As my journey of meditation progressed, I decided to try a different tactic with my meditation practice: loving-kindness.Read more
By taking my seat and searching for stillness, I was coming face to face with my biggest critic, my inner bully, my reluctant companion: myself.Read more
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Julia Galanski, about a recent yoga class with TaraMarie Perri.
This past Wednesday, I participated in TaraMarie’s yoga class at Tisch Dance. The guiding anatomical focus of our class was the shoulder joint. This central idea allowed us to explore what openness in the chest could be as well as encouraging us to practice different pathways between asanas.
We began at the wall with a block between our legs. We used a strap to release tension across the front of our chest by finding tension in the strap. Already we set ourselves up for class by creating more room in our alignment to allow both greater stability and mobility. Our hips and spines first folded into flexion as we practiced Uttanasana before rolling up and finding a small arch backwards to the wall. After each sequence we would take a small step away from the wall. This allowed me to find more room in my back space with each cycle. Eventually, though, I reached my limit and continued to practice the cycles without moving further away from the wall. Even in this beginning movement I began to see a theme of creating more space in the body.
As the class continued we were challenged to move through our flow cycle with a different pathway. We took our downward facing dog directly to Chaturanga and then pressed up into upward dog. When we did cat and cow we used different verbal cues that focused on pulling the shoulder blades together, then releasing them. This called my attention to new spaces in my body. I was thinking of my side waist and my neck waist. I felt a physical openness across my heart and chest.
Instead of practicing an inversion we practiced half moon pose, first against the wall and then in the center. In half moon pose, once I let go of the stress attached to this difficult asana, I was amazed at the amount of ease and mobility that it allowed in the upper half of the torso. This experience connected me to the readings in The Wisdom of No Escape. Pema Chödrön writes, “We encourage ourselves to develop an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything” (32). This sense of openness, in my shoulders and in my approach to class, allowed me to learn information about my practice that I didn’t know I did not have. Chödrön also talks about continually finding your “edge” in your life. When my practice works to discover and create new spaces, I can find and push new limits.
TaraMarie began class by discussing her observation that more and more New Yorkers seem to be walking with their heads down and shoulders slumped, partially because of the need to see the street but also because of the prevalence of smartphones. I know that I allow myself to fall into this closed posture. I thought about my walk to class. The images that come to mind are of concrete, my phone screen, and crosswalks. This posture is not only an improper spinal alignment, but also a way of moving through the world that shuts me off from the people I pass on the street. This starting thought returned in the end of the practice. We spent a few minutes in meditation. It was the first time I had participated in this kind of meditation and it brought me back to reading The Wisdom of No Escape. We kept our eyes open and focused on our exhale. This mindful practice made me feel aware and present.
At first though, it felt separate from the class I had just taken. Then I remembered that Chödrön writes, “When we meditate, we’re creating a situation in which there’s a lot of space…you can see very clearly” (54). Our class did just not focus on anatomical space but the mental space to find new pathways between poses or the space to explore being present. Chödrön also discusses the idea that this is not a goal to reach but “being awake to the ebb and flow and movement” (17). To me, finding this kind of connectivity in my practice whether it is mental or physical lets me access a sense of the limitless possibilities and variability in yoga. It allows me to see the space that exists for me to continue growing in this practice for years to come.
MindBodyBrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Nicholas Jon, about recent yoga classes with TaraMarie Perri and Maggie Gavin.
In classes with both TaraMarie and Maggie over the past couple of weeks, there has been a heavy emphasis on concepts related to the transition from summer to fall, and how this impacts the body, the mind, and the spirit. These ideas really resonated with me, as my life over the past couple of months has felt like one long transition: not only in terms of seasons, but also from college to the “real world,” from a set schedule to an open-ended one, and from being a practicing yogi to being a yoga teacher-in-training. It has taken me a few years to finally feel adjusted to living in New York City, but finishing school has forced me to reexamine and shift my mindset in order to adapt to new ways of experiencing the city.
The class theme of leaning into transition periods has supported me through this time and informed my daily life. A specific example that I really connected to was a class structure in which TaraMarie had us practice savasana multiple times throughout class. I have always understood savasana as having one specific purpose: allowing the work of class to set in, and relaxing the body while keeping the mind alert enough to process the physical and mental changes that have occurred. But allowing this experience to occur four or five times during one practice enlightened me to some of its other benefits. Every time I entered savasana, I had a more intense experience. The work in between was challenging, so physical exhaustion caused my body to feel more relaxed every time it was still. But at the same time, my mind became more invigorated and alert each time, with a sharper focus and a clearer ability to scan my body and notice any shifts that had taken place.
This dichotomy was a beautiful reminder of a way to cope with tricky transition periods. Though everyone has different reactions to transitions, I know they tend to overwhelm me. It’s not often that I allow myself ample time to relax and process what I’m going through, let the work I’ve been doing settle in, and get a firm grasp on my state of mind and body before allowing myself to move forward. Rather than forcing myself through transition periods, it’s better to let them happen at their natural pace without focusing on what just happened or what’s about to happen. The transition itself is just as important of an experience, and an inability to exist within it can hinder one’s ability to progress through it.
