Finding Your Quiet Place

IMG_1162Let’s face it . . . We all need a break sometimes.  We need moment to step back, gain some perspective, recognize that we are more than the thoughts and emotions we are having in the immediate moment.  We need a moment to realize that we are more than the physical pain, the grief, the fear, or the illness we are experiencing.  It’s no wonder that, within the traditional path of yoga, four of it’s eight limbs are dedicated to learning to quiet and focus our minds.  In yoga, it’s sometimes called “cultivating the witness.”  We use our breath, our ability to focus and concentrate, our posture, and our intention to become familiar with that part of ourselves that can “witness” our thoughts, feelings, even our discomfort.  We initially learn to recognize, and then gradually to be at home with, this witnessing part of ourselves.  Once found, the witnessing place within us can be a powerful reminder that we are more than the sum of our immediate strong feelings, thoughts, story-lines, physical pain, even illness.  Cultivation of the witness within ourselves empowers us to make choices where before we felt victim to circumstances and situations beyond our control.  We meet the witness as a loving, non-judgmental place within ourselves.  Spending time in this witnessing place creates a sense of sanctuary and peace.

We begin learning this process early on in yoga practice, and then we integrate it into our asana practice.  Once we are able to consistently find it in yoga, it has the benefit of expanding outward into the rest of our lives.

Threshold Moments

 

Yoga in the season of Harvest

Last day of August, sunset yogaI live in a place that is filled with Sri, the sanskrit word for beauty.  This area is known as the “Palouse.”  My family has now lived here for four generations, and I’m a part of a group of women who lovingly know ourselves as the “Daughters of the Palouse” (our self-proclaimed acronym is “D.O.P.e S.”).  My love of this small corner of the world pulled me out of a forward-advancing career in Cambridge, MA, and back to the hills and fields where I have grown up and that I love.  For me, my yoga practice is not only good physical exercise, but it is also a spiritual practice that allows this sense of connection to deepen.  Because of yoga, I am regularly pulled off of my mat and into community.  I find that my yoga practice feels “complete,” not when I get into a perfect asana, but when I find that I am able to fully integrate the lessons that I learn on the mat into the actions that I take in my community and world to make it a better place.  So working toward preservation of our local eco-system, understanding food security, participating in developing more sustainable solutions to growing issues of homelessness in our community . . . These are all a part of my practice.  The mat is my “launching pad,” as well as one part of my home base.

As you can see in the photo, we are now in the season of harvest around the Palouse.  The native people of our area recognized this time as a separate season — the time of gathering in and taking stock, a time in which abundance was celebrated and shared, rather than horded.  I feel this same need in my yoga practice.  Harvest yoga is a season to take stock of the wisdom of our bodies and celebrate that abundance — however it looks — rather than focus on how we may perceive ourselves to be lacking.  And then, out of that sense of abundance and spaciousness, we take it beyond ourselves and into our lives and communities.  Where does your yoga lead you in the world?  More about being a Palouse yoga gal, though all the seasons, to come . . .

Hands that hurt (a bit), thoughts that heal

So, I’ve been working on the new space (now officially called “Kiva Space,” because it feels like a kiva to me — a Native American dwelling used for spiritual purposes, that one usually climbs into via a ladder!).  Rather than painting the walls, I’ve been using 3 colors of a beautiful product called American Clay.  It’s fabulous to work with, in a labor-intensive kind of way — you put it on with a roller and a trowel, and then you lovingly go over it, many times, with trowel and hands, to compress it and shape it to the wall.  If you were going for quick, it would be an aggravation.  However, I decided awhile ago that touching every part of every wall in Kiva Space would be a loving practice of intention, meditation, and prayer.  So, as I’ve worked, I’ve thought and dreamed to the lively and healing community space I want to bring to life in this funny, L-shaped space.  I’ve thought/held/prayed for many I know who have been in need of . . . well, the things we all need, trusting the beautiful place where we all connect to one another and far beyond our individual selves.  I’ve simply allowed myself to be intentionally open to yes, as I work in this little southeastern corner of Gladish.  As you can see, my hands are a bit weary, but my heart is full of the beauty of many of you.  The rainbow walls hold lots of love, and are waiting to hold the community we will become!  With a heart full of love and gratitude today — Kristine

