Being a "yoga teacher" is tricky business because when your role is to help guide people into a more intimate relationship with their bodies you quickly realize that your own process is one that never ends. In my own practice I am getting back to some basics in terms of alignment and structure. We often forget as we move into a posture trying to replicate what we see the teacher doing to begin with our feet. As a student you tend to watch the posture from the top down but as practitioners we must build the posture FEET FIRST. During your day today and during yoga try to pay special attention to your foot placement. Engage with the earth through the souls of your feet.
As I was playing with my son I noticed some tension in my lower back. I adjusted my posture and began applying force through my feet so that my leg muscles (start with thighs then add calves and hamstrings) were strong and active. I immediately noticed two things happen; my abdominal muscles became active and the tension in my lower back disappeared. Whether walking to the water cooler or chasing a toddler try to do it FEET FIRST and notice the difference.
Walk with gratitude today and be aware of the earth beneath you feet.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Monday, March 29, 2010
I can't help but wonder where Mindfulness plays into the "Mad Rush" in the morning that is the norm across our culture and so many places in the world. It is interesting to note that we associate the word 'mad' with the word rush. How many people start their day rushing to work, to the daycare, to school, to a meeting, to the gym, to a yoga class to wherever? RUSH, RUSH, RUSH. My son is the first to call it like he sees it, "I don't like to rush, Daddy. I don't like to rush through lunch to get to the playground and I don't like to rush to school in the morning."
It occurs to me that noone likes to rush and yet we all do it so somehow we do like the rush. That rush of adrenaline when you are late is not unlike the rush we get from a thrilling adventure. We, as a culture, are addicted to the rush. Whether rushing for a meeting or the emotional rush from a recreational activity or the rush of a fight or argument. Something about the RUSH makes us feel alive. So much so, in fact, that when we are not rushing we are typically talking about our last rush or planning for our next rush. Weekends are a rush, vacations are a rush, entertainment is a rush and everything else is....blah.
Our lives are characterized by the peaks and valleys, by the rush and the blah. Mindfulness is the practice of awareness of life itself. As we practice being aware of life happening things tend to slow down a bit. The gap between the rush and the blah gets smaller. The rush still happens but we notice it from the inside out and the blah still happens but we get to experience that as it happens. CBC has a great title with "As it Happens" how about we try atleast amidst the rush and the blah to be aware AS IT HAPPENS.
Life will always have its ups and downs, its rushes and its blahs. Perhaps in the simple act of noticing the peaks and the valleys of life we will come closer to understanding the great essence that is continuously rising and falling.
Wednesday, March 24, 2010
I opened the Tao Te Ching this morning for inspiration for our blog. It is a marvelous book of wisdom that can always cut a path back to the present moment. Here is the quote...
"He who stands on tiptoe doesn't stand firm.
He who rushes ahead doesn't go far.
He who tries to shine dims his own light.
He who defines himself can't know who he really is.
He who clings to his work will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
Just do your job, then let go."
A central principle of yoga is vairgya or detachment which is the process of non-identification with roles that we play and thoughts that we have. Two major examples are the attachment we have to our jobs and another would be the attachment that develops to our role as parent.
Kids can be the best teachers of detachment although the older they get the less proficient they become. As parents we are more likely to hold on to an incident where there was a behavioral problem when the child has long since moved beyond it. Children are naturally in the present engaged with their senses and in awe of their surroundings. We can emulate that child-like tendency to be simply here wherever that may be. While engaged in your work give it your full attention, when you arrive at home give that your full attention. Sounds simple....and it is!
Sunday, March 21, 2010
We have been enjoying some beautiful Spring weather after a long winter. Now is the time of year that we become suddenly motivated to clear and clean our environments. The same is happening on the inside and we carried that theme into a great yoga class yesterday. I have long recognized the connection between yoga, pranic healing and Reiki. During this time of year perhaps more than any other we can benefit from the cleansing practice of Kabalabati or fire-breathing as well as others.
