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The Stories Behind the Music (or The Vibration Behind the Vibration) July 21, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Men, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion)”

– Maty Ezraty

Every practice tells a series of concentric – and sometimes overlapping – stories. There is the obvious physical-mental story, which is the story of where your mind-body has been, where you are, and where you could go. This story overlaps with the related story of vedanā, based on your sensations, feelings, and/or vibrations in the past, present, and future. We can call this an emotional story, but it is also an energetic story. Then there is also the story of symbols, stereotypes, and archetypes – which is how our mind-body often frames these other stories in order to better understand them. Finally, when I lead a practice, there is the story (or stories) I tell to frame the other stories.

The stories – or themes – that I share during the practice can be purely philosophical; religious; rooted in math and/or science; fictional; historical; and/or biographical. In fact, sometimes there are elements of all of the above. And while I use the āsanas (“seats” or poses) and the sequences to tell these framing stories – and, of course, I use my words – a lot of the story gets told with the music.

Ah, yes, music, “sweet music” – which spirals in a whole other set of concentric (and sometimes overlapping) stories. One of those spirals (i.e., one of those stories told by the music I select to tell the other stories) is the story of where I come from and the timing of when I came and developed in the world. Yes, I sometimes do a little research and may adjust some of my old playlists to be more inclusive – I’ve even been known to include a song or two that don’t particularly resonate with me. Ultimately, however, I am who I am and (like every other storyteller that’s ever existed) I tell the story based on what I know.

Which means: The stories I tell (and even how I tell them) would be very different if I were a white American-born man of a certain generation or if I were a Nigerian-born British woman of a certain generation.

[The the remainder of this post, excluding details and links for today’s classes, was originally posted on July 21, 2020. If you want a little musical challenge, read this “Tale of Two Writers” and then create your own playlist based on their lives. You can even share it or link it in the comments below.]

“… she has, over time, changed her politics about race and gender differences. This Emersonian political shift — ‘Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again’ (McQuade 1 : 1148 ) – is one measure Morrison ‘ s developing sensibility as a woman and as an artist. Two examples immediately come to mind. In 1974, Morrison cautiously spoke of what she considered to be ‘a male consciousness’ and ‘a female consciousness’ as totally separate spheres. She then stated, ‘Black men – and this may be way off the wall because I haven’t had time to fully reflect about this – frequently are reacting to a lot more external pressures than Black women are. For one thing they have an enormous responsibility to be men.’ Morrison went on to reinforce her conviction: ‘All I am saying is that the root of a man’s sensibilities [is] different from a woman’s’ (Taylor-Guthrie 7). Morrison slightly modified this view when she spoke of her construction of Sula as a rebel, as a masculinized figure, and an equal partner in sexual relations in the 1920’s and 1930’s. She stated that Sula did not depict ‘as typical black woman at all’ (Septo, “Intimate Things” 219).”

– quoted from Toni Morrison: Playing with Difference by Lucille P. Fultz

This is a tale of two writers. Both born today – one in 1899, the other in 1944 – one was male, the other was female. One was White, the other was Black. We can get into nationalities later, but…. One won a Pulitzer Prize in Fiction and a Nobel Prize in Literature, while the other was designated OBE. Both have foundations named after them. One you have studied, probably in high school, maybe in college (even if you weren’t a literature major) and one you may have never read (let alone studied – even if you studied literature). She was born on his 45th birthday, when he was in Germany (curiously attached to an infantry regiment and doing things that would eventually bring up charges against him by the Geneva Convention). Both are recognized as successful authors and both wrote from their own experiences. However, so far as I can tell, only one of them has (as of today) ever been featured as a Google Doodle. (Spoiler Alert: It’s not the one you’ll be thinking when their identities are revealed.)

