From her book Roar Like a Goddess,
Acharya Shunya explains here three powerful goddesses
that she learned about in her Indian childhood.
Her grandfather taught her that the goddess was not far
from her but could be found in her own faulting human heart.
Shunya now encourages all of us, regardless of gender,
to embrace these goddess energies within ourselves.
What resonates with you?
Durga's fierce courage?
Lakshmi's unapologetic pleasure?
Saraswati's creative resilience?
We need all these qualities of course,
but maybe one is calling particularly
to be fostered in you at present.
It's interesting to look at archetypes from different cultures
as a lens for embracing experience more fully in ourselves.
You may bring one of these goddess energies
to the mat with you in your own practice this week.
Egon Schiele (1918)
It strikes me that I might not be consciously nurturing
my relationship with rest. I've never thought to.
I mean, kind of like a beloved that you take for granted,
it's always there, right? Whenever I'll eventually get to it.
What an interesting concept that in order
to have a richer experience of rest
I might need to foster the relationship.
Make time for it. On purpose. Pay attention.
I think I'll try it.
Maybe you too?
A sweet long savasana
is awaiting you in yoga this week.
I find this to be true.
Like attracts like, no?
This is also true in your yoga practice.
If you approach your practice with a sense of soft curiosity,
slow revelations will appear physiologically and psychologically.
If you approach your practice with a harsh push,
your body will do its best to keep up but it will notice
your lack of interest in what it may have to reveal.
If you approach your practice with a sullen resignation,
you'll get some benefit from moving your form
but it may not inspire your whole being.
Soak yourself in love.
Get curious about yourself.
All is coming.
See you on the yoga mat this week.
"Even damaged, even fraying at the seams,
the world remains stunning
and full of stubborn wonder."
-Megan Mayhew Bergman
I hope today
you're able to notice this.
I like the phrase "stubborn wonder."
The earth shows us this again and again
in the way it continues to shine and thrive
despite us really.
As a yogi, awakened and attentive to my body
when it's feeling fine and free
and perhaps especially noticing when
it's feeling not so fine and not so free,
I witness the body itself remaining
full of stubborn wonder.
Always working towards balance,
with or without my cooperation.
It's designed to heal itself
just like the earth does.
If I can just relax into it,
remember all is change,
and listen to what it's saying,
buoyed by that stubborn wonder
I can trust its deep intelligence.
Come find resilience
on the yoga mat this week.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine
recently published a study out of Brazil
that underscores the importance
of maintaining balance skill.
They tested hundreds of older adults
to see if they could perform a
one legged stance for a full ten seconds.
After a median follow up of seven years,
the scientists found that an inability to balance
was associated with a doubled increase in death
from any cause within a decade.
I can't promise that rocking a tree pose
will grant you immortality, but.....
Finding the strength and focus to balance
is a learned skill. One that we continually
hone in our yoga practice.
The more often you try, the better you get at it.
The nerve messages from brain to feet,
the engagement of core musculature,
the steadiness of mind all improve
with consistent effort and intention.
We'll explore one legged balances
this week on the yoga mat.
"When the small self lets go at the point
where it has been clinging most fiercely
—suddenly a breeze can blow in
through the windowless room."
- Noelle Oxenhandler
Gosh, a good deal of my life has been spent clinging fiercely.
As a recalcitrant child, fiercely making my wishes heard.
As a young woman, with all sorts of black and white ideas
as to how the world and people should be.
This was a very, very long period, friends.
As a slightly more evolved grownup, admittedly still
very invested in effort, aim, and outcomes.
Whether it's guarding my health, making
a difference in the world, protecting people I love.
Gosh, clinging to positivity even.
I can recall the few times I've completely opened my fist,
released the string I've been relentlessly pulling in my direction.
It's almost like everything drops into slow motion and
I can see time and space fractal out. The relief.
All that clutching is taxing, even though you may be blind
to this perpetual state until the moment of decisive release.
I find it always worth asking:
Is there something I can let go of ?
Honestly, for me, this should be a daily practice.
A daily question.
I may be ready to exchange fierceness for a breeze.
The yoga mat is a wonderful place
to let something go.
Meet me there this week.
Julie de Graag, 1894
I love the way Buddhist teacher
and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein
talks to herself when distressed:
“Sweetheart, you’re in pain,” she says.
“Relax. Take a breath.
Let’s pay attention to what is happening.
Then, we’ll figure out what to do.”
I want to think about this now,
when I'm not distressed, in hopes
I might remember how to begin this
calm, compassionate conversation
with myself when I am.
It's a simple act of meeting sudden distress
with purposeful kindness rather than reactivity.
It's something you hope you taught your children.
Gosh, did I? (pause for maternal rumination)
At least I can teach myself now.
Continue being sweet to yourself
by making time for
your yoga practice
Evocation of Rossel by Odilon Redon
Anne Klein, Professor of Religion at Rice, recently said:
"I was a practitioner within the Theravada and Tibetan traditions
for 17 years before I discovered that I had a body.
Even though I was doing the sweeping meditation with Goenka,
there was just some way in which I felt what was important
was my understanding and nothing else. And that really was
a big flaw and a big obstacle. I mean I thought it meant that
I was smart, but it was actually a tremendous obstacle.
So tending to the body in whatever way whether in terms
of posture or sweeping or turning into light as one does
in all kinds of different ways in the Tibetan traditions
is a great antidote for being in the head.
It's hard to get out of our minds, no blame.
You know, we're trained."
She went on to remark upon what cerebral beings
we are encouraged to become from childhood onwards.
One thing we learn as yogis is the power of embodiment.
Feeling into our forms. Melding movement and breath
to discover what the body has to reveal.
It's not only freeing. It's revealing.
Come get out of your head for an hour.
I'll meet you on the yoga mat this week.
I'm not sure what it is about Americans and iced drinks.
Ayurveda, the sister science to yoga, teaches us
icy cold is the last thing your digestive system needs.
Heat expands. Cold contracts.
It's the reason ice can staunch a bleeding wound
helping blood vessels contract to stop blood flow.
Likewise, icy drinks shunt blood away from
the digestive tract, taxing its function.
We want to stoke our digestive fire,
not throw ice water on it.
Of course, your brilliant body is always
working towards balance, so it will do
whatever it takes to regulate your temperature,
but give it a break, yogi. Lay off the icy drinks.
A little ice water on the ears? Yes, please.
The back of the neck? An icy footbath plunge?
These July temps may call for such bravery!
Freezy water on the outside? Yes!
Freezy water on the inside? No!
Help your inner systems function well.
It's one reason you might do yoga
Odilon Redon 1897
Practice freeing your heart this week.
Notice, Let go. Repeat.
Keep it open and malleable.
Then come to the yoga mat
for more of the same.
"Exercises are like prose,
whereas yoga is the poetry of movements.
Once you understand the grammar of yoga;
you can write your poetry of movements."
- Amit Ray
I believe this wholeheartedly.
Once you understand yoga poses
and keenly notice their effects,
you can create your own poetry.
An artful teacher can bring you
slowly and wisely to a balanced self
throughout a single practice.
Eventually, you can do this on your own.
Listening to your body's intuition,
recalling the calming effect of forward folding,
the energizing effect of backbending,
all the directions you can move your spine.
You can feel your way and
take as much time as you like.
I love lolling about on the ground
seeing what shape my limbs want next
when I'm practicing at home alone.
Maybe you will too. Try it.
I hope you'll come practice
with me too this week!
My neighborhood is lucky enough to be blessed
with a Carnegie public library. It's gorgeous.
Built in 1919, a bit later than my own house,
it's a Metro Historic Landmark.
It's not very big. The collection a bit sad.
But I go all the time.
I couldn't really tell you why until I read this:
"The library, in addition to its many civic duties,
can function as a great engine of personal clarity,
of facing facts, of recognizing that life is not,
in the main, a pristine hardcover with deckle edges;
it is a threadbare thing from a few decades ago
whose binding is barely hanging on and in which
someone unstable once went to town with a lime
green highlighter. Library-induced realism is a great thing,
one that can do much to increase your happiness.
Because the world in which you are perpetually
under the impression that the next book purchase,
the next apartment, the next significant other
will be the one that finally delivers the goods
is not a life of happiness. It is a life of perpetual
dissatisfaction, a life of thin and sugary highs
followed by long and unenlightening lows.
The library is, with its careworn and temporary offerings,
as lovely and as poignant a reminder
of our actual human condition as the tides or a forest in fall.
To quote Penelope Fitzgerald (whose books are well worth owning):
'Our lives are only lent to us.' "
-Ben Dolnick, Library Books: A Small Antidote
to a Life of Perpetual Dissatisfaction
I also meet the human condition
when I step on my yoga mat,
sometimes cranky and not sure
I really want to be there.
Somehow, I never regret it.
Come find another small antidote
to a life of perpetual dissatisfaction:
your own yoga practice.
"Each time we can sit still with the restlessness and heat of anger,
we are tamed and strengthened.
Each time we react to anger or suppress it,
we escalate our aggression."
Emotions have been running high
in the collective just now.
I am not immune.
I'm paying attention to what's going on around me
and paying attention to what's going on within me.
I do want to be tamed and strengthened
for the long road ahead.
Neither reacting or suppressing?
These are skills I need to nurture.
Yoga Alliance President Shannon Roche
reminded yoga teachers on Friday that
"We know a realistic solution to today’s new
inequities will be complex and take time.
Fortunately, yoga prepares us for long roads like this,
giving us the tools to weather storms that require
patience, great empathy, and intense bravery."
May we find the strength within ourselves
to demonstrate empathy and bravery
towards and with each other, all of us.
Refill your well
on the yoga mat this week.
Valley of the Temples in Sicily in 2011
We're on the cusp of the summer solstice.
The longest day of the year
when yang energy is at its apex
and our North pole is tilted closest to the sun.
This moment of transition has been celebrated for eons.
It can be sweet to harness the energy of such moments.
While we're now at true summer and celebrating the sun,
it's also the moment we begin to mark the turn
towards the softer, cooler, darker yin energy ahead.
This sounds wonderful to me just about now.
All is change, dear yogi, and seeing to the balance
within ourselves if a good part of what yoga is all about.
Seize this marker of change to set an intention
for what you'd like to be moving towards in this turn.
We'll celebrate the sun in asana
this week on the yoga mat.
Here comes the full Strawberry supermoon.
Native Americans marked the ripening
of June berries with this name.
Supermoon status is achieved when
the moon's orbit is closest to the earth.
So what about all this moonshine, yogis?
The moon is understood to influence
the water element. As our bodies are
90% water, we resonate with the moon.
Moonbathing or moongazing is a
wonderful way to not only draw upon
calming and cooling lunar energies,
but to feel ourselves part of the universe.
Quantum physics teaches us that
everything in the universe operates
on a certain frequency.
Aligning ourselves with the frequency
of the moon can influence both our
conscious and unconscious mind.
Cooling, calming connection deep inside.
Take some time to drink up this moon.
We'll celebrate it on the
yoga mat this week.
"The moon is never not
F U L L.
It's just light
changing the shape
of what we see.
You are never not
W H O L E.
It's just the shadow
changing the shape
of what you see."
Acknowledging our shadow
while holding belief
in our wholeness
strikes me as a very yogic
way to move through the world.
I hope to remember this when
I notice a new phase of the moon,
a reminder to meet
the disparate bits of myself
with a smidge more compassion.
Pragmatically, we can do the same
in our physical yoga practice.
Let's approach asana this way
on the mat this week.
It is said that when you see a friend,
think as though you are meeting them
for the first time.
And when you are enjoying something,
think that you are enjoying it
for the last time in your life.
Do you see what this means?
Even to consider simple pre-pandemic pleasures
we took for granted and have yet to enjoy again.
Yesterday, we were trying to remember
the last time we went to hear chamber music.
What did they play that night? I can't recall.
We weren't sure of the last film we saw at the Belcourt.
We didn't know to savor these moments.
I think, these days, we've all been schooled
on not taking anything for granted.
To soak up goodness when it appears.
But I especially like this notion of
greeting a friend like
you're doing so for the first time.
With curiosity. With attention.
With a spark of "Who are you, dear person?
What peculiar wonders do you hold?"
Just paying a t t e n t i o n.
A recent Saturday, we treated ourselves to a day out.
Sitting on an outdoor bench, watching buff kids on a
thankfully distant sand volleyball court,
we held Koko's double ice cream scoops on a cone.
I delighted in the divine peach ice cream, its cheery hue,
the wonder of a GF cone that doesn't taste like crap,
my mister sidled up close, the sky blue with no rain,
so ridiculously happy and free, drinking in every detail.
That was a couple weeks ago, I think of it still.
As though it's the first time.
As though it's the last time.
Be awake to it all.
And even, perhaps especially,
on the yoga mat.
I get to spend time with people
a bit ahead of me on life's path.
I learn a lot watching how they navigate changes
with their work identities, with their relationships,
with the way they perceive themselves.
It astonishes and inspires me how over and over
successful, purposeful people can reach a point
where they stop and humbly say I don't really know.
I'm not sure what's next, what's important to me now.
I find it supremely comforting to understand
we are all a work in progress.
I love what Carl Jung wrote
towards the end of his illustrious life.
To sense being carried along,
while feeling solidity beneath us.
That is a worthy goal, yogi.
And one we can cultivate
through our yoga practice.
Pierre Bonnard, 1891
The fact that a writer needed solitude
didn't mean he was cut off or selfish.
A writer was like a monk in his cell praying
for the world - something he performed alone,
but for other people.
-Tobias Wolf, Old School
I fell in love with this book this weekend.
This observation struck me in particular.
It puts me in mind of the work we do on the yoga mat.
Taking time apart to be with our bodies
in order to clear our mind
so we can connect with our hearts.
Yes, yoga benefits our personal wellbeing.
That I will not deny.
But it makes us more awake people too
so we can be less reactive
and move in the world more consciously.
It's more effective than my ranting and railing
against the crises in the world around me.
It's a profound way to pray for the world.
Making goodness to ripple outwards.
We'll practice expanding this
on the yoga mat together.
When I'm stacked up with early morning yoga classes,
a proper breakfast is often delayed.
But as soon as I can, I scrumble up something awesome.
Like a black bean & veggie breakfast,
which today I topped off with cilantro pesto.
I don't even really like cilantro,
but I had a fresh, organic bouquet
of it in the refrigerator,
and it only took 3 minutes, so. . . . .
2 cups fresh cilantro (leaves & stems)
1/4 cup toasted nuts or seeds
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon sea salt
¼ cup parmesan cheese (optional)
[my fave vegan parm recipe below]
Whiz it all up in a food processor.
Vegan parmesan is easy-peasy to make.
I always keep a jar of it in the fridge
to make boring veggies feel exciting
with just a couple shakes.
3/4 cup raw cashews
3 Tbs nutritional yeast
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Whiz it all up in a food processor.
Shake on whatever....
Cilantro is rich in vitamins A & K,
lowers BP, cholesterol and blood sugar.
Cashews' magnesium content
boosts bone, muscle, and tissue health
while aiding calcium absorption.
Nuts, good oils, and greens
are delicious and good for you.
So is yoga.
See you on the mat.
Standing forward fold - uttanasana-
is integral to our yoga practice.
We do them so often, form is important.
Please don't do this:
See how this poor girl is hanging back,
stick straight legs, torso collapsed forward?
Her back is rounded, she's hanging in her joints,
and most likely aggravating her sacro-illiac joints
along with the soft tissue of her lower back
while pinching the front of her vertebral discs.
Okay, okay, I know
this girl has pretty stretchy hamstrings.
(But if you try uttanasana in silly heels,
you might be able to touch the floor too.)
But, my back is a clear line,
from tailbone to crown.
If the floor was feeling too far away,
I could easily bend my knees deeply.
I could wisely put my hands on high blocks.
Mainly, the energy I'm exerting to extend my spine long
is keeping my joints safe and my spine neutral.
My body is quite awake rather than just hanging out.
We'll remember this on the mat this week.
We'll rejuvenate ourselves,
open the back body,
and calm the mind
with forward folds this week!
In a perfect world, we'd have abundant organic produce
every season, easily accessible and affordable.
What's a well meaning, health minded yogi to do?
Know the Environmental Working Group?
The EWG website is a wealth of information
on environmental toxins in our world.
Their food scientists test
produce for pesticides,
discovering which crops
are heavy laden with ick
and issue 2 easy lists:
The Dirty Dozen - shop organic for these
(90% of these crops had pesticide residues)
The Clean Fifteen - okay to eat conventional
(about 70% of these had no detectable levels)
The updated lists for 2022 are just out.
Your friendly yoga teacher has posted them for you.
Eat well, yogis.
Your very cellular structure
is comprised of what you eat!
Then bring that clean temple
to the yoga mat.
Last summer, for the first time, I planted some mint in a pot.
My wise friend, Susie, recalled her New York grandmother
coming to Nashville some seventy years ago saying:
"I've brought some cuttings from Brooklyn Botanical.
