Breath Awareness

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.

Carolyn’s Tonglen Video

Holy Smokes. There’s been a huge shift and I have finally created a perfectly imperfect meditation video. My first ever. Oh such wonderful new areas for me to grow and improve upon.

Thank you to my sis (in law) who is bravely battling cancer. You have inspired me. And inspired healing in circles known and unknown.

Blessings to all of you who are still hanging out at BarefootandUpsideDown. Would love feedback regarding this new adventure.

Savasana, aka corpse pose

Savasana, corpse pose (barefoot photos)

I am an experimental yogini. Lately, I have been approaching savasana, the pose of deep relaxation that I “do” at the end of my asana practice to see what I can learn from ten or twenty or thirty or sixty minutes reclining in a prone position.

The physical aspects of savasana are quite simple: stretch out on the floor on your back, roll the palms up to face the ceiling, allow the legs to flop away from each other, gently lower the eyelids, part the teeth slightly, cover yourself with a light blanket, place an eye pillow on your eyelids, use a folded blanket beneath your head and neck and a bolster beneath your knees, if you’d like. There are other variations and possible supports that can be used to induce a greater level of comfort, but I’ll cover those in another post.

Here are my journal notes after a savasana “lab:”

10 minutes: a sudden drop into physical relaxation. The body felt as if it were melting into the floor

13 minutes: another drop deeper ~ a deeper release down

17 minutes: Oh, now this drop felt nearly blissful ~ a tumble into bliss ~ so lovely

I was shaken out of it when hearing voices upstairs talking loudly and I picked up the phrase: “She’s really in bad shape.” Felt my mind turn on with adrenaline ~ thought maybe I should get up ~ racing thoughts, but felt my body still relaxed, so decided to drop back down into the deep relaxation, knowing the alarm was set and I could get up in three more minutes. Later note: this was an amazing realization: that I could CHOOSE whether or not to relax deeply!

20 minutes: the alarm rang and because I had already “come back” a good way, I decided to remind myself to come back s-l-o-w-l-y and resist the urge to run upstairs and find out what had happened (what had happened was in fact, a continuing deterioration of an 86 year old relative’s condition, and certainly not an emergency in the immediate sense of the word)

I’d love to hear of your experiences in savasana!

Sacred Self Care

"Oklahoma" rosebud in October (barefoot photos)

One of my teachers offered a teleconference course on sacred self-care. Oh, I thought, this is pushing things a bit, I mean, really sacred self care?

Furthermore, why should I sign up, I already teach self-care. Certainly I know how important it is to devote some time everyday to the important task and pleasure of taking care of myself.

Well, it was time for me to wake up to the essence as well as the deep importance of self-care practice.

The journaling and meditations I did highlighted long held resistance to my own self-care. Could I be hard-wired to NOT take care of myself? I wondered. Was it a genetic trait? Am I simply and incorrigibly lazy?

As the class progressed week by week, I found a deep well of pleasure arose in my bodymind whenever I gave myself a gift of self-care. It’s possible to tap into that well as a means of motivating myself to continue developing self-care practices.

This week, our homework was to identify one self-care practice to focus on and try to develop it. A small step it would seem, but progress and transformation happens in small simple steps repeated time and again.

So, what am I working on? My negative self-talk. I’m growing my mindfulness around the times I call myself names or otherwise speak poorly to my beautiful self. It’s tough. Sometimes I catch myself disparaging the voice that catches, “Oh, there you go again, you idiot.” Yes, I can even use mindfulness against myself! So I’m continuing to practice softening and then softening again. I need a lot of practice. Unfortunately, it seems I’m giving myself plenty of opportunity. Grrr.

I do recognize how terribly important this is though. It forms the foundation of the spiritual path. Think about it. Better yet, conjure up the feelings in your body of an abundance of self-care. Then ask yourself what would happen if you had that available all the time….

