Love comes in unexpected packages

Celebrating the beauty of the little things

Although this may be a hallmark holiday, anyone who woke up for the 7 am class this morning was greeted by pink clouds and a velvety morning like a romantic wish from Mother Nature. What is romance after all but a spirit of finding the fanciful in your Monday? Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

Special Delivery: Please make regular deposits and withdrawals

What if our hearts are like a bank? Our metaphorical yoga hearts, that is. What would be the currency? Love? Forgiveness? Compassion? Trustworthiness? Generosity?

If Love could accumulate like dollar bills every time we pay close attention to the details, say sorry, overcome fear, or take a fulfilling breath then would we all realize how easy it is to feel wealthy, prosperous, and secure?

Love

I have an ongoing question, which I have been trying to answer my whole life: What is Love? As far as I know, I am not alone in this inquiry. The more often I ask the question the more I learn about the answer. My favorite realization has been that Love needs fascination as much as fascination needs love. I also realize that Love is so profound that its definition can span everywhere from the quickest burst of desire to the slowest, most enduring burn. As far as I can tell my actions are like fuel for this metaphorical fire, and what I put into my relationships whether it be kindling, damp wood, dura flame, or gasoline like actions all will yield an expected result.

A Valentine’s Resolution

I am sure that I can do a better job of letting my friends and family know how remarkable I know them all to be. I feel honored to be a witness for so many people’s lives & I resolve to do a better job of expressing my kind observations to those whom I have the pleasure of sharing this life with.

A little Wish

May we all be awake for those times when Love does come in an unexpected package – a little surprise from life when paying attention but not looking.

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Yoga Side Effects

If you live on the breath,

you won’t be tortured

by hunger or thirst,

or the longing to touch.

The purpose of being born is fulfilled

in the state between “I am”

and “That”.

~ Lalla

One of my favorite side effects of a regular yoga practice has been the opportunity to shift my perspective and see the world through different points of view. This is one reason why I love living in a big city, and going to popular events. It is much easier to limit my sense of “self” and broaden my perspective of “Self” when I can see 25,000 people all at the same time, and share an experience with them.

What is infinitely fascinating is that 25,000 people can all be at the same live event, and each and every one will have his or her own unique perspective of the shared experience. The diversity and richness of life is limitless on the whole, yet limited by the individuals themselves.

I am what I see:

I think our center of self is most often in reference to how we see the world. Literally how we see with our eyes. Isn’t it interesting that the word “I” and the word “eye” are homophones? In essence then we use the same word to refer to ourselves and to refer to the organ of perception, the eyes, which we employ to create an internal map of the external world.

Somehow or another we all design a perspective of the world, how it works, and how we function within it. We look to others to see if our experience can be verified, and for feedback. We are influenced by our cultures and by our individual experiences within the contexts that we live. We develop a sense of self, which convinces us that we are separate and distinct from the universe we live in, because this is the way it looks.

The Hands as “Object”:

When I was studying psychology in undergrad, I did a final thesis paper to research how people learn. I studied old transcripts of therapy sessions. In one of the dialogues a therapist was speaking with a patient and the patient kept referring to his hands as if they weren’t his own; they were an object rather than a part of him.

It may even be interesting to go so far as to see a mouse and a computer as an extension of “the self”. The mouse is a tool that can be connected to the hand, which serves as a bridge for our ideas to be displayed onto a screen so other people can see them, and so the material of our minds can be organized in front of us, and saved for later.

The space between “I am” and “That” is disputed all of the time in regards to intellectual property.

Where does “the self” begin and end?

The Feet as “Subject”:

When we practice yoga we begin to have a deeper relationship with all of the components of the body. We begin to understand the perspective of our hands, our feet, our low back, our necks. We begin to understand that our feet aren’t just these objects down there that fit into shoes and bring us from point A to point B because that is their job, but the feet are actually a part of the whole entity of who we are as an individual and they have their own unique perspective. The feet like to be stretched and massaged and they love to feel the roundness of the earth beneath them. Feet like to be free rather than crammed into uncomfortable shoes.

Of course, this may be a different perspective than the eye, which wants us to look a certain way. Personally, I still wear shoes that are more pleasing to the eye than the toes on special occasions, but as a general rule I take time everyday to make sure my feet feel taken care of, free, respected, grounded, alive.

