Special Treat! (for planning your yoga retreat)

Today and next Monday we’ll be sharing yoga and meditation tips with Whole Life Yoga in Seattle, pigeon pose on beachWashington. For today’s post, head on over to wholelifeyoga.com and check out my guest post there. While you’re there, peruse all the yoga goodness Tracy has to offer – it’s a wonderful blog!

What are you still doing here? Head on over to wholelifeyoga.com get some ideas on creating your own home yoga retreat!

Crow Walking

One of my secret weapons before the hip replacement was a version of

Waves in Motion During Sunrise at Carlin Park

No relation to the article, just a beautiful photo. Waves in Motion During Sunrise at Carlin Park (Photo credit: Captain Kimo)

“windshield wipers” that I learned in Pre-Natal certification from Jacci Reynolds.

Begin with your sitting bones pressing into the surface beneath you, feet in front of you a little wider than hip width, knees pointed to the ceiling, supporting yourself on your hands, behind your hips. Rather than allowing the chest to collapse back and the shoulders to shrug up, keep your sternum lifted and your neck long. On an exhale, drop the right knee in toward your left hip. Inhale, knee up. Exhale left knee drops in. Inhale up.

Don’t do this if you already have a posteriorly placed hip appliance. I used this for pre-surgical hip pain with reduced range of motion, and Crow walking helped tremendously to maintain my range of motion despite pain and degeneration leading up to the surgery. This motion introduces a subtle twist, prompts core activation and by coordinating the movement with the breath allowed me to explore non-weight-bearing motions that wouldn’t have been accessible on my feet due to lack of cartilage. The motion gently stretches muscles and keeps the joint lubricated while allowing for planes of motion usually too painful to engage in the situation I was in.

In prenatal application, Crow walking is a great help for warming up and cooling down, a great beginning hip opener, and begins to create sensation and connection to the pelvic floor.

Savasana Meditation: stream and light

English: Wyming Brook in winter.

English: Wyming Brook in winter. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A recording of today’s guided meditation during savasana, a relaxing opportunity to let your body melt into earth and water, air and light. Enjoy! Let me know how you use it and what you think: leave a comment below!

 

 

Mind and Life Talks with HHDL

English: 14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India

14th Dalai Lama, Dharasmala, India (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are 3 things I look forward to in January: blooming hyacinths, stillness in life and house and the Mind and Life Talks. His Holiness the Dalai Lama in conversation with the world’s top scientists, going on year 26, live stream from here.

Right now I’m watching a conversation about brain development, childhood discipline, neglect and training, and the Dalai Lama is teasing the speaker, who really wants to talk about neuroplasticity. A religious and political leader who chooses to use his influence to cultivate theoretical discussion about the forefront of our understanding of mind-brain science is simply inspiring and inoculates me against cynicism for at least half a year. Which explains why I’m here watching the talks live on a Friday night. Geek out.

Discussing what happens to neurons and dendrites – particularly in early development – under stress, how their growth is stifled and stunted, and  the relationship of stress to vigilance and emotion, I am reminded how crucial my practice of yoga and sitting meditation is to my peaceful life filled with hyacinths, hugs and humble quietude.

Having experienced profound trauma in my early life, I’m keenly aware that my

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress.

Regions of the brain affected by PTSD and stress. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

brain fits into the categories being discussed. Diagnosed more than 2 decades ago with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), yoga, meditation and tai chi were crucial in putting my life and insides together anew. They are not, of course, panacea, and occasional “tune-up” visits to a therapist for EMDR, talk therapy and guided meditation are incredible tools. My life with this history has been an incredible teacher for me. I have been constantly reminded of the value of silence in life as well as the need for teachers and community to provide a context for practice.

The Mind and Life discussions help me understand myself and reinforce the value of my practice. More than that, though, they make me hopeful and optimistic about the future. Scientists sitting down to explain complex research – their life’s work – in lay terms to a passionately interested leader who expends his resources to bring them together, and a whole youtube channel dedicated to making these discussions freely available: I find comfort in this set of facts, in the caring and careful attempts to understand ourselves and in the reminder that I have a practice that gives me tremendous power to heal intergenerational trauma – mine and others. Time to go sit. See you on the mat.

Today at Sarvodaya's Early Morning meditation

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

3 part yogic breath: meditation between abundance and stillness

 

Dirgha, or three part yogic breath, is the basis for pranayam. The first portion initiates the body’s relaxation response, and the entire thing is an exercise in observation and transformation through attention. We start every class with this meditation and I’ve finally produced a recording I’m willing to share. It has audio issues, so don’t expect pro quality – it’s my first one! Let me know how you enjoy the content and I’ll continue to post as I become more comfortable and my equipment gets better. Comment below to let me know how this works for you.

