I have been fascinated of late by the insuppressible spark of plants.
Watching a tuber emerge from soil and unfurl leaf by leaf towards the sun.
Wincing as I clip a stem, following advice to prune, only to watch it surge back stronger.
The same indomitable spark actually lies within me. It lies within you, too.
It's why you're still here, if not vociferously thriving in the present time,
enduring it, face turned towards the sun.
Keep. Going, courageous yogi.
And every now and then, let yourself be stopped
by the astonishing light of your own being.
(This very moment, find a burgeoning inhale
and slowly exhale a smile of gratitude.)
You are a wonder.
We'll tend our light on the mat this week.
At the moment, many of us are overwhelmed with emotion
that may change by the day or even by the hour.
I've been fascinated by Karla McLaren's ideas of how to work with emotions.
While I tend to think of emotion as all about FEELING,
she explains that emotions work to attach meaning to data.
They are actually the underlayment of all our cognition.
Rather than sink in or push them away,
we might recognize they hold aspects of genius.
"Emotions don't cause the problem,
they come to help you deal with the problem."
Okay, I could use some help. Thank you, emotion. Go on.
Each emotion brings a specific kind of support in McLaren's theory.
Anger helps us to set boundaries.
Sadness helps us to let go of things that aren't working anymore.
Anxiety helps us to organize what's going on.
Fear helps us to access our instincts and intuition to prepare for the future.
Grief helps us mourn what we've lost.
The way I see it power lies in acknowledging the yucky emotion,
naming it to see more clearly how it might help us move forward.
One thing we know as yogis, we are not going to feel good all the time.
Our practice is about learning to create space wide enough to acknowledge it all,
without feeling ruled or stuck or captured by an emotion.
Maybe this frame of understanding might help you too
in untangling what you feel,
and discovering what wisdom might be held within.
We'll be with what is on the mat this week.
Cape Cod Morning by Edward Hopper (1950)
Something about the days of quarantine brings me to Edward Hopper.
I've always been drawn to the open caughtness of his paintings.
And now, well, can't you identify with the at odds juxtaposition
of being contained, held inside, yet free to ruminate, look, and think?
Critic Peter Schjeldahl (no slouch himself) looking at Hopper now, offers:
"The free, questing citizen has devolved into one or another of millions
rattling around on a comfortless continent.
Can you pledge patriotic allegiance to a void? Hopper shows how,
exploring a condition in which, by being separate, we belong together."
Trapped in our own safe spaces, negotiating brave forrays out,
we are all suddenly keenly aware of our own personal energetic field.
We should recognize that all these separate bubbles, each housing a disparate soul
longing for connection, make up a greater, expanded energetic field.
Feel yourself a part of a whole, even if you can't physically realize it.
Tend to yourself like it matters, because it does.
The consciousness we bring to our own living right now feeds the collective.
Spark this through your yoga practice this week.
Lately, I have fallen in love with the sky.
We've been sleeping outside each night,
so it's the last thing I gaze it before falling asleep
and it's the first thing I see in the morning.
And then I heard Sharon Salzberg's advice.
Her young goddaughter inquired about mindfulness and working with emotions.
Sharon tried to explain that it was helpful to be like the sky, rather than a sponge.
After an argument with a little sister, the young girl was heard running through the house
shouting "I am like the sky! I am not a sponge!" as she worked to process her emotion.
Now, here's an image I can relate to. I have been that shouting child this week.
We know it's important not to squelch emotions when they arise.
Otherwise that energy becomes trapped in the body and tissues.
But there is SO much to feel right now!
Our job as yogis is to notice that, feel it, express it somehow, and let it move through.
Making ourselves as vast as the sky means there is no limit to what we can hold and release.
Emphasis on the release, dears.
Simply holding it helps no one.
Whether it's anger over oppression, fear of the unknown, grief over loss, or unnamed anxiety.
It's often not as easy as breathing it away. . . . 1-2-3- poof.
Sometimes the expression involves inspired action towards change.
Sometimes it's sighing it out, shouting it out, crying it out, moving it out through your body.
It's a daily practice of empowering freedom.
Be as vast as the sky, again and again.
Bring it to the yoga mat this week.
illustration from Jean-Pierre Weill's The Well of Being
"I offer you only my deeply affectionate and compassionate thoughts
and wish for you only that the strange thing may never fail you,
whatever it is, that gives us the strength to live on and on with our wounds. "
- Samuel Beckett to Alan Schneider in 1963
I sense a holding lately -almost a holding of breath -
some of us unsure precisely what to say or exactly how to move
in support of community wide equality, towards change,
in solidarity with our sisters and brothers,
without striking a wrong note.
And some of us unsure how, and if,
to re-enter society from quarantine.
Uncertain how quickly or slowly to re-engage,
where to tread, when to try,
how to maneuver with others of a different mindset.
I'm trying to remind myself
that a true heart speaks volumes.
Deeply affectionate and compassionate thoughts, yogis.
Offer them to yourselves first.
Then let them shine out your eyes (and over your mask)
towards everyone you see.
It's like a magical force field around you.
Bring it to the yoga mat this week.
As I'm typing this on a Sunday evening, I've paused to howl.
The East Nashville Howl happens every evening at 8pm.
All my neighbors step outside to howl in solidarity;
you can hear the echoes from blocks and blocks away.
It's fantastically cathartic. I've become a real fan.
It's gotten me thinking about the power of the voice
to claim, to release, and sometimes to take a stand.
This is why I made my way to the rally on Legislative Plaza Saturday.
I, who have been quarantining hard for months, felt compelled.
The terrible violence that manifested later downtown that evening
bore no resemblance whatsoever to the peaceful rally of the afternoon.
While none of us should look away from the pain and outrage
evidenced all across our country right now,
I want you to know a couple beautiful things I saw on Saturday.
Practically everyone was wearing masks and people
of every color were moving respectfully around each other.
I was keeping distance and the sound system was poor,
so very few of us could actually hear the speakers.
But here's a little of what I heard around me:
"Look! She's burning sage! She's protecting us,"
a young, disheveled white boy said of a solemn, beautiful, young black girl
moving slowly through the crowd holding sage aloft.
