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If only it was Taco Tuesday… July 22, 2020

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 “I like it when a man puts thought into the kind of restaurant we’re going to. That doesn’t mean it needs to be fancy – some of the best meals of my life have been having a taco on a street corner.”

– Meghan Markle (now, Duchess of Sussex) quoted in an Esquire Magazine article dated Dec. 15, 2016

 

“I like to take a day off and enjoy fast food for what it is. I have to say that in New York I’m really partial about taco trucks. I mean I really can’t handle it. There is something about catching all those ingredients piled on top of each other it puts me in a tizzy. I love it. I’m kind of a taco truck junkie.”

 

– Alex Guarnaschelli (when asked if she eats fast food, TooFab 03/01/2011)

Imagine the perfect taco. “‘What is “The perfect taco?” Alex.’” What makes it perfect? Is it the outside? I mean, I know people who will throw down over hard shells versus soft. (And, just for the record, there’s no such thing as an “open-faced taco” – that’s a chalupa or a tostado, for goodness sake!)

So, maybe, what makes your perfect taco is what’s on the inside. Hmmm… given that everyone has different tastes, different needs, and desires, it seems that there could be a different taco for every person in the world (and two tacos per person on Tuesdays). The poet Emma Lazarus was born today in 1849, so think about what “all your huddled masses” have been seeking over the years. I once heard Bryan Kest say that there’s at least one version of a pose for every person in the world; he estimated 8 billion ways to do every pose. And, it turns out that practicing yoga is a lot like searching for “the perfect taco.”

“Never underestimate how much assistance, how much satisfaction, how much comfort, how much soul and transcendence there might be in a well-made taco and a cold bottle of beer.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

I’m not much for beer, but I’m a huge fan of a well-made taco and I’m a huge fan of Tom Robbins’s fourth novel, Jitterbug Perfume. Born today in 1932, in Blowing Rock, North Carolina, Robbins is a self-described “hillbilly” who grew up in a Baptist household, went to a military college prep school, studied journalism in college, enlisted in the Air Force, and spent a year as a meteorologist in Korea and two years in Nebraska before being discharged. He returned to Richmond, Virginia (where his family had moved during his early childhood) and started reading poetry in a coffee shop.

Robbins returned to school and also put his journalism degree to good use, while (occasionally) hitchhiking, researching a book on Jackson Pollack, and (eventually) hosting a weekly alternative radio show for KRAB-FM, Seattle. All the while, Tom Robbins was writing – searching for his perfect writing style, his voice. He found it and used it to write Another Roadside Attraction, a novel that you could theoretically say is “just” about a kind of wacky couple who open a hot dog stand. His first novel had all the elements you will find in most of his novels: wacky, bohemian characters; strong-willed women; animals; religion; existential philosophical musings; science; food (always food); and the occasional mythical character.

Jitterbug Perfume definitely has all of the elements described above and, to me, it is one the most visceral novels by Robbins. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and yet, when I look at “Nighthawks” by Edward Hooper (who was born today in 1882), I may feel a lot, but I smell very little. On the flip side, I can’t even think about Jitterbug Perfume without smelling it. I know, I know, you’re thinking well, of course, the word “perfume” is in the title and it’s all about perfumers trying to capture this magical essence. That’s the way the brain works.

Yeah, no. When I think of this particular novel, I’m thinking about another element that shows up in all of Tom Robbins’s work: s-e-x. And Pan.

“The word desire suggests that there is something we do not have. If we have everything already, then there can be no desire, for there is nothing left to want. I think that what the Buddha may have been trying to tell us is that we have it all, each of us, all the time; therefore, desire is simply unnecessary.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As we’ve discussed before, suffering is a part of the human condition. We can say, as the Buddhist and Yoga philosophies instruct us, that suffering comes from attachment; however, what we are really saying is that suffering comes from desires. There are lots of different kind of desire, and they can lead to all different kinds of attachment (rooted in pleasure or rooted in pain); but Robbins suggests in Jitterbug Perfume that the desire itself isn’t the problem. Robbins suggests that maybe we suffer because “we do not desire wisely.” It’s an interesting thought – especially if you consider that we are psychologically and physiologically wired to desire, to want certain things and to not want other things.

