Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rock Concerts and Wild Geese

 Wild Geese
- Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting -
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

This is one of my all time favorite poems, and I think the reason it so speaks to me is that it is so universal.   All of us from time to time feel like we need to walk on our knees repenting, everyone feels despair, love, loneliness…..and the world goes on. When I read her words I feel like I am not alone in feeling those emotions, and it is a comfort to feel connected to others in this way.

Last weekend I was lucky enough to go see the band Train perform, and I forgot how much fun rock concerts are.  Anytime there is a gathering of people with a universal love of something – a concert with a great band, a sports event, a race, a yoga class or workshop – that universal love becomes an equalizer.  At the concert there was a wide demographic of ages, colors, shapes and sizes, and yet we were all there for a common purpose and it connected us to one another.  For those 90 minutes we were all related. Energetically everyone was aligned, and that energy lifted each of us up even higher. 

At one point the band was playing a popular song and everyone was singing along.  At the chorus they darkened the stage lights and stopped singing, and turned up the lights in the hall so the audience could take over.  There is something so amazing about singing with thousands of people. We all join our individual voices and create one big collective voice, full of joy.  I turned around and there were thousands of people behind me (we had good seats!) singing the same words – and I felt united with every person in that room.  I looked at all those faces and saw all the differences and all the similarities all at once, and that kind of awareness just fills up your heart.

Singing along to Drops of Jupiter
Singing is such a joyful offering in and of itself – St. Augustine said “He who sings, prays twice.” (For a really beautiful commentary on this quote, click here and read to the end.) When we join our voices together in song, we connect to each other on a deeper level – this is one of the reasons we chant at the start of every yoga class.  We connect to a joyful part of our hearts, we connect our voices with everyone in the room, and we connect to the divine through the words of our chant.  (If you are new to Anusara, find the words to the invocation here.)  Singing is just a deeper expression of breath. I heard the great yoga teacher Mary Dunn once say “You know you’re really practicing yoga if you can sing a song while (comfortably) holding a pose.  If you’re singing, you’re breathing.”  I highly recommend this practice, if nothing else, it’s super fun and adds a little levity to your practice.  I know there is widespread discussion on playing music in yoga classes, and there are pros and cons on both sides, but I never practice yoga without music on.  I just enjoy my practice more with a soundtrack.  As I write this, I am realizing that universal connection is one of the reasons for why I feel that way.  Whether it is an ancient chant or prayer that connects me to many generations of yogis, or a modern rock song enjoyed by millions on iTunes, either way it helps me feel part of something bigger than just myself.

Yoga practice is also a universal connector.  When we practice yoga we become aware of the ineffable part of ourselves that is interconnected to all things, the part that is beyond our body or age or income or race or job.  When we are aware of that place in ourselves, we recognize that it exists in every living being, and we see the unity of ourselves with all others.  Recognizing that unity brings a sense of love, friendship, and belonging.

Off the Mat:
A couple of simple practices:
Turn up your radio, find a great song and sing like you’re at a rock show and can’t even hear yourself.  Think of all the people that are singing along with you to the same station and let your heart fill up.  

As we slowly enter this fall season and the geese start flying more frequently overhead, each time you hear their call, harsh and exciting, let it call out to your heart and remind you of your unique, individual and irreplaceable place in the family of things.

On the Mat:
Open to Grace:
As you fill yourself with breath, fill up with your connection to the One who breathes life into everything.
As you place your feet mindfully into your pose, feel your connection to the Earth and all who walk upon it.

Muscular Energy:
Hug from your skin to muscles to bones, to the deepest part of your being that is one with all things.
Energetically pull from your fingers to your heart (in arm balancing poses) to invite in a sense of friendship and belonging.

Inner Spiral:
Widen the inner thighs to broaden your back body (which represents your connection to the Universal).

Outer Spiral:
Lengthen your tailbone down to root yourself in your union with all beings.

Kidney Loop:
Draw the front ribs down and back, feeling the connection of your individual spirit (the front body) to your universal spirit (the back body).
Lift the back of the floating ribs up and draw the front waistline down and back, opening up space in the back body to feel your connection to the oneness of all things.

Organic Energy:
Shine your pose like you are “announcing your place in the family of things.”
Let the soft animal of your body glow (with the love of this pose).

Meeting Train backstage at the Borgata