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Season 1 - Episode 4

Carl Sagan: Perspective

30 min - Practice


With inspiration from Carl Sagan, Annie offers a talk and gentle practice to help understand the value of having perspective and reconnecting to who we truly are. With sustained practice and steady and quiet focus, truths may be revealed.
What You'll Need: Mat, Blanket


Read Full Transcript

Chapter 1


Carl Sagan, a generation's most famous and effective science communicator, is known for giving a lecture at Cornell University in 1994 that was the least scientific lecture a scientist has probably ever given. He is describing a moment where the space probe, the Voyager 1, is zooming away from the Earth and six billion kilometers away, NASA asks the probe, tells the probe to pause and turn around and take a photograph of the Earth behind it. This is upon request of Carl Sagan, and when he asked NASA to do this, he said, there's not going to be any scientific value for this photograph, but I think it's important that we have it as a reminder of how small we all are. So the probe did its thing, turned back around, zooms out into the solar system into outer space, and four years later Sagan gives this lecture about this photograph, which is known as the pale blue dot, and in the lecture he shows the image, and it's these streams of different colored light coming down from space. There's purple, there's blue, there's brown, and all the way on the side, about halfway down, is this little tiny speck of light, and this is Earth.

And Sagan says, look at that tiny speck, everything you have ever known has lived there. Everyone you've ever loved, every sinner, every saint, every coward, every hero, every king, every peasant, every heartbreak, every joy, thousands of confident religions, thousands of confident economic systems and ideologies and government, all of them on this floating moat of dust suspended in a sunbeam. Joni Mitchell's 1969 song, Woodstock, echoes these sentiments of the value of having the perspective from far away. She wrote the song as she's flying over Woodstock, she couldn't get there because of all the mud, so she just flew over and looked down and continued on and wrote the song. And she says, we are stardust, we are golden, we are billion year old carbon, and we've got to get ourselves back to the garden.

Carl Sagan's work echoes the sentiment of this longing that we human beings have to reconnect to our origins so that we get insight and understanding into who we really are. He is most famous for his 1980 PBS series, Cosmos, where he describes the nature of the universe to regular old people, non-science, non-astronomy people. And he describes the spiraling aspects of nature that are replicated all throughout the solar system and the Milky Way itself and inside our own bodies. He talks about the pulsars of exploding stars and the remnants of that light that is just now reaching us, this mournful reminder of what we once were. He talks about how the laws of physics apply everywhere to everything and everyone in exactly the same way.

And he gives us this insight into that you can examine one little aspect of something and all the mysteries of it around it can be revealed. The original yogis had the same message for us. In the first book of the yoga sutras were presented with the principle of ritambara, which means absolute truth or perfect order. The word cosmos means the same thing. From the Greek, it means order.

And in sutras, the teaching here is that with sustained practice and dedication over a long period of time, truths are revealed. But the truths are revealed because we have had a direct experience with those truths. And it's not the same thing as like, for example, in the astronomy world, that you would have to go and study with the telescope and understand physics so you could do the math to calculate distances. It's not that kind of direct experience. It's a direct experience where we hold ourselves in a steady, quiet, extended period of time and we feel the truth of these things so that the teachings cannot be delivered by telling you things.

And then you say, OK, I can regurgitate those back out and tell somebody else. It's the direct experience of knowing. And this is how yoga was born. So the challenge is, can we get quiet enough to listen to these truths? Later in the yoga sutras, in the third book, we get the gifts.

We learn the cities, the bonus points that one will receive as a yogi if one dedicates oneself to the practice. And in outlining these crazy gifts, things like, oh, you can turn yourself from a mouse to an elephant and you can become the mind of other people, there is a systematic outline of how the universe is relevant to us. And we are taught that it says, by perfect contemplation of the sun, the entire solar system will be revealed. By perfect contemplation on the moon, knowledge of the stars will be revealed. By perfect contemplation on the pole star, we will understand the movements of the constellations, the movements of us as we observe the constellations.

And it finishes with, by perfect contemplation on the naval center, insights will be revealed about the body. So in the same way that you can look up into the sky and understand its arrangement and its relevance, you can look deep inside of yourself and understand the same. So a Carl Sagan practice is going to focus on an awareness of the naval center. And to begin, we'll create a belly bolster and lie down on it.

Chapter 2


To make the belly bolster, have a blanket nice and neat opened up in a generously big rectangular shape.

Hold about four inches from the edge and loop it under and then over like an accordion fold and then repeat the same until you have run out of excess. Take the accordion fold, turn lengthwise on the mat and place it right down the middle. And then take the back edge of the folded blanket and hook it up to a distance that matches approximately the distance between your naval and your pubic bone. And that's where this bolster is going to rest underneath you as you lie down over it. Now I can't promise this feels good, it generally isn't known to feel good, however, it feels significant and it definitely does have value.

