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Meditation Monday March 30, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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“Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast,
To soften Rocks, or bend a knotted Oak.
I’ve read, that things inanimate have mov’d,
And, as with living Souls, have been inform’d,
By Magick Numbers and persuasive Sound.
What then am I? Am I more senseless grown
Than Trees, or Flint? O force of constant Woe!
‘Tis not in Harmony to calm my Griefs.”

 

– the opening line of The Mourning Bride (Act I, scene i), by William Congreve

Right about now, one of the most misquoted (and misattributed) lines in the history of live theatre*, has several people thinking I am not getting enough sleep (because clearly I didn’t type that quote correctly). But, when Almeria (daughter of the King of Granada) spoke the opening line of The Mourning Bride back in February or March 1697, no one anticipated confusion about the first line – they were anticipating laughter. Playwright and poet William Congreve was known for brilliantly engaging, high-brow, sexual comedy of manners with satirical dialogue (and sometimes mistaken identities).  The idea that inanimate objects could be moved (or animated) by music while a woman in grief would be stuck with her emotions, could be played for laughs – and Congreve even follows the idea up with the suggestion that Almeria is being melodramatic – then, however, there is a turn in events and the audience is made aware that her emotions are very real, very valid, and very hard to endure (because she can’t change the events that led to the emotions).

We’ve all been there. In times like these, we find ourselves there again and again: stricken by very real, very valid, and very hard to endure emotions. We may have the desire to run from those emotions, maybe even to keep busy so that we don’t have to feel much or deal with the emotions. However, escapism only works for so long. And, it can be nearly impossible as people all over the world are social distancing and self quarantining. Rather than making it harder, consider settling in for a moment – just a moment – and breathe. You can do that 90-second thing. Notice how you’re feeling, how the emotion feels in your body. Notice what happens if instead of building a story around it – or running from it – you stay still, breathe, notice what changes and how it changes.

Yoga Sutra 1.2: yogaścittavŗttinirodaha

– “Yoga (or union) ceases the fluctuations of the mind”

I think of Mondays as Meditation Monday, because for several years now, I have led a YIN Yoga practice (which is very meditative in quality) followed by a vinyasa practice at Common Ground Meditation Center. The vinyasa practice is followed by Buddhist Studies and so I am constantly aware that many people in the group are using their physical practice (hatha yoga) as it was classically intended: as preparation for deep seated meditation. The movement in the physical practice not only helps to strengthen and relax the body, it also helps to strengthen and relax the mind, thereby enabling the mind to do one of the things it is made to do: focus-concentrate-meditate.

Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras with the Chapter (or Foundation) on Concentration, in which he outlines several different concentration/mediation techniques. These include (but are not limited to):

  • focusing on the breath {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on the sensations being experienced by the body-mind (smell, taste, form, touch, and sound) {YS 1.35};
  • focusing on any sense of lightness or joy one may be experiencing {YS 1.36};
  • focusing on whatever “well-considered object” brings peace and ease {YS 1.39}

All of these techniques are intended to cultivate transparency in the mind, as well as clarity and ease in the body.

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras in some ways acknowledges that not everyone can just drop down into a seated meditation for hours on end. Many people – most people even – need a little preparation. So, Patanjali then focuses on preparation (this is the practice). Along the way, he explains that when there is no clarity, peace, joy, and kindness in the mind-body we create more suffering, for ourselves and others – in this lifetime, and the next.

Yoga Sutra 2.13:  sati mūle tadvipāko jātyāyurbhogāh

– “As long as the root cause exists [ignorance/lack of knowledge, false sense of self,-identity, attachment, aversion, and fear of loss/death]karma must bear fruit, such as birth in a particular species, life span, and life experience. ”

“Yes, thou shalt know, spite of thy past Distress,
And all those Ills which thou so long hast mourn’d;
Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”

 

– Zara (the Moor princess or queen) in The Mourning Bride (Act III, scene ii), by William Congreve

While The Mourning Bride was very popular back in 1697, and even featured some of the things for which William Congreve was famous, it was the playwright’s only dramatic tragedy and has pretty much faded into obscurity…except for those two misquoted (and often misattributed) lines.

The practice for today (Monday, March 30th), is inspired by an altogether different way of soothing the body and the mind – a way that can come with some significant side effects. Today in 1842, Dr. Crawford W Long used sulphuric ether as he removed a tumor from the neck of James M. Venable. This became the first successful surgical procedure using general ether anesthetic.

In honor of this anesthesia anniversary, March 30th became National Doctors Day back in 1933. Today, more than ever, is a great day to thank a doctor for their dedication, perseverance, and contributions to society. As we all are dealing with our emotions over the current pandemic, take a moment to also say thank you to the nurses, technicians, first responders, and personal caretakers, as well as to the administrators, cooks, servers, and  medical custodial staff that are enduring so much right now. Notice how that gratitude feels in your mind-body.

If you are directly encountering any of the people listed above as you go about your day, one very small act of kindness (that has a huge impact) is to take three deep breaths before you engage in conversation.

  1. Inhale love, exhale kindness.
  2. Inhale patience, exhale compassion.
  3. Inhale peace, exhale peace.

You can access tonight’s practice live (5:30 – 6:45 PM CST) via the ZOOM app, your internet browser, or your telephone. The ID for tonight is 111-660-355. (For additional details, check out the calendar.)

Ironically, there’s no playlist for today (because I rarely play music for the Common Ground practice). When, however, March 30th falls on a day other than Monday, I play “music to soothe the savage beast,” by some musicians who celebrate their birthdays on my anesthesia day. As you listen, wish them well too!

Eric Clapton (b.1945) & Tracy Chapman (b. 1964)

 

Celine Dion (b. 1968)

 

Norah Jones (b. 1979)

 

*NOTE: I’m making a definite distinction (above) between live theatre and cinematic theatre, because clearly this is one of the most misquoted lines in the history of film.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTIHI OM ###

THROWBACK THURSDAY! March 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Minneapolis, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Passover, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tantra, Tennessee Williams, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Lonely . . . When so many are lonely as seem to be lonely, it would be inexcusably selfish to be lonely alone.”

