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FTWMI: Doing the Work May 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humble, strong, and balanced. 

While yesterday’s practice served up “phun” with a side of suffering, how we deal with suffering is the main course during tonight’s practice. The following was originally posted in 2021. I have updated the date-related practice information. Even though there is no music for the Monday night practice, I have retained the links from last year’s practice.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

 

“‘Bhikkhus, I could tell you in many ways about the animal kingdom, so much so that it is hard to find a simile for the suffering in the animal kingdom. Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus [monks]? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?’

Bhikkhus: ‘He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.’

 

‘Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dhamma there, no practicing of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.’”

 

– quoted from “The Animal Kingdom” in Majjhima Nikāya 129, Balapandita Sutta: Fools and Wise Men

Don’t ask me why, because I can give you a hundred reasons, but I always seem to “mis-remember” a certain Buddhist story. I mix up the details of the story – I have heard that other teachers (greater teachers than me) do the same. In my case, the blind turtle becomes a dolphin who likes to play; another teacher makes the piece of driftwood a golden ring, heavy enough to sink down to the bottom of the sea (only to get churned back up again). Additionally, I have heard others say that the convergence of the ring and the sea creature happens every hundred years, every thousand years, every five billion years, or a kalpa (based on Hindu and/or some Buddhist texts). But, be all that as it may, the purpose of the story doesn’t change: it highlights the odds of being born (or reborn) into a human existence and the preciousness of human life. And, just as the purpose of the story doesn’t change, neither does the driving compulsion to tell the story – even when one mixes up the details.

While we are on the subject of details, take a moment to consider the details of your life. Consider your unique experiences, thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Back in 2016, Dr. B. B. Cael, who was then a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), calculated that the probability of a blind sea turtle randomly rising up so that it’s head poked through a hole in a piece of drift wood was 7.2 x 10^-16 and the probability of a human being (who is going to be reincarnated) coming back as another human was 6.5 x 10^-16. Now, all of that is just random – without any consideration to specific details like in which body of water the creature rise or what month or what year. Imagine if you will, the probability of you… or me…or anyone we know actually existing as we do. It is miraculous and magnificent!

When I consider how magnificent and miraculous it all is, it reinforces my belief that we are all here for a purpose: a divine purpose. Or, at the very least, that our lives should have a purpose; that we should live a purpose-driven life.

“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

 

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

 

Mona Miller was the teacher of one of my teachers, Seane Corn. Like me, like Seane, like pretty much every teacher who regularly guides a  group of people, Mona had things she was known for saying. Her students called those sayings, Monaisms, and the one above reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ stoic belief that the obstacle is the way. It is also a perfect recipe for being driven and staying driven. After all, we all have struggles, strife, challenges, discomfort, suffering, and disease – and we all want (and deserve) relief from that which ails us. If we take a moment, just a moment, to reflect on what ails us we start to realize four very salient facts:

  1. We are not the only person suffering.
  2. Someone else has, is, and will suffer as we are suffering.
  3. How we deal with our suffering can alleviate suffering or cause more suffering (in ourselves and others).
  4. How we deal with our suffering can inspire others as they deal with their suffering.

If we lay these facts over the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” and some of Patanjali’s aphorisms on afflicted/dysfunctional thought-patterns and the nature of suffering, we find that even our smallest goals and desires – the things we think are the most personal to us and our circumstances, in fact, directly and indirectly affect others and their suffering. Everything, as Patanjali points out in Yoga Sūtra 2.18, can bring fulfillment and freedom (from suffering).

 “Sanklapa goes beyond just intention. Sankalpa truly cares for the impact.”

 

Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Practice by Susanna Barkataki

 

Our ritual of setting an intention and “dedicating” our practice is similar to the Buddhist tradition of “dedicating of the merit” and is rooted in the fifth niyama (“internal observation”), Īśvarapraņidhāna, which is offering our efforts back to the source. The underlying idea in these practices is the very definition of karma yoga as outlined in The Bhagavad Gita (2.31 – 2.51): that we should do our best and work without desire, because the work we do is our “personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma).”

On Saturday, we go a little deeper by practicing with a sankalpa. The Sanskrit word can be translated into English as “will,” “determination,” and “(the highest) vow.” However, as Susanna Barkataki points out, there is no English word that encompasses the complete and true meaning. Part of the problem with the English translations is that we don’t have one word for something that simultaneously compels us, fuels us, and motivates us. We don’t have an English word for something that consciously embed so deeply into our fiber that it unconsciously starts determining how we live, think, speak, and act. Even “purpose” has to be “driven.”

Of course, these practices require a certain level of trust, a certain level of faith, or – at the very least – a certain level of hopeful desire that what benefits us will also benefit others. One way I frame this is to think of each of us is being like every hero in every culture’s hero’s journey. Accordingly, our work in the world will result in a boon that benefits the world. This is true whether we look at our life (and life purpose) through the lens of our occupation, vocation, and/or avocation. This is true whether we have all the advantages or all the disadvantages. This is true whether people expect us to succeed or whether we are viewed as the underdog. Either way, how we show up in the world matters, because we matter.

