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Mental Health, redux & Let’s PAUSE, a remix (a 2-for-1 post) October 13, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Sukkot, Tragedy, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Trigger Warning: This post references mental health issues, but is not explicit.

This is the 2-for-1 “missing” post for Sunday, October 10th and Tuesday, October 12th. You can request an audio recording of either day’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.]

“In Latin, redux (from the verb reducere, meaning ‘to lead back’) can mean ‘brought back’ or ‘bringing back.’ The Romans used redux as an epithet for the Goddess Fortuna with its ‘bringing back’ meaning; Fortuna Redux was ‘one who brings another safely home.’”

 

– quoted from Merriam-Webster.com

Redux is a word that, in my humble opinion, is severely underrated. In fact, the way it tends to be used in English – as related to “bringing [something] back into use or made popular again” – makes the meaning smaller than it was originally intended. Think of it, for a minute, in relation to Odysseus / Ulysses. Yes, one can say that when the king returned to Ithaca, his popularity increased. But, his popularity (before and after the war) are only a small part of the story. The journey, the odyssey, is about returning safely home. Home – that place where, as Robert Frost wrote, “when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” Of course, when you‘re away from home for a long time anything can happen. Things change and then processing those changes becomes part of the journey. Just like in Homer’s Odyssey.

In part because of my own “homecoming” last year, I have been thinking about Odysseus and Penelope. I have also been thinking a lot about the wide range of emotions they would have experienced. Remember, that as the years passed, certain people in Ithaca decided that Penelope should remarry. The queen told everyone she would choose a new husband after she finished weaving a burial shroud for her father-in-law.

In some ways, Penelope was establishing her own grief time table – which I wholeheartedly support. And I imagine the process of weaving and the repetition of motion, not to mention the satisfaction of creating something for a loved one, would be really cathartic. So, it’s easy to understand why she would spend her days weaving. However, Penelope then spent her nights unraveling most of the work she did during the day; because her motivation was not only about catharsis. Her weaving was not only a way to deal with her own grief (and all the emotions that come with the stages of grief); it was also part of her elaborate plan to trick her 108 suitors so she didn’t have to remarry.

Penelope used whatever agency she had to deal with a challenging and emotionally charged situation and an uncertain future; to take care of herself and do it on her timetable; and to do it (one could argue) in a way that causes the least amount of suffering to those around her. Some critics think of Penelope as being weak in mind and character; pointing to moments when she seems to waiver between meeting the suitors (or not meeting the suitors) and moments when she just wants to give up on life. But, I think these moments just point to her humanity. After all, who hasn’t questioned what would be the best thing to do when in a challenging and emotionally charged situation, facing an uncertain future? Furthermore, a lot of people find themselves in situations where they are not sure they can go on – or are not sure they want to go on. That’s why such moments are part of the Hero’s Journey/Cycle. And, to be clear, Penelope is one of the hero’s of the story specifically because of the way she dealt with her mental and emotional health.

So, yes, I’ve been thinking about Penelope and how she came up with a plan to take care of herself (and her son), on her timetable, and in a way that created as little suffering as possible. I’ve been thinking about Odysseus’ journey home and all the emotions the couple experienced – even some that are not explicitly stated in the text – and how the emotional roller coasters they experienced are similar to the ones so many people around the world have been experiencing during the pandemic: anger, fear, depression, despair, sadness, grief, a sense of isolation, disillusionment, acceptance, etc. Even the bargaining in the Odyssey mirrors the bargaining we have all been doing individually and collectively. Finally, I’ve been thinking about the original meaning of “redux” and how one’s journey (back) to mental and emotional wellness is they journey to being at home in one’s own skin.

“I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can’t keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.”

 

– quoted from the poem “An Ancient Gesture” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

A portion of the following was previously posted on October 10, 2020.

“You don’t start by the action; you start by the motivation, and motivation is something that can be cultivated…..

 

It is the inner quality that you need to cultivate first, and then the expression in speech and action will just naturally follow. The mind is the king. The speech and the activities are the servants. The servants are not going to tell the king how it is going to be. The king has to change, and then the other ones follow up.”

