Posted by: Bruce Black | November 1, 2017

Balance

Mountain Pose was the first balance pose that I learned, though I didn’t realize it was a balance pose at the time.

“Spread your feet shoulder-width apart,” instructed my teacher. “Draw your shoulder blades onto your back. Tuck in your tailbone. Puff out your kidneys. Let your spine extend fully upward and downward. Shine out!” Where was the balance in that? I was standing firmly on two feet. I was a mountain. Nothing could have shaken me out of that pose.

It’s taken years for me to understand that balance doesn’t have to mean trying to stand on one foot in Tree Pose or Warrior II or Eagle. These are balance poses that I struggled for years to learn so that, eventually, I could lift a leg without wobbling, shaking or shuddering. They were different than Mountain Pose. In Mountain Pose, I could stand, it seemed, forever without worrying about balance.

But over time I began to understand the idea of balance differently. Mountain Pose taught me that finding my balance didn’t apply solely to my physical balance, to the kind of balance required to stand on one foot. No, Mountain Pose suggested that balance might be something internal, emotional, spiritual. Balance might refer to how the different elements of the pose are balanced. In Mountain Pose, for instance, is each leg balanced symmetrically on the mat so I’m not placing more weight on one foot than another? Are my knees and hips balanced? Can I balance my tailbone as I bring my shoulder blades onto my back? Can I stand erect, radiating outward a balanced level of energy from all ten fingers and toes? Coming into balance means something different now than it meant when I first started practicing yoga.

When I move into Downward Dog now, I’m aware of it as a balance pose, too. No longer is Savasana a chance for me simply to lie down on my mat. It’s a balance pose, as well. When I step into Half Moon, I’m stepping not only into a balance pose on the mat, but into a balance pose that I can carry off the mat, a pose that helps me understand how to incorporate the principles of balance into my life.

Balance is crucial to keeping things in perspective. If I lose my temper in a conversation with my brother or my wife, I’ve lost my balance. If I find my desk inundated with so much paper that I can’t find its surface, I’ve lost my balance. If I find myself trying to do too many things, multi-tasking when I should be focusing on one or two things, I’ve lost my balance. Stepping onto the mat is what helps me recover my balance and helps me notice when my life off the mat may be off-balance. In Mountain Pose I remind myself that balance isn’t only applicable to my external pose, how I hold my body, but to my internal pose as well, how I interact with the world and act in relationships in that world.

Balance means finding that place of equilibrium on the mat and in my life. I can stand in Tree Pose and think I’m in balance, but I’m not in balance if my family life is in shambles or if I’ve just lost my job or if my father has just died. There is an emotional element to balancing which is easy to overlook.

You can treat any pose as a balance pose. Cat and Dog tilts, Seated Pose, Child’s Pose, Happy Baby Pose. Each pose helps us search for and find our equilibrium, both physically and emotionally.

Finding your balance requires patience and confidence. When you stand in Mountain Pose, raise your leg in Tree Pose, or lean forward in Half Moon Pose to touch the earth with your hand as your other arm reaches up to the sky, remember you are searching for balance not just in your pose but also in your life.

Journal Practice: How do you find balance in your poses? How do you become aware of balance–or lack of balance–in your life? Write: 10 min.

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Posted by: Bruce Black | October 1, 2017

Surrendering to a pose

What does it mean to surrender to a pose? In most cases, the word suggests defeat, giving up, giving in, and holds negative connotations. Before I heard the word surrender used in yoga classes, I’d never thought of surrendering as an option. Just the opposite: never surrender! That was what I’d learned in school from studying history. No American general or soldier wanted to surrender. John Paul Jones refused to surrender. Once captured as a spy, Nathan Hale remained defiant, refusing to surrender his spirit, even if his body was in British hands.

But on our yoga mats we’re encouraged to surrender to a pose. What does it mean to surrender yet not feel defeated? How can anyone surrender to a pose? Is the pose the enemy? Does yoga try to “conquer” us, vanquish us? Is it only a matter of time before we’re overwhelmed and can’t help surrendering? If surrendering is such a good thing, such a positive force in our lives, then why do most of us learn just the opposite: avoid surrendering at all costs?

