This morning, without thinking, in apparent keeping with the dark, wet, gray day, I picked out a brown sweater to wear. Then I thought, “what, am I crazy? I could bring color into the day.” Now I am dressed in the colors of the ocean on a bright, sunny day. To add some more light to my day, I started the day with some backbends and arm balances. If I had the luxury of staying inside all day, I perhaps would have done a more inward practice. I have committed to go out, though. To be happy to go out in the rain, I needed to create an abundance of bright, wide awake energy on the inside.
I walked into the dining room yesterday and caught a hint of an exquisitely sweet fragrance. I knew the paperwhite bulb I was forcing was only in bud. What was it? I went to look and saw that there was a single blossom on the nightblooming jasmine. Inside, in winter, the single bloom emitted as much apparent fragrance as dozens outside. I have had this plant for 12-13 years, since it was in a three inch growers’ pot. The last time I repotted it was several years ago, but I faithfully bring it inside and out every winter/summer cycle, and feed and water it plentifully. In response, it keeps getting fuller and offering blooms. When it is outside, it can have dozens of blooms at once. Sometimes I harvest the buds before they open and use them to scent green tea. When I find open blossoms in the morning, I harvest them by the handful and put them on my alter or in the bedroom, where they will provide scent for a day or two. Outside in the summer, while profuse, the blooms last only a single night. Inside in winter (with an average 24-hour a day temperature of 61-62F), the blooms, though coming more occasionally and only a couple at a time, can last for three or four days.
I think the blossoms of yoga and meditation sadhana (practice) are not dissimilar to the way this plant blooms. With steady care, they will always bloom, though sometimes more than others, sometimes with a different character, and sometimes with just growing periods with no apparent blossoms. Sometimes, there will be a wild profusion of vision and offering, but those tend to be fleeting. The memory of the intoxicating perfume, though, keeps us tending the practice, knowing it will come again. During the time between the wilder experiences, the nectar still comes, and though in less dramatic ways, perhaps all the sweeter for coming in a time wh
en we are just practicing and tending and not expecting any great revelation.
Donate to support the peacekeeping efforts of the American Friends Service Committee (or other organization of your choice).
Write to your elected official about granting temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants. The Friends Committee on National Legislation has made it easy to take action.
Happy new year to all! I hope 2010 is off to a good start for you. My days are full with work and practice and teaching and photographing and cooking and indoor gardening and telling stories (aka blogging) and connecting with friends and the general miscellany of life.
My intention for the year to approach each day with a sense of fullness and wonder, whatever comes. A key element of feeling things are deliciously full rather than overly busy is appreciating how things are and can be ordered in space and time. This winter, in classes and workshops, we will be exploring the mysteries and techniques of sequencing on and off the mat. Come join me.
The Willow Street session started this week, with my first classes this Saturday, January 16th (Level 2 @ 8:30 and Gentle/Therapeutics @ noon on www.willowstreetyoga.com or in person.in the Takoma Park studio). It’s not too late to register. It’s great to come every week to get all a session has to offer, but feel free to drop in any time. Register on-line at
William Penn House all-level classes continue on Tuesday nights @ 6:30, with the special reduced rate of $12 for not-for-profit workers, students, and seniors. This month’s Wednesday night intermediate/advanced group practice proceeds are going to the American Civil Liberties Union.
Feeling a bit tight from the cold? Join me from 3pm-5pm this Saturday, January 16th at Capitol Hill for the first “Serenity Saturday” restorative workshop of the year. There will be a special focus on opening up muscles tightened from the cold, including self-massage techniques. To register, please visit www.capitolhillyoga.com.
Dreaming of www.rosegardenyoga.com.in the garden? Put it on your calendars: I’ll be offering “Yoga for ” again on Saturday March13th, just in time for the season to get started. More details at
Looking forward to seeing you soon.
When I think about the Anusara alignment principles in the context of the tattvas (see earlier posts), I think about “opening to grace” appearing in two places on the tier. As “first principle” it is the first among a larger sequence about how we come to the mat, rather than just the first of the physical principles. “First principle” not only starts the practice and the dialogue, but is already there. It is, in this sense, so fundamental that it is not part of the sequence, but is sequenceless (akrama). If you are fully conscious of “grace” and can embody it in all aspects of your physical, energetic, and mental day to day existence without further instruction, study, or practice, then there is no need for other practice or instruction (this I think is a very rare being, and certainly I’m not such a being).
The next set of tattvas — suddha vidya, ishvara, saddha shiva, and shiva-shakti (see link above), correspond to the Anusara alignment principles of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which although they are themselves described in sequence, are fundamentally sequenceless as they happen all at the same time and are more elemental than the practice of the physical/energetic alignment principles in sequenced practice.
