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
When I binge-read a work of fiction I’m deeply entrenched in, have I checked out of my body? Am I being unmindful? Am I checking out of my life? Or, is it possible to read fiction mindfully?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.
The following post was written by Liz Beres, a NYC-based dancer; dance teacher; and yoga teacher, certified by The Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Liz currently teaches yoga privately and at various gyms, including that of the Federal Reserve Bank of NY through Plus One. She is continually intrigued by and appreciative of the power of mind/body practices, and is grateful for the chance to share her musings on MindBodyBrew’s digital platform.
"Life is not inherently meaningful. We make meaning happen through the attention and care we express through our actions." - Donna Farhi, from "Yoga Mind, Body and Spirit: A Return to Wholeness"
That first sentence stopped me in my tracks the first time I read it. I found myself reading it through again, and again, and again, pouring over the words in an effort to gain some hold over them. I couldn’t get beyond the idea that our lives—at their very base—are utterly blank canvases. But as I began to consider the trajectory of a life—from infant to toddler on up—the varied and deep layering of intention and purpose in a life slowly struck me.
Having been dealt a largely fresh slate from the universe after a summer of bold decisions and equally weighted repercussions, I was met this fall with an opportunity to take action in such ways that could renew or redirect the steps along my life story. I knew that I wanted to commit to moving forward with raw candor, and I knew too that I endeavored to make and follow through with choices that lay outside my comfort zone. But to decipher what all this meant—how I could successfully meet my truest self—required much reflection, and through that consideration, an intense stripping down of layers that no longer served me. Our choices so expressively seal our identity, but are those choices ones we want to reinforce, or must they shift to meet us at our present?
For whatever reason, I imagined myself landing at a point where I was clear and streamlined in a certain sense; contradictions would fall away, and I’d be standing there so solidly as this one being. It hasn’t happened. In fact, I’ve realized how unrealistic such a vision is, for we all exist as such complex creatures, full of disparities that are no less valid or true in spite of their variety. I’d walked the earth for years attempting to fully embody my differing roles in whatever environment I found myself in; dancer, teacher, student wasn’t even the tip of it. Was I a contemporary dancer or a musical theater performer? A dance teacher? A yoga teacher? A creator? A collaborator? The web of it all spun out for miles.
I’m discovering that trying to distinguish between all these pieces of ourselves becomes complicated and unnecessary when all these diverse parts of us already coexist; we are blended beings, rich and full of nuance. Our lives are not homogenous events, as Donna Farhi so poignantly notes. Life changes, and we too must adapt and change along with it.
So I’m drawn back to this question, or call to action: if our lives are not meaningful in and of themselves, how will we give them meaning? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with? What meaning do we want to fill our stories with in this present moment?
With so much to tackle and pursue all at once, it seemingly becomes necessary to parse through all that surrounds us in order to choose and follow what is most valuable to our growth at a given time. I would use the word ‘prioritize’ to distinguish this act, but prioritizing sounds too black and white and too logical when such choices to follow certain goals over others emerge, I imagine, most sincerely from intuition and the depths of our souls. And in any case, regardless of what we do choose to pursue, we must recognize that our paths usually are not linear ones. The roads we set out on inevitably wind through experiences we couldn’t have even envisioned, and numerous forks in the road present themselves, or even force themselves, upon us.
One of the ethical principles of Yoga’s eight-limbed path is particularly relevant in considering these matters: aparigraha, or non-attachment. As much as we habitually seek out certainty and security, one unavoidable fact of our human existence is that impermanence permeates our lives. Impermanence serves as our one constant. Trying to hoard what we have only leads to suffering, as those people or objects or ideas will, in time, fade, or in some situations even vanish.
So then, how are we to acquire meaning if such uncertain transience exists as a base of our lives? I would extend the hope that we still plant seeds of growth in whatever arenas we aim to nurture, but perhaps as we harvest those same seeds, we can assess what is honestly in front of us, so as to recognize and interact with the reality that has presented itself to us, rather than the dream that lay in the backs of our minds or hearts. Because while we drive so much of what occurs in our day-to-day lives, there are countless variables that shift our actions and thoughts into unpredictable realms—and with all of that comes, I would suggest, even more meaning than we could have achieved on our own. I believe that it is that stark openness to our communities—those that are tangible and those that are less so—that enables us to transcend what superficial steps we take through our day and fills us with such a sense of connection and comprehension as to where we are in each moment.
