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SEEKING vs SAVORING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #15 April 15, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“My desire
is always the same; wherever Life
deposits me:
I want to stick my toe
& soon my whole body”

– from Desire by Alice Walker

“Expect nothing. Live frugally
On surprise.
become a stranger
To need of pity
Or, if compassion be freely
Given out
Take only enough”

– from Expect Nothing by Alice Walker

These days everyone comes to yoga seeking something. It might be a healthier body and/or mind. It might be peace, ease, and well-being. It might be better sleep. It might be more flexibility, it might be strength. It might be redemption. It might be___________ (fill in the blank). You name it and we are seeking it.

Then, we get on the mat and discover there’s a plethora of benefits we didn’t even know existed. Thus, we seek more. We desire more, and as much as we set ourselves up for success we are also setting ourselves up for disappointment – and, according to the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths, we are setting ourselves up for suffering.

Historically speaking, the Buddha would have known about (and maybe even practiced) yoga. But he didn’t find it a practical path away from the suffering caused by desire and ignorance. So, he offered the Noble Eightfold Path. While I understand, historically, why yoga was not (and sometimes still is not) accessible and practical for certain individuals we are now surrounded by teachers like Matthew Sanford, Dianne Bondy, Jessamyn Stanley, and even Diamond Dallas Page (yep, that Diamond Dallas) who are committed to remind us that yes, the practice is accessible. And, I firmly believe that if you practice on the mat, you practice off the mat – especially if you start at the beginning.

The first two limbs of the philosophy of yoga make up a moral compass based on 10 ethical components. Even if you have never heard of the yamas (external restraints, also known as the universal commandments) and the niyamas (internal observations), they will sound very familiar to the Western mind, because they are already part of the bedrock of our society. The yamas are a dedication to non-harming, truth, non-stealing, following in the path of God*, and non-hording/non-grasping. The niyamas are a dedication to cleanliness; contentment; practices that build spiritual, mental, and energetic heat (and the heat itself, which is also discipline and austerity); self-study; and letting all efforts return to the source/God.

When Patanjali outlined the philosophy in the Yoga Sutras he referred to the combination of the final three niyamas as Kriya Yoga – union through purification. Q: Of what are you being purified? A: Any and all obstacles that stand in the way of your ultimate Goal. If you practice, on or off the mat, you will find time and time again that one big obstacle is desire.

Desire is tricky, because it can be both helpful (e.g., will and determination) and harmful (e.g., blind ambition or obsession). Some would say that desire leads to progress and survival of the species. However, desire can also bring about our demise. What balances will and determination is a solid connection to our ultimate Goal and the second niyama: contentment (santosha).

In American English we often associate “being content” with “settling” – which implies that there is something more or better that we are missing and (rather than keep struggling to achieve it) we just “settle” for what’s in front of us. But, being content actually means being satisfied, grateful, even happy for what’s in front of us. I associate it with the awe, the wonder, and the curiosity of a child. It is, to me, like the Zen Buddhist concept of “beginner’s mind” (shoshin).

 “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki

When we approach the practice with the mind of a child doing something for the first time, everything is fascinating and everything is possible. When we approach the practice with that sense of wonder, we practice whole-heartedly, with our whole bodies, our whole minds, and our whole spirits. When we approach the practice as if we are an expert who has mastered what we have already done and, therefore, will master what we have not yet done, our expectations cloud our overall experience. Sometimes the clouds enhance the sunny day, but sometimes they are storm clouds – covering the sun and moments from drenching us.

“It seems impossible that desire
can sometimes transform into devotion;
but this has happened.
And that is how I’ve survived:”

– from Desire by Alice Walker

 

Desire + Expect Nothing + Don’t Be Like Those Who Ask For Everything by Alice Walker

(Practice Time ~30 minutes)

Begin as if you are beginning for the first time. Empty your mind of expectations. Be grateful for this moment, which is unlike any other moment. Standing on your hands and knees, bring your big toes to touch. Spread your knee as wide as feels comfortable. Play with the knees and then sink the hips to the heels and lower the forehead and nose to the mat. This is Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable. You can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Breathe into your heart and consider what is new about this moment. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet. Consider the different directions in which you can move.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air shifting around you. As you inhale, lift your heart and hips up for Cow Pose and, on an exhale, round your spine like a Halloween Cat. “Un-Cow” is another option – especially if you work hunched over a computer all day or have a lot of curve in your upper back. For the “Un-Cat,” inhale to Cow (as described above) and then sink the hips to the heels (keeping the feet apart). Move through the sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down. Make this is your favorite part of the practice and you are savoring it.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and lift your hips up in the air as you exhale. This is Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Check your engagement of the pose. 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. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. 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. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body. Find something to appreciate about your mind-body at this moment and as you explore the moment.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

NOTE: you can skip the arm balancing, by sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you for Staff Pose (Dandasana). In Staff Pose, position the arms over the head as if you are in Downward Facing Dog. Other options include “Dolphin Dog” (forearms on the mat, with elbows right under the shoulders, and hands clasped.) or you can do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Give thanks for something about this moment.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Let something roll off your back – and appreciate the process of releasing what no longer serves you.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Embrace yourself on an exhale, inhale stretch the arms wide and then embrace yourself again (alternating the arms with each exhale).

Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

While maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Appreciate the fact that you are prepared for the next sequence. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a Low Lunge. Now is the time to really appreciate this moment and this pose. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale and extend the spine as if you are in Cow Pose of Half Lift / Flat Back. Press the right hip towards the left heel, so that the hips and sacrum are as neutral as possible. As you inhale, squeeze the thighs towards each other for external stability and then engage the locks (bandhas) for internal stability. Appreciate the effect of the effort: Allow the weight to come out of the hands. Appreciate that you are building strength and preparing your lower body for what’s to come. Notice that your heart is open and supported.

Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog and then lift your gaze and hips (by standing on your tip toes) on an inhale. Exhale to bend your knees deeply and quietly step of “float” your feet to the outside of your hands. Turn your toes out to a 45 degree angle so that toes are down and out and heels are down and in for a squat. Knees bend deeply so that you are in a Yogi Pray Squat (hips close to the ground – or even on a block) or you can stay up high for Horse/Goddess Pose. Notice that the upper body and lower body have similar construction. Spread your fingers and press the hands together. Do the same with the toes. Push the hands together and the feet down to create more space between the elbows and the wrists, as well as with the hips and the knees. Elbows and knees are pressed back. Drop the sits bones down toward the Earth, and simultaneously lift the pubic bone and heart. This could be the beginning of several other poses: Empty your mind of those poses and focus on the current inhale and the current exhale.

