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Monday, June 21, 2010

Spiraling Intentions

Hello All,

During our yoga class this weekend we did a bit of improvising and introduced a spiraling motion throughout our postures. Energy optimizes itself in the form of a spiral. As nature is supremely efficient we see this form taken in the organization of creative energy all around us. Trees, flowers and plants all unfold themselves as spirals. Entities as large as galaxies and as small as atoms feature spirals in their organization and growth. The devastating power of the tornado is a testament to the possibilities of the spiral. Our minds and bodies are no different.

We used the form of the spiral to achieve two intentions: 1) to expand the range and scope of our physical movement and exercise by rotating the body around a central axis in both directions; 2) at a more subtle level our concentration on the external form of the spiral would improve our ability to visualize and concentrate on the spiraling movement of chi or prana within the mind-body system. I don't know about the others but I certainly felt muscles and connective tissue activated in a deeper way using this technique.

The subject of this blog is not only to discuss the work we do in our Beloved Yoga + Meditation classes but to also seek to apply what we practice in our everyday lives. The spiral is at play all around us. You may have noticed yourself facing similar challenges in your relationships over and over again. The events of our lives seem (atleast to me) to revolve around certain core issues and over time we are able to face similar situations from new vantage points. Perhaps our ability to grow relates to our willingness to expand our frame of reference with each new exposure to these challenges.

As you move through your day look for opportunities to practice a more conscious and less reactive response to life swirling around you. Take a breath and appreciate the play of consciousness unfolding before you and then dive in!

Namaste,

Steve

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Everyday Mindfulness

What is the biggest challenge to remaining mindfully present throughout our day? By now, we all know that awareness is the first (and maybe last) step in the process. Living mindfulness is like living from the inside-out. When we are not aware, we are living from the outside-in, a condition that is reinforced daily by the media and our materialistic culture. The simple truth is that we forget. I forget, you forget.....we all forget at times to be present. Before you know it we are indulging in a desire (or thought) at the expense of someone else and/or the expense of our sense of connectedness and peace.

To quote from the Karate Kid which I saw with my family lastnight, "Doing nothing and stillness are very different". Stillness flows and is continually inspired by a deep sense of presence. "Doing nothing" is inspired by fear and fatigue. The first step in practicing Everyday Mindfulness is awareness. In my experience cultivating an attentiveness to the breath is the most potent and direct path to awareness. Practice bringing your attention again and again to the breath. Relax and be present. In a moment of intensity and reaction, breathe deeply and relax. In a moment of great joy and celebration, relax and breathe. Notice how your breath changes throughout the day, when you retain the breath and when you sigh heavily. Your body speaks to your consciousness through the breath and you communicate through presence...awareness. This takes practice but can most certainly improve your mental, emotional and physical health.

Direct your attention inwards again and again and you may realize a greatness and a gratitude within that will fuel your life expression. Practice being aware of the breath and your shoulders as two points of concentration throughout the day. Sit in silence for five minutes per day, keep it simple and enjoy your Self.

Namaste,

Steve

Monday, June 14, 2010

Stigma from the Inside Out

I have been working on a project that gives young people the opportunity to learn about photography including composition and digital camera technology. The idea is that we want to give them the chance to express their thoughts and feelings about mental health. They may choose to photograph examples of stresses and tensions in their life and/or they may show the contrast to that and photograph the opposite tract. For most of us, our mental health seems to float between those two extremes. Mindfulness is the practice of witnessing this "oscillation" with 'compassionate presence'.

It is amazing to consider the stigma associated with mental health as compared to our physical health. Consider the simple example of a broken arm versus an experience of stress, anxiety or depression. I will let you explore the contrast for yourself by simply imagining someone (perhaps yourself) walking into school or work with a physical health challenge and then a mental health challenge. The stigma gets even more intense when we talk of chronic mental health issues or mental illness. Stigma involves rejection of an individual or group of individuals based on a social norm. Mindfulness practices can help us become aware of these stigmata (plural of stigma) at play within our own patterns of thinking.

