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FTWMI: Doing the Work May 16, 2022

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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Be humble, strong, and balanced. 

While yesterday’s practice served up “phun” with a side of suffering, how we deal with suffering is the main course during tonight’s practice. The following was originally posted in 2021. I have updated the date-related practice information. Even though there is no music for the Monday night practice, I have retained the links from last year’s 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.)

 

“‘Bhikkhus, I could tell you in many ways about the animal kingdom, so much so that it is hard to find a simile for the suffering in the animal kingdom. Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus [monks]? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?’

Bhikkhus: ‘He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.’

 

‘Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dhamma there, no practicing of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.’”

 

– quoted from “The Animal Kingdom” in Majjhima Nikāya 129, Balapandita Sutta: Fools and Wise Men

Don’t ask me why, because I can give you a hundred reasons, but I always seem to “mis-remember” a certain Buddhist story. I mix up the details of the story – I have heard that other teachers (greater teachers than me) do the same. In my case, the blind turtle becomes a dolphin who likes to play; another teacher makes the piece of driftwood a golden ring, heavy enough to sink down to the bottom of the sea (only to get churned back up again). Additionally, I have heard others say that the convergence of the ring and the sea creature happens every hundred years, every thousand years, every five billion years, or a kalpa (based on Hindu and/or some Buddhist texts). But, be all that as it may, the purpose of the story doesn’t change: it highlights the odds of being born (or reborn) into a human existence and the preciousness of human life. And, just as the purpose of the story doesn’t change, neither does the driving compulsion to tell the story – even when one mixes up the details.

While we are on the subject of details, take a moment to consider the details of your life. Consider your unique experiences, thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Back in 2016, Dr. B. B. Cael, who was then a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), calculated that the probability of a blind sea turtle randomly rising up so that it’s head poked through a hole in a piece of drift wood was 7.2 x 10^-16 and the probability of a human being (who is going to be reincarnated) coming back as another human was 6.5 x 10^-16. Now, all of that is just random – without any consideration to specific details like in which body of water the creature rise or what month or what year. Imagine if you will, the probability of you… or me…or anyone we know actually existing as we do. It is miraculous and magnificent!

When I consider how magnificent and miraculous it all is, it reinforces my belief that we are all here for a purpose: a divine purpose. Or, at the very least, that our lives should have a purpose; that we should live a purpose-driven life.

“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

 

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

 

Mona Miller was the teacher of one of my teachers, Seane Corn. Like me, like Seane, like pretty much every teacher who regularly guides a  group of people, Mona had things she was known for saying. Her students called those sayings, Monaisms, and the one above reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ stoic belief that the obstacle is the way. It is also a perfect recipe for being driven and staying driven. After all, we all have struggles, strife, challenges, discomfort, suffering, and disease – and we all want (and deserve) relief from that which ails us. If we take a moment, just a moment, to reflect on what ails us we start to realize four very salient facts:

  1. We are not the only person suffering.
  2. Someone else has, is, and will suffer as we are suffering.
  3. How we deal with our suffering can alleviate suffering or cause more suffering (in ourselves and others).
  4. How we deal with our suffering can inspire others as they deal with their suffering.

If we lay these facts over the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” and some of Patanjali’s aphorisms on afflicted/dysfunctional thought-patterns and the nature of suffering, we find that even our smallest goals and desires – the things we think are the most personal to us and our circumstances, in fact, directly and indirectly affect others and their suffering. Everything, as Patanjali points out in Yoga Sūtra 2.18, can bring fulfillment and freedom (from suffering).

 “Sanklapa goes beyond just intention. Sankalpa truly cares for the impact.”

 

Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Practice by Susanna Barkataki

 

Our ritual of setting an intention and “dedicating” our practice is similar to the Buddhist tradition of “dedicating of the merit” and is rooted in the fifth niyama (“internal observation”), Īśvarapraņidhāna, which is offering our efforts back to the source. The underlying idea in these practices is the very definition of karma yoga as outlined in The Bhagavad Gita (2.31 – 2.51): that we should do our best and work without desire, because the work we do is our “personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma).”

On Saturday, we go a little deeper by practicing with a sankalpa. The Sanskrit word can be translated into English as “will,” “determination,” and “(the highest) vow.” However, as Susanna Barkataki points out, there is no English word that encompasses the complete and true meaning. Part of the problem with the English translations is that we don’t have one word for something that simultaneously compels us, fuels us, and motivates us. We don’t have an English word for something that consciously embed so deeply into our fiber that it unconsciously starts determining how we live, think, speak, and act. Even “purpose” has to be “driven.”

Of course, these practices require a certain level of trust, a certain level of faith, or – at the very least – a certain level of hopeful desire that what benefits us will also benefit others. One way I frame this is to think of each of us is being like every hero in every culture’s hero’s journey. Accordingly, our work in the world will result in a boon that benefits the world. This is true whether we look at our life (and life purpose) through the lens of our occupation, vocation, and/or avocation. This is true whether we have all the advantages or all the disadvantages. This is true whether people expect us to succeed or whether we are viewed as the underdog. Either way, how we show up in the world matters, because we matter.

