Monday, July 27, 2015

Guided Release Technique: Ball of Yarn

This is a brief meditation you can do during your savasana (resting pose after postural yoga practice), or simply lying in bed. 

Close your eyes. Connect within your body, feeling the sensations of your in-breath and your out-breath. Notice the feeling of the breath in your rib cage, in your abdomen, filling you up as you inhale and clearing you out as you exhale. Notice the sensation of the air touching your skin. Feel the back of your body resting on your mat. Notice the darkness behind your eyelids, or any colors you see there. Tune into any sounds you hear around you. Develop a keen awareness of your entire experience, and yourself as the experiencer. 

Then, allow your awareness to go deeper within you. Release all effort to notice or control your experience. Be at rest. Inhale fully and deeply, holding your breath at the top. Exhale through your mouth. Let go...

Once you've rested like this a few moments, begin to scan your inner awareness throughout your body, beginning at the top of your head and working your way down to your toes. With this relaxed, accepting awareness, let yourself feel both physical and emotional sensations. 

Are there feelings, memories, sensations or experiences at the physical, mental or spiritual level which you want to release? 

Locate and name everything you'd like to release. Find where it resides in your mind and body. Perhaps there is one thing, perhaps there are more than one. You're going to thread them out of your system like strings of yarn. Imagine in your mind's eye that you are pulling out individual strings of yarn, for everything you want to release. See the colors. Feel the textures. Hold the strings in your hand, one by one, and begin to roll them together into a ball of yarn. 

Give yourself time to do this, to feel and see your ball of yarn, making sure it is complete. And then, imagine that next to you is a round plastic shell that opens like a plastic egg. Take off the top and and you will see that your ball of yarn fits neatly inside. Place your ball of yarn inside the shell and close it up. Place the shell on top of your belly, letting it rest there. Feel it's weight. 

Keeping your attention on your ball of yarn in the shell, with each exhalation, the ball will float up higher and higher above your belly, above your body. You will keep resting and breathing, and your ball of yarn will keep floating further and further away from you, until you can no longer feel it or see it. It will be absorbed into the atmosphere, where it will unravel and dissipate. 

When you are ready to get up again, take your time. Let your breath gradually deepen. Move your feet and hands slowly. Draw your knees into your chest and roll over onto your side to sit up. 

May you be free of all unnecessary burdens, and may your experience always be colorful. 


Monday, July 20, 2015

Saucha: Clean up, Tidy up and Lighten up!

Look around this summer to see what your friends are reading--chances are you'll see this book on a beach or lawn chair: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo. It's a New York Times bestseller. I've been seeing it and hearing a lot about it!

Though I'm not reading the book myself, I did spend a portion of this past weekend decluttering my home with my husband. We prepared 8 large moving boxes of adult and children's clothing and shoes along with a few useful appliances to be picked up today by a charitable Veterans organization. We normally donate to Goodwill, decluttering in little spurts a few times per year, but yesterday was much more thorough! My Virgo husband made it easier by devising a system and a schedule for us. We still have more work to do on our basement and garage, but we already feel much freer and lighter. My closet is empty of scary secrets!

Simplifying my life, making space and creating structure are all parts of my yoga practice. In yoga philosophy, there are five recommended personal observances for cultivating happiness and avoiding suffering. These are called the niyama. The first niyama is saucha, which means inner and outer cleanliness or purity. A home where saucha is faithfully observed will be orderly, clean, simple and light. Taking inventory, tidying up and simplifying our home brings more peace, ease and clarity to our life. It helps us to develop a sattvic, balanced energy, within and without. 

Once saucha is applied to any area of your life, it really does feel magical! Pulling all of the old clothes out of my closet, items from another era of my life (suits from 10 years ago when I worked as a lawyer) made me feel a little queasy, but looking at my closet now, I feel refreshed and liberated! 

How can we apply saucha in our postural yoga practice, in public spaces or at home? We can start with the basics by keeping mats and props clean, respecting others' practice space, putting our blankets, blocks and straps away in an orderly fashion; it's pretty straightforward, like preschoolers tidying their books and toys. Yet sometimes we forget! 

Finally, how does saucha show up as we move through our postures? We can find it in clean lines, careful alignment, cleansing breaths and orderly transitions. We can also experiment with decluttering our foundations, simplifiying, working with the idea that less is more (perhaps a smaller base, like standing on the balls of our feet) and seeing what that opens up. 

Try setting saucha as your intention the next time you practice, or if you teach, write a sequence around it. You may discover some long-lost essentials hiding under the clutter!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Say It Like You Mean It

Let your yes mean yes and your no mean no. Anything other than this comes from the evil one. -Matthew 5:37, Common English Bible.

For many years I have wanted to grasp the precise meaning of this teaching. Yesterday the meaning came to me after giving a short talk on boundaries and authenticity. I "teach" to learn. Anything I am teaching is an exploration of what I am trying to learn.

Recently Kino Macgregor posted a brief lesson about Susima, a Sanskrit word for solid boundaries. An essential part of self-actualization is learning to walk the balance beam between extremes, finding the equilibrium of our inner authority so we don't over-extend ourselves on the one hand, or shy away from opportunities to grow and serve on the other hand. Kino wrote about people who always say yes, and others who always say no. Some of us are extreme people-pleasers and others are extreme skeptics, averse to any risk. Still others are balanced in their relationships and commitments. I have traditionally fallen into the "always yes" camp, and am learning the hard way that my "yes" really needs to mean "yes!" My best intentions fall apart when my "yes" is inauthentic.

