Friday, August 18, 2017

Call for New Classes!

Bhakti Yoga can be devotional, it can be self-love, and it is building compassion for others. 



Come challenge yourself as you flow through stretches and poses while connecting to the breath. 

We are currently taking requests for additional days & morning / afternoon slots. 

You can find us near SPAC in Saratoga Springs this Saturday morning 9-10:15am in our downstairs studio at AAC Wellness: 402 Rowland Street, Ballston Spa, NY.

The Spine, Central to Our Overall Health

Yoga is amazing for the spine. The poses along the sides of this post are excellent examples of positions that draw our attention to the spine. Optimizing each pose, we breathe through the crown of the head, and lengthen the spine. 

Focusing on the breath, allowing it to come in and fill up the chest, and then fill up the belly, naturally elongates the spine and helps us realign, and lengthen. Proper spinal alignment is the key to optimal health and wellness. Our posture in our daily life can change for the better with this cultivated awareness.





Alas, we do not often think about the spine, just like we may often not think of the breath. Yet getting in touch with each of these energy and life-supporting sources, is super beneficial. Yoga helps promote spinal health, and breath, and weaving together these integral awarenesses, we sit in our center, rooted, grounded, reaching. Poses like staff pose, sphinx pose, half moon pose, extended puppy pose, child's pose etc. are helpful.

As my teacher said, if you want to call something in the body THE CORE, it would actually be the spine. The core is not the abdomen; more central and "core" to our body would be the house and channel for our entire nervous system. The spine supports our nervous system and so many of our reactions through our sensory-somatic nervous system. The nervous system, which happens to reside in the spine, dictates our reactions to stimuli in our environment. Clearing our energy through our breath, bringing more purity and awareness to our actions in life, allowing for compassion for others, nourishing our forgivenesses, the yogic tradition helps us cleanse our system and the filter through which we perceive others.

I was kayaking today and was excited to see a large turtle swimming slowly near me on the water's surface. I was curious and watched, but as my vision focused I saw what was in fact a female duck - you know, the camouflage khaki colored companion of the more colorful mallard. It struck me as I realized that the turtle I was excited to see on surface of water was totally not a turtle and I thought: How many times do we think we perceive correctly but in fact do not? The remedy lies in un-coloring our lens: Looking past ignorance, I-ness, ego, attachments, and fears. As Patanjali writes, simply observing whether are thought patterns are colored or not is extremely helpful in balancing, stabilizing, or calming the mind to see if deeper meditation will come.

Part of being human and fallible is not always perceiving things correctly. That really isn't a turtle, that thing you thought you saw. For me, I have witnessed that misperceiving the intentions of others can cause avoidable stress, cares, and worry. What can cause incorrect perception, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, are a) knowledge of self, b) ignorance, c) metaphoric thinking, d) deep sleep where the mind is lazy, and e) memories. As Paul wrote in an ancient, wisdom text, a letter to the Corinthians: "Now we see but a dim reflection in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now i know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

What then is the anecdote to this foggy lens through we presently see? I will say that the thing I can do that most helps me be patient in perceiving and have lovingkindness for myself and for others, this is my yoga practice. Yoga is the stilling of the mind, the weaving together of our strands, and thus the wholeness we can find within. Through regular practice, and embracing all limbs of yoga (not just asanas) we can work on perceiving others - and ourselves - through a softer lens, one that is clearer, purified. As humans, we should c
onsider what we do with the mind, and thus avoid the painful effects of perceiving incorrectly.

We are in this world, but we are not of this world. In other words, we can look at matter in a completely different way, and have another perspective on it all.

And the 8 limbs of yoga are:


Friday, June 16, 2017

Yoga Off the Mat: Why, Charlie Brown, Why?



"Don't take it too hard. I've done a lot of stupid things in my life too" -Charlie Brown


#iamlucy

Charlie Brown needs yoga. Lately, yoga "off the mat" seems more challenging. That might mean that there is something off-balance, emotionally speaking. We all need to check in from time to time. We all have bad news from time to time, so how do we deal with it?

