Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Here is a lovely exercise to practice if you are feeling resentful, jealous, grasping, or victimized. Ready? Connect with your breath. Sit up tall, elongating your spine. Feel your sitting bones reaching down to the earth. Lift gently out of the waist, roll your shoulders back and down, float the crown of your head towards the sky. Close your eyes and bring your hands into Anjali mudra-- palms together, fingers extended towards the sky, and place the front of your thumbs against your heart space. In the western world, this mudra is often refered to as prayer position. With your eyes still closed, bring your attention to the things in your life for which you feel grateful.
Start basic-- you have a roof over your head, warm clothes to wear, food several times a day, and hot running water. You are likely minutes away from nature. Trees, birds, animals, and clean water are part of your daily life. You go to bed at night and wake the next morning fairly confident that you are safe and protected from bombs dropping, or war beginning in your neighborhood. Most people in the world don't have these things to take for granted.
Move into your appreciations more deeply. Notice all the systems and parts of your body that function. Notice your keen mind and vibrant breath. Now, bring to your attention to those you love and hold dear, and those who love and hold you dear. Beginning to feel that you are unbelievably lucky and blessed? Let these feelings fill your heart, and your emotional body. Breathe the essence of appreciation into your very core. Gently open your eyes and proceed to notice the rest of your day informed by the beauty of thankfulness.
This Thanksgiving, as my family gathers around the dining room table, tucking into a delicious and nurturing meal, we will each take a turn and name a few things for which we are grateful this year. I couldn't feel more lucky.
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Monday, November 17, 2008
Laughter was the theme of yesterday afternoon's yoga class in my home studio. Giggles, gawfaws and bubbling up from the gut laughs informed our whole practice.
For a very brief moment at the first outbreak of giggles I had an urge to contain the class and "get back on track". I'm happy to report that I was able to let go of my need to control our practice, and instead I simply relaxed into the spontaneous expression of the simple pleasure of a good belly shake.
After that, we moved from vinyasa to laughter, back to vinyasa, then more laughter right up into shavasana. The giggle fest started again when one of the students fell into a deep sleep and began to snore, but not enough to wake him.
Dr. Lee Berk and fellow researcher Dr. Stanley Tan of Loma Linda University in California have been studying the effects of laughter on the immune system. To date their published studies have shown that laughing lowers blood pressure, reduces stress hormones, increases muscle flexion, and boosts immune function by raising levels of infection-fighting T-cells, disease-fighting proteins called Gamma-interferon and B-cells, which produce disease-destroying antibodies. Laughter also triggers the release of endorphins, the body's natural painkillers, and produces a general sense of well-being. Want more information about the practice of yoga and laughter? Check out this website: http://www.laughteryoga.org/
Saturday, November 15, 2008
Tomorrow is the first of my kripalu yoga classes at Sun Moon Yoga studio in downtown Ann Arbor. The class isn't up on the studio website yet, but there is information about location and fees. The class starts at noon. Check out the website:
Friday, November 14, 2008
I had many opportunities to practice devotion and service. I also had many opportunities to receive care from those around me. There were times during the week when I felt worried, stressed, impatient and tired. There were other times when I felt trusting, calm, relaxed and content. There were many times when I turned to my "off the mat" practice of yoga to sustain me so that I could support others. And there were times when I breathed into letting others support me.
In my previous post, I wrote about feeling less than my best yoga self as time moved me away from my Kripalu YTT experience. This week brought me right back--grateful for the opportunity to be in L.A. when I was needed. My mom came home from the hospital yesterday, and I came back to Michigan. This post is a prayer of loving kindness: May you all be happy, may you all be healthy, may you all be free from suffering.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
These words of Bapaji have been on my mind a lot these last few weeks as I struggle to heed his advice. It has only been 3 months since I left the Kripalu center, but it feels much longer, and my ability to hold close to me Kripalu yoga philosophy and the way of life that I embraced so fully in yoga teacher training has begun to dissipate. Although I am continuing my daily sadhana, going to yoga class, and regularly teaching Kripalu yoga, I notice that my patience and willingness to really practice bhakti (devotional) yoga off the mat and out in the world has been lax.
