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!

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Come immerse yourself in four days of authentic yoga tantra! Deepen and refine your receptivity by learning the principles of practice that let the power of life flow. You’ll move to the pulse of your breath, release it on sound, work with yantra and mantra and know philosophy as your own direct contact with reality.

Having the strength to receive life is the point of yoga practice and the challenge inherent in giving birth. The means to this strength has been missing from contemporary culture and yoga teaching. It is the Feminine.

An exploration of the physiology and neural hormonal flow of love in a pregnant, birthing and breastfeeding woman will give our work a good foundation and point to her practical needs during the childbearing year. You’ll be able to teach pregnant and new mothers safely and effectively and know the feminine force not as a concept, myth or metaphor but as the real life that moves through us all.

I teach in the lineage of Krishnamacharya through the beautifully simple and profound yoga I’ve received from Mark Whitwell.  My knowledge of traditional midwifery is from Isabel Perez and Ina May Gaskin. The union of these two understandings creates a body of wisdom that is both whole and relevant.

AUGUST 13-16,

Friday through Monday, 10:00am to 6:00pm

$485.00

Certificate; Yoga Alliance and RMT CEU’s given.

To register, please email crescence@heartofbirth.org or call 416.994.4566

I am a woman who practices Yoga.   That’s a simple statement but not always a simple situation to navigate.  Despite the social and political victories that women have achieved, the Feminine is still deeply suppressed.  I bear witness to this in the hospital, where almost nothing is set up to support a woman in giving birth through her own power.  It is only because of the kindness and wisdom of some individual nurses and obstetricians that I and my clients are free to let the birth process, the Life process, express itself and lead the way.  And I would say the same dynamic exists in the Yoga world.  There are individuals who recognize that connecting to the Feminine, the movement of Life, is necessary for an experience of Yoga but this recognition is just beginning to penetrate the general understanding.  So I get my inspiration where I can.

And I found a wonderful source of it in the life story of a great Yogini, Yeshe Tsogyal.  She was born into a noble family in Tibet in 777 A.D..  Usually the stories of ancient, spiritually gifted people are about men and their lives have been turned into myths that no one can relate to.  But this story touched me and it is a woman’s.  As a young teenager, Yeshe was brutally raped by her first suitor.  She ran away from her second suitor and was placed in the King’s harem.  When she was sixteen, she was offered as a consort to the King’s guru, Lord Padmasambhava.  He freed her and she became his disciple and then his spiritual heir.

One winter, a few years later, she found herself living alone in a cave.  Her soul mate and “mystical consort” had left her there because he couldn’t take the cold, having grown up in the milder climate of the Kathmandu valley.  It was then that her earlier trauma came back and she came into relationship with her psychological demons.

Visions rose up before her in her meditations, full of hideous and terrifying intensity.  Hordes of phantoms advanced upon her: fearful, seductive, malign and evil.  With these, the products of her own traumatic passions, she wrestled, while remaining unmovable in her vajra-like samadhi, the immutable poise of impartial contemplation.  For days the onslaught continued until finally she was left in peace.  This was the trial of her final spiritual catharsis.

Granted, this is a rather heroic description of her healing process!  But the acknowledgment that the demons were a manifestation of her own trauma is insightful, I think.   A thousand and a half years ago, women were successfully dealing with the effects of the wounded Masculine.  After her horror had passed, the Masculine and Feminine in Yeshe merged and she felt whole.  I see women go through this in labour.  The pain of opening can ignite your memory of past pain.  Because Life is moving so strongly during the birth process though, the opportunity for integration in the present is particularly ripe.  The birthing room becomes your cave.

But to finish the story, Yeshe and her man got back together and continued to practice Yoga with each other.  She travelled all over Tibet with Padmasambhava, her guru, burying texts for the benefit of future generations.  When she was twenty- eight, she became a fully enlightened Buddha.  It is guessed that she died in her early fifties.  As was the case with Yeshe, we don’t have to literally give birth in order to give birth to ourselves.  Yoga offers us a way to enter our lives renewed.  When demons dance, we can receive them, watch and wait.

Link to the site with Yeshe Tsogyal’s story.

Eating and drinking well during early labour (when contractions are gentle and short and spaced more than five minutes apart) will give you the strength you’ll need for the intense part of the birth process.  Focus on complex carbohydrates and easily digested protein.  A bowl of rolled oats with yogourt and fruit, whole grain muffins or bread, pasta, brown rice and steamed vegetables, eggs, soy, baked sweet potato…might appeal to you.   Staying well hydrated in active labour (when strong, long contractions are happening five minutes apart or less) is essential for you and your baby.  Having frequent sips of fluids which contain some calories is ideal.  If you are feeling nauseous, try plain water.