Yoga, meditation, going for a drive, a walk, playing an instrument. We need a filter in this life, so that we don't get so many grounds with the coffee in our cup. What do you do to check in with your body and mind? And equally important, is it working? Lord knows everyone needs to zen out a bit more....
Maybe...





"My life has no direction, no aim, no meaning. And yet I'm happy. I can't figure it out. What am I doing right?"
-Snoopy


Stretching the sides of your body. Moving the spine in its 5 directions, increasing flexibility and balance. Bending over to reach your toes. "Good grief!" You may say. What trouble! But this is the beauty of yoga, Charlie Brown. This is the beauty of making time for you. There are a lot of reasons to stretch and do yoga. For example, 1. Life asks us to be flexible, 2. Life asks us to recover 3. If you have tightness, you can take time, relax and breathe into it - and suddenly, you're not thinking about stupid stressors 4. It just feels good. Being conscious of our physical equilibrium can help us stabilize. We have all been weak or tight on one side. And then, the laws of compensation take over, causing more damage. The strong side compensates for the weaker side: Not good. This goes for living off-balanced too. Daily life involves every aspect of our being, even parts we are ignoring or shutting off. My recent hope and revelation: Balance on the mat can help with balance off the mat.

When facing some big decisions, a deliberate increase in physical activity / time on the mat gives the grounding we need to take some steps. When I was having a discouraging moment in my PhD process, I started hiking Stone Mountain 3x/week by myself. Seeing the sunset at the top gave me the oomph I needed to re-engage my commitment, and to be happy about it rather than discouraged with where I was at. It sounds trivial, but I promise it was fundamental to my wellbeing, and my wellbeing was fundamental to doing my best work and finishing the dissertation.
Charlie Brown, you need to relax!


Being there in your body, getting in tune,
releasing tension,
working those muscles, relaxing them
reaching through the toes, the fingers, ...breathing

yoga
Santosha: contentment


Yoga helps train our mind - and our body. When I think of the fact that behind this practice lies a beautiful, long, ancient Indian tradition built by devotees, then comes: respect, awe, wisdom. This peaceful tradition makes me (and you) want to respect the tradition's tenets and discover more the ethics of yoga, the yamas and niyamas (see my previous post). They are the gateway through which we connect deeper with the tradition that supports our yoga on (and off) the mat. 


Reading sacred texts
Scanning the body too

Listen to the body. We can listen to the silence through this movement, take air and light in through our senses - especially outdoors. The mind is calmed in this pose that enables us to breathe in a different way. Reading our body can help us address and cure any psychosomatic issues that may arise (psychosomatic issues: manifestations of physical imbalance in which emotional components have a strong part [source]). We can clear our body of negative energy, and our mind too. We are not empty-headed yogis: We are clearer-minded seekers.

Just as we wish both sides of our body to be balanced, strong, and as structurally supportive as possible, we also wish our mind to find balance. I know I do. Perhaps it is in yoga that one can witness the balance that one does in fact have - if we've been practicing awhile or if we've been keeping in tune other ways (running, dancing, walking, what have you). Physically, there it is. It's easy to see when you're doing balance and strength poses  that the right side & the left side can do about the same thing, though they may feel slightly different. Does encouraging our physical balance make us feel stronger or simply be stronger in life? Perhaps so. Some of us need that - and are happy to have yoga as that oil that helps make the engine run.

meditation

Test: Hold tree pose on each side, breathing deeply for a few moments, and see how you feel after. Or sit comfortably and breathe in slowly through one nostril and slowly out through the other a few times (use finger to close the unused nostril,), and then change sides. Or: Sit and enjoy nature this summer (easy yoga). Breathe.

Yoga
Clarity may come with a little effort & a little balancing. And harmony and peace of mind-body.


