Tag Archives: Quiet

On Breathing

Inhale.

The point of yoga is to let the breath move the body. The idea is to move the body in whatever way feels right as long as the body is guided by the breath. You can remain with what is comfortable and easy. You can find the space between discomfort and pain. You can reach into that space as far as your breath will let you, and then you can breathe more deeply and reach farther. Find the space.

Exhale.

The latter is what I try to do when I practice yoga, which I have been doing with some regularity for over seven years. It’s very important to understand that yoga is always a practice. Much of life is always a practice. When I learned this about compassion, living became easier and slowly began to make more sense. It became easier to accept and forgive, both others and myself.

Inhale.

The lack of an expert, model, or end goal makes yoga not only a practice of watching myself breathe, but also a reminder that we live our lives mostly in beginnings and middles. There is so much that is new to explore, so many paths to wander down. There are some ends, but those ends create beginnings.

Exhale.

We live in spaces where we’re trying as hard as we can do the best that we can. In Alain de Botton’s words, we’re all fragile. I’ve quoted him many times before but it never hurts to revist his words:

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

Inhale.

I’ve spent the last month at home in Rochester with my family and I’m getting ready to leave. Truthfully, though, I’m never ready to leave. But the time comes.

Exhale.

And I leave.

Inhale.

I’ve cried in more airports than I can remember and on more airplanes. I’ve gone through security without looking back and I’ve jumped up and down trying to catch one more glimpse. I’ve looked back to see others waving and I’ve looked back to see others walking away. I’ve watched people try to smile through tears; I’ve tried to do the same. I’ve found myself unable to cry when others do, which almost never happens in daily life, and I’ve collapsed just when I thought I had it all together.

Exhale.

I’ve since learned that there’s no such thing as having it all together.

Inhale.

I was lucky this summer to spend time in Toronto and Montreal with my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and one of my cousins. We don’t see each other very often and time is on my mind. It’s stunning what changes in a year.

Exhale.

This summer has been a very happy time and breathing has been easy. Last week’s yoga class was the best one I’ve had in a long time because the breath moved the body. The breath guided the body. I felt and I also observed.

Inhale.

It’s not always so easy to breathe slowly and deliberately in the fast-paced, complex, often confusing world that we have created. But it’s so important to also create the space that allows for easy breathing.

Exhale.

Nearly a year ago I realized that I was looking for quiet. It’s amazing how much better life has been since I started learning balance and equanimity.

Inhale.

So while I will cry in an airport later this week, and maybe also on a plane, I will try to find that space between discomfort and pain. I will spend some time there between discomfort at returning to reality, which can be jarring, and pain at leaving my family. It’s okay to recognize both and choose to engage with neither.

Exhale.

And then when I’m ready, when I’m able to breathe more deeply, I can reach farther and play with the space around me. There’s much to discover and much to love and it’s open to me as long as I remain open to it.

Inhale.

And I will practice remembering to breathe.

Exhale.

Away with your senses!

With the exceptions of certain foods and things that are dumb, I’m willing to try anything once. When my friend and meditation teacher first mentioned flotation a few months ago, I was curious. I listened to what he said and did a bit of reading. I started asking around and learned that a couple friends float regularly and love it. I’ve been exploring states of mind for the last year with increasing interest and flotation just seemed to fit.

So today, I headed to Palm Ave Float Club to learn what I could learn. I didn’t really have expectations going in and was there out of sheer curiosity. For obvious reasons, I couldn’t take pictures so do click the link if you want to see what it was all about!

