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On her blog ‘Shivers up the Spine’, Priya Thomas writes about her interview with Mark Singleton, author of Yoga Body: the Origins of Modern Posture Practice. The interview was held before an audience (I was part of it) at the Yoga Festival Toronto a few weeks ago and was an exploration of how we are framing and re-framing yoga as it moves more deeply into world culture.
Yoga’s relationship with language is an intimate and long standing one. The Sri Yantra has the entire Sanskrit alphabet embedded in it. The first letter, ‘A’ , represents Shiva, the masculine principle. The last letter, ‘Ha’, arrived at simply by aspirating ‘A’, represents Shakti, the feminine. When ‘A’ and ‘Ha’ embrace, all of life is embraced too.
We can get physically tangled up in language though, bound tight by the cultural mind. Asana practiced as an imposition of mind over matter is the patriarchal legacy yoga culture is struggling with, whether it’s delivered in terms of spirituality, religion or exercise. In mind’s stranglehold, language loses its relevance. It no longer expresses our experience but controls it. Mark’s research documents the many permutations of mind’s imposition, present worldwide and through time.
An effective yoga practice untangles body from mind by digesting it. Words dissolve, vowels and consonants vibrate in our very cells and we speak the truth.
The Yoga Festival Toronto 2010, August 20-22, is fast approaching! I am part of the faculty and have written an article on birth and yoga for their August newsletter.
It’s preceded by Brandy Leary’s on the yoga of dance. I met Brandy many years ago when she performed in the very intimate space of Joanna De Souza‘s Kathak dance studio. My daughter and I studied with Joanna for many years. It is in the tapas, the fire, of my time with her that the full force of yoga began to move in me. I began dance training at the age of five, taking ballet classes up to three days a week until the age of twelve. So dance is in my muscles and bones, in the fibre of what I am.
To have my writing matched with Brandy’s is a perfect link then, because the process of becoming a dancer, becoming the dance, is the same process of creation and self creation that women go through when they give birth. We do the impossible.
Please join us at the Festival in a few weeks! It is a non-commercial event put together with great love and intelligence and provides a real container for exploring yoga on all its levels. This year, almost all the teachers are based in Toronto and the strength of community this engenders is very beautiful and needed. And synchronously, the architectural beauty of the National Ballet School enfolds it all!
As doulas, we have an intimate experience of love in the purest sense of the word. Love as the force that brings us here and binds us as one. We bear witness to this force and to the obstacles that are put in her way. Our way. Life’s way.
Fellow doulas Lisa Doran and Lisa Caron edited and authored and nurtured this work. More details to follow!
I want to write my poems on the sky so everyone can read them…I like to recite my poems in a big voice, and I like to whisper and sometimes I like to use silence. Silence in Eastern philosophy is a bigger voice- just one that’s not audible…My poems are about the life process on this planet because the life process never stops. Like wind and the clouds…
Huang Xiang (see previous post)
A blizzard was turning all of Toronto white as I sat beside her. It had taken me two hours by TTC to reach her. She was coming out of a Demerol haze, the result of the nursing staff’s inability to cope with her. She was 17 and in labour. Her blood pressure was extraordinarily high. She was over two hundred pounds. Arrested for assaulting her baby’s father the week before, a court date had been set. She didn’t want me to touch her.
I asked her to imagine she was a cloud and the contractions were the wind. When the wind blows, clouds shift their shape. She should do the same. I would make the sound of the wind and she could join me. This would help with the pain. Over the next five hours our voices merged. I will never forget the image of her standing with her eyes closed, undulating her arms as we filled the room with sound and silence. This is how she gave birth, a sky dancer of infinite grace.
Keeping my daughter company last night as she packed for a canoe trip, I began reading aloud from a book that was on her camp’s reading list, The Tao of Leadership. This is what I read.
Tao means how: how things happen, how things work. Tao is the single principle underlying all creation… All creation unfolds according to Tao. There is no other way. Tao cannot be defined, but Tao can be known. The method is meditation, or being aware of what is happening. By being aware of what is happening, I begin to sense how it is happening. I begin to sense Tao… The method of meditation works because principle and process are inseparable. All process reveals the underlying principle. This means that I can know Tao. I can know God. By knowing Tao, I know how things happen.¹
I stopped and shouted, “This is Yoga!” Substitute Shakti for Tao; they are different words for the same thing. Shakti is the single principle underlying all creation. By being aware of what is happening when you give birth, you will know Her.
Practicing Yoga before you give birth will make it easier to feel what is happening during the intensity of the birthing process. A practice isn’t essential but it is very helpful. I think “being aware of what is happening” is a great way to describe meditation. Any preciousness associated with the concept is dropped. When you are aware of what is happening, you are meditating. It is that simple.
I also love how Lao Tzu says, “There is no other way.” He isn’t worried we’ll misinterpret his clarity. The painting of Tzu that accompanies this post is a co- creation of Huang Xiang and William Rock. Xiang is “one of the greatest poets of the 20thC and a master calligrapher.” He was imprisoned for twelve years in China for his advocacy of human rights and now lives in NYC using his art as a bridge between the East and West. Rock is an Irish American artist who has studied with Tibetan and Chinese monks over the last fifteen years. Together, Rock and Xiang are a voice for freedom, the only way.
¹ John Heider, The Tao of Leadership, Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching Adapted for a New Age (Atlanta: Humanics Limited, 1985) p.1
Having attended a long birth a few nights ago, I’ve come back into daily life where I’m living by the rhythm of the sun again. I’ve been writing today, winding my way through a logical sequence of thoughts and images, moving through a vinyasa of words. Writing is Yoga where the invisible takes shape, where silence becomes sound, where thought becomes vibration. It is a creative act that mirrors the original one of Birth.
The sensation of following the thread of my thoughts reminds me of the Greek myth where Ariadne holds onto the end of a ball of thread that her lover, Theseus, unspools as he enters into the heart of a labyrinth. There he meets and kills a half- human beast. The thread guides him back out. He begins and ends his journey in love. On the way, he loses his fear.
Giving birth is like this. You go to the centre of what you are. You touch the heart. In fact, there is an ancient yantra (a Tantric symbol of cosmic unity) given to labouring women that is in the exact form of a labyrinth. It’s called a Chakra–vyuha but it is identical to labyrinths drawn for thousands of years on the walls and floors of caves, temples and churches worldwide. The pattern is woven into baskets in South America. It is carved into the grassy ground in England. It is built out of stones in Scandinavia.
In a Hindu birth ritual a yantra is traced in saffron. The birthing woman mentally walks through the yantra and then the saffron is washed away with water. The water is collected and given to the woman to drink. Her body absorbs the substance of the rhythmic pathways of her mind and she is free to move into the uncharted territory of Life. There is no difference between her and love.