FOCUS OF THE MONTH FOR MAY

(collaborated by Gina and Amy) Dharma: In the sevenfold cause-and-effect spiritual instruction given by Maitreya to Asanga, we learn that compassion should and can be extended to all Beings by imagining and truly seeing that each person has been our mother in a past life. "Though it now seems that they have no relationship to me, they have been my mother times beyond number, and in those lives they protected me with love and kindness. When you have experienced this truth, meditate on those beings who are now your adversaries. Imagine them clearly before you and think: "How can I now feel these are my enemies? As lifetimes are beyond number, they have been my mother countless times. When they were my mother they provided me with measureless happiness and benefits and protected me from misery and harm. Without them I could not have lasted even a short time and without me they could not have endured even a short time. We have felt such strong attachment countless times. That they are now my adversaries is due to bad evolutionary actions. At another time in the future they will again be my mother who protects me with love.When you have fully experienced this truth, meditate on the kindness of all beings….Then meditate on repaying the kindness of all beings, your mothers.” From Geshe Wangyal’s "The Door of Liberation: Essential Teachings of the Tibetan Buddhist Tradition"

 

How can we, as we go about our daily lives, look upon each person we encounter - whether the homeless man on the subway asking for money or the barista at the coffee shop to even our partners and perhaps even our most challenging friend or even beloved but tantrum driven child, as having given us great kindness and care? What does this feel like in our bodies? How does this translate into how we see them, speak to them, interact with them? How does this affect our very notion of Being in the world if we were to move forward with reverence and respect for all?

 

IMG_9086Asana: (By Gina) Malasana or Garland Pose and its many variations is an efficient and simple way to open the hips, groin and hip flexors as well as strengthen the legs. One should engage Mulabhanda in the pose in order to create a higher lift as well as tone the pelvic floor. Careful attention is brought to the alignment of the knee over the ankle and with hands positioned in prayer at the sternum, collar bones lengthening outward, the heart can lift while the base of the pose is solid and strong. This pose is remarkable for grounding the practitioner and for women in the last stages of pregnancy beneficial for preparing for childbirth. In some cases, such as myself, childbirth does indeed happen while standing and squatting (gravity is your friend). For men, many of whom have very strong hip flexors, the quest may be how to relax into the lengthening and opening of the pose. Like all asana, we utilize them into an embodied practice that extends beyond the mat. Lengthening, opening, easing, allowing and expanding beyond ourselves to inevitably become more than just ourselves. For the Benefit of All.

 

IMG_9085Pranayama (By Amy): Kumbhaka or retention. There are two types of Kumbhaka - sahita, or forced; and kevala or spontaneous. Both must be exercised with great care. A traditional kumbhaka can be woven into the practice of nauhli when all air is expelled, uddhiyana bandha engaged and the stomach moved clockwise and then counterclockwise. As these are both powerful pranayamas as well as kriyas, it's really important to be as subtle as possible in the application of these practices. An alternative to nauli is expelling the breath (it's fun to stick the tongue out) hands on knees, and then strongly engage uddhiyana bandha so that the core becomes almost hollow drawing everything up into the diaphragm. Any retention should be held only as long as is comfortable and then followed by a gentle exhale and then a couple of deep breaths. Coming out of the pose properly is very delicate and important as pranic disorders run rampant in any pranayama practice that is improperly applied. Kevala kumbhaka is rumored to occur when winds enter the central channel. In my experience this often occurs when focusing on allowing the breath to pause - especially in meditation or savasana. The emphasis with kevala kumbhaka is relaxing into stillness; finding the space between exhale (pause) and inhale.