 

– Matthieu Ricard, speaking about generosity and other mental attitudes in a 2011 Sounds True interview with Tami Simon, entitled “Happiness is a Skill”

During the week of Sukkot (2020), I ended each post with three things for which I am grateful. I regularly express gratitude for at least three things a day. But, let’s be honest; at the end of the day I usually have more than three things on my list.

Just out of curiosity, for what (or whom) are you grateful today?

Really take a moment, to think about it. Make a mental list, a physical list; you can even comment below.

Now that you’ve thought about it and expressed that appreciation, take a moment to notice how you feel.

This whole week of Sukkot, as I’ve talked about gratitude, happiness, ATARAXIA, and positive psychology, I’ve really just been talking about mental health. The Mental Health Foundation, the largest charity in the United Kingdom devoted to mental health, points out that “Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable health problems, although good mental health is likely to protect against development of many such problems.” Like happiness, good mental health is a state of mind (smile) and while we may have different ways of describing or defining the experience, people with good mental health are capable of doing certain things that may not be possible when experiencing mental health issues.

For instance, the ability to learn; the ability to focus/concentrate; the ability to “feel, express, and manage a range of positive and negative emotions;” the ability to cope and manage change and uncertainty; and the ability to form and maintain meaningful relationships can be severely compromised when we do not have good mental health. Another way to look at it is to consider that the siddhis (“powers”) unique to being human are diminished when our mental health is compromised. In fact, ordered the list above (partially adapted from the Mental Health Foundation’s website) to reflect the order of the “siddhis“ unique to being human.”

“I dedicate this song to recession,
Depression and unemployment
This song’s for you”

“Smile

See I just want don’t you to be happy
‘Cause then you have to have something you haven’t been
I want you to have joy ’cause can’t nobody
Take that away from you”

 

– quoted from “I Smile” (on the Hello Fear album) by Kirk Franklin

October 10th, is designated by the World Health Organization (WHO) as World Mental Health Day. In the best of times, one in five adults in the United States experiences mental health issues, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). These issues can range from depression and anxiety to substance abuse and thoughts of harm. Over half of those who acknowledge having had issues in any given year, do not (I repeat, do not) seek treatment. Given, the stigma that can be attached to the conversation of mental health (even when it’s good, but especially when it’s not), there’s a good chance that the percentage of people who experience problems is actually higher than reported.

Not surprisingly, sexual minorities are at a greater risk – as are racial minorities – and treatment in these high risk communities may not be readily accessible. Veterans (of all genders) and men are high risk for suicide or other violent acts, but may not talk about their feelings before they hit a critical point. Additionally, statistics from a 2019 study published in JAMA Pediatrics indicates that half of children with mental health problems (including those experiencing depression, anxiety, and/or attention-deficit or hyperactive disorders) do not receive treatment. Again, part of the disparity in treatment comes from stigma; however, some of it comes from a shortage in providers.

Now, consider for a moment, that all of that (and more) is related to the “best of times.” And, as we all know, 2020-2021, have been less than the best. According to a recent “Mental Illness Awareness Week” article by Sam Romano, 51.5 million American adults reported that they experienced mental health illness within the past year. Additionally, this statistic indicates that there is a steady increase in reported mental health issues (experienced by adults) over the last few years. That’s not surprising; so, you may miss the importance. Look at it this way, a little over 13 million more adults reported experiencing mental health issues in 2019 versus 2008. On the flip side, the population increase in this same time was around 24 million.

As you let that sink in, consider what you are doing for your mental health and the mental health of those around you. Consider what is accessible to you. Remember those siddhis “unique to being human?” Start there: turn inward, use your words, understand yourself,(so you know how to) help yourself be free of three-fold sorrow, cultivate your friendships, and give away what no longer serves you – as well as what you know will serve others.

“If you’re not happy with what you have, you’ll never be happy with what you get.”

 

– Rabbi Noah Weinberg

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.42: santoşādanuttamah sukhalābhah

 

– “From contentment comes happiness without equal.”

