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Down the Rabbit Hole, on April 12th April 12, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing.
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PLEASE NOTE: This post involves a theoretical discussion on non-COVID related death.”

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“People ask me how I find hope. I answer that I don’t believe in hope, and I don’t believe in hopelessness. I believe in compassion and pragmatism, in doing what is right for its own sake. Hope can be lethal when you are fighting an autocracy because hope is inextricable from time. An enduring strategy of autocrats is to simply run out the clock.”

– from Hiding in Plain Sight by Sarah Kendzior

 

 

“As spring is nature’s season of hope, so Easter is the Church’s season of hope. Hope is an active virtue. It’s more than wishful thinking….. My hope in the Resurrection is not an idle hope like wishing for good weather but an active hope. It requires something on my part – work. Salvation is a gift from God for which I hope, but Saint Paul told the Philippians to ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ (2:12). My hope in the resurrection and eternal life in heaven requires work on my part.”

– from A Year of Daily Offerings by Rev. James Kubicki

 

Serendipitously, I received two texts from the same Austin suburb last night. One was from a friend, sharing the quote above. The other was from my brother, asking why people were celebrating the same thing at different times. The quote sharpened my focus. The question brings me to you.

Even though he didn’t ask the question in an all encompassing way, I am going to answer his question here in a broader sense, and in a pretty basic way. On Sunday, April 12th, Western Christians are celebrating Easter, Orthodox Christians are celebrating Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), the Jewish community is observing Passover and there are some people in the world celebrating both Easter (or Palm Sunday) and Passover. When you consider that this observations and celebrations are occurring all over the world – and keep in mind different time zone – it can get really confusing. Hence my brothers question.

As you remember, Passover is a commemoration of the Exodus story, which is the story of the Jewish people being freed from slavery in Egypt. The Jewish liturgical calendar is lunar-based and therefore Passover happens at a slightly different time each year on the Gregorian (i.e., secular) calendar. According to all four canonical Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus spent the last week of his life preparing for Passover (and what he knew was coming in terms of the Crucifixion and Resurrection). Three of the four indicate that what Christians (and artists) refer to as the “Last Supper” was actually a Passover Seder – so we are back to a lunar calendar, although it’s a different lunar calendar. Orthodox Christians operate under the old-school Julian calendar, so now we have a third timeline.

Just to add a little spice to the mix, consider that, dogmatically speaking, the concept of a Messiah originates within Judaism and includes specific qualifications for how the Messiah would be identified. According to the Christian paradigm, Jesus meets the qualifications. According to most Jews, he does not. Most modern Christians focus exclusively on the New Testament and observe holy times accordingly. Some Christians, however, also follow the observations commanded in Deuteronomy and Leviticus.

Got it? Be honest. If you need a scorecard, I’m happy to provide one – especially since I’m about to go down the (metaphorical) rabbit hole.

Whenever I think about Easter, the waiting that happens on the Sunday between Good Friday and Easter, and the moment when the rock is rolled away to reveal the empty tomb, I think of one thing: Wigner’s friend taking care of Schrödinger’s Cat.

For those of you not familiar with physicist Erwin Schrödinger’s thought experiment (or paradox), it goes like this. The (imaginary) cat is closed up in a box with an unstable radioactive element that has a 50-50 chance of killing the cat before the box is opened. According to quantum mechanics, there is a moment when the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. This is called superposition and it could be considered the scientific equivalent of non-duality. When the box is opened, revealing the state of the cat, the superposition collapses into a single reality. (There is also the possibility that opening the box changes the percentage, but that’s a whole different tunnel.)

Physicist Eugene Wigner took things a bit farther by adding a friend. According to the Wigner’s thought experiment, instead of doing the experiment, the scientist leaves it all in the hands of a friend and waits for a report. Now, there is the superposition inside of the box and there is a separate superposition inside the lab, which means the wave (or superposition) collapses into a single reality when the box is opened (creating reality as the friend knows it) and collapses again when the (imaginary) friend reports to the scientist (establishing the original scientist’s reality). Let’s not even get into what happens if the friend opens the box and leaves the lab without reporting back to the original scientist, but has a certain expectation – i.e., understanding of reality – about what the scientist will find in the lab. Through it all, the cat exists (and ceases to exist) within its own reality. It never experiences the superposition others experience. It just is.

That state of being, existing, takes us back to Passover, and eventually to the Resurrection of Jesus.

“’And know also, Arjuna, that as the Divinity in all creatures and all nature, I am birthless and deathless. And yet, from time to time I manifest Myself in worldly form and live what seems an earthly life. I may appear human but that is only my “mya” (power of illusion), because in truth I am beyond humankind; I just consort with nature, which is Mine.’”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:6), by Jack Hawley

 

“And He said, ‘For I will be with you, and this is the sign for you that it was I Who sent you. When you take the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’”

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:12

 

“God said to Moses, ‘Ehyeh asher ehyeh (I will be what I will be),’ and He said, ‘So shall you say to the children of Israel, “Ehyeh (I will be) has sent me to you.’””

