Monthly Archives: May 2012

Taking the Leap

by Marcia Miller

I have been afraid of heights forever. While not totally crippling, I have experienced many moments of discomfort and have avoided doing some activities that others consider fun like riding on roller coasters and hiking on steep mountains. Even as I type these words my belly is tightening up, as if to say, “Don’t even think about it girlfriend.”
So when I visited Esalen Institute last December every inner system was on full alert as we drove south on the beautiful and terrifying Route 1 from Carmel, California to Big Sur. Esalen itself is perched on the side of a cliff overlooking a wild and rocky Pacific shoreline. While my visit there was completely fulfilling and relaxing in many ways—picture delicious food, great friends, awesome natural settings, inspiring teachers, hot baths and the famous Esalen massages—another part of me was terrified the whole time. Every time I slept I dreamt of falling off cliffs, and each time I closed my eyes in savasana (deep relaxation) or meditation my whole body felt afraid, as if I were in imminent danger. This continued the entire week I was away. I only gradually calmed down as I returned to the flat lands of Ohio.
Now as I type this I’m noticing another part of me that is nervous that I am sharing this with you. After all of my years of yoga, this part of me thinks I should have conquered my fear by now. In this phase of my life, as I continue to practice accepting all parts of myself, I am feeling tender toward this part and also toward the part that has so much fear.
So, with this much discomfort how could I accept another invitation to visit Esalen as an assistant to my dear teachers? How could I not? Five more days in that magical setting going deeply into the practices that are most nourishing to me now was enough of a payback to get me back on Route 1. This time, noticing that fear was arising just thinking about the trip, I began to engage with the part of me that feels fear. I say “the part of me” because it is clear that not all of me is afraid, and there are many parts of me that know I am fine and will be fine no matter what happens. I realized after that first trip that the fear is helping me to understand just how much I love life and want to stay alive. From this perspective, I can thank this fearful part for reminding me.
To care for this fearful part, I began giving it Reiki every day and let it know I was listening to its messages. When the fear showed up as body sensations I named the sensations, sometimes out loud, so that it knew I was really listening. In advance of the trip, I came up with a plan for the drive down Route 1—every time my belly or chest would clench or swirl I planned to notice the sensation and give it my full attention including naming the sensation. In deference to other passengers, “we” agreed that this could be a silent naming.
The driver of the van to Esalen turned out to be the most relaxed driver with whom I have ever ridden. His own stated goal was to drive as smoothly and comfortably for us as possible. He didn’t know of my fear, but I thanked him sincerely for his intention, which I so appreciated. There were only a couple of times on the ride where I named sensations and felt more relaxed than I could have imagined.
As the week progressed, I continued to feel much more at ease than the last visit. On the next to last day, after a long undulating movement exercise, I lay down in a blissful savasana. After many minutes of delicious inner sensations of sparkling and melting without any thoughts at all, I was suddenly up on a high, high cliff. I felt a bit of fear but also excitement. I saw myself leap off the cliff and swim my arms as if to fly. I remember having the thought that I had to be up really high because it might take time to learn to fly, and being higher gave me more time to learn. I practiced flying for part of the way down and then I was back on the top of the cliff again. I was eager to be up there, learning to fly, and I knew that I could with this kind of practice. I was so engrossed in this exercise that I was actually disappointed when the teacher rang the bell for us to begin to sit up.
Later that afternoon I sat on the edge of a real cliff, journaling and practicing flying in my mind. I made sure to have my body fully grounded but let my spirit soar as it longed to do, over and over again. I can tell that I still have practices to do around this fear, but I feel engaged in a way that is hopeful and more joyful.
When I mentioned my experience to our group, one of the participants stood up and recited a perfect poem from the mystic poet Tukaram. I offer it here as an extra treat for you.

Geronimo
You might hear the beautiful shout of “Geronimo”
from a lover who has just dove from a
cliff and is heading full speed
into the Ocean – into the
Beloved.

