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When You Need A Good Hard Rain (the “missing” Sunday post) February 7, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Mathematics, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy (Lunar) New Year!” to those celebrating the Spring Festival.

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, February 6th. You can request an audio recording of the practice 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.)

“Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.”

*

– quoted from “Part Two: Logotherapy in a Nutshell” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

I don’t know about you, but this morning I woke up and I was looking for something. It took me a moment to realize that what I was looking for was someone to give me answers; someone who could make sense of things that just don’t make sense; someone who could offer me a little comfort – reassuring me that every thing is going to be OK – and a little encouragement. I was looking for a little hope.

Do you ever find yourself doing that? Scroll through your browser or your email or pulling books off of your shelf and then putting them back? Do you ever find yourself looking for the music that will fit your mood, but then deciding silence is better… only to discover the silence is a little annoying? I don’t know about you, but every once in a while I do. And, I definitely did this morning.

As soon as I realized what I was doing, I also recognized that what I was looking for was (already) inside of me. I think it’s natural – human, even – to seek answers and solace. We all do it and, more often than not, we look at something we may consider to be an external source. However, all the major religions and philosophies instruct us to turn inward. As we are part of the natural world, even turning to science can involve turning inward.

Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Before we go any further, let me acknowledge the elephant (or cow) in the room: God (or gods). God, is the elephant or cow in the room, because people of certain religions – even some atheists or agnostics – may view the (big-D) Divine as something external. Without getting into a big theological debate or explanation, I’m going to humbly disagree with that perspective. I’m going to disagree, in part, because all of the major religions acknowledge that humans are created with some element of the Divine. We’re also capable of expressing those divine attributes. Additionally, I think the instructions that we find in sacred texts like the Hebrew Bible (or Christian Old Testament), as well as the Japji Sahib, support the idea that turning inward is the path outward.

And, while we’re on the subject, I will also admit that while we may differ in our conceptualization of God (whatever that means to you at this moment) I believe that every one believes in something (or someone). You can say that you don’t – but that’s a belief. You can say that you believe in Nature, community, the laws of science, or the laws of karma and I will happily point out that all of these systems have overlapping principles. In a nutshell, one of the big overlaps is the idea that what we put out into the world is what we get back.

“Cast your bread upon the water and it shall return to you.”

*

– My great-grandmother Pam, quoting Ecclesiastes 11:1

“The law of Karma is a universal process, whereby causes lead to effects. This is something that all of us are already familiar with, whether or not we use the word Karma to describe it. Newton’s third law of motion, that every action leads to a reaction, is an application of the law of Karma.”

*

– Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati

Today was the sixth day of the Lunar New Year. For many people who have been celebrating, things have gone back to the ordinary. There are, however, some people celebrating the Spring Festival who attribute special significance to this sixth day. Instead of re-opening their businesses (and welcoming the God of Wealth) on the fifth day, some shop owners will wait until the sixth day. Some folks will celebrate the birthday of all horses, based on the creation story whereby different animals were created on each day. Finally, some associate the sixth  day with kicking out the Ghost of Poverty and/or welcoming the Clear-Water Grand Master.*

The Ghost of Poverty is remembered as the son of a wealthy man – possibly Zhuan Xu, one of the Three Emperor and Five Sovereigns. This son was short in stature, poor in health, and eschewed any signs of wealth. Legend has it that he ate plain food and that even when he was offered nice clothing, he would refuse the gift unless it was distressed. In other words, he was shrouded in poverty throughout his life and assigned the name “Ghost of Poverty” after his death. Since people want the exact opposite of what he had (or didn’t have), they take steps to rid themselves of things that remind them of his scarcity. Bottom line, they get rid of the rubbish.

People accumulate a lot of trash during the the initial celebrations to bring in the new year, welcome in the God of Wealth, and then welcome back the Kitchen God. However, throwing out the trash or doing a lot of cleaning before the fifth day (which is also associated with “breaking taboos”), is considered unlucky – or, just misguided, as you might throw out your good fortune. So, on the sixth day, people clean up, take out the trash, and get rid of accumulated waste. The house cleaning may be very simple and straightforward. Or, it may involve some rituals to highlight the symbolism of getting rid of what no longer serves the family (or the business) while making room for more prosperity, health, and well-being.

