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May the Fourth… May 4, 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.)

“The practices of yoga designed to harmonize the … forces in our body and mind.”

 

 – definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of The Practice of the Yoga Sutra: Sadhana Padaa: Sadhana Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

 

“The way towards realisation through rigorous discipline.”

 

– definition of “Hatha Yoga” in Glossary of Light on Yoga: Yoga Dipika by B. K. S. Iyengar

Hatha Yoga refers to the physical practice of yoga, regardless of the style or tradition. Although, in the West it is a term often used to describe a practice which does not fit into a specific style or tradition. In other words, rather than describing a class as “not-Ashtanga-vinyasa-Power-Sivananda-Tantra-Vini–Bikram-Hot-Tibetan-Nidra-Nada-Svaroopa-Yin…” it is easier to say, “This is Hatha Yoga.”

Some people, even teachers, mistakenly use the term as a synonym for “easy yoga.” However, easy is relative and trust me when I tell you that if you look at classical texts on the physical practice, like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika (circa 14th century C.E.) and The Gheranda Samhita (circa 16th century C.E), you will find some poses that very few Westerners would refer to as easy! These classical texts echo earlier Tantric texts and may not be influenced by Vedanta (or “end of the Vedas”) philosophy. For this reason, some teachers will describe their classes as one of the aforementioned styles and/or traditions and also as Hatha. All in all though, this use of the term sometimes focuses more on what you’re not doing rather than on what you are doing.

Take a moment to consider what you are doing on the mat.

HA – Sun

ŢHA – Moon

HAŢHA – Force

YOGA – Union, yoking

If you look up to the heavens, we see the sun and the moon (as well as all the other heavenly bodies). Why don’t they collide? For that matter, why do all of the planets and their moons circle around the sun without colliding into each other? Basic science explains that there is a gravitational force that simultaneously connects (yokes) the elements of the solar system together and keeps these same elements from crashing into each other. Really, each heavenly body exerts a certain amount of force on the other bodies, while also being influenced by the force of others. For instance, the force of the Sun pulls the Earth into its orbit, while the rotation of the Earth and the force of the Sun keep the Earth’s Moon in place and the rotation of the Moon affects the waters of the Earth. There is a fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions. Yet, these forces are different, even opposites.

The sun, the solar energy, is considered active, male, right side, yang, energizing, hot, effort; and is associated with inhaling, daytime, pleasure, delight, the body, and analytical/critical thinking. The moon, the lunar energy, is considered passive, female, left side, yin, restorative, cool, relaxation; and is associated with exhaling, nighttime, pain, suffering, the mind, and creativity. The list goes on. However, the separate particulars are not the most important parts here.

“We cannot say that that the sun which is shining in the sky and the image which is on the ground are one but we cannot say these are two either. The wave in the lake and the water wavering are not one but not two either. The Lamp and the light of the Lamp are not one but not two either. The air which is flowing and the touch of the air are not one but not two either. Such a relationship is termed as non-dualism in Vedanta. The Brahma and the Universe are not one but not two either. The souls of two persons are not one but not distinct either. The creation and the creator are not one but not two either. According to Vedanta this happening is like the dance and the dancer.”

– from The Paradise Never Lost by Pramod Bharati

The first important part is to remember that these opposites co-exist; we need one to have and understand the other. The second important part is that these opposites co-exist inside of us and all around us. Finally, when put together, the two root words refer to a state of separation inherent in duality that must be overcome in order to achieve awareness of the underlying connectivity that is also inherent in duality. They are Martin Buber’s Ich-und-Du, and so to understand ourselves we have to understand and respect the connection. We also need to understand the fine balance that keeps everything moving in the right directions.

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

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

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

– Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Motion

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is sometimes called “The Law of Inertia” and we experience it when we are stuck in a bad relationship or a job that no longer serves us, but we can’t seem to make a change. We experience it when we’re stuck on the couch, the futon, the La-Z-Boy recliner, or the floor and have no desire to go for a walk or a run or a bicycle ride, even though we know some movement will feel good and is good for us. We also experience it when we do something for 28, 30, 35, or 40 days and feel the momentum of repeated behavior settling us into a new habit.