Considering that there may be a better way to desire, makes me think of certain Buddhist and/or Yoga practices. For instance, shoshin is the Zen Buddhist practice of “beginners mind” and I often liken it to the niyama (internal observation in Yoga) santosha, which is the practice of contentment. Just as Robbins says (above) the practice focuses not on the idea that we are missing out on something but focuses instead on the fact that in this moment there is something, something extraordinary, something… perfect. In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki explains that “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few.” When we show up and practice shoshin and/or santosha we open ourselves up to find something perfect in the moment, be it the perfect scent, the perfect quantum physics equation, the perfect taco… or the perfect pose.

“If you lack the iron and the fuzz to take control of your own life, if you insist on leaving your fate to the gods, then the gods will repay your weakness by having a grin or two at your expense. Should you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself docked. The dull and prosaic will be granted adventures that will dice their central nervous systems like an onion, romantic dreamers will end up in the rope yard. You may protest that it is too much to ask of an uneducated fifteen-year-old girl that she defy her family, her society, her weighty cultural and religious heritage in order to pursue a dream that she doesn’t really understand. Of course it is asking too much. The price of self-destiny is never cheap, and in certain situations it is unthinkable. But to achieve the marvelous, it is precisely the unthinkable that must be thought.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Go back to the questions at the beginning of this post and think about them in terms of the “perfect” yoga pose. Even better, think about your pursuit of the perfect expression. Do you think about the inside first, or is your primary focus on the outside? Do you recognize that there are hundreds of thousands of elements, which translate into millions and billions of expressions? Do you recognize that there is no one way to do something and so, therefore, there can be billions of perfect poses? There is, however, an even more important question (inspired by one of my yoga teachers). Seane Corn said, “It’s not about the pose. It’s about the purpose. Be In Yours.” So, the better question as you seek your so-called perfect pose, is “What’s the purpose?”

When we get around to asking that question, we find that sometimes the perfect pose isn’t a taco at all… It’s a chalupa (or a tostado).

“When we accept small wonders, we qualify ourselves to imagine great wonders.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

As a former meteorologist, Tom Robbins would be familiar with chaos theory (the idea that small changes in initial conditions can translate into big outcomes) and it’s those little things that make a difference, unexpected differences, in his stories. Those little changes can also make a difference in your yoga practice…and in your meal preparation.

In the TV show Ugly Delicious, David Chang says, “The dishes that we’re making… it’s about telling a story.” The practicing yoga is also about telling stories, it’s about your body and mind telling your story. It’s about finding your voice, your themes your ingredients, as Tom Robbins has done all his life, and then putting it out there. It is, also, about listening – really, truly, deeply listening to your own heart, your own soul, and your own story. If you really listen, you can also hear the stories around you. And, it is delicious (even when it smells a little ripe).

“He was becoming unstuck, he was sure of that – his bones were no longer wrapped in flesh but in clouds of dust, in hummingbirds, dragonflies, and luminous moths – but so perfect was his equilibrium that he felt no fear. He was vast, he was many, he was dynamic, he was eternal.”

– quoted from Jitterbug Perfume by Tom Robbins

Please join me today (Wednesday, July 22nd) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM for a yoga practice on Zoom, where will find your “breathe properly,  stay curious, and [afterwards] eat your beets.” Use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. You will need to register for the 7:15 PM class if you have not already done so. Give yourself extra time to log in if you have not upgraded to Zoom 5.0. You can request an audio recording of this practice via a comment below.

Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

In case you were confused or missed it (above), only one of the Alex’s mentioned above is celebrating an 80th birthday today!

 

 

### WHAT’S YOUR PERFECT TACO? ###

The Teacher In Me Honors The Teacher Also In You July 5, 2020

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 “Sir Isaac Newton said, If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants”

– Hubert K. Rucker, PhD, eulogizing his mother (Altramae Laverne McCarty, a teacher)

Days like Teacher Appreciation Day or Administrative Assistant Day are a lot like a cultural appreciation day, or month, in that they make me wonder why there is only appreciation (or awareness) in this single moment of time. I mean, it’s not as if every Black, Asian, Hispanic, Woman, Mother, Dad, GLBTQIA+, or Service person was born on the same day or accomplished something great within the same month. It’s ridiculous thought, right? It’s especially ludicrous when you consider all the teachers in your life – not just the professional ones like my dad and paternal grandmother, but all the non-professional ones whose lives and instruction guide you throughout your life. It seems if you wanted show your appreciation for those teachers – including the “master teachers / precious jewels” who give you a master class on yourself – you would live your life in accordance with their teachings.

