Why I Practice Yoga

As I was healing from surgery during this summer of 2018, I had the great fortune of my mindfulness practice helping me enjoy weeks of down time. What a gift!

A particular treasure was finding a book called “Bringing Yoga to Life” on my bookshelf at home. I really have no idea where it came from (some suspicions of course). It was written by Donna Fahri, whose writing spoke volumes to me – as though we were sitting together for a long visit. When I try to explain to my family why I practice and teach yoga, I can use no better explanation than this from Ms. Fahri:

Over two decades of teaching, I have witnessed again and again the power that Yoga has to shift seemingly intransigent negative patterns and to awaken the body, mind, and heart to other possibilities. No matter who we are, or how long we have been entrenched in self-defeating behaviors, through daily Yoga practice we can become present to our own fundamental goodness and the goodness of others. Rediscovering who we really are at our core opens the way to experiencing our most basic level of connection with others. This connectedness lies at the heart of the practice called Yoga.

I am so grateful for this reading about a practice that has become my work. And I will tell you daily practice may well be terrific, but so is once a week.

Namaste

The Hallway is Hell

Last spring I attended an inspirational workshop with Todd Norian titled “A Touch of Grace.” Along with other wisdom, Todd encouraged us to remember that “when one door closes, another opens.” A voice came from the back of the room: “yeah, but the hallway is hell.”

Indeed. We’ve all been in that hallway some time or another. Sometimes we choose it, sometimes we’re pushed headlong. Either way, we have to go through it. There’s no shortcut through the hall.

But we don’t have to suffer alone. We can remember it is part of our growth, part of our quest for freedom to pass through that hallway.

We have support in our endings and in our beginnings. John O’Donohue encourages us to embrace the journey. With big gratitude to him, here is his Blessing for a New Beginning, quoted from his book of blessings: “To Bless the Space Between Us”.

You can listen to Krista Tippett’s interview with John O’Donohue here: OnBeing

Blessing for a New Beginning
by John O’Donohue

In out of the way places of the heart
Where your thoughts never think to wander
This beginning has been quietly forming
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire
Feeling the emptiness grow inside you
Noticing how you willed yourself on
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the grey promises that sameness whispered
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm
For your soul senses the world that awaits you

Coming Home

There is a concept in yoga called “Coming Home.”

I remember the first time I experienced a few yoga poses. My husband and I had signed up for a stress reduction class. We did just a few yoga movements on the floor. When I stood up at the end of the class, I could feel the pulsing of blood flow in my spine. It was heavenly…and I wanted more.

So we signed up for an 8-week yoga class for the back with Peggy Cappy.

And then another, and another.

Sometime during that first year, I felt without a doubt that I wanted teach yoga. With Peggy’s encouragement, I took my teacher training at Kripalu in Lenox, Mass. At that time, I understood yoga only as a physical release. It feels really good to stretch, and it feels really good to relax.

During training, I began to notice how light I was feeling after class. Physically light, as though a weight had been lifted. I was carrying myself differently. Made sense… I was learning how to align my body and use my muscles in new ways. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my pathways of energy were becoming unblocked. Things were moving more freely. I felt happier, more centered. I realized my yoga practice was changing the way I interact with the world.

Hmmm… that didn’t come just from physical movement (I’ve been physically active my whole life). But yoga is meditation-in-motion and it was bringing me into contact with a place deep inside, a place that is the best part of me.

As it broke through physical barriers, It was also breaking through emotional barriers and zeroing right into my heart center. More importantly, I was becoming aware of this… I was beginning to live mindfully. I was becoming more myself.

Once back at my desk job, I started to notice how much less stress was affecting me, how much less small stuff bugged me. It started to sink in that Yoga can be more than physical, but it doesn’t have to be. The Kripalu tradition encourages each of us to find our own practice. It talks about the union of body, mind, and spirit, but without dogma… This was perfect for me.