One such ritual involves candles lighting up the path away from the house or business (so the Ghost of Poverty can see himself out). Another ritual is cleaning the toilet – which ties back to an ancient tradition of cleaning out latrines and manure pits every three to five days. Cleaning the toilet is usually needed after big celebrations with family and friends. Additionally, a clean toilet simultaneously ushers out the Ghost of Poverty and curries favor with the Clear-Water Grand Master.

“Actually Qingshui was not a beginner. He was a monk who had already awakened to his essential nature. He engaged Coashan in a dialogue in order to see if he could refine or expand his insight. When Qingshui said he was solitary and poor, he was referring to the experience of emptiness – the experience of essential nature or ‘no thing.'”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Born Chen Zhaoyin, Qing-Shui Zushi was a Chán Buddhist monk who lived during the Sung dynasty (960-1279 C.E.). Chán Buddhism is a Chinese form of Mahāyāna Buddhism that is rooted in meditation (or a “meditative state”) and is one of the predecessors of modern day Zen Buddhism. In addition to being called the Clear-Water Grand Master, he is also known as “Dropping Nose Ancestor” and “Black Faced Ancestor.” According to the legends, the monk** lived near Clear-Water Rock Mountain and traveled the countryside praying for rain during draughts. He also taught people to build bridges and plant trees in order to insure clean water in the villages and towns. Additionally, he was reportedly well-versed in herbal medicine and associated with the idea that ensuring the good health of one benefits those around them. When he passed, many miracles were attributed to him and to consecrated water.

Qingshui is particularly revered in Taiwan and in the Hokkien diaspora. In fact, there are temples dedicated to him in Taiwan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Singapore. Many people will gather at the temple to pray for what they need in the coming year. At at least one of the temples in Taiwan, the celebrations involve a lot of pageantry, traditional Chinese opera, and even a contest for the largest pig.

Given the fact that the Grand Master of Clear-Water was a vegetarian, it’s kind of odd to me that this contest involves a pig. Then again, I’m on the outside looking in. Also, maybe it’s not so odd when you consider that Qingshui was all about what sustained the people and this contest sustains the people. Furthermore, the contest is a perfect example of how cultures overlap.

“When Caoshan called Qingshui’s name , he drew Qingshui’s attention to emptiness, or essential nature, manifesting in the relative world. It manifests in the unique person of Qingshui and in his every action. Each meal he eats, each glass of water he drinks, and each breath he takes is a cup of the finest wine. He wakes us up and helps us see that when we experience the underlying unity of all creation, our eyes are opened and we are able to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment, person, and thing. The light of essential nature shines forth in myriad ways. When we appreciate our many blessings our life is rich and abundant and we are filled with gratitude.”

*

– quoted from “3. Skillful Means for Nurturing Relationships: Gratitude and Generosity” in Waking Up Together: Intimate Partnership on the Spiritual Path by Ellen and Charles Birx

Many rains ago, there were people in a valley who were routinely attacked by wild boars. They also had ongoing conflict with the people in the mountains surrounding them. So, every year, they would sacrifice a pig to the God of the Mountain and pray for safety and protection during the new year. Based on this tradition, the sixth day of the Lunar New Year became the Day of the Pig. People gather at the temple to see the pigs entered in the contest and the heaviest (real) pig earns the title “God of Pig.” The pork from the winner can earn the owner over a million Taiwanese dollars (which converts to over $36,000 USD – and is more than the average household income in Taiwan).

