6/3/09

Pointing at the earthworm in the palm of your hand: wake up!

The goal of yoga is to awaken. Awakening comes by many different paths and in many different flavors. The path may be long and toiled or sudden and unexpected. We might just open our eyes one morning and notice the intoxicating beauty of the earth and be struck into awakening. We might hear the song of birds or the screech of a raptor and know peace. We might take a deep breath of the perfume of the garden and be swept into ecstasy. We might hold an earth worm in the palm of our hand and know that we are one. Each moment is an opportunity to wake up.

Your awakening might be a bud beginning to make itself known or it might be a lightening bolt ready strike. There are many opportunities to be wake up. Yoga is an arrow pointing the way. Yoga gives us the tools to be awaken each moment.

Today's practice: Take a deep breath. Look around you. Feel your skin on your body. Notice any tension you are holding and invite it to melt. Let the melted tension flow down through your body and out through the soles of you feet. The earth will absorb everything you give it. Breath into your wounds and injuries: the metaphoric and the physical wounds, the wounds of your psyche and your body. Let your breath expel the thorns that your flesh is holding and melt the structures you have built to protect the thorns. Give the thorns of your flesh and all the pain you are holding to the earth. Make it an offering. Water the earth with your tears.

Now take an even deeper breath than the one you started with. Fill your body with space. Follow your exhalation to the tip tail of its ending and then receive another complete and full inhalation. Continue with deep, long and slow breath cycles. Make sound on your exhalations: sighs, growls, groans, moans whatever you need to increase your internal space, to expel any remaining thorns or toxins. Close you eyes as you do this. When the sounds subside enjoy the silence, let your breath slowly return to normal. When you open your eyes lift them off the computer screen and look around you. Take in the wonder of where you are and what you see.

Jump up and live again!

5/8/09

savasana

Earlier this week I had a couple hard hormonal days. My body hurt. I ached all over. And my soul hurt, my heart hurt. I felt useless. I wanted to crawl under the covers and not come out. Everything felt pointless. I thought I should just close shop and throw in the towel. Why did I bother anyhow? I identified with my failuresI could muster kindness out in the world and in the hours that I taught, but my family bore the brunt of my grumpy day.

Then I awoke on Thursday and the frump had passed as quickly as it had arrived. I took a deep sigh of relief. Relieved that my body felt better. Relieved that this is how I usually feel: hopeful, easy, and happy. Relieved that my body is healthy and functioning just the way it is supposed to.

I had the lovely realization that I could begin again. Each day when I wake up I get to create the day ahead of me. I didn’t have to carry the frump along any farther. I could set it aside, brush the crumbs off my shirt, and begin again. I could step into being the being that I enjoy being.

Savasana is corpse pose. It is the most important yoga pose. We end every practice with it. We give ourselves the opportunity to completely let go. We shed everything that we are and come to the deep rest of a corpse. We invite silence into our systems: our mind, our body, our spirit. We suspend doing. We suspend being. We rest as completely as we are able.

And then we return. The simple sound of a bell begins to call us back. We notice where we are again. We notice the delicious touch of the air on our skin and in our lungs. We listen to the sounds of the room around us. We take a deep breath. We expand the body in all directions. We recompose. We follow the desire of muscle and tendon and we begin to stretch and wiggle. We luxuriate in the movements that arise spontaneously.

We resurrect ourselves from Savasana. This is a moment of choice. Who do we want to be? How do we carry our yoga forward into our lives? How do we stay integrated in each moment? We make a choice and set the tone for what will come next. This is a powerful moment. We return to sitting and bow our heads and notice ourselves returning. We make a choice, set an intention, and say a prayer. Namaste.

5/4/09

Yogini's lunch

I don't usually post recipes ... but this was too delicious to keep quiet about:

In a large frying pan:
~ 2 T balsamic vinegar
~1 T concentrated sweet juice (I used pomegranate, but cherry or grape would work fine)
~1 T soy sauce
~1 t honey
~1 T coarse mustard

saute 1 stalk rhubarb cut into 1/2 inch pieces in above sauce
add one 'bunch' greens (I've used turnip and raab, but any hardy green would do)
add 1/2 bunch watercress
continue to saute until greens are wilted and rhubarb is soft.

Cut more spring raw vegies in bite size pieces: today I used snap peas and carrots and beets. Make a bed of this crunchy sweet stuff and then pour sauteed vegies on top
Add a protein of your choice: today I used turkey, yesterday good (local, no oil) canned tuna

Delicious!

4/30/09

Seated Yoga Break for Gardeners

A seated yoga break for gardeners. The standing variation of this sequence is included in the post below.

video

The Gardener's Yoga Sequence: Standing or Seated is:
Tadasana (Mountain Pose, stand or sit up tall, lifting from arches, pelvic floor, base of ribs and base of skull)
Chest expansion (lace your hands behind your back, lift them
away from your back and stretch open your chest)
Samasthithi (stand or sit tall with arms reaching for the sky, fingers
interlaced and palms facing up)
Chandrasana (crescent pose, from Samasthitihi arch slowly from side
to side and stretch open the sides of your waist and hips)
Parsva Chandrasana (same pose but reach forward and to the
side to stretch into your lower back and your back ribs)
Virabdhrasana (warrior pose, lunge with the back foot turned out and heal down,
interlace your fingers and lift your arms behind your back and then overhead)
Pavritta Virabdhrasana (same pose, but revolved and twisting the chest to face over the front leg)
Parsva Virabdhrasana (warrior 2, with back hand resting on your thigh and front arm reaching for the sky)
Wide legged Utkatasana (stand with feet wide and turned out, come to a
half squat, rest your hands on your knees)
Cat/Cow in wide legged Utkatasana (same pose but
begin to tilt your pelvis, alternately arching your spine toward the sky and toward the earth)

Yoga for Gardeners

May: The gardens in Corvallis are in full GROW mode. Tulips, dogwood, redbud, cherry trees, and lilac are all blooming in the studio garden. The weeds are growing faster than I can keep up. Mulch needs to be spread. The amazing miracle of spring is at hand.

And with all the garden work pending, people start coming to the studio with common gardener's aches and pains: low back, knees, ankles, wrists, shoulders .... lots of body parts getting a different kind of work out than they are accustomed to.

My advise: take a short walk before you get down in the dirt. Limber up your muscles. Then watch the clock, get up out of the dirt and stretch every 30 to 45 minutes. Take another short walk around your garden. Smell the flowers, enjoy the fruit of your labors. Then settle back into the gardening at hand.

Here are a couple short yoga break sequences for gardeners. Improvise around these stretches the next time your out in the garden. The exact sequence is not so important, let your body move through and around these ranges of motion.

A yoga break for gardeners:


video

4/21/09

Triangle, Side Angle, Half Moon, Unbound and Bound

This video will take you through trikonasana (triangle pose), parsvokonasana (side angle pose) and ardha chandrasana (half moon). A challenging sequence with binding is demonstrated. Enjoy!

video

4/17/09

Aiming for Paradise

“By aiming for paradise, we lose sight of the earth.” (Onfray) Aim for the earth and you will find paradise. (Wells)

Michel Onfray in his critic of monotheism argues that the fixation with a paradisiacal afterlife obstructs us from living fully in this life. He points to all the deliciousness that we miss in the moment by pursuing rewards in the hereafter. The focus on cultivating a place in heaven has been concomitant with neglect and abuse of our home on earth.

