mn yoga retreat


I was talking with one of my teachers today.  I was talking about the same things I always talk about.  To wit:

  • the biophysical reality and psychological minefield of asana and yoga practice, as opposed to empty energy talk and one size fits all group classes;
  • the need for a private, intimate, personal relationship to this path.  An unfolding of theory into workable practice, an understanding;
  • "Teacher", longevity of practice, and transformation through relationship
  • authenticity of the teaching, translation of the tradition, a living reality and credible source, as opposed to palaver, spiritual platitudes, and gobbedeegook.
  • becoming more alive

I apologized for my repetition.  He pointed out that what feels like a tension, an unsolvable dilemma, has become something that holds.  The questions are resolving.  I have a path. I've learned this much, from practice: follow the threads.  Don't let go.1.1

I've been playing with the yoga sutra.  In a number of different ways.  I've begun playing with the sounds I can make in my throat.  With song.  With what I can say, what I can sound, and with breath.  Don't take me too poetically: I'm singing the sanskrit alphabet in the shower every morning.  You wouldn't believe the things I do in private.  All this fascination with toes.  Now, with the tongue, the brain, and the breath.  Impression and expression, the things we cannot say, the uncanniness of emotional states and perceptions being hooked, locked, bounded by our voice.  What it takes to unravel our own minds.

1.3This sounding out sanskrit tangled for a while with conversations I was having about teachers.  As in, The Teacher.  This is a who am I, question, but also a please help me, one.  Which also tangled with a few years of conversation about tradition.  As in, The Tradition.  The Teaching.  And how hard it is to find the teachings.

All of this then shifted to me chanting the Yoga Sutra every day, before I practice.  As a practice.

Because something uncanny happens when you spend that much time with an idea.  A commitment.  A thing that isn't easy.

1.4It's said every syllable of the Sanskrit language carries metaphysical undertones and trails of meaning, much like Hebrew.  Every syllable is a book of nuance, history, image and connotation. I know this: every time I repeat a chant I am simultaneously invoking all the prior times I've sounded the sound, as well as all of the other billions of times other people have made the same sounds, down through time.  I make a little refuge, right there just by calling out.  It's a kind of prayer, I suppose.  But it has no bargaining, in it.  No promising.  No debate.

The concept is beautiful.  So, too, are the sounds.  Once you get over being a shy warble throated harpie who can't make the sounds very well.

1.5But the absolute beauty of this stuff is that it isn't just a pretty concept.  Something physically is changed.

Do this for five days in a row and you suddenly start dreaming different things.  You start thinking different thoughts.  You begin to make strange choices.  And suddenly, the practice isn't itself but a kind of suffusion.  It perfumes everything.  It's right on the tip of your tongue and shows up in the sound of dishes being washed, traffic passing by.  The words are tree trunks, and bird lift, and cloud pull.  I've started reading my skin.  It's something like seeing the moon, in full daylight.  You realize the hidden aspects to things.

I wonder what would happen if a person were to practice sound for forty, fifty years.

Eventually, I decided I should teach the sutras, as retreat.  Because.

Because it is so hard to find the teachings.  So hard to understand.  We're told - promised - that yoga works, that the teachings are profound, that there is more to come.  We've been told and told this.  But all we ever really get is a yoga class, a posture, maybe a workshop now and then.  But 'certifications' and even 'trainings' rarely work with the primary source.  They offer synopsis and send you home.

1.12If we want to understand a thing, we have to work with it.  Just as there is a difference between reading a recipe and knowing how to boil yourself an egg.

Over the years, my teachers have given me work to do with the texts.  Over the years, I've done more. I have dozens of copies, many translations.  But over time, the language and the practice begin to inform one another.  The concepts begin to be felt realities, rather than abstract concepts.  After awhile, the 'text' is not a thing printed and bound, but an event that has happened in my bodily tissues, and my mind.

All the threads, bind:

The yoga sutra are the primary source.  Or one of them.

Yet they aren't a book.  It isn't a thing you 'read' like a textbook.  Nor is it something to memorize and drop into a class sequence once in a while.  The sutra are pithy and short, and people use them like inspirational memes or pull quotes for an asana class.  But a yoga sutra is not a quote from the yoga sutras: it is an embodied experience that takes a dozen years, and a relationship that takes place between a student and a teacher, and a practice experience a student has in time.

