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Once More With Feeling! May 15, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

 

At my core, I am a storyteller, a griot, a bard. I spent a good portion of my life helping others tell their stories and then, I started helping people get in touch with their stories. Sometimes I tell other people’s stories; every once in a while, I tell my stories. So, it made sense to request stories for this year’s Kiss My Asana yogathon. I did this before I realized Matthew Sanford, the founding teacher of Mind Body Solutions (which benefits from the yogathon) was also going to share stories of some adaptive yoga students. Of course, it makes sense that, Matthew is also a storyteller who helps people get in touch with their stories. In fact, in his first book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence, he talks about “healing stories,” which he defines in the introduction as “my term for stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.” In recent years, he has co-hosted “Body Mind Story,” a series of writing workshops with Kevin Kling and Patricia Francisco.

“Healing stories guide us through good times and bad times; they can be constructive and destructive, and are often in need of change. They come together to create our own personal mythology, the system of beliefs that guide how we interpret our experience. Quite often, they bridge the silence that we carry within us and are essential to how we live.”

 

– from Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

The physical practice of yoga, can be a way to access our personal stories. In fact, Father Laurence Freeman OSB makes a very compelling statement (in Episode 14 of the podcast “Contemplate This!”) about why the body is a vital tool when it comes to accessing, telling, and understanding our healing stories. Father Laurence doesn’t use the term “healing stories” and, in fact, what he mentions in the podcast is Christianity, which has its own tradition of moving the body in order to access the story.

If you have ever attended a Catholic mass, you know that there is a lot of moving – like a lot, a lot of moving. People stand, people sit, people kneel; people bow their heads to pray – and then they repeat it all again. It is like a sun salutation, especially if you consider it from the perspective of the hips and knees. Even when people reach out their cupped hands or open their mouths in the shape of an “O” to receive communion, there is a kind of repetition and symbolism that parallels what we do in yoga. Another way, people use their bodies to access an important story in Christianity is by moving through the Stations of the Cross.

As I mentioned in April, I did not teach a Good Friday class for the first time in eleven years. My normal Good Friday class uses the yoga poses to mirror walking through the Stations of the Cross, which in turn is a way to mirror the Via Dolores – all three of which are ways people access the story of Jesus’s last moments and, in doing so, access their stories as Christians. I do the class, despite occasional criticism, because it is also a way to access a story of radical love and radical compassion.

Think about what that means to you for a moment – even if you take it out of context: radical love and radical compassion.

In my Good Friday post, I alluded to some people who would miss my Good Friday class. One of those people that immediately came to mind was Meghan G (who some of you will remember as Yogi #12: The Fixer during Kiss My Asana 2016). When I requested stories for Kiss My Asana 2020, Meghan G sent me the following Good Friday story:

“My story has happened quite recently. On Good Friday, just last week, I was feeling so disconnected from my faith community of Saint Joan of Arc, my yoga community Downtown YMCA Friday night yogis and really the whole human community.  Every tradition or ritual that I/we have grounds me in the meaning of Holy Week was uprooted.  Holy Week, and Good Friday contemporary stations of the cross in particular, is one of the most sacred times of the year.  It almost felt to me that day as though it was being ignored.

 

In an effort to stop the downward spiral of disconnectedness, I sought out Saint Joan of Arc’s Good Friday celebration on video, posted on the website.  I had tried to worship this way on Holy Thursday, but found myself distracted, multi-tasking and unfulfilled by the experience.  So this Friday I decided to stop the swirling in my mind I would lead myself through a series of poses to calm and focus my mind.  Myra had prepared me well for this.  As I listened to the Stations of the Cross and the familiar music and stories from my faith community I progressed through a series of poses that were also as familiar and soothing as the service.  I was able to connect Jesus’s suffering on the cross with the greater suffering in our world right now (and always) and feel again a part of the human community.

 

Thank you, Myra, for teaching me over the years to do yoga as you do life…with intention and love. Happy Easter, Meghan”

Like other yoga teachers, I say it all the time, “This is YOUR practice. This is YOUR time.” One of the things that has come up again and again in my conversations with various yogis is how the pandemic has forced us to take ownership and stewardship of our individual practices. Meghan’s story reinforces the fact that not only is it your practice / your time, YOU are completely capable of OWNING IT!

