Thursday, July 23, 2015

We Have Come to be Danced

We have come to be danced. 
by Jewel Mathieson

We have come to be danced
not the pretty dance
not the pretty pretty, pick me, pick me dance
but the claw our way back into the belly
of the sacred, sensual animal dance
the unhinged, unplugged, cat is out of its box dance
the holding the precious moment in the palms
of our hands and feet dance

We have come to be danced
not the jiffy booby, shake your booty for him dance
but the wring the sadness from our skin dance
the blow the chip off our shoulder dance
the slap the apology from our posture dance

We have come to be danced
not the monkey see, monkey do dance
one, two dance like you
one two three, dance like me dance
but the grave robber, tomb stalker
tearing scabs & scars open dance
the rub the rhythm raw against our souls dance

We have come to be danced
not the nice invisible, self conscious shuffle
but the matted hair flying, voodoo mama
shaman shakin’ ancient bones dance
the strip us from our casings, return our wings
sharpen our claws & tongues dance
the shed dead cells and slip into
the luminous skin of love dance

We have come to be danced
not the hold our breath and wallow in the shallow end of the floor dance
but the meeting of the trinity: the body, breath & beat dance
the shout hallelujah from the top of our thighs dance
the mother may I?
yes you may take 10 giant leaps dance
the Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free dance
the everyone can come to our heaven dance

We have come to be danced
where the kingdom’s collide
in the cathedral of flesh
to burn back into the light
to unravel, to play, to fly, to pray
to root in skin sanctuary
We have come to be danced

Every morning at camp (where I am working this summer when I am not teaching yoga) we dance.  From a mom of 3 boys, who understands that in the ALM (“Act-Like-A-Man”) world that we inhabit most of the time you don't dance, to see them out there shakin' it is huge.  It might actually be the best reason for sending my kids to camp, and for me to be there working – to see them dance freely, wildly, unselfconsciously, and with so much utter joy and presence in the moment.

My oldest son Zev is an anxious kid.  He worries about doing the right thing, about how he should look and how he should act, about what to wear and read and say, and in spite of that he gets by fine most of the time.  But the first day of Camp Ramah every summer I see his whole body exhale.  I see him, a child who would no sooner dance in public as he would hug his mom, front and center on the field where we dance, smiling away and dancing his heart out, even when no one else is doing it.  Never a physically affectionate or demonstrative guy, yet I see him walking with his arms around friends and counselors, and at home, there is so much less fighting, arguing, and attitude.  He becomes comfortable in his own skin, so much more at ease and peaceful.

A short clip of Zev dancing at camp - he is in the middle in the bright yellow/green hat

I see so much of me in him - my anxiety about how to fit into the world, trying to figure out how to dance when I really wanted to but it just didn't seem like the cool thing to do so I didn't and my heart aches for him. I wish I could pass down what 15 years of yoga has taught me, how he is worthy of feeling at ease and peaceful no matter what situation he finds himself in, but I know he has to figure it out for himself.  I am so grateful that he has a place to help him do that.

Watching Zev in his daily morning disco session has shown me how embodied practice in an environment where we feel safe, be it yoga in a studio or dancing at summer camp, can be life altering. Being able to be in your body and feel comfortable and safe and able to express yourself in a way that is authentic and real and accepted unconditionally by those around you helps you to find your voice and your truth and to live in a more comfortable and genuine way. I see it in every class I teach, students exhaling, softening, finding their way back to themselves and am grateful every day that I get to help facilitate that environment and opening. 

One of the Attributes of the Divine which Yoga practice awakens in us is called svatantrya in Sanskrit. It is one of the ways we experience our true nature, which is unbounded, absolute freedom. Asana practice gives us the opportunity to be in our bodies and our hearts, to show up without apology, however it looks, regardless of age or weight or size or health, and be wholly who we are: cat out of it's box, matted hair flying, voodoo mama, shaman shakin’ yogis.  To live in our luminous skin of love with all the radiance we can muster. When we practice without inhibition, being fully present in our bodies, our breath, our poses, our hearts, we ARE svatantrya.

