We spent the weekend traveling. Without a yoga mat.
By our last night, any hard, long, empty surface looked inviting.
Entering a hotel room to find a clear, expansive credenza,
I was flat on my back in no time for a psoas* release.
We took a snapshot, so you could try this at home
or for the next time you're out on the road,
contracting your psoas while trapped in the seat of a car.
Lay down close to the edge let your outside leg fall.
Let your outside arm reach in opposition.
You are artfully extending both ends of your psoas
in the exact opposite shape of a seated position.
Hang out for awhile with long breaths.
Then switch sides.
You'll feel taller and more open, promise.
The end. You're welcome!
I'll be so happy to see you on the mat this week!
Ouch. Is this ever true.
I am no stranger to the search for more.
I have readily recognized how it serves me as a distraction,
but I had never considered that I might use it as a place to hide.
For me, succumbing to the search for more feels like feeding
that never satiated, frankly unattractive, less transformed part of myself.
That's me at my weakest, most distracted, and ungrounded place.
Because when I feel grounded and really present in a moment,
I rarely feel unsatiated but usually grateful for whatever I'm noticing,
or at the very least, grateful for the presence of mind TO notice it.
Sigh. I am definitely a work in progress. Hopefully, you are too.
We'll be neither hidden nor distracted
but present and curious
on the yoga mat this week.
[illustration by the wonderfully peculiar Edward Gorey]
I recently heard Laura Plumb talk about how to approach eating
with an Ayurvedic (the art of living wisely) mindset.
One thing she said hit me hard and true.
Ayurveda considers that you are consciousness come alive.
The sun is seen as the symbolic light of consciousness,
and actually we each are some piece of that fire.
Individually, we can imagine a radiant sun inside us,
readily understood as the digestive fire in our belly.
Every time we eat a meal we are making an offering to that sacred fire.
It inspires one to think "What's good enough for my sacred fire?"
We can feed the fire within wisely and practice eating as a type of devotion.
For that fire, which is like a sun, can burn away impurities
and grow its radiance within us
to feed the light of the heart, the brain, and the mind
so we are radiant emotionally and mentally as well as physically.
Next time you're pondering what to put on your plate
ask "What's good enough for my sacred fire?"
That's taking your yoga off the mat and into your life.
We'll salute the sun together
on the mat this week.
Vrksasana is a powerful balance pose
engaging muscles from your feet all the way to your upper torso.
Two things to do:
Remember to breathe smoothly.
Spread and fully ground your standing foot.
Two things NOT to do:
Don't lock your standing knee.
Don't insist your bent knee push wide to the side.
Let your pelvis align naturally,
your breath remain even,
and your gaze fixed.
We may try some variations on vrksasana
“It is through your body
that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
– BKS Iyengar
Take some inspiration from my friend, Scout.
He's discovered the joy of prasarita padottanasana.
Spark of divinity, indeed.
Finding the expression of your life force
surging from your very core into all your extremities
is empowering and works to enliven you from the inside out.
Conversely, simply creating such shapes with your body
may work to empower you from the outside in
by positively affecting your hormonal balance, lessening anxiety,
and boosting your confidence.
Come find your spark
on the mat this week.
I found myself finally visiting the new Tennessee State Museum Sunday afternoon,
surrounded by silver haired ladies in floral dresses and men in suits. It felt like
a real southern summer Sunday outing. Most of us were there to hear the
Nashville Opera's offering of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915
based on James Agee's prose poem, hence the Sunday finery. It was glorious.
Afterwards, we ambled around the Tennessee Quilts exhibit.
I noticed a couple things.
Firstly, I will henceforth always dress like a grownup when visiting a museum;
it truly heightens the experience. I may not wear faux flowers in my hair, but I'm
so glad that beautiful seventy year old did. Secondly, people used to spend a lot
of time doing quiet, repetitive things that may have taken months or years to reach fruition.
Lastly, communing with art on a daily basis, specifically lying beneath or upon
hand-wrought textiles is a powerful thing.
I have a few, old, tattered handmade quilts rescued from charity shops that
I've lived with my entire adult life. I've inherited perfect quilts from my German
mother-in-law that I've been hitherto afraid to crumple. But, you know, the antique quilts
on display that had stains or imperfections were the sweetest ones.
When something looks loved and used, it seems to hold and offer more meaning.