If we turn it around and we embrace the earth, we find paradise right here: in the scent of the air, in the relationships at hand, in the flowers blooming in our gardens, in the touch of a lover’s hand or the sound of a child’s voice. Each delicious drop of life on earth is paradise. Savor it.

At our Monday Women’s Authentic Movement group we spent time ‘exploring’ a place that we know. We closed our eyes and conjured that place in our minds. Then we moved in that place, exploring textures and smells and it’s presence. Sally told us about her journey. She explored her driveway and found richness she had forgotten existed: from the plants to the ground to the structure. When we stop and take in the details of a small known place, we can find richness greater than the most romantic getaway.

I invite you step into the place where you are right now. Appreciate the details of your life in this instant. Notice the miracles you have come to take for granted. This is paradise.

This moment is the only one that is guaranteed. You’ve got it now. Embrace it. Stop living for another paradise. Stop living for the time when …. Live now. That is also yoga, the moment of living in the moment. Ram Das said it clearly: Be Here Now.

4/10/09

Dancing Wild Oregon: Road 6021

This video is part of an ongoing project dancing in wild spaces of Oregon. This particular cut scene was done just off Road 6021 in the McDonald Forest outside of Corvallis. The sound overlay in the second half is a bit of Japanese Fireworks posted by Capuchin on freesound.org.


video

4/8/09

Why you need to stretch.

My friend Kirstin Schumacher (structural integrationist extraordinaire) sent me this video. It is a lovely short clip explaining why we all need to stretch every single day. The video includes a bit of dissection, so if your squeamish be forewarned.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_FtSP-tkSug

3/28/09

Final Vacation Lesson: Thoughts about God

Last night I was dancing. I love dancing. I love dropping into the truth of the body in movement. It is a celebration of the physical-ness of being: moving limbs, heart beating, internal rhythms and the simple joy of having a body. In its grossest sense, the joy of living in a body is the best face of God that I know.

Then the DJ spun a slow song. The song was an appeal to God to end war, violence and torture. I found my body slowing down and deepening into a dance of despair. The lyrics were a desperate appeal for sanity in an insane world. The artist begs God to change things. I have made the same plea, many times in my life. Beginning when I was very young. God has never answered this plea. I have come to believe that there is no one there to answer the plea.

My personal story: I grew up in an alcoholic home with a father whose behavior was a form of ‘gentle sadism.’ Yes, its and oxymoron, but it’s best descriptor I can manage. He liked to pinch, poke, tickle, and tease to the point that he injured us both mentally and physically. He never tied me up, but he did pin me down and he did drop me from a balcony. It was all done in the name of ‘fun.’ Not our fun but his. Thus I call it sadism.

My family was Catholic and so I was sent to Saturday Catechism classes. We only lived a block from the San Gabriel Mission. Each Saturday morning I’d walk there for a lesson on the Bible, Catholicism and general religious indoctrination. The first few years of Catechism were a preparation for First Communion (at age 7 or 8) and that was followed by preparation for Confirmation in middle school. The teachers were most often Nuns, occasionally a Priest would come to give a guest lecture and occasionally a lay volunteer would teach.

They taught us to pray. Much of praying consisted of repeating memorized prayers, most commonly ‘Our Father’ and “Hail Mary.’ We were also taught to pray to be relieved of our sins. We were taught to ask God to solve our problems. I prayed for my Dad to stop drinking and stop hurting us. I prayed for a long time, long in the mind of a 7 year old, and nothing changed. I prayed over and over again asking God to stop my father from hurting my Mother and me.

Needless to say, Dad didn’t stop. His abuse continued for the rest of his life. Even when he sobered up and stopped drinking, he was abusive in that ‘gentle sadist’ fashion of his. And then he died, at age 54, and left this odd shaped hole in all of our lives.

So at the tender young age of 6 or 7 I stopped believing in God, or at least the God they were teaching us about in Catechism. I considered the evidence and determined that there either wasn’t a God or that if there was a God he had little to do with me. I was also taught that one had to go through the steps, regardless of what one believed. You had to pretend to believe whether you actually believed or not. So, I continued with Catechism.

In preparation for First Communion we were instructed in how to take our first Confession. Along the north wall of the Mission there were small rooms with two doors. The Priest would enter through one door and sit behind a screen. We would wait our turn in line and then enter through the other door and take a sit. Then you would repeat the following a script: “Bless me father for I have sinned, it has been x weeks since I have been to confession….” you listed your sins in a particular order. We were taught just what behaviors were sins and we were told what to confess. I remember that in my first confession I couldn’t think of any sins, so I made them up. I suppose that was a sin itself: sin forgery to please the powers that be. But remember, we were taught to pretend to believe. The entire affair was an act that had to be played out to keep the adults happy.

The Priest would assign us prayers as penance, for example: “say 10 Hail Mary’s and 4 Our Fathers.” We’d go back to the pew and ti kneel to say the prayers. If you were really contrite you might kneel right in front of the altar and weep as you prayed. They said that the Priest talked directly to God. We’d confess, the Priest would relay the message to God, God would tell the Priest what we needed to do to make God happy again, then the Priest would tell us, if we said our prayers with the appropriate attitude and we’d be ‘Good to Go” straight to Heaven. Just in case we got run over by a car on the way home from communion, we knew we were all set.

We must have been taught not to sin, but I don’t remember that part. Sin happened. The church helped you out by making everything all right with God again, through confession and communion. If you hadn’t confessed and went to church with ‘sins on your soul’ then you had to sit in the pew through communion. Everyone would know you had sinned. Priests were the necessary middle man between us and God. As mere lay people we didn’t have direct access to God. And like any good middle man, the church collected tolls along the way.

The results of all this effort, prayer, confession, communion, made no change in the reality of my life. My parents didn’t change. My Dad continued to drink and hurt us. My Mom didn’t protect us. The pain didn’t stop. I stopped believing in the church. Occasionally a friend and I would go to Sunday Mass, but it was an action fueled by a desire for entertainment rather than an action of faith or belief. In fact, the more time I spent around the church the more cynical I became and the less I believed. For whenever I put the teachings to the test, they failed the test. After I was confirmed I stopped to going to church all together. I classified myself as agnostic. I didn’t believe, but I wasn’t strong enough to call myself an atheist either.

Now I’m in mid-life. I’ve continued to try and test a variety of churches and spiritual teachings. But I have yet to find a God in a church that I can believe in. I do not believe there is an omnipotent being who is causal in the world. I don’t believe in an outside actor who has a stake in the outcome of the human experiment. I don’t believe any religion has the answer to the question of ‘why are we here.’ I don’t believe in being saved. I don’t believe in Heaven or Hell or a divine reward or punishment for our actions during this life. If I’m wrong, I don’t want to spend an eternity in Heaven with a God who would be as unjust and sadistic as he must be to allow the pain and suffering we observe on earth. Any omnipotent and all-powerful being who would allow war, torture, and starvation is more sadistic than my father was and is not worthy of my worship.

I do believe that we as humans, simple humans, are capable of better than this.