And, this is an important piece; it reinforces the fact that you are completely capable of telling your healing stories. You have what you need to guide yourself through the good times and the bad. You don’t have to go it alone, however, we are with you. Notice, even when Meghan felt alone, she knew where to turn.

Thank you to Meghan G and everyone else who supported Mind Body Solutions and the Kiss My Asana yogathon, this year and every year. Today is the final day to donate via my 2020 Kiss My Asana campaign.

Remember, when you do yoga, share yoga, help others you join a global movement, but in a personal way, and you open up a world of possibilities. Mind Body Solutions was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals.

Please check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This video also features Matthew and Kevin Kling talking about cultivating stories. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### HONOR THE STORIES ###

 

 

Threads, Instructions, Truth, Practice, To Contemplate May 12, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

SŪTRA [Sanskrit; also, “sutta” in Pali] – Thread or String, refers to a statement or collection of statements which make up sacred text and scripture in Indian philosophy and religions.

TALMUD [Hebrew] – Instruction or Learning, refers to collection of work which makes up the central text in Rabbinic Judaism and the primary source of Jewish law and tradition. It is part of the “Torah,” which can also mean “instruction” – as well as “teaching” and “law” – so that it is “instruction on the teaching.”

GOSPEL [Latin > Old English] – a portmanteau meaning Good Narrative, Story, Sermon, or Speech (also, Good News), refers to accounts of Jesus’ life as told by his disciples in the Christian New Testament – often translated as “Truth.”

SUNNAH [Arabic; also “sunna” and “sunnat”] – Habit or Practice, refers to a collection of traditional social and legal practices and customs within Islam. It is written in the “Hadith” – which means “speech,” “narrative,” “talk,” and “discourse” – and is one of the primary sources of Islamic belief, theology, and law.

MEDITATE [Latin > Old French > English] – To Think, Contemplate, Devise, Ponder, refers to the act, habit, and practice used by religious mystics and contemplatives, philosophers, and non-religious people dating back Before the Common Era.

 

Maya Angelou starts off her poem “Human Family,” by stating, “I note the obvious differences / in the human family.” She then goes on to explore the world and a myriad of people in various situations and relationships (including a literal myriad of “women/ called Jane and Mary Jane”) who are all different. Yet, she states at the end, “I note the obvious differences / between each sort and type, /
but we are more alike, my friends, / than we are unalike.”

“We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.”

 

– last lines repeated at the end of “Human Family” by Maya Angelou

As compelling as it is to notice how different we are, those differences can be a distraction that make us forget we are all part of the same human family and, also, that we are more alike than different. Forgetting really basic things like the fact that we all breathe; we all have a heart pumping blood through veins and arteries; we all experience some form of suffering and desire (and deserve) to be free of suffering; we all love something (“even if,” as Chögyam Trungpa famously said, “it’s only tortillas.”) leads to polarization and more suffering. Forgetting becomes a vicious cycle of separation, isolation, pain, and suffering. And here too, unfortunately, we are alike in that our suffering as a result of separation and isolation can lead us to inflict pain and suffering on others.

 

The funny thing is, lashing out at others becomes a source of what we desire most: connection, union, (dare I say it) yoga. It’s really messed up, co-dependent, and abusive connection, but it’s still connection. Like in the movie (and the song) “Crash,” sometimes the only time people who perceive themselves as different from each other connect is through pain, trauma, tragedy, and loss. Here’s the thing though, what brings us together is not nearly as important as how we choose to come together. What I mean by that is, when we crash into each other, our interaction can result in more pain or an alleviation of pain, maybe even joy. When we come together, for any reason, we can do so in a way that creates further separation and isolation (in other words, more pain and suffering) or in a way that reinforces our connections (sometimes on a much deeper level).

 

“Where do we go from here, where do we go?
And is it real or just something we think we know?
Where are we going now, where do we go?
‘Cause if it’s the same as yesterday, you know I’m out
Just so you know

Because, because our paths they cross
Yesterday was hard on all of us
On all of us”

 

– “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” by Fink

 

I could honestly copy the entire Fink song “Yesterday Was Hard On All of Us” to make my point, but I feel like the pandemic and social isolation that we are all experiencing also makes the point. Even introverts are craving a little social interaction. And those people you see on the news or social media, who are doing things you think are crazy, nonsensical, and selfish (or even independently thinking and patriotic) want the same things you and I want: to be safe, to be peaceful, to be happy, to be at ease, to experience joy and freedom from suffering.