1.13They aren't a book. Each sutra elicits a deep study, discussion and context between student and teacher.  They quite directly answer questions about 'alignment' in asana, the issues that come up and how to work with them, the principals of practice, the questions of psychology and personal dead-ends.

The yoga sutra is not a book, but a practice intended to be gone through, in and over time, with a teacher, in light of your own life.

To say this another way: I have been working with my teachers for years.  They have opened doors for me that I couldn't have opened myself.  I couldn't have opened them because I didn't know they were there.  Shown a door, I've had to over and over again realize that the person holding it open for me can't walk through it, for me, and I've had to go deeper into my own practice.  Then, I have to go back to my teacher.  Because I can't practice alone.  Because I don't know where the doors of my body, of the tradition, of what do I do now, might be.  Every time this happens, further transformation occurs.

The yoga sutra, says this.  Literally.  Everything I've learned of physiology and anatomy are supported by the old sources.  The essential questions of how to practice, what to practice, how to find a teacher and how to go on, are in there.

The sutra are not a book.  They are something you do.  Understand what breathing is.  Feel where you are not able to breath.  Change.  Of course, there is a lot of application that needs to happen.  We need to work with our own individual bodies.  We have to understand what bodies are, what mind is, this incorrigible relationship between ourselves and reality being nothing like what we thought.  This question: is yoga a spiritual path or not?  Yes.  I say.  If you want it to be yoga.

All this to say I've been playing with the sutras in my practice.  Half of this has gone into writing the curricula for retreat,  my whole enthusiasm and heart is being poured into how to cultivate discussion, personal practice, establish solid meditation practices, marry silence and insight while we're together.  Little bits of it are leaking out in a daily translation, that's showing up in images on instagram.  Some further little bit of it becomes poetry.  But mostly, it is my own practice.  Which is all I can really share with you.  The way this works.  The way it has been, for me.  The way yoga continues to evolve.

Finding the teachings isn't hard.  Not in the way I'd first thought.  It's there as surely as moon is, by daylight.  Whether you've noticed, or not.

There are certain things that happen in the course of practice. They happen every single time. They are so predictable I might as well offer guarantees or seals of quality. We begin to have honest self esteem. As in we can see ourselves more clearly. We can see where we've screwed up or are imperfect, without falling apart. We know the growth and beauty possible in our own lives. And we become more fluid. Less frozen. Less cold. We become like water: now snow, now dew, now cloud. We become creative, without obsession. without fear. We become more eclectic. Not arbitrarily nor falsely, but with honesty and truth. We become more than one self all the time, insisted on and scared of having the masks pulled away. We become both our mother and our children. Sick, and well. Lover, parent, beloved, artist, common joe. We begin to enjoy ourselves, more. We begin to have greater intimacy. And we begin have a greater interior life, a soulfulness and sacred, reverent gestures. Yet we don't become dogmatic or theoretical. It happens, every single time. I can guarantee it. IF we are practicing for years, without getting lost and quitting, with reverence, and with care. If, then. You notice I say nothing of advanced postures, ended disease or aging gracefully. I say nothing here of teachers or styles or specific postures. I only said practice. Really give yourself to this, and the practice begins to give you to yourself. #retreat #yoga #yogateacher #patanjali #sutra

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Today is a Monday, late in the year.  I have to say this because I get confused, recently: I was supposed to be headed to New York City, yesterday, and a Zen retreat center early this morning.  Instead, I'm at home nursing Ty, listening as cancer swells his abdomen and pain laces his bones.  We wake and sleep all night long,  The neighborhood went silent and empty over the holidays, and I cancelled my flight, and there didn't seem to be any sound anywhere.  All the people went away, to family and parties and airports.  I stayed.  Snow fell, eventually. Time stopped.  We - the dog and I - fell out of the world. Time moves, for us, differently.  Time is measured by his breath, this waking and sleeping all night long. I measure time since he last peed or ate, the hundreth time I clean up after him, the thousandth time I lay my forehead on his heart.

When I wrote to my teacher to tell him I wasn't coming, I used every word I could: cancer, diagnosis, uncertainty, responsibility.  He answered simply, and intimately, as he does.  Using the one word I didn't.

I'm sorry your dog is dying, he said.

I didn't say that, I realized.  I didn't say the one thing.  I didn't say: death.

