Ever have one of those days (or weeks, or months . . . ) those times when it all seems a bit broken beyond repair, or at least breaking up? I was in full tilt of that feeling, when I walked out our door and found this askew angel, wings broken off, after a mighty wind (we have them a lot around here). Later, I was reading the insightful blog of Bridget Lyons, an Anusara yoga teacher in Driggs Idaho, who spoke of the Hindu goddess, Akhilandeshwairi. Her name, translated from the Sanskrit, literally means “the goddess who is never not broken.” Turns out that she rides around on a crocodile, a creature who kills its prey, not by merely clamping down with its mighty jaw, but by thrashing it around until it becomes dizzy to the point of senselessness (and then pulling into the water to drown). Apparently, Akhilandeshwairi is a gal who knows how to ride the tides and storms of life. Her place is one of reminding us that, many times, in some part of our lives or world, that’s the way it is, and the only way through it is . . . well, through it. As Bridget writes: “Akhilandeshwari’s reality is one of fragmentation. She is like a prism, taking in white light and breaking it up into the beautiful color spectrum. In doing so, she creates more beauty – out of the brokenness. We are like Akhilandeshwari, and the ways in which we fragment are unique to each one of us. Our fissures make us who we are.” Sometimes, we need to look a little deeper, to find the beauty that bursts out of those broken places.
“Spanda,” is the idea of all things existing in a rhythmic state of expansion and contracting, of pulsating energy. We live with this pulsation constantly — from our first inhalation and cry of exhalation at birth, to the final inhalation and exhalation at death. We are able to work with the flow of this as we hug our energy inward and expand it outward. And, let’s face it, the sanskrit word “spanda” sounds a lot like “spandex,” which both expands and hugs, all at the same time 🙂 Come to class and join invite the flow of spanda into your practice!
In yoga and Nia, we’ve been focusing on the core — that grounded center of the body, source of our sense of personal power and firey energy — and how that translates into the ways in which we claim and exercise our power in the world. A hero claims personal power and then uses it with great wisdom and courage. We (perhaps especially women) sometimes have an uneasy relationship with personal power. We are quick to give it away, and uncomfortable claiming it as our own.
Claiming our center, our core, our power, isn’t easy. I’m reminded of someone who came up to me after class, face glowing, and said “Wow . . . how did you get me to do that?” I responded by saying “YOU did it . . . all I did was provide the safe container, and the community around you provided the energy that helped give you the courage to go for it!”
On of my yoga teachers, Tiffany Wood, who has been in Moscow at Nourish Yoga teaching this week, spoke last night during class of the “Guru principle.” My take away from that class is that the guru isn’t a person, but rather that which opens your heart to its full potential. It is anything that teaches your entire being, even for a moment, how to sing. The guru connects the heart and the center — the true self and the source of power — and thus mentors the hero. As Tiffany said, your guru might be a blue yoga block, which when hugged tightly to your body, teaches it to open in a new way.
The guru and the hero are both, ultimately, inside of us, inviting us to know ourselves as we are, nudging us toward who we are becoming. Thanks to my teachers and to my students for being gurus and heroes this week.
So here’s the deal (this just in via CNN). Russian scientists have recently cultivated this beautiful plant from seeds that were deposited in a squirrel burrow over 30,000 years ago [imagine the squirrel from Ice Age here]. Thanks to the permafrost that encased the soil, they were preserved, and scientists were able to extract them. They took “placenta tissue” from the immature seeds, grew that tissue into “mature seeds,” and then planted those seeds in rich soil. The result? These gorgeous, pre-historic flowers.
In both Buddhist and yogic tradition, there is much conversation about “bija,” or seeds. “Bija” are described as those habits, actions, and thought patterns that become habitual. They are said to leave impressions that guide our behavior, not necessarily in helpful ways.
All this makes this curious, spiritually-inclined yogini wonder: What type of bija am I cultivating in my lifestyle, habits, and actions right now? If someone dug up my DNA 300 centuries in the future and grew its essence, what would it look like? Can I live this moment, this life, in a manner that cultivates an inner beauty and awareness that will blossom and bear fruit? Can I find the balance of repose and action that leaves a trace of justice, a hint of something more, long after I’m dust? Knowing that our bija leaves a trace, in ways we cannot possibly foresee, far into the future, how do I mindfully journey through this day?