"I can have one?" the older Asian man in a sun hat asked of
the muscled men pulling wagons of free, cold water bottles for the crowd.
"May I take a picture of your sign?" one girl asked a fierce woman who obliged.
These were the people of my city, not at all sure what they could do
but intent on bearing witness, taking a stand, and supporting each other.
This is the Nashville I know and love and call home.
May all we take responsibility for our privilege, own our own racism,
and honorably work together for every single person to be respected.
Yoga is not always about being comfortable,
but it is about being honest with ourselves.
Find your own true heart on the mat this week.
Today is a day for remembering.
Maybe a moment to remember some of the people we've lost to this virus.
The front page of Sunday's New York Times was simply long text columns
honoring 1,000 souls, representing only one percent of the toll thus far,
with a single phrase for each person, picked from obits across our country.
I read every one and cried in a way I hadn't yet.
I picked out a handful to share with you.
It's a lot to hold, but there's a good deal to think about here,
not the least of which is the effect of distilling a life into a single sentence.
It's easy to get caught up in the fear, the frustration, the furor
over our present time. The politics. The boredom. The unknown.
Let us not lose sight of each other.
Socio-economic inequalities lead some to bristle at the sentiment,
but it really is true - we are all in this together.
Let's act like it.
Take care of yourself
so you can take care of others.
Stepping on the yoga mat is a great place to start.
As we move into the reopening of our city, unknowns remain and questions arise.
Each with her or his own idea about risks and how best to care for each other.
Find your way through attuned to your own inner wisdom and leavened by compassion.
No pose more fully expresses this drop
into compassionate wisdom than folding forward.
When paschimottanasana is created gently, allowing
a heavy head to bring the torso softly towards the legs,
and one stays for awhile surrendering bit by bit into the floor
and into gravity, another type of surrendering begins.
One in which you might trust the universe, allow an unclenching
of your troubled mind, and let your breath flow like water.
Water being the element evoked here, as you open
the kidney and urinary bladder meridians along your back body.
Drop into a flow of what is,
though it may change moment to moment,
floating free in the present
trusting you will know how to be, how to move, when to stay still.
Body, breath, noticing. It's so connected.
Use your time on the mat to teach you how to live.
Your next home yoga practice, should you choose to accept it,
is an interesting writing practice for good inner work.
Many of you may already be prodigious journalers.
Not me. I've noticed I only journal when my life is falling apart.
This means I have only one slim book not even half full
to cover the last thirty years of my life,
but were you to read it you would think
"Good God, this girl needs some help."
Enough about me.
Lynda Barry created this pandemic diary project for the New York Times.
I found it enticing. Not only to help me process what I'm feeling,
but to serve as a history of what we're moving through.
My favorite histories to read have always been the personal ones.
Now I'm creating a tiny one myself.
Maybe you will too.
Sitting quietly. Seeing what you remember.
Unspooling and assessing.
Sounds a bit like yoga, doesn't it?
Yoga is a powerful practice for releasing emotion.
Perhaps writing might serve the same purpose.
Do your good work - in yourself, first, and then the world around you.
This is the window I look through as I practice or teach each day.
I gaze out at my budding crepe myrtle, keeping track of the chickadees, wrens, doves,
and blue jays that often peer right back at me in my curious shapes on my yoga mat.
It's lovely, but now. . . . . . . . . there's a rose.
It's been so long since fresh flowers have been in the house
that when my rose bush came to life and I waited for a second bloom
before considering snipping one to take indoors,
I was overwhelmed with joy just holding it in my hand.
And, really, each time I glimpse it anew, I feel a little ray of hope.
We know flowers have a long symbolic history throughout the ages
and even a ceremonial history in many faiths.
During historic plagues, people carried them to ward off contagion,
tucking small bouquets in buttonholes and hands to smell
when odors of sickness threatened.
It seems fitting, does it not, to delight in a single bloom now?
These days of quarantine have made me more appreciative, more attentive
to tiny pieces of beauty presenting where I may not have looked before
and quite content with whatever is given.
Your home yoga assignment this week is to find a bloom.
Somewhere. Anywhere. It could be a dandelion
or a mystery bloom borrowed from an anonymous yard.
Take one for your own to love.
(Some say you should ask permission first, of the plant that is, not necessarily the property owner.)
Let it catch you by surprise when you walk into your room,
sparking new awareness, sheer happiness, and even hope.
Springtime love to you, yogis!
Greetings, beloved yogis.
Another week, another offering in our home yoga series.
This may be particularly helpful if your lower back is feeling
a little stuck from too much sitting or
a little cranky from not enough movement.
You'll be on the floor, relying upon a strong wall for your feet.
Here comes some atypical bridge work to create suppleness in your spine.
step 1: scooch up a shin length's distance from the wall
- your hip, knees, and heels should be in two straight lines
- you're set up alignment wise just as you would be for a traditional bridge pose
- knees are bent at a ninety degree angle
- settle in, let your back body relax into the floor, both shoulders sink
- press feet evenly into wall (outer edges & big toe mound)
add-on option: begin to breathe slowly, inhale to fill belly, exhale navel to spine
step 2: begin to lift and lower hips along with breath
- when exhaling belly to spine, feel tailbone barely rise from floor
- when inhaling, feel pelvis return heavy to ground
- move slowly in tandem with breath, height and speed at your own liking
add-on option: hover for a while with hips elevated or
take halfway movements to work through sticky parts of your back
step 3: turn it into a supported half shoulderstand
- have a block or books at hand to slip under your hips
- rest comfortably with hips completely supported
- keep palms flat on the ground and shoulders spun open
- stay for as long as you like
- this pose calms the mind, relieves stress, stimulates the thyroid,
and gently stretches the neck and shoulders
By the time you're done, your back should feel happier,
your energy a little lighter and calmer.
Ahhhh...... that's better.
This week's installment of home yoga will nudge you out the back door
into the grass, in search of a tree wherever you can find one.
Feet Up The Tree
Don't you like the ring of it? (simply a variation of viparita karani)
step 1: sidle up close to your chosen tree
- introduce yourself if you're not already acquainted
I always embrace my tulip poplar first in gratitude
(my neighbors already think I'm odd, so no worries there)
step 2: sit close, swing your legs up, and wiggle about til comfy
- nestle in, around the bumpy roots, the spongy moss
you may be on a blanket or yoga mat or not
step 3: sink, breathe, feel supported from the earth
While we feel jostled and troubled by the trials of the moment, the trees do not.
