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For Those Who Missed It: The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push January 4, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone!

The following was originally posted in January of 2021. Class details have been updated.

 

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton proved that sometimes we all need a little push. At the age of 43, he published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which included his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and an expansion of Galileo Galilei’s observations and of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which were themselves modifications of the observations and heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus). There are several elements in the Principia that can apply to the physical practice of yoga (and to the practice of the Yoga Philosophy). However, the most direct application comes from the laws of motion, the first of which is also known as “The Law of Inertia.” We can see these principles at work just by observing a tension-free belly rising and falling as the breath enters and leaves the body.

We can go deeper with the mathematics and the science; but, just for a moment (maybe even 90-seconds) stick with the breath. Notice the Inhale, the pause, and the exhale…. Notice that third law kicking in….

Also, notice how the “force” of the breath, which is a symbol of our life and a symbol of our spirit, is an agent of change – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even energetically. Just as lengthening the breath and observation of the breath (which all can be described as prāņāyāma) change things when we are practicing on the mat, they can be an agent of change off the mat. We just have to pay attention and stay focused. But, paying attention, staying focused, and even breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out can be challenging in certain situations… especially situations involving challenging people.

“Thirdly, that I do justly value your excellent disquisitions, and I am extremely well pleased to see those notions promoted and improved which I long since began, but had not time to complete. That I judge you have gone farther in that affair much than I did, and that as I judge you cannot meet with any subject more worthy your contemplation, so believe the subject cannot meet with a fitter and more able person to inquire into it than yourself, who are every way accomplished to compleat [sic], rectify, and reform what were the sentiments of my younger studies, which I designed to have done somewhat at myself…. Your design and mine are, I suppose, at the same thing, which is the discovery of truth, and I suppose we can both endure to hear objections, so as they come not in a manner of open hostility, and have minds equally inclined to yield to the plainest deductions of reason from experiment.”

 

– quoted from a 1675-76 letter from Dr. Robert Hooke to Sir Isaac Newton, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

“I most gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concerns than that for truth; but what passes between friends in private, usually deserves the name of consultation rather than contention; and so I hope it will prove between you and me….

 

But in the mean time, you defer too much to my ability in searching into this subject. What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in considering the colours of thin plates. If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

 

– quoted from a letter marked “Cambridge, February 5, 1675-76” from Sir Isaac Newton to Dr. Robert Hooke, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

One might think when first reading the polite words and oh so charming letters between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton that theirs was a destined to be a friendship like that between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you have never heard of Hooke, that their correspondence was more akin to that of the epistles between Rainer Maria Rilke and the 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, whereby the world becomes overly familiar with the work of one because of their letters – and, in some ways this would be true. Along with Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, as well as John Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (the first two designated Astronomer Royal (whose observations Newton used in the Principia), Dr. Robert Hooke could be considered one of Sir Isaac Newton’s “giants.” But don’t get it twisted; Hooke and Newton were not “besties.” If anything, they could best be described as each other’s master teachers and precious jewels.

I often reference “master teachers and precious jewels” as people who push our buttons and get us hooked; people who give us master classes on ourselves; and/or people who add value to our life experience (even as they drive us crazy). These are the naysayers, the antagonists, the doubters, and our own personal heretics. They are the ones who never believe we can do something; hardly every give us credit when we do it (see Hooke and Newton, above); sometimes claim the credit for their own (also see above); and just seem to make everything harder. We can look at them as obstacles, road blocks, and detours on our journey towards our goals – or we can look at them as teachers. We can borrow a page from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and look at them as “the way.” Or, to paraphrase Stacy Flowers, we can look at them as the coach.

Stacey Flowers is a motivational speaker, mother, and “eternal optimist” who gave a 2016 Tedx Talk about “The 5 People You Need to Be Happy” (cheerleader, mentor, coach, friend, and peer). After last year, we might think of them as the five people who keep us grounded and focused. The way she counted them out, each finger was very intentionally chosen as a symbol for the role each person would play in someone’s life. For the coach, the one whose job is to push us farther than we think we can go and consider possibilities that seem outside of our arena, she uses the middle finger (which in some, but not all, cultures is a major league insult). The correspondence between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton are basically them giving each other the finger – without which some advancement in science might not have been made at the time.

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

Hooke and Newton’s debate about the existence and characteristics of ether and the nature of light started in a very public, and very acrimonious, fashion. There was some shift, between the public and private discourse; however, in that Hooke went from publicly stating that Newton basically stole his ideas to acknowledging how Newton continued his ideas. Meanwhile, Newton went from publicly giving Hooke no credit for the premise of the ideas – and, also, stating that Hooke’s conclusion “seems itself impossible” and was based on “both experiment and demonstration to the contrary” – to privately (in his letter) acknowledging Hooke’s contributions. But, again, this shift only seemed to be in private. In public, the disputes continued even past Hooke’s death. These disputes, along with disputes the good doctor had with other scientists, allowed Newton (and others) to paint a very negative picture of Hooke’s character.

Sir Isaac Newton also, reportedly (and as indicated above), had a contentious character. He is remembered, however, for his work. On the other hand, Robert Hooke is infamous for his plethora disputes with other scientists (in a lot of different disciplines) – and many of those debates seem to be directly tied to Hooke trying to multitask. But, no matter how much some might want to consider him a waste of space, his disputes actually contributed to the advancement of scientific discovery. In part, perhaps because they were all members of The Royal Society of London (and, therefore, dedicated to “improving natural knowledge”), the others never completely disregarded Hooke’s insights and hypothesis. Instead, they continued the inquiry. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but there seems to be little cognitive dissonance on the part of those with whom Hooke quarreled, because everyone was constantly running experiments and make observations in an effort to find proof of the truth – or maybe just to prove Hooke wrong.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

On some level, we all know someone like Dr. Robert Hooke. We might even be someone else’s Dr. Hooke. Either way, consider how you feel when you encounter that person who pushes your buttons and/or is constantly telling you that you are wrong – or, sometimes (even worse), that person who refuses to see that they are wrong. Ani Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, describes a tightening that happens when we get “hooked.” We don’t all feel it in the exact same place and in the exact same way, and the intensity may vary; but we all know that feeling. The question is: Do we always notice that feeling? Second question: Do we notice the beginning of the sensation or only when it is about to go nuclear (meaning our sympathetic nervous system is all systems go to fight, flee, or freeze)? Finally, what do we do when we recognize that feeling?

Ani Chödrön specifically recommends practicing the “4 R’s;” while others might just say, “Stop and breathe for a moment.” Either way, taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening (how we are reacting) and giving ourselves an opportunity to respond rather than react can be the difference between someone’s negativity being an obstacle versus becoming a way for us to continue moving forward. That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between succeeding in our goals (like Sir Isaac Newton) and failing to follow through on all our goals (like Dr. Robert Hooke). That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between making our way through (or around) an obstacle and being stuck.

What I’m saying is that that metaphorical push can be the force we need to make the change we want. This is especially true after last year and the negative energy that has followed us into this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting anyone actually push you around – not even in a metaphorically sense and definitely not in a physical, emotional, and/or energetic sense. But, I do think it is important to acknowledge that we all push and pull each other on a certain level, because we are all forces of nature. While we may welcome, even solicit, a little push from someone we see as a mentor, friend, and/or peer; we may not always appreciate the shove from “the coach” we didn’t ask to coach us. Always remember, though, that there are many ways we can utilize a contentious relationships. Or, more specifically, there are many ways we can benefit from noticing how we react or respond to contentious relationships in our lives and in our practice.

Just consider, for a moment, how you (physically and mentally) react to the following:

When going by the Gregorian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was born today (January 4th) in 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. As a scientist and a man of letters, Newton would have been fully aware of the Gregorian calendar, which Catholic-ruled lands started using in 1582 and Protestant German states in 1699. However, he lived his whole life officially using the Julian calendar (because England and it’s colonies did not switch until 1752, 25 or 26 years after Newton’s death). If you go by the Old Style, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day – a fact that really got some people hot (as in pissed) when it was pointed out on Twitter a few years back.

Speaking of Christmas, today (January 4th) is the 10th or 11th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; and “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles.

 

Please join me today (Tuesday, January 4th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify

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

 

Who are your five people?

 

### (Don’t even get me started about….) ###

For Those Who Missed It: Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Fitness, Health, Life, Loss, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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The following was originally posted on October 26, 2020. Class details and links (including the video link) have been updated for today.

Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 26th) at 12:00 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below or by emailing myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

Tuesday’s playlist is on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

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

The practice begins ~5 minutes in….

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###

Lesson 1.34 October 25, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Health, Life, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Philosophy, Science, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“‘Breathing lessons – really,’ [Fiona] said, dropping to the floor with a thud. ‘Don’t they reckon I must know how to breathe by now?’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

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“‘Oh honey, you’re just lucky they offer such things,’ Maggie told her…. ‘I mean you’re given all these lessons for the unimportant things–piano-playing, typing. You’re given years and years of lessons in how to balance equations, which Lord knows you will never have to do in normal life. But how about parenthood? Or marriage, either, come to think of it. Before you can drive a car you need a state-approved course of instruction, but driving a car is nothing, nothing, compared to living day in and day out with a husband and raising up a new human being.’”