The Fire Breath evokes the solar energy within the third chakra (abdomen) and then drives that energy upwards towards the top of the head. This process not only cleanses the respiratory system but also serves to clear toxins and impurities that are the residue of tension at the psychic level. The Fire Breath can be married with visualization and concentration to perform a type of Spring cleaning within the body.
Reiki, on the other hand, is similar but acts from the outside-in. Rei means "universal, cosmic or solar energy" Ki is the same as chi or prana and is the vital energy within and around the body. Reiki involves a deepened sense of receptivity of this cosmic energy so the individual can serve as a healing instrument of that energy. Both the healer and the one being treated are supported by this energy. While the Reiki initiations do seem to activate a more profound connection with this energy we all have access to this natural healing mechanism.
We will get more into this pranic healing process in our upcoming classes and on this blog. In the mean time enjoy the sun and allow yourself to tune a little more deeply into its life-giving power.
Friday, March 12, 2010
Yesterday's blog, The Tao of Youth Engagement eluded to the inequity of the doctor/patient relationship and how that can create unworthiness or perhaps it is a manifestation of the unworthiness deeply ingrained in our culture. We take such pride in book-learning to the point where simple reality goes unacknowledged. We all need to be mindful...
Teachers be mindful of the genius of every student.
Doctors be mindful of the perfect health at the heart of every patient.
Parents be mindful of the spark of brilliance in every child.
When a professional practices mindfulness, for example, in the medical setting both facilitator and patient are brought to equal ground. You may even describe the process of mindfulness as one of grounding. It is a grounding in consciousness, in awareness. It is the silent celebration of the present moment where thoughts are like clouds passing through a summer sky. These ripples in consciousness are not the object of the moment but a subtle hue in the glorious work of art that is NOW.
To give up, even for a moment, our attachment to higher and lower is relieving. To do it in a setting that has been laden with inequity is transforming. Let you day be one of celebrating simplicity. Imagine everyone you meet is perfect just the way they are and soon you will believe the same about yourself...and that is just a thought.
Thursday, March 11, 2010
You are starting to see, I am sure, this blog follows my life and work. That is a wonderful aspect of writing a blog you get to write what moves you or peaks your interest maybe it comes back to a central theme (like yoga) or maybe it just spins around the central theme of the author's passion. Given the fact that yoga is all about the interconnection of all things I should be able to connect whatever moves me back to the philosophy of Oneness.
I am beginning a new journey in my profession as I work with young people, the latest techniques in supporting youth call for Youth Engagement or a Youth Centered Approach. It is ironic this is an innovative approach essentially it simply means working with youth to identify and solve problems they are facing. The same approach has become popular in mainstream business through client-centered, population-centered or market-centered strategies. This is a very exciting sign that our culture is beginning to celebrate diversity. Here is a quote from the Tao that relates to this topic:
"If you overesteem great men
people become powerless.
If you overvalue possessions,
people begin to steal."
We must all be on guard for the tendency to place one group above another in terms of importance and/or respect. We see it with doctors towering above patients, teachers elevated above students, adults above children. These attitudes are divisive and they breed greed and resentment, unworthiness and dejection. Be present this day with your own preconceptions about others, notice your tendency to judge one human being over another. Is it not the very essence of yoga to seek the spark of Light that is at the heart of every human being. Look for it in yourself, be vigilant it is a noble and life-affirming process. Once discovered you will forever recognize that light in every other human being.
Let's hope we continue to move as a culture towards sharing the table with those we serve with authentic respect for one another.
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
Wikipedia has done it again....
I woke up this morning with the word, "resilience" in my head so I played with it for awhile tossing the word against the back drop of my consciousness like a morning game of racquetball. The word had come up for me lately in my health prevention and promotion work as we use it to describe a primary outcome of our work with young people in particular. In our work it relates to the ability of an individual to make positive or healthy decisions in spite of the various risk factors that may be present in their lives. As a parent, to give my son the gift of resilience is a primary goal. That means that no matter what challenges life brings him (and there will be many) he will have a well of self-worth and presence deep enough that he can always come back to his center.