 

“That grain of salt
You talk about
Gets bigger and bigger each day
It’s making a pearl
Inside my heart
With layer and layers of tears
I’d give you this pearl
To save our hearts”

 

– quoted from the song “Grain of Salt” by John Doe

 

I have a lot of favorite metaphors about how we can deal with hardship and challenges. One of my favorites is what happens when an oyster, clam, or other shelled mollusks gets a bit of salt, sand, or debris inside of its shell. Since the mollusk doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs it can use to root around and remove the irritating object, it begins to lave the object with its natural secretion. Over and over again, the shell creature coats the object until it is smooth (and iridescent) and no longer irritating. The end result is something we humans often find valuable.

Of course, I’m going to discourage anyone from getting an actual pearl to remind them of this metaphor, because it is (in a practical sense) an imperfect metaphor. While the mollusk finds a non-violent way to end its suffering, the harvesting of the pearl (especially in a commercial sense) usually requires killing the shelled creature. In the case of cultured pearls, someone intentionally places the irritating object in the shell (hence causing suffering) and then kills the mollusk or, if it can be “irritated” again, places it back in the water to go through more suffering. Hence why, when I use the metaphor, I focus more on what the mollusk has to teach us than what we teach ourselves.

It is, however, important to remember that we are teaching ourselves. In other words, we are teaching each other. The way we think, speak, act, and live our lives is a lesson to others – and especially to the children around us. I know there are a lot of celebrities who consistently proclaim that they are not role models. Yet, each of us is a living example; each of us is modeling behavior – and the children around us are watching and learning. They are learning from their parents, grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their neighbors, their world leaders, and the siblings of all of the above. They are also learning from each other. And what is more important than the words someone tells them is the lived example that they observe.

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

Kar har maidaan fateh o bandeya
[Win every battlefield, overcome all your limitations/restrictions”]

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh

The 2018 film Sanju is based on the real life story of a Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt (portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor). Called “Sanju” by his mother, the actor experienced a series of personal crises intertwined with political crises and a downward spiral that resulted in him dealing with his losses, challenges, and conflicts in the some of the most dysfunctional/afflicted ways possible. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and became addicted – which, of course, led to more suffering. In a song that is featured in the movie, and in the associated video, Manisha Koirala appears as a vision of Nargis, Sanju’s mother, encouraging him to live a better life.

In keeping with the language found in many sacred texts from Asia, the song, “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” refers to one’s struggles, challenges, and suffering as “shackles” or “chains.” The song instructs one to turn the very things that could defeat us into something that can help us overcome our struggles and win our personal battles. It speaks of the power of determination so strong that it overcomes bad luck; climbing onto “clouds of adversity” and grabbing “the collar of the difficult tough times – all in order to become special and “separate from the ordinary crowd.” The song specifically refers to “swords” (and even what can be accomplished with a “broken sword”), but consider other tools that one can use to overcome adversity.

Remember, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said,The pen is mightier than the sword.” Remember the power of a sharp mind and what happens when you make your mind up to do something. Remember, too, that once a lesson is learned it continues to serve.

“If all the world is a classroom and every day of life is a lesson, then certainly your profession and workplace are included.

 

After all, He has unlimited ways to provide your livelihood, but He chose to direct you to this way of life.

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

(*lit. “From Day to Day”); an anthology of aphorisms and customs, arranged according to the days of the year, assembled from the talks and letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitch Rebbe; compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. “Iyar” is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the Jewish religious year, based on the Hebrew calendar.

 

Please join me today (Monday, May 16th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. 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.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practice.

The playlist for Sunday (05/16/2021) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.”

[“I am I and my circumstance, and if I don’t save it I don’t save myself.”]

 

 

— quoted from Meditaciones del Quijote [Don Quixote Mediations] by José Ortega y Gasset

 

Thank you to everyone who supported the 9th annual Kiss My Asana yogathon. Both Mind Body Solutions and I surpassed our goals (Woohooo!!!) thanks to everyone’s generosity. As always, I am grateful for everyone that did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others.

“Dikhla de zinda hai tu
[Show to everyone that you are still alive]

Baaqi hai tujhme hausla
[and there is courage left in you…]”

 

“Tooti shamsheerein toh kya
[So what if your sword is broken]

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

Kar har maidan fateh
[Win all the battlefields…]”

 

“Teri koshishein hee kaamyaab hongi
[your attempts, efforts will be successful]

Jab teri ye zidd aag hogi
[when your insistence, attempts would turn into a burning desire]

Phoonk de na-umeediyan, na-umeediyan
[Burn down all the hopeless, negativeness…]”

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh (with English translations)

 

Victory in every situation

### ¡Jai Jai Guru Dev! Victory to the Big Mind! ###

 

 

 

Nom de Destiné (the “missing” Sunday post) January 3, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Faith, Football, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Tragedy, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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Happy 2022 to Everyone!

This is the “missing” post for Sunday, January 2nd. You can request an audio recording of the practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.)

“Me, a name I call myself”

*

– quoted from the song “Do-Re-Mi” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

A couple of months ago, I posted about the difference between fate (what gives us this present moment) and destiny (our next destination in life). At the beginning of each year, on January 2nd, I invite people to consider what name that would pick if they were choosing a name to reflect how they want this year to proceed. This idea is based on the story of the first pope to change his name to indicate how things were going to be different under his papacy and it’s a nice way to consider the changes ahead. Think of it as a nom de destiné, a name of destiny. There’s just one problem… and it’s a problem some folks are not ready to hear/see.

