Thursday, January 28, 2010

Driving Lessons: Part 2

The Meditation Story (continued from last entry):

Meditation stools, if you’ve never seen or used one, are elegantly simple. Two solid sides support a slanted seat positioned just high enough off the ground for the legs to tuck under. I asked Fritz to build me one for Christmas, but later changed my mind. We were busy with company during the holidays and I was sure he wouldn’t have time to work on it.

I missed having a stool though, especially for early morning sessions. Maybe your legs are ready to fold into virasana (hero’s pose) or sukhasana (easy pose) at 6:30 am. Mine aren’t. Add predawn body aches to a mind already buzzing with thoughts, stories and commentary and I’ve soon embarked on a meditation that feels more like a beehive than peaceful emptiness. (Meditation guideline #1: Get comfortable).

It's worth the preparation. Time spent meditating is time spent releasing the need to know where you're going, of what life will look like in five minutes, tomorrow, next year. It shoos your mind out of the way (go play somewhere else, Mommy’s busy) until you can rest in the quiet space between what you think, and what is.

Luckily, even though Fritz was busy, Santa had some spare time. On Christmas morning the stool was there under the casuarina pine tree (think Charlie Brown). Its blonde wood was streaked with highlights and flecked with wispy threads of darker pigment, like lace.

And so the salvaged plank of lacewood had come full circle. Part of it was used to repair a rudder: necessary for traveling in a particular direction. The rest was used to support meditation: allowing oneself to be present, directionless and exquisitely whole.

Now that’s what I call balance.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Driving Lessons

Rudder: An aid used for steering.

Meditation: An aid used to release the need to steer.

The Rudder Story:

Shortly after we got to Crooked Island this year, Fritz (my husband, for those of you who don’t know him) was visiting a nearby neighbor when a bearded stranger approached and announced, “I’ve been shipwrecked. Can you help me?”

It may sound startling, but around here it’s the kind of thing that happens fairly often. This particular sailor had started his mishap-filled voyage along the coast of Texas. Several weeks and near-catastrophes later, he fell asleep at the helm while sailing at night through the Crooked Island Passage and washed over a breaking reef.

Next time he opened his eyes, the sun shone, a light breeze ruffled the sails and his boat was hard and fast on the beach. Voyage over. He left whatever could be salvaged to first-comers and was on the next flight off the island, relieved to have escaped the ordeal still inhaling O₂, not H₂O.

It is particularly satisfying to rescue usable marine detritus, especially on an island where it’s 450 watery miles to the nearest West Marine or Home Depot. We scavengers wasted no time; in a couple of days the loot would be in the water or buried under sand.

On one visit to the wreck Fritz recovered a 3’ by 10” piece of what he thought could be lacewood, an exotic hardwood. Soon after he found the boat’s rudder, which clearly had been broken and repaired. (That sailor must have left his luck in Texas). A small piece cut from the lacewood plank had been used to fashion a working steering mechanism.

The plank came home, along with the mast, the boom and a collection of odds and ends that only people on out-islands find thrilling. Most of the salvage was stored in the garage for future use, but even though the lacewood lay propped against a wall, its transformation had already begun.

Next: The Meditation Story.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Three Breaths

Saturday, January 23rd, is Yoga Day USA. Studios all across the country are offering free introductory classes to encourage people who are interested, curious, or both to give yoga a try.

Even if you’re an experienced yoga practitioner, it’s a great opportunity to celebrate what you love about the practice. (In addition to the clothes and Savasana). However, some Third Islanders are outside the U.S. right now. Also, some are on wintery islands with a limited ferry schedule, others on a warmer island with no ferry schedule whatsoever. So it may be tough to get to class (unless you’re teaching it). But that doesn’t mean we can’t virtually join hands, and for a few moments immerse ourselves in a simple exploration of stillness, presence and breath.

Three breaths, in fact.


Lift your hands from the keyboard and gently rest them on your lap, palms up.

Soften your gaze.

Uncross your legs if you need to and place the soles of your feet on a solid surface, hip-width apart.

Inhale deeply and follow the rise of the breath from belly to collar bones.

Exhale into your sitting bones and feel the chair’s support.

Inhale and effortlessly grow taller from your base to the crown of the head.

Exhale. Open to the current of life’s energy pulsing through your expanded body.

Inhale and inflate a balloon of joy into your belly.

Release it to your heart.

Exhale. Invite a smile to play at the corners of your mouth.

(Repeat often).

Happy Yoga Day.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Rockslide Ahead

There are easier places to learn how to mountain bike than the ski area at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Then again, lessons learned while hurtling down what in the winter months could be a black diamond slope, tend to stick. Some insights, like how to wrap an Ace bandage for optimum ankle support after an (unscheduled) flying dismount, I’m happy to have gotten a little rusty on. Others, like how avoid large, immobile objects like trees, rocks and lift towers, I apply every day. Because, no surprise, it turns out this tip is handy for obstacles both physical and non.

Simply: Don’t stare at what you want to avoid.

