Tag Archives: Mindfulness

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.

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

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.

BRFWA

During my training at Kripalu I was introduced to the acronym BRFWA and I’ve practiced it ever since.

  • Breathe
  • Relax
  • Feel
  • Watch
  • Allow

On the yoga mat it means:

  • Come back to your breath. Watch it moving in and out.
  • Let go of the physical and emotional grip. Relax.
  • Be mindful of how what you are doing makes you feel.
  • Watch what happens as you practice. How does your body move or react? How does yoga affect your mood? Watch without judgment.
  • Allow the pose to unfold, to open up, to expand.
  • Come back to breath.

And it means the same thing off the mat.

Invite mindfulness into every thing you do.

Notice your life.

Movement is Medicine

National Public Radio (NPR) ran a story recently, “A YouTube Video Is Doctor’s Secret Weapon Against Back Pain.” For most yoga practitioners, teachers, and students, that secret was not very well kept.

Mindful movement is what yoga brings to healthcare.

Doc Mike Evans approaches medicine for the sake of wellness and he presents his insights, findings, and recommendations with simplicity and humor.

The Gentle Stretch yoga that Chris and others teach can be a very effective path to dealing with and even reducing back pain and the emotional pain that often accompanies it.

I first experienced these benefits from taking classes with Peggy Cappy and still use what I learned from her.

If you are studying/practicing yoga already, Doc Evans’s work should be more encouragement and reassurance. If you’re not, but having back pain or want to avoid it, Doc Evans has the right prescription: movement done with proper awareness and respect for your body.

Feel better. Live well.

How Yoga Changes Our Experience of Pain

To me, yoga is about mindfulness. And mindfulness is transformational.

A study reported in 2011 [PDF] by York University in Toronto, considers the effects of yoga on women who suffer from fibromyalgia.  But it’s interesting for the rest of us too.

The point I most want to share is this:

“We saw their levels of mindfulness increase – they were better able to detach from their psychological experience of pain,” Curtis says. Mindfulness is a form of active mental awareness rooted in Buddhist traditions; it is achieved by paying total attention to the present moment with a non-judgmental awareness of inner and outer experiences.

“Yoga promotes this concept – that we are not our bodies, our experiences, or our pain. This is extremely useful in the management of pain,” she says. “Moreover, our findings strongly suggest that psychological changes in turn affect our experience of physical pain.”

Many thanks to York University for sharing this information.