Kind of like me, I suddenly realize when I look in the mirror these days.
Your yoga mat can offer the same sweetness of a quilt.
A place to find solace, a place to hold you while you quiet.
Bring yours to practice.
"We weren't doing nothing - we were standing still."
When I read this remembrance from
a Merce Cunningham dancer, Marrian Preger-Simon,
about the choreographed art of standing still,
it evoked the the very alert, auspicious feeling
of breathing into an elongated tadasana.
Once upon a time, standing on the coast of Sicily,
gazing into the Mediterranean, upright in tadasana,
I felt free, very alive, and completely present in my asana.
I can conjure this feeling at will,
by stacking my spine, opening my chest,
and lengthening my neck
when I stand in mountain pose.
Okay, it's not exactly the same
standing upon a Nashville floor indoors
without the Mediterranean breezes on jagged rocks,
but kinda close.....
Let's try it
on the mat this week.
"One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence
that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. [...]
I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless,
three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky."
This, from a book review of new titles which make the case for people to put down their phones.
The reviewer tried a suggested digital cleanse and was flummoxed by the process.
Her final sentence hit me hard.
There are moments when I, too, long to feel soft, loose, and purposeless.
But just about everything in me pulls the other way.
(though it must be said my husband had no trouble
finding pictures of me lying prone and purposeless.... hmmm.)
Our cultural constructs call us to fortifying tasks, ambition, self improvement.
It's a pretty risky business to allow soft purposelessness momentary reign.
Want to get a little subversive?
I dare you, yogi.
We'll find a lingering savasana
on the mat this week.
"The more we put our attention on sensation,
the more we get out of our thinking mind."
A yoga practice is all about noticing,
sharpening our awareness as we move in and out of shapes.
Sometimes we cautiously move towards sensation;
sometimes we wisely move a bit away.
Regardless, we keep keen attention upon the sensation
in order to intuit which direction will best serve us.
A lovely consequence of this purposeful awareness
is relief from a busy thinking mind.
I know more than one yogi who cites this
as her prime reason for regular practice.
I recently read about adults turning to music lessons late in life.
Practicing an instrument for the first time at forty or fifty can be humbling.
One executive said it was the only time her body was so occupied
she could stop her monkey mind from ruling her consciousness.
It brings a whole new meaning to mind-body awareness.
A piano. A cello. A yoga mat. All three work for me in this way.
Come calm your own mind
on the yoga mat this week.
This may be the first time a Home Depot purchase
elicited a cry of delight.
The mister bought us a pitchfork.
It’s cheery tangerine. It’s solid metal.
And it looks like something Neptune might have in hand.
This pitchfork may inspire us to TURN our compost.
Apparently, the step we’ve been missing.
This we learned at a free metro composting class.
Along with the disturbing fact that
a plastic bag takes 200 to 1000 years to decompose.
How’s that for a number to
stop you in your tracks at the checkout cash register?
They also will gift you a splendid backyard composter.
You can sign up here.
Composting is so empowering!
And I just learned you can actually visit Metro's recycling center
to watch what happens to all those things you faithfully recycle.
You can sign up here.
In yoga we learn to conserve our energy,
holding it wisely in abeyance,
expending it with purpose.
Ancient yogic science has proven
it’s a brilliant way to make your body last.
The same principle applies on the macro scale, doesn’t it?
May we all be wise stewards on the inside, on the outside,
and especially on this earth we all share.
Bring your whole self to the yoga circle.
found in my East Nashville neighborhood last week
I recently found myself lugging yoga mats down 7th Avenue at 5:30 am,
my only company being bundled construction workers in tool belts walking past.
I was headed to the roof of a fancy hotel
to teach a sunrise yoga class to a company of New Yorkers.
Once ensconced, I only had to step over the laid out mats and through an impressive glass wall,
to find myself standing over my city, with more than one building crane in view.
Just feet away from my high perch, I glimpsed work boots perched twenty floors up.
With the dizzying effect of swinging cranes over head,
I could almost touch them. It was intense and a little surreal.
I've since learned that Nashville is the South's most dangerous city for construction workers.
Eleven workers have fallen to their deaths, while NOT wearing safety harnesses.
A Nashville native, I've done my share of grousing over the new development
and the accompanying traffic that can make life miserable.
Who are all these people?!
At the moment, I'm struck by consequences I've never considered.