The implication isn’t just that if you surrender, you’ll suffer the embarrassment and indignity of defeat. You’ll lose the power you possess to exert your will and make choices. You’ll lose your power, in other words, to control your own destiny. It’s as if in the act of surrender, you surrender your future and have to accept the decisions and choices of the victor. No longer are you the one to create or choose the rules by which you will live.

But in a yoga pose such as Downward Dog, there is no victor, no vanquished, only the pose in that moment, the mat, and your palms and toes pressing into the mat, trying to move deeper into the pose. You may encounter resistance to going deeper. A calf muscle may tighten, an Achilles’ tendon may scream in pain, a shoulder may throb. These physical sensations may serve as impediments, obstacles that may defeat you, or, rather, may keep you from moving more completely into the full expression of the pose.

How can you move past these obstacles? How can you become one—body, mind, and soul—on the mat so that you can explore the pose more deeply? If you fight back against pain or throbbing muscles or tight ligaments, you will cause only more pain, more tightness, more throbbing. Resistance in this instance is futile. But surrendering to the pain, the tightness, the throbbing, allows you to soften in the pose. Resistance melts away once you stop resisting. If you accept where you are in the moment, with or without pain, with or without tightness or throbbing, you can begin to see past the pain and tightness to the pose itself.

When we surrender to the pose, we are not defeated. Surrendering lets us feel ourselves in the flow of an energy source so much more powerful than our own, linked to ours, and at the same time helping us reach beyond our own.

In the end, we aren’t surrendering to an opponent. We are learning how to surrender to our deepest self.

Journal Practice: Can you think of surrendering not as relinquishing power but rather as a way of tapping into a more powerful source of energy? What if surrendering is like letting yourself fall into a river and feeling the current carry you downstream? Can you let the pose carry you downstream instead of trying to swim against it? What if you give into the current flowing through your life? Can you let go and surrender to the way life unfolds beyond your control? Can you learn in surrendering how to accept what happens in the flow instead of protesting or complaining or grumbling or griping? Instead of being upset that life never lives up to your expectations, perhaps you can re-examine your expectations and decide how closely the expectations reflect reality or distort it? Are you able to you surrender to the flow of life beneath your expectations? Can you feel the flow of energy? Can you let yourself surrender to it? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | September 1, 2017

Melting the Walls of Separation

Something strange happens the moment I step onto my mat: I no longer feel like I’m standing alone.

I press my toes into the mat and can feel a surge of energy flowing through my muscles, sinews, and bones, connecting me to the people in my yoga class who have arranged their mats around mine.

Even when I practice at home—when the view out my bedroom window gives onto a tangled backyard jungle of trees and plants with no one else in sight—I feel the same connection to others as I make my way through the poses of that day’s practice.

How does this happen?

How does yoga help me step outside my solitude and connect with others?

How does standing motionless in Mountain Pose, or twisting and bending into Triangle Pose, melt the walls that separate me from others?

What I’ve come to understand through yoga is that we feel alone when we lose our sense of connectedness with the invisible force of energy pulsing through the universe. Yoga is one of the tools that can bring us in touch with this energy as it flows through each of us.

For years I was unable to feel this energy as it flowed through me. Somehow I had lost my ability to feel its force. I had let myself become numb, or else it was frozen inside me, and I was unaware that I had lost touch with it. In its place were layers of anger, doubt, frustration, and resentment that had built up over the years and which had kept me from seeing a link between my life and the lives of others.

Now, though, yoga helps me feel more alive, as if each pose thaws emotions that have kept me frozen for years. When I practice Downward Dog or Warrior II or Tree Pose, I can feel this flow of energy returning, running through my veins and pulsating through my muscles, coming back into focus.

Even after years of practice, I must admit that I still fear being alone, afraid of being separated from others. Luckily, my yoga practice reminds me that even when I’m alone, I’m still connected to others and to a continuous, life-affirming flow of energy vibrating through the universe. Clouds, stars, sky, sun, earth—all pulse with life-affirming energy, just as each of us pulses with the same energy of life.

