Saturday, February 28, 2009

February 2009 in Summary

I had hoped that 2008 would be better than 2009 but it is already proving to be worse. This month in particular brought nothing good with it. Flu. Bad news. Cancellations. Just bad heaped upon bad with sprinkles of disappointment and frustration added in to make things that much worse. And on top of everything else my damn French press broke so now I don’t have any means of making coffee. Not the way to end February and surely not the way 2009 was supposed to begin. I had hoped to finish revising my chapbook this month but extenuating circumstances (flu) precluded my being as productive as I had hoped to be. I’ve pushed that deadline back to the end of March, with the anticipation that I can have it done before the end of the month. It hasn’t all been bad. I had lovely quality family time with the children and Rob and I enjoyed watching Wall-E as part of our Valentine's Day celebration.

Books Read Why People Don't Heal and How They Can by Caroline Myss, Ph.D. Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love by Myron Uhlberg Bitch by Elizabeth Wurtzel Red Azalea by Anchee Min The Spring of My Life and Selected Haiku Kobayahsi Issa (translated by Sam Hamill) Atonement by Ian McEwan The Gift of Change by Marianne Williamson

Becoming Light by Erica Jong Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon The Ten Golden Rules by M A Soupios, PhD and Panos Mourdoukoutas, PhD Favorite book this month is Hands of My Father although this was a tough month for choosing. I definitely enjoyed Red Azalea very much and both novels, Atonement and Boy’s Life, were surprisingly good. And I adored The Spring of My Life but Uhlberg’s memoir is the only book I would recommend hands down to anyone and everyone. Movies Watched (for the first time) The Grudge Wall-E The Grudge wasn’t particularly scary. The visuals were interesting but most of the really freaky ones had already been overplayed in the previews so their impact was pretty much lost. I thought the fractured timeline was interesting. Confusing at first but by the end of the movie I had pieced it all together in a way that made some sense. And even with all of these complaints, still a more interesting movie than the usual slasher nonsense Hollywood typically produces. I really should just watch the original Japanese versions of these things and not bother with the Americanized ones.
I did enjoy Wall-E very much. Adorable. I do, however, wonder when it will stop being acceptable to use overweight people as a running gag. For now, it remains politically acceptable to laugh about these things and that’s unfortunate. I feel uncomfortable whenever I see this form of ridicule tolerated and I can only imagine how much more frustrating and unhappy I would have felt had I watched this in a theater surrounded by people laughing.
And Last But Not Least
Joss Whedon, the creator behind Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel and the too short-lived Firefly as well as the internet surprise Dr Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog, has once again found a home for one of his series with Fox, the same network that butchered Firefly.
Yay! Dollhouse!!!
Never before have I been so aware of a new television program or anticipated it with such eagerness. And now, three full episodes into the show, I am waiting for the inevitable announcement that it will be canceled. This show will be pulled because it is just not fun. Which is a shame, because Whedon’s writing is so brilliant. But where is the snappy dialogue? The wit? The light? This show is Buffy at its darkest. And Buffy at its darkest was great but it wasn’t every episode. It doesn’t help that I am not a fan of women-in-peril Lifetime movies and so far each and every week has had the luminous Eliza Dushku dealing with another bad man bound to hurt her. The first episode should have been given a two hour premiere, giving Whedon the wings he needed to establish his primary plot, sub-plots, and perhaps allow a little fun and funny. But traumatic and scary is more what it turned out to be. The second episode was predictable and plodding, mostly because I am not a fan of the Lifetime oeuvre. The third episode was more of the same. I wanted to like this show. I ached for something to be aired on network television that would inspire me to sit down and give it my undivided attention. I trusted Whedon to wow me again.
Thankfully I have my dvds, although I still don’t have Angel or Dr Horrible on dvd. I can get my dose of Whedon at his finest without suffering through another women made strong through manipulation and/or abuse program. Or maybe I'll keep watching in hopes of Whedon surprising me as he has always done before.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Boy's Life by Robert McCammon

