Monday, April 20, 2015

What's a spiritual practice for, anyway?

Image compliments of
After I returned from my last session of yoga therapy training, on mental and emotional health, I felt an awakened urgency in developing a relationship with _____ (insert your word of choice - God, the Universe, Divine Mother, Nature... something greater than myself).  I finally felt capable of sitting in wonder and silence and not controlling the outcome.  I've struggled with meditation for years and so its availability to me as a tool was quite exciting and novel.

I came home and proudly declared myself a theist of some sort.  I've been relishing this new identity.  Reading Nietzsche in college, and a healthy dose of skepticism in my early childhood experiences with religion, had sort of ruled out spiritual experiences for me.  However, I'm a deeply spiritual person.  So I found these types of trances of connection and immersion in other ways (food, alcohol, etc.)  At first, my new-found ability to connect with that-which-is-greater-than-myself seemed like it could be a tool in dealing with my own anxiety and depression, and serving as a substitute for less healthy "trances."  A very solo pursuit... though worthy.

The past few weeks have been a wild ride.  Especially for me as a mother and a wife.  Not only have a few minor illnesses ripped through the house, but there has been a lot of arguing.  I'm not proud of how I've acted on all occasions.  I have a ton of very negative conditioning around inter-family relationships.  I often feel I'm being criticized when I'm actually being hyper-sensitive and reading negativity into interactions when there is nothing behind it.  My go-to reaction to perceived criticism is overt hostility and passive aggressive behavior.

I had a chance to explore some of my new practices this weekend (of the new moon).  I took part in a meditation using Liberation Breathing combined with Mantra and Murti (Om Namaha Shivaya) and Babaji on Friday night.  Yesterday I had the time to listen to some uplifting words of Reverend Michael Bernard Beckwith about the yogic practice of calming the mind (9AM service).  And I enjoyed some Hebrew chanting with a women's Rosh Chodesh group yesterday afternoon.  I've also been reading a WONDERFUL highly recommended book about women's spirituality called The Unknown She - Eight Faces of an Emerging Consciousness by Hilary Hart.

I have experienced a truly awesome shift in my understanding of a spiritual practice over the weekend.  Before I was craving me-time to solve me-problems and seeing my family situation as a barrier to getting there, which was leaving me feeling tapped out, angry, snappy, and highly dissatisfied.

What I see now, thanks to all of these inspiring sources (but especially to Hilary Hart's book), is that my spiritual practice is a tool to be more present with my family and more loving with them.  Even through the hard times.  I see now that my me-centered spiritual goals have some merit, but that the true work I have to do here is to learn to be kind, and to not overreact.

I still need to carve out time to refill my tank from sources like these.  But I grow increasingly confident that I can do that (and less and less desperate) as I give myself these treats of soul nourishment.  And I can do it in the midst of my rich family life.  And my family life is not to be avoided.  It is the day-to-day that will provide the rich soil for my peaceful being to grow.  Nurtured by my ability to break the chains that have been passed down through many generations of people doing the best they could at the time.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Cultivating gentleness

image compliments of
Consider this blog post 4,561 that you've clicked on to read about how destructive "chronic busyness" is to our tender souls.  So welcome!  Take a breath!  Slow down for a second.  There is no rush to reach the end of this post...

I can't remember a time I wasn't over-scheduled and living a bit beyond my means in terms of time.  Even at this point in my yoga therapy training I'm still working a full time job, juggling family, teaching a group class or two a week, and trying to see clients individually.  In order to do all of this, I sort of crash and thrash my way through the clock... always feeling like I'm a little behind.  I've learned to schedule self care like going to the gym and the occasional massage... and I'm finally at the point where I'm not rushing to and from those appointments.  Rather, I try to take time to feel the sun on my face and my feet on the ground.

I've had a longstanding resistance to meditation.  I've got a hyper, screaming, monkey-mind and some very negative thought tendencies.  Moving from crash and thrash through the world (doing) to sitting in meditation (being) has been a difficult transition energetically.  I thought that captured the essence of the issue - but I've gone a bit deeper and found something else that I'd like to share with you in hopes that it helps others find a way to a few peaceful minutes here and there.