 

– Shemot / Exodus 3:14

In the Exodus story, the Jewish people are slaves in Egypt and G-d commands Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand they be released. Moses takes his brother Aaron along and then, when their show of power doesn’t convince Pharaoh of the authority of G-d, everyone is subject to nine plagues: blood, frogs, lice, wild beasts in the streets, pestilence, boils, hail, locusts, and day(s) of darkness. Remember it’s not only Pharaoh and the Egyptians who suffer. The Jews, who are already suffering the hardship of slavery, also have to endure these additional hardships. On the evening of the tenth plague, the death of the first born male child, the Jewish families are told they are to smear lambs blood on their doors – so their households will be passed over. They are also commanded to celebrate and give thanks for their freedom – even though they are still slaves.

Yes, it is a little mind boggling, but what passes as the first Passover Seder happens in Egypt and during a time of slavery. Considering Pharaoh had changed his mind before, they had no way of knowing (with any certainty) that they would be freed immediately after the tenth plague. See where this is going? In that moment, the Jewish people are simultaneously free and not free.

Furthermore, Rabbi David Fohrman, quoting Shlomo Yitzchaki, the medieval French rabbi known as Rashi, points out that when G­-d initial speaks to Moses and Moses asks for G-d’s identity, Moses is told three times that the One who speaks is the One who will be with Moses and the Jewish people always. Regardless of what they are experiencing, Rashi explains, G-d will be with them. This is the very definition of compassion, which literally means “to suffer with.”

“’Whenever goodness and “dharma” (right action) weaken and evil grows stronger, I make Myself a body. I do this to uplift and transform society, reestablish the balance of goodness over wickedness, explain the sublime plan and purpose of life, and serve as the model for others to follow. I come age after age in times of spiritual and moral crisis for this purpose.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:7-8), by Jack Hawley

Jesus (during his time), and future Christians, are kind of in the same boat. In the last week of his life, he is betrayed, crucified, dead, buried, and resurrected – and he simultaneously is not. However, most of that is semantics. What is critical is the dead/buried, and resurrected part. In those moments, even right after the tomb is opened and there is some confusion about what has happened, Jesus is essentially Schrödinger’s Cat – and Christians, as well as non-believers, are either the original scientist or the friend.

Yet, when everything is said and done (stay with me here), this is all head stuff. What people are observing, commemorating, and/or celebrating right now, isn’t really about the head. Faith never is. It’s all about the heart. It’s all about love. Specifically, in these examples, it all comes back to G-d’s love expressed as compassion.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

 

– John 3:16 (NIV)

 

“’Strange? Yes. It is difficult for most people to comprehend that the Supreme Divinity is actually moving about in human form. But for those few who dare to learn the secret that is I, Divinity, who is the Operator within them, their own Self, My coming in human form is a rare opportunity to free themselves from the erroneous belief that they are their bodies.’”

 

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (4:9), by Jack Hawley

Please join me today (April 12th) for my first every Easter Sunday service/practice, 2:30 PM – 3:35 PM, on Zoom. Some of the new security protocols are definitely kicking in so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. The playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

 

yin yang design 2

A LITTLE YIN… & A LOTTA YANG

For more ways you can practice pragmatism and self-compassion, please join me and a special guest for “Lung Health and How We Cope Right Now ((viewing COVID-19 through Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga),”  a discussion on the importance of the lungs in our overall wellbeing as well as how to just friggin’ cope right now. The conversation will include a brief overview of Traditional Chinese Medicine and YIN Yoga, as well as a brief Q&A followed by a little YIN Yoga.

If you are struggling with your physical or mental health, if you’ve always been curious about “alternative” medicine, and/or if you are missing your yoga practice, this special one hour event is for you. Please join us on YouTube, Wednesday, April 15th, 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM,

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana!

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Kissing My Asana is pragmatic and compassionate!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 12th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 12th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 12th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 12th Practice

 

AMEN, SELAH ###

The Virtue of Patience April 11, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 7-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Lent, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Science, Suffering, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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PATI [Latin, “suffer” > Late Latin, passio > Old French …> Middle English, PASSION]

PATI [Latin, “suffer”> Latin, patientia, “suffering”> Old French…> Middle English, PATIENCE]

– Etymology (the origin and meaning history) of the words “passion” and “patience”

Ask almost anyone, their family, and their friends if the original person is patient and you will often receive very divergent answers. There are people who cultivate patience, people who practice patience, and people who seem naturally patient. Then there’s everyone else. Or so it seems. The truth, when it comes to patience can be a little more nuanced than a single answer. It turns out we have different definitions / understandings of patience. Furthermore, our ability to be patient has as much (maybe more) to do with our situation (not to mention our neurobiology and perspective) than with our personality or habits.

Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in the brain that sustains healthy brain and nerve function. Although it is a neurotransmitter, which helps relay signals in the brain, 90% of a person’s serotonin supply is found in the digestive track and in blood platelets. Too much or too little can affect our brain function (especially memory and learning), our overall mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and (on a certain level) engagement with the world. Too much or too little serotonin can adversely affect our cardiovascular system, muscles, endocrine system, and digestive system.

Studies indicate that next time you’re “hangry,” instead of blaming the person (or situation) pushing your buttons, you could blame your serotonin levels. You could also, however, consider your expectations.

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Christopher Bergland described McDonald’s struggling with the “patience effect” when drive-thru customers didn’t realize their longer wait time was resulting in a higher quality burger. He also pointed out how Heinz struggled with people being irritated by how long it took ketchup to come out of an old-fashioned glass bottle back in the 70’s. Neither company changed their process. Instead, both companies overcame their issues with ad campaigns that changed customers’ expectations and, in the process, customers’ patience.

“Mice in a lab aren’t much different than humans waiting at the drive-thru or for ketchup to dispense from an old glass bottle. In a recent experiment, researchers pinpointed the role that serotonin plays in “the patience effect” depending on the confidence a mouse has that it’s worth waiting a few extra seconds for a delayed food reward…. the researchers found that stimulating serotonin production made the mice willing to wait for a food reward if they knew there was at least a 75% chance of being fed after waiting a maximum of 10 seconds. When the odds of receiving the food reward slipped below this threshold, serotonin failed to increase patience. ‘The patience effect only works when the mouse thinks there is a high probability of reward,’ [ Dr. Katsuhiko] Miyazaki said in a statement.

The main takeaway from this research is that the link between serotonin levels and subsequent behavior appears to be highly dependent on a mouse’s subjective confidence in an expected outcome.”

– Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist

 

Much of what’s happening in the world right now results in experiences that feel like our serotonin levels are out of whack. And that’s not a coincidence – especially when you consider the role emotional and social support play in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. To add insult to injury, unlike the people in the drive-thru, the people with the old-fashioned ketchup bottle, or the mice, we have no real expectations of when our patience will be rewarded. So, frustration – and suffering – increases.

Once again, we are caught in a feedback loop; because, studies show negative thought patterns, hostility, and irritability result in decreased health (including serotonin levels), which in turn causes us to experience an increase in negative thoughts, hostility, and irritability. There is hope, however.

Dr. Simon N Young, in 2007 Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article reviewing neuroscience research, pointed out “alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism” and hypothesized that it could also increase serotonin levels, He also highlighted the fact that exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) and bright lights can increase serotonin levels. Finally, he pointed to a third and fourth “strategy” for increasing serotonin levels: exercise and diet.

Four ways, right here, that you can do today!

  1. cultivate positive thoughts (maybe through meditation, hint, hint);
  2. step into the bright lights, baby;
  3. exercise (yoga, anyone?);
  4. and be mindful of what you eat.

If you’re available, please join me today (Saturday, April 11th), Noon – 1:30 PM for a live yoga practice on Zoom. The “04112020 LSPW” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. My only request is that you let go of some expectations.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, regular loving-kindness meditation can improve your mood (hint, hint below). This type of Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute prior to the pandemic. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana – and a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

Founded by Matthew Sanford, Mind Body Solutions helps those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. They provide classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana!

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

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 11th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 11th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 11th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 11th Practice

### BE WELL ###

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 ###

We Interrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Life…. March 13, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Faith, Fitness, Food, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Mantra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“Life is like stepping into a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink.”

– Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

 

Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do. However, all of that can change in the next moment – because that’s life; as long as we are alive everything changes.

(Say that first part with me: Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do.)

Right now, we are all on a sinking boat. There’s a chance we’re close to shore and can touch bottom and there’s also a chance we are way out to sea, but no one knows for sure. Some folks are screaming and jumping into what might be shark infested waters. Some folks are sitting back pretending like nothing is happening. There are folks frantically trying to bail out the water. Still others are putting on their life jackets and preservers and inflating their life boats. Bottom line: The boat is still sinking.

“The transcripts of our conversation also show how Patrick’s choice of phrasing was helpful to me. Rather than telling me what airport I had to aim for, he asked me what airport I wanted. His words let me know that he understood that these hard choices were mine to make, and it wasn’t going to help if he tried to dictate a plan to me.”

