment to go little deeper into the middle of your story, because that’s where we are: the middle of our stories.

People often tell me (as someone told me just this weekend) that one of the things they like about my classes is the story, as well as the way the poses and the music tell the story. The practice is always a way to tell our stories. It is also a way to process our stories, every time we inhale, every time we exhale. As I was reviewing Sunday’s playlist (March 22nd), I realized it not only tells the stories of some great storytellers celebrating birthdays today (as I intended) and is a way to process our current life-plot (as I intended), it also reflects my story as a lover of stories.

James Patterson (b. 1947, in Newburgh, NY), is a bestselling novelist and children’s book author whose books can always be found in my parents bookshelves. Doesn’t matter if it is mystery, suspense, romance, or science, Patterson keeps you in the moment and keeps a Chekhovian promise (which we’ll get to in the end). One of his protagonists is a 12-year old orphan named Max Einstein. Like her namesake, this Einstein is a genius with wild (in her case red) curly hair. She is told that her story combined with her emotional and intellectual quotients are why she is considered the world’s “last great hope.” Patterson wrote, “If we are to help save the human race, we must recognize the humanity in all, no matter their station in life.”

For his part, Patterson has donated over 300 million books to school-aged children and the military, over $70 million to support education, and endowed over 5,000 scholarships for teachers.

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930, in New York City, NY) is a legendary musical theater composer and lyrics, as well as an award-winning film composer. He has won 8 Tony Awards (more than any other composer), 8 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and was awarded a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In all my time working in theater, I can’t say that I ever worked on any of Sondheim’s musicals (or the musicals of our final birthday composer), but I’ve seen my fair share of both their works – and can definitely sing along.

Also born in New York City, NY, in 1941, poet Billy Collins has been called “The most popular poet in America” and has served as United States Poet Laureate (2001 – 2003) and New York State Poet (2004 – 2006). Collins considers “humor a doorway into the serious” and begins his poem “Picnic, Lightning” by quoting Vladimir Nabokov. In Lolita, the protagonist says, “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning)…”

The poem’s title is also the title of a collection of poems which my friend Mimi gave me in a moment when I was overwhelmed by grief. Fast forward almost a decade and, as if in a poem, I was dancing with Billy Collins on Nicollet Island and giving him a piece of Collins-inspired poetry. Even now, I can feel it…I can feel it…the joy of the moment, the joy of being alive; which fits in with his secret theory.

In a 2001 interview with The Paris Review, Billy Collins said, “I have a secret theory that people who are addicted to reading are almost trying to recreate the joy, the comfortable joy of being read to as a child…. Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.

Our final birthday storyteller is Baron Lloyd-Webber, or more properly styled, The Lord Lloyd-Webber…better known as the EGOT Andrew Lloyd Webber (no hyphen). Born today in 1948 (in Kensington, London), he has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, 2 film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He is an EGOT because he has won an Emmy Award, 4 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award (Oscar), and 7 Tony Awards – as well as 8 Laurence Olivier Awards and a plethora of other awards.

And now, back to that Chekhovian promise.

It was Anton Chekov who said that if there is a rifle (or a pistol) hanging on the wall in the first chapter/act, it must go off in the second or third. He told another playwright, “It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

Whenever we step on the mat, there’s a part of us that is making a promise. Whenever, I put together a sequence there’s a part of me that thinks about that promise, as well as about that second Sondheim song (“Putting it together…bit by bit…piece by piece”) and Maty Ezraty’s sequencing advice about the middle (the heart) of the story. I consider how can I build up to a big heart opener and how we each need to process our own personal story in order to not only lift and open our hearts, but to also support our lifted and open hearts – especially in a time when it is so easy to close off.

Maty Ezraty said, “Practicing yoga is a privilege. And with this privilege comes a duty to be kind, to share a smile, and to offer yoga from the mat into the rest of your life.”

Here’s a mini-practice (5 minutes) which you can use it as your whole practice as the beginning/introduction portion of your practice and finish with a deeper back bend (even if it’s the same back bend – just with more awareness, more breath, and more smile.

 

### NAMASTE ###

Happy First Friday of Spring! March 20, 2020

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

– from God’s Silence by Franz Wright

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silence.

Perhaps, God’s silence.

