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THE POSSIBILITIES OF DELIGHT & WISDOM: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #5 April 5, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Loss, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“When Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose” she used capital P’s to juxtapose possibility and prose. (Yes, she capitalizes house as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Her Possibility was Poetry; it allowed her to move beyond the confines of her physical house, as well as beyond the limits of her physical body and mind. Poetry allowed her to move beyond her seemingly mundane, commonplace (dare I say it…), prosaic life. It took her deeper.

 

Every April, I ask my classes, “What if the “P” stood for Pose? What if it stood for Prana? Could you dwell in that possibility? Could you go deeper?”

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month.”

– from the beginning of my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offerings  (poetry from “I dwell in Possibility” by Emily Dickinson, with music by Margaret Far)

The beginning of a practice is full of possibilities. There is the possibility that the practice will (to paraphrase Robert Frost) begin with delight and end with wisdom. Of course, the minute you come into the first pose, you start to limit your next set of movements. After all, how many different ways can you move out of a comfortable seated position, Equal Standing (Samastithi), Corpse Pose (Savasana), or Child’s Pose (Balasana)? OK, ok, the standard starting poses are the standard starting poses for a reason: while there are only so many ways you can move out of them, they still provide a good starting point for an infinite number of possibilities.

But, what if you never really came out of the pose?

The aforementioned starting poses still seem to provide ample opportunity for a lot of possibilities. After all, you can do a variation of the standing pose Triangle (Trikonansana) in a seated position – on the floor or in a chair or on your back. The question is: If Child’s Pose is the modification for every pose (as I say at the beginning of almost every practice), how do you “do” Triangle Pose in Child’s Pose?

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand”

– from “The Stolen Child” by William Butler Yeats, with music by The Waterboys

FEATURED POSE for April 5th: Child’s Pose, variations (Balasana)

NOTE: Even though Child’s Pose (Balasana) is considered a foundational or “beginner” pose, it is not for everyone. You can definitely place a bolster, pillow, blanket, or block between your hips and heels in order to take pressure off of the knees. You can also put a blanket under the knees. Sometimes it is helpful to place your hands or a prop under your head. For some, however, these options are still not enough to make Child’s Pose accessible. If you need another option, lie down on your back with your feet flat on the wall in a way that is comfortable for your knees. Another supine option is to bend the knees with the heels resting on a stable surface in such a way that your knees are comfortable (ideally, you want to make sure the surface is wider than your hips). Either way, follow the cues below as it makes sense from the supine position.

Stand on your hands and knees, stacking shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, and hips over knees. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knees as wide as you feel comfortable – which may mean your knees are touching, as far apart as the mat, or somewhere in between. Sink your hips to your heels and lower your forehead and nose to the mat. Arms can be by your sides or reaching on the floor over your head.

As noted above, you can cross your arms or use a prop to support your forehead and use any combination of props to support your hips and knees. Take a moment to get comfortable and then allow the breath to deepen.

Keeping the breath steady, bring your awareness to how your body feels and what it might need to be a little more comfortable, a little more stable, and a little more joyful. Visualize yourself practicing a simple twist, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Forward Fold (Uttanasana), Horse/Goddess Pose, Warrior I & II (Virabhadrasana I & II ), Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), and Revolving Triangle Pose (Parvritta Trikonasana). Consider how you work your body in each pose and how you feel when you come out of the pose. Now, you’re going to do all of those poses while still in Chid’s Pose.

“Well your faith was strong but you needed proof”

– from “Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen with music by Jeff Buckley

Simple Twist: Inhale and reach the arms overhead as you also stretch the ribs and hips away from each other. As you exhale, thread the right arm under your left armpit so that the right palm faces up on the left side of your mat. Turn your head to the left so that the right cheek and shoulder are on the mat. Adjust as needed to make sure the knees, right arm, and neck are comfortable. You can always place a prop or the left arm under your head in order to support the neck. The left arm can also stay on the floor – reaching overhead – or you can lift the left arm straight up in the air, opening a little more into the twist. Another option is to lift the left arm on an inhale and then exhale and bring it behind your back, reaching for your right hip or thigh. Make sure the hips and heels stay as neutral as possible. If you are on your back, you may need to brace the left forearm against the right upper arm.

This is “Thread the Needle.” Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths and then release and switch to the other side.