In English, we have a tendency to equate “being content” with settling – as if there is something we are missing. In truth, contentment is a state of “peaceful happiness,” meaning there is no desire or craving. Rabbi Noah Weinberg points out, in “Way #27: Happiness” in 48 Ways to Wisdom, that one of the big misconceptions about being content is that it diminishes motivation; when in fact being happy gives us energy. Or, at the very least, it doesn’t sap our energy.

The sūtra above highlights the importance of accepting what is and also of paying attention to our attitude about what is. Take a moment to notice how often you get swept up in the various forms of avidyā (“ignorance”). Notice how often we are so caught up in how we think things should work that we don’t pay attention to actual cause and effect. Notice how often negative emotions gain power over our innate abilities of the heart (like wisdom, kindness, compassion, generosity, and joy), because we feed those negative emotions by working so hard to ignore or stuff them down.

Flip the script, turn the tables; feed your heart and the positivity that lies within. You can engage joy without being delusional and creating more suffering. You just have to spend some time being present, right here and right now; accept what is; breathe deeply in, breathe deeply out; and smile.

Is that going to fix every problem in the world? Nope. But, it will help you manage whatever challenges you face.

“### People whose work makes me smile; people whose work makes me think; people whose work makes me wiggle ###”

 

 

– The three things from my gratitude list on October 10, 2020

The US-based NAMI uses the first week in October to raise awareness about mental health and mental illness. The week is highlighted by a National Day of Prayer for Mental Illness Recovery and Understanding (October 5); and National Depression Screening Day (October 7). Then it concludes with a day to walk and hope (October 9), which proceeds World Mental Health Day (October 10). All of that awareness building is great and necessary, but when we consider the statistics around mental health, the stress of the last year-plus, and how our mental and emotional health is tied to our physical health (and vice versa) it doesn’t seem like enough. Pardon me for saying so, but it seems crazy to only devoting a day, a week, or even a month (which is May in the United States) to something that is so critical to our overall well-being and survival.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate what a difference a day, a week, or even a month can make. Just like I don’t take for granted the importance of a mental health day – in fact, I think mental health days should be encouraged and sanctioned by major corporations, organizations, and universities. Unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for such actions to be taken. For instance, the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill took a moment to pause today, Tuesday, October 12, 2021. There were no classes and even the school’s daily newspaper was on a “reduced schedule.” According to news reports, Chancellor Kevin M. Guskiewicz wanted the community to “[take] a moment to acknowledge and reflect on the seriousness of mental health illness and the challenges we face as we wrestle with the stress and pressures of our world today.”  The chancellor also encouraged students to do some of the things we know promote good mental health: rest, check in with each other, and have honest conversations. All of this is in direct response to two students who may have died by suicide over the last few days. It’s also in recognition of all the extra stressors life currently has to offer.

Thinking about all of our current stressors, I decided to revisit Dr. Reena Kotecha’s mindfulness-based P. A. C. E. Yourself practice. I was originally inspired by the practice back in September and, in thinking about how the Tar Heels were spending the day, I realized it could also be a good reminder to P. A. U. S. E. The letters are essentially used in the same way. So, while Sunday’s theme was a direct reflection of the practice, Tuesday’s was a variation on the theme – or, a remix.

A portion of the following was previously posted on the anniversary of the Battle of Marathon, September 13, 2021.

“Next, bring your awareness to your present moment experience. Notice any areas of tension or tightness in the body. Many of you have been donning PPE on shift and this may have left some residual constriction in your body. Observe any physical sensations you have, along with your thoughts and thought patterns in the here and now. If any unpleasant emotions arise as you are doing this, I invite you to anchor in the breath, breathing fully and deeply as you stay with your experience.”