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– quoted from Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler

Please join me today (Monday, October 25th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

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

The author Anne Tyler turned 80 today! Here’s last year’s post inspired by our lives and her writing.

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### Breathe In (Know That You Are Breathing In); Breathe Out (Know That You Are Breathing Out) ###

First Friday Night Special #10: “Reflect + Remember” (a post practice post) August 7, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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This is the post for the “First Friday Night Special” #10 from August 6th. This practice included gentle movement and seated meditation.

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

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

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

“Your thoughts are happening, just like the sounds going on outside and everything is simply a happening and all you’re doing is watching it. 

 

Now, in this process, another thing that is happening that is very important is that you’re breathing. And as you start meditation. You allow your breath to run just as it wills. In other words, don’t do at first any breathing exercise, but just watch your breath breathing the way it wants to breathe. And the notice a curious thing about this. You say in the ordinary way, I breathe. Because you feel that breathing is something that you are doing voluntarily just in the same way as you might be walking or talking. But you will also notice that when you are not thinking about breathing, your breathing goes on just the same. So, the curious thing about breath is that it can be looked at both as a voluntary and an involuntary action. You can feel on the one hand I am doing it, and on the other hand, it is happening to me. And that is why breathing is a most important part of meditation, because it is going to show you as you become aware of your breath, that the hard and fast division that we make between what we do on the one hand and what happens to us on the other is arbitrary. So that as you watch your breathing you will become aware that both the voluntary and the involuntary aspects of your experience are all one happening.”

 

– quoted from “2.5.4 Meditation” by Alan Watts

Our breath is a symbol of our life, a symbol of our life-force, and a symbol of our spirit. I say something to that affect almost every day. Yet, when that first part is combined with the perspective offered by Alan Watts, it takes on a slightly different (maybe even deeper connotation): Life is happening. Life is happening to us. Life is happening all around us. Life is a happening…whether we are engaged in it or not. But, before we start rushing off to do…life (or anything else); I just want to pause for a moment and consider the three parts of the breath.

Just breathe. Do that 90-second thing. Let your breath naturally flow in and naturally ebb out. Notice where you feel the breath; where it naturally goes – where there is awareness and presence, where it’s happening. Also, notice where there is resistance – where maybe you need to cultivate awareness, where something different is happening.

One thing you may notice, if you practice, is that pretty much every type of “breathing exercise” is an exaggeration of a natural breathing pattern. There are situations when we are breathing deeply, richly. The mind-body is focused and relaxed. Other times, we may find ourselves panting, short of breath. The mind-body may still be focused, but in this second case it is also agitated. There are times when our inhale is longer than our exhale and still other times when our exhale is longer than our inhale. There are moments in life when we find we are holding our breath – retaining the inhale or the exhale – and other times when we sigh a heavy breath out. And every one of these natural breathing patterns occurs because of something that happens in/to the mind-body.

Remember: What happens to the mind happens to the body; what happens to the body happens to the mind; and both affect the breath. In turn, what happens to the breath affects the mind and the body. In our practice, we harness the power of the breath in order to harness the power of the mind and body.

To actively and mindfully harness the power of the mind-body-spirit we have to cultivate awareness. The thing is, when you take a moment to focus, concentrate, meditate – even become completely absorbed by the breath – you may start to notice that just cultivating awareness changes the way you breathe (just as cultivating awareness can change the way you sit or stand, walk or talk). Bringing awareness to how you breathe in certain situations – or even when thinking/remembering certain situations – can give you insight into what’s happening to your mind-body. That insight provides better information for decision-making. So that you can respond in the most skillful way possible, instead of just reacting.

In other words, sometimes the best thing we can do is pay attention to our breath – and figure out what we need to do to keep breathing. Because that’s what we do: We breathe.

Remember: As long as we are breathing, we are alive; as long as we are alive, we have the opportunity to live, learn, grow, love, and really thrive. So, the first question(s) to ask yourself in a stressful and challenging situation is: What’s happening with my breath and what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?

A key element to practicing svādhyāya (“self-study”) is to observe what happens to your mind, your body, and (yes) your spirit/breath when you are in certain situations. You may notice what thoughts and/or emotions come up when you hear passages from sacred text. You may notice how your body reacts to certain music/sounds. You may notice how your breathing changes in certain poses and/or sequences. You may notice how your mind-body-spirit reacts when you imagine yourself (figuratively) walking in the footsteps of a historical or fictional person. You may notice any other combination of the above. You can also practice this important niyama (internal “observation”) by bring awareness to what happens when you remember a moment in (your) history.

Maybe the memory is something that seems to randomly pop up in your mind when you’re practicing or maybe, like with Marcel Proust, when you bite into a biscuit. Or, perhaps, as happened in the August 6th “First Friday Night Special,” it’s a memory that is brought to your awareness specifically so that you can notice your breath, notice your body, and notice your mind. Perhaps, as we do in the practice, you observe what happens when you start watching yourself reacting to the memory. Finally, you ask the last half of the question: “… what do I need to do, in this moment, to keep breathing?”

Or, better yet, “What do I need to do, in this moment, to keep taking the deepest breath I’ve taken all day?” Because that’s the practice and that’s what we do.

“As you practice today, hold a neighbor in your hearts and minds with friendship and kindness. Offer your efforts, no matter how small, as a token of that friendship and kindness. As so many people suffer due to current events, may we take a moment to remember those who are still suffering due to our shared past. Let us not forget those who are still grieving and healing from past wounds. May our efforts bring us all closer to peace, harmony, and benevolence.”

 

– quoted from my blog post for August 5, 2020

Here are the “memories” (and associated contexts) I shared during the “First Friday Night Special” on August 6th. Before we reached this point in the (Zoom and recorded) practice, we spent some time using the senses to get grounded in the moment; did some gentle movement to prepare the mind-body to be still in an upright position (when accessible); and practiced a little 1:1 and then 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base).

For most people, reading through the list will be a different experience than hearing each one in turn. Still, take your time. Also, give yourself time to not only breathe, but to notice the breath in the mind and in the body.

This is not about thinking about these situations or creating/telling the story. It’s about noticing how you feel and how that translates into a breathing pattern. Then, the practice becomes about noticing what changes through observation. Yes, you can engage the breath (by controlling it, even sighing). However, I encourage you to just let the breath naturally flow in and freely ebb out – and just watch what happens as you watch it. Don’t force anything. Go with the flow. If you find yourself holding on (to anything), your breath and awareness are the tools you use to let go before moving on to the next item.

  • A year ago this weekend, my mother passed. Like so many other people who have experienced an unexpected loss of a loved one, the anniversary brings certain feelings, emotions, thoughts…vibrations. There is still sadness and grief – among other things/sensations that are part of life.
    • Take a moment, especially if you have experienced such a loss, to notice what happens when you continue to breath – to live. Consider that grief comes not because we loss someone (or something), but because we loved and were loved. Let all of that wash over you.

  • A year and a few months ago, George Floyd was killed and his murder was a watershed moment in the United States and in the world. Everyone had and continues to have a different experience around what happened in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020 (just as many people had and continues to have different feelings around what happened in Central Park on the same day).
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel, right now, as your remember, the moments between then and now. Is there any tightness? Any resistance? What happens when you notice the tightness and/or resistance? What happens when you don’t notice tightness and/or resistance? Let any judgement wash over you.

  • Nearly a year and a half ago – almost 2 years ago for some people outside of the United States – the world started shutting down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
    • Take a moment to notice how you feel thinking about that? What’s happening with body, your mind, your breath? How does it feel to be where you are in the ever-changing process that is life given this global health crisis (and that fact that we are all in different places/stages related to it)? What do you need to do to keep breathing? Maybe, this is a good time to sigh a breath (or two) out.

  • 56 years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 into law. The law came about after protests and marches – and so much violent resistance directed at those peacefully resisting. It also came about after private citizens implored President Johnson to take action and after he spoke, passionately, to Congress. The act has been amended at least five times, to close legal loopholes and reinforce the rule of law. Yet, to this day, the Voting Rights Acts are still being challenged and still being defended.
    • What comes up for you when you think about all the efforts that led up to the Act and all that has transpired in the meanwhile? How are you breathing?

  • 76 years ago today, on August 6, 1945 at 8:15 AM (local time), the United States Army Air Forces’ Enola Gray dropped the atomic bomb designated “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, Japan. Buildings and trees were destroyed. Approximately 80,000 people were killed on impact. Another 35,000 died over the next week and an additional 60,000 over the next year. Thousands more suffered for the rest of their lives. Three days later, at 11:01 AM (local time) on August 9th, the United States Army Air Forces’ Bockscar dropped a second atomic bomb (designated “Fat Man”) on Nagasaki and thousands more died. You may have learned that the bombs were dropped in response to or retaliation of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. You may have learned that the U. S.’s attack on Japan helped to end World War II and the Holocaust, thereby saving thousands of lives. Around the world, these historical events are taught in very different ways. So, you may or may not have learned that some people say the war was already ending. You may or may not have learned that Nagasaki was not initial target for the second atomic bomb and that, in fact, the flight crews on the bomber and its escorts had already started the contingency plans that involved dropping the bomb in the ocean – which would have saved thousands of lives.
    • What happens when you remember what you already knew? What happens when you think of something you didn’t previously know or remember? What do you need to do, in this moment, to take a deep breath in and a deeper breath out?

