Tag Archives: yoga

Talking to Ourselves

Collecting my belongings after the close of one of my evening yoga classes, an adult student approaches me.

“Do you know what has helped me more than anything in your teachings?” she asks in a forthright manner.

“No,” I respond quietly, looking up from collecting my things.

“Your teaching about compassion toward the body—encouraging, coaxing, inviting and allowing the body to open in its own time,” she answers. I see her holding the removable brace her left hand requires. The brace reminds her not to overdo anything during her extended recuperation after tendon surgery.

Spirituality

She, like me, is a doer. She, like me, is a relatively impatient personality. I empathize with the extra frustration she has exhibited in class as she works through her relatively long period of convalescence. Yet, with her standing next to me, I notice the manner in which I have silently girded myself against what might be coming, because she is also a student capable of delivering swift, verbal feedback in real-time, without the blessing of any gentle or mercifully wordy cushioning preamble. And, even as she exhibits this trait, I—regrettably—see much of myself in her. The Mirror is always speaking.

Extending her hand toward me, she continues, “Look. I have been talking to my finger.” The digit, where the tendon has been reattached, is now level with my eyes. “Do you remember that one mental exercise you have us do in class where, when we are in a yoga posture, we first address the body with internal dialogue using harsh words and then switch to using encouraging internal speech?”

“Yes,” I nod in reply. Her hand is still poised before my eyes.

“Well, I have been using that mental exercise with my finger,” she proceeds. “Come on, finger. You can do it! I need you to curl forward. Now, straighten up! There you go. I know you can do this.”

I watch as her finger, in one slow shaky motion, moves through its paces. The human body is nothing short of a miracle. Our will, when properly placed, is yet another grace in action.

“That is amazing,” I murmur.

“Yes! It would not have been possible even a year ago. You gave me the mental approach I needed for the exercises prescribed by my physical therapist. I am told by the hospital staff that my finger is healing twice as fast when compared to the healing rates of most people who have had such a surgery.”

This is that for which I must give thanks.

Spirituality & Religious Expression

It is in silence that we connect to our highest Light—that spark which lets us know we are part of the Sum of Life. After an experience of the reliable silence of profound spiritual Union and after we have regrounded into our individual bodies, we often search for a physical venue of religious expression.

Spirituality

In mature marriages which have served to grow an individual member’s spiritual depths, there is sometimes a parting of ways because the chosen means of religious expression for an individual member (or both members) of the couple no longer matches that of the younger couple. If a middle-aged seeker returns to a religious organization of childhood familiarity, which he or she may have eschewed in early adulthood, this act of return often draws him or her away from the partner who was part of that person’s spiritual growth.

This is not a theoretical model, but a phenomenon which I have observed on two separate occasions in different unprogrammed Quaker Meetings.

What the two narratives illustrate for me is that in listening to the individualized leadings of our hearts, we are sometimes lead to walk places where we must go alone, to resolve unfinished business or return to a core sense of Self, the expression of which may or may not fall into step with the established rhythm of a mature, marital march.

Spiritual Invitation III

I awoke this morning to see a single, male cardinal stopping to check on the sunflowers which I had planted seven weeks ago. Immediately after the cardinal’s departure, I observed two pair of mating Baltimore orioles, in vibrant yellow and black, come dancing ecstatically through the air to land—in inquisitive gesture—on the same flowers.  The yellow petals on the sunflowers’ broad heads were all newly opened; each flower head tilted in perfect formation toward the early morning sun. All velvety, brown eyes gazed intently upward.

The depth and vibrancy of the colors on this natural set, as well as the movement around my small, garden’s viewing stage, brought me more pleasure in a few moments than my attendance to any extended, anticipated or formal human exhibition.  The path to this moment had been an interesting one, taken in an effort to explore the concept of spiritual invitation.

Spirituality

Spiritual invitation is what we do when we make conscious decisions about the things we want to let into our daily lives, assuming we have the privilege of a broad range of life-style choices.

In first-world countries, after our basic needs have been met, many of us live our lives in a pattern similar to this:  go to work; collect a paycheck; shop for stuff; manage (clean, arrange, exchange, rearrange and dispose of) stuff; go to sleep; then, repeat.  Even the sacred act of eating, in an overly habituated pattern of living, becomes dull and underappreciated.  When living on autopilot, we fail to taste the flavors and the miracle of a full plate of food.

Our household voluntarily chose a more simplified material life in order to create time for devotional work.  Yet, there was a point at which, during my morning meditations–when addressing an emptiness in my heart, I was clearly being encouraged to revisit my aesthetic life.

As I first began exploring the issue of allowing aesthetic expression to reenter my life, my background in fine arts would have prescribed for me a return to the making of discrete art objects.  I questioned stepping back onto this path, as I knew well the cycle of behaviors that often accompany this form of object-based, aesthetic activity. Emotionally, this road to aesthetic expression felt worn and narrow.

