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Coming Snowstorm (and Heyam Dukham Anagatam)

As I think about whether I will be able to get up to Willow Street to teach my last classes of the session, how much shoveling I will need to do , whether the next forecast storm (middle of next week) might create challenges for my planned trip to NY, etc, etc, my favorite (well, in the top 10) sutra of Patanjali, sprang to mind:  heyam dukham anagatam, 2.16, which means roughly:  the pain that has yet to come can be avoided.

I have several translations/commentaries of the Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in my library.  All have a different spin on what this means in practice.  What I know is that it is at least partly about being in the present and taking things as they come.  One should still practice and plan.  By practicing and planning, we are better prepared for inevitable pains and challenges.  (For those of you who are giddy with excitement with the thought of a “white Christmas,” this Sutra still helps.  Part of the pain that can be avoided is disappointment when expectations are not realized the way we hoped they would be realized.)  Once we have prepared in a healthy way, though, there is no point in agonizing about what might come, in being in pain in the present because of the possibility (or even inevitability) of a future pain.

The snow seems inevitable.  I am charging my camera battery.  I’m picking what is probably the last of the chard and the baby leeks from the garden, and I am getting ready for Serenity Saturday restoratives.  As long as I can walk to the studio — eight inches is just plain fun, not impassable — I’ll be there with a warm and full offering.  In the meantime, I am enjoying my day instead of worrying about the potential barriers to enjoyment.

A Trip to the Spa, Restorative Yoga (and Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga)

A few weeks ago, when I was planning how to use my “use or lose” vacation time, recognizing that I could not take a long vacation because of the pressures of a project that is supposed to go fully public at the end of the year, I scheduled a long spa treatment for this afternoon.  When I woke up and reviewed the day of the week and the month to remember what was on the schedule for today, I remembered my spa appointment, and the thought of surrendering to luxury and relaxation brought a big smile to my whole being.  I got up and meditated, did a little asana, and started getting ready for work.  I will shortly walk into the office and work hard to make it possible to leave early without stress.  I planned this mini-retreat for myself because I know I get overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of the parties and the expectations of the holidays and that some time out would help keep me in good cheer for all that was to come.

I have also been doing lots of restorative yoga in the evenings before bed — especially after a day when there has been a party — just to settle down and let myself release all the chatter.  If you are feeling like it is all a little too much (whether you think the holidays are the best or end up with challenges, it can still be a bit much), take some time to practice vipariti karani (legs up the wall) and a few of your other restorative poses.  If you’re in town, do join me (friends, family, and guests welcome) at Serenity Saturday at Capitol Hill Yoga for two blissfully uninterrupted hours of restorative yoga.

The Space of No Words Required

The other day, after having worked, been on the phone, and continued in the social whirl of the holidays, the thought sprung up in my mind that I wanted to “go to the place of no words.”  It felt absolutely essential that I go into the space of deep meditation.  It was not so much for escape, as for rest.  For me, meditation can provide more of an opportunity for my mind to rest and renew than can sleep.  I rarely have dreamless sleep, and when I am very busy, my dreams get more so.  My meditations, like everyone’s, can be full of thoughts and words.  Thoughts will inevitably arise.  What is different in meditation, though, is that even when my mind is full of thoughts, I know I do not have to follow them.  I can just let them be — as if there were some radio or television program on that I just allow to be on, but to which I do not give my attention.  It is this rest from paying attention, from having to follow and direct thought that I wanted so that when I returned to active thought there would be more clarity, discrimination, and, where needed, detachment.

Opening to Grace (the beginning and the end)

For the fall session, we have been examining in detail and in sequence how each of the Anusara physical alignment principles can deepen our practice and awareness.  It is my practice to start each session with the overarching principles of “attitude, alignment, and action,” which invite us in every moment, on and off the mat, to invoke an attitude of grace, to use the precision of alignment to refine our practice, and to use the cultivation and refinement of the principles to express in our poses and actions, the ultimate attitude of grace.  Last week we explored how the actions of skull loop serve to refine organic energy and enhance the strength of reaching out and making offering, while ultimately drawing our gaze softly back to the heart.

Here I am, just in time for the holidays, intensely busy at work and overfull with all sorts of other commitments, feeling blessed to have this reminder to come back to the beginning, to soften, to open to the grace of the season, and not to get helplessly caught up in the details and the demands (though those are inevitably present).

The Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin (and Iccha Shakti)

I went today with my younger sister and brother-in-law to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Even with only a few of the warriors and photographs of the site, it is possible to imagine the sheer magnitude of the vision of thousands of these life-sized images living underground at the tomb of the Emperor.  I then thought of how vast must have been the Emperor’s yearning for power and the wildness of his vision of this extraordinary tomb for it to have become manifest.  Trying to expand my imagination to understand the reality of such ambition and creativity I thought of the principle of iccha shaktiIccha shakti is the very will of consciousness to be, to creatively manifest, to become diversified embodiment out the universal.  Ego and will are not themselves bad, but our very freedom allows us to choose a path that is out of alignment with the principles of joy and unity.

