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Just Go

November 11, 2010

In all the coverage of the marathon this past week, my favorite was this post on NYTimes Well blog by noted author Christopher McDougall.  It’s good. You should go read it. But here’s the line that jumped out at me:

“If you want to run 26.2 miles, the door’s right there. Go. Why do you need corporate hoopla and 45,000 strangers along for the ride?”

Being a yogini, and not a runner, it got me thinking about the way we do yoga. The truth is, if you want to do yoga, grab some floor and go for it!  You don’t need special equipment, patented classes, or moisture-wicking underwear.  Almost everything you can do with your body is some form of asana, so start moving and see what happens.

But ultimately humans are a social animal.  McDougall goes on to point out that the desire to run in packs has been hard-wired into our brains. The earliest humans were able to hunt large game (and thus survive) because they could run in groups and share the burden of the chase. Even with all that separates us in the modern world, working cooperatively as part of a larger whole really does deepen and enrich our experience.

And that’s why we take yoga classes.  Because we want to be with others.  Because we trust our teachers to lead us safely and carefully to the edge of our abilities.  Because a room full of people anchored in their bodies and reaching out to the world is truly unbelievable.

There are so many different versions of yoga, all emphasizing different aspects of the practice.  I’m a vinyasa teacher because that style works best for my body, but that may not be true for you.  Get out there. Try all kinds of yoga. Ashtanga, Iyengar, Bikram, Anusara, Forrest, Vinyasa. Listen to your body and practice in a way that makes sense for you, that feels good to you.  Find your pack.

And then every now and then set that aside and just practice on your own. Never forget that you can just go, and find your own way. There is great freedom in that knowledge.



November 4, 2010

So I’ve been baking bread lately.

Yesterday, I made this black bread from Smitten Kitchen. It went surprisingly well!

When I first took up this new interest, my good friend Rick said “It is a primal sort of activity.”

I like that. Because even though traditions have mutated and changed, even though I use a big stand mixer and ingredients like instant espresso powder, that feels true. Baking bread is primal. It is a thing humans have been doing, and will continue to do, for thousands of years.

I’m drawn to traditions. I’m drawn to the idea that we do some things because they have been done for thousands of years. But in the end, I’ll always be pragmatic.  I can’t get behind the notion that we should willfully ignore a changing tradition just because it’s not exactly the same as it was a thousand years ago.

The world is in a constant state of change.  I don’t bake bread purely for sustenance.  I bake it because it’s a pleasurable activity for me.  Each generation comes to a tradition on its own terms, and that generation will naturally hold onto the pieces that resonate most strongly with its experience of the wider world.  To accept that change is to create a living tradition that will never truly be lost.

Such is the case with yoga. The physical asana poses as practiced in the Western world do not go back all that far into history.  They come primarily from the teachings of the late Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, born in 1888.  But they are a thread, a piece of a tradition that reaches all the way back to Patanjali and the Mahabharata. We find the piece that works for us, and that leads us to the wider tradition.

If you insist that a tradition must never change, you never give your children (both physical and metaphorical) a chance to join on their terms, to contribute their unique insight.  And some will never join the tradition at all.  If I had to hand mix the dough, and build a stone oven in which to bake it, I’d never make bread.

It’s much the same with me and organized religion.  I’m pulled to the tradition, but I’ll never rank doctrine over personal experience.

And that’s a post for another day.

Liminal Space

November 3, 2010

We see the middle as weak.

Caught in the middle. Between a rock and a hard place. No Man’s Land.

But what the Buddha knew, and what I suspect we all slowly discover, is that there is great strength between great extremes.

Yoga is full of paradoxes.  We’re told to be fully present in our emotions but resist the temptation to be consumed by them.  Like the Christian directive to be “in the world, but not of the world,”  we are to acknowledge, accept, and love what we feel, but hold onto this notion of the Self above and beyond what we experience.

I am not especially mystical, and this idea did not always resonate with me. But in the practice of yoga I have approached my physical limit.  And in that place just beyond the limit, that liminal space, the idea of the Self didn’t seem like a mystical paradox. It felt like a source of strength.

Look, my feet are firmly on the ground.  I respect the laws of physics and am bound by all sorts of personal failings.  I will never be able to mediate so hard I become invisible, no matter what Yoga Sutra III.21 says.*  I will never achieve the Self that is eternal. But more to the point, I don’t want to reach the eternal Self, because to do so would mean that I stop growing, that I stop progressing forward as a person.  And that I simply cannot abide.

So I work towards the Self, without ever achieving it.  And between the mire of my current emotional state, and the Self so far beyond, there is strength, like a rope thrown down from far above. Asana practice is one way I push toward the limit of my understanding, and find the strength to climb a little bit higher on the rope.

There is strength in the middle.  But you do have to work for it.

* In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda, book 3, sutra 21 reads: “By samyama {a specific form of deep meditation} on the form of one’s body [and by] checking the power of perception by intercepting light from the eyes of the observer, the body becomes invisible.” So yeah, the sacred text of yoga says you can become invisible.  I’m still working on that one.

The Shop

October 21, 2010

The Aventail Designs Etsy Shop is REBORN!!


Green & Silver Pendant

you can buy this there...

It’s been bathed in fire and freshly reforged, complete with new items, new photography, and new graphics.

Check it out by clicking here! (Or use the “Buy Aventail Jewelry” button to the right)

I’ve got a few pieces up there to start, but I’ll be adding more shortly.  The beauty of chainmaille is that the possibilities feel infinite.  The same pattern in a different material or a different size will have a completely new look, so there’s always something to try.  I’ve been away from it for a while (yoga school sapped all my extra energy) and I’m really excited to get back into making new pieces.

For now, here are some pieces I’ve been holding back, and a few old favorites

One Hundred and Eight

October 16, 2010

Surya Namaskar AThat’s a picture of Surya Namaskar A.

And I did that 108 times yesterday.

It’s an old ritual. I’ve done it before, and it will be done long after me.  But it’s one hell of an experience.

The first time I did it I joked that I could see though time by the end. Yesterday it was remarkable because I didn’t see much of anything.

The flow of the room is so important with something like this. When it’s a shared experience, your mood, your bearing will affect those around you. Because the physical movement is so defined, minor shifts and tweaks become a new kind of body language. My vision was limited to the mat in front of me and the women practicing next to me.

And boy, did I need that.  There’s such clarity of purpose in doing one thing so many times. Everything else falls away. Everything seems less complicated.  Stay in the flow, keep going, and the whole path begins to emerge.

My day got more convoluted from there, because how could it not? But the core of my being was a little bit stronger.  When you make the offering, sometimes a little something is revealed.

Links in a Chain

October 14, 2010

And so it begins…

My world has a lot of component parts.

I teach yoga. I watch people move. I make chainmaille. I draw. I listen. I read. I write. My brain likes to solve problems. And I like to explain everything.

This is an effort to bring all of that together.

Yoga teachers often talk about “connecting the mind, body, and breath” and that’s both absolutely true and completely ridiculous. It’s true that yoga is a practice of consciously connecting those things, but unconsciously they are inseparable.  Your mind cannot function without oxygen, the body can’t bring in oxygen without muscles, and muscles can’t engage without the nervous system.

The personality functions in a similar  way. All the work I’ve done and all the lessons I’ve learned piled up to form something close to a complete person.  If I can consciously bring all that together, it may be something worth reading.

There will be yoga, and some comics, and chainmaille jewelry, and my marginally coherent thoughts.

Let’s go!