June posts at Five Tattvas

I received a request to highlight posts I am making at Five Tattvas here. Below is a digest for the June posts so I can share some of those thoughts here.

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In an earlier post announcing my work with Five Tattvas, I described my first post, but I’ll re-summarize here. “I’m not there yet” focuses on lengthening the space between stimulus and reaction. Though the title could be read differently, I am thinking of that “there” space as less of a specific goal to achieve and more as a process to appreciate. Part of this process is noting the gains I have made thus far in my efforts to be less reactive.

Here’s an excerpt:

But the man who is self-controlled,
who meets the objects of the senses
With neither craving nor aversion,
Will attain serenity at last.
                      – Bhagavad Gita 2.64

I like this passage from the Gita. It’s aspirational in a way that seems out of my grasp, yet reminds me, at the same time, to not be so grasping. Even to “like” it, is to fall into the very response that it warns against: craving (raga) and aversion (dvesha). Just envisioning what this would be like is difficult for me. What would it mean to meet each sense object, each next thing, each past thing, with equanimity?

I’m not there yet.

Read the full post here.

My second post “Strength in the Broken Places” focused on working with an injury, especially one incurred during yoga practice. I got quite a good response on that one, which I was surprised about as it was such a personal story of my own journey through injury. Goes to show you never know what experience may connect with, and help, others.

Here’s an excerpt: Continue reading June posts at Five Tattvas

The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Last year, in June, I organized a yoga challenge for academics (see details here). It grew from a yoga challenge I’d had with two friends for a few years running each June. This year, I was traveling and didn’t get myself together in time to arrange a challenge for June so I decided to do one of the ubiquitous Instagram yoga challenges. I chose one run by Carmen Aguilar of The Lab, a studio in Chicago. It’s called the #hipsummerhip challenge and focuses on deep hip opening. I can always use some hip opening (though you’ll see that the second half of the challenge is cray!).

I am hoping to write up some reflections on the challenge once I am done. This post is more thoughts on Instagram itself and some suggestions on who to follow if you’re interested. I am intimidated yet fascinated by the yoga/Instagram phenomenon. Last year this time I didn’t even know what it was and now I am posting daily. At least, I am this month. The pictures to be found here simultaneously challenge and support my faith in humanity. Yes, the level of narcissism is higher than I want to imagine is real (and just when I think I have a handle on this and accept it, some instagrammer pushes beyond that limit of my imagination). But, the sheer creativity and courage to be found on this social platform redeems it as a viable medium for me. Also, it’s part of my new research project, so some of this really is research. Really.

Ok, so the yoga part isn’t so much part of the research. But it’s hard to look away. And in watching those I follow, I found that the challenges inspired yogis to practice regularly, if only to be able to post a picture on time. Granted, one can spend the time allotted to practice looking at pictures of other people practicing, but that’s fodder another post. Continue reading The Instagram Rabbit Hole

Five Tattvas

Just before I started my year of no, I committed to joining a great group of yogis in writing for a new online project, Five Tattvas. As described on the site:

Five Tattvas recognizes the need for what we call embodied philosophical living.  Embodied philosophy is not philosophy of the intellect alone, but is an integrated, non-dualistic living wisdom. It is a decision to live with mindfulness, insight, attention and intention – one day at a time. Drawing on the perennial wisdom of the wider yoga and wisdom traditions – largely from the East – we seek to prescribe practices, activities, and modes of living that actualize liberating patterns of thought and behavior. These new patterns break us out of the habits that continuously cause us pain and suffering and reorient our lives in empowering ways.