“The best thing you can do is don’t poison yourself with all those things, that’s the best thing you can do for your guru … I want all of you to remember this… the best thing that you can ever do for you guru, if at all if you feel like you want to do is, that you drop your nonsense and grow. What’s the best thing a garden can do for a gardener? Hmm? To grow and bloom, isn’t it? ‘No, no, we want to do this to you, we want to do that to you,’ that’s not the intention, that’s not the goal….

The concern is that people will be here and if they don’t grow. I’ve planted people in my garden and they never blossomed, that I’m terrified of.”

 

– Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, founder of the Isha Foundation, answering the question “What Is the Best Thing You Can Do for Your Guru?”

People often translate the word “guru” as “teacher” – and that is truly a definition for the Sanskrit word. But, go a little deeper and you find the roots for the word are “gu,” which means “darkness” or “ignorance” and “ru,” which means “the remover of darkness” or “light.” Lao-Tzu, Confucius, Krishna, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, the Prophet Muhammad, the Dalai Lama, and (Kundalini’s) Yogi Bhajan are considered what I call “Big G” Gurus within their various traditions. Just to avoid confusion, let me clarify my designation by saying that these are not examples of “Big G” Gurus because they are sometimes worshiped (depending on the tradition). I call them “Big G” Gurus because they are so venerated that people follow their examples as a lifestyle. In this way, Tara, Mary, Saint Teresa of Ávila, Fatima, Saint Clare of Assisi, and (Svroopa’s) Swami Nirmalananda are also “Big G” Gurus. “Little g” gurus are no less important than “Big G” Gurus – in that they are still honored as “removers of darkness;” however, “little g” gurus aren’t followed in the same way as their counterparts.

Keep in mind that the most important “Big G” Guru is inside of you and the most important “little g” gurus are all around you at all times. This is one of the reasons why Sadhguru instructs people who say they love him to, “from today on, I want you to treat everybody – man, woman, child, animal, plant, if possible even inanimate things – everything that you see, everything that you set your eyes upon, you must see it and treat it as Sahdguru…. You do just this one thing.” This is the same teaching taught by Krishna, the Buddha, Jesus, and the Prophet Muhammad (just to name a few). Still, (to quote Thornton Wilder) “All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it.”

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

 

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

According to the Permaculture Home Garden (by Linda Woodrow) and the “Permaculture Calendar,” a full moon is a good time to sow or plant root crops and decorative or fruiting perennials (“[l]ike apples, potatoes asparagus and rhubarb. It’s also a good time to cut and divide plants.”). As I subscribe to this belief as it relates to planting karmic seeds, a full moon is a good time to plant something you really want to take root, in a way that will nourish and sustain you for years to come. So, get ready to do some karmic planting as we have a full moon tonight.

The first full moon after the Summer Solstice is known as the “Buck Moon” (because it’s when First Nations people reportedly noticed buck’s antlers were in “full growth mode”), Thunder Moon, Hay Moon, and Rose Moon. You’ll notice that these names are associated with natural observation (and if you were watching last night you might have noticed a partial penumbral lunar eclipse as the almost full moon passed through the Earth’s shadow). On the flip side, the full moon in July is also known by some as the Guru Moon. It designates Guru Purnima, also known as Ved Vyasa, Dharma Day (in some Theraveda Buddhist countries), or Treenok Guha Purnima (in Jainism).

Guru Purnima is observed by Hindus, Jains, Buddhist, and (yes) yogis. Each tradition has a different story to explain the significance of the day. In Buddhism it is the day the Buddha gave his first sermon in India. In Hinduism and Indian philosophies, like some traditions of Yoga, it is a day to remember the teachings of Vyasa, as it is believed to be the day he started writing the Brahma Sūtras. It is also the day, in certain yoga traditions, when Shiva became “Adiyogi” (the first yogi) as well as the first guru. In the country of Nepal and in the Jain tradition, today is also celebrated as the day of the first teacher; in this case, the day Mahavira made Indrabhuti Gautam / Guatam Swami his first disciple.

