Author Archive: Elizabeth

Prana+Yama or Prana+Ayama (and Global Climate Change)

The other day a friend commented that it seemed that a major contributor to global climate change is how we have set out to control our environment instead of aligning with it (my paraphrase).  So much, he said, of what contributes to global climate change is how we heat and cool and light our homes and work places.  For example, instead of honoring the change of seasons, we overcool in summer and overheat in winter, so that we can wear the same clothes and eat the same foods year round in apparent comfort.

This comment resonated with me deeply.  It brought to mind what I have been taught about possible approaches to pranayama — the yoga practice of conscious breathing.  Pranayama usually as translated as breath control or restraint.  This assumes that the conjunction in sanskrit is of the two words “prana” and “yama.”  Prana here refers to the subtle energy of the life force in general, which we can understand best through the breath.  Yama means restraint.  If, however, we think of pranayama as the conjunction of “prana” and “ayama,” which is a reasonable way of looking at the way the word is formed, we can understood pranayama to be the practice of expansion or alignment with prana.

When we seek with our yoga breathing practices on the mat or with our technology and lifestyles off the mat to restrain and control nature at the expense of listening and understanding, we will be at war with ourselves and the earth.  If, however, we seek to align better with nature on and off the mat, to expand and enhance our relationship with the life force, rather than to restrain and control nature, we will expand our awareness of the subtle forces of the earth and live in a more life-affirming way.

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Guru Purnima (without a “guru”)

A yoga teacher acquaintance once said rather dogmatically to me that it was not possible to be a true yoga teacher unless one had a guru.  He meant having a guru in the traditional sense — being devoted to a particular person as the embodiment of the divine and of the true teachings.  I did not engage on the issue, thinking (perhaps unfairly) that he would not listen to another point of view.

I do not have a guru in the technical sense.  It would be unlikely.  I was raised attending unprogrammed meetings of the Society of Friends (Quakers), where services are premised on the idea that there should be no preacher or minister because the light of the spirit shines equally in all and that each person is equally able to connect through his or her own faith and practice to the spirit.  My first major exposure to the teachings of yoga was through the writings of J. Krishnamurti, which a teacher in an alternative program in high school I attended gave us to read, along with the classic yoga texts.  Krishnamurti believed that all change comes from within and eschewed devotion to a guru.

Although I do not have a particular guru to whom I give my devotion (bhakti), I strive to honor and recognize that our true teacher is the light and spirit that is within all beings.  The first line of the Anusara invocation — om namah shivaya gurave — resounds with truth for me.

On this guru purnima, the full moon of July, I honor the teachings that have so shifted my life, my teachers, especially John Friend and Suzie Hurley, and all of my students and friends, who shine with light always, and who inspire me to try each day to live more aligned with the ideals of yoga.

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Mailing List Challenges (FYI)

Just wanted to let you know that the last two newsletters I’ve sent have had significantly more returned mail than usual.  If you have changed your email since you first subscribed and you wish to continue to receive occasional e-mailings about workshops and other happenings, please go to the website and re-subscribe.

I am also getting returns from a few regulars.  Please check your spam settings (especially if you are an AOL or Gmail user) and make sure to add my e-mail to your address book.  If you haven’t gotten the July newsletter I sent today and wish to receive it, please email me directly at rosegardenyoga@gmail.com, and I will forward it to you.

I remind myself that I would not have these minor tribulations without having the joys of technology.   I think it is worth it.

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Independence Day in the Neighborhood

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The boy in the blue shirt and his friend stopped me as I was going into my yard, “happy 4th of July,” they said.  “Happy holiday to you,” I responded.

“Do you like fireworks?” the boy in blue asked.   “I like the pretty ones on the Mall,” I replied, “but I don’t like the loud, smoky ones on the street.  I find them too noisy, and too much of a fire hazard.”  “Oh,” he said, and ran off down the street.

Tonight, if previous years are a reliable indicator, he and his friends and family will light dozens upon dozens of illegal fireworks on my street, pausing only to let the bus go by.  They will scream with delight every time they startle themselves with a big one.  I will water the front to help prevent fire, marvel at human inventiveness, and ponder the nature of freedom.