Let’s start with the man – one, because he was born first and second, because he is considered to be the model of a man’s man. In fact, he made his living as an author writing about characters who are considered to be the epitome of masculinity (even when, as it sometimes was, very obviously toxic masculinity). He went to a public high school, in a major U. S. city, but did not attend college. He was married four times, traveled the world, fathered three children (all boys), and spent his 26th birthday starting his first novel – which would also be one of his most famous works. (I think) he smoked and he (definitely) drank for most of his life; however, his drinking became excessively excessive after a couple of plane crashes in Africa. He was devastated when his first wife lost a suitcase full of manuscripts and (towards the end of his life) super paranoid that the American government was keeping tabs on him. They were; the FBI had a file on him – in part because of his ties to Cuba. He received electroshock treatments/therapy at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota and committed suicide, just like his father, sister, and brother (as well as one of his father-in-laws). He was 61. It’s possible that his paranoia and suicide were (in part) caused by the same thing that caused his father’s paranoia and suicide; they bother suffered from hereditary hemochromatosis, which causes the body to absorb too much iron and leads to physical as well as mental deterioration. He is often quoted as saying that in a man must do four things in his life (in order to be a man): plant a tree, fight a bull, write a novel, and father a son (although some have said “raise a son”).

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because this first author is Ernest “Papa” Hemingway. (He has not been featured as a Google Doodle – but he has been quoted in reference to Google Doodles for Josephine Baker and René Maran.) Hemingway started off as a journalist, who served in World War I (as a Red Cross ambulance driver, because the U. S. Army diagnosed him with bad eyesight), and somehow (see “curiously” note above) attached himself to a U. S. army infantry regiment during World War II. His work includes novels, novellas, short stories, non-fiction, articles, and published letters. He referred to his minimalist style of writing as “the iceberg theory” or “the theory of omission.”

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an ice-berg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water. A writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

– quoted from Death in the Afternoon by Ernest Hemingway

As I mentioned before, the woman also wrote about what she knew – of course, what she knew was very different. She wrote, for example, that “you are simply not allowed to commit suicide in peace, because everyone is responsible for the other person.” Her gender initially meant that she would be kept at home; however, she convinced her parents that there was a benefit to her going to school. She attended private primary school, earned a scholarship to a private secondary school, and eventually attended the University of London. However, she was also engaged by age 11, married and pregnant at 16 years old, and separated and pregnant with her fifth child by the age of 22. By all accounts, she not only gave birth, she also raised her children and managed to earn a Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree in Sociology by age 28 and a PhD by the time she was 47 years old. She received a second, honorary, doctorate from a second University a year later. Her marriage was unhappy, violent, and punctuated by her husband’s paranoia about her writing. He burned her first manuscript. She rewrote it, but five years passed in the interim. She worked as a library officer for the British Museum in London, as a youth worker and sociologist, and as a community worker – all while writing, publishing, and raising her children. Her writing eventually enabled her to travel around the world (including to the U. S.) as a guest professor and visiting lecturer. In addition to working a variety of cultural and literary organizations, she and one of her sons ran a publishing company (that printed some of her own work under her own imprint). She was made an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 2005. She suffered a stroke in 2010 and died 7 years later. She was 72. She once said, “I work toward the liberation of women, but I’m not a feminist. I’m just a woman. My books are about survival, just like my own life.”

If none of this sounds familiar, you might be surprised that Buchi Emecheta was celebrated with a Google Doodle a year ago today (on what would have been her 75th birthday). She reportedly started writing as a way to deal with the troubles in her marriage and went on to write novels, children/YA books, plays, articles, and an autobiography. Her son Sylvester, who established a publishing company to ensure his mother’s work stays in print, said that Emecheta was the descendant of storytellers who passed down to him and his siblings the “Moonlight tales” that she learned from her aunts and father.

“Living entirely off writing is a precarious existence and money is always short, but with careful management and planning I found I could keep my head and those of my family, through God’s grace, above water.”

Head Above Water by Buchi Emecheta

Ultimately, we are taught what someone has decided it is important for us to learn. We may not have any reason to question why we are taught one thing and not another, one author and not another. And, if we are not big readers, we are unlikely to read outside of our primary society’s canon. Maybe, as we get older, we turn to mass market fiction (or non-fiction) as a form of escapism. Maybe we turn to award winning literature – but we don’t really question why one author gets published but not the other, why one book makes the short list but not the other. Since many of us have grown up in society where we were encouraged to learn/do/teach (or see/do/teach) this means that we teach what we were taught – even if we are not teachers. Furthermore, as has happened recently, when we start to question and explore… we start with what (and who) we know – even if the authors we know are not experts in our latest field of study.

