“Ich denke tatsächlich mit der Feder, denn mein Kopf weiß oft nichts von dem, was meine Hand schreibt.”
“I really do think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what my hand is writing”
”I’ll play it first and tell you what it is afterwards.”
There is an honest urgency to presence: to encounter body, breath, the subtle ripples of movement and the gathering of sensation with ones’ own metaphors and within ones’ own skin.
The word “yoga” is largely irrelevant to the work we do. Used plainly, the value of the word “yoga” rests largely in its market share as a linguistic reduction of many different types of practice spanning across vast (numerous and different) religious, political, cultural, geographic, linguistic and historical lines. We’ve given the word common currency via physical form (asana) by citing a “tradition” that is specious at best and loading it with the self-affirming comfort of displaced pseudo-spiritual truisms. I urge you to explore and question: the work of Mark Singleton is a good start.
Pranayama testing 1930s (left), Yogic practices c. 1830 Tamil Nadu (right)
When we project historical narratives, external ethos, concepts, and forms on the experiential reality of body (which has its own ethos, narrative(s), etc) without first scouring, slicing and thoroughly investigating, we not only become slaves of false prophets, but limit the possibilities of somatic experience. We sacrifice the creativity of curious questioning and exploration and settle for the affirmation of imposed and juxtaposed form: we loose the pregnant pause of suspension — a nourishing anticipation — and mute the call of body’s innate intelligence.
continuity of neuro-diaphragmatic suspension (left) and inner diaphragmatic suspension (right)?
Class is a place for inspired guidance to explore the nature and quality of suspension—diaphragmatic and beyond! The poses, for better or worse, can be helpful signposts to inform this creative potential: no more, no less. Through poses and conscious movement we magnify sense and expand inner boundaries to form and inform (re-form and re-inform) relationships with nerves, muscles, bones, fascia, fluid and breath. Resolution comes with receptivity and release, which rests in the realm of experience, not declarative statements and poetically manueuvered sentiments.
Self-Secret Sacred Valley Diaphragm
In search of the illusive thaw and the hopeful promise of Spring,
As weather draws us inward and daylight wanes to wax I am drawn to the yogic motif of inner warmth…
“I withdrew yet farther into my shell, and endeavored to keep a bright fire both within my house and within my breast.”
Sun/ fire/light/ illumination assume a significance shared with the Vedic, Brahmanical, Buddhist (and Thoreauvian!) worlds sourcing this thing we call yoga:
“O Agni, accept this log which I offer to thee, blaze up brightly and send up they sacred smoke, touch the top most heavens with thy might and mix with the beams of the sun.”
“… The householder’s fire is the in-breath…the offertorial fire is the out breath…the link breath—the exhalation and the inhalation. The patron of the sacrifice, clearly, is the mind.”
- Prasna Upanishad
images: the Buddha with flames of tapas taken by author at the ancient ruins of Nalanda University (left); 10th century relief of Agni, Madhya Pradesh (right)
As I write, approaching the new year post solstice, the beeswax candle on my desk flickers to a non-denominational call for illumination and warmth. Agni or fire – be it a deity, an element, or underlying force central to inwardness – was archetypal from the Vedic hearth and offertorial pyre to the Upanideshic prana agni hotra (the fire within Thoreau’s breast). Agni offered the cosmos condensed — a means of engaging the macrocosm in the microcosm and vice versa.
“The fire common to all is the one within a person, the one through which the food he eats is digested. It is the crackling of that fire that a man hears when he presses his ears shut.”
“As vast as the space here around us is this space within the heart, and within it are contained both the earth and the sky, both fire and wind, both the sun and the moon, both lightening and stars.”
offering lamps, Bodh Gaya, India 2004
Recently, I spent a weekend with senior teacher Arthur Kilmurray, who characterized avidya or ignorance as “attachment to being small, ” and called on the above Upanideshic/global vision: “Align yourself with something outside yourself.” There is deep relevance to symbolic, metaphoric (and/or literal) ritual alignment (denominational or not, asana included!) that keeps us in relationship to the ever unfolding and dynamic exchange of inner and outer.
The Nomad Goat – sketched, carved, printed, and painted by friend and artist Carla Bartow - is an unintentional non-denominational homage to this global vision as the goat is the Vedic, Upanideshic and Buddhist symbol for agni. The Nomad Goat’s recent gallery appearance earned Carla the gig of poster, T-shirt and all things design for Ani Defranco and Righteous Babe records — a testament to the nomadic power of symbology!
In the wave of the post-Solstice/pre-New Year snowfall and un-fallen snow, I wish all of you alignment with the bounty of inward warmth, presence and peace.
prana = energy;
ayama = a compound word of vertical, horizontal circumferential action within your lungs. The breath which goes in should spread like a cloud, extending, taking different shape.
