Vrksasana + Roberto Juarroz

The body’s gestures reveal.

The Hand’s Gesture

 

The hand’s gesture

when it tries to write

sometimes creates thought,

creates the image

that then moves the hand.

 

A gesture also creates love,

which then creates other gestures

and something else that’s underneath.

 

The independent language of gestures

appears a calculated chance

to awaken the latent waiting

that lives in the depth of everything.

 

Also the tree is a language of gestures

where chance and the tree’s complicity

unite so that a leaf may fall.

 

– Roberto Juarroz, translated by Mary Crow

Note:  previously published in Finding the Way Home (White Pine Press, 2010); poem used by permission of Dennis Maloney, ed.

Pair with: vrksasana, tree pose

Speak: This poem is four sentences, four complete thoughts. How do the thoughts build on each other?

Consider: How is the “language of gestures” “independent”?

 

Body of a Poem

The women in my “At Home in Our Bodies” poetry class have been comparing the body to a poem. Just as the body carries tension along its periphery, a poem may intentionally tighten along its edges to emphasize constriction, as in Jane Hirshfield’s “Against Certainty.” Or, a poem might make space from the center, with line endings that stretch out, expanding into the right margin in sense and space. Shawn Pittard’s “On the Forest Road” uses verbs to end lines, inviting the reader into movement. Susan Kelly-DeWitt’s “Credo” creates  openings between words and lines.

A poem can have a spine, a central idea. Or a firm line running along it as in Olav Hague’s “You Want Only to Be.”

Sometimes, as in Shakespeare’s sonnets, a poem seems to have a head, body and feet. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” starts as an idea, in the head. Sonnet XVIII ends, “So long lives this and this gives life to thee” as if the poem is walking away on its toes and soles.

Poems, like people, have body types. They can be small or tall. They might come across as muscular, soft or bony. How a poem looks on the page affects how it’s perceived. How a poem is written affects how it breathes and moves in the world when given voice.

In yoga, we talk about the psoas. Located deep in the body, the psoas is a major muscle that stabilizes the base of the spine; it allows the spine to flex and the hips to rotate. We can’t see or  feel the psoas easily but we know  it needs to be pliable for a body to experience a range of motion. Awareness of the psoas starts with postures that allow for reflection, like constructive rest.

I’m thinking  of how the psoas muscle could be compared with the central image in a poem. Poems often start with an image that becomes a central support and allows the poem to move. “Halfway” started by walking my neighborhood and seeing roofers taking a lunch break. “Tea Party” came of an image recalled from childhood. Images, like the body, hold emotions.

In yoga, we move the body in order to get to know it better, to find ease through sensation. In poetry, we move the body to awaken the mind, to understand the world through perceptions. Both asana practice and poem-making require receptivity and the willingness to gesture.

 

Sister Sherry Dolan: Inside “Art for Healing”

In Bakersfield, California Sister Sherry Dolan leads the Art for Healing program, providing a sanctuary within a hospital for creativity, meditation and yoga, open to all.

Sherry3.

Sister Sherry Dolan

 

1.

YS: What’s the idea behind the name of the program, “Art for Healing”?

Sister Sherry: The Art for Healing name came from a “group think” process held during our organization phase. Inspired by the UCSF program, Art for Recovery, we felt that “recovery” was making too strong a commitment or promise. Everyone needs healing on some level, physical, emotional, spiritual . . .

2.

YS: How and when did the program come about?

Sister Sherry: Inspired by Cynthia Perlis, director of Art for Recovery, I decided to bring the idea to Bakersfield, where I’d lived for 30 years prior to moving to San Francisco. Since I am a Sister of Mercy, it seemed fitting (after returning to Bakersfield) to connect with the President of Mercy Hospital, here, and see if we could do a pilot program in what used to be the Sisters’ chapel. The program began April 2010.

3.

YS: Share a moment when you knew the program mattered, something you witnessed.

