Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Secret Life of Dreams

By Marcia Miller

Last night I dreamt I ran a 3 mile race and came in 20th out of 200. I could feel the joy of the camaraderie with the other runners and the excitement of running that far without pain and discomfort. These feelings were present in my body as a flow of energy and aliveness that felt fantastic. Each cell seemed to shimmer with delight at the experience. The exhilaration of running in the dream was still with me as I awoke and persisted, even after awakening

This dream and the joyfulness after it were in stark contrast to my feelings over the last two weeks when my sprained ankle acted up and I could barely walk. I was feeling discouraged that I might never be able to hike on uneven ground, run or even dig potatoes in my own fields. I thought that I should be doing better than I was, and was afraid I might never fully recover. I had been cheerful and patient for five months and hadn’t realized that despair was becoming my partner. What would it be like to be a yoga teacher who could barely walk? What if I move like an old person filled with pain? Am I a failure somehow for not healing completely?

So it was doubly thrilling to have that total joy and confidence in my body as I awoke. I liked this feeling and remembered one of Patanjali’s yoga sutras about inspiring dreams: 1-38 Svapna nidra jnanalambanam va. That means The mindstuff retains its undisturbed calmness by concentrating on an experience had during dream or deep sleep. So, according to Patanjali, we can meditate by recalling the deep inspiration, connection and coherence of a dream and use that as the focus of our meditation. And I did.

While still in bed, I made myself even more comfortable and lay there relaxed and resting in the exuberance of the feelings already present within me. I just allowed and invited that energetic flow to run through me, especially my legs. It felt so good to have confidence in my legs and ankles again—and so natural. I hadn’t realized how much fear and discouragement I had been carrying until I was free of it. It was easy to stay like that and I did for many minutes. I did not feel as though I was ignoring the very real injury in my ankles. Rather I felt as if I was remembering the template of wholeness that would guide my legs in their healing process.

When I arose and began my asana practice I let my body set the tone and do whatever it wanted. It wanted to be filled with prana and breath and I went to an outside deck adjacent to my yoga room to feel the fresh air flow into my lungs. Before I realized it I was in hasta padanguthasana, a one-legged balancing pose that has been very challenging for me these last few months. It didn’t feel like “therapy” it felt like fun and I lingered in it for the sheer joy of it.

It has been nearly a week since this dream and I have meditated on the feeling of it every day, mostly during my time in savasana (deep relaxation.) I lie there, let the body feel its weight as it settles into the floor, and then remember the sensations I had in the dream and after it. I let them run through me and bring my awareness, as if in a blessing, to all that is arising in my body.

Those yogis of old really knew a thing or two, and I am so grateful to be a part of their tradition.

Translation of the sutra is from Integral Yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Swami Satchidananda

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Awash in Gratitude

By Linda Oshins

Last week in pranayama class, one woman had her heart and mind open all the way. She stood in front of me with eyes so big I could see right through her, her body like a doorframe, pure consciousness on view. She walked out into the world like that.

This week we practiced Mahat Kapalabhati Kriya. Kapalabhati is a breathing practice made up of a series of sharp exhalations alternating with longer, rebound inhalations. It’s stimulating, warming and a powerful energy mover. Mudras are hand gestures. And Kriyas are cleansing, purifying practices. So Mahat Kapalabhati Kriya is a purification practice done by keeping up a continuous, rhythmic breathing technique while holding different hand gestures. I showed everyone the mudras, and we formed them with our hands. Then the class practiced kapalabhati as I led them through the mudras, explaining what each one does. Chin mudra activates the lower abdomen and back and the lower lobes of the lungs. Chinmaya mudra activates the middle chest and back and the middle lobes of the lungs. Adi mudra activies the upper chest and back and the upper lobes of the lungs. Continuing in this fashion we activated the entire torso and lungs, up the spine and the chakra system, and into the brain. Shraddha prana kriya mudra slows respiration and brings attention into the front brain. Medha prana kriya mudra slows respiration and activates the discriminative centers of higher wisdom in the brain. Suddenly I’m awash in gratitude.

