Category Archives: Life

Posts dealing with my life.

Siren Call of Retreat

A SWIRL OF WHITE FLOWERSWho says you need to go someplace expensive to re-center and refresh yourself? Who says a monastery or ashram is needed?

After traveling in Europe that involved some intense genealogical study, I have embarked upon a one week retreat. I did take breaks while overseas and I meditated a lot while traveling. Click on the following links if you would like to read further how I practiced away from home:

I chanted Lovingkindness mantra for myself and others in need.

 I practiced gentle yoga everyday.

I even went on a little pilgrimage, and 11 mile hike, chanting lovingkindness most of the time. Afterwards, I needed a backbend.

After I returned home however, I found I wanted to bring those practices into my everyday life, not just my “traveling” life. The siren call of retreat rang in my soul.  It’s a time to re-group, re-center, and reconnect with my life. And yes, admittedly, I want to detox … that German chocolate, wine, and bread needs to go. I need to return to a more vigorous practice. OUCH! My body needs to adjust.  And that can’t be rushed or I’ll end up injuring myself.

The game plan is to spend more time exercising, yoga-ing, including daily savasana,  reading or listening, art-ing, writing.  Cutting back on socializing and going out.  Even talking is on the back burner! Sounds luxurious, doesn’t it?

For five days,  I’ll try to post daily to let you know how it’s going.

Perhaps you’d like to join me? If even for a day or an hour. It’s a tried and true yogic practice and in my experience, yields delicious rewards even better than German chocolate!

 

 

Meditating on-the-go

Meditating on train in Germany
Meditating on train in Germany

I love meditating while sitting on a public conveyance, such as a plane or a train.  In some ways, it’s easy to minimize distractions.

For the past year or so, I’ve been practicing Metta, or Lovingkindness meditation.

I sit up tall, with my feet planted on the floor, close my eyes, and begin to chant.  Sitting with eyes closed, folks usually don’t try to interact with you. This is not necessary, but when I’m in public like this, I usually do lower my eyelids to minimize visual distractions,

The mantra can be done for oneself  (very important!!) or for another person.  Since I noticed that I had defaulted to berating myself in my self-talk, I’ve been doing the mantra A LOT for myself to try to create more love within me, knowing that how I treat myself mirrors the way I treat others.

As a reminder, then, here is what I might chant:

May I live without fear.

May I live in physical health.

May I live in mental health.

May I live a life of ease and abundance.

The transformation has begun! For one thing, I cannot remember the last time I called myself a name such as Stupid, or Idiot.  Hopefully, my heart is opening with greater compassion for others as I think of them with less negative language.

 

Supported Backbend

Supported Backbend on bed
Supported Backbend on bed

After hiking the St. Wendel pilgrimage trail for a ways, then the Teiffenbach Pfad in St. Wendel, Saarland, Germany, a bed backbend was a must! This works after a hard day of gardening or whenever the back feels achy. Backbends raise energy, so be prepared for a surge of energy afterwards. Be sure to exit the pose carefully, drawing the knees up towards the chest and rolling on your side to release the spine. You an use a footboard or headboard during this maneuver to assist your return to standing.

 

Using Our Feet

Have you noticed an area of your body that has become “numb” or dysfunctional over time? Perhaps it was due to an injury or to sub-optimal posture, or simply because your awareness had drifted away and other parts of your body had taken over the function of the original area.

The toes, feet, and ankles are often areas that lose dexterity, strength, and mobility over time of dis-use or un-use. Sometimes an injury that occurred when we were children or teenagers, such as a broken foot or sprained ankle, comes back in the form of osteo-arthritis in our later years.

In yoga class, we have been working to develop awareness of how our feet, especially the soles of our feet,full of energy-sensitive chakras and plenty of touch-sensitive neurons, can aid us in the yoga poses. our lowest extremities can help the way we walk, stand, and, balance. Developing strength and flexibility in our feet should be a priority as we age.

 

 

Is yoga a religion?