Getting the chance to meet so many new people over the course of the summer embedded within me a desire to commune with strangers (in the safest of ways, Mom!). I have attempted to actually look at people I pass by and toss out a soft smile or converse with those who are serving me or surrounding me when it feels appropriate. What has been amazing in this experiment is the sense of intimacy and ease that has suddenly emerged in environments that otherwise had felt cold or purposeless. From this seed that I planted upon my return from time in a smaller town with a tightly bound community of friends and colleagues has come more curiosity and openness on my part, and the potential for even more growth in my interactions with those I don’t know. It has built meaning in my life, and simultaneously expanded my comprehension of the rich interconnectedness of our individual paths. It has reminded me too of how significantly our moods and mindsets can shift from acting upon one outwardly small but specific intention. There are so many choices to be molded, so many possibilities to choose from and subsequently learn from.
Just the other day, a friend of mine suggested that once she leaves New York City, she hopes to live an entirely different life—one set in a rural locale, where she can live not by a clock but by the ever-changing light of day and night, where she can focus less on survival and more on filling the artistic, intellectual, and spiritual potential that lives within her. Such a beautiful vision that I too similarly share. So many other layers of meaning that could come into being, a largely new iteration of a life’s story.
Dreaming of the future is a beautiful practice that serves to inspire and egg us on towards our utter fulfillment, but in light of all these thoughts—and to not get ahead of ourselves—what is it that we, in this very moment, aspire to pursue? What seeds can we plant to set such growth in motion, and how can we then step back, even as we nourish the seeds, to witness what actually emerges? As much as we seek to make meaning out of life, if we could be more present, giving more attention and care to what lives right in front of us, could we derive whole other layers of meaning and depth that we previously could not have conceived possible? Perhaps ‘making meaning’ in our lives need not be such an active endeavor; meaning will materialize effortlessly, if only we are brave and open enough to meet it in its truest forms.
- Liz Beres
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.
These are the lazy, hazy days of summer. The days are long and hot, many people are on vacation, and projects are put on hold until after Labor Day. There's a sense of relaxation in the air, the urge to rest and recline takes over even the busiest brains. And yet, especially for the future-minded schedulers extraordinaire out there, the sense of anticipation for fall planning and activities begins to rear its head even though the true beginning of autumn is over 6 weeks away.
This summer I've been taking a step back from some of my usual commitments, freeing up some time to figure out what really belongs in my day-to-day life and what doesn't. While I prepare for a new season in NYC this fall, I long to leave space in my schedule that will allow me to carry a sense of summer along the way. In particular, I want to take that stretched out sense of time that comes from a summer day. A summer solstice baby, I was born on the longest day of the year. Summer feels like my time. This year over my birthday I was able to take a lengthy vacation, spending time with family both in the Midwest and California. In both places, the idea of time kept cropping up across my path.
I spent a day wandering through the old redwood forest at Muir Woods National Monument in California. Nothing beats the sense of quiet and age that you feel amongst those trees. To be surrounded by living organisms that existed long before I was even thought of has a certain way of putting things in perspective. What are my worries against the long path of nature?
I also spent some time in Kentucky, surrounded by misty, forested hills and lakes that practically ooze history. At the prow of a boat, surrounded by a landscape rich with American history from the civil war to the Bourbon Trail, I was reminded that world is indeed, old.
Even my vacation entertainment suggested something about the age of the Earth. While Jurassic World was perhaps not the most important film in cinematic history, there's something about contemplating the existence and demise of dinosaurs that puts one in her place. I also re-watched Lord of the Rings, encountering fantastical, ancient tree-like creatures called Ents that speak slowly, walk slowly, and...think......slooooowly. So perhaps I spent my vacation as a true nerd, but this concept of time that I encountered has continued to follow me back in real life in NYC.
When dealing with troubling emotions, particularly anxiety and frustration, I find it helpful to think about time. I actually quite literally think about the dinosaurs, and then the age of the whole planet, and then the very, very, very small slice of time that humans have existed. Geological time is often best demonstrated with a clock; if the history of the Earth could be condensed into one hour, human life doesn't even come into the picture until the minute hand is at 59min. What?!!
