life is a vinyasa

1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

The forever changing images that I see in the mirror each morning remind me of the first of Buddha’s Five Remembrances. Today this soul’s present incarnation has been on this planet for over 50 years.

My photographs are also constant reminders of my mortality. Every birthday reminds me that I now have less time ahead of me than I have behind me. That knowledge makes each day more precious than the last. I will not die an unlived life.

“eat mangoes naked
lick the juice off your arms
discover your own goodness
smile when you feel like it
be delicious
be rare eccentric original
smile when you feel like it
paint your soul”
—SARK

What happened to the 16 year old? What happened to the 20 year old? They are still here but the package has changed, the ribbons are torn and frayed and the wrapping paper yellowed and weakened in spots.

I see these old photos and am reminded that I almost died at my own hand when I was 16. I never thought I would live to be at the party where my friend grabbed me with gusto around the waist. I could have left this earth a long time ago in more ways than one. I tried my damnedest for years to do just that. But I am still here, those girls are still around somewhere inside my head.

Those photos are also a reminder of the me I lost but found again once I got back on the yoga path. Life is a circle.


“The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end. It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.”

The photos bring home the truth of the Five Remembrances and the truth of impermanence and they remind me to THINK. Birthdays are contemplations on what I would like to plant in this final season of my life.

What will it be?

What do I plan to do with this one wild and precious life?

2. I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

Every day I wake up with pain. My freaky femurs that Paul Grilley uses as examples of extreme internal hip rotation are beginning to ache. My hair is thinning and I can see my scalp. My eyes have the beginnings of cataracts. But I thank the Universe for my physical yoga practice because without it I probably could barely move.

I thank the Universe for my yoga and meditation practice that allows me to know the truth of Buddha’s Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness: mindfulness of the dharma, of the true nature of reality that nothing is permanent, that each moment is constantly changing. Asana practice offers a great window into impermanence because our practice changes every time we step on the mat, from day to day, moment to moment. Is your practice changing as you change? And if not, why not? Get real.

3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

These remembrances are the hardest lessons to learn. Thoughts of death of those near and dear to us and of our own death strike the most fear in our hearts. It is said that our only fear is the fear of death, all our other fears arise from that primal one.

We know things change but we put so much effort and energy into trying to live life as if that were not so. This is what Patanjali wrote about in chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutra-s: he described the qualities necessary to change the mind effectively and gradually from a state of distraction to one of attention, one of the qualities being avidya which is literally “not seeing.” This willful denial of reality, this willful not seeing the truth of impermanence perpetuates our suffering and misery. We so want things to never change – our hair, our skin, our supple spines, the people in our lives – that clinging to things that are by their very nature impermanent causes our suffering.

The suffering of change is what gives us the most gut wrenching pain in our lives. It is not our physical pain, but the pain of pain.

But when this truth of reality sunk deep into my bones it was liberation. I am not responsible for anyone’s happiness, I am only responsible for my own. No one is responsible for my happiness, I am only responsible for my own.

It’s a law of physics that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. We are energy bodies, filled with chi, prana, Life Force, whatever you want to call it. This body is merely the vessel that will eventually crack open and fall apart like an old terracotta pot. But the essence of me will live on. What is born dies but what is never born can never die. We truly are billion year old carbon.

We shall not cease from exploration.
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
-T.S. Eliot

5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.

Like everyone else, my life is composed of losses and gains. My losses have been due to neglect, poor judgment, ego, recklessness, selfishness. My gains have been through hard work, grit, determination, and intuition. Other gains have simply come through the blessings of the Universe. Karma. I’ve been graced with a fortunate birth despite going through things back in the day that would have killed a weaker person. I should never have become this old. The cards were stacked against me. Or were they? I truly am a survivor.

The Five Remembrances keep me awake to the human condition. My spirituality has brought me closer to Spirit, have helped open a heart that was closed for so long, and has taught me to have gratitude for whatever comes my way. My dharma wheel is turning and it tells me to embrace the inevitability of life’s changes.

Life is a constant series of movements that change from one form to another — just like asanas. I have reached a deep sentient awareness that nothing is truly lost in the end. We meet who we are meant to meet in this life and people come and go and return again in a constant dance and flow — like a vinyasa. We meet ourselves and each other over and over again in this spanda until we find our way home.

What will you do with your one wild and precious life?

get real


I am recovering from a vicious upper respiratory infection and/or flu that I had for two weeks. I went to a yoga class today and we we were in Bow and I had to come down after only a few breaths because I still felt weak. I berated myself and then I told myself, get real. get real because what do I have to prove? I have/had a nasty infection that kicked my ass exactly one month after I had a vicious case of salmonella food poisoning that I brought back from India that also kicked my ass. My reality is that I will be 54 this year and maybe, just maybe, it takes me longer to recover from things than it did at 44 or 34 or 24. get real. be authentic.

