Mahatma Gandhi was a great influence in Dr. King’s work. Here, he describes his discovery of Gandhi’s teachings:
“…One Sunday afternoon I traveled to Philadelphia to hear a sermon by Dr. Mordecai Johnson, president of Howard University. He was there to preach for the Fellowship House of Philadelphia. Dr. Johnson had just returned from a trip to India, and to my great interest. He spoke of the life and teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.
“His message was so profound and electrifying that I left the meeting and bought a half-dozen books on Gandhi’s life and works. Like most people, I had heard of Gandhi, but I had never studied him seriously.
“As I read I became deeply fascinated by his campaigns of nonviolent resistance…the whole concept of “Satyagraha” (Satya is truth which equals love, agraha is force; “Satyagraha,” therefore, means truth-force or love force) was profoundly significant to me.
…it was in this Gandhian emphasis on love and nonviolence that I discovered the method for social reform that I had been seeking for so many months. ”
— Martin Luther King, Jr.
(quote presented by the King Center in commemoration of Gandhi’s birthday)
I called my mother to wish her Happy New Year!
I asked her about her resolutions for 2020. She said, “Oh, I’m done with that.” She seemed completely ok with it – her voice showed no irritation or resignation. She’s just let it go. She did not say it but I think it was her way of saying, “I am content.”
Contentment is one of the practices presented in yoga as a way of centering yourself in your life and quieting the chatter in your mind.
To be content. To practice contentment.
I am content. I am practicing contentment.
Grammatically speaking, the word is kind of passive. I can’t think of any time I’ve used “Content” or a derivative of it as an active verb.
Practicing contentment is only one of the many ways to center yourself that is outlined in the yoga sutras. There are also practices of non-violence, moderation, friendliness, contemplating positive people or objects that bring you to a peaceful yogic state. I think of the Yoga Sutras as a “how-to” book on living.
The sutras describe a state of yoga as, “Yoga is the ability to direct your mental activity.” BKS Iyengar translates it as, “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of your mind.” (Sutra 1.2)
There is a sutra about the yoga postures. “The pose should be steady and comfortable.” Hmmmm….what is the meaning of “steady” and what is the meaning to be “comfortable” in a yoga pose? These words and practices are open to interpretation and translation. Sitting on the couch is often more “comfortable” than doing sun salutations or any poses. The definition of comfortable is subjective, as when you hear a coach tell you to improve your running time but not so hard you can’t carry on a conversation.
The sutras are the how-to guide. The practices are the how. Then, there is how to what?
How to still the churning of the mind? There is no pat answer for this. There is no “life hack.” There are only practices to try and see what happens. You see how one kind of practice affects you. You observe. You experiment.
This is the practice of yoga.
If your mind is not steady and clear, there are ways to make it so. There is no magic. Only practice.
And some days, you might feel content.
Our Iyengar system of yoga requires that teachers are always growing and venturing into new territory – refining our skills and keeping up with our own practice.
Transformation is a theme. Process and progress always beat out perfection in a daily practice.
You see this reflected in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and the definition of practice: hard work, self-study and letting go of the fruits of our work (my loose translation of Sutra 2.1).
New students often express surprise at how teachers are able to teach 10 or 15 students, while guiding each student individually.
It’s because of our training! Every few months we attend Teacher Training weekends where we study all aspects of yoga. We study philosophy, anatomy, and ethics, and deepen our knowledge of the poses. We ask questions of our senior teachers and receive feedback so we continue to grow.
We practice teaching our peers. Some weekends we are fortunate to have student volunteers from that city. Teaching students we do not know helps us become even more skilled with new and more diverse students. We learn to guide people regardless of their experience-level or many other limitations that might come up.
As teachers, we support students as they discover their limitations in their practice. And we help them to transcend those limitations.
This is parinama (transformation).
Tedrah, Amanda and Leah are pictured here at some of our last teacher trainings. We worked on exploring advanced poses and refining the basics in even the simplest pose.
I hope you have been enjoying our student profiles! This #celebrate12 project marks our studio’s 12th birthday. I’ve asked 12 people to share their yoga experiences with you.
Jewell Ward and Jim Brooks (married 48 years!) have attended classes at Evergreen for several years. First, Jewell got going with classes and after a while Jim came too. It’s fun to see how many couples practice yoga – some together, some apart. They don’t attend the same classes, so it was fun to spend an afternoon taking pictures and watching them show each other their best poses.
How long have you been practicing yoga at Evergreen?
Jewell: I think I started in early 2007, so 12 years.
Jim: Jewell told me Leah had a beginning class for men and I thought I should try that. I had done a
yoga class 2 or 3 times as a father and husband and not as someone interested in a yoga practice. Each time I had gotten nauseaous — I imagine because I thought the instructions on getting off the floor was about as necessary as the warnings for using an extension cord.
I enrolled in a meditation class at Rhodes – I think to become one with the universe. A great class but I found the sitting still hard. A friend
had often described his Tai Chi practice as “meditation in motion” so I started taking a Tai Chi class at Rhodes.
The instructor wanted to share with the students the history of the moves we were learning. Sometimes he would say this move or that move could not be taught to the daughters because they might marry outside the tribe and so the move would become ineffective in a possible battle with the daughter’s new tribe. But, “One with the universe” and “Can’t be shared with our daughters” just didn’t fit together for me. Plus I was really lousy at Tai Chi.
So, I thought maybe I should really try yoga. And this time I actually heard that getting off the floor was not a head-first move but rather a rolling to the side and using your arms to sit up – the end of my nausea and the start of my listening.
Why did you start yoga?