Duke Gardens LotusThe debate over whether yoga is a religion has always struck me as odd. Kinda like saying that prayer is a religion. Yoga is a practice. For many folks, it’s simply a practice of physical-mental fitness and therapy. Nothing wrong with that. There’s no denying the long list of benefits that can be enjoyed through a consistent practice.

Yoga also creates harmony in the body-mind-spirit that is otherwise so often elusive in our daily lives. We feel that unity of being with pleasure. Thus yoga becomes the catalyst for further development of the whole self: our spiritual, mental, and physical selves. This may mean diving deeper into our own religious heritage or working with a meditation instructor. It may mean working with a life coach or therapist. It could also mean making that medical appointment or losing weight. It could even mean clearing the garage clutter.

Yoga creates a desire in me to be a better person. Not in a constant frenzy of self-help laden with heavy doses of something’s-wrong-with-me-that-I-need-to-fix-so-I-can-attain-nirvana’  mindset, but in the action of relaxing into living fully and wholly my LIFE. In living the life I was born to live. Healthy in all levels of being.

That is the lotus in the pose.

Standing on One Leg

Hast Padangusthasana r Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,  Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Hasta  Padangusthasana or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch,
Sarah P. Duke Gardens, Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

Tough not to focus when standing on one leg! Today’s To Do list recedes from consciousness while I affix my gaze at a point beyond my big toe.

How easily and quickly falling out of balance happens when attention wavers.

Just one of the perks of Hasta Padangusthasana, or Standing Back of the Leg Pose.

Practicing poses that cause the mind to open into full awareness, rather than the incessant, and often repetitive chatter that usually occupies the neurons, is how yoga brings BodyMindSpirit into oneness.

If only the ‘easy’ poses are practiced, whatever they may be for you, then bringing the mind and awareness into the endeavor will be a huge challenge.

Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2 Sarah P.Duke Gardens Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Hasta Padangusthasana 2 or Standing Back of the Leg Stretch 2
Sarah P.Duke Gardens
Durham NC (c) 2013 barefoot photos

When I practice poses that take me to the edge, poses where I really have to center and move mindfully. When that happens, no matter where I may be or whom I am with, I enter a YOGA pose.

The difficulty with daily life is that it is too easy to stray into action without the mind connecting. OR to get into working/acting from the head, without engaging the body.

 

 

 

July Meditation

Orange Daylily Fredonia NY (c) 2013 barefoot photos
Orange Daylily
Fredonia NY
(c) 2013 barefoot photos

The garden tips in shadows and an overabundance of vegetables. Yet blossoming among the old stalks of July’s proliferation, are striking flowers. Beauty becomes the fading violet color on a Monarda going to seed or a single coral rose bending toward light.

My being flows in and out of this creation. I am one moment the created, another I am the creator. When life becomes rich in juice, I am both, singing without care for the distinction.

            What is practice? There are infinite ways of practicing the yoga poses. Sometimes the pose is hidden in life. Finding that the pose is life becomes the ultimate centering practice. Mindfulness.

As practice “seasons” yoga informs activities which are seemingly unrelated to time on the mat. Tapas (fire, determination) and sukha  (joy, ease) play out moment to moment, no matter what activity is engaged.

So many ways we stretch beyond the physical. The way of strength, the way of holding and letting go. The way the breath informs everything.

            Sometimes the best practice is not physical.

Yoga is, after all, about the mind as well as the body and the heart.

Just becoming even slightly aware of what is going on up there in the place inhabited with a thousand chattering monkeys, is a profound practice. When breath takes me there, I roll in light and shadow.

Am I ready for what may be found? Can I allow myself to become that single coral rose blossoming amid the dried out stalks and petals in the garden? Am I ready for nirvana? It floats  in the very next inhalation. It may arrive in that still pause, the moment between exhalation and inhalation when the monkeys quiet in awe, and simple existence becomes total awareness of being.