I have been taught a practice that activates the discriminative centers of higher wisdom! And I’m in a room full of people so practicing! From a still place we watch subtle shifts in energy flow and consciousness. Sometimes I take this for granted.

The breathing and mudras continue… Prajna prana kriya mudra, witness consciousness unfolds and the entire brain relaxes. Vishnu mudra, calms the mind and induces meditation. Dhyana mudra, brings breath and prana (energy) into the heart chakra. Dhyana Mudra 2, grounds the body for deep meditation. Dhyana Mudra 3, brings breath and prana into the whole body and bring multi-dimensional awareness into the foreground.

At the end of the practice we sit in meditation until Shari Speer chants Om Nama Shivaya. My body feels like a struck bell vibrating to her voice. Sometimes her voice appears in my mind like smoke from incense winding upward in offering, but today I simply resonate with it. And I’m so grateful.

Like the woman last week, we stilled the habitual chatter for a time. Thank you to my teachers and to the community at Yoga on High who practices together.

Mahat Kapalabhati Kriya was taught to me by Richard Miller, whose teachings, research and writing you can find on iRest.us

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A Meditative Experience of Teaching Yoga Class

By Martha Marcom

Drawing on her lively and joyful relationship with Lorin Roche and Camille Maurine, Marcia arranged a meditation Teacher Training program with them via telephone. I am very lucky to be a participant along with some of our YOHI Teacher Trainees. One of the liberating things Lorin and Camille teach is that we are meditating when we are in a state of elation doing something we love. We can build a meditation practice on the framework of natural bliss! One homework assignment was to describe a situation where we experienced such a state of grace. For me, that state comes in teaching an ashtanga yoga class at YOHI. I offer it here:

I am teaching a yoga class. We have chanted the invocation and felt its reverberation in our bodies and hearts, and now we are underway and there is a feeling of being comrades, kindred spirits, traveling together through the poses. There is a sense of conviviality, of lightness--I am nominally leading but also we are moving together though a set sequences of poses. We are all focused and working hard, but there is a group sense of humor, satisfaction, and enjoyment along with the physical effort.

The words that come through me function to sustain these qualities, and to keep everyone in this very moment, moving efficiently, but not habitually. I’m inspired by the sacredness of each breath and my words offer a reminder of this precious moment--a rhythmic and continuous returning to presence.

The breath is just loud enough that we are all aware of its pulse throughout the room, a sound-awareness that connects us. We bask in the heat of the room and in the humidity created by our sweat.

Our sweat mingles--I’m touching my student, baptized by her sweat on my belly when I merge my front into her back and take her a bit farther into a forward bend. Through her breath I can experience her enjoyment of her deeper release, her surrender.

I’m delighted—feeling mudita—to see the students’ beautiful practices, their openings and mindful alignment within the rhythmic flow. I’m filled with love for them. I am in a flow of offering—I’m looking intently to see where I can be of service—grounding a leg here, lengthening a spine there, offering a more aligned drishti to another.

In one part of my brain I’m keeping an eye on the clock so that we can move through all of the poses within the allotted time and yet have a luxurious amount of time in each asana.

I’m keeping the beat, sustaining the rhythmic quality of the practice, so that we are all drawing energy from that shared pulse, and we can keep coming up with more strength and endurance for another vinyasa and another. The transitions are so juicy that they give back as much energy as they require.

I am aware that I am representing a lineage. My beloved teacher, Pattabhi Jois, often comes to my mind/heart while I practice and teach. Guruji said that the practice itself is the teacher, “Practice and all is coming.”

The poses become more profound as the practice rounds around to the end--Sarvangasa, Sirsasana, Padmasana. Finally Savasana, surrender into the support of the earth, float on the wings of the breath, touch into the deeper aspects of our being, maybe moving beyond the illusion of the separate self—what we’ve asked for in the invocation. I am the witness. I am privileged to share the exquisite experience. As I offer the Reiki symbols, sending love to each student, the exquisiteness intensifies.

