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2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTIONS #5, 6, & 7: IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK…? April 15, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“If you could recommend one book about yoga that really impacted your practice, what book would that be?”

 

“If you could recommend one book about meditation, what would it be?”

 

“Is there a book that would help a beginner like me establish a daily practice?”

– E

There might be more books on yoga and meditation than there are ways to practice yoga and meditation. I know for sure that there are so many books on each it is sometimes hard to narrow things down to a single recommendation. Even if I had read everything that’s ever been printed – and nothing else was ever printed (which would be a shame since one of my teachers is currently working on her first book) – and even if I only focused on books that really impacted my practice, I would still end up with a bag full of books.

Jan 2016 Yoga Books 56

(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.)

Part of me wants to break this down into a book on the physical practice versus a book on the philosophy; however, sitting with WHY I want to make that distinction, brings me to one very comprehensive option: T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice.

Desikachar was the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher responsible for the resurgence of yoga in 20th Century India. Krishnamacharya taught Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi – who all had a hand in bringing the physical practice of yoga to the West. Each of the teachers mentioned above wrote at least one book which impacted someone’s yoga practice (including mine), and all of them have had books written about them. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga is simultaneously about yoga and about a teacher’s teacher. It is also a practice manual with a heavy focus on the philosophy. Unlike some other books I might refer to as practice manuals, The Heart of Yoga not only offers an overview of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, it includes a translation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (NOTE: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms. Most books on the sutras include each aphorism, plus a translation and commentary for each aphorism. I use several sources for translation/commentary comparative analysis; however, my go-to resource is a website by Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition.) The Heart of Yoga gives practitioners of any fitness or experience level the opportunity to build a physical practice, while also maintaining a connection to the overall philosophical practice.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Nhat Hahn’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Nhat Hahn is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“Practice, practice, practice – all is coming.” ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois


If you find this information helpful, insightful, validating, and/or curious, please Kiss My Asana by making a donation, joining the team, asking a question, and/or joining me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions.

Sandra Razieli and I will co-host a donation-based class on Saturday, April 22nd (6:30 PM – 8:00 PM) at Flourish Pilates+Yoga+Bodywork. I will host a second class on Saturday, April 29th (3:30 PM – 5:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga. Please RSVP via email (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com). All donations will benefit Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIHI OM ##

2017 Kiss My Asana Question #2: Why 108? April 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, 31-Day Challenge, Baseball, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Chicago Cubs, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tai Chi, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The number of words you use to answer these questions is going to be divisible by 108? Why 108?” – the obvious questions

The significance of 108 is something pondered pretty much whenever people get ready to practice 108 Sun Salutations (for New Year’s Day, Spring/Fall Equinox, and Summer/Winter Solstice). It is considered an auspicious number in a variety of disciplines and traditions. So much so that if I listed 108 reasons, I might still be missing some. Swami J has a pretty comprehensive list; however, here are some of my favorites:

  • 108 is a harshad (or, “great joy” bringer) number in mathematics, meaning that it is divisible by the sum of its parts (1+0+8=9; 108/9 = 12)
    • Note also 1+2 = 3; 12/3 = 4 and 108/3 = 36; 3+6 = 9; 36/9 = 6
  • 108 is a prime example of numbers being exponentially powerful {(1, raised to the 1st power) multiplied times (2, raised to the 2nd power) multiplied times (3, raised to the 3rd power), i.e., 1*4*27}
  • 108 suitors pursue Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey.
  • In Buddhism, the 108 feelings or sensations humans experience result from external/physical and internal/mental stimuli (2) being received through our senses and consciousness (5+1) multiplied times our perception of sensation as positive/pleasant, negative/painful, or neutral (3) multiplied times our ability to experience feelings or sensations in the past, present, and future (3). {2*(5+1)*3*3}
  • In Eastern religions and philosophies, a mala used to count repetitions during meditation contains 108 beads – or a fraction of 108, and this coincides with an old school Catholic rosary which allows you to count out 10 decades, and provides 8 additional beads (for mistakes). The cross would be considered the guru bead.
  • In some religions there is only one God; however there are 101-108 names for God.
  • In an Indian creation story, God as Dance (Nataraja) creates the universe through a dance containing 108 steps or poses; and, there are 108 forms of dance in Indian traditions.
  • Some martial arts forms contain 108 steps or poses.
  • According to some yoga texts, there are 108 nadis (energy rivers carrying the bodies vitality) intersecting at the heart chakra.

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

  • The 108 double stitches on a Major League baseball are hand stitched; AND
  • It took 108 years for a much loved baseball team to break a curse (that may or may not be real) – and they did it in the 10th inning with 8 runs!

