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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Karma Yoga, Langston Hughes, Life, Loss, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.

– from Mother to Son by Langston Hughes

 

“The only easy day was yesterday.”

– from Navy Seals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

MOTHER TO SON – by Langston Hughes

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

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

Find the place where your movements are strong, but not forced, and then curl your toes under and exhale into Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Double check your engagement of the pose. Make sure all your fingers are spread wide, with the majority of the weight/pressure in your hands moving into the thumb and first finger. (So that, there is less weight/pressure applied to your outer wrists.) When you relax your head and shoulders, make sure your big toes are parallel to each other and at least a foot apart. Big toes can be behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. Hips are high, heels are low (reaching, but not necessarily touching the mat); and neck is long. Even if you have to bend your knees, find Cow Pose in this position (so that you have a straight line from your middle fingers all the way up to your hips and then a second straight line from your hips to the back of your knees). Eyes are on your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes. Engage your locks (bandhas) as you are able. Notice the length of the spine and how you support it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the left leg extended and bend the right knee in order to set up the Sage Twist. Remember to keep the left heel and the right foot flat on the floor. You can place the right foot next to the inside or the outside of the left leg, as long as the knees are comfortable and the right foot is flat on the floor.

On an inhale, lift your right arm up and, as you watch it, reach the right arm back to the floor behind your hips. As you settle into the twist, adjust your left arm to provide additional support wherever you need it. You can always sit on a block and/or place a block under your hand if you’re hips and low back are really tight. If you don’t have a block, substitute a book.

Watch how you engage your base, your core, and your breath in order to lengthen your spine. Remember to start the twist in your base (not in your neck). Do not allow your body to collapse or untwist until you complete 3 – 5 complete breaths. After the third or fifth exhale, inhale to center, give the lifted knee a squeeze, and return to Staff Pose. Repeat the Sage Twist instructions for the Sage Twist (replacing right with left).

After the third or fifth exhale on the left, inhale to center and give the lifted knee a squeeze. Bend both knees, placing the feet flat on the floor. (NOTE: If you’d rather not balance on your sits bones, lie down on your back and follow the cues.)

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

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

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

veterans-012

This opportunity to explore a poem on the mat is part of my offering for the 2018 Kiss My Asana yogathon. I encourage you to set aside at least 5 minutes a day during April, to practice with the poem as inspiration. You can practice in a class or on your own, but since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness, I invite you to join me at the donation-based classes on April 28th.

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

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

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

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Going With The Flow, When There’s An Obstacle In The Way December 31, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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If we learned nothing else in the last year, it was that things don’t always go according to (our) plan.  2017 was a year that, for some of us, seemed to go awry even before it started. There were times when we fell down and wanted to throw our hands up. But, instead, many got up…and kept moving forward. There’s merit in that.

I didn’t think I needed a personal reminder of the merit of moving forward, no matter the obstacles. But then I started confirming my plans for the New Year’s Day 108 Sun Salutations and well…let’s just say William Butler Yeats had it right:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

In 2013, I started leading a New Year’s Day morning japa-ajapa mala practice of 108 Sun Salutations. A year later I added an afternoon practice. At times I thought about renting a space and combining the two, but I ignored the writing on the wall. I was in the flow of my own making, totally and utterly attached to the momentum that worked for me.

So, this year I was thrown into a bit of a tailspin when I discovered I needed to relocate the morning practice. I kept moving forward, confirmed a new location, and, for the sixth year, the practice is full.

Then, on Wednesday, I learned about a scheduling issue that resulted in the cancellation of the afternoon 108 practice at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Thankfully, anyone who was planning to attend that practice can scroll to the end of this blog post for options which will allow them to keep moving forward.

And there’s merit in that. Not just merit in the idea that we keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles. There’s something to be said for letting go of our attachments and going with the flow.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we rollover and play dead when things don’t go our way. Nor am I suggesting that we jump on a band wagon headed for Hades just because there’s a lot of momentum pushing us in that direction. Instead, what I’m suggesting requires going a little deeper – into ourselves and into the situation – in order to leverage the momentum in a skillful manner. What I’m suggesting requires understanding the powerful dynamics of movement(s).

Vinyasa, a popular form of Hatha Yoga (the physical practice of yoga) is often referred to in English as “Flow” or “Yoga Flow.” Three (3) of the 12 poses in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) are so ubiquitous in the West that some practitioners think those poses are what makes something a vinyasa practice. All of which contributes to people overlooking a key element of the style and tradition: the meaning/intention underlying the practice.

The word “vinyasa” comes from the words “nyasa, “ which means “to place, to touch, to apply” and “vi,” which means “in a special way.” In a Vinyasa yoga practice, poses are placed so that, in theory, the movement matches the human body’s natural tendencies (to extend/expand on an inhale; to flex/contract on an exhale) and practitioners can move one breath (to) one motion (i.e., flow). When we match the movement to the breath, the movement becomes seamless and very much like a dance – or a moving meditation.

Similarly, the name of the insight meditation technique and tradition “vipassana” literally means “to see or to recognize” (“passana”) “in a special way” (“vi”). In Insight Yoga, Sarah Powers wrote, “So vipassana is the art of seeing or relating to life freed from the mesmerizing power of our entrenched prejudices and preferences. This unconstricted view breeds insight into the underlying nature of things.”

Therefore, if we can see and/or recognize the underlying nature of ourselves and our surroundings (causes and conditions), if we have insight into the evolution of ideas (starting with the desires, which are the seeds of these ideas), then we may place or apply ourselves in a way that works with the flow of energy, rather than against it. The very thing that stood in our way (the obstacle) becomes our way. Or, as Marcus Aurelius wrote is his personal notebook, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

In a 2014 Psychology Today review of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way (which is a great handbook on old fashioned stoicism), Dr. Alex Lickerman refers to situations that train us to deal with challenges, stating, “… when victory over external barriers is contingent upon victory over internal ones, the greatest benefit a situation has to offer us is training—by which I mean a challenge that forces us to grow in a way that makes achieving our goal possible.”

To me, the physical practice of yoga (any style or tradition) or a seated meditation practice are ways to train the body and mind for the challenges of life. Each practice comes with a different set of challenges, and a different set of obstacles. Every practice, in its own way, pairs internal barriers with external barriers, and (because so many of my practices are vinyasa practices) a different set of ways to go with the flow.

2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.

Let’s start it off with a practice, or two.

Monday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan (Yoga Center of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park – REGISTRATION)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 12:30 PM “Set Your Course!” with Nora Gordon (Big River Yoga – REGISTRATION)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Practice with Nancy Boler (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations & Restorative Yoga with Vie Boheme (Radiant Life Yoga – REGISTRATION)

12:00 PM – 2:30 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Aubrey Weger & live music (Yoga Sanctuary Mpls – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Kate L and Rachel R (CorePower Maple Grove)

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM New Year’s Day with Ian M (Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, members & their guest)

1:30 PM – 4 PM “Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention” with Ben Vincent (Vincent Yoga at One Yoga – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

2:00 PM – 3:45 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis (Blaisdell YMCA, members & their guests)

Tuesday, January 2nd – “What’s In A Name?”

Wednesday, January 3rd – “New Beginnings”

Saturday, January 6th – Epiphany / “Manifesting Your Intention”

~ SEE YOU ON THE MAT ~

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