 

“That grain of salt
You talk about
Gets bigger and bigger each day
It’s making a pearl
Inside my heart
With layer and layers of tears
I’d give you this pearl
To save our hearts”

 

– quoted from the song “Grain of Salt” by John Doe

 

I have a lot of favorite metaphors about how we can deal with hardship and challenges. One of my favorites is what happens when an oyster, clam, or other shelled mollusks gets a bit of salt, sand, or debris inside of its shell. Since the mollusk doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs it can use to root around and remove the irritating object, it begins to lave the object with its natural secretion. Over and over again, the shell creature coats the object until it is smooth (and iridescent) and no longer irritating. The end result is something we humans often find valuable.

Of course, I’m going to discourage anyone from getting an actual pearl to remind them of this metaphor, because it is (in a practical sense) an imperfect metaphor. While the mollusk finds a non-violent way to end its suffering, the harvesting of the pearl (especially in a commercial sense) usually requires killing the shelled creature. In the case of cultured pearls, someone intentionally places the irritating object in the shell (hence causing suffering) and then kills the mollusk or, if it can be “irritated” again, places it back in the water to go through more suffering. Hence why, when I use the metaphor, I focus more on what the mollusk has to teach us than what we teach ourselves.

It is, however, important to remember that we are teaching ourselves. In other words, we are teaching each other. The way we think, speak, act, and live our lives is a lesson to others – and especially to the children around us. I know there are a lot of celebrities who consistently proclaim that they are not role models. Yet, each of us is a living example; each of us is modeling behavior – and the children around us are watching and learning. They are learning from their parents, grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their neighbors, their world leaders, and the siblings of all of the above. They are also learning from each other. And what is more important than the words someone tells them is the lived example that they observe.

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

Kar har maidaan fateh o bandeya
[Win every battlefield, overcome all your limitations/restrictions”]

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh

The 2018 film Sanju is based on the real life story of a Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt (portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor). Called “Sanju” by his mother, the actor experienced a series of personal crises intertwined with political crises and a downward spiral that resulted in him dealing with his losses, challenges, and conflicts in the some of the most dysfunctional/afflicted ways possible. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and became addicted – which, of course, led to more suffering. In a song that is featured in the movie, and in the associated video, Manisha Koirala appears as a vision of Nargis, Sanju’s mother, encouraging him to live a better life.

In keeping with the language found in many sacred texts from Asia, the song, “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” refers to one’s struggles, challenges, and suffering as “shackles” or “chains.” The song instructs one to turn the very things that could defeat us into something that can help us overcome our struggles and win our personal battles. It speaks of the power of determination so strong that it overcomes bad luck; climbing onto “clouds of adversity” and grabbing “the collar of the difficult tough times – all in order to become special and “separate from the ordinary crowd.” The song specifically refers to “swords” (and even what can be accomplished with a “broken sword”), but consider other tools that one can use to overcome adversity.

Remember, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said,The pen is mightier than the sword.” Remember the power of a sharp mind and what happens when you make your mind up to do something. Remember, too, that once a lesson is learned it continues to serve.

“If all the world is a classroom and every day of life is a lesson, then certainly your profession and workplace are included.

 

After all, He has unlimited ways to provide your livelihood, but He chose to direct you to this way of life.

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

(*lit. “From Day to Day”); an anthology of aphorisms and customs, arranged according to the days of the year, assembled from the talks and letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitch Rebbe; compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. “Iyar” is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the Jewish religious year, based on the Hebrew calendar.

 

Please join me today (Monday, May 16th) 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 Meditation Center practice.

The playlist for Sunday (05/16/2021) is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.”

[“I am I and my circumstance, and if I don’t save it I don’t save myself.”]

 

 

— quoted from Meditaciones del Quijote [Don Quixote Mediations] by José Ortega y Gasset

 

Thank you to everyone who supported the 9th annual Kiss My Asana yogathon. Both Mind Body Solutions and I surpassed our goals (Woohooo!!!) thanks to everyone’s generosity. As always, I am grateful for everyone that did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others.

“Dikhla de zinda hai tu
[Show to everyone that you are still alive]

Baaqi hai tujhme hausla
[and there is courage left in you…]”

 

“Tooti shamsheerein toh kya
[So what if your sword is broken]

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

Kar har maidan fateh
[Win all the battlefields…]”

 

“Teri koshishein hee kaamyaab hongi
[your attempts, efforts will be successful]

Jab teri ye zidd aag hogi
[when your insistence, attempts would turn into a burning desire]

Phoonk de na-umeediyan, na-umeediyan
[Burn down all the hopeless, negativeness…]”

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh (with English translations)

 

Victory in every situation

### ¡Jai Jai Guru Dev! Victory to the Big Mind! ###

 

 

 

The Power of Being Ready to Fulfill Your Purpose (an expanded and “renewed” post-practice post) April 12, 2022

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“Ramadān Mubarak, Blessed Ramadān!” to anyone who was observing the holy month of Ramadān. Many blessings to all, and especially to those celebrating or observing Holy Week or Great Lent!