  • 160 years ago today, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Confiscation Act of 1861, which allowed Union forces to seize Confederate property during the Civil War. This “property” included slaves and one of the intentions of the act was to free slaves who were in any way attached to the rebellion. Freeing slaves was also part of the intention of the Confiscation Act that Congress passed on July 17, 1862 – which allowed the federal government to free the slaves of any member of the Confederacy (military or civilian) who resided in territory occupied by the Union Army but who had not surrendered within 60 days of the Act passing. President Lincoln wasn’t sure of the legality or the ultimate effects of the Confiscations Acts of 1861 and 1862, but he signed them into law anyway; thereby laying a foundation for the legal emancipation of all slaves within the Union.
    • What do you feel and/or think when you consider these Acts of Congress and President Lincoln? Is there any difference in sensation when considering the slaves and/or the Confederacy? Do you experience any tightness and/or resistance around this being mentioned? Is any of the tightness and/or resistance connected to thoughts that arose related to other steps taken to ensure emancipation? What are you feeling with regard to steps taken to deny emancipation?


Take a deep breath in. Sigh it out. Spend some time just breathing and observing the breath. You can repeat the 1:1 and 1:2 prānāyāma (using a 4-count base), which is a great practice before, during, and after stressful encounters. Finally, take another few minutes to allow the breath to naturally flow in and freely ebb out.

“We are able to find everything in our memory, which is like a dispensary or chemical laboratory in which chance steers our hand sometimes to a soothing drug and sometimes to a dangerous poison.”

 

– quoted from The Captive, Volume 5 of Remembrance of Things Past (or In Search of Lost Time) by Marcel Proust

Friday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

PLEASE NOTE: The playlists begin with music related to Reiki healing energy and they are in a very specific order. If you are uncomfortable using the first two tracks, you can use the Track #3 for your practice or you can loop Track #6 (to play ~3 times). The Spotify app may add extra music – so be mindful of that. As always, you can choose not to use music during this practice. Finally, there is no personal dedication specifically because I selected the Reiki chants for this practice. Please let me know if you have questions, comments, or concerns.

 
 

### OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTHI OM ###

Let’s Breathe (a 2-for-1 “missing” post) May 26, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Loss, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the “missing” post related to Monday, May 24th and Tuesday, May 25th (TRIGGER WARNING). You can request an audio recording of either practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

Check out the “Class Schedules” calendar for upcoming classes. If you are using an Apple device/browser and the calendar is no longer loading, please email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com at least 20 minutes before the practice you would like to attend.]

“You must finish a term & finish every day, & be done with it. For manners, & for wise living, it is a vice to remember. You have done what you could — some blunders & absurdities no doubt crept in forget them as fast as you can tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it well & serenely, & with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense. This day for all that is good & fair. It is too dear with its hopes & invitations to waste a moment on the rotten yesterdays.”

 

 

– quoted from a letter from Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter Ellen, dated April 8, 1854 (as printed in The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, volume 4, edited by Ralph L. Rusk, 1939)

There are some practices, like at Common Ground and during the old rooftop practices, where we don’t use a playlist. Sometimes, like on Saturdays, we often start the practice without the music. However, more often than not, I pick something instrumental to set the tone. It may even be something that is “punny” and/or something that contains an inside joke or subliminal message. On Tuesday, for instance, we started with “A Breath of Stillness” – and just like on Monday that was the focus of the practice; to find the stillness that allows us to breathe and then to find stillness that speaks to us in between the breaths.

There are whole (ancient) texts written on asana, but my go to reference (for quick and dirty instruction) is Yoga Sūtras 2.46 – even though that is the first in a series of three sūtras detailing postural instruction. While other texts (like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gheranda Samhita, and Shiva Samhita) give more detailed instruction about how to position the parts of one’s body, Patanjali’s instructions are consistent with the qualities one needs in order to practice: stability and steadiness, comfort and ease, equanimity and overall peace of mind (joy). The other texts primarily focus on achieving these qualities through the site chosen for the practice, while Patanjali focuses on the mind-body as the site. All the texts, however, point to the quality of breath as an indicator of the quality of the body’s position.

But, what happens when our body is not in a position to breathe? What happens when we don’t have (as instructed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika) “a small room, situated in a solitary place, being 4 cubits square, and free from stones, fire, water, disturbances of all kinds…” or find that we are not “in a country where justice is properly administered, where good people live, and food can be obtained easily and plentifully.”? Do we not practice? Do we not breathe??

Of course, those are ridiculous questions. Of course we are going to practice (if we are committed to ourselves and our practice). Furthermore, we have no choice with regard to our breath, because as long as we are alive, we will breathe. We may not breathe well; we may need the assistance of a machine or a reminder from a teacher/friend, but breathing is one of the biggest parts (and signs) of being alive.

When we “sit” and breathe on our mats and on our cushions, we acknowledge that this is something people all around the world have done before us; something millions and billions of people are doing at the same time as us; and something people will be doing, all around the world, long after we are gone. On a certain level, we acknowledge the divinity of the breath and breathing… the universality of it… even when our experience of it is different.

These types of acknowledgements allow us to experience a deeper and richer breadth of breath (and life). These types of acknowledgements also allow us to take a journey into the stillness and into the richness within us and all around us – and to tap into what is divine, or universal, within us and around us.

“[T. K. V.] Desikachar realized that his father felt that every action should be an act of devotion, that every asana should lead toward inner calm. Similarly, [Sri. T.] Krishnamacharya’s emphasis on the breath was meant to convey spiritual implications along with psychological benefits. According to Desikachar, Krishnamacharya described the cycle of breath as an act of surrender: ‘Inhale, and God approaches you.  Hold the inhalation, and God remains with you.  Exhale, and you approach God.  Hold the exhalation, and surrender to God.’”

 

 

– quoted from the May/June 2001 Yoga Journal article entitled “Krishnamacharya’s Legacy” by Fernando Pagés Ruiz

 

Don’t let the word (or concept) of “God” bother you and become an obstacle to your practice/journey. After all, you could use the word “Light” or “the Divine” or “Goodness” or “Goddess” or “Universe” or “the Community / World.” Try it, just breath for a moment and use the word(s) that work for you.

One of my favorite Yoga Sūtras is 1.36 and I refer to it often: viśokā vā jyotişmatī, which encourages us to focus on the place inside of us that is “free from sorrow” and “infused with light.” According to the practice, focusing in this way anchors the mind and brings peace of mind. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, even points to traditions where this is the “core of the entire text” and of the practice. We find this central idea – even this centering practice – in other religious and spiritual traditions, including Christianity and Buddhism.

I specifically used the two examples above, because over the weekend, I got similar reminders from two different contemplative theologians/teachers from two different spiritual communities. The first was Thomas J. Bushlack, PhD, who is a Christian professor of theology and ethics – as well as a longtime practitioner of yoga. The second was Buddhist dharma teacher Tara Brach, PhD (who, I believe, also practices yoga). As I already mentioned, both are contemplative leaders in their traditions and also offer meditations to people within and outside of their spiritual communities.

Full disclosure, Dr. Bushlack is someone I know personally, someone who is part of my yoga community, and someone I closely associate with the religious philosophy of Saint Thomas Aquinas. This weekend, however, rather than quoting Saint Thomas, he was quoting a different namesake: Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk and one of the three co-developers of Centering Prayer (which Dr. Bushlack offers as a foundational practice for religious and non-religious professionals). While I shared a bit more (here and in class on Monday night) than he did, the reference to “our core goodness” dovetails with Dr. Brach’s use of “Buddha-nature” and both references are in relation to a practice that is fundamentally tied to knowing there are times we can do something (as much as we can for as long as we can) and other times when we have to let go, surrender.

“1. …. This basic core of goodness is capable of unlimited development; indeed, of becoming transformed into Christ and deified.

 

2. Our basic core of goodness is our true Self. Its center of gravity is God. The acceptance of our basic goodness is a quantum leap in the spiritual journey.”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to beread according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“… we can’t do it alone and we can’t do it if we think it’s like a sense of my own ego’s heart. In other words, that doesn’t work. If you think you’re responsible, [you’re personally responsible,] for another life, then your heart won’t be able to open big enough. So, in a way, you have to hand that over… just sense that there’s a love and intelligence in this universe that’s bigger than this personal self. And you can entrust whatever feels like too much into it….

 

It’s a practice.  And it took me a long time, because, I, especially when I was a active as a therapist, really thought it was up to me to fix people. Until I came to this amazing realization that everybody has Buddha-nature. I mean, everybody has that light and that heart and some people are going to unfold more than others in ways that manifest….

It’s a surrendering of control and thinking that we’re the doer – and realizing that this body-mind will serve the greater good best that doesn’t think it’s ‘a doer.’”