You know you just hold mint to the ground and it will root."
This sounded like the herb for me.
It's among the first herbs up in the spring.
Everytime I smell it, I'm taken back to
my 1975 YMCA day camp in Green Hills.
Mint was growing wild by the culvert, the demarcation line
for as far as we could go towards the road.
My teenage counselor, whom I idolized, must have shown it to me
because when I first smell it now, it's her I feel in my mind.
Deeper history takes us to Greek mythology
where Minthe had an affair with Hades, angering
Persephone who trampled her into the ground.
Minthe was ground into a plant, but refused to vanish,
perfuming the air with each footfall.
Quite a story, isn't it?
Considering planting something this spring?
It would be hard to defeat it.
It will come back every year.
Flies and mosquitoes hate it,
but everyone else loves it.
Growing something in earth connects you
to the natural elements, of which you are a part.
It brings a sense of grounding and lightening hope.
So does yoga.
Come see this week.
We'll see some spring rain soon.
Take it as an opportunity to listen.
If you have time to sit and watch it, do.
If you've only two minutes to stop and see, do.
Delight in your utter lack of control.
There's absolutely nothing you can do about it.
What a relief.
We'll find something to surrender to
on the yoga mat this week.
fish pose on the Caney Fork River Ridge this weekend
The practice of yoga nurtures our strength of observation.
Noticing breath, sensations of resistance, muscular engagement.
Just by slowing down to notice,our nervous system quiets.
A recent scientific study suggests that attending specifically to
the sounds of nature also has beneficial effects upon our systems.
Birdcall, rustling leaves, the buzz of insects, steady rainfall.
All these natural sounds can decrease pain, lower stress,
improve mood, lower heart rate and blood pressure,
and even enhance cognitive performance.
Interestingly, bird sounds had the largest effects
upon diminishing stress and annoyance.
(Filling birdfeeders n o w. )
A naturalist friend of mine promises that if you take two minutes
at the start of the day and at the end of the day to stand outside
to listen, smell, and feel, it will ineluctably change your outlook.
And when you do, still your body, feel your breath, and listen.
That, my dears, is yoga.
Bring your observant self
to the yoga mat this week.
"When a Japanese gardener "prunes open," he or she cuts away
not only dead branches and foliage, but also often a number
of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty
inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows
the visitor to see up, out, and beyond the trees to the sky,
creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden.
It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing
complicating elements, simplifying structure, and revealing
its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out,
so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. . . ."
Spring is here at last, which means I am outside pruning my heart out.
I have no training, but a keen eye, a sharp tool, and a turn for beauty.
I do remember Jacob, the hippie tree man, explaining to me
"Step back and look. What wants to reveal itself?"
I love the above explanation for the airiness of Japanese gardens.
Not only pruning away the dead bits, but even some of the healthy ones.
They create space in order to reveal inherent beauty.
My life could use this treatment. Maybe yours too?
Just because I can do something well, doesn't mean I have to.
What bits of my world might be pruned away just now?
I want an airy landscape where I have time and light to grow.
I wish the same for you, wise one.
Let's find each other on the yoga mat
creating shapes with ourselves.
"It is in the feet that all knowledge of mankind lies hidden;
the body sends them a weighty sense of who we really are
and how we relate to the earth. It's in the touch of the earth,
at its point of contact with the body that the whole mystery
is located - the fact that we're built of elements and matter,
while also being alien to it, separated from it.
The feet - those are our plugs into the socket."
-Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
I love finding deep wisdom hidden inside a novel.
Witness the above.
We, my dears, are in the very changeable shifting of seasons
with pell mell snow, sunshine, full moon, and spring equinox
coming upon us just within a week's time.
Not to mention the uncertainty in the world around us.
How to keep mind, body, and soul together, steady?
Find the ground.
Breathe down into it through your feet.
Plug into the socket, as Olga says.
All the elements are there for you,
they're what you're made of
and will keep you steady and connected
while stars and planets and man made forces swirl.
Remember this when you need it.
Often, my therapy of choice is to roam
my yard barefoot, purposefully feeling each step.
My husband has learned not to be surprised
to find me prone on the ground in the backyard
belly, heart, and head pressed into the earth.
Only then can I flip over, heart to sky,
made softer and lighter, secure in
knowing I am effortlessly part of all that is.
Come find ground in practice this week.
This popped up in my inbox this morning. I think I like it.
Thinking about not only what you're saying No to....
but more importantly what you're saying YES to.
-from Nataly Kogan's The Awesome Human Project
Those of us who tend to be doers or givers or pleasers
have a hard time with the "no's."
It's a brilliant rework to reimagine a no for one thing
as a purposeful yes to something else.
Articulating such reasoning to yourself holds power.
Helping us live on purpose.
Getting clarity around the why of anything
is a good idea, don't you think?
Making time for your yoga practice
might involve some of this jiu jitsu.
See you on the mat this week!
"The most delicious thing in the world is a banana."
- British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli
wrote to his sister from Cairo in 1831
It seems Disraeli partook of many sensual delights while in Egypt,
but we shall concern ourselves only with the simple banana.
Ah, the banana. It's just so brilliantly self contained.
The color, the shape, the peelable sleeve.
Loads of B6, vitamin C, potassium.... you know this.
Read on for a few more reasons to partake.
Your average banana has a gram or two of protein,
particularly tryptophan, a type of protein the body
converts into serotonin, which can lift your mood
and aid relaxation.
Muscles feeling weak or crampy? Could be a sign
your potassium is low. Eat a banana, friend.
Bringing up your potassium level
can steady your metabolic rate too.
Often valued for their antacid properties,
the mushy, unctuous quality of bananas
stimulates mucous production in your gut,
soothing intestinal disorders. Note the word mushy.
An unripe banana may not accomplish this magic.
I often find bananas on the cloyingly sweet side.
I just can't eat them too ripe. Which made me
wonder, how do they affect blood sugar?
Ripe bananas have a low glycemic index of 51,
and a moderate glycemic load of 13.
Apparently, the GL is a little high due to
the carbohydrate content of the fruit.(28g)
But the carbohydrate of bananas is
classified as a resistant starch. Whuut?
Get this, resistant starch works as fiber;
it's not broken down in the small intestine
so less glucose is released in the bloodstream
and you feel nicely full while that starch
is slo-mo digested. No blood sugar spikes.
No wonder triathletes grab bananas left and right.
Plus, resistant starch has a prebiotic effect,
keeping gut bacteria happy.
Unpeeling a banana is particularly satisfying, don't you think?
Banana peels are so high in antioxidants that they are used
to heal wounds and warts and soothe insect bites and splinters.
You can also throw a peel under your rose bush
boosting your plant's immune system.
I love doing this; it feels so cheeky.
Okay, all you ever wanted to know about bananas.
We'll work bananasana on the mat this week!
"The things one can express with the hand,
with the head, with the shoulders!...
How many useless and encumbering words
then disappear! What economy!"
-French film director Robert Bresson
All these glorious shapes we create
with our bodies in yoga
stimulate an organ here,
open a meridian there,
strengthen a particular set of muscles
while lengthening another set.
The asanas were designed to do precisely this.
Then the breath that opens up and floats
when you're moving wisely.
The breath that constricts to signal "too much."
Talk about economy.
The shape communicating to your body.
Your body in reply.
All without a word.
Come interpret gesture.
Strange Flower (Little Sister of the Poor) (1880) by Odilon Redon
"Sometimes it's as if I'm composed of nothing but symptoms of illness,
I am a phantom built out of pain. Whenever I find it hard to know
what to do with myself, I imagine I have a zip fastener in my belly,
from my neck to my groin, and that I'm slowly undoing it,
from top to bottom. And then I pull my arms out of my arms,
my legs out of my legs, and take my head off my head.
As I extract myself from my own body, it falls off me like old clothes.
Underneath them I'm finer, soft, almost transparent.
I have a body like a Jellyfish, white, milky, phosphorescent."
-Olga Tokarczuk has a wonderfully peculiar village eccentric
say this in her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead
It occurs to me that one might take
a conscious savasana in just this way.
After an hour of asana, we take our rest pose
as an opportunity to unfasten.
A stripping away, a slipping out, an undoing.
Helping us to realize that for all the
beautiful shapes we conjure,
we are not our bodies.
But rather deep within, something finer.
I promise to give us a properly long savasana
in yoga practice this week
where you might find yourself transformed,
perhaps transparent, phosphorescent.
"We are full of rhythms . . . our pulse,
our gestures, our digestive tracts,
the lunar and seasonal cycles."
I was drawn to learn about the eminent Yehudi Menuhin
because I grew up in the house of a violinist
and have never seen a classical string player
playing while sitting on the ground in sukhasana
as Menuhin did with Ravi Shankar in 1967.
East meets West indeed.
This recognition of inner rhythms
in cadence with outer rhythms
helps me to feel part of a greater whole.
Feeling part of a greater whole helps me
be a bit less identified with the tiny "I"
too often compelling my every thought.
Maybe the sweetest part is
the effortlessness of these rhythms.
My breath happens on it own,
as does the beating of my heart,
all the fluid machinations of my systems.
In fact, my influence is often a halting one,
stopping up the rhythm with worry, with effort.
Consider this a suggestion of less effort,
more relaxing in to the steady rhythms
of the universe within and around you.
It's got you, really.
We'll find this even in asana
on the yoga mat this week.
"Tiger and Magpie" 19th century -from Lee Kun-hee’s collection
Here we are at the Chinese New Year.
We're entering the Year of the Tiger - fierce and courageous.
Interestingly, this lunar new year is also taking us into a water year.
(In the Chinese calendar, each year is connected
not only to an animal but to an element.)
Water is a strong element that can move forward despite obstacles,
finding its way around and through however needed.
Its fluidity is what vivifies its power.
The active yang energy of the tiger paired with the yin energy of water
could portend some unpredictable fits and starts.
"Mmm hmmm...What else is new?" you might be thinking with a sigh.
But, let's take on this powerful water energy.
I'll take helpful symbolism wherever it arises.
Whatever comes our way....yes, it will come, but it will go.
Neither clinging to what we prefer or railing against what we don't.
Be like water.
Allowing a free flow of qi through our bodies, hearts, and minds
will keep us agile and fully present.
We'll do just that on the yoga mat this week.
Yesterday, I was driving (a rarity these covid days)
way down 1-65 to my father-in-law's house past Brentwood
for an alfresco lunch in a sunny patch on the driveway.
Firstly, let me admit I'm a bit of a speedy driver myself.
I notice that passing others convinces me I'm getting somewhere.
I know, I know. This may merit a therapy session in and of itself.
A dark sedan zipped by me going at least 90 mph.
I heard myself call out a prayer of protection for the driver.
"May you be safe and free from harm.
May others be safe and free from harm around you."
I learned this practice in Lithuania back in the nineties.
I was a passenger in an old Russian Lada making its way
out of Vilnius towards military bunkers used in World War II.
Every time a reckless driver would zip around us,
our own driver would call out a blessing in their direction.
I was stunned. I had never considered such a thing.
He wasn't cross. He didn't curse them. He blessed them?
In that one action, this man taught me that every situation in life
is an opportunity to act as a blessing towards someone,
be they adversary, ally, stranger, or just an annoyance.
In my own case, speaking forth this learned reaction is
hardly a natural consequence of my profound spiritual state,
but I do believe that by practicing it I am working to build,
bit by bit, over time, a state of steady compassion and generosity.
Bring some steadiness and generosity
on the yoga mat this week.
If you read the Pulitzer Prize winning The Overstory,
then you know writer Richard Powers.
(If you haven't, make haste, dear reader.)
His newest novel Bewilderment concerns an astrobiologist
and his challenged, and challenging, son Robin.
The following bit, and the novel as a whole, made me
think differently about what I'm made of
and how to consider my place in the universe.
Powers led me to imagine other worlds and recognize the vastness
of the unknown, both in the solar system and within myself.
My insignificance in the cosmos is undeniable but
the immense power and responsibility of creating myself each day remains.
Be a conscious work in progress
on your yoga mat this week.
I liken the process of transforming habits
to turning a cargo ship at sea. A large vessel
with that much momentum can't make sharp turns.
However, a one or two degree course correction
of the rudder, if held steady, will take that ship
in a very different direction over time.
-Oren Jay Sofer
It may feel more intoxicating in the moment
to envision vast change for oneself.
But subtly aiming your rudder in a purposeful direction
with a tiny practice, or action, or thought pattern
is more likely to integrate a new direction in our lives.
Maybe instead of an auspicious daily goal to find the yoga mat,
remembering to catch the kitchen counter and pull back
to elongate your spine whenever you head to the refrigerator?
Eventually that elongated spine begs for a twist to either side
when you've been sitting in your computer chair too long.
One day, you suddenly realize you're paying attention
to your body's messages in new ways.
A well aimed rudder sets you off in a chosen direction.
Hold the angle. Then scan the horizon for transformation.
We'll chart a course from wherever you are
once together on the yoga mat this week.
"Only then (nearly out the door, so to speak)
did I realize how unspeakably beautiful all of this was,
how precisely engineered for our pleasure, and saw
that I was on the brink of squandering a wondrous gift,
the gift of being allowed, every day, to wander this vast
sensual paradise, this grand marketplace lovingly stocked
with every sublime thing."
As we step into this new year,
I won't prod you with aspirations.
I won't nudge you to improve.
But I will offer this.
The chance to realize we can wander at will,
our senses ablaze, into the commonplace sublimity
that surrounds us in this moment.
Let that be enough.
Let's step into the new together
on our yoga mats this week.
by Rainer Maria Rilke
You darkness from whom I am born –
I love you more than all the fires
that block out the night;
for the fire limits the world
to the circle it lights up
and excludes all the rest.
But the darkness holds everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
peoples and nations — just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the darkness.
The winter solstice is here.
The longest night of the year.
Despite everything in this moment,
we need the darkness.
For rest, its intuitive wisdom,
for stillness, the understanding it reveals.
The darkness holds everything.
Don't be afraid to trust it.
Just now, take an exhale.
And your animal body softens.
We'll be finding restorative yin energy
at our last practice of the year.
Ah, the wondrous bridge pose.
a.k.a. setu bandha sarvangasana.
I love using this pose to build awareness of the low belly muscles.
It's deep core work that doesn't stress the body,
is actually therapeutic for the lower back,
and hones breath and movement synergy.
Inhaling to fill the belly with breath;
exhaling to press the low back into the ground.
It isn't even necessary to lift off the ground to achieve these benefits.
But if you are going airborne, here are a few things to bear in mind.
The glutes are your big lifters here (the bum muscles),
but mindfully engaging the muscles around your pelvis
works to stabilize the posture. That's important.
Observe the above illustration from Bandha Yoga.
See that long light blue muscle arcing
down the thigh from the side of the hip?
It's the TFL (throw that acronym around if you like) or tensor fascia lata.
Putting it to work helps counteract any excessive
external rotation those engaging glutes might bring.
We'll explore a little trick to turn that TFL on this week.
And put it into practice for a newly stable bridge pose.
See you on the yoga mat!
"May God grant you Grace to never sell yourself short.
May God bless you with courage
to risk something big for something good.
And may God bless you with discernment
that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth
and too small for anything but love.”
-a blessing from the Episcopal Bishop of Maryland Eugene Sutton
This is the kind of blessing I like.
Well, to be honest I like any kind of blessing.
And if someone in beautiful robes makes
the sign of the cross over me at the same time, all the better.
Consider yourself blessed, dear yogi.
May grace, courage, and discernment abound just now.
Hope to see you on the mat this week.
"There are established ways to train our brains
to better guard our attention. For me, the best
attention-guarding ritual of all is reading
- sitting down to read physical, printed books
for long stretches of time, with my phone
sequestered somewhere far away."
- Kevin Roose, Futureproof 9 Rules for Humans in the Age of Automation
Technology has wiled its way into many corners of our lives.
It's hopeful to realize that we are able to make good use of it
yet still guard our intentions and purposely foster attention.
I like this term "attention-guarding ritual."
You surely have your own.
Your own type of tea ceremony. A walking ritual.
The laborious act of cooking an excellent meal.
Rolling out a yoga mat for an hour of practice.
All require focus, hands and heart,
present feet on the ground.
Keep yourself grounded in these ways.
And tease out your attention into ever lengthening spools.
We'll do so on the yoga mat.
There has been a good deal of solitude in my life of late.
I do get to see yogis whom I love on a yoga mat most days.
My only other interactions have been with nature.
This glorious autumn buoys me to no end.
Every time I pass a tree rife with color,
I shout up "Beauty!" at the top of my lungs.
Solitude has its benefits; there's no one to alarm.
It puts me in mind of Meister Eckhart's words:
"If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life
is thank you, it will be enough."
Because I think that's what I mean - thank you.
Thank you for this riot of beauty.
Thank you for my ability to witness it.
Thank you for this sudden light rain against my face.
