I have always found poetry to offer me an almost magical combination of insight, inspiration, and clarity – helping me to pause, shift my perspective, and breathe. A mindful yoga practice has similar benefits for the mind and heart (not to mention the body!). I find that a heartfelt poem can enhance and deepen my yoga and meditation practice, just as those practices also open me to receive the poem more fully. With this in mind, I have often included a poem, yoga sutra, or poetic quote when teaching yoga classes.

I began teaching online after the YoMo studio closed in 2020, sending out a weekly email to my yoga student list. Those emails have become an important part of my week as I ponder a theme and find a poem that I hope will touch hearts and minds and bring a smile, solace, an insight, or a helpful reminder. I absolutely need these reminders myself!

Here are a few of my weekly reflections with quotes and poems that I hope you will also enjoy. ♥

Yoga and Worry

“Remember, today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”   -Dale Carnegie
“Wanting to grasp the ungraspable, you exhaust yourself in vain. As soon as you open and relax this tight fist of grasping, infinite space is there – open, inviting, and comfortable.”  -Venerable Lama Gendun Rinpoche

The great yogini Joyce Norton (my lovely mum!) often says, “Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” Do you worry? My mind certainly has that tendency, and it remains one of the reasons that yoga and meditation feel essential to bring some sense of inner calm and equilibrium.

I have met many folks over the years who assume, because I both practice and teach yoga, that I never worry and am always ‘on an even keel!’ Of course, there is always plenty to attend to in our own lives and the world around us, plenty of wise views to cultivate and wise action to be considered. Worrying about it all, however, can cause endless circles of over-thinking, constantly second-guessing, and focusing on all the things that could possibly go wrong. Mary Oliver (see poem below) evidently also worried a great deal, even though she knew that worry never helps.

However, if we believe that somehow we are not ‘good yogis’ if we do worry, we simply add to our anxiety!  Yoga and meditation practice can help us to be present and notice the anxious thoughts and the tension in the body with kindness, without judgement or trying to force the mind to be quiet. Taking time to practice may actually give us respite from a busy and troubled mind, both in the moment and over time. Perhaps we can at least stop worrying about being worried and remember that we are ‘only human,’ relax our ’tight fist,’ and ‘go out into the morning and sing.’

I Worried

I worried a lot. Will the garden grow, will the rivers
flow in the right direction, will the earth turn
as it was taught, and if not how shall
I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing, even the sparrows
can do it and I am, well,
hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism,
lockjaw, dementia?
Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up. And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
and sang.

 –Mary Oliver

Yoga, Not Too Tight and Not Too Loose

“The string that produces a tuneful sound is not too tight and not too loose.”
-attributed to the Buddha

“In meditation practice, we neither hold the mind very tightly nor let it go completely. If we try to control the mind, then its energy will rebound back on us. If we let the mind go completely, then it will become very wild and chaotic.”
  -Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Mary Anne Perrone’s poem (see below) reminds us (yet again!) to relax our grasp on life. I often recall the Buddhist monk Ajahn Amaro speaking about this at our yoga studio. He demonstrated by holding up the striker for our meditation bell in a way that he would neither drop it nor hold it with tension. In this way, he suggested that the instruction to ‘let go’ is simply about relaxing our grip. This ‘not too tight and not too loose’ advice can be helpful in our yoga and meditation practice as well as in our daily life.

One way that our ‘too tight’ may manifest is that we keep holding on, waiting for the world, ourselves, and others to be the way we feel they should be before we can give ourselves permission to relax?  Ironically, while we wait for things to improve, for us to fix it all ourselves, or ‘for the time to be right,’ we cannot be fully present with our experience of life right now, whether that is with our own body, our friends and family, or the state of our world.

Certainly this ‘being human’ can be rather difficult (and sometimes extremely so). Nonetheless, can we ‘unclench our grasp and breathe peace in and out’ and come to recognize the part of our experience that remains calm, spacious, and constant midst it all, that knows that ‘the time is always now?’

No Longer Waiting

I am no longer waiting for a special occasion; I burn the best candles on ordinary days.
I am no longer waiting for the house to be clean; I fill it with people who understand that even dust is Sacred.
I am no longer waiting for everyone to understand me; It’s just not their task.

I am no longer waiting for the perfect children; my children have their own names that burn as brightly as any star.
I am no longer waiting for the other shoe to drop; It already did, and I survived.

I am no longer waiting for the time to be right; the time is always now.
I am no longer waiting for the mate who will complete me; I am grateful to be so warmly, tenderly held.

I am no longer waiting for a quiet moment; my heart can be stilled whenever it is called.
I am no longer waiting for the world to be at peace; I unclench my grasp and breathe peace in and out.

I am no longer waiting to do something great; being awake to carry my grain of sand is enough.
I am no longer waiting to be recognized; I know that I dance in a holy circle.

I am no longer waiting for Forgiveness. I believe, I believe.

-Mary Anne Perrone

Yoga and Service

“I slept & dreamt that life was joy.
I awoke & saw that life was service.
I acted, & behold, I saw that service was joy.” -Rabindranath Tagore

“For it is in the giving that we receive.”  –St Francis of Assisi

“When you exhale, it represents the service you are giving to the world.”  -B.K.S. Iyengar

There is a Chinese saying that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.”

I’ve been reflecting on this following a recent conversation about ‘service’ with my lovely sister Pam. In the yogic tradition, compassionate action, also known as Seva or service, begins with recognizing our interconnectivity and our shared needs for happiness, comfort, and safety. This is central to Karma Yoga, the path of service through selfless action for the good of others.

Most wisdom and religious traditions seem to share this view (perhaps sometimes with more emphasis on duty rather than bringing a sense of fulfilment?). Now scientific research provides compelling data to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to lasting happiness. Through MRI technology, experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain and it’s pleasurable.

I happened upon an article about climate change by reporter Dahr Jamail this week where he states “ the single biggest thing I learned was from an indigenous elder of Cherokee descent, Stan Rushworth, who reminded me of the difference between a Western settler mindset of ‘I have rights’ and an indigenous mindset of ‘I have obligations’. ” Instead of thinking that I am born with rights, I choose to think that I am born with obligations to serve past, present, and future generations, and the planet herself.” This perspective feels relevant to so much of the attitudes and behaviour that we see in our world right now!

“We are going to have to return to…this giving without expectation, this loving without conditions” (see poem below). In the ‘service’ of balancing selfless giving with taking care of yourself, do take some time to move and breathe deeply each day.

Neighbors

Where I’m from, people still wave
to each other, and if someone doesn’t,
you might say of her, She wouldn’t
wave at you to save her life—

but you try anyway, give her a smile.
This is just one of the many ways
we take care of one another, say: I see you,
I feel you, I know you are real. I wave

to Rick who picks up litter while walking
his black labs, Olive and Basil—
hauling donut boxes, cigarette packs
and countless beer cans out of the brush

beside the road. And I say hello
to Christy, who leaves almond croissants
in our mailbox and mason jars of fresh-
pressed apple cider on our side porch.

I stop to check in on my mother-in-law—
more like a second mother—who buys us
toothpaste when it’s on sale, and calls
if an unfamiliar car is parked at our house.

We are going to have to return to this
way of life, this giving without expectation,
this loving without conditions. We need
to stand eye to eye again, and keep asking—

no matter how busy—How are you,
how’s your wife, how’s your knee?, making
this talk we insist on calling small,
though kindness is what keeps us alive.

-James Crews

Submitted by Maggie Norton, Co-Founder of Yoga Mendocino
maggie@yogamendocino.org