Because I’d read the entire website and had a chat with the woman who called me the day before to confirm my float, I knew the rules – no caffeine up to three hours before, eat a light meal, no shaving or waxing the body, bring conditioner. For once in my life, I followed directions and I’m glad I did. Since this was my first float, the staff conducted a brief orientation to help me understand what was about to happen. I was shown to a private room with a shower and float pod. My “shaman,” as she was called in my confirmation email, explained that I’d be floating in about 500 litres of water with 600 kilograms of Epsom salts (hence not shaving). Before getting into the pod, I would shower and then put in earplugs. I was reminded to close the lights in the room before getting into the pod. There’s a light in the pod, as well, so I’d still be able to see. (My eyes are so poor, however, that once I took off my glasses I was pretty helpless anyway.) The shaman showed me how to close the lid of the pod and explained the two buttons on either side – the green one turned out the pod light and the red one was in case I needed help at any time. (Not like the colors would matter once the lights were out.) She showed me a spray bottle and wash cloth, explaining that sometimes salt got into the eyes. Music would play for the first ten minutes and last five minutes of my float. I’d shower when I was done and then I was welcome to relax in the beautiful, beach-like lounge overlooking Kallang River. I’d spotted some mindfulness coloring books in there when I arrived.

The shaman left me alone and I took my shower, inserted earplugs, and turned off the room light. When the music began, I stepped into the pod and found the water to be body temperature, requiring no adjustment at all. It reached about midway up my calves. I’ve been in the Dead Sea a couple times and was not surprised by the sensation of buoyancy when I settled into the water, but did spend a few minutes adjusting my arms, first clasping them behind my head and later letting them rest by the sides of my ears. As instructed, I closed the pod and got comfy before pressing the green button.

Black like I’ve never experienced before. I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or closed and when I deliberately blinked to test it, I found that it made no difference. Though there was music playing in the background, I realized that I could hear my breathing and the blood rushing in my ears. Through the blackness, I saw spots in front of my eyes and felt myself falling backwards, a passenger on a dark roller coaster running in reverse.

I was certain I would fall.

And then I remembered to breathe. The shaman had asked if I meditate and told me to utilize whatever meditation techniques I normally do. I started counting breaths. Breathe in. One. Out. Two. In. Three. Out. Four. Get to ten and restart from one. And then do it again. And again.

The music stopped. In the silence that followed, I lost the breath and the count more times than I had it.

I was distracted by thoughts that passed through my mind, but they found nothing to cling to and just melted into something else. I remember a moment of, “Oh, interesting” when I thought of a recent interaction that had made me uncomfortable. But it, too, faded as soon as I’d grasped it. I don’t specifically remember anything else, but I know I didn’t write this blog post in my head, which is a common distraction when I know I’ll be writing about an experience.

My breathing was loud. The rushing in my eardrums heavy. I could hear my heart even though I couldn’t feel my body. It was weightless, perfectly irrelevant to me, and had disappeared. It was eerie, like what I imagine it would be like to be in the womb. There’s nothing there. Nothing at all. Just the blackness and the breathing. Just count the breaths.

I think I drifted off to sleep at some point, or entered some state of unprecedented relaxation. When I came to, I was disoriented and confused and heard that my breathing was off before I understood. As I counted myself back, I thought, “This is all there is.”

A few moments later, or so it seemed, the music started again. I felt for my body and pulled myself into a seated position, wondering what that meant. This is all there is.

What is “this”? All what is?

In retrospect, I should have taken longer to situate myself before getting into the shower, but the strange lapse of time, odd premonition, and unfamiliar environment made me hurry more than I would have liked. Next time, I’ll spend the last five minutes still in the pod and wait until the music is over to get out. There’s a learning curve, another staff member assured me, offering tea as I relaxed in the lounge.

“How was it?” she asked.

“Fascinating,” was the best reply I could come up with.

She smiled and told me that getting used to floating takes a few tries, and I expect this is true. I noticed a few other things, though, that seem worth mentioning here. Firstly, upon getting out of the pod, I didn’t immediately put on my glasses to get my bearings like I usually do. Being a little confused and unable to find myself just didn’t seem like a problem. It didn’t throw me the way it often does.

Secondly, floating left me in a deep state of relaxation, not dissimilar to visiting the onsen or getting a facial or manicure. As a result, I was largely useless for the rest of the afternoon and wanted to do nothing more than sit and read over a cup of coffee. (Which is exactly what I did.)

