The practice of Being rather than Doing offers fulfillment on many levels. My yoga often serves as a refuge to hustle-bustle, grief, stress and struggle of everyday life. Whether it’s an achy back, sore legs, overwhelmed mind, or a tired heart, I know that practice will ease the suffering.
Over the years, this has lured me into a deeper and deeper embrace of a formal, on-the-mat asana exploration. The path to wholeness and health. This is not a bad thing! The moment I land on the mat, feelings of delicious relief swirl through me. Now I can settle into BEING, opening my heart, linking my heartmindbody, and connecting with forces only the inner eye sees; the inner ear hears.
Conjure the stillness of post-savasana, or the centeredness of pranayama, or the contentment you felt after a fav yoga class. Then, despite whatever ails you today, how many parts of you hurt, how cranky or tired you are, head to a mat. Begin with your most beloved yoga pose, and let the bliss flow.
As your practice deepens and cycles through the seasons of your life, the boundaries between the refuge you experience on your mat and in the world will slowly dissolve. Moments will gradually grow where life itself is centered in a sweet contentment that is its own refuge, no matter the circumstances. These are the moments when yoga and life are one and the same practice. Observe and recognize that they too will pass, but observe as well that those moments are the fruit of heading to your mat day after day, year after year.
Black Pine boughs with snow. Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos
For those of us living in the cold North, where snow and wind blow often during the winter months, the signs of thaw and retreating snow cover are visual reminders of not only seasonal change, but can also remind us of the daily transformation that occurs in or lives.
Pine Boughs Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Practicing a visualization meditation using the melting snow and greening landscape can help renew and focus our desires for radiant health and well-being.
If it is warm enough outdoors, you can try this practice outside. It’s helpful to change up your routine and take your practices into different environments. You may be surprised at what distractions arise, at how your awareness shifts, and the shifting quality of awareness.
Begin by settling yourself into Meditation Position. This should be a position that you can sit in comfortably for fifteen- twenty minutes.
Practice with eyes gently closed.
Notice the Place you are in. Invite the place to fill your awareness and your being. Invite your being to fill the environment. Take a couple of long slow breaths through your nose feeling the connection of your self and your environment. Allow this enlarged self to settle in your heart center peacefully.
Notice your Physical Self. Settle awareness in the body as you practice observing without judgement, growing compassion and love as you scan your self. Be here for a few moments or minutes, as you wish.
Bring awareness to the Breath without trying to change anything about the breath. Just try to observe the individual nuance of every single breath as it arises, during its fulfillment, as it recedes, perhaps as it pauses, and as it transforms into the next breath. Don’t rush. Take as much time as you like with this phase of your practice.
If you are continuing to relax, and it feels right to continue, imagine your environment as it was covered in snow, with individual shapes blurred and softened beneath the white fluff. Be here for a few moments, as it feels right.
Next imagine the snow thawing and receding from tree limbs and rooftops. Imagine the air warming your skin; the brilliant sunlight dancing in your eyes. In your mind’s eye, invite the green buds of spring to push through the crust of the earth and for some of those buds to blossom into flowers of myriad colors.
If you are ready to take this a step further, imagine your own deepest desire for your life as if it were a dormant seed lying deep within your being. Feel the way you wish to protect that seed and how you’d like the light to reach it. Imagine banks of snow that might be impeding the seed from sprouting, to melt and dissolve. As you do this, touch in with your desire for this seed to fulfill its destiny.
Silently speak to the seed and offer warm words of encouragement. Watch the snow melt even faster as you do this. Observe the way the seed begins to set little white roots and wiggly green leaves as more and more light and warmth reach it.
Continue giving this plant of your deepest desires some love in your own unique expression. Feel warmth spread throughout your being as you do this. Be here for a few more moments.
When you are ready, slowly open your eyes and take a couple of deeper abdominal breaths before moving into your day.
Whenever you can, touch in with this beautiful, growing desire that is within you, whether it’s radiant health, or beautiful relationships, or healing, or flourishing creativity, or a life of overflowing abundance; whatever it is, let it become the central force motivating your actions and shaping your days.
I have kept many journals over the years and I have found that there are at least two reasons for keeping a dedicated yoga-meditation practice journal.