It's helping me move towards compassion instead of my usual instant frustration.
"May you be safe" mister worker dude who's flashing me the stop sign,
making me wait for a concrete mixer when I really need to make the light.
We all might do a little better to calm, to slow down, to look out for each other.
To take the proverbial nap, kitty cat.
Come to the yoga mat
where life is easy
(and we can practice what to do when it's not).
candles of devotion in an errant cathedral I stumbled upon in Rome in 2011
by Carl Dennis
If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in
Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
You needn't suppose the cut would be a deep one,
Just deep enough to keep her at home
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,
Whose brother George, thirty years later,
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
Doesn't go under in the Great Depression
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father's efforts
Is shown by the candles you've burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
For the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
With friends and family or alone on the road,
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
And hold his hand, the very hand
It's time for you to imagine holding.
Using time travel and ritual acts of devotion
to cultivate compassion
appeals to me.
If encountering a busy mind
in moments of attempted meditation,
perhaps this might prove a worthy endeavor.
Come to practice together
on the mat.
"You probably cannot and should not let go
of your personal ethics and your political beliefs,
but perhaps you can hold these ideologies
in suspension for the time being.
Allow your mind to enter into a space of not-knowing,
of not having solutions, of not casting blame.
Before you go to sleep this evening,
enter into a space of equanimity
in which you regard all people in the same light."
-David Dillard Wright from "A Mindful Evening"
Okay, this is a pretty big ask.
And I'm not pretending that I can easily do so myself.
But this seems like a rather relevant notion at present.
So, maybe just consider it?
Come find a little peace together
before the returns start rolling in.
I scored this little treasure at my favorite booksale last week.
The chapter on proper funereal etiquette in 1890 reeled me in,
but this advice to well-bred ladies, read in the age of Kavanaugh, stopped me cold.
"A Low Voice"
I think one can always tell a lady by her voice and laugh
-neither of which which will ever be loud or coarse,
but soft, low, and nicely modulated. Shakespeare's unfailing taste
tells us that "A low voice is an excellent thing in a woman."
And we believe that the habit of never raising the voice
would tend much to the comfort and happiness of many a home:
as a proof of good breeding, it is unfailing.
Now, I was raised a girl in the southland,
so admittedly this does not sound like crazy talk to my ear.
But I was convicted by this op-ed by Rebecca Traister in the NYT yesterday:
Many of the women shouting now are women who have not previously yelled publicly before,
any of them white middle-class women newly awakened to political fury and protest.
Part of the process of becoming mad must be recognizing that they are not the first to be furious,
and that there is much to learn from the stories and histories of the livid women
- many of them not white or middle class - who have never had reason not to be mad.
If you are angry today, or if you have been angry for a while,
and you're wondering whether you're allowed to be as angry as you feel,
let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled.
If you've been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country,
and if your anger is making you want to change your life in order to change the world,
then I have something incredibly important to say: Don't forget how this feels.
Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember.
And don't let anyone persuade you it wasn't right, or it was weird,
or it was some quirky stage in your life when you went all political
- remember that, honey, that year you went crazy? No. No.
Don't let it ever become that. Because people will try.
I am wrestling with what to do with the fury I feel
after watching all nine hours of the Kavanaugh hearing.
I recognize that entitled bros trigger me like nobody's business,
and that everyone has pain and deserves to be heard.
I have always loved the way my feminine body can inhabit a very small amount of space.
I also love the way I can open it and take up a lot of space, physically and energetically.
I'm finding that my yoga practice helps me process some of this current emotion,
along with shared conversation over the moment we find ourselves in.
To be awake, thoughtful, compassionate, while acknowledging fury isn't easy,
but what is all this yoga for if it can't help us live more authentically off the mat?
After yoga class yesterday, a yogi I love told me her intention for the week was anger.
A pastor I deeply respect told me that we are marked for love and now is the time to rage.
Permission granted. I think fierce, red hot, furious love is actually good medicine.
Come to the mat
and process whatever you're holding.
Plank is a powerful posture
and a difficult one, I admit.
If we can build it with integrity,
it creates a wise foundation from which we can build many asanas.
Everything from a sound down dog to kooky arm balances.
There are many variations, a couple that we'll try this week.
Usually plank is done with a neutral spine
activating spinal stabilizers and postural muscles
such as multifidus and transverse abdominus.
