Balance

Here is my first blog entry from September, 2014. I thought it might be fun to revisit some of these while I am preparing for certification as a Chopra Center Educator. Enjoy my journey and may it inspire you on your own!

I was the mother of two young children when I was in my late 20’s. The importance of maintaining personal balance (physical, mental, emotional) quickly became apparent to me. My spouse was military and we were living in Goose Bay, Labrador. It was 1972 so information and resources were scarce in remote places.

Without family nearby or even easily accessible by phone, my participation in bible studies and prayer groups led me to women with more life experience. Their friendship and guidance helped me begin to discover the things that would bring me into a healthier, more balanced way of life.

Many years later I discovered hatha yoga, which surprisingly met a spiritual need that seemed to have no answer. I had read about and tried to meditate but was not able to achieve the deep, lasting results others reported. In yoga I learned that body chemistry, especially imbalances, keep the mind and emotions from settling down and this can make meditation frustrating and unfruitful.

The very essence of hatha yoga is balance. “Yoga” is similar in meaning to the word “yoke.” Draft animals often work in pairs and come into harmony and balance through the use of a yoke. When they are equally yoked, they can move as one and achieve the work set before them.  In yoga we seek that balance and harmony of body, mind, and emotions that allows us to be one with ourselves and others.

Hatha yoga defines this more specifically. “Ha” means “sun” and “tha” means “moon.”  These represent the yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) aspects of life. In hatha yoga, the physical practice (asanas or postures), combined with breathwork (pranayama) and mindfulness, bring the practioner into personal balance and harmony. When I am in harmony with myself, it is more likely that I will be in harmony with others.

For me, one of the early gifts of my practice was the quietness that began to emerge in my thoughts and feelings. I found that I could actually sit in stillness, without restlessness or circular thinking. After 15 years of searching, something was working for me!

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Hatha Yoga

So much of the yoga I see in class settings is the Ashtanga style of Hatha yoga. I am reminded this morning of things I learned in my basic and advanced yoga training with Joseph LePage at Integrative Yoga Therapy. First of all, Hatha yoga came much later than the eight limbs of yoga that were developed to bring deep peace and enlightenment. I was trained in the classic sense that Hatha or the practice of asana/posture had a very specific purpose. That purpose is to prepare the body and mind to enter into the stillness of meditation. In meditation I come to understand my oneness with the Divine, with All That Is, and, from this awareness, I desire and am able to live the deeper truths of compassion, non-violence, peace, and true joy.

Yes, the practice of asana brings balance, strength and flexibility to the body. Yes, it calms the mind (if the student is fully present and in the moment). Yes, it keeps most of us sane! Still it is not the goal and, from what I am seeing, students are often not given the time and the guidance to move from their practice into meditation/stillness.

The most powerful practice is to develop the art of stillness, entering the silence and learning to be fully in each moment. Stillness allows for experiencing thought as it comes and goes, emotion as it rises and falls, body as it accepts or resists; it is the garden within where the Divine awaits the awareness and presence of the practitioner. Stillness is rich with the experience of the moment rather than empty. It is the opportunity to immerse in the Divine Presence, to float on the wave of True Peace, Oneness, and Joy.

We are gifted with so many amazing sources of information, so many ways to learn and practice are at our fingertips. I invite you to explore and find what will work for you. If you are at all like me, eclectic and needing variety, you can pick and choose from several types of meditation practices. If consistency is best for you, then find the one you resonate most highly with and begin there.

You do not have to be good at it or do it perfectly! You must, however, begin and do the best you can. How else will you ever gain the benefit, the blessing, the peace, the enlightened life you seek?

Love. Compassion. Peace. Blessings from me to you.

Practical Yoga

Hatha Yoga is one of the most practical tools for maintaining balance physically,mentally, and emotionally. And you don’t even have to do the asanas, postures, perfectly to reap its benefits!

For example, when facing one of life’s “battles,” in a relationship, at work, or in your finances, do warrior. Warrior opens the heart and draws the mind into the core of your body. Breathe to your belly slowly and evenly and remember that your strength and wisdom come from within. Take 3-5 breaths on each side, longer if you prefer. Affirmations are useful as you hold. Inhaling I breathe; exhaling I have courage (or I am strong).

Triangle is the posture of openness. Remember, you don’t have to put your forward hand on the floor to gain its benefits. Do triangle at the place where your body feels open in the shoulders and chest, even if your hand goes no lower than your knee. This asana is helpful in relationships. When holding, bring your awareness to the heart center and soften your rib cage. Breathe slowly and evenly and use an affirmation. Inhaling I breathe; exhaling my heart opens to love.

