One of the first aspects of meditation I was introduced to is that it can be taken anywhere and practiced at any moment. But over my first few months of consistent practice, I developed an increasing aversion to finding new spaces in which to meditate. I had my ideal space at home dedicated to my practice, which felt like enough when I considered...Read More
The following post was written by Katherine Moore. Katherine has been teaching for The Perri Institute for Mind and Body since 2013. You can find her running all over New York City, working as a teacher, choreographer, freelance dancer, and writer. Relax with her at Steps on Broadway on Friday nights at 6:30pm for restorative yoga.
This past Monday night, Liz Montgomery taught a class for the Fall Seasonal Series that emphasized transitions, new creative pathways, and making choices in our practice. This class really struck home for many reasons, one of them being that I currently have a very limited practice (in some ways) due to a shoulder injury. Right now, downward dog is not an option for me.
I've been working with my practice in this way for about a month, and while it is certainly challenging and frustrating at times, for the most part I've actually found it kind of fun. Normally of a serious mindset, I have always loved how classes with The Perri Institute teachers offer many opportunities for play, risk-taking, and lightheartedness, which are not areas that I normally gravitate towards. Being injured has made accessing these qualities not only easier, but even more essential in order to continue my physical practice. While I miss certain poses that are not accessible to me at the moment, I'm getting a huge kick out of finding new variations, playing more with my props, and in some ways, being a little free of the normal structure and flow of my typical practice.
I am so thankful that through my training in yoga and dance, I have had years of practice of being placed in unknown situations where the only option I have is to be open and available to whatever comes my way. Years of studying dance improvisation and composition have taught me how to build a larger framework out of a blank slate, with only simple idea as fodder. For me, teaching and practicing yoga feel very similar to the creative process I use in choreographic settings; it's all dedicated time and space where I can draw connections and make meaning between seemingly disparate ideas, and then grow from there. Without these experiences, losing the ability to fully use my arm might have been much more dramatic and frustrating than I'm currently finding it. Because of my experience in the unknown world of creative choice-making, I am able to still fully participate in my practice.
This, and Liz's class on Monday, reminded me of how important it is to teach creative choice in our classes. The lessons we learn from breaking up our routine and trying something new are so critical to how we carry our practice on the mat into our everyday lives. Unless you work in a creative field, the average person rarely gets the opportunity to explore this type of creative thinking, but it's this type of thought that actually makes us more engaged in our society and relationships. Being able to take risks, trust yourself in new situations, and put new ideas into motion are essential traits of the movers and shakers who make change happen in our world. The ability to imagine a life ahead of you that is safe, satisfying, and interesting, while perhaps different from the life you’re currently living, is also necessary for mental well-being and stability. The role of the imagination in our lives is nothing less than essential.
I am constantly reminded that access to art, beauty, and nature help people think in imaginative ways, and then I am reminded that this access is a privilege not shared with many. Across the country, music, art, and dance programs in public schools are being cut and underfunded. The lucky students are exposed to creative arts throughout their formal education, but after embarking on a career path, most people leave those experiences behind. In my dancing life I teach creative movement to untrained adult movers, particularly the elderly, and I can see clearly how magical and transformative that experience is for them, even when it is difficult. Giving adults the opportunity to imagine and invent, to experience creativity via their physicality, is just as important as experiencing it in childhood. I could say more about arts education and community engagement, but my point here is that the day-to-day grind that many adult people experience in their jobs, and sometimes even in their family and social circles, rarely allows for creative experience, which is why teaching creativity in our yoga classes is so important.
People come to yoga for many reasons: for physical health, for mental well-being, for rest, for study. This actually gives teachers room to introduce creativity for all, regardless of why a student is there. Teaching creative choice is naturally easier with a room full of experienced practitioners who are comfortable with themselves and taking some chances, but I might suggest that it belongs in all levels as long as it is taught mindfully and safely. I will be using the fall season to investigate ways of teaching creativity in my classes, and I would welcome any suggestions from our community. Some ideas to start:
- Ask your students to find their own transition from a standing sequence back to Downward Dog. (Thank you Liz!)
- To shake things up, use something other than Downward Dog as your "home base." Try sequencing from Tadasana, Child's Pose, All Fours, or even Upavesasana or Malasana (what?!) and keep coming back to it as you develop your theme.
- Offer variations from the traditional Vinyasa for students to choose from instead of the normal sequence (For example, instead of Plank, Chaturanga, Upward Dog, Downward Dog, try Plank, lower the knees to Child's pose, roll up to sit in Vadrasana, roll back down to plant hands and find Downward Dog). You may need to add a breath cue or two, but if you teach it clearly and with the same intention as the traditional Vinyasa, your students will be able to follow.
