Some have suggested that Munch the Dogi has yoga and meditation down to a fine art. If you celebrated World Mediation Day on 21st May with some Zen and blissed out way of being by meditating, you will appreciate Munch’s take on his favourite past time. If you are new to meditation, Munch has kindly […]
The other morning I opted for a home yoga practice using the audio from a Yoga Teacher Training class that had been recorded for our use.
The first practice called for a small sandbag to lay across our belly as we lay on our mat, to provide some sensory input to feel our diaphragmatic breath. I had no sandbag at home, so I used a small pillow to simulate at least the shape of a sandbag on my abdomen.
As I was considering whether I should place an order for such a thing, my big sandbag of a cat (Calvin) came up and draped himself across my belly, negating the need for that.
It’s hard to know why my cats find me so appealing when I practice yoga. I often think they like it when I am on the floor, practicing poses that get me closer to them. They also seem to understand that, after I practice yoga, my body seems to emit blissful energy and calm.
I realize that is probably fairly anthropomorphic for me to interpret their behavior in that way. There is something about those long inhales and exhales, those full belly breaths that get me into a state of ease. So many of us get used to breath-holding in our daily lives, bracing against stress, or simply holding ourselves in with uncomfortable clothing, belts, braces or even neckties.
What if we learned to embrace that full belly breath and to stop “sucking it in”? Our bellies are made to expand during the inhale. When we only allow for chest breathing, we end up with tightness and muscle tension in our shoulders and our neck. Shallowness in our breath can result in confused and disoriented states of mind.
It took me not very long on a therapeutic spinal strip to realize there was a lot of chronically held tension held in my back and shoulders. Indeed I have to consciously bring my shoulders down when I notice the slight scrunch that seems to happen subtly or when I am at a keyboard, mentally focused and working.
I am dismantling some of these patterns, and actively reminding myself in meditation and yoga to breathe fully. At the same I am learning to notice and slow down at more points throughout my day when I find my thoughts racing (and then usually notice the breath has followed). Then I consciously take in a few long inhales and exhales, bring myself back to the present and realize that my mind was caught up in a story about the future, or perhaps a regret about the past.
So simple, and yet so radical. Thank you, Calvin, for helping me sense and feel that breath deep into the belly. I know you do not struggle with this, and I appreciate re-learning this skill that we all master as infants and then forget.
I have been a runner for a while now, off and on since I was about 15 years old. In my mid 30’s I met my husband while I was starting to ramp up my distance, going from 10k runs to 10-milers and half marathons. One crazy year (2011) I opted to run a full marathon, and was relieved to check that off my bucket list. It certainly was a feeling of accomplishment. I started wondering what else I could do if I simply put together a training plan and followed it.
When we trained, sometimes friends would get together and run “hill repeats,” workouts in which we would run repeatedly up hills to build strength and stamina for those long races. We would “power up” those hills, maintaining the speed you would have kept up on the flat surface. They were intervals, not continuously run, and they also helped build confidence for those times in a race when a hill would loom ahead.
These days I am not so interested in improving my running times, but rather just staying fit and enjoying the experience. When I am training, I take walk breaks, particularly on the hills, rather than “powering up” and maintaining the pace. I find that slowing a bit gives me time to take in the view, and to ensure that I’m maintaining good form.
On my run yesterday I started thinking that this is a metaphor for life. We have a challenge (hill) ahead, and some of us want to keep running, to keep making relentless forward progress. But I have gotten increasingly comfortable with walking up that hill, taking in the beauty of the view, appreciating the journey in a new way.
There is no rush. Finishing faster does not necessarily mean better. At some point, on the other side of that hill, likely there will be a downhill angle, where the momentum will allow us to run back down with less effort. By not getting stuck in one speed, we allow our bodies the flexibility to adjust to circumstances. In life too, we so often want to keep going at a fast clip. And sometimes slowing down helps us know when we want to turn off to explore a different area, or perhaps even change direction.
We may not have realized there is a path that was there all along, only we never saw it before. Suddenly the old route is new again. We see it in a new light. We arrive at our destination with a renewed perspective.
On Monday I had the honor of sharing some favorite meditation practices during a workshop on the Neuroscience of Resilience with an engaged group of job-seekers. When we are in times of transition or challenge, being able to engage our parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body is key. We can bring a sense of equanimity and balance to decisions and actions we take.
The group was excellent. They participated readily, brought their perspectives into the room and asked great questions. I really enjoyed pulling together the presentation and materials for this session. I had in mind the struggle of being between jobs and careers, and I know this can be a place of uncertainty and stress. It can also be a place of discovery and growth, should we choose to embrace that side of the process.
It takes self-compassion to remain resilient in the face of challenges or struggles. Those of us who have harsh inner critics can feel as though we need to “reprogram” ourselves in a way. Self-criticism can be so habitual that it feels automatic. But when we access that higher self, that inner mentor, and allow ourselves some kindness, paradoxically we find it easier to take actions and move forward.
This group is able to tap the resources of Career Partners International, so they are fortunate to have support during their transition. I hope I was able to add to their toolkit of resources to help them along the journey. What a great privilege it is to be able to share on a topic I have studied for so many years for my own benefit, and on behalf of the teams I have led.
This is an edited post originally written in April 2018. It is even more relevant as I learn to embody these concepts through soma yoga, and coach using somatic awareness as a tool for accessing inner wisdom.
