Friday, April 17, 2009

Walk like an Egyptian

I have long held a passion for Egyptology. When I was a girl, I couldn't get enough novels about Ancient Egypt, loved reading historical accounts, and imagined myself on an archaeological dig with Indiana Jones. I fancied standing at the base of the Sphinx, and gazing up at its magnificence. I wanted to visit the site of the former library of Alexandria. I pictured being in the presence of the Pyramids and exploring the Valley of the Kings. In short, I daydreamed about all the good, completely letting go of decades of war, inherent violence, slavery, Biblical plagues and political unrest. I simply pictured myself in a beautifully embroidered white tunic, eating dates under a canopy, while Egyptian music played in the background. In short, I imagined myself as a modern day Cleopatra. Not that being Cleopatra ended well for her, that is.

A book I just finished was an extraordinary glimpse into the imagined childhood of Cleopatra and her two half-sisters, Charmian and Iras. Jo Graham's insightful novel, "The Hand of Isis", was an extremely quick read. In less than a day, I felt as if I'd been able to visit with these three young girls, as they imagined their fates, and had been able to be a witness to their undying loyalty to one another as they grew up. Not only was this novel exceptionally entertaining, but since so little thoughts, even fictional ideas, have been written about the young Cleopatra, "The Hand of Isis" gives an intriguing, and entertaining, perspective as to what life might have been like for three sisters. While this book is very much a work of fiction, it also employs historical elements, and 'borrows' bits of the 'traditional' train of thought brought to us, mainly by William Shakespeare. It's my opinion that so much of the writing about Cleopatra has been from the perspective of the men in her life; her father, her brother, Julius Caesar, Mark Antony...even her son's name of Caesarion gives us a medical term that happened to Cleopatra: but was given in terms of the male influence. "The Hand of Isis", though a much shorter read, does for Cleopatra what Marion Zimmer Bradley was able to do with the fictional characters of Helen of Troy and Cassandra in "The Firebrand" (the retelling of the Iliad) and for Morgan le Fey and Guinevere in "The Mists of Avalon" (the retelling of the Arthurian legends). It's always fascinating to take an extremely well known story, and change its perspective. "The Hand of Isis" does just that...given us the women's point of view: not only Cleopatra's, but those of her sisters, as well.

In my Yoga classes, I try to balance the "yin" and the "yang" based poses in our practice. Many classes find themselves with a great deal of one, and very few of the other. Yin based poses are the ones most traditionally associated with men: Warrior I, II and III, Triangle, Crescent, Downward Facing Dog, Eagle, Camel, Saddle, Yogi Squat, Hero, using Ujaii breath and many others that are meant to strengthen one's body and stretch deeper into ones' joints. In Yin poses, we hold the strengthening pose for a longer period of time, and gain endurance. Yang poses are generally more meditative and restorative, yet they can also be evocative of the importance of the female dynamic. So, one may see Half Moon as a more dynamic yang pose, while others like reclining Goddess, Child's pose, Legs up the wall, Savasana, using Kumbhaka Pranyama breath retention, and others, are more restorative. The Yang poses are often inward focused. The Yin poses are outward focused. Therefore, a balance of the two is vital to a well balanced Yoga class. Sphinx pose is one of those special asanas that employs most Yin and Yang elements. The Yin requires back strength and flexibility. The Yang requires a peaceful breath pattern, and a sense of ease.

Wherever we find our passion lies, whether it's yoga, or books, or sports, or cooking, or politics or volunteering, it's always important to look for balance. If we allow our perspectives, and experiences, to be skewed to far in one direction, we will find ourselves without a sense of center. Additionally, we'll be unbalanced in our point of view. Looking at each area of our lives from 'another perspective' can be a life changing process. Of course, life is far more rich when we allow ourselves to have the broadest understanding and range of experiences.

So, take one area of your life, and investigate if you can explore this area from another vantage point. You never know: you may find yourself with some wonderful new insights in your entire being. If nothing else, enjoy the journey.

