Wednesday, October 5, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Gateless Gate / Mumon, 2011
A CONSISTENT BODY-MIND practice forms a pathway that begins somewhere in the past and reaches into the future. Consistent practice might be likened to an upward trail around a mountain. If we have practiced for a while, we have likely encountered points where the pathway offers new perspectives. Looking back to where practice began, things that once were large are now small—as if on a mountain trail and gazing back at an outspreading moraine below where roadways are reduced to thin lines and details are lost. And looking ahead, there is a vast, opening terrain, where the present moment of practice is somehow a tiny facet of the vast—as if gazing into an archipelago of clouds and the tips of numerous summits of a range of mountain uplift. And ahead on the pathway, there are turns that will offer views now hidden.
While the depth of our practice will grow with consistent returns, it is also possible that we might travel a good distance and fall far short of what the pathway offers us. This occurs when the pathway becomes routine, and we hold to narrow expectations rather than calm. In yoga, for example, we may settle for a little more strength or flexibility or familiarity with the routine. And our practice may then become a walled tunnel rather than an opening gateway.
When we come to a body-mind practice session, we cross a threshold. We might believe that we are simply stepping from the face pace of everyday into a still space for some moments of respite. But when the body-mind practice optimizes calmness, we might cross over into an unwalled landscape that is almost like finding another world inside the everyday world. This newfound world is not an esoteric escape, but rather is a step inside the deep work that buoys up the everyday.
In everyday time, we might say, “It is 1PM—time for restorative yoga to begin.” However, by 2 PM, the practice room will have rotated perhaps one thousand miles to the East as the Earth rotates and, in our everyday vision, the sun appears to move West. By 2 PM, on our matts, we have journeyed well over one million miles as a dust speck aspect of the Milky Way Galaxy—flying carpets of sorts! All of this might go unperceived since we find comfort in creating distance and boundaries as a “nectar” of familiarity that offers comfort, while each moment, cosmos sweeps through our actions, and we, almost unknowingly and not wanting to know, express cosmos.
Coming for a physical workout or for relaxation or for respite, we likely will find walls where there is a gateway. When we do not calm, this gateway is likely to remain hidden. But when we calm, where there once seemed to be a wall, a pathway may open an enduring child state that offers a sense of wonder.
Copyright Paige Andreas, age 8, The Door At The End Of The Rainbow, 2011
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Rivers Into Islands, 24”x48, 2006
THE QUIETNESS AND SUSTAINED poses of restorative yoga may not be just an adjunct to more active yoga: Restorative yoga practice may influence the direction of general yoga practice.
Restorative-Yin yoga practice suggests taking a strong look at the value of slowing down. In slowing down, there is a rich opportunity for power [strength and flexibility], subtlety, deepening, centering, and receptivity.
The longer time spent in restorative poses may begin to be reflected in spending longer time in familiar yoga sequences that focus more on muscular strength and flexibility, as well as encourage more attention to Yin Yoga that holds poses longer to focus on connective tissue.
Yoga sequences involving longer time spent in poses [and that are repeated several times weekly(i.e., regularly)] might accelerate increases in flexibility and strength. Staying in the pose for longer duration may allow for gravity to do its work, as well as further relaxation of tension that, in turn, allows for participants to release a little further into the pose to increase flexibility, as well as increase muscle strength that might be missed in shorter-held poses.
In “Soft Power Yoga,” holding a pose for a longer duration is further amplified by doing variations on that pose before proceeding to a new pose. For example, Wide Forward Bend [Prasarita Padottanasana] might involve a sequence of variations including:
- support on hands,
- followed by placing head on matt,
- followed by clasping hands behind back with head on matt and extending forward/overhead,
- followed by extending a hand to the right and then to the left for a twist,
- followed by a pose involving hands extended out from the sides of the body and then forward in “prayer hands” and, finally,
- followed by lowering down to elbows and lowering the central body to extend legs even wider.
The “heart” of Soft Power Yoga involves an extended stay in a core pose with variations. This practice may accelerate the strengthening of muscles and flexibility. Further, variations on a single pose, continue to reinforce previous and ongoing work such as opening the upper back, twisting, and so forth. Occasional counter-poses such as child [Balasana] allow enough recovery to sustain the intensity rather than compromise the continually held poses. Finally, holding poses longer may really optimize stretching and strengthening connective tissue that responds best to sustained poses as Yin Yoga capitalizes on to strengthen lumbar and hip fascia. In Soft Power Yoga, connective tissue is engaged throughout the body. One place this may become evident is in the upper back and chest.