Thank you for the warm house waiting to receive me.
Don't let wonders pass you by just now.
They seem to be everywhere.
Tease out some gratitude
on your yoga mat this week.
I love pencils, completely.
I remember upon learning a new friend had spent much of his
career in a pencil factory, he simply bloomed in my imagination.
One of the best presents I ever received was
a box of pencils created peculiarly for me. Heaven.
So, hearing Olympic runner Alexi Pappas analogize
physical training to being like a pencil struck me:
"You are like a pencil that you sharpen and
you can't sharpen it too much all the time
because it would break. You want to be
like a dull, strong pencil for the most part.
But at those peaks, you want to be like
the pointiest pencil you can be, which
means your mind and body are on the
same page and they are as progressed
as they can be. And I was that. I knew that.
Knowing that and feeling that allowed me
to be at the Olympics in a way that felt
like a celebration and not a test."
So much of yoga has been seen as performative,
a quest to be the pointiest (bendiest?) pencil.
A test, not a celebration.
Learning to let go of judgment over reaching your toes
and delighting in the ability to lengthen a breath
in perfect tandem with an elongating limb?
That, my friend, is yoga in action.
If we can build resilience, stability, and acceptance,
our bodies, not to mention our minds and hearts,
will become steadfast, able to serve us our lives long.
Be a dull, steady, strong pencil
on the yoga mat
this week and beyond.
Dawn is the wellspring of more light,
the origin of our first to last days as we roll in space,
over 6.684 billion of us in one global petri dish,
shot through with sunlight, in our cells,
in our minds, in our myriad metaphors of rebirth,
in all the extensions to our senses that we create
to enlighten our days and navigate our nights.
Here's to embracing earlier sunrises
as our clock falls back an hour.
Be extra sweet to yourself as your body adjusts.
Ayurveda teaches us that as we move
into the cold months ahead,
regularity of schedules,
warm foods, time in sunshine,
quality oils on our skin and in our foods,
and keeping our ears and throats warm
will help us remain balanced in this
windy, dry, vata season of change.
We'll add the grounding benefits
of a steady yoga practice this week.
"Recover your mind and your will,
which are busying themselves elsewhere.
You are draining away and scattering yourself.
Hold yourself back.
You are being betrayed, dissipated, robbed."
This may have been written five centuries ago, but
I could not imagine a more powerful tonic for our moment.
Read the philosopher's words again
and take the sentence that pierces you with truth.
In a time where we are called upon to produce content and capital,
to attain followers, admirers, and sheer attention itself,
Concentrate yourself. Spend yourself wisely.
That you may enrich and deepen your very essence.
Corral your scattered bits
to your yoga mat this week.
"Love, which might be called the attraction of all things toward all things, is a universal language and underlying energy that keeps showing itself despite our best efforts to resist it. It is so simple that it is hard to teach in words, yet we all know positive flow when we sense it, and we all know resistance and coldness when we feel it.
Have you ever deliberately befriended a person standing alone at a party? Perhaps someone who was in no way attractive to you, or with whom you shared no common interests? That would be a small but real example of divine love flowing. Don’t dismiss it as insignificant. That is how the flow starts, even if the encounter doesn’t change anyone’s life on the spot. To move beyond our small-minded uniformity, we have to extend ourselves outward, which our egos always find to be a threat, because it means giving up our separation, superiority, and control. Animals can do the same thing for our souls if we will allow it, sometimes better than people."
Thinking of love as "the attraction of all things towards all things"
opens up the concept of love in a whole new way for me.
As though all that would be required is a little softening
and dropping into a wider pull of what is,
rather than sacrificially summoning a compassionate reach.
It also feels less ego driven, which for me is always a good thing.
I find staying safely inwards a very comfortable place,
burrowed into a familiar den of separation and control.
My yoga practice is absolutely a tonic in this.
The more I open energetically in my physical form,
the more I open on the inside (my heart, my will),
then the more I can open to the outside.
Let's see what opens
on the mat.
art: Aviatic Evolution -Paul Klee 1943
I've been listening to an audio version of Wallace Shawn's 1996 play The Designated Mourner.
So, as you read this, imagine it being read in his inimitable voice.
I thought about all the sincere consideration which I gave to the future, to my plaaaaans, you know. And all the solemn concern I lavished each day on the events of my past. My memories! as we call them wiping away a few tears. And I wondered was all this really tremendously valuable or was it perhaps just a bit unnecessary when you consider the fact, rather often overlooked, that the past and the future don't actually exist. I sit around thinking about them from morning to night but you know, where are they? Where are they? I mean, they're not here. And God knows they're certainly not anywhere else, I would say."
A modern day take on present mind that hit me just right.
murmurmurmur. . . indeed.
But the My precious memories! bit?
Steady on, sir. That hit a bit too close for comfort.
Who would I be without my nostalgic memories
that I hold and pet and ponder ceaselessly?
Some of us hold to the past.
Some of us look to the future.
Let's try the present on the yoga mat this week.
We often practice sending our breath through the body in yoga.
Some of us are quite adept at doing so, even if the first time
we heard such an instruction we thought it was crazy.
I like this idea of discovering a tiny point of comfort somewhere.
We're so used to only noticing discomfort.
But noticing something that feels fine
and then allowing it to expand is an interesting notion.
If you are stymied by the act of "meditation,"
this might be a lovely way to slip in.
We'll see what we notice
on the yoga mat this week.
Do you know about chia seeds? They're kinda a thing, but I never understood
how awesome they are until I learned to make pudding.
For most of us vegans, pudding is a distant childhood memory. No longer.
I can throw this together in four minutes, wait fifteen, and kapow!
The seeds do this weird thing where they puff up like tapioca.
Kinda chewy. Kinda not. It's like a science experiment.
You can make any flavor pudding
(even chocolate), use any type of fruit,
but the following recipe is my easy-peasy go to
with no extra sweetener needed.
Chia seeds are nutritionally powerful.
They provide good stuff like Omega 3 fatty acids(!), iron, and calcium.
I love their anti-inflammatory and blood sugar balancing qualities.
This recipe alone will give you 6 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber.
Banana Chia Pudding
3 TB black chia seeds
1 banana halved
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup almond milk
Mash half the banana.
Add chia, cinnamon, and milk.
Stir to combine.
Let sit 15 min or overnight.
Top with other half of banana sliced,
or with coconut and walnuts!
Dessert? Breakfast? Snicky-snack?
Try it, yogi!
Bring your sweet happy self
to the yoga mat this week.
I've heard a couple of exhortations lately to choose the joyful thing.
Not the pragmatic choice that will yield predictable results.
Rather reach for the thing that will spur joy in the moment.
I'd been pondering just how feasible or sensible this might prove
when I stumbled on a story of a 90 year old Jewish-American G.I.
remembering a dance held for American soldiers and
the brave women they had liberated from concentration camps.
Writer Carina del Valle Schorske posits:
"There’s something a little scandalous about the notion of dancing after Auschwitz.
We might wish, for those women, rest and recovery rather than an eroticized encounter
with foreign men in uniform. But there has never been a program of rest and recovery
that could completely restore the soul from genocidal trauma. Who are we to think
we know when those women would have been ready to resume the rituals of social contact,
to start seeking out joy? Their bodies had been used as automatons to perform
unspeakable labors. Maybe it felt good and right to spend — to waste, in capitalist terms —
what little energy they had left on pleasure without profit."
I have no words here.
Reach for joy, yogi. Let's make a practice of this.
Make some joy on the mat
for yourself alone.
All art emulates the condition of ritual.
That is what it comes from and to that
it must always return for nourishment.
This long, rainy weekend felt like a turning somehow.
We're headed for the autumnal equinox this Wednesday.
Remember that at this time of year,
our bodies crave the medicine of consistency.
Routines performed mindfully become ritual.
And your particular acts of living become your art.
Whether it's quiet with warm tea in the morning,
moments to find deep breath before sleep
or whatever rituals make you feel nourished,
find them at the beginning of this new season.
Instill practices that feed your artful life.
Your devotion to your yoga practice
is a beautiful example of this.
Costa Rica adventure, 2007
I'm married to a risk taker.
Motorcycles, mountains, pandemics.... you name it.
His choices leave me keenly aware of our difference,
namely my oh,so risk averse nature.
That said, I'm coming to acknowledge
that I am an inveterate sensation seeker.
I'm not quite happy unless I am fully feeling my way
into a yoga posture. All the feels, please.
Why stop here when I can dive my nose to my knee?
Um, maybe because half a century of taking your body
to its limit repeatedly has repercussions at some point?
My new challenge is learning how to do just enough.
And no more.
I figure if I say it out loud to you, my dear yogis,
I might be held a bit more accountable.
I'm remembering that an asana practice is about
honing awareness, finding the sweet spot of engagement
rather than collapsing into habitual sensation seeking,
rather than chasing my image of a posture.
Here's to the safety of discipline and respect
for ourselves and for our individual practices.
Find your own
on the mat this week.
The man who for the first time picks a small flower
so that he can have it near him while he works
has taken a step toward joy in life.
- Hermann Hesse
One of the gifts of being indisposed last week
was the silence, the stillness, the noticing.
I spent hours one day just watching the rain from my bed.
The days stretched long and the smallest kindnesses powerfully felt.
Do yourself a small kindness this week.
It might be claiming a single flower for your own.
It might be a stolen hour of nothingness.
It might be a piece of music fully received.
It occurs to me that we have the power to stir our own joy.
Looking forward to seeing you
on the mat again this week.
When we are exactly where our body is,
we are in the present moment. The body
isn’t in the past or future, it’s not conceptual
or imagined; it’s part of nature and contains
all of nature’s elements. It houses our awareness,
is shaped by our stories, thoughts, and emotions,
and holds our memories within its tissues.
This may sound a bit esoteric, but it's absolutely true.
While I love realizing my form contains all of nature's elements
and enjoy anchoring my awareness in my body to calm my mind,
when dealing with a minor but debilitating injury (as I am at the moment)
the witnessed physicality of the present moment is often not so pleasant.
Turns out there's quite a bit to be gained there as well.
There's nothing like pain to bring you to attention, to slow you down,
to make you notice how unbelievably ridiculous it is that
about a zillion things work perfectly every second of every day
without you even noticing or offering a word of thanks.
As all of us are learning of late, mindful awareness
is not all about bliss. It's learning to be present with what is.
Resilient enough to consider what's to be gained by doing so.
Bring your thoughtful self
to your yoga mat this week.
(where I'll be mindfully instructing but not doing)
Last night, I was listening to a wise friend explore
the difference between purpose and meaning.
We agreed that purpose often involves outwards aim
and meaning is often wrought from interior reflection.
It puts me in mind of a balanced yoga practice.
We challenge ourselves with strengthening postures,
purposeful active movements with particular aims.
The less active asanas are not so much passive,
but rather profoundly reflective, offering us opportunity
to discover, understand, even to sift deeper meaning.
Your devoted hour on the yoga mat each week
might be empowered by pausing
to notice why you've come.
It may be a different answer every time.
It may be a different answer with your first inhale
than with your last exhale of savasana.
See what's true for you on the mat this week.
A recent Sunday morning, I walked to a church in my neighborhood.
Ravaged by the last tornado, the two walls holding these windows
were the only thing left standing. New walls are still in progress.
There's a roof at last. And no longer the heartbreaking sight
of watching weather pour into the choir loft.
I went to look at the windows because of Eckhart Tolle.
He has caused me to reimagine the way I think
about the symbol of the Christian cross.
He imagines the horizontal line as the path we tread
and the vertical line as an opportunity to connect with Source.
In thinking and doing, we persist in the horizontal dimension,
but we can penetrate a deep awareness of being
when we pause to connect vertically and energetically.
He believes the vertical opens us up to the present moment.
This puts me in mind of the deep satisfaction I find
in my own simple, often shockingly brief, yoga practice
of reaching up to the heavens each morning
in a simple half sun salutation.
It feels like time out of time, if only for a moment.
Creating a vertical line, straight to Source
before I tread the horizontal line of my day.
You did know that a twenty second yoga practice counts, didn't you?
Sometimes that proves the most essential moment of a long day.
Come reach up in yoga practice this week.
by Gwen Westerman
This is my give-away-
not because I don't want
not because it's out of
useless since it lost
its lid or one of its buttons,
not because I don't understand
the "value" of things.
This is my give-away-
because I have enough
to share with you
because I have been given
health love happiness
pain sorrow fear
to share from the heart
in a world where words can be
meaningless when they come
only from the head.
This is my give-way-
to touch what is good in you
with words your heart can hear
like ripples from a pebble
dropped in water
moving outward growing
wider touching others.
You are strong.
You are kind.
You are beautiful.
This is my give-away.
Gwen Westerman writes in her native Dakota and English.
I understand wopida ye translates as gratitude, thanks.
Bring your kind, strong, beautiful self
to the yoga mat this week.
When I was a kid, President Jimmy Carter delivered
an address during the energy crisis of the seventies.
I was astonished upon reading it forty years later:
"Human identity is no longer defined by what one does,
but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things
and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning.
We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill
the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.
The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us.
[...] This is not a message of happiness or reassurance,
but it is the truth and it is a warning."
Gulp. Hello, 1980s. And 2021, to judge by the
Amazon boxes piled on the steps of my neighborhood.
I've been thinking about this quite a bit lately,
giving my packrat self an uncomfortably hard look.
I have no virtues to extol in this regard;
perhaps you too might find this worthy to ponder.
Aparigraha is the last yama in the eight limbs of yoga.
Understood as non-greed or non-grasping,
it exhorts us to take only what we need
for the period of time we need it
and then to let it go.
Phew. Sit with that for a minute.
I find a yoga practice encourages a type of shedding too.
Let's see what we can let go of on the mat this week.
I stumbled upon an old essay on Goethe,
which explained how he embraced holism,
with a sense of the universe itself as a living organism,
always shifting and expanding.
This seems very yogic to me.
Consider his words:
"We experience the fullest sense of well-being
when we are unaware of our parts
and conscious only of the whole itself."
"All finite beings exist within the infinite."
Consciousness of the whole?
This sounds lovely and just up my aspirational alley.
But this notion of becoming less aware of my parts,
which I imagine may involve ceasing to obsess over
every which way my body disappoints me as I age,
is well, shall we say, a heavy lift for this perfectionist.
This morning, as I see I'm feeling a bit blue and pitiful,
I clearly recognize the benefit of enlarging my awareness.
Pulling back for a bigger perspective.
Existing within the infinite sounds more spacious and inviting.
Think I'll try it.
Let's do so together
on the yoga mat this week.
blessed red okra in my Southern garden
"To observe the topsoil as the skin of our planet
is to know the planet is living, breathing, and beating.
This area of activity should be likened to the skin
that protects the human body, and all of its inner contents.
Things placed onto the skin are easily absorbed
into the body, such that things placed on top of the soil
become the foundation for the health of each plant.
When food is taken into the body, it is earth-material
digested and churned into energy and gasses.
It is that energy of transformation that fuels us,
the more pure the food taken in and digested,
the more vibrant the energy given."
Bless my heart. My vegetable garden mostly yields
just enough for me to stand by the plant barefoot
eating its bounty raw, held in one hand.
But gosh, it's so wondrous to take in the
sweet offering of pure life energy.
The earth is not only working to heal itself,
it continues to work to heal us.
May we never take it for granted,
not a single bite.
Foster your life force
on the yoga mat this week.
"Maybe I jump up and down and kiss you
too hard on the neck when I learn,
upon coming home, that it's pizza night
because sometimes pizza night is more than enough,
is my most faithful and feeble beacon.
What if I'm running outside because the moon tonight
is children's-book huge and ridiculous over the line of pines,
the sight of it a strange sphere of medicine?"
Taking your joys where you find them is no small thing.
Allowing your heart to be lifted by a sight, a taste, an action
without reservation, right when it hits you,
is part of the real joy of being alive.
Grownups sometimes forget this.
The more you allow yourself to feel sheer delight,
the more delightful life becomes more consistently.
See what you might conjure
on the yoga mat this week.
Breath wants to liberate itself,
to free itself from its encasing in the body’s frozen stillness.
The whole of the body wants to keep moving
—not even a single little part left out,
everything in motion, just like the universe.
—Will Johnson, “Breath Moves Body”
We know that we are made of stardust.
We are not only connected to the universe,
we are part of the universe.
Our cells in a constant state of motion
are innervated further by the skillful use of our breath.
We'll breathe and move in tandem
on the yoga mat this week
incorporating some bodywork to stimulate
the healthy movement of our lymph.
Okay, I get it.
Vrkasana does seem like a questionably random skill.
However, my recent unexpected misstep from a ladder
would certainly not have ended so gracefully
if tree pose was not a well honed stance for me.
Yoga postures strengthen and align our bodies
while promoting stability and flexibility.
This stuff comes in handy in the real world as we
encounter challenges, tasks, and mishaps.
We'll play around with vrkasana this week
and see how interesting things can get on one leg.