The Relationship Fills In The Gaps:

A yoga practice awakens us to the relationships between subject and object. It helps us to fill in the gaps between “I am” and “that”. For example: When we practice warrior one mindfully we begin to understand that the position of the back foot affects the position of the pelvis, which affects the sensations in the low back, which affects the musculature of the upper back, which creates either and ease or a jamming in the neck, which affects the expression of the face, which affects the thoughts. Furthermore, we can begin to understand how our own positions in life effect our families, our friends, our communities, and this world. Then, hopefully, from this awakening we begin to also see how we as “individuals” relate to the whole, and the space between subject and object, between “I am” and “that” begins to blur and become more holistic.

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Stand Up On Your Head, Part II

Headstand. Sirsasana. It falls under the category of most dangerous posture for the physical body. Your hands are sealed together, and along with your wrists they wrap around the head to form the foundation of your pose.

What could possibly be dangerous about this?

1st) As you may know, we don’t typically hold the weight of our body on our heads, which means that the most weight bearing part of our core is usually not our neck.

2nd) If we haven’t developed the upper body strength and flexibility to support our weight when we are upside-down we may still be able to get up in the posture, but our cervical vertebrae will be compressed. In general “compression” is not what we are looking for in regards to the spine.

3rd) Our legs may know where they are going when they are connected to the ground, but stick them up in the air and they may feel flimsy and uncoordinated, which will lead them to find the quickest route back to the floor. Head over heals anyone?

4) If our core muscles and internal levers cannot figure out how to levitate our legs off the floor then we will hurry into the pose by jumping. Jumping is taking a big leap of faith that gravity won’t pull us crashing down, and it also compresses the cervical vertebrae – there’s that word again.

Okay, so with all this danger, is it still worth it?

That’s for you to decide. In my experience, the benefits of headstand on the subtle body do not outweigh the risks to the physical body. That’s right, they do not. However, if we can learn how to discover headstand while minimizing the risks then the benefits do far outweigh the potential costs and it all becomes money in the bank, I mean prana in the sushumna nadi.

If you would like to begin a headstand practice I recommend working on it daily. This does not mean going upside-down daily, let’s take our time in getting there. Let’s start by minimizing our risks one element at a time. Let’s start with Risk #4, and figure out what we can do to strengthen our core in a way that will allow us to lift our feet off the floor without having to jump.

I have been teaching a series of postures in my classes lately, which have been making a big difference for students trying to elevate and levitate.

Core Elevating Series

It starts in a modified Navasana, boat pose.


Exhale and draw the legs in close while lifting the arms overhead into:

Urdvha Hasta Pinda Navasana


Inhale extend to a full Navasana.


Exhale Urdvha Hasta Pinda Navasana

Urdvha Hasta means upward hands. Pinda means compact. Navasana means boat pose.


Inhale extend to a full Navasana.

Photo by Michal Rubin

Smoothly moving back and forth between these poses 5-8x before taking rest in:

Bada Konasana

Photo by Jon Gordon

Repeat the sequence up to 3x and take time to notice the results:

This core series will help to simulate the work required of the core when you are initiating the feet off of the floor into headstand & it will tone the physical body to your eyes delight! When the core and internal levers know what to do the climb will be effortless, you’ll see.

To be continued with – Stand Up On Your Head, Part III – soon…

Stand Up On Your Head, Part I

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The Art of Vinyasa

Ever since Elizabeth and I decided to teach this workshop The Art of Vinyasa has been on my mind. Over the years my understanding of what Vinyasa means has evolved as my understanding of the body and the mind has developed. When I first started practicing yoga I loved the flowing of postures – it felt like dancing to me. A few years in I was shocked when a teacher corrected me on my shoulder position in Chaturanga Dandasana. She must have come over to me a dozen times in class that day to show me again and again how to maneuver my shoulders safely and correctly. What she insisted upon that afternoon was a verbal cue that I’m sure I had been told hundreds if not thousands of times in class, but I had never heard it in my body. I had never actually realized that I wasn’t using my shoulders correctly. Chaturanga was simply something I passed through in my cordial dance toward Shavasana.