 

We may have different ways of understanding what we desire, but ultimate what we want (and what we need) are the same all around the world. So, how do we get on the same page? Well, I’m going to ask you to consider – just for a moment – that maybe we don’t get on the same page, per se. Maybe, each of us turns towards the book(s) that make the most sense to us and notice what we find. I mean, sure, you could do the whole “choose your own ending” / fortune telling shtick, but I’m being serious. Pick up your sacred text or bible and you will find the truth of Maya Angelou’s words.

 

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhūti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

 

“Undisturbed calmness of mind comes by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, joy or happiness towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil (non-virtuous).

 

 

Yoga Sutra (1.33)

 

“You shall neither take revenge from nor bear a grudge against the members of your people; you shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

 

Vayikra – Leviticus (19:18)

 

“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: ‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘”Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

 

The Gospel According to Matthew (22:35 – 40, NIV), this speech also appears in Mark (12:28 – 31) and Luke (10:17)

 

“On the authority of Abu Hamzah Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) — the servant of the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) — that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

None of you [truly] believes until he loves for his brother that which he loves for himself. [Al-Bukhari]”

 

– 40 Hadith Nawawi 13

 

 

“Accept the things and occurrences to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so truly, sincerely.”

 

– from Meditations (Book 6) by Marcus Aurelius

 

Yes, yes, just because it’s there doesn’t mean anyone has to listen, pay attention, or practice what they preach. This too, we have in common: the ability to stare what we need right in the face… and not see it. The fact that it’s there, however, is an invitation to practice. So, today, we will practice variations on a theme.

Please join me today (Tuesday, May 12th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM, if you are interested (to paraphrase Metallica) in opening yourself up in a different way. (This practice is also Martha Graham inspired.) Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Since I couldn’t cover every practice, tradition, and belief in my little window, feel free to comment below with a “love offering” of your own.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all themes mentioned above and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### WHERE IS THE LOVE? ###

[Love] Letter to the World May 11, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“Furthermore, Subhūti, in the practice of compassion and charity a disciple should be detached. That is to say, he should practice compassion and charity without regard to appearances, without regard to form, without regard to sound, smell, taste, touch, or any quality of any kind. Subhuti, this is how the disciple should practice compassion and charity. Why? Because practicing compassion and charity without attachment is the way to reaching the Highest Perfect Wisdom, it is the way to becoming a living Buddha.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (4)

 

By this name it shall be revered and studied and observed. What does this name mean? It means that when the Buddha named it, he did not have in mind any definite or arbitrary conception, and so named it. This Sutra is hard and sharp, like a diamond that will cut away all arbitrary conceptions and bring one to the other shore of Enlightenment.”

 

The Diamond Sutra (13)

I have heard that the oldest (surviving) book with a printed date is a Chinese copy of The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion, a sacred Buddhist text commonly known as The Diamond Sutra. It was translated from Sanskrit and printed today (May 11th) in 868 A. D. on a 17-and-a-half-foot-long grey scroll using a block printer commissioned by one Wang Jie. A handwritten note along the lower right hand side of the scroll indicates that it was “Reverently made for universal free distribution by Wand Jie on behalf of his two parents.” The text itself indicates that there is great merit in being a “person who simply observed and studied this Sutra and, out of kindness, explained it to others.”  (DS 24)

While the merit is great even if a person only understands and explains “four lines of this Sutra” (DS 8 & 12), it is a relatively accessible and short text, at about 6,000 words. The Diamond Sutra consists of a conversation between the Buddha and his pupil Subhūti, during which there is a continuous emphasis on the temporal and illusory nature of all things – including the teachings within the text! Despite the temporal and illusory nature of all things (including the teachings within the text) – or maybe because of it – there is great wisdom here. Wisdom that is summed up in the Tom Waits song “Diamond in Your Mind:” always keep a diamond in your mind (no matter the situation or circumstance).

This text can be studied and explained, out of kindness, with dialogue similar to the Buddha and Subhūti’s conversation. It can be explored through a deep seated mediation. Or, it can be studied, explained, and explored through a little movement – maybe even a little heart-centered dance.

“They say that dance and architecture are the two primary arts. That means that you have to have the gesture, the effort – the real effort – to communicate with another being and you must also have a tree to shelter under in case of storm or sun.”