Otherwise, watered down fruit juice is good.  Choose something that isn’t citrus as the acidity can upset your stomach.  Natural apple, apricot, or pear juice are easily digested.   Herbal tea with honey is another option.

Below is a recipe for a drink that will help you maintain your electrolyte balance.  If your labour is particularly long or you have thrown up a fair bit, this can give you energy and help you avoid dehydration or clinical exhaustion.  It’s an alternative to Gatoraide and can prevent the need for I.V. fluids.   Drinking this after you have given birth is helpful too as you will have lost some blood with the birth of the placenta.  I remember gulping it by the glassful.  Yum.

Labour-aide

1 litre water or 1/2 litre water and 1/2 litre non-citrus fruit juice

1/3 cup honey or maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

optional: a couple of tablespoons liquid calcium/magnesium supplement (helps with efficient muscle contraction and relaxation)

I am very moved to be part of this book.  It is a collective creation about birth written from a doula’s perspective.  It will be going to press soon!

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!

Body Cartography
Alicia Grant and Cara Spooner

Feb. 25 & 27, 8pm

What happens if you slow-dance with a skyscraper?

Tickets on sale now! A performance mixing disparate details of balancing on rooftops, walking home alone at night, raiding secret swimming pools and feeling too close to strangers employing installation, dance and question and answer periods.

Created in collaboration with visual artists Simon Rabyniuk and urban theorist Alex Marques, Body Cartography emphasizes and distorts the idea of a city within a city within a city within a city. Experience the places you think you know in a new way.

Link to Harbourfront info.

An ancient path has brought me into a virgin landscape.  There’s no map.  Can never be one because this place is a living thing that shifts its shape.  The thing is me.  The thing is freedom.  Vairagya.

To practice Yoga, all that is required is an understanding of how to use its technology to connect to and fully participate in your own Life.  The learning curve to acquiring this know-how is very short and is equivalent to learning where the “on” button on your laptop is and that if you click  “send and receive”, you will hook into the internet.  It is that simple.

I say this after having spent the last few days reading and comparing Mark‘s, Desikachar‘s and Srivatsa Ramaswami’s commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.  This ancient text, written by a man who came to be seen as the divine incarnation of the serpent Ananta, supporter of the whole universe, defines what Yoga is and the various routes to experiencing it.  It is still what everyone who writes “seriously” about Yoga refers to.  So I thought I should look at it.  The sutras are written in a very condensed style, like poetry, and are meant to be expanded upon by an individual teacher to an individual student in a way that will be personally relevant to the student.  This must explain, at least in part, the sometimes deeply divergent tacks different commentaries will take.  In the case of Mark, Desikachar and Ramaswami, all three men have the same root teacher, Krishnamacharya, and all three have spent their adult lives in intimate connection with him and his teachings (he died in 1989 at the age of 101 years).  Even so, there are strong differences in what they communicate.  By the end of last night, my head was reeling.  I found my balance by returning to my own experience and how it is reflected in Mark’s beautifully clear words.

I wanted to look at the Sutras because I see an attempt to speak about the deeper understanding of Yoga in the media as usually being inspired by things other than a technical understanding of Yoga.  What I found so refreshing and deeply trustworthy in Mark’s book when I first read it, was how he had disentangled Yoga from religion, from psychotherapy, from New Age spirituality, from every aspect of contemporary life that it often gets lumped in with, including the Oprah state of mind that there is always something more to improve in yourself.  In doing so, Mark demonstrated how Yoga cannot be separate from anything.  Yoga is the resolution of paradox, the union of opposites.  There are moments when I think this is too damn easy.  There must be something more difficult that I haven’t understood yet.

No.  Mark’s clarity is simple and it is rooted in Krishnamacharya’s profound intellectual rigour.  Krishnamacharya had an extraordinarily broad and deep scholarly education that began with his grandfather’s instruction when he was a little boy.  When he combined it with the tangible tools of  a Yoga practice, it enabled him to describe and contain Yoga’s paradox.  This precision of mind is Krishnamacharya’s legacy and I am doing my best to continue in it!  My mind is contained within the intelligence of a woman’s body however, and I trust that I therefore offer an understanding of Yoga that adds a new flavour, a new rasa, to the discussion.  For indeed, the essence of Yoga is tasted in embracing and being embraced by the feminine aspect of life, a fact that has been denied in the mainstream understanding of Yoga for thousands of years.

Please take that in!  For thousand of years the Feminine principle has been excluded from what has been taught as Yoga in order for it to be integrated into religious doctrine.  Mark speaks in detail about this.  We are still dealing with the consequences of Her absence.  It is in the very mechanics of how much of Yoga is still taught and it causes a lot of suffering.  Without the Feminine, Yoga becomes a practice of renunciation and disassociation.  It takes us out of life rather than deeper into it.  It locates sacredness not in the very flesh of what we are but somewhere outside of ourselves.

