Sunday, December 10, 2017

INJURY = DISCOVERY

So, I've written before about how the Yoga Nidra practice is not my fave.  Do  you know what Yoga Nidra is?  Here's this from Wikipedia:  "Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleep, is a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping, like the "going-to-sleep" stage.  It is a state in which the body is completely relaxed and the practitioner becomes systematically and increasingly aware of the inner world by following a set of verbal instructions."

Anyway, in class it's about 30 minutes of gentle asana then an hour of JUST LYING THERE!  I mean, I like a nice restorative, meditative 15 minute Savasana at the end of class like everyone else, but 60 minutes?!? That's excessive.  I try to listen to the guided body scan, but am constantly distracted by how slowly it goes -- do we really have to focus on our fingers and thumbs?!?  My pranayama practice leaves me panting as I try to control my breath with long inhales, pauses, and exhales.  My body is never completely comfortable no matter how many props and blankets I gather around me; my head always hurts.  My intention for the practice moves from "a state of calm" to "just get through this thing".

I am the exception to the norm, however, because the last Wednesday of the month 10 a.m. Yoga Nidra class is FULL.  People love it!  I've taken to avoiding that class.

But last month I showed up, having forgotten about the last Wednesday schedule.  You see, six days prior I had fallen down a flight of stairs.  Yep, slid off the top step in my stocking feet, immediately fell and smacked my head on the floor before descending, hitting my right ribs, hip/thigh, and knee on all 14 stairs coming down from my bedroom.  I picked up speed as I went, like a tobboganer without the toboggan.  So I had been a bit sore and had been away from the studio, but felt like I needed to start moving again.

Serendipity intervened on my behalf and while initially disappointed that I was there on Yoga Nidra day, I decided a long Savasana might be sort of nice.   This was maybe my 5th try at the practice and for the first time, I "got" it.  I was able to find comfort, stay present, turn inward, breathe and "be" with the whole thing and left feeling renewed, grounded, calm. 

I asked our instructor, Elizabeth, afterwards if the words and instructions for guiding Yoga Nidra are always the same, because this one really worked for me.  She smiled and said, "Yes; it's always the same."  I think I'd heard it for the first time at that class.  My body needed to slow down, my mind to find awareness, my dosha to move from Vata (swirling) to Kapha (grounded).  (I'm an Ayurvedic novice...more on that in future posts!)  

At the beginning of each Yoga Nidra practice we are prompted to find an intention for the practice in the form of an affirmation and to repeat it as if it is already true.  I decided my intention would be:  "I am strong, resilient, and calm."   That intention has become a mantra which I repeat every day -- sometimes many times throughout the day.

I don't know if Yoga Nidra will become my Nirvana practice, but I do know I'll be back.  

Namaste,  donnajurene

Friday, November 24, 2017

NO EXCUSES -- GETTING 10% HAPPIER

You think you come to yoga class to get your body in better shape -- stronger, more flexible, more balanced.  It's wonderful that asana practice provides those "value added" benefits...but the true purpose of yoga, as explained by the ancient yogis, is to strengthen and settle the mind and body for mediation.  Yep; it's all about the meditation practice.

I've been writing about my Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, of which meditation was a significant practice, to address life's stresses, depression, anxiety, physical and emotional pain.  Scientific studies have shown that our brains respond to meditation by building new neural pathways that calm the monkey mind of worry and stress.  So, actually, just sitting quietly for some period of time each day, being aware of your breath moving in and out, watching your thoughts come and go like clouds floating across the sky, is actually the whole point of Yoga and a deeply healing practice.

Why don't more people do it?

Maybe because it's got a "blissed out", hippie-vibe reputation in the West that is easy to mock.  And who wants to be laughed at? We are a busy, productive, striving culture that has no time and no patience for foolishly sitting still and not doing anything!

Also, at least initially, it's sorta hard.  Everyone thinks the point is to "clear your mind", resulting in no thoughts whatsoever.  Nope.  That's not it.  In fact, that's pretty impossible.  As long as we have human brains, human brains will do what they are created to do...think!  They will ruminate about the past, plan for the future, tell us stories, tell us lies, distract, and demand.  They are unruly two-year-olds!  The point of meditating is to "quiet" the mind...give it a "resting time" where all that activity at least slows down and whispers more softly.

We don't even have to listen; we can just acknowledge with a labeling technique what is going on.  If I catch myself planning a party while meditating, I just say to myself, "Thinking...planning" and go back to my breathing.  If I catch myself wondering what time it is and how much longer do I have to sit here, I say to myself, "Impatient" and go back to my breath.  The trick is not to attach to what the brain is doing.  There will always be thoughts...but you don't have to follow the story they are telling.  Interrupt with acknowledging and moving back to the breath.  It takes lots of practice.  Some days I'm an expert.  More often I am far, far from it.  But I keep at it.