This paradox reminds me of Newton’s Laws of Motion (particularly, the law of inertia: an object in motion remains in motion, an object at rest remains at rest – unless something disrupts its condition). It also reminds me of college.

I studied English Literature at a major U. S. university. There had previously been some pretty prestigious guest professors over the years; however, when I started, in the late 1980’s, there were no African, African-American, Black British, or Black anything modules in literature. You might read a writer here or there in a 20th Century survey class, but you couldn’t (as I did with Russian literature) sit in what was essentially an oversized closet with a professor and three or four other students and learn about literature written from the perspective of the African diaspora. (Honestly, in college, I probably didn’t even know how to write a sentence like that – that’s how far African-American literature was outside of my wheelhouse!)

Dr. Lucille P. Fultz joined the faculty my senior year and, with some new awareness, I decided to take one of her classes. She had graduated from Spellman College (a historically black university for women) and completed her graduate degrees at the University of Iowa (which is known for its writers) and Emory University (which is just known). I remember her as my own personal stereotype of a Spellman woman: mature, petite, dark-skinned, natural, knowledgeable (in a seriously erudite way), well-spoken (but also soft-spoken), and dressed to the nines. In my head, she wore white gloves – but honestly, I think I made that up. I may also have made up the idea that she did not original study literature with the intention of teaching African-American literature. I say “I may have made up the idea” because she is now recognized as an authority on Toni Morrison (whose history as a writer/mom/publisher in some ways mirrors Emecheta’s history as a writer/mom/publisher) and she got me to read The Bluest Eye, which was quite possibly the only Toni Morrison book I had not read on my own.

My alma mater now has a history department with “a strong team dedicated to the history of Africa, the African diaspora, and African-American Studies” and a newly established Center for African and African American Studies. Curiously (and going back to the idea that we learn what we are taught and teach what we learn), two of the six members of that dedicated team are easily recognizable as people of color – and they are the only ones on the team who graduated (as undergrads) from the school where they now teach; one graduated just before me, the other attended after Dr. Fultz was firmly established at the university.

“Everyone’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another.”

– Ernest Hemingway

“[I write] stories of the world…[where]… women face the universal problems of poverty and oppression, and the longer they stay, no matter where they have come from originally, the more the problems become identical.”

– Buchi Emecheta

Hemingway wrote about war, sex, love, loyalty, fishing, bullfighting, and the feeling of being lost in the middle of an adventure. Emecheta wrote about sexual discrimination, racial prejudice, sex, love, changing nappies, being a single parent, and religion. They both wrote about culture clashes, their experiences in Africa, as well as about the roles and relationships between men and women, but much of what they wrote looks and feels very different – even when, occasionally, the wrote about the same situations. Take Africa, for instance. To Hemingway, the continent of Africa was an exotic land of (physical) danger and adventure. To Emecheta, Africa (and specifically Nigeria) was home and a land (socially and physically) dangerous in the way it marginalized women.

As I mentioned above, they had different ideas on suicide (even different ideas about why one might consider suicide) and they had very different ideas about education. In her autobiography, Emecheta wrote, “An uneducated person has little chance of happiness. He cannot enjoy reading, he cannot understand any complicated music, he does not know what to do with himself if he has no job. How many times have I heard my friends say, ‘ I want to leave my boring job because I want to write, because I want to catch up with goings on in the theatre, because I want to travel and because I want to be with my family.’ The uneducated man has no such choices. Once he has lost his boring job, he feels he’s lost his life. That is unfair.” On the flip side, Hemingway had significantly less (formal) education than Emecheta, struggled with depression, and stated that when he started writing his first novel, “Everybody my age had written a novel and I was still having a difficult time writing a paragraph.”

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

“She, who only a few months previously would have accepted nothing but the best, had by now been conditioned to expect inferior things. She was now learning to suspect anything beautiful and pure. Those things were for the whites, not the blacks.”

Second Class Citizen by Buchi Emecheta

 

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 21st) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07212020 A Tale of Two Writers”]

If you are using an Apple device/browser and the “Class Schedules” calendar is no longer loading, you may need to upgrade your browser, or you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.

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

“If every one said orders were impossible to carry out when they were received where would you be? Where would we all be if you just said, ‘Impossible,’ when orders came?”

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

“Just keep trying and trying. If you have the determination and commitment, you will succeed.”