Staff Pose (Dandasana). As gracefully as possible, sit down sitting down with legs stretched out in front of you. Ths pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it. Eyes are on your nose.

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 in order to lengthen your spine. 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. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. Give thanks for the gentle compression and massage that starts to calm your system and prepare you for the final meditation.

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 both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. Give thanks. Give A LOT of thanks!

Then, lower down onto your back (with gratitude) for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Follow the breath in and follow the breath out. Listen to the song the breath sings.

“Don’t be like those who ask for everything:
praise, a blurb, a free ride in my rented
limousine. They ask for everything but never offer
anything in return.”

Don’t Be Like Those Who Ask For Everything by Alice Walker

This opportunity to explore a poem is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. It is freely give it. 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 the donation-based class on 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.”

*It is very common for people to refrain from offering an American English translation of Bramcharya, the fourth yama. There is also a tendency to only associate this part of the practice with celibacy (or, as indicated by the similar Buddhist precept, “refraining from illicit sexual activity). Recognizing the observation as being connected to a higher reality, whatever that means to you at this moment, reveals that celibacy is often a by-product of the awareness.

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

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FEELING THE FEET – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #13 April 13, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Suffering, Super Heroes, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“The problem with love is not what we feel but what we
wish we felt when we began to feel we should feel
something.”

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

Humans are sensational beings; in that, we are beings full of sensation. And there is no shortage of sensation on the mat. We feel our clothes and the mat, the floor, or the cushion. We feel the fluctuating temperature of the breath and the body. We feel weight in our shoulders or soreness in our joints. We feel… That’s what we humans do. But we don’t just feel physical sensations. We also feel things mentally, physically, and emotionally – and all of that sensation is also information.

Whether we are feeling wonderful or puny, weak or strong, flexible or stiff, wise or ignorant, it’s important to be grateful for the sensation/information, because the sensation/information informs the practice. Even misinformation can inform the practice, but that’s not the big problem with teaching yoga.

The big problem with teaching yoga is articulating what we feel when we’re on the mat, while simultaneously holding space for what other people feel on the mat. It’s a matter, to quote Nikki Giovanni, of feeling despite what we think “we should feel.”

On any given day, someone will ask me some variation of the question, “What should I be feeling in…?” As an English major (and the daughter of my parents to boot), my first instinct is to offer some powerful purple prose describing what is happening in the pose – anatomically – and how that feels in my body. My description might be helpful – especially if the person in question is practicing in my body or practicing in my mind. However, since they are not – ever – my response can be problematic. Instead of being helpful and informative, the words I choose may cause the practitioner to feel they are doing something wrong and that they need to adjust their pose. Sometimes, the thought that their pose is not quite right can also lead to the second arrow…they start to think they need to fix their body.

As a teacher of asana, I am not alone in this quandary. Some teachers avoid the issue by never telling people what they should/could/will feel in a pose. Others have an uncanny knack for going to the other extreme.  A more skillful middle ground would be channeling Dharma Yoga teacher Kim Jeblick and saying some variation of, “I don’t know. Come into the pose. Now, tell me: What are you feeling?”

Because everybody’s body is different, everybody is going to feel something different. There is no shortage of sensation on the mat: Even if you’re paralyzed.

His book Waking describes Matthew Sanford’s experiences being paralyzed at the age of 13 and the subsequent journey that led him to yoga. The book is full of sensation – it is also full of people telling Sanford, and themselves, that he can’t feel anything. Not feeling is the beginning of the story and, it could have been the end, except, Sanford was aware of feeling presence. Somehow he understood that the feeling of presence was an intimate connection between his mind and his upper body. His lower body, however, presented itself as a brick wall, a place where he was not present:

“I am now living in a body that presents silence rather than tangible sensation…. This silence that I perceive within my body came upon me abruptly through a spinal cord injury. For most people, however, the process is slower. It develops through aging. Over time, the body becomes slower to respond, more likely to sit at rest, more content to observe rather than act. But, in each case, the fundamental healing question remains the same: What aspect of consciousness will transverse the increasing gap between the mind and body? The answer will depend upon our healing stories.”*

Sanford goes on to describe how “I hear(s) silence where there is pain” as a means of protection. This is 60 pages in; it’s still the beginning of the story.

As the story continues, Sanford describes an exploration of presence, which is also an exploration of sensation/information – which is also an exploration of the intimate energetic connection between the mind and the body. This awareness of intimacy, plus the alignment knowledge that comes from Iyengar, is what now informs Sanford’s practice, as well as his teaching.

His awareness of presence is also what makes Sanford such a powerful teacher. While other teachers struggle to define how the pose feels on the outside (in order to feel something on the inside), Sanford focuses on the inner sensations and “how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then I 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.”

As I post this, I have been practicing yoga for 18 of my 49+ years. The only thing I have been doing longer is reading and being a black woman.

“If I could make a wish I’d wish for all the knowledge of all
the world. Black may be beautiful Professor Micheau
says but knowledge is power.

– from The Laws of Motion by Nikki Giovanni

The Laws of Motion & The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni
(Practice Time: ~ 15 – 20 minutes)

Very deliberately and mindfully place yourself in Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice how you are supported – how the body rests between or on the legs. Make sure your knees are comfortable, and remember that you can always place a cushion under the knees, under the hips, or under the chest. Notice where you feel heaviness and notice where you feel lightness. Notice how your head rests so that your neck can lengthen. Breathe and notice how the body expands on the inhale, settles on the exhale. Be present with the sensations/information in and around your body. Bring awareness to your feet.

Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha). Notice your awareness of your body when the locks (bandhas) are engaged versus when they are released.

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Notice the air again shifting around you. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Once your mind, body, and spirit are synchronized, curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. 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. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. With the arms straight (but not hyper-extended) rotate the elbows towards the nose. 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. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Engage the air between your arms, between your legs, and in the space beneath your body.

Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). Spread your legs a little wider (finding similar alignment as described above) and notice how the energy changes. Again, adjust the legs bring them closer and notice where you feel the pressure of the body. Notice, also, where and how you are working the hardest to keep the spine aligned. Separating the legs wider again, adjust the alignment of the spine. Notice where and how the body works in order to maintain length in the spine. Bring the big toes back behind the thumbs or the middle fingers. Align the spine with new awareness.

Still in Downward Facing Dog, point the right toes behind you so that the tops of the toes are on the mat. Lift the leg just enough to flex the ankle so that the toes point down instead of backwards. Now, balancing the weight with both arms and the left leg) making sure you do not dump on the left side) start to mindfully lift the right heel up – as if you are drawing a line up the space behind you. Keep the outer thighs rotated in towards the space beneath the body so that the right knee and toes point down. Pause when you notice the right hip rotating the knee and the toes out to the right; then adjust to find that internal rotation and make sure weight is still balanced in all 3 standing limbs. (Note: If the left elbow starts to bend or the right hand wants to lift up, you are probably dumping the weight on the left.) Continue to lift the heel, pausing as needed, until you can no longer balance the weight and/or control the alignment of the hip. Once you reach your edge, push through the hips and the heels so that you create more space between the right hip and heel and more space between the left hip and heel. After a few breaths in Three-Legged Dog, consider exhaling into Tinkling Dog by bending the right knee and externally rotating the right hip. Still, keep the weight balanced. Play, explore, investigate and then extend the knee and rotate the hip down to return to Three-Legged Dog. Exhale to release back into Downward Facing Dog and then repeat the sequence on the left side.

Remember you can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core. Notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet). If you move into Staff Pose, the leg lifts up in front of you and your awareness is focused on keeping the hips grounded and the back straight. Cues for lifting the leg in “Dolphin Dog” or when on the wall are basically the same as in the original cues above.

After the final Three-Legged Down Dog, stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent.

Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Again, notice the feeling of your entire back body (including legs and feet).

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal muscles to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana).

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, root down through your feet and extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Notice the air above and below your arms. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana). Make sure the lower rib cage drops down as the sternum lifts up and notice how that helps you engage your core. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, maintaining the previously established alignment and awareness of breath, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel your movement and breath are seamlessly fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). Focus on the stability of the feet, legs, and hips. Focus, also, on the extension of the front of the back hip and thigh. This is the beginning of a backbend.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose or, first time through, slide your body forward so that the legs stretch out behind you. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Elbows should be bent behind the back like grasshopper legs (unless you are working on a baby cobra.) Thighs are strongly engaged and pushing into the floor. Hips stay on the ground. Keep the shoulders down the back and either isometrically engage the arms – by pushing the hands down and engaging the arms as if you’re going to pull your body forward – or let your hands hover (breathing into the space between your hands and the mat). Notice how your support your heart with your feet. After a few breaths, consider extending your Cobra by pressing the hands and feet down and lifting the body up until the arms straighten. Shoulders and hips are still pressing down. Notice the difference between how the front of your lift hip and thigh feel versus the right hip and thigh. Again, notice how you are supporting your heart with your feet.

On an exhale, curl your toes under and press back to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right). After the Child’s Pose, you may inhale to Cow Pose, Cobra Pose, or, second time through, glide your body up and forward so that the legs stretch out behind you with the arms straight and the hips lifted away from the mat. Press the tops of the feet down, push the hands into the floor beneath your shoulders and inhale into Upward Facing Dog (Urdhva Mukha Svanasana). Thighs are strongly engaged and lifting up towards the ceiling. Kneecaps lift up towards the hips – again, so that the thighs are firm. Again, compare the feeling at the front of the hips and thighs. Again, notice how the engagement of the feet supports your heart.

After the second side of standing poses and backbends, move into Downward Facing Dog, and then into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Sitting tall with legs stretched out in front of you: remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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 in order to lengthen your spine. 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. Notice how the air moves within you and all around you. Pay particular attention to how the space shifts between your belly and legs. 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 both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.) Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose. This is Boat Pose (Navasana).

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind can be still. Breathe into the space between your soles, your heart, and your soul. Again and again, this practice comes back to the roots, back to the feet. Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel did in 1965, give thanks for your feet and how they support your heart.

“It is appropriate that I sing
The song of the feet

The weight of the body
And what the body chooses to bear
Fall on me”

– from The Song of the Feet by Nikki Giovanni

 

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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 the donation-based class on 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.”

* Matthew Sanford defines “healing stories” as “…the stories we have come to believe that shape how we think about the world, ourselves, and our place in it.”

 

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

STILL CLIMBIN’ – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 2018

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Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– from Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

 

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

– from Navy Seals

My early yoga teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” I sometimes repeat this statement to myself and to people who come to my class, because I find it’s true. We humans only have so many reactions and responses. Our reactions on the mat are pretty consistent with our reactions off the mat, whether we are dealing with things we enjoy, things we dislike, things that challenge us, things we do well, things we fear, and/or things we don’t understand. (Substitute the word “people” for the word “things” and you see how we end up with some of our current problems.)

We delay gratification or we rush in to quickly experience the things we enjoy. We procrastinate or we push through that which we do not enjoy. We appreciate what we have or we focus on what we don’t have.

When something blocks our progression, we stop and turn back – or, as Marcus Aurelius encouraged, we pause and figure out a way to keep going. When we fall down, we either pick ourselves up – rising above the challenge – or we fall down and stay down. We either, as Thomas Edison did when his warehouse caught fire, learn from past mistakes and enjoy the unexpected – even when it seems catastrophic – or we curl up in a fetal position and watch the world go by. We pick up the pieces and re-build (again, like Edison) or we sweep the debris under the rug and step over the bulge, pretending it’s not there.

We are capable of putting blame behind us and focusing on what is, but (more often than not) blame occupies our minds when something goes wrong. We blame ourselves, we blame others, and/or we blame God and the fates. We live in the past (which is no longer), the future (which is not yet), or we live the present to its fullest.

The details change, but the overall responses are the same: We fight, we flee, or we freeze/collapse. Note that in this case, fighting is not always arguing or coming to fisticuffs; fighting is engaging, which in life can sometimes bring us to a compromise. This all happens in the present moment and, if we experience trauma, we can experience it in the present even after the original situation is in the past.

Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” In life, as in yoga, there are challenges. Some challenges are expected and we mindfully prepare for them. On the flip side, some challenges are expected, but we don’t prepare for them. Finally, there are those challenges we didn’t see coming. When life (or a yoga teacher) throws us a curve ball, we swing or we don’t. In this analogy, it’s not whether or not we hit the ball that matters. What matters is that we are prepared to swing.

This brings us back to Marcus Aurelius, Thomas Edison, and those Navy Seals.

Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph, highlights successful people at their most resilient moments. One of the things that stood out to me when I read Holiday’s book, was that many of the people he referenced spent their whole lives preparing for what became a defining moment. It wasn’t that they anticipated the challenge; instead, they lived life to the fullest and it turned out the causes and conditions that caused them to “fall down” also gave them the tools to get back up.

Consider the Navy Seals. An elite combat unit, the Seals only accepts the best of the best. To determine who makes the cut, qualified applicants must successfully complete one of the hardest and toughest 10-day training programs in the world. Because there is no telling what a Navy Seal might encounter in real life, the training is a way to practice scenarios which test their mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual endurance. They are taught to Survive, Evade, Resist, and Escape if confronted with capture. The skills tests become more challenging in and of themselves, but they also become more challenging because applicants are moving closer and closer to their personal edge. Each second, each minute, each hour, each day creates an opportunity for growth. Seals get better, so that the challenges of yesterday seem easier once mastered. Ultimately, though, basic training pushes Navy Seals to engage, escape, evade – or get the heck out of the way for someone who is willing to swing when the curve ball is thrown.

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

 

– from The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth by M. Scott Peck

Life, for some, is like basic training in that it can be dangerous, full of pitfalls, and something that must be survived. But, for all of us, life is full of the causes and conditions that result in people to falling down and also full of the tools that help people get back up.

Yoga isn’t intended to be as hard (or as dangerous) as life or basic training. However, the yoga mat is a safe place to notice how you engage challenges, setbacks, and desires. It’s a safe place to explore different ways of being in the world. Every moment, every breath, every pose, every sequence prepares us for the next moment, the next breath, the next pose, and the next sequence. Sometimes we are very aware of how things are put together “in a special way.” Sometimes we are full engaged in the moment and are surprised when we meet a challenge with grace, wisdom, courage, and strength. Other times, we fall flat. Either way, the process starts all over again every time we inhale, every time we exhale.

MOTHER TO SON – by Langston Hughes

Very deliberately, move into Child’s Pose (Balasana). Notice the extension of the spine. Notice the softness of the belly. Notice the deep breath in and the deeper breath out. Allow your breath to move through the spine. Allow your soft belly to rise and fall with the breath. Allow your mind to follow the breath and the body’s reaction the breath. Start to engage your locks (bandhas) on the exhale: spread the toes and press the feet down (in this case tops of the feet down) for the Foot Lock (Pada Bandha); squeeze the perineum muscles together, lifting the pelvic floor for the Root Lock (Mula Bandha) – which engages your lower abdominal cavity; belly button up and back for abdominal core lock (Uddiyana Bandha) – which engages your upper abdominal cavity; draw the chin towards the throat and chest, lengthening the neck, for the Throat Lock (Jalandhara Bandha).

Once you’ve engaged your mind-body-spirit, move into Table Top: stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, hips over knees. Press down to lift up, activating the arms, the legs, and the lower three (3) locks. Notice the length of the spine, and how you support it. Move through Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence precisely matching the movement to the breath. Move from your core so that the gaze is the last thing to come up and the last thing to turn down.

Find the place where your movements are strong, but not forced, and then curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. 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. 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. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Notice the length of the spine and how you support it.

Remember your can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.” Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, strongly engage your legs and your core.

Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas). Notice the length of the spine. Soften into yourself and into the stillness of the moment.

Inhale to Half Lift / Flat Back and use the exhale to engage your core. With hands on the hips, maintain the length of the spine and lift up to standing. Relax your arms by your sides. Balance the weight between all four corners of both feet. Feel free to move side-to-side or back and forth on the feet until you feel you are centered. Spread the toes, press big toes and little toes down, as well as both sides of the heels. (This establishes “all four corners of both feet.”) Engage the quadriceps in order to lift the knee caps and firm up the thighs. Sit bones point down so that the pelvic bones lift up. Engage your locks (bandhas). As you press down in order to lift the sternum up, use the core abdominal to draw the lower rib cage down. Relax the shoulders and gaze straight ahead. This is Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana). Notice the length of your spine.

Changing as little as possible, stretch the arms out like the letter T. Once your arms are wide, extend out of the center of your chest. Make sure shoulders, lower rib cage, and sits bones are reaching down. Now, turn the palms up and inhale your arms overhead. (Many traditions refer to this as Arms Reaching Overhead (Urdhva Hastasana), but I tend to call this Tadasana.) Double check to ensure you have maintained balance and alignment. Notice the length of your spine. After several breaths, lower the arms to your sides on an exhale.

Now, use the whole inhale to lift the arms overhead and the whole exhale to press the hands together through heart center. On the exhale of the third centering breath, walk to the front of the mat with hands through heart center.

Equal Standing is like a soldier in the “Ready” position. Moving through half of a Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskar), inhale arms over head into Arms Reaching Overhead; exhale and stretch the arms out wide as you dive between the hands into a Forward Bend; inhale to a Half Lift / Flat Back; exhale back to Forward Bend. Keeping the knees bent and the core engaged, inhale to reverse swan dive and then exhale hands back to your sides. Repeat the sequence until you feel you are alignment is strong and your mind is focused (on the breath), and your movement is fluid.

After the final exhale into Forward Bend, inhale into a Half Lift/ Flat Back and then step your left leg way back into a low lunge. Make sure the feet are in two separate lanes. Inhale to lengthen the spine and then exhale the back knee to the mat. Give yourself cushion under the back knee, as needed. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh for a variation of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. Notice the length of your spine, especially your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. Again, engage your locks (bandhas). If you have Hot Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) in your practice, feel free to add it by lifting the left arm up and reaching it towards the right.

When you are ready to move on, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose, inhale to Cow Pose and exhale to Downward Facing Dog. Repeat the sequence of standing poses (starting with the first Forward Bend after Downward Facing Dog, substituting left for right).