Late in the cold, silent night I sat on the stoop and watched him limp around the yard.  Put my hand on his big square head when he came back to me.  Here is the gist of it: I don't know how many more times he will come back to me, anymore.  It's a limited number, now, but I don't know what the number is. While on this retreat, I was to take my buddhist vows, to say out loud to my teacher I vow to follow this path, I vow to practice, I vow to practice until all sentient beings reach enlightenment.  In the way of late, silent nights, it occurred to me that I am vowing: I am crossing over with this sentient being.

At four am, he fell asleep with his head on my lap.  I sat still.  I sat so still.  I've often sat at four am, and this morning I remembered all of those times.  I often joke that there was no transition period for me; I went from still being awake at four am as a drunk to waking at four am as a yogi with no interlude.  The threshold of one day to another goes back a long time for me, touches a lot of people and places.  This morning, my heart opened like an umbrella in my chest.  I started to chant my chants, and then I sang old folk songs, and then I sang nothing at all. My throat stayed, wide open.

I wrote this much, this morning, and then stopped.  I took Ty out to the woods and he refused.  He looked at me as if apologizing.  So I lifted him, carried him, back to the car and then the house. I took him out hours later and he left blood all over the snow. I want to write about blood on snow, but I can't find any words for it other than blood, on snow.  A few hours ago, with his head up against my chest and my lips on his head, Ty died.

There is no direct lineage to this tradition, yet there is said to be a bloodline.  The bloodline is the vowing, by countless human beings over time, down through time, that brings the length and breadth and abstraction of this practice to the bruisy aliveness of your own heart.  We vow to use this moment, this experience, to wake up, to not be asleep, to not break.  In some ceremonies, you chant all the names from the Buddha to your own teacher.  Joan Halifax has a ceremony in which you chant all the names of the women ancestors, down to your very own.  Bloodline ties abstract ceremony and intention to your own veins, to the reality of hot blood on cold snow.  To say, right now, I use this moment to wake up.

I lost a dear friend, last February.  Now Ty.  Both of those beings formed me, or informed me, or something.  Without their being in the world, I don't know who I am.  Or, who I am isn't real any longer.  All the meanings and things that tethered me to a schedule, a role, a relatedness, are undone. They are words that don't reflect reality, signposts that point to nothing, maps to things that no longer exist. I tried to study some of the work another mentor has sent me, but was absent minded and couldn't concentrate.  I tried to review what I'm going to teach and couldn't understand my own handwriting. I can't remember the train of thought my notes were intended to map out. I feet lost: disconnected from my teachers, disconnected from what I am doing or why, disconnected from the ones I love.

Of course, grief is not my story.  Getting lost, having the things that make our life, change, is the only certainty there is.  We do something for a while.  We love people or places or landscapes for a while, we say oh this is how it is, or find a practice and say oh I'm going to do this everyday, this is the beginning of the rest of my life, but then it changes.  The marriage you're in today is not the marriage you started with.  The body you have today is not the one you had a few months ago. Michael Stone once said he used to wonder how people go on living.  We continually have to find new meanings for our lives.

Sometimes, the changes feel wonderful.  You fall in love. Sometimes, they are death.

As Leslie says, you've never been this old before.  And you'll never be this young again.

Bloodline is a question of how to enter where you are, now, amidst all these changes, as honestly and as bravely as you can.  Because of this practice, over time, I have learned and can see how much depth there is.  There is so much depth for me to move in my life, and so much depth for students to move into their own.  Bloodline, a depth practice, is a way for us to not just 'know' things about yoga, or ourselves, but to really go for it, to go all the way. To keep giving ourselves to the practice, so that the practice can give you to yourself.  It's so important that you not waste your own time.

You are on this threshold, too.  Of time.  Certain things have come to you in the last year or months, and certain things have gone away.  Where you stand is a question, how to really go for it, into it, to find the deep heart of the question that is, ultimately, you.  There are parts of this heart that are mechanical, routine, and rote.  And there are parts of it that are wild.  Parts of it that are poetic, mysterious, unknowable as a dog's deep eyes and unsayable as blood on snow.  It's this part we come closer to though the bloodline.  The wild bit of the heart that both loves and mourns.  The part that screams out for healing.  The part that is murky and unborn.  The parts you suspect but can't quite explain.

I don't have much to say today other than grief, but time spins: if you'd like to go deep, deep into practice, deep into your own mind and your own experience over the past year and coming blank slate, I recommend the intensive at Saint John's January 17-22 or in Costa Rica this March.  How can we let go, without ceremony?  How can we make space for all that rushing newness in you, without marking space?  How can you know what deeper means, if you don't open to deepening?