“Soft” essentially references “slow,” and is a quite different experience than a more rapid flow. This is not to say that doing sequences of poses much slower is better that moving faster. Since each is different, each offers different qualities. And since each is different, poses such as lunges, warrior variations, and triangle variations may be done in routine sessions, while other poses might be stressed in Soft Power sessions, enriching overall yoga practice. However, doing vinyasa involving, for example, Sun Salutation variations, very slow, and holding each pose longer may produce rapid qualitative and quantitative gains in strength. Doing the same, for example with seated variations— such as Standing Forward Bend, followed by a sequence of seated variations such as Head-To-Knee [Janu Sirsasana], Marichyasana A&B&C, Tortoise [Kurmasana] and Seated “West” Intense Stretch [Paschimottanasana]—holding poses for longer durations—may produce more rapid gains in flexibility.
One optimizing advantage of slowing down sequences of poses as well as doing variations on each major pose is that it provides time to stay in the pose and “listen to the body” in that pose. Physiologically, a practitioner may experience the relaxation of tension and the ability to go a little further in the pose for increased flexibility or strength. This conclusion is rather rational and anticipated.
Likely to be less recognized but just as rational, the stillness provides a contemplative quality that might be missed in the process of frequent postural shifts in vinyasa sequences. A “Soft” [Pelava] “Power” [Zakti] orientation is quantitatively different from either a popular and dominant vinyasa sequence or a “Power Yoga” that involves rapidly shifting postures or that may quite athletic/gymnastic, involving shifts such as rollovers from plank to bridge poses. In general, all “yoga” practices tend to be described by participants as consummating in a spiritual quality that basic exercise does not provide but, often, there is a sense that the practices may too-closely mimic the fast pace of modern life, and have their strongest appeal as “physical fitness workouts” that may be more appealing than traditional fitness options, but still be essentially popular, alternative “fitness” models.
Appealing to a general exercise population, “Soft Power” sequences satisfy a need for a fitness process that is oriented toward increasing flexibility and strength [and may provide more rapid results]. However, uniquely, “Soft Power Yoga” may better incorporate a process of slowing down, releasing tension, and going further into the opportunities presented by holding the pose to optimize flexibility and strength, AND “listen to the spirit.”
Holding poses longer may also allow for more intuitive practice. In staying with a pose and listening to the body, variations in poses unique to each person may emerge, as practitioners listen more closely to the body and aspire to respond to that which is needed.
Why “Soft Power Yoga”?
Simply, by any measure, “Soft Power Yoga” is appealing its concrete efficacy in optimizing—rapidly----flexibility and strength in the physical body. And then, as a gateway to optimize our capacity to open and listen and develop, “Soft Power” offers something that is not new, something known and longstanding: a core drive toward deep calmness in yoga and other body-mind practices as well.
SELECTED SOFT POWER SEQUENCE THEMES:
Seal [Yin] /Cobra [Hatha] variations
Wide Angle Forward Fold variations [sketched above] / Frog variations / Saddle-
Reclining Hero variations
Standing Forward Fold variations [+fold in Half Lotus]
Seated Variations: e.g., Janu Sirsasana, Marichya variations, Seated Intense Stretch,
Supported Shoulder Stand variations
Sun Salutation [slow]
Squat variations: e.g., Garland, Balancing Bound Angle
OVERALL COMPONENTS OF SOFT POWER:
An intermediate practice: a balance of rest, activity and illumination
“Hang out” in poses [slow and hold] and their variations to optimize increasing flexibility [Ayama, “flexible” to “open the door”] and strength; all with a strong sense of calmness or “softness,” listening to body-mind-spirit.
