In my first post on this topic, I encouraged you to set your practice space apart with “something special,” maybe a candle or salt lamp or string of lights. How did it go?
This post is about my kryptonite regarding my practice space: clutter.
Clear spaces = clear mind (so they say).
In my personal practice space, I tend to collect books, article snippets, a beautiful card from a friend … as well as any interesting props I’m experimenting with at the time. Every month or so, I look at my little space & think, “What the hell happened here?”
So I end up taking a chunk of time to clean up, clear out & / or retire any items that aren’t serving my practice at the time.
How about you? Do you maintain clutter-free spaces consistently or in spurts? Does everything have its place, or does stuff migrate here & there?
There’s no judgment, we’re simply learning about our tendencies.
Once you’ve selected an area of your home / apartment that you’re drawn to (& it may change over time!), I invite you to, well, make the space inviting 😉 by clearing out any unnecessary items. This way, when you’re in that strong Warrior 3 or opening your eyes from Savasana, your mind won’t be distracted by piles of papers or to-do’s.
We don’t have to go into Martha Stewart of Marie Kondo mode (though if you do, that’s cool). As we begin to cultivate a clutter-free practice space, over time we might find ourselves drawn to explore the practice of inner cleanliness, or saucha. Saucha is one of the five niyamas, or personal observances, in the 8-limb path of Yoga. For a user-friendly intro to saucha in the time of COVID-19, start here.
Thank you for your dedication to your home practice, & spreading the benefits of Yoga into our community.
We begin every Hatha Yoga practice with a centering & check-in on 3 levels: body, breath & mind. I’d like to highlight this short time at the beginning of practice. If you’re like me, oftentimes the distracted part of your mind says, “let’s get to the real part” of practice =). This centering time seems cute, yet the real stuff is Warrior II, headstands, backbends, right?
I love the asana part of Yoga – moving in & out of strong postures, even faltering in postures, feels GOOD. Even with my recent knee injury (thanks to over-enthusiastic dogs), I crave postures that make me feel calm, strong, centered.
Yet without checking in — really using those precious few moments to ask “How do I feel, REALLY?” on body, breath & mind levels — we may miss out on the deeper effects of the Yoga practice.
So, on the most obvious level, we begin with the body — we choose a position where we can relax our effort, feel comfortable & have support. In general, the postures we often use are Savasana (Corpse Pose), Makarasana (Crocodile Pose), or Sukhasana (Seated Pose on the floor or in a chair). Yet any posture where you’re doing the least amount of “work” possible is ideal.
When the body becomes still, we can tune in to its messages … Is my knee still hurting from that run yesterday? Hmm, I notice my low back is a bit tender, that’s new …
At a deeper level, once the body ceases its movements, the breath becomes more apparent. How am I breathing today? Is it shallow or deep? Jerky or smooth? Do I feel the breath more in my nose/chest/ribs/or …?
Finally, if we’re really lucky 😉 we can take a look at the mind: At the beginning of my practice, is my mind distracted, agitated, dull, one-pointed, clear?
So, in just those few moments at the beginning of our Yoga practice, we’ve begun the important practice of svadyaya, or self-study. All of this investigation is done with non-judgment, with a sense of compassion, kindness, gentleness … so that we move forward with a clear picture of how we are REALLY feeling today, at this time, in this place.
Self-study threads through our Yoga practice. We continue “checking in” throughout, being curious about what we find, & adjusting our practice accordingly. Maybe that backbend variation isn’t for me today, or counting the breath really helps settle my mind. The practice becomes a loving experiment, with the hypothesis that if we attend to our body, mind & breath with kindness, we will move closer to that sthira & sukkha, stability & ease, within our practice.
So whether you practice a physically challenging or gentle asana practice, whether your breathwork is stimulating or calming, whether your meditation is 2 minutes or 2 hours … checking in at the beginning of your practice on these 3 levels – body, breath & mind – provides information to inform your choices throughout your sequence.
And what of the end of class? In Hatha Yoga, the general principle is: your Yoga practice should be rejuvenating, not depleting. At the end of practice, we check in again: how am I feeling now? Does my body feel a little more stable / at ease? Does my breath feel more relaxed? Does my mind feel a little more clear, calm, tranquil? If yes, we give thanks & let go of our efforts. If not, we give thanks & let go of our efforts, & we ask: how might I adjust my practice next time?
I hope you’ve found a new appreciation for the precious moments that begin your Yoga practice. Checking in with body, breath & mind on the mat/chair can be a practice we take into our lives as well — checking in before we make that phone call, send that text, give that presentation. In this way, we study, we learn, we take care of our mind. And when we take care of our mind, we take care of the world.