Off the Mat: Have a dance party.  Turn up the music, do it with a friend or in a club or alone in your bedroom.  Listen to your body and move the way it wants to move. If you need some inspiration, check out this clip, one of my favorite movie scenes and break out your inner Kevin James:

On the Mat:  Backbends are the poses that feel the most free, even though they are ironically some of the most challenging poses for me.  In my classes this week we used dance as a warm up, and worked towards the mother of all backbends, urdhva dhanurasana, adding drop-backs in the more advances classes.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace – Feel the Inner Body Bright with the fullness of your own dance.
Fill the inner body with the breath, with the Shakti that dances inside you, as you.

Muscular Energy – Firm your arms (in DD) and commit to the dance fully, the dance of you.
Firm your muscles and slip into the luminous skin of love.
Claw the fingers into the mat like you are clawing your way into the belly of the sacred, sensual animal dance.

Shoulder Loop – Move the head of the arm bones back and plug into the cathedral of flesh that is your sacred body.
Move the bottom tips of your shoulder blades into the back of the heart and slap the apology out of your posture.
Move the palate back, resting your head into the comfort of anyone in your life who allows you to feel completely yourself and completely free.

Inner Spiral - Move your sitbones back and apart and shout hallelujah from the top of your thighs.
Outer Spiral – Root your tailbone in the sanctuary of your skin.

Organic Energy – Make this the Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free pose

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Creating Harmony

We have been talking about Saraswati for several weeks at Shree, the Goddess of speech, art and music. So it is fitting that my middle son Kiran, a rising musician, turned 8 this week.  All he asked for for months for his birthday was a keyboard (well, also a ruby ring and a drone, but keyboard was top of the list!).  We went last weekend and bought it for him and basically haven’t seen him since.  What he has been doing, for hours on end, is playing the pre-recorded songs that are available in the keyboards computer and improvising along with them.  The key and rhythms don’t always line up perfectly, but about 50% of the time they do and it is totally amazing to hear. I am a classical musician, meaning really good at following what is already written on the page. I studied music theory for years, I understand how the notes work together in different keys and modes, and yet it has always been a challenge for me to harmonize and improvise so I admire his skill with a tinge of jealousy.  
Kiran rocking out on his keyboard with baby brother Rakhi
Harmony in music is the "vertical line" of the music, whereas the melody line is the "horizontal line". In the vertical line notes layer on top of notes to create lusher, more dynamic and interesting sounds over a melody already present.  Depending on which note gets layered on top the sound evoked can be more or less happy, spooky, melancholy, etc. I've always been amazed at how one simple addition or subtraction of a particular tone can change everything so dramatically, and I love listening to my child figure this out.

The word harmony comes from the Greek harmozo or harmonia, meaning to fit together or join.  This is very similar to the meaning of the word yoga, which is to yoke or unify.  So to be "in yoga" is to be in harmony.  And just like in music, things can fit together in different ways for different effects and results.  When our bodies are in harmony, the bones are integrated into the joints in a way that offers the biggest range and ease of motion, The muscles are working together to create balance, stability and flexibility.  The vertebrae of the spine are stacked (like notes in a chord) one atop another to create length and space, and the overall effect is a congruity on the inside that reflects outwardly in our posture and the way we carry ourselves in general. In asana practice the alignment is the “vertical line”, how we layer muscle over bone to create a clearer and more supported pose, and the vinyasa or sequence is the horizontal, how each pose builds like a beautiful melody to a peak pose where all that came before comes together. 

The more introspective practices of yoga give us the means to create an inner harmony with the Divine.  When your mind is in harmony you are at peace and “joined” with uplifting thoughts and energy that are constantly being live-streamed by the Universe. When you are harmonious in your heart, you listen to what is being put forth in the Universe and join in and make it even better by joining your voice to an already beautiful music. Playing in harmony is not about what is lasting or permanent, but how you make beauty with what is being presented to you right here and now. It's about individual voices coming together for a moment, however brief, to celebrate and bring more beauty to the world. 

May we all be attuned to the music of Saraswati, and may our song join hers to play out our lives in divine harmony.  

Off the Mat:  This week as you are aware of your reactions to events in your life, see if your reactions to those events are adding to the beauty of the universe....or not.  Notice if your actions and reactions are in harmony with what is happening, meaning that they are creating more ease and beauty and grace in your life and in the lives of those around you.  If they are not, ask yourself what action or reaction would help move you closer to a harmonious state.

On the Mat: We worked on deep twisting in my classes this week, creating harmony in the relationship between the elbow and outer knee (as is done in so many twisting poses), and inviting the abdominals to the party, to create the deepest and most satisfying twist.  Twists are balancing poses, and their wringing action on the internal organs helps to create balance within and congruity between the digestive, cardiovascular, and reproductive systems.  

