Fred Rogers visiting children with disabilities at The Children's Institute in Pittsburgh
The best thing to happen to me this weekend was viewing
the Mr. Rogers' documentary Won't You Be My Neighbor? at the Belcourt.
Yes, I got to travel back in time to remember moments of my childhood.
Such riveting things like Mr. Rogers showing us how to stack plastic cups into a pyramid,
or demonstrating how you could put your hand on your belly to take a slow breath to calm down.
A lot of us turned on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood for the constancy and calm.
To see a man who exhibited kindness and concern with consistency,
who made you feel as though you counted even though you were just a little kid.
But this weekend, I got to revisit these images from my present adult vantage point,
and see the genuine compassion he had for us all. It was more powerful, still.
Sitting in a sold out theatre of sniffling middle aged fans longing to hear
that someone liked us just as we were - that was a powerful experience.
Giving his last commencement speech at Dartmouth in 2002,
he looked out at all those eager graduates and said:
"And what this ultimately means, of course, is that
you don't ever have to do anything sensational for people to love you."
Wait a minute, what? You.....don't have to do anything?
In our age of leaning in, aiming higher, garnering more likes,
building "a brand" of yourself, who says this?
Well, Mr. Rogers does.
And I'm going to believe him.
No trolley or King Friday,
but all your friends will be there
in our yoga circle.
Love is ambient and omnidirectional,
as tough as lichen and as flexible as a flock of pigeons;
it finds its own forms.
Often I find myself skirting away from the word love.
It can feel squishy and overused. Jejune. Banal even.
Sometimes, when I'm tight and shrinking on the inside,
I'm even less drawn to consider it.
Knowing the true expression of it is far more expansive
than I'm capable of at the moment.
These words from Sam Anderson free me somehow.
Sometimes a mild, ambient pulse is all I'm good for.
Sometimes I'm full and happy and can shine it out everywhere.
Sometimes I feel nothing at all but see evidence,
like the peculiar, native beauty of lichen - long in the making and stuck fast.
And how I long for anything emanating from me
to feel as free as a flock of shifting birds.
Find, or simply notice, your own form.
Maybe on the mat.
"At any sign of serious danger,
the turtle withdraws within its shell.
This is a natural, spontaneous process
which nothing can reverse.
At the slightest sense of unreality,
the realized yogi withdraws consciously into Divine reality."
~Ramakrishna, The Great Swan
I find something beautiful and increasingly necessary
in the practice of withdrawing.
It's easy to be caught up in the latest version of proffered reality.
Deep in your insides resides your true nature, your true reality.
Sometimes breathwork can bring you there.
Sometimes simple stillness.
Sometimes music or movement.
Let's taste them all
in efforts to draw within.
Meet me on the mat.
If Ruth Bader Ginsburg can rock this pose at 85, so can we.
It's a brilliant pose for building strength
in the shoulders, side body, and legs.
It's also a nice stretch for the wrists
when performed with a straight arm.
All of its forms require us to draw upon
core strength to achieve balance.
Vasisthasana, or side plank, has a myriad of variations.
We'll explore a few of them this week on the mat.
Rock it like a Supreme Court Justice!
I spent the weekend pruning beloved trees,
poplars and a maple whose heavy boughs
had been allowed to trail the ground.
I heard the voice of Jacob, the hippie tree guy, in my head:
"You're an artist; just take away to let the shape reveal itself."
Climbing branches, craning upwards, stepping back for the full view.
Talking soothingly to the tree as I cut in, revealing sunlight and space.
It was kind of beautiful and more than a little empowering.
Hours later, I listened to the masterful Michael Ondaatje
at a reading at Parnassus Books.
He explained how profoundly his first work as a poet
informed his later success as a novelist.
He explained you come to realize it's what you don't say
that gives the reader space to interact with the work.
Take away. Let the shape reveal itself.
These are interesting prompts for a yogi.
How could we clear, lose extraneous noise and effort
in allowing our postures to reveal themselves?
on the mat this week.
I don't think I've ever stumbled upon
a more sublime description of savasana.
Read this from Hawthorne's 1835 story "The Haunted Mind."
"You have found an intermediate space,
where the business of life does not intrude;
where the passing moment lingers,
and becomes truly the present;
a spot where Father Time,
when he thinks nobody is watching him,
sits down by the way side to take breath."
Come take breath
on the mat.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana, or Bridge Pose
setu= dam,dike,or bridge / bandha= lock
Bridge pose is a lovely preparatory backbend posture.
Here a couple of things to think about:
Do keep hips, knees, and feet in line;
don't allow the knees to lazily splay or toes to turn out.
Why? This can compress the sacrum leading to an unhappy lower back.
That said, I've had yogis fitted together a bit differently who find it
necessary to mindfully alter knee placement for their skeletal structure.
This is an example of adapting yoga to fit your body, not the other way round.
Do press the backs of your shoulders to the ground;
don't let them scrunch up shortening your neck.
Why? We don't want any undue pressure on the cervical spine.
When done properly, you'll find the chinlock Jalandara Bandha,
which stimulates the vagus nerve, calming the nervous system. Ahhh!
Generally, your spine should feel spacious.
Imagine if I were to slip a broomstick behind your knees
and lightly traction by drawing them away from you.
Okay, I've never seen this done, but I like the idea.
What's so awesome about bridge pose?
- opens up the chest & lungs, therapeutic for asthma
- improves digestion by stimulating abdominal organs
- stimulates the adrenal glands & thyroid
- relieves menstrual discomfort & menopause symptoms
Best of all, the brain quiets and the heart opens.
Powerful stuff for those of us trapped in a busy mind.
Come calm your nervous system
on the mat this week.
This is a humble offering of one yogi's take on Facebook.
I've never been an avid user, but I purposely left late last year.
I liked yogis posting their asana vacation pics on my wall,
peering into friends' lives and adventures,
and supporting people in their good work in the world.
But yoga teachers are strongly encouraged to grow their clientele
with the posting of ever more aspirational yoga shots,
and humblebragging pleas that frankly make me slightly ill.
So much posing going on, in more ways than one.
I didn't like what Facebook was cultivating in me,
lots of judgment, of myself and of others.
I have enough difficulty on that score, thank you very much.
I left Facebook for first world problems of ego and mental wellness,
but I was deeply moved by recent reporting
of FB's consequences in the developing world.
If you haven't read Amanda Taub and Max Risher's reporting
on Sri Lanka, you can do so here. Here's a small excerpt:
I've also removed the Facebook plug on my website
as I've recently learned it enables FB to glean information
on users by calling code to track digital movements
on all visitors to my site even if they don't have a FB account,
even if they never click the FB button.
Creepers jeepers, yogis!
All that said, I recognize Facebook helps connect people
all over the world in wonderful ways too.
Many people who feel isolated physically and emotionally
find solace and connection through social media.
That is a valuable thing.
One of our yogic precepts
is to practice letting go of what doesn't serve us.
Be thoughtful about what you participate in.
Be honest about what makes your world better
and what distracts or clouds it.
Then you'll be making wise decisions for yourself
and the world you inhabit.
We will all have different choices due to our peculiar life situations,
but we're all in this together, dear ones.
Come see your friends in real life
on the yoga mat.
It is not necessary that you leave the house.
Remain at your table and listen.
Do not even listen, only wait.
Do not even wait, be wholly still and alone.
The world will present itself to you for its unmasking...
in ecstasy it will writhe at your feet.
But if your body wants a little undoing
in the company of other good souls
find your way to the yoga mat
rain or shine.
Lakshmi, Hindu goddess of prosperity
With tax day falling this week, it's an apt time
to think about one's relationship to money.
I've been thinking about how a yoga practice might
influence the way one holds, saves, and spends money.
Some of us want to quench our desires now,
so we can feel better in the moment, at least for a while.
We rankle at the idea of a budget and its constrictions,
and prefer the illusion of freedom.
Some of us deny ourselves pleasures consistently,
out of fear for our financial future,
seeking to control as much as we possibly can.
(a small hand bashfully raised here)
One of the most instructive things about an asana practice,
is observing what we do when things get uncomfortable.
This is partly why we set an intention before practice
-to offer a focus for how we might move through it.
Why not set an intention for who we want to become
in regards to how we keep and give money?
Identifying what values are important to us,
how we want to move in the world with our resources,
what responsibilities we want to show up for,
how openhanded we want to be.
These may not be the same standards we grew up with,
and those that were modeled for us may be stronger than we know.
When we set an intention for who we want to be in the world
it helps to guide our decisions
about where and why to spend and save.
A yoga practice extends well beyond the mat.
Conscious, mindful, clear-eyed intentions
are powerful instigators that create our future.
Come and practice.
pressing into big toes in uttanasa
image from Dr. Long's Daily Bandha
Often when one descends into a standing forward fold,
the pelvis sneakily rocks backwards
sending you away from tidily stacked bones.
Ever notice this?
Catch a fold in front of a mirror and see.
When folding over in a standing pose,
try pressing your big toes a bit forward and down.
This works to bring your bones
into a more properly stacked position.
Why should you care?
Well, when bones are stacked, the body
can rely upon their tensile strength to keep you steady
rather than having to engage muscularly elsewhere
to work to hold yourself aright.
An added bonus is the fact that
leg bones aligned perpendicular to the floor
work to evenly align the bones forming the knee joint,
distributing forces far more evenly around the knees.
Who doesn't love a happy knee
unstressed by misalignment?
This is a brilliant idea to practice
even if you're a wisely-bent-knees forward folder.
It doesn't only apply to flexy straight leg skeletons
like in the picture above.
We'll work to bring this wisdom into our bodies this week.
Come find your toes
on the mat this week.
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.
We went to see The Eagles this weekend.
The music! The nostalgia!
I came of age again in two hours time.
Suddenly, I was nine years old having finished
singing my heart out to Carole King,
my next door neighbor's big sister
commandeered the turntable to
impress and frighten us with Hotel California.
It worked. I knew instantly my mom would not approve.
It was soooo cool.
Then I was 12 years old, terrified by a boy girl dance
at my first (and mercifully last) sleep away camp,
where I first heard Life in the Fast Lane.
There was a sudden charge in the air
I was too young to fully understand,
compelling and unnerving me in equal measure.
Prompting me next morning to find a tiny creek frog
for a safe friend, kept in a shoebox beneath my cot,
to help me weather the remaining long week away from home.
We now know much about the power of music and memory.
Your heart flies wide open at a remembered melody,
where or who you were when you first knew it;
your body wants to move with joy or longing.
We know too that the body stores emotional memory
deep in our tissues, emerging unexpectedly sometimes
when we breathe and move in intentional ways.
Throw on a tune that makes you feel this week.
Let yourself go free for a few minutes.
Maybe close the curtains first?
Then bring a free and open you
to move and connect with yourself
on the mat this week.
I'm not sure who these Brits are,
watching Iyengar in his sirsasana,
but I'm seriously impressed at their open hips.
It's not everyday you see
two suits conversing in sukhasana.
If more work meetings were
held in criss-cross applesauce,
the world would probably be a happier place.
Point being, you don't have to be
on your yoga mat to rock your asana.
A kitchen sink is the perfect support
for ardha uttanasana (half forward fold).
A door frame is a nice place
to catch your palms and open up your chest.
Get creative, yogis.
Find ways to open up and undo throughout the day.
You'll be happier for it. Promise.
Free class for photographic evidence
of the best normal life yoga hack.
Ready, set, go!
I recently attended a performance at the Blair School of Music
where an accomplished vocalist and teacher performed
with some of our best classical musicians.
She had been working with Blair students during the week
in master classes exploring how to work with the medium of the voice.
She clearly had extraordinary mastery of her instrument
evidenced through curious, playful, and remarkable vocal stylings
based on snippets of Kafka pieces.
But the most striking thing to me was her open handed remark
to the eager and appreciative musicians in the audience
that she is still learning how the voice works.
"You know that you never really arrive, right?"
It's a humbling piece of truth.
None of us ever really arrive.
We're all feeling our way through with curiosity and wonder.
The very best artisans and thinkers openly admit this fact,
embrace it even, in pursuit of greater understanding.
A yoga practice is no different.
Perhaps you feel you've mastered some postures,
but the body always has something more to reveal,
if you remain open, vigilant to revelation.
Come explore together.
Panning for gold in Madagascar,
the woman on the left is hip hinging rather nicely.
Tending to morning tasks, wafting from the kitchen radio
came a chipper NPR voice espousing hip hinging.
Aha! Anthropologists observing a sound yoga practice
out in the real world among cultures who use their bodies
to tend land, forage, and farm all their lives long!
Hinging at the hips spares your vertebrae,
relying upon those big, sturdy ball and socket hip joints,
and stretching your hamstrings in the bargain.
Just as true in a sari as in yoga pants.
Let's try it
on the mat this week.
Nadia Comaneci 1976
Some of us grew up wanting to be, longing to be
the best at whatever we tried.
Somehow that can translate to wanting only the best,
most perfect situation or experience
for your own kid or loved one
every time, in every possible way,
wrenched true with every bit of control you can eke out.
Not that I'm speaking from experience or anything...
It's taken many humbling years, okay decades,
for me to realize, okay, begin to realize
there is a lot to be said for stumbling into the
unexpected pleasures of the random choice,
something to admire in finding the courage to try something
you just might completely suck at, but find some joy in.
This poem intrigued me:
It must be troubling for the god who loves you
To ponder how much happier you'd be today
Had you been able to glimpse your many futures.
Knowing as he does exactly what would have happened
Had you gone to your second choice for college,
Knowing the roommate you’d have been allotted
Whose ardent opinions on painting and music
Would have kindled in you a lifelong passion.
A life thirty points above the life you're living
On any scale of satisfaction.
The God Who Loves You by Carl Dennis, excerpted
Makes you think, doesn't it?
Come practice with less than perfect yogis
and a less than perfect teacher
but sharing a whole lot of possibility.
After the arrival of smart phones, I noticed my patience for waiting diminishing.
Waiting for information, waiting for a reply, waiting to receive anything
I felt should be quite mine at the exact moment I wanted it.
These days, the main waiting I do is standing in a queue at the grocery store.
A couple months ago, I read Zen teacher and pediatrician
Jan Chozen Bays on waiting and the opportunities it provides.
Instead of becoming cross and impatient,
traversing and strengthening familiar negative patterns,
she suggests seeing it as an opportunity for practice.
The practice of simply becoming more aware.
I tried it. It's kind of awesome.
You can find your feet on the floor and craft your posture.
You can watch, slow, and count your breath.
You can observe the shoes of those around you, guess at their lives,
try to pick up on their energetic state at the moment,
maybe even try to send out a little lightness their way.
It's fascinating really.
And then boom, you've accomplished a mindfulness meditation.
Well done, you!
Then come do yoga with your pals.
American war veteran Alex Nguyen
"One's body is not a project or a problem,
it is the place each of us
is always and already living from.
Embodied practice can turn us toward that reality
and away from tendencies to dissociate.
To live in each of our changing, growing,
yearning, dying, aging bodies
is to be in touch with what is profoundly human.
Practice is not to degrade oneself
or aggrandize oneself,
but to find the complexity of life
as it is on a human scale."
To return to the yoga mat,
day after day,
week after week,
year after year,
is absolutely a study in the complexity of life
as it is on a human scale.
To encounter yourself
where you are in a precise moment
requires not only keen awareness and presence
but posits the question of whether you are able to
pursue with curiosity what the body may reveal
in a spirit of profound self compassion.
To use judgement of your yoga postures
as a marker of reading progress
may deny you the magic of the practice itself.
Not to aggrandize (Oh! Just look at my extension!)
or to degrade (Ugh. Just look at my extension.)
but to provide clear, temporal space
where you might do the work of undoing,
giving rise to physiological and emotional space within
to clearly see just who you are
and to intuit what qualities you'd like to foster
through movement or stillness.
Let's practice together.
I took a yoga class last Friday night.
Firstly, I had just had my hair cut,
so I smelled like a beauty parlor lady,
and it had been artfully blown dry,
so I looked like somebody's mother,
which of course I am,
and could be to every other yogi in that room.
I arrived late and was forced to wedge in the front row
where my nose was inches from the mirrored wall.
I successfully dodged the brightly tattooed limbs to my left,
while slightly distracted by the dude to my right
who had little on but a sock hat and beard.
I'm not sure why I'm telling you this story,
but maybe to illustrate this.....
you don't need your imagined perfect yoga environment
to deepen and grow your practice.
Friday night yoga on the eastside provided me
a fertile landscape for working with my ego,
a challenge of finding focus within perceived chaos,
and opportunity for creating space within me
when there was none around me.
Yoga isn't always about being comfortable,
but you know that, don't you, yogi?
Come to practice
where everyone will have their clothes on.
If you open the armpits,
the brain becomes light.
You cannot brood
or become depressed.
"Sparks of Divinity: The Teachings of B. K. S. Iyengar"
B.K.S. Iyengar, credited with bringing yoga to the west,
knew the power of yoga upon the body and mind.
He inspired many a yoga practitioner with words like these
and helped us to understand the profound internal effects of yoga.
These days, science is beginning to understand
how taking postures with the body
can alter the mind, perception, and emotions.
I love when western medical smartypants discover
what ancient yogis understood centuries ago.
Come find some joy on the mat this week.
We'll open up our hearts and our armpits.
A meal I shared with a Vietnamese-American Buddhist monk
provoked some of this thinking. At the end of our meal,
we closed our eyes and meditated, focused on our breathing,
on the passage of air over our upper lips,
on the stillness within ourselves.
I listened to his steady, quiet voice guide me and my breathing.
I believe, as he tells me, as my Catholic tradition tells me,
that there will be no end to war until each of us
calms the conflicts within ourselves.
A simple task, to change only ourselves, and yet such a difficult one.
I resolve to hold the shell of my self up to my ear every day,
to listen to the sound of my own self,
before I set out into the unsettled world, as I must.
-Viet Thahn Nguyen
This evokes a couple powerful images for me.
One is sharing silence across a table
-something I'd like to give some thought.
This image of holding the shell of myself
up to my ear each day
before I barge into the lives of others
seems a wise and powerful practice to adopt.
Simply stopping to catch the timbre of my insides
would provide a moment of mindfulness and stillness
that might sharpen my awareness and intention,
that might make me more receptive to those around me
as I move into the emotionally noisy world.
Cradle the shell of yourself
for a moment this week
and bring yourself to the mat.
How could we forget those ancient myths
that stand at the beginning of all races,
the myths about dragons that at the last moment
are transformed into princesses?
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses
who are only waiting to see us act,
just once, with beauty and courage.
Perhaps everything that frightens us is,
in its deepest essence,
something helpless that wants our love.
-Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, 1904
I've been reading magical fairytales lately,
which leaves me thinking about villains and heroines.
Of course, you may not know this, (I hope you don't)
but there are such things as yogi villainesses.
Mean girl yogis make me shiver.
Actually, I think they make themselves shiver, too.
No one wants to be stuck up (maybe really scared?),
overly ambitious (perhaps insecure?),
extra fancy pants (SEE me in awesomeasana??).
I've tried this on before, you see. No fun.
This is just background for a 2018 challenge.
If this year, a newbie, a fancypants, a prodigal enters our circle,
let's snap to: beauty and courage, fierce hearts!
Offer a smile, a place in the circle, a friendly word.
I would very much like our yoga space to be the sweetest,
most comfortable space in town for people to do their work
of undoing while feeling safe and loved.
And I think you're just the ones for the job.
Aren't you glad this challenge doesn't involve chaturangas
or mandatory attendance or some such? You're welcome.
It's going to be a sweet year, yogis.
Let's start it out well
and find each other again on the mat.
Looking forward to practice this year!
(My hope is meditating upon images of swooping bluebirds
will distract you from the fact that
it is something like seven degrees at present.)
Remember what is was like to be bored?
Halfway into summer vacation as a kid?
Or maybe that empty week after Christmas?
Maybe you don't.
This is becoming an unfamiliar state of being for many of us,
moments of being quiet with oneself, waiting to see what might come.
Boredom activates the default mode network in your brain.
This network does your most original thinking.