Downward Facing Dog & Forward Fold: Return to your hands and knees for a moment. Either separate the knees and the feet so they are the same distance apart, or bring the knees together and feet together. Inhale to Cow Pose and as you exhale curl your toes under. Inhale and walk your hands as far forward as they will go without the hips moving away from the heels and with the elbows coming to the ground. As you exhale, let your heart melt down. If you are not feeling a bit of a back bend, start over and check your alignment as you go. If you are feeling too much of a back bend, place something under your forehead. If you want to feel more of a back bend, look up. Once you have extended your spine, press through your arms and heels, keeping the hips high, and breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. This is a “Puppy Dog” variation.

Release the back bend by letting your whole body melt down. Arms can be reaching on the floor over your head or down by your sides. Relax everything. This is your modified Forward Fold. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Horse/Goddess Pose & Warrior I: Spread the feet and knees as wide as is comfortable for you. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and then bend the elbows to 90 degrees, keeping the elbows in-line with the shoulders and palms facing the floor (or ceiling, if you are on your back). This is your modified Horse/Goddess. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Release into modified Warrior I by inhaling your arms overhead (still on the floor). Warrior I typically creates an opportunity to stretch out the front of the back hip and thigh, as well as the back of the back calf. To modify this engagement, stretch your left leg straight back and curl the toes under. Focus on reaching the hips and heels away from the arms and heart (and vice versa) for 5 – 7 breaths. Hug the left knee back in towards the chest and repeat on the right side for the same length of time.

Warrior II & Triangle: Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and gaze to the right. Breathe in this modified Warrior II for 5 – 7 breaths. If you want to experience the back leg engagement, again stretch the left leg straight back and breathe.

Moving from modified Warrior II, you may need to bend your elbows in order to stretch your right leg out like a “T”. See if you can get the right knee and ankle up as high as the hip. Once you have reached your limit, press the foot down (either big toe side down or foot flat) and gaze in the direction that feels most comfortable for your neck and shoulders. Again, left leg can be bent or extended. Breathe in this modified Triangle for 5 – 7 breaths.

Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.

Revolving Triangle: Starting with your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose, move into the earlier twist (“Thread the Needle”) with right arm threading under the left arm pit. Bend the left elbow so the left hand is flat on the floor under your nose. Using the left hand for support, take a deep breath in and stretch the left leg out like a “T” so that right fingers and left toes are reaching toward each other. Brace the foot into the floor. The left hand can stay in a support position or move into one of the positions described at the beginning. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. (NOTE: It is possible to do this modified Revolving Triangle with the right leg extended back, but that variation of Universal Yoga’s “Dragonfly” requires quite a bit of hip and low back flexibility.)

To unravel the twist, bring the left hand back into its support position (in front of the nose) and unthread the needle before hugging the left knee into the body (which brings you back into Child’s Pose). Spend a few breaths in your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose and then repeat on the second side.

Stay in Child’s Pose or move into Savasana or a comfortable seated position. Spend some time in the stillness, allowing the breath to be “the air a staircase” and notice how you feel.

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

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

“…will the neighbours say, / ‘He was a man who used to notice such things’?”

– from “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy, with accompanying music by Sir Jon Lord (recitation by Jeremy Irons)

As I’ve mentioned before, during Poetry Month I like to highlight poets and poems in some classes with playlists featuring poems and music inspired by a single poet, their poetry, and their life – or, a playlist featuring a variety of music-poem combinations. The music-poem combinations referenced throughout this post are part of my playlists.

Want to hear more? Stay tuned! The extended playlist is coming to my YouTube channel soon. In the mean time, here’s the link to the beginning of my 2018 KMA offering, featuring a poem-practice per day.

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

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Music, Music, Music (A 2015 KISS MY ASANA Prequel Sequel) March 2, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Hope, Karma Yoga, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Writing, Yoga.
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So if you’re feelin’ down and out, got no place to go now
Just sing along to the music y’all, let it fill your soul now
Because everyone deserves music, sweet music

“Everyone Deserves Music” by Michael Franti & Spearhead

 

My best friend in college always said life has a soundtrack. I know, everybody says that now – there’s even an app for that – but this was back in the 80’s/90’s and it wasn’t a thing, it just was. And what it was to me was true, in part, because I had been hearing a super eclectic soundtrack all my life.

 

I heard all the sounds of the country, mixed with all the sounds of the city. I heard vinyl and 8-track tapes before cassettes. I spent a good portion of my younger days thinking my Beatles-crazed friends were fans of Wes Montgomery. I was in a girl band that sang songs like “Lettuce Entertain You.” And I once got a speeding ticket for flying down an open highway to Mahalia Jackson (with my maternal great-grandmother and grandmother in the car).

