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Practice Responsibly July 26, 2020

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“…aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

 

– quoted from Amazing Fantasy #15 by Stan Lee, et al, August 1962

In 1962, at the end of the comic book that introduced Spiderman to the world, Peter Parker is faced with the tragic and life-altering loss of his Uncle Ben Parker. This loss leads to the life-altering realization that he can never again take his actions for granted. The words above, which appear in the final panel, are perhaps the most well-known and oft quoted words in comic book history. Really, in world history, when you consider that the words (and the idea behind them date back) to the French Revolution. We’re human; so, context matters. The way we receive the message, or even internalize the lesson, is different if we first read it in the final panel of a fantasy comic book versus if we’re studying historical documents from the French National Convention in 1793. We may discount the message, or take it more seriously, when it is attributed to beloved elder (like Ben Parker) versus when it is attributed to British Prime Minister (like William Lamb or Winston Churchill). Especially in a situation like this, there is a certain gravitas that comes not only from the words, but also from the speaker and whether their life is a reflection of the words.

“Are you practicing?”

 

– David Swenson, on the cover of his Ashtanga Yoga: The Practice Manual

Do they practice what they preach? Seeing the contradiction and/or hypocrisy, do we do as they say or as they do? Or, do we completely disregard the benefit of the lesson, because it is associated with someone who behaved badly?

These are the questions a lot of people are asking right now, in regards to race, sex, sexuality, religion, and the forming of countries (in particular the United States) and companies. They are also questions some of us in spiritual and religious communities have been asking for years with regard to our practices. Part of the challenge in answering these questions, with regard to bad behavior associated with the founders of an institution, is ignorance about the true nature of thing (avidyā). We may not always know about the bad behavior when we first become associated with an institution and, sometimes, the way in which we learn about the bad behavior makes it seem not so bad. Doesn’t matter if we are born into a society or join a community as an adult, once we are involved, our experiences are very personal and, as a result, we associate these situations with our sense of self – or false sense of self (asmitā). We define ourselves based on our attachment to things we like (rāga) and our aversion to things we dislike (dveşa) – even though sometimes don’t understand the true nature of what we like and dislike (hence, more avidyā). Finally, we are challenged by these questions, because answering may mean we lose something very meaningful to us, we may lose our sense of who we are, and we fear those losses like Peter Parker fears the loss of his uncle.

Notice, all the challenges I mentioned above are identified in the Yoga Sūtra as kleśāh (“afflicted” or “dysfunctional”) and therefore they are the very things that lead to suffering. Patanjali recommends meditation (YS 2.11) and the 8-limbs of yoga (YS 2.28) as a way to end the afflicted or dysfunctional thought patterns (and therefore the words and deeds) which lead to suffering. (Note, this instruction dovetails with the Buddha’s recommendation of meditation and the noble 8-fold path of Buddhism, as well as certain theological practices found in the major religions.) There’s only one problem: For most of us in the West, the practices of yoga and meditation are mired in the muck of bad behavior and the suffering that has been caused by that bad behavior.

“I was far more hurt by the culture of silence and ignoring the victim and victim-blaming than the abuse itself. If there would’ve been support from the community, and it had been dealt with, it would have gone away.”

 

– Anneke Lucas, founder of Liberation Prison Yoga, quoted in The New Yorker (07/23/2019) about confronting Sri Pattabhi Jois

Almost exactly a year ago, I posted about the foundations and how on Saturdays I place a year-long emphasis on “building the practice from the ground up,” both physically and philosophically. In the post I mentioned B. K. S. Iyengar and Sri Pattabhi Jois (who was born today in 1915). Both teachers are part of a small group (of mostly Indian men) who were charged by their teacher Sri Krishnamacharya with introducing the physical practice of yoga to the Western world. Both teachers introduced their personal practice as “the practice” and for many people those practices are how people define “yoga.” Thinking that yoga is a particular set of poses and/or a specific way of doing them is problematic in and of itself. However, there is a bigger problem: both of these teachers have been very credibly accused of bad behavior. And, they are not alone. There are a number of yoga (and Buddhist) teachers (male and female) who have been called out for bad behavior. (Note: I am not using the term “bad behavior” in an attempt to belay or undermine the heinous of what people have allegedly done. Instead, I am using the term as an umbrella to cover sexual misconduct, physical and psychological abuse, and financial misconduct.)

A few days after I posted, a friend and fellow yogi sent me an email, with a link to an article about Jois, and expressed concern about the allegations and “about the current Ashtanga community’s response (or lack thereof) to his abuses.” In conclusion, this friend acknowledged their own conflict about allegations related to their own practices and asked about my thoughts. I started to reply, but then didn’t finish or send the reply (because, well…life). So, with apologies to my friend and fellow yogi, here is part of my response:

Hi! How are you?

Thank you for your email (and the link). I had only heard a portion of this, and it was quite a while back – so, obviously, a lot more has come up. I appreciate the information. Interestingly enough, a friend who is also an Iyengar teacher is in town and when we were catching up she posed a similar question about the value of the teachings when the teacher (and their actions) are so clearly heinous. I ask myself this question a lot, because (unfortunately) there’s so much bad behavior.

Honestly, I’m not sure I have a good answer. In regards to individuals and their bad behaviors, this is something I have also seen in the performing arts (and obviously in Corporate America and religious organizations), and it is why I think it is so important to maintain awareness and connection to the ethical components of these practices – not as a way to condemn or ostracize others, but as a way to have checks and balances into our own practices and behaviors. Ultimately, there is a power element to the practice of yoga and a power imbalance in the (formal) teacher-student(s) relationship. It is up to the (formal) teacher to maintain awareness of this power and power imbalance in order to protect themselves AND the student(s).

I am not part of a formal tradition and have not had any direct contact with guru-predators. And I’ve never had a big-G Guru, which is itself a can of worms. That said; if I hear of someone doing something questionable I will steer people away. (Even though, in my case, I am only going by hearsay and have to step carefully.) Also, when people ask me about teacher trainings I always stress checking out the teacher/studio/situation to make sure that their comfortable with the instructors. I also stress that during teacher trainings (or intensives) people are sometimes asked to do things they may not feel comfortable doing and that it is important to feel secure in knowing when you are uncomfortable because you are outside your comfort zone (i.e., being asked to do something you haven’t ever done before) versus feeling uncomfortable because someone is doing something or asking you to do something that is just plain wrong.

