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.

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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.

brilliant honesty

One of the positive comments I often get on my work is that my writing style is remarkably candid and direct. Such comments go back to graduate school when peers would read my work and has followed me through my years as a professor. This consistency often bothers me because I want to be commended for being “smart,” dare I hope “brilliant,” sometimes I’d even take “interesting” over “honest.” I know theoretically that this desire has more to do with the self-doubt that academia is structured to instill in scholars than with my own desires, but that doesn’t stop my cringing.

buddha keyboard

What often happens when I get such comments is that I immediately want to take everything back. I want a do-over because I feel over-exposed and under-assimilated into the profession that I’ve chosen to pursue. One of the things that daily mediation has helped me to do is to notice my behavior patterns. And I recently had cause to notice and reflect on this particular pattern when I received an email about work I had shared with a group and the following sentence triggered my insecurities:

Thank you for bravely sharing your thoughts on your pedagogical experiment, for modeling a kind of honest wrestling with difficult questions that is rare in the all-too-often performative realm of the academy.

I had the initial knee-jerk reaction: “Crap, there it is again. So much for the ground-breaking I was shooting for. I need to work harder to make it innovative. I should…I’m not…Why can’t I? etc. etc. etc.” All the monkey-mind negative thoughts that have made their home in my head. (Whenever I really pay attention to such thoughts I think of the sitcom, Herman’s Head, where parts of the title character’s psyche were personified and viewers became privy to how his thoughts and actions were connected).

But the whole email was so beautifully written that I had to reread it. And the rereading gave me enough space to pause and notice the path I was travelling mentally. I realized that my work was being described as valuable. Indeed, uniquely so. Brilliance is so firmly established as the ideal for academic work that we see anything less as, well, less. Is there something to be said for other types of contributions? Like honesty? And candor?

Of course, the negative thoughts haven’t packed up and left. But they have been relegated to a corner for a bit while I play with this notion of other virtues of academic writing. And with the budding realization that this is my academic style. Readers aren’t randomly choosing similar words to describe my work. Actually, I’ve gotten some similar comments from friends about my Calm Strength posts as well, so it seems that I am the one privileging this approach in my writing. (Although it took lots of attempts and deletions to almost state that brilliance may not be the end-all/be-all/everything of academic writing.)

All this to say, I am noticing three patterns here: my writing approach, the responses to my writing, and my response to those responses. Thanks to my work with daily meditation, rather than constantly coming down on myself for not changing my writing style, I am learning to insert a little space between the second and third of these patterns.

the art of practice

So, I haven’t been blogging much in 2015. Ok, I haven’t blogged at all. I’ve had a lot of ideas, but just not made the time to sit down and write any of them out. In part, it’s because I have been doing a lot of writing on my new project and so I haven’t wanted to do any additional writing that I saw as “non-required.” But I’m trying to be better at exercising my writing muscle and that includes blogging. So, I’ll share how I’ve come to think of writing and yoga as parallel practices.

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Pattabhi Jois is often credited with saying “Practice and all is coming.” Consequently, Ashtanga practitioners are expected to practice six days a week, with exceptions only for moon days and menstruation. I know of no other exceptions. And the practice should be done first thing in the morning, partially for biological reasons, but also to ensure it gets done that day. If you stick to this practice, everything that will come from your yoga – poses, peace of mind, strength, clarity, etc – will come. If you don’t practice, then it’s simply less likely that any of those benefits will find you. Certainly not all of them.

Writing is similar. We like to think of the ideal situation where we have hours and hours of time to sit and meditate on a subject, maybe do some research, and then write. But for most of us the writing does not come easy. It turns out that here too, “practice and all is coming.” I have often scoffed at daily writing, but I’ve recently become a convert (at least, for the “required” type of writing…still working on blogging). In January I did a writing challenge with two friends. The idea for the challenge sprung from an article about academic productivity we’d been forwarded combined with our just having done a daily fitness challenge in December. We used Whatsapp for check-ins and basically, it worked in the following way:

Each day (Monday through Friday only) we stated a daily writing (either time period or word count) and we sent a “done” when we’d completed it. Our goals could be big or small and generally ranged between 30 minutes and 3 hours depending on what else we had happening that day. If we failed for that day, we put what we had done. There was a little to no conversation because we didn’t want to add to our reading load. The daily writing needed to be directly related to our research, not service or teaching.

At the beginning of the month, we also stated our goal of what we wanted to have done by the end of the month. In order to avoid the overwhelming fear of the blank page, I kept handy this list of “ten ways to write daily“(also suggested in the article above) for those days when I had no idea what I would do for even 30 minutes.

Surprisingly, at least to me, it worked! I finished all but one of my writing goals for the month, and on time. My colleagues were also similarly successful. Their support was, of course, a significant part of my success; but building the habit of writing daily – even if what I wrote that day would eventually just wind up in the virtual trash can – was the foundation for that success.

So, all that to say practice might not make perfect, but it does make “done.”