Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Golden Hour

Practice is now nearly exactly one hour, starting with an improvised prayer (but always including the Serenity Prayer), and proceeding through asana, savasana, pranayama, and a short session of very basic chanting. It's the best hour of the day.

The face I saw yesterday during pranayama didn't return today. Instead, I had visions of the ocean; as I inhaled the wave came in, and then receded on the exhale. I think I should take a one-day trip to the ocean at Westport this month, while I still can drive and still have a car.

The asana routine is beginning to become automatic, so I'd better study Gary's asana/chakra meditation routine in the "intellect" chapter of "Yoga for Transformation," and start incorporating some of it. I also was instructed in one of my recent vivid dreams to learn the chant "Ganapati."

Lots of homework for class this week. We have to draw up a new sequence, so I'd better get started today or tomorrow.


Saturday, May 30, 2009


During pranayama this morning I saw a face looking right at me, a middle-aged man's face in three-eighths profile, looking to one side and right into my eyes. He was kind of scowling but not hostile, just serious. His race or nationality I couldn't determine.

That lasted about two minutes, and I have no idea what it meant. Possibly it meant nothing at all, and was just a stray imagining or long-forgotten fragment called up out of deep memory.

It's amazing what the mind comes up with when it's intensely concentrated on a single, simple object, such as the breath.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Yesterday Afternoon

Took a class at Whole Life with Suzette yesterday late afternoon, a very pleasant hour and fifteen minutes.

We did quite a few backbends, which are supposed to be energizing. However, by the end of class we were all so relaxed I think everyone wanted a nap. Too bad -- more than half of us had to roll out for three hours of classroom instruction, from 6:30 to 9:30. It was a little past 11:00 when I made it to Chris's in Port Orchard and collapsed into bed.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Stretching the East

This is a record of my observation of Suzette's all-levels class at Whole Life Yoga on 5/21/09, at 4:30-5:45 p.m.

For this assignment, we were instructed to pay close attention to back bends, to note where the students' movement into these postures originated, and what release valves, if any, were visibly employed by the practitioners as they moved in and out of these bends.

It was a small group consisting of four practitioners, one other observer besides myself, and the instructor.

After introductory attention to the breath and the usual upward arm sweeps, three kneeling postures preceded the first back bend, upward-facing dog. It was immediately preceded by cakravakasana, which provided a natural transition, and I noticed right away that all four practitioners looked to be experienced yoginis. As a group, they showed a polished and confident form as they moved through the routine, and their movement into up dog was no exception. It was hard to isolate a single origin for this movement, as the four ladies' backs bowed simultaneously with their heads coming to an erect posture, facing forward, their shoulders rising just slightly from cakravakasana. I didn't see any of the four using release valves such as hunching the shoulders or collapsing their necks backward. They then lowered themselves slowly down to a prone position.

The class moved immediately into another back bend, salabhasana, the variation where the arms are spread with the hands reaching back toward the similarly spread legs. (One of the students -- the one sort of hanging toward the back, chose to do bhujangasana or a standard cobra pose here instead.) The movement appeared to originate in two places simultaneously: the low back and the shoulders, especially the latter, whose elevation seemed to set in motion the simultaneous raising of all four limbs, the curvature of the spine, and the adduction of the scapulae. Here again, no release valves were visible, and none of the students who did the posture struggled with it in any way. From here, the class transitioned to child's pose, then to downward-facing dog leading to uttanasana.

The two back bends were poses numbers five and six in the sequence, and were followed by a some standing forward bends, and then, immediately following parsvottanasana, at number nine in the sequence, the standing back bend virabhdrasana (warrior I) with "goal post" arms. This simple movement originated with the forward thrusting of the chest, immediately followed by the back-trending rotation of the shoulders, adducting the scapulae and producing the back-bend effect in the lumbar spine. Here again, there were no visible release valves. A counterpose repetition of uttanasana immediately followed.

The next back bend came at position number 14, a return to upward-facing dog as part of a flow sequence which also included plank position and downward-facing dog. As before, all the practitioners, especially the three who sort of lined up in front, moved through these sequences with ease, showing no strain and not visibly employing any releasing shortcuts.

