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2016 Kiss My Asana #24: Guiding and Pulling (In) the Light February 26, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Daoism, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Kirtan, Kundalini, Life, Loss, Mantra, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mirabai Starr, Music, Mysticism, Oliver Sacks, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Qigong, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tai Chi, Tantra, Taoism, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Music can lift us out of depression or move us to tears – it is a remedy, a tonic, orange juice for the ear.”

– Excerpt from Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

 

“When you squeeze an orange, orange juice comes out – because that’s what’s inside. When you are squeezed, what comes out is what’s inside.”

Wayne Dyer

Yogi #24 (Marilyn) gave me some amazingly delicious oranges once. She told me a little of their back story – they had been given to her by a friend who, if I remember correctly, has a grove in California. Eating the oranges gave me great joy (as she intended) and thinking of their back story filled me with awe and gratitude – but it also made me realize that, in reality, I knew very little of their back story.

How many people were responsible for the planting, the nurturing, the harvesting, and the transporting? How were their lives affected by the oranges? Who even had the idea to start all these endeavors? There was just no way to know. In the end, I could only be grateful.

“Gratitude is our ability to see the grace of God, morning by morning, no matter what else greets us in the course of the day. That has the effect of making us gracious as well.”

– Excerpt from Hustling God: Why We Work So Hard for What God Wants to Give Us by M. Craig Barnes

Marilyn herself is a lot like those oranges: Bright sunshine on a cold January day and present after long journeys, she is delightful, joyful, and fills me with awe and gratitude – yet I only know bits and pieces of her back story. I know she teaches; I know she heals; I know she loves animals, travel, and bicycling. Bottom line: I know just enough about Marilyn to know she has seen amazing places, people, and things in the world and encountered the very best and, possibly, the very worst that the world has to offer. Yet, she is always kind and graciously grateful, for the smallest things, even when someone has wronged her. And her smile lights up a room, even when she is frustrated.

“No other light, no other guide,
Than the one burning in my heart.
This light led the way
More clearly than the risen sun
To where he was waiting for me
– The one I knew so intimately –
In a place no one could find us.”

– Excerpt from Dark Night of the Soul by Saint John of the Cross (translated by Mirabai Starr)

 

“Every human life is made up of the light and the dark, the happy and the sad, the vital and the deadening. How you think about this rhythm of moods makes all the difference. Are you going to hide out in self-delusion and distracting entertainments? Are you going to become cynical and depressed? Or are you going to open your heart to a mystery that is as natural as the sun and the moon, day and night, summer and winter?”

– Excerpt from the introduction to Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals by Thomas Moore

Marilyn practices qigong as well as yoga, which means she’s one of the people who get’s my little energetic puns when I describe one set of arm movements as “Gathering Prana” and the complimentary set of movements as “Gathering Qi.” Both qi and prana are words used to describe the life-force energy that is within us and all around us. Like ruach, pneuma, and spiritus, these are also words which were once used to simultaneously define breath and spirit.

Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, didn’t distinguish between spirit and breath – they were both divinely given and received. Our ancestors, from all their different cultures, believed spirit/breath was the light of the world – it was in them and all around them. Now, the modern mind turns to quantum physics to confirm the Truth our ancestors already knew: We can gather it, guide and pull it; dance with it and in it. Like Marilyn. Or not.

 “Of the deities presiding over light, I am the one for January, loved by all for turning the world’s course toward warmth. Of the wind gods who bring immense good in the world, I am the whirlwind. Of the daytime luminaries I am the radiant sun, and of the lights of the night I am the moon.”

Bhagavad Gita 10:21

 

“Of David: YHVH is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? YHVH is the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

– Tehillim (Psalms) 27:1

Jesus said, ‘I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. / Split a piece of wood; I am there. / Lift up the stone, and you will find me there.’”

The Gospel of Thomas 77

 “I sit in my own splendor. / Wealth or pleasure, / Duty or discrimination, / Duality or nonduality, / What are they to me? / What is yesterday, / Tomorrow, / Or today? / What is space, / Or eternity? / I sit in my own radiance.”

– Excerpt from Heart of Awareness: Translation of the Gita by Thomas Byrom 19:2 – 3

One of my favorite sacred texts is the Ashtavakra Gita (The Song of the Man with 8-Bends in His Limbs). It presents the wisdom of a person whose outside is considered less than ideal, by the people around him. According to one of Ashtavakra’s back stories, he was 12-years old when he walked into the court of the King (who would eventually become his pupil) – and everyone laughed at him. Ashtavakra also laughed, and then he started to cry.