We can also take flexion into a plank with a slightly rounded back,
firing up global mobilizers like rectus abdominis and quadriceps.
We'll sweetly (I promise) explore both this week.
You'll feel strong, stable, and awesome.
Take inspiration from Nancy & Sarah
who can stack it like nobody's business!
See you on the mat!
We took a little road trip to Memphis this weekend.
Not what I would call a sparkling city, but the zoo was brilliant.
I was struck by this gorilla's calm demeanor and stellar posture.
I don't know many 32 year old, 500 pound dudes who can sit like this.
His name, Mwelu, translates as "a touch of brightness and light" in Burundi.
I've since learned that he and I share a similar spinal structure,
give or take one or two thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in number.
He has less curves in his spine, thanks to not standing on two legs all the time;
his discs almost never wear out.
You could learn a lot from a western lowland gorilla.
They are quiet, peaceful, and non-aggressive creatures.
When they have to deal with intruders,
they'll charge but tend to fake out at the last minute,
so nobody gets hurt but they make their point.
Smart. I like a big guy . . . without a big ego.
There is a gorilla pose in your future.
This shifting weather, a tiny morning flurry one moment, a sunshiny afternoon the next,
mirrors the distractions of the holiday season as we move towards winter.
Take care to ground yourself when you can, with your breath or a moment of stillness.
I have held on to this poetic encouragement to move like all things green, in one direction.
This weekend, I would lose my way while entering one room to retrieve stamps
only to find a decoration strewn on the floor meant to find the tree
to arrive empty handed back at the table, blank envelopes gaping at me "Seriously?"
"One direction, dear one," I compassionately remind myself. "One direction."
I look upon the spindly plant in the library, its two stems straining towards the window.
It's a daily reminder (of my less than green thumb, yes)
but mostly to remember to reach towards the light,
intuitively in a simple, true, single minded direction.
Hope to see you in the yoga circle.
Autumn finds me lying beneath trees even more than usual.
Lately, I've been thinking of this poem by Mary Oliver.
On Meditating, Sort Of
Meditation, so I've heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place - half-asleep- where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter-
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints-
all that glorious, temporary stuff.
Bring your glorious, temporary self
to the yoga mat.
[extra credit if you spied me in forest savasana]
An intelligent yoga practice encompasses
both internal and external alignment.
Internally, the practice is used to measure yourself
using the fits of your body
to participate in the health of your organs and glands.
Each posture is used to give measurable results.
This is about cleaning and reorganizing your internal world
so that it becomes a joy to live in the body.
I love this pragmatic perspective on a yoga practice.
This is why we do what we do.
Postures on the mat, visited again and again,
work to give us a measure.
A measure of how things are fitting together,
on the outside and on the inside.
We practice to create order in our bodies,
on the outside and on the inside.
When you recognize this,
your work becomes a very internal practice.
You don't care what the postures look like in the body next to you.
That's not your body, not your information, of no value to you at all.
You get incredibly interested in what you find in your postures.
How they affect your breath, your mind, your emotions.
Where else do you get an hour to simply observe yourself becoming?
There's nothing like adventuring in the wide world to give one a fresh perspective.
First, realizing how tiny you are
while safely held by ancient trees in a Canadian forest.
Second, hearing just about every language surrounding you on a city street,
but recognizing just how much we are all the same.
I miss home.
Kicking around Canada's oldest Chinatown.
These narrow alleys led to opium dens in the late 19th century.
Today, they lead to vegan gelato.
(raspberry swirl for me, thank you)
We're heading next to a remote coast
on Vancouver Island for some stillness.
Remember, no yoga classes this week.
It's a great time to try something new!
Perhaps explore a different yoga class somewhere you've never been
(you're well equipped to step on the mat anywhere, promise),
or try some new modality (a forest meditation , swimming, badminton, a bike ride).
In any event, take care of your sweet self
'til next week when I see you again.
Much northern love,
Some of my favorite shapes to take in yoga
are the ones where I feel like a starfish.
Open. Radiating outwards. Limbs askew.
Who knew that in esoteric yogic anatomy studies it's a thing:
enlivening asana with navel radiation.
The idea is that from our very beginnings, in utero,
we received all our nourishment through our navels
radiating out into all our forming systems and limbs.
Once born, we still breathed and moved in this way at first.
