sunset on Lake Michigan 

sunset on Lake Michigan 

SECOND LIFE Poem by David Whyte

My uncourageous life doesn't want to go, doesn't want to speak, doesn't want to carry on, wants to make its way through stealth, wants to assume the strange and dubious honor of not being heard. My uncourageous life doesn't want to move, doesn't even want to stir, wants to inhabit a difficult form of stillness, to pull everything into the silence where the throat strains but gives no voice. My uncourageous life wants to stop the whole world and keep it stopped not only for itself but for everyone and everything it knows, refusing to stir a single inch until given an exact and final destination. This uncourageous second life wants to win some undeserved lottery so that it can finally bestow a just and final reward upon itself. No, this second life never wants to write or speak, or cook or set the table or welcome guests or sit up talking with a stranger who might accidently set us travelling again. This second life doesn't want to leave the door, doesn't want to take any path that works its own sweet way through mountains, doesn't want to follow the beckoning flow of a distant river nor meet the chance weather where a pass takes us from one discovered world to another. This second life just wants to lie down; close its eyes and tell God it has a headache. But my other life my first life, the life I admire and want to follow looks on and listens with some wonder, and even extends a reassuring hand for the one holding back, knowing there can be no real confrontation without the need to turn away and go back away from it all, to have things be different, and to close our eyes until they are different. No, this hidden life, this first courageous life, seems to speak from silence and in the language of a knowing, beautiful heartbreak, above all it seems to know well enough it will have to give back everything received in any form and even, sometimes, as it tells the story of the way ahead, laughs out loud in the knowledge. This first life seems sure and steadfast in knowing it will come across the help it needs at every crucial place and thus continually sharpens my sense of impending revelation. This first courageous life in fact, has already gone ahead has nowhere to go except out the door into the clear air of morning taking me with it, nothing to do except to breathe while it can, no way to travel but with that familiar pilgrim movement in the body, nothing to teach except to show me on the long road how we sometimes like to walk alone, open to the silent revelation, and then stop and gather and share everything as dark comes in, telling the story of a day's accidental beauty. And perhaps most intriguingly and most poignantly and most fearfully of all and at the very end of the long road it has travelled, it wants to take me to a high place from which to see, with a view looking back on the way we took to get there, so it can have me

understand myself as witness and thus bequeath me the way ahead, so it can teach me how to invent my own disappearance so it can lie down at the end and show me, even against my will, how to undo myself, how to surpass myself: how to find a way to die of generosity.

 “When the Roses Speak, I Pay Attention” by Mary Oliver “As long as we are able to

be extravagant we will be

hugely and damply

extravagant. Then we will drop

foil by foil to the ground. This

is our unalterable task, and we do it

joyfully.” And they went on. “Listen,

the heart-shackles are not, as you think,

death, illness, pain,

unrequited hope, not loneliness, but


lassitude, rue, vainglory, fear, anxiety,

selfishness.” Their fragrance all the while rising

from their blind bodies, making me

spin with joy.

_____ -

 

When we practice āsana with attention and alignment, as we do in the Iyengar method, we see our limitations, weaknesses, shortcomings.... we are set to a task that is seemingly at odds with itself. “Turn this that way, extend this forward and draw this backward at the same time.” The experience is  not just physically challenging, but mentally and emotionally. The actions at times may feel impossible. We may feel far from the goal. Our capacity to be present is stretched.  We are training ourselves to see things as they are—to witness the reality of our present condition. Gradually with each undertaking, each class, each practice, each repetition of āsana while working actions skillfully— we are taking steps to grow not just physically stronger, but wiser, mentally stronger, able to discern between the necessary pain and difficulty of transformation and the lassitude of succumbing to the  tendency of all nature to decay... Alignment evolves from steady practice. Keep going.


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Parśva Ūrdhva Padmāsana in Śīrsāsana—Upward Lotus to the Side in Head Balance Pose

Level 1 and Gentle/Restorative Class will meet as one class on Tuesday nights

Dear Students, beginning on September 4, Jennifer’s Level 1 class for beginners and Gentle/Restorative Class will meet together on Tuesdays 6pm - 7:30pm. Thursday 6pm class will not be meeting this fall until further notice. All students with injuries and/or conditions (including pregnancy) will be accommodated in that longer class, with the help of assistant teachers. We look forward to seeing you then! 

