punch drunk yoga
several people forwarded this new york times‘ article to me over the weekend titled, “the days of wine and yoga.” the article is about yoga-and-wine retreats planned to be held in sonoma county starting in 2007.
to her credit, the journalist explores two opposing views. “‘yoga can be very serious, sure, but why not have it be really fun?’” this, the question posed by the woman whose idea it is to launch an alcohol-assisted yoga practice. “yoga purists,” apparently, take the opposite view, which is to say that “‘drinking and [yoga] don’t go well together.”‘
i’m not sure how these two views are opposite each other, because the basic problem with calling sober-yoga serious, and wine-yoga fun, is to say that drinking makes yoga more fun. or less serious.
Seriously? another proponent of wine-and-yoga asked where we draw the line: is it at “‘tylenol? refined sugar? caffeine?”’ though this question is exactly where we could stay for a while, this woman’s question also misses the point.
the point is that yoga is about purifying the body. we practice hatha yoga, and indeed all forms of yoga, to cleanse the body’s meridian (or, in sanskrit, nadi) pathways in order to give it more opportunity to absorb and utilize prana, or chi. we breathe through a pose, a yoga class, a meditation, in an effort to stay mindful of how the body operates, as a channel, in space and time.
no matter what country, vineyard, or social custom wine is associated with, it is a toxin. the body recognizes alcohol of any kind as poison. furthermore, wine does not “relax” the body; it temporarily deadens it. wine is a beautiful, delicious, and seductive poison, but a poison it is.
another downside of drinking wine (and don’t get me wrong: we just served wine at our holiday party) is lack of proper sleep. anyone who has suffered from insomnia knows that even one glass of wine up to four hours before bed can disrupt sleep.
like yoga, sleep is designed to help the body clean and heal. therefore, the yoga teacher leading these sonoma retreats, rosemary garrison, is simply wrong when she says, “‘have a glass of wine, enjoy your night, get a good night’s sleep and come to a really cleansing, vigorous practice the next morning [at the wine-and-yoga retreat].’” it’s unlikely that, since the practitioners are at a winery that has many selections of palate-stimulating wines, anyone will drink just one glass.
it isn’t that we drink wine and do yoga, or that that we take tylenol for whatever pain we have, it’s the intention to combine the two. one is a cleansing practice designed to help the person discover her/his union with the higher self; the other is a thousands-year-old invention designed a) to achieve the effect we still desire today, and/or b) to drink in place of fetid water that otherwise killed people.
one last thing. i decided that i really couldn’t comment on a wine-and-yoga practice unless i had a direct experience doing it. so, in preparation for my practice last night, i had a glass of wine. it was a nice glass of red wine.
What I noticed in my practice was how tired I was. I stayed in poses longer, without being as interested as i usually am. I found my mind wandering, particularly to topics, and relationships, that currently leave me feeling sad. I also didn’t have much focus: I usually start my practice with some idea of what my body is wanting, and in this case I couldn’t quite get to it. So I wound up relying on poses I normally do when I can’t think of anything else. in short, for me, it was a less mindful practice than normal.
we are living in an extremely dangerous world
this is what dr. nile gardner of the heritage foundation said this morning, speaking on the diane rehm show, at around 10:25 am.
in this context, he was criticizing kofi annan for too much pacifism during the past decade. specifically, he backed up his comments on the annan’s slow reaction to darfur.
i try to listen to information like this through the lens of a yogini (i love this article describing the word yogini. and this is a new book on the identity). to that end, my response is served up as yogically as possible, with a dash of feminism and a sprinkling of forgiveness.
many in the decades before us would have said that pacifism is the only way. though i wasn’t alive for it, the 60′s sounds like it was an encouraging time for peace-seekers. the teachings of the buddha, and gandhi, are rooted in non-violence. there have been voices, in other words, in the recent past that honor pacifism instead of criticize it.