Like Jubilee Cook, I often wonder why – even when people didn’t/don’t feel like they had/have the power to bring a predator down – they don’t understand that they have the power to stop others from being abused! I mean, I do get it on a certain level…and I say this not as a way to blame the victims, but to highlight an additional challenge.

Part of that additional challenge (or maybe it’s a separate challenge) is that people in formal traditions (led by big-G Gurus) experience a combination of hero worship and brain washing that can itself be a kind of trauma. In the recent past, it has taken people a bit of time to “deprogram.” My hope is that the delay in Ashtangis speaking up comes from needing to “deprogram.” Or maybe that’s my naiveté, because honestly, as more comes out, more shame and blame comes up – and people tend to want to curl up and ignore it. Especially, if/when you can pretend that sense certain people are dead the abuse has ended.

With regard to actual teachings…I found there is amazing value in the practice of yoga (on so many different levels)

That’s where I stopped. And, to a certain degree, that is where I am still stuck; because I can’t go back and learn all the valuable things about yoga through a less fractured lens. Maybe “stuck” isn’t the right word, but the bottom line is that this is an issue I confront on a fairly regular basis – not because I’ve personally encountered so much of this bad behavior, but because I can’t go back and pretend like bad behavior didn’t happen. I want people to be informed, but I don’t not always feel it is appropriate to bring certain things up in the middle of a yoga practice. Yes, yes, I do sometimes bring up a lot of controversial and horrific things that have happened in history. I also wrestle with the decision to do so.

Sometimes, I become aware of someone’s bad behavior and I change the way I teach certain things – or leave something/someone out completely, if I know of another way to make the point. Sometimes, I pivot because I’m aware of the history (or age) of someone in the room. I also, sometimes, make a misstep; I am human after all. However, I teach certain things (like religion, philosophy, science, and history) as if they were part of a history lesson or a survey course. I do this out of respect for the subject/theme and also because I think knowledge is power. And with that power…

I am not a big fan of William J. Broad’s very well researched and very well written book The Science of Yoga: The Risks and Rewards. Broad is very upfront about the fact that his book is about the physical practice – but that’s one of my big complaints about the book! By separating the physical practice from the larger context, the book does the exact same thing so many people do: it removes the ethics. Yet what Broad’s research reinforces, to me, is that one of the “rewards” of the postural practice (the increase in physical health and power) becomes a risk if some kind of ethical component is not affixed to the practice.

Let us not forget, Patanjali gave us the ethical component when he codified the system – and it didn’t give it to us as an afterthought. He gave it us first (just as the Buddha did). Most yoga teachers, and all teachers of Buddhism or the major religions, are aware of the ethics of their particular system. If they are not teaching those elements, they may not be practicing them. If they are not practicing the ethics of their system, in all aspects of their life, we end up with more suffering.

Please join me for a 65-minute “short form” virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 26th) at 2:30 PM, when you can practice your ethics. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 04192020. It is actually two playlists and you can decide which one you use.)

 

My apologies, again, to my friend and fellow yogi, for the delay. I also apologize to all for any missteps I’ve made along the way. If you would like to know more about the history of the practices mentioned above, here is a Kiss My Asana blog post from 2016. I started to excerpt it, but trust you won’t think unkindly about the amazing yogi in the profile just because he shares a gender with people who have harmed others.

 

 

### “HOW YOU DO YOGA, IS HOW YOU DO LIFE” ###

Compassion and Peace (with reference to a “separated” time) July 18, 2020

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“If one wishes suffering not to happen to people and the earth, it begins with a kind heart.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

Can you imagine, just for a moment, living four lives in one lifetime? Imagine (yourself) simultaneously being a member of a royal family, a lawyer, and a second-class citizen of your country. Now, imagine yourself using your personal privilege to fight the injustices that make it impossible for you to live in a free, just, and equitable society. Now, imagine spending over 27 years in prison (some of it in solitary confinement and some of it with the least amount of privileges) – while simultaneously being heralded around the world as a hero. Finally, imagine being a Nobel Peace Prize winner and President of your country. It’s a lot, right? Now, go back and imagine all of it while also being a husband and father, a son and a friend.

Imagine what your physical state would be like at these different times in your life. Now imagine your mental state… your emotional state… your spiritual state. Some of this may be hard to imagine. Even though many people have compared the stay-at-home order to being in prison, the truth is that unless you are quarantined with someone who is physically and mentally abusing you (and preventing you from eating, sleeping, exercising, and reading the news when you want to), the last few months are nothing like prison. So, for some, it’s not only hard to imagine living one of these experiences (let alone all of them), it’s impossible. It’s not only hard to put ourselves in these scenarios, it’s hard to imagine anyone living all of these experiences in one lifetime – and yet this was the life experience of #46664.

Also known as Madiba and “Father of the Nation,” Nelson Mandela was born today in 1918. He was controversial throughout his life – and far from perfect (in fact, he called himself a sinner and asked not to be judged by his failures). However, it is interesting to note all he accomplished and all he overcame. It is interesting to consider, as he did in his autobiography, how each layer of experience (samskara) changed his understanding his own freedom, or “illusion” of freedom, and how his ever-changing level of conscious awareness changed the way he engaged the next experience, which in turn allowed him to achieve all that he achieved. In other words, it is interesting to note how he viewed himself and how his understanding of himself played a part in the way he engaged the world. Mandela was a man who did not let the world define him.

“… that is when the hunger for my own freedom became the greater hunger for my own people. It was this desire for the freedom of my people to live their lives with dignity and self-respect that animated my life, that transformed a frightened young man into a bold one, that drove a law-abiding attorney to become a criminal, that turned a family-loving husband into a man without a home, that forced a life-loving man to live like a monk. I am no more virtuous or self-sacrificing than the next man, but I found that I could not even enjoy the poor land-limited freedoms I was allowed when I knew my people were not free. Freedom is indivisible; the chains on any one of my people were the chains on me.

