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BONUS x2: DOUBLE THE BONUS! DOUBLE THE KINDNESS!! May 14, 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: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it’s a bonus!)

“And so you have found out that secret – one of the deep secrets of Life – that all, that is really worth the doing, is what we do for others? Even as the old adage tells us, ‘What I spent, that I lost; what I gave that I had.’ Casuits have tried to twist ‘doing good’ into another form of ‘doing evil,’ and have said ‘you get pleasure yourself by giving this pleasure to another: so it is merely a refined kind of selfishness, as your own pleasure is a motive for what you do.’ I say ‘it is not selfishness, that my own pleasure should be a motive so long as it is not the motive that would outweigh the other, if the two come into collision?’ The ‘selfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it harmed others, so long as it gave him pleasure; the ‘unselfish man’ is he who would still do the thing, even if it gave him no pleasure, so long as it pleased others. But, when both motives pull together, the ‘unselfish man’ is still the unselfish man, even though his own pleasure is one of his motives! I am very sure that God takes real pleasure in seeing his children happy!”

 

– from letter Lewis Carroll (author of Alice in Wonderland) wrote to the actress Ellen Terry, dated November 13, 1890*

There’s a certain family, with siblings all around the world, who are, even as you read this, pointing out that Yogi #30 (Anthony) is not “Bonus.” And, I want to go on record as saying, “I know that, however…” He and Yogi #31 (Paula) are the bonus yogis for a Kiss My Asana yogathon offering that started four years ago (2016) when the yogathon was in February, during Leap Year, and I only needed 29 yogis. You can say I’m four years, 2 months, and 2 weeks late with this post (or maybe, just a week, or 2, late), but none of that changes the fact that these two yogis are two of the kindest people you’re ever going to meet.

First and foremost, let me point out that Anthony and Paula don’t really know me. They know of me. We’ve met once, and that was the one time they took a class from me. If memory serves, I’ve answered yoga questions for Anthony, over the telephone, a time or two. But, they live in another part of the country and they found out about the 2016 Kiss My Asana yogathon from a friend of mine. The friend told them that making these video would help a lot of people. So, simply out of the kindness of their hearts and without having a whole lot of knowledge about Mind Body Solutions or how making the video would help people do yoga, they answered my questions. And then, they waited to see what would happen.

And they waited…

And they waited…

And they waited…

(but only through 398 days of summer)

“I’ve got a man to stick it out
And make a home from a rented house oh oh oh
And we’ll collect the moments one by one
I guess that’s how the future’s done oh oh oh

 

How many acres how much light
Tucked in the woods and out of sight
Talk to the neighbours and tip my cap
On a little road barely on the map

 

Old dirt road (mushaboom, mushaboom)
Knee deep snow (mushaboom, mushaboom)”

 

 

– from “Mushaboom” by Feist

And, while they were waiting, life changed. Anthony and Paula got married. Then, as they were still waiting, they had a baby. A very lucky baby who will spend her life surrounded by kindness and love, an appreciation for the great outdoors, and an appreciation for all that the world – and all the different cultures in the world – have to offer. (A baby who will be happy and cherished even when she starts saying the very word her papa tries not to say in yoga!)

All the while they waited they continued their adventures in the mountains, in the world, and in yoga. My guess is that they didn’t give these videos a second thought.

At first glance, Anthony isn’t the person you would automatically assume practices yoga. Yet, he’s the first to admit that he has received a lot of physical and mental benefit from his practice. He’s even encouraged others to practice. If you read the description in her video, you will see that I mention clapping for Paula. She is a nurse and, although I haven’t spoken to her recently, my guess is that even if she isn’t able to actively practice yoga right now, she is still benefiting from the practice.

Yogi #30

 

Yogi #31

I mentioned in the last 2016 Kiss My Asana post (two weeks ago) that there’s a method in the madness. But, I’m off schedule and, you might think that throws everything off. It does and it doesn’t, but (for those of you who are curious) here’s the bonus behind-the-scenes look at why I do what I do:

If I were teaching today, it would be a bonus day of teaching and I’d either carry forward the themes of love, kindness, and compassion from earlier this week – with a little (double bonus) focus on mastering the beautiful art of humility – or I would take a look at George Lucas’s view of the Hero’s Journey (as today is GL’s 76th birthday). Had I stayed on schedule, this year, I would have posted this on the birthday of the author Annie Dillard, who grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains, or given myself a little grace and posted this during International Nurses Week, a fitting tribute to Yogi #31.