to dr. gardiner’s point, these days we hear a lot about how violent things are. what i’m trying to work out is whether things are different or the same. one difference is that we have more access to the information (read: suffering) of people around the globe. and losing 3,000 people on 9/11 wasn’t a small experience. on the other hand, nick nolte says something to one of his reports in the thin red line about how nature is always warring with itself. car bombs in baghdad are of a piece, according to him, and obviously according to dr. gardiner.
so, here we find ourselves. if quantum physics is in fact a sound way to consider reality (this docu-drama does a great job explaining how), then when we meditate or do yoga, we are serving society by envisioning peace. watching the thin red line the other night, i wondered with the narrator what it is inside us that creates man-on-man violence–when there is so much beauty, and so much peace.
i posit, perhaps, that we need to know violence, really stare it in the face, before we can deeply know peace. and, as many wisdom teachers offer, to discover our true nature is to discover a reality beyond even the pedestrian definition of peace. rather, it is to know unadulterated bliss, that of true consciousness.
there is a fundamental flaw in the job drug companies have to sell us drugs.
publicly-traded drug companies are necessarily beholden to their stockholders, who have loaned a certain sum of money to the company with the expectation that they will get more money back at a later date.
because the first (and many would suggest only) job of a company is to make money, drug companies have to make money selling drugs. A big way a publicly-traded company increases its value and pays off its debt is by developing an economy of scale, i.e., the lipitor market, the celebrex market.
this means any drug company can’t make a drug that is only right for me. rather, that company has to know that the millions of dollars it spends on R&D, thus taking money away from the bottom line that gets paid out to stockholders, will be recovered and a profit made.
So it is in pfizer’s, and its shareholders’ interest, to sell you lipitor and celebrex. Whether you actually need these drugs is not, necessarily, a concern of Pfizer because the more lipitor Pfizer sells, the happier its employees (year-end bonuses), and the more gratified the stockholders (increased stock price, more money in junior’s college fund). It is only natural that the leaders of this company would want more money than employees, and, possibly, shareholders, because they are the ones steering the ship, paying the bills on time, and keeping their own little corner of the free market churning.
the answers to this issue are not easy, but we have to talk about them. to start, several ideas come to my mind:
1) you are the only person who will ever know what you need. Knowing what you need, including exactly what you need to heal (it could be relearning the breath, it could be celebrex), is power.
you need to work with trained people whose single intention is to help you, to determine what you need to heal, because you cannot do it alone. to this end, pfizer (eg) can be viewed as a helper, but not, i would argue, an advisor in any way.
2) The relationship that you, as a consumer, have with a publicly-traded drug company is inherently disempowering. Desire for more money in the free market is arguably insatiable, and the expectation of pfizer’s stockholders for more money is driving that company’s efforts to sell you drugs. From a yogic point of view, it is important to have this information when you make a decision to take any prescribed drug.
3) There was a time when individual communities, small ones all over the globe, had local healers who worked in service of healing the ailments of that community. At this time people were not living past 40 years of age. It is clear we will never go back to that time, but we all could stand an increase in community-based healers to balance the “power” of free-market drug peddling, which is our reality today.
what you feel in poses,
and what you don’t: this is what’s on my mind. i’m curious what problems or questions people are having in specific poses. ask here if you have questions.
inversions are fun
plus, as you turn upside down, you simulate an aerobic environment for your body because your heart has to work a lot harder to get the clean blood out into the system since it’s not so much on top as in this case on bottom.
that’s what i’ve been taught as a yoga student. it makes sense to me. rodney yee once claimed that you could heal your body more seriously by doing a 20-minute headstand every day than by doing almost anything else.
it always happens in the car
so i was driving to the studio today to meet a client, and i was wending with the car through side streets in order to avoid any major traffic lights. love that about dc.
suddenly, as i hit the gas and drove away from a four-way stop i had just paused at (one-thousand-one, one-thousand-two), a car came barreling down the street perpendicular to mine, the driver oblivious to the stop sign she was about to run. there i was, suddenly in her line of vision and right in the middle of the crossing. she slammed on her brakes, already through her stop sign she’d just run, inches from hitting my car.
