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Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

Have You Noticed The Change? April 21, 2020

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“In your meditation today,

May your body be still and comfortable;

May your head, neck, and trunk be aligned;

May your breath be smooth, slow, serene, and with no pauses;

May the flow of thoughts in your mind not disturb you;

May your meditation today bring you peace, happiness, and bliss.”

– Intention for meditation, set by Swami Jnaneshvara

 

There’s a lot going on right now, inside and outside; a lot to notice. So, perhaps you’ve noticed something is different, but haven’t mentioned it. Perhaps you have noticed the things that are the same, and appreciated them. Yet, even as we’ve spent the last few days very deliberately and very intentionally noticing things, perhaps you haven’t noticed one of the things that has changed.

In all fairness, there are a number of reasons why you might not have even encountered the specific change of which I speak. The biggest reason you might not have noticed the change is that you might not be using the playlist and/or you might not be listening to the before/after class music.

Over the years, music has become part of the ritual of the practice. A friend once remarked that she came into one of the studios at the Y and didn’t see me, but she heard a Garth Brooks song playing over the stereo and knew I was somewhere in the building. Some people have told me that don’t really like the outdoor classes (because there is no music) and others have said they prefer no music. Some people have said they never even notice the music, and then there are the times where it is just a little too loud.

Still, many people have remarked that the chanting at the end of the playlist really sets the tone and gets them in the right mindset. And that, ultimately, is why the music is there before and after the class. It helps to bring us into the space and into the moment; it helps us transition from the profane to the sacred and then back to the mundane – but this time taking a piece of the sacred with us.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

– “Teaching Santipat,” chanted by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

 

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May All-Beings, Everywhere, Be Happy & Be Free”

– Metta (Loving-kindness) mantra often chanted at the end of the practice

That said, sometimes I change the chanting at the end of the playlist. Don’t get me wrong; we still start with the practice with the English translation of the “Teaching Santipat” (a.k.a. “the group intention”), but there are times when I want to set the tone in a slightly different way before I ever say a word. So, I’ll change the ending that leads to the beginning. More often than not it’s just a simple change, like replacing the Santipat for the “Gayatri Mantra” on the days when we are focusing on the light. Other times, there’s a bit of a story, like a prologue, that I want to subtly and subliminally convey. And, usually, people notice the change (because it’s pretty obvious) – but not this time.

I’ve collected a pretty massive amount of music over the years – not professional DJ massive – but I have a lot of music and I am always buying more. As I mentioned this past Saturday, however, sometimes music on my playlist is not available on Spotify and/or YouTube. No one knows, unless I mention it, when I make a little switch – especially since I try to stick with the same composer and, obviously, maintain the same motif, tempo, and timing. And I only mention it now, because I want you to notice something is different.

“In the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind,
I bow to the lotus feet of our great teacher,

 

Who uncovers our true self and awakens happiness
Like a Shaman in the Jungle he brings total complete well-being.
He can even heal the most awful poison of conditioning and illusion.

 

The upper body of human shape, carrying
a mussel horn (original tone), a discus (infinity) and a sword (power of differentiation)
having 1000 bright heads,
I bow to Patanjali.”

 

– Ashtanga mantra, used to open Ashtanga practices all over the world

In searching for alternative pieces over this last month, I have discovered new songs from two of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary and Alexandra Stréliski, and also discovered the lyrics to a song, “Merci Bon Dieu,” that I had only ever used as an instrumental piece. In the case of the latter, it turns out the lyrics reinforced the reason I had so often slotted the instrumental piece into certain playlists and, in the case of the former, well…let’s just say I’m going to be buying more music when this is all said and done.

But that’s all lagniappe, just a little something extra that tells you a bit about my process. The real focus today, is what I’m offering and that’s the chant at the end of the YouTube and Spotify playlists. It is not, however, the “Teaching Santipat” recorded by Richard Freeman, which I normally I use in the practice and which I still recite at the beginning. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the version I use in the studio is only available on a CD set I purchased years ago when I wanted to add more chanting to my practice. Instead, what appears in the online playlists is a bit of kirtan recorded by Krishna Das.

“Mere Gurudev,” can be translated as “My Ultimate Teacher” or, literally, “My Teacher-God.” I have heard the chant was originally written by an unnamed Indian woman, who (as you will see by the words) intended it as an offering and a tribute to her teacher, Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba.

