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2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTION #8: When Do You Practice? April 22, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Abhyasa, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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When do you practice? – B (who practices “about once a week,” but not with me – yet)

About once a quarter, someone expresses gratitude for their practice and then asks me when I find time to practice. The question is usually associated with their appreciation of the benefits they experience from yoga and their observation of me not practicing the physical poses when I lead a yoga practice. The “quick and dirty” answer to B’s question is that I practice before I teach. The “not so quick and dirty” answer is that I practice before I teach, while I’m teaching, and after I’m teaching.

The physical practice before I teach may happen in a variety of ways. Sometimes I take a class or a workshop, sometimes I stream a class or use some other form of media. However, since I currently teach six (6) days a week, and teach during peak hours, I find it challenging to take a class. So, more often than not, I find a quiet spot and hit the mat on my own.

When I take a class or workshop, I gravitate towards alignment-focused yoga classes or intensely physical yoga practices with a teacher who emphasizes the emotional, energetic, philosophical and/or spiritual aspects of yoga. (Hmm, sound familiar?) When I practice on my own, the physical elements change based on how I’m feeling and what I’m teaching. In general, I practice a template of the first sequence I’m going to teach. My current practice schedule looks a little like this:

Monday – Yin Yoga

Tuesday – Vinyasa

Wednesday – Yin Yoga

Thursday – open day; rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, meditation and/or other physical activity

Friday – Vinyasa

Saturday – rest day, Yin, Vinyasa, or some other tradition

Sunday – Vinyasa

That’s the “quick and dirty” answer, but there’s a story behind why I practice before I teach.

During my initial yoga teacher training, I was fortunate enough to be part of a small group talking to a teacher named Kim. A few things to note about Kim: first, she was not one of the teachers leading or facilitating the teacher training; second, she was not the stereotypical CorePower teacher; third, she had the brightest smile and one of the biggest spirits. It’s her spirit, I think, that instigated the conversation where she shared with us something she wished she had been told during her teacher training: take a class for every class you teach.

Being young pups, full of the enthusiasm and power that comes from being in an intense learning situation, parts of us dismissed Kim’s advice. We were in teacher training because we loved yoga and couldn’t imagine a time when we wouldn’t take a class (or practice on our own) on a daily basis. We couldn’t imagine that teaching yoga creates a scheduling dynamic which is really different from the scheduling dynamic of squeezing our yoga practice in between our work and family life. We hadn’t yet grasped that once the learning-teaching brain engaged we might not be capable of getting back to a learning-only brain. Many of us, also, didn’t yet understood that teaching hath yoga (the physical practice of yoga) requires actively practicing the yoga philosophy. And that’s where my “not so quick and dirty” answer comes into play.

The 8-limb philosophy of Yoga begins with an ethical component: 5 yamas (external restraints or universal commandments) and 5 niyamas (or internal observations). The yamas and niyamas, like any other moral compass, may guide a person on and off the mat. In the philosophy, these ethical considerations precede the asana (seat or pose) and pranayama (awareness or extension of breath), which means we can use our time on the mat as a way to practice our ethics in a controlled environment. For example, the first and second yamas – ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truth) – may be practiced by being honest about the mind-body strengths and weakness in order to practice a pose safely. At the same time, second, third, and fourth niyamas – santosha (contentment), tapas (heat, discipline, and/or austerity) and svadyaya (self-study) – may be observed by focusing on the alignment of a challenging pose while also noticing how you react to using a prop, needing/taking a modification, or not completing the pose and, simultaneously,  accepting where you are in the practice.

I practice these elements while I’m physically on the mat, but I also need to practice them when I’m leading other people. For example, I need to consider if the options  I’m suggesting are safe for the individuals in the room and if I’m providing enough options to meet and accept everyone in the room – all while noticing my reaction to things not going the way I planned when my mind-body on the mat was the only consideration. If I’m demonstrating a peak pose, I need to make sure I’ve prepared myself along the way (despite not doing all the preparatory poses) to demonstrate without injuring myself. Finally, after I teach, there are several things I do as a kind of mental Savasana (Corpse Pose), to decompress and allow the mind-body to absorb the work.

Even though I didn’t initial understand them, Kim’s words really stuck with me. In fact, they were some of the most important words I heard during yoga teacher training.

Thanks for the wisdom, Kim!

 

The teachers at Mind Body Solutions are awakening the connection between mind and body in a way that transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential. They say the practice is humanity disguised as yoga. So, clicking here to Kiss My Asana with a donation practices humanity off the mat, in a way that allows someone to practice humanity on the mat. When I’m able, I drop-in to Matthew Sanford’s Monday morning class. Maybe I’ll see you practicing your humanity on the mat!

