Don’t Forget to Breathe…

yogimoni Nataranja

It seems that the breath is the first place we become disconnected from the body—in daily life, in stressful situations, in over-concentration. The breath is also a wonderful tool to bring you back to the moment, to bring you back to your body, back to the recognition of what the mind is doing. It reminds you to expand, to fill up the space within you with air, and then… to let go.

As a yoga instructor, I try to remind myself of this often as well as convey it to my yoga students. Yoga is about so much more than physical activity. It can be very athletic; however, it is also about balance and connection to the breath. In the Yoga Sutras it states that yoga is a place of comfort and stability. How do you find that place in a difficult pose (or a difficult situation)? Can you find that balance between strengthening and relaxing, between effort and repose? Can you find places where there is unnecessary holding—in the jaw, in that space between the eyebrows, in the mind, in the breath…?

It is wonderful to challenge oneself, always, but it is also necessary to make sure you maintain room to breathe, to find a space that you can soften into, an effortless effort that is able to create more expansion than a forced effort. Let go of holding that restricts the flow of breath and movement, to release the past and the future, and simply breathe in the moment.

Join me on the mat at Tula Yoga Studio on Saturdays at 12:15pm and Mondays at 10:30am.

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Spring is coming!

Spring

Daylight sayings time is one of my favorite times of the year. I think of it as a holiday. During the dark nights of the winter months, I tend to hibernate. The longer nights seem to signal to my psyche that it’s time to emerge. (Don’t forget to “spring forward” on Sunday, March 10.)

Spring is coming, spring is coming, spring is coming… Chant this mantra once a day for the next 12 days, and you will begin to see buds appear on trees, days growing longer, and flowers sprouting!

I was noticing last week how the light was filtering in through the window in one of the yoga spaces where I teach, and how that light wasn’t there at that time of the day the week before. Spring is coming!

The snow is melting, and I know that spring will soon be here. That light that only shines in through a certain window during a certain time of the day signals it. I’m ready to unfurl, uncurl, stretch, and grow with the season.

Yogimoni

Spring is coming! You can join me for the unfurling, uncurling, stretching, and growing—on the yoga mat at Tula Yoga Studio, 2827 W. Belden; Saturdays at 12:15pm & Mondays at 10:30am.

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TRUTH VS FACTS

"What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction" by Toni Morrison

“…[T]he act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory—what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And a rush of imagination is our ‘flooding’.”

In Toni Morrison’s essay “The Site of Memory,” she says that she is trying to tell the truth, or rather that her responsibility is not to lie. She also distinguishes truth from fact. The need to expose a truth about the interior life of a person may not be based in facts—facts have no emotional memory. In truth, facts can lie. There exists a sort of liminal space between fiction and non-fiction that speaks to this idea of truth-telling sans “facts.”

I feel that this is the place in which my current work lives. In my efforts to describe the nature of my recent performance project, I was at a loss for how to articulate that it was not fiction, because it was based on the lives of my maternal ancestors. Yet, it was not non-fiction, because, though I had some “facts”—some memory recollections of those who knew them and some personal memories—I also needed to fill in the blanks with creative writing in order to tell their stories. “Creative nonfiction” didn’t seem to be a complete descriptor to me, either.

Toni Morrison calls it literary archeology—“on the basis of some information and a little bit of guesswork, you journey to a site to see what remains were left behind and to reconstruct the world that these remains imply.” The way that she steps onto this path is through the image. As a visual artist, the image has always been the lens through which I have interpreted and portrayed my personal interior life and the world around me.

I mentioned in a previous blog post, about an air that is captured in a photograph. It is this air, which is captured in the image, that led me deeper into the stories held by these women (my ancestors), made me wish to imagine their lives, their interior lives, and made me want to tell their “truth.”

Of course, they do not speak my words, but I hope they speak through my words. I hope my words lend truth to who they were. I hope my words are a type of literary archeology of the interior lives of these women who I find remarkable. I find them remarkable for their steadfastness and their indomitable spirits—or for their absolute and resolute love and their ability to put that love in action despite the conditions of the world in which they found themselves. I hope my words remember them.

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Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison; photo credit: ToniMorrisonSociety.org

In my last post I spoke about deciding between three amazing women/artists to focus my next semester of work in The History of Interdisciplinary Arts at Columbia. In this post I will tell you why I chose Toni Morrison. Or rather, as I meander, I will tell you about when I first met her (books).