This post-practice post for Monday, April 11th. Some of the following appeared in posts from 2019 and 2020, but there are quite a few new bits for some fresh context. 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.

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.

“One’s personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma) should be viewed as one’s highest responsibility to his or her highest Self, the Atma. This ultrahigh level of duty carries with it the requirement that one never does anything that is contrary to this True Self Within. And even if you consider your sva-dharma more narrowly from the standpoint of being true to your profession, you should not hesitate to fight. For a warrior, war against evil, greed, cruelty, hate, and jealousy is the highest duty.”

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (2.31) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

Sacred texts from a variety of different cultures, tell us that everyone has a purpose. However, even if you don’t believe the old adage, science has shown that people who live a purpose driven life have better physical and mental health and stronger resilience than their peers. It’s a bit of a cycle: we need our mind-body-spirit to fulfill a purpose and fulfilling the purpose strengthens our mind-body-spirit so that we are better equipped to fulfill the purpose.

Sometimes, however, we do things – or don’t do things – that sap our energy and drag us down. Sometimes other people’s opinions about what we’re doing (or not doing) can also be like those things we do – or don’t do – that sap our energy and drag us down. If our mind-bodies are temples, then the things that sap our energy are like thieves in the temple. Thieves can be eating the wrong foods; drinking too much of the wrong beverages and/or not drinking enough water; not resting; not exercising; partaking in illicit drugs; not managing stress; and/or being surrounded by negative opinions. Doesn’t matter what they are though; at some point we have to throw the thieves out of the temple in order to restore the temple to its original purpose.

“Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, what do you do?
Subtle innuendos follow
There must be something inside”

*

– quoted from the song “Goody Two Shoes” by Adam Ant (or Adam and the Ants)

Some of y’all may be thinking, “Aren’t you like the embodiment of that Adam Ant song?” Well, sometimes I do feel like that. And, yes, I do a lot of yoga and meditation with an emphasis on letting things go that no longer serve me. That doesn’t mean, however, that other people’s opinions never affect me. It doesn’t mean that I don’t ever internalize external judgement or spend way too much time and energy justifying my existence and/or presence in certain spaces.

Neither does it mean that I don’t have my vices. I have a bit of a sweet tooth (cue the laughter from my friends) and while I endeavor to stick to really good quality chocolate, or pastries without a lot of preservatives, I have been known – not often, but occasionally – to grab what’s handy. And then, the suffering ensues. Because, as much as I love it, processed sugar is not our friend and when you mix it with a bunch of additives it might as well be one of the deadlier vices.

Years ago, on one of my busiest days, I was feeling lethargic, hungry, and a little spacey, but I still had one more class to teach. Rather than choose wisely and do something I knew would be helpful, but would take a bit of time, I went for the quick fix: chocolate, but not the good kind. One of the lifeguards at the Blaisdell Y saw me pull my poor choice out of the vending machine and asked if my students knew I ate stuff like that. I shrugged and said I was only going to eat half. Needless to say, I ate it all. While I felt “better” in the short term, the next morning I woke up feeling awful. I felt like I had thieves in my personal temple.

“And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves,” 

*

“And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.” 

*

 – quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:12 – 13, KJV)

This week is Passion Week or Holy Week in the Roman Catholic and Western Christian traditions. Some say the significant stuff begins with Saturday, although I’ll save the story for another day; others consider Palm Sunday as the beginning of one of the holiest weeks in the Western Christian tradition. Either way, Passion Monday, or Holy Monday, is the last Monday of Lent, which is a period of fasting and prayer within the aforementioned traditions. Part of the Passion Week or Holy Week observation is remembering the stories and parables associated with the last week of Jesus’ life. The story I most closely associate with this day is the story of Jesus throwing the thieves out of the temple and then having his authority questioned.

According to the New Testament Gospels, Jesus was very clear about his purpose as he entered the last week of his life. He understood that there would be suffering (hence, the passion), trials, tribulation, and betrayal, and joy. He knew he would be tested and tempted (yet another passion/suffering). It is unclear if he knew how quickly the suffering will begin, but suffice it to say, it was immediate. When he returned to Jerusalem for Passover, he found the Temple of Jerusalem had been turned into a defacto market place. All four (4) canonical gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) state that Jesus ran the livestock and the merchants out, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the dove sellers. He then began to heal the sick and to teach, thus restoring the temple to its original purpose.

“‘People who eat too much or too little or who sleep too much or too little will not succeed in meditation. Eat only food that does not heat up the body or excite the mind. When you balance and regulate your habits of eating, sleeping, working, and playing, then meditation dissolves sorrow and destroys mental pain.’

