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Sometimes, I feel as if I’m a broken lamp. Flickering, unable to shine out a constant, stable stream of light. My light bulb isn’t burnt out, I’m plugged in correctly. Jiggle my cord a little, and… *WHOA* – there she is: I’m shining as bright as ever. Find the right position, and I’m back to my radiant self. Our bodies are wired “like” electric circuitry. (I put “like” in quotations, because I HATE to reduce the complicated and fantastic nature of the human body to something so simple as a man-made electrical circuit.) Prana, qi, ki, blood circulation, neurologic impulses, mana, and vital energy flow through the body in complex circuits with linear and circular paths. Whichever medical system you subscribe to, you will find evidence of these organic manifestations of  circuitry. You can call these meridians, nadis, channels, networks, circulatory systems – the point is that our bodies contain communicating paths of ‘substances’ that provide us with energy to move and act and live. Thus, it only makes sense that if properly aligned (like our finicky lamp) we will find our optimal luminescence.

As the first law of thermodynamics states, energy cannot be created or destroyed, only transformed to another type of energy or lost as heat and work. This is surprisingly the basis of many ancient medical systems. If we are constantly adding energy to our system, via breath and food (Kong Qi and Gu Qi), then we always have energy at our disposal – in theory. (This is ignoring the innate energy that we have within our body as well – in traditional Chinese energy we call these Essence and Original Qi – these we deplete via ‘work’ with age.) If we always have energy at our disposal, why does it sometimes feel like we’re nearing zero, regardless of how much we breathe or eat?

In an inefficient electrical device, sometimes it’s friction that is causing a loss of energy though heat. Sometimes there is a slight break or kink in the wiring. Sometimes an injury to the outer shell skews the alignment of the internal wiring. And we can’t ignore those devices that are just used beyond their capacity. All of these “defects” can be analogous to our bodies. This is why activities like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong are said to optimize our internal energy and life force.

Putting ourselves in proper alignment, fixing our posture, strengthening our stabilizing muscles, and stretching out the compressed parts of our bodies are all “jiggles” that our wiring needs. This is not to mention the mental strength and coping strategies that we develop to handle stress (a HUGE energy-sucker), difficult people (who can certainly feel like they are robbing you of energy at times), and life’s obstacles (speaking of friction…). We learn to reduce the external losses of energy (avoiding overwork, minimizing stress, learning to say no, reinforcing our boundaries, slowing down), maintain our innate energy (remember, we cannot “create” extra energy), optimize the energy we obtain through breath and food (are you a shallow breather? are you getting your nutrients?), and keep our circuitry in line to encourage proper energy flow through our systems. Who knew yoga class is really just a physics class?!?

With the holiday season approaching, I suspect that many of us are thinking about our energy levels (or lack thereof). How can we possibly give our time and energy to others (think: office party after family get-together after open house) if we don’t feel as if we have enough for ourselves? In class today, we focused on our breath and the proper alignment of our bodies in order to optimize our energy levels. We worked on getting our circuitry in the right position to better handle the flurry of holiday parties, shopping, and activities.

Pose of the day: Last post, I spoke of my nemesis: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. I eluded to a fantastic supine version of the pose: Supta Hasta Padangusthasana (with a strap). Well, this is our pose of the day. If this pose does not rejuvenate your legs and align their circuitry, I don’t know what will. When done with a yoga strap, ANYONE can get into a life-affirming version of this asana and reconnect with their hamstrings, hip abductors, hip adductors, and peroneals. There are three stages to the pose we practice in class:

