Tag Archives: mindfulness

Walk Strong, with a Gentle Heart

Current political circumstances are intense. To say the least. With blatant outright bigotry, lack of tolerance, and escalating violence it is nearly impossible to stay away from, or uninformed of, the present political environment. In such palpably contracted times one’s commitment to their yoga practice, or any mindfulness practice for that matter, must be exercised as diligently in the world as it is on the mat in order to walk strongly with a gentle heart through this crazy realm.

At times like these apathy has no place. The fundamental teachings of yoga demand attention too higher ethical and moral values. Ahimsa-lovingkindness; classically non-violence, is at the top of the list. And what is lovingkindness? In its simplest it is the pure intent to love all with kindness and care. It is easy to get caught up here. Does lovingkindness only exist for that which an individual knows and understands, resonates with and is aligned to in belief? No. Lovingkindness is the most basic notion of its value as the first Yama-precept for being with the world, (and self must be included in this) has to extend to all existence. So then the question becomes, must we be loving and kind to people who actively hate, are violent, seek out ways to harm others maliciously and subversively? Yes. If your aim is to truly practice lovingkindness or non-violence then yes, the teaching demands that you love them in the company of their faults. However, the word love and the practice of love is not synonymous with making oneself available for abuse, nor acting and speaking out in alignment with something bigger.

Mindfulness practice means using the mind in a discerning manner. In this vein to use the mind to acknowledge that while a human or a group of humans are severely misguided they are not outside the circle of deserving love. This discernment is then followed with action. What is the appropriate action to take in the face of true racist hate? When the teaching is to love? Love exists with boundaries. There is too much awareness, knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in this world to play ignorant to the harm racism, bigotry, and simply the belittling of any human for any reason. Therefore appropriate action in the company of such ignorance is to first acknowledge with love the lack of value in such awareness and behavior, and to withdraw contact with such a person until the time when they can see beyond the limited vales of their perception. To share the premise of your choice with such a person may or may not be valuable to them, but is ultimately valuable to the greater good. To do so with words that emanate from love is to act in alignment with the precept of Ahimsa. This is Sakriya-with action; one who performs one’s responsibilities; putting into effect what one has learned from their spiritual teachings. Acting with a moral compass.

To do nothing. To say, “it is all good.” To say, “I am practicing non-violence and lovingkindness and they are only doing the best that they can.” To be apathetic. To avoid confronting the ignorance for fear of making waves, especially when the hatred is espoused by someone you deem friend or family, this is Niskriya-without action; one who does not perform one’s responsibilities; one who does not put into action what one has learned.

Apathy, fear of rocking the boat, just plain old doing nothing does not cut it for the sincere yogi. Such Niskriya is far from in alignment with a good moral compass. This is nowhere near doing the best you can.

A true yogi assigns themselves to shining the light of awareness into the darkness of ignorance. Lives in their responsibility of practicing the Sakriya of love in the abyss of discrimination. From love, with love, for love.

A Yogi has a large toolbox from which they can pull the correct tool for the situation at hand. Mudras are such tools. A mudra is a hand gesture which correlates reflex reactions from hand to brain. Mudras are powerful tools which redirect energy flow. And in the case of standing strong with a gentle heart in a crazy world, mudras can bolster a yogi’s capabilities. A combination of Varada Mudra and Abhaya Mudra can be used to support and enhance a yogi’s aptitude of Sakriya in harmony with Ahimsa.

Varada Mudra is represented with the downward facing palm of the left hand. It is the mudra of the accomplishment of the aspiration to devote oneself to human salvation. The five extended fingers of the mudra symbolize respectively; generosity, morality, patience, effort, and meditative concentration. This mudra expresses not only the act of giving and benevolence, but also the act of receiving. Varada Mudra is seldom used alone and is regularly used in combination with Abhaya Mudra.

Abhaya Mudra is represented with the upward facing palm of the right hand. This mudra is not only known worldwide as a gesture of waving and salutation; it is also known worldwide as a gesture which means “stop.” Abhaya in Sanskrit translates to fearlessness, and the mudra is also one which dispels fear and symbolizes protection and peace as well as being seen as a gesture of good intentions, offerings of love, and reverence to the highest.