It ignites autobiographical episodic memory
- where you look back at your life, the high and lows,
interpret your own biographical story, and plot the future.
It's a type of aspirational long term planning or imagining,
grappling with who you are and what you want to become.
This strikes me as kind of important.
So, the other day when en route to important Christmas errands,
when my husband decided to take seven minutes that felt like an eternity
to fill up his car tires, I resisted checking my email,
gazed instead at the poor lettering on the wall of the Four Stop Market,
wondered at how and why to procure one of the locked up kerosene jerry cans,
then imagined what characters might be next door at the Lipstick Lounge.
Okay, I didn't suddenly write a sonnet or create a new algorithm (as if),
but I was letting my poor, relentlessly busy mind roam free.
It does a soul good to be a little aimless, even if only for seven minutes.
Try it next time you're in a queue, instead of reaching for your smartphone.
You may find your way to something meaningful or profound
or just give that habitually packed up mind a little space. Ah....
Then grant your body the same kindness in the yoga circle.
I am always interested in learning more about sleep
-what prevents restful sleep and what encourages it.
I assumed everyone was hip to the news about blue light at night,
but I have several clients who were surprised at this news and
suspicious that this may prove the culprit for their own insomnia.
One admitted to a laptop under the bed
and a smart phone cued up to Facebook on the end table!
So, here's a tip you've probably heard before
- abandon all screens well before bedtime.
And here's the science as to why.
In thirty years studying the effects of light, neuroscientist George Brainard
was surprised to discover that humans have a particular sensitivity to blue light.
It shifts our circadian systems and significantly suppresses melatonin
(the hormone produced by the pineal gland to regulate sleep).
Harvard neuroscientist Anne-Marie Chang discovered that
the deleterious effects of light-emitting devices on circadian systems
last well beyond nightime and into the following day.
Harvard Health reports that there is experimental evidence that
lower melatonin levels may be associated with cancer.
They also seem to be associated with heart disease, diabetes, and obesity.
Oh, I can't resist sharing my favorite scientific study regarding screen use
- participants who read on a screen before bed
versus those who read a humble paper book.
Guess who took longer to fall asleep, had less REM sleep,
and was groggier in the morning?
[fingers crossed my husband is reading this]
Let's ditch the screens before bedtime.
Then bring your rested self to the yoga mat.
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.
Could this Nashville autumn be more brilliant and long lasting?
These sunshine days are beginning to turn a little blustery,
reminding us of the vata nature of autumn.
In Ayurveda, yoga's ancient sister science of wellness,
we understand that in the autumn season air energy predominates.
If not balanced by intentional grounding and steadying practices,
this airy energy can manifest as anxiety and instability in body and mind.
Here are some helpful practices to bring balance to your system.
Most will feel natural because your body intrinsically knows
just what it needs in this season. You're smart that way.
1. Find a daily routine - eating, sleeping and doing with some degree of regularity.
2. Emphasize grounding and sound warming movements in your yoga practice.
3. Drink warm water with lemon or tea upon rising.
4. Lean towards warm nourishing foods like roasted veggies, soups, and stews.
5. Avoid cold foods and drinks, especially at night.
6. Unplug early in the evening and go to sleep by 10pm if you can.
7. Indulge in warm oil massage or a bath to calm your nervous system.
Then bring your cozy self to the yoga circle.
After four days of no yoga,
but endless tramping of cold NYC streets,
contorted wedging into subway cars,
and fixed belting into airplane seats,
this is exactly what I feel like.
Come join your tin woman yoga teacher
in a little asana and compassionate unfolding.
I could use some southern love from my yogi homies
after all that northern chilliness.
Hope to see your sweet self at practice.
Gratitude is not a passive response to something we have been given,
gratitude arises from paying attention, from being awake
in the presence of everything that lives within and without us. [...]
Gratitude is the understanding that many millions of things come together
and live together and mesh together and breathe together in order for us
to take even one more breath of air, that the underlying gift of life
and incarnation as a living, participating human being is a privilege;
that we are miraculously, part of something, rather than nothing.
Even if that something is temporarily pain or despair,
we inhabit a living world, with real faces, real voices, laughter,
the color blue, the green of the fields, the freshness of a cold wind,
or the tawny hue of a winter landscape.[...]
Thanksgiving happens when our sense of presence meets all other presences.
- David Whyte, "Consolations"
It's interesting to understand gratitude as the simple act of being completely present.
So, if prodded at the Thanksgiving table to name one thing you're grateful for
and you're mystified at nothing splendid or profound gushing from your heart,
know that just to be present, to see, to feel, to recognize you're part of something,
rather than nothing - well, that may be enough.
I hope to see you dears on the mat this week.
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]
A recent Saturday moto ride in the country
offered many images a city girl doesn't regularly see.
Perhaps the most affecting was a lone man
sitting in a chair, in the middle of an empty yard.
Nothing plugged into his ears, or lodged in his hand.
Just sitting in stillness, gazing at the trees,
granting a nod to a waving girl passing by on a motorcycle.
This sight was repeated a few times.
Always a man. In the middle of the yard. Doing nothing.
Women were around to be sure.
But they were planting mums, or riding a tractor,
or artfully draping artificially orange leaves on a mailbox.
Be the man in the lawn chair.
This has been my mantra the past week.
Feel free to take it for yourself.
Then find your way to the mat.
"I am not one of those who neglect the body
in order to make of it a sacrificial offering for the soul,
since my soul would thoroughly dislike
being served in such a fashion.
All the soarings of my mind begin in my blood,
for which reason I precede my work,
through a pure and simple way of life
that is free from irritants and stimulants,
as with an introductory prelude, so that I cannot be deceived
over the true spiritual joy that consists in a concord,
happy and as if transfigured, with the whole of Nature."
-Rainer Maria Rilke
In my experience, one can never go wrong consulting Rilke.
Reading through his letters, there is always a piece of truth
waiting to ring through your heart like a bell.
How about this?
Create a clear and clean vessel.
Fill it up with breath, simple movement, and clear intention.
By savasana, find yourself transfigured
as if once again pure and connected with the whole of Nature.
That's my kind of yoga.
Come practice this.
These are difficult times to be sure.
It's easy to feel overwhelmed by the drama we witness,
the pain we watch others suffer,
the fear that threatens to pervade us all.
One answer is to offer up compassion.
It's not just a namby-pamby sort of idea.
Compassion can be a fierce force,
purposely generated and sent out to do powerful work of healing.
And per usual, as you work to minister to others,
you catch some of your own medicine
and nurture yourself in the process.
It's brilliant to do something positive
rather than remain simply glued to the news, helpess.
So, light a candle, say a prayer,
create some love in your meditation
and send it out where it's needed.
Then come see your yoga homies.
I recently read James Ryerson's review of the book
Surfing with Sartre - An Aquatic Inquiry Into a Life of Meaning
by philosophy professor Aaron James.
The University of California professor, also an avid surfer,
speaks to the idea of adaptive attunement.
What could be more yogic than this?
As the surfer knows, freedom is not a matter of imposing your will,
Sartre-like, on the world. That's a surefire way to wipe out.
Freedom, rather, is a matter of transcending your will,
and accepting the "exchange," or two-way relationship,
between what you intend to do and what you are constrained
to do by the forces around you. You take what the wave gives you.
In a deterministic universe, freedom is the sensation,
known to the adaptively attuned, of "efficacy without control."
The surfer is right; Sartre is wrong.
Efficacy without control?
Gulp. Now, that's a concept.
If we're practicing yoga wisely,
we take what the body gives us on any given day.
We don't force it into a pose
without seeing what the body has to say about it.
We ride the wave of our breath,
keenly attuned to subtle messages from within,
so we can safely find the sensation of freedom.
Some of us know too well the consequences of forcing
a knee or lower back into too deep of a bend,
or forcing a cranky hip into abeyance.
Freedom is not the word that comes to mind.
Pausing, listening, and responding in kind?
Much better, thank you.
May we all aim to become adaptively attuned
on the mat and in the world.
Bring your surfboard or mat.
"The work...comes out of all the time a writer wastes.
We stand around, look out the window, walk down the hall,
come back to the page...The tortoise determines the pace.
We are borne on its back."
This puts me in mind of the pace of a yoga practice throughout a lifetime.
When we are not in a rush to "master" poses
or caught up in that human predilection,
even on a yoga mat, to get more - more strength or flexibility or prowess,
but rather allow the gentle unfolding of our bodies, our minds, our hearts,
that's when things reveal themselves and the true undoing begins.
I often get questions from yogis about how they can possibly practice on their own.
How would they remember what poses to do? How long to hold them? What order?
How about this?
Stand around, or sit.
Look out the window, or close your eyes.
Walk down the hall, or fold your body.
Come back to the mat. Reach up, or down.
Breathe. Move. At the same time?
Now, you're doing yoga.
It really is that easy.
You'll be surprised what you find.
You don't really need me,
but you might still come to the circle.
There are a multitude of reasons we do yoga.
This is one of them.
We create suppleness and space in the body
so it can respond with resilience.
Likewise, we create suppleness and space in the mind and heart,
so we can offer compassion and non-judgment to ourselves and others.
My teacher always said, "A supple spine leads to a supple mind."
It took me several years to see this manifest, but it did begin to feel true.
Whether dealing with adversity, heartache, or physical challenge,
yoga helps us bend, rather than break.
Come bend a little.
Lately, I've spent a lot of time surrounded by stuff.
I spent a weekend culling though a century of my grandfather's belongings,
reluctantly tossing aside rolodexes bulging with
the phone numbers of long dead musicians
and ancient sheet music for every instrument in his orchestra.
I did uncover my great grandmother's baptismal certificate from Paris in 1885,
along with my grandfather's documents from
traveling through Pretoria with a dance band.
Countless other treasures made the musty job well worth it.
But I saw too much of myself in the boxes of useless saved items.
My husband stopped me from saving too many vintage boxes of staples.
But that lovely green color! The vanished typeface! The tiny size!
How much stuff do I really need?
Books? Okay, a lot.
Everything else? Not so much.
This is a process, dear yogis.
I'm a thrifty scavenger at heart.
The kind that is pained at the loss of a discarded ribbon
that would be just perfect for this gift had I not thrown it out.
I'm working on it.
Maybe you should too.
The change of seasons is a natural time for shedding something.
You could start with your solar eclipse glasses.
I'm collecting them to pass along to needy kids for the next eclipse in 2019.
will be sending them to schools in South America and Asia.
Help a kid see something awesome!
Just bring them to practice this week
along with anything else
you might want to let go of on the mat.
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?
Okay, so that was something.
Cloud cover at our house had us racing down the main street
with me hanging out of the sunroof in my eclipse glasses
until we landed on a solitary, grassy hill
with a perfect view from our hastily thrown blanket.
As the moon eclipsed the sun
and we fell into the safety of the moon's shadow,
I felt a very small part of a very wondrous universe.
The sweetest part for me
was glimpsing that 360° sunset surrounding us.
Its glow felt sweetly comforting amid the drama overhead.
We are ourselves comprised of the dark and the light,
feminine and masculine energies,
which ebb and flow and make up the totality of our being.
("ha": sun / "tha": moon)
works to skillfully unite and balance
the two opposing energies.
This week, we'll play with
solar and lunar energies in the body,
noticing their different qualities and effects.
We'll open nadis (energy pathways) with breathwork-
both our left side, ida nadi, represented by the moon
and our right side, pingala nadi, represented by the sun.
Come find post-eclipse balance.
The neck is an amazing place.
It does a lot of work balancing our magnificent brains atop our spines.
Sometimes, we help out keeping things nicely stacked.
But often, we tax our necks unnecessarily - even in yoga poses!
In a typical American life, rather than beautifully stacked suitcases,
it's usually a dropped head transfixed over a smartphone.
Or it's a slumped and rounded spine with the added weight of a skull
that the poor neck is trying to hold up to align eyes with the horizon.
Even mindful yogis can tax the neck in some of our kooky poses.
I've been noticing this in some of our triangle poses.
We'll work on that this week-
learning how to safely tuck the head in line for greater ease.
Come get straight.
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,
Soma is the Greek word for the living body.
Somatic practitioner Thomas Hanna PhD
speaks about soma as the body experienced from within,
the essence of the mind-body integration
we seek in yoga.
Finding time to create a momentary holiday or rest
from deep within is something we all could use,
whether it's a blissful five minutes in savasana
or some moments of ease peculiarly fit into your day.
A soma holiday sounds like a brilliant idea.
Don't mind if I do.
When I first began practicing yoga,
I was a little skittish around the chanting of mantras.
When my teacher began
the Ashtanga opening chant each Saturday morning,
I would have felt more at home with the Nicene Creed,
standing upright and devout on my yoga mat.
I learned to find beauty and resonance in the chanting of sounds,
but I have kept a healthy curiosity about chanting mantras in Sanskrit.
You won't find me chanting to Lord Ganesha to remove obstacles in my path,
but raising my voice with others to call for peace or love, that I can do.
Here's a mantra beloved by yogis worldwide that you may like:
Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu
"May all beings everywhere be happy and free."
Lokah: People or universe
Samastah: All beings living in the same location
Sukhino: Free from suffering, centered in happiness
Bhav: The state of unified existence or the divine mood
Antu: May it be so, it must be so
When we can find ways to pray, speak into existence,
or at least cry out in hope together,
regardless of our personal faith practices,
I think that is a powerful and sweet thing,
especially these days.
Come be happy and free together.
Cheerfulness is an achievement,
and hope is something to celebrate.
If optimism is important,
it's because many outcomes are determined
by how much of it we bring to the task.
It is an important ingredient of success.
This flies in the face of the elite view that
talent is the primary requirement of a good life,
but in many cases the difference between success and failure
is determined by nothing more than our sense of what is possible
and the energy we can muster to convince others of our due.
We might be doomed not by a lack of skill,
but by an absence of hope.
-Alain de Botton
Hope is a powerful thing.
Hope can win unlikely elections
(pause here for nostalgic reverie).
Hope can save you from
too heavily identifying with a new diagnosis.
Hope can keep your heart open for when you finally collide
with the soulmate you've been waiting for.
Hope can give you a reason to keep going in
whatever pursuit makes you feel of use in the world.
Hope is what keeps me buying yet another houseplant
believing this may be the one who stays, you know, alive.
Come make some hope.
Just a suggestion as to how you might combine
your yoga practice with this week's holiday festivities.
But to be honest, you don't need the spectacle of fireworks
to lie upon the earth and find your breath.
A grove of trees, your front walk, an empty room.
It's astonishing how five minutes of a sudden savasana
can leave you feeling grounded, centered, and calm.
My husband will advise against trying this on a driveway in suburbia.
When doing so at his parents' house in Brentwood,
drivers kept stopping to shout at him,every five minutes,
one after another: "Hey! Are you okay?"
Some people just don't get it.
But we do. Come see.
I always read the obit section of the New York Times on Sunday.
If you love a good story, the complete kind,
where you're taken from the beginning to the end, you should too.
A dancer turned potter, Paulus Berensohn, died last week in Asheville at 84.
He danced with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham in New York as a young man.
He discovered pottery in the fifties, mesmerized by an artful ceramist at a kick wheel.
He remembered: "I thought, that's a dance to learn."
Dancing, spinning a wheel, practicing breath and movement in tandem - art all.
"I am very interested in the behavior of art rather than the achievement of art.
I see all the arts as apprenticeships for the big art of our lives."
As yogis, the point of interest is also the behavior rather than the achievement.
How do we react in moving into a challenging pose?
Do we lose focus when finding a pose that feels simple?
What comes up when we offer heart to sky and take the courage to bend backwards?
Learning when to go deep, when to find stillness and observe
- all good practice for how to move through the dance of our lives.
Get interested in your behavior on the mat.
Your body has things to reveal to you.
We travel together, passengers on a little spaceship,
dependent on its vulnerable reserves of air and soil,
all committed, for our safety, to its security and peace.
Preserved from annihilation only by the care,
the work and the love we give our fragile craft.
- Adlai Stevenson
I first fell in love with Adlai Stevenson
when listening to his United Nations speeches
on an old phonograph of political voices
- a curiosity scored at a Vanderbilt library sidewalk sale.
I like this idea of all of us traveling on this tiny spaceship together.
The only way we'll make it is
by caring for each other and our surroundings.
Likewise, we yogis can do our part
in our own little community here in Nashville,
generating compassion, sending out love,
and crafting a society where we all feel safe, heard, and seen.
Never underestimate the power of transformation
you generate on your mat.
Your intention, your purposeful creation of awareness and calm
can do a lot to change the world around you.
Come create some love
for your fragile craft.
The breath is a powerful thing.
We tend to take it for granted, until it's compromised.
I recently heard a yogi speak of the inhale and exhale
as acts of giving and receiving.
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Our first act of receiving is the first inhale we ever took at birth.
Our last act of giving is the final exhale we release into the world at death.
In between, every breath we take modulates a balance.
Inhales fire up the sympathetic nervous system
- ultimately our fight or flight response-
pragmatically the fire we need to get things done.
You know, the "take a deep breath and go!" idea.
Exhales animate our parasympathetic nervous system
- our rest and digest mode-
bringing us into a state of calm and ease
so our bodies can work efficiently.
We need both.
Equanimity is our aim.
As a yogi, you can use your breath
to take you where you want to go.
Concentrate on deepening your inhales to lift your energy.
Ride deepening exhales to ground and calm yourself.
Easy-peasy yoga you can use, anywhere.
Come to the mat for some trickier stuff,
pranayma practices for equanimity.
So, a fellow yogi has done a crackerjack job restoring a little bungalow in Sylvan Park.
I was shamed/inspired to do a little something about my own domicile.
me: "How about just the bathroom door, you know, the one everyone sees?"
him: "But we already replaced the doorknobs. Are you sure you want to get into this?"
(This after one too many yogis gasped watching the doorknob
fall out of the door upon closing it to go to the loo.)
me: "Yes. Come on, it will be totally worth it."
That night my benevolent husband spent an hour cursing
while repeatedly striking the hinges and pins to remove said door.
We then spent the better part of Saturday, and Sunday, scraping a full century of paint
off one door, okay, one side of one door. We're still nowhere near done.
Why am I telling you this?
What does it mean for you?
It means this week, we will be opening shoulders, wrists, and hands.
You know the parts that might be permanently frozen in a death grip on a paint scraper.
My pain, your gain.
Come get wide open.
And if you're practicing at my house this week, you've been warned.
The bathroom door is missing.
"Green was the silence,
wet was the light,
the month of June
trembled like a butterfly."
~ Pablo Neruda
One moment it's rain,
the next it's sunshine,
and then the clouds change shape before your eyes.
June feels very much like the beginning of something.
Perhaps that trembling of possibility
might birth something new
into your way of moving through the world.
Watch the unfurling of nature and
feel the shift into a little summery freedom.
You don't have to go on holiday to lighten up.
Make tiny choices here and there to treat yourself:
walk instead of drive,
take a popsicle ramble,
go to the park with no plan,
sleep in and listen to birdsong,
sleep out beneath the moon,
see what happens next...
maybe some yoga?
I'm curious how I might apply this in my life just now.
It's a pretty calm life at present,
devoid of office politics, or cantankerous relationships.
Of course, I am living in the middle of a slightly unbelievable political era.
Take this where you will.
We can all find moments to choose helping the "other"
rather than aiming, or silently wishing for destruction.
And I love the idea of flowers growing out of my head.
See you this afternoon!
"There are many people who are not entirely themselves
because as children
they were not given time to think about themselves.
[...] People who for some reason find it impossible
to think about themselves, and so really be themselves,
try to make up for not thinking with doing.
They try to pretend that doing is thinking."
-1930 letter by Laura Riding to her 8 year old friend Catherine
This is something tricky, don't you think?
We often pretend that doing is thinking.
Maybe, let up on the doing.
If you can't commit an entire day to no doing,
maybe you can steal an hour.
For some of us, a full ten minutes would be something.
Do what you can.
Or rather don't do what you can.
(Overachievers: You can call it yoga homework,
if it makes you feel better.)
See you at practice.
We are a product of our times and our culture.
In practicing yoga, we draw upon ancient wisdom,
but somehow still imbue it with our oh, so American animation.
