Yoga is a discipline, a series of actions and inquiries done with consistent effort and attention.
It is easy for the western mind, raised on the false idea that we are broken,to fixate on the external practices as a way to prove and earn our worthiness.
Practice doesn’t earn you grace. Grace is your birthright.
Practice allows you to get in touch with that truth and loosen the stranglehold of attachment and aversion.
~ Kelly Jean Moore
Excerpt from Desert Notes by Barry Lopez:
“Explanations will occur to you, seeming to clarify; but they can be a kind of trick. You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing.
Feel how still it is. You can become impatient here, willing to accept any explanation in order to move on. This appears to be nothing at all, but it is a wall between you and what you are after. Be sure you are not tricked into thinking there is nothing to fear. Moving on is not important. You must wait. You must take things down to the core.”
Growth is the currency of the yogi these days.
Not just internal growth but also outward expressions of growth such as projects and skills. I hear from students, friends, and even from my own thoughts, a regular desperation at wanting something to manifest immediately, and the struggle of not seeing it come to fruition.
Think of your life as a gardening experiment. In order to succeed at gardening, you must do more than plant and water.
You must understand the seasons. There is a time to plant and harvest but there is also much waiting and no guarantee of useable crops. The will of circumstance does have a way of undermining your plans. Soil matters as does the amount of sun your patch of land gets. You have to work with what you’ve got.
If you are tired, my advice is to stop pushing and listen. Instagram and your great creations can wait. Not moving on or moving forward but settling in….. In and down towards your roots is the appropriate action.
Naturalness is the opposite of cleverness according to Taoist teachings. You don’t need to “hack” your life so much as see it and engage with it more clearly.
Learn the qualities and rhythms of our seasons and obey the natural flow and you will struggle less in general. Fall and Winter are more Yin (simplify and rest) where Spring, Summer and Late Summer are more Yang (Play and produce).
See your life also in seasons. Are you in an incubation period? What is the biggest pull of your energy from day to day? Example: If you have children under the age of 5, you are in survival mode and fighting against that will only exhaust you further and leave you feeling disappointed in yourself.
If you can identify your season, you can stop fighting yourself and instead support what needs to be supported.
Seasonality, patience, curiosity, and appropriate action yield the best results.
Happy gardening everyone!
The Season of the Sun
At this moment I am camped out on the back deck watching my son stack shells while my partner tends the grill. I’m hot but the breeze and the shade provide the perfect amount of relief to keep me satisfied and glued to my seat. Speaking of seats, underneath mine is the newest member of our family. Bear, the rescue pup, is curled up and content to snap at flies and chew his paws. This is a Summer Sunday as the sun slowly sets and I am fully aware of my stupidly childlike love of the season.
We only just passed the solstice and already we are moving headlong into heat and heat and heat. The Summer time is considered the most Yang season of the year in traditional Chinese medicine.
Yang = Light, Heat, Activity
The element associated with Summer is fire, big surprise I know, and the organs that rules the season as well as the system of meridians are the heart and small intestine.
The two forces to consider now are the action of Yang energy and the nature of the heart.Yang energy at its best is playful, joyful, and easily expressed.
Now is the time to enjoy what you have grown in your life. Lean into the way things are and ride the waves of pleasure as far as you can. Now is not the time to start new projects or do deep excavating in your life. Eat what grows and feel work as play.
Though this is an active (Yang) time of year, the heart rules the blood, governing circulation. Blood is considered yin fluid that balances yang chi.
Yin = Dark, Cool, Passivity
So the Yin aspect of the blood tempers the rising heat of summer giving us the glorious willingness to just be as we are. Yin is all about being.
Basically the two natural attitudes of Summer are easeful play and unapologetic rest.
Rise with the sun
Rest at mid-day when the heat is unbearable
Play and relax in the evening and enjoy the later days
Eat mostly fruit and veggies
Lighten up on the animal products and grains
Look for cooling foods and drinks
To stimulate the heart meridian, work with shoulder openers and thoracic spine mobility.
Did I mention play?
**Be aware of over heating. It is excess heat that throws the fun of Summer into a tailspin causing sleep issues, digestive problems, and skin irritations.
If overheated do more cooling Yin Yoga.
Keep things simple and settle into life’s natural rhythm.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Don’t push or chase after change. Change is always happening anyways….to you and all the objects/humans/celestial bodies around you. Impermanence is an immutable law that is impossible to avoid. Your JOB isn’t to chase the yogic transformation from ignorance (Avidya) to wisdom (Prajna) per say. Your JOB is to wake up to the layer that you are already inhabiting and dwell there fully with all your loving awareness. When you lean into your boundaries or limitations without blowing past them or avoiding them, something very interesting happens. Psychologically speaking, its like allowing a toddler to tantrum in your arms with out forcing them to stop or move forward. When you acknowledge the suffering with out trying to change it, it changes on its own. This suggestion is fairly difficult to implement in daily life when dealing with yourself if you don’t have a formal practice to help you understand the concept directly through the body.
The practice of yoga; asana(postures), pranayama(breathing exercises), and seated meditation are designed to help us work with our boundaries, physical and otherwise.
“Work from your layer….don’t skip ahead!”
I call this out repeatedly in the Mission Yoga classroom. It is common for us both on and off the mat to get caught in outward appearances. We let the external perception drive the internal experience and usually we do things that aren’t really aligned at all. When you chase advancement in the physical postures you often end up loading your joints in a misaligned and disembodied way that burns calories but eventually leads to injuries. I’m not suggesting that you should only practice gentle asana at all. The work is in going slow enough to discern your boundaries and to practice with them in sight. Being in your layer means you find your first edge (it is more subtle and nuanced than it seems) and wait there until you become comfortable. Then a natural transition into the next available layer occurs without unnecessary force or wasted energy.
A simple postural example is wide leg fold. I can take my legs wide and tip my torso till my forehead is on the ground. But if I’m honest, I can feel my first layer of stretch before my forearms are even down. If I sit in my first layer I can feel when the tissue that is resistant lets out and then I move again. The power is in the backing up, resting in, and responding rather than demanding. You have to ask yourself, where am I within the posture instead of how do I fit myself into the shape.
I must admit that my paradigm is that of the feminine intelligence of Yin that our culture is sorely lacking. The Yin way is only half of the conversation but it is the half that doesn’t get enough airtime in the world of Modern Postural Yoga. Waiting and listening as a practice fosters skillful action in our bodies and the world. All you have to do is live in, and grow through, the layers right there in your body/heart/mind. Transformation is a guarantee.
BY STANLEY KUNITZ
I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.
December 21st is the darkest day of the year and signals the start of the winter season. The solstice is considered the most Yin day of the year and Winter is the most Yin season. You have opportunities or obstacles to face depending on your orientation. The darkness of today and the yin quality of the season are glorious invitations to turn inward and get quiet with your self. If you resist this invitation, you will be pushing back against the natural order of things and against your own innate capacity to organize your physical, and energetic embodiment in relationship to the natural world.
The Kidney meridian, most heavily associated with this season, governs the jing (essence energy) that fuels growth and supports immune function. The health of our essence energy is greatly depleted by stress and overstimulation and this time of year the fight or flight response is in overdrive for many. If we deplete our Kidneys and adrenals now, when the rising energy of Spring bursts onto the scene we will be ill prepared to thrive as creative engines. Now is the time to rest, minimize social commitments, and guard time for personal reflection. Yogis are always looking for ways to simplify and bring more Yin into their lives to cultivate balance but now especially, we can all benefit from following the cues of nature. Donna Eden calls winter the Embryonic Rhythm. That name really illuminates the ideal for me. It suggest that we go inward and incubate quietly, passively receiving nourishment from the internal experience of self as both parent and child.
Here are suggestions for thriving in the cold and dark of Winter:
1. Keep your feet, belly, and low back warm. Wear socks Charleston Yogis! Dress for the weather in general with smart layers. It isn’t that cold here but when it does get chilly I see far too many people inappropriately dressed.
2. Go to bed early as often as possible. Sleep resets the nervous system like nothing else.
3. Eat root vegetables and soups. Focus on warm foods and use healthy fats to cook and season with. You should gain a little weight in the winter as all animals do. The weight shouldn’t come from excess sugar indulgence and yo yo extreme workouts but instead should arise as we rest more and eat more heavy and grounding foods.
4. Keep your workouts more mellow. The Kidneys are often referred to as the house of fire and water. If there is too much rising heat in the body (triggered by stress and over exertion) it weakens the kidneys thereby lowering your immune function. Everyone is different so there are no hard and fast rules here but consistency and moderation are always key to exercise.
5.Give yourself permission to disappoint others in order to take care of yourself. Instead of saying yes to everyone and everything then stressing and potentially flaking on your commitments anyways, say no to begin with and keep your calendar more spacious. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. Life is short and Winter can offer us the opportunity to create better boundaries and grow our wise discernment.
6. As you lighten up on the Vinyasa and heavy lifting, double down on the Yin Yoga, Restorative Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, and Yoga Nidra practices. Don’t give up activity by any means. Prioritize nourishment first and do less stimulating exercise but remember that this is a spectrum. Each persons personal needs are different.
I hope you find the Winter nourishing and subtly transformative. If you find yourself fearful or overwhelmed ask for support. Know that you have the tools and can find the guides you need.