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.
Practicing yoga postures without breath awareness sustains physical benefits such as increased flexibility, deepening strength, improved balance.
Seeds at Watson Lake, Prescott AZ (barefoot photos)
When breath becomes an integral component of asana, the mind focuses and can achieve the single-pointed awareness so often mentioned by the ancient sages.
Breath awareness is key for deepening yoga practice because it links the mind-body into a unified being. As it anchors the mind to the physical movement (or non-movement), it awakens the body’s intelligence, as B.K.S. Iyengar says.
Mindful awareness then turns the practice from a purely physical level into meditation for the practitioner.
Breath awareness is also key to opening into more mindful awareness of life itself. When my thoughts or emotions start to spin out in their all too often merry escapades, I find that checking in on my breath can slow the wild energy down and I can more easily glimpse the reality I am experiencing sans whatever emotional or mental machinations surrounding said reality.
A simple practice for increasing your conscious awareness of your personal breath patterns is to simply notice the breath and then give it a short name, such as rushing breath, or lazy breath, or not-breathing (yes, breath holding is more common than you might think), or hyper-ventilating.
Checking in with the breath, once per day, will increase your mindful awareness of the moment. As a bonus, you may find, as I have, that breathing FEELS good. Through continued practice, I have found a beautiful relationship developing with my breath. It’s a marriage that gives me much pleasure.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve probably noted that I’m a sucker for random, or the nearly random acts of joy expressed on this lovely, though too often, cruel planet. I am still working on responding to comments and finishing up a post on BALANCE….in the meantime, sit back and enjoy this lovely song and dance in Antwerp.
When advertising my classes, I stress developing flexibility, strength, and balance. Most people will read that and presume I’m referring to physical aspects focused upon in the classes, which is true.
However, FLEXIBILITY, BALANCE, and STRENGTH are qualities needing development in every mind, heart, and life.
When I canceled classes at the last minute in order to attend a weekend yoga workshop, my teacher emailed and praised my flexibility. It’s a beautiful aspect of a well-developed yoga practice, he said (or something to that effect).
During March, I’ve taken some time away from the computer. As the regular readers will have noticed, there were few posts – and I still need to answer some of the exquisite comments that have been made – I also spent little time posting updates on Twitter and FaceBook. It was enough for me to scan my emails and answer the most pressing. I didn’t read many blogs, nor did I spend much time in my beloved Comfort Cafe! My excuse is that I felt myself digging further into a cyber-rut and I needed “out.”
For me, March became a time to re-charge and do something DIFFERENT (doing something different is a hallmark of flexibility, right?)
I DID allow myself to collect some garden manure at Renee’s Poop Party, wallow in some genealogical research, take long walks, rake my gardens, read, and begin to create my poetry collection, BAREFOOT & UPSIDE DOWN. I visited my folks in North Carolina, spent an afternoon with my cousin, helped a fellow writer on a project, saw my old writing mentor, and chatted on SKYPE with my family, including my sis in Poland.
So there, I’m certifiably FLEXIBLE. And it’s got nothing whatsoever to do with how close my chin comes to my shin in forward-fold. Or does it?
FLEXIBILITY is about softening, releasing, exhaling.
In yoga practice, we scan for places in our body where we may be holding, grasping, clenching, knotted, or otherwise shortening our physical selves, our energetic selves.
In meditation, we observe our minds and hearts for these same rigid, knotty, and hard patterns.
These patterns have developed over the course of our lifetime in response to myriad events.
FLEXIBILITY is about re-wiring fixed patterns. As we grow older, we continue to develop more and deeper patterns. Whether we look at our daily breath, or where we hold our stress, or how we approach problematic relationships, we can probably find several long-standing and typical ways of responding. There is a yogic saying: YOU ARE ONLY AS YOUNG AS YOUR SPINE (is flexible).
Neuroscientists say that FLEXIBILITY is important for keeping our brains young. PBS had a great series on the AGING BRAIN. Check it out and then Learn More at the Brain Resource Center. There’s loads of fresh research on everything from aging to ADHD.
