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

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | October 2, 2016

The Magic of Keeping a Journal

“My perception of the world softens as a result of keeping a journal.”– Lynn Burgess

(Earlier this year I shared thoughts with Lynn Burgess, the owner and director of Yoga From the Heart in Sarasota, FL, about keeping a practice journal. I found Lynn’s insights both helpful and inspiring, and I hope her observations inspire you to keep a journal as part of your yoga practice.)

Bruce:  I’m always curious about how others find their way to journaling about their yoga practice. Did you keep a journal when you first started your practice? What – or who – prompted you to begin keeping a journal?

Lynn: My first yoga teacher, Anita, kept a journal with notes on every class she taught. The details of her journal included the class sequence for that day, the students in the class, and a reflection afterward of what she needed or wanted to adjust or change. My respect for Anita’s brilliant teaching, along with my fascination with and love of yoga, inspired me to start keeping a journal shortly after I began practicing.

Bruce: Anita sounds like an inspiring teacher. I was lucky, too, to find a teacher who inspired me to keep a journal about my yoga practice. Rita was one of my first yoga teachers. One day she handed blank journals to each of the students in our class and suggested we use them to explore our practice. Her prompting meant something different, I suppose, for each student. For me it meant making a deeper commitment to practicing yoga.

Lynn: The moment I open my journal and begin writing, I find I am immediately more mindful. It feels as if slowing down to write in my journal signals to my brain and body “this is important.” This mindfulness helps me understand, remember, and notice things I may have overlooked or forgotten when I was practicing or teaching. Through journaling a deeper awareness and connectedness to the practice begins to emerge. There’s a pleasure in the way insights and realizations unfold, a unique relationship between the hand and brain, sparked by the composition of thoughts and ideas.

Bruce: Yes, that’s what I find, too. Somehow the process of keeping a journal encourages, as you point out, greater mindfulness in one’s practice. Keeping a journal helps me notice, for instance, when I might doubt if I have enough strength, patience, or faith to do a pose like Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). It helps me discover a link between these issues and similar issues that I might find in my life, such as doubting my strength to finish a project or trust a friend or believe that I can learn to do something new.

Lynn: When I first began journaling, I wrote in my journal after each yoga class I took. Over the years, my writing frequency became more PRN (that’s an acronym for a Latin phrase, pro re nata, which means “as the situation demands”).  When I am pondering how to make instructions clearer or come across a meaningful quote in a book or experience a random memory or thought, I jot it down in my journal. I make it a practice once a week to go back and read my notes to see if there’s further research or additional reading that I might do, or any clarity that I might have gained since making the journal entry.

Bruce: It’s interesting to hear that you go back to read your notes. I might try that some day, but it’s not something that I feel compelled to do at the moment. For me, the insight that I glean from the process of writing is the treasure. One of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I try to write in my journal every day before I step onto my mat. If there’s enough time, I try to make notes after I finish my home practice, too.

Lynn: Writing in your journal almost every day . . .what a fantastic habit!

Bruce: I’m wondering if keeping a practice journal changes the way you look at the world after you step off your mat?

Lynn: Yes, in a magical way. My perception of the world softens as a result of keeping a journal. After stepping off my mat, I feel myself open up toward a particular situation, or I am able to move through a fear easier. Journaling helps transform my view of the world into a more beautiful and joyful experience.

Bruce: Do you ever journal about the poses and their physical architecture—the process and challenges of constructing a pose, for example?

Lynn: I journal about poses all the time! The other day I was playing with Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). I wanted to find my ease, to become quiet, like a half moon in the night sky. Physically, I focused on aligning myself on the skeleton of my bottom leg so that very little muscular work was required. For a second I felt as if I was floating in the pose! The rest of the day had that same quality to it. I was able to glide through my to-do list, soar through making dinner, and sink into a deep sleep that evening.

Bruce: What a beautiful and poetic image! I love the way playing with your pose enabled you to find the same quality of playfulness and ease in your life.

Lynn: Yes, the more I loosen my grip, both in my yoga practice, and in my life, the easier it is to connect with the beauty that surrounds us, and to be satiated and grateful.