“Maybe I have problems in other ways, and when I come to you I put energy of a certain kind; because that’s where I’m good. You see someone suffering and you have opportunity to touch that person. And if you touch that person from the depth of the energy that you’ve got from inside your own heart, if you touch them with that, they feel it. If someone’s very peaceful, has a tremendous amount of energy, you feel it. What becomes most important? How clear can I be in my mind, how vital can I be in my energy. And it’s not a matter of making myself comfortable – because then I won’t grow….

So, you have to take some risks; you have to build some energy; you have to have clarity of mind; you have to create stillness, silence, and space. If you do these things, you’re smiling in the midst of controversy and deceit and war and famine and everything else – and you have the possibility of helping people….”

 

– Robert Boustany (my first yoga teacher) explaining “Healing / Yoga Therapy”

Depending on the tradition, it is a day of prayer and/or meditation, as well as (spiritual) offerings. In some places there is music and dance – in others there is silence. In Nepal and parts of India, this is also a day to celebrate non-religious teachers. There are art competitions and assemblies where teachers, as well as great scholars from the school, are recognized and honored. Sometimes alumni will visit their teachers and bring gifts of gratitude. Of course, the greatest gift a teacher can receive is the recognition that they have helped someone achieve success in life.

“I would define yoga as liberation. For me, it was getting past all the obstacles and conditioning and training that, I think, life has put in my way to make me think less of myself and to teach me that I’m not enough. And I found the beauty of yoga is it said, ‘You are enough. You’re perfect as you are. And let us show you how’….

… I felt like a lot of people were missing out on the opportunity to practice because they weren’t super athletic, or young, or flexible, or able-bodied. And I thought to myself, ‘there’s got to be a way to be able to bring everyone who felt like they were at the margins of this practice to the center.

I think a yogi is anyone who believes in elevating everyone, who believes that the collective is powerful, and that we inspire everybody, and that we’re in this – and anyone who wants to serve the greatest good.”

– Dianne Bondy, in an “Omstars” introduction  

Today, just like every day, I quote some of my teachers – not all of my teachers… that would take years and several volumes of books. Today, just like every day, I practice, teach, and live in a way that (I hope) honors all of my teachers. Today, just like every day, I appreciate what I have learned and what I am still learning. I am today, just like every day, so grateful for my teachers because they shared their practice and, ultimately, enable me to share mine. This gratitude extends to those who think of themselves as my students. Sure, I think of you as my students too; however, today (just like every day) I also think of you as my teachers. Gratitude is best felt when the thanksgiving is specific and while I could, easily (and have) articulate why I am so grateful for my practice (and therefore my teachers), I’m going to use this as another excuse to quote someone who greatly impacted my practice even before I ever trained with her.

 “If it wasn’t for a yoga practice, a prayer practice, and a meditation practice, I don’t know if he work that I’ve done in the world over the years would have been in any way sustainable. I have no doubt in my mind that without a daily and committed practice, that, the more shadow sense aspect of who I am – which is intense, angry, often overwhelmed, reactive – would be the thing that would determine the choices that I’ve made. And I’ve been able to turn my rage into passion, my over-emotionality into compassion. And it’s because of the commitment to the practice of yoga – and I’m personally so grateful that I have this particular tool, and there are many tools – to be able to utilize every single day, so that in my own service my personality doesn’t get in the way of being able to service in a way that is inclusive, supportive, open-minded, and that is healing….”

 

– Seane Corn at Omega Institute for Holistic Studies, regarding “Not Burning Out in Service to Others”

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, July 5th) at 2:30 PM to celebrate Gurus and gurus – inside and out. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. PLEASE NOTE: Zoom 5.0 is in effect. If you have not upgraded, you will need to give yourself extra time to log into Zoom. You can always request an audio recording of this practice (or any practice) via email or a comment below.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Seeking begins when the options presented are unacceptable. The path before me included a troubled mind-body relationship and dwindling prospects of health. At thirteen, these truths were not obstacles to confront. They were part of the air that I was breathing. If I was going to live, I need to live the mind-body relationship life had dealt me.”

 

– Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (2006)

 

Don’t forget, Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams is hosting 12.5 hours of radical anti-racism readings online today 10:30 AM – 11 PM. Click here to register, even if you only have a little time to listen. Listen!

