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

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

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

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

                                                   do yoga. share yoga. help others.                               

***

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

“early April
out in my bathrobe
and gardening boots”

– Hilary Tann

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

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

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

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

What I’ve seen in my lifetime –

and in the last few days, weeks, years

is that us human beings:

                                                We’re capable of anything.

We are full

                                                   of possibilities.

BIG possibilities…and little possibilities

Great acts of LOVE / great acts of hate

We can CREATE. Or destroy.

It’s all the same energy – I think /

it’s all about how we CHANNEL it.

It’s a choice. &

                                           To choose PEACE requires WISDOM.

– MKR, April 2019

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

WE CAN BEGIN AT ANYTIME: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #12 April 13, 2019

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

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

***

“How strange that we can begin at any time.
With two feet we get down the street.
With a hand we undo the rose.
With an eye we lift up the peach tree
And hold it up to the wind – white blossoms
At our feet. Like today. I started”

 – excerpt from “Looking Around, Believing” by Gary Soto (born 4/12/1952)

Ever look around and wonder why we begin where we begin? Every wonder if we could start our yoga practice with a different pose? Or if it even matters where we start? For that matter, what would happen if we started earlier in life? Or later?

Okay, okay, some of those are purely rhetorical. And, as the title of this post clearly states, “we can begin at anytime” – but, what about the place/position in which we start?

If you are exposed to different styles and traditions, maybe through a single teacher or through your own curiosity, you will find that some styles and traditions always start with the same pose – but that “same pose” is not universal. Some practices start with Child’s Pose (Balasana). Some start with Equal Standing / Mountain Pose (Samastithi / Tadasana).Some start with the practitioners on their backs; still others start with practitioners in a seated position – but even then it’s not necessarily the same seated position.  Why all the variety? Let’s go deeper.

There’s something to be said for tradition. If you look back at Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are no asanas (or poses) detailed. Instead, Patanjali provides critical instructions on how to practice the poses. Specifically, he instructs “cultivating a steady/stable, easy/comfortable/joyful seat/pose” (YS II.46) and then proceeds to explain how the awareness and extension of breath (pranayama) extends out of finding balance in the body. Classical sacred texts like Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 15th century), Gheranda Samhita (early 17th century), or Shiva Samhita (circa 14th – 17th century), mostly list sitting on your sits-bones poses and begin with some variation of a cross-legged position. In all cases, the focus is on having an elongated spine, with the head balanced above the shoulders and hips, and effort balanced with relaxation. This type of pose reminds one of a meditation seat and is a great way to remember that the physical yoga practice is also a meditation practice, with the ultimate meditation state as its final goal. Emotionally, energetically, and symbolically, starting in a seated position indicates that the practice is a time for study, contemplation, and devotion.

Ashtanga, one of the first vinyasa practices to come to the western world, begins with Mountain Pose (Tadasana), which is also the first pose featured in B. K. S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga. It is a foundational pose, in that there are elements of Mountain Pose (which Iyengar also refers to as Equal Standing) in almost every pose. When standing, there is particular emphasis on balance – left to right and top to bottom – and on the extension of the spine, which is supported by the engagement of the core. It is a pose which can be practiced on the feet, in a chair, but also lying on one’s back. It’s a great starting place, because it is a great reference point: you can come back again and again and notice the changes you have brought about in your body. There is, however, another benefit of starting in Equal Standing / Mountain Pose – it is standing at attention and so it is a signal that the practitioner is ready for what comes next and, more importantly, ready to move in any direction. Like certain sitting on your sits-bones poses, this is one of the most neutral starting positions simply because you can easily move from it into almost any position.

Child’s Pose is a great place to start, because one’s head is down and (like a child preparing for a nap) one is less likely to be distracted by external surroundings. There is a physical turning inward, as well as an emotional and energetic turning inward. Even though this can be a hard pose to hold if you have knee issues, it offers a lot a physical benefits: there is an opportunity to release the low back; an opportunity to open the hips; an opportunity to compress the abdominal area and thereby stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system (in order to calm the body); it’s a baby inversion; and it is a great opportunity to stretch out the front of the legs. Most importantly, perhaps, is that once again the spine is long and there is balance. There is also a symbolic reason for starting in Child’s Pose: the beginning of the practice marks the birth of the practice (and practices that start here often move through a symbolic life cycle).

Since she draws from her experiences with different styles and traditions, Seane Corn will sometimes start practices from a standing position, sometimes from a sitting on the sits-bones position, and sometimes in Child’s Pose. During her vinyasa teacher training, however, she also points out that starting the practice on one’s back, creates openness and receptiveness. When you start on your back, you are also physically supported (along the head, shoulders, elbows, arms, hips, and heels) in a way that may allow the spine to easily align. The more supported and aligned you are, the more comfortable you might be and, therefore, the more receptive. Additionally, lying on your back indicates some form of Corpse Pose (Savasana) which, when considered in the context of reincarnation, can also be the symbolic “beginning” of the life cycle. (For example, if you start in Corpse Pose you can easily rollover into Child’s Pose and then stand up on all fours and then eventually stand up on your feet).