I wish we could all go to bed like that, then awake: And sustain it.

And spread it like pizza dough.
We can try.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Feet, Wonderful Roots of the Body

The Pope washes the feet of Muslim refugees, a beautiful message for today's world. 

Pope Francis washes the feet of 12 young offenders
at a detention centre in Rome

Symbolically, the feet already have great meaning in the Judeo-Christian world. But do we pay attention to our feet? They can't just be the donkey of the body, can they?

If you want deeper understanding of the body during yoga, and of your body in daily everyday motions of life by extension, study the importance of the feet. How well are we appreciating all the weight that they hold up, all the balancing, all the weight they carry?

Look at your toes; wiggle them. Those two middle toes after the big toe are connected to the eyes. The little ones on the side, they are connected to the ears. This ain't no revelation I had -- it's what I read in a cool book that reprinted ancient ritual symbols of the bottoms of the feet. In one diagram, various hills and valleys of the foot were marked with a six-pointed star, a swastika (a symbol from the ancient world before Hitler abused it), a temple. In a foot reflexology diagram, we see how each part of the foot connects to an organ or part of the spine. The author of this modern compilation of ancient and new wisdom Yoga of the Subtle BodyTias Little, also gives you exercises to feel how to spread the webbing between your toes, and how to appreciate the different arches in your feet, the different sides of the heel, and how to properly stand in mountain pose, for example: by engaging the lift in the arch, by pressing into the four corners of the foot - and he tells you where those four corners are - you can engage pada bandha (click on link for more on the bandhas).

This chapter on the feet does good: It's like becoming more aware of your blessed feet as you read, wanted to give them more attention and exercise in your next yoga session. You read that your toes are like the roots of a lotus flower or a tree that sip up the water, and somewhere higher in your foot is where the stream of chi energy that you're taking in becomes like a river, then gushing to knees to be redistributed via nadis to the various organs and parts of your whole entire body. Prana everywhere. The feet are how we ground ourselves to the earth, its magnetic vibe - it's basically how we stand stable. In activating them, we activate a whole current of energy, as Little says that they, along with the hands, are antennas of energy.

Tadasana,
or samasthiti
In tadasana, or samasthiti, you can feel your sacred axial line. What a beautiful phrase and thought: there is an axial line in our body, that gives us life. "In tadasana, we stand in the sacred midline of the body. In the meditative arts, the mountain is not limited to a postural stance but suggests the embodiment of wisdom" (27).

Zen master Dogen, founder of the Soto school of Japanese Buddhism in 1240, wrote that mountains  are "the bones and marrow of the Buddha ancestors" and the "realm where all buddhas practice."
Zen master Dogen
And if you think any of that is beautiful, then file this full length movie about Zen master Dogen away for later. (Bookmarking for myself too)

The feet. Mounds of hills and crevices, like another planet, storing the connections of our body to pressure points on our feet. Pressure points that Eastern arts know better than Westerners. But it's available, out there to pay for if you want. If I knew that any local acupuncturist was the best, knowing what the ancients knew, I'd go to him for sure. And even if he knows some...

Then, this blew my mind: "The feet help orient to a sacred axis through the temple of the body a pillar of self-organizing radiant vitality, revered in hatha yoga as the primary pathway for the movement of the deepest life-force (kundalini) Contemporary physiological renderings of this central axis involve the spine, spinal cord, and brain-that is, the central nervous system-yet we can imagine the central axis beginning in the inner foot." (29). A pillar of self-organizing radiant vitality, so perfectly said. I stopped and reread that a few times over my morning tea yesterday at Daylight Donuts (where you heard the old guys catcalling each other as they walked in and saw the whole group: "Rocky babyyyyyy!").