My first yoga teacher

 

### OM OM AUM ###

Moved By The Spirit April 28, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

{NOTE: Surprise! This post is a 2016 Kiss My Asana “throwback,” but it was never posted in real time. In other words, this post is a bit of a Tardis.}

“REFLECTIONS ON THE POSE DEDICATED TO THE SAGE VASISTHA. Given the great sage Vasistha’s place in the Vedic tradition, it is fitting that this challenging and invigorating pose dedicated to him epitomizes grace, strength, and steadiness…. Confronting all of these challenges that call upon your body to work as a whole, this is not a pose that every student will be able to do the first time he or she comes to yoga class. Even those who are strong may find it difficult to hold it steadily for any length of time. To make progress in this pose is to gain insight into the abiding principle of intention…. Singleness of purpose increases your capacity. By applying an intention consistently, you transform disparate efforts into unified action, chaos into order. Through informed intention you find your body – as well as yourself in the larger scheme of your life – moving purposefully, ever closer to your goals. …one of life’s most vital lessons: there may be nothing more powerful in determining your future as your resolve to do so.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

Almost four eight years ago, a powerful yogi started sharing his practice with me. While yes, he was physically and mentally powerful, what struck me right off the bat that first summer was that Tom B. (Yogi #28) was spiritually and energetically strong. His focus and breath awareness alone were enlightening – especially when our conversations revealed that certain aspects of the yoga philosophy were new to him. What wasn’t new to him, however, was a dedication to knowing and growing through God.

“To work without desire may seem impossible, but the way to do it is to substitute thoughts of Divinity for thoughts of desire. Do your work in this world with your heart fixed on the Divine instead of on outcomes. Do not worry about results. Be even tempered in success and failure. This mental eveness is what is meant by ‘yoga’ (Union with God).”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (2:48), by Jack Hawley

Tom B. would be the first to tell you that one of the things which cemented the beginning of our spiritual friendship was when I mentioned Seane Corn approaching her vinyasa practice as a body prayer. For some people, the idea that one can mindfully and intentionally use their whole body to pray is a very alien, very esoteric practice. For others, it is a cultural experience they take for granted. Then there are people who start off in the first group and very deliberately, very intentionally, practice their way into the second group. In many ways, Tom B. belongs in this last camp. Like a dervish, he has spent much of his life revolving around ways the sacred and the divine relate to the mundane and profane. The physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga) has just become another way for him to pray and dance with the Divine.

“So, are you open to praying? Mmmmhmm? That’s my hope; that what we can do today is use this practice in a way that goes beyond the physical and does what I really believe yoga is suppose to do – which is ultimately unite us, connect us, inspire us – from a place that’s very deep within.”

 

– from “Yoga from the Heart” by Seane Corn

In addition to our early conversation about Seane Corn’s approach to the physical practice, Tom B. and I once stood on a rooftop and discussed comparative analysis of sacred text, which can be a form of svadyaya (self-study, one of the niyamas/internal observations). Specifically, Tom B. wanted to know more about the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali’s outline of the yoga philosophy. His interest was piqued by a class focused on ahimsa (non-harming, one of the yamas/external observations) and a reference I made to a translation of the sutras entitled How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali translated and with commentary by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood.

Here, again, the paradigm might have been new – but then, again, it wasn’t. As a professional theologian, Tom B. was already so well versed in religious ethics and the benefits of being virtuous that he could (and did) write a book about it! But, what I appreciated right off the bat – and what continues to inspire me about Tom B. – was not only his intellectual awareness and his continued pursuit of how certain Truths are universal to the human experience, but also his sense of humor and his commitment to practicing the principles of his faith, on and off the mat.

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. ”

 

– 1 Thessalonians 5:16 – 18

 

“Be grateful to everyone. Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join in meditation. Always maintain only a joyful mind.”

 

– Lojong (Tibetan Buddhist Mind-training techniques) #13, #16, #21

 

“All the important texts on Yoga lay great emphasis on sadhana or abhyasa (constant practice). Sadhana is not just theoretical study of Yoga texts. It is a spiritual endeavor. Oil seeds must be pressed to yield oil. Wood must be heated to ignite it and bring out the hidden fire within. In the same way, the sadhaka must by constant practice light the divine flame within himself.”

– from Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar

(Click here if you do not see embedded video.)

 

“We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. / Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. / For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

– 2 Peter 1:19 – 21

“We get more pleasure from union with the spiritual objects we understand than from the bodily objects we sense: the objects themselves are to be prized more, the ability to understand is a nobler ability, and the union achieved is more intimate, more complete, and more lasting.”