 

– quoted from the article “P.A.C.E. Yourself: A Practice Honoring Healthcare Workers” by Reena Kotecha, MBBS, BSc Hons (posted March 30, 2021 on mindful.org)

Dr. Reena Kotecha is the London-based founder of the “Mindful Medics” Programme. She holds dual degrees in Medicine and Neuroscience & Mental from Imperial College London and, as a result of her own experiences with work-related stress and burnout, has studied Āyurvedic medicine, prāāyāma, and mindfulness meditation. Last March, as countries around the world were locking down because of the pandemic, Dr. Reena Kotecha offered healthcare workers a self-care practice called “P.A.C.E. Yourself.” Here’s a condensed version of the P. A. C. E. steps, which I think could be helpful to anyone. (NOTE: The descriptions below are my explanations. You can find Dr. Kotecha’s brief explanations here and her recorded meditation below.)

Permission. Give yourself permission to be who you are, as you are, in this moment – and give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Dr. Kotecha suggests using a phrase (like “I offer myself this opportunity for well-being.’’) to encourage yourself to pay attention to your own health and wellness.

Awareness and Anchor. Be present and breathe into what is. (See quote above for Dr. Kotecha’s explanation.)

Compassion. Just as we do on the mat, once you’ve noticed how you feel – and “express a little gratitude for the sensation, the information that informs your practice” – offer yourself a little kindness and self-compassion. What would feel good in this moment? What would allow you to move into the next moment with a little more peace and ease?

Envision. Just as we do in other practices, visualize yourself moving forward with peace and ease. Dr. Kotecha’s instruction includes space for visualizing how your feelings might change as you move out of the “practice space” and into the action place. Like the previous list’s steps 4 and 5, this is an opportunity to consider how you breathe through the challenges ahead.

To PAUSE, the P and A are the same (Permission, Anchor and Awareness). The U is for Understand, because I think it’s important to understand that since we all have minds and bodies, we all need to take care of our mental health. It’s helpful to understand that we’re not alone, even when we feel like we’re the only one’s having a hard time. It’s helpful to understand and remember that we’re all just trying to get through this thing called life; that we all want joy and love and an ease to our suffering. It’s also important to understand (or remember) what’s in our wellness toolkit.

My wellness toolkit, naturally, includes movement. I walk, dance, and (of course) I practice yoga. I practice yoga with what some might call a dramatic flair. Interestingly, I recently heard Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma, outlining six ways to heal trauma.  Dr. van der Kolk has studied trauma for (in his own words) “about fifty years now” and has said that “yoga” and “theatre and movement” are two of the top six ways to heal from trauma.

Bryan Kest, who has been teaching yoga since the 1980’s, has said that walking is one of the best exercises available and he sometimes encourages people to practice yoga like they’re taking a Sunday morning stroll. Most of my practices are vinyāsa practices, which are already a moving mediation, as they are a combination of sitting (since poses are actually “seats”) and breathing. Taking a deep breath in and a deep breath out is another of my favorite tools. Remember, what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. Very rarely can we just snap our fingers and change our minds and bodies. However, since the breath affects the mind-body, we can harness the power of the breath in order to change the way we feel.

As I mentioned last month, practicing gratitude is another of my favorite tools and when I give thanks I often think about the people I’ve got and who’ve got me. It can be helpful to reach out to someone when we’re struggling. Maybe we reach out so we can express our suffering, to a friend or a stranger; but sometimes we reach out to help a friend (or even a stranger) who is suffering. It’s interesting that helping others can actually help us feel better. Then, too, there are times I reach out to a friend and say, “Just talk to me,” because I want a moment of “normalcy.”

Music is in my toolkit – along with friends with whom I exchange tunes (because heaven knows where I would be without those friends and our tunes). There’s music that lifts us up and music that reminds us we’re not alone. There’s music that inspires us sing and dance and music that should come with a box of tissues. There’s music that helps us stay hopeful and joyful, courageous and strong, and there’s music that hugs us when we curl up and mostly want to be alone. So, yeah, music works with some of those other wellness tools – like giving thanks, moving, and sharing yourself with others.