In the natural flow of life, we experience loss in many ways. Grief follows and can be embraced for its ability to enhance compassion and wisdom in our lives. Child pose creates a time and space that feels safe and warm, especially when done over a yoga bolster under a blanket. You can cover your head with the blanket as well if you feel the need to fully withdraw into the fetal position. Again, awareness comes to the breath as it expands into the abdomen and rib cage. Feel your body as it moves with your breath. Let the energy that wants to collect in tightness flow instead. Grief is an intense emotion but letting it flow lightens it. It may leak out your eyes in the form of tears; this is a good thing. Studies have shown that the chemicals in tears change depending on the cause of the tears. The body knows what to let go of!

Hatha yoga is a practical tool. Let yourself feel each asana in a whole new way. Form and alignment are important yet they are not everything. Their purpose is to release energy to flow well and easily and to protect from injury in the practice. The purpose of yoga goes way beyond those things. Open your mind, your body, your heart to new ways of experiencing your practice. Keep it simple and who knows what might unfold.

May our minds and hearts be open. May we continue to unfold into the awareness of True Self. May we live in ease as we discover our peace within.

Namaste.

Balancing Breath

First of all, thank you to those of you who have chosen to follow this blog. Most of you have never met me and I am touched by your presence, humbled by your willingness to read what I have to share. Your presence invites me to continue, as well as to write and live from the truth of who I am. Our hearts unite us in the oneness of All That Is.

There is a simple pranayama that I learned very early on in my practice of yoga. Prana is the same as chi. It is the life force energy of all that exists, seen or unseen. Yama means “I control or guide.” Our breath is something that we can feel and guide rather easily so it is the first step in learning to control or guide the flow of energy in our life experience.

It became important to me in my twenties to experience spirituality in practical ways. I remember standing at my kitchen window in Goose Bay, Labrador, as a young mother and whispering a prayer:  “Lord, if you can’t show me things that get me from morning to night without losing it, then I’m not interested!” The answer to that prayer has been steadily unfolding in my life ever since.

Using my breath to bring balance to body, mind, emotions has been one of the most practical tools I have learned. In hatha yoga, we know that what we do in the body affects the mind and emotions as well. There is no separation, only varying levels of vibration and energy. So, read the simple steps below. Then, sit quietly and begin to practice the balancing breath. Once you make it your own, you can practice it for 3 breaths or 30 breaths….wherever or whatever works for you. On your mat. In your car. Standing in line at the bank or grocery store. Balance is a powerful key for wholeness and health.

You will notice that it is very difficult to think about anything else when you are practicing pranayama. It requires your awareness and occupies the left brain very well. Even if you do this for just a minute or two, it is a pleasant break from the monkey mind!

Here we go:

Take a few slow breaths and feel your rib cage and abdomen expand with your inhales and relax with your exhales. Notice that the natural inhale is longer than the natural exhale so, during this practice of balancing breath, you will shorten the exhale to match or balance it with your inhale.

Loosen your shoulders; wiggle a little bit, it is good for you!

Close your eyes softly and soften your breath as it slows down. Count your inhale to 4 and notice the pace of your counting.

Inhale slowly to the count of 4. Exhale slowly to the count of 4 and continue.

If guiding the exhale becomes stressful for you, expand back into your normal flow of breath. When you are ready and, if time allows, come back to the balancing breath until you are complete or you need another short break.

Simple, yes? Using this practice when you are calm and quiet makes it even more effective when you are not.

May your heart and mind be open to the miracle that you are.

Namaste.

Opening Your Heart

We are designed for balance and wholeness on every level of awareness and being. Most of us understand, at least on a rudimentary level, the process of homeostasis. The physical body actively seeks its balance 24 hours a day. Years ago during a six-month stint in diagnosis, my doctor encouraged me to stay positive as test after test failed to reveal the cause of my deteriorating health. He told me that it was a miracle any of us are healthy on any given day because of the billions of elements that must be in balance for us to be healthy.

Several years after regaining my health, I returned to college and majored in psychology. While volunteering on a crisis phone service, I spoke with one of my professors about memories of abuse emerging decades after the events. He explained that the psyche (in yoga, the mental & emotional bodies) also seeks balance and wholeness. As a person matures, the walls of dissociation begin to crack and crumble and memories emerge as the mind and emotions demand healing.

When threatened, we respond on all levels, drawing in toward the core to protect ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. What many of us have not understood is how to release out of these natural and deep self-protective states. In my training with Integrative Yoga TherapyI was taught to begin the process by opening up the body in order to open the mind and emotions to release stored energy and move into balance on all levels.

Opening the heart center provides a gateway for other energy centers to open and release blocked energy, whether physical or mental. The heart has to be open for us to receive the love and compassion we need to heal and grow out of hurt and trauma. Fortunately, the physical aspect is simple and, when done gently and consistently, leads to an openness to love and life.

You might begin by trying one or all of these. Sit quietly first and ask yourself what you need. Trust what comes to your mind and heart and go from there.