Toni Morrison has been with me since my adolescence. I remember reading Song of Solomon. I chose the book because of its reference to the book in the Bible. (I grew up in the church.) Where did I find that book? It must have been at the public library. In the summertime my mother would make sure we enrolled in the summer reading program, but I feel like I read that book in the winter. . . . Maybe I borrowed it from the school library. Regardless, I found that book. I read it. I was a new teenager—13, maybe 12. I don’t recall it really; it’s been decades since I’ve read it. But, I remember the character Milkman, and  I remember the book was not what I expected. I remember its density and weight and beautiful language. I remember that after reading that book, I would not forget Toni’s name. I may not have understood fully what she wished to communicate, but I knew I wanted to be transported by her storytelling again and again.

My favorite English teacher of all time, Mr. Williams, said, “it’s not how many books you read, but how many times you read the same book.” What did that mean to me when I was 17? Not much. Now, I understand. I understand that we change, and that we fundamentally stay the same. How are you as a person in your thoughts and ideologies different from the person you were half a lifetime ago? Last year? Yesterday? In what ways are you the same?

As a writer who has kept a journal since pubescence, I see how much the thread/tread of my sensibilities and my foundation as a person, spirit, and artist has remained grounded in the same principles of who I am. Yet, my understanding of the world around me shifts and changes—like the rotation of earth around the sun, the shifting of the constellations, the seasons/reasons of shifting/changing. . . .

Yes, I have digressed. Yet, to return, Toni Morrison has been with me as a writer. I have followed her through the years through most of her novels. This semester’s coursework in the History of Interdisciplinary Arts will focus on 1970-1979. So, I look forward to reading her earlier books again and to returning especially to Song of Solomon. And, as I am returned to the wisdom in Mr. Philip Williams’ words while reading this book, I will surely contemplate how the world around me has shifted and how that shift has affected my perspective of myself, my world, and my ideals. . . or not.

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Nina, Toni, Ntozake

Nina Simone; photo credit ninasimone.com

Nina Simone; photo credit ninasimone.com

In my History of Interdisciplinary Arts course at Columbia College, we will be focusing on a time and place in history, and each student will choose an artist on which to focus their inquiry. We were asked to pick a decade and a city and to choose someone who was “then & there.”

The top three picks were London in the ’70s, Chicago in the ’60s, and New York in the ’70s. All of these choices promised to be full of interesting, dynamic, and/or powerful characters. There was a run-off between the top two choices of ’60s Chicago and ’70s New York, with New York being the winner.

I spent the next week researching the decade and artists who played their role in shaping the arts at that time. I had a few women in mind:

• Judith Jamison, with her statuesque and regal beauty and her lithe and graceful movements, who came to New York to dance in “The Four Marys” for the American Ballet Theater and subsequently found her way to the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater;

• Cicely Tyson, a beautiful and captivating actress who used her career as a platform for the issues she wanted to address;

Toni Morrison; photo credit Jill Krementz, 1974

Toni Morrison; photo credit Jill Krementz, 1974

• Toni Morrison, who I love for her poetic prose, her willingness to play devil’s advocate, her insight into human nature, and her ability to be didactic without being dogmatic;

Ntozake Shange Acting in a Scene from "For Colored Girls"; photo credit unknown

Ntozake Shange Acting in a Scene from “For Colored Girls”; photo credit unknown

• Ntozake Shange, whose dynamic interdisciplinarity is a true inspiration: playwright, poet, performer, and dancer;

• and last, but certainly not least, the enigmatic, inimitable High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone.

Unable to choose just one by our next meeting in class, I have narrowed it down to three: Nina, Toni, Ntozake. Who would you choose?

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Partner Thai Bodywork Workshop

yoga photo

On Saturday, February 16, from 5-7pm, I will be leading a Partner Thai Bodywork Workshop at Tula Yoga in Logan Square.

What is Thai Bodywork? It is an ancient energy-based healing system which, like yoga, helps to bring the mind/body/spirit complex back into balance. It is practiced on a mat on the floor, and the recipient wears loose comfortable clothing. Deep relaxation, release of stress and tension, and increased flexibility are some of the benefits of this healing modality.

