The recent gestures of two people reminded me how simple acts of gratitude, generosity, and kindness connect us to our shared essential goodness, the inherent light within us. One gesture inspired the poem below. The other filled my palm with sea glass, followed by a heart-shaped stone. Both brought joy and helped me to remember that blessings are where we find or open to them, passing them back and forth, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart.
sunbeams and shadows like stars cut through the dark cloth of night, all portals, parts of the universe we embody as one
“…there’s so much around us we cannot see, and there’s also so much we can. The gap between the two is where wonder lives. Depicting the gap is nearly impossible, and yet we have to try. It’s how novels are written, how great vistas live in representation in museums all over the world. We also have to save some for ourselves. More and more, I also think this is where sanity lives. Living in a time of an erasing horizon, I’ve found my eyes still go upward, reflexively.” ~John Freeman, excerpted from Where Wonder Lives in Orion, spring issue 2021
Today in our Monday morning, gentle vinyasa class, we explored creating a short practice utilizing tools from basic mindfulness and the Vajra Yoga sequence by Jill Satterfield.
When entering a short (or longer practice), it is beneficial to start by settling the body into an upright and relaxed seated posture or coming into Shavasana. Ask yourself: “Where am I starting from? What is arising in the present moment?” Then you can ‘investigate with kindness’ the arising sensations, emotions, thoughts, breath quality, as they are present and shifting.
Once you have investigated this for a couple of minutes, choose to let your attention rest on the flow of natural breath or engage a simple pranayama of choice (e.g., add-a-little breath technique (let the inhale get slightly fuller than natural breath flow and relax the breath out on the exhale) or Ujjayi breath, etc.
Consider ‘skillful means’ as you approach your practice. Skillful means is choosing to engage in poses and breathing practices, etc. that serve what is present on any given day. Listening intuitively to how energized versus tired you may be, can both guide your practice choices, as well as nurture your attunement to the ongoing feedback and dialogue that is always occurring on the edge of our attention and/or consciousness.
The Vajra sequence can be found in the graphic below. This sequence can be used for a short practice and/or interwoven near the beginning of a class. It is helpful for waking up the whole body and opening the hips before entering standing poses. In this graphic, the spinal rock sequence is offered as a gentle warm-up before the Vajra sequence.
“Humbly, we are asked to keep the flow real between what is taken in and what is let out. We have only to breathe to remember our place as a living inlet. Experience in, feelings out. Surprise and challenge in, heartache and joy out. In a constant tide, life rushes in, and in constant release, we must let it all run back off. For this is how the earth was made magnificent by the sea and how humankind is carved upright, again and again, by the ocean spirit that sets us free.”
Here are some resources on: the neuroscience of habit formation and cessation (spoiler alert: It’s not about willpower!), the power of breathing practices to support wellness , and the importance of deep presence when meeting grief.
An excerpt from Proper Breathing Brings Better Health, in Scientific American, By Christophe André on January 15, 2019
MIND UNDER THE INFLUENCE
“Even a rudimentary understanding of physiology helps to explain why controlled breathing can induce relaxation. Everyone knows that emotions affect the body. When you are happy, for instance, the corners of your mouth turn up automatically, and the edges of your eyes crinkle in a characteristic expression. Similarly, when you are feeling calm and safe, at rest, or engaged in a pleasant social exchange, your breathing slows and deepens. You are under the influence of the parasympathetic nervous system, which produces a relaxing effect. Conversely, when you are feeling frightened, in pain, or tense and uncomfortable, your breathing speeds up and becomes shallower. The sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body’s various reactions to stress, is now activated. Less well known is that the effects also occur in the opposite direction: the state of the body affects emotions. Studies show that when your face smiles, your brain reacts in kind—you experience more pleasant emotions. Breathing, in particular, has a special power over the mind.”
Megan Devine, a psychotherapist and creator of Refuge in Grief and author of, It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand, narrates this animation on the importance of presence when grieving.
From where I sit, the wind is turning the sunlight on the ocean into rippling, silver streamers. Waves closer to the shore lap lightly, while the streamers flicker and swish. The evergreen and rock of Mouse Island on the horizon is an anchor, a landing, in this moving sea of light. All the ingredients are here for contentment, joy, even bliss. There is nowhere else to be, nothing else to do.
Rachael Naomi Remen, the pediatrician-turned-therapist and author wrote: “Our bodies hold us to our integrity.” She knew this personally, as someone who was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease as a teenager and still completed the rigorous demands of medical school, including sleep-deprived residencies. Over subsequent decades, Remen navigated multiple surgeries and medications that often resulted in further complications as she aged. Thankfully, her overall experience with Crohn’s appeared to become more manageable.
As a teacher of general and therapeutic yoga, I have experienced professionally and personally how our bodies, our somatic experiences, hold us to our integrity. We know on a sensory level things it can take minutes or years to acknowledge, repair, or integrate on a cognitive or rational level. Some of what we know lives deep in our bones and/or tissues, below or beyond words. It is an embodied wisdom, a wholeness, that is always accessible to us.
Yoga, as a mindfulness practice, helps us to listen deeply to the nuance and the obvious; it connects us to our physical narratives. The consistent practice of mindfulness, of returning to body, breath, and the present moment, aids us in becoming evermore attuned to the experiences arising in our whole being, enhancing our capacities for self-soothing, self-awareness, and compassion. The deepening of these skills will also serve us off the yoga mat or meditation cushion, whether we are meeting adversity, nurturing relationships, or connecting with the simple joy and beauty of the natural world. This is the integrity, the homecoming, the freedom of embodied presence.