Prose and Pose…saluting the earth and spreading laughter along the way…

Setting an Intention

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Counting the clock….two, three, six more hours left? The minutes move slowly like cars in southbound traffic after five or this gray cloud that is the DMV. Sunlight winks from behind the glass door. That Sun: she can be such a tease… beckoning me with her tantalizing rays! I have seen time bend, fly, and flounder. Weekends zoom past Kyle and I at the speed of light. Contrarily, I have watched minutes multiply akin to how insects must breed. I am painfully aware of every bleach -drunk -second I spend cleaning my bathroom. I know the laws of time dictate what constitutes a minute: a second: a nanosecond. But stick me in a yoga room for an hour and I will swear to you that 60 minutes did not pass? Where did the time go? Did my pigeon pose sweep in and fly away with the extra 5 minutes I promised him? Lies of the temporal terrain!

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            What is your intention?

            What caught your attention?

            What do you intend to do, right here? Right now?

            When you are short on time, what do YOU prioritize? Yes, the breath is the most important part of the practice. You need to breathe in a way that supports you…ideally with “ujjayi” or victorious breath. Now, we enter the allergy season/cold/season. You have allowance to breathe through your mouth, especially if you fear the “loogies.” By the time I brief the breath, it is really time to move on if we stick to our clockwork chartering. But, I like students to flavor their adventures. This is the role of “setting an intention.” When I blurt “set an intention” and then move you instantaneously into cat cows….I am preventing myself from babbling into your precious 60 minute class. So here, I confess what I really want to say.

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I will extrapolate that setting an intention is not some new- age- mumbo jumbo. In my Mysore, personal practice, I set my intention via singing the classical opening invocation. Thank you Aharona for bringing this back into my life! Singing or chanting opening prayer resonates with my spiritual background and me. However, practicing yoga itself is not a “religious practice” (more on that next week). I interpret this invocation as an opportunity to thank all of the wonderful teachers in my life both living and deceased. I thank the teachers who I have never met and the ones whom I will never meet. I thank the ground beneath me for enabling me to practice with the healthy body. I ask of myself to be patient and loving towards my body and to wade only shallowly in the looming pool of thoughts.

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Om
Vande Gurunam Charanaravinde
Sandarshita Svatma Sukava Bodhe
Nih Sreyase Jangalikayamane
Samsara Halahala Mohashantyai
I bow to the lotus feet of the Supreme Gurus
which awaken insight into the happiness of pure Being,
which are the refuge, the jungle physician,
which eliminate the delusion caused by the poisonous herb of Samsara.
Abahu Purushakaram
Shankhacakrsi Dharinam
Sahasra Sirasam Svetam
Pranamami Patanjalim
Om
I prostrate before the sage Patanjali
who has thousands of radiant, white heads and who has, as far as
his arms, assumed the form of a man
holding a conch shell, a wheel and a sword.

In Forrest Yoga, Ana stipulates the importance of setting an intention no matter how long or how short your class is. She bequests of the teacher to set an open-ended intention for the practice. For example, pick an area in your body that is in pain. What does it feel like? What color can you give it….Subsequently, this selected objective serves as the silver thread for class planning…inspiring not just physical postures and breath-work but also deep energy healing for the practitioner. Although the teacher sets the intention for the group, each individual has a uniquely profound experience.

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I adore this concept so much, because it unifies the entire “yoga” experience for the student. So easily, we unroll the mat, sputter some breath, and start flailing limbs around. The teacher says, “ Breathe and relax your neck!” And I think, “bitch get me out of fucking chair pose!” Now, if I had set a proper intention instead of drooling in initial child’s pose or fantasizing about breakfast (always!) my physical and psychological experience might be a little more up lifting?

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Because people lack self-care time and solitude, I encourage students to set their own intentions. Maybe today you want to offer gratitude to your teachers and the elements because you want to feel supported, grounded, and worthy of the love you deserve. You don’t deserve to feel lonely. Often there is someone in your life who is hurting, and you have no idea how to help. So you dedicate your practice to them. Maybe you lost your temper, or you snapped at someone you love. There is self-shame and dwelling. Can you bring the love back to yourself and practice the challenging postures with compassion. Finally, perhaps today you feel unspeakable pain or anguish. Getting on the mat is feat enough. Today set an intention to find pleasure… experience your hips open in warrior 2. Your heart shines forward in upward dog. In your final happy baby, you enjoy the lower back release.