Finally, no wellness toolkit is complete without a smile. I’m quick to inhale and lift the corners of my mouth up towards my ears (and relax my jaw when I exhale). I believe there’s power in a smile. If you doubt that, give it a try. Smile now… and notice how you feel. Smile at a stranger (or a friend)… and see what happens. Smile at someone who speaks a different language and/or has a different culture than you. “Just smile,” as Kirk Franklin and the family sing, “for me” – and for yourself.

In English S and C can sometimes sound the same; so, the S in P. A. U. S. E. is for self-care (just as the C in P. A. C. E. is for compassion that you offer yourself). Finally, the E is the same (Envision). Just as we do in other practices, we want to move forward with more awareness, more ease, more stability, and more joy (whatever that means to you at this moment).

Again, that’s:

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Compassion
Envision
 

and

Permission
Awareness and Anchor
Understand
Self-Care
Envision

See what works for you. Just remember that mental health, like happiness, is not one-size fits all. It’s personal.

“Happiness is a sense of harmony, completion, and wholeness.”

 

– quoted from The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East by Alan Watts 

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Tuesday’s playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

Have your voted for the Carry app?

P.A.C.E. Yourself guided meditation with Dr. Reena Kotecha (video)

 

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### “So listen people what I tell you now / Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on” ~ Hothouse Flowers ###

If only it was Taco Tuesday… July 22, 2020

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 “I like it when a man puts thought into the kind of restaurant we’re going to. That doesn’t mean it needs to be fancy – some of the best meals of my life have been having a taco on a street corner.”

– Meghan Markle (now, Duchess of Sussex) quoted in an Esquire Magazine article dated Dec. 15, 2016

 

“I like to take a day off and enjoy fast food for what it is. I have to say that in New York I’m really partial about taco trucks. I mean I really can’t handle it. There is something about catching all those ingredients piled on top of each other it puts me in a tizzy. I love it. I’m kind of a taco truck junkie.”

 

– Alex Guarnaschelli (when asked if she eats fast food, TooFab 03/01/2011)

Imagine the perfect taco. “‘What is “The perfect taco?” Alex.’” What makes it perfect? Is it the outside? I mean, I know people who will throw down over hard shells versus soft. (And, just for the record, there’s no such thing as an “open-faced taco” – that’s a chalupa or a tostado, for goodness sake!)

So, maybe, what makes your perfect taco is what’s on the inside. Hmmm… given that everyone has different tastes, different needs, and desires, it seems that there could be a different taco for every person in the world (and two tacos per person on Tuesdays). The poet Emma Lazarus was born today in 1849, so think about what “all your huddled masses” have been seeking over the years. I once heard Bryan Kest say that there’s at least one version of a pose for every person in the world; he estimated 8 billion ways to do every pose. And, it turns out that practicing yoga is a lot like searching for “the perfect taco.”

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I’m not much for beer, but I’m a huge fan of a well-made taco and I’m a huge fan of Tom Robbins’s fourth novel, Jitterbug Perfume. Born today in 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Robbins is a self-described “hillbilly” who grew up in a Baptist household, went to a military college prep school, studied journalism in college, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent a year as a meteorologist in Korea and two years in Nebraska before being discharged. He returned to Richmond, Virginia (where his family had moved during his early childhood) and started reading poetry in a coffee shop.

Robbins returned to school and also put his journalism degree to good use, while (occasionally) hitchhiking, researching a book on Jackson Pollack, and (eventually) hosting a weekly alternative radio show for KRAB-FM, Seattle. All the while, Tom Robbins was writing – searching for his perfect writing style, his voice. He found it and used it to write Another Roadside Attraction, a novel that you could theoretically say is “just” about a kind of wacky couple who open a hot dog stand. His first novel had all the elements you will find in most of his novels: wacky, bohemian characters; strong-willed women; animals; religion; existential philosophical musings; science; food (always food); and the occasional mythical character.

Jitterbug Perfume definitely has all of the elements described above and, to me, it is one the most visceral novels by Robbins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and yet, when I look at “Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper (who was born today in 1882), I may feel a lot, but I smell very little. On the flip side, I can’t even think about Jitterbug Perfume without smelling it. I know, I know, you’re thinking well, of course, the word “perfume” is in the title and it’s all about perfumers trying to capture this magical essence. That’s the way the brain works.

