I took the day off from work today to attend an all-day teacher training with Cyndi Lee at Willow Street Yoga. Cyndi invited us to ask ourselves how our yoga teaching informs our practice and how our practice (and the reasons why we practice) informs our teaching? Worthy questions for ongoing contemplation.
I went to the first day of a weekend workshop with Amy Matthews, co-director of the Breathing Project, at Willow Street Yoga. As always when I go up to Willow Street, it is always good to see friends from the shared practice and study of yoga.
The workshop is providing much to peak my curiosity to explore in my practice and to refine and improve my teaching. I liked that when talking about teaching, Amy Matthews said that her goal is to empower her students to keep themselves safe.
As students, we are ultimately responsible for taking care of ourselves as we practice. If we do not assume that responsibility, we cannot experience fully what we are trying to know/learn.
I came home from the workshop with much to explore in my own practice, and it was good to see old friends from the yoga community and make new acquaintances.
One of the things I appreciated were the demonstrations of therapeutic applications. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen noted that the first issue is survival, observing that since we were all safely together in a nice yoga studio, that we had survival covered.
The second thing, she suggested, before offering healing, is to make sure that both the person receiving and the person making the offering are comfortable.
I add to the latter that having both people be comfortable increases the likelihood that they will be able to stay present and mindful, which should increase the possibility of efficacy.
Dear Friends ,
As I went through the airport in each direction last week on my way to and from San Francisco to play and to visit with friends, I thought about how much our experience even of something as relatively ordinary as a trip through the airport can change by the difference of 15 minutes. On the way there, we got to the gate just as the flight was boarding. Had we been earlier, we would have sat in a crowded area, perhaps wondering whether the flight would actually leave on time or whether we could leave from home a little later next time. If we had been 15 minutes later, we would have been among those frustrated and harried late boarders whose bags end up over some seat 15 rows farther back.
We each have our own tolerance for sitting and waiting or being at the last minute, respectively. We go through life more easily if we pay sufficient attention to what makes us feel challenged and what makes us feel secure and grounded with regard to how we navigate time and space and figure out how to act in ways that are most supportive (without dulling awareness or denying how we could benefit from change and growth).
An important aspect of meditation and asana practice is how they can deepen our understanding both of how we tend to relate to things in our time-space continuum and how to optimize those relationships. For example, part of learning to sequence a practice is learning how the parts of our body fit together and how to change the order of movements to expand our strength and flexibility beyond what might otherwise have been possible in a safe and joyous way. In all my classes, I emphasize how to structure and sequence your own practice because I think it makes such a difference on and off the mat.
What triggered all this thinking about what a difference 15 minutes can make was that students have been asking for a later time for the Friday night gentle/therapeutics class at Willow Street Takoma Park. Starting this Friday, September 14th, class will begin at 5:45pm and end at 7:15pm–15 minutes later than it has been in previous sessions. The extra 15 minutes later start time can make all the difference in being able to get to class without feeling pressed. Ending only 15 minutes later still leaves open much of the evening. The class is a lovely way to transition from week to weekend–a Friday yoga happy hour and a half that is designed to heal and nourish. Although it is best to sign up for a class to get all the benefits of the progressive teaching method at Willow Street Yoga, drop-ins are always welcome. Do feel free to invite friends or family to join you.
New students of all experience levels are always welcome at the Tuesday night, William Penn House practice. Come by some time and join a wonderful, welcoming group of yogis. For more information, please check the classes page of the website.
Hope to see or speak to many of you soon in person or in the ether. And remember: spending even 15 minutes a day in meditation or yoga practice can make quite a difference in your relationship to life in time and space.
Peace and light,
Best wishes to all whatever your holidays are bringing and however you might be celebrating. I write this in the midst of days full with preparing for my much anticipated travel to India with Professor Douglas Brooks, where I will experience among other amazing things, the temple at Chidambaram, where the idea of Shiva as the Cosmic Dancer first arose, seeing friends and family before I leave, and taking care of all manner of things at work and home so that things will be in as much order as possible both while I am gone and when I return.
