Working together with the world takes practice

The changing light, the later mornings, the texture of the air and the symphony of crickets’ chirps outside remind me that summer is waning and autumn is nearing. I have mixed emotions at this time of year. I am wistful that summer is ending but excited about the turn of the season, the crisp air, the harvest and the fresh energy of autumn. Today, I am reminded yet again, to enjoy and live this moment, to revisit my practice to stay grounded and centered, to breathe, to be present and to attend to today’s offerings – be they gift or challenge — or in the words of David Whyte, to work together with this world and bring “the visible and invisible together in common cause to produce the miraculous.”

I am reminded to start my day with my own time, to sit still with one, two or maybe five breaths, to settle into my body with gentle movement and attend to body, mind and spirit before I begin each day. As we move toward autumn and enjoy these final weeks of summer, what is is that you come back to in your practice? How do you work with your practice to ground and nurture self and spirit to “produce the miraculous?”

We have new and returning classes, workshops and teachers in the studio this fall to support your practice! Check out our calendar and make your plans now for regrounding and renewing your practice in the weeks ahead!

Working Together
by David Whyte

We shape our self
to fit this world
and by the world
are shaped again

the visible
and the invisible
working together
in common cause,
to produce the miraculous.

I am thinking of the way
the intangible air
traveled at speed
round a shaped wing
easily holds our weight.

So may we, in this life
trust to those elements
we have yet to see
or imagine and look for the true
shape of our own self
by forming it well
to the great
intangibles about us.

—from The House of Belonging,
©1996, Many Rivers Press

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Summer Days

Practice takes many forms. For some, it is yoga movement, mindfully moving the body and attending to the breath to bring body and mind to stillness. For others, it is sitting quietly to attend to breath and gently coax the mind’s activity to calm. For others, it’s a long bike ride, hike or kayak, feeling the body in rhythmic movement while attending to the road, the waves, the trail and the weather. For others still, it’s sitting to write or pausing one’s motion to listen to a child tell their story. In the summer, feeling the sun on our skin, listening to the waves at the beach or the birds in the trees can all become practice. Whatever and whenever we practice, the effort brings us to the present moment, to that place where we are attentive and aware of life as it happens. Dropping the ruminations of what has come before and the desires of what may come next, sitting in the present moment allows us, at last, to truly experience the deliciousness of life with our whole being. Renowned poet Mary Oliver expresses it perfectly in this excerpt from her poem “The Summer Day”:

“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention,

how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?”

Excerpted from Mary Oliver New and Selected Poems, 1992

Beacon Press, Boston, MA

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The Fruits of Practice

We walk away from a yoga or meditation practice feeling refreshed, energized and calmer in body, mind and spirit.  Any one practice might reveal insights, give peace to a troubled heart or bring us back to our center to help us move forward in our day. 

But sometimes the true benefits of a yoga or meditation practice don’t show up right away. They show up later when life presents challenge. As one of my students recently shared “it is only in yoga that I feel truly pain free” as she completed a yoga nidra class in the midst of recovering from an accident. Another student, going through cancer treatment, shared with me that she surprised her doctor when she showed how truly flexible and strong her body was. And another, a doc himself, shared with me recently that his meditation practice gave him greater awareness of how important it was and when he needed to take a break to bring himself back to center so that he could serve his patients in the ER better.

As some of you know, in addition to my yoga teaching, running the PRACTICE studio and hosting my annual meditation retreat at the Borestone Mountain Sanctuary in Maine, I also consult in communications and development services for non-profits. I recently started working with an organization called Chewonki, an environmental education center on the coast of Maine. I have a very full schedule these days. And in that fullness, I am more aware than ever that it is my practice over the years that is now bearing fruit in very specific and helpful ways. I recognize at work that I know well how to exert effort and then to pause and rest before the next “posture” or focused task. That practice allows me to move through a busy day being ready and present for each next task.  I am a better listener and can remain present through challenging moments better than I ever could before. I am more compassionate with both co-workers and situations. I am in my body and know that movement and breath help me think and respond better.  I am more resilient. Every day, I am aware that it is my practice of yoga and meditation that has given me these gifts. And the gifts have only been revealed because of the challenge of balancing the demands.

Every practice leaves me feeling refreshed and knowing that I am whole. But it is only now, in the midst of this challenging new schedule, that I am reminded on a daily basis of the depth of the benefits to my life and work. And I am grateful!