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

Some people, most people, will survive and it is up to each and every one of us to do what we can do to increase the possibility of survival. In accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and Yoga Alliance, consider doing the following:

  1. Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds (or use appropriate hand sanitizer for 20 seconds).
  2. Clean mats, props, and gym equipment (as well as desks, phones, and door handles) frequently.
    1. If you’re using a studio/gym mat or other equipment, clean it before and after usage.
    2. If you don’t already own and use one, consider buying your own mat and/or purchasing a skidless yoga “towel” you can place over a studio mat.
    3. Cover props with a towel, bring your own props, or (when appropriate) reduce your props.
  3. Space and stagger your mats if you are coming to a group class. Take a deep breath if a class is cancelled or you are turned away because class size is limited.
  4. Practice good health and wellness habits by getting plenty of sleep, staying physically active, managing your stress, drinking plenty of (hydrating) fluids, and eating heart healthy foods.
  5. If you have been traveling (especially internationally), practice at home and avoid large groups of people for at least a week. (WHO and CDC are recommending 14 day self-isolation for people who have traveled internationally or been in contact with someone who may be ill.)
  6. If you are sick (and/or coming down with or getting over a respiratory illness), practice at home. There are lots of online resources for various types of yoga and other physical activities. (I will add links and post some sequences.)
  7. Monitor daily reports from WHO or the CDC only as much as you are able without increasing your anxiety.
  8. Practice compassion. Acknowledge that there are a lot of people suffering, in a lot of different ways. If you can help someone, without undue risk to yourself, do so.
  9. Avoid touching your face and practice coughing/sneezing etiquette.
  10. Be mindful. Be patient. Be kind. Breathe.

As I post this, my classes at the YMCA, Nokomis Yoga, and Flourish are continuing as scheduled. If, however, you purchased a Flourish package and elect not to attend classes in the next few weeks, you will be given a studio credit. Common Ground Meditation Center has cancelled all programming through March 29th. I will update my calendar as things change.

I will continue to give people the option (at the beginning of class) to opt out of hands-on assists, but the reality is that I am extremely limiting assists for the foreseeable future.

(Let’s say it again: Right now, in this moment, I am prepared to do what I can do, but also accepting that there is a lot I cannot do.)

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI ###

 

Foundations 2019 July 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Japa-Ajapa, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.”

Frank Lloyd Wright

 

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.”

John Cage

 

Saturday mornings at the Y, just like any morning, is a great time to explore the physical and philosophical practice of yoga. However, I am partial to my Saturdays since I have 90 minutes to engage in the practice of exploration. For the last few years, I have started the new year with a “Building From the Ground Up” sequence – each Saturday adding more poses and another layer of the philosophy. Sometimes I still tie-in a meditation point specific to the date, and to whatever aspect of the philosophy is on tap for the day. Sometimes, however, it’s just straight philosophy and an opportunity to consider the meditation through movement. Whatever I plan for the year, usually wraps up around the end of July – when we start breaking down a different physical practice, the Ashtanga Primary Series.

This year, philosophically, I decided to sequentially move through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Each week breaking down a sutra with commentary. (This week will be YS 1.31.) Physically, we have been breaking down a course of poses outlined by B. K. S. Iyengar in Light On Yoga.

The Saturday class is not an Iyengar class; however, (as teachers like Seane Corn have pointed out) if you are going to practice vinyasa, it’s a good idea to practice Iyengar as it will give you the solid foundation and insight into the asanas (poses).

Iyengar’s Course I is 30 weeks of detailed practice, specifically intended to build a physical practice from the ground up. While they are not limbs themselves, abhyasa (continuous practice with devotion) and vairagya (actively practicing the art of letting go or non-attachment) definitely make up the fertile soil from which the 8-limbs of yoga grow and thrive. And, they are key elements to the courses that appear in the appendix of Light On Yoga.  At first, each set of poses is practiced for two (2) weeks before additional poses are added to the sequence. Later, some sequences are repeated for three (3) or four (4) weeks – and sometimes the order of the sequence changes. The 30-week course is followed by a 3-day course, which is slightly different from the 30-day course since the asanas are timed. Finally, there is some guidance on adding sun salutations (surya namaskar) to the physical practice and a list entitled “Important asanas in Course I.”

“If these asanas are mastered then the others given in this course will come even without regular practice.

– B. K. S. Iyengar writing about the “Impostant asanas in Course I”

The important asanas list, when followed by the sun salutations, looks and feels a lot like one of the first vinyasa practices to appear in the West, the Ashtanga Primary Series introduced to Sri Pattabhi Jois.  This is not a random coincidence. While Iyengar and Jois were in very different physical/health conditions when they started practicing yoga, they practiced at the same time and with the same teacher: Sri Krishnamacharya. The practices they introduced to the West – just like the physical practices introduced by some of Krishnamacharya’s other students (including Indra Devi, T. K. V. Desikichar, and A. G. Mohan) reflect their own personal practices – which were the result of the physical and mental needs. Remember, classically, the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) prepares the practitioner for deep-seated meditation. Ergo, even though they might practice the same poses, a very sickly young boy may use a different method of practice than a very active teenage boy.

(Side Note: It is also not a random coincidence that we generally start exploring the Ashtanga Primary series at the end of July: instead the timing coincides with the birthday of Sri Pattabhi Jois.)