This brings me back to my Wiki-AHAA-pedia moment. It turns out that resilience is an engineering term (it is hazy but coming back to me) that relates to the ability of a material to bend (deform elastically) without breaking. It is interesting to note that it is described in terms of the maximum energy (per unit volume) that can be elastically stored. You can check out the definition for yourself at Wikipedia.
If we map this definition to a human being and retain the energetic connection then our resilience is the maximum amount of energy that we can store (or absorb) without losing our center-point. How then do we increase our resilience or expand our ability to be present with greater and greater stress? Mindfulness.
I am reminded of a powerful moment with my T'ai Chi Master, John Milton...he did several unbelievable demonstrations of the simplicity and power of this ancient martial art. In this moment he had me (and several others) try to push him over as he simply "rooted himself to the earth". At first I sort of "pretended" to push (that is a deep and difficult personal teaching for me) but with his encouragement I really tried to push him off balance with no ability to move him at all. The amazing thing was that when I stopped pushing he remained balanced and still. Normally if you are pushing someone and they are resisting and pushing back when you stop they will continue moving in the direction of their resistance. Not John. He was not resisting me but rather connecting deeply to his center, to the earth.
This is a powerful message as we consider resiliency. I am in a field that is committed to preparing youth to "resist" the inevitable temptation of drugs and alcohol. It seems to me a worthy practice to teach youth to be rooted to their center, a center that is beyond (or beneath) any social or environmental factor. I know of no better practice than mindfulness in all its many forms to help individuals become more established in their center.
Be mindful this day of your center and which moments lead you away from that point of balance. Don't judge yourself, just breathe and gently come back to your center again and again.
Monday, March 8, 2010
Working with yoga + meditation for over ten years has demonstrated to me how potent a tool mindfulness is in addressing the epidemic of stress in our lives. Perhaps I will take a moment to sort out how mindfulness relates to yoga for those new to the blog. I have to credit the growing interest in Buddhism with the proliferation of 'mindfulness' through our culture. Mindfulness is the practice of unconditional awareness of one's perception including thoughts, emotions, feelings and sensations. Most of what we call meditation practice could be called mindfulness meditation. I find the continuous segregation of spiritual disciplines and practices a consequence of our brand-happy culture. Call me a simpleton but as far as I can tell the Buddha was a yogi as sure as Jesus was a Jew.
It is always touchy to bring up religion and especially one's view of religion but if you find yourself reacting to my belief at least be mindful of your reactions.
The point I am trying to make is that mindfulness is an integral part of yoga. Mindfulness is what sets yoga apart from other forms of physical exercise. Yoga without mindfulness is just calisthenics. Now that I am working in Prevention & Health Promotion I have been delighted to discover that 'mindfulness' has made it to the mainstream. There has been a great deal of research into the positive effects of Mindfulness-Based Practices (MBP) on mental health. There is also great evidence that shows how MBP are a great complement to traditional talk therapy in combating addiction.
Now that I have made the leap into the healthcare profession I get to use acronyms like MBSR which is Mindfulness Based Stress Relief. MBSR is the application of MBP's to address stress in our lives. I work with four practices that are inter-related but will be discussed separately in our upcoming blogs:
1. The Body Scan
3. Yoga Postures
Here is an MBP for you to practice right now, wherever you happen to be.
The One-Minute Mindful Foot Scan
Here is a micro-mindfulness practice for those that can not find anyone willing to rub their feet. Sit comfortably and take a few abdominal breaths, relax the body...inhale feel the belly fill and exhale let the belly move towards the spine. Now bring your attention down to both ankles, feel what there is to feel without judgement (remember...unconditional awareness). Now move your attention slowly down the tops of your feet concentrating your attention on only the area of focus. Move towards your big toes and then feel everything you can in the big toes. Next move to the space between the big toe and the one adjacent to it, notice especially where the two toes meet. Do the same thing through each toe until you get to the pinky toe and now move across the ball of the foot at the base of the toes down the sole of the foot towards the heel. Experience the arch of the foot and then all sides of the heel finishing at the ankle again.
