My students this fall and those of you following the blog know that I have been teaching the basic Anusara physical principles of alignment in sequence as the focus of my weekly classes. I did not set out to do so at the beginning of the session, nor did I pick it just for this week, but it just so happens that using my session theme and sequence brings us to “kidney loop” for the Thanksgiving week.
John Friend’s Anusara Teacher Training Manual explains that kidney loop starts in the core of the abdomen, just below the navel. It flows up the back body to fill and open the kidney area to the bottom of the shoulder blades, moves forward through the top of the diaphragm (heart focal point) to the base of the sternum, and then down the solar plexus to just below the navel. The act of opening the back body at our core before engaging the front body helps enhance and refine the physical aspects of the fundamental Anusara alignment principle of “opening to grace.” By opening the back body, we open to the unknown, to that which is greater than ourselves, to untapped sources of power. Opening in this way, draws in and strengthens the front body and helps us find our own inner power.
Among other things for me to give thanks is the very beauty of this magical sequencing moment: What better way to celebrate and honor the tradition of Thanksgiving than by recognizing that we are not fully in charge, by opening in such a way that we are not hardening, demanding, or constricting ourselves, but rather are seeking an opening of the spirit that can bring us to a place of recognition and empowerment.
When I googled (that should not be a verb) “holiday madness” this morning, I got one million three hundred thousand hits. Yikes! Most relevant websites are about surviving shopping, over-eating, family, and travel. Madness in such a situation is a choice. We can choose what to consume, how much, when, and with whom. It is a choice whether “celebration” requires consumption beyond what our financial, physical, and emotional means permit.
The yamas and niyamas as revealed by Patanjali provide beautiful structure for thinking about the holidays.
Ahimsa–non-harming. Don’t consume more than is harmful to yourself, those who have created what you are consuming, and the earth.
Satya — truthfulness. Be honest with yourself about what is right for you to celebrate and observe and what brings meaning to you as a holiday celebration.
Asteya — non-stealing. Consuming beyond your means, especially financially, is a form of stealing (look at what generated the recession).
Brahmacharya — moderation (aligning with Brahma). Enjoy the offerings of the earth in a way that uplifts rather than sickens or detracts from spirit and self.
Aparigraha — non-greediness; non-covetousness. Enjoy what you have without coveting or trying in a detrimental way to have what others have and you do not.
Sauca — cleanliness, purity. Consume in a way that is healthy for yourself and the planet, that does not create illness, refuse, and waste.
Samtosha — contentment. Wherever you are, whatever you have, whatever is going on in your work and family life, think of that for which you are grateful, that which brings you happiness, and focus on what you have. Contentment is a practice.
Tapas — fire, ardor. Be on fire to practice, to shift, to make this a life-fulfilling year of generosity and compassion.
Svadyaya — study of text, self-study. Take the holidays as an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself, society, and your spiritual beliefs and how they interrelate.
Ishvara pranadhana — surrender, recognition of the spirit. Let go a little. Surrender to a sense of fullness. Allow the abundance and recognize it as a wondrous gift. Remember the word “holiday” is really two words: “holy day.” Make this time holy, whether or not you observe a particular religious tradition at this time of year or any other.
I hope you weathered Ida and are enjoying the glorious days that are following her cleansing rains as we move into the first of the holidays. Although I may have some thought-provoking questions about the historical basis for our Thanksgiving Day, I love taking the time as a society to get together to remember, to heal, and to share the abundance and give thanks for all that we have. For me, one of my greatest sources of gratitude is the practice of yoga and our wonderful community. Please join me for a gratitude-filled week of inner abundance:
Serenity Saturday: November 21st, 3pm-5pm at Capitol Hill Yoga
Oxfam Yoga Fundraiser: Thanksgiving morning, 10am-11:30am, at Willow Street Yoga, Takoma Park
Class Schedule: All open classes will be held as usual Tuesday, November 24th at Wm. Penn House (6:30pm) and Saturday, November 28th (Level 2 at 8:30am, Gentle/Therapeutic at noon) at Willow Street, Takoma Park.
Regrets: No house group practice, Wednesday, November 25th.
I look forward to seeing you soon and sharing the joy of the holiday season.
Peace and light,
I think this is one of the most spectacular years for fall foliage that I can remember. The world seems to be pulsating with an ecstasy of color. I am beside myself with joy just walking around (especially when I have my camera with me). I hope you are getting the opportunity to be outside; the work commute is definitely a great time to be able to look around (especially if some of it is walking).
Expand the inherent joy in witnessing and experiencing the transformation between summer and fall, partaking in the abundant harvest, and accepting the sweetness of a more introspective climate by practicing forward bends with twists, restoratives, and inversions.
