Playlist for the month of May. 75 minutes. Get your sweat on.
I’ve been teaching backbends lately. Heart openers. “Look up, look up, look up!” I keep repeating in class. This started out because I realized I needed to cultivate courage, enthusiasm, and open-heartedness in my own life and practice, and when I introduced it to my students, I could just see them bounding toward it. One student whose upper body curled toward the floor in bad posture had one of the most beautiful Warrior Ones I’ve ever seen.
Sunday night I was reading Brene Brown’s book Daring Greatly, a work that explores vulnerability. She writes:
“Vulnerability isn’t good or bad: It’s not what we call a dark emotion, nor is it always a light, positive experience. Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings. To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness. To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living.”
The quote bounced around in my head the next day, as I kept finding opportunities to stop and ask myself if my reactions to different situations were reflective of my own vulnerability. And by the time I came to my mat (with a whole list of backbends to practice), I had centered in on how to incorporate the head with the heart and the body.
After 75 minutes I got everyone cooling down with some restorative asana. I demo’d Supta Badhokonasana to my students, then helped them get into the pose themselves. I read the Brown quote to them and then decided to join them in the pose, something I don’t always do. And, well, wham.
While I was telling everyone to relax and let themselves spill open into the experience of vulnerability, I found myself almost gasping at the exercise. I laid there in the dark, staring up at the ceiling, feeling unknown fears resonating through me. I couldn’t identify them, but they were there, and they were real. I felt like a small child afraid of the dark. I transitioned everyone to savasana, but all the while I was aware of my own experience in the pose. Opening yourself up exposes you, and it really shook me.
Later that night, I was putting our daughter down for bed. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day because we have each others’ full attention. She talks and sings and plays funny little hand games with me, and it takes longer and longer to get her to go to sleep because I don’t want to lose her for the rest of the night. When I finally did put her in her crib, she started crying to protest. And I thought of Supta Badhokonasana, and the unknown, unnamed fear that it brought out in me.
I ended up giving my daughter comfort instead of leaving her there in the dark. In time, she’ll learn to face her own vulnerability and understand it as a part of the emotional experience of life. But for now, I want her to know that I’m there for her. She has plenty of time to learn to face her fears on her own.
I’m reading Tara Brach right now, and she tells a story from the Buddhist canon about the Buddha and Mara, the Demon God. The most well-known story involving Buddha and Mara happened the night of the Buddha’s enlightenment, when Mara tried everything in his ability to tempt the Buddha. But what we don’t hear a lot about is their relationship after the Buddha’s enlightenment. As it turns out, Mara stuck around.
Dr. Brach talks about how the Buddha asked Ananda to be a gatekeeper of sorts, alerting him whenever the “Evil One” was present. Instead of admonishing Mara, or chasing him off, the Buddha would treat him as a revered guest and serve him tea. It’s not entirely clear whether or not they conversed, but they would sit across from each other, drinking tea, until Mara felt it was time to leave.
Mara is used as a metaphor for fear in our lives, the fear that often shows up unexpectedly and blindsides us. Sometimes we admonish it, try to chase it away, or even collapse under the pressure of it. The story of the Buddha serving Mara tea shows that by establishing a level of comfort with our fear, our insecurities, we get to the point where fear is still present, but is not effective.
I was playing around with various yoga poses and came into this bakasana variation, a forearm balance that asks a lot of you. The head and shoulders are pulling forward while the spine curls up (into a cat back), the legs and hips are pulling in and the core is on overdrive. It’s easy to let your shoulders pull too far forward and dump the back. An advanced form is to start in pincha mayurasana and fold oneself down into the “baby bakasana.“
I was thinking about Mara today with my practice. It was hard for me to get started, but once my body started to sweat, I started to recognize the elemental benefits yoga practice brings, and I stopped caring so much about the minutes ticking away. When it came to the new variation, I didn’t jump at the chance to try something new. I felt Mara’s presence, and instead of reacting to it, I simply invited him to tea. And the result is that I learned something new, I did something different, and now I can move on.
Oh my. Well, I certainly have not been blogging, if you want to know what I’ve been up to.
I have been doing a lot of work with Christina Sell through her online classes and really enjoying her perspectives. I found this video online and just think it speaks to the amount of work she puts in and the amount of faith she has in her students. As a teacher, it means so much when you trust your students enough to really put the work on them.
This song has been on my repeat playlist for yoga classes. No matter what time of day I hear it, I want to throw up my arms and start dancing. It’s perfect for Surya Namaskaras.
Of course, the moment the baby is able to sleep fully through the night, this comes to my nightstand (well, Kindle). To say that The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson is the best book I’ve read in years is an understatement. I fought for a long time with the veracity of his descriptions, but by the time I finished I was so emotionally invested in the story that it was like Borges’ Library of Babel; it existed so firmly in my imagination that it was enough. If you see me around, just know I’m going to try to push this book on you.
We’re pulling more and more food from the garden, or at least pulling our menu ideas from it. After reading this article in the NYTimes over the weekend, I’m more committed to implementing herbs into our food. Jo Robinson writes, “Herbs are wild plants incognito. We’ve long valued them for their intense flavors and aroma, which is why they’ve not been given a flavor makeover. Because we’ve left them well enough alone, their phytonutrient content has remained intact.” I’ve strangely come to love the taste of Italian parsley (I think thanks to this blog, where Alexis Stewart uses parsley really regularly), so we’re putting it on more and more food before it comes to the table (along with rosemary, purple basil, cilantro, arugula, various lettuces, and more). The herbs and kale above were chopped into ribbons and sauteed for just a second in garlic and a hefty dose of olive oil before I put them over some whole grain pasta. It was so simply, probably cost $3 for 4 servings, and tasted so delicious.
And finally, my practice has changed. I now have a partner when I’m on my mat. I think I’ve lost some of the focus I had when I was practicing solo, but that’s the only somewhat negative comment I can say about practicing with children present. It’s honestly the best I’ve felt with my yoga practice in my life. I think I’ve been waiting my entire life to practice with her.