The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

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{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }

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.

Filed under: Education, Home Practice, Virtual Yoga, , ,

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

Filed under: Education, Home Practice, Virtual Yoga, , , ,

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

Filed under: Education, Home Practice, Virtual Yoga, , ,

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

Filed under: Education, Home Practice, Virtual Yoga, , , ,

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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