The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

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{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }

One Step at a Time

A story was once shared by Michael Ciborski, one of the dharma teachers in the Plum village tradition. Michael was a monk at Plum Village for nine years and was one of the first Americans to join this Buddhist monastics at the French monastery. Thich Nhat Hanh, Michael retells, was very accessible in those early days and so he, Michael had a good rapport with the venerated Zen teacher. One day Michael was bounding up some stairs preoccupied with his own thoughts. Joyfully running up two, to three steps at a time, when he turned the corner at a flight of stairs and almost ran into Thich Nhat Hanh before abruptly stopping. Michael was startled by almost knocking over his teacher. But Thây (teacher in Vietnamese) looked right at him, at first sternly, then with a smile and then quietly said to his monk: “You should take one step at a time.” Then he mindfully walked past Michael down the steps.

We at the Path are trying to mindfully walk this new path one step at a time. Recently there have been a lot of opening of businesses, parks, and activities. While the need to get back to life’s activities and endeavors can be appreciated, the circumstances that have promulgated these closing and social isolation haven’t in reality been diminished at all. Numbers of those infected by Covid19 still increase and the need for caution, when being in groups is still something we should all respect for ourselves and those around us. With that in mind, we at the Yoga Path will review current circumstances and implement protocols to insure the safest possible atmosphere when we do return. While the school will not be opening June 1st, we will be monitoring our local environment on weekly basis to see how to best come back to physical classes.

In the meantime I will begin to offer online classes through the Zoom platform. To begin with I will offer a
Tuesday evening class at 5:30 p.m. and
a Thursday morning class at 9:30 a.m.

The classes will be at least one hour. If more class times are needed they can be added.

This online format will probably become a new normal even when classes at the studio do resume, as there may be those who would still be more comfortable attending virtually for a time.

I miss the Yoga Path community and the energy that you all have brought to your practice and thus to my teaching. Virtual classes are poor substitute for your actual presence, but seeing your faces will be some consolation.

If you are interested in participating in these online classes please email me at omyogapath@gmail.com. Or if you have questions or comments please feel free to write. Any comment will very helpful, so don’t hesitate to contact me. Hearing from you would be such a gift.

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Legs Up the Wall

This pose, which many students do when first coming into class, has so many benefits. Viparīta Karani, legs up the wall, improves circulation in the legs and pelvis, stretches and releases the lower back, boosts the workings of the lymph-system thus diminishing stress and tension in the body. It can be held anyway from 5 to 20 minutes. Try the variations offered in this video, but above all, do it — often.

Variations of legs up the wall/Viparīta Karani

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Practicing Metta

The practice of Metta/Loving-Kindness meditation can be practiced as follows. There are a number of variations that you can search for on you own. The script below is my own adaption. It is simple and easy to remember (an important factor for me.) I’ve also rearranged the phrasing, because it seems more logical and in-line with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, safety/health/ease/happiness. This is especially useful when I carry these sentiments onto others, particularly for those to whom I have neutral or negative feelings.

metta symbol

In my own experience, metta requires that I be very settled and stable in my own meditation. If practicing it feels artificial or forced, then give it up and just come back to the breath or some present moment experience. In most cases it may require more time than the typical 20 minute sit. It might take just that long to settle into stillness, but sometimes, going right into metta is just what is needed. And some people are able to naturally flow right into this loving-kindness practice with a natural spontaneity.

May I be safe.
May I be healthy.
May I be at ease.
May I be happy.


First you begin with yourself. For some this may be the most difficult. But it is essential.

“To know the real situation within yourself, you have to know your own territory, including the elements within you that are at war with each other. In order to bring about harmony, reconciliation, and healing within, you have to understand yourself. Looking and listening deeply, surveying your territory, is the beginning of love meditation.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

Then you can bring to mind some close to you. This may be a loved one, a friend, a teacher, maybe a pet or a tree. It’s good to practice doing this for someone you are fond of to begin with.
Then you move to someone neutral. Perhaps someone you don’t know very well, but you know is struggling and could benefit from a kind thought.
Then you can bring to mind somebody who you find difficult. You may not want to pick the most difficult person in your life, instead choosing someone who is mildly difficult. Maybe it’s someone you find yourself agitated with or annoyed by.

If you still have the concentration and stability to continue, then you can move on to include everyone you’ve been thinking of and add more if you want:

May we be safe.
May we be healthy.
May we be at ease.
May we be happy.

If you can do this with sincerity, while maintaining focus you will find metta exercise renewing and refreshing. It will revive your outlook about yourself and the people in your life.

For those looking for a more in depth explanation of the metta meditation, enclosed is an article written by Thich Nhat Hanh entitled: Cultivating Compassion

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Tools of Practice: Metta

Probably many of you have heard of metta meditation. The meditation on loving kindness. There also a story about how the Buddha first introduced this practice with a sutra teaching. In many ways this teaching seems appropriate to making friends with our current situation of distancing and social isolation. So often the pat answer is to say: “just be with the strong feelings as they arise.” But emotions like anger, fear, sadness, envelop us in the the energy that then sweeps us into them. So to “just be” seems like a wishful afterthought. Stories like this helps me to realize there are concrete ways to bring mindfulness to life:

This version of the story is borrowed from a meditation and mindfulness teacher Manoj Dias , born and raised in the Theravada Buddhist tradition.

The Story Of The Metta Sutta

Some 2,500 years ago, in the time of the Buddha, there were 500 monks that were sent by the Buddha to go on retreat. They call it the rains retreat as it’s usually during the monsoon season. Whenever the monsoon season comes, the monks would be sent off to a particular part of the forest in the mountains to meditate with a particular practice and not come back until they had insight, until they had vipassana or wisdom.
These 500 monks were sent away to one particular part of the forest and back then there was the belief in devasDevas, we could refer to them as spirits, ghosts, or energies that lived in the trees and in the forest. These trees were initially very welcoming of the 500 monks as they came, they were meditating, they didn’t seem to disturb the energy of the forest or nature. But over time, every day they realized that these monks weren’t going away. So, they hatched a plan to get rid of them.
In the evening they decided to make some ghoulish sounds. They decided to let off some really bad smells and to really scare these monks into leaving. Sure enough the monks weren’t able to sleep at night. Their meditation was disturbed, and they became distracted, agitated, anxious and stressed. Like what many of us are feeling right now.
Soon enough the monks became quite terrified, which broke their concentration (samadhi) and disrupted their mindfulness. Some even developed fever and pain and dizziness in conjunction with the fear they were experiencing, and all felt it was impossible to continue practicing where they were. They decided that they had enough and were going back to the Buddha to ask him to send them somewhere else, so they could continue their practice. And they went back and they said to the Buddha, “Buddha, we can’t go to that particular part of the forest. Can you send us somewhere else? There’s ghosts, odd sounds and things that scare us.”
The Buddha sat there and he thought for a little while about the words of these monks. Then he said to them, “You’re right. I sent you into the forest, into this pitch black, dark forest without a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon. I’m going to give you a weapon that you can defend yourself with no matter what.” And the monks were stunned. “ A weapon?” 
The Buddha sat all 500 of the monks down and he gave the discourse of what’s called the Metta Sutta. The Metta. It’s sometimes translated as the teachings of love or teachings on loving-kindness. Essentially, what it boils down to is, it is a teaching on friendship.
So, after these teachings were imparted to the 500 monks, they returned to the forest, and they practiced cultivating friendship towards everything that was in their lives. This included the spirits that were scaring them and themselves. All of them were feeling anxious and scared. This included the people that they love. This included teachers that had helped them along the way. This included people like their neighbors and friends. Through the quality of this kindness and friendship that they cultivated towards the devas, the devas allowed them to stay. As such stories go from back then, these monks eventually became Arahants, awakened ones.

KARANIYA METTA SUTTA*
from the Buddha

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech.
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways..
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
Not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!

Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

*Translated from the Pali language by monks from the
Amravati Monastery in England.

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Stiffness

Many of us are out walking or running these days. It’s nice to get outside in the spring air. Some of us walk with our dogs, some for exercise, some for both. We might even be doing this more than once a day, going faster or vigorously for the cardiovascular, aerobic benefits; even breaking out into a run.

For myself, I like to bicycle. Not fast, but sometimes for long distances, discovering the adventure of back roads.

However these activities, while good for us tend to lead to a tightness in the hips, low back, shoulders, and neck. Running particularly can take a toll on the knees, ankles, and hips. Sheila commented recently after I returned from a long ride, that I was stooped over like it was still on the bike; rounded shoulder, slumped back, and craning neck. I had to admit, I felt stiff.

While our exercise is beneficial, there is this tendency to move just along the front and back plane of our body, which leads to this stiffness. The body is just adjusting to the activity we’ve set before it, so muscles and joints ramp up to strengthen these areas which leads to added strength, while weakening others. But the after effect can be imbalanced in body tension and stiffness as we cool down. To help the counteract some of the negative effects, we have, yes you guessed it: yoga asanas.
Here is short little practice that I find helpful and renewing after physical exercise.


Ardha Uttanasana / half forward bend:
With hands on the wall at hip level or higher so you can strive for a concave back. Keep legs very straight. Lengthen the neck by drawing the point of the chin toward the sternum. Repeat again widening the legs.


Pavanmuktasana: Remember you can stuff the hands behind the knees. Play around with the legs to going into the happy baby pose rocking from side-to-side.


Parvatasana in Virasana: Once you have the legs in position, interlock the fingers in front of your chest, palms turned outward. Keep arms straight and bring them up over your head. Lengthen from hip to wrists hold for 3 breaths. Repeat 4 times.
Remember you can sit on a blanket or a block to raise the hips and ease the knees. If this pose is not accessible, then move onto the next pose sukhāsana but working the same arm position. Keep spine straight.


Sukhāsana/simple sit: Sit with spine straight and elevated. Sit on blankets to elevate if knees are higher than hips. 2x changing the cross of the legs.

“Practice asanas by creating space in the muscles and skin, so that the fine network of the body fits into the asana.”

BKS Iyengar


Sukhāsana Twist: Maintain the extended , straight spine and twist to the side from the waist first. Remember twists always start from the low spine and waist. Move the core in the same direction as the twist.
If virāsana is available to you, do the twist from that pose instead.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog: Try to do this down dog off the mat, so your hands and feet may tend to slip. Try to pull up to the hips (the peak of the pose) instead of stretching. Hold for a minute keeping the neck long.

This whole sequence shouldn’t take more than ten minutes. Just feel the body after your walk or run, while the muscles and joints are still warmed up.

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Hands

So how many times in the course of the day do you think you wash your hands? While doing so do you ever notice your hands. Maybe you are aware of how chaffed or dried they may be, but do you ever just notice yours hands?

These useful instruments come with four digits and an opposable thumb. We eat with them, talk with them, pick up things, cook and write with them. They’re handy for making a point, waving, clapping, snapping, picking, and scratching. They are quite strong but resilient, yet also sensitive and fragile. These hands are usually busy, sometimes to the point of distraction. If they are not busy, they are somewhat tense, moving, wriggling, and yes oh no! — touching your face.

ASSIGNMENT: During the day let your hands relax and rest completely. For a few moments (a breath or two) let them be completely still. Place them in your lap or rest them on the table in front of you. Feel the subtle sensations in the quiet hands. To help remind yourself wear you watch backwards. If you don’t wear a watch, tie a string or put on a bracelet on the wrist.

When we relax our hands, the rest of the body along with the mind tends to calm down too. Noticing the hands can be way of stopping (shamatha), quieting the mind. You may also find that you are listening more attentively. As with any mindfulness practice, we will do this, then forget, then remember again. But it is an opportunity to rest in this present moment.


Friday Noble Silence Meditation

Again if any of you would like to join others from the Honey Locust Sangha for the Friday Noble Silence meditation, please do so. The schedule is as follows.

We begin the first sit at precisely 6:00 p.m. for 20 minutes.
The time for mindful walking will begin at 6:25,
Followed by the second sit at 6:40 for another 20 minutes.

If you have a bell, I encourage you to use it. To begin there is the half sound of the bell, then three full sounds. To end the sit there is a half sound the two full sounds. Begin and end walking with one sound of the bell. The Bell, when invited by you, makes the experience so much richer.

If you wish to sit for just one 20 minute periods or just mindfully walk, that would be fine. You don’t have to practice for the full hour. Just know that we’re here for each other. And you can surrender yourself to the sangha for help and support. And all you need to do is stop, come to your breath to dwell in the present moment, and know that your practice helps to support everyone. If you would like to let me know you are attending you can email me at omyogapath@gmail.com, but this in not required.

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Yoga for Sleep

Most of us don’t think about doing an asana practice before going to sleep. When it comes to the time when we’re ready to crawl into bed, the last thing we want to do it unroll the mat and do yoga poses. We also might believe that the stimulation of doing asana before bed would tend to keep us awake, like a shot of caffeine or adrenaline at bed time. While this could be true, often when going to sleep, we’re bringing the same states of mind that we’ve carried with us throughout the day. Sleep doesn’t cancel this condition out, but often carries it over into our resting state. So when the initial exhaustion wears off, our sleep becomes more restless and shallow.

The following sequence is for helping with your sleep. It’ll aid in calming you down both physically and physiologically by settling the nervous system, thus preparing for a rest-state.


Uttanasana: getting the head or upper body supported on blocks or chair. Hold for 1 minute or more.

Prasarita Padottanasana: Do this with head down on block or supported from the chair with hips on the wall. Try to get the chest lower than the hips, but head and arms are supported. Hold for 1 minute or more.

Adho Mukha Savanasana: do this with head resting on block or cushion. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Adho Mukha Virasana supported as shown. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Hold for about 3 minutes


Paschimottanasana it doesn’t matter how low you get in this pose, just try to get the head and front torso supported. Your back may release as you hold.Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Janu Sirasana: As with the previous pose, get the front of the body supported. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Supta Baddhakonasana: use the strap if you have one and get the outside of the legs propped. Hold for 3 minutes or more.

Supta Virasana: try to do this pose, but if the knees won’t allow hold the previous pose longer. Hold for 3 minutes or more.

Sirasana: again don’t skip. Preparation pose is acceptable. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

“The aim of yoga is to calm the chaos of conflicting impulses.”

BKS Iyengar

Salamba Sarvangasana: Obviously this poses is not accessible without a chair, so you can use the wall for support. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.

Halasana: do this right shoulder-stand. The legs don’t have to drop all the way to floor, but it would be good to get them supported. Hold for 1 or 2 minutes.


Setu Bandha Savanganasana: As you can see from the picture the hips and feet are supported. You can raise or lower the blocks to the height that works the best for you. Hold for 3 minutes


Swastikasana: Sit with back very upright. Sit on blankets to get the hips higher than the knee. Shift into both positions with the legs.Hold for 1 or 2 minutes each side.


Viparita Karani: do this on the wall with hips raised if possible. Notice the arm position and emulate. Hold for 3 minutes.


Savasana: Get the chest open on a blanket or bolster. (It doesn’t have to be done on blocks as pictured, unless that is comfortable.) Don’t skip this pose and try to do it in bed, deliberately make a point to do it.

You can see the essence of this sequence is to get the body supported. This is not, however, to be thought of as a restorative practice. Move efficiently from pose to pose, holding each pose and going deeper with your breath while in it. If you stay focused, the sequences takes about 45 minutes.