This crazy idea is at the centre of Christianity too and I think that makes it easy for us in the west to accept it when we encounter it in Yoga.  We’re used to it.   A couple of weeks ago, I read of a rather horrifying example of the denial of Life in the Catholic Church.  The Globe & Mail reported that  “even when he was not ill, [Pope] John Paul inflicted pain on himself, a practice known…as mortification, so as to feel closer to God.”   He whipped himself with a leather belt.  Monsignor Slawomir Oder told a press conference that, “It is clear the aspect of penitence was present in the life of John Paul II.  It should be seen as part of his profound relationship with the Lord”.  Pope Benedict does see it as profound and he has approved a decree recognizing that his predecessor had “lived the Christian faith heroically”.  With this decree, John Paul is one step closer in the process of being declared a saint.  I didn’t realize this barbaric understanding of what it means to be spiritual, of what it means to love, is still officially alive and well.  How this resonates through the rest of us, religious or not, runs deep, I feel.

We make text more sacred than life, for one.  And if the text is all tangled up in religious doctrine, it can be very difficult to tease out the actual Yoga.  Mark has done the teasing.  In Yoga of Heart, he has written a succinct chapter on his take on the sacred texts.  Mark says the common translation of Patanjali’s definition of Yoga (1.2) is not accurate.  More than “not accurate”, I would say it twists Yoga inside out!  The common translation says that the way to come into Yoga is by stilling the mind.  Krishnamacharya said, no, Yoga is to merge the mind with experience and the result will be a quiet mind.  The first is a practice of renunciation; the second, one of devotion.  They lead to very different experiences of life, very different ways of living and being.

Srivatsa Ramaswami writes in spirals of learned complexity that I find fascinating and frequently entertaining but they often leave my mind feeling like mush.  What did penetrate yesterday though, was this: he writes in Yoga for the Three Stages of Life, that Krishnamacharya explained to him that Patanjali considers Bhakti, devotion, as the only means to Yoga in these times.  Ramaswami then tells a story about Lord Shiva.  He challenged his two sons to race each other around the universe.  Shiva granted the prize to the son who walked reverently in a circle around his parents rather than the one who travelled around the outer universe.  The point of the story is that devotion to the “universal parents”, to the Masculine and Feminine in union, is something we can actually do.

The fact that the heart, not the mind, is the locus of Yoga is also the point, I think.  The purpose of intellectual insight is to get you to the stage of understanding, in the words of  U.G. Krishnamurti, another of Mark’s teachers, that “there is nothing to understand”!  When my mind is in a storm cloud of confusion, I save U.G. for last.  Videos of him on You-tube, some of which go as far back as the seventies in the form of  TV interviews, and the most recent, clips from just before he died in 2007, show him as someone who was fearlessly himself.  He was recognized in India as a living Buddha and yet the person we see is clearly very human.  That’s his point and  I find it very reassuring!  The way U.G. moved in the world sent the message that being in a state of Yoga is a real possibility, right here, right now, rather than a mythological ideal that we really don’t have a hope in hell of experiencing.  There was no snake skin on his body, no hiss to announce his arrival.  He refused to teach in the conventional sense of holding formal events or writing books but he spoke with unending passion to people who would meet him in the structure of ordinary life.    Mark writes that, “The natural yoga occurs when the mind gives up this self-conscious activity of trying to know anything or work on ourselves.  And the Yogasutra says that too.  ‘A person of extraordinary clarity is one who is free from the desire to know the nature of the perceiver.’  [S/he] has felt [her] own nature (4.25).”  We are the truth we are so busy looking for.  Recognizing that is the beginning and the end of Yoga.

U.G. says, “We don’t seem to realize that it is thought that is separating us from the totality of things.”  We can’t heal our separation by trying not to think, however!  Krishnamacharya defined practice, sadhana, as “doing what can be done”.  We can heal the separation by welcoming our mind into the wholeness of what we are.  We can bring our attention to our breath and body and let them take our mind for a ride!  We can hook into the force of Life.  Simple.

All creative acts come from the same source and unfold according to the same principles.  I discovered this when I instinctively used the techniques I had learned in my Voice training to give birth to my daughter.  Just recently, I have been the receiver of two creations that are close to my heart.

My niece, Sophie, is the first.  She was born at home in peace, attended by my brother (her father) and in the last few hours, by two midwives.  My sister-in-law used her strength to receive the power of Life and release her daughter into the world.  We are all grateful!

