Asana, Pranayama, and Yoga Practice

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

New Computer (and the benefits of practice)

My friend D the other week had been talking about how much longer every thing takes to get done in a new city and home (he just moved across country).  I was thinking about that as I work to get up to speed on the replacement computer that came into my house yesterday afternoon.  I can tell there is lots of extra functionality, but at first, I am slower than I was with my old computer (at least five generations old) because I need to learn some new commands and navigation tools, as well as recreate my old bookmarks and remembered passwords, etc.

To be able to cope with life, we need to be willing to go out and explore, try new things, to be willing to have the time and struggle to learn enough to feel comfortable with a new place or technique.  To mature gracefully, we need to sometimes stay with the old (whatever choices led us there) and continue to refine so that we can go deeper and deeper into knowledge of what we have chosen.

Sometimes we have a real choice, sometimes we have no choice, sometimes we have an apparent choice, but only one sensible one.  One of the beauties of steady yoga practice is that it prepares us both for the new and for repetition.  It truly shows us the beauty and delight of revisiting, reexploring, and ever deepening our understanding of the complexities of what appears simple.  It also cultivates the fortitude and openness to start anew when necessary.

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“Opening to Grace” (and beginner’s mind)

Capitol 9-09I took this picture the other day when I was walking to work.  I have seen TV cameras set up at this spot dozens of times to film news interviews.  I have seen tourists galore photographing each other.  I’ve seen a couple of photo shoots of brides and grooms dressed in their wedding clothes.   I’ve seen the fountain full of ducks or gulls.  I’ve seen it empty of water, with rain pelting on it to eliminate any reflection, in a blizzard, iced over, full of algae, as a play spot for dogs who like to swim, in fog, in beating down sun, with cherry blossoms floating on the water, and with waves from a strong wind.  Although (or more likely because) I’ve walked past this view hundreds of times in the 25 years I have lived on Capitol Hill and the 18 I have worked for the Department of Labor, I have never taken out my camera and photographed this incredibly photogenic spot.

When I took the photograph on this day when the reflection just happened to be perfect, it led me to see the spot the way tourists see it:  full of freshness and wonder, beauty, and excitement to be in this place that represents a certain mind-blowing type of power.  Reflecting on the act of taking the photo from my perspective as a resident, led me to think about the Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.”

One of the many aspects  of “opening to grace” is having a “beginner’s mind.”  What does it mean to have a beginner’s mind on or off the mat?  I think it means being open to new insight, to a sense of joyous discovery, to a feeling of fresh intoxication and wonder, no matter how many times we have done or seen something before.  How many times have you done lunge or downward facing dog?  Eaten a green bean or a potato chip?  Petted a dog?  Turned on a light switch?  Filled a glass with potable water out of the tap?  If it is the “same old, same old,” then you will lose the desire to practice and the possibility of growing.  But most of what we do, especially as we get older, is a repeat of something we have done before.  Grasping at new experience as a cure for boredom or jadedness will only make us unhappy.  If we can see each day with newly opened eyes, then we can find fulfillment in each moment and be better able to grow.  We will be open to ever deepening refinement and exploration within the space of our existence.

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October Newsletter (web version for those not receiving mailings)

Dear Friends,

What splendid fall mornings we are having.  The neighborhood dogs are frisking in the park and the fall colors are starting to show.  It is time to make tomato sauce and pickled peppers with the last of the summer harvest and continue planting greens (containers are great if you don’t have much space) for some fresh eating through December.  Now is also the time to start shifting to a more introspective practice, seeking inner illumation as the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

This Fall, classes will concentrate on refining the principles of alignment to more sweetly and deeply appreciate your own inner light.

Join us any Tuesday night on a drop-in basis at William Penn House — bring a friend for a delightful all levels experience.

It’s not too late to join the Willow Street Fall session — Saturdays at 8:30 level II or, if you need a gentler practice, including a therapeutic focus, try the noon Gentle/Therapeutics class.  Drop-ins always welcome.

October Serenity Saturday (October 17th, 3-5pm) is just around the corner.  Sign up early to get the Capitol Hill Yoga early bird discount!

Starting to plan the holidays?  If you’ll be in town, make sure to plan to join me for the 7th Annual Thanksgiving Day Fundraiser for Oxfam, which will again be at Willow Street in Takoma Park Thanksgiving morning.  It is a great way to start the day and bring a focus of gratitude to this day of abundance.  As always, in or out of town guests, friends, and family welcome whatever their experience level.

For the Wednesday night practice, October’s charity will be the Whitman-Walker Clinic to honor its work in providing health care in some of DC’s neediest communities and to help send energy for universal health care.  I’ve decided that I have so much fun with these practices that in addition to donating all the proceeds, I will donate to attend too!

As always, feel free to email me with questions, comments, suggestions, or just to be in touch.

Info on all classes and workshops at www.rosegardenyoga.com.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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Fall Session Theme–Inner Light

This morning, when I called weather, the meteorologist announced that sunrise is at 7am, sunset at 6:58pm.  As the nights grow longer than the days, it is a wonderful time to become more introspective, to use the principles of alignment to focus mind and body so that we are drawn ever more sweetly to our inner light.

In my classes this Fall, I will be emphasizing how we can use the Anusara principles of alignment to help continuously refine and focus our attention on our own and unifying sense of spirit.

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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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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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Softness (as part of the first Anusara principle)

In this society, we tend to think of softness as a negative.  If being soft is collapse, laziness, inattentiveness, etc, then it would indeed be a hindrance to growth inner and outer.

We need to soften, though, in order to open or change.  When baking a cake, we allow the shortening to soften so that we can cream it with the sweetener.  When a seed germinates or a fledgling emerges, the shell softens so that the new life can burst forth.

When I soften as part of the first alignment principle, it is not a collapse, though it does have an aspect of easefulness.  It is necessary to soften to invite the support of the subtle energies, to fully experience all the pose has to offer, to expand with light from the inside out.  Softening when we start a pose is like the softness of early spring that allows the vigor of full growth to expand.

Being soft in this way — on or off the mat — makes possible the growth of inner brightness and strength that actually makes us less vulnerable then would creating or keeping a hard and brittle shell that can bind or break.

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Reminder (blog copy of newsletter)

Dear Friends,

I hope you are having a rich and full summer.

To celebrate the yoga with John Friend, the delightfulness of the Pacific Northwest, and to get a break from routine — in a word to take a vacation — I will be out of town next week.

While I am on break (September 1st and 2nd), no Wm Penn or house classes.  They resume as usual on Tuesday, September 8th.

There are wonderful subs for Willow Street classes this Saturday, August 29th, but there are no classes at Takoma Park, Willow Street, Labor Day weekend (Saturday, September 5th).

Upcoming:  Free class week at Willow Street on September 12th.  Start of the new session September 19th.

Serenity Saturday, September 19th.

See you soon.

Peace and light,

Elizabeth

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