Tag Archives: Yoga

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.

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

Quiet

Tonight, I did two things that are unusual for me:

  1. I got my nails done.
  2. I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off.

In fact, I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off while getting my nails done. When she finished, the manicurist invited me to stay for a few minutes. I didn’t realize how calm I felt until I took her up on that.

I realized that I didn’t remember the last time I had simply sat and stared off into space. I  do let my mind turn off pretty regularly, which is something I love about running and yoga. But just sitting? Just staring? Never.

True, I was having my nails done, so it wasn’t nothing. But I think that’s what gave me the freedom to do it, to just sit and stare without seeing. While my hands were literally in someone else’s and once polite conversation and small talk waned, there wasn’t much I could do except sit and look off into space.

Reflecting on it now, I don’t know what I was thinking about or if I was thinking at all. My mind found its way to a quiet place where I didn’t have to think about anything and where nothing was weighing on me. Strangely, I didn’t feel guilty for not doing something else or something additional with that time. I didn’t feel pressure to make mental notes or plans or go over anything in particular.

It’s strange to me that this is a notable moment, which is why I’m sharing it. I often feel like I need to keep my mind occupied with reading, listening to podcasts and the radio, or talking with others in effort to always learn something new, always be useful, always try to be better than I am. It was nice to step away from that (without using running or yoga as the excuse) and let my mind go wherever it wanted to go.

As I write this, I’m laughing at my own fascination with the enjoyment of quiet and stillness. I think it’s really the stillness element that made the whole experience unusual. People who know me well know that I can’t sit and I definitely can’t sit and do nothing. They know that I hate sitting and doing nothing. That’s why sitting always comes with reading or other people or food or writing, all of which I love and which occupy the majority of my time. I can’t even sit and listen to a podcast; I need to be up and moving for those because sitting while listening seems far too self-indulgent. (Let the record show that I am aware that this is illogical.)

But maybe a few minutes of stillness is good for me. Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing when I tell myself that someday soon, I’ll try to develop a meditation practice. I’ve been wanting to do that because it’s supposed to be good for you. And I’ve been putting it off because I don’t know if that interested, except that it’s supposed to be good for you. Somehow, it’s different when I think about trying a meditation practice because stillness is hard for me but felt good today.

And even if finding quiet and stillness continues to be a rare happening in my life, I’m glad that I found some today.

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live. – Bertrand Russell