It’s easy amidst life’s daily frustrations and challenges to forget how we’re linked to one another and that this energy flows through and around each of us every moment of our lives.

Fortunately, yoga can remind us that we are connected to one another, and that no one has to suffer the pain or loneliness of standing alone.

Mindfulness Practice: While standing on your mat in a room by yourself, gently close your eyes and try to imagine a flow of energy pulsing through you. Without moving, notice the way blood flows through your veins and how oxygen fills your lungs. Inhale and exhale ten times, deepening your breath with each inhalation. Now open your eyes. Do you feel a greater connection through your breath and the beating of your heart to a flow of energy pulsating through you (and the universe)? Has your sense of standing alone changed? Try doing a few yoga poses (or just lift your arms slowly over your head and then lower them to your sides again). How do you feel afterward—more alone or connected to something larger than yourself? Write: 10 min.

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2017

The Path to Self Knowledge

One of the gifts of keeping a journal as part of my yoga practice has been the way writing illuminates questions that yoga encourages me to ask about my self and my life.

Questions like: Who am I? What am I passionate about? What gives life meaning?

Until reading an advance copy of Big Gal Yoga: Poses and Practices to Celebrate Your Body and Empower Your Life by Valerie Sagun (Seal Press, 2017), I hadn’t realized that what I was doing—keeping a practice yoga journal to explore these questions—was a part of yoga called Jnana, which Sagun describes as “the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination.”

In Big Gal Yoga, Sagun explains that there are six basic systems of yoga “that are meant to open our curiosity to expose and explore our true nature:”

Kriya, the yoga of self-awareness through ritual;

Jnana, the yoga of self knowledge through deeper self-examination;

Bhakti, the yoga of self-love;

Baja, the yoga of understanding who you truly are by way of meditation, concentration, restraint, discipline, postures, breath, attention, and bliss;

Hatha, the yoga of the physical body; and

Karma, the yoga of service

While I found her descriptions of all six systems interesting, I was most captivated by what she shared about Jnana because it felt as if she was describing precisely what happens when I open my journal and start writing.

“Jnana is a yoga practice that takes place off the mat,” writes Sagun. It is a “philosophical part of yoga that puts you on the path of wisdom and self-knowledge by having you practice self-questioning, reflection, and intellectual enlightenment as you investigate your thoughts, identity, and ego.”

And this: “It is a formal way to develop deep inquiry and personal contemplation so that you can work out who you are and who you want to be.”

What most appeals to me about Jnana, as Sagun describes it, is the way yoga can help bring about understanding and self-knowledge.

“Self-knowledge doesn’t occur with one ‘eureka’ moment,” writes Sagun. “Instead, it’s a daily challenge of self-questioning… Take time to get to know what you like and who you are…”

Sagun describes it as the ongoing process of exploring ourselves, which is the essence of keeping a journal.

“Within Jnana, there are four attributes which indicate avenues of self-knowledge,” she writes. “One of them that is easier to approach is called Viveka, which is to distinguish intellectually between what is real and what is not real. It is finding the ‘right understanding’ of the Self and non-Self, long term (eternal) and short term (temporary), pleasure and bliss, and the truth and soul versus materiality.”

The right understanding of the Self.

“According to Yogapedia,” Sagun continues, “Viveka is an important aspect in the physical practice of yoga as well. It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details. Learning to detect the details about one’s yoga practice helps to improve the practice itself, but can also increase the quality of ‘off the mat’ experience as well.”

It shows one’s skill in discerning the details in one’s alignment, by turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details.

How I love this idea of “turning one’s attention inward and working with the invisible details,” and how this process has the power to change the way we practice on and off our mat.

In the end, Jnana helped Sagun discover what she really loves.

“Soon after I started practicing yoga,” she reveals, “I fell into a rut with my artwork. My work wasn’t conveying my ideas, and as a result, I became increasingly frustrated. So I took a break from art and turned my full attention to yoga with the guidance of Jnana: asking myself “Who am I?” and finding my own “right understanding” for what I needed for myself.”