 

 

Meditation Helper

MHP

Timers are a fantastic way to create a container (my current favorite notion, thanks Jen Louden) for your practice, and have been mentioned a couple of times in posts and comments lately, so I thought I’d say something about the one I use and love. I’ve tried half a dozen or more over the last six months (when I started using aps… I know, I’m behind!) and this is my go-to. I use it for my personal yoga and meditation practices as well as classes, private lessons and even meetings. People love it when I not only end on time but a pleasant meditation bell concludes the discussion period.

Meditation Helper Pro is the easiest to use, most elegant, pleasant, modifiable and effective timer I’ve used. My top three criteria for a meditation timer:

  • pleasant, real-sounding bell
  • infinitely modifiable for length and intermittent bells
  • easily modifiable for same

Meditation Helper Pro meets all of my criteria. The wizard makes it easy to create and save or modify a program, the standard bell is my favorite and available on the free ap though on the pro ap you can use others or ringtones from your phone. I have a simple 20 minute profile, an evening meditation profile with bells every 2 minutes and a double bell 2 minutes before the end. I have a 75 minute profile for class and 30 and 60 minute presentation profiles.

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: Moyan_Brenn)

Meditation Helper Pro will even remind you with a custom message (mine says “Sitting makes you happy.”) and keep a log for you so you can view your patterns and make adjustments. Are you a data freak? This is the ap for you. Do you just love elegance and simplicity in the tools you use, so you can get down to what you’re doing? This is the ap for you. Do you need a pleasant interface and sound to continue using a timer? This is the ap for you. Go to the ap store and try it out. Let me know how it goes? Leave me a comment below, let me know what you use and love!

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

In the Nelson Atkins Art Museum in Kansas City, Missouri.

Enough

I don’t know about you, but I can always find “one more thing” to do before I leave my desk or exit my office. I was half an hour late to a meeting last week because of the “one more things.”  Things that might awesomify the work we do can seem endless, and the better we are at it, the more we see the array of betterification open to us. So we make ourselves late for that massage or worse yet totally skip yoga class because this one last thing will put the cherry on our sundae.

 

Endless lonely beach

This gives me the feeling of “Enough.”(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Enter “conditions for enoughness.” I listened to this podcast, called “Creative Joy Teleconference and Twitter Party” from Karl Staib over at Party BizConnect (will you leave me a comment about that name, please?) in discussion with Jen Louden and Marianne Elliot and found the most lovely notion (about 9 minutes into the podcast). Like the ideas in my last post, they’re simple. Crazy simple. Which is why they have a shot at working. I’m a fool for Jen Louden’s work, so I can’t believe I haven’t run into this yet, but perhaps the conditions in my heart were perfect just now to actually catch this nugget of goodness.

YOU get to set your conditions of enough. I get to set my conditions for enough. Especially if you make your living in any part on the internet (and who doesn’t these days???) you can always check one more thing, find one more idea, do one more search. But each of the one mores is a choice to give up something else, and often what we give up by engaging the one mores was far more than what we found by pushing.

When I decide what will be enough for a day or an hour or a session before I start, I get more of the things that actually nurture the creativity that the one mores act like they’ll nurture. The truth is that after a certain point, creativity isn’t based on more information, more research or more feedback. Rather than reaching for more, I’m going to start sending my future self notes about enough, notes that will create that elusive “container” for creativity referenced by therapists and coaches worldwide. And for now, that’s “enough.”

 

 

 

Home yoga practice: it’s the simple things that matter

“Just do it” doesn’t  usually work when it comes to the home practice of yoga. Chances are, if you have an established home practice, you are “just doing it” and not spending time wondering how to get there, and what gets you to the mat every morning (or evening or lunch or saturday or whatever) isn’t some grunting force of will, but a draw born of experience: the experience of how you feel when you’re there, how you feel on days when you get there, how you felt that day when you didn’t.

 

English: All Solutions By Yogi Tamby Chuckrava...