How do we know which is right in any given moment, "yes," or "no?" Yesterday in class when we posed this question for discussion, a woman named Karen said it has to do with our inner authority--before giving an authentic answer, we have to go within to feel our way forward. We structured the remainder of our class around feeling our way through our yoga practice, taking the modifications that were right for us individually and connecting to our inner authority on our yoga mat. I loved watching the great variation in poses as people felt free to explore and do what felt to good them, sometimes saying "no" to a pose I offered, other times responding with an emphatic "yes," going deeper than usual in a particular pose.

At the end of class we drew a circle in our mind's eye around our mat, creating a mental and physical safe space to go within and rest in our seat of inner authority. Knowing, remembering what it feels like to be connected within, we're better able to create healthy boundaries in our daily life; like saying "yes" to helping a friend move, truly intending to extend ourselves in that effort, or saying "no" to a colleague when asked to replace someone on a project that's not a good fit for our talents or interests. You can think of your own real life examples. Just yesterday I said "yes" without thinking when a prospective client asked to book a next day private session, glossing right over my own doctor's appointment. This left me with a decision, do I cancel my own health maintenance appointment to keep a hastily made commitment? That's not a good place to be. My yes did not come from a place of inner authority, but from an autopilot program running in my mind. A no in that instance would have better served me and my client as well. Sometimes meaning what we say is simply a matter of slowing down enough to respond authentically.

As we learn to pay attention to our inner signals, like how we feel in our bodies and emotions when asked to do something, we respond with authority and presence, meaning what we say and saying what we mean.

Authenticity on and off our yoga mat, in our home, workplace and community, is the fruit of deep inner cultivation. The avoidance of broken and empty promises, missed opportunities and failed commitments is possible when we are internally connected, living from a firm foundation of inner authority.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Celebrate Your Independence

This week in the US we will celebrate our July 4th holiday, a commemoration of our nation's independence from a controlling Colonial power. We will barbecue, display our flags and wear red, white and blue. This holiday brings a word to mind, lauded and proclaimed in patriotic songs: Freedom. Let freedom ring! Freedom is an intrinsic American value.

Independence is synonymous with freedom. Independence from what?

I want to live and die free. Yet like most of us, I often find myself bogged down or entangled. Many of us feel beholden to a job, an employer, even a family. We all have obligations. Our movements cannot always be free; or can they?

Even if we can't always go exactly where we want or grow money trees in our backyards, we are able to free ourselves internally. We can work towards freeing our minds and emotions. Yoga is a practice I use to emancipate myself from inner slavery, like Bob Marley sang in Redemption Song.

There are three Sanskrit words I associate with freedom, even though many more exist. The three words I think of are moksha, vairagya and kaivalya. We can find these words in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. 

Moksha describes liberation in the truest and deepest sense, a spiritual and mental freedom releasing us from the cycle of death and rebirth that Hindus believe in. In more Western terms, we can think of moksha as a final liberation from the consequences of our actions and from the heaviness of our burden of existence. Christians use the term "salvation" to describe this kind of freedom.

Vairagya is the freedom from all worldly desires, a state of non-attachment to the fruits of our actions. Sutra 1.12 of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, abhyasa-vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah says that we can free our minds through dedicated action without attachment to outcomes or results. A simpler translation is practice or work without attachment. This means doing our duty, giving our best effort, yet releasing expectations. In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna teaches Arjuna to work without attachment. In Chapter 3, he says, "by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme."

Kaivalya means real independence, and is translated as "isolation," but it does not mean loneliness. Rather, kaivalya is a state of freedom from entanglements, wordly desires and egoism. A person who achieves kaivalya is called a Kevalin, someone who knows how to live in the world without being enslaved to it, just as Jesus Christ talked about being in the world, but not of it.

The simplest formula I can think of to apply these concepts to my life is living life to the fullest without clinging to expectations. Show up, and expect nothing.

This path to inner emancipation applies to both active and passive pursuits. It is easier to see how it applies to your work or your yoga practice. Do your best and let that be your reward; don't expect perfection or applause; don't be greedy; don't be a show-off; instead give without an expectation to receive; apply effort, then surrender. Do what you do for the sake of doing it, no matter what it is. The quality of being you bring to your work is more important than the reward of the work itself. Any other type of work is a form of enslavement. Even our yoga practice can enslave us if we are attached to the results.

What about the times when we rest, when we play, when we seek distraction and entertainment? We can also be freer and happier in these moments when we are able to let go of expectations. One example is going to see a film. Do you ever go to a movie without knowing anything about it? Can you simply watch a film and let it be what it is, enjoying it without expecting it to elicit particular emotions or inform you in a particular way? Sometimes I go see a movie purposefully ignoring all descriptions and reviews beforehand, so it's a like an unknown gift for me to open. I enjoy it more when there are no expectations.

Our expectations, attachments and entanglements are a trap. We give away our freedom, our peace, our joy and our power when we depend on an outcome.

Today, July 4th, every day, celebrate your own Independence Day.