Back in 2016, had I stayed on schedule, Anthony and Paula’s videos would have been posted on March 1st, Saint David’s Day. Saint David is the patron saint of Wales, poets, and vegetarians. He is associated with dragons and doves and his miracles include healing the sick and (as I like to joke) creating mountains out of molehill. According to the legends, Saint David was giving a sermon to a large crowd, which was having a hard time hearing him, when a dove landed on his shoulder and then, suddenly, the ground beneath him rose and lifted him up above the crowd.

Mountains, doves, miraculous healings… – Can you see why I thought March 1st would be a good day for this pair? But, there are also dragons. So, on Saint David’s Day I usually quote Sarah Ban Breathnach (who wrote in Simple Abundance, “Always remember it’s simply not an adventure worth telling if there aren’t any dragons.”) and conclude with J. R. R. Tolkien (who wrote in The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, “It does not do to leave a live dragon out of your calculations if you live near him.”). Today, however, we’ll wrap up with a quote inspired by Tolkien:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.”

 

– from the movie version of The Hobbit, or There and Back Again, adapted by Peter Jackson

Mind Body Solutions, and the work they do to help those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability find new ways to live by integrating both mind and body, thrives because of “small everyday deeds of ordinary folk…. Small acts of kindness and love.” That’s what gets a person with limited mobility to their yoga class; that’s what inspires a person using a BiPAP machine to keep practicing; that’s what gets the caregiver to get up every morning and take it day-by-day, moment-by-moment; that’s what gets a teacher in Rochester, New York or somewhere in England to study adaptive yoga in Minnesota; that’s what got Matthew Sanford to load up his lap with mats and roll into Courage Center for the first time; that’s what gets every single one of us coming back to the mat, knowing that a bad day off the mat can turn into a good day on the mat, because we will be surrounded by “ordinary folk” and “small acts of kindness and love.”

A Big Hallelujah Asana / Five-Pointed Smile goes to Anthony and Paula, as well as to Meghan and Kelsey (who were the ordinary folk in the background rocking their own small acts of kindness and love). Thank you, also, to everyone who did yoga, shared yoga, and helped others during this year’s yogathon (and the previous 6 yogathons). Friday is the last day to donate and I have one more Kiss My Asana post for y’all. Stay tuned!

*In 1998, November 13th became World Kindness Day (so far as I know, it’s just a happy coincidence that someone picked the date that coincided with Lewis Carroll’s letter on kindness…but I could be wrong about that.)

 

### HA HA HA HA (SNORT) ###

A Fearless River Runs Through This One! April 29, 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: Yes, another surprise! This post from Kiss My Asana 2016 was never posted in real time. In other words, it comes to you courtesy of the “Wayback (Wednesday) Machine.”}

“And a dreamer’s just a vessel
That must follow where it goes
Trying to learn from what’s behind you
And never knowing what’s in store
Makes each day a constant battle
Just to stay between the shores”

– “The River” by Garth Brooks

Let’s go way back, for minute. Way back to 2016, when the Kiss My Asana yogathon was, for the first and only time ever, in February instead of April – and it was leap year. I needed 29 yogis to not only answer 7 questions about their yoga practice, but to also let me post a recording of their answers along with (what I thought at the time would be) super short introductions on my blog. Being the generous soul that she is and having the work ethic that she does, Yogi #29 (Meghan M) was the first to volunteer – and also the first to start recruiting others.

This was not her first Kiss My Asana rodeo. If you have seen and enjoyed any of the 2015 KMA practice videos, you were probably watching a video recorded by Meghan M. She is an artist and a craftsman with a steady hand, an eye for putting things together, patience, and a heart as wide as the world. Given all that I knew about her, I didn’t think twice about her volunteering to be the first recording. Little did I know that she had an ulterior motive: You see, Meghan M likes to wave the introvert banner and while she wanted me to succeed in my Kiss My Asana campaign and while she wanted to support Mind Body Solutions, she also wanted to make sure I had enough volunteers that I wouldn’t actually need her video.

“But when I’m alone in the half light of the canyon, all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul and memories, and the sounds of the big blackfoot river, and the four-count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood, and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops; under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.”

– from A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

Coming from one of the bigger states in the country and being raised in a house-full of outdoorsmen, Meghan M may claim to be introverted, and even a little shy, but she is far from retiring. She may not always understand the injustices in the world, but she will stand up against them and fight for what’s right. She won’t often walk behind you, but if there’s a chance you’ll need an ally she will walk beside you – or even clear the path ahead. People that know her, love her, and recognize how fortunate they are to have her as a friend.

Meghan M is, in many ways, the best part of what it means to be human – and also the best part of what it means to be an American and a citizen of the world: she is responsible; she is considerate; she is strong; she is compassionate; she is intelligent; she respects the earth, the water, air, and sky; and she is (artistically) creative, as well as innovative. She is constantly learning and growing as a person. She’s also resilient (although we disagree on why that is). And while you will be hard pressed to find someone with a better laugh, you are highly unlikely to find a harder or more self-motivated worker on the planet. She can get more done in an hour than most people get done in a day.

