The Great Outdoors

For the month of March we endeavored to practice one yoga pose every single day. We went with the same posture; downward facing dog. One down dog every day and see what happens.

I thought about adding onto this, building a pose by month sequence so at the end of the year we’d get up to twelve poses a day. But the weather has been so pretty lately and I can be such a shut-in that I want to offer a variation on home practice.

Let’s practice outside. I know what you’re thinking because it’s the same thing I was thinking when I wanted to practice outside – bugs. Bugs and sunshine. Yuck. Combine the two and you have a perfectly good nightmare.

Last week I ordered an all-weather picnic blanket. The thought of eating outside is almost as horrific as doing yoga outside, so a picnic blanket is not something I thought I’d ever own, but it’s Spring and I’m feeling it. The pattern on my large all-weather picnic blanket is blue flowers on a darker blue background and looks not unlike a sheet set we had when I was five. I love it.

Last Sunday, thanks to Amazon Prime and my decisive internet shopping bonanza, I take my blue hippie flower all-weather blanket outside and find a nice area of the yard free of dog poop. The wind blows through the branches above me, which I take for a good sign. I go in and slather SPF 50 on my dedicates and ink, some of which overlap. Unperturbed by the heat, I grab the dish towel with a faded strawberry pattern to keep handy in case I sweat. Even though the Florida sun cannot possibly be hotter than an unholy hot yoga class, I decide to play it safe. No need slipping in a puddle of sweat and having to wait for someone to find me.

When I begin my practice the sun has arced over head and is on its downward journey to the sea. It is still high enough to be brilliant and warm on my skin like a cosmic heating pad administering healing vibes to my sore muscles. Though it is warm, there is a steady Spring breeze that keeps me cool and inspired. There are a few clouds that hang around above me. They are full, white and comfortable in their powder blue home.

The dogs are displeased with this sojourn into the outside and that it excludes them, but they try to escape through the holes in the fence the raccoons dug and I don’t want to worry about them while I bask in sunlit tranquility. Also, they bark. I leave them inside to sulk.

I do the practices I received the last time I went to see Swami. It’s a beautiful sequence to the bright red moon. There is also a breathing practice and mantra sadhana (chanting practice) included at the conclusion. It’s the real deal, ya’ll, at least as long as a “real” yoga class, if not longer if you include the time I spent just looking up into the trees and sky.

This isn’t practical in the everyday world for a daily practice. It is hard practicing everyday and it is especially difficult if I have in my head it is supposed to look a certain way. But I think, given the warmth and sunshine, this is something I can do once a week for a month to see what happens.

So this is what we’re adding on; practice outside at least once a week for the month of April. I think that an enclosed porch, outdoor patio or balcony counts (one of the most amazing practices I ever enjoyed solo was on a third floor balcony in Gulf Shores around mid-night). If you like the beach and are into sand and that sort of thing, try taking your mat out there. There are also some really nice parks around, but the backyard is nice, too.

At this point, you might have a question you want to ask; Prana Devi, I’d love to practice yoga outside and bask in the tranquility of the sun. But I haven’t been practicing yoga for very long and I don’t know what to do. How do I practice yoga outside when I don’t really know how to practice yoga?

Excellent question! I’ll give you a few options. First, go to the bookstore. Find the magazine section and, I am not kidding, buy a print yoga magazine. This is how I built my own home practice. Most yoga magazines have at least one, if not several, practice sequences with pretty good explanations. Take the magazine outside with you and lay it open on your all-weather picnic blanket. Use crystals, your coffee cup or mala beads to hold the pages open. Do what the pictures tell you.

Your phone is another option. That marvel of modern technology has more computing capability than the first spaceships. Find a good educational yoga website, choose a video and do it – outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. I suggest Yoga International.

Lastly, start taking yoga classes and take notes of sequences you like. Ask the instructor to make a short sequence for you so you can take it home and practice outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. Remember your practice does not have to be long to count and it does not have to be complex to have meaning. You just have to do it. Let me know how it goes.

If you are still practicing the daily down dog stick with it and see how many days you can go. If you want to freshen up your single pose du jour, for the month of April pick an asymmetrical posture like Warrior 1 or seated spinal twist. You’ll have to do both sides which, if you think about it, is like doing two yoga poses a day!

Lastly, if you choose to order an outdoor blanket make sure its measurements are larger than your yoga mat is long. I practice on a longer 72 inch yoga mat so double-check your measurements to avoid disappointment. Who in the hell wants their yoga mat touching the ground? We mat be practicing outside, but we’re not insane!

Chain Linked Mala Connects

As a non-Catholic attending Saint Pius the Tenth elementary school, I was constantly on edge. I did not grow up in a religious family. I have aunts on my father’s side who are Baptists. My great-grandmother was a Baptist but never acted like one. On my mother’s side my grandmother went to the Methodist church on occasion; we were the Easter Christians who took up parking spaces so people who went every Sunday of the world had to park in Egypt. That was us.

