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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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.

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

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.

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

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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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

Filed under: Education, Virtual Yoga, , ,

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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