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BONUS x2: DOUBLE THE BONUS! DOUBLE THE KINDNESS!! May 14, 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.)

 NOTE: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it’s a bonus!)

“And so you have found out that secret – one of the deep secrets of Life – that all, that is really worth the doing, is what we do for others? Even as the old adage tells us, ‘What I spent, that I lost; what I gave that I had.’ Casuits have tried to twist ‘doing good’ into another form of ‘doing evil,’ and have said ‘you get pleasure yourself by giving this pleasure to another: so it is merely a refined kind of selfishness, as your own pleasure is a motive for what you do.’ I say ‘it is not selfishness, that my own pleasure should be a motive so long as it is not the motive that would outweigh the other, if the two come into collision?’ The ‘selfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it harmed others, so long as it gave him pleasure; the ‘unselfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it gave him no pleasure, so long as it pleased others. But, when both motives pull together, the ‘unselfish man’ is still the unselfish man, even though his own pleasure is one of his motives! I am very sure that God takes real pleasure in seeing his children happy!”

 

– from letter Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) wrote to the actress Ellen Terry, dated November 13, 1890*

There’s a certain family, with siblings all around the world, who are, even as you read this, pointing out that Yogi #30 (Anthony) is not “Bonus.” And, I want to go on record as saying, “I know that, however…” He and Yogi #31 (Paula) are the bonus yogis for a Kiss My Asana yogathon offering that started four years ago (2016) when the yogathon was in February, during Leap Year, and I only needed 29 yogis. You can say I’m four years, 2 months, and 2 weeks late with this post (or maybe, just a week, or 2, late), but none of that changes the fact that these two yogis are two of the kindest people you’re ever going to meet.

First and foremost, let me point out that Anthony and Paula don’t really know me. They know of me. We’ve met once, and that was the one time they took a class from me. If memory serves, I’ve answered yoga questions for Anthony, over the telephone, a time or two. But, they live in another part of the country and they found out about the 2016 Kiss My Asana yogathon from a friend of mine. The friend told them that making these video would help a lot of people. So, simply out of the kindness of their hearts and without having a whole lot of knowledge about Mind Body Solutions or how making the video would help people do yoga, they answered my questions. And then, they waited to see what would happen.

And they waited…

And they waited…

And they waited…

(but only through 398 days of summer)

“I’ve got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house oh oh oh
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done oh oh oh

 

How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

 

Old dirt road (mushaboom, mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom, mushaboom)”

 

 

– from “Mushaboom” by Feist

And, while they were waiting, life changed. Anthony and Paula got married. Then, as they were still waiting, they had a baby. A very lucky baby who will spend her life surrounded by kindness and love, an appreciation for the great outdoors, and an appreciation for all that the world – and all the different cultures in the world – have to offer. (A baby who will be happy and cherished even when she starts saying the very word her papa tries not to say in yoga!)

All the while they waited they continued their adventures in the mountains, in the world, and in yoga. My guess is that they didn’t give these videos a second thought.

At first glance, Anthony isn’t the person you would automatically assume practices yoga. Yet, he’s the first to admit that he has received a lot of physical and mental benefit from his practice. He’s even encouraged others to practice. If you read the description in her video, you will see that I mention clapping for Paula. She is a nurse and, although I haven’t spoken to her recently, my guess is that even if she isn’t able to actively practice yoga right now, she is still benefiting from the practice.

Yogi #30

 

Yogi #31

I mentioned in the last 2016 Kiss My Asana post (two weeks ago) that there’s a method in the madness. But, I’m off schedule and, you might think that throws everything off. It does and it doesn’t, but (for those of you who are curious) here’s the bonus behind-the-scenes look at why I do what I do:

If I were teaching today, it would be a bonus day of teaching and I’d either carry forward the themes of love, kindness, and compassion from earlier this week – with a little (double bonus) focus on mastering the beautiful art of humility – or I would take a look at George Lucas’s view of the Hero’s Journey (as today is GL’s 76th birthday). Had I stayed on schedule, this year, I would have posted this on the birthday of the author Annie Dillard, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or given myself a little grace and posted this during International Nurses Week, a fitting tribute to Yogi #31.

Back in 2016, had I stayed on schedule, Anthony and Paula’s videos would have been posted on March 1st, Saint David’s Day. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, poets, and vegetarians. He is associated with dragons and doves and his miracles include healing the sick and (as I like to joke) creating mountains out of molehill. According to the legends, Saint David was giving a sermon to a large crowd, which was having a hard time hearing him, when a dove landed on his shoulder and then, suddenly, the ground beneath him rose and lifted him up above the crowd.

