Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

Discussion of physical aspects of yoga (on and off the mat)

A Long Day

I left the house this morning around 7:30 to go up and teach my regular classes at Willow Street, Takoma Park.  In the afternoon, I led a restorative workshop.  It was delightful to be with two dozen yogis who decided the best way to spend the last Saturday in July was to take a mini-break from the heat and the bustle resting deeply and exploring inside.  I felt wonderfully supported, having had amazing assistants, an excellent work-study helping at the desk and with clean-up afterward, and truly enthusiastic students.  I could not have asked for more, especially given how long a day it was following an intense return to work immediately upon traveling back from the retreat with Paul Muller-Ortega all in the same week.  After the workshop, I went out for an early dinner at Woodlands (Indian food) with a friend who had taken the workshop.

When I got home, feeling ready to do my  own deep relaxation, I found tall ladders leading up to the roof.  I had been warned by the project manager for the solar panel installation that I am having done that the roofer who was working on putting up the parapet structure to hold the frame might be here today.  I hadn’t expected the roofer to be here at 7:30 pm, though.  As long a week and day as I might have felt that I had, these guys, whom I am sure worked hard outside all week in the heat, were really having a long day.

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This Saturday–Summertime Yoga Extravaganza (website version of emailing)

Dear Friends,

I’ve just returned from a wonderful meditation retreat with Paul Muller-Ortega out in Sedona.  Every time I go on retreat, I am reminded of how essential it is to take time out from my busy life to rest deeply so that the inner light can be sweetly revealed.   (If you want to see pictures from the week, check out my blog entry “Outrageous Light”).

When I got home last night after the hectric travel home day and before returning to work this morning, I took time out for restoratives, so that I could bring back into my home and self the sense of renewal that I had before the travel.  Sometimes, there is nothing like a good session of restoratives to bring back a sense of balance and harmony with life.

Needing a retreat yourself?  Please come join me this Saturday afternoon, July 31st at Willow Street Yoga in Takoma Park for a mini-retreat from the summer heat with a “Summer Restorative Extravaganza.”  For more information or to register in advance, please visit:  www.willowstreetyoga.com.

Looking forward to seeing many of you.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Outrageous Light (and Sadhana)

I just spent a week looking at the celestial realms — inner and outer.  Fifty of us spent a week meditating and studying with Paul Muller-Ortega at a retreat center in Sedona.  It might seem from these pictures that there was not a moment when we weren’t exclaiming in awe over magnificent visions.  The truth is that many times of the day, the sky was not spectacular, but I was always looking and always had my camera in my pocket, whether the sky was dull or flat when I left my room or whether it was engaged in some outrageous display of light.  The photographs below are in chronological order to show the pulsation of night and day, the progression of the moon from almost full to full, the shift in mood from day to day.  But, the images show a completely edited view.  There were the views for which I did not take out my camera at all.  Those were the majority, but I was still looking.  There were the views I photographed, but deleted from the camera memory, choosing not even to save them.  There are the photographs that I downloaded onto my computer, but did not even enlarge to get a better view.  There are photographs I enlarged, but decided not to edit.  Then there were the photographs I chose to edit by making decisions about cropping, brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation.  The photos below are a subset of the last group.

If I were doing a show where I printed and framed the work, I would have worked from at least ten times as many images and would have done multiple prints of each image before choosing what to display.  In this persistency and discrimination, photography teaches much about meditation practice.  To show what is seen in a way that shifts the soul of the viewer, the photographer has to look over and over again.  For example, Robert Frank took over 20,000 images for “The Americans.”

Anyone (especially these days with the technology available) can take an extraordinary picture or two if in the right place at the right time with the camera.  But to have a body of work takes consistent devotion, work, and presence.  So too, with our meditation practice.  Some days exquisite visions arise.  Sometimes we are pulsing with extraordinary energy that fills us with a sense of the very fullness of being.  Other times, old issues or the to do list or even feeling trapped by sitting still is what comes.  If we sit consistently over a long period of time, though, we will witness — just as the camera did — the extraordinary.  We will know from being consistent that it is our very consistency that reveals bliss.

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Sensing the Subtle Energies (an Earthquake)

I woke up around 4 o’clock this morning, inexplicably agitated and unable to fall back asleep right away. Sully, too, was restless. I went into the yoga room and did a series of restorative forward bends and twists, which provided some ease, but I was still a little restless and unable to go back to sleep.

It was too far out of my usual experience for living in DC and too little impact at my house (compared to what it was reported to have felt like in some of the suburban areas) to have identified the earthquake for what it was.

When I called the weather, which advised of the earthquake, I knew that its immanence was what had caused me to wake in anticipatory anxiety.