It was during those long and lonely years that my hunger for the freedom of my own people became a hunger for the freedom of all people, white and black. I knew as well as I knew anything that the oppressor must be liberated just as surely as the oppressed.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

“We work on ourselves in order to help others, but also we help others in order to work on ourselves.”

 

– Pema Chödrön

“As I have said, the first thing is to be honest with yourself. You can never have an impact on society if you have not changed yourself.”

 

– Nelson Mandela

To be honest with oneself requires a little introspection, a little reflection, and a lot of awareness. One of these things we must be aware of as we contemplate ourselves is that our initial viewpoint is (almost always) skewed by our experiences (samskaras) and that our conscious viewpoint is layered on top of subconscious and unconscious viewpoints. So, to be honest with oneself requires unpacking the layers – which can be tricky even when you live a relatively simple life and even when you use a system of practice. Still, a system gives you a place to start.

Yoga Sūtra 1.1: atha yogānuśāsanam

 

– “Here, now, at this auspicious moment [having been prepared according to the ancient tradition] the instruction of union begins.”

Just as there are multiple levels of conscious awareness (four, according to Patanjali) there are also multiple levels of practice. For instance, when you are moving through an asana practice, there is a physical-mental level, an emotional-energetic level, and a psychic-symbolic level. As you use your mind to move your physical body and the movement of the body affects the mind, you affect your emotions and your energy, which in turn affect the function of your mind-body, and, ultimately gives you access to your intuition and the powers of your senses. Therefore, whether you realize it or not (and whether you believe it or not), as you practice things are happening on multiple levels: internally and externally. In truth, everything we experience happens on multiple levels, but the practice of yoga is systematic and deliberate in its intention to engage these multiple levels on the inside and the outside.

Both the physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) and the philosophy of yoga have an internal component and an external component; and both can change the way one understands themselves, the world, and how one fits in the world. Again, there are other ways – even other systems and contemplative practices – that allow someone to engage themselves on multiple levels. The practice of “compassionate abiding” for instance, is a way to take a look at one’s self on multiple levels. Remember though, that while this practice (which I’ve mentioned this week) can be a standalone practice, it is the beginning of larger practices (related to shenpa, loving-kindness, and compassion) and it is part of the bigger system that is Buddhism. To understand a single part of the system (and how that one piece fits in the whole system), you need to go deeper into the system. So, let’s go deeper into the yoga system.

Yoga Sütra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodhah

– “Yoga is the mastery of the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sütra 1.3: tadā draştuh svarūpe’vasthānam

 – “[When the fluctuations of the mind are mastered] the Seer abides/rests in their own true nature.”

Yoga Sütra 1.4: vŗttisārūpyamitaratra

 – “At other times, the Seer identifies with the fluctuations of the mind.”

Yoga Sutra 1.5: vŗttayah pañcatayyah klişțāklişțāh

– “The tendencies that cause the mind to fluctuate (or rotate) are fivefold, and are either afflicting or non-afflicting.”

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of identity, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death or loss are the afflictions.”

Yoga Sūtra 2.28: yogāngāuşţhānādaśuddikşaye jñānadīptirāvivekakhyāteh

– “Unshakeable discernment (or knowledge) comes from the sustained practice of the limbs of yoga, which eliminates/destroys impurities and illuminates knowledge.”

 

Yoga Sūtra 2.29: “yamaniyamāsanaprānāmapratyāhāradhāraņādhyānasamādhyo’şţāvangāni

 

– “Restraint, internal observance, seat (or physical posture), control of breath/prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and the highest meditation/absorption are the eight rungs/limbs of yoga.”

I mentioned last week that sūtra 2.28 could be considered a teaser or an introduction to this week’s sūtra. And, whether you realized it or not, as we moved through the July 11th practice, I walked you through the philosophy of yoga – which is the focus of this week’s sūtra. Swami Vivekananda relayed the instruction to the Western world as Rāja Yoga, meaning “royal union,” to designate it as the highest or most complete form of the practice; however, Patanjali called it aşţāngā yoga, meaning 8-limb or 8-rung yoga. (This is different from the physical practices of “Ashtanga Yoga,” which is a vinyāsa form of haţha yoga and therefore a container in which to practice the 8-limbs). In the philosophy, each rung leads to the next rung, and also (simultaneously) acts as a limb of stability as your practice the other limbs. While some will argue that the system was intended to be practiced in a state of societal renunciation, there are aspects of the practice which make the most sense when they are held up to the light of day and practiced with some social interaction. It is easier, after all, to convince ourselves that we have mastered the fluctuations of our mind when there is nothing and no one around to “distract” us.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the mind won’t distract us if we are alone for an extended period of time – it absolutely will. However, if we have the luxury of time and space to reach a quiet mind state for an extended period of time, we may find it easier to maintain that state the longer we no longer engage with the world. The true test of our practice, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel pointed out in The Insecurity of Freedom, “is not how to worship in the catacombs but rather how to remain human in the skyscrapers.”

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. The true test of our devotion to freedom is just beginning.

I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, July 18th) 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 this practice via a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the playlist dated 07/11/2020.)

[Full disclosure, this will not be my typical Nelson Mandela themed class – and we may or may not do a mandala sequence, as I am still figuring out how to make that work on Zoom.]

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

 

– quoted from Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela

 

“Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called ‘Religion or Race.’ You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.”

 

– quoted from the “Religion and Race” speech delivered January 14, 1963, and published in The Insecurity of Freedom by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

 

Another man who lived 9 lives (and dressed as himself at Comic-Con), Rest in Peace / Rest in Power 1940 – 2020

### SEE YOUR PRACTICE, SEE YOUR LIFE ###

It’s About More Than Begetting A Child June 21, 2020

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“Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness’ sake.”

– bus billboard for the American Humanist Association

Today, June 21st, is vying with May 1st to be the hardest working day of the year. It’s International Yoga Day, World Music Day, World Handshake Day, Atheist Solidarity Day, World Humanist Day, and sometimes (although not this year) it’s Summer Solstice. I feel like I’m forgetting something….

Oh yes, and this year, today is Father’s Day. Although, y’all know I prefer Daddy’s Day and have been trying to get people to switch for years; because, the day is a celebration of nourishing, not procreating. There is some traction (on Twitter) for “Dad’s Big Day” and even though I’m not on social media I am going to support that. So, Dad’s Big Day it is!