Together the combination of these two mudras powerfully express an individual’s capacity to simultaneously be generous with love and maintain discerning boundary. This is what is called of all humans who seek to live in the awareness that dispels ignorance in this world, at this time. This is what is called for from those who have committed themselves to the primary tenant of yoga, Ahimsa. As crusaders of awareness, as practitioners of love and non-violence, it is a yogi’s responsibility to hold the human race to a higher standard, knowing that standard can be met. To say “they are only doing their best” when one knows that they can do better if they are liberated from the veils of limited belief, is to be apathetic. Is to walk in Niskriya. This is not the time for apathy this is the time for courage. Now is the time for Sakriya. To speak and act with love and a gentle heart.

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

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June 20th, 2017

Aum asatoma sad gamaya tamaso ma jyotir gamaya mrtyor ma amritam gamaya

For the solstice I had big plans to write on a mantra I very enjoy. From the Upanishads (some of the OG texts on Hindu spiritual life and practice), it acknowledges the consistent transformative nature of nature – that all is always changing – and appeals to Aum, the vibration of all things, to lead a transition toward spirit. One might say it’s a prayer for immortality, and so stretches to the depths of the yoga practice. I have always seen the prayer to taste the nectar as a metaphor for absolution from a fear of dying. Years ago when I first really listened to the mantra (oh, these songs we listen to in yoga class are ancient prayers that carry with them eons of experience?!?!), I was struck with the practice of sipping in the nectar of the moment as best I could. I began acknowledging – out loud, and often – that I might be going soon. This birthed in me a sense of urgency, and a new peek into relationship with these funny fleeting shapes we get to live in and play with called bodies. While I was really sitting with the practice saying adieu like “I hope we get to see each other again,” and making plans like “Maybe tomorrow… if I’m lucky,” I fell really in love. Looking through, I see how the mantra helped me to keep calm in the face of quite a delicious drowning, as life turned topsy in a wash of passion and authentic partnership. For the first time, I tasted loving that did not disturb or rewrite my own story, and only brought more light and positive vibration to my every day. What a sweet gift of nectar.

The literal idea of the mantra is to move from : asat (untruth), to sat (truth); tamas (inertia, darkness), to jyot (divine light); and from mrtyor (death, impermanence), to amritam (the nectar of eternal life and bliss). I like to read it like thusly:

Aum, lead me from unreality, obscurity, and fear of death to reality, illumination, and eternal bliss.

I quite like the story of my own process with the mantra, but wanted to tell a bigger picture. Yearning to share a shade of the idea of how big this prayer can be, I thought about all of the ways to play translator to these powerful words, and I got stuck in the mud of tamas. Maybe my curiosities about if the Sanskrit word for death is the root word for martyr are not the way to go for a solstice supplication. Instead of a literary probing, here’s the poem that popped out instead. Happy solstice. Love, Suki

 

As time comes to pause

and the sun stands still

you

too

stand

toes in the mud

surrounded by snail shells, floating.

Their story rides below the surface

untold

as their soft bodies are gone

and only brittle bits of a home remain.

 

You imagine that their life was good

full of laughter

and sunlight streaking from above the surface tension

into the depths

of a pond’s murk, and quiet.

It is in these deep spaces

that life

breathes, amphibian.

Here, the snails are celebratory

for each duckweed bit that drops

for the diffuse light

down in the mud

for another day respiring 

at a snail’s pace

whatever that may be.

It is here that fish burp

and sway

sending up bubbles that tickle your ankles

in the shallows

where the sunglow still reaches.
And so

nature converses

sending messages

from one height to another

from darkness to lightness

and back around again.
Thank you

you say aloud

into the willow’s branches

and the message

slowly reverberates

and

perfectly sinks

to silt.

 

 

Building Personal Capital 

One of the great gifts of this life is that we can all learn to skillfully respond to life’s challenges and build personal capital. i.e. build confidence through inner strength. This is great because I think it is safe to say that no one of us actively seeks to experience shame, guilt, and remorse. It is not part of our nature to seek suffering, though it is part of our nature to relive our suffering over and over through the obsessiveness of our minds. Suffering is in fact a quality of the mind, the quality of attachment. When we attach ourselves to an idea of how things should be or how things were, then we do not permit ourselves to experience things as they are, in peace, spaciousness, and a willingness for the potential of things to get better.

 No matter who we are, what our backgrounds or trajectories, life will challenge us, life will bring us to our knees. Not all challenges are devastating, but life in its essence tests our concepts of comfort and ease. Sometimes it’s just a simple conversation with a loved one or a co-worker that sends us reeling into a flurry of inner turmoil and anguish, other times it’s something greater like the loss of a job or home. No matter what the trial is, the opportunity to meet it with composure and equanimity is also there.

