Practice, contemplation, and insights

High Desert (and the Plains of Consciousness)

I am not drawn to the desert.  I prefer the lush fullness of a wetter climate, but the very otherness of the desert from my usual environment fills me with awe and appreciation for the immense variety of existence.  I went to the desert on this trip because that is where my teacher was teaching, and the teachings were more important to me than any preference for visiting a particular outer landscape.  One of the great benefits of combining intensive meditation with travel is that it can demonstrate at the most profound level that the infinitude of the inner landscape is the same no matter where we are and no matter what are the features of any outer landscapes we visit.



Balance of Stability and Freedom

Last night, we were talking about the parameters of cultivating a steady and fruitful meditation practice, and Paul Muller-Ortega suggested that it was about the balance of stability and flexibility. He had learned the principle from a different source, but I have contemplated and explored the principle in depth from teachings I have received from John Friend.

A critical aspect of the Anusara alignment principles is to find the perfect balance of stability and freedom. We need stability to stay fully and safely in each pose. We need freedom to achieve the fullest and most delightful expression of the pose.

We find the stability both by making certain that we have established our foundation (which is an aspect of the first principle of opening to grace). By then using the three aspects of muscular energy–hugging the muscles to the bone, drawing into the midline, and drawing energy from the periphery to the focal point, we make possible an expansion of our edge, whatever that might be. Having a solid, aligned foundation and affirming our very core with these actions, gives us security and balance. We also want to reach out, to be playful, to expand to our fullest, which we do using the expansive, outreaching organic energy — from focal point to the periphery, from the midline to our outer edges, from the very marrow of our bones through bone, muscle, skin, and beyond.

If we over-emphasize (including natural inclination) stability, then we can get stuck. If we just let ourselves be free, then we end up all over the place. When these elements are perfectly balanced, we can safely find our deepest freedom of expression.

When I teach this principle as the focus of a class, I always invite my students to think of how important the balance of stability and freedom is for every aspect of our lives.

The discussion last night put this principle in the context of the regularity and steadiness of our practice, with the recognition that to stick with our practice, we will sometimes need to vary the time or amount of our practice, or what elements are included in the practice.

To get the fullest benefits of a practice (this applies to any practice and not just to meditation), we need to show up consistently and to practice in accordance with how we have been taught. To stay steady, though, we need to give ourselves the permission or freedom not to show up, or within appropriate parameters, to modify the practice when life gets in the way of what we think would be the ideal practice. If we think we have to do things at the exact time and place every day in a perfectly precise way, we become rigid. On the other hand, if we are loosey-goosey about it, then we do not have much of a practice and will not realize the benefits that we could get.

Where in your practice or life would more stability and steadiness give a field for greater freedom and happiness? Where could you give yourself a little more flexibility so that you feel that steadiness brings the possibility of joy, rather than tying you down?

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


Spring Cleaning (and Path of Sadhana)

For the past couple of weeks, I have been spending as much time as possible in the garden.  When it is too rainy or cold to be in the garden, I have been doing indoor spring cleaning.  As the days get noticeably brighter and longer, it is delightful to see the new growth in the garden and to polish my treasures and make room to use and enjoy what I have.  I’ve been noticing how the first major activities in the garden make a mess.  Inside, activities such as cleaning out the refrigerator and the closets also makes things seem messier before they they get cleaner.  I’ve persisted, though, and now the garden is teeming with visible new life, unencumbered by the detritus of dead growth on the perennials or spent annuals from last year.  With things I do not need given away or repurposed and things clean and repaired, I can more easily use and appreciate what I have in the house.  It seemed like quite a mess for a while, though, when I was taking things off of shelves and out of drawers and closets in preparation for cleaning.

There can be phases in our sadhana –both asana practice and meditation and related practices — where all the practice seems to be doing is bringing up old stuff.  It seems like we are more physically or emotionally challenged than we would have been if we weren’t practicing. The thought may cross our mind that we would be happier just going to the movies and going on an eating tour of Italy.

Although sometimes strong reactions can mean that a practice is not right for us (at a certain point in time or not at all — similar to a reaction to food), it can also mean that the practice is doing the equivalent of spring cleaning.  Part of sadhana is learning how to react in a more optimal way to what manifests and arises from our practice.  When a host of old memories or emotions arise or we press up against our limits by digging in deep physically to find where and how to rearrange our bones, muscles, sinews, and energy channels to clear an old injury, we have an opportunity to clear out and let go to make room for new growth.  We don’t have to shove the stuff back into our mind-body closet or leave it where it obstructs new growth.  The old patterns and memories come up in practice so we can either release them or change our relationship to them so they can become something that serves instead of weighing us down.

When I get into one of those messy spots, I remind myself how good I feel when I’ve done my spring cleaning, and I try to keep going forward, doing the best I can with the teachings I’ve been given.  I admit that it is easier to persist because I love the actual activity of the practices (though the ones I need to do most can be the ones that are not my favorite, but that’s a whole other train of thought).