YMCA classes are always open to members and their guests. If you are a member, please feel free to join us for class at any time throughout the year – and, feel free to bring a guest.

For further reading, check out Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar; Heart of Yoga by T. K. V. Desikichar; Ashtanga Yoga the Practice Manual by David Swenson; The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD (Note: This is Part 1 of a series and only includes the first section of the sutras. There are many translations of the sutras, a great online resource is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras on swamij.com.)

“Talent works, genuis creates.”

– Robert Schumann

~~~ AUM ~~~

What Are You Thinking? (And Why Are You Thinking It?) March 22, 2019

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{NOTE: For the last few years, the first Saturday after January 1st kicks off a series I refer to as “Building a Practice from the Ground Up.” Each year, the physical sequences are different and we look at the yoga philosophy from a different vantage point. This year, we are working with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and the physical sequences inspired by Course I in Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. YMCA members and their guests are welcome to join us at anytime. Since I am “out of the office” this Saturday (March 23rd), here are the philosophy notes for Week 12.}

 

“What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

– Patrick Henry speaking to the Second Virginia Convention on March 23, 1775

Let’s say, like Patrick Henry and the other delegates of the Second Virginia Convention in 1775, you have a big decision to make. Riffing Henry for a moment, let’s say your choices fall into two categories: alleviating suffering or causing suffering. Now, how do you know how many options you have, let alone which options fall into each category? Clearly, you have to go a little deeper.

As we’ve explored over the previous 11 weeks, Patanjali begins the yoga sutras “right here and now” (ata), at this auspicious moment, with the understanding that something (some form of preparation) has occurred before this moment. He then explains that “yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind” (YS I.2) and briefly describes what happens to person when the mind is still (YS I.3) versus when the mind is busy (YS.4).  In sutras subsequent sutras, he breaks down the fact that a person’s thoughts can cause suffering or alleviate suffering, and that there are five (5) types of thoughts (YS I.5). In sutras I.6 – I.11, Pantajali explains the five (5) types of thoughts. Once he has outlined how the mind works, he moves on to how a person can work the mind.

 

abhyāsa vairāgyābhyāṁ tat nirodhaḥ” (YS I.12)

abhyāsa            Practice over a long period/without interruption

vairāgyābhyāṁ      Non-attachment, without attraction or aversion

tat                Those (see “fluctuations of the mind” in YS I.2)

nirodhaḥ           Ceases, controls, quiets, stills, regulates, masters

 

Many of my first yoga teachers use to tell me, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” In considering Yoga Sutra 1.12, it occurs to me that we don’t do yoga, we practice it – which means that when we are on the mat we are practicing life. We practice life in two ways. First, we practice how we are already showing up in our lives. Then, we consider how we want to show up in our lives, and give ourselves the opportunity to practice accordingly. The yoga mat is like a laboratory or a play ground where we get to safely explore ourselves, or lives, and our possibilities. And, the more we practice how we want to show up, the more we show up.

“Our habits form our personality. They have a powerful influence on our unconscious behavior, as well as on our conscious decisions.”

– commentary on YS I.12 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

When we do something for the first time, a new neural pathway starts forming in our brain. When we repeat the activity or experience, that neural pathway starts to become hardwired.  This is the way muscle memory is formed. This is also the way we form habits. And, this is the way our lives are formed.

Each activity, each experience we have, leaves an impression – what, in the yoga philosophy, is referred to as samskara – and we live our lives inside these impressions. Another way of thinking about these impressions is to see them as veils; which means, we see our lives through these veils of impressions. Sometimes, we can’t see because of these veils of impressions. The thing that makes these impressions tricky is that (a) our “experiences” include things we see, hear, think, do, and say; (b) our “experiences” are not always ours (in that they are not always first-hand experiences); and (c) we are often not aware of these impressions or how they affect us.

Let’s back up a minute. Before we “do” (or don’t do) anything, there is at least one thought, and there is also at least one thought during and after we do what we do. Those thoughts, on a certain level, determine what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. Those thoughts also affect how we feel about what we do (or don’t do), how we do it, and whether or not we succeed. And, those thoughts are just more neural pathways…more impressions. So, as we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Think about that for a minute: As we go about our daily lives we are hard-wiring our lives in a way that alleviates our suffering or causes more suffering.

 

Another way to think about this is that as we go through our lives, we are limiting our possibilities, limiting our lives, and limiting ourselves. Granted, there is only so much one person can do in any given moment. We are, after all, finite beings. But, we come from and are connected to something infinite.

What if, when we narrow down our possibilities, we start with the infinite rather than the finite?

Continuous practice on the mat, leads to continuous practice off the mat. This is abhyāsa. Being open to what is and exploring the moment without desire, aversion, or fear about the outcome is vairāgyā. Swami J depicts them as elements on a balanced scale. He describes abhyāsa as “never give up” and vairāgyā as “always let go.” In sutras I.13 – I.16, Patanjali breaks down these two key principles and describes how they create the opportunity to unpack our conditioning and enable us to explore infinite possibilities.

 

“If you feel free, you are free. If you feel bond, you are bond. Thinking makes it so.”

– from the Ashtavakra Gita

### FEEL FREE, BE INFINITE ###

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

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“In the fell clutch of circumstance

      I have not winced nor cried aloud.

Under the bludgeonings of chance

      My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