“As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:
You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples
From a fruit stand, and what coins
Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,
Tickets to a movie in which laughter
Is thrown into their faces.
If we buy a goldfish, someone tries on a hat.
If we buy crayons, someone walks home with a broom.
A tip, a small purchase here and there,
And things just keep going. I guess.”

– excerpt from “How Things Work” by Gary Soto

Where you begin your practice can set the emotional and energetic tone of the practice. And, while a good starting position will allow you to go anywhere (even if some poses require more movements than others – think 6 degrees of separation), some starting positions specifically prepare you for what’s to come. For instance, starting in Cow Face Pose (Gomukhāsana) legs, prepares the body for hip opening, while sitting in Hero’s Pose (Virasana) stretches out the front of the legs and knees (similar to Child’s Pose).

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Easy Pose (Sukhāsana)

Easy Pose (Sukhāsana) can be the beginning, middle, and end of your practice. Sitting on the floor, with shoulders and hips aligned, bend your knees so that shins/ankles are crossed and each foot rests underneath the opposite thigh (i.e., right foot is under left thigh). Tilt the sits-bones slightly back and root them down in order to lengthen the spine.

Hips should be in line with or higher than the knees. If there is compression in the back and hips and/or if the knees are higher than the hips, sit up on top of something (making sure your stability is not compromised by the prop you’re using for support). If the knees are uncomfortable, experiment with the hips being higher than the knees, switching which leg is in front / on top, and/or squeezing the legs closer or further away from each other and from the hips.

Once you have your legs crossed, wiggle your arms and then let them rest on your thighs – palms up if you want a little energy, palms down if you want to be grounded. You can take any seal (mudra) or leave the palms open and relaxed.

Stack your spine as if you have coins in your back, with the largest denomination on the bottom so that you end up with a dime, a nickel, and a penny on top of whatever hair is on your head. Relax your shoulders and jaw, creating a little space between your lips and teeth. (Not so much space that someone could look down your throat to see if you still have your tonsils, but enough space so that the mouth, lips, teeth, jaw, and tongue can relax.)

Gaze 4 – 6 feet in front of your belly button and either softly shutter your eyes or blur your eyes through that focal point (drishti). Set a timer for 5 – 10 minutes and begin to notice your breath and the parts of your breath.

At the beginning of the practice, see how long you can sit and breathe in Easy Pose before you get distracted. Notice the first three (3) things that distract you. For instance, if your mind wanders away from your breath and you start thinking about something outside of the moment, your #1 today is “Thoughts.” If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find your body getting a little antsy – in which case, your #2 today is “Sensations.” (Sensations can be pain or discomfort in the body that makes you want to move, the feeling of being too hot or too cold, and or the feeling that something needs to be scratched.) If you deliberately refocus your mind on the breath and the parts of the breath, you may find yourself feeling like it’s time to move or that you’re getting sleepy and then you could label your #3 today as “Emotions.”

Obviously, the examples above are generic examples and you may experience them in a different way or in a different order. However, note how long it takes for you to be distracted.  You could also make a note of how many times you bring your awareness back to breath. Keep in mind, this (bring the mind back, again and again) is the practice.

Make a note regarding your experiences during the time allotted and then move through any set of yoga poses or some other physical activities. If you notice specific physical discomforts/distractions, focus your practice on strengthening of relaxing the areas of the body that distracted you. If you found you were having a lot of mental distractions, challenge yourself by doing something that requires your complete attention. (If you’re looking for a practice, click here and see how Gary Soto’s poems inspired last year’s 12th offering.)

When you come back to the pose, set the timer again and notice what happens.

“Beneath my steps, my breath”

– excerpt from “Oranges” by Gary Soto

(for my twin and her best friend)

 

### NAMASTE ###

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #11 April 11, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Uncategorized.
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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.

***

EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness
EMPTINESS & FULLNESS emptiness & fullness

What was your reaction to all that “empty” space? Did you react the same way you do in a yoga class when the instructor suddenly stops speaking? Did it make you nervous? Did you think it was a mistake? Did you think I was posting about the first photograph of a black hole? Did you notice it at all?

Today is the birthday of Misuzu Kaneko and Mark Strand; two very different poets, who lived very different lives in very different places, but who wrote poems on very similar themes. Today is also the second “Throwback Thursday” in Poetry Month – so click here to read last year’s post about their lives and poetry.

“We cannot say that emptiness is something which exists independently. Fullness is also the same. Full is always full of something, such as full of market, buffaloes, villages or Bhikshu. Fullness is not something which exists independently.

The emptiness and fullness depends on the presence of the bowl, Ananda.

Bhikshu’s look deeply at this bowl and you can se the entire universe. This bowl contains the entire universe. This is only one thing this bowl is empty of and that is separate individual self.

Emptiness means empty of self.”

