Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Spring Blossoming

"And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."  - Anaïs Nin

Assuming that this is true and there are risks inherent in opening ourselves up, what are they?  Vulnerability, softening, opening, exposure, fear of failure were some that my students brought up this week in classes.  One student suggested "You might get plucked!" No one wants to be plucked!  And like Marianne Williamson says, it is our light not our darkness that scares us the most.  So knowing that some or all of these risks have to be taken on to blossom to our fullest potential, then we need to explore what would make it safe for us to take these risks.  Courage, strength, and faith were the most predominant answers.  In my life the thing that gives me the most support, that helps me to tap into courage and strength, is my family and community.

Years ago a friend shared with me the story of her wedding. She got married in New Orleans and there is an awesome tradition there of what they call the "second line".  Basically, they hire a band to walk behind the bride and groom, and the rest of the wedding guests follow behind waving handkerchiefs, dancing, singing and celebrating, and it becomes a parade.  Even bystanders wanting to can join in the celebration.  I love the idea of blossoming into a new chapter with your loved ones cheering you on - it’s like all your friends and family "have your back" as you begin your new life.  If I ever renew my wedding vows I am totally doing it in New Orleans!  Wouldn’t it be great if we could start a “second line” tradition for all our major life events – a new job or career path, graduating high school, college, having a baby, moving?  In a way, our yoga practice does this for us.

In yoga your back body represents many things - one of them is your past, all that's behind you.  All your ancestors, your experiences, your teachers, friends who’ve come and gone, all the things that have helped to shape you into the person you are.  Some of these people are still with us, and some have passed on either out of our lives or out of their earthly bodies, it doesn’t really matter.  When we invoke our “second line” by staying connected to our back body through breath and awareness, we are invoking the feelings of strength, courage, faith, ease (plug in any other quality here) that they evoked in us and that in itself helps us to remember that we ourselves are capable and can choose to blossom into life that we desire. When connect to these feelings we open our hearts more readily and blossom more radiantly into the person we aspire to become.   We become, as we say in our invocation, niralambaya tejase - radiant and illuminated in who we are, without need of support from anything outside ourselves.

So even if it was your “second line” that helped give you strength or courage or faith to take a risk, acknowledge that YOU were still the one ultimately that took that risk and blossomed.  Now take a breath and finish this line “I am blossoming into…..”

Off the mat:
My friend Silvia Mordini offers this contemplation:
Think back to your original intention for starting yoga?  How have you seen this intention blossom and evolve, what parts of it are still in today's intention for living and loving your life? It is essential we see where we came from to better appreciate how far we've come.  And you have come very far. We keep awakening ourselves to ever more amazing inner radiance each day of our practice. 
We are always evolving in the direction of happiness, all that we need to do is not block the flow forward.  And when we feel our “second line” behind us, either real or invoked, it helps move us in that direction.  So there is no reason to wait to be happy or more loved or more cheerful.  BLOSSOM NOW NOT LATER.  This isn't a rehearsal for your life. Spring doesn't say, ok let me hold back and I'll do this next year. Nope, Spring goes for it NOW.  Just like we must do too.

On the mat:
To help embody these ideas more fully, work into backbends in your practice this week with a strong Shoulder Loop.  The actions of Shoulder Loop start in the upper palate (where the hard and soft palate meet) moving it towards the back body, travels down to move the head of the arm bones (what most people refer to as the “shoulder”) back while moving the bottom tips of the shoulder blades forward in a circular loop or motion.  When the head moves back and out of the way, we can lead with our hearts.  It’s like your “second line” is pushing the bottom tips shoulder blades forward encouraging your heart to lift and blossom open.   Do some deep shoulder openers as warm ups, for example practice Bhujangasana (cobra pose) with a strap around the bottom tips of your shoulder blades – have a friend lovingly pull the strap forward while using their feet to press the tops of your shoulders back.  Work into deep lunges and thigh stretches and then blossom yourself into Ustrasana (camel), Dhanurasana (bow), Camatkarasana (which we commonly call wild thing, but a more poetic, flowery translation reads “the ecstatic unfolding of the enraptured heart.”), towards full Eka Pada Rajakapotasana. 

Open To Grace: Stand courageously and take the risk to open yourself. When we take the risk to open, we have the opportunity to experience the incredible beauty of life more fully.
Breathe into your back body and feel everyone who “has your back”.

Muscular Energy: Firm your muscles to embrace your vulnerability.
Tone your muscles to feel strong in your ability to take a risk.