Panama City beach 1969 (once I stopped crying over scary shifting sand underfoot)
The summer solstice has officially brought us into summer.
I crave sunlight more than sun salutations;
I’m not going to pretend that I always wear sunscreen.
Endocrine disruptors? Creepy chemicals?
What you put on your skin zips into your bloodstream!
A short educational primer follows, dear yogi.
Just down the street from my house is the wonderful Lemon Laine.
It’s the place to find safe, natural products for your body, inside and out.
Recently, founder Laura Lemon schooled us on sunscreens:
Sunscreen. Natural? Chemical? Physical? Mineral? What does it all mean?
Physical vs Chemical
Physical sunscreens are comprised of two active ingredients—zinc oxide and titanium dioxide—both of which are minerals naturally found on our planet. Physical sun-blockers work by creating a layer on the skin which serves to deflect and scatter damaging UV rays. You may also hear them referred to as 'mineral' or 'natural' sunscreens.
In comparison, chemical sunscreens like avobenzone, octinoxate and oxybenzone act like a sponge by absorbing the sun’s rays and converts them into heat thus releases them from the body. Chemical sunscreens are sometimes referred to as 'synthetic sunscreens' given the active ingredients are man-made.
The Pros & Cons of Physical
Physical formulas require fewer ingredients to achieve broad spectrum coverage. The shorter ingredient list means less of a risk of irritation so these are best suited for sensitive skin. Since physical sunscreens have active mineral formulations they provide instant protection whereas chemical sunscreens require you to wait 20 to 30 minutes before sun exposure. However, anyone planning to be more active in the sun may need to apply a physical sunscreen more often as their effectiveness tends to degrade in the pool or while sweating.
Why You Should Care
Recent data collected by the FDA shows that six of the most prominent chemical SPF blockers—avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene, homosalate, octisalate, and octinoxate—absorb into the bloodstream after a single application. When applied every two hours as directed, these ingredients appear in the blood at concentrations that surpass the FDA’s safety thresholds. The FDA has asked sunscreen manufacturers to provide further safety analysis so there’s still a bit of a question mark when it comes to the final verdict. But any discerning customer may see this as a red flag especially since certain chemical blockers have been shown to be endocrine-disruptors in the body.
Blood concentrations of oxybenzone were more than 180 times the FDA’s level of concern after a single application of sunscreen. They soared to more than 500 times the FDA’s level of concern after 4 days of regular use. Studies have shown that oxybenzone may affect breast development, infant birth weight, and sperm function. It has also been shown to contribute to the killing of coral reefs in the ocean. As a result, Hawaii has banned the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate starting in 2021. But, there's good news. The FDA clarified further that physical sunscreens provide no immediate health risk and are safe for consumers.
Other Ways to Limit Sun Exposure
Did you know that plant oils offer sun protection? According to one study, raspberry seed oil offers protection similar to titanium dioxide with a 28-50 SPF protection factor against UVB rays and 8 SPF against UVA rays. Due to its low UVA protection, you do not want to use raspberry seed oil as your only form of protection. Other plant oils with SPF? Coconut Oil and Olive Oil both have SPF 7. A great option if you're looking for an inexpensive way to decrease the effects of the sun's rays.
Take care of your temple, yogis.
Be purposeful about what you choose.
Then bring your sunny self to the yoga mat!
A yoga pose looks to leverage the body to discover
feelings and sensations contained within.
A meditation practice uses awareness to observe thoughts,
and in turn identify and transcend the core beliefs
that create those thoughts.
We go layer by layer over time.
As we reduce matter to its most finite,
we create a path to discover the infinite.
Leveraging the body in asana
to discover sensations
and deeper still, feelings held within.
This is when yoga gets really interesting.
Strategically strengthening muscles,
clearing energy lines,
enervating connective tissues,
and elongating our form
are all worthy and intrinsic benefits
when we move our bodies on the mat.
Attuning to the subtle body
and what it has to reveal
brings us to a deeper dimension.
In my experience, it's not always revealed
in the moment, but often in the after effects
of a yoga practice.
I've learned not to hurl myself from my yoga mat
into the thoughtless overstimulation of distraction,
but to savor the effects and see what's to be felt.
We'll find moments of introspection
inside practice on the mat this week.
I just heard the NPR commentator mark the birthday of Prince.
I imagine I'm not the only one in our yoga tribe
who spent her adolescence dancing to his music.
After long ballet rehearsals, we all gathered around Nadine's
orange Volkswagen bug in the parking lot at sunset
Prince blasting while we danced our hearts out in steps of our own.
There was something so authentic and free and thrilling
in his work. Talk about someone fully embodying his art.
It seems he also had some foresight into staying free
in a future of creeping technology.
Here's what he said when accepting
an Internet music award in 1999:
"Don't be fooled by the internet.
It's cool to get on the computer;
don't let the computer get on you.
It's cool to use the computer;
don't let the computer use you.
[...] There's a war goin' on.
The battlefield is in the mind.
And the prize is the soul.
So, be careful."
Prescient words from decades ago
when the insidiousness of the internet
was just beginning to be realized.
May we all stay free in our bodies and in our minds
choosing wisely what brings us joy and living on purpose.
Including on the yoga mat this week.
-acceptance speech for Best Internet Only single "War" in 1999
at the Second Annual Yahoo Internet Life magazine Awards
Share a moment of brightness this week with a stranger.
Sometimes just getting an unexpected smile
from someone on the street can turn my day around.
I'm remembering two run-ins with strangers that marked me,
both at my neighborhood grocery store.
One was when I picked up the small tab of the woman behind me.
I was so nervous; she was so surprised.
It was a tiny but sweet exchange for us both.
The other was in an afternoon snow storm in the parking lot.
I simply reached to return a cart for an elderly man.
He looked as though he had walked out of an Andrew Wyeth painting.
Thin silver hair parted on the side, walking slowly In an old overcoat
"Well, I don't see no wings. But you sure look like an angel."
This was probably fifteen years ago. I think of it still.
He said it with such love and wonder; I felt like a million bucks.
I certainly received the greater kindness in that exchange.
Sharing a second of happiness with someone
you'll most likely never see again
rewards you tenfold. It's quite a high.
We'll be kind to ourselves
on the yoga mat this week.
"To become a welcome vessel for the breath
is to live without trying to control, grasp, or push away."
Well. Recognizing that I, in fact, do spend
a significant portion of my waking life
trying to control, grasp, or push away,
this statement hit home hard.
My early yoga training led me to imagine the breath
as a highly directive means of control.
Gosh, there were so many things you could do with it.
There were so many precise instructions
as to pace, direction, suspension, and intention.
It took me years and years to know the breath as a softened wave
and to realize the immense possibility such softness held.
We'll ride the wave of the breath this week.
If lucky, we might feel as though we're butterflies.
"We are used to thinking of freedom
as being free to do what we want,
but the Buddha sees it
as being free from wanting."
Talk about a radical reframe.
My very American ambitious self
just bowed her head upon reading this.
Yes, to embrace what is,
but pragmatically to look at where I am in my life,
what I have, what I don't have,
and realize it is possible to stay the pernicious desire for more
- more certainty, more security, more to show for my life's efforts.
A free breath of "this is enough" helps quiets the wanting
and not only stills the mind from consequent machinations
but swells the heart with a natural feeling of gratitude.
And if I keep practicing, maybe one day I'll become
one of those self possessed, beautifully alive crones
who seem to want for nothing.
A spark of utter freedom in their wise eyes.
Come find freedom
in yoga practice this week.
"After six days had passed he would never think about
Cairo or the music or the streets or the women;
by then he was moving in ancient time,
had adapted into the breathing patterns of deep water."
-Count Ladislaus de Almásy walking the desert of 1930's Egypt
in Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient
I once listened to Michael Ondaatje reading
when he visited Nashville. He struck me as the sort of man
who has spent a good deal of time moving and thinking slowly.
While I was not traversing the Arabian desert last week,
but only the white sands of the Florida coast,
I did begin to lose myself to deeper time.
Day after day we trod the same path to the seashore
in the morning and back to our cottage at night.
I never looked at a clock, but dropped into
the rhythm of the water, sun, and moon.
There's a profound shift to one's nervous system
when you can slip into this sort of rebalancing.
I intend to recreate this occasionally
in normal life as best I can.
Let's try for an hour on the yoga mat this week.
So looking forward to seeing you again.
While you and I won't be practicing yoga together this week,
I certainly hope you might gift yourself a personal practice alone.
There's nothing better than getting outside for ten or twenty minutes,
gazing at the sky, feeling the grass beneath you,
recognizing yourself as one with all that is.
Maybe some standing postures with a tree for support
or some supine postures with the sky to focus upon.
I'll be doing the same.
Hopefully in a bikini with crashing waves as my soundscape,
thinking of you and wishing you well and happy
'til I see you next week on the yoga mat.
Bishop Michael Curry says:
There is a Jewish proverb,
"Before every person there marches an angel proclaiming,
'Behold, the image of God.'"
I don't know about you, but this proverb and the image it conjures astonish me.
Somehow if I can believe this is true, it radically alters how I see the world.
And when I catch hold, a hushed reverence falls.
It's pleasing and inspiring to remember when encountering a stranger.
It's proving vexing when I encounter a neighbor I'm not fond of.
Try it for yourself and see what softens, what lifts you up and
consequently the effect upon those who receive your gaze.
Come find the holy ground of your yoga mat.
image: Godspeed 1931 Rockwell Kent
When yogis begin to warm into backbending,
we often are prone on the belly finding our way to cobra.
It's easy to fall into the habit of leading the lift with the chin,
almost scooping our way up into a backbend.
Why is this a bad idea?
Well, it certainly hyperextends the neck but more troublesome
is the pernicious effect of tightening the lower back.
This renders what should feel like a fluid motion of the spine
into a stuck fight to lift. Ugh.
Instead, we can create a more fluid snakelike action
undulating through the spine after grounding
internally rotated legs and a heavy pelvis.
The chin never juts upwards, but the neck remains clear
as a natural extension of the lifting spine.
As in so much of yoga, height is of little significance.
(Some of us would do well to read that last sentence again. Ahem.)
We'll unfurl our spines wisely
this week on the yoga mat.
"In spring, the Kapha that has accumulated in the body during winter
is liquefied by the warmth of the sun. As a result, the digestion and
metabolism can be affected and a large number of problems can arise."
-from the classical Ayurvedic textbook, Charaka Samhita
Yoga's sister science, Ayurveda, teaches us to care for ourselves
by understanding our deep connection to the elements.
Earth and water are said to create the kapha dosha,
which is most in evidence in the springtime
as winter heaviness begins to melt away.
Spring is a brilliant time for cleansing, inside and out.
Just as we declutter and clean our environments,
our bodies could use the same degree of care.
We're reminded that the digestive fire that gets us through winter
begins to lessen in spring, warning us not to jump too quickly to raw foods.
If feeling sluggish or congested, include warming spices such as
ginger, turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, and black pepper in your meals.
Even a few days of detox, eating lightly and with care can be beneficial,
giving your system a rest and reset for the new season.
Ginger-lemon tea or cardamom-clove tea are particularly effective
in neutralizing excess kapha in your system.
Ayurveda also instructs us to practice abhyanga,
full body self massage with plant based oils.
In Sanskrit, "oil" and "love" can be translated as the same word: sneha.
This self care practice not only aids lymphatic drainage and
nourishes the skin and nervous system, but makes you
feel magically wonderful and vibrant.
A third way to care for yourself in spring is fluid movement
rejuvenating your system in its entirety.
So, I hope to see you on the yoga mat this week!
Spring is here, dear yogis.
If you're like me, you're spending a lot of time on the ground
investigating, digging, and weeding.
Perhaps you could add nibbling to the list?
A master herbalist once instructed me to stop and notice.
He said if you have loved and cared for one plot of land,
it may offer you just what you need medicinally.
I was astonished to notice this is true.
The good people at High Garden help us learn what to look for:
Purple Dead Nettle Lamium purpureum- (Aka Fairy Towers) All above ground parts are Edible, highly nutritive and contain significant amounts of quercetin which can be helpful for seasonal allergies. Wonderful chopped, battered and fried, added to soups and stews, or finely chopped in salads and smoothies. Provides early nectar for pollinators and seed for birds.
Henbit- All above ground parts are Edible, highly nutritive and mildly cleansing. I really love this chopped in salads, soups, stews or casseroles. Provides early nectar for pollinators including hummingbirds. Helps to aerate and feed the soil after dying back.
Chickweed- All above ground parts are edible. It is a lymphatic tonic, blood cleanser, cooling to inflamed and “heated” tissues such as skin, throat, respiratory system, bowel or urinary tract. Helps to break up lumps and cysts. We put this herb in our Wildly Healthy herbal infusion for all of its incredible benefits and help.
Dandelion- All above ground parts are edible and the root makes a marvelous tea. Dandelion flower fritters are a favorite in our house and dandelion greens are in all of our spring salads, smoothies and soups. The flowers are noted to be “food for the eyes” while the leaves are a powerful diuretic helping to shed excess fluid while not dropping potassium levels in the body... the magic of herbs. The root is a wonderful liver tonic, blood cleanser and promotes gut health by feeding the good bacteria in your bowel.
Cleavers- Above ground parts make a powerful tea or tincture. One of the strongest lymphatic tonics I know for any lymphatic swellings. Wonderful urinary system tonic, diuretic and soother. Makes a great vinegar or tincture.
Blue Violets- All above ground parts are Edible. Makes wonderful syrups, vinegars, smoothies, teas, salads and soup additions. Lymphatic tonic, lung tonic, moistening to dry tissues, anti tumor, blood cleanser and simply beautiful. I’m pretty sure most creatures feel the love from violet and its heart shaped leaves.
Continue to nurture yourself
on the yoga mat.
I was tending to emails when the mister left home for a bike ride.
He shouted a final goodbye through the window as he whizzed down the alley.
Not thirty seconds later I heard a screeching car and a horrific crash.
It took two seconds to register what this could mean.
I was out the door, running down the street terrified of what I might find.
A bashed up car hobbled past me to a stop, but no bike or husband in sight.
He had headed in the opposite direction.
Thank God. Everyone was alright.
Once back indoors, my mind prompted me that all was well and to return to work.
Then I remembered what I had learned from Peter Levine
- the power of somatic experiencing.
Animals physically shake off troubling experiences,
thus returning their nervous systems to balance.
We're the only animals whose outsized brains tell us
we can reason our way out of trauma.
But here's the thing. . . . the body remembers.
In order to complete the experience and restore equilibrium,
we would be wise to allow our bodies to disperse that trapped energy.
I went to the back yard, got my bare feet on the ground, and started to shake,
allowing all that anxiety to move through and out my body,
thus completing the experience, along with a prayer of gratitude.
This never fails to work for me.
A near accident, a sudden shock, you name it.
Shake it, baby. Let it go.
Bring your wise self
to the yoga mat this week.
When we train ourselves by constant practice to stop verbalizing,
the brain can experience things as they are.
By silencing the mind, we can experience real peace.
—Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Oh my. To begin, stop . . . . verbalizing?!?
For someone who loves words, this alone is a challenge.
It's not that I speak a good deal, but gosh I think a lot.
Think in - w o r d s - day and night. Endlessly.
This Sri Lankan monk is teaching me that the brain doesn't
manufacture thoughts unless we feed it
hrough habitual verbalizing.
(see my small hand confessionally raised here above my bowed head)
The more I practice not verbalizing,
the freer my poor brain might be free to simply be with what is.
Instead I might focus on experience
without my telltale inclination to name or describe said experience.
Something as simple as tracing the breath
or feeling space inside my body.
We'll experiment with breath
along the tentorium
in practice this week.
image: Leonardo daVinci's divine portrait of Beatrice d'Este
(I would love to rock a headpiece like this.)
Collectively, we're reflecting upon an entire year of quarantine.
I confess I haven't written a novel or created profound artworks,
heck, I haven't even finished painting my kitchen. Sigh.
Maybe this is why I found these words from inaugural poet
Amanda Gorman such a balm. She answered the question
"If you'd known that you'd be so isolated for so long,
what would you have done differently?"
"I think if I could go back in time and give myself a message,
it would be to reiterate that my value as an artist
doesn't come from how much I create.
I think that mindset is yoked to capitalism.
Being an artist is about how and why you touch
people's lives, even if it's one person.
Even if that's yourself, in the process of art-making."
Collective exhale here, my dears.
WIth whatever tiny power is invested in me as your yoga teacher,
I absolve you . . . of aspiring to greatness, profundity, or completion.
Pondering how and why we touch people's lives, that you can do.
As will I.
Let's meet ourselves
in the process of art-making
on the yoga mat this week.
I found myself rapt by an image in the paper this weekend:
the meeting of Pope Francis with the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Iraq.
In Iraq, Francis brought a message of peace and respect for all religions,
naming the hating of our brothers and sisters as the greatest blasphemy.