 What does that mean exactly? Well rather than flying off the handle because your mom pushed that same button for the nine-thousandth time, you can calmly respond with a request to not go down that road again. Or rather than respond to the trigger, guide the conversation into neutral territory, into gratitude, into love. Rather than going into a tailspin of depression or substance abuse at the loss of a job or after an intense personal attack by some mindless person, drink a cup of chamomile tea, take a hot bath, take a walk, take a deep breath. Gather yourself and be mindfully and courageously in the company of the discomfort, rather than taken out by it.

 So few of us actually have skills to use in the face of life’s challenges, rather we have coping mechanisms. And our coping mechanisms are often synonymous or entangled with behaviors that are less than those we would feel proud of sharing with the world. I know that one of my coping mechanisms is to be mean to others when I feel vulnerable. I regret this behavior after I have expressed it. I feel guilty for hurting someone else because I felt vulnerable. I feel ashamed when I behave this way and I know I could have behaved better. I have learned that in order to not have to visit ourselves in the waiting room of shame, guilt, and regret, we can cultivate skills to respond to life’s challenges that enable composure, equanimity, restraint, mindfulness, patience, and calm.

 When we know and accept that life will challenge us and press up against the rough and sometimes sharp edges of experience then we can more actively step into our bigger selves, to see our potential to react, and rather than react, respond. Respond with composure, self restraint, calm and equanimity. To live fully in the company of grace.

 Our time on the mat is valuable because it translates. Asana practice pushes us up against the boundaries of our comfort zones and into the rougher sharp edges of where we are not comfortable. Through mindfulness of breath and our thoughts we can learn to be in the company of the discomfort in a state of composure and equanimity. This translates off of our mats and into our lives, so that when life pushes us into the uncomfortable experiences of our everyday we can restrain from behaviors that leave a residue of inner turmoil and exercise skillful responses. Knowing that you are the only person in your life who can make it more comfortable gives you the power to do so. This is the great gain of confidence ind inner strength that comes with building this kind of personal capital.

With or without distractions, you’re still just dealing with yourself. Practice in a cave, practice in traffic, practice joyfully, practice diligently, practice because you think you ought to, it’s all the same. Lest we forget that all in the yoga practice is a reflection of our deepest, and sometimes most hidden selves, this week, remember. And when distractions come up, acknowledge them, let them know they are seen, heard, and felt, for they are not separate from the practice that runs like a smooth engine.

At the height of summer, I am distracted. The days are long, and much is accomplished in each cycle of sunlight, yet I consistently feel that I can do more. Why aren’t hours for asana presenting themselves? Why haven’t I finished a book in July? Why do I put off making dinner until it is dark? The summer heat rather aggravates my body, which leads to mild, but persistent discomfort: a little extra heaviness, angry and clogged pores, dryness, heat in my feet. I do my best to remember that the remedies I know will help me feel more comfortable are a part of my work, just as it is to sit, to stretch, and to wonder. It’s a full time job tending this body in the heat, and it gobbles hours like popsicles.

I eat coconut. I sip cucumber water. I put my butt in the pond, and wait until a coolness settles from skin, to bone, into mind. The high desert summer sun is a reality of my world, and it rather messes with the balance of my body and soul. I learn much from the buzzing activity of the summertime, run screaming for the hills and the rivers, and give thanks to live in a place that is ever-shifting its temperature, and feel. The four seasons offer a perfect place to practice, and metaphor for the always needed reassessment of reality, which is only happening in this moment. For when the rains come, though all the problems of the world have not been solved, I am feeling better than before. And so, all is well.

All shall be well. All shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.” ~Saint Julian

Love and be well,

Suki

Moving Into Meditation

In this present moment, I am grateful. This moment is the one in which life is happening, right now, with all its twists and turns, and strangeness. Though at times it makes good sense, is even a necessary practice to reflect on all that has come before, and in other moments, you’d better be looking ahead to avoid coming traffic, so to speak, all there is, in fact, is now. I recently took on the Sage Institute’s 28 day Turning Toward the Light Meditation Challenge and was pleasantly surprised to find I had much to learn about meditating. Sitting calmly has been a practice of mine for a long time. Thanks to martial arts study (because I sucked at ballet), I learned to sit in meditation in third grade, and found that most of the time, I quite enjoyed the quiet.

Since then, meditation has been a thing I do sometimes: in times of crisis and need for restorative silence; before, during, or after as asana practice as a sweet extra treat; as a part of ritual practice at dawn, sunset, moonrise, equinox and solstice; for a few days at a time here and there. But never has it been a primary, asana has always been the main event. These past four weeks I’ve committed to sitting first, not always first thing in the morning, but before the movement. I followed the instructions that so lovingly landed in my inbox every morning, happy to have guidance, and the effect has been dramatic.