– Buchi Emecheta

If you are thinking about suicide, worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, you can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also call the TALK line if you are struggling with addiction or involved in an abusive relationship. The Lifeline network is free, confidential, and available to all 24/7. YOU CAN TALK ABOUT ANYTHING. 

If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgement-free place to talk, call the TrevorLifeline (which is staffed 24/7 with trained counselors).

### Everybody: PLANT A TREE ###

So Many Birthdays, So Many Stories, So Much Music… March 22, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Men, Music, One Hoop, Peace, Poetry, Science, Super Heroes, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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This post contains a link for “Save with Stories” – a partnership with Save the Children and No Kid Hungry. You’ll find the link in the sentence (below), “Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.”

Maty Ezraty, a yoga teacher of teachers, who died last summer, once told a teacher, “A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion)”

Take a moment to go little deeper into the middle of your story, because that’s where we are: the middle of our stories.

People often tell me (as someone told me just this weekend) that one of the things they like about my classes is the story, as well as the way the poses and the music tell the story. The practice is always a way to tell our stories. It is also a way to process our stories, every time we inhale, every time we exhale. As I was reviewing Sunday’s playlist (March 22nd), I realized it not only tells the stories of some great storytellers celebrating birthdays today (as I intended) and is a way to process our current life-plot (as I intended), it also reflects my story as a lover of stories.

James Patterson (b. 1947, in Newburgh, NY), is a bestselling novelist and children’s book author whose books can always be found in my parents bookshelves. Doesn’t matter if it is mystery, suspense, romance, or science, Patterson keeps you in the moment and keeps a Chekhovian promise (which we’ll get to in the end). One of his protagonists is a 12-year old orphan named Max Einstein. Like her namesake, this Einstein is a genius with wild (in her case red) curly hair. She is told that her story combined with her emotional and intellectual quotients are why she is considered the world’s “last great hope.” Patterson wrote, “If we are to help save the human race, we must recognize the humanity in all, no matter their station in life.”

For his part, Patterson has donated over 300 million books to school-aged children and the military, over $70 million to support education, and endowed over 5,000 scholarships for teachers.

Stephen Sondheim (b. 1930, in New York City, NY) is a legendary musical theater composer and lyrics, as well as an award-winning film composer. He has won 8 Tony Awards (more than any other composer), 8 Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Laurence Olivier Award, and was awarded a 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom. In all my time working in theater, I can’t say that I ever worked on any of Sondheim’s musicals (or the musicals of our final birthday composer), but I’ve seen my fair share of both their works – and can definitely sing along.

Also born in New York City, NY, in 1941, poet Billy Collins has been called “The most popular poet in America” and has served as United States Poet Laureate (2001 – 2003) and New York State Poet (2004 – 2006). Collins considers “humor a doorway into the serious” and begins his poem “Picnic, Lightning” by quoting Vladimir Nabokov. In Lolita, the protagonist says, “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning)…”

The poem’s title is also the title of a collection of poems which my friend Mimi gave me in a moment when I was overwhelmed by grief. Fast forward almost a decade and, as if in a poem, I was dancing with Billy Collins on Nicollet Island and giving him a piece of Collins-inspired poetry. Even now, I can feel it…I can feel it…the joy of the moment, the joy of being alive; which fits in with his secret theory.

In a 2001 interview with The Paris Review, Billy Collins said, “I have a secret theory that people who are addicted to reading are almost trying to recreate the joy, the comfortable joy of being read to as a child…. Being read to as a child is one of the great experiences in life.

Our final birthday storyteller is Baron Lloyd-Webber, or more properly styled, The Lord Lloyd-Webber…better known as the EGOT Andrew Lloyd Webber (no hyphen). Born today in 1948 (in Kensington, London), he has composed 13 musicals, a song cycle, a set of variations, 2 film scores, and a Latin Requiem Mass. He is an EGOT because he has won an Emmy Award, 4 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award (Oscar), and 7 Tony Awards – as well as 8 Laurence Olivier Awards and a plethora of other awards.

And now, back to that Chekhovian promise.

It was Anton Chekov who said that if there is a rifle (or a pistol) hanging on the wall in the first chapter/act, it must go off in the second or third. He told another playwright, “It’s wrong to make promises you don’t mean to keep.”