They have a deeper, longer wisdom and penetrating roots from which to draw.
But they will share that energy with you. Take it.
Then take some time - to notice. Notice what you smell. Notice what you see.
Feel supported. Allow yourself to delight in the offering of a single minded calm.
Stay for awhile. Nurture your nervous system, leaving the emotional roller coaster behind.
If you find yourself isolating at home without other bodies to share touch,
you may find this profound nature to heart connection particularly needful and sweet.
I do this practice so often, sometimes I think I hear my poplar calling out to me.
Interestingly, it's never that the tree needs me, but rather has something to give.
Make a new friend, yogi. No mask needed.
Here I sit, listening to Neil Young
my long silver teaspoon in and out of a peanut butter jar
gazing wistfully out the window.
I'm thinking of you and hoping you're tending to yourself well.
Here's your next installment in our home yoga series.
This one will take a bit longer, but you're chill on the floor,
elongating your hamstrings, so what's not to love?
Find the edge of a wall, a bookcase, a refrigerator,
a doorjamb, even a sofa side will do in a pinch.
Supine Hamstring Stretch
step 1: sidle up to the edge of your support
- your right hip is in line with the supporting edge of your furniture or wall
- a bent right knee enables your right foot to press flat to the support
- your left hip is free with a bent knee and foot on the floor
- settle in, let your back body relax into the floor, both shoulders sink
- over time, one leg may begin to lengthen until you feel a little resistance in your right hamstrings
add-on option: stay 5-10 minutes exhaling navel to spine, right hip grows ever heavier
step 2: sneak closer to your own edge
- your right hip may draw closer and closer to your support "wall"
- your right leg can work towards straight
- your left leg can drop long and heavy to the floor
- this should be a very slow process, the longer your take, the more compliant your hamstrings will be
add-on option: sweep your left arm overhead and let it rest comfortably as you breathe along your left side body
Of course, you will repeat this whole bit on the other leg.
Slow and steady is the ticket on this asana, kids.
Maybe you're listening to a podcast, reading a book, breathing in meditation,
or listening to your loved ones complain about how bored they are.
You, though, are in heaven.
And your hamstrings will be open, long, and grateful.
I hope you will feel this way, too.
I want you to be well, feel deeply hopeful, and know you are loved.
Oh my goodness, another week begins in this curiously paused state.
Yet here's the sun to assure us the earth is still spinning just as it should.
I hope you're treating yourself to yoga snacks here and there
throughout the week, as you're snug at home.
I've always believed that a little yoga consistently throughout each day
is even more powerful than a full hour of yoga once a week.
To that end, here's my initial offering for your home yoga practice.
We're starting where I regrettably seem to be spending most my time lately.
asana 1: oven pull back
-feet hips width or wider
-arms shoulder width or wider
-step back until you're pulled out long in a half forward fold
-navel to spine, shoulder blades drawing down
-feel stable and strong as you lengthen
-deepen to more down dog-ish /
-sway your hips / make it feel awesome
-but don't hang in your joints please
asana 2: spunky oven plank
-try to keep your hands and feet where they are
-transition to a solid plank and hold
-calf raises while in plank holding steady
here's the spunky part.....
-take a chaturanga pushup ( or two or.....)
keeping elbows drawing back, collarbones broad, navel to spine
-slow draw back to your starting position of oven pull back
Over and over til the oven preheats?
Each time after you wash and dry your hands?
In defiance of washing dishes for the fourth time that day?
But do it with love.
Making yourself stronger and saner each time.
Be well, yogi. Be patient. Think of something that makes you smile.
I offer a bit of a poem (excerpted and type altered by me)
in hopes it sparks in you an image or two that might
bring a sense of renewed resilience or new hope.
Or simply an opportunity to reframe,
which is something I seem to be doing a lot lately,
sometimes wisely by design, but sometimes
simply reactively in light of my shifting feelings.
There's a lot to feel, to hold, and to make sense of just now.
I hope you took sustenance from the sunshine this weekend.
Know that I miss you and earnestly wish you well and steady.
Praise for the seas and rivers, forests and stones who
teach us to endure,
Give thanks for your ancestors, for the wars and plagues
they endured and survived, their resilience is in your
bones, your blood,
Blessed is the water that flows over our hands and the
soap that helps keep them clean, each time a baptism,
Praise every moment of stillness and silence, so new
voices can be heard, praise the chance at slowness,
Praise be the birds who continue to sing the sky awake
each day, praise for the primrose poking yellow petals
from dark earth, blessed is the air clearing overhead
so one day we can breathe deeply again,
And when this has passed may we say that love spread
more quickly than any virus ever could, may we say this
was not just an ending but also a place to begin.
— Christine Valters Paintner
Much love to you, yogis!
We'll practice together again one day soon.
I hope this unexpected respite we're all experiencing
is proving a valuable time to notice:
how you're feeling
what you're choosing to take in
where you're putting your energies
when you might simply be still, breathe, or meditate
why each of these considerations informs the other.
There's something profound in the slowing down
magnifying our ability to notice and
be a bit more present to ourselves.
One thing I'm feeling is the absence of my yoga tribe.
I still get to see some of you in real life,
more of you in virtual private yoga lesson land,
and some only in my heart.
Stay well. Notice spring coming.
And take very good care of yourself just now.
illustrated by K. Beverley & E. Ellender, 1929
Daylight savings here at last! It heralds the onset of springtime.
Ayurveda, a sister science of yoga, works to balance our health
through understanding three main doshas: pitta, vata, and kapha.
Each of these doshas hold varying qualities of the natural elements.
Spring holds kapha qualities, meaning earth and water rule this season.
Kapha qualities are heavy, slow, dense, dull, soft, oily, and cold.
We can work to foster light, sharp, dry, and warming qualities to balance us
as we shake off the damp heaviness of winter, moving into spring.
Waking with the sun can help bodies adjust to both the time change and the season
by harnessing the vata qualities of dawn - light, clear, and subtle.