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Choices, A Cardinal in the Grapes, and Viveka

This morning while I was out in the garden, I heard a chirping right above my head.  Within arm’s reach was a bright red male cardinal perched among the grapes effusively talking.  (I planted a tiny red, concord grape vine about six years ago, and it has flourished beyond my wildest dreams).

There were enough ripe grapes for me to pick a handful for myself.  I have bird netting, but I have not put it over the grapes.  They did not do so well this year, many turning brown prematurely because, I think, of the drought-ridden winter followed by the extra wet and cool spring.  I am grateful that I will not be dependent on these grapes as food for myself to survive through next winter (I’m pretty sure; if not, I have bigger things to worry about).

For the joy of having the birds come visit so fearlessly and delightedly, and because the grapes are not fantastic to eat, I leave all, but those I get by the small handful a couple of mornings a week for a few weeks, to the birds.  Maybe next year I will net the grapes, but then I’ll have to have a canning party to make jam.  In the meantime, I’ll marvel that every bird in DC seems to know when my grapes ripen.

We make decisions like this all the time.  With how we shop, what we eat, what work we choose, how we travel, we are making decisions about habitat and environment for ourselves and hosts of other beings.

In yoga, the process of ever refining our understanding so that we can be more in touch with how we act impacts our life force and our relationship with all around us, is viveka, or discrimination.   Just as the more we practice on the mat, the more we develop awareness of what leads us to feel more in tune and more celebratory of life, so too, we want to use that yoga refinement and discrimination to inform our acts off the mat.

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Slowing Down (and vinyasa krama)

I wanted to share this article on “ecotherapy,” a term I had not heard before.  I found the article interesting because for years now, I have gradually practiced all the elements listed in the article as treatment for depression, not because I had been told by a therapist to do so, but because, despite my feeling the repercussions of going against the grain, I felt happier and healthier settling in one place, traveling more slowly, connecting with my pets, and tending a small patch of nature.

These shifts in lifestyle simply feel to me more in alignment with my own nature and that of the earth.  I found, incidentally, it gave me much more time overall to do things.  People ask me how I do so much (usually referring to the day job, the yoga teaching, the gardening and cooking, the volunteer work).  Thinking of the way they live, and what they do, they ask when do I rest?  I say that my life is in fact rather slow and restful.  I rest when I meditate.  I rest when I am taking the time to make a home-cooked meal — every day when I am in town, often two or three times a day.  I rest when I am tending the garden.  I do not think of cooking and gardening as chores, but as ways to nurture myself.

I rest when I am commuting because it is on foot or sitting on the bus or metro (note:  instead of getting anxious or angry when metro is slow, think of it as an opportunity to draw into yourself and meditate, contemplate, or read).

Not having moved or changed jobs in years, even though there have been serious challenges with both where I live and my job, I had the time, money, and energy that would have been used up in a major upheaval, to engage in the study and practice to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and before that, to study  drawing and photography and to exhibit my art.  Staying in place, I continue to have time to study and to read (not watching TV helps alot, too, for finding time).  The choices are different with children in the house, but it is still possible to make choices that require less racing around for the family.

This, to me, is a larger aspect of vinyasa krama, the art of sequencing.  When we sequence how we move in space and time in a holistic, sensitive way that honors the rhythms and cycles of our bodies and the earth’s, then we feel less trapped or overwhelmed.  When I was trying to keep up with society, I was often sad and anxious.  Now I am much less so.  I have often attributed it to these choices.  Now, I see, society has given us a word for it —  ecotherapy.  With a word coined for it and put in the press, will people feel more comfortable practicing it?

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Vinyasa Krama (and Anusara Sequencing Principles)

Vinyasa krama — the art or essence of sequencing is meant to help us align in space and time, so that we experience being and practice in the most optimal way.  Last time I was with John Friend, he gave as a homework assignment, writing down Anusara sequencing principles.  What I found wonderful about thinking this through, was it was not just about how to sequence a practice to reach a particular apex pose (though that is an important aspect of designing a class or practice).  Here’s the list I came up with (not in any particular order and I am sure I’ve left some out):

First principle (open to grace always comes first)

Attitude, alignment, action

Open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy

Set the foundation of the pose first (for teaching and observing this also applies to looking to the foundation first)

Breath leads the way

Stabilize the periphery, move from the core

Root to rise

Major principles before applying refinements (i.e., open to grace, ME, IS, OS, OE before loops)

Sensitivity, stability, adjustment (for hands on/therapeutic adjustments)

Curvature before length (spinal alignment)

Shins in, thighs out

Initiate actions from the back body

I could blog about these for weeks and how, although they are simply articulated physical alignment principles, they would apply to actions off of the mat.