Dear Nomads of Yoga,Sending this immediately following a pranayama teacher training intensive, the images below of Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, taken years ago on a cross-country summer detour (yes with more hair!), nostalgically capture the sense and vision…
Matter unfolding as the Great Spiral imbibing in fluidity — adapting, manifesting, dissolving. Earthen rock carrying the signature of wind, of water.
Breath pneuma spirit
Breath – the movement of wind on water…
The bath of inhalation and exhalation, a perennial cadence entering and exiting infused with consciousness to inspire the movement of un-struck space(s).
The churning of a mountain is nothing but inhalation and exhalation. Like the mountain churning the ocean, the spine acts as a churning rod for breath in our body. When inhalation and exhalation take place, the spine sends energy flashing forwards, backwards, upwards and downwards…
Shifting, molding, opening. Action inspiring the fluidity of non-action and the simple suffusion of presence into our earth born bodies. In my own practice discovering lungs and breath filling the spaces co-opted by guitars, computers, highways… the mission of our practice resonates,
See the natural functionality of the human body as spiritual practice.
Hinging on spirals of waters of breaths of winds, earth bound summer to fall,
It is what you have.
Be earth now, and evensong.
Be the ground under that sky.
can account for clouds or, satisfactorily, for bodies.
There is no science for this, nor art either.
-Wendell Berry, 2010
Elongation and extension can only occur when the pulling and pushing has come to an end
The function of the spine is to elongate, and in this elongation its elasticity and youth…
-Vanda Scaravelli, 1991
Summer has a gap-like quality. Radiance sandwiched in-between seasonal winds, rains, snows… A cadence that afforded me a conscious exit into deeply wooded sacred geography (beyond tracks above, within hills below).
“Practice” can reek of work-a-day brick and mortar stoicism. The power of sacred geography is the possibility for grounding, softness and play. Be it a place, a pose, a syllable, an image, a person – whatever the medium, the vehicle, the inspiration – we are called to localize ourselves, our senses in a fundamental ordinariness, openness and receptivity. A timeless elasticity affording space for curiosity in this body, this mind, this life.
The coolness of muddy earth, dirty feet, the the mysticism of leaky tent, the formidable Berkshire tick and a mission to find the perfect prayer-flag worthy tree! The informality of practice stirs the depths of our human capacity to authentically enjoy and be present in this life.
Just as flaxen threads waft to and fro,
Impelled by every breath of wind,
So all I do will be achieved,
Controlled by the movements of a joyful heart.
-Shantideva, 8th century
The other night a former barista now biologist / drummer friend narrated his preparation of the perfect cappuccino: “it needs to breathe! it needs space!” Enjoy summer – the froth, the sweetness, the bite – and the ordinary magic in this world. Dinosaurs used to walk here! In that spirit, I’ll part with the incomparable wisdom mind of the late Kyabje Thinley Norbu Rinpoche:
Q: Rinpoche, would you like to be a yogi?
A: ‘Yes, I would like to be a yogi if I could realize the mandala of phenomena which is pure from the beginning… I would like to be a yogi if I could taste desireless exaltation in the self-secret unconditioned wisdom mind by uniting with the wisdom dakini…who dances with uncontrived dharmata wings in the theater of natural mind. Yet, I’m afraid I will discriminate and not see things with a pure mind… maybe I’d better try to stay in ordinary mind without trying to become a yogi and without expecting pure or impure phenomena.’
In quest of the Ordinary,
Concert season is in full bloom in Rochester. As a student of sound, yoga, the yoga of sound … I am tuning in! Last week I was fortunate enough to catch friends perform Steve Reich’s Drumming and Double Sextet at the Eastman. It was one of those moments Wittgenstein talks about, ‘when the eye sees something beautiful the hand wants to draw it.’ In this case, drum mallets pulsate in flight melding visually into the very forms they create! Click on the snapshot or the score below to see and hear for yourself.
There are many options for inviting yourself to be absorbed, captivated, moved and settled. “Yoga” can’t copyright or claim ownership. Maybe as buds become flowers and new leaves shade the sun’s reappearance (and disapperance in Rochester!), we should look to Whitman, Dickinson, Thoreau and all the great chroniclers of the ever co-emerging inner/outer world. Below are photos from my post-thesis (on Walden) pilgrimage to Concord/Walden Pond and signed letter from Walt Whitman above my fontanelle!
The yoga industrial complex will try to convince you to “flow” fueled by electrolyte ridden coconut water with matching towel, mat and hollow pseudo-spiritual truisms, but if there is no room to “savor the fragrance of a posture,” as Mr. Iyengar says, think twice or thrice!
Embodiment is not dependent on poses, perspiration or a lack thereof. Practice allows us to engender receptivity towards fundamental openness and basic sanity. So go out (or in!) and listen, see, feel and enjoy Spring’s call to the senses both inner and outer. Just don’t forget the studio — hamstrings are still hamstrings!
In the nomadness of drumming, strumming, digging, springing and yoking it all!