When the King asked why he first laughed, as everyone laughed at him, and then cried, Ashtavakra said, “I started laughing because you saw only my outside. I started crying because I crawled all this way to discuss the Truth with great scholars and all I find here are shoemakers and leather workers.” When the King took great offense and proclaimed his court a court of great scholars, Ashtavakra shook his head and said, “It is only shoemakers and leather workers who are so concerned with the quality of the outside that they can’t see the Truth within.”

I’d like to believe that, in these modern times, we’re not so one dimensional that a shoemaker and a leather worker can’t also be great scholars. Yet, too often, people in a position to teach the Truth get caught up with the quality of the outside. Too often, people in a position to receive the Truth get turned away because their outsides are considered less than ideal. Too often we all forget that we are in bodies together – and these bodies are the ideal vehicle for our spirits. The work being done by Matthew Sanford and Mind Body Solutions allows more people to experience the Truth of who we all are and how we are all connected. KISS MY ASANA if you see the Truth – or the light.

 

My donation-based KISS MY ASANA class on Saturday, February 27th is full; however, I still have spaces available for March 5th (6:30 – 8:00 PM at Flourish). Contact Myra at a joyfulpractice.com to reserve a spot (or two.)Space is limited. Bay Area yogis, don’t forget: Sandra Razieli’s KISS MY ASANA class is in Oakland on Sunday, February 28th.

 

 

~ “If the family were a fruit, it would be an orange, a circle of sections, held together but separable – each segment distinct. – Excerpt from Family Politics: Love and Power on an Intimate Frontier Letty Cottin Pegrebin ~

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2016 Kiss My Asana #16: Peace Like A Gardener/Farmer February 17, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Food, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Jane Hirshfield, Julian of Norwich, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.”

“It Is Well With My Soul” by Horatio Spafford

 

“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”

– Excerpt from A Revelation of Love – in Sixteen Shewings by Julian of Norwich

 

Towards the beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali emphasizes that cultivating friendliness/loving-kindness, compassion/mercy, gladness/goodwill/joy, and acceptance/equanimity creates a calm, peaceful, and undisturbed mind (1:33). A bit later, he states that a person can be so firmly grounded in non-injury (ahimsa) that other people lose their hostility just be being in the vicinity (2:35). Towards the middle, he indicates that samyama (the collective practice of focusing, concentrating, and meditating/becoming) on these qualities produces the great strength or power of these attitudes (3:23). Finally, towards the end of the sutras, he explains that in order to realize great power through the practice, a yogi has to be like a farmer or gardener (4:3, although he hints at this throughout).

Some people read about the siddhis (great powers) described in the Yoga Sutras and think them as “supernormal” or psychic powers – while others reference quantum physics or Jedi Knight tricks. And, some people just think the whole text is an extended metaphor. How ever one thinks about siddhis on paper, there’s no denying the power of being in the presence of someone grounded in love. Considering Julie (Yogi #16) is a gardener, it should come as no surprise that being around her is a little like being hugged by love.

The moment you walked inside my door
I knew that I need not look no more,
I’ve seen many other souls before – ah but,
Heaven must’ve programmed you”

“Heaven (Where True Love Goes)” by Yusuf Islam

 

“More and more I have come to admire resilience.
Not the simple resistance of a pillow, where foam returns over and
over to the same shape, but the sinuous
tenacity of a tree: finding the
light newly blocked on one side,
it turns in another.”

– Excerpt from “Optimism” by Jane Hirshfield

 

Julie is one of my favorite people and part of another one of my favorite yoga couples. I met her and her husband within my first year of teaching – and I am always thrilled to see them. Every once in a blue moon one will come without the other; but, more often than not, they come together. (And, spoiler alert! I started writing their posts in tandem because I think of them as my two anchors, or touchstones, in the corner of the room.) They come when it’s cold; they come when it’s hot; they come when they’re tired; they come when they’re busy; and sometimes they come when they’re not feeling 100%.

Julie mentions me helping her adapt her yoga practice during one of those times when she wasn’t at 100%. However, I wasn’t her only resource. She also practiced with the amazing Michelle P-W who, in addition to being a world-class yoga therapist, has practiced and taught with Matthew Sanford.

There are lots of people in the world who could benefit from a yoga practice if they had the resources to facilitate their practice. Sometimes the necessary resource is a knowledgeable teacher, sometimes it’s an accessible studio, and sometimes it’s just the awareness that there is more than one way to practice yoga. Either way, if you KISS MY ASANA, you help create more resources and opportunities for more people to discover and continue practicing yoga.