I typically make the holidays a quiet time. I enjoy going to a few choice parties and visiting with friends and spending a few days in New York visiting family and exploring museum exhibits and delicious meals, but mostly I use it as time for introspection and refreshment. I process what has happened over the year and get myself and my house and papers ready for a new year of working and teaching and creating. I practice and rest. I take exquisitely long and contemplative walks and write and photograph. When I have spent the holiday season in this way, come the first of January, I feel ready for whatever might come. I know that my general health and emotional well-being are definitely enhanced by consistent daily yoga and meditation practice, regular sleep and wellness activities, such as massage, keeping a beautiful and clean home, and eating healthy meals that come in part from my garden, and the holiday season is enhanced for me by honoring my regular practices and health needs.
By choosing to go on an adventure, with the amount of energy I will need to expend to be open to the outragious influx of sensory input and information and to weather the challenges of travel (including a nine-hour time difference) and to get back to work immediately on my arrival in the middle of of a week in which I already have a known deadline, I can be fairly certain that the comforting, well-rested feeling to which I have become accustomed from the holiday break will not be how I start 2012. In this sense, going on this trip is willfully ignoring and disrupting all that I know keeps me on an even keel. Sometimes, though, we just have to intentionally shake ourselves up to see what ways we can expand and how much. Such shake-ups not only open us up to new possibilities and ways of thinking, but they also help us get ready for the invevitable upheavals in life whose exact timing and nature we cannot control. My holiday blessing is that the shake-up is one I have chosen, that comes when I am healthy and secure, and that will no doubt provide much fuel for growth and creativity. I definitely am looking forward to bringing home new insights and energies to share with you in the new year, perhaps even the seeds for the first art exhibit in many years.
I wish you all peace, health, and joy through the holidays and the new year. To those of you who are currently dealing with extra challenges of embodiment, please know that I am holding you in the light and will be sending beams of healing energy from abroad.
For everyone, here are the yoga offerings for the holidays and the beginning of 2012:
No coincidence, my trip is at exactly the same time as Willow Street is closed for Winter Break, and I won’t be missing any of my Saturday noon gentle/therapeutic classes. The class is continuing in the Winter Session (registration is now open) and I hope to see friends both returning and new signed up for the session. For Willow Street free class week, I will be leading a gentle/therapeutics class on Saturday, January 7th to welcome those new to yoga, the class, or to Willow Street to all the healing potential of Anusara yoga. Free class week is a great way to get to class for the first time that curious friend or family member with whom you have been wanting to share the wonders of yoga.
I know lots of you will be wanting the yoga during the holiday period, so I’ve invited two guest teachers for the Tuesday night William Penn House class. Meridian Ganz-Ratzat will be leading the class on Tuesday, December 20th, and Anna Karkovska McGlew will be leading on Tuesday, January 3rd. They are awesome teachers, so come check out the classes, even if you haven’t been to the William Penn House class before.
There will be no rose garden yoga classes between Christmas and New Year, but check out the great array of holiday offerings that week at Willow Street Yoga to celebrate the transition from 2011 to 2012. I’ll be back to neighborhood classes, starting with the house class on Wednesday, January 4th, and hope to see you at William Penn House in the new year.
Thinking ahead for ways to sweeten your 2012 schedule or looking for a great holiday gift to give that enhances health and a celebration of life, but doesn’t result in more stuff being manufactured? Give the gift of the ultimate nurturing yoga to yourself, friends, and family, with a registration for “Finding the Warmth Inside: Relax Into Optimal Alignment with Anusara Restoratives,” Saturday, February 25, 2012, 2:30 PM – 5:00 PM, Willow Street, Takoma Park studio, $35.00, click to Register Online. Suitable for all levels.
I look forward to seeing many of you at my regular neighborhood and Willow Street classes and at workshops in the new year. Much love and many blessings.
Peace and light,
The winter 2012 Willow Street Newsletter is on-line. If you don’t already get it, please take a look at the great article by Suzie Hurley as she reflects on the history and development of Willow Street Yoga Center. I am filled with gratitude for the extraordinary community and family Suzie has lovingly shared and developed over the years and to Joe and Natalie for continuing the vision.