Meditation is becoming pretty popular these days, so some of the "hippie" stigma is abating since science has taken up the study of meditation and found some quantifiable benefits to practicing.  Even the Seattle Seahawks incorporate meditation into their football program!  Books, articles, classes, courses, lectures...you can find more information on meditation that you could imagine with just a quick Google Search.

There are literally no excuses for NOT giving it a try.  Yoga Circle offers special workshops on meditation, in addition to meditation being incorporated into the physical asana practices we do.  A fabulous app you can download is "Insight Timer" that has literally hundreds of types of meditations offered by various teachers.  A beginner book I particularly like is "10% Happier" by Dan Harris, a TV journalist who found meditation after an on-air panic attack and struggle with substance abuse.  It is the perfect book for skeptics and written with humor and insight and down-to-earth tips on just trying to get only "10% happier" through meditation.

Come to class a bit early, sit quietly on your mat and let your breath be your focus.  See if that has any impact on your practice.  Do the dance of breath with movement and stillness.  Rest in savasana with a mind as at ease as your body.  Give it a try.  No excuses.

Namaste,  donnajurene

Photo credit:  pixabay.com




Tuesday, November 21, 2017

MINDFULNESS-BASED STRESS REDUCTION -- PART 4

This is the last in my series reporting on my MBSR class.

Since our day-long retreat (see previous post), we had three more sessions and these were focused on Communication, Compassion, and Continuing Practice.

Do you ever notice how relationships with others can be stressful?   If we can identify our emotions around what other people are "triggering" in us, we can learn to be present with the emotion, noticing it, and identifying it without becoming that emotion with our whole being.  Instead of "I'm so angry with you!!!" there might be a pause, a deep breath, and the acknowledgement that "anger is rising in response to what she said."  The anger is there, but it's not controlling me.  I admit to this being a real challenge for me.  Emotion is a powerful force and arises in an instant.  The practice is to slow down, pay attention, and "label" the feeling with some distance in order to maintain equilibrium in a potentially tense situation.

As we are able to respond rather than react to life and its stresses, we might also find a place of more compassion for ourselves and those around us.  Our textbook says, "Compassion is defined as the practice of noticing suffering in ourselves and others and being willing to help."  Help takes many forms and sometimes the best we can do is be present with the feelings that arise, holding space, and witnessing with another.  Sometimes we need to realize our own suffering may be due to distorted thinking and projection, and not in tune with reality at all.  This is an opportunity to take responsibility for our own thinking and to find clarity and peace with a new paradigm of interpretation.   We did many "Lovingkindness Meditation" practices in class...sending love and compassion and well-being to those we love, those we only know a little bit, to ourselves, and most challenging, to those we actually dislike.  Sound easy?  Nope.  That's why they call it a practice.

In class we learned there are formal practices -- a variety of sitting meditations, as well as movement meditations -- Qigong, Yoga, etc.  And there are informal practices -- eating mindfully, walking mindfully, speaking mindfully, awareness of sensation in any given minute.  All of these can be incorporated into a daily living mindfulness practice that keeps us grounded, aware, in the moment, and free from regret (past focus) or worry (future focus).

At the end of the class I realized that the Nirvana I had hoped to obtain by taking the MBSR class was not automatic.  I realized that most of the modalities and exercises were not new to me -- I've been taught them and have sporadically practiced all of them in the past.  What was real for me, the learning I take away, is there is no 'magic pill' of a teacher or class or course that will take the place of dedication to practicing every day.  Mindfulness is always there yet it's not always easy to access; it takes a intention and attention to truly incorporate peace, equanimity, and tranquility into our lives.

Seems like it might be worth the effort.  Now, close your eyes and notice your breath moving in and moving out....

Namaste,  donnajurene


Tuesday, October 31, 2017

MINDFULNESS BASED STRESS REDUCTION -- PART 3

We have had a spectacular Fall.  The days have been mostly warm and sunny; the nights cool and clear.  The Fall colors have been brilliant and have lasted all month since no torrential downpours or sustained winds have knocked them from their branches.  Everyone is eager to be outside, drinking it all in before the inevitable winter gloom comes upon us.

That's why it was really, really hard to head to a day-long meditation retreat last Saturday as part of this mindfulness course I am taking.  All the live-long, sunny, brilliant blue sky, red-orange-gold day I spent inside a hospital conference room not talking to anyone and, most of the time, with my eyes closed.  I had thought of a million reasons not to go.
But I went.