– Don Quixote in the Prologue to Camino Real by Tennessee Williams (b. 3/26/1911)

Just because we are alone – and in some cases lonely – is not a reason to go it alone. Tennessee Williams wrote, “For time is the longest distance between places.” “Throwback Thursday” is a way to look back, but we can’t actually go back in time, we can’t bridge that distance of which Williams speaks. We can, however, bridge the physical distance of social isolation by reaching out (virtually speaking, of course).

Call, text, email, write a letter, make a chalk drawing, or use any of a variety of technological advances to connect to a stranger or a friend. Remember, we are all in this together – and we will succeed or fail based on how we are together, even when we are apart. Remember, in A Streetcar Named Desire, Blanche DuBois says, “I always depended on the kindness of strangers.” Right now, we are all Blanche…but we are also those strangers.

Love/ loving-kindness (chesed in Hebrew) is an aspect of the Divine. In fact, not only is it one of the ten ways (according to Jewish mysticism) that G-d is revealed to the world, it is one of the 7 aspects people contemplate if they are counting the Omer during Passover. Just like in Eastern philosophies, like yoga, Kabbalism associates loving-kindness with the arms (specifically, the right arm). As you go through your practice – or through your day – bring awareness to how you use your right arm. Are you using it to express your heart or withhold your heart?

“(1) If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. (2) If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. (3) If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

– 1st Corinthians 13:1 – 3 (the part just before all the “famous parts” people use in weddings, movies, and songs)

Consider, for a moment, that when Saint Paul and Sosthenes wrote their letter to the church in Corinth, before they spoke of what love was, they spoke of what love was not. This is very similar to passages which appear in the Upanishads, ancient Sanskrit texts, where a teacher – and then his spouse – point out that the Divine is not this or that (neti, neti) thing that is so obvious. The Divine is not (just) what is obviously seen, but what is unseen, what is felt. (Yes, yes, but neti,neti: this is not the throwback you’re looking for.)

We can never really know how much it means to someone when we do something nice for them simply out of the kindness of our hearts. They can say thank you a million times – and we may even feel the sincerity of their gratitude – and yet that feeling pales in comparison to the love they felt from the kindness.

“Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves
We were withholding from our land of living,
And forthwith found salvation in surrender.”

– excerpt from the poem “The Gift Outright” by Robert Frost (b. 3/26/1874)

For Throwback Thursday, here’s last year’s post about the birthday authors I typically include in today’s practice.

While I am not teaching today (Thursday), I am going to spend part of today and Friday updating my schedule to reflect streaming classes I will start offering Saturday – Wednesday.

Right now I am planning to offer seven (7) classes on Zoom. These are (mostly) during times when I had studio classes and they will be (mostly) open for anyone to attend. You can purchase or renew a package on my online store or you can make a donation to Common Ground. (Donations are tax deductible and I will receive the bulk of the donation.)

I want you to practice; so don’t let any financial issues be an obstacle you can’t get over! If you need it, I got you. Yoga means union.

 

### BETTER & BETTER ###

Walk with me…a mile, or 54. March 24, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Gandhi, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, One Hoop, Pain, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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Thank you to everyone who helped me beta test Zoom on Sunday! More streaming classes are coming and I will post a recording of the class later this week.

In the meantime, remember this: 55 years ago today, Tuesday, March 24th, Civil Rights protesters stepped into Montgomery County (Alabama). The next morning they would stand in front of (but not on) the steps of the Alabama State Capital Building. It had been a long journey…even longer than the 5 days and 54 miles it took them to arrive from Selma, Alabama. And as he stood in front of (but not on) the steps of the capital, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of how much longer the journey would be.

For anyone who is interested, here are two (2) posts I wrote (in January 2019 and January 2016)about the experience of some of those marchers, and how it works out on the mat.

 

### NAMASTE ###

Happy First Friday of Spring! March 20, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, James Baldwin, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Yoga.
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“The long silences need to be loved, perhaps more than the words which arrive to describe them in time.”

– from God’s Silence by Franz Wright

Yes, it is hard to believe: Yesterday was gray, rainy, cold – even snow for some – and it was the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. I know, hard to believe. Some folks had forgotten all about Spring, it seems. Still others were expecting it to bring some great change… And maybe it did. But, like the old saying (April showers bring May flowers) implies, we have to wait for the beauty.

In waiting for the beauty of being able to offer a video practice inspired by Franz Wright, I was reminded that Wright’s collection after winning the 2004 Pulitzer Prize was entitled God’s Silence. I haven’t read it (yet), but I am suddenly fascinated by the idea of 144 pages worth of Franz Wright poetry curated around the idea of “God’s Silence.” Notice, that’s 144 pages – not 144 poems. (Poets everywhere are now doing the math.) This is the kind of the thing that gets me oddly excited, especially right now, because there is so much I want to know!

I want to know if he is referring to silence that is the response to a prayer or a request (or even a curse); the silence that precedes an answer; the silence that follows the answer (when the questioner is dumbfounded or in awe of the response); the silence when one is pondering the best way to phrase something and therefore measuring their words; the silence of shock (can we shock God?); the silence of disappointment; the silence of wonder; the silence when no one is around; the silence of sleeping children; the silence between one breath and the next; the silence of meditation; the silence of peace; the silence honoring the dead; the silence just before a newborn declares itself alive; or….The list goes on. He could be talking about all of the above. Or none of the above. There are so many possibilities!

What I know is that he starts off with “The telephone ringing / in the deserted city ––– ” and and that one of the poems is called “Solitary Play: Minnesota, 1961.” I feel like this is where we are at, and I’m here for it.