 

 

– quoted from a weekly Satsang / Live Q&A session (recorded 10172020), regarding “Holding Space for Ourselves and Others when the Suffering Feels like too Much” – part of “The Power of Inquiry: Healing Conversations” by Tara Brach

 

Normally when we come to a really big anniversary – the anniversary of something good or bad, monumental, even tragic and horrific; something that left a mark on our hearts, minds, and psyches – we remember where we were, what we were doing, maybe even what we were wearing and who was with us. We can remember exactly how we felt and what we thought. I find that’s the norm when we come up to an anniversary, especially a personal or universal anniversary that was tragic. We remember little things, minute, seemingly inconsequential things – even when the event affects each of us in different ways.

But, May 25, 2020 is a little different for most people in the world.

You may not remember exactly what you were doing a year ago today – let alone what you were wearing. We were still in the (relative) beginning of the pandemic shutdown, so maybe you remember where you were and what you weren’t doing, because it was outside of your normal routine. Maybe nothing stands out in your actual physical memory of the day itself, other than that it was Memorial Day… or maybe a special day specific to you. Yet, you remember today the events of today.

We remember today because it is the one year anniversary of the death of George Floyd and while many people witnessed some aspects of his murder – maybe even on this date – most of us weren’t actually there when it happened. We may have only been a few blocks or miles away, but most of us were completely unaware of what was happening until after the fact. Even then, most of us didn’t imagine the horror of the act itself. On May 25, 2020, most of us were completely unaware that what was happening around us – and that the world would be able to watch the horror of it all, in real time – was about to change everything. It changed the way people interacted with each other.  It changed the way people understood (or thought they understood) one another. It changed the way people thought about their breath… and their ability to breathe.

“Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In times like these
That’s what your heart is for
Continue to breathe
Continue to breathe
In honor of your brother
That’s what your heart is for”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

Breathing is connected to our autonomic nervous system; it is something that happens to us, and also something we can engage or control. When we inhale, there’s a little micro-extension in the spine; a moment of heart-opening (and bending over backwards). When we exhale there’s a micro-flexion in the spine; a moment where we turn inward and perhaps surrender. Notice that there is balance in this system: the inhale is active/yang; the exhale is lunar/passive.

In fact, each part of our breath is associated with a different part of our nervous system. The inhale is tied to the sympathetic nervous system and our fight/flee/freeze or collapse response. It activates when we need to “GO!” and, therefore, is considered the gas pedal. The exhale is connected to the parasympathetic nervous, which is connected to our ability to rest and digest – as well as to create. It activates when we need to slow down or stop and, therefore, is considered the brakes of our system. (Notice that “STOP!” would fall into the sympathetic nervous system category.)

So, our physiological systems are designed move in and out of balance – to find balance within the imbalance. However, situations that activate our sympathetic nervous system (making us want to fight, flee, freeze, or collapse) also create a breathe pattern that is not sustainable over long periods of time. Additionally, we are living in a time where our sympathetic nervous systems are constantly activated – sometimes to the point of being over stimulated – and we develop a habit of bad breathing. Add to that the fact that the physiological – as well as emotional and psychological – effects of COVID make it harder and harder to breathe.

To make matters worse, in some traditional sciences (like Chinese Medicine) the vitality for the heart and lungs is associated with the arms and with emotions of joy and grief/sorrow+loss, respectively. Each of those meridians is coupled with another meridian – specifically the intestine meridians, which are related to how we digest. Remember, our need to process, digest, metabolize, and release waste is not restricted to food, drink, or medicine that we consume. We also consume experiences, actions, thoughts, and words – which means we also have to have space and time (not to mention the energy) to digest all that! And, over the last year-plus, we have had a lot of “that!” to digest.

“First, keep breathing…. Don’t take this next breath for granted. Never take your breath, which is a symbol of your life, for granted. Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, every day. Then follow it with another… and another. Make it a habit, a practice, to very deliberately and intentionally breathe. Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

 

– quoted from my blog post/page “A Place to Start”

 

Last year, I made a point to emphasize things I say all the time, things I’ve been saying for over a decade – but those things landed differently after we watched George Floyd die. As I knew it would. Which is why I added that last part, the reminder to “Do it for yourself and those you love. Do it, also, in honor of those who ‘can’t breathe.’”

It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that George Floyd wasn’t the first person to utter those words before dying during an encounter with the police. It’s unfortunate, tragic, and horrific that it’s more than Eric Garner, who was killed in New York City on July 17, 2014. Those are just the one’s vaguely familiar to most of us.

But what about Nicholas Dyksma (August 31, 2015 in Harris Country, Georgia); Muhammad Abdul Muhaymin, Jr, (January 4, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona); Hector Arreola  (January 10, 2017 in Columbus, Georgia); Christopher Lowe (July 26, 2018 in Fort Worth, Texas); Javier Ambler II (March 28, 2019 in Austin, Texas); Derrick Scott (May 20, 2019 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma); Elijah McClain (who was restrained on August 24, 2019 in Aurora, Colorado, declared brain dead on August 27th, and taken off life support on August 30th); Byron Williams (September 5, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada); John Elliott Neville (who was restrained while in county jail on December 2, 2019 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and died on December 4th); Manuel Ellis (March 3, 2020 in Tacoma, Washington); or William Jennette (restrained and died in a Marshall County, Tennessee jail in earlier this month)?

Just for the record, those are not the only people who died or the only people who experienced similar restraints and positioning during police encounters. What about David Cornelius Smith, who (on Thursday, September 9, 2010) was restrained (after a Taser was used on him multiple times) at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, mere feet from where I taught yoga? He was in a coma and on life support before being declared dead on September 17th.  (In 2013, the City of Minneapolis promised to offer additional training in restraint safety and paid Mr. Smith’s family $3 million in a settlement after footage from one of the officer’s personal cameras, i.e., not body-cam, was entered into evidence. Some have said that the 2010 footage bears a striking resemblance to the footage from last year, in terms of the restraint tactics and overall attitude of the police officers involved.)

And, let’s not forget the teenager who was previously restrained by the same police officer who killed George Floyd?

Finally, please note, that not all of the aforementioned were Black, nor were they all minorities.

“Fight for your life
Fight for your life
In the face of a society
That doesn’t value your life
For the men in your life
For the boys in your life
For your brothers, for your fathers
For the ones that came before us
For the future, for the future
For the future, for the future

Continue to breathe”

 

 

– quoted from the song “Breathe” by India.Arie

 

“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea,
Drink the wild air’s salubrity [well-being]:”

 

 

– quoted from part II of the poem “Merlin’s Song” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love reading the work of Ralph Waldo Emerson, born May 25, 1803 (in Boston, Massachusetts), even though I sometimes get frustrated reading Emerson. I love reading Emerson, because over 200 years after his birth, his words are still relevant to our society. But, I get frustrated, because… his words are still relevant to our society. It’s like we’ve learned nothing individually (or collectively) about our mind-body-spirits and our relationship to the rest of nature. Both my feelings of love and frustration are enhanced by the fact so much of Emerson’s essays and speeches, especially on subjects like Nature and consciousness and Creation, sound like my Yoga philosophy books – like the Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras and the Bhagavad Gita – as well as certain religious commentary that I find myself diving into.

Those similarities are not a coincidence. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a theologian (as well as a philosopher) who graduated from Harvard Divinity School before becoming the leader of the transcendental movement in the 19th century. He was a student of Eastern philosophies and ancient religions. He was also a poet, a teacher, and an abolitionist whose views on race (and nationality) did not age well. He was also banned from his alma mater (for 27 years and 6 days)  for speaking up about things he saw wrong within his own religious community.

Despite the aforementioned sketchy ideas about race and nationality, Emerson believed in the sanctity of all things – as he saw all things as connected to God; but his critics accused him of diminishing God. In a sermon, his Harvard Divinity School mentor, Henry Ware, Jr., spoke of “The Personality of the Deity” and said, “Take away the Father of the universe, and, though every ordinance remain unchanged, mankind becomes but a company of children in an orphan asylum; clothed, fed, governed, but objects of pity rather than congratulation, because deprived of those resting-places for the affections, without which the soul is not happy.” His idea that “the fact of knowledge and ideas reveals to him the fact of eternity” also did not sit well with the clergy.

“Once Emerson, on being asked by a relative if he were a Swedenborgian [a devotee of Swedish Lutheran theologian and church reformer Emanuel Swedenborg], replied: ‘I am more of a Quaker than any­thing else. I believe in the “still, small voice,” and that voice is Christ within us.’ Just how well Emerson understood his own position presents an interesting problem. Discovering how much of a Quaker Emerson really was may add the history of another influence on Emerson’s thought, and hence define more clearly one of the great influences on American ideals of today.

 

The problem of determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson is complicated by the difficulty of separating that influence from the many others that have been discovered in his work. How much Plato Emerson knew, how well he understood the neo-Platonists, whether or not he ever comprehended the message of the orient, and what was his attitude toward science are questions that must be satisfactorily considered before an exact and final statement of the Quaker influence on Emerson can be made. To attempt such finality here would be foolhardy; to at­tempt any sort of definition may be fruitless in view of G. E. Woodberry’s statement: ‘One follows him [Emerson] into the books he read, not for the sources of his thought, but for the mould of the man himself.’”

