Yoga for bones, brains and breath; gratitude for all

A 10-year study involving 741 people shows that yoga may reverse bone loss and be an effective therapy for osteoporosis.  The study was led by Dr. Loren M. Fishman of Columbia University. He says,

Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does. By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.

Participants practiced 12 poses for 30 seconds each including tree, triangle, warrior II and corpse.

Reading the findings reminded me of my grandmother, Helen, who was overtaken by osteoporosis during the last 30 years of her life. The condition culminated in a deeply hunched spine that formed a carapace. In her final decade she slept sitting up. Her bones cracked and creaked. Pain was a constant that restricted her social life.

Visiting one summer, a teenager armed with a learner’s permit, I drove her to a breathing class at the local hospital. Being able to be with her breath changed her relationship with herself, but there was no reversing the tiny fractures in her spine.

That same year, on a dusty shelf in the hallway of her Henderson, Nevada tract home, I found Yoga Made Easy (1966).

Sally Ride. Trailblazer.

This was the 1980s. “Star Wars” was the president’s missile interception plan; Sally Ride traveled beyond; Microsoft released its Word program; that Christmas I’d receive the original Swatch watch.

Folding back the books’s binding, I cleared a space on the gold rug that covered the blue linoleum of my room’s floor, and set to, swamp cooler blowing. Cobra, lion’s breath, cat and cow. That many of the poses were named for animals made sense.

My recollection is of the book on the left.

Helen had a mug of black tea with milk and a plate of homemade French bread, toasted and golden with butter, topped with homemade plum jam, waiting when I emerged.

With the perspective of life’s twin tracks of joy and sorrow that have carried me through her death, and those of others, and into a life of movement, imagination, healing and teaching, I see how fortunate I am to have had the time to pursue my interests, then and now.

Through childhood and into adulthood, when I was painting, my grandmother sent brushes; when I was writing, she sent blank journals and poetry books; when I was teaching school, she sent children’s books; when I moved into a house with the man I’d marry, she sent a check to buy myself a desk, adamant that I set up a creative space where I could keep my things at the ready to receive inspiration.

In the preface to Sara Avant Stover’s The Way of the Happy Woman, Kate Northrup Moller writes,

Sara and I stand on the shoulders of the generations of women who came before us. Our path to listening to our bodies’ wisdom, taking the time to discover who we really are, and allowing ourselves to tell the truth that has been paved by the struggles and victories of our mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers….The reason that we have the luxury of spending time in self-discovery mode–whether in Thailand, on a road trip, or in our own hometown–is because our foremothers…have unlocked the doors for us.

I think I speak for…our entire generation when I say that we feel deep gratitude for those who have come before us….Many of these women had to endure sexism, financial upheaval, emotional or physical abuse, miserable marriages, difficult pregnancies, and feelings of loneliness and self-loss while raising families and navigating the often competing roles of women as mothers, daughters, lovers, wives, friends, business owners, seekers, leaders, activists, and human beings….

Indeed. Thank you, foremothers.

In Buddhism, they say that everyone has been or could be your mother.

Try looking this week with eyes of kindness on women and all beings.

And in so far as you are able: Enjoy this hour, this day, this week, month, year!

Embody joy!

Give someone a warm winter hug.

Need another incentive to practice yoga? This study suggests it’s brain training.

Another study finds breathing, which attunes us to the body, helps us cope with stress. 

Simple, Joyful Yoga.

 

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Fragrant granola

Chop your own wood and it will warm you twice, the saying goes.

The same applies to making your own granola.

Baking this scrumptious concoction fragrances and cozies up the kitchen.

Munching a bowlful brings smiles to the face and contentment to the belly.

granola

Fragrant granola

WHAT

  • 3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 ½ cups raw pistachios, hulled
  • 1 cup raw pumpkin seeds, hulled
  • 1 cup coconut flakes
  • ¾ cup pure maple syrup
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • ¾ cup chopped dried cherries (preferably unsweetened)

HOW

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl, combine oats, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, coconut chips, maple syrup, olive oil, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon and cardamom. Spread mixture in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 45 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes for +10 + 20 +30 and then + 15 minutes, until golden.
  3. Transfer granola to a large bowl and add dried cherries, tossing to combine.
  4. To serve, layer in a good-sized cereal bowl from bottom to top: a handful of granola, a dollop of yogurt, a few slices of banana, a sprinkle of granola, a dab of yogurt, a scattering of berries or other fresh fruit, a drizzle of honey. You can serve with non-dairy yogurt and agave syrup instead of yogurt and honey, if desired.

Full disclosure: This is Matt’s speciality.

Tip: We store the granola in a plastic pitcher so it’s easy to pour.

Suggestion: When berries are scarce, serve with shredded or diced apple or diced pears. Substitute kefir for the yogurt.

Credit: Adapted from Olive Oil Granola by super recipe writer Melissa Clark

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Stay calm and keep still

frances photo

A neighborhood garden a few days before January’s snowfall. Photo by Matt Weiser.

STILLNESS CAME to D.C. this January with 36 hours of snowfall.

“Snowzilla” stalled buses, planes, Metrorail and cars. Shops closed. People stayed home. Pets hunkered down.