“If we allow ourselves to be discouraged, we lose our power and momentum. That’s what I would say to you of these difficult times. If you are going to that place of intent to preserve the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the wild lands in Utah, you have to know how to dance.”

– from Two In the Far North by Margaret “Mardy” Murie

So, flash forward to the 7th annual Kiss My Asana in April 2020, and I am finally (finally) wrapping up my 2016 offerings. As you read this, you may be thinking, ‘Oh, does this mean you didn’t end up with enough yogis back in 2016?’ No, quite the contrary (as you shall see) and in no small part thanks to Meghan M. She persists and she succeeds even when others stack the odds against. However, there is a method to the madness and a little nod to Anton Chekov (as I have mentioned before), as well my own fondness for rabbit holes and numbers. So, if you were to go back over the different offerings or even to how I choose my themes for each class, you will find that numbers are important. Dates are important. And, in my head, Yogi #29 was always going to be on the 29th.

Pardon the shaky hands and lack of focus. Did I mention Yogi #29 is hilarious?

Speaking of focus: One of the things that is easy to overlook about Meghan M is her ability to focus and (again) to get things done. People like to say they can multi-task – despite the fact that studies have shown multi-tasking is a myth…or a misnomer. Consider a juggler, they hold something in one hand, toss or catch with the other, and scan for what’s already in the air (or, heaven forbid, crashing towards the ground), but in some ways it’s all an illusion. Lots of things are happening (lots of balls in the air), but the juggler is always doing one thing; focusing on what comes next. If you watch Meghan M in action you will see that same ability at work: she gets each thing in motion (in its own turn); keeps track of what’s coming down (or out); and cleans up after herself with a flourish.

On and off the mat, Yogi #29’s ability to focus is directly connected to her ability not to be distracted.  If you want to explore what it takes for you to focus, please join me for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Wednesday, April 29th) at 4:30 PM or 7:15 PM. Both practices will engage “fearless play” and dance (in honor of International Dance Day), plus a lot of jazz. Please 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. Wednesday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Are you focused and 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 29th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 29th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 29th)

A 5-Minute Practice

Questions Answered by Yogis (see post above)

Answers to Yogis Questions

* 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. Tuesday’s story was, philosophically, story number 5, a bridge of sorts. Which makes today’s story number 6. Are you noticing a trend? So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 1 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.

 

### “DANCE LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHING” ###

Going Back to the Start April 27, 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.)

“I do not wish [women] to have power over men; but over themselves.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

 

 “Biology transcends society.”

 

–from The Chinaberry Tree: A Novel of American Life by Jessie Redmon Fauset

Many, if not most, Westerners are introduced to yoga through the physical practice – which is a combination of asana (“seat” or pose) and pranayama (awareness of breath or “control of breath”). This introduction often comes without any introduction to the philosophy itself – or to the fact that people are starting in the middle of the practice, instead of at the beginning.

In some ways, starting in the middle is problematic, because the beginning of the philosophy provides the ethical component and fundamentals through which one can access the rest of the philosophy. Just as the beginning of a story introduces the characters and their situation, the beginning of the philosophy/practice introduces the who, what, where, why, and (most importantly, in some cases) the how of hatha yoga (the physical practice, regardless of style or tradition).

When you start in the middle of the story, you are constantly playing catch-up or asking someone else to explain what’s happening. You’re a little lost. You can still catch on, but it’s harder than if you started at the beginning. Another problematic aspect, especially if you are asking someone else for all the pertinent details you missed at the beginning, is that they occasionally missed a detail that comes back up later – and suddenly, you’re lost again. It’s like walking into the middle of a something written by a fan of Anton Chekov and going, “Wait, why does it matter what color thread she uses?” Or, wondering why people are laughing about a Rolex watch in Die Hard.

Yoga Sutra 2.30: ahimsāsatyāsteyabramacaryāparigrahā yamāh

– “Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-possessiveness are restraints (or universal commandments).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.32: śaucasantoşatapahsvādhyāyeśvarapraņidhānāni niyamāh

 

– “Cleanliness, contentment, discipline (or austerity), self-study, and trustful surrender to the Divine are the internal observations.”

The first and second limbs of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga consist of five universal commandments and five internal observations. Although, the yamas are often referred to as “external” restraints the truth is that we may first need to practice these on ourselves. Hence, we not only do unto others as we would have them do unto us (to paraphrase Jesus, Luke 6:31 and Matthew 7:12), we also do unto ourselves as we would do unto others (which sounds a lot like Matthew 22:39). And the perfect place to practice is on the mat (or on the cushion). The same is true of the niyamas. Get on the mat, get in a pose, breathe and notice how you are treating yourself. Notice what you are thinking about yourself. Notice how you are loving yourself. Or Not.