 

– quoted from “1. Introduction” in “The Quaker Influence on Emerson” (a thesis submitted for the Degree of Masters of Arts, University of Wisconsin, 1939) by Charles D. Gelatt (the then-future entrepreneur and philanthropist  

 

Of course, another reason it would be “foolhardy” to try “determining the existence and extent of any particular influence on Emerson” is that, by his own admission, he believed in tapping into that place inside of himself – that is also inside of all of us. Whether we call that place our heart, our spirit, or our soul; whether we identify it as God, or Christ-nature, or Buddha-nature; whether we identify it as the source of Light and/or the greater goodness inside of you, we can use the breath to tap into it. We can find it in between the inhale and the exhale. And I will meet you there.

 

“Three problems are put by nature to the mind; What is matter? Whence is it? and Whereto? The first of these questions only, the ideal theory answers. Idealism saith: matter is a phenomenon, not a substance. Idealism acquaints us with the total disparity between the evidence of our own being, and the evidence of the world’s being. The one is perfect; the other, incapable of any assurance; the mind is a part of the nature of things; the world is a divine dream, from which we may presently awake to the glories and certainties of day. Idealism is a hypothesis to account for nature by other principles than those of carpentry and chemistry. Yet, if it only deny the existence of matter, it does not satisfy the demands of the spirit. It leaves God out of me. It leaves me in the splendid labyrinth of my perceptions, to wander without end. Then the heart resists it, because it balks the affections in denying substantive being to men and women. Nature is so pervaded with human life, that there is something of humanity in all, and in every particular. But this theory makes nature foreign to me, and does not account for that consanguinity which we acknowledge to it….

 

But when, following the invisible steps of thought, we come to inquire, Whence is matter? and Whereto? many truths arise to us out of the recesses of consciousness. We learn that the highest is present to the soul of man, that the dread universal essence, which is not wisdom, or love, or beauty, or power, but all in one, and each entirely, is that for which all things exist, and that by which they are; that spirit creates; that behind nature, throughout nature, spirit is present; one and not compound, it does not act upon us from without, that is, in space and time, but spiritually, or through ourselves: therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us, as the life of the tree puts forth new branches and leaves through the pores of the old. As a plant upon the earth, so a man rests upon the bosom of God; he is nourished by unfailing fountains, and draws, at his need, inexhaustible power. Who can set bounds to the possibilities of man? Once inhale the upper air, being admitted to behold the absolute natures of justice and truth, and we learn that man has access to the entire mind of the Creator, is himself the creator in the finite.”

 

– quoted from the essay the 1836 essay “Nature” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

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

 

Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

 

Check out my previous blog posts about the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s August 31, 1837 speech for the Phi Beta Kappa Society and the July 15, 1838 speech to the graduating class of Harvard Divinity School (that got him banned until 1865).

”3. God and our true Self are not separate. Though we are not God, God and our true Self are the same thing.”

 

 

– quoted from “Chapter 13 – Guidelines for Christian Life, Growth and Transformation*” in Open Mind, Open Heart: The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel by Thomas Keating

*NOTE: These guidelines are intended to be read according to the method of lectio divina [‘divine reading’],” meaning that they are to be integrated as the living word through four steps of practice: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate.

“‘No one really understands the Atma [Soul/Essence], Arjuna. One person sees it as wondrous, another speaks of its glory, others say it is strange, and there are many who listen but do not comprehend it at all. Very few even think of inquiring into what is beyond this physical world.’

 

‘I am well aware that I have veered into high philosophy, but you must understand that all beings, whether called ‘friend’ or ‘enemy/ have this indestructible Atma within. You must be poised above this debilitating sorrow of yours.’”

 

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.29-30) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley.

 

### “For your brothers, for your fathers, for your sons, for your daughters, for your mothers, for your sisters, for your friends, for your teachers, for your cousins…continue to breathe” ###

 

Who’s Afraid of Breathing? Part II (the Tuesday post) January 27, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Art, Books, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Movies, Music, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, TV, Vairagya, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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[This is the post for Tuesday, January 26th (12621). You can request an audio recording of Tuesday’s practices via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

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

“Who’s afraid of a deep breath in, a deep breath in, a deep breath out? Who’s afraid of a deep breath in, a deep breath in, a deep breath out? Not I!”

 

– A parody of a parody of a Disney™ song

Even before you get to the fact that I’m making a pun (on top of a pun), one might wonder why anyone would fear breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out. It’s kind of like asking who is afraid of living. Of course, living is different from just being alive; living comes with risks. And so it is very common for people to fear life beyond the simplest forms of experience. Additionally, when speaking about prāņāyāma and breathing exercises, even people like the psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Carl Jung have warned that the very thing that can bring peace and ease can also bring discomfort and dis-ease. It all comes down to how you do it and, to a certain extent, why you do it.

“People put their faith implicitly in the stories told them about the dangers attending the practice, without ever taking the trouble of ascertaining the fact themselves. We have been inspiring and expiring air from our birth, and will continue to do so till death; and this is done without the help of any teacher. Prāņāyāma is nothing but a properly regulated form of the otherwise irregular and hurried flow of air, without using much force or undue restraint; and if this is accomplished by patiently keeping the flow slow and steady, there can be no danger. It is the impatience for the Siddhis which cause undue pressure on the organs and thereby causes pains in the ears, the eyes, the chest, etc. If the three bandhas be carefully performed while practising [sic] the Prāņāyāma, there is no possibility of any danger.”

 

– quoted from the 1914 introduction to the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh

The “on top of a pun” to which I earlier referred, is related to Edward Albee’s award-winning play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (which premiered in October 1862). When I first learned about the play, I expected it to be about people who feared and felt threatened by feminist ideas. So, I was really confused by the play which, while dealing with characters who (like Virginia’s Woolf’s characters) sometimes have a severe disconnect between what they are thinking and what they are saying, really has nothing to do with Virginia Woolf, or her ideas. While there is a little bit more to the story behind the name, ultimately the title refers to a pun based on the Disney™ song, “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf” (1933) from the cartoon “The Three Little Pigs” – and the fact that the rights to the song and title were so expensive that people would sing, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” to the tune of “Here We Go ‘Round the Mulberry Bush.”

In the Disney cartoon and the nursery rhyme, three little pigs made houses out straw, sticks, and bricks/stones (respectively). Of course, the hay/straw and the twigs/sticks didn’t stand a chance against the big, bad wolf and the first two pigs had to escape to the home of the relative they teased earlier in the cartoon. Re-watching the carton as an adult, several things stick out to me. First, there are three obvious breath patterns exhibited by the pigs and the wolf – and a fourth, less obvious pattern of breathing. Second, the characters in the cartoon are anthropomorphic and so the four breath patterns in the story match common breath patterns related to real-life human experiences. Finally, when the characters are not exhibiting the fourth breath pattern (the one of peace and ease) the cartoon characters exhibit the same debilitating conditions Patanjali described in the yoga sūtras (1.30-31).

The first breath pattern is the one that allows the first two pigs to sing and dance (and tease their relative). After years working with professional performing artists, I can’t help but think of the level of training and conditioning that is required to put on a performance. The breath has to be deep and also sustainable. It has to be controlled and measured, in some ways similar to the way we control and measure the breath when practicing certain forms of prāņāyāma.

The second breath pattern is one that can be associated with fear. Fear is an emotional response to a perceived threat. It doesn’t matter if the threat turns out to be real or not, the perception is what kicks that body’s defense mechanisms into overdrive. This breath pattern can manifest as shallow breathing and/or an involuntary breath suspension or holding of the breath. If this fear-based pattern is sustained for too long, it can become a habit – just as it has for so many in the world who have had to deal with extended periods of trauma – and often results in the “unsteadiness or trembling of limbs” described by Patanjali.

The third breath pattern is the breath pattern of the wolf. It is a pattern of anger and or frustration; it is “huffing and puffing.” This could also be considered shallow breathing (and one could easily argue that sometimes fear-driven breathing and anger-driven breathing are very similar, if not the same).

The fourth breath pattern, as I mentioned before, is a breath of peace and ease. It is a resting breath, a breath we experience in deep, peaceful sleep and also in meditation. It is the breathing pattern of someone who feels safe and secure, stable and steady, content and at ease. This is the breathing pattern of the third pig (who builds with stone). It is similar to the first breath pattern in so far as the fact that, with training, hard work and exertion can be achieved while maintaining a deep breath in and a deep breath out.

“We are alive because we breathe. The more harmonious the breath, the more peaceful and organized the mind. Unsteadiness in the limbs and organs caused by a vast range of mental negativity – particularly anger and fear – has a direct effect on the breath…. According to the yogis, fear and anger are the major causes of chest breathing. Chest breathing limits the intake of oxygen and the output of used-up gases. Our lung capacity declines, the level if vital nutrients in or blood drops, and the level of toxins in the body rise. Our physical vitality and strength decline, as does our mental clarity and ability to think linearly.”