Just to make it a little more palatable (and a little less personal), I’ll just make it about me: Somewhere between the end of March 2020 and the summer of 2020, when my mother died, I stopped expecting things to “get back to normal.” Don’t get me wrong, like a lot of people, there was a time when I wanted to “get back” to some parts of what we had. After all it’s totally normal and human to seek the familiar. As has been pointed out again and again, long before people like Marcel Proust, José Ortega y Gasset, Virginia Satir, Dr. Irvin Yalom, Dr. Oliver Sacks, and Charlie Harary (who all also pointed it out), the brain likes the familiar… and the brain likes the familiar (again). The brain finds comfort in the familiar even when the familiar is uncomfortable.

All of this means that we primarily live in the past and the present, because even our visions of the future are (primarily) mirrors of our past and present. People rarely imagine living in a future – let alone an immediate future – that is completely foreign and unrelated to their past or present. It’s one of the reasons why people stay in abusive situations and/or repeat patterns (even when they are not overtly abusive or detrimental). It’s one of the reasons (neurology notwithstanding) that people numb their pain with their addiction of “choice.” More often than not, we expect the unknowns in our future to be different versions of what we encountered in the past. When we recognize that fear is the emotional response to a perceived threat then we can also start to recognize why fear of the unknown is such a strong and paralyzing experience.

Bottom line, the unfamiliar is threatening.

The unfamiliar threatens the status quo, but it also threatens our life. It threatens our life as we know it which, to the lizard brain, is the same thing as a very real and tangible/physical threat. That perception of threat is why change is so hard, especially when we are not prepared to change. To make matters worse, the unexpected changes that struck the world at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, were extra threatening, because they came wrapped together with an actual medical threat. To add insult to injury, almost everything that’s been recommended as preventative measures (against the medical issue) over the last two years has also taken a physical, mental, psychological, energetic, and emotional toll.

For some, it has also taken a spiritual toll.

And, every day, we see the effects of those tolls.

A familiar refrain when I was growing up was, “{Insert person/people} has/have lost their mind(s)!” Over the last few years, some people have lost their centers. They have lost their connection to what they value and what is important to them. They have lost their sense of being grounded – in themselves and in reality. Some people have allowed their disagreements with others to consume them and, in doing so, they have lost what it means to be alive. Some have even allowed their beliefs to suck them into a vortex that is contrary to life.

I said, “the last few years;” because, let’s be honest, certain changes have been happening for more than two. And while I said “some people,” I really mean all of us, because the statements above could be applied to any of us at one time or another. All of humanity is like that drawing of a person desperately clinging to a crumbling cliff.

“’Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference,’ is the way [Virginia Satir] expressed it at a 1986 meeting of 600 Los Angeles-area psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

*

‘I think if I have one message, one thing before I die that most of the world would know, it would be that the event does not determine how to respond to the event. That is a purely personal matter. The way in which we respond will direct and influence the event more than the event itself.’”

*

– quoted from the Los Angeles Times obituary “Virginia M. Satir, 72; Family Therapy Pioneer” by George Stein (dated September 12, 1988)

The drawing I mentioned was based on Virginia Satir’s “Change Process Model,” which details the following progression: old status quo, foreign element, resistance, chaos, transforming idea(s), practice and integration, and new status quo. It can be very nicely laid over the “Hero’s Journey / Cycle.” People have also overlapped it with Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s “stages of grief,” which I think only makes sense if you draw a labyrinth as switchbacks on a mountain. (But, I digress.) Some illustrated versions of the the Satir Change Process Model show a person running headlong toward the edge of the cliff – as if, with enough momentum, they can jump over the gap and land on the other side (thereby skipping the chaos). Then there’s a “foreign element” and the fall towards chaos. Other versions just start with the foreign element and fall. Either way, there is resistance. Very few people consciously hurtle towards chaos – which, if we are going by chaos theory, is simply the result of a change we don’t understand (because we don’t know where to start). Here’s the thing though, change is happening; we know change is happening; we can engage the change (or not).

Engaging change is the one recommendation that isn’t getting a lot of (proverbial) air time. We’re all still talking about “getting back to normal” – and, yes, yes, I know, “the new normal” is one of those phrases on Lake Superior State University’s “2022 Banished Words List. But, since I’m being honest, sometime after the summer of 2020, I started getting ready for a “new normal.” Not necessarily the one based on my engrained habits developed while I was waiting to get back to normal. No, I wanted a better normal – better even than what I had before lockdown.

Yoga Sūtra 3.16: pariņāmah-traya-samyamāt-atīta-anāgata-jñānam

– “By making Samyama on the three sorts of changes comes the knowledge of past and future.”

As arbitrary as the annual marker is, every calendar new year is marked with some kind of celebration and hope and people talking about change and turning a corner. But, the reality is that some things don’t change. Studies consistently show that the number of people who keep their resolutions steadily declines after the first week of the new year. The decline is so steep that one study indicated that less than half of the people who made them (~46%) successfully kept their new year’s resolution for six months and only 4% of people with similar goals, but no resolution, felt they are successful in achieving their goals after six months – which seems to make the case for setting resolutions. However, a 2016 study indicated that only about 9% of the people who made resolutions felt they are successful at the end of the year.