When I was waiting for the metro to go to Willow Street Yoga this Saturday morning to offer a free gentle/therapeutics class (new session starts for the class next Saturday, January 15th–all welcome), I heard a very disturbing announcement on Metro. I only take Metro once or twice a week. I am pretty certain I would have noticed it if I had heard it before; in rush hour, of course, it is hard to hear the announcements when the platforms are full. What I heard was this: “Metro police have advised that all passengers are subject to random searches of their carry ons.” A reasonable person might want to know what is a “carry on” for these purposes. My first question to myself was “don’t random searches of this type violate the Constitution?” (Yes, the American Civil Liberties Union is actively engaged in the issue).
I find random searches just for boarding the metro with a carry on an unfortunately not particularly shocking example of how far we have allowed the “war on terror” to be waged against all of us. Perhaps there are readers of this blog who are not shocked or perhaps believe that these searches are warranted; I am open to listening to why. I know that it was not front page news, and my friends have not been talking about it. This was just another one of those awful things we have started taking for granted, which is something that I hope is getting progressively harder to do.
My biggest question for myself was what I would do if the police asked to search my handbag. The odds are slim to none that “random” would in practice include a reasonably well-dressed, clean, small, middle-aged, middle class, fairly evidently American-born, white woman. But what if random was really random and I happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Would I refuse to let my bag be searched on principle? Would I be willing to lose my job and possibly go to jail for my conviction that such a practice misses the mark completely for its intended purposes and tears at the very fabric of a free society and our individual liberties? I find that I do not know the answer. Partly it is attachment to my own security. Partly it is that I do not know whether it would be better just to allow my bag to be searched and not engender conflict than to engage in conflict that will certainly harm me, severely limit my ability to give financial support for important fights and causes, and potentially could harm others around me, even if ultimately, with the help of many I am sure, I were to be a participant in reason prevailing and the practice ceasing.
In thinking about how unsure I was of my ability to act if I were to be put to the test, I was reminded of the situation at the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is paralyzed by inability to act in the face of the hideous spector of violent death and destruction that would result from going to battle even to rectify an injustice. Arjuna looks out on the battlefield where battle is enjoined because of the injustices that have been done (we’ll leave it for another day as to whether the violations of law in the Mahabharata are ones that a modern thinker might agree should give rise to the epic battle in the Bhagavad Gita.) Krishna explains to Arjuna that it is his dharma to go to battle; he is a warrior and these wrongs must be rectified. The general day to day principle that governs the life of a yogi — ahimsa or non-harming — is trumped by the greater need to rectify the societal injustice. Arjuna must join in battle because leaving the injustice uncorrected will in result in greater harm to the order of society, even the cosmological order itself. See Stephen Phillips, “Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth” (discussing the interrelationship between the individual practice of ahimsa and the need for cosmological order in Indian philosophy).
I am not likely to be put to the test here, but that is part of the evil of the practice. What can I do? What should I be doing in the face of a direction in society that gives rise to policies like these and the gunning in Arizona yesterday? It takes great discrimination (viveka), more perhaps than I have, to know how and when to act. I do know that it is not right for me as a citizen or a yogi to stand aside. I offer this very public statement of my beliefs and I gave a generous donation to the ACLU yesterday. I am sure that is not enough, but it is a start. As our society moves in the direction it is moving, more and more of us must contemplate, evaluate, and begin to expand how we act and participate to see a world where ahimsa is not just personal, but all persons and beings have the possibility of being free from suffering.
On Friday night, Betsy Downing was at Willow Street’s Silver Spring studios leading a weekend workshop. The focus of the weekend was learning how yoga practice can assist us in “interesting times.” In this regard, Betsy invited us to recommit to two practices that we know support us when we fully practice them. I did not feel the need for more meditation or asana or pranayama. I do those steadily.
I have been struggling, though, with where I am lately — I think something was triggered with all the confined time during the great snows. This morning I decided that for me, this invitation would best serve if I allowed it to help refocus my practice. In getting a little off-kilter, I forgot to practice fully gratitude and self-acceptance. Remembering to practice those fully will nourish me well in these challenged times.