 

 

### On and Off the Mat ###

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2017 KISS MY ASANA QUESTIONS #5, 6, & 7: IF YOU COULD RECOMMEND ONE BOOK…? April 15, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 31-Day Challenge, Books, Buddhism, California, Changing Perspectives, Daoism, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Health, Karma Yoga, Life, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Tantra, Taoism, Texas, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yin Yoga, Yoga.
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“If you could recommend one book about yoga that really impacted your practice, what book would that be?”

 

“If you could recommend one book about meditation, what would it be?”

 

“Is there a book that would help a beginner like me establish a daily practice?”

– E

There might be more books on yoga and meditation than there are ways to practice yoga and meditation. I know for sure that there are so many books on each it is sometimes hard to narrow things down to a single recommendation. Even if I had read everything that’s ever been printed – and nothing else was ever printed (which would be a shame since one of my teachers is currently working on her first book) – and even if I only focused on books that really impacted my practice, I would still end up with a bag full of books.

Jan 2016 Yoga Books 56

(NOTE: The picture above is missing Leslie Kaminoff’s Yoga Anatomy, Steve Ross’s Happy Yoga, Stephen Cope’s The Wisdom of Yoga, all my Yin Yoga and Taoist texts, a copy of the Ramayana, and Alanna Kaivalya’s Myths of the Asanas, at the very least.)

Part of me wants to break this down into a book on the physical practice versus a book on the philosophy; however, sitting with WHY I want to make that distinction, brings me to one very comprehensive option: T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing A Personal Practice.

Desikachar was the son of Sri Krishnamacharya, who was the teacher responsible for the resurgence of yoga in 20th Century India. Krishnamacharya taught Desikachar, B. K. S. Iyengar, Sri Pattabhi Jois, and Indra Devi – who all had a hand in bringing the physical practice of yoga to the West. Each of the teachers mentioned above wrote at least one book which impacted someone’s yoga practice (including mine), and all of them have had books written about them. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga is simultaneously about yoga and about a teacher’s teacher. It is also a practice manual with a heavy focus on the philosophy. Unlike some other books I might refer to as practice manuals, The Heart of Yoga not only offers an overview of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga, it includes a translation of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. (NOTE: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are 196 aphorisms. Most books on the sutras include each aphorism, plus a translation and commentary for each aphorism. I use several sources for translation/commentary comparative analysis; however, my go-to resource is a website by Swami J, of the Himalayan tradition.) The Heart of Yoga gives practitioners of any fitness or experience level the opportunity to build a physical practice, while also maintaining a connection to the overall philosophical practice.

My similar dilemma regarding a book on meditation could be resolved by recommending a book on yoga mediation… and a book from each of several different Buddhist traditions…plus a book on the Kabbalah…and a book on Catholic contemplation and…..You get the idea. But, when it gets right down to it, there’s one book I am continually giving away – and it’s the same book used when I guided meditation with Dr. Thomas Bushlack’s University of St. Thomas classes: The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hahn.

I first came across The Miracle of Mindfulness when I was babysitting for some friends in Minneapolis. One day, when the kids were napping, this little violet paperback on the bookshelf in the living room caught my eye. I pulled it down, and found…stillness.

OK, I’m being dramatic. I had, of course, already experienced stillness in both yoga and seated meditation. However, Nhat Hahn’s The Miracle of Mindfulness made me pause, sit, and contemplate my overall practice and its connection to meditation. Over the last ten years, it has played an instrumental part in my re-commitment to the physical practice of yoga as a form of meditation.

Let me be clear: Nhat Hahn is not known as a yoga teacher and The Miracle of Mindfulness is not a book related to hatha yoga (the physical practice of yoga). Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk most commonly associated with Zen Buddhism, but whose training includes several traditions. His Miracle of Mindfulness is based on Buddhist principles and practices, but is not teaching Buddhism, per se. Some might argue that it is not even teaching meditation (but, rather, mindfulness). Still, it accessible to people regardless of their background or experience and includes personal anecdotes as well as a series of practices that are simultaneously simple and profound.

To answer E’s final question, The Miracle of Mindfulness definitely has the tools to help a beginner establish a daily practice. Tools, however, do not build a mansion – and the mansion will not be built overnight.

“Practice, practice, practice – all is coming.” ~ Sri Pattabhi Jois


If you find this information helpful, insightful, validating, and/or curious, please Kiss My Asana by making a donation, joining the team, asking a question, and/or joining me for a donation-based class to benefit Mind Body Solutions.