Hugging Into the Center

How do you “hug into” the center of things so that you can then open your heart?  As Bridget Lyons reminded many of us last week when she visited Nourish Yoga to teach, these are two concepts that are fundamental to yoga and life.  We “hug in” to our mid-line — on a physical plane, we hug our body into the center to create stability and balance.  In our lives, we “hug in” around those core beliefs, values, a sense of self that we know to be true or right for us.  With this firm center, this central axis, we are able to “melt our heart,” to soften in the center.  Again, in yoga, this allows for a freedom and flexibility that allows us to do some new things, explore new asanas that may not have been accessible to us before.  On a life level, “melting our heart” opens us to new ways of thinking and being that may be what we need in our lives at this moment.  Sometimes, these two actions of “hugging in” and “melting” seem at odds with one another, but they actually complement and support each other — they are somewhat like dance partners in this life journey we take.  This little Buddah image is from my friend Suzanne at Living in the Garden.  It strikes me as a moment of hugging in around that which is beautiful and precious, so that we can offer our hearts to that which matters.  Here’s to seeking out those moments!

Need some fire in your life?

It is said that in the early practice of yoga, a prospective yoga student would appear at the home of his (and yes, back then, it was a “he”) yoga teacher with two sticks of firewood in hand.  The teacher would then meet the student and put him (yes, the students were also male) through a rigorous round of questioning and character assessment to see if the student had sufficient “adhikara,” preparedness or qualification, to take the demanding seat of the yoga student.  Only when the prospective student had met with the teacher’s satisfaction would the teacher then ceremonially accept the two sticks of firewood, which were symbolic of the burning of the impurities of body, mind, spirit, and ultimately of ego, that would take place in the agni, the fire of the yogic path, they would explore together.

Today, the process of “adhikara” or assuming the seat of the student often looks much different.  In the West, we practice yoga for a variety of reasons, and while we sometimes approach our practice with the zeal of the ancient student seeking out the teacher, sometimes it is all we can do to get everything in place to attend a class.  And yet, one thing that has not changed is that yoga is a practice that demands discipline and energy from us.  The Sanskrit word tapas describes this kind of firey energy and it is considered to be one of the essential components of yoga. It is reminiscent of the fire logs brought to the agni or yogic fire, symbolic of our intent, each time we practice, to bring the best of our energy for that day and moment, into our practice.  We work with this firey energy to “burn away” the dross – whether it’s the sluggishness of winter, an illness, something we want to let go of, exhaustion, an emotion from the day, a deeply held attitude or fear . . .  Each time we come to class, we are invited to come just as we are, leaving nothing out, and in our fullness, to take the seat of the student.  From this place, we find our tapas energy for that particular practice, ready to burn away what is not helpful or necessary, letting go of that which stops us from living in a way that is less than thriving.  What energy offering do you bring this week?

Hasya Yoga: The Yoga of “laughter wisdom”

Okay, so I was out at the Zakarison Farm last night.  For those of you who don’t know, my family has a beautiful, partially organic farm here on the Palouse, where my brother and sister-in-law do magic raising chickens, goats, lambs, mules, llamas (no camels, alas!), crops, and a bunch of stuff.  The farm is definitely a part of my yoga.  But more on that later.  The reason I bring this up now is that my wonderful nephew, Aaron, was back for a brief, birthday visit, and so we were having a fantastic dinner for him.  In addition to eating fantastic food (thank you, Sheryl), we basically just laughed and laughed.  Aaron is an amazing guy – incredibly thoughtful, and very funny.  I was once again reminded of just how good it feels to spend a night, laughing.