the whole thing was lucky: having my barely-accelerating car hit by another one going 30+ miles an hour would probably have sucked. i am grateful for the fact that she looked up! so, in the mini-moments i spend processing — “oh my god, what is she doing? oh my god, she is going to hit me! oh my god! she is such an idiot for driving so fast and ignoring basic traffic rules!” — i find it fascinating that i arrived at the conclusion that she was an idiot.
just before the moment that her car’s nose stopped at my car’s side, i had thrown my hand up in the air as through to stop her with my special yogic superpowers. as i began to process my anger toward her, which arose from the fear i experienced at nearly being side-swiped, i used that upraised hand to gesture at her and mouth, “what are you doing?! that’s a stop sign!” i pointed to the stop sign, reminding her of what she’d obviously already figured out; my face was in a scowl, and i’m sure i looked as afraid and angry as i felt. her face scowled back, as though it was my fault the stop sign was there.
in all, the situation was great because neither of us was physically hurt, but sucky because we both drove away with no contact, pissed at the other. how many of us have forgotten about a stop sign or nearly side-swiped someone? all of us. how many of us have almost been hit, or almost hit someone? all of us. but there this woman and i were, looking all mean at each other in a moment that arose from mindlessness, fear, and therefore anger. i drove on, and she drove on, both of us feeling bad, not least because we’d put that energy out there.
my question is: how could i have processed my fear and anger, using my powers of observation and clarity, and actually forgiven her in that moment instead of shaking an angry fist at an unwitting stop sign, and giving her the frowny-face that, at that moment, i felt sure she deserved? surely there is a better way than the character assassination that inevitably follows commuter situations such as these.
and then to nurture
this is the time of year that time seems to take over. everyone’s walking around saying, oh my gosh, i can’t believe the year is almost over, blah blah. and then it’s off to the 30-day sprint, of parties, malls, and your computer at work, to buy, celebrate, and imbibe. the economy does its little holiday dance that everyone watching the numbers enjoys, since we’re all part of it in some way.
that’s putting a lot of energy out there. this can be exhausting, and it usually is. it’s important to keep energy in as well. though we’re all still recovering from whatever happened at thanksgiving, the holiday music and deocorations in stores and starbucks will ensure that you don’t forget where you are and what you’re supposed to be thinking of from moment to moment.
that’s why i wanted to post something about feeding yourself, nurturing yourself. it would not be such a bad intention to set this season, to stop and do something every day that takes care of you. no one needs to know about it, and in fact, the act could be as small as hugging yourself when you get home from a 15-hour day.
or it could be to meditate for five minutes, three times a week. or it could be to take two long baths. or it could be to get in touch a long-lost friend you have no issues with, just to talk and remember the brightness of being a kid.
it could be anything. be clear on how you nurture yourself first: this might even be something we need to consider first — what is it to nurture myself? — before acting on this intention at all.
compassion and christ
nearly every yoga or meditation teacher i’ve had talks about compassion. in yoga circles, we discuss compassion. the day after the election, my current yoga teacher led a chant about compassion.
in my own yoga classes i sometimes bring it up — but not that much, because there’s something about the word that keeps me guessing. i understand and feel it, and my intention daily is to practice it, but daily i also find that relationships and traffic and bills get the best of me. these often take me out of touch, out of focus, from what i know to be compassion, especially for myself and my perceived struggles.
so i looked the word up today on dictionary.com. i was astounded. did i know this before? had i forgotten it? could i have gone this long without knowing such an interesting word root? is mel gibson so lame that i’ve blocked it out?