Finally, it would be seriously auspicious if a couple of people (2) Kiss(ed) My Asana by clicking here and donating $54 each. Or, you know what would be a real joy bringer? If a certain number of individuals (108) clicked above and donated $108 each.

For those of you doing the math: $25 shares a “Beyond Disability” DVD with a home-bound person living with a disability; $250 provides four yoga classes at a battered women’s shelter or veterans center; $500 provides full tuition for an Opening Yoga Teacher Training Workshop; and $1000 transforms the life of someone living with a disability by providing them an entire year of adaptive yoga. While these numbers focus on the people directly receiving the service, consider how yoga affects not only the individual on the mat, but everyone that individual encounters off the mat.

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Are You Ready? Are You Ready…to Kiss My Asana? April 1, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Are you ready? Are you ready? / For what’s to come…Oh, I said Are you ready? / Are you ready? For what’s to come / Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one / Count down to…”

Are You Ready by Creed

It’s that time again! Spring? Yes, but also it’s time for Kiss My Asana. For the fourth year in a row, I am joining joyful yogis everywhere to raise awareness and resources for Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

Matthew Sanford and the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions are committed to a yoga practice which “transcends ability and disability, opens people’s lives to new possibilities, and transforms the delivery of health care.” The annual yogathon is a virtual four-week challenge open to anyone, anywhere, and it’s pretty much open to any way you want to do more yoga, learn more about yoga, and share more yoga.

“Are you ready? For what’s to come?”

Then let’s get started. There are a lot of ways to help raise awareness and resources during the month of April. Here are just a few suggestions.

Erika teaches a Vin-Yin class at Nokomis, and her KMA class will be a Slow Flow Vinyasa. The classes I host (or co-host) will be inspired by the practice principles featured in the adaptive yoga DVD “Beyond Disability” as led by Matthew Sanford. (Please RSVP using the links above if you would like to join one of these donation-based classes.)

  • You can challenge yourself by practicing one thing (an asana, pranayama, or a meditation) every day for 30 days.
  • You can use yoga to embody your favorite story, song, emotion, poem, prayer, visual art, person, or moment in time.
  • You can blog, tweet, instagram, or Facebook link about how your yoga practice on the mat transforms your experiences off the mat.

This is all good, but “What,” you might ask, “are you (Myra) doing as the virtual part of this year’s Kiss My Asana?”

Good question. As you may have noticed (especially after last year), I love questions. I’ve fallen for “Questions” by R. S. Thomas and, like the Creed song quoted above, my personal playlist currently features question-centered songs by Fink, X Ambassadors, Ed Sheeran, Cole Swindell, and Garth Brooks (naturally)!

 

In my favorite “Letters To A Young Poet” passage, Ranier Maria Rilke urges Franz Kappus: “… try to love the questions themselves…. the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now.”

 

Oh, and did I mention that questions led me to yoga teacher training?

 

When I started practicing in Texas, I often encountered people whose only intersection with yoga was me. These people had questions – lots and lots of questions. I, unfortunately, had no answers…other than telling people they could come with me to practice. When some of my teachers suggested teacher training, I thought, “Sure, someday. Then I’ll know some answers – or, at least, know a resource where someone could live (or practice) their way into their own answers.” Flash forward to “someday” and I’m in Minneapolis attending a teacher training focused on teaching people how to teach – and everybody had to teach.

 

So, last year I asked people questions. This year, you get to ask me questions. Answer word count will be divisible by 108.

Want to ask me a question? You can make a comment below, ask me before or after a class, or send an email to myra at ajoyfulpractice.com. Subscribers to ajoyfulpractice.com will receive my answers as they are posted – or, you can check back here throughout April.

 

### Peace In, Peace Out ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #26: Mastering the Art of SODOTO February 28, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Even in the animal kingdom, the ability to search and reapply know-how is a key attribute that moves a species from survival to prosperity.

 

Just as the guru tutors the novitiate so does the goldsmith his apprentice. The same is true for officers and engineers and in all fields where the mastery of craft is a matter of certification. The greater enlightens the lesser. The maxim is “See One, Do One, Teach One” or as the sensei might say ‘SODOTO.’”

– Excerpt from The Enlivened Self: The Art of Growing, Part II – Creativize by Jeff DeGraff

 

During my first year teaching, a student approached with questions about yoga teacher training. He had been practicing long before I arrived, but now he was ready to consider the possibilities. We talked about his goals, and the will/determination driving those goals. I gave him a summary of the big teacher training programs in the Twin Cities. A few months later, someone else approached me. I had the list (and the highlighted bullet points) ready. Those first two students, and many of the ones who came later, ended up completing yoga teacher training and started teaching. Sometimes I would even take classes from them. Often I would refer others to them. At least one of those early students who became the teacher began teaching other students how to teach! Eventually, I discovered trainings were changing and growing in the Twin Cities; so I started updating the list.