Yoga journaling can be an important aid to your practice for two reasons. The first is that the act of remembering what and how you practiced provides a running diary of asana in your life.
The second way that journaling assists your yoga practice is that as you reflect back on what you have done, how you felt, what changed or remained the same, the practice deepens. Yoga, at its heart is about self-reflection and self-growth/ self-awareness.
A very specific way to keep a mindfulness journal is to record your insights after a practice session, whenever you can. Keep a pen and notebook handy, at the ready, so that it’s easy to remember to write for a few minutes after you have practiced. Dedicate the notebook to this effort.
When recording a yoga session, I include the poses I did as well as my thoughts and insights, what came easily, what my breath was like.
When recording meditation sessions, include what specific practice you were engaged in. Walking? Sitting? Or did you practice Deep Relaxation? What was your posture?
For any session, it’s helpful to record what challenges were faced, how the poses worked together, and the cumulative effect of regularly practicing. Include a general description of your emotional and physical states at the beginning of the practice.
There are many ways to keep a journal. Consider all of them a part of your mindfulness training. You can ask yourself questions and then free write responses. When you free write, resist the urge to edit yourself so that the unconscious thoughts can freely arise. The pen is not to leave the paper. Just keep the writing flow going, even if what you are writing is gibberish. In the midst of the junk, insights often appear unexpectedly. You may be surprised at what appears on the page!
Many students like to draw in their journals and attach photographs. There is no set length or format. If you can only pen a couple of lines, that’s AOK. Sometimes, however, you may feel an inclination to delve deeper as you reflect on your state. Go for it! It’s your record, so personalize it and make it work for you. Marble composition books work great for journals. They are cheap, and easily available.
White Tara Thangka, Chautauqua County, NY (c) 2012 barefoot photos
After a mass request from Garchen Rinpoche to recite the White Tara Mantra for all those who are suffering from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, I created this video, so that you may join me and learn the chant too.
Please sing along or recite silently as you learn the phrases. Listen to the sounds of the syllables mindfully as you utter them.And feel the vibration of each part in your body.
Homage to she who protects from the eight perils!
Homage to she who blazes with auspicious splendor!
Homage to she who blocks the door to evil destinies!
Homage to she who guides on the path to the higher realms!
You have continually accompanied me.
Pray protect me evermore with compassion!
Maple leaves in Chautauqua county NY (c) 2012 barefootphotos
6AM: woke up and since I had done supta padanghustasana 1 before falling asleep,I drew up both legs for urdhva pascimottanasa for 3 minutes, then Happy Baby. Thought about the relationship of HB and Supta 2 with the outer rotation of the leg in the hip socket.
Then a series of twists: supine cross- legged, crocodile, revolved belly, half supine virasana, gentle bridge 3.
Was going down to the studio at 7:30, but then S. skyped me from Poland. People first. Karma yoga in action. LOVE. Asana Practice could happen later.
After our call, I cleaned the studio and picked, prepping for the 10 AM class.
I’ve been reading student meditation journals most of the afternoon, so still have not returned to an asana practice.
This evening, though, I took a break and meditated with one of Susan Piver’s 20 minute guided practices. susanpiver.com If you haven’t yet, I highly recommend you subscribe to this very accessible meditation teacher’s online OPEN HEART PROJECT. Susan’s got me thinking about the soft front body and the strong back body in meditation posture. How there is no boundary. How they exist simultaneously. How awareness shifts from one to the other. How difficult it is to hold them BOTH in awareness. But in a strange way, it’s comforting to know they are both there. Both.
10 PM In the studio for a two hour session. Pigeon (still difficult on left side as it activates the sciatica), Half handstand, Wide angled seated forward fold with twists, cobbler pose, Downward facing dog pose,sphinx, bow, camel. Really paid close attention to camel as I looked up several articles online regarding alignment. Kept repeating as I played with alignment.Headstand for 4.5 minutes, Child pose with close attention to maintaining hips resting on heels and releasing spine into front of body. Shoulderstand and a quiet Legs Up The Wall, hips on the shoulderstand stack of blankets. Connecting the soft front of the body with the strong back body.Comforted, I was satisfied and went to bed.