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I don’t have much time to babble about intention setting during the beginning of class. But, perhaps this is most important part of your practice (aside from savasana, of course). Who are you? Where are you coming from today? What would you like to create or manifest today? Then the breath, the postures, and your celestial nature unify yoked by your humble intention.

In the words of Larry Schultz: “turn in to ‘channel you.’ You are one with yourself. One with the others. And one with your maker…”

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Warrior Two!

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Virabhadra Ka= the name of a fierce warrior, an incarnation of Shiva, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes, and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs, and wearing a tiger’s skin (Yoga Journal, 2007).

Nothing gets the legs percolating like warrior two! WOWEE! In my personal practice, we meet usually only twice a week during primary series. Five deep breathes and I am eager to part ways! However, warrior two is the cool kid here at Hot Elevation Studios. When I attend power yoga classes, I find myself holding this posture indefinitely. During this infinity, there is time to reflect on alignment. An insightful, incriminating mirror prompts me to readjust my posture. Careful, the reflection might manifest a murky rendition of the truth! Can I comfortably bend my front knee so the shin is perpendicular to the floor? Do my legs feel fatigued or am I lazy?

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With breath, I draw the awareness scan up my body. Inevitably, my reflection cues me to tuck my tail bone down and pull my belly into the spine. Spine relinquishes its preferred backbend craving of a shape and abdominal energy lock is ignited. Stretch out the arms sideways as if two people are pulling you from different ends (Iyengar 1966). Gaze forward with a relaxed jaw. Use the mirror as a prop- an extension of your third eye. Remove fixation and draw attention back to breath. Feel strength in lower body and euphoric lightness as the torso stretches skyward and the arms search for the corners of the earth.

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Per BKS Iyenger, this posture relieves cramps in calf and thigh muscles and brings elasticity to the leg and back muscles (Iyengar, 1966). Abdominal organs are also toned. Score! Warrior two is an integral part of Forrest Yoga. When I attended the Forrest Training in 2017, I came from an Ashtanga Background. In Ashtanga, Warrior One inspires the 3-5 sun salutation B warm-up and warrior 2 is a quick affair (depending on how long your teacher counts to five breaths. I tell you, some teachers are sadists!) Contrarily, Ana Forrest will conduct a 3-posture vignette entirely in warrior two stance! And rarely was there one such vignette! The warrior two stretches the psoas, hip flexors and groin and relieves back pain.

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Warrior Two is a classic, “basic” posture. Going back to basics however does not mean imply stepping off the brave-hearted path. Sometimes the basic moves never get “easier.” Every time you practice this powerful posture; you have a unique opportunity to check in with your alignment. Can you bend your front knee in line with your heal? Can you enlist Uddiyana Bandha- a collection of muscles concentrated in your core? Can you reach your arms firmly to the expanses of the universe while maintaining soft shoulders? You can look down, if that feels better for your neck.

I often see students flail arms about which affects the tenacity of the posture. Keep your shoulders over your hips, and try not to lean too far back or gravitate too enthusiastically forward. I often hear teachers quip, “imagine two kids were pulling your arms in two different directions.” I thought this was a catchy cue, until I realized it was a little inappropriate. I don’t have kids, so I probably can’t relate to the sensation of my two fake spawn pulling my arms! It is not a suitable metaphor for Me. Me, Miss Excuse me, miss? Where are you going on why?

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Where are you going and why? Warrior two is an opportunity to surpass your echo’s prophesies. The battlefields of the past have toned your legs and brought depth to your eye-lit field. Reach with joy into your horizon: incandescent, boundless, possibilities.

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Warrior 2….when I was 24 or 25 🙂

 

Warrior 2 Virabadrasana Ka

References:

  1. YJ editors. (2007, 08/25) Warrior Two Pose. https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/warrior-ii-pose
  2. Inyengar, B.K.S “Light on Yoga.” New York: Schocken Books. 1966.

Do I want you in my belly, Earth Belly?

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All photographs taken by the lovely  Gina Jones.

Take the midtown connection back to earth. The later half of midweek, we found

ourselves seeking nourishment. Ethereal stung pearl pear lights beckon from Soquel Avenue. We pull into the parking lot and walk away from the luring Lloyd’s towards Earth Belly.

