In the desert, Spring is special as it is our pause before the extreme heat. If we are mindful, we make the most of these mild days. We enjoy the ability to cease heating and/or cooling our homes, cars, offices. We sleep with the windows open. We enjoy the wild flowers.
I said goodbye yesterday to a group of Catholic clergy I have been working with for 7 weeks. I teach a “Mind, Body, Spirit” Seminar for a clergy sabbatical program here in Tucson.
Essentially, I give them an ecumenical model for how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness “work” and then we spend the majority of our time engaged in gentle, relaxing, and prayerful practice.
As a closure, I asked them to tell me what stuck with them from the practice experience, what they would be taking away into their lives and ministries.
Here is a summary of their list for all of us to remember:
- Breath. How important it is to breathe consciously and to notice our breath holding patterns.
- Gentle Movements. How much can happen with simple, mindful movement.
- Simplicity. Stand against the wall for a few moments. Fold forward ½ way with your hands on a table top. Lie down and let your body open.
- Alignment. Notice how the body contracts and rounds and the difference you feel when you adjust and align more with gravity.
- Respect. Work with your body in this moment. There is no need to force, strain, or effort for something particular.
- Relax. Notice the way we rush, lurch, tense, grip as we are acting. Consciously relax within the effort and notice how that also affects your mind.
- Grace. In movement and in the whole experience.
- Space. It helps to have the right environment and we become the right environment- our body/mind state.
- Focus. The mind on the body, the body as a worthy focus for attention, prayer, communion, insight.
In truth- this isn’t their list exactly. That arose on the white, dry erase board and then was dissolved as we talked about yoga styles out there in the wider world. This list is what I remember and what I have embellished a bit. Yet, it’s the same and different every time I teach. What makes it different is the alchemy, the respect we have for ourselves and each other as we commune on this day. Goodbye Fall Sabbatical Group, it was lovely to share my yoga ministry with you these 7 weeks. God Bless us all.
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together. Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland
When considering what to share from my practice this month, the idea of pace came to mind as a relevant theme.
As I tried to write about it, it became overly complex. So I am going back to basics and simply sharing some personal thoughts that I hope are useful for you.
Years ago, I read an article by the excellent teacher of the Vedic sciences, Robert Svoboda, regarding the cultivation of Prana. Prana is the Sanskrit term for subtle energy, similar to the Chinese term Chi.
The article had a wonderful effect on me during an especially difficult period of life. I felt stuck and thwarted in many ways then, and was undoubtedly being hard on myself. Why was I so slow? Why did I have no energy? These were constant, semi-conscious questions I circulated in my mind.
I share with you the first paragraph of this article and a few reflections about how it helped me and informs me to this day.
Whoever you may be, and wherever you may live, you live your life well when you live it at the right rate. Plow your way through life and life will wear you out; poke your way along and your life will grind to a halt. Find a pace that suits you, though, and amble along it accordingly, and your world will spontaneously level a path for you.
The article goes into some depth about yogic matters that I jive with, but what struck me right away was the possibility that slow was my pace. That being upset about my pace was perhaps the drain of energy. That maybe it was time to surrender to a deeper understanding of my rhythm, and to life’s rhythm for me.
This insight paradoxically allowed me to slow down more, to drop down deeper, to rest and rejuvenate, to ask different questions, to hear from my heart, and to follow my heart.
In this period since, about 5 years now, I understand my pace more and I do my daily best to honor it and amble along accordingly. I don’t expect the world to spontaneously level my path but I do seem to understand more what is meant by such a statement.
Our pace connects us to our heart. Our heart emanates our unique emotional and spiritual longing. This is what influences the course of our path.
May you know and honor your pace. May your heart illuminate your path.
May our practice and our healing be of benefit to the whole world.
Here is a link to the entire article for those that are inspired: Prana
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
For many years I ran a yoga, meditation, and mindfulness program for Miraval: Life in Balance, and was regularly asked by our sales and marketing team to speak with journalists about our programs and what we do. Inevitably I was always asked for “tips”.
I can do tips of course and it is good way to get very clear, very quick. In the beginning it was exciting to be asked and a fun challenge and I always felt pretty good about what I offered up. It was nice to see my name in print as the expert or authority and to get comments from friends, family, and colleagues about the publicity. I’m happy to say that my name and advice popping up in an article in Woman’s Day was a particularly thrilling experience for my mother-in-law. Yet more and more I felt dissatisfied about what ended up in print.
It was never quite what I said or meant, not the right context, it seemed banal and superficial. The idea here was of course to simply get mentioned, to get attention to your cause, but it never felt quite right seeing the tips end up next to tips for removing cellulite or losing your belly fat, or having the perfect bath. It’s like seeing the woman on tv who teaches yoga to professional athletes and swears by Advil for the days she is too sore or sick but the game must go on. It’s simply not the right message about these subjects. It’s static rather than substance.