Coming into my 30s I had to look at my own behaviors, my own drinking and craziness. I saw too much of my father when I looked in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw. I went to a plethora of other 12 step meetings looking for a solution to my craziness. I went to therapy. I learned to meditate and pray and say affirmations.

My prayers looked different than those of my childhood. I began to pray for changes in myself. I used prayer to change my thinking. I literally began to choose different thoughts. I learned to say a gratitude list first thing every morning. Before I got out of bed I was to list 20 things that I was grateful for, the simpler the better: I’m grateful for a warm bed, a dry home, an loving husband, food in my refrigerator, a job, a car, a bicycle, the sun, the mountains… This prayer worked. This prayer works because the mind is plastic and malleable. The mind is transformed by the work that it does. If we give the mind positive work, if we reinforce the positive neural pathways, the mind physically changes. I could reprogram myself out of my alcoholic home thinking and into a healthier way of being.

Twelve step programs teach that it doesn’t matter who or what you pray too, it matters that you pray. You can pray to a door knob if you like. Prayers to a door know will affect change.. They teach that you can design any God you like. And this is brilliant. The face of God does not matter I would say because God with a face does not exist. It is the action of praying that matters, not the being that you pray too. Prayer is a physical process that shapes the brain, just like exercise shapes the body.

Meditation, affirmation and prayer are three forms of brain exercise. They each work in slightly different ways to remold the pathways of the brain. We literally change our thinking and the physical network of our minds. We become better happier people because we choose to do the brain work that makes us better happier people.

We could redefine God so that God becomes the action of change, as the process theologians have done. We can redefine God so that God is the feeling and sensation, the ecstasy, that results from this action of change, as the Tantrists have done. But I personally don’t find that necessary. For me, the word God implies an externality rather than an internality. And I believe the source of change comes from within individual humans. It is the actions of humans that will change the world for good. Each of us makes a difference in the worlds by our actions. In my worldview the best definition would be for each of us to become God: each of us then taking responsibility for the good of the world through our actions. We can repeat the mantra “Hamsah” “I am that” to affirm out own divinity, our own responsibility.

We are divine and what we do matters. How we act and what we think matters. In my early Catechism, they taught that bad thoughts were as bad as bad deeds. We can choose our thoughts, we can shape our world, both the personal and the global world, through our thoughts and our actions. So choose wisely. You have the power to change the world. So I pray to you as I once prayed to God: Stop the violence, stop the torture, stop the pain.

Change your mind and make a difference with your actions.

3/24/09

Vacation Lesson Number 4: You are the teacher.

The Buddha sat underneath the Boddhi Tree to reach enlightenment. Mohammed sat in a cave in the desert. Jesus went into the desert for 40 days, and often left his followers to pray. Moses climbed a mountain listened to a burning bush.

All of these teachers spent time alone in nature. Enlightenment came when they left society. They sought silence. They sought solitude. They fasted. They listened. They listened to the voices that came to them in silence.

We are bombarded with noise and distraction. Our lives are filled with voices and images from every direction, all at once. Time and space are distorted and transcended as we juggle our pasts and future on the internet. When we are exhausted we turn on the tv and listen to a packaged refrain. When was your last silent moment? When did you last listen to the quiet of your mind.

If we listen to the media and advertising chorus around us, we are told to expect fulfillment through the next purchase. Enlightenment is belittled and obsolete. Enlightenment has been replaced with gratuitous satisfaction. The lives of the rich and famous are the lives to strive for. The American dream is no longer a home and a chicken in every pot, but rather a McMansion with a Hummer in every garage. Look where that dream has brought us. We are sitting on the edge of calamity. The financial system has fallen off its precarious wall. All the king’s horses and all the kings men can’t put it back together again. We need something new in its place.

Don’t sign up for a church or for the next guru to cross your path. Too many churches are supporters of the status quo, apologists for ‘King.’ Even if the ‘King’ today is capitalism and corporate America. No guru has your answers. You won’t find the answers in any book, neither the good book, the old book or the big book. The answer isn’t written on any wall.

Turn off the TV. Head outside for a few hours. Go someplace where you can feel fresh air on your skin and hear the sound of wind and birds. Go outside and observe the world. Find a place to sit still and listen. Feel the rocks beneath your feet or beneath your butt. Sit on the earth. Get dirty. Sweat.

Repeat often, until your mind starts to clear of the cultural fog. When everything else gets out of the way, when the cultural milieu is silent, what is left? What do you love? What is important to you? What do you want when you stop wanting what they tell you to want? If you wipe away the cultural fog, your thoughts will be as profound as those of the Buddha, Jesus or Mohammed. Listen to what arises from deep inside you. You are the teacher. You are the prophet. You are the healer.

3/23/09

Vacation Lesson Number 3: Stop going somewhere

This morning Allee (the dog) and I set out to hike Dimple Hill. It is a good strenuous hike. Starting at the top of 29th Street, it is about 7 ½ miles round trip with a 1400 feet elevation gain. It took me just over 2 hours. I stopped to have a snack and try to do some video taping at the top of the hill. It started to snow while I was up there and I wasn’t dressed warmly enough. My fingers soon got too cold to operate the camera so I packed up and jogged lightly downhill until I warmed up again. My muscles are pleasantly sore now. My fingers are still a little uncoordinated. It feels good to be able to push my body. I am grateful for this ability to move. I am grateful for my health.

I watched my mind while I hiked. Hiking alone is one of the best times for observing my mind at work. My mind rarely slows down. I am blessed/cursed with an active verbal center and a quick processing left-brain. My mind quickly wraps itself around problems to seek solutions. When idlem, my mind begins to dither about planning the future, coming up with new ideas, and writing text for later (like this). Because of the arrival of Facebook in my life, my mind has been invited back to ponder friends from years and years ago. I find myself wondering if I should apologize for my adolescent behaviors or just let those sleeping dogs lie (like Allee is doing right now.)

Meditation is largely a process of watching the mind. Becoming still enough, undistracted enough, that you observe your own tendencies. Where does your mind go when you are still and quiet? What do you spontaneously think about? Rarely does our mind stay in the present moment. That is the next invitation of meditation: stay in the present moment: stop going somewhere else. You don’t need to sit cross legged on a pillow to meditate. You can meditate anywhere. Silence is helpful. Finding the place or activity that lets you watch your mind is very powerful.

I love being in the present moment in the woods. I love feeling the earth on the soles of my feet. Noticing the chill of the air on my skin. Listening to the sound of the wind moving through the trees, the crick and gaw as the trees sway, the babbling and cawing of birds, and the sound of water flowing downhill. I love feeling the depth of my breath, the beating of my heart, and the pump of my muscles. I love looking at the forest itself, the trees are still bare so that slits of blue grey sky show through; the ferns, moss and lichen lush and rich. And if I slow down and watch closely I see birds and small animals moving through the brush. I begin to notice the details of the forest landscape. It is awe-some.

And all of that observation might last for a minute or two before my mind starts planning again: What will be my next hike? How great a shape I would be in if I did this everyday? How can I arrange my life to hike more? I want to start that wilderness dance group… how will I make that happen? I brought the camera… what will I say for it? Do I want to tape a yoga practice or a teaching monologue.