If you’d like to learn more about Lynn Burgess, the founder and director of Yoga from the Heart in Sarasota, FL, where she teaches public classes and workshops, offers private instruction, and conducts teacher training and advanced-studies programs, visit her website: http://yogafromtheheart.com/instructors/lynn-burgess/.

And if you’d like to learn more about keeping your own practice journal, you might enjoy taking a look at my book, Writing Yogahttp://www.shambhala.com/writing-yoga.html

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | September 1, 2016

What Happens Next?

In that moment before you step onto your mat, the moment when you slip off your shoes and walk barefoot across the floor, when you roll out your mat, uncertain what will happen next, that’s when you are practicing yoga.

You can’t know what the future holds. Each moment, even in poses that you’ve done before, is different. And you can’t hold onto the past. You have to trust that you can step into the unknown, to come to that place where future and past, known and unknown, are linked.

Yoga invites you to step into the present, to listen to the sound of your breath and to feel the way your toes squeeze into the mat. It brings you the peace that you seek from doubts and fear. And it lets you hear the sound of your own voice, which is so often drowned out by the din of our daily lives today.

As you fold over in Uttanasana (standing forward bend) or kneel in table top–wrists under elbows, elbows under shoulders, knees under hips–your yoga practice invites you to have a conversation with yourself.

Good morning, hamstrings! How are you feeling today?

Hello, wrists! What’s your story?

Yoga gives you an opportunity to listen closely to your body as it grows and changes in each moment.

It gives you the chance to find some part of yourself that you might have overlooked yesterday or might never have seen before.

Each pose invites you to unfold into the unknown, to expand into wonder and delight at how your body moves, knowing the next moment will come as it’s meant to come… and the next… and the next.

Each pose reminds you of the flow of time… and lets you step into that flow with grace and ease.

Yoga helps melt away our worries about the future.

It encourages us to delight in what is.

Practice journal: How does yoga help you step into the flow of time? How is time on your mat different from time off your mat? And how does your body feel different depending on your perspective of time? Write: 10 min.

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2016

A Love of Yoga and Words

 

What I remember from the years that I worked with my Rodmell Press editor, Linda Cogozzo, who retired a month ago, is her deep and abiding love of books, her gratitude for the miracle of each book and for the miracle of words that found their way to each page.

Her gratitude for the miracle of the text, for the miracle of letters appearing on a page, was almost palpable. Before I ever knew I’d work with her, I’d bought or received copies of some of Rodmell’s titles—Charlotte Bell’s Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, for instance, or Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga—and I remember how opening these books felt as if I were opening works of art.

Her basic publishing philosophy, if I might take the liberty of describing it here, was a reflection of her yoga practice. “It takes as long it takes,” she often said, quoting another remarkable editor, William Shawn, who performed his magic at The New Yorker.

Throughout the book-making process, Linda’s close attention to the smallest details reminded me of the way a master yogi refines a pose. She had an unending desire to get it right, no matter the effort required. The weight and heft of the paper, the texture of the cover stock, the tasteful design, the way the words were set on the page, each letter, it seemed, caressed by Linda’s loving pen.

From the start of our author-editor relationship, she made clear to me that it was my book. But no matter how often she told me this—and as much as I was grateful to her for the respect that she gave me during the editorial process—I always felt the book was ours, hers and mine, throughout the book-making process as well as afterward.

It was a shared experience, much the same way a yoga class is shared by teacher and student. Linda was my teacher, my guide, and she helped me explore the pose of writing, offering encouragement to gain greater clarity, giving suggestions for alternate approaches into the work, helping shape the manuscript in the same way a sensitive yoga teacher might help shape an awkward student’s pose.

Always, she tried to create a book that readers might love as much as she loved the manuscript. I felt it was a gift to watch her work, to see a book begin to take shape in her mind and then come into being in the sets of galleys that we passed back and forth over the months it took to create the book.

She had the gift of being able to envision an entire book from concept to publication and beyond, and she worked with the precision and love of beauty that you’d expect to find in the work of a great artist. Indeed, that’s what made her so special as an editor. She was a remarkable artist, and her creations were the books that she brought into the world each spring and fall.

