Leza writes below: Can we see our world and everything in it as nothing less than miraculous and divine? This, in itself, is enough to stop me in my tracks. Just stop and take that line in. It is so in alignment with how I am living my life and what I am teaching that surely it is no coincidence that the lovely Leza is here with us today.
After my friend Steve Bridges passed away 2 months ago, my dear friend Lhotse Hawk sent me a book in the mail. I was very touched by this gesture and sat the book by my bed for a few weeks, as I tend to do.
Then it started calling to me. That little red book there on my bedside table.
I started carrying it with me everywhere and reading from it in each class I taught. It became my bible.
I decided I must find the author and connect with her.
So that is exactly what I did.
I like to think I am a poet, but with all due respect, I humbly bow to your form, Leza Lowitz. On and off the mat.
MC Yogi says: “Leza’s poems are pure gems of wisdom that will wake you up, inspire you, challenge you, move you, and call you to action to live your yoga more fully. Yoga Heart rocks the heart of yoga, which is the desire to live not just to better ourselves, but to help better the world.”
All proceeds from Yoga Heart go to charities to aid those affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. (This touched me so deeply when I found this out.)
I am so honored Leza agreed to guest post here on The Manifestation-Station. Another shining example that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE.
Please put down what you are doing and read my favorite author of the moment. Without further ado…..
Yoga & Poetry, Opening to Flow
by Leza Lowitz
Since I’m a poet, people sometimes ask me how writing and yoga go together. Writing is a way of imbuing our lives with meaning. The grail of poetry, of writing, is self-knowledge. That’s why when we read a good poem, we feel as if the author has spoken directly to our soul, unlocked something previously unseen or hidden.
This is true of yoga too. So they naturally go together. Yoga is a moving meditation, but it’s also the practice of surrender, which is an incredibly vulnerable, powerful action. If you can trust the unknown enough to fully surrender to what is, rather than looking toward a future of what could be, you begin to fully live in the moment. When you live in the moment, you realize how inter-connected everything in the universe is. Through yoga, the heart opens, and everything in life begins to shift towards balance and acceptance.
Having said that, ultimately, writing is a solitary act, as is yoga. Even though you might practice in a group or sangha, no one can get inside your body and move your prana like you can, except for some very rare wizards and enlightened beings. (But that’s another blogpost).
In both writing and yoga, or any creative act, it’s the quality of attention that is important. This links us to our original condition, which is sacred. Poetry and yoga are both ways to remove illusions. They are both revelatory, uncovering our original, sacred hearts and minds.
As we all know by now, the word yoga comes from the Sanskrit word yuj, which means “yoke” or “union.” Yoga unifies the body and mind through the breath, opening channels of energy that send the life force– prana or ki–through the body. Yoga offers a way of Being rather than Doing, ultimately connecting us to our higher selves, or the Divine, or God.
Yoga is a very powerful gateway into the soul; that’s why it’s sometimes called the science of conscious awareness. Practicing yoga allows us to slow down, quiet the mind, and gives us a tremendous opportunity to explore our potential for growth–both physical and spiritual–and unity within ourselves and with others. The discipline of yoga is like holding up a mirror to yourself. When you do a yoga pose, your mind begins to wander. At first, you judge and compare, and eventually, you just release the judgments and comparisons and go deep into the breath, into the here and now. Peace, joy, acceptance and calm arise.
Yoga helps you to be in the heart, and the body, rather than in the “citta vrittis” of the mind. Nothing frees up the mind better than pure, pranic movement! When I get on my mat, if I’m in my head, I can’t stay there for long. Yoga takes me into the subtle body, moving through from the gross outer layer of the physical body, to the breath, to the prana, to my thoughts, and finally, to action.
Yoga opens up enormous channels of creativity and teaches us how to embrace the ‘process’ rather than focusing on the ‘goal.’ This has helped me greatly with my writing, and allowed me to focus more on the process, on the journey, than on the goal of a “finished product.”
The experience of working in a yoga pose, doing it over and over and over again to find alignment and release, not being attached to some idea or image of a “perfect pose,” helped me see that the same process in writing was not a “failure” but a necessary and important part of creativity. I came to accept the axiom that 99% of good writing is revision. I have become so much more productive in my writing since I started doing yoga. And on good days, I find that I can be more embodied as a writer, and more poetic as a yogi. I try to write from a more embodied place due to my yoga, and I try to practice (and teach, for that matter) from a more poetic place.
As a moving meditation, yoga lends itself to poetry, to creative exploration, to self-expression. We drop out of “thinking mind” and drop into a state of pure being, pure awareness, deep INNER LISTENING. Sounds a lot like poetry to me. Poets, after all, translate the the world–the moon, the stars, the trees, into words. In order to translate, you have to really be aware. To look. To listen. To see.
