Good News

This is a somewhat longish post for my teaching blog, and it really belongs here. But practically speaking, it is the “heads up” that I am working on a return to teaching yoga on a regular basis.

Wholehearted Yoga

I have some good news to share on what is a snowy and reflective day for me. I am fortunate not to have University classes to teach on Fridays, and I decided to forego traveling to my “goto” Friday morning public class because of the weather. Home practices are in order.

One of the most delightful practices I engaged this morning is to prepare a yoga class for a studio to which I am applying to teach on a regular basis. I haven’t been on the schedule at a studio for a year. When I haven’t been recovering from a second shoulder surgery, and rebuilding my own practice from it, I’ve been mainly subbing for Roberta Dell’Anno and Linda Moran.

I get to prepare this class…

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Happy New Year!

From the archives!

Since as a professor I am such a noodge I like to twist all your wigs, I offer this alternate setting for Auld Lang Syne, the one actually preferred by Robert Burns, the people’s composer, as sung by the incomparable Jean Redpath. And a few other sweet songs.

Let us raise to each other swirling glasses filled with bittersweet memories of the year departing, and hopes for the new one arriving.

Me? I’ll have the mulled red wine with muddled cherries and floating cranberries.

The Considered Kula

I was searching my iTunes for this version of “Auld Lang Syne” by Jean Redpath that was actually the setting preferred by the composer Robert Burns. I believe it was Dana Westover who played it a long time ago on WUMB-FM. It will sound unusual to your ear.

In the process of searching, I found this lovely song by Regina Spektor I had forgotten about. (It seems it may have been written by Peggy Lee.)

My dear acquaintance, it’s so good to know you
For strength of your hand
That is loving and giving
And a happy…

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Sandy Hook Elementary

From the archives, sadly…

The Considered Kula

Cover of "Rampage: The Social Roots of Sc... Cover via Amazon

The Anusara Yoga Teacher Training manual talks about the cultivation of three qualities: soft heart, sharp mind, and vibrant body. I have a friend who lives and has raised her children in Newtown, CT, and my longest friend spent much of his childhood here. Like so many coming together on social media, my heart is broken. It breaks, also for the dozens of children who have died of hunger since I’ve been typing this, for the slow attrition of young people in inner cities, and for children killed by our unmanned drones in Pakistan and Yemen.

Sharp mind comes into play here, and I cannot help but share what I have learned in the process of teaching sociology to college students for the past eight years. In doing so, I will draw upon explanations of rampage school shootings advanced in the research of Katherine S. Newman

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What Makes a Good Teacher? – The Chronicle of Higher Education

In reading this, I very much have in mind some of my favorite yoga teachers.

If one were to analyze what goes into being an inspiring teacher in this sense, the list would include enthusiasm, charisma, a capacity to clarify and make sense, humor, kindness, and a genuine interest in students’ progress. Much of this is a matter of natural capacity; which implies that teachers are born, not made; and this in turn explains why teaching is so often described as a vocation.

Source: What Makes a Good Teacher? – The Chronicle of Higher Education

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Iyengar Jayanthi

This morning I was delighted to discover that today Google remembers the 97th birthday of B.K.S. Iyengar, whose instruction in, and articulation of yoga āsana has informed its practice worldwide, and in the US.


His book Light on Yoga was required reading for my teacher training, and I gained an even deeper appreciation of it in Christina Sell’s webinar, “Light on Yoga; Cracking the Code,” which one may still join.

I join others in recognizing our debt of gratitude to this masterful teacher.

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Another Autumn

From the archives. Technically it is still autumn. But this part of the poem by Bly makes me remember everything we need is within. We are always already arriving.

The Considered Kula

Another autumn has arrived, and I have scarcely noticed. I did not note its arrival for my Friday classes and I am remiss. Like Olga Rasmussen, to whom I have turned this morning for inspiration, I have been so caught up with teaching and connecting with friends. Yet the season insists, and will not be denied. A spray–painted sheaf of plywood on the road near my home declares “OUR OWN APPELS. .50¢ lb.” Squash fills the crates at the farm stand. On the drive to the latest installment of a workshop series yesterday, I noticed the tops of trees beginning to blush.

The Buddhist ordered his boy to bring him, New Year’s
morning, a message. He
woke; answered;
tore open the message
he himself had written, and signed, “Buddha.”
“Busyness has caught you, you have slowed and stopped.
If you start toward me, I
will surely come
to meet…

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The torrent

From the archives!

What prompted this for me is a Facebook friend who posted her Facebook word cloud. “Love” and “god” were displayed most prominently. What a bhakta!

The Considered Kula

Bhakti Bhakti (Photo credit: Clifford Horn)

I have a great deal to catch you up on, dear readers, including my first experience of teaching a yoga class on Mahāśivarātri, March 10, at Sangha Yoga Collective in Lowell, where I teach sociology at the University.

As I was going over my notes to complete some homework for my teacher training yesterday, in my journal I came across some notes I had made while reading William K. Mahony’s Exquisite Lovea reflection on the Nāradā Bhakti Sūtras. In particular, Sūtra 50 asserts this about the devotee or “bhakta.”

sa tarati sa tarati lokāṁs–tārāyati

[The bhakta] crosses [the torrent], [the bhakta] crosses [the torrent]. [The bhakta] helps all in the world to cross.

I think of all my dear colleagues in this enterprise of teaching yoga, or just generally people trying to follow a spiritual path. Life presents all of us with…

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Help, I’m Alive

Yesterday, I was sitting around in a café aprés yoga with some friends, discussing our midlife spiritual crises, among other things. Not the garden variety of midlife crisis, but the deeper one which impels the others. It is the one in which one realizes that one is not living one’s own life, but one provided by all of those others, from one’s parents to Madison Avenue (a quaint term for advertising for all of you millennials.

