Beginner Yoga Class: Introductory Notes

runner on Moonlight

 

 

Why practice yoga?

We come into a world of endless possibilities like instruments without instructions. Our mechanisms are so advanced that it takes years to know how to implement them and a lifetime to refine them. Yoga is the instruction.

 

In yoga we begin with the body to organize ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. The first task is to get to know ourselves.

 

The body is the material we start with. It is touchable and concrete and we can identify with it. This is where we have the maximum opportunity for self examination.

 

The modern system of yoga is described in a text written about 18 centuries ago. It’s known as the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In the simplest explanation it is a guide to self inquiry that results in liberation from distractions and a sense of freedom from the tedium of a restless mind. It is entirely self serving. Older systems of yoga speak to service in a different light. When the student is steady in the foundation of yoga she may find a purpose and skill in service.

 

The student is given guidelines to behavior. When these guidelines are applied to the physical practice of postures, the student can experience how the concepts of disallowing harm, arrogance, greediness, jealousy and gluttony feel in the body. Then the student has the choice to adjust his/her attitude toward herself in the posture. The body becomes a vehicle for reflection.

 

Beyond the body, these restraints not only free the student from a guilty conscience but lead to equanimity. This allows for emotional space. Then the student may become contemplative which results in a desire for further knowledge. It also leads to joy as the student sees herself as bigger than her body.

 

Another way to look at this is in terms of relationship. The experience of yoga is the experience of relationship between the student and herself. On a physical level it is the experience of muscle to bone, bone to bone, breath to bone and mind to breath. This will indirectly affect the relationships of the student to others as the student becomes more insightful.

 

 

Posture is practiced with vigor tempered with compassion so that effort is balanced with ease. Steady effort in yoga is done with modesty rather than bravura. It is intended to create the sensation of good space in strong bodies.

 

Born a survival/gratification machine, we first learn to move toward pleasure and security. Then we are instructed. We are taught to use the manual of morality. We are trained to use our minds and regulate our emotions. Our eyes are turned inward only so much as to direct them outward according to a boss.

 

We continue toward self awareness via the teaching of yoga. Beginning with the body, we endeavor to stop the noise of our minds so that we may come to know ourselves without bias.

 

 

Originally posted to the journal page of http://www.activeyoga.com

I thought bitchin needed some attention

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Climate Change Karma

 

 

 

 

Ice bound, wind lashed branches make screaming trees sway

While black wings beat back the others round the easy mark of food at the feeder

Not invited, they do not know but descend in mass and mob the back garden

THE BIRDS on ice

The earth shifts as water swells below the surface, turns to ice and explodes

Ice quakes waken unfamiliar ears to a blast of unfriendly fire

 

Cameras train on huddled news crews as routine ceases and people grow wary

Wariness is our habit anyway; built into DNA  turns heads right and left

Scan the horizon for enemies

But what if the enemy is us?

 

We are survivors and where one surviving is alive it is not a life unless others survive too

It is partly love

We cannot thrive without it and then survival would be like one alone

 

Black wind and potent rain replace snow as the temperature peeks above freezing

The earth abdicates domain over tree roots

Exhausted trees collapse and crashing, toss their spawn for the taking

The earth will absorb what it wants or what is forced upon it

And in kind will return it to us

 

I wonder what combination of love and survival would incite us to sacrifice comfort or routine

So that that which is returned is as gentle as that which we offer.

 

 

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Natural Medicine on Ice

Natural Medicine on Ice

Natural Medicine on Ice

 

It’s sleeting and raining and snowing.

Ice blankets the branches,

Turned pavement to treachery

This town is closed.

 

No cars pass this house.

Frozen bird feeders magnetize wildlife;

The scurry and flutter of creatures is all that moves under an icy downpour of sodden pellets.

 

My schedule is frozen and the promise of a day off is both exhilarating and nerve racking.

I’m not good at this.