Here’s hoping that you are floating in nirvana-land with me on this one. It’s just a little bit of self-care away!

If you are jazzed by the thought of floating on a cushion of wondrous self-care, READ MORE; visit LUMINOUS HEART.


While we were releasing into savasana during tonight’s class in Westfield, D. read from Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, MY STROKE OF INSIGHT. I remembered the video I’d seen some time ago and the awe and maybe a little jealousy that I’d felt at Dr. Taylor’s experience. D. commented that the section she read to us reminded her of her experience in corpse pose: the way body boundaries disappear and sometimes it feels as if the body itself disappears as we recognize ourselves as magnificent bundles of energy.

After all, nirvana is what we are after isn’t it? Or is it? Nirvana is a term that floats around in the pop culture and we know that we should be achieving it at yoga class BUT… we really expect to ever experience it? Have you ever thought, maybe it’s just too darn much effort and trouble. It’s easier – safer – to simply stick to the practice of asana or some non-taxing meditation practice.

It’s not like we actually know anyone who has ever experienced nirvana anyway. I mean, sure, we’ve read STORIES about some extreme individuals in India, Tibet, or Japan, but c’mon, but this is the 21st century and we’re too busy checking our Twitter updates to have time for nirvana.

The ancient sage, Patanjali writes, in Yoga Sutra III.43:

bahirrakalpita vrttimahavideha tatah prakasavaranaksayah

When outside things no longer condition mental activity, the veil over the light of understanding is rent asunder and a state of liberation appears. (trans. Bouanchaud)

How much of your activity is driven by mental chatter or sensory stimuli? Can you cut through the crap, so to speak? What would it take? If you did, would find nirvana…or some other state?

I invite you to watch the video from TED and ask yourself if nirvana is the goal of your practice. Or is it performance as we postulated earlier. Is there any difference?

centering podcast

Here it is~Laughing Yogini’s inaugural podcast : centering.

You can use it as a stand-alone, short relaxation or you can use it as a prelude to yoga asana practice. It is meant for practicing, so shut the door, turn off your cell phone and begin to breathe mindfully with me. What fun! If you’ve never ever experienced guided relaxation, hang on Cowgirl— you’re in for a change.

Emerald Isle NC: Warrior 3 (SPrusinski photo)

Panterrra Pre-Natal Yoga Workshop

Dariel in empathy vest with Maureen (carolyn)

Saturday morning, I wondered what I was doing in a pre-natal yoga workshop; after all, I hadn’t had a pregnant woman in class for at least one year. Furthermore, my own pregnancies were more than 22 years ago! Something inside nagged me to attend the workshop though, and one thing I’ve learned from my years of practice is to listen to that voice, so I went. And how informative and fun, it was! I learned that I had A LOT of emotions that I’d been carrying with me through the years regarding my own birthing experiences as well as my experiences as a mother and my relationship with my own mother. There’s nothing like yoga to cause all the STUFF to rise to the surface! And what is the appropriate response? Be present; just be present and observe whatever happens, whatever you are feeling, or thinking, or dreaming. Accept the *stuff* as part of you and honor all of it. Let it go. Breathe and breathe another long slow breath, for all of us – you and your baby – and me and my fledglings.

The theme of the weekend, if there was one, was that pregnancy is a time of awakening intuition and pregnant women should be provided skills and opportunities to support the process of looking inward. This will support them as they enter motherhood as well.

Dariel in supported Hasta Padanghustasana

D. in wall chair pose with ball & bolster

The workshop was arranged with a mix of pre-natal information from an RN yogini, asana with Dariel and Maureen, and q & a with a practicing midwife yogini. We all had opportunity to wear the pregnancy vest that included enlarged breasts, belly, and baby weight sitting on the bladder. See Dariel’s photo on top above and below where she is demonstrating a great way for expectant moms to stretch their backs on a large physio ball placed on a chair. To the far left she is demonstrating a safe practice of hasta padangusthasana using chair, wall, and strap.