As we move indoors due to the oncoming winter (in the Northern Hemisphere), and into our homes due to the renewed pandemic guidelines, the idea of creating space for your yoga practice could be calling you. I know for me, I often simply flop down my yoga mat & get to it … yet I when I do take time to set up my practice space, I feel more centered & a little smile comes as I begin my asana or meditation.
Whether you have an entire room to go wild with, or a corner of a room, or are required to make your space portable … I invite you to consider one way you could make your practice space & time feel “set apart” & special.
A simple candle, string of lights, or burning incense can add a special-ness to a home practice space. The light adds brightness to wintery days, & a sense of warmth & coziness to the heart. A candle can focus attention during meditation, & incense can invite a sense of sacredness and/or cleansing to the space. With Winter Solstice coming on December 21st, celebrating the return of the Sun can be a lovely ritual. (Of course make sure you’re practicing fire safety, or consider using battery-operated tea lights.)
I look forward to hearing & seeing how you are creating your home practice space!
Have you ever seen
in your life
than the way the sun,
relaxed and easy,
floats toward the horizon
and into the clouds or the hills,
or the rumpled sea,
and is gone --
and how it slides again
out of the blackness,
on the other side of the world,
like a red flower
streaming upward on its heavenly oils,
say, on a morning in early summer,
at its perfect imperial distance --
and have you ever felt for anything
such wild love --
do you think there is anywhere, in any language,
a word billowing enough
for the pleasure
that fills you,
as the sun
as it warms you
as you stand there,
or have you too
turned from this world --
or have you too
- Mary Oliver, New & Selected Poems, Volume One
It’s Monday before Thanksgiving … & our boy Baxter is back on forced rest. Poor guy seems to have pinched a nerve again …
Thanks to Alpha Vet Clinic for providing meds to mitigate his pain until we can get him in to see the vet.
This turn of events has also forced me into rest today … because if I move, he moves … my beloved Shadow doesn’t like me out of his sight.
Rest is good medicine (not to discount the immediate effect of his painkillers).
Most of us — around the GLOBE — are in another (or continuing) period of local or national limitation of activity due to the rampant spread of COVID-19. We’re being … “forced” … “invited” … “highly encouraged” … “pushed to” … ??? … change how much and what we do in the world.
How are you feeling about all this? What sensations do you feel in your body when thinking about all of this? How is your breath affected when you think about all of this? Does your mind become quicker, slower, distracted, dull, disturbed, one-pointed, clear … or something else?
One of our community yogis, Lisa, shared this post on her Facebook page, which made me think of my own travels this year:
I used to travel a lot more & take up residence somewhere new almost yearly. It’s been a new thing to be in one place for almost 7 years. I’m grateful Jim, the dogs & I have a safe place to quarantine — a home that provides space for us to work remotely, find some solitude, & come together & enjoy our downtime. We are also near a walking path that allows us to get exercise while maintaining safe distance, & live in a small town where crowds are rare & easily avoidable.
I’m not real excited about the travels through our home that remind me of the constant onslaught of furball tumbleweeds, unfolded laundry, & unfinished projects. The folks out there manifesting their clean, clutter-free home & getting all the things accomplished … good for you. We all have our gifts.
Anyway, the radical-ness of rest. Baxter & Tortilla are guru teachers of balancing rest & activity. When it’s time for a walk — they’re all in. When it’s naptime — they’re all in. They’re not thinking, “Oh, I really need to be planning my next barkfest at the postal carrier this afternoon,” or “Tomorrow I’ve got that peanut butter jar project.” They simply rest when it’s time.
I realize I won’t get to their level of mastery of rest. It’s just not in my DNA. Yet I admire their ability, & seek to emulate their ways on a regular basis.
Especially now, with the pandemic raging worldwide, people’s emotions flaring, the very real stressful circumstances so many of us find ourselves in, the holidays well underway … & our society marching to the cry “keep going! don’t stop! push forward no matter what! get back to normal! and quickly!”
If we feel like we can’t stop … & I use “we” purposefully … If we feel like we can’t stop … If we feel like we can’t rest … The question may be: Why? … And further: Who says?
I was listening to an interview with Wendell Berry recently … if you need a moment to slow down, just listen to his measured, in-no-hurry voice … & at one point he heralded the unmatched intelligence of humans … at a certain speed. He was speaking of agriculture specifically, that the human working at the speed of the draft animal or the hand tool is unmatched. & yet we have arrogantly extrapolated that our intelligence can keep up in the realm of tractors, factory farming, mass monoculture. In speaking of general society, Berry stated our hubris wrongly makes us believe that our human intelligence can keep up as we text & drive 75 miles per hour.
His thoughts made me laugh at myself, my own arrogance as I speed through life … & also take pause.
Winter is coming (cue the music) … & in Ayurveda this is a season to gather one’s resources, go inward, & slow down. To nourish, rest, hibernate. To reflect, to tell stories, to give thanks.