As a novice off-road cyclist, I’d lock onto whatever obstacle was growing (alarmingly) larger in my path. And steer right into it. Lucky for me (and my limbs) a more experienced companion had some sage advice: Rather than looking at the obstacle in your path, focus on a way around it.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. Obstacles can feel magnetic, sucking energy and optimism even while we resist the pull. And it’s not like the path around is always well lit and lined with pine needles. Finding it can be tricky but, in the end, there’s almost always another way to get down (or up, for that matter) a hill.

The peskiest rock in my path is expectation. If you’re like me, it’s a hard one to ignore, but I’ve been practicing releasing expectations about how my life should look. I’m feeling pretty confident. So I’ll just hop on my bike and start pedaling. Picking up some speed now...what a beautiful ride! Wait a minute, is that something up ahead? Hold on, I think there’s something in my wa

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Eight Limbs, Ten Principles, One Earthquake

Crooked Island is two hundred miles and worlds away from Haiti. We were in the tsunami warning zone and released from danger before we even knew there had been an earthquake. Now two days later, only one of the several Haitian men who work here as gardeners and handymen has been able to confirm the well-being of his family.

It may be because this tragedy is of such colossal proportions. It may be because it struck relatively close to home. But all day I’ve felt the need to define, or find a way to form, a response.

Here goes:

The tree of yoga has many limbs, eight in fact, as described by Pantanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Most of us Westerners stay perched on the asana (postures) branch, from time to time glancing up through the leaves at pranayama (breath practice that enhances the flow of life force), and dharana (developing inner awareness).

But it’s the first limb, the yamas, I’m reaching out to today. Yamas have to do with how we use our energy in relationship to ourselves and to others. Ahimsa, the first of ten yamas, or living principles, directs us toward of a life of compassion for all living things.

Compassion. Energy. Most of us can’t be onsite in Haiti to help, to heal, to rebuild. But we can dedicate our practices and send our compassionate energy to the earthquake victims.

Even worlds away, intention makes a difference.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What Does Your Body Want?

Yesterday my friend Wanda asked me how I decide what poses to include each day when I practice yoga. I told her I usually pick a theme: backbends or forward bends, core, balance poses, arm balances, inversions, twists... With a theme in mind, it’s easier to select warm-up exercises that will loosen the part(s) of the body most involved in the practice. I can also adapt sun salutations to preview poses that will get deeper emphasis later in the session.

This is all true, but what I neglected to say is that often it doesn’t turn out that way. Sometimes, I’ve got a killer (good kind of killer) sequence in mind for, say, hip openers. I sit on the mat, close my eyes, get quiet. And something entirely different begins to happen.

Mind: Mmmm. Hip openers, my favorite. Here we go.

Body: Not so sure about that today.

Mind: Huh?

Body: Feeling kind of low-energy. How about backbends?

Mind: But—

Body: Trust me. Backbends.

Mind: But I—

Body: Shhhh. Don’t think, breathe.

Mind: Okay. Fine. Then what?

Body: Follow my lead.

Spirit: Bingo. Let the yoga begin.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Perhaps not ideal, but...

Perfect. Your yoga practice. Your life. Right now.

Inspired by a comment made by my teacher during training this past fall, this became the mantra of our Crooked Island yoga sessions during the recent holidays.

Heels don't reach the mat today in downward dog? Not to worry. Your pose is perfect. Perhaps not ideal, but perfect.

Your New Year’s weight loss resolution already headed south?

Wave goodbye. Release it. Smile. Welcome it back when you’re ready.

In this moment, you are perfect.

For fun, try on perfect as your normal state of being, your status quo. Look around and instead of compiling a list of what’s wrong in your field of vision (including your mirror), attach to it a different label: perfect. Give a nod to ideal; it can inspire and motivate us, but beware the comparison trap. Perfect is presence. Ideal pits presence against “could be” or “should be”. Strive for ideal and risk losing the moment, this moment, in which you are (all together now) perfect.

I roll out my mat for this afternoon’s yin practice. A line of ants marches purposefully across the living room floor. Dog hair has collected underneath the couch in pillow-stuffing amounts. My right knee wants to debate the first pose.

Inhale. Exhale. Perfect.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Third Island?

Washington Island, Wisconsin: that's one.

Crooked Island, Bahamas: that's two.

The third (eye)land? Think of it as the view between.

Traditional Indian yogis identified seven main chakras (powerful energy centers) in the body, vertically ascending from the spine’s base to the crown of the head. Your yoga practice recharges and balances these centers, unplugging stuck energy and enhancing the flow of prana: life force.

The third eye is the sixth chakra. Balance this chakra and expect to see more clearly, dream better, get a handle on your life’s big picture.

This blog is inspired by my experiences as a yoga teacher, student and practitioner on Washington Island, Crooked Island and in studios, living rooms and on beaches between. Each week or so I’ll write about yoga/life/health issues as they come up in teaching and practicing. Along the way I hope you’ll ask questions or make comments of your own that I or someone in the group can respond to. Much as yoga unites body, mind and spirit, I hope Third Island Yoga will link and enrich our experiences of yoga wherever we are.

So, to get started, place your index finger on your third eye - the point right between your eyebrows. Close your eyes for a couple of breaths and imagine this point glowing with indigo colored light. Open slowly to a view of Third Island. This is the land of intuition, invention, possibility. The land where anything can happen.


Mari Anderson