 

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 1.31 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Throughout the year, I repeat the refrain: What happens in the body, happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath. And the breath affects the mind and the body. I keep coming back to this not only because Patanjali and the authors of other sacred text kept coming back to it, but also because it is a truth we can all experience for ourselves. We can all gauge the breath and, in turn, use the breath as a gauge to determine how experiences (thoughts, words, and deeds) are affecting us. At any given time, we can just take a moment to notice the breath – and consider which breathing pattern most consistently reflects those four from the story. Additionally, at any given time throughout the day, we can harness the breath – and the power of the breath – by breathing deeply in, and breathing deeply out. Changing the pattern of the breath can not only calm and balance the mind-body, it can also cultivate a little more peace and ease or a little bit more energy. These practices have short term as well as long term benefits, both of which can be cumulative.

Prāņāyāma, meditation, and other practices that might fall under the “mindfulness” umbrella cultivate clarity of mind and also get us in touch with the heart. In the Eastern philosophies, like Yoga and Buddhism, every emotion has a near-relation, a near-opposite, and an opposite emotion. In the case of fear, wisdom is the opposite emotion; and in the case of anger/frustration, loving-kindness is the opposite – these are the expressions of the heart when everything is in balance. Everything is in balance when the we feel safe, steady, comfortable, at ease, and maybe even joyful.

One additional note to consider: Yesterday, I chose not to mention some of the culturally problematic aspects of Virginia Woolf’s biography. However, I will take a quick moment here to address one of the many problematic elements within the Disney™ universe.

The pigs, the wolf, and the overall situation in the Disney™ cartoon are all symbolic. The pigs represent the different ways people deal with impending and inevitable disaster and the wolf symbolizes that something that will destroy the known world. People, especially when the cartoon first appeared in 1933, looked at it as Disney’s take on the Depression; and, would eventually also relate the story to World War II and the rise of fascism. However, like so many cultural elements from our past (and like way too many Disney pieces), “The Three Little Pigs” originally contained a culturally insensitive and highly problematic element: in this case, an anti-Semitic element whereby the wolf was depicted as Jewish. The audio was re-looped early on and, in 1948, Disney™ re-edited the original animation in order to completely eliminate the anti-Semitic trope and move onto the right side of history.

“chale vāte chalaṃ chittaṃ niśchale niśchalaṃ bhavet||
yoghī sthāṇutvamāpnoti tato vāyuṃ nirodhayet || 2 ||

Respiration being disturbed, the mind becomes disturbed. By restraining respiration, the Yogî gets steadiness of mind”

 

– quoted from “Chapter 2. On Prāņāyāma” of the Haţha Yoga Pradipika, translated by Pancham Sinh (1914)

 

Tuesday’s Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”]

 

The Tuesday evening playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

 

### KEEP ON BREATHIN’ & BREATHIn’ & BREATHIN’ ###

The Power of a Good/Meaningful Push (the Monday post) January 5, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Christmas, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Meditation, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Pema Chodron, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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“Happy New Year,” to everyone!

[The 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice, in the spirit of generosity (“dana”), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of Monday’s practice via a comment below or (for a slightly faster reply) you can email me at myra (at) ajoyfulpractice.com.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible; class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

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

 

  1. An object at rest remains at rest, and object in motion remains in motion (at the same speed and in the same direction, unless acted upon by an unbalanced force).

  2. The acceleration of an object is dependent upon two variables – the net force acting upon the object and the mass of the object.

  3. For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton proved that sometimes we all need a little push. At the age of 43, he published Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which included his laws of motion, law of universal gravitation, and an expansion of Galileo Galilei’s observations and of Johannes Kepler’s laws of planetary motion (which were themselves modifications of the observations and heliocentric theory of Nicolaus Copernicus). There are several elements in the Principia that can apply to the physical practice of yoga (and to the practice of the Yoga Philosophy). However, the most direct application comes from the laws of motion, the first of which is also known as “The Law of Inertia.” We can see these principles at work just by observing a tension-free belly rising and falling as the breath enters and leaves the body.

We can go deeper with the mathematics and the science; but, just for a moment (maybe even 90-seconds) stick with the breath. Notice the Inhale, the pause, and the exhale…. Notice that third law kicking in….

Also, notice how the “force” of the breath, which is a symbol of our life and a symbol of our spirit, is an agent of change – physically, mentally, emotionally, and even energetically. Just as lengthening the breath and observation of the breath (which all can be described as prāņāyāma) change things when we are practicing on the mat, they can be an agent of change off the mat. We just have to pay attention and stay focused. But, paying attention, staying focused, and even breathing deeply in and breathing deeply out can be challenging in certain situations… especially situations involving challenging people.

“Thirdly, that I do justly value your excellent disquisitions, and I am extremely well pleased to see those notions promoted and improved which I long since began, but had not time to complete. That I judge you have gone farther in that affair much than I did, and that as I judge you cannot meet with any subject more worthy your contemplation, so believe the subject cannot meet with a fitter and more able person to inquire into it than yourself, who are every way accomplished to compleat [sic], rectify, and reform what were the sentiments of my younger studies, which I designed to have done somewhat at myself…. Your design and mine are, I suppose, at the same thing, which is the discovery of truth, and I suppose we can both endure to hear objections, so as they come not in a manner of open hostility, and have minds equally inclined to yield to the plainest deductions of reason from experiment.”

 

– quoted from a 1675-76 letter from Dr. Robert Hooke to Sir Isaac Newton, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

“I most gladly embrace your proposal of a private correspondence. What’s done before many witnesses is seldom without some further concerns than that for truth; but what passes between friends in private, usually deserves the name of consultation rather than contention; and so I hope it will prove between you and me….

 

But in the mean time, you defer too much to my ability in searching into this subject. What Descartes did was a good step. You have added much several ways, and especially in considering the colours of thin plates. If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

 

– quoted from a letter marked “Cambridge, February 5, 1675-76” from Sir Isaac Newton to Dr. Robert Hooke, as published in Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster

One might think when first reading the polite words and oh so charming letters between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton that theirs was a destined to be a friendship like that between Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Or, if you have never heard of Hooke, that their correspondence was more akin to that of the epistles between Rainer Maria Rilke and the 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, whereby the world becomes overly familiar with the work of one because of their letters – and, in some ways this would be true. Along with Nicolaus Copernicus, René Descartes, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei, as well as John Flamsteed and Edmond Halley (the first two designated Astronomer Royal (whose observations Newton used in the Principia), Dr. Robert Hooke could be considered one of Sir Isaac Newton’s “giants.” But don’t get it twisted; Hooke and Newton were not “besties.” If anything, they could best be described as each other’s master teachers and precious jewels.

I often reference “master teachers and precious jewels” as people who push our buttons and get us hooked; people who give us master classes on ourselves; and/or people who add value to our life experience (even as they drive us crazy). These are the naysayers, the antagonists, the doubters, and our own personal heretics. They are the ones who never believe we can do something; hardly every give us credit when we do it (see Hooke and Newton, above); sometimes claim the credit for their own (also see above); and just seem to make everything harder. We can look at them as obstacles, road blocks, and detours on our journey towards our goals – or we can look at them as teachers. We can borrow a page from the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and look at them as “the way.” Or, to paraphrase Stacy Flowers, we can look at them as the coach.

Stacey Flowers is a motivational speaker, mother, and “eternal optimist” who gave a 2016 Tedx Talk about “The 5 People You Need to Be Happy” (cheerleader, mentor, coach, friend, and peer). After last year, we might think of them as the five people who keep us grounded and focused. The way she counted them out, each finger was very intentionally chosen as a symbol for the role each person would play in someone’s life. For the coach, the one whose job is to push us farther than we think we can go and consider possibilities that seem outside of our arena, she uses the middle finger (which in some, but not all, cultures is a major league insult). The correspondence between Dr. Robert Hooke and Sir Isaac Newton are basically them giving each other the finger – without which some advancement in science might not have been made at the time.

“Every relationship you develop, from casual to intimate, helps you become more conscious. No union is without spiritual value.”

 

– from “Morning Visual Meditation” (Chakra 2) by Caroline Myss

Hooke and Newton’s debate about the existence and characteristics of ether and the nature of light started in a very public, and very acrimonious, fashion. There was some shift, between the public and private discourse; however, in that Hooke went from publicly stating that Newton basically stole his ideas to acknowledging how Newton continued his ideas. Meanwhile, Newton went from publicly giving Hooke no credit for the premise of the ideas – and, also, stating that Hooke’s conclusion “seems itself impossible” and was based on “both experiment and demonstration to the contrary” – to privately (in his letter) acknowledging Hooke’s contributions. But, again, this shift only seemed to be in private. In public, the disputes continued even past Hooke’s death. These disputes, along with disputes the good doctor had with other scientists, allowed Newton (and others) to paint a very negative picture of Hooke’s character.

Sir Isaac Newton also, reportedly (and as indicated above), had a contentious character. He is remembered, however, for his work. On the other hand, Robert Hooke is infamous for his plethora disputes with other scientists (in a lot of different disciplines) – and many of those debates seem to be directly tied to Hooke trying to multitask. But, no matter how much some might want to consider him a waste of space, his disputes actually contributed to the advancement of scientific discovery. In part, perhaps because they were all members of The Royal Society of London (and, therefore, dedicated to “improving natural knowledge”), the others never completely disregarded Hooke’s insights and hypothesis. Instead, they continued the inquiry. Perhaps I am reading it wrong, but there seems to be little cognitive dissonance on the part of those with whom Hooke quarreled, because everyone was constantly running experiments and make observations in an effort to find proof of the truth – or maybe just to prove Hooke wrong.