– excerpt from Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha by Thich Nhat Hanh

FEATURED POSE for April 11th: Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana)

Triangle Pose (Trikonāsana) is a foundational pose – some might even call it a “beginner’s pose” that can also be very challenging. One way to work the pose is to notice the “empty” spaces around and in the body and to make those “full” of engagement.  Triangle can be practiced early in the practice (with very little warm-up) or as part of a standing pose sequence. Thighs, hips, and heart will be externally rotated. This pose can be done from a seated position. It is also prenatal approved (even encouraged). Supine Big Toe Pose (Supta Pādāngustāsana) is a reclining pose with similar engagement.

While standing in Equal Standing/Mountain Pose notice the “empty” space around your body. Move into the space on your left by arching the upper body to the side (similar to a Hot Half Moon, see KMA 2019 Offering #2). Notice the sensations in the spine and back. Repeat, or echo, the movement on the right. Come back to center.

This time, move into the space by stepping or floating your feet apart so that the feet are under the wrists or between the wrists and the elbows. Notice where you’ve parted the air and also how you are filling the space. Turn your right toes out so that the right heel would bump into the middle of the left foot if the legs were together. On an inhale, stretch out your collar bones; as you exhale reach your right forward until you reach your limit (and have reached the end of the breath). Inhale your right arm down and the left arm up, so that the arms are lined up over the right ankle. You can use a block to lift the floor up if you need more stability. As you exhale, move your right hip towards the left hip. Notice where “the air moves in / to fill the spaces where [your] body’s been.”

Notice the “empty” space between your legs. It is full of an invisible triangle.  Reinforce your awareness and engagement of this triangle and then sit on it by dropping your sits-bones towards the top of the triangle. Now that the thighs and hips are rotating up, engage your core and extend your spine. Consider that to extend your spine, you have to move the ribs and spine into a different position than they were in Hot Half Moon. Notice that as the spine lengthens the “empty” space beneath the right side of your torso is filled with a triangle (formed by the torso plus the right arm and leg). Gaze up, out, or down, but make sure the neck is comfortable.

After 30 seconds to 1 minute, engage your core and lift the torso up and return to Equal Standing. Repeat, or echo, on the other side.

If Triangle is your whole practice today, finish up by lying on your back with arms and legs spread wide. Notice how it feels to be spread out, to occupy so much space. Now, draw your legs together and arms into your sides for Savāsana. Breathe and allow the breath to extend out into the space you filled when your arms and legs were wide.

If Misuzu Kaneko’s story resonates with you, because you or a friend struggle emotionally, please call 1-800-273-TALK.

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

WHAT MAKES A WARRIOR HAPPY: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #7 April 7, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Black Elk, Books, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Vairagya, William Wordsworth, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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.

***

“Who is the happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

“sthira sukham asanam” (YS II.46)

sthira           steady, stable
sukham       easy, comfortable, joyful
asanam        seat (meditation posture or pose)

Patanjali, who outlines the 8-limbed philosophy of yoga in the Yoga Sutras, does not spend a lot of time talking about the physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition), which is a combination of asana and pranayama. About asana, the third limb, he indicates that one should cultivate – or continuously maintain – steadiness and ease. He goes on to explain that this cultivation, or “perfecting,” requires relaxing the effort and “allowing the attention to merge with the infinite,” which, in turn, brings a sense of “freedom from suffering.” Furthermore, he states that pranayama, the fourth limb of yoga, begins to occur as a result of the perfected and balanced pose.

At first glance this all sounds really odd. How do you relax the effort without falling over? And, if you’re worried about falling over, how can you possibly pay attention to anything other than not falling over?

“Simple causal reasoning about the feedback system is difficult because the first system influences the second and the second system influences the first, leading to a circular argument. This makes reasoning based upon cause and effect tricky, and it is necessary to analyze the system as a whole.”

 

– Karl Johan Aström and Richard Murray, Feedback Systems: An Introduction for Scientists and Engineers

It turns out that the two limbs create a feedback loop: if you can find balance between effort and relaxation (steadiness and ease), you will start to notice the breath, the parts of the breath and (as Patanjali points out in II.50-51) the breath becomes long, fine, and seamlessly continuous (or infinite). Simultaneously, if you observe the breath and adjust your body in order to find the position where the breath is long, fine, and seamlessly continuous, you will have found the physical balance between effort and relaxation. Finally, finding that physical balance will result in mental balance and clarity which, Patanjali explains, reveals inner light. (II.52)

“Whose high endeavors are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright;”

– from “Character of the Happy Warrior” by William Wordsworth

While Virabhadrasana literally means “Hero Friend or Brave Person Seat,” in English we almost always translate it to “Warrior Pose.” Yoga practices which utilize standing poses (even if you’re seated in a chair) will inevitably include at least one of three Virabhadrasanas. However, there is also a seated pose (Virasana, accurately translated as “Hero Pose,”), a “Humble Warrior,” a “Shackled Warrior, and there are several poses associated with Hanuman, the monkey king, which all may also be referred to as “Warrior” poses. We may think of any number of warrior-like attributes we want to embody when practicing these poses. The question is, how often do those attributes include balance, generosity of Spirit, self-knowledge, happiness – or any of the other qualities William Wordsworth (born today in 1770) uses to describe the character of Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson?