 

– Martha Graham on Technique

 

“To walk out of one’s door each morning requires that you believe you are needed beyond your four walls and can offer something. To be grateful for the opportunity to simply walk out and live a life offers blessings and insight.”

 

– Martha Graham in 1990 telephone and in-person interviews with James Grissom

 

Martha Graham, born today (May 11th) in 1894 was a revolutionary dancer and choreographer, whose passion was partially inspired by her father’s work as a doctor, who used movement as a treatment for nervous disorders, and the art of Russian abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky. Her greatest influence, however, was the work of Ruth St. Denis and Ted Shawn. Graham once said, “Everything I did was influenced by Denishawn.” And, like St. Denis, Graham would go on to leave an indelible mark not only on dance, but also on music, theatre, and performance art.

Graham developed a technique based on the importance of breathing and movement that was, she said, “fraught with inner meaning, with excitement and surge.” The Graham Technique is based on the idea of “contraction and release” (which is one way to describe the body’s natural response to breathing); combined with “spiraling” (diagonally positioning parts of the body, via a 45⁰ rotation of the spine, that is reminiscent of Kandinsky’s paintings) and Doris Humphrey’s “fall and recovery” (Humphrey’s principle regarding an individual’s constant engagement with gravity, as well as the life-death experience of living). Even though a Graham dancer’s hands and feet can have specific placement, the movement of the arms and legs (as well as the hands and feet) begins in the core, with awareness of the heart.

“The palm of the hand should be forward, and straight out (in) the audience. I give you myself, I give you what I have to give; that’s what it really means.”

 

– Martha Graham instructing dancers during rehearsal

 

“When I was young I studied with Martha Graham; not to learn to dance, but to learn to move on the stage. If Martha Graham could have had her way, she would have taught us all how to move – through life. That has been and will be her goal: proper movement through life, the relationship of the body to the mind and the body to the spirit. Martha Graham is a compulsive student of the human heart.”

 

–actor Gregory Peck on Martha Graham (in a documentary)

 

The mind needs what it needs to understand something, even ourselves, until it no longer needs a reference point. (People who attended Saturday’s practice will notice a theme here.) The Diamond Sutra tells us that the concepts of a self or no-self, as well as the ideas that all beings are separated or connected, are such reference points. They are used in the text “the way that a raft is used to cross the river. Once the river has been crossed over, the raft is of no more use, and should be discarded.” (DS 6) Martha Graham used dance as a bridge – a way to express life experiences and emotions, as they were simultaneously shared and unique. Here, with the bridge as well as with the raft, there is the opportunity to go back and forth until you have what you need to live nobly through this thing we call life.

“Each one of us has all of life in us. And it is our choice to decide what we will reveal…. How many drops of blood have gone into the making of you? How much memory is in that drop of blood?”

 

– Martha Graham on life, living, and dancing

 

 “Art is memory. It is the excavation of so many memories we have had–of our mothers, our best and worst moments, of glorious experiences we have had with friends or films or music or dance or a lovely afternoon on a sloping, green hill. All of this enters us and, if we are artists, must be shared, handed over to others. This is why it is so important to know what came before you. It is also important to understand that things will follow you, and they may come along and make your work look pedestrian and silly. This is fine; this is progress. We have to work with what life presents to us, and we have to work as well as we can while we can”

 

– Martha Graham in a 1990 telephone interview with James Grissom

 

Please join me for Graham-Diamond-Sutra inspired virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Monday, May 11th) at 5:30 PM. This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices (however, today, I do offer additional inspiration).

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign through May 15th.

You can also check out the all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. This practice is all about the compassion the Buddha speaks of in The Diamond Sutra and includes a focus on spinal breathing that would make Martha Graham dance. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium; and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is, not how it compares with other expression. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”

 

– Martha Graham to biographer Agnes de Mille (printed in Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham, 1992)

 

### DANCE LIKE NOBODY/EVERYBODY IS WATCHING ###

 

REMEMBERING, COMPASSION – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #19 April 21, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Life of meaning 

Life of hope 

Life of significance

is mine to cope.”

– from an untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott

 “They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: 

Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn. 

At the going down of the sun and in the morning 

We will remember them.”

– from For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

Even though I’m running behind and posting this super late on April 20th, what is true of today was true of yesterday: We lost somebody, somebody we should never forget.