A day to honor fathers and paternal figures actually predates a day to honor mothers and maternal figures. In Europe, there were religious observations as far back as the Middle Ages. The Christian Orthodox Church commemorates the second Sunday before Nativity (usually December 11th or 17th) as the Sunday of the Forefathers and honors biblical ancestors and a variety of prophets going back as far as Adam. This observation includes Mary as Theotokos and places a special emphasis on Abraham, the “father” of three major religions and their progeny. Catholics in Europe have celebrated the May 19th feast day of Saint Joseph as a day to honor fathers and father figures. The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria also observes in this way, but on July 20th. (Note that Saint Joseph has three other feast days in the Eastern and Western Christian traditions – including May 1st when he is remembered as “the Worker.”) Just like the idea for Mother’s Day, the idea for a secular Father’s Day was promoted by a daughter – who was inspired by a church sermon.

“I remember everything about him. He was both father and mother to me and my brothers and sisters.”

 

– Sonora Smart Dodd, speaking to the Spokane Daily Chronicle about her father

Born February 18, 1882, Sonora Smart Dodd was one of six children born to Civil War veteran William Jackson Smart (who served as a sergeant in the Union army, but had previously fought for the Confederacy) and his wife Ellen Victoria Cheek Smart, but she was one of 14 children between the couple. Both William and Ellen had been widowed with children. When Ellen died in childbirth, William became a single dad and Sonora (age 16), as their only (shared) daughter, assisted him in the raising of the younger sons. When she heard a Mother’s Day sermon at Central Methodist Episcopal Church in the early 1900’s, she suggested that her own father’s birthday become a day to honor all fathers. The Spokane Ministerial Alliance appreciated the idea – but not so much the date of June 5th (as they couldn’t pull something together that fast) – and the first secular Father’s Day was observed in Spokane, Washington on June 19, 1910. Eventually, the day was noted by Presidents Woodrow Wilson (who praised it in a telegraph), Lyndon B. Johnson (who signed a proclamation affirming the third Sunday in June as Father’s Day), and Richard Nixon (who established it as a permanent national observation).

“The foremost reason my father became a scholar of Sanskrit was because of his family tradition. In the old days, people like my father’s forbears were well known as advisors, even to the kings. Nowadays we would call my father’s grandfather something like prime minister, for example, but at that time the position of prime minister was not a political one in the way that we know it now. He was rather an advisor who told the rulers what was right and what was wrong.”

 

– T. K. V. Desikachar answering a question about his father, Sri T. Krishnamacharya (known as the “Father of Yoga”)

Born today in 1938, in Mysore, India, T. K. V. Desikachar is one of the students of Sri T. Krishnamacharya who was charged with spreading the practice of yoga into the Western world. Just as his father and grandfather before him, Desikachar’s students included his children and world leaders. His teaching was so influential that a celebration of yoga was proposed to the United Nations General Assembly in 2014. The first International Yoga Day observation occurred today in 2015, with over 200 million people in almost 180 nations practicing yoga – some even extending the celebration into the entire week.

“We must understand that yoga is not an Indian (thing). If you want to call yoga Indian, then you must call gravity European.”

 

– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation, speaking in a 2016 United Nations panel discussion about International Yoga Day

World Music Day, not to be confused with International Music Day, was started in France in 1982 and has been adopted by over 120 nations, including India. The idea for free concerts in open areas by a variety of musicians was first proposed by American Joel Cohen as far back as 1976. In 1981, however, French Minister of Culture Jack Lang appointed musician Maurice Fleuret as the Director of Music and Dance. The duo collaborated to create an event in 1985 whereby even amateurs would be encouraged to musically express themselves in public. Fleuret said there would be “music everywhere and the concert nowhere.”

There are atheists everywhere, even though many people believe they are few and far between. Mike Smith started a Facebook group in 2010 to make Atheist Solidarity Day an official holiday. Even though he deleted the group soon after, people were engaged and today atheist celebrate June 21st as a global protest, celebration, and awareness raising event for people who don’t always have the freedom to openly express their lack of belief in “god,” whatever that means to you at this moment. While I am not an atheist, the black and red theme today is in solidarity of people having the freedom to believe what serves them.

“My son, place your hand here in the sea and you are united with the whole world.”

 

– Ivan Zupa, founder of World Handshake Day, remembering the advice of an old man

Yoga is a Sanskrit word that means “union.” As today is often Summer Solstice, it is viewed as the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere and therefore a great day for people to come together. Even with the challenges of the pandemic, we are still coming together.

 Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, June 21st) at 2:30 PM to learn more about the aforementioned holidays, and how you can safely celebrate World Handshake Day during the pandemic. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

A Father’s Ode to His Mother

 

### BREATHE INTO YOUR SPINE ###

 

Building From the Ground Up (II) June 8, 2020

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“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in spiritual union.”

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Yoga is the Sanskrit word for union – and we could spend all day talking about what that means in a literal sense, let alone in a spiritual or metaphorical sense. But, let’s just focus on the spiritual for a moment. The 8-limb philosophy of yoga contains several references to a spiritual (or metaphysical) element. That is to say, there is an acknowledgement that people are more than bodies and more than minds. Furthermore, within that acknowledgement is the awareness that inherent in the mind-body connection is the “more,” whatever that means, and that the end goal of the philosophical practice is to be fully aware of not only the “more” but also of our connection to it. Simply put, the end goal can be defined as “spiritual union.”

Born today in 1867, Frank Lloyd Wright was an architect, interior designer, writer, and teacher who designed over 1,000 structures. Over 500 of his designs were actually built, 50 of which were private houses and ~10 of those houses (plus a gas station) are in Minnesota. Almost 60 of his designs were built in his birth state of Wisconsin. Wright believed in organic architecture, the idea that a building should be in harmony with nature/environment and humanity. He pioneered the Prairie School architecture movement in the late 19th / early 20th century and would not only design the structure, but also the furniture contained within the structure.