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Luminous Thoughts

When experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

Yoga Sutra Ch.I v.36

Okay we are still working on different techniques for removing the obstacles/distractions that make the body restless, breathing coarse, and the mind agitated. You know, those things that result in suffering. That next technique is captured in this opening statement. Experience thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow. Sure, yeah let’s just do that. No problem. Got it! Done.

Sometimes the sutra’s are so simple we often just pass over a sentence and move on to the next. But this directive it packed full of underlining assumptions. Aren’t we always experiencing luminous thoughts that are free of sorrow? My dictionary defines the word luminous as — full of or shedding light; bright or shining especially in the dark. Sources that emit their own light. The opposite word would be dark. One other translation uses the term “inner radiance”. So to the question: Don’t I do this anyway, the answer would have to be — No. Not if I’m being honest. And what does this have to do with sorrow. How does sorrow have anything to do with luminous thought. Perhaps a story might serve to illuminate?

I went for a bike ride yesterday. Just this year I’ve discovered gravel riding. Recently bike and tires have been redesigned to handle the rough back roads that in the Midwest are typically gravel roads. This gets the bicycles off the busy highways that are more traveled and thus more noisy and dangerous. In contrast these back roads are quieter and safer. Often times though they are hillier and the going is slower due to conditions.
This day the weather was somewhat unusual for the Midwest. It was ideal. Temperature was around 65, no clouds, no noticeable humidity, and the most amazing phenomena of all, no wind. The lack of wind is something that almost never occurs here. This is almost a constant presence in our region of the world, so it’s absence is significant. Such weather days are rare when bicycling in Omaha and to be treasured

However, I ride with this underlying thought that there are always better places to ride in the world. I read about and watch videos of people riding in other places. The Great Divide in the Rockies, the Baja of Mexico, Patagonia in South America, the Highlands of Scotland, the Tian Shan Traverse through Kyrgyrstan to name a few such rides. Foreign faraway locations with expansive landscapes that seem remote, beautiful and beyond my imagination. So not experiencing these places, these exotic roads brings me sorrow.
Yet on this Sunday through the back roads of western Iowa in this perfect weather, I realized that this ride contained all the elements I’d been longing for all along. Rolling hills, winding roads, flowering trees, and quiet roadside lakes. I saw deer running through fields and leaping barded-wire fence, eagles flying overhead, and wild turkeys running across the road. All of this less than ten miles from my home on roads that I have bypassed and overlooked for years. In Iowa of all places, I was able to put aside my regrets and sorrow to luminously look in at the present moment to see that what I was longing for was right here, right now, with no sorrow.

ASSIGNMENT: So how do we practice having thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow? I don’t have a precise answer to this question. But maybe the sutra is itself pointing the way. Start by noticing the sorrow or regret that you are bringing to any given situation. You might be surprised by how this “sorrow” underlines and influences many things you see and think about. Then notice just the energy awareness behind this looking, bringing light to this present moment. Just that: the awareness. The luminous quality of the bare awareness in this present moment, bypassing the sorrow or regret that may be underneath it. You might discover this quality of luminous thought, takes you where you need to go.

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Doing It Right

Today is Friday, so again any who wish can join in the Noble Silence Meditation offered through the Honey Locust Sangha. As mentioned last week it is very beneficial to meditate with others, if not in space at least in time. And you don’t have to join us for the full hour, but can just sit for one 20 minute period if you choose.


The schedule is is the same as last week:
We begin the first sit at precisely 6:00 p.m. for 20 minutes.
The time for mindful walking will begin at 6:25,
Followed by the second sit at 6:40 for another 20 minutes.


If you have a bell, I encourage you to use it. To begin there is the half sound of the bell, then three full sounds. To end the sit there is a half sound the two full sounds. Begin and end walking with one sound of the bell. The Bell, when invited by you, makes the experience so much richer.


One of the biggest obstacles to meditating consistently is the belief that we are not doing it right. How do I know meditation is working? I feel like I’m just sitting there daydreaming; nothing is happening. I’ve recently shared this story in classes at the Path to help address this discouragement. The story comes from Dean Sluyter, who taught a workshop on Natural Meditation. This version comes from his book with the same title.

We can’t evaluate what’s going on while it’s going on. Meditation consists of resting the attention on some object of experience, such as the breath and remaining neutral and non-engaged with whatever’s going on. When we try to judge or evaluate the meditation, we give up our neutrality and become engaged. It’s like scowling into a mirror while complaining about the lines on your face . . . which is caused by scowling.
Also, because subjective experience is so, well, subjective, it’s an unreliable measure of what’s going on objectively. A friend of mine was one of the key researchers in some of the pioneering studies on the effects of meditation. By studying changes in such functions as brain waves, oxygen consumption, and galvanic skin resistance, he helped establish the physiological reality of the meditative state. At the end of the session, as he was taking the electrodes off a subject’s scalp, the subject would often say something like, “Ah! That was a nice, deep silent meditation. I’m glad you got that one on the record,” or “Oh, that was one of the those shallow, choppy meditations. All I did was think thoughts. I hope this one doesn’t throw off your averages.” To my friend’s surprise, once he examined the results he found that, physiologically, both subjects had undergone s similar degree of settling down. You just can’t tell.
That is, you can’t tell during practice. The point of meditation is not just to have some pleasant experience during meditation, then come back to the same-old-same-old. The real effects are experienced during the other twenty-three and half hours of the day.

Also this story helps us realize that even when we don’t think we’re getting any benefits from meditating, we actually are. If we can look at the doubts were having while sitting as just another thought, more thinking, then the doubts begin to lose their power over us.

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Are You Sure?

There is a Zen story that you have perhaps heard. This condensed version is borrowed from the writings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh.

One day a farmer went to the field and found that his horse had run away. The people in the village said, “Oh what bad luck!” The next day the horse returned with two other horses and village people said, “What good fortune!” Then the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the horses and broke his leg. The villagers expressed their sympathy, “How unfortunate!” Soon after, a war broke out and the young men from the village were being drafted. But because the farmer’s son had a broken leg, he was the only one not drafted. Now the village people told the farmer that his son’s broken leg was really “good luck.”

It is difficult to judge whether an event is fortunate or unfortunate, good or bad. Success contains failure and failure often offers lessons we wouldn’t learn any other way. And many of these judgements arise from our perceptions of how we think things ought to be. This is good and this is bad, right or wrong. Then these perceptions lead us to creating a story about what will happen in the future or if only something different had been done in the past.

Wrong perceptions can create a host of problems. So much of our suffering and dissatisfaction arises from our failure to recognize things as they are. There is a phrase; a question in Buddhism: “Are you sure?” Asking ourselves this question can sometimes stop the story and give us space to reflect what is really happening.

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

William Shakespeare, Hamlet

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Depression

The sequence presented here is to help with feelings of depression. Without going too deeply into the implications of this term, given the current environment of a global pandemic, it seems safe to say we’re all experiencing some feelings of depression, sadness, or despair in the midst of our social isolation. Listed below will be a chart in the two ways these feelings might be manifesting.

Type of depressionQualitiesSymptomsTypical Breath
Rajasicfeeling
agitated
anxiety, restless
impulsiveness
quick & erratic
hard to exhale
Tamasicfeeling
lethargic
inertia, dullness,
hopelessness
shallow, hard
to inhale

You can probably tell the emphasis here is to get your arm-pits and upper chest open, while by-in-large getting the head supported. This aspect of the body can be very helpful Try to hold the poses long enough to you can reside in the shape of your breath.

In regards to how to practice this sequence, you will see that some props (blankets, bolsters, chair) would be helpful. If these are not available, please try to improvise with furnishings or cushions you may have around the house. Just make sure the props aid in supporting your position in the pose. If it doesn’t feel safe or helpful then get out and try to readjust.

Supta Svastikasana: In this pose the ankles are comfortably crossed. Hold for about 2 minutes then switch ankle position.

Supported Backbend: You can do this over a bolster or rolled up blankets to get the upper chest opened. Head and hips should be on the floor, with arms as shown or in a cactus position.