Maharaji was a lifelong practitioner of bhakti yoga (“union through devotion” or “union through love”), which includes the practice of kirtan (mantras chanted with music). He was the teacher of Ram Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Jai Uttal, Trevor Hall, and Krishna Das, as well as a host of entertainers and business moguls. Maharaji was reportedly so touched by the woman’s offering that he immediately asked for someone to write it down and for everyone to learn it. The Krishna Das version (which may exclude one of the original verses) translates as follows:

“My Gurudev, I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet
Whatever I have, you have given to me, and I dedicate it all to you.

 

I have no love, nor do I know you.*
I don’t even have the strength to worship you,
But this mind of mine, this body of mine,
my every atom is dedicated to you.

 

You are the only one in my heart and my thoughts.
You are the one who I call out to.
Now Make me your instrument…all I am I offer to you.”

 

– “Mere Gurudev” recorded in Sanskrit by Krishna Das

*earlier translation = “I have no love for you, nor any desire for you”

I was taught, and I believe, that our ultimate (and best) teacher is inside of us. That may mean different things to different people, but I don’t believe it makes it any less true. Part of what is true about that, is that I carry (as we all do) the lessons of all of our teachers – regardless of what they taught us. I was also taught, and also believe, that each and every one of us is simultaneously student and teacher to those around us. Meaning you all are as much my teachers as I am yours. Rather than using an online version of the “Teaching Santipat” that didn’t really resonate with me, I decided to add this bit of kirtan to the end of each playlist as a reminder, during this unsettling time, that what I offer is a gift to my teachers.

Thank you, for accepting these gifts.

“Namaste.”

– salutation / benediction meaning “I bow Thou”

If you are interested and available, please join me class today (Tuesday, April 21st) at 12 Noon or at 7:15 PM on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Tuesday’s playlist is the same as Sunday’s playlist (dated 04192020) and is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You may notice that the playlist is longer than normal – that’s because it is actually two (2) different playlists. If you are using the music, you get to choose your musical experience.

My apologies to anyone who was expecting the “In Memoriam (Musicians)” practice I have previously led on April 21st (in 2017, for instance). If you go to The Roots YouTube channel, you will find thatQuestLove has stocked the Wrecka Stow and made up for my omission, 5x over.

It’s Almost Time to Kiss My Asana (cause the yogathon starts Saturday, April 25th!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

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

Teacher, teacher, tell me your Kiss My Asana story!

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 21st (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 21st)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 21st)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 21st Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above or the Sunday and Monday posts from this week for an actual preview)

 

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###

 

What Are You Doing (or Not Doing)? March 31, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Life, Meditation, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– from Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryū Suzuki

At some point, we are all beginners, doing something for the first time… or the 51st time. That’s why, on a good day, I love beginners – and I’m always a fan of the wonder that comes with beginner’s mind. Ironically (to some), I am not a fan of beginner’s classes when it comes to yoga. Unless, of course, you consider every class a beginner class, and remember that there’s a reason it’s called a practice. That said, I believe beginners should respect the fact that if someone says a class or a pose is advanced then it is not something you do on your first day…or your 51st day. But, just because a particular class or pose is not intended for someone, doesn’t mean that person can’t practice yoga.

During a practice Bryan Kest said that if there are 60 million people on the planet doing yoga then there are at least 60 million different ways to do a pose. That’s the reason there are different styles and traditions.

“Every age.
Every race & ethnicity.
Every class & socioeconomic status.
Every gender identity & sexual orientation.
Every size, shape, height, weight & dis/ability.

Every body is a yoga body.”

– statement from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition

One of my favorite t-shirts (“This is what a yogi looks like”) came from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, which “is committed to dismantling stereotypes about who practices yoga, who should practice yoga, + what a “yoga body” looks like.” Bottom line: the coalition was established to create awareness so that (a) yoga teachers like me do not have to constantly deal with people walking in the studio and playing some version of the “Oh, you’re the teacher?” game; (b) people can practice yoga anywhere without judgment (or expensive yoga pants that let other people see your expensive underwear); and (c) so that more people recognize that they too can practice – and even teach – yoga.