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
Those who develop a regular yoga+meditation practice soon discover the benefits manifesting in the places they need it most. Initially, the practice takes place on the yoga mat but soon we realize the practice extends far beyond into our relationships, home, school and work. One specific way to take the practice beyond the mat is through Self-Inquiry. Our last blog introduced us into the specific process shared by Byron Katie and known as The Work. Today, we will deepen our understanding of how to use The Work to target the enormous challenge of stress in our lives. There are many examples at the website, www.TheWork.com and they are so well done it seems redundant to repeat them here.
Stress is the result of an unmet expectation. The word "tension" implies there are two points that are at odds with each other. Imagine a rope and you are holding onto to one end; the other end is tied to a stake in the ground. The rope is your thought about how something should be, and the stake is your belief in that thought that is not supported in your reality. Yoga teaches that thoughts aren't the problem but rather our attachments to those thoughts, essentially our beliefs. You may have realized by now that you cannot change people. Ghandi has a great quote that is timeless, "Be the change you want to see in the world". How about, be the change you want to see at work.
For many, the workplace is the greatest source of stress so begin noticing the relationship between thoughts and your beliefs about those thoughts. Apply "The Work" to your beliefs in order to realize, experientially, that these beliefs are not supported by reality. By practicing self-enquiry, yoga and meditation we can become more aware of this connection between thought and belief. Believing every thought that passes through your head is a recipe for stress and suffering. A student once asked a meditation master about the difference between the student's mind and the mind of the master, the Master replied, "thoughts that arise in this mind are like clouds passing through the sky".
Each time you feel the contractions or tightening characteristic of stressful moments, explore the thoughts and your belief about those thoughts that lead to that internal reaction. Practice is the key and withdrawing your expectations of reality in favor of being with your reality. The difference is subtle but profound.
Monday, March 1, 2010
The path to Self-Realization, liberation, enlightenment, though seemingly simple is not easy. The ego literally defines itself through separation between self and other. To confront this most basic truth of your persona is to confront death. Considering this during Shavasana or our Corpse Pose at the end of a yoga class may be an avenue towards deepening that experience. The personality need not be eliminated to realize the Self but rather our attachments to the persona or the qualities and characteristics of our life need to be released.
The nature of the mind is to judge, to constantly compare and contrast the incoming information with past thoughts and experiences (memories are thoughts too). This process is continuous. Ramana Maharshi directs us again and again back to the Source of I....Who Am I? Who is the "I" that judges? From where does this sense of I arise? He leads us to the origin of ego in a relentless inwards spiral of awareness fueled by that simple and profound question...Who Am I? The basic challenge and irony of self-inquiry is that the ego-mind is the problem (atleast our attachment to it) and yet it is that same mind that poses the question and contemplates the answer to Who Am I?
Einstein gives a wonderful hint here when he said,
"You can never solve a problem from the same level on which it was created".
It is important to recognize that we are posing the question into our depths looking, listening and anticipating a response from an ever-deepening place and space. We are not asking the question in a mechanical and repetitive way nor are we "thinking" about an answer to the question. Try it in silence and let me know your experience!
Byron Katie gives a little more process to lead us along the path of Self-Realization and she is far less likely to use this term. Byron Katie talks of our ability to be happy, "it is our birthright" she says and provides a framework for self-inquiry that consists of 4 Questions and a Turn Around. I am not an expert in this method called, The Work and encourage anyone who is interested to do their own research and more importantly PRACTICE! The "Little Book", a free download and excerpt from Katie's book, Loving What Is, is a great place to start.
Here are the 4 Questions and the Turn-around:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it's true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Turn the thought around (original thought: Paul doesn’t listen to me.)
a) to the opposite (Paul does listen to me.)
b) to the self (I don’t listen to me.)
c) to the other (I don’t listen to Paul.)
And find three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.
We will continue this exploration in our next blog but I want to remind you that maintaining a physical yoga practice is an important complement to this work and any work that is designed to take you deeper. Releasing tension and toxins through physical movement will help create space that will support your work.