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

After the class a yoga teacher friend and I went to lunch and we kvetched about what else, problematic yoga students. ahem….yoga teachers talk about students as much as yoga students talk about teachers.

My friend told me about an older student whom she told not to return to her group class because it was not the right type of class for him, he had too many health issues. she told me his whole litany of physical ailments the worst of which was uncontrolled high blood pressure that gave him exploding ocular headaches. she wanted to teach a safe class but he was not honest about himself when she asked if anyone had any health issues. he wanted to do everything, even poses that were contraindicated for his conditions. All I said was, “ego.”

Ego. we’re conditioned to bully our way through a class, whether it’s a yoga class or anything else. no pain, no gain. even if it kills us.

My friend said just because people do yoga does not mean people can or should do every pose, the same way that because you can run three miles does not mean you should run a marathon. she felt that students truly do not understand this. she said that students think because we are yoga teachers we should be able to not only do every pose, but teach them every pose in any class they choose to attend, no matter what their physical limitations. she mused that maybe our calling as instructors is to help students realize that it is the nature of the body to grow old.

yes, we are dharma teachers on the nature of reality which is impermanence! I’m sorry, what did you say…you only came to this class because you read that Jennifer Aniston lost weight doing yoga?

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

I’m taking a workshop with Lilias Folan next month. for those of you who don’t know Lilias (or who think yoga was invented by Madonna), Lilias introduced millions of Americans to yoga in 1972 with her television show “Lilias! Yoga and You.”

Her website says that “Lilias has found that her practice and her teaching have naturally and even necessarily changed over time [emphasis added] as she has physically transformed into having what she describes as her current middle-aged body. Lilias draws on her years of experience, along with living in a changing body. In her new book she describes how to adapt yoga for a body growing older.”

The workshop is advertised as “moving at an enjoyable pace we will prepare the body with interesting warm ups, salutation to the hips and more from her highly acclaimed book Lilias! Yoga Gets Better With Age”.

There is a video on her website called “It’s Not Easy Being Real.” She says that as yogis, we want to be authentic, and that our challenge is to be real and to be an authentic human being as we age. she says the realness is that we age and if there’s a glitch such as illness or maybe we don’t move like we once did, that we should accept it with the wisdom that we are not 21. she says she does not want to be 21 again but she wants to be a juicy 81 year old. hallelujah.

I don’t care anymore about learning a fancy arm balance. I choose to be a rasa devi.

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

Stephen Cope is one of the teachers in my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation training in California and I think he’s brilliant. I was googling some of his articles and I came across this video where he talks about how his practice has changed as he has gotten older. he says that he does not want to do the same practice now as he did when he was younger, that at 56 his practice is much more internal and meditative. in the video he advises how to adapt your yoga practice as you age.

yes, yogins, you are aging. every day. little by little. even those of you who can kick up into that perfect handstand will one day feel that crunchiness, that grinding of an arthritic shoulder and it will be your wake up call to your own impermanence. and it will scare the hell out of you because deep down it is your own fear of death. in this Botoxed, liposucked culture, many of us refuse to accept this, even yogis.

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

In May, my teacher from Chennai, India, Srivatsa Ramaswami, is coming to do a training. he wrote the book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life. Ramaswami says that as we get older our practice SHOULD change, that the older we get our practice should become more meditative. this is the Krishnamacharya way.

If you are in your 40s or 50s or 60s, why are you still doing a yoga practice as if you were in your 20s? get real. be authentic.

“I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.”

I find that the older I get, the more meditative I become, the slower I want to move, the deeper I want to go, the more I want to feel. I want to feel the juiciness of this seasoned body. I am not afraid to feel the aches and pains that crop up because I want to face them in order to move beyond them. I do not want to resist my pain because pain that is not resisted begins to soften. no matter how painful it is, it is a relief to feel.

Pain is not suffering.  Stephen Cope writes that suffering — duhkha — is the resistance to that pain. duhkha is the pain of pain. as a wise ass Buddhist once said, life is pain but suffering is optional.

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The Five Remembrances
(as offered by Thich Nhat Hanh in The Plum Village Chanting Book)

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.
—Buddha

 

Never the spirit was born
The spirit shall cease to be never
Never was time it was not
End and beginning are dreams
Birthless and deathless and changeless
Abideth the spirit forever
Death does not touch it at all.
—The Bhagavad Gita

 

What is never born can never die.
—Sama