As you all have heard me say, and as my early teachers say, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” So, as you move through the practice you are, essentially, moving through the different aspects of your life. How you treat the different parts of you, may reflect the different ways you treat people in your life; people who are, essentially and philosophically, reflections of yourself. How you focus on outside, versus on the inside, reflects what you have been taught is most important.

“Sometimes I think that no matter how one is born, no matter how one acts, there is something out of gear with one somewhere, and that must be changed. Life at its best is a grand corrective.”

 

– From There is Confusion by Jessie Redmon Fauset

“Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s sceptre, the mind shapes itself to the body, and roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison.”

 

– from A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft

A slight loophole to my earlier statement about how starting in the middle is problematic, is that most people are introduced to some aspect of yoga after they have already been introduced to some kind of moral code or ethical compass. You may not have heard of the yamas and niyamas before, but you’ve most likely heard of the Ten Commandments (notice 5+5 = 10). Even if you did not grow up in a Judeo-Christian environment, you did grow up within a society with a division between right and wrong and (for most people) that comes with an understanding that translates into a code of conduct. In other words, you have your own set of commandments and observations.

Ultimately, the real problem is not that people are not immediately introduced to the ethical component of the philosophy; it is that the importance of ethical behavior is not always emphasized at the beginning, and throughout, the practice. Furthermore, this ethical component has to extend beyond the practice on the mat (or on the cushion), because practicing will change the way you interact with yourself and the world around you.

That last statement is not conjecture or opinion. It is absolutely fact. Underlying this idea is, as William Broad points out in The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards, that yoga can result in physiological changes to the body, including an increase in testosterone. Testosterone, of course, is a natural occurring hormone in all genders. It is related to muscle and bone mass, prevention of osteoporosis, as well as sexual drive, aggression, and competitive behavior. Broad is a science writer and book received a lot of criticism from the yoga community (myself included) not because of his scientific research, but because he lumped all physical practices together and decided to only look at the practice through the physical lens. So, ultimately, the biggest complaint was that he left out the context; he left out the ethics.

Mary Wollstonecraft, born today in 1759, was one of the earliest feminist philosophers. She authored A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she argued that women should not only be treated, educated, and respected in the same way as men, but should also be held to the same accountability as men. Wollstonecraft wrote, “The mind will ever be unstable that has only prejudices to rest on, and the current will run with destructive fury when there are no barriers to break its force.”

“I am colored and wish to be known as colored, but sometimes I have felt that my growth as a writer has been hampered in my own country. And so — but only temporarily — I have fled from it.”

 

– Jessie Redmon Fauset in a 1923 Paris Tribune interview

Like so many other Harlem Renaissance artists, Jessie Redmon Fauset spent some time as an expatriate in Paris. An African-American editor, poet, novelist, and educator Fauset, born today in 1882, graduated as valedictorian of her class at Philadelphia High School for Girls, the city’s top academic school, and applied to Bryn Mawr College. She ended up at Cornell University, however, after officials from Bryn Mawr found her a scholarship at another university!

After graduating from Cornell and receiving a Masters in French from the University of Pennsylvania, Fauset was selected by W. E. B. DuBois to be the literary editor of the NAACP’s The Crisis (from 1919 to 1926). Her novels focused on the lives of the Black middle class and, in some cases, the ethical and psychological ramifications of “passing,” where a Black person enters into society as a White person. Her work, as an editor and as a writer, was highly praised during her lifetime. Yet, despite the praise and the fact that she went to highly respected schools, you’ve probably never heard of her. There’s a good chance, however, that you’ve heard of some of the people whose work she highlighted as an editor: writers like Langston Hughes, Jean Toomer, Countee Cullen, Claude McKay, and Gwendolyn Bennett.

You may notice that, with the exception of Bennett, all of those remembered writers associated with the Harlem Renaissance are men. And, you may not think very much of that, given the big picture that is how artists are promoted in the world, unless you consider a little bit of (her)story related by Morgan Jenkins in a 2017 The New Yorker article. The article talks about the events leading up to a dinner initially intended to honor Fauset and the release of her novel. The philosopher, writer, and educator Alain Locke, however, suggested that the evening should honor a group of writers and Faust ended up relegated to being “an afterthought.”

For many people, the other 6 parts of the 8-limb philosophy of yoga are an afterthought (or a never thought). If you join me tonight (Monday, April 27th) at 5:30 PM, however, the ethics will be front and center during a 75-minuite virtual yoga practice on Zoom. The new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. There is no playlist for the Common Ground Meditation Center practices.