Not only is going from moving to stillness difficult, when where you land is a very discursive place... but going from aggressive to gentle is an even bigger shift and challenge.  Doing the first without the latter is a gruesome transition.

I've never learned to be gentle.  There are natural times when gentleness manifests... like caring for an infant or cultivating seedlings.   However my day-to-day life does not manifest gentleness.  Within busyness, gentleness is a hindrance, not a value.  And that is, from what I'm learning, a fantastically easy way to waste a life.

There are a few things that I've put in place that have the effect of allowing a touch of gentleness, or tenderness, to enter.

  • A pre-meal blessing with my family, touching each other's hands.
  • Some kind of transition to honor the moment before sleep - whether it's breathing, reiki, or a 10 minute practice of asana and pranayama geared toward slowing down.
  • In my morning practice, using chanting to awake feeling, then allowing asana to transition to pranayama to prepare for meditation... to lead to prayer/sankalpa (intention).
  • In pranayama technique itself, being mindful of how the breath starts.  It's so easy to have a forceful beginning to every exhale.  I find that desiring gentleness in the moment of first exhale really gets me in the gentle and tender heart space.
In love and hope I share these small gifts I've found to help me cultivate gentleness in a crash-and-thrash world.  How does it work for you?

Friday, February 6, 2015

Words to a student

image compliments of Amy2121 at Deviant
I was corresponding with a student and sharing about adding in variations of movement in my personal, daily practice:

I'll tell you what I do.  In my own practice, I do lots of little variations.  I never do any one thing more than four repetitions (usually two on each side).  I try to make each repetition a quality repetition that is breath-centric - so I feel movement not just in the limb but in the spine.  Inhale is for the upper back.  Exhale I try to sense around my belly and pelvis.  The intention is to move the spine and breath together while making these movements "out in the limbs" if that makes sense.  That coordination of breath and movement is all we need.  Things shift and change just from that gentle focus.  At least they do for me.  :)

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bye bye, bells palsy

image compliments of wall art hd gorgeous lavender

Over three and a half years ago, I suffered a scary event on the day before my due date.  My face stopped working on the left side.  Thankfully, it wasn't a stroke.  Unfortunately, it was bells palsy.  The good news at the time was that the baby was fine!  (And he still is).  The news that sort of slowly dawned on me was that my face, my gateway to the world, was a bit damaged.  It took a while to sink in during the early days of motherhood.

However, upon my return to the workforce, I realized I had lost something.  I'd lost a sense of confidence.  I felt tentative and vulnerable, especially in speaking and sales roles.

Without the bells palsy, a nervous system condition, I never would have come so far in the world of yoga therapy.  Without having been left so low, I never would have had the guts to spend the time, money, and effort to pursue training with the American Viniyoga Institute.  First through the teacher training and finally now, I'm about seven months from completing the Yoga Therapy certification.

I am continually progressing with seeing the opposite (Pratipaksa Bhavana) and understanding this process as a gift, rather than a hindrance.  Through this process I've come to find my path - the service I was meant to perform in this world.  I'm still figuring out how to reconcile this path with sending two kids to college - but my faith is developing.

The practice that has helped my bells palsy is a daily event.  It has been supplemented with gentle exercise, acupuncture, myofascial release massage, and craniosacral therapy.

I start on my back, with arm movements coordinated with breath.  I then add pelvic raises to those movements.  I move to my belly for many small variations of breath-centric movement.  I transition through a kneeling posture and to a standing forward bend with arm modifications, and a standing twist, also with arm movements.  I close the asana part of the practice with a table/child's pose variation called cakra vikasana.

I move to my cushion where I chant vowel sounds, in a rising pitch, with nyasa (gesture) and then I chant to ojas, tejas and prana to balance the doshas and perform some cool inner alchemy.  I ask for my faith to be nourished.

I move to a pranayama (breathing) practice with alternate nostril exhale (segmented and regular), alternate nostril inhale (segmented and regular) then nadi sodhana for a few rounds.

Meditation for a few breaths....

At my upcoming training I will be adding the final touches to my practice - meditation and prayer... modification of chanting possible.

