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.

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2017

Mindful Stretching

Our yoga practice often focuses so much on stretching our hamstrings, strengthening our core, and opening our hips that it’s easy to forget that yoga can offer us a chance to know our mind, as well as our bodies.

When I first started practicing yoga, I enjoyed exploring how my body could move and stretch in new ways, taking pleasure in the process of movement without thinking much about what I was doing.

But after more than a decade of practicing, I’ve come to see that I am always thinking. Even when I struggle to touch my toes in Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana) or lift myself into Upward Facing Bow (Urdva Dhanurasana), I may be thinking my hamstrings can’t stretch any further or my knees are on fire.

By thinking, I mean noticing thoughts that flow through my mind while I move from one pose to another.

Just the other day, for instance, I noticed the way my body flowed forward into Standing Forward Bend and the sensation of cool air flowing over my skin as I raised my arms over my head and swept them down to the ground. And I noticed my ability to bend only so far and no further.

These “thoughts” –some pleasant, some filled with frustration–are as much a part of each pose as the parts of my body.

It’s interesting how our way of thinking can influence our perspective. Just thinking positively (I can do this!), for example, can aid me into the pose, while thinking negatively (I’ll never be able to touch my toes!) may actually hinder my ability to reach my toes.

The ability to notice my thoughts came about as part of my yoga practice, though I wasn’t aware of it in the beginning.

Over time, though, as I began to notice my thoughts in each pose, I learned gradually how to quiet the chatter and criticism. I learned how to listen to what was actually happening to my body in that moment.

My yoga practice helped me stretch my body, but, just as importantly, it helped me expand my way of thinking about the poses and about yoga and its relationship to life.

Now in my weekly practice sessions I try to acknowledge whatever I am thinking in the moment. I let the poses help me quiet my thoughts and quell my fears.

Each time I step on my mat, I find a kind of peacefulness and equanimity that’s hard to find elsewhere.

I think it’s because yoga has helped me learn how to understand life not as something divided into separate parts, such as body and mind, or earth and sky, but rather linked together as one.

Practice Journal: What is your focus in practice–your body, your mind, or both? How does your practice help quiet your mind so you can sink into the stillness of each moment? And how does noticing your thoughts in each pose help you expand into the fullness of the pose with greater grace and ease? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | December 1, 2016

Trust is an invisible thread

Trust is an invisible thread that holds our world together, part of the fabric of our daily lives, yet often we take it for granted, failing to see its importance.

Trust is what allows us to unroll our yoga mat each day and step onto its soft surface, knowing it will offer us a safe place to explore our world.

Trust is what we offer our teachers, and they offer us in return, so that each of us can find new ways of understanding those around us and ourselves.

Trust is what allows us to lift our leg and arms in Tree Pose without falling over, and, if we lose our balance, trust is what lets us try again.

Trust is knowing that when we stand on two feet in Mountain Pose, gravity will support us and keep our feet rooted to the earth.

We don’t ordinarily think of trust when we inhale and exhale, yet trust is what lets us breathe deeply with each movement, knowing our breath will go out and return, and that air will fill our lungs again… and again.

Trust is one of the foundation stones on which we build our practice and our life, and my yoga practice helps remind me of how trust is present in every breath, every step, every chance encounter, every moment.

Yet trust can be easily lost. It’s more fragile than we realize, and, once lost, it’s hard to retrieve.

Without trust, our practice and our world can become a roiling cauldron of fears and doubts, hopelessness and despair.

Without trust, we would be unable to take the risk required to kick upside-down into a handstand or lift ourselves off our backs in Urdhva dhanurasana.

Without trust, we wouldn’t be able to rely on our partners to support us in Dropbacks or reach for our heels in Camel Pose.

When I explore a pose in my yoga practice, whether it’s Downward-Facing Dog or Child Pose or any other, the process of unfolding into the unknown, into the next moment and the next, requires me to trust in the present moment, and then to trust in that moment as a bridge to the next.

Yoga helps me remember that trust is essential to living, the invisible thread that holds our world together.

Practice Journal: What is needed to build trust? How does your practice help you cultivate trust in yourself and in those around you? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | November 1, 2016

Casting a net into the ocean of consciousness

 “I tend, of course, to put down the things that interest me, and then to look for connections between and among these things. I try to cast a wide net into the ocean of consciousness!” – Randall Buskirk

(It’s always a treat to take one of Randall Buskirk’s yoga classes. He’s one of Sarasota’s most thoughtful teachers, always making unexpected connections and bringing new ideas to the mat. He was kind enough to chat with me about keeping a practice journal, and I hope you’ll enjoy the insights that he shared on the practice of yoga and writing.)

Bruce: Even though I’ve kept lots of journals, it didn’t occur to me to write about yoga until Rita Knorr, one of my yoga teachers, gave me a blank journal and suggested that I use its pages to deepen my yoga practice. That was maybe a dozen years ago. I’m wondering what might have compelled you to start keeping a practice journal?

Randall: I began yoga about 14 years ago. I had been keeping journals for years, off and on, before that. Writing Down the Bones may have been one of those early influences on developing a writing practice. Even before then, I was writing down little snippets of song lyrics, a sentence here, a paragraph there, really since I was in high school.

