Itsy Bitsy Yoga, Really Big Connections

 I’m a do-it-yourself gal, and a create it yourself kinda gal, at that. For me, that’s never meant buying the how-to guide or going to endless classes. Maybe that’s why I started a home yoga practice as early as I did and why I still believe that what you do in your own home is the foundation for yoga seeping into your life. I’ll always take primary, historical sources over popular or modern reprises and personal experience is my highest authority. In our ever more standardized world, experience that grows authentically from quiet inwardness, genuine desire and spontaneous connection is an endangered species. So I’m an unlikely and wholly enthusiastic endorser of Helen Garabedian’s second book on yoga for the underage and underfoot crowd.

Garabedian’s thorough education, passion and deep experience shine through her writing and organization of this really useful manual on yoga for you and your toddler. She has credentials as an Infant and Early Childhood Developmental Movement Specialist – who knew!? – and clearly has a  passion for investigating, facilitating and revelling in the mind-body connection with children. She’s a certified yoga instructor, Reiki Master, Infant Massage Instructor, Pregnancy Yoga Teacher and Brain Gym graduate, all certified.

My earliest yoga memory is mimicking my mother while she does yoga with the television. Mom is in what I’d now call “Down Dog” and I crawl through and then put my hands and feet on the floor and wiggle around until a bug catches my interest. I figured that when I had children they’d learn yoga by immersion. What Garabedian has taught me is that it really makes sense to talk to toddlers in their terms and to tailor asana for their bodies and experience.

She grounds this specialized treatment of mainly asana in a practical understanding of yogic principles and a research based treatment of the benefits of yoga for toddlers. After all, what’s the best way to enlightenment? Never loose it. If children come to us consumed by presence and moment-to-moment immersion in awareness, maybe one of our greatest gifts is to learn to work with and nurture this into reflexive awareness, rather than the time honored method of suppressing it so that as adolescents they seem to rediscover it for the first time in history.

The book is organized so that you can easily tailor your practice time to your goals. Along the way, you’ll inevitably learn about movement development  in toddlers and may be enticed to learn about learning and bonding. This one was a revelation to me, even for teaching grown ups: “I am able to understand and respond to a sentence like, “Touch your toes.” But it may be hard for me to respond to a sentence like, “Reach down and touch your toes.” It seems so simple to make it simple … but it takes thought, planning and consideration. Garabedian helps with that.

She renames some poses and others are taken from natural movement. Renaming Trikonasana (Triangle) “Falling Star” turned me off at first, but it makes sense for the same reason. One of the benefits of renaming is to adjust adult expectations. Not only does Falling Star paint a picture that Triangle will not for the toddler, but it helps the grownups leave behind our expectations of form and perfection. And that’s pretty yogic right there.

Garabedian specifically points out how the various poses and movements benefit you and your toddler, gives clear, concise instruction for showing your toddler and easy suggestions for integrating affection and presence. What better way to lead ourselves into meditative presence and practice than to share moments of awareness and embodiment with those we love.

Powerful Photos, Underpowered Yoga: a review of Ulrica Norberg's Power Yoga

Power yoga may have made yoga hot, but don’t read Ulrica Norberg’s Power Yoga expecting to warm up to this intense, physically demanding riff on the ancient technology of melding breath and body in the alchemical bond of awareness.

Ulrica Norberg is a Swedish yoga teacher, freelance journalist, scriptwriter and consultant for personal growth. However in this book, she represents yoga as an exercise regimen, a self-improvement plan, and not only doesn’t distinguish yogic activity from your basic gym routine, but manages to talk about breath and meditation as if they were drill sergeants, or minions for molding our body to our will.

The photography by Andreas Lundberg is thematically inspiring, balanced and striking. Natural settings spark imagination and intensity of focus and muscular energy captivate, while color and light sculpt contours to capture the eye.  But there aren’t enough of these powerful photos for a coffee table book, so best to keep looking.

Power yoga is an intensely physical approach to yoga, so Norberg’s focus on asana is natural and responsive to her audience. Having translated philosophical and poetic ideas myself in the past, I appreciate the challenges in rendering the fullness of an idea under the dual veils of languages and metaphor. Perhaps this is how the language became overly literal, laden with spatial metaphor in the very transitions meant to address the transcendent. She writes,

“The Forehead Chakra covers the wickerwork of nerves in a vein in the skull… [one] said to control both incoming and outgoing thoughts. According to yoga philosophy, the third eye is the vertical eye of certainty that gives you the ability to unite the horizontal physical reality and the vertical spiritual level.” (40)

There are bizarre slips of the pen or blatant misunderstandings that have been noted in other reviews, the most popular of which is “The body has a cellular memory, and everything you have done or experienced is stored inside its DNA.” Maybe DNA stands for something besides deoxyribonucleic acid, or maybe the mixture of metaphor finally exploded. My favorite however comes right before the obligatory sentence long gloss on quantum mechanics explaining the super-consciousness of the universe and turns Aristotle into a New Age Philosopher. Not even in the most pot-sodden freshman Intro to Philosophy student did I ever witness such sloppy elision of meaning.  

