The mind flits; the body anchors; the breath bridges.
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.
Breathing in, breathing out.
Breathing in deep, breathing out slow.
Breathing in calm, breathing out ease.
Breathing in healing, breathing out release.
Find a comfortable seat that establishes a balance between effort and ease or lie down and invite deep relaxation into your whole being from the crown of your head to the tips of your toes. In either position, you can lightly scan the body to observe where you are holding tension and whether it is serving you or whether it is okay to release it.
Observe the natural flow of breath, noticing the inhale, the slight transition, and the exhale. Match the mantra to your natural inhale and exhale. Begin with the first line of instruction saying it to yourself internally or out loud, as you prefer. Say each line of instruction fully twice, then consider dropping the full instruction to the core words (e.g., in, out; deep, slow; calm, ease; healing release). You can decide how long you wish to practice one instruction before moving on to the next.
At the end, pause to notice any impact from your practice. Consider placing one hand over your heart and the other over your belly and invite a felt sense of kindness and warmth into your hands. Feel the breath under your palms, easy and gentle. Remind yourself: present moment, safe moment.
To be human means that we share universal experiences. We are born, take our first breath, require sustenance, seek the embrace of others and the shelter of dwellings, live in dependent relationships to the earth, sun, moon, and weather, and evolve day-by-day. Much else is variable in human experience. However, this moment in time has created a unique and unparalleled, global, shared reality.
Parallel to our individual lives, the natural world continues with its broader rhythms of day and night, moon and tides, fallow and harvest seasons, the expansiveness of skies and landscapes. There is a steadiness, a predictability in nature’s rhythms, as spring continues to melt frostlines and release sprouts and little blossoms in our northern hemisphere.
In this time of universal and individual anxieties, we can return to the embrace and solace of the natural world. We can lean into its rhythms and breathe deeply from the gift of fresh air. We can invite our worried minds to clear and open, observing thoughts, as if clouds in the sky-floating along-leaving no trace. We can remember our connection to something bigger and beyond and return renewed. This can happen by looking at a photograph, engaging in a visualization exercise, as well as taking a walk outdoors. Nature’s resources are ever-present and available. We are not alone.
This short talk was a free resource posted by National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine or NICABM on March 31st, in response to COVID-19. It reviews how core knowledge and tenets in the treatment of trauma can serve broader populations in this moment. Bessel van der Kolk is an internationally, renowned trauma therapist and author of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. He speaks about the natural feelings of helplessness, distress, and lack of agency that arise in the midst of unpredictable life circumstances like a pandemic and offers practical suggestions about self-care and resources.
**Alert: van der Kolk comments briefly on national politics. Hopefully, whatever one’s political or apolitical leanings, the core resources and therapeutic messages can be received.
Here is the link:
breathing in calm, breathing out ease
Our lives are constantly tumbling forward into the future, and the only way back to here and now is to stop. Even a few moments of suspended activity, a mini-meditation of just being still, can reconnect you with a sense of aliveness and caring. That connection will deepen if, during those moments, you intentionally establish contact with your body, breath, and relax.
~Tara Brach, True Refuge
“Only with equanimity can we see that everything that comes into our circle has come to teach us what we need to know.”
~Pema Chodrun, from Comfortable with Uncertainty