It reminds me of this truly wonderful book I’ve assigned to some of my first year seminar students, This Book is Not Requiredwhich relies partly on a “Buddhist sociology” I’ve not read anywhere but by the book’s chief author, Inge Bell. It is well–accepted in sociology, especially within the theoretical perspective of symbolic interactionism, that individuals undergo a process of socialization (not “socializing”, that’s  a form of “interaction”). As I intone repeatedly for my students, this is the social process by which individuals learn their culture, including norms, and their place in the social world. As the chapter subtitle in the text I use suggests, it is how we become “human and humane.” While this happens most profoundly when we are young, it does continue in small ways over the course of the life cycle, when we take on a new social role, such as parenthood, or a new job in a new place. Without this critical process we end up “feral”, comically like Mowgli or George of the Jungle.

But Bell, from her Buddhist sociological perspective suggests we need to take the added critical step of desocialization, for her a process of individuation, of deciding amongst all of the options society and others present us. What characterizes us?

For my students, I’ve long tried to preserve this critical aspect of socialization, that it is not a spectator sport, that what society would have us know to be a part of the human community is not simply decanted into us as children, empty vessels and recipients of the wisdom of the ages. No, we must and do select amongst various ways of being. Indeed, if the structure of society constrains our choices, we also do exercise some degree of agency. As Willy Wonka tells spoiled Veruca Salt, “We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

For instance, I ask students if they play any sport for the University, and what sports they played in high school, and middle school. Typically, I receive different responses. Why don’t they play the sports they played earlier in their education? It’s clear they’ve made choices, about what they do and don’t like, or are good and not good at, from among the vast array their significant and generalized others would have them know, and do. So our choices interact with society, and this is the dance of agency and structure. (I owe my appreciation of the significance of idea to my colleague of many years.)

But choice at any age, and perhaps distinctively in middle age, is frightening. I love this song by Emily Haines of Metric, and especially the acoustic version, “Help, I’m Alive.” Not “help, I’m dying,” but “help, I’m faced with the delicious uncertainty of choice.”

I especially love this part:

If I’m still alive, my regrets are few.
If my life is mine, what shouldn’t I do?
I get wherever I’m going.
I get whatever I need.
While the blood’s still flowing,
And my heart still beats (beating like a hammer)…

How wonderful to be confronted with the terror of this beautiful life.

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Post-op Vasisthasana

Vasisthasana (side plank pose)

Vasisthasana is typically (in the Iyengar system) the first in a series of three “one-arm” balancing positions.

Vasisthasana is typically (in the Iyengar system) the first in a series of three “one-arm” balancing positions.

via Side Plank Pose | Vasisthasana | Yoga Pose.

Today was one of the first times I’ve attempted this variation of Vasiṣṭhāsana in a public class since the injury to my right shoulder in February 2014. It felt more stable than just about any time before the injury as well. I used to wobble. In truth, unbeknownst to me, I had torn the Subscapularis long ago, probably while pulling snow off my roof with a roof rake, after many Sun Salutations in a vigorous Winter Solstice celebration.

I don’t wobble now. Conclusion? One needs a fully attached Subscapularis for this pose. I tried this on the left side, which I injured in December 2014, and had surgery on in May 2015. It’s not wobbly, but it isn’t strong yet. It feels like it wants to give out, and I don’t want that to happen while I’m bearing weigh on it. I’m doing it modified, to build up strength.

This summer I was happy once again to sit in satsang with my teacher Sara Davidson Flanders, who brought Bill Mahony back to Rhode Island to speak about the Upaniṣads. “The Light of the Heart is Vaster than All the Worlds” was the title of the workshop. I mention this because we discussed that this pose was named after Vasiṣṭha, one of the ṛṣi (rishis), or seers, sages, to whom the Vedas were ascribed. Indeed, in Light on Yoga (1966), B.K.S. Iyengar describes him as follows.

Vasiṣṭha was a celebrated sage or seer, the family priest of the solar race of kings, and author of several Vedic hymns, particularly of the seventh Maṇḍala of the Ṛg Veda. He was a typical representative of brahmanic dignity and power and is one of seven sages who are identified with the stars of the Great Bear.… (309-310)

Also, in The Artful Universe: An Introduction to the Vedic Religious Imagination, Mahony writes this of the ṛṣi

Vedic poets hoped that the gods not only would find delight in their verses, but would also keep those songs with them. “May this hymn of praise rest in our heart,” Vasiṣṭha sang to Varuṇa, for example, in Ṛgveda 7.86.8.

I think of this pose as heart–expressive. It’s weight–bearing on one arm, and the free arm is extended to the sky. To pull this off, the shoulder blades need to be together on the back, supporting the heart from the back body, thought of as representing “the Universal.”

How wonderful it is to think that in this āsana, we celebrate this connection between our embodied particularity, and whatever name we give to that which undergirds this existence. How wonderful it is for me once again to be participating in this enactment, at least on the right side, and to see it as soon possible on the left.

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Prayer for Children Reclaiming Structures Meant for Climbing

We need to have a thoroughgoing conversation about other hazards of childhood: helicopter parents, who can be called in for air support, producing extrinsically motivated young adults who can’t do their own laundry, climb mountains, or meet new people in a new city.

Of course it is a public good that a municipality should limit its liability. But that should be balanced with dialogue and inquiry into the likelihood of threats.

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