Costa Rica is 10% off if you book by January 31 (use GIFT4ME at check out here).  Saint John's is 20% by the same date (use link below).  And everyone who has NOT been to the studio in the past three months is welcome to come back at the intro rate of $30 for 30 days.  Use this moment.  Wake up.

20% off if purchased by 12/31


Everything, and nothing.

Yesterday, snow, and today the cold.  My body doesn't do well with cold snaps.  Sudden cold seems to be the sure fire trigger to fibro flares.  So I'm tender today.  Sore and slow.  I've never been able to figure out if sadness is a symptom, same as shouting bones and sour muscles and confusion, or if it's a natural consequence.  I stub my toe and it doesn't stop that panging all day long.  All day.  I walk cautiously, which helps and doesn't.  I am teary and sad, but also not.  I am both sad, and sweetened.  Things are so beautiful, I'm made sweet. I walked the dog yesterday in the new fallen snow.  It was so quiet, so still, so detailed in it's millions of black branches and millions more snowflakes.  My pain doesn't bother me as it used to.  I'm not as afraid of it as I once was.  There are whole days I can't do asana or eat or sleep, but this doesn't seem very terrible any longer.  I've learned some things.  I've learned to breath.  I've learned that most of the time there are things I can do, squiggling on the floor and moving my spine, opening the siezing muscles, letting my weight find a not so sore spot to drop.  And somedays, I can't.  I never know which day is which, until I start.

When I walk in the new snow, it seems the sound of my walking is the most beautiful sound on earth.

And then when I stop, it seems the silence is.

Someone asked if I was angry or disappointed in yoga: wasn't it supposed to heal me?  I certainly have moments of that.  But also, no.

No: at some point my practice became a way to work with pain, rather than a fantasy about 'curing' it.  I tend to think my practice has, largely, healed my fibromylagia.  But it hasn't cured it, and that is okay.

Last night, in dharma talk, I told people this practice would make their lives harder.  They would become more aware of everything going on in themselves.  They would see and not be able to unsee.  At the same time, their lives would become much easier.  They would enjoy themselves more.  The world is a mess and they will know it; their minds and bodies are a mess and they'll know it; but they will have an equanimity in which those things don't belittle us or need to be pushed aside.

This morning, someone asked why we're doing 108 saluations for the solstice.  Why 108, in particular.  One symbolizes everything, I said.  Zero symbolizes nothing.  Eight symbolizes infinite relationship.  There are dozens of other meanings of 108, but this is my favorite.  Everything, and nothing at all.

As in, this practice is nothing.  The postures don't matter much, and you'll lose all of them in the end, anyway.  The meditation doesn't get you any cash and prizes.  And accepting the ethics and an inner awareness doesn't necessarily make you happy.  They often make life more hard.

But it is also, everything.  It is the absence of fear and the walls of fear.  It is a remedy to re-activity and expectation and chosen ignorance.  It is a way to be in our life, pained or anxious, terrorized or privileged, with an ability to work with those things rather than suffer them.  We work with our conditions, with our heart, with our bodies, and we become people able to know pain, fear, or death, without fear.  Yogis will die just like everyone else will.  But the time before might be spent, differently.  Dying itself might be a wonder.

You can't hold or quantify the gifts of this practice.  They are immaterial.  Last night I said it'd be like taking a mason jar out into the snow and gathering some up, intending to keep it.  Or bagging a breeze.  Boxing an angle of sunlight.  They aren't yours, and they don't last, and you can neither create them nor claim them.

You can only stand in wonder.

In a few weeks, I'll be leading retreat at Saint John's Abbey.  You won't really get anything out of that, either.  You may be working your way toward certification. You may be developing your capacity to teach, or to sit.  You may learn a new chant or get some insight during meditation.  You might develop.  But it's only real outcome is a quality of wonder, an experience you do or don't have intimacy with, a depth to your inner life that you could never explain to another, anyway.  I think it's everything.  Sign up here: Spine, Soul, and Breath 2016.

Other notes:

108 Sun Salutations December 20th, 7 pm

Paula is adding a 6:30 am Friday class, starting in January.

I'm opening up more time to privates - in studio or via skype - for $108.

The Deeper Practice curricula is about to launch into the feet, which is a very good time to start, indeed.  We'll meet January 9 and 10th.

The Art of Self Care 11 week online course will run again starting Feburary 1, on a new platform hosted on this site.

108 sun salutations Sunday December 20, 7 pm. $108 private sessions, Skype or in studio.

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