– from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It matters not how strait the gate,

      How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate,

      I am the captain of my soul.”

 – from Invictus by William Ernest Henley

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

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

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

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

 

Invictus – by William Ernest Henley

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changing – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2018

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(Happy (belated) birthday to Poet Laureate of the United States, Tracy K Smith!)

“Hero, survivor, God’s right hand man, I know he sees the blank
Surface of the moon where I see a language built from brick and bone.
He sits straight in his seat, takes a long, slow high-thespian breath,
 

Then lets it go.”

from My God, It’s Full of Stars (2.) by Tracy K Smith

 

“We learned new words for things.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Practicing yoga in outer space would be really different from practicing on Earth. (I know, it sounds obvious, but when was the last time you were on your yoga mat and thought about practicing in outer space?)

I make note of how practicing yoga would be different in outer space, whenever I’m using a space-related theme or whenever I want to make a point about how people are working – or not working – during their practice. It is all too easy to let gravity do most of the work in certain poses and in certain styles. But, gravity is like the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey; the encounter changes the person more than it changes the monolith (or gravity).

One of the big changes that results from practicing yoga is an increased awareness of one’s mind and body, and how they work together. This increase in awareness, however, comes from the very deliberate engagement of the mind and body. It is all too easy in a vinyasa practice to let gravity and momentum dictate the practice, but then we lose the awareness that is an inherent part of the practice. The more we practice, intentionally and mindfully, the more we realize that we are not dealing with a flat void: “It goes on forever, and…”

Now, thinking about engaging the body, some of the differences between practicing in space and practicing on Earth become really obvious. For instance, microgravity would eliminate some of the weight-bearing benefits of the physical practice, which would affect bone density – something already negatively impacted by aging and by being in space. Also, microgravity would change a person’s ability to isometrically engage muscles and joints, which can affect muscle and joint strength – again, something already negatively impacted by being in space.

Isometric engagement occurs when there is static contraction of the muscle (i.e., the muscle is working) without any visible movement in the angle of the joint. This type of engagement can be categorized as overcoming, where the muscles are actively working against an immovable object, or yielding, where a person chooses to hold a position while encountering resistance.

Whether you realize it or not, there is a lot of isometric engagement in the physical practice of yoga. Squeezing your legs towards each other in Triangle Pose (Trikonasana) is isometric engagement. High Plank Pose and Four-Limb Staff Pose (Chaturanga Dandasana) involve isometric engagement. Something as simple as rooting down into your sits bones can be isometric. However, while pressing down to go up can create space between your hips and your ribs when you are on Earth; pressing down to go up in outer space creates more space between your sits bones and your practice surface.

For eons, on Earth, isometric engagement has been used to strengthen and rehabilitate muscles. In fact, it is sometimes prescribed as physical therapy, to reduce muscle atrophy when someone is in a cast. On the flip side, NASA research has shown that isometric engagement in space fails to decrease muscle degradation in astronauts. So, while some poses and sequences might be easier in space, the easiness comes at a cost.

“My father spent whole seasons
Bowing before the oracle-eye, hungry for what it would find.
His face lit-up whenever anyone asked, and his arms would rise

As if he were weightless, perfectly at ease in the never-ending
Night of space.”

– from My God, It’s Full of Stars (5.) by Tracy K Smith

Just as practicing yoga in outer space is different from practicing on Earth, practicing yoga in the United States in 2018 can be different from practicing yoga in India in the early 1900’s. People are engaging the practice in very different ways, starting with the concept of group practices and including the loss of meaning that comes from translating words based on their effect rather than their intention. Just like practicing in outer space: it can be fun, but it can also cost us some of the benefits that have allowed the practice to endure.

Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that yoga is meant to adjust to accommodate the people practicing it. The physical practice (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is situated in the philosophy so that it prepares the practitioner for deep seated meditation. Originally, that meant that just as everybody’s mind and body are different, everybody’s practice was slightly different. So, it makes sense that since the day-to-day engagement of our bodies and minds in different than that of earlier practitioners, our physical practice should be adjusted accordingly. However, every adjustment has to be deliberate and mindful. If it’s not, we run the risk of losing awareness and other benefits of the practice. When you move through the practice, consider all the things that change if you have little to no gravity keeping you grounded.

My God, It’s Full of Stars by Tracy K. Smith

(Practice Time ~30 – 35 minutes)

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

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

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

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

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

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

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poet Laureate Tracy K Smith and I have a few things in common, the least of which is an appreciation of sci-fi, David Bowie, our (shared) middle initial – and how we like to use it. Earlier this year, in an interview with Vogue, Smith noted that being appointed poet laureate made her realize, “I haven’t written enough about blackness, yet it’s part of my consciousness and my lived experience[.]” I recently joined Thomas J. Bushlack for Episode 6 of “Contemplate This!” Apparently, this is something else we share. Time may change me….