I consent to you 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 27th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 27th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 27th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

 

* 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. Today’s stories takes us back to the start. So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 3 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.

### IMBALANCE BALANCE IMBALANCE ###

Shy & Fearless ‘Round Midnight (give or take 12 hours) April 25, 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.)

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

It is a little overwhelming to reach a certain point in a challenging climb, to look out and realize how far you’ve come, and then to look forward and realize you may not be ready for the last little bit that takes you to the peak. Do you go back? Do you climb on? Do you stand in one spot, paralyzed by indecision? Do you regret or celebrate? Do you fear or persevere?

These are the questions we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives – and sometimes at multiple times in our lives. These were questions I found myself asking as I prepared for Saturday’s class and realized that perhaps I had not prepared the regulars for what was about to come. These were also the questions (or some variation of the questions) a young Ella Fitzgerald asked herself as she stood on the Apollo Theater stage during one of the early Amateur Nights.

Born today (April 25th) in 1917, Fitzgerald would eventually become a bandleader known as the First Lady of Jazz, Mama of Jazz, Lady Ella, and the Queen of Jazz. She would be championed by musicians like Benny Carter and Chick Webb (who gave her one of her big shots); composers like Ira Gershwin (who once said, “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them”); and celebrities like Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra (both of whom challenged segregation laws and racial bias, in their own ways, on Ella’s behalf). She would be heralded by universities and heads of state, awarded the National Medal of Arts (by President Ronald Reagan in 1987), and presented France’s Commander of Arts and Letters award in 1990.

On November 21, 1934, however, when she stood on the stage at the Apollo, Ella Fitzgerald was just a shy, reserved, self-conscious 17-year old orphan with a reportedly disheveled appearance.  She hadn’t become a legendary scat artist, hadn’t recorded a single song (let alone over 200 albums) and hadn’t performed at Carnegie Hall once (let along 26 times). In fact, the woman who would eventually be known for her ability to mimic any horn in the orchestra wasn’t even planning to sing!

“They were the dancingest sisters around.”

– Ella Fitzgerald describing Ruth and Louise Edwards (known as the Edwards Sisters)

Yes, you read that right: Ella Fitzgerald didn’t enter the Apollo’s Amateur Night as a singer. She intended to dance. The problem was the main event concluded with the Edwards Sisters, a crowd favorite. Seeing the Edwards Sisters’ tap dancing bring the house down – and knowing the critical (and vocal) reputation of the Apollo audience – young Ella froze, and asked herself some variation of those aforementioned questions.

“Once up there, I felt the acceptance and love from my audience. I knew I wanted to sing before people the rest of my life.”

– Ella Fitzgerald on how it felt after she sang one of her mother’s favorite songs at the Apollo

It’s a weird dichotomy to think of Ella Fitzgerald as both shy and fearless; yet, that is exactly who and what she was. Out of context it sounds odd. When you know more of her story, however, it is inspiring and encouraging. After all, every one of us can make the decision to climb on, to celebrate, and to persevere. All we need is to recognize what is already inside of us, what has gotten us this far. At the same time, what has gotten us this far is also what might have us giving up and turning back. The path forward is also the path back.

 “The uninformed, not mature, think these two paths – renunciation/contemplation (sankhya yoga) and action (karma yoga) – lead to different results, but that is not true. They are essentially the same, compare them.

Right knowing or wisdom (jnana yoga) leads to right doing. Right doing (karma yoga) gives rise to right knowing. Take either path to the very end and they meet. At that place the contemplative seeker of knowledge greets the person of action, and they are both equally free from the cycle of birth and death. The person who knows this oneness of paths really knows the Truth.”

The Bhagavid Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners (5:4 – 5:6), by Jack Hawley

 “The [state of] realization gained through the practice of Sankhya can also be gained through the practice of Yoga. An aspirant fully established in one attains the fruits of both.”

 

The Bhagavid Gita (5:6), alternate translation by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

In that moment of questioning, young Ella’s consciousness, her awareness of herself and her awareness of what she could do, merged with all the possible outcomes and in that moment there was fear of failing on the stage and also, as a teenager already taking care of herself in the world, there was the fear of failing in life. So, there was suffering – and, in this case, (mental) suffering that could also lead to (physical) pain. In that same moment, she also recognized a way to succeed and to alleviate (or avoid) some of her suffering.

This takes us back to Schrödinger’s Cat and the Emperor Marcus Aurelius saying that “the obstacle is the way.” It also moves us forward into this week’s sutra.