In explanation, she equivocates among possible definitions and seems to confuse herself along with the reader.  Explaining prana, she identifies “millions of years of intelligence” with both thinking mind and the intelligence of cellular integration, glossing Aristotle and Einstein in half a paragraph, finally assuring us that although “It is hard to define prana precisely, … it is not just a mysterious power.” Whew!

So it’s not surprising that when she gets around to breathing in the last paragraph on prana, she tells us it’ll help us “clamp down on “monkey mind” – the intense brain activity of a stressed-out mind.” There are certainly times for clamping down, and as a type-A paramedic given to hypervigilance and a deep sense of responsibility, I have spent years cultivating the “clamp down” style. I came, and keep coming, to yoga to ease my knots, pry my little hands off the steering wheel of my life and allow organic transformation.

Although Norberg gives passing acknowledgement to the evolutionary power of daily yoga practice, her specific instructions and metaphor invariably revert to this mechanism of pressing down, controlling, self-improving and striving for perfection. I was surprised to find the language of self-flagellation and reduction of the heart to the hard body alive and well in the Swedish vernacular, but for all the preferatory ink spilled on “What is Yoga?”, “Back to the Roots”, “The Energy System”, and “Breathe for Life” the yoga-as-exercise mentality is a well fed beast at the heart of this unfocused Power Yoga trip.

Reflections of a Yogi Couch Potato

I finally gave in. No, not to the couch. Well, that, too, was a result of giving in. I had to acknowledge I was sick enough, long enough – two months now of grapefruit seed extract and emergen-C and more water than the Bellagio etc… – to need… the doctor.

I hate going to the doctor. Don’t get me wrong, I finally have a great one. She’s sensible and kind and listens and takes time and is smart and has a great sense of humor. It’s not her. It’s the institution. It’s admitting that I’m weak, that I’ve failed in the self-care regimins that are supposed to keep me hale and healthy. It opens a deep pit of what’s wrong.

So for me to go, well, let’s just say it wasn’t pretty. I actually had to leave the yoga studio while my students were in Savasana to go out front and hack up goobers last week. I sounded like a scratchy record and four sun salutations completely did me in. I was sick and needed help.

After the appointment, I gave into the time honored sick passtime: I slept for four days. I took the antibiotics, the inhalers, I hacked and took the expectorant. And when I got up… I brought my pillows and comforter and Sudoku and humidfier and jar of water to the couch and started to see “what’s on.”

Now, before you give up on me completely, there was restorative yoga and internal chanting and breath awareness through this in small doses. But what I saw was a direct consequence of having just enough energy to get out of bed but not enough to organize thought or make it out the door. What I saw was, among other things, a whole world of makeover shows. Some, I couldn’t even bear to keep on with one eye partly open and dozing through most of the show. Some were so shallow as not to warrent attention. And then there were others that surprised me. They weren’t berating or telling the person they had to change, to loose weight, firm up.

They were saying, “Look at you. Stand there for just one minute and pay attention to your body (at least how  it looks). See what’s really there. Maybe it’s pleasant, maybe not. Maybe you’ll be happily surprised by what’s underneath, maybe not. But let’s actually pay attention to your body, just as it is and as you live in it right now.”

Ok. So they weren’t exactly teaching meditation. And it was painful sometimes to watch as people underwent the mirror. And they weren’t giving breath reminders, at least not as a rule. And they weren’t teaching people how to feel a pose – or their body – from the inside out. But people were shedding illusions and gaining acceptance and detachment in a supportive environment. Maybe I’m hypoxic and brain addled but I could see why these shows are so popular.  

Of course there was the moment of un-zen, the reveal, the advertising underbelly that belied a need to convince us of flaws we can only pay to fix. I was lured in because it started well: The dermatologist actually said on cable, self-improvement commercial TV, With all the hormones in meat and milk and eggs these days we are seeing a tremendous rise in facial hair on women. Most women have actual beards way before their cronage! There someone said it! I thought, Wow! They’re going to tackle diet and food consciousness next! This is awesome! Clearly I’d been inhaling the humidifier too deeply.

Now, back before Whole Foods and Natural Meat Counters, my friends and I joked about gettin’ Militia Meat. Twenty years ago the Amish were the only ones who could guaruntee their animals and therefore food products were cared for organically. And in the part of Mid-Missouri where I lived, Jane and Joseph were the only middle-people with whom the Amish would deal. JnJ would drive their 70s limo with a seven foot cooler out the settlement and then distribute the goods – to your door – every Sunday. Jane and Joseph also believed directions for the immanent UN invasion were on the backs of highway signs and drank hydrogen peroxide. But they were kind and had the only clean farm goods for a hundred miles, so I made a pot of coffee every Sunday and waited for their knock.