How deep could I take this shape?
How much sensation can I possibly tolerate?
How much more flexibility could I wring from this body?
offers us salvation, should we choose to practice it.
From Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 2:46, we learn
The asana (posture) should be sthira (stable) and sukha (comfortable).
Literally, this can be understood to resolutely abide in a good space.
When encountering a difficult or challenging posture,
how can we look for stability and comfort,
rather than imagined visual mastery?
We can work with integrity to align joints and bones without muscular strain
to craft the shape kindly and intelligently without sacrificing stability.
Why do we practice yoga anyway?
When life gets hard and things go awry,
your backbending ability will most likely be of little help.
But knowing how to reside in stability and ease,
with your breath as your guide?
That, dear yogi, you can use.
Come and practice.
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.
turtles in Ecuador taking their time
The power of the paramita [perfect realization] of patience
is that it is the antidote to anger,
a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path.
By patience, we do not mean enduring - grin and bear it.
In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly,
we could chew it, smell it, look at it,
and open ourselves to seeing what's there.
The opposite of patience is aggression
- the desire to jump and move,
to push against our lives,
to try to fill up space.
The journey of patience involves relaxing,
opening to what's happening,
experiencing a sense of wonder.
This is the ultimate yoga challenge for me.
Not reacting, filling up space,
or pushing against my life.
"I want sunshine now!"
on an endless, practically Biblical weekend of rain.
Just the first example that comes to mind;
I'm sure my husband could name many others.
My yoga practice really does help me
at least notice this in myself.
And sometimes, sometimes,
I am able to soften, relax into what is happening
and merely look at it,
observe my reactions,
and tenderly shake my head at myself.
Bless my heart.
Bring your dear self
to the yoga circle.
"sometimes surviving means recommitting to myself every morning;
means uttering a soft, riotous ode: I am mountainous. I am a diligent sea."
There is something solemnly beautiful and necessary here.
The idea of recommitting to oneself every morning.
Not just waking up, and senselessly stepping into the maze.
Waking up. Quite. Looking full in the face of the day.
Claiming yourself. Speaking truth, whether you feel it to be so or not.
What are you this day? What do you long to be?
Speak it, perhaps with surprised conviction.
May it be so.
Bring your purposeful self
to the circle.
I haven't touched a computer in days.
This new spring is intoxicating and simply won't let me come inside.
I'm struck by the power of witnessing the new unfurl.
What with Easter coming and spring unfolding,
Aslan comes to mind.
If this doesn't mean anything to you,
get thee to a library.
You're never too old to fall into Narnia,
C.S. Lewis's spiritual wonderland.
Bring your springlike wonder
to the circle.
As a kid, I spent a lot of time with my record player.
Before the thrill of buying my own 45's,
I'm Your Boogie Man, Afternoon Delight, and
My Sweet Lord (which required low volume so my Mom
wouldn't know about the "hari krishna's" at the end),
I spun my Mom's pretty impressive record collection.
50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong had the most fetching cover,
but I never found the appeal of the actual music.
But I did spend many a happy Saturday afternoon
sprawled out on a sofa on Golf Club Lane in Green Hills
watching old Elvis movies.
The color, the kitsch, the clothes!
So, how could I not share this?
Don't blow the scene.
Get with it.
It's been said that you are the average of
the five people you spend the most time with.
We know that heart frequencies have a way of linking up with each other.
We understand, and the most perceptive among us can easily feel, that
the company you keep influences you
psychologically, emotionally, even physiologically.
Who are your five?
Surround yourself with people you wish to emulate.
And be a person that elevates others energetically
simply by sharing your authentic self with true presence and gratitude.
Grateful people are happier, healthier, and awesome to be around.
Nobody can be miss sunshine all the time, nor should she.
But take heart that gratitude can overwhelm all.
So no matter where you find yourself or who you are with,
you can shine out a grateful heart buoying yourself
and uplifting the circle around you.
Come join our grateful circle.
At last, it's official.
Spring is here.
So, how about a little spring cleaning for your dear self?
Lighten up your diet.
Think leafy greens (cooked or raw), cleansing soups, and light fruits.
Try some bitter things like radicchio or daikon radish.
They have cleansing properties for your blood and liver.
Add warm liquids for drinking
to burn off kapha, sluggishness in the body.
Start with hot water in the morning or fennel, mint, ginger, or dandelion tea.
Dandelion tea is brilliant for your body in the spring.
It has a natural diuretic effect, helping your liver detoxify
while balancing blood sugar levels and boosting immunity.
It doesn't have a terribly strong taste.
Check for it in the hippy dippy tea aisle.
I'm drinking my leftover morning dandelion tea cool,
as I write this sitting in the breezy sunshine.
Plus, I just love saying "dandelion."
Toss aside a few things that don't please you.
"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful
or believe to be beautiful" said William Morris lecturing in 1880.
He said it was a golden rule that fit everyone.
He may be right.
Then you'll feel a little more ready
to step into this new season,
light of step and heart.
We'll find some sweet and twisty
detoxing asana in practice.
Elizabeth Bishop in Rock Pool in Samambaia in Brazil
I've been reading Elizabeth Bishop's poetry of late,
inexplicably returning each night to "Questions of Travel."
With many yogis disappearing for spring break,
and many others firmly planted at home waving adieu,
I thought I'd give you the second stanza.
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there's a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
Poetry is for pondering.
Read slowly. Take what pleases you.
Or treat yourself to the full poem.
Bishop herself said that if a poem or a painting
influences the way she sees the world for the next 24 hours,
she knows it's a good one.
See you in about 24 hours at yoga.
Ah, the wrists.....
Often when just starting a yoga practice,
people complain of weak and unhappy wrists.
In normal life, we simply don't put much weight into our hands,
nor do we invite our hands to move into full flexion or extension,
eventually leading to loss of the full range of healthy movement.
In yoga, we do take weight into the hands.
We do explore full flexion and extension in the wrists.
This is why it's so important to use wise hand placement on the mat.
The photo above has good, simple cues for the hands in downdog.
We want to stay well away from collapsing into the heels of the hands,
and consequently ulnar nerve compression or carpal tunnel inflammation.
We'll address this clearly in practice this week,
along with yummy wrist stretching,
redirecting of forearm tension,
and gentle strengthening actions of the wrists.
We're entering into a holy time in the liturgical Christian calendar - the season of Lent.
It officially begins with Ash Wednesday - my most favorite liturgical practice of all.
There is something romantic and wondrous for me in being marked with ashes.
It's a reminder of our mortality,yes. That's powerful.
But I love to feel claimed, marked as a child of God.
A frequently wayward and stumbling one who questions everything, but claimed all the same.
A priest smushing his thumb into my forehead with holy words does it every time.
"Yes, even this troublesome one. She's mine."
And here's the thing, we all belong.
When I see other people around town on an Ash Wednesday with dirty foreheads
it feels a bit like a secret handshake spied out the corner of my eye.
And I recall my Muslim friends who bow their foreheads to the earth in prayer, some earning a lifelong mark there.
And I think about yogis connecting third eye to earth to feel grounded and safe.
And I realize that we are all holy beings, stumbling along with varying marks, on the outside and on the inside.
Anne Lamott says:
"And so people mark themselves with ashes to show
that they trust in the alchemy God can work with those ashes
-jogging us awake, moving us toward greater attention and openness and love."
However you might be marked, and we all are,
whether a mark you sought or one you suffered,
recognize in this introspective season that you belong here among us,
and go bravely about your heart's work,
trusting in the unfathomable alchemy of that which we suffer and that which we seek,
moving towards greater attention and love towards yourself first,
so that you might ultimately extend it to the rest of us.
So come press your forehead to the ground
at yoga practice this week.
The Roman philosopher Seneca
modeled the power of self-reflection.
The sweetest piece here is that
he reminds us it needn't bring condemnation
but rather a tranquility and then
an opportunity for practicing forgiveness.
As a fledgling soul who admittedly smarts at criticism,
I find a lot of possibility in this idea
of self examination and forgiveness.
"Is there any finer custom than this daily examination of conscience?
What peace follows from this examination of ourselves!
How tranquil, wise and free the mind becomes,
whether it has been praised or reproved,
when it has acted as its own secret investigator and critic
and has examined its own behaviour.
I use this exercise and put myself on trial every day.
When the lights are out and silence has fallen...
I look back over the entire day and review my words and actions.
I hide nothing from myself; I omit nothing.
Why should I be afraid of any of my errors when I can say to myself:
Take care not to do this again; this time I forgive you."
-(De Ira, III, 36.)
transl. Sharon Lebell
Come and practice some self love
Let the beauty of what you love
be what you do.
It's important to feed your soul with
tiny pieces of beauty where you find them.
An unexpected leaf at your feet on a warm February afternoon,
the silvery full moon we had a few days ago,
the rainbow sherbet sunset that accompanied it.
If you have two hours to lose yourself inside a film this week,
please let it be "Paterson" at the Belcourt.
You will find everyday magic slipping in everywhere you look.
The film follows a bus driving poet through his life in Paterson, New Jersey
and through his eyes we discover unexpected beauty
coloring the edges of everyday existence.
This film moves slowly, meditatively,
and sweetly cradles you in such a way
you'll suddenly realize your nervous system has calmed,
and simple kind words and actions on the screen take on profound meaning.
Quirky characters will get you thinking
about creative expression in and around your own life.
I resisted writing about it last week,
but two weeks later I'm still pondering it.
I think what struck me most was the absence of sarcasm and snark
and the abundance of emotional transparency and keen observation.
A dozen showings remain at the Belcourt until Thursday.
You won't be disappointed, yogi.
Come find your own creative expression
on your yoga mat.
Gathas are small poems to aid in mindfulness.
I found this one last summer in a New Yorker
feature on Poetry for Modern Mindfulness.
And it has stayed with me, still.
The following is excerpted from My Gathas by Jenny Allen
(please read in a calm, monk-like cadence)
DOING THE DISHES
Breathing in, I wash the dishes,
Aware of their usefulness in holding
Nourishing meals that have sustained my family for many years.
I wonder why it is always, always me doing the dishes
And whether, interconnected as all human beings are,
This may be the one exception.
Breathing out, I release my feelings into the universe,
ever hopeful that someone, somewhere,
Will sense my need,
And offer to help.
I open my heart to the possibility of this miracle.
Bring your irreverent and hopeful self
to the yoga circle.
It's important to be awake, to stand up for what's right,
to aid those who are in need of protection and compassion.
It's also easy to get overwhelmed
when it feels like so much is going wrong.
Elena Brower remembered her teacher Hari Kaur Khalsa
sharing a powerful meditative practice:
Focus on what's right in your world.
"[He]taught us to meditate on our light,
to focus on what's going right, for three minutes a day.
For those minutes, stay close to that which is working,
let it effervesce and surface throughout your body as you breathe.
Just three minutes will shift you into a fresh way of seeing."
Then you may feel a tiny bit wiser, calmer, and at peace
to carry on your work in the world.
Come take respite in our practice.
Recently, I was standing in line at Bagel Face in my neighborhood,
(an interminable queue but totally worth it - sesame bagel heaven!)
where I couldn't help but notice the couple in front of me.
As they grew more and more restless, they fell into habitual postures
(as we all do). But, man, their feet were fascinating!
They may be the perfect match in life, but they are complete opposites
in how they collapse into their skeletal structures.
She falls into an intense internal rotation of both legs,
then rolling onto the outside of her feet.
Check out those crossed Converse!
Following up the chain, to thrust hips which leads to a compressed sacrum.
He, on the other hand, externally rotates his legs, and drops into his arches.
His lower belly pooched out, and a swayback ensued.
Don't worry, this all had a happy ending.
They got their bagels, kissed, and happily noshed.
After surreptitiously snapping their feet with my iPhone,
you can bet, I grew tall into a hastily constructed tadasana.
We all do it. We collapse into our habitual postures.
Not surprisingly, it's easiest to see this in others,
and oh so instructive.
This week, see what shapes you can catch yourself in.
And notice those around you.
(But probably keep those observations to yourself.)
Then come make some
awesome intentional shapes.
"Whatever your political perspective,
now is the season to stand up for what matters.
To stand against hate. To stand for respect.
To stand for protection of the vulnerable.
To care for the natural world. [...]
The Path to human happiness and liberation requires
Right Intention, intentions that are free from greed, hatred and cruelty;
Right Speech, speech that is true and helpful,
not harsh, not vain, slanderous nor abusive;
and Right Action, actions that are free from causing harm,
killing, stealing and sexual exploitation.
Gandhi explains, 'Those who say spirituality has nothing to do with politics
do not know what spirituality really means.'
You have been training for this for a long time.
With practice you have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart.
You have learned emptiness and interdependence.
Now it is time to step forward, bringing your equanimity and courage,
wisdom and compassion to the world."
Let's step up, yogis.
And be the light we wish to see in the world.
And offer a calm presence when it is sorely needed.
And shine together
in the yoga circle.
There is where I'll be Friday morning: Nashville's silent inauguration
Standing silent in a spirit of love and connection with ALL our community.
Come and join, if you like.
"What's our noise level zone in the hallway?"
"What happens if you talk?"
"You get a mark!"
"Your mom might get a phone call."
"Or your teacher goes to yoga that night
and comes back happier in the morning!'
This real life conversation was relayed to me
post-savasana by a yogi who teaches middle school
and whose students reap the benefits of her weekly yoga practice.
And they know it.
I've also had yogis relay parting comments from spouses,
"No, no. It's okay. You go ahead. Really. Get your yoga in,"
as their coat and keys are pressed into their hands
at the end of the day.
You're not the only one who reaps benefits from your practice.
Your devotion to your practice
ripples out into the lives of those you love.
Come find your happy place.
If I receive one more 30 Day Yoga Challenge! email, I think I may vomit.
I don't mean to sound catty, but I'm not particularly interested
in posing yet another challenge for myself in 2017,
especially in the nurturing place of my yoga mat.
So, I don't challenge you to anything in facing 2017.
Rather, I invite you to find your way into some ease in this new year.
Ease in your body, accepting and appreciating it for the wonder it is.
Ease in your mind, letting go of comparison and striving,
discovering what your inner wisdom has to say about what it sees.
Ease in your heart, trusting that all will be well
as we connect and nurture each other
in our small circles here at home.
In so doing, I think we'll make the world a better place,
a more understandable place,
by creating for each other
a circle of safety, warmth, and understanding.
It's easy to get stressed out
by the big, wide world that's hard to fix.
It's also easy to provide rest for each other
in the constancy of love and support
that we create in our yoga circle.
Then we can send it wide,
creating little pools of emotional sustenance for others.
Let's find each other again in the circle.
It's the last practice of the year, yogis.
Come join together
as we move towards the winter solstice.
Finding your way into that sacred space we create together
to find our inner strength,
to create a little sweetness,
and ultimately to rest in ease.
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]
I grieved the loss of two extraordinary women this week.
One, a neighbor, who was living abroad
crafting a purposeful and rich life of her own design.
The other was the dear woman who married my grandfather twenty years ago.
I was leaving her cheery "Call me back - I love you!" voicemails
completely oblivious to the fact she was dying in a hospital.
A relentlessly bright light who at 89 was besting her juniors on the tennis court,
she's suddenly disappeared.
Sitting in the middle of a Schumann quintet that rainy Sunday night,
in attempts to befriend my grief,
I rode the waves of music understanding nothing
absolutely nothing, but that this,
all..... of ..... this.....
is fleeting. moving, going, going, gone.
And to be honest, I have no idea where to.
I recognize that this too is the work of yoga.
Learning to be, eyes open,
heart broken or full,
mind calm or bereft,
steadfast or stumbling.
If nothing else, knowing that we have each other
that love surrounds us
in a thousand different forms.
When I saw this ad, I thought
"Yikes. This encapsulates what we are doing wrong with yoga."
It reminded me of a behind the scenes conversation I heard
between two Pilates teachers joking about
the rattle of the pain reliever bottle after class.
Oh, my dears!
When we are moving our bodies with care, attention, and empathy,
we should not be moving into pain.
The very idea that we put ourselves through repetitive,
possibly degenerative movements
which require pain relievers is a sad business.
Yoga should be a practice you can do forever,
modifying with wisdom to continually move
into motion with breath and attention.
I just returned from a three day yoga workshop
in Chattanooga where I heard this:
Healthy movement is a little bit of movement from a lot of places.
Unhealthy movement is a lot of movement in one place repetitively.
This week, let's think about taking our familiar yoga asanas
fitted particularly into our peculiar bodies on a given day
finding as much opening in as many places possible
evenly dispersed throughout the body,
so we end up feeling awesome,
more alive, and more comfortable in our bodies.
That's kind of the point.
Let's do it, smarties.
We're heading into a busy week of family, friends, and feasting.
It's sweet stuff, but easy to get caught up in all the doing.
Here's a little yoga homework.
Find tiny moments of stillness to fall into,
meditating upon what you observe inside and out.
Pause to see who surrounds you, really see them.
Observe their qualities, what they're putting out,
how you might meet them where they are, creating connection.
Pause to appreciate the food in front of you.
Observe the complexity of tastes, textures, aroma, and color,
along with whatever sentimental qualities they invoke.
Pause to reflect on how you're feeling, every now and then.
Tender, anxious, lighthearted, annoyed, safe, overwhelmed.
Simply acknowledging those feelings may serve
to deepen the sweetness or release the angst.
Just truly be wherever, however you are.
Be present in your thanksgiving, yogi.
"Struggle is the great crossover moment of life. It never leaves us neutral.
It demands that we make a choice: either we dig down deep into the wellspring
that is our innermost selves and go on beyond where we were,
despite where we were, or we simply give up, stop in our tracks rooted to the spot,
up to our ankles in bitterness and despair, satisfied to be less
than all our personal gifts indicate that we are being called to be..."
- Joan Chittister, Scarred by Stuggle, Transformed by Hope
These are tough times, my dears.
All of us are coping best as we can in our own peculiar ways.
Some are raging in protest,
some grieving in the company of like minded souls,
others protecting themselves in solitude.
Finding ways to nourish ourselves is the best way to gird ourselves up,
so that we can shine a steady light for others
who need to find acceptance, protection, understanding and love.
It's up to us.
To step into our powers of active compassion
and generate fierce love in the middle of all this fear around us.
Be fierce and gentle, yogis.
This is yoga in action.
We know how to do this.
Come together to practice.
One of my teachers, Doug Keller, recently offered some wise advice.
He referenced the ancient Bhagavad-Gita
(the Hindu epic where charioteer Krishna helps Prince Arjuna tussle with his ethical responsibilities)
to explain our yogic responsibilities in this modern, political world.
"The Bhagavad-Gita forever linked yoga to the life of action,
and action means choice. To live is to act,
and to live in a democracy is to choose,
recognizing that, just as in Arjuna's case,
there are no perfect choices.
To bring the best in ourselves to this choice,
overcoming the seduction of negativity,
is what yoga calls us to."
Generate some gratitude for the fact that we live in a country
and in a time where we all have the power of the vote.
Step into your power on Tuesday, if you haven't voted already.
Then receive the communal results with equanimity, grace and calm.
That, my dears, is yoga in action.
After rocking the vote,
come rock some asana.
A little Poe humor I simply could not resist.
Plus, I adore ravens. Their impudence even, maybe especially.
Ravens are fascinating and ancient symbols.
The mythical Norse God, Odin, was often depicted with two ravens
- Huginn (Old Norse for thought)
and Muninn (for memory or mind).
Odin would set them free to soar overland
returning with wisdom to whisper in his ears.
Huggin and Muninn represented both an active search for knowledge
and an intuitive ferreting of understanding.
We need both.
Carl Jung had the raven represent our shadow selves,
the dark sides of our psyches.
For it is in embracing both the light and dark side of our selves
that we glean true inner wisdom,
seeing our secret impulses clearly enough to elucidate our possibilities.
I like to imagine myself a raven queen,
sending both my inquisitive and intuitive ravens out to scour the landscape
returning with knowledge for me to divine and ponder.
Cast your own ravens out into your world
and then come to the mat.
I've lived in my house for over a quarter of a century now.
This week, I'm alone inside of it
pondering the work of happiness.