At this kapha time of year, the muscles are said to be strongest between 6 and 10am.
A brisk morning walk outdoors could do us a world of good.
Bursts of energizing activity at any time of day can help clear the lethargy and sluggishness.
Cleansing your insides with warm, light, digestible foods can support your body's
natural inclination to purify and renew concentrating on pungent, bright, astringent tastes.
We'll put these nurturing ideas into practice
with sun salutations and energizing pranayama this week
to move us into spring, well balanced and supported.
I was reading a writer, Parul Sehgal, writing about a writer, Jenny Offill,
who addresses the messiness of living in our present situation of climate collapse.
Looking beneath how we care for ourselves, our close circles,
and ultimately the world at large - humans, animals, the planet.
There exists a deep connectedness within these things.
Firstly, a layered connectedness among them
and, in my way of seeing, a particular connectedness
between the energetic work we do within ourselves,
the energetic lines we cast towards those we love,
which, consciously or unconsciously, ultimately extend beyond to the collective.
It would be a mistake to imagine that any intention manifests in isolation.
Offill has her novel's protagonist listen to an environmental podcast where a caller asks:
"What do you mean interconnected?"
There is a pause and then the ecologist speaks.
"There is a species of moth in Madagascar that drinks the tears of sleeping birds."
Take that in.
We are connected in ways we've yet to fully understand.
Just as the work you do on yoga mat has consequences beyond your body.
Take care, dear yogi. Be purposeful.
And move lightly through the world with awareness
and always, always, with the motivation of love.
Start with yourself on the mat this week.
Don't just do something; sit there.
I heard this advice from Pico Iyer in his reading of his book
"The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere."
Esteemed for his brilliant travel writing, Iyer reveals
the vast new territory he has discovered in sitting still.
As I drive back and forth across Nashville most every day,
I've been following the bright wonder in his voice
as he encourages me to find stillness. Sitting on I-440
proves an unwished for boon in this regard, I must admit.
I don't see myself heading to a monastery anytime soon, but
I've discovered many ways I can take this practice into my common urban life.
You're watching a show with your person and he hits pause to leave the room for a moment.
Rather than eyes darting to a newspaper to occupy the five minutes, simply sit.
You're standing in a queue that doesn't seem to be moving.
Find your feet, your breath, and exude some still peace out into the situation around you.
You're feeling a little cross over a sudden slight from a companion.
Rather than enumerating the injustices and just how you might best articulate them
(sadly, one of my well honed strengths), sit still for a minute,
feel where you're holding those emotions in your physical body,
give them some space, quiet curiosity, and breath.
My tenacious resolve has never failed to paradoxically resolve itself in this way.
It's not all sudden sunshine, but gosh, the gripping falls away.
I'm sure you discover your own opportunities for stillness in a common day.
Take them. You'll be rewarded with a greater, happier spaciousness.
I'm certain of it.
We'll try a bit of stillness at the end of yoga practice this week.
It's precisely what all that physical asana was designed for!
“To be rooted is perhaps the most important
and least recognized need of the human soul.”
As we approach the holidays, it can feel as though things are spinning.
Lots of outgoing energy: planning, making, shopping, fitting it all in.
If you find yourself a bit unmoored, simply pause.
No fancy yoga asana or particular pranayama required.
Feel your feet on the earth. Notice your hands. Find your breath.
Recognize where you are, and what is truly essential in that moment.
Sometimes it really is that simple.
If you can go stand beneath a tree, absolutely do.
Draw upon the support of the roots and the earth beneath you.
Or if you've an evergreen indoors at present,
gaze upon its beauty and forge a heart connection.
Strength. Steadiness. Resilience.
One could receive much wisdom from a tree this season.
Come to the yoga mat this week.
I've had my dear boy home the first week of December.
Sunday night we were searching for a Christmas service of some sort
and happened upon a glorious oratorio downtown.
Over a hundred voices and an orchestra gave us Saint-Saens' Christmas Oratorio, op.12.
The sweet clarity of the tenor soloist literally straightened my spine.
Sitting upright, expectant and overwhelmed by the music,
fully attuned to the beauty around me, connected to and grateful for the heart next to me,
I felt as though I was physically taking in beauty to feed my soul.
At that moment, I knew the world would be a better place
if more of us joined together to sit among artists of all persuasions
simply allowing their good work in the world to wash over us.
Something unbelievably powerful occurs when
vocalists, musicians, artists, actors, or dancers
offer what they love through their bodies and hearts.
Take advantage of the open doors, festivities, and services
that abound during this month of December.
Go sit among your fellows, strangers or friends,
and drink in the wonder of this season when we're all encouraged
to lift our voices, to greet a stranger,
to sit entranced by the talents that surround us.
Offer your own body and heart
into your yoga practice this week.
We took a day long hike recently, scrambling over rocks,
gazing at colorful leaf litter. It was pretty glorious.
By the sixth hour, I admit I was kicking up my heels just a little less.
We made it safely back to the car at day's end by moonlight.
The last bit, trying to stay true to the trail before we lost all light,
I happened upon a sturdy, beautiful wooden gangplank along a curve in the path.
It didn't seem to serve any pragmatic purpose.
We were well away from rushing water; the ground was even.
I felt a stab of gratitude at this sudden kindness of the trued and tight boards.
Here you go, dear. This way. We've got you.
To find yourself supported when you don't expect it.
To feel a part of a great whole where people are looking out for each other.
This is no small thing, but can easily be taken for granted.
Try to notice such moments or situations in your world this week.
Even better, try to provide such a moment for someone else.
Sometimes it's just what one needs in order to continue
the valiant work of making it through the world.
We'll try to find this
in our bodies on the mat this week.
It's finally here, dears. The bestest season of the year.
I'm practicing letting things fall away in my own life.
Maybe you will too.
A responsibility that it may be time to let go of,
an expectation that might be better abandoned,
a judgment you might loosen your grip on,
fill in the blank here.
It can be a little scary, but I'm finding solace
from a century ago in Rilke's Fall.
The leaves are falling, falling as from far
where distant withering gardens grace the skies.
They're falling with a gesture that denies.
And in the nights the heavy earth
falls into solitude from star to star.