“You survive this and in some terrible way, which I suppose no one can ever describe, you are compelled, you are corralled, you are bullwhipped into dealing with whatever it is that hurt you. And what is crucial here is that if it hurt you, that is not what’s important. Everybody’s hurt. What is important, what corrals you, what bullwhips you, what drives you, torments you, is that you must find some way of using this to connect you with everyone else alive. This is all you have to do it with. You must understand that your pain is trivial except insofar as you can use it to connect with other people’s pain; and insofar as you can do that with your pain, you can be released from it, and then hopefully it works the other way around too; insofar as I can tell you what it is to suffer, perhaps I can help you to suffer less.”

– James Baldwin speaking at Community Church in NYC on Nov. 29, 1962

Besides an ultimate love for poetry that gets you through hard times (because you realize someone has been through harder – or, as hard of a time), maybe one of the reasons I’m here for it is because part of my practice involves silence. The kind of silence and stillness that can make people uncomfortable, because it is so powerful. But, simultaneously, the kind of silence and stillness that is the epitome of peace. When Patanjali codified the philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, he wrote, “yogash citta vritti nirodah.” Yoga ceases the fluctuations of the mind.

Silence.

Perhaps, God’s silence.

It’s 2 days late and $2 dollars short, but I offer you a video of Wednesday’s practice (inspired by Franz Wright). It’s nowhere near perfect, but I hope it brings you a moment of peace, a moment of ease. I hope it brings you stillness and yes, silence.

 

###

Exploring the Wren Cycle on Saint Patrick’s Day 2020 March 17, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Religion, Uncategorized, Yoga.
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“So listen people what I tell you now
Life is hard but it’s worth keeping on
Listen people what I can tell you straight
It’s not too late to

Try and get through
I’m just trying to get through”

– from “Trying to Get Through” by Hothouse Flowers

 

All of my in-studio classes are officially cancelled for at least 2 weeks.

When I taught what turned out to be my last few in-studio classes for a bit, I ended by explaining that one of the reasons I was doing my regular March 15th theme, based on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “American Promise” (aka “We Shall Overcome”) speech, was because I recognize that sometimes we step on the mat to help us deal with what’s going on off the mat and, also, sometimes to just have a moment away from what we’re dealing with off the mat. It is a few minutes, or hour, where the practice requires us to be fully present, right in the here and now – without getting sucked into what happened in the past or what might happen in the future. Those much needed respites … they are part of how we get through all this. So, keeping that in mind…

Beannachti na fėile Pádraig, dia dhui. Mise Myra. Conas ata tu? Happy Saint Patrick’s Day, everyone. My name is Myra. How are you? OK, since it doesn’t seem like anyone else speaks Gaelic, I’ll stick to English and Sanskrit for the rest of the practice.”

– My usual introduction on March 17th

The physical practice of yoga features a lot of bird poses. I mean, there are a lot, a lot, a lot of poses inspired by birds. Ergo, on Saint Patrick’s Day I usually guide a practice that tells the story of how the wren became the King of the Birds. The legend is usually associated with the Saint Stephen’s Day (instead of Saint Patrick’s Day) and the wren is the villain. However, I first heard about the legend in relation to “wren singers” singing in the round and the idea that it’s great “craic” for the music to never end at a “ceili.” So, when I tell the story, the wren is the heroine…and there are lots and lots of bird poses. (Not all of them, but a lot.)

You can read more about the ideas behind the physical sequence in a post from 2012. At some point on Tuesday, I will record a class for people who would normally attend on Tuesdays at Nokomis. (I apologize for not having it together in time for you to practice at your regular scheduled time.) If you’re not on my Tuesday list (you can message me) or you want to practice now, you can use the poses and playlist below to create your own sequence.

FEATURED BIRD POSES IN THE WREN CYCLE:

  1. The Ruddy Goose: There are two (2) so-called “Ruddy Goose” poses or sequences. Today we’ll just do the first. Come to your hands and knees – or into a standing squat if you need to modify. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. This is a good place to do a little cat-cow. Balance the weight in all form limbs, even as you curl your right toes under and stretch the right leg back. Use your core to lift the back leg up and then, if it’s accessible to you, lift the left arm up. Now, to turn your 2-Legged Table into Ruddy Goose, bend your lifted knee as if you are standing on the ceiling. Hold here for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side (including the cat-cow).
  2. The Wren: My so-called Wren Pose doesn’t really exist, except in the Wren Cycle and maybe in some kids yoga classes. From standing or Downward Facing Dog, make your way into a standing forward fold. Look up and lengthen into a “Half-Lift, Flat Back” position. Find that place where your spine is long, shoulders are relaxed, and core is engaged. On an inhale, stretch your arms back behind you, so wrists are beside the hips. In “Wren Pose” you can wiggle your fingers to “shake your tail feathers.” In a vinyasa practice, “Half-Lift, Flat Back” is one of the repeated poses so whenever you inhale into the half-lift on Saint Patrick’s Day, simultaneously extend your heart-gaze forward and your arms backwards. To release, exhale into a Standing Forward Fold. (NOTE: You can also turn a low lunge into a modified “Flying Wren.”)
  3. Flamingo: Yes, yes, I know, you’re unlikely to see a Flamingo in Ireland outside of a zoo. That said, it’s in my version of the story and comes courtesy of my first teacher, Robert Boustany. It’s a big hip pose, so be warned. If you are not familiar with the sequence, just stick to Standing Splits (from a Standing Forward Fold), which is the beginning of the sequence.
  4. Eagle: Come into Chair Pose, knees over ankles, shoulders over hips, big awkward smile on your face (just cause). Take a deep breath in and the exhale your right arm under your left, taking the double bind or the single bind. Lift the bound elbows up and the move the bound hands away from your face. As you inhale, step your right leg over your left (taking the double bind or using your right toes as a kickstand). Squeeze the thighs together and press the right hip back. Hold the pose for several breaths and then make your way through any additional (2 – 3) standing poses on the right.
  5. “Flying Eagle”: From Warrior I on the right side, making sure hips are balanced (right hip back, left hip forward), stretch up as you inhale and then cross LEFT arm under the right for “Eagle arms.” Exhale and bring elbows to the right knee so that back is flat. Shift your weight forward as you inhale. Engage your core on the exhale and then use your inhale to soar into Warrior III with Eagle Arms. Stretch the arms out on an inhale (as the Eagle spreads out its wings and turns around to claim its crown). On an exhale, sweep the arms backwards into “Flying Wren” and hold. I usually add a Tree Pose here or before the first Eagle (so the other birds can watch the end of the competition). Repeat the Eagle/Flying Eagle/ Flying Wren section on the other side.
  6. Pigeon and Royal Pigeon: These are fully puffed-up Pigeon poses (not one of the One-Legged Royal Pigeon variations). These are big heart openers, so if they are not in your practice modify with the prep pose. For Royal Pigeon, set yourself up for Floor Bow (prep pose) and then bring your head and feet together. For Pigeon, come into Camel Pose and then, if this variation is in your practice, work your head and elbows down to the floor behind you. Bind off with the feet and shins.
  7. Heron: Come into Staff Pose, sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you. Bend your left knee to the left, with the knee on the ground, if you need more support. Hug your right knee into your chest and then use your hands (or a strap) to hold onto your arches or ankles. In Heron Pose, it is more important for your back to be straight (spine long) and for your to be balanced on your sit bones (fully upright, not leaning back) than it is to have your leg straight. So, first align your head, neck, and trunk. If you can keep your back straight, shoulders over the hips, use an inhale to straighten out your right leg. If it’s accessible to you, you can bring your shin to your chin. Hold for a few breaths, then release into a twist to the right (prenatal is to the left) before repeating on the other side.
  8. Crow: Here’s one of the poses everyone expected. If it’s in your practice, use your Crow for one final vinyasa into Savasana.