In the end, when we chant to offer our merit to all, and bow to salute the divinity within each other, there is an exchange of gratitude that swells my heart, while completely humbling me. Just writing this down takes me to this lovely, holy place.

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Where Is Cathy Yoshimura?

Some of you have noticed that beloved Yo is not on the teaching schedule this quarter and asked us why? She’s busy with BalletMet’s Nutcracker preparations and studying intensely with Thomas Myers, which she describes with her usual level of excitement and commitment below.

By Cathy Yoshimura

For those of you who have wondered why I am not teaching this quarter, there are a number of practical reasons. For one, this is when I help teach the children who are participating in BalletMet’s production of, “The Nutcracker.” I inherited this task from the last Director of the Company, David Nixon, and continue to perform it under my husband’s, Gerard Charles’, direction. In this economy, Nutcracker is BalletMet’s ‘bread and butter,’ so you can understand how important it is to our livelihood. We were also invited to take Gerard’s production to Detroit, and so I am traveling back and forth to “MoTown” to oversee their children’s participation. It is interesting to watch how differently the children move and how the teachers in Detroit convey information in a very different way from what I am used to. My French terminology in ballet is pretty strong; I can rattle off all the different pas de bourrees, jetes, tournees, without much of a sweat. Sanskrit terminology was a challenge but with encouragement from Martha and admonishment from Tim Miller, that is more accessible. BUT THEN!

Last Fall, I went on line to read Thomas Myer’s website: www.anatomytrains.com. Tom is an Anatomist, Manual and Movement Therapist Extraordinaire. His brilliance was so apparent to Marcia that ten years ago she invited him to teach a workshop at Yoga On High. I was in the first year of Teacher Training at the time and trusted that this would be well worth the price-y fee. He presented a look at Asana, and at Movement in general from a lens that went beyond just the world of isolated muscles and the Newtonian theory of levers and oppositional forces. He talked about the chain of kinetics, of the connective tissue being an integral part of understanding how we move, of the structure of the cell and its role in the function of the whole unit. It wasn’t just asana for asana’s sake, not just dance as an isolated form, but movement in our every conscious moment. His perspective is broad having studied with Ida Rolf, Moshe Feldenkrais, and Leon Chaitow among others. And his application of Buckminster Fuller’s principle of Tensegrity, which is force distributed evenly throughout a structure, is a fascinating approach to asana. It concurs with my good friend Yoko Ichino’s approach, and she developed her own ballet methodology.

Over the last ten years, I developed a great admiration for Mr. Myers’ work. Whenever, I had a question about a dancer or a fellow yogi’s malady, he would write back with a solution and advice. So, I revert back to last Fall when he announced that he was going to have a workshop in Walpole, Maine, to train Manual AND Movement Therapists to be able to teach Anatomy Trains. He had always allowed me to participate in his workshops even when they were exclusively for Manual Therapists. Why not give it a try…resumes, letters of support (thank you Martha!) were submitted. In February, I received a letter saying that I was invited to be part of the Movement Session which would take place at the end of July. In the meantime, I had to read the latest edition of “Anatomy Trains”-Mr. Myers’ brilliant tome on the fascial chains throughout the meridians of the body. AND be able to recite and show on the skeleton, in front of everyone, the bony stations and the myofascial lines of each of his named ‘trains.’ I went at it wholeheartedly and created a PowerPoint for him as well…as that was also a requirement. I had to be able to lecture on all the principles of his introductory chapters: Embryology, Tensegrity, Progenitors of the Manual Therapy World. OH MY GOSH! As the time got closer and Gerard was quizzing me nightly on arm lines, spiral lines, the deep front line, I was really getting anxious. As was everyone else who was invited into the course. One of the last e-mails I had from Mr. Myers asked me whether I really knew what this Workshop was going to entail. I knew that it was going to be intense but I really didn’t know how intense. It was like being at the most competitive audition imaginable with his Senior Teachers adjudicating every presentation and questioning and critiquing. Twice a day, we had to be examined. Sometimes we had a lecture from Mr. Myers himself on the latest discoveries in ‘Microvacuole Theory’ as researched by Dr. Guimberteau. I have never felt such tapas before…but, I knew that this was a new beginning, the discovery of an approach to movement that was based truly on the internal mechanisms of the body.