We all are falling. This hand falls, as it extends.
And look at the other one. It's in them all.
And yet there's Someone, holding all this falling
with endless gentleness in both his hands.
We'll do some falling and turning
on the mat this week.
my favorite 1940's phone, which the mister brought home from a street market in Germany
In my efforts to reduce EMF exposure at my house,
we've re-instituted an old school phone line.
An admittedly nostalgic person, you can't imagine my happiness.
But you might try by reading this poem.
If you're old enough to remember real phones, you'll drop right in.
And if you're not, well..... do try, won't you?
Telephone Years by Deborah Garrison
There are gestures that have been lost.
One was picking up a desk phone
Using a couple of fingers
To snag it under the little shelf where the receiver
Rested when it was not in use;
You’d carry the phone with you if you needed to pace,
Perhaps with a studied restlessness that felt good:
You were removing a solid object from its position
And that had meaning. You gestured with it in hand,
Or held it against your hip. Something both possessive and devil-may-care in it.
The disruption of a ring, the caller unknown,
Was one of the day’s small dramas. We lived for them.
There were hours unaccounted for, pages turned.
Ticking of the heart between rings . . .
A feminine variant was to wear the curling receiver cord
Sashed across your waist, over the elbow, up the arm
So the curls were stretched long, the receiver
Tight-tucked in the neck hollow and pinned to its job-
To speak and to hear, companion of both mouth and ear.
Maybe standing while talking, at a window.
A light pleasure in the binding, an intimacy
With the subject or the person listening
That he couldn’t see.
And the pauses when neither of you spoke
Were alive, space-filling, somehow physical.
You could hear rooms.
Conversations were rooted in them.
They didn’t move around.
You knew there was life in another house-doors slammed,
Supper bells, doorbells, messages scratched on pads, handwriting that told,
People who left rooms and never came back.
People who might surprise you, come from so far there was no phoning them.
I don’t mean that life was better then,
But our conversations were theatre.
You didn’t know when.
We'll make some gestures that are ancient
-yoga poses that linger still-
on the mat this week.
listening to the world around me one morning in Maine, in a supine savasana
“Well, when you really listen, when you really keep your mind
open and listening to another person — and by the way,
I highly recommend that if a person wants to increase
their ability to understand another person, that they start out
listening to nature because you’re totally uninvested
in the outcome of nature. You can just take it all in,
all the expressions. And isn’t it wonderful that,
when a bird sings, that we do hear it as music?
The bird doesn’t sing for our benefit.
So there's a lot of joy in that listening and when
we become better listeners to nature, we also become
better listeners to each other, so that when another person
is speaking with you, you don’t have to search for
what you want them to say. You can dare to risk
what they really are trying to say. And ask them too,
“Is this really what you’re saying?” And feel your own
emotional response as they talk about risky subjects. . .”
-Gordon Hempton taking with Krista Tippett
about vulnerability and silence
We'll practice listening in silence a bit this week.
Yoga asana was designed to prepare us
to exist in a meditative state.
We'll see what just a few purposeful minutes
of silence might reveal.
And see if we can't foster a listening nature
on the mat this week.
My life has been full of a lot of coal dust lately.
This is what happens when a century old plaster ceiling
falls eleven feet onto the wooden floor below,
in a house that was heated by burning coal
at the turn of the last century.
Hence, my darkened husband pictured above
in what used to be a white t-shirt..
So, the last week has been spent cleaning
Walls, baseboards, furniture, objects,
every slat of blinds, every hardwood plank of floor.
In an effort to, ahem, enrich this work,
I've been playing at ambidexterity.
Using my non-dominant hand every chance I get.
It's not easy, and I am far less skillful.
I suggest you try it when you can.
We have so much asymmetry in our bodies.
Habitual postures and actions are a big part of that.
Mix it up when you're able.
Try using your non-dominant hand for less precise tasks.
It's kooky stuff. And in the search for balance, quite good for you.
You'll be a bit more attentive to the task at hand
and ultimately, its consequences in your body.
See you on the mat,
clean and shiny,
“It is through your body
that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”
– BKS Iyengar
Take some inspiration from my friend, Scout.
He's discovered the joy of prasarita padottanasana.
Spark of divinity, indeed.
Finding the expression of your life force
surging from your very core into all your extremities
is empowering and works to enliven you from the inside out.
Conversely, simply creating such shapes with your body
may work to empower you from the outside in
by positively affecting your hormonal balance, lessening anxiety,
and boosting your confidence.
Come find your spark
on the mat this week.
I found myself finally visiting the new Tennessee State Museum Sunday afternoon,
surrounded by silver haired ladies in floral dresses and men in suits. It felt like
a real southern summer Sunday outing. Most of us were there to hear the
Nashville Opera's offering of Samuel Barber's Knoxville: Summer of 1915
based on James Agee's prose poem, hence the Sunday finery. It was glorious.
Afterwards, we ambled around the Tennessee Quilts exhibit.
I noticed a couple things.
Firstly, I will henceforth always dress like a grownup when visiting a museum;
it truly heightens the experience. I may not wear faux flowers in my hair, but I'm
so glad that beautiful seventy year old did. Secondly, people used to spend a lot
of time doing quiet, repetitive things that may have taken months or years to reach fruition.
Lastly, communing with art on a daily basis, specifically lying beneath or upon
hand-wrought textiles is a powerful thing.
I have a few, old, tattered handmade quilts rescued from charity shops that
I've lived with my entire adult life. I've inherited perfect quilts from my German
mother-in-law that I've been hitherto afraid to crumple. But, you know, the antique quilts
on display that had stains or imperfections were the sweetest ones.
When something looks loved and used, it seems to hold and offer more meaning.
Kind of like me, I suddenly realize when I look in the mirror these days.
Your yoga mat can offer the same sweetness of a quilt.
A place to find solace, a place to hold you while you quiet.
Bring yours to practice.
"We weren't doing nothing - we were standing still."
When I read this remembrance from
a Merce Cunningham dancer, Marrian Preger-Simon,
about the choreographed art of standing still,
it evoked the the very alert, auspicious feeling
of breathing into an elongated tadasana.