  1. One leg is extended on the ground (we’ll start with left), toes pointing up to the sky; the other (right) is flexed at the hip and aiming towards the sky or beyond (but without sacrificing the grounding of the bottom leg and hip), strap looped around the ball of the foot.
  2. The left leg stays put, both ends of the strap move to the right hand, and the right leg opens out to the side (again, without sacrificing the grounding of the bottom leg and hip).
  3. The right leg now comes back up, through first position, we switch the belt to the left hand, and the leg crosses over the body. At this point, the left leg can now roll over onto it’s outer edge, but the upper body continues to face the sky.
Hold each of these for 5-10 breaths, then switch legs! Note how much longer your right leg feels before you go to your left. Now, how can we optimize the alignment in this pose? A few tips:
  • Activate the feet by flexing them as if you are standing on the ground. Activate them more by concentrating on pushing out through your big toe mounds and pulling up on the pinky toe. Our tendency is to sickle our feet in the opposite direction. It takes effort to prevent this, but it will strengthen the muscles we need to keep our knees and ankles healthy!
  • When in stage 1 of the pose, bring the leg away from you slightly, and then feel both hips ground equally. Don’t move your top leg unless you can move it without lifting the right hip and the left thigh!
  • Keep the legs STRAIGHT. This is not to say LOCKED – engage your quad muscle and keep those feet working!
  • When the leg opens out to the side, only open it so far as your opposite hip stays put. Use the strap to keep your femur bone integrated into the hip socket. Continue to work your feet.
  • When the leg crosses over, work on pulling the hip back and away from your torso to increase the stretch. Hello, IT band!
  • Throughout this asana, BREATHE. Relax your shoulders (they should not be involved) and your face.

“love life, engage in it, give it all you’ve got. love it with a passion, because life truly does give back, many times over, what you put into it” ~ Maya Angelou

We have options when it comes to how we live life. As we all know, life isn’t always smooth and simple, nor is it always exciting and stimulating. Sometimes we have to work a job that we don’t like, we need to use up weekends for chores, we need to commute to work. We encounter traffic, unreasonable bosses, lulls in love life, tears and anger. Yet, it is still our life, and it’s ours to live. I can’t say I understand anyone’s pain, or boredom, or despair, or discontent; but I can advise to live fully, in whatever life you have. You are the captain of your ship.

We can choose to engage, or disengage. We can choose to act, or to float through. We can participate, or watch by the sidelines. We can interact with those around us, join yoga classes, make connections; or disconnect and isolate. And just like in life, we can do so in our yoga practice.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.“ ~ Henry David Thoreau

So today, check in throughout your yoga practice. Are you watching, or living? Is every muscle participating in your warrior I? Is your mind present and listening to your body through sun salutations? Are you enjoying yourself? It’s impossible not to check out every once in a while; but our challenge with yoga, as in life, is to train ourselves to resuscitate the light inside.

“I will live this day as if it is my last.

Each hour of this day will I cherish for it can never return.  Each minute of this day will I grasp with both hands and fondle with love for its value is beyond price. What dying man can purchase another breath though he willingly give all his gold? What price dare I place on the hours ahead? I will make them priceless!

I will live this day as if it is my last.“

~adapted from The Greatest Salesman In The World by Og Mandino

Pose of the day: Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. Yes, it’s a mouthful. The mere mention of this pose sends me into a downward spiral of anxiety and negative thinking. In English, this is Extended Hand-to-Foot pose. It’s about balance, it’s about hamstring and hip flexibility, it’s about leg strength. And it is intense. You can read up about the pose in a detailed article here, and see a quick picture here. As the article states, you can practice this pose laying on the ground with a belt around your tops foot, as an option. In fact, this is my FAVOURITE pose. But bring it vertical, and I feel it.

In this class, we did this pose standing, but with a belt at the wall, as the picture to the left shows. Easy? No. If you’re doing it right, you are WORKING. You are engaging your legs (ESPECIALLY that bottom leg), you are feeling the burn, you are standing tall, and you are feeling ALIVE. Tips to help you engage:

  1. Make sure that your bottom foot (on the ground) is pointing towards the wall, at a perfect 90 degree angle to the wall. It will want to turn out. Don’t let it.
  2. Keep that standing leg STRAIGHT. I’m not saying to hyperextend the knee, I’m telling you to work it. It’s tougher than you think.
  3. Have someone check your position (or use a mirror). Your legs should form a perfect 90 degree angle to each other. Make sure that standing leg is not too far away from the wall- as this is cheating. 🙂 You most likely want to thrust the pelvis forward, especially on the side of the leg that is on the wall. Push the hips back to the middle of the room. Square off your hips to the wall. And NOW tell me you don’t feel it.
  4. Your upper body is standing tall and straight. Don’t lean back – you are not driving a horse and carriage. Make the side body is tall and long.
  5. Smile. This may be the hardest part. If you feel it, it means you are engaged. You are alive… celebrate this. And celebrate tonight with a hot epsom salt bath. 🙂