[Origin: 1300–50; ME (< AF) < LL compassi?n- (s. of compassi?). See com-, passion]
we know what “com-” means. so, curiously, i loooked up passion:
[Origin: 1125–75; ME (< OF) < ML passi?n- (s. of passi?) Christ's sufferings on the cross, any of the Biblical accounts of these (> late OE passi?n), special use of LL passi? suffering, submission, deriv. of L passus, ptp. of pat? to suffer, submit; see -ion]
woah. i’m sure there’s more to this word, but based on my very unscientific relationship with dictionary.com, compassion as a word a) is old, and b) refers to a specific thing (event? person?) in a way that many other words don’t.
it’s my job to say that if you’re practicing yoga, you’re learning compassion. it’s my personal interpretation of my job to say that if you’re learning compassion, you need to understand the energy of the word and its connotations. as with all truths, compassion is easy to know, but difficult to cultivate, nurture, and practice. and you have to start inside before you can take it on the road.
what this has directly to do with jesus, well, we could blog about this until 2012. i found the coolest resource for to start this on yogajournal.com. in their top-200 sanskrit terms by georg feuerstein, compassion means:
Karuna (“compassion”): universal sympathy; in Buddhist yoga the complement of wisdom (prajna).
and then: what’s the hebrew word for compassion? how do you say it in arabic?
[Origin: 1350–1400; ME (< MF consumer) < L cons?mere, equiv. to con- con- + s?mere to take up (perh. < *suzm- < *subzm- < *subs-(e)m-, equiv. to subs-, var. of sub- sub- + emere to take, buy)]
—Synonyms 1. exhaust, deplete. 4. squander, dissipate.
i am more interested in dictionary.com’s synonyms than etymology. it sounds like “to consume” is not good. is it or not? particulary for this week ahead of us, i humbly suggest we contemplate this question.
on savasana and dying grandmothers
as i sat down this morning to write, wishing that petworth had a latte delivery service, i was thinking about death. recently three people close to me–a good friend, my brother-in-law, and someone i work with–have all faced death with their dying grandmothers.
in talking with them about this process, especially at length last night with my friend, i’ve realized how much my perspective on life has changed through yoga. i’m open to the fact that it might also be a healthy dose of maturation, this new perspective, but frankly i’m psyched that it seems yoga has helped me become less afraid of dying.
i have been accused of being naive my whole life (did you know that word’s not in the dictionary?), and my tendency is to imagine dying as all bubblegum and lollipops: a beautiful experience that ends a beautiful life, and whether you actually go anywhere or not, shit, at least you’re not working as hard as you did on this plane.
my friend reminded me last night that dying can be ugly and painful, noisy and protracted. her grandmother chose to die over 17 days. my friend reported that at many times during that 17-day period, her grandmother, who had alzheimer’s, would suddenly tense up, look at the ceiling of the hospice room as though she were searching deeply for something, and become unresponsive to the calls of her loved ones asking her what she was looking at, or for.
during other moments, as she lay dying, she would gasp for air through her mouth, moaning in pain because her kidneys had failed her, and generally feeling, as her family observed it, pain and discontent because her body was still basically working. my friend, as she massaged her grandmother’s feet and hands, gently entreated her to let go, to give up the control she’d been used to for so many decades. how hard will that be for all of us, right?
minutes before my friend’s grandmother died, her gasping stopped. instead of rasping the breath through her mouth, this old woman started breathing in a way that my friend’s aunt could only describe as peaceful. she was breathing through her nose. the family then called in a nurse, who used a stethoscope to hear the woman’s heartbeat. after what they now know to have been her last breath, there was a pause, no exhale; the nurse told the family that she still heard a heartbeat. the family sat, rapt, waiting to see if the woman would breathe again. instead, the beat of this woman’s heart went silent.
this is why yogis call the heart region the true mind. they have been teaching for thousands of years that we come from this source, and we return to it. the eye-witness experience that my friend’s family had bears this out.
Make no mistake that you are practicing your own death, every class, in savasana, corpse pose. that’s why it’s so hard for many of us, and why we sometimes want to avoid it. you are looking into your own heart, its gentle rhythm, and letting go of attachment to your body as anything other than a pulse. you practice this as with a dress rehearsal, so that when you do it for real, you do it well.
How well you do savasana is correlated only to how well you can relax. You can’t do anything in this pose but watch your own body, and then let it go, a near-perfect analog to life itself: the idea is to stay here not as long as you can, but as well as you can.