To deepen the revelry and to find respite when needed, come join me and pretty wonderful group of people on Tuesdays at William Penn House or Saturdays at Willow Street Yoga (level 2 at 8:30 and Gentle/Therapeutics at 12 noon) on a drop-in basis.
This month’s Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga, which is on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, will be a special treat. Whether you are preparing to travel or to host guests or to have a quiet weekend to yourself, a long, sweet, easeful restorative practice is just right. Feel free to bring early, out of town guests and family. To register, please go to the workshops page at www.capitolhillyoga.com.
If you’ll be in town for Thanksgiving, I hope to see you, along with friends, family, and guests of all age and yoga ability, at my 7th Annual Thanksgiving Day Fundraiser to benefit Oxfam. It’s from 10-11:30 on Thanksgiving Day in the beautiful and spacious Willow Street, Takoma Park Studio. As has been my practice, I will be matching all donations over the suggested donation of $20.
For more information about the classes and workshops and to catch up on the blog, please visit the website at www.rosegardenyoga.com.
Peace and light,
As I walk around the neighborhood seeing all the pumpkins on stoops, like Proust with his madeleines, I remember the scent of roasting pumpkin seeds and the salty taste on my tongue, and I return to the place of my childhood. My mother wasn’t much for holidays, but she very much enjoyed arts and crafts projects. The jack-o-lantern, was something then that showed up when we were little kids. I don’t think there was ever a jack-o-lantern carved when we did not eat the seeds. Part of the project was cleaning the seeds, oiling a cookie sheet, spreading the seeds out on the sheet, salting them, and roasting them until golden, and then enjoying the seeds as a special salty treat. I think it unlikely she has decorated a pumpkin at home since I was in early elementary school, but if she were to do it now, in addition to roasting the pumpkin seeds, I am sure she would decorate the outside instead of cutting it into a jack-o-lantern, so that the pumpkin could also be used for soup or pie.
One of my favorite fairy tales is the one about the traveler who teaches the old woman how to make “nail soup.” It is a cold, wintry night in the forest, and a traveler comes upon a hut. He knocks on the door and asks for shelter. The old woman who lives in the hut says he can sleep in the shed, but she cannot give him any food. The traveler thanks her for providing shelter. He says he does not need food, but if she lets him in by the fire, he will show her how to make soup from a nail. The woman, who is rather miserly, is excited by the idea of being able to make soup from a nail, so she lets him in and puts a big soup pot filled with snow to melt over the fire. The traveler puts the nail in the soup and says, “what a wonderful broth we will have from this nail. If we only had a potato or two, it would be even better.” The woman roots around in her hoard and puts a potato in the pot. “Now it will be even more wonderful,” said the traveler. “If we only had an onion to add, it would be the most savory soup you have ever tasted.” The woman goes to her winter stores and finds an onion. The traveler sniffs the soup, “mmm, how wonderful it smells, if we had a carrot or a parsnip, it would be gracious enough for any guest.” The woman, trembling with the excitement of creating soup from a nail, adds both a carrot and a parsnip. At this point, the broth is starting to take on thickness and color, and the hut is redolent of bubbling hot vegetable soup. “Oh for some salt and a little meat,” cried the man, “and this soup would truly be fit for a king.” “From only a nail, soup fit for a king!” exclaimed the old woman, “that I must have.” She added a precious pinch of salt and some meat dried to last through the winter. The soup, of course, was delicious, the traveler well-fed, and the woman happy to share (even if she was tricked).
Sometimes we need a reminder of our abundance, both inner and outer, to be invited to bring out all we have so that we can better serve. Just as the traveler with the nail reminded the isolated old woman of how to share her abundance, sometimes we need to remind ourselves of what we have rather than what we are missing. I find that when I am feeling more empty than full, coming to my mat and my meditation cushion and practicing gratitude quickly helps me remember.
Last week, when I said to a colleague, “see you Tuesday,” she replied, “where are you going?” It was as if simply to enjoy where I live or rest or quietly take care of house and garden was not within the range of possibility. Is it that I am somehow not worthy if I have not planned to do something I could talk about when I returned to the office? Or is it that pervasive societal sense that happiness lies only in finding new and more experience?
I think that it is important to have episodic time away from doing. I used to get sick when I’d been running around non-stop with work and errands and exploration, etc. Now I try to take some quiet time at decent intervals. It does not need to be a full day. Just a couple of solid hours without engaging in a planned activity every couple of weeks makes all the difference in my mood, my health, and the quality of my work.