My great-grandmother on my mother’s side, Honey, read the National Inquirer like it was her bible. We were both intrigued with Bat Boy, she and I with fifty years between us. She had a rosary, but to my knowledge had no religious affiliation. I still have that black matte rosary with its rusted chain linked beads.

At Saint Pius, much to my dismay, we had a crucifix in every classroom. I spent my entire first grade year just getting used to looking at it. I much preferred the bronze or otherwise once removed from reality medium as opposed to the very lifelike version that lolled above Mrs. Jordan’s head while she tried her level best to get me to pronounce the word pen without the colloquially southern “Y” addition; as in “give me that damn pey-un.”

In the second grade Mrs. Alverez, with her blond mullet and insistence on art class, announced there was a small contingent of children from across the street – where the middle and high school is located – who take their entire lunch hour to recite the rosary in the grotto. I hadn’t heard much of this grotto, but I knew I walked outside its gate once when I was dressed as Betsy Ross for our school wide American history parade.

I felt intrigued with this rosary, though I never learned it. I saw glimpses and sparkling hints of jewels stashed within book bag pockets and silvery crucifixes that were molded in the shape of the Christ without the blood that made me look away.

As a student at Saint Pius, I attend all of the religious functions my class must rehearse as part of their school day. I remember the “first confession” rehearsal and the horror of it. I was standing on the red carpet looking down at my scuffed saddle shoes, which never made it past the first week of school unscathed, wondering what in the hell I was supposed to do next.

Much to my relief someone remembered I’m not Catholic, and unbaptized at that, and ought to be left alone. I did get ushered into a makeshift confessional where I looked briefly at the priest. I admitted to having fought with my sister. He excused me with a pardon of my sins.

There was “first communion”, which I also participated in on the periphery. I got to taste un-blessed wafers with Sister Therese, my third grade teacher. She also took us to where the nuns lived. There was a great crucifix in there and I wondered if it made it hard for them to sleep.

It might have been my third grade year in which I learned, still up to their old tricks in the prayer grotto, that those older children had received a commendation for their devotional efforts during lunch. Someone higher up in the church, a bishop or knight, sent them a special rosary. I imagine the card attached reading, “Keep up the good work!”

Let me tell you something, I felt white hot jealously when I heard those kids got a rosary. Let me clarify, I never learned the rosary. I still don’t know it. And let me tell you something else, too – I wouldn’t skip lunch. There was just something too delicious about that octagonal shaped pizza I liked to fold in half like a burrito. I wouldn’t miss out on that for an afternoon of starvation and heat stroke in the prayer grotto, I’m just saying.

There was a longing that stretched out beneath the surface of my eight year old thoughts. There was a secret wish to join the older kids in the grotto and look up at that large statue of Mary with Her outstretched hands, all white and glowing in the hot Alabama sun. I had an occasion to see inside the grotto once. There was a cement bench I just knew was hot in the summer and bone chilling in the winter. There was also green in varying shades everywhere and birds that sang like they’d just come in from my great-grandmother’s rose garden.

By the fourth grade I found myself in public school and rosaries, frightful crucifixes and octagonal pizza were the least of my worries. I had real concerns by then, like how to fit in without a uniform.

About eighteen years later I pick up one of the threads that wove through my heart. I found it to be chain linked and not quite what I initially thought it might be. I’d been practicing yoga for a while by now but hadn’t gotten too far beneath the surface.

Like lightening in my life I felt overcome, like when you have to sneeze and can’t hold it back because something might bust. The internet was still new to me, as far as shopping goes, but I took to its waters navigating sites and stores with deft skill, as though I wasn’t sailing those capricious winds alone.

My first mala is silver chain linked Rudraksha beads. It is a half mala, made of 54 beads, so if I wanted to practice an entire round I would have to go twice. I thought it would be the only mala I ever needed or wanted. I remember when it arrived in the mail, all shiny and light brown with its zip closure peacock blue storage bag (sold separately). I cherish this mala! I wore it under my clothes and around my wrist. The silver smell mingled with an essential oil and was faintly familiar.

The beads are dark brown now and the silver is the color of a well loved teddy bear with shocks of metallic light peaking through. That mala drapes over a picture, though sometimes I still pull it off my meditation table and chant with it in love.

This mala came in the mail so many years ago; before I knew who or where my Teacher was or had any idea where this path might or could lead, much less what I expected from it. I don’t necessarily have answers to all of those questions now, but I know where I belong and with whom.

I don’t want to credit how much I enjoy working with malas on my three years in Catholic school, but something there made an impression on me. I don’t think its a coincidence that Honey’s black rosary is held together with silvery links like my very first Rudraksha mala, to which I added a very small dog tag embossed with Shiva in meditation.

It is with this nostalgia for the half mala and the season of Easter, in which my Catholic-y tendencies surface, that I made a few half malas for my store, The Electric Mala. There isn’t anything traditional about them, but they’re colorful and beautiful and unique. The same can be said for each  one of us.