I don’t mean to sound cynical, I have benefited from the mainstreaming of these practices. I am sure we all have benefited from these casual tips at some point and that we all need a little something different to get information across our filters. We all deserve a good bath after all! I will indeed keep giving tips and receiving tips.
Rather than cynical, I am curious. Can I find a way to get clear, quick, and still transmit meaning? Can tips be experienced as ideas, reminders, sparks that energize the reader or listener rather than concepts we mistakenly impose upon ourselves? In my mind one tip truly received could change our lives’, it’s that simple, yet not that easy!
Three Tips for Maximizing your Experience of Tips:
- Your breath is more important than anything you are reading or hearing or doing.
- You are already whole and complete, no improvement necessary.
- Let life live through you. (poem fragment from “Hokusai Says”, by Roger Keys)
When I was in my early 20’s a friend and her mother recommended I see a psychic they thought highly of. I had already finished my undergraduate degree in history, was practicing yoga, and working in the food service world to get by. The main question was what would I DO with my life? What would I be? It was a pressing concern.
The psychic was serious, lived simply, a devotee of Siddha Yoga, an astrologer , a lesbian, her house had a certain smell- old, a bit musty, like an old book. I liked her and trusted her for some reason right away.
What I remember most was that she said clearly that I would be a teacher. I flinched. I had never particularly enjoyed school and never saw myself as a teacher. I had a Bachelors of Arts degree and everyone always asked, “What are you going to do, teach?” “NO” was my immediate response. I had nothing affirmative to offer next.
“You won’t teach normal things, academic things, not a school room teacher.” I still had no idea what she was talking about and remember feeling deeply disappointed that there wasn’t something else offered up as a more appealing possibility. Teach?!
Then my yoga teacher, Priscilla, asked me to teach for her one day. She was going away and wanted me to simply fill in for her. I was surprised and honored and felt that if she thought I could do it, I could and simply would. I remember mapping out how a class might unfold together at the table in “Delectables” restaurant and thinking “here we go”, but not knowing what that meant.
I was probably nervous and undoubtedly self-conscious, but I have no recollection of that. Only that I did it and would continue doing it and then suddenly Priscilla was saying that a teacher training program would happen, her first in Tucson, and that it was me who was begging for it. I was?
I won’t share the whole story right now, only that the psychic was right and the journey into that truth, its realization, is the essence of what I am doing here with Yoga at Heart. It is about me and it is about you and it is about the world. I say that not to be grand, quite the opposite. Utter humility is what I hope to embody as a teacher and give birth to in my teaching. It’s about the teaching, it’s about you, it’s about the flow of the life force. These are not normal things after all, not academics, not a school room…
The word ‘education’ is derived from the Latin root ‘educare’. While education refers to collection of worldly facts, educare is to bring out from within. Education is for a living while educare is for life.
~ Sri Sathya Sai Baba
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.
- Be aware of your breath. Simply notice. No thinking necessary.
- Be aware of your body sensations. Simply notice. No thinking necessary.
- Move your body mindfully, focusing on the experience of sensation. No thinking necessary.
- Shake. Rattle. Roll. Rub. Hop. Yawn. Sigh. Stomp- whatever connects you to your body now.
- Be aware of raw feeling states. The feeling of yes. The feeling of no. The feeling of maybe-so.
- It doesn’t matter what you feel. It does matter that you notice how you are feeling.
- Notice your thinking, imaging, inner dialogue. Is it true? Is it helpful? Is it skillful?
- Notice that awareness- this faculty that can notice- is bigger than thinking.
- Sensations, emotions, thoughts drive impulses, actions, behaviors, consequences.
- The future is shaped moment by moment- be intentional and notice when you’re not.
- 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.
Meditative Yoga Practice Series
Saturday, February 20 – The Fifth Chakra: Heart’s Desire
Saturday, March 26 – The 5 Flows of Prana
Saturday, April 23 – The Third Chakra: City of Gems
Saturday, May 14 – The 5 Mind States & the Breath
This series of practice days grows out of a desire to support our continued healing, growing, and awakening. The beauty of Yoga is the experiential process; this strengthens our connection to inner knowing, the inner teacher or Guru. Longer practice sessions, well-paced and designed, are an important part of our development. These sessions are open to both new and experienced practitioners. Each Saturday will have a similar format yet there will be distinct themes and practices. Here are some other thoughts about how a day of practice can benefit you:
* Extended practice increases your concentration and stamina, which will translate into all you are doing.
* This meditative way of practicing will help you stay in and expand your comfort zone, you will be invigorated rather than exhausted.
* I have taught Days of Mindfulness Practice for many years and see how profoundly it affects people; there is even research that indicates that a day of meditation can affect gene response in a positive and measurable way.
* You will explore and refine your general practice, so you understand anew how Yoga works for you outside the class structure.
$100 for the day or $325 for the series.
Please contact me to register.