In yoga and meditation,as in every other area, it’s important to maintain a soft attitude toward our flexibility. Commanding ourselves to release: YOU WILL SOFTEN THOSE STEEL-TINGED SHOULDERS OR ELSE! is a lot like kicking the horse when you want it to trot. A gentle attitude works with horses as it does with our shoulders and our crankiness.
Fortunately, we have a great tool for helping us to release deeper: the breath. Without even using words, we can send the breath to those crying hamstrings in forward fold and, focusing on the exhalation, release the belly and feel the hams grow longer.
In meditation, we can return to watching the breath when we find ourselves caught up in repetitious thought patterns, thereby creating space between the nuggets of verbiage that repeat ad nauseum in our cerebrum.
As far as those pesky relationship issues, try a little softening and breathing and see if things don’t iron out- at least somewhat, if not altogether.
And regarding moods that can overtake our entire life while raging unchecked, try more sitting and breathing, more yoga stretching, with much more softening all around.
Don’t take it all so seriously; that’s a sure fire way to grow more rigid. Throw some light and laughter at your stiffness, your bleakness, your obsessions, your life. It’s spring, after all.
Pamir, from Reiki Help Blog and Carnival of Healing really struck a chord with his comment on the opening page of our yoga sutra study. After all, most folks begin a yoga practice for greater flexibility, or strength, or balance, i.e., changing their physical body. Most beginner’s have never heard of the yoga sutras, nor do they realize that yoga is about transforming the MIND and that THAT is where the most significant changes will occur.
It is NOT selfish to devote some time to developing personal qualities such as inner peace, contentment, and unconditional love for your SELF. Even if you have five kids who have special needs, or aging parents in nursing homes, or a dying dog, YOU NEED TO SPEND TIME developing your spiritual life. And if you haven’t figured out yet that yoga is a spiritual path — whatever religion you ascribe to — well, then it’s time to realize the bigger picture! Wake up and feel the grace, baby
If you want exercise, do aerobics, go for a swim, ride your bike, pound the treadmill, or dig in your garden. True, you CAN do a mess of sun salutations, work up a sweat in power vinyasa, but remember that these are supposed to the means to an end: to greater mindfulness of this moment, and to a connection with the universal.
Most long-time practitioners have stories of when others noticed the change in them. This morning, one of my students remarked that folks had commented upon how she had changed during the past few years. The change correlated exactly with the time she began yoga study, which these particular acquaintances did not know. She’d grown softer, not so much on the offensive all the time, more loving.
We seem to need permission though to nurture ourselves. This is one of the primary reasons students come to class: to be reminded to love and honor themselves.
Some of us have grown up with the notion that it is selfish, even immoral to give ourselves what we need and want. We should only think of others’ needs. Only when we have done all we can to help others achieve what they need.Then, and only then do we fulfill our needs . If there is time or energy AFTERWARDS, then we might think of ourselves.
One of the key tests of whether or not a spiritual practice or a teacher is worth pursuing is if you can see RESULTS. (More on the qualities of a worthwhile teacher in a later post). You might want to ask students in a prospective class, what changes they have noticed in their own lives or in the lives of classmates.
We create intentions to live more peacefully, truthfully, less greedily, BUT we don’t just think about changing; if the intentions were meaningful, we DO take at least baby steps on the path to perfection: liberation from suffering. If we are not feeling the bliss flowing more often, if we are not able to breathe and slow down or stop emotional twirls, if we are not able to stop frenetically DOING and relax into BEING, more often than when we began practice, it might be time to search a new teacher, class, or practice. We need to be in a state of growth and that growth should translate into a more loving, compassionate, and happier life.
How did you learn that your practices had changed you? Are you still evolving?
Since I’ve been tagged repeatedly by FaceBook friends, I’ve gotten the message that I should provide a little more “personal” type info. for my beloved readers! So here goes, round two of 25 random thoughts….
25 Random Thoughts about LaughingYogini
1. Practices asana as a form of prayer.
2. Tore her Achilles doing the “Energy” Yoga tape with Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden ….which she did every morning after the kids left for school and M. went to work….for a solid year…still remembers the “zing” in the back of her heel (1998 or so)
3. She and Mike spent their 25th wedding anniversary at the London Iyengar Institute in an all-day workshop on standing poses.