HANG OUT IN POSES:
- Hold/sustain poses longer to maximize stretch and strength: notice tightness, stretch and then release;
- Do sequences that involve variations of each pose: child, wide-angle forward fold, forward fold, shoulder stands;
- Explore poses not often done in regular group practice
RELEASING TO DEEPEN AND LISTEN:
- Counters of muscle intensity and rest [warming and cooling];
- Open relaxation/ explore “release” through slow flow through poses, finishing the practice session with an overall sense of relaxation;
- Slowness and holding provides mental space to listen to body [sensations and imagery] vs. keeping pace with a cycle of vinyasa; and
- Inner quietness by slowing activity.
Copyright Lance Kinseth, A Prayer Of Birds And Trees: Going Inside Leaves, 48”x48, 2011
The floral notebook is nearly closed.
Tree tops sooth our loss of flowers to the frost: crimson, oranges and ambers
As miraculous star-catching leaves dehisce.
Cold rain, crisp winds and the rich beginning of
Soft leaf fall—precision sun mechanics thrown down,
But not away,
Becoming this year’s rich page in the book of the Earth.
Late wild flowers have found their wings
Feathered--almost, unbarbed—almost a satin texture.
The North of Earth sways away from the sun
—Extraordinarily ordinary—as the whole planet Earth, topples away from the Sun.
EXQUISITE “CRISP” COLOR bursts out of the North American mid-continent, as if “green” suddenly opens to a color sample book. Under the matt of soil, all of the tubers are swollen, readying to slow-cook and meld with everything we will bring to them—onions and bouillon and salts and peppers, to spice up the growing darkness. In the Southern Hemisphere, “Spring” and “Summer,” as we have known it, will open to something not less than “grace” through that which we are likely to name “winter.”
With the slow tilt of the Earth, perhaps we might lean back just a little more. Perhaps we might give over, just little more, “striving.” And with this seasonal shift, perhaps a corollary sense of appreciation for things that high-speed modern time seems to miss opens.
All around us, the leaves are moving from green to gold and crimson. We begin to directly see the “inside of leaves,” as leaves turn themselves inside out. The green chlorophyll dissipates as leaves shut down and dehisce from the branch. And the rainbow of colors that were hidden by green appear, sometime abruptly, as if overnight. There are many colors in that which we might superficially term “green” or “yellow” or “orange” or “red.” There are viridians and cadmiums, olive, Van Dyke red and burnt sienna, orange red, almond, Venetian rose, chocolate, sandalwood, raspberry, yellow oxide, burgundy, wisteria, bronze yellow, copper, apricot, and edges along veins glowing teal and emerald green and magenta.
This might be a rich time for body-mind practice. As the colors of fall begin to appear, so, too, our body-mind practices might begin to gradually take on a different “color” or “tone.” A “routine” of seemingly same-old, dependable practices—like summer’s dependable “green”—may begin to open to a “rainbow.”
In the Northern Hemisphere, the night begins to lengthen. Perhaps we begin to also lengthen, perhaps spending more time in a pose, and/or perhaps we give over some more time devoted to opening the rich “palate” that has remained more internal up to now in our body-mind practices.
As we go deeper inside body-mind practice in any season, we might even find that inside is so deep that there is no boundary between “inside” and “outside.”
In The Triumph Of The Sparrow: Zen Poems, Shinkichi Takahashi writes that “The sparrow stirs/ The universe has moved slightly” [p.68] and “He hops calmly, from branch to empty branch/ In an absolutely spaceless world” [p.44]. Takahashi admonishes us that there is this very real way that we are the sparrow, flowers, snow, wind, bream, the universe falling apart, a strawberry, a rat, thistles [blooming in the heart], and the sun with four legs waging its tail.
We try to imagine that we are “solid,” which may be to say that we are self-complete. We might even imagine that we are separate and above most of our experience, including the human beings that we daily encounter in traffic, shopping, walking, in houses that we amble by.
We are not transparent enough. We think that we have boundaries, especially at our skin. Just once, try holding your breath or not eating. The world swims in us, not even needing to come “inside,” as that is what is has been doing, becoming that is named “ourselves,” “we,” “us,” “you” and “I.”
In any season, our body-mind practices are offered an opportunity to NOT be limited.
In restorative-yin yoga, we come to the matt, and if we are fortunate, in the stillness and quietness of the practice, we are drawn, deeply, inside. It is a landscape that we know, that we immediately recognize, but it is a place that we may not really go as deep as we might. Inside, we are offered more than a mask of green. Inside, a rainbow may become visible.