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Exploring the Wren Cycle on St. Patrick’s Day (2012)

“If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants” – Sir Isaac Newton

It is not surprising that my dad, the scientist, quotes Sir Isaac Newton. It’s not even surprising that I, in quoting my dad, occasionally quote Newton (and even Galileo Galilei, one of Newton’s giants). What may surprise anyone who attended my recent classes themed around Newton and Galileo, is that the first time I quoted my dad quoting Newton in a yoga class, I wasn’t talking about laws of motion. I was leading a Saint Patrick’s Day yoga class.

Fast forward three years, and I now realize Sir Isaac Newton’s words are an apt description of vinyasa krama (a step-by-step progression to a specific goal). Sometimes the goal is a specific, peak pose; sometimes it is a sensation or a realization. Always, however, the emphasis is on the process.

What’s the difference between vinyasa krama and a vinyasa class?

Krama refers to chronological sequencing. Any physical practice where the body systematically opens to higher and higher experiences utilizes vinyasa krama. In fact, some would argue that every good yoga practice utilizes vinyasa krama (with Savasana or seated meditation being the peak of the practice).

On the flipside, vinyasa – often translated as “flow” – is Sanskrit for “to place in a special way.” In the modern world, it is typically a practice involving sun salutations and the ability to link the postures “one breath, one movement.” People have come to think of vinyasa as vigorous, intense, powerful, and challenging. More often than not, however, the emphasis on those descriptors makes people forget about placing anything in a special way. We loose sight of the flow, and we loose sight of the purpose.

Svadhyayat ishta samprayogah (YS II:24)

Self-study and reflection on sacred words, when it is developed to the highest degree, connects us with higher forces that promote understanding.

Above and beyond anything else, yoga (regardless of the style) should be about being mindful. Svadyaya, self-study, is the fourth Niyama (internal observation as outlined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras). The physical practice of yoga is one of several ways to observe one’s own body-mind-spirit. In fact, it creates opportunities to study our entire self in a variety of situations. It also cultivates body awareness. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, B. K. S. Iynegar, who is known for his emphasis on anatomical alignment, writes, “Intensified action in yoga brings intensified intelligence.” The more aware we are in our practice, the more aware we become of our bodies, our minds, and our spirits. The more aware we are of our Self, the more aware we can be in our lives.

Vinyasa is an opportunity to mimic the body’s natural tendencies: to expand as we inhale, relax and release toxins as we exhale.  It can also be an opportunity for a moving meditation. Always, it should be an opportunity for self-study; an opportunity, as it were, to reach higher understanding.

Very interesting. But, what does all this have to do with St. Patrick’s Day?

On St. Patrick’s Day in 2009, I was subbing an evening class at the Downtown-Minneapolis YMCA. I was new to the Y and, despite being in a room full of members I had never met, I proceeded to lead a practice themed around Newton’s statement and one of my favorite Celtic tales: the story about how the wren became the king of the birds.

Yoga is full of bird poses – some of which are named after birds you might not find in Ireland – and it was a fun practice. People appreciated the class enough to start coming to my regular classes. For a variety of reasons, however, that 2009 St. Patrick’s Day class is one I haven’t repeated – at least, not in the same way.

Oh, I’ve told the story, but up until now I haven’t repeated all those poses.

To be honest, some of the poses are so challenging I didn’t really imagine people would be able to do them. And, in hindsight, I can’t even believe I suggested them in a 60-minute class full of people I didn’t know! In fact, it’s easy to look back and think that a more seasoned instructor would have chosen a different class.

Except, the purpose of that 2009 class wasn’t to get everyone into one of the many featured arm balances. The purpose wasn’t even to get everyone to stand on one foot. The purpose was to bring awareness to how the body, mind, and spirit can work together. The purpose was to mindfully explore what happens when you stand on the shoulder of giants.

And, of course, since it was St. Patrick’s Day, the purpose was to enjoy some good old-fashioned Irish craic (a good time).

This year, I’m leading two (2) 90-minute classes themed around the wren cycle.  If you’re in Minneapolis and interested in a St. Patrick’s Day celebration full of good friends, Celtic music, story telling, and more bird poses than you can imagine, bring a friend and join me at one of the following:

EARLY BIRDS: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at Downtown-Minneapolis YMCA, 9:35 AM – 11:05 AM Cost: Free to YMCA members.

NOCTURNAL BIRDS: Saturday, March 17, 2012 at Nokomis Yoga (2722 East 50th Street), 2:00 PM – 3:30 PM Cost: $15 Drop-In (or use class pass or discount)

These are open level classes. Modifications will be given so that even beginners and individuals with contraindications can take flight. Be prepared to sweat, laugh, soar, and relax!

Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

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