I would love to hear from you where you are discovering the benefits of yoga and meditation in your life. Please feel free to share!

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April is our Birthday Month!

PRACTICE opened its doors in April last year to provide a soothing, restful oasis in the middle of the city for all who are looking for easy access to a regular practice that nurtures good health and well being for body, mind and spirit. We’ve had a great year and have loved our time with each and every one of you! Maintaining a spirit of inquiry, we experimented with schedules and classes to meet YOUR needs and create offerings to support YOUR vitality and good health! We are SO GRATEFUL for all who have made PRACTICE a part of their regular routine and wish all of you peace and ease on your path.

Over the year, with joy, music, art, expertise and a loving spirit, teachers from a mix of deep yoga traditions have brought a diverse offering of classes and workshops to PRACTICE. Classes were offered for those who have never stepped into a yoga studio before, for others who live busy lives and seek better life balance, for athletes looking to stay flexible as well as strong, for others experiencing loss who need space in their lives to grieve, for mothers and daughters to enjoy special time together and for those who seek a deeper connection to that soft voice inside, to the beauty of the season’s changes and to a celebration of the creative spirit that lives in all of us.

Today, PRACTICE offers regular yoga, meditation and mindfulness classes for all levels. Yoga is available for beginners and experienced practitioners alike — with a well-balanced mix of gentle, active and restorative classes in the early am, midday, late afternoon and evening. Meditation classes are available for those just beginning a practice and for those who have found that a regular practice simply makes life richer. Midday, evening and weekend meditation classes and workshops are available every week. Private instruction in both yoga and meditation is available as well.

We are celebrating our first birthday all month with some great new classes as well as the tried and true! See the full schedule here. And every time you come to a class at PRACTICE in the month of April, you can enter to win! Enter to win discounts on future classes, bodywork sessions, and yoga products and join with us in celebration of the fruits of regular practice!

“Your life is your practice. Your spiritual practice does not occur someplace other than in your life right now, and your life is nowhere other than where you are. You are looking for answers, insight, and wisdom that you already possess. Live the life in front of you, be the life you are, and see what you find out for yourself.” ― Karen Maezen Miller

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Spring Emerges

Witnessing the emergence of spring and the gradual letting go of winter is exciting and subtle all at once. Take time to tune into the sights and sounds of the season, the emerging light, the melting of ice and snow, the sun’s warmth on your body, the animal activity and invite the pleasure of being in the moment to witness the small stirrings of the new season. March invites us to take time to attend to our own stirrings of energy within.  In yoga and meditation practice, we take the time to attend to our own inner stirrings, listening to our own creative stirrings and the yearnings to be outdoors and active and alive in the world!

Grizzly%20Bear%20Rocky%20Mountains

Spring by Mary Oliver:

Somewhere / a black bear / has just risen from sleep /and is staring

down the mountain. / All night /in the brisk and shallow restlessness /of early spring

I think of her, / her four black fists / flicking the gravel / her tongue

like a red fire / touching the grass, / the cold water. / There is only one question:

how to love this world. / I think of her / rising/ like a black and leafy ledge

to sharpen her claws against / the silence/ of the trees./ Whatever else

my life is/ with its poems/ and its music/ and its cities,

it is also this dazzling darkness/ coming  /down the mountain,/ breathing and tasting;

all day I think of her / her white teeth,/ her wordlessness,/ her perfect love.

 

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Be Love!

“The major characteristic of love is the absence of conflict. When conflict is born and increases daily, true love gradually diminishes. Where conflict finds fault, love sees virtue. When love increases daily, its flower blossoms fully, spreading its sweet fragrance everywhere.” Swami Kripalu

As we turn the calendar to February, we welcome more light into our days and begin to release the deep cold of January. In fact, February 2 marks the mid-way point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. What does this have to do with LOVE and YOGA? As we release holding and tension, just as we release conflict, we can more easily access a calm mind and open heart. A mind and heart that is open to what life is serving up right NOW, in the present moment. We are more able to breathe into that moment to explore and discover what its gifts and lessons are to our life. Whether with another or flying solo, through the practice of yoga and meditation, we can experience peace of mind and openness of heart to the world around us.  As Swami Kripalu taught, “Through the practice of yoga, the mind easily becomes concentrated and one-pointed through the practice of yoga. When control of the mind is obtained, peace is established. To practice even a little is of the utmost importance. The profound meaning of yoga is understood only by those who maintain a regular and systematic practice. The day you start to practice, your true progress will begin.”