Shoulder Loop: Engage with all who have your back by engaging your shoulder blades onto your back.
Feel the support of all those who came before pressing your SB forward so you can open your heart more easefully.
Press the bottom tips of the shoulder blades forward and flower your heart open courageously

Inner Spiral: Blossom the sit bones open.
Widen your inner thighs and open yourself even in your vulnerable places.

Outer Spiral: Scoop your tailbone and tone your low belly with courage and conviction your capacity to bloom and flourish.
Scoop your tailbone to feel the support of your lower abdominals and all those who support you.
Organic Energy:
Blossom out of your tight little bud and into the pose and the person you aspire to become.
Like a rose, unfurl the beauty of your heart as you expand into the pose.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Go Naked and Dance


Go Naked and Dance
By Lalla    

The Soul, like the moon, is new, and always new again.
And I have seen the ocean continuously creating.

Since I scoured my mind and my body, I too, Lalla, am new, each moment new.
My teacher told me one thing, Live in the soul.

When that was so, I began to go naked, and dance.

This poem reminds us that the body and soul are in a constant state of renewal. I read an article recently about the human body’s capacity to rejuvenate itself that said “Although people may think of their body as a fairly permanent structure, most of it is in a state of constant flux as old cells are discarded and new ones generated in their place. Each kind of tissue has its own turnover time, depending in part on the workload endured by its cells.” For example:
  •  The cells lining the stomach last only 5 days
  •  Red blood cells last only 120 days
  •  The epidermis, or surface layer of the skin, is recycled every 2 weeks
  • The liver has a turnover time of 300 to 500 days
  • The entire human skeleton is replaced approximately every 10 years in adults
(For more amazing facts, check out the whole article here)

So now we know that we have a new body every day, but this capacity for rejuvenation happens in all aspects of our lives.   As those who know me know, I am a runner.  I have not run a race since my 3rd son was born almost 21 months ago, so to keep my mind fresh and new along with my body I set a goal to run the 5K coming up in my town in under 24 minutes. Racing is really a mental competition – when you’ve trained and your body is prepared and capable of maintaining a certain pace, the race becomes about the self-talk that keeps you going and motivated when things get challenging.  The race was last Saturday and it was a humid morning, making breathing more challenging but I was inspired as I always am by my fellow racers and cheerleaders.  My sister had committed to the race with me and we started off and kept our pace.  As we neared the finish line, breathless and tired from running hard, my sister looked up and yelled “23:52 go, go, go!” - and we did.  We crossed the finish line at 23:58 & 23:59 and it was exhilarating!  I have been running and racing for 25 years and have never won a medal, but we placed 2nd and 3rd in our age group and it felt really good.  When we set goals for ourselves that challenge both our bodies and minds we tap into our capacity for renewal, and our attitude more than our age determines our successes and failures. When we examine our habits and patterns and define the ways they have become stale and stagnant we become more active participants in the renewal of the mind.

This weekend was also Mother’s Day, a day to celebrate Shakti, the feminine, creative force of the Universe that brings everything into being.  Shakti acts within us at the level of the energy-body or the soul.  It’s not like Shakti acts and we are born and then that’s it, we’re on our own.  The energy of Shakti is working continuously and constantly, every moment of every day, and when we awaken to this energy flowing within ourselves we tap into our own creative abilities.   We recognize that in every moment we have the ability to renew ourselves.  Shakti is the force that breathes us, so with every breath we have the capacity to be born anew, to make a choice to make a shift or change in the direction of the life we wish to live.  When we recognize that this process of rejuvenation is going on all the time, we can choose to align ourselves with it and celebrate the potential renewal of our soul in every action we take, every choice we make.  As Mellen-Thomas Benedict said “Humans are immortal beings who have been alive forever. Our bodies come from an unending stream of life....humans are part of a natural living system that recycles itself endlessly."

Off the Mat:
Examine the aspects of your life that feel stale and stagnant.  In what ways can you bring renewal to old habits and patterns?  It doesn’t necessarily mean giving them up – sometimes that is the right choice, but often we can make a small shift in our thinking or behavior that connects us to our souls' innate capacity for rejuvenation and awakening.

On the Mat: 
We worked with deep twists this week, as twists are refreshing and renewing poses. On the physical level they massage and wring out the internal organs, flushing out toxins and allowing new blood and other vital fluids to rush in and revitalize organs and muscles.  On a mental level, they turn us one way then the other, balancing the hemispheres of our brains and helping us to see the same pose from 2 different perspectives and directions.  When we twist, the movement initiates from the back body on the opposite side that we are twisting to (so for example, if we are twisting to the right, the twist begins from the lower left back waistline).  Our back bodies represent our connection to the Divine, or Shakti, so the pose itself originates from this deep energetic connection to our creative source and our ability to align with it.  We worked towards Baddha Parivrtta Parsvakonasana, leading in with twisted lunges, parivrtta Trikonasana, twisted Eka Pada Rajakapotasana prep, and a sweet study of Vira I which brought us into a deeper relationship with our subtle energy body and the way we can use it to move our outer physical forms.