The Work of Happiness by May Sarton
I thought of happiness, how it is woven
Out of the silence in the empty house each day
And how it is not sudden and it is not given
But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.
No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark
Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.
No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,
But the tree is lifted by this inward work
And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.
So happiness is woven out of the peace of hours
And strikes its roots deep in the house alone:
The old chest in the corner, cool waxed floors,
White curtains softly and continually blown
As the free air moves quietly about the room;
A shelf of books, a table, and the white-washed wall -
These are the dear familiar gods of home,
And here the work of faith can best be done,
The growing tree is green and musical
For what is happiness but growth in peace,
The timeless sense of time when furniture
Has stood a life's span in a single place,
And as the air moves, so the old dreams stir
The shining leaves of present happiness?
No one has heard thought or listened to a mind,
But where people have lived in inwardness
The air is charged with blessing and does bless;
Windows look out on mountains and the walls are kind.
Come to practice where we together
charge the air with blessing.
The heart's electromagnetic field transmits coding throughout our bodies.
Recent research from the HeartMath Institute indicates that intentionally generating
positive thoughts and emotions can actually alter this coding.
UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb offers four practical steps for healing your heart.
Just the act of pondering what to be grateful for
provides your brain a little shot of serotonin - an antidepressant.
Name your emotions.
Whatever it is that you are feeling, give it a name.
MRI studies show that consciously recognizing an emotion reduces its impact.
Yogis and meditators have been doing this for centuries.
The more one resists an emotion, the more it persists.
Naming it gives up the resistance and gives permission for processing and release.
Walk in purposeful choices.
When fraught or distraught, be a purposeful chooser.
There's power to be found in the distinction of choice.
Give and receive touch.
We are creatures that respond to, and long for, touch.
Or get a massage, which boosts serotonin by as much as 30 percent.
Do just two of these things today.
Then love yourself to practice.
So, Shantideva was an 8th century Indian Buddhist monk
who, interestingly, has some wise counsel for us
in the autumn of 2016.
"Shantideva says a lot about our mindset.
The mindset of friend and foe.
Like and dislike. For me and against me.
And how that very mechanism of buying so tightly
into this notion of the good people and the bad people
-the ones that I like and the ones I don't like-
and how we get so invested in this
and how this is the kindling or the fuel
for anger and aggression to escalate."
-excerpted from Don't Bite the Hook by Pema Chodron
Just to be clear, I in no way have this down.
An old Poli Sci major with an opinion about everything,
this yogi is doing her best to inhabit calm
and know that all is well.
But I don't think I'm the only one
finding her stomach in knots listening to a debate,
recognizing not only how quick I am to vilify
but how comfortable I am habitually stoking the kindling!
Let's be mindful, dears.
Aware, yes. Awake, yes. But, compassionate too.
To others, and to ourselves.
And maybe choosing not to add fuel to the fire,
for our own sake's and for the world's.
Come to practice
where everyone is awesome.
a watercolor of Jane Austen by her sister Cassandra 1804
"An interval of meditation,
serious and grateful,
was the best corrective of anything dangerous."
- Persuasion by Jane Austen
Even a century hence.
Let us follow this advice, dear yogis.
I love the simplicity of this message
and the spare two adjectives:
serious and grateful.
Simply generating that emotional posture
lengthens my spine and opens my heart.
A single moment of ten breaths
when done with intention
does a meditation make.
Who knew it was that easy
to turn your attitude around?
Come to the mat.
Oh my dears, at last.
It seems autumn is nigh.
There's something magical about the change of seasons.
There's something powerful about the possibility of starting over.
The autumnal equinox brings us balance of light and dark,
and marks a shift of turning inwards towards winter.
Remember transformation requires both light and darkness.
It is in darkness we can find the solace of silent nurturing,
and the slow gestation that births something new.
I know many a yogi who at present feels as though
she is stumbling through some yet to be understood transformation.
for the winds of change,
whether they be gentle
or a little unnerving.
And know we're here for each other.
Come to practice steadfastness.
You don't have to follow these exacting rules
or even have a perfect brush.
A folded up washcloth will do the trick nicely.
I use a small round brush that fits snugly into my palm.
For, as a yogi, you may not even need a long handle
to reach all your lovely places.
I dry brush whenever I need a little pickup.
It makes you feel so awake!
Like all your bits, inside and out,
are squealing "yipee!!"
Then bring your lymphatically fluid self
to the mat.
To really change the person that you are,
you have to make a deep change in the pattern of your body.
Because of the sustained stretch in many yoga poses,
you change the pattern of the fascia,
and get down to chronic tension patterns.
This can lead to a wonderful emotional unfolding over time.
-Tom Meyers, "Anatomy Trains"
I'm not terribly interested in changing the person that you are;
I find you dears to be absolutely splendid.
But one thing that continues to fascinate me
teaching yoga all these years
is the way people notice their yoga practice
unfolding subtle changes in their emotional lives.
Undoing is one of my favorite words, and actions.
Moving on the mat, working into that fascia,
the connective tissue that holds you all together
and tends to settle tight into habitual postures,
helps us to release held experience, emotions, judgment,
and their limiting consequences.
Come get free.
At the heart of a sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger
and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about.
The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand
and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so.
The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult:
if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worthy of one.
We should add: it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk;
it means the other person respects and trusts us enough
to think we should understand their unspoken hurt.
It is one of the odder gifts of love.
-Alain de Botton
When I was much younger,
I was an accomplished sulker.
Just ask my mom.
I think there's something quite lovely and upside down
about this idea of a sulk as an odd gift of love.
Life is full of many such opportunities to pause before reaction,
turn around the behavior of others in your hands with curiosity,
and perhaps engage with difficulty as opportunity,
just one of many odd gifts with which to practice love.
We're all on this journey together, dears.
Come share a yoga practice.
In the way we practice, we don't say,
"Hell is bad and heaven is good" or
"Get rid of hell and just seek heaven,"
but we encourage ourselves to develop an open heart
and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything.
Because only then can we realize that no matter what comes along,
we're always standing at the center of the world
in the middle of sacred space,
and everything that comes into that circle
and exists with us there
has come to teach us what we need to know.
-Pema Chodron from The Wisdom of No Escape
This is a huge paradigm shift for a girl raised
in the simplistic consciousness of Christian fundamentalism.
But in creating this type of spaciousness inside and out,
it's much more possible to live and move
both with and through grace.
Come practice on the mat.
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.
I'm very interested in this conversation
-the conversation between what we love to do and how we love to be.
Perhaps a yoga practice can articulate this precisely.
Your savasana awaits.
An inspiration is a happy moment that takes us by surprise.
And when we're not covered up with busy thoughts,
these moments are everywhere just waiting for us.
Inspiration is not to be controlled, but rather surrendered to.
It may be simpler than we think.
Young children have more time in which they are untroubled than adults.
They have therefore more inspirations than adults.
The moments of inspiration added together make what we refer to as sensibility
- defined in the dictionary as "response to higher feelings."
The development of sensibility is the most important thing
for children and adults alike, but is much more possible for children.
What is the experience of the small child in the dirt?
He suddenly feels happy, rolls in the dirt probably, feels free, laughs and runs and falls.
His face is shining...
"The feeling was extraordinary" is the way in which many adults describe moments of inspiration.
Although they have had them all their lives they never really recall them and are always taken by surprise.
Adults are very busy, taught to run all the time.
You cannot run and be very aware of your inspirations.
- artist Agnes Martin
Slow down, find inspirations
maybe on the mat.
I'm not much for before/after photos; striving towards a goal is not my thing.
But this one inspires me.
This is a grandmother in Arizona who spent a year practicing yoga.
Check out the decrease in her kyphotic posture.
Pretty amazing stuff.
This must be one dedicated yogi with a consistent practice.
And if the Pokemon Go craze keeps up,
there may be a lot more before pictures in much younger spines.
I did a little reading on bone facts from
The National Center for Biotechnology Information.
We know that bones are living structures
constantly being made and remade throughout a lifetime.
But check this:
most of the adult skeleton is replaced about every 10 years.
As yogis, we know how malleable our present structures are,
responding to habitual patterns and postures.
The possibility of constant recreation is powerful.
Stand up straight, kids.
And bring it to the mat.
We're moving towards a shiny full moon this week.
Cultures around the world regard the moon
as a manifestation of the divine feminine force in nature.
In yoga, we seek to balance the solar and lunar energies in our bodies.
In sun salutations, we draw upon the active, warm energy of the sun,
and through the postures create heat and power from the inside out.
It's just as important, to honor the cool, soft, introspective side of our being.
Moon salutations help us to do that.
Bring yourself to the mat for some moon salutations this week.
We'll take a cue from that waxing silver orb and get reflective.
When things get shaky, scary, and uncertain,
the world needs yogis being present
and keeping a steady, open heart.
It's tempting to close it, point fingers, debate what's up.
One thing we can do to be of service to all beings
is to be calm
create calm inside
and send it out.
It really does make a difference.
Bring it, yogis.
This is how all this yoga stuff changes your life
and then, the lives of others.
Back at the rise of the Arab Spring in 2011,
I was still teaching ESL here in Nashville.
I was deeply affected by the stark images of people,
particularly women, courageously speaking truth to power.
In my college courses, I was surrounded by Egyptian and Kurdish students
who were living the revolution in real time with families and friends back home.
That's the closest taste of revolution
I've vicariously known in my own sheltered existence.
Revolution - in search of freedom.
There's something powerful and delightfully unsettling about turning things over.
Whether it's a corrupt government that doesn't benefit its own people,
a personal belief system that no longer feels true in your bones,
or a set of cultural expectations that you've allowed to define your trajectory.
Any revolution you'd like to instigate in your own life?
Then find your freedom on the mat.
The world can seem a scary place.
While some of us struggle with palpable episodic anxiety,
others may discover themselves harboring
an unconscious yet pervasive low grade anxiety.
Yoga is all about the practice of keenly noticing.
Anxiety diminishes us
leaving little room for openness or possibility.
We can release it.
Anxiety unleashes fear, granting permission
to judge and criticize ourselves.
Or even blame each other for our own shortcomings.
We can choose differently.
Anxiety gives us an excuse not to show up and do the work,
whatever that work might be.
Anxiety feeds into the familiar delusion
that things must be a particular way in order to be happy,
We can find our own power.
Instead, we could focus on what we can create
through our presence, our process, and our intentions.
There's a reason I like to offer the chance to set an intention
at the beginning of our yoga practice each week.
When we bring our raw and honest intention to the mat,
a kind of undoing begins.
The false fears fall away.
That's when the magic starts.
"When you love something like reading
- or drawing or music or nature -
it surrounds you with a sense of connection
to something great.
If you are lucky enough to know this,
then your search for meaning
involves whatever that Something is.
It's an alchemical blend of affinity and focus
that takes us to a place within
that feels as close as we ever get to "home."
It's like pulling into our own train station
after a long trip - joy, relief, a pleasant exhaustion."
~ Anne Lamott
For more than a few of us,
I know our yoga practice is that alchemical blend of affinity and focus
that takes us deep inside to our own sense of home.
I hear this from you guys all the time.
Whether it's your mat finding itself in a new room or a new country.
Come slip into that pleasant exhaustion.
As yogis, part of our practice
is to remain open
to what is happening around us.
While we often can't change outcomes
or take away pain or undo tragedy,
we can remain soft,
creating space around the sorrow of others.
We can refrain from turning away or distracting ourselves.
We can generate compassion,
spark loving kindness,
work to inspire openhearted tolerance, and
foster fellow feeling and empathy one for another.
Let's send out a little more love this week, yogis.
The world could use it.
Bring your sweet self to the circle
where everyone is welcome.
Alice Walker shared a simple but powerful personal practice.
She purposely takes note of when things are going well in her life,
when she appreciates something, feels gratitude,
or there's something good - minor or major.
Walker said, "I think it's important to note it and actually say to yourself,
'This is wonderful,' or 'I like this,' or 'I'm feeling happy right now.'"
A smile crosses your face
and you actually let it be like sunshine through your whole body.
She said, "Otherwise, at the end of the day, all I remember are the bad things."
If we do make special note of the good bits,
they really will stand out a little more when recalling the day.
There's something sweet and simple in actually making these acknowledgments.
It becomes a practice of effortless gratitude just through noticing.
It could be a silent statement to yourself or an out loud little leap.
For me, it's kissing the blue hydrangeas just outside my door that actually bloomed (!) this year.
It's giving a little yip when I have four whole hours all to myself to while away as I will.
It's the tiny hurrah when I take the time to bake something that turns out splendidly.
Or that blissful rest in savasana after a deep practice where I feel all is right in the world.
Hearing your own voice proclaim,
"I am happy!" is powerful medicine, yogis.
Extra credit if you do this in yoga practice.
Children, everybody, here's what to do during war:
In a time of destruction, create something.
A moral principle.
One peaceful moment.
- Maxine Hong Kingston
Whenever we remember or honor those who fight in war,
as we did this Memorial Day,
it's also worth pondering our responsibility to the world.
Come create some beauty, a bit of calm, stillness.
Come create some equanimity to take with you
off the mat and into our world.
Sparse words speak powerful truth.
Lately, I've found myself sitting with this,
moving forward in admittedly tiny steps.
The fallen bird on my doorstep Saturday? All compassion- no problem.
Those churning out political rhetoric that offends me? Not so easy.
At heart, it's practicing turning down the Taunia's indefatigable opinion volume
and creating some internal space for difference, understanding, and compassion.
Again, not so easy. Tiny steps.
The idea of the "other" seems particularly loaded in our present moment.
It's used to isolate, to differentiate,
and interestingly, most often stems out of fear.
As yogis, the expansiveness we create in our practice
can work off our mat out into the world.
Tiny steps. Powerful truths.
Last night, I heard a yoga teacher say,
"The energy of your breath is precisely the same energy of the whole universe."
Let's find each other on the mat.
I've excerpted an essay by Erica Winters that addresses one of my favorite poses.
Read. Believe. And do!
My inner dialogue goes something like this:
What's that, dear teacher? You want me to do just one more vinyasa?
Tempting...but there's no way in hell I'm going to do that.
Nope, I'm just going to drop to my knees and take a little Child's Pose
while all those other suckers-I mean beautiful beings-work up a sweat.
Feel free to notice how completely exhausted and overworked I am, teacher,
and make your way over here to give me that adjustment where you push
just a little bit on my hips-I know you know the one.
It makes my low back feel soo good. I'll just wait right here
while you finish saying Chaturanga, Up-Dog, Down Dog
for the 14,000th time today (not that I was counting or anything)...
It's my practice, my me time, my rules.
I won't let it be ruined by doing a single yoga pose
that doesn't feel good in my body at that moment.
And neither should you.
1. Something feels a little funny, off, or just not right.
Maybe you can't put your finger on why, but when something feels a little wrong in your body,
it's usually your body sending a signal that, for whatever reason, it's not a good idea.
It's important to pay attention to those signals-in fact, I would argue that
learning to really listen to your body's cues is one of the most important things
we can learn from our asana practice.
Do deep backbends feel a little constricted and just plain weird today
when they're usually a joyful, delicious experience?
Skip them. Do something else.
And if you're not sure what else to do (or there's not time to ask your teacher to help you modify),
just head into Child's Pose! Maybe those backbends will feel great tomorrow.
Or maybe in a few week's you'll get a positive pregnancy test or get a diagnosis at your doctor
and it will suddenly make so much sense.
Always listen, trust, and adjust based on your body's cues
-whether it makes sense in the moment or not.
2. You're nursing an injury or have a known medical condition,
and you know the pose your teacher is asking you to do won't be beneficial.
While there's usually a great pose modification for most poses,
if you're not sure what that is in the moment Child's Pose is a safe bet.
3. You're feeling tired, hot, uncomfortable, p*ssed off, or suddenly sad.
Asanas have the uncanny ability to bring out all of the emotions.
In fact, a lot of the yoga postures are designed to get you a little "hot and bothered."
After all, we're training for life here and life isn't always a walk through the park
on a lovely Spring day. Sometimes life sucks.
Asanas are also designed to work your muscles, build strength,
and take you out of your body's patterns.
That's hard work and it can leave you feeling shaky and just plain tired.
There are times that we should push ourselves-at least a little-
through the exhaustion (physical and mental), the shaky muscles,
and the emotions that often come along with the territory.
There are other times when it can all get just a little bit too intense. What do do you then?
Well, I know what I do-Child's Pose!
It's not giving up; it's taking a step back, reassessing,
and coming back to deal with it when you're ready.
There's nothing wrong with that.
Come hone your inner noticer.
That's pretty much what this whole yoga thing is about.
I turned my back for just a moment,
and the maple and poplars in my backyard leafed out completely.
Now, lying beneath them is the best part of my day.
When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
" and you too have come
into the world to do this,
to go easy,
to be filled with light,
and to shine. "
Come make like a tree in our yoga practice this week.
A research study from Johns Hopkins reported that
nearly 20 percent of people in their 40s
cannot stand completely still on a flat foam surface
with their eyes closed for 30 seconds
-a classic test of balance. Yikes!
The bad news:
Balance begins deteriorating in your 30s,
and that degeneration is compounded by
the vast amount of time we spend sitting.
"When you're sitting, you're not engaging your core,
and those muscles,
along with the ones in your ankles and lower legs,
are what keep you upright and stable,"
says neurologist Helen Bronte-Stewart, M.D.
Holding yourself steady requires a complex coordination
between the vestibular system, proprioceptors
(those magic GPS-like sensors in your muscles
sending rapid info to the brain as to your body's position),
Another integral and powerful piece
in holding your balance is concentrated focus.
The good news:
Yogis hone balance constantly by
and building body awareness and response.
In this excerpt from "The Brain Tumor as Zen Master"
Adrienne Brodeur explains how the unexpected diagnosis
of a benign brain tumor changed her life in unexpected ways.
With a malfunctioning vestibular system, I have to rely
more heavily on inputs from the other two systems:
proprioception and vision, to keep myself upright.
I find myself in precarious situations when one of those
becomes compromised, too, as happens when the ground
becomes unstable beneath my feet or when I shut my eyes.
In a nanosecond, my equilibrium is gone, along with any
awareness of how my body is situated in space.
In the shower, if I spend a moment concentrating on the porcelain
under my feet, it somehow activates my powers of proprioception
and prompts my brain to keep my body upright.
Stay standing, I tell myself.
When I bend over to kiss my children good night,
I now put a hand on the bedpost as a reference point
and my body maintains its gravitational bearings.
The improbable consequence of my dodgy equilibrium
is that it has forced me to lead a slower, more present,
and - dare I say it? - more balanced existence.
In this way, my brain tumor has emerged as a tiny Zen master.
Everything about it - from the intermittent fear it engenders,
to the M.R.I.s it requires, to my daily struggle for physical balance
has made achieving that other kind of balance, inner balance, more possible.
I can no longer coast through my daily life multitasking as I go:
reading headlines as I walk, looking both ways as I dash across the street,
showing up for good-night kisses,
but being absent all the same.
I found this essay compelling,
and it inspired me to go a little slower,
awakened to sensation and the space around me.
This creates a clearer space for more deliberate observations
and lends a meditative approach to the simplest tasks.
Try it, dear yogi
and be completely present
in your everyday life,
even if only for a single endeavor.
illustration by Jillian Nicol
Malasana, or squat pose, is not the most natural shape for Westerners.
We spend way too much time sitting in chairs and sofas
with a rounded, tucked tailbone and collapsed spine.
What we're really looking for in squat
is a shape where the tailbone shoots straight to earth.
For that matter, we're looking for this in every day sitting
- tailbone heavy and sitting bones grounded.
Awesome posture results pretty naturally from there,
and your pelvic floor is able to find its full length and stretch.
You can see why this asana aids digestion and elimination.
As the pelvis descends, we generate apana vayu,
downward energy which eliminates wastes and clears the mind.
Squat is a brilliant pose for grounding and generating calm,
for toning the entire lower body, opening hips,
and for strengthening the lower back and core.
Fit some squats into normal life, dears!
Your body will thank you.
One of the fun parts of a weekend getaway
is discovering a new place to practice yoga.
