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.

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.