Yeah, no. When I think of this particular novel, I’m thinking about another element that shows up in all of Tom Robbins’s work: s-e-x. And Pan.

“The word desire suggests that there is something we do not have. If we have everything already, then there can be no desire, for there is nothing left to want. I think that what the Buddha may have been trying to tell us is that we have it all, each of us, all the time; therefore, desire is simply unnecessary.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As we’ve discussed before, suffering is a part of the human condition. We can say, as the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies instruct us, that suffering comes from attachment; however, what we are really saying is that suffering comes from desires. There are lots of different kind of desire, and they can lead to all different kinds of attachment (rooted in pleasure or rooted in pain); but Robbins suggests in Jitterbug Perfume that the desire itself isn’t the problem. Robbins suggests that maybe we suffer because “we do not desire wisely.” It’s an interesting thought – especially if you consider that we are psychologically and physiologically wired to desire, to want certain things and to not want other things.

Considering that there may be a better way to desire, makes me think of certain Buddhist and/or Yoga practices. For instance, shoshin is the Zen Buddhist practice of “beginners mind” and I often liken it to the niyama (internal observation in Yoga) santosha, which is the practice of contentment. Just as Robbins says (above) the practice focuses not on the idea that we are missing out on something but focuses instead on the fact that in this moment there is something, something extraordinary, something… perfect. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki explains that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few.” When we show up and practice shoshin and/or santosha we open ourselves up to find something perfect in the moment, be it the perfect scent, the perfect quantum physics equation, the perfect taco… or the perfect pose.

“If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. The dull and prosaic will be granted adventures that will dice their central nervous systems like an onion, romantic dreamers will end up in the rope yard. You may protest that it is too much to ask of an uneducated fifteen-year-old girl that she defy her family, her society, her weighty cultural and religious heritage in order to pursue a dream that she doesn’t really understand. Of course it is asking too much. The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Go back to the questions at the beginning of this post and think about them in terms of the “perfect” yoga pose. Even better, think about your pursuit of the perfect expression. Do you think about the inside first, or is your primary focus on the outside? Do you recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of elements, which translate into millions and billions of expressions? Do you recognize that there is no one way to do something and so, therefore, there can be billions of perfect poses? There is, however, an even more important question (inspired by one of my yoga teachers). Seane Corn said, “It’s not about the pose. It’s about the purpose. Be In Yours.” So, the better question as you seek your so-called perfect pose, is “What’s the purpose?”

When we get around to asking that question, we find that sometimes the perfect pose isn’t a taco at all… It’s a chalupa (or a tostado).

“When we accept small wonders, we qualify ourselves to imagine great wonders.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As a former meteorologist, Tom Robbins would be familiar with chaos theory (the idea that small changes in initial conditions can translate into big outcomes) and it’s those little things that make a difference, unexpected differences, in his stories. Those little changes can also make a difference in your yoga practice…and in your meal preparation.

In the TV show Ugly Delicious, David Chang says, “The dishes that we’re making… it’s about telling a story.” The practicing yoga is also about telling stories, it’s about your body and mind telling your story. It’s about finding your voice, your themes your ingredients, as Tom Robbins has done all his life, and then putting it out there. It is, also, about listening – really, truly, deeply listening to your own heart, your own soul, and your own story. If you really listen, you can also hear the stories around you. And, it is delicious (even when it smells a little ripe).

“He was becoming unstuck, he was sure of that – his bones were no longer wrapped in flesh but in clouds of dust, in hummingbirds, dragonflies, and luminous moths – but so perfect was his equilibrium that he felt no fear. He was vast, he was many, he was dynamic, he was eternal.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where will find your “breathe properly,  stay curious, and [afterwards] eat your beets.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. 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.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In case you were confused or missed it (above), only one of the Alex’s mentioned above is celebrating an 80th birthday today!

 

 

### WHAT’S YOUR PERFECT TACO? ###

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.

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