Monday, April 26, 2010

Clutter Cutting

Sometimes I think we yoga enthusiasts get lost in all our gentle terminology; words like cultivate, allow, engage, effortless. There’s nothing wrong with the words. They’re great words. Any one of them (and dozens more like them), can be the cue that changes how we experience a pose, a breath or a concept.

It’s when the words blend into blah, blah, blah patois that “gentle” can fade to anemic. Yoga Muzak may be more pleasant to listen to than elevator Muzak, but it’s still background noise.

What if you took a yoga class and on that day there was a posture that just wasn’t happening for you. And your teacher, instead of putting on a pair of white gloves and making a tasteful suggestion, took one look at you and said, “Dude. That is so not even close.”

You know I’m kidding, but every now and then it might be refreshing to let some breeze blow through what can sometimes feel like a rarified atmosphere. In the olden days, when I was in the advertising profession, we talked about “cutting the clutter.” If yoga is a method, a technology, for cutting through the clutter in our lives to find the hidden bit of “real” we know is there, doesn’t it make sense to keep our language clean, direct and sometimes startling?

Which brings me to a story about one of my yoga school buddies. (You know who you are, you of the cute new dress in Todos Santos who wishes she hadn’t eaten the fish from the street stall.) One afternoon, she was teaching our group and while I don’t remember the exact pose we were in, some of us began to get a little tired and some of us decided to exit said pose without explicit permission from our leader, who then spun around, glared at us and shouted, “You WIMPS!”

I guess it was just her way of suggesting that we allow ourselves to cultivate more energy.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Something to Declare

I have a wonderful 78-year-old friend who lives next door, next door being a quarter of a mile away. June is from Fort Vermillion in Alberta, Canada, which is north of Edmonton, which is already north of just about everywhere else in the world. She is who Meryl Streep’s character in “Out of Africa” would have become if she’d stayed in Africa instead of going back to Denmark.

For the last thirty years June has traversed Crooked Island’s backroads, first by scooter, later by van, taking food and a listening ear to folks from Cripple Hill to True Blue. She knows everyone. Everyone knows her. She is much beloved.

But even though June specializes in selflessness, I guess you don’t grow up in Fort Vermillion without learning how to take care of yourself, too. So every now and then she announces it’s a National Holiday.

National Holidays can be declared for any number of reasons, or no reason. On National Holidays you don’t owe anyone (including yourself) an explanation for anything. The day is yours.

There’s a world of difference between thinking or saying “I’m stressed, I’m sad, I need a break, and hot dog, it’s a National Holiday.” One feels like defeat, the other, celebration.

We all work really, really hard at being good at everything we do in life. On a National Holiday, deserving Third Island friends, you will be held accountable for one thing and one thing only: the quality and longevity of your savasana.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Gated Community

Some people meet through their spouses. Some through their kids. Two decades ago my friend Carla and I met through our horses. We had the same trainer, and though we usually took lessons on different days, we (and our horses) spent years together jumping fences in arenas and on desert mesas, walking mountain trails, galloping across fields. There are some experiences in my life I would trade, but not those.

Many of the other riders in our hunter-jumper barn were teenaged girls with fancy, expensive horses. Typically, they’d arrive before a scheduled lesson, groom and tack up their mounts, walk to the arena, warm-up, jump whatever was set up for them, cool-down, dismount, walk back to the barn, etc.

Week after week, they repeated the process. Most got really good at jumping fences in a gated arena and won many ribbons at horse shows. Carla and I won ribbons, too (well, mostly she did), but much of the joy I found riding came from the out-of-arena experiences we had.

The other day someone told me about a friend who’d said she couldn’t do yoga for a couple of weeks. Why? Because she was on her way to visit a relative in a town that didn’t have a studio dedicated to the particular style she practiced.

That's when I started thinking about horses, jumping, arenas and this bit of wisdom from Rumi:

“...there are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

In other words, open the gate.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Will U B Mine

You’ve probably read about this phenomenon: sometimes when people get heart transplants, in addition to inheriting a healthier cardiac muscle, they inherit memories, cravings, predispositions.

A 47-year-old man received a heart from a teenaged girl who’d had an eating disorder. He began to feel nauseated after eating and developed a tendency to giggle. When an eight-year-old girl received the heart of a 10-year-old girl who’d been murdered, the recipient developed nightmares that eventually led to her donor’s killer.

Memory is not solely the domain of the brain. Hearts have neurons. Every cell, in fact, has memory. When a memory is loaded with emotion, it makes sense that it gets stored in the heart.

Try remembering with your heart. Here’s what it felt like for me: Heart led to Valentine’s, Valentine’s led to a memory of cards exchanged with kids in grade school (Be Mine, I Luv U, etc). From there it was a short trip to remembering the boxes we brought to school for the cards to be deposited in.

In my school there was always a contest for the best Valentine’s box. I always won, because my dad spent days, sometimes weeks, shamelessly constructing them for me. The only one I clearly remembered was a shimmering gold and red Viking ship. But when I turned my heart loose on the memory it, just like that, unearthed a pirate’s treasure chest covered with hearts, brimming with cards.

