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On Being Whole
9 January 2016

On Being Whole
9 January 2016

On Being Whole

I've had the privilege to be invited to come to tomorrow's Yoga Immersion session on the Subtle Body in Yoga, and talk with Sharon's students about the 5 pranavayus in Yoga. Big topic. Like most "topics" in yoga history and scholarship, it has a multitude of threads that can take you in about a thousand directions. And there is very little chance I will do more than scratch the surface, but it's a topic dear to my heart and it gives me an opportunity to revisit, in various texts and notes, this complex system. I don't have the skills to present a satisfactory digest of the whole subject here, but I will share this with you: like most topical nuggets in yoga, whether you are talking about yoga postures, pranayama, meditation, or the more subtle offerings of connection with divinity and transcendent experiences of the self, it is about wholeness, equilibrium and balance. The pranavayus function as a kind of whole system map that subtly guide and inform our experiences of being in a physical body, and ultimately, of understanding the true boundarylessness of our physical bodies—our pervasive connection with one another, and finally, our experience of leaving the physical body when we die. And it is the experience of death itself that I have been pondering the last few days. A dear friend of ours died a couple of weeks ago. He was 93. It was not unexpected, and he died after demonstrating a most extraordinary capacity to live well, for many years past a time most of us expect to "live well." His wife was Greg's mentor when he was studying at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago decades ago, and continued to mentor him long after. But it was Jim who in the most loving, gentle and humble way imaginable, acted as a sort of second father to Greg, providing guidance when he needed it most, and especially after Greg's own father died. At his memorial service yesterday at Kendall, it gave me such pleasure to hear the endless stories from his friends at Kendall, and the few like us who knew him from before Kendall—stories that painted a picture of a man who had a fine mind, a generous heart, who loved life and was actively learning up until he died, who gave himself to a community that he loved and felt a part of, without thought of recognition or glory. Jim came from a very rough upbringing, ultimately became a respected scholar of Chinese History and taught at Northwestern University for decades. He and Sonia moved to Kendall a few years before we moved to the Upper Valley, and Jim embraced this shift fully. By all accounts, though he loved being a professor, it was being at Kendall in his final years that allowed him to fulfill his lifelong desire to be of service, to feel emotionally connected to his community, and to shed the responsibilities of being "learned" and instead, become a full learner. He wrote at least 2 books while at Kendall, became a very skilled photographer of insects, and served on innumerable committees. It didn't surprise me to learn that he also more informally and regularly made himself available to help many residents at Kendall. And all of this while being sick in his body for most of the years he was there, maintaining a healthy sense of humor, and nurturing a loving and conscious connection with his wife of 68 years, Sonia. Towards the end Jim became vapor-like in his physical body. His snowy white hair was almost luminscent. His still handsome face was worn and thin, but his warm, fiery eyes still poured out light and fierce intention. Jim was an adamant, self-proclaimed atheist, who fully lived the values of social justice and conscience that much of organized religion claims as its own. He wasn't a perfect man, who among us could claim that? But as I stand in my own middle life looking back, looking forward, and as I contemplate what it means to live a life of equilibrium, wholeness and balance as understood through the lense of yoga and in particular the 5 pranavayus, I close my eyes, remember Jim's warm laugh and fierce dedication and love of life, and I feel the world open up, and my own sense of self expanding in the direction of hope and wonder.

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The building itself was renovated to be energy efficient, and the room is moderately heated in cooler seasons to promote a good, healthy sweat, but not heated to an excessive or wasteful degree. There are cubbies in our large office to store your personal belongings, a spacious changing room, a comfy sofa and a water cooler (please bring a water bottle to fill, to cut down on paper cup usage). Two nice, clean bathrooms are located just down the hall. There are also cubbies in the studio itself for valuables, which students are welcome to use. We have a full lending library of yoga books, and encourage students to borrow freely. Gift certificates are available for purchase in any amount.

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Please do not wear perfume or any strong scent

People with allergies can be very sensitive to scent. Also, lots of people sweating in a closed space is less stinky than lots of people all wearing different brands of perfume or deodorant.

Wear comfortable clothing

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Keep your eyes on your own practice

The practice is richer when it happens from the inside out. It’s not about comparing yourself with the person next to you. Be present with your own experience.

Be kind and loving to yourself

Rest when you need to. Honor where you are in your practice. Use the energy of those around to inspire, not diminish, you. Remember: you are perfect just as you are now, and yoga is meant to enhance that understanding and let that perfection shine. Have fun!

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