"Love is our strength" was his message in Baghdad.
The ninety year old Sistani lives a reclusive and ascetic life,
expresses a mutual tolerance for all faiths, and has worked
for reconciliation of opposing sects and ethnicities in Iraq.
When Francis arrived at Sistani's humble home in Najaf,
doves were released as a sign of peace.
The Pope, struggling with sciatica at 84,
respectfully took off his shoes before entering.
There is something beautiful to me
about esteemed men of power and faith
taking each other's hands, eye to eye with respect.
May it be a model for all of us
- to move through the world with conviction,
manifesting an open respect for those
who may appear to be the other.
Bring your open heart
to the yoga mat this week.
Ponder the semicolon, dear reader.
It's a candid punctuation mark that means what it says.
It's a period and a comma that can do the work of both.
It puts me in mind of asana; a single yoga pose can
perform more than one purpose, depending upon your intention.
A charming essay by Lauren Oyler says it well:
"There are so many things to fear in life,
but punctuation is not one of them.
That semicolons, unlike most other punctuation marks,
are fully optional and relatively unusual lends them power;
when you use one, you are doing something purposefully, by choice,
at a time when motivations are vague and intentions often denied.
And there are very few opportunities in life to have it both ways;
semicolons are the rare instance in which you can;
there is absolutely no downside."
Hear, hear! I adore semicolons.
Fully optional and relatively unusual?
Perhaps an apt descriptor of your favorite yoga pose.
We'll explore some familiar yoga poses
with peculiar intentions
on the yoga mat this week.
I just listened to President Biden grieve the milestone of 500,000 Americans lost to Covid:
"While we've been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to sorrow."
What is a yogi to do with such intense suffering and sorrow?
I tend to push sadness away, only to succumb to overwhelm in an unexpected moment.
These days I'm putting into practice something I learned from Pema Chodron:
tonglen, the ancient Buddhist practice of taking and sending.
The idea is to foster emotional spaciousness while turning poison into medicine.
It makes me feel as though I'm helping the world and tending to myself too.
First, I breathe in a negative feeling. Then, I breathe out a positive one.
I inhale a textured, felt, heavy emotion. Then, I push light outwards on my exhale.
I breathe in imagined feelings of those who are suffering,
or the very real fear or pain I know a loved one is experiencing.
I breathe out fierce light, hope, whatever might be peculiarly needed.
Inexplicably, this practice leaves me buoyant, empowered, hopeful, and clear.
As yogis, we know the power of an intentional breath on the mat;
turns out the possibilities off the mat are endless.
Come to the yoga mat this week
to foster clarity and hope
in your own being.
this morning and all day
continued, its white
calling us back to why, how,
whence such beauty and what
the meaning: such
an oracular fever!
-excerpt from First Snow by Mary Oliver
While I've yet to divine profound meaning from today's snow,
I've taken great pleasure in the sound of icy flakes striking my window,
especially as I'm safe and warm blanketed in newsprint on the other side.
I hope you, too, are cozy indoors with the gift of shelter and provision.
We'll create some warmth
with purposeful breath
on the yoga mat this week.
Who doesn't love an inversion?
Especially a sweet one that is well supported
requiring no upper body stress
and offering variability as to height.
You'll be stacking the novel(s) of your choice this week
tidily beneath your hips, allowing collarbones to spread wide
and the upper back to melt into the floor.
Yes, it feels dreamy but why?
With the hips higher than the heart
we're encouraging venous return wherein our blood
flows easily back to the heart without fighting gravity.
By the same means, we're facilitating lymphatic flow.
Your immune system will thank you.
So will your endocrine system as this posture
stimulates the thyroid and parathyroid.
Yum. Good yoga to support our systems.
Meet me on the mat with a book or two
(or yoga block if you're fancy)
There's no better time than the present to refine the breath,
as doing so undeniably boosts our immune systems.
Something we all need in this COVID winter.
Proper diaphragmatic breathing helps lymph move,
enabling the flushing of toxins from the body.
In fact, the diaphragm is the primary lymphatic pump for the abdomen.
Deep controlled breathing actually alkalizes the body,
neutralizing the acidity that breeds inflammation and disease.
It's nothing short of amazing how the body is devised to heal itself.
In yoga practice, we work to draw the breath deep in the belly
to aid the body in its housekeeping.
We'll breathe deeply together
with some guided pranayama.
A h h h h. . . . . . .
that's the sound of a freeing exhale
when I really take this truth to heart.
Just as you are.
Methinks this applies to the yoga mat too.
So, let's find a playful energy
rather than a striving one
in practice this week.
"In every important way we are such secrets from each other,
and I do believe that there is a separate language in each of us,
also a separate aesthetics and a separate jurisprudence.
Every single one of us is a little civilization
built on the ruins of any number of preceding civilizations,
but with our own variant notions of what is beautiful and what is acceptable
- which, I hasten to add, we generally do not satisfy
and by which we struggle to live.
We take fortuitous resemblances among us to be actual likenesses,
because those around us have also fallen heir to the same customs,
trade in the same coin, acknowledge, more or less,
the same notions of decency and sanity.
But all that really just allows us to coexist
with the inviolable, untraversable, and utterly vast spaces between us."
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
As we move towards and through Inauguration Day in our country
of vastly different souls with our separate understandings,
may we learn to coexist though spaces remain between us.
May we offer this compassion even to ourselves
as we perform our own curious and honest excavations
of our own private civilization built upon those of our ancestors,
known and unknown.
The internal work persists.
Take it onto the yoga mat
"In a moment of intense transition, I'm asking myself questions
like: Are you rested? If not, what can you do to rest?
Let's reframe rest as part of the work. That's really easily lost.
We see rest is the antithesis of revolution or productivity,
but it is the bank - it's what is going to allow any of us
to do any type of work sustainably."
-Marisa Hall, a Black femme community herbalist in the Bay Area
I think one of the deepest gifts of this challenging time
is the opened up space and opportunity to rest.
We know how important rest is for our bodies
enabling cell regeneration and strengthening immunity.
Deep rest is what is required to fortify ourselves,
body, mind, and spirit for the work ahead.
Some have been frustrated with what they
haven't been able to achieve during quarantine.
When butting up against lethargy or inability to focus,
listen to what's truly needed. It could be purposeful undoing.
Deep nourishment makes all things possible in time.
Find your way purposefully
to the yoga mat this week.
So, here we are
back at the beginning.
I'm not one for ambitious makeovers in January,
though I love a new blank page as much as anyone.
I love pages in general, which is how I find myself at the end of a year
with piles of torn out pages covering flat surfaces of my house.
Quotes, poems, images, essays, recipes, you name it.
January is the perfect time to order them
thus creating open space for new piles to come.
My somewhat haphazard filing system led me to
discover this little collection from years past,
and within the perfect quote for January 2021.
This feels about right to me.
I'm not claiming transcendence or perfection.
I'm not even resolutioning myself towards that goal.
But muddling with a hopeful squint?
That, I can do.
Join me, won't you?
It's ever so much more comfortable in company.
Let's find each other on the yoga mat this week.
May your last week of the year be a restful one.
Here we are in the quietest week of the year.
The festivities (however altered) have come to an end,
and optimistic aspirations for the new year yet to entice.
I hope you might gift your nervous system
a complete reprieve from expectation
and simply be.
I'll be sleeping in, eschewing screens, abandoning ambition,
and vexing my partner with my reticence to make any plans whatsoever.
There will be no formal yoga practices this week,
though you might find yourself supine contemplating the setting sun
or in a messy supine twist under a fading Christmas tree.
At least I hope so.
Breathe. Nurture yourself. And be grateful you are alive.
I'll look for you in the new year.
Here we are at the winter solstice.
It feels like a moment suspended in time
as we mark the beginning of winter yet
begin to journey back towards the sun.
Embrace the dark internal quieting of winter,
but remember what we're turning towards.
Set your face, and your heart, towards the light.
The yoga mat is
just the place to begin.
These long months at home make you look at your surroundings in a new way.
Or maybe it's just me
who suddenly thought my weathered kitchen cabinets and windowsill needed some love.
Even though the first chink of a paint scraper always drops me down an endless chasm.
A century of paint layers, ancient hardware that never seems to go back the same way,
toxic dust, unexpected wood filler someone used in 1940, you get the idea.
Friend #1: "Don't do it. Live with the imperfection. You'll regret it."
Friend #2: " Do it! And you must have before/after pictures."
These two are always speaking to either end of my inner self.
Friend #3: "Hmm.. Sounds like you're creating for yourself
a nice, juicy project to take you through the winter. And maybe beyond."
This older, wiser one is always a calm observer - what I aspire to be.
So, here I am. Still scraping, sanding, and painting.
Constantly weighing the question - how perfect does it need to be?
Turns out, less than perfect is absolutely good enough.
At least this is what my right scapula is crying out.
This Saturday, at a low point, nursing a splinter:
Me: "Will I be cross if it's not perfect?"
Husband: (not missing a beat) "Well, you don't have to be."
Life lessons abound, do they not?
There's a reason this one keeps surfacing for me.
Maybe you're noticing something that keeps coming up for you.
Attend to it. Or at least acknowledge it.
God knows I don't have even all my own answers,
but there's something that begins when you simply say
"Ah, ______________ , I see you."
Be sweet to yourself yogi, but be awake too.
We'll embrace imperfection on the yoga mat this week.
We’re usually too hurried to savor the elemental in our lives: the reeling sun, moon, and stars;
prophecy of clouds; ruckus of birdsong; moss brightly blooming; moon shadows and dew;
omens of autumn in late summer; fizzy air before a storm; wind chime of leaves; fellowship of dawn and dusk.
Yet we abide by forces so old we’ve lost the taste of their spell. It’s as survivors that we greet each day.
In this slowed down time of quarantine,
instead of sinking into ennui
or a self created productive frenzy,
surrender to the slow,
and notice something.
Something ancient you've taken for granted, perhaps.
We'll do some noticing on the yoga mat this week.
Well, dears, it's just a wee bit chilly out there.
Personally, I would be very happy if our warm autumn lasted forever, but
one good thing about cool temps is warming yourself with nourishing food.
There are moments in 2020 where I think if I have to cook one more meal
I might scream, but working with aromatic spices always cheers me right up.
Here is my latest favorite recipe for quick, warm goodness.
It takes no time to make and makes me feel sated and happy.
The star here is the fenugreek powder.
Fenugreek has a sweet, slightly nutty flavor and enkindles
the digestive fire while supporting optimal absorption of nutrients.
It's widely used in Ayurvedic medicine and has a grounding effect.
1/2 cup red lentils
1 1/4 cups water
2 TB ghee (or butter or olive oil)
1/4 tsp fenugreek powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1 1/4 TB chopped fresh basil
Melt ghee, add spices, cook 1-2 min.
Add salt & lentils, stir to coat.
Add water and basil.
Bring to boil, lower the heat.
Simmer covered 15-20 min.
Note this makes just enough for a yummy bowl or two.
I always double the recipe for a certain someone in my house
who has a particularly enthusiastic appetite.
We'll find some warm, grounding yoga
in practice this week.
This very traditional week feels anything but this time 'round.
But gosh, it takes no effort whatsoever to feel grateful
- to have a home, to have friends and family that are whole,
to be able to move and breathe in your body with ease.
And that's precisely what we'll do this week.
Foster a grateful heart in your yoga practice.
The Roman poet, Horace, wrote a celebrated treatise on poetry.
Though the Ars Poetica was published around 18 or 19 BCE,
I found much of it instructive not only for crafting a poem
but for crafting a yoga practice.
He gives excellent advice to teachers:
When you give instruction, be brief, what's quickly
Said the spirit grasps easily, faithfully retains:
Everything superfluous flows out of a full mind.
And his guidance to poets applies to yoga practitioners:
There are faults of course that we willingly ignore:
The string doesn't always sound as hand and mind wish,
You call for a bass and quite often a treble replies:
The arrow won't always strike the mark it's aimed at.
Yet, the beauty can be found in the pairing of two qualities:
Who can blend usefulness and sweetness wins every
Vote, at once delighting and teaching the reader.
dulce and utile
sweetness and usefulness
While your body may not hit every note as you wish,
every single yoga practice,
there is both utility and sweetness to be found each time
you step on the yoga mat.
The sweetness you witness, often in the after effects.
The usefulness gains you a more attuned, pliable body and mind.
We'll look for both on the mat this week.
Saturday, I pedaled past a group of female tourists
in our neighborhood park about to kayak in the Cumberland.
A woman of forty, if she was a day, was sporting the words
SHUT UP LIVER, YOU'RE FINE upon her chest.
I realize it's just a dumb t-shirt, but I was astonished.
It takes a degree of ignorant hubris to even think
of addressing your own body in this way.
Might I suggest instead Dr. Zhi Gang Sha's qi gong practice of
purposefully, specifically greeting your liver,
and each of your organs, with gratitude each day?
Good morning, liver. Thank you for your good work.
Please continue. Feel supported. I love you. Thank you.
You can place a hand upon the organ
or simply visualize it, sending light and breath there.
Maybe you can't readily locate all your organs.
Start with one you know, greet it.
Over time, add another. You'll be brilliant in no time.
The older I get, the more interested I am
in learning to care for this frankly unbelievable matrix
of being that I somehow continue to inhabit.
May we all seek to notice, nurture, and respect ourselves,
our valiant organs, our intricate minds, and our wise hearts.
Take nothing for granted, dear yogi.
Come listen to and support yourself
on the yoga mat this week.
I donned my mask. I stood obediently upon placemarks.
I snaked through a line, under trees and down sidewalks.
Kind, brave, competent people ordered and equipped us
with new untouched pens and red coffee stirrers.
When I pressed the tip upon my presidential choice on the screen
I was unexpectedly flooded with emotion and surprised to be so.
I have zero emotional connection to my candidate of choice,
yet had to stop myself from weeping while standing at my kiosk.
Once in the car, I cried out my relief in the sudden understanding:
I finally felt a moment of agency. . . in all this mess.
If only for a brief moment, what I had to say mattered.
My husband's confused but kind hand rested upon my knee
as I let loose this stream of consciousness realization.
The rest of the day, I allowed myself to shake loose stopped up existential dread
that I have been holding, for God knows how long, just to keep myself together,
I sang at the top of my lungs through the sunroof driving down an open road.
I spun upon my newly shined wood floors to Aretha, alone in the house.
I remembered anew that we hold emotion in our bodies.
Sometimes you need more than a sun salutation.
Sometimes you need to sing, shout, shake, dance, laugh, cry it all out.
So if you've yet to do so, GO VOTE.
Then make a joyful noise.
Then. . . .
I'll see your clear, empowered self on the yoga mat.
This summer, I made my way straight through John Updike's Rabbit novels.
Lauded as one of American literature's great postwar tales of the everyman,
Updike takes us from the fifties into the eighties through four sequential novels.
I felt a little virtuous making it through the entire tetralogy
despite my feeling of suffocation, misogynistic decade by decade,
in the myopic world of barely sympathetic, white, male Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.
Updike is brilliant, but this is not advised reading for a sensitive female in mid-life.
While inside his Rabbit Redux of the seventies,
the violence and upheaval within its pages were
hard to tell apart from my lived summer of 2020.
But this bit was a breath of hope for me.
Updike makes Jill, a hippie runaway, say this to Rabbit's young son Nelson:
Without our egos, the universe would be absolutely clean.
Stepping on the yoga mat is a good place to start.
Attend to your own consciousness
in your practice this week.
One of yoga's superpowers is the ability to alter your awareness
by simply placing your body in purposeful postures.
Infuse that shape with breath and intention
and you're on your way to shifting things on multiple levels.
Throwing your heart open to sky, arms akimbo
is a brilliant way to unburden your heart,
to feel more spacious, light, and hopeful.
That's something all of us could use right now.
We may create some heart openers
on the yoga mat this week.
the first colored leaf discovered underfoot in my neighborhood
We've officially turned towards autumn, dears.
Though my body knew all about it a couple weeks ago.
My joints were feeling creaky, my emotions a bit labile.
I turned to Ayurvedic wisdom for wise counsel in my favorite season.
Ayurveda, a sister science to yoga, works to balance our systems
by understanding our place in the greater ecosystem.
Autumn is a vata season, reflecting the elements of space and air.
While this seasonal change can bring enthusiasm, creativity and joy,
it can also leave us feeling windblown and hanging on by a thread.
Keep to your circadian rhythms. Constancy is a brilliant remedy.
Go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time,
try to eat around the same times each day. Enjoy warm, grounding foods.
Your system will be more steady and leave you better supported.
Keep your head and feet warm while you enjoy the wonders of fall.
It sounds simple, and it is. But the effects are profound.
on and off the yoga mat.
The malady of the quotidian . .
Perhaps, if summer ever came to rest
And lengthened, deepened, comforted, caressed
Through days like ocean in obsidian
-excerpted Wallce Stevens
When the world around us seems unpredictable
and grief, uncertainty, and concern rampant,
dropping back into the constancy of the seasons
can buoy us with its steadiness.