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

 

###

A Prize-Winning Solution March 18, 2020

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

– Franz Wright

 

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

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

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

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

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

PRACTICE NOTES:

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

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

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

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

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

 

– from “Nude with Handgun and Rosary by Franz Wright

 

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

 

 

Seeing Clearly Now (or New Vision for a New Year) December 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

– “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The filmmaker Billy Wilder famously said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Wilder’s statement relies on the idea that 20-20 is perfect vision  and implies that stepping back gives us the perspective to see things more clearly because we take in the bigger picture. In other words, once we see the pattern and how everything fits together as a whole, we gain an understanding of the parts. It’s like understanding a word’s meaning when it’s used in a sentence.  Context is everything. Or is it? After all, if we start off with an incorrect understanding of past events, the pattern that emerges is still slightly off. We may see ourselves and our situation better than we did when we were in the middle of everything, but seeing things better doesn’t mean we see them perfectly.

As someone in the United States who has worn glasses for most of my life, I am very familiar with the idea that 20/20 vision is perfect vision (and the experience of feeling like you’re seeing a brand new world when you get new glasses). However, the reality is that that particular gold standard is not only not perfect vision; it’s not even the best vision. 20/20 vision – what is considered normal or average vision is, by definition, what is clearly or sharply seen at 20 feet by the so-called average person.  If you have your eyes examined and the second number is higher than 20 (let’s say, 89) than that higher number means you would have to be 20 feet away from something to see it with the same clarity that someone else (someone with “normal” eyesight) sees clearly from a distance of 89 feet.  On the flip side, someone with 20/2 vision has the eyesight of an eagle and can sharply see something from 20 feet away that mere mortals can only see clearly from 2 feet. While 20/2 vision may seem unlikely in a human, there are definitely people with 20/10 vision. (And, also, there are people with 20/8.)

I say all of this just to point out that, as we enter a new year and a new decade that lends itself to people talking about vision and insight, don’t get too caught up in the metaphor of seeing better in the year ahead just because it’s 20/20. It’s an imperfect metaphor. And, if you insist on using it – for political reasons – keep in mind that we had better “vision” in 2008. (But, that’s another story for another day.) The point I’m making here is that what we really need is more clarity and more insight.

“I think I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day”

– Hothouse Flowers cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

The Sanskrit word “vipassana” is often translated into English as “insight.” A more literal translation is “to see in a special way.” The practice is not just about stepping back; it’s also about letting go. Paying attention to your breath while simultaneously observing your thoughts and physical sensations creates the opportunity to experience everything without getting attached to anything. It’s a bit like riding a motorcycle through your life. As Robert Pirsig describes it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  / On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Like vipassana, the Sanskrit word “vinyasa” (“to place in a special way”) refers to a technique as well as to a style or tradition. The most classical example of vinyasa is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), which is 12 asanas (seats or poses) linked to the breath. Each pose is an exaggeration of the spine’s natural inclination – to extend on the inhale and to flex on the exhale. Practicing a few Sun Salutations at the beginning of a practice is a little like getting in a car to go somewhere specific. The more Sun Salutations you do, the more it feels like a road trip. If, however, you’re only practicing 5 or 10 Sun Salutations (every once in a while), you’re still traveling in the car. Practice 108…now you’re traveling long distance on a cycle. And, yes, that means you have to do your own maintenance. It also means you have to let go of some baggage.

 “But our mistakes also carry our largest lessons. I’m wiser now. I guess the real trick in life is to turn hindsight into foresight that reveals insight.”

 

“Nice way to put it, Cal. What I really hear you saying is that it’s important in life to let our past serve us. Is that right?”

 

“Very well put. That’s it exactly. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – that’s how human beings grow. We’re designed to make mistakes, for mistakes carry growth. We just shouldn’t keep repeating the same one. Turn a wound into wisdom, or, as you said, let your past serve you.”