If you’re interested in a little fearless play (and contemplation) to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald’s birthday, please join me today (Saturday, April 25th) at 12 Noon, for a virtual yoga practice on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols have definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Saturday’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

Don’t forget to fearlessly Kiss My Asana!!

The Kiss My Asana livestream, all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering is also today (Saturday, April 25th) at 10 AM!! Mind Body Solutions founder Matthew Sanford will share his insights into the practice, plus there will be live conversation with MBS students and mind-body practices for all. Get a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program and help raise $50K of essential support.

Kiss My Asana is the annual yogathon that 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, the 7th annual yogathon, is only a week long. Seven days, starting tomorrow (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 Saturday. (I am still hosting my Zoom classes on Saturday and Sunday, so consider doing all three!) 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 25th (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 25th)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 25th)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

Psst…Ella’s story is my first KMA offering. So far I only have one yogi submitted story, which means I need 5 more. Please tell me your story!

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###

Speaking the Language of Hope April 23, 2020

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– Title of the third sigur rós album, on which all songs are “sung” by jónsi (born 4/23/1975) in Hopelandic (“Vonlenska” in Icelandic)

A lot of people, me included, find sigur rós music relaxing. I also find it visceral, something felt deep in the body. So, sometimes, when I want people to really tune in and pay attention to how they are feeling – deep in their bodies – I play sigur rós. There are albums where jónsi sings in Icelandic. On the third album, however, he sings in an imaginary language the band calls Hopelandic.

Hopelandic. How can you not love that name, or the idea of a place where the native language is hope?

“it’s of course not an actual language by definition (no vocabulary, grammar, etc.), it’s rather a form of gibberish vocals that fits to the music and acts as another instrument. jónsi likens it with what singers sometimes do when they’ve decided on the melody but haven’t written the lyrics yet.”

– from the faq section of the sigur rós website

When I play sigur rós in class, I remind people that they are hearing an imaginary language, but also point out that if you listen long enough you can not only sing along you can also feel as if you understand what is being sung – if not the words (since they aren’t, technically, words), at least the sentiment. I also explain that it is a little like listening to the mind-body.

Our minds and bodies speak in sensation, that’s how they communicate information. The only problem is, we’re not always fluent in sensation. So, just like we do when we are learning a new language, we need to experience the “vocabulary” in context and then repeat and repeat them until they are ingrained. Living our lives in our bodies is a little like being immersed in a foreign language – except for the part where we can ignore all of the sensation/information and only converse in our native tongue because, in some ways, it is easier than trying to understand this language no one spends a lot of time teaching us how to understand. The physical practice of yoga (hatha yoga, regardless of the style or tradition) is a way to start learning the language.

It’s not that hard to find a yoga class, if you consider yourself able-bodied and/or of sound mind. Even now, under the worldwide lockdown, there are lots of options. It may take a little effort to find a yoga practice that works for you, but it’s out there. What if, however, you (or someone around you) didn’t consider you able-bodied and/or of sound mind? What if you had been told that because you couldn’t move parts of your body on your own, couldn’t breathe without a machine, and/or didn’t feel sensation the way others felt it, you couldn’t practice yoga? What if your body didn’t look like the teacher’s body? What if you had experienced a loss or a traumatic event so devastating that it was hard to get out of bed? What if you were burnt out from taking care of people? What if a doctor told you that you were all but dead?

“Or do you need to get quiet enough to understand that some person – maybe close to you, maybe you – needs a beautiful place to come to, just to be, to come back to the purity of your existence.

 

And whatever’s dragged you through your life up to this point, beaten you forward to solve whatever problems, you drop all of that. And find yourself.”

 

– Robert Boustany describing that ‘Every answer is inside you.’

I started practicing yoga between professional dancers and musicians, people who used their bodies to make a living. They were also people (pardon the pun) very in-tune with their bodies. Then there was me, and on the first day, Robert Boustany explained that I already practiced yoga (philosophically speaking).

Because I knew Robert’s  background and knew some of the people who practiced with him under various conditions, it would be decades before it occurred to me that some people thought they couldn’t practice yoga. It was heartbreaking to realize that some people were being denied a really profound internal experience, a profoundly healing experience, because of a misconception about what yoga is and what it is not. It was heartbreaking to realize that there were yoga teachers all of the world who only knew how to teach a single, sometimes stereotypical, person – especially since there are so many people in the world who are not stereotypical.

“As I write this book, I am a yoga teacher, and I still get around in a wheelchair. I teach bodies that can stand when I cannot, that can feel things where I do not. This is possible because I have explored a different kind of connection between mind and body. Although I still cannot move my legs – and have no goal to do so – I do feel a heightened level of presence throughout my entire consciousness, including my paralyzed body

 

It is a connection that we all share. Most of us, however, have not needed to bring it fully to consciousness. I believe this shared connection has profound implications not just for the shape and quality of our consciousness, but for the aging process, for the experience of trauma, for our approach to disability and rehabilitation, and even for our survival on this planet.”

