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Scary Asana Poses (and how they can serve us)

It is a good thing, I think, to do what one can to prepare for eventualities, to take reasonable precautions.  It is not optimal, though, to allow fear and anxiety prevent us from living fully each day.  I choose to continue to face fear and discomfort in my asana practice, as well as just doing the poses for which I have an innate affinity.  I practice poses that bring up fear, dislike, discomfort, and general aversion.  I do not ignore my fears and discomforts.  I learn why I have them; I practice more assiduously the preparatory strengthening or stretching poses that will give me more support in the deeper poses, so that I can be in a place where I know when my fears are appropriate cautions and when they are unnecessary anxiety.

By practicing the poses that are scary and uncomfortable and learning how to stay grounded, present, and even joyous while doing so, I have learned a lot about how to live in away that optimizes my health (physical, emotional, spiritual, and financial) and the health of those around me, without letting fear, worry or discomfort about dangers, limitations, and pitfalls limit my ability to live fully and generously with a care for the suffering and joys around me.  Yes,  I took extra care to wash my hands last night right before I started teaching a pre-natal class, but I cannot stop going out and enjoying the spring days or getting my work done for fear of swine flu; I am currently healthy.  I am not going to stop supporting local businesses because there is a recession; I still have a steady job and have no reason to curtail my spending, and I have always lived within my income.

Why Practice; Why Teach

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.

“Jiva is Shiva”

The inside book flap on Jaideva Singh’s translation and commentary on the Pratyabijna Hrdayam, say “Jiva is Shiva.”  Singh notes that “pratyabijna” means recognition.  The tantric philosophy underlying this work holds that by have acted from absolute freedom (svatantriya) to become embodied (jiva), Shiva has forgotten his true nature.  The point of the teachings in these 20 sutras is to help us, as embodied beings who have forgotten, to remember our shiva nature.  What does this mean from a practical perspective?  I think the point is to teach us to try to act and live reverently, to try not only to choose to seek the good for ourselves and others, but to see it.

Savasana

When I first started teaching, one of the things I found most inspiring was seeing my students in savasana.  It is such a rare and precious things to see a group of people deeply relaxed, especially for someone who came to yoga essentially restless and who inhabits a workplace that is, so to speak, rather caffeinated.  For me, the practice of savasana has been transforming.  After 10 years of steady practice, my sleep has deepened and become more consistently restful, which has enhanced my ability to come from a yogic place off the mat.

Savasana is in some sense for me always the so-called “pinnacle pose” of practice.  The pinnacle pose is not necessarily the most physically challenging pose in terms of combined strength and flexibility, although it is an essential component of the sequencing of any good practice to have the poses gradually open all the parts of the body needed to do the most physically challenging pose.

When thinking about any practice and determining whether a cooling or heating, expanding or inward-going, playful or serious practice would be most appropriate, I ask whether the practice will lead to a place where is will be possible to be completely free and relaxed for 10-15 minutes?  Will the practice enable the body feel open and released, strengthened and supported, integrated and aligned, so that lying on a hard floor will seem like being on the finest bedding?  Will the focus of the practice help simultaneously free the mind of thought and burden and yet keep it focused and alert so that body and mind can surrender to the full, blissful of conscious being in the moment?  Will the practice serve to align the koshas (or sheaths) so that the outer body is soft and relaxed, the energy body full and bright, and the mind and intuitive bodies one with the anandamaya kosha (the bliss body)?

Some teachers have said that savasana is one of the most advanced of yoga poses.  I would agree.

Okra Germinated; First Roses Opened

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.

Ready or Not Here It Comes (Summer Heat)

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.

Sadness (Sukha hara, dukha hara)

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.

Change of View (and the tree rebate program)

In October through early November, I have autumnal color right outside my bedroom window as the red maple in my front garden and the sugar maple in the tree box right in front of it, blaze into glorious color.  Through the winter, the view is decidedly urban.  I look right out at the apartment building across the street and must keep the venetian blinds down for privacy even during the day.  If we get snow or an ice storm, I look out at branches gilded-jewel like with winter frost.

Only two weeks ago, there was only a hint of red and green on the two maples.  Now they are in fresh, full leaf.  Not only is my yard shaded, but my view is changed and my privacy veiled by a curtain of leaves.

These trees cool my house and the street, help make the air more breathable, provide needed habitat for birds, and give me the pleasure of their beauty.  If you have space, consider planting a tree.  Extra bonus, the District has extended its rebate program for planting trees on private property.