Everyday Poser–Walking in the Snow!

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Here is what my neighborhood looked like this morning. Usually when things go winter around here, I get asked (told?), “you didn’t walk TODAY did you???”

Yes. I walk everyday. Walking is the best pose you can do for your body, yogis. And walking on varied surfaces is important for all kinds of reasons. Mostly this morning, my lateral hip muscles got a bit of challenge. These are called the Tensor Fascia Lattae. Which always makes me want coffee. But I had it before I left the house and I LOVED my morning practice of “walkasana” in the snow. See:

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Meditation Part Deux

Last week I listened to a podcast by my favorite blogger, Katy Bowman, regarding changing habits. She explained to REALLY master a new concept, you need to study 10,000 hours. Which sounds like a lot. Because it is. But wait, she parcels it out and if you study or practice 8 hours a day, that mastery will take about three years. Which still sounds hard, but doable. It takes 4 years to earn a college degree (or if you’re like me and don’t, umm, actually study 8 hours a day, it might take several years longer). Katy was talking about exercise, which I love to do for 8 hours a day. I am in total agreement with her that a body needs to be active most of the day to achieve optimum health. When you like something, and especially when you are already good at it, spending 3 years mastering it seems perfectly reasonable.

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My new goal is to explore deeper awareness. Meditation has never been my forte. I like to walk and there is such a thing as moving meditation, but I want to learn more disciplined meditation. Which, from what I understand, means not moving and not thinking. First off, I like to move, so the sitting in stillness part is hard for me. And then there is my mind. Occasionally I feel moments where something “deeper” is happening while I sit and quiet my mind and body. Soon however, I am thinking–about my last Facebook post and how many responses it got and whether I should be wittier or wondering what is for dinner and reminding myself to remember my mother’s birthday. Oh, and then there was the time two weeks ago when I absolutely could not exhale. What. was. that? I’m pretty sure that although moving and thinking are out, breathing is good for meditation.

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Yesterday I read in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika these words: “the yogi who meditates on the self, takes moderate and pure food and practices siddhasana (a yoga posture) for twelve years, attains siddhi (mastery).” TWELVE YEARS??? Of sitting? And thinking pure thoughts? AND eating well? It seemed extreme–even longer than getting a degree! But I am not doing this for hours every day. 10,000 hours divided by 30 minutes and minus some days is probably more like a gazillion years until mastery. Using all caps and expressing impatience when writing about *enlightenment* is probably a sign that I need a few thousand extra hours as well.

My last post made meditation seem easy. And really–certain aspects of living a meditative life is pretty straight forward. Breathe and think, right? Take action from a place of awareness and intention. And that is exactly right. And generally easy to do unless you live with a three-year old. But what about that enlightenment thingy? Is there a deeper dimension to be-ing?

More from Swami Muktibodhananda in the HYP: “Within us are planes of existence, areas of consciousness, which are in absolute darkness. These planes are much more beautiful and creative than the ones we live on now. However, how are we going to penetrate and illuminate them?”

Which is exactly what I was teaching last week in my yoga classes–but I was referring to the physical body rather than pure consciousness.We attempted to enliven our physical awareness–by engaging certain muscles and coming fully into poses, by breath work, by coordination, and by releasing energy and learning how to relax certain muscles. All of which helps us to become more embodied–more alive in the present moment. For anyone that has a reason NOT to illuminate all the darker areas of the body, this is difficult to achieve. After active asanas, there is a brief meditation done in savasana. That pose is generally not translated, because literally it is “corpse pose.” There is a certain yuckiness to doing corpse pose, but everybody loves *savasana*!

I like to think that by embracing our death, we become more alive and that savasana illuminates that darker dimension to our bodily presence. That it makes each moment more meaningful. But to really go there, to really embrace our full human essence, we must accept that we are not ultimately in control. That loss happens–and really, really, it will.

That is a really big, dark, and scary shadow across those other “beautiful and creative” planes of existence. And our beautiful, creative, and rational minds believe that it might be better to think about something else. Anything else. I don’t really have a problem achieving the fullness of embodiment, but appreciating the fullness of dis-embodiment sucks. And yet, there are those gurus and swamis and enlightened ones that make it sound worth the effort…

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So it will take time. Practice. Patience. Probably at least 12 years. But I do hope that I can illuminate all the planes of existence during my lifetime. I am pretty pleased to be here. I hope to be here a long time. And I would like to see all the beauty on every dimension possible. Because, beauty, is well, a beautiful thing. Pretty enlightening, huh?