Carolyn with chickadee in Buffalo, NY (C) 2012 barefoot photos
A student spoke up before we began class this morning, with a hopeful look on her face, eyebrows raised, Do you really practice every day?
She was getting ready to go to herwinter residence and hoping I’d let her off the hook.
I smiled. I discussed how my practice had grown and changed over the years.
Until a wise student shared, Yoga is not a practice; it’s a lifestyle.
DONG! Bells went off in my head.
I became inspired share my personal yoga journal with you on a more regular basis. I’m committing to daily updates to give you a sense of the day-to-day life of one yogini’s struggles and awakening.
7AM: alarm, listening to the news in bed, practicing reclining back of the leg stretch (supta padangusthasana 1,2,3), and cross-legged revolved belly pose
7:15 AM on mat in studio, practicing gently due to the slight flair up of sciatica I’ve been experiencing lately: reclining hero (supta virasana), pigeon (rajakapotasana), kneeling lunge to splits with big bolster support (hanumasana), tree (vrksasana), standing half-lotus forward fold (ardha baddha padmasana), dancer (natarajasana). Immediate connection to a nonverbal, physical knowing with one leg held behind up behind me while my opposite arm extended in front of me. The feeling of moving my body confidently in this space created joy.
8:15AM: Trotted upstairs to celebrate with a cup of decaf because I was able to enter dancer without the aid of the wall for the very first time. EVER.
This is what keeps me motivated to continue day in and day out through all these years. I’m continually learning and experiencing new ways of being in this very body that is mine for a short time on earth. And I say YES to that.
After teaching the YOGA for 50+ class, I accompanied my son to the airport to say good-bye after a lovely visit of nearly two weeks. On the way home, Mike and I headed to a favorite bird watching spot in Buffalo to take our minds off of the emptiness and sense of absence we felt.
It was a stunning October day that would break all previous records for warmth in Western New York. Surrounding ourselves with so much beauty dissolved our heavy hearts.Happiness bubbled inside me as I held my hand out for the glorious chickadees and nuthatches that landed on my outstretched fingers.
Eye contact with these creatures led me into a non-verbal state of pure joy. Rather than connecting from the inside to the out, as usually happens during savasana, a connection happened as I reached my hand and heart out to my avian neighbors.
I connected with that deep inner knowing that is always present and available. This connection is also YOGA practice. No sticky mat necessary!
Some experience it like yogini Prabhavati Dwabha, helping children in rural India. Reaching outward and finding herself. Every single day.
How do you practice connecting with your inner knowing?
Today’s meditation: Naming the myriad ways that yoga is already present in my life.
Yoga is the dance of bodymindspirit. We say meditation in movement. Each one of us finds our unique expression of this ancient art. Your pose may not look much like mine. Doesn’t matter –The point of practice lies deep within. It’s a journey of the soul, mind, and body. All equal participants.
This morning I heard stories of how the previously posted and popular piece on Matt Harding’s version of the Gratitude Dance had rocked it’s way around campus at the end of the semester, so I thought I’d look into what Matt is up to now. Turns out he’s made another gorgeous globe trotting vid, this time using local dancing styles. Not exactly Yoga. But it is Body. It is Heart. And Mind is there as well. Hope you enjoy the dance around the world. Hmmm, Maybe it’s time we found a sponsor to YOGA around the planet.
Or maybe you’d like to send in photos of your Yoga in unusual locales. We’d love to see them and will post as able. …Maybe another video in the works!
A beautiful way to bring yourself home to your own beautiful presence is through centering awareness in the breath.
This is the very first and most important practice of all breath work. Before beginning to consciously control the breath, it is important to grow the awareness of how the breath is moving, or not, in this moment. We practice without criticizing, without judging, and without creating stories about the path the breath is currently on. When critical voices begin yammering inside, honor them as a part of you, and then, with kindness, come back to the breath. As judgments arise, name them simply, and come back to the breath. As thoughts flow through the mind, allowing them to flow, rather than holding on and developing them, enables awareness to gently sit in the breath.
If you would like to be guided in a Breath Awareness Practice, here is a short video.