Interestingly enough, the question, inside of me, became something like this: “How can I cast a wider and more inclusive net for my aesthetic expression than I have cast before, have this expression be of service to others and not harm the environment?”  What most people do not realize is how very environmentally costly and often damaging most fine-art making is.

Originally, the limited definition I had in place for the concept of “others” was a stumbling block, because I had continued to think of service and serving in terms of helping a human population.  But, when I began to think in broader, environmental terms, I realized my specific needs for aesthetic expression, Beauty, environmentally conscionable work and service could all be combined and met with a more carefully planned garden, which would honor as extensive a local pollinator and bird population as I could, given my time and space circumstances.

Thus, as we  explore our individual questions about spiritual invitation—what we would like to invite into our daily lives—we must remember to take a broad approach to the definitions of the words we choose to use—both in terms of questions and in terms of intuited answers, remembering that Grace will provide the most incredibly well tailored solutions to sincere inquiries.

Mother’s Day

Spirituality

It is the end of semester at the university where I teach yoga classes.  One of my male students stops, after class is over, to speak with me about a design project he has due for another course.  He is young, in perhaps his first or second year of course-work.  In addition to studying design, he possesses a strong sense of personal fashion.  Physically, his features are fine-boned and well-proportioned.  His demeanor is gentle, full of generous innocence and, socially, he would be considered effeminate.

As we finish talking, he gathers his things together.  Everyone is short on sleep this time of year; and, so the gathering process is rather inefficient. Finally, he slips on a pair of light-rimmed, oversized sunglasses, the eye protection he requires for the bike ride across campus to his next class.

Seeing this last detail of adornment, I silently utter a prayer of protection for him, asking Grace to keep him safe and out of harms way, this day and everyday,  because I feel that–in a world where some people still cope with fear through means of violence–he might be harmed.

He is not my child; yet, he is someone’s child.  And, he could have been my child, if Providence had arranged things thus.

The process of practicing a proper sequencing of yoga’s physical postures grants an individual, who is dedicated to the practice, an opportunity to come into a state of alignment with true Spirit. And, the closer an individual comes to true Spirit, sometimes, the more a person’s social conditioning tends to fall away–a person’s propensities for expressive yin and yang may shift.

For today, eventhough this young man is not my child, I–as his instructor–feel responsible for his expanded state and the expanded nature of his innocence.  His Light today is so very apparent, so very bright.

We will all encounter circumstances when another person’s Light seems brighter or very unlike our own.  In such situations, it is important to move away from fear, jealousy and pettiness. Remember this: You are someone’s child; that “other” person is also someone’s child; and, both of you are children belonging to Grace and Grace alone.

Listening to the Body

Trying to describe to my yoga students what it is like–while sitting in meditation–to listen to and ask my cellular body what it needs to maintain well-being, I have to admit that listening to the body is one of the most difficult tasks a person could ever hope to master.  Listening usually involves making, sometimes daily, adjustments to habits of sustenance, physical activity, degree of solo time and/or appropriate social action.

Spirituality

Gaining a clear perception on how best to honor the physical frame, especially where two or more of the body’s systems or vital organs may be in non-agreement, renders each of us body-listeners-in-training, no matter how practiced we may become at juggling the body’s sometimes disparate requirements. (i.e. The heart needs movement and exercise, while a sprained ankle needs rest and elevation in order to repair.)

Over the course of many years of practice, I have learned these things:

1.  Most people need four to seven hours of dedicated quiet time or a personal practice involving a solo, repetitive activity each week in order to listen and “converse” with the body.

2.  If we have set aside time, we may become quite adept at discerning when the body is out of sorts, though we may not always be able to name or determine exactly what is going on–to make a “diagnosis.”  It is important to leave formal diagnosis to medical experts.

3.  We should all be consulting with professional, medical personnel on a regular basis and using their expertise to corroborate or dispel personal notions about what might be out of balance within the body–via formal testing and consultation.

4. A thoroughly practiced body-listener may have a sense that the body is out of balance even before something might show up on an allopathic medical test, and he or she might have the opportunity to assist the body in rebalancing itself through timely lifestyle changes.  So, keep listening.

The Importance of Community

As we walk the catacombs of modern living, sometimes we forget how important it is for us to seek out and be in the context of a community, where there is both enough quiet to listen to the individual body, as well as taking time to stand beside those whose  experiential range will assist us in making further life-affirming choices and decisions.

After concluding the teaching of an introspective yoga class, I walk over to check in with one of my newer male students.  He is tall and lean, middle-aged and a self-described walker and cyclist.

“Hey, Tom,” I begin, “I just wanted to check in with you.  How are you finding practice?”

Spirituality

“I can’t seem to stop sweating.  I don’t know whether or not you noticed, but it has actually been a problem for a few months now.  I’ve even taken to wearing dark turtlenecks and suit coats at work to cover up the problem.”

