Yoga is great for stretching. If you do it enough, you can touch your toes and improve your parallel parking skills by twisting to see behind you.
But, it’s also great for stretching and expanding things beyond your muscles—namely your mind. Through concentration and meditation, in particular, the mind becomes stronger and more agile, in the same way our muscles are strengthened by a Vinyasa class or trip to the gym.
Another way to stretch our minds is through svadhyaya or self-study, which encourages yogis to be students of their practice and the world. One easy way to do this is to read. Since you’re reading this now, you’re off to a smashing start. BRAVO!
I recently had a request to share my favorite yoga and meditation books, so here’s a quick sampling of the ones I turn to most.
Modern yoga resources:
Living Your Yoga (Judith Lasater)
Eastern Body, Western Mind (Anodea Judith)
Yoga for Emotional Balance by my friend Bo Forbes
Shambhala Encyclopedia of Yoga by the late Georg Feuerstein
Mudras: Yoga in your Hands (Gertrud Hirschi)
Anything by B.K.S. Iyengar…
Classical yoga texts (each with multiple translations):
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Wherever You Go There You Are by mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn (and dad to one my dearest friends).
When Things Fall Apart by no nonsense Buddhist nun Pema Chodron
As an English major, former English teacher, writer, and proud nerd founder of the Om Gal Book Club, it’s no secret that I’m a major bookworm. I even have the knots in my shoulder and neck to prove it from lugging 2-3 books in my handbag at all times. I think it’s time for an e-reader…
And since they’re not all yoga books (not even close), I’ll share what else I’ve been reading lately and what I plan to read next.
Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by the inimitable Anne Lamott
Lean In by Facebook COO and feminist superhero Sheryl Sandberg
Daring Greatly by Brene Brown, also known as the book that changed my life most this year. (If you don’t have time to read the book, watch her TED Talk).
Love is a Mixtape by Rob Sheffield
Buddy: How a Rooster Made me a Family Man by my friend and editor of the Boston Globe, Brian McGrory.
I could hear the shrieking of five-year-olds in the bouncy fortress from the driveway as I arrived at my goddaughter’s birthday. When they saw me, she and her best friend, Mia, ran to the mesh lookout windows to say hello, clinging to the strings and mushing their noses against the material, still bouncing lightly as they spoke. Adrianna climbed out to hug me and noticed a necklace I was wearing.
“Who’s that?” she inquired, fingering the bright blue pendant.
“That’s the Buddha,” I responded, figuring this would be sufficient. It didn’t seem like the time to delve into spirituality, even for a wacky 20-somerthing godmother who taught yoga for a living.
“Oh.” Adrianna said, satisfied enough. Until she wasn’t…“Is he coming to my party?”
I wish I could tell you that I said something meaningful, from which my goddaughter then gleaned a childhood twinkle of wisdom. Instead, I ummed & I-don’t-know-ed until another five-year-old shrieked with glee, and her attention was needed elsewhere. She ran away.
Next week, she turns 13, signaling inevitable changes in our bond. I no longer have to pretend to sleep beside her to convince her to nap. She no longer naps, obviously. How many times I’d open my eyes, thinking she’d fallen for my ruse, only to see her tiny face inches from mine, awaiting whatever was next. I still stock her favorite healthy foods before she visits; cherry tomatoes have always been like candy to her— ‘matoes, she used to call them.
I no longer carry her anywhere, but sometimes we link arms through a crowded street or T station. I remember tripping once in the Davis Square station while holding her when she was very small. Fear shot through me so fast that I barely noticed I’d landed squarely on my kneecap, tearing my favorite pair of jeans. My knee bled and began to bruise as we boarded the train, but I didn’t care. I was shaken and grateful that I didn’t drop her, and she didn’t notice how terrified I was.
My friend, Abigail, a mother of two adult children and one teen and a standout high school English teacher, once told me what teenagers most want from their parents: beige couch.
“I’m sorry; I don’t understand. They want new furniture?”
“Beige couch,” she repeated. “Comforting. Supportive. Blends in. Doesn’t stand out. Always there when needed.”
