November Scarab

beetle

The symbolism of the scarab represents renewal, forward momentum and the cycles of regeneration. These beetles roll balls of dung that become their food and home. Interestingly, these little guys and gals will roll their dung into a ball following a straight line no matter the obstacles set before them. They are creatures whose very livelihood is dependent on fierce determination.

Sometimes I feel like every turn is up hill and I’m not doing a very good job with my ball. These instances are rare but can come upon me like a sudden summer thunderstorm. During these times I will sit in front of my meditation table with a cat or two near my side and we’ll try to talk about things. We’ll vision board and mind map and do pranayama together; mine sort of a deep wailing technique and theirs a quiet purr of discomfiture.

Eventually my eyes alight on the black spine of a journal with Ganesha on the cover. It was an impulse purchase my mom made at T J Maxx a few years ago. She saw it and thought of me. Thanks Mom!

Sometimes a journal will be special to me because it is a gift from a parent or a beloved friend. I don’t have the heart to jam it full of maudlin thoughts or melodramatic dialogue on my less enlightened days. So I assign these journals special tasks. A green journal my dad gave me for my birthday goes with me to see Swami. I write mantras and meditations and teachings that are especially meaningful to me.

This Ganesha journal my mom gave me became a gratitude journal. At some point in the evening I’ll write things I’m really grateful for. I try not to repeat the same things too often; God totally knows I’m grateful for my nephews, nieces and the cats. It’s good to stretch gratitude to include more nouns.

Keeping a gratitude journal is a cool and effective practice for getting a person out of the dumps because of neural plasticity, a theory that states that whatever the mind is asked to recall will cause a chain reaction of seeking out more of the same from its daily environment. So if at the end of the day I make a list of things for which I am grateful, then during the next day in anticipation of that practice my mind will scan the environment for things to add to the list.

As the mind starts looking for a reason to say thank you, gratitude grows. When we spend more energy being thankful for our lives we expend less energy in despair, or at least begin to see light breaking through those dark clouds.That’s why when I can’t seem to pick myself up from whatever storm of malcontent my mind has whipped up I’ll dust off the ‘ole gratitude journal practice again.

Because Thanksgiving is upon us this month, I thought it’d be interesting to dedicate the month to this practice. We’ll be like little dung beetles adeptly rolling up great big balls of poop, but instead of poop we’ll be increasing our gratitude day by day, line by line; it’ll nourish and house our hearts.

Here is a magnificent scarab with a giant ball of poop. He’s been working hard.

scarab

In addition to discussing gratitude in yoga class this month, I’m going to talk about a mantra my Teacher introduced during the seasonal detox I participate in at Kashi Atlanta, where I study.

Om Hrim Namo Bhagavati Maheshwari Annapurnee Swaha

Swami said in the daily email, “In the Sanskrit language ‘anna’ means food and ‘purna’ means full or complete. This is a nurturing mantra invoking the healing essence of the divine mother to create health, fullness, satiation and satisfaction. I like to think of the words going into the ghee and sending all that healing, mothering energy into my body.”

For many people I know, when asked to gather ’round and give thanks there is a challenge to reconcile their path with the expectations surrounding a traditional Thanksgiving prayer. It’s nice, when mingling with family and friends of different faiths, to have something sweet and simple to offer when asked to say Grace. This mantra is a beautiful example of that.

In honor of gratitude and our ability to move mountains with our fine determined Selves, this month on Saturdays at 2 pm the Kali Natha yoga class at Uru Yoga and Beyond we will practice The Grateful Monkey asana series. This series is devoted to Hanuman, the monkey general from the Ramayana who embodies the path of Bhakti (love and devotion) and service.

In Rama’s story, Hanuman flies to a far off mountain range to find the medicinal herb to revive Rama’s brother who has taken ill on the battlefield. Hanuman cannot recognize the exact herb that is needed and in his haste, lifts the entire mountain to take to the physicians so they can gather the healing herbs themselves. Rama’s brother is saved, the demon defeated and the queen restored.