*

– Krishna speaking to Arjuna (6.16 – 6.17) in The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley

When we don’t treat our mind-bodies as respected temples, we suffer and are sometimes not able to do the things we need and want to do. Even if you’re getting some exercise, resting, and drinking a lot of water, the very nature of the last two years – extra sitting around, lack of routine, poor eating choices, stress, and isolation – means that all (or most) of us are out of balance. When we get out of balance, we need more of something to get back into balance. Sometimes we need more rest, sometimes more water, sometimes more movement. Sometimes we need someone, like that Blaisdell lifeguard, to gently and kindly remind us what we’re doing – or not doing – is going to throw us out of balance. Other times, we just need them to quietly be present and we sort ourselves out. (Just for the record, that lifeguard did that for me too – and on the very next day no less!)

I will often refer to the fact that our bodies are mostly water as a reason why movement feels good. We are meant to flow and slosh all that salty water around a little. It’s a great visual, and it’s true on a certain level. However, there are even more scientific reasons why it’s good to stay active. One of those reasons is our lymphatic system, which is a vital part of our immune system.

Our lymphatic system helps keep us healthy by providing proteins and other nutrients to healthy cells, while simultaneously brushing away dead, damaged, and infected cells. It also maintains the balance of fluid between the blood and tissues, as well as aiding in the absorption of fats and fat-soluble nutrients. Unlike the cardiovascular system, however, the lymphatic system does not have its own pump. If we want lymph to bring nutrients to healthy cells and also brush/rinse away dead or damaged cells, we have to move our bodies. Any kind of movement is helpful, especially if it engages the whole body. Most physical practices of yoga engage and move your whole body in a very systematic way. So, you could say that the physical practice of yoga almost always has an element of detoxification. There are, however, certain poses and sequences that are considered detoxifying in nature.

Holy Monday, or Passion Monday, is one of the days when I suggest a “detox flow” that involves good amount of muscle engagement – to get the lymph flowing – and a fair amount of twists. In some ancient medicines and philosophies, discomfort and disease is associated with blocked or stagnate energy and so the movement is also a way to unblock the energy. The twists, like many of the other poses in the sequence, have the additional benefit of creating space by helping us loosen up tension we may not even realize we are holding and also offering a gentle massage to the abdominal cavity and low back. But, there’s another twist to the twists. Energetically speaking, with regard to yoga, the twists engage our third chakra (or “wheel’), which is related to our sense of self, our self-esteem, our personality, and how we see ourselves in the world. This is the exact area you want strengthened (or opened) when someone is questioning your authority to do what you do.

“And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things.”

*

“The baptism of John, whence was it? from heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, If we shall say, From heaven; he will say unto us, Why did ye not then believe him?” 

*

“And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.”

*

– quoted from The Gospel According to Matthew (21:24 – 26, KJV)

According to the gospels, children praised Jesus and this, along with everything else, riled up the establishment. In three (3) of the New Testament Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) several groups of the establishment questioned Jesus’ authority and his views on taxes. First he was asked, “By what authority are you doing these things?” To which, Jesus asked his own question (see above) regarding the authority of the then wildly popular John the Baptist. Of course, this was a tricky question for the elders; because, if they said that John the Baptist’s authority came from God, well then so did Jesus’s and therefore he was unquestionable. If, however, they said that Jesus’s cousin was empowered only by the people, well, the people might revolt. In that moment, they could not answer.

Later, in another attempt to trap Jesus, the elders asked him if the Jewish people should pay taxes to the Roman Empire. He asked them to show him a coin suitable for payment and, when they presented a coin with a Roman face on the front – specifically, Caesar’s face – Jesus said, “’Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’.” (Matthew 22:21)

“Excuse me, do you work here?”

*

– a person who thought I worked at a garden story because “you’re wearing a fanny pack,” even though none of the employees (wearing branded clothing) wore a fanny pack

In his book Deviate: The Science of Seeing Differently, and also in many of his talks and lectures, the neuroscientist Beau Lotto points out that “We don’t see reality – we only see what was useful to see in the past. But the nature of the brain’s delusional past is this: The past that determines how you see isn’t just constituted by your lived perceptions but by your imagined ones as well. As such, you can influence what you see in the future just by thinking.” This idea is very much in keeping with what Patanjali outlined in the Yoga Sūtras and is why someone in a garden shop thought I worked there. It’s also why so many people in Minnesota were surprised when they walked in a studio (or a rooftop) and discovered the yoga teacher of the day looked like me. Sometimes such reactions were funny to me, but they were also exhausting. Even more ironic, exhausting, and heartbreaking, when you know the historical roots of yoga, was when people would question the authority of a brown-skinned man who was teaching yoga. After all, yoga – like Buddhism – started in a time and place where all (official) teachers were male and brown-skinned.

Of course, the world changes. It’s constantly changing. The lived reality of these ancient practices is not, necessarily, the modern experience. So, we are in the habit – in this country, at least – of questioning anything we perceive as different from the status quo. This questioning, however, extends beyond expectations around gender roles and how we understand someone’s role based on race; it also bumps us up against are own biases (unconscious or otherwise) about weight, height, class, age, and ability.