A variation of vimanasana immediately followed the flow sequence. With students' arms and legs raised and the arms sweeping forward, the instructor called out a sequence in which first all four limbs were active, then two at a time; practitioners raised one arm and the opposite leg and continued in this vein alternating sides. The origins of these movements was quite clearly along the whole spine, with the thoracic spine raising up as the lumbar spine curved to enable leg elevation. None of the students appeared to have any difficulty with this strenuous movement, which was followed naturally by apanasana, then a supine twist.

Dvipada pitham was the final back bend of the practice, followed by the heels-to-the-sky urdhva prasrta padasana. Winding down, students relaxed into supta badha konasana, a supine posture of their choice, and a very quiet savasana to end the day.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009


It was a highly-evolved practice this morning, especially the 21-breath pranayama. I'm starting to see some real, measurable progress in my breathing, and the improvement in the quality of breath when I'm able to pay attention to it -- not just during pranayama, but any time -- is remarkable.

This asana routine I'm doing is only slightly adapted from Kraftsow's "Yoga for Transformation," and it will be the basis of the sequence assignment I'll turn in to Tracy in a couple of days.

I dreamed a lot again last night. This time I was in prison, although it seemed more like a men's dormitory than a prison and wasn't too awfully bad. Still, I was planning to just walk away from the place after arranging with someone on the outside to leave my car nearby, and simply drive away.

Some of the same people as were in my dreams night before last were in last night's too. A lot of my fellow prisoners were the same young Mexican guys as before, and the main one for sure is Miguel Martinez, a writing proficiency student of mine a couple years before I finished. He was a decent student, and a very pleasant and likable person, and still is (in my dreams).


Sunday, May 24, 2009


This morning's practice was the first since Wednesday. It felt wonderful and truly liberating, even though the back was sore from excessive driving and lack of exercise.

So there were lots of pops and adjustments. When you get a sternum pop you know you're doing something right. Because of the sore back, I decided to forego "the bow" pose (dhanurasana) in favor of the "the boat" (navasana).

Breathing was a little tough, especially at first. I think the smoke from the wood fires I'm lighting to heat the house might be a little harmful. Most of it goes up the chimney, but some escapes into the room. Managed to get the pace and and timing of the breath under control by the time I relaxed into a very calm, 21-breath pranayama.

I dreamed of that fraud Barack Obama last night, and of his two well-behaved little daughters. They all seemed very happy. I dreamed of people being executed by lethal injection, looking as if they were being crucified. And I dreamed I was living with several young guys, one of whom had an infestation of ants crawling on the wall behind the head of his bed, along with a bunch of rotting brown rice grains stuck to the wall, as if there had been a rice explosion in his bed.

After yesterday's post here on the subject of acceptance, I began practice with a prayer this morning, interrupted by the sudden realization that everything I wrote and thought on both blogs is contained in the three lines of A.A.'s Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.

*Authorship generally attributed to the German theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, in about 1936, although the attribution is disputed by some. See Wikipedia, s.v. "Serenity Prayer."


Saturday, May 23, 2009

Key to the Highway

...(A)cceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation -- some fact of my life -- unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.

--The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, P. 449

It may not be the answer to all life's problems, and there always remain some things that are unacceptable. But when it comes to coping with the hand life has dealt us, acceptance is absolutely crucial. Without it we die at some point.

Most of the problems I've been dealing with lately have grown out of my inability to leave the past behind, and accept that it's not coming back. Never again will I be able to sit down with a cup of coffee and a cigarette, and enjoy that delicious feeling that nothing else matters. I could have the coffee and cigarette easily enough, but the cigarette would only give pain and very little pleasure. I'll never again wake up in a warm bed next to my wife of 25 years, with the two of us feeling about one another the way we did then. Even if we tried putting it back together (which is a nonstarter) it could never be the same as it was. We've both moved on.

I need to do more than just know these things. If I can't fully accept them I'll never make any additional progress from where I'm at now. And I've come way too far to stop at this point. But acceptance is hard, and regret clouds the mind. Too bad, for acceptance of these kinds of things is the key to the highway.

That doesn't mean we have to accept the unacceptable, or that everything is perfect in God's world. It's mostly not God's world any more anyway, we've sort of taken it over. But that's political stuff, to be taken up elsewhere.


Friday, May 22, 2009


I've been sick and haven't practiced since Wednesday morning. It was something I ate, a fish sandwich that stayed in the car too long I think, and for the past two days it's been poisoning me and has refused to depart.

