morgan freeman is my guru

I am always looking for quotes on things that interest me. As a writer, I love words, of course, but I have a special fondness for the way other people use words and what they are saying. As a writer, I am also a reader. While looking up ‘stillness’ the other day on the world wide web, I came across all of these fantastic quotes by Mr. Morgan Freeman. His words rang so true, and so direct that soon, I was wishing we could have lunch or tea together and discuss my yoga practice, or his.

I have a weird habit of creating fantasy relationships from the literary, scientific and cinematic realms. Sometimes I even have fantasy famous boyfriends. Johnny Depp and I broke up long ago, but I still dress up in date clothes for his movies. Just in case.

You never know when the next teacher will appear, and Mr. Freeman is now one of my gurus.  Here are some of the wonderful things he has said to me when I asked for his guidance. I am sure you will see why I have chosen to study with him.

  • It’s what I learn from the great actors that I work with. Stillness. That’s all and that’s the hardest thing.
  • Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes radiance.
  • I can say that life is good to me. Has been and is good. So I think my task is to be good to it. So how do you be good to life? You live it.
  • Still, it can be more effective to accomplish what you need to accomplish with the minimum effort. Watch Anthony Hopkins. He doesn’t appear to be doing anything. He is so still that you can’t see him working, but you are drawn into his character through his very stillness.
  • Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes radiance.

I could not agree with you more, Morgan, my new guru.

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sweating pigeon, laughing crow

Finally I was able to go to class, after a week’s absence; my body was happily moving through the poses with strength and grace. Even when I messed up my left and right (the by-product of being a visual learner; auditory  instruction can confuse  me) my recovery was smooth.

I was surprised however at how much water was leaving through my skin. Perhaps you are wondering what exactly that means? That is my polite way of describing the horrifyingly extreme amount of sweat pouring out of me. Now, I love me some yoga, but sweat? Not so much. All of my life I have been told to hide this bodily function and now here it was leaking out everywhere. Did you know that your ears can sweat? Let  go, let go, let go. Breathe.

Child’s pose, sit up,  hands at my heart, rise up, reach up, fold down, child’s pose, down dog, right leg way up, swinging it forward and slide into pigeon…relax, breathe…plop. Sweat is now leaking from the top of my head onto the mat! I bring my focus to the pigeon and not my sweat. I don’t like pigeons  very much. I love all living things, but have no connection to this bird. I think they are dirty and dangerous, perhaps carrying diseases and parasites. I steer clear from pigeons.  But right now, I was a pigeon, lying with my feathered body resting on my leg-perch, my wings stretched out in front of me, my birds’ head down in prayer, surrender.  As I breathed into this bird energy, I could feel the fast beat of its tiny heart, and I could see how beautiful they were with their iridescent feathers sparkling in the sunlight. I could hear my pigeons’ cooing as she rises up with grace from her resting pose  to fly off, generously fanning my sweating body. It felt good and I thanked her.

I am studying the spiritual meanings behind the asanas, and using this imagery and ancient wisdom to guide my body, guide my practice. While researching on the web this morning just before class, I came upon kakasana, or crow.  Crow is one of my totem birds, hawk being another. Crow pose has some obvious power to it. I was very drawn to the crow pose, and imagined myself a crow and flying way above the earth and then compacting myself narrowly to dive down for some tiny morsel on the ground. I liked crow, but  realized it may take me some time before getting into it.

Still in pigeon, I was thinking how I longed to accomplish crow when to my surprise my teacher announced that we move into crow. He showed us how and as I found my balance I was able to manage small success with microseconds of lifting my feet up and off the ground…this made me laugh lightheartedly like a child and I tumbled over. Funny trickster crow!

On my way to my car, I delighted in the synchronicity of meeting crow on the very day that I had discovered her and just then a beautiful pigeon flew right out in front me, startling me and I gasped while she hovered in front of me, her soft wings gently breezing the air around us.