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

LOVING THE PRACTICE – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #14 April 14, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Surya Namaskar, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.

I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that it is a life-long practice. I love that the practice, like a laboratory or a playground, is a safe place to explore. I love that at the heart of the practice…is more practice, which prepares you for more practice. And, I also love how each part of the philosophy prepares you for the next limb, so that, when practiced simultaneously, each limb takes you deeper and higher. My favorite analogy of this is that it’s similar to climbing a tree:

You use the lower limbs to climb up to point where you can settle in and look around. In settling in, you stand or sit on one limb, while holding on to the trunk and a second limb. You can continue climbing, climb back down, or move out to the side, all depending on how you use the limbs.

I love that even someone new to yoga can recognize it as practice. Just today, in fact, someone commented that it was helpful to think of it as a practice – rather than a habit. I love that! I love too that when you get in the frame mind of “practicing,” (rather than perfecting, or even mastering) you are forced the stay present. The body changes and the mind changes, therefore, the practice changes. Even if you practice a tradition where the sequence stays the same, everything else – including your awareness and understanding – changes from one moment to the next, one breath to the next, one pose to the next, one…. You get the idea.

Truly practicing yoga requires staying present and observing oneself. In fact, svadyaya (self study), is one of the internal observations (niyama) at the beginning of the philosophy of yoga and, as such, it is one of the cornerstones of the practice. If you study yourself, it you invest the time, you will find your practice. I say that, because I truly believe there is a practice for everybody and a practice for each and every body (and a practice for every mind). It is not “one size fits all,” despite how it sometimes appears from the magazines and boutique studios.

There are practices that use a lot of props and practices that barely use props. There are practices where people spend a lot of time lying down on their backs, practices where people spend a lot of time sitting, and practices where people spend a lot of time standing. There are practices where people hold poses for long periods of time and practices where people seem to be in perpetual movement. There are practices where people do the same thing every time and practices that change with the weather. There are practices with music, and practices without music. I could go on, but, let me step back.

In the early part of the 20th Century, when Sri Krishnamacharya started a resurgence of Hatha Yoga practice in India, people practiced together, but they practiced what they needed. So, individual practice in a group setting – something you rarely see in the States, unless you are practicing Ashtanga Mysore-style. When Krishnamacharya started sending his students out into the world to teach, they essentially taught their own personal practice: alignment-focused, vinyasa-focused, breath-focused, and person-focused. Don’t get me wrong, none of those first practices to hit the Western fell very far from the Kirshnamacharya-tree – they all include elements of alignment, vinyasa, pranayama, and individual awareness. However, there is also just enough division for the yoga traditions to look like the various schisms which produced Protestant churches.

And, personally, I love that! Not the division. No, I love that there are so many styles and traditions – so many paths.

all the many paths that
lead into / the light that
shines bright inside of
me and you

– from Be the Change (Niraj Chag’s Swaraj Mix) by MC Yogi

Pick up a copy of B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga and you will find poses and sequences for targeting certain body parts, various ailments, and for people who want to progress in the practice. Pick up Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health and you will find the same type of information, plus details on to use props in order to enhance your practice. Pick up David Swenson’s Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual and you will find detailed instructions on how to modify (and progress) within one of the most physically vigorous physical practices. Pick up T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga or Sharon Gannon and David Life’s Jivamukti Yoga and you will find the physical practice mixing with the philosophy in a way that takes if off the mat. Pick up Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga: Finding the Spiritual in Everyday Life or Sarah Power’s Insight Yoga and now, the practice is clearly meditation. Pick up Jinjer’s Stanton’s Yoga For Every Room in Your House and you quite literally discover that you can practice yoga anywhere!

On and on it goes – and that’s the point. The practice is perpetual and eternal – if you practice. But it is way too easy not to practice.

I was fortunate in that my first teachers were like Yoda: they focused on what a person could do. They didn’t focus on what they (the teacher) could practice; they focused on what each individual could practice. We were still challenged, but we were challenged in a way that encouraged us to play, explore, study, and practice. The result of such engagement was an awareness of all the different ways someone could practice. And, that awareness, led to a deep acceptance – which is the path to true love.

“I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,”

– from One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mark Eisner)

One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII by Pablo Neruda (translated by Mike Eisner)

(Practice Time ~ 20 – 30 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Breathe into your heart and consider what you can appreciate about this moment. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet. Notice what you can love about your body and your mind in this position.

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

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Move, as if this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

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

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

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

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

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

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

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

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