I will be one of the yogis writing for the Five Tattvas “Embodied Philosophy” blog weekly. My first post is already up! It’s titled “I’m not there yet” and it focuses on lengthening the space between stimulus and reaction, something I’ve touched on here at calmstrength before (see “Brilliant Honesty”). Here’s an excerpt:

But the man who is self-controlled,
who meets the objects of the senses
With neither craving nor aversion,
Will attain serenity at last.
                      – Bhagavad Gita 2.64

I like this passage from the Gita. It’s aspirational in a way that seems out of my grasp, yet reminds me, at the same time, to not be so grasping. Even to “like” it, is to fall into the very response that it warns against: craving (raga) and aversion (dvesha). Just envisioning what this would be like is difficult for me. What would it mean to meet each sense object, each next thing, each past thing, with equanimity?

I’m not there yet.

Please head over to Five Tattvas to see the rest of my post and the other pieces by my co-bloggers. I’m excited about this new project, though concerned about blogging twice (!) a week. But since I’ll be saying no to so much else this year, perhaps it’ll all work itself out…. (If I think it will, it will…right?)

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Banner from the Five Tattvas site

The Year of No

Hello, it’s been a while. Mostly due to a research trip I took to Jamaica. I thought I would be able to keep up with all my usual activities while there, including blogging, but soon found that for various reasons – archival research, family time, unreliable internet, heat, a wholly different pace of life – I had to start letting all non-urgent activity go undone. It was a good lesson for me in prioritizing, and also in facing the fact that I do too much.

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Way at the beginning of my trip, when I thought I had all the time in the world. Sadly, this was my one and only beach trip for two months.

Unfortunately, because I came back to all those non-urgent activities waiting for me, some of which had become urgent in the meantime, I haven’t had time to reassess my priorities while here. Often people say in such situations it’s sink or swim, but for the past two weeks I’ve felt like I’ve been in a perpetual state of floundering, neither sinking nor swimming and certainly not the easy float I’d come to know while in Jamaica.

An aside: Floating isn’t a universal way of life in Jamaica (much as the popular media may have you believe it is). It’s just that I was there for a single purpose and so didn’t have to contend with the distractions of real life during those two months.

So, I mention all the above not to brag (though, feel free to think more highly of me for what I could fashion as a single-minded dedication to research) but to bring up this question of how much we have on our plates. I am speaking even more specifically of how much work we have on our plates. Academics – active and productive ones anyway – tend to have several projects going at once. Most of them we do because we have some passion for the work involved and are invested in the expected outcome. A few (if we are lucky, only a few) we do because some force outside ourselves (the job market, the tenure track, the department chair) decreed we should. Let’s ignore the latter for a moment and look critically at the former. How much of your passion do you really have to pursue right now? Right this minute? How much of it can you pursue? That is, do you have the resources – time, energy and attention being the most important ones here – to do so many of them justice?

I’ve been on sabbatical for this past year, so I’ve had the luxury of indulging in primarily what I’m passionate about (including more yoga!) but now it’s summer and I can see the end of this freedom fast approaching. That imminent change, along with my experience while in Jamaica, has prompted me to declare June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016 “the year of no.” I plan to say no to as many requests for my time, energy and attention as possible.

“No” is a lot more difficult than “yes,” more difficult even than “no, but…” There’s so much wrapped up in “no,” so many unknowns, whereas yes seems paradoxically clear cut. I’ve already had the opportunity to decline a request this week and I opted for the “no, but…” escape. Baby steps. I still, however, have very high hopes of practicing saying “no” for the next twelve months. The hardest part, I have found in just the four days so far, is saying no to myself. Reminding myself that just because a project should be done, does not mean that I should be the one to do it. Wish me luck. I’ll occasionally let you know how I’m doing (because I’m still saying yes to blogging!)

Yoga Is Conference

Ah, the wonders of the Internet and what it’s done for the study and practice of yoga. Witness, the Yoga Is conference, where, for just $39, you can virtually attend sessions with near three dozen teachers, most of them names you know and trust, including:

  • Rodney Yee
  • Shiva Rea
  • Dharma Mittra
  • Elena Brower
  • Kathryn Budig
  • Congressman Tim Ryan
  • …really, too many to list even the top ones.