And the people kept asking, again, and again…and again. But they weren’t always people who regularly practiced with me. Once the person who asked was someone I just knew from a neighborhood coffee shop. Once, someone visiting from California before entering Kripalu teacher training, emailed me for additional tips as she approached her finals. Once a woman approached me after I subbed her regular class – she was already in a training program, but seriously considering dropping out over a major theological issue. By the time Yogi #26 (Annamaria) approached me it had occurred to me that maybe my presence as a teacher reminded people that they had something to offer the world. It was as if, after years of ruminating and precontemplation, something in them woke up and shouted, “If she can do that, I can so do that!”

 “Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on. Wax Off. Breathe – in through nose, out the mouth. {Sound of inhale, sound of ‘ha’ out} Wax on. Wax off. Don’t forget to breathe – very important. Wax on. Wax Off. Wax on…”

– Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

Daniel: So, you’re suppose to teach and I’m suppose to learn….

Mr. Miyagi: You learned plenty.

Daniel: I learned plenty. I learned how to sand your decks, maybe. I waxed your car. Paint your house. Paint your fence. I learned plenty – right!

Mr. Miyagi: Ahh. Not everything is as seems.

– Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. (Kesuke) Miyagi in The Karate Kid

 

Yoga teacher training requires adjusting one’s life off the mat, in order to spend more time on the mat – even when the mat is all in one’s head. That adjustment can be extra hard for a modern day householder – who already has to balance life-at-work with life-at-home, life-at-play, life-with-family, life-with-friends, life-with-oneself, and life-with-one’s-spirit. Adding to all that, teacher training requires doing things over and over again, even when your arms no longer want to move, until whatever you’re doing becomes hardwired – hopefully without all the bad habits you’ll discover along the way. And, the more yoga you do, the more your personal yoga practice changes. Your body is different; your awareness of your body is different. Whereas before part of your mental challenge was letting go of all your regular daily life chatter, once you go through teacher training you’ll find yourself judging the poses (or the teachers) and thinking about how you’d cue the sequence you’re practicing if you were teaching your students – especially if your students are very different from the people surrounding you at a major yoga studio.

As a modern day householder, Annamaria decided pursuing teacher training was totally worth the personal investment. She wasn’t looking at teaching yoga as a stepping stone into a new career. She wanted to start with a basic 200-Hour training, which typically involves more than 200 hours worth of curriculum, and gradually add blocks which would enable her to serve in some underserved communities. Like me at the beginning of my yoga journey, she was inspired by the people around her who might find yoga beneficial – but didn’t (or couldn’t) want the benefits to come at the price of a new outfit and an $18 – $20 drop-in fee. Right now, we’re converging – still discussing what comes next as she evolves and grows as a teacher – but evidence of divergence is hard to ignore. Soon, Annamaria will do things as a yoga teacher that I will only ever dream of doing. She’s going to be one of our greats.

 “What I think is very special about this is that he’s one of our great teachers, and great spiritual luminaries, and that there was anything that I did that inspired him…that inspires me. And it touches me. And it makes me feel like I’m on the path that I prayed to be on. So, I feel blessed to have had that reflected back to me – through the eyes, and through the words of the, one and only, Wayne Dyer.”

India.Arie talking about Wayne Dyer talking about her song inspiring his teachings

 

 “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

– my father paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton

I grew up surrounded by teachers: my dad’s a professor; his mother was a school teacher; Sunday school teachers reign on both sides (starting for me with my mother’s grandmother); and one of my cousins taught people how to drive buses and trucks. All that before even mentioning all the behind-the-scenes mentoring, guiding, and teaching we take for granted because, ‘Hey, that’s what moms do, right?’ Loving school as I did, certain teachers always had a special place in my heart. Annamaria’s dedication to going deeper on behalf of her yoga students reminds me of my favorite teachers.

A few years after I started practicing yoga, I noticed myself referring to some people as “my yoga teacher” and others as “my yoga instructor” – for a moment I wondered why my subconscious mind would so consciously make that distinction. Then I wondered if it was true; was there a difference, and (if there was a difference) was it my perceptions of the teachers’ perceptions?

During my yoga teacher training, there was a lot of discussion about people who teach yoga and people who teach asana. Looking back, I realized that even though all my early classes included basic elements of the yoga philosophy, some teachers were focused on instructing us how to exercise the bodies, while others were focused on teaching us how to engage the mind-body connection on (and off) the mat. In the end, we teachers are like everybody else: We teach what we know.