All of the aforementioned biases (and even those I did not mention) are why practices like meditation, self-study, and discernment are so instrumental to our individual and collective progression and evolution. They are also part of the reason I offer biographic stories as well as religious stories as a focal point for self-study – even to people who may not know about or believe in a particular system. By learning about the world, we learn about ourselves. By turning inward, we confront our biases and open up to the possibility of seeing things differently. We start to think differently. Changing our perceptions and our understanding of our past means that we open up to the possibility of seeing a different future – maybe, even, a more inclusive reality.

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

*

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet it sees only what the mind/intellect shows it.”

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practice.

Here is something I played on that never-to-be-forgotten Holy Monday after I ate that aforementioned giant chocolate bar.

*

Lent and Great Lent are based on Easter, which is a moveable feast in all Christian traditions and, therefore, occurs on different dates on the Gregorian calendar. I did not really incorporate the birthdays (or poetry) of Misuzo Kaneko (b. 04/11/1903) and Mark Strand (b. 04/11/1934) into this years practice. You can click here for the 2018 post and here for the 2019 post, if you are interested in their lives and poetry.

*

“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

*

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn

*

### Get Your Mind Clean, And The Rest Will Follow (to paraphrase En Vogue) ###

Doing the Work (the “missing” Sunday post) May 17, 2021

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Mantra, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tragedy, Wisdom, Yoga.
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This is the post Sunday, May 16th. You can request an audio recording of this 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.

“‘Bhikkhus, I could tell you in many ways about the animal kingdom, so much so that it is hard to find a simile for the suffering in the animal kingdom. Suppose a man threw into the sea a yoke with one hole in it, and the east wind carried it to the west, and the west wind carried it to the east, and the north wind carried it to the south, and the south wind carried it to the north. Suppose there were a blind turtle that came up once at the end of each century. What do you think, bhikkhus [monks]? Would that blind turtle put his neck into that yoke with one hole in it?’

Bhikkhus: ‘He might, venerable sir, sometime or other at the end of a long period.’

 

‘Bhikkhus, the blind turtle would take less time to put his neck into that yoke with a single hole in it than a fool, once gone to perdition, would take to regain the human state, I say. Why is that? Because there is no practicing of the Dhamma there, no practicing of what is righteous, no doing of what is wholesome, no performance of merit. There mutual devouring prevails, and the slaughter of the weak.’”

 

– quoted from “The Animal Kingdom” in Majjhima Nikāya 129, Balapandita Sutta: Fools and Wise Men

Don’t ask me why, because I can give you a hundred reasons, but I always seem to “mis-remember” a certain Buddhist story. I mix up the details of the story – I have heard that other teachers (greater teachers than me) do the same. In my case, the blind turtle becomes a dolphin who likes to play; another teacher makes the piece of driftwood a golden ring, heavy enough to sink down to the bottom of the sea (only to get churned back up again). Additionally, I have heard others say that the convergence of the ring and the sea creature happens every hundred years, every thousand years, every five billion years, or a kalpa (based on Hindu and/or some Buddhist texts). But, be all that as it may, the purpose of the story doesn’t change: it highlights the odds of being born (or reborn) into a human existence and the preciousness of human life. And, just as the purpose of the story doesn’t change, neither does the driving compulsion to tell the story – even when one mixes up the details.

While we are on the subject of details, take a moment to consider the details of your life. Consider your unique experiences, thoughts, words, deeds, and relationships. Back in 2016, Dr. B. B. Cael, who was then a graduate student in the MIT-WHOI Joint Program (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution), calculated that the probability of a blind sea turtle randomly rising up so that it’s head poked through a hole in a piece of drift wood was 7.2 x 10^-16 and the probability of a human being (who is going to be reincarnated) coming back as another human was 6.5 x 10^-16. Now, all of that is just random – without any consideration to specific details like in which body of water the creature rise or what month or what year. Imagine if you will, the probability of you… or me…or anyone we know actually existing as we do. It is miraculous and magnificent!

When I consider how magnificent and miraculous it all is, it reinforces my belief that we are all here for a purpose: a divine purpose. Or, at the very least, that our lives should have a purpose; that we should live a purpose-driven life.

“Find your struggle, learn your lesson, and then know your purpose.”

 

– a “Monaism” (saying by Mona Miller, as quoted by Seane Corn)

 

Mona Miller was the teacher of one of my teachers, Seane Corn. Like me, like Seane, like pretty much every teacher who regularly guides a  group of people, Mona had things she was known for saying. Her students called those sayings, Monaisms, and the one above reminds me of Marcus Aurelius’ stoic belief that the obstacle is the way. It is also a perfect recipe for being driven and staying driven. After all, we all have struggles, strife, challenges, discomfort, suffering, and disease – and we all want (and deserve) relief from that which ails us. If we take a moment, just a moment, to reflect on what ails us we start to realize four very salient facts:

  1. We are not the only person suffering.
  2. Someone else has, is, and will suffer as we are suffering.
  3. How we deal with our suffering can alleviate suffering or cause more suffering (in ourselves and others).
  4. How we deal with our suffering can inspire others as they deal with their suffering.