Wordsworth’s poem “Character of the Happy Warrior” (circa 1806) is similar in context to W. H. Auden’s poem “The Unknown Citizen” (circa 1939). They are both intended to eulogize and memorialize. The biggest difference in the two poems, however, is that Auden’s poem is pure satire and reveals a person who cannot actually exist. Nothing negative can be or is said about Auden’s “citizen.” On the flip side, Wordsworth was honoring the recently deceased Lord Nelson, who was praised for his leadership skills and persistence, and was known as a British hero of the Napoleonic Wars – despite being a strong proponent of slavery. Still, the flattering depiction in the poem is a legacy that lives beyond the man himself. The term “the happy warrior” enjoys a place in the English lexicon as a great way to summarize the character of a person (usually a man) who exhibits “our human nature’s highest dower” (or gift).

“We can perhaps change the whole world but it will not help us. On the contrary, if we change ourselves, then the world is automatically changed. Change in the world will come naturally, inevitably, spontaneously, as we bring about this change to ourselves.”

– Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati *

FEATURED POSE for April 7th: “Happy Warrior,” II variation (Ananda Virabhadrasana)

{*A quick shout out and thank you to Elias Lopez Garcia of Happy Warrior Yoga, for (unknowingly) helping me narrow down which warrior pose to feature today. If you appreciate this experience, please “like” his video, linked here and embedded below.}

This “Happy Warrior” variation can be done with or without warming up the body. Keep in mind, however, that this pose is asymmetrical and requires externally rotated hips. If you have hip and/or balance issues, use cat/cow or some sun or moon salutations as a warm up. You can also move into a wide-legged seated pose like Bound Angle (Baddha Konasana) or a squat – either Yogi Prayer Squat or Horse/Goddess Pose – with all four corners of your feet grounded, plus toes and knees turned out for external rotation and abduction.

When you are ready to practice “Happy Warrior,” spread your legs so that the ankles are underneath the wrists or between each elbow and wrist. Make sure the toes are all pointed in the same direction and that the feet are parallel to each other. With the arms spread wide, breathe deeply in and out, making sure that you feel open and grounded. Notice your breath. Adjust your position if you are not feeling stable and comfortable, or if the breath is not naturally deepening.

After a few moments, lift your arms up and out, making a “V” shape for “5-Pointed Star” (also known as “Big Asana” and “Hallelujah Asana”). Crown of your head is the fifth point of the star so press down to lift the body up. Inhale the corners of your mouth up towards your ears and exhale, relax your jaw, for “5-Pointed Smile.” Breathe here and notice how you feel as the sensation of the smile spreads out through your fingers and toes, as well as the corners of your mouth and the crown of your head.

Maintaining the internal sensation of the smile, even as the expression on your face softens, exhale to turn the right toes out so that the right heel lines up with the middle (or center) of the left foot. You may need to bring your hands down to your hips for balance. Once you establish this heel-to-arch alignment, bend your right knee as close to 90 degrees as you are able to reach. Make sure that the knee is over the ankle, tracking the pinky toe. Check to make sure that you are balancing your weight between both feet, both legs, and both hips. Double check the hips to make sure the back (left) hip isn’t getting cocky and sitting higher than the right.

Inhale and lift your arms straight up in the air over your head. Check to make sure that your hips are open wide (away from each other) and that the shoulders are directly over your hips so that when your arms are raised the upper body looks like it’s in Mountain Pose (Tadasana)/Arms Over Head Pose (Urdhva Hastasana). On an exhale, lower the arms just enough to go back to the “V” position. Gaze up, straight over your heart, and press down in order to lift your head up.

Embody the internalized sensation of the smile. Simultaneously, think of your favorite warrior, agape or otherwise, and embody what you see as their best characteristics. Now, embody your best characteristics – all simply in the way your hold your body. After 5 – 7 breaths, release the pose and move back into the starting position. Repeat the pose on the other side.

 

### Jai Jai Gurudev Jai Jai ###

 

THE POSSIBILITIES OF DELIGHT & WISDOM: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #5 April 5, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Loss, Maya Angelou, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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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.

***

“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 seemingly mundane, commonplace (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.”

– from the beginning of my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offerings  (poetry from “I dwell in Possibility” by Emily Dickinson, with music by Margaret Far)

The beginning of a practice is full of possibilities. There is the possibility that the practice will (to paraphrase Robert Frost) begin with delight and end with wisdom. Of course, the minute you come into the first pose, you start to limit your next set of movements. After all, how many different ways can you move out of a comfortable seated position, Equal Standing (Samastithi), Corpse Pose (Savasana), or Child’s Pose (Balasana)? OK, ok, the standard starting poses are the standard starting poses for a reason: while there are only so many ways you can move out of them, they still provide a good starting point for an infinite number of possibilities.

But, what if you never really came out of the pose?