Sweat, laughter, surprises…it’s all yoga.

morning light

I have not been to the studio all week, as I mentioned in earlier posts, due to the rehab of my shower. I am so excited that tomorrow morning I will be on the mat in the studio. I had opportunities to go to class at night, after the workers had left, but for some reason, I am a morning yogini. This is surprising to me because, while I am an early riser by nature, I am not an early socializer. I usually schedule all public appearances after 12 noon, and 1 is when I am at my best.

The early morning hours, just after sunrise has always felt to me a time of sweetness; the world is waking up, the light is diffused, and if I’m lucky the coastal marine layer is heavy, everything enveloped in mist. In magical circles this is called the ‘tween time’, when the sun and moon are just passing each other, when the morning and the night are switching out. Powerful and poetic this is a good time for reflection, writing, reading and chanting. Also a wonderful time to simply sit, sip tea and breathe.

I have enjoyed my home bound time, these last mornings, but am very much looking forward to being on the mat, as the world moves from the night to the day.

private practice

This week, I was not able to go to class at all; there is construction going in my apartment. I had to be home, so that my beloved felines did not escape, crawl into newly opened walls or get trapped under exposed plumbing fixtures. And believe me they tried. I really missed the studio, my teacher and the practice. I also missed getting up and out of the house early and stretching and working yoga through my body, my mind. I missed it so much, that I attempted to do it at home, alone, unsupervised. I was nervous…and excited.

Moon salutations, sun salutations, down dog, crouching tiger, cobra, twists, child’s pose…I was physically doing yoga, but something was off, something was missing. I worked through it all again. Still missing something. What to do?

I sat on my mat. I laid back on my mat. I laid on my side.  Rolled over to my back again. My hips suddenly, spontaneously lifted into bridge pose, and it felt good-really good. I closed my eyes and strengthened my bridge, I imagined how strong this bridge was, how people could walk across my bridge and get where they are going. My breath was moving like ocean waves, my bridge was strong and still and…yoga happened.

I finished with tree pose, my absolute favorite. For the first time, I was able to lift my foot from my calf to my inner thigh and hold myself there while my hands moved from namaste to temple dancer, then reaching high over my head, arms swaying gracefully in the breeze. For a few moments I was a tree; rooted, flexible, reaching and yoga flowed easily through me.

It occurs to me now, that nothing is ever really ‘missing’, we are either in the flow or trying to get there.

I dream of yoga

Last night I dreamt that I was doing yoga. The dream is slipping away, now that I am awake, but I remember that I was in the studio, it was evening with the moon shining in on us. I was with one of my yoga teachers and he was showing me some very special asanas, not ones that he would normally teach. In my minds’ eye I can see myself doing them, but cannot make out exactly what they were. My body moved effortless and smoothly, as if I already knew the positions. It felt incredible, nourishing and sacred.

Several times in my life I have had dream-visions where I am shown, taught, instructed or guided in ways that do not feel earthly, do not feel ordinary. In my shamanism practice, I have learned that the ‘waking’ state is the middle, or middle world, and that while we predominantly live here, in ordinary reality, there are two other realms; the upper and lower worlds. Here in the middle, where we seem to land most often it is very physical, limited by our beliefs and thinking. In non ordinary reality all things are possible; flying, shapeshifting, visiting with animal guides, spirit guides and long past ancestors. Learning and teaching is common in all three realms, but feels somehow more sacred when it happens in non-ordinary reality.

I have long suspected that the dream state is another non-ordinary reality, and have been excited to visit it each night. My dreams are often prophetic, intuitive, rich with symbolism, color and epic story. Having my yoga teacher show up to instruct me in hidden asanas is thrilling, to say the least. The middle world part of me wants to know what those asanas were, where I can find them, how I can hold on to them, my physical self wants to physically experience them, write them down, touch them here, now.