I even had to leave class a few minutes early last night, I was in such a terrible state. Made the long drive back to my sister's place in Port Orchard and could barely get up the stairs to bed.

Today I've taken nothing but prune juice and Metamucil, and it seems to finally be taking effect. Hope to be back on the road and back in a credible shape and state of mind by tomorrow.


Wednesday, May 20, 2009

It Never Changes

The breath came fairly easily this morning despite my having smoked yesterday. It was just a one-day relapse this time, rather than the usual two, because I got up this morning and threw the remaining half pack in the trash. Good riddance to a bad day.

Yesterday was one of those days when, appalled by the present, the mind reflexively reacted by seeking refuge in the past. Big mistake. As Yogi Berra once pronounced with unconscious sagacity, "History ain't what it used to be."

The main source of anguish these days is the country's appalling political/warfare/economic mess, but I don't want to go into that here. See today's Catboxx blog. My other main source of discomfort stems from trying to find a reason to live now that all the things which formerly lent meaning to life -- love and marriage, work and home -- have vanished. I'm old, alone and loveless, and daily watching myself physically degenerate under the advancing encroachment of Parkinson's Disease.

So I prayed this morning for the capacity to be able to keep my attention on That Which Never Changes. I know there's something bigger than me, bigger and more powerful than all of us, and that it will be here after we're gone. What it is I can't say nor understand, for it's out of time -- eternal -- which is why it never changes. I'll never be able to help anyone else, much less myself, if I can't transcend the mundane, the secular, and the commonplace cares of life.


Monday, May 18, 2009


It was a beautiful day yesterday, but I spent most of it inside, in a five-hour class introducing the principles of yoga asana sequencing. Today dawned cool and cloudy, but still beautiful, with that deep Northwest kind of stillness, so I don't feel deprived in any way.

Although my Sunday was taken up with yoga studies, there was no practice, so I made up for that this morning with a slow, mindful, and very comprehensive hour spent giving thanks for life and all the opportunities it's afforded me.

Following the usual breakfast (two soft boiled eggs and two slices of whole wheat toast), I walked up to the falls and enjoyed the sweet air and the wildflowers. This is the season for flowers in the woods, most of them tiny and extremely bright. The small lavender bells are beginning to fade already, and the neon magenta blackberry blossoms are turning to embryonic berries as May runs into June, but there are still plenty of purples, reds, yellows, pinks, and whites to cheer the hiker on his or her way.

I think I'll limit my computer time today and continue studying. I really enjoy it, and I'm on a roll.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

45 Minutes

Starting at the end because it's freshest in my mind, I thanked God for this life, complete with all its hardships, after chanting: OM -- OM Namaha -- OM Shanti.

Pranayama was 22 breaths well executed, but made difficult by the incessant shaking in the right hand and forearm due to Parkinson's Disease. This past week, Karrie, a fellow student in yoga teacher training, mentioned that the hospital where she works puts on a weekly yoga class for Parkinson's patients. Must email her, and check this out further.

Asanas went extremely well, and included dhanurasana, the difficult bow-shaped back bend today, as suggested in Gary's routine from "Yoga for Transformation," pages 70-88, the text upon which this entire practice is founded. It seemed to even out and regulate the breath for the remainder of the routine.

Began with the standard prayer, asking for help, and accepting the will of That Which Never Changes.

Today's number is seven.


Thursday, May 14, 2009


It's something new to wake up in the morning feeling good.

Most of the changes were gradual. Attention to the the physical vehicle -- its need for regular exercise, appropriate and healthful food, and sufficient sleep and rest -- came slowly, over time.

Other changes were more sudden and dramatic: smoking cessation; parting from Rose. I thought I could never live without Rose. I loved her instinctively, the way a flower loves the sun. Even more than that, I thought I couldn't live without a woman, as I have for all the last 40 years but three. But now I"m finding that it's not only possible, but best that I should live alone. Not quite a hermit in a cave, but something similar.

Along with changes in the body, changes in the mind are now beginning to occur. These are deliberately induced, but I don't know where they're going. The most noticeable effects so far are increased mindfulness, and increased confidence.

I want to keep a fire going in the fireplace. I'll need to find and cut some wood. I'm not doing too bad for a guy of 65.

