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Independence Day in the Neighborhood

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The boy in the blue shirt and his friend stopped me as I was going into my yard, “happy 4th of July,” they said.  “Happy holiday to you,” I responded.

“Do you like fireworks?” the boy in blue asked.   “I like the pretty ones on the Mall,” I replied, “but I don’t like the loud, smoky ones on the street.  I find them too noisy, and too much of a fire hazard.”  “Oh,” he said, and ran off down the street.

Tonight, if previous years are a reliable indicator, he and his friends and family will light dozens upon dozens of illegal fireworks on my street, pausing only to let the bus go by.  They will scream with delight every time they startle themselves with a big one.  I will water the front to help prevent fire, marvel at human inventiveness, and ponder the nature of freedom.

Choices, A Cardinal in the Grapes, and Viveka

This morning while I was out in the garden, I heard a chirping right above my head.  Within arm’s reach was a bright red male cardinal perched among the grapes effusively talking.  (I planted a tiny red, concord grape vine about six years ago, and it has flourished beyond my wildest dreams).

There were enough ripe grapes for me to pick a handful for myself.  I have bird netting, but I have not put it over the grapes.  They did not do so well this year, many turning brown prematurely because, I think, of the drought-ridden winter followed by the extra wet and cool spring.  I am grateful that I will not be dependent on these grapes as food for myself to survive through next winter (I’m pretty sure; if not, I have bigger things to worry about).

For the joy of having the birds come visit so fearlessly and delightedly, and because the grapes are not fantastic to eat, I leave all, but those I get by the small handful a couple of mornings a week for a few weeks, to the birds.  Maybe next year I will net the grapes, but then I’ll have to have a canning party to make jam.  In the meantime, I’ll marvel that every bird in DC seems to know when my grapes ripen.

We make decisions like this all the time.  With how we shop, what we eat, what work we choose, how we travel, we are making decisions about habitat and environment for ourselves and hosts of other beings.

In yoga, the process of ever refining our understanding so that we can be more in touch with how we act impacts our life force and our relationship with all around us, is viveka, or discrimination.   Just as the more we practice on the mat, the more we develop awareness of what leads us to feel more in tune and more celebratory of life, so too, we want to use that yoga refinement and discrimination to inform our acts off the mat.

Slowing Down (and vinyasa krama)

I wanted to share this article on “ecotherapy,” a term I had not heard before.  I found the article interesting because for years now, I have gradually practiced all the elements listed in the article as treatment for depression, not because I had been told by a therapist to do so, but because, despite my feeling the repercussions of going against the grain, I felt happier and healthier settling in one place, traveling more slowly, connecting with my pets, and tending a small patch of nature.

These shifts in lifestyle simply feel to me more in alignment with my own nature and that of the earth.  I found, incidentally, it gave me much more time overall to do things.  People ask me how I do so much (usually referring to the day job, the yoga teaching, the gardening and cooking, the volunteer work).  Thinking of the way they live, and what they do, they ask when do I rest?  I say that my life is in fact rather slow and restful.  I rest when I meditate.  I rest when I am taking the time to make a home-cooked meal — every day when I am in town, often two or three times a day.  I rest when I am tending the garden.  I do not think of cooking and gardening as chores, but as ways to nurture myself.

I rest when I am commuting because it is on foot or sitting on the bus or metro (note:  instead of getting anxious or angry when metro is slow, think of it as an opportunity to draw into yourself and meditate, contemplate, or read).

Not having moved or changed jobs in years, even though there have been serious challenges with both where I live and my job, I had the time, money, and energy that would have been used up in a major upheaval, to engage in the study and practice to become a certified Anusara yoga instructor, and before that, to study  drawing and photography and to exhibit my art.  Staying in place, I continue to have time to study and to read (not watching TV helps alot, too, for finding time).  The choices are different with children in the house, but it is still possible to make choices that require less racing around for the family.

This, to me, is a larger aspect of vinyasa krama, the art of sequencing.  When we sequence how we move in space and time in a holistic, sensitive way that honors the rhythms and cycles of our bodies and the earth’s, then we feel less trapped or overwhelmed.  When I was trying to keep up with society, I was often sad and anxious.  Now I am much less so.  I have often attributed it to these choices.  Now, I see, society has given us a word for it —  ecotherapy.  With a word coined for it and put in the press, will people feel more comfortable practicing it?