Whenever we step on the mat, there’s a part of us that is making a promise. Whenever, I put together a sequence there’s a part of me that thinks about that promise, as well as about that second Sondheim song (“Putting it together…bit by bit…piece by piece”) and Maty Ezraty’s sequencing advice about the middle (the heart) of the story. I consider how can I build up to a big heart opener and how we each need to process our own personal story in order to not only lift and open our hearts, but to also support our lifted and open hearts – especially in a time when it is so easy to close off.

Maty Ezraty said, “Practicing yoga is a privilege. And with this privilege comes a duty to be kind, to share a smile, and to offer yoga from the mat into the rest of your life.”

Here’s a mini-practice (5 minutes) which you can use it as your whole practice as the beginning/introduction portion of your practice and finish with a deeper back bend (even if it’s the same back bend – just with more awareness, more breath, and more smile.

 

### NAMASTE ###

ORGANIZING THE WORK(ers): 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #10 April 10, 2019

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

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.”

– Delores Huerta (born April 10, 1930)

In some ways, it seems like Delores Huerta has been organizing workers since she was a child. She is a second generation Mexican-American whose parents started off as migrant workers and then divorced (when she was 3) and moved into positions where they could support the labor force – her father as a politician, her mother as the owner of a restaurant and hotel that welcomed a diverse population of low income and farm workers. Huerta was active in a variety of extracurricular activities during her school years and went on to teach elementary school; however, she said, “I couldn’t tolerate seeing kids come to class hungry and needing shoes. I thought I could do more by organizing farm workers than by trying to teach their hungry children.”

By the age of 25, Huerta was working to improve the economic status of Latinos in Stockton, California. In her 30’s, she co-founded an organization that set up voter registration drives and also co-founded the National Farm Workers Association with César Chávez. She is known for the motto “Si, se puede.” (Yes, we can.)

“When you have a conflict, that means there are truths that have to be addressed on each side of the conflict. And when you have a conflict, then it’s an educational process to try to resolve the conflict. And to resolve that, you have to get people on both sides of the conflict involved so that they can dialogue.”

– Delores Huerta

Conflict in the pages of a book can make for a good story. You get to see how things are resolved, usually in a nice neat little package with all the loose ends tied up into neat bows. Real life rarely works that way, and writing the good story where conflict arises and then gets resolved can be just as daunting and overwhelming as real life. And, as we’ve seen recently, it’s a lot of work to establish dialogue between people with viewpoints. It seems like an overwhelming amount of work to change the world.

We’ve all been there: overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the work yet to be done. It doesn’t matter if we are overwhelmed by the work because procrastination has placed us under a looming deadline or if someone presented us with an unrealistic timeline. It doesn’t matter if the amount of work is relatively small compared to something we’ve done in the past or will do in the future. Nor does it matter if the work is related to our profession, our passion, and/or life. In the moment, we sit in some variation of frozen; unable to do anything, let alone the first thing. And yet, just like when you’re playing a video game, the first thing is the key that unlocks the second thing…and so forth and so on. The first thing also gives you the tools to unlock the second thing.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

– excerpt from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott (born April 10, 1954)

Writer, activist, speaker, and teacher Anne Lamott used the story about her brother as the inspiration (and title) of her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The book is a writing course that is also, like all of Lamott’s work, a life course. And, both the story about her brother and her book, prove that my favorite adage from my first yoga teachers is also true about writing: How you do writing, is how you do life (and vice versa).

“A good sequence is like a good story. There is a beginning (an introduction), the middle (the heart of the story), and the end (the conclusion).

– Maty Ezraty

 

Building a yoga practice – or just creating a sequence – is just like developing a new habit. There is some part of us that knows how to do it, but if we’ve never done it before (or it’s been a long time), it seems mysterious, daunting, and overwhelming. Where to begin, or “Getting started” is Lamott’s first chapter. In it, she discusses the merit of telling the truth. In many ways, this is a very good place to start when you’re on the mat. Satya (Truth) is one of the yamas or external restraints (also known as universal commandments) in the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga. If you come to the mat without being honest about where you are (in your practice) and how you’re feeling, there’s a good chance you will hurt yourself. Being honest with your self is a challenge on the best days, but it especially challenging when the focus is moment-to-moment, breath-to-breath. In being honest with yourself, it is just as important to recognize your strengths as it is to recognize your weaknesses.