So make sure that it's not up in the rib cage or high in the belly and make sure it's not too low beneath the pelvis. So it's right there between the naval and the pubic bone. And then just lie down and turn your head to one side or you can have your forehead on your hands and stay there for a bit of time. You may feel your heart beating in your belly, this is okay, this means you're alive. You may notice that the points of the hips are wrapping around the mound in the belly.

You may feel a nice broadening across the sacrum, the base of the spine at the very top rim of the pelvis. You can wriggle a little bit left and a little bit right to make it feel like it's truly centered and give yourself some deep nourishing, full and conscious breaths. And so after a bit of time, put your head to center, bring your hands to the floor and then just gradually push yourself up and move the blanket to the side and come to table pose. Take a deep breath in and on the exhale, round the mid spine up as you drop the sitting bones and the head down toward the floor and linger here until you can recall the feeling of the bolster in the belly. And hollow the belly in the same manner that the bolster did for you.

So you're not forcing the belly in hard toward the spine until you can't breathe, but you're just inviting it in as a recollection of the feeling the bolster gave you. And now the challenge is to keep that feeling there, maintain the residue of the bolster as you shift the arch of the spine into a cow shape and linger there, feel into the belly is the residue of the bolster still present and then go back and forth. So the spine is undulating as it will, the hips and the shoulders are receiving this movement as they do. And your awareness is on perfect contemplation of the navel or as perfect as we could possibly hope for. Do that just a couple of more times and then come to a neutral position.

From here, extend one leg back behind you, lift it so it's parallel to the floor, toes pointing down so you're pressing backward through the heel and then extend the opposite arm forward like you're reaching out to shake somebody's hand. And again, find the memory of the bolster in the belly and hollow that space up and in toward the spine to give you stability that's fed from this center. Lightly return to all fours and do it on the other side, stretch the leg back, lift it so it's about parallel to the floor, press back through the heel, reach the other arm out to shake somebody's hand and hollow the belly up and in toward the spine. Lightly return to the floor and here we'll repeat on the first side but we'll add a little shifting of the spine so we reach out and instead of just this neutral straight line we'll add a little bit of an arc so lifting the leg, lifting the heart, lifting the arm and then we'll add the other movement of the spine by pulling the knee in toward the chest dropping the head, rounding the back and the belly is lifting up into the spine hollowing out like it did with the bolster and we can repeat this a couple more times. You can gauge the extent of the extension, how high does it feel okay to go?

How high are you allowed to go dictated by the residue of the bolster and the feeling of this naval center operating with control the rest of the body? Come back and do the other side, extend the leg back, find the straight line and then move away from the straight line in one direction and in the other. After the whole time, the leg extending, bending, the arm pulling in and reaching out expanding and contracting as the universe does, your awareness is just right here in this power center. It's not an accident that we refer to this as the solar plexus, not a coincidence. From here, step your feet forward and come to a nice forward fold.

So from this forward fold position, bend alternating knees, make the hamstrings happy. Come to center, bring awareness to the naval. Recall the residue of the bolster and the belly and keep awareness there as you press into your feet, hang your arms and slowly roll up. So the rolling is an unfurling of the body from this naval center. Keep the head for last, come right up to a nice tall stance and then reach the arms up lifting through the fingertips as if you could touch the sky and then bring the hands back to the heart.

Snuggle your feet together, put them right up against each other or as close to each other as they can be while you still maintain some balance. And then again, inhale, reach up tall, look up between your hands and crouch down by bending your knees and lifting the sitting bones up behind you and landing in this chair pose and hold the power of the pose in that naval center. So bring awareness into the belly, recall the feeling of the bolster, pretend it's still there helping you insist on finding that powerhouse that lives right here. And then press into the feet firmly straighten up tall, return your hands to heart center. And again, inhale, reach up, exhale, bend the knees, flip the sitting bones up a little bit behind you, keep the heart high, the body sort of lands in this lightning bolt shape powered by, held steady by the center, the naval.

Straighten up, pressing into the feet, reaching the arms tall, bring the arms back down, hands to heart center and one more time, inhale, reach, exhale, take the shape of the lightning bolt, hollow the belly in, breathe, and then release, hands to the heart. And now we'll come to sit. What pose is a big belly pose? It is a pose where awareness of this naval center really feeds and informs the steadiness of the rest of the posture. But first to orient ourselves around that, we'll use a strap to get there.