Since my last visit, Earth Belly underwent a slight face-lift. The new layout boasts a more relaxed, airy atmosphere. I study the chalkboard scrawled menu before placing my order with the friendly Host. Today, I am in the midst of an Aryuvedic Elimination of gluten, nuts, and dairy: oh what a merry day to dine out! However, Earth Belly provides meals for all systems. Accordingly, I gravitate towards the belly bowls. For $12.95, you may choose 3 plant based options, garlicky greens, curried lentils, roasted broccoli…oh my. Animals may join your plate for $2- $4 additional dollars.  After much contemplation, I combine curried lentils with roasted broccoli, and balsamic marinated mushrooms and onions. Although tempted by the organic beer and wine selections, I order a reasonably -marked up Kombucha to accompany by Belly Bowl. Mellow-mannered host promises an on tap Kombucha offering soon. In hindsight, I should have ordered the Gruner Veltner. My vivacious companion procures a homemade mushroom-lentil burger (vegetarian style). Although the twinkling patio lights tempt my inner etherealphile, we select an indoor table. A soft touch of green vines halos an interesting painting of Jesus Meditating.

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Dimmed lights synchronize with tranquil electronic melodies to unwind our thoughts from the week. I select condiments from the shared space: pink Himalayan salt, cutlery (you set your own table) and organic ketchup while I shamelessly people watch. In no time at all, our meals arrive: her meal a mere three minutes before mine. The bowl coos aromas of comfort. Gina’s burger looks straight out of a photo shoot. I want to sink my teeth into the cloud that is the Breadbox bun. Instead, I dig my spoon into my healthy bowl. The curried lentils whisper of cardamom and savory spice: I appreciate the aromatic contrast to the hearty, arid texture. But, they are still a little dry. Next, I dabble into the roasted broccoli- crisp, clean, and unadulterated by anything. I immediately add salt…because the broccoli tastes a little too much like broccoli. Finally, I try the balsamic marinated mushrooms and onions. The mushrooms are immediately my favorite-slightly sweet after mingling with the onions in a balsamic bath. I try combining the mushrooms with the lentils to offset the dryness of the pulse. While this improves the texture, I find that this dish is missing one imperative thing: fat. I appreciate how clean and whole each element tastes on my palate. However, I would recommend that the chef accompany the dish with a side of tahini, peanut sauce, or gentle guacamole. Although each part of the bowl is excellently executed, all together the dish tastes bland and rather dry on my throat. I sip my ginger kombucha. Somebody should have ordered some wine…maybe a spicy syrah to add some pizzazz to this too healthy for a hedonist meal.

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Eyes off my plate, I turn my gaze to Gina. We have moved away from the conversation-starting-Jesus paintings to discuss food. She admits that the lentil mushroom patty offers a diverse experience on the palate. However despite its hearty texture and wholesome appeal, something is missing. The voluptuous patty, crispy bun, grilled mushrooms and cheese need more of a sauce to bind them together. Otherwise, the burger tastes “clean” but dry. She advises, from one chef to the other, to add more aioli or pesto to transform the burger from wholesome to delicious. A sidecar to her statuesque burger sits a botanical garden of a side salad. Mixed green leaves bloom with sesame seeds and sveltely spiralized raw beets. “Spiralized raw beets, what an impressive feat!” exclaims my chef friend. She studies the dressing, hypothesizing it to be a balsamic hybrid.

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We enjoyed our meal in the serene meeting place. Our pace was calm without interruption or the humming urgency to rush. Après using one of the two gender-chill, clean bathroom (restaurant reviewers SHOULD review bathrooms!!!!!) I gaped longingly one last time at the pastry cases. A case to close another time. That chocolate ball looked divine.

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Out into the Santa Cruz evening light. I feel comfortable, as I had eaten a healthy, cleanly prepared meal filled with GMO free vegetables and plant protein. But, secrets confess before twilight, I was not satisfied.   Would I return to dine upon the pear-pearl light patio? Perhaps…when there is wine to try and kombucha to bubble….and perhaps if the chef adds just a little bit of temptation into those dishes…my taste buds like to get into trouble sometimes….

All photographs taken by Gina Jones!

Yoga is Prayer and Meditation is where you find the answers (Thank you Mr. Smith)

halfpBefore the sun sets Sunday…we close our weekend’s chapter with a walk to the beach. I admire the fragrant, and opulently hued flowers that seem to enliven… the closer their petals lean towards the shore. Sea-salt-rose encapsulated inhale….lingers me in my daze as I gaze out past the oak tree into the sea. I walk this walk weekly, but today the madness of the mind has left…tiptoeing between the brinks of my respirations…simple, incandescent beauty underneath periwinkle sky.