Sanskrit words are now replaced with Latin anatomical terms; Buckminster Fuller’s “Utopia or Oblivion” has replaced Patanjali on top of my book pile. I watch DVD’s on dissection with Gil Hedley (generously loaned by Crystal Fauber) and marvel at the cohesiveness between Mr. Hedley and Mr. Myers. It is a fascinating world and I approach my practice with a better understanding of how moving through life is not based on just an hour and a half class six days a week. It isn’t mastery of a whole series of asanas. Mr. Myers talks about what shapes us culturally, about the societal effect on our physical body, about emotions and how they impact our bodies. His mantra is “Change your Body about your Mind.” A greater understanding of the Body will make that possible.

So, with the encouragement of Mr. Myers to keep on practicing using his principles and vocabulary (yes, I HAVE to use the Latin!), and with the support of Martha, Marcia, and Linda, this is what I have been up to. I am not loafing….see you in the Winter Quarter!

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Better living through subtlety

 Last week Michele spoke to Martha, her ashtanga teacher, about coming to class with a pulled muscle, and Martha told her to come and do any amount of the practice that felt good to her. This is her letter to Martha after class. We think the insights are so important that we wanted to share them with you.

“It was beautiful to look over and see you taking care of yourself.”

Thank you for those words Monday night. The class was a positive experience for me on a number of levels. It gave me more perspective on how to modify different poses, which is so useful in helping students. I experienced firsthand that the practice is scaleable, or as you said “any amount.”

While I knew that it was possible to do any amount, I don’t think I knew that there was merit in doing any amount. At Urban Zen last Wednesday I was thinking about this. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone…the instructor kept saying “any amount” and actually at one point asked us to do less than we were doing. I’m so used to “you can do one more…better, faster, stronger…push! Fight through the pain!” I went home thinking about the “2% less” and dedicated the next day to subtlety. It was interesting and uncomfortable. All these thoughts kept coming up in opposition “but you’ll never improve this way” “what’s the point of being less than you can be?” “maybe that works for them, but it won’t work for me.” I kept thinking about it though…why would they do it if there isn’t some benefit? Turns out the “right” questions and the answers are much more subtle than this.

Your comment after class also gave me perspective on what it was that I was doing. It highlighted for me the conversations that had been playing through my mind, just under the surface -- the “not enough” tape, you’re not good enough, flexible enough, tough enough, whatever enough (if you don’t do all the poses as much, as far, as thoroughly as you can, and then add 2%.) I realize that the “not enough” tape is in direct opposition to the “any amount” maxim. Any amount is affirming, tolerant and non-judgemental; it is inclusive. Not enough is rigid, judgmental, prideful and serves to exclude (the can from the can nots).

I think a person with an “any amount” philosophy can see beauty where the “not enough” person sees failure. You saw my modifications as beautiful, whereas I was seeing them (on some level) as a personal failure, something to be embarrassed or ashamed of (I thought I’d dealt with all of this with my ankle injuries, but old habits die hard). Through your words, I realized that I was letting old patterns (“not enough”) skew the actuality of what was going on. I was being mindful, using some common sense and taking care of myself.

Monday’s class/your comments have also left me thinking a lot about what it all means in context of self-worth, of perceived value, and of vulnerability and strength. At its core, for me, I think the “not enough” perspective is a means of avoiding vulnerability and trying to never show/admit weakness. One of the reasons I do yoga is to get better at vulnerability -- more heart, less brain.

It seems I need a complete paradigm shift in order to fully comprehend “any amount.” I feel I’m moving in the right direction though, slow as it may be. Two weeks ago in a class, I was feeling competitive, and I thought of something in your Teacher Training manual “take each student into your heart,” and I did it right then in the class -- and wonderfully, my desire(?) to compete melted away…I just wanted to be with them, I wanted the best for all of us.