As summer comes to rest in Nashville,
I often leave behind the cries of the radio newscast in the kitchen
for the backyard where the insects seem disinterested in current events.
This meadowhawk rested on my bowed zinnia head.
His focused quietude a lesson.
Find tenacious hope in your heart
and steadiness on your mat this week.
There's no escaping our present reality, though
it's fascinating to notice how we aim to distract ourselves.
But perhaps inspiring to realize that in being forced to reckon
with uncertainty, our own mortality and wellness,
and the lack of steadiness we depend upon,
we are in essence trying on Buddhist concepts
of facing impermanence with courage.
It's a profitable reframe, no?
Rather than despairing or becoming angry or fed up,
perhaps: "Ah, impermanence, I see you."
And then some compassion for yourself as you
strive to be a spacious container, less reactive.
Facing impermanence with courage.
Your yoga practice is an essential component.
an enormous statue we discovered at the Valley of the Temples in Sicily years ago (remember travel?)
"I spent three years looking at details on a sculpture that I was working on, including a toenail.
And I asked Silvia, 'Will anyone ever notice the slight changes I'm making to this one thing,
the subtleties?' and she said, 'No, but the meaning in these details adds up over time, like an ecosystem.' "
-Charles Ray, sculptor
This truth resonates to any form of art, including that of living a purposeful life.
Details do add up over time, creating an ecosystem.
All the choices we make in a day, where to place our attention,
how to respond to a stimulus, what to take into our hearts and bodies..... matter.
They create the energetic landscape of our existence;
they carve out habitual feeling and thought patterns;
they form the tissues of our physical form.
We are artisans of our own selves, whether we realize it or not.
What an opportunity, really.
We might take this artful approach on the yoga mat.
Not only in attention to detail in the shapes we create,
but with that which we infuse them -
dogged perfectionism? calm curiosity?
compassionate allowance? expectation laden striving?
We probably cycle through all of these.
But each practice, even each posture, is a new chance to choose.
Be artful & purposeful
on and off the mat this week.
early this morning on Shelby Bottoms Greenway
I didn't learn to ride a bike until I was 35.
Perhaps this is why I was, and remain, completely elated
by the sense of freedom it brings.
I have little skill so stay well away from city streets,
but give me a wide open path
preferably surrounded by wildflowers or arching trees
and I'm flying through the air grateful to be alive.
Be it a typical road bike, a fancy recumbent, or a stationary one,
cycling is fantastically therapeutic for healthy knee function
and proven to actually reduce arthritis symptoms and joint pain.
You can even create full range bicycling actions for your knees
while lying flat on your back on a yoga mat.
Love your knees, yogis.
Better yet, do anything that makes you feel free!
We can do both on the yoga mat this week.
photo credit: Gentl & Hyers Arts Edge
Grace Paley, at the age of eighty, recounted her own father teaching her how to grow old:
That’s a metaphor, right?
Metaphor? No, no, you can do this. In the morning, do a few little exercises for the joints,
not too much. Then put your hands like a cup over and under the heart. Under the breast.
He said tactfully. It’s probably easier for a man. Then talk softly, don’t yell.
Under your ribs, push a little. When you wake up, you must do this massage.
I mean pat, stroke a little, don’t be ashamed. Very likely no one will be watching.
Then you must talk to your heart.
Say anything, but be respectful. Say — maybe say, Heart, little heart,
beat softly but never forget your job, the blood.
You can whisper also, Remember, remember.
It is no small thing to talk to your own heart.
Words, intentions given and received, are powerful.
So is moving your body to lovingly attend to all your inner bits.
We'll do so on the yoga mat this week.
i have diver’s lungs from holding my
breath for so long. i promise you
i am not trying to break a record
sometimes i just forget to
exhale. my shoulders held tightly
near my neck, i am a ball of tense
living, a tumbleweed with steel-toed
boots. i can’t remember the last time
i felt light as dandelion. i can’t remember
the last time i took the sweetness in
& my diaphragm expanded into song.
they tell me breathing is everything,
meaning if i breathe right i can live to be
ancient. i’ll grow a soft furry tail or be
telekinetic something powerful enough
to heal the world.
- excerpted from a brief meditation on breath by Yesenia Montilla
Do you notice your breath when you're not on your yoga mat?
Often your emotions dictate what your breath may be doing.
Better yet, your purposeful breath can move your emotions.
You know your exhales work to ground and calm;
your inhales work to lift and lighten.
The skills we hone on the mat are for real life,
not for better pretzel shapes but for more conscious living.
Breathe & move with ease on the yoga mat this week.
I've become intrigued of late with open eyed meditation
gazing at a tree's canopy, the clouds, a blazing moon.
And recently, inviting my whizzing mind to take a nap while
my hand attempts to simply follow the trajectory of my eye.
I find contour drawing with a pencil a meditative act.
Seeing as I have no real training or skill, my expectations are minimal.
I'm delighted when my drawing even remotely bears some resemblance
to my chosen object. "Gosh, I just made a bird! Kinda...."
Honestly, there's something organically beautiful about the
scrambled expressed energy of my object manifest on the page.
In the same way, our yoga practice when void of expectation or
perfected reproduction of a posture can yield surprising results.
Your triangle might not look like hers, but gosh the energy of it
feels just right and true and peculiarly yours alone.
Keep that in mind this week
on and off the yoga mat.
We might learn from swifts who rise higher and higher at nautical twilight
(when the center of the sun is just 12° below the horizon, morning and evening).
These moments of rising beyond our sight are dreamily named vesper flights.
"[...] migratory birds orient themselves through a complex of interacting compass mechanisms.
During vesper flights, swifts have access to them all. At this panoptic height, they can see
the scattered patterns of the stars overhead, and at the same time they can calibrate their
magnetic compasses, getting their bearings according to the light-polarization patterns
that are strongest and clearest in twilit skies. Stars, wind, polarized light, magnetic cues,
the distant stacks of clouds a hundred miles out, clear cold air, and below them the hush
of a world tilting toward sleep or waking toward dawn. What they are doing is flying so high
that they can work out exactly where they are, to know what they should do next.
They’re quietly, perfectly, orienting themselves. "
-Helen Macdonald "Vesper Flights"
It occurs to me that the stars, the wind, the clouds, the moon, and the trees
surely have messages for me too, were I quiet enough to hear them.
Pulling out of the noise of our everyday and the worries of our present moment
is essential to find not only the resonant hope of our true selves but
also to divine direction as to what we should turn our face towards
to chart our own highly personal path through this time of uncertainty.
Let your heart take flight on the mat this week.
In our times, it is radical to choose to sit still and be silent,
to resist an identity of busyness, ceaseless motion, and noise,
and to reclaim our sanity and humanity
by coming home to ourselves.
—Sumi Loundon Kim
Inhabiting our realm between earth and sky
gifts us the opportunity to draw upon
the steadiness of the ground,
on occasion the fluidity of the waters,
and always the endless shelter of the sky.
Each time you settle into stillness,
all the elements are there to draw upon
to fill you up from the inside.
This is just one of your yogi superpowers.
Put it to use a few minutes each day.
Your nervous system will notice.
We'll come home to ourselves
on the yoga mat this week.
Our Real Work
by Wendell Berry
It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.
Almost everyone I find myself in conversation with lately
is in the middle of considerable questioning.
Many of us long for some kind of certainty, somewhere!
Unknowing and bafflement bring me to this poem,
where I can remember that
the impeded stream is the one that sings.
As plans and hopes fall away and morph,
listen to what's singing true for you.
It may lead you to exactly where you need to be.
Your yoga mat is a brilliant spot for listening.
At the moment, many of us are overwhelmed with emotion
that may change by the day or even by the hour.
I've been fascinated by Karla McLaren's ideas of how to work with emotions.
While I tend to think of emotion as all about FEELING,
she explains that emotions work to attach meaning to data.
They are actually the underlayment of all our cognition.
Rather than sink in or push them away,
we might recognize they hold aspects of genius.
"Emotions don't cause the problem,
they come to help you deal with the problem."
Okay, I could use some help. Thank you, emotion. Go on.
Each emotion brings a specific kind of support in McLaren's theory.
Anger helps us to set boundaries.
Sadness helps us to let go of things that aren't working anymore.
Anxiety helps us to organize what's going on.
Fear helps us to access our instincts and intuition to prepare for the future.
Grief helps us mourn what we've lost.
The way I see it power lies in acknowledging the yucky emotion,
naming it to see more clearly how it might help us move forward.
One thing we know as yogis, we are not going to feel good all the time.
Our practice is about learning to create space wide enough to acknowledge it all,
without feeling ruled or stuck or captured by an emotion.
Maybe this frame of understanding might help you too
in untangling what you feel,
and discovering what wisdom might be held within.
We'll be with what is on the mat this week.
Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper (1950)
Something about the days of quarantine brings me to Edward Hopper.
I've always been drawn to the open caughtness of his paintings.
And now, well, can't you identify with the at odds juxtaposition
of being contained, held inside, yet free to ruminate, look, and think?
Critic Peter Schjeldahl (no slouch himself) looking at Hopper now, offers:
"The free, questing citizen has devolved into one or another of millions
rattling around on a comfortless continent.
Can you pledge patriotic allegiance to a void? Hopper shows how,
exploring a condition in which, by being separate, we belong together."
Trapped in our own safe spaces, negotiating brave forrays out,
we are all suddenly keenly aware of our own personal energetic field.
We should recognize that all these separate bubbles, each housing a disparate soul
longing for connection, make up a greater, expanded energetic field.
Feel yourself a part of a whole, even if you can't physically realize it.
Tend to yourself like it matters, because it does.
The consciousness we bring to our own living right now feeds the collective.
Spark this through your yoga practice this week.
Lately, I have fallen in love with the sky.
We've been sleeping outside each night,
so it's the last thing I gaze it before falling asleep
and it's the first thing I see in the morning.
And then I heard Sharon Salzberg's advice.
Her young goddaughter inquired about mindfulness and working with emotions.
Sharon tried to explain that it was helpful to be like the sky, rather than a sponge.
After an argument with a little sister, the young girl was heard running through the house
shouting "I am like the sky! I am not a sponge!" as she worked to process her emotion.
Now, here's an image I can relate to. I have been that shouting child this week.
We know it's important not to squelch emotions when they arise.
Otherwise that energy becomes trapped in the body and tissues.
But there is SO much to feel right now!
Our job as yogis is to notice that, feel it, express it somehow, and let it move through.
Making ourselves as vast as the sky means there is no limit to what we can hold and release.
Emphasis on the release, dears.
Simply holding it helps no one.
Whether it's anger over oppression, fear of the unknown, grief over loss, or unnamed anxiety.
It's often not as easy as breathing it away. . . . 1-2-3- poof.
Sometimes the expression involves inspired action towards change.
Sometimes it's sighing it out, shouting it out, crying it out, moving it out through your body.
It's a daily practice of empowering freedom.
Be as vast as the sky, again and again.
Bring it to the yoga mat this week.
As I'm typing this on a Sunday evening, I've paused to howl.
The East Nashville Howl happens every evening at 8pm.
All my neighbors step outside to howl in solidarity;
you can hear the echoes from blocks and blocks away.
It's fantastically cathartic. I've become a real fan.
It's gotten me thinking about the power of the voice
to claim, to release, and sometimes to take a stand.
This is why I made my way to the rally on Legislative Plaza Saturday.
I, who have been quarantining hard for months, felt compelled.
The terrible violence that manifested later downtown that evening
bore no resemblance whatsoever to the peaceful rally of the afternoon.
While none of us should look away from the pain and outrage
evidenced all across our country right now,
I want you to know a couple beautiful things I saw on Saturday.
Practically everyone was wearing masks and people
of every color were moving respectfully around each other.
I was keeping distance and the sound system was poor,
so very few of us could actually hear the speakers.
But here's a little of what I heard around me:
"Look! She's burning sage! She's protecting us,"
a young, disheveled white boy said of a solemn, beautiful, young black girl
moving slowly through the crowd holding sage aloft.
"I can have one?" the older Asian man in a sun hat asked of
the muscled men pulling wagons of free, cold water bottles for the crowd.
"May I take a picture of your sign?" one girl asked a fierce woman who obliged.
These were the people of my city, not at all sure what they could do
but intent on bearing witness, taking a stand, and supporting each other.
This is the Nashville I know and love and call home.
May all we take responsibility for our privilege, own our own racism,
and honorably work together for every single person to be respected.
Yoga is not always about being comfortable,
but it is about being honest with ourselves.
Find your own true heart on the mat this week.
As we move into the reopening of our city, unknowns remain and questions arise.
Each with her or his own idea about risks and how best to care for each other.
Find your way through attuned to your own inner wisdom and leavened by compassion.
No pose more fully expresses this drop
into compassionate wisdom than folding forward.
When paschimottanasana is created gently, allowing
a heavy head to bring the torso softly towards the legs,
and one stays for awhile surrendering bit by bit into the floor
and into gravity, another type of surrendering begins.
One in which you might trust the universe, allow an unclenching
of your troubled mind, and let your breath flow like water.
Water being the element evoked here, as you open
the kidney and urinary bladder meridians along your back body.
Drop into a flow of what is,
though it may change moment to moment,
floating free in the present
trusting you will know how to be, how to move, when to stay still.
Body, breath, noticing. It's so connected.
Use your time on the mat to teach you how to live.
Your next home yoga practice, should you choose to accept it,
is an interesting writing practice for good inner work.
Many of you may already be prodigious journalers.
Not me. I've noticed I only journal when my life is falling apart.
This means I have only one slim book not even half full
to cover the last thirty years of my life,
but were you to read it you would think
"Good God, this girl needs some help."
Enough about me.
Lynda Barry created this pandemic diary project for the New York Times.
I found it enticing. Not only to help me process what I'm feeling,
but to serve as a history of what we're moving through.
My favorite histories to read have always been the personal ones.
Now I'm creating a tiny one myself.
Maybe you will too.
Sitting quietly. Seeing what you remember.
Unspooling and assessing.
Sounds a bit like yoga, doesn't it?
Yoga is a powerful practice for releasing emotion.
Perhaps writing might serve the same purpose.
Do your good work - in yourself, first, and then the world around you.
This is the window I look through as I practice or teach each day.
I gaze out at my budding crepe myrtle, keeping track of the chickadees, wrens, doves,
and blue jays that often peer right back at me in my curious shapes on my yoga mat.
It's lovely, but now. . . . . . . . . there's a rose.
It's been so long since fresh flowers have been in the house
that when my rose bush came to life and I waited for a second bloom
before considering snipping one to take indoors,
I was overwhelmed with joy just holding it in my hand.
And, really, each time I glimpse it anew, I feel a little ray of hope.
We know flowers have a long symbolic history throughout the ages
and even a ceremonial history in many faiths.
During historic plagues, people carried them to ward off contagion,
tucking small bouquets in buttonholes and hands to smell
when odors of sickness threatened.
It seems fitting, does it not, to delight in a single bloom now?
These days of quarantine have made me more appreciative, more attentive
to tiny pieces of beauty presenting where I may not have looked before
and quite content with whatever is given.
Your home yoga assignment this week is to find a bloom.
Somewhere. Anywhere. It could be a dandelion
or a mystery bloom borrowed from an anonymous yard.
Take one for your own to love.
(Some say you should ask permission first, of the plant that is, not necessarily the property owner.)
Let it catch you by surprise when you walk into your room,
sparking new awareness, sheer happiness, and even hope.
Springtime love to you, yogis!
Greetings, beloved yogis.
Another week, another offering in our home yoga series.
This may be particularly helpful if your lower back is feeling
a little stuck from too much sitting or
a little cranky from not enough movement.
You'll be on the floor, relying upon a strong wall for your feet.
Here comes some atypical bridge work to create suppleness in your spine.
step 1: scooch up a shin length's distance from the wall
- your hip, knees, and heels should be in two straight lines
- you're set up alignment wise just as you would be for a traditional bridge pose
- knees are bent at a ninety degree angle
- settle in, let your back body relax into the floor, both shoulders sink
- press feet evenly into wall (outer edges & big toe mound)
add-on option: begin to breathe slowly, inhale to fill belly, exhale navel to spine
step 2: begin to lift and lower hips along with breath
- when exhaling belly to spine, feel tailbone barely rise from floor
- when inhaling, feel pelvis return heavy to ground
- move slowly in tandem with breath, height and speed at your own liking
add-on option: hover for a while with hips elevated or
take halfway movements to work through sticky parts of your back
step 3: turn it into a supported half shoulderstand
- have a block or books at hand to slip under your hips
- rest comfortably with hips completely supported
- keep palms flat on the ground and shoulders spun open
- stay for as long as you like
- this pose calms the mind, relieves stress, stimulates the thyroid,
and gently stretches the neck and shoulders
By the time you're done, your back should feel happier,
your energy a little lighter and calmer.