Note: This is a class from the past. I am letting go of my procrastination today, and catching up on my yoga blog. I have skeleton posts in place, which I will try to fill in the best I can. However, I’m also trying to let go of my other “p” default pattern: perfectionism. So please practice understanding and forgiveness for any non-sensical entries. You will gain some insight into how my mind works…

Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere.  ~Chinese Proverb

This summer, I have had to learn and relearn A LOT. Studying for board exams, you realize that though nothing you are reading should be new, there are going to be things that seem new. So, instead of reacting with stress and frustration, I have chosen to react with celebration. Thus, in celebration of learning today, we are looking at yoga as a learning experience.

Be a student so long as you still have something to learn, and this will mean all your life.  ~Henry L. Doherty

In life, we are constantly learning. We are also constantly making mistakes, making choices, meeting people. Learning helps us to grow, and it helps satisfy a deeper need to grow and evolve. One who stops learning completely is one who loses their spark. You can see evidence everywhere of our efforts to find new things to learn: joining a new sport, meeting a new person, researching a new “useless” factoid. We are a fantastically curious species.

Which brings us to yoga. Why do we come, week after week, to our mats? We come to our mats to retrain our bodies- to learn and RElearn healthy patterns in our muscles, our posture, and in our minds. We come to train our muscles through muscle memory- gaining strength and stability to take out into our lives. We come to remind our spines how to extend upwards, our limbs how to align in a natural way, our feet how to ground. We come to observe our minds when given the time to just be, when we put our bodies in challenging positions, challenging predicaments. Finally, we come to learn how to bring all of this knowledge off the mat.

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.  ~Willa Cather

Today, let us regard our mats as our own, individual classrooms. Learn about your left knee, the furrow in your forehead, your breath, your strength. We are also going to take some extra time teaching our bodies the best, most life-affirming posture to take off our mats.

Pose of the day: The most common posture problems are usually a slouched upper back (excessive kyphosis) and  excessive curve (lordosis) in the lumbar spine. Today, our focus was retraining our spines into healthy position. A simple, but effective pose to gain back some awareness in the spine is Cat-Cow Pose (or Marjaryasana and Bitilasana). One might think that this would only EMPHASIZE these two curvatures in the spine; however, what is emphasized depends on the practitioner’s focus.

In Cat pose, as we are puffing our backs up towards the sky, we have to bring our attention to the LOWER back. Pulling the belly-button towards the spine (note, I did NOT say “sucking in the stomach”) and imagining puffing up your kidneys (they lie closest to your back, under the last set of “false ribs” at the level of the 12th vertebrae). Don’t focus on your upper spine: your upper, or thoracic, spine knows exactly how to attain this position, as it has a natural curvature in this direction.

In Cow pose, the opposite happens. Here, instead of focusing on overdoing the curve of the lower back (the lower back, or lumbar spine, knows innately how to do this) we bring attention to bringing the shoulder blades together and melting the heart towards the earth. We should be stretching out the heart area, the pectoral muscles that shorten and tighten as we slouch, and activating the muscles that pull our shoulder blades back and down.

Doing a few cat-cows every day will bring awareness to your spine, activate your muscles, and stimulate blood flow. It’s just one simple thing to do to re-learn good posture and learn a few things about your own patterns. Not only that, but its also a great way to wake up!

 

Last Monday was my final plane trip of the summer, ending my final journey before I settle down and hit the books really hard before my Naturopathic Licensing Exam in August. Although some in my position chose to defer travel until after the exam, I decided to intersperse my studying with a hint of fun to keep myself refreshed and motivated.

