Monday, September 18, 2017

What do yoga & an Italian film have in common?

Yoga classes and Italian film as sacred ritual...


One of the most beautiful films of all time is a Sicilian film by un regista siciliano: Giuseppe Tornatore. It happens that it won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language film in 1989, but that is not why it is to be loved.


If you want a touching story in the truest sense, with humor, wit, love in a romantic sense, a family sense, and a friendship in its purest sense, and if you would appreciate a musical score beautifully set to old black & white kissing scenes, then this is a film that you'd deeply enjoy. 


This film is Tornatore's own homage to the history of cinema - and to the history of a young boy (himself) and an entire nation falling in love with movies. 


Turn the volume up and listen to the graininess of the voices, the signature music of Ennio Morricone, and the jeers and laughs of the crowd at the cinema. Lots of drama happening in the Cinema Paradiso in small-town Sicilia: There is definitely a healthy mix of strong personalities, humor, and innocence - and in the film we see the first experiences, identifications with and reactions to films and the cinematic experience. Be sure to watch the cinematic version (not the extended director's cut released in 2002).


I still remember my father taking my mom and brother and I to see this film while we were in Montreal. The sounds and sights were so familiar though I hadn't yet traveled to Sicily to meet my family there. My dad told me I was seeing his homeland in this film, where he came from, and to pay attention. I still learn a lot about life (not just Sicily) every time. And so, each year & semester when I was French & Italian professor at EIU, I would find time outside of class to show this film to my students. They would be excited to see it from the way I talked about it. I don't think they - or I - were ever disappointed in it, as I would hear them rave about how cute the little boy Toto was for weeks. Our key word to describe this little boy: furbo.


Everyone got something real and deep from this film. That's why you may want to take me up on my suggestion - whenever you're looking for a meaningful film and a delight, whenever the moment is right for you, this is it. In this way, it is much like yoga: it brings you joy, a sense of life, a feeling of indescribable passion and adoration. There are sacred rituals and practices that can help us in life: help us to align with the guiding principles and fascinations, depths and poetry that is tucked within the human heart. And this film, like yoga, is one such ritual, at least for me and some other film lovers. I'd like to share both of these core-nurturing rituals with you. 



(And if you are interested then come to the Ballston Spa area near SPAC and find us at AAC Wellness, 402 Rowland Street, in the downstairs studio. Classes: Monday 9-10am, Wednesday 9-10am, Saturday 9:30-10:45am)


Imagine doing some cat/cow, butterfly, and seated forward folds while listening to an instrumental from the film in class that you will find to be so sweet.... 
once you have seen Cinema Paradiso


Come especially to the Yoga & Italian class Saturday morning at 9:30 and hear some of the bella lingua as I throw Italian phrases in class for you to laugh at and learn and as we listen to Amedeo Minghi, Vasco Rossi, Lucio Battisti, and Dean Martin.

Email domenloren@yahoo.com with any inquiries and follow AAC YOGA on facebook for latest notices!


Monday, August 28, 2017

Yoga Musings: Nature as Muse for our Practice

Happy Sunday! (From someone whose name means sunday!) Buona domenica!


Remember that when we get in a pose, our job is not to just let the weight hang there and stay in that pose. Our job is to lengthen. Let us keep in mind opposing forces: we are reaching through the heels, pressing palms into ground and pushing hips up up to the sky, that is how a downward facing dog can be thought of. Reaching, lengthening in opposite directions.

Think of how poses would feel if you were doing them on bumpy hard soil with lots of velvety green grass all beneath. What about a pose in sand - how does it feel? Challenging, energizing? Imagine hearing the ocean's force next to you and looking up into the blue, white-spattered sky as you reach your energy in all different spinal movements. Lifting, reaching, lengthening. Energizing your back, your core, all of the body.


Now, imagine challenging yourself further and doing a favorite pose on a paddle board. I did this, to my surprise, this past Thursday on an R&R break with my lifelong friend and pianist, Carol. We were up in Lake Placid, and the moment presented itself. Do I take it? Yes. And through placing my hands in front of me, looking down, and trying to root myself in my hands as I normally do, I realized it was not with the same effortlessness without the ground pushing back. Instead, the board moved beneath my hands, wobbling on its own. We take the ground for granted, as it allows us to do so much in our daily practice! And yet, the breath provides the balance and let me control the board. An older woman passing in her kayak complimented my practice, at first thinking it was Tai Chi. From her comment, I gathered that the energy and breath were more evident to her eye than the pose. And that is the point: it is not enough to "get in a pose." Rather, the pose serves the breath, as my teacher says.
Arm balancing on Mirror Lake, Lake Placid NY

Thank goodness that Lake Placid, NY is quite different from the fictional rendering of "Lake Placid" in the self-entitled film. I do not know that courage would have found me attempting to balance in any way on a board were there a huge alligator patiently letting my scent waft in its nostrils from his anxious perch.

Yoga is more than physical. It is a practice that may help us get out of ruts in life, weigh hard decisions more soundly, and carry on. Yoga helps us find balance, and finding time for yoga gives us quality time for the self. Let's not rush your life or mine, right? (We have enough of that in this fast-paced society and countless responsibilities). Stop and stay in a pose and breathe and see how you feel. Do it out in nature on a gorgeous day like today. You may get so addicted that you'll find yourself in the backyard in a snowsuit come frigid January. I think I might, since I never thought I'd be doing arm balancing on a paddle board in 59 degree weather on a lake (brrr - don't want to fall in!). But yoga has a way of taking us along our journey in a more in-tune, adventurous, "yes" kind of way.

As I have been preparing to work with a French major on a senior project, I am reminded of something: Gender itself does not map onto biology.

Have you ever wondered if you are more in touch with your masculine side or your feminine side? I think one side of mine has its own series of friends, and the other, a different set of confidants. They should make a mood ring of sorts, but super high tech and intuitive because it would be able to determine at each moment the percentage of feminine energy and the percentage of the masculine energy coursing through our mind, body, and decisions. It would read like a weather app, the dichotomy changing and shifting all the time, and from day to day.

Thank you, beautiful day and yoga, for bringing out my inner muse and inspiring me to write and share, and thank you for being a muse.

As I told my students, try yoga out in nature. See how it invigorates you, and lets you humbly connect with nature and the inner self, the inner breath matching the fresh air all around.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Yoga is to me, personally, deeply

Yoga is processing pain into healing energy via movement, stretching, the body, and breath.

Yoga: rooting the palms, the whole of each palm into the earth like they were energy beams.

Yoga is the lighting of any film. Les vieux film blancs et noirs quoi.

Yoga is love, self, and laughter inside the muscles. Real execution feels good.

Yoga is my life since last of life-saving surgeries in September 2016. By late October I found myself on the mat. Looking down at it quite intently. Purposefully. Skillfully, humbly, thankfully, all glory to God, who showed himself to me in various magnificent and loving forms through YOGA.

Yoga is forgiving others. Yoga is trying to see them more correctly - and compassionately.

Yoga is bending over the mirror of self, to see the good and the bad and the I want to work on "I submit to you God humblies."

God is love, and love is felt through yoga, so yoga is my path to God. And healing self, thankfully, humbly, awaiting any precious day He will give to me.


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.