The stillness reminds me that I’m exhausted and too restless to stay put

With projects I’d sooner leave in a rear view mirror.

 

My dog and I take tentative steps onto a dicey front porch.

I’m four layers deep, finished in an old ski jacket.

Despite the icy hill, we pick our way up the road’s shoulder

And head for the lake.

 

I slide backwards again and again down the slope that cuts to the lake road

And finally find footing in a swath of old leaves on the edge of the woods.

My husband has slipped my phone into a pocket worried that I’ll fall in a world of aloneness.

 

I recall a snowy mountain in my past

Three miles up and the road just a path

I’d climb home in darkness,

Moonlight on the snow

I’m used to the simple company of dogs in wilding times.

 

My husband persists

He reminds me that I have a failing hip

What if I fall?

 

Ha!

I’m shushing down the road like a pretend skater

Running without lifting my feet

That slide without slipping.

The woods are silent and I silently pray for no trespassers other than me.

Red and I

My co-conspirator pup’s white fur looks buttery next to this snow.

He matches my pace though he’s old and more into smelling the roses these days

So to speak

Like me.

 

Look at us,

I tell him.

Ten days ago you had abdominal surgery

And two nights ago, I could barely stand on two legs

The body is more than matter.

 

Under nature’s spell

Given the right time and place

Incapacity is not a word,

And without a form

No longer exists.

 

Unthawed on commencement

I return with my jacket covered in ice

With all that ailed me released by silence and silvered trees.

I am unfrozen.

 

 

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Never Not Broken

Never Not Broken ~ Pajama Jam / December, 2014

Never Not Broken is the title of a body of work to be published. It is also the name of a website not yet visible.

 

It is 7:00 A.M. on a bitter day, sad songs playing on the radio as I head down an empty highway to a job I’m grateful for as the parameters of work feel crucial to opposing lethargy during this winter holiday.

 

This uncommon cold has got me depressed. Or maybe depression invited sickness so I’d have some lung/grief quality time. Either way, depression is not my thing. I usually arrest at anger, keeping depression at bay with cynicism and cautiously placed rage.

 

I took my grieving lungs to Nordstrom to return something for my husband which was an excuse to wander around a place that had things I didn’t need, couldn’t afford and didn’t want. Still, it channeled energy otherwise involuted. In a store filled with beautiful things that women who want to feel beautiful want to put on, I was drawn to sleepwear. Even though I don’t wear pajamas, I walked out with an armful because they were soft, on sale and baggy and even though most of the clothes I own are basically pajamas because they are yoga clothes, I am weary of the uniform related to my job. Pajamas feel like a timely standard.

 

Last night my husband went to a poker game and I bounced off the walls with jittery boredom in my not so satisfying pajama clothes. It made sense to forget this day; to shut down the house and escape into a hot bath and cool sheets with a novel. The inbox on my computer screen had two unsolicited and disturbing announcements. WordPress revealed that a year’s accomplishments in writing boiled down to a couple of posts that were popular because they railed against stupid in yoga and Facebook became shame book as it portrayed the wasted year of a useless life, with a cheesy high school yearbook type page highlighting  irrelevant postings. Thanks for the tacky souvenir of my wasted time, whoever thought this up.

 

My most intuitive and complex writing was more or less overlooked. I consoled myself with the thought that blogging is not the best forum for this sort of thing. My Facebook posts are rarely personal as my personal life is in person. I post things I think useful. But I think that’s not the point. I wouldn’t normally give a hard glance at those e-mails but I was ready to be disturbed and they did it. These distractions are not much in a life but little cracks in our creations make for breaking points that defines freedom.  The question is what does one do with freedom so it does not become a prison? Hopefully it’s true that good questions are more important than the answers.

 

Today I reluctantly put on the yoga uniform to meet a client down the highway and turned on the local radio station that caters more to cutting edge than heartbreak but a slew of heartsick love songs was on the queue. Someone was feeling the dark side of intimacy. Bad news and bad love; I thought reflecting on my most popular writing; that’s what sells. Could it be a prophylactic measure against certain upheaval? Are we imprisoned in a disaster preparedness course that never ends?