You don’t have to look like this guy to do yoga at home. Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

If you’re wondering how to start – or start again, though, white knuckling it could undermine the very reason you’re planning to do yoga at all. Try these actions instead and find out how good life is when you yoga on your own:

  • If you’re practicing in the morning, bring  your morning cuppa into the yoga space with you. Whether it’s water, coffee, tea or vodka (just kidding, really… yoga before drinking) sometimes this can create a nice transition. Instead of having to finish your current routine before you roll out the mat, use your current routine to find comfort with the one you’re creating. You can sit and take a sip or two of hot morning yumminess while on your mat and absorb the loveliness of your new practice. 
  • Choose a simple signal to begin and end your practice. Whether you have a fancy bell to ring or start the same music every time, simply having a repetitive action that you associate only with coming to your mat can be powerfully settling. I have come to look forward to ringing the lovely bell of compassion my MIL sent for Christmas at the start and end of practice. It sends a wave of “Okay, you’re here now, until this bell rings again” and allows me to sink in to simply doing the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing and letting that be fresh  and new and not pre-planned.
  • Plan the beginning and end of each practice. This creates a container of sorts and can free you up in between. I begin sitting in vajrasana with breath observation (also how I begin all classes) and end with a selected sequence of finishing poses (as a recovering Ashtanga Yogi there are a few things I’m incapable of doing without). You can begin in  Mountain Pose and end with Bridge before Corpse Pose 
      If you know what you’re going to begin and end with, you may find it easier to let go.
  • Use a template. There’s no reason you can’t plan or have your practice planned for you. Wondering “what am I supposed to do???” or “what should I do next???” or whether you’ll remember that great pose from class can all trigger a massive round of monkey bars for the mind and before you know it you’re a stress ball instead of a bliss monkey. Choose three to five poses you want to focus on and write the names or draw stick figures out before hand. A note from yourself, to yourself. If you want examples, I posted some early versions on this blog, and if you want help just leave a comment. This is one of my favorite things 🙂

Leave me a comment below with your favorite tip for making it to the mat or letting me know how these tips work for you! Home practice is my passion and I’d love to know about yours. Namaste.

 

 

 

Balance, space and compost

I’m a great fan of Danielle LaPorte‘s writing, and the moment when I fell in love with her work was when she said this about balance, arguing instead for passion:

Life balance. Low fat cheese. Walking shoes. Small talk.
Life balance. The term makes me feel bloated and late for my own party.
Life balance. Stressful.

Simple laboratory scales for balancing tubes

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And this is, of course, what I think about when I teach “balance poses” in yoga. What’s the difference between “life balance” and “balancing”? Do I want to balance? How do I balance? and Why?

I think we persist in thinking and talking about balance as if it were a thing, but we want the ability to practice balancing, and this demands its own intense (yes, even passionate) focus. When we practice balancing in yoga poses, part of what it provides us is an intense, in the moment experience of riding a wave, uniting opposing forces and standing on a razor’s delicious edge. And it demands we have space around us, because if we’re truly engaged in a practice of balancing, we will fall.

English: Vrksasana, the tree position, a Yoga ...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And that’s the mistake we make in seeking “balance” in life. We are looking for a way not to fall. Not to get caught up, caught in or dragged under. We want association without engagement. In balancing, such as Tree pose, your entire body mind is dynamically adjusting, micromovements, microexpansions and contractions, different in every body, every moment, completely engaging and releasing your mind.

I recently realized that I had slipped into seeking “balance” because one of my projects has outlived my passion. I’ve never been one to have harsh demarcations between “work” and “personal” life. I write on vacations, I adore people with whom I work. My work  – from Philosophy graduate student to Paramedic to maid to consultant at various times – has always been the rocks in the tumbler of my soul. Work + meditation = growth. At least in my life.

When I started marking out times and places and feeling incredibly defensive about this project staying in those bounds I realized something was amiss. Was I hiding from total engagement? Or did this project simply not fit anymore?

I’m finding that as I deny this project (and the chorus of voices and fears and hopes and shenpa around it) claim on my attention, I’m realizing that I feel restricted by it because I was investing in it for a myriad of sad girl reasons (substitute family, need for recognition, approval, a broken notion of “service” and hopes that things weren’t they way they are).

The project itself is exciting and the work honorable, good work. But I’ve known for months I’m not the one who should be doing it – for my own good. My aims seem counter to the culture of the place. I actually accepted this project as a way of “changing the culture.” Why? How? The reason I stepped out of the culture to begin with was that it rings my bells in an old, broken tune and I want none of it. As a very wise woman, Kris Roush, recently said to me, (and I paraphrase) Isn’t it a kind of madness to wonder why you don’t smell like roses when you’re swimming in shit? You can put on all the rose water you want before you dive in, you still have dung up your nose when you surface.

When I find myself trying to balance gripping tightness with equal parts hot baths and yoga, just so I can return to the gripping, I know I’m seeking balance as  a thing in my life and not actively balancing all the opposing forces of rosewater and compost, meetings and solitude, building and tearing apart. I know that what I need, instead, is the space to fall and the surface to land on without wounding. I need to move toward and with passion, and away from sacrifice and misguided, ancient, stultifying notions of loyalty.