 

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body as a medium: battlefield, playground, vehicle, and instrument

You cannot separate the mind from the body, No one has a mind without a body. You can awaken the body, you can train the body to train the mind. It is not a marriage, they are one.
— Manouso Manos
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There is an embodied reality to this practice. The body is not something we are going to escape, until our death. There are different methodologies given in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras for steadying the consciousness (for those who are already adept, who have made some progress on the path of yoga). These different methodologies include surrender and devotion to God, focusing on an effulgent light, repetition of Aum, and contemplation of a suitable object for meditation. 
In Iyengar Yoga, we train our being using the physical body, as it is concrete and witnessable, whereas the mind is elusive and slippery. When we come to class, the teacher asks us to concentrate on what we are doing: with our feet, arms, legs. Gradually the waves of the mind are steadied and focused on the actions of the body, in the present. This focused attention brings us away from the ordinarily turbulent mind stuff, that frets in the past and the future, that is calculating, deluded, fantasizing… Is our heel really pressing down, is the thigh really turned out? This is something that our teacher can bring out attention to. Are we really doing what we think we are doing, what we intend to do? In ordinary life it is so easy to have an intention, and yet be doing something else entirely that is not at all in line with intentions, and miss that this is happening at all, or our responsibility for that. This discrepancy is revealed when we study our physical body in asana. In this photograph, my front leg is not at 90 degrees, and yet while doing, it felt like it was approaching 90. There were other actions that my consciousness was focusing on: maintaining the pressure of the outer back heel, releasing the back leg back thigh from the inside outward, releasing the buttock bone of the back leg outward, flowing the groin and front thigh forward, lifting both sides of the trunk, and the back legs side even more strongly, drawing those back ribs in and up…As teachers of Iyengar Yoga, demonstration is the first teaching device. When I teach my students something, following the Iyengar method, I show them with my own body. The lesson is something I myself have practiced and experienced. To demonstrate I expose myself through the performance of the asana, both here and in my asana hall, in every class.  The physical performance reveals both the struggle and the ease, the strengths as well as the weakness and frailty of the teacher. The lesson is concrete and embodied—it is not theoretical, not a drawing in a book, or a conceptual fantasy.  This embodied demonstration builds trust that the teaching is founded on a reality that has been experienced by someone (another human being comprised of perfection and imperfection) and the teaching is the experience being passed on. In Iyengar Yoga, the body is nature close at hand, the medium where we explore dualities, and the unity of them.  The performance of posture, the āsana, and even the body itself, may be a prop for yoga, but it is not one that we will shed until we are done, with Śavāsana, the very last pose. Through Iyengar Yoga practice, the body may be the battle-field of conflict as we struggle to discover or maintain health, and it's also the playground for exploration, the vehicle of bliss, and the instrument for transmission.

These days, I might sit and stare out at water and have a experience of vastness and surrender and bliss or what we might called union with God for a few moments without distraction—while doing āsana and prānāyāma, the possibility of presence of attention is being trained for much longer periods.  This grows into the ability to maintain presence throughout life, because of all the training and practice of  awareness.  I’ve come to feel that the main lesson of Iyengar Yoga is maintaining this attention on the art of presence...

 

From finite to infinite

 “To err is human.’ Knowledge is infinite and eternal, but the human mind’s thoughts lie in the field of the finite. The infinite is hidden in the finite, and the finite is hidden in the infinite. In my sadhana I tried to explore finite within the infinite body.” From: “Core of the Yoga Sūtras” by B.K.S. Iyengar

  Rājakapotāsana ~ king pigeon pose  “The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one. If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.” —Kandinsky   “I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. “ Mary Oliver .     This pose is not perfect. Within this form are the hundreds of attempts that have built toward it and developed the foundation of intelligence to come this far. If it came more easily with less effort instead of all these years of practice and training would that make this form appear better or worse or is that the wrong question entirely? I will tell you this. Today pursuing it there were discoveries. There was struggle and spaciousness. The āsana is the form for meditation, the object of contemplation. What is happening in that process of play, work and realization is the real art.   