The conference takes place from April 30-May 3, 2015 and there are will be classes and interviews each day. The $39 price I linked to seems to be a special. I am not sure how long that lasts, but the regular price ($79) is still a steal compared to in-person yoga conference fees.

The landing site for the conference asks for your email address to get more info. I am not sure why, but here’s a link to the screen I got to after entering my email. If that for some reason doesn’t work, here are a few screen shots of the post-email entry info:

 

Screen shot yoga is 1

Screen shot yoga is 2 Screen shot yoga is 3 Screen shot yoga is 4

Let me know if you “go” and what you think.

pleasure is political

In remembered rapture, bell hooks writes of visits to Toni Cade Bambara shortly before her death. I want to share what hooks writes about the subject of their last conversation because so many of my friends – especially my friends who are teachers, activists, writers, and/or scholars, jobs that often involve constant work with and against and for political and ideological convictions – have at one time or another had to learn, and re-learn, the importance of making time for self-care. As Audre Lorde reminds me daily from my phone’s home-screen: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

hooks writes:

Toni wanted to talk seriously with me about her concern that I was working too much. She felt I was allowing myself to become too isolated, that I needed to get out more, to socialize–to have more fun. We talked about the fun times we had shared. We talked about the place of pleasure in our lives. She wanted me to remember that pleasure is political–for the capacity to relax and play renews the spirit and makes it possible for us to come to the work of writing clearer, ready for the journey.

from remembered rapture: the writer at work, page 237

bellhooks

American Yoga

Often, when people find out I teach yoga, they ask “what kind of yoga do you teach.” My standard answer has become: “American yoga.”

Most people immediately get it. For many of us, our access to yoga, or to any form of mindful movement for that matter, is not directly connected to an ancient practice. Or even to a pretension to lineage. It is the yoga that is taught in gyms, community centers or corporate studios. Sometimes, depending on our disposable income and where we live, we may have access to smaller independent yoga studios but chances are the teachers in these studios were trained in American yoga as well.

In dubbing this practice American yoga I do not have ambitions of copyrighting some star-spangled, we-are-the-world, sequence of movements. What I mean is that the style exhibits the positives and negatives of the assimilation that happens to many cultural practices and products in this country. I am thinking along the lines here of American English, Chinatowns, and Tex-mex. This may put some purists off, but I am not sure how else to describe the yoga I practice and teach today.

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What American yoga looks like to me.  (Photo by cheeseslave on Flickr.)

I have been thinking about this more and more recently given the push back against this form of yoga from various quarters: from members of the South Asian American community, most vocally via the group South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America (SAAPYA); from practitioners of long-standing yoga lineages; from non-practitioners who see the practice as materialist and elitist; from minority communities who note the increasingly white profile of yoga in the media; from women concerned about the body-image issues that the yoga industry perpetuates; and from the media itself as the increasing popularity of yoga makes the practice ripe for parody.

I want to quarrel with many of these objections to American yoga, but I can’t. Because they each have a valid point. They have a valid point because it is American yoga. These faults are part of the society at large and whatever is showing up off your mat is sure to show up on your mat. Also, my Caribbean immigrant self, a product of colonization and neocolonization and one of the most complex color-coded, class-conscious societies, identifies with cultural loss, particularly when loss is really the result of theft protected by institutionalized systems of oppression. And the academic in me, who works to make such systems visible and thereby less powerful is torn about the ways in which yoga shows up in this country.

My worry, however, is that the current backlash against yoga as it’s practiced in America today will obscure the benefits that it does bring to a variety of communities. The volume of various discourses in this conversation – on “restoring yoga to its roots,” on yoga as white and exclusionary, on yoga as too expensive, on the outrageousness of yoga attire and yoga instagram and yoga-themed whatever – make invisible the spaces that are working in the spirit of creating change from the quiet of committed, consistent practice.