You may have noticed over the course of your time on this earth that it is difficult to "change" anyone. This is why I have always been attracted to Ghandi's famed quote, "Be the change you want to see in the world". The social norms surrounding mental health and what is or is not "acceptable" or conversely is "rejectable" are rooted in the habitual thought patterns of each of us. Look closely at how you reject yourself in small moments throughout the day and week. For example, when you experience feelings of overwhelm, you may find traces of shame associated with feeling that way. Of course, I pick an example that is common in my own life. What examples do you have? When do you "reject" the way you feel or judge yourself to be weak, stupid, or simply bad based on how you are feeling or what you are thinking?

Taking these "snapshots" of your mind will allow you to begin to detach yourself from those judgmental thoughts. You may start to notice a bit more space with which you can observe these thoughts and feelings. That space represents compassion and with practice that space grows and with it your capacity to be compassionate with yourself and consequently with others. Do not expect the thoughts and feelings to go away, in fact, when we speak of mindfulness....EXPECT NOTHING!

Namaste,

Steve

Friday, June 11, 2010

Faith and Patience

Hello All,

I spent the past week at an international academic conference called Pathways to Resilience and met some amazing people. In one of my interactions our discussion went towards faith and patience being closely related like two sides of the same coin. I could feel a relaxation or de-stressing occur at a deep level in the simple acknowledgment of patience. It is easy to be taken away by ambition and future-orientation. While in that mode tensions accumulate and when we re-prioritize relaxation and patience there is subtle mental and physical healing that takes place.

Take a moment, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath. Let the tension in your shoulders melt away or fall away like water from the duck's back (just saw a mama duck and her 5 babies walk by). Have you become preoccupied by some thought or plan for the future? Practice patience and faith by allowing a deep sense of trust without needing to know exactly 'how', notice the effect on your body. You may notice a softening or releasing of tension you were not aware of. I had this experience while in Halifax and wanted to share. Tension is insidiously linked to expectation (even those we are not fully conscious of). Let go and allow that tension to be released, this process will allow for greater creativity as space is created in the mind and body for the 'how' to spontaneously appear.

Namaste,

Steve

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Union of a Mind Divided

It has been awhile since I have posted and it is nice to be back to the computer. Now, from Sandford, Nova Scotia where Heather, Natha and I have moved. The ocean air is deeply appreciated and the ground under our feet feels sacred.

I have been reading a book called, The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts who was a great philosopher in his own right and did a lot to interpret the teachings of Zen Buddhism and the philosophy of Oneness from yoga. In this book he makes an important point about the mind that is divided between the present moment experience and thinking processes that are rooted in the future and/or past. The integration of this 'divided' mind is a characterization of yoga.

When we practice yoga on the mat we choose to be more aware of sensations in the body while we disengage from cognitive processing or "thinking". This is a big step for most of us and an important one on our path to health through yoga. In his book, Alan Watts takes the notion of sensation much further than I normally would. He regards "sensation" as the perception through all of our senses and reveals the subtle reality that all of what we experience in our field of perception is in fact sensation. What you perceive as "other" is merely sense-inputs interpreted by cognitive process. The mind is split between this sensational experience of the here and now and the mind's unwillingness to remain present. Alan sums it up nicely,

"So long as the mind is split, life is perpetual conflict, tension, frustration and disillusion....But the undivided mind is free from this tension of always trying to stand outside oneself and to be elsewhere than here and now."

Recognizing the tension is the first step to realizing its resolution. Regular practice seems necessary for most of us to return to that sensational moment of now. As you read this take a moment to breathe with greater awareness, to feel the sensations in the body. Be where you are more deeply than a moment ago. Can you feel yourself settling in to the moment? Crossing the Great Divide can happen in a single breath. In fact, it could only happen one breath at a time.

Namaste,

Steve