Jewell: I had a back muscle issue, but I didn’t stop yoga when my muscle issue became less limiting. I realized that I had little in my life that was ONLY mine. It was something I did – for me. I tried different classes, at different times. But over the years, Sunday morning became my treasured, committed and determined time. If I was on call for my group, all the residents at the hospital knew I was unavailable during those Sunday times. I began when I was 63. I was tickled at how I could do many of the poses – and chagrined at how many I could NOT do. Yes, I was comparing myself to others in the class. Many were ‘better.’ I remember your wise comments (at least my paraphrasing) beginning to cut through my thoughts.
Sunday mornings, yoga is still my rock. Each Sunday class is different – sometimes in class I find myself anticipating what is next. Other times, I wonder if I will make it through. Even when I allow myself to peek at the clock during a class – I am ALWAYS better for going.
What is/are your favorite pose(s)?
Jewell: Tadasana, Chair Sarvangasana, Trikonasana
Jim: I’m not sure I would say I have a “favorite pose,” but my longest journey has been with the tree pose. (Jim followed his answer with a request for me:
“And almost anytime during the week would work for my special session on camel and maybe a headstand review. Also working on the pose with feet very wide and bending forward from the hip putting hands on floor and dropping head.”
(I want to include this because this is classic Jim — always working on something new, asking for another challenge, and experimenting in his practice at home – Leah.)
What else would you like to share about your job/hobbies, etc.?
Jim: I do age, hobbies and family but not job.
Jewell: I am now 75. I credit my classes with you and Tedrah for keeping me as mobile as I am. Jim, our son Travis (then 4), and I moved to Memphis from Baltimore in 1979, settling in Midtown because it ‘spoke’ to us. We have never regretted it.
Jim was a marathoner and continued when we moved to Memphis, eventually becoming a triathlete. Jim and Travis began cycling together – training, cycling club, and then races. While my partner learned about the Mid-South from fishing and hunting, we learned by going to runs, triathlons, and cycling stage races. It is a passion that Jim and Travis revel in the most — to this day. I, too, ran for many years, and even trained for a marathon. I got through the 16-miler that ended with shin splints, and that sidelined me for long distances.
We enjoy Memphis more each year that it has become a bit more cosmopolitan, all the while retaining its unique roots. And from those roots come beautiful old trees, aggravating at times, but well worth it. I have had an active academic and clinical career as faculty in Medical Genetics at UT/ULPS. In my years of experience, I have seen patients and families with a myriad of genetic disorders and birth defects. Every one of them has taught me so much in their own right. They have made me aware of how far we need to go to truly help them. I have tried to pass along pearls of wisdom to eager medical students, residents and fellows. I find that each group I have taught made me more aware of how far we’ve come in our scientific knowledge of genetics but, at the same time, how far we have to go.
Our son Travis and his wife, Taska Sanford (now live in the Bay area), have enjoyed yoga in their neighborhoods there. I loved seeing Travis leaving for work in a hurry, but stopping for a quick downward dog on this way out the door! They have shared yoga at Evergreen with us during holidays visits with us here in Memphis – my gift of family yoga sessions during a time of frenetic pace. They have a 5-year-old daughter, who has been introduced to yoga at her pre-school as well as at home. Yoga mats, belts, bolsters and blocks await us there when we visit – if and when we want.
We peruse houses in Northern California now, looking ahead to a possible relocation upon my retirement. No matter what neighborhood we consider, one of the first things I do is Google Iyengar Yoga studios. I anticipate that retirement will begin with coffee, books, family, yoga, nature and trees. The rest will follow. Yes, Evergreen Yoga was 2 blocks from my house. Would I have started yoga had it been in another neighborhood? I will never know. Garbling a line from the movie ‘Two for the Road’ – “but it DID exist.” And I am glad.
“As an academic, I spend a lot of time in my head analyzing thoughts and ideas, and traditionally—especially in the West—we tend to separate the mind from the body, as if the two were almost enemies.
What I like about yoga, and particularly about the Iyengar method, is the focus on the cooperation of mind and body. The discipline of the asanas is a form of meditation, and that meditation releases the mind from other troublesome thoughts.
And as a bonus, the practice is good for my physical health as well! I can’t say I’m completely out of my head while at the sessions at Evergreen, but I’m working at it. Did you know that śvan- ‘dog’ from adho mukha śvānāsana is related to canis in Latin and κύων in Greek? See, that’s what I mean, not completely out of my head!” — David Sick
Below, David demonstrates a few of the ways he has been working on Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana):
Above, he warms up with Triangle Pose (Utthita Trikonasana) to strengthen and stretch the hips and legs.
Above, David practices an introductory pose leading to Dog Pose. This pose makes Dog Pose come more easily. Tightness in the backs of the legs and shoulders make this a challenge to many men. David works with it well, and has become more flexible over time.
See how he presses his hands into the wall with his fingers spreading.
Here, David turns his hands out to get the proper shoulder stretch. Now the hands are ready to be weight-bearing when he lifts his hips up.
Once you’ve learned a pose, it’s important to keep challenging yourself to improve and refine the poses! Practicing poses in different ways helps you isolate muscles that need stretching, firming and strengthened. In Downward Facing Dog, you learn how to use your arms and legs in order to lengthen your spine and trunk.
Here are some ways to practice, so that the pose continues to improve:
David bends his legs here — helping him to feel more extension in his spine. He also is able to work on the muscles of his upper back — which contributes to better posture when he walks, sits, stands and goes about his daily activities.
Our rope wall provides traction and supports the stretch of this pose. He loops the rope around his hips and hangs. He still uses his arm strength, but the hands/arms are bearing less of the weight. He can feel the spinal extension and work on flattening his palms.