While I’m not sure when it became customary to decorate the slaughtered pigs and present their backs as if they were a framed painting, it is a modern tradition for the pigs to be incredibly oversized. Their abnormally large size is one reason animal rights activists have objected to the contest. It is also one of the reasons why some families have switched to big packets of rice constructed into the shape of a pig. Some believe it is also why the number of entries has diminished over the last 15-20 years.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

*

– quoted from “Part One: Experiences in a Concentration Camp” in Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl (b. 03/26/1905)

At the end of the day, what do a man who chose to be poor and a monk who focused on sustainability (and who could also be described as one who chose to be poor) have in common with a giant pig, a horse, and our physical practice of yoga?

More, actually, than I can cover in this post.

On the simplest level, both men looked inside of themselves to determine what was the best way to live their lives – and then they lived accordingly. Their personal decisions had profound effects on their communities (for generations) and their stories offer us a moment of svādhyāya (“self-study”), a moment to reflect on how our decisions impact ourselves and those around us. We can consider what no longer serves us and what, metaphorically speaking, constitutes getting rid of the rubbish so that we can make room for more health, more wealth, and more prosperity. In the process, we can also consider when we are overblown or too full of ourselves; when we have more than we need; and when we are doing something all for show.

Yes, we can also do all of that in a seated meditation practice. Similarly, we can let things go as we exhale in a deep-seated meditation practice. However, our moving meditation creates an opportunity to move the muscles and, in doing so, move lymph throughout the body. Remember, the lymphatic fluid washes away dead cells and carries nutrients to the healthy cells. Moving the body helps to detoxify the mind-body. Even though we didn’t do any “horse poses,” we did what constitutes as prep for one of the more challenging “Horse Poses.” We also practiced in a way that “reined in” the wild horses of the mind and (potentially) created the mental and emotional clarity to see our way forward. Finally, the physical practice is a way to engage tapas (“heat,” discipline, and “austerity” and the practices that cultivate heat, discipline, and austerity).

Some believe that engaging tapas burns away karma (past thoughts, words, and deed). In fact, one of my teachers once said that we can burn away karma even when we don’t believe in such things. Think about it like this: If every thought, word, and deed is a seed being planted; then every seed has the possibility of coming to fruition. We may plant flowers, fruit trees, shade trees, lush greens, vegetables and/or weeds. Sometimes it takes a while for things to come to fruition. And, sometimes we don’t know what we’ve planted until it pushes through the soil or we uncover it. There are things that can be both nutritious and delicious, as well as things that are deadly and toxic.

Either way, there comes a time when we nourish and harvest what we’ve planted and there are times when we dig it up and throw it away. The practice is simply a method of gardening. It’s also that good hard rain that keeps the soil hydrated and washes away what we no longer need.

“Physicist Stephen Hawking has remarked that mysticism is for those who can’t do math. In response to Hawking’s remark, my friend George Cairns retorted, ‘Mystics are people who don’t need to do math. They have direct experience!'”

*

– quoted from “Part I. Finding What Unites Us: Introduction. The Mystic Heart: Our Common Heritage – The Parliament of the World’s Religions” in The Mystic Heart: Discovering a Universal Spirituality in the World’s Religions by Wayne Teasdale (b. 01/16/1945)

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “Lunar New Year Day 6 2022”]

*ERRATA: During the practice I misidentified both the Ghost of Poverty and the Clear-Water Grand Master as “God of….” While some people do worship the latter, many simply honor them as examples of how we can live our lives.

**NOTE: Qīng shuǐ means “fresh water, drinking water, [or] clear water.” The Clear-Water Grand Master should not be confused with Jiang Shichao, who was born poor and made his wealth by building a dam along the Qingshui River.  Some said he “mastered” the water and turned it into silver, metaphorically speaking.

*

You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

*

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

*

### Keep Breathing, Being Hope ###

From Where Does Your Light Come? (the “missing” Sunday post) December 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Chanukah, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy Holidays, Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, December 5th. You can request an audio recording of either practice 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.)

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

 

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

During the December “First Friday Night Special,” I mentioned that the light-related questions during this year’s Chanukah classes were prompts to get us thinking about our “field of possibilities” and then, on Saturday and Sunday, I revealed that the questions were partially inspired by Ranier Maria Rilke’s advice to the young office cadet and poet Franz Xaver Kappus. If you’ve followed along with the questions, it would be natural to expect that one of the questions would be, “Do you believe in miracles?” It’s an obvious connection when the connected to something like the Chanukah – which, according to the story is all about miracles.