The more I practiced yoga, the more the experience of quieting down and listening to the breath, to the body, and to the silences between breaths, began to resonate for me, and the more creativity and poetry emerged. When I first started yoga, I was struggling with my creative writing and feeling frustrated. So between writing periods, I’d go to yoga class to unwind.
When I released pent-up emotions and memories, yoga helped open up deeper channels of creativity and the freedom to express them. The yoga began to encourage my creative, expressive side to emerge without judgment, and I could explore it with a sense of wonder and awe. And one day, as I was dangling in Downward-Facing Dog, the line of a poem came to me. “Within my body, there’s a city.” During my practice, the muse would speak to me and other lines would come.
I started to write the poems in Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, as a result of my yoga practice, pose by pose, poem by poem. I based the poems on each yoga pose. The poses have provocative names, often based on animal movements, and lend themselves to metaphor: Eagle, Cobra, Bridge, Tree, Monkey. When I “got out of my own way” and stopped trying so hard, my writing began to flow. I was fortunate to have given a reading in a small Northern California town, and after the reading, a woman came up and encouraged me to write more yoga poems. It turned out she was Anne Cushman, author of The Idiot’s Guide to Enlightenment, and then an editor at Yoga Journal. More poems emerged, and eventually, Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By was born in 2000.
Over a decade later, in the summer of 2011, Stone Bridge Press published Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections, which is a kind of sequel to Yoga Poems. Yoga Poems was structured around the eight limbs of yoga practice (Raja Yoga), which was a springboard for a personal and artistic inquiry into the physical, philosophical and spiritual dimensions of yoga and life. With time and a deepening of practice, my exploration of yoga postures moved to the meditative aspects of yoga, and like many others, I sought to embrace a quieter, more inward-focused life. Paradoxically, as my attention turned inward, it turned outward to my community and my responsibility to live more peaceably, to serve others and to try not to harm the planet.
If I really wanted to live my yoga in the world and not just in the yoga studio or on my mat, I soon realized, I had to bring it to every word and deed, no matter how small. My teachers inspired me to start the practice of keeping “The Book”—a daily journal recording my thoughts, deeds and words, allowing me to see how I am living in the world. Keeping a daybook of your behavior is a great practice to ensure that you’re acting with awareness. Many writers throughout history, including Benjamin Franklin, have done it. Six times a day, I try to record my actions, words, and thoughts in six categories which parallel the yamas (codes of conduct) of the Eight Limbs of Yoga: protecting life (non-violence), honoring others’ property (non-stealing), sexual purity (refrain from sexual misconduct), truthfulness (refrain from lying), speaking in ways to bring others together (refrain from divisive speech) and speaking gently (refrain from harsh words).
Through this activity, I was led to reconnect with the six paramitas of Mahayana Buddhism from the Lotus Sutra. These “Six Perfections” are innate human qualities that form a blueprint for living a virtuous life and transcending one’s karma. They remind us that when we’re born into this world, we join a web of interconnectedness with our fellow creatures, nature, the ecosystem and the atmosphere. These treasures are Dana Paramita (Giving/Generosity), Shila Paramita (Kindness), Kshanti Paramita (Patience), Virya Paramita (Joyful Effort), Dhyana Parmita (Stillness) and Prajna Paramita (Wisdom). They’re called perfections because we’re constantly led to practice these virtues until we “perfect” our human lives. Traditionally, the six treasures are cultivated by Bodhisattvas, enlightened beings who vow to help others to become free of suffering.
The six paramitas form the underlying structure of the poems in Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections. The buddha said if you want something, give it to someone else. If you don’t want something, take it away from someone else. That’s why giving the Six Perfections is such an empowering practice, and why meditations such as Tonglen, the Tibetan meditation in which you take away another’s pain and use your own compassion to transform it, are so powerful, and why the best yoga practice is still the yamas and the niyamas– how we treat others and treat ourselves.
In the writing of these poems, my practice was to inquire: What does it mean to be generous–to give time, energy, money, resources, praise, attention, support, love? What does it mean to receive? Can we accept generosity graciously and humbly? As for kindness, how can we be truly kind to others and to ourselves? In fact, an alternate translation of the second perfection, Shila Paramita, is “ethics” or “morality.” This means watching your thoughts, words and deeds vigorously. How do we cultivate patience? My teacher Geshe Michael Roach beautifully defines patiences as a lack of anger. Can we catch ourselves before we react in anger to a challenging situation? Can we take a deep breath instead and see the person in front of us as no different from ourselves, indeed, as one? That’s patience. Of course, patience is also slowing down, taking time to wait, being okay with not knowing what will happen next, even enjoying a liminal state where anything can arise.