Adho Mukha Virāsana: with support. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Legs are apart, arms are forward.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward-facing dog pose: Get the head supported and bring feet apart wider than the hips. Notice your breath while holding.

Ardha Chandrasana/half-moon pose: Do this pose as pictured against the wall with a support under the lower arm. The upper heal presses into the wall. Remember to get in and out of this pose from trikonāsana/triangle pose

Prasarita Padottanasana from the chair with hips on the wall. Try to get the chest lower than the hips, but head and arms are supported.

Sirāsana: headstand (against the wall if you want or do the “preparation poses” for as long as you can. Try to do some version of this as as safely as you can, but don’t skip it.)

Ustrasana/camel pose: This is a variation on the camel pose. Do this as pictured with arms supporting the shoulders and chest lifting. If the neck will allow, let the head go back looking up.

Viparita Dandāsana: This could be done over any chair or ottoman you may have at home. Make sure head it supported. Again opening the upper chest.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog pose: This poses is repeated, but this time no support for the head.

Supported Sarvangāsana/shoulder stand supported: Obviously this poses is not accessible without a chair, so you may have to go the second variation.

Setu Bandha Sarvagāsana / supported bridge: As you can see from the picture the hips and feet are supported. You can raise or lower the blocks to the height that works the best for you.

Savāsana with a supported head and chest. You could do this on a folded blanket instead of the blocks. Should be comfortable but chest opened. Upper torso is similar to the first pose Supta Svastikasana:

BKS Iyengar found that many students with depression hold tension in the outer portion of the their eyes. He would ask students to try to: “move the edge of the eyes toward the temple and ears,” while doing a challenging pose.

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Finer Levels of Senses

Moving on down the list of ways to free the mind of those pesky obstacles, we come to the next practice. One translator of the sutras describes it as follows:

“Experience of the finer levels of the senses, establishes the settled mind. “
another interpretation is
“Consciousness settles by steadily observing as new sensations materialize.”

For those of you who are just coming to this conversation or haven’t read or don’t remember what is being discussed here, we are talking about how to “settle the mind and body” from the constant obstacles that distract it, thus leading to suffering. If suffering seems too strong a word we could refer to it as a sense of dissatisfaction, unease, dispersion, or just an inability to focus. In Sankrit the word is dukkha, and its presence in our lives generally underlies the motivation for all our actions.

In past teachings, we talked about how yoga guides us in different ways to settle consciousness thus diminishing this suffering.
We can —

“Life does not consist mainly–or even largely–of facts and happenings. It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.”

Mark Twain

So now here is another offering from classical yoga: Experience the finer levels of the senses to aid in settling the mind. But how do we practice this? How will we implement these finer levels of sensation?

ASSIGNMENT: Go outside. Sit outdoors and experience the sensation around you. Pick one sense to bring all your awareness on. It could be the sounds around you: wind blowing, birds singing, dogs barking, children playing. Or you could just feel the wind on your face, a sense of warmth or cold, the position of your body in space, comfort and discomfort. Or the smells, odors, and scents around you. Look with your eyes at what is in front of you. Since eyes are so distracting, try to just keep your head still and gaze steady to frame just what’s in your present field of vision. You don’t have to do this anymore than 3-5 minute, but surrender your attention to just that one sensation. Notice how new sounds, feelings, or smells arise, change, and perhaps disappear. If you don’t have the luxury of a yard, go out for a short walk. Maybe find a bench or place to sit, or just pause and stand still for the time.

I find this practice especially fruitful in the early morning or evening close to sunset. Notice how your thoughts and opinions about some sound or odor emerges and just smile at these intrusions , going back to the sensation. Or maybe some random thought just pops in that have nothing to do with what’s going on around you. These are the sneakiest, because they hook us and take away for finer levels of sensation, but again just smile a the obtrusive thought and come back to the sensation.

Settling the mind is not the same as silencing the mind. It is nature of the mind to have thoughts, like wind blowing, or rivers flowing. But yoga is the practice of calming the fluctuations of the mind-stuff. Intentionally directing our attention with these exercises is the prescribed way in yoga. Even a little practice allows us the opportunity to rest in this marvelous present moment; our true home.

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Meditate Together

In practicing meditation we don’t always have to sit alone. There is a great support in being with other people. This was a revelation to me after years of meditating by myself. That to be in community with others helps to nurture and cultivate this what seems like a silent, solitary endeavor. Yet think of going to a basketball game where the crowd brings it combined attention and focus on one singular event and supports their team. Usually by screaming and shouting. We perhaps think that the support needs to loud and raucous to be beneficial, but this isn’t necessarily so. We can do many activities together without talking or yelling. We share living space with each other, we cook together, we congregate church, theater, concerts, or dance recitals giving our attention to one thing collectively which adds to spirit and energy of an event. Meditating in community is just as powerful and just as helpful.

Now we’ve come to a place in history, where coming together in groups is not prudent for our health or the health of the community. At least not our physical presence. However, like many group activities we are meeting up on virtual platforms like Zoom to we can be present for each other. The Honey Locust Sangha does this every Monday evening and we average about 25 -30 participants a week. But also on Friday evening we have continued with what we’ve titled “Noble Silence Meditation.” This was started by members of the sangha who wanted to meet for an hour while having no discussion or dharma talks. Just quietly gather at the Yoga Path, set up, sit-walk-sit, then end. No talking. Just a smile, the sound of the bell, and the presence of one-another.

Blue Cliff Monastery

Since the beginning of the social distancing and the pandemic measures, we have been meeting not physically or virtually, but temporally. We schedule our meeting every Friday evening, synchronize our sit/walk/sit to we can be together in time with noble silence. Some people email to announce that they will be there. Some don’t. But of those who do check-in, we know there are about 10 -12 people attending; probably more.

If any reading this, would like to join us in the Friday Noble Silence meditation, please do so. The schedule is as follows.

We begin the first sit at precisely 6:00 p.m. for 20 minutes.
The time for mindful walking will begin at 6:25,
Followed by the second sit at 6:40 for another 20 minutes.

If you have a bell, I encourage you to use it. To begin there is the half sound of the bell, then three full sounds. To end the sit there is a half sound the two full sounds. Begin and end walking with one sound of the bell. The Bell, when invited by you, makes the experience so much richer.

If you wish to sit, but just one 20 minute period or just mindfully walk, that would be fine. You don’t have to practice for the full hour. Just know that we’re here for each other. And you can surrender yourself to the sangha for help and support. And all you need to do is stop, come to your breath to dwell in the present moment, and know that your practice helps to support everyone. If you would like to let me know you are attending you can email me at omyogapath@gmail.com, but this in not required.

“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”

Pema Chodran

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Lucid Memory

don’t know about the rest of you, but in the midst of the pandemic and social distancing, I’m finding the world a more quiet place. While this life of unfamiliar patterns, routines, and expectations is unsettling, there is a kind of collective yet nurturing stillness that didn’t existed before now. At least not in my memory.

In the midst of this quiet stillness emerged a lucid memory of a poem that had some relevance to our current situation, though I couldn’t recall how. It was a life time ago in my college days, that I helped to print this with Harry Duncan, during an internship at Abattoir Editions at University of Nebraska at Omaha. The poem was from Father of Waters: Poems 1965 – 1976 by Ben Howard. I thought of it without remembering a single word of it, but knowing it is important that I find it. It was something to do with our present situation. Funny how stillness brings on lucid memories. Perhaps you’ve experienced this too?