 “Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– The teaching philosophy of T. Krishnamacharya, described in Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings by A. G. Mohan

 

If you follow a certain yoga SODOTO trail, like you might follow a tiny creek or a small drop of water into the earth, you will find the following: T. Krishnamacharya, a great scholar of all the Indian philosophies, taught his brother-in-law B. K. S. Iyengar, a very sickly teenage boy, who grew up to teach Jo Zukovich, whose “realization that yoga is a wide-ranging subject” enabled her to teach Matthew Sanford how to “cultivate a presence within his body through awareness, breath and attention.” If you’re following the tiny creek, you may realize that Matthew Sanford is the beginning of a waterfall. If you’re an MIT scientist following the small drop of water into the earth, you may realize that Mind Solutions is giving us an opportunity to take the ancient practices of yoga airborne. Be a tiny bubble of air – KISS MY ASANA once more with feeling!

A big giant thank you to the 15 yogis who held the space and shared the practice during my donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th(details coming soon). If you’re interested, there are still spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two). Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

~ JAI GURU DEV, JAI JAI ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #24: Guiding and Pulling (In) the Light February 26, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Kundalini, Life, Loss, Mantra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mirabai Starr, Music, Mysticism, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tai Chi, Tantra, Taoism, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear.”

– Excerpt from Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

 

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what’s inside.”

Wayne Dyer

Yogi #24 (Marilyn) gave me some amazingly delicious oranges once. She told me a little of their back story – they had been given to her by a friend who, if I remember correctly, has a grove in California. Eating the oranges gave me great joy (as she intended) and thinking of their back story filled me with awe and gratitude – but it also made me realize that, in reality, I knew very little of their back story.

How many people were responsible for the planting, the nurturing, the harvesting, and the transporting? How were their lives affected by the oranges? Who even had the idea to start all these endeavors? There was just no way to know. In the end, I could only be grateful.

“Gratitude is our ability to see the grace of God, morning by morning, no matter what else greets us in the course of the day. That has the effect of making us gracious as well.”

– Excerpt from Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard for What God Wants to Give Us by M. Craig Barnes

Marilyn herself is a lot like those oranges: Bright sunshine on a cold January day and present after long journeys, she is delightful, joyful, and fills me with awe and gratitude – yet I only know bits and pieces of her back story. I know she teaches; I know she heals; I know she loves animals, travel, and bicycling. Bottom line: I know just enough about Marilyn to know she has seen amazing places, people, and things in the world and encountered the very best and, possibly, the very worst that the world has to offer. Yet, she is always kind and graciously grateful, for the smallest things, even when someone has wronged her. And her smile lights up a room, even when she is frustrated.

“No other light, no other guide,
Than the one burning in my heart.
This light led the way
More clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
– The one I knew so intimately –
In a place no one could find us.”

– Excerpt from Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross (translated by Mirabai Starr)

 

“Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, summer and winter?”

– Excerpt from the introduction to Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore

Marilyn practices qigong as well as yoga, which means she’s one of the people who get’s my little energetic puns when I describe one set of arm movements as “Gathering Prana” and the complimentary set of movements as “Gathering Qi.” Both qi and prana are words used to describe the life-force energy that is within us and all around us. Like ruach, pneuma, and spiritus, these are also words which were once used to simultaneously define breath and spirit.

Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, didn’t distinguish between spirit and breath – they were both divinely given and received. Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, believed spirit/breath was the light of the world – it was in them and all around them. Now, the modern mind turns to quantum physics to confirm the Truth our ancestors already knew: We can gather it, guide and pull it; dance with it and in it. Like Marilyn. Or not.

 “Of the deities presiding over light, I am the one for January, loved by all for turning the world’s course toward warmth. Of the wind gods who bring immense good in the world, I am the whirlwind. Of the daytime luminaries I am the radiant sun, and of the lights of the night I am the moon.”

Bhagavad Gita 10:21

 

“Of David: YHVH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHVH is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

– Tehillim (Psalms) 27:1

Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. / Split a piece of wood; I am there. / Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.’”

The Gospel of Thomas 77

 “I sit in my own splendor. / Wealth or pleasure, / Duty or discrimination, / Duality or nonduality, / What are they to me? / What is yesterday, / Tomorrow, / Or today? / What is space, / Or eternity? / I sit in my own radiance.”

– Excerpt from Heart of Awareness: Translation of the Gita by Thomas Byrom 19:2 – 3

One of my favorite sacred texts is the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs). It presents the wisdom of a person whose outside is considered less than ideal, by the people around him. According to one of Ashtavakra’s back stories, he was 12-years old when he walked into the court of the King (who would eventually become his pupil) – and everyone laughed at him. Ashtavakra also laughed, and then he started to cry.

