We are all feeling so much right now, processing a lot of news, figuring out how to prepare and how to adapt- at home and at work.  What we may not realize is that we are grieving as well.  Grieving for what is unfolding, for what will not be, and also for the unknowns of the future.

While this situation is enormously complex, and the effects of it all will affect us each differently, there is also something surprisingly unifying.  We are all in this together, it is not just one country or state or city or family.

Here are some tips and tools from my yoga, mindfulness, and grief practices to support your mind/mind/spirit in this trans-formative time.  I hope they can help, and I know personally they do.

  • Elisabeth Kubler-Ross laid out the 5 stages of grief:  denial, anger, sadness, bargaining, acceptance.  They were not her last words about the process and often are taken too literally, yet they are good signposts.  Notice what you are thinking and feeling- which one might apply to your current state of being with all this?
  • This is a chaotic time, whether your life has come to a full stop, or you are actively engaged in an essential function.  What can you do that helps you personally calm down, slow down, tune in, pause, and be present.  Ask yourself, “what am I aware of right now?…How am I relating to myself and the moment right now?…What is needed, if anything?..
  • One of the most powerful self-compassion tools is to bring your awareness to your heart center, or to breathe into your heart center, or to put your hand or hands upon your sternum.  Sometimes, this is enough.  Feel the sensations. No words needed.  Just the feeling of connecting to your heart center can be soothing. Think of this as stocking up on compassion, kindness, and patience too.
  • Find safe ways to express your feelings and ideally to feel them through for a few minutes at a time.  The more we deny, distract, project, suppress our feelings- the more problems they create in our body and in our relationships.  In lieu of a safe person, there is always pen and paper- write them down, let it rip, and rip it up or burn it if you are worried about it being read.  The point is to get it out, externalize it.  Sometimes it is pure catharsis (it is a good sign if you cry while you are writing), sometimes it leads to insight (it doesn’t have to), let go of analyzing why or problem solving (you can talk back to the voice that goes there quickly).
  • We all have different ways of processing our feelings:  exercise, dance, art, music, nature, talking, meditating, praying, playing.  You don’t have to put words to them, but you do need to feel them, honor them, let them flow rather than simply sit.  Emotion implies motion.  Give yourself permission to feel what you feel and see where it takes you.  There is a short poem by Mary Oliver that expresses this perfectly:
    We shake with joy, we shake with grief.
    What a time they have, these two
    housed as they are in the same body.
  • One practice I have been doing spontaneously lately is simple breath awareness, or conscious breathing.  Just being more aware of my breath coming and going throughout the day, as I am doing what I am doing.  Letting it be and appreciating what it is.  I am thinking of this as breath affiliation.  We all need to breathe to be alive.  Breath is the symbol of our birth and death.  For now I am indeed alive and well.  I can breathe well for all those that may be struggling.  Jon Kabat Zinn often said “practice as if your life depends on it, because it does.”  I always marveled that he made the mindfulness practice truly seem so critical. Today it truly is.

Take care

Natasha

Here are some reflections from my practice and hopefully some inspiration for yours:

This winter and spring I have been concentrating on getting stronger through hiking.  It has felt important as I enter into middle age to not just move more, but to be in nature and to be reminded that my body is a vehicle for connecting with the wilderness.

My asana practice is simple and sweet these days.  I don’t try and get much out of my body- rather I attend to it so it feels good and balanced.  This attitude has been distilled from years of practicing in ways that were not necessarily simple and sweet.

Even though I have always gravitated to gentle styles and found teachers who understood the meditative and spiritual dimension of yoga, I still pressured myself to do more and more.  I imagine I thought that was my duty as a professional yoga teacher.   It took some time to realize I was inflicting pain upon myself rather than resolving it, and that was serving no one!

This is really a lesson regarding the Mind.  I didn’t know I was being aggressive.  I didn’t know I was off track.  My teacher Rama always emphasized a will-less way of progressing and I loved the message.  It just took years to bear fruit and flowers. Perhaps there is much more to come.   Meanwhile, I am pain free, at ease, and in awe with the way my practice has evolved.

This brings me to the concept of Mind/Body that I am playing with lately.  In the new brain science we see more than ever that the mind and body are integral, not distinct.  The mind is the body, the body is the mind.  Awareness and sensitivity are keys to integration, thinking and dissecting are disturbances.  Yogis and Buddhas and Mystics of all stripes have essentially agreed upon this- now there is a modern wave of contemplative science and study that affirms and explains the phenomena of integration.

It is an exciting and exhilarating new way of conceiving of self and human potential.   What does your body tell you?  How does the thinking and judging mind distort the information?  How do we enter into the energy and information of the mind/body, learn from it directly?  How do we translate this integration of being into our lives and world? What might it mean for the future?

In regards to your practice, I hope you have the opportunity to move more and the wisdom to will-less from your body.  I wish you the enjoyment of nature and the opportunity to touch into wilderness.  I pray that your own mind/body journey flowers into good health and spiritual integration.  And that each of our practices aids to the healing of the world.

Blessings and Light, Natasha

Mindfulness is sometimes referred to as self – recollection. I offer a few simple examples of how this can work, and benefit you in profound ways.