Which begs the question, “Why bother?”

We bother because we have desires and a basic desire is to have less suffering. Pretty much all the Eastern philosophies (plus Latin, the language) agree that the end of suffering is directly tied to the end of desire. Yet, our desires persist. It’s human nature.

People who study such inclinations indicate that whether or not we succeed or fail in achieving our goals is based on several variables including (but not limited to) how realistic our goals are; whether or not we have calculated the appropriate (baby) steps along the way (which is also whether or not we appreciate the little things along the way); whether or not we have too many goals; whether we keep track and/or have someone to keep us accountable;  whether or not we have reminders/prompts; and how much resistance we encounter along the way. A few years back (December of 2018), I posted a football analogy about resistance, intention, and achieving goals. In thinking about that analogy in relation to now, I think about how much our resistance to change keeps us from achieving our goals. Spoiler alert: turns out, we’re the team we’re playing against.

I can’t speak for you, but I am ready for some transformational ideas. It doesn’t have to be anything new, fancy, and shiny. In fact, it’s probably better if it’s not. It’s probably better if it’s something that we know works; which is why the sankalpa (“intention”) I’m using this year (for my personal practice and the Saturday practices) is an old one and why I added a different framework to the New Year’s Day practices this year.

The sankalpa (see below) was developed by Émile Coué (b. February 26, 1857), a psychologist and pharmacist. (I hesitate to use the word “developed” in reference to a sankalpa, but stick with me.) Years and years ago, I practiced Yoga Nidra with Shar at 5809 Yoga, in Minneapolis, and a sankalpa she used has really resonated with me over the years. When I dug into the origin, I came across the the Coué method and, after sitting with it for a bit, decided that aligned with my focus for this year.

In framing the New Year’s Day practices, I started the way we always start: centering and grounding. Then I considered that so much of our resistances comes from not allowing things to be what they are and not allowing people to be who they are, which brought my focus to allowing and being. Of course, as René Descartes pointed out, we think therefore we are. As José Ortega y Gasset pointed out, because we are (in that we exist), we think and (as Patanjali and other philosophers have pointed out), our beliefs shape our lives. Ergo, the last part of my framework was a compound: being-believing.

This year, my goal resolution intention is to be centered and grounded, to allow (reality to be what it is), and (given reality) to be (i.e, exist) in a way that my thoughts, words, and deeds accurately reflect my beliefs. Feel free to join me, here and/or on the mat.

“Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better.”

– quoted from the I’m Getting Better and Better: My Method by Émile Coué

Sunday’s  playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10202020 Pratyahara”]

### Centering, Grounding, Allowing, Being-Believing ###

Doing the Work (the “missing” Sunday post) May 17, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post Sunday, May 16th. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

In the spirit of generosity (“dana”), the Zoom classes, recordings, and blog posts are freely given and freely received. If you are able to support these teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” a practice that is not designated as a “Common Ground Meditation Center” practice, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes.

“‘Bhikkhus, I could tell you in many ways about the animal kingdom, so much so that it is hard to find a simile for the suffering in the animal kingdom. Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus [monks]? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?’

Bhikkhus: ‘He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.’

 

‘Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dhamma there, no practicing of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.’”

 

– quoted from “The Animal Kingdom” in Majjhima Nikāya 129, Balapandita Sutta: Fools and Wise Men

Don’t ask me why, because I can give you a hundred reasons, but I always seem to “mis-remember” a certain Buddhist story. I mix up the details of the story – I have heard that other teachers (greater teachers than me) do the same. In my case, the blind turtle becomes a dolphin who likes to play; another teacher makes the piece of driftwood a golden ring, heavy enough to sink down to the bottom of the sea (only to get churned back up again). Additionally, I have heard others say that the convergence of the ring and the sea creature happens every hundred years, every thousand years, every five billion years, or a kalpa (based on Hindu and/or some Buddhist texts). But, be all that as it may, the purpose of the story doesn’t change: it highlights the odds of being born (or reborn) into a human existence and the preciousness of human life. And, just as the purpose of the story doesn’t change, neither does the driving compulsion to tell the story – even when one mixes up the details.

While we are on the subject of details, take a moment to consider the details of your life. Consider your unique experiences, thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Back in 2016, Dr. B. B. Cael, who was then a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), calculated that the probability of a blind sea turtle randomly rising up so that it’s head poked through a hole in a piece of drift wood was 7.2 x 10^-16 and the probability of a human being (who is going to be reincarnated) coming back as another human was 6.5 x 10^-16. Now, all of that is just random – without any consideration to specific details like in which body of water the creature rise or what month or what year. Imagine if you will, the probability of you… or me…or anyone we know actually existing as we do. It is miraculous and magnificent!

When I consider how magnificent and miraculous it all is, it reinforces my belief that we are all here for a purpose: a divine purpose. Or, at the very least, that our lives should have a purpose; that we should live a purpose-driven life.