– Cal and Jack in The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO by Robert Sharma

Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a great way to mark a transition, like the end of a year and/or the end of the decade. While it is a tradition for some to practice the ajapa-japa mala (repeat-remember garland) for a solstice and equinox, many people also practice at the beginning of a new year. My 2020 mala, as well as my Yin Yoga + Meditation, practices are full. However, if you are looking for clarity and insight in this New Year and new decade consider practicing on your own or joining one of the following*:

Tuesday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Common Ground Meditation Center Potluck

7:30 PM – 12:00 AM, Joy Fest (Kirtan) at Saint Paul Yoga Center

Wednesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Beginnings (vinyasa) with Mike, Minnehaha Yoga

AM – PM, Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga

11:00 AM – 1:45 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Tracy Vacura & live Cello music by Emily Dantama, Yoga Sanctuary

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Revolution 2020: Reflect, Release, and Manifest Your Dreams with Drew Sambol, Radiant Life Yoga

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM, Finding Balance in the New Year with Pam, Minnehaha Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Chance York, One Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2020 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, New Year’s Day Kundalini with Nicole Nardone, One Yoga

2:10 PM – 3:40 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Restorative with Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

Friday, January 3rd:

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

Saturday, Januray 4th:

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Post Holiday Total Restoration With Essential Oils with Moya Matthews, Yoga Center Retreat

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Cultivation – Vision Board with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

*NOTE: Reservations are generally required for these events. My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event not listed.

 

The original, by Johnny Nash, which I love because it feels happy, like a blue sky day!

 

The cover, by Hothouse Flowers, which I love because it feels like the storm just ended and you’re taking the deepest breath of petrichor you’ve taken all day!

### HAPPY NEW YEAR ###

 

MOVING INTO STILLNESS: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #18 (for Day 29) April 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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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 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.                               

***

“Movement is a language spoken by us all. Movement is a universal language that belongs to everybody If only we open our senses and listen. Listening is what is required, listening without interference, listening without judgment, listening in silence and allowing the movement to pass through the body in the moment, because everything inside us and around us is in motion, constant motion. This is when the body doesn’t lie because it is listening to its truth and manifesting it.”

– excerpt from Karima Monsour’s message for 2019 International Dance Day

“….Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart.  All through history”

– from “The Other View from the Window” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

It may seem odd, to some, that on International Dance Day (4/29) I was thinking about stillness – and silence. The thing is, as a yoga teacher and practitioner who likes to keep things in context, I am hyper aware that the physical practice of yoga is traditionally a way to prepare the mind-body for stillness and silence. Not for nothing that Patanjali defined yoga as “citta vritti nirodaha” (ceasing the fluctuations of the mind). Also remember, the practice is a mirror of our lives and we are, from the moment we are born, moving towards stillness. In that context, our “final pose” is always our peak pose.

Yes, yes, I know – the “final pose” is the pose that people routinely skip or that teachers (myself included) sometimes give the least amount of time. And yet, the “final pose” is the most important pose; it is the time when the mind-body has an opportunity to absorb and process the work/effort of the practice. It is when we rest, when the parasympathetic nervous system is paramount, that we digest. We digest what we consume physically – in terms of food, drink, air, etc. – and also what we consume through experience. The parasympathetic nervous system is also associated with creation.

“For the first twenty years you are still growing,
Bodily that is; as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It’s the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.”

– from “To a Young Poet” by R. S. Thomas*

 

“early April
out in my bathrobe
and gardening boots”

– Hilary Tann

 

 

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest whose poetry is often compared to the landscape of Wales and the work ethic of the Welsh people. He was born March 29, 1913 – so, not an April poet to the date, but the timing of his birthday does get me thinking about poetry and poets at their essence.

Hilary Tann was born November 2, 1947 – so not an April poet either. But, she is a Welsh-born composer who lives and teaches in Upstate New York. In 2015, Tann released a composition set to seven (7) of Thomas’s poems. The music manages to capture the essence of the poems – as well as the poet. Perhaps it helps that Tann is also a published haiku poet who has been inspired by the same natural elements as Thomas. It definitely doesn’t hurt that Thomas himself recites the poems. But regardless of why it works, practicing to Seven Poems of Stillness is like practicing in an empty, abandoned cathedral with the wind carrying in a voice and notes that seem to echo one another. When one ends and the other begins you might question that you ever heard the other: it is as if they are one and the same.

“There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl
calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away.”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

Above I placed the words “final pose” in quotes, because although I often refer to Savasana (or its modification) as the final pose, the truth is it’s really the penultimate pose: Every practice inevitably ends not with Savasana, but with a seated (on your sits-bones) pose. The physical practice ends where the breathing practice and the seated meditation practice begin.