Boy’s Life by Robert McCammon is a delightful surprise from an author who is more well known for his horror and supernatural literature than for something as simple as a coming of age story that takes place in Alabama during the early 60s. There are elements of the sensational in the narrative story told by Cory Mackenson, the protagonist, but the boy’s imagination lends itself beautifully to the theme of what can quickly turn into cliché. From the first chapter, the narrator invites the reader to question his veracity. These are the memories of a man whose childhood imagination was not left behind in a rural Alabama home but flourished there, grew disproportionately and wonderfully. This novel reminds me of all the things I remember loving about Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine which I have been wanting to re-read but have not made time to do. How much you want to bet I’ll be making time for it before too much more time goes by? Charming is the finest word I can offer to describe this boy’s life as he carries the reader through less than a year of his experiences with monsters, real and imagined. A delightfully nostalgic book that stirs the memory of the magic that is childhood.

Manipura Affirmations

This week, because the Manipura Chakra is associated with the color yellow, I do not recommend writing these affirmations in yellow ink, unless you do so on a dark colored piece of paper. Instead, use a sheet of yellow paper, even a piece of construction paper would work nicely. Use your non-dominant hand and consciously say each affirmation aloud as you are writing them. Always make time to repeat any affirmation you feel you especially need to embrace. You might also want to do this for any affirmation you naturally resist as resistance is often an indication of where we need most to grow.
I am strong, centered, and determined.
I am powerful, brave, and focused.
I am able to gracefully weather life’s unexpected storms.
I am strong enough to follow through.
My power radiates from the center of my being.
Up until now, I have not recommended any bandha practices but this bandha, Uddiyana Bandha (aka Upward Abdominal Lock), is one that works this chakra so wonderfully that I am going to introduce the idea of using bandhas. You do not want to do this particular bandha if you have high blood pressure, are menstruating, or pregnant. (Please see Yoga Journal for other contraindications.) This practice should also only be done on an empty stomach. You can do Uddiyana Bandha standing or lying down, whichever feels easiest. You will want to inhale and, as you exhale, slowly push all of the air from your body, beginning in the lower abdomen and working up, drawing in your abdominal muscles. Once you have drawn the muscles in as far as you can and released all of the air in your lungs, hold the bandha (lock) for at least five seconds. If you find this too difficult, do it for three or four seconds and work up to five. Gradually, with practice, you will be able to hold this even longer. Do this at least three rounds. I want to also note that it is a good idea, when working the Manipura Chakra, to focus your regular exercise routines on doing abdominal work. If you already have an exercise routine in place that you like, this is the week to push yourself to do more. The goal should be to empower your core for, from this center, comes much of your personal strength. If you have not tried Pilates, this would be a good week to introduce yourself to this form of exercise that works deeply into the core. You might also want to use a stability ball for doing crunches rather than lying on the floor. Another option is to use a foam roller for your abdominal exercises. Whatever you choose to do, don’t avoid those exercises that are especially challenging. You can avoid them next week. This week the purpose and your intention should be to build strength and stamina. But above all else, whatever practices and exercises you choose to do, listen to your body, honor what it says, and enjoy yourself. Namaste