The sights, the scents, and the whip of the wind enliven my spirit. I talk my man’s ear off about the things I love…the conversation turns to yoga…as it most occasionally… turns…and to meditation…meh. I express gratitude that my journey’s disposition is not pervaded by a sense of loneliness and darkness (been there, and I don’t want to go back!) but rather, I sense that I possess the necessary tools to live a life that would make me feel proud. But, when I close my eyes and take out the shovel…my pummeling of mind’s matter mines no gold…not even fool’s gold.

“Yoga is prayer and meditation is where you find the answers.” Kyle pipes.

For once, Princess Schwartz is speechless! Did I mention that I am dating a Wizard?

When I practice each day, I commit to a healing spiritual practice. I want my practice to nourish me inside and out. But, also I want to practice so thatI can be more in line with the elements. More and more, I encounter the physical practice to be an offering of gratitude to the elements, to the humans in my midst, and to God. I would not advertize yoga as such an experience: how off-putting that can be to some of us! When you first begin a physical practice, you probably are not strong enough to press into urdva danurasana. Your hamstrings might not be flexible enough to smell your toes in sandwich-like-pashimotanasana. When you begin the physical practice, your spirit might be broken. If you commit to a regular practice, your body transforms. I see it in my students. I see it in myself.

Somewhere along the way…you catch a whiff of the magic. You have the option; can I believe in this magic? Can I comprehend that these physical postures are a gateway to a more opalescent existence? Or, do you say: Not yet! I am not ready for this responsibility! The cynic shuts down the magic show. You look at your body in the mirror. You practice, practice, practice. All is coming…but you limit yourself to the “all” comprising of physical rewards to reap.

I say all of this from a compassionate, relatable place. I got hooked on the asana…because the practice taught me ease in my body, which transcended to if-not-peace- a terrific TRUCE in my brain. Over the years…I understood how my practice affected me off of the mat…how do I interact with others when I am hurt…how do I approach those who are hurting? When I feel victimized and pissed off, how do I rise above act from grace? Then, I come full circle on to the mat and feel grateful. I start saluting the sun, and the journey begins. How lucky am I to have this practice. How lucky am I to be surrounded by a wonderful lover, friends, family, mentor and students? I practice and say prayers to the sky above and the earth beneath. The more I connect to my spirit, the more I recognize the blossoming spirits in the people, animals, and nature around me. My practice is a prayer or offering to God and to the universe.

Yes, I said God! Oh shit!

Discussing Religion and Yoga in the same sentence is risky, RISKY, business. However, I am certainly not trying to light any butt hairs on fire. Religion is the most intimate, sacred journey! Let me keep my beliefs to myself! Furthermore, I propose that you can experience an enlightening experience in yoga regardless of your faith: Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Agnostic or Atheistic. When I lead classes…I explain physical poses and breathing. I don’t read sutras or discuss God, or hem and haw about spirituality. Yet, I do encourage students to learn about themselves. How does my body feel? What is going on in my mind in Warrior 2 (AHHHH!)? Does my heart talk to me? What do I believe in? Science? Gravity? Myself? Do, I have a spirit? Question what is important to you. Your practice is healing when you take inventory not just or your ailments but of your strengths, desires and the colors of your dreams. You put all the elements together and build yourself up proud and strong. Here, you discover your spirit. Eventually, you see the spirits in other people and within the world around you!

That is my definition of spirituality. Your personal faith and beliefs are sold separately!

Yoga is prayer, and meditiation is where you find the answers?

Your body and your mind are not your enemies. Your flesh and hippocampus harbor sensational secrets. Your spirit, your dazzling essence: another diamond dancing in sun-caressed, ocean wave.
“Everything you think is make believe. What you see with your eyes open or closed is real. Pay attention to what you see, hear and feel.”

-LARRY SCHULTZ-

Visualize The Success

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Under my teacher’s tutelage, I recently began practicing a couple of the Third Series arm balances. Additionally, I invested in a Mysore rug….a beautiful purple cloth to cover my Manduka mat. While aesthetically pleasing, the Mysore rug gifts an uncanny challenge to the practitioner. When I practice barebacked on my Manduka sticky mat: my hands and feet grip with ease. Plant my chapped winter soles and palms on mysore rug…I am a slip and slide sideshow!

While enlightenment is an express train that bypasses Randee-Town at all costs, I have begun to notice changes. Primarily, the practice has become more difficult because I can’t cheat. I struggled for a couple of weeks: planting brain sensors on my hands and feet…those phalanges just did not want to grip! The Prasarita Padatonasa series, once the garden party of the standing series…has become a struggle! Regardless, practice manifests muscle memory and patience. Weeks later, I find a new way to approach the series relying more on strength and bandhas and less on the convenience of a sticky mat.