Wright’s work and work-philosophy is a great reminder to build from the ground up and also to consider how everything works together. We need the reminder, because, sometimes we forget our purpose. Sometimes we get so far into an idea or the development of a thing that we forget its original function. Sometimes we get so distracted by the form that we forget the original intention. And, this way of thinking can become such a habit that we may forget there was/is another way to work.

“Get in the habit of analysis – analysis will in time enable synthesis to become your habit of mind.”

 

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

On a philosophical (and political) note, people all over the US – and especially here in the Twin Cities – are talking about scrapping something and starting over from scratch, versus fixing what exists. I’m not intending to weigh in here on my personal opinion regarding defunding versus reforming an existing part of our government and infrastructure. What I will say is that, both require considering the original blueprint. Also, as a whole, I think we are a society that is in the habit of building and engaging without analysis (which could be considered a type of mindfulness). To me, the question of defunding or reforming is moot if there’s no analysis or consideration of the underlying foundation – which is shaky at best. How do we, as a society, build from the ground up and build in harmony with humanity and our environment if we haven’t really considered the elements which make up our environment?

Frank Lloyd Wright conceived of a utopian America, which would be a reflection of (and reflected by) the architecture. Form and function would be one; people would live, work, play, and pray in harmony with one another and with their environment. The open format of the structures would allow for interaction between family members, even as they engaged in their own pursuits. He called this concept of America “Usonia,” which is very close to the Esperanto name for the United States. (Esperanto being the language L. L. Zamenhof created in order for the world to have a shared language, which he believed would lead to a more unified society.) While Wright’s Usonian designs still influence home and workspace designs to this day, he couldn’t seem to maintain an idyllic home life for himself and his family, let alone idyllic professional relationships.

“Space is the breath of art.”

 

– Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Let’s breathe together and build (each pose and every sequence) from the ground up. If it’s possible, please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, June 8th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute yoga practice on Zoom.

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. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

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.

[Here’s a previous post on building a practice from the ground up. Please note that we have continued this tradition on Saturdays, but are in a different phase. You are free to join us.]

 

#### MAKE ANALYSIS A HABIT ####

 

The JOyG of Being May 9, 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.)

“Yes how my love this moment here is ripe for us
Yes you and I so brave against the years
If nothing’s left to live we must find a way
There’s reason yet to live
There’s something left to give
We must find a way
There is so much to give”

 

– from “When Nothing’s Left” by Royal Wood

 

“For there is no doubt that the most radical division that it is possible to make of humanity is that which splits it into two classes of creatures: those who make great demands on themselves, piling up difficulties and duties; and those who demand nothing special of themselves, but for whom to live is to be every moment what they already are, without imposing on themselves any effort towards perfection; mere buoys that float on the waves.”

― from The Revolt of the Masses by José Ortega y Gasset

 

My friend Bob P once told me this joke: “There are two kinds of people in a kayak, the people that just fell out and the people who are about to fall out.” I find his joke is a pretty apropos metaphor for that feeling of “hitting the wall” during this pandemic; if you haven’t hit the wall, you’re about to hit the wall. While it might seem trite to suggest that you can tell a lot about a person by how they get over/under/around/through the wall it doesn’t change the fact that this is all part of our circumstances and, to paraphrase José Ortega y Gasset, we are (in part) our circumstances.

Born in Spain, today (May 9th) in 1883, Ortega y Gasset was an existential philosopher and writer, as well as a bit of an activist/social reformer, who believed that life was simultaneously fate and freedom, but that freedom could only be experienced within a given fate. In other words, we must play the hand we’re dealt – but, and this is key, we decide what game we’re playing with the hand we’re dealt. In fact, Ortega y Gasset encouraged actively deciding and creating a “project of life” and, in doing so, create meaning not only for one’s self, but also for others.

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– The “gunas” fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference)

 

It may seem strange, even counterintuitive to some, to draw parallels between the work of 20th century existential philosophers and psychologists (or psychoanalysts) and the work of the ancient yogis. Yet, remember, Patanjali, Vyasa, and the authors of the sacred texts like the Upanishads were explaining their life experiences – just like modern day existentialists – and codifying their life philosophies. When you get right down to it, all of this comes down to an understanding of the nature of things and the nature of ourselves. So, once again, we are back to the same two questions: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?”

José Ortega y Gasset was a strong proponent of creating one’s world, being an active creator rather than a passive receiver, and the second section/chapter of the yoga sutras (“The Foundation on Practice”) begins by focusing on how we are creating our world and our experiences in the world – sometimes unconsciously.

“Life cannot wait until the sciences may have explained the universe scientifically. We cannot put off living until we are ready. The most salient characteristic of life is its coerciveness: it is always urgent, “here and now” without any possible postponement. Life is fired at us point-blank. And culture, which is but its interpretation, cannot wait any more than can life itself.”

 

– from Misión de la Universidad (Mission of the University) by José Ortega y Gasset

If you are interested and available, please you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday,May 9th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

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.

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. 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.

 

### “YO SOY YO Y MI CIRCUMSTANCIA” ###

May the Fourth… May 4, 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.)

“The practices of yoga designed to harmonize the … forces in our body and mind.”

 

 – definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Padaa: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

“The way towards realisation through rigorous discipline.”

 

– definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika by B. K. S. Iyengar

Hatha Yoga refers to the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition. Although, in the West it is a term often used to describe a practice which does not fit into a specific style or tradition. In other words, rather than describing a class as “not-Ashtanga-vinyasa-Power-Sivananda-Tantra-Vini–Bikram-Hot-Tibetan-Nidra-Nada-Svaroopa-Yin…” it is easier to say, “This is Hatha Yoga.”

Some people, even teachers, mistakenly use the term as a synonym for “easy yoga.” However, easy is relative and trust me when I tell you that if you look at classical texts on the physical practice, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 14th century C.E.) and The Gheranda Samhita (circa 16th century C.E), you will find some poses that very few Westerners would refer to as easy! These classical texts echo earlier Tantric texts and may not be influenced by Vedanta (or “end of the Vedas”) philosophy. For this reason, some teachers will describe their classes as one of the aforementioned styles and/or traditions and also as Hatha. All in all though, this use of the term sometimes focuses more on what you’re not doing rather than on what you are doing.

Take a moment to consider what you are doing on the mat.