And of course there will always be lots of gab
along the shore from those who are
drawn to God

but have yet to really get bare assed
and go in.

“Geronimo” may be the last word we hear
from that brave gal falling 625 MPH
from a cliff,

for once beneath the sea,
once within the
Water,

only fish open their mouths, still bargaining
for something.

The soul becomes quiet in ecstasy, so quiet.
Love speaks in absence of God,
not in the heights
of passion.

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Awakening Invocations

By Jasmine Grace

Monday through Friday every morning at 5:00 a.m. at Yoga on High in the Short North the light in Studio C comes on dimly and the windows fog from the heat of the furnace and the ujjayi breath of friends, students, and committed Ashtangis. It is a ritual. In this blog I will share a powerful and beautiful part of my practice, the invocation.
I roll out my mat. This black rectangle piece of Manduka rubber is like and an old familiar friend that most days I am excited to see. I stand at the top of my mat. My shoulder blades roll down my back and kiss my spine. I feel the rise and fall of my breath. It deepens as my inhales and exhales reach the lower lobes of the lungs. I close my eyes. I feel a strong and grounding connection to the earth under my feet. I scan my body from my toes upward and my hands draw to my heart center. My head bows to my hands and in connection with my breath a feeling of expansion and luxury enlivens my cells. I am home. I am humble. I am here. I am showing up.
Somewhere in this process the timing for the first Om or “Aum” arises. Depending on the teachers in the room I will let the most experienced teacher lead and follow only milliseconds behind to show gratitude and respect. A single Om and then the Ashtanga Invocation:

vande gurånàm charanàravinde
sandaràshita svàtma sukhàvabodhe
nishreyase jàngalikàyamàne
samsàra hàlàhala mohashàntyai
àbàhu purushàkàram
shankhachakràsi dhàrinam
sahasra shirasam shvetam
pranamàmi Patanjalim
Om
Listen to Guruji

The room buzzes with dedicated beauty and the world feels magical for a moment. Inhale with a sweep of the palms upward and the Mysore self-practice begins. The ocean of practice begins. Life is honored.
So why are invocations so powerful? In one of my all-time favorite books, Creative Visualization, by Shakti Gawain, she speaks of the invocation as a powerful form of meditation, prayer and a tool in visualization. Invocations are used to summon or call upon a certain quality or energy we wish to attract and honor. This can be in a characteristic identified by a word or even a person. In the Ashtanga invocation there is a prayer to the practice itself. Guruji (guru of Ashtanga yoga) said, “Practice and all is coming,” and the invocation summons the benefits of the practice to enter our lives. There have been many translations of the Ashtanga opening prayer or invocation but the one below seems to be the most widely used. It is taken from two texts and calls on characteristics of the benefits of the practice itself and the wisdom from Patanjali of the Yoga Sutras.

I bow to the Guru’s lotus feet
Awakening the happiness of the Self revealed
Beyond comparison, acting like the jungle physician
To pacify delusion from the poison of existence.
Yoga Taravali -- Shankaracharya
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders,
Holding a conch, a discus and a sword,
One thousand heads white, To Patanjali, I salute.
Prayer to Patanjali – Yoga Sutras

So while Ashtanga yoga may not be your path or your invocation -- I ask the question, “What makes your heart sing and what characteristics do you want to invoke in yourself?” Shakti Gawain writes about invocation in her book and gives us some ideas:
You can use the power of invocation to summon any quality or energy that you want or need: strength, wisdom, serenity, compassion, softness, warmth, clarity, intelligence, creativity, healing power. Simply make a strong, clear statement to yourself that this quality is now coming to you!
I am a big believer that our thoughts help shape our world and perhaps I am living proof.
“By choosing your thoughts, and by selecting which emotional currents you will release and which you will reinforce, you determine the quality of your Light. You determine the effects that you will have upon others, and the nature of the experiences of your life.” Gary Zukav
Choose your invocation wisely and may you find much joy and peace.
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

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A New Voice Sharing the Benefits of Yoga

Introducing Michele Vinbury, the new program coordinator for the Yoga on High Foundation. She came to us asking for volunteer opportunities that would marry her skills as a yoga teacher and her life-long commitment to helping those in need. And she became central to furthering the Foundation’s volunteer efforts in general. Please welcome her.