An inner knowing calms me with this thought; the secret asanas of my dream have gone deep within me, energetically. They are not physical positions for me to practice in ordinary reality. They are spirit gifts given to me in the dream world by the dreaming self of my teacher, given to him by his spirit teachers and so on. It seems to me, that while I do yoga in the physical realm, I am also doing yoga in the spirit realm. How yogic is that!

Yoga is good medicine, I imagine my shaman teacher saying to me. Yoga is frickin’ awesome, I imagine my yoga teacher saying to me.

yogini heart, human body, yoga mind

Just before class, there is a very brief, very breath stopping, flash of doubt. What am I doing? I am not a yogini, I am never going to be able to really do yoga. GO HOME. My mind is so scared that I will bend my body into a shape that reveals some self perceived imperfection, that my stomach will fold into rolls, or while in downward facing dog everything that I spend so much time holding up will be sent cascading down. Let’s face it, my 51 year experiment with gravity is complete, and the results are in; it works.

The human mind is an interesting thing; predictable, spontaneous, trainable, hardwired and plastic. A miracle really. One of the things I do off the mat is hypnotherapy. I am an expert in the workings of the mind and have worked with many people helping them to change their mind-literally. I also do this with my own beautiful mind. I have re-routed fear, healed things that were supposedly only able to heal through surgery, and even healed some ‘incurable’ things. Can I use my mind for yoga?

Each morning, after a bath, I apply a light oil to my face. I use a gentle touch to massage it in and with my fingertips send love and wellness into my skin. I whisper over and over, the beauty that you are inside shows up on the outside and the beauty that you are outside goes deep, deep within you. I say the words, healthy, healthy, healthy, strong, strong, strong over and over to myself until the oil is completely absorbed. I thought about all of this today, while I was flat on the floor  with my upper body twisted all the way over to my right, legs lifted towards my heart, when I looked down at my waist and saw my worst  fear; a roll (of skin or flesh or…what exactly is this roll anyway?) in the middle of the twist. I closed my eyes and said over and over to myself; healthy, healthy, healthy, strong, strong, strong…the beauty that you are inside shows up on the outside…the beauty that you are outside goes deep, deep within you.

I sent love to the roll and breathed deeply. My practice today was strong, graceful and fluid.

I really do love my body, and my mind. I love how they both feel when I send yoga through them.

breakthrough

Yesterday an amazing thing happened to me during class. All of a sudden, the sequence of asanas I was doing clicked into flow.  This had not happened before, and the reality of it, the feeling of it surprised me. It almost caused me to lose the flow, but immediately something else happened; I was no long doing the asanas…they were ‘doing’ me! My muscle memory was performing the movements while my mind was occupied in the experience of how good flow felt and simply being. How delicious it was, how ecstatic it felt, how grateful I am.

This feeling of being was not entirely unfamiliar to me, however it was the first time I have experienced it with yoga. Once, and only once I experienced it as a runner when I broke through what is called ‘the wall’. The wall is a place that athletes long to break through, it is when your body seems unable to make one more step, not able to make one more effort when suddenly it is as if you are floating through the action, as if something has taken over and you are now being runned, being swam, being bicycled and so on. In meditation I have experienced the profound feeling of being breathed, no longer in charge of breathing on my own, as if my body were a living bellow and breath was moving in and out of me with no effort being made on my part.

These kinds of experiences make me giddy, make me want to laugh like a child on a swing, swinging higher than ever before, and daring yourself to go even higher. Experiencing this kind of delight of is addictive. It is like falling in love with a lovers’ body; you want to immerse yourself in his skin, breathe his breath, allow your hands to become drunk on the feel of him. What happened in class caused me to become enamored with my own body, to fall in love with new found strength, grace and capability. I wanted to do the whole class all over again, immediately, just to feel that simple, easy flow. I found an embrace in that experience, unlike any I have ever felt before; I found myself in the arms of yoga.

‘To find yourself in The Infinite, you must distinguish then unite’ ~ Goethe