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Welcome the New Year with Intention

Whether with resolution, intention or ritual, the activities we choose to welcome in the new year are an opportunity to reassess and recommit to qualities we desire in our lives. Taking the time to reflect on the past year and letting go of that which does not serve us any longer is a great start to create space for the new. Whether your ritual is cleaning up your email box, cleaning out a closet or making a list of what you would like to let go and then ripping up or burning the list as a symbolic gesture, letting go clears room for creative energy.

Creating a ritual to activate your intentions for the new year is equally powerful. Deepok Chopra speaks of 5 steps to setting powerful intentions: “Slip into the ‘Gap’, a state of restful awareness; Connect with and release your intentions here where your awareness is centered on ‘the quiet field of all possibility'; Cultivate this state of awareness; Detach from the Outcome and Let the Universe Handle the Details.” Of course, the follow-up footwork is essential but creating this mindful map to help guide us our direction is key. Keeping the course is easier said than done and can require dedicated practice and a supportive community to keep us on course. Finding and engaging in a practice of mindful yoga, meditation, yoga nidra and/or pranayama helps us to cultivate this state of “restful awareness”, to continue to touch the truth and connect with the power of our intentions and to continue to cultivate them well into the new year. 

Come join the teachers at PRACTICE for any of the wonderful January offerings that will support your intentions for good health and happiness for the year ahead. Choose from the ongoing class schedule of Yoga classes to the Special Winter offerings including Chakra Yoga, Accessing and Processing Grief with Yoga Nidra and Journaling, or deepening your practice with Pranayama and Meditation.

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Gather and Celebrate. PRACTICE for the Holidays.

Let Yoga Help You Balance and Manage your Holiday Stress

As we look ahead to gathering and celebrating with friends and family over the holidays, we know that the holidays can also challenge our best intentions to maintain a healthy balance. From eating too many yummy delights at holiday gatherings to overbooking the social calendar to managing raised expectations, the holiday season is one fine opportunity to strengthen our commitments to practicing balance and self-care. Of course, an on-going yoga practice help manage stress and build good health year-round. But even one class during the holidays can lower stress levels.

Just one yoga class lowers inflammation in the body, boosts the immune system and improves cognitive function helping to keep you healthy through the holiday season. Can’t handle one more “To Do” over the holidays? Combine your yoga with your holiday priorities! Join friends for a class or plan a private yoga holiday class to enjoy a healthy break together! Find a way to fit in some simple practice time either in the studio or at home.

At PRACTICE, there are some great holiday yoga options to help stretch your yoga wallet this holiday season. Every Tuesday morning, the studio is open for COMMUNITY YOGA AND MEDITATION from 7:15-8:30am. It’s “by-donation” $5 suggested. Or, enjoy holiday shopping at the First Annual YOGA YARD SALE on Saturday, November 30. Come learn to REST AND DIGEST on Monday, December 16 from 5:15-6:30pm, also just $5.

In addition, you might try sprinkling a bit of yogic principle into your holiday practice. Practice kindness (Ahimsa) and truthfulness (Satya) to remember healthy limits and respect them. Practicing contentment (Santosha) to help stay grounded in what’s really important.

Check out all of the Special Holiday Offerings at PRACTICE! Join us and enjoy your holidays in good health! Let yoga support you through your holidays by releasing stress, cultivating peace and tapping into your inner wellspring of joy for life.

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The Benefits of Yoga, Starting the Day You Begin!

(reprint from Huffington  Post, Carolyn Gregoire, 10/28/13)

AFTER YOUR FIRST CLASS:

Improved Brain Function.
Just 20 minutes of yoga can improve cognitive function, boosting focus and working memory. In a University of Illinois study, participants performed significantly better on tests of brain functioning after yoga, as compared to their performance after 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise.

Lower Stress Levels. 
Yoga’s stress-busting powers may come from its ability to lessen the activity of proteins that are known to play a role in inflammation, according to a study published last year from University of California, Los Angeles researchers.

Alter Gene Expression. 
A small Norwegian study suggested that yoga’s many healthy benefits might come from its ability to alter gene expression in immune cells.

Increased Flexibility. 
A recent Colorado State University study found that Bikram yoga in which a series of 26 postures are performed for 90 minutes in a heated room is linked with increased shoulder, lower back and hamstring flexibility, as well as greater deadlift strength and decreased body fat, compared with a control group.

