Why Yoga Stanza?

Isn’t that, after all, what a stanza is for,
So that after a night of listening, unwillingly,

To yourself think, you can walk, slightly hungover,
Through some morning market, sipping tea,
An eye out for that scrap of immaculate azure.

– Robert Hass

Three years ago, I launched Yoga Stanza. Happy anniversary, dear blog!

I was curious to identify intersections of poetry and yoga. I wanted to highlight the quotidian. After being a dedicated journal keeper since childhood, I discarded old notebooks to live openly online.

What a wonderful surprise that you all have taken the time to read these offerings. Thank you, thank you!

 

So, why the name Yoga Stanza?

Well, the yoga part…that’s obvious.

And, stanza? A stanza is a group of lines forming a unit in a poem.

“Stanza” derives from a 16th century Italian word meaning “standing in place.” Stanza is also interpreted as a roomThis poem from Robert Haas, is a keen example of that.

I hoped this blog to be a little room, a virtual studio, an alcove or nook, where you could read something inspiring, enhancing, amusing, comforting or just plain lovely.

(Thank you to YS’s guest bloggers and contributing poets and presses for your posts!)

In yoga, an asana is a posture. (There are lots listed on this site, often paired with poems.) The word also contains the meaning of a “seat.”

With each asana, we take a seat in a moment in time in a place in time. We inhabit where we are with dignity, compassion and integrity.

The seat can be a spot in line at DMV or in the center of the sofa flanked by friends. The seat can be in an easy chair with a cat on the lap or on a bicycle zipping down a hill.

Both the words “yoga,” often translated as “union,” and “stanza” invite reflection on time and space.

We are one : we are two.

We are inside : we are outside.

This is now : that is then.

Where is the bubble in the center of the carpenter’s level that marks equilibrium?

Where is your fulcrum in the see-saw of a life?

In poetry and in yoga, — in life —, what is the tension between unbounded creativity and defined structure? Where can we be strong and pliant? Still and fluid?

This morning in a lesson I offered to students ways to feel into the expansiveness of an exhale. The students are entering their sixth month of practice with me and we’re looking at nuances of breath.

An exhalation is not truly an emptying the way all the air can be squeezed from a balloon or a bag. There can be on the exhalation an enlargement, an elongation, even an amplification.

Every exhalation contains qualities of an inhalation.

Every inhalation contains qualities of an exhalation.

Alive, we breathe one breath. Stitches along a seam of time.

Similarly, all the world’s poems are part of one whole poem.

The end of each poem tones beyond the last uttered syllable of word, the quiet between the exhale and the inhale.

And that resting pose, savasana, that concludes a yoga class? It’s but a pause in the ongoing rhythm of who we are and what we do.

And who you are and what you do.

Like many of you, I’ve seen breath leave a body for a final time. Not an exhalation, that ultimate moment is more of a departure, a separation, a taking of leave. Afterward, all seems quiet, subdued.

Yoga Stanza, dear readers, is suspending her breath. I’m turning more attention to teaching: face-to-face, hand-to-body and heart-to-heart (as my teacher, Cyndi, puts it). You all know teaching yoga is my true joy.

I’ve returned to journaling with my favorite practice of keeping a commonplace book, transcribing passages from my reading to rediscover down the line and possibly weave into concepts for classes.

I’m practicing asana and meditation, breath awareness and pranayama and pratyahara, walking outside, cloud watching.

You can find me at home in the world. After all, It’s All Yoga – as the studio where I cut my teaching teeth shows.

Please take a moment to subscribe in the sidebar; you’ll receive any updates such as those delicious recipes!

You can also stay in touch:

Email: alexamergen(at)gmail(dot)com

Facebook: Simple, Joyful Yoga page or Alexa Mergen

USPS:  1703 West Washington Street, Harpers Ferry, WV 25425

Be well!

P.S. Peruse the blog’s past offerings. Posts are organized by topic and searchable by key word. Lots of good stuff here, all available (including the poems and recipes!) to share. Please do credit me and other contributors for our ideas: this project has been a labor of love. Love, Alexa

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Sunday Morning

A Sunday morning poem from Robert Webster of YogiCycle. Last year, Robert and I worked one-on-one for five sessions to develop his voice in his teaching and his poems.

No one needs to find his voice: it’s a matter of unfurling it.

The way it takes another set of hands for two people to spread a picnic cloth, it takes another set of eyes and ears to unfold a voice from where it’s been stored until it is ready and needed. My students never cease to amaze me. Like Whitman, they contain multitudes.

As a private yoga and poetry teacher, I have the best job in the world–helping people recognize ease in their bodies and peace in their minds; witnessing the beauty of creativity in action, listening to words arising from hearts.