Below is a playlist that features Irish artist and tells the story in 65 – 90 minutes (with or without the featured bird poses). Some songs on my in-class playlist are not available on YouTube so I’ve left them out. Also, you can easily skip a few towards the end to fit a shorter time frame. The HemiSync track is the last Savasana track. Garth, of course, marks the after party!

(This is freely given and freely received. I do not own the rights to these songs, but highly encourage you to buy them!)

 

### LET’S SOAR ###

Seeing Clearly Now (or New Vision for a New Year) December 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Kirtan, Life, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Pain, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing.
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I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day

– “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”

― Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

The filmmaker Billy Wilder famously said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Wilder’s statement relies on the idea that 20-20 is perfect vision  and implies that stepping back gives us the perspective to see things more clearly because we take in the bigger picture. In other words, once we see the pattern and how everything fits together as a whole, we gain an understanding of the parts. It’s like understanding a word’s meaning when it’s used in a sentence.  Context is everything. Or is it? After all, if we start off with an incorrect understanding of past events, the pattern that emerges is still slightly off. We may see ourselves and our situation better than we did when we were in the middle of everything, but seeing things better doesn’t mean we see them perfectly.

As someone in the United States who has worn glasses for most of my life, I am very familiar with the idea that 20/20 vision is perfect vision (and the experience of feeling like you’re seeing a brand new world when you get new glasses). However, the reality is that that particular gold standard is not only not perfect vision; it’s not even the best vision. 20/20 vision – what is considered normal or average vision is, by definition, what is clearly or sharply seen at 20 feet by the so-called average person.  If you have your eyes examined and the second number is higher than 20 (let’s say, 89) than that higher number means you would have to be 20 feet away from something to see it with the same clarity that someone else (someone with “normal” eyesight) sees clearly from a distance of 89 feet.  On the flip side, someone with 20/2 vision has the eyesight of an eagle and can sharply see something from 20 feet away that mere mortals can only see clearly from 2 feet. While 20/2 vision may seem unlikely in a human, there are definitely people with 20/10 vision. (And, also, there are people with 20/8.)

I say all of this just to point out that, as we enter a new year and a new decade that lends itself to people talking about vision and insight, don’t get too caught up in the metaphor of seeing better in the year ahead just because it’s 20/20. It’s an imperfect metaphor. And, if you insist on using it – for political reasons – keep in mind that we had better “vision” in 2008. (But, that’s another story for another day.) The point I’m making here is that what we really need is more clarity and more insight.

“I think I can make it now the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is that rainbow I’ve been praying for
It’s gonna be a bright (bright)
Bright (bright) sunshiny day”

– Hothouse Flowers cover of “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash

The Sanskrit word “vipassana” is often translated into English as “insight.” A more literal translation is “to see in a special way.” The practice is not just about stepping back; it’s also about letting go. Paying attention to your breath while simultaneously observing your thoughts and physical sensations creates the opportunity to experience everything without getting attached to anything. It’s a bit like riding a motorcycle through your life. As Robert Pirsig describes it in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, “In a car you’re always in a compartment, and because you’re used to it you don’t realize that through that car window everything you see is just more TV. You’re a passive observer and it is all moving by you boringly in a frame.  / On a cycle the frame is gone. You’re completely in contact with it all. You’re in the scene, not just watching it anymore, and the sense of presence is overwhelming.”

Like vipassana, the Sanskrit word “vinyasa” (“to place in a special way”) refers to a technique as well as to a style or tradition. The most classical example of vinyasa is Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation), which is 12 asanas (seats or poses) linked to the breath. Each pose is an exaggeration of the spine’s natural inclination – to extend on the inhale and to flex on the exhale. Practicing a few Sun Salutations at the beginning of a practice is a little like getting in a car to go somewhere specific. The more Sun Salutations you do, the more it feels like a road trip. If, however, you’re only practicing 5 or 10 Sun Salutations (every once in a while), you’re still traveling in the car. Practice 108…now you’re traveling long distance on a cycle. And, yes, that means you have to do your own maintenance. It also means you have to let go of some baggage.

 “But our mistakes also carry our largest lessons. I’m wiser now. I guess the real trick in life is to turn hindsight into foresight that reveals insight.”

 

“Nice way to put it, Cal. What I really hear you saying is that it’s important in life to let our past serve us. Is that right?”