APOLOGY

The soul’s communiqué arrived
On Friday morning. Some insist
The present crisis might have been
Avoided altogether had
There been more time. Had there been funds
Forthcoming, that would certainly
Have helped, considering how poor
Conditions had become. Of course
The public dutifully deplored
Our ignorance and languor. All
Winter we were treated to
Its cries. But just that kind of conduct
Kept us from hearing anything
Until too late. And who can say
That they’d have gone about things better
Or shown more care? The care we showed
Was quite unusual, I think,
In the situation. Meeting after
Meeting, hour after hour,
And no conclusions! After a while
You cease to think about distress,
Knowing there’s nothing you can do.
When all is added up, perhaps
That’s what they’ll find: a heart inclined
To help, but absolutely no
Inclusive strategy, no means
That could be trusted. And don’t forget
The soul’s communiqué itself,
Which even when it reached us seemed
Unclear. We did our best, you know,
With quick dispatches, full supplies.
And in the end you have to blame the soul
Itself for not being more explicit
Or getting word to us in time.
~ Ben Howard

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Home Practice Level II, 1

Level II sequence starts with this practice. the sequence moves us from standing poses – to revolved standing poses — to inversions. The practice is very active and energizing. Try to begin with a strong focused attention, letting the breath do what it needs to do, but quieting the breath so as not to force or strain it. Don’t skip the inversions. They are a key component to this practice. If it seems to difficult move back to the Level I sequences for more days.


Tadāsana: Use the mountain to pose to focus and center yourself for the beginning of your practice. Root your feet into the floor while extending inside and outside leg. The quality of this pose will translate into the other standing poses.

Urdhva Hastāsana: Extending the arms up to lengthen the side body. Repeat 2x.

Trikonasna/triangle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Utthita Pārśvakonāsana: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Ardha Candrāsana: Come up on down into this pose from trikonāsana/triangle with the back leg very straight and strong. Extend out through the lifted heal. Prop the bottom arm up with a block or a chair as needed. 2x

“Yoga is a light, which once lit will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter your flame.

BKS Iyengar

Vimāmāsana: Stand with legs wide apart, bring arms out, turn and bend into the knee you are facing, lifting and pivoting the back heel. Lift chest forward and up utilizing arms to help with balance and strength. Repeat 2x on each side. You’re beginning to revolve with this pose, so move from the hips and belly.

Parivrtta Trikonāsana/revolved triangle: Turn toward the right leg as you begin to twist, so actively move from the hips and core. Change sides. Use a prop (block or chair) as needed to support the bottom arm so the spine is free to lengthen. Repeat 2x each side.

Parivrtta Parsvakonasana/revolved side-angle pose: Again actively twist at the core here getting the bottom arm to the outside of forward knee for leverage. Drop hips low. Repeat 2x each side.

Uttanāsana: There a two variations to choose here. The important thing is to lift the core toward the hips and extend the spine. Repeat 2x.

Prasārita Pādottāsana: Start with hands on floor, straight arms, and concave back. Then lower head to floor or block. Repeat 2x.

Sirāsana: headstand (against the wall if you want or do the “preparation poses” for as long as you can. Try to do some version of this as as safely as you can, but don’t skip it.)

Adho Mukha Virāsana: with support. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Legs are apart, arms are forward.

Catuspādāsana: Hold the ankles in this pose. If unable to reach, then us a strap or a belt. Hold and breath for about 30+ seconds. Repeat 2x releasing slowing and mindfully. .

Sālamba Sarvāngāsana/shoulderstand: Set up with at least two folded blankets so the head is lower than the shoulders. This can be done supported on a chair or from the wall as we practiced in class. Be very strong in extending the legs up to the ceiling. Try to hold for 3+ minutes.

Eka Pāda Sarvāngāsana: move from full shoulderstand to this using the wall as pictured. Maintain stability in shoulder and torso. Hold this in conjunction with sālamba sarvāngāsana. Repeat 2 or 3x with each leg.

Halāsana/plow pose: Hold your shouldstand and keep legs straight as you lower them. Use the wall if there is pressure on the neck or head. Hold and breath.

Savāsana: Don’t skip this pose, but very intentional allow yourself to rest with awareness in this corpse pose.

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Parasympathetic Nervous System

Back earlier in the month there was a Deep Relaxation practice offered. This is just one of the practices suggested here to help engage the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS).

Your body has of course, numerous systems: cardiovascular, digestive, immune, circulatory, endocrine (hormone), and nervous to name some. The stresses we’re undergoing right now aren’t just personal but also collective, given the current environment of the Covid pandemic. So if we want to use yoga to lower our stress, calm the fires, and improve overall health, the optimal entry point is the nervous system.

Specifically this is referred to as the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is a label for the overall nervous system that regulates every other system in our body. So mental and physical activity have a direct influence over the ANS. So we’re talking about how yoga works. Through this practice you stimulate the parasympathetic wing of the ANS, calming, soothing, healing waves move through the body and mind.

So the practice of yoga is tailor-made for helping us manage stress, anxiousness, and malaise we experience in our lives. But the thing is: we need to do it. This is includes our asana practice, but also intentionally and mindfully applying practices like deep relaxation and mindful breath to our everyday life.

So on this subject of mindful breathing, here is the very helpful practice of DIAPHRAGM BREATHING:

The practice only takes a minute or two, though you may find you want to take more time. You know from class, the diaphragm is the muscle beneath your lungs that acts as a bellows to move air in and out of your lungs. What we at the Path refer to as the mid-band.
Place your hands above you belly a couple of inches beneath the bottom of the sternum. Look down, breathe normally, watch and feeling the movement of your hands. If you don’t observe much movement, try to breathe into your hands with mild effort, but not forced. Feel the expansion and contraction of the diaphragm by noticing the travel of your hands. You can also substitute a yoga strap for your hands, as we’ve learned in class. Just loop the strap around you mid-band with a just bit of snugness, but not too tight. You still look down when using the strap.
After practicing this a few times, you can try doing without your hands or strap, gradually bringing the gaze up to level. Eventually and with a little practice you can do this anywhere.

This simple technique is very effective for activating the PNS thus reducing anxiety while boosting the immune system. Here are five other ways it helps:

1. Effectively reduces fatigue or infections.
2. Helps by increasing cellular metabolism capturing and removing toxins in the body.
3. Greater clarity, less stress, calmness and alertness.
4. Increased oxygen levels in your cells help them to also function with increased vitality effectively slowing down cellular degeneration and the aging process.
5. By breathing correctly, you also can slow down your heart rate and lower or stabilize your blood pressure.

“Mindfulness isn’t difficult, we just need to remember to do it.”

Sharon Salzberg

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Home Practice Level I,4

We’re on to the fourth and final sequence of the First level. If you’ve be following this level you will of course see that the poses are very simple and basic. Yet these are the building blocks for moving into the more difficult and longer sequences. While the practice is simple and can be done in about 20 minutes, if you repeat the poses where instructed you may find that you can go very deep into each pose.

Sukhāsana/simple sit: Sit with spine straight and elevated. Sit on blankets to elevate if knees are higher than hips. 2x changing the cross of the legs.

Sukhāsana Twist: Maintain the extended , straight spine and twist to the side from the waist first. Do both sides then change the cross of the legs. 2x

You’ll notice in this practice twists are being introduced. This involves utilizing the core. So with this first twist draw the core in the direction your body turns so as to awaken the belly. Than draw the core actively into all the poses that follow. Move the core-strength out into the extended limb(s).

Adho Mukha Vīrāsna/downward-facing hero: Spread the knees apart, extend arms forward, lift elbows, press the palms of the hand down. Try to drop the head down, widen through the shoulders. Hold for about 2 minutes following the breath.

Trikonasna/triangle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Virabhadrasana 2: Repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Ardha Candrāsana/half-moon pose: Come up on down into this pose from trikonāsana/triangle with the back leg very straight and strong. Extend out through the lifted heal. Prop the bottom arm up with a block or a chair as needed. 2x

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog pose: Repeat 2x moving into the planks pose between. Notice your breath while doing. It should be strenuous enough to make you breath hard.

Bharadvājāsana in chair: Again get the spine straight and extended. Feet a directly under the knee with the mid-thigh pressed into the chair back. Start at the waist spiraling the twist up the torso. 2x each side.

