Tag Archives: breath work

Here I Come!

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Forward progress made,
now I just need to keep the momentum,
stay clear, focused, intentional in my choices.
I stood up for myself and my kids today,
and we reached a resolution that’s workable.
I breathed, meditated and prayed today.
I wrote in my journal, drew a mandala,
performed japa with my mala,
chanting the mantram SAT NAM…
I diffused lavender and frankincense essential oils,
created a mini altar
with an LED candle,
a rose quartz heart,
and pictures of my kids; 
I listened to music, danced, did yoga…
That mediation room
probably never saw so much action!
Now to keep taking action
on behalf of myself and my kids,
moving forward, remembering what matters.
As I say goodbye to my marriage
a whole new life awaits.
World, here I come!

Ready For Something New?

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Ok, so I get it.
Life isn’t simple or easy.
It’s a struggle, right?
It’s normal to feel down, right?
It’s normal to feel angry,
sad, uptight, out of sorts.
Don’t complain.
Do your duty.
But wait.
What if it weren’t
necessarily this way?
Stop.
Get still.
Close your eyes.
Breathe OUT fully.
Then breathe in.
Breathe in more.
Hold this breath in.
Wait
Wait
Wait
Wait
Wait
Wait more.
Then exhale slowly.
Exhale all the way.
Exhale more.
Get really empty.
How do you feel now?
Are you ready now?
Ready for something new?

How Will it Work?

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Breathing in
I visualize my whole body filling with light.

Breathing out
I visualize letting go
letting go
letting go of any attachment or desire
toward any specific
person, place, or thing,
mental, emotional, or physical state,
event, experience, outcome,
perception or belief.

This breathing practice has been working great
while I’m feeling well,
but how will it work
when I’ve come down with the stomach flu?

I’ll let you know tomorrow.

Letting Go of Tension

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The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation

Yesterday evening I mentioned an exercise focused on tension awareness and release that I was planning on sharing until I felt the need to explore how my writing is destroying my marriage.  It really isn’t, but that was the idea I was exploring last night.

Today is a new day, and I’m happy to be able to share the following exercise with you. The words are not mine but are excerpted from the book above, The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration and Meditation, by Joel & Michelle Levey. I can’t recommend this book highly enough to those of you who are wanting to grow in awareness of yourselves using practical, effective methods that don’t require too much time out of your day.  Give the exercises as little or as much time as you want, and with just a little effort you are sure to see results.  I enjoy the authors’ style–very clear, engaging, and to the point.  I also appreciate that it is presented in a direct, almost scientific sort of way–it’s not at all woo-woo airy-fairy, which can turn a lot of people off before you can say, “Breathe in.”

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Letting Go of Tension

This technique will hep you recognize the various levels of tension that you experience throughout the day and will help you learn how to relax deeply.

First, tense your whole body as tightly as possible.  Clench your fists, flex your feet and toes.  Make a face–squeeze tightly but not so tightly that you hurt yourself.  Squeeze…tense…and hold for a few moments.  Notice what it feels like to be this tense.  Hold…and now relax, relax completely…allow your breath to fill you naturally, and as you exhale, let go completely.  Let go into gravity.  Release any tensions that you don’t need.  Allow the waves of breath to ebb and flow.

Now, once again, tense your whole body, but this time tense only half as much as before.  Tense…hold…feel what it is like to hold this level of tension.  Hold…and let go.  As you breathe, let go completely of any tensions in your mind and body.  Allow each breath to carry away all your tension.  Now, feel what it is like to have released and let go of tension.

Once again, tense your whole body, but again only half as much as the last time.  Tense…hold…feel how it is to have this level of tension n your body.  Feel the bracing, squeezing, holding.  Recognize that frequently throughout the day you are probably as tense as this without knowing it.  Now, exhale…let go completely.  Allow the waves of breath to wash away the tension.  Let go into gravity. Feel your body opening to the flow of life.  Feel your vitality and a deep, pervasive warmth within you.

Again, tense your body, and again, only half as much as the time before.  Scan your body and feel the subtle ways in which tension pervades it.  Hold…feel it…and let go completely.  Gently relax into the flow of your breath.  Allow your body and mind to find their perfect harmony.

Now, tense only your mind.  Clench your attention around a thought or anxiety.  Hold…feel the subtle pain in your heart closing around fear, anger, doubt, guilt.  Generate a wish to be free from this pain and tension.  Now breath…open…release.  Allow your mind and heart to open to the flow of thoughts, images, and feelings within the sphere of your experience.  Rest in quiet strength that pervades your entire being.