Back to that yoga concept of “Coming Home.”

Coming Home means finding your authentic self. It means being in touch with a place inside that is beyond the reach of anything, or anyone. It is beyond language, beyond thought. There is no judgment, no striving, no ambition, and no despair. It is a place of simply being. And when I touch it, I know it is good. I know it is what I am. I know it just is. It is from this place that the best of me emerges. And in that place spirit lives. From that place, we touch what is real. It is intensely personal, and it is universal.

I invite you now to experience being present within your own body through focus on the breath. Sit (or stand) with your feet flat on the floor. Sit back comfortably in the chair so you are not slouching, and your hips are in a neutral position (neither tilting forward nor backward).

Feel the weight of your body. Notice how you hold your spine. Gently lift the front of the spine. Allow the weight of the head to be held by the spine, and feel the neck and shoulders soften.

Come into deep, smooth, and slow breathing. Focus on the breath coming in and out of your belly.

Allow yourself to stay with this centering breath for 3 or 4 minutes. With practice, you may enjoy this meditation for a longer time. But “Coming Home” for even a short time each day will open you.

Namaste (I honor the spirit in you that is you.)

Guest Post: Yoga – A Zone of Peace

This is a guest post by Dr. David Connors, whose thoughts about what yoga means to him reflect a deeper understanding than his relatively new yoga experience might have suggested. He gets it, and that makes me smile.

If you would like to be a guest writer in this journal, let me know. I welcome and encourage your thoughts.

Peace of spirit begins, continues, and is completed by the tone and gentleness of a class with Chris.

In our 21st century, the attainment of personal peace is a formidable challenge. There are numerous benefits to be enjoyed through true inner peace, yet few in number are the reliable roads to reaching it. Being a yoga student of instructor Chris Justice provides a substantial opportunity to embrace such peace.

Yoga classically refers to creating a union embracing mind, body, and spirit, each of which contributes to, and is enhanced by, the quiet mindfulness of yoga practice.

Peace of mind is supported by the intensely quiet setting and ambience during Chris’s yoga classes. The personal focus that each posture demands of a student adds to the separation from our noisy world. Yoga practice supports a truly peaceful sense of solitude whether one is in a class or practicing alone.

Peace of physical body is advanced by the centrality of 3-part yoga breathing. Following a practice session there is an established regional body flexibility and strength. This remains with the student for a substantial time period and results in a confident sense of improved physical endurance.

Peace of spirit begins, continues, and is completed by the tone and gentleness of a class with Chris. This blessing is then further supported by the sense of solitude within a community she nurtures. Proceeding with a solo practice afterwards, one finds it easily permeated by this same spirit.

The peace that yoga adds to each of these three components is an intrinsic reality. They are then greatly enhanced by the knowledge, experience, and gentle spirit and style of Chris Justice.

In my early experience as a yoga student, I have found the peace of this mind, body, spirit union to be greater than the sum of the contributing elements.

For this foundation we, her students, are very fortunate and appreciative.

Pax Te Cum,

(Peace be with you)

Dave Connors, M.D.

The Silence

We all carry it. The silence within. Often we fear it and keep it a bay. Sometimes we struggle to touch it through meditation and breath. I want to cultivate my silence, grow with it, radiate from it.

Waking by Matthew SanfordMatthew Sanford was thrown into his silence with great force. A car accident killed his father and sister, and Matthew woke up in the hospital a paraplegic at 13. His body, his mind, his spirit became silent.

It was a long, long time before he made friends with his silence. But he learned to listen more deeply than I am capable of doing. He learned that yoga happens from the inside out.

His book Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence is a journey through his silence. It is a courageous affirmation of life, growth, acceptance, and flourishing through the energy of yoga.

His work now is teaching us through yoga to embrace our silence and to find the courage to listen, the wisdom to understand, and the strength to act.

I encourage you to explore your own silence.