Arriving home on Monday night made me reflect on the several trips that I have been so fortunate to take part in so far this year: some to familiar places (home), some to far away exotic places (India), and this most recent trip to a much anticipated music festival in Chicago with my sister-in-law. Many people work for vacation: travel tends to be quite high on people’s priority lists, especially now as it has become more available and convenient for those of us in the developed world. Yet, each time I embark on a vacation, I find myself questioning why this is such a coveted activity. Travel is not always (okay, it is rarely) a comfortable thing: we are uprooting to place ourselves in unfamiliar and unpredictable places and situations. When travelling with others, we put ourselves at risk of possible contradiction and confrontation. When travelling alone, there is an element of danger and risk. This does not seem to differ much from life itself- with the exception of more “adventure” being packed into a shorter time frame. It really does make one aware of how life is a journey in itself: fluctuations between comfort and discomfort, ease and dis-ease, feeling grounded and feeling overwhelmed. In addition, it makes one aware that the remedy for all of this is presence, breath, and acceptance- in life as in travel… and in yoga as in life.

Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it. ~ Greg Anderson

In this week’s practice, we paid attention to the similarities between the journey we take through a yoga practice, in comparison to the other journeys we take. As our “flight” departs into the skies of sun salutations, emotions and feelings and thoughts fluctuate between optimism for the journey ahead, to fear, through acceptance. Our body temperature goes from cold to hot, as we begin to self-regulate and adjust to the “altitude”. We experience discomfort (from cramped seating) and flow (once we’ve found a good book or movie to watch) all in one flight. And as we touch down, we face the unknown of what lies ahead. Just as in a good trip, regardless of what has been “planned”, there will always be room for mishaps, blips, and unexpected events. Yet, as in a good trip, equanimity and acceptance help to get us through these twists and turns. We breathe into it- whether we’re facing the fact that we’ve boarded the wrong train, or whether our thighs are fatiguing faster than we expected in Warrior II. We acknowledge the situation, we check in with our own safety and security, and then we deal with the situation at hand.

The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination. ~ Don Williams, Jr.

What makes a trip/journey memorable anyway? There are 2 types of things I remember about my vacations: the times of pure and complete flow- of sattva- and the unexpected (and sometimes unwelcome) twists and turns. A good vacation story is not complete without these two types of events.

A yoga class is no different. We remember how present we feel in that 5th sun salutation flow, when it becomes second nature again. The joints stop talking, the mind slows down, and we are in the moment. Breath seems to come and go effortlessly, the one bead of sweat trickling down our nose is just perfect. I compare this to watching a sunrise/sunset on the beach, pure relaxation; gliding effortlessly through the sand or water; taking a long, deep breath of fresh air.

On the other hand, we also remember THAT pose. Yes, THAT one. The one we “couldn’t do”. The one we never thought our teacher would have the guts to introduce on the second class back after a few months off. It was hard, it was uncomfortable, it was almost mean. The mind started talking louder, expletives start to sneak their way into our peaceful yogic state… until we remember to breathe through it. All of a sudden, there is a flash of acceptance, realization that we’ve made it through the pose. And then those magical words, “… and… RELEASE!” I equate this memory to that memory of the 2 hour traffic jam that you get caught in (“…on my vacation! I’m forced to waste 2 hours of MY VACATION!”), the hotel that has somehow lost your reservations, or the realization that you have forgotten your favourite hat on a blistering day of touring. But, when you think about it, without that traffic jam, you may not have had those two hours to roll the windows down and just rock out to your favourite two CDs with your travel partner. Without the blip in your accommodation plans, you may not have found that perfect little bed & breakfast (where you met the nicest couple from Hawaii, who is willing to host you if you should visit). If you had remembered your hat, you would have never ventured towards the little market to find another favourite hat (and the most delicious coconut to quench your thirst!). After you have taken yourself out of the uncomfortable pose, you realize that you have opened up something that wasn’t there before. You are better for it.

If we approach each yoga practice as a little vacation, we can more easily understand our own reactions to life situations. Consequently, by then practicing equanimity, presence, and acceptance on the mat, we start to gain insight on how to take this off our mats, and into our real life vacations… or even, into our journey through life itself.