When the King asked why he first laughed, as everyone laughed at him, and then cried, Ashtavakra said, “I started laughing because you saw only my outside. I started crying because I crawled all this way to discuss the Truth with great scholars and all I find here are shoemakers and leather workers.” When the King took great offense and proclaimed his court a court of great scholars, Ashtavakra shook his head and said, “It is only shoemakers and leather workers who are so concerned with the quality of the outside that they can’t see the Truth within.”

I’d like to believe that, in these modern times, we’re not so one dimensional that a shoemaker and a leather worker can’t also be great scholars. Yet, too often, people in a position to teach the Truth get caught up with the quality of the outside. Too often, people in a position to receive the Truth get turned away because their outsides are considered less than ideal. Too often we all forget that we are in bodies together – and these bodies are the ideal vehicle for our spirits. The work being done by Matthew Sanford and Mind Body Solutions allows more people to experience the Truth of who we all are and how we are all connected. KISS MY ASANA if you see the Truth – or the light.

 

My donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th is full; however, I still have spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two.)Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

 

 

~ “If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable – each segment distinct. – Excerpt from Family Politics: Love and Power on an Intimate Frontier Letty Cottin Pegrebin ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #18:This Is Why a Tree Bends Toward the Light February 19, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Love, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“There’s a tree that grows in Brooklyn. Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grows lushly . . . survives without sun, water, and seemingly without earth. It would be considered beautiful except that there are too many of it.”

– preface to A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

 

Since a lot of people come to my classes, I could reiterate the passage above and claim they are too many to be considered beautiful. But it wouldn’t be true. Some people stand out. Some people are beautiful inside and out. It’s not a showy thing, and I don’t think it’s something they do on purpose. However, some people are just so naturally themselves that, no matter where they go or what they do, their energy shines through. Maybe it’s because people like Yogi #18 (Tracy) aren’t wasting a lot of energy trying to be someone other than themselves.

“Your very nature dictates that you perform the duties attuned to your disposition. Those duties are your dharma, your natural calling. It is far better to do your own dharma, even if you do it imperfectly, than to try to master the work of another. Those who perform the duties called for by their obligations, even if those duties seem of little merit, are able to do them with less effort – and this releases consciousness that can be directed Godward.”

The Bhagavad Gita (18:47)

Tracy is a natural scientist, who spends a lot of time outdoors. I don’t imagine it was easy, getting where she is in her life and in her career, but she makes things look easy. From what I can tell, that ease comes from loving what she does, on and off the mat. Her appreciation for what’s she’s doing, in the moment, is one of the reason it’s a pleasure to work with her. She’s also got one of the best smiles. And, no matter how hard I work her, she always shares that smile and expresses gratitude for the work we’ve done together. Those are just a few of the reasons Tracy is one of my favorite co-workers.

At this point, someone who knows me and/or Tracy is thinking, “Wait, Tracy works with you?!?!?” Yep. She’s one of the people I see when I go to work each week, and we collaborate on special projects (i.e., ourselves).

Now, I realize that my perspective is a little different from everybody else in the studios – after all, most people see me when they’re on a break from their work. Still, I’m lucky to work with a really great group of people – and Tracy is one of the people I look forward to seeing when I go to work. Like that person you see once or twice a week for a status report, Tracy and I occasionally share little tidbits about our lives and celebrate random successes. She shared her “favorite musical yoga moment” with me when it happened a few years back; she got her (now) husband to practice a little yoga during the first Kiss My Asana yogathon; and over the years she’s mentioned times when she’s brought the practice off the mat. But what strikes me most when we’re in the middle of the practice is how Tracy works it, gloriously – like she’s so glad to be there.

 

“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: Thus is your time on earth filled with glory.”

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith

 

 

A seed settles into the soil and waits. Once it germinates, it moves stone and earth to tunnel the shoot that will become its roots. The seed projects a second shoot skyward, which will allow it to convert sunlight into the energy it will use to sustain itself for the rest of its life. Drawing upon every resource available, a seed is compelled to become the thing it was meant to be: a tree, grass, vine, bush, shrub, or flower. If unsuccessful, it will have died trying, but not before exhausting every last fiber of its being to fulfill its potential.

 A honeybee, drawing nectar from a blossom, bats its wings 11,400 times per minute. Salmon swim as much as a thousand miles upstream, or more, in order to spawn. An ant will carry twenty times its weight to serve a colony. This same drive, all but invisible, pervades everything in the natural world. The world we live in is little more than an endless and vibrant expression of energy.”