 Rājakapotāsana ~ king pigeon pose

“The work of art is born of the artist in a mysterious and secret way. From him it gains life and being. Nor is its existence casual and inconsequent, but it has a definite and purposeful strength, alike in its material and spiritual life. It exists and has power to create spiritual atmosphere; and from this inner standpoint one judges whether it is a good work of art or a bad one. If its “form” is bad it means that the form is too feeble in meaning to call forth corresponding vibrations of the soul… The artist is not only justified in using, but it is his duty to use only those forms which fulfill his own need… Such spiritual freedom is as necessary in art as it is in life.” —Kandinsky

 “I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. “ Mary Oliver .


This pose is not perfect. Within this form are the hundreds of attempts that have built toward it and developed the foundation of intelligence to come this far. If it came more easily with less effort instead of all these years of practice and training would that make this form appear better or worse or is that the wrong question entirely? I will tell you this. Today pursuing it there were discoveries. There was struggle and spaciousness. The āsana is the form for meditation, the object of contemplation. What is happening in that process of play, work and realization is the real art.

 

What is your potential?

This morning I woke feeling sore everywhere. In āsana practice the plan was to reach this pose (because doing it regularly keeps me feeling like I’m conquering my problems which have to do with old injuries that this pose demands be overcome). There were all these thoughts:  I’m not feeling well enough, it hurts too much, there’s too much sensation, my shoulder might strain, I’m getting too old, I should have learned these deep backbends in my twenties or better yet my teens, I’ve given birth to too many children, those children are too distracting, it should be easier, it’s easier for others, it’s too hot to work hard, I’ve been broken too many times— I was watching all this mental/emotional activity... and then I stopped and reflected on how Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar practiced—not just his successes and awe inspiring demonstrations but the struggles he described in trying to master all the poses, his practice after his scooter accidents or his practice in his eighties and nineties. How did he face his obstacles? None of that was easy.  I considered how my teacher has taught me — never giving me an excuse and left the possibilities open for me to find a way —and those negative vrrtis (waves of consciousness) just stopped or were countered. My legs aren’t too slippery with sweat to grasp: they are just slick enough to slide the hands to the knees. The abdomen lengthened, the chest spread over and over into this pose at least ten times.  In the beginning I couldn’t get there. It wasn’t easy to get here. It hasn’t been easy. I needed props, I needed a good teacher, I needed to practice like my life depended on it. I wasn’t born like this. It’s more like how my teacher described himself at the last Intensive, “I know I was born a scum.” Iyengar called himself “a parasite”. Ok, yet let’s see what we can do with those very human conditions that we were born with, these circumstances that we are facing now, and take action through practice.  This is the potential of Iyengar Yoga. We can be born reactive, sickly, miserable and desperately temperamental, like I was, always screaming, allergic to everything... and with Iyengar Yoga we can see if we can do something with our lives. Can we find a way to progress and even inspire others to do the same?

 

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Bhujangāsana ~ cobra pose  

The fire of knowledge

II.42 santosāt anuttamah sukhalābhah “From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.’ Through cleanliness of the body, contentment is achieved. Together they ignite the flame of tapas [self-discipline/ burning zeal] propelling the sādhaka towards the fire of knowledge. This transformation, which indicates that the sādhaka is on the right path of concentration, enables him to look inward through Self-study (svādhāya) and then towards Godliness.” Yogācārya B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, translation and commentary on Sūtra II.42


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Steady does it

 “be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

—Rainer Maria Rilke 

1.2 Yoga cittah vrtti nirodhah ~ “Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.” ....“Stillness is concentration (dharana) and silence is meditation (dhyāna). ....(from the Commentary on this Sūtra)

1.3 Tadah drastuh svarupe avasthanam ~~ “then the seer dwells in his own true splendor.” Yogacārya B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.

 

Showing up to class despite all the conflicts is one stage of effort and discipline (tapas). Showing  up to one’s practice , facing one’s feelings (physical, energetic, mental, intellectual) for longer and longer periods with more and more regularity takes courage and commitment that gradually grows from a small flame...

Iyengar Yoga practice cultivates the sensitivity and strength to penetrate and understand oneself from the outside in: to see and ask and face who and what we are. Uncovering the layers, we see all that we are not. It doesn’t happen all at once. We may want it to, but it doesn’t work that way. The more we grasp the more we distort ourselves. Through long, dedicated inward practice,  gradually one experiences transformations of being and actions.

Daily, attentive practice is the stilling of the fluctuations (both the old patterns and the new troubles), so that the inner radiance shines out