HA – Sun

ŢHA – Moon

HAŢHA – Force

YOGA – Union, yoking

If you look up to the heavens, we see the sun and the moon (as well as all the other heavenly bodies). Why don’t they collide? For that matter, why do all of the planets and their moons circle around the sun without colliding into each other? Basic science explains that there is a gravitational force that simultaneously connects (yokes) the elements of the solar system together and keeps these same elements from crashing into each other. Really, each heavenly body exerts a certain amount of force on the other bodies, while also being influenced by the force of others. For instance, the force of the Sun pulls the Earth into its orbit, while the rotation of the Earth and the force of the Sun keep the Earth’s Moon in place and the rotation of the Moon affects the waters of the Earth. There is a fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions. Yet, these forces are different, even opposites.

The sun, the solar energy, is considered active, male, right side, yang, energizing, hot, effort; and is associated with inhaling, daytime, pleasure, delight, the body, and analytical/critical thinking. The moon, the lunar energy, is considered passive, female, left side, yin, restorative, cool, relaxation; and is associated with exhaling, nighttime, pain, suffering, the mind, and creativity. The list goes on. However, the separate particulars are not the most important parts here.

“We cannot say that that the sun which is shining in the sky and the image which is on the ground are one but we cannot say these are two either. The wave in the lake and the water wavering are not one but not two either. The Lamp and the light of the Lamp are not one but not two either. The air which is flowing and the touch of the air are not one but not two either. Such a relationship is termed as non-dualism in Vedanta. The Brahma and the Universe are not one but not two either. The souls of two persons are not one but not distinct either. The creation and the creator are not one but not two either. According to Vedanta this happening is like the dance and the dancer.”

– from The Paradise Never Lost by Pramod Bharati

The first important part is to remember that these opposites co-exist; we need one to have and understand the other. The second important part is that these opposites co-exist inside of us and all around us. Finally, when put together, the two root words refer to a state of separation inherent in duality that must be overcome in order to achieve awareness of the underlying connectivity that is also inherent in duality. They are Martin Buber’s Ich-und-Du, and so to understand ourselves we have to understand and respect the connection. We also need to understand the fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions.

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is sometimes called “The Law of Inertia” and we experience it when we are stuck in a bad relationship or a job that no longer serves us, but we can’t seem to make a change. We experience it when we’re stuck on the couch, the futon, the La-Z-Boy recliner, or the floor and have no desire to go for a walk or a run or a bicycle ride, even though we know some movement will feel good and is good for us. We also experience it when we do something for 28, 30, 35, or 40 days and feel the momentum of repeated behavior settling us into a new habit.

On a personal level, we experience the second law, when we have a compelling reason to change our behavior or action – or a more compelling reason to maintain the status quo.

We experience that third law when we breathe (inhale and exhale), as well as when we eat/drink and then defecate/urinate. We also experience it when we focus on one element, one aspect of our selves to the exclusion of the other parts of ourselves and things get out of balance. When things get out of balance they start to fall apart and/or collapse into each other. We need the balance – the balance of opposites – just like everything else in the universe.  We need the Force.

“Great evil can only be fought by the strong. People need spiritual fuel as much as they need food, water, and air. Happiness, love, joy, hope — these are the emotions that give us the strength to do what we need to do.”

 

– from Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray   

 

Today, Monday, May the 4th, is a special day for teachers like me (short, funny looking, with enormous eyes or glasses). If you’re interested in a virtual yoga practice (in which the Force is strong) today (Monday, May the 4th) at 5:30 PM, please join me on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

While I know there are some who are thinking, “This is not the class I’m looking for” or “I have a bad feeling about this” – and others who will be disappointed because we won’t be practicing with the phenomenal soundtrack – I promise there will be wisdom. And, maybe, sound effects. Although today’s class is not a Kiss My Asana class, here’s a preview from last year’s class.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

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.

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. 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.

 

 

### “Pass On What You Have Learned” ###

 

Let’s See… Clearly May 3, 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.)

“I’m in the here and now, and I’m meditating
And still I’m suffering but that’s my problem
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is”

 

– from “Enlightenment” by Van Morrison

Every philosophy, every religion, every one of humankind’s thought paradigms takes suffering into consideration; because suffering is part of our existence. We can have everything we need, but not have one thing that we want; and suffering ensues. We can have everything we need, everything we think we want, and one thing we do not want; and suffering ensues. It’s one of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism (“Suffering Exists”). And yet, some people seem to suffer more than others. Some people endure great hardships and seem to suffer very little. How is that possible?

In philosophies like Buddhism, there is a distinction made between pain and suffering. Pain is a physical experience, over which we have very little control. Suffering, however, is seen as an emotional/mental experience, and therefore something within our control. This is why the Buddha spoke of the second arrow – the one that causes additional pain, and also suffering. Another thing the Eastern philosophies have any common is the idea that suffering comes from attachment. So, either way you look at it, it comes down to the way we think.

It’s up to you, everyday
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
It’s always up to you
Enlightenment, don’t know what it is
It’s up to you, the way you think”

 

– from “Enlightenment” by Van Morrison

 

Yoga Sutra 2.3: Avidyāsmitārāgadveşābhiniveśāh kleśāh

 

– “Ignorance (or lack of knowledge), false sense of self, attachment (rooted in pleasure), aversion (which is attachment rooted in pain), and fear of death of loss are the afflicted thoughts.”

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali spends quite a bit of time talking about how the mind works and how we can work the mind. He specifically states in the first chapter that our thoughts fall into two distinct categories, klişțāklişțāh (“afflicted and not afflicted”); that is to say, thoughts which cause suffering and thoughts which do not cause suffering. In Yoga Sutra 2.3 (see above), he explains that there are five afflicted or suffering causing thoughts (see above). There are two very critical parts about this breakdown of afflicted thoughts. First, that avidyā (“ignorance”) about the true nature of things leads to a false sense of self – which is created by our attachments/likes, aversions/dislikes, and fear of death/loss. The second critical element at play here is that it is not only ourselves that we create out of the last three afflictions, it is also (philosophically speaking) the world that we create based on these same thoughts. So, here we are stuck in that feedback loop again.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

“The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

 

What happens if we can gain step back and gain some perspective? What happens if we take a look at ourselves and distinguish the forest from the trees and the trees from ourselves – but in a way that recognizes we are the forest and the trees? What happens if we can see (ourselves, our world, and others) clearly? What happens if we recognize that everyone and everything has spiritual value and can point us in the direction of enlightenment (whatever that means to you at this moment)? These are philosophical questions and, as Yoga is a practical and active philosophy, these are some of the questions that can be answered through the practice.