Pose of the day: Although I took the students a step further into a challenging Revolved Half Moon (Parivrtta Ardha Chandrasana), I find that the pose Parivrtta Utkatasana (Revolved Chair pose) is perfect for illustrating the theme of this class. Nobody (that I know personally) loves Chair pose… especially when held for long periods of time. Thighs start burning, teeth must be coaxed into a non-gritting (smiling?) state… Add a twist, and it’s even difficult to remember to breathe. Your teacher is reminding you to squat lower, while your legs “inadvertently” try to straighten. Shoulders begin to tense up and creep toward the ears (luckily, your yoga teacher is also there to remind you to relax those as well). Then, 3 breaths in, you find yourself twisting a little more. You’ve found your breath- inhale and lengthen the side body, exhale and twist a little deeper. You feel a release deep inside your spine. You find yourself looking upwards, and, though your legs start to tremble a little, you may be smiling. the magic word (“…and… RELEASE!”) comes, and you curl out, feeling wrung out, but pretty darn good. The other side can’t wait. Yoga is all about putting ourselves into minor physical discomfort for the greater good. Time to share your joy with others and twist the night away.

As my students know well, I love to discuss how yoga applies to everyday life. Beyond the physical benefits and the stress relief, the practice of yoga teaches us lessons far beyond the obvious. In my first class back after a small hiatus from teaching, I introduced this session’s theme: How life is reflected in yoga, how yoga is reflected in life.

As with all “first ____ back”-s, I thought the first class back would be a fantastic way to illustrate this analogy. It is not a “first” for anyone, just like the first day of school after the age of 5 or 6, the first day back to work after vacation, the first day of a new job in the same field, getting back to the gym after a break, first time seeing your family after a while away. We have been in a similar position before; we have past experience with similar events. We can “half” know what to expect… yet, it is actually this element of the situation that can work to our detriment. Unlike something brand new, when we return to something that we recognize, we have preset expectations. Expectations of what may happen, expectations of how others may behave, expectations of ourselves.

As we start this new session of yoga, we may be feeling a little apprehensive. Perhaps it has been a while. There is a conversation running through our heads: “…will i be able to do___?… has Jenn changed as a teacher?… will she make us do ____?… have the others been practicing?…”. There is excitement, dread, uncertainty, with a dash of experience and knowledge. And this conversation in our head we are having, what does it serve? It is partially a protective mechanism- to protect us from disappointment, to guide us through the experience: how we should be acting, what skills we need to use in this situation. However, there is always an element of the unknown as well. In yoga, it is no different. This is why we try to slow down a little in yoga and take note of the thoughts, take note of our body’s response, and weed through the useful and the useless.

In asana practice, we can utilize this and exercise our acceptance and presence in these situations. Flowing through a basic set of postures this week- nothing new, nothing crazy- we can take time to listen to our bodies and our minds. You will notice some new feelings, some old. You will hear that voice again- sometimes positive (“oooh! my favorite pose! I’m good at this one,”), sometimes negative (“I hate this one. Why can’t I stay balanced?”). The trick to finding the flow in yoga is the same as the trick to finding flow in life: listening. Be aware and flexible in your body and mind so that you can adapt to the moment at hand. Breathe, and enjoy.

The subconscious is ceaselessly murmuring, and it is by listening to these murmurs that one hears the truth. ~ Gaston Bachelard

Pose of the day: Warrior II

Stable, familiar. Use this pose to slow your breath and look inside. How do you feel? Appreciate that your legs are grounded, they know what to do here. What happens when your thigh begins to burn? Do you let your mind take over?

Remember that the breath is always there. The earth is beneath to support you. Whether it is holding a pose past the point of comfort, or feeling somewhat out of control on that first day back to work (discomfort can also come from the pile of papers on your desk) you have done it before. Release your disappointment, breathe in the new experience, and tackle it head on. You are a warrior.