 

~ Forever, and ever, Amen. ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #13: This Contender Has Class! February 14, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Mantra, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Suffering, TV, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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“You know, we just don’t recognize the most insignificant moments of our lives while they’re happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”

– Burt Lancaster as Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (in Field of Dreams)

When I first started practicing yoga, I often heard my teachers say, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Since then I have heard a teacher say, “How you do anything is how you do life” –and, while that second statement may also be true, the bottom line is that some things mimic the highs and lows of life better than others: boxing, poker, yoga ….

While not a sport, the physical practice of yoga can be like practicing a competitive sport in that its rules and guidelines create a safe space to play, experiment, test your limits, learn, and grow. If you show up to practice and learn the rules, you get to study yourself as you encounter challenges. Study yourself as you encounter challenges and you start overcoming the first set of challenges, and prepare yourself to meet new ones. Greet the new challenges and you begin to realize that the practice is just like life: you can do all of this while you enjoy the moment and have fun – or you can spend the whole practice stressing out. Either way, you have to get your mind straight. Either way, (to paraphrase Timothy Gallwey and Matthew McConaughey) the only person you have to best is yourself – and, in doing so you become your best self.

“Winners are simply willing to do what losers won’t.”

– a poster behind Hillary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald (working the heavy bag in Million Dollar Baby)

Yogi #13 (Dennis L.) came to one of my classes because of his dear friend Meghan G (Yogi #12). He had heard about some of the benefits of yoga. He had heard why his friend loves yoga. And, ultimately, he decided it was only one hour. What could possibly happen in one hour?

“Even if you’re down there for one hour, you’re down there.”

– Kirk Acevedo as Tommy (in Invincible)

Like Dennis L., a lot of people come to practice with their friends. While it’s great to see that community building and strengthening on the mat, I always celebrate a little when someone who seems to come because of their community, starts coming even when their friends aren’t available. First time I saw Dennis L. practicing on his own, I knew he was hooked! I knew he was committed. And I was a little awed, because I realized he was a contender!

Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!

– Sylvester Stallone as Rocky Balboa (in Rocky)

“If I was thinking straight I’d go back home, find a used trailer, buy a deep fryer and some Oreos. Problem is, this the only thing I ever felt good doing. If I’m too old for this then I got nothing. That enough truth to suit you?”

– Hilary Swank as Maggie Fitzgerald (in Million Dollar Baby)

There may be times when you’re injured, tired, filled with dis-ease, or feeling your age. There may be times you’re having a bad day (or what feels like a bad life). And, what you do in those moments is your practice.

Truth be told, there are times when we all feel like tapping out. And, when we have those times, there’s always going to be someone – sometimes, even someone in our corner – who’s going to support that decision to just throw in the towel. But, in such moments, it’s important to remember that life (like your yoga practice) isn’t actually a game. Giving up is not your only option.

On the mat, you can go into child’s pose; you can take a comfortable seated position and just breathe; you can take a modification; you can explore another style or tradition. Off the mat, you can go into child’s pose; you can take a comfortable seated position and just breathe; you can stop focusing on what your goal looks like on the outside and remember the intention that’s driving you; you can explore another way of doing things.

On or off the mat, remember: We’re not competitors; we’re on the same (joyful KISS MY ASANA) team!

 

~ 2:26 ~

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS WITHIN THE QUESTIONS December 16, 2012

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga.
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Q & A

Anyone who comes to my class knows I love stories. And, they can also tell you: I am an equal opportunity storyteller. This time of year is full of some of my favorite stories. Take Chanukah, for instance: within this celebration of light is the story of “Not Much,” the story of “Give It All You’ve Got,” and an opportunity to explore the original meaning of the word “miracle.” On Wednesday people all over the world were looking for and/or celebrating miracles. It wasn’t just that some people saw 12/12/12 as an auspicious date; it was also the middle of Chanukah, the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and the beginning of the Baha’i month of Masa’il (“Questions”).

Personally, I was excited, all fired up, inspired and ready for an “intensely fun, intensely intense” practice on Saturday.

Then, on Friday night, when I heard about yet another mass shooting and a death in my family, I was having a hard time focusing on fun.

It doesn’t matter if it’s today; yesterday; almost 2, 311 years ago (around 300 BCE); or nearly 100 years before that, when bad things happen we question. However, our questions don’t just stop with, “Why?” or “How could this happen?”

The closer we are to the tragedy; the bigger the scale of the tragedy; or the more innocent the people involved, the more we question. Sometimes, we question everything we believe to be true. We may question our faith, the very foundation of our existence, the things (literally and figuratively) that support us when we struggle. And, more often than not, we seek answers from that same foundation or truth – be it God, science, our leaders, or our community.