Let’s see what happens when you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 3rd) at 2:30 PM. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

***NOTE: Tomorrow is May the 4th, and yes, I’m going there. Feel free to join me. There will be space. ***

 

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.

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. 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.

 

### SO HUM HAM SA ###

 

Let’s See… May 2, 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.)

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

“The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.

Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was born today in 1903, started off his bestselling book Baby and Child Care with advice to parents that also applies to our yoga practice: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Even if this is your first time on the mat, trust yourself. Even if this is your 50,000th time on the mat, trust yourself. See what you see and notice how you engage what you see, inside and outside. Bring awareness, also, to how you engage what is unseen – and, how you engage yourself. This is the practice.

You can see what happens when you join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday,May 2nd) at 12:00 PM. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. Thank you to ever one who did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others this week! But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. 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.

 

 

### NAMASTE ###

 

Moved By The Spirit April 28, 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: Surprise! This post is a 2016 Kiss My Asana “throwback,” but it was never posted in real time. In other words, this post is a bit of a Tardis.}

“REFLECTIONS ON THE POSE DEDICATED TO THE SAGE VASISTHA. Given the great sage Vasistha’s place in the Vedic tradition, it is fitting that this challenging and invigorating pose dedicated to him epitomizes grace, strength, and steadiness…. Confronting all of these challenges that call upon your body to work as a whole, this is not a pose that every student will be able to do the first time he or she comes to yoga class. Even those who are strong may find it difficult to hold it steadily for any length of time. To make progress in this pose is to gain insight into the abiding principle of intention…. Singleness of purpose increases your capacity. By applying an intention consistently, you transform disparate efforts into unified action, chaos into order. Through informed intention you find your body – as well as yourself in the larger scheme of your life – moving purposefully, ever closer to your goals. …one of life’s most vital lessons: there may be nothing more powerful in determining your future as your resolve to do so.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Almost four eight years ago, a powerful yogi started sharing his practice with me. While yes, he was physically and mentally powerful, what struck me right off the bat that first summer was that Tom B. (Yogi #28) was spiritually and energetically strong. His focus and breath awareness alone were enlightening – especially when our conversations revealed that certain aspects of the yoga philosophy were new to him. What wasn’t new to him, however, was a dedication to knowing and growing through God.

“To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success and failure. This mental eveness is what is meant by ‘yoga’ (Union with God).”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (2:48), by Jack Hawley

Tom B. would be the first to tell you that one of the things which cemented the beginning of our spiritual friendship was when I mentioned Seane Corn approaching her vinyasa practice as a body prayer. For some people, the idea that one can mindfully and intentionally use their whole body to pray is a very alien, very esoteric practice. For others, it is a cultural experience they take for granted. Then there are people who start off in the first group and very deliberately, very intentionally, practice their way into the second group. In many ways, Tom B. belongs in this last camp. Like a dervish, he has spent much of his life revolving around ways the sacred and the divine relate to the mundane and profane. The physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga) has just become another way for him to pray and dance with the Divine.

“So, are you open to praying? Mmmmhmm? That’s my hope; that what we can do today is use this practice in a way that goes beyond the physical and does what I really believe yoga is suppose to do – which is ultimately unite us, connect us, inspire us – from a place that’s very deep within.”

 

– from “Yoga from the Heart” by Seane Corn

In addition to our early conversation about Seane Corn’s approach to the physical practice, Tom B. and I once stood on a rooftop and discussed comparative analysis of sacred text, which can be a form of svadyaya (self-study, one of the niyamas/internal observations). Specifically, Tom B. wanted to know more about the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali’s outline of the yoga philosophy. His interest was piqued by a class focused on ahimsa (non-harming, one of the yamas/external observations) and a reference I made to a translation of the sutras entitled How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.

Here, again, the paradigm might have been new – but then, again, it wasn’t. As a professional theologian, Tom B. was already so well versed in religious ethics and the benefits of being virtuous that he could (and did) write a book about it! But, what I appreciated right off the bat – and what continues to inspire me about Tom B. – was not only his intellectual awareness and his continued pursuit of how certain Truths are universal to the human experience, but also his sense of humor and his commitment to practicing the principles of his faith, on and off the mat.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ”

 

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18

 

“Be grateful to everyone. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join in meditation. Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

 

– Lojong (Tibetan Buddhist Mind-training techniques) #13, #16, #21

 

“All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavor. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself.”

– from Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

(Click here if you do not see embedded video.)

 

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. / Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. / For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

– 2 Peter 1:19 – 21

“We get more pleasure from union with the spiritual objects we understand than from the bodily objects we sense: the objects themselves are to be prized more, the ability to understand is a nobler ability, and the union achieved is more intimate, more complete, and more lasting.”

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

While I’ve laid out a few of the reasons why Yoga resonated with Yogi #28, there are many, many more. And, perhaps the best reasons are the ones I’ve saved for last. In addition to being a contemporary theologian, Tom B is a person whose spiritual practices have been ancient, embodied, and interspiritual for much of his life. He is Catholic, and also catholic – the lower case “c” emphasizing the original meaning from the Greek words meaning “universal” and “according to the whole.” He is a recognized leader in Christian contemplative practices, such as Centering Prayer, and in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas (who focused on ethics and proving the existence of God, both through the lens of love, goodness, and beauty). In the four years between now and Kiss My Asana 2016 (when I originally posted the “Questions Answered by Yogis” series), Tom B has continued and expanded his spiritual journey by starting a podcast called “Contemplate This!” where he interviews and cultivates dialogue with some of the most amazing modern day mystics and contemplative leaders (present company excluded in that platitude, as – full disclosure – I am interview #6).