Maureen led us in a memorable wall sit. We each pressed an 8 inch physio ball between our knees, while keeping head and back on the wall. We attempted to keep it up for a full minute (thighs burning, I tell you). This would teach the pregnant woman how to breathe and focus even through pain. It was very effective and I will definitely use that in classes for everyone – students get ready! One of the great gifts of yoga and meditation is the ability to learn to stay present through turmoil and pain.

Lots of anecdotal birthing stories were shared among the participants throughout the weekend revealing the unique path each woman follows in the process of bringing forth a new life.

We enjoyed time on Saturday to walk in the gorge, or to walk along the street beside ripening vineyards, breathing in the intoxicating scent of grapes.

Panterra: Bell Creek Gorge Sept. 2008 (carolyn)

Sunday morning we covered deep relaxation, breath techniques, finding personal rhythm to assist the birthing process, several styles of vocal toning for Stage 3, and more asanas appropriate for supporting pregnancy.

By lunchtime Sunday, the weather turned rainy and we all wanted to chat and bond, or practice our own asana.

The grand finale of the weekend was Maureen’s gentle voice leading us through a pre-natal yoga class complete with guided centering and a final blissful savasana.

By the time I sat up, I almost wished I were pregnant again!

Dariel practicing birth preparation with ball on chair (carolyn)

For FURTHER STUDY see Brenda K. Plakens (Grounding thru the sitbones) article in Yoga Journal:Tools For Teaching Prenatal Yoga

carolyn in side-lying savasana (Dariel)

OpenSky Yoga Teacher Training

Since I am on a roll, thinking about my teachers, and because some of you have asked me about teacher training, I thought it would helpful to post a poem I wrote for Francois at the completion of the Essential Teacher Training of Open Sky Yoga in Rochester NY. A link to his monthly newsletter is on Laughing Yogini’s Article Recommendations page.

A Little Light At the End of the Day

Silently we crept to the opening circle

in the hall where Buddha

in padmasana beamed larger than life

and the big blue bell hung

over the stairwell. Trying to look calm,

we were so nervous that when asked

to name our favorite movie, we could

barely find a voice. Yet, when we sang

OM, the sound grew like a great wind

among us.

Our broken bodies,

over-fired minds, erratic emotions,

and our simple spirits fell

into your cupped palms-

the wonder of us all made you pause-

and the snow kept shifting

out of the great open sky.

Some days fluttered by

like dreams,

some days the sweet movement of our bodies

defining space in this world became easy-

our limbs flew off our spines-

then you’d say,

“I’m not convinced of that,”

so we’d push harder against old patterns

until collapsing from the effort,

laughing at our little limitations.

While explaining some detail

of lordosis, or deep fascia release,

or the way sandbags can help vata,

your gray eyes would scan the room

trying not to betray your disappointment

that half of us were watching the snow drift,

the other half fluttering eyelids close to sleep.

We were hungry students:

you fed us ginger crisps, blue chips, and oranges;

we’d slip out to Java Joe’s

before class, beg for breaks

long enough to linger,

lunch on foccaccia, pita pockets,

or granola from Montana Mills.

It was never enough.

Talking asana, doshas and gunas,

pranayama, then shifting topics

to father ghosts, wedding dresses,

Van Morrison, or the Dalai Lama,

we were ravenous for so much more than bread.

You taught us to nurture ourselves

from within.

Not always the best of students,

but with our journals, mountains of texts,

home practice assignments fit for BKS himself,

we eventually learned something

about long steady exhalations

and how our own breath

can deepen any given moment.

We will take these lessons with us:

flexibility, patience, strength, humor;

others we’re still working on,

such as teaching in the first person;

many lessons we won’t “get”

for a long long time-

but when we’re standing in front of a class,

stumbling over words

your voice will drift in,

“description, not prescription”

and we’ll set to work once again.