Oh yeah, I’m on a hike: I bring my mind back to the moment. I take a deep breath and I return to the sensations of being a body in the woods. I enjoy a few minutes being right here, right now before my mind races off again. But in those few minutes there is such bliss, such joy, such awe and such ease. Those are the moments when I know true wealth: the wealth of simply being. I don’t need much in my life. A warm dry place to sleep, a decent pair of shoes, a good meal and good relationships are enough to make me feel wealthy. I am blessed to have those needs fully met. Everything else is a distraction.

Lesson of the day: Stop Going Somewhere. The joy is right here, right now. You have all the wealth you need.

3/20/09

Vacation Lesson Number 2: Your job is to want less, when you want less you have more.

This wasn’t a dream lesson, it was a phrase that spoke itself to me from the trees and the hillsides and the bluebirds on my walk this morning. I think many people would call these voices that I hear the voice of God. But it doesn’t sound like anyone else’s voice to me. The words come from my mind, from the people around me, from responding to the media and the global buzz, from the books I read, my history, our history and our culture. I imagine that Mohammad and Jesus heard a similar voice. I imagine that you do too, if you listen.

Lesson 2, part 1: Your job is to want less. When I want more my life revolves around acquiring what I want. I become focused on making money so I can purchase the things I want. I accumulate stuff. I judge my success relative to what other people have. So, my job is to want less. My job is to notice when my mind is focused on wanting stuff, wanting things I do not have. When I notice I am in ‘wanting mode’ I can choose to sort circuit that. There are certainly things that I need. I need to go to the grocery store this afternoon and pick up bread and milk. I need to quench my thirst, a glass of water will take care of that need. And that is all I truly need at the moment. The list of ‘wants’ might be large: new shoes, clean the car, chocolate. My job is to want less: a miracle happens and I am free.

I take a walk in the woods instead of going shopping. The mantra presents itself quietly in my mind at first: your job is to want less, when you want less you will have more. I begin to repeat the mantra. A deep freedom arises.

Lesson 2, part 2: I open myself up to seeing what I already have. A beautiful place to live. I walk on the paths at Bald Hill and watch the first bluebirds of the season flurry from the fence line to the still leafless oak tree. The chatter like crazy as they return home and prepare to roost. I stop to look at a small brown newt in the middle of the path. They like to sunbathe on these still coolish spring mornings. I hike deeper into the woods. A pair of nesting crows is disturbed by my dog Allee’s and my presence. The crows start to chatter a storm at us and I become quiet and listen to the great symphony of the forest. I restrain Allee from chasing a deer. We find a quiet off shoot of the path and set my pack down and do some yoga. Simple poses using downed trees as props. I breath deep and sit still for a few minutes then return to the path and my mantra. As we walk down the hill a Pileated Woodpecker flies right in front of us and lands on a tree. My body feels strong and healthy so I jog the rest of the way back to the car. This is wealth and abundance. My job is to want less, when I want less I have more.

3/19/09

Vacation Lesson Number 1: You have everything you need.

I awoke from a dream on Tuesday morning. I was teaching meditation to a group of martial artists. I was teaching the following mantra: you have all that you need. All wealth and contentment are yours.

You are the martial artist. You are being given a task, you are being presented with a battle in your life time. How will you step up to the challenges that are confronting you right now. Will you surrender to the Gods of Greed. Will you buy into the fear that is permeating our global psychological environment? If we surrender to the fear, we lose. If we surrender to the notion that money is wealth, we lose. If we surrender to the idea that status quo is the only ways our culture can survive, we lose. We have a battle before us, a battle of minds and wealth. The battle is being waged within us as surely as it is being waged without.

The first mantra of the battle: You have everything you need. Look around at your life. If you are reading this and live in the modern world the chances are you have everything you need. Did you sleep in a dry place last night? Do you have food to eat today? Do you have basic transportation (walking is basic transportation)? Do you have people in your life? If these needs are met, you have what you need. My guess is that you have well beyond this basic fare. And so my first invocation, the first tool of the battle, is to daily assess that you have everything you need. Be grateful every day that your basic needs are met: count them. It is here that you will find your wealth and contentment.

Look for the riches in your life as it is. The global culture (as writ on newsstands, business pages and check-out counter magazines) tells us that riches are measured in dollars and in goods consumed. But that is a poor measure of wealth. Look at those pages again: I see no evidence at the checkstand to convince me that more money leads to more happiness. In fact, it looks like just the opposite.

So, lesson number one: You have everything you need. Repeat those words to yourself, over and over again. Tell each cell in your body this truth. Rewire your brain so that it remembers: You have everything you need. Begin to notice how your body changes as it absorbs this information. Let the physical experience of fear drain away. There is a physical sensation to freedom that will replace the fear. More breath, more space in the body. Practice this lesson over and over again. When you feel the constriction of fear returning to your body, repeat the words again: You have everything you need.

3/16/09

yoga practice: shoulders and neck part 4

This is the final section of the yoga practice for shoulders and neck. This section includes anjanyasana (lunge) and setu bandhasana (bridge). If you want to begin at the beginning, scroll down to the first post and then click them in order. Let me know how it goes,


video

yoga practice: shoulders and neck part 3

This is section three: vashistasana (side plank) enjoy


video

3/15/09

yoga practice: shoulders and neck part 2

The warm up section of the practice starts in the previous post. This is the second section, with sun salutes, tree pose, hands and knees swimming. I'll get the third section up soon.

video

3/13/09

a yoga practice for shoulders and neck

Here is the latest video. I'm still working on the process, so its not 'perfect'. I appreciate comments on how to keep improving these. I tried to post a full 30 minute sequence, but wasn't able to load it. So now I'm trying to cut it in pieces. This is neck and shoulders part 1: warms ups and stretches.

As with any yoga practice, it is exercise and there are always inherent risks with exercise. Check with your doctor first if that is appropriate. But most importantly, pay attention. Stretching sensations ease with time. If pain increases while you are in a posture, or when you repeat, back off. Give yourself some time and space to ease into the work . And come to a yoga class, seek the advice of a teacher if you find this confusing.

This is the first 8 minutes of a 30 minutes guided practice. Get out your mat, a blanket and a strap. Enjoy!

Lisa




video

2/28/09

Forward Bends from Standing: Pilates Roll Down, Uttanasana, Pandangustasana, and PadaHastasana.

We do a lot of forward bends in yoga. They are great for our bodies. Done well they stretch the entire back surface of the body, from the souls of the feet, through the back of the calves, knees, and thighs, across the hips, up the spine and back of the neck, connecting all the way through the fascia over the head to the ridge of the brows (thank you Thomas Myers Anatomy Trains).

When we stretch the back of the body the nerves themselves get stretched. Within a reasonable tolerance, nerves like being stretched. Even when there is some pull in the muscles and fascia, there is a pleasure sensation in forward bends. They all calm us, help us sleep, and help us deal with stress.

. video

Forward bends are also risky. More people injure themselves in forward bends than in back bends . If the intervertebral disks are compromised, too much pressure on the back of the disk can cause further disk damage and result in the disk pushing onto the nerve roots and causing pain and sciatica. Additionally, when the spine is cantilevered forward of the body, the lumbar spine (low back) is working at maximum capacity. If the muscles are not strong enough to support the weight of the upper body you risk injury with a flat back (extended spine, number 2 in the video) forward bend. When your abdominal muscles are engaged, they help in the work of carrying the upper body's weight and the risk of injury is greatly lessened. If you think you have weak abs and back muscles, stick with the Pilates Roll Down (number 1 in the video) until you feel yourself gaining some strength in these muscles.