 

The Flower of Yoga

Tree pose beside flowering eldersFor many years, I see-sawed between practicing sitting meditation and asana practice. I was gaining insight into my Self with both kinds of practice. Mind, Body, Heart, were all developing, albeit unevenly.

I could (and did) spend hours a day in sitting practice, to the point of neglecting the needs of my body, my family, my friends. I would continue this way until the niggle within grew, strongly suggesting that I was neglecting my asana practice. Then I’d kick up my asana practice. I was growing more and more comfortable simply being in my body, as well as growing stronger and more supple. New levels blossomed in poses I’d thought were unattainable for me, and so, working even harder, I’d push forward, sometimes to the point of bodily injury.

Both practices yielded many benefits, but I was left feeling chronically unsatisfied with my practice and with myself. If asked about my home practice, I would say as much because I truly felt as if it hardly existed. A sense of incompleteness in my life never lifted. I was a bud that refused to bloom.

Gradually, over time, I developed curiosity about why I couldn’t seem to settle. Was I more of a meditator, or more of a yogini? As I did this, I asked myself questions about what was most needed to fulfill my dharma, my reason for being here now.

The answer led me deeper into meditation in daily life. Meditation in asana practice. Yoga in the kitchen. Meditation while unloading the dishwasher. Yoga in the shower. Meditation while weeding. Walking meditation. Yoga in the garden.

Learning to connect the messages from my senses, the outer world, with my mind, the inner world — I glimpse union. The unfolding of the flower of yoga.

B.K.S.Iyengar tells us in his insightful book, The Tree of Yoga, The Classic Guide to Integrating Yoga Into Your Daily Life, that the flower of yoga is Dhyana or Meditation. It is the union of the outer path of our asana (messages from our senses) and the inner path of asana (messages from our mind). They must both become balanced. When imbalanced, and we’ve all seen advanced practitioners fall this way, even though they’ve practiced long and achieved a high level of ability in sitting meditation or yoga asana, they do not realize the calm bliss that comes only from the full flowering of yoga.

As I (happily!) settle into deeper union of life and yoga, paths heretofore unseen come into view. The garden blossoms. There are more flowers. The journey continues :-)

Easy Yoga

Have you ever wondered how your teacher could hold a pose for sooooo long? How did s/he not appear straining or tired while you felt as if you could collapse into a ball of jelly? The secret is knowing how to correctly move into the asana.

Intelligent yoga asana is alignment based.The skeletal structure of the body lines up in ways that optimize  and minimize or focus muscle use, thereby minimizing energy consumption, and stress. This greatly reduces injury. When in correct alignment, the pose feels right and the yogi can enter the blissful state of sukha despite the effort involved in holding a posture.

It all begins in the feet. Knowing how to lift the arches and neither pronate (dropping the ankles inward) or supinate (dropping them outward), how to spread the toes and distribute the weight on the four corners of the soles (root of big toe, root of pinky toe, inner and outer heel) will take you on many effortless miles of living and walking.

Over and over and over we work to re-pattern the way we stand, sit, walk, and lie down. Observing the habits that have developed since birth, studying photos of folks in indigenous cultures, and then looking at folks we come across in our daily lives can teach us reams about correct posture. I’ll go more into that in a future post.

Today I wanted to give local runners (and others interested in simply trying the barefoot lifestyle) a heads up of Barefoot runner, Ken Bob Saxton’s appearance at 795 Waterman Road, Forestville, 3 PM on Sunday, June 23. (716-679-8544 for more info.). He’s giving a multimedia presentation of how to go barefoot without hurting yourself. And then they may just do a 5 K country run, barefoot, of course.

And Lee has blog, Chautauqua Barefooter that describes his shoeless journey.

Here’s to alignment in life, love, and yoga.  Here’s to living easy, loving easy, yoga-ing easy. Seamless, interwoven threads of the journey.

And with the warmer weather, what a delight to spend more time sans shoes:-)

 

Yoga, The Refuge

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.

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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.