What delicious waves of compassion for myself and others cascaded in! Just as it is an impossibility to know what the hell another is thinking for staying in an abusive relationship until you’ve been in one yourself (and even then, you only know your own circumstances), I am now fully aware that I hadn’t tasted the fruit of real meditation practice, only conceptually puttered about, and occasionally sipped from the well. My meditation practice, like a young child discovering the magic of the garden, has become drunk with experience and curiosity. I am totally thrilled to feel and watch and witness in new ways, and I swear, my voice has settled into a deeper decibel, calm and rolling like the ocean.

From the experimental, even theoretical knowing and cosmic grab-bag of meditation that has infiltrated my last 25 years, I can now say that I sit. Direct experience, that only could have come from a well-tended commitment, has deepened roots into my own stillness, and has changed me, forsooth. And the ripe fruit I am savoring now seems to be just bare beginnings. It is hopeful fun to trust that much more is coming down the line, obligingly following the breath. The experience has been baring and deliciously fresh. So, sweet and quiet solstice, thank you.

Love and Space, Suki

 

 

For Days like Dump-trucks

There is a serious disorder in expectation about perfection in the yoga conversation. If you thought you were meant to come to the mat already ordered, saved, resolved, and put together, then you have had been fed some bad lemonade, friend. The whole idea is that we come to the mat messy, ever-changing, and hopeful, but it is the mess that leads us deeper into the practice, again and again. Somedays I feel like a dump-truck, and others, like a butterfly. Somedays I am the picture of patience and great perspective, and the next, mired in selfish and constraining ideas. This is the dance, the sloppy play of humanity, and of yoga. The process is in process, that’s why we call it so.

My invitation is to look, with love, at what is happening in the moment, and learn to design a practice for every day, different. On the butterfly days, I practice many pushups, firing a deep inner fire and yearning for strength, then flip over, around exploring the world from the upside, and roll into backbends that lovingly tear away the scar tissue over the vibrancy of my heart. It’s metaphor, of course, but my asana practice on the butterfly days is wild, playful, motile, and verging on passionate ferocity.

And the dump-truck days, are not so. I sit. I breathe. I look out the window. I sit on purpose (concentrate). I sit (meditate). I sit (do nothing). I wait. The practice’s end reveals itself, like a gentle embrace from a friend, calling me to sip tea, or take a bath. On the days when you are feeling far from your free-flying magical-mystical self, and more like digging your head into the earth to hide, try gentle pranayama (extending the life-force through breath), practices like anuloma viloma. In English, this breath is often called alternate nostril breath, and the idea is to balance the energies of opposing currents in the body, bringing the conversation to the table between butterfly and dump-truck, or maybe body and mind. The whole thing will last about seven minutes, dear dump-truck, and the invitation is to dive deeply into the breath, the earth, and all that you are carrying, dump the bucket of all that no longer serves, and find a balanced load for the moment.

Begin in a comfortable seat with an upright and relaxed spine. This position is important for pranayama practice and meditation as it opens the channel between the earthly world and the subtle world, linking like a ladder to what is below and above, alike. It’s pretty much the point; everything you do from this comfortable upright position is extra credit, rich and long-lasting crema on the espresso, so to speak. Open the channel, and then see what falls into your lap. Ten rounds anuloma viloma pranayama begins with a minute of mindful breathing, gently in and out through the nose, with attention on balancing the length of inspirations and expirations. If you find after this mindfulness practice that the inspirations have inspired you to do something else, follow, or that the expirations and letting go are leading you to a different practice of clearing the slate, go.

If you wish to move on, stay, and lightly place your right index and middle fingers at your brow-center. Gently rest thumb on your right nostril, just below the bridge of your nose with gentle pressure, and ring and pinky on the left side in the same manner. The mild restraint of the nasal passageway must be light enough to allow air through easily, but stable enough to bring your mind’s eye to the sensation and call attention. This tender pressure can be applied throughout the pranayama. Take a deep inhalation, completely close the right nostril and exhale left. Inhale left, pause at the top of the breath with both nostrils completely closed, exhale right. Inhale right, pause at the top, both sides completely closed, exhale left. This is one full round. Continue for ten rounds, release right hand and breath through both nostrils, watching the breath for another one to two minutes and enjoy your day deeply, best you can.