In the first chapter, Lamott also advises using one’s childhood as a starting place. This, it turns out, is also something we do in the physical practice of yoga. Every pose is an asana (seat) and therefore has a foundation or roots that need to be engaged in order to practice the pose. Additionally, the physical practice is also a mental practice as well as an emotional-energetic and psychic-symbolic practice.  What that means is that (a) working the body requires working the mind and (b) each part of the body is energetically and symbolically tied to parts of history and lived experience. The lower body, which supports us for the majority of our lives, is connected to our “Root Chakra” and is related to our first family, tribe, and community of birth. I often explain this connection by saying, “Just as we are biologically connected to people we may not have ever met or will ever meet, we are also energetically connected. Unless you have a specific reason for starting elsewhere, the practice begins with the feet and legs. The beginning can be standing poses (which build strength, as well as flexibility), seated, or supine poses that address the lower body.

There are 29 chapters in Bird by Bird – and they all can be used to breakdown how one builds a practice, a sequence, and or a habit. I’m not going to break them all down at this time, but here’s a sample:

Chapter 2: “Short assignments” – In a vinyasa practice, where we’re moving with the breath it can be fun to string a ton of poses together and move one-breath-one motion. It can also be dangerous. Giving the body (and the mind) easily digestible bite-sized pieces, aka short assignments. Even if you are not practicing vinyasa, give the mind-body time to process the work you’re doing as you’re doing it. Poses like Equal Standing, Wide-legged Forward Fold, Child’s Pose, or a basic seated position like Easy Pose (Sukhasana) can be moments of transition where you pause and breathe. This is true even with vinyasa. (Remember, vinyasa means “to place in a special way” it does not mean “do pushups and a back bend.” You can practice one or two standing poses and then pause for a few breaths in one of the transitional poses before continuing to your next “short assignment.” One really cool rule of thumb I was given during teacher training is to look at the “one-breath-one-motion” idea as changing a single plane or angle within the body. (For example, moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Triangle or Extended Side Angle makes sense in the body, because the feet, legs, hips, and heart stay in the same horizontal plane – and rotation. Moving from Warrior II (Happy Warrior variation) to Warrior III makes less sense because you are changing horizontal and vertical plane orientations, plus changing the body’s rotation.)

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

–  Thomas Edison (in developing a practical electric light bulb)

“How many worthwhile endeavors are cast along the wayside because we are not guaranteed total success? Yet the result of inaction due to fear of failure is failure by default.”

– Aliza Kramer (writing about the Chanukah story)  

 

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

– Anne Lamott

Chapters 3, 4, & 18: “Shitty first drafts,”  “Perfectionism,” & “Jealousy” (respectively) – It’s very rare that we get something “perfect” the first time around. That’s part of the reason we “practice” yoga instead of “doing” yoga. It’s also challenging to find yourself in a room full of people who seem to know what they’re doing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount the fact that they once started at the beginning and didn’t know what they were practicing. It’s easy – too easy – to discount their hard work and assume that they are naturally strong, flexible, and or coordinated. Jealous comparisons prevent us from seeing the work of others, and also from doing our own work. Consider each time you step on the mat as a workshop moment, where you find ways not to do something and ways to go deeper.

Chapter 13: “How do you know when you’re done?” – One of the things I love about practicing yoga is that you’re never done. There’s always something to learn about yourself and the practice. There’s always some new challenge that can be built on your foundation. And, it’s fun to see what happens next. That being said, no one can be on their mat 24/7. At some point every practice session comes to its conclusion. If you look at the lower body as your first chakra (or energy wheel) and think of each chakra as a “short assignment,” then you work your way up the body and finish when you reach the crown chakra at the top of your head. Another way to know when you’re done is to break up your “short assignments” with a transitional pose where you can sit and breathe for a moment. Since the ultimate goal of the physical practice is to prepare the mind-body for deep seated meditation, use the transitional pose to assess the mind-body, in order to determine how close you are to stillness. You can be “done” when every part of your body and mind feels stable and at ease enough to be still for 5 or more minutes.