There’s just one problem. Your answer, regardless of what it is, begs another question: “Why?” 

Why? Why? Why?

I could be like a three-year old, because all of your answers could lead to another question (albeit the same question), which all comes down to what you believe. The Chanukah story is full of a series of events that could be described or explained as miracles, serendipity, coincidences, and/or really good plot points. For those who believe in Abraham’s God, it doesn’t matter what you call the events, because “with God all things are possible.” [Matthew 19:26] For those who do not believe in God, well, anything is possible…but there’s probably a reasonable (and scientific) explanation. Either way, what you believe determines the probability of certain possibilities.

To be clear, this is not just about what you believe about miracles. This is also about what you believe about your light. Or, a better way to put it is that this is all about what you believe about yourself. Me asking you about the source of your light is really me asking about the source of your life. And what you believe matters, because what you believe bridges the gap between what you think about doing, achieving, and experience and what you actually do, achieve, and experience.

“What’s the reason we’re alive
The reason we’re alive

 

Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all
Bound to stumble and fall
But my strength comes not from man at all

 

Do you believe in miracles
Am I hearin’ you? Am I seein’ you?
Eight nights, eight lights and these rites keep me right
Bless me to the highest heights with your miracle

 

Eight is the number of infinity
One more than what you know how to be”

 

– quoted from the song “Miracle” by Matisyahu

There’s a moment that happens again and again in professional sports and sometimes in the performing arts. Sometimes it even happens when someone is walking across a stage after receiving their diploma. It’s a moment that happens when someone is doing their job – but it’s their dream job, one that many aspire but few achieve – and everybody’s watching. They’ve made mistakes, but they got up, brushed themselves off, and endeavored to win the game and/or take the audience’s breath away. Then they do! they succeed! And when they do, when they score – especially in a phenomenal way – or they receive a standing ovation, we witness a moment of faith. They’ll point a finger to the heavens or make some other gesture that signifies what they believe.

Whether it is a finger to the sky or prayer hands to the sky, it’s a moment that indicates an individual believes that the source of their life (and their light) is God. We may not witness that exact moment in other arenas, like when someone finishes a big project or lands a plum assignment. There may not be witnesses when a student aces a test or a parent gets their toddler to stop climbing out of bed in the middle of the night, but there may be a similar feeling. It’s that same surge of emotion that makes us do the happy dance (even if it’s just on the inside). It’s a combination of success and a feeling of gratitude. 

Of course, part of what I’m describing is a dopamine rush. It’s a feeling of greatness and it’s a heady sensation that we humans crave and chase. Here’s the thing, though: We can get that surge of feel-good brain chemicals without doing something at which we might fail. We can get it without taking any risk at all. In fact, to a certain degree, we can get if from watching other people take risks and win. We can get it from being part of a team… even if we’re the 12th man or 12th player.

So, why do some people take the risk? Why do some people do the things at which they might fail? Why do some people show up and shine (or show up and suck until they shine)? Why do some people give it all they’ve got, while others (just) watch?

It all comes back to what some one believes. Which brings us back to the Chanukah story.

Had some Jewish people not truly believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob it’s possible that they would have started assimilating under Alexander the Great. Had Matīṯyāhū, his sons, and the people that followed them not believed it’s probable that they would have become Hellenic Jews under King Antiochus. Had they not studied Torah or believed in the laws and commandments of God, it is possible that Matīṯyāhū would have broken the commandments and sacrificed to the idol – or maybe he would have just allowed the Hellenic Jew to do so in his stead.

Had the Maccabees not believed their history, their fate, and their destiny, perhaps they would have stayed in the wilderness and not taken on the mighty Greek army. Perhaps there would have been no battle cry. Maybe they would have fought and failed. Then, too, there’s always the possibility that they fought and won – despite the odds – and found that single vial of oil, but never considered using it because it wasn’t enough. Then, too, all these centuries later, if people didn’t believe we wouldn’t still be lighting the candles and telling an “impossible” story.