- Give choices in terms of imagery. Sometimes we need to support our students' energies by teaching specific imagery (ie. cooling water dripping down the shoulder blades on a 95 degree day in August). But what if you offer energetic choices occasionally? For example, "Imagine the center of your heart space. What is it's texture? Color? Tone?" Your students will probably come up with very different ideas. Ask them to notice if the image has changed by the end of class.
- After teaching a sequence several times, and if you sense that your students will be comfortable with it, ask them to move through the postures on their own. Encourage them to keep moving through postures, even if they forget what’s next. They can pick!
- Instead of only offering variations to challenging postures, offer variations based on energetics or focus. For example, offer Crow as a way to experience the balance of the spine, and offer Side Crow as a way to experience the spirals in the spine. Before Savasana, offer a choice of restorative postures: Restorative Fish for heart opening, Restorative Child's Pose for inward looking.
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
Even in the heart of winter, our bones beg to be walked. This particular winter has been kind in personality, releasing shoulders that customarily brace for bitter cold and steadying a cadence that habitually ticks in haste. With nature as the companion, walking offers a shift out of the direct, linear rhythm that drums out daily life. The stretched out pace of an unhurried walk is at once wecolmed by my legs and lungs, even when resisted by an impatient, jogging mind. As did many, I spent endless childhood hours outside, learning lessons that only time, space and nature can preach. Like a coveted jar of fireflies, I tightly sealed in reverence for these lessons, even as I adjusted to the walls and screens so present in our modern habitats. I now walk to simply remember all I intuitively knew as a child--that the sky is worth seeing every day...that nature is a magical teacher...that work becomes stale without breaks. The gentle wholeness hidden inside walking tames my impulsive pushes and pulls through life.
While as a city-dweller it's practical to live at least a chunk of life on foot, what always proves difficult is finding unaltered earth to tread on. With priorities of convenience and safety, cities have smoothed out nearly all our pathways. We have essentially genetically modified the art of walking. Each foot, unasked to experience the pureness of the earth, forgets the nearly limitless dances that its thirty-three joints can choreograph. Registering this loss, we routinely purchase "support" through shoes, seek familiar ground and accept shiny alternatives (escalators, elevators, subways and cars). Walking has been downgraded to an automatic and mechanical experience. Quite often, this whole-body experience is replaced by clunky feet that mindlessly shuffle, while heads, shoulders, and arms curl towards a cradled smartphone. I speculate that this blocked sensory experience has a sneaky a way of locking in our particular ways of being in and understanding the world we move in.
In Being Mortal, author Atul Gawande suggests that as we age, we start to prioritize security over engagement. He explains that we are quick to latch onto safety, even if the quality of life can be significantly compromised. I would add to Atul's insight that our attachment to security is observable at every life stage. I have many times watched my decisions, actions and thoughts be silently dictated by a desire to have what seems predictable and secure. While ahimsa, or nonharming, is imperative, we know that the body adapts, grows and sustains itself through the variability and challenge that punctuates our existence. The difficulty then is to find enough comfort to keep us balanced, and accept enough discomfort to keep us developing. It is, of course, a tricky task.
Explorative walking doesn't typically threaten our security. But it certainly can feel inconvenient, unproductive and unnecessary when held against the laundry lists that tug us up each morning. Safety isn't merely the handrail we cling to as we age; it is also our attachment, at any age, to the routines, circles and boxes that are most familiar to us. While a little of this comfort helps us feel grounded in the chaos that is life, it’s variety, adventure, and even discomfort that feeds our souls with other essential nutrients that comfort cannot. As I experience the value of outdoor walking - with the way it oils my hips, weights my feet and frees my neck- I notice that my willingness to explore my "walking ways" (especially in January) directly relates to my overall sense of connection to the world. Walking reminds me to find ground that isn't paved and to seek detours that ask for time. It kindly turns my gaze towards patterns marinating in my mind and body. It gives me a moment, even in winter boots, to feel the earth that I so easily forget I am part of. I have found that walking helps capture a broader sense of home that, like each of us, has seasons and weather just waiting to be explored. If we lean just outside the security of our routines, and soothe the racing mind, we will find trails and skies and trees that speak to us, whispering songs that stir ordinary days awake. Even the darkness of winter can brighten us up, if we take a walk, hand in hand with nature.