“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

 

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

 

Mona Miller was the teacher of one of my teachers, Seane Corn. Like me, like Seane, like pretty much every teacher who regularly guides a  group of people, Mona had things she was known for saying. Her students called those sayings, Monaisms, and the one above reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ stoic belief that the obstacle is the way. It is also a perfect recipe for being driven and staying driven. After all, we all have struggles, strife, challenges, discomfort, suffering, and disease – and we all want (and deserve) relief from that which ails us. If we take a moment, just a moment, to reflect on what ails us we start to realize four very salient facts:

  1. We are not the only person suffering.
  2. Someone else has, is, and will suffer as we are suffering.
  3. How we deal with our suffering can alleviate suffering or cause more suffering (in ourselves and others).
  4. How we deal with our suffering can inspire others as they deal with their suffering.

If we lay these facts over the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” and some of Patanjali’s aphorisms on afflicted/dysfunctional thought-patterns and the nature of suffering, we find that even our smallest goals and desires – the things we think are the most personal to us and our circumstances, in fact, directly and indirectly affect others and their suffering. Everything, as Patanjali points out in Yoga Sūtra 2.18, can bring fulfillment and freedom (from suffering).

 “Sanklapa goes beyond just intention. Sankalpa truly cares for the impact.”

 

Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Practice by Susanna Barkataki

 

Our ritual of setting an intention and “dedicating” our practice is similar to the Buddhist tradition of “dedicating of the merit” and is rooted in the fifth niyama (“internal observation”), Īśvarapraņidhāna, which is offering our efforts back to the source. The underlying idea in these practices is the very definition of karma yoga as outlined in The Bhagavad Gita (2.31 – 2.51): that we should do our best and work without desire, because the work we do is our “personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma).”

On Saturday, we go a little deeper by practicing with a sankalpa. The Sanskrit word can be translated into English as “will,” “determination,” and “(the highest) vow.” However, as Susanna Barkataki points out, there is no English word that encompasses the complete and true meaning. Part of the problem with the English translations is that we don’t have one word for something that simultaneously compels us, fuels us, and motivates us. We don’t have an English word for something that consciously embed so deeply into our fiber that it unconsciously starts determining how we live, think, speak, and act. Even “purpose” has to be “driven.”

Of course, these practices require a certain level of trust, a certain level of faith, or – at the very least – a certain level of hopeful desire that what benefits us will also benefit others. One way I frame this is to think of each of us is being like every hero in every culture’s hero’s journey. Accordingly, our work in the world will result in a boon that benefits the world. This is true whether we look at our life (and life purpose) through the lens of our occupation, vocation, and/or avocation. This is true whether we have all the advantages or all the disadvantages. This is true whether people expect us to succeed or whether we are viewed as the underdog. Either way, how we show up in the world matters, because we matter.

 

“That grain of salt
You talk about
Gets bigger and bigger each day
It’s making a pearl
Inside my heart
With layer and layers of tears
I’d give you this pearl
To save our hearts”

 

– quoted from the song “Grain of Salt” by John Doe

 

I have a lot of favorite metaphors about how we can deal with hardship and challenges. One of my favorites is what happens when an oyster, clam, or other shelled mollusks gets a bit of salt, sand, or debris inside of its shell. Since the mollusk doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs it can use to root around and remove the irritating object, it begins to lave the object with its natural secretion. Over and over again, the shell creature coats the object until it is smooth (and iridescent) and no longer irritating. The end result is something we humans often find valuable.

Of course, I’m going to discourage anyone from getting an actual pearl to remind them of this metaphor, because it is (in a practical sense) an imperfect metaphor. While the mollusk finds a non-violent way to end its suffering, the harvesting of the pearl (especially in a commercial sense) usually requires killing the shelled creature. In the case of cultured pearls, someone intentionally places the irritating object in the shell (hence causing suffering) and then kills the mollusk or, if it can be “irritated” again, places it back in the water to go through more suffering. Hence why, when I use the metaphor, I focus more on what the mollusk has to teach us than what we teach ourselves.

It is, however, important to remember that we are teaching ourselves. In other words, we are teaching each other. The way we think, speak, act, and live our lives is a lesson to others – and especially to the children around us. I know there are a lot of celebrities who consistently proclaim that they are not role models. Yet, each of us is a living example; each of us is modeling behavior – and the children around us are watching and learning. They are learning from their parents, grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their neighbors, their world leaders, and the siblings of all of the above. They are also learning from each other. And what is more important than the words someone tells them is the lived example that they observe.

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

Kar har maidaan fateh o bandeya
[Win every battlefield, overcome all your limitations/restrictions”]

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh

The 2018 film Sanju is based on the real life story of a Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt (portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor). Called “Sanju” by his mother, the actor experienced a series of personal crises intertwined with political crises and a downward spiral that resulted in him dealing with his losses, challenges, and conflicts in the some of the most dysfunctional/afflicted ways possible. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and became addicted – which, of course, led to more suffering. In a song that is featured in the movie, and in the associated video, Manisha Koirala appears as a vision of Nargis, Sanju’s mother, encouraging him to live a better life.

