Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Cooking with onions

I originally found Yoga after 10 years of teaching fitness classes and feeling stressed and saddened by 9/11. My body was tight and felt constricted, and now understanding so much more about the mind-body connection, that explained what was going on mentally and emotionally for me, too. With Yoga, I was able to begin to feel connected to my body, let my mind relax, and feel grounded and at peace in my body and surroundings. This was and is huge for me and is probably the reason many folks take Yoga. I love seeing the relaxed faces of folks leaving class and hearing people say that whatever was bothering them when they came to class, is now gone. For that, I am eternally greatful at being able to experience and share Yoga in community.

As with all healing, there is a layering affect that occurs, like skinning an onion. Once I found that I was able to come to places of peace and feel good in my body after a Yoga class, I was ready for the next level and started experimenting more with meditation. My most profound experience was at a 10-day silent meditation retreat at which we meditated in silence, without moving, for 10 hours a day (broken up into 1 1/2 - 2 hour increments). What most people come away with there is what I am still working on as it's my next layer of healing - sitting with discomfort.

For someone who teaches a gentle form of Yoga, it may sound strange to hear me say that there are transformative benefits of sitting with discomfort. I do not mention it much in class, as I don't think it's where people need to start. But here is what I learned and am still learning in my body from this practice.

You are stronger than you think you are.

You can handle more of life's situations than you think you can handle.

There are many, many unhealthy coping strategies that we use unconsciously to numb, deaden, or distract us from feeling the knot in our stomach or the pain in our heart.

Once you allow yourself to feel strong emotions when they arise, in stillness, and let them pass through your body, you will receive amazing pieces of information about yourself and the meaning behind the intense physical reactions.

The more often that we distract or numb ourselves from being with intense emotions, the stronger they become. They need to be heard, experienced, felt, without judging or supressing.

Please do not think that this means I think you should do a Yoga pose that hurts your knees, hips, back, or any other part of your body. This experimentation of being with discomfort first requires much compassion for your body and it's ability to hold emotions that need releasing. It requires a deep and intimate knowledge of your body. And it necessitates that you learn and understand the difference between physical pain (an injury about to happen) and discomfort.

This has been the next layer of healing for me. In Yoga it is referred to 'freedom from your likes and dislikes.' Your likes and dislikes are often regulated by the effect that the particular situations have on your body (think eating ice cream - like, someone cutting you off in traffic - dislike : what are the sensations that you experience as you think of these scenarios?)

Freedom in Yoga is defined by making decisions in a state of equilibrium/balance - not influenced by short-term sensations in the body.

Though I am an idealist, I don't know that I will ever be able to reach this state. But I do find that there are plenty of times when being able to make a decision or react intentionally and consciously without trying to suppress sensations in my body feels very healthy. The most difficult part of that is reminding yourself, while you are in the middle of the emotion, to just sit and watch the sensations occuring in your body, like a third person observer. It can be pretty intense, but after doing it once, it reduces your fear and allows you to be more present and clear-headed in similar situations. To me, right now, that seems like the ultimate form of living intentionally.

Peeling an onion... it sometimes brings tears but always add more life to the meal :-)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Pass it on!

I'm in an email group of alternative health practitioners located around the country and often find out about the most up-to-date studies and information regarding mind-body health. Recently, an email went out about a federally-funded free 4-day seminar on how chronic stress affects our health. One person, an M.D., commented that she hoped that someone at the conference would mention 'the whole issue of honesty and loss of ethics and lack of compassion, because they are at the very root of the problem. It is very stressful when no one can trust anyone else and no amount of meditation, or stress management will help if they don't address those root causes.'

I was struck by the direction of her comment as I'd never really considered that before, though once I heard it stated so simply, it made complete sense. So I engaged her further.

Here's more of what she said:

'When people are looking out for only themselves and short-term gain, and will do anything or say anything to get it, the result is no one can trust anyone else. The world becomes a very insecure place in which to live. That is our current condition. It is the orgin of enormous stress for all of us. When we care for others and their long-term gains over our personal mercurial desires, then we automatically are honest and compassionate and that gives us a secure world in which to live.'

So well said and yet so hard to wrap my hands around. As someone who's interested in looking at the cause of illness and applying Yoga, meditation and a healthy lifestyle, this all of a sudden seemed to pale in comparison to living a honest, ethical and unselfish life. How can this be learned and taught?

As if I was being tapped a little harder on the shoulder, not 24 hours later a woman in my Yoga class discussed starting a spiritual women's group and said she was having a hard time getting folks in the group to engage outside of themselves and their own issues. She said it was as if folks were just so self-absorbed. She had asked one of the people in the group what they had done recently for someone else, without expecting anything in return, and that person couldn't think of anything. Ouch!

I'm certainly not preaching or judging, but since you are reading this blog, you must have an interest in Yoga and creating a more peaceful environment, so I ask you to consider ... what have you done lately for someone else, without expecting anything in return? How would you feel about asking your family, friends, neighbors and coworkers?

Honesty, compassion and unselfishness... pass it on!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Reruns

Even when you don't like doing it, practice anyway and the results will be a calmer, less reactive, more relaxed and more focused mind - so says Jon Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living when discussing a mindfulness meditation/yoga practice.

I liken this anology to the effects that a river has on it's riverbed. The rocks (us humans), with our jagged and hard edges, over time become smooth by submitting to the continuous yet gentle flow of the water. Just as our practice smooths away our rough edges over time.

Nonetheless, I periodically find myself unmotivated. I'm not entirely sure why, after all I've been practicing yoga/meditation for over 7 years and have experienced the many wonderful benefits of a disciplined practice.

When my mind retaliates, here's what it usually looks like (Rewind, press 'Play'):

'I have so many other things to do.'
'I can do it this evening.'
'I'll do it tomorrow.'
'I don't have enough time to do it now.'
'When will I eat?'
'I'm hungry.'
'I'm tired.'
'I just ate.'
'There are too many distractions today.'

A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you that you are not our thoughts and can choose whether or not to engage each thought that arrises. Check. I get that, intellectually.

Still, the resistance can be so convincing at times.

From wherever it comes, I'm always thankful when an unassuming soft voice reminds me to practice anyway, and at that moment all the excuses are drained from my awareness. Just like that. A moment before they were so solid, but with a gentle reminder, the resistance completely disappears. I then find myself at peace with my decision to practice and a hopeful wish that the next time I encounter the resistant mind - 'may the force be with me'.

Thank you Obiwan.