The aforementioned starting poses still seem to provide ample opportunity for a lot of possibilities. After all, you can do a variation of the standing pose Triangle (Trikonansana) in a seated position – on the floor or in a chair or on your back. The question is: If Child’s Pose is the modification for every pose (as I say at the beginning of almost every practice), how do you “do” Triangle Pose in Child’s Pose?

“Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand”

– from “The Stolen Child” by William Butler Yeats, with music by The Waterboys

FEATURED POSE for April 5th: Child’s Pose, variations (Balasana)

NOTE: Even though Child’s Pose (Balasana) is considered a foundational or “beginner” pose, it is not for everyone. You can definitely place a bolster, pillow, blanket, or block between your hips and heels in order to take pressure off of the knees. You can also put a blanket under the knees. Sometimes it is helpful to place your hands or a prop under your head. For some, however, these options are still not enough to make Child’s Pose accessible. If you need another option, lie down on your back with your feet flat on the wall in a way that is comfortable for your knees. Another supine option is to bend the knees with the heels resting on a stable surface in such a way that your knees are comfortable (ideally, you want to make sure the surface is wider than your hips). Either way, follow the cues below as it makes sense from the supine position.

Stand on your hands and knees, stacking shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists, and hips over knees. Bring your big toes to touch and spread your knees as wide as you feel comfortable – which may mean your knees are touching, as far apart as the mat, or somewhere in between. Sink your hips to your heels and lower your forehead and nose to the mat. Arms can be by your sides or reaching on the floor over your head.

As noted above, you can cross your arms or use a prop to support your forehead and use any combination of props to support your hips and knees. Take a moment to get comfortable and then allow the breath to deepen.

Keeping the breath steady, bring your awareness to how your body feels and what it might need to be a little more comfortable, a little more stable, and a little more joyful. Visualize yourself practicing a simple twist, Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Forward Fold (Uttanasana), Horse/Goddess Pose, Warrior I & II (Virabhadrasana I & II ), Triangle Pose (Trikonasana), and Revolving Triangle Pose (Parvritta Trikonasana). Consider how you work your body in each pose and how you feel when you come out of the pose. Now, you’re going to do all of those poses while still in Chid’s Pose.

“Well your faith was strong but you needed proof”

– from “Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen with music by Jeff Buckley

Simple Twist: Inhale and reach the arms overhead as you also stretch the ribs and hips away from each other. As you exhale, thread the right arm under your left armpit so that the right palm faces up on the left side of your mat. Turn your head to the left so that the right cheek and shoulder are on the mat. Adjust as needed to make sure the knees, right arm, and neck are comfortable. You can always place a prop or the left arm under your head in order to support the neck. The left arm can also stay on the floor – reaching overhead – or you can lift the left arm straight up in the air, opening a little more into the twist. Another option is to lift the left arm on an inhale and then exhale and bring it behind your back, reaching for your right hip or thigh. Make sure the hips and heels stay as neutral as possible. If you are on your back, you may need to brace the left forearm against the right upper arm.

This is “Thread the Needle.” Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths and then release and switch to the other side.

Downward Facing Dog & Forward Fold: Return to your hands and knees for a moment. Either separate the knees and the feet so they are the same distance apart, or bring the knees together and feet together. Inhale to Cow Pose and as you exhale curl your toes under. Inhale and walk your hands as far forward as they will go without the hips moving away from the heels and with the elbows coming to the ground. As you exhale, let your heart melt down. If you are not feeling a bit of a back bend, start over and check your alignment as you go. If you are feeling too much of a back bend, place something under your forehead. If you want to feel more of a back bend, look up. Once you have extended your spine, press through your arms and heels, keeping the hips high, and breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. This is a “Puppy Dog” variation.

Release the back bend by letting your whole body melt down. Arms can be reaching on the floor over your head or down by your sides. Relax everything. This is your modified Forward Fold. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Horse/Goddess Pose & Warrior I: Spread the feet and knees as wide as is comfortable for you. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and then bend the elbows to 90 degrees, keeping the elbows in-line with the shoulders and palms facing the floor (or ceiling, if you are on your back). This is your modified Horse/Goddess. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths.

Release into modified Warrior I by inhaling your arms overhead (still on the floor). Warrior I typically creates an opportunity to stretch out the front of the back hip and thigh, as well as the back of the back calf. To modify this engagement, stretch your left leg straight back and curl the toes under. Focus on reaching the hips and heels away from the arms and heart (and vice versa) for 5 – 7 breaths. Hug the left knee back in towards the chest and repeat on the right side for the same length of time.

Warrior II & Triangle: Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose. Stretch the arms out like a “T” and gaze to the right. Breathe in this modified Warrior II for 5 – 7 breaths. If you want to experience the back leg engagement, again stretch the left leg straight back and breathe.

Moving from modified Warrior II, you may need to bend your elbows in order to stretch your right leg out like a “T”. See if you can get the right knee and ankle up as high as the hip. Once you have reached your limit, press the foot down (either big toe side down or foot flat) and gaze in the direction that feels most comfortable for your neck and shoulders. Again, left leg can be bent or extended. Breathe in this modified Triangle for 5 – 7 breaths.