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sticks and Stones...

“Watch your thoughts, for they become words. Watch your words, for they become actions. Watch your actions, for they become habits. Watch your habits, for they become character. Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”  ~Upanishads

During the time of the Upanishads (approximately 3,000 years ago), wisdom was passed from teacher to student orally. There were no texts to read or study, you would learn directly from your teacher (the word Upanishad itself means to “sit near” or “sit at the feet of”). The teachings were offered in the ancient, sacred language of Sanskrit, which is what is known as a vibrational language.  It is said that the existence of the entire universe is encoded within the 50 letters of the Sanskrit alphabet, and that each letter has a corresponding sound vibration both in the subtle energy channels of our bodies and in the cosmos. So when these words are spoken it was not only the content of the teaching that was being passed down, but the sounds themselves would resonate on an energetic level, infusing the wisdom of the teacher into the very fabric of the students being. 

There is actually a similar theory about Hebrew, which is also a vibrational language.  The idea originated in a sacred text called the Sefer Yetzirah, which interprets the line from Genesis “God said “let there be light…” to mean that God’s “speaking” is how the universe is created. In Judaism it is widely believed that when you name something you speak it’s essence, which is why there is no real name for God in the Jewish religion, just a bunch of sort of nicknames.  The closest we have is what is known as the tetragrammaton, the unpronounceable 4 letter “name” of God (yud-hay-vav-hay in Hebrew, sometimes articulated as Yahweh), but is really closer to the sound of the breath “yaaaah”.  This is really a whole other conversation but worth mentioning in this context!  

What we glean from all this is that words, language, speech are the very stuff of creation, and in the world of yoga this is the realm of the goddess Saraswati.  Sally Kempton says “The gift of speaking truthful teachings and reciting mantras was considered one of the manifestations of Saraswati, and it carried great power.”  In modern times we don’t have quite the same influence as those gurus in the forests of India 3,000 years ago, or even farther back to the beginning of time, but we do know that words are incredibly powerful. Matrika Shakti is the Sanskrit term for the inherent creative energy behind the letters that make up a word. And if we look back to the original quote from the Upanishads we see that it is the thought behind the words that is even more important.  Matrika Shakti lives deep in our energy body, helping to form our deepest thoughts and intentions, and shape the way we speak and act in the world.

As yogis when we come to our mats or meditation cushions we connect to our highest thoughts and intentions which are the power behind our words, actions, habits, and character. We take the time to connect deeply to the virtues that we wish to bring forth more of in the world, the qualities that bring more joy, freedom and happiness to ourselves and the world around us and allow them to shape our destiny.

Off the Mat:
Begin each day by setting an intention.  With your first breaths of the morning, before even opening your eyes, choose a quality you wish to bring forth more of in your life. It can be as simple as gratitude, joy, strength, love, compassion, etc.  One word.  Take a few moments to plant it deeply in your heart, let the feeling that word evokes in you fill you up, and then let it guide the rest of your day.  Let every action flow from wanting to bring more gratitude, joy, strength, etc. to your life and the lives of those around you. 

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we started with mindful intention setting, much like the exercise I mentioned above, and worked on staying connected to our intention through our feet.  We practiced sequences that kept one foot always aligned and firmly placed on our mats as a way to stay anchored in our intention.  This also meant that we stayed on our feet for all of our practice, forgoing Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) and the accompanying vinyasa altogether.  Many students, including myself in my own practice, found this really challenging! And yet it’s those times when we are really challenged that we need to be most mindful of our thoughts, so we used those moments to come back to our intention to guide our thoughts and actions as we moved through our practice.

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open To Grace (connected to the breath and the start of each pose or sequence):
Letting the wisdom, knowledge, teachings of our tradition fill you as breath fills you.
Fill with breath and with meaningful thoughts to guide your words and actions.
Let the inner body be bright and filled with intention for your day.

Muscular Energy:
Firm the muscles to create the vessel to contain the energy of your thoughts
Tone your muscle to create a container for the Matrika shakti, the power of our thoughts and words to create.

Organic Energy:
(From Focal Point) Send your intention down into your feet, plant it in the earth immovable, and let it flow out in all directions.
Let the energy you have cultivated with your intention fill the form of this pose enlivening it with beauty and grace.

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