Once upon a time, standing on the coast of Sicily,
gazing into the Mediterranean, upright in tadasana,
I felt free, very alive, and completely present in my asana.
I can conjure this feeling at will,
by stacking my spine, opening my chest,
and lengthening my neck
when I stand in mountain pose.
Okay, it's not exactly the same
standing upon a Nashville floor indoors
without the Mediterranean breezes on jagged rocks,
but kinda close.....
Let's try it
on the mat this week.
"One afternoon, I draped myself on my couch and felt an influx of mental silence
that was both disturbing and hallucinatorily pleasurable. [...]
I wanted to experience myself as soft and loose and purposeless,
three qualities that, in my adulthood, have always seemed economically risky."
This, from a book review of new titles which make the case for people to put down their phones.
The reviewer tried a suggested digital cleanse and was flummoxed by the process.
Her final sentence hit me hard.
There are moments when I, too, long to feel soft, loose, and purposeless.
But just about everything in me pulls the other way.
(though it must be said my husband had no trouble
finding pictures of me lying prone and purposeless.... hmmm.)
Our cultural constructs call us to fortifying tasks, ambition, self improvement.
It's a pretty risky business to allow soft purposelessness momentary reign.
Want to get a little subversive?
I dare you, yogi.
We'll find a lingering savasana
on the mat this week.
"The more we put our attention on sensation,
the more we get out of our thinking mind."
A yoga practice is all about noticing,
sharpening our awareness as we move in and out of shapes.
Sometimes we cautiously move towards sensation;
sometimes we wisely move a bit away.
Regardless, we keep keen attention upon the sensation
in order to intuit which direction will best serve us.
A lovely consequence of this purposeful awareness
is relief from a busy thinking mind.
I know more than one yogi who cites this
as her prime reason for regular practice.
I recently read about adults turning to music lessons late in life.
Practicing an instrument for the first time at forty or fifty can be humbling.
One executive said it was the only time her body was so occupied
she could stop her monkey mind from ruling her consciousness.
It brings a whole new meaning to mind-body awareness.
A piano. A cello. A yoga mat. All three work for me in this way.
Come calm your own mind
on the yoga mat this week.
This may be the first time a Home Depot purchase
elicited a cry of delight.
The mister bought us a pitchfork.
It’s cheery tangerine. It’s solid metal.
And it looks like something Neptune might have in hand.
This pitchfork may inspire us to TURN our compost.
Apparently, the step we’ve been missing.
This we learned at a free metro composting class.
Along with the disturbing fact that
a plastic bag takes 200 to 1000 years to decompose.
How’s that for a number to
stop you in your tracks at the checkout cash register?
They also will gift you a splendid backyard composter.
You can sign up here.
Composting is so empowering!
And I just learned you can actually visit Metro's recycling center
to watch what happens to all those things you faithfully recycle.
You can sign up here.
In yoga we learn to conserve our energy,
holding it wisely in abeyance,
expending it with purpose.
Ancient yogic science has proven
it’s a brilliant way to make your body last.
The same principle applies on the macro scale, doesn’t it?
May we all be wise stewards on the inside, on the outside,
and especially on this earth we all share.
Bring your whole self to the yoga circle.
found in my East Nashville neighborhood last week
I recently found myself lugging yoga mats down 7th Avenue at 5:30 am,
my only company being bundled construction workers in tool belts walking past.
I was headed to the roof of a fancy hotel
to teach a sunrise yoga class to a company of New Yorkers.
Once ensconced, I only had to step over the laid out mats and through an impressive glass wall,
to find myself standing over my city, with more than one building crane in view.
Just feet away from my high perch, I glimpsed work boots perched twenty floors up.
With the dizzying effect of swinging cranes over head,
I could almost touch them. It was intense and a little surreal.
I've since learned that Nashville is the South's most dangerous city for construction workers.
Eleven workers have fallen to their deaths, while NOT wearing safety harnesses.
A Nashville native, I've done my share of grousing over the new development
and the accompanying traffic that can make life miserable.
Who are all these people?!
At the moment, I'm struck by consequences I've never considered.
It's helping me move towards compassion instead of my usual instant frustration.
"May you be safe" mister worker dude who's flashing me the stop sign,
making me wait for a concrete mixer when I really need to make the light.
We all might do a little better to calm, to slow down, to look out for each other.
To take the proverbial nap, kitty cat.
Come to the yoga mat
where life is easy
(and we can practice what to do when it's not).
candles of devotion in an errant cathedral I stumbled upon in Rome in 2011
by Carl Dennis
If on your grandmother's birthday you burn a candle
To honor her memory, you might think of burning an extra
To honor the memory of someone who never met her,
A man who may have come to the town she lived in
Looking for work and never found it.
Picture him taking a stroll one morning,
After a month of grief with the want ads,
To refresh himself in the park before moving on.
Suppose he notices on the gravel path the shards
Of a green glass bottle that your grandmother,
Then still a girl, will be destined to step on
When she wanders barefoot away from her school picnic
If he doesn't stoop down and scoop the mess up
With the want-ad section and carry it to a trash can.
For you to burn a candle for him
You needn't suppose the cut would be a deep one,
Just deep enough to keep her at home
The night of the hay ride when she meets Helen,
Who is soon to become her dearest friend,
Whose brother George, thirty years later,
Helps your grandfather with a loan so his shoe store
Doesn't go under in the Great Depression
And his son, your father, is able to stay in school
Where his love of learning is fanned into flames,
A love he labors, later, to kindle in you.
How grateful you are for your father's efforts
Is shown by the candles you've burned for him.
But today, for a change, why not a candle
For the man whose name is unknown to you?
Take a moment to wonder whether he died at home
With friends and family or alone on the road,
On the look-out for no one to sit at his bedside
And hold his hand, the very hand
It's time for you to imagine holding.
Using time travel and ritual acts of devotion
to cultivate compassion
appeals to me.
If encountering a busy mind
in moments of attempted meditation,
perhaps this might prove a worthy endeavor.
Come to practice together
on the mat.
"You probably cannot and should not let go
of your personal ethics and your political beliefs,
but perhaps you can hold these ideologies
in suspension for the time being.
Allow your mind to enter into a space of not-knowing,
of not having solutions, of not casting blame.
