Yoga is a place of refuge. Yoga can be a sanctuary for those heartbroken, stressed out, and weary from the barrage of bad news. It can be respite from the steady stream of fear-mongering and isolationist rhetoric. It is a place where, at least for awhile, we can listen to what our body is saying, have a space in which to relax, and even a space in which to entertain another point of view. We create a space in which we can loosen our grip a bit, and learn not to hold on so tightly or cling so fervently to who we think we are. It is a space where we can allow empathy to flow freely with one another and within ourselves. It is a space to explore a deeper connection and even a type of intimacy with our fellow human animals, non-human animals, and the planet as a whole.Read More
In the ever-changing process of living in our body environment and the environment in general, do we have to have the capacity to change, to adapt, and to flow with the current of life? In other words, is the idea of alignment ever separate from context? Are we aligning ourselves within these various contexts (and within ourselves) in a functional, healthy, and sustainable manner? Since context (like our own body) is dynamic and always changing, we too must find our own dynamic alignment within this flux and change. We too must be adaptable and malleable in order to be aligned with and tuned into both the inner and outer contexts in which we find ourselves.
The dynamic alignment of our body, heart, mind, and breath into a harmonious whole in any given moment, or in any given yoga pose, will be a unique manifestation of this dynamic inner harmony. When we are aligned in this way might experience something like a sense of embodied music, or embodied poetry, or an inner dance. Our embodied expression (like a good metaphor) holds so much more than words can ever convey.Read More
The way she turned her head, turned her head sideways into the light as we walked on the beach that day—perfectly evocative of the poet David Whyte's phrase, "turn sideways into the light"—tugged just so on the sides of my own heart. She turned toward the light, over and over, even as we drove away. It was her turning, her sheer looking that caught my eye and mind as it seemed to have a longing in it (or so it seemed to me). Or maybe it was just deep appreciation. At this time in her life, I think she needs to see that beauty, to remind herself that it exists, that she exists, and to take it all in. But isn't that true for all of us? That we can soak up and nurture ourselves with nature’s dappled beauty like the essential nutrient that it is. And she does this knowing, I think, that this moment's light is what it is—a passing thing, an ephemeral thing, like the wispy clouds that she remarked on again and again as we walked along the cool damp surface of sand.Read More
In the course of our brief life most of us will experience the mystery of love, the pain of loss, and myriads of other things, both beautiful and terrible. We will experience these things as individuals and as a collective. Knowing that we have each other in which to share these experiences—and that we are all in a somewhat similar predicament—is more than comforting. It is an amazing opportunity not only for connection, but also for communion.
Having a teacher, ideally a wise teacher, or teachers, and the practices they impart, can be extremely helpful as we navigate these turbulent and unpredictable waters of life. And yet our situations and waters (though similar) are also unique. And each one of us must find our own way to swim in the waters of our life with what we have and as the person we are.
So I go back to the question, "what does it mean to be in a Guru based system?" It still makes me pause. And reflect. And confess.
"I sing the body electric," wrote Walt Whitman. Yes, I feel that. Our bodies are spaces that sing.
Your body is a space that knows. My body is a space that knows. It knows this little life to be an in-breath and an out-breath, a mere breeze brushing a blade of grass. It is falling like drops of rain, and evaporating even as I write this.
My body is a space that can choose to breathe deeply with the wind, and cry freely with the rain. It can sing with the birds and dance the electric current that Whitman described. Because my body is a space that lives. And my body is a space that dies.
My body is a space that sees, and it is a space that sings. I choose to sing for the sake of singing, to dance for the sake of dancing, and to live as freely as is possible with my whole body, just as it is. I choose this freedom.
Traveling (and practicing yoga) in new places is often about having new and fresh experiences. It is about getting lost in unfamiliar, unknown and even uncertain territory. Fear might be present, but so is presence. Getting lost can happen when we are so totally absorbed that we lose ourselves, or the self we thought we were, somewhere along the way. This is a hidden blessing. Sometimes we are alone, and sometimes we are with other people. Most of my forays into getting lost have been when I am alone. I like to practice alone for this very reason. I also like to travel alone. Yet getting lost with another person can be especially intriguing. Who are we when we lose ourselves together?Read More
What is light? Can you hear it? Is it who you are? Sometimes I feel so innately connected with light that I can barely discern between my material or more tangible aspects and this force of electromagnetism. In a beautiful poem called "On Turning Ten," poet Billy Collins writes:
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me, I would shine.
Having just spent a week in Gothenburg, Sweden, I feel that indeed we are inseparable from light. We are this electromagnetic force that we see as light, that we feel on and under the skin of our body.
The body doesn’t lie. Nor does the breath. Not if we look carefully and listen closely. Matters funny, beautiful, wild, deep, powerful, and often fragile are revealed when we approach the practice as if we were listening to "a language against which we have no defenses." The language of poetry is such a language. So is the language of music, and dance, and any mysterious language of artistic expression.
Let's look more closely at poetry. A good poem, or even a good line of poetry, can very swiftly and deftly pierce my heart. I have also found that both poetry and the physical practices of yoga move me in deep and personal ways that the philosophical teachings of yoga (often) do not. With good poetry (like music, or dance, and art in general) my usual defensive mechanisms are stymied and rendered ineffective.
A friend reminded me recently that the poet David Whyte expressed a similar sentiment on the NPR show “On Being” with Krista Tippett. He said that poetry is "a language against which you have no defenses." My friend said that she felt our yoga poses could be like poems. I wholeheartedly agreed! Yes! The practice of yoga is an art if we practice it as such. But what does that mean, how do we do that? What might that look or feel like? Will it be different for each of us? How might we allow our embodied presence to go ahead and speak a language against which we have no defense?Read More
I think I am drawn to travel partly because of the heightened sense of presence that I feel when doing so. Travel requires me to let go into the present, and it this that I find very striking. I like how many things, things that I thought were important, lose their constant and distracting grip on my psyche. These little things are slowly—and sometimes not so slowly—replaced with what I know in my body is truly important. And that is to stay awake in this life, to stay present, as fully present as possible. And to live as fully as possible. This is not easy. One need not travel to learn this—but this is what I am learning by traveling.Read More
When we combine different things (objects, ideas, inclinations) we begin an experiment in combinatory play. We actively engage in the realm of relationship. We play with the parts, combining them in different ways. And we get the direct perception that we are a part in a whole that is indeed greater than the sum of its parts. We are participating in what Walt Whitman called "the powerful play."
I have explored using the chair as a partner in every pose category and in just about every pose and variation I can imagine. The experiment, like all practice, is ongoing. There are many days when I don't use the chair at all in my practice. Because it isn't ultimately about the chair, or the prop, or me. It is about the process of engaging in relationship, being a part of the "powerful play" that Whitman alluded to.Read More