 

The ceaselessly cyclical cycle of breath and tide is marked by consistent breaks; broken, unbroken, broken, unbroken. What is change if not a break between what was and what becomes Do we practice heartbreak and battle to be assured of staying aloft on a planet that wobbles?

 

I get it. My descent into a bored depression is giving the broken its due. I have a vague sense of worthlessness and no confidence in the next move, yet in this gutter of inertia the break is already the mend. I have become a seed; all energy pulled into a fragile shell waiting to be split open.We must break to become again in a new way. That is change and change is this life.

Without that we would not be worth a darn.

This post was written several weeks ago but I didn’t have the desire to publish it. But after all, it’s only a blog. This post  inspired me to push the button.

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Feet to the Milk White Sky

Feet to the Milk White Sky

Feet to the Milk White Sky

 

Warm legs slip from tangled sheets at dawn

The shock of cold air is a sweet relief before it assails

 

Enfolded in fleece

I put the coffee kettle on

And head to the office to push this button for later

Set the day

 

Coffee steeping and my house sleeping

I slip off the robe, flip onto my head on the red living room rug and send my feet to the ceiling

A forest falls from a milk white sky

Spidery black branches are pen and ink paintings on the emptiness

Cool air caresses skin warmed too much too quickly despite the morning chill

 

Temperature control is random these days

Mine moody as the climate’s changes

Record highs, record lows

 

Upright again, the groundswell assaults me

THERE IS SO MUCH GOING ON DOWN HERE

Chaos below with my head in the clouds

Infinite space with my feet in the air

 

Is it true the sky is falling?

Chicken Little!

Cautioned a cup- half- full mother to a nervous child

 

I learned to pull my work boots on

And pulled my head from the sand

To notice the beauty in chaos

To modestly wade knee deep and do what one does for love

It muffled the alarm that rings through my sleep

 

 

But should all fail and the sky fall

Uncharted at dawn by even the birds

I make peace with the milk white sky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Find Me In the Bardo

I am sick; stricken completely dumb with laryngitis and not at my best. I’m certainly not meant to be teaching a yoga class, that’s for sure. If you wonder how important a teacher’s words are to her craft try taking yoga from a mime. It’s not that satisfying.

But it’s Christmas week and near impossible to get a last minute sub and besides, I’m teaching at the facility whose parking lot was the target of my vandalized car and since no one has offered to help me pay for the damage, I’m working overtime.

My joints feel poisonous and I make the mistake of not giving a shit that I’ve chosen a play list that is completely horrendous. I have no idea how I have this on my I-pod but it says Holiday and Spirit and Jai Uttal is singing something Adonai and that’s the best of it. My body wants a couch and this music will not inspire the rush of endorphins that I’ve relied on in times of inertia and bad attitude past to make me powerful beyond this body. It’s fair to say that in this moment, the once renowned rebel yogi who could move an auditorium of students by example has lost her groove. And I suspect it’s more than this passing illness. Or is it?

“We do not see things as they are.

We see them as we are.” ~ The Talmud

 

The bardo is a Buddhist term for the place between lives that Christians might equate with Purgatory or Limbo. Depending on how you’ve managed your life, you might spill from the bardo toward the light or you might not. It is a purification ground and can be a painful process. One thing is for sure, you aren’t in Kansas anymore. And you might not immediately recognize that you’ve left.

There is a point in life in which you realize you are not the person you always knew. It seems like it happens overnight but it doesn’t. You don’t think the same way. You don’t like or feel the same things. You don’t teach the same way. How did this happen? That’s always the question. The answer is you stayed alive. The answer is you stopped or were stopped to notice what was inevitable. In the stopping comes the temporary pain of knowing, the sweet realization that you are more real than ever and the power of choice.