Manipura Chakra Meditation and Pranayama

The Manipura is associated with the sense of seeing as well as fire. So it seems natural to recommend trying a candle meditation for this particular chakra. If you can, use a pillar candle that melts down the center and allow the flame to burn below the top of the candle. This way, you can more easily stare at the flame’s light for a longer period of time. However, if your eyes are not quite so sensitive to light, you can stare directly at the flame. Use either a yellow or white candle, if possible. Preferably one that is unscented. Get into a comfortable seated position. I prefer sitting in Hero’s pose with my meditation pillow between my legs. Choose a position that is the most comfortable for you. The room should be dimly lit or the lights turned off altogether so you can focus more fully on the flame. For this reason, this is an especially lovely meditation to do in the evening or very early in the morning before the sun rises. As you do when using the yoga practices, focus your breathing down into the chakra as you stare just slightly above, beyond, or below the candles flame. Your focus should be very soft although you will occasionally have to draw your focus back with intention if your mind strays. This is perfectly natural and you should not put any more energy into having to return to the meditation than you do to losing your focus. For this chakra, I also recommend doing Kapalabhati Pranayama. This is a more advanced form of pranayama than the ones I have recommended before so I urge anyone to do this with caution. Please take the time to read Yoga Journal’s article on this practice to check for any contraindications. In a comfortable seated position, you will want to breath deeply into the belly. Rather than slowly exhale, you will force the air out of your lungs, through the nose, using the abdominal muscles and your diaphragm in particular. Whereas the exhalation is very active, the inhalation is passive—you simply allow the diaphragm and abdomen to fall back into place before once again forcing the air out on the exhale. This can take some practice as it is often difficult to allow yourself or your body to be passive. Begin with only ten cycles of inhalation and exhalation. When you have done ten, exhale naturally and inhale naturally. Gradually, over time, try to build up the number of explosive/passive breaths to however many you like. I recommend doing all three of the pranayama practices I have described either working upwards from the Muladhara Chakra or down from the Manipura Chakra. Whichever you choose, it is important to end your pranayama practice by simply breathing naturally, slowly, and allowing yourself time to think about how you are feeling before getting up and going about your day. (The image I used is from this website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bdmckeown/ )

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Manipura Yoga Practice

This practice has several twisted poses. If you feel uncomfortable doing this practice, feel free to do the previous week's practice, focusing your breath and thoughts on the Manipura Chakra. If you need to modify any of these poses or want suggestions on how to do them, see the Yoga Journal website. Beginning in Mountain Pose, breathe down into the Manipura Chakra. Allow your breath to slow down. Once you have fully centered yourself, breathe for a specific number of inhalations and exhalations. As I've said before, my cycle is nine breaths long but yours may be longer or shorter.
On an exhale, fold forward into Big Toe Pose. Use a block if you cannot reach down to your toes. The focus is on raising the tailbone and hips and not on pushing back your legs or over-extending your spine. You can also make this a dynamic move by putting your hands on your shins, extending your back slightly and looking forward, on an inhale and folding down again on the exhale.
On an inhale return to Mountain Pose and center yourself before moving your feet wide apart. Although you want your feet to be very widely spread, they should also press firmly into the mat and the edges of your feet should not curl up or away from the ground. On an exhale, swan dive down into Wide Legged Forward Bend. You can make this dynamic by straightening the arms, extending the spine, and trying to look forward. Whether you choose to hold this as a static pose or make it dynamic, do so for your cycle of breaths.
On an exhale, walk your hands over to the right into Revolved Triangle Pose. You will want to turn your right foot out to a 90 degree angle and your left foot in slightly. Use a block if you need extra support or place your left hand on your ankle or shin, as needed. On the inhale, stretch and on the ehxale twist more deeply. Hold for the cycle of breaths you have chosen. On the exhale, return to Wide Legged Forward Bend and hold.
Repeat on the left side, moving into the pose on an exhale and holding for the same number of breaths as always. On the exhale, return to the Wide Legged Forward Bend. Stay in this pose until you are centered, or for the full cycle of breaths if you prefer, before rolling yourself up slowly on an inhale.
On the next inhale, raise your arms perpendicular to the floor. Once again, turn your right foot out and your left foot slightly inwards. On the exhale, shift slightly in the waist, bending over towards the right. Use a block for support, if necessary, or place your right hand on your ankle or shin if you cannot reach down to the floor. Inhale as you extend and exhale deeper into the pose. Hold for your cycle of breaths.
On an exhale, rise again to where your arms are perpendicular to the floor. You can either move to the left side and repeat the above or move into Revolved Side Angle Pose. On an exhale, bend your right knee and place your left elbow on your thigh as you raise the right arm up and over your right ear. If you can, lower your left hand down to the floor and hold this pose for the same cycle of breaths. If this is too challenging, do Side Angle Pose, leaning your right elbow on your thigh and reaching your left arm up and over your left ear.
Always and only do what feels comfortable! If you stayed on the right side of your body, return to the center before moving to the left side. If you moved from one pose to the next, working both sides before moving onto the next pose, return to Mountain Pose.
You may choose to end your practice here or move down to the floor and do the practice for last week when working with the Svadhisthana Chakra. By combining these two practices, you will give your core a stronger workout and nurture both the sacral and solar chakras.
Throughout, focus your breathing on the Manipura Chakra.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tantra by OSHO