If we lay these facts over the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” and some of Patanjali’s aphorisms on afflicted/dysfunctional thought-patterns and the nature of suffering, we find that even our smallest goals and desires – the things we think are the most personal to us and our circumstances, in fact, directly and indirectly affect others and their suffering. Everything, as Patanjali points out in Yoga Sūtra 2.18, can bring fulfillment and freedom (from suffering).

 “Sanklapa goes beyond just intention. Sankalpa truly cares for the impact.”

 

Embrace Yoga’s Roots: Courageous Ways to Deepen Your Practice by Susanna Barkataki

 

Our ritual of setting an intention and “dedicating” our practice is similar to the Buddhist tradition of “dedicating of the merit” and is rooted in the fifth niyama (“internal observation”), Īśvarapraņidhāna, which is offering our efforts back to the source. The underlying idea in these practices is the very definition of karma yoga as outlined in The Bhagavad Gita (2.31 – 2.51): that we should do our best and work without desire, because the work we do is our “personal duty in life (one’s sva-dharma).”

On Saturday, we go a little deeper by practicing with a sankalpa. The Sanskrit word can be translated into English as “will,” “determination,” and “(the highest) vow.” However, as Susanna Barkataki points out, there is no English word that encompasses the complete and true meaning. Part of the problem with the English translations is that we don’t have one word for something that simultaneously compels us, fuels us, and motivates us. We don’t have an English word for something that consciously embed so deeply into our fiber that it unconsciously starts determining how we live, think, speak, and act. Even “purpose” has to be “driven.”

Of course, these practices require a certain level of trust, a certain level of faith, or – at the very least – a certain level of hopeful desire that what benefits us will also benefit others. One way I frame this is to think of each of us is being like every hero in every culture’s hero’s journey. Accordingly, our work in the world will result in a boon that benefits the world. This is true whether we look at our life (and life purpose) through the lens of our occupation, vocation, and/or avocation. This is true whether we have all the advantages or all the disadvantages. This is true whether people expect us to succeed or whether we are viewed as the underdog. Either way, how we show up in the world matters, because we matter.

 

“That grain of salt
You talk about
Gets bigger and bigger each day
It’s making a pearl
Inside my heart
With layer and layers of tears
I’d give you this pearl
To save our hearts”

 

– quoted from the song “Grain of Salt” by John Doe

 

I have a lot of favorite metaphors about how we can deal with hardship and challenges. One of my favorites is what happens when an oyster, clam, or other shelled mollusks gets a bit of salt, sand, or debris inside of its shell. Since the mollusk doesn’t have fingers and opposable thumbs it can use to root around and remove the irritating object, it begins to lave the object with its natural secretion. Over and over again, the shell creature coats the object until it is smooth (and iridescent) and no longer irritating. The end result is something we humans often find valuable.

Of course, I’m going to discourage anyone from getting an actual pearl to remind them of this metaphor, because it is (in a practical sense) an imperfect metaphor. While the mollusk finds a non-violent way to end its suffering, the harvesting of the pearl (especially in a commercial sense) usually requires killing the shelled creature. In the case of cultured pearls, someone intentionally places the irritating object in the shell (hence causing suffering) and then kills the mollusk or, if it can be “irritated” again, places it back in the water to go through more suffering. Hence why, when I use the metaphor, I focus more on what the mollusk has to teach us than what we teach ourselves.

It is, however, important to remember that we are teaching ourselves. In other words, we are teaching each other. The way we think, speak, act, and live our lives is a lesson to others – and especially to the children around us. I know there are a lot of celebrities who consistently proclaim that they are not role models. Yet, each of us is a living example; each of us is modeling behavior – and the children around us are watching and learning. They are learning from their parents, grandparents, their teachers, their coaches, their neighbors, their world leaders, and the siblings of all of the above. They are also learning from each other. And what is more important than the words someone tells them is the lived example that they observe.

“Pighla de zanjeerein
[Melt the shackles]

Bana unki shamsheerein
[and make swords out of them]

Kar har maidaan fateh o bandeya
[Win every battlefield, overcome all your limitations/restrictions”]

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh

The 2018 film Sanju is based on the real life story of a Bollywood actor, Sanjay Dutt (portrayed by Ranbir Kapoor). Called “Sanju” by his mother, the actor experienced a series of personal crises intertwined with political crises and a downward spiral that resulted in him dealing with his losses, challenges, and conflicts in the some of the most dysfunctional/afflicted ways possible. He turned to drugs and alcohol, and became addicted – which, of course, led to more suffering. In a song that is featured in the movie, and in the associated video, Manisha Koirala appears as a vision of Nargis, Sanju’s mother, encouraging him to live a better life.