This process of learning to question ourselves about our experiences and how we engage with reality is a deep part of yoga practice, and it forms the heart of keeping a journal.

Listen to Sagun: “There is not one way to figure out Jnana. It is something that cannot be taught or given, like all of yoga, because it is all based on an individualized thought process.”

Perhaps you’ll ask yourself the same questions that Sagun asked herself: “Who am I? What is my relationship to my body? What am I doing to better my life?”

Ultimately, it’s the process of asking such questions that forms the basis of Jnana.

And it’s thanks to our ability to pose such questions that we can deepen our yoga practice and gain greater understanding of ourselves.

For more information about Valeri Sagun and Big Gal Yoga, visit: http://www.biggalyoga.com/

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2017

Where Our Practice Can Lead Us

I begin my yoga practice each day without knowing where it will lead me, but sitting on my mat—just sitting—helps focus my attention.

Some days I may notice the way a shoulder aches or a hip joint feels stiffer than usual. Other days I might feel uncertainty about unfinished plans, or I might worry that I don’t have the strength to do some of the more challenging poses that day.

Through my practice, though, I’ve learned to let myself feel whatever I might be feeling in the moment—to allow the feeling to be whatever it needs to be—without trying to change the feeling or push it away or ignore it. Each pose gives me a way to recognize the feeling, acknowledge it, and let it go.

When I lift up a leg in Tree Pose and find myself wobbling and have to put my foot down after a few seconds to regain my balance, I might feel disappointment. Or I might feel I should have been able to hold the pose longer or lift my foot higher. Or I might find myself feeling anger, frustration, or sadness over not being able to do what others in my class can do.

But then, through the process of engaging with my body in the pose—of staying in the moment—I’ve come to understand that criticizing myself or letting negative thoughts overwhelm me only makes the pose harder. And I’ve learned not to berate myself for having such feelings but, rather, to show myself compassion, to let the feelings go, and to move on to the next pose.

This, then, is what yoga has taught me: feelings, whatever they might be—feelings of inferiority or superiority, disappointment or joy, anger or elation, frustration or calmness, sadness or happiness—are just feelings. They pass as quickly as clouds moving across the sky.

And though learning to let go of these emotions and thoughts took many efforts (and many falls out of Tree Pose and other poses), the process of learning to let go taught me, over weeks and months, how to show myself more compassion.

Showing yourself compassion, it turns out, is one of the consequences of cultivating a yoga practice. You gain self-awareness, and, in time, your compassion for yourself—and for others—deepens. Before you know it, your practice inspires you to feel compassion not only toward yourself and other yogis on the mats surrounding you, but for every living being on this planet, too.

It happens this way: self-awareness leads to self-understanding, and self-understanding leads to a sense of gratitude, which leads to a desire to express love, which in turn leads to an ability to show greater empathy for one’s self, as well as for those who are caught in the web of their own challenges.

Each time you step on your mat, yoga invites you to step into the present moment fully aware of your self and everyone else around you.

Each pose offers you the chance to swim in the sea of compassion that touches all living beings—both friends and strangers.

Each breath gives you the opportunity to become a person capable of feeling not only your own pain but also the pain of someone else’s misfortune or suffering.

Practice Journal: How does your yoga practice help you cultivate compassion? Has anything changed in the way you treat yourself and others since you began practicing yoga? List three ways that your practice has taught you to be kinder and more compassionate on and off your mat. Write: 10 min.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | June 1, 2017

Ouch, My Aching Back!

We may spend hours learning to align our bodies properly in yoga poses to prevent injuries on and off the mat, but we can still end up hurting ourselves.

That’s what I learned last month when I sat on the side of my bed and leaned forward to tie my sneakers.

No sooner did I bend over than I felt as if I’d received an electric shock to my lower back. Seconds later I was sprawled facedown on the bedroom floor.

Not only couldn’t I get up, I was unable to move to either side and lay motionless on my stomach wondering how I could have thrown out my back by simply bending over to tie my sneakers.