Having  just written about how Yoga is Strength Receiving, I got an email from Caylie Staples letting me know about the upcoming release of her first album, ‘Receiver’. Caylie writes:

I was working with you a lot during the time that I was writing the material and… recording it…you were a big part of my ideas about giving and receiving – thank you!

The album was recorded by Alex Unger and features myself (voice and songs), Katie Dutemple (voice), Felicity Williams (voice), Matt Brubeck (cello), Daniel Fortin (bass) and D. Alex Meeks (drums) -all wrapped up in a beautiful package designed by Emmott Clancy and printed by Standard Form!

CD RELEASE PARTY for ‘RECEIVER’
Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm
The Southern Cross Lounge at the Tranzac
in downtown Toronto
Free show; albums $10.00

The release will feature the band from the album, with Cory Latkovich subbing in for Matt Brubeck on cello – if you want to hear both of these fantastic cellists, get the record and come to the show!  The band is very excited to hear what this new member will bring to the table!  We will also be joined by some very special, secret GUEST IMPROVISERS for part of the evening.  Material from the album as well as very new material will be played!  Toronto folks can pick the record up at the release show or from ‘Soundscapes’ on College Street.

I began to write a comment on Nadine Fawell’s post but I realized I had too much to say, so I am writing here instead.  Nadine lives in Australia and counts Mark Whitwell as one of her beloved teachers.  A student of hers had asked her for her understanding of Mark’s statement that “Yoga is Strength Receiving” and she bravely took up the challenge.  Here’s my response!

If you move and breathe as Strength Receiving, you are functioning in the same way the universe functions; you are in harmony with everything.  You embody the principles that philosophy talks about and they are easily understood because they are a tangible experience.  The Yoga technology that allows you to do this is not taught in most Yoga classes.  As you and Grace share, Nadine, injury, or disintegration, is the result and it can take time to drop the habits that are in your body from prior training.

In breathing and moving in a way that actually allows you to experience Yoga, “the challenge is within the breath limits, not the musculature”, to quote Mark.  Hands are open and soft; shoulders, elbows, wrists and all joints are relaxed.  Yoga practice is about receiving the breath and the Life energy that moves on it.  “The importance of asana is its energetic function, not what it looks like.  What the practitioner actually feels is primary”.  Switching my focus from form to feeling was one of the changes I made in my practice when I met Mark.  It completely trans-formed what I was doing!   To trust the inner fluid source of my form is an ongoing, challenging and beautiful process for me now.

Feeling.  What do we feel?   When we breathe on ujayi, we must use our whole body to breathe.  This turns breathing into an activity that opens and strengthens all of us.  On a ujayi exhale, we naturally engage our core musculature; we actively participate in the release.  But first and foremost, an exhalation needs no effort on our part.  I think it is helpful to look at what is happening in daily life breathing because it sheds light on what is fundamentally soft and strong in us.

To exhale is to let go.  The diaphragm is the main muscle of respiration and when we exhale, it relaxes.  As it does, it moves up against the lungs which return to their unstretched state.  The decrease in volume increases the pressure in the lungs and breath flows out of us. (This is why open sound is a release rather than an effort and why it is so resonant and pleasurable!)  When the diaphragm contracts, it moves downwards, creating more space in the lungs which breath moves in to fill.  So an inhalation engages our strength and that is why the test of whether we should stay in a posture or not is whether a full, smooth inhalation is possible in it.  Our strength is necessary in order to receive.  This is true on both the most basic physiological level and on the most subtle levels of human connection.

The tricky part is that we tend to believe the opposite!  We think that giving is work and that receiving necessitates personal surrender.  We put our strength in the wrong place and then are bewildered when everyone gets hurt.   Receiving and surrendering are two different things.  The Concise Oxford dictionary defines surrender as 1 tr. hand over; relinquish possession of, esp. on compulsion or demand; give into another’s power or control. 2 intr. a accept an enemy’s demand for submission. b give oneself up; cease from resistance; submit.  Mark’s statement is that Yoga is Strength Receiving, not Strength Surrendering!

Nadine, when you wrote about relationship, you mainly used images of surrender rather than of receptivity.  They particularly struck me because I have just recently recognized how I can confuse my own self-abnegation with being a loving person.  I’ve been insane!  But I’m not alone in my craziness and I think our collective confusion speaks to the loss of power we assume is necessary if we are to love and be loved.  Surrender, in the sense of giving up our idea of who we think we are or who we want others to think we are, or of letting go of resistance, may be an appropriate response when we receive another but it is not the action of Yoga.

Receiving is.  Receiving someone is engaging our strength and taking them in.  Seeing them, hearing them, enfolding them.  Then there is no difference between us.  Then we are in Yoga.  Then we are in Love.

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