Being a godparent is nowhere close to the same realm as parenting, but we all know it takes a village, and I’ve been thinking about how I can be most useful to Adrianna, while she leaves childhood and enters adolescence. I keep recalling the women who helped me navigate through the quagmire of junior high and high school—older cousins like Louisa and Celia who laughed so easily; family friends like our childhood nanny, Emma, who was studying to become a lawyer and so smart and the opposite of boy crazy and Linda, who made not wearing the same cool clothes as everyone else seem even cooler; teachers like Mrs. Hess who honed in like a hawk on the fact that I could identify any author by a sentence of his or her work. I was like a nerd sniper of writing styles in my accuracy, but I didn’t rate the highest on standardized tests like the SATs, and I sometimes thought that this meant I couldn’t be a writer. Other teachers sometimes hinted at this.
And, then, my coaches—too many tough, dedicated, big-hearted, hard-pushing, whistle-wielding women to count. Coach Robertson, who first taught me to end even the most frustrating days by thinking of one small thing for which I am grateful. Coach Smurl, who was the first same-sex relationship, pregnant woman, and parent I’d ever witnessed. When DOMA fell last month, I thought of her. I am forever grateful to her for helping to shape my view of family, marriage, and love. Coach Marini, my original swim coach, who simply would not let us use the word can’t. It was like a swear word to her.
I know that I can’t be any of them (in this context, I think Mrs. Marini would be OK with it), nor can I be a beige couch. I can only be myself, to the best of my ability and hope that somehow the joy and satisfaction in that glints in my goddaughter’s direction. I want her to know that she’s strong, bright, kind, and unstoppable. I don’t want her worrying about her weight already. I want her to know the difference between liking Kanye West’s music and seeing him as a role model of any kind other than working hard at a job you love. I want her to know about love—that it is supportive and comfortable, a little like a couch. But it also dazzles, lifts you up, amplifies what’s best about you, is tender with what’s worst, and would never dream of making you smaller or less than you dare to become. Because being yourself will require daring—not the kind that jumps off things but the kind that forgoes the opinion of the crowd, the popular, too often, the mean girls. Now and always.
Adrianna visited last week, her last as a twelve-year-old. We went for a walk through Christian Science Park, past the reflection pool and had dinner on my deck. The arugula salad was her favorite, and she thinks she might like to run track & field next year. These were both of her volition. I swear. We listened to hip-hop after dinner and looked at old photos. The photo below was one of her favorites, from that birthday party when she turned 5 and asked if the Buddha would be there.
I didn’t mention that the Buddha is no longer a single living person who comes to parties or eats cake. Instead, he’s a symbol of the best, brightest, and most peaceful core within each of us.
We went to a well-known bakery in my neighborhood, and I told her about its chef and owner, Joanne Chang. For her birthday, I bought her a pair of Nike Frees, her first proper running shoes. It was oppressively hot that day, as we walked toward her mom’s office, but she didn’t want me to carry them for her. She held them close on her lap as we rode the T.
She taught me something, about handstands, too. I do them for yoga, and she does them for gymnastics. Mine are often short-lived if I’m not near a wall for support.
“How do they teach you to stay up without a wall,” I asked?
“Oh, I can’t do it yet, but people say you have to press down really hard, to push your legs up higher… You have to lift yourself up,” she explained.
Days later, during a workout at the gym, I read the latest issue of Vogue on the elliptical machine with an article about Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu member of congress, a woman from Hawaii who served in Iraq, recently sworn in using the Bhagavad Gita, and jumped rope, marveling at how hard it is after you don’t do it for a while. Then, I fluttered in and out of handstands, practicing without an agenda, just having fun On the last one, I thought of Adrianna’s advice, and I pushed down harder into the ground, until I felt buoyant and steady.
As I hovered longer than usual, I thought of my goddaughter’s face, not the baby face I used to see after fake napping but the young adult face, with its bright, dark eyes sparkling and watching, ready for whatever comes next. I smiled at how high she might soar knowing already how to lift herself up. I walked home by the street with a community garden, which I explained means that each person has their own plot of land, and they can grow whatever they want. She liked this idea, and as we walked ahead, she was quiet, thinking about the possibilities.
