“I Go Among Trees” by Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

~ Wendell Berry from Sabbaths

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Cultivating “the pause”

There’s a technique in meditation where, as you place your attention on the breath, you take it one step further. As you inhale, you note the pause at the top of the inhale, and then as you exhale, you note the pause at the bottom of the exhale. And then you can take it a step further. As you note the pause at the end of the exhale, you allow that pause to lengthen ever so slightly. You rest in the emptiness of the exhale. You allow the pause to just be.

Simply settling the mind enough to pay attention to the breath is a challenge enough for most. But allowing ourselves to rest in a moment of having emptied the body of breath, and allowing ourselves to be fully aware in that emptiness, can be quite disquieting. But attending to that emptiness, is just the right antidote to the current state of affairs.

We, or perhaps I should say, we Americans, tend to not live our lives keeping busy, very busy.  We have cultivated an attachment to “noise”, to an external stimulus, to news, to the constant and urgent activity of the “next thing”.  Physically, we can become addicted to the adrenaline that our bodies produce when we hear the drama of the news, continually checking our email, social media, news reports for the next crisis, making that the only topic of conversations we have. As we near the end of 2017, the world around has become so unpredictable, so dramatic and sometimes frightening that it seems we are compelled and honor-bound to stay plugged in, on high-alert.

But we now know that the state of high-alert is unhealthy to the body and the mind. The “Flight or Flight” response creates sympathetic nervous system overload. It depletes the adrenal system so that we become fatigued and burned-out. Responding to life threats on high-alert certainly is an essential survival response but when left unchecked, causes unhealthy levels of stress.  People who maintain the high-alert overload can suffer anxiety, depression, sleeping difficulty, digestive issues, weight loss, weight gain, heart conditions, back and neck pain, headaches, joint pains, and many other conditions and symptoms.  This is not good for us individually, nor is it good for a world that needs our best selves and creative thoughