RESTORATIVE-YIN YOGA involves supported body/mind relaxation. This is gentle, gentle yoga that promotes deep relaxation for stress reduction while also stretching and rehabilitating connective tissue.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Balance 2: Transformational Balance

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

IN BODYMIND PRACTICES, improving balance can come to reference literal physical balance.  And so studies of health benefits of practices such as tai chi and yoga report gains in physical balance that prevents falls and offers better mobility.  And yet, this sense of balance is facile, missing the heart of balance.

There are, for example, yoga practitioners who can assume amazing feats of physical balance, and yet, may be quite imbalanced in terms of relatively high anxiety levels and/or limited skills and interest in calming and quieting.  

Bodymind practices that concentrate on providing an “antidote” to hectic everyday life are likely to be far more beneficial, both physiologically and psycho-spiritually, than gains in physical balance.

When you cross a threshold into a space where gentle bodymind practices are occurring, there can be a major, dramatic shift from the fast pace of the everyday that offers an important sense of balance.

And yet, such an “antidote” tends to be rare.  When balance in the everyday is pursued, popular efforts tend to be a “physical workout.”  “Working out” may be broadly touted as countering the stress or imbalance one experiences in everyday life.  And often, “working out” stresses physical intensity to exorcise frustration and stress.  And the generic report is that one feels better, but somewhat paradoxically, post-workout from an endorphin rush, and one can retreat home and rest.

There is physiological evidence that vigorous exercise produces body chemistry changes that are associated with stress reduction and mood elevation.  And yet, is not “working out” somewhat akin to stress producing “working.” We become our words.  One begins to presume that stress-reduction is, paradoxically, shorter bursts of stress to overcome the dastardly effect of long runs of stress.  Slowing down and quieting and calming may become anxiety provoking, and endured for perhaps minutes only.  Why?  Because one seems to be doing nothing, and how can nothing be good. 

Intensively working out—especially finishing the workout—may be somewhat akin to coming down from the highs of summating a mountain.  Too fast, one is quickly back in the everyday, with no transformation to a more regular state of emotional balance.  The antidote for work is a workout.

At some point, a bell sound might be heard.  It might be the clack of a stone on the cobbles.  It might be weariness in facing the start of another “workout.”  There might be a moment where “release” comes from doing next to nothing.  And this release is, somehow, balancing.  And this “doing nothing” is more complex than heretofore imagined.  One might begin to feel like a rat on a treadmill, chasing survival.  But now, there is something qualitatively different.  It is not about survival.  It is about thriving and optimizing, and repeating the same behavior might be sensed to be circling on the exercise wheel.

Life is change.  Open.  Graced.  And this is health—open, graced.  Suddenly, there is a sense of permission to still, and calm.  And nothing stops dead.  Rather, the streaming of the universe may be touched. 

One surrenders, takes refuge, and is bolstered up by everything.  Not needing to be in charge, but rather, following, freeing rather than controlling.

One bobs in a vast ocean of support rather than is alone.   Each breath is fresh and overfull of oxygen.  In tadasana [mountain pose], Rodney Yee [Yoga: The Poetry Of The Body, p. 57] writes of offering ( likely costly piece of a yoga workshop with him) permission to lean this way and that—“falling and recovering”--as an aspect of experiencing the asana—“bobbing” as I might say, being held up by the whole ocean of existence and being.  Each step and each step is, in Zen practice, a fall off a cliff, never hitting bottom, due to life being a constancy of change.

And so bobbing, not really touching bottom, is the swim of authentic balance.  And it requires stilling and calming to perceive the way to fall and recover.  Tomorrow, an ache on awakening, snowfall perhaps or oppressive heat, the call of bird, sun shadows painting the wall, a new sound and then another, respiration and elimination and digestion, the turn of a planet and the flight the sun, unending—all wondrous and magical and, in our sway with it, transformational balance.   

Sunday, December 16, 2012


Copyright Lance Kinseth 2012

RADIANCE IS THAT WHICH we refer to in namaste as perhaps its essence—seeing light emanating from ourselves and from others and from all events that we experience.  But seeing the radiance is perhaps much more rare than imagining the radiance when we offer namaste.  Seeing radiance requires practiced calmness and openness. 

Sometimes radiance may come spontaneously in what we call “peak experiences.”  Perhaps we are in a rare landscape and come to experience a light emanating from everything, from objects or other persons or the flow of wind or water.  But as a peak experience, we stand to quickly lose it.

In Pilgrim At Tinker Creek, Annie Dillard writes,
Then one day I was walking along Tinker Creek thinking of nothing at
all and I saw the tree with the lights in it.  I saw the backyard cedar
where the mourning doves roots charged and transfigured, each cell
buzzing with flame.  I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that
was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed.  It was less like
seeing than being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful
 glance.  The flood of fire abated but I am still spending the power.

Similarly, from a poetic perspective, in the international anthology of poetry edited by Czeslaw Milosz, A Book Of Luminous Things [Harcourt Brace, 1996], Milosz selects poems that are realist and accessible, and that ‘illuminate’ the “secret of a thing.”

When we get it and however we get it and for however long we have it, one of the qualities that this ‘light’ produces is a sense of the disappearance of otherness—separation.  At first, this holistic view can appear to be a dream, because the world that awe have come to know seems to be a landscape of differences.  And yet, the obvious differences may come to be understood to be facets of the whole.  And emotionally, there be the experience of expansion, thus reducing anxiety that may be associated with a sense of constriction and isolation/separation, and a newfound landscape of support.

The mountains, rivers, earth, grasses, trees, and forests, are
 always emanating a subtle, precious light, day and night, always
emanating a subtle, precious sound, demonstrating and expounding
to all people the unsurpassed ultimate truth.
It is just because you miss it right where you are, or avoid it
even as you face it, that you are unable to attain actual use of it.
[76, Zen maser Yuansou, in Thomas Cleary, Zen Essence]

Such luculent, luminous radiance will most likely remain invisible in the fast pace of the everyday.  In the return of daylight that marks the coming of the New Year in the Northern Hemisphere, this light may be symbolically expressed in the electrified Yule tree and lights that decorate houses and lawn ornaments that metaphorically illuminate the everyday.
But in any season, by stilling and quieting and calming, Dillard’s “lights/fire” and Milosz’s “secret of a thing” and Yuansou’s “subtle, precious light”—may be opened and lived.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

A Metaphor: The INTRA-net Of Body-Mind—Enfolding & Outspreading

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Living Computer, 2012

THERE IS, OF COURSE, the “cybernetic/electronic Internet” that weaves us into the world in remarkable ways.  Within each of us, there is also an inTRA-net with memory that goes deeply back into time, even well before time itself.  And were we to understand this intranet, we might find that it is, perhaps, something not exclusively within.

The body is this intra-net’s  “electronic computer” of sorts.  It has been contrived across the millennia.  Seemingly thick tissue is porous—with a variety of intricate systems of channels—nerves, and circulatory [blood and lymph] and respiratory and digestive, and some sort of more elusive energy process at work [chakras and “meridians,” and quantum processes and chaos patterning and dark matter and suspect particles jumping into other dimensions]. 

In the simplest reflex, perhaps a near ancestor’s gesture is there—that gesture which appears at times in your gesture.  Your index finger—an uncle’s—taps the table.  The tone of your voice is perhaps that of another relative embedded in you carrying forward, alive in you.  Your aging aunt may have pointed such things out to you.

All of the ancestors are there (were you to calm and deeply attend).  And all of the most tested knowledge that reaches far beyond the emergence of genus Homo and species sapiens on the nature of life is also present.  The Earth itself is a billions-years old computer of sorts, outspread into and interconnected with innumerable computers that we name “flora” and “fauna” and “mountain” and “water,” aspiring to answer (as is suggested in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Universe), the “meaning of life.”

This intra (“within”) net is “on” in each moment, but it is typically only “reading” (at least, consciously to you and I) the very selective “email” of everyday chatter that is both essential to accessing needs and intrusive to the point of inducing stress.  Because of the overload of just this small range of process, we rarely, if ever, intentionally/consciously go much further, and “search” the files and their connections to the external, infinite “cloud.”

The stillness and calmness of some body-mind practices are the essential “search engine” of this intra-net.  And their most simple objective can be just to induce a little rest and, perhaps, bring a greater sense of harmony between the “little universe” of self and the larger universe that expresses and designs it for a goal of improved health.

When we very intentionally still and calm and quiet, we stand a chance of accessing this Oceanus of information, both stored internally and in the infinite cloud.  Often, however, we get caught up in the rituals of the practices, and may do little more that reflect or mirror our beliefs.  Or we simply aspire to find some moments of respite, and so we lean back into the rituals of a particular body-mind practice.

The ultimate promise of the stillness and calmness of body-mind practices is the possibility of reaching deeply into a landscape that is imaginal rather than imaginary, which is really to say, a deeper reality that is intuitively read.  “Google” “Quiet/Stillness/Calmness,” and be sure to combine your search with a strong sense of self-criticism to gradually bypass our cultural/social/psychological filters enough to begin to access this intra-net, and see what might present itself.

Aspire to offer an invitation rather than set an intention [often culturally driven and therefore limiting.  Quiet, still, and calm, not making anything, not believing, not defining, just opening a gate where there had appeared to be a wall.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Yoga Play

YOGA CAN BE intuitive.  And intuitive practice can be playful.  And this play can be gentle or intensive.  One might sway gently like seaweed in the ocean, similar to “flow” in tai chi—in “tabletop,” “down dog,” or “seated.”  One might utilize features of the practice space or props.  Play and softness can be a way to “pre-begin” rather than jump right into either stillness or a sequence of poses.

preliminary stretching 1

By week’s end, after consistent practice, perhaps a little strength building or “friskiness” begins the practice session.  More exploration, seeing what might call out and what will be needed to realize the idea.  The goal then is not to be perfect, but more playfully “edgy.”

frisky Friday 1

frisky Friday 2

And then, it might be time to let it go, rather than make this “yoga.”   Because this 5000 year old practices are not primarily concerned with physical softness or friskiness or even with poses or as a process that is done to give physical health.  And skill with strength or flex or balance can miss the mark, and have next to nothing to do with mastery of yoga.  In Awakening The Spine, Vanda Scaravelli writes,
To Be Proud Of Our Yoga Positions is bad taste.  To be able to do poses “successfully” means nothing, nothing at all.  Yoga should not be a circus.  It must not be done as a refuge from life.

And so, back to stilling and calming and quieting and opening a gate where there had, heretofore, appeared to be a wall.  Gentle as the deep way forward.  Calming, holding, breathing, listening, releasing, following the body vs. controlling.

Soft Power Baddha Konasana / Yin Butterfly

Saturday, November 17, 2012

A Gift: Cracks In The Heart

Lance Kinseth, 2012

AT FIRST GLANCE, it would appear that participants in gentle body mind practices do so because of difficulty practicing more arduous strength and flex-favoring classes.

Observation of participants who practice gentle body mind over time may reveal a more profound reason for participation.  Most participants may initially be drawn to gentle practices simply because they are “gentle” or “relaxing.”  But across time, the practices open something more compelling.  In marital arts, people may begin as a form of exercise or self-defense.  But by the time they approach black belt, they typically describe the benefits in terms of virtues and self-development that outweigh physical attributes.

The youthful heart is rather impenetrable—self-centered and perhaps less compassionate.   But life has a way of “cracking the heart.” 

A timeline of a person’s life is a roller coaster of ups and downs.  And the “downs” leave cracks in the heart.   Encounters with sorrow and loss, responsibilities and choices that seem to limit freedom, a growing sense of mortality, and a growing sense that one controls very little challenge the sense of impenetrability. 

The “downs” in life can seem to make life appear to be a battle and a struggle for survival.  And so there are body mind teachers who even teach that “cracks in the heart” are the problematic elements to be driven out by rigorous body mind practices.
When one calms and quiets, instead of the heart being broken and wounded by “downs,” the cracks may allow light in.  And as the light enters, “downs” might begin to transform to opportunities and possibilities.  The black and white world may become subtle and eloquent.

Many young and seasoned body mind practitioners who acknowledge that the gentle practices are those to which the highest levels of body mind aspire, but never “find the time”—so very busy trying to stay up and in control.     

Cracks in the heart are powerful—not weaknesses.  They are gifts that open the heart.  Everything offers.  Because the heart is cracked, love and light flow freely in and out.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Yoga & Nature

IN BODY-MIND practices, there is a strong sense of tai chi’s metaphor of human life as the “little universe” within the “larger universe.”  With such a view, for optimal human life, the task to optimize human life then involves bringing human life into harmony with the larger universe or cosmos.  But in general human activity, there is a tendency to reference human life as somehow separate from the universe, often as having come into the physical universe and leaving it upon death.  Human life seems far more cultural than creatural, and sometimes more negatively artificial or positively civil than natural.

The focus of body-mind practices primarily engage the body in specific activities, and in that sense can be experienced as more natural than everyday routine.  But body-mind practices can reflect and reinforce the popular sense of human life as separate and above nature.  As such, body-mind practices aspire to control the body—to control nature--to ultimately optimize and free the spirit that is referenced as temporarily housed in the body.

In ancient civilizations and pre-literate societies, the sun was not a physical star as we understand it to be today, but rather was a god who crossed the sky.  Similarly, stars, the seas, the mountains, as well as flora and fauna were gods, or intermediaries or the architecture/furnishings of landscapes of spirit rather than events with standing in their own right.  The sacredness of place came from an essence that was beyond the events rather than from within the events.  Again, the beyond—the apartness—was often culturally reinforced.

There have been periods in cultural development that have marked quantum shifts in human perception and action.  These renascent periods, such as the Italian Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution, markedly shifted cultural life.  In the post-industrial, cybernetic context of contemporary human life, there may be a new renascent task.  In The Great Work, Thomas Berry suggests that the renascent task of human life involves integration into the larger global ecosystem.  And this would not be a begrudging step back in human development to address environmental degradation that now feeds back on human health in a now-peopled Earth.  And it would not be a Romantic step back into a pastoral.  Rather, it would be a step forward to advance and optimize human life.

The biggest challenge to integration within the larger ecosystem is the predominant sense of separation from the natural world.  We become our words.  And if we imagine ourselves to be separate, it is difficult to integrate.

IN 1970, we saw Earth form space, and our image of the Earth from desk globes was changed forever.  We were inside the thin, membranous biosphere.  And we have not really caught up with our eyes.  Our ecological literacy is still in its infancy and it only vaguely includes human life.  Our languages still only vaguely express Earth even though the origins of our words may have their origins in the natural landscape/processes as Emerson posits in his essay Nature.  As we advance as a species, we are finding that we are more deeply in nature, not apart from it. 

In body-mind practices, we listen to the body.  It has a voice, and it is our deep voice.  Our hands are in a very real way our ancestors’ hands.  And so, in body-mind practices, we aspire toward stilling and calming cultural bias and everyday chatter to listen to wisdom.  We should remain critical of the voice, as it is likely to be strongly colored by our cultural biases.  But when we repeatedly calm, there is a sense of something rich and authentic and optimizing to which we attune.  We begin to find that the body is both natural and that we are more than our body.  The landscape is the longer reach of ourselves, not a stage-set in which we act out our lives but an ongoing creative process that is both expressing us and designing us.  Not separable islands as we might come to believe, our respiration and digestion and our thirst are currents that reach everywhere.  And this landscape extends into infinities of largeness and smallness. And the more subtly and rationally that we measure, we find the influences of oceans and subtle influence of stars and of galaxies and likely of an infinity/multiplicity that we cannot begin to comprehend.  Our culture is valuable, but small.  To imagine ourselves as primarily cultural is to express our limitations.

In a now-peopled Earth, it may be more important than ever to integrate with the larger Earth ecosystem.  How might the Earth express itself in us?  What if the waters and atmosphere and mountains and even tiny blades of grass were temples, events not to be lost, stolen or strayed from human life?

Throughout human development, there has been a tendency to go out into nature as if it were external/outside.  But now, with fresh eco-literacy, attending to the landscape of the body is the most intimate ground of nature.  Restricting nature to unsettled wild places is another measure of our limits.  Our eco-literacy is beginning to reveal an inherent wildness in both the destructive aspects of contemporary human life and in adaptive features of urban ecology. [See blog: “The Manicured Wilderness,”] We remain fragile and far more wild and creatural than artificial and cultural/civil.

But perhaps we can first begin by challenging our words and beliefs, or just let them go for some moments.  And then attend to the body as something that we aspire to free and follow rather than as something aspire to control, as if it is really not us and something that gets in our way.  And see what gate might open.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Deepest Root: Stillness, Calmness, Quietness

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice, 2012

STILLNESS, CALMNESS, AND QUIETNESS open the gate of deep body-mind practices.  We come into the place of practice and gather together what we need, and then return to silence.  In this first step, we cross over a threshold, exiting the fast pace and multi-dimensional demands of the everyday and entering a landscape without explicit dimensions.

In body-mind practices, whether seated or reclining or moving slowing in tai chi or aiki, we might dial down the chatter and the video clips and sound bites of everyday life.  Then, when very concrete things begin to occur—such as our slowing metabolism—our senses have a little less distraction or even purpose, and become more receptive or open.

As our metabolism slows, body physiology is no longer overwhelmed, and spontaneously shifts to monitoring and balancing a variety of complex systems.  And then, stilling, calming, and quieting, are, paradoxically, “accelerators” that flip a body switch in us, and a boil of complex chemistry begins.  That which is really different for us is a shift from controlling the body to freeing the body and following the body.  And a gate opens in the moments of practice that, by returns to such practice, carry over into the everyday.

And then, having awakened the next day after such a calming practice, perhaps we open as I do in my local place and season:  a humid, surprisingly warm day in autumn, after a morning rain.  We still and calm and remain and be taken by the changing colors of the trees, and inhale the moist air.  Gradually, rather than just looking out to the trees, the rain and trees and atmosphere are no longer just interrelated events.  The trees are living miracles and they, in turn, are as much rain and atmosphere and sun as they are trees.  And these events are also inside of us in a very concrete, practical way.  The trees before our senses represent flora that oxygenates the vast atmosphere and offers it freely to each of our breaths. By calming, we might dissolve a wall of sorts in the everyday, and be deeply inside eloquence—a reality--rather than “looking out” to the world at if it was separate from us.  Perhaps for this gift of seeing miracles, we might give over a few moments of gratitude.

In Returning To Silence, Soto Zen master Dainen Katagiri has suggested that From moment to moment, the tree explains itself [11].  If we look casually, we likely see our sense of what we have learned to define as a tree rather than see the tree.  But if we empty or exclude our presumptions, Katagiri has suggested that There is something more beautiful and much more worthy than what we usually see [3].  Katagiri has suggested that the universe is the content—“the whole personality”[7]—of anything that we are looking at as well as our own personality. Everything is working together.  This is not simply an esoteric point of view but the way that the world works and in sync with an ecological/evolutionary morphological perspective.  Intentional effort to still and calm and quiet very naturally comes back or returns to silence.  And in returning to silence we are in communication with something we cannot say with our words when we open the whole personality of an event.  It is the feeling that we generate in the everyday in life-turning experiences such as birth or death of a loved one when all words fall short.

Our discrimination of our experience into objects and events functions well to help us choose and then access resources.  But it also limits us.  Returns to stillness open a gate of integration.  With practice, we are offered the gift of seeing miracles.  But much more important, stillness, calmness and quietness can come inside us rather than be something that we observe.  Returns to stillness can offer us qualities that do something to us to optimize our health.  And they are qualities that are judged to be the very best by any measure, but that are likely to be occur only infrequently in our everyday: suppleness, efficiency, freshness, graceful flow, release, integration, contentment, and many other virtues.  By consistent returns, these qualities can become regular attributes of our actions rather than qualities that we experience either infrequently or not at all.

When body-mind practices are only fast and furious, such practices are likely to be largely mind over body.  But when we prioritize stillness, calmness and quietness, body-mind practices may become mind following the well-tested wisdom of the body, freeing rather than controlling.  And then. a gateless gate to spirit may suddenly open where, heretofore, there appeared to be a wall.

And so the deep base—the heart of body-mind practice—is not a sequence of yoga poses or martial forms [patterns of movement], but rather, stillness and calmness and quietness.  Out of this stillness, breath flowers into awareness, and then relaxation, and then openness and expansion, and then, new unchecked information/ideas/creativity, and then transformation.  Without stillness, calmness and quietness, all effort is still wondrous yet facile—too easy—lessened, and superficial.

Restorative-Yin Yoga offers a penultimate process for entering stillness, calmness and quietness, because its very heart is the foundation of yoga.  The final physical gate is perhaps a posture of sitting and/or savasana that no other body position can equal.  As Katagiri roshi has suggested, all you need to do is sit.  Sit down, that is all you have to do [28]. And yet it is not casual like sitting on the couch.  But it is also not difficult.  It is sitting, seeing—from my experience—with eyes of spirit.  With such eyes, you might see the dying in Calcutta, as Jesus or as yourself—like Mother Theresa—or like Martin Luther King looking over the mountain and seeing that very real coming day of equality, or like a Lakota holy man having a great dream of an inseparable river of life, or a more secular sense of the Earth as a poem in which we live and express.  Then, like the many flavors of the sky—storm, beautiful archipelagos of clouds, overall ashen ceiling, soft rain—sky does not change.  There is a constancy that we can touch and yet not really name, and yet that is meaningful and directive.  And so to mind—angry, imaging a beautiful idea, sorrowful, then bored, then elated or even ecstatic—mind does not really change.  Always fresh, luminous, and graced, and STILLED, CALMED AND QUIET.  

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Stretch & Relax

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Supta Virasana, 2012

STRETCHING AND RELAXING—It is nearly this simple: stretch and relax, and continue to stretch, and flexibility is optimized.  But “stretching” is typically associated with pain rather than relaxation.  If you train in some facility where sports are emphasized, you are likely to find almost no one stretching even though it is considered to be essential.  Athletes sit down into a “hurdle stretch” and, after a few minutes, either give up or believe that they have “stretched.”  And a few minutes of stretching is basically worthless.  Some time needs to be spent both stretching and holding positions and relaxing to optimize flexibility.

The key need for incorporating stretching into bodywork is to make it a process of relaxation and kindness to oneself.  Cats and dogs stretching in the morning do not hurt themselves.

Popular modern yoga may be a quick sun salutation “flow” from one pose to another, and may reflect the tendency in sport fitness to not hold poses

Stretching and relaxing in yoga stresses two simple components:
  • Holding poses, [holding can be further optimized by doing sequences related poses], and
  • Using breath to expand [often on inhale] and release [often on exhale].

How is this relaxing?  You go into the pose and listen for the places of tension in the body, but do not push the tension further.  Initially, the sense organs in muscles and tendons cue the tissue to contract to keep from stretching too far.  However, when the pose is held but not forced to expand, the sense organs cue the tissue to release a little at a time, stretching the tissue.  [See Islands Of Grace, “Holding Poses & Spindle Release,” 2/18/12, for details.]  Breath is intentionally used to expand the hold [typically on an inhale] and to then release or relax and stretch further [typically on an exhale].

Stretching and relaxing can offer more than just a way to optimize flexibility and overall suppleness and proportionality of the body that results from being able to hold the pose.  While such gains can be remarkable, they are really secondary to the heart process of yoga.  When stretching also becomes a process of relaxation, the body stills and calms.  The orientation shifts from controlling the body to freeing the body.  This provokes an opportunity for yoga to open a pathway to deep body, deep listening and study and meditation that goes to the heart of yoga, and that has been the core objective for yoga for 5000 years. 

(1) Calm/still,
(2) relax,
(3) open awareness, and
(4) transform.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Yoga Metta
(Kindness Yoga)

Beginning October 8 at Harmony Yoga + Wellness
2300 University, Des Moines, Iowa

Mondays & Wednesdays:

Soft Power: 10:30--11:45AM
Restorative-Yin: 12--1:15PM

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Kindness Yoga, coming soon to Des Moines.

Restorative-Yin Yoga and Soft Power Yoga

Monday, September 10, 2012

Thank You, Global Readers

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

NAMASTE.  I offer a deep bow to all of you who have somehow managed to find and then give over some moments to take a look at Islands Of Grace.  There have been responses by persons from nearly 80 countries, and consistent returns by many.

It would be wonderful to be able to practice together face-to-face.  There are many nuances that are just too tedious to put into words.  And there are overall qualities of quietness and calmness and grace and miracles that are amplified by practicing together.  Perhaps there will be opportunities at some point.

Friday, August 31, 2012


Copyright Lance Kinseth, 48”x48, 2011

RATHER THAN BEING an adjunct practice for individuals that can’t do “regular yoga,” restorative yoga may be the foundational or core practice upon which other yoga practices are built.

In restorative yoga, the permission to be quiet and calm and gentle and slow paced provides a structure for the deep grace of yoga practice to flower.  In restorative yoga, body-mind can open spirit.

Freedom for the body rather than control of the body, and kindness to oneself can be practiced in restorative yoga in a way that may be alien to modern yoga.  Restorative yoga may be the cutting edge of yoga and that which we will come to describe as “health.”   Rather than fitness or even more comprehensive wellness, restorative yoga may open the gate of thriving.

Quiet and calmness and stillness of the body,
Reducing the cycle of respiration,
Holding poses,
Directing the mind to listen to the body (listening especially to the place(s) of tension that is generated by the pose),
Inhaling and reaching, and exhaling and relaxing, and
Stretching like a cat rather than pushing:
These are the actions of restorative yoga that might then outspread to the practice of the vaster repertoire of asanas [poses].

Following a grounding in restorative practice, the vast array of yoga asanas can then be practiced with an emphasis upon being quiet, holding poses, and relaxing into the poses [releasing spindles in muscles and Golgi reflex in tendons] to amplify flexibility/suppleness.  And even though the practice may become physically “easier,” increases in flexibility may outperform a more physically intensive yoga practice. 

By beginning with calmness and quietness, a foundation is laid that can be applied to other poses.  All asanas serve a larger yoga that is far more than the poses per se. 

The calmness and quietness—central to restorative yoga—demands adherence to and integration of the practices of yoga such as the yamas and niyamas [e.g., contentment/santosha].  Historically, yoga was perhaps centered on “stillness” and meditation as methods for spiritual insight.  Attention gradually outspread to techniques to free the body to assist in this goal. 

Yoga has become popularized in a time when fitness is the core body practice.  But fitness is often far more body than mind and is even injurious, and further, often proscribes attention to “spirit.”  A more active, fast flow of poses [i. e., sequences of “Sun Salutations”] make up the primary approach to popular, modern yoga that is dominated by a fitness orientation.

Yoga is likely to be optimized by slowing down.  Aerobic fitness is better served by amping up time and pace on a treadmill or “step machine” than by doing yoga, as has been well demonstrated by fitness research.

It is possible to do more difficult poses and to end practice feeling “grogged” or deeply relaxed, so that yoga becomes a deeply enjoyable process of being kind to oneself, and freeing and listening intuitively to the body-mind rather than becoming an effort to control the body.  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Yoga-No: This Single Grace Persisting

Copyright Lance Kinseth, Aiki Flow, 2012

THAT WHICH IS said to be “yoga” or ‘tai chi” or “aiki” is likely constrained by our willingness to be constrained.  We are social animals.  Buddha people might wear Buddha clothes and eat Buddha food.   Birds and mountains do not follow a list of admonitions, and yet they are said to have Buddha-nature.

This is not to say that there is no benefit in subscription to a system, but the system is not the thing persisting.  

There is a place in body-mind where yoga, tai chi and aiki fade away, perhaps sustaining as guideposts along the way but not as the essence of these practices.

Yoga, tai chi and aiki can provoke a lot of chatter—endless styles and variations.  The calmness of restorative-yin practice likely appears to offer a profound gateway for listening, opening, fading away…

When doing the yoga that you know, perhaps try doing the yoga that you do not know.  Try to do what you are not doing.  What might begin to appear?  What is in between?

Perhaps NOT giving up body-mind practices so that there in no yoga, no tai chi, or no aiki, but rather,  a yoga-no that reaches beyond style and variation, and asks again and again,

What is This Single Grace Persisting?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Grounding: For Optimal Body-Mind Practice

Tao/dao: way/art/path

“Fitness” focuses on optimizing strength, aerobic/anaerobic endurance, and flexibility. With no interest in yoga, contortionists and acrobats and gymnasts may be more skilled in terms of flexibility and strength.  Popular yoga is often faster paced “fitness” yoga that aims at increasing flexibility, endurance, losing weight or increasing oxygen intake—all of which are either largely false or offering limited gains at best in comparison to other methods.

As a body-mind practice, yoga might be measured differently, and it may be what distinguishes yoga if one gets a sense of a different measure.  

Body-mind practices emphasize something deeper, something more foundational that is more important than technique as the measure of effectiveness.  In body mind practices that prioritize a goal of “art,” efficacy is likely to be measured almost by the absence of technique.  When the technique is less intentional in an optimal practice, many techniques may spontaneously appear.  With an artistic bent, the focus in on replacing habits/response that are not effective and, therefore, allowing the body-mind to respond freely rather than apply a specific new technique to control the body.  Effort is directed toward freeing rather than controlling.

In martial practice, a person might be very skilled with sword techniques, but not in art (Korean: sul [technique] is not the same as do [art]).  Often high skill in technique is strongly associated with ego.  While the person may have great technical ability, they are not able to subsume the master’s art.   Art or do is open, fresh, and deeply, wisely humane—even soft and simple.

Non-physical qualities as flow, patience, contentment, calmness and quietness are all preparatory for technique to be optimal in body-mind practices—and likely in all physical endeavors, including performance sports.  In high-end athletic performance, only about one-third of participants are able to carry over skills in competition that they can do more consistently in practice.  In Olympic performance, the one-third of individuals who can carry over skills are likely to be the Olympians, but even then they may find it difficult to consistently carry over skills because the predominant emphasis is on fitness and technique. 

High-end mental and even spiritual qualities can become consistent traits.  But our approach to such elements tends to be secondary or sporadic or “something for later,” rather than foundational.

If one “flows” more than does a technique, any identifiable “technique” that emerges is likely to be more effective.

Restorative-Yin Yoga is foundational in the sense of making yoga optimal in the sense of emphasizing "art."  It concentrates on high-end mental and spiritual qualities.  It is not simply either “beginner yoga” or yoga for those who must compensate due to health issues.  If made a foundational, consistent element of yoga practice, restorative-yin yoga deeply colors all subsequent yoga practice.  And yet, its practice tends to be largely absent and very secondary.  The result is an orientation toward yoga fitness in the time that practitioners are likely to make available for yoga practice.

As a body-mind-spirit practice, restorative-yin yoga is more akin to martial art mastery than “beginner yoga,” and it fosters almost a disappearance of technique in authentic mastery.

Rather than wait until the “alphabet of yoga poses” is learned, it may be more important to begin one’s body-mind practice with grounding in high-end mental and spiritual practices that then guide techniques.  Without it, the practices tend to become mass “training” rather than art.  The true “mechanics” of body-mind work are such things, for example, as the deeply grounded flow rather than the technique resulting in flow.  And it is these deeper artistic “mechanics” that ultimately optimize techniques, flexibility gains and strength.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Patience: A Cooling Elixir

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

SUMMER 2012 in the Northern Hemisphere has been a string of record high temperatures.  And so, the idea of “cooling down” presses more into our awareness anywhere in Earth in this season.  While we can’t really change the larger environment, we might look at what we can do to cool internally—“body-mind.”

Upon the heat and flame of thy distemper sprinkle cool patience.
Wm. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, sc. 4

In any season, impatience is likely to heat us.  And unlike something coming from the outside, it is we who are turning on the heat.  And patience is rarely so over-present that it likely to be a problem, keeping us from taking a needed action. 

In tai chi, it is difficult to continue practice without having a sense of patience.  You can find out very quickly if you have enough patience for the slow practice. 

In yoga, patience is advocated, but primarily with one’s expectations about improved flexibility or balance or strength.  The primary classes in modern yoga studios tend to appeal to people seeking a workout.  And as a workout, the focus may be more on releasing energy.

Especially in restorative-yin yoga, where quiet and calmness and holding poses are the norm, a certain degree of patience is required to simply do the practice.  And yet, even “trying to be calm,” we might still harbor impatience, disappointed that we are not yet calm enough.  But when you actually become patient, you are really doing or actualizing and calmness.  Patience is not simply a moral virtue, but rather is an optimal expression of mature body-mind, expressed in very real physiological and mental health, be it tai chi or yoga or marital art.

And so, how to optimize patience?  How to deepen its value?

Especially in restorative-yin yoga, as we relax and still the body, and since we are in motion less do to holding poses and can attend more deeply to breath, we might just say the word patience as we exhale.  And we might invite patience as our underlying intention for a body-mind practice session.

Patience is the companion of wisdom.
St. Augustine

Let us be less impatient.  Let us be more wise and take things easy.
If the asanas are done peacefully, this yoga will indirectly slow us
down (also improving the immune system which suffers from stress)
and strips us out of many useless and harmful efforts, giving us the
feeling of a different quality and introducing a delicate fragrance
into each day's existence.
Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening The Spine [p. 130]

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Balance: A Little Restorative-Yin Yoga Can Offer A Lot Of Balance

Copyright Lance Kinseth, 2012

RATHER THAN REFERENCING balance poses such as “tree” or “dancer,” the physical practice of all yoga is a process of balance in every pose:  poses done on both sides, back complementing forward poses, intuitive choice to flow into poses that come from listening to the body that suggest a need to bring some aspect into balance, and in each pose—even seated and prone poses—having a intention/invitation of aspiring toward listening for that “completion” that offers balance, and that balance that comes to the body especially flat on our backs in savasana.

Rather than simply improving one’s ability to balance on one leg, the important contributions of yoga and gentle body-mind practices such as tai chi are their capacity to offer some balance in everyday life.  Perhaps even more than physical effort, due perhaps especially to the fast pace of modern life, there is a demand for an emphasis upon calmness.

Modern life can be a chaotic process of trying to balance the demands of vocation, family, nutrition/exercise, social life, and finances.  In addition, there are the perpetual high-speed micro-moments of traffic, TV, computer, phone, as well as the slow drag of the “gray of work,” and routine, self-doubt and self-criticism [I am not good enough].  And there are much larger issues of degrading global environmental quality, weather disasters, poverty to the point of famine for millions, disease, and extreme violence that either form a concerning backdrop or are a direct component of one’s life.   Life is, as it has always been, a juggling act and there is a cost to trying to keep all of these balls in the air.  And for all of the comforts of modernity, the quest for a sense of balance strongly endures.

More active yoga concentrates on musculoskeletal balance throughout the body by practicing a sequence of poses.  Perhaps even more in modern times as yoga has exploded in popularity, yoga and asanas [poses] can seem to be synonymous. But asana practice alone can miss the deeper intent of yoga and most body-mind practices. 

Restorative-Yin poses do not utilize typical balancing poses that typically come to mind, such as balancing on hand(s) or leg(s) or head or some combination of these parts.  And yet, this practice contributes strongly to the deep intent of yoga to restore balance to one’s life in a way that can surpass these obvious poses.  Restorative-yin yoga concentrates on a more internal physiological balance that the mind-body opens by intentional quieting and calming.

The calmness and quiet and sustained poses of restorative-yin yoga offer a powerful counter against the fast pace of modern life.  And just a few hours of this practice might go a long way against the 100+ waking hours in the rest of the week.  And restorative-yin yoga is not simply a step out of the everyday for a period of recuperation, but rather a practice that, when regular, may be carried forward into everyday life to de-stress and help us react less to events that we find either irritating or traumatic.  In facing “problems, this “training in deep relaxation may, first, counteract overreacting.  Calmness can introduce an opportunity for observing, for stepping to the outside of the “problem” to see what it might be offering.

Restorative practice is not just a respite for some moments of mental and physical relaxation.  It is not primarily a mental process where we aspire to do nothing to relax.  It is a concrete, active physiological process.  In fact, the power of this practice to begin to reach beyond the practice sessions to affect everyday life comes from its capacity to make a very intentional, active shift in body physiology.  If activated, the process of “doing nothing” makes a quantum qualitative shift from the sympathetic nervous system to the parasympathetic nervous system.  Restorative-yin practice impacts the major respiratory, cardiovascular, lymphatic, neuro-endocrine processes.

Stillness in restorative practice reduces metabolism.  Reduced physical activity/metabolism activates complex chemicals to increase alpha wave amplitude, and to diminish the various endocrine glands’ chemical responses to stress.  Stilling the body paradoxically sets off a storm of activity, allowing the body systems to “listen” to the subtle processes of the body that might be obscured by more external demands of everyday life—such as water levels and salt levels and cell vitality—and regulate these processes to bring them into balance that the cells of the body favor for optimal development.

Sleep offers important rest, but it can be tossing and turning especially with aging, frustration being worked out in dreams, cycles of deep to very light REM sleep.  Deep relaxation in restorative-yin yoga is intentional and typically builds as the session continues.  It brings the mind to the body to intentionally induce stillness and to soften/lengthen and to slow the breath cycle (while retaining some carbon dioxide that provokes vascular expansion).  And as the breath cycle slows, attention might shift from guiding the body to follow the body, to ride the “wave” of the breath.  Frustration is not really displaced through hard effort, but rather, let go. 

Balance is not bliss.  And restorative-yin yoga or any other body-mind practice is not a “cure.”  Life is a rich rollercoaster of experiences—pain, aches, “darkness,’ self-illusion, and routine, but also joy and little pleasantries that are often overlooked.

Restorative-yin yoga is a body-mind practice that tips experience toward tranquility.  Without really pressing for it or seeking it, restorative-yin practice developing more than just physical and mental calmness.  This calmness can open a pathway toward the deeper terrains toward which yoga aspires—sacredness in life and a realistic sense of sacred space and miracles everywhere rather than either missing or rare, and harmony, grace, and eloquence. Surprisingly, calm practice is not only very active but also pro-active; making some real time for those qualities that are generally acknowledged as valuable, instead of saying there is not enough time.  And as this relaxation skill begins to come into everyday life, it can transform limiting patterns.  Errands and activities can be rethought and some time found, because this time for balance begins to be experienced as a way to enter the richness of life for which we should be making time rather than a “medicinal” antidote for stress.

In calmness, we can go deep.  We have the time to see that the sun is not moving across the sky from east to west as much as the Earth is rotating from west to east.  We can engage the oft-missed self-reality that we are more than just ourselves, that we are inseparable from all of our experience, and that we express a universe.  For a time at least in restorative-yin practice, we stand to become fully present.  Then, our being-ness is active and our personality takes a back seat.  In turn, this shift opens a rich opportunity for that which we find meaningful in life to dramatically expand.  We can become at least a little better at balancing the dimensions of life as they present themselves while also attending to these aspects that are all around us but that are overlooked and free for the taking.