Sandra Razieli and I will co-host a donation-based class on Saturday, April 22nd (6:30 PM – 8:00 PM) at Flourish Pilates+Yoga+Bodywork. I will host a second class on Saturday, April 29th (3:30 PM – 5:30 PM) at Nokomis Yoga. Please RSVP via email (Myra at ajoyfulpractice.com). All donations will benefit Mind Body Solutions, where awakening the connection between mind and body transforms trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential.

### OM SHANTI, SHANTI, SHANTIHI OM ##

Seriously, Is That All You’ve Got? December 31, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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It is New Year’s Eve eve. And, while I still have things to do in anticipation of the New Year, I am more than ready for the arrival of 2017. Funny thing is, all of us who are “D-O-N-E, stick-a-fork-in-it, done” with 2016, have to admit that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been some memorable and very personal highlights and there have been many changes for the better. Oh, then there’s the fact that this whole “new year” thing is completely arbitrary.

Yes, yes, there are reasons and explanations for why the Western world celebrates a beginning and an ending at this time of year. But, in some ways those reasons and explanations are beside the point. What’s important is that change is always happening – and most of it is beyond our control. Since being out of control can be psychologically uncomfortable, we take control by choosing a transition to celebrate. The celebration is a reminder that everything, including hard times, ends and that the end of one thing marks the beginning of another thing.

We can only hope the new thing is better than the old thing.

Even when, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different ways of marking transitions. One yoga tradition is to practice 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) when the seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices. Here in the West, we have also taken to practice this yoga variation of a marathon when the calendar year changes. (I am again leading the Surya Namaskar malas at Nokomis Yoga (this practice is full) and at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA (3 PM – 6 PM).)

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a moving meditation consisting of 12 poses. The series of poses are linked with breath so that we mimic our bodies’ natural inclination to extend the spine and open the heart as we inhale, to flex the spine and engage the core as we exhale. Or, you could think of it symbolically: as reaching for the sun as you inhale, drawing its energy to the earth as you exhale. Or, you could reach to the Source of all the things as you inhale, surrender to that Source as you exhale. Or…you get the idea. Whether you come to the practice from a physical-mental, psychic-symbolic, or emotional-energetic perspective, this series of poses engages your whole being: mind, body, and spirit.

Since the practice mirrors the cycle of time – the beginning of each breath marking the end of another, the end of each pose marking the beginning of the next – we inevitably find ourselves appreciating it, enjoying it, and then wishing it were done. We can be lost in/absorbed by the effortless repetition (ajapa japa), but then find our brains want a delineated break.

We seek the break, not because we’re tired, per se, but because it’s a way for our brains to absorb the pattern. And, in that moment, we may create the break by asking the question that has been coming up a lot in my practice: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

I can’t remember if it was during an interview or during a teacher training, but I very clearly remember Seane Corn describing a conversation where she said to the Universe, “Bring it; but, bring it gently.” I love that sentiment. It acknowledges that throughout our lives we are going to be faced with challenges, and it simultaneously reinforces the idea that we can be ready to meet those challenges head on. It is a statement sourced in strength, courage, and wisdom – without being braggadocios. In fact, it embodies the splendor of humility.

This secular calendar year, 2016, New Year’s Eve happens to fall on the 8th Night of Chanukah. (Therefore, New Year’s Day 2017 is the 8th Day of Chanukah 5777.) Hod (humility, splendor, surrender, or gratitude) is the eighth aspect of the Divine found on the Tree of Life (in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah). Physically it is symbolized by the left foot and leg. Energetically it is directly connected to Gevurah (Strength, discipline), Tiferet (Balance, Compassion), Netzach (Endurance), and Yesod (Foundation or Bonding). It can also be energetically connected to the 3rd Chakra, our physical core, which is related to our personality, our sense of self, and our self esteem.

I could go on, but what I’m getting at here is that the question (Is that all you’ve got?) isn’t something I’m asking the Universe. I know the Universe has more in store for us. I know it’s going to bring it (hopefully, gently). What I’m really doing, at those moments when I want to throw in the towel, is asking myself the question: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

My early teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Whether we are in the middle of 1 hour, 90 minutes, or 3 hours of yoga – or anything else – we all have that moment where we want to throw in the towel. But, if we pace ourselves, we inevitably get a second wind. And, while I don’t always feel this way after I other physical things I do, in yoga and in life I almost always feel like I could have handled a little bit more. Not that I want to or need to – but, that if I had to, I could dig deep and pull up a little bit more of whatever I need to face the challenge.

