Group Meditation

Have you ever meditated with others? Perhaps it was with your beloved, with family and friends at a religious ceremoy, or at Satsang. I highly recommend it!

My husband and I meditate together whenever opportunity presents. Tonight we attended a group meditation at YogaNow, here in Albuquerque.

I won’t try to describe the experience, because, well, it was meditation. I will express deep gratitude for the opportunity to be with others meditating. What a gift.

Perfect in the moment….

What if “Perfect” = “present in the moment & unjudged”?

Hand Stand Prep

My students are often surprised when they ask for chest openers and I turn them up-side-down. No, I don’t grab them ūüôā I help them find Table Pose which is preparatory for Adho Mukha Vrkasana. Adho Mukha (Upward Facing, like from the Dog) and Vrkasana, which many people will recognize from the upright balancing pose known as Tree.¬† Adho Mukha Vrkasana is more like Adho Mukha Urdva Hastasana, though – Down Facing Up Hands, but maybe the up & down contrasted too much. We’ve all played at this as children wildly kicking up into hand stand, even walking on our hands if we had gifts of coordination!¬† Of course in yoga, while initial trials might feel a bit like wildly flailing, we have a plan for our ascent and move with breath.

So, yoga¬†student walks into a¬†studio and asks for heart opener. Teacher says stand on your hands. Sounds like the set up for a punchline, right? Well maybe there is a zen-koan like quality to the energetic oppositions of yoga, but it’s no joke. The rebound¬†from pressing the feet against¬†the wall in Hand Stand Prep balances the hips over the shoulders, encouraging the shoulders open and wide and the heart open, sternum curled and lifted.

Wanna see how we do it?   After appropriately warming up (so toward the end of a given session), I ask them to put their mat against the wall & take a very short Adho Mukha Svanasana, or DownDog,  with their heels up the wall.

Part of their surprise is that this position itself has a tendency to compress the shoulders. But the opening comes as they crawl their feet up the wall til their hips are over their hands and their legs are parallel to the floor.

The opening comes, I should say, if we take a short enough base (the distance from hands to wall should equal the length of the legs from foot to top of hips).

Much like the Ha & Tha of “Hatha” yoga, the magic, the center & the balance of this pose come from opposition in unity. The rebound of the feet pressing evenly into the wall assists in offering the heart forward (toward the wall) supported by the shoulders. Students often try to move their hands further from the wall because it feels as if they are about to push themselves over. Honor your body’s guidance, but also trust in your set up, your center and consider asking a friend to tell you when your hands are under shoulders are under your hips. You should feel a bit of dynamic spring: channel this into your heart, allowing it to lift and open.

Now, the shoulders themselves have to be both strong and possess some flexibility to support this position. If shoulder strength and alignment are what we want to investigate and enhance, we do Dolphin Hand Stand. This begins as dolphin dog with a short base, heels up the wall. Dolphin Dog is essentially the same as DownDog, but the elbows are on the floor & the hands clasped in front. This grants a great deal of stability to the shoulder girdles and allows freedom to move from a secure base.

Once up, experiment with the position of your sternum relative to your shoulder girdles: you’ll be amazed at the range of motion available to you. Find your place of stability and openness.

Always use care with yourself. I’ve said it before here: pushing harder doesn’t burn off more karma, it actually drives your habits deeper into your personality. So take care, stop when you feel it is appropriate, and always use care inverting. Make a clear space and consult with your doctor if you have high blood pressure, are on blood thinners, have a history of stroke (TIA¬† or CVA), frequent headaches or any neck injury.

And finally, consider asking your nearest or dearest local yoga teacher to help you refine your practice or spot you in this pose. It’s fun to have company on the playground!

Attention & Intention

What you attend to, you transform.

What qualities does your attention possess? Is it intense, relaxed (how do your eyes feel? your tongue? your hands?), curious, open? Do you have words in your mind right now? Are they coming from that to which you’ve surrendered your attention?

What state is body in? Are you in motion? Are you at rest? Are you relaxed?

Where do you have sensations as you render your attention to your subject? (What is the difference between subject and object in this state?)

Embodied Awareness = Yoga

You’re doing yoga right now! Take a bow, I mean Uttanasana!

"Radical Acceptance"

Yesterday’s post has certainly generated some reactions. My central idea is simply that while emotions sometimes call us to honor specific stories, they always connect us to our basic humanity. After we let the story go, we are in a position to be present with the emotion in the moment, each moment.

Last night while listening to Tara Brach on AudioDharma talk about her book Radical Acceptance¬†presented through Zencast, which I highly recommend, I was struck by her clarity in addressing this presence. She focuses the issues quite beautifully. One of the problems that “being present” or “accepting” often brings up for us is a version of the problem of evil. By looking at it, am I condoning it? By acknowleding the existence of something hurtful, dreadful am I decreasing my resistance, my approbation, am I allowing it into my life? What if everything is sacred (my word)? What do I do with the dark side then?