“…It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in
the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and
falling”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

FEATURED POSE for April 29th: Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) or Hero Pose (Virasana)

As I mentioned in this year’s April 8th offering, seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”) in Zen Buddhism is a kneeling position. It places the body in a similar position to one the body is in when kneeling on a kneeler in a church pew or at a prie-dieu (literally “pray to God”) desk. It is one of the few poses not contraindicated by a full stomach and is prenatal approved. With modifications, these poses are accessible to almost anyone. (The big exception to practice these poses would be certain – but not all – knee issues.)

The big differences between Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) and Hero Pose (Virasana) are the placement of the knees and feet, which in turn affects the placement of the hips. For Thunderbolt Pose, both the feet and the knees are pressed together. For Hero Pose, the knees touch, but the feet (and shins) are spread wider than the hips. If you have tight quads, tight hips, and or knee issues, you will need props for these poses. Helpful props for Thunderbolt and Hero include a bench, meditation cushion, blankets, and/or blocks. You do not necessarily need all of these – and you can definitely get creative with common household objects instead of using “yoga props.” If you feel these poses are not for you, even with props, you can practice by sitting in a chair.

To come into either pose, start on your hands and knees, with your toes pointed away from the knees. You’ll either bring your knees and feet together, for Thunderbolt, or bring your knees together and spread your feet apart, for Hero. (Note, the position of the knees and feet is the opposite of the Auspicious Pose described in the April 8th offering.) For Thunderbolt, sit on the heels. For Hero Pose, sit in the space between the heels. If the hips don’t touch the ground in Hero Pose, place a prop underneath the hips. In both poses, you want the hips grounded. If the ankles are uncomfortable (in either pose), place a rolled up blanket, towel, or shirt (even socks) under the ankles and feet. Another ankle option (for Thunderbolt only) is to curl the toes under so that the toes point towards the knees. If there is too much pressure on the knees (in either pose) place rolled up blankets, towels, or shirts between the hips and the shins/heels.

Once you’re seated in the pose, spread the toes and press down into your foundation in order to extend the spine. Ribs and hips are reaching away from each other. Engage your pelvic floor and your core. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Hands rest on the thighs, with palms up if you want a little energy or palms down if you want to be grounded. With the chin parallel to your legs, close your eyes if that is comfortable for you. Listen to at least one (1) of the Seven Poems of Stillness.

Each track of Seven Poems of Stillness is 2:25 – 4.36 minutes long. The entire composition is 24:53 – which is a pretty nice length for a seated meditation. Whenever you feel like you’re done with the pose, lean forward and ease out of the pose. Take a moment to stretch out your legs, maybe rotate your ankles or flex and point your toes. If you are practicing both poses, start with Thunderbolt.

“Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an alter
Of wood in a stone church”

– from “Kneeling” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

(*NOTE: To a Young Poet is not one of the seven featured “stillness” poems, but as a little something extra, here’s a beautiful variation of it.)

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #17 (on Day 28) April 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Poetry, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.
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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 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.

***

What I’ve seen in my lifetime –

and in the last few days, weeks, years

is that us human beings:

                                                We’re capable of anything.

We are full

                                                   of possibilities.

BIG possibilities…and little possibilities

Great acts of LOVE / great acts of hate

We can CREATE. Or destroy.

It’s all the same energy – I think /

it’s all about how we CHANNEL it.

It’s a choice. &

                                           To choose PEACE requires WISDOM.

– MKR, April 2019

 

April is one of my favorite months – not because of the weather, the coming flowers, or even because of the opportunity to Kiss My Asana. (Although, let’s be real, Kiss My Asana in April does make April rock!) No, I love April because ever since 1996, April is National Poetry Month. Organized by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry…all poetry…every kind of poetry, and every kind of poet. The organizers say, “[I]t has become largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.”

If you go to poets.org (see link above), you will find official events, poems, and opportunities to read, write, and share poems. They actually have a list of “30 more ways to celebrate” – which means you could celebrate poetry every day, possibly in more than one way.

Over the years, I’ve celebrated poetry month in different ways. One of my favorite ways to celebrate combines my love of poetry with my love of music and yoga: a poetry-themed yoga class featuring music inspired by poems. Depending on when Easter and Passover fall, I can sometimes offer (at least) one poetry celebration for all of the classes I teach. Sometimes it’s an “April is Poetry Month” class, featuring a playlist of different music and poets. Other times, if a poet’s birthday falls in April, the class only features music related to the birthday poet and/or their poetry. (But, let’s be real, I do birthday poets all year long!)