4. Loves teaching college students (and younger!) because of their energy and willingness to go where they’ve never gone before!
5. Wishes her tummy was smaller so she could go deeper in several poses.
6. Is still waiting to get into full splits on the floor, lift into a complete backbend, do a headstand away from the wall, clasp her hands behind her back in gomukhasana…..hmmmm, the list goes on….but who really cares since she is alive and well and feels like a goddess in ardha chandrasana?
7. Worked intensely for 2 years with a meditation teacher with whom she no longer studies. She did however, ramp up her sitting practice AND learned a lot about herself in the process.
8. No longer publishes her e-zine CIRCLE YOGA. Laughing Yogini blog and website launched in May 2008.
9. Practiced a half hour of ujjayi breath every day for six solid months while grieving a family member’s illness and credits THAT to her own life.
10. While in legs up the wall pose, listened to Pema Chodron cds every afternoon for many many months.
11. Teaches seniors because they ROCK and they don’t hold back!
12.Will probably never become a complete and utter vegetarian, though she really does love her veggies.
13. Has always believed in a higher power…god, the goddess, the Self. The Great Spirit, energy, collective unconscious….you know what I mean. Believes that higher is within.
14. After returning from living in Mumbai, the entire family — parents and kids: 12, 11, 8 years old — practiced yoga on the living room floor following the suggestions of Richard Hittleman’s YOGA…for about a year.
15. Her back went “electrical” when F. tried to straighten her up in sarvangasana on the last day of her first teacher training! Not to worry, sometimes body parts need adjustments.
16. Gave each other yoga ropes for their 30th wedding anniversary (2 years ago). These are now in the basement studio and add a lot of zing to their personal practice as well as the classes.
17. Researched in Light on Yoga by B.K.S.Iyengar how to help heel spurs after being told by therapist that she’d never be able to walk barefoot…she’d already tried most of traditional medicine’s treatments at that time….after practicing Supta Virasana regularly those pesky heel spurs softened!
18. Graduated from 2 separate teacher trainings. Really LOVED BOTH of them even though they were quite different from each other. Sometimes it’s not the “advanced certificate” that’s as important as much as the knowledge that can be absorbed.
19. Is not happy with what the x-rays said about her lower back (spurs, eburnation, bone on bone) BUT is determined to continue honoring the “sacred space in the lumbar spine” as Vanda Scaravelli says.
20. Wishes she would find time to read and reread all of the yoga and meditation books she has on her shelf.
21. Was born bow-legged. Once found a pair of her baby shoes with boards connecting them at the arches which were supposed to straighten out her legs, according to Mom Kieber. She’s still working on straightening those bones!
22. Wishes she were more photogenic so she could create yoga videos just the way she thinks they’d be instructive for her students…ahhh well, they’ll have to make do with podcasts….the oral tradition.
23. While she’s broadcasting wishes: she wishes she had a full and complete studio built over the garage! And …..she’d like to get some training with Tibetans!
24. Was first introduced to YOGA nearly 40 years ago in Mater Dei High School Yoga Club. Blessings on that sweet teacher, whoever and wherever you are today!
25. Has found a deep connection to her yoga kula: students, friends, teachers, online acquaintances. She’s grateful for the wellspring of support and love that she has found there and hopes to return the sweetness with every breath.
Emotional freedom = Increasing your ability to love more by relinquishing the hold of negative emotions
This is her own technique developed from her work as psychiatrist and intuitive and as explained in her book Emotional Freedom
Relaxation Response * see Herbert Benson’s book (my note)
How we can use any experience to develop more calm. How do we not get sucked under?
Are you an Emotional Empath? an emotional sponge – they take others’ emo.right into their body and they think that others’ emo. are their own
Honor yourself and set smart boundaries.