In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron provides brilliant perspective on this subject. Her discussion of impermanence sparks the idea that our lives may actually be just one long transition from birth to death--“once you are born, you immediately start dying”--or maybe a series of extremely short transitions from our in-breath to our out-breath. In this way, the transitions that we often feel overcome by are just part of life’s natural cycle, and should be taken in stride. If we get caught up in overanalyzing these transitions or trying to escape from them, we may never feel like we've gotten to the other side of them. Even when things seem tumultuous and you might not know how to proceed, what’s important is that “you’re able to recognize [when you have met your edge] because you are open enough to see what’s happening.” If you can identify this and be okay with it, it becomes easier to embrace the fleeting nature of life, and see transitions as what they inherently are: temporary.
Growing up in the Midwest, I learned to love the summertime thunderstorms that are particular to that region of the country. There is something so wonderfully exhilarating about watching a huge storm roll in across a field, visibly churning up the atmosphere. The feel and smell of the air changes, the sky darkens, and suddenly a normal day with normal activities turns into an excuse to stop whatever you are doing and wait. I used to love standing outside on the back porch as long as possible, the wind whipping around me, waiting until that peak moment when it started raining or a flash of lightning came just too close to be safe out of doors.
Of course, I don't miss the actual damage that severe storms and tornadoes can do. Having watched a tornado cross a field about a mile away from where I stood, I know that's about as close as I'd ever want to get to one. I think what I miss is that dual nature of storms to provide both thrill and release. There's nothing like the quiet that occurs once a storm has passed. Sure, we get big storms in NYC, too, (we're experiencing one as I write this right now), but Midwestern afternoon storms have a particular sense of both expectancy and release that I don't often feel in the city. Perhaps here I just can't notice huge atmospheric changes amidst all the buildings.
As we move into full summer, I've been thinking and teaching a lot about the possibilities that the summer season can bring. It can be a season of lots of activity: traveling, festivals, outdoor events, loud music, bright colors, extreme weather, riding waves in the ocean, summer flings, humidity-induced frizzy hair disasters, etc. However, in summer we also crave the quiet and cooling ease of reading in the shade, cold drinks, swimming in pools, time off, country retreats, quiet lakes, and afternoons spent in dark, air conditioned movie theaters...
Perhaps it's my laid-back, Midwestern roots revealing themselves again, but I find New Yorkers in July and August to be extremely edgy. Tensions run high, no amount of deodorant will save you, and hot subway platforms suddenly have the potential to induce mental breakdowns. More than once I have just wished for good ol' fashioned Indiana thunderstorm to roll in and cool everyone's jets.
In this city we've got the exhilarating energy of summer down. I can't even keep up with all the things I want to see and do. Some people are great at shutting down, retreating, using summer to recharge and rest. For others, the expectation and pressure to "have a good summer" drive people to book their schedules with non-stop events and travel plans. Realistic expectations for what summer is actually like can be hard to manage. As one of those latter types myself, I feel that I could harness a bit more of the "after-the-storm" energy: the release, the silence, the stillness. Post-thunderstorm power outages were commonplace at my childhood home in the country, so when I sensed that a storm was brewing, I knew in the back of my mind that a few hours in the dark, reading by candlelight, talking and laughing with my family might also lay ahead. There was something almost comforting about going to bed with no power running in the house, knowing that at about 3am I would wake up to the sound of my ceiling fan switching on above me to indicate the power had been fixed.
I've been rereading some of Pema Chodron's discussion of samsara and nirvana, of occurance and stillness. Most of us have a preference for one or the other, choosing to fill our lives either with movement and activity or with non-activity and liberating quiet. Chodron challenges us to hold both in our hearts at the same time:
"...if you can be willing to feel fully and acknowledge continually your own sadness and the sadness of life, but at the same time not be drowned in it, because you also remember the vision and power of the Great Eastern Sun, you experience balance and completeness, joining heaven and earth, joining vision and practicality." pg 103, The Wisdom of No Escape
Can we create a summer for ourselves that is exhilarating, energizing, maybe tumultuous even, and also freeing, calming, and still? For those people on the occurrence side of the spectrum, I don't think there's any need to temper the energy and possibility of summer months. We want our lives to be full. Fullness leads to the complete range of possibilities that life can offer, including both happiness and disappointment. Perhaps the key lies in not looking for a storm, but perhaps in acknowledging when life's activities have overwhelmed us to the point of breaking and learning when to back off.
For those folks on the still side of the spectrum, those who are caught up in the liberation that peace and quiet can offer, perhaps it is important to remember that the silence after the storm is only so sweet because the storm happened. Release is difficult to find without anticipation first.
Chodron's advice is that ritual (making a cup of tea, writing every night before bed, practicing yoga, smoking a cigarette, whatever) is what allows us to hold both qualities at the same time. Ritual allows us to appreciate the fullness of every gesture we make, the samsara and nirvana that can be present at once. We do these things repeatedly and regularly so that our visions and dreams become a practical reality in our day-to-day life. We don't have to choose between the thrill and tumult of a storm and the quiet that it brings once it's done. We can experience both.
So as we progress into the heat of summer and experience its potential to create energy and stillness within us, my advice to myself and others is to find a summer time ritual. Find something, on or off the mat, which will help you find balance between extremes. There's a sweet spot in between the thunder and waiting in the dark without power. Live there.
- Katherine Moore