Friday, October 26, 2012

Yoga to Die for

Unless you're of Mexican and/or native south American descent, you probably don't know much about Halloween's cousin: Dia de los Muertos.  This holiday is considered a chance to honor, and maybe even reconnect with loved ones who have died.  On October 31st, when the veil is thinnest, families leave candles, incense, flowers, and maybe snacks or gifts on altars in their homes, or on the graves of the dearly departed.
These actions provide a positive, and joyful atmosphere in which to remember those who have died.  The word native peoples who celebrate this occassion use is 'xantolo.'  It's closest translation is actually 'all saints,' coming from the Spanish 'santos,' and the Nahuatl word 'olo'.  On the other hand, Barbara Kingsolver describes it as a conept that doesn't have a proper English translation.  You've probably experienced it, though: using an old recipe of your grandma's, moving a knick knack inherited from an uncle, feeling yourself sucked back into a memory, almost more real in its intensity than times spent with this person during their life, and perhaps surprisingly, bring more joy than melancholy, at least until it passes.  Appropriately enough, legend holds that Farmer's Market are rife with xantolo.

Lighting candles, and setting out items that remind you of your loved ones are good ways to bring a little Dia de los Muertos into your holiday.  If you know someone who celebrates this holiday as part of their heritages or customs who can explain it to you in their own words, so much the better!  This is an occasion to make fun of death, and remember your loved ones with joy, so save solemnity for another time.

You can bring a little xantolo into your life, perhaps, with this brief yoga practice I put together, just for you!

Dia De Los Muertos Sequence:

Take a comfortable seat, and spend some time deepening your breath, and stilling your mind.  Take a few rounds of shining skull breath, to energize, open up, and cleanse your mind in preparation for your ancestors. 

As you make your way to all fours to take some cat-cows, start bringing to mind memories of your loved ones.  You can experiment with alternating happy and sad memories, as you move your spine between cat and cow.  Don't allow your focus to move too much to the sad memories, though. 

 Shift into a moving downdog, and as you take any movements you like within the pose, cultivate gratitude for having these individuals in your life.  Pause in your steady down dog for several deep breaths.  Stay there until you've settled on a positive focus for your practice, whether it's one particular individual, or many, or the person you've become because of their influence. 

Jump or step through to a seat, and come to gate pose, imagining the boundary between you and those who have gone before opening.  Take the pose on both sides, then make your way back to plank, and move through a vinyasa.  Begin a few round of Sun Salutations, moving with your breath, and bringing your attention back to your focus as necessary.

Here comes the fun/tricky part: try to let your ancestors guide your practice for a little while.  Choose poses that remind you of your dearly departed, or that represent the gifts they gave you in their lifetimes, or, you can just let your intuition guide you, noticing if you feel any messages from your ancestors coming through, now that you've so fully welcomed them.  Take vinyasas in between poses or sequences as feels appropriate for you.

Whenever you feel ready, you can leave your ancestor-led practice.  Take pigeon pose, to continue encouraging your body to open and release memories and experiences.  Move through a vinyasa.

If you can handle any more opening, move into camel pose, letting your heart open fully to all that life has to offer you, including eventually your own death.

Find an inversion that's right for you, and take any complimentary poses necessary. 

Take a final gate pose, either imaging that gate opening even wider, if you plan on staying with this energy for a while, or gently closing, but not locking, ready for next time.  After each side, find janu-sirsasana, letting your back release from your back bending, and bowing to the wisdom of those who came before.

Take any last poses, such as a reclining twist, that your body is calling for, then move into corpse pose.  Let your thoughts stay with your physical body, its weaknesses and its strengths.  Find joy in your life, and in your memories.

After ten minutes or so, you can enjoy further seated meditation, or go about your day, listening closely for your ancestors to chime in.

Enjoy!

Live Omily,
~em

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