“When I have got some more observations of it I shall bee [sic] able to tell you how long it will last and where it will pass[. At] present I dare not pretend to that knowledge.”

 

– quoted from a letter to “to Crompton [for Newton]” dated “December 15th (1680)” by John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal

On some level, we all know someone like Dr. Robert Hooke. We might even be someone else’s Dr. Hooke. Either way, consider how you feel when you encounter that person who pushes your buttons and/or is constantly telling you that you are wrong – or, sometimes (even worse), that person who refuses to see that they are wrong. Ani Pema Chödrön, the American Tibetan Buddhist nun, describes a tightening that happens when we get “hooked.” We don’t all feel it in the exact same place and in the exact same way, and the intensity may vary; but we all know that feeling. The question is: Do we always notice that feeling? Second question: Do we notice the beginning of the sensation or only when it is about to go nuclear (meaning our sympathetic nervous system is all systems go to fight, flee, or freeze)? Finally, what do we do when we recognize that feeling?

Ani Chödrön specifically recommends practicing the “4 R’s;” while others might just say, “Stop and breathe for a moment.” Either way, taking a moment to acknowledge what is happening (how we are reacting) and giving ourselves an opportunity to respond rather than react can be the difference between someone’s negativity being an obstacle versus becoming a way for us to continue moving forward. That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between succeeding in our goals (like Sir Isaac Newton) and failing to follow through on all our goals (like Dr. Robert Hooke). That moment when we pause and breathe and recognize that we are a step away from losing focus, can be the difference between making our way through (or around) an obstacle and being stuck.

What I’m saying is that that metaphorical push can be the force we need to make the change we want. This is especially true after last year and the negative energy that has followed us into this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating letting anyone actually push you around – not even in a metaphorically sense and definitely not in a physical, emotional, and/or energetic sense. But, I do think it is important to acknowledge that we all push and pull each other on a certain level, because we are all forces of nature. While we may welcome, even solicit, a little push from someone we see as a mentor, friend, and/or peer; we may not always appreciate the shove from “the coach” we didn’t ask to coach us. Always remember, though, that there are many ways we can utilize a contentious relationships. Or, more specifically, there are many ways we can benefit from noticing how we react or respond to contentious relationships in our lives and in our practice.

Just consider, for a moment, how you (physically and mentally) react to the following:

When going by the Gregorian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was born today (January 4th) in 1643, in Woolsthorpe, Lincolnshire, England. As a scientist and a man of letters, Newton would have been fully aware of the Gregorian calendar, which Catholic-ruled lands started using in 1582 and Protestant German states in 1699. However, he lived his whole life officially using the Julian calendar (because England and it’s colonies did not switch until 1752, 25 or 26 years after Newton’s death). If you go by the Old Style, Julian calendar, Sir Isaac Newton was actually born on Christmas Day – a fact that really got some people hot (as in pissed) when it was pointed out on Twitter a few years back.

Speaking of Christmas, today (January 4th) is the 10th or 11th day (depending on when you start counting). According to the catechism myth attached to the “12 Days of Christmas” song, the gifts for these days translates to: “a partridge in a pear tree” for Jesus (and the cross); “two turtle doves” representing the Old and New Testament; “three French Hens” for the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity (Love); “four calling birds” for the four canonical New Testament Gospels (or their corresponding evangelicals, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John); “five gold rings” are the first Five Books of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament (which provide the back story for the three Abrahamic religions); “six geese a-laying” for the six days of creation; “seven swans a-swimming,” the consistently most expensive gift, stand for the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety, and fear of the Lord) or the seven sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Anointing of the Six, Marriage, and Ordination); “eight maids a-milking” for the eight beatitudes (or blessings); “nine ladies dancing” for the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit;  “ten lords a-leaping” for the ten commandments; and “eleven pipers piping” for the eleven faithful apostles.

 

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

 

Who are your five people?

 

### (Don’t even get me started about….) ###

More Ways to Breathe December 5, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Books, Fitness, Health, Life, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Yoga.
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[Email subscribers, please note that there may be some errors in the Sanskrit lettering, which I will correct as soon as possible. My apologies.]

“There are thousands of postures. In order to heal our physical and psychological injuries we must learn to select the postures suitable to our specific needs and arrange them in the proper sequence. Sequencing of asana is crucial because, as with anything else, a change in sequence drastically changes the result. (YS 3:15). Next, we have to practice these properly sequenced postures while staying within the boundaries of our comfort. Then, we must take our practice to the point where we are able to feel and touch the threshold of our discomfort. We refine our practices as we apply the principle of effortless effort described in the previous sutra.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

All the cues on moving into and activating a pose can be really overwhelming. It can seem constant and continuous… because it is. I often tell beginners not to worry about doing what they don’t understand – or even, to an extent, what doesn’t make sense. Do what you can do, as much as you can do it, for as long as you can do it (to paraphrase a very wise man) and eventually things start falling into place. Literally, the more you practice, the more parts of you start aligning. Yes, it’s true, that you can practice incorrectly – and you can do it for a really long time. It’s also true that when doing something wrong becomes the habit (and the practice) things don’t fall into place… things fall apart. We see that in our mind-bodies and we see it in the world.

Do you ever wonder where all this information came from? Do you every think about that first yogi, Adiyoga, and those first seven students? Initially, no one told anyone how to do anything. The first seven were inspired by seeing someone else do something they thought had value – and then they listened to their own mind-body! The question is always: How can I breathe deeply here? Or, what can I do to breathe more deeply here? And the answer is already inside of us. We just have to “listen,” which in the case of our mind-body requires paying attention to sensation, to how we’re feeling and how we are responding to what’s happening inside of us and all around us. That’s the practice.

“You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

– quoted from Letter #4 (dated July 16, 1903) addressed to 19-year old officer cadet Franz Xaver Kappus, published in Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke

Being human, we have the ability to play, explore, and experiment, to see what works, when and where it works, and for how long something works. Thus, someone started moving their body into different shapes and then breathing in those different shapes, which had different effects. Then they would move into the shapes in a different way, breath into that different way, and noticed the different effects. Then they saw other people could do the same and experience similar effects. Then people, like Patanjali and Vyasa, started to codify the practice by writing it down. And this whole process and practice comes back to the breath, the spirit, the life force – and different ways to breathe, engage the spirit, and expand life.

Yoga Sūtra 2.49: tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedah prāņāyāmahah

– “Prāņāyāma, which is expanding the life force by controlling the movement of the inhalation and exhalation, can be practiced after completely mastering [the seat or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.50: bāhyābhyantarastambhavŗttirdeśakālasasamkhyābhih paridŗşţo dīrghasūkşmah

– “The breath may be stopped externally, internally, or checked in mid-motion, and regulated according to place, time and a fixed number of moments, so that the [pause] is either protracted or brief.”

In commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.50, Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati is quick to point out that while stambha (“cessation” or “transition”) is often translated into English as retention and therefore equated with kumbhaka (which is retention), there is a subtle difference in the usage here. First, the practice involves awareness of three parts of the breath: inhalation, exhalation, and the transition (or pause) between the first two parts – which is repeated twice. Next, there is the slowing or expansion of the breath (as described in YS. 2.49). Finally, there is awareness and regulation of the breath in different places in the body – even directing it to those places; controlling the time (or length and duration of the breath); and counting (or numbering) each part of the breath.

Breath regulation in place, time, and by numbering can involve the practice of kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved by holding the breath on the inhalation or exhalation, and/or stambha vŗitti kumbhaka, which is breath retention achieved in the middle of an inhalation or exhalation. Notice that the breath retention highlights transition.

Any breath retention is considered an advanced practice and, just as is instructed with more “basic” types of prāņāyāma, should only be practiced after mastering previous elements. Some teachers advise only practicing kumbhaka when after it naturally arises in your practice. This does not mean that you are ready to practice breath retention when you finding yourself holding your breath or shallow breathing because you are overly challenged in a pose or sequence. In fact, it means quite the opposite.

“Patanjali assumes that aspirants who reached this level of yoga sadhana are familiar wth the practice of the seven pranayamas, which together constitute the practice of prana anusandhana. Therefore, these aspirants have built a strong foundation for practicing the three advanced pranayama techniques he is presenting here.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.48 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

The practicing of connecting the breath – and connecting to the breath – is broken down into the following seven steps:

  1.  Aharana prāņāyāma  – which is “to bring back” and revolves around awareness of the breath and how it feels in the body, as well as positioning the body so there is no shakiness, interruption, or abnormal breathing.
  2. Samikarana prāņāyāma – which is “to equalize,” and involves maintaining an equal calmness in the breathing and in the mind-body. There is also focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  3. Dirge-prashvasa prāņāyāma – which is “long exhalation,” and involves focus on certain areas of the mind-body.
  4. Nadi shodhana prāņāyāma – which is alternate energy channel or alternate nasal breathing, and involves alternating the exhale and inhale between nostrils.
  5. Anuloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the same path,” and involves rapidly inhaling and exhaling through only one nostril.
  6. Viloma prāņāyāma – which is “to follow the reverse path,” and involves exhaling through one nostril and then inhaling through the other.
  7. Pratlioma prāņāyāma – which is “to switch paths back and forth,” and is only practiced after the previous two are mastered.