She was a remarkable yogi, too, who found the balance between letting each book go into the world each season, yet remaining connected to its author (and the book itself) for years after the book’s launch. She wanted to keep the book afloat, alive, and I can’t thank her enough for nurturing my book with that kind of support, and for so long, with the kind of fierce love that only a dedicated editor like Linda knows how to offer.

I wish her well in the days ahead, and I’m sure, when I find myself struggling with a yoga pose on my mat or a particularly gnarly sentence, I’ll remember her voice offering encouragement: It takes as long as it takes.

And I know her words will inspire the same sense of gratitude and love for the miracle of yoga and words that she shared with me from the beginning.

Note: I’m pleased to say, thanks to Linda’s efforts, you can now find my book (Writing Yoga) and other Rodmell titles on Shambala’s list. It’s an honor to be included among Shambala’s many fine works. Here’s a link, if you’d like to check out their offerings: http://www.shambhala.com/books.html?p=2&sham_topic=82

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2016

The Miracle of Our Hands

IMG_9247Our hands have the ability to hold a sand dollar that we’ve discovered half-hidden at the edge of the sea or a newborn infant that’s just come into the world.

They help us connect with life, and with each other, in the most intimate of ways.

They play such an important part in our daily lives, yet so often we take them for granted.

When was the last time you noticed your hands as you lifted a glass of water to your lips or used a fork to twirl a long strand of pasta into your mouth?

Or when you embraced a friend or shook a stranger’s hand?

Or when you held onto a subway strap or turned a steering wheel or brushed your teeth?

It’s easy to overlook our bodies when we’re healthy, isn’t it?

And it’s especially easy to overlook parts of our bodies, like our hands, and forget the miracles that they let us perform every day (such as typing this blog post).

Our yoga practice can help us become more aware of our our hands and the large role they play in our lives.

After all, we use our hands in every yoga pose, even if it’s simply pressing our palms together in front of our heart in Anjali Mudra, or using one hand to balance on our mat in a twisting lunge as we lift our free hand into the air.

Imagine a handstand without hands to support you, or a Downward Dog without being able to push against the mat.

Hands, like the rest of our body, are part of the miracle of being human.

Did you know that the human hand has 27 bones?

Fourteen of these bones comprise the fingers—the phalanges (proximal, intermediate, and distal)—which we can use to touch our toes in Standing Forward Bend, or help us balance in Triangle Pose.

The other thirteen bones of the hand comprise the metacarpal bones, which connect the fingers with the wrist, and allow us to rise upside down in Handstand, or push ourselves off the mat in Cobra.

Here’s something else that’s amazing: the thumb alone is governed by nine individual muscles controlled by three major nerves.

That may be astonishing, but even more astonishing is that there are thirty-four muscles that move the fingers and thumb. Seventeen of these can be found in the palm of the hand. The remaining muscles can be found in the forearm.

And that’s just the miracle of muscles and bones. There are also forty-eight named nerves in our hands —three major nerves, twenty-four named sensory branches, and twenty-one named muscular branches.

Our bodies are part of the miracle of nature.

Each time I grasp a cup of coffee, caress my wife’s cheek, or use a keyboard to type, I’m relying on my hands to feel or communicate something.

In each pose I try to remember this. I try to remember how lucky I am to have been given the gift of these hands.

Practice Journal: How does yoga help you become more aware of—and grateful for—the miracle of your body? Write: 10 min.

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | June 1, 2016

In My Yoga Teacher’s Garden

IMG_8560This giant blossom dropped onto the driveway from one of the flowering trees growing in my yoga teacher’s garden last month.

He bent over to pick it up and held the colorful blossom in his hands so that it reflected the sunlight falling through the upper branches of the trees.

Jaye Martin is as masterful a gardener as he is a yoga teacher, and his entire yard is a garden devoted to flowers and bushes, ferns and trees, a lush world of greenery and colors that can take your breath away.

Often at the start of class, he’ll share stories of working in his garden to set a theme for the class that he’s about to teach.