The first day of 2017, is just another day on the calendar; just another day in our lives. It’s a beginning and it’s an ending. So, yes, celebrate, set an intention, and move on.

But, don’t forget that this liminal or transitional moment is also a middle. And, ultimately, the most significant thing that’s changing is your awareness and your perspective. Start noticing what you’re doing when you ask a question like “Is that all you’ve got?” Start noticing what you’re doing when your answer to the question changes.

Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

~ Happy New Year, Happy New Perspective ~

REAL(LY), TRU(e)LY GRATEFUL (Thanksgiving Schedule & News) November 22, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Books, Buddhism, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Life, Mantra, Minneapolis, Philosophy, Suffering, Texas, Twin Cities, Wisdom, Yoga.
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When I first got back to Houston, a man I didn’t know inserted himself in a conversation with my mother; I only got to see a handful of friends; it took a really long time to walk a few blocks; I ate way too much sugar; and I took a yoga class many of my students would hate.

Wait! What? That doesn’t sound right. In fact, it doesn’t even sound like me. And the truth is that while the facts above real(ly) happened; they are not true.

In his book Open Heart, Open Mind, the Nepalese Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche describes how something can be “real but not true” – and offers the words as a mantra which allows us to check in with our attitudes, our perspectives, and the past conditions which establish both. The bottom line being that we view our current circumstances through the lens of past experiences. Mindfulness-based practices like yoga and Buddhism create the opportunity to examine our kleshas – or, how our thought patterns color our experiences.

So, if I were to re-frame what happened as I actually perceived it: When I first got back home to Houston, a man I’d never met before asked if I needed help with my bags (I did); I made plans to spend the day with friends who are like family to me; I spent part of the afternoon on a walkabout with two of those friends, exploring their neighborhood and quacking as we ducked; I ate a lot of dessert; and I took a yoga class with some super groovy hip openers!

Yeah, still colored, but suddenly the events are joyful. Suddenly there is room for gratitude.

“Gratitude awakens another way of being in the world, one that nurtures the heart and helps to create a life of meaning and purpose. The old barriers no longer confine us and the old fears no longer constrict or claim us. Gratitude opens us to freedom, a sense of generosity, and connection to the wider world.” – Angeles Arrien

“I didn’t say, ‘We can be grateful for everything.’ I said, ‘We can be grateful in every given moment for the opportunity. And even when we are confronted with something that is terribly difficult we can rise to this occasion and respond to the opportunity that’s given to us…. Most of the time what s given to us is the opportunity to enjoy, and we only miss it because we are rushing through life.”

– Brother David Steindl-Rast

Right now, a lot of people are struggling to be grateful. That’s super real. It’s so real that we sometimes forget there is more to life than struggle. We struggle so much we actually look forward…to more struggles. However, it’s also true that each of us has something for which we can be grateful – and, we get to choose how we spend our time and energy. We get to choose how we look forward.

 “There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.” – Leo Christopher

When someone gives us a precious gift, we give thanks. So, thank you to all the people who have spent time with me this year – on and off the mat. Your presence reminds me to appreciate every aspect of the practice, and every aspect of life. Your presence reminds me of all the ways one can practice. Thank you also, to the very talented teachers covering my classes this week – and to the people who show up for those classes. Thank you all for the opportunity to learn and grow and love within this practice.

Every time I step on a mat, I learn something new. Maybe I learn it from the teacher that’s leading the group; maybe I learn it from the teacher on the mat; maybe I learn it from the teacher within – either way, my future self is grateful. This week, “Do something that your future self will thank you for.” (unknown)

Practicing with my big dawgs20151122_191851

The Nokomis Yoga schedule will be as follows:

  • Tuesday, Nov. 22nd @ 12:00 PM (60 minutes with SARAH)
  • Tuesday, Nov. 22nd @ 7:15 PM (75 minutes with ERIKA)
  • Wednesday, Nov. 23rd @ 4:30 PM (60 minutes – CANCELLED)

Sarah Kalweit and Erika Peterson both teach regular classes at Nokomis Yoga. For more on their teaching, check out their bios.

The Wednesday night Slow Flow at Flourish will be cancelled on November 23rd. Please join me on November 30th.

Weather permitting, I’ll return to Common Ground on Monday, November 30th.

For information on my incredible YMCA subs, please check the online schedules. (Also, please note that the Downtown Minneapolis will run an alternate schedule 11/24 – 11/275)

 

~~ HAVE A PEACEFUL, GRACEFUL, GRATEFUL, & JOYFUL HOLIDAY SEASON ~~