We could go back as far as April 19, 1506 (to the Lisbon Massacre) or April 20, 1916 (to the Ludlow Massacre) and 1945 (to the Neuengamme / Bullenhuser murders) – or as recently as April 19, 1993 (to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, TX) and 1995 (the Oklahoma City bombing) or April 20, 1999 (to the Columbine High School massacre): Either way, we lost somebody…somebody who should not be forgotten.

Obviously, and unfortunately, I’m leaving some people out.

I’m leaving out the 47 sailors killed when a gun turret exploded on the USS Iowa on April 19, 1989. I’m leaving out David Beverly who was killed in a shooting at Johnson Space Center on April 20, 2007. I’m leaving out people killed on April 20th in an explosion (2010, Deepwater Horizon accident), a plane crash (2012 in Pakistan), an earthquake (2013 in China’s Sichuan province), and a bombing of a UN convoy (in Garowe in Samolia). That’s over Four hundred, forty-six people I was going to leave out, but didn’t…and yet, I’m leaving somebody out, somebody we need to remember.

Poems are a way to tell a story, to send a message, to inspire, to remember. They can be historically accurate – or not. They can rhyme – or not. They can be laugh-out-loud funny or satirical – or not. The can be somber and serious – or not. They can be visual and/or repetitive – or not. What is a poem if it can be all of these things?

According to one definition from the Oxford Dictionaries, a poem is “both speech and song that is nearly always rhythmical, usually metaphorical.” Another definition, also from Oxford Dictionaries, says that it is “something that arouses strong emotions because of its beauty.” Meaning that maybe somebody, and their life, can be a poem.

Rachel Scott, age 17, loved poetry. She was also the first person shot in the Columbine High School. Neither of those facts are the most interesting part of her too short life. It is likely that had she lived there would be a whole litany of things that made her life interesting; however, given the facts, one of the most interesting things about Rachel is how she lived…and how she is remembered.

Rachel was buried in a casket covered with the words of the people who knew her. Mixed in with the typical condolences were messages of love and gratitude. Rachel was a firm believer in compassion and unity, and what struck her parents after her death was how many people gave thanks for the brief amount of time they knew Rachel. In an effort to continue her legacy of positivity and inclusivity, Rachel’s father and step-mother started Rachel’s Challenge, a non-religious, non-political, non-profit organization dedicated to reducing violence, bullying, and teen suicide.

“I am sure that my codes of life may be very different from yours, but how do you know that trust, compassion, and beauty will not make this world a better place to be in and this life a better one to live? My codes may seem like a fantasy that can never be reached, but test them for yourself, and see the kind of effect they have in the lives of people around you. You just may start a chain reaction.”

– from the essay “My Ethics; My Codes of Life” by Rachel Joy Scott

Practicing yoga, physically as well as philosophically, creates plenty of opportunity to offer yourself self-compassion, but it also taps into a wellspring of compassion you can offer to others. Remember every time you bend over backwards for someone, you are opening your heart for them. The chain reaction starts with you!

An untitled poem by Rachel Joy Scott & For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon

(Practice Time ~35 – 40 minutes)

Standing on your hands and knees, give thanks for the support and start to consider how you can engage on the inside to lessen the stress on the outside. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the position of the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the sensation of being supported – how the body rests between or on the legs, how the breath deepens. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Be grounded in order to create more space. Bring awareness to your hands and feet. Now, reach the hands and feet further away from each other (without changing the overall position of the body).

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up – as if you are going to spring off the mat, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Push through your hands and feet to stretch the full body in this position. Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and use the hands on the thighs to press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the sensations in your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you have lost some of the sensation/information in the back of the legs, return to the Half Lift/Flat Back. Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and press up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, isometrically engage the adductors by squeezing the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Make sure your back thigh is firmly engaged and lifting away from the floor (unless, you are modifying for stability). Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana). This pose is sometimes referred to as “Anointed Warrior,” indicating the warrior is blessed, prepared, and ready. Consider how it feels to be anointed by love.

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Once the arms are straight, become aware of the isometric engagement of resisting the mat. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart. Notice the isometric engagement of your hands and arms.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog. While in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push the hands and left foot into the earth to create more space. Then push through the hips and both heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate how gravity pulls on the lifted leg and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog.