On a personal level, we experience the second law, when we have a compelling reason to change our behavior or action – or a more compelling reason to maintain the status quo.

We experience that third law when we breathe (inhale and exhale), as well as when we eat/drink and then defecate/urinate. We also experience it when we focus on one element, one aspect of our selves to the exclusion of the other parts of ourselves and things get out of balance. When things get out of balance they start to fall apart and/or collapse into each other. We need the balance – the balance of opposites – just like everything else in the universe.  We need the Force.

“Great evil can only be fought by the strong. People need spiritual fuel as much as they need food, water, and air. Happiness, love, joy, hope — these are the emotions that give us the strength to do what we need to do.”

 

– from Leia, Princess of Alderaan by Claudia Gray   

 

Today, Monday, May the 4th, is a special day for teachers like me (short, funny looking, with enormous eyes or glasses). If you’re interested in a virtual yoga practice (in which the Force is strong) today (Monday, May the 4th) at 5:30 PM, please join me on Zoom. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

While I know there are some who are thinking, “This is not the class I’m looking for” or “I have a bad feeling about this” – and others who will be disappointed because we won’t be practicing with the phenomenal soundtrack – I promise there will be wisdom. And, maybe, sound effects. Although today’s class is not a Kiss My Asana class, here’s a preview from last year’s class.

There is no playlist for the Common Ground practices.

Kiss My Asana, the yogathon that benefits Mind Body Solutions and their adaptive yoga program is officially over. But, I still owe you two posts and you can still do yoga, share yoga, help others by donating to my KMA campaign.

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.

 

 

### “Pass On What You Have Learned” ###

 

MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA: 2019 Offering #19 May 3, 2019

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The “practice preview” below is part of my offering for the 2019 Kiss My Asana yogathon AND (since the Kiss My Asana yogathon raises resources as well as awareness) it is an invitation to join me for a donation-based class on May 4th.

You can still donate (until May 15th).

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.                               

***

“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

– Yoda* in The Empire Strikes Back

“It moves through and surrounds every living thing. Close your eyes…. Feel it….it’s always been there. It will guide you.”

– Maz Kanata* in The Force Awakens

 

“This level of energetic sensation is what guides my teaching of yoga all these years later. I can teach a walking person the subtleties of a standing pose, for example, because of my energetic experience. I can ‘feel’ the poses, feel how the physical instructions are intended to amplify, guide, and direct the flow of energy. When I teach, I give instructions and then observe not just whether the physical actions are occurring, but also whether the intended energetic release is happening through the student’s mind-body relationship. If the energy of the pose is not flowing correctly, I can often adjust the student and enhance his or her experience.”

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

What struck me the first time I took a class with Matthew Sanford, and continues to strike me whenever I have the good fortune to take a class from him, is that he teaches from the inside-out – instead of from the outside-in. What I mean by that, is that while a good number of us get on our mats and focus on the outside in order to go inward, Matthew starts inside and works his way to the outside. He was not my first teacher to teach like that. When I started practicing yoga, I was fortunate enough to have a couple of teachers, including my first teacher (Robert Boustany) who taught in a similar fashion. But, when I first started practicing yoga, I didn’t know there were teachers who practiced and taught in a different way.

Also, let’s be honest, when I started practicing yoga, I didn’t really get what my teachers were doing or how they were doing it. I just assumed that if you practiced (the physical practice) eventually you would start to understand the energetic practice. Years later I would discover that that’s just not so: Some people can practice for decades and never realize what it is that’s actually happening inside themselves. And, perhaps, some people don’t believe or care.

“The act of living generates a force field, an energy. That energy surrounds us; when we die, that energy joins with all the other energy. There is a giant mass of energy in the universe that has a good side and a bad side. We are part of the Force because we generate the power that makes the Force live. When we die, we become part of that Force, so we never really die; we continue as part of the Force.”

