Poetry and Your Yoga Practice

Poetry and Your Yoga Practice

“Poetry has a wild invitation to it — an invitation to a feast, to your life as a nourishing repast…Poetry reminds you that you’re a sacred frontier of experience. Only you can occupy that corner of the universe.” –David Whyte

Years ago, I listened to the Clear Mind Wild Heart audio from one of my favorite poets David Whyte.

When I heard first heard his words about poetry, I thought that the same could be said for yoga. After all, I had found yoga to be a nourishing practice, one that reminded me of my own sacred frontier.

In this audio, he encouraged reading poetry on a daily basis, which I began doing. I would often sit on my yoga mat just before my practice and read a poem or two.

As David Whyte alludes to in his words above, I found myself captivated by the words on the page.

A few years later, the wonderful Robert McDowell released the book Poetry as a Spiritual Practice: Reading, Writing, and Using Poetry in Your Daily Rituals, Aspirations, and Intentions.

This delightful book reminded me of the power of the marriage of poetry and yoga. It was during this time that my love of Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir, and Mary Oliver grew.

I found myself coming back to the same poems time and again, much as I do my favorite asanas and pranyamas.

The similarity to my yoga practice was mind-boggling — as my body was never the same in each asana, so was my awareness each time I read the same poem. There seemed to always be a new nuance, a new sense of understanding.

Earlier this month, a beautiful book of 108 sacred poems — Mala of the Heart — was released.

This one little book contains an inspirational collection of poems from saints and mystics who lived and died before 1900. Jack Kornfield, who wrote the foreword for the book, encourages the reader to: “Read these poems slowly. Savor them.

Then, as with a mala of prayer beads, read them again. Let them become familiar to your tongue and your heart, and let their deep wisdom guide you to the love and freedom that is your own true nature.”

Wise advice.

This book now sits on my nightstand, and although I haven’t had it for all that long, it is already getting well worn.

I do believe that I’m following the editors’ advice, who say — “…our wish for you is that the reading and rereading of a poem will invite an ever-deepening awareness of your nature.”

I can’t think of a better compliment to one’s yoga practice, as a practice often has the same effect.

I’m not sure why, but my yoga practice felt particularly nourishing and blissful this morning. There’s just something about the simplicity of moving to the rhythm of the breath. It wakes the body up and enlivens the body and the mind. May you experience the same — or something even better — during your yoga practice.

Today is all about fun links and yoga resources. I’ve got a little something for everyone today. Hope you enjoy:

  • I just love hearing Indian myths and stories. I find them fascinating and I love getting a deeper look into the history and psyche of the country that brought us one of my favorite things — yoga. This fabulous TED Talk discusses Indian myths and their differences to ones in the West. If you’re a mythology fan, you’ll enjoy this 18-minute talk.
  • If there’s one good thing that’s come about as a result of the tragedy in Haiti, it’s the outpouring of compassion. Unfortunately, this compassion can wane after the fervor fades. Click here for an excellent TED Talk from Robert Thurman on expanding your circle of compassion. The 7-step meditation practice Robert offers is just wonderful.
  • Kirtans Krishna Das is about to release yet another CD of goodness. If you’d like to hear a sneak peek of the upcoming release, click here (scroll down the left-hand side of the page and you’ll see a music player).
  • Yoga Sharing is the latest addition to the yoga community. It’s the yoga community’s version of Facebook and Twitter. You can learn more and join here.
  • You’ve heard of Google but have you heard of Ecosia? Ecosia is an eco-friendly search engine that supports the environment rather than line the pockets of a private company. Ecosia donates money from the sponsored links to save the rainforests (so far over 16 million yards have been saved through Ecosia usage). If you’d like to do good while you search the Internet, click here
  • If you want to deepen your understanding of yoga, there’s a new site that offers a “continuous conversation” through tile workshops and online courses. Up2yoga is affordable — it’s a dollar for the first month and then only $10/month thereafter (the entire year costs less than one-weekend yoga workshop). Courses are offered by qualified teachers such as Scott Blossom, John Friend, Sally Kempton, and Ann Dyer (you can see a calendar of upcoming events here).
  • Deepen your practice, learn, and cultivate health and happiness — all without leaving the comfort of your own home. 

Yogi in Winter

“Let us love winter, for it is the spring of genius.”  ~Pietro Aretino

Chilly temperatures. Less daylight. Snow. For some, the thought of winter makes them want to jump for joy. I’m not one of those people. In fact, this year I was somewhat dreading the start of winter. I’m not a winter sports kind of gal (I prefer things like hiking and kayaking) and I’m a bit of a wuss when it comes to the cold (thank heaven for fleece!!!).

While I know that the seasons change and winter is part of the natural cycle of change, sometimes I still resist it. Luckily the resistance only lasts for a short while, then I start to embrace the chilly season.

Not only do I love having a crackling fire in the fireplace, but I find that the colder days offer me another opportunity as well — to be more productive. There’s just something about the wintertime that inspires me to start new projects.

Maybe it’s that I don’t mind spending more time inside and logging more hours at a desk. Whatever it is, I’m happy to be enjoying — rather than complaining about — winter.

Here are some of the things that I do to accommodate the shift in season — everything from my yoga practice to my lifestyle:

  • Reflect. The desire to slow down my yoga practice is something that happens a fair amount in the wintertime. I hold poses for longer periods. I stop and notice how I’m approaching my practice (whether I’m pushing or backing off). I play with my edge during the poses and notice the effect that it has on my mind and body. I also journal more. I just love sitting by the fire or by candlelight writing in one of my Moleskin notebooks. If you’re looking to slow down your yoga practice, try Insight Yoga with Sarah Powers, and to establish a journaling habit, check out the wonderful book, Life’s Companion: Journal Writing as a Spiritual Quest. Both will help you slow down and become a bit more reflective.
  • Spice it up. I also tend to use more heating spices during the winter. Often I’ll put some fennel and cumin seeds in a few cups of boiling water and sip throughout the day. Click here for a list of heating spices that you can incorporate into your wintertime routine. I also enjoy spicing up my body with this heavenly Cha Cha Chai body lotion.
  • Pause and retreat. If slowing down and hibernating is good enough for bears, it’s good enough for me. Every winter I do an at-home retreat to relax and take stock of where I am in life. If I can’t manage a retreat, I’ll schedule in half day pauses in which I don’t turn on the TV, get on the phone, sit at the computer, or listen to music. I’ll relax in silence. I’ll read, journal, meditate, or hang out in Legs Up the Wall pose. If taking a break and going on a retreat that doesn’t break the bank appeals to you, check out Comfort Queen Jen Louden’s Virtual Retreat (it’s happening in February). For a fraction of the cost of a spa/yoga retreat, you can get all the benefits. All you need is your phone.
  • See the light. I love to practice yoga by candlelight during the winter months. I make my candles do double duty in the winter — not only do I use them for yoga, but I also use them for meditation. I practice Tratak quite a bit during the winter months.

When I look at all the wonderful things I get to do during the winter, somehow the cold and the snow (and the snow shoveling) don’t seem so bad. Here’s to making the most of winter!

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