In every culture and in every heart, there is a word for that ultimate truth; for that something universal within us, and all around us. (Even science has subatomic particles that are in everything.) And in every heart, there is a question we can direct to that source, a question, which can also be an answer.

מכבים      गायत्री

In Exodus 15, “Moses and the sons of Israel,” sing the praises of God to God and in doing so they cite a number of marvels (also known as miracles). When a band of brothers/a father and his sons/a clan of priests chose Maccabee as their moniker and battle cry, they not only used a variation of a word meaning “hammer,” they used an acronym for a Torah verse (Shemot/Exodus 15:11): “Who is like You…among the mighty? Glorious in holiness fearful in praises, performing wonders (miracles)?”

The Maccabees took their question to the source and within the question they found their answer: the source. They also found inspiration.

I think what they did is similar to what Rainer Maria Rilke means in Letters to a Young Poet, when he writes, “Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you will not be able to live them…. Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers.”

My plan for today’s practice: Embody a question (addressed to the source) that simultaneously inspires and answers. Everyone would have their own personal question(s) and their own way of articulating “the source.” The tricky part would be getting everyone on the same wavelength.

In yoga, we talk about the light (or energy) within us, and all around us. When we move through our physical practice, our physical focus may change from moment to moment, but we have the opportunity to maintain a single-pointed mental focus, a meditation point. Adding mantra to our movement can strength our focus, and get us all on the same wavelength.

Today, I used the Gayatri Mantra to get us on the same wavelength.

People using a mantra for seated meditation often use a mala (“garland” or “ring”) to maintain japa (“repetition” or “remembering”) without excess effort (ajapa-japa or “constant awareness”). In the physical practice, using kirtan (mantra with music) is a great way to achieve a similar meditative state. More often than not, when I use kirtan in a class, the sequencing is progressive in the sense that each time we complete a cycle we begin it again and then add an additional pose or two. Occasionally, I will even get “asana-happy” (or maybe it’s “prana-happy”) and sequence in a mandala (“circle”).

Today, I wanted to go even deeper. Inspired by this idea of living the question, addressed to the source, I took another look at the Gayatri Mantra itself.

When I’ve used the Gayatri Mantra in the past, I’ve emphasized various translations and focused on the story of Visvamitra, the sage responsible for the mantra, and the peak pose named after him. But, this time I looked at the structure of the mantra.

One of the unique aspects of the Gayatri Mantra is its most common name comes from its meter. When in Sanskrit, a “great utterance” is followed by three (3) eight-syllable lines (padas or “feet”). What happens, I wondered, if an extended inclined sequence was followed by three (3) sequences, which each contained eight poses or pose variations? And what would happen if all the sequences put together made up a mandala? And what would happen if the repetition of the mandala prepared us for Visvamitrasana? And can I even get a room full of completely different bodies and practices to the point where their hips, hamstrings, shoulders, triceps/biceps, back, and core (not to mention their wrists) can even safely consider the possibility?

So many questions…that today become so many answers.

When we are moved to move, and we move to seek answers within ourselves, do we become the answer? When we live the question, as Rilke suggests, and our question is, “What can we do to make things better, brighter, to change this great wrong or keep it from happening again?” do we become the change?

OFF THE MAT

Right now, lots of people are asking questions and calling for change, personally and globally. Lots of people are also insisting they know all the answers – sometimes insisting so fervently, in fact, that they can’t even hear themselves let alone the people around them.

I’m not claiming to have any answers…just more questions. I also have a desire to be still and quiet enough to hear all the answers when they come.

And, just like I do when I am seeking guidance, answers, and inspiration from the source of all things, I think some of our questioning and listening needs to be focused on the people who are the source of these tragedies, people who are in so much pain they want to hurt themselves and the people around them.

Finally, I hope that when the right answers come, we are strong enough, wise enough, and courageous enough to recognize and live those answers.

Vinyasa Class Notes

Key Asana Sequence: Anjaneyasana (“Crescent Lunge”) with Inverted Namaskar to Anjaneyasana to Modified Virabhadrasana III (“Warrior III”) to 3 variations of Virabhadrasana III to Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (“Standing Splits”) with Squats, Seated Sage Twist, and Gomukhasana (“Cow Face”)

Song(s) That Had To Make The Cut: multiple versions “Gayatri Mantra”

Song(s) Played Loud For Motivation: multiple versions of “Gayatri Mantra”

Song(s) Related To Theme (if you think about it): “Princes of the Universe” by Bear McCreary

Interested in harnessing the power of movement, mantra, and music? Click here to find out how people all over the world will celebrate New Year’s Day!

~ NAMASTE ~