Chapters 21, 22, & 24: “Writing groups,” “Someone to read your drafts,” & “Writer’s block” (respectively) – Sharing your writing with a group is similar to sharing your practice with a group. There is a little extra boost of energy and momentum that comes from people engaged in the same thing at the same time. There is power in the group that can help us go farther than we might on our own. Practicing yoga or writing in a group, especially when people are at different levels, gives everyone an opportunity to learn and grow by considering other perspectives. It can also be helpful – when you’re working on those “shitty first drafts” – to have an outside pair of eyes, someone who can view your practice as it is and as it develops. Ultimately, this is the role of the teacher – someone who can encourage you to continue on your path, make suggestions when you seem to be falling off the path, and offer you next steps you may not have considered. Also, when you feel stuck or blocked, as we all sometimes feel, the teacher, as well as your group, can support you as you step back and take child’s pose for a moment or consider another perspective, maybe even a different way of practicing.

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

– Anne Lamott

 

FEATURED POSE for April 10th: Crow & Crane (Kākkāsana & Bakāsana)

As I mention during classes on St. Patrick’s Day, there are a lot of bird poses in the physical practice of yoga. There are legit birds, as well as imaginary and mythical birds. There are birds that fly great distances and those that are along for the ride. One of the most ubiquitous poses inspired by a bird is “Crow Pose.” As I have pointed out in the past, there are some translation issues when it comes to this pose that accessible to people who may not realize it is in their wheelhouse (meaning something they can practice). “Crow” in Sanskrit is Kākkā – which sounds a lot like a crow, but it also sounds a lot like “kaka” which is slang for $^*+ and something a lot of English-speaking teachers are reticent to say in yoga. On the flip side bakāsana, the word we often use for “Crow Pose” is actually “Seat of the Crane.”  Adding to the confusion, Kākkāsana is the prep for Bakāsana (and therefore, more accessible).

If you want to skip the arm balance as an arm balance, you can do the actual pose on your back or prep it in a squat. You can also use props to help with balance. The squatting variation is the only one that is prenatal approved.

Before moving into today’s featured pose, give yourself some short assignments that warm-up the body (Sun Salutations or cat/cow if you are practicing in the squat or on your back); strengthen and lengthen the legs (standing, seated, or supine poses for the legs); create flexibility in the hips; engage the core muscles; broaden the chest area; and strengthen the arms and wrists. When you’re ready to move into the pose, consider each part of the body as its own species of bird.

From your starting position, open the knees as wide as or wider than the hips. Feet can be together or apart, but make a choice and spread the toes wide. Lengthen the low back and sacrum (the flat part of the back), by lifting the pubic bone up on inhale and letting the sit-bones and ribs reach away from one another. Engage your core. Bend your elbows and bring them into your side body so that the elbows are hugging your ribs. This begins to engage anterior serratus, so when you feel muscles squeezing along your rib cage, see if you can actively tighten in that area. Bring your hands to the floor (or the ceiling, depending on your perspective). With elbows bent back and squeezing in, you want your upper body to engage as if you are going into Chaturanga Dandasana. Rise up to your tip toes so that you can place the knees into the armpits. If you are balancing on your hands, knees actively rest on the backs of the arms. If you are on your back, if feels more like your elbows are resting on your thighs. In all variations, keep your shoulders relaxed.

From standing, you can step your feet up onto a block (behind and under your hips) or shift your body forward and back – not to get momentum, but to check the placement of your hands and arms. Once you have established a solid foundation, shift the weight (so that the toes are barely on the floor) and zip up (meaning spread your toes, squeeze your perineum muscles like you’re trying not to go to the bathroom, and draw the belly button up and back). As you engage the core, the feet float up – don’t panic!

If you are on your back or in the squat, still engage your core and lengthen your spine.

When the elbows are bent this is typically referred to as “Crow Pose.” If you can consistently balance in “Crow Pose,” squeeze everything into your midline and start to straighten the arms. This is typically “Crane Pose.”

Focus on letting your heart soar!

Feel free to play around a little bit and then finish out your practice with a gentle wrist stretch, maybe a Forward Fold with Chest Expansion or that “Gorilla Pose” from last week. Finally, spend some time in Corpse Pose (Savasana) or any neutral pose where you can be still and quiet for at least 5 minutes.

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###