So grab a strap and unwind it all the way and loop it around the mounds of your toes. Sit nice and tall, legs are parallel to each other, and bent at the knees. So you get a good grip on the strap so that you can simultaneously pull the strap with your hands and push the strap with your feet. And then, when you feel satisfied, when you feel steady, on an exhale, draw the belly in, recall the feeling of the bolster, and tip your boat back a little bit. And you might find that there's this little bit of conversation between the pull and the push with your hands and feet on the strap.

Have that conversation as much as you need to have it. And then, gently release your hold on the strap and extend the arms. Hold the knees on the way out, lift up and out of the pelvis to preserve the lower back in its length and space, and lay on the feet back on the floor. And we'll do it again with the knees a little less bent, also known as a little straighter. Lean back a little further.

Have the conversation as you tip back between the pull and the push, the hands and the feet, the strap is the interpreter between the two. Hollow in the belly. Feel the strength and power, length in the spine, and let go as you will. Take a few breaths. Hold the knees, lift up and out of the pelvis, land the feet back down, and now, you can try it with the legs straight.

The conversation gets a little more heated here, there is a necessity for this solar plexus to shine a little more brightly, give us a little more power. So spine is tall, shoulders are back, we're holding the strap at once, pulling it with the hands, pushing it with the feet. Tip back, have the conversation, it's okay to bend the elbows, pause here. And let go. Hands to the knees, lift up and out of the pelvis, land the feet down.

Next phase is to do the same thing, we're going to come into boat pose the same way with the push and the pull, hands and feet on the strap, except entering from a reclined position. So lie down. It's nice to put the metal part of the buckle, if there is metal on your buckle, on the floor so it doesn't fly around and hit you in the face. Bend the knees, hold the strap, place it around the mounds of the toes, inhale, exhale, hollow the belly in in memory of the bolster, and then pop up, have the conversation, pull and push until you feel steady, and then let go. Hold the knees, lift up and out, feet back down, lie down.

Open the legs a little more. Strap is around the mounds of the feet, pull it with your hands, press it with your feet, pop up, have the conversation, find the belly, stay with it, let go and breathe. Hold the knees, lift up and out, land, last round, straight legs, if that's workable for you. All right, sometimes sound effects help here to come up. So wriggle around until you feel like the spine is neutral and happy and the belly is present and strong, shining brightly in that solar plexus, ready to power you up from your back into your boat, and then release.

So now take your strap in honor of the perfect order of the universe, fold it up neatly, as neatly as you can, put it to the side, and lie down. Bitch pose is a nice place to feel the hollowing of the belly, the work is being done by the strong grounded legs and feet and the nice balanced and steady placement of the shoulders on the floor. So pressing into the feet, the heels are in front of the sitting bones, legs are parallel to each other, press into the shoulders, you feel the heart puff up a bit, exhale, hollow the belly in, inhale, tip the pelvis back, lead with the tailbone, hooking up toward the ceiling as you rise up into the bridge. Take your arms underneath your back, lace your fingers if they will meet, press the upper arms and stand down on them strongly as you feel the heart rising, soaring toward the sky. And once you're as high as you feel like you should go, bring awareness to the pelvis and the bones of the hips pointing up toward the ceiling and then hollow the belly in and down.

Let it soften and drop. You may feel the thighs roll in a little bit to take up some of the slack, some of the work to hold you steady, grounded in the bridge. And when you're ready to come down, roll the spine back to the floor, bit by bit by bit, when the pelvis lands, tip it forward ever so gently to return the natural curve of the lower back, straighten out the legs and bring your hands to your belly. And here in this nice resting posture, simply allow the belly to rise and fall. So now it's relieved of the residue of the bolster, the work has been done and we can come to ease and quiet.

As you inhale, you can feel the rise of the expanding belly and as you exhale, you can allow the soft, simple drop. And then bend the knees, roll to your side and come up to sit. May all beings be happy, may all beings be free from suffering, may all beings be at peace. Thank you.


Gretchen S
Good for a workshop on learning the correct form for boat pose. Not really a full practice, but still interesting.
Annie Moyer
Yes, Gretchen, I'm glad you found it useful in that way. And this is what I love about this platform – it can plant seeds for personal practice to grow in whatever direction we choose!
Melissa H
Loved the body image of the rolled blanket throughout the practice. Thanks, Annie!
Annie Moyer
Thanks Melissa, I'm so glad the "memory of the bolster" worked for you.
Tesa Urbonaite Dunn
Lovely practice!! I'm really enjoying the lessons from all the "yogis among us." Thank you!
Annie Moyer
You are so welcome, Tesa. I hope you continue to enjoy and be inspired!

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