 

– from the Introduction to Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford

Matthew Sanford is one of those people who is not stereotypical. He founded Mind Body Solutions 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, the 7th annual yogathon, is only a week long. Seven days, starting 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.

Pucker Up & Kiss My Asana!!!

The livestream, all-humanity, Kick-Off gathering is (this) Saturday, April 25th at 10 AM on YouTube (in The Hub). MBS founder Matthew Sanford will share his insights into the practice, plus there will be live conversation with MBS students and mind-body practices for all. Get a glimpse into the work, the people, and the humanity of the adaptive yoga program and help raise $50K of essential support.

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 Saturday. (I will still host my Zoom classes on Saturday and Sunday, so consider doing all three!) 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 23rd (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 23rd)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 23rd)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 22nd Practice (use “A Poetry Practice” link above)

 

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Have You Noticed The Change? April 21, 2020

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“In your meditation today,

May your body be still and comfortable;

May your head, neck, and trunk be aligned;

May your breath be smooth, slow, serene, and with no pauses;

May the flow of thoughts in your mind not disturb you;

May your meditation today bring you peace, happiness, and bliss.”

– Intention for meditation, set by Swami Jnaneshvara

 

There’s a lot going on right now, inside and outside; a lot to notice. So, perhaps you’ve noticed something is different, but haven’t mentioned it. Perhaps you have noticed the things that are the same, and appreciated them. Yet, even as we’ve spent the last few days very deliberately and very intentionally noticing things, perhaps you haven’t noticed one of the things that has changed.

In all fairness, there are a number of reasons why you might not have even encountered the specific change of which I speak. The biggest reason you might not have noticed the change is that you might not be using the playlist and/or you might not be listening to the before/after class music.

Over the years, music has become part of the ritual of the practice. A friend once remarked that she came into one of the studios at the Y and didn’t see me, but she heard a Garth Brooks song playing over the stereo and knew I was somewhere in the building. Some people have told me that don’t really like the outdoor classes (because there is no music) and others have said they prefer no music. Some people have said they never even notice the music, and then there are the times where it is just a little too loud.

Still, many people have remarked that the chanting at the end of the playlist really sets the tone and gets them in the right mindset. And that, ultimately, is why the music is there before and after the class. It helps to bring us into the space and into the moment; it helps us transition from the profane to the sacred and then back to the mundane – but this time taking a piece of the sacred with us.

“May all of us together be protected;

may all of us together be nourished;

may we work together with great energy;

my our study together be brilliant and effective;

may we not hate or dispute with one another;

may there be peace within us, peace all around us, peace to and from everything and everyone we encounter.”

– “Teaching Santipat,” chanted by Richard Freeman (when we are in the studio)

 

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu – May All-Beings, Everywhere, Be Happy & Be Free”

– Metta (Loving-kindness) mantra often chanted at the end of the practice

That said, sometimes I change the chanting at the end of the playlist. Don’t get me wrong; we still start with the practice with the English translation of the “Teaching Santipat” (a.k.a. “the group intention”), but there are times when I want to set the tone in a slightly different way before I ever say a word. So, I’ll change the ending that leads to the beginning. More often than not it’s just a simple change, like replacing the Santipat for the “Gayatri Mantra” on the days when we are focusing on the light. Other times, there’s a bit of a story, like a prologue, that I want to subtly and subliminally convey. And, usually, people notice the change (because it’s pretty obvious) – but not this time.

I’ve collected a pretty massive amount of music over the years – not professional DJ massive – but I have a lot of music and I am always buying more. As I mentioned this past Saturday, however, sometimes music on my playlist is not available on Spotify and/or YouTube. No one knows, unless I mention it, when I make a little switch – especially since I try to stick with the same composer and, obviously, maintain the same motif, tempo, and timing. And I only mention it now, because I want you to notice something is different.

“In the conscious, unconscious, and subconscious mind,
I bow to the lotus feet of our great teacher,

 

Who uncovers our true self and awakens happiness
Like a Shaman in the Jungle he brings total complete well-being.
He can even heal the most awful poison of conditioning and illusion.

 

The upper body of human shape, carrying
a mussel horn (original tone), a discus (infinity) and a sword (power of differentiation)
having 1000 bright heads,
I bow to Patanjali.”