 

“Very well put. That’s it exactly. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake – that’s how human beings grow. We’re designed to make mistakes, for mistakes carry growth. We just shouldn’t keep repeating the same one. Turn a wound into wisdom, or, as you said, let your past serve you.”

– Cal and Jack in The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO by Robert Sharma

Practicing 108 Sun Salutations is a great way to mark a transition, like the end of a year and/or the end of the decade. While it is a tradition for some to practice the ajapa-japa mala (repeat-remember garland) for a solstice and equinox, many people also practice at the beginning of a new year. My 2020 mala, as well as my Yin Yoga + Meditation, practices are full. However, if you are looking for clarity and insight in this New Year and new decade consider practicing on your own or joining one of the following*:

Tuesday, December 31st – New Year’s Eve:

7:30 PM – 12:15 AM, Common Ground Meditation Center Potluck

7:30 PM – 12:00 AM, Joy Fest (Kirtan) at Saint Paul Yoga Center

Wednesday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM, 108 Sun Salutations with Susan Meyer, Yoga Center Retreat

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, Restorative Yoga + Yoga Nidra with Shelly Pagitt, Yoga Sanctuary

10:00 AM – 11:30 AM, New Beginnings (vinyasa) with Mike, Minnehaha Yoga

AM – PM, Yoga with Nancy Boler (reservations required, THIS EVENT IS FULL)

11:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 108 Sun Salutations + Champagne with Meghan Foley, UP Yoga

11:00 AM – 1:45 PM, Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention with Ben Vincent, One Yoga

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Tracy Vacura & live Cello music by Emily Dantama, Yoga Sanctuary

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM, Revolution 2020: Reflect, Release, and Manifest Your Dreams with Drew Sambol, Radiant Life Yoga

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM, Finding Balance in the New Year with Pam, Minnehaha Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:15 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Chance York, One Yoga

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Ganesha and New Beginnings for 2020 with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

2:00 PM – 4:00 PM, New Year’s Day Kundalini with Nicole Nardone, One Yoga

2:10 PM – 3:40 PM, 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis, Blaisdell YMCA

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Restorative with Yoga Nidra with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

5:00 PM – 7:00 PM, YIN Yoga + Meditation with Myra, Nokomis Yoga (reservations required)

Friday, January 3rd:

6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

Saturday, Januray 4th:

1:00 PM – 3:00 PM, Post Holiday Total Restoration With Essential Oils with Moya Matthews, Yoga Center Retreat

1:00 PM – 4:00 PM, Sankalpa Cultivation – Vision Board with Tara Cindy Sherman, Yoga Center Retreat

4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM, Aerial – Turning the New Year Upside Down with Stephanie Kenney, Yoga Center Retreat

*NOTE: Reservations are generally required for these events. My apologies to any teachers or studios in the Twin Cities who are hosting an event not listed.

 

The original, by Johnny Nash, which I love because it feels happy, like a blue sky day!

 

The cover, by Hothouse Flowers, which I love because it feels like the storm just ended and you’re taking the deepest breath of petrichor you’ve taken all day!

### HAPPY NEW YEAR ###

 

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.

###

RIP Peter Mayhew

May 19, 1944 – April 30, 2019

###

 

MOVING INTO STILLNESS: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #18 (for Day 29) April 30, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, Peace, Poetry, Religion, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing.
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on May 4th.

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

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

                                                   do yoga. share yoga. help others.                               

***

“Movement is a language spoken by us all. Movement is a universal language that belongs to everybody If only we open our senses and listen. Listening is what is required, listening without interference, listening without judgment, listening in silence and allowing the movement to pass through the body in the moment, because everything inside us and around us is in motion, constant motion. This is when the body doesn’t lie because it is listening to its truth and manifesting it.”

– excerpt from Karima Monsour’s message for 2019 International Dance Day

“….Then there is movement,
Change, as slowly the cloud bruises
Are healed by sunlight, or snow caps
A black mood; but gold at evening
To cheer the heart.  All through history”

– from “The Other View from the Window” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

It may seem odd, to some, that on International Dance Day (4/29) I was thinking about stillness – and silence. The thing is, as a yoga teacher and practitioner who likes to keep things in context, I am hyper aware that the physical practice of yoga is traditionally a way to prepare the mind-body for stillness and silence. Not for nothing that Patanjali defined yoga as “citta vritti nirodaha” (ceasing the fluctuations of the mind). Also remember, the practice is a mirror of our lives and we are, from the moment we are born, moving towards stillness. In that context, our “final pose” is always our peak pose.

Yes, yes, I know – the “final pose” is the pose that people routinely skip or that teachers (myself included) sometimes give the least amount of time. And yet, the “final pose” is the most important pose; it is the time when the mind-body has an opportunity to absorb and process the work/effort of the practice. It is when we rest, when the parasympathetic nervous system is paramount, that we digest. We digest what we consume physically – in terms of food, drink, air, etc. – and also what we consume through experience. The parasympathetic nervous system is also associated with creation.

“For the first twenty years you are still growing,
Bodily that is; as a poet, of course,
You are not born yet. It’s the next ten
You cut your teeth on to emerge smirking
For your brash courtship of the muse.”

– from “To a Young Poet” by R. S. Thomas*

 

“early April
out in my bathrobe
and gardening boots”

– Hilary Tann

 

 

R. S. Thomas was a Welsh poet and Anglican priest whose poetry is often compared to the landscape of Wales and the work ethic of the Welsh people. He was born March 29, 1913 – so, not an April poet to the date, but the timing of his birthday does get me thinking about poetry and poets at their essence.

Hilary Tann was born November 2, 1947 – so not an April poet either. But, she is a Welsh-born composer who lives and teaches in Upstate New York. In 2015, Tann released a composition set to seven (7) of Thomas’s poems. The music manages to capture the essence of the poems – as well as the poet. Perhaps it helps that Tann is also a published haiku poet who has been inspired by the same natural elements as Thomas. It definitely doesn’t hurt that Thomas himself recites the poems. But regardless of why it works, practicing to Seven Poems of Stillness is like practicing in an empty, abandoned cathedral with the wind carrying in a voice and notes that seem to echo one another. When one ends and the other begins you might question that you ever heard the other: it is as if they are one and the same.