I haven't exactly been the model of mental steadiness when confronted with the daily chores and petty burdens of what at times feels like a chaotic life. And, of course I see the ridiculousness of somehow experiencing my life as chaotic compared to how most of the rest of the world lives. And yet I struggle.
It's easy to be generous, compassionate, understanding and accepting when I am in the protected world of yoga, whether it's in class, or on my mat. I can meditate, calm myself and feel totally at peace when I am in my own little yoga studio, listening to Krishna Das chant on my ipod. It's a whole lot more challenging to open my heart with love and tolerance when I'm deep in the everyday tensions and stress of life with peace and calm in my heart and belly.
Lately I find myself wishing to be back in the protected cocoon of the Kripalu Center, with nothing to concern me but getting to the next yoga class. At the same time, I understand that finding a balance between living the yogic life while living in the modern world is the real goal. I think this is why we call it yoga practice! I just need to keep practicing living yoga off the mat as well as on it, and do it while keeping my self-talk gentle and forgiving when I am showing up less than my best self.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
I teach yoga at the county juvenile jail to kids in the substance abuse treatment program. Some of the kids like it, and some dread it. They all participate, though, because it's a treatment program and yoga is one of the treatment modalities we offer.
For the last few weeks one of the kids in my Thursday morning class kept asking me if we could just have a class of Corpse pose. No warm ups, no special breathing, no asanas. Just flat on the floor, spread out arms and legs, eyes closed, Corpse pose. For an hour. He's one of the kids who isn't exactly in love with yoga. Since there were only 2 kid in the class today, and he was one of them, I decided to get as close to an hour of Corpse pose as I could, and I taught a restorative yoga class. The kid who loves Corpse pose is angry a lot of the time. He is also unhappy a lot of the time. I don't think I've ever seen him smile, and he tends toward sullen, one syllable answers when I talk to him. About half way through today's class, as he settled into a supported reclining gentle backbend, with blankets under his back and arms, blocks supporting his open knees, and his upper chest and heart opening to the sky, he looked me directly in the eyes and grinned a full on, joy inducing, toothy smile. Then he said, "This feels great". He stayed in the posture for the next 20 minutes, with his eyes closed and his body relaxed until it was time to wrap up class. This is the kind of thing that makes me love teaching yoga, and that will sustain me for days on end.
I like to think about the relationship between knitting and yoga. When I am in my knitting groove, I feel much as I feel in yoga practice: I am deeply in the moment, my mind not ruminating on the past, nor yanking me into the future, but instead here in the NOW. Simply breathing, deeply focused, hands and fingers moving, moving, moving in their own little mudra dance.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Friday, October 24, 2008
This morning, I woke up at 5:30, but instead of staggering into my yoga studio per usual, I found my attention moving in other directions. This isn't particularly unusual--there are plenty of mornings when I'm up, but my brain finds all kinds of ways to try and distract me from my practice. Nothing very interesting. The typical low level vibration of "I don't feel like it". I ignore that vibration, knowing that how I feel about starting my sadhana has little to do with what happens after I land on the mat.
No, this morning was different. My brain wasn't resisting yoga, and my body wasn't complaining either. I made a cup of hot chocolate, mixed up some muffin batter and got it baking, but instead of heading up to my mat, I sat down in the kitchen and began to breath, relax, feel and watch my experience. I wasn't being harsh with myself over not doing my practice-- I was doing it! It was kitchen yoga! It felt just fine. After a while, I got up and started a load of laundry, then went into my closet and put away two baskets of clean clothes that had been collecting for the last week. I was still relaxed, breathing and meditative. Laundry yoga! It felt fine. Eventually, I started getting ready for work, and my "regular" yoga practice never unfolded. Instead, it was life-yoga unfolding. What a great reminder that whether I am on the mat every single day, or not, the beauty of yoga is the ability to practice it anytime, anywhere. Yoga on and off the mat.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
"The Prudent Mariner", by Leslie Walker Williams is a quietly powerful story that begins in coastal Georgia in 1913 and moves forward to the 1970s, and it has gripped my brain, heart and gut with a tenacious hold since I started to read it a week ago.