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Hot Day (and aligning with it instead if fighting it)

It astonishes me how much time is spent complaining that it is hot. It is July, and I live south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Much of what gives rise to the complaints has to do with trying to dress in accordance with traditional office dress, being active according to some preconceived exercise routine, and wanting to eat heavy food from a diet based on habit rather than season.

Yes. It is hot, and being hot can be uncomfortable, especially if we try to fight it.

If we wear loose, light clothing, exercise less vigorously and only in the morning or after the heat of the day has waned, and eat lightly of the fruits of the season, then we can experience less discomfort. We also then can better open to the delights of the heat–stretchier muscles, a call to stillness, and chilled watermelon are a few things that make summer a joy for me.

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Any Words of Wisdom? (and “Opening to Grace”)

I had lunch the other day with a friend whose life is suddenly brimming full with a variety of opportunities.  Any one of them by itself would feel like a bounty.  With multiple ones arising simultaneously, because they are not necessarily in perfect sequence with each other, making decisions seems like a conundrum rather than a blessing.  Over a rather delightful lunch, my friend gave me many details of the various things that were going on, and the places where they seemed not to synchronize in a way that would allow her to have it all with ease.  “Any words of wisdom?” she asked.  When I was younger, I might have tried to make specific suggestions.  Specific suggestions, though, are always colored by our own particular preferences, prejudices, and desires.  Instead, I said, “In the style of yoga I practice, the first principle for starting every pose, which I find works for what I do off the mat as well, is to ‘open to grace.’

“Opening to grace means to soften, to listen, to open ourselves to the universal in which the details arise, to allow what is to be in the flow,” I added.

“Without getting into the details, the essence of the next alignment principle [muscular energy] is the application of proper boundaries.  Even though we want to be soft and open, we still do not say ‘yes’ to everything.  Although open to everything, we steady ourselves and use our knowledge to discriminate and find a good container for ourselves so that we can act with more light.”

“Ah,” my friend replied, “I’ve been trying to control everything without allowing things to unfold.  What you are saying makes sense.”

My friend will find her own way, and I look forward to witnessing the great joys potentially unfolding for her.  Any time she invites me to share some of the wisdom I’ve received from my teachers, it will be my delight to pass it on.

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Picture Within a Picture

This afternoon, I went with my friend Dan, who was here just for the day from California, to the National Gallery. I kept talking to him. “Look at the pictures,” he said. “Pay attention.”

“I am paying attention, but to you,” I replied. “The Gallery is always across the street from work, and I come here frequently, but you’re not often able to visit.”

The sign on the dogs back said not to disturb him: he was working. How do we decide to what to give our attention? When do we decide and when do we let things decide for us? Part of a deepening yoga and meditation practice is being better able to choose where to direct our attention and to be able to give our attention more fully where we choose to direct it.

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Web Version of Hot Summer E-Newsletter

Dear Friends,

Recent newsletters I have received from well-known yoga teachers, in addition to sharing their wonderful offerings and teachings about yoga, have included references to the Gulf Oil Spill, the on-going economic crisis, and the humanitarian tragedies in Chili and Haiti and elsewhere.  The information is presented as showing what yoga can do to help us better serve those in need, seek change in ourselves and the world around us, and find our own light in the face of things we cannot change, but these teachers are no longer keeping quiet about the presence of serious turmoil and tragedy.

As one who has been outspoken (perhaps too much so) about such issues in the context of yoga, as those of you who follow my blog know, it seems that it is no longer possible to be silent.  We are all familiar with adages, “silence is golden” and “silence speaks louder than words.”  We are also invited, as yogis, to observe the four gates of speech to the best of our ability, on and off the mat:  (1) is it truthful?  (2) is it necessary? (3) is it the right time? and (4) is it said in a kind manner?  These gates are important for evaluating individual utterances.

For the past couple of weeks, I have been thinking about turning the “four gates” on their head, turning them upside-down in the tantric tradition, and asking how they apply to silence.  When we are silent on an issue, on something that moves us, on something in a relationship that is important to us, are we being true to ourselves to be silent?  Are we being honest by saying nothing (for saying nothing is, indeed, saying something)? Is staying silent timely or is it truly timely to speak up (using the four gates as guidance on how to speak up?); is being silent kind–we’ve all done it ourselves or experienced cold or hostile silences?

