How do you “hug into” the center of things so that you can then open your heart? As Bridget Lyons reminded many of us last week when she visited Nourish Yoga to teach, these are two concepts that are fundamental to yoga and life. We “hug in” to our mid-line — on a physical plane, we hug our body into the center to create stability and balance. In our lives, we “hug in” around those core beliefs, values, a sense of self that we know to be true or right for us. With this firm center, this central axis, we are able to “melt our heart,” to soften in the center. Again, in yoga, this allows for a freedom and flexibility that allows us to do some new things, explore new asanas that may not have been accessible to us before. On a life level, “melting our heart” opens us to new ways of thinking and being that may be what we need in our lives at this moment. Sometimes, these two actions of “hugging in” and “melting” seem at odds with one another, but they actually complement and support each other — they are somewhat like dance partners in this life journey we take. This little Buddah image is from my friend Suzanne at Living in the Garden. It strikes me as a moment of hugging in around that which is beautiful and precious, so that we can offer our hearts to that which matters. Here’s to seeking out those moments!
It is said that in the early practice of yoga, a prospective yoga student would appear at the home of his (and yes, back then, it was a “he”) yoga teacher with two sticks of firewood in hand. The teacher would then meet the student and put him (yes, the students were also male) through a rigorous round of questioning and character assessment to see if the student had sufficient “adhikara,” preparedness or qualification, to take the demanding seat of the yoga student. Only when the prospective student had met with the teacher’s satisfaction would the teacher then ceremonially accept the two sticks of firewood, which were symbolic of the burning of the impurities of body, mind, spirit, and ultimately of ego, that would take place in the agni, the fire of the yogic path, they would explore together.
Today, the process of “adhikara” or assuming the seat of the student often looks much different. In the West, we practice yoga for a variety of reasons, and while we sometimes approach our practice with the zeal of the ancient student seeking out the teacher, sometimes it is all we can do to get everything in place to attend a class. And yet, one thing that has not changed is that yoga is a practice that demands discipline and energy from us. The Sanskrit word tapas describes this kind of firey energy and it is considered to be one of the essential components of yoga. It is reminiscent of the fire logs brought to the agni or yogic fire, symbolic of our intent, each time we practice, to bring the best of our energy for that day and moment, into our practice. We work with this firey energy to “burn away” the dross – whether it’s the sluggishness of winter, an illness, something we want to let go of, exhaustion, an emotion from the day, a deeply held attitude or fear . . . Each time we come to class, we are invited to come just as we are, leaving nothing out, and in our fullness, to take the seat of the student. From this place, we find our tapas energy for that particular practice, ready to burn away what is not helpful or necessary, letting go of that which stops us from living in a way that is less than thriving. What energy offering do you bring this week?
Okay, so I was out at the Zakarison Farm last night. For those of you who don’t know, my family has a beautiful, partially organic farm here on the Palouse, where my brother and sister-in-law do magic raising chickens, goats, lambs, mules, llamas (no camels, alas!), crops, and a bunch of stuff. The farm is definitely a part of my yoga. But more on that later. The reason I bring this up now is that my wonderful nephew, Aaron, was back for a brief, birthday visit, and so we were having a fantastic dinner for him. In addition to eating fantastic food (thank you, Sheryl), we basically just laughed and laughed. Aaron is an amazing guy – incredibly thoughtful, and very funny. I was once again reminded of just how good it feels to spend a night, laughing.
Sadly enough, for many of us, being an adult is no laughing matter. We often lose our ability to laugh as we grow up. I read a study recently that said that children laugh 300-400 times a day. By the time we get to be adults, that number drops to 15 -20 times a day. American adults laugh less than adults from some other countries.
Here’s some of the science behind laughter (for those of you that need that sort of thing). Laughter, even if it’s forced laughter, is good medicine for your body – increased dopamine and endorphins raise our pain threshold and reduce pain, a trigger in relaxation, an increase in our overall sense of well-being, reduction in stress hormones and measured depression. People who engage in periods of forced or naturally evoked laughter say they feel happier and report feeling more creative, with an increased enjoyment of social interactions.
Another one of the things I love about my nephew, Aaron. He and his long time buddy, Tim, have always been able to have a good belly laugh at those really bad jokes you find on Rocket pops – you know, the red, white, and blue popsicles? I’ve always thought that, if we are able to be “self-entertaining units,” we will live wonderful lives, no matter how long our lives may be.
Look for more posts to make you laugh this week, and perhaps a few profound sayings about laughter . . . In the meantime, here’s to finding some Hasya in your yoga this week. Don’t take it too seriously – embody the light of spring!
Do you remember these days? If you were lucky, maybe it was yesterday, or this morning — when you could just get together with a dear one and laugh and laugh, sometimes about nothing at all. There are times when I’ve been teaching yoga when it’s happened to 2 people on adjacent yoga mats. One of them starts giggling, and it’s just like second grade again. I attempt to play the part of the “stern” teacher, just to keep the whole thing going — that kind of laughter needs the counter part of the teacher — but I actually delight in it, because, when the laughter is genuinely from the heart, that’s the whole body joy that yoga is all about. And sharing it is the stuff for which we are made! I love a yoga class that has some laughter in it. Somehow, it rounds out the beauty of it for me.
