Author Archive: Elizabeth

What Does It Mean to Be a Grown-up? (and Householder Yoga)

My friend Dan posted a blog entry earlier this week talking about getting distracted by a rainbow.  He wrote that he was sure that other “grownups” did not get distracted by the rainbow. As I was observing the way people were commuting this afternoon, grimly looking down, hurrying along, texting and phoning, and apparently completely disconnected to the beauty around them, I thought of Dan’s blog.  I thought not seeing the sky or turning away from its beauty is not being fully “grown up.”

Part of my friendship with you, Dan, is sharing the wonder of looking at rainbows.  It is the “distraction” perhaps that is the invitation, at least in my own practice, for more skill.  In seeking to live the life of a “householder yogin,” I am trying to be the grownup who always sees the rainbow and takes time to see it, but has the skill to illuminate even the most mundane of daily activities with the wonder of seeing the rainbow.

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The Breath Leads the Way (and Atha Yoga Anusasanam)

I was reminded the other day of a principle of reading the great Hindu philosophical work:  all of the meaning of the text can be understood from not only the first sutra, but the first word.  The first sutra of The Yoga Sutrasof Patanjali’s is “atha yoga anusasanam” — now begins an exposition of the practices of yoga.  Implicit in the “atha,” the now, is that something else has come before.  The translations I have speak of previous study and preparation; the studies offered by Patanjali are not for the novice, but for one who has already been practicing.  If we read Patanjali’s first sutra with the implicit understanding that the first word contains all of the exposition to follow and that we do not need the rest of the explanation and practice if we truly understand the first word and sutra, then I think more must be meant here by “atha” than just this exposition now comes after previous study.

In this latest contemplation of mine what the word “atha” must hold within it for the practitioner, I thought about the Anusara axiom of practice “the breath leads the way,”  which has been the alignment focus in my classes for the past week.  What does it mean to have the breath lead the way?  At its highest level, it serves to bring us back to “first principle” of “opening to grace.” (As an aside, I note that I  believe can apply to the Anusara principles of alignment the same method of understanding:  the principle “open to grace,” and even the first word “open” holds all of the other Anusara principles.  All the other principles and axioms are explanations and methods for living “open to grace.”)

When we let the breath lead the way, we start each pose by a deep listening, an openness to something greater, an openness to the pulsation between the universal energies and our individual self.  We invite the subtle energies to support us and lead us like a great dance partner.  We actively surrender to the dance, while still bringing our own skill to our part of the dance, the way the partner being led in a waltz is skilled both in the dance and in being led.  In letting the breath lead the way in our yoga practice, we come to the very fullness of the present moment even as we move through a sequence of asanas in time and space.  Being open to grace in each moment, in each part of the pose, and allowing our self to be led by the pulsation of the breath even as we move with it, brings us to a recognition that in each moment, we are both part of the sequence of time and space and more than time and space (akrama krama).  We come to the  atha of samadhiWe use the practice of letting the breath lead the way to teach us to open to grace, to find the exquisite timeless fullness of being itself in order to illuminate all of our practice.  If we are already in that atha, that now, then we do not need any of the other practices or explanations, but if we cannot find it on our own, then again and again, the study and practice begins now — atha — so that we can experience in our very heart the fullness (purna) of our selves and better illuminate everything we do on and off the mat with the blissfulness of  that fullness.

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March News (website version of e-newsletter)

Dear Friends,

It has been a longer winter than usual for DC, but that will make spring even more special.  This month is filled with opportunities to start to flower along with everything around us, including your own garden.

Tuesday night Wm Penn House classes are always available for all levels on a drop-in basis with special pricing for not-for-profit workers, students, seniors, and those between jobs.  Drop-ins also welcome any time at Willow Street Yoga — level 2 at 8:30 am (great way to start your weekend) and gentle/therapeutics at noon every Saturday.

On Saturday, March 13th, on the eve of Daylight Savings time, come join yogins and gardeners alike at this year’s Yoga for Gardeners. 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park, $40.00.  Whether this is your first time taking the workshop or a repeat visit for the love of yoga and gardening, get ready to grow, align, cultivate, and rejuvenate mind, body, and spirit with joyous anticipation of spring and the coming gardening season! Suitable for novice and experienced yogis and gardeners alike, this workshop shows ways to align most optimally when digging into the dirt and also provide an opportunity for your true self to blossom. I will bel donating a portion of her profits to benefit the Youth Garden at the National Arboretum, so coming to the workshop will be yet another way to foster gardeners and gardens in the city.  To register, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.

The third Saturday of the month wouldn’t be the same without the Serenity Saturday restorative workshop from 3-5 at Capitol Hill Yoga.  This month will be extra special invitation to welcome the light on the Spring Equinox.  For more information and to register, please visit www.capitolhillyoga.com.

Coming in April, along with the usual array, I’ll be teaching one of the special charity classes at Capitol Hill Yoga on Sunday, April 4th, from 3-4:30.  Details to come.

Stay warm, enjoy the new budding of spring, and the last of the snow and winds of winter.  Looking forward to seeing you soon.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Website Updates

I’m working with yogini and web designer extraordinaire Jess to update the look and improve functionality of the website.  You may have noticed a few small changes already:  you can now search the site.

If there is anything you would like to see in the way of functionality or accessibility of information, please let me know.  I cannot guarantee you will get that for which you ask, but you’re more likely to get it (as with anything else — could there be a yoga lesson in this?) than if you do not.