Take a moment, as we did on Sunday, and practice a little svādyāya (“self-study”). Put yourself in the shoes of the Maccabees. Consider how you might have felt and what you might have done given your current beliefs. How might the story be different simply because your beliefs might be different? Now, consider this week’s questions (see below) in that light. Consider how what is in your heart and mind determines your words, actions, and deeds.

“The Maccabees no doubt knew their options, yet decided to light the menorah in the most preferred way. This was done despite the fact that it entailed exhausting their entire supply of pure olive oil on the first day, leaving them with the probability of not being able to maintain the highest standard they so aspired to reach. But they decided to do their maximum with the resources they had, and let the Almighty take care of the rest.

 

There is a deep message here for us today. 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. We can learn from the Maccabees that when there is a worthwhile goal to achieve, one should let go of immobilizing perfectionism, and instead capitalize on existing assets and do ones utmost under the circumstances.”

 

– quoted from the article “Give It All You’ve Got: The Maccabees taught us that immobilizing perfectionism leaves no room for God.” by Aliza Kramer (posted at Aish.com Dec 12, 2006)

Today’s playlist is is available on YouTube and Spotify. [“Look for “Chanukah (Day 7-8) 2021”]

NOTE: All of the YouTube playlists (for Chanukah) contain extra videos after the practice music.

1. Monday: When do you shine the brightest? 

2. Tuesday: Why so much focus on light?

3. Wednesday: How do you shine (brighter)?

4. Friday: What’s at the edge of your light?

5. Saturday: How do you know brilliance? (this link will be updated)

6. Sunday: From where does your light come?

7. Monday: When do you feel free?

 

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, man, you’re down there.”

– “Tommy” (Kirk Acevedo) to “Vince” (Mark Wahlberg) in the movie Invincible

In 1985, the United Nations General Assembly designated December 5th is International Volunteer Day. The 2021 theme was “Volunteer Now For Our Common Future. The Chanukah story is about people showing up and shining in a way that changed the future of their people. Remember: You too can make a difference!

### “Let me see [your] light / Give me something to live by” ~ Maccabeats  ###

 

More Ways to Breathe December 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Fitness, Health, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Yoga.
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[Email subscribers, please note that there may be some errors in the Sanskrit lettering, which I will correct as soon as possible. My apologies.]

“There are thousands of postures. In order to heal our physical and psychological injuries we must learn to select the postures suitable to our specific needs and arrange them in the proper sequence. Sequencing of asana is crucial because, as with anything else, a change in sequence drastically changes the result. (YS 3:15). Next, we have to practice these properly sequenced postures while staying within the boundaries of our comfort. Then, we must take our practice to the point where we are able to feel and touch the threshold of our discomfort. We refine our practices as we apply the principle of effortless effort described in the previous sutra.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

All the cues on moving into and activating a pose can be really overwhelming. It can seem constant and continuous… because it is. I often tell beginners not to worry about doing what they don’t understand – or even, to an extent, what doesn’t make sense. Do what you can do, as much as you can do it, for as long as you can do it (to paraphrase a very wise man) and eventually things start falling into place. Literally, the more you practice, the more parts of you start aligning. Yes, it’s true, that you can practice incorrectly – and you can do it for a really long time. It’s also true that when doing something wrong becomes the habit (and the practice) things don’t fall into place… things fall apart. We see that in our mind-bodies and we see it in the world.

Do you ever wonder where all this information came from? Do you every think about that first yogi, Adiyoga, and those first seven students? Initially, no one told anyone how to do anything. The first seven were inspired by seeing someone else do something they thought had value – and then they listened to their own mind-body! The question is always: How can I breathe deeply here? Or, what can I do to breathe more deeply here? And the answer is already inside of us. We just have to “listen,” which in the case of our mind-body requires paying attention to sensation, to how we’re feeling and how we are responding to what’s happening inside of us and all around us. That’s the practice.