It seems like such a simple action, one that I perform every day without a problem, and I practice yoga, so I consider myself relatively flexible. And yet I found myself on the floor, my spine throbbing with pain.

Ten minutes must have passed before I was able to roll onto my back, with my knees up. As I lay on the floor waiting for the pain to subside, I thought about getting older, and about the unexpected ways age can catch up to us. After another few minutes, I managed to stand and was able to walk into the kitchen, feeling lucky that I had been able to rise off the floor.

The next day I felt a dull ache in my lower back and a sharper pain if I wasn’t careful about how I moved my body, but at least I could move.

And in the week that followed I devoted my attention to how I walked, how I sat at a table, how I got into a car, how I leaned over the kitchen sink to wash dinner dishes, and how I bent over to load and unload the dishwasher.

Each day, as I performed another task, moving with care, I realized just how helpful my yoga practice has been to keeping my body healthy over the years. Without yoga, who knows? Perhaps I might not have recovered so quickly.

And as the week passed, I realized something else: thanks to my yoga practice, I had become more attuned to the way my body moved so I could move safely, even with an injury. Yoga gave me a way to monitor my movements for proper alignment.

This close attentiveness to my body–how I lowered myself into the driver’s seat of my car; how I climbed into bed each evening and left the bed each morning;  how I brushed my teeth; how I sat at my desk typing–was the result, I’m sure, of my yoga practice.

Each activity required close attention to how my spine was positioned since the slightest strain on my muscles, the slightest lack of attention, could have meant having to endure more pain.

My back is mostly healed now. But I can’t help thinking about how, over the years of practicing yoga, I’ve taken my spine for granted. How I’ve bent forward in Forward Bend without paying much attention to my spine. How I’ve reached to touch my toes without thinking about the gifts that yoga offered me–the gift of being able to bend, the gift of being able to touch the floor, and the gift of being able to rise up again without pain.

My injury was temporary, thank goodness, but it gave me an opportunity to appreciate yoga as a gift that can help me remember to care for my body, not just on the mat but off the mat as well.

Perhaps you’ve discovered this, too: how your practice can help keep your body healthy for years to come and remind you, as well, not to take any part of your body for granted.

Practice journal: While standing in Mountain Pose, notice your spine, how it feels to stand up straight, how it feels to lift your arms and twist gently left and then right, and how it feels to lower your arms. Can you be more aware of your spine? How? Can you describe its contribution to your wellbeing? Write: 10 min

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | May 1, 2017

Anjali Mudra: Palms Together

If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, you may be familiar with the gesture of pressing your palms together over your heart.

The gesture is called Anjali Mudra, and it’s frequently used as a greeting, or as a way to mark the beginning and end of class.

Often, Anjali Mudra is accompanied by a verbal cue, such as Namaste, as well as a slight bow of the head or a fuller bow, including for some a tilt of the upper body forward so that, when seated, one’s head can come close to touching the floor.

As a sign of welcome or farewell, the gesture itself—palms pressed together and held gently in front of the chest—is enough to communicate one’s respect for and acknowledgment of another.

Until I began taking yoga classes, I had always associated this gesture with the ancient gesture used in prayer. It reminded me of a supplicant’s posture, a time-honored practice for beseeching God. And while I don’t practice yoga as worship, I do sense something prayerful about the gesture each time I bring my palms together in different yoga poses.

Indeed, when I press my palms together, Anjali Mudra helps me center myself, much like prayer, in the here and now. If I’m sitting on my mat in Sukhasana (Easy Seated Pose), the gesture serves as a signal: it’s time to begin the day’s practice. And the sensation of skin touching skin reinforces the process of focusing my mind in the present.

The word Anjali can mean “offering” or “divine offering.” Perhaps that’s why using the gesture at the beginning of my practice reminds me to offer gratitude for my body, which lets me explore space and time, and for the yoga practice that gives my body and mind a chance to relax and enjoy the pleasure of stretching, of letting go of expectations, of exploring new directions.

Mudra means “seal,” which reminds me how yoga can help me “seal” a resolution or set an intention, how a flow of poses can help keep my thoughts focused and determined once I’ve decided on a path to follow.