Mountains, doves, miraculous healings… – Can you see why I thought March 1st would be a good day for this pair? But, there are also dragons. So, on Saint David’s Day I usually quote Sarah Ban Breathnach (who wrote in Simple Abundance, “Always remember it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.”) and conclude with J. R. R. Tolkien (who wrote in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.”). Today, however, we’ll wrap up with a quote inspired by Tolkien:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

 

– from the movie version of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, adapted by Peter Jackson

Mind Body Solutions, and the work they do to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body, thrives because of “small everyday deeds of ordinary folk…. Small acts of kindness and love.” That’s what gets a person with limited mobility to their yoga class; that’s what inspires a person using a BiPAP machine to keep practicing; that’s what gets the caregiver to get up every morning and take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment; that’s what gets a teacher in Rochester, New York or somewhere in England to study adaptive yoga in Minnesota; that’s what got Matthew Sanford to load up his lap with mats and roll into Courage Center for the first time; that’s what gets every single one of us coming back to the mat, knowing that a bad day off the mat can turn into a good day on the mat, because we will be surrounded by “ordinary folk” and “small acts of kindness and love.”

A Big Hallelujah Asana / Five-Pointed Smile goes to Anthony and Paula, as well as to Meghan and Kelsey (who were the ordinary folk in the background rocking their own small acts of kindness and love). Thank you, also, to everyone who did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others during this year’s yogathon (and the previous 6 yogathons). Friday is the last day to donate and I have one more Kiss My Asana post for y’all. Stay tuned!

*In 1998, November 13th became World Kindness Day (so far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that someone picked the date that coincided with Lewis Carroll’s letter on kindness…but I could be wrong about that.)

 

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MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA: 2019 Offering #19 May 3, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon AND (since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness) it is an invitation to join me for a donation-based class on May 4th.

You can still donate (until May 15th).

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.                               

***

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

– Yoda* in The Empire Strikes Back

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes…. Feel it….it’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata* in The Force Awakens

 

“This level of energetic sensation is what guides my teaching of yoga all these years later. I can teach a walking person the subtleties of a standing pose, for example, because of my energetic experience. I can ‘feel’ the poses, feel how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship. If the energy of the pose is not flowing correctly, I can often adjust the student and enhance his or her experience.”

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about teaching yoga (2006)

What struck me the first time I took a class with Matthew Sanford, and continues to strike me whenever I have the good fortune to take a class from him, is that he teaches from the inside-out – instead of from the outside-in. What I mean by that, is that while a good number of us get on our mats and focus on the outside in order to go inward, Matthew starts inside and works his way to the outside. He was not my first teacher to teach like that. When I started practicing yoga, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of teachers, including my first teacher (Robert Boustany) who taught in a similar fashion. But, when I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t know there were teachers who practiced and taught in a different way.

Also, let’s be honest, when I started practicing yoga, I didn’t really get what my teachers were doing or how they were doing it. I just assumed that if you practiced (the physical practice) eventually you would start to understand the energetic practice. Years later I would discover that that’s just not so: Some people can practice for decades and never realize what it is that’s actually happening inside themselves. And, perhaps, some people don’t believe or care.

“The act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.”

– George Lucas explaining “The Force” in a production meeting for the Empire Strikes Back (quoted in Star Wars: The Anointed Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau (1997)

 

“That I could feel such things so quickly – the loud rush produced by simply taking my legs wide, the upward energetic release produced when hands-in-prayer was done with yogic precision – meant that those phantom feelings had not left me. Instead, they had been waiting in silence, waiting for me to let them back into my conscious experience. Consciousness does not abandon us. It is only denied.”

 – Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about his first yoga experience with Jo Z (2006)

When I first started practicing yoga, I was surrounded by professional dancers and musicians – people/athletes who used their bodies for work. I was the odd duck, not because I was the least flexible person in the room, but because I had the least body awareness. Part of what made those first practices so dynamic and compelling, was the focus on what we could do.

Think about that for a moment. For 60 – 75 minutes, everybody’s mind-body was focused on what each of us could do in that moment. Nothing else mattered. The practice was intentionally personal and accessible. It never occurred to me that yoga could be, or would be, anything else. However, after I went through my first yoga teacher training and started teaching, I realized something that astounded me and broke my heart: not everybody knew yoga could be accessible. Not everybody knew there were different ways of practicing. And, as a result, people would not practice (or would stop practicing) because of something they couldn’t do.

“Yes, everybody can do it…. It’s just the Jedi who take the time to do it…. Like yoga. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it; but the ones that really want to do it are the ones who are into that kind of thing. Also like karate. Also another misconception is that Yoda teaches Jedi, but he is like a guru; he doesn’t go out and fight anybody…. Well, he is a teacher, not a real Jedi. Understand that?”