After the second side of standing poses, move into Staff Pose (Dandasana). Remember, this pose is not disposable. Consider the length of your spine and how you use your locks (bandhas) to maintain it.

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 in order to lengthen your spine. 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 both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.)

Reach the arms forward with elbows next to the knees. Press down as if you are going to jump forward. Spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles together, belly button is up and back, press your shoulders down, and draw the chin towards the neck. Look up and press down to lift the ribs up on the inhale. As you exhale, lean back until the feet are off the ground and you are balancing on your tail bone. Bring legs up parallel to the ground. Check in with your locks (bandhas) – maybe even lifting the corners of your mouth up towards your ears for a smiling bandha. Begin to extend the legs by engaging the quadriceps and pushing through the heels. Keep your nose up and your eyes on your nose.

Find your edge, making sure your core works harder than your jaw or your arms. And then, lower down onto your back for Corpse Pose (Savasana). Find a place where your body and mind are still. Let the breath natural ebb and flow. Notice the strength of the body, all it is capable of doing. Give thanks. Notice the strength of the spirit, all it endures. Give thanks. Breathe peace in, breathe peace out. Give thanks.

In addition to being National Poetry Month and the month of when I ask you to Kiss My Asana, April is also Parkinson’s Awareness Month, National Child Abuse Prevention Month, Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month, and the Month of the Military Child. The people whose stories are behind these awareness-building observations are some of the same people benefiting from the programs supported by Mind Body Solutions via your Kiss My Asana donation.

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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 the donation-based classes on 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. ###

REMEMBERING THE MOON – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #8 April 8, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Religion, Suffering, Tantra, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Remember the moon survives,
draws herself out crescent-thin,
a curved woman. Untouchable,
she bends around the shadow
that pushes himself against her, and she

waits.”

– from Remember the Moon Survives, by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver, born today in 1955, always seems to point her pen in the direction of struggle and suffering. Sometimes the struggle is within a single community, sometimes it involves multiple communities; sometimes it involves an individual struggling to find balance between a community; and other times the struggle is between man’s desires and the needs of the natural world. But, always, there is struggle, suffering…and hope.

The Buddha, whose birthday is also celebrated today by some Buddhists, pointed his heart towards struggle and suffering as well. Unlike Kingsolver, Prince Siddhartha Guatama didn’t grow up with awareness of the suffering of others. However, once he was aware of it, he started considering how to alleviate it. And so, like Kingsolver, the Buddha’s work includes the promise of hope.

The Buddha outlined Four Noble Truths: There is suffering/suffering exists; suffering is caused by desire and an attachment to ignorance; there is an end to suffering; and there is a path to the end of suffering. (Specifically, he points to the Noble Eightfold Path.) So again, there is suffering, there is struggle, and there is hope. However, in the middle of struggling and suffering, it is easy to get stuck in the middle of that second noble truth and forget all about the promise. In the middle of suffering, it is easy to forget all about the hope, and be filled with doubt – even when you’re on the road that promises freedom.

Just the other day, a friend of mine mentioned her rosary. “In Islam,” Mya said, “using the rosary [for prayer/meditation/contemplation] is called dhikr (“remembering”).” As the devoted move through the beads, they are constantly “remembering” God and the nature of God.

The words may be different, but this practice of “remembering” is the same in Catholicism. Hindus and Yogis use mala beads, also a rosary, to count out a mantra – this too is “remembering” what the practitioner views as important.

The Jewish tradition does not include beads; instead, some wear a prayer shawl (tallit) or small tallit (tallit katan) with a knotted fringe or tassels of blue (tzitzit). Jews do not count with them, but the tassels are intended as a reminder of what is important within the Jewish tradition.

Whether you are on the mat, on the cushion, on the pew, or on the rug, part of the practice is to remember. The question is: What are you remembering? Go back to that José Ortega y Gasset statement from the 6th offering, “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”

“You are the one who knows, behind
the rising, falling tide
of shadow, the moon is always

whole.”

– from Remember the Moon Survives, by Barbara Kingsolver

Remember the Moon Survives – by Barbara Kingsolver

Remember how to move into Child’s Pose (Balasana), but also remember it is the beginning and full of possibilities. Remember to soften into the breath and allow the breath to flow freely in and ebb gently out. Remember your intention.

When you move into Table Top remember to move with full awareness of your mind and body in the present moment. Remember to 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. Remember this is an opportunity to remember the connection between your mind, body, and spirit.

Remember to 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.

On an inhale, stretch the right leg back, remembering to keep the hips level – even and equal to each other so that the low back doesn’t struggle. On an exhale, step the right foot in between the hands so that the foot is flat on the floor (with the right toes pointed forward). If the foot doesn’t easily land between the hands, scoop it forward with your hands. If needed, add a knee pad under the back knee. Pressing down evenly into both feet, lift your torso up and place hands on your right thigh. This is a form of Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana).

Use an exhale to slide the hips over the back knee and then place the back of the right hand on your sacrum (the flat part of your bum/hips) and place your left hand on the front of your pelvic bones. Your hands are now bracketing your hips. Slide the back hand down in order to direct the sit bones down. You may feel the front hand lifting as the pelvic bones lift. You may feel space opening up in your low back. You may also feel engagement in your left hip and thigh. Stay here or bend the front knee deeper into the lunge – remembering to maintain the space in your low back. Hands can come to your front thigh or reach the hands over head. If you have Hot Half Moon (Ardha Chandrasana) in your practice, feel free add it by lifting the left arm up and reaching it towards the right.

Remember to breathe. Remember to breathe into the heart. Crescent Lunge is one of the poses inspired by Hanuman, the monkey king in the epic poem The Ramayana. In the great adventure, Hanuman is asked to take giant leaps to save or rescue others. He hesitates, he doubts…and then he leaps. Again and again, he does what needs to be done to help others. At the end of the poem he revels what is in his heart: a devotion to God. Take a moment to remember what is in your heart.

After a few breaths, place the hands on the mat and step back to Child’s Pose. From Child’s Pose repeat the sequence again (from Cow Pose) , this time on the left side.

Once you’ve completed the second side and returned to Child’s Pose, inhale to Cow Pose and then exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana).
Remember your can skip the arm balancing, by moving into Staff Pose (Dandasana) and positioning the arms accordingly or using “Dolphin Dog.”. Another modification would be to do the pose on the wall. Either way, remember to check your alignment – make sure your body is in the shape of capital A.