If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

Exhale and step the right foot in between your hands for Low Lunge. If the foot needs help reaching the space between the hands, lower the back knee so that you can use your hand to scoop the leg forward. (NOTE: Never go back with the hands, as this will cause you to crawl off the mat as you move through the practice.) Take a deep breath in to extend the spine and then use the exhale to heel-toe the right foot towards the right. At the same time you are creating space for the hips, lower the back heel down to the mat (even if that means you have to step the back foot up). Remember, the hips will go where the toes point them; so, place your feet in the position that allows the hips to be parallel to the short/front edge of your mat. One your feet are flat on the floor, inhale your arms and heart up for Warrior I (Virabhadrasana I). Let your hands melt down if you are manually adjusting your hips. As you inhale, isometrically squeeze the thighs towards each other. As you exhale, use the front foot and leg to push the front hip back. Use the back foot and leg to push the back hip forward. Press down to inhale arms and heart up. Make sure the sits bones are pointed down. You can even repeat the earlier hip adjustment from Crescent Lunge/Anointed Warrior. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior ready to answer the call to action.

After several breaths, exhale hands to the mat and adjust the feet so that the right foot is more centered and the left foot is parallel to the short edge of the mat. You may need to heel-toe the left foot further away (front to back) from the right foot, but once your right heel lines up perpendicular to your left arch, inhale blossom or cartwheel your arms and heart up for Warrior II (Virabhdrasana II). Arms will end up in the letter “T” position, with the hips and heart open to the long edge of the mat. Bend the right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to get it, but keep the weight balanced between both feet, both legs, and both hips. You may feel a tendency to put all the weight and effort into the front foot and leg; but find the place where you feel balance. Make sure your sits bones are pointed down between the ankles. Engage your locks (bandhas). Notice how it feels to be a Warrior balanced between the past (the left arm and leg), the present (the heart), and the future (the right arm and leg).

After a few breaths, step back to Downward Facing Dog or step forward into a Forward Fold. From Downward Facing Dog, firmly push your hands and feet into the ground, glide your body forward until the shoulders are over the wrists and the arms are perpendicular to the ground. Lengthen your neck so that your cervical spine continues the line of the rest of your spine and your head is lifted, eyes forward. This is the beginning of Plank Pose. You can always bring your knees down for extra support, but keep the thighs firm. If you are skipping the arm balances, repeat Half Lift / Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend with arms reaching forward and wrists flexed so that palms face away from the body. This can also be done seated in Staff Pose.

Lengthen the spine so that it is parallel to the mat and you have similar engagement to Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. Spread your fingers and toes, push into your thumb and first finger. Resist the earth and use that resistance to push the shoulders into your metaphorical back pockets. Rotate your elbows towards your belly button and broaden across the collar bones. Find Equal Standing/Mountain pose in this position. Resist the urge to lift your hips away from the mat or let them flop down. Engage your locks (bandhas). After several breaths, exhale to Child’s Pose, inhale to the backbend of your choice, and exhale to Downward Facing Dog and repeat the sequence on the left side, starting with the Three-Legged Dog.

After the second set of Warriors I+II and Dog poses, inhale to Plank Pose or Cow Pose and lower all the way to the floor on the exhale. Point the toes behind you and, with hands by your hips, reach the fingertips in the same direction as the toes. As you inhale, lift your gaze, lift your heart, and lift your arms. As you exhale, lift your legs. This is a variation of Locust Pose (Salabhasana). If there is pain or discomfort in the low back, bring the feet back to the ground and actively press them down to support the heart lifting up. Consider stretching the arms out wide.

After several breaths in Locust, exhale to release the pose. Inhale to Table Top and then exhale to Downward Facing Dog. Use an inhale to lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes if you are in Downward Facing Dog). Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step or “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. This pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how you isometrically engage the feet and legs, pressing down and squeezing into your center.

After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward – and notice that gravity keeps you grounded, but allows more engagement. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana). Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms, and offer yourself some compassion by bending your knees as needed.

Now, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath into your heart and follow the breath out of your heart.

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem 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 the donation-based class on April 28th.

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem 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.”

Click here for more information about Rachel’s Challenge.

 

If you or someone you know is struggling emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

 

### do yoga. share yoga. help others. ###

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

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

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

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

Since I’m writing this on opening day 2017:

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

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

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

~ LOKAH SAMASTAH SUKHINO BHAVANTU ~

Gazing Into the Heart December 14, 2014

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Super Heroes, Taoism, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”

– Friedrich Nietzsche

 

“SOLUTION” by Franz Wright
What is the meaning of kindness?
Speak and listen to others, from now on,
as if they had recently died.
At the core the seen and unseen worlds are one.

I shouldn’t have been surprised, given all the things that have happened in the world; however, somehow last week I was caught off guard by people’s request that I hold space for their sadness/grief/anger/fear. And yes, this is something I do on any given Sunday. It’s even, on a certain level, what I signed up to do. And yet, for one blinding moment I was pissed – I mean really royally pissed – to come back from my working vacation/week of Thanksgiving/week of fellowship and find all was not sunshine and light in the world.

As is recommended, I sat with the anger. The anger passed. I got back to my baseline, and I got back to work.

But that’s the short, simple version of the story. And, it’s not nearly as real or messy or satisfying as the whole story.

I say the anger passed; however, really it felt like it diminished or receded to a place where rather than reacting to the craziness in the world I was able to respond in an appropriate manner. But, before that happened, I had to acknowledge that what I was feeling was anger. I know people who are angry all the time – and they have very valid reasons for their anger – but we don’t always acknowledge or articulate the emotion. Oh, sure, we may act angry or spew angry words, but consider the last time (the last angry time) you took a deep breath and explained to someone, “I’m really angry.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever articulated the emotion without directing it at someone or something? Have you ever gone deep beneath the emotion, and found what’s beyond it (as opposed to what’s behind it)?

“…really pay attention to what’s happening internally…. Meditation is learning how to get so still, and so calm, tranquil, through the directing of the attention, to this present moment, that we begin to see really deeply…. And so we go more and more and more deeply into the nature of things, and when that happens, and reactivity ceases, then responsiveness arises.”

– Gina Sharpe, Suffering and the End of Suffering

When I first came back from Texas and started reacting, I hadn’t heard Gina Sharpe’s super skillful teaching on Suffering and the End of Suffering (see Thursday’s link below). All I had were emotions (mine and other people’s), desires/requests (mine and other people’s), signs from the Universe, and what I’ll call Divine messages. And I was resisting all of it! I wanted to focus on metta (loving-kindness) meditation or tonglen (giving and receiving) meditation, or sitting in compassion. You know me; I wanted to do that joy thing.

But, when I got on the mat, what came up was the need to be where we were. To feel what we were feeling. To validate and honor what was in the heart – and all that was in the heart.

Here’s a glimpse at a week of heart gazing:

Tuesday, December 2nd: We started with eyes open; I counted down and then had people quickly shut their eyes. In Bel Canto, Ann Patchett (b. 1963) wrote, “The timing of the electrical failure seemed dramatic and perfectly correct, as if the lights said, ‘You have no need for sight. Listen.'” Pratyahara (sense withdrawal, Yoga’s fifth limb) heightens our awareness. This heightened awareness happens even if we just withdraw one sense. It also happens when we are in a crisis situation similar to the hostage situation that takes place in Patchett’s beautifully written novel.

“She sang as if she was saving the life of everyone in the room.”

And while listening to Maria Callas, Ingrid Michaelson, Indie.Arie, Nelly Furtado, Jj Heller, Pink!, Raya Yarbrough, Sylvia Syms, Kate Bush, Dinah Washington, Amy Lee (of Evanescene), – my examples of “beautiful singing” – I asked people to breath as if they were hitting the high notes.

Ultimately, Bel Canto is a multilayer, multilevel love story set during a horrible crisis. It shows the heart’s ability to feel more than one thing at a time. But, more than that, it shows the heart always wants to find a way to love.

 

Wednesday, December 3rd: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose) and asked people to gaze into their hearts – while listening to the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne (b. 1948).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s words about gazing into the abyss seem applicable (maybe even prophetic) when dealing with Heart of Darkness on Joseph Conrad’s birthday (b. 1957). Conrad wrote his short novel after his own experiences in Africa in the late 1800’s and while his own words best describe the world he sees, I think the world he sees is the world in his own heart.

