These little cacti had such personality, so I took some portraits of them. Notice the sacred spiral?
It was easy to “do nothing” when I was on retreat just one week ago. I was off the grid at a yoga retreat center on the beach near Todos Santos in Baja. Recovering from my fall, I didn’t even want to do anything except luxuriate in the quiet of poolside, or lose myself in the wild wind at the beach. From each breathtaking sunrise over the desert to each glorious sunset over the ocean, all I had to do was stare into space, read or nap. I let my mind and outside body rest.
But inside, I was doing the hard work of healing. At the physical level, my immune system was fighting inflammation and infection, reconnecting the displaced roots of my front teeth and repairing the broken blood vessels of my bruised body. That work isn’t over yet. And then, of course, there’s the emotional body work that still needs to happen.
It’s harder to “do nothing” now that I’m home and the responsibilities of my everyday life are right in front of me: dogs, cats, bills to pay, a sink full of dirty dishes. So, part of my practice now is going to be reminding myself that resting is an activity, that even if my most outer layer is seemingly at rest, a lot of productive work can still be going on at the subtler levels of my being.
Yoga philosophy describes five layers, or koshas, that comprise our physical, energetic, emotional, intellectual and spiritual selves. They all need attention. Yoga nidra is a yoga meditation practice that addresses all of these layers by guiding you into deeper and deeper states of relaxation. In a full yoga nidra practice, a facilitator guides you through breath work and body scans, and your brain transitions from a waking state, to a dreamless sleeping state even though you remain awake. The effects are systemically restorative. Yoga nidra is a lot to cover in one blog post, but follow the links above to get an introduction to the concepts, and try yoga nidra here:
When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, the legitimacy of his award was debated widely among the writers of “real” literature. According to The Washington Post, at least, most of the important living American poets welcomed the announcement. Billy Collins was generous:
Can song lyrics qualify as poetry? The real acid test demands that the lyrics hold up without the music, just the words on a piece of paper. That’s how poems come to us, after all. Ninety-nine percent of song lyrics fail the test, even though the songs themselves may be terrific. Dylan is the rare exception; for decades, he has gotten one of the very few A’s.
Personally, I don’t hold songs (or even a lot of straight up attempts at poetry) to such high literary standards. Me, I agree with Bob Dylan, “If a song moves you, that’s all that’s important.” For me, the lyrics are always a critical piece, but the performance and the sheer weirdness of an effort can touch my soul. In yoga, we say “Namaste” as an acknowledgement and reminder that inside we are all the same, the light in me honors and acknowledges the light in you. I see YOU. But that light can be expressed in an endless variety of ways. And I admire and am inspired by the fearless, out there EXPRESSION of whatever it is that your light needs to say. The rawness and the audacious, unselfconscious performance of something deeply felt—however it comes out —is also part of what makes spoken word so powerful.
Here are a couple of performances that move me.
A couple of years ago, I challenged myself to write 10 haikus a day for 100 days. With a few exceptions (some days I couldn’t quite get to 10!), I completed the 100 days and ended up with almost 1000 haikus. A few of them were even ok!
In the process, I read a lot of haikus. I learned that the best haiku speak to the heart. I wrote a poem about it:
Richard Wright wrote haiku. I’m reading it.
Mostly I just read along: ok, ok, ok
a little gasp
he gets something exactly right.
your KNOW that place
recognition. it strikes softly in the body. But it does strike.
you FEEL it.
head head head — heart. yes. that’s it.
Here’s one of Wright’s haikus:
And though level full
The petal holds its dew
And without trembling
Sometimes we need poetry to help us feel the pain of the injustice all around us. Fifty years ago today, violence abruptly ended the life of one of this nation’s most impactful proponents of civil rights, and social and economic justice. The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.’s legacy lives in our continued attempts at nonviolent protest and direct action against the injustices of our day. And, we are still met, far too often, with violence.
Today, a poem from the #BlackLivesMatter movement. You can read more here.
Ithaca, NY – June 24, 2015
I’ve been practicing, studying and trying live yoga since about 2000. In all that time, I have never learned more about myself and about how this glorious practice works its magic than since I started teaching it full time.
Like many of you, I started doing yoga as part of my exercise routine. And like many of you, I discovered immediately, after that very first class, that yoga offered something more than a great workout. I left class feeling relaxed and invigorated, not exhausted; open and expansive; strong, but also soft, receptive.
Yoga speaks to my heart through the language of my body the way that poetry speaks to my heart through the language of words on a page. It asks me to slow down, acknowledge the rhythms of natural things, and observe what’s happening right here, right now.