I teach in one of these spaces. The picture of the young, white, lululemon-clad yogini that is held as stereotypical of yoga practitioners has little meaning in this space located at the heart of Brooklyn, near the aptly named “Junction.” My classes reflect the neighborhood with its dividing line of Caribbean and Orthodox Jewish populations. We have the occasional male student in class, but I am mostly teaching to women who have never practiced yoga before stepping into my class. I don’t know what the critics of yoga want it to look like instead, but I do know that I want to insist upon keeping the practice available and attractive to these students who find solace in this space.

I like to think of my American yoga class as a mindful mash-up of traditions. I play music I like, tracks that are certainly not “yoga music” but are consciously chosen to enhance both my teaching and my students’ practice. I use the Sanskrit names only on occasion and I do not chant, but I always close with namasté because despite the various parodies, the word still holds power. I ask students to dedicate their practice and sometimes we repeat a metta meditation at the end of class. My students know that this is a safe space where they can be brave and yet can choose silence; where they can laugh when they fall and cry in savasana; where they can be seen.

This is my yoga community. We are not often represented in the advertisements for or the arguments against yoga in America but we are here, making space for our practice whether or not others’ ideas of the practice make space for us.

Body Intelligence

Body Intelligence (an excerpt)
by Rumi

Your intelligence is always with you,
overseeing your body, even though
you may not be aware of its work.

If you start doing something against
your health, your intelligence
will eventually scold you.

If it hadn’t been so lovingly close by,
and so constantly monitoring,
how could it rebuke?

You and your intelligence
are like the beauty and precision
of an astrolabe.

Together, you calculate how near
existence is to the sun!

Your intelligence is marvelously intimate.
It’s not in front of you or behind,
or to the left or the right.

The beginning of a poem by Rumi, reminding us that body and mind are meant to work in harmony, neither being sacrificed for the other.

From The Essential Rumi (New Expanded Edition). Translated by Coleman Barks. Page 151.

I like to move it move it!

Me assisting folks moving in Bryant Park, Summer 2013.
Me, moving about, assisting folks doing yoga in Bryant Park, 2013.

If you’re in academia, chances are you have long periods of sedentariness (and I don’t mean just the Netflix marathons). When I am working, I generally use a timer to remind me to get up and move about. These small pockets of movement in my day are good, but I have to remind myself to also prioritize making larger spaces in my schedule for yoga and to mix in other types of movement rather than fall into a yoga rut (which is way better than a Netflix rut, but still not desirable). I came across the following paragraph on movement in a post by Sara Seinberg on her Holistic Heath Coaching site. The whole post is a fun read, but the bit below spoke directly to this question of working movement into our day:

Start where you are. If you move a lot, bring in some variation and mix it up. If you don’t move at all, just start. Walk more. Take the stairs. Do a squat. Pick something you like. If you hate the gym, don’t go to the fucking gym. There is no such thing as a Gym Person. People tell me, “I’m not a Gym Person.” No one is a gym person. Going to the gym is a behavior. You go or you don’t. Who were people before gyms? Certainly still people. So. Maybe you find a gym you like. Maybe you start to hike. Or you dance at home between work breaks. Or maybe you go for walks or try running. Maybe you play tennis or you do the 7 minute workout a few times on your lunch break. Keep your eyes on your own paper. Don’t worry about what Bethany does because Bethany doesn’t have to live your life in your body. Do what you do. Bring a pal. Or if you’re very social, use movement to be alone. Leave your phone at home. Climb rocks and sightsee. Snowshoe. Ski. Swim. Lift weights. Shovel. Garden. Ice Skate. ANYTHING. Get a gang together. Or join mine! But Keep on Moving.

Yes, there’s a bit of an ad at the end, but her post was so well done that I figured I’d keep it in the quote, just in case you wanted to join her team.

So, choose one of her suggestions or one of my “sneaky moves” or make up your own and go MOVE it!

PS – I’ve just had the genius idea of adding a Spotify “move it” playlist here but have run out of blogging time. Will post it next week.

Yoga and Meditation