Our body has a pillar to conduct energy for our very life, breath, vitality - thus PRANA, what we work so hard for, and need to relax into and make time for, in yoga. That it why it is so important to take care of the spine and not lose flexibility. Vitality. That is why we breathe, and do yoga, and let the pose serve the breath, and let the breath help us extend along our axials... we are preserving and honoring our vitality, connecting to it, hoping to have some leftover connection and light to give to others who we meet with a smile, or peaceful nod. Recognition that we are all a body and soul, a breath.

So amazing. The feet.

Now I know why my Ballet teachers would say "Lift those arches!" and study our arches to see who had the highest one in class. Pulling up the arch, not letting it collapse, affects the gait and alignment and centering (or off-centering) of our whole body. Its amazing, when we really look at the interconnectedness of the body. And by extension, of the world.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

How Wonderwoman Made Me Feel Vulnerable (for a sec)

So, I was thinking the other day: are we all just crazy chameleons? Walking around doing as we do?

Society, pfft. French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau looked down on you, especially at the end of his life. Paranoiac, perhaps. He became so disenchanted in old age with society. In his last and unfinished book, Reveries du promeneur solitaire, he reflects and says that our states of being are always in continual flux. (Now add to that the looks/judgements of others.... isn't that society?).

And of happiness, Rousseau made this point: Everything is in continual flux on this earth: Nothing maintains a consistent form, and our affections which attach to exterior things are just as changing as those objects. So yea, I think it's right: we are all just crazy chameleons. Rousseau may be right: we only have pleasures which pass. As for enduring happiness, he doubts that it can be known here on earth. He writes: Hardly is there an instant in one of our most amazing pleasurable moments that the heart can truly say "I hope that this moment lasts forever." He goes on to ask: How can one call happiness a temporary, fleeting state which in fact leaves our heart anxious and empty, and either makes us miss or regret something that came before, or desire something that would follow after?

We already kinda know we're going to die... And as Woody Allen likes to say, Life is how we live with the ways in which we distort the reality of that fact.
Jewish cemetery in Prague.

What is the ole adage? O yes...
"It is what it is."

In other (perhaps more positive) news, a strange thing happened today: Wonderwoman made me feel vulnerable, and I'm not quite sure how it happened. First, I was shopping at Target and throwing a retro sports bra of her face in the basket (you know how that goes at Target... flinging into the cart stuff you don't need), next I am trying it right on at home and to my surprise it looks kinda cute and I won't have to return it, and then I'm taking a selfie with my wonderwoman sports bra, smile, and stomach scars in a pic. Then, I'm texting a friend goin' "She may be wonderwoman but she doesn't have my scars." And then I do yoga, and I feel my body still need healing from all it has been through, and I start getting down on myself, somehow, about my disability situation and the rut I feel it has thrown me into: the indecision, the uncertainty, the lack of real improvement.

And then I think of my scars and I start to feel proud again. Wonderwoman? She's just a face. I mean, she may be real to some, but it's besides the point: I know deep down that I'm a real wonderwoman. So vulnerability because of disability? Yea, sure, I got that. Today was the first day that I let myself kinda complain to myself. And I thought: oh no, I must confess this, because I can't let my gratitude lessen. My sheer gratitude helped me see the amazing positive of my disability - because I am still ALIVE because of those operations - duh! How could I get down on myself and this condition? 

Well, you can't keep me down in my self-image - cuz I have the scars. They are evidence of my strength and of the love that went into me. The love of God and the love of my parents and friends and family who prayed for me. I might need a picture to see them so that I can recognize what I have been through. I might need to still crawl out of my trauma, but I'm letting go with every pigeon and tree pose - and in many other moments in yoga. I'm letting go. I'm feeling myself as strong as ever. And I remember, hey, I saw a some strong abdominal type people in the Colondar magazine, showing not only their scars like mine, but also their in-shape-ness. There is something about being sick and weak and down at the pit of earth when you're getting out of a total colectomy - and all that ensues after it.... So yea, it's no wonder that some people want to get in tune with their body and feel stronger through their body by embracing their relationship with it, this wonderful body, conductor of... Life.