Ayurveda states that if we take our cues from the happenings & the speed of Nature, we will find balance, health & ease. Maybe that balance is realized in just one area of life, yet the benefits are noticeable nonetheless. For example, when I change up my food choices from raw, cool, crunchy fruits & veggies (typical of spring/summer) to warm, nourishing soups & stews meant for winter — I feel nourished & warm myself!
Likewise, the shorter days of winter invite us to radical rest … in spite of the ability to flip a switch to prolong the light & the “go go go” / keep doing mentality.
What does “radical rest” look like to you? If you have practices that you are looking forward to this winter, what are they? If not, is there a practice you’ve been thinking about?
If you’ve been wanting to start a meditation practice, the coming months could be the perfect time. The quieter attributes of the winter season are conducive to the contemplative practices. Just one minute of mindful breathing — sama vritti or “equal wave breath,” for example — & you’re on your way!
This season, I’m exploring contemplative creative practice — my friend, Jill Ross, a wonderful mosaic artist, invited me into a virtual retreat offered by Abbey of the Arts called “Sacred Rhythms of Sky, Sun, Sea & Stone.” Each day we work with a different element & a different form of creative expression. I enjoy learning from different spiritual traditions & practices, & this one spoke to me because of the Nature focus & creative practices offered. (If you’re interested & sign up, let me know so we can invite you to our private Facebook group.)
I see it’s getting dark … 5:30pm here in SW PA … time to heat up some soup & settle in with a cozy blanket & a good book. Here’s to our radical rest, friends.
(P.S. We cannot bypass the obvious & subtle ways COVID-19 affects our nervous systems. Yes, rest. Yet also cultivate awareness of your reactions to stress, & get help when you need it. We need each other now more than ever.)
Creating these mini cards has been quite therapeutic over these last several weeks. In fact, creative practice in general has been a balm throughout 2020. I find my mind can go to a pretty dark place with all the turmoil going on in the world.
Unfortunately, left unchecked, that darkness has spilled out onto the keyboard or out of my mouth … usually in the form of judgment or snarkiness (hello, Pitta dosha imbalance 😉 ). I find myself apologizing a lot lately, either to myself or others. Thankfully, if I’m mindful, I can channel that darkness into creativity, humor & finding ways to be useful.
There’s a bit of an “anxious type” in my nature & family history — as Graham Panther, co-creator of The Big Feels Club, calls himself & describes those of us who “have a knack for catastrophic thinking.” Whether you love an anxious type, or have anxious tendencies yourself, Graham’s personal experience & empathy will warm your heart & induce a few chuckles as well. I listened to his July interview on the All in the Mind podcast (check it out here) — his thoughts allowed me to laugh at myself & also find some comfort in the midst of uncontrollable situations we continue to find ourselves in.
Ya’ll know me pretty well by now, & that I’ll provide my point of view if asked 😉 … & my views are pretty well-laid out in social media. I TRY to maintain consistency in my criticism of systems (& powerful people who uphold those systems) which oppress the disenfranchised, the marginalized & the historically oppressed. I TRY to maintain my upliftment of people & programs that bring awareness to & offer pathways to a more compassionate, loving, collaborative, joyful, socially just & beautiful world.
And I make mistakes.
I realize I don’t see the whole picture, & have much more to learn. My teacher, Luvena Rangel, in our Navratri Sadhana practice last week, reminded us of a story of 6 sadhakas (students) without sight who were given the task of describing an elephant. One grasped the ear & said, “Oh, an elephant is round, flappy & rough. That is what is an elephant.” Another grasped the tail & said, “No No! An elephant is long & thin with a wispy mass of hair at the end.” A third held one of the elephant’s legs & said, “You’re both wrong! An elephant is round & stocky like a tree trunk.”
And of course we know they were all CORRECT … & yet did not see the entire elephant.
An elephant DOES have a flappy, round ear. And yet an elephant is more than an ear. An elephant is ALL of these things …
Luvena asked, “So why would we think that WE can see the full picture of life, what is Truth? When we have these 5 senses alone to take in information, & each of us uses these 5 senses differently, from our own context, history, perspective? Even in Yoga there are MANY philosophies of what is Yoga …” [paraphrased]
Maybe you have heard this story before … it continues to remind me to be HUMBLE, to continue to LEARN … that everyone & every creature, every blade of grass … has something to teach me about Truth.
You & I may have similar or different views on the current pandemic, on the current U.S. election, on the pathways toward a more just & compassionate world. Yet I imagine, if you’re practicing Yoga — we are in solidarity that we DO want a more just & compassionate world for ourselves, our elders & youth, for the natural world & creatures, for our communities. For this is one of the (many) goals of Yoga!