Photograph by Mathilda Williams.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Being Here

What I noticed in this morning's practice is intensified powers of concentration.

During the postures sequence I seemed to be completely mindful of what I was doing every second -- completely conscious and present. The mind didn't wander, but remained focussed and homed in on whatever activity the body was about.

This mindfulness carried over into the pranayama.

I don't know where this is going, but I'm on my way.


Monday, May 11, 2009

All Things Old Are New Again

Everything that arises passes away, the Great Teacher taught us. And everything that passes away returns, but in a new form, "trans"formed, as it were, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, depending on the nature of what it accumulated last time around.

And that's how it was waking up this morning after the previous day's small death. The first thing to do was shower thoroughly, washing off that smell of death and decay. Time to look at the new, and the old which has become new. Time to accept the changed circumstances of life at 65.

A desire to see Old New Mexico is back, along with the testosterone overload of the Rolling Stones when they were dewy-cheeked lads of 20, with their criminally sexy bods and rock-solid R&B.

And so to practice: breathing in -- in with the positive; breathing out -- out with the negative. In with the good, out with the not-so-good; in with the "Yes, I can," out with the "No, I can't." Thus I was taught by my first teacher in California, the great Ellen B. Shooo.

Then come the postures or asanas, new today because of the clarity of mind with which I approach them. And I remembered that I had forgotten one of the most important of the poses last time (Saturday) -- savasana -- important because it prepares the mind and body for what comes after.

Pranayama. The inhale is a little short and labored today, but I'll be back by tomorrow.

Then chant "Namaha" (Your will be done). I accept the will of That Which Never Changes, even if that means Parkinson's Disease.

And that's something new, even if it's old news.


Saturday, May 09, 2009

Captain Crunch

Thursday night in class our maestra, Captain Crunch, led us through a backbends practice. Since most of them were initiated from a prone position (lying on the belly), it was kind of like doing reverse crunches for two hours.

I've always tended to stay away from those things because I'm missing a disc at my L5/sacro-iliac intersection, but I'm going to have to change that thing. Not only did the back get stronger as the practice progressed, but I was able to do a full bow pose (dhanurasana) at the culminating point, and hold it, and breathe fully while in it.

Although I was a little sore afterward, I woke up the next morning feeling grate! So this morning, 36 hours later, I'm ready for a second helping.

Captain Crunch seems hard at times, but apparently she knows best.


Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Flaming Groovies

Had a great morning practice this morning. I took my 14 postures slowly, holding each for one breath longer over the course of four repetitions for most of them. It's like a dance, and in the end you've engaged every muscle group in your body -- exhilarating. Followed that with 21 controlled breaths during which concentric rings of fire appeared on the backs of my eyelids. Somebody will have to explain the meaning of that to me. Om.

Om Shanti---
And if you get a chance...ah, but no need to go to BeefNet, you'll see it on my Catboxx blog if you go there. "Lincoln at Gettysburg."


Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Happy Day

It was a nice day here at Rancho Huevo. Julie and I did yoga asanas with Rachel's supervision this morning, using a tape from Gary Kraftsow for our prompts. It was great having two expert teachers.

Afterward we finished off the practice by all doing an unhurried, full pranayama. It was a perfect setup for a wonderful day, in spite of the rain.


Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Punctation of Olmütz

I was looking for information on the Punctation of Olmütz, one of the more obscure mid-19th-century European treaties.

When I keyed the name into the query box at Yahoo!, the God machine gave me the information I wanted, but asked at the same time, "Did you mean the punctuation of Olmütz?"

No, silly, the punctuation of Olmütz is an umlaut.

As you can see, along the way I learned how to type diacritical marks on a Mac keyboard. So now I can say Garcia de Véga, or "Feliz nuevo año," or Besançon, or "¿Que Paso?" I've wanted to be able to do that for a long time.


Friday, May 01, 2009

No Practice Today

After a thorough home practice yesterday and a vigorous routine focussed on backbends last night in class, my only exercise for today was the obligatory walk up past the falls on Ludlow Creek.

Last night was also April's final class, and yesterday I worked to be sure to turn in all the tail-ends of undone homework.

It's a lovely day, and the weather is spectacularly beautiful right now. Those of us living here can rarely say that, but then the good days here are better than the good days anywhere else.

Practice resumes tomorrow.