Getting in child's pose, almost a fetal position, made me feel better today. No coincidence in that, I realized afterwards. I stayed their a while, forehead to the mat.

Thanks for listening.

Yoga helps us be a self in awakening.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tree Pose: Running to Stand Still


The Art Institute of Chicago has an amazing, zenlike garden adjacent to it
Balancing in tree pose for some time last night, it seemed all at once that I achieved a new level of breath. The obvious tension of recent stresses vanished and I felt clear all of a sudden. I felt my breath achieve a place where it became deep, like a well of fresh water. The breath was so long and free and deep that it almost felt as if my body was drinking it. My arms rose like the branches of green that I admired out there in front of me as the vital life force of prana within was finding echo in the woods around me, with the birds singing in the cooling evening air. The wind carried the leaves gently side to side. I looked out at all these trees, peaceful bastions of the earth from which they grow, and I felt myself thinking about their lucky lot in life: trees get to stand still. Very unlike us, no?, we who flutter here and there and try to construct a life via job, friends, activities, duties.

Piedmont Park, Atlanta. Skeletons of trees,
veins and arteries ascending toward a painted sky above
It is always a matter of time and of intention, the time we give ourselves to stand still, to root down in order to lift up, to be tranquil amongst nature, and to enjoy the utter pause. In this place, we need not give attention to the self, but be low like water. 

The leaves are not pretending to be.

 
Greek columns in Paestum Southern Italy have withstood il tempo (in Italian, tempo means both time and weather).
They are like trees, erect yet fragile.
The notion of trees standing still while we run about collecting and depositing and throwing out.... reminds me of the U2 song: Running to Stand Still. Cuz isn't that we do at some times in our lives? We do so much in order to just be. (Alas, Joshua Tree, one of U2's best albums ever).

The body as a tree is one of the oldest analogies in the yoga tradition, according to Tias Little. He reminds us of the feet as tree roots: "The toes and feet nourish the body in the same way that the roots of a tree draw water, nutrients, and minerals out of the ground in order to support the vitality of the trunk, branches, and leaves. In turn, the spine supports the growth of the arms and hands like a tree trunk supports the branches and leaves. Ultimately the roots of the feet help metabolize prana by remotely providing support to fine twiglike structures within the lungs (bronchioles) together with their alveoli leaf clusters." from Yoga of the Subtle Body. One can even go deeper with this metaphor, and consider the tree a metaphor of the soul. I always think of this when I see two tree growing together... it is as if they have found their soulmate, and I am happy for them because they are obviously committed. Rooted together, reaching for the sun together, drinking water together, weathering the storms and years together.

Flowers in Sicily in Summer
My commitment as I move forward with my practice is to remember to hold tree pose longer than usual, more intentionally, and more often.

With this, a poem that I published in 2011 in a review online, Ishaan literary review, which is no longer in publication I recently discovered (darn). Thank goodness I still have the poem; in it I buried memories and images, nature and childhood.



Thoughts from a hammock
Studying under the shade of a tree in Paestum

There is a hammock that floats in a wheat field bordered by berries
Godlike design seems to play upon the wind that scurries about

I bend my ear
As I lift rocks for facts and reflection

The wind carries moments of my childhood
It is like an attic that I crawled through with pride

Shining jewels embedded in my imagination
Despite the winding tunnels of the past

In my grandparents’ house
I learned masculinity and age through my grandfather’s cough

Oh! Everyone was tough and sweet
The finest you could meet

When I tried to uncover their mysteries
Those silly whispering voices grew silent

As I reached for the dangling fruit
I felt curiosity and a stronger appetite

My head is now too replete with sugar and summer
Fresh like a cold mountain creek

Afraid of serpents hiding in the green plants
I suddenly realize that the carpeted forest floor does not reveal its paths

I walk with a stick in my hand
And wonder how to welcome old wisdom and deeper love