When scanning teacher bios from studios in Chattanooga,
I stumbled on this:
WHY I PRACTICE:
I don't practice Yoga because I'm good or disciplined.
I don't practice because I'm righteous or virtuous.
I certainly don't practice because I'm perfect or peaceful.
Nor do I practice to impress or prove some inane point
about my wonderful brilliant sparkly shininess.
I practice because without practice, I'm a hot mess.
So, we woke up a little earlier on Saturday morning
and headed to catch Jonathan's hatha flow class.
We found a large, fit dude in light blue skeleton leggings
featuring anatomical white bone structure front and back.
He led us through a simple, grounded class
that felt safe, sweet, and sure.
But my favorite part was hearing this southern man
earnestly call from the back of the room,
while surveying us in ardha chandrasana,
"I am so proud of y'all!"
He really was.
And you felt it.
Yoga makes you feel good.
And good yoga people make you feel even better.
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.
We went to church on Easter Sunday
to be in one of the most beautiful spaces in Nashville.
Our old Episcopal cathedral downtown, Christ Church,
all wood and stone, full of musicians and angelic voices.
Whenever I'm in this holy place, everything becomes asana.
How I stand with a prayer book in my hand.
How I breathe the chant and music down my spine.
How I kneel during the prayers for communion.
Sunday, I was there on my knees, spine straight.
As the priest went through the familiar words, I spied a young boy
in the middle of a ramrod straight pew of his brothers and sisters.
His knees were on the kneeler, but his entire torso was thrown back
onto the pew in this spectacular heart opening backbend.
Bespectacled eyes wide open gazing at the breathtaking vaulted ceiling.
And I thought "That." That is how it should be.
That is how it feels to be utterly open in wonder,
open to resurrection on an Easter morning
or really any ordinary morning of our lives
where one can be open to possibility,
open to rebirth, open to the process of
continually crafting our own resurrection story
as we are being made new from the inside out.
"Be a resurrection story, in the wild non-denominational sense. I am."
Oh, social media........
where Olivia Laing in The Lonely City - Adventures in the Act of Being Alone
says you can feel eerily like "a spy, carrying out perpetual surveillance."
"You can reach out or you can hide;
you can lurk and you can reveal yourself, curated and refined."
Few of us are immune
to this slightly irksome onus to craft an online presence.
This weekend, the pope joined Instagram.
Yoga teachers are encouraged to Facebook, tweet, Instagram
in efforts to brand themselves, attract students, and make a living.
Hence, the competitive world of the perfect yoga shot,
framed, filtered, and made to make you feel what -
galvanized? envious? inspired? impelled?
We teach the magic is inside,
but a shiny arm balance is tasty eye candy.
In the end, it's simpler than we think.
We are all peculiarly beautiful beings
trying to make our way valiantly through this world,
(a landscape increasingly fabricated in our own minds)
hoping to be seen and heard,
longing ultimately for connection.
Let's create and hold
compassionate and open space for each other
as we stumble along and shine a little in the circle.
Just about every practice, we work in plank pose,
often lowering halfway into chaturanga.
It's a bit of a wicked shape,
but it reaps a myriad of benefits:
(especially in wrists for those with osteoporosis)
-improves mental focus
This simplest of poses builds serious overall body strength
while cultivating equanimity and calm
inside the sturm and drang of effort.
Manifesting your inner strength when challenged,
whether on or off the mat,
is a powerful and informative experience.
Peek at the illustration above to see
all the musculature you'll build in maintaining plank.
We can begin anything we do
-start our day, eat a meal, or walk into a meeting -
with the intention to be open, flexible, and kind.
Then we can proceed with an inquisitive attitude.
As my teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche used to say,
"Live your life as an experiment."
At the end of the activity,
whether we feel we have succeeded or failed in our intention,
we seal the act by thinking of others,
of those who are succeeding and failing all over the world.
We wish that anything we learned in our experiment could also benefit them.
-"Dedicate This Experiment to Others" by Pema Chodron
I love this idea of life lived as an experiment.
It brings a feeling of curiosity, rather than judgment.
Find one challenging experience this week,
one you are anticipating or one that falls upon you,
and try to explore it with this ethos.
Then bring your openness, flexibility, and kindness to the mat
where you can share it with your own deserving self.
Come to the mat
and find this truth inside yourself.
We'll ground ourselves
to grow upwards
into our own strength.
To be honest, I am beginning to find the cold tiresome,
but there is something to be learned from this
"slowed-down season held fast by darkness"
by Patricia Fargnoli
If you have seen the snow
under the lamppost
piled up like a white beaver hat on the picnic table
or somewhere slowly falling
into the brook
to be swallowed by water,
then you have seen beauty
and know it for its transience.
And if you have gone out in the snow
for only the pleasure
of walking barely protected
from the galaxies,
the flakes settling on your parka
like the dust from just-born stars,
the cold waking you
as if from long sleeping,
then you can understand
how, more often than not,
truth is found in silence,
how the natural world comes to you
if you go out to meet it,
its icy ditches filled with dead weeds,
its vacant birdhouses, and dens
full of the sleeping.
But this is the slowed-down season
held fast by darkness
and if no one comes to keep you company
then keep watch over your own solitude.
In that stillness, you will learn
with your whole body
the significance of cold
and the night,
which is otherwise always eluding you.
Then come find the warmth of our circle.
It's a yoga quiz.
Which is the best cobra?
One is extending her lower back by grounding through strong legs with smart arm alignment.
The other is collapsing into her shoulders and crunching her lower back
while thinking about a new color of lip gloss.
Lower backs don't appreciate a lazy cobra.
Be smart and purposeful in your pose.
Here are some tips.
(I love the one about grounding the pinky toes.
Such internal leg rotation subtly opens the sacrum
creating even more space in the lower back!)
(knee caps aren't necessarily lifting off the floor, just lifting up towards thighs)
Come make like a snake on the mat this week.
While it's easy to get hooked by some of the visual extremes in yoga,
the true practice is all about moderation.
Finding that middle place where you can hold your seat
while moving towards your edge.
A wise yogi allows her breath to serve as an intermediary
shining light on where to move deeper, where to hold back.
Sometimes ego raises her voice. (Just tell her to pipe down.)
The more we practice, the wiser we become,
and our bodies feel more respected, and in turn grateful.
It becomes a sweet feedback loop.
My hope is a yoga class is a place where your body
feels loved, heard, a little challenged, a lot opened,
a bit undone, and in the process put back together more whole.
This week, we'll practice samatva, meaning "balance" or "evenness".
Samatva is an evenness of mind and action,
an evenness of striving and of letting go.
It is effort and surrender in equal measure.
It can take practice to find that sweet spot.
Come start on the mat.
There's something wonderful about the city shutting down for a few days.
Isn't it stunning how a blanket of snow quiets everything?
How being prevented from constant doing enables simple being?
I hope that you, too, found some respite during this southern snow sequester.
One thing I'm finding from yogis this week is a need to move!
Cold constricts. We draw in. We close up.
Nothing feels better than to open, stretch, and unfold.
Drink in this week's sunlight
and come disentangle.
I recently read cardiac specialist Dr. Kathy Magliato explaining how to hold a heart.
While it's doubtful I'll need the logistical guidance she offered,
one observation did strike me.
In describing her first experience holding a heart as a surgical resident,
she remembered it as markedly different than holding any other organ.
She was enthralled by its magnetism,
and wrapping her hands around it was overcome with a sense of calm.
This puts me in mind of heart transplant stories
that seem to support the radical notion of cellular memory theory.
One thing we do know to be true - the heart is a powerful place.
It has an electromagnetic field 60 times stronger in amplitude than that of the brain
and can be detected and measured feet away from the body itself.
And the heart is responsive to entrainment,
a process where independent systems interact and sync up.
If you've ever been around a highly evolved person, you may be able to sense this.
I recall being in the presence of two monks; their calm hearts were palpable to me.
I felt my own breathing slowly calm, my mind steady and clear.
This. Pay attention, I told myself.
Recognize the amazing power of your own heart.
Let's bring our hearts into the same space.
Find our breath and practice together.
I find it powerful to see yoga in practice in real life situations,
especially off the mat, when things aren't optimal or easy.
Take some inspiration from this yogi.
Tommy Valencia is a gentleman, warrior, yogi, and inspiration,
who had his leg amputated 2 years ago due to several blood clots in his left leg.
"Yoga allows me the opportunity to not only physically move,
but to improve and purify my mind and
address the moral and ethical components of yoga," he says.
"This has opened me to be awake and
neutralize negative situations over long periods.
I feel I'm moving toward a harmonious state of being."
Let's practice waking up together
moving truer and deeper
within our own physical or emotional challenges.
The greatest discovery of my generation
is that human beings can alter their lives
by altering their attitudes of mind.
- William James
Here we go, yogis.
Diving into a brand new year.
I love a clean slate.
I even love New Year resolutions.
Just giving myself the freedom to think:
"Okay, now what do you want to do?"
As I recall, one of 2015's resolutions
was to eat more cake.
Something I'm thinking about for 2016
Looking back at this past year,
I think we need a lot more of it in the world.
Being kind to ourselves seems relevant too.
How you work things out on the mat speaks volumes
as to how you tend to work things out off the mat.
Perhaps you could start the new year noticing
how you speak to yourself on the mat, deep inside your own practice.
This is a sacred space to hone what we send into the world.
As James reminds us, we are powerful beings.
We can actually cultivate an attitude that works bit by bit to alter our lives
and in turn the lives of those we touch.
Let's find each other again
in this happy and new year.
you hear this word bandied about a lot lately.
Well, I'm all about real world application.
It's easy (mostly) to find internal stillness and awareness on the yoga mat.
How about in a top heavy car with urbane woodland animals?
Well, take a clue from this pissed porcupine:
As the mouse says, meditation won't
render your life a nonstop parade of unicorns and rainbows.
Neither will yoga.
But you will learn to notice, be still, choose to act, rather than react.
On, and ultimately even off, the mat.
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.
This occurred to me this Thanksgiving.
I feel incredibly fortunate to find myself surrounded by yogis.
We're all beautifully peculiar in our own way,
but we share a common intention
to see clearly, open our hearts wide,
grow strong and true, and support one another
as we're all in this process of becoming.
Every time we step into the circle to practice,
I feel at home.
I love to hear your friendly conversation,
see your care and enjoyment of one another,
and feel the sacred space we hold for each other.
Let's find each other again
on the mat.
You know the bit where you go around the Thanksgiving table
and share what you're thankful for?
Sometimes it can seem like playacting,
especially if life doesn't feel so awesome at the moment.
But there's something to it, a scientific something in fact.
FMRI studies have uncovered a neural consequence of thanksgiving.
(see link for the Cerebral Cortex study here)
Apparently, generating gratitude stimulates the stress regulating hypothalamus
and activates the pleasure producing reward circuitry in our brains.
It's also been proven that expressing gratitude
brings out the best in those around us.
It's hard to stay cranky when fully experiencing, sharing, or receiving the gratitude of another.
You know what I'm thankful for?
Thank you for trusting me with your sweet self
and sharing your yoga practice with me each week.
My life would be less awesome without you.
Sometimes the world seems vast and unknowable to me;
sometimes it seems small, interconnected, and vulnerable.
This weekend, both seemed true.
Here's what you need to do, since time began:
find something - diamond-rare or carbon-cheap,
it's all the same - and love it all you can.
It should be something close - a field, a man,
a line of verse, a mouth, a child asleep -
that feels like the world's heart since time began.
Don't measure much or lay things out or scan;
don't save yourself for later, you won't keep;
spend yourself now on loving all you can.
It's going to hurt. That was the risk you ran
with your first breath; you knew the price was steep,
that loss is what there is, since time began
subtracting from your balance. That's the plan,
too late to quibble now, you're in too deep.
Just love what you still have, while you still can.
Don't count on schemes, it's far too short a span
from the first sowing till they come to reap.
One way alone to count, since time began:
love something, love it hard, now, while you can.
"Guidelines" by Rhina Espaillat
Bring your sweet self
to the warmth of the circle
Don't get me started about how life in my hometown is changing.
I often find myself asking "Just who are all these people?"
most often when I'm snaking my way to a yoga practice
praying desperately not to be late.
At these moments, I realize my yoga practice has already begun.
I love this advice from Pema Chodron:
If you can practice patience in the traffic jam
with a sense of humor approach
or whatever approach you want to use,
you are training for really major difficulties in your life.
So, it sounds silly, but actually, it's true.
If you're sowing seeds of aggression in the traffic jam,
then you're actually perfecting the aggression habit.
And if you're using your sense of humor
and your loving-kindness or whatever it is you do,
then you're sowing those kinds of seeds
and strengthening those kinds of mental habits;
you're imprinting those kind of things in your unconscious.
So, the choice is really ours every time we're in a traffic jam.
excerpted from "Reframing Our Attitude toward Discomfort"
Take heart, dear yogis.
You'll get there when you get there.
And as long as you arrive before savasana,
it's never too late to arrive to our yoga practice.
This week began with All Saints Day.
A holiday observed in different forms in different faith practices,
at essence it's a time to remember saints, known and unknown.
This week also marks a change of season,
a turning within towards the darkness of coming winter.
It's a fertile time to look inwards
and with gratitude recall those
who have served as saints in our own lives,
guides or models towards our highest selves.
Our English word saint literally means "holy."
We all strive to be bodhisattvas of a sort,
those who are moved by compassion to walk a higher path,
to serve others, to move towards rather than away from holiness.
Come join our own motley circle of saints
in the circle each week.
I'll be blazingly honest here.
These are hard truths for me.
There is a good bit of yogic philosophy that feels natural to me
feels true, light, and freeing.
This non-attachment business? Not so much...
I am a terribly nostalgic girl, who loves nothing better
than for all to stay just the way I've known it,
just the way I like it.
My yoga practice is helping me with this, slowly.
I've been practicing pretty diligently for seventeen years now,
and may I report that this week I did not have a breakdown
in the Verizon store when I was forced to change
to a new, unwanted cellphone?
Likewise, I did not go to pieces when my favorite vegan cafe,
blocks from my back door, suddenly shuttered this weekend,
leaving me bereft of treats and sustenance.
I know. Pitiful whining of an entitled consumer,
but this is progress in my shifting day to day experience
of first world problems, dear yogis.
When I said slowly, I meant slowly.
Come, as you are,
maybe a teeny bit less than fully realized
and bring it to the mat.
by Hannah Stephenson
If you stand at the edge of the forest
and stare into it
every tree at the edge will blow a little extra
oxygen toward you
It has been proven
Leaves have admitted it
The pines I have known
have been especially candid
that all breath in this world
is roped together
that breathing is
the most ancient language
There's something magical
about the simplicity
of the breath.
Come share this ancient language
[And disappear into a Nashville forest
when you can..... maybe today?
..... because your mom might not be around to say it,
I'm taking on the responsibility to relay this message.
We're swirling into a new season
and it's easy to lose sight of yourself in the process.
Be sweet to yourself,
That could involve
joining the circle for practice.
In samsara we continually try to get away from pain by seeking pleasure,
and in doing so, we just keep going around and around.
I'm so hot I open all the windows,
and then I'm so cold I put on a sweater.
Then it itches, so I put cream on my arms,
and then that's sticky, so I go take a bath,
and on and on.
I'm lonely, so I get married,
and then I'm always fighting with my husband or my wife,
so I start another love affair,
and then my wife or husband threatens to leave me
and I'm caught in the confusion of what to do next.
We are always trying to get out of the boiling pot
into some kind of coolness,
always trying to escape and therefore
never really fully settling down and appreciating.
That's called samsara.
In other words, somehow we have this preference for occurrence,
so we're always working in that framework of
trying to get comfortable through political beliefs
and philosophies and religions and everything,
trying to gain pleasure in all that occurs.
-The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chodron
I find this absolutely fascinating
and, I must admit, absolutely true.
Our yoga practice is about learning to stay.
Learning how to stay and notice.
Not always seeking "occurrence" or sensation
or even mastery, [pause. let that sink in]
but finding the stillness to simply see what is
in the moment of asana,
Practice seeing what is and holding the space.
So, I've been reading some British educators
writing on embodied cognition and interoceptive awareness.
I'm not smart enough yet to write intelligently about these ideas,
but the long reading hours of winter are coming, so stay tuned.
One thing that did stick with me is this simple statement:
"You can't take a whirlpool home in a bucket"
- it might look like an object but it is dependent on its situation,
it is a part of things that are happening around it
and they are a part of it - the repercussions, reactions,
sparking of ideas bouncing around like a pinball game.
This articulates one of the reasons we come together to practice yoga.
It is, of course, of immense value to form asanas in your own body
to breathe, notice, move, and stay still in the solitude of your own practice.
But there really is something significant that sparks
when we pool our intention together, in one space and time.
It is a bit like a magical whirlpool.
Come step into the circle.
You are a vital element.
"A hundred times every day
I remind myself that my inner and outer life
depend on the labors of other men, living and dead,
and that I must exert myself
in order to give in the same measure
as I have received and am still receiving."
~ Albert Einstein
It is a bit stunning to realize
how every bit of our lives
is dependent upon the work of others.
It inspires us to generate gratitude
and recognize that we are part of this wondrous web
of give and take
atop this spinning planet.
Giving with compassion.
Receiving with gratitude.
It makes it all the richer.
Hope it was a restful Labor Day.
Come join your fellow yogis
on the mat.
from the repetitive loops of the mind
from the emotions held tight in the body
from the simple tension of a long Wednesday
spent as a vulnerable being moving through this spinning world.
Hope to see you on the mat this week.
Studies from the National Institutes of Health
find that "earthing" [walking barefoot on the earth]
yields multiple health benefits.
By physically connecting with the earth,
we can draw its energy, naturally occurring electrons, into the body.
I know this sounds a little woo woo, but it's real stuff
working as a powerful antioxidant, with anti-inflammatory effects
helping to regulate the endocrine and nervous systems.
The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine
found that earthing increases the surface charge of red blood cells
thus decreasing blood viscosity.
This sounds like a much happier approach
than a daily aspirin for blood thinning.
[data nerds: find links below]
So yogis, lose your shoes.
Pad around in the back yard
or in the park beneath some trees
in this beautiful, late summer.
Then bring those feet
to the mat!
excerpted from NYT blog by Jane Brody
"Rethinking Exercise as a Source of Immediate Rewards"
Though it seems counterintuitive, studies have shown
that people whose goals are weight loss and better health
tend to spend the least amount of time exercising.
Rather, immediate rewards that enhance daily life
- more energy, a better mood, less stress and
more opportunity to connect with friends and family -
offer far more motivation, says Dr. Michelle Segar of
The Sport, Health and Activity Research and Policy Center
at the University of Michigan.
"I like to think of physical activity as a way
to revitalize and renew ourselves,
as fuel to better enjoy and succeed at what matters most."
Citing a "paradox of self-care," Dr. Segar wrote,
"The more energy you give to caring for yourself,
the more energy you have for everything else."
She suggests viewing physical activity as a power source
for everything else you want to accomplish.
"What sustains us, we sustain."
This reflects what I often hear from yogis.
The sacred hour they spend on the mat
creates a reliable inner source of power
to draw upon when off the mat.
Whether it's seconds before a birthday blowout,
the moment you see a shooting star,
or that quick wish before whisking an eyelash away,
it doesn't really matter if your dream comes true.
All that matters is that you're suddenly forced to stop,
slow down, and take a step back to think about where you are,
how you're doing, and what you need.
For a brief moment you stand still in this spinning world
and let your thoughts wash right over you.
So wish for a kiss, wish for a wedding, wish for a bike,
or just wish for more.
-Neil Pasricha, 1000 Awesome Things
I love birthday wishes, and I see parallels here.
You know when we stop to get still before practicing?
We pause to notice, to see exactly where we are.
Taking a moment to pay attention to our body
and what it's revealing to us,
possibly for the first time all day.
We step outside the machinations of the mind
in order to actually observe its state.
We get honest and clear about what's up with our emotions.
Hopefully, we're not judging these qualities
but just seeing and acknowledging them.
It's vitally important to be seen.
Only then can we set our intention for practice.