What have I planted, so far, on this day?
Have I sown the seeds of compassion and kindness for which I long?
Have I been too tired and preoccupied to care?
Have I stopped long enough to listen, so that something of you may be planted within me?
Do I care enough about myself to press loving hands to fertile soil, to knead the clods and open the rich secrets of the earth, so that new life can grow?
Have I loved as I would be loved?
What have I planted, so far, on this day?
And why shouldn’t we be, since it’s learning to love well is what it’s all about, isn’t it? This video is a beauty — a “loving competition” in which we see love lighting up the competitors’ MRI scans. What a great combo of neuroscience and something we can all cultivate! When you need a lift from all of the junk going on in the world, take a moment (okay, 15 of them) and watch this!
P.S. I recommend that, afterwards, you spend a few minutes thinking about love — light things up!
Both yoga and Nia give us the opportunity to strengthen our core. Focusing on our core energy brings us right into the grounded, centered part of ourselves. I like to think it brings us in touch with our authentic, inner hero. The core brings us to that place of our will, our intent. To know that we are able to hug into it and expand out of it gives us a quality of confidence and assurance in our practice that can also be a lead for us as we face the challenges of daily life.
My dear friends, Bob and Marj, are simply amazing. Among other activities, they’ve been doing yoga for a whole lot of years. Recently, Marj took a spill on some black ice and broke her ankle. She’s approaching rehab with her characteristic blend of serenity and good humor.
Here’s a beautiful poem she wrote in 1986 about a yoga pose called ardha chandrasana (see below):
(I was really thinking of the half-moon pose, whose asana name I don’t know.)
leg oak-strong, ground-planted,
arms and face reaching skyward . . .
If I can reach, supple-spined,
and hold a free leg balanced back,
a taut but pliant bridge from here to there . . .
Then my soul will quietly stretch with vibrant strength
to touch the places where it needs to be, hour by hour,
at rest amid the pulsing flow of eternal energy. – Marj Grunewald, Feb. 20, 1986
This week, my friend and teacher at Nourish Yoga Studio, Nancy Burtenshaw, has been putting us through the paces with binds. Binds are those poses you think of when you think yogis and yoginis in seemingly impossible positions — various appendages wrapped around various other body parts. Meanwhile, while in these binds, we’ve been exploring the back body, which in yoga is said to connect us to community and the more universal (front body is more our own will and individual self. In Nia, the back body is said to get us in touch with that which is unknown or less known. In every way, the practice takes us right to edge. Lots of intensity and curiosity at that point — an amazing place to “play” this week.
Kudos to a new friend for letting me borrow the “yoga dudes” image at right from his site. Reminds me to say special thanks to all of the “yoga dudes” I have the honor to teach each week . . . You guys/men know who you are, and YOU ROCK!
A fantastically fun time playing together at Nia tonight! Notice the amazing color coordination of Erin, Nancy, Gail, Sue, Kristine, and Monique! We danced, laughed, kicked, and sweated our way through — total immersion in joy. BTW, this group can make an amazing array of animal noises — which we featured during our final song, when we played our way through every yoga pose with an animal name I could think of . . . “dead bug”/”happy baby” was a particular hit. They are also capable of some amazing cow noises. It was just like being back on the Zakarison farm, north of Pullman, where I grew up! Nice job, “Women In Nia” (“WIN”)!
During yoga and Nia yesterday, we were reflecting upon the way in which, when kids play, they become totally immersed in whatever it is they are doing . . . They live fully in the moment. My friend, Patricia, just sent me this photo of a group of women on Cannon Beach celebrating the 50th birthday of one of them. A good reminder that we can play at whatever age! In a world that often distracts us, we can bring “lila,” or play into our lives by fully saying “yes” to the moment we find ourselves in . . . Another way to take yoga off the mat, or dance out of the studio, and into life!