– George Lucas answering questions in a Return of the Jedi story conference, July 13 – 17, 1981 (quoted in The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by J. W. Rinzler (2013)

 

“Jo and I discovered that alignment and precision increase mind-body integration regardless of paralysis. The mind is not strictly confined to a neurophysiological connection with the body. If I listen inwardly to my whole experience (both my mind’s and my body’s), my mind can feel my legs.

This is one of those truths that is easy to pass by, like the existence of dinosaurs. But in fact, it should dumbfound us – that, on some level, something as simple as the more precise distribution of gravity can transcend the limits set by a dysfunctional spinal cord. When I move from a slumped position to a more aligned one, my mind becomes more present in my thighs and feet. This happens despite my paralysis. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to a different level of presence, to realizing that the silence within my paralysis is not loss. In fact, it is both awake and alive.”

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about his yoga practice (2006)

May the 4th is a special day for Star Wars fans and a day when I love to teach “Star Wars Yoga” inspired by Matthew Latkiewicz. When I realized one of the days I was considering teaching a Kiss My Asana donation-based class was May the 4th, I almost rescheduled. At first I thought, ‘How can I make the class fun, informative, and accessible?’ Then I thought, ‘How can I not?’

MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA

May final 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class will be Saturday, May 4th ((4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork, 3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis) Please join me on this very special day when will explore the power of the Force that surrounds, penetrates, and binds everyone – regardless of size, shape or physical and mental abilities. This practice will include partner work and is open to all abilities. Space is limited.

NOTE: This space contains an accessible bathroom.

Please RSVP to myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com if you would like to join this practice.

(*NOTE: Ever notice how some of the most memorable “wise teachers” in Star Wars are short, funny looking and have enormous eyes (or glasses)? No? Okay. Maybe it’s just me.)

FEATURED POSE for May the 4th: Downward Facing Wookie

Downward Facing Wookie is a pose with several variations, many of which can be practiced without warming up. Most variations are also prenatal approved.

If you are coming into the classical version (what most people will think of as Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog), start in Table Top with hands and knees on the mat. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists and hips over knees with the feet the same distance apart as the knees. Inhale and lengthen the spine, maybe even moving into Cow Pose (to exaggerate the spinal extension) and then exhale to use the arms and legs to push the hips up into the air. You want your body in the shape of an upside down “V” or a capital “A” without the bar across the center. Check to make sure fingers and toes are spread wide with the middle fingers pointed forward, most of the weight in the hands concentrated on the thumb and first fingers, and the big toes behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. To stretch out the spine, bend the knees slightly and find what feels like Cow Pose. (Don’t make it about looking up; make it about extending the spine.) Once the spine is long, ribs reaching away from the hips, see if you can straighten the legs. Even if the legs stay slightly bent, push the spine towards the things, the shoulders towards the hips, the hips towards the ceiling, the thighs towards the space behind you, and let the heels release towards the earth. Balance the effort between the arms and legs. This is a full body stretch. Gaze at your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes – but make sure your neck is still long and ears are between the straight arms.

If you have wrist issues, you can use a wrist guard (which looks like the floorboard for a door) or a towel / blanket to lift the wrists up higher than the fingers. Another option for wrist and shoulder issues is to practice with the elbows and forearms on the ground, with elbows shoulder width apart. All other alignment is the same for this variation that is sometimes referred to as Dolphin Dog.

Downward Facing Wookie is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward fold, a back bend, and an inversion. If you want to skip the inversion, one option is to stand arms length from a wall (with finger tips barely touching the wall) and then hinge from the hips until the palms are flat on the wall and the ears are between the arms. The same alignment principles apply as with the earlier variations; push through the heels of the hands and the heels of the feet to get the spine as long as possible. This variation can also be practiced with forearms on the wall.

Another option is to practice in a seated position. One seated variation, whether you are in a chair or in Staff Pose (Dandasana) is to stretch the arms over your head and then flex the wrists so that the palms are pushed up towards the ceiling (fingers will point behind you). In this variation, push through the heels, thighs, and hips in order to extend the spine and push the palms up. All the same alignment principles apply.

There is also a variation of Downward Facing Wookie that can be done with the feet on the wall, but that’s a variation will save for another time.

Doesn’t matter which variation you practice, on May the 4th let’s see if we can prove Alan Tudyk (aka K2S0) wrong about that vocal cry. Everyone, lift up one arm or leg, take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, and ROAR it out.

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RIP Peter Mayhew

May 19, 1944 – April 30, 2019

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