To support forward bends, continuously engage your deep abdominal and pelvic floor muscles. You can find this work with the following exercises: Place a hand on your belly and feel the softness there. Breath in and out of your stomach. As you exhale you will feel the abdomen hollow. This is transverse abdominus engaging. Lift the belly even further back and hold it there while you breath into your rib cage now. This move engages both the tranverse abdominus and the oblique abdominal muscles. Just this breathing move done every day (3 minutes of conscious engagement about 3 times each day) will begin to improve your ab strength. Keep this engagement throughout your forward bends, and engage even more intently when you return to standing.

You also want to engage your pelvic floor to help support the lumbar spine. Pelvic floor muscles span the bottom of the pelvis in a diamond shape between the pubic bone, tail bone and two sitting bones. The muscles engage when you narrow that diamond and lift it gently toward your center. If this is hard to find, try stopping and the flow of urine the next time you use the toilet. They are the same muscles groups. Keep them lifted throughout the exercises.

If your hamstrings and the fascial tissue in the back of the legs and hips is tight, do your forward bends with your knees bent. After you fold forward with bent knees you can slowly begin to work the back of the knees open and invite more length into that region of the body. Be patient. With patient attention the hamstrings will lengthen over many months or years, not weeks.

Finally, when you add the bow of the head toward your sternum you complete the stretch of the back surface of the body and the spinal cord. Rest in your forward bend for a few breaths, or even 2 to 5 minutes, as your body can tolerate. Longer resting in a safe position (perhaps 80% of your range of motion with abdominal and pelvic floor muscles engaged) will result in gradual changes in the body.

Namaste,
Lisa

p.s. the great music is by my friend Sid Rosen. It is from the CD "Not Alone." You can get copies of the CD through cdbaby.com, Gracewinds Music, or Grass Roots Bookstore.

2/17/09

a cellular meditation

You are made up of trillions of cells. The number I learned was 73 trillion, and it is a close enough number. Maybe a few trillion more, maybe a few trillion less. You are trillions of tiny cells. You are trillions of collaborations occurring each moment.

Each cell is individual. Each cell consumes energy and produces waste. Each cell respirates: inspiring and expiring. Each cell has a job, a task, and a purpose. Each cell communicates, interacts, and does its part. I believe that each cell has its own sentience, its own awareness, its own memory, and its own emotions. You are a colonial organism, a great collaboration of 73 trillion cells.

You are one being. You have a beginning and an end. You can look down and see the physical extent of your body. You can close your eyes and feel the physical extent of you body. This body is you. As far as any truly knows, this body is your only chance at existence. There is no guarantee of any existence beyond this unique opporutunity.

The perception of the self as a solitary being is an illusion. Your very existence is dependent upon the grand collaboration of the trillions of cells that make up your body. The experience of the self as a unique solitary being is an experience of unity, an experience of the many being one.

Each of us on the planet are part of the greater whole as well. Interacting, existing, respirating, consuming, producing, living and dying. Not one of us can exist outside of the earth community. We are but a cell in the intricate existence of the planet.

You are unique. You are part of the whole. This is true. Each of us must come to understand this dichotomy. We are unique and we are one. Only when we can come to terms with our own split personality, only when we can embrace our place in the whole, only when we can take full responsibility for our part in the whole, will we be able to responsibly live out our part in the whole.

In the current global millieu, humanity is living like a cancer. We are consuming way more than our share of the resources. We are committed to growth even when such unabated growth will eventually kill off the organism. We are contriving our own death in our pursuit of growth. We can change this, but each of us must look hard at our place in the whole. We must experience our own existence: individual, collaboration and unity.

2/13/09

Chapter 6: The Thick and the Thin

This is an ongoing story about my life and my body and yoga. I began posting the story on Jan 24, 2009. Scroll back to that date if you want to begin at the beginning. Otherwise, just jump in.

I like to go through the check out lines at the grocery store. I like talking with the clerk and the odd small talk that I have with other people in the check out lines. I like semi-anonymous conversations and the chance to interact with cranky babies and fidgety toddlers. I also like to read the tabloid headlines. I rarely buy them, but this week I bought People Magazine. The cover photo is of beautiful blonde woman, busty, soft bodied with a big smile. The headline reads: “Jessica Simpson weight debate. She’s proud of her body! Stop calling her fat. Inside the star’s bold choice to lead a real life.” The other tabloids on display presented the debate in short head lines. Some mags simply called her fat. Other’s critiqued her clothing choices. Some reported her retorts. The magazines that if you are a famous woman in America you lose the right to have a body larger than a size 0. If you are larger than a 0 you are fair game for sacrifice at the altar of American pop culture. The sacrificial altar is the grocery check out line.

The words on the magazine covers strike me hard. A personal assault that mimics my own internal dialogue: “You are fat.” “I’m proud of my body.” “You look fat in those clothes.” “I love my thighs.” “You are aging and droopy.” “I feel strong and vibrant.” I practice the positive retort. I recite mantras, affirmations, and prayers. I believe in the power of positive thinking. But the inner critique has not been silenced. The inner critique does not need reinforcement and thrives no matter how much I ignore her. She carries on in spite of my trying to listen to her with love and affirm her presence. I would love to give her a quick burial. She has longevity DNA.

I have been on too many diets: Pritikin, the grapefruit diet, vegetarian, fasting (aka short term starvation), raw foods, meat and vegetables only, ice cream only, and many more. Some of the diets were clearly unhealthy and focused solely on rapid weight loss. Some diets carry threads of righteousness and morality. My wise mind knows that diets don’t work. My inner anorexic is ever hopeful.

I avoid placing value words on my diet. I avoid labeling myself good or bad based on what I have been eating. My value is not dependent upon what I eat or how much I weigh. And yet one voice inside me still believes that life would be perfect if I was only 10 pounds thinner. Another part of me believes that a chocolate bar can cure any wounds of the heart, mind or body. I don't want to die still trying to lose "those last 10 pounds."

My body feels good when I make healthy food choices and balance my life with adequate exercise. At 50 years old I feel best if I eat very little wheat or dairy, as much locally grown produce and meat as possible, and a few sweets. I eat chocolate. I occasionally overeat. I weigh myself infrequently. My weight goes up and down by about 5 pounds. When I am 5 pounds heavier I feel beastly and fat. When I am 5 pounds lighter I feel self righteous and 'good.' All of this judging is happening in my own mind. And either end of the spectrum is a dangerous place for my mind.

The weight and food battle feels hard wired into my head. I have brief periods of immunity. I am more vulnerable to the battle when my mental defenses are down and when I spend time with my family or in Los Angeles. I start noticing things about myself in LA that I don’t see when I am at home in Corvallis. If I am feeling insecure about my work or my family the battle might rage as well. And there is something about the winter holidays, no matter where I spend them, that can instigate the battle.

And I loathe and judge the battle itself. I don't want to have this battle. I want to rise above it. I want to be better than it. I try hard not to talk about it. I avoid people whose conversation revolves around their weight. And then I judge myself for judging. Argh.