Remember 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, remember to place 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, remember to 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). Remember, eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes.

Remember Downward Facing Dog is simultaneously an arm balance and a standing pose; a forward bend, as well as a back bend; and an inversion.
Stretch back (meaning, push your spine towards your thighs) and on an exhale walk your hands to your feet or bring your hands and feet together. Once hands are in line with the toes and heels are flat to the mat, inhale to a Half Lift/Flat Back or Extended Forward Bend. (This pose may be called Ardha Uttanasana or Urdhva Uttanasana.) Place your hands on your thighs and press the shoulders into the metaphorical back pockets. Remember, you want to engage in a similar fashion to Cow Pose, Staff Pose, and Downward Facing Dog. In fact, inhale and find a little bit of Cow Pose (even if you have to bend your knees). Now, press the heels down and – as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine – engage the quadriceps to extend through the knees and press the thigh bones into the wall behind you. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able.

If you have unregulated blood pressure, low back issues, eye issues like glaucoma, or if this is already challenging, remember to stay here with knees bent. Otherwise, if it is not contraindicated, bend the knees and flex from the hips to prep Forward Bend (Uttanasana). Keeping the upper back extended, place the hands on the floor or a block and begin to extend through the legs while pressing the thigh bones into the backs of your legs. Do not force the extension. Use the exhales to settle the heart on the thighs (as much as you are able without losing the extension of the spine.) If your legs are completely straight, make sure the knee caps are lifted and that you are not hyper-extending the knees. Also double check to ensure that if the knees are straight the hips are over the knees, not behind the ankles. Remember to engage your locks (bandhas).

On an inhale, extend to Half Lift/Flat Back and on an exhale fold into the Forward Bend. If you are modifying and using the Half Lift throughout, keep the back in the position that feels similar to an intense Table Top and use the breath to extend the knees on an inhale and flex/bend them on an exhale. Remember to precisely match the movement to the breath. Remember all the ways you are mimicking your body’s natural tendencies (e.g., extending/flexing, lifting/grounding, creating/engaging, rising/falling, etc.).

Move 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). Remember, just as the end of the inhale is the beginning of the exhale and the end of the exhale is the beginning of the inhale, this final pose is a beginning and an ending. Remember you are on the right path.

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 for a donation-based classes on Saturday, 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. Thank you to everyone who attended the class on April 7th, and thank you to everyone who has already donated. 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. ##

RISING – 2018 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Once upon a time, there was a little girl who didn’t have the best start in life. In fact, you could say that much of her early life was very twisted, and “rooted in pain.”

She was separated from her parents at the age of 3. But, the separation wasn’t all bad; she went to live with her grandmother, who was quite prosperous – for a black woman in the South, during the Great Depression.

Life was better, for about four years, but then she was once again unexpectedly torn from her home. She was 7. At age 8 she was sexually abused and raped by a grown man, her mother’s boyfriend. When she reported the assault, the man was arrested, sentenced to 1 day in jail, and then murdered. The little girl blamed her voice for her assailant’s death and so, for about 5 years, she didn’t speak.

This little girl moved back and forth between her mother and grandmother at least twice more before, in the span of three weeks, she graduated from school and gave birth to her son – all at the age of 17.

Given her background, few would be surprised to learn that this little girl grew up to be a streetcar conductor, a fry cook, a sex worker, a singer, and a dancer. All noble endeavors; however, the real twist to the story is that this little girl rose above the expectations of herself and others.

This little, whose older brother called her Maya (as in, “Mya Sister”),  grew up to become a writer, a poet, a journalist, an activist, and an inspirational teacher known around the world for and by her voice – a voice of wisdom, courage, love, and light.

Marguerite Annie Johnson, known as Maya Angelou, would have turned 90 today.

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

– from Still I Rise, by Maya Angelou

My first yoga teachers use to say, “How you do yoga, is how you do life.” On the yoga mat, everything has a purpose. Bringing your awareness to the importance of the moment – even when you’re not sure of the purpose – is part of the practice.

Remember: No matter how twisted the situation, never underestimate what you can do with an inhale, a pause, an exhale, or a pause. No matter how twisted the situation, never underestimate the ability of your heart and spirit to rise above.

Still I Rise – by Maya Angelou

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new house. Notice how the front of your heart is protected, but the back of your heart is exposed.  Feel the breath moving through your heart as you inhale and, also, as you exhale. Let the breath create space, awareness, around your heart center.

After a few minutes in Balasana, make your way 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. As you exaggerate your body’s natural tendencies with Cat/Cow or the “Un-Cat” sequence, notice how the inhale opens your heart to the world and the exhale turns your heart inward. Here is the “bowed head and lowered eyes,” but here are also the gifts, the hope, and the dream of being alive.

Once you feel the physical and emotional connection between your mind-body-spirit, set up for a Sage Twist*. Move into a seated position with the left leg extended in front of you (so that the left heel is on the floor) and the right knee bent (so that the right foot is 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. (Feeling like you’ve got diamonds at the meeting of your thighs is all on you!)

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.

Use every inhale to press down in order to lift up – creating more space between your ribs and your hips. Use every exhale to twist and rinse – engaging that space. 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 and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Switch the legs and repeat the Sage Twist instructions in this paragraph (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 Savasana. Maya Angelou wrote, “But still, like air, I’ll rise.” (In the first link above, you can hear her son recite, “But still, life LIFE, I’ll rise.”)

Notice that as long as you are breathing (i.e., as long as you are alive), your heart will always rise.

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.”

*NOTE: The Sage Twist video features Dianne Bondy, another one of my favorite teachers focused on keeping/making yoga accessible.

Here’s a funky Easter egg.

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

 

No Fooling…It’s Time To Kiss My Asana! April 1, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose –

– Emily Dickinson

When Emily Dickinson wrote, “I dwell in Possibility – / A fairer House than Prose” she used capital P’s to juxtapose possibility and prose. (Yes, she capitalizes house as well, but we’ll get to that in a moment.) Her Possibility was Poetry; it allowed her to move beyond the confines of her physical house, as well as beyond the limits of her physical body and mind. Poetry allowed her to move beyond her reclusive, mundane, commonplace, and (dare I say it…), prosaic life. It took her deeper.

