Sukhasana + Allegra Silberstein

Sukhasana, easy pose, creates room for breath in the torso, what the poet calls “the ribbed cathedral.”

SukhasanaNew

Breath

 

I breathe

you into me

to the edges

of my collarbone

 

into the ribbed

cathedral

beneath

my breasts

 

in the silence

of release

my spirit dances

for you…

 

wants you

the way people

of the long winter

long for spring.

  – Allegra Silberstein

Note: Poem was first published in In the Folds (Rattlesnake Press, 2005) ; used by permission of the poet

Pair with: sukhasana

Speak: Experience how the lines of the poem follow the rhythm of breath.

Consider: The poet imagines the body as a space longing to fill with breath. How does it feel to surrender to the breath, to that longing for it, and feel the relief of breath coming in like spring after winter?

 

Utthita trikonasana + Anne Valley-Fox

Extended triangle pose, or Utthita trikonasana, invites moment-by-moment awareness and attention to transitions. So does this poem by Anne Valley-Fox.

10,000 Joys 10,000 Sorrows

          Instructions to Myself

1.
Resist falling back asleep, the loveliness
of butter knives over the body.

2.
Fix on the wren with the eight-note song,
the child blowing her nose and singing.

3.
Boatloads of Haitians dumped in the sea—
you venture another list.

4.
10,000 joys 10,000 sorrows, everything
begs your attention.

5.
Choose what quickens, move in close,
be transfigured.

Anne Valley-Fox

Note: poem first published in Fish Drum Magazine, volume 15; poem used by permission of the poet

 

Pair with: utthita trikonasana

Speak: Each of the poem’s five stanzas is one sentence. Notice how much can be contained in a single sentence. Allow the final word of the first line  of each stanza to echo slightly before picking up the second line and completing the sentence.

Consider: Utthita trikonasana is a pose that challenges no matter where you are in your life, your yoga practice. Knowing this, today, at this moment, what are your instructions to yourself?

Savasana + Jane Hirshfield

A yoga teacher  I studied with years ago said that you should spend as much time in savasana as you have on the entire rest of your yoga asana practice.  So, if you move through sun salutation for ten minutes you ought to rest in savasana for ten minutes. She was encouraging us, as in this poem by Jane Hirshfield,  to balance “this” with “that,” to occupy the space between “certainty” and “the real.”

Against Certainty

 

There is something out in the dark that wants to correct us.

Each time I think “this,” it answers “that.”

Answer’s hard, in the heart-grammar’s strictness.

 

If I then say “that,” it too is taken away.

 

Between certainty and the real, an ancient enmity.

When the cat waits in the path-hedge,

no cell of her body is not waiting.

This is how she is able so completely to disappear.

 

I would like to enter the silence portion as she does.

 

To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,

one shadow fully at ease inside another.

 

Jane Hirshfield

 

published in  After (HarperCollins, 2006)

Note: poem used by permission of Steven Barclay Agency

 

Pair with: savasana

Speak: The title of this poem is “Against Certainty” and yet the poem  includes strong, declarative sentences.  Allow the periods at the end of the sentences to hold silence. Silence complements sound in a poem,  as stillness complements movement. The last stanza, not a complete sentence, is longer, picks up rhythm. Allow your breath to fully fill that final phrase, like wind in a sail.

Consider: Without trying to make sense of it, feel the effect of that final stanza, “To live amid the great vanishing as a cat must live,/one shadow fully at ease inside another.” With eyes closed, breathing, allow any meaning you make to rise, without needing  certainty.

Observing, listening, responding with compassion

Living in a unitive state is not an esoteric concept, and it is not an elusive higher realm that only very clever people can aspire to. It is the opening of the heart so that we have the capacity to feel tenderness, joy, and sorrow without shutting down. It is the opening of the mind to an awareness that encompasses rather than excludes. It is the startling and immediate recognition of our basic sameness. It is the practice of observing clearly, listening acutely, and skillfully responding to the moment with all the compassion we can muster. And it is a homecoming with and in the body for it is only here that we can do these things.

Donna Farhi is speaking about  yoga. Her words apply to poetry as well. From Bringing Yoga to Life, 2004.

Virabhadrasana I + Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Extending, reaching, staying attentive,  breathing…Virabhadrasana I, warrior I, calls on a person, as does the poem “Credo,” to take a position. The poem is from The Fortunate Islands by Susan Kelly-DeWitt.

Credo

 

I believe

 

in the way a bee enters a Rose

of Sharon with its whole gold dollop

of a body, expecting to back out

again, into the dry daylight,

 

expecting to return

home to the hive of the busy

and living, loaded with the stuff

of honey.

 

I believe

 

in the night-crazed

boats of the crickets, their wavery

flotations of song, more steady

than my heart-

beat

 

in the deeper grasses

we call love–

 

I believe

 

in their fevered appetites

their pithy sermons

on brevity.

