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I often think of yoga as a practice which moves beyond the boundaries of the spoken


I did my first teacher training in Cologne, Germany�at a time that I didn�t speak
more than a handful of German words. The training was half in English, half in
German. We were a mixed group of multilingual, unilingual and somewhere-int-between
yogis. But we got by.

During anatomy and philosophy, when we really needed a translator, we buddied up.
But mostly, as we practiced together, as we shared the process of learning
together, we communicated through movement, through touch, through listening to one
another�s breath.

Sometimes not being able to fill a space with empty words made us see each other
more clearly. It brought us closer to each other, closer to ourselves. In the years
since, I�ve taken many classes in languages I don�t quite speak, I�ve taught
countless students who are not native speakers of English, and I�ve found over and
over that the practice of yoga transcends whatever barriers a language difference

However, sometimes words are a powerful means of carrying us into the language of
the body. The right words become the river guide that ferries us from this world of
intellectualizing and analytical thinking across to the shadowy world of feeling.

A poem is a bridge between the language of the mind and the language of the soul.

These are 10 of my favorite poems for shaping a yoga class. Sometimes, I briefly
introduce the theme before reading the poem. Sometimes, I feel it�s enough to lead
students to awareness of breath and then simply read the poem, letting the words
speak for themselves.

Sometimes, I choose a poem as a contemplative focus in my own self-practice.

Use these words in whatever way moves you.

1. Perfection

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

�You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.�

You are perfect in your wholeness. Your wholeness includes your scars, your
weaknesses, your mood swings, the days of your life you�d rather pull the covers up
over your head and stay in bed.

Yoga is a practice of peeling away labels of �good� and �bad� and embracing
whatever form of beauty you bring to your mat each day.

2. Movement

the care with which we move in and out of a pose.� Through practice. sensual animal dance the unhinged. the constant subtleties of tuning that align the body more harmoniously. we move from unknowing into knowing. 4. The transition between asanas. we find the dance of the breath. that delights us. unplugged. be on the watch. When we follow the breath into the body. are as important as the poses themselves.We Have Come to Be Danced by Jewel Mathieson �We have come to be danced not the pretty dance not the pretty pretty. when we focus our gaze inwards. Even within the held space of an asana. pick me. from darkness to illumination. this process often becomes a journey that surprises us. With practice. What you held in your hand. we invite light into the shadows. pick me dance but the claw our way back into the belly of the sacred. Awareness The Laughing Heart by Charles Bukowski �your life is your life don�t let it be clubbed into dank submission. feel the future dissolve in a moment like salt in a weakened broth. all this must go so you know how desolate the landscape can be . 3. we are in motion. cat is out of its box dance the holding the precious moment in the palms of our hands and feet dance� As long as we are alive. what you counted and carefully saved. Compassion Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye �Before you know what kindness really is you must lose things.

� Yoga is a practice of non-violence. 5. And whether or not it is clear to you. a pose that is eternally frustrating. It�s not all rainbows and lollipops out there. 6. Gratitude So Many Gifts by Hafiz �Please forgive Hafiz and the Friend if we break into sweet laughter when your heart complains of being thirsty when ages ago every cell in your soul capsized forever into this infinite golden sea. But it�s also pretty easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of worries and to-do lists and lists of things-that- pissed-me-off-today. but we also trust the wind to carry us home. Devotion The Religion of Love by Ibn Arabi . in your practice (and your life).� Endeavor. we do our best to stay the course. And know. We learn to take all our sorrows and our hurt and wrap them in the blanket of our own self-love. Perhaps.between the regions of kindness. an experience with a teacher that irritates you. Let your practice be an appreciation of your body. We forget to be astonished that you and I even exist. as you turn your attention inwards. are lessons that become threads in the strong weave of your practice. give yourself a few moments to observe the facts of your life for which you are grateful. to do what you intuit is best.� I know. we take that blanket of love and drape it across the world. And then we learn to be compassionate. or to follow the sound advice of others. your ability to move. We lose sight of the miracles. you have a right to be here. Celebrate that you have the time and resources to attend a class or to make space for your self-practice. no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. no less than the trees and the stars. An injury. We start by learning kindness towards ourselves. of love. Trust Desiderata by Max Ehrmann �You are a child of the universe. In yoga (in life). that you will make mistakes and that good fortune will not always appear to be on your side. 7. still.

fewer. there is a physical. a monastery for Christian monks. but broken homes. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce. 8. a holy shrine for pilgrims. use your practice to prepare yourself for the world out there. This is the true faith. to stretch deeper. more acceptance. Less overall muscle tension but more specific muscle engagement. There is a temple for idol-worshippers. Through devotion we learn commitment. Balance Paradox by Jeff Dickson �These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion. This is the true religion. If you. more resilient. that�s ok (you could probably skip this whole poem thing altogether then). or believe in? How does your practice honor those beliefs? How do your beliefs bring meaning to your life? And yet. live in the quick pulse of a busy city. less doing more being. Our bodies change�become stronger. Are we practicing a Hinduism? Do I have to believe in Krishna? I like this poem because it reminds me that faith is not contingent on religious affiliation. no particular goal. tangible element too. and yet transformation creeps up on us. disposable diapers. big men and small character. If you want to keep your practice strictly physical. but deeper breaths. Rather than making yoga your time out. like me. then your yoga practice is largely about balance. the way we see world we live in. fancier houses. it contains a pasture for gazelles. There is the table of the Torah. Less diffuse mental energy but more laser-like concentration. throwaway morality. We create situations of tension. and pills that do everything from cheer. the way we perceive our lives. to quiet. if you enjoy its modern conveniences and hate its noisy chaos. whether we feel like it or not. There�s nothing to achieve. What do you believe. lither. Yoga brings the body into stressful positions.�My heart holds within it every form.� Yoga helps us find slower. overweight bodies. and the Book of the Koran. challenges the muscles to hold longer. And then we learn to . These are days of quick trips. one night stands. I follow the religion of Love and go whichever way His camel leads me. Less wanting. We learn to step on the mat and go through the ritual of practice consistently. steep profits and shallow relationships.� Bhakti�devotion�can be a sensitive issue for modern day yogis. to kill. And our attitudes change�we change the way we react to discomfort and pain. but if you�re going for the deep questions you might consider using your practice as a vehicle to observing your core values.

Surrender In Blackwater Woods by Mary Oliver To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal. The ability to maintain equanimity in a yoga pose is (in my personal experience) directly related to the ability to maintain sanity in a high-speed. possibly. the heaviness of our mental space into the mat. We watch as our bodies change�the day- to-day fluctuations. . We learn to accept that nothing is permanent. We surrender all the bits of ourselves and our lives that we love and hold dear into the earth that holds us. as we get older. 9.� Yoga shows us the temporality of everything. and where the time comes to let it go.soften into that discomfort. we are refreshed. Possibiility The Fragile Vial by Rumi �Be a spot of ground where nothing is growing. Savasana�corpse pose�is the dress rehearsal for death. a seed. that each practice will be different. to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it. We drop the solidity of our physical bodies. We know it�s a weight we carry willingly. This is a poem for savasana. We welcome every possibility. rejuvenated. Savasana allows us to appreciate the weight of everything that we have. to let it go. it allows us�for a moment�to lay that weight to rest. where something might be planted. until the time comes to let it go. When we pick it up again. low-connection culture. the steady transformation over the years as we get stronger. And then we come back to life. from the Absolute. 10. We learn to let go of preconceived ideas of what we can or cannot do. to find stillness at the centre of a self-imposed vortex.

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