(Isn’t this a funny picture? I love that our hands are on top of each others. Note that we are actually pausing in Chaturanga Dandasana, treating it like the posture that it is rather than a transition. Also note the smiles :))

Anyway…

It turns out that although Yoga has the potential to be a therapeutic, lifelong practice – it also carries the burden of potential injury if the level of studentship doesn’t rise to the occasion each and every time we practice.   I suppose that is a lot to ask of ourselves. To become more intelligent in our bodies each and every time we are in a pose, but that is what Yoga requires. These postures are actually very powerful. They are full of power. Each and every one of them. Each posture has it’s own unique effect on the body. When the poses are strung together like in a Vinyasa class the sequence of postures has its own unique effects. If the body doesn’t learn how to produce the postures in a safe, balanced, sattvic manner the power of the postures will wear out the body.

Really? Wear out the body? In essence, we all use the body in different ways depending on what ways we learned how to move when we were young and how we move routinely during the day. When we place our body into all of these odd shapes, as in a yoga class, if we aren’t awakening the body then the areas which are strong will continue to do all of the work and the areas that are weak will continue to move along for the ride. As the bodies relationship to gravity becomes more complex, as it does in the more interesting and challenging postures, there is greater potential for injury.

However, to our delight the body is capable of learning new tricks! If we are patient, and observant, astute, playful and disciplined in our practice then we can learn how to unravel the destructive patterns of movement we have ingrained into our muscles, we can move beyond our limited daily range of motion, and we can explore the full range of our potential. We can become strong where we are weak, and flexible where we are tight. A regular yoga practice will truly set you free. It will free your body to move elegantly. It will free your mind to see what is true and present. It will free your heart to love and forgive. The power of the postures can work for you rather than against you.

My practice has changed a lot over the years. I still love the dance of Vinyasa, but I now appreciate the elegance that comes with conscious technique. Having intention in yoga is crucial, lest we just go through the motions. Having intention in yoga ensures that we learn how to become more sophisticated, present, conscious human beings. In my opinion, Vinyasa Yoga is an art, not a science. There are few systematic rules that constitute a Vinyasa Practice, which is why all teachers teach it differently. In essence Vinyasa means a step by step process, and a typical class highlights the relationship between the breath and the movement.

So as a Vinyasa Practitioner you are an artist, sculpting your body, your mind and this world. Truly. Richard Freeman writes in his new book that “within these physical practices of hatha yoga we work the body like we knead dough when making bread, so that it becomes transformed from an amorphous lump of unconscious flesh and bones into something that is vital and full of life.” Come to your practice consciously, like an artist, ready to transform the shape of your body, the quality of your thoughts, and the space around you.

Namaste.

Workshop Information:

http://www.yogaworks.com/files/flyers/f989bf3196.pdf

Key Parts:
• Deconstructing and Reconstructing Sun Salutations
• Learning the relationship between Alignment and Transitions in Standing Poses
• Understanding the Art of Moving on the Breath
• The Role of Props in Vinyasa Class
• Safely Incorporating Balance Postures and Inversions into the Flow

Schedule Information
January 22, 2011
Saturday 1:30-4:30pm

Pricing Information
Pre-Registration Required (to secure enrollment)
$45 Pre-Reg
$55 Day Of

Call Yogaworks Union Square: 212.647.9642

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What is the body?

“What is the body? That shadow of a shadow
Of your love, that somehow contains
The entire universe.”
– Rumi

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Neurotheology

“We can scan the body when the person is in meditation… and compare what is happening in their brain at that point and when they are involved in a different task… We can then see the differences in the brain…”

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/15/132078267/neurotheology-where-religion-and-science-collide


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By Intuition

“But the trouble was that though the work absorbed my mind, it used very little else. And I am by now convinced that wisdom is not the product of mental effort. Wisdom is a state of the total being, in which capacities for knowledge and for love, for survival and for death, for imagination, inspiration, intuition, for all the fabulous functioning of this human being who we are, come into a center with their forces, come into an experience of meaning that can voice itself as wise action. It is not enough to belong to a Society of Friends who believe in non-violence if, when frustrated, your body spontaneously contracts and shoots out its fist to knock another man down. It is in our bodies that redemption takes place. It is the physicality of the crafts that pleases me: I learn through my hands and my eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain.”

M. C. Richards

“Or, by intuition, comes knowledge of everything.”

Yoga Sutra III.34

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Stand Up On Your Head

How old are you? In days? I did my math: 10,687

In hours that would be: 256,488

I’ve been doing yoga daily for 11 years so I’m going to  give a guess and say that I have spent an average of ten minutes a day upside-down this last decade, which equals 40,150 minutes or almost 670 hours.