Sister Sherry: There are many moments. I recently heard from a woman who wrote to tell me that “Art for Healing literally saved her sister’s life.” Her sister, diagnosed and dealing with breast cancer, found her way into our Art and Spirituality Center and discovered that making art helped calm her, ease the pain of chemotherapy, and gave her comfort knowing she was not alone.

4.

YS: Why include meditation and movement classes in Art for Healing?

Sister Sherry: Art or creative expression comes in many, many forms. Any activity, whether painting, singing, dancing, meditating, (and even writing) all tap into the right brain. When we are in the right brain, we experience a reduction in the stress that can negatively affect our autoimmune system; a dysfunctional autoimmune system makes our bodies less resistant to illness and disease.

5.

YS: What is your own artistic practice? How does that connect with your meditation and prayer practice?

Sister Sherry: I paint in oils, sometimes in acrylics when I want to create goofy stuff. For me, painting is a form of prayer and meditation . . . because both activities take us into our right brain, or creative center. So when people tell me that they can’t or don’t know how to pray or meditate I ask them if they do anything creative. Gardening can be prayer and meditation, as can walking the labyrinth.

6.

YS: Favorite poems?

Sister Sherry: Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and David Whyte’s “Revelation Must Be Terrible.”

7.

YS: What role does gathering in community play in health?

Sister Sherry: We have created quite a few small communities as a result of our programming [at Art for Healing]. Some have been intentional, while most others have just evolved among those who enjoy painting or creating. Community support is often as healing as the actual art making, though most people find that talking about their illness (as in a “support group”) is not what they want.  They just want the camaraderie of friendship among fellow sufferers.

8.

YS: As an artist, former Human Resources Director and Sister of Mercy, what advice or words of wisdom can you offer any of us in the 21st-century who are exploring the mind-body connection?

Sister Sherry: Oh my goodness . . . I guess that would be: pay attention to what your body is telling you . . . pay attention to your dreams . . . and to your intuition. I once heard that “Intuition is God speaking to you in between your thoughts”. Don’t be afraid to read and learn from people like Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Caroline Myss, and religious mystics like Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen, and Teilhard de Chardin.  Take in what feels right and true for you, and disregard the rest, for the moment.

Heart journey

Heart Journey, created at Art for Healing

 

Virasana + Glenis Redmond

The hands have options in virasana, hero’s pose. They may be placed palms down on the thighs, resting on femur bones powerful beneath skin and muscle. They could nestle together, palms up, in the safety of your lap. Fingers can take a mudra or interlace and reach for the sky. The arms may twine to unite the hands palm-to-palm. The hands, like those in this poem, have much to say.

What My Hand Say

 

For great-grandpa, Will Rogers

Born in the 1800’s

 

My hand say, Pick, plow, push and pull,

‘cause it learned to curl itself around every tool

of work. The muscles say, bend yourself like the sky,

coil yourself blue around both sun and moon.

 

Listen, my back be lit by both. My hand

got its own eyes and can pick a field of cotton

in its sleep. Don’t mind the rough bumps —

the callused touch. I work this ground

 

like it was my religion and my hands

never stop praying. Some folk got a green thumb,

look at my crop and you’ll testify my whole hand

be covered. I can make dead wood grow.

 

I listen to my hand, it say, Work.

My hand got its own speech. It don’t stutter

it say, Work, Will. Though it comes to mostly nothin,

this nothin is what I be working for.

 

Come harvest time I drive the horse

and buggy to town. Settle up.

This is where my hand loses its mind,

refuses to speak.

 

Dumb-struck like the white writing page.

The same hand fluent on the land,

don’t have a thang to say around a pen.

The same fingers that can outwork any man

 

wilts. What if I could turn my letters

like I turn the soil? What if I could

make more than my mark, a wavery X

that’s supposed to speak for me?

 

Glenis Redmond

Note: Poem won the Nazim Hikmet Poetry Contest, 2011; used by permission of the poet

Pair with: virasana

Listen: The poem’s speaker takes the reader through an intimate story. Allow a range of emotions to texture your voice as you read.

Consider: Your hands. Notice others’ hands.