“There are nights that are so still
that I can hear the small owl
calling
far off and a fox barking
miles away.”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

Above I placed the words “final pose” in quotes, because although I often refer to Savasana (or its modification) as the final pose, the truth is it’s really the penultimate pose: Every practice inevitably ends not with Savasana, but with a seated (on your sits-bones) pose. The physical practice ends where the breathing practice and the seated meditation practice begin.

“…It is then that I lie
in the lean hours awake listening
to the swell born somewhere in
the Atlantic
rising and falling, rising and
falling”

– from “The Other” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

FEATURED POSE for April 29th: Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) or Hero Pose (Virasana)

As I mentioned in this year’s April 8th offering, seiza (which literally means “proper sitting”) in Zen Buddhism is a kneeling position. It places the body in a similar position to one the body is in when kneeling on a kneeler in a church pew or at a prie-dieu (literally “pray to God”) desk. It is one of the few poses not contraindicated by a full stomach and is prenatal approved. With modifications, these poses are accessible to almost anyone. (The big exception to practice these poses would be certain – but not all – knee issues.)

The big differences between Thunderbolt Pose (Vajrasana) and Hero Pose (Virasana) are the placement of the knees and feet, which in turn affects the placement of the hips. For Thunderbolt Pose, both the feet and the knees are pressed together. For Hero Pose, the knees touch, but the feet (and shins) are spread wider than the hips. If you have tight quads, tight hips, and or knee issues, you will need props for these poses. Helpful props for Thunderbolt and Hero include a bench, meditation cushion, blankets, and/or blocks. You do not necessarily need all of these – and you can definitely get creative with common household objects instead of using “yoga props.” If you feel these poses are not for you, even with props, you can practice by sitting in a chair.

To come into either pose, start on your hands and knees, with your toes pointed away from the knees. You’ll either bring your knees and feet together, for Thunderbolt, or bring your knees together and spread your feet apart, for Hero. (Note, the position of the knees and feet is the opposite of the Auspicious Pose described in the April 8th offering.) For Thunderbolt, sit on the heels. For Hero Pose, sit in the space between the heels. If the hips don’t touch the ground in Hero Pose, place a prop underneath the hips. In both poses, you want the hips grounded. If the ankles are uncomfortable (in either pose), place a rolled up blanket, towel, or shirt (even socks) under the ankles and feet. Another ankle option (for Thunderbolt only) is to curl the toes under so that the toes point towards the knees. If there is too much pressure on the knees (in either pose) place rolled up blankets, towels, or shirts between the hips and the shins/heels.

Once you’re seated in the pose, spread the toes and press down into your foundation in order to extend the spine. Ribs and hips are reaching away from each other. Engage your pelvic floor and your core. Relax your shoulders and jaw. Hands rest on the thighs, with palms up if you want a little energy or palms down if you want to be grounded. With the chin parallel to your legs, close your eyes if that is comfortable for you. Listen to at least one (1) of the Seven Poems of Stillness.

Each track of Seven Poems of Stillness is 2:25 – 4.36 minutes long. The entire composition is 24:53 – which is a pretty nice length for a seated meditation. Whenever you feel like you’re done with the pose, lean forward and ease out of the pose. Take a moment to stretch out your legs, maybe rotate your ankles or flex and point your toes. If you are practicing both poses, start with Thunderbolt.

“Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an alter
Of wood in a stone church”

– from “Kneeling” by R. S. Thomas, with accompanying music composed by Hilary Tann, featuring Guy Johnston

 

(*NOTE: To a Young Poet is not one of the seven featured “stillness” poems, but as a little something extra, here’s a beautiful variation of it.)

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

ENDLESS POSSIBILITIES: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #17 (on Day 28) April 29, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Healing Stories, Karma Yoga, Love, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Poetry, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.
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The (slightly belated) “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with today’s theme or concept as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at a donation-based class on May 4th.

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

What I’ve seen in my lifetime –

and in the last few days, weeks, years

is that us human beings:

                                                We’re capable of anything.

We are full

                                                   of possibilities.

BIG possibilities…and little possibilities

Great acts of LOVE / great acts of hate

We can CREATE. Or destroy.

It’s all the same energy – I think /

it’s all about how we CHANNEL it.

It’s a choice. &

                                           To choose PEACE requires WISDOM.

– MKR, April 2019

 

April is one of my favorite months – not because of the weather, the coming flowers, or even because of the opportunity to Kiss My Asana. (Although, let’s be real, Kiss My Asana in April does make April rock!) No, I love April because ever since 1996, April is National Poetry Month. Organized by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month is a celebration of poetry…all poetry…every kind of poetry, and every kind of poet. The organizers say, “[I]t has become largest literary celebration in the world with schools, publishers, libraries, booksellers, and poets celebrating poetry’s vital place in our culture.”

If you go to poets.org (see link above), you will find official events, poems, and opportunities to read, write, and share poems. They actually have a list of “30 more ways to celebrate” – which means you could celebrate poetry every day, possibly in more than one way.

Over the years, I’ve celebrated poetry month in different ways. One of my favorite ways to celebrate combines my love of poetry with my love of music and yoga: a poetry-themed yoga class featuring music inspired by poems. Depending on when Easter and Passover fall, I can sometimes offer (at least) one poetry celebration for all of the classes I teach. Sometimes it’s an “April is Poetry Month” class, featuring a playlist of different music and poets. Other times, if a poet’s birthday falls in April, the class only features music related to the birthday poet and/or their poetry. (But, let’s be real, I do birthday poets all year long!)

As we finish out the 6th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon and another April full of poetry, I’m going to finish up my online offerings with some of my poetry playlists. First up: “April is Poetry Month.” (This is an extend playlist featuring poems set to music and songs that sample poems. Psalm 23 as the music for Savasana.)