One of my favorite meditations from Insight Timer is by Anna Guest-Jelly called “May I Know What I Know.” It involves a body scan in which we are moved through body starting with the feet, and moving through each region. After the exercise, we consider if there are any places we could not feel, that may have been “offline” from our awareness, so to speak.
The more I practice this body awareness and deliberately tune into places in the body that may be mysterious, the more I tune into my emotions. Sometimes I realize why there are “frozen” parts – those emotions may be difficult ones, like grief or anger.
I am still learning to feel those emotions all the way through, and sit with them without trying to escape. It is an exercise in compassion and patience to realize I have habitually escaped those feelings, or pushed them under with distraction, food, or other buffers (like busy-ness or overwork) rather than to be still with them.
Now that I realize these feelings are an important emotional compass, I have begun to “invite myself back” more often. I tune into that channel – my gut, my shoulders, my back, sometimes my lower spine, when they are trying to tell me something. Rather than get lost in thought, and spinning mental energy, I aim to come back to the body, invite my whole self back.
This tendency to abandon the body and thus abandon ourselves is promoted by our culture. Feeling our emotions and tuning into our intuition often dismissed. But as I do it more, I acknowledge the many times when I have buried my own desires in favor of pleasing other people.
Women are well-conditioned to attend to others’ needs. We take care of partners, children, bosses, teammates, even parents sometimes. But we do not always attend to our own bodies, our own yearnings. I inadvertently learned (from family and culture) that I should ignore my own needs in favor of taking care of others. This abandonment does not serve us long-term though.
Even the airlines tell us to put on our own mask before helping others. Inviting ourselves back can feel like a radical act of rebellion for women. Patriarchy demands we attend to the comfort of our family members, remain small and and of service, never demanding anything for ourselves. And yes, I think it is patriarchy that promotes this idea of the “good daughter” and it is one we must dismantle.
When we invite ourselves back, we ground ourselves in our truth. We allow ourselves to live in greater harmony with nature, and with our bodies. We begin to understand the connected nature of all people, of all parts of the universe. We feel compassion for ourselves and for others in their struggles. We make different choices that are more sustainable for ourselves. We serve others with a spirit of generosity rather than resentment.
Inviting ourselves back means we set appropriate boundaries. We say no to things that do not align with our purpose or intention. That can be very hard for those of us who were trained to say “yes” to everything we are asked to do. We can be perceived as “uppity” or trouble-makers, or not those nice girls we used to be.
It is a daily practice, inviting ourselves back. It does not simply happen one day, and then all things change. It is a conscious choice, a habit that grows easier with regular practice. If we want to make sustainable change in the world, I believe it is non-negotiable. The world needs our whole and integrated selves. Our souls call for this as well.
Consider inviting yourself back today. Center on what your body is telling you. See what emerges as you learn to pay attention in this way.
From a young age I have been encouraged to strive for excellence. My parents did not exert much pressure, mind you. But I think the fact that they were teachers probably drove my expectations about academic achievement. I thought that “winning” was doing well in school, and since learning came fairly easily to me, I aspired to this type of achievement.
Looking back, I remember taking on a heavy course schedule, especially in middle and high school, when we could select our electives. I also participated in many school activities, band, forensics (what they called public speaking) and various other extras I was encouraged to add because I was deemed “gifted” due to test scores.
At the same time, some teachers in middle school in particular thought that I was not working up to my potential. I distinctly remember my 6th grade reading teacher explaining this to my parents at conferences. We had page number requirements for books we had to read and I remember that 1500 per quarter was considered grade A level (1200 = B, 900 = C). My reading list typically listed 4000-5000 pages for each quarter, or about 300% of A level.
I was (and am) a voracious reader, but not as excited then about writing reports or summaries of what I had read. Of course, I did not always remember a lot of what I had read (and I now know variable attention was a factor). At the speed I was going, I just wanted to cover as much ground as possible. Even today, I typically get through books quickly. But now I tend to read them more closely a second time if they have a larger impact on me. This habit worked well in college for getting through vast amounts of material, and then selecting what needed to be studied rather than simply read.
At work, it has been my habit in my career to attempt to give 110%, to go above and beyond what is needed. I realize this was a cultural norm for the company I recently worked for, which had in its mission statement the words “striving without reserve” for the greatest possible reliability and quality. While I appreciate the intent, the “without reserve” part always bothered me.
For many years, my personal “reserves” ran low constantly. By giving so much to my work so consistently, I short-changed close relationships, friendships, and even my own health at times. I received promotions and advancement, but at what cost? Since I experience variable attention, I often arrived early or stayed late so I could work while it was quiet and there were less interruptions.
Ironically enough, in my final year I realized that cutting back on work hours generally, and giving less (more like 90% rather than 110%) made me much more effective in the hours I actually worked. When I use the tools of more sleep, meditation, better mental and emotional management, and good quality food and exercise, and more time away from work to rest and play, I make better decisions.
In yoga teacher training, we are learning about the concept of non-striving, about giving 51% in our practice, the just right stimulus for growth, rather than 110%. As someone who has taken a break from the full time work world for 9 months, I likely embrace the concept more readily than many. It chafes against our cultural conditioning. And that can be a good and necessary thing.
In a world that often tells us we are “never enough” we need to re-think what is essential, and what is extraneous. Not all days or phases of our lives are identical, of course, and we may need to adjust accordingly. But sometimes giving 51% and keeping some energy for ourselves is appropriate and what gives us resilience for the longer term.