It is an honor to be able to work with Linda, Marcia, Martha and Jasmine contributing to the Yoga On High Foundation (YHF); something that combines two of my greatest passions – yoga and volunteerism.

I began volunteering in high school—making dinners for the local homeless shelter, helping at an annual fundraiser to feed the hungry, answering the hotline at a suicide prevention program, writing letters through Amnesty International. Lest you get the wrong idea, I was not a straight-A student (not even straight-B’s,) nor trying to fill my college entrance paperwork. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to go to college… I believe my interest in volunteerism stemmed from my parents and also from their friends, a close-knit group of bohemian artist types and activist, whom I have always considered an extended family of sorts.

Where to begin? At the beginning of course, the very beginning. I was born in the Andean mountains of Peru to hippie parents. My mother had spent 6 or 7 years in the Peace Corps and my father was a wandering surfer and quasi-missionary, looking for truth and an escape from his stuffy and painful middle-class upbringing.

We spent the first few years of my life living communally in Peru and Brazil. When I was 3, my father, mother, younger brother and I moved to San Diego, where my mother had grown up, and then to Rhode Island where my father was raised. Once in RI, my mother went back to school to become a nurse, and my father found work as a carpenter. It wasn’t long after that they separated and divorced.

In South America, my parents had seen the extremes of developing world poverty. My father especially was affected by this global worldview. In the years after returning from Brazil, though we were poor by American standards, my parents knew that we were rich compared to so many others. This knowledge was something instilled in me from a young age—we are rich in love, we are rich in community. We have food, shelter, education, and we are so lucky to be able to share what we have with those who have less.

The years passed. In the beginning there was no car. My father would ride his bicycle to work and pick us up after school. He would ride us home, me on the long bar and my brother in a milk crate box on the back, down wooded streets and over the train tracks until we reached the house he shared with 3 others. I remember so vividly the day he told us he had built us a house – it was better than being told we were going to Disney. I grew up in the house that my father built. In the winters, the woodstove was always burning, and in the summers, the garden was large and bountiful. There were hard times, but there was always love.

In my late teens and early twenties, I hit a rough patch. Things seemed bleak and I seemed to make a habit out of making bad choices, opting for self-destruction rather than growth. In short, I was a mess. But I was a mess with family and resources. When I needed help, it was given to me, by friends, by family, by strangers and by yoga.

I am exceedingly grateful for the help I received along the way, and the love I continue to receive to this day. Now, in my mid-30s, I have a supportive family, a wonderful husband, healthy and happy children. I am safe. I choose growth, I choose bounty, I choose life. I have found my way, and I believe very strongly that my good fortune should be shared. I have done a lot of work in my life, but I also have been very lucky, some might even say blessed. I have a debt of gratitude for these blessings that I very willingly repay though my volunteerism and seva yoga. It is my joy to be able to give back when I have received so very much.

Through the years I have volunteered in a number of different ways with a number of different organizations. I have volunteered teaching philosophy to male inmates at a medium security prison in Maryland. While living in Maryland, I also did work on a Maryland Coastal Bays project as an intern for an organization called PACE (Institute for Public and Civic Engagement). I have volunteered at a domestic violence agency outside of Chicago. I’ve volunteered with voter registration drives and doing voter canvassing. I’ve volunteered here in Columbus with SARNCO (Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio), and then supported and volunteered at my mother’s non-profit, an organization which has given over 60,000 quilts to wounded soldiers over the past 9 years. Most recently, I have completed a training to be a speaker for a local anti-human trafficking organization, and will begin a training to volunteer with their street outreach, bringing services to woman victims of human trafficking in our area.