Historically, yoga was primarily a practice taught for and by men. That’s not to say that women didn’t practice, secretly and quietly, but in the public sphere it was a practice taught for and by men…brown-skinned men, who (early on) often engaged in an ascetic lifestyle. Indra Devi started to change that, but the idea that someone who practices yoga is a thin, very flexible, light-skinned woman with “shampoo commercial” hair and a disposable income is very much a modern stereotype. Not only is it a modern stereotype – it’s a Western stereotype – one around which a whole industry has grown. And that underlying concept is one of the things that can make it challenging for new people to get started in the practice; that, plus the idea that you have to be flexible to practice yoga.

I tell people all the time: most people don’t practice yoga because they are flexible; they are flexible because they practice yoga. Focusing on physical flexibility, however, ignores the fact that the physical practice is also a way to cultivate strength and balance (even flexibility) – in the mind as well as in the body. But, sticking with the body for a moment, consider for a moment that while every pose may not be for each and every body, there is a practice for everybody and a way to practice that allows you to experience the benefits of every pose (even if you have to modify).

Late in 1983, Sri Dharma Mittra, a master yoga teacher based in New York City, started a deep dive into his practice and then started photographing himself every morning. Those 72 photos-a-day eventually became an amazingly iconic illustration of 908 yoga asanas. If you look closely, you can tell that the pictures were not taken at the same time, because in some pictures he is a completely different weight than in others. Like a method actor preparing for a major role, Dharma Mittra reportedly gained, lost, or maintained weight in order to practice certain poses. Because, again, each and every pose is not for each and every body. To force yourself into a position for which the body is not prepared to go isn’t yoga, its torture (and detrimental to your well-being). It is also detrimental to ignore what your body is feeling. One of the big problems with our modern practice, however, is that we are not always reminded to trust what we are feeling.

There is a lot of reasons we don’t trust the way we feel, on and off the mat. On the mat, one of the big reasons we don’t trust ourselves is because we are often faced with the idea that there are beginner, intermediate, and advanced poses. It’s all a matter ratings and perceptions. Grab practice manuals from a variety of different styles, however, and you will find huge differences in how a single pose is ranked according to difficulty. If you want to add a layer of awareness to that, compare those ratings to your own perception of the pose.

For example, in the United States, a common way to test or think about flexibility resides in a person’s ability to touch their toes. Uttānāsana (a standing forward bend) and Paschimottānāsana (a seated forward bend) are often featured in a beginners’ class. In Light on Yoga (Iyengar), however, the standing forward fold is considered an 8, the seated version is considered a 6, and the supine version (which I often suggest as a modification for people with certain back issues) is considered a 10. In Jivamukti Yoga, which is a form of vinayasa, the standing variation is considered a 1, while the seated is considered a 2. On the flip side, in Ashtanga, which is a progressive practice and one of the first vinyasa poses introduced to the West, the standing variation appears at the very beginning of the practice (it is part of the warm-up), while the seated variation is considered part of the finishing sequence (ergo, practiced after the body is significantly warmed up). Now compare those ratings to your own perception, and maybe even your own experience.

What’s the difference? How you practice – and part of how you practice is what you do and what you don’t do as you practice.

Today in 1930, the Motion Picture Code, also known as the Hays Code, was adopted by Hollywood. Inspired by a document created by a lay Catholic and Jesuit priest, Hollywood censor Will Hays initially came up with a list of 36 “Don’ts” and “Be Carefuls.” The code was officially enforced from1934 until 1968, when it was replaced by the Motion Picture Association of America rating system that is still in place today. Today’s practice is inspired by this concept of ratings. While today’s playlist (available on Spotify and YouTube) is not full of soundtracks, it is cinematic.

My advice to beginners is my same advice to people who have been away from their practice for a while and/or people who have to come up with a new practice schedule:

  1. Respect yourself and the space. Again, if someone refers to their class as advanced, believe them. (To paraphrase Maya Angelou, if someone tells you what they are about, believe them the first time.)
  2. Find a time and place (when we are able to go out and about again) that is convenient so that you commit to your practice.
  3. Don’t worry about what we call the poses; pretend like you’re playing Simon Says, but…
  4. Listen to your body!!!! If your body says don’t do it, then Simon didn’t say it. Some things will be uncomfortable, but don’t ignore pain. Pain is your body telling you something is not right.
  5. If you can breathe, even with a machine, you can practice yoga.
  6. Ask questions. Question everything. If you can’t do it during the practice, talk to the teacher before or after the practice. There’s no shame in not knowing something you don’t know.
  7. Trust your practice. Even if it’s your first day, take a moment to breathe and remember the words of Saint Teresa of Avila…

“If you want to make progress on the path and ascend to the places you have longed for, the important thing is not to think much but to love much, and so to do whatever best awakens you to love.”