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

Spend a moment in stillness. You can be in any pose; however, you want to make sure you are comfortable and that your spine is extended and that you feel balanced on the left and right side of your spine. Notice how the vertebrae of the spine stack one on top of the other. Check in with your breath. Begin to extend as you inhale and engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. So that your inhale creates space and your exhale supports that created space. Make sure you’re not slumping on the exhale. No matter your position, roll the shoulders down and back – squeezing the shoulder blades together – and notice how that affects the front of your chest. Let your mind settle into your heart, knowing that wisdom is a heart practice.

You can warm-up the spine with Cat/Cow or Cat/Puppy. Moving one-breath-one-movement, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine rounds (flexes) on the exhale for Cat/Cow. For Cat/Puppy, the heart lifts on the inhale and the spine stays long as you flex at your hips and sink the hips to the heels on the exhale. This warm-up can be done in a seated position, a standing position, or on hands and knees.

To move into Cobra Pose (literally “seat of the snake”), you need to lie down flat on your belly. This is not a prenatal friendly position. If you are pregnant, you could modify Cobra Pose by placing a bolster or blankets underneath the thighs (ensuring that your baby-belly is not compressed). Other options include standing and using the wall as you would use the floor (again, not compressing the baby-belly) or picking a different back bend (like Camel or Cow). Whichever choice you make, you always want to be mindful with back bends so that you do not hyper-extend the belly.

Once you are on your belly (or have arranged props for a prenatal variation), straighten out the legs and point the toes behind you. Place the hands directly under the shoulders – so the elbows bend back and squeeze in like grasshopper legs. Make sure the elbows are behind the back, not squeezing into the ribs. (NOTE: There is a “Baby Cobra” variation in some styles of yoga where the hands are in front of the shoulders. However, that is not the variation I am describing.) From toes to hips, squeeze the legs together as you inhale. Engage your core and pelvic floor as you exhale. Next time you inhale, press the feet, the pubic bone, and the hands down in order to lift the heart and ribs off the mat. Look up, but do not over extend your neck. Make this pose a poem about your foundation and your core – not a poem about the strength of your arms.

Roll the shoulders down and back to push the heart forward. Make sure you are not compressing your low back. Keep breathing. After about 6 breaths, exhale and lower down to your prep position.

Once you have the basic shape and engagement, there are lots of possibilities. You can practice Cobra Pose with your arms hovering off the mat or you could isometrically engage the arms and pull your heart forward by engaging your arms as if you are lying on a skateboard and propelling your body forward. This will be isometric engagement, because the arms engage as if you are moving, but your arms don’t move. Another option is to extend your cobra: Press down and lift up until the arms straighten. Again, shoulders are down and back, hands are under the shoulders even when you extend. Keep the front hip bones on the mat even if you extend your Cobra Pose.

If you want to practice Cobra with some movement, “Bowing Cobra” can be done with the nose and forehead lowering straight down on the exhale (and then inhale to lift back up) or turn your head to one side when you exhale. If you turn your head on the exhale, lift back up to center on the inhale and then turn the opposite cheek to the mat on the exhale. A “Writhing Cobra” is similar to a “Bowing Cobra” except that you start with your head turned so that right cheek is on the mat and as you inhale you look up and lift up on the left, move your head/eyes from left to right during the same inhale so that you lower down on the right side when you exhale. During the exhale, your head/eyes complete the circle so that you end up lifting up on the left when you inhale. After 3 – 5 circles, reverse the circles and writhe in the other direction.

Once you finish practicing Cobra Pose, move into Child’s Pose or Puppy Dog. If you want to stay off of your knees, you can lie on your back with legs stretched out of knees hugging into your chest.  After a few breaths, finish with Corpse Pose (Savasana) or return to your starting pose – sitting, kneeling, standing, or lying on your back or belly. Scan your body and settle into your breath.

 

### NAMASTE: The poem in me honors and appreciates the poem that is also inside you. ###

PASSION, FREEDOM, LIGHT, & TALENT: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #16 April 17, 2019

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

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

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“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us,’ they said, ‘when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’”

– Matthew  24:3 (New International Version)

 

 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning,”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:35 (NIV)

 

“It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if he comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Faithful Servant” in Luke 12:38-40 (NIV)

 

After throwing the “thieves” out of the temple and between the questions of the authorities, elders, and “spies,” Jesus teaches. Remember, in the historically context – and as far as many would have been concerned at the time – Jesus was simply a renegade Rabbi, a teacher, who was focused on showing his people how to have a closer relationship with G-d. More often than not, he taught in stories or parables. Several of the stories associated with Passion Tuesday or Holy Tuesday involve people waiting for something amazing and transformative to happen. What is important to note is that each story requires action from the characters.

The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all mention “The Parable of the Faithful Servant.” Maybe because they have previously, and privately, questioned Jesus about events that he has said are coming, Luke wonders if the message is for the disciples or for everyone. The Gospel According to Matthew provides a very direct narrative by placing the faithful servant’s story directly before “The Parable of the Ten Virgins” (sometimes referred to as “The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins” or “The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids”). Just as in the story of the faithful servant, this second story involves a wedding, light, and being ready. The ten women are waiting for the possibility of being attendants (another word for servant) at a wedding, but it gets dark and they fall asleep. When they are awakened by the pronouncement that the bridegroom is coming, they trim and light their lamps. The only problem is that five (5) of the bridesmaids have run out of oil and failed to bring more. When the bridegroom comes, he can’t see the ones whose lamps are not lit and, according to Matthew, Jesus repeats, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” (Matthew 25:13 NIV)

The details that reoccur in each story reinforce the message. First, there is a wedding – a momentous celebration that marks a union, a joining together. Second, the people who are waiting to join the wedding party are somehow in service to the bridegroom. Third, everyone has a purpose – although that purpose is not always explicitly explained. Fourth, everyone has a light and that light must shine in order for someone to be recognized. Fifth, there is no telling when one’s services or presence will be required, so (sixth) everyone must be ready at all times.

“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them.”