I resisted this book and this birthday, in part because literary greats like Chinua Achebe criticize Conrad and his work as racist and xenophobic – and I don’t think there’s any way to get around that. Neither did I want to seem to celebrate a depiction of racism given currents events in Ferguson and around the United States. However, Professor Peter Mwikisa said Heart of Darkness can be “…the great lost opportunity to depict dialogue between Africa and Europe…” and that makes me wonder: Are we, right now, losing an opportunity for dialogue in the U. S.?

Or, are we just not ready for dialogue?

“People look to me and say / Is the end near, when is the final day? / What is the future of mankind? / Don’t look at me for answers / Don’t ask me / I don’t know.” – “I Don’t Know” from Ozzy’s Blizzard of Ozz

 

Thursday, December 4th: I usually don’t teach yoga on Thursdays. This was, however, one of the Thursdays when I facilitated my meditation group. We sat briefly and then listened to Gina Sharpe’s Suffering and the End of Suffering. The discussion around the talk, current events, and the additional resources (see below) also informed my weekend classes at the YMCA.

 

Friday, December 5th: We started in Balasana (Child’s Pose), again gazing into the heart – this time with the intention of listening to the heart until it, as Gina Sharpe puts it, flutters. Physically, emotionally, and musically, this was a heart focused class.

“Venerable Maha Ghosananda, who was considered to be the “Gandhi of Cambodia” taught the power of the intention of kindness all his life, even though his life and his culture were fraught with suffering, trauma, violence and war of the Khmer Rouge and the “Killing Fields.” He taught it this way:

The thought manifests as the word;
The word manifests as the deed;
The deed develops into the habit;
Habit hardens into the character;
Character gives birth to the destiny
So, watch your thoughts with care,
And let it spring from love
Born out of respect for all beings…

 

Saturday, December 6th: Same beginning as Wednesday and Friday, but this time Bear McCreary’s Taiko drums sounded like the heartbeat and Anne Frank’s thunder.

“It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. I simply can’t build my hopes on a foundation of confusion, misery, and death. I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that this cruelty too shall end, and that peace & tranquility will return once again.” — Anne Frank, July 15, 1944

 

Sunday, December 7th: In 1941, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said that today was “a date which will live in infamy.” The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, in a moment, 2,300 people died. As a result of the attack, the United States entered World War II and, subsequently, bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The United States entry into the war saved countless lives. Yet, in the moments when we dropped the bombs, 149,000 – 266,000 people died (this includes POWs). So, we begin with a moment of silence for all.

~ Taps + 1 minute of silence + Reveille ~

Feeling stuff is hard, messy, icky work. But, the moment you feel is also the moment you heal.

“I don’t believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone are guilty of the war. Oh, no, the little man is just as keen, otherwise the people of the world would have risen in revolt long ago! There is an urge and rage in people to destroy, to kill, to murder, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated and grown, will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again.”  — Anne Frank, May 3, 1944

“Third we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy but to win his friendship and understanding. At times we are able to humiliate our worst enemy. Inevitably, his weak moments come and we are able to thrust in his side the spear of defeat. But this we must not do. Every word and deed must contribute to an understanding with the enemy and release those vast reservoirs of goodwill which have been blocked by impenetrable walls of hate.” — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

“Let us move now from the practical how to the theoretical why: Why should we love our enemies? The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction…. The chain reaction of evil- Hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars-must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.”  — Martin Luther King. Christmas 1957

 

Sunday’s class ended with the same Larry Yang quote from Friday. Both classes also ended with a reminder to honor your work/karma*:

  • Hands at heart: Honor what is in your heart, as what is in your heart becomes what is in your mind.
  • Hands at third eye: Honor your thoughts, as they become your words.
  • Hands at mouth: Honor your words, as they become your deeds/actions.
  • Hands back to heart: Honor your deeds/actions as they give the world a glimpse into your character and pave the way of your destiny.

Thank you to everyone who was in class last week, as well as to everyone in my meditation group. Thank you also to my housemate Meghan (who listened to me explaining that I was angry). Thank you to all of my family and friends (who help me return to my baseline of joy). Thank you to the teachers (on and off the mat, musical and otherwise) who inspired the messages behind these classes. Thank you to Eileen for the Sunny Side post and video that made me cry. And, finally, a special shout out and HUGE, TEXAS-SIZED Utkatsana Woohoo!, to Carolina at YogaOne’s Heights location, whose Humble Warrior flow inspired this week’s physical practice and helped me remember the power of being “a great spiritual warrior.”

 ~ NAMASTE ~