So jotting things down in a notebook was a practice, and what might have changed over the years were the kinds of things I noted. I’m sure that when I first started yoga, I made note of that as a matter for the record. I went through a phase or two, and still come back to it from time to time, of doing morning pages, a la Julia Cameron, but I found that what I was writing in that way was not very interesting to me after awhile. It didn’t seem to lead me anywhere, because I seemed to be recording all this negative stuff just because I thought I should record everything “as is.” Rather than clearing my mind of it, writing it down just seemed to produce more of it.

Bruce: Isn’t it interesting how sometimes keeping a journal can offer an outlet for negative stuff? I’ve kept journals that have led down that road, too, which ultimately reached a dead end. So I was pleasantly surprised at how combining the journaling with practicing yoga created a different result—a different energy, shall we say?—a way of looking at the world with awe and gratitude rather than with negativity and with a newfound appreciation for the gifts that life brings us every day. It sounds like you found something similar.

Randall: Within a year or so of starting yoga, I began going to workshops, so I kept notes from those. Sanskrit words and concepts. Quotes from texts or the teacher. Notes on asana, mainly hints on techniques and actions in the poses. Mainly on the physical aspects of the poses, not so much on the subtle aspects, as I recall.

But along with the physical aspect of practice, many of the workshops and classes delved into the historical, psychological, and philosophical aspect of yoga, and that very much engaged me. So reading, writing, contemplating, and learning have very much been part of yoga practice for me since near the beginning.

Bruce: I am always amazed at the deep knowledge that you bring to your classes and share with your students, often from so many different perspectives. I’ve read some books on yoga—books by Charlotte Bell, Donna Farhi, Judith Lasater, and Stephen Cope are my favorites—but I haven’t delved into the deeper historical and philosophical texts, the ancient texts, although for a while I was reading Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and using the sutras as writing prompts and as a way to deepen my understanding of yoga. So, I can see how your deep engagement with yoga’s history and philosophy might lead you to teaching.

Randall: After a few years of practice, I began to go down the path of becoming a teacher. That naturally involved more writing and recording. I think for me, journaling about yoga has been more about remembering, about recording the things I wanted to remember, rather than a process for understanding and working out things through writing, although they aren’t separate.

Bruce: Can you explain what you mean when you say the process of journaling about yoga is more about remembering?

Randall: Yoga has always been about remembering, about the act and art of memory. The doing-it-again part, the doing-it-anew part of life, the connecting and reconnecting of things that might have become separated or undone, as well as un-doing them to form new combinations of past and present. Remembering aspects of myself, of others, of the world.

So I record things I might not yet understand or might understand another way at another time. Practicing yoga creates the space for that to happen, whether on the mat or on the page or anywhere else sufficiently impressionable.

Bruce: And these discoveries came about as a result of the path you followed to become a teacher?

Randall: As part of the teacher training, we did a lot of journaling, of contemplating questions based on our readings, and also observing our own daily asana practice, finding what worked and didn’t work for us and exploring the whys of that, observing our tendencies and patterns, which seems like a kind of mindfulness itself.

That also included a lot of observation of other classes, of listening to instructions and writing down words and actions and pose sequences. All the ways you could try to get a handle on teaching a class and helping the students.

Bruce: For me, too, yoga has led to a greater sense of mindfulness, and I attribute this greater sense of mindfulness to the way the asanas, along with keeping a journal, cultivate a certain awareness, a certain way of observing the world. Each pose offers us a chance to become more mindful of our body, or a part of our body that we might have overlooked or failed to pay attention to. Thanks to my journal, I’m inspired to look more closely at the world, and at the way I experience the world. Also, the pages of my journal have helped me understand the world as much more expansive, welcoming, and loving than I used to assume. It reminds me that we are all connected. Has keeping a practice journal brought you that sense of connection, too?

Randall: Over the years, I’ve filled several notebooks with notes and quotes and observations and pose sequences. These might come from anywhere, any thing that I think might be useful either personally or for a class. I always have my eyes and ears attuned for material, whether from the radio, newspaper, books, video, or just about anywhere else in life. I tend, of course, to put down the things that interest me, and then to look for connections between and among these things. I try to cast a wide net into the ocean of consciousness!

In the past couple of years, I have probably used my notebooks less for reflection and turned more to social media, or at least as a complement. I often use Facebook now as a way of putting down ideas. Little aphorisms and connections that I find in my daily life and practice, definitions, jokes, observations, contemplations—I enjoy these opportunities to make my own sutra-like offerings. Threads that feed into the fabric of the ether. They are in some ways quite effervescent, but because I have put them out there, they sometimes come back to me in surprising ways, or I see or hear them reflected and refracted and expanded upon in ways beyond my own imagining. So it is less a private record, for sure, and feels vulnerable, but I enjoy this little metaphoric balancing act out in the arena, up on the high wire. I often fall flat, but I know I will get back up for the next pose, the next post. Flat on the ground, after all, is a familiar place for all who practice yoga.

Bruce: I love your Facebook postings—snippets of insight, brief observations offering a new perspective or gentle wisdom—and, in many ways, feel as if you’re sharing a page from your journal with readers, less as a private record, as you say, than as a way of letting readers share your experience. A public journal, I guess, a little like street art.

Randall Buskirk teaches yoga in Sarasota, FL at Garden of the Heart Yoga Center, Prana Yoga and Healing Center, and MandalaMedSpa and Yoga Shala. You can join him on a yoga retreat to Bali that he’s leading with Anthony Bogart on March 25 – April 6, 2017. For more information about the retreat, visit: http://www.retreatours.com/bali2017/. And if you’d like to follow him on Facebook, visit his page: https://www.facebook.com/randall.buskirk

 

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