Every April, I ask my classes, “What if the “P” stood for Pose? What if it stood for Prana? Could you dwell in that possibility? Could you go deeper?”

Since 1996, April has been National Poetry Month. For four of the last five years April has also been the month for the Kiss My Asana yogathon. This year, I’m joining the two and offering you the possibility to experience poetry as you practice more yoga and support Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs.

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.”

Part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon is to post a poem, which you can explore on the mat. 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 below.

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 its one dollar per practice or $25 – set aside that amount each time you practice and donate it by April 30th.

I dwell in Possibility – by Emily Dickinson

Move into Child’s Pose (Balasana) as if you are moving into a new House. Come to your hands and knees; bring your big toes to touch; spread your knees as wide as you feel comfortable. Try it with knees together, then knees as wide as your mat, then knees somewhere in between – the same way you might move furniture around until you find what works. Sink your hips to your heels and bring your forehead and nose to your mat. Hands may be overhead, stretched out wide, by your hips– or you can use them as a pillow. Shift around until you are comfortable enough to be still. If there’s a lot of pressure on your knees, put something under your hips. (Other options for this pose include lying down on your back, curling up in a fetal position, or folding over while seated in a chair.)

Now, consider the Possibilities. In my vinyasa classes I say, “Remember that Child’s Pose, Balasana, is your modification for every pose,” because there are elements of everything in Child’s Pose. Take a moment to consider the difference aspects of the pose:

  • Child’s Pose is a baby Downward Facing Dog, which is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward bend, a back bend, and an inversion.
  • It stretches out your quadriceps, front of thighs, knees, shins, ankles and feet.
  • Curling the toes under (with knees and feet together or the same distance apart) addresses the fascia on the soles of your feet.
  • Knees-wide adds a little hip opening, while bringing the knees together creates hip adduction and gives extra support for the low back.
  • Knees together also creates a massage for the belly and internal organs.
  • You can add a twist by threading one arm under the opposite arm pit.
  • You can use Child’s Pose to move into almost any pose – including Splits (Hanumanasana).

They say our eyes are the Windows to the soul, but here your eyes are shielded, maybe even closed, forcing your awareness inward. Even the other senses (which may be considered Doors into the world) turn your awareness inward.

Next inhale, go deeper: Start to notice your breath or Prana. One of the most Prosaic things we do is breath and yet, as the Upanishads point out, Prana as breath is Superior to the other functions of the body – because without breath, we cease to be.

We can go days without food, water, shelter, sleep, company, and movement. It won’t be comfortable. In fact, going without those essentials will ultimately become painful and eventually lead to our demise. But, we can do it; we can go without those particular essentials. On the flip side, our bodies and mind will not allow us to be without breath/spirit/prana for more the a few minutes. Breathing is an autonomous Occupation, but consciously receiving the breath and letting go of the breath takes us deeper into ourselves and into the practice.

Go deeper still. Follow the breath as it moves from your nose into all the Chambers of your body: into your Cedar-like legs; into the Roof that is your mind, the Gambrels of your hips as they touch the back that now serves as your body’s Sky. Notice what happens when the breath moves out of these same areas.

Breathe, as if you are drawing Paradise into your body and mind – because you are!

Notice something missing from today’s practice? It’s not an April Fool’s Joke…it’s the next poem!

Please join me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga programs. Inspired by the teachings of Matthew Sanford, this special donation-based practice will explore the connections between centering, grounding, expansion, rhythm, and balance. Please RSVP via myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com.

Saturday, April 7th (2:30 PM – 4:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga (2722 E 50th Street, Minneapolis)

Saturday, April 28th (4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork (3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis)

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

###

Looking for another Easter egg?

 

 

2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #4: IS THERE A WAY TO MODIFY…? April 10, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, pro, Science, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Women, Yoga.
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“I’m not very flexible and when I do yoga, every pose seems to stretch/work the backs of my legs. They are definitely my limiting factor. Is there a way to modify poses, down dog for example, to work/stretch other muscles?” – YogaNovice

YogaNovice’s question about modifying a pose, like down dog, in order to work/stretch other muscles required a little follow-up, because (a) I’m not familiar with the practitioner’s body or practice and (b) the words “stretch” and “work” convey different engagements to me. However, even before asking some follow-up questions, my answers came down to intention and alignment.

Before practicing a pose, consider the purpose of the pose in general and then the specific purpose of the pose within the sequence. Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward bend, an inversion, and includes a slight back bend. It can be used to strengthen the limbs of the body, alleviate pain and stiffness in the legs, ankles, feet, arms, wrists, and shoulders – while also helping a practitioner engage core muscles. In vinyasa, it often feels like the least strenuous pose and therefore becomes a re-set moment. As an inversion, it can be exhilarating, since the head is below the heart, but does not require pressure on the head and neck. I refer to it as “a full body stretch” – and yet, all the benefits of the pose may be lost if the pose is misaligned.

As my friend Tom Bushlack pointed out in a recent post on alignment (and misalignment), B. K. S. Iyengar and his Light On Yoga are the first resources many people in the West mention when discussing alignment.  Other great alignment resources include Leslie Kaminoff and his Yoga Anatomy, as well as Dr. Ray Long’s series of books. Many of these may be a little much for a yoga novice and, therefore, I also recommend Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health. Ultimately, however, the greatest alignment resource is practicing with an anatomy-focused teacher (like Matthew Sanford or the other teachers at Mind Body Solutions).

Alignment-focused yoga offers the opportunity to use props for better engagement. So, rather than muscling into a pose and experiencing strain or injury, props enable a practitioner to find the balance between effort and relaxation and to, as Patanjali states in the Yoga Sutras (2:46 – 2:48), cultivate a steady (or stable), easy (or joyful) seat (or pose). A person could use a wall, blocks, blankets, an extra mat, a strap, and/or another person in order to find more balance in pose.

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

Here’s a practice to help YogaNovice find more ease in Downward Facing Dog. Read through the sequence before practicing it, and remember to check with your health care practitioner before starting any new exercise. Each step below may be practiced in 1 minute increments.