And you might want to get to know Matthew Sanford:

Visualize your Vagus Nerve

Your vagus nerve is the commander-in-chief when it comes to having grace under pressure.
Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

Do you know about your vagus nerve? Know its characteristics?

I didn’t even know I had one until a few weeks ago. Wow, this one is major and perhaps you’ll join me on this inquiry about a fascinating part of us.

Vagus nerveHere’s an early anatomical illustration of the nerve, borrowed from an article in Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland. This should give you an idea of its importance.

Rooted in the cerebellum and brainstem, the nerve branches to both sides of the body and feeds information to and from most of our organs, all the way to the lowest area of our abdomen.

Mr. Bergland’s article is well written, informative, and easy to understand. I suggest you check it out. And then breathe deeply as you visualize your vagus.

The sympathetic nervous system is geared to rev you up like the gas pedal in an automobile – it thrives on adrenaline and cortisol and is part of the fight-or-flight response. The parasympathetic nervous system is the polar opposite. The vagus nerve is command central for the function of your parasympathetic nervous system. It is geared to slow you down like the brakes on your car and uses neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and GABA to literally lower heart rate, blood pressure, and help your heart and organs slow down.

Christopher Bergland, Psychology Today

What We Do Matters

This is a story about music, memory and sharing a simple, beautiful gift.

My Mom has dementia. Though we have a large, loving family, it was becoming difficult for us to visit with her. She doesn’t say much now. Sometimes she just sleeps. But she is alive inside. Maybe she knows who we are – likely she doesn’t. That’s OK. We visit anyway.

My husband and I came across a documentary film called “Alive Inside.” He describes it so well, I use his words here:

We just watched the documentary film, Alive Inside, which is well done, humorous, enlightening, inspiring — and about dementia and Alzheimer’s.

The therapy that Dan Cohen and the organization Music and Memory have implemented in facilities across the country is both effective and simple, safe and doable.

It involves connecting patients with music, music personal to their lives that reconnects them to themselves in a way thought forever lost. To harness “music’s ability to combat memory loss and restore a deep sense of self to those suffering from it.”

The film and its real life stories offer hope for a condition perceived to be without any. It demonstrates joy, laughter, and peace in a population long relegated to confusion, depression, and often, to drug induced stupor.

Moreover to caregivers and families, the therapy offers an opportunity to do something for those they love that makes a positive difference. Making a personal music playlist on an iPod.

We encourage you to watch the movie and the additional features afterwards. It’s on Netflix and available from iTunes and there’s more info here.

We set up a personal music iPod for my Mom. The first time she listened we knew it was a great idea. She smiled, her shaking stopped, and after awhile she gave a quiet applause.

Here are some comments from two of my family members and a friend:

May 31, 2015

Thank you to Christine and Michael for putting together the I-pod for Mom and thank you to Joyce for making a complete package with the split earphones–I actually enjoyed listening to Simon & Garfunkel and Elvis, although The Sound of Music took a bit more effort!

Mom is getting the benefit of all your work. Also, several people at the nursing home were interested and said they were going to make recordings for their loved ones. So the progress seems slow, but is catching on.

Love, Julie

 

The last time I saw Mom, it was a beautiful day, so I took her out to the garden.  She was not very verbal, and I have learned, rather than asking her if she wants the earphones on, I just say…”Let’s listen to Elvis!” and I just gently put them on.  I showed her the iPod, showed her all the buttons, and told her how amazing it is that this little thing holds so many songs (and Mom did seem to be focused on what I was explaining).  So we sat in the warm sun for about a half-hour. During this time, the sun might have caught the iPod and she tried to grab it.  I realized what she was doing and I put it in her hand.  She held it tightly while listening to the music.  It was really special to see her wanting to hold this thing that (I think) she connects to enjoyment, contentment, pleasure…whatever positive feeling the iPod evokes.

So, thanks again, Chris – and please tell Michael also – for making this happen.  I think this is a great thing for Mom and I also believe this will help the other residents as well, as Julie described.