In keeping with the language found in many sacred texts from Asia, the song, “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” refers to one’s struggles, challenges, and suffering as “shackles” or “chains.” The song instructs one to turn the very things that could defeat us into something that can help us overcome our struggles and win our personal battles. It speaks of the power of determination so strong that it overcomes bad luck; climbing onto “clouds of adversity” and grabbing “the collar of the difficult tough times – all in order to become special and “separate from the ordinary crowd.” The song specifically refers to “swords” (and even what can be accomplished with a “broken sword”), but consider other tools that one can use to overcome adversity.

Remember, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said,The pen is mightier than the sword.” Remember the power of a sharp mind and what happens when you make your mind up to do something. Remember, too, that once a lesson is learned it continues to serve.

“If all the world is a classroom and every day of life is a lesson, then certainly your profession and workplace are included.

 

After all, He has unlimited ways to provide your livelihood, but He chose to direct you to this way of life.

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

(*lit. “From Day to Day”); an anthology of aphorisms and customs, arranged according to the days of the year, assembled from the talks and letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitch Rebbe; compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. “Iyar” is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the Jewish religious year, based on the Hebrew calendar.

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.”

[“I am I and my circumstance, and if I don’t save it I don’t save myself.”]

 

 

— quoted from Meditaciones del Quijote [Don Quixote Mediations] by José Ortega y Gasset

 

Thank you to everyone who supported the 8th annual Kiss My Asana yogathon. Mind Body Solutions made their goal (Woohooo!!!) and, as always, I am grateful for everyone that did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others.

“Dikhla de zinda hai tu
[Show to everyone that you are still alive]

Baaqi hai tujhme hausla
[and there is courage left in you…]”

 

“Tooti shamsheerein toh kya
[So what if your sword is broken]

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

Kar har maidan fateh
[Win all the battlefields…]”

 

“Teri koshishein hee kaamyaab hongi
[your attempts, efforts will be successful]

Jab teri ye zidd aag hogi
[when your insistence, attempts would turn into a burning desire]

Phoonk de na-umeediyan, na-umeediyan
[Burn down all the hopeless, negativeness…]”

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh (with English translations)

 

Victory in every situation

### ¡Jai Jai Guru Dev! Victory to the Big Mind! ###

 

 

 

Who are you on the inside (outside)? August 8, 2020

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“Who are you?”

 

“Where does the world come from?”

 

– Questions Sophie Amundsen finds in her mailbox in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

In Sophie’s World, 14- (almost 15) year old Sophie Amundsen receives two questions and an odd postcard in her mailbox. Later she receives a packet of papers. The questions are addressed to her, as is the packet. The postcard, however, is odd because it is from Lebanon, has a Norwegian stamp, and is addressed to Hilde Møller Knag – “care of” Sophie. The only problem is that Sophie has never heard of this girl who is her same age. Neither has she heard of Hilde’s father, Albert Knag, seems to think the girls know each other well enough to exchange mail. Even more curious is that the girls have more in common than an address, an age, and birthdays a month apart – they have similar life circumstances. Sophie is, or course, curious about Hilde and curious about the mail, which turns out to be a survey course in ancient and modern philosophy (through the beginning of the 20th Century). Sophie becomes the philosophy student of Alberto Knox and, in the process, begins a journey not only into philosophy but also into her-self.

“Is there nothing that interests us all? Is there nothing that concerns everyone? Yes, dear Sophie, there are questions that certainly should interest everyone. They are precisely the questions this course is about.

What is the most important thing in life? If we ask someone living on the edge of starvation, the answer is food.  If we ask someone dying of cold, the answer is warmth. If we put the same question to someone who feels lonely and isolated, the answer will probably be the company of other people.

But when these basic needs have been satisfied – will there still be something that everyone needs? Philosophers think so. They believe that man cannot live by bread alone. Of course everyone needs food. And everyone needs love and care. But there is something else – apart from that – which everyone needs, and that is to figure out who we are and why we are here. ”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

Born today in 1952 in Oslo, Norway, Jostein Gaarder is the author of novels, short stories and children’s books. He often uses stories within stories to take children and adults on an intellectual journey. In the case of Sophie’s World, which has been translated into at least 53 languages, we take the ultimate journey into the world of philosophy. As I’ve mentioned before, the word philosophy comes to us from Greek, by way of Latin, Old French, and Middle English, from a word that means “love of wisdom.” It is the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, thought, reality, and existence. It provides a way to think about and understand the world, the universe, and everything. As stated in Wikipedia, it “is the study of general and fundamental questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.” The most basic question being, “Why?” – Which spirals out of some variation of the questions above.

Throughout the history of the world, people have come at these questions from different directions. René Descartes had his infamous cogito ergo sum – “I think, therefore I am.” José Ortega y Gasset (known for saying “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia”) took that a step further and said, “I live therefore I think (therefore I am)” – which is a wildly wonderful bit of circular truth. And the existential psychiatrist Similar to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus (who believed we have no control over our circumstances, only over our reactions to our circumstances), Dr. Irvin Yalom focused on “four givens,” which are experienced by all and with which we define/create our lives. Then there are religious philosophers like Martin Buber, who explored life in the context of the Divine. If you study philosophy, you will find that there is a spectrum of thought and most philosophers are swinging between these different ways of coming at the questions of life. Even more so, though, we are toggling between the two visible sides of life’s cornerstone: what’s happening on the outside and what’s happening on the inside.