Yoga is invigoration in relaxation. Freedom in routine. Confidence through self control. Energy within and energy without. ~Ymber Delecto

Monday, April 13, 2009

Walking Meditations

One of the aspects I enjoy most about my work as a Yoga Instructor is the bringing together of Body, Mind and Spirit. I enjoy working with my students to help them in their own journeys of physical fitness and mindful inner growth. Yoga has been an incredible tool for my own life in helping to weave together these three threads of my own being. Therefore, the most wonderful part of my work is faciliating others in braiding together these three human components in their own lives. One method, in addition to Yoga practice, that has cropped up again and again in my life has been the method of "Walking Meditation" or "Prayer Walking". I have a dear friend who, as a outreach seeking Christian, attends Christian prayer walks frequently in her mission for Asia. I have another Yoga instructor friend, who has detailed her own prayer walks through the mountains. Walking meditations, I have discovered, are far more than one religious traditions method of praying or exercising. This dynamic, movement based spiritual growth technique cuts across religious beliefs, sacred traditions and personal comfort zones. There is not a right way, or a wrong way, to practice Prayer Walking. It is simply an avenue to bring together body and spirit in unity.

Carol Krucoff, in her article "A Spiritual Walk towards Fitness", writes, "Mother Theresa did it. Mahatma Ghandi did it. Spiritual teachers from John the Baptist to Martin Luther King did it. Prayer-walking, also known as "walking meditation," has been practiced by poets, philosophers and holy people from many religious traditions for centuries. Now this age-old discipline is experiencing a modern revival as stressed-out, harried Americans seek to commune with the divine while they shape up, enhancing fitness of body and soul." I love Ms. Krucoff's bringing together, so many of the great spiritual leaders of the past, and creating a relevant frame work in her review of a powerfully important book, "The Complete Guide to Prayer Walking" by Linus Mundy.

So, what exactly is prayer walking? Prayer walking can mean different things to different people. A prayer walk for some might simple be a stroll, either around one's neighborhood or on rural trails, in which we allow our minds to be open to the possibility of hearing the whispers of the Divine. It might be a time of active prayer, in which, as we walk, we pray for those in homes we pass or even for specific requests that are weighing heavy on our hearts. Praying walking can be done with a prayer 'agenda'...items in mind we'd like to pray for. Prayer walking can also be done as a way of releasing our stress, our nervous energy and our own sense of drama; by letting go of the things that are keeping us from feeling at peace, we can encounter a renewed sense of order in our lives. Prayer walking can be done alone, with a friend, or in a large group.

Sherri Ingram writes, "If you can walk and chew gum, you can walk and pray". The only things you need to bring with you on your prayer walk are a comfortable pair of walking shoes, and an open heart and mind. There are as many styles and ideas about prayer walking as there are walkers. I believe the best way to get started is to simple walk, breathing meditatively and purosely, relaxing body and mind. Intuitively, our minds will drift towards a subject, whether it's something in our own lives, or in the world, that needs our attention. I believe that, as we continue to walk and focus in on what our hearts have been drawn to, is what we need to pray about, to meditate upon or simply to release.

Since Americans spend more than 9 hours per day, on average, sitting down, and accomplishing tasks that take us outside of ourselves, prayer walking has the potential for being a simple method to combat "work related fatigue". Our bodies get tired, pudgy and achy from so much time spent seated, much of it hunched over a desk and gazing at a computer screen. Our minds get numbed to the barage of violent, sorrowful and tragic images we see on the news and by the monotony of routine. Our hearts become overwhelmed with problems we feel powerless to solve. It isn't any wonder that our bodies, minds and spirits become disconnected from one another. The Celts, the earliest Asian cultures, Native Americans and many other Ancient peoples, established prayer walks by following winding paths in a garden or through a forest...bringing the walker ever close to mindfulness. We can see find these in many parks.

But, one doesn't need a specific place to walk to reconnect. Simply by setting one's intention towards your meditative walk, by blocking out distractions (from without and from within), we can put ourselves on the path to good health once again: in body, mind and spirit.

"The best place to begin is at the beginning" ~ Scottish Proverb