So as I (& maybe you) work with the current anxieties within, may we 1) acknowledge our darker feelings & thoughts — simply recognize them & that it’s our bodies/spirits trying to keep us & our loved ones safe, & 2) find ways to channel these valid feelings / thoughts into creating something useful, beautiful and/or more loving for ourselves & those around us.
Our efforts will result in a more complete picture of “the elephant” – the more loving, peaceful, joyful & just world we all seek.
I’d love to hear how this post resonated with you. Feel free to message me here or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Over the last few weeks, Jim & I have had some wonderful animal sightings on our trail walks … here are a few quickly-captured photos:
Looking into a deeper meaning of a few of these sightings, I found timely wisdom for myself … as the New Moon in Virgo recently graced us with the earthy-ness, the changing of seasons, the invitation to turn inward & prepare for the colder, darker months.
For almost 3 years now, I’ve been using The Moon is My Calendar journal as a way to tune into Nature’s rhythms & lunar time. April McMurtry has created an entire program around this calendar, & I encourage you to check it out if you have even an inkling of curiosity or are drawn to the Moon.
Each New Moon, there’s space in the calendar & journal to set intentions & to create a New Moon Mandala. This practice was super-intimidating to me at first … yet over time I’ve come to look forward to the morning when I get to meditate, putter, contemplate, & create something for the next moon cycle.
I’ve only done a few projects with Jesse Petersen, & I already absolutely LOVE her style — laidback, non-threatening, “you-do-you” tutorials. I put on some Virgo New Moon-inspired music & here’s what transpired:
Virgo New Moon energy is still around! So if you try this practice, please please please let me know, I’d love to see what inspired you! Happy Weekend, E
“The Divine loves you too much to see you stagnate.” – Yogarupa Rod Stryker
How are you feeling today?
Today begins “stay-cation” for Jim, me, Baxter & Tortilla. So I’m feeling a bit mixed — both disappointed, yet also quite content.
Usually around this time of year we’d be packing the backseat of the Subaru to the max with camping/hiking/lazy-daying gear (the very back covered with dog beds for the boys, of course!). Jim would have planned a general route for our travels, with plenty of wiggle room for side trips or extra days at a favorite spot. Our boys would be at our heels throughout the packing & loading — just to make sure we know they’re going too ;).
Last summer we returned to New England:
So it’s a bit disorienting to NOT be doing much planning … & no packing, loading, or (in the dogs’ case) shadowing right now. Instead, last night we started to make a list of stay-cation ideas =). A few things on our list:
Watch “The Umbrella Academy” (stumbled on this last night & we are hooked!)
Phone / Zoom calls with family
Paddleboard … without dogs (there’s a story here)
Climbing (possibly with dogs)
Catch up on The New York Times (me)
Novel editing (Jim)
Treats, snuggles, walks, more treats (B & T)
Backpacking in Dolly Sods (a fave place of ours back in grad school)
We may get to all, some, or none of these activities — that’s usually how our vacations go anyway. And our various work projects will inevitably seep in … yet we’ll attempt to take our sabbatical from those beloved projects while staying close to home.
How have your summer plans altered this year?
How are you feeling about your 2020 summer transitions?
I think about Yoga — when we first start out on our journey into asana, meditation, lifestyle practices — it’s all new, there’s much to explore. We may feel excited, uncertain, challenged, frustrated, empowered, (enter-your-descriptor-here). A whole new world with endless paths of philosophy & technique. We learn, practice, become familiar — then add new territory to our explorations, maybe a new posture, or a new breath technique or daily Ayurvedic routine.
But what happens when we “stay home?” When we get on our mats/chair & practice Mountain Pose (Tadasana) for the one-thousandth time? What happens when we come back to our breath for the one-millionth time? When our mind wanders … to the same places … A G A I N ?
“Staying home” in my yoga practice can be challenging. I wanna do the latest craze in postures/sequencing, try an esoteric meditation, or get that herb that I just learned about.
And maybe where the juicy stuff of life IS — maybe where I actually dive deeper into my own radiant Self — is in doing the familiar thing with new, deeper, more full awareness. Trusting that the Divine loves me too much to see me to stagnate.
Can tadasana be familiar & at the same time NEW … each practice? Can my breath — which is always with me, mostly unnoticed — evoke wonder & awe with each inhale & each exhale? Can my mind, ever-wandering, teach me about my own tendencies … & can I approach my tendencies with grace & compassion?
So we will stay close to home this summer. We will visit familiar places with new eyes & hearts. I will visit my familiar practices with a “beginner’s mind” — & have faith that I will be amazed by the new territory I discover within.
Thank you to my teachers in the Himalayan Tradition, & all of you in this community – who are my teachers as well. May we continue to grow in our re-membering how vast & radiant & beautiful the Divine Light within each of us truly is.