My friend Michael, who is by day a husband, dad, teacher, and a bunch of other things, but also a philosophizer and (I would say) yogi, recently wrote: “When you make someone laugh, it’s a double gift . . . One for me, one for you.” Share the joy!
Before we go any further, I really believe in the essential goodness of giraffes! This image is from a great UK website that posts funny exam answers. This week, we’ll be exploring lightening up our minds/bodies/spirits with Hasya yoga, or the yoga of “laughter wisdom.” Yoga is powerful stuff — no denying it — but it also really helps to sometimes bring in a good laugh. So stay posted (in fact, come back for more good posts!). And bring some laughs. It’s all yoga, after all.
Now imagine being asked this four times a week by a rather intense East Indian gentleman/ yogi, who expected an answer. I was telling one of my yoga classes that my first yoga teacher liked to start us off in this manner. Being a graduate student at the time, it was easy to fall into a passive sense of “I’m here because I’m supposed to be . . .” which did not fly at all with my teacher (this just got intense breathing and a fierce stare). “But why are you HERE? I mean really HERE?” He would ask. I was never sure if he meant in class, in divinity school, or on the planet. I don’t think he was really quite sure, either . . . Or that the answer was any different, in Ravi’s mind.
The Sanskrit word is “samkalpa” a resolution or intention formed through an informed conversation between the body, mind, and heart, and we were expected to have one for most things in life, including yoga class.The yogic value of samkalpa begins with awareness, and as much acceptance as we are able to embrace, of where we are. It is not unmindful of our current condition, in fact, it dwells in the “is-ness” of our body, mind, and spirit, and suggests that this is the beautiful path that we will have the joy of journeying on our way to our intention. And it is, all, indeed, considered beautiful. We step onto the mat, we set our intention, and we trust that we’ve got exactly what we need for that moment to go where we need to go. That’s the journey of samkalpa. So happy to share it with you!
It’s been that kind of a week. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know some of you a little bit better, you know me a bit more. Some of you have had some pretty intense journeys this week involving illness, injury, death, loss, and change. Others are anticipating partners coming to visit, taking a much needed break, finding some ease, coming back to yourself. Together, we create a kula, a community ready to help one another and celebrate, as the moment invites us. There are some weeks when I’m very much in touch with what an honor it is to teach, to get to know you, to have our lives intertwine . . . this is one of them. Namaste!
We’ve probably all seen it, even walked it – the dirt road with the well-worn grooves. The road traveled the same way by the same set of tires or pair of feet so many times that another path no longer seems possible. When the dirt road is our life and the grooves are our habits, so well-worn into our daily living that they seem inseparable from our being, they are called “samskaras” in Sanskrit. Samskara refers to all of the ways in which our mind has become habituated – positive and negative – to think in particular patterns and follow regular courses of thought, causing us to act and react in certain ways, often without thinking. Yoga practice seeks to do two things. The first is to recognize old samskara that might be limiting our lives or our growth, and to create and replace it with healthy samskara. The second is to use our asana practice to “shake it up” a bit – to carry out a practice that is not always determined by our habit, but one that helps us to clear out our mind and become less bound by “the same old, same old.” The idea is that when we are able to recognize habits within our movement and our bodies and become less bound by them, this practice, eventually, helps us to let go of the habits, ways of thinking, judgments, old stories, that keep us bound in unproductive ways in our lives.
Consider taking a new path today. See anything new?
I remember fourteen years ago today. It was a Sunday. I was enormously pregnant. I woke up on this day, ready to go in and preach (some of you know that I am a minister), when I felt it – those familiar pulsations that signal birth. It started off as an easy rhythm, I could breathe into it, and, being the conscientious Norwegian-type that I am, I figured I would just go to church, keep the sermon brief and to the point, and then head for the hospital. I roamed around the house, the labor pains becoming progressively more intense, stopping now and then to do a bit of yoga, saying to myself “Yeah, I think I’m going to be okay . . .” Meanwhile, my sensible engineer-type husband Jonathan quietly called a back up. Later on, in his own defense, he said “Let’s face it . . . no one coming to church on a Sunday is really up for going through all of that with you. A little too much sharing.”
A day of labor leading to birth is a day of living in “spanda,” or the pulsation of the universe. One’s entire being is filled with it. You can’t get away from it. All you can do is breathe in, breathe out, be present to the waves, and know that it is the rhythm of all life. On the day of birth, you have the peculiar privilege and the challenge of having all that universal spanda concentrated time within your body. You are full to the point of over flowing with a pulse that connects you infinitely beyond yourself.
Much later (about 12 hours later), my beautiful son, Zakary Jacob Bliss (Jake), was born into this world. A beating heart became a first inhalation, which pulsed into a first cry of exhalation, then a beautiful body, a new light in our family and our world. Today I breathe out, breathe in, and celebrate! Happy birthday, my beloved boy!
A friend of mine from high school, Dee Meyer, just sent out a beautiful quote by Rumi: “Whatever you love, you are.” It reminded me of another quote, which is perhaps the flip side of this, by Tennyson: “I am a part of all that I have met.” We love, and we become that which we love, and we, in turn, become part of that which loves us back. Good, bad, or indifferent, it is not possible for us to go through our days and not leave a trace. In sanskrit, the word for this energy exchange or pulsation is “spanda.” We live within this rhythm, touching not only people, but the world around us, in ways that often go by us unrecognized. Perhaps today is the day to be intentional about what we love, how we love it, and the trace that we leave.