Love and respect, Suki

 

Dusting Out The Cobwebs

Have you ever thought you saw something in the dark in your house and then rather than get up to go look at it you stayed in bed, or asked your sweetheart to check it out? Rather than face your fear, were you paralyzed by it? We all do this because we have an ingrained way of being that has us believe that beyond the corner in the darkness is something that will hurt us rather than something that will serve us.
This kind of fear persists and we resist opening the door to see what is on the other side out of fear. It becomes a circumcessant cycle, repeating and repeating, over and over again. Wether we like it or not resistance is persistent. A physical injury will continue to rear it’s ugly head until it is met with tenderness and healing. A injurious thought will wreck havoc on a life until it is met with one that is more spacious and more allowing. A painful emotion will continue to hold us in attachment until we allow ourselves the freedom to surrender. The practice of yoga invites us to move beyond the resistance and into the peace that dwells beneath the stories we tell, the poses that cause discomfort, and the treasures we avoid out of fear.

Just as we all experience fear we want to run from, we also want to feel better. We don’t just want to feel better, we want to be better. And just as much as we have the opportunity to avoid our fears we also have the opportunity to rise above that which limits us. The opportunity to be more courageous and more peaceful people is always within our reach. We all have a darkness in us, a shadow, secrets, hurts, pains, and stories we do not want to reveal. When left alone for too long these aspects of ourselves become like rooms in a haunted house. Dark, full of cobwebs, scary to enter. We forget that in that room, beyond our resistance and beneath the dust and the cobwebs is a treasure, a gift that rises out of the darkness. This gift, under the pain, under the sadness, under the resistance, is peace. We first must be willing to go into those dark places and shine light into them to clear them out while we sit with the discomfort and the resistance. It is on the other side of sitting with what is, that we find peace. The fact is that life is to short to wish any of it away.

The next time you are on your mat and the fear arises, know you are amidst an opportunity to refine your skills of courageousness, deepen your breath and do not let the fear paralyze you. The next time you are on your mat and you feel yourself resisting the opening because of the discomfort, is an opportunity to dive into your breath and sit with the discomfort, on the other side is the reward of more opening and space. This kind of work on the mat will translate off the mat. And, over time you may find that rather than becoming paralyzed by a fear of an old story, you instead catch yourself in the process of falling into the circumcessant cycle while you deepen your breath, diving into the discomforts owing on the other side is something more. This is where the jewels and fruits of the practice, and this wild life reside.

“Don’t be afraid of your fears. They’re not there to scare you. They’re there to let you know that something is worth it.” 
― C. JoyBell C.

With Love, Always, In All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve

Unwrapping the Gifts of Self-Awareness

As a student of yoga I find great value in understanding the gifts of the practice. However, there are so many gifts to the practice that understanding them all in a short window of an hour or an hour and a half is beyond the scope of reason. As would be expounding them in a short blog post. Rather, one at a time we unfold the wrapping of these magnificent presents, on and off the mat, in pursuit of truly understanding this wealth of knowledge that has been developing for centuries.

One of the most beautiful of the gifts of the practice is the profoundly rewarding gift of self-awareness. In the context of yoga, the practice of tuning our being into a state of continuous harmony with our hearts, our motives, our relationships, and our environments, self-awareness is the necessary tool to get the job done well. When we come to the mat and our gaze turns in, toward our breath and our body, it is essentially also an act of reaching into our toolbox to grab our tuning instruments.

Thousands of channels of energy run through our bodies. From the more gross channels of veins, nerves, muscles and connective tissues to nadis, belief structures, and the states of being in our hearts, we are constantly experiencing energy in motion.   Sometimes the movement of energy through these countless channels becomes blocked, resulting in discord, discomfort, disease, and distress. The combined efforts of pranayama, asana, and contemplation, practiced in a consistent manner over an extended period of time, result in the clearing of such blockages, the healing of illness, the reduction of stress, and the harmonizing of the fragmented aspects of an unintegrated whole.

The significance of the practice and its effects on ones life are as multitudinous as the various asana poses, schools of yoga, and thoughts that run through ones head in the course of a lifetime. Over time, just as with the many aspects of the self, with return to the practice more and more will be revealed, assimilated, and transformed into something of use and value. Such gold then becomes useful on and off the mat to bring more luster into ones life, more choruses of harmony, and more sweetness of ease. This is the kind of gift that we unwrap over the course of our disciplined practice. This is the power of self-awareness that in time reveals much more than just that which first meets the eye.

“Practice and all is coming.” –Pattabhi Jois

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve