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ORGANIZING THE WORK(ers): 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on April 27th or May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

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“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

– Delores Huerta (born April 10, 1930)

In some ways, it seems like Delores Huerta has been organizing workers since she was a child. She is a second generation Mexican-American whose parents started off as migrant workers and then divorced (when she was 3) and moved into positions where they could support the labor force – her father as a politician, her mother as the owner of a restaurant and hotel that welcomed a diverse population of low income and farm workers. Huerta was active in a variety of extracurricular activities during her school years and went on to teach elementary school; however, she said, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”

By the age of 25, Huerta was working to improve the economic status of Latinos in Stockton, California. In her 30’s, she co-founded an organization that set up voter registration drives and also co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez. She is known for the motto “Si, se puede.” (Yes, we can.)

“When you have a conflict, that means there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it’s an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue.”

– Delores Huerta

Conflict in the pages of a book can make for a good story. You get to see how things are resolved, usually in a nice neat little package with all the loose ends tied up into neat bows. Real life rarely works that way, and writing the good story where conflict arises and then gets resolved can be just as daunting and overwhelming as real life. And, as we’ve seen recently, it’s a lot of work to establish dialogue between people with viewpoints. It seems like an overwhelming amount of work to change the world.

We’ve all been there: overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the work yet to be done. It doesn’t matter if we are overwhelmed by the work because procrastination has placed us under a looming deadline or if someone presented us with an unrealistic timeline. It doesn’t matter if the amount of work is relatively small compared to something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future. Nor does it matter if the work is related to our profession, our passion, and/or life. In the moment, we sit in some variation of frozen; unable to do anything, let alone the first thing. And yet, just like when you’re playing a video game, the first thing is the key that unlocks the second thing…and so forth and so on. The first thing also gives you the tools to unlock the second thing.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

– excerpt from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott (born April 10, 1954)

Writer, activist, speaker, and teacher Anne Lamott used the story about her brother as the inspiration (and title) of her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The book is a writing course that is also, like all of Lamott’s work, a life course. And, both the story about her brother and her book, prove that my favorite adage from my first yoga teachers is also true about writing: How you do writing, is how you do life (and vice versa).

“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).

– Maty Ezraty

 

Building a yoga practice – or just creating a sequence – is just like developing a new habit. There is some part of us that knows how to do it, but if we’ve never done it before (or it’s been a long time), it seems mysterious, daunting, and overwhelming. Where to begin, or “Getting started” is Lamott’s first chapter. In it, she discusses the merit of telling the truth. In many ways, this is a very good place to start when you’re on the mat. Satya (Truth) is one of the yamas or external restraints (also known as universal commandments) in the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga. If you come to the mat without being honest about where you are (in your practice) and how you’re feeling, there’s a good chance you will hurt yourself. Being honest with your self is a challenge on the best days, but it especially challenging when the focus is moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath. In being honest with yourself, it is just as important to recognize your strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses.

In the first chapter, Lamott also advises using one’s childhood as a starting place. This, it turns out, is also something we do in the physical practice of yoga. Every pose is an asana (seat) and therefore has a foundation or roots that need to be engaged in order to practice the pose. Additionally, the physical practice is also a mental practice as well as an emotional-energetic and psychic-symbolic practice.  What that means is that (a) working the body requires working the mind and (b) each part of the body is energetically and symbolically tied to parts of history and lived experience. The lower body, which supports us for the majority of our lives, is connected to our “Root Chakra” and is related to our first family, tribe, and community of birth. I often explain this connection by saying, “Just as we are biologically connected to people we may not have ever met or will ever meet, we are also energetically connected. Unless you have a specific reason for starting elsewhere, the practice begins with the feet and legs. The beginning can be standing poses (which build strength, as well as flexibility), seated, or supine poses that address the lower body.

There are 29 chapters in Bird by Bird – and they all can be used to breakdown how one builds a practice, a sequence, and or a habit. I’m not going to break them all down at this time, but here’s a sample:

Chapter 2: “Short assignments” – In a vinyasa practice, where we’re moving with the breath it can be fun to string a ton of poses together and move one-breath-one motion. It can also be dangerous. Giving the body (and the mind) easily digestible bite-sized pieces, aka short assignments. Even if you are not practicing vinyasa, give the mind-body time to process the work you’re doing as you’re doing it. Poses like Equal Standing, Wide-legged Forward Fold, Child’s Pose, or a basic seated position like Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can be moments of transition where you pause and breathe. This is true even with vinyasa. (Remember, vinyasa means “to place in a special way” it does not mean “do pushups and a back bend.” You can practice one or two standing poses and then pause for a few breaths in one of the transitional poses before continuing to your next “short assignment.” One really cool rule of thumb I was given during teacher training is to look at the “one-breath-one-motion” idea as changing a single plane or angle within the body. (For example, moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Triangle or Extended Side Angle makes sense in the body, because the feet, legs, hips, and heart stay in the same horizontal plane – and rotation. Moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Warrior III makes less sense because you are changing horizontal and vertical plane orientations, plus changing the body’s rotation.)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

–  Thomas Edison (in developing a practical electric light bulb)

“How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure is failure by default.”