Savasana + Denise Levertov

In savasana the ground beneath us supports our back body as we open our front body to the sky, the firmament. The word “firmament” has traveled from Latin to Old French to Middle English from “firmare,” “to fix” or “settle.” This poem, and savasana, invite us to settle into the “aqueous everything.”

Firmament

 

Fish in the sky of water—silverly

as traveling moon through cloud-hills—

down current whisks, or deeper

fins into depths, to rise or sagely

wait in the milky mist of

disturbed sediment, wheeling briskly

at least whim, at one

with the aqueous everything it shines in.

 

– Denise Levertov

Note:  previously published in Finding the Way Home (White Pine Press, 2010); poem used by permission of Dennis Maloney, ed.

Pair with: savasana

Speak: The alliteration in this poem makes it delicious to speak aloud. Enjoy.

Consider: Remember the body’s watery elements as you rest in savasana.

Constructive Rest + Rolf Jacobsen

Resting and breathing. Together they can take you, as the poem’s speaker says, “far enough out” to “the beginning of–yourself.” After, you’re prepared to meet and serve the world as it is.

Breathing Exercise

 

If you go far enough out

you can only see the sun as a spark

in a dying fire

if you go far enough out.

 

If you go far enough out

you can see the entire wheel of the Milky Way

roll away on roads of night

if you go far enough out.

 

If you go far enough out

you can see the Universe itself,

all the billion light years summed up time

only as a flash, just as lonely, as distant

as a star on a June night

if you go far enough out.

 

And still, my friend, if you go far enough out

you are only at the beginning

 

—of yourself.

 

– Rolf Jacobsen, translated by Olav Grinde

Note:  previously published in Finding the Way Home (White Pine Press, 2010); poem used by permission of Dennis Maloney, ed.

Pair with: constructive rest

Speak: This poem is friendly. Even as it takes you into questions of space and time, the poem retains a lighthearted, matter-of-fact tone. Enjoy it.

Consider: Resting, breathing. How can you befriend your body, yourself?

 

 

To wit: truth

Entrusted with  a roomful of people ready to follow instruction, a yoga teacher must think about satya, a Sanskrit word translated as “truth” or “trueness” and “realness.” How can a teacher lead a class sincerely, serving students wholeheartedly within the tradition she has received from her teachers and adapted to her understanding? How can she be truth-full?

Truth starts with awareness and acceptance of one’s self, a knowingness that I am who I am as a result of nature, nurture and fate. I have limitations. I have gifts. I make mistakes. I succeed. Now, beyond that “self” what is? Truth. It’s everything that’s left. It’s an essence that transcends socially constructed limits of time, history, biology (race, physical ability, gender), symbols (including money), language and hierarchy (class, income, power).

 

Maintaining honesty, “being real,” requires dual awareness. I am my self in a moment in time opening my mouth and letting out an opinion shaped by experience and situation and I am something else, part of an energy or a pattern I rarely glimpse and probably will never understand.  Asana practice can prepare the mind and body to adjoin with,  in reflection or meditation, this other tempo.

As a yoga teacher creates a space to witness her students unfolding into greater ranges of movement and expression, a poet can draw a box around a scene she witnesses and attempt to honor another’s truth. The “wit” of “witness” connotes mental acuity; the word derives from Old English denoting the mind as the seat of consciousness. Although we clock the non-human world with man-made measures of time, the world’s rhythms pre-date us. Noticing animals and plants reconnects a person to something outside the preoccupations of her life span. Poetry, yoga and life are rife with paradox. In this case, documenting a wild moment in a poem creates a human record of a being that will never know the existence of that record.

AMERICAN RIVER

As long as a woman’s forearm,

as thick as a wrist,

the salmon’s gray; the water’s hazy.

 

If I lifted her with spread hands

she’d fall to pieces in the middle

where scavengers excavated a hole.

 

Roe’s piled like pink pearls, the color

of a tea rose whose curved petals

are falling in my friend’s front yard.

 

Shiny fish’s eggs exposed

to Saturday sun – rows of treasure

she swam with, swam with for miles.

 

– Alexa Mergen, previously in Peter Parasol