And what of joy?
Can we discover true joy–not by consuming, possessing, or achieving, but simply by honoring the beauty and richness of the moment, feeling contenment and satisfaction with things as they are, no matter how imperfect? Can we approach our daily work with true joy and passion, no matter how humble or tiring? Then what of stillness? Can we embrace the stillness, just being rather than constantly doing? Can we allow time for prayer, meditation, being in nature, being alone with our own thoughts? And what is wisdom? How do we come to understand the concept of emptiness and potentiality, and how can it help us live a better life? Can we see our neighbor as ourselves, the world and everyone in it as truly One? Can we see that the labels we attach to what we experience come from ourselves, and change the labels?
Can we see our world and everything in it as nothing less than miraculous and divine?
The poems in Yoga Heart were my attempt to do so, written over years of “Everyday Zen” practice, inspired by nature, yoga, meditation, scriptural study, Zen poetry, Buddhism, Osho, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Heart Yoga, Tantra, ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry, Eastern philosophy, Western philosophy, Rumi, Kabir, sacred world poetry, haiku, love and life. I tried to keep the language simple and from the heart. In them, it is my hope that yoga and poetry come together and inspire others on their own creative journeys deep into the heart and back out into the world.
About Leza Lowitz: For over two decades, Leza Lowitz has been bringing together the worlds of yoga and creativity, sharing her experience in over seventeen books, including the amazon #1 best-selling Yoga Poems: Lines to Unfold By, Sacred Sanskrit Words (co-authored by Reema Datta), and most recently, Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections, for which all proceeds go to charities to aid those affected by the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Her writing has appeared in Yoga Journal, Yoga Journal Japan, Shambhala Sun, The Best Buddhist Writing 2011, The Huffington Post, Namaskar and others.
Lowitz lives in Tokyo with her husband, the writer Shogo Oketani, and their young son. They own the popular Sun and Moon Yoga studio. Originally from San Francisco, she has been studying meditation, yoga and healing for over 25 years and teaching for over a decade. She is committed to sharing the ancient magic and power of Tibetan Heart Yoga, from the Gelukpa lineage of the Dalai Lamas and has recently shared these teachings at the Bali Spirit Festival.
To learn more about the Yoga Studies Institute, please see: www.yogastudiesinstitute.org
I am including 2 poems from each of her gorgeous books. You need to own these books, folks. Own it and live it. Whether or not you have an asana practice or not. You will thank me. And more importantly, yourself.
In Praise of Wildness
“Wildness is the state of complete awareness. That’s why we need it.”
——Gary Snyder, Turtle Island
The more still we become
the more wildness arises within.
Does a lion feel the pleasure of its power gathering
like river water at a dam,
its strength building as it sleeps,
dreaming of the chase?
Can a snake never be straight,
but merely uncoiled,
waiting to spring to movement?
Is a hurricane a wilderness of air?
A cyclone a suspended door
to a turbulent sky?
Does my creative passion gather
the more I sit in silence?
Can I let the wildness
made form, made flesh?
From the wildness,
can I find peace,
That sound you hear?
It’s my frozen heart melting.
Bringing each drop to my lips,
I cover my body freely,
wet with your name.
My lips become your lips,
my body your body.
When I take you into me,
the world goes on forever.
I will find peace in these fragments.
This pain will be my cure.
All poems from Yoga Heart: Lines on the Six Perfections by Leza Lowitz. Reprinted by permission of the author and Stone Bridge Press.
Adho Mukha Svanasana
Within my body
there’s a city—
of pains and promises,
a mapless Atlantis
by years and bones.
The muscles pull
the tendons throb
my joints crack out
places I’ve ached
for a quarter of a century
send out their muted frequencies
from an unfamiliar
Descending too quickly,
Down here, or even up there
breath is the most
difficult of absences
and so, two finger-widths
into the hara
I find my bearings
oxygen tank both empty and full.
Listen to the place
you feel it the most
says the teacher,
head dangling from
a single bulb
on a simple cord.
So once again
I go down deeper
the muscles pull
the tendons throb
the pain travels
its clandestine escape
and then retreats
in the halfway reach
where each breath
skyscraper I’ve aspired to,
brings the earth up
a little lighter between my toes.
Before I had a name
I existed in the world
as the wind
as a star.
For a moment
if I could be the breath
& the wind
& the nameless star
I’d meet the sky
that holds them
as it holds me,
& I’d say
Jennifer Pastiloff was recently featured on Good Morning America. She leads Manifestation Yoga workshops and retreats around the world. When she is not traveling you can find her teaching yoga in Los Angeles. She is currently writing her first book. You can find more of her blogs on popular sites such Positively Positive and MindBodyGreen. More info at www.jenniferpastiloff.com