In keeping with the language found in many sacred texts from Asia, the song, “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” refers to one’s struggles, challenges, and suffering as “shackles” or “chains.” The song instructs one to turn the very things that could defeat us into something that can help us overcome our struggles and win our personal battles. It speaks of the power of determination so strong that it overcomes bad luck; climbing onto “clouds of adversity” and grabbing “the collar of the difficult tough times – all in order to become special and “separate from the ordinary crowd.” The song specifically refers to “swords” (and even what can be accomplished with a “broken sword”), but consider other tools that one can use to overcome adversity.

Remember, Edward Bulwer-Lytton said,The pen is mightier than the sword.” Remember the power of a sharp mind and what happens when you make your mind up to do something. Remember, too, that once a lesson is learned it continues to serve.

“If all the world is a classroom and every day of life is a lesson, then certainly your profession and workplace are included.

 

After all, He has unlimited ways to provide your livelihood, but He chose to direct you to this way of life.

What sparks of divine wisdom await you here?”

 

– quoted from Hayom Yom*, 9 Iyar

 

(*lit. “From Day to Day”); an anthology of aphorisms and customs, arranged according to the days of the year, assembled from the talks and letters of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak of Lubavitch (1880-1950), sixth Lubavitch Rebbe; compiled by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, seventh Lubavitch Rebbe. “Iyar” is the eighth month of the civil year and the second month of the Jewish religious year, based on the Hebrew calendar.

 

Sunday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

“Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia, y si no la salvo a ella no me salvo yo.”

[“I am I and my circumstance, and if I don’t save it I don’t save myself.”]

 

 

— quoted from Meditaciones del Quijote [Don Quixote Mediations] by José Ortega y Gasset

 

Thank you to everyone who supported the 8th annual Kiss My Asana yogathon. Mind Body Solutions made their goal (Woohooo!!!) and, as always, I am grateful for everyone that did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others.

“Dikhla de zinda hai tu
[Show to everyone that you are still alive]

Baaqi hai tujhme hausla
[and there is courage left in you…]”

 

“Tooti shamsheerein toh kya
[So what if your sword is broken]

Tooti shamsheeron se hee
[Even with this broken sword]

Kar har maidan fateh
[Win all the battlefields…]”

 

“Teri koshishein hee kaamyaab hongi
[your attempts, efforts will be successful]

Jab teri ye zidd aag hogi
[when your insistence, attempts would turn into a burning desire]

Phoonk de na-umeediyan, na-umeediyan
[Burn down all the hopeless, negativeness…]”

 

– quoted from the song “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” by Shreya Ghoshal and Sukhwinder Singh (with English translations)

 

Victory in every situation

### ¡Jai Jai Guru Dev! Victory to the Big Mind! ###

 

 

 

Mo Betta Asana November 21, 2020

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Abhyasa, Changing Perspectives, Healing Stories, Philosophy, Science, Vairagya, Wisdom, Yoga.
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“According to Krishnamacharya, practice and knowledge must always go together. He used to say, practice without right knowledge of theory is blind. This is also because without right knowledge, one can mindfully do a wrong practice.”

– A. G. Mohan

A couple of my early yoga teachers (and my substitute Gaelic teacher) really got me thinking about what we’re “practicing” in any given moment. To break down several different encounters, let me just boil the ideas down to this: If you have anger issues and someone tells you to hit a pillow, you are practicing violence. You may argue that hitting the pillow is better than hitting a wall (which might result in damage to you and/or the wall) and that hitting a pillow or a wall is preferable to hitting a person. But, the bottom line is that you are still channeling your anger towards a violent, potentially harmful act. So, according to this premise, there is really nothing, in any given moment, that prevents you from accidentally or intentionally hitting someone – because you are preparing yourself for the moment.

In some ways, this is the whole idea behind self defense classes. You want to practice and integrate, integrate and practice, until your reaction to a dangerous situation is automatic and almost instinctual. Keep in mind, in self defense classes, you are taught defense: how to escape, evade, and defend yourself. The offense actions you are taught during a self defense class are related to awareness; because, ultimately, you are not practicing how to engage, pick a fight, and beat someone up – you are practicing and integrating how to stay safe: which is also what you’re practicing in yoga.

Yoga Sūtra 2.48: tato dvandvānabhighātāh

– “From that (perfected posture) comes lack of injury (or suffering) caused by the pairs of opposites.”

Vinyāsa is a Sanskrit word that means “to place in a special way.” It is a technique that has also become a style in yoga. But, one of the tricky things about practicing the style is that many people don’t understand the underlying theory or concept that is the technique. They think vinyāsa is what happens when they move from “high to low plank, Up’dog, Downward Facing Dog” – and that, is, in fact, one example of a vinyāsa. The reason why it is an example, however, is two-fold. First, you are linking your movement with your breath. Second, instead of moving randomly, you are moving in a way that mimics your body’s natural reaction to the breath: extending (and rising up) on the inhale, flexing (and getting closer to the earth) on the exhale.