 – from The Interior Castle by Saint Teresa of Avila  

I’m offering two (2) classes on Tuesdays. These are open-level vinyasa practices using vinyasa karma, which means we will move with the breath and progress in intensity as we make our way to a final and/or peak pose. All are welcome!

You can access either of today’s practices live via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone.  (For additional details, check the “class schedule” tab.)

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 12 Noon – 1:00 PM CST is 610-189-542, https://zoom.us/j/610-189-542  ONE TAP: +13126266799,,610-189-542# US (Chicago).

The Meeting ID for Tuesdays, 7:15 PM – 8:30 PM CST is 216-720-410, https://zoom.us/j/216-720-410 ONE TAP: +13126266799,,216720410# US (Chicago)

Also, Wednesday is the beginning of April, which means Kiss My Asana is coming to you! Keep an eye out for how this year’s yogathon has changed, and how it’s still all about keeping the practice accessible.

### INHALE, EXHALE ###

 

WE CAN BEGIN AT ANYTIME: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 13, 2019

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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on 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.

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“How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind – white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started”

 – excerpt from “Looking Around, Believing” by Gary Soto (born 4/12/1952)

Ever look around and wonder why we begin where we begin? Every wonder if we could start our yoga practice with a different pose? Or if it even matters where we start? For that matter, what would happen if we started earlier in life? Or later?

Okay, okay, some of those are purely rhetorical. And, as the title of this post clearly states, “we can begin at anytime” – but, what about the place/position in which we start?

If you are exposed to different styles and traditions, maybe through a single teacher or through your own curiosity, you will find that some styles and traditions always start with the same pose – but that “same pose” is not universal. Some practices start with Child’s Pose (Balasana). Some start with Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samastithi / Tadasana).Some start with the practitioners on their backs; still others start with practitioners in a seated position – but even then it’s not necessarily the same seated position.  Why all the variety? Let’s go deeper.

There’s something to be said for tradition. If you look back at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are no asanas (or poses) detailed. Instead, Patanjali provides critical instructions on how to practice the poses. Specifically, he instructs “cultivating a steady/stable, easy/comfortable/joyful seat/pose” (YS II.46) and then proceeds to explain how the awareness and extension of breath (pranayama) extends out of finding balance in the body. Classical sacred texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 15th century), Gheranda Samhita (early 17th century), or Shiva Samhita (circa 14th – 17th century), mostly list sitting on your sits-bones poses and begin with some variation of a cross-legged position. In all cases, the focus is on having an elongated spine, with the head balanced above the shoulders and hips, and effort balanced with relaxation. This type of pose reminds one of a meditation seat and is a great way to remember that the physical yoga practice is also a meditation practice, with the ultimate meditation state as its final goal. Emotionally, energetically, and symbolically, starting in a seated position indicates that the practice is a time for study, contemplation, and devotion.

Ashtanga, one of the first vinyasa practices to come to the western world, begins with Mountain Pose (Tadasana), which is also the first pose featured in B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. It is a foundational pose, in that there are elements of Mountain Pose (which Iyengar also refers to as Equal Standing) in almost every pose. When standing, there is particular emphasis on balance – left to right and top to bottom – and on the extension of the spine, which is supported by the engagement of the core. It is a pose which can be practiced on the feet, in a chair, but also lying on one’s back. It’s a great starting place, because it is a great reference point: you can come back again and again and notice the changes you have brought about in your body. There is, however, another benefit of starting in Equal Standing / Mountain Pose – it is standing at attention and so it is a signal that the practitioner is ready for what comes next and, more importantly, ready to move in any direction. Like certain sitting on your sits-bones poses, this is one of the most neutral starting positions simply because you can easily move from it into almost any position.

Child’s Pose is a great place to start, because one’s head is down and (like a child preparing for a nap) one is less likely to be distracted by external surroundings. There is a physical turning inward, as well as an emotional and energetic turning inward. Even though this can be a hard pose to hold if you have knee issues, it offers a lot a physical benefits: there is an opportunity to release the low back; an opportunity to open the hips; an opportunity to compress the abdominal area and thereby stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (in order to calm the body); it’s a baby inversion; and it is a great opportunity to stretch out the front of the legs. Most importantly, perhaps, is that once again the spine is long and there is balance. There is also a symbolic reason for starting in Child’s Pose: the beginning of the practice marks the birth of the practice (and practices that start here often move through a symbolic life cycle).