I am coming to accept and appreciate that I am of more than one mind. I don’t have a split personality. But within this mind of mine live conflicting thoughts. Eat. Don’t eat. Be thin. Be who you are. I have to work to find the center between the extremes in my own mind. Yoga helps me find the center. Yoga helps me to observe the thoughts. I don’t have to be my thoughts. I can be this person who exists with many thoughts, many moments, many bodies.

2/10/09

a meditation

Lie on your back on the floor
Get comfortable
Close your eyes
Rest quietly

Tune into the sensations, the presence, of your body.
Notice the awareness of your form.
Notice the places that feel tense, tight, painful.
Notice the rest of you.
Invite youself to shift your position, to release tightness, to find ease, to reduce pain.
Continue to turn your attention to the sensory collage of the body.

Listen to the internal sound of your breath.
Listen to the internal sounds of having a body.
Open up your listening to the sounds in the room around you.
Without attachment or aversion, listen.
Open your listening to the sounds in the world outside the room.
Without attachment or aversion, simply listen.
Imagine you can extend your hearing far away.
Listen to the distant roar of the ocean.
Listen to the wind blowing across mountains, over plains.

Return your awareness to your body. Into your form. Into it's sounds. Into it's sensations.

As you are able, invite the exterior awareness to overlay the interior awareness. Simply. No forcing, no doing, just being in this moment of sensation.

Rest.

2/4/09

Chapter 5: Tenure Denial and Body Affirmed

This is an ongoing story about my back and my body and yoga. I began posting the story on Jan 24, 2009. Scroll back to that date if you want to begin at the beginning. Otherwise, just jump in.

So where am I? A year or so post surgery. We’re still living in Nashville. Summer, my younger son, is just a couple years old. I’m struggling. My tenure case came up for review in the 1998-1999 academic year, just a year and a half post-surgery. I wasn’t the best candidate, but I wasn’t the worst. When I compared myself with my Vanderbilt colleagues I felt more than adequate to the job. I had worked hard and put together a strong portfolio. The pile of my publications measured more than a foot thick. But the thickness of the pile was not what the Dean was judging by. He had an additional agenda. He needed to cut the size of faculty by at least 10%. Since he couldn’t fire tenured faculty it meant a brutal year for those of us coming up for tenure review.

The process of denying tenure means they have to prove that you aren’t good enough. I heard rumors through the grapevine that the Dean set the tenure bar as "tenurable at Harvard" even though I was in a backwater department with few resources at a second tier university. It sounded devastating. I heard nothing directly from the Dean up until the day before the University Board meeting where the final stamps of approval were given. Although the Dean had made the decision to deny me tenure months before, he held onto my paperwork until the very last minute. I don’t remember who told me that I had been turned down, fired in any other business. It was probably my department chair, a rather ineffective and imemorable man. The news put me into a shock. I do remember sitting outside on a bench with Jay (my husband), alternately crying and being stunned. It was an devastating ego blow. I was lost. My career had been my primary definition of myself. The rug had been pulled from beneath me.

My contract with the university required them to pay me salary for the following academic year. So I stuck around and did as little work as possible. I learned why corporations give golden parachutes and buy people out of contracts: my presence in the Geology department was bad for everyone’s spirits and general morale. The graduate students, who had no political power at Vanderbilt, lost more respect for the Department. My colleagues who didn’t have tenure got paranoid and started looking for ways out. I showed up everyday and I taught my classes. I tried to sit outside the fray, have no opinions, and not enter into discussion. People asked me if I would sue the university, but I didn’t have the energy. I didn’t want the job back. I thought about applying for other academic jobs but just couldn’t. I had been beat up and spit out by academics and I didn’t want to enter the arena again.

I started practicing yoga everyday. I decided to reclaim my physical health. I made my body a priority over my job. I went to the gym daily and took all the yoga classes available there. Yoga was just starting to bloom in Nashville. K-Lea Gifford, had opened 12SouthYoga and I became a dedicated student. I took occasional Ashtanga classes downtown at the Yoga Source. I tried to taste all the flavors of yoga available. I went to yoga workshops with Erich Schiffman and Tim Miller. My shift in focus from geology to yoga started to bring me out of my depression. I was finding pleasure in having a body.

Here is what I learned: movement is essential. The human body is made to be in motion. My spirit could recover in motion. Being confined to a chair for hours at a time is unnatural and leads to ill health and pain. I felt best when I was just living a normal life in motion: walking, talking, cleaning, moving, parenting and prioritizing body over brain. It took a few more years, but I gradually weaned myself from pain and neuropathy medicines. My body got stronger, healthier, and wiser. I learned to listen to it.

Pain is a powerful motivator. To stay out of pain, I practiced yoga everyday. I went for long hikes a few times each week. I learned to stay away from conference room chairs, soft couches, and any sitting support that encouraged slumping. I learned to meditate in motion. Sitting still was, and continues to be, a struggle. Motion is my saving grace.

Here is a short video to underline my point that movement is essential for a healthy life. Enjoy:
http://www.boingboing.net/2009/01/30/timelapse-of-a-9mont.html

1/30/09

My body, Chapter 4: Post-surgery

This is an ongoing story about my back and my body and yoga. I began posting the story on Jan 24, 2009. Scroll back to that date if you want to begin at the beginning. Otherwise, just jump in.

I woke from the anesthetic and felt like I had been run over by a large truck. I hurt everywhere. The very idea of walking seemed an impossibility. It felt as if the surgeons had placed a steel plate in my lower back, rather than rods and screws. I remember asking the nurse if that had happened. She said “nah, that’s what everybody feels like.”

I was in the hospital for 5 days. The first three on was on self-administered intravenous morphine. I didn’t like the morphine. Every time I closed my eyes I’d have horrible visions: a personalized horror movie of being cut up into pieces, mutilated and tortured. I used as little of the morphine as possible. They switched me to high doses of oral codeine on the 4th day.

Here is what I remember from the hospital: My friend Maddie brought me fancy teas to drink and a book with photographs of flowers and beaches. My friend Susie spent the first night = with me. Jay brought the boys to visit. Summer, just 9 months old, was horribly sick and wasn't eating anything. Watching mindless daytime television including a cooking show where they demonstrated how to impale a chicken on a beer can and then BBQ it. My Vanderbilt Dean thought that I should bring my computer into hospital with me, that it would be a good time to get some writing done. Twelve years later I can finally laugh at that suggestion.

The nurses made me walk everyday. I swore at them, but I walked. By the time I left the hospital I could walk, maybe, 40 feet at a stretch. I could get to the toilet by myself, but using it was excruciating. My bladder remained frozen from the morphine and I was self-catheterizing to pee when I left the hospital. I was afraid the bladder damage might be permanent. Opiates really bog down my digestive track. All I wanted to eat was prunes and prune juice, just to keep things moving along. When I had a normal pee I sang halleluiah.

Some friends flew out to Tennessee to help out. Doris, Kate and my Mom each came to stay for a week, one after the other. They helped me through the worst of it. They’d bring Summer to me to snuggle, help get the boys down to bed, help with dinner and cleaning and all those normal life things. They rubbed my feet, my back and my shoulders, helped me in and out of the shower. (Thank you!