Please enjoy Robert’s poem, check out his site and visit his classes when you’re in Sacramento. Happy May!

Sunday Morning

6:30 a.m. and I’m on my way to meet a friend for a bike ride.

 

The tangerine-tinged sun pokes up over the horizon

Coloring the low sky and clouds the shade that sailors were warned about.

 

In the distance, three contrails streak the higher blue sky like comet triplets.

 

 

Poem: Clare Bonsall

Because I have come to the fence at night,
the horses arrive also from their ancient stable.
 – Robert Wrigley

In a Meditation, Movement and Verse class, we spent time with Robert Wrigley’s After a Rainstorm. Clare Bonsall shares the beautiful poem she wrote that morning.

Endings or Blue’s Last Breath

The whoosh of air
left its old
grey body

And traveled
into the
ether –

I carried that
old Blue cat
home

And knew what
spirit looked
like

And was relieved
to see that
wind exit

To be drawn in
by another
and another

– Clare Bonsall

 

With MMV, we enter a poem with the assistance of breath and movement. On this day, we practiced mountain pose and ocean breath. We brought flowing movement into the arms and awakened the legs. In a quadruped position (also called “table-top” or “hands and knees”) we practiced a pelvic tilt and imagined having an animal tail. We also moved through some heart opening poses, breathed in a resting crocodile and sat quietly  in thunderbolt pose.

The prompt: Write about what happens after an event, in the human or animal realms; include, if desired, an insight that occurs. Use stanzas of three or four lines, depending on the desired effect.

 

Half moon + Marci Vogel

When I make–or attempt–half moon pose, ardha chandrasana, I feel like I am waking up to a new world. The pose requires tipping out of balance to regain equilibrium with changed perspective.

Playing along the American River, Sacramento.
Playing along the American River, Sacramento.

Entering this pose is like entering a poem, especially one that shifts among languages, in this case French and English.

As a writing teacher, I remind my students that they are their own first readers. As a yoga teacher, I remind my students that they are their own bodies’ experts. As a person, I want to remember that we are our own first friends and first lovers, our own first teachers and students.

Please enjoy this elegant poem. Marci and I shared the delight of studying Emily Dickinson with Michael Ryan at University of California-Irvine. More on Marci here.

 

When Not in Rome,

I awake early without

you who are

in a room all

apricot & cherry. In

Portuguese it’s very,

very poetic.

 

All those little bottles

carrying wisps of messages––

 

Don’t let me

translate these things:

the sailor, the harbor,

the shore. Go on,

 

take the boat. Take

the salt, take the whole

curved ocean. You know

you can’t live

what you were

living before.

 

– Marci Vogel

Note: Poem previously published in French in Levure Litteraire 8 and in Quiet Lightening’s Sparkle & Bling; used by permission of  the poet

Pair with: ardha chandrasana

Consider: How is the movement from one shape, asana, to another a translation of the body? How is the heart translating moment-by-moment our experience of connecting, understanding, loving?

Physical utterance

Reading  Praying with Our Hands, thinking about:

“When you practice embodied prayer, the very motions of your body create meaning for your words like sound creates meaning in poetry.”

and

“As a poet uses sound to create meaning deeper than the simple definitions of words, we can use the motions of our bodies to create deeper meaning in prayer.”

I’m wondering about the ways “devote” is a synonym for “pray” and how we have the ability through hearts, hands and minds to intercede on another’s behalf. The author suggests, for example, that marching for a cause is “praying with the feet.”

We can love another by reaching out physically or imaginatively from right where we are. 

Having made my share of angry gestures, especially during a protracted furious teenaged phase, I understand the power of a raised middle finger or a shaken fist. After studying yoga for 20 years, and mellowing out considerably, I appreciate how precious movement is. And if we treat it as so, every physical utterance is as profound as a word.

Linked movement, united as poetry is with the flow of breath, is a stunning expression of being human. 

Sensation (-all)

“A poem is a way of solving a problem.” – Diane Wakowski 

 

Another quality poetry and yoga share: Both get a person  into and out of tight spots.

Like all people, poets are stuck with their lives. Poets differ from many folks, though, in their desire to see and listen to that life from every angle. And when something puzzles them they lay out the pieces of the problem and wonder how to make something of it.

Yoga practitioners use asana and breathing to explore the “problems” of their bodies. That might mean finding a sense of an organized whole from head to toe or easing mobility into a shoulder or hip.

Some come to yoga because they are suffering. Others come from a sense of curiosity or playfulness.

The point is, poets (all artists) don’t allow themselves to be cut off from sensation. Nor do yogis. Whether the impetus for practice is pain or joy.