Aye, mateys. The heart remembers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Smart Heart

When you’ve got some time and you’re in the mood for an experiment, try this: Find some music (preferably instrumental) that’s somewhere between nod-off and finger-snap. If you’ve got an IPod and can put together playlists, select enough songs to total about ten minutes. If you’re not IPod rated, find a CD that fits the above description. The music should make you happy, but not to the point of dancing.

Now roll out your mat. Find a comfortable, seated position, adjusting it at any time during the practice if you need to. Close the eyes. Release the day. Take three complete breaths with your heart instead of your lungs. On each inhale, pulse peace into all your cells. On each exhale release something you dislike about yourself. (If there’s nothing you dislike about yourself, you can substitute something you dislike about someone else. If there’s nothing you dislike about anyone else, I would like you to be my teacher.)

With the eyes still closed, lace your fingers behind your back. Roll the shoulders back and down and open the chest. Inhale into your heart and feel 5% more love for yourself than you ever have before. Exhale and feel for sensation in your heart and chest. Repeat several times, then release the hands and lace again with the opposite finger on top. Take a couple more breaths: love on the inhale, sensation on the exhale.

Place the hands comfortably in your lap. Let your heart capture your next thought before your mind puts its spin on it. No matter what the thought, use your heart to feel, rather than think, your reaction to it. Take the feeling, dip it in compassion and sprinkle clarity on top.

Slowly open your eyes. Feel free to dance.

Friday, April 9, 2010

DNA You Say?

Being a right-brained kind of person, I don’t have much occasion to stand next to the cutting edge of scientific thought. So while the results of the following experiments (first conducted fifteen years ago), have had lots of time to disseminate, they’re news to me.

HeartMath, a non-profit research organization, decided to explore and measure the effects of emotion on physical health. First, maybe after a morning cup of tea, they identified and documented an electromagnetic field of energy that not only surrounded, but extended way beyond the heart. (We’re talking five to eight feet in diameter here - imagine yourself in the middle of an invisible net large enough to catch a juvenile pterodactyl). Then, with the hypothesis that emotion originates from the heart, not the brain, they decided to see if the energy field had anything to do with conducting emotions generated by the heart to other parts of the body.

They trained people in a super-charged form of feeling called “coherent emotion.” Coherent emotion is developed by purposefully shifting focus from the brain to the heart. It is intuitive, positive, powerful and takes time to learn. Once their team was able to emote some high-voltage unconditional love they turned them loose on beakers containing human DNA samples. And then they measured the physical effects of conscious loving intention.

The next time you think (wait, don’t think, feel) your heart-centered feelings have only nominal effect, consider this: HeartMath’s DNA samples were both visually and chemically altered after receiving a dose of positive coherent emotion. DNA molecules actually wound or unwound depending on the intent focused on them.

How can we mere mortals access “coherent emotion”?

By developing an intelligent heart.

(To be continued).

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sweet Spot

To: Aeron, Barb, Beulah, Carla, Carolyn, Christel, Cindy, Clancy, Eric, Fritz, Hanne, Jean-Marie, Jeff, Joann, Julia, Kari, Mary, Melina, Nancy, Paula, Rachel, Sandy, Scott, Shirley, Sue, Hanne, Wanda, Wendy, and anyone I missed.

This winter, we centered and stretched and moved and breathed together. Some of you came to class once. Many came twice a week for several months; others several times while visiting Crooked Island.

To all of you who shared the experience of yoga nourished by the sound and rhythm of the ocean and smell of salt air, I thank you. Whenever peaceful consciousness and gentle intent is shared by a group, it brightens not only our individual interior landscape, but sweetens the space around, between and beyond us.

The world needs more of that kind of energy. We did our part, guys. Well done.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chicken Soup for the Pose

I’m always amazed at how many “Chicken Soup for the Soul” books there are out there. There’s probably even a “Chicken Soup for the Yogi” book, but I’m afraid to look. Actually, I have nothing against them (she wrote placatingly), in fact I think it’s a great idea to customize comfort and even nomenclature as per one’s hobbies, avocations or life situations. To show my support, I’ve renamed a dozen yoga poses to reflect a more tropical island-y feeling.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend): Sea Glass Collecting Pose

Virasana (Hero’s) Neptune Pose

Vrschikasana (Scorpion): Lobster Pose

Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel): Helm Pose

Krauncasana (Heron): Flamingo Pose

Natarajasana (Dancer’s): Figurehead Pose

Halasana (Plow): Upended in Hurricane Pose

Jathara Parivartanasana (Belly Turning): Heeled Over Pose

Navasana (Boat): Keel Balance Pose

Garudasana (Eagle): Osprey Pose

Deviasana (Goddess): Mermaid Pose

Pincha Mayurasana (Elbow Stand): Easier Done in Water Pose

Savansana (Corpse): Buried at Sea Pose

It’s not chicken soup, but it was fun. Look for the Mountain, River and Desert series available soon at a blog near you. And, by the way, Happy April 1st.