~Michele

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Homage to Homer

By Marcia Miller
Photos By Jasmine Astra-Elle Grace

My friend Homer Echard died on September 11. When I heard the news mid-afternoon my heart was already tenderized by stories of those who had lost loved ones in the collapse of the twin towers. It felt especially appropriate to feel the sadness of the loss of my friend, even as I was glad that he was no longer struggling to take a breath or sip a few drops of water.

I first met Homer in a yoga class I was teaching at Jeffrey Mansion in Bexley. I taught there for many years and we all loved the high ceilinged room with wood floors and 3 walls of floor to ceiling windows looking out over the majestic, ancient trees of Jeffrey Park. I even remember where he, and his wife Susan, would like to place their mats in the room. He was probably in his late 60s and she in her 50s when they started yoga.

JasmineMarstonProject1Shot5

I don’t think I had ever met someone named Homer before (this was before the Simpsons). He was an attractive man with a grey ponytail and a wicked sense of humor. He certainly enjoyed being in a room full of women and always made the most of it. Even though he was extremely inflexible physically, he was game to try anything and was always patient when doing the appropriate variations for his body while the women in the room did more advanced versions of the poses. After being a beginner for awhile, he and Susan moved into my level two class. He was still stiff as a board but willing to work at his own level. I remember one night when we were practicing the splits (Hanumanasana). Every one was working on the floor with a little blanket or block for support and Homer looked at me and I looked at him and we both knew that this was not going to work for him. We did not have many props in this location so I had to think about what help him. Finally I thought of giving him two chairs to hold him up. So with one hand on the seat of each chair he simply put one foot in front and one behind and, voila, the splits. I remember him looking relaxed and very pleased with himself. And I love imagining him going back to see his male cronies and announcing that he had done the splits in yoga class that week.

Purple Tiger

He created what turned out to be a longtime and fun tradition in class. Each week he would hand me a slip of paper with a word and its definition written on it in his impeccable handwriting. The words were interesting, surprising and sometimes funny. I would read the word to the class, see if anyone knew it (hardly ever) and give the definition. It became our pattern that I would have to figure out how to use the word in class. Frisson wasn’t so bad, but neither apotheosis nor humicubate were words that normally flowed off my tongue.

When he finally stopped coming to class I had to find other ways to see him because by then we were friends. Those of you who frequented the Drexel on a weeknight evening may recall him playing his harmonica outside with a small group of musicians. I visited them occasionally at their house in South Bexley, next door to Yoga on High teacher, Gail Spirit Sky. Homer and Susan were both artists and you could tell from the first moment you came near their yard. A “man” would greet you from the garden and their walls were covered with their bright and colorful paintings and collages. They didn’t have a big TV room; they had renovated their house to have a huge sunlit studio at the back of the house instead. Once I took my kids to Lancaster to an arts festival. Where they were showing their work We loved it and bought something made by each of them. One of my sons especially loved a piece of Homer’s that was layers of painted paper cut in the shape of a small fish. How thrilling to be able to let a 10 year old pick his first piece of art. We enjoy living with it to this day.

I Bow to You King Orchid

As I heard from Gail that Homer’s health was failing I invited myself over again to see if he would be my first Urban Zen guinea pig. I had just finished my training intensive to learn the Urban Zen modalities and needed to practice my new craft. Homer was willing and seemed to really enjoy the simple movements, the relaxation and the reiki. With just a few movements his circulation increased and after the first session he declared that his hands were warm for the first time in months. He seemed to love the reiki especially and would be peaceful for several hours after our sessions. Even as he was in terrible pain from shingles and other problems he continued to joke with me during our time together. He had a great sense of humor!

When I broke and sprained my ankles I couldn’t return for several months and by the time I was able to navigate stairs again he was much weaker and not getting out of bed. And he didn’t want any visitors. I was longing to see him again and finally in the last week of his life I was able to meet him one more time. I wiped his eyes, gave him water and held his hand. I got a chance to tell him I loved him.

Homer, what a life you lived. I’m so glad I got to know you.

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