Maybe it's to tap into strength,
or to bring ease into your practice.
Maybe it's to create precision,
or to learn to let go a little more.
Maybe it's to introduce friendliness
rather than criticism towards yourself.
Find lightness. Get grounded.
Or simply be completely present.
Your intention is completely your own,
peculiar to each day and each time you step on the mat.
Imagine! A birthday wish every practice!
Traditions all over the world offer contemplative practices.
Slipping contemplative practices into daily life
helps us find connection with what we find most meaningful,
loosing us from distraction and reaction
to find solace and inner quiet right in the midst of our busy life.
Science has discovered that such practices
improve our concentration and focus,
foster powers of empathy and communication,
reduce stress and even heighten creativity.
I love this tree image from The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.
It opens up the box of what you might imagine as a contemplative action.
And even this collection is far from exhaustive.
I wonder what you would add.
For me, yoga leafs out not only from the movement branch
but the creative - as I move in and out of flowing sequences
activist - when cajoling bodies totally new to yoga
relational - particularly when I craft practices for private clients
stillness - both internally and externally
generative - when I give and receive energy from our circle (my favorite!)
and perhaps most importantly,
ritual - the moment I step onto the sacred space of my mat
to find myself inside of my practice
(a lifesaver in more than one rocky moment of my life).
Here's wishing you some contemplative space this week,
on or off the mat.
What do we live for,
if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?
-George Eliot, Middlemarch
It has been an auspicious week for love in this country.
I have friends who have worked determinedly for marriage equality,
those who will at last share in its benefits,
and some who are dazed and discomfited at the prospect.
I pray we practice holding each other with care
as we allow love and compassion
to grow our perspectives and enlarge our hearts
making room for each and every one.
That's the thing about love,
the further you venture into it, the vaster it becomes.
Walls and conventions can't hold it back.
By its very nature, it's permeable, expansive
and big enough to hold us all.
by Toni Grote
"I have come to the frightening conclusion
that I am the decisive element.
It is my personal approach that creates the climate.
It is my daily mood that makes the weather.
I possess tremendous power to make life miserable or joyous.
I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration,
I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.
In all situations, it is my response
that decides whether a crisis is escalated or de-escalated,
and a person is humanized or de-humanized.
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse.
If we treat people as they ought to be,
we help them become what they are capable of becoming."
~ Haim G. Ginott (1922-1973)
Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers
I stumbled on Haim Ginott's work only recently,
though I wish that instead of James Dobson's The Strong-Willed Child,
which my mother seemed to cling to for dear life (poor woman),
it had been Ginott's Between Parent and Child that gave her solace.
His ideas of mutual dignity and respect between adult and child
speak just as clearly to us in working with all our relationships,
where respect, rather than power, brings us close.
Yoga - on and off the mat, dear ones.
My husband and I are fledgling canoers.
Our first attempt, putting in the Cumberland
at the edge of our East Nashville neighborhood,
served only as early morning entertainment
for the hipsters lazily sipping coffee on the bank
watching us spin helplessly in circles.
The word humbling comes to mind.
Our latest foray was to Greenbrier Lake,
really a motionless, muddy pond of sorts.
We were brilliant!
Other than the beaver dam, the most fascinating spectacle
was to be found in the water lilies.
Of course, I've always read all the yogic pontificating
about lotuses blossoming in the mud.
It's quite remarkable to see in real life
and know that even in the midst of ordinary muck,
(which may include such redneck detritus as discarded Marlboro packs)
the sudden beauty of a single, perfect bloom appears.
The yogic thinking here is this:
We don't bloom despite the mundane rubbish of our lives
but rather because of it.
Our practice isn't about escaping or creating the perfect environment,
it's about learning how to process what life hands us
and even in this,
actually through this,
We know that both density and structure
are important for bone health.
New studies are showing that
the earlier in life you begin a yoga practice,
the greater the benefits for lifetime bone health in both areas.
However, it's never too late, and get this-
we can actually build bone (not just keep it)
through the weight bearing postures of yoga.
Researcher Loren Fishman, MD explains:
"When bone cells get stimulated
through being compressed or twisted or elongated,
they produce more bone mass
until that bone gets strong enough,
to resist the pressure.
Yoga stimulates the bone
with isometric contraction
at almost every conceivable angle
for long periods of time."
He emphasizes that consistency is key.
The more you practice, the stronger your bones,
both in density and in structure.
Calling all faithful yogis.....
come join us.
Twist, compress, and elongate
when you hit the mat.
Psychologists and social behaviorists at the University of California
are publishing new studies about how feelings of awe
serve as the ultimate collective emotion,
motivating us to move beyond self interest
to do things for the greater good.
"In still other studies, we have sought to understand
why awe arouses altruism of different kinds.
One answer is that awe imbues people
with a different sense of themselves,
one that is smaller, more humble and part of something larger.
Our research finds that even brief experiences of awe,
such as being amid beautiful tall trees,
lead people to feel less narcissistic and entitled and more attuned
to the common humanity people share with one another.
In the great balancing act of our social lives,
between the gratification of self-interest and a concern for others,
fleeting experiences of awe redefine the self in terms of the collective,
and orient our actions toward the needs of those around us."
Not that you really need an excuse to gaze up at the stars
or witness the courage and passion of poets, actors or musicians
or to simply breathe in pure sunshine on a blanket in a summer breeze
or any of the peculiar things that bring you unreserved joy and awe.
But sometimes it's nice to be reminded
that the very things that bring us joy
help us to be better people.
It's summer, my dears.
Well, my dears the ubiquitous pose of down dog
presents itself as an opportunity for continual refining.
We've worked before on getting weight out of the shoulders
and back into the hips, thus lengthening the back.
We've worked on externally rotating the shoulders
to broaden and engage all those yummy upper back muscles.
And now, to the hands.
Put this into practice.
If you are engaging muscularly
drawing energy up through your palms and forearms,
these directive points will happen naturally.
And why do we even care?
Your sweet wrists that were not necessarily designed
to bear the full weight of your body
will be both happy and strong
if we take care to mindfully place and engage the hands,
and by extension the shoulders,
in down dog.
Safe. And then strong.
That's what we're going for, yogis.
Sitting in a slightly saccharine Baccalaureate service
at Belmont University this weekend,
listening to a medley of graduate speeches
of lessons learned and dreams achieved,
a courageous young woman stood up
to say that in her studies outside of the classroom
in an African community recovering from genocide and
in Nashville's underbelly aiding sex workers and trafficked victims,
her portrait of God and the church had been completely torn apart.
She was face to face with stories of deeply damaged souls.
She grappled with all the ways the church had failed,
spread homophobia, judgment and fear,
and heaped shame on the already wounded.
She gained an entirely new understanding of suffering
and had to figure out how her faith could work
to hold the hurting and move slowly towards restoration.
Her bracing honesty was the most inspiring thing
I heard all weekend.
Even as grown-ups, it's easy to look away from the difficult world
and instead get wrapped up in our own personal teleology,
finding pat ways to make sense of it all,
falling into judgments as a way to explain the unexplained.
I am inspired anew to realize that my life's work
could simply be this: to lift up, soothe, and love
from where I am in my little corner of the world.
You too, yogi.
Come share in the heart-opening practice of yoga
where we create a bit of that energy every time we circle.
I grew up in this town,
but I came from a family of artists and musicians
where my grandfather's English still bore his French accent.
I was proud that though a Nashvillian, I didn't sound like one.
Fast forward a decade or two.
I took a history class from a southern gentleman
by the name of Lionel Barrett.
A notorious defense attorney in his younger days,
he sounded like a male Eudora Welty in a seersucker suit.
I could listen to him lecture all day.
There was something gentile,
slow and almost romantic in his rhythm.
Now, I love to stumble upon older folk singing their southern ways.
Sometimes, I think of yoga this way.
Like making music with its own peculiar rhythm
- slow and sweet.
Make some music of your own
on the mat this week
or join us in practice
for a flow that swings you to and fro.
Sitting by an open window on a recent warm evening,
I was reading the NYT Book Review in happily crinkling newsprint
wherein the literary executor of W.H. Auden's estate
was pontificating upon the question:
"Should an author's intentions matter?"
He offered this from Auden's prose:
"One is sometimes asked what is meant by a poem.
This is a pseudo question.
The meaning of a poem is the outcome of a dialogue
between the words on the page and
the particular person who is reading it.
The interpretation can only be false
if the reader does not know the contemporary meaning of the words."
Again, I'm struck by the similitude of poetry and yoga.
The meaning of a yoga pose only comes to life
when it finds expression in your body.
While it's important to know the anatomical lexicon of the shape
(that's what yoga teachers are for),
it only finds true substance when you create it with your own breath and limbs.
Your intention and your breath
infuse the asanas with both power and meaning
rendering your practice completely your own.
If you spend a good deal of the day working on a computer, read on.
The muscles rounding your shoulders
and internally rotating the upper arm bones
and the chest muscles drawing the arms and shoulders forward
are overworked and often become tight.
At the same time, the muscles that could externally rotate
the upper arm bones and
the muscles that could stabilize the shoulder blades
and draw them down the back
are under worked and often become weak.
Sitting in a chair, your hips are flexed, so hip flexors are shortened.
This tightening of the hip flexors causes
an arching of your low back and tightening of spinal muscles.
Abdominals and glutes are usually out of commission
providing precious little support for your back at all.
And here's the kicker:
Muscles adapt to habitual postures.
What's a hardworking girl (or dude) to do?
Here's the good news.
Yoga postures reverse these poor habitual habits.
We find the opposite effects
by opening the chest,
lengthening the spine,
and strengthening the muscles that support us.
Find your way to the mat
for some undoing.
We've turned the corner on the spring equinox,
which was accompanied by a super new moon and a full solar eclipse.
This time is rife with new energy,
the unfolding of new intention and change.
I like this:
"If you celebrate your differentness,
the world will, too.
It believes exactly what you tell it
-through the words you use to describe yourself,
the actions you take to care for yourself,
and the choices you make to express yourself.
Tell the world you are one-of-a-kind creation
who came here to experience wonder and spread joy.
(say this part authoritatively in your head)
Expect to be accommodated."
~ Victoria Moran
I don't know about you,
but that's just the kapow! I need
to remember there is no better thing to aspire to
than the authentic, imperfect, peculiar me
who's ready to continue a little transformation
in this burgeoning spring.
Giving myself permission to shed a few things:
aspirations that are not my own,
expectations that don't bring me joy,
and choices that now might need to change.
And, ahem, I do expect to be accommodated.
After my last class of the day, I made my way to Blair School of Music
where I listened to my most favorite cellist in the world, Michael Samis.
He was honoring composers who stood up for human rights.
He played the most sublime Sonata no.2 in A Minor
by Dame Ethel Mary Smyth (1858-1944).
It turns out she was a firecracker
who not only was a renegade female(!) composer of her time
but also a suffragette who penned the anthem of the period.
"Because I have conducted my own operas and love sheep-dogs;
because I generally dress in tweeds, and sometimes,
at winter afternoon concerts, have even conducted in them;
because I was a militant suffragette
and seized a chance of beating time to "The March of the Women"
from the window of my cell in Holloway Prison with a tooth-brush;
because I have written books, spoken speeches, broadcast,
and don't always make sure that my hat is on straight;
for these and other equally pertinent reasons,
in a certain sense I am well known."
Inspiration for us all to step into our strength
use our voice
and be fiercely ourselves.
Closing his eyes, his vision
focused between the eyebrows,
making the in-breath and the out-breath
equal as they pass through his nostrils,
he controls his senses and his mind,
intent upon liberation;
when desire, fear, and anger have left him,
than man is forever free.
-Bhagavad Gita 5:27-28
I'm currently rereading this ancient text
that even American thinker Emerson called
"the first of books...
the voice of an old intelligence which
in another age and climate had pondered
and thus disposed of the same questions which exercise us."
Relevant still, particularly in the practice of yoga.
This simple instruction to watch the breath
offers us the ability to find transcendence
or at the very least, moments of transformation
in our own modern lives.
"Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness.
If you eat an orange in forgetfulness,
caught in your anxiety and sorrow,
the orange is not really there.
But if you bring your mind and body together
to produce true presence,
you can see that the orange is a miracle.
Peel the orange. Smell the fruit.
See the orange blossoms in the orange,
and the rain and the sun that have gone through
the orange blossoms.
The orange tree that has taken several months
to bring this wonder to you.
Put a section in your mouth,
close your mouth mindfully,
and with mindfulness
feel the juice coming out of the orange."
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
So Thich Nhat Hanh is the master when it comes to
bringing mindfulness into the every day.
It's amazing what we can discover when we slow down enough to notice.
To be honest, this particular reflection speaks to me just now
as I'm on week three of no sugars whatsoever.
I fantasize about one day eating an apricot again.
I find my husband's discarded tangerine peel in the sink,
and I pick it up and smell it like a monk.
But happily, deprivation isn't the only road to mindfulness.
See where you can pause and notice.
Keeping with the theme,
eat at least one thing this week with mindfulness.
Notice the texture, the smell, the particular beauty of it.
Chew slowly and be grateful for how it nourishes you.
"Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter,
but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it."
-Richard Adams, Watership Down
Hoping that you found yourself gazing at icicles
from the warm and cozy side of the window last week.
Maybe gifting yourself with some down time
trapped indoors with books, blankets, and tea.
There's something a little wonderful about
the quiet of the snow and the forced slowing down.
I think we're all going to be a little more productive,
a little happier and more engaged with each other this week.
Being forced to burrow in at home and be still
is like a reboot for the system.
Let's remember this when things start to ramp up again.
We can always sequester ourselves for a little self care.
Maybe this could even become a small, regular, rhythmic practice....
Do you remember this from your childhood?
If not, it's never too late
to get lost in the woods with these magical rabbits.
In the Indian film The Lunchbox, an epistolary romance unfolds
within the traditional dabbawalas delivery system.
A mistaken lunch delivery connects a widower and lonely housewife
who begin a long exchange of lovingly prepared food and letters.
Shaikh suggests "Sometimes the wrong train
can take you to the right station."
Admittedly, I'm a sucker for a man who writes letters, but I loved this film.
My mind has been full of this train to station metaphor.
How about this?
When you love something like reading
- or drawing or music or nature - it surrounds you
with a sense of connection to something great.
If you are lucky enough to know this,
then your search for meaning involves whatever that Something is.
It's an alchemical blend of affinity and focus that takes us
to a place within that feels as close as we ever get to "home."
It's like pulling into our own train station after a long trip
- joy, relief, a pleasant exhaustion.
If a writer or artist creates from a place of truth and spirit and generosity,
then I may be able to enter and ride this person's train
back to my own station.
It's the same with beautiful music and art. [or yoga?]
Beauty is meaning.
Come connect with, celebrate, and make room for
the Something you are drawn to
in practice on the mat.
The longer I get to live,
the more I see this in evidence
all around me.
It makes a girl think.
May our words, the everyday uninspired ones,
lay, brick by brick if you will,
a house that nurtures and somehow radiates unconditional love
towards ourselves and those who inhabit our spaces.
The touted benefits of down dog are legion:
extends your spine, enhances digestion, promotes blood circulation,
builds bone density, and strengthens your core.
It's perhaps the most ubiquitous pose we do,
but Downwards Facing Dog can be a tricky beast.
As a yoga newbie myself, I once heard a yoga teacher say,
"I know it's hard at first, but one day down dog will become a rest pose!"
None of us believed her.
I now realize that rather thinking of it as a rest pose
[where you might hang in your joints, getting a collapsed stretch],
it's actually a super engaged pose that once learned well in your body,
makes you feel light, strong, and grounded.
Awesome. Sign me up.
This week we'll tear it apart
and build it back up,
so it feels like a happy pose to you.
(extra credit if you study the above points)
"If I dismiss the ordinary
-waiting for the special, the extreme, the extraordinary to happen -
I may just miss my life.
To allow ourselves to spend afternoons watching dancers rehearse,
or sit on a stone wall and watch the sunset,
or spend the whole weekend rereading Chekhov stories
-to know that we are doing what we're supposed to be doing -
is the deepest form of permission in our creative lives.
The British author and psychologist Adam Phillips has noted,
"When we are inspired, rather like when we are in love,
we can feel both unintelligible to ourselves and most truly ourselves."
This is the feeling I think we all yearn for, a kind of hyper-real dream state.
We read Emily Dickinson. We watch the dancers.
We research a little known piece of history obsessively.
We fall in love. We don't know why, and yet
these moments form the source from which all our words will spring."
In all the New Year zeal to improve ourselves,
perhaps you could simply set an intention to do
a bit of that which really pleases you,
at least for a bit of time.
Feed your own soul.
The consequences are beautiful.
"The best way to predict the future
is to create it."
~ Peter Drucker
The new year is here, yogis.
Nothing to do but dive in
with intention and a bit of anticipatory joy.
We tend to set some pretty high expectations
around this time of year.
Bring a lot of compassion for yourself
into this ubiquitous resolution thing we all do.
After you imagine all the ways you could improve things,
notice all the ways you really came through this past year.
Where were you particularly kind?
To others.... or yourself.
Where did you manifest discipline?
Whose load did you lighten? At least once.
And what made you happy?
Do that again in 2015.
I found this letter from a practicing yogi
to her yoga teacher arresting:
"Yoga is my anxiety and depression medication,
my panic button, my safe room,
my therapist and my church.
It is my recreation, my leisure sport,
my age-appropriate weight-bearing exercise
and my hardcore fitness.
For others it is an AA meeting
or part of a plan to manage
weight loss, an eating disorder,
OCD, manic depression or cancer.
We all come with stories,
but we don't always tell you these things
because they aren't your business.
We might tell you about our knee injury
or back injury
or the weird clicking noise our wrist makes
when it rains on Sundays,
but we don't tell you about ourselves
because that's what we're here to study."
-Amy Ratto Parks
I find truth here.
We all have different reasons to practice,
but what we're really doing
is studying ourselves
from the inside out.
This yoga teacher feels pretty lucky
that you share your own practice
with me each week.
We approach the winter solstice this Sunday,
the shortest day and the longest night of our year.
Ancient cultures have considered this a momentous time.
Yogis seize opportunities such as this
to stop, notice, and connect with nature's turnings and pauses.
Take this week to feel a slowing down,
a pause, a chance to look within
and reflect upon the path you've traveled this year.
It's been an intense year for many of you,
and holds the promise to be a transformative one for us all.
Give yourself credit for the ground you've covered,
the places inside you've softened
compassion for what you've uncovered,
and now hope for what is yet to be.
Celebrate all of it on the mat
Sometimes I need this reminder.
Often in our passion to share what moves us and frees us
we encounter others on quite different paths
seeing it all through their own peculiar perspectives.
In the end,
we're all seeking the same things
but have our own paths to tread.
Often we circle, veering to the left or right,
meandering onto roads we never could have predicted.
Sometimes I think I should have left breadcrumbs
to figure out how I ever arrived at this present moment.
There's something indescribably wondrous
about how one's path unfolds.
You can never predict the next twist
that will craft what you are becoming.
I think a yoga practice helps prepare you
for the unexpected
providing the balance needed to assure you
that really you're never lost at all.
The fifth yama is
Generally, this is translated as non-grasping.
Not taking more than you need.
Another way to practice aparigraha
-one that I find far more difficult-
is letting impermanence be what you hold on to
rather than things, circumstances or people.
What I find particularly challenging
(and possibly life changing)
is getting curious about the way we hold onto
outside objects to reinforce our identity.
These could be lovely things, titles, relationships...
Maybe it's something you worked very hard for.
Maybe it's something you like to think of yourself as.
But it's something.
Something that may be very hard to loosen your grasp of.
I'm finding that when we loosen our hold,
often something quite unexpected begins to blossom.
And just see.
The fourth yama is
Many understand this precept to serve as an exhortation towards chastity.
In the strictest sense, it is about the harnessing of sexual energy.
In a broader sense, many yogis use brahmacharya
to mindfully think about the directing of all their energies
..... as a way to serve their highest selves and find God.
In physical asana practice,
brahmacharya is practiced by moving skillfully through poses
without pushing beyond edges of comfort or safety.
