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!

Namaste

(background music off Tandava)

A proposal for practice: personal asana questions

Today I’ve been making my next year’s date book. You see, after falling while rollerblading yesterday, my left thigh is swollen by at least three inches in the back, warm, bruised, taught. Pretty sure I jacked something. So, I’m taking it easy… no Pigeon pose for me today! I was surprised at how much I could do, and not only how good it felt but also how much the swelling was eased by my practice. I also got back on the blades and practiced slowing down ūüėõ

So today is slow and easy, end of vacation beginning of winter quiet. Mizzou also ate some Jayhawk roadkill, which I must admit I enjoyed. Especially since the game really happened in the fourth quarter. But I digress.

As I make this year’s calendar, each week features a pose, from Tadasana to Natarajasana. 44 weekly poses, 2 forms of salutations and 6 sanskrit chakra symbols. Each featured yoga picture has the sanskrit name and a question. For Tadasana: Where is your mountain? For Warrior I: What do you stand for? For Ardha Chandrasana: What do you reflect? What do you keep hidden? For Adho Muka Svanasana: What holds you up?

So, here’s my suggestion: during our next yoga practices, ask ourselves a question with each asana, a question that takes us deeper into that pose. Express the answer that arises in you with your next pose. In this way, you will be your own teacher through an entire practice.

I’d love to hear about your practice! And remember: yoga every day! (even just a little!)

Memed again!

When I started blogging, I wondered what this meme thing was… I mean, a¬†meme is a theme, etymologically related to memory… don’t all essays have themes and rely on memory? And then came Moonymaid¬†¬†and I no longer wonder!¬†

It turns out memes can be pretty random and not essentially theme related lists of questions. Of course the human mind can retrospectively find thematic connection in most any collection of objects or responses, thus art.

So here’s my raw material.

The 18 Things Meme

1. What were you afraid of as a child?

Dying and disappointing .

2. When have you been most courageous? Hmmm. There is a line between courage and foolhardiness. I think truth telling – or truth living – is the most courageous human act. This was particularly hard for me when I was coming to terms with childhood horrors. Probably this more than anything else has shaped what I take courage to be.

3. What sound most disturbs you? Dogs barking while I’m trying to sleep. They don’t get out often, but I worry sick when they do, so every time I hear barking I’m sure it’s happened again and have to check…

4. What is the greatest amount of physical pain you‚Äôve been in? It was probably when my appendix had been burst for two weeks my first semester of college when I was 18. But that was more than 20 years ago and the brain has lovely amnesiac properties when storing memories of pain, so I’m not sure.

On the principle that current pain always overshadows past, my upper thigh and butt really hurt right now. Suffice it to say I’ve found nothing helpful on google regarding “how to slow down while rollerblading downhill”. I have however found this video of someone who didn’t need to slow down – wow.

5. What’s your biggest fear for your children? That their childhood horrors would parallel mine. I hope theirs are things like darkness, non-specific boogeymen and latenight horror flicks.

6. What is the hardest physical challenge you’ve achieved?  Weightlifting. I could once bench 185 pounds and leg press 450. 

7. Which do you prefer: Mountains or oceans/big water? To live by? Mountains. But I could do without neither.

8. What is the one thing you do for yourself that helps you keep everything together? Why, yoga, of course!

9. Ever had a close relative or friend with cancer? Yes. I still miss her.

10. What are the things your friends count on you for? Hmmm… unexpected responses.

11. What is the best part of being in a committed relationship?  My husband.

12. What is the hardest part of being in a committed relationship? Me.

13. Winter  or Summer ? Why? Both. Like mountains and oceans, could do without neither. Like the extremes, like the activities of both. 

14. Have you ever been in a school-yard fight? Why and what happened?¬† Once. Some large, oafish boy made fun of my brothers for being twins, which didn’t make any senes to me because I thought it was cool but seemed to really bum them out. I’m not sure we were left to really much of a fight, but point made.

15. Why blog? Ahhh, the million¬†word question. Writing helps make sense of things. Writing so that others can respond, while¬†possessing overtones (or¬†are they under~?) of voyeurism,¬†also helps cement¬†feelings of connectedness and humanity. There’s an accountability. The question is almost like, why have a conversation, or why have friends. Because our shared struggles, joys, meanings help us define what it is to be human.

16. Did you learn about sex, and/or sex safety from your parents? Yes. I had a four volume set of books which explained the anatomy in great detail (yes, I was born and bred a geek.) Catholic school had its share of influence (though I was never gullible enough to believe that sperm could survive in a swimming pool, thank you Sister Schriner.) 

17. How do you plan to talk to your kids about sex and/or sex safety? Kindly. When they bring it up.

18. What are you most thankful for this year? Most, that’s big. I’m Most Thankful for Uneventful holidays.

Gracias!

This Thanksgiving was so much about ease and gratitude for me and my gorgeous man and our dirty but happy dogs. Nothing spactacular happened. Nothing. There was a fire out back, coffee and pie for breakfast, gorgeous man made gravy, I stuffed the turkey with rosemary sprigs from the garden, dogs snuggled and wrestled, rollerblading and biking, champagne with dinner. We watched Forrest Gump (which I’d never seen & is among his favorite movies) while cooking. It was awesome. I’ve never had a holiday like it & I love it.

Oh! and we drew names! you thought I forgot ūüôā So, if you left your comment on my 100th post last week, I wrote your name (or blog name) on small green heart shaped piece of paper, and the¬†wonderful husband picked three out without looking. If you are one of the three, I’ve emailed you. I really appreciate all of you and am full of gratitude for each and every one.

Hope your Thanksgiving brought you unforseen graces and moments in which to savor them!¬† (Did you do some yoga? Do some right now… how bout Tree pose while you browse? or Table dog? How bout a deep, three part¬† yogic breath? How bout do whatever just breezed through your mind… follow¬† that intuition….)

Namaste