Ridley Cross, a nine year old girl who sometimes sees ghosts and is compelled by the salty river water near her home, her senile grandmother Adele, who told a lie as a little girl that inadvertently caused a black man's horrific lynching, and Carver Varnell, a woman painter and reluctant southerner, are drawn together over, among other things, a postcard souvenir of the terrible event that Ridley discovers while looking through her recently dead grandfather's possessions.
The story unfolds through the experiences and understanding of nine year old Ridley, which gives the story a gentle, sometimes bewildered sense of the world around her. Leslie's ability to capture the voice of Ridley, while exploring the deeply complicated relationships between both Ridley's family members, and blacks and whites in 1970's Georgia, while bathing everything in the oppressive heat and deep seated shame of the southern past is extraordinary.
Please consider purchasing this book, AND call your local library and ask them to order it for their collection!
Check out Leslie's website for more information:
Practicing opening my heart in daily sadhana prepares me for just those difficult times, by allowing me to remember, in a deep body memory, that returning to intention, to breath and to stretching and opening my thoracic spine will support and sustain me through anxiety, disappoint and anger. Learning to be open-hearted means being emotionally generous--even when it feels like it may make me vulnerable and open to criticism or judgement, or that it won't be accepted or appreciated.
Some may wonder, why is it even important? I can't answer for anyone else, but since I started to intentionally connect the loosening of my thoracic spine, the release of the muscles around my chest, shoulders and middle back, and the subtle opening of my own heart space, I have deepened my experience of the utter happiness found in the simplest of things--a steaming cup of sweetened black tea, the deep red of sliced beets as they drop into the steamer basket, the smell of the fall leaves, wet and glossy in the backyard, the enormous cawing of birds as they settle into the trees of Eberwhite Woods, the sensation of ease and well being after a yoga practice, and the comfort of love from family and friends.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
A few nights ago, Lucinda Williams returned to the Michigan Theater, and I was right there-- celebrating Audrey, and honoring the power of a woman musican who more than holds her own with an electric guitar and a kick ass back-up band, singing her life from her heart and soul.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
After morning sadhana I wandered out to our chicken coop, opened the door to the laying box and nestled inside a circled dimple of straw was this little beauty. Our hens are still young, so daily delivery is still a new wonder. The egg was warm in my hand; a perfect orb.
This time of year, as we turn towards the shortening days with dark coming earlier and earlier, I am sharply aware of the expasions and contractions that inform our lives from the smallest to the grandest scale. I love exploring the idea of repetition and similarity in the natural world, and the concept of expansion and contraction is one of my favorites. I tend to think more about it when we are in the midst of a seasonal change, especially winter to spring, and summer to fall.
Of course, there is the obvious expansions and contractions in our bodies. The cranial sacral fluid's gentle push, the filling and emptying of the lungs, the muscles moving in and out of asanas. Thinking bigger? How about birth? That hen was certainly expanding and contracting when she laid her latest gift. Thinking biggest? The universe. Darkness, compression, pressure, contraction, then, the Big Bang, and we've been expanding ever since.
Friday, October 10, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Atha yoga nushasanam
Now, the inquiry of yoga
Yogas citta vritti nirodah
Yoga is an opportunity to quiet the chatter of the mind
Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam
Then consciousness finds it's authentic nature
Sthira sukham asanam
May the posture be sweet and full of ease.
Sweet sukha yoga.