Bandhas, Bandhas, Bandhas. Third series is all about the bandhas. Mula Band and Uddyana Bandha…when I activate the energy locks I try to picture an internal force protecting my vital organs…recalibrating my energetic rhythms so that I can be more aligned with the universal song. Strong ujjay breath is an excellent back-pocket/back of the throat/weapon. My mentor repeatedly reminds us to make our breath loud enough to drown out our thoughts. Naturally, I fall at the end of the functionally -neurotic -spectrum. Accordingly, when I practice I breathe enthusiastically! Unless, my boyfriend lies sleeping in the same room: in which case I attempt to breathe in a less disturbing manner. When he spends the night, I try not to practice nakrasana the next morning (Sorry K, I did it today!). Kyle calls Nakarasana the universal wake up call.

Strong breath, supple body, serene mind. Even at the wee hour of 7am, my brain is functioning at light speed. I follow the enticing rhythm of the breath. I visualize the way the breath spreads a warming energy down my throat and into my heart. Somehow, then the breath takes an anti-gravity—ascent…soaring up to my brain massaging away the thoughts. Every time I have a thought about anything, I question, is this impertinent to my immediate safety? If the reflection does not affect my immediate livelihood, then I turn my attention back to the breath. I do this constantly throughout my practice: especially during “easy” asanas like forward folds and difficult postures like every single pose in second series except for Parighasana. In the aftermath, I admittedly struggle to seek solace in savasana. Without the obscene orchestra of my breath…a menacing zoetrope of thoughts parades freely behind my closed eyes. Hours later after pranyama and the rush to get to work….I reflect on the silver strand connecting my thoughts: a bejeweled rope braided with tumultuous threads of anxiety wading in a ominous lake of unworthiness.

Visualize.

When you close your eyes what do you see? Usually, behind shut lids I see a grayish hue of muddled green. Eyes closed, the mind turns inwards. Fantasies, neurotic toxicities….who is the protagonist on channel you: your inner teacher or your guru? Should I discipline my mind to follow the narrow path? Or, should I give my brain permission to stretch and sing sinuously? Here, can I explore the ideas and colors hidden in my brain? Can I give my thoughts permission to reign freely? Or does my Laissez-faire approach encourage my anxious aspirations to ascend throne and rule my world?

Visualize. Can you visualize yourself succeeding?

The drishti or gaze is not a fashion accessory in the yoga practice. You keep your gaze focused, and your energy ascends to the trajectory of your sacred eyes. For example, in downward dog, I draw my -3.75 and -3.25 eyeballs towards my navel. Now, it easier for me to enlist my baddhas! I pull my belly to my spine as I exhale. As I exhale, I gently engage mula bandha: lifting through the pelvic floor to develop dimensionality in the practice.

Do you drive with you eyes closed?

Bending back into Kapotasana can be scary. Accordingly, you might crank your neck to see where you are going. Keeping the neck calm, and visualizing the descent takes a lot of faith. I bring my hands in prayer and visualize touching my wonderful ankles. Arms lift up, saluting earth and acknowledging my humility… I lean back into nothingness. My hands meet the ankles….or today just the earth. I recommit to my breath and bandhas….and move my hands and head into peak positioning. I enjoy the journey that I visualized. I thank the earth, the elements, and my body.

When I jump into bakasana in second series, I prepare myself. During my last exhale in Dog, I visualize my knees landing and staying on my upper arms. If it doesn’t happen, I try again. I don’t lose my breath. I don’t lose my temper.

Visualize in your practice. Keep your eyes on the prize on and off the mat. Visualize good relationships with your friends and family. Open your eyes and see the beauty outside your door: birds bursting with song…opalescent ocean waves crashing on soft sands. Forget-me-blue-skies everywhere in between our dark and light spaces.

When I leave the mat, the day is an unpaved parchment of possibilities. I have a choice to be bitchy, to be rude, or to be patient and kind. I have a choice to be present in my interactions, and to see the energy that creatures share with me. Or, I can stay in my brain exploring colors and silent symphonies…Russian roulette…will untamed mind take me to luminous lakes or surly seas?

“ Everything you think is make believe. What you see with your eyes open or closed is real. Pay attention to what you see, hear and feel.”

-Larry Schultz-

 

Keep your eyes on your prize.