– Excerpted from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Tracy strikes me as the kind scientist who appreciates the energy of nature with every inhale and every exhale. But it’s easy to overlook the simple and profound things happening around us and within us. It’s easy to take nature for granted – and, in the process, to take ourselves for granted. A physical yoga practice is an opportunity to tap into our natural resources, on and off the mat. It’s an opportunity to reconnect to the reason we have bodies and minds.

Sometimes, however, there’s a whole lot of mental and physical busyness (or business) keeping a person off the mat. Sometimes that mental busyness is the idea that the body already has to be a certain way in order to practice yoga. Unfortunately, a lot of us teaching yoga here in the West are so focused on the outside we can’t feel the forest or the trees. If you take a class from Matthew Sanford, you will feel the energy of your mind-body. That’s what he does: practices from the inside out (instead of the outside in). JOIN my KISS MY ASANA when you donate and you not only support more teachers learning how to teach the essence of the practice, you’ll also have the opportunity to take some free yoga classes at area studios (through the end of February).

 

Want to KISS MY ASANA while you practice? Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two) at a donation-based class on Saturday, February 27th (3:30 - 5:30 PM) or Saturday, March 5th (6:30 - 8:00 PM). Space is limited.

~ OM, NAMAH SHIVAYA ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #17:Practicing in Scordatura, As Intended February 18, 2016

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“And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

– Romans 12:2

 

“It is the aim of my pilgrimage on earth to show my brethren by living demonstration how one may serve God with merriment and rejoicing. For he who is full of joy is full of love for me and for all fellow creatures.”

– Baal Shem Tov*

 

“‘Where are you going?’
She said, ‘To that world.’
‘And where have you come from?’
She answered, ‘From that world.’
‘And what are you doing in this world?’
And she said, ‘I am sorrowing.’
‘In what way?’ they asked her.
And Rabia replied,
‘I am eating the bread of this world,
And doing the work of that world.’”

“Rabia Song” by Zuleikha*

 

Follow me for a moment, while I tell you a story: Once upon a time, a great composer created a piece of music that would inspire the world. The only problem was that none of the existing instruments in the world sounded quite right as the featured soloist. She tried everything. Finally, she decided to make a special instrument – that had to be played a special way. In her studio, the instrument sounded, mostly, divine. Honestly, it sounded OK if treated like any other instrument. And, it had the unfortunate knack of being really off-key if it wasn’t held properly or used appropriately. However, when proper care and attention were taken, there was nothing like it on Earth. It would sound heavenly and enhance the sound of all the other instruments in the orchestra. Knowing she wouldn’t be around to pass the instrument along in person, the great composer left the instrument, music, and instructions for a very competent musician.

 

Like all music, the figured bass should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.” – Johann Sebastian Bach

 

I have it on good authority that Yogi #17 (Greg) is a very competent musician. Like Yogi #16 (my good authority), he is also a healer whose presence is as soothing as his favorite music. If the world really were an orchestra – full of divine instruments and competent musicians (like Greg), who knew how to play their holy instruments – all would be right with the world.

 

 

Unfortunately, the musical story above doesn’t always end well.

In some versions of the story most of the composer’s instructions were lost; the music was rearranged; the special instrument may (or may not) have gotten a little dented; and the conductor didn’t know who was supposed to lead.

So, there you have it: the state of the world as we know it. We have these bodies that can touch and be touched – yet, we often feel disconnected from our bodies, and all the bodies around us. We have these minds that can draw in, process, and evaluate information in the present moment – yet, we spend quite a bit of time making up stuff about past and future moments. We have something driving us to live, to love, to play and be known – let’s call it a spirit – yet, we continuously ignore that our bodies, minds, and spirits are connected. It’s enough disharmonious ranting to make Bach pull off his powdered wig!

 

“Two things are guaranteed to hook you up with the God of Love: sorrowing and rejoicing. You do not need to go searching for either; they are written into the architecture of human existence.”

– (*All with asterisks) Excerpted from God of Love by Mirabai Starr

 

Somehow there is harmony and beauty in the world. Maybe, as Mirabai Starr indicates, that harmony and beauty (like sorrowing and rejoicing) is part of our basic make-up. Maybe we just need a practice, the right music, a healer like Greg, or a teacher like Matthew Sanford to help us connect to the very fibers of our being.

All I know for sure, is that on any given Sunday (or Monday through Saturday), someone realizes that they are more than their body, more than their mind. On any given Sunday (or Monday through Saturday), someone awakens to the fact that they are connected to something Divine/Universal. And, maybe they see the Divine/Universal something as an anthropomorphic being, or maybe they feel it as a sensation of connectedness to the people around them. Either way, this awakening comes with a responsibility and a purpose to play the notes they’ve been given.

 

“To be tender, loving, and caring, human beings must be tenderly loved and cared for in their earliest years, from the moment they are born.”

