Monday, December 17, 2012

Singing in the Dark

One thing I've learned from life and from sages is that on the journey toward self-understanding, we must inevitably experience darkness, grief, and loss to some degree or other. Part of our understanding is to see the whole picture, not only the parts which are peachy. We evolve from our naive understanding of God or the Universe as something which is only beneficent to the ability to hold the fact that to understand the whole picture means that we have to hold both of life's pleasures and life's losses. That to truly fall in love with this life we must somehow embrace the darkness. And I guess the true lesson, that lesson that ultimately will apprentice ourselves to experience the greatest joy, is the lesson of how to sing when you are in the midst of great loss and sorrow, when you feel the most abandoned.  I guess we learn that it's not about that shallow definition of "success," but what "success" really means is defined by who can speak to whatever place they find themselves, who can stand at the end of the battle, when your house is burned down, your life feels like it's in ruins and stand with your integrity and honor and sing into the darkness. Or at least hum a little, even if it's interrupted by tears.

The Winter Solstice is on the 21st of December. This is when the sun is at its lowest point on the horizon, the days are the shortest and the nights are the longest. Solstice means "sun stands still."
Yoga, of course, is a mirror for our life. Our practice of every-day living finds expression and offers us understanding through the ancient wisdom of yoga. So join me this week as we sing to the darkness, as we learn to hold both light and dark and therefore celebrate what it means to be fully alive.  


Monday, December 10, 2012

Seeking Wisdom

It’s cold outside. It’s time to come inside. The Medicine Wheel in Native American spirituality uses the direction north and the season of the winter to invite us to hibernate, draw inward, and reflect on our deeper and true wisdom. One way to think of this true wisdom is the instinctual knowing that is beyond rational thought. It’s instinct. In the yoga philosophy of subtle body (energy), the part of the body associated with this connection to our inner knowing is Ajna chakra, or the 6th chakra located on the forehead between the eyes. This energy center is often referred to as the 3rd eye, the one that looks inward instead of those which look outward.

Consider the idea of using this time of cold to come inside, hibernate in a way I suppose, and further develop this inner knowing by the deep work of looking inward through the practice yoga and meditation.

Try a simple meditation technique I call the “There Is” practice. First, sit. Close your eyes. Start to listen and pay attention to everything you can experience, both inside and out. You could become aware of sounds, smells, textures, thoughts, emotions, images, anything. Without any judgment, simply notice everything and point to it with the phrase, “there is.” For example, “There is cold. There is the sound of cars passing. There are thoughts of work. There is a cat licking my toes.” Try not using personal pronouns (I, me, and my) and let things just be. Before you react to anything, just sit with it and try to be an observer. Allow your mind and thoughts to do what they will, but remain the observer that notices your thoughts, sensations, etc. This practice may help discover that who you are is deeper than your thoughts, experiences and emotions. Those are an important part of who we are but in themselves do not make up our true identity, an identity that is based in awareness, an identity that is this inner knowing.

Come to yoga this week where we will practice the inner knowing as we feel our bodies move and breath in yoga and devote some of our time sit in meditation. If you’re looking for more meditation opportunities, you are welcome to drop in to our 3rd session of our Yoga Nidra series we are hosting at Prana Yoga Wednedsay nights from 7:15-8:45 pm.

Here’s one of my favorite winter poems that speaks to this practice of listening.

The Winter of Listening

No one but me by the fire,
my hands burning
red in the palms while
the night wind carries
everything away outside.

All this petty worry
while the great cloak
of the sky grows dark
and intense
round every living thing.

What is precious
inside us does not
care to be known
by the mind
in ways that diminish
its presence.

What we strive for
in perfection
is not what turns us
into the lit angel
we desire,

what disturbs
and then nourishes
has everything
we need.

What we hate
in ourselves
is what we cannot know
in ourselves but
what is true to the pattern
does not need
to be explained.

Inside everyone
is a great shout of joy
waiting to be born.

Even with the summer
so far off
I feel it grown in me
now and ready
to arrive in the world.

All those years
listening to those
who had
nothing to say.

All those years
how everything
has its own voice
to make
itself heard.

All those years
how easily
you can belong
to everything
simply by listening.

And the slow
of remembering
how everything
is born from
an opposite
and miraculous
Silence and winter
has led me to that

So let this winter
of listening
be enough
for the new life
I must call my own.

~  David Whyte  ~

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Yoga Emergency

I’m traveling home from Lander Wyoming, a weekend of teaching some fantastic workshops. Traveling over the pass toward Rock Spring, we just hit a full-assault blizzard with 65 mph winds which trying its best to blow us off the road. We decided to call this stretch 32 miles of hell, especially after we saw the trailer that had just flipped. White knuckled at the wheel, my friend and ride share tries to calm her nerves by singing along to The Grateful Dead (irony isn’t lost on me). She breathes sighs of relief between choruses with big sigh after we reach the summit and start to head down the other side of the hill; the worst part is over.

Whether it’s a tricky spot in winter driving or something else in life, sooner or later we are bound to run into a tricky sitch. When these inevitable crises do occur, what do you have in your yoga first-aid kit? Here are a few suggestions of things you might want to have as a quick go-to that could help in tricky times to keep you going in the clutch moments when you’ve got to be on or when life’s throws you a curve.

First, off: presence. Open your eyes. Times like this make you wake up from that anesthetized state. There is no cruise control, here. If you’ve practice presence in your meditation or yoga practice, it will be easier to really be on when you need to be. If not, no time like the present (I have a pun permit, so back off). Notice what’s going on around you. Even when things are really tough, notice what’s going on in your body. Take a moment, close your eyes (unless you’re driving through a blizzard) and allow yourself to actually feel all of your body’s sensation, all your, emotions, thoughts, etc. without the need to change it. It’s always surprising to me how readily this practice of seeing things objectively, even for a brief moment, helps me develop a clearer perspective of my problems.

Breathe! Ujjaiyi breath, the whisper breath we practice in yoga, is done by breathing in and out through the nostrils and slightly constricting the breath in the throat to feel and hear a whisper. It is one of the most effective things I know to lower anxiety levels and oxygenate the body to perform optimally.

Grounding poses like forward folds and seated or lying-down twists ground the nervous system and reduce tension from the body. Any poses that reduce muscular tension (stretches) would be great to reduce stress and make you feel good. These poses send endorphins running through your body and give you a dose of Feel Good when life is crazy.

This leads perfectly to the next question: What are you doing to take care of yourself? Even if you feel like you don’t have time for anything superfluous, keeping yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically well is not superfluous. Too much relies on you being on and therefore, keep things happy. This might mean taking the morning off and strolling through Red Butte Gardens or take a jaunt into Hatch Family Chocolates (8th Ave between D and E St.) for a Peanut Butter Truffle. Eat well, simple and nourishing meals (with occasional chocolate). Get enough sleep. Especially in times of crisis, doing something for yourself to replenish the source so you have something to give back to everything that needs you. Otherwise, they will have to take care of you. Do it for yourself.

Simplify. Kindly say no to that extra social engagement. Stop trying to be perfect. Minimize and simplify. That’s why this email is going out on Tuesday morning instead of Monday. I had to simplify on Monday after a weekend away. Ha!

Finally, The House Martins help. If you don’t know this band, check them out here. When I feel like life has slapped me down, this band has always helped me get back up.

What is in your yoga first-aid kit? Respond to this email by finding this post on my Facebook page and commenting on what’s in your first-aid kit. See what others are saying.
Take care of yourself! See you in class.