It’s the bardo time of the year though we have just passed the darkest day. We barely notice under the glare of holiday lights. We make a purposeful choice as a community to herald the darkness by laughing at death on Halloween and later hoping for life with the Christmas messiah and Hanukkah’s message of eternal light. Too busy to notice the boogeyman, we are uncomfortably comfortable in an accelerated life that does not allow for time off anyway. We run through and from the darkness. It is our nature to be afraid of anything as still and dark as death. The year begins with bold declarations and resolutions that come less from stillness than the ceaseless adrenal rush of hope and denial.

Still, transitions happen. Bridges to somewhere else abound. It’s not just an age thing but the many cycles of a life. But what might seem less profound in younger years is undeniable when no longer camouflaged by youth’s intensity.

Sickness stops us when all us fails but I am not it’s servant and in 25 teaching years have only one memory of stopping for one day for illness. I pride myself on racing through the bardo of viral war, wielding my sword of energy born of yoga, dance, chi gung, plant medicine and defiance. It has worked to pull me quickly from the abyss without a blip.

Now dumbstruck with the viral beast I’ve still ploughed on in surety that ignoring it will dispel it but laying limp on the couch follows every effort. Still with every burst of renewed energy, I’ve driven myself forward like this foolish rhododendron in my garden that has been sneaking forth blooms with every thaw since the first frost, well before her time. No wonder her flowers are frostbit and limp. Can I not see how alike I am?

If ever nature screamed: SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP, it is now but I declare, I AM NATURE TOO AND I WILL DECIDE WHAT IS NATURAL FOR ME!

I spent years unaware in the bardo expecting the same students, the same appreciation. When old students reappear decades later, I am sure I will fail them now. I will not be giving that exact thing they loved, like that favorite food they remember from their mother. I have changed and that might disappoint.

No fan of marketing, I would not reinvent myself by anything other than the quiet way I have done it but still, when students ask if I will teach my old dance class or talk about me, in front of me, as the teacher who did this and that, I feel a bit un- tethered. I have run ceaselessly to avoid the darkness and for all of that, must deal with the bardo as I can say with surety that I have long been its guest.

Is this too melancholy for this joyous time of year? No, it is perfect timing. This purification is not really painful but wistful and I think done for now. Anyway, I’m a mournful poet. Sorrow is just so beautiful. And hope is the unseen side of sorrow.

If you are looking for your old teacher, come find her in the bardo. She’s on her way out.

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Body Image, Discontentment and the New Yoga of Self Consciousness

~ THE NEW YOGA OF SELF CONSCIOUSNESS

The funny thing about Yoga Journal’s recent magazine on body image is that it was about body image. The Barbie bendy spandexed cover model cuties have begun to raise the shackles of some yoga practitioners. The initial response was for the infamous yoga toe sox advertisement model to step off her arm balance pedestal and onto the magazine’s cover presenting a thicker, rougher, updated version of herself. Behind the cover she advises the readers on how to deal with body image. I get that she’s a cover girl who assures us that ads are imagery that is not real or sustainable. But I wouldn’t think that a ‘body image’ issue in yoga that does not highlight the absence of culture, color, age or men has done a lofty job of representing the issue of appearance and inclusivity. This issue seems strictly about striking a dagger into the heart of unattainable physical perfection.

yoga-journal-kathryn-budig-oct14

We are stuck teetering on the edge of the pond obsessing over our reflection whether we love it or not. Yoga is a call to consciousness which means being aware. It seems the now popular practice of yoga has become a cattle call to self-consciousness, featuring a population that feels awkward, ill at ease and insecure. Maybe it’s time to dive below the surface.

~Dysmorphia: From Greek, Bad Form

The current Mantra magazine has an article on the “yoga body” by Melanie Klein of “The Yoga and Body Image Coalition”. The author says …”yoga culture from advertisements to magazine covers increasingly cultivate normative expectations of “yoga body” by consistently presenting the same body type- from its lithe lean, toned, able-bodied, and hyper -bendy form to its white unblemished and youthful skin”.