As we finish out the 6th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon and another April full of poetry, I’m going to finish up my online offerings with some of my poetry playlists. First up: “April is Poetry Month.” (This is an extend playlist featuring poems set to music and songs that sample poems. Psalm 23 as the music for Savasana.)

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Spend a moment in stillness. You can be in any pose; however, you want to make sure you are comfortable and that your spine is extended and that you feel balanced on the left and right side of your spine. Notice how the vertebrae of the spine stack one on top of the other. Check in with your breath. Begin to extend as you inhale and engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. So that your inhale creates space and your exhale supports that created space. Make sure you’re not slumping on the exhale. No matter your position, roll the shoulders down and back – squeezing the shoulder blades together – and notice how that affects the front of your chest. Let your mind settle into your heart, knowing that wisdom is a heart practice.

You can warm-up the spine with Cat/Cow or Cat/Puppy. Moving one-breath-one-movement, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine rounds (flexes) on the exhale for Cat/Cow. For Cat/Puppy, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine stays long as you flex at your hips and sink the hips to the heels on the exhale. This warm-up can be done in a seated position, a standing position, or on hands and knees.

To move into Cobra Pose (literally “seat of the snake”), you need to lie down flat on your belly. This is not a prenatal friendly position. If you are pregnant, you could modify Cobra Pose by placing a bolster or blankets underneath the thighs (ensuring that your baby-belly is not compressed). Other options include standing and using the wall as you would use the floor (again, not compressing the baby-belly) or picking a different back bend (like Camel or Cow). Whichever choice you make, you always want to be mindful with back bends so that you do not hyper-extend the belly.

Once you are on your belly (or have arranged props for a prenatal variation), straighten out the legs and point the toes behind you. Place the hands directly under the shoulders – so the elbows bend back and squeeze in like grasshopper legs. Make sure the elbows are behind the back, not squeezing into the ribs. (NOTE: There is a “Baby Cobra” variation in some styles of yoga where the hands are in front of the shoulders. However, that is not the variation I am describing.) From toes to hips, squeeze the legs together as you inhale. Engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. Next time you inhale, press the feet, the pubic bone, and the hands down in order to lift the heart and ribs off the mat. Look up, but do not over extend your neck. Make this pose a poem about your foundation and your core – not a poem about the strength of your arms.

Roll the shoulders down and back to push the heart forward. Make sure you are not compressing your low back. Keep breathing. After about 6 breaths, exhale and lower down to your prep position.

Once you have the basic shape and engagement, there are lots of possibilities. You can practice Cobra Pose with your arms hovering off the mat or you could isometrically engage the arms and pull your heart forward by engaging your arms as if you are lying on a skateboard and propelling your body forward. This will be isometric engagement, because the arms engage as if you are moving, but your arms don’t move. Another option is to extend your cobra: Press down and lift up until the arms straighten. Again, shoulders are down and back, hands are under the shoulders even when you extend. Keep the front hip bones on the mat even if you extend your Cobra Pose.

If you want to practice Cobra with some movement, “Bowing Cobra” can be done with the nose and forehead lowering straight down on the exhale (and then inhale to lift back up) or turn your head to one side when you exhale. If you turn your head on the exhale, lift back up to center on the inhale and then turn the opposite cheek to the mat on the exhale. A “Writhing Cobra” is similar to a “Bowing Cobra” except that you start with your head turned so that right cheek is on the mat and as you inhale you look up and lift up on the left, move your head/eyes from left to right during the same inhale so that you lower down on the right side when you exhale. During the exhale, your head/eyes complete the circle so that you end up lifting up on the left when you inhale. After 3 – 5 circles, reverse the circles and writhe in the other direction.

Once you finish practicing Cobra Pose, move into Child’s Pose or Puppy Dog. If you want to stay off of your knees, you can lie on your back with legs stretched out of knees hugging into your chest.  After a few breaths, finish with Corpse Pose (Savasana) or return to your starting pose – sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying on your back or belly. Scan your body and settle into your breath.

 

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