Open To Grace: Feel your inner body grow brighter as you expand it with your breath.
Feel your soul fill your body.
Let the in-dwelling presence of your soul fill your body with a feeling of renewal.
Breathe in and soften into the knowledge that the universe, in it’s constant process of renewal, is unfolding exactly as it is meant to.

Muscular Energy: Hug to the midline and the newness of your body in this moment.
Firm your muscles inwards all the way to your soul.
Hug from your skin to the muscle to the bone to the subtle energy body.

Twisting: As you exhale and turn, wring out the old, making space to revitalize yourself.
Twist from the level of your soul, the deepest part of yourself and your deepest desire for renewal.
Initiate your movement from the place where Shakti dwells, deep in the back body, connecting you to your souls capacity for creative renewal.

Organic Energy: Expand into new possibilities with confidence in your souls ability to continuously create anew.
Shed the clothing of your skin and feel your soul dance with the beauty of this moment, this pose.
Live in your soul and let it be reflected from the inside out in your pose.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Stream of Life

Spring is a time when I feel particularly lit up and enlivened.  The whole world is waking back up from winter’s sluggishness and darkness (especially this loooooong snowy, cold winter!) and there is a dynamic, energetic quality to the day that is so refreshing.  We have cherry trees in our yard and are blessed with the blossoms for just a couple of precious spring weeks every year.  My boys and I have been impatiently waiting and watching for them for a couple of weeks, and finally this week they are here!  We walked out Monday morning to an explosion of pink in our yard and danced with the joy of the Earth’s offering.  

Our poem this week is a beautiful explanation of why we get so excited by the blossoms of spring:

The Stream of Life - By Rabindranath Tagore

The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world
and dances in rhythmic measures.

It is the same stream of life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and of death, in ebb and in flow.

I feel my limbs made glorious by the touch of this world of life. And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.

Looking out at the cherry blossoms, the tulips, daffodils, forsythia, magnolias and dogwoods, we experience the “stream of life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth…and breaks into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.”  It makes us aware of the life force that brings the seasons, the blossoming and the dying off, and reminds us that it is the same energy that lives inside of us.  We feel it as the blood and other fluids moving through our bodies, we feel it as the muscles contract and stretch as we move on our yoga mat (or anywhere for that matter), we are aware of it as we are aware of our breath and the prana (life-force) that comes in with the breath.   When recognize this energy inside ourselves, we recognize the beauty and splendor of it all around us and we can see the inter-connectedness of all things. 

Off the mat:
Find some time this week to be outside.  Surround yourself with spring’s bounty and relish it.  Lay down in a patch of grass, pick a flower and study it’s beautiful intricacies, go to the beach and visit with the ocean for a while.  The birds that migrate along the Atlantic Flyway are making their journeys right now so it is a great time for bird-watching.  I saw an Eastern bluebird last week that made my whole day!  Experience the stream of life outside yourself as a reflection of the beauty and diversity that also exists inside yourself.

On the mat:
The stream of life is an energetic stream, it flows from somewhere to somewhere else.  In our bodies, one of the ways we experience this flow of energy is to pull it from the edges of our beings into one of 3 energetic centers at our core, giving us stability and focus.   In Anusara-speak we call them Focal Points, and the one that is most active in a pose is the one that is closest to the foundation of the pose (the ground) and the most weight bearing.  They are:
1.    In the upper palate, just above where the hard and soft palate meet
2.    At the base of the heart
3.    In the core of the pelvis
This stream of life/energy is always with us, it is up to us how we wish to channel it, direct it, and align with it.  Using the Focal Points as we practice is a powerful way to direct the stream of life to strengthen and provide steadiness to our poses.

Open To Grace: With your breath feel the ebb and flow of the stream of life moving through you.
Feel your limbs made glorious by the touch of this world of life.
Feel the life-throb of the ages dancing in your blood.

Muscular Energy: Draw in the stream of life from the earth and the sky and the air and pull it into your (upper palate, heart, pelvis)
Pull the life stream from your hands and feet into your (upper palate, heart, pelvis) and feel it converge and grow there.

Inner Spiral: Widen your inner thighs and sit bones and open yourself to the stream of life.
Widen your inner thighs back and apart to make space for the life force to flow through your hips and pelvis.

