The unknown bird sits on his usual branch.
– Elizabeth Bishop, from the poem “Five Flights Up”
Like poetry, yoga relies on figurative language. Moving through a practice, someone may form grasshopper, dog, cobra, bridge, bow and eagle postures. We picture a shape in our minds as the body folds and expands into it. More than “doing” a pose, we make it, fitting body and breath into physical expression assisted by imagination. Every creation starts with noticing and exploring.
Metaphors are bridges bringing the outside into our understanding, and out again. Not unlike breath connecting us with each cycle to all else. Or the way a rainbow ties earth and sky together. No wonder the chakra system suggests we are rainbow along our length. I can imagine.
Axons & Dendrites
Yellow the color of sun. It comes from the solar plexus
under the rib cage opposite the cockeyed kidneys that purify
our blood. Above, heart green, throat blue. This rainbow within
each body is not an accident. The spine’s spectrum marvelous as a light beam
of refracted rainbow bent by a child lifting a plastic pyramid to a ray
shined through her third-story window by the chary eye of the sky.
– Alexa Mergen, previously published in Turtle Island Quarterly
Upavistha konasana strengthens and opens, like the sun. And changes day-to-day.
The red sun rises
and shines the same on all of us.
We play like children under the sun. One day, our ashes will scatter —
it doesn’t matter when. Now the sun finds our innermost hearts,
fills us with oblivion intense as the forest, winter and sea.
– Edith Sodergran, translated by Brooklyn Copeland
Note: poem used by permission of Brooklyn Copeland
Pair with: upavistha konasana
Speak: Notice how the fourth and fifth lines are divided by a full stop, a period. Allow space there. Pause.
Consider how the sun finds your innermost heart.
What creativity occurs on a Monday spring morning? Teenagers making poems from insights and memories. The assignment: to start with an event or image recollected in a single sentence. We referred to Robert Sund’s “Steelhead” as a model, as well as poems by Robert Frost, Pablo Neruda and Janet Lewis. Each student’s poem conjures a moment and transcends it–they wrote from the heart. To hear 29 small, lovely poems read aloud consecutively by 29 voices is to to be reminded how precious and unique each person’s experience is.
Four untitled poems by students in Elissa Downey’s class
The day after they left
The lagoon was silent and still
Save for the fishing boats rocking
Against the dock.
The sound of the birds chirping
reminds me of one I used to know.
The dogwood blooms white.
The sky drizzles water on to the white petals,
making them shiny and beautiful.
So remarkable was the sight;
A double rainbow
From a storm just by,
And over the lake
With the mountains behind.
From a balcony not too far from shore,
The tears, they flow like waterfalls
Amidst the sunset and white sand,
For a fear that he cannot understand
And for an innocence that will not last.
Take a constructive rest. Rest; remember; reflect; release.
Friday Night’s Dream on Saturday Told
I find myself again
in a dream—
I’ve been gone too long
from work. A supervisor comes
with an armload of files
“Here,” he says,
“Go. Find yourself a desk.”
I smile at him, he’s younger,
his hair is brown,
I turn & dash to the elevator.
The door opens, but it’s jammed.
I take the stairs
I step into a walled garden—
The scent of hyacinth.
Red tulips open & close
like those nights
where nothing is forbidden.
– Connie Gutowsky
Note: previously published in Play (Random Lane Press, 2013); poem used by permission of the poet
Pair with: constructive rest
Speak: Notice how each sentence layers on another to tell a story that leads to an insight.
Consider letting your mind wander where it may.
A poem may be a single sentence. Choices in imagery, word order, line endings, rhythm, punctuation and more transform the sentence from an organized idea to a spatial arrangement of sound and sense.
In poems and prose, sentences must be able to stand alone and link together; they have meaning in isolation and, when they are sequenced, expanded meaning through juxtaposition. An effective piece of writing changes the listener or reader, even for a moment. It’s often memorable.
Similarly, an effective asana sequence can be transformative and memorable. Composed of discrete parts linked by transitions, a yoga sequence is analogous to an essay. After all, “essay” originates from “assay,” to try or test. And through yoga practice we try new movements, investigate ranges of motion. Like an essay, a yoga sequence can be built around a theme or build momentum to a “peak pose,” the equivalent of a key idea.
If a yoga sequence is an essay, each posture is a sentence. Sentence are of types: statements, questions, exclamations, commands. Some yoga postures feel like statements. For example, tadasana. Standing in mountain pose declares presence at the start of series. Tree pose, vrksasana, is a question; one wobbles and wavers, asking “Where is my equilibrium today?” Half-moon pose, ardha chandrasana, brings a smile, an exclamation of joy. What asana could be compared to a command? Savasana. A pose that tells the body unequivocally to relax.
Baddha konasana, cobbler’s pose, is a strong, simple one-sentence poem
like “Dust of Snow” by Robert Frost.
Natarajasana, dancer’s pose, is a longer, more
elaborate sentence like Wallace Stevens’s “The Snowman.”
There is good testimony that long familiarity with meditation–months, years, decades–contributes to a person’s clear-headedness, focus, and good humor. Past such personal benefits, it’s also possible you become a better citizen. A heightened sense of empathy seems to emerge–one that even crosses the boundaries between nature’s “kingdoms,” human, animal, insect, or plant.
– Andrew Schelling, Wild Form, Savage Grammar
Self inside self, You are nothing but me.
Self inside self, I am only You.
What we are together
will never die.
The why and how of this?
What does it matter?
– Lalla, translated by Coleman Barks
Note: Poem previously published in Naked Song (Maypop, 1992); used by permission of Coleman Barks
When I was a girl, my dad amused me by holding his hand palm up, fingers loosely cupped, and asking, “What’s this?”
“I don’t know,” I said.
He turned his palm over, “A dead that.”
This is that. This dead fly wings-down on the windowsill was once that fly, buzzing the room. This beetle, six legs stiff in the air, was once that shiny green bug creeping under the sun.
Savasana is such a beautiful word that in the yoga studio we rarely offer the translation “corpse pose.” The posture is said to “reset” the nervous system as it moves into a parasympathetic state. The mind remains alert as the body lets go. During a community class at It’s All Yoga I observed the people packed tight in the room, drawn from across myriad walks of life, prone on their backs like snow angels stopped mid-sweep and got to thinking of this and that.
Many mammals spend their lives belly down to the ground and die on their sides. We humans abandoned all fours to point faces forward and crowns to the sky. We stretch out to rest, sleep, make love and die. Corpse pose recalls that we are this and that: corpus, the hushed physical body, and our collected desires and experiences that walk us along time’s line.
Yoga teachers refer to savasana as “final relaxation.” The pose concludes asana practice. Really, though, each savasana is a semi-final relaxation for the Final one. Maybe this is why savasana refreshes. We rise from the corpse pose slowly and gently to sit up and face our world, and glad of it.
This and that. Serious or silly stuff?
A helpful cue in savasana is to “release any tension in the jaw.” In that spirit, of loosening our chewing and talking muscles, this riddle from Mother Goose. What is it?
Thirty white horses
On a red hill;
Now they tramp
Now they champ,
Now they stand still.
answer: the teeth and gums
Ecology, like poetry, should be practiced by everyone.
— Terry Tempest Williams, “Leap”