When you are ready, take a few deep breaths.  As you breathe, consciously infuse your body with a heightened sense of vitality…infuse your mind with clarity and calm…fill your heart with warmth, tenderness, and appreciation for yourself and the world you live in.  Carry this feeling with you and allow it to pervade and energize your next activity.

                                                                                    —Joel and Michelle Levey,
                                    The Fine Arts of Relaxation, Concentration, and Meditation, pp 27-28

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There you have it friends, the ability to tune into your own body and teach yourself how to mindfully release tension using your breath.  I find this exercise to be particularly helpful when I’m in the middle of doing everyday stuff, like making the bed, or emptying the dishwasher, or preparing a meal, or picking up the kids from preschool.  If I take a moment to tense my whole body up and then exhale to release, I often realize that I’ve been unconsciously hunching my shoulders around my ears, and that it’s possible to to feel more ease in my upper body.  I can find softness in my belly, in my jaw, and I notice that my breath becomes more even and flowing. Magic.

Now go ahead and relax already!

Remember to Breathe

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Whatever you do,
remember to breathe,
and come back home to this moment.

Whatever you think is waiting for you
can continue to wait
as you go forward
determined to know the self
within yourself
breathing,
at home in this moment

And don’t just think about breathing–
really breathe
Feel the fullness and the emptiness…
the emptiness and the fullness…

Like waves cresting over you
Like wind blowing through blocks of ice
sitting in the warm summer sun
widening the inner spaces
making room for more of THIS
melting the ice of sorrow, hatred, fear
melting away in the light of awareness

Whatever you do,
just remember to breathe
your body
your mind
your spirit
this world
all need you to come back home to this moment.

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I felt the anger monster arriving on the heels of my anxiety this morning as I was trying to ready myself and the kids to leave the house for a lunch and library outing.  It must’ve been grace, or maybe my years of yoga training, or a biochemical reaction in my brain, but something reminded me to just take a deep breath.  Each time I remember to breathe in moments of challenge, there is this, “Aha!” feeling that washes over me, as I bring my awareness back into my body, and realize that the thoughts in my head don’t define me or my existence.  The tension in my body is largely–dare I say entirely–a result of my tense thinking.  When I can release the tense thoughts on the out breath, and welcome this good fine fresh lovely moment of now on the in breath, then there is love and freshness and goodness and this feeling of being fine right here, right in this body, right now.

So now, how do I remember to breathe more often?

Ah yes, this is why we call it a practice.

Does a child wake up one day loving soccer and immediately get invited to play in a World Cup soccer match?  Was that world class violinist born with bow and instrument in hand?
Can people be hired as a jet pilots simply because they love building model airplanes?

Everything worth anything in life comes with patience and time and yes…practice.  Any skill, any masterpiece, any labor of love, comes from hours of effort, of discipline, of clear intention. So let me use this moment, this moment in which I’m remembering how to breathe to establish a deep connection with my body, and put into place a rhythm of kindness and openness and softness and trust…let me welcome life breathing in, let me release whatever doesn’t serve me as I breathe out.  And in this moment I know all is well.

The Right Yoga

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These past few days I had been working myself into a tizzy imagining that I wouldn’t teach the right kind of yoga to the people of 26th street, who have been without their homes since Wednesday, April 30. What is the right kind of yoga, anyway?  In my mind, I wasn’t up to the task of helping people to find peace in the face of so much grief, upheaval, and challenge.  Some part of me doubted that I would properly convey my sincere desire to help, to hold a safe space for them to breathe and relax.  I was afraid that I would come across as a know-it-all, someone who presumes that they understand what everyone is going through because they are able to hold the concept of understanding in their minds.

As we know, eating and the concept of eating are not the same.  If all I ever had was the concept of eating, I would starve.  Luckily, I have good food and  actually experience eating,  and this real experience nourishes me and sustains my body.

Practicing asana and the concept of practicing asana are not the same.  If I only ever thought about doing yoga, but never got myself into the postures, I wouldn’t be developing true strength, balance and flexibility.  I could imagine myself more strong, more balanced, more flexible, but imagination is in the realm of the mind and wouldn’t be true experience until I took the time to move and breathe into the postures that would help my body to evolve.