With this post, which I've considered writing for some time, I recognize that the bells palsy is on its way out... and that I am SO CLOSE to recovered.  And I am grateful to the process it has engendered.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fall cleanse - Yoga and Ayurveda principles

image compliments of wall art hd

This is an amazing time!  The equinox, the new moon in Libra, and the beginning of fall.

I first noticed something was up with the energy around the change of the seasons when a friend was struggling with overeating and feeling rather driven and dissatisfied.  I received an Ayurvedic email newsletter from Vaidya Mishra that talked about Pitta imbalance and described this friend's issues to a tee.  I asked around with my other Pitta (dosha type) friends and could feel something energetic going on.

Vaidya Mishra has way more Ayurvedic expertise than I do, so I'll simplify.  Summer keeps the channels of the body open.  When the fall comes, the cooler temperatures naturally cause some congestion of those channels (heat dilates, cool constricts).  We need a little extra help pushing out the toxins that were naturally being helped out in the heat of the summer.  It's a perfect time for a few days of self-care.

I, personally, do not suffer from a pitta imbalance.  I have a kapha imbalance that is "pushed" by my vata imbalance.  So for me, pacification of vata energy allows me to calm down enough so that my kapha coping behaviors don't kick in too strongly.  I'm grateful to Debby Andersen for helping me to figure out my vikruti.  To learn more about Prakruti and Vikruti go here. 

I've spent a few days now with the following protocol:
  • Abhyanga (vata-pacifying self-massage with vata oil containing magnesium and Vitamin D)
  • Nasya Oil in the sinuses - very helpful for my bells palsy
  • A trip to the pool including some hot tub action
  • A trip to the sauna for some hot/cold/hot/cold (sauna and a 30 second cold shower alternated)
  • No alcohol
  • Little caffeine
  • Little meat (no red meat)
  • Light exercise
  • Increased Veggies, detox tea, and water
  • Reiki (self-applied)
  • Detoxifying yoga practice emphasizing twisting on exhale and twisting on suspension after exhale.  
I feel great!  I feel better than I have in a long time and my bells palsy is almost completely gone, as evidenced by feedback from my neighbor and my Dad.  I also feel more space, calmer, and my energy feels excellent.

Just a few notes about the detoxifying yoga practice I did last night before my reiki session.

1) Cakra vikasana with sitoli tongue action, increasing the length of exhale (cooling, calming)
2) Urdhva Prasarita Padasana variation - one leg up to the ceiling, opposite arm overhead, turning head opposite the moving arm on exhale.  Long slow movements.
3) Supta Baddha Konasana - open and close, then close over a number of breaths.
4) Supine twist (Jathara Parivirati)  was the main focus of the practice.
                   A few repetitions back and forth with long exhale
                   A few repetitions 6-0-6-6 (inhale-retain-exhale-suspend)
                   A few repetitions where I stayed an extra breath in the twist with 6-0-6-6
                   Lastly, I twisted, exhaled, suspended, then inhaled, exhaled, and suspended then vocalized a low note to push the last of the air out and vibrate all around the pelvis.

Building heat gently in the abdomen is excellent for detoxifying and pushing ama out of the body.  
5) Paschimottanasana gently draping the body over the legs
6) Apanasana
7) Seated breathing 6-0-6-6 then moving to 6-0-8-6 and adding uddiyana bandha on suspension
8) taking 6-0-8-6 with uddiyana bandha on suspension with pratiloma ujjayi nostril breath technique.
9) Om Samana Vayu Namaha chant
10) reflect
11) self applied reiki with symbols.

Wow... I woke up feeling wonderful.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Allowing Chanting to Find a Home Part 2

image compliments of wall art hd

Part 1 can be found here.

Chanting is so energetically important because it has the immediate effect of marrying body and mind through vibration.  Yet it is tricky to get the chant right (tune, content, volume, setting) so that the mind willingly buys into the process.

In working with a client with a specific physiological condition, I took the sequence my teacher gave me at my most recent training, diluted it, and attempted to teach it in pieces.  It is a multi-faceted practice, using chanting of a mantra, gesture, breath-centric asana, pranayama, and meditation.  About 90% of the content of the practice is landing and is being received and processed by the client.  However, the chanting is meeting resistance.

