Detritus that needs taming
Gathered in corners.
But I know myself better.
Collections spread here.
This week I will start teaching my 5-week class on Thursday mornings. I have a good number of sign ups, and a couple of yoga teaching friends that may drop by, and I am excited to start.
Since I am preparing for that, I will be writing a weekly series on Wednesdays in October focusing on the 5 Yamas, Sanskrit for “restraints” which are part of the gems of wisdom making up yogic philosophy. These are: nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, nonexcess and nonpossessiveness.
The first week we start with Ahimsa, or nonviolence, literally to “do no harm.” This is so fundamental to the practice of yoga. Yet it is not always respected in our desire to “get things right” or to imitate our teachers.
We do violence to ourselves when we strive for perfection rather than balance, when we overdo rather than just do. The hardest part for me in this lesson was realizing how hard I was being on myself. My inner critic became apparent when I started listening to the thoughts in my mind more often.
Learning to bring some compassion to those “sub-personalities” that were driving some of my behavior, I have embraced a new pattern of nonviolence by becoming curious about that critical voice. Rather than believing it, I realize it often comes from that protective part of ourselves that is driven by fear and by the conditioning of our families of origin, and society as a whole.
By directing our attention to the breath and the body, getting “out of our heads” for a moment, we can step back from that inner dialogue. The mind’s stories create a cacophony of noise that is not the REAL self. Developing compassion for that inner voice, rather than criticizing ourselves for having it, allows us to move forward with greater ease.
This is in line with Kristen Neff’s work on Self-Compassion which I explored in an earlier post. There is a way in which treating ourselves with kindness flows out to our relationships with others as well. As Deb Adele’s book on The Yamas and Niyamas points out: “If you are a taskmaster with yourself, others will feel your whip.”
What I have noticed in practicing self-compassion with my flaws and short-comings is that I have so much more compassion for others as well. In this way, ahimsa becomes a powerful foundation for living well.
May you, my lovely reader, practice ahimsa by noticing where you are not being as kind to yourself or others as you could be. In what ways can you more easily accept yourself as you are without judgment or criticism?
On Tuesday night I had to move my husband’s truck from the driveway to a side street. The townhome complex will be seal-coating our driveway, and they told us they would tow away vehicles still there at 6:30a.m.
Hubby is heading home from Wyoming via his fixed motorcycle today, and hopefully will be home by Thursday. So it was good that I persuaded him to leave his keys at home in case the vehicles needed to be moved.
After a 6-meeting day, an exhausted brain rebelled against writing. I pulled up some You-Tube videos to remind myself how to drive manual transmission. It has been a couple of years since I got some lessons from hubby in his old truck. He reassured on the phone on Sunday when I expressed my concern that I wasn’t sure I would remember how to drive stick.
Of course I put off the chore until dusk because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the neighbors in broad daylight. But I did it! I backed it up and slowly drove it around to the side street, stalling only twice. 😉
It made me realize that what is different about automatic versus manual is that you must pay attention at a more subtle level to the clutch pedal. So it is about mindfully moving through the gears while paying attention to the sounds of the car, and the “catch” of the pedal beneath your foot.
The metaphor struck me: we live so much of our lives on auto-pilot. Without thinking. Without noticing subtlety. When we have to pay attention, it takes a little effort, especially if driving manual is not habitual for us. So the truck was my teacher tonight: it will go just fine if you take it slowly and pay attention.
I have been learning a concept in yoga teacher training that is getting me to rethink how I approach the activities in my day. It is the notion of the “just right stimulus” when it comes to doing yoga poses, or deciding how to modify them for optimal benefit.
Since yoga aims mobilize, stabilize and strengthen our bodies, we must apply certain principles to achieve those goals. The idea is that when we receive that just right stimulus, we can increase the mobility of our joints, we can stabilize and align our spine and further, strength our body and optimize our health.
When we overdo a stretch or push our bodies too hard, injuries develop over time. In contrast, when we under-use our bodies, neglecting the mobility of our joints, or losing the strength in our muscles and bones by not moving enough, our body can atrophy. We then become less physically capable over time.
Our minds are like this too. When we are constantly “on” – doing, thinking, absorbing, seeking input and running around, we can become over-stimulated. As someone who is neuro-diverse with variable focus, this can be all too easy to do. In contrast, becoming too passive, such as vegging out in front of the t.v. for hours at a time, or allowing our minds become listless and dull, does not serve us. It then will required more energy to focus, think and be purposeful in our actions if we develop a habit of mental passivity.
Our bodies and souls need periods of activity and rest to stay in their optimal condition. These cycles vary from hour to hour, day to day and even month to month, seasonally and in the various phases of our lives. Indeed psychiatrist Dan Siegel coined the term “window of tolerance” to describe the optimal arousal of our nervous system.
In cultivating resilience in ourselves, it is important to develop some internal sensing of when we are not too hot, not too cold, but just right (remember Goldilocks and the three bears?) Stephen Porges, PhD called this “neuroception” in his exploration of Polyvagal Theory, which helps us understand how safe states are sensed, and how the social engagement system can help us self-regulate.
When we go about our daily life, we find that we move in and out of the optimal state and this is a normal part of living. What is important is that we find ways to get ourselves back to more balance so that we can bring our full presence and engagement into our relationships and our work.
There are many practices that can help us with this. I will be exploring some that I find particularly beneficial in the next couple of weeks as I prepare to deliver a workshop on the neuroscience of resilience for a local client. I hope they will be helpful to you as well!
Much of the literature on happiness and habits refers to building routines that work for us and support us every day toward achieving our goals. I like to have a daily routine, especially in the morning.
The grounding and centering I achieve through regular routines of meditation and journal writing in the morning seems to have a lasting effect on my mood and overall happiness. My weekly “writing days” when I will post to WordPress have built up trust in my ability to create pieces on a consistent basis.
Every Sunday since October 2017 I have posted a haiku. This past weekend, I was at a 3-day yoga teacher training weekend Friday through Sunday. For 9-10 hours a day, we did yoga practices, learned new things, and explored many facets of yoga. It was amazing, and it was also physically and emotionally taxing.
On Saturday evening, I was pretty wiped out. The longest of the 3 days, it began at 8 and ended at 6. With 20 other students, a lot of dyad work, and a couple of teachers working with us, it was a LOT of people interaction. It pushed my capacity to the limit, and rather than writing haiku when I came home, I was wrung out to the point of exhaustion.
After I got home for the day, a tiny part of me said: “You still have not written your Sunday haiku yet; you can’t go to bed yet.” But the wiser higher mind said: “Turning on the computer and risking your quality of sleep is not a good idea. Get some rest.”
And thus, a streak which had continued for ~75 weeks was broken. While I felt a little sad about it, I also felt freed by it at the same time. It was a habit I had built up that gave me joy and practice at the art of haiku. It served me well for that time period. And now I am moving to a new phase of my life that requires a focus on different things, at least through my certification in September.
While I actually did think of a haiku on Sunday morning, during my savasana meditation at the end of yoga practice, I had no access to a computer. So it lived only in my mind. I was grateful to generate it for myself, even if it was not shared that time around.
Long live your streaks! And when they no longer serve you, let them go gracefully and with compassion for any inner compulsion you may have. This is freedom.