Ahhhh...... that's better.
This week's installment of home yoga will nudge you out the back door
into the grass, in search of a tree wherever you can find one.
Feet Up The Tree
Don't you like the ring of it? (simply a variation of viparita karani)
step 1: sidle up close to your chosen tree
- introduce yourself if you're not already acquainted
I always embrace my tulip poplar first in gratitude
(my neighbors already think I'm odd, so no worries there)
step 2: sit close, swing your legs up, and wiggle about til comfy
- nestle in, around the bumpy roots, the spongy moss
you may be on a blanket or yoga mat or not
step 3: sink, breathe, feel supported from the earth
While we feel jostled and troubled by the trials of the moment, the trees do not.
They have a deeper, longer wisdom and penetrating roots from which to draw.
But they will share that energy with you. Take it.
Then take some time - to notice. Notice what you smell. Notice what you see.
Feel supported. Allow yourself to delight in the offering of a single minded calm.
Stay for awhile. Nurture your nervous system, leaving the emotional roller coaster behind.
If you find yourself isolating at home without other bodies to share touch,
you may find this profound nature to heart connection particularly needful and sweet.
I do this practice so often, sometimes I think I hear my poplar calling out to me.
Interestingly, it's never that the tree needs me, but rather has something to give.
Make a new friend, yogi. No mask needed.
Here I sit, listening to Neil Young
my long silver teaspoon in and out of a peanut butter jar
gazing wistfully out the window.
I'm thinking of you and hoping you're tending to yourself well.
Here's your next installment in our home yoga series.
This one will take a bit longer, but you're chill on the floor,
elongating your hamstrings, so what's not to love?
Find the edge of a wall, a bookcase, a refrigerator,
a doorjamb, even a sofa side will do in a pinch.
Supine Hamstring Stretch
step 1: sidle up to the edge of your support
- your right hip is in line with the supporting edge of your furniture or wall
- a bent right knee enables your right foot to press flat to the support
- your left hip is free with a bent knee and foot on the floor
- settle in, let your back body relax into the floor, both shoulders sink
- over time, one leg may begin to lengthen until you feel a little resistance in your right hamstrings
add-on option: stay 5-10 minutes exhaling navel to spine, right hip grows ever heavier
step 2: sneak closer to your own edge
- your right hip may draw closer and closer to your support "wall"
- your right leg can work towards straight
- your left leg can drop long and heavy to the floor
- this should be a very slow process, the longer your take, the more compliant your hamstrings will be
add-on option: sweep your left arm overhead and let it rest comfortably as you breathe along your left side body
Of course, you will repeat this whole bit on the other leg.
Slow and steady is the ticket on this asana, kids.
Maybe you're listening to a podcast, reading a book, breathing in meditation,
or listening to your loved ones complain about how bored they are.
You, though, are in heaven.
And your hamstrings will be open, long, and grateful.
I hope you will feel this way, too.
I want you to be well, feel deeply hopeful, and know you are loved.
Oh my goodness, another week begins in this curiously paused state.
Yet here's the sun to assure us the earth is still spinning just as it should.
I hope you're treating yourself to yoga snacks here and there
throughout the week, as you're snug at home.
I've always believed that a little yoga consistently throughout each day
is even more powerful than a full hour of yoga once a week.
To that end, here's my initial offering for your home yoga practice.
We're starting where I regrettably seem to be spending most my time lately.
asana 1: oven pull back
-feet hips width or wider
-arms shoulder width or wider
-step back until you're pulled out long in a half forward fold
-navel to spine, shoulder blades drawing down
-feel stable and strong as you lengthen
-deepen to more down dog-ish /
-sway your hips / make it feel awesome
-but don't hang in your joints please
asana 2: spunky oven plank
-try to keep your hands and feet where they are
-transition to a solid plank and hold
-calf raises while in plank holding steady
here's the spunky part.....
-take a chaturanga pushup ( or two or.....)
keeping elbows drawing back, collarbones broad, navel to spine
-slow draw back to your starting position of oven pull back
Over and over til the oven preheats?
Each time after you wash and dry your hands?
In defiance of washing dishes for the fourth time that day?
But do it with love.
Making yourself stronger and saner each time.
Be well, yogi. Be patient. Think of something that makes you smile.
I offer a bit of a poem (excerpted and type altered by me)
in hopes it sparks in you an image or two that might
bring a sense of renewed resilience or new hope.
Or simply an opportunity to reframe,
which is something I seem to be doing a lot lately,
sometimes wisely by design, but sometimes
simply reactively in light of my shifting feelings.
There's a lot to feel, to hold, and to make sense of just now.
I hope you took sustenance from the sunshine this weekend.
Know that I miss you and earnestly wish you well and steady.
Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who
teach us to endure,
Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues
they endured and survived, their resilience is in your
bones, your blood,
Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the
soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,
Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new
voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,
Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake
each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals
from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead
so one day we can breathe deeply again,
And when this has passed may we say that love spread
more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this
was not just an ending but also a place to begin.
— Christine Valters Paintner
Much love to you, yogis!
We'll practice together again one day soon.
illustrated by K. Beverley & E. Ellender, 1929
Daylight savings here at last! It heralds the onset of springtime.
Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga, works to balance our health
through understanding three main doshas: pitta, vata, and kapha.
Each of these doshas hold varying qualities of the natural elements.
Spring holds kapha qualities, meaning earth and water rule this season.
Kapha qualities are heavy, slow, dense, dull, soft, oily, and cold.
We can work to foster light, sharp, dry, and warming qualities to balance us
as we shake off the damp heaviness of winter, moving into spring.
Waking with the sun can help bodies adjust to both the time change and the season
by harnessing the vata qualities of dawn - light, clear, and subtle.
At this kapha time of year, the muscles are said to be strongest between 6 and 10am.
A brisk morning walk outdoors could do us a world of good.
Bursts of energizing activity at any time of day can help clear the lethargy and sluggishness.
Cleansing your insides with warm, light, digestible foods can support your body's
natural inclination to purify and renew concentrating on pungent, bright, astringent tastes.
We'll put these nurturing ideas into practice
with sun salutations and energizing pranayama this week
to move us into spring, well balanced and supported.
I was reading a writer, Parul Sehgal, writing about a writer, Jenny Offill,
who addresses the messiness of living in our present situation of climate collapse.
Looking beneath how we care for ourselves, our close circles,
and ultimately the world at large - humans, animals, the planet.
There exists a deep connectedness within these things.
Firstly, a layered connectedness among them
and, in my way of seeing, a particular connectedness
between the energetic work we do within ourselves,
the energetic lines we cast towards those we love,
which, consciously or unconsciously, ultimately extend beyond to the collective.
It would be a mistake to imagine that any intention manifests in isolation.
Offill has her novel's protagonist listen to an environmental podcast where a caller asks:
"What do you mean interconnected?"
There is a pause and then the ecologist speaks.
"There is a species of moth in Madagascar that drinks the tears of sleeping birds."
Take that in.
We are connected in ways we've yet to fully understand.
Just as the work you do on yoga mat has consequences beyond your body.
Take care, dear yogi. Be purposeful.
And move lightly through the world with awareness
and always, always, with the motivation of love.
Start with yourself on the mat this week.
Don't just do something; sit there.
I heard this advice from Pico Iyer in his reading of his book
"The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere."
Esteemed for his brilliant travel writing, Iyer reveals
the vast new territory he has discovered in sitting still.
As I drive back and forth across Nashville most every day,
I've been following the bright wonder in his voice
as he encourages me to find stillness. Sitting on I-440
proves an unwished for boon in this regard, I must admit.
I don't see myself heading to a monastery anytime soon, but
I've discovered many ways I can take this practice into my common urban life.
You're watching a show with your person and he hits pause to leave the room for a moment.
Rather than eyes darting to a newspaper to occupy the five minutes, simply sit.
You're standing in a queue that doesn't seem to be moving.
Find your feet, your breath, and exude some still peace out into the situation around you.
You're feeling a little cross over a sudden slight from a companion.
Rather than enumerating the injustices and just how you might best articulate them
(sadly, one of my well honed strengths), sit still for a minute,
feel where you're holding those emotions in your physical body,
give them some space, quiet curiosity, and breath.
My tenacious resolve has never failed to paradoxically resolve itself in this way.
It's not all sudden sunshine, but gosh, the gripping falls away.
I'm sure you discover your own opportunities for stillness in a common day.
Take them. You'll be rewarded with a greater, happier spaciousness.
I'm certain of it.
We'll try a bit of stillness at the end of yoga practice this week.
It's precisely what all that physical asana was designed for!
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need of the human soul.”
As we approach the holidays, it can feel as though things are spinning.
Lots of outgoing energy: planning, making, shopping, fitting it all in.
If you find yourself a bit unmoored, simply pause.
No fancy yoga asana or particular pranayama required.
Feel your feet on the earth. Notice your hands. Find your breath.
Recognize where you are, and what is truly essential in that moment.
Sometimes it really is that simple.
If you can go stand beneath a tree, absolutely do.
Draw upon the support of the roots and the earth beneath you.
Or if you've an evergreen indoors at present,
gaze upon its beauty and forge a heart connection.
Strength. Steadiness. Resilience.
One could receive much wisdom from a tree this season.
Come to the yoga mat this week.
I've had my dear boy home the first week of December.
Sunday night we were searching for a Christmas service of some sort
and happened upon a glorious oratorio downtown.
Over a hundred voices and an orchestra gave us Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio, op.12.
The sweet clarity of the tenor soloist literally straightened my spine.
Sitting upright, expectant and overwhelmed by the music,
fully attuned to the beauty around me, connected to and grateful for the heart next to me,
I felt as though I was physically taking in beauty to feed my soul.
At that moment, I knew the world would be a better place
if more of us joined together to sit among artists of all persuasions
simply allowing their good work in the world to wash over us.
Something unbelievably powerful occurs when
vocalists, musicians, artists, actors, or dancers
offer what they love through their bodies and hearts.
Take advantage of the open doors, festivities, and services
that abound during this month of December.
Go sit among your fellows, strangers or friends,
and drink in the wonder of this season when we're all encouraged
to lift our voices, to greet a stranger,
to sit entranced by the talents that surround us.
Offer your own body and heart
into your yoga practice this week.
We took a day long hike recently, scrambling over rocks,
gazing at colorful leaf litter. It was pretty glorious.
By the sixth hour, I admit I was kicking up my heels just a little less.
We made it safely back to the car at day's end by moonlight.
The last bit, trying to stay true to the trail before we lost all light,
I happened upon a sturdy, beautiful wooden gangplank along a curve in the path.
It didn't seem to serve any pragmatic purpose.
We were well away from rushing water; the ground was even.
I felt a stab of gratitude at this sudden kindness of the trued and tight boards.
Here you go, dear. This way. We've got you.
To find yourself supported when you don't expect it.
To feel a part of a great whole where people are looking out for each other.
This is no small thing, but can easily be taken for granted.
Try to notice such moments or situations in your world this week.
Even better, try to provide such a moment for someone else.
Sometimes it's just what one needs in order to continue
the valiant work of making it through the world.
We'll try to find this
in our bodies on the mat this week.
It's finally here, dears. The bestest season of the year.
I'm practicing letting things fall away in my own life.
Maybe you will too.
A responsibility that it may be time to let go of,
an expectation that might be better abandoned,
a judgment you might loosen your grip on,
fill in the blank here.
It can be a little scary, but I'm finding solace
from a century ago in Rilke's Fall.
The leaves are falling, falling as from far
where distant withering gardens grace the skies.
They're falling with a gesture that denies.
And in the nights the heavy earth
falls into solitude from star to star.
We all are falling. This hand falls, as it extends.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.
And yet there's Someone, holding all this falling
with endless gentleness in both his hands.
We'll do some falling and turning
on the mat this week.
my favorite 1940's phone, which the mister brought home from a street market in Germany
In my efforts to reduce EMF exposure at my house,
we've re-instituted an old school phone line.
An admittedly nostalgic person, you can't imagine my happiness.
But you might try by reading this poem.
If you're old enough to remember real phones, you'll drop right in.
And if you're not, well..... do try, won't you?
Telephone Years by Deborah Garrison
There are gestures that have been lost.
One was picking up a desk phone
Using a couple of fingers
To snag it under the little shelf where the receiver
Rested when it was not in use;
You’d carry the phone with you if you needed to pace,
Perhaps with a studied restlessness that felt good:
You were removing a solid object from its position
And that had meaning. You gestured with it in hand,
Or held it against your hip. Something both possessive and devil-may-care in it.
The disruption of a ring, the caller unknown,
Was one of the day’s small dramas. We lived for them.
There were hours unaccounted for, pages turned.
Ticking of the heart between rings . . .
A feminine variant was to wear the curling receiver cord
Sashed across your waist, over the elbow, up the arm
So the curls were stretched long, the receiver
Tight-tucked in the neck hollow and pinned to its job-
To speak and to hear, companion of both mouth and ear.
Maybe standing while talking, at a window.
A light pleasure in the binding, an intimacy
With the subject or the person listening
That he couldn’t see.
And the pauses when neither of you spoke
Were alive, space-filling, somehow physical.
You could hear rooms.
Conversations were rooted in them.
They didn’t move around.
You knew there was life in another house-doors slammed,
Supper bells, doorbells, messages scratched on pads, handwriting that told,
People who left rooms and never came back.
People who might surprise you, come from so far there was no phoning them.
I don’t mean that life was better then,
But our conversations were theatre.
You didn’t know when.
We'll make some gestures that are ancient
-yoga poses that linger still-
on the mat this week.
listening to the world around me one morning in Maine, in a supine savasana
“Well, when you really listen, when you really keep your mind
open and listening to another person — and by the way,
I highly recommend that if a person wants to increase
their ability to understand another person, that they start out
listening to nature because you’re totally uninvested
in the outcome of nature. You can just take it all in,
all the expressions. And isn’t it wonderful that,
when a bird sings, that we do hear it as music?
The bird doesn’t sing for our benefit.
So there's a lot of joy in that listening and when
we become better listeners to nature, we also become
better listeners to each other, so that when another person
is speaking with you, you don’t have to search for
what you want them to say. You can dare to risk
what they really are trying to say. And ask them too,
“Is this really what you’re saying?” And feel your own
emotional response as they talk about risky subjects. . .”
-Gordon Hempton taking with Krista Tippett
about vulnerability and silence
We'll practice listening in silence a bit this week.
Yoga asana was designed to prepare us
to exist in a meditative state.
We'll see what just a few purposeful minutes
of silence might reveal.
And see if we can't foster a listening nature
on the mat this week.
My life has been full of a lot of coal dust lately.
This is what happens when a century old plaster ceiling
falls eleven feet onto the wooden floor below,
in a house that was heated by burning coal
at the turn of the last century.
Hence, my darkened husband pictured above
in what used to be a white t-shirt..
So, the last week has been spent cleaning
Walls, baseboards, furniture, objects,
every slat of blinds, every hardwood plank of floor.
In an effort to, ahem, enrich this work,
I've been playing at ambidexterity.
Using my non-dominant hand every chance I get.
It's not easy, and I am far less skillful.
I suggest you try it when you can.
We have so much asymmetry in our bodies.
Habitual postures and actions are a big part of that.
Mix it up when you're able.
Try using your non-dominant hand for less precise tasks.
It's kooky stuff. And in the search for balance, quite good for you.
You'll be a bit more attentive to the task at hand
and ultimately, its consequences in your body.
See you on the mat,
clean and shiny,
“It is through your body
that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
– BKS Iyengar
Take some inspiration from my friend, Scout.
He's discovered the joy of prasarita padottanasana.
Spark of divinity, indeed.
Finding the expression of your life force
surging from your very core into all your extremities
is empowering and works to enliven you from the inside out.
Conversely, simply creating such shapes with your body
may work to empower you from the outside in
by positively affecting your hormonal balance, lessening anxiety,
and boosting your confidence.
Come find your spark
on the mat this week.
I found myself finally visiting the new Tennessee State Museum Sunday afternoon,
surrounded by silver haired ladies in floral dresses and men in suits. It felt like
a real southern summer Sunday outing. Most of us were there to hear the
Nashville Opera's offering of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915
based on James Agee's prose poem, hence the Sunday finery. It was glorious.
Afterwards, we ambled around the Tennessee Quilts exhibit.
I noticed a couple things.
Firstly, I will henceforth always dress like a grownup when visiting a museum;
it truly heightens the experience. I may not wear faux flowers in my hair, but I'm
so glad that beautiful seventy year old did. Secondly, people used to spend a lot
of time doing quiet, repetitive things that may have taken months or years to reach fruition.
Lastly, communing with art on a daily basis, specifically lying beneath or upon
hand-wrought textiles is a powerful thing.
I have a few, old, tattered handmade quilts rescued from charity shops that
I've lived with my entire adult life. I've inherited perfect quilts from my German
mother-in-law that I've been hitherto afraid to crumple. But, you know, the antique quilts
on display that had stains or imperfections were the sweetest ones.