I just recently returned from a trip to India. Certainly, an act almost assumed of many yogis and yoginis around the globe; our glorification of this ancient culture and all things yoga almost make India a pre-requisite. Interestingly, there was no yogic reason for my trip, and although India has always been on my bucket list (something that was at the same time cliche but oh-so-desired as a lover of yoga, tantric philosophy, hinduism, and all the roots), it remains there even after my trip. On the scale of sattvic experiences, it lies up there with camping in Georgian Bay, sleeping on a Japanese beach in Wakayama, and snuggling with my true love on a rainy afternoon in April.

What I would like to bring to light in this post is a couple of things:

  1. Reconnection to your core is independent of the spirituality of your surroundings;
  2. You don’t have to go on vacation to be reconnected (although it helps matters when you cannot seem to remove yourself any other way); and,
  3. Reconnection is a much needed reminder for yogis and non-yogis alike.

I suppose I’ve left my reasons for my trip a bit of a mystery. As I said, although I’ve always wanted to see the birthplace of yoga, I needed more of an excuse to actually get there. Aside from a long and expensive plane trip, a vacation requires time-off from work, removal from daily comforts, escape from loved ones, explanations to loved ones (really? why India? there are some all-inclusives on sale right now…), and a whole lot of planning. I needed something else to get me there, to give me an excuse to overcome all these obstacles. And, in line with my work-focused state-of-mind as of recent, it needed to help me professionally in some way. So, 50 preceptor hours for an 8 day course in homeopathy was what it took to get me on a plane and overseas. And, since I was there, I may as well see some other sites. A whirlwind tour of Northern India before I cam back home. None of that seems to have spelled out spirituality… yet I come back feeling like I had a good 18-day-long yoga class. How is this possible?

Reconnection comes from many things, but it really comes in one form. You know it when you have it. Perhaps it’s in savasana, on your first day back to yoga after injury or a short hiatus (or every time, who knows). Perhaps it’s a moment sitting on a rock, under a big, blue, spring sky, listening to your favourite song on your iPod. It could be after sex, during your morning coffee, on a bus bench in the middle of the city. Wherever it is, you know, even for a fleeting moment: I’m here. You get a glimpse into your true self: the beauty of your soul, with all your flaws and virtues; the wonders of your physical body and all it’s senses; the awe-inspiring nature of life… crazy, sometimes chaotic, tragic yet real… life. It makes you take a deep breath. Maybe it makes you smile. Maybe it makes you think of freshly baked blueberry muffins. Maybe you smell vanilla. Maybe you taste blood. But it is real, and you are present. Even if just for a moment.

After experiencing the kindness of so many people, seeing organized chaos in person, recognizing poverty and wealth in so many senses of the words, ogling at ancient history and wisdom, getting besieged by sparkly scarves and snow globes and statues of Ganesh… suddenly but gradually, I’m living. I’m tasting, smelling, feeling, experiencing every moment. I am sitting on a bus simply staring – simply be-ing – for 4 hours at a time. Samtosha. Contentment. Contentment without an ashram.

Don’t get me wrong. An ashram could have done it. But maybe it wouldn’t have. The point is, I have the same feeling every year when preparing toast in the morning outdoors, camping in Georgian Bay. And wait- don’t think you have to be on vacation. I get the feeling about 2 hours into a piece of art that I’m working on. I’ve felt it at home, sitting on my favourite hill on a chilly spring day. I’ve felt it with my husband (yes, we got married recently… we eloped at City Hall on January 31). Of course I’ve felt it doing yoga or meditating: whether on the beach, in  a class, or in my living room. It sometimes takes time, though. You can’t expect it… the moment you expect it, it’s gone. Sometimes it can last for days, weeks… (I hope that I can hold it for longer someday). But all in all, reconnection to ourselves, to life, and to the earth is exactly what we are striving for. In seeking that perfect career, in planning a vacation, in finding a partner. In stretching a little further into Trikonasana. In sitting a little longer with silence. We are stretching a little further into our true selves, into the meaning of it all. Not necessarily bliss, but presence. That’s the point.

