You are the seasons, you are the seas

 

A beautiful passage from the Shvetashvatara Upanishad underscores interconnectivity among this and that, me and you, him and her, was and is, up and down, in and out, sun and rain.

Look at something or someone today as if seeing it or her or him for the first time.

Look at something or someone today as if seeing it or her or him for the last time.

As Albert Einstein says, “We are all life trying to live, among other life trying to live.”

You are woman. You are man.

You are the youth and the maiden too.

You are the old man hobbling along with a staff.

Once born, you are the face turned in every direction.

 

You are the dark blue butterfly,

you are the green parrot with red eyes.

You are the thundercloud, pregnant with lightning.

You are the seasons, you are the seas. You are without beginning,

present everywhere. You, from whom all worlds are born.

Calm yourself

“Do not hurry, otherwise you might become sick or get a terrible headache. Calm yourself, then ceaselessly meditate. Most of all, be careful not to force yourself. Rather, relax, and let your right questioning be within.”

-Kyong Ho, translation by the Kwan Um School of Zen from Zen Sourcebook

Gustave Courbet, Calm Sea, 1866, National Gallery of Art

 

 

 

Genuine teaching

Rosen’s interview with another great yoga scholar, Georg Feuerstein, is as relevant today as when it took place in 1997.

Feuerstein’s responses apply to most any teaching situation.

THE ROLE OF A YOGA TEACHER

Richard Rosen: How do you understand the role of the yoga teacher in the yoga community and in the
larger society? What are the responsibilities that the teacher has to the people around him or her?

Georg Feuerstein: It’s a huge responsibility, huge. I think if people fully understood that they would be far
more careful in choosing to become a teacher. A teacher is not a guru. A guru has a responsibility
that’s incomprehensible, because he’s not just responsible for this one lifetime. They take on
things that affect their own being. Teachers do that to a small degree but they take on an
obligation for communicating wisdom that’s very old. It should be preserved in it’s full integrity.
This means they have to be continuous learners.

The teacher who has stopped learning is no longer a teacher. It’s impossible to teach without continuing to learn….

There has to be enthusiasm for communicating the genuine teachings, and delight in their growth. If that’s not there, you’re not a teacher either. The whole process has to be one of which we are all moving toward a greater understanding, a greater expression of our inner capacities, and greater delight. If that’s not there, you’re in the wrong business. There has to be a commitment to the tradition, which means you have to keep yourself informed of the tradition. Not just learning in the sense that I now know how to do this asana better, but also a learning in terms of really studying.

Always emphasize study.

I’m a scholar, but study is very much part of the yogic tradition. It’s been in classical yoga since ancient times. How were the teachings communicated? Through study of the original texts. There’s no way to explain anything unless
you study. This has to be continued.

Teachers have to talk with one another. Forget about competition.

What’s the point? If teachers work together not only would their individual practices thrive, but they would also promote the entire movement. The old saying, “Strength in unity.” Right now, it’s a kaleidoscope that doesn’t
hang together. It’s sad to see. In India, even though each ashram has its approach, there was a general sense of we are engaged in something very powerful and profound, and there was a kind of respect. On the whole you could say, “There is this ashram up the road and there’s a great teacher there, if you want to go there, go there. If you don’t belong here, that’s fine, go up the road.” But here is much more, “How many more students can I get?” This is an infringement of
ahimsa. It’s a harmful thing to be that competitive.

As a teacher you also have the responsibility of embodying the things you talk about.
RR: You have responsibility to the other members of the yoga community, not only students, but
other teachers.

GF: 
Everyone. The whole movement. I think right now because the teachers only see their own little acre, they don’t look to the neighbor, they also don’t see the movement as a whole; therefore very few teachers that I know of are concerned about what is happening with the yoga tradition in the Western world, where is it going? The answer is, it’s not going to go anywhere without direction. Where is the direction coming from? Right now it’s unfolding wildly, and
that’s maybe appropriate at this stage, but I think enough people are beginning to ask, where could it go? People are asking, how should we train teachers? There’s too many teachers out there who don’t know what they’re doing, both in the exercises, which is in itself criminal, because you can do damage to people, but also they don’t know the teaching. When I say, have you heard of Patanjali’s sutra, they say, what’s that? Then it means they’re not yoga teachers. So
there has to be preparation for the job, not just a weekend, or a video.

In professional terms, you have to have qualifications, or you’re menace.

Looking at the larger picture, there also has to be a deep love for people, and a deep love for this tradition.

And then things can galvanize in a different way.

If more yoga teachers lived the ideals of the tradition which they avow, they would come together
more, they would share more, and they would create the kind of culture that would be supportive
to the tradition….

Living in this realm, which is a very flawed realm, those who have woken up to a degree have no
option, we have to struggle out, we have to free ourselves from the flawed nature of this world,
and we do it by purifying ourselves, getting clarity in our own being, finding more light, finding
more joy, and then communicating that as best we can to others.

That should be the real task of the yoga teacher, not what you pass on as postures and breath control and all that.

That’s the real communication, because that’s what people want–when you nail them down, sooner or later they
will admit that–they’re suffering, yes, they don’t know why they’re suffering, but we want to be
free of this suffering, and that’s why we’re here. Even these silly postures we do, we’re really looking for something deeper, and I think to give them a chance to come to that insight, is the challenge of the teacher.
Like this vision of everybody’s our mother . . . because we’ve lived so many lives together,
we’ve all been mothers to each other. So if it’s your mother, how can you let your mother suffer,
right?