This broad perspective of time really puts me in my place. I feel like I can relax against the whole huge history of the world and let my worries lessen. It's not that my life suddenly becomes insignificant, quite the contrary. Something about this long view of time, especially in relation to nature, actually makes me feel much more connected to the world. There is safety in knowing that the universe has existed long before my troubles and will continue to exist long after my worries have gone, but that me, and my worries, and my joys, are all part of this continuum of time and space.
During my break I also had the privilege of reading Ethan Nichtern's new book The Road Home: A Contemporary Exploration of the Buddhist Path. I know many of us in the Perri Institute community have added it to our summer reading list, and I think any contemporary, literate person would find this book to be both inspiring and immediately useful to his or her own life. The subject I found truly interesting, and most applicable to this post's discussion on time, is karma.
Karma, while a term that is pervasively used in popular culture, is also often misunderstood. I'll let Ethan explain in his own words:
We often view karma as some indictment for all the awful things that have happened to us, and all the awful things that have happened in this world. For example, after hearing a bit about karma as a child I remember thinking that, as someone with asthma, I must have done something terrible in a past life to not be able to breathe very well sometimes. That kind of “blame the victim” approach offers us a convenient new narrative for the recurring story of our self-aggression, as well as a reason to continue to isolate ourselves from the plight of others…This kind of isolated worldview cannot hold up when we look at the larger interdependent forces that shape our world and when we recognize that everything and everyone’s actions are affecting each other all the time, that nobody lives in a vacuum of their own making.
Ethan goes on to explain karma in more detail, eventually moving into a discussion on past and present, and the Buddhist approach to working with both:
…if we reflect on the past with the clear intention to illuminate our experience in the present, and we learn, through both our own meditation practice and guidance from others, how to let go of our tight grip on the past narrative at the exact point the mind begins to fixate on it, then our understanding of the relationship between past and present can come into balance and harmony.
The teachings on karma demonstrate a very important point about the past: the fundamental force behind our conditioning isn’t stupidity or evil, nor is it a flaw in our genetic design. We adopt habitual patterns to begin with as the result of misperception, or lack of awareness.
If we view the root of the problem as a misperception about the nature of experience, then forgiveness is always possible. We can rise out of feeling ashamed at our habitual confusion…We have to forgive ourselves for being stuck in habits and addictions, for being caught up in the commute. Working with karma is something that everyone has to go through; none of us are free of conditioning.
I could go on and on, but I’ll just let you read the book yourself.
What I found most interesting in this explanation of karma was the idea that I could be living a life where my past and my present were not in balance and harmony. Upon reading Ethan’s text I was struck by the idea that perhaps my attempts to live a more mindful life in the present moment, in the here and now, were not actually helping me slow time, but really making it go faster because of a lack of scope about time, and my life in time. Perhaps a broader view of my life, or maybe even past lives, would increase my sense of awareness about the interdependence of my world and all the people, ideas, and redwood trees inside of it. Without reconciling my past habitual patterns with my experience of the present moment, my perception of the here and now will always be a little lacking.
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here, and my philosophical understanding of karma is basic at best, but I think my point in all this talk on dinosaurs and summer and cycles of time is that from my experience, just saying “Slow. Down” as an antidote to the crazy fast pace of life isn’t quite enough. Sure, taking some time off and lessening my workload and sleeping more will make me a happier, healthier, more relaxed person. This is true of most people. But I am beginning to think that without an actual change in perception, without a shift in perspective about how my mind works with the present moment AND the past, I will continue to be unsatisfied by the ever quickening pace of life, no matter how much I pledge to “unplug.” I will continue to long for the stretched out days of childhood summers.
Being in nature most certainly helps nurture this relationship between past and present. As a young woman of 28, I can stand next to a 130-year-old tree and feel young, but I can also look into the nest of hatching birds on that tree’s branches and feel quite old. Can we work with our mind in the same way? How can we experience this full range of our life in the present moment? Can we actually shift our perception of time?
I don’t presume to know the answer, but as we enjoy sun-filled days on the beach and make plans for fall, I might suggest that we remain curious about what it really means to slow down. Does is it mean take a day off to sleep and order takeout and watch a movie? Maybe. Or maybe it’s something else a little less concrete, a little more subtle, and a bit more interesting.
I recommend thinking about the dinosaurs quite often. It really does help.