– George Lucas explaining “The Force” in a production meeting for the Empire Strikes Back (quoted in Star Wars: The Anointed Screenplays by Laurent Bouzereau (1997)

 

“That I could feel such things so quickly – the loud rush produced by simply taking my legs wide, the upward energetic release produced when hands-in-prayer was done with yogic precision – meant that those phantom feelings had not left me. Instead, they had been waiting in silence, waiting for me to let them back into my conscious experience. Consciousness does not abandon us. It is only denied.”

 – Matthew Sanford writing in Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence about his first yoga experience with Jo Z (2006)

When I first started practicing yoga, I was surrounded by professional dancers and musicians – people/athletes who used their bodies for work. I was the odd duck, not because I was the least flexible person in the room, but because I had the least body awareness. Part of what made those first practices so dynamic and compelling, was the focus on what we could do.

Think about that for a moment. For 60 – 75 minutes, everybody’s mind-body was focused on what each of us could do in that moment. Nothing else mattered. The practice was intentionally personal and accessible. It never occurred to me that yoga could be, or would be, anything else. However, after I went through my first yoga teacher training and started teaching, I realized something that astounded me and broke my heart: not everybody knew yoga could be accessible. Not everybody knew there were different ways of practicing. And, as a result, people would not practice (or would stop practicing) because of something they couldn’t do.

“Yes, everybody can do it…. It’s just the Jedi who take the time to do it…. Like yoga. If you want to take the time to do it, you can do it; but the ones that really want to do it are the ones who are into that kind of thing. Also like karate. Also another misconception is that Yoda teaches Jedi, but he is like a guru; he doesn’t go out and fight anybody…. Well, he is a teacher, not a real Jedi. Understand that?”

– George Lucas answering questions in a Return of the Jedi story conference, July 13 – 17, 1981 (quoted in The Making of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi by J. W. Rinzler (2013)

 

“Jo and I discovered that alignment and precision increase mind-body integration regardless of paralysis. The mind is not strictly confined to a neurophysiological connection with the body. If I listen inwardly to my whole experience (both my mind’s and my body’s), my mind can feel my legs.

This is one of those truths that is easy to pass by, like the existence of dinosaurs. But in fact, it should dumbfound us – that, on some level, something as simple as the more precise distribution of gravity can transcend the limits set by a dysfunctional spinal cord. When I move from a slumped position to a more aligned one, my mind becomes more present in my thighs and feet. This happens despite my paralysis. It is simply a matter of learning to listen to a different level of presence, to realizing that the silence within my paralysis is not loss. In fact, it is both awake and alive.”

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

May the 4th is a special day for Star Wars fans and a day when I love to teach “Star Wars Yoga” inspired by Matthew Latkiewicz. When I realized one of the days I was considering teaching a Kiss My Asana donation-based class was May the 4th, I almost rescheduled. At first I thought, ‘How can I make the class fun, informative, and accessible?’ Then I thought, ‘How can I not?’

MAY THE FOURTH KISS MY ASANA

May final 2019 Kiss My Asana donation-based class will be Saturday, May 4th ((4:00 PM – 6:00 PM) at Flourish pilates+yoga+bodywork, 3347 42nd Ave S, Minneapolis) Please join me on this very special day when will explore the power of the Force that surrounds, penetrates, and binds everyone – regardless of size, shape or physical and mental abilities. This practice will include partner work and is open to all abilities. Space is limited.

NOTE: This space contains an accessible bathroom.

Please RSVP to myra(at)ajoyfulpractice(dot)com if you would like to join this practice.

(*NOTE: Ever notice how some of the most memorable “wise teachers” in Star Wars are short, funny looking and have enormous eyes (or glasses)? No? Okay. Maybe it’s just me.)

FEATURED POSE for May the 4th: Downward Facing Wookie

Downward Facing Wookie is a pose with several variations, many of which can be practiced without warming up. Most variations are also prenatal approved.