You must allow quiet breaks during the day
Safeguard your sensitivities e.g. if someone asks too much – you have to say NO
Know your maximum for socializing
STRATEGIES for How to Be Brave
1. Choose a light one and work with it and you can work on the bigger ones later -realize what are the triggers – frame your fear from a spiritual perspective…How can it help me develop courage and become freer
Deactivate the Fear: Breathe, Center, and Repeat mantra: I am not just this fear; I am larger…Expand beyond the particular fear to move into something larger.
Don’t become mesmerized by it. Don’t give Fear any juice, but also don’t deny that you have them.
Take 3 min. meditations during the day: Breathe and visualize a letting go of the past, such as me in the water, riding a wave…
This is a process you can use anytime for anything in life. It is impossible for you to do everything you want to do as a result of this retreat.
1. Start thinking about what choices you are going to make.
2.Make a decision – what are you going to say YES to and what are you going to say NO to – for NOW…Articulate these. One of the most powerful coaching questions: Doesn’t have to be the right choice – just Make the best choice you can now. It’s a practice!
-Ask What’s the real challenge here…write
-Create a range of options – possibilities for how to do these
-What ideas do you already have …write 4 things
-Set a defined limit…write
Brilliant coaching question: But what else might be the possibility?
-Generate one or two additional ideas for each question
- thinking about your challenge – what is the easiest thing you can do?
-What is the fastest thing you can do?
-What is the most courageous – outrageously brave - thing you can do
DO IT FOR TWO HOURS EVERY DAY
-What would be the fun thing to do
-So don’t stop here…What will you do??? By when will you complete this??s What accountability are you going to set up? Who are you going to tell?
-Accept the FEAR & anxiety that goes with it! And Don’t CATASTROPHIZE it – spend some time asking what is the worst that could happen?
-Set up structures of support and encouragement
-Get connected with your life purpose – that can drag you through anything to get there
Parts of Well Being:1) Somatic state – delicious feeling in body 2) Understanding – when you recognize what you need to achieve #1 A metta well-being
These two states feed off each other. The value of #1 is in the healing it allows
When you are in that place in you – you are smarter- you can hear your inner voice – your intuition…”I’ll be happy when…I can take more care of myslef or I have the right partner or I buy enough stuff”
-The understanding part- Where do you go to get your good feelings (#!) tells you pretty much everything about your life.
-Even healthy ways such as yoga & meditation – you are going outside and when you don’t have them, there is FEAR. You need to develop well being from the inside.
-Belief that someone else controls our feelings..But Good Feeling is INSIDE you…IT IS YOU!
You are a toaster trying to be a microwave. Release the inner toaster…You are a perfect toaster…a lousy microwave.
-There is nothing outside you that can take away your well being!
-We live stressful lives when we think our well-being can come and go…But emotional states are simply responses to THOUGHTS not to actual world.
HE can get rid of phobias in 20 mins.
In a relationship there are 4 people: your hubbie and the picture of your hubby in your head
You don’t need positive thoughts – you need to recognize that thoughts arejust thoughts. the problem isn’t that you had a negative thought- it’s that you gave it your phone # – at 4 AM when you’re alone in a dark room
-So you just need to recognize the negative thought and have patience – it’ll go away and your well being remains intact
-How you’re feeling- tells how you are thinking
-A sure sign that you are in a low mood is a sense of urgency
-When you are feeling calm – good- then you know that your thinking is clear and you can proceed to make decisions
-When you see that all of that suffering you are putting yourself through is from YOU….
-When people make transformations – it’s because they DECIDED to stop hitting themselves in the head!
-If you really want to get “present” put yourself in a dangerous situation. Put yourself in a situation that is new to you
Kinder way: Decide that being present is more important than all of that activity
EXERCISE:Do each thing as if it was the most important thing for you to do.
*QUESTION asked about manic depression:
1. acknowledge it!
2.when you start to see that even though you have a chem. imbalance you see that cycle is still based on thought
His FEEL HAPPY is a book based on this.
*2nd question about helping others:
1. Check your own state (e.g. we are trying to fix them so that we can feel better) so get yourself in a good place before trying to help them
2. See them as capable of changing their situation. We need to believe in them and their innate wellbeing, health, happiness, and wisdom
2. Get what it is to love somebody else unconditionally..stay in your good feelings for someone even if they don’t behave the way we want them to. So begin to love the person unconditionally.