Outer Spiral: Drop your tailbone like an anchor, tethering yourself to the stream of life.

Organic Energy: Feel your limbs made glorious by the touch of this world of life and offer through those limbs your blessings outward.
Send your life force with joy through the dust of the earth into numberless blades of grass.
From your (upper palate, heart, pelvis) let your energy spread out and break into tumultuous waves of leaves and flowers.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mother Earth

Mother Earth 
by Rabindranath Tagore

Infinite Wealth is not yours, my patient and dusky mother dust!
You toil to fill the mouths of your children, but food is scarce.

The gift of gladness that you have for us is never perfect.
You cannot satisfy all our hunger hopes, but should I desert you for that?

Your smile, which is shadowed with pain, is sweet to my eyes.
Your love, which knows not fulfillment, is dear to my heart.

From Your breast, You have fed us with life but not immortality, which is why
Your eyes are ever wakeful.

For ages you are working with color and song, yet Your heaven is not built,
but only it’s sad suggestion.

Over Your creation of beauty, there is the mist of tears.

I will pour my songs into your tender face and love Your mournful dust, Mother Earth.

This poem reads like both a love letter and a letter of apology to the Earth.  Mother Earth holds so much beauty and yet so much suffering and devastation as well.  This poem is an invitation to examine how you interact with Her.

Nature is one of the easiest ways for us to connect with our Source - when we look at the vastness of an ocean, the majesty of a mountain range, the power of a waterfall, we have some sense of the miraculous nature of the energy/life force/oneness that brings it all into being. We recognize that we are a part of that creation and so our actions, our attitude, and even our thoughts are directly connected to the health and wellbeing of all that surrounds us. 

I think most of us, myself included, take Mother Earth for granted. It seems incomprehensible that Her resources might one day not be there for us, and yet we know that if we don’t radically change some of our habits that this might actually be the case.  Fortunately we also know that intention is a powerful catalyst, so when we set ours meaningfully on the change we wish to see in the world, and follow through with our actions, that we have the power to make manifest those changes.

(Aside: for a powerful commentary on how we take mothers in general for granted, check out this video! The Hardest Job)

Yoga gives us the opportunity to think about the way we place ourselves physically in the world.  We become more aware of how we walk on the Earth – does it support and sustain both ourselves and our environment?  Through our practice we cultivate sensitivity, inside and out.  As we become more sensitive, we more easily and readily notice imbalances and misalignments and can respond to them sooner, before they become bigger issues.  With increased sensitivity we are more aware of people around us, to their needs and desires and joys and pains, and our relationships become deeper and richer as we become more compassionate.   When we cultivate sensitivity we are more able to see the interconnectedness of all things, and our place in the Universe.

Off the Mat:
Ok folks, a million ways you can affect Mother Earth here!  Here are some of the ways, over the years, my family has chosen to create a more sustainable lifestyle. We have done away with paper napkins, disposable water bottles, disposable plastic bags for snacks, lunch boxes and groceries, and disposable diapers (ok, I do cheat and use them when we are travelling).  We have limited disposable wrapping paper and individual food containers (like for yogurt and kefir – we buy the big ones and portion in out in our own reusable containers).  Even having made these changes, there are so many more still in the queue– what changes have you made to effect change in your world?  What changes do you still need to make? Let's start a conversation...or a revolution!  Post a tip!

On the Mat:
We worked on sensitivity in our hands and our feet this week.  From the simple act of bringing the hands into Anjali mudra one fingertip and knuckle at a time, to staying really present and grounded in the four corners of our feet during drop backs into Urdhva Dhanurasana, we were ever mindful in the way we touched Mother Earth.  We placed our hands and feet with intention in every pose, steady and unwavering in our touch, engaging just enough to support ourselves and honor the Earth at the same time.

Open To Grace: Become more sensitive in your touch, the way you engage with the earth. 
Stand in your pose the way you wish to stand in the world.
Wake up your hands and feet, the organs we use to engage with the Earth, so we can be more sensitive to Her needs.
Maintain connection and sensitivity to the Earth even through transitions (like during Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutation).

Muscular Energy: Drink in what Mother Earth has to offer you from the hands to the heart.
Draw up from the Earth all that will sustain you.
When we ourselves are out of balance we get distracted and forget to be sensitive to our environment, but if we can pull into the place inside (the Focal Point) that we feel connected to all things it steadies us and brings equanimity to both ourselves and our world.

Organic Energy:  Offer your love and support back to the Earth.
Send your intention to nourish and sustain Mother Earth out into the universe.
Pour your songs into Her tender face and love Her mournful dust, Mother Earth.

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