Return to your most comfortable version of Child’s Pose for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.

Revolving Triangle: Starting with your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose, move into the earlier twist (“Thread the Needle”) with right arm threading under the left arm pit. Bend the left elbow so the left hand is flat on the floor under your nose. Using the left hand for support, take a deep breath in and stretch the left leg out like a “T” so that right fingers and left toes are reaching toward each other. Brace the foot into the floor. The left hand can stay in a support position or move into one of the positions described at the beginning. Breathe here for 5 – 7 breaths. (NOTE: It is possible to do this modified Revolving Triangle with the right leg extended back, but that variation of Universal Yoga’s “Dragonfly” requires quite a bit of hip and low back flexibility.)

To unravel the twist, bring the left hand back into its support position (in front of the nose) and unthread the needle before hugging the left knee into the body (which brings you back into Child’s Pose). Spend a few breaths in your most comfortable variation of Child’s Pose and then repeat on the second side.

Stay in Child’s Pose or move into Savasana or a comfortable seated position. Spend some time in the stillness, allowing the breath to be “the air a staircase” and notice how you feel.

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

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

“…will the neighbours say, / ‘He was a man who used to notice such things’?”

– from “Afterwards” by Thomas Hardy, with accompanying music by Sir Jon Lord (recitation by Jeremy Irons)

As I’ve mentioned before, during Poetry Month I like to highlight poets and poems in some classes with playlists featuring poems and music inspired by a single poet, their poetry, and their life – or, a playlist featuring a variety of music-poem combinations. The music-poem combinations referenced throughout this post are part of my playlists.

Want to hear more? Stay tuned! The extended playlist is coming to my YouTube channel soon. In the mean time, here’s the link to the beginning of my 2018 KMA offering, featuring a poem-practice per day.

### Dr. Maya Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

STILL RISING, STILL SINGING: 2019 Kiss My Asana Offering #4 April 4, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Maya Angelou, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, Uncategorized, Vipassana, Yoga.
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add a comment

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.

***

April is not only the standard month for Kiss My Asana, it’s also National Poetry Month. Every year I figure out a way to treat each class that I teach to at least one “April is Poetry Month” practice, full of poems set to music. For my 2018 Kiss My Asana blog offering, I profiled poets, featured poems, and offered a practice inspired by the poet and their poetry. Since I don’t always teach on Thursdays, this year’s offering will include “Throwback Thursday” links and, at least once, a profile and poems that didn’t get posted last year.

As it happens, I am subbing today ( Thursday, April 4th) – which also happens to be the anniversary of the birth one of our greatest poets, Maya Angelou. Dr. Angelou would have turned 91 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

The more I see people suffering, fearing, and living in confusion, the more I am amazed by the heart’s ability to be loving, kind, compassionate, and even playful. I have heard it said, on more than one occasion, that we have a limited capacity for pain – there is only so much anyone of us can handle before we pass out – but an unlimited capacity to experience love and joy. The heart rises up, always.

In Buddhism, there are four (4) Bhramaviharas (Divine Abodes, meaning that they are the “special dwelling places of the Divine”). I call them the heart practices, even though (technically) there are more than 4 “heart practices” in Buddhism. The bramaviharas are the unlimited capacity for loving-kindness or goodwill (metta), an unlimited capacity for compassion (karuna), an unlimited capacity for empathetic joy (mudita), and an unlimited capacity for equanimity (upekkah) – which serves as a checks and balance for the others. While these are attitudes believed to be inherent to the human spirit – something found deep within each heart – these are also attitudes to cultivate. And, you find techniques to cultivate these attitudes in various Buddhist traditions, but also in other major philosophies and religions.

In Tibetan Buddhism, there are Lojong or “mind training” techniques, which consist of approximately 59 aphorisms or slogans that can be used as meditation points. The first states, “First, train in the preliminaries.” There are four (4) preliminaries: maintaining an awareness of the preciousness of life; be aware of the reality that life ends…; recall that whatever you do, whether virtuous or not has a result…; contemplate on how ego driven pursuits result in suffering.”

The other statements are also simple. One such slogan is “In all activities, train with slogans.” Another is, “Begin the sequence of sending and taking with yourself.”

As you move through your practice, take a moment to offer yourself loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity awareness that all beings suffer and all beings deserve an end to that suffering). As Dr. Angelou said, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems in the world, but has not solved one yet.” Try a little tenderness.

FEATURED POSE for April 4rd: Camel Pose, hands on floor variation (Ustrasana)

Begin in table top (hands and knees to the mat), in a seated position, or in a standing position with knees bent and hands braced on the thighs. Inhale love, exhale kindness. Move though a few cycles of breath until the mantra (“love” on the inhale and “kindness” on the exhale becomes seamless.) Continuing the mantra, inhale and lift the heart and hips into cow pose. With an exhale, shift into a Halloween cat pose. Move one-breath-one motion, waking up the spine and engage the spirit of metta.