On the yoga front, I am teaching a class at Yoga on High for volunteers at a local crisis center and assisting in Yoga on High Foundation’s Yoga in Schools program. I have a few other yoga seva projects in various stages of viability and look forward to sharing them with you in the coming months.

I am very excited and inspired by the opportunities Yoga on High can, and does, bring to our community: Yoga in Schools, Yoga for Vets, an upcoming Cancer Retreat and the impending return of Yoga for Diabetics. In order to fund these programs, and to start new ones, the Foundation, along with the generous help and support of Richard Hillis, is hosting a “Moroccan Nights” summer soiree fund raiser this July 14th from 6:30 to 8:30. It’s bound to be a good time with food, dancing, live music, henna artists and much more. Tickets go on sale soon, you can check this link for updated information: http://yogaonhigh.com/community/community-events-groups/summer-soiree-fundraiser.

I would love to hear from you. Do you have a program you’d like to develop or one you’d like to fund? Feel free to get in touch with me at Michele@YogaOnHigh.com, and let’s bring aid, comfort and relief through yoga to those in need in our community!

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Being Lost on New Ground

By Martha Marcom

Jerry and I have the lovely job of hosting Tim Miller between gigs-- after he finishes the April workshops in Columbus and before he departs for Charlottesville. Since he mentioned our annual hike in his Tuesdays with Timiji Blogs of April 17 and April 24 I offer my experience here.

Over the past dozen years of this tradition, we’ve hiked almost all of the parks of Hocking Hills, sometimes in the rain. Mid-April in Hocking County, spring is generally in its beginning stages with the earliest flowering trees and shrubs in bloom―forsythias, crab apples, and redbuds. The wildflowers include spring beauties, pinks, bloodroot, violets in purple, yellow and white, and sometimes trout lilies. One or two years we’ve been graced with dogwoods. This year, our spring came very early, and everything was in bloom, the trees really leafing out, but were still tender spring green. We walked through a blooming woodland forest.

We decided to head up to Cantwell Cliffs, one of the few area parks we’ve not hiked.
We were richly rewarded in wildflowers and bird song--including an owl hoot--and got pleasantly lost, as there were several places where the trail forked with no explanation.

This photo shows the entrance/descent to the stream-level hiking area.

My friend, the remarkable naturalist Larry Henry, told me that the Hocking Hills area had lost 75% of its original biodiversity because of settlers and farmers, and there is also tremendous displacement of native species by non-native invasive species. The most extensive loss resulted from clear-cutting timber and planting multiflora rose and Asian honeysuckle to prevent erosion. The area is also inundated with garlic mustard and, in some areas, Russian olive trees. Garlic mustard not only spreads prolifically, it also makes the soil inhospitable to other plants. It’s a good plant to recognize and eliminate whenever and wherever you can. You can eat the leaves in salads, and use them to make garlic mustard pesto, but the flowers and seeds are ideally disposed of in secured plastic bags so that they can’t inadvertently spread further.  Here is a photo of a plant in early spring, and then they begin to look gangly like this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two years ago in April I was still limping and recovering from a car-bike accident--me on the bike. Last year it was a personal triumph for me to muster along the ridge trail of Conkle’s Hollow for a 1.5 mile hike. This year, I had no restrictions, and I reveled in the pure joy of just being able to walk along and explore this unfamiliar trail of undetermined length. That the walk was with Tim and Jerry on a perfect golden day along winding trails strewn with trilliums, violets of every color, phlox, jack-in-the-pulpits, wild geraniums was over the top glorious. I celebrated the relative biodiversity expressed in the variet of flowers. Jerry caught sight of two lady slippers, a wild orchid, and also a tall orchid-like flower I’ve not yet been able to identify which is pictured below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tim lead us across a shelf-like ledge of a large rock face.

In crossing this, we were sprinkled with little rivulets of what felt to me like holy water.

Tim’s workshop --especially the 3rd Series Intensive--took us to new territory which will not be a familiar practice to me in my lifetime. What was challenging in class, being lost on new ground, I loved about our hike this year.

