meditation chorus

Many of you have heard the four little miniature pinchers that live next door to the studio. When they get disturbed it is an incredible falsetto agitato chorus: “yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip, yip….” Then my neighbor’s calm adagio baritone solo pitches in: “Quiet down, be still, enough.” The dogs eventually settle down. And the world becomes quiet again.

I listened to this short opera on Monday afternoon as I meditated. I heard my own brain reflected in the constant high pitched chatter and the calm slow reassurance. "Ahhh," I thought," this is me." Each moment in my meditation I have the possibility of both voices awakening within me: agitation and stillness. I took a deep breath and returned to observing my own mind. I’ll keep cultivating the stillness. One breath at a time.

My dear neighbor Don Ungher died unexpectedly on May 23rd, 2008, less than a month after I originally posted this blog. I will miss his presence in the neighborhood. I will miss his stoic wisdom. I will miss hearing the dogs yip. Blessings Don and Geoffrey and family.


Yoga for Special Conditions

Dear Yogini: I have two medical conditions, Arnold Chiari Syndrome, and the associated Syringomyelia. What these have caused is a loss of sensory input from my peripheral nerves (can't feel much in my hands and feet) which affects my balance. And more importantly, syringomyelia has caused extreme scoliosis. I stand tilted extremely to the right from the waist up and walk slouched to the front and right. The crooked, unbalanced gait is causing damage to my left hip joint. I've tried yoga (with you, actually), but the poor balance and posture made it seem futile from the start.

Is there a level of yoga practice which can give me the benefit of limbered joints, better muscle tone, improved balance, decreased pain levels, etc.? I guess part of it is my "look good". Trying to practice in a room full of lithe young bodies makes me feel older and more physically broken than before I came to class!

Dear Friend:

I hadn’t heard of Arnold Chiari Syndrome before your letter. I did a little research and it piqued both my curiosity and my empathy. While my condition is nowhere as severe as yours, you might want to know that I too suffer from peripheral neuropathy related to spondylolisthesis. Yoga has been the best medicine ever. All of the side effects are good. Yoga keeps me active and happy in my body.

I believe that Yoga can give you the benefits that you seek: limbered joints, better muscle tone, improved balance and decreased pain. And you are correct, yoga won’t transform you into one of the lithe young bodies on the cover of yoga journal. That isn’t your path. Yoga can make experiencing life in the body you have a more pleasant journey. (See the next post for some research on the impact of yoga for improved balance, height and strength in seniors.)

It is important that you find a class and a teacher who resonate for you. You will want to look for gentle yoga, therapeutic yoga, or perhaps a class for seniors. In an appropriate yoga class the teacher will give modifications of the yoga poses and use props to make the yoga poses accessible to you and others. If you find the right class you’ll meet others who are also working with and through physical limitations. Having a sense of belonging helps all of us be motivated to practice regularly. Try different classes and different teachers until you find the class that fits your body, your temperament, and your life.

One of my favorite books of the last year is Waking, by Matthew Sanford. Matthew is a paraplegic and a yoga teacher. He describes how yoga reawakened awareness in his body after many years of disconnection. His sensation has not returned. His mobility has not returned. But his sense of prana, of life force, in his immobile body has returned. He is happier and at ease in the body that he does have. Each of us can find this. We can tap and sense our pranic bodies (prana maya kosha) and have live healthier from this awareness. Sensing the prana maya kosha may even be easier as we age and the rush of sensation accompanying youth dissipates. We can become aware of the slower and deeper rhythms of our bodies. We can find peace and joy in the body we have, in this moment.