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Being human, we have the ability to play, explore, and experiment, to see what works, when and where it works, and for how long something works. Thus, someone started moving their body into different shapes and then breathing in those different shapes, which had different effects. Then they would move into the shapes in a different way, breath into that different way, and noticed the different effects. Then they saw other people could do the same and experience similar effects. Then people, like Patanjali and Vyasa, started to codify the practice by writing it down. And this whole process and practice comes back to the breath, the spirit, the life force – and different ways to breathe, engage the spirit, and expand life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.49: tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedah prāņāyāmahah

– “Prāņāyāma, which is expanding the life force by controlling the movement of the inhalation and exhalation, can be practiced after completely mastering [the seat or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.50: bāhyābhyantarastambhavŗttirdeśakālasasamkhyābhih paridŗşţo dīrghasūkşmah

– “The breath may be stopped externally, internally, or checked in mid-motion, and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the [pause] is either protracted or brief.”

In commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.50, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati is quick to point out that while stambha (“cessation” or “transition”) is often translated into English as retention and therefore equated with kumbhaka (which is retention), there is a subtle difference in the usage here. First, the practice involves awareness of three parts of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and the transition (or pause) between the first two parts – which is repeated twice. Next, there is the slowing or expansion of the breath (as described in YS. 2.49). Finally, there is awareness and regulation of the breath in different places in the body – even directing it to those places; controlling the time (or length and duration of the breath); and counting (or numbering) each part of the breath.

Breath regulation in place, time, and by numbering can involve the practice of kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved by holding the breath on the inhalation or exhalation, and/or stambha vŗitti kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved in the middle of an inhalation or exhalation. Notice that the breath retention highlights transition.

Any breath retention is considered an advanced practice and, just as is instructed with more “basic” types of prāņāyāma, should only be practiced after mastering previous elements. Some teachers advise only practicing kumbhaka when after it naturally arises in your practice. This does not mean that you are ready to practice breath retention when you finding yourself holding your breath or shallow breathing because you are overly challenged in a pose or sequence. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

“Patanjali assumes that aspirants who reached this level of yoga sadhana are familiar wth the practice of the seven pranayamas, which together constitute the practice of prana anusandhana. Therefore, these aspirants have built a strong foundation for practicing the three advanced pranayama techniques he is presenting here.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The practicing of connecting the breath – and connecting to the breath – is broken down into the following seven steps:

  1.  Aharana prāņāyāma  – which is “to bring back” and revolves around awareness of the breath and how it feels in the body, as well as positioning the body so there is no shakiness, interruption, or abnormal breathing.
  2. Samikarana prāņāyāma – which is “to equalize,” and involves maintaining an equal calmness in the breathing and in the mind-body. There is also focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  3. Dirge-prashvasa prāņāyāma – which is “long exhalation,” and involves focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  4. Nadi shodhana prāņāyāma – which is alternate energy channel or alternate nasal breathing, and involves alternating the exhale and inhale between nostrils.
  5. Anuloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the same path,” and involves rapidly inhaling and exhaling through only one nostril.
  6. Viloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the reverse path,” and involves exhaling through one nostril and then inhaling through the other.
  7. Pratlioma prāņāyāma – which is “to switch paths back and forth,” and is only practiced after the previous two are mastered.

Note that the last three are practices are only intended for people who are healthy and have no underlying conditions. Also, please note that these terms are also sometimes used to refer to a specific pattern of breathing related to length and duration of each part of the breath.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

You can request an audio recording of Saturday’s practice 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.)

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

### To live is to breathe. To breathe with intention is the practice. To live with intention is the goal. ###

To Say (& Do) Before Going to Sleep December 4, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Vipassana, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“To Say Before Going to Sleep”

“I would like to sing someone to sleep,
have someone to sit by and be with.
I would like to cradle you and softly sing,
be your companion while you sleep or wake.
I would like to be the only person
in the house who knew: the night outside was cold.
And would like to listen to you
and outside to the world and to the woods.