If you are coming into the classical version (what most people will think of as Adho Mukha Svanasana or Downward Facing Dog), start in Table Top with hands and knees on the mat. Stack shoulders over elbows, elbows over wrists and hips over knees with the feet the same distance apart as the knees. Inhale and lengthen the spine, maybe even moving into Cow Pose (to exaggerate the spinal extension) and then exhale to use the arms and legs to push the hips up into the air. You want your body in the shape of an upside down “V” or a capital “A” without the bar across the center. Check to make sure fingers and toes are spread wide with the middle fingers pointed forward, most of the weight in the hands concentrated on the thumb and first fingers, and the big toes behind the thumbs or behind the middle fingers. To stretch out the spine, bend the knees slightly and find what feels like Cow Pose. (Don’t make it about looking up; make it about extending the spine.) Once the spine is long, ribs reaching away from the hips, see if you can straighten the legs. Even if the legs stay slightly bent, push the spine towards the things, the shoulders towards the hips, the hips towards the ceiling, the thighs towards the space behind you, and let the heels release towards the earth. Balance the effort between the arms and legs. This is a full body stretch. Gaze at your nose, your belly button, or the space between your toes – but make sure your neck is still long and ears are between the straight arms.

If you have wrist issues, you can use a wrist guard (which looks like the floorboard for a door) or a towel / blanket to lift the wrists up higher than the fingers. Another option for wrist and shoulder issues is to practice with the elbows and forearms on the ground, with elbows shoulder width apart. All other alignment is the same for this variation that is sometimes referred to as Dolphin Dog.

Downward Facing Wookie is a standing pose, an arm balance, a forward fold, a back bend, and an inversion. If you want to skip the inversion, one option is to stand arms length from a wall (with finger tips barely touching the wall) and then hinge from the hips until the palms are flat on the wall and the ears are between the arms. The same alignment principles apply as with the earlier variations; push through the heels of the hands and the heels of the feet to get the spine as long as possible. This variation can also be practiced with forearms on the wall.

Another option is to practice in a seated position. One seated variation, whether you are in a chair or in Staff Pose (Dandasana) is to stretch the arms over your head and then flex the wrists so that the palms are pushed up towards the ceiling (fingers will point behind you). In this variation, push through the heels, thighs, and hips in order to extend the spine and push the palms up. All the same alignment principles apply.

There is also a variation of Downward Facing Wookie that can be done with the feet on the wall, but that’s a variation will save for another time.

Doesn’t matter which variation you practice, on May the 4th let’s see if we can prove Alan Tudyk (aka K2S0) wrong about that vocal cry. Everyone, lift up one arm or leg, take the deepest breath you’ve taken all day, and ROAR it out.

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RIP Peter Mayhew

May 19, 1944 – April 30, 2019

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Quick Announcements and A Thank You! May 3, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Art, Black Elk, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Vipassana, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yoga.
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First, the thank you:

I am deeply grateful to everyone who participated in this year’s Kiss My Asana yogathon to benefit Mind Body Solutions. It doesn’t matter if you made a donation online, attended a donation-based class, hosted a donation-based class, or asked a question (and, maybe, are still waiting on my answer) – either way, you made a difference in how we view yoga and how we, as part of the yoga community, keep our sacred circle open to all bodies and all minds. During one class in particular, when I listed all the types of people who can benefit from adaptive yoga, I found myself referencing every person in the room. Just a reminder that it’s not about modifications, it’s about the practice.

Thank you, also, to Sandra Razieli for spending part of her birthday weekend co-teaching with me!

Thus far, we’ve raised $855 this year to support the Mind Body Solutions Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

Oh, and by the way, you can still donate here!

 

And now, the quick announcements:

May the 4th is with us! While I am sad to report that I will not be leading any Star Wars yoga classes this year, I am very excited about returning to the Walker Art Center to facilitate meditation during MN Artists Presents: Marcus Young (5 – 9 PM). This free event is kid-friendly and has a lot of mindfully interactive moments. For more information, check out the event page or the Walker’s Facebook page. (Please note: road closures may create delays and detours. Breathe deeply. And may the force be with you.)

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Finally, my YMCA classes will have subs on Friday night (5/5), Saturday morning (5/6), and all day Sunday (5/7). Enjoy!

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