After 5 – 10 full cycles, sit back on the floor or a block with the knees and feet two (2) fists width apart or stand up straight on your feet. Make sure your knees are comfortable. Offer yourself some compassion. Scan your body and as you notice the places where you are holding discomfort and disease, think to yourself, “I see your suffering/I care about your suffering/May you be free of suffering/May the causes and conditions of your suffering end.”

Adjust your body so that it becomes more comfortable. If needed move through a series of sun salutations changing the back bend with each one so that the back bends are progressive (e.g. cow the first time, sphinx the second time, any cobra the third time, extended cobra or Upward Facing Dog the fourth time.) If needed add a twist before the first set or after the last set. Return to the earlier kneeling position with hips between the knees. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and energetically.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

– Maya Angelou

The standard way to start Camel Pose is to stand up on the knees, giving yourself a little cushion (again with the thighs apart about 2 fists width apart) and bracing the hands at the waist or behind the back. If you are practicing this pose while standing on your feet, start with the standard variation. However, if you are kneeling or seated try the variation with knees and feet 2 fists width apart, but sit back (so hips are grounded on the floor, the chair, or a block) and place the hands on the floor, your feet, or a block. For all variations, gaze is right in front of your eyebrows.

If you are standing on your feet, inhale and lift your heart up and out towards your focal point. As you exhale, move your gaze a little higher up or, once you’re gazing at the ceiling, a little further back. The heart keeps rising as you inhale, opening as you exhale – until you reach a physical limit with your hands still at your back or (if it’s accessible to you) you can walk your hands down a wall into an extreme variation of full wheel (Urdhva Dhanuarasana).

If you are seated and leaning back, take an extra round of breath to extend your spine and then begin lifting your hips towards your focal point as you inhale, ensuring your core is engaged as you exhale. Once you’ve lifted the hips almost over the knees you may hold where you are or start lifting the heart on the inhale and moving the gaze on the exhale (as described above). The hands can stay grounded or move to the low back for support if the hips are stacked over the knees.

In all variations, make sure the neck is long. There is a tendency to drop the head back, over extending the neck, in order to go deeper. This actually compromises the integrity of the pose. Make sure, also, that the hips stay in line with the knees. This pose is prenatal-approved and can be practiced with a wall to support the front of the hips and also with a combination of props behind the hips.

After a few rounds of breath, come into any pose where you can relax and release without strain. Close your eyes and breathe. Notice how you feel physically, mentally, and emotionally.

One lojang statement says, “Always maintain only a joyful mind.” When you feel joy in your experience, cultivate that attitude so that you can feel it for others when they experience good fortune.

Round out your practice with a forward fold that matches the intensity of your back bend. For example, if you felt comfortable in the pose and did not feel you were overexerting, you might take Child’s Pose. If you felt like you were working very hard – but still not overexerting – you might take Child’s Pose or a forward fold with your legs stretched out in front (Paschimottanasana) or a standing forward fold (Uttanasana). If your back feels strained even after you release the back bend, come into a supine forward fold: either lay on your back with legs lifted up in the air or practice Legs-Up-the-Wall (or on a chair). Remind yourself that each part of your body, and each part of your mind, deserves to be free from suffering.

The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

– from “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

Allow your body to relax, release, rest – and breathe. As you settle into Savasana or the final pose of your choice, remember all beings everywhere deserve to be free from suffering.

Want more? Here’s the “Throwback Thursday” link to last year’s profile and practice.

### Dr. Angelou said, “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” If you are getting something from this practice/offering, please consider what you can give. ###

Preview: A Wall, Two Roads, A Streetcar, and A Hot Tin Roof walk into a yoga studio… March 26, 2019

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Robert Frost, Suffering, Tennessee Williams, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun;

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

– excerpt from the poem Mending a Wall by Robert Frost

 

“The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks. The world thirsts after sympathy, compassion, love.”

– excerpt from the play “Camino Real” by Tennessee Williams (The first sentence is also the epitaph on his grave)

There are people in the world who will say you haven’t read poetry until you read Robert Frost, and Southerners in the world who will say you haven’t seen a play until you’ve seen Tennessee Williams. Born 77 years and over 2,000 miles apart, these two literary icons shared a birthday (3/26) and way with words that can make you pause, look again…and again. Once or thrice you may even wonder how many ways you can see/interpret/understand what has been said, and how it applies to your life.

One of Robert Frost’s most famous, and perhaps most popular, poems is about the “road not taken” – even though people often mistake it for “the road less traveled.” The poem is about as much about perspective as it is about the way we tell a story (and the fact that the way we tell a story can change the story).

Maty Ezraty once said that every yoga practice should be like a good story. And, with any story, each character has a different purpose and a different point of view. In our practice, each pose/sequence gives each part of our bodies and minds an opportunity to tell their story. There are hundreds of poses and hundreds, thousands – maybe even millions – of ways to move into and out of pose. And each one of those ways gives us another way of looking at the story. The tricky thing is, sometimes we keep coming back to the story the same way. While we may all have a favorite story we read again and again, what happens when we view the story from a different perspective?