During this time, please be patient and do let me know if you encounter any difficulties.

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Full Moon

The moon had risen in all her glory when I left Willow Street Yoga in Silver Spring (from a talk with Dr. Manoj Chalam about archetypes yesterday evening and headed for the metro home.  I thought about how the moon shines fully no matter what is below:  a pristine mountain lake, a construction site, a palace garden, a land devastated by one of the Four Horsemen, or the street in front of my house.  What I think is the goal of most “spiritual” practice is to find a place where, being able to see the light all the time, one can live with uncertainty and challenge and have a greater capacity to serve from one’s unique place.

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What’s Blooming Inside Right Now for Me (is it “forcing” or inviting?)

I’ve been living with blooms from bulbs since just before Christmas.  The amaryllis in the vase is the third bloom from a bulb I bought at the beginning of January; the third stem got too tall, so I put it in a vase, so it would not topple over.  The orchid I have had since it was about half this size and have been tending it by bringing inside and out with the seasons for over a decade.  It has bloomed every February without fail.  The paperwhites were a gift.  I enjoy a little of the scent, but find the usual presentation of several flowers simultaneously overwhelming.  I have brought them to flower one at a time.  As soon as the bulb flowers (and inevitably needs to be propped up somehow), I have cut the flowers to put in a vase and started the next bulb.  By the time the flowers in the vase have faded, the next bulb is budding.

The cherry blossoms — this is why I dreamed of cherries blossoming; I had them in my bedroom.  In a previous post, I showed the nearly bare branches from a tree that had fallen in the blizzard.  Although gardeners would call bringing the branches inside “forcing,” I wonder whether I really “forced” these blooms.  What I did was take branches that would have gone to a landfill, brought them into an auspicious environment and invited them to bloom.  This seems to me, not unlike using props in yoga:  I might not be able to experience the full opening of a pose myself, but if I properly use props, I can expand what I can experience.  It is not the same as doing it on my own, but it still gives me a different sense of the beauty that can be experienced, just like bringing in branches that otherwise would have fallen or need to be pruned into the house to reveal their glory in advance of the spring blooming outside.

The last photo is of dogwood and cherry that were on the side of the street two days ago (cherry tree down at the Japanese War Memorial); dogwood in a pile on the north side of the street in the 300 or 400 block of D Street, NE.  Start your own blooms, there is more winter in the forecast.  I am fairly certain from my previous experiment that the cherries will start blooming in a couple of weeks, but it remains to be seen whether the dogwood will want to open.


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Bulk Trash

I am working from home today or I would have missed the arrival of not one, but two very large bulk trash hauling trucks pulling up on the block.  For the past two hours, a team of workers have been loading furniture so decrepit that it would be impossible to give away on Freecycle or to have the Salvation Army or Goodwill Industries take away and resell.  There have been dozens of huge plastic trash bags and who knows what else (I am only watching intermittently as work presses on) going into the trucks.

When I first moved in to my house 20 years ago December, Mrs. J was already elderly — probably in her mid to late 70s) and her son, who lived with her was not a young man.  I tried being polite when I first moved in, but there was no receptivity even to ordinary saying hello and good day.  The son (I had originally thought husband by his looks; he was gray, heavy, and unhealthy), used to sit on the porch at night and smoke cheap cigars that stank so much I needed to keep my front windows closed.  After he died, only a few years after I had moved in, Mrs. J, started having even more difficulty connecting and making sense and was progressively more hostile in her interchanges with me.  She did still go to church and people from the church would visit, unfortunately often to take advantage of her.  A grand daughter also would stop by on very rare occasions in recent years (more it seemed to check out the property then to take care of her grandmother).  As the years went by, the house has fallen into serious disrepair to the point that it, being attached to mine, has started impacting my house as well.

Every once and a while, Mrs. J would ask me for help.  She was afraid of the young men who lived next door (who appeared based on both things I have witnessed, circumstantial evidence, and interrelationship with law enforcement authorities to be consistently involved with drugs, guns, and a variety of criminal activities).  But that family had lived next door to her for years, and she did not know how to lock her door to them.  She asked me what to do, but I did not really have an answer that would serve.  Over the years she occasionally would come out and yell at me about the rats in her yard, even though she had open garbage cans stored on the side of her house.  I did not disabuse her; what would have been the point, but I did regularly treat for rats in a way that would take care of both of our yards.  A couple of years ago, when she had gotten truly frail, she came outside one day when I was working in the garden and complained to me that a homeless person she had met at church brought bed bugs into her house.  I found someone from the church and asked the church to find someone to treat for the bedbugs.  It appeared that the matter was resolved, because she did not bring it up again.  Over a year ago, Mrs. J was hit by a bus and sustained a minor fracture to an arm.  It was discovered, though, that she was incapable of taking care of herself, and she never came back.

Now the bulk trash trucks are here.  What would it be like to have lived for decades with things that others see only as trash?  To have had (along with whatever good) so much fear, bitterness, and frustration for that time?  What will happen to the house now that the trash and the memories are being cleared out?  To some extent we choose how we will live.  The house itself is in structure almost identical to mine and in the same wonderful location just blocks from the US Capitol.  Although the contents do not seem able to be salvaged, will someone treat the house as a treasure?  Witnessing the trash hauling makes me want to be ever more mindful of what I consume (materially and energetically), what I hold on to, and what I release and send out.

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