Before you go to sleep this evening,
enter into a space of equanimity
in which you regard all people in the same light."
-David Dillard Wright from "A Mindful Evening"
Okay, this is a pretty big ask.
And I'm not pretending that I can easily do so myself.
But this seems like a rather relevant notion at present.
So, maybe just consider it?
Come find a little peace together
before the returns start rolling in.
I scored this little treasure at my favorite booksale last week.
The chapter on proper funereal etiquette in 1890 reeled me in,
but this advice to well-bred ladies, read in the age of Kavanaugh, stopped me cold.
"A Low Voice"
I think one can always tell a lady by her voice and laugh
-neither of which which will ever be loud or coarse,
but soft, low, and nicely modulated. Shakespeare's unfailing taste
tells us that "A low voice is an excellent thing in a woman."
And we believe that the habit of never raising the voice
would tend much to the comfort and happiness of many a home:
as a proof of good breeding, it is unfailing.
Now, I was raised a girl in the southland,
so admittedly this does not sound like crazy talk to my ear.
But I was convicted by this op-ed by Rebecca Traister in the NYT yesterday:
Many of the women shouting now are women who have not previously yelled publicly before,
any of them white middle-class women newly awakened to political fury and protest.
Part of the process of becoming mad must be recognizing that they are not the first to be furious,
and that there is much to learn from the stories and histories of the livid women
- many of them not white or middle class - who have never had reason not to be mad.
If you are angry today, or if you have been angry for a while,
and you're wondering whether you're allowed to be as angry as you feel,
let me say: Yes. Yes, you are allowed. You are, in fact, compelled.
If you've been feeling a new rage at the flaws of this country,
and if your anger is making you want to change your life in order to change the world,
then I have something incredibly important to say: Don't forget how this feels.
Tell a friend, write it down, explain it to your children now, so they will remember.
And don't let anyone persuade you it wasn't right, or it was weird,
or it was some quirky stage in your life when you went all political
- remember that, honey, that year you went crazy? No. No.
Don't let it ever become that. Because people will try.
I am wrestling with what to do with the fury I feel
after watching all nine hours of the Kavanaugh hearing.
I recognize that entitled bros trigger me like nobody's business,
and that everyone has pain and deserves to be heard.
I have always loved the way my feminine body can inhabit a very small amount of space.
I also love the way I can open it and take up a lot of space, physically and energetically.
I'm finding that my yoga practice helps me process some of this current emotion,
along with shared conversation over the moment we find ourselves in.
To be awake, thoughtful, compassionate, while acknowledging fury isn't easy,
but what is all this yoga for if it can't help us live more authentically off the mat?
After yoga class yesterday, a yogi I love told me her intention for the week was anger.
A pastor I deeply respect told me that we are marked for love and now is the time to rage.
Permission granted. I think fierce, red hot, furious love is actually good medicine.
Come to the mat
and process whatever you're holding.
Plank is a powerful posture
and a difficult one, I admit.
If we can build it with integrity,
it creates a wise foundation from which we can build many asanas.
Everything from a sound down dog to kooky arm balances.
There are many variations, a couple that we'll try this week.
Usually plank is done with a neutral spine
activating spinal stabilizers and postural muscles
such as multifidus and transverse abdominus.
We can also take flexion into a plank with a slightly rounded back,
firing up global mobilizers like rectus abdominis and quadriceps.
We'll sweetly (I promise) explore both this week.
You'll feel strong, stable, and awesome.
Take inspiration from Nancy & Sarah
who can stack it like nobody's business!
See you on the mat!
We took a little road trip to Memphis this weekend.
Not what I would call a sparkling city, but the zoo was brilliant.
I was struck by this gorilla's calm demeanor and stellar posture.
I don't know many 32 year old, 500 pound dudes who can sit like this.
His name, Mwelu, translates as "a touch of brightness and light" in Burundi.
I've since learned that he and I share a similar spinal structure,
give or take one or two thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in number.
He has less curves in his spine, thanks to not standing on two legs all the time;
his discs almost never wear out.
You could learn a lot from a western lowland gorilla.
They are quiet, peaceful, and non-aggressive creatures.
When they have to deal with intruders,
they'll charge but tend to fake out at the last minute,
so nobody gets hurt but they make their point.
Smart. I like a big guy . . . without a big ego.
There is a gorilla pose in your future.
This shifting weather, a tiny morning flurry one moment, a sunshiny afternoon the next,
mirrors the distractions of the holiday season as we move towards winter.
Take care to ground yourself when you can, with your breath or a moment of stillness.
I have held on to this poetic encouragement to move like all things green, in one direction.
This weekend, I would lose my way while entering one room to retrieve stamps
only to find a decoration strewn on the floor meant to find the tree
to arrive empty handed back at the table, blank envelopes gaping at me "Seriously?"
"One direction, dear one," I compassionately remind myself. "One direction."
I look upon the spindly plant in the library, its two stems straining towards the window.
It's a daily reminder (of my less than green thumb, yes)
but mostly to remember to reach towards the light,
intuitively in a simple, true, single minded direction.
Hope to see you in the yoga circle.
Autumn finds me lying beneath trees even more than usual.
Lately, I've been thinking of this poem by Mary Oliver.
On Meditating, Sort Of
Meditation, so I've heard, is best accomplished
if you entertain a certain strict posture.
Frankly, I prefer just to lounge under a tree.
So why should I think I could ever be successful?
Some days I fall asleep, or land in that
even better place - half-asleep- where the world,
spring, summer, autumn, winter-
flies through my mind in its
hardy ascent and its uncompromising descent.
So I just lie like that, while distance and time
reveal their true attitudes: they never
heard of me, and never will, or ever need to.
Of course I wake up finally
thinking, how wonderful to be who I am,
made out of earth and water,
my own thoughts, my own fingerprints-
all that glorious, temporary stuff.
Bring your glorious, temporary self
to the yoga mat.
[extra credit if you spied me in forest savasana]
An intelligent yoga practice encompasses
both internal and external alignment.
Internally, the practice is used to measure yourself
using the fits of your body
to participate in the health of your organs and glands.
Each posture is used to give measurable results.
This is about cleaning and reorganizing your internal world
so that it becomes a joy to live in the body.