This month, in honor of National Poetry Month, instead of writing one big newsletter, I will be posting daily poems and commentary on my website, with a weekly digest going out through email on the weekends. You can subscribe to the blog here, or follow my Facebook page.
Today, I give you one from Hafiz with the reminder that you don’t have to travel to exotic places to feel the wonder of nature, and experience the divine within you.
My back yard.
The Place Where You Are Now
This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.
Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
The Beloved has bowed there –
Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.
I could tell you a priceless secret about
Your real worth, dear pilgrim,
But any unkindness to yourself,
Any confusion about others,
Will keep one
From accepting the grace, the love,
The sublime freedom
Divine knowledge always offers to you.
Never mind, Hafiz, about
The great requirements this path demands
Of the wayfarers,
For your soul is too full of wine tonight
To withhold the wondrous Truth from this world.
But because I am so clever and generous,
I have already clearly woven a resplendent lock
Of his tresses
As a remarkable truth and gift
In this poem for you.
Tomorrow, March 31, marks Hanuman Jayanti, an important Hindu religious festival honoring Hanuman. Half monkey, half man, Hanuman is a pivotal character in the Hindu epic Ramayana, known for his bravery and selfless devotion to Lord Rama, whom he served throughout most of his life. As a symbol within the faith tradition, Hanuman stands for the power of devotion to discipline the unruly “monkey” mind and guide us into right action.
Tomorrow, in my Noon Body Strong Flow class at MBS Yoga, we will honor the spirit of Hanuman Jayanti with a strong practice focused on building the strengths that Hanuman represents: focus, determination and strength. We’ll hear some of Hanuman’s stories and learn a little more about this important figure while we practice the yoga pose named for him. We are in no way even approximating a true Hanuman Jayanti celebration, but we can acknowledge the celebration and offer in our own way something to the intention of the day.
Benny was my mom’s dog. He came to me with some pretty bad habits: peeing wherever he wanted, barking at everyone, and biting people, mainly the ones with red hair! So when I got him, I took him to obedience school. He was already 7 years old, but I was sure we could break him of these lifelong behaviors.
We both learned a lot at obedience school. One thing I learned was that Benny’s obedience was pretty much up to me — I was the one that was going to have to learn and practice how to be a dog’s master. Seven years later, Benny is just as bad as ever.
I failed obedience school, but Benny did learn one thing: how to focus. The game was for me to hide a treat in one hand and reach my arms out to each side. Benny’s job was to keep his eyes on ME, not the treat in my hand. If he could, he got the treat. He was really good at it! In no other task could he focus his attention and concentrate like he could in this one.
In yoga, you may find yourself going for the treat, the calendar pose reward at the end of all that work. But the real reward comes from learning how to stay centered and focus.
Yoga offers a complete set of practices to help you do that. What I love about the asana practice we do in class is that it anchors the mental effort in the physical body. In balancing poses, and in transitions from one pose to another, you’ve got to activate and fix your mind to your core, to the deep muscles that stabilize and ground you while all the “action” is going on in the periphery. Physically, energetically with your muscles, you have to pull yourself IN. In the body, you draw the abdominal muscles IN. You gently retract the limbs INto the sockets that connect to the torso—hips and shoulders. Plugged into your center, you can make any transition, from a strong, side stretching backbend to a twisted, forward bending balancing pose.
Here’s a little clip of a sequence that requires a LOT of focus. It’s speeded up to double-time, and I still falter, but you’ll see what I mean.
Yoga teachers often instruct our students to “focus on your breath.” But what does that mean exactly? This guided meditation walks you through observing several different qualities of the breath. Learning how to notice these fine qualities helps attune your perception of your own physical self right here, right now. Plugging into how you actually feel physically in your body opens the door to deeper inquiry into the self.
I love Fall. It’s a time of year when it’s hard not to notice the turning of the earth, the days getting shorter, sometimes cooler. As the prelude to winter, I think Fall can trigger melancholy in people. But I associate fall with my garden. Here in hot South Texas, Fall is the most abundant growing season for root veggies, greens of all kinds broccoli, cauliflower. I look forward to fall for planting seeds. When summer’s flowers have fallen, my garden keeps giving.
This year I started helping manage a community garden on the East Side. The Eastpoint S.O.U.L Garden (SOUL stands for Sutton Oaks Urban Learning) has 17 raised beds serving residents in what has traditionally been a food desert in one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The garden gives me many opportunities to pay attention. Here are some images from the past few weeks.