Savasāna/corpse pose: Hold 5 minutes with a long folded blanket over the belly. (not pictured) Remember this is a pose too, so come out of it slowly and intentionally as you’ve learned.

We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

T.S.Eliot

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Bookmarks

At the Yoga Path there are bookmarks on the ledge by the gnarly Christmas cactus. They were created when first opening the school as a marketing tool. Something to hand out to prospective clients and at health fairs. I hand them out when someone new wants a business card and often include them in business letters sent out. They are often overlooked by the regular students who come and go, while I forget about them too, except when dusting around them at the front end of the studio.

The title at the top of the bookmark is HOW TO PRACTICE YOGA WITHOUT EVEN BENDING. At the time of their inception, I think I was trying to be clever, but actually the teaching on them is quite ancient. The list of four things to practice is:

  1. Friendliness toward the Joyful
  2. Compassion for those who are Suffering
  3. Celebrating the Good in others
  4. Having Equanimity to the Faults and Imperfections of other

These are referred to in Yoga as the Brahmaviharas (Four Immeasurable Minds)*. In Sanskrit they are
1. Maitri (metta in Pali)
2. Karuna (compassion)
3. Mudita (joy)
4. Upeksha (equanimity)

These aren’t just concepts, but responses to everyday life situations.
Maitri is often called loving-kindness, but another translation is friendliness and generosity. Do you ever find yourself in a situation where someone is happy or joyful, but find yourself being resentful or jealous?
Or perhaps someone is suffering, but you don’t feel compassion, but a sense of satisfaction they are getting what they deserve?
How often do we notice someone doing something good or kind, but we feel sense of suspicion or contempt? Or perhaps we don’t even recognize the good in others, or even a beautiful flower or sunrise, because of the mood that dominates our thoughts?
And this loss of equanimity toward others, often arises because we see ourselves as apart from and separate from the person in front of us. Upeksha is translated by Thich Nhat Hanh as inclusiveness or interbeing. This separation from people and things around us, is just a mental formation created by our judgements and stories constantly playing in our minds.

Yet yoga in it’s psychology as laid out in the sutras is always very practical. It’s not concerned that we practice the four Brahmaviharas so we can become good, moral people. The teaching in the Patajanjali’s sutras encourages us to practice them because, if we don’t, the mind will turn inward and obstacles will stand in the way of our progress.

These obstacles are succinctly listed as

illness
fatigue
doubt
carelessness
laziness
attachment
delusion
failure to achieve stillness
failure to maintain stillness

Such obstacles make the body restless, the breathing coarse, and the mind agitated. They result in suffering.

So this is what’s on the bookmark at the Path. Sometimes I wonder if the design or the typeface I selected obscures the message on the bookmark. Or maybe it’s just easier and more accessible to practice bending?

*”The four Brahmaviharas are immeasurable, because if you practice them, they will grow in you every day until they embrace whole world. You will become happier and everyone around you will become happier, also.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Deep Relaxation I

There is this practice called Deep Relaxation. Just to be clear this is not specifically a yoga exercise. Though most often when doing it you take the savāsana position or lay on your side. The technique could be compared to yoga nidra, though that term is sort of esoteric and not familiar to most practitioners. It is also not meditation in the strict sense of the word. Where in meditation one tries to stop and focus, deep relaxation is a surrendering to the fatigue and stress in our body. Yet then again it is not a nap, though one might fall asleep while doing it; usually waking up a little later in a soft repose that is often healing and nourishing.

Relaxation is essential for accessing the tranquility and joy that lead to increased personal well-being.

If you are like me, you will approach this exercise with a degree of doubt and skepticism. So be it. I’ve never liked naps because usually they leave me tired and disoriented in the middle of the day. Yet this practice is something altogether different. I often do this after a long bike ride, where I’m physically exhausted. It works wonders. For you, it might be helpful after a day of working from home, looking at a screen for too many hours and feeling scattered or dispersed.

This is your assignment: Lie down in a comfortable position and listen to this guided Relaxation.
This Relaxation audio is offered from Sister True Dedication from the Plum Village tradition. I chose it, because she has pleasant voice and it’s only 15 minutes long. So the time commitment isn’t that much. Try it. You perhaps will find it healing.

When we relax, we become calm water, and we will reflect reality as it is. If we’re not calm, the image we reflect will be distorted. When the image is distorted by our minds, it’s not the reality, and it causes lots of suffering.”

Thich Nhat Hanh

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Home Practice Level 1,3

This practice sequence is very short, but intense (rajasic). The feel is very energetic while helping with focus. If you feeling sort of anxious or antsy, these poses can be very helpful. Yet the poses are basic and you are familiar with them all. I encourage you to go through it once, skipping the last two poses and repeat from the beginning including the last two. Especially if you’re still feeling restless.

Urdhva Hastasana coming from Tadasana. Palms facing inward with fingers and thumb together. Repeat 2x.

Utkatasana coming from Tadasana. Palms pressing together, keeping knee in line with ankles and hips . Repeat 3x going lower each time.

Trikonasna/triangle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Utthita Parsakonasana /side-angle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Vimanasana bring arms out, turn toward the bent knee, lifting and pivoting the back heel. Lift chest forward and up utilizing arms to help with balance and strength. Repeat 2x on each side.

Vibhradrásana 1 / warrior 1 Plant back heal down and in, turning front of legs out vigorously. Push head of back hip forward and sink hips as low as you can; then lower. Don’t allow forward knee to project ahead of the ankle. Repeat 2 or 3x on each side.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog pose. Repeat 3x moving into the planks pose between. Notice your breath while doing. It should be strenuous enough to make you breath hard.

Catuspadāsana / bridge holding ankle. Hold the ankles in this pose. If unable to reach, then us a strap or a belt. Hold and breath for about 30+ seconds.
Repeat 2x releasing slowing and mindfully. .

Adho Mukha Virasana with support. Try to find a cushion or blankets to get the head the same height at the hips. Legs are apart, arms are forward. Breath and hold.

Savasāna/corpse pose. Yes finally you get to do savasāna! Remember this is a pose too, so come out of it slowly and intentionally as you’ve learned.

“Yoga is the method by which the mind is calmed. And the energy directed to constructive channels.”

BKS Iyengar

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108 Sun Salutations

March is at an end. Any other year we would have done Sun Salutations together in class. The classic sequence would have offered a variety of teaching opportunities. We would have dissected the poses, explored ways to refine and improve our technique. Done them quickly in succession, slowed down to savor the energy being expended, practiced with our eyes closed, then faced the sun to surrendered our efforts to the cosmos. But this was not a typical March this year. Most of this was abruptly halted due to the reality of a collective corona contagion.

Yet some of you told me of your endeavor to continue on with the goal of 108 salutations. Some of you even let me know that you completed them. Some of you, finished just today. I congratulated all who finished, but am equally gratified by those who did what they wanted. But the true treasure here is doing them for yourself and for those who touch your life.

Some of you know this number 108 is considered sacred, and continues to pop up in not just in yoga, but in nature, spirituality, and mathematics.

Exactly how the yogis arrived at 108 is not quite certain, but it seems to be a number that connects us to our place in the cosmic order. The distance between the Earth and sun is 108 times the diameter of the sun. Around the time the ancient Vedic texts were being collected, far away Stonehenge was built—the Sarsen Circle is 108 feet in diameter. In Belize, during the era of the Mayans, the High Temple of Lamanai was erected at 108 feet tall—the same height as the funerary Tikal temple in Guatemala. And within the temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza in Mexico archeologists believe there to be a second pyramid inside measuring 108 feet wide. Is it possible that our ancient ancestors knew this? These temples, built to worship and to house the souls of great leaders upon their death, perhaps used this number to connect humans not just to our sun as a giver of life, but to the Creator.