– Ashley Montagu

 

“The simple act of touching is of extreme importance to the healthy functioning of the human organism. The skin can be considered the outer layer of the nervous system. The skin is the boundary of our bodies. Through touch, that boundary is gently broken down, permeated by another, and our whole internal system enhanced and stimulated.”

– Excerpt from Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Greg, like Matthew Sanford, believes in the power of touch. It is important not only for the person who needs care, but also to the caregiver. It is critical to the person dying, as well as to those who go on living. During the KISS MY ASANA yogathon, it’s easy to reference the people who have obvious external signs that they’ve experienced trauma, loss, and disability. However, let’s not forget the caregivers and the space holders. While “best known for adapting yoga for persons living with disabilities,” Mind Body Solutions also offers workshops and trainings for caregivers, healthcare providers, and whole organizations. Remember: Everyone benefits when we integrate our mind-body, on and off the mat. So, if you want to honor a healer (or a musician), go to Sharon’s page (she’s matching donations) and KISS MY ASANA!

 

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“If there is light in the soul,
there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.”
– Chinese Proverb

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2016 Kiss My Asana #16: Peace Like A Gardener/Farmer February 17, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Jane Hirshfield, Julian of Norwich, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

“It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio Spafford

 

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

– Excerpt from A Revelation of Love – in Sixteen Shewings by Julian of Norwich

 

Towards the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali emphasizes that cultivating friendliness/loving-kindness, compassion/mercy, gladness/goodwill/joy, and acceptance/equanimity creates a calm, peaceful, and undisturbed mind (1:33). A bit later, he states that a person can be so firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa) that other people lose their hostility just be being in the vicinity (2:35). Towards the middle, he indicates that samyama (the collective practice of focusing, concentrating, and meditating/becoming) on these qualities produces the great strength or power of these attitudes (3:23). Finally, towards the end of the sutras, he explains that in order to realize great power through the practice, a yogi has to be like a farmer or gardener (4:3, although he hints at this throughout).

Some people read about the siddhis (great powers) described in the Yoga Sutras and think them as “supernormal” or psychic powers – while others reference quantum physics or Jedi Knight tricks. And, some people just think the whole text is an extended metaphor. How ever one thinks about siddhis on paper, there’s no denying the power of being in the presence of someone grounded in love. Considering Julie (Yogi #16) is a gardener, it should come as no surprise that being around her is a little like being hugged by love.

The moment you walked inside my door
I knew that I need not look no more,
I’ve seen many other souls before – ah but,
Heaven must’ve programmed you”

“Heaven (Where True Love Goes)” by Yusuf Islam

 

“More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, where foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.”

– Excerpt from “Optimism” by Jane Hirshfield

 

Julie is one of my favorite people and part of another one of my favorite yoga couples. I met her and her husband within my first year of teaching – and I am always thrilled to see them. Every once in a blue moon one will come without the other; but, more often than not, they come together. (And, spoiler alert! I started writing their posts in tandem because I think of them as my two anchors, or touchstones, in the corner of the room.) They come when it’s cold; they come when it’s hot; they come when they’re tired; they come when they’re busy; and sometimes they come when they’re not feeling 100%.

Julie mentions me helping her adapt her yoga practice during one of those times when she wasn’t at 100%. However, I wasn’t her only resource. She also practiced with the amazing Michelle P-W who, in addition to being a world-class yoga therapist, has practiced and taught with Matthew Sanford.

There are lots of people in the world who could benefit from a yoga practice if they had the resources to facilitate their practice. Sometimes the necessary resource is a knowledgeable teacher, sometimes it’s an accessible studio, and sometimes it’s just the awareness that there is more than one way to practice yoga. Either way, if you KISS MY ASANA, you help create more resources and opportunities for more people to discover and continue practicing yoga.

 

~ Forever, and ever, Amen. ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #12: The Fixer February 13, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, Life, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Tantra, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“…every person is obligated to say, ‘For my sake alone the world was created.’ That doesn’t mean the world is mine to consume everything indiscriminately (although God does want us to enjoy the pleasures of this world).

What it does mean is that we must take responsibility for any problem in the world. If you recognize a problem – whether it be a piece of litter on the street or a major social issue that needs adjusting – you shouldn’t just say ‘someone else will deal with it.’ There is nobody else. In God’s eyes, the rule is: You saw it, you fix it.”

– Aish Rabbi on Tikkun Olam

 

Underlying the mystical Jewish concept of tikkun olam is the idea that everything and everyone was once part of a divine whole, that everything and everyone is somehow disconnected, and that everything and everyone has a role in putting the pieces back together again. In modern times this concept is often translated as “repair the world.” However, some scholars also refer to tikkun olan as “establish the world” – which brings me to another of my favorite ideals (the story of the 36) and one of my favorite yogis (Meghan G, #12).