“We have to use a spell to make them balance:

“Stay where you are until our backs are turned!”

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, “Good fences make good neighbours.”

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

“Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it

Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.”

– excerpt from the poem “Mending a Wall” by Robert Frost

Parighasana (Gate Pose) stretches the pelvic area and hamstrings, while also engaging the sides of the torso and abdomen eccentrically (up side) and concentrically (down side). According to B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on Yoga, the pose “keeps the abdominal muscles and organs in condition and the skin around the abdomen will not sag but remain healthy. The sideways spinal movement will help persons suffering from stiff backs.” Another aspect of the pose is what happens to the heart area – not only physically, but emotionally.

“What is straight? A line can be straight, or a street, but the human heart, oh, no, it’s curved like a road through mountains.”

– excerpt from the play “A Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams

Swami Rama from the Himalayan tradition said that we have three hearts: a physical heart, which for most of us is on the left side; an emotional heart on the opposite side, which for most of us is on the right; and an energetic heart that connects the two. Additionally, in yoga and other Eastern healing arts, energy for the heart flows through the arms. In Parighasana, we have the opportunity to open up the shoulders (physically) and open the gates on all sides of the heart (emotionally and energetically).

Two of my favorite lines from Robert Frost poems speak of wisdom and delight, and the gift that comes from giving our whole selves. Every time I step on a yoga mat, I experience the wisdom and the delight. I also experience a plethora of gifts. One of those gifts is how the practice affects the mind. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Brick acknowledges that he is an alcoholic, but doesn’t seem to want to give up his drinking because, “It’s like a switch, clickin’ off in my head. Turns the hot light off and the cool one on, and all of a sudden there’s peace.” But then, as his father points out to him, there is the morning.

Yoga brings peace without the hangover. Another thing to consider is that the practice has a way of opening the heart so we can get to the violets.

“To me, its meaning is simple. The hard, the cold, the oppressive will—at long last—be broken apart by a force that is beautiful, natural, colorful, alive.”

– Patricia Clarkson explaining way she was quoting Tennessee Williams during a 2009 HRC New Orleans Dinner speech

### NAMASTE ###

Quick Thank You and Announcements May 4, 2018

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Peace, Philosophy, Poetry, Sukkot, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“I have heard what the talkers were talking, the talk of the beginning and the end,

But I do not talk of the beginning or the end.”

– from Song of Myself (2) (1892 version) by Walt Whitman

First, the thank you:

Officially speaking, Monday (4/30) was the last day of the 5th Kiss My Asana yogathon. I am happy to say, we helped Mind Body Solutions meet their goal of $60K while also raising awareness about their work and mission! Thanks to your support Mind Body Solutions will be able to:

  • Create digital content and resources for students and teachers around
  • Partner with organizations supporting cancer patients, victim-survivors of sexual assault, and more
  • Provide workshop scholarships to aspiring adaptive yoga teachers
  • Offer free yoga classes to military veterans and their loved ones
  • Launch new programs like Living ‘til the End
  • …and so much more!

I am eternally grateful to everyone who donated online or via the donation-based classes. (If you wanted to donate, but missed the end of the month, this link still works!!!)

I am also super grateful to everyone who read (and sometimes commented or liked) the 22 posts featuring poetry-based practices. However, we’re not finished. I still have 8 more posts featuring 8 more poetry-based practices and, hopefully, you will join me as we finish out this journey.

Feel free to keep commenting (online and in person). Also, please keep yoga and Mind Body Solutions in mind if you or someone you know is dealing with trauma, loss, and disability. (Don’t forget: Mind Body Solutions works with everybody – included health care providers and other caregivers!)

And now, the announcements:

The George Wellbeing Center is officially open! I will be teaching the very first group class in this first-of-its-kind YMCA holistic health center tomorrow (Saturday, May 5th) beginning at 11:30 AM. (Psst, some classes – including mine – are free during the month of May!)

Located on the second floor of the Dayton Y (in Downtown Minneapolis, see link above) and developed in coordination with the George Family Foundation, the Center was made possible by a grant from Bill and Penny George. It will feature services based on three (3) core tenets:

  • Be Aware: Assessments, programs, lectures and coaching that empower clients to be central agents of their own health.
  • Be Centered: Exercise and movement programming, mindfulness and meditation and other mind-body approaches.
  • Be Restored: Personal services such as massage and acupuncture to aid in chronic stress reduction, pain relief and exercise recovery.

Services are open to the public and, as I mentioned earlier, some classes will be free during the month of May!

Please join me 11:30 AM on Saturdays for a yoga class focused on preparing the body and mind for meditation (or contemplation). This class will include asana (seat/pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath/breath extension) in a way that transfers the practice from the mat to the cushion and into your day-to-day life.

And, one more….

Mark your calendars, because the next Sukkot/Gratitude retreat will be September 28th – 30th. Details to follow, but just wanted to give you a heads up, because we are back on the road! (So, maybe give yourself an extra day before or after!)

### THANK YOU & NAMASTE ###