Vinyasa Krama (and Anusara Sequencing Principles)

Vinyasa krama — the art or essence of sequencing is meant to help us align in space and time, so that we experience being and practice in the most optimal way.  Last time I was with John Friend, he gave as a homework assignment, writing down Anusara sequencing principles.  What I found wonderful about thinking this through, was it was not just about how to sequence a practice to reach a particular apex pose (though that is an important aspect of designing a class or practice).  Here’s the list I came up with (not in any particular order and I am sure I’ve left some out):

First principle (open to grace always comes first)

Attitude, alignment, action

Open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy

Set the foundation of the pose first (for teaching and observing this also applies to looking to the foundation first)

Breath leads the way

Stabilize the periphery, move from the core

Root to rise

Major principles before applying refinements (i.e., open to grace, ME, IS, OS, OE before loops)

Sensitivity, stability, adjustment (for hands on/therapeutic adjustments)

Curvature before length (spinal alignment)

Shins in, thighs out

Initiate actions from the back body

I could blog about these for weeks and how, although they are simply articulated physical alignment principles, they would apply to actions off of the mat.

Simulcast, Drama, and Perception

Last night I went to see the National Theater UK’s  simulcast (tape-delayed) of Helen Mirren performing in Ted Hughes’ translation of Racine’s Phedre at the Shakespeare Theater.  The tragedy of Phedre is misinformation, misguided helpers, and passion that has gone beyond sweet engagement to maddened attachment.

A stage production is intimate and designed for the small audience of those present in the theater.  When it is merely filmed (instead of being turned into a movie), it sometimes feels forced because it is watching a film of a stage production, instead of being invited in as one is when one is either at the stage production or the filming is done as a movie, which is designed to include the viewer in a manner for the film.

What was hard about watching the filming of the stage production, was being forced to have the camera’s and director’s perspective; there was no ability to turn my head and shift which part of the stage to give my attention.  At the same time, I felt appreciative of the miraculous offerings of technology:  the filming made something that is usually limited to those who can afford theater of that extraordinary quality and who are able to be in a certain place at a certain time available to tens of thousands around the globe, including me and my friend.  In that way, the filming both took away the intimacy of being physically present, but simultaneously created a unifying experience for a much bigger group of people.

I was inspired to think about the limitations and differences among the perceptions of the characters, of the critics (talking about the play and the film), of the smaller, elite audience (the actual theater goers’ — I’ve been at that theater in London), of the technologically broadened audience, and of mine in response to the essence of the tragedy, the story and substance of the play, the delivery of the play, and my own life as informed by the play.

It seems an interesting lesson on many levels on how we can choose to live with our passions, how we can react to limits and changes in our ability to perceive our own selves and the world around us, and on how and what we invite in through the doors of our perception.

In Watermelon Sugar (Starting Each Day Anew)

I have in my library books in which just one phrase or just the very beginning is most resonant.  It is this time of summer, when the light seems endless, and the heat just setting in as if on a permanent basis, that my thoughts turn to watermelon in food, and again in literature.  I think of watermelon differently each summer from the perspective of having lived another year, and the same in having experienced the taste and the thoughts of the taste so many times before.  When it comes the time of year when thoughts of watermelon spontaneously arise,  I revisit these words:

“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.  I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.  Wherever you are, we must do the best we can.  It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar.” (R. Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar).

Refreshed, I put the book back on the shelf, look forward to eating watermelon from the fresh farm market, and set the intention to start each day with open, receptive, and unjaundiced eyes, ready to learn and experience the same old things as glorious new ones, and to do the best I can.

Afternoon Nap — Sometimes a Necessity (Like Savasana)

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

The past few days have been very full.  Last week was an intense week at work.  I am enjoying having a house guest and deepening a new friendship.  The workshop sessions on Friday night and this morning with Amy Ippoliti at Willow Street were wild and rich with information and play.  I always enjoy teaching my two Saturday classes.  Among all this activity, I hosted a little dinner party last night, which was quiet, but bubbling over with conversation.

After the workshop this morning, instead of going right home, I rode to Dupont Circle and had brunch with a fellow yogini, after which we walked up to Columbia Heights through Meridian Hill Park.  We had a fantastic time talking and catching up, and I loved doing a little exploring in a part of the city that is outside my usual haunts.