Our house was laid out in a circle and my exercise for the first few weeks was simply to walk the loop inside my house every few hours. When I finally made it outside and walked to mailbox I considered it a major milestone. To keep myself entertained I did 'bed yoga,' read books, watched TV, and felt guilty for not writing like my Dean expected me to. I slept as much as I could.

Recovery was slow. I did my physical work religiously: walking, abdominals, physical therapy, stretching. I wore a full body brace for the first 6 weeks. I remember someone who had had the same surgery telling me “I still use the brace when I do heavy lifting.” That scared me, I did not want the brace to become a permanent fixture in my life. I did gradually get stronger, I could walk farther and do more. My life began to look normal. But I still had sciatica. In addition I had peripheral neuropathy that I didn’t have before the surgery. The sciatic nerve must have been injured in the surgery. The neuropathy resulted in numbness and ‘voodoo’ pains in my left foot: sudden sharp shooting pains between the long bones of the first and second metatarsals that would stop me in my tracks. I wore a brace on my left foot for a quite a while. I didn't stop wearing it at night until 2004.

The orthopedist said that it would take a year to completely recover. At the end of the year he pronounced me better, prescribed amitriptyline for the lingering neuropathy, celebrex for the back pain and dismissed me from his care. I guess I felt better than I had before surgery, but I didn’t feel great. My life appeared normal, but I wasn’t who I wanted to be. I was depressed and grieving my old body. I was still pretty weak. I still had sciatica and back pain. I couldn’t sit for more than 30 minutes at a stretch. I couldn’t stand still for more than 15 minutes. Movement, slow movement, felt best. I wasn’t in good health and could not embrace my job. In fact, I struggled alot with my job because it was so painful to sit at a desk all day. My frustration with the orthopedist and where he left me drove me first to a therapist (officially diagnosed with situational depression.) and then to better self care.

This is the remains of my body brace, with the straps removed, resting quietly in the garden. I'm thinking maybe I should add a cross over them to mark their passing.

1/28/09

My Body, Chapter 3: Surgery

This is an ongoing story about my back and my body and yoga. It begins on Jan 24, 2009. Scroll back to that date if you want to begin at the beginning. Otherwise, just jump in.

In 1996 the Spondylolithesis had become sufficiently pronounced to limit my life. I was managing to get to work everyday and do the fundamentals of my job, but I wasn’t doing all the other parts of my life that kept me vibrant. My family, friends, home and spiritual life were bearing the brunt of my disability.

I had used yoga and exercise to keep the condition manageable for most of the preceding decade. Having two young children and a 60-hr/week job left no time for self care. The pregnancies and childbirth pushed my back to the edge. I was hiking one day in 1996 with my son in a back pack on my back. I twisted my ankle and fell. That fall was the injury that pushed my back over the edge.

First I went to see a chiropractor. He did his adjustment magic but everything just seemed to worsen. He took more x-rays and told me I should see an orthopedic surgeon.

I don’t remember the orthopedist’s name. He clearly found himself to be important and well known. He looked at my x-rays and advised me to have surgery. He said that the next time I took a fall, got in a car accident, or had some other minor trauma to my spine I was liable to lose bladder and bowel control. He said that if I left my spine untreated I would eventually wind up in a wheelchair.

I went to a neurosurgeon for a second opinion. The neurosurgeon also found him self to be important and well known. Jay went with me to the appointment, so I could have another set of ears in the room. The neurosurgeon said I could probably postpone the surgery for a while, but that I would eventually need it. He didn’t offer any way of dealing with the ongoing pain. He didn’t even talk to me, he addressed all of his comments to Jay. I left that appointment angry and still in pain. He offered little hope for change.

I called my old friend Agi for advice. She concurred with the orthopedist: it was time for surgery. There was at least some hope of improvement with this solution. I don’t know how long it took me to make the final decision, but on April 1st of 1997 I had a spinal fusion with bone graft and instrumentation. The orthopedist placed 6 titanium screws into my vertebra, two each into L4, L5 and S1. The screws are joined together by two long titanium rods that run along either side of my spine. The orthopedist shaved live bone from my right illium and laid the bone between the wings of L4 and L5, and L5 and S1. The surgery fused together my spine from L4 to S1 and is referred to as a spinal fusion with instrumentation. I think of it as if I just had a very large sacrum. I have no mobility in my lower back. All of my bending here arises either above L4 or below the sacrum.

The image below is not my spine but comes from an online website. I once had copies of the x-rays of my own back, but they got left behind in one move or another. This is the closest image to my own surgery that I could find.

1/26/09

My Body, Chapter 2: Some History

The first time I remember seeing a doctor for low back pain I was in graduate school, maybe 1985. We had moved from one apartment to another and the day after moving furniture I couldn’t move. I had a deep low pain in my back and I knew that something was wrong. I went to Stanford University Health Care. The doctors looked at my back, made me to a few forward bends while they examined me and told me to take anti-inflammatory meds and come back if the pain didn’t go away within a week or two. It was a generally unhelpful session. I felt like something more was wrong, but didn’t know what else to do. If the doctor’s said it was okay, it must be okay

About 5 year’s later as a new faculty member at UC Berkeley I took an aerobic exercise class. At the end of the class the instructor lead some abdominal exercises. We began with a ‘reverse crunch,’ or what I would now call a partial Pilates Teaser. We began in a seated position with our knees bent and our feet on the floor, our hands clasped behind our head. She had us hinge backwards about 30 degrees and then return to sitting. I don’t know how many reps she had us do, but before we were through I had sudden severe back pain and I just lay down on the floor. I was embarrassed, the pain was in my body but my mind went into self criticism: I was out of shape, fat, bad. I stayed still on the floor for a little while, then tried to get up and sneak out of class without anyone noticing. I tried to pretend that nothing had happened. I took Tylenol, or something similar, but the pain didn’t go away.

I don’t know how long I waited before calling my friend, chiropractor Agi Ban. Maybe it was a few days but more likely a few weeks. Denial was not making the pain go away. I have to admit, part of me still thinks denial is the best medicine.

So, I called Agi. She looked at my back and took x-rays. She diagnosed that I had spondylolithesis, grade 1 or 2 at that point. I don’t remember. She did her chiropractic adjustments and gave me exercises. She encouraged me to start taking yoga classes, to get fit and to lose weight. There wasn’t a fix for this condition, only maintenance. I needed to learn how to live with it. I used my denial medicine liberally. I acted as if nothing was wrong.

No one knows for sure how I came by this condition. It can be genetic but no one else in the family has it. It can be caused by trauma and that I did have in fair measure. Somewhere I read that backs are particularly vulnerable to a spondylolthesis rupture in the age range of 7, 8,or 9ish. And somewhere in that age range I had a major a trauma.

I don’t remember how old I was. Grade school. My sisters were at least walking age (they are 4 and 5 years younger than me). We had gone to the beach for the weekend. We had a second floor apartment with a balcony over the sand. My Dad and I had gone pier fishing in the morning and I remember it being cold and that we had to bundle up. Dad and I were the early birds in the family and we’d do early morning things together, watch tv or explore.

Dad liked to ‘tease.’ You could call it ‘extreme teasing’ or you could call it sadism. He did leave bruises and I remember being shocked to learn in therapy that leaving bruises qualified the teasing as abuse. Dad also liked to drink. I assume he was drinking on this day.