 

Susan Kelly De-Witt

 

Pair with: Virabhadrasana I, warrior I

Speak: Look closely at the stanza, “in the deeper grasses/we call love–” and notice how the poem moves into  a quieter tone there. The poet shifts from a first person singular to first person plural point of view. Allow a spirit of invitation to enter your voice at that point. Listen.

Consider: What is your credo about the natural or non-human world? What do you notice and believe about  bees and crickets, about the human family we call us?

Note: Poem used by permission of the author.

 

Vrksasana + Susan Kelly-DeWitt

Tree pose, vrksasana, requires rooting, lifting and balancing. The spine links earth and sky. Aligned, the body stills, receptive and listening. With stanzas stacked like vertebrae, Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s poem imagines the trees’ nights, as they keep watch in “starshine.” The poem is from Susan’s book, The Fortunate Islands.

 

The Trees

Who is to say

the trees aren’t frightened too

waiting in the cold in the dark

 

keeping watch while the wind

stomps heavily up the invisible

stairs to the cells to the attics

 

of the leaves while the crawlers

and climbers and fliers crash

through their tangled heads

 

like nightmares while the white

hawk glides while the silver cockroach

of the moon slides over the black

 

sky-boards while the limbs creak

and the walls of the branches

groan full of stickpins and wings

 

full of bones and feathers

full of jaws and razor teeth

while the souls of the dead

 

creep back to their graves

in the jungles of the faraway

in the absolutes of belief

 

or superstition who is to say

they don’t wake exhausted

before dawn having thrashed

 

having thrashed about all night

in their beds of earth in their twisted

sheets of snuffed starshine?

Susan Kelly-DeWitt

 

Pair with: vrksasana, tree pose

Speak: Without punctuation (except for the final question mark), the poem is carried along by sound. Allow the sounds to fully fill your mouth, savoring each word. Include space, as a brief pause, between the stanzas so the poem has room to breathe. The question ends with the last line. Let the question linger, ringing like a struck bell. (Robert Pinsky’s The Sounds of Poetry is a good resource.)

Consider: Ask yourself, “Who is to say?” and let whatever comes to mind complete the phrase.

Note: Poem used by permission of the author.

 

Viparita Karani + Sara Teasdale

Moving through yoga poses creates space within the body. This space allows room for questions, especially nagging ones. Legs-up-the-wall pose, Viparita Karani, can relieve mild aches in feet and back, open the chest, and calm the mind. At ease, partially inverted, what could be a better time for asking a haunting question, as Sara Teasdale does in “Spring Night”?

 

Spring Night

The park is filled with night and fog,

The veils are drawn about the world,

The drowsy lights along the paths

Are dim and pearled.

Gold and gleaming the empty streets,

Gold and gleaming the misty lake,

The mirrored lights like sunken swords,

Glimmer and shake.

Oh, is it not enough to be

Here with this beauty over me?

My throat should ache with praise, and I

Should kneel in joy beneath the sky.

O beauty, are you not enough?

Why am I crying after love,

With youth, a singing voice and eyes

To take earth’s wonder with surprise?

Why have I put off my pride,

Why am I unsatisfied,–

I, for whom the pensive night

Binds her cloudy hair with light,–

I, for whom all beauty burns

Like incense in a million urns?

O beauty, are you not enough?

Why am I crying after love?

Sara Teasdale

Pair with: viparita karani

Speak: Notice how the poem picks up energy after the first two descriptive stanzas. The rhyme scheme changes with the third and longer stanza. What is the effect of rhyming “enough” and “love”? Teasdale repeats the same pair of lines (O beauty, are you not enough?/Why am I crying after love?). Decide how the two sets of paired lines shift in tone by the end of the poem.

Consider: The speaker asks, “O beauty are you not enough?” yet she conjures the beauty of the night. The speaker says she is “unsatisfied” yet finishes a poem. What does it mean for something to be “enough”?

 

Savasana + Eva Gore-Booth

Although savasana usually comes at the end of a practice, and is called “corpse pose,” the posture signifies a beginning. Upon rising from savasana, a person resumes his or her quest, re-entering the world with a beginner’s mind, seeking to understand.

The Quest

For years I sought the Many in the One,

I thought to find lost waves and broken rays,

The rainbows faded colours in the sun–

The dawns and twilights of forgotten days.

 

But now I seek the One in every form,

Scorning no vision that a dewdrop holds,

The gentle Light that shines behind the storm,

The dream that many a twilight hour enfolds.

 

Eva Gore-Booth

 

Pair with: savasana

Speak: Notice the stanza break between the two quatrains. Be sure and pause there. When the speaker resumes, she has experienced an insight. The first line of that second stanza can be read as iambs, alternating unstressed and stressed syllables. “But now I seek the One in every form”. Some say the iamb is the heartbeat “ba dum”. Also notice the alternating end rhyme. Enjoy the repeated sounds within “holds” and “enfolds”. Listen.

Consider: Visualize “The gentle Light that shines behind the storm”. What associations or feelings does that light carry?