It was quiet. It was calm.

Then, upon the sun’s return, the city of 700,000 had no choice but to stir.

Movement is inherent to life. Time and space are precious commodities in a city’s busy-ness.

Yet, one action, the snow reminds us, is always available: stilling.

“Stand still.”

This imperative begins the poem “Lost,” by David Wagoner.

“Wherever you are is called Here,” the speaker continues.

Stillness is an intentional pause to think, listen and notice the external world, to observe one’s internal state; it transforms our relationship with time and space and often ourselves.

A moment of stillness is like a brief journey to another place.

“When the body is able to find some quiet,” explains Reverend Inryu of All Beings Zen community in Adams Morgan, “the mind has an opportunity to quiet down.”

Stillness is a precursor of meditation. One settles on a chair or on a cushion, organizing the skin, tissues, muscles and bones of the body to find a steady seat.

Even in the movement of walking meditation, a person cultivates a sense of internal stillness, clearing the sky of the mind. In group walking meditation, the custom is to take the pace of the most unhurried walker, voluntarily slowing. Notions of compassion and interconnection correlate with stillness. Inryu points out that all religions include contemplative practices for quiet retreat.

“Stillness has a lot of virtues,” agrees Washington, D.C., area bird watcher Nick Lund, who blogs at The Birdist, “and one of them is seeing how quickly everything else is moving. There’s a relativity there.”

We know that as long as we’re alive, we’re never truly still. However, by identifying gradations of movement, we increase awareness of ourselves and others.

“Birding is not particularly still in general,” Lund clarifies, “but when you’re in the woods, especially at this time of year when the woods can seem empty and quiet, you can just stop and close your eyes and be perfectly still and listen, and that’s when you start to pick up on how active everything else is. You start hearing birds and squirrels and all the other animals, people and dogs moving around.”

In a room, where meditators typically keep their eyes open, “being settled may open up a vantage to be more aware of what’s happening in the moment,” Inryu explains. “That can be a lot of activity, shifting sunlight or moonlight, shadows on the walls, the breathing and adjusting of people in the room.”

Inryu describes a quality of peace with our essential essence that comes from slowing down so completely. This peace allows us to be present.

“I think of being still as an opportunity to create conditions where you can be a human in your being aspect, rather than your doing aspect,” Inryu says.

Read the entire article on My Little Bird.

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Find joy in your work

More evidence that joy matters.

Johannes Vermeer, A Lady Writing

Adam Grant reports in this week’s New York Times that,

When psychologists compared America’s most creative architects with a group of highly skilled but unoriginal peers, there was something unique about the parents of the creative architects: “Emphasis was placed on the development of one’s own ethical code.”

Yes, parents encouraged their children to pursue excellence and success — but they also encouraged them to find “joy in work.” Their children had freedom to sort out their own values and discover their own interests. And that set them up to flourish as creative adults.

Curiosity and flexibility fuel passions that lead to insights. Feed curiosity with travel, poetry, music, crafts. (Yoga!)

Evidence shows that creative contributions depend on the breadth, not just depth, of our knowledge and experience. In fashion, the most original collections come from directors who spend the most time working abroad. In science, winning a Nobel Prize is less about being a single-minded genius and more about being interested in many things. Relative to typical scientists, Nobel Prize winners are 22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.

We need to feel love.

No one is forcing these luminary scientists to get involved in artistic hobbies. It’s a reflection of their curiosity. And sometimes, that curiosity leads them to flashes of insight. “The theory of relativity occurred to me by intuition, and music is the driving force behind this intuition,” Albert Einstein reflected. His mother enrolled him in violin lessons starting at age 5, but he wasn’t intrigued. His love of music only blossomed as a teenager, after he stopped taking lessons and stumbled upon Mozart’s sonatas. “Love is a better teacher than a sense of duty,” he said.

Read the full story here.

Tips on freeing your inner writer’s creativity.

Wisdom is knowledge tempered by compassion.

Insights arise within time and space.

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Still-Life 1

Marie Kondo believes objects respond to emotions.

I’ve been noticing things I’ve had and held that bring me joy.

They have a kind of half-life, needing the touch of palm and fingers–or at least an Eye–to wholly exist.

In-stilled with stillness, they reanimate under attention.

Still Life 1: Lucinda Williams t-shirt, succulent plant names "Lisa:" peccary carving; key chain talismans and library card.

Still-Life 1: Lucinda Williams t-shirt, succulent named “Lisa;” peccary; key chain talismans.

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Manatee love

In 1967, manatees moved onto the endangered species list. Their Florida population had plummeted to mere hundreds.

The Washington Post reported this month that the simple, peaceful, joyful animals are making a comeback, thanks largely to 50 protected areas having been set aside for them.

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Yay!

Manatee populations worldwide are now estimated to be around 13,000, with more than 6,300 of them in Florida. That represents a 500 percent increase since 1991, according to the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] service’s website.

Thank you scientists, conservationists, the Coast Guard, government agencies, concerned citizens and the resilient sea lettuce lovers themselves.