{The following article was a four page photo spread of hyper-bendy, able- bodied unblemished white women demonstrating unattainable poses.}

~Should a Yoga Body Look Healthy?

The country is overweight and under toned. We eat crap. We sit too much. National spokesmen for better choices have been railing for years at the puffy population to get its vending machine mentality out of the schools and out of our fast food faces. We are becoming vessels for diabetes, heart attacks and depression.

What does healthy look like?

We idealize the vision of a yoga person because people want to believe that this will be them on yoga: no food issues, no weak choices, no mental anguish; someone who is non-threatening because she/he is so damn happy. We know it’s not literally us but it’s our totem and the symbol of possibility. Artists have idealized the human form since the time man had the wits to look past survival at his/her image. The current yoga population is not wholly apart from the greater population. Perhaps we do need idealized models of yoga of any ages, races, sex and colors. Idealized images are not meant to diminish but to inspire.

 

What is radical and what is a nod to mainstream beauty may be confusing. Melanie Klein is concerned that the homogenization of an image-idealized white female beauty- is antithetical to yoga’s rebellious underpinnings.

 

{I think of the ascetic vegan Jivamukti founder Sharon Gannon as the face of yoga rebellion and radicalism as she presses her agenda for modern yogis to live a certain lifestyle. She is the image of thin white and bendy. Maybe the tattoos make her seem less a less chaste descendent from the Mayflower but the austerity that creates her image, though not born from the same discipline that makes a super model, shares the discipline of diet that creates a look that is perhaps the face of rebellion against a habit of overindulgence. Surface can be deceiving}

 

 

~Yoga Journal

If yoga was once the practice of the rebellious in this country, the interpreter for that rebellion was Yoga Journal who took on the task of proving that yoga was not the anti-Christ. Maybe that’s why they’ve always had pictures of non-threatening people on the cover. I suppose that people who remember that are the ones that hope that the Journal will raise a banner now to show it is (metaphorically) the anti-Christ or at least anti-establishment by de-Barbifying those cover models.But maybe Yoga Journal is just giving Shape magazine yogis what they already buy in hopes to keep the magazine on the shelves. After all, if yoga has become fashionable, Yoga Journal is a fashion magazine. You have only to look at the ads to see what fashion of yoga is featured there.

How can something be the vehicle of rebellion when it has become a fashion and the fashion of the white middle class? And it’s mainly the fashion of women and women buy the magazine. Fashion sales don’t soar from representing; they soar from the promise of hope and change.

 

~Fashion

 Fa-shun

Noun: a popular trend, especially in styles of dress and ornament or manners of behavior. ~Vogue, trend, craze, rage, mania, fad, style, look, tendency, convention, custom, practice, thing

A manner of doing something ~Manner, way, method, mode, style, system, approach

Verb: To make into a particular or required form ~Fashioned construct, build, make manufacture, fabricate, tailor, cast, shape, form, mold, sculpt, forge

Does that sound like yoga?

 

The cover of Yoga Journal is the whipping boy for the content within which is a candy story of empty calories with one dusty shelf designated for Luna bars to appease the small segment of the population interested in something more sustaining. We’ve idealized the yoga image because we’ve idealized the yoga of looking and feeling good. The yoga some of us learned was not about either. It was about self awareness and self regulation. That does not require the image of anyone. Those Hindu gods are terrifying images. There is no chance we will take them for our own. They became married to the yoga culture. They manifest embodied energy. There is no spandex among them. We’ve replaced them with our own cultural icons which is a reflection of what we value. Are we embodying yoga or are we a yoga body?