3.Easy listening: just listening with no intention to fix or make happy etc. So you begin to create space by just listening. Leave the bowl of murky water to settle! It works so well because the nature of the human is WELL.
Once you realize that the allowing the thoughts to spin out is not serving you and once you begin to realize that a slower mind serves you well…you will deal with life easier!
Still not finished…will get to all of Jen Louden’s remarks tomorrow… see ya’ then.
Sure, there was a ridiculous blizzard, mucho tree karma again, kids stranded overnight in Atlanta, anise cookies baked too late for aging, fruitcake eaten too early for aging, the last minute gift wrapping frenzy, and unexpected visitors, including our dog-guest, Yoshi.
But there was also the traditional cheesy plastic nativity set on the mantle, the tipsy angel on top of the tree that we finally found after three days of searching the backwoods of the county, way too much cinnamon and citron Christmas stollen, too much loganberry wine, too little sleep.
It was Christmas after all. And even though I worried that I didn’t have the time or where-with-all to create the seasonal magic my parents pulled together year after year, I was nonetheless pulled into dreamy, timeless and very joyful days.
With ten people in the house for nearly a week, there was amazingly little conflict. There were no raised voices, except in laughter; there was no sulking or even passive aggression. Everyone worked hard to interact with each other and yet, maintained respect for each others space and feelings. Geesh, not much of a story here, but I warned you, it was all pretty ordinary. We cooked, took long walks, and hung out. We played a couple of games and racked homemade wine. We sat on our bums and talked, catching up with what’s been going on in our lives, munching each others insights and news like cookies.
The weather spun crap, keeping us nearly housebound the entire break. One day it’d be frigid blowing white stuff, the next thick, icy rain; the next day would gray over imbued with bone-numbing damp. Never was there enough snow and sun to snowshoe, nor enough green and balm to walk.
elves & eggnog
So why was this a season filled with grace? I was sporting an entirely new attitude. Yep, life’s all about ‘tude and I finally figured out that my life went down a whole lot more fun if I embraced a yogic attitude.
Last year, when a friend dropped by on Christmas day. I nearly bolted out the door to go for a walk with him. I was soooo glad for a respite from all that was going on in the house – which I would say now was absolutely nothing except my negative outlook- so why did I need to escape so badly? I have a journal entry from then wherein I recorded how alienated I felt, how separated from everyone, including those supposedly closest to me: my immediate family. And of course that was bringing on depression, the all-too-common holiday blues. I’m not trying to go all-confessional on you here; it’s just evidence of how my attitude, which included such stellar qualities as resentment, insecurity, formless ambition and competition, shaped not only how I looked at life, but created the threads of my existence.
There really wasn’t much different this year, except my mind – that great instigator of human turmoil and unhappiness. The great wrecker of human lives.
It’s all in the attitude!
What is? you ask.
Pretty much everything, I answer.
We create our world, thought by fleeting thought.
traditional Bavarian anise seed cookies
Yes, reincarnation probably happens when we die – the physical body eaten by slugs – the spiritual self enters the realms of the bardo and reemerges in another realm of existence. But we also have the ability to reincarnate during this life. We become new-old beings, that is, if we decide to change our minds – the way we view life. That’s the miracle of birth we celebrate in the Nativity every single year. We pray for the grace to invite transformation. And as everyone knows, change often occurs when we are at our lowest, darkest points. It’s no surprise that so many of us celebrate birth during the solstice’ short days. Or that depression runs rampant as hungry bears during Christmas cookie season.
Sure, we practice yoga asana or postures so our limbs and core will remain supple and strong, but there are deeper, much more fundamental changes that often go unnoticed since they accrue silently and invisibly, year after year of maintaining the discipline of the mat.