So, in summary:

  1. Reconnection to your core is independent of the spirituality of your surroundings… one does not need to travel to India, or go to a temple, or live at an ashram to feel connected. Although these things do help to give you an excuse to sow down and feel.
  2. You don’t have to go on vacation to be reconnected… But sometimes, you do have to remove yourself. Sometimes a vacation is what it takes to remove you from your one-pointedness, from goals and busy-ness, to give you a moment to just be. But maybe even a 2-hour vacation, in your on living room?
  3. Reconnection is a much needed reminder for yogis and non-yogis alike… It is what can bring us back, make us see the big picture. To me, it is THE goal.

Why do we do yoga? I think the answer to this becomes obvious at the oddest of times – those times when you’re off your mat, those times when life seems the least yogic. No, it’s not when you’re showing off your titibasana as a party trick on Saturday night (not recommended without warm-up, nor when under the influence), nor is it as you’re trying to squeeze through a hole in the fence (and you’re thanking your hips and hamstrings for allowing you to get you leg just so). It’s when you’ve been practicing long enough to start cultivating that mindfulness that takes you out of “A” moment and puts you into “THE” moment when needed most. The practice of yoga cultivates mindfulness: not simply about one’s body and one’s body position, but mindfulness about the world around us and our own reactions/interactions. This certainly does not mean that practitioners suppress emotions. Neither does it mean they are impermeable to stress and negativity. However, it does mean that one begins to notice the space in a moment, and the usefulness of that space. In that space, we become aware of our disconnected reactions and expand our understanding of ourselves, the situation, and the larger scheme of things.

What might this mean for us? It means many things. It means that while sitting in traffic we take the time to identify our frustration, breathe into it, and see the situation for what it really is, in the big picture. It means that when cramming for an exam we sit back as the panic sets in, close our eyes for a moment, and make more sane decisions (“should I really continue to study all night long?”). It means that when an argument is getting uncomfortably heated we are able to identify the tipping point before it happens, and weigh our options before any harm is done. This is different from passivity, pacificity, or apathy. Mindfulness is about being in the moment enough to make the most life-affirming choices.

The Yoga Journal (recent Daily Insight Email) gives us a few good tips for finding ground… even through the toughest times. Dedicate space for reflection. It helps to have a corner of your home that feels sacred—somewhere you can retreat to when you feel overwhelmed. It can be something as simple as a candle on your night stand or as elaborate as an altar. Find a personal refuge. Choose a location with meaning for you—a beach, a park, a special place from childhood—and go there. Even if it’s just for a few hours, find a way to take a mental hiatus. Calm your breath. Notice when you’re holding your breath or taking rapid, shallow breaths, and make an effort to focus on your inhalation and exhalation. A few breaths with a present mind can change not only your day, but your entire outlook on life.

As January comes into full swing, many of us also start to focus on this year’s promises to one’s self, our own feelings of renewal and awakening. As natural as it is to observe the seasonal changes outside, it is also as natural to feel these tides of motivation and change within as well. As winter solstice hits, the changing light outside is symbolic of the changes inside. “New Years Resolutions” are our (sometimes weak) attempts to mirror this phenomenon. Although some of these feelings that emerge may be superficial and banal, some are there for a reason. It is at this time of the year that we can reflect on these to distinguish from where these feelings emerge.

So how can we honour and work with this desire to make changes this season? Perhaps the answer is in accepting that some of these changes are part of something larger – our dharma – and that this time of the year is a perfect one to practice mindfulness and self-exploration of these goals and reflections. The mindfulness approach to change helps to avoid grasping after goals that simply substitute one unhealthy situation for another. Mindfulness ensures that the direction we are taking is one towards freedom. It ensures that: 1) motives are wholesome, 2) the effects of the change are life-affirming, and 3) the way by which we attain this change is safe and steady.

So, amidst all the new practices that will be in full swing at this point (workout schedules, yoga challenges, diets and cleanses), take some time to listen to yourself, listen to your body. Sitting meditation does not necessarily require a completely “empty” mind. Bring into it an intention; ponder that New Year’s Resolution and let your inner self speak to it. Let mindfulness be your first resolution.

Article inspired by “The Dharma of Life Changes” by Phillip Moffitt. If a dharmic approach to resolutions interests you, read more tips here.

Just me…

2010 Journey

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