In yoga, the number 108 refers to spiritual completion. It is why japa malas are composed of 108 beads. In other spiritual teachings beyond the traditional yogic texts, this number comes up repeatedly in the search for liberation. The ancient yogis believed that if we could align ourselves with the rhythm of the creation, we would ultimately bring an end to our cycle of reincarnation.

Hindu deities have 108 names, and India is said to have 108 sacred sites. In Jainism there are believed to be 108 virtues. In some forms of Tai Chi there are 108 moves. In Tibetan Buddhism there are 108 delusions. Many Buddhist temples have 108 steps representing the 108 steps to enlightenment. While in Japanese Zen Buddhist temples, a bell is chimed 108 times at the end of the year closing a cycle to serve as a reminder of the 108 earthly temptations a person must overcome to achieve nirvana.

In mathematics 108 brings a whole host of equations and possibilities most of which I can’t explain. But one simple examples is: if you square 2 you get 4 and if you cube 3 you get 27, and if you multiply 4×27=108. Galileo said the universe is written “in mathematical language”— that the mysteries of creation itself could be unraveled through numbers and equations. For the yogis, that code is 108.

Yet none of these numbers or what they symbolize are really to the point. Whether one does 108 or 27 or 2 squared, the most pertinent sun salutation is the one you are doing now. In moving from one pose to the next, you realize that you can embody the practice, this ancient teachings through movement. It doesn’t have to be perfect or precise. Surya Namaskar becomes beautiful when we take these poses, one after another, into our bodies in ways we never could by just talking or thinking. So when we walk away from having done them, we join with the mystics who offered a code for awakening, a code to our own nature.

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Stonewalls and Strong Winds

I’m late getting today’s entry out. The day was sunny and warm, so I went for a bike ride. There were strong northwest winds that I rode into until the headwind just felt like the normal way of things. The wind blew stiffest through open valleys and over the tops of hills, reminding me that it was always present and that it could knock me over at any time. But when I turned to go home, it pushed me along as though I was entitled to this luxurious easy pace. Almost like I was taking a friend for granted.

Here’s a poem by the Irish poet John O’Donohue that I wanted to share with you. It reminds me that some days it’s okay to let the wind blow you; to coast on the drift of your efforts.

THIS IS the time to be slow,
To lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
the wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on the fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.
~ John O’Donohue

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Home Practice Level I,1

For those of you who are perhaps a little tired of Sun Salutations (if that could be possible?) here is a home practice sequence Level 1. Many of the poses get repeated 2x or 3x. Repeating poses is a very fruitful way to deepen your practice. The first time is stopping (shamata) and the second time leads to insight (vipassana). Enjoy!

1. Tadasana/
Mountain pose. Alternate by swinging straight arms forward up into urdhva hastasana. Repeat 3x.

2. Move from tadasana to urdhva baddh-anguliyasana (interlocking finger over head with palms turned upward). Repeat 2x changing the finger interlock.

Vrkasana /tree pose; face a wall or use a wall, but do try to get the arms overhead as pictured. Do both sides 2x. Notice your breath.

Trikonasna/triangle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt. Keep both legs very strong.

Utthita Parsvakonasana/ side-angle pose: Use a block or prop as need be, but repeat 2x each side and see if you can get lower on second attempt.

Parsvottanasana / side-angle forward bend: Leave hands on hips and try to maintain a concave spine. Repeat 2x each side and see if you can you can get lower on thy second attempt.

Prasarita Padottananasana / wide legged pose: Start with hands on floor, straight arms, and concave back. Then lower head to floor or block. Repeat 2x.

Adho Mukha Svanasana / downward -facing dog pose. Repeat 2x after short rest between. Rest could be Adho Mukha Virasana / Downward Hero pose.

Urdhva Prasarita Padasana / legs up the wall: Back is flat on the floor. come away from the corner if the back hips are not on the floor or legs are bent. Rest quietly here for at least 5 minutes. No savasana.

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more on Stopping/Shamatā

I’m sharing a writing from a renown yoga teacher, Tias Little, who along with his spouse, Surya, established Prajna Yoga. I have enjoyed and been influenced by his teaching for many years. This teaching on Shamatā/Stopping was timely and particularly relevant to our current situation, so I felt it was worth sharing.

I appreciate that Tias uses the term: “the Power of Pause,” to describe the benefits of this practice of shamatā. The use of the word “pause” — offers a fresh perspective to this term we’ve been trying to understand and incorporate into our lives. Also in the second paragraph, he uses the term “sattvic.” You practicing students will of course remember that this is in reference to the Three Gunas: the three aspects of nature
Sattva is a state of harmony, balance, joy, and intelligence.
Rajas is a state of energy, action, change, and movement.
Tamas is a state of darkness, inertia, inactivity, and materialism.

The Bright Side of the Sun

In the face of the fast-moving Coronavirus, all of us are no doubt experiencing creeping pangs of fear. Anxiety crawls through our gut, and dread lodges in our shoulders and neck. Surya and I are worried for our families and members of our community. Fear is palpable on the street as the existential threat to health, livelihood, and survivability continues. We are seeing people respond through consumptive grasping — buying up groceries, hand sanitizer, and TP. Yet under the lining of despair, there is, for those of us engaged in ongoing and deep practice, opportunity for harvesting a kind of potency at this time.

First off, there is the Power of the Pause. While our lives barrel lickety-split down the track, we are now suddenly encouraged, in fact mandated, to take our foot off of the collective accelerator. If we do not succumb to panic we can exhale. As the world brakes and the buzz and burn of traffic is reduced, the atmosphere all around is more serene, sattvic. Not since the tragedy of 9/11 have we come to such a collective halt, and in the midst of the break we are led to wonder, will we ever experience such space and quietude again in this lifetime? Perhaps this momentous brake/break will enable a Big Shift and clarify our intention to take care.
In the pause we exhale, we let go of urgency, rush, and demand. Like in pranayama, when the breath is interrupted between cycles and the entire physiology can reset, we have an opportunity to press the “refresh” button. I always say in SATYA practice, “let the pause do its good work.”  The pause allows us to shapeshift into something new and unforeseen. In the process of meditation and yoga, the pause (called nirodha) is essential to transformation — the shedding of the old habit of being. At the very least, and this is great in and of itself, the pause is an invitation to just be.

Each of us wonders, how long will this viral threat last? Will it metastasize and effect us all? Is the person in front of me in line at Trader Joe’s contagious? This is a reminder of another tenet of practice: Not Knowing. Not knowing involves witnessing impermanence, seeing that everything is in flux, from the outermost galaxy down to the cells in your spleen. That everything is “fluxing,” mutable, and uncertain lies at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching on transience. Through a lifetime of practice, we learn to breathe through uncertainty. And it is through not knowing that we attend to the great mystery. There is no better time than now to peer back over our shoulder and ask, “what have we been doing?” and look ahead and ask, “how can we come to a collective homeostasis?”
In the hermetic quarantine that we are now in, there is a cache of real gifts to be uncovered. One is the reckoning that we have have been scorching the very earth that sustains us, with a hellbent urgency for more, bigger, better. The other is the acknowledgment of just how fragile and precious this terrestrial life is. We come to a sincere appreciation for the very fabric of social networks that sustain us — schools, supply chains, farmers, health care providers, sports, the press and… each other.  In the midst of the shutdown (and before it all starts up again) our obligation to protect and preserve this treasure-filled blue globe is made all the more clear.

Spiritual seekers have long sought isolation as the fertile ground for revelation, compassionate presence, gratitude, and vision. While we bide our time in our own homes and spaces, may we not tremble in fear like caged rodents, but put into practice the very peace and resolve needed to sustain the wonder of the world that is ours.