Since she draws from her experiences with different styles and traditions, Seane Corn will sometimes start practices from a standing position, sometimes from a sitting on the sits-bones position, and sometimes in Child’s Pose. During her vinyasa teacher training, however, she also points out that starting the practice on one’s back, creates openness and receptiveness. When you start on your back, you are also physically supported (along the head, shoulders, elbows, arms, hips, and heels) in a way that may allow the spine to easily align. The more supported and aligned you are, the more comfortable you might be and, therefore, the more receptive. Additionally, lying on your back indicates some form of Corpse Pose (Savasana) which, when considered in the context of reincarnation, can also be the symbolic “beginning” of the life cycle. (For example, if you start in Corpse Pose you can easily rollover into Child’s Pose and then stand up on all fours and then eventually stand up on your feet).

“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– excerpt from “How Things Work” by Gary Soto

Where you begin your practice can set the emotional and energetic tone of the practice. And, while a good starting position will allow you to go anywhere (even if some poses require more movements than others – think 6 degrees of separation), some starting positions specifically prepare you for what’s to come. For instance, starting in Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana) legs, prepares the body for hip opening, while sitting in Hero’s Pose (Virasana) stretches out the front of the legs and knees (similar to Child’s Pose).

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Easy Pose (Sukhāsana)

Easy Pose (Sukhāsana) can be the beginning, middle, and end of your practice. Sitting on the floor, with shoulders and hips aligned, bend your knees so that shins/ankles are crossed and each foot rests underneath the opposite thigh (i.e., right foot is under left thigh). Tilt the sits-bones slightly back and root them down in order to lengthen the spine.

Hips should be in line with or higher than the knees. If there is compression in the back and hips and/or if the knees are higher than the hips, sit up on top of something (making sure your stability is not compromised by the prop you’re using for support). If the knees are uncomfortable, experiment with the hips being higher than the knees, switching which leg is in front / on top, and/or squeezing the legs closer or further away from each other and from the hips.

Once you have your legs crossed, wiggle your arms and then let them rest on your thighs – palms up if you want a little energy, palms down if you want to be grounded. You can take any seal (mudra) or leave the palms open and relaxed.

Stack your spine as if you have coins in your back, with the largest denomination on the bottom so that you end up with a dime, a nickel, and a penny on top of whatever hair is on your head. Relax your shoulders and jaw, creating a little space between your lips and teeth. (Not so much space that someone could look down your throat to see if you still have your tonsils, but enough space so that the mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, and tongue can relax.)

Gaze 4 – 6 feet in front of your belly button and either softly shutter your eyes or blur your eyes through that focal point (drishti). Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes and begin to notice your breath and the parts of your breath.

At the beginning of the practice, see how long you can sit and breathe in Easy Pose before you get distracted. Notice the first three (3) things that distract you. For instance, if your mind wanders away from your breath and you start thinking about something outside of the moment, your #1 today is “Thoughts.” If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find your body getting a little antsy – in which case, your #2 today is “Sensations.” (Sensations can be pain or discomfort in the body that makes you want to move, the feeling of being too hot or too cold, and or the feeling that something needs to be scratched.) If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find yourself feeling like it’s time to move or that you’re getting sleepy and then you could label your #3 today as “Emotions.”

Obviously, the examples above are generic examples and you may experience them in a different way or in a different order. However, note how long it takes for you to be distracted.  You could also make a note of how many times you bring your awareness back to breath. Keep in mind, this (bring the mind back, again and again) is the practice.

Make a note regarding your experiences during the time allotted and then move through any set of yoga poses or some other physical activities. If you notice specific physical discomforts/distractions, focus your practice on strengthening of relaxing the areas of the body that distracted you. If you found you were having a lot of mental distractions, challenge yourself by doing something that requires your complete attention. (If you’re looking for a practice, click here and see how Gary Soto’s poems inspired last year’s 12th offering.)

When you come back to the pose, set the timer again and notice what happens.

“Beneath my steps, my breath”

– excerpt from “Oranges” by Gary Soto

(for my twin and her best friend)

 

### NAMASTE ###