The Hocking Hills area of Hocking County is just an hour south of Columbus. In addition to the gorgeous hikes, you’ll find tourist attractions, and we just had to stop at the newest one--the Pencil Sharpener Museum at the Welcome Center.

At the Paul A Johnson Pencil Sharpener Museum in Logan, OH.

There are many artists, musicians and writers who live in Hocking Hills and a wonderful annual poetry festival where we were lucky enough two years also to be in the presence of Coleman Barks, the renowned translator and reader of Rumi. To study with Tim Miller is to be regaled and uplifted with delicious readings of Rumi, Hafiz and others as you enter Savasana. Next April, at the Poetry Festival, one of YOHI’s favorite poets, Naomi Shihab Nye, will be one of the guest poets.

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What will they play at your funeral?

By Marcia Miller
What music do you want to be played at your funeral? How would you like to be remembered? What is meaningful about your life now that you would like to be expressed after you are gone? How might your music choices support your grieving friends? Do you know, really know, that one day, perhaps even today, you are going to die?
One of the most joyful and meaningful lunches I had recently was with David Maywhoor. He is the keeper of the funeral music for his “tribe” of friends. This circle of friends, many friends since the 1970s, worked together as part of the “War on Poverty.” This “family by choice,” born in the crucible of social commitment, worked hard and played hard and when their friends died they helped the families at the memorial services and funerals. At one point David realized that just after someone dies is a very hard time to make any decision, including meaningful decisions about the ceremony that celebrates a life. “What music would you like at your funeral?” became his refrain. This question generated lists; he created his own as did many friends. And suddenly he was the keeper of the lists.
As we sat at lunch over miso soup and sushi, I asked if he could show me any of the lists. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of old postcards of all sizes held together with a rubber band. I had tingles and goose-bumps all over my body as I reached for these sacred cards—the cards of people who were contemplating their own mortality. The card on top was the card for David’s first wife, Carol, who died of cancer many years ago. Hers was the first death after he started to keep the cards. There were 4 or 5 songs listed on this card and I asked which ones they had played—“All of them.” At a funeral he dreaded, the music was already chosen, and it was perfect for him, the family and their many friends. As he talked about the songs, he remembered each one with a kind of fondness—each one just right for this devastating occasion.
Looking at the cards felt a bit like reading someone’s journal, yet I also found them deeply inspiring and in many cases full of humor. More than one person listed their songs and then urged everyone to have a big party after the ceremony. Many asked that one or more of their songs be played by Steve, a member of their community who plays the guitar. Judging by the cards he plays a mean Guantanamero. I thought of Steve and what it would be like to play at a friend’s funeral—how impossible and how wonderful that would be—I choked up at the thought of it.
I was surprised at how much curiosity and pleasure I had while reading over the cards and I lingered over each one. Every type of music imaginable was included, from gospel to blues to rock and roll to the rags of Scott Joplin. Amazing Grace was listed often but so was Stand by Me. Peggy Lee was represented with “Is that all there is” along with the Ashokan Farewell (remember the PBS special, The Civil War?). People listed Gregorian Chants and Jefferson Airplane, Cat Stevens and Eric Burdon and the Animals.

I was especially moved to see that people updated the cards as they aged and changed their minds about what was important to them. That suggested an ongoing conversation between them and David and perhaps within themselves as well. At one point in our lunch David said that this ritual of keeping the music list had been “a way to have this conversation about death.” I could imagine a friend coming up to him and saying he wanted to make a change on his card. And that more could be said, or not, but that they would both feel that something important had happened.
Standing in the presence of death, for me, is the great truth of all our lives. We WILL die, just as everyone who has ever lived has or will die. This truth orients me to the purpose of my life and invites me to feel the gratitude I have for so many moments in it. Nothing is promised and nothing is taken for granted. Babies die; grandparents die; friends die. And what is left, what continues on is Love.

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