Home practice

When I moved from Sacramento to Washington, D.C. last spring, I wrote about creating space in my studio apartment for a yoga home practice.

Since then, I’ve happily started teaching students in their own spaces. We may set up in the foyer or the living room. Sometimes we have to roll up a rug or push a coffee table out of the way. Often, furniture becomes a prop. My students see that they have on hand what they need to make an asana practice: a sturdy stool stands in for yoga blocks during a forward fold; a rolled towel serves as a bolster for the knees. Last week, during a breath awareness flow, I noticed a student tensing her hands as her arms extended overhead. I grabbed two tomatoes from a basket on the kitchen counter and asked her to hold them in her palms. No more squeezing!

The greatest value of a home practice, whether practicing yoga, meditation or poetry, is focused attention. Working privately with a teacher, of course, provides you with a set of eyes: it can be challenging to see yourself, even in a mirror.

O’Keeffe often practiced her art alone teaching herself skills, trusting her wisdom.

But practice any art alone and you become your own teacher, training yourself to notice and to trust what you notice. I practice alone and with teachers. I love to teach my students privately…and I assign them homework.

On Real Simple my yoga teacher Cyndi Lee offers advice on on how to keep a home practice steady. She points out if you have a pet you won’t likely be practicing alone. I know my dog Tucker will come from wherever he’s resting to join me on the mat for yoga or beside the folded blanket for meditation. Good company.

Holly O’Meara

Tears, seeds, snow.

Arising, abiding, dissolving. This is the process of a whole life, a single breath, a simple yoga flow and the cycle of poems. I love how Holly O’Meara’s poem arises from reading, abides through an imagined conversation in a specially created space, and dissolves in the strength and ephemerality of water as snow.

What are the causes and conditions that make a poem happen? Holly says,

This poem came from my practice of writing after reading another poet’s work. I was fortunate to encounter Benny Andersen’s “Goodness” in This Same Sky: A Collection of Poems from around the World, selected by Naomi Shihab Nye. I didn’t know at the time that Andersen is famous in Denmark as a musician and writer. I felt a personal connection to “Goodness,” and allowed myself to respond imaginatively from that place.

To the Man in Denmark: Your Letter Took So Long to Arrive, I’m Writing the Answer Now

I sit all alone
with my watch in front of me
spreading my arms
           again and again
-Danish poet Benny Andersen, “Goodness”

I spoke to him once
the man who sits alone
practicing goodness with his body
by opening his arms.

I do that in yoga, I said.
The teacher shows us how.

Yoga? he said.
And when you hold yourself like that,
does someone come and cry on your shirt?

No but sometimes I feel the push of a spotted seed
baked inside the earth.

Ah said the man. Here it would be buried in snow.

 

 

Holly O'Meara
Holly O’Meara

Holly O’Meara lives for her yoga practice, and the mind/body/soul dance where poetry arises. She is a poet, art therapist and psychotherapist living in Los Angeles, CA, where she also leads poetry writing circles.

 

 

 

Take care of that

At a benefit at Bloombars for All Beings sangha Tuesday night, I saw “States of Grace.” The movie traces Grace’s recovery from a near-fatal car accident. Her partner, Fu, a Zen priest, does what needs doing, making additional space and time for Grace in their Green Gulch Farm home. Together, they are raising their adopted daughter, Sabrina, the step-granddaughter of writer Isabel Allende. Fu’s frank about saying that she never anticipated the additional caretaker duties; she meets them without resignation and with dignity.

Acceptance and appreciation, are words offered up in a recent meditation class I attended.

Like the two spreads peanut butter and jelly that together become the ultimate power food, the pairing of the two words is more effective than either alone when sandwiched between life’s bookends of now and then. By accepting, we take into and onto ourselves what’s at hand, right now. With appreciation, we recognize the worthiness of what is.

There’a a Hasidic teaching that might be helpful here. It is ‘God assigns a small sector of the universe to each one of us to take care of.’ You each know what your little part of the world is, so your job is to take care of that. Face what is. See exactly what’s happening right now, and see what is needed.”

– Larry Rosenberg in Stephen Cope’s Will Yoga and Meditation Really Change My Life?

Ways of communication

I never felt afraid up there in the hills. The hummah-hah stories described the conversations coyotes, crows and buzzards used to have with human beings. I was fascinated with the notion that long ago humans and animals used to freely converse. As I got older, I realized the clouds and winds and rivers also have their ways of communication; I became interested in what these entities had to say. My imagination became engaged in knowing what can be known without words.

– Leslie Marmon Silko, The Turquoise Ledge

What can be known without words? Sitting in meditation, moving through yoga asana, walking outside with my dog or a human friend…I’m learning.

cropped-TreePic11.jpgAnd finding that as with writing, these non-verbal ways of communicating take guidance from a teacher who knows more than I (human or non-human), and practice, as well as the patience and concentration of an artist or scientist, and the stamina of love.

I wasn’t a human being

I wanted to have four legs and be able to run free in the hills as a deer or a horse. For a long time I wished I wasn’t a human being. Whenever I ran, I pretended I was a deer or a wild horse.

I talked to myself, and made up stories about myself and imaginary animals and people. I did the talking for each character. I was always ‘myself’ as I made up the story, but I felt different from the little girl I became around the adults or other children. I preferred to play by myself. I was annoyed when other children or adults interrupted my imaginary worlds.

Reading The Turquoise Ledge this week, I sat up when I recognized a kindred spirit in Leslie Marmon Silko. In imaginings, I still love to become an animal though I’ve also grown accustomed to being human.  I still love to find and tell stories, especially as a dharma talk for people with whom I’m clumsily practicing the art of living as a person in the world.

The book that made me say at age 15, “I want to be a writer.” Thank you, Leslie.