Thursday, October 30, 2008

restorative yoga class at the juvenile jail

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.

the yoga of knitting

I love to knit! I love to cozy up on the couch and start making something cool and wearable by simply taking an endless strand of string and mixing it up on some sticks. I love the string too!! Yarn is an amazing thing. Start with some funky, straw covered sheep's coat, a comb, some vegetable dye, and ohh lala, magically it becomes the essence of coiled fabulousness. I love the colors of yarn, the smells, the texture--I love the very yarniness of yarn. It's beautiful AND functional which is truly my favorite combo in the world. I especially like multi-colored sock yarn because it's like unwrapping a surprise gift as the yarn knits up.

I was in Chicago over the weekend visiting my Kripalu Y.T.T. roommate Jodi. Jodi and I lived together during our training for a month in a dorm room the size of a large broom closet. Needless to say, we started out physically close, and we developed a lovely friendship that brought us to an emotional closeness as the month progressed. Jodi and I visited Loopy Yarns on Polk St. in the old Dearborn train station building. Loopy yarns is one of the sweetest, friendliest, way cool yarn shops around.

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

yoga & time slows down

Listening to NPR this morning on my way to work, I heard a story about a new children's book about physics, gravity, and gravity's effect on how we experience time. Since the story is geared towards children, even I could understand the concept that the stronger the gravitational pull, the more time slows down. The book is called "Icarus and the Edge of Time", by Brian Greene. Listen for yourself if you like:
In the book, Icarus is a young boy who secretly leaves the safety of his father's space ship with his own little explorer space ship to check out the edges of a giant black hole. Icarus, thinking he has managed the calculations perfectly to keep himself safe, believes he is gone for about 2 hours. Unfortunately for him, he negected to factor in the gravity and time equation. Due to the powerful pull of gravity near his ship, he loses not 2 hours, but 10,000 years of time. Bummer!
Immediately, my mind turned to the same odd (but lovely!) sensation I sometimes experience while practicing yoga-- It feels like I've been practicing for just a brief moment, but when I look at the clock an hour or more has passed. Frankly, I love the sensation of misinterpreting time, as it usually means I am deep into something that is powerful and pleasurable. Some call it "being in the zone", and it happens when I am practicing yoga, but it also happens when I am doing other things I love too---when I knit, when I'm lost in a good read, or when I am making art.
Here is the funny thing though. It doesn't feel like gravity is stronger during these times. In fact, for me, it is the opposite sensation. I feel that gravity has lost hold of me for the moment. Instead, I feel as light as light can be.

Friday, October 24, 2008

everyday life yoga

Yesterday was a big yoga day for me. Along with my morning sadhana which was a nice long hour, I taught a class at work (residential substance abuse treatment youth) and later, a private evening class at home for two.

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

"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:

heart opening yoga

One of the things I love about Kripalu yoga is the focus on opening my heart through intention, movement and breath. For me, it's easy to be open-hearted when I am in a situation where everything is going well, where I am getting what I want, where my experience is pleasing, orderly and fair. It's a whole lot more of a challenge to be open-hearted when things aren't going my way, or when I am being treated unfairly or misunderstood. During those times, my breath is tighter, my diaphragm constricts, and my heart feels like being open isn't safe or welcome.

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

lucinda williams & audrey simon

On April 15, 2007, Lucinda Williams rocked the Michigan Theater in downtown Ann Arbor. The show was powerfully spiritual, emotionally rich and full of the feminine aspect in all it's complexity. Walking home after the show, deeply moved by the intensity of Lucinda's performance and the power of a woman who can sing soul, blues, country, rock and roll and songs that go right for the heart, I got a phone call that changed my life. My dearest friend Audrey Simon had died suddenly of a ruptured aorta. Through the next several weeks of becoming accustomed to the loss of Audrey, my thoughts turned again and again to Lucinda Williams. A few days before Audrey passed, we had dinner together to celebrate Audrey's recent birthday, and as Audrey shared with me all the things in her life that were giving her pleasure and contentment, I said to her, "You've found your joy". Audrey agreed, and we laughed over how much we both loved the song that line came from--Lucinda William's "Joy". Check it out here: Lucinda had played the song only a few days later, that night at the Michigan Theater, while, without me knowing, Audrey was leaving this earth.

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

expansions & contractions part 3

A final thought regarding expansions & contractions, and making it through the long cold Ann Arbor winter. As the quality of light thins, and sunset comes earlier each evening, create and nurture the light within you. Bow to the divine light in yourself, bow to the divine light in others. Light a candle, open your heart, send a prayer of loving kindness to those in need.

expansions & contractions part 2

The season has reached close to it's full expansion here in Michigan, with the harvest waning and leaves beginning to shift into deep hues of orange, red and yellow. Like the fullness of a brief pause at the end of a slow inhalation, the garden gives it's last burst, with brussel sprouts, squash, pumpkins, beets, turnips, potatoes and onions. And, like the long slow exhalation following the pause, we begin to settle in to the season's contraction of winter. How do we prepare? On a practical level for yoga, it means more pratapana (warm ups) before asanas. Let the body warm gradually, with breath, patience and acceptance of the muscle's need to move slowly at first. On a practical level for life, around our house it's putting the garden to bed, splitting firewood and stacking it in neat rows in the garage and along the driveway, pots of soup on the stove, and hunkering down with good books, warming food and drink and the company of loved ones.

expansions & contractions

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

stillness & wobble

In morning sadhana today I found my mind turning to the concept of stillness. I often start the meditative part of yoga practice by "coming into stillness" in order to connect with my inner landscape. My body, mind, emotions and breath quietly explored, witnessed and accepted. I was happily aware on a conscious level today that even in "stillness", there is movement. On an obvious level, the expansion and contraction of my lungs, the beating of my heart, and the blood pulsing through my veins are all measurable expressions of movement. Then, on a more subtle level, the cranial sacral fluid's gentle ebb and flow informs a deeper experience in my body. Continuing towards deeper, less measurable sensations, there is the slight vibration in and around my body created in my nervous system as the 100 billion neurons in my brain fire messages through out my body. Sometimes when I look at photographs of fabulous yogis and yoginis in magazines and catalogues my ego gets sucked in, and a little undermining voice in my head starts in..."oooh, so pretty! So perfect! So flexible! So young!" Well, I'm not any of those things, but the voice comes up, and why does it? There is so much pressure on women in our culture to perfect the outer version of ourselves, often at the direct expense and hardship of our beautiful and complex inner lives. Just as our earth wobbles on it's axis, some days I wobble through my practice. When I remember that the "still" image of a photograph is as far from real as it can be, I am able to come back to my own body, my own self, my own internal experience of yoga. This inner experience of yoga, and the sometimes wobble-y outer expression in asana feeds and informs my inner light, opens and softens my heart, and gives me the strength to accept who I am everyday, on and off the mat.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Now, the inquiry of yoga

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali writes:

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.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

sweet sukha yoga

'Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya'
My heart opens to receive the blessings of the universe