The Terracotta Warriors show the immense possibilities of exercising will.  In their very existence and the manner of their coming into being, they evidence both enormous cruelty and disdain for life and a wondrous manifestation of human creativity, collaboration, and effort.  One of the goals of yoga, in teaching us the possibilities of our own freedom and creativity, is to lead us to choose a life that is progressively better aligned with nature and with all of beings.  This is the path of one who practices, and I find it ever a challenge.

Celebration and Loss (last of the arugula)

last arugula

As you can see from the photo, this tender arugula was not likely to make it through the night (temperatures forecast to be in the mid-20s).  It is a cause for great celebration that it made it through last weekend’s snow storm, several nights below freezing, and provided a little spice to my salads for a couple of months.  It lasts this long because I over plant, first eat the greens as I thin them, then pick them by the leaf rather than by the root to encourage the plants to grow more vigorously, and finally start pulling them up by the handful when the danger of hard frost calls for the inevitable demise.  Tonight, I cut everything in the pot down to about a 1/2 inch.  It is possible, though not likely based on the current forecast of a cooler than normal winter, that if we got a couple of warm weeks in late January or early February that it would come back.

I am celebrating what I have grown in this tiny space and the exquisite delight of eating greens from right outside my door this late into the year.  I am sad that the outdoor gardening season is just about over; I will miss it.  If I had more space or a firmer intention (maybe the latter will come in another year or two),  I could build a cold frame or go for plastic tunnels.  In my little micro-climate, that would probably get me through the winter.  I rather like, though, a space of time with no obligation to the outdoor garden.  A time to dream rather than work.  I know what a luxury it is to be able to rest in such a way and still have bountiful food.

Using Your Head to Connect (and skull loop)

I think one of the most wonderful things about the Anusara principle of skull loop is that it uses the head to bring mind into connection with the body.  Far too often, staying in our heads or using our mind can disconnect us from the body.  Skillful practice of “skull loop” reminds us that the head is part of the physical body. Skull loop, like all the loops, is a refinement that typically would not be the focus of alignment after not only the major principles (open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy) are set in the pose.  It is also the refinement that generally would be done last in most poses because of its distance from the foundation of the pose.

I rarely work skull loop as a focus without also concentrating on shoulder loop and the relationship between the two.  Both start in the upper palate.  While shoulder loop acts to integrate us and draw us in by hugging the shoulder blades onto the back of the heart as a refinement of muscular energy, skull loop helps us to reach out and serves as a refinement of organic energy — inviting us to extend more fully out of the crown of the head.

Even though skull loop helps remind us how much organic energy — a reaching out with offering that goes all the way from the focal point (more on that another day) out through the periphery, including the head — can empower us, skull loop also has a sweet and subtle reminder to come back to the first principle.  Skull loop starts in the upper palate and goes up the back of the skull to the crown of the head.  That initial action is what helps with organic energy, and when done powerfully, it can really give a lot more strength and lift to a pose.  The second part of the loop softens the forehead and lower eyelids, bringing our inner gaze (drishti) back to the heart.  Skull loop thus shows us both that the head is physically an powerful and important part of the movement of the body and that no action of the head is complete unless it brings us back to the heart and the ultimate purpose of our actions and offerings.

Robber Barons v. Philanthropists (a memory triggered by reading the 1994 New Yorker article on SYDA Yoga)

When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher, Mr. B,  assigned to the class engaging in a debate as to whether Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon were philanthropists or robber barons.  We were put in teams and told which side we had to argue.  When we were given the assignment, I went to Mr. B privately and said it was not possible to argue one side or the other.  These men were only able to be philanthropists at their level of giving because of the money they had made as robber barons.  My teacher said that was an unacceptable position.  I was to argue the position I was assigned, I was wrong that it was not an either or debate.  I should understand that what was critical to this debate was which aspect was the elemental identifying characteristic.

Where I think was our real difference of opinion was that Mr. B thought that one could/should not recognize both enormous evil and enormous good in the same person.  If one was evil, then the good was essentially irrelevant.  If one had done tremendous good, then it should not matter if there was bad along the way.  I tend to see the whole.  I take the good where I find it (for example, I have found great truth and utility in the writings of Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda although I would not recognize either as my “guru”), but do not expect the “bad” to be absent or non-coexistent with the “good” and tend to be outspoken in my recognition of both.  I still sometimes get in trouble for this.