Here’s a list of some changes I’ve noticed growing in my heart and mind:
Acceptance - I learn from not being able to clasp my twisted hands in eagle or to touch my forehead to my shin in forward fold,from my distractedness and rushing in bellows breath, from my pitiful attempts at living by the precepts of nonviolence and nongrasping, from my restlessness and sleepiness in sitting meditation; acceptance must run parallel to self-knowledge,,,as I go deeper, it’s not always pretty inside! Acceptance of myself leads to accepting others in my life. I don’t have to always be right; peace is more important AND accepting you as you are, striped with faults of every color just as I am…well, it’s OK. Accepting who I am means also accepting my past decisions as well as yours; it means accepting where I am physically as well as mentally. There is a freedom I’ve found in this acceptance by and by which has led to a fundamental shift to a consciousness of contentment. At least greater contentment than ever existed in any precious life.
Flexibility -As I hold pigeon and camel – poses that break old patterns of holding, my body and mind and heart grow more bendy! When I let go my routine and any semblance of schedule (hey, with all those folks in this little house, there wasn’t much room nor was it ever quiet for practicing) …I ate different, heck I think my breath assumed a different rhythm for nearly three weeks. In the interest of flexibility, I let it go and didn’t look back, didn’t hold on to seeping strands of resentment, which left me free to fully enjoy my company and to welcome the relief from routine!
Confidence – Standing in tree or dancer pose light the inner fires of confidence; being able to sit with my thoughts alone or to spend a day in silence have given my self-assurance that even if my practice nearly disappeared, even if my beautiful schedule was obliterated, I am still me with my core intact and I will return to the balance that my practices afford on a daily basis after the holiday. This sounds simple enough, but it wasn’t always the case in days of yore. I’d lean a tad crazed and unbalanced in a semi-permanent fashion when thrown off schedule.
Presence (awareness) – By training myself to become aware of my toes and fingers, my heart and mind, while teetering in half-moon pose, or sitting in siddhasana meditation, or stretched in savasana, I begin to observe how my attention wanders while I am “listening” to you. I try to grow my awareness by staying on task and paying attention to whatever it is I happen to be involved in at the moment. It’s a tough call in a culture that praises multitasking and it’s a challenge when there are several conversations going on in the room simultaneously.
Playfulness – This is the attitude fostered when I fall out of half-moon or dancer pose! This is the attitude that keeps me from performing sun salutations like a robot, that drives my twisting self into crazy dog pose. This is the attitude that says, hey, whatever comes up during sitting meditation is AOK. In fact, bring it on…all of it, ‘cuz I’m gonna just sit here and watch! This is the attitude fostered by a sense of community that says we are all flawed and wonderful human beings (hmmm, even dogs!) and we don’t have to uphold any longstanding personas anymore. This is the attitude of the Laughing Yogini
I recognize these forces at work in my life when I celebrate with kith and kin, filled with hugs, laughter, ease and well-being, letting go and giving away. It all feels natural and makes me wonder what else lies on the road up ahead as I continue the path which no longer seems like a way; it flows as constant evolution, a constant rebirth.This all makes me curious to know what sort of changes have appeared in your life lately? Do you connect any of them to your practice? Wishing you Happy New Life and ‘tude in 2009!
One of the high points of visiting Dave & family for Thanksgiving holiday was checking out long-time family friend, Edwin Woods’ Friday morning Kundalini class at Spring of Happiness in Manlius NY. Greeted by teacher, Theone Wilkinis in her studio, I immediately relaxed and found “my space” on a blue mat in the corner. The ambiance and energy were friendly and supportive; a cd of Wahe Guru chants drifted in the background adding aural comfort to the setting.
What was most different for me from classes I teach or attend, was the practice of Breath of Fire (Bhastrika) during most of the poses. Breathing in this manner required great mental focus, not to mention abdominal control. In addition to helping us maintain a meditative mindset, the rapid fire breath work had many physical benefits. We all built up a lot of heat, evidenced by our sweating — and the steamy windows lining the studio wall.
Recently, I was told (by my orthopedist) to strengthen my quads, so I appreciated the other work we did, such as leg lifts and warrior 2. Practicing Breath of Fire during Warrior 2 is a pose I look forward to playing with on my own. It was challenging, but focusing on the forward thumb really helped “keep me there.” The class recharged my batteries and by the time savasana rolled around, I was feeling mellow and centered.