Finding the Ease in Disease,

Tias
Any comments you may have are welcome.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga

Salt of the Path

Assignment at the bottom of this page

One of the things I’ve come to appreciate about teaching at the Yoga Path, is the community that has formed around it. People of various backgrounds show up for different reasons to take a yoga class. There is usually a tumult of chatter while students set out mats and gather props. When someone shows up for the first time, I don’t worry much about trying to make them comfortable, because I know veteran students will welcome them, show them how to set up, and make them feel at home. Sometimes I worry about the introverts (this practice seems to draw the introverts) who possibly might be overwhelmed by the overtures, thus pulling them away from their comfortable nest of anonymity. Yet this welcoming, inviting atmosphere prevails through the entire class and is consistent in every class.

While I was fortunate to come from such an environment in my training with Margaret Hahn at the Omaha Yoga School, this is not, to my experience, typical of most yoga schools. Usually in other spaces, one is consigned to the space of your mat. Those who know one another huddle up at the beginning of class and head out after for chai and tea. I don’t mean to sound critical of other schools, but the culture at the Path is something altogether unique.

We never set out to create this atmosphere. In fact if I had tried to do it, when starting the Path, I wouldn’t have had the foggiest notion of how to begin. Or to even have envisioned what it could look like. Yet somehow it evolved into a community beyond all expectations. Maybe it’s the narrow confined hallway of a studio where we practice. Maybe it’s the tea we share after the asanā practice to discuss some aspect of yogic philosophy. Maybe it’s because many students are literally family members who bring other friends and family to this practice.

In Buddhism there is the word sangha. The easy translation is community, but this doesn’t quite capture the essence of the term. Thich Nhat Hanh describes a sangha as a community of friends practicing the dharma (teachings) together in order to bring about and to maintain awareness. But also I’ve slowly learned that collectively we augment our practice in a way that we could never do alone.

Another way to look at it come from the New Testament, Matthew 5:13: “Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt hath lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted?” In this passage, Jesus describes his followers as salt. Food needs salt in order to be tasty. Life needs flavor to foster understanding, compassion and harmony. That’s why we come together in community.

ASSIGNMENT: In this time of distancing, where we need to be physically apart, I’ve enclosed this video. It reminds me of the Yoga Path sangha. Your assignment is to take six minutes and watch it, and know that you are part of this community.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, ,

Yoga for Times of Crisis

For the next few posts I will talk about how to practice on your own, offering various themes. Today it will be a sequence that BKS Iyengar offered right after the 9/11 tragedy: It was titled:

Yoga Sequence For Times Of Crisis*

The emphasis is to build up one’s emotional strength, not physical stamina or flexibility. With that in mind, here are some specific recommendations as to how to move through these asanas:
~No standing poses. No backbends.
~All poses should be done with eyes open (including savasana). Try to flatten your vision if you know how or at least notice where you gaze is going and try not to let it drift. Or imagine your eyes are located at the temples and to “open” these eyes.
~Do not worry about a perfect pose. However, while breathing in any asana, breathe in such a way that the breath touches the lateral side of the chest during inhalation.
~Be patient and hold each pose from 2-5 minutes

1. Savasana (corpse pose; can be done supported on a bolster or blankets. Be comfortable but not sleepy. Remember eyes stay open.)

2. Supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose. This can be done supported on a bolster or blankets and with a strap if you have one.)

3. Supta virasana (reclining hero pose; can be done supported on a bolster or blankets. Prop yourself up on a chair or stairs if this difficult for you. If this not doable because knee pain, just do the prior pose longer.)

4. Prasarita padottanasana/wide legged forward bend (Make sure the head is supported.)

5. Uttanasana /standing forward bend (again with arm support on a block or chair.)

6. Adho mukha svanasana /downward facing dog pose (again get the head supported.)

7. Viparita dandasana inverted staff pose over a chair or firm cushion (strapping the legs around the mid-thigh is recommend)

8. Sirsasana / headstand (against the wall if you want or do the “preparation poses” for as long as you can. Try to do some version of this as as safely as you can, but don’t skip it.)

10. Setu bandha sarvangasana (supported bridge pose, try make it accessible but not too easy)

11. Sarvangasana / shoulderstand (this can be done supported on a chair or from the wall as we practiced in class. If you have difficulty holding, lapse into halasasa / plow pose; again from the wall.)

Pranayama: End with Antara kumbhaka a very short retention on the inhalation. (This is just holding the in-breath just a little longer than normal. Do this in a comfortable, stable seated pose. Just notice the desire to breath out, then exhale. Don’t strain the breath here. You may notice your inhale grows deeper.)

*Please refer to BKS Iyengar, Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health

a gift from guruji BKS Iyengar

Let us know how it works for you.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , ,

How are Sun Salutations going?

“Asana, one of yoga’s most significant “tools,” help the sincere student develop physically and spiritually. The ancient sages believed that if you put your whole heart into your practice, you become master of circumstances and time.” BKS Iyengar

You knew I was going to ask. Now that classes are suspended, I can’t bug you in person before each class as to how’s it going with your 108 sun salutations? But now that we’re all distancing ourselves and settling into the new normal that is our life, the practice of yoga is now available in new ways. Surya Namaskara is the ideal entrance into a daily practice.

For those of you unfamiliar to the Yoga Path history, every March students and teachers at the Path commit to do 108 sun salutations for the month. The shared endeavor has been nicknamed “March Madness.” Some students talk about this event as early as the beginning of the year. Others avoid the subject with a quiet dread and contempt. Some rebel at the idea of keeping score, while the more analytic types, map out their plan to complete the goal on or before deadline.

I don’t remember how this tradition even got started, but was surprised and gratified to discover that, for some, they actually took their practice home. We created a card to track our progress with 108 squares. Some would even come to class earlier than usual to knock off a few before class started. One of my students reported that she would do a couple of them every evening, during the commercials while watching the news.

First completed card 2020

Some resist this regimenting of yoga with all their might. Some just don’t like the sequence. But whatever gets people practicing on their own, to me, is a good thing.

I usually encourage students to use surya namaskara as a starting point for practicing. Don’t worry about the amount you do, but how it feels while doing them. Sometimes the first couple don’t seem very worthwhile, like the beginning of run, but let yourself settle into the flow of the sequence. Or just start with a salutation, but leave it behind if the body needs to do other asanas.

Here is a sheet to see how we practice surya namaskara at the Yoga Path. However, as my teacher Margaret Hahn use to say, “the sun salutation is like potato salad. Everyone has their own recipe.: Just Google surya namaskara / sun salutations to get a couple of thousand variations on a theme. Below is pictured the Iyengar version from the Preliminary Course book.

Just practice it for yourself and for the others in your life. It can do nothing but good! You still have 10 days to go.

Filed under: Education, Uncategorized, Virtual Yoga, , , , ,

De-stressing pose

YOU CAN USE YOUR asana practice as a tool to de-stress physically, physiologically, and psychologically, body, mind, and spirit. Creating a position that allows for deep. deliberate diaphragmatic breathing will calm and relax the autonomic nervous system. The reclining twist shown in this picture will provide relief to agitated adrenal glands, the source of much of the stress hormones in the body.

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Jathara Parivartanasana

Lay on your back with you arms straight out from the shoulders. Palms up or down depending on what feels most grounded. Tuck you knees and drop you legs to the right. If it’s hard on the low back, tuck the knees more and/or leave you feet on the floor when going to the side. As you twist to the right, bring your attention to your left mid-band along the bottom of you rib cage. Find the spot above you left kidney where you feel the physical movement of you breath. Relax and hold this from 2 – 5 minute, working with your breath and body. Don’t twist the neck. Gaze up and yes maybe even close your eyes. When you come out, bring up one leg at a time. Do the other side.

Repeat as often as you want. But if you find yourself agitated before doing this, do some active standing poses to get you warmed up and your heart going. (Maybe even some sun saluttations). This gentle twist floods the adrenals–located on top of the kidney–with nourishment and opens them to the breath.

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , , , ,

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