Although I never specifically studied ashtanga yoga, my life and practice have been influenced by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois‘s yoga and his offerings to the west. I practiced a good flow this morning to honor his teachings and his life. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois died earlier this week at the age of 94.
Yesterday, while watching the Capitol City Symphony and Capitol Hill Chorale’s joint performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony at the Atlas Theater, I noticed with some amusement the cymbol player reading a novel in the wings through the first three movements. (The triangle player appeared just in time for the fourth movement).
This reminded me of an anecdote John Friend told at the Anusara Certified Teachers’ Gathering in Denver the other week to illustrate the importance of every person and element to the whole. He spoke of the triangle player. What do you say to him after the show, John asked, “great job man; I love the way you came in right when you were supposed to?” Even if showing up and playing one beat at the right time is the triangle player’s only job, the triangle player still is an integral part of the composition, though perhaps not as evidently crucial as the first violinist.
We may not know how we are essential or how we will shift things, but we should always revere and recognize each and every being, including ourselves, as part of the web of existence.
If you are looking for a good way to practice and enhance your standing poses, please check out this video by John Friend. If the link doesn’t work for you, go to Yoga Journal on-line and go to their videos section.
I never cease to marvel at the wonders of technology. I never cease to be grateful for my teacher and the teachings. Don’t take anything for granted.
Friend, yogini, and neighbor Jess will be performing a Beethoven program with the Capitol Hill Chorale this weekend. A friend asked if I wanted to have dinner on Sunday, and I suggested we instead go to the Atlas Theater to see the concert. “Great idea,” replied my friend, “I have a friend in the Chorale, too.” Support the local arts, businesses, and friends, and get entertainment that doesn’t require getting in a car (or at least a very short ride) or a plane. Come join us!
In the session yesterday, in discussing the Siva Sutras, Paul Muller-Ortega said that the whole of the teachings are in the very first sutra, even in the first word (caitanyam — consciousness). For students who, on hearing the first word from their teacher, say “got it, I understand fully,” no further teaching is necessary. For the students who say, “please explain further, what does it mean?” more elaboration is needed.
What does it mean, though, to “get it?” What do we do with the teachings of yoga? How do we integrate them into our lives? I practice and study yoga because it is teaching me how to be stronger, more flexible, more grounded, and better able to serve. Some people I know already have that. They are already living the yoga, so they do not need the details and the practices.
As a reminder of one who has been living a rich, full life of service and love, enjoy this video of Pete Seeger in honor of his 90th birthday. (If you cannot see this link, please just do a search for videos, using your favorite search engine.)
I am looking forward to seeing my friends and colleagues, studying, and practicing. I hope to have wonderful things to share on my return.
Last night in class, I asked why people continued to come to class. “To see how I can expand,” “for the community,” “for the delight,” “for relaxation,” were some of the answers. Orie asked me what led me to teach. The first reason I gave (and the one that was the primary reason for entering teacher training) was that I had been so inspired by what yoga had offered me that I wanted to share it.
The second reason I gave was that teaching helps keep me disciplined about my practice. I cannot abide hypocrisy, and so, I feel compelled to try my best to practice what I teach. I do not always embody fully the teachings in my own life and practice, but I am always trying. Knowing how the teachings and practices have shifted me and witnessing how the teachings inspire my students, leads me to continue to study, to practice, to try and align better on and off the mat.
Today, with a day of stressful meetings and phone calls ahead, it will be a good day to try to live the practice.
First flower on a cherry tomato appeared overnight. Peppers are budding. They all like the heat. Dill is going yellow around the edges already. It does not like the heat. One of the things I love most about gardening is noticing what thrives to excess and what struggles, depending on the weather patterns. With the right balance of plants, there will always be a bumper crop of something (both edible and ornamental). Eating locally, with consciousness acknowledgement of the limits of space and time in an affirming way, requires accepting what are the crops of the year and being creative with them rather than finding a recipe and insisting that the ingredients be available to the detriment of flavor, pocketbook, and environment.
Fostering such a relationship to my garden and my food helps me also accept that although I can grow and shift, I ultimately cannot change certain fundamental things about myself. It is better radically to affirm what I have been given than to try and contort myself into something that it seems society (Heideggerian “they”) would prefer.
This morning when I stepped out into the back garden, I heard the sound of clippers on the other side of the fence. It was my back garden neighbor of over 15 years. “Is that you?” I asked. “Yes,” was the reply and we both walked up onto our decks so we could see across the fences. “It must be summer,” my neighbor said, in acknowledgment of it being the first morning of the season we coincided in the garden. “I am so ready,” he said, and we caught up with the winter news and discussed what was going on in our gardens. I told him about Becky, marveling at her wonderful long life of 21 years. “It was time, then,” he commented. “I still miss her, though,” I replied.
Yesterday, several people said to me that they were not ready for summer. Whether people were ready (or not) for the 90 degree weather seemed to depend a lot a preference cold or warm weather.
It hardly matters whether we are ready for a shift in the seasons, the loss of a precious being, or the arrival of gray hairs and degenerative arthritis (I am finding myself not ready for any of these, really).
Life comes to us, ready or not. We can use our yoga practice, especially asana, to help us expand and shift and be prepared for whatever comes, by inviting all of our practice and our growth (which includes both expansion and contraction) a rich exploration. We can experiment with where is our edge, listening to both ourselves and our teachers to discover not only what we are ready for, but also how we react when confronted with that for which we think we are not ready. By seeking the subtle knowledge of when our mind is ahead of our body and when our mind is holding back our body, we can enhance our ability to respond to what comes in the most open, sensitive, discriminating, flexible, and thus, life-enhancing way, on and off the mat.
In the meantime, I give in to the premature summer heat. This morning, I picked spinach and herbs to go with mushrooms from the fresh farm market for breakfast and made a posy of pansies for the altar. Why leave them in the garden if they will just wilt in the heat? It was a great afternoon for a siesta and a treat to be out in the city in the morning unencumbered by sweater or jacket. For my evening practice, I will emphasize deep, cooling forward bends and pranayama. Will I be ready for the cool days to come back at the end of the week? I do not think I will have a choice.
Last night I was feeling deeply sad not having Becky with me any more. The first week, I was telling myself how lucky I was to have had her for so long, that she lived a long, happy, well-loved life, and that it was truly time. Then I threw myself into work, errands, the garden, etc. This week, I have been filled with a deep sense of grief and loss.
Classical yoga would have us try to transcend the pair of opposites — pleasure and pain. Tantra would have us experience the full range deeply, knowing it is all part of the play of being manifest in human form. I have been thinking about my teacher, John Friend, who often talks of the intensity of grieving for loved ones who have died, because of having loved truly and fully.
Thinking about Becky, this chant started repeating itself in my head (I have it recorded by Dave Stringer): “sukha hara, dukha hara, hara, hara Shankara.” “Hara” is an epithet of Shiva, from the root word to bear away or destroy. “Sukha” means ease; “dukha” pain. “Shankara” is another epithet of Shiva in benevolent form. I think of this chant not so much a call to have Shiva energy destroy or remove both pleasure and pain, but rather a reminder that both pleasure and pain are integral parts of our experience of being. Recognizing that grief and loss are as much part of our own humanity as love and pleasure, helps remind me of my own connection to spirit. It ultimately inspires me to try and live in a way that is more benevolent and generous, and to respond with the most light, whatever I face. (This of course is a life work).
I would not give up the full and wonderful years of companionship I had with Becky and her sister Henrietta (and others who I have loved) just to avoid the grief of loss.