The Grateful Monkey asana series teaches the Yogi to move the body in gratitude, so that every interaction is an offering and every gesture is a mudra of Thanksgiving. I look forward to practicing together. Please visit URUYOGA.COM for schedule up-dates and class descriptions.

Hanuman mountain

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Dog Day

It takes a lot of yoga to make it through these dog days of summer. And shopping at Pet Smart on a Sunday afternoon takes dog days to a whole new level.

When I walk into Pet Smart I notice lots of dogs sauntering around like they own the place, as dogs do. Pets being welcome in the store is common enough, but I’ve never been in there with so many dogs.

I walk by the cordoned off area marked “training” and hear the rapturous yelps of canines being let out of boot camp.

I walk through the store with an arm load of Science Diet for the queens, er I mean cats. I maneuver away from the largest dogs, with their panting and desperate pleas to be taken to the haven of the car. There is a monstrous animal in the checkout lane over from the one in which I land; he is heaving great sighs in anticipation of home.

In line behind me is a growling brown animal with a face like a rat and a body like a stale loaf of bread. I inch away, making sure the leash is firmly attached to his collar. I notice a dog in miniature, perhaps a quarter pound of fur and optimism, hopping around on the end of its pink leash.

The owner of the brown rat faced dog allows a little girl to pet its head. I hold my breath, but the beast sits down and accepts the head rub. Then, and I do not know what this woman is thinking, the owner of the quarter pounder places the tiniest puppy I have ever seen upon the snout of the rat faced dog, perhaps so they can make friends.

Rat Face bares its teeth and snaps at the little dog, no doubt scraping its scull with the tip of a sharpened canine. I feel my anxiety rising, my heart’s rhythm no doubt mimicking that of the mini-mite that nearly died right there in Pet Smart.

I am so grateful when it’s nearly my turn. The lady regards my cans of cat food, but not before the dog in line ahead of me decides it’s going to police the rat faced dog in line behind me. There is a snarl and growl. I imagine a chunk of my sizable derriere being lost in the fray of these wolves battling in the checkout lane.

There it goes, a barking growl. You know the kind, the equivalent of one dog shouting at the other, “I’ve had about enough of you!”

I launch myself upon the conveyor belt, my knee catching the ledge of the credit card machine holder as I climb upon the counter. I hold myself there with the strength of my yoga arms – thus illustrating the value of all those arm exercises and handstand practices.

The woman behind the counter looks at me in perplexed shock. Her eyes are wide, her mouth is puckered with disdain and curiosity in equal measure. The woman with the spotted pooch in front of me, the dog who had quite enough of Rat Face’s antics, pulls her dog towards her, possibly so it won’t get any of my crazy stuck in its fur.

The man, whose hair matches the color of his rotten brown dog perfectly, looks at me like I showed up to audition for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest an hour too late, but still may apply as an extra.

I slide down from the conveyor belt, explaining that I didn’t know what those unpredictable beasties planned on doing back there, with my exposed feet in the potential fray of flying fur. The woman behind the register wordlessly begins scanning my Science Diet, though when asked she explained that the weekends boast a higher dog presence than the weekdays because of the trainings Pet Smart hosts.

I cast a glance back at Rat Face, intimating that someone should be held back in the first grade again to revisit some of those “trainings”.

I walk out into the hot hot afternoon. I notice the unmistakable sensation of my heart beating in my throat, like one who has been through a haunted house or narrowly avoided being sideswiped my a Monster Truck.

I slide into my car and lock the door, in case Rat Face gets any ideas. I am so glad my vacation starts tomorrow. My nervous system could use a cooling off period and there’s no better place than an urban ashram. Kashi Atlanta, here I come!

Tomorrow I’m on my way to Atlanta to see that Teacher of mine, and I’m taking several consecutive days off. All my classes early in the week are in good hands and I look forward to seeing everyone next Sunday, when I return to the Uru Yoga and Beyond schedule.