Natural abdominal breathing that helped us
extend our energy out into unfurling limbs.
In yoga, we have the opportunity to recapture this freedom.
If you watch an accomplished yoga practitioner,
even in a still posture, you can sense her energy moving,
radiating out into her limbs with intention.
If we can soften the belly, connect with breath there, and then send it out,
we're on our way to using navel radiation to empower our asana.
It's not only physically powerful. It opens you up emotionally.
We'll practice this phenomenon this week.
It will feel awesome and sweet.
And you'll leave the mat feeling long and free.
Design your emotional posture
and let your practice take care of your cells.
As yogis, we know the power of intention
whether in where we send the breath,
or how we move in and out of asanas.
Even off the mat, out in the real world,
you can design your emotional posture
(lest it design you)
-cowed and defeated,
open and receptive,
strong and steady.
All this feeds your cells, energetically
and we now know, physiologically as well.
Come take care of your cells.
[yes, this is our own yogi, Anna Cramer,
caught in yogic waterfall bliss]
Other than the sea, the most amazing thing
I saw at the beach was this heron.
Her majestic stride with
such beautifully articulated feet stunned me.
I couldn't stop watching.
It put me in mind of Martha Graham
writing about the sacredness of the bodily form.
The beauty of the heel as it is used to carry one forward into life.
Of course, the heron doesn't lead with her heel,
but peels her talons from the sand,
suspends for a moment,
and plants them again to earth.
We're going to find our feet this week in practice.
I've just obtained some happy props precisely for this purpose.
So, there's very little in yard work
that gives a feeling of utter recklessness.
The chance to mow down monkey grass with abandon
at the first of spring before the new shoots push up is one.
One that my dear husband was denied
as we waited far too long to attend.
"Hey mister, don't you think we should give the front yard a quick mow
and hit the monkey grass before it starts sprouting?"
I offered a couple weeks ago.
"Mmmmm..." I heard from behind the computer screen
where he was mired in dissecting some endless code.
Fast forward to last Monday, when mowing the grass seemed a necessity,
but the monkey grass was half new and hopeful, half old tatters.
Ta da! Enter the shears, a keen eye, and a meditative opportunity.
There's something contemplative and sweet about going so slowly,
looking at what to nurture and keep, what to snip and toss away.
Spring presents a chance for such culling.
Spring cleaning inside and out, yogis.
Creating a little more space for what we want in our lives.
Were you to do dishes in my kitchen sink
(and please, feel free, anytime)
this week, you would find this at eye level.
I love when fortune cookie slips or tea bag tags
whisper to me "here. this one is for you. really."
Rather than grasping for the perfect hook
to reach people in a yoga class,
to persuade my son he'd love nothing more than to hang out with me,
to quantify my peculiarly personal stamp of success in any form,
I think I'll just try this.
Feels like a sweet exhale, doesn't it?
Let's practice together
and see what comes.
"Travel makes one modest.
You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world."
The vast and simple beauty of Maine
leaves this yogi humble and grateful
for newly discovered landscapes
within and without.
A little garudasana (eagle pose)
in honor of our nation's capital.
Here in D.C., I've found myself elbow to elbow
with people of every culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, social class, and race.
While peeping through the fence at the White House yesterday,
I watched a proud Pakistani-American father
place his young, bespectacled son just so for a snapshot.
I suddenly remembered
my only Obama encounter,
standing in Nashville's Public Square in the fall of 2006
hearing then Senator Obama exhort us to embrace
the growing diversity of our own city,
reminding us that to do so would only make us stronger and richer.
And I realized that
it is the coexistence
of all these disparate souls around me
that makes the United States a country like no other.
(insert patriotic fiddle here)
"Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding,
and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy,"
Might I suggest the ideal conditions of
a midsummer's afternoon
and quite barefoot?
Then you can find your way to your mat.
In our yoga circle here in Nashville,
I look around the room and find many faiths represented.
The sweet thing
is that each and every soul is nurtured
peculiarly and individually
through a practice we share together.
grasshopper in down dog
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
~ John Muir
I spent the weekend in Asheville
getting lost in forests and leaves
and sleeping under the moon.
There's something about time in the wilderness
that helps you see more clearly.
Lose yourself outside this autumn,
even if it's only for an hour somewhere.
Your soul will be the better for it.
forest hand-standing husband