When something looks loved and used, it seems to hold and offer more meaning.
Kind of like me, I suddenly realize when I look in the mirror these days.
Your yoga mat can offer the same sweetness of a quilt.
A place to find solace, a place to hold you while you quiet.
Bring yours to practice.
"We weren't doing nothing - we were standing still."
When I read this remembrance from
a Merce Cunningham dancer, Marrian Preger-Simon,
about the choreographed art of standing still,
it evoked the the very alert, auspicious feeling
of breathing into an elongated tadasana.
Once upon a time, standing on the coast of Sicily,
gazing into the Mediterranean, upright in tadasana,
I felt free, very alive, and completely present in my asana.
I can conjure this feeling at will,
by stacking my spine, opening my chest,
and lengthening my neck
when I stand in mountain pose.
Okay, it's not exactly the same
standing upon a Nashville floor indoors
without the Mediterranean breezes on jagged rocks,
but kinda close.....
Let's try it
on the mat this week.
"One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence
that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. [...]
I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless,
three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky."
This, from a book review of new titles which make the case for people to put down their phones.
The reviewer tried a suggested digital cleanse and was flummoxed by the process.
Her final sentence hit me hard.
There are moments when I, too, long to feel soft, loose, and purposeless.
But just about everything in me pulls the other way.
(though it must be said my husband had no trouble
finding pictures of me lying prone and purposeless.... hmmm.)
Our cultural constructs call us to fortifying tasks, ambition, self improvement.
It's a pretty risky business to allow soft purposelessness momentary reign.
Want to get a little subversive?
I dare you, yogi.
We'll find a lingering savasana
on the mat this week.
"The more we put our attention on sensation,
the more we get out of our thinking mind."
A yoga practice is all about noticing,
sharpening our awareness as we move in and out of shapes.
Sometimes we cautiously move towards sensation;
sometimes we wisely move a bit away.
Regardless, we keep keen attention upon the sensation
in order to intuit which direction will best serve us.
A lovely consequence of this purposeful awareness
is relief from a busy thinking mind.
I know more than one yogi who cites this
as her prime reason for regular practice.
I recently read about adults turning to music lessons late in life.
Practicing an instrument for the first time at forty or fifty can be humbling.
One executive said it was the only time her body was so occupied
she could stop her monkey mind from ruling her consciousness.
It brings a whole new meaning to mind-body awareness.
A piano. A cello. A yoga mat. All three work for me in this way.
Come calm your own mind
on the yoga mat this week.
This may be the first time a Home Depot purchase
elicited a cry of delight.
The mister bought us a pitchfork.
It’s cheery tangerine. It’s solid metal.
And it looks like something Neptune might have in hand.
This pitchfork may inspire us to TURN our compost.
Apparently, the step we’ve been missing.
This we learned at a free metro composting class.
Along with the disturbing fact that
a plastic bag takes 200 to 1000 years to decompose.
How’s that for a number to
stop you in your tracks at the checkout cash register?
They also will gift you a splendid backyard composter.
You can sign up here.
Composting is so empowering!
And I just learned you can actually visit Metro's recycling center
to watch what happens to all those things you faithfully recycle.
You can sign up here.
In yoga we learn to conserve our energy,
holding it wisely in abeyance,
expending it with purpose.
Ancient yogic science has proven
it’s a brilliant way to make your body last.
The same principle applies on the macro scale, doesn’t it?
May we all be wise stewards on the inside, on the outside,
and especially on this earth we all share.
Bring your whole self to the yoga circle.
found in my East Nashville neighborhood last week
I recently found myself lugging yoga mats down 7th Avenue at 5:30 am,
my only company being bundled construction workers in tool belts walking past.
I was headed to the roof of a fancy hotel
to teach a sunrise yoga class to a company of New Yorkers.
Once ensconced, I only had to step over the laid out mats and through an impressive glass wall,
to find myself standing over my city, with more than one building crane in view.
Just feet away from my high perch, I glimpsed work boots perched twenty floors up.
With the dizzying effect of swinging cranes over head,
I could almost touch them. It was intense and a little surreal.
I've since learned that Nashville is the South's most dangerous city for construction workers.
Eleven workers have fallen to their deaths, while NOT wearing safety harnesses.
A Nashville native, I've done my share of grousing over the new development
and the accompanying traffic that can make life miserable.
Who are all these people?!
At the moment, I'm struck by consequences I've never considered.
It's helping me move towards compassion instead of my usual instant frustration.
"May you be safe" mister worker dude who's flashing me the stop sign,
making me wait for a concrete mixer when I really need to make the light.
We all might do a little better to calm, to slow down, to look out for each other.
To take the proverbial nap, kitty cat.
Come to the yoga mat
where life is easy
(and we can practice what to do when it's not).
candles of devotion in an errant cathedral I stumbled upon in Rome in 2011
by Carl Dennis
If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in
Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
You needn't suppose the cut would be a deep one,
Just deep enough to keep her at home
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,
Whose brother George, thirty years later,
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
Doesn't go under in the Great Depression
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father's efforts
Is shown by the candles you've burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
For the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
With friends and family or alone on the road,
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
And hold his hand, the very hand
It's time for you to imagine holding.
Using time travel and ritual acts of devotion
to cultivate compassion
appeals to me.
If encountering a busy mind
in moments of attempted meditation,
perhaps this might prove a worthy endeavor.
Come to practice together
on the mat.
"You probably cannot and should not let go
of your personal ethics and your political beliefs,
but perhaps you can hold these ideologies
in suspension for the time being.
Allow your mind to enter into a space of not-knowing,
of not having solutions, of not casting blame.
Before you go to sleep this evening,
enter into a space of equanimity
in which you regard all people in the same light."
-David Dillard Wright from "A Mindful Evening"
Okay, this is a pretty big ask.
And I'm not pretending that I can easily do so myself.
But this seems like a rather relevant notion at present.
So, maybe just consider it?
Come find a little peace together
before the returns start rolling in.
I scored this little treasure at my favorite booksale last week.
The chapter on proper funereal etiquette in 1890 reeled me in,
but this advice to well-bred ladies, read in the age of Kavanaugh, stopped me cold.
"A Low Voice"
I think one can always tell a lady by her voice and laugh
-neither of which which will ever be loud or coarse,
but soft, low, and nicely modulated. Shakespeare's unfailing taste
tells us that "A low voice is an excellent thing in a woman."
And we believe that the habit of never raising the voice
would tend much to the comfort and happiness of many a home:
as a proof of good breeding, it is unfailing.
Now, I was raised a girl in the southland,
so admittedly this does not sound like crazy talk to my ear.
But I was convicted by this op-ed by Rebecca Traister in the NYT yesterday:
Many of the women shouting now are women who have not previously yelled publicly before,
any of them white middle-class women newly awakened to political fury and protest.
Part of the process of becoming mad must be recognizing that they are not the first to be furious,
and that there is much to learn from the stories and histories of the livid women
- many of them not white or middle class - who have never had reason not to be mad.
If you are angry today, or if you have been angry for a while,
and you're wondering whether you're allowed to be as angry as you feel,
let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled.
If you've been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country,
and if your anger is making you want to change your life in order to change the world,
then I have something incredibly important to say: Don't forget how this feels.
Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember.
And don't let anyone persuade you it wasn't right, or it was weird,
or it was some quirky stage in your life when you went all political
- remember that, honey, that year you went crazy? No. No.
Don't let it ever become that. Because people will try.
I am wrestling with what to do with the fury I feel
after watching all nine hours of the Kavanaugh hearing.
I recognize that entitled bros trigger me like nobody's business,
and that everyone has pain and deserves to be heard.
I have always loved the way my feminine body can inhabit a very small amount of space.
I also love the way I can open it and take up a lot of space, physically and energetically.
I'm finding that my yoga practice helps me process some of this current emotion,
along with shared conversation over the moment we find ourselves in.
To be awake, thoughtful, compassionate, while acknowledging fury isn't easy,
but what is all this yoga for if it can't help us live more authentically off the mat?
After yoga class yesterday, a yogi I love told me her intention for the week was anger.
A pastor I deeply respect told me that we are marked for love and now is the time to rage.
Permission granted. I think fierce, red hot, furious love is actually good medicine.
Come to the mat
and process whatever you're holding.
Plank is a powerful posture
and a difficult one, I admit.
If we can build it with integrity,
it creates a wise foundation from which we can build many asanas.
Everything from a sound down dog to kooky arm balances.
There are many variations, a couple that we'll try this week.
Usually plank is done with a neutral spine
activating spinal stabilizers and postural muscles
such as multifidus and transverse abdominus.
We can also take flexion into a plank with a slightly rounded back,
firing up global mobilizers like rectus abdominis and quadriceps.
We'll sweetly (I promise) explore both this week.
You'll feel strong, stable, and awesome.
Take inspiration from Nancy & Sarah
who can stack it like nobody's business!
See you on the mat!
We took a little road trip to Memphis this weekend.
Not what I would call a sparkling city, but the zoo was brilliant.
I was struck by this gorilla's calm demeanor and stellar posture.
I don't know many 32 year old, 500 pound dudes who can sit like this.
His name, Mwelu, translates as "a touch of brightness and light" in Burundi.
I've since learned that he and I share a similar spinal structure,
give or take one or two thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in number.
He has less curves in his spine, thanks to not standing on two legs all the time;
his discs almost never wear out.
You could learn a lot from a western lowland gorilla.
They are quiet, peaceful, and non-aggressive creatures.
When they have to deal with intruders,
they'll charge but tend to fake out at the last minute,
so nobody gets hurt but they make their point.
Smart. I like a big guy . . . without a big ego.
There is a gorilla pose in your future.
This shifting weather, a tiny morning flurry one moment, a sunshiny afternoon the next,
mirrors the distractions of the holiday season as we move towards winter.
Take care to ground yourself when you can, with your breath or a moment of stillness.
I have held on to this poetic encouragement to move like all things green, in one direction.
This weekend, I would lose my way while entering one room to retrieve stamps
only to find a decoration strewn on the floor meant to find the tree
to arrive empty handed back at the table, blank envelopes gaping at me "Seriously?"
"One direction, dear one," I compassionately remind myself. "One direction."
I look upon the spindly plant in the library, its two stems straining towards the window.
It's a daily reminder (of my less than green thumb, yes)
but mostly to remember to reach towards the light,
intuitively in a simple, true, single minded direction.
Hope to see you in the yoga circle.
Autumn finds me lying beneath trees even more than usual.
Lately, I've been thinking of this poem by Mary Oliver.
On Meditating, Sort Of
Meditation, so I've heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place - half-asleep- where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter-
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints-
all that glorious, temporary stuff.
Bring your glorious, temporary self
to the yoga mat.
[extra credit if you spied me in forest savasana]
An intelligent yoga practice encompasses
both internal and external alignment.
Internally, the practice is used to measure yourself
using the fits of your body
to participate in the health of your organs and glands.
Each posture is used to give measurable results.
This is about cleaning and reorganizing your internal world
so that it becomes a joy to live in the body.
I love this pragmatic perspective on a yoga practice.
This is why we do what we do.
Postures on the mat, visited again and again,
work to give us a measure.
A measure of how things are fitting together,
on the outside and on the inside.
We practice to create order in our bodies,
on the outside and on the inside.
When you recognize this,
your work becomes a very internal practice.
You don't care what the postures look like in the body next to you.
That's not your body, not your information, of no value to you at all.
You get incredibly interested in what you find in your postures.
How they affect your breath, your mind, your emotions.
Where else do you get an hour to simply observe yourself becoming?
There's nothing like adventuring in the wide world to give one a fresh perspective.
First, realizing how tiny you are
while safely held by ancient trees in a Canadian forest.
Second, hearing just about every language surrounding you on a city street,
but recognizing just how much we are all the same.
I miss home.
Kicking around Canada's oldest Chinatown.
These narrow alleys led to opium dens in the late 19th century.
Today, they lead to vegan gelato.
(raspberry swirl for me, thank you)
We're heading next to a remote coast
on Vancouver Island for some stillness.
Remember, no yoga classes this week.
It's a great time to try something new!
Perhaps explore a different yoga class somewhere you've never been
(you're well equipped to step on the mat anywhere, promise),
or try some new modality (a forest meditation , swimming, badminton, a bike ride).
In any event, take care of your sweet self
'til next week when I see you again.
Much northern love,
Some of my favorite shapes to take in yoga
are the ones where I feel like a starfish.
Open. Radiating outwards. Limbs askew.
Who knew that in esoteric yogic anatomy studies it's a thing:
enlivening asana with navel radiation.
The idea is that from our very beginnings, in utero,
we received all our nourishment through our navels
radiating out into all our forming systems and limbs.
Once born, we still breathed and moved in this way at first.
Natural abdominal breathing that helped us
extend our energy out into unfurling limbs.
In yoga, we have the opportunity to recapture this freedom.
If you watch an accomplished yoga practitioner,
even in a still posture, you can sense her energy moving,
radiating out into her limbs with intention.
If we can soften the belly, connect with breath there, and then send it out,
we're on our way to using navel radiation to empower our asana.
It's not only physically powerful. It opens you up emotionally.
We'll practice this phenomenon this week.
It will feel awesome and sweet.
And you'll leave the mat feeling long and free.
Design your emotional posture
and let your practice take care of your cells.
As yogis, we know the power of intention
whether in where we send the breath,
or how we move in and out of asanas.
Even off the mat, out in the real world,
you can design your emotional posture
(lest it design you)
-cowed and defeated,
open and receptive,
strong and steady.
All this feeds your cells, energetically
and we now know, physiologically as well.
Come take care of your cells.
[yes, this is our own yogi, Anna Cramer,
caught in yogic waterfall bliss]
Other than the sea, the most amazing thing
I saw at the beach was this heron.
Her majestic stride with
such beautifully articulated feet stunned me.
I couldn't stop watching.
It put me in mind of Martha Graham
writing about the sacredness of the bodily form.
The beauty of the heel as it is used to carry one forward into life.
Of course, the heron doesn't lead with her heel,
but peels her talons from the sand,
suspends for a moment,
and plants them again to earth.
We're going to find our feet this week in practice.
I've just obtained some happy props precisely for this purpose.
So, there's very little in yard work
that gives a feeling of utter recklessness.
The chance to mow down monkey grass with abandon
at the first of spring before the new shoots push up is one.
One that my dear husband was denied
as we waited far too long to attend.
"Hey mister, don't you think we should give the front yard a quick mow
and hit the monkey grass before it starts sprouting?"
I offered a couple weeks ago.
"Mmmmm..." I heard from behind the computer screen
where he was mired in dissecting some endless code.
Fast forward to last Monday, when mowing the grass seemed a necessity,
but the monkey grass was half new and hopeful, half old tatters.
Ta da! Enter the shears, a keen eye, and a meditative opportunity.
There's something contemplative and sweet about going so slowly,
looking at what to nurture and keep, what to snip and toss away.
Spring presents a chance for such culling.
Spring cleaning inside and out, yogis.
Creating a little more space for what we want in our lives.
Were you to do dishes in my kitchen sink
(and please, feel free, anytime)
this week, you would find this at eye level.
I love when fortune cookie slips or tea bag tags
whisper to me "here. this one is for you. really."
Rather than grasping for the perfect hook
to reach people in a yoga class,
to persuade my son he'd love nothing more than to hang out with me,
to quantify my peculiarly personal stamp of success in any form,
I think I'll just try this.
Feels like a sweet exhale, doesn't it?
Let's practice together
and see what comes.
"Travel makes one modest.
You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world."
The vast and simple beauty of Maine
leaves this yogi humble and grateful
for newly discovered landscapes
within and without.
A little garudasana (eagle pose)
in honor of our nation's capital.
Here in D.C., I've found myself elbow to elbow
with people of every culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, social class, and race.
While peeping through the fence at the White House yesterday,
I watched a proud Pakistani-American father
place his young, bespectacled son just so for a snapshot.
I suddenly remembered
my only Obama encounter,
standing in Nashville's Public Square in the fall of 2006
hearing then Senator Obama exhort us to embrace
the growing diversity of our own city,
reminding us that to do so would only make us stronger and richer.
And I realized that
it is the coexistence
of all these disparate souls around me
that makes the United States a country like no other.
(insert patriotic fiddle here)
"Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding,
and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy,"
Might I suggest the ideal conditions of
a midsummer's afternoon
and quite barefoot?
Then you can find your way to your mat.
In our yoga circle here in Nashville,
I look around the room and find many faiths represented.
The sweet thing
is that each and every soul is nurtured
peculiarly and individually
through a practice we share together.
grasshopper in down dog
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
~ John Muir
I spent the weekend in Asheville
getting lost in forests and leaves
and sleeping under the moon.
There's something about time in the wilderness
that helps you see more clearly.
Lose yourself outside this autumn,
even if it's only for an hour somewhere.
Your soul will be the better for it.
forest hand-standing husband