– excerpt from the  “Parable of the Talents” in Matthew 25:14 (NIV)

The Gospels According to Matthew and Luke detail a parable about a landowner (or master) who leaves his servants in charge of some goods. Luke, associates the story with a different narrative, but Matthew places “The Parable of The Talents” directly after the one about the virgins and uses a segue to indicate that while the details of the story are different the message is the same. This time there are three (3) servants and instead of light, they are given talents, a form of currency: one servant receives five (5) talents, another two (2) talents, and another one (1) talent – “each according to his ability.” (Matthew 25:15)

Now, who knows where the landowner is going – perhaps to the aforementioned wedding – but what is known is that the first and second servant put their talents to work and increases the wealth, while the third servant buries his talent. (There is also a non-canonical gospel that says one of the servants squanders his talents.) When the landowner/master returns he praises and rewards the servant(s) who increased the wealth, but chastises the one who literally buried his talent for safe-keeping. In Matthew 25:27 the landowner/master points out that if the talent had been put in the bank for safe-keeping, it would have earned interest – thereby increasing the wealth.

Again, the message is clear: it is not enough to sit on one’s laurels and wait for salvation – one must exert effort in some way in order to be prepared.

Another motif in the parables, and one that plays out in the last days of Jesus’ life, is the importance of oil and currency. Some commentary indicates that while Jesus was considered an agitator and a renegade what pushed the elite to get rid of him (rather than to just tolerate him) was when he threw the money lenders out of the temple (see Passion Monday). Eventually, Judas is decides to betray Jesus not only because he is promised “a few pieces of silver” as payment, but also because of he is angered when expensive oil is used to wash Jesus’ feet (see Passion Wednesday). And here, in between the historical events, are the parables about oil and money.

According to Arland J Hultgren – a New Testament professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN – a talent was a unit of weight and, when used as a unit of money it would be valued as that weight in silver. A talent would be worth about 6,000 denarii, or six thousand times a day’s wages. I’ve seen estimates that translate this into U. S. dollars and indicate that one servant received $300,000 USD, one servant received $600,000 USD, and one servant received $1.5 million USD.

Can you imagine, literally, burying $300,000 USD. If you didn’t bury it, how would you put it to work? How would you put $1.5 million USD to work? Keep in mind: it’s not your money. Would you change what you do with the money f you knew you could “earn” $300,000?

Now, flip it around, and consider that you’ve been given a talent…or five: How are you using your talents? How are you using your resources? How are you letting your little light shine? How does your wealth increase because you invest in your talents? What happens when you don’t use your talents?

It is interesting to notice what one values, how one attributes value, and how one uses what they value. Not just on a personal level, it’s also interesting to notice this on a national and/or global level. Passion Tuesday 2019 – and this discussion of talents – falls on April 16th, which is also Emancipation Day in the District of Columbia.

On April 16, 1862, almost nine (9) months before signing the Emancipation Proclamation, U. S. President Abraham Lincoln signed the District of Columbia Compensated Emancipation Act. Also known as the Compensated Emancipation Act, the act freed slaves in Washington D. C., and allocated $1 million USD (a little more than 3 talents) to pay Union slaveholders up to $300 per freed slave. As some freedmen had “purchased” their family members, some black people were compensated as Union slaveholders and, eventually, some former slaves would file for compensation if their former masters had not made a claim. An additional $100,000 (less than 1 talent) was granted to pay newly freed slaves $100 – but only if that slave chose to leave the United States and colonize in Haiti or Liberia. The act freed 3,185 slaves in D. C., but did not affect fugitive slaves who were escaping Maryland.

 

“When I consider how my light is spent

Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

And that one talent which is death to hide

Lodg’d with me useless, though my soul more bent

To serve therewith my Maker, and present

My true account, lest he returning chide;

“Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”

I fondly ask. But Patience to prevent

That murmur, soon replies: “God doth not need

Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best

Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state

Is kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed

And post o’er land and ocean without rest:

They also serve who only stand and wait.”

– “When I Consider How My Light Is Spent” by John Milton

 

FEATURED POSE for April 16th: Anointed / Crescent Warrior (Anjaneyasana)

From Downward Facing Dog or Table Top, step the right foot in between the hands. Another option for getting into Anointed Warrior (Anjaneyasana), also known as Crescent Warrior, is to start in a Half Lift position and then step the left leg back. Either way, the front (right) knee is as close to 90 degrees as possible, with the knee directly over the ankle (and tracking the pinky toe). Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes, like cars on an empty highway. Bring the back (left) knee to the mat and even if you give that knee some cushion, press the top of the back foot down in order to take the pressure off of the knee. Press the bottom of the front foot down for increased stability.

Once you’ve established your asana, inhale and lift the torso up so that your hands can rest on the front thigh. As you exhale, slide the hips back so that they are over the back knee. This will create a square box made from your legs, your hips, and the floor. As you inhale, lift the pubic bone up and notice the space created in your low back and the engagement along the front of the back (left) hip and thigh. If you can maintain the space and the engagement, exhale and sink a little deeper in the lunge. The front knee should stay over the ankle, pressing the heel down.

Once you feel stable, inhale your arms forward and up. Find a heart opening experience. Remember, arms are an extension of the heart in yoga so consider the different ways you can open your heart. Arms can extend overhead with the palms together or apart. You can find goal post arms or invert your Namaskar. Other options include arms wide like angel wings, chest expansion, and supporting the low back. You can also keep your hands on your front knee. Start the back bend in your base. After 5 – 10 breaths, return to your starting position or move into Child’s Pose for a few breaths. Repeat on the second side. Consider all the effort/work required for your heart to be lifted and open: feet and ankles stabilize, legs provide strength, hips allow you to segue from strength to flexibility, the core supports the heart as it lifts and extends.

Anjaneyasana is literally “The Seat of Anjana” and is one of the poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king in the Ramayana. The pose is named for Anjana, Hanuman’s mother, and reinforces the idea that in order to lift and open the heart you have to have a solid foundation – on and off the mat.

 

### NAMASTE: The Light in me honors and appreciates the light that is also inside you. ###