All of these activities were healthy and life enhancing, but still, it was a lot.  Just as including savasana is critical to assimilating the benefits of a good yoga practice into the fabric of being, taking a nap this afternoon before having one more evening of visiting with my friend Elisa and my getting ready for a couple of jam-packed, demanding work days, the sweet rest of a Sunday afternoon nap was critical for me to allow all the delights of the weekend to settle and integrate, to feel rested and enriched, instead of feeling like I need another weekend to rest from the weekend.

Ripple Effects (and personal yoga)

Yesterday I looked at the continuing news about the crash.  Among all the other stories, it seemed fairly unlikely that there would be metro service between Capitol Hill and Takoma Park by the weekend.  This created a complication for me.  Living without a car and commuting a number of times a week to Takoma Park to teach and take class, I had to figure out how to get there.  It will be easy enough (I think) to get to Willow Street on Saturday to teach by taxi cab and to find a bus combination to get home.

In addition to teaching, though, I had been looking forward to studying with Amy Ippoliti on Friday night and Sunday morning.  I could take a taxi and a bus combination to study with Amy this weekend or just forego my tuition.  All that would be easy enough.  But I had invited a friend to come and visit to take the whole weekend with Amy — which includes another 12 hours of teacher training on Saturday and Sunday, where I will be off doing my own thing.  Since my friend and I will have very different schedules for this yoga weekend, and neither of us are much of a driver, renting a car was not really a viable option.  I thought about just staying in a hotel in Silver Spring.

Then I got to my personal yoga.  One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask for help (of almost any kind).  I am good at offering to help and am good at both helping when asked and saying I cannot help (the latter took some practice).  What I know from being a “helper” is that I get great joy from giving and offering assistance.  My never asking, then, means not giving those in my life the joy of providing assistance.  I overcame my deeply ingrained reluctance and asked for help.  Not big help.  Just is there someone already attending the training who can give a ride from the workshop into the District each night or provide an extra bed for my friend.  Fellow yogis were indeed happy to help; there are now a surfeit of options.

The minor inconvenience to me from this tragedy reminded me again to send healing energy to those who are suffering and to see things in perspective.   I was given a sweet reminder of the warmth and generosity of my yoga friends and colleagues.   I was able to practice with success addressing one of my continuing challenges.  I have been blessed, then, in the aftermath.  Contemplating these gifts with gratitude gives me more energy to send out for those in need.

For those of you who are local, I think there is still space in the workshop with Amy:  come join us for all level hip openers on Friday night and intermediate/advanced backbends and standing poses on Sunday morning.  See link to Willow Street above for more information.

Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodaha

I slept restlessly last night and woke early with concern for those who were in the metro crash.  Being already a bit agitated, worries about getting things done at work also were arising.  Despite my restlessness, I made sure to sit for meditation.  Thoughts kept arising, but by the time I was into my sit, I was able to find a space, where I was not tangled or unsteadied by the thoughts.  I felt more peaceful and able to meet the challenges of the day.

In times of agitation, I often find myself drawn to contemplate again Patanjali’s sutra 1.2:  Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha. In classical yoga, it means to still the thought waves.  This is meant to be the ultimate purpose of yoga:  to still thought so that what is beyond mind and body can be revealed.

Practicing and studying from a tantric perspective, I think not so much of stilling my thoughts when I practice and meditate, but rather, finding a sense of alignment, an allowing of and making allowance within my being for the rhythm of the thoughts like a sailor getting sea legs on a boat, so that I can be steady (sthira) and have a greater sense of peace (shantaya) and light (tejase), no matter how wild are the thoughts arising and sensations entering in the field of my consciousness.

Gratitude and Prayers

A little before 6pm my cell phone rang while I was sitting at my desk at work in the throes of a complicated task.  It was a friend and fellow yogi calling.  “All you alright?” he asked.  “I’m in the middle of a horrible assignment and I have cramps, but I guess I am OK” I replied, “why do you ask?”  He told me about the metro crash.  He didn’t see me at Willow Street and was worried that I was on the train.  Had I gone to class instead of staying late at work, I well could have been on the red line at the time of the crash.

I was grateful for my friend’s call and warmed by his concern.  I am busy checking in with the many people I know who could have been on the train.  I know many friends, neighbors, Willow Street colleagues and students, and co-workers who themselves or whose friends and loved ones may have been in the crash.

I am filled with concern and compassion for those from whom I have not heard and those who were injured, trapped, and afraid.  I will spend much of the evening practicing and holding all in the light.

Please all who commute on the red line, comment, post on face book, and send emails to let us all know you are OK.