Thai Bodywork came as a natural outgrowth of my yoga practice. I see it as a moving meditation. Ten years of experience as a yoga instructor helps give me some insight into the ways in which people hold stress and tension in their bodies; it also helps me to offer suggestions for ways in which to release some of that tension daily with yoga postures.

I attended the Chicago School of Thai Massage (now Blue Lotus Thai Healing Studies) and received my certification under the instruction of Paul Fowler and Paul Weitz; and am a registered member of THAI (Thai Healing Alliance International).

In this workshop, I will lead you in a “follow the leader” bodywork sequence. Learn how to give healing touch to your loved ones through: assisted yoga stretches, acupressure (using fingers to press key points on the surface of the body), and compression. No experience necessary. Bring yourself and a friend! $50/couple. (Tula Members $40/couple.) Register here.

I also teach Hatha Yoga at Tula. You can find me there on Monday mornings at 10:30, and Saturdays at 12:15pm.

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Branch & Bough

Branch & Bough Postcard

“Branch & Bough” is a project that has been in the works for many years. It’s beginnings lie in a seed that was planted many years ago, across the oceans of time and space, in the land that birthed the first mother. When her firstborn daughter came of age, her mother asked her to remember. “Remember what?” her daughter asked. “Remember this.” Still not comprehending, though understanding the depth of what she was being asked to do, those words resided within her spirit, and so, almost without knowing why she did it, she passed this message on to her own daughter: “Remember.” And so it was passed down through generations, across continents, oceans, rivers, through mountains, written on clouds, intertwined in tree branches, and encoded in dreams when those memories had been forgotten.

So… I heard my grandmothers speak in a whisper, softly, yet firmly: “Remember.”

Memory Came.

I will present “Branch & Bough” in RhinoFest at the end of the month. “Branch & Bough” is a generational story which explores the ideas of progeny and legacy. This one-woman show is an inquiry into discovering that which is gained and/or lost through generations of women and passed down from mother to daughter through genetic memory, bloodlines, and dreamscapes. Through this project, I will have the opportunity to heed the words of my grandmothers, to show my appreciation for their sacrifices, to honor and respect those who came before and helped to pave the way.

For many years, my creativity was focused on visual art (painting, drawing and printmaking) and writing (which I rarely shared with others). By developing my writing through the Interdisciplinary Arts MA Program at Columbia, and by being introduced to my performative voice through Drama, I have been able to paint a picture of the grandmothers who I got to spend only the briefest time with before they left this earth. Through collecting stories about these women, and filling in the ellipsis to imagine the radius/diameter/circumference of their experiences, I have been able to illustrate their lives for the purpose of getting to know them. It is with the greatest respect that I endeavor to bring their stories to the stage to present them to you.

Through some of the rehearsals for this performance, I learned that this project, in some way, has been a search for my ancestors whom I felt I had been cheated out of knowing as a growing girl and young woman. What I have discovered is that they never left me. They have been here with me all along. I only needed to “remember.”

“Branch & Bough” will be presented at Prop Thtr on January 27, 2pm; and January 28, 7pm. Get tickets here.

 

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A Creative Push

Branch & Bough
 
This semester at Columbia College, I took on an Independent Project working with the CreativePush Collective in composing a full-length performance piece to be featured in RhinoFest 2013. CreativePush is run by Jenny Magnus and Sherry Antonini who are both faculty members at Columbia. These two play an integral role in the curriculum offered in the Interdisciplinary Arts MA program. Jenny teaches Drama, Sherry instructs in Word and Art as Practice, and together they present the summer 5-day intensive Connected Images. So, working together to help others push forward in the creative process is nothing new for them.

The CreativePush Collective is a new endeavor for this dynamic duo. When I found out about the opportunity to work with the two of them outside of the classroom to expand upon the work that I was making in their classes last semester, I knew it was an opportunity that I should take advantage of. I had been musing about the possibility of presenting my “Dream Show” (title of paper that was written and conceptualized for the Drama class), but you see…besides that Drama course that I took at Columbia in the fall, I have no experience with theater. CreativePush are willing to help you give shape to your ideas and cultivate your specific vision for work.

 

B & B facebook

Stay tuned for more info regarding “Branch & Bough” coming to RhinoFest 2013

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Elements Of Typographic Style

Work in Progress...