This past Wednesday, I mentioned how a cornerstone is the first stone set in the foundation of a structure and how all the other stones are set in reference to the first stone so that the cornerstone determines the overall position of the structure. That being said, when you walk up to a building or structure and look at the cornerstone you will notice that (as it is literally the stone on the corner) you can only see two sides of the stone.  When you think of the two sides of the yoga philosophy cornerstone, you find an outside focus (the five yamās) and an inside focus (the five niyamās) – and each of these ten has their own internal and external practice.

Yoga Sūtra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Purity (or cleanliness), contentment, austerity (and the practices that lead to austerity), self-study, and a trustful surrender to [the creative source or the constant awareness to the highest reality] are the observances.”

The questions Sophie receives in her mailbox compel her to seek answers and, naturally, she starts within. I say “naturally,” because the book is set in 1990, she’s 14 (almost 15), there’s no internet and she only has the questions (which are directing her inward). But, eventually, she understands the nature of her reality and taps into her own personal will and determination in order to, on a certain level, redefine her reality. In a similar fashion, the five internal observations which make up the second limb of the philosophy of yoga compel the yoga practitioner / philosopher to turn inward, take a look at themselves, and (in the process) take a look at the world and their part in defining it.

I’ve mentioned before that although the yamās are sometimes referred to as external restraints and they very clearly outline a code of conduct towards the world, all practices start with the person practicing. What I mean by this is that we first practice non-violence and non-harming (ahimsā) with ourselves. On the yoga mat, that looks like being mindful of our physical and mental state so that we practice in a safe way even when we are being pushed and challenged to practice on the edge. I think it was Dharma Mittra who said you should breathe and practice as if you are on the edge of a cliff. My apologizes if I have mixed up where I heard this great piece of advice, but I bring it up to point out that the teacher who said it didn’t advise breathing and practicing on the edge of cliff – that would be dangerous! Instead, the advice is to be mindful. Also, to be mindful requires being honest; which means, ahimsās leads directly to satyā (the second yamā).The yoga mat is a place to be mindful about how you interact with yourself so that you are also mindful of how you interact with others.

At first glance the five niyamās may seem to be things you would only practice on your own. To some, they might even appear to have no bearing on the way we interact with others. Go a little deeper, however, and we find that the internal observations are like Alberto Knox guiding Sophie through the history of philosophy and therefore through different ways we can look at our lives (not to mention different ways to live our lives).

“Basically there are not many philosophical questions to ask. We have already asked some of the most important ones. But history presents us with many different answers to each question. So it is easier to ask philosophical questions than to answer them.”

 

– quoted from the letter in the first packet Sophie Amundsen in Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

When it comes to śauca (cleanliness or “purity”) and the physical practice of yoga, I often focus on how the movement and the poses are a way to detoxify the body. What I miss by doing that, however, is the opportunity to reflect on how the movement and the poses purify the mind. Consider how clean, clutter-free, your mind is after your practice. Now consider how when your mind and body are clean, inside and out, you are less likely to clutter them. Consider also how, over time, the practice of cleanliness related to your mind-body translates into a desire to de-clutter your space and even your life. Even more importantly, consider how, over time, you not only have the desire to clean up – you also have the energy and the will. Therefore, the internal observation becomes a process and a state achieved through the process.

Just as practicing ahimsā (“non-violence”/non-harming) leads directly to the other yamās, practicing śauca leads to the other niyamās. For example, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD., explains santosha (“contentment”) as “Not desiring more than we have” – which is hard to do when we are surrounded by so much stuff and are filled with the physical and mental desire to have more stuff. Once we commit to the practice, we notice that it requires discipline and austerity (which are ways you can translate tapas). Furthermore, as these are all processes as well as states that are cultivated through the processes, there is a constant need to pay attention to how you are feeling, thinking, speaking, and acting – which is not only self-study (svādhyāya), but also another rubric for how to practice.

“The world is not comprehensible, but it is embraceable: through the embracing of one of its beings.”

 

– quoted from “With a monist” published in Pointing the Way: Collected Essays by Martin Buber

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, August 8th) at 12:00 PM, when we will literally and virtually embrace ourselves, in order to embrace the world. 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.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (This is the “04262020 Philosophy of Locks” playlist.)

 

As I have had a death in my family, I will not be teaching on Sunday (8/9) of this week, but I will send a recording of today’s class to anyone on my Zoom class email lists.  Please keep an eye on the “Class Schedules” calendar (see link above) as I am not yet sure which classes I will be able to teach next week.

You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

“So now you must choose… Are you a child who has not yet become world-weary? Or are you a philosopher who will vow never to become so? To children, the world and everything in it is new, something that gives rise to astonishment. It is not like that for adults. Most adults accept the world as a matter of course. This is precisely where philosophers are a notable exception. A philosopher never gets quite used to the world. To him or her, the world continues to seem a bit unreasonable – bewildering, even enigmatic. Philosophers and small children thus have an important faculty in common. The only thing we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder…”

 

– quoted from Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

 

Full disclosure: Jostein Gaarder is an environmental activist who named an environmental development prize after the character of his most famous novel/children’s book. The international award of $100,000 (USD) was issued to people and organizations working with the environment and sustainable development (1998 – 2013). He has also made some polarizing political statements – statements which can easily be seen as anti-Semitic (unless, of course, that is your blind spot).