 

– Ashtanga mantra, used to open Ashtanga practices all over the world

In searching for alternative pieces over this last month, I have discovered new songs from two of my favorite contemporary composers, Bear McCreary and Alexandra Stréliski, and also discovered the lyrics to a song, “Merci Bon Dieu,” that I had only ever used as an instrumental piece. In the case of the latter, it turns out the lyrics reinforced the reason I had so often slotted the instrumental piece into certain playlists and, in the case of the former, well…let’s just say I’m going to be buying more music when this is all said and done.

But that’s all lagniappe, just a little something extra that tells you a bit about my process. The real focus today, is what I’m offering and that’s the chant at the end of the YouTube and Spotify playlists. It is not, however, the “Teaching Santipat” recorded by Richard Freeman, which I normally I use in the practice and which I still recite at the beginning. As far as I’ve ever been able to tell, the version I use in the studio is only available on a CD set I purchased years ago when I wanted to add more chanting to my practice. Instead, what appears in the online playlists is a bit of kirtan recorded by Krishna Das.

“Mere Gurudev,” can be translated as “My Ultimate Teacher” or, literally, “My Teacher-God.” I have heard the chant was originally written by an unnamed Indian woman, who (as you will see by the words) intended it as an offering and a tribute to her teacher, Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba.

Maharaji was a lifelong practitioner of bhakti yoga (“union through devotion” or “union through love”), which includes the practice of kirtan (mantras chanted with music). He was the teacher of Ram Das, Bhagavan Das, Lama Surya Das, Jai Uttal, Trevor Hall, and Krishna Das, as well as a host of entertainers and business moguls. Maharaji was reportedly so touched by the woman’s offering that he immediately asked for someone to write it down and for everyone to learn it. The Krishna Das version (which may exclude one of the original verses) translates as follows:

“My Gurudev, I offer these flowers of my faith at your feet
Whatever I have, you have given to me, and I dedicate it all to you.

 

I have no love, nor do I know you.*
I don’t even have the strength to worship you,
But this mind of mine, this body of mine,
my every atom is dedicated to you.

 

You are the only one in my heart and my thoughts.
You are the one who I call out to.
Now Make me your instrument…all I am I offer to you.”

 

– “Mere Gurudev” recorded in Sanskrit by Krishna Das

*earlier translation = “I have no love for you, nor any desire for you”

I was taught, and I believe, that our ultimate (and best) teacher is inside of us. That may mean different things to different people, but I don’t believe it makes it any less true. Part of what is true about that, is that I carry (as we all do) the lessons of all of our teachers – regardless of what they taught us. I was also taught, and also believe, that each and every one of us is simultaneously student and teacher to those around us. Meaning you all are as much my teachers as I am yours. Rather than using an online version of the “Teaching Santipat” that didn’t really resonate with me, I decided to add this bit of kirtan to the end of each playlist as a reminder, during this unsettling time, that what I offer is a gift to my teachers.

Thank you, for accepting these gifts.

“Namaste.”

– salutation / benediction meaning “I bow Thou”

If you are interested and available, please join me class today (Tuesday, April 21st) at 12 Noon or at 7:15 PM on Zoom. Some of the new Zoom security protocols are definitely kicking in; so, please use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems. Tuesday’s playlist is the same as Sunday’s playlist (dated 04192020) and is available on YouTube and Spotify.

You may notice that the playlist is longer than normal – that’s because it is actually two (2) different playlists. If you are using the music, you get to choose your musical experience.

My apologies to anyone who was expecting the “In Memoriam (Musicians)” practice I have previously led on April 21st (in 2017, for instance). If you go to The Roots YouTube channel, you will find thatQuestLove has stocked the Wrecka Stow and made up for my omission, 5x over.

It’s Almost Time to Kiss My Asana (cause the yogathon starts Saturday, April 25th!

As I mentioned in earlier posts, part of my offering to support Mind Body Solutions this year will be to tell seven special stories, your stories! Check out Friday’s post and then you can either email me or comment below.

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. This year’s yogathon is only a week long. Seven days, at the end of the month, 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

Teacher, teacher, tell me your Kiss My Asana story!

You don’t need to wait until the end of the month, however, to consider how you might participate. Start thinking now about how you can add 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation) to your day, how you can learn something new about your practice, or even how you would teach a pose to someone close to you – or even to one of your Master Teachers/Precious Jewels.

To give you some ideas, 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 21st (or thereabouts):

30 Poses in 30 Days (scroll down to see April 21st)

A Musical Preview (scroll down to see March 21st)

A 5-Minute Practice

5 Questions Answered by Yogis

Answers to Yogis Questions

A Poetry Practice

A Preview of the April 21st Practice (see “A Poetry Practice” link above or the Sunday and Monday posts from this week for an actual preview)

 

### JAI JAI GURUDEV JAI JAI ###