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

While I’ve laid out a few of the reasons why Yoga resonated with Yogi #28, there are many, many more. And, perhaps the best reasons are the ones I’ve saved for last. In addition to being a contemporary theologian, Tom B is a person whose spiritual practices have been ancient, embodied, and interspiritual for much of his life. He is Catholic, and also catholic – the lower case “c” emphasizing the original meaning from the Greek words meaning “universal” and “according to the whole.” He is a recognized leader in Christian contemplative practices, such as Centering Prayer, and in the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas (who focused on ethics and proving the existence of God, both through the lens of love, goodness, and beauty). In the four years between now and Kiss My Asana 2016 (when I originally posted the “Questions Answered by Yogis” series), Tom B has continued and expanded his spiritual journey by starting a podcast called “Contemplate This!” where he interviews and cultivates dialogue with some of the most amazing modern day mystics and contemplative leaders (present company excluded in that platitude, as – full disclosure – I am interview #6).

“Spiritual pleasures presuppose virtue, so most people fail to experience them and fall back on bodily pleasures.”

 

– from Summa Theologica (1a2ae. 31. 5) by Saint Thomas Aquinas

Tom B once asked me to write a letter to his children, which up until now I have neglected to do (probably for the same reasons I didn’t post this back in 2016: “because all that I have written seems like straw to me.”). If we were to consider this part of that letter, I would call it “How to Know the Father” and tell his kids that if they look within themselves they will find all the need to know about their dad – especially if they add in a little comparative analysis.

“Abbot Lot came to Abbot Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not be totally changed into fire?”

 

– from The Wisdom of the Desert (LXII), translated by Thomas Merton

Please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Tuesday, April 28th) at 12 Noon or 7:15 PM. Both practices will revolve around poetry and, also, explore what is required to completely devote oneself to something or someone. There is, after all, a bridge between the desire to commit and the actual commitment. It is the bridge that fosters “singleness of purpose” and permits one to devote their life to what is felt, but unseen. It is the same metaphorical bridge that allows poets to write poetry…about anything and everything. Please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Tuesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Devote yourself to Kiss(ing) My Asana?

The 7th Annual Kiss My Asana yogathon benefits Mind Body Solutions, which was founded by Matthew Sanford to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body. Known for their adaptive yoga classes, MBS provides “traditional yoga” classes, workshops, and outreach programs. They also train yoga teachers and offer highly specialized training for health care professionals. This year’s yogathon is only a week long! Seven days, starting yesterday (Saturday), to do yoga, share yoga, and help others. By participating in the Kiss My Asana yogathon you join a global movement, but in a personal way. In other words, you practice yoga… for 7 days.

The yogathon raises resources and awareness. So, my goal this year is to tell 7 stories in 7 days and raise $600 for Mind Body Solutions. You can do yoga starting today. You can share yoga be inviting a friend to one of my classes or by forwarding one of the blog posts. You can help others by donating or, if you are not able to donate, come to class Saturday – Wednesday (or request a class you can do on your own) and practice the story poses on Thursday and Friday so that I can make a donation on your behalf.

You can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day; you can learn something new about your practice; or even teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas about how you can spend this week, consider that in past years my KMA offerings have included donation-based classes and (sometimes) daily postings. Check out one of my previous offerings dated April 28th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 28th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 28th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 28th Practice (see “Poetry Practice” link above)

* Psst…Ella’s story was my first KMA 2020 offering and her pose is Tadasana / Samasthiti (Mountain Pose / Equal Standing) as if you are offering a gift. The second story was the story of philosophy and connectivity via a little bit of the histories of Charles Richter and Ludwig Wittgenstein. The third stories, referencing Mary Wollstonecraft and Jessie Redmon Fauset, took us back to the start of the philosophy. Today’s story is story number four (and also number five), are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 2 more. Please tell me your story!

You can also check out yesterday’s all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering featuring insights from MBS founder Matthew Sanford, conversation with MBS students, and a mind-body practice for all. If you’re not familiar with MBS, this will give you a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program which I am helping to raise $50K of essential support.

 

### “ENTER BY THE SMALL RIVERS” ###

 

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

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

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

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

do yoga. share yoga. help others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– excerpt from “How Things Work” by Gary Soto

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Beneath my steps, my breath”

– excerpt from “Oranges” by Gary Soto

(for my twin and her best friend)

 

### NAMASTE ###