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.
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.
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 aidto 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. As time passes, this record can become a tool for motivation, celebration, and insight.
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.
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. See the photo of a random page from my little green book.
Your journal can become a great tool for a personal journey in SATYA, or the development of truthfulness in your life. Try to look at your practice dispassionately, using Witness Consciousness.
A very specific way to keep a mindfulness journal is to record your insights immediately 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 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 and ending 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!
Another is to record observations using the Witness Consciousness. and then reflect back upon what you’ve written.
You can try different methods on different days as the spirit prompts.
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. If you work with me through Yoga Coaching, I’ll ask you to send each week’s journal to me in an email.
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.
Bouanchaud:Choosing meditation according to one’s affinities also brings mental stability.
Iyengar:Or, by meditating on any desired object conducive to steadiness of consciousness.
Fuerstein: Or restriction is achieved through meditation (dhyana) as desired.
Desikachar: Any inquiry of interest can calm the mind. Sometimes the most simple objects of inquiry, such as the first cry of an infant, can help relieve mental disturbances. Sometimes complex inquiries, such as into mathematical hypothesis, will help. But such inquiries should not replace the main goal, which remains to change our state of mind gradually from distraction to direction.
GRADY: Do we accept our own spiritual practice as a valid means to enlightenment just as we accept others’ paths?
Do we rely solely on the asanas for development of mental stability or Do we choose meditation as a means for mental stability?
Do we continuously strive to eliminate distraction and develop direction in our lives?
Practicing yoga postures without breath awareness sustains physical benefits such as increased flexibility, deepening strength, improved balance.
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.
In Western New York, Spring, the mud-licked goddess of joy and rebirth, has floundered through the melting snows of March and found her way with the warmer, softer breezes, flowering snowdrops, and brilliant birdsong.
Neighbors are sweeping off salt-littered stoops and chatting in the street. All agree: it’s been a long, tough winter.
Mindfulness meditations can bring me right home into the season. I practice opening to what is happening during this, the most ephemeral of all seasons. Sometimes I sit with a palm outstretched and filled with sunflower seeds for the chickadees.
Whether they land or not doesn’t matter. I’m offering and watching.
Sometimes the garden bench is the most inviting place in the world. I practice listening and find it much harder than watching. Doesn’t matter though. I continue and begin to feel as if life itself has slowed its push and shove. I am no longer a tacit observer of the environment, perched on the bench, waiting for life to begin. I feel the vibration of the sounds move through me. A slight shimmer passes inside my arms and I breathe through the heart center. I am no longer an alien entity; I’m a living being in an alive environment. A sense arises from deep in my spine that I’m home again.
Early spring meditation: Open a window or door, or even better, sit outside in a garden or park, tune your ears to a specific bird call and listen as long and as carefully as you can. If Mind wanders about in that spring restlessness, gently bring it back to the song. Just as you would observe your breath, observe everything you can about this particular song.
The rise and fall of the melody,
the harshness or softness,
the duration of the notes,
Can you hear other birds responding?
Can you feel the sound entering your ears?
What happens when your consciousness is attuned to your hearing, does that affect what or how you hear?
Invite the song to permeate your being.
Allow your life to become this birdsong. Where do you feel it?