Winter’s snows blew into April and melted.

Now, sunlight plays on the maple;

the magnolia’s ripe leaves hang dappled,

and the new fence gate swings open

without a sound.

We gather once again finding joy, steadiness.

And when our lives bloom

crazy and humble,

we’ll remember a cedar room

where white candles glimmer

in a sand bed,

where pale shells lie rearranged

with a great deal of lovingkindness,

and your voice channeling

through us, holding

us in a firm embrace.

Ahhhh Relaxation

Who has time to relax anyway? I mean what with multitasking and all. Does anyone come to yoga class to just kick back? Hmmm, come on, you want a work out, right? You want to become buff and beautiful. And then get back to you ever-expanding To Do List. You have important work to accomplish in this lifetime. You are going to save the world–or at least some small part of it! So let’s run to yoga class to get in some exercise after work, before putting the kids to bed and cleaning the house and preparing tomorrow’s lesson and listening to Sis on the phone discuss her problematic in-laws. The first actual full breath of the day comes only after 5 minutes of sitting on a bolster in a room that is more serene than anywhere you’ve been all week.

When the teacher announces that tonight it’s going to be a relaxation class you don’t waste any time heading for the door, but then you realize that this class is so small and it’s going to be really obvious if you sneak away and how are you going to face the teacher who is beaming at the prospect of a class of students stretched across bolsters, brainwaves lengthening and slowing like the breath, their prana vayu descending, their organs stretching blissfully inside their bodies and their eyes softening with lavender-scented silk bags placed lightly upon closed orbs.

Squirming, without making eye contact, you obediently follow her prompts and find yourself, well, uhm, fairly comfortable. Wait a second, I thought this was yoga and it was SUPPOSED to hurt.

SUPTA BADDHA KONASANA: anytime you see the “supta” included in a pose name, it alerts you to the thought of lying down. This pose is sometimes referred to as Butterfly. When the soles of the feet are together, you can draw the knees up and down as if they were wings on a butterfly. Since this is a supported version, use a blanket rolled from the short end. Place it beneath the thigh and shin bones. Recline back onto a lengthwise bolster that has a blanket on the top for your head and neck support. Your chin should be at the same height or lower than your forehead. You may enjoy a blanket underneath each arm. Place the eyebag softly over your eyes.

Amazingly, you don’t fall asleep, at least not right away, and that is your first surprise since, in your current sleep-deprived state, any lack of motion usually induces immediate somnambulism. The chattering in your mind becomes very loud though and you begin a little inner agitation about being placed in such a silly position. After all, nothing is happening–you’re absolutely sure of that. Then the teacher suggests giving yourself permission to let go of all the “stuff” of our lives. “You can save the world AFTER class. Give yourself permission to become a human being for a little while; release your identity of a human doing. The spinning world with all of its problems and challenges will still be there after class.”

When she quietly announces that you can wiggle your fingers and breathe more deeply, you realize that even if you weren’t perfectly relaxed, you’d achieved some sort of state of quietude. As you move into the other poses–only 2 or 3 this evening– the quiet mode follows along with you like a friendly inner cat purring into your heart center, releasing stress with every mew. Each pose carries you a little further into quiescence and at some point you are not sure what state you’ve been in. Were you in fact, sleeping? But, you seemed to be aware. You’d definitely heard her voice prompting and you moved when she suggested.

After the final savasana (Corpse Pose), which was glorious, because for once the inner agitation slowed to the point you COULD actually follow your breath and release your chronically tight belly, you moved as if on a cloud-you felt that light. As you wriggle into a seated kneeling position with your hands in prayer position and your head bowed slightly, you realize that, at least for a few minutes, you could accept yourself, just as is. Nothing to do or change or become. And who you are is really AOK.

Corpse Pose (Savasana)

today’s mantra: Just BE.
Spend a few minutes everyday relaxing, doing nothing in particular, just enjoying being with yourself.