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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.

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

Monday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 3rd – “New Beginnings”

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

~ SEE YOU ON THE MAT ~

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Remembering Things To Come – Getting Ready for 2015: A New Year of Possibilities January 3, 2015

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Mala, Mantra, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, New Year, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Twin Cities, Writing, Yoga.
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“It is happening again. It is happening again. [Deep breath in. Deep chuckle out.”

– from D. J. Shadow’s “What Does Your Soul Look Like (Part 1 – Blue Sky Revisit)” / “Transmission 3” on Endtroducing…

If your computer, iPod, Cd player, or other music maker is on repeat – and you’re listening to D. J. Shadow’s debut album – the end is the beginning, and the last words are prophetic.  Sometimes when I play this song in class, everything syncs up and we are starting the second side of a challenging sequence: so, we are at the beginning, the end, and the middle – and the words are highly prophetic. Last year, as I prepared to lead 108 Sun Salutations for New Year’s Day, I realized everything was syncing up: we were at the end of one year, the beginning of a new year, and in the middle of a week – and I was getting ready to do 108 Sun Salutations three (count them, 3!!!) times. Suddenly, D. J. Shadow’s chuckle was highly prophetic.

But, the fact that I counted out 324 Sun Salutations – and that several people (myself included) spent part of New Year’s Day thinking D. J. Shadow’s highly prophetic words with utter disbelief – isn’t what started me thinking this song should be one of our 2014 theme songs. No, my reasoning was a little deeper than that.

“Why would we want to go back to where we were so many years ago?” (D. J. Shadow)

We just can’t seem to help ourselves. On the mat, we find our thoughts involuntarily wandering to situations and people seemingly out of context. Try as hard as we might to stay focused on the here and now – as opposed to that arbitrary thing that happened in 1979, with that person who shall remain nameless – our mind seems to have, well, a mind of its own. It goes back again, and again, and again, like a random paragraph from Swann’s Way.

Somatically speaking, such thoughts may not be as random as they appear. Yoga teaches us that we hold our experiences in our bodies. So, it stands to reason, when we’re working the body we are also working though our years. The physical practice sometimes becomes a practice of systematic reflection. Pose-wise, we often move from Child’s Pose (Balasana) or Corpse Pose (Savasana); through the approximation of learning to stand and walk – think Table Pose to Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) to Forward Fold (Uttanasana) to Equal Standing/Mountain Pose (Samasthiti/Tadasana) (video); then we explore and play; until we slow down, move into Corpse Pose (Savasana), and ultimately roll over to start all over again. Energy-wise, we typically move from our childhood (first chakra/wheel), through our developmental stages (second and third chakras/wheels), into our “maturity” stages (fourth and fifth chakras/wheels), and then to the unknown that lies beyond (sixth and seventh chakras/wheels).

But, even people who don’t practice yoga spend a fair amount of time reflecting on their lives. At the beginning and end of a year, right around our birthdays, whenever we experience one of life’s big milestones, and/or when the seasons change, we think about where we’ve been and where we’re going. Making resolutions (or just good old-fashioned planning) seems like a natural part of this reflection process, because as long as we are are actually living there is some part of us wanting to learn and grow. Yet, a good portion of us will get stuck thinking about the past, and approximately 80% of us will set goals we won’t achieve – which, at some point will have us lamenting the past. Perhaps equally significant is the fact that regardless of when we celebrate a new year or a birthday – or even observe the changing of the seasons – we will almost always find ourselves in situations we’ve dealt with in the past.

“And why should we want to live a life that’s past and never more?” (D. J. Shadow)

The wise old wives tell us we’ll repeat the same situations until we learn the lessons. And, let’s be honest, sometimes we’re that kid who keeps failing the class. What the wise old wives don’t tell us is that we can move on to the next grade, but we’re still going to be struggling with the same material. We can blame our (master) teachers, we can blame life, we can even blame the wise old wives; however, at some point we need to cowboy (or cowgirl) up and take responsibility for being where you are.

Karma is a word we throw around, sometimes without really thinking about what it literally means. We focus on the idea of destiny, fate, or retribution and reward. However, karma is the Sanskrit word for work, action, deed. It is everything we think, say, and do. Obviously, one way to think about karma is in the context of reincarnation. But, what if you don’t believe in reincarnation or the idea that you will keep living lives until you live (or get it) “right” – whatever that means? Have you considered what happens if you just look at this life you’re living and the ramifications of the work/karma you’re doing? Have you considered the fact that everything you think, say, do in this moment leads to another thought, word, and deed in the next moment? Look back at that last link where Don Juan speaks to Carlos Castaneda in Journey to Ixtlan.

So, in that interest, have you assumed responsibility for being here?

“This is not a dream….We are unable to transmit due to conscious neural interference….You are receiving this broadcast in order to alter the events you are….” (D. J. Shadow)

At some point, on or off the mat, we all want to skip to the end and reap our rewards. We want to ignore the seemingly random thoughts and sensations so we can get to the good stuff. We want, not only a passing grade, but all the accolades which come with it. We want, not only what we’ve earned, but also what we desire. And, at some point, on and off the mat, we are confronted with….what we’ve already done.

I started this post on January 3rd (2014). It was intended as a “sample” of themes and motifs for the year (2014). But, the year got away from me – and this post sat over in the draft column…waiting to see if I’d dust it off and update it. Or, if I’d just trash it. I’d like to say it was waiting patiently. But, that’s not how my mind works. So, sometimes, it was taunting me. Other times it was encouraging me. Finally, it was speaking to me.

Not surprisingly, a year later (to the date) it sounds a lot like D. J. Shadow….

Things that are happening again:

108 Sun Salutations – New Year’s Day 2015

7 Saturdays – Journey On and Off the Mat (Dates TBA)

Exploring the Wren Cycle – March 17, 2015

Kiss My Asana Yogathon – April 2015

New Things: ?????

 

~ May your new year be happy and free ~