In this way of understanding the play between the sequenceless and sequenced, we have a universal “first principle” that embodies the purpose of all we do on and off the mat. It is followed by how we want to practice, described in a way that becomes less of just a concept (which as a universal concept is akrama) and more of a practical understanding (which applies when we are in space and time and therefore in the krama of embodied existence). As we dance in this play between the sequenceless and the sequenced, we come to practice (or to do any activity) with the “attitude” of wanting to live the “first principle,” to know and experience what is fully present and not bound by time and space. We then (because we must) study and practice specific “alignment” to try and express this attitude with our “actions.”
The physical/energetic alignment principles then come in as a the way of better refining, studying, and practicing the desire to recognize with mind and body the “first principle.” The sequence of “open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy” comes then at the level of physical and mental practice to return us back to “first principle.” “Open to grace” is first in this sequence, too, but as “first principle,” for me, it is something more than the first of the alignment principles. “First principle” is not just the start of how we practice when we practice Anusara yoga, but the whole reason for practice. It is the universal, overarching, blissful element of being that draws us to the practice because of our yearning to know it.
My body does not respond well to cold. I’ve learned how to dress and to hold my body, so that I do not get stiff and paralyzed by the cold, but I am more easeful with heat. Still, there is a big upside to the continuing unseasonably cold winter: I won’t have aphids on my roses in February. It should also push back the mosquito season. That is a very good thing.
Vikalpa samskara is a term that describes the fundamental process of an ever refining yoga practice. It encompasses both study of text (with a teacher) and experiential learning and practice. With just experience, we may feel full unto ourselves, but we cannot explain the richness of our experience to others nor can we understand why. If we just hear something from a teacher or see a picture or read about it in a book, however, no matter how book smart we are, we do not have the understanding that comes from personal experience. It is by continuously combining and refining study and practice, that we can have a progressive deepening of true knowledge.
We often talk about “beginner’s mind” with respect to asana practice and meditation (and bringing the beauty of that state off of the mat). We are invited to be receptive and open the way is an ideal beginner, who wants to learn, but does not yet know the topic.
What does “beginner’s mind” really mean, though, in the context of someone who is experienced? I do not believe that it should mean discarding either book learning or discrimination built of experience. What it suggests to me is to approach our practice and life with freshness, with open-mindedness, without being bound by preconceived notions. I think this is the true process of vikalpa samskara. To be able to deepen our knowledge ever more deeply, we have to be willing to be open to shifts and changes in understanding. Then “samskara” does not become a rut, a bad habit, the inevitable effect from a previous action, but the development of a deepening path for more refined understanding.
I am working from home today. I looked out of my window and saw a flurry of birds going from one roof to another. There were the usual starlings, but among them were five robin redbreasts. They definitely do not belong here this time of year. Instead of getting the usual song in my heart from the first sighting of the robin redbreast of spring, I am filled with concern. What are they doing here? Will they survive? How can they get worms out of the frozen ground? Have they been confused by the warming pattern over the last several years?
I know that the robins are out of place here this time of year from a combination of learning and observing over the years what is supposed to be their season in this part of the world. So too with many things that at one time a place, a practice, a relationship will serve and another will take us away from what is optimal. As with yoga practice, we learn for ourselves and what is around us, what is optimal when and where, by a combination of study and practice.
There were also a few gulls. We see those around town sometimes because of the tidal basin, but not usually here in my back alley. Is there some kind of special bird conference going on that I was privileged to witness?
By order, I mean how things are arranged in space or time. Even chaos theory presumes order in that sense. On and off the mat, there is a certain order to things that is optimal. We do not plant seeds and then till the soil. Or think of the difference between peeling and chopping vegetables and then cooking them or cooking them and then peeling and chopping them. One or the other is not necessarily wrong if you do not have a specific dish in mind, but which you choose will dictate the results. Once you have gotten started in the sequence, though, the path shifts and is partly set. To reach an exquisite rather than a disgusting result, the next steps are ordered by the initial choice.
If only one musician is playing a single note, then there is no possibility of discordance. Add more musicians and more notes and who plays what notes when can mean cacophony, a catchy tune, or an extraordinary and ecstatic work of art. None of us are alone and none of us are playing just a single note, so in the great fabric of our being, it is best to understand how to make music.
Sequencing on the mat is more subtle than what poses should be done in what order in a particular practice to emphasize backbends v. forward bends and twists to be able to do the strongest poses with the least possibility of injury, as important as that is. The order in which we apply the Anusara principles not only aligns the physical body, but brings symmetry to the physical and energetic bodies, helping us to feel more in harmony in everything we do on and off the mat. I am, in this, a decent musician and not Bach, but the more I pay attention to the optimal sequence of things (keeping in mind that over most things we have no control as to when, whether, and how they happen) and the more I learn and appreciate the exquisiteness of order, the more I feel, understand, and experience the subtleties and joys of harmony.