This day-long retreat is meant to be a total immersion into mindfulness meditation, a "sampler" of meditation practices we may find useful in our daily lives.  We've explored some of them in class, but this was a chance to dive deep.

We arrived at 9:00 a.m. to settle in and get instruction from our teacher.  Then we went into silence.

At 9:30 we had our first sitting meditation session: Awareness of Breath.  The idea is to just breathe.  Don't do anything special, just be aware of the breath going in and out of the nose; the belly and chest rising and falling in rhythm.  Thoughts come, acknowledge that, and let them pass on without attaching to them.  Sounds easy, huh?  Try it.  Especially try it when the large group in some sort of training session is on the other side of the room divider talking, laughing, and applauding.  Meditation challenge.

At 10:00 we stood for our first Walking Meditation session of the day.  The room was large enough for all of us to line up on each side of the room and and find a "lane" to walk to the other side, passing classmates along the way.  Again, nothing needed but to pay attention. Walk at any pace, but be aware of body, how the foot feels on the carpet, legs and arms moving in tandem,  and breath.  Don't focus on thoughts, just body moving along your lane.  I liked it and found it calming.

At 10:30 it was time for some easy yoga and a body-scan.  We spread out our mats and followed the instructions of our teacher as he led us through a very gentle asana practice, then we settled into a savasana posture to do a full body-scan practice.  Some fell asleep, but not me.  I did notice I continue to have a hard time with this practice, feeling uncomfortable on my back even though I brought lots of props and blankets, and that I get very impatient and antsy.  Interesting to note.  No judgement.

At 11:00 it was time to sit again for a Listening Practice.  Just close eyes, and hear sounds.  Try not to identify or explain to resist or tell a story, just notice "sound" and move on.  "Sound" was mostly that other group continuing to distract me.  HaHa  I need more practice.

At 11:30 we walked again.  Same thing.

At noon we had a lunch break...Mindful Eating.  Everyone found a quiet place to eat their sack lunch. Some stayed in the room, others retreated to the large foyer where there were big windows and a few tables, and some rebels defied the instructions and went outside.  That was me.  I just HAD to have some fresh air and sunshine.  A couple others did too.  I ate my crackers, cheese, and fruit with the sun on my face, the breeze in my hair, the colors of the trees dancing before my eyes, and watched as a crew re-striped the parking lot in the back of the hospital.  I loved the quiet and focus of eating with intention.

Back inside at 12:45 we sat for and Open Awareness meditation.  This one really resonated with me.  The idea is to be fully aware of everything going on -- being in touch with all senses and thoughts and to learn, by this paying attention, more about ourselves -- how our minds and bodies have certain habits and patterns.  We were to notice, note, and move on...but with some awareness of Self and how we might be causing our own distress at times.  I noted that I am always planning something.  And not just "I have to stop at the store on the way home.." but planning imaginary gatherings, or creating a book, or writing any number of things I have ideas for...actual sentences of some future writing project started to flit though my mind.  No wonder I often feel I don't accomplish enough; my brain is creating things at such a pace, I could never keep up.

At 1:15 we walked again.  Back and forth.  I noticed that movement meditation, either walking or yoga, really calms my mind.  I don't think as much when I'm moving; not so caught by the planning mind.

At 1:45 we did a Lovingkindness Meditation.  This is when you send out loving thoughts of well-being to someone you love; then to someone you know a little, but not well; and in advanced practices, to someone with whom you have a lot of conflict or difficulty. Finally you sending lovingkindness to yourself.  I like this practice, but sometime it's really hard to send love to someone who is your nemesis.  Advanced, indeed.

At 2:15  we did a bit of standing yoga; again very gentle, and mostly Mountain Pose and bending left and right.

At 2:30 we did a Self-Compassion meditation, similar to Lovingkindness but totally self-directed.  It felt very nurturing.  One suggestion to was to visualize ourselves as children...it was powerful to send love to our little selves.

At 3:00 we finally were able to speak again...and shared in pairs and then with the group our experience of the day.  Everyone felt it was positive; many gained new insights and had profound experiences.

The retreat ended at 4:00.  I came away with new learning about how body movement can be a focused meditation for me.  I discovered that my planning brain keeps me feeling stressed at times over the fantasies of all I want and should to do, but don't have the time or energy to accomplish in real life.   I loved the sense of community, even though we were in silence together -- sort of an introvert's dream, really.

All in all, I'm glad I went.  I only wish it had been a rainy day...

Namaste,  donnajurene