Monthly Archives: October 2007

You might have noticed my idea of yoga is very expansive. So expansive that it could encompass nearly every area of life. This is intentional, and in line with my understanding of the Yoga Sutras and the Ashta-anga – or eight limbed path – at the center of the second Book.

I had this impulse though before I ever read the Sutras.  When I am very invested in something, it permeates the artificial divisions of life. It was that way with Academic Philosophy at one time, and has been that way with Paramedicine. The endeavors become uber metaphors which then subsume everything else.

But with yoga, this is more than a personal idiosyncracy, even neurosis.  The part of yoga that is most familiar to us as Westerners is the physical part, particularly the asana. The names of the poses are revealing, sometimes fun, sometimes puzzling. But also a clue: there is meaning more deeply embedded than just “oh, this one stretches your shoulders.”

When we hold our bodies, even challenge them to find specific positions we open up to physical and emotional experiences we are able to avoid in the day to day of our lives.  These experiences hold pieces of meanings that it is our life work to put together. Leaving them dormant won’t keep them silent, because experience has it’s own internal drive for expression. But consciously creating a space to discover what we literally hold within ourselves can enhance everything else we hold dear in our lives.

How are you relating to yoga in your life? Are you enlivened by your answer to that question? Does your answer make you curious? Does it bring up emotion?

The last paper I ever presented as an academic was  a promisory for a theory of structural metaphor as a non-sentential theory of truth. It was an unconscious Dear John letter to my life as an academic, because of course all of that discourse occurs sententially. But the impulse was correct, I think. 

Human beings are meaning making machines. Our freedom is made meaningful by the fact that the building blocks for the meanings we create are our physical, everyday experiences, tying us to an intersubjective world that doesn’t answer to our whims.  Having a yoga mat and an idea of how to use it as a labratory can make the our humanity so much more comprehensible by acting as a place to discover things about how we are all the time because it’s how we are in our core, under all the fat, lace and dirt. 

With yoga as laboratory, life can become a prayer, the way I’ve always known it was meant to be. A big, complicated, joyful, interesting, tear sodden, hilarious, tragic, epic prayer.

Yes, yes, yes! you can do yoga every day!

One of the most frequent searches that lands people on this blog is “how often to do yoga” or “how many times to repeat…” or “can i do yoga every day.”

Now, how you include yoga in your life is the real point of creativity. I know Ashtanga yogis who have a quite regimented practice for an hour and a half to two hours every day except full moon. I know yogis who attend one class a week and pay attention to their breathing on certain cues. One is at stoplights, one sets aside time at the same time each day.

What has worked for me is dispensing with pre-ordained plans, but making an encounter with the mat unavoidable. In this way, I sit down and listen and follow the signs that arise. So some days it’s quiet & gentle, some rather vigorous. Some days all chant, or all pranayama. I follow my curiosity and passion and usually have something I’ve been meaning to try, or a concept or technique with which I’m playing so this brings me to practice and practice brings me to myself.

Today I have a rather virulent case of the flu, so yoga is special, very low key. When I first got up I thought I’d go for a walk, take some Ibuprofen, do a podcast class & hustle off to work. Boy was that plan a bust.  My fever was so raging I was shaking and sweating and I realized that curtailing the work my immune system was doing would only make the flu last longer.

It’s such a commonplace, but the truth runs deep: yoga means union. So the first yoga I did today found me. I wrapped up in a blanket, then piled on four more, til I was immersed in the sound of my own breath. Have you noticed a deeper quality to your breath when you are fighting infection? Becoming profoundly connected to that rhythm, the feeling, sound, being so exhausted that the breath usurps your entire consciousness for a few minutes, this can actually be a gift. It helped me realize that fighting my own immune system would prolong and complicate a battle I really just needed to turn myself over to.

So my practice on the mat has been really restorative: quiet, gentle attention oriented pranayam, vitparita karani, lots of bolsters. Forward folding for slowing and comforting the mind, backbending for stimulating and supporting the immune system. And of course lots of water, sleep and vitamin C.

I look forward to getting back to my surya namaskar, shoulder opening, heart opening, inverting, playing, sweating practice. But even on a day like today it’s good to go to the mat and find out what I’ve got. Union means finding out what’s there before beginning to make demands, and then to desire and do things nurturing for what you actually find.

So, yes! come to the mat, find out what you’ve got today and indulge it with yoga. Whether it’s asana, pranayam, meditation, mantra responding with integrity to the needs you actually find in that moment of stripping away is really the beginning of your yoga.

So, the storm has settled and the clouds have begun to blow away. No, I don’t “hate my f-ing job”, but I do laugh at reading what some others have written on the topic. And sometimes I need to. And I must admit, it’s a reality check. The things that trouble me are real and not administrative concoctions that someone could eliminate if they took two seconds’ thought. And because I know the people I work with and for take far more than two seconds’ thought. When I read what people write under the above title, I realize I’m checking things off: “oh, that does sound horrible! oh, well, at least I’m not dealing with that! oh, why does he go back!” And it makes me realize, I know why I go back.

I did come home last Sunday unable to stop crying and scared because I knew that if I had to go back to work the next day I wouldn’t be able to go. Thank goodness for the 40 (ish) hour workweek, huh?

Is this burnout? maybe. Is this PTSD? perhaps. Is this life? most definitely. Does this mean I can’t do the job I love so much? definitely not. It does mean I really need my yoga.