One of the phrases that came to me over the holiday while canvassing the year we’d had and dreaming the year we want to invest in was “You don’t need to save anyone. Not even yourself.” Balance is trying to save others while you drown. Space is loving and seeing that it’s all a play between drowning and swimming. Bullshit is what you make it. It can either be a nuisance and a pestilence  or the nutritive bed for plunging roots that suck up everything they need to produce wild beauty. The difference is time, darkness and ability to stand the heat.

Detoxing from detox-mind

One of the most tired words used in “the yoga community” is “detox.” One of the

detoxification

detoxification (Photo credit: sillydog)

most tiring emotions and states of mind is fear, and paradoxically, talk of detoxification plays on, rather than reducing, fear. Detoxification regimes are, by nature, temporary and focused on ridding ourselves of negativity.

While reduction of bad things seems like a no-brainer winner, there are two fatal flaws in this plan. There is no end of “bad things” from which to rid our body-minds, and so the pursuit is really never ending, while the regimes are of necessity temporary.  The entire mindset and methodology are actually anti-yogic. While the Sutras talk about purification, the suggestions we are given there on purification have to do with care, love and adding more of what supports us, not forgoing specific substances or actions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying there are no such things as toxins, or that they can’t cause disease (as one of the articles below asserts). Free radicals (ions) damage the body and can be lessened by yogic practices. Chemicals in our food irritate bowels and derange hormones. Mindfulness in how we source and prepare our food can lessen our exposure to these things. However, we will never be rid of free radicals or additives to the growing process or preparation of our foods. Our bodies are not dirty and do not need radical cleanses simply from being in the world. And the cult of negation doesn’t offer a wholesome way of living, only a wholesale way of marketing.

The Sutras offer suggestions on how to lessen suffering, frustration, restlessness and disturbance. Not so much instructions as strategies:

“I,32 In order to prevent [obstacles to self-knowledge]…habituate yourself to meditation on a single principle.

I,33 By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened.

I,34 OR the obstacles can be lessened by forcibly exhaling, then retaining the prana during the pause following the exhalation.

I,35 OR another way to steady the mind is by binding to higher, subtler sense perceptions.

I,36 OR the mind can also find peace by contemplating the luminous light, arising from the heart which is the source of true serenity.

I,37 OR….

The suggestions go on. Not one instructs us to avoid, wring out or rid ourselves of a single thing. While they are instructing us on how to lessen “the obstacles” (= things that hurt us like disease, dullness, doubt, delusion), they suggest positive actions. Focus on this. Keep that. Increase this.

What if instead of denying ourselves anything (ok, the short list of exceptions includes crack, meth and murder, but you get the idea… and if not having this level of distracting substance is “denying” yourself, then you do, indeed, require a medical detox program before you return to simple instructions for everyday life. Not judging, just sayin.) So, how about instead of denying, we add more goodness to our lives. Instead of resolution we expand. Instead of fearing we love. Instead of subtracting we add so much of what feeds and sustains us there’s little time or space left for what we would subtract?

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poach...

meyer lemon chiffon cake, lavender honey poached lemons, whipped cream and candied lemon dipped in chocolate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And when we have those “toxins” (sugar, wine, <gasp!>

Layer Cake (film)

Yes, that’s Daniel Craig. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

cigarettes, <insert your choice of perceived vice>) how about we bring as much presence and enjoyment to our double chocolate layer cake slathered in mousse and drenched in brandy lit on fire with a cigar as we do to prayer? How about noticing the desires this satisfies as well as those it creates, the memories, ideas and feelings it soothes, evokes and inflames.  Bringing the same presence to the underbelly of our lives (I’ll let your imagination supply the less seemly examples) as we do the mat and the cushion is all we are required to do.

III,14 Our nature has a common source – the substratum out of which all latent, manifest, and unmanifested properties of consciousness arise.

Move in the direction of what you desire, everything you desire. The chocolate alongside your yoga and lots of fruit and veg (10 servings a day anyone?) and water and green tea and goji berries… whatever your good things are. The brilliant thing is that there are so very many. Good things. And the more we ingest (literally, figuratively, mindfully) the better we feel, the less room we have for “toxins” or what would produce them, and the less time we have to worry about how toxic we are or might be. We are too busy enjoying all the awesome. When’s the last time you had to turn down something fantastic because there were just too many other, more fantastic things in your life?

Eat enough spinach and a little whip cream doesn’t matter. Enjoy enough yoga and a late night of catching up on Downton Abbey doesn’t matter (ok, maybe a little. But not for long.) While the output may be the same – fewer “bad” things – the result is quite different. The result is part and parcel of the path, of choosing love over fear, abundance over denial, desire over rejection. Move in the direction of your dreams. Not out of the messy, sticky, ambiguous, ambitious, delicious stream of life. Yoga is about extreme engagement, not about running away.