It’s as if he’s planting us, his students, as if we are flowers that he’s encouraging to bloom while in his care.

For the duration of the class he’ll give us the same care and nurture us with the same gentleness and kindness that he shows his plants.

And somehow, magically, we are no longer his students but plants that he is helping to grow.

When he leads us through a series of sun salutes, he showers us with attention in the same way he might water all his plants, making sure each of us has enough water, enough fertilizer, enough rich earth in which to put down roots.

It’s as if each of us is a plant that he’s noticed and helps to grow with grace and compassion toward the light.

Sometimes during class he will offer a hands-on adjustment, and his hands will help us feel more secure in the pose, more rooted to the earth, as we explore unknown paths that we’ve never traveled before.

His hands hold the flower in this photo with such gentleness, care, and devotion, which are the same qualities that he brings to all of his classes in order to embrace the hearts of his students.

He is the kind of teacher who inspires his students to see themselves as flowers opening to the light.

And with his guidance and care, we can open to new, unfamiliar poses, and we can see each pose filled with possibilities.

By the end of class, we can begin to feel a tiny seed within ourselves, hidden, preparing to emerge into the light, radiant, aglow with the joy of life, ready to enter the world.

Practice Journal: When was the last time you noticed the way a teacher helped nurture you in a challenging pose? How did your teacher share his or her wisdom with you? What qualities might describe his or her teaching style? Write: 10 minutes.

 

 

 

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | May 1, 2016

Finding Tranquility in Tree Pose

Have you noticed

the variety of trees—

DSC_3081

trees that sway and bend,

straight trees,

misshapen trees,

trees with branches

tied in knots,

trees with limbs

as bare and white

as the bones of ghosts?

IMG_8486

Tall trees,

short trees,

thick trees,

slim trees,

mighty oaks,

royal palms,

long leaf pines,

sycamores,

elms,

just to name a few.

IMG_8197

What tree, I wonder,

will you be today

when you lift your leg

off the ground

to balance

in Tree pose?

IMG_8222

And will imagining

a tree

in your head

change your pose

on your mat?

And how will

your pose—

imagining

a tree—

change you?

IMG_8407

Each of us is

a different tree

at different times

of our life—

weeping willow,

birch,

sugar maple,

cottonwood,

cedar,

redwood,

juniper.

IMG_8325

Thanks to yoga,

no matter which tree

we are,

we can still feel

rooted to the earth

and find tranquility

in how we stand

on just one leg,

arms like branches

reaching above

our head,

hands folded

in front of

our heart,

like fragile

petals

clinging

to life.

IMG_8198

Practice Journal: As you lift your leg in Tree Pose today, are you aware of the trees around you? Tall oaks or swaying palms, flaming maples or budding birches, they can offer you inspiration to find your balance and stability in Tree Pose. What tree will you be today? How might choosing a certain kind of tree alter your perspective of yourself and others? Write: 10 min.

 

Posted by: Bruce Black | April 1, 2016

The Yoga of Aging

Of all the things in life that are out of my control, one of the hardest to accept is that I’m getting older.

With age comes all sorts of challenges—health challenges and limitations, cultural expectations, negative stereotypes, and a shift in status from working youth to, ultimately (I hope), senior citizen.

I feel lucky to have found through yoga a way of becoming more mindful in my practice, and lately I’ve wondered how to take that mindfulness off my mat so I might live life more fully aware in each moment.

How might I embrace aging gracefully, and can I learn to embrace aging the same way I learned how to embrace a challenging pose on my mat?

So, as a way of challenging myself, I decided to grow a beard.

In the past I’d grown a beard but it lasted only a week or two before it started to itch, the gray hair started to make me feel old, and I eagerly shaved it off.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels older when seeing gray. A good friend admitted a while ago that she dyed her hair black because seeing the gray depressed her. I understood why. But I didn’t want to dye my beard.

What I wanted was to feel this moment in my life, whatever age I might be, as fully and completely as possible. I wanted to live this pose, this age, right now, with the same energy and enthusiasm that I muster when I step into a challenging pose on my mat.