  • You are lost in thoughts (a form of virtual reality) and you realize that you are gone, and then direct attention to the feeling of body and breath, room and present moment reality. This is a basic self-regulation skill, it helps to keep the nervous system from unnecessary activation.
  • You are talking about something and realize it may not be that appropriate or useful and come back to the point and the attempt to express yourself or dialogue with others. This is a basic relational skill, it helps us build respectful connection.
  • You are doing something and notice that it may be a diversion and pause and consider, is this the best way to spend my time right now? This is mindful time management.
  • You realize you are anxious or agitated by something or someone and you give yourself permission to acknowledge it, make space for it and make intentional choices regarding it. This is basic emotional intelligence, our emotions provide vital information.
  • You realize that persistent memories come to mind and create emotional upset in your body and mind, you notice and breathe and honor what is arising naturally this is the skill of restoration, integrating the past into the present as it is tolerable.
Home

Space

Breathing

Just breathe

Breath

The space of infinite awareness

Awareness

Eyes open

See with clarity

Feel clarity

Clarity

Silver edged space

Stillness

Freedom

Space

Vast open awareness

Breath

The rhythm of space

Awareness

The calm

The awakening

Pain

Don’t run

Joy

Don’t run

For Now

Don’t run

Clarity

Burning up the seeds of fear

To be who you are now and now and now

The Space

That dissipates all raw emotions

And the space

That releases denial and coverup

And the space

That is awareness breath clarity

And Home

Our normal daily life creates a pattern of mental focus that often takes us out of our physical, present moment reality.  Our attention goes away and in many directions, often for long periods of time.  This way of being, while it may seem necessary, productive, and even creative has many limitations.

The primary limitation is that it accentuates the mind/body disconnection- our body is doing one thing, our mind is doing many other things.  This disconnection makes us highly susceptible to physiological stress or sympathetic nervous system arousal.  That means our bodies are revving up to prepare for danger and emergency, its information is based on our conscious and unconscious thoughts and feelings, and in most cases there is no danger- the threat and thus the stress is in fact, unnecessary.  This unconscious and unnecessary ‘’revving” of our nervous system agitates, confuses, and exhausts us creating less productivity and more vulnerability to illness and accident.

The secondary limitation of our attention moving around constantly away from the present moment, is that we do not get to live our moments fully.  We in fact feel less because our senses are not activated and our emotions are not integrated into what we are doing.  While this can be a relief sometimes to just “do” life, if this doing prevails we are more prone to over-indulge the senses- which in turn exacerbates physiological stress, and we are easily overwhelmed by our feelings.

With the Mindfulness practices offered below, you can begin to gradually shift your attention back to the present moment reality.  This simple act of harnessing your attention, will help you develop your mind body connection, reduce and manage stress, and bring more beauty and balance to your life.  With practice, you will see that learning to attend to yourself is an act of intelligence and self-worth and that you are better able to attend gracefully to all that is needed in your life.

  1. Be aware of your breath.  Simply notice.  No thinking necessary.
  2. Be aware of your body sensations.  Simply notice.  No thinking necessary.
  3. Move your body mindfully, focusing on the experience of sensation. No thinking necessary.
  4. Shake.  Rattle.  Roll.  Rub.  Hop.  Yawn.  Sigh.  Stomp- whatever connects you to your body now.
  5. Be aware of raw feeling states.  The feeling of yes.  The feeling of no. The feeling of maybe-so.
  6. It doesn’t matter what you feel.  It does matter that you notice how you are feeling.
  7. Notice your thinking, imaging, inner dialogue.  Is it true?  Is it helpful?  Is it skillful?
  8. Notice that awareness- this faculty that can notice- is bigger than thinking.
  9. Sensations, emotions, thoughts drive impulses, actions, behaviors, consequences.
  10. The future is shaped moment by moment- be intentional and notice when you’re not.
  11. No judgment necessary.

I used to teach a lot of yoga, hours every day.  I joked that I was a marathon yoga teacher.  I taught different types of yoga practices in those many hours, it wasn’t all super physical.  It was also in one facility, so I didn’t have to drive hither and yon.  I loved what I did and I made a good living in the days when yoga teaching wasn’t really a profession.

It is said you teach what you most need to learn, maybe that is true.  I guess I needed to learn how to be in my body, how to be myself and connected to something more.  I also learned a lot about teaching, communicating, relating.  For me learning is primarily about self-awareness, and secondarily about information.  This is why I teach Yoga and not history, which was incidentally what I studied as an undergraduate.

For some reason, my desire to talk about the breath today brought me back to reflecting on these early days of marathon teaching.  I taught this morning, a short 75 minute class and everyone was very focused.  It felt like what it took me many years to learn were transmitted and absorbed by everyone in the room.  It was a bit of a time warp really, it felt like we must have practiced for hours to get that deep.  At the heart of this story is the breath.

If you have practiced yoga with me, you will know there is a special way that we breathe.  This comes from my teacher Rama and is the essence of her method, which she will not name.  She calls it Yoga.  There are lots of layers to this method, but in a nutshell it is a way of using the breath to create shifts and changes in our being without activating the ego or the will.  It is a way of working within the yoga poses that takes you into deep states of meditation where subtle conflict is resolved.  It is a way of converting the oxygen we breathe into the prana or energy we need to be both transformed and to maintain our integrity.

How does all this happen through breath?  I wish I could describe it here, I actually have been trying (and editing it out) but it is really something you have to experience.  For now I will simply say what I have said billions of time by now, breathe.