Love, Joyce

 

All of the nurses (and my skeptical siblings) were amazed at how happy my mom became, listening to her beloved Billy Joel on her new iPod shuffle!

Music makes such a difference . . . especially in someone like my Mom’s situation, who can’t read, watch tv, etc.

Hugs, Ellen

What we do matters. What can you do today to make someone smile?

The latest from Music and Memory.

 

Is Yoga a Spiritual Practice?

Sometimes we think of yoga as a physical practice.

There is also a spiritual aspect, and some practitioners of yoga delve into a religious component through Hinduism and/or Buddhism. The history of yoga is vast and sometimes quite strange to me, as well as transforming and peaceful.

Once in a while someone in my class will ask me about this, and wonder about a conflict with their own religious beliefs.

My experience is that yoga can be practiced for many reasons and at many levels.

As for me, I delve into mindfulness and yoga as my path to physical and emotional health. Others focus primarily on the physical benefits. My objective is to cultivate a space that makes it easy for each of us to bring our own belief systems to the practice without imposition.

The closing at the end of my class is meant to remind us to dwell inside in awareness and acceptance, and a way for me to wish us all well.

Here are the words I use at the close of class:

May our hearts be filled with loving kindness.

May we be well.

May we be secure, peaceful, and at ease.

May we always be open to joy.

May each of us follow our path with heart.

“Namaste” means “I salute the spirit in you that is you” (or some variation of that…it is meant as respect for another person).

“Om” is a universal sound of unity. The chanting of it is meant to open our voices and unite us in a positive community.

I hope you all choose your own practice and continue with yoga free of conflict.

Namaste.

No Matter What

My friend Janet Archer recently posted this very sweet story about her mom. I thank her for permission to share it with you.

Janet also teaches yoga, is a life coach, and mindfulness mentor. Read about her at: janetarcher.com

Janet-cross-roads

It’s really interesting, the workings of the mind.

My mom says that she just wants to die, she’s ready.
She fell the other night.
Crawled all the way from her bathroom to her bed
where her life line necklace hangs
because she refuses to wear it.
She says its too heavy
and looks way to ugly to put on.
But she obviously knows where it lives;
on her bed post,
and she knows how to push the button
which is not an easy feat
as I tried to do it once
and didn’t signal anyone because I hadn’t pushed hard enough.
She’s strong.
And in that moment, on the floor, she forgot that she wanted to die.
Last weekend, in the car, she was complaining that she hadn’t slept at all the night before,
not one wink of sleep
and she was afraid that she might get sick.
She wants to die, but she is afraid she might get sick.
You would think that she would want to get sick so her possibility of dying would be increased.
I don’t try to have any of it make sense.
I don’t try to have her see the folly of her thinking and acting.
I don’t make her wrong.
I don’t tell her how it could or should be.
I’ve been diligently practicing minding my own business.
Because the truth is, I don’t know
what should be.
I just know
what is;
my mom wanting to die and wanting to live.
Even though she has dementia,
she’s no different than me;
we both want someone
to hear us and love us,
 and we long to know that we are not alone.
“I’ll be here for you mom,”
no matter which road
you travel down
and no matter how many times
you change your mind.

Choose Joy

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
~Thich Nhat Hanh

Try it… Smile.

It works. You have found a moment of joy.

Happiness? It’s ephemeral, temporary. I choose joy.

It comes from the inside, from mindfulness, from choosing to see, really see.

Now notice something.

Anything.

A feeling, a sight, a sound.

Notice your reaction to it.

Try not to judge your reaction. Just notice.

“How fascinating.”

Mindfulness reminds us to notice the small things, and rejoice in them.

By choosing joy, you are inviting it into your life.

 

“How fascinating”

Watch a delightful 13-minute video with Benjamin Zander, from whom I’ve borrowed the idea of “how fascinating.” Or just watch the first few minutes.