Saturday, December 26, 2009

Embodied grounding

My first Yoga teacher was smallish in stature, and though in her 60s, walked with a spine as straight and flexible as a pine tree. With the gentlest and most unassuming disposition, she spoke like she was softly singing.

She once told me that in preparation for speaking to her teacher about a conflict, she would do the Warrior Pose. I had not thought of using parts of my Yoga class off the mat to compliment different needs during the day but much later when I revealed to a minister that I was terrified of public speaking, he suggested that while speaking I focus on grounding my feet into the floor, as we do in standing Yoga poses.

It's true that how we carry and move our bodies affects our moods and alters our interactions with others and our environment.

In standing Yoga poses, we focus on the feet - how the weight is carried in the feet and connecting them solidly with the mat and the floor. In one of my favorite standing poses, the Tree Pose, I imagine roots growing from my soles into the Earth - deep and wide. From this rootedness, I can with ease expand my energy, spine, and arms up and out.

Recently I had an opportunity to practice the power of rootedness during an interview. Already a nerve-racking experience, I arrived a few minutes late before a panel of five people. It was the last interview of the day and one of the interviewers proceeded to tell me that there had been plenty of tardiness that day and how disrespectful this was to the panel. As he asked me how long it took to drive from my home to the interview, I began to move my awareness down into my feet and planted them firmly into the floor. Keeping my awareness in my body through watching my breath and feeling the solidity of the floor, I surprisingly answered the questions with unrecognizable calm. I was so amazed by the difference I felt during that interview that I truly understood the power of being grounded.

When you're in the midst of angst, your automatic responses will fall back upon who you are at your core, and if you're practicing Yoga regularly, embodied grounding is a part of you and will, more often than not, arise as needed. ... Just a little encouragement to practice regularly whatever you do to connect with your center - for yourself and those around you.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Show me your belly

There is something about the nature of the belly that feels warm, soft, open. Whether it’s that of my cat, husband, or my own - connecting with the belly feels like I’m connecting with one’s true essence.

In the Chinese and Japanese traditions, they believe that the navel contains one’s Dantien or energetic center. By focusing on that area during particular movements, they say one can strengthen their life force.

The naval is also the place where we, as mammals, were connected to our mothers in a nurturing, symbiotic relationship from conception to birth.

In Yoga we learn that one of the most fundamental and essential means of nurturing ourselves is through belly breathing. The science of belly breathing states that it activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which elicits the relaxation response and lowers blood pressure, turns on our immunity, calms unruly emotions, and prevents premature aging. I like to think that belly breathing’s greatest gift is the feeling of being more connected to all of life.

To a fault, the belly is the most honest, open and exposed place on a person. Animals know this. To have an animal turn over and bear their belly is a sign of vulnerability.

Yet, within it’s openness also resides its strength. Far below language and facial expressions, the belly’s amazing sounding board registers our intuition. For many of us, the first sign of something ‘not right’ shows up in our gut. It’s also the place that tells us when things are true and good by the overall warm feeling emanating from the belly.

In Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, she says, “You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” The soft animal of my body is my belly and I’m learning to trust this truth.