Tantra: The Way of Acceptance by OSHO is a compilation of material taken from various lectures given by OSHO combined to focus on Tantra and the teachings of Tantric yoga. I am not expert enough to know how much of what he shares is true but I liked the book for the most part. For one thing, it is pretty. The images compliment the text nicely and there is enough depth to the content to appeal to my hunger to learn more about this subject. Unfortunately, the editors do not take the time to add footnotes to explain certain terms and I’m sure that anyone who is not as familiar with some of the Sanskrit and Buddhist words will easily find the book mostly meaningless. The editors who gathered the resource material would have done better to find an author who could compile the information gleaned from the various lectures and linked them together with adequate information to allow the content to flow more smoothly. As it is, this book reads more like a patchwork quilt than a well constructed text. For all the pretty pictures, I am reading the book for content. It is probably not easy to cull information from a vast library of resources and pull them together into an attractive whole. That is a challenge to which the editors of this text did not rise and it is unfortunate. Although I haven’t read it, I know that OSHO has another book on Tantric teachings, The Book of Secrets, and I would guess that this larger text, which has not pretty pictures, is a better resource over all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Manipura Chakra Trance Dance Meditation

The Manipura Chakra is said by some to be located at the navel and by others to be located closer to the sternum. I prefer to think of it nestled somewhere between the two at around the solar plexus. This makes sense to me as it is associated with the color yellow, is called the Solar Plexus Chakra by some teachers, and this just feels right to me. Listen to your own intuition as you do your chakra work to know what feels right for you. I have suggested bellydancing as a way of energizing and working with the muladhara and svadhisthana chakras. When thinking about the Manipura Chakra, I was immediately drawn to a particular trance dance practice I've seen on dvd before. Although I love Shiva Rea’s Yoga Trance Dance dvd I realize that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you can borrow the dvd from your local library (as I have done numerous times), there is a part of the dvd that is ideal for working with the Manipura Chakra. In the dvd, she has the participants stand in place, hands raised in an open praise position, elbows slightly bent. Twisting at the waist slowly to the right and then to the left, back and forth, establish a slow but steady rhythm. The hips, legs, feet are deeply rooted, staying grounded, motionless. The movement is from the waist up. As you allow yourself to twist more quickly, raise your arms above the head, drawing the palms together, your shoulders always remaining down as your hands come together above the head. This should be done slowly, without haste, the twisting picking up a gradual pace as your arms oh-so-slowly rise and come together. Your twisting should be at its fastest when the palms touch, twisting back and forth in small controlled movements. Think of yourself, your entire body, as a flame. Your feet and legs are the wick from which flares the energy at the center of your being, dancing upward through your body and to your fingertips. When you feel ready to slow down again, move your palms away from one another and bring the arms down into the open praise position, gradually reducing the speed with which you twist until you have centered yourself. Inhale deeply. On your exhale, lower the arms and bring your palms together in prayer position, inhaling and exhaling slowly. Remember, your focus should be on your abdominals as you do this, the energy should come from this central part of your being, drawing energy from the roots of your feet up through your core. Do not move more quickly than you feel comfortable doing. It would be better to move more slowly than to move too quickly and throughout you should move with complete mindfulness and focus on this moment, this feeling of warmth. At about 25 to 27 seconds of this too short video you can see a very brief moment of the beginning of this twisting standing meditation practice. I wish I could offer a better clip but I was unable to find anything other than this. If you can get a copy of the dvd, do so.

You will also find on the dvd an extra of three people, Shiva Rea and two others, doing a fire dance. You might also consider sitting in meditation and watching this portion of the dvd with a soft focus. The Manipura Chakra is associated with fire so this extra on the dvd is a perfect compliment to working with this chakra.