– Aliza Kramer (writing about the Chanukah story)  

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

– Anne Lamott

Chapters 3, 4, & 18: “Shitty first drafts,”  “Perfectionism,” & “Jealousy” (respectively) – It’s very rare that we get something “perfect” the first time around. That’s part of the reason we “practice” yoga instead of “doing” yoga. It’s also challenging to find yourself in a room full of people who seem to know what they’re doing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount the fact that they once started at the beginning and didn’t know what they were practicing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount their hard work and assume that they are naturally strong, flexible, and or coordinated. Jealous comparisons prevent us from seeing the work of others, and also from doing our own work. Consider each time you step on the mat as a workshop moment, where you find ways not to do something and ways to go deeper.

Chapter 13: “How do you know when you’re done?” – One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that you’re never done. There’s always something to learn about yourself and the practice. There’s always some new challenge that can be built on your foundation. And, it’s fun to see what happens next. That being said, no one can be on their mat 24/7. At some point every practice session comes to its conclusion. If you look at the lower body as your first chakra (or energy wheel) and think of each chakra as a “short assignment,” then you work your way up the body and finish when you reach the crown chakra at the top of your head. Another way to know when you’re done is to break up your “short assignments” with a transitional pose where you can sit and breathe for a moment. Since the ultimate goal of the physical practice is to prepare the mind-body for deep seated meditation, use the transitional pose to assess the mind-body, in order to determine how close you are to stillness. You can be “done” when every part of your body and mind feels stable and at ease enough to be still for 5 or more minutes.

Chapters 21, 22, & 24: “Writing groups,” “Someone to read your drafts,” & “Writer’s block” (respectively) – Sharing your writing with a group is similar to sharing your practice with a group. There is a little extra boost of energy and momentum that comes from people engaged in the same thing at the same time. There is power in the group that can help us go farther than we might on our own. Practicing yoga or writing in a group, especially when people are at different levels, gives everyone an opportunity to learn and grow by considering other perspectives. It can also be helpful – when you’re working on those “shitty first drafts” – to have an outside pair of eyes, someone who can view your practice as it is and as it develops. Ultimately, this is the role of the teacher – someone who can encourage you to continue on your path, make suggestions when you seem to be falling off the path, and offer you next steps you may not have considered. Also, when you feel stuck or blocked, as we all sometimes feel, the teacher, as well as your group, can support you as you step back and take child’s pose for a moment or consider another perspective, maybe even a different way of practicing.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

– Anne Lamott

 

FEATURED POSE for April 10th: Crow & Crane (Kākkāsana & Bakāsana)

As I mention during classes on St. Patrick’s Day, there are a lot of bird poses in the physical practice of yoga. There are legit birds, as well as imaginary and mythical birds. There are birds that fly great distances and those that are along for the ride. One of the most ubiquitous poses inspired by a bird is “Crow Pose.” As I have pointed out in the past, there are some translation issues when it comes to this pose that accessible to people who may not realize it is in their wheelhouse (meaning something they can practice). “Crow” in Sanskrit is Kākkā – which sounds a lot like a crow, but it also sounds a lot like “kaka” which is slang for $^*+ and something a lot of English-speaking teachers are reticent to say in yoga. On the flip side bakāsana, the word we often use for “Crow Pose” is actually “Seat of the Crane.”  Adding to the confusion, Kākkāsana is the prep for Bakāsana (and therefore, more accessible).

If you want to skip the arm balance as an arm balance, you can do the actual pose on your back or prep it in a squat. You can also use props to help with balance. The squatting variation is the only one that is prenatal approved.

Before moving into today’s featured pose, give yourself some short assignments that warm-up the body (Sun Salutations or cat/cow if you are practicing in the squat or on your back); strengthen and lengthen the legs (standing, seated, or supine poses for the legs); create flexibility in the hips; engage the core muscles; broaden the chest area; and strengthen the arms and wrists. When you’re ready to move into the pose, consider each part of the body as its own species of bird.

From your starting position, open the knees as wide as or wider than the hips. Feet can be together or apart, but make a choice and spread the toes wide. Lengthen the low back and sacrum (the flat part of the back), by lifting the pubic bone up on inhale and letting the sit-bones and ribs reach away from one another. Engage your core. Bend your elbows and bring them into your side body so that the elbows are hugging your ribs. This begins to engage anterior serratus, so when you feel muscles squeezing along your rib cage, see if you can actively tighten in that area. Bring your hands to the floor (or the ceiling, depending on your perspective). With elbows bent back and squeezing in, you want your upper body to engage as if you are going into Chaturanga Dandasana. Rise up to your tip toes so that you can place the knees into the armpits. If you are balancing on your hands, knees actively rest on the backs of the arms. If you are on your back, if feels more like your elbows are resting on your thighs. In all variations, keep your shoulders relaxed.

From standing, you can step your feet up onto a block (behind and under your hips) or shift your body forward and back – not to get momentum, but to check the placement of your hands and arms. Once you have established a solid foundation, shift the weight (so that the toes are barely on the floor) and zip up (meaning spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom, and draw the belly button up and back). As you engage the core, the feet float up – don’t panic!

If you are on your back or in the squat, still engage your core and lengthen your spine.

When the elbows are bent this is typically referred to as “Crow Pose.” If you can consistently balance in “Crow Pose,” squeeze everything into your midline and start to straighten the arms. This is typically “Crane Pose.”

Focus on letting your heart soar!

Feel free to play around a little bit and then finish out your practice with a gentle wrist stretch, maybe a Forward Fold with Chest Expansion or that “Gorilla Pose” from last week. Finally, spend some time in Corpse Pose (Savasana) or any neutral pose where you can be still and quiet for at least 5 minutes.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

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