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Simulcast, Drama, and Perception

Last night I went to see the National Theater UK’s  simulcast (tape-delayed) of Helen Mirren performing in Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre at the Shakespeare Theater.  The tragedy of Phedre is misinformation, misguided helpers, and passion that has gone beyond sweet engagement to maddened attachment.

A stage production is intimate and designed for the small audience of those present in the theater.  When it is merely filmed (instead of being turned into a movie), it sometimes feels forced because it is watching a film of a stage production, instead of being invited in as one is when one is either at the stage production or the filming is done as a movie, which is designed to include the viewer in a manner for the film.

What was hard about watching the filming of the stage production, was being forced to have the camera’s and director’s perspective; there was no ability to turn my head and shift which part of the stage to give my attention.  At the same time, I felt appreciative of the miraculous offerings of technology:  the filming made something that is usually limited to those who can afford theater of that extraordinary quality and who are able to be in a certain place at a certain time available to tens of thousands around the globe, including me and my friend.  In that way, the filming both took away the intimacy of being physically present, but simultaneously created a unifying experience for a much bigger group of people.

I was inspired to think about the limitations and differences among the perceptions of the characters, of the critics (talking about the play and the film), of the smaller, elite audience (the actual theater goers’ — I’ve been at that theater in London), of the technologically broadened audience, and of mine in response to the essence of the tragedy, the story and substance of the play, the delivery of the play, and my own life as informed by the play.

It seems an interesting lesson on many levels on how we can choose to live with our passions, how we can react to limits and changes in our ability to perceive our own selves and the world around us, and on how and what we invite in through the doors of our perception.

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In Watermelon Sugar (Starting Each Day Anew)

I have in my library books in which just one phrase or just the very beginning is most resonant.  It is this time of summer, when the light seems endless, and the heat just setting in as if on a permanent basis, that my thoughts turn to watermelon in food, and again in literature.  I think of watermelon differently each summer from the perspective of having lived another year, and the same in having experienced the taste and the thoughts of the taste so many times before.  When it comes the time of year when thoughts of watermelon spontaneously arise,  I revisit these words:

“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.  I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.  Wherever you are, we must do the best we can.  It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar.” (R. Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar).

Refreshed, I put the book back on the shelf, look forward to eating watermelon from the fresh farm market, and set the intention to start each day with open, receptive, and unjaundiced eyes, ready to learn and experience the same old things as glorious new ones, and to do the best I can.

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Afternoon Nap — Sometimes a Necessity (Like Savasana)

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

The past few days have been very full.  Last week was an intense week at work.  I am enjoying having a house guest and deepening a new friendship.  The workshop sessions on Friday night and this morning with Amy Ippoliti at Willow Street were wild and rich with information and play.  I always enjoy teaching my two Saturday classes.  Among all this activity, I hosted a little dinner party last night, which was quiet, but bubbling over with conversation.

After the workshop this morning, instead of going right home, I rode to Dupont Circle and had brunch with a fellow yogini, after which we walked up to Columbia Heights through Meridian Hill Park.  We had a fantastic time talking and catching up, and I loved doing a little exploring in a part of the city that is outside my usual haunts.

All of these activities were healthy and life enhancing, but still, it was a lot.  Just as including savasana is critical to assimilating the benefits of a good yoga practice into the fabric of being, taking a nap this afternoon before having one more evening of visiting with my friend Elisa and my getting ready for a couple of jam-packed, demanding work days, the sweet rest of a Sunday afternoon nap was critical for me to allow all the delights of the weekend to settle and integrate, to feel rested and enriched, instead of feeling like I need another weekend to rest from the weekend.

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