Part of the answer is that we don’t keep hurt and harm from our lives by resisting its manifestation. The notion that we can keep harm at bay by intellectually refusing to acknowledge it,¬†though full of¬†¬†Captain Kirkian nobility, conflates two notions of resistance. When a harm is potential we can work to mitigate or even negate it. When it is actual, it no longer is helpful to “resist”, if this means acting like it’s not there because we don’t know what we’d do if it was: it is. One is positive action. The other is a veiled state of mind.

Tara Brach uses a Buddhist teaching on acceptance to demonstrate a way of “Being With” what is difficult. The Buddha invites Mara in and treats the demon gently, acknowledging its presence and effects. By acknowledging Mara, some of the sting, of the wrongness and the power is taken from the effects and the participants are free to be present.

Relaying in my words her clarity and gentleness would distract from the point: go listen to her. Her stories are amazing and I’m still processing the deep teaching behind the story about her student with Alzheimers.

Stories are amazing, but they are also Wittgensteinian ladders: meant to be kicked away. Everything important is right now.

The Yoga of Broken Heartedness

Today I feel heartbroken and alone. And this mood helps me recognize things about my humanity and connection to others – who paradoxically seem so remote.

There is no real reason: my heart has not recently been broken by circumstance, death or love. I have my three adorable dogs and my husband at work.

Outside this window,the trees’ last, scratchy leaves still cling to twig and bark, and the sky lays low, nearly groaning under snow. The mountain is¬†obscured behind the slate of the sky.

It’s a fact that I’m feeling heartbroken and alone. A fact among other facts. Some people believe facts are cold and lifeless, others believe that that’s all there is in the world: facts, facts & more facts. I agree with the latter, but believe that the fact of consciousness transforms all the other facts.

We often attribute our feelings to nearby causes, especially feelings we’d like to escape or to squash. If we can find the cause, maybe we can wriggle out from under this burden. And then, we can spend the rest of our lives struggling with that story about what a feeling means. For me, brokenhearted aloneness (you probably have your own name for the feeling) connects up in intriguing symmetry to a childhood feeling I never could shake or communicate to the others around me who always seemed engaged and paired up with others who seemed granted by God to confer understanding. My folks had one another – though in the time honored tradition of love, having each other was occasionally crazy making – and my twin brothers had depth of communication acheivable, evidentally, only by zygomatic companionship, even if they sometimes had to endure twin jokes or looking so much like another human being it could disconcert the uninitiated.

But then it was more. It was a secret I kept, because I didn’t know words for it. A secret that seperated me from others, bound me to what and whom I didn’t want to be bound and left a gaping draft through my heart. But it would be years before I found words and courage to own my secret and my connection to my world.

Once I did, the emergence of this feeling I have today ceased to overwhelm and overcome me. But it never ceases to come, because it reveals something elemental about embodied consciousness. We’ve all had tragedies minor and major to which we attach this rent-chest drop-gut feeling. And it’s easy to get caught up in that net of explanation, as if it were really a lovely cashmere blanket knit just for our shoulders, just to contain our grief and pain. But stories aren’t the ulimate containers of our truths: We are. And while our stories are important to be able to tell, they’re more important to shed.

More important than the stories we use to make initial sense of these feelings is the way these feelings, while apparently so isolating, chilling and enveloping, actually connect us.

There is something heartbreaking, alone and¬†primordial in being a conscious adult human. There’s a reality to our seperateness in space and time which both cannot be overcome and allows all that is useful, delicious and delightful, everything juicy and two-toned and worth our energy. And part of what is chilling about it is that it also facilitates everything diabolical, dark and dreadful. They are connected, because it is the same capacity and condition of humanity – temporality – which allows them both.

There’s a truth in this heartbreak that affirms our seperateness as well as our connection: the universality of what is required for self-consciousness.

So my feelings and my mood are facts among facts. This is both chillingly objective and a glorious recognition of ontological connection.  Which is where my yoga asana practice becomes so important. As I meet myself on my mat, it is so much easier to let go of the story line and allow the mood and the emotions to just be and to recognize that I am, my experience is, more than any mood or emotion, no matter how long it lasts. And it is fascinating to me that even after fully giving into a particular feeling, I can watch it transform as I choose backbends or forward bends, twists, challenging poses or restorative. What I do with my body matters in the most basic way Рin my mood Рfor how the world appears to me to be.

Just realizing how cool that is steadies my hands and my heart, and allows me to lift my heart up to the low slung sky.

Yoga Nidra

Guided Relaxation including Yoga Nidra

Here is my holiday gift to all of you, available for your pre-holiday stress relief and practice.

Yoga Nidra is an ancient technique sometimes called yogic sleep. It is said that 20 minutes of yogic sleep is as good as three hours of your normal sleep. Now, my sleep isn’t so normal, so I haven’t had a good basis for comparison. However, I can say this 17 minute guided meditation certainly prepares me to be open to my world even if my sleep has not.¬† Students say they use it daily, some others when they need a lift.

I recorded this last year as a gift for my Classes. The voice is mine, the script I wrote¬†reflecting on¬†some of the techniques I’ve learned that help me.

Let me know how you use it and how it works in your life. Most of all, do some yoga every day!


(background music off Tandava)