AFTER A FEW MONTHS.

Lower Blood Pressure. 
People with mild to moderate hypertension might benefit from a yoga practice, as a study from University of Pennsylvania researchers found that it could help to lower their blood pressure levels. Researchers found that people who practiced yoga had greater drops in blood pressure compared with those who participated in a walking/nutrition/weight counseling program.

Improved Lung Capacity. 
A small 2000 Ball State University study found that practicing Hatha yoga for 15 weeks could significantly increase vital lung capacity, which is the maximum amount of air exhaled after taking a deep breath. Vital lung capacity is one of the components of lung capacity.

Improved Sexual Function. 
2009 Harvard study published in the The Journal of Sexual Medicine showed that yoga could boost arousal, desire, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction..

Reduced Chronic Neck Pain.
German study published in The Journal of Pain showed that four weeks of practicing Iyengar yoga (a type of Hatha yoga that stresses proper alignment and the use of props) is effective in reducing pain intensity in adults suffering from chronic neck pain.

Anxiety Relief. 
2010 Boston University study showed that 12 weeks of yoga could help to reduce anxiety and increase gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) levels in the brain (low levels of GABA have been linked with depression and anxiety disorders).

Relief from Chronic Back Pain. 
Researchers at West Virginia University found Iyengar Yoga to be more effective in reducing pain and improving mood than standard medical treatment among those with chronic lower back problems.

Steady Blood Sugar Levels in People with Diabetes.
Adding yoga to a typical diabetes care regimen could result in steady blood sugar levels, according to a 2011 Diabetes Care study. Reuters reported that just three months of yoga in addition to diabetes care resulted in a decrease in body mass index, as well as no increases in blood sugar levels.

Improved Sense of Balance. 
Practicing an Iyengar yoga program designed for older adults was found to improve balance and help prevent falls in women over 65, according to a 2008 Temple University study.

AFTER YEARS.

Stronger Bones.
2009 pilot study by Dr. Loren Fishman showed that practicing yoga could improve bone density among older adults.

Healthy Weight.
Researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle found an association between a regular yoga practice and decreased weight — or at least a maintained weight — among more than 15,000 healthy, middle-aged adults.

Lower Risk Of Heart Disease. 
As part of a healthy lifestyle, yoga may lower cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar,according to Harvard Health Publications.

Why not practice??

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Practice is 99% doing, 1% theory

With apologies to Ashtanga Yoga Guru Pattabhi Jois, who had a favorite saying that “Yoga is 99% practice, 1% theory,”  I would amend that slightly to say that practice is 99% doing and 1% theory. Like Nike’s “Just do it” tagline. Just choose a practice and do it. Stop spending more time gathering information, or reading another book about practice.  Just pick a practice and do it. And give it enough time to see where it takes you.  

Practice, of course, takes many forms. For some, it’s a group yoga asana class once or twice a week. For others, it’s meditation. For others still, it’s writing a daily haiku. For some, walking or running at sunrise becomes a dedicated practice. For others, sipping tea mindfully in a peaceful place is practice. Even taking time to be truly present in conversation with someone, particularly someone who might otherwise be “difficult” can become a practice. Practice, really, is anything that connects you to the present moment, that removes the veil that obscures the soft, still voice of your true self, and allows the mind and spirit to come to rest.

Now, information is great and nearly every day,  there’s new research out  about the many benefits of different practices on the body, the mind, the emotions. Each latest article may or may not support your practice choice but that should not stop you from making a choice and making a commitment to stay with it for a time, to explore how it works for you. You know what you need to support your life right now, whether it’s rest, or energy, or focus or patience, boosting your metabolism, developing strength or opening the heart to compassion.  The first sutra (or verse) of yoga from the ancient yogi sage Patanjali (the first to write down the observations of generations of practicing yogis) is “Now, the inquiry of yoga begins.” The first step of a practice is the willingness to pursue the practice and the inquiry to the effect it has on your life. Give a practice enough time to collect that data. And know that even the commitment to practice will empower you.

And so choose a practice, begin it and enjoy the inquiry.  As Pattabhi Jois also said, “Practice and all is coming.” And please, feel free to share your stories and insights from your practice!

 

Deb Cook, Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher and Yoga Nidra Facilitator

Owner, PRACTICE and Yoga in Maine

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