 

 

### “Who are you? I really want to know?” – The Who ###

 

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” ###

POSING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #6 April 6, 2018

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“Each body has its art, its precious prescribed
Pose, that even in passion’s droll contortions, waltzes,
Or push of pain–or when a grief has stabbed
Or hatred hacked–is its and nothing else’s.
Each body has its pose. “

– from “Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…” by Gwendolyn Brooks

 

In Man and Crisis, the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset wrote, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.” The same concept applies to yoga. Some yoga teachers can watch someone practice and recognize what style and tradition the person normally practices. Some teachers, master teachers, can tell what other activities a person does besides yoga and/or what occupied the majority of their time when they were a child. Still other teachers (again, master teachers) can look at a practitioner in a pose and describe certain psychological and emotional aspects of the person’s personality and life.

I’ve witnessed teachers do all of the above. And, it’s fascinating! It seems magical! But, what quickly becomes obvious is that these teachers aren’t magic – they are simply describing what they see in the body. Our biology is our biography, because everything we experience has a place in the body and in the mind. Therefore, everything we experience is in us and in our poses.

Consider, for a moment, the first pose you loved to practice. Ask yourself why you loved that pose and remember how you felt in that pose. Consider how that pose (and you in that pose) reflected that particular time in your life. Now, consider how the pose, your body, you, and your life have changed over time. You can do the same with the first pose you hated to practice.

You can do the same with a pose you barely consider important to your practice, even though you do it on a regular basis. Write down your thoughts and then have someone take a picture of you in the pose. When you come into the pose, really focus on how you practice the pose. Notice what you notice when you look at the picture.

“Still Do I Keep My Look, My Identity…” by Gwendolyn Brooks

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Take your time to balance the effort and relaxation inherent in the pose. Watch the breath. Pause and take in the landscape that is your mind and your body in this present moment.

When you move into Table Top – hands and knees to the mat with shoulders over elbows and wrists, hips over knees – or into a seated position if that is more accessible, move as if you are taking a leisurely stroll. Take your time, and pause to get the lay of the land. Double check your alignment. Press down so that the shoulders and shoulder blades are even with the rest of the back and your belly is firm. Engage your locks (bandhas) if that is part of your practice. Notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. So that, as the breath gets long and fine and deep, the movement gets richer – whatever that means to you in this moment.

Pause with the spine back in Table Top position and then move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sit down with your legs straight out in front of you. Sit up on a blanket or a block if you have a lot of tightness/stiffness in the back of your body. Press your heels down into the ground, flex the ankles so the toes reach for the nose, and then spread the toes. At the same time, fire up your thighs and engage the quadriceps (the four muscles at the top of your things) in order to lift the knee caps into their full extended position. Press the sit bones and hands down (with the hands next to the hips). If this engagement is too extreme, bend knees or place the hands behind the hips (but still wide enough to just barely be outside of the hips).

As if they are seeds you are planting, push your shoulders and everything touching the floor, the mat, or a prop down into the earth. Allow your heart to blossom. With your eyes on your nose, watch your breath and notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

Engage your locks (bandhas) as described yesterday’s practice. Changing as little as possible, lift the arms over the head, with wrists in line with the shoulders, and turn the palms up so that the finger tips point towards the wall behind you. Extend the elbows and, as much as you are able, rotate them towards your nose. Keeping the shoulders down the back, push the whole body down to lift the heart and the arms up. If this is too much intensity for the shoulders, modify by bending the elbows to 90 degrees and extending the wrists rather than flexing them. Again, notice how you feel in the pose (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically).

NOTE: If you want to skip the arm balancing below, move back into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and then repeat the arm positioning above before moving into the Sage Twist. Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall.

For the arm balance Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), return to Table Top – engaging as you did at the beginning of the practice. Curl your toes under; then use your arms and legs, hands and feet to lift your hips up in the air. Check to make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Notice if you feel lighter or heavier when your feet are spaced further apart. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes.

If you are staying off of your wrists or need something to minimize stress on the shoulders, bring the elbows to the mat when you are in Table Top and lift your hips up for “Dolphin Dog.”

No matter which variation you choose, notice how and what you feel (physically, mentally, emotionally, and energetically). Downward Facing Dog is simultaneously an arm balance and a standing pose; a forward bend, as well as a back bend; and an inversion. The only category missing from the pose is a twist (and, some would say, a hip opener) which you can add in several different ways. Just explore, play. Notice if you access some aspects of the pose more than others. Notice how you feel about the suggestion to explore, play.

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

Move back into Staff Pose. Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend or extend both, as needed, and lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Allow your whole self to take up space. Notice how it feels to breath, to live, in this space.

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem 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 one of the donation-based classes listed (April 7th and April 28th).

I also challenge you to set aside a certain amount every day that you practice with a poem 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.”

Side Note: Although, I’m not the girl in the picture, I met Gwendolyn Brooks around this same time. She smiled, signed a book, for me; said words I don’t remember. What I do remember was feeling joy and the sheer power of her presence. I also remember wondering how in the world so much power, beauty, strength, wisdom, and intellect could be contained in such a small body.

## do yoga. share yoga. help others. ##