Well, this is my theory. Life is long. We will walk many steps, sit in many chairs and lay in many beds throughout our lifetime. In all of these activities the most weight bearing part of our spine is our lowback, and of course it was beautifully designed for this purpose. Yet, how many people have low back pain? Learning how to invert our weight, safely, means giving the lowback even just a few minutes off every day.

Headstand isn’t to be taken lightly, and it can take time to learn how to stick those legs up there properly, but when I’m eighty-one years old, I want to be able to give my lowback a time-out from time to time so I’m happy to patiently build that strength now in hopes that the stability will build into my architecture and help to keep my mind and body healthy for decades to come.

More on this subject, and how to Stand Up On Your Head soon…

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I’m thankful for my arms

In response to a question posted by yoga journal blogger, Kristen Shepherd. “Have you made peace with any dreaded yoga poses?”

Bakasana. That was the first pose that seemed impossible to me. I had a whole system for stalling. I would put a towel in front of me in case I fell, look around to admire others, criticize my arms for not being able to pull off the balance. Yet I always tried. I would search around for some place where I could put my knees on my arms that wouldn’t make them buckle… Wondering…How is this possible? And who wants to be a crow anyway? After a year or so I found this place, right where my upper arms began to hollow, and if I put my knees there, and elevated my upper back I didn’t actually need my feet on the floor. I could hover. Forming the pose of the crow is empowering – it’s uplifting. It turns out that crows are one of the only animals that have no natural predators, and they are very playful as a result.

What dreaded poses have you made peace with? Maybe your insights will help someone else.

Share here or on Kristen’s blog: http://blogs.yogajournal.com/beginnersmind/2010/11/making-peace.html)

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Yoga Philosophy 101

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a good place to begin. Sutras are little one liners that thread together to teach a heady concept. Patanjali was a wise yogi from India who compiled the Yoga Sutras in order to differentiate this school of thought from others in India way-back-when.

The first one liner says: Now We Begin The Practice of Yoga. In and of itself this is a beautiful idea. When we are present we begin the practice of Yoga. Yoga begins with presence. The first sutra also has a functional purpose of letting the reader know what will be discussed further. The way that I like to read the sutras is by asking the most obvious question that arrives after reading the one liner. For example: This first sutra says, “Now we begin the practice of yoga.” If I were a child who was curious and ready to learn my next question would be, “Ok, what is Yoga?” Conveniently, the next sutra says: Yoga Is The Cessation of The Fluctuations of The Mind.

Here is where it gets really interesting! But I have to side track for a moment to explain another concept, but then I will bring it all together.

Have you ever heard of dualism before? Dualism has to do with The Soul and Nature and how they relate to one another. A dualistic view of the world is one that supposes there are two ultimate principles that any conceivable thing can be boiled down to. Something is either subject to change or not. If it is subject to change then it is Of Nature. The word for this in Sanskrit is Prakriti. If something is not subject to change and it is eternal then it Of Soul. The world for this is Purusha.

Prakriti, Nature is made up of three qualities. These qualities can loosely be compared to the primary colors in their ability to combine for the sake of diversity. One quality is called Tamas. If something is Tamasic it is lazy, dull, stale and inert. Another quality is called Rajas. If something is Rajasic it is spicy, passionate, bold, active, and doesn’t know when or how to stop. The other quality is Sattva. If something is Sattvic it is luminous, balanced, harmonious, peaceful, and slowly and steadily progressing towards enlightenment.

The Mind is of Nature, Prakritic, subject to change, which means it is capable of being in varying states of lethargy, excitement, and peace. What is of particular interest is that The Human Mind is capable of being in a purely Sattvic state, which is not easy or even possible for most objects Of Nature. This makes The Human Mind an ideal window for Purusha. Therefore! One of the reasons that Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind is so we can unite or connect with the Soulful, eternal, gracious part of ourselves that has no desire other than to be a witness for how life is playing out.

The physical practice of yoga is thought to be merely gymnastics if this more heady part is not taken into consideration. However, the physical practice of yoga is an ideal way to calm the mind and bring it into a Sattvic, luminous, harmonious, peaceful state when such an intention is present.

Now, let’s begin the practice of yoga.


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