  1. Establish what your body feels like when standing in a neutral (spine and hip) position, like Tadasana/Samasthiti (Mountain Pose/Equal Standing).
  2. Establish what your body feels like when the spine is in neutral Table Top (on hands and knees, with shoulders and elbows over wrists and hips over knees) versus when inhaling into Cow Pose (spinal extension), exhaling into Cat Pose (spinal flexion).
  3. If it is accessible to you, move into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. Release/relax.
  4. Sitting on a block or blanket (for extra support) and with your hips and back against a wall – or sitting on a chair with spine in a neutral position, lift your arms overhead with fingers pointed toward the wall (palms will be facing the ceiling). Play with how the arms and back feel when the legs are fully extended versus when the legs are slightly bent (at the knees). Once you’ve established a leg position that feels like balanced effort, then, play with how the arms and back feel when the arms are fully extended versus slightly bent (at the elbows). (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.)
  5. Stand, facing a wall, with feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart and arms extended at shoulder height so that the fingers barely touch the wall. Then, maintaining the established arms’ length, flatten the palms and fold until the back is “parallel” to the ceiling. Now, notice how it feels when the knees are bent versus straight, (Again, you want to experience a kind of lightness in the final pose that indicates balanced effort.) Next, experiment with the arm position to find balanced effort. Don’t forget: Balance comes from all accessible limbs sharing your body weight!
  6. If it is accessible to you, move back into Puppy Dog variation of Balasana (Child’s Pose) with feet and knees the same distance apart and extended on the floor over your head. This time, curl the toes under and actively press the hands and feet down while actively extending the spine into a mini-back bend. Relax after a few breaths.
  7. From Table Top (on hands and knees with a neutral spine), curl the toes under and lift the hips up into an upside down “V” for victory, with spine and thighs pressing towards the space behind you. Now that you’ve moved into the shape of Downward Facing Dog, active the pose as follows:
    • Make sure middle fingers are pointing forward (with fingers spread wide), pressing into the thumb and first finger (so there is less weight on the outer wrist). As much as you’re able, maintain the hand position and rotate the elbows towards the knees.
    • If experiencing wrist issues, use a wrist guard or return to hands and knees to set-up Dolphin Dog.
    • As you lower your head and shoulders, make sure big toes are parallel to each other. In Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, Iyengar recommends placing feet 18 inches (45 centimeters)* apart. Note that in an actual Iyengar class, Matthew Sanford has commented on how people have their feet too close together – in part, because we’re often practicing someone else’s alignment (versus our own body’s alignment). (This kind of individual instruction is why practicing with an alignment-focused teacher is invaluable!)
    • Spread the toes and let the heels reach towards the earth, but don’t focus on pressing/forcing the heels into the earth. Bend the knees, as needed, to achieve the previously experienced lightness of balanced effort. (Extreme knee flexion may mean you bring knees to the mat and practice an active Puppy Dog.)
    • You’ll find in an Iyengar practice that props may be added under the head, heels, and hands to provide support. A teacher can provide hands-on assistance to encourage the hips to lift as the spine extends.
  8. Release/relax in Balasana (Child’s Pose) with toes pointed behind the body and arms resting by the hips. If Child’s Pose is not accessible, lie on your back.

Yoga requires patience and dedication. In the Yoga Sutras (1:12 – 1:16), Patanjali emphasizes that mastery comes from combining abhyasa (repeated and consistent practiced) and vairagya (non-attachment). Consistently practicing the above over a period of time is one way to experience abhyasa; practicing any of the steps above as an alternative to practicing Downward Facing Dog as it appears in a book or a magazine is a form of vairagya.

YogaNovice AMS

Thank you, YogaNovice, for helping me fulfill my 2017 Kiss My Asana commitment. If you haven’t already, I strongly encourage you to check out one of the classes at Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

 

Please consider joining the yogathon by making a donation, joining the team, and asking a question.

### JAI JAI GURU DEV (SHINE ON) ###

2016 Kiss My Asana #10: What Happens When You’re Full of Grace? February 10, 2016

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“You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as you love yourself….”

– Leviticus 19:34

 

“And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or saw you naked and gave you clothes? Truly I tell you, just s you did to one of the least of those who are members of the human family, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 25:38

 

 “…and do good to orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer that you meet, and those who have nothing.”

– Qur’an 4:36

 

At least 7 yogis walk into a bar…. I know, it sounds like the beginning of a really silly joke. But seriously, if it weren’t for Yogi #9, I wouldn’t know Yogi #10 (and a few other yogis down the line).

Friday, February 5th, Yogi #9 (Elizabeth) invited me and my housemate to a fundraiser for a tutoring program at a school in St Paul. It was cold on the first Friday of Kiss My Asana, I’d just finished teaching, and I had stuff to do. But, I could hear Elizabeth in my head saying, “Come on. It’s kids; it’s for a good cause. You don’t have to stay out all night. I mean, you could, but….” (Note: She didn’t actually say this, but I could hear what it would sound like if she did.)

I acquiesced, in my own mind, and we headed over to the Urban Growler. It was not my usual scene, but it was super cool – and packed! We made our way around the pub until we found Elizabeth with a table full of her family and friends. She proceeded to introduce us to (drum roll, please) Yogi #10 (Molly S).

“Yoga changed my life!” Molly S exclaimed when she heard I teach yoga. My housemate asked how, and Molly left no doubt that yes, indeed, a single introductory course in yoga not only changed her outlook on her mind-body, it changed the way she engaged her mind-body. As a prelude to asking her, a perfect stranger, if she’d answer my 7 questions, I mentioned what I’m doing for Kiss My Asana and how the yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions –

Before I got anymore words out of my mouth, Molly S delivered the Universe’s punch line:

“Wait, Mind Body Solutions in Minnetonka? Matthew Sanford was my first teacher!”

Yep, turns out, it wasn’t just yoga that changed Molly’s life. It was Matthew Sanford.

When grace happens, generosity happens. Unsquashable, eye-popping bigheartedness happens. “

– Max Lucado

 “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” – Rumi

 

As if it wasn’t beautiful enough that she let me video tape her, on the fly (questions unseen), Molly left the fundraiser and proceeded to Kiss My Asana. (Thanks Molly!)

(NOTE: There’s still time for you to be like Molly!)

Don't forget, you can turn on and tune in with me this Saturday (5 PM & 7 PM) at the Walker! And February 27th is a Pucker Up and Kiss My Asana Saturday!

~ OM NARAYANA SHANTI OM ~