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

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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

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

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. Give thanks for the gentle compression and massage that starts to calm your system and prepare you for the final meditation.

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

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

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

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Take a moment to notice how falling in love with your practice allows you to fall in love with yourself.

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

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

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

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

BEING WATCHFUL – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #5 April 5, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Science, Tantra, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Practice, practice, practice…all is coming.” – Sri Pattabhi Jois

“It comes in its own good time
and in its own way to the one who will go where it lives,
and wait, and be ready,
and watch.
Hurry is beside the point, useless, an obstruction.
The thing is to be attentively present.
To sit and wait is as important as to move.”

– from Being Watchful by Wendell Berry

We’ve been here before, and we will be here again – that is the nature of the practice. Practicing hatha yoga (the physical practice, regardless of style or tradition) can be a little like being in an old Western where characters pass the same rock again and again. In the movies, the only thing that changes is the characters’ bodies and their awareness.

Come to think of it, the same thing is true of our practice.

Some practices (e.g., Ashtanga – one of the earliest forms of vinyasa, introduced to the West by Sri Pattabhi Jois; Bikram Choudhury’s hot yoga sequence; and Sivananda Yoga – based on the teachings of Swami Sivananda)  include the same poses in the same order every time. These practices give people a standardized measure by which to gauge their practice and their evolution within the practice.

On the flip side, some practices include an ever rotating set of poses and sequences so that we keep coming at the metaphorical rock from a different direction.

Either way, as the body and the mind change, the practice also changes. The body and the teacher will repeat the same information again and again, but we won’t “hear” the information until we’re ready to process and synthesize it. That’s why, when people new to yoga ask me how they can hurry up and get up to speed, I tell them to keep practicing.

“And then I began to learn perhaps
the most important lesson that nature had to teach me:
that I could not learn about her in a hurry.

– from “Being Watchful” by Wendell Berry

We’ve been here before…but now something is different. It may be a while before we notice the difference, but it’s there…just waiting for us to be ready. In some ways, this is all like walking the land.

Walking the land is not unusual for a farmer – it’s what they do after all. They walk the land, pausing to assess something or just to soak it all in. Sometimes they just walk for the sake of walking. And, anyone who has walked just for the sake of walking will tell you, it is not unusual for the mind to open up on a walk.

Wendell Berry is a poet, a farmer, a novelist, an environmentalist, a Christian, an activist, and a Kentuckian. He is also a walker – and by that I mean, he walks. Naturally, being a farmer who is also a poet, he writes poems inspired on his walks. He calls them “Sabbath poems.” Consider today’s practice a “Sabbath poem.”

Being Watchful – by Wendell Berry

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Take your time to balance the effort and relaxation inherent in the pose. Watch the breath. Pause and take in the landscape that is your mind and your body in this present moment.

When you move into Table Top – hands and knees to the mat with shoulders over elbows and wrists, hips over knees – or into a seated position if that is more accessible, move as if you are taking a leisurely stroll. Take your time, and pause to get the lay of the land. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. So that, as the breath gets long and fine and deep, the movement gets richer – whatever that means to you in this moment.

“from this

moment this moment

is the first

– from Be Still In Haste by Wendell Berry*

Pause with the spine back in Table Top position. Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit up on a blanket or a block if you have a lot of tightness/stiffness in the back of your body. This is Staff Pose (Dandasana), which appears on the Top 10 Poses People Overlook/Underestimate.

Press your heels down into the ground, flex the ankles so the toes reach for the nose, and then spread the toes. At the same time, fire up your thighs and engage the quadriceps (the four muscles at the top of your things) in order to lift the knee caps into their full extended position. Press the sit bones and hands down (with the hands next to the hips). If this engagement is too extreme, bend knees or place the hands behind the hips (but still wide enough to just barely be outside of the hips).

As if they are seeds you are planting, push your shoulders and everything touching the floor, the mat, or a prop down into the earth. Watch how the engagement of your feet, your legs, your hips, your core, your hands, and your arms allows you to lift the heart and the ribs away from the lower body. You are actively creating space. Now, engage the space: squeeze your perineum muscles for the root lock (mula bandha); draw the belly button up and back for the core lock (uddiyana bandha); and press the chin into your throat for the chin lock (jalandhara bandha). With your eyes on your nose, watch your breath.

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

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

Watch how you engage your base. Again, like you a planting, use every inhale to press down in order to lift up – creating more space between your ribs and your hips. Use every exhale to twist and rinse – engaging that space. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend or extend both, as needed, and lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Be here, and be watchful.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at one of the donation-based classes listed (April 7th and April 28th).

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

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

*Yes, clock watchers, the extra poem in this post is just for you!

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