Yogis take their practice off the mat
by practicing moderation in all things.
Those five consecutive hours of a streaming show on the telly?
That 60 hour work week worn like a badge of honor?
Maybe there's something quite specific in your life
that could use a little moderation?
(my own hand bashfully raised here)
Beneath the obvious tenets here of not taking what does not belong to you,
we could look at the idea of stealing away time or experience.
On the way to my college writing class last week,
I rounded the corner to find a young woman
telling a rather dramatic story to her companion.
He was slumped against the wall
furiously working his phone with earphones firmly in place.
This had no effect whatsoever on her intent storytelling.
It was baffling. She kept going at full tilt.
Apparently, this type of engagement (or disengagement)
was nothing out of the ordinary for them.
When we choose to flee boredom, stillness,
or worse, actual beings in front of us
for the satiating comfort of our devices,
we are stealing from the present.
We are stealing from those around us.
We are stealing from ourselves.
We could practice asteya
by refusing to allow our monkey mind to steal us away
from the present moment.
By choosing to not give way to distraction,
we are honing our focus,
fully offering our presence,
and completely embracing the particular present
that is directly in front of us.
So in yogic philosophy,
the second yama (or wise characteristic) is
-commitment to the truth.
Again, perhaps the most challenging practice here
is in being truthful with ourselves.
What sort of stories have we told ourselves about our condition
or explanations have we created for our suffering?
Yoga is all about transformation.
Being truthful with ourselves about what we discover internally,
simply acknowledging it without too much judgment,
and allowing transformation to begin
(which usually involves a lot of hard, intentional work)
is a powerful way to put satya to work in our lives.
Do be truthful within,
fearless in going deep,
and gentle with your dear, aspiring self
Most cultures attempt to codify or set down precepts
for harmonious living and right action.
In ancient yoga philosophy,
Patanjali recounted the yamas (wise characteristics)
and the niyamas (codes for soulful living)
in the Yoga Sutras around 400 CE.
like those of many other philosophical and faith traditions,
help us form a sound relationship with self,
and cultivate resources both to serve others
and to experience union with the divine.
That's the history.
Here's the first yama: ahimsa.
Ahimsa is understood as nonviolence, compassion for all living things.
Context is everything.
We can look at ahimsa on a very pragmatic level as physical violence.
Think not only about what you do but what you choose to take in.
(pause for reflection here.)
We can also look at ahimsa on an energetic and thought level.
Trying to make my way down I-440 through town
instantly brings up my ahimsa work.
Know that these precepts aren't presented as hard rules to follow.
Rather they are points to notice, get curious about.
"Why am I angry or violent in this situation?"
Some of us find that violence can take form in abuse towards self.
Harsh judgments and negative comments
about say, your own appearance, eating habits or exercise choices.
Some of us do this to ourselves on the yoga mat!
"Ugh, I still can't touch my toes like she can."
"If I practiced more, I could do that pose."
"Man, I suck at balancing."
What would taking ahimsa into your own yoga practice look like?
How would it feel to honor where you and your body are
on that day, at that time?
How awesome would it feel to be completely nurtured, supported
and accepted where you are at the moment?
Ahimsa is a real gift you could give yourself.
Then maybe we could take that practice off the mat
and offer it to others
on the freeway, in the office, in line, (fill in blank here) ....
Hope to see you on the mat
where we all stumble through this work together.
Try to love everything that gets in your way:
the Chinese women in flowered bathing caps
murmuring together in Mandarin, doing leg exercises in your lane
while you execute thirty-six furious laps,
one for every item on your to-do list....
The heavy-bellied man who goes thrashing through the water
like a horse with a harpoon stuck in its side,
whose breathless tsunamis rock you from your course.
Teachers all. Learn to be small
and swim through obstacles like a minnow
without grudges or memory. Dart
toward your goal, sperm to egg. Thinking Obstacle
is another obstacle. Try to love the teenage girl
idly lounging against the ladder, showing off her new tattoo:
Cette vie est la mienne, This life is mine,
in thick blue-black letters on her ivory instep.
Be glad she'll have that to look at all her life,
and keep going, keep going. Swim by an uncle
in the lane next to yours who is teaching his nephew
how to hold his breath underwater,
even though kids aren't allowed at this hour. Someday,
years from now, this boy
who is kicking and flailing in the exact place
you want to touch and turn
will be a young man, at a wedding on a boat
raising his champagne glass in a toast
when a huge wave hits, washing everyone overboard.
He'll come up coughing and spitting like he is now,
but he'll come up like a cork,
alive. So your moment
of impatience must bow in service to a larger story,
because if something is in your way it is
going your way, the way
of all beings; towards darkness, towards light.
I have thought of this poem countless times
since I first read it.
It's so easy to make everything all about me.
It's so freeing to realize we're all in
this messy, busy, beautiful swirl of a life together.
Swim your way
into your own familiar circle of yogis.
If you don't have one, join ours.
I'm currently undertaking an intensive study on yoga as therapy
and it's inspiring me to think about the practice of yoga
through powerful and profound perspectives.
It's easy for us, as Westerners,
to take our goal oriented mindsets
into our own yoga practice:
fix this malady,
stretch out those hamstrings,
strengthen the abdominals,
lower our cholesterol,
calm the nervous system, etc.
All that can happen, of course.
But, the ancients used an entirely different set of criteria
in thinking about the benefits and necessities of yoga:
a feeling of lightness in the body angalaghavam;
an ability to withstand change dvandvanabhighatah;
and a stable body and focused mind,
ready to sit for pranayama practice,
in which the ancient science of the breath is applied.
It strikes me that I'm in far greater need of
that second unpronounceable objective
than I am of the perfect chaturanga.
Maybe you are too.....
"Moving my body into different shapes, I became a different person.
Creating more space in my joints, I made more space in my mind as well.
Twisting and bending and arching my body,
I broke up the ice floes of self-judgment that had frozen in my muscles.
I squeezed out the anxiety knotted between my shoulder blades.
I melted the anger in the pit of my stomach into tears."
We all come to yoga for different reasons.
Often, those reasons vary from day to day.
The hour you devote to your practice on the mat
is the perfect time to pause and notice what is.
What is up in your own body, in your own mind,
in your heart. . . at that moment, in that time.
Only then can you set an intention for your own practice
as to what you need, desire and plan to create
for yourself in your own yoga
so you can then take it with you, off the mat into your life.
Now and again, it is necessary
to seclude yourself among deep mountains and hidden valleys
to restore your link to the source of life.
Breathe in and let yourself soar to the ends of the universe;
breathe out and bring the cosmos back inside.
Next, breathe up all fecundity and vibrancy of the earth.
Finally, blend the breath of heaven and the breath of earth with your own,
becoming the Breath of Life itself."
~ Morihei Ueshiba
The lazy sunlight and cool breezes of late
have been amazing.
Find some time to sit and breathe it in.
Watch your heart soften and expand
simply by paying attention.
Enjoy this space between the exhale of summer
and the inhale of autumn.
It offers a peculiar, unnameable beauty.
Know that such stillness while returning to the breath
is the essence of yoga.
Harvest Moon - The Mockingbird Sings in the Night
-by Mary Oliver
No sky could hold
so much light-
and here comes the brimming,
the flooding and streaming
out of the clouds
and into the leaves,
glazing the creeks,
the smallest ditches!
And so many stars!
The sky seems stretched
like an old black cloth;
behind it, all
the celestial fire
we ever dreamed of!
And the moon steps lower,
her luminous masks, brushing
everything as she passes
with her slow hands
and soft lips-
clusters of dark grapes,
apples swinging like lost planets,
melons cool and heavy as bodies-
and the mockingbird wakes
in his hidden castle;
out of the silver tangle
of thorns and leaves
he flutters and tumbles,
ribbons of music
over forest and river,
copse and cloud-
all heaven and all earth-
wherever the white moon
fancies her small wild prince-
field after field after field.
During the magic of this harvest moon,
the last super moon of this year,
it's sweet to step away from the heating practice of
Surya Namaskar (sun salutations)
Chandra Namaskar (moon salutations).
Yoga balances the body with dark and light,
warmth and coolness.
Cool the body with smooth movement
restoring your own vital energy
by drawing upon the moon's soothing lunar energy.
"It is through the alignment of the body
that I discovered the alignment of my mind, self, and intelligence."
- B.K.S. Iyengar
The world lost a yoga master last week
when BKS Iyengar died at the age of 95 in India.
A sickly child born into poverty in 1918,
he credited yoga with restoring his health.
Iyengar is the man largely responsible for bringing yoga to the West.
At the age of 90, he was still practicing asana 3 hours a day!
Inspiring. And forthright.
He did not tread gently when teaching and correcting.
He once playfully exclaimed, "I have these eyebrows to scare you!"
The intimidated yogi replied, "It's working."
Yogis worldwide honor what he brought to the world and
continue to radiate his passion and knowledge to an ever widening circle.
"Yoga is like music:
the rhythm of the body,
the melody of the mind,
and the harmony of the soul
create the symphony of life."
- B.K.S. Iyengar
Make a bit of your own music on the mat
somewhere this week.
"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)
After practice Sunday night, a few of us headed to Belcourt to see
Akira Kurosawa's 1952 Japanese film Ikiru
in which a terminally ill Tokyo bureacrat searches for meaning
in his shortening life.
I won't pretend I wasn't flagging at the two and a half hour point,
but I'm still thinking about it today.
It reminds me of the power that story holds
to put ourselves into the mind, pathos, and struggle of others.
For me, Watanabe's journey was a reminder....
that yes, life is brief
and to notice some of those sublime moments which pass me all the time
and the relationships that make it all worthwhile.
Listening to a pelting rain while tucked inside completely safe and cared for.
Getting to do work that makes the world a little bit of a better place,
and encountering such diversely beautiful souls in the process.
The first, and maybe only, glorious sunny yellow tomato
emerging from the garden at last.
That crazy coral sunset over the Nashville skyline last Tuesday.
The sweet falling into a well earned savasana after a challenging practice
when you feel so long and unbelievably light and awesome.
I hope you notice many such moments this week
These days when I'm not turning the pages of the New York Times
pained to discover further despair
among Sunni and Shia, Palestinian and Israeli,
I'm distracted by a literary history of the early nineteenth century.
In the spring of 1842,
amidst the theological and philosophical upheavals of that time,
(Calvinist doctrines splintering
in the heretical push toward transcendentalism)
an admiring but struggling Henry James, Sr.
wrote to Ralph Waldo Emerson:
I too in my small degree am coveting to understand
the truth which surrounds me and embraces me,
am seeking worthily to apprehend
- or to be more worthily apprehended of-
the love which underlies and vivifies
all the seeming barrenness of our most unloving world.
Henry James, Sr. + Emerson
It strikes me that we would each do well to follow in kind
now, in this time of seemingly intractable differences
in our world, in our country, in our community,
-seek the love which underlies and vivifies
the seeming barrenness of our own unloving world.
Joining together in practice
is one sweet way to do this work.
"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.
I've just returned from an intensive yoga therapeutics training.
There's a great deal of it that I've yet to fully digest,
but I was struck by the sound idea of tensegrity in a yoga practice.
Tensegrity is a structural principle, coined by Buckmister Fuller,
describing a stable three dimensional structure
where the compressed members touch
and the tensioned members create space.
Your body is a tensile structure.
In yoga, we learn to balance space and tension in our bodies
through the shapes we make.
Not only are we creating strong, resilient structures
but also a responsive information network.
There is great wisdom in the body.
As we develop a keen sense of awareness in our yoga practice,
we simultaneously ease and strengthen its working.
"The most beautiful people we have known
are those who have known defeat,
known suffering, known struggle, known loss,
and have found their way out of the depths.
These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity,
and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion,
gentleness, and a deep loving concern.
Beautiful people do not just happen."
~ Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
Remember that you don't have to be perfect,
in a good space,
or in the right frame of mind
to practice yoga.
Yoga is balancing the dark and light
by being completely present
with wherever you are
at the moment.
Bring yourself to the mat just as you are.
That is perfect.
I love the paradox of this statement.
I'm choosing to embrace and delight in it
I know so many yogis who are in the flux of change or challenge,
at this moment in their lives.
This is a sweet and
ultimately grounding message
for all of us.
In my academic life
where I teach English as a Second Language to college students,
I just taught a chapter on restorative justice in a writing course.
I love to challenge my predominately Middle Eastern students
with the idea of reconciliation and forgiveness.
It usually opens a couple of hearts and at least plants a seed.
We even spent time looking at the astounding reconciliation
between Hutus and Tutsis on this 20th anniversary of the genocide.
Beatrice Mukarwambari Survivor / Laurent Nsabimana Perpetrator
"Forgiveness equals mercy." -Mukarwambari
In their writing journals this semester, many of my students shared
horrific tribal or religiously motivated murders their families have suffered.
These people live the tragedy
most of us only read about in the newspaper.
A dear man I respect, Ramsis, looked deeply into my eyes:
"Even good men cannot do this forgiveness.
It is proper for me to avenge my family. It is our culture."
Of course, I know this.
But I continue to feel compelled to shine a light
on those wondrous souls who can do the unimaginable.
Forgive the unforgivable.
May we all continue to hold up that which inspires us
and look to those who bravely make more room for love in the world.
And it is by honoring how life comes through us
that we get the most out of living,
not by keeping ourselves out of the way.
The goal is to mix our hands in the earth,
not to stay clean.
Use the inspiration of this burgeoning spring
to get a little messy.
Maybe it's working your hands in the dirt
coaxing new life.
Maybe it's sowing a little kindness
into unexpected places
and seeing what grows.
Last week I listened to Rabbi Saul Strosberg
from Nashville's Orthodox synagogue, Sherith Israel,
speak on Jewish practices in death and mourning.
It made for a fascinating lecture.
Before talking about death, he wanted to talk about life.
He said "This is what we believe.
The body is what you see.
The spirit is what you feel.
It is the spirit that makes the body holy."
I love the simplicity of this message.
I understand that the Hebrew word behind spirit is ruach,
and it can be understood as wind, breath in motion, even divine inspiration.
I really cannot imagine
a more beautiful and true expression of this than yoga.
We use the breath to animate our form,
to fill and direct our poses,
to inspire our movement.
And when the breath or spirit moves the body
"Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended for a long time,
without break and in all earnestness."
-translation from one of the ancient Yoga Sutras [book1.14]
The cool thing about your yoga practice
is the way it begins to ground you,
the unexpected way it puts down roots you might not even see at first.
Sometimes it requires breaking up fallow ground,
those internal places that need to be worked anew and mellowed
before they can truly receive.
Your practice does take root.
Your practiced ability to still, breathe, and return to equanimity
is always there, waiting to be summoned.
And the part about doing it "in all earnestness" is what really matters.
If you truly, intently, fearlessly practice
whatever it is you can practice,
then you are doing yoga
Not too long ago, I joined throngs of people on a cold winter night
waiting in line to hear Doris Kearns Goodwin
talk about her new history of Roosevelt and Taft.
Generally, it was an older, well-heeled crowd,
but there was a nice smattering of those curious, unconventional sorts
typically drawn to literary events.
An erect and inquisitive silver-haired woman in a purple felt hat
tried to engage a twenty-something
with Goodwin's sharp details on Roosevelt's early physical maladies.
The young woman replied, "Oh, I haven't read it.
I just saw the Lincoln movie based on her last book.
It was amazing. Maybe they'll make a movie out of this one."
I realized we were all drawn there for disparate reasons.
A bit like yoga.
Everyone first comes to the practice seeking something specific.
Some come for stress relief.
Some to lose weight.
Some to regain flexibility.
Some to meet girls. (Mmhmm)
Some to reconnect with their bodies.
Some to foster a mind-body connection.
Some for spiritual sustenance.
It doesn't matter what brings you to the party.
You almost always find more than your bargained for.
Being open to the possibilities
makes each time you step on the mat
a tiny present
Go see what you might find
on the mat.
Following class last week,
after noshing on some udon and sushi with the mister,
we headed to Blair to listen to a bassoon and piano concert.
Watching a man play a bassoon
is a slightly troubling and fascinating thing.
(I recommend it.)
Anyway they played a piece by composer Judah Adashi entitled
It was based on the poem of the same name by Rainer Maria Rilke.
I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that's wide and timeless.
I find this beautiful.
It puts me in mind of the complexity of truth
uncovered in a yoga practicing life.
Often, in physically undoing, we come upon long established habits
that have settled into the body and mind.
Some feel locked. With time, they loosen.
Yoga is not all sweetness and light.
Sometimes we find the dark
and make of it something new, timeless and meaningful.
It has much to reveal.
May 23, 1921. "Professor Charles Louis Seeger and family."
Charles Seeger, wife Constance Edson Seeger and their 2-year-old son Pete.
Folksinger and activist Pete Seeger died last week at 94.
His parents were classically trained musicians
who discovered the peculiar beauty of common people's folk music.
The joy of music they instilled in their son Pete
had lasting impact upon countless people around the world.
Whether singing to migrant workers or presidents,
Pete Seeger always asked listeners to join in themselves
enjoying and creating music with their own voices
He believed participation would save the world.
I find his life a beautiful testament
to the power of doing what you love,
speaking truth to power,
and giving others that which brings you joy.
May we all follow his example.
"Being generous in spirit is a wonderful way to live."
"This banjo surrounds hate and forces it to surrender."
"Well, Sir, we've been getting along pretty good for quite a while now,
and we're certainly much obliged. Remember, all we ask is to just go along
and be happy in our own sort of way. Of course we want to keep our health
but as far as anything else is concerned, we'll leave it to You. Thank You."
- dinnertime prayer from lovable Grandpa (played by Lionel Barrymore)
My son Noah and I spent a frosty Saturday afternoon
tucked inside the Belcourt Theatre
with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur in
"You Can't Take it With You" this weekend.
It was Frank Capra, so I got a little misty more than once.
When Noah was small and I would get choked up
at sweet real life moments,
I decided to simply allow myself
to fully experience whatever was happening.
I resolved not to stifle, but to be fully sad, fully happy, fully present.
It's one thing I've never regretted.
Such unexpected moments are opportunities
that will never come again.
When we allow ourselves not only to fully experience them
but to fully express the way they touch us,
we create lifelong memories which we can take with us.
Fully feel and be this week.
Find authenticity on the mat.
Be open to whatever your practice gifts you.
Just wanted to remind you.
You know, in case you haven't come through on every New Year's resolution so far.
Or you ate too much chocolate this weekend.
Or didn't get enough sleep.
Or weren't completely present when listening to others.
But enough about me.
Just know you don't have to wait
until you're in better shape in body or mind to do yoga.
Bring yourself to the mat exactly as you are.
The practice is all about finding your true self
- you know, the imperfect and awesomely unique bit inside.
Happiness writer Gretchen Rubin says:
Everybody who does creative work has figured out
how to deal with their own demons to get their work done.
The strategy is simple, I think.
The strategy is to have a practice,
and what it means to have a practice is to regularly and reliably
do the work in a habitual way.
There are many ways you can signify to yourself
that you are doing your practice.
For example, some people wear a white lab coat
or a particular pair of glasses, or always work in a specific place
(or roll out their mat each week)
- in doing these things, they are professionalizing their art.
We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period,
and underestimate what we can do over a long period,
provided we work slowly and consistently.
As we reignite our yoga practice in the new year,
I think it wise to heed this wisdom on practice.
It applies to so many facets of life.
In the zeal of new year beginnings,
know that it's really the dogged commitment,
the slow, steady stepping on the mat each week
that heals you.
Habitual intention is a powerful thing.
Often, yogis encounter frustration
when they can't deepen further into a pose.
Anatomy scholar Paul Grilley teaches there are two forms of limitation:
tension and compression.
Tension is when we encounter resistance muscularly.
Compression is when we encounter resistance skeletally.
When you move into a yoga pose,
first you encounter tension.
You can often move into tension safely
as your muscles and connective tissue lengthen.
This happens over time through a consistent practice.
Eventually, you run into compression of the bone.
No matter how devoted a yogi you are,
your bones are your bones.
At some point, your stretching finds a limit
when bone compresses into bone.