I love this pragmatic perspective on a yoga practice.
This is why we do what we do.
Postures on the mat, visited again and again,
work to give us a measure.
A measure of how things are fitting together,
on the outside and on the inside.
We practice to create order in our bodies,
on the outside and on the inside.
When you recognize this,
your work becomes a very internal practice.
You don't care what the postures look like in the body next to you.
That's not your body, not your information, of no value to you at all.
You get incredibly interested in what you find in your postures.
How they affect your breath, your mind, your emotions.
Where else do you get an hour to simply observe yourself becoming?
There's nothing like adventuring in the wide world to give one a fresh perspective.
First, realizing how tiny you are
while safely held by ancient trees in a Canadian forest.
Second, hearing just about every language surrounding you on a city street,
but recognizing just how much we are all the same.
I miss home.
Kicking around Canada's oldest Chinatown.
These narrow alleys led to opium dens in the late 19th century.
Today, they lead to vegan gelato.
(raspberry swirl for me, thank you)
We're heading next to a remote coast
on Vancouver Island for some stillness.
Remember, no yoga classes this week.
It's a great time to try something new!
Perhaps explore a different yoga class somewhere you've never been
(you're well equipped to step on the mat anywhere, promise),
or try some new modality (a forest meditation , swimming, badminton, a bike ride).
In any event, take care of your sweet self
'til next week when I see you again.
Much northern love,
Some of my favorite shapes to take in yoga
are the ones where I feel like a starfish.
Open. Radiating outwards. Limbs askew.
Who knew that in esoteric yogic anatomy studies it's a thing:
enlivening asana with navel radiation.
The idea is that from our very beginnings, in utero,
we received all our nourishment through our navels
radiating out into all our forming systems and limbs.
Once born, we still breathed and moved in this way at first.
Natural abdominal breathing that helped us
extend our energy out into unfurling limbs.
In yoga, we have the opportunity to recapture this freedom.
If you watch an accomplished yoga practitioner,
even in a still posture, you can sense her energy moving,
radiating out into her limbs with intention.
If we can soften the belly, connect with breath there, and then send it out,
we're on our way to using navel radiation to empower our asana.
It's not only physically powerful. It opens you up emotionally.
We'll practice this phenomenon this week.
It will feel awesome and sweet.
And you'll leave the mat feeling long and free.
Design your emotional posture
and let your practice take care of your cells.
As yogis, we know the power of intention
whether in where we send the breath,
or how we move in and out of asanas.
Even off the mat, out in the real world,
you can design your emotional posture
(lest it design you)
-cowed and defeated,
open and receptive,
strong and steady.
All this feeds your cells, energetically
and we now know, physiologically as well.
Come take care of your cells.
[yes, this is our own yogi, Anna Cramer,
caught in yogic waterfall bliss]
Other than the sea, the most amazing thing
I saw at the beach was this heron.
Her majestic stride with
such beautifully articulated feet stunned me.
I couldn't stop watching.
It put me in mind of Martha Graham
writing about the sacredness of the bodily form.
The beauty of the heel as it is used to carry one forward into life.
Of course, the heron doesn't lead with her heel,
but peels her talons from the sand,
suspends for a moment,
and plants them again to earth.
We're going to find our feet this week in practice.
I've just obtained some happy props precisely for this purpose.
So, there's very little in yard work
that gives a feeling of utter recklessness.
The chance to mow down monkey grass with abandon
at the first of spring before the new shoots push up is one.
One that my dear husband was denied
as we waited far too long to attend.
"Hey mister, don't you think we should give the front yard a quick mow
and hit the monkey grass before it starts sprouting?"
I offered a couple weeks ago.
"Mmmmm..." I heard from behind the computer screen
where he was mired in dissecting some endless code.
Fast forward to last Monday, when mowing the grass seemed a necessity,
but the monkey grass was half new and hopeful, half old tatters.
Ta da! Enter the shears, a keen eye, and a meditative opportunity.
There's something contemplative and sweet about going so slowly,
looking at what to nurture and keep, what to snip and toss away.
Spring presents a chance for such culling.
Spring cleaning inside and out, yogis.
Creating a little more space for what we want in our lives.
Were you to do dishes in my kitchen sink
(and please, feel free, anytime)
this week, you would find this at eye level.
I love when fortune cookie slips or tea bag tags
whisper to me "here. this one is for you. really."
Rather than grasping for the perfect hook
to reach people in a yoga class,
to persuade my son he'd love nothing more than to hang out with me,
to quantify my peculiarly personal stamp of success in any form,
I think I'll just try this.
Feels like a sweet exhale, doesn't it?
Let's practice together
and see what comes.
"Travel makes one modest.
You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world."
The vast and simple beauty of Maine
leaves this yogi humble and grateful
for newly discovered landscapes
within and without.
A little garudasana (eagle pose)
in honor of our nation's capital.
Here in D.C., I've found myself elbow to elbow
with people of every culture, ethnicity, sexual identity, social class, and race.
While peeping through the fence at the White House yesterday,
I watched a proud Pakistani-American father
place his young, bespectacled son just so for a snapshot.
I suddenly remembered
my only Obama encounter,
standing in Nashville's Public Square in the fall of 2006
hearing then Senator Obama exhort us to embrace
the growing diversity of our own city,
reminding us that to do so would only make us stronger and richer.
And I realized that
it is the coexistence
of all these disparate souls around me
that makes the United States a country like no other.
(insert patriotic fiddle here)
"Reading is the work of the alert mind, is demanding,
and under ideal conditions produces finally a sort of ecstasy,"
Might I suggest the ideal conditions of
a midsummer's afternoon
and quite barefoot?
Then you can find your way to your mat.
In our yoga circle here in Nashville,
I look around the room and find many faiths represented.
The sweet thing
is that each and every soul is nurtured
peculiarly and individually
through a practice we share together.
grasshopper in down dog
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.
~ John Muir
I spent the weekend in Asheville
getting lost in forests and leaves
and sleeping under the moon.
There's something about time in the wilderness
that helps you see more clearly.
Lose yourself outside this autumn,
even if it's only for an hour somewhere.
Your soul will be the better for it.
forest hand-standing husband