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The population of exercise yogis discovers unexpected benefits when they come to yoga. If they come in because it’s fashionable, who cares? Is it because it attracts the wrong or a limited crowd? Critics say we want to show that yoga is for everybody and every body even the prevalent concern or at least the concern getting attention, is attractiveness. If the visual body is the main concern there are plenty of examples of people who are not the images at celebrity yoga events or on the cover of magazines.

 

There are average looking people everywhere who represent modern Western yoga. Lilias Folan, Judith Lasater, Beryl Bender Birch, Ana Forrest come quickly to mind; none of them idealized women but the main vision I have is Geeta Iyengar who is Indian, overweight, middle aged, dressed in men’s polo shirts and shorts that look like potato sack diapers and she limps. I won’t list more teachers and haven’t even mentioned the men, many who are more middle aged professors than personal trainers. I’m pointing to the yoga spokesmen of an older generation and a smaller population. Perhaps this population is being discounted, undervalued and overlooked in the complaint that yoga leaves out the image of regular looking people. But just by virtue of how many people do yoga now, plenty of fine role models and students are regular looking folks. Of course now that yoga is so popular we are not one regular looking group anyway. We are curvy, straight, stoned, gay, athletic, alignment, medical, spiritual, breathing, meditating, exercising, , bench pressing, chanting, hippie, corporate folks. What do we look like? Maybe part of the problem is that we are seeking our image in a reflection that is not our own.

 

~Is this a women’s issue or a yoga issue?

We’ve railed for years against the destruction of advertising that silently castigates girls for being too fat or not pretty enough by parading unattainable beauty in front of them in magazines, on billboards and television. It’s a destructive course and it would be healthier for all of us if we didn’t feel obliged to pay so much attention to outward appearances. Where outward appearance separates one from the other, beauty is and historically has been a weapon.

 

A new generation of teachers emerged from two elders. Three attractive women would create the first co-owned professional yoga studio in town. The most ambitious took the mantle of leader. I was there when she assured the others why they would pull the town’s business to their door: “They will come to us like moths to the flame”.

 

Men choose women. Men give women to other men for marriage. In this country, a pretty woman is a prize heifer. She has a shelf life. So women are insecure about their looks for good reason. Will removing good looking images change the game? I wonder.

 

If the issue for women is insecurity about looks maybe a representative of the yoga system shouldn’t be fanning the flames of insecurity. And maybe fashion magazines are not representative of the yoga system though there’s no winning in any forum if looking better is the game.

 

There’s only the insecurity of knowing that we can’t control the illusive nature of other’s opinions. Someone will always look, have a better house, car, husband; whatever. If that rattles our cages, seasickness will prevail.

 

“If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” ~ Leonard Cohen

 

I understand insecurity. One of the ways I deal with it is to try to make sense of the bigger picture. Then I choose my battles. I understand that here is a tension of self loathing that is a disease.

 

We’ve idealized the human form from the time our soul entered one. But most of us do not represent the ideal because the ideal is illusive and subjective. We’ve been told that we can get closer to something unknowable if we try and it is always out of reach: We do not feel worthy. We do not trust. We are not comfortable in our own skin. We may not even recognize that skin.

 

There is a hole in the heart; an epidemic of insecurity that encourages us to compare ourselves to others; how they look and what they have. There is a larger issue of class and capital system in our economy which burns by the fuel of desire. That machine depends on our insecurity. Every personal resistance against buying into the status quo is a rebellion. But rebellion is a lonely path when you go it alone. Then you are marginalized. I know something about that.

 

Yoga Journal’s image issue was heralded for hitting the issue of image in yoga head on but it was still the magazine of:

Eight moves to get flexible, 15 poses to wind down at night, 3 food facts, seven poses to find joy and balance, six tips for a pain free practice, the #1 way to feel more focused, six ways to glow from within, 24 natural beauty products with a nod to the readers that they need not be insecure about their looks.

 

Time to dive deeper.

*Note to the reader. I edited out the pages on women and society. I did not feel it had a place here. Or it does.

 

 

 

 

 

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