A little compression is fine and strengthens bone,
but there's no "pushing" past it.
Compare these two pelvises.
Each yogi would have different mobility in their hip joints.
Leg extensions and straddles would look quite different.
Some of us hit compression sooner than others, and in different places.
Keep this in mind as you practice.
Your pose is never going to look exactly like someone else's.
Your perfect pose is yours alone.
Skate up to your edge, but then enjoy the ride.
Yoga is awesome when you make it yours
and no one else's.
Ashtanga Yoga is a series of set postures
that was created by Patthabi Jois.
Many yogis practice the first, primary series.
From there, each series gets trickier.
It goes all the way up to a sixth series which I think few sane humans do.
Jois famously said that the 7th series of Ashtanga Yoga
is skillfully living with family.
As we head into the celebration of the holidays.
Take your yoga off the mat.
Bring it into your interactions with those special ones
who push your buttons,
know all your weaknesses,
and love you anyway.
Asana (physical poses) is just one part of yoga.
Find your breath when you lose it.
Move mindfully. Do and say things on purpose.
Be completely present.
Enjoy it with full out love.
Years ago, I worked as a creative director
at an indie music label on Music Row.
I conceptualized and art directed photo shoots
for album covers and marketing campaigns.
It was cool work, but I noticed that I began to view the world
as images to be packaged.
When I stumbled upon something striking or beautiful,
I went to work figuring out how to shoot it or where to use it.
I didn't like the way my work was shaping and absorbing
my experiential being.
These days, I think we all do this.
With a ready iPhone in every pocket,
we're set to snap, record and capture.
Rarely are we still enough to simply observe.
Buddhist teaching talks about "non-conceptual awareness."
This is an entirely fresh way of seeing,
void of the pre-conceived concepts
we carry around and place on everything.
In nature, we can choose to take a soft gaze
and notice pattern, color, aroma, and unsuspecting detail
rather than quickly identifying what we know we see.
For me, the real magic and challenge comes
when trying this with people.
When you see your beloved or a familiar friend,
better yet, someone you dislike,
drop what you know.
Notice what is.
You may discover them anew.
Our concepts about what is what,
who is who,
and right and wrong
just might be holding us back
from seeing clearly without limitation.
Come to the mat
without set expectation,
And see what you find.
Bring your beautifully imperfect self to the mat today.
Maybe a solitary practice.
You and your mat on the earth.
(maybe by the Christmas tree).
You might choose silence.
Or put on some music and move
into a sweet practice
allowing the spine to unfurl
the heart and mind to steady.
Nothing has to be perfect.
You (your mind, spirit, and body)
are a product of all you've known.
Be sweet to yourself
and marvel at the beauty of the imperfection
that makes you perfectly you.
So, this week is a Louis C.K and Pema Chodron mash-up.
I know, I know, Trust me.
You may have seen the clip of Louis C.K. talking about smart phones.
He hits on the truth that we often use our technology to escape
loneliness, or sadness or whatever -ness
leaves us not feeling easy and good at the moment.
Well, Buddhist Pema Chodron teaches us what to do
with those moments of unease, discomfort or even pain.
"The sad part is that all we're trying to do
is not feel that underlying uneasiness.
The sadder part is that we proceed in such a way
that the uneasiness only gets worse.
The message here is that the only way to ease our pain
is to experience it fully.
Learn to stay.
Learn to stay with uneasiness,
learn to stay with the tightening,
learn to stay with the itch and urge of shenpa,
so that the habitual chain reaction
doesn't continue to rule our lives,
and the patterns that we consider unhelpful
don't keep getting stronger
as the days and months and years go by.
When you see what you do,
how you get hooked,
and how you get swept away,
it's hard to be arrogant.
This honest recognition softens you up,
humbles you in the best sense.
It also begins to give you confidence in your basic goodness.
When we are not blinded by the intensity of our emotions,
when we allow a bit of space, a chance for a gap,
when we pause, we naturally know what to do.
We begin, due to our own wisdom,
to move toward letting go and fearlessness.
Due to our own wisdom,
we gradually stop strengthening habits
that only bring more pain to the world."
-Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves from Old Habits and Fears by Pema Chödrön
I love this.
Let's allow what moves us, to move us towards our 'basic goodness.'
Let's allow our hardships to be our teachers.
Let us learn to stay.
yoga teacher Farida Hamza
Staying up too late one evening, listening to the BBC,
I heard a report on Yoga & Islam.
Clerics in both Indonesia and Malaysia have issued fatwas against yoga.
Here in the States, Southern Baptists have voiced their own concerns.
But countless people of faith around the world
find that rather than serving as a stumbling block,
yoga supports and deepens their own spiritual connections and practices.
Farida Hamza, a yoga teacher and Muslim in Shreveport, LA,
writes beautifully about how her yoga practice enhances her faith.
I am a practicing Muslim, I believe in Allah,
I believe in the prophet Muhammad (PBUH),
and I believe in the Koran. I also believe in Yoga.
I believe in my breath and my sighs, in my angles and my curves,
in my twists and my turns and the voice in my heart.
I believe that you don't choose your sexuality,
that everyone has a chance to go to heaven,
that being rich is as much a burden as being poor,
and that Islam and Yoga can co-exist.
Somewhere along the road, it has been insinuated
that I might not be a 'good Muslim' because I do yoga.
This post is to address that voice and to quiet it. [...]
Yoga taught me to trust my instincts and to listen to my heart.
That I should do what I truly love
and I will stop to exist and I will start to truly live. [...]
I feel confident and strong,
I am grateful for every toe Allah has given me
that keeps me grounded in my tree pose,
I am grateful for the joy I felt when my tight hamstrings finally gave in
and opened up in standing head to knee,
I am grateful for every breath that has freed me,
for every sigh that has released me.
I feel like a child born out of Islam and Yoga.
A child with no ego, no lies,
only strength, courage, conviction, grace and compassion. Namaste and Salaam.
To read this treatise in full, click here
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
by Jane Hirshfield
you who once ached
with your own growing larger
absorbed by your own
When I danced,
When you broke,
And so it was lying down,
climbing the tiring stairs.
Your jaws. My bread.
what is left of you,
will be flensed of this marriage.
cracked harp of ribcage,
blunt of heel,
opened bowl of the skull,
twin platters of pelvis--
each of you will leave me behind,
at last serene.
What did I know of your days,
I who held you all my life
inside my hands
and thought they were empty?
You who held me all my life
inside your hands
as a new mother holds
her own unblanketed child,
not thinking at all.
I stumbled upon this poem today.
It set me to thinking about our connections,
physical and metaphysical.
Yoga is both a physical and spiritual practice.
We use weight bearing asanas to strengthen our bones.
We also use asana to explore and create
connection between heart and structure,
breath and bone.
Our bones are living, changing things after all.
Nothing is as fixed as it seems.
Sometimes it feels like sheer luck if your balance is on in standing poses.
We tend to disconnect in poses
such as vrksasana (tree), mentally and physically.
Here's a tip.
We've been working on subtly engaging the belly in practice.
The rectus abdominis runs from the pubis to the front of the ribcage.
This muscle stabilizes the lumbar spine and pelvis during walking.
Consciously engaging it during one legged standing poses helps to maintain balance.
Take tree pose and, on your exhalation, gradually engage the abdomen.
A visual cue is to draw the navel inward.
Activating the abdominal muscles
lifts the torso and stabilizes the lumbar spine.
Working with the abdominals also uses
the mind body connection to give us a focal point.
Don't you feel steadier already?
This is an aim of our yoga practice
-to find our true selves.
When you first encounter yoga,
you hit up against some limitations pretty quickly.
Soon, you learn to re-approach
with a bit more humility, breath, and curiosity.
The layers begin to peel away
and you begin to find bits of your true self.
The pretty - potential- and the not so pretty.
It's all there waiting to be seen, heard, felt
and worked through.
The clearer we become,
the truer we see,
and the less that distracts us.
Continue to create clarity, on and off the mat
eager ESL students waiting for school doors to open early in the morningIn addition to teaching yoga, I teach English as a second language.
Not unlike yoga, actually.
So last week, an older Somalian woman came up to me and said,
"Taunia, when I see you, it makes me happy."
She continued to hold my gaze and let it sink in.
This kind of emotional directness is not rare in my students.
These people have seen and suffered horrific things.
When they feel happy or good, they wonder at it, and openly share it.
I've never met more spiritually generous and open hearted people.
It is they who offer me a lesson.
Let us emulate such open and heart rich giving.
Find someone to speak to plainly.
Perhaps someone outside of your most intimate circle.
Offer a simple, declarative sentence of gratitude or admiration.
Just look at them and let it sink in.
You'll change, touch, or soften something inside of them.
An unexpected gift.
And just maybe a little reciprocity
will in turn thread its way along
to another soul, head down, powering though the day
unexpectedly surprised by such a kindness
leading to the opening of another heart and then another.
It's a kind of sweet, yogi experiment.
[Greek: συμμετρεῖν symmetreín]
means to measure together or balance proportion.
We seek to bring symmetry to the body and mind
in our yoga practice.
We all have degrees of asymmetry in our bodies,
but it's possible to bring greater awareness towards centering.
Do you always carry a bag on one side?
Do you tend to drop into the same hip when standing?
Habitual postures and movements in misalignment
can lead to discomfort, pain, even injury.
The way we walk, sit, and move affects us.
Begin to notice.
Switch it up.
In yoga practice, if the skeleton is aligned,
the muscles and joints don't have to work as hard.
The poses become sweeter
and the effects deeper.
Bring this awareness onto the mat.
You'll notice something new.
Returning from a quiet week at the seashore
where I felt completely suspended in time,
I'm set to jump back in again.
However, as so many of us prepare to launch into
the busyness of non-summer,
let's heed this warning.
While we might be prone to think of a busy life as a rich one,
full of people to help, places to be and things to do,
take care not to be so busy doing
that there's no time for undoing.
Consistent bits of quiet stillness,
whether on or off the mat,
Nurturing the inner life
animates and enriches what we have to offer to the world.
photograph taken by Eudora of her native Mississippi in the early 1930's
"I was born with the feeling
that if time and hurry were forgotten,
something quiet and wonderful would happen in their place."
Find some quiet
and make something wonderful
on the mat this week.
And if you can't do that,
lean back against a tree trunk
and read a Eudora Welty short story.
Maybe you've seen the t-shirts:
"I'm just here for savasana."
For most of us,
it's the sweetest part of the practice.
For some of us, it's the most challenging
-completely letting go and falling into stillness.
You finally get to cease all the work.
It's blissful to simply rest.
But there's real yoga going on in this final rest pose.
You're absorbing subtle changes from your practice.
You're settling into equanimity.
Savasana often brings an awareness of the myriad of layers
in the mind and body.
Slowly draw your attention inwards to greater and greater subtleties.
Most of all, don't let your mind run away and deprive you of the present.
I like what yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar says:
savasana is being without was, being without will be."
"The way you change and help music
is by trying to invent new ways to play."
I think practicing yoga is a lot like making music.
We have the asanas, the notes, but what can you create with them?
Allowing the body to float in and out of these shapes
is like making music with flesh and spirit.
It's a little magical and a lot of fun.
So, when yogis ask me how to practice on their own,
what videos to use to guide them,
I say listen to your body; it will tell you what to do.
Next time you have some time to spend on the mat,
turn on some music that moves you and see what happens.
Let your body float, stretch, and open into shapes you create.
That, my dears, is yoga.
New research finds that when people feel excluded,
it actually fires up parts of the brain that signal physical pain
such as the anterior cingulate cortex,
a part of the brain that responds to pain,
and the right ventral prefrontal cortex
where we process coping with pain.
A sense of belonging, sharing a safe space,
and creating communal positive energy
are all things we aim to generate in our shared yoga practices.
Let's be sure to take that with us, off the mat and out into the world.
As the oft profane Kurt Vonnegut says,
"We're all in this together, babies!"
Let's make a little kindness together on the mat, yogis.
poet James Dickey getting to the heart of things
Simply take the word poetry and replace it with yoga."The first thing to understand about poetry
The beginning of your true encounter with poetry should be simple.
It should [....] go straight to the things that make your own existence exist:
to your body and nerves and blood and muscles.
Find you own way - a secret way that just maybe you don't know yet
- to open yourself as wide as you can
and as deep as you can to the moment,
the now of your own existence and the endless mystery of it,
and perhaps at the same time to one other thing that is not you, but is out there."
Get on your mat and create some poetry
with your own breath and body.
Reading the business section of the NY Times occasionally pays off.
I always read the bits where management types talk about interviewing.
You know, the most perplexing and telling question
they might throw at candidates.
I figure that if I ever have to go for a real grown-up job,
I should be prepared.
A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon this
from management guru Jim Collins
expounding upon Lao Tzu's philosophy of subtracting things from your life:
"A great piece of art is composed
not just of what is in the final piece,
but equally important, what is not.
It is the discipline to discard what does not fit
-to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort-
that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist
and marks the ideal piece of work,
be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or,
most important of all, a life."
Gulp. Subtracting? It seems we're forever adding things.
I find the idea of taking away sublimely freeing.
I'm beginning to put it into practice myself.
It's not terribly easy.
Especially the things that you took so long to build.
But if it's not an essential piece
to the art of your life presently,
let it go.
You won't regret it.
love is far more ubiquitous than you ever thought possible
for the simple fact that love is connection.
It's that poignant stretching of your heart that you feel
when you gaze into a newborn's eyes for the first time
or share a farewell hug with a dear friend.
It's even the fondness and sense of shared purpose
you might unexpectedly feel with a group of strangers
who've come together to marvel at a hatching of sea turtles
or cheer at a football game.
The new take on love that I want to share with you is this:
Love blossoms virtually anytime two or more people
- even strangers - connect over a shared positive emotion,
be it mild or strong."
-psychologist Barbara Fredickson
I find it a powerful truth to realize that love is all around us.
More telling, the opportunity for love is indeed all around us.
Some of us are tightly cocooned with a special someone
and reciprocal love pings back and forth.
Some of us open the circle wider and find, or better yet create,
love towards those we happen upon.
Let's all expand our circle this week.
You may be the only soul offering someone a piece of love.
And we all need it.
You know how sometimes
you find yourself taking your yoga off the mat?
Well, perhaps it's not spilling out of a chair into a deep backbend
at a tea party.
Maybe it's taking deep breaths
to bring yourself back to center when challenged.
Maybe it's breathing your heart open
out of that hunched computer shape.
Maybe it's extending a bit of ease and non-judgement
towards someone who needs it.
Your practice finds its way into your life
and out into your world.
This time of year there's a lot of striving going on.
New Year resolutions.... I'm going to lose this, get that, be better, thinner,
stronger, smarter. While it's certainly of benefit to set intentions and move
towards our aspirations,
there's something infinitely sweet
simply abiding in equanimity.
Here's to finding that quiet just rightness
that's waiting there right in the middle of you.
Because you're pretty fantastic just as you are.
But you already knew that, didn't you?
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
-poet Naomi Shabab Nye
How this idea appeals to me!
May we all live our lives quite fitted to our own peculiar purpose.
You, dear one, are the only person on the face of the earth
who can fulfill your own beautiful, powerful potential in this world.
And you do it
simply by moving as your own authentic self.
See, it's easy to be famous.
See you on the mat, rock star.
"We could reconnect with the weather that is ourselves, and we could realize that it's sad. The sadder it is, and the vaster it is, the more our heart opens. We can stop thinking that good practice is when it's smooth and calm, and bad practice is when it's rough and dark. If we can hold it all in our hearts, then we can make a proper cup of tea."
~ Pema Chodron
Words of balance to keep in mind, dear yogis.
Equanimity in all things.
Embrace the dark and the light, so we can be true.
You don't have to perfectly situated or in the "right" frame of mind for yoga.
It's called practice.
After my Saturday vinyasa class, I went to a cricket match.
Yes, I was the only girl. Yes, I was the only person not speaking Urdu or Pashto. And yes, it was fascinating.
The Pakistani team was made up of handsome, dark-skinned men in white. The Indian team was made up of handsome, dark-skinned men in white. I often had no idea who was playing whom, but I do love saying the word "wicket."
In efforts to have some idea what I would be watching, I did a little study the night before. Cricket began in the sixteenth century in England, and those Brits spread it around the world. A standard cricket match can last up to five days. Days, my dears.
I imagine those imperialist East India Company execs had all sorts of time on their hands. I mean after exploiting all that cotton, indigo, silk, and opium and generally wreaking colonial havoc, how about several days of hitting a little ball about?
I was struck by how these Nashville immigrants, many coming straight from a full night of work on the night shift, made time for a long day of simply playing together. I like the idea of grownups playing together
- not for money, not for fame, just because.
The power of play is a sweet, nurturing thing.
I hope that we might keep that simple truth in mind when we find our way to the mat together. It's not about becoming a bad ass yogi, crafting a fine yogi physique, or exercising because we should.
Hopefully, it's a bit about play.
Getting on the mat, looking at the world upside down,
standing on one foot, or two, or none.
Finding, making joy.
So, I'm a sucker for globes.
I love them.
I like to spin them around.
I like to think about how vast the world is.
I like to find the small number of places that I've stood.
Recently, I read this Op-ed in the New York Times by Mark Vanhoenacker. Not only does this guy have a brilliant name, he has some insights about how globes help us find our place in the world. Read on, dear yogis.
"The best reason for adults to rediscover globes is that, for all but the most silicon-hearted among us, nothing so easily and beautifully conjures our small place in a big scheme. After all, we live not in but on a world, one so achingly beautiful that we can hardly imagine we are free to gaze or sit down upon it anytime we like. [...] Find a globe you like, and put it where you're likely to stand up and touch it, to feel under your fingers what's under your feet. Spin it slowly around and think of Marilynne Robinson's reminder in Gilead that "the sun's light is constant" that there's only ever been one day. Or, as my 7yearold goddaughter see is, "I like that there's only one ocean." A globe shows us that there's only one of a lot of things -and that we're all in it, and on it, together."
For me, this articulates a bit of the joy we find when yogis join together in a single practice. There's something a bit magical about people of different shapes and sizes, coming from different places physically and emotionally, finding each other, and focusing minds and bodies in a shared practice.
I know more than one yogi who is going through Olympic withdrawal symptoms this week. There's something profoundly inspiring about watching these finely crafted athletes fully engage their bodies and minds in pursuit of perfection. We respect them for their tenacity, discipline, and strength.
What about this.........
"Poetry, music, forests, oceans, solitude- they were what developed enormous spiritual strength. I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race."
-Herb Elliott, Olympic champion who trained in bare feet, wrote poetry, and retired undefeated
In our own practice, the physical, mental and emotional discipline of yoga, we would do well to feed our spirits on and off the mat as we aim to move deeper into our physical discipline.
Each time you step on the mat, it is always your intention that holds it all together in perfect symmetry- the challenge of the asanas, the reach of the breath, and the stamina of the flow.
Engage fully in your practice this week
whenever and wherever you are.
I rolled up my mat and went to Boulder for a few days where I practiced with some fantastic teachers, like this guy. I heartily recommend trying yoga with a new teacher in a new place. It's always surprising, and every teacher has something to give you.
Boulder yogis made a significant impression upon me. Almost everyone you see is an uber-athlete of some sort, so their physical asana is impressive. However, not a single yogi greeted me in any way. As a fellow student, no one welcomed me with even a smile. I felt utterly alone.
Ack! As yogis, I think it's part of our practice to show kindness to one another.
The practice of yoga is all about transformation. Kindness opens the door. Transformation is never in the information, it is in the alchemy where the truth within the information finds the open hearts of the seekers.
We practice together to pool our energy, wordlessly support one another, and draw strength and inspiration from each other. Practicing kindness towards ourselves through nonjudgment can elevate our asana to an offering, even a prayer.
Otherwise, what's the point of all this yoga?
Does the world really need another person with a perfect trikonasana? I don't think so. The world does need another person who moves with kindness, openness, and awareness towards themselves and others. Using our intention to open our hearts and bodies is what we do in yoga.
This is what I've learned from watching you guys. Thank you for being such dear spirits and devoted yogis.
Nashville yogis rock!