Stand with your feet comfortable wide apart and your arms at your sides. On a slow inhale raise your arms to the sides and up over your head. As you exhale, bring your arms to the sides and behind your back, interlacing your fingers. Inhale and raise your arms behind you to a comfortable level as you press forward through your chest. Take 3 slow breaths as you feel your chest expand and soften with each breath. Release your hands and inhale as you raise your arms to shoulder level. Exhale and bring them in front of you at shoulder level. Interlace your fingers with your palms facing away from you. Roll your shoulder blades apart and draw your breast bone inward. Take 3 slow breaths as you feel your mid-back expand and soften with each breath. Draw your hands toward your chest to release. Stand quietly for a moment.

Fitness Ball:  Sit on the ball for a few breaths to settle into yourself. Slowly roll and lay back with the ball under your rib cage. Let yourself release into the support of the ball and expand into your breath. If this is new to you, remain for 3 – 5 breaths and slowly come up. If you are accustomed to this position, stay on the ball as long as you like, keeping your awareness at the heart center and breathing slowly and deeply. Come up or off the ball slowly as your head is back while in this position. Be aware of what you are experiencing even as you release.

Yoga Bolster or Blanket:  If you use a blanket, please be sure it is thick enough when folded to be at least 4 inches high. If you have yoga blocks, place one or two under your blanket for height. Place your support under your body, aligning it with the length of your spine from the base of your head to your waist. Let your hips relax down to the floor and open your arms out to the sides at about shoulder level. This opens the chest and you can relax into the breath. Stay as long as you are comfortable, coming up slowly and quietly to preserve a sense of comfort within the openness.

With any or all of these techniques, it is important to hold a clear intention of opening the heart for the purpose of balance and wholeness. These suggestions may bring other options to mind that suit you more specifically. Feel free to play with ideas and find what works for you.

Peace be with you, fellow travelers. May your mind and heart be open. May you be healthy and whole. May you be free.  Namaste.

Wholeness & Oneness

The practice of yoga has brought me to understand that body, mind and emotions are not separate things. They are all one manifestation of the soul or the life essence that is currently in human form. Ancient religions and philosophies, including yoga, teach us to overcome the flesh, to control the mind and to subdue the emotions. None of that ever worked for me. It created so much conflict within myself that it resulted in depression and a sense of hopelessness because I was never going to be good enough, never going to get it right.

Now, through the love, compassion and guidance of my teachers and mentors over the years, I have begun to understand the truth of non-separation, non-duality, oneness and wholeness. Last night I watched a show I had taped on the OWN network. Jane Fonda spoke of her life journey to wholeness. Several times she said, “We are not here to become perfect. We are here to become whole.”

Every particle of my being resonates with that truth. The journey is one of wholeness, remembering that I am one with the Source of all life. One of the word studies I did as a bible teacher was focused on this word “perfect.”  Jesus is quoted as having said, “Be ye perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect.” Those who came after him convinced me I was far from perfect and probably would never meet that standard. Everywhere I looked was paradox. Then I discovered a beautiful truth in the original language of the bible. The word perfect had an entirely different meaning than I had ever heard or understood. It means to come into maturity, to fulfill one’s purpose.

Stop and think about that. A fruit tree cannot bear fruit until it matures. Once it matures, it fulfills its purpose, which is to produce a specific fruit. An apple tree is perfect when it produces apples. When a human being matures, that being’s purpose is fulfilled as he or she remembers true self and lives in the oneness that has always been.

There is no separation between body, mind and emotions. We do, however, experience these parts of ourselves on different levels of awareness and resonance. Each has a different vibration on the energy level due to density. Obviously the body is the most dense substance and it has the lowest pattern of vibration. We experience human life through our physical body. Mind and emotions respond to the physical experience of the moment just as the body responds to the mental and emotional experiences we have.

Practicing hatha yoga (postures, breath, mindfulness) balances and calms the body, mind and emotions. The immediate purpose of our mat practice is to prepare us to turn within during our meditation practice. Meditation then deepens our balance and wholeness on all levels. It brings us into Oneness with All That Is. We remember who we are and why we are having this human experience.

For me, the discovery of oneness released me from the judgement and hopelessness that my belief in separation had created. Walter Littlemoon reminded me years ago that our names for God, in any language, are only to meet the need of our minds and our desire to share experience. In truth, the experience of Great Spirit, the Creator, God, Christ, Buddha, etc. is beyond language, thought, definition. It is our oneness with All That Is and how can words ever define or communicate that?

It is found and experienced in the silence within. The journey is into that sweet space where everything is quiet and as it is meant to be. Peace. Oneness. Wholeness. This is the essence of life, the essence of True Self or Soul. This is who I am, who you are, who we are as one.

In the oneness of All That Is, I am whole. In the wholeness of All That Is I am one.