The clocks are striking, calling to each other,
and one can see right to the edge of time.
Outside the house a strange man is afoot
and a strange dog barks, wakened from his sleep.
Beyond that there is silence.

My eyes rest upon your face wide-open;
and they hold you gently, letting you go
when something in the dark begins to move.”

– poem by Rainer Maria Rilke

We all have our bedtime rituals, traditions, and habits. Some of them started in our childhood, and we continue them because they serve us. Some are as comfortable as our favorite pair of pajamas. Then there are some that have stuck around even though they are clearly worn, out, holey, and ill-fitting – not to mention the fact that some of folks just don’t bother with things like pajamas. Perhaps mixed up in those rituals, traditions, and habits are prayers, a glass of water by the bedside, a quick fluff of the pillow, and a bedtime story.

Because who doesn’t love a good bedtime story? The only problem is that the older we get – especially if we’re a parent and/or a single adult – the less opportunity there is for someone to read us a story. On the flip side, as an adult, we can appreciate all the different forms a bedtime story can take.

Some bedtime stories rhyme like a poem. Others read like a letter. Some are just beautiful, “lyrically intense,” and create a cozy space in our hearts and mind. Some are full of adventure. Still others are full of advice and make us turn inward. My favorites are all of the above. Perhaps, that’s why I love the poems and letters of Rainer Maria Rilke, who was born today in 1875; because, they make great bedtime stories.

“Quiet friend who has come so far,
feel how your breathing makes more space around you.
Let this darkness be a bell tower
and you the bell. As you ring,

what batters you becomes your strength.
Move back and forth into the change.
What is it like, such intensity of pain?
If the drink is bitter, turn yourself to wine.

In this uncontainable night,
be the mystery at the crossroads of your senses,
the meaning discovered there.

And if the world has ceased to hear you,
say to the silent earth: I flow.
To the rushing water, speak: I am”

– quoted from Sonnets to Orpheus, II.29 by Rainer Maria Rilke

Even though we started with a focus on prānāyāma, the “First Friday Night Special” series started because a dear friend requested “Bed(time) Yoga” and a handful of other friends got excited about the idea. In all honesty, I was half asleep when I texted something like, “Sure. I’ll get on that.” Only to wake up hours later and wonder, “Wait? Did you want yoga to help you go to sleep or yoga to help you wake up?” I realize that to most people this sounds like a seriously dumb (and slightly rhetorical) question. You must realize, however, that I sometimes do a bed-sequence at night and a slightly different sequence (in or on the bed) in the morning. Which means, of course, that this first “Bedtime Yoga” practice – also known as “Sleepy Time Yoga” – is just the beginning.

This month’s “First Friday Night Special” is a sequence to help you release, relax, and rest. The practice will also include tips on how the poses can be adjusted to make it a morning “get out of bed” sequence. It is accessible and open to all, regardless of age, experience, or gender. And, naturally, it includes a bedtime “story” or two.

“Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Please grab your pjs* and props* and join me today (Friday, December 4th) 7:15 PM for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom – that you can practice on your mat or in your bed. The Meeting ID and link are in the “Class Schedules” calendar. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or email myra(at)ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlists are available on YouTube and Spotify.

(The playlists contain a different variety of musical selections and you will only need one track/album for the practice. With one exception, the tracks play without interruption. There are more options on the YouTube playlist (and that has my preference), but there is a different Sigur Rós option on the Spotify playlist.)

*NOTE: Your regular yoga clothes will work for this practice. You can use standard props if you are doing the sequence on the mat, floor, or chair; however, I would suggest just using pillows and a strap if you are practicing in bed.

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. You can also purchase a drop in class or use part of a package.

“You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse. Then come close to Nature. Then, as if no one had ever tried before, try to say what you see and feel and love and lose.”

– quoted from Letter #1 (dated February 17, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Mark your calendars, because the first Friday of 2021 is January 1st and there will be two special offerings! See the “Class Schedules” calendar for details on how you can start the new year with 108 Sun Salutations or Yin+Meditation.

### Zzzzzzz ###