But would I be able to accept my own gray hair without judgment, and with the same equanimity and grace as my teacher, who had recently grown his own gray, bushy beard?

After a week without shaving, I examined the gray stubble reflected in the mirror.

My yoga practice helped me see the gray hairs as neither good nor bad, young nor old. Gray was simply another color of life, a part of living in this moment.

Soon friends began offering opinions. Some suggested the beard made me look distinguished, others thought it made me look like a beach bum. A friend told me that I looked like a professor, another like a hippie radical. One of my neighbors told me I reminded him of a Russian immigrant from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Another laughed and told me–this was in late December–that I looked like a skinny Santa.

Much to my surprise, many people told me the beard looked becoming, even flattering. One of my fellow yoga students said it made me look rakish. Rakish! No one mentioned it made me look older. That was my issue. When I saw my reflection in a dark window, I thought I saw a 90 year old man.

Part of growing the beard meant learning to accept these opinions as theirs, not mine. The beard was like a Rorschach test in that way.

And then one morning, a few weeks after starting to grow the beard, I happened to notice a painting hanging on my office wall.

It was a portrait that my mother painted from a photograph of her grandfather, my great-grandfather, who had lived in a small village in Poland. The painting shows him wearing a dark brown cap, brown jacket, and a long, thick beard.

I had looked at that same portrait on my office wall every day for years but never really saw it. Now that I had a beard, I noticed my great-grandfather’s beard. What would our portraits look like, I wondered, if I placed them side by side?

So I took a picture, and the comparison stunned me. How similar we looked—similar noses, lips, and eyes!

Unexpectedly, my beard brought me closer to my great-grandfather. Each time I looked in the mirror, or at his portrait, I saw him looking back at me, expanding my vision and connections–to family, to who I think I am, to who I might be and who I might still become.

Since then I’ve shaved off the beard. It’s April in Florida, after all, and the daytime temperature is inching up into the 80s.

With or without the beard, though, I’m still aware of myself as aging, but more willing to accept where I am and how I feel and how much I might be able to do.

That’s because every time I step on my mat, yoga inspires me to accept each moment as it is and to accept myself as I am–with or without a beard, young or old–and to live each moment, fully alive.

Practice Journal: What about you? How do you feel about aging? And how does yoga help you accept getting older as part of life? How does it inspire you to live fully in each moment? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2016

Exploring Limits

“Limitations are inspiring: they lead to thinking, so I don’t mind them.” – Mike Nichols

My yoga practice inspires me to explore and think about limits in new ways.

Each pose, and the limits of that pose, help me better understand and acknowledge what I can and can’t do.

But it’s not just the poses that help me explore limits.

Limits are involved from the very moment that I step on my mat.

The mat, this rectangular piece of rubber, is the limit within which all my yoga happens at first.

Notice how the mat is relatively small compared to the size of the room. It’s a small slice of space, isn’t it?

I’ll stay on the mat for the length of my class or home practice, and for that time I’ll define the limits of my physical space within the dimensions of my mat.

But rather than confine me or shrink my world, the mat offers me the freedom to explore my body in different poses and from different perspectives.

It gives me a point from which I can view my self and those around me.

It lets me go deep into my self because of the safety and security it provides by helping me establish the limits of my own space.

Safety and security.

Two benefits of limits.

I think it offers serenity, too, not by helping me see what I can control (on the mat) or what I can’t control (what happens off my mat or on the other mats in class), but by giving me the ability to recognize the difference.

It gives me the chance to explore the limits of my body—the length of my arms and legs, the strength of my muscles, the ability to bend forward or backward or kneel or twist, the depth of an inhalation or exhalation—in a way that gives me a new knowledge and understanding of my body.

With this new knowledge, this self-knowledge, comes a certain sense of peace, as well as joy.

It’s the joy that comes from stepping on my mat and discovering a new perspective, and a new range of possibilities, in each pose.

Practice journal: How does stepping into the limited space of your mat inspire you to think differently about the limits of your body and your self? Write: 10 min.

A special note of thanks to the yoga teachers-in-training at Yoga Village who inspired these thoughts on limits.

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