greeting the light within

Namaste.  I say it at the end of each of my yoga classes, and my students repeat it back to me.  I assume, as yogis, we all know what it means, and I rarely take the time to define it.

I am no Sanskrit scholar, but as I have learned it, namaste means: the light of the divine within me, honors the light of the divine within you.

It’s a lot for a little word, no?  Sanskrit is that way, with layers of meaning in one or two words.

Nama means I bow.  Te means to you.  I bow to you.  But it is not simply me, this body, bowing to you, your body.  It is my essence bowing to your essence–the highest in me recognizing and bowing to the highest in you.  This body holds that light, is the container that gives it hands to type and eyes to see and feet to tickle and throat to laugh, but this body does not define that light.

This week, after the terrible shootings in Connecticut, our newspaper printed photos of most of the victims.  The front page was full of smiling little faces of boys and girls, and their teachers.  My first thought was to hide this paper from my children, to read it when they were asleep, grieve privately over the faces of children not much older than my own.

But my second thought, seeing these beautiful faces, was to show them to my children.  They are–at two–far too young to hear or understand the story of these children.  So I opened the paper, and put it on the floor, and we admired the faces of the kids.  “That,” my son said, pointing to one boy’s notably carrot-red hair.  “Red hair,” I told him.  “That’s a boy with very red hair.”

“Eyeglasses,” my daughter said, noting one girl with glasses slid halfway down her nose.  “Yes,” I replied, “she is wearing eyeglasses.”

And so it went, throughout the day, we would pull out the paper, and look at the kids.  Hi kids, they said, over and over.  Hi kids.

Namaste.

December 23, 2012 at 12:36 pm 4 comments

Time to Rest

Often, as I am gathering my children and their favorite stuffed bears together for nap time, I wish that someone would gather me and my favorite bear (actually, he was a stuffed dog named Henry and I still have him, though I no longer sleep with him), kiss me on my cheek, and tuck me in for a little rest.

At the end of our yoga practice, this is exactly what we give ourselves, when we take savasana.  Usually translated as corpse pose, described (by David Swenson, in his wonderful Ashtanga Yoga Practice Manual) as the “death of a practice,” it’s a chance to rest, to be.

I think of it as a time for the body to integrate all of the learning it has done during the practice.  Especially if you’re taking class, and following instruction for an hour or an hour and a half, your body and mind are probably ready for the break from listening, and doing.

And unlike rests that I give myself at other points during the day–like now, when my kids are napping, so I am checking email and writing a blog post–this is a moment of doing nothing.  A moment to simply be.

And unlike actually falling asleep, the resting in savasana is in that space between sleep and wakefulness, when the brain is alert and aware but still, quiet.  This stillness is not only an essential part of savasana, it’s an essential part of the practice of yoga.  As my first teacher said–if you don’t have this quality, you’re just standing around on one foot in a really hot room.

So, savasana is a chance to notice this quality of stillness, to be with it, to allow it to be within ourselves; a chance to rest.

Enjoy.

 

December 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm 1 comment

Up with Pups

Uppup: Comfortable clothing that expresses your love for dogs and yoga.  And hockey.  And silliness.  And movies.  And occasionally wasting time to see very funny things on youtube.

Don’t mistake the silence of this blog for silence in the world of Uppup.  Carol has been hard at work on many wonderful ideas, including YoHo, a very funny video featuring pups, hockey, yoga, and friends wearing Uppup gear.  If you have about six minutes, check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ew8kHPzeMrM&feature=em-share_video_user

Also check the website for new products, and a great sale on some older styles.
While you’re on youtube, check out some yoga podcasts, too.  Kathryn Budig has some wonderful free podcasts, all around twenty minutes long.  Her arm balance sequences are particularly fun and challenging.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZBmjhFhhmM&feature=relmfu

If you need to wring out that second helping of stuffing (or turkey, or pie, if you’re like me), twists are a wonderful way to rid the body of toxins.  Here’s one of Kathryn’s revolved practices: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FsSNgDJ97g&feature=relmfu

Happy Thanksgiving, all.  I am grateful for yoga, and dogs, and hockey, and silliness, and youtube videos that make me laugh out loud.  Hope you have a long list, too.

November 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm 1 comment

book

I can sum up the themes for the Intro to Yoga series into the shortest self-help book ever.

Chapter One: Keep it Simple

Chapter Two: Create Space

Chapter Three: Dedication

Chapter Four: Delight

Chapter Five: Visit Your Family

Chapter Six: Evenness

The last chapter is what we worked on last Sunday.  Evenness (sattvic or sattva in sanskrit), is the idea that when life moves through extremes, we don’t follow the swing of the pendulum.  Of course, we feel joy and sorrow, rage and awe, but we don’t act on them, we don’t hold them in the body or the mind for any length of time.  We see the pendulum swinging, and we see that each time it swings, it swings through center, through evenness.  And, we hope that with time, with practice, the swings of the pendulum grow less extreme, our experience of life is life with ease, with evenness: a life that is sattvic.

You’ll note that there were six classes in the series, but class five I was off in RI visiting my family (yes, my grandmother had a wonderful time at her party, as we all did!).  A balance like this is probably about right: five parts in practice on my mat, one part putting it into practice in the world.

February 23, 2012 at 9:34 pm 4 comments

dedication

I’ll miss my intro to yoga class this coming Sunday, as I’ll be helping my grandmother celebrate her 100th birthday.

My grandmother has gotten to 100 with amazing good health and good cheer.  A year and a half ago, when she was in the hospital for surgery, it was her first overnight stay in a hospital in more than forty years.