For me, more than ever, it is no longer the time to be silent.  We must speak for the light, for action, for aligning better with nature, for deepening community, for enhancing the subtle energies that will help us heal and grow and shift society.  As long as we are not practicing true “renunciate” yoga–giving up family, friends, shelter, and creature comforts, but instead are practicing the yoga of those still engaged in “regular” life, then we need to become more and more sensitive to how we can joyously affirm life, but passionately engage in seeking change that makes the light more available to all, while still going about our daily business.  This is a razor’s edge balance.  It can be so difficult to live consistently with our ideals, to speak and act in truth and kindness for ourselves and others the ideal all of the time.  Our yoga invites us to cultivate and celebrate our strengths, to affirm ourselves and then to expand.  Expansion can be intensely challenging and sometimes as much painful as exhilerating, but I think it is worth it.

This summer, in classes, I will be inviting all to join me in the questions I am exploring for myself:  what is my intention?  How can manifesting my intention make life sweeter for myself and those around me?

Join me for both class offerings and a special workshop up at Willow Street.  William Penn House classes continue with special pricing for public interest workers, students, seniors, and those with other challenges.  A portion of the proceeds from every student goes to support William Penn House’s work.

At Willow Street, the Saturday morning class has changed:  it is now a “Fusion Flow” from 8:45-10.  What’s the difference between the flow class and Level 2?  We’ve already been doing a slow flow, but there will be fewer breaks, and more time for silence (a timely, nurturing silence), for students to get into their own groove to work towards manifesting their intention.  We will have music most times to bring in a stronger sense of the dance, but I will continue, as always, to emphasize healthy alignment for the class as a whole and be responsive to questions.  Gentle/Therapeutics is at noon as usual.  There’s a free class weekend up at Willow Street where I will be teaching both types of classes on July 17th in the Takoma Park studio and Gentle/Therapeutics in the Silver Spring Studio on Sunday July 18th.  The summer session starts on July 24th.  Those who sign up for a class and a workshop simultaneously, get a $20 discount.  For more information or to register on-line, please visit www.willowstreetyoga.com.

Want a siesta-like retreat from the heat?  Ready for some relaxation and self-nurture?  Treat yourself to two blissful hours of restorative yoga poses for a sweet afternoon retreat without all the travel!  All levels welcome at the:  Summertime Restorative Extravaganza, Saturday, July 31, 2010, 2:30pm-4:30pm, Willow Street Yoga Center, Takoma Park.  $35.

As always, feel free to email me with questions or comments or join me on the blog:  www.rosegardenyoga.com.  Just FYI, we’ve fixed the issues with subscribing to the blog.  If you haven’t already, just hit subscribe on the home page, follow the instructions, and then get an email in your inbox the day after I’ve posted a new blog entry.

Hope you are all having a great start to your summer and look forward to seeing you soon.
Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Amy Ippoliti’s 30-Day Yoga Challenge

Anusara yogini and teacher extraordinaire, Amy Ippoliti, started a “30-Day Yoga Challenge,” which she updates monthly, for students and friends who are her Facebook friends.  For the past several months, the challenge has been to work towards some very challenging poses (how appropriate for a challenge).  This month Amy invited students to practice without air conditioning, or for hot yoga practitioners, without extra heat.  Granted, she is based in Boulder, Colorado, where it is not 101F today, but she speaks my mind.  Whenever people have asked me what I think about hot yoga, I have answered that it serves some people very well, but I always find myself asking the question, whence is the heat coming and will it enhance my yoga to change the room temperature if I need to burn fossil fuels to practice?

Why is practicing without a technologically altered environment a yoga challenge?  Have you ever found that if conditions aren’t right, you think you cannot do your practice?  If we are truly practicing with commitment, then what we want to do is to find the practice that will fit the environment (including not just the outer environment, but the state of our mind and physical well-being) on any given day, even if it means that the practice will not meet our expectation of what our practice should be.

When we practice steadily and listen to the teachings, one of the things yoga teaches us is how to be more sensitive to our environment and to what we put into our minds and bodies.  A friend complained of being terribly sleepy the other day.  I said it was the heat; look at your pets; don’t you notice that they are sleeping more in the heat?  What practicing in accordance with the ambient temperature means (or eating or sleeping or dressing or engaging in leisure activity) learning better how to align with the energies around us, including being sensitive to how we would optimally practice in the heat.  As yogis, I believe that what we want, ever more deeply and more profoundly, is to live aligned with nature and our own being in it so that we can find better recognize the fullness and the light of being whatever challenges arise.

I’m doing a modified version of Amy’s challenge here in DC this week:  at the William Penn House, I’ll take whatever air conditioning is on (which, for those of you who are wondering, can be pretty nice and cool since it is the ground floor).  At the house practice, I’ll keep the house at the same 80-82F I typically keep the house when it is over 90F outside; I won’t lower it because I am practicing, but we won’t be having it over 90F.  At Willow Street, I’ll go with the flow.

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