There’s a certain amount that a person can take at a time. There are some things when seen, the only – and I mean only – human response includes crying, although our role may require it be after the fact. There are things which if you can comprehend fully, I don’t want inside your head.

But my not being one of the ones who responds won’t stop them from happening. And being there is a priveledge I don’t plan to surrender soon. The years have shown I have an odd talent for it. And sometimes, in fact most nights, I can think of a moment, a small moment, where something I did mattered. And some nights I get to do a lot more.

And some days and mornings I cry, and sometimes I cry so much I don’t know if it’ll stop. And those days I wonder if I’ll go back. And I know someday the answer will be no. Not because I can’t, but because my heart’s flown elsewhere. And I’ll follow it then. But now, I’ll follow it back to the streets.

So, the actual asana. Haven’t written so much about that lately. I once took a workshop with Richard Freeman (yes, if you’re a regular you’ve heard this before 🙂 in which he said all of yoga could happen for us in Mountain, or Staff pose. The rest is just to distract, wear out, and discipline the mind. I paraphrase, of course. 

Not that there’s not a lot to love on the mat. It is the cause of hand and leg bending after all, which is a joy unto itself. And the more open our bodies become, the more freedom I notice we each find in our lives. And there really is something good about finally finding yourself in that pose you never thought you’d do. It may be monkey mind, but it’s a good monkey!

So with the blazing yellow of the trees just beginning to trace the New Mexico landscape, I’ve added some pranayama to my teaching. In addition to our usual friendly yogic three part breath attention, we’ve added Alternate Nostril Breathing, and depending on the day & class Skull Shining Breath beforehand.

Skull shining breath is a fast, exhale focused belly pumping breath, really excellent at creating heat, clarity & focus. If you make a diamond by joinging your thumbs and forefingers, then place it on your abdomen by putting your thumbs in your navel, you’ve framed the portion of your belly you want to be engaged. It’s the transvere abdominus, and you pump breath out in short bursts, allowing the breath to flow back in passively before pumping it out again. A slow set is one per second, fast 2 per. What keeps this from being pathological hyperventillation? Well, I actually tested myself on 300 rounds of Skull Shining Breath (Sanskrit: Kalabhati) on our capnography at work. I maintained a constant 32-35 mm Hg with good waveforms. Translation: it’s the CO2 retained by not exhaling fully that makes you pass out with hyperventillation. By focusing on deeply generated full exhalations, you maintain a balance of offloaded toxins and invited nourishments.

Start with three rounds of ten, the first at a pace of one per second. Go faster or increase your pace only as you feel comfortable and confident.

This is a great waker upper in the middle of the night, and heat generator for winter camping, among many other things.

Nadi Shodhana, or Alternate Nostril Breathing, takes this fired up breath and balances it by directing it in & out of each nostril, well, alternately.  We know from experience and scads of research on EMDR as well as cross patterning that stimulating the halves of the body alternately assists the nervous system in sorting information. Alternate nostril breathing is also really great for allergies, at least in my case.

Take your right hand and bend in the first and second finger. Place the thumb against the right nostril and inhale smoothly, slowly (say, to a count of four if that’s comfortable) through the left. Close off the left with the ring & pinkie (both nostrils are compressed right now) for  a retention of comfortable length (you might try one equal to the count for the inbreath). Release the right nostril and exhale – smoothly and slowly for the same count as the inhale – through the right nostril, and observe a rest, or kumbacha of the outbreath, at the bottom, allowing your spirit to reside in the emptiness, for a comfortable period of time, again you might try another count equal to the inbreath.

Then inhale right nostril, compress it (the left is still compressed from before, so both are closed at the top); practice a comfortable, non-straining retention at the fullness again, release the left nostril and exhale smoothly, yes, for the same count, resting in emptiness at the end of your outbreath.

This was one round and it won’t take as long to do as it does to read about. Do about four rounds to start and add as you become familiar and comfortable.

We’ve also been doing more twists and sided poses, compressing the organs and flooding them with luscious nutrient and oxygen filled blood and prana upon the release.

Does your practice change with the fall? Do you consciously plan this? Is it something you intuitively and naturally fall into?

Whatever you’re doing, make it yoga… and breathe, open, find the metaphor, embrace your meaning.

smile-award.jpgAw, Shucks!

I have been honored by Treehousejukebox 🙂 So now I get to pass it on…. the best part. I am humbled, given the sometimes dark mood of what I share here, that anyone would honor me in this way. Thanks for getting me. Thanks for reading. Thanks for writing your blogs:


ram dass

rolf gates



(ok, so the ram dass link isn’t to a blog, but it’s one of the places i go for smiles, so check it out!)

And now… I know I only am supposed to recognize five, but I only just now found this one, and I love it: justmakingitup  . just freaking good.

as I watch this amazing “last lecture” by Randy Pausch, listen to an amazing exposition of the Beatitudes by Neil Douglas Klotz, read reflection on Tantric Heart Sutras, one of the partners in my heart (as opposed to people with whom you simply work), with whom I am texting, who has recently stepped into the paramedic role,  asks the following: What’s worse, the fighter contemplating his career after his first fight or the one reflecting on her last? (I paraphrase, sorry my phone dumped its memory)

Leave aside how unyogically I’m streaming as much inspiring, supportive language into my consciousness as possible in my blissful multitasking….

It was the unlocking question, the one that had to be asked in order for the answer to arise from breath & water…

The one who doesn’t get back in the ring.