Author Archive: Elizabeth

Two Approaches to 4am

One can appreciate the beauty of the pre-dawn two ways:  staying up through the night or waking up early.  I almost never stay up through the night, but find myself waking up in the pre-dawn hours frequently lately, especially when we have not been getting any rain, and the rain finally arrives in the wee hours.

Classical yogis advise that the early morning hours are optimal for practicing.  I have been choosing, when I awake in the very early morning, to go into my studio and practice, rather than struggling to get back to sleep.

I find that I am less tired and more productive if I take this invitation to practice rather than worrying about sleep deprivation and struggling to rest.

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Devil in the Details (and jnanam bandaha)

The second sutra of the Siva Sutras is “jnanam bandhaha” (knowledge is bondage).  In the context of the Siva Sutras, this tells us that getting caught in trying to acquire knowledge of the manifest world and all of its infinite minutiae can lead us away from a sense of connection to a universal spirit.

We have the phrase in the work place that the “devil is in the details” both because getting caught up in the details can take us away of accomplishing a desired result and because the details need to be worked out to realize the result, and the details (not the theory) are the hard part.  At the societal level, for example, working out the details of a health care bill and how it will actually function seems to be preventing us, as a society, from offering health care to all.  On our yoga mats, we need to understand the details of physical alignment so that the practice strengthens and optimizes our health, rather than taking us physically and energetically out of alignment, but we do not want concentration on the details to take us away from heart and spirit.

The “devil may be in the details” but we cannot stop the details from being part of our existence.  As much as we need not to get so bogged down in the details that we have discord, distrust, unhappiness, and ineffectiveness, we also need to cultivate knowledge of the details.  As beings embodied in space and time in the manifest world, we need to cultivate knowledge so that we can recognize when the details are not in optimal alignment, so that we have sufficient knowledge, strength, intuition, and subtlety to be able to shift the details so that they lead towards good for ourselves individually and collectively.

What a devilish conundrum.

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Praying Mantis (and pausing to make offering)

This morning as I approached my office, I noticed in the middle of a wide patch of sidewalk that is flanked by the street on one side and a brick building on the other, with no tree boxes or other plantings for several yards in any direction, a praying mantis stranded in the middle.  I wondered how it had gotten there and worried that it would not survive if it was just stuck in a sea of concrete.

I crouched and put out my finger.  The praying mantis crawled on to my hand.  I did not have time to go all the way back to the park next to the Capitol or to the nearest “island” with trees, but I took it to the nearest tree box, certain that there would be enough mosquitoes for it to eat well.  When I placed my hand next to the bush in the tree box and helped the praying mantis move onto the greenery, it first came back onto my hand again.  So I talked to it (as if it understood English) and encouraged it to get onto a branch (yes, I was getting some strange looks from passers by at this point).  I watched as the praying mantis eventually turned around and started moving into the denser foliage.

With this act, did I make anything in the world better except give myself the joy of interacting with a wonderful being?  Does it matter?

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Global Mala Day Today

I was not able to go to the Washington, DC event for Global Mala Day because I am scheduled to do my regular volunteer work.  I did, however, include the focus of this call for a unified, intentional offering in my morning meditation and asana practice.

Do join in, remembering to celebrate yourself as part of the community however and whatever your offering.  Be mindful of your body and energy as you choose a practice to be sure that the repetition of 108 will serve rather than deplete.

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Acting, Letting Go (and a possible reference for rose garden)

A co-worker of mine said today that he hated that everything we do gets criticized by someone.  During part of the conversation, he also mentioned that once something written was made public and then questioned, an alternative meaning to the one meant (the alternative then necessitating clarification) often happens.

Writing, art, and other expressions do seem to have a life of their own.  We need to do our best to be clear and then just go with the flow as what we say gets interpreted and passed on.  An example, for me, was that until the change in administration, no one thought to ask me whether the name “rose garden” yoga had anything to do with Washington, DC.  After the shift in January, a few people noticed how DC it could be and asked if my intent was to refer to the White House Rose Garden.

It was not my original intent to have that be one of the many things that came to mind when I chose the name, but I it works well enough if people think of the Rose Garden as one of the many possible referrents.

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Minding the Gap (and vinyasa krama)

One meaning of the phrase vinyasa krama is “the yoga of sequencing.”  This is the art of knowing how to practice in an order that will be most optimal for where you are in space, time, and health in any given practice.  Part of a true practice of vinyasa krama, like beautifully played music or an exquisitely presented music, is the silences and the pauses.

I’m sure you have all seen the “mind the gap” warning, the admonishment to notice the space between the train and the platform, the place where one thing ends and another begins.  In that case, it is presented as a warning of danger, but it also can be seen just as an exhortation to be mindful.

When we are truly mindful of the space between things — both spatially and temporally — then we are better able to honor what has just come and to be open and conscious for what is to come.

In our yoga practice, noticing the space between coming in and coming out of the pose helps keep us aligned in the transition and enables us to better reap and experience the benefits of the pose.  The reason we are advised always to practice savasana at the end of any practice is so that we will have a good pause between a practice and going back to our other activities.