“Spiritual pleasures presuppose virtue, so most people fail to experience them and fall back on bodily pleasures.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Tom B once asked me to write a letter to his children, which up until now I have neglected to do (probably for the same reasons I didn’t post this back in 2016: “because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”). If we were to consider this part of that letter, I would call it “How to Know the Father” and tell his kids that if they look within themselves they will find all the need to know about their dad – especially if they add in a little comparative analysis.

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

 

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

Please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Tuesday, April 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM. Both practices will revolve around poetry and, also, explore what is required to completely devote oneself to something or someone. There is, after all, a bridge between the desire to commit and the actual commitment. It is the bridge that fosters “singleness of purpose” and permits one to devote their life to what is felt, but unseen. It is the same metaphorical bridge that allows poets to write poetry…about anything and everything. Please 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.

Devote yourself to Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which 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. This year’s yogathon is only a week long! Seven days, starting yesterday (Saturday), to do yoga, share yoga, and help others. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 28th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 28th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 28th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 28th Practice (see “Poetry Practice” link above)

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Today’s story is story number four (and also number five), are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 2 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. 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.

 

### “ENTER BY THE SMALL RIVERS” ###

 

The Virtue of Patience April 11, 2020

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PATI [Latin, “suffer” > Late Latin, passio > Old French …> Middle English, PASSION]

PATI [Latin, “suffer”> Latin, patientia, “suffering”> Old French…> Middle English, PATIENCE]

– Etymology (the origin and meaning history) of the words “passion” and “patience”

Ask almost anyone, their family, and their friends if the original person is patient and you will often receive very divergent answers. There are people who cultivate patience, people who practice patience, and people who seem naturally patient. Then there’s everyone else. Or so it seems. The truth, when it comes to patience can be a little more nuanced than a single answer. It turns out we have different definitions / understandings of patience. Furthermore, our ability to be patient has as much (maybe more) to do with our situation (not to mention our neurobiology and perspective) than with our personality or habits.

Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in the brain that sustains healthy brain and nerve function. Although it is a neurotransmitter, which helps relay signals in the brain, 90% of a person’s serotonin supply is found in the digestive track and in blood platelets. Too much or too little can affect our brain function (especially memory and learning), our overall mood, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, temperature regulation, and (on a certain level) engagement with the world. Too much or too little serotonin can adversely affect our cardiovascular system, muscles, endocrine system, and digestive system.

Studies indicate that next time you’re “hangry,” instead of blaming the person (or situation) pushing your buttons, you could blame your serotonin levels. You could also, however, consider your expectations.

In a 2018 Psychology Today article, Christopher Bergland described McDonald’s struggling with the “patience effect” when drive-thru customers didn’t realize their longer wait time was resulting in a higher quality burger. He also pointed out how Heinz struggled with people being irritated by how long it took ketchup to come out of an old-fashioned glass bottle back in the 70’s. Neither company changed their process. Instead, both companies overcame their issues with ad campaigns that changed customers’ expectations and, in the process, customers’ patience.

“Mice in a lab aren’t much different than humans waiting at the drive-thru or for ketchup to dispense from an old glass bottle. In a recent experiment, researchers pinpointed the role that serotonin plays in “the patience effect” depending on the confidence a mouse has that it’s worth waiting a few extra seconds for a delayed food reward…. the researchers found that stimulating serotonin production made the mice willing to wait for a food reward if they knew there was at least a 75% chance of being fed after waiting a maximum of 10 seconds. When the odds of receiving the food reward slipped below this threshold, serotonin failed to increase patience. ‘The patience effect only works when the mouse thinks there is a high probability of reward,’ [ Dr. Katsuhiko] Miyazaki said in a statement.

The main takeaway from this research is that the link between serotonin levels and subsequent behavior appears to be highly dependent on a mouse’s subjective confidence in an expected outcome.”

– Christopher Bergland, a world-class endurance athlete, coach, author, and political activist

 

Much of what’s happening in the world right now results in experiences that feel like our serotonin levels are out of whack. And that’s not a coincidence – especially when you consider the role emotional and social support play in maintaining healthy serotonin levels. To add insult to injury, unlike the people in the drive-thru, the people with the old-fashioned ketchup bottle, or the mice, we have no real expectations of when our patience will be rewarded. So, frustration – and suffering – increases.

Once again, we are caught in a feedback loop; because, studies show negative thought patterns, hostility, and irritability result in decreased health (including serotonin levels), which in turn causes us to experience an increase in negative thoughts, hostility, and irritability. There is hope, however.

Dr. Simon N Young, in 2007 Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience article reviewing neuroscience research, pointed out “alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism” and hypothesized that it could also increase serotonin levels, He also highlighted the fact that exposure to sunlight (even on a cloudy day) and bright lights can increase serotonin levels. Finally, he pointed to a third and fourth “strategy” for increasing serotonin levels: exercise and diet.

Four ways, right here, that you can do today!

  1. cultivate positive thoughts (maybe through meditation, hint, hint);
  2. step into the bright lights, baby;
  3. exercise (yoga, anyone?);
  4. and be mindful of what you eat.

If you’re available, please join me today (Saturday, April 11th), Noon – 1:30 PM for a live yoga practice on Zoom. The “04112020 LSPW” playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. My only request is that you let go of some expectations.

If you are following the Orthodox Christian calendar and would like a recording of last week’s classes, please comment or email me.

If you are interested in combining a physical practice (yoga or weightlifting) with the Counting of the Omer, you can purchase a copy of Marcus J. Freed’s The Kabbalh Sutras: 49 Steps to Enlightenment.

Meanwhile, regular loving-kindness meditation can improve your mood (hint, hint below). This type of Metta Meditation was part of my daily commute prior to the pandemic. Part I gives you a little background and a partially guided meditation. Part II (coming soon) includes guided meditation for the cardinal and intercardinal directions. These meditations were recorded in the Spring of 2019.

Also, mark your calendar for April 25th – the beginning of Kiss My Asana – and a special YIN Yoga event this Wednesday, April 15th, at 3:00 PM

Speaking of Kiss My Asana…

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. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, to do yoga, share yoga, and help others.  By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. “Flashback” to one of my previous offerings dated April 11th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 11th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 11th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 11th Practice

### BE WELL ###