Photography by Brianna Goodman
Summer. When I think of this season, words like freedom, play, and adventure emerge in my mind. Vivid memories crop up too – of long afternoons at the beach, enveloped by a sound score of crashing waves, giggles, and screams; of countless scoops of ice cream melting in my mouth, so satisfying especially on the hottest of days; of grass squishing underfoot as I run through sprinklers in my backyard…there’s something so timeless about summer’s long days and warm nights. Most of my oldest memories exist in the summer months of my childhood. I still largely operate on a school-year schedule, so when summer rolls around I inevitably look for opportunities to play, to mix up my daily routine in an effort to recharge and revel in summer’s fun.
Our yoga community at The Perri Institute for Mind and Body is drawing playfulness into our class offerings all summer long. Spies and mysteries abound, and cheaper classes, as well as pop-up classes across the city in unexpected sites, are keeping our students on their toes.
And why not shift our typical patterns during the summer months? Ever since college, I have endeavored to travel and reenergize my studies over the course of the summer. The ways I’ve met such intentions were sometimes more extensive – traveling to and through Europe to engage in various dance workshops, meeting artists with shared interests yet completely different backgrounds and modes of living and art-making. Other times such goals have been met more simply – attempting to learn a few words of German or a few chords on a guitar (even if it all was forgotten soon after). Regardless of the mode of play, I find such beauty in the way that free time and fresh experiences can infuse us with newfound enthusiasm and simultaneously inform us with hindsight. Have you ever been away from home, even for a weekend, and suddenly sensed this clarity arising in your mind or heart regarding something that has been milling about within you for weeks or even months? When it feels as if your intuition has been ignited and that answer you have been desperately trying to grab hold of falls into your lap in a most organic and unexpected way?
While this summer has brought relief to me after an exhausting year, certain situations and outcomes have reminded me, or perhaps encouraged me to use my free time not to grasp for answers that tell of my future but instead, to use what freedom I have to explore and reconnect, so that I can meet what unfolds rather than force what I think I want into being. My boyfriend introduced me to a catchy tune recently that speaks to the journey of discovery at its close. The last minute and a half of Jason Mraz’s "Song For A Friend" swells from a quieter instrumental interlude to a full, vigorous choral setting that repeats, over and over:
Climb up over the top.
Survey the state of the soul.
You've got to find out for yourself whether or not you're truly trying.
Why not give it a shot?
Shake it. Take control and inevitably wind up
Find out for yourself all the strengths you have inside of you.
As I read those lines and listen to them set to music, I’m reminded that each of us bears the responsibility of surveying the state of our soul as the days and years pass by if we are to delve deeper and deeper into the essence of who we are and what we can be for the world around us. The ways that we examine and shake matters up will inevitably differ, as each of us operates on inimitable wavelengths, but no matter what our mode, we ultimately guide our growth. For me, traveling and delving into learning spark an evaluation of where I have been and where I am living presently; assessments like these often can instigate a repatterning of habits we’ve developed that no longer serve us. And yet I believe that between our considerations and our actions there lies a subtle interplay on the part of the universe in relation to our circumstances. It’s as if there’s this middleman – the Universe – that emerges after we shake things up and guides us back to the path of control and routine with a touch or punch of intuition, depending on how he presents himself. We do initiate growth on behalf of ourselves, but at the same time, I can’t help but give credit to the mysterious, spy ways of the Universe that move me down surprising paths when I remain open enough to see, listen, and feel its advice.
If you were to consider your parking spot on the road of your life right now, what are those matters that seem like they could use some shaking up? How will you find or create space to climb to the top of your life’s mountain to survey your body, mind, spirit, and surroundings?
As the heat bears down on us and the smell of barbecues permeates the air, let us toast to summer’s offering of play. Through diversion may we gain even more of an understanding as to where we are and a stronger intuition as to where we must go and what we must do from here.
- Liz Beres
“Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
This morning’s mantra is simple and playful. Every time I read this quote, my inner beast rises up. I want to skip town, run barefoot through a forest, climb a mountain, and bask in the sun surveying the world around me.
Do you have your summer tale to tell of an outdoor excursion? If not, what are you waiting for? Get outside and go on an adventure that your computer and technological contraptions cannot bring you. Whether it is hiking out West or spending a day at the beach or walking in an early summer morning rainstorm, go for it!
Mother Nature intends for you to explore this time of year. Listen to her cues of sun, sea, gentle rains, and breeze. Let her sweep you away into a new corner of your beautiful earthly home.
- TaraMarie Perri