A Good Place to Sit

I came out briefly to sit and contemplate and write in my journal before a staff meeting at lunch time (no lunch provided).

The Scott Burton chairs in the National Sculpture Garden are one of the more delightful places to sit outside near my office.

First, I was joined by several birds. Then some tourists came along. The one with all the jewels sat down at the direction of her friend in orange for a photo. “We’re not allowed to sit here,” the sitter said with a little glee in her voice.

I directed her to the sign near the seats giving permission. This led the photographer both to sit down with her friend, but also to lose any real interest in taking the photograph.

What was it about the loss of transgressiveness that made the photo less desirable? The chairs are the same whether permitted or not. In fact, with sitting permitted, there is more time to explore fully their function as chair as well as their form as art.

This set me wondering about how much our desires are driven by social ideas, rather than needs and comforts.

A father and his son approach the chairs fro the other direction. After reading the sign giving permission to sit, they promptly sat down. The bare statement “granite chairs,” was all that was said before they got back up and went on they’re way.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


April Greetings–Delving into the Essential (Web Version of E-Newsletter)

Dear Friends,

It has been a mind-boggling several weeks.  The magnitude of the upheavals and the impact on all of the world, including human beings, is beyond my ability to grasp.  Closer up than the unfolding devastation in Japan and the escalating war in Libya, which daily adds to the bankrupting of this country and planet by our wars, I found myself supporting committed organizations, signing petitions, and writing emails saying that I preferred to be locked out of my work place with no pay than to have taken away any existing protection of the environment or provision health care for low income women.  As my mind tries to expand enough to stay present and active, I am more grateful every day to have and share the practice of yoga.

Practicing helps us minimize suffering by changing how we relate to pain and the full range of human emotion.  The goal, I think, is to fully and joyously engage in life with an intention to live as harmoniously as possible with all beings, including our individual selves, and simultaneously appreciate and be wonderstruck at the extraordinary and wild vastness of being that makes the time and space of the known universe seem finite relative to life (lives) on earth.  When we can find both perspectives simultaneously, then we can be engaged, but not attached (vairagya).

How do we focus this intention to live fully and harmoniously in this way?    In the past six weeks, I have had the unbelievably fortuitous combination of circumstances to be able to study with John Friend for three days; to attend the Mahasivaratri celebration with Douglas Brooks, Krishna Das, John Friend, Amy Ippoliti, and Sianna Sherman; Ross Rayburn for a weekend workshop at Willow Street;; Desiree Rumbaugh at a special three-hour practice the following week at Willow Street; and Paul Muller-Ortega via telephone conference.

Wow, that was a whole lot of input for my practice and contemplation, while living itself was getting more intense.  But, it turned out not to be too much because of the singularity of the teachings.  The message I heard from all of these teachers in their own unique and inspiring voices was that is is a good time to get down to get back to basics, or to put it another way, to explore more deeply the essential principles of practice (and of life).  By getting back to the basics in the practice, we can start knowing at a deeper level what is essential for us to relate as deeply and joyously and non-harmingly (yes, I know it isn’t a word, but I’d like it if it were) on and off the mat to ourselves and all in our web of relationship.

In both my practice and my public class offerings, this Spring, I am especially focused on exploring what is essential to experience life at its most joyous while still be conscious and committed to the need for effort to change.  In addition to continuing my regular class offerings, I am pleased to be offering a short course in restorative yoga at Willow Street, “Cultivating Relaxation with Restorative Yoga.”

Restorative yoga is perfect whether you are looking for a gentler way to get started with yoga, an opportunity to relax, or alternative practices for when you are feeling stiff or in pain, or a way for advanced practitioners to explore the alignment principles at the subtlest levels. We will explore a variety of types of supported postures and prop-assisted stretches to enable you to relax into optimal alignment, discover your own space of deep rest and peacefulness, and open your body. The course will also offer simple techniques to ease into sleep, find mini-relaxation moments when things are hectic, and sweeten your home practice–what could be of better service these days?  Everybody welcome. 6 Thursdays, 4/21-5/26.

To get news in between the occasional email offerings or to see my latest short thoughts, please “like” my new “Rose Garden Yoga” page on Facebook.

I look forward to seeing you in person soon.  As always, please feel comfortable being in touch by comment on the blog or by email.
Peace and light,




Like the financial markets, I historically do not respond well to uncertainty, even when nothing bad has yet happened. To have the government shutdown looming (and all the preparations to be forced off the work place next week) in the midst of the escalation of war, chaos following natural disasters, and looming threats to the environment and most of what I hold dear socio-politically is pushing my buttons.

This morning, as I rose from my morning meditation, refreshed and ready for the day, I reminded myself of the absolute certainty that as long as I am conscious, I can meditate. And as long as I can meditate, I have a space of peace, beauty, vibrancy available to me. That is a wonderful certainty indeed in these uncertain times.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.