So you don’t have to tell me about the benefits of clean meat and the dangers of all the hormones and antibiotics with which we pump our poor unsuspecting farm animals. And do I have to tell you how incensed – absolutely, disbelievingly livid! – I was that the proposed solution is LASER HAIR REMOVAL!!!! Seriously??? You don’t even have arrange to get clean meat these days – just go to your local Organic Grocer! But nobody even glancingly acknowledged this – they just blythely recommended lifelong laser hair removal for all women.

Now, I get it: she’s a dermatologist on a TV show – duh. She’s not going to advise against these things. But to run up to the cliff’s edge, to hang her toes over, to see the clear, deep, blue, sparkling water below, to say it so clearly – our food is changing us in ways we’d rather not change! – and then, not to jump! Not to acknowledge there’s an option, a better way  (or THREE) to eat! Buy clean, go veggie or even vegan… No. Apply lasers to your face periodically and don’t worry about what other damage might be going on beneath the surface.

All that ranted, here’s what I still watched and enjoyed. These shows are applying a level of meditation mind, of calm detachment – to how we see ourselves. We don’t always have to take their doe-eyed advice on changing it.   Raise your hand if you quiver when asked to look in a full length mirror for more than a second. (wait, I’ll continue after I’ve put my hand down. there) Now, they’re not perfect. They tell the recycling manager that she’s not representing recycling very attractively and that sort of thing… but there’s an impersonal, practical truth to what they’re saying. They support the person in looking at and being with themselves in a way that leads deep human emotion. And they get clothes, which is of course the worm the hook anyway. And the TV show gets ratings. I know.

I’m not advocating we all hang out on the couch this weekend for enlightenment. If that worked America would be the land of the midnight-dazzling-enlightened-soul-sun. I’m just commenting on the world from my particular perch, which today has been a cushy couch. And I’m interested in seeing our bodies more meditatively. Despite the consumerism, the product placement and the uniformity of the advice, there’s a collective consciousness developing about just acknowledging what is true about our bodies. There’s yoga in this. But then, I can see yoga anywhere 🙂 Now I have to go – I’m practicing vashistasana. On the couch. And my pranayam: putting my face right in the humidifier and breathing deeply.

Om Yoga Mix2

Subtle. If you like At Ease but are looking for a bit more energy, a bit more variety, you’ve found your new favorite CD, Om Yoga Mix 2 available after its May 2008 release.

Lovely, engaging, persistent music with a presence, a beat while not insisting on itself, it’s a lovely background to yoga class, or as the press materials say, to dinner or winding down. I brought it to work, slipped it into the rig’s CD player and came back to quiescently smiling partner. This, I assure you, is beyond estimation!

Eclectic grooves blended effortlessly, you might at first forget you put it on. But you’ll be reminded that you did when Krishna Das’ silken tones draw you into reverie of the present moment and electronica and reconsidered club beats synchronize your heart and breath. A personal favorite in the middle reminded me of belly dancing days, deep in concentration, light in giggling with other women intent on expressing the truths within.

Click on the name above for audio clips and press. Cyndi Lee and David Nichtern, a dynamic duo of disciplined artisanship in support of yogic union are the powerhouse behind the project, and in the tradition of their other work, both singularly and together, this is a CD to which you will want to return and which will beckon you onward toward new horizons. Stay tuned, I’ll play it at my Sunday evening class and get back to you with my students’ reviews!

Happy New Year!!

So how’s yours going? It’s New Year in March here at the Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now home. Why? Well, because I took the first two months off, because we’re past Chinese New Year (I just threw that in…), and because among the reviews I have for you is a reflection and Oprah! sponsored discussion of Eckhart Tolle’s newest – and best – work, A New Earth.

 Button yogaguide.gather.com

Did you enact a resolution? Do you abhor resolutions? Do you thrive on the intensity of making them? I didn’t resolve any one thing myself, but I reflected quite a bit on what they are and why they seem powerful.

To resolve is to unify, to simplify. To resolve a dilemma is to reach a new plateau of understanding. And of course we make resolutions about things which are difficult for us. It is the appearance of dilemma, of the need to make a bianary choice, the illusion of duality that prompts the intensity of resolution.

What if, instead of willfulness and overcoming energy we allow ourselves not to try. Stop Trying. Cease Effort. Is there possible in this moment an opening in which true resolution can occur?

I believe it is this radical sanctifying of our consciousness of the present moment which Eckhart Tolle has found a way to not only describe in his book, but to invoke. To create through the experience of reading a revolutionary breakthrough into the wisdom of the present. Revolutionary because it changes our lives, our relationships to our lives and livlihoods, and revolutionary because it must be chosen, allowed, again and again.

I’ve stated elsewhere that bliss is the birthright of all sentient beings. I believe that Tolle’s new book – and Oprah’s webcasts and discussion groups inspired by it and led by the two of them – are powerful tools in the awakening of this revolution.

I hope you’ll join us, here and over at yogaguide.gather.com to share your personal revolution.

Power to the people: Love, Truth, Beauty: Here, Now.