 

My maternal great-grandfather owned a super club on the Chitlin’ Circuit; my dad played first chair trumpet in high school – even though he was tone deaf; my immediate family took road trips where most of the stations along the way played old school country; one of my maternal great-uncles had a basement full of classical; one of my first cassettes was dubbed “Hollering Oats” by my family; my mother took me to my first live rock concert; and at some point along the way my friend J. Ben taught me it was OK to play rhythm & blues, country, and heavy metal on the same mixed tape – you just had to have a theme…or not.

 

There are answers in the music
And there are answers in the words

– “Be Good” by Hothouse Flowers

 

Fast forward to now. After years of working in the performing arts, I started teaching yoga. I’m quick to tell people that I didn’t take the teacher training to teach – I took it so I could answer questions. What I had no way of knowing when I started this little adventure was that some of the questions I would end up answering would be about the music I play during class.

 

Rewind to my first yoga classes. There was no prerecorded soundtrack. In fact, I think I practiced for a couple of years before I took a class with music, and another couple of years before I practiced with a teacher who played non-classical/instrumental music.

 

Rie Congelio introduced me to musicians that (at the time) weren’t being played on the radio (in the U. S.) and taught me how much fun it could be to flow to your breath, while simultaneously dancing to the music. Down the road I would be spend a year practicing to Steve Ross’s eclectic soundtrack on Oxygen’s Inhale; look into the physiological, neurological, and emotional effects of music; and eventually practice in studios where people just basically played a bunch of random stuff because it had the “right” tempo and it was something they liked to hear.

 

What hasn’t ever left me; however, was what preceded my musical conversation with Rie. I was in Savasana trying to figure out why the very quiet song seemed so familiar to me, and why my body seemed to be so tuned into it. When I spoke to Rie after class, she said she picked the song because it was soothing and it was in Gaelic; and therefore, unlikely to be a distraction (seeing as we were in Southeast Texas). Little did she know I was studying Gaelic at the time or, that in that moment, I would start really thinking about how much music could enhance or undermine the practice of yoga as meditation.

 

And every cry is a song
And every song is a prayer
And our prayer must be heard
Fill the air

– “Isn’t It Amazing” by Hothouse Flowers

 


Music can serve as white noise (or maybe it’s brown noise). It can serve as an extra wall, filtering out distraction from outside the practice space. It can serve as a controlled distraction, a known quantity, to hone our focus/concentration. It can also, unfortunately, just be a distraction. And yet, I know people who never “hear” the music – even when I play Ozzy Osbourne – and I know people who will practice to a song for years before they listen to it. Other people will go so deep into the song, they get beyond it.

 

In Yoga Sutra 1.2 Patanjali writes “yogash citta vritti nirodhah” (“Yoga ceases the fluctuation of the mind.”) Inherent in this statement is that fact that the mind fluctuates. Left to its own devices, the mind will, at some point, start looking for a distraction. So I give the mind music for several reasons. First, in some meditation traditions people are told to think the word “thinking” when their mind starts wandering. It’s a reminder to get back to the meditation. When I pick a theme for my classes, I also start picking music that supports the theme by serving as a reminder when the mind wanders. Second, Patanjali (in YS 1.17) outlines four (4) levels of attention/concentration/meditation: (1) gross, (2) subtle, (3) bliss, (4) and absorption. In their commentary on YS 1.17, Geshe Michael Roach and Christy McNally compare the levels to (1) being aware that music is playing; (2) examining the words and melody (maybe humming or singing along); (3) enjoying the song, being overcome by its beauty; and (4) being so absorbed that nothing else matters, everything else disappears. Finally, research has shown that when people hear a song they haven’t heard in a long time, their blood pressure changes. Breathing and breath awareness can also change because of the tempo, volume, and musical key.

 

This is a song that nobody knows
I couldn’t begin to describe how it goes
But it makes me cry or laugh right out loud
It’s a song that I sing when there’s no one around

– “When There’s No One Around” by Garth Brooks

 

Last April, I posted 30 Poses in 30 Days for the KISS MY ASANA Yogathon. I am doing the yogathon again this April to raise money and awareness for the adaptive yoga programs at Mind Body Solutions. This year, however, we are gearing up early. So, in an effort to get people excited about practicing yoga (or practicing more yoga), I’m posting 30 Songs in 30 Days during March. I know, I know, some of you are already thinking, “Hold up, Myra, March has 31 days.” Yes, it’s true, and since this post has at least a baker’s dozen linked song references, plus two (2) unlinked song references, AND one song contains at least ten (10) musical Easter eggs, consider each one a little musical lagniappe (a little something extra, freely given with a purchase).

 

~ Thanks for spending a little time with me. NAMASTE ~

(Check out Freegal at the Hennepin Public Library.)