He was teasing my sisters and I, pretending that he was going to drop us off the balcony. There was some struggling. Squeals of fear and laughter combined. He was dangling me from the balcony and he dropped me. I don’t know if it was on purpose or an accident. I never asked him. He was dead before I started having serious back problems. I really don’t remember anything else from the day. I know that I wasn’t taken to see a doctor and that no x-rays were taken. I know that I never went pier fishing again. My story was “pier fishing isn’t fun, all I ever catch is starfish.” I believed that story and conveniently forgot being dropped from the balcony.

1/24/09

My Body, Chapter 1: Spondylolithesis

I have a large scar on my back. I can’t see it. I have to describe it by touch. It roughly traces my lower spin, from the middle of my sacrum to about the base of my ribs. It isn’t perfectly straight. There are some small lumpy fat deposits along the side of it. It feels like a narrow valley lined with a tightly stretched bit of plastic. I’ve had the scar for 12 years.

Occasionally someone notices the scar when we are dancing or doing yoga. “What happened to your back?” they ask. It reminds me. I don’t think about my back very often any more, and yet much of my life these days is somehow tied into the story of my back.

The technical details: In 1996 I was diagnosed with Grade 3 Spondylolithesis. The facet joint between my 4th and 5th lumbar vertebra had broken and the L4 vertebrae had slipped forward over L5 by 2 cm, about 65% of the width of the vertebra. The facet joints are the joints between the wings of the vertebra, on which the spine hinges. They hold each vertebrae in place over the one below while allowing the magnificent range of motion of the spine. The joint was unstable and mobile, meaning that through the day the L4 would slide back and forth over the top of L5 with about a centimeter’s range of movement.

The result of the movement was a gradual shearing of my spinal cord and a lot of pain. I was beginning to have foot drop, meaning that it was difficult to keep my left foot in flexion when I lifted the foot from the floor to walk. I had severe sciatica in my right leg. My entire low back hurt all the time. I was losing mobility, flexibility, and the ability to experience joy. I felt like there was a spigot on my low back that allowed all my energy to flow out. Because of my lack of mobility, emotional depression, a body type that easily holds extra weight and a tendency to use food as medication I was also about 30 pounds overweight. The extra weight exacerbated the back pain. I felt and looked bad and that helped feed a negative feedback loop of emotions and eating. I was a mess.

I was working as a faculty member at Vanderbilt University as this time. Most of my duties were desk-work. Research, writing, planning classes, and general faculty duties are largely completed in front of a computer screen. I was preparing to come up for tenure the following year. The expectation was that I was to perform as one of the best and brightest researchers and educators in my field. To quote my Dean at the time: to get tenure at Vanderbilt, I should be able to get tenure at Harvard. The work expectations alone were daunting and stress inducing, without the added physical obstacles. The tenure process at high ranking universities has a tendency to kill marriages and deform psyches.

In addition my sons were very young, aged 1 and 4. We’d pick up the kids from University childcare, come home, eat dinner, and I’d collapse in bed, thoroughly spent and guilty that I had no energy left to give to them the attention they deserved. They watched alot of tv that year. It was hard on my whole family. Blessings to my sons and Jay for sticking with me through this.

1/19/09

Wooo Hooo!

It is a hope filled week. I can feel it in the air. Everyone is smiling. The sun is shining. We are happy.

Yesterday I was listening to the concert at the Lincoln Memorial on the radio. When Pete Seger and Bruce Springsteen sang "This land is your land" I found myself in tears. Unexpected tears just like when I watched Obama's acceptance speech. I am moved by this moment in history. I can feel my breath and open my eyes and yell WOOOOO HOOOO!

So, do some joyful yoga. Get out your mat. Do a sun salute or two. Let your heart open wide and full. Breath deep. Inhale, exhale, yell, dance, and celebrate.

Here is a quick little Vinyasa to tide you over. I'm working on getting video and stills up for my posts, but I think many of you will be able to follow this:

Come into Dog Pose, well grounded and alive.
Look between your hands and step or jump forward to a squat and then sit down on the floor.
Extend your legs out in front of you and stretch forward into Paschimottonasana (full forward bend).
If your able, hold your big toes with the first two fingers of each hand, if your feet are too far away, hold your ankles, shins or the backs of your knees.
Bend your knees and pull your feet in toward your chest while you come up to balancing on your sitting bones.
Then keeping your hold, extend your legs into a navasana stance and balance there for about 5 breaths.
Gently rock forward, cross your ankles into sukhasana, bow forward and place your hands on the floor in front of your legs and then step your legs back and lift up into Dog Pose again.
Hold Dog pose for 5 breaths before repeating the sequence. Repeat the entire sequence 5 times.

1/16/09

Songs to myself and to you!

The storm gods, the gods of light, of sky, dawn, and wind, the angels, the saints, the demigods and demons, all gaze at you in amazement.

You, your form: seeing you the worlds tremble and so do I.

As you touch the sky my breath stops. (adapted from the Bhagavad Gita)
_

The heated horse recognizes the taste of cold water
When he comes down to the stream, falling from the mountains,
And when I ride to you, to reach down to your lips, I recognize the delight
of living on earth (Raimaly-aga in Chingiz Aitmatov)

_


This moment is the life you have. You are a source of wonder. You are the dream. You are a reflection of God.
Use your life well.

The world is Heaven, if we choose to make it so.

Pranayama: sit still, breath into the full expanse of your lungs. Follow your exhale to its final end. Rest in the pause at the end of the exhale. Receive the next inhale as a gift. Fill your lungs with that gift. Rest on the crest of the breath. The exhale till you are completely empty. Pause and then begin again.

1/15/09

shoulders!

I'm back. November and December had lots of distraction. Here is the yoga of returning to this commmitment. I don't know what to write, I don't know what to say. My mind says "you don't have anything to write." But I come to the page. I come back to my yoga and offer you a pose or two for the day:

Zombie Arms and Pulling Straps

Zombie arms: 1) lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Reach your arms straight up to the ceiling holding a block between your hands . Now allow your shoulder blades to roll to the sides of your back as you lift the block as far toward the ceiling as possible. Keep your arms extended toward the ceiling and drop your shoulder blades back down to the floor. Repeat 5 to 10 times. 2) Press your low back and lower ribs firmly into the floor. Keep your awareness in the grounding of the back of your body as you rotate your arms in the shoulder socket and as if you were going to set the block on the floor over your head. It is more important to keep your low back and lower ribs on the floor than to set the block on the floor. You can make the move more challenging by extending the legs along the floor.

Pulling Straps: 1) lie face down on a bolster or folded stack of blankets. You want a long and narrow lift that extends from your lower ribs to your hips (i.e. the bolster is longwise under your torso). 2) lift the legs parallel to the floor either with the toes touching the floor or with the toes pointed and legs extended. 3) Lift the head and chest, gazing at the floor, so that the head is just above the level of your shoulders. 4) Reach your arms forward along side your ears, then sweep the arms back toward your sides in a 'snow angels' motion. Keep your spine steady and your abdominal muscles engaged as you sweep the arms foward and back 6 to 8 times.

Happy Shoulders!