Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Art of Crotch Flashing

painting by Jessie Fisher
     When I think about yoga, I do not imagine a person in tights standing on one leg while pulling his/her opposite foot up towards the sky. Natarajasana (Dancer Pose) is undoubtedly a valid and ancient yoga pose, though perhaps it isn't the quintessence of yoga. Still the mere mention of the word 'yoga' frequently produces a tremulous demonstration of it by someone in the room. This yoga-based skit might draw out some "oo's," "ahhs," and sometimes even laughs. Artful crotch flashing makes for entertaining yoga theater.

Part of my cringe regarding this coveted pose comes from early attempts at teaching it. I regularly included it in classes as an impressive goal pose. It seemed easier to please our  egos than challenge them with too much yoga philosophy. Though easier was definitely not as interesting. 

Essential guidance from yoga's Yamas and Niyamas encourage non-harming, non-greed, and non-grasping as focal points for yoga practice (and life). When our minds and hearts are aligned with such intentions for practice, the poses become loving experiments in self-acceptance and inner peace.

Pop-up sidewalk meditation. (I'm the teen on the right)
The benefits of yoga could be missed if I'm more concerned about getting my toe to my whatever. Those types of external benchmarks are not measurements of yoga competency.

Instead, being aware of how we meet our bodily experiences and sensations as they arise (and pass), show us valuable information about how we meet life. Can we practice without struggle or strain? How do we sit comfortably with emptiness? What would right effort feel like?

As a teen, I spent a few summers living in a home with a Japanese Buddhist family. My brother and dad resided in a shack in the backyard. My dad worked on the home in exchange for our accommodations. The family also happened to be our friends, and enjoyed having us around the premises. A small Buddhist temple in the living room often caught my attention. MTV was going downhill, so mimicking the Buddha statue gave me something else to do with my free time.  Even though I wasn't aware of any meditation techniques, showing up, ringing the bell, and sitting down felt like enough. This precious practice introduced me to the feeling of being at home in my own body, if only for a few minutes at a time. 

Yoga is sometimes referred to as a goalless practice. There is no final destination and nothing to be accomplished. The expansive present is the practice. Beyond achieving, posturing and proving.

"Yoga asks us to walk a razor's edge, to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to a particular pose, while fully understanding that on another level, the pose is arbitrary and irrelevant. If we cling to the form of the poses as ultimate truth, we miss the point. The poses were born from the practice of yogis who looked inside themselves..." -Anne Cushman

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sidewalk Somatics

Urban camping; view from my sleeping bag.
  Spending the night on the 48th street sidewalk the other night gave me a chance to practice SomaYoga in a unique setting. Inside my sleeping bag it was easy to utilize somatic movement without anyone knowing a yoga practice was in session. Subtle, conscious movement eased some very tense muscles calmed my shivering nerves, and soothed my reactive mind.

Seeing Saturday Night Live was the catalyst for the overnight adventure on the streets of New York City. In order to see the show we would need to be in line for stand-by only tickets a day in advance. Some fans had been camped since Wednesday. "That's crazy, " I judged.

I felt like a well-off homeless person for the night, with proper gear, and money for food trucks. Yet it was still an exercise in suffering with near freezing temps. I struggled to stay warm and failed at being cheerful. Across the street, I saw those who had no choice but to sleep on the street. I felt guilt for being a pampered person of privilege, willing to suffer for my own sense pleasures (entertainment). I watched the arising and passing of the 5 hinderances all night long.

Sleepless on the sidewalk.
Meanwhile, the city provided non-stop auditory stimulation, which started to have a redundant theme of idling garbage trucks and yelling. New Yorkers generally offered their full approval (SNL being the prideful institution that it is here), but the tourists were not as understanding and expressed their opinions openly. "You people are insane!" After being called crazy by countless strangers, I started to wonder if it were true. Had I gone mad? Am I like one of those shoppers waiting in line for a giant television discount?

 I thought again about the chronically homeless and the reactions they must endure every day. I mulled over the hypocrisy of humanity. I watched women walk by in unhealthy shoes, carrying loads of shopping bags. Men unable to walk straight due to alcohol poisoning. Many of them shouting out their opinions, as if they somehow had the recipe for the right way to live. All of us labeling what we don't understand as "crazy." Eventually I took refuge in the Oneness. We are all in this swirling mess together trying to make sense of it in our own ways.

It would have been fun to see Tina Fey and Amy Poehler work their comedy magic. Unfortunately, we did not make it into the show with the stand-by tickets. Fortunately, I do not live on the street. A hot bath, good sleep, and attitude adjustment later, I'm still thinking about our brothers and sisters who are still out there trying to stay safe and warm.

                    ~May all beings be free from suffering and from the causes of suffering~

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Yoga for the Ages

Artful interpretation of yoga.
     Learning to slow down and tune-in is possible at any age. Since focusing on the therapeutic applications of yoga, it's funny how often I hear, "you should work with the elderly." This is often followed by the number one question asked by the yoga curious, "do you teach that hot yoga?" I began wondering if people were under the impression that only those 100+ years would benefit from slowing down, while the rest of the population prefers extreme heat and speed?

There are so many incoming messages regarding yoga styles. Yoga Journal and other popular magazines tend to feature the most advanced poses on their covers. As if the general population might be able "to do" the poses advertised, or at least wish they could. Yet, at its core philosophy, yoga is a practice of undoing. The undoing of attachments, expectation, greed. The undoing of holding on so tight, not only in our muscles, but around our concepts of what we "should" be able to do. It is not possible for the experience of yoga to be simulated or photographed.

 A new friend demonstrating "yoga" at 90.
Many people (of all ages) do not feel comfortable slowing down.  Perhaps it seems too passive? How can I be "better" if I'm not "doing" more? For others, slowing down can be the most difficult instruction imaginable. All the more reason to advance your practice by slowing it down. I feel sadness when I hear people approaching yoga as if it were something to be performed. When one thinks they are "not good at" or "can't do" yoga, they might be discouraged from practicing at all. Though the external appearance of a yoga pose can be quite stunning, it is the inner body experiencing that makes it uniquely yoga.

Comparing and striving are not part of yoga's guiding principals. The yamas & niyamas rather, emphasize dwelling in the recognition of presence/energy/soma, not developing a stronger ego/mind.

Approaching yoga in a somatic way challenges our habitual movements and hurried minds. I am already a pro at rushing and multi-tasking. These are skills are valued in modern lifestyles. I wanted to be valued, so I learned to hurry at a young age. Perhaps this is why feeling and sensing the inner body experience is what I most cherish about yoga. It is a chance to be, not a thing to get.

This month I've decided to add yoga sessions for people 80-100+ to my schedule. This is easy to do, since I have connections with 3 grandparents and their communities. I'm not concerned about what my elders will be able to "do." Breath awareness, yoga for the hands, face, shoulders, feet, eyes, and ears make for deep and healing yoga practices at any age. The pose pictured above will definitely not be the goal, but does demonstrate that the body can be flexible (or hypermobile) at any age.