I think about reflecting on the stars I used to go to
I think about loving all who once loved me

I want to love the world in a person
Or in a tree, it is all the same to me

Love asks for my hand
I hold fast and run toward the forest’s edge

There I will have a playmate
To examine with me its treasures

Secret are the forces of the sky that cushion the trees
And the murmuring creek that bathes their roots is no different

Bubbles are blown from the mouths of children
And kisses are all we have to cling to as adults

I whisper and I sigh as I laugh with my love
He is as green as my favorite springtime

And that is why I am like a bumblebee
Making honey for our tea

Crushed flowers are like an elixir
When mixed with the fluid of our bodies

My love flows before me
Both as himself and as my desire

My affection is tied to this spot
To which I return for restoration and speech

I would like a bed of grass like jade to pillow me
In peaceful slumber and waking glories

Yes, I think it would be nice to be awake
So I might hear God when he asks for me

But first, I would like for some spirit to father me
Like a real person might have done

I would like to trust a man
Like I trusted in storybooks when I was little

And finally, I would like to contemplate the wonders of nature
In quiet gratitude and strength

From the breath of creation I borrow sustenance
And in magnificent trees my heart grows feathers

Yes and once, my heart took flight
Unto the setting of the night

-dna




More on Prana...
Prana moves along the spine, via three major channels, called nadi (see diagram to left). It is worthwhile to look into pranayama, which is the practice of bring prana into the organs and all the areas of the body. This blurb, from a wonderful article, is just the tip of the iceberg: "According to yoga, tantra and the science of kundalini, prana is supposed to originate in pingala nadi. Within the framework of the spinal cord, there are three channels known as nadis in yoga. One is called ida, another is pingala and the third is sushumna. Ida nadi represents the mental energy, pingala represents prana or pranic energy and sushumna represents spirit or spiritual awareness. These three nadis originate in mooladhara chakra, which is situated at the perineum or cervix. Pingala nadi flows to the right from mooladhara and continues to cross ida at each chakra all the way up to ajna. [....]
Prana is not merely a philosophical concept; it is in every sense a physical substance. Just as radioactive or electromagnetic waves exist even though we can't see them, in the same way, in this physical body, there are pranic waves and a pranic field. Now, each of us has a certain quantity of prana in our physical body and we utilize this in the course of our day to day activities throughout life. When our prana diminishes, sickness sets in, and when we have plenty of prana, every part of the body is in perfect health. If we have an excess of prana, it can be transmitted to others for healing or magnetism."

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Glad to Be Home

 Mom got tix for her 60th birthday - this was on front of the card.
"Is that Rod's rod?" her and her friends all examined...
I love the outfit.

So, it's Julien's naptime and I am happily out in the sun, on my mat, taking a break to write, so that yea, I don't get all my thoughts simply stuck in my head. Sometimes it is good to share what you're thinking -- even if it's just for you, for a later date. Or just to reflect from inside the head to the world via a computer screen. And here it is, that which I was just thinking as I breathed and folded and planked: there's something about doing yoga out on a deck on a beautiful Adirondack May morning, with spring greening all around you. The sun is not quite directly above you but it is there down at an angle, and just above the trees on the hillside you live near. And then you think, hey, isn't it nice to live back home again. I lived in Florida and Atlanta for 10 years plus, Illinois 4 years, and Utica 3-4 years with summers always somewhere in Florida or back home in the 518. I was forced by academia to go off to two towns that offered me something very different from what I was used to - either a city or a hilly, mountainous zone: what to me meant home, friends & family. So, isn't it nice that even though I had to get sick and go through a lot to get back home, here I am.
Question: Is it still yoga if you don't do a sun salutation?
Answer: yes
Recommendation: But do them toward the sun and whenever you want to.
Happiness restored. Body and mind join in peace.

Forgive the finger blur - I thought it added a dash of color to the composition