I was able to take what works from the chanting practice, and scrap the rest.  We kept the OM and used it in place of any other sanskrit.  We also kept the nyasa (gesture) attached to the practice - namely bringing hands to eyes, hands to heart, and hands to belly.  We also had a conversation about chanting in Hebrew.  My client was happy to note how open I was to changing the chanting.  I looked at her and said, earnestly, my teacher has asked us to help our clients tap into sources of meaning.  I want to help this come alive for you!  Let's work together.  She is off to find phrases that make her spine tingle.  I sent her with those instructions because that little tingle is always a truth-beacon for me.  She is heading to Rosh Hashana services this week and will have a chance to drop in and swim in mystical currents of renewal.  I wish her a wonderful dip in the current!!

My teacher's practices are complex, elegant, deep, and esoteric in nature.  It's gratifying, in a way, to know that what landed well with me (the practice my teacher gave us therapist-trainees) does not necessarily translate to a client.  The gratification comes when I think of the many hours of studying, time away from my family, and financial sacrifices my family has made to allow me to receive this training.

The most fascinating thing of this process is that the chant that I gave the student, upon practicing it myself, has become my own.  I've entwined it with some tantric practices (Reiki symbols), nyasa, and mantra in pranayama.  It is truly alive in me and my bells palsy is responding.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Allowing Chanting to find a Home

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Aaaah... Chanting.

We're getting to that point in training where the deeper practices of chanting, pranayama, and meditation are at the fore.  I'm working with a client who has rheumatoid arthritis, and the practice I'm suggesting has chanting in it to activate the deepest inner alchemy - the relationship between prana, ojas, and tejas.  It is a deep practice, and the client is receptive to working this deeply, which is a true blessing.

Prana is energy.  Ojas is that which provisions the energetic flow of prana.  Tejas is the intelligent use of ojas-fueled prana - like the way we metabolize (insert anything here - food, experience, feelings, etc.)  There is much more to this discussion that I will leave for another day.

The resistance to chanting is something I'm very familiar with.  I was not chanting but knew I "should" be before I started to work with this client.  Working on her practice and reviewing my notes from training awoke an interest in me.  I'm familiar with the teachings governing this inner alchemy, but my student is just learning, with much less formal training.  We will see, with interest and awareness, whether it clicks for her and nourishes her?  Or whether it will be adjusted and fine-tuned to meet her needs more fully.

Chanting can be quite challenging as you have to hear your own voice reaching out into space.  It's easier to do in a group than on your own.  It's much more vulnerable when you chant in your own silent space.  Mental chanting is a way to ease into full chanting.  Full voiced chanting, whether loud or soft, high or low in pitch, creates tremendous energetic effects.  In my experience, it short circuits the mind-body duality we seem to live with so much of the time as we move through "real life" off the mat.

These energetic forces governing deep inner alchemy of physiological processes are well suited for chanting when dealing with a physiological condition.  In fact, I was so drawn to this "inner alchemy" that I have adopted this chanting myself.  I'm self-treating for nervous system condition of bells palsy.  In the lines with more than one syllable, the second to last syllable is a raised pitch, then back to the starting pitch.

Om Ojosi
Om Nourish Me
Om Pranosi
Om Enliven Me
Om Tejosi
Om Enlighten Me
I have added this to my personal practice before my pranayama, which is an alternate nostril and krama practice given to me by my teacher.

At the end of my pranayama, I repeat the chanting, low and quiet, and add nyasa (gesture).

Om                            hands to eyes
Om Ojosi                  hands to heart
Om Nourish Me        hands to belly
Om                            hands to eyes
Om Pranosi               hands to heart
Om Enliven Me        hands to belly
Om                            hands to eyes
Om Tejosi                 hands to heart
Om Enlighten Me     hands to belly

I drop into a beautiful meditative space.  It feels wonderful to inhabit my body and take care towards healing every morning.

I have adopted the chanting, but will the client?  Her most recent email to me:

Just printed this practice & we'll see if I chant this week!

Aaaah... chanting.  You bring out the emotions in us!