A Better Way

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Okay–first a confession. This is a reposted blog. I have been taking my meditation practice to a deeper level and wanted to write about that. But. I am still working on what is an incredibly personal journey and not ready to put it out into the world. Next posting, I promise. In the meantime a better way to stress reduction than the above instructions:

Want to make some one who is stressed out really blow a fuse? Tell them they need to learn how to meditate and calm down. Yet, when stress begins to affect health, isn’t this exactly what should be done? If you want a fun challenge, become a health educator and try to “help” someone in this situation:

Meet Joe and Jane Stressmore. Both have a lot of excess weight around their midsections. Joe has high blood pressure and borderline diabetes. Jane has chronic low back pain, problems with urinary incontinence, and diabetes. Neither has been able to lose weight, no matter what program they try. It all comes back and then some. Their doctor has them on several medications, which has helped alleviate some of their symptoms, but the side effects are problematic. Neither sleeps well, both are working full time, and there is no way they can exercise, eat well, and certainly not “slow down.”

Metabolic Syndrome is associated with chronic stress and the release of a the hormone cortisol. Stress hormones are helpful when the stress is physical and short lived, but when it is not, these hormones have a detrimental effect on our bodies, resulting in more imbalance, more stress, and more problems including disease symptoms like Joe and Jane are experiencing. Medicine doesn’t fix the underlying problem–although it does help keep it from becoming life threatening (hopefully).

Meditation is often recommended as an alternative approach to reduce chronic stress and the symptoms associated with it. Numerous scientific studies utilizing biofeedback techniques have tracked its effectiveness and the body/mind connection. Everyone enjoys the feeling of being rested and relaxed. Wellness and health practitioners (even doctors!) know that Joe and Jane would actually begin to FIX their health problems by reducing the release of cortisol through relaxation techniques and lifestyle changes.

Most yoga classes end by teaching a bit of deep relaxation and meditation. Many of my students like this part of class best. Aside from any reflection on my teaching abilities, I am always a bit taken aback by the fact that their favorite part of class is when we are doing nothing at all. Why go through an hour and a half of class when the best part is the last five minutes? Couldn’t we just do nothing at home? Why don’t we?

I think the answer is that we have no idea how. Life in the twenty first century doesn’t exactly encourage stillness. In today’s families, both parents usually work, children have full schedules with school and after-school activities, even our dogs have “play dates” so they can socialize, at least with other dogs, since the humans are too busy to play. Generally, any “down time” becomes an escape, via television or other distraction, rather than true meditation. Taking a moment to stop, breath, and be fully present just isn’t in the cards. And it will take something far more compelling than a doctor’s recommendation or a scientific study to convince us to even try.

Matthieu Ricard’s book, The Quantum and the Lotus compares the realities of physics and the mind. Just as subatomic particles exist between the spaces, our truest sense of ourselves is found between the spaces of our thoughts. If we never stop and find space, we don’t fully know who we are and what we might become. Joe and Jane are good people. Their health struggle is not who they are; and it is most likely not how they want their lives to be defined.

Here is the cool thing: in quantum physics, particles are not bound by constraints like time and space. Those little buggers break all the rules. That’s science, folks. If you think it’s bogus, get a PhD in physics (like Ricard) and test it yourself.

Here’s the other cool thing: we aren’t really bound by time and space, either. If you think that is bogus, become a Buddhist monk (like Ricard) and spend a few years experiencing it.

When we take–even a tiny bit–of time to be present “between the spaces” we step out of time and space. We learn to let go–even at tiny bit–of that which binds us. You probably know someone who defies what we think of as “rules:” the skinny coworker who eats like a horse, the neighbor with a sick wife who still helps his elderly parents mow their lawn, the couple who always participates in fundraisers for good causes and don’t seem to have that much money…I KNOW you know someone that fits into at least one of those categories.

Letting go of our expectations of the future and our delusions of our past creates the opportunity for breaking the rules that bind us and stress us out. Ricard calls it living in the freshness of this present moment. To me, that single phrase is more compelling than any stack of medical studies or advice from my doctor. I want to rewrite the rules that have brought me down and find my true destiny in this life. So do my yoga students, and I feel sure that Joe and Jane want it, too. Meditation begins with that desire. The next step is to breathe. Simple enough so far, right? The great news is that is the whole process. Be present and breathe. You can do it no matter where you are.

So rather than doing meditation because it is good for you, maybe do it because you are secretly the kind of person that likes to break the rules. See what happens! Put your mind to doing nothing at all and notice what gets accomplished! And remember, don’t do it ‘cause I told you to. Do it because your destiny should be defined not by what limits you, but rather by what liberates you.