What “roads” do you walk, everyday, without even thinking about it? Are they beautiful and centering, or paths that no longer serve you?
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!
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.
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.)
If I can stand staunch and firm,
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!
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!
Last week, we spent some time in the wonderful world of back bends, using the concept of lila, the sanskrit word for “play.” Back bends open the heart as well as the spirit. It was an amazing week, watching people finding their ways into asanas like urdhva dhanurasana, or wheel pose, who never thought they’d be there! If you’ve ever been in a yoga class doing back bends, it also makes everyone quite giddy . . . the yoga of a good laugh is great for the spirit! As a teacher, it was amazing to watch the difference between the attempt to “effort” into something, versus lightening up a bit, letting it be playful, and seeing where that playful immersion will take us. Pure joy!