In yoga classes, we sometimes set intentions or dedicate a practice to someone or something who could benefit from our well wishes. These are ways of acknowledging our connections to others and our gratitude for the time and space to practice.

Manatee, this asana is for you!

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simple, joyful reading

What is simple and joyful?

Finding good books in unexpected places. Such discoveries often mean reading something one wouldn’t typically open.

Tucker chooses to walk the alleyways of our Cleveland Park neighborhood. Last week, one block off Cathedral Avenue, we found a grown-up height Little Free Library. Inside, Kitty Sewell’s delicious thriller, Bloodprint. Curled up with it during this weekend’s “Snowzilla.”

dolphin in snow

Saturday’s view through my apartment window.

A colorful reading diet is as nourishing as a colorful plate of food. It’s about balance.

In addition to the guacamole of thrillers, the minestrone soup of Joy Williams, the shepherd’s pie of the poems of Charles Wright, I’m chewing my way through the steel cut oats of Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. (I’ve renewed the book from the library three times.) A taste from a wise one:

The living Dharma is not just a library of sutra books or audio or videocassettes of inspiring Dharma talks. When I see you walking mindfully in peace and joy, a deep presence is also awakened in me….When you take good care of yourself, your brothers, and your sisters, I recognize the living Dharma.

A coverless book is the potluck canapé surprise.

A couple of weeks ago, when the weather was warm, among loads of paperback sidewalk give-aways on the neighborhood library’s rolling metal shelves, I found Next Stop Gretna by Belinda Dell, a Harlequin Romance published in Canada in 1970. This red-rimmed paperback somehow survived the rubbish bin.

belindadell

Here’s my favorite sentence.

A smell of excellent coffee pervaded the atmosphere.

The raciest scene is on the second-to-last page and includes the word “deliquesce.” And,

A sensation like vertigo seized her; she felt as if she were adrift in a strange, multicolored cloud, frightened and yet filled with delight.

This sounds a bit like yoga!

Anyway, it’s a fun read and fun is good.

Last line:

People in love take no notice of trivialities.

Nor do people who love to read!

Who has snacked on crackers and peanut butter for dinner while finishing a good yarn?

Or looked up from the page to notice it’s dusk already?

Happy reading these winter nights and days! Dine well.

 

 

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Still, snow

Dear Readers, Dear Students–

So much snow is predicted for D.C. this weekend that Sunday’s Breath and You workshop is canceled!

Whether you are stocking up on groceries and reading material or sitting somewhere sunnier, here’s a favorite snow poem of Emily Dickinson’s offered in the spirits of poetry, simplicity and joy.

Be well.

 

It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

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Breath and You

Outside, as she passed the kitchen window, she watched her breath appear before her in the lamplight and then it died away in moist clouds. This was the smoke of her internal fire and her soul. Every breath was a letter to the world. These she mailed into the cold air leaning back with pursed lips to send it upward.

– from Enemy Women by Paulette Jiles

We’ll be looking at the Breath and You in my 90-minute Sunday workshop in D.C. Please join us if you can. We’ll move through four ways of being with the breath–time, texture, space, rest–drawing upon Richard Rosen’s wisdom.

In any case, take a moment to feel the wild breath, wonder at being alive.

I’ve been thinking about breath a long time. Some say it’s because I was born on the second-to-last day of the year during an Iowa blizzard. Wind and breath show up in my poems.

In plexiglass pillboxes I collect samples of wind, align them
on spice shelves above the kitchen sink, a measure of my life.

….

Label also whispered breeze of reconciliation.
Add delight’s gusts, desire’s zephyr, siroccos of ceaseless seeking. Doldrums. Then,
tickles of air on undersides of poppy petals. This a log of landscape felt as it touches other things. Everything a breath. All atmosphere cooled and warmed in layers.

from “Autobiography,” published in Inlandia

Think of all the places you’ve breathed! The breaths you’ve shared with others! Ahhh.

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Poems & time

A thought from poet and neuropsychologist Sean Haldane in his Time/No Time The Paradox of Poetry and Physics:

The final paradox is that we have got time the wrong way round. We think of time — and measure it — out there, in the universe. But the universe is timeless. Our clock measurements are simply lengths. Time is not out there it is in here — in us. We invent it as we live it. And our days are numbered by the external clocks we identify all around us. Yet we also experience, in occasional discontinuities, the timelessness of the universe of which we take part. Although we die — we are finite — we are eternal too. As William Blake wrote:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Haldane says in an interview with The Guardian,

I don’t have huge faith in the possibility of psychotherapy to change people as I used to. In fact, I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy. If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.

William Blake’s Job, who famously struggled to come to terms with time.

Want to bring more poetry into your life?

Read poems. Aloud. Breathe life into them.

Want to write one? Get started here. Keep going.

More prompts here from my Meditation, Movement and Verse class.

Want to memorize someone else’s poem? Here are tips.

Ready to try reading a poem at open mic? Tips here.

Curious about intersections of poetry and psychotherapy? Check out the National Association for Poetry Therapy.

Here’s a sample of writing that grew out of a workshop I attended.

And writing from a workshop I led. Three Weeks Before Summer guides you through a similar process.

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