Sometimes, like with the inclined series described above, it’s really easy to see the special way things are placed. In other examples, however, it can get a little trickier. What does “one breath, one motion” really mean? What do you do when you’re standing still, i.e., holding a pose? What do you do when some movements are big and some small? Where is my focus when different parts of my body are doing different things? What if it doesn’t make sense for my body to move like that? Can I take an extra breath?

Let’s start with the last two questions and work backwards. Yes, yes, take an extra breath if you need it, but be mindful of why you need it. Do you need an extra breath because you’re not actually breathing fully and deeply or is it because the move is too big? Bringing awareness to how you are breathing brings your awareness to the important parts of your practice. Once you focus on those important parts, you start mastering those parts. Part of that mastery is knowing when something is not an appropriate move or not an appropriate move for your body.

“Teach what is appropriate for an individual.”

– Sri T. Krishnamacharya

The physical practice of yoga (haţha yoga, regardless of style or tradition) is sometimes described as a practice of the spine and one of the foundations of vinyāsa is the idea that the spine naturally reacts to the breath in a very specific way (see above) unless something gets in the way. So, first and foremost, consider how each transition is reflected in the movement of the spine and hips. Next, consider how the movement is reflected in the movement of your big joints. Once you get an understanding of how the body moves, you bring more awareness to what is appropriate (in general and for you specifically).

Note: there are times, when you may find that a sequence moves around a joint you weren’t expecting. For instance, there are some lunging sequences where the front knee bends on the exhale and extends on the inhale – which brings focus to stretching the back of the front leg. Other times, the same sequence of poses is performed with the front knee bending on the inhale and flexing on the exhale – which brings more awareness to the spine and the hips. Keep in mind, the same parts are being affected, but in a slightly different way – and that way can make all the difference.

When you are matching the movement to the breath, with an awareness of how the body moves, then you start to mindfully and intentionally engage the muscles and the joints so that you are following the pace of the breath. This means that while an inhale from a forward fold to Mountain Pose will take the same amount of time as an inhale from forward fold to a “Half Lift,” you have to change the way you move your body by slowing down or speeding up the movement (while keeping the breath long and fine and deep). Similarly, when you are holding a pose, there is an opportunity notice how you are creating space (with the inhale) and engaging space (with the exhale). Early in your practice you may actually “do” things while holding a pose. Once you’ve mastered a pose, you may find that your awareness is drawn to what happens as you relax into the pose; letting gravity and your breath take you deeper.

Yoga Sūtra 2.46: sthirasukham āsanam

– “Cultivate a steady [or stable], easy [comfortable or joyful] seat [or pose].”

Yoga Sūtra 2.47: prayatnaśaithilyānantasamāpattibhyām

– “[The way to perfect the seat or pose] is by relaxing [or loosening] effort and by merging with the infinite.”

Ashtanga Yoga was one of the first vinyāsa practices introduced to the Western world and it’s where most people get the idea “one breath, one motion.” The Primary, Intermediate, and Advanced sequences feature vigorous continuous movement which can be incredibly therapeutic or incredibly dangerous – depending on how you practice. The sequences were set with an awareness of vinyāsa krama (which is a step-by-step progression towards a goal) and, therefore, even when one practices a “short form” your body is prepared for each subsequent pose until you reach the end. Each sequence is often taught in the West as a whole, but traditionally each sequence was taught piecemeal – meaning a teacher would give a student the beginning and the end of the sequence and only introduce new elements once the original elements were mastered.

Practicing Ashtanga in the traditional way can create an opportunity for great strength and flexibility. However, if enough attention isn’t paid to alignment and an individual’s needs, it becomes a recipe for injury. Additionally, if you study alignment and study the Ashtanga sequences, you start to understand that no matter how vigorous and challenging the sequence gets, the body really isn’t making big moves. This is why Seane Corn advises that if you are going to practice any kind of vinyāsa you should also practice an alignment-based style of yoga, like Iyengar. Combining the awareness of alignment with the awareness of breath also allows you to actually practice āsana, as opposed to just posing.

“Stability and comfort go hand in hand, allowing us to remain relaxed during the peak moments of the posture.”

– commentary on Yoga Sūtra 2.47 from The Practice of the Yoga Sūtra: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, November 21st) 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 07112020 An Introduction”]

“I had come to understand that yoga has never been about the stretch; it’s always been about the reach. And if I could use my reach to bring yoga’s healing powers to people everywhere and my influence to raise awareness and funds for social causes that alleviate suffering and separation, then I was all in.”

– quoted from Revolution of the Soul: Awaken to Love Through Raw Truth, Radical Healing, and Conscious Action by Seane Corn


### INHALE, EXHALE ###

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

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in "Impossible" People, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Dharma, Faith, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Hope, Life, Love, One Hoop, Pain, Philosophy, Religion, Suffering, Wisdom, Writing, Yoga.
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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 to 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 the 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.

***

“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)

 

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