The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Focus Wrap Up: Yoga In Action October 28, 2010

To wind up our September/October class focus of “Yoga In Action,” we are expressing appreciation for noble acts of service through Pranayama and Asana.

Whether your service occurs within your family, your workplace, your community or otherwise, please take some time to breath deeply into your beautiful, generous heart center and celebrate your efforts.  Lift your heart to the sky in Chair Pose, Crescent Lunge, Cobra and Bow in gratitude for the service of others.

Whether you held the door open for your neighbor, were patient with an anxious child, rescued a pet, volunteered to teach a yoga class or fortified an at-risk population through your grant writing – I encourage you to now inhale self-appreciation, and on your exhale (ahhhhh) simply rest.

Back in September, we began our exploration of Yoga In Action by practicing self-care.  We acknowledged that self-care often includes asking to be cared for.  We drew upon the infinite resources of the earth beneath and air around us to enhance our yoga practice – and our daily well-being.  We opened our minds to the concepts of forgiveness (of self), acceptance (of self) and surrender (to other).

In October, we identified the tangibles from yoga practice that fortify our service off the mat in the form of Karma Yoga. We took the balanced calm of Pranayama, the supportive foundation of standing poses, the motivating wisdom of the Yama and Niyama and more to our challenges, our opportunities and our efforts to be there for others in Seva (selfless service).

Now it’s time to celebrate, appreciate and recognize your deep intentions over the past two months!  To close our classes, we offer gratitude to those who have been of service to us, as well.  And as we close our Bi-Monthly Yoga In Action focus, I offer gratitude to those who intend take their yoga off the mat and into the world however possible – even by simply sharing your glowing smile at the end of your yoga class!

Be gentle with yourselves, take good care, identify your resources and offer all of this to others.

I leave you with a Hebrew prayer for those who serve humanity, below.  May you continue to serve sustainably.  OM Shanti.

May the one whose spirit is with us in every righteous deed, be with all who work for the good of humanity and bear the burdens of others, and who give bread to the hungry, who clothe the naked, and take the friendless into their homes.  May the work of their hands endure, and may the seed they sow bring abundant harvest. – Mah Tovu prayers for Shabbat morning

Advertisements
 

Focus: Yoga In Action – Surrender October 20, 2010

I like the peace in the backseat, I don’t have to drive, I don’t have to speak, I can watch the country side, I can fall asleep.  I’ve been learning to drive my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In the Backseat”

A few weeks ago, I completely unplugged for five days – no phone, no internet, no meetings.  No to-do list.  Whatever came up, I did it.

I walked down the street without a phone attached to the side of my head.  I met people’s faces.  I noticed the gum on the sidewalks.  I heard children’s delight and sorrows.  I spent a lot of time in solitude.  I cleaned, I gleaned, I cooked.  I meditated, journaled, slept, cried…then meditated, journaled, slept and cried some more.  At long last – the time to genuinely take care of myself.  Haha – I’d spent all of September encouraging self-care in our yoga classes, and there I was, stuffing emotions and exhausted!

What surfaced during this “purification retreat” was a strong priority to re-cultivate trust and love.  I am, deep down, a loving and trusting person.  I admire human beings, am in awe of humanity and adore people in general.  But since this past summer’s emotional betrayal, I have struggled to feel comfortable and secure in relationships – even long-standing connections.  Despite teaching many yoga classes and showing up for commitments over recent weeks, I have found myself sinking into fear and isolation.

So I am forcing myself to reach out and reconnect.

Asking for help is not always easy.  For most of my life I was a self-reliant, “that’s OK, I can do it myself” gal. Hence the Arcade Fire quote above.  I was always in the driver’s seat, making things happen.  Never in the back seat, enjoying the ride. Only over the past 8 years or so have I been able to comfortably surrender to being helped by others…to letting someone else drive.

I must actively surrender to feeling vulnerable, taking risks and accepting others’ care.  I am lucky and grateful to be part of spiritual fellowships and social groups that encourage honesty and outreach.  In addition, I can practice being cared for through specific yoga exercises, such as borrowing support and energy from the elements of earth and air.

During the last weeks of September, our classes explored just that.  First we grounded into earth energy.  Figuratively inhaling through our feet to the crown of our heads, then exhaling back down through the soles, we rooted ourselves into the infinite stability, balance and foundation of the ground beneath us.  Aside from our typical, Integral Yoga influenced set, we added standing and balancing poses such as Triangle Pose, Warrior 2 and Warrior 3 to truly reinforce the earth’s strong and ever-present support.

Next we drew upon the infinite air around us by oxygenating deeply. We energized our classic IY set by inserting Pranayama practices throughout.  For example, during our Sun Salutations, we started with the rapid, naval-pumping Kapaalabhaati breath in Mountain Pose, then flowed through the 1st half of our movements with deep, three-part Deergha Swaasam breathing; in Cobra, we paused for more Kapaalabhaati; then we completed the 2nd half of the flow with Deergha Swaasam.  We also turned up the heat in our floor poses by adding Kapaalabhaati to Downward Facing Boat and Upward Boat.