Work in Progress…

Musing through Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style

Yes, I know, it doesn’t sound altogether appealing as reading material—there will inevitably be technical mumbo-jumbo, which will only make sense in practical application. However, I found it to be quite poetically written, with analogies to music and metaphors that, though applied to typography, could also apply to life in general. I would like to share some of these lines of text that stood out for me in this reading. The epigraph of the book begins with a quote from Kimura Kyūho’s On the Mysteries of Swordsmanship, ca. 1768:

Everything written symbols can say has already passed by. They are like tracks left by animals. That is why the masters of meditation refuse to accept that writings are final. The aim is to reach true being by means of those tracks, those letters, those signs—but reality itself is not a sign, and it leaves no tracks. It doesn’t come to us by way of letters or words. We can go toward it, by following those words and letters back to what they came from. But so long as we are preoccupied with symbols, theories, and opinions, we fail to reach the principle.

But when we give up symbols and opinions, aren’t we left in the utter nothingness of being?

Yes.

As a yoga instructor with an interest in the Tao Te Ching, I was immediately moved by the concept held within this excerpt—the idea that the path leads to “the way” but is not “the way.”

Below is a list of quotes within the text that moved me, caused me to pause, to contemplate. I have taken some of it out of its context of typography to further draw attention to the more universal ideas that it evokes.

Letters are microscopic works of art as well as useful symbols. They mean what they are as well as what they say.

… there are no paths at all where there are no shared desires and directions.

It takes various forms and goes by various names, including serenity, liveliness, laughter, grace and joy.

… the power to… function in a way that is graceful and vital… walk familiar ground without sliding into platitudes…

By all means break the rules, and break them beautifully, deliberately and well. That is one of the ends for which they exist.

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Cultural Symbiosis

Frantz Fanon

In my Art as Discourse class at Columbia, we read excerpts from Frantz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth and Mina Cheon’s Shamanism + CyberspaceFrantz Fanon, 1925-1961, was a Martinique-born, Algerian writer, psychiatrist, philosopher, and revolutionary. His writings have been influential in post-colonial studies, Marxism, and critical theory. Mina Cheon, b1973, is a Korean American new media artist, educator, and scholar.

 

Mina Cheon

The correlation between these two writers in these readings is the idea of the “other.” Fanon speaks of the “other” in reference to colonization, with the “other” being the colonized individuals who are demonized, vilified, dehumanized, and oppressed by the colonizer.  Cheon speaks of the exoticized “other” who points the way to “authentic spirituality.” I believe these descriptions are two sides of the same coin.

Cheon goes on to discuss the use of the internet for shamanism. She lists three sites that offer shamanic healing online for Americans and points to the fact that they are all “run by white Americans interested in using shamanism as a way to create another version of self-help.” She contrasts the use of shamanism online for Koreans and Americans:

While in Korea, shamanism online points to gender inequality, in America, shamanic healing via the Internet shows the disparity between cultures, between East and West. In the West shamanism signals the exotic, unknown, divine spiritualism from afar…

So goes on the say:

Today’s consumption culture and mass media, feeding the appetite of voyeurism, use foreign and strange cultures to fill the void people feel as a result of the isolation brought on by technological advancement.

I would argue that what also brings about this void is the colonization of which Fanon speaks. The demonizing and repression of culture through the domination and oppression of colonization cause an authentic culture to be suppressed and exoticized. And later, in searching for what has been lost, this search inevitably leads to the “mysterious” path of the past.

Cheon says that past and present collide in cyberspace.

Technology is a self-consuming machine. Although original experience, like shamanism, is supposedly culturally bound and cyberspace supposedly transcends culture, the two worlds collide in the Internet experience, as Western technology consumers… realize their phantasmagoric desire for combining the past and future… At stake in the relationship between the virtual and the shamanic are power and knowledge of the other.

This globalization of culture through cyberspace makes me think metaphorically about the symbiotic nature of plants. There are a few types of symbiosis (the living together of two dissimilar organisms) that take place in nature. Mutualism is when both organisms benefit from the relationship. Commensalism is beneficial to one without effect on the other. Parasitism is beneficial to one and detrimental to the other.

So I ask: what kind of symbiosis takes place in the co-opting of culture? Are we innately one human family who can borrow the best of what makes us better from each other and/or does some of this borrowing sometimes and under certain circumstances make us culture bandits?

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