Thirdly, I’m still curious. I want to revisit that sensation of falling backward, pitching into unseen space. I want to follow it instead of finding a way out of it. (After all, Michael Pollan’s How to Change Your Mind was the catalyst for booking this float.) I want to understand the realization that arose, fully formed but incomprehensible right now. Is there something to it or did the mind just do what the mind does when it dreams? I want to spend more time being nothing. It’s freeing.

I’ll be travelling for the summer but I’m already looking forward to floating again. Though I don’t know what it is yet, I learned something today. And that’s the whole point.

A New Thing I’m Doing

I’ve been a regular yoga practitioner for about six years now and I’ve grown increasingly curious about mindfulness and meditation. I’ve done some reading and attempted one guided meditation (after letting the website just sit in GoogleKeep for weeks) that I did enjoy. But I have found it difficult to appreciate the quiet that (I think) is supposed to come with mindfulness and meditation. A year ago, I actively avoided silence because lack of noise was never actually silent –  it was whisperings of thoughts I didn’t want to have but couldn’t stop having. I turned to podcasts and NPR as a way of listening to something other than what was going on in my own head.

I’m in a much healthier place now and I’m trying to break habits that I purposely developed to avoid reality. After a recent experience where I fell into stillness, I made the decision to deliberately seek out more quiet and blank space than I was used to. Last week, cooked a few meals without a podcast in the background for the first time in at least two years since I’ve done that. I’m not hiding from quiet any more and that feels empowering.

Right now, day-to-day living is easy. I’m comfortable with myself and I’m happy. So, basic needs met. Time to try something new.

Enter mindfulness. We have a faculty/staff fitness program at school, which is how I’ve taken weekly yoga classes in the past. I’m doing that again, but this year one of my colleagues is also offering a mindfulness class. I didn’t immediately sign up, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it, either.

The first class met this afternoon.

He told us about his experiences living at meditation centers for years at a time, some of which I already knew. He introduced us to Osho Kundalini meditation, an active meditation divided into four 15-minute parts. We shook, danced, sat, and lied still. The music changed to introduce each stage. Bells indicated the end of the fourth stage. I enjoyed the music, the movement, and the freedom that came with closing my eyes and doing whatever my body decided it wanted to do. Time didn’t pass quickly, but other than lying in savasana at the end, I didn’t pause to wonder how much time had passed.

But I couldn’t shut my mind off.

I couldn’t stop thinking. I was doing okay until I thought that I might blog about the experience, and then I began writing this post in my head. That’s not infrequent, but this post contains almost nothing of what my “meditating” self thought it would. I made a couple to-do lists. I reviewed plans for a party we’re having tomorrow. I thought about how I was feeling and how long it had been since I’d formally taken a dance class and what I was going to have for dinner. I thought about not berating myself for being so busy when I was supposed to be so internally still.

I tried, I really did. I tried counting the beats of the music while I danced. I tried keeping a pinch in my shoulders during the seated meditation to keep my back straight. I tried counting breaths. But my mind was curious and loud and it stayed that way.

And then the bells rang and it was over.

When I got home my roommate asked me how it went. I didn’t know how to respond because I had enjoyed the meditation hour but hadn’t had the type of moment I expected to or had hoped for. But at the same time, I really didn’t know what I’d expected or hoped for. I’m not sorry I spent an hour in meditation class after school, but I can’t say that I meditated. I certainly wasn’t mindful. So how was it? I can’t quite say. It was new, that’s for sure.

The only thing I do know is that I’m curious and want to learn. I’m open to new things and I know new things take practice. So far, I’ve learned that meditation doesn’t only mean listening to someone speak soothingly while you sit and focus on what they say. Learn something new every day is a rule that I live by.

Since I’ve already learned one new thing, that’s enough reason to go back for more.

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An alley in my neighborhood during a walk in the rain