Note that the last three are practices are only intended for people who are healthy and have no underlying conditions. Also, please note that these terms are also sometimes used to refer to a specific pattern of breathing related to length and duration of each part of the breath.

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, December 5th) at 12:00 PM. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0.

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

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

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “10272020 Pranayama II”]

### To live is to breathe. To breathe with intention is the practice. To live with intention is the goal. ###

Fourth Step: Once More, With Feeling October 27, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Depression, Hope, Life, Loss, Love, Men, One Hoop, Pain, Poetry, Suffering, Tragedy, TV, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light”

– quoted from the poem “Do not go gentle into that good night” by Dylan Thomas

In another time and place, today was a day all about poetry and literature. Specifically, today was day devoted to the work of Sylvia Plath (born in Boston, Massachusetts today in 1932) and Dylan Thomas (born in Swansea, Wales in 1914). I even once squeezed in a couple of references to Zadie Smith – even though she was born on October 25, 1975 (in the London borough of Brent). And, while I might make a brief reference to these literary greats in class today, I find myself a little hard pressed to navigate the emotional and socio-political quagmire of yesterday when we are all so steeped in the emotional and socio-political quagmire of today. (Even though, let’s be real, some things have not really changed.)

I was especially reluctant to stick to “the way I’ve (always) done it,” because one of the elements to the way I use to lead the practice isn’t readily available. So, yesterday, I found myself looking for a something new, something special about today. Of course, there were a lot of things that caught my eye. However, thinking about the Cold War left me a little cold and, while I felt a little inspired by President Ronald Reagan’s 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech (which aired today, as part of the “Rendezvous with Destiny” television special in support of the presidential nomination of Senator Barry Goldwater), that just opens a political can of worms.

Just to give you an idea of how my brain works: The title of Goldwater’s (Republican) TV special was inspired by a June 27, 1936 (Democratic) speech given in Philadelphia (which was founded today in 1682) by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The fact that FDR’s (Republican) cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, was born today (in Manhattan, New York City in 1958) opens a whole other (political and religious) can of worms. However, I did find it amusing that President TR, who won the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize and served in the United States military as well as serving as Vice President, got married on his 22nd birthday (today in 1880) – and therefore shared a “wedding” anniversary with Sonny and Cher (who had a ceremony in Tijuana, Mexico today in 1964).

“Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.”

– quoted from the poem “And death shall have no dominion” by Dylan Thomas  

There’s more, but most of it is tragic. We can be horrified by what happened in Missouri today in 1838 or anger about the children killed in Syria just a year ago today, but I find there is too much heaviness in my heart already to devote a whole class to these tragedies. Don’t get me wrong, I have no intention of forgetting people who were killed for just being who they were – people like United States Navy radioman Allen R. Schindler, Jr. (who was murdered today in 1992 because he was gay) or the people of devotion who were killed and wounded during the 2018 shooting during morning services at the Tree of Life – Or L’Simcha Congregation. But, right now I feel an overwhelming need to keep focusing on the breath, and on breathing into the present moment.

The irony of all my mental gymnastics is that even when I focused on Thomas and Plath, today was always about the breath and breathing into what the heart needs in the present moment.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

or

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.”

– quoted from two different editions of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath  

Please join me today (Tuesday, October 27th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom, where we will do what we do. Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Tuesday’s Noon playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. [Look for “07192020 Compassion & Peace (J’Accuse!)”]

The Tuesday evening playlist is also available on YouTube and Spotify.

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

“You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down: [up] man’s old –  old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”

– quoted from the 1964 “A Time for Choosing” speech by Ronald Reagan

### SIGH IT OUT ###

Third Step: Repeat the First & Second Steps October 26, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Fitness, Health, Life, Loss, Meditation, Philosophy, Science, Tragedy, Vipassana, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Yoga Sūtra 1.34: pracchardanavidhāraņābhyām vā prāņasya

– “Transparency and calmness of mind also comes by practicing [awareness of breath] that involves forceful exhalation and [natural] breath retention.”

“as you breathe in, breathe in through the whole body

as you breath out, breathe out the whole body

feel how the breath calms and heals the body

like a skilled potter watching clay turn on a wheel

notice how each inhalation turns into an exhalation

only to turn back again into an inhalation

over and over and over again”

– quoted from Breathing Through the Whole Body: The Buddha’s Instructions on Integrating Mind, Body, and Breath by Will Johnson

Take a deep breath in, through your nose. Open your mouth and sigh it out.

Deep breath in, through your nose; deep open mouth sigh.

Take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, open your mouth and sigh it out.

Now, just breathe in through your nose… and out through your nose… and notice that you are breathing.

Some would say that this is the beginning of the practice – I’ve even said such a thing. However, before this awareness of breath there needs to be the ability to sit, stand, recline, and be still or move in a way that allows you to focus on the fact that you are sitting, standing, reclining, being still, and/or moving while breathing. This is something we may neglect to do all day on any given day – which means that all day, on any given day, we may be taking the shallowest and poorest breaths we’ve taken all day rather than the deepest and richest breaths we’ve taken all day. And the difference in our quality of breath translates into the difference in our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

Our autonomic nervous system is comprised our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. We can (and often do) simplify our understanding of these parts by thinking of the sympathetic nervous system in terms of our fight/flight/freeze response and the parasympathetic system in terms of rest/digest/create. Even with that simplified view of things, we can see how the each part of our nervous system affects the breath and other systems of the body. While there are some extreme cases of human (mental and physical) fitness whereby someone can mentally control their heart rate, pupil dilation, digestion, excretion, and even arousal regardless of outside stimulation, most people have limited control over the elements of their body (and therefore the mind) which are regulated by the autonomic nervous system. On the flip side, almost everyone can control some aspect of their breath.

Even when using a breathing machine, we can bring awareness to and control the breath. This, very simply put, is the most basic form of prāņāyamā. Furthermore, as we observe the breath, the breath changes and brings awareness to our ability to control the breath. I am constantly pointing out that what happens in the body happens in the mind; what happens in the mind happens in the body; and both affect the breath – and, the breath affects what happens in the mind and in the body.

“Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘The body exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.”

– quoted from Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) translated by Nyanasatta Thera

I know, I know, someone is thinking, “Didn’t we do this whole breathing things yesterday?” Yes, indeed we did. We do it every day and in every practice; however, it is way too easy to take this part of the practice for granted. We may be in the middle of a challenging practice or a challenging day and find that we are holding our breath. We may be shallow breathing during a peak moment in our practice or in our lives. We may find that we have made certain things a higher priority than our breath – and then we suffer the consequences.

Think for a moment, about all the things you want in your life and all the things you need. Make sure you are clear about what is a desire versus what is a necessity. Now, slowly, start thinking about your life without some of the things you desire. If you are honest with yourself and clear-minded, you know you can live your whole life without those things you desire. You may even live a happy life without those things.

Notice how you feel about that.

Now, slowly, go through the list of things you need. How long can you live without some form of protection from the elements? (It depends on your environment, climate, and other external factors.) How long can you go without some form of food? (On average, a relatively healthy and well hydrated adult can survive up to two months without food – although extreme symptoms of starvation kick in about 30 days.) How long can you live without water? (A typical adult could survive about 100 hours, or 3 – 4 days without any kind of hydration; but, again, this can be time line is dependent on temperature.) How long can you go without sleep? (I don’t have a definitive answer for this one. While people have been recorded as going without sleep for almost 2 weeks, the nervous system will drop a person into “microsleep” states. Microsleep may only last a few seconds, but those few seconds keep the body functioning.) Finally, how long can you go without breathing? (Again, there are some variables, but if the average person holds their breath, their body is going to force them to breathe within 3 minutes. If external circumstances cut off breathing, irreversible brain damage occurs after 5 – 10 minutes – unless there are other variables, like temperature.)

Notice how you feel about that.

We may experience great suffering if we have to live without the things we desire. We will experience pain and suffering if we have to live (for a brief period) without the things we need. We cannot, however, live without breathing. It has to be a priority. Additionally, when we start thinking about quality of life, and how the quality of the things we want and need contribute to our overall quality of life, we may find that we have not made quality of breathing a priority. It’s not just about air quality; it’s about quality of breath. And, both the Buddha and teachers like Patanjali indicated that anyone can practice with their breath.

“Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: ‘This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.’ Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma.”

– commentary on the Satipatthana Sutta (The Foundations of Mindfulness) by Nyanasatta Thera

Please join me on the virtual mat today (Monday, October 26th) at 5:30 PM for a 75-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom.

This is a 75-minute Common Ground Meditation Center practice that, in the spirit of generosity (dana), is freely given and freely received. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

If you are able to support the center and its teachings, please do so as your heart moves you. (NOTE: You can donate even if you are “attending” my other practices, or you can purchase class(es). Donations are tax deductible, class purchases are not necessarily deductible.)

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

### TAKE THE DEEPEST BREATH YOU’VE TAKEN ALL DAY ###