Sadly enough, for many of us, being an adult is no laughing matter.  We often lose our ability to laugh as we grow up.  I read a study recently that said that children laugh 300-400 times a day.  By the time we get to be adults, that number drops to 15 -20 times a day.  American adults laugh less than adults from some other countries.

Here’s some of the science behind laughter (for those of you that need that sort of thing). Laughter, even if it’s forced laughter, is good medicine for your body – increased dopamine and endorphins raise our pain threshold and reduce pain, a trigger in relaxation, an increase in our overall sense of well-being, reduction in stress hormones and measured depression.  People who engage in periods of forced or naturally evoked laughter say they feel happier and report feeling more creative, with an increased enjoyment of social interactions.

Another one of the things I love about my nephew, Aaron.  He and his long time buddy, Tim, have always been able to have a good belly laugh at those really bad jokes you find on Rocket pops – you know, the red, white, and blue popsicles?  I’ve always thought that, if we are able to be “self-entertaining units,” we will live wonderful lives, no matter how long our lives may be.

Look for more posts to make you laugh this week, and perhaps a few profound sayings about laughter . . .  In the meantime, here’s to finding some Hasya in your yoga this week.  Don’t take it too seriously – embody the light of spring!

Have you shared a laugh today?

Do you remember these days? If you were lucky, maybe it was yesterday, or this morning — when you could just get together with a dear one and laugh and laugh, sometimes about nothing at all.  There are times when I’ve been teaching yoga when it’s happened to 2 people on adjacent yoga mats.  One of them starts giggling, and it’s just like second grade again.  I attempt to play the part of the “stern” teacher, just to keep the whole thing going — that kind of laughter needs the counter part of the teacher — but I actually delight in it, because, when the laughter is genuinely from the heart,  that’s the whole body joy that yoga is all about.  And sharing it is the stuff for which we are made! I love a yoga class that has some laughter in it.  Somehow, it rounds out the beauty of it for me.

My friend Michael, who is by day a husband, dad, teacher, and a bunch of other things, but also a philosophizer and (I would say) yogi, recently wrote:  “When you make someone laugh, it’s a double gift . . . One for me, one for you.”  Share the joy!

Laughed Out Loud Lately?

Before we go any further, I really believe in the essential goodness of giraffes!  This image is from a great UK website that posts funny exam answers.  This week, we’ll be exploring lightening up our minds/bodies/spirits with Hasya yoga, or the yoga of “laughter wisdom.”  Yoga is powerful stuff — no denying it — but it also really helps to sometimes bring in a good laugh.  So stay posted (in fact, come back for more good posts!).  And bring some laughs.  It’s all yoga, after all.

What is your intention?

Now imagine being asked this four times a week by a rather intense East Indian gentleman/ yogi, who expected an answer. I was telling one of my yoga classes that my first yoga teacher liked to start us off in this manner.  Being a graduate student at the time, it was easy to fall into a passive sense of “I’m here because I’m supposed to be . . .” which did not fly at all with my teacher (this just got intense breathing and a fierce stare).   “But why are you HERE?  I mean really HERE?”  He would ask.  I was never sure if he meant in class, in divinity school, or on the planet.  I don’t think he was really quite sure, either . . . Or that the answer was any different, in Ravi’s mind.

The Sanskrit word is “samkalpa” a resolution or intention formed through an informed conversation between the body, mind, and heart, and we were expected to have one for most things in life, including yoga class.The yogic value of samkalpa begins with awareness, and as much acceptance as we are able to embrace, of where we are.  It is not unmindful of our current condition, in fact, it dwells in the “is-ness” of our body, mind, and spirit, and suggests that this is the beautiful path that we will have the joy of journeying on our way to our intention.  And it is, all, indeed, considered beautiful.  We step onto the mat, we set our intention, and we trust that we’ve got exactly what we need for that moment to go where we need to go.  That’s the journey of samkalpa.  So happy to share it with you!