When we visited her over the summer, she told me how much god has blessed her life.  She has lived through many hardships, including coming to this country alone as a teenager.  She has watched many people die, including her husband, her son-in-law (my father), and her dear niece.  Still, she says, I have had a lot of good luck.

I can’t explain her longevity, but I can explain her luck: she has dedicated herself to the good.  Surely, my grandmother could speak of her sorrows.  But much of the time, she chooses to speak of the good of her life, both the past and the present.  She dedicates herself to the highest–the highest in herself and in others, and in so doing, she presents an amazing example to me.

my grandmother, my daughter, and I

If I make it to 100, like my grandmother, will I spend my days talking about the luck god has given me, or will I spend them lamenting the friends I have lost, the relatives I have buried, the chances I have missed? It depends in part on what I dedicate myself to.

As I think of it, there are at least two kinds of dedication.  There’s dedication to the yoga practice (or our careers, or our hobbies, or whatever it is that we do).  This is what brings us to the mat when we don’t really feel like practicing, it is what snaps our mind back to attention when we waver.  It is a tool that we can use, so that we spend our time doing what matters.

Then there’s the dedication we have in our hearts.  This kind of dedication isn’t about what we do, but how we approach what we do.

In the intro class this past Sunday, I invited students to think of someone who inspires them.  Someone who dedicates themselves to the highest.  Someone who sees and experiences the good and the bad in life, and chooses to focus on the good.  Someone whose dedication can be an inspiration, so that we too can see our luck, see what life gives and brings us, and be grateful.

February 2, 2012 at 4:24 pm 6 comments

creating space

While sometimes the language of yoga makes me uncomfortable–it can be a bit squirrelly for my taste–at times, it resets my mind in just the right way.  Witness: creating space. This week’s theme for my intro to yoga students.

In everyday language and thoughts, I “make time” for things.  I’ve been trying to make time for years, but especially in this past year, welcoming two babies into our lives while continuing to work, teach and practice yoga, keep our house in some semblance of order, keep contact with friends, not to mention showering and hair washing and changing my underwear daily.

I have never come across a formula to “make time.”  There are still 24 hours in my day, after all these years.

This is where the language of yoga comes in.  Instead of trying to fabricate time, can I create space?

Perhaps the language is not as squirrelly as I thought at first.  I have created space in my home: what was once a closet under the attic stairs is now my office, where I write this blog and sew some crafts.  I have created space in my body: taller now than ten years ago when I started my regular yoga practice.  I can create space in my heart: accepting what is, even when that’s uncomfortable, when I am not getting my way.

So, can I create space on the clock or the calendar, in my day?  How?  Thich Nhat Hanh elegantly explains it this way: if, when you are washing the dishes, you are thinking ahead to your cup of tea, when you sit down to enjoy your cup of tea, your mind won’t know to be present.  It will be wandering ahead to the next thing.  And the next thing, and the next, if you are my mind.

So instead of a few minutes’ time to sit and enjoy a cup of tea, I am jumping to my feet, tea mug in one hand, phone in the other, to look up the phone number of the oil company (or the vet, or whatever it is that has suddenly become so urgent).  By the end of the day, I have a half-finished mug of cold tea I’m pouring into the sink, a tired mind, a weary heart, and a long list in my head of yet-unfinished tasks.

One night last week my husband and I were giving our children baths.  My husband was playing a bathtime  game with our foster son, which involved an unusual grouping of toys, running commentary from Papa, and water on the floor.

“Hey, mama,” my husband called, interrupting his explanation of what the whale, the lion and the captain were up to, “check this out.”

“Some of us,” I called from the changing table, where I was getting our now-clean daughter into her pj’s, “are trying to get babies to bed.”

“Some of us,” he called back to me, “are creating memories that last a lifetime.”

That is creating space.

January 23, 2012 at 10:05 pm 3 comments

beginning, again

It is such fun to teach the Intro to Yoga class at Upper Valley Yoga.

Each session I try to have a new framework for myself to teach around, a new way to organize myself.  I’ve used all kinds of structure to help me: the koshas, the eight limbs of yoga, a breakdown of the yamas and niyamas.  This time, I decided to use a few concepts behind the yoga, picking simplicity as the theme for our first day.

Simple doesn’t come easy to me.  I have a tendency to talk a lot, and get excited about the details, which can be fun and helpful, and overwhelming.  But if my intro students are doing something that’s new to them, and probably hard for them (coming to yoga class for the first time), then I can push myself into unfamiliar territory, too.

So, I headed into class with my teaching notebook open to the intro week one page, with only a few reminders about simplicity, the simplest of cues for a few postures, and a lot of blank space.  A visual reminder to myself: keep it simple; leave lots of space.

We started seated, practicing sitting up tall, reaching the hands out in front and overhead while leaving a lot of space for the neck and the shoulders.  Then we kept both sides of the body long as we arced to one side and the other.  Then we twisted, keeping the seat on the floor as we revolved the belly, chest and head in one direction, and the other.  Finally, we folded forward, staying long and open and keeping ourselves from folding in half at the ribcage or shoulders.

We moved to standing and did all the same things, this time with our feet underneath us.  We moved into a couple of standing poses: Warrior two (take your feet wide, bend your right knee as deeply as you can); Tree (stand and balance on two feet, then pick up your left put, place it on your right leg wherever you can).

We moved slowly.  I left big spaces without words.  I looked at my blank page.  Held my tongue.  Breathed.

It was hard work for everyone.  Yoga is not easy.  Simple is not easy.

I’ll keep you posted on the themes we use each week and how it goes.

Meanwhile, perhaps try simplicity in some aspect of your own day, whether in your practice, your work, or wherever you think it may be helpful, and if you have a chance, post here to let me know how it goes.

January 16, 2012 at 8:12 pm 3 comments

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