“Consciousness sucks!” This is what a friend of mine says. He doesn’t mean he wants to be unconscious or irresponsible. He’s on the spiritual path and sometimes his inner voice encourages him to go against lower impulses. It means that he sometimes forgoes the easier and more pleasurable path to consider others and choose what’s best and wisest for the long term. I’ve had that experience too. That inner voice or intuition nudges me to move out of my comfort zone and sometimes literally move to a new place. It may encourage me to give back the change when the cashier gives ten dollars too much or speak up to defend someone or something even when I’d rather remain silent. It also sometimes tells me that someone or something isn’t good for me even though my mind yearns and weeps for that person or thing.
Following this inner truth is called dharma or duty. Dharma in Sanskrit literally means “right action”, doing the right thing. My favorite story about duty takes place on a battle field. Arjuna, a brave young man has been trained as a warrior. But on this day of one of the greatest battles the world has ever seen, his spirits plunge. He rides down the center of the battle field in a chariot driven by Lord Krishna. On the opposing side he witnesses people who have been near and dear to him. They too are poised for war. As he looks into their faces he loses heart. “I can’t do it,” he tells Krishna. “I can’t fight and risk killing them.”
He slumps in the chariot, dispirited. But Krishna reproaches him: “You have been trained, oh warrior. To fight in battle for a good cause is your highest duty. Whether you fight or not, these men you see are fated to die in battle today. You have the choice of going down in history as a great warrior or a coward. The wise man would do his duty.”
Arjuna decides to fight and becomes a legend. This is one of the great teaching about dharma – and how to perform it even in difficult circumstances. This battle, according to Jack Hawley, author of The Bhagavad Gita: A Walk Through for Westerners, is symbolic. It’s about an inner battle, a struggle to slay our inner foes. These may include hatred, anger, greed, lust, envy and jealousy. These enemies get in the way of living a content, happy and spiritually fulfilled life.
While it’s not easy, following that inner truth to your dharma will bring joy. Sometimes it may take time to see the results, but each little action, each time you say “yes” to that inner consciousness it’s a victory that resounds throughout the world. How migght your duty become your joy today?
I’d love to talk about how differently our minds work depending on the language that we are speaking.
In Spanish we have two translations from BEAUTIFUL WOMEN. When we say “mujeres hermosas” we are referring to physically attractive women, but when we say “hermosas mujeres” Besides being physically attractive women we mean much more, for example women who have class, women who have moral convictions, women who show their spiritual development, assertive women and many more first class qualities.
We are where our minds think we are, and not where we actually are.
A good fiction writer makes our minds mentally travel to places he/she wishes us to be. It is as our brains follow his words our minds experience the places he is describing using many perceptions as required to achieve the desired effect on us.
On this occasion I’m asking for your cooperation regarding demonstrating something beneficial for everybody.
It would be a wonderful idea if only for this time you read each sentence three times using your useful imagination. The first time please imagine that you are on your favorite summer spot in broad daylight as you read the sentence. On your second reading transport yourself to a vey dark winter night in front of a bonfire as you listen to this sentence uttered by an expert storyteller. And your third time will be of your choice. Please place yourself in whatever place you wish.
Here are the seven sentences.
1.- “ If it is not true, it is well invented”——–Giordano Bruno.
2.- “Only the knowledge that make us better is useful”—–Socrates
3.-“There is nothing new, except what has been forgotten—–Prezioso
4.-“One becomes great by what one reads and not by what one writes”——–Borges.
5.-“Man is a pendulum between the smile and the tears” —Byron
6.-“Those who know how to content themselves, are always satisfied” —–Tao Te King.
7.-“All ascends and descends, all moves like a pendulum. Rhythm is the compensation” —El Kybalión.
Please try to repeat each sentence feeling deeply not only with your heart and mind, but with all your integrated Self.