Off the mat, taking time to pause in between thoughts and activities, helps us appreciate little moments of joy during a busy day.  It also helps us sequence our day more optimally and can prevent mistakes and misalignments by giving us time to be more aware of what will work best next.

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Negation, Affirmation (and a new yard sign)

I went to a delightful brunch yesterday hosted by friend and neighbor K, who lives on the other side of the Hill.  A number of the guests turned out to live within a couple of blocks of me on the Northeast side.  In describing my house to those who lived farther from the Capitol than I (knowing my block was part of their usual walking path), I said, “mine is the one with the ‘War is not the answer‘” yard sign.  “Oh yes, I know which one it is,” was the uniform response.

K said she did not have the yard sign because she did not want a negative message in her front yard.  It served its purpose for a time, she claimed, but she wanted a more positive message.  I replied that if the sign said “peace is the answer” it would not have the same p0litical meaning.  People would just think, “yes, peace is nice, but whatever,” and keep walking.  We all agreed that was likely, but I left still thinking about the conversation.

One of the reasons K gave for wishing to turn the sign on its head, was she did not want something renunciatory, and she referenced the principle of “negation” in Buddhism.  I knew what she meant.  Advaita vedanta has a phrase, “neti, neti” or “not this, not this” which means extinguishment of the individual self and a life of the senses and mind to unite with the ultimate Spirit.  The Buddhist “nirvana”  literally means “void.”  I did not engage the conversation in such a way as to bring it to tantra lest I go too far in the direction of yoga geekiness, but the conversation certainly led me to think in that direction.  Tantra seeks to do exactly what K was seeking:  to turn the phrase, “not this, not this” into an embrace that will reveal truth and light by means of affirmation rather than negation.

Interestingly, though, I think a possible inspiration for K’s yard sign dilemma could come from from Buddhism:  metta meditation (note:  I have been offered this meditation in various settings and have practiced it many times, but it is not my regular meditation practice, so I hope I am not misinterpreting or mischaracterizing it here).  The theory behind metta meditation is to distance one from anger to cultivate calm.  In this creation of calm comes a general demeanor of loving kindness and compassion.  I personally become calmer by embracing and aligning with all my emotions, including grief and anger, but still find the languaging of the metta practice beautifully inspiring.

In that spirit, I suggest as a possible rewording of the yard sign that still serves the political message, the call to serve:   “may all beings be free from war.”

Or maybe FCNL should make a sign with the query:  “what do I do in my life to remove the causes of war?” Is that still a negative, if we are calling for positive actions to remove causes?

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Free Class Week is NEXT Week (and a reminder to slow down)

I woke up early this morning, all ready to go up to Takoma Park and teach free classes.  I am fully prepared — I’ve been enjoying contemplating one of my favorite first class themes,  practicing great ways to enjoy our bodies (when we’ve been on vacation), thinking of what I would get at the Co-op during the break, looking forward to chatting with the work studies, who I love.

Good thing I checked my email this morning before leaving the house and subscribe to a lot of list serves.  Mid-Atlantic Yoga had an announcement from Willow Street that free class week is September 14-21.  Feeling a little anxious about my mix-up I checked the Willow Street web site.  Under today’s classes it says there are no regular classes today.

I could get all grumpy with myself.  I made a mistake.  I missed an opportunity to go out of town for the weekend (though I have a big speech on Monday, and it would behoove me to be well-rested).  But I am happy to be here; I already have planned a massage, a Sunday brunch, and a potluck dinner.  Now I also can spend a luxurious morning in the garden and have time to get seriously fun into baking for the potluck.

I also have a no harm done reminder that maybe I need to slow down a little.  These kinds of slip ups, which are very rare for me, are definitely a sign of being over-scheduled.

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9-11 (and personal choice)

Secretary Hilda Solis sent workers at the Department of Labor an email invitation yesterday to do some volunteer activity today to honor those who lost their lives in the tragedy of 9-11.  She did not remind us of terror or enmity or need for war.

It resonated with what my teacher John Friend, who often discusses the need to serve as part of our practice, counsels in times of distress.  He admits that it is not, as the t-shirt would have it, “all good.”  We can choose, though, how to respond to violence, to suffering, to meanness, to evil.  We can, he urges, seek to respond from “the highest.”  We personally have the choice to try to bring light when we encounter darkness.

I do not always succeed, particularly with the small things, but I continue to try, and I deeply appreciate all the teachings and reminders I get.

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Bummer. Tomato Blight.

I just went to my little plot at the community garden, and the base of the brandywine tomatoes were blackened.  No doubt what it was:  the dreaded blight.  So I removed the plant, carefully putting it in the trash instead of the garden compost.  Not clear yet whether Mr. Stripey is infected.  The grape tomatoes are fine.

I could think that this is a sign that I should start cutting down my nightshade vegetable intake to see if doing so will ease my arthritis, but it isn’t a sign.  Even if it is not a sign, I can see whether being without the temptation of a luscious tomato crop makes it easier to shift my diet.

I am grateful that I got such a wonderful harvest at the beginning of the summer, and I am doubly grateful that I am not dependent on just my own garden (or even on just local produce) to eat well.

But for a few moments, I think I will just allow myself to be disappointed.

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