“Well, in terms of this class, the practice we do here focuses on improved flexibility and balance more than pushing ourselves to build strength.  So, given that you are a regular walker and cyclist, there should be no reason for you to be working as hard as I see you working or perspiring to the extent that you are.”

Tom’s look grows concerned, “I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t sure.’

“I am not trained as a medical professional, but I have been teaching yoga for awhile now.  And, it may not be my place to say anything, but I think that you need to see a physician because, from my experiential perspective, there is something that is not right or out of balance.”

Several weeks go by before I run into Tom again.  He had a benign tumor removed from the top of his right kidney, which had been pressing on his adrenal gland.

This is what it means to be in a caring community.  We share notes and look after one another.

Spirituality: The Search for the Self

At some level, each of us is looking for something of ourselves in someone else.  Socially, this is the way in which we build bridges.

Spirituality

There are spaces created in conversations where we check-in with one another to determine how we might be alike or what we might have in common–whether it be an experiential commonality, gender/race/life-stage similarity or a shared interest.

The curious thing about this phenomenon is that what we think we desire on a micro-level is actually a stand-in for what we most desire on the macro-level, which is a genuine or authentic communion with the Spirit.

Spirituality & Holding Space III

Spirituality

What happens, over the course of time, when a relationship’s solidity in the exploration of life’s questions begins to fall apart?

The “togetherness”–we once agreed to–gives way to one or the other of us choosing to strike out on a solo expedition to continue the process of life exploration. This exploratory process is not really being done alone, but in relationship with the Self.

Departing a relationship to contnue exploring on one’s own  does not mean that the person remaining at base-camp has necessarily ceased growing, changing or venturing out. Sometimes the base-camp holder has actually already worked through and found his “answers,” as well as having developed a sense of contentment within his life circumstances as they stand.

If we go back to the original example of the life-partner, who comes home to announce that she will be taking a six-month leave of absence from work to tour the country on a new motorcycle with an old friend, all anyone can do is ask that person whether or not it would be helpful to pack up a batch of sandwiches for the road.

In other words, we must let go, trusting in the fact that our road-warrior partner is answering some deeper, haunting call from within her own Spirit and knowing.

Spirituality & Holding Space II

Spirituality

Holding space–in the context of a relationship–is something close friends do naturally for one another, when one person is working through a moral dilemma, trying to make a major decision, arranging life priorities or otherwise attempting to move toward internal resolution between every-day concerns and the desires of  your highest Light or Spirit.

There are so many components to an intimate relationship, whether that relationship is internal–between the every-day part of personality and true Spirit–or external, between two partners.

In almost every relationship there are issues of emotion, aesthetics, creativity, intellect, physicality, fiscal concern, as well as the honoring of pure Spirit.

On the most basic level, for example, there is the issue of touch. How do we want to be touched?  How often?  Where do we want to be touched–both in terms of a person’s body and in terms of appropriate social locations?  What types of touch do we desire?  How do we balance and honor our desires with the desires of another person?

In consideration of all of these things, it is nothing short of a miracle that any committed relationship lasts more than a short time.

And, I would argue, one of the reasons committed relationships span years is that two people have agreed to step onto the path of self-discovery–together.

People enter into intimate relationships and close friendships specifically to entertain these basic life questions, learn how to set boundaries, refine their desires and explore their limits and limitlessness, while discovering their personal “answers”–together.

Exploring Your Universe IV

Spirituality

With the dialogue between our junior explorer and internal Observer established, we may be given a clear picture—a Hubble quality picture—about what is really going on inside of us.  This is one of the main purposes for the space created by a dedicated, personal practice.  We begin to see ourselves and our wholeness as never before.  The dialogue we establish with our cellular bodies will actually aid us, as we learn how to discern our wants from our needs.  This new picture assists us in making conscious choices and fine-tuning our lives so that we may become clear about where we have been, where we are going, and where we would like to travel.

Once we have a clearer picture about what our internal Universe is like, we have the luxury of consolidating our time and energy around the brightest stars of our concern.  We may even begin to entertain the traditional, twin yogic questions:  Who am I?  And, why am I here?

The second item of intense personal focus has to do with making regular inquiries about why we are here—or how we are designed to serve.  And, the manner in which we are designed and called to serve is as individual as the manner in which we experience the world.  As a travel tip on the path, it becomes critical that we cease expending precious energy on judging others as they traverse the road they conceive they need to be traveling.  Instead. we must learn to focus on turning off our own auto-pilot buttons while listening for cues on how to proceed along our own singular paths.  We will be shown how to come alive with our individual lifestyle choices.

There are other Universes to discover and places to explore.  We each have a current, working truth to speak.  Be patient as the relationship with your internal Universe begins to unfold.  And, remember, the most important dance partner each of us will ever have and meet resides inside.

Namaste