For me, being fortified by these natural resources represents being cared for by something or someone outside of ourselves.  I surrender to being helped – and generously, that support is there for me.

If all other yoga intentions fail, the one practice that always comes through for me is surrendering control with every exhale during Poschimotanaasana.  There is something about incorporating mindful Deergha Swaasam during this seated forward fold that proves profoundly effective every time.  Each inhale is an opportunity to infuse myself with a positive intention.  With every exhale, I let go physically and emotionally, curling inward in the upper body and sinking inward with my mind.  Using long, thoroughly emptying exhales, I symbolically surrender obstacles and dissolve distractions.

If I learned anything from my own classes in September, it’s that sometimes self-care means allowing something or someone else to care for me.  If I truly yearn to take my yoga into action and bring my healthiest and strongest self off the mat and into the world, I have to get out of the driver’s seat.

Turning it over and surrendering control might be the only way to rebuild trust and love.

OM Shanti.

P.S.  BTW, during my “retreat,” I also went to the Nationals’ final three home games.  If you’re wondering what baseball has to do with Yoga In Action…well first of all, because I love baseball so much, these three nights were acts of self-care!  Most importantly – I think I reached some kind of Samadhi when I witnessed the Phillies clinch the National League East title on the 2nd night!  I’ve only seen that happen on TV, and it was thrilling!  I was completely blown away by the energy and although a true Nats fan, I felt a one-ness with the 1,000’s of Phillies followers there.  Awesome!

 

Focus: Why Yoga? – Giving Back August 24, 2010

“When we are in pain, we become self-centered and myopic.  When we heal, we become more empathetic, self-less, and sympathetic to the pain and welfare of others.  It is our gift to others to heal ourselves.”  – Max Strom, writer and yoga instructor

The Bi-Monthly Focus in our yoga classes has been “WHY YOGA?” We spent July and August pondering why we come to the mat.  Since July was my birthday month, I reflected about how yoga has carried me through so many life challenges and celebrations since starting my practice in 1993.  And these days, how it allows me to give back to the world that has supported me along the way.

So tell me…why do you practice yoga?

Max’s quote (above) definitely describes my story – nearly two decades ago, pain brought me to yoga; and today, healing allows me to be of service to others.

At the same time, I don’t believe that pain is the only path that can lead a yogi toward a deeply generous practice.  In fact, I hope and pray that healthy and happy people flock to yoga for their own personal reasons.  And I believe that these fortunate people can be of great service when they bring their yoga off their mats and into their worlds.

Because no matter what brought us to yoga in the first place, or, what brings us to return over and over – if we are indeed practicing yoga’s Eight Limbs, and healing ourselves for the sake of reaching Samadhi (what I would describe as a oneness with all), we will inevitably be of service to those around us, in small and great ways.

For example, practicing any of the Yama or Niyama can make us so conscientious that we become more aware of the human condition.  Practicing Pranayama can make our immune system so strong that we are able to show up for work through the flu season.  Practicing Dharana can make us so calm that we end up practicing Ahimsa in the gnarliest of traffic!

What propels me to practice the Eight Limbs of yoga?  Personally, if I’m only practicing some of those limbs, my motives will be self-centered.  That’s just me.  Some people can just practice Asana and find it in their hearts to think of others.  Me?  If I’m just practicing Asana, I’m only thinking about what’s in it for me – my strong arms, my perfect alignment, my awesome balance.

The other day in Caroline Weaver’s Strong Hold Level 2 class, I felt like a million bucks.  Typically, I feel very physically challenged.  The difference?  Caroline asked us to set an intention for our practice.  I silently repeated my usual pre-class prayer, “I dedicate this class to you, my teacher, and to all of my teachers.”  Then Caroline up-ed the ante – she asked us to deepen our intention until something was at stake, basically.  Immediately I heard myself say,  “This is not for me, this is for You, this is for all.” I swear, this was the first thing that popped into my mind; and I repeated it through the entire set.  Despite the fact that Level 2 poses typically kick my butt, I had an easeful practice, full of light, smiles and even giggles at times.  I was propelled by the thought of helping others.

Above all, my motive must be gratitude. Gratitude for all that yoga has given me.  For this I feel a responsibility to share those gifts with others.

Call it Seva, call it Karma Yoga, call Yoga/Spiritual/Conscious Activism, or simply call it Giving Back.

So, for this final week of “WHY YOGA?” – our July/August Bi-Monthly Focus – we are exploring the evolution from self-centered motivations toward other-centric reasons.  How can we be of service by keeping ourselves well through and using the tools of yoga?  This will segue into our September/October Focus of “Yoga In Action” – a campaign that I’m leading for Off The Mat Into The World (www.offthematintotheworld.org) here in DC.  More later…

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.