One of the yoga sutras addresses the tendency of the mind to conceptualize, and warns us that conceptualization is not a source of true knowledge–it is the result of words and ideas that are devoid of actual experience and is therefore not a valid means for attaining knowledge and understanding.

Pondering this sutra,  I was afraid that I would come across as a phony, that in the face of their suffering, I would hide behind my role as teacher and deliver a ho-hum class full of repetitive sequences of postures.  Basically, I was assailed by self-doubt and feared that my teaching would completely suck.  The anxiety that this kind of thinking generated become agonizing; I regretted volunteering to teach the class, afraid that I would reveal myself as a teacher who can blurt out sanskrit names but doesn’t really know how to connect with students, to be present for them.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, it struck me that our suffering is the same at the very heart of it all.  We might experience suffering in reaction to different events, at different times in our lives, with different people and in different circumstances, but the feeling of loss, of heartache, of grief, of pain–is unequivocally universal, and crosses all barriers of race, creed, religion, social status, and generation.

And then I remembered that many students have come to me in a state of suffering over the years of being a teacher; this wasn’t going to be the first time that I taught yoga to students in pain.  The only thing different in this particular situation was that the residents of 26th street shared their suffering as a neighborhood collective of 18 households, households that were evacuated because of the fear that their homes might be unsafe.  These people had experienced the same traumatic event together, and shared the same feelings of uncertainty, homesickness, frustration…

Ok then, I don’t do anything different.  I don’t need to prepare a special sequence, to ease their particular brand of suffering–I only need to show up to teach, and open myself to the good medicine that will flow through me to them if I allow that flow to happen.  When I met them, I was immediately touched by their vibrancy, their bright smiles, their realness.  When I asked a mother of two how she was doing, she said, “It has been stressful, but we are fine.”

Another student answered, “All things considered, I’m good.” So much courage there.

The class flowed as all classes have flowed–being attuned to their bodies and their breathing, I was able to guide them through some asana to get their energy flowing and ready for stretching, breath work, and relaxation.  My ego’s fear was gone, to be replaced by the certainty that this is exactly what was supposed to be happening, and it was all perfect.

There is no right yoga; “right” would imply that there might also be a “wrong” kind of yoga–there is only yoga–union, the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind, a binding together of the different aspects of awareness that they might be experienced in the wholeness of this one eternal present moment.

I feel so grateful to have been given the honor of leading a class for the residents of 26th street this afternoon.  Grateful for their trust, their willingness to be open, to breathe.  Grateful to witness their transformation in the course of the hour long class.  Grateful for their open hearts, inspired by their courage.

There is no right yoga.  There is only yoga.

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What Makes Me Human

I am tired, my body is weary,
I need rest

I am excited,
I want to play, to laugh

I am devastated by grief,
I want to hide, to heal

I am hungry;
I need to eat.

I am lonely;
I need companionship.

I am cold;
I need warmth.

I am afraid;
I need encouragement.

These needs do not make me a failure,
they make me human.

These all make me human.

 

Training Day 2

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Goodness, am I tired.  Such a long day! First I taught my regular Saturday morning beginner yoga class, then I headed over to Wholefoods to grab a bite before my journey back to the yoga studio for our second day of the five hundred hour teacher training.  It began at 12:30pm and ended at 8:30pm.  I can tell from the soreness in my body that I haven’t been practicing regularly enough.  I want to make time for my personal practice–truly essential to my yoga teachings–so that I may be authentic, grounded in direct experience.

I found myself missing my little kiddos, aching to see them and hold them and kiss their heads.

And it’s good to be spending time in the context of student, opening myself to learning.

So many mixed thoughts and feelings.  I’m excited to gain more expertise in this work that I dearly love.  Building a community of yoga teachers that are wanting to evolve in their teachings–this is heaven for me.  We had a beautiful family-style meal at 4pm; everyone brought something to share and we passed dishes around, filled our bowls, blessed the food, and nourished our bodies.  Only vegan dishes permitted, no sugar, no flour, minimal or no processing–yes, more heaven.  Learning more and more and more, getting to know my fellow trainees, share time together, become a family of sorts; we’ll be meeting for a weekend each month up through December.  Anticipating all of the wonderful experiences we will have together.

And yet, as I sat there today listening to my teachers speak of breath work and artful alignment cues, I found myself missing my children, wondering if this was the right choice.  I miss them so much it hurts.

And I’m so tired, so I won’t be writing anything more. This body is sore and in need of rest, and I want to be compassionate, honor its needs, so off I go to dreamland.

Night night friends.