According to the Talmud, there are always at least 36 righteous people in the world. These Lamed-Vav Tzadikim (“36 righteous ones”) are also known as Nistram (“the concealed ones”); so called because they are unknown even to themselves. They live quiet, unassuming lives. They do the right thing as much as they are able – simply because it is the right thing, and they are able. They are so humble they could never imagine that they will “greet the Shekhinah” – Divinity in a feminine form – or that their very existence ensures humanity’s continued existence.

If we let go of dogma, add the idea of the Tikkun Olam to the concept of Lamed-Vav Tzadikim, and use the result as a model to guide our lives, we might just embody the “Prayer of St. Francis” – or a Pearl Jam song.

When something’s dark, let me shed a little light on it
When something’s cold, I wanna put a little fire on it
If something’s old, I wanna put a little shine on it
If something’s gone, I wanna fight to get it back again

– Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” from Los Angeles 1 USA 9-30-2009 concert

 

I’m not going to say Meghan G is one of the 36 – but, I’m not going to say she’s not. What I will say is that she lives and practices, on and off the mat, with a powerfully humble and grace-filled awareness. Her awareness stays fixed on the idea that while we may feel disconnected, we are all connected to (and through) the Divine. She reminds me of the “sort of optimistic and playful melody and lyric” side of Eddie Vedder’s personality that Stone Gossard says we glimpse in “The Fixer.”

 

“I’ll say your prayers, I’ll take your side
I’ll find us a way to make light”

– Pearl Jam’s “The Fixer” from Los Angeles 1 USA 9-30-2009 concert

 

In 2009, when asked if the title of “The Fixer” referred to him, Vedder said, “My answer is, aren’t we all? Maybe I’m wrong to think that, but it seems like we are…. I’m thinking more on a worldview or a community view.” In a later interview, he would also say, “This is a reminder song to me, to stop fixing.”

If you attend a traditional class led by Matthew Sanford, he might greet you by asking what ails you. He has said that, when people come to his teacher training, he often asks them, “Who are you trying to fix?” Ultimately, both questions lead to the awareness that while we think we need to fix (or establish) ourselves – in order to fix (or establish) the world – what we are really “fixing” through our practice is our awareness. The connection is already there; our yoga practice is just a way to awaken it! Please KISS MY ASANA to help Mind Body Solutions transform the way people think about their mind-body.

~ LOKAH SAMASTHA SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #5: …Makes Me Feel Good! February 5, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Kundalini, Life, Love, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“For she is a reflection of eternal light,
a spotless mirror of the working of God,
and an image of his goodness.
Although she is but one, she can do all things,
and while remaining in herself, she renews all things;
in every generation she passes into holy souls
and makes them friends of God, and prophets;
for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom [Sophia].
She is more beautiful than the sun,
and excels every constellation of the stars.” – Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 – 7:29*

 

“Although the word Melech (King) appears many times throughout Jewish liturgy, a largely unknown-fact is that Malchut-mastery is an almost entirely feminine concept.” – Excerpt from The Kabbalah Sutras by Marcus J. Freed

 

Saturday, February 25, 2012, I was about to begin the 6th class of a 7th week series when in walked Kris – preceded by her infectious smile and boundless spirit. It would be May before I saw her again (for two classes in a row, one of which featured her favorite musical moment), but I hadn’t forgotten what a joy it was to share the space with a yoga master! Four years later, I still can’t wait for those times when Kris comes through town and gives me a call. In fact, sometimes I look forward to them so much I will them. Watching her practice yoga is like watching wisdom at play!

The true yogi ‘has inner joy’, according to the yogic sages. In addition ‘he has inner gladness and he has found inner light…’”

– Marcus J. Freed quoting the Bhagavad Gita

Besides appreciating her untethered soul and openness to all things yoga, I adore Kris’s love of music. We are both pretty eclectic in our musical tastes, but I think the thing that seals the bond, every time, is our love of life – or, maybe it’s our love of country music. Surprisingly, her musical moment doesn’t sound very country.

Kris is one of two artists featured in “Eve and the Snake: Women’s Work”(showing at Diamond’s Coffee Shop through February and March 2016). If you’re in the NE neighborhood, you can swing by, check out the art, have a hot beverage, and consider making a donation to my 2016 KISS MY ASANA team.

*NOTE: Monette Chilson uses this scripture as an introduction to her book Sophia Rising: Awakening your sacred wisdom through yoga; however, I have used a different translation.

~ Jai Guru Dev Jai Jai ~