Your heart goes out, and you say, “Ah, I give these postures, but I wish I could tell you that there is more!”

[laughs]

And wait patiently.

Stair Step Breath

Students ask me for breath practices that will help them fall back asleep after awakening in the night.

One I teach is the back-to-sleep breath. Also, the hand-breath.

Another helpful breath practice is “stair step.”

  • Practice now so you’ll be ready should you pop awake at 3 am….
  • Lie on your back, on the carpet, a sofa, a yoga mat, a patio or deck, lush green grass or in bed.
  • Close the eyes or let them stay open. Relax the jaw.
  • Notice the motion of the breath, its rhythm.
  • Inhale slowly and fully without straining.
  • Imaginatively divide the trunk of the body into three parts, top, middle and bottom.
  • Exhale through those three sections with a tiny pause between each.
  • Think of the process as stepping down the stairs: 1 – 2 – 3.
  • So, breathe in. Exhale top down: top third and pause, middle third and pause, lowest third and pause.
  • Relax the abdomen and inhale. Repeat the process four times then breathe naturally.

Note: This breath can also be practiced standing or sitting, even while waiting in the driver’s seat for a stop light to turn green.

Be well, reader!

A teacher’s joy

Grateful and joyful to be able to teach yoga!

Thank you, readers (who have visited Yoga Stanza more than 200,000 times in 2016 so far) and students in California, DC and now Harpers Ferry. I appreciate you!

My greatest joy as a teacher occurs when students experience insights that I had never considered or that run counter to my own understanding. This is when I know the students have made the practice their own.     – Charlotte Bell, Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life

Life is one opportunity

“Now.” A little adverb that is key to yoga and life. Anything can happen in n-o-w.

Or nothing.

antlers
Shed antlers found in the forests of Maryland.

I love how this excerpt from Bei Dao’s poem gracefully places the reader in “now,” without using the word at all.

Don’t check the time.

the bell hanging on the deer’s antlers has stopped ringing

life is one opportunity

a single one only

whoever checks the time

will find himself suddenly old

Bei Dao, from “Untitled” in Rose of Time, translated by Bonnie S. McDougall

The Earth, a poem

For Earth Day, a poem from one of my eighth-grade students at Martinez Junior High. It was 1993, my first year teaching school. My charges were so bright and friendly, and my colleagues so dedicated, smart and helpful, it’s no wonder I fell in love with teaching.

My education professors trained me to create “life-long learners.” I’m so grateful to continue this work by bringing yoga, meditation and writing to adults (and occasionally teens!), and through self-study.

“Allegory of Mother Earth” by Christofano Robetta, 1462 – 1535

The Earth

I see the pretty light blue sky.

I see the dark brown bark on

the sky-rocketing trees.

I see the brown dirt with pine

cones layered upon it.

I remember the pretty white snow until

it all melted away.

I care about the animals that get

tested for cures.

I believe that we will pull out of

this world problem that we’re in.

I hear the wind whistling through

the branches of tall trees.

I hear the birds chirping in the

green and lush branches.

I smell the car exhaust of my Dad’s

truck when he starts it in the morning.

I smell the vanilla on a crisp piece

of bark. I touch the rough bark on

the healthy trees. I touch all the waste

that we throw away. I understand the

economic problem that we’re in. I am

frustrated with the rain forests being

cut down. I try to help by recycling.

I try to help by saving water. I try

to save by not littering. I will help

the world by recycling and not using

deadly things for my hair to hurt the

ozone layer. I hope that I will live

long enough to see the rain forests

stop being cut down.

 

– by JS

stinging nettle soup

This stinging nettle soup turned out to be so delicious and energizing, I’m sharing it here.

The soup’s stinging nettles and fresh thyme came from Stony Ridge Farm in Harpers Ferry through their CSA.

stinging nettle soup
Stinging nettle soup and cucumber salad. Photo by Matt Weiser moments before he tucked in!

Heat a splash of olive oil in a soup pot. Add one chopped yellow onion, one garlic clove, 2 carrots cut into chunks and 2 large russet potatoes, peeled and chunked. Add a sprinkle of dried dill, fresh-ground black pepper and salt. Add 5 – 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Add 1 – 2 cups loosely packed stinging nettle leaves. (Remember to handle the plants with gloves on.) Reduce to a lively simmer and cook about 40 minutes.

Remove pot from stove and blend until smooth with an immersion bender. I left a few carrot chunks visible. Add fresh thyme and reheat gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. I threw in at the last minute a handful of frozen green peas because I like things floating in my soup. You can leave those out if you want to stay with fresh vegetables only or maintain a smooth puree.

Served here with a cucumber salad and sprouts from the farm.

For the salad, slice small, skin-on cucumbers and toss them with a dressing of whole milk plain yogurt, a dab of local honey and sea salt. Chill the salad while the soup cooks. Just before serving, I stirred in a few bits of snipped green garlic from the CSA bounty and arranged the sprouts around the salad’s edge.

Not pictured is garlic bread. Oh yeah! This meal was a nice surprise. Hope you enjoy.