As we chant Om at the start of class, the tips of my fingers touching, I gain a sense of fullness, a sense of completion, as if I’ve connected the two poles of my existence so that I am no longer divided—mind and body—but one.

Anjali Mudra reminds me of life’s vulnerability, too, of how we can choose to shut ourselves off from others or open our hearts like flowers in the process of blooming. It reminds me of how we can experience life in different ways, each of us sitting on the mat in our own way, each finger with a different fingerprint, each hand different than the hand of the person sitting on the mat next to ours.

As we sit in a circle to begin class and I press my palms together, I feel linked to a powerful source of energy. It’s as if my hands, when touching, complete a circuit and let me feel connected to the divine source of energy pulsing through us all.

Hands touch: my body finds its balance, its center.

Over time I’ve discovered whenever I incorporate Anjali Mudra into my practice, such as in Vriksasana (Tree Pose), the more it becomes an integral part of my practice, as important as Shavasana (Corpse Pose), Adho Mukha Svasana (Downward-facing Dog Pose), and Plank Pose.

The next time you join a yoga class and bring your palms together in Anjali Mudra, I hope you’ll take a moment to notice how this gesture heightens your awareness of the divine spirit within you and in the person on the mat next to yours.

I invite you to notice, too, the way your heart seems to soften, and, like the petals of a flower, opens to the goodness and kindness of life.

Anjali mudra. Palms together.

Practice journal: Sit in stillness on your mat or in a chair and simply breathe, drawing in gentle breaths and releasing them. When you feel relaxed, bring your palms to touch in front of your heart. What does it feel like for skin to touch skin? Where is there space and where is there none? Do the tips of your fingers rest on each other with ease or do you feel uncomfortable? After a few moments lower your hands. How did it feel to press your hands together in Anjali Mudra? Did the gesture change your practice? How? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | April 1, 2017

Becoming More Mindful

You know that moment in Chatarunga Dandansana (Four Limbed Staff Pose) when you are holding yourself in Phalakasana (Plank Pose), and then you bend your elbows and lower yourself to the ground?

I can’t do it anymore without hurting my right wrist.

For weeks I tried to ignore the pain.

I listened to my teacher’s instructions.

I gripped the mat harder with my finger pads until the tips of my fingers turned white.

I pressed the inner ball mound of my palm flatter on the mat so there was no space under it.

But these suggestions, while helpful, didn’t alleviate the pain.

So I designed a practice at home that didn’t include Chatarunga.

Instead, I practiced Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Dog) and Phalakasana with more mindfulness.

When I put my fingers down on the mat for balance in Lunge, I took care not to put too much weight on my right wrist.

In Trikonasana (Triangle), too, I had to be careful how I lowered my hand to the mat.

It wasn’t long before this carefulness, this mindfulness, made its way off the mat and into my life.

While brushing my teeth in the morning and at night, I noticed that I held the electric toothbrush in my hand a certain way, but, if I changed my grip and lowered my elbow an inch or two, I could eliminate the pain.

Cooking, I had to take care cutting with a knife, whether it was chopping carrots, peeling potatoes, or simply slicing bananas.

Lifting the filtered water pitcher off the counter was a challenge because the pitcher was heavy when filled, and pouring it required vigilance so that I didn’t wrench or twist my wrist.

The simple act of using a fork, lifting my glass, or turning a door knob was filled with pain if I wasn’t fully attentive to the action and how it involved my wrist.

Throughout the day I noticed how I relied on my hands and wrist to help steer a car, hold a pen, and type on my laptop.

Thanks to my yoga practice, I learned to become more aware of my wrist and how I might use (or misuse) it throughout the day.

Now when I come to Chatarunga as one of the poses in the sequence of poses in our class, I take special care to notice how my wrist feels and to modify the pose, if needed, so that I don’t feel any pain.

I press my finger pads and my index finger ball mound into the mat.

I try to notice if my forearms are placed too widely apart or too narrowly together, if my hands are too far forward of my shoulders or too far back.

It’s taken weeks of mindfulness for my wrist to feel  better.

And I have yoga to thank for helping me become more mindful of a part of my body that I had taken for granted.

Practice journal: Do you feel any pain when you practice? How does yoga help you notice the pain and become more mindful of ways to avoid pain? What steps have you taken to address the pain on and off your mat? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2017

Yoga Anytime, Anywhere

On some days it’s difficult to find the time to step on my mat.

Yesterday was one of those days.

I had a dentist appointment and guests were arriving and I was behind in my work, and suddenly the morning had disappeared and the time that I’d planned to practice yoga was gone.

And I left the house feeling guilty that I’d missed the chance to practice for the day.

But then I got into my car and turned a half-twist to look behind me before backing up, and I realized that I was doing a similar twist to the one that I do on my mat all the time.

Was it possible that I could do yoga in my car?

That’s when the possibility of yoga opened up to me as I drove away from the house.

How I turned my head to check for cars at intersections, how I kept my neck upright and my shoulders aligned rather than off-kilter, how I twisted one way, then another, when I looked behind me. I was sitting behind the wheel of my car, but I was practicing yoga.

I could pull my shoulders back, tighten my abdominal muscles, and sit up straighter rather than slouch.

I could hold the wheel with care, tightening my fingers, then releasing the muscles, gripping the wheel, then relaxing my grip.

What if it’s possible to practice yoga anytime and anywhere?

Think of the possibilities: you can practice while you’re loading dishes into your dishwasher or vacuuming the living room carpet, while you’re dusting, reaching high on a bookshelf, or while you’re scrubbing the tub, taking a shower, eating an apple, or just sipping tea.

If you are mindful of how every muscle and bone is placed, and how each muscle feels, and how each bone is aligned, well, isn’t that yoga?

This means that we can practice yoga throughout the day, whether we are standing on our mat, driving a car, or –imagine!–even walking in the mall.

You can practice yoga when you sit or stand, when you wait in line, when you’re brushing your teeth, when you’re making sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunch.

It’s life.

But it’s yoga, too.

Practice journal: What happens when you pay closer attention to the movements of your body throughout the day? Can you notice how certain movements resemble the movements that you make on your mat? What do you think makes such movements yoga? Write: 10 minutes.

Posted by: Bruce Black | February 1, 2017

An Act of Kindness

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.” – Lao Tzu

The moment you step on your mat—no, the moment you decide to practice yoga—you engage in an act of kindness.

You are making a commitment to treat yourself with kindness, to care for your body, to give it what it needs to sustain itself and thrive.

Touching your toes in Forward Bend is an act of kindness to your hamstrings and calves.

Balancing in Tree pose is an act of kindness to your ankles and toes, and to your sense of balance, as well.

Downward Dog is a way of expressing kindness to your shoulders, arms, hips, and legs.

It doesn’t take long before you begin to notice how your body responds to these acts of kindness with greater ease and growing confidence in its ability to flow with each breath, to find fullness in each moment.

In time, as you begin to view your practice as an act of kindness, you may start to notice how kindness seeps into your thoughts, softening critical voices that might be sharing negative thoughts, silencing voices of doubt and fear, bringing a sense of peace and equanimity to your life.

You may notice, too, how this practice of kindness spreads eventually to the person on the mat next to yours when you take the time to ask his or her name, or when you offer help getting blankets or an extra block or belt before the start of class.

Showing kindness this way helps strengthen the invisible threads connecting each of us to one another.

And when you hold the hand of the person balancing beside you in Tree Pose, or link your arm with theirs so that together you can bend forward in Warrior I, you may discover that you are part of a community, a world, a universe much larger than yourself.

If you base your practice on kindness, you may find that your practice can inspire you and others to become more compassionate.

And out of compassion can come a greater sense of love—for your self, for the people practicing yoga in class around you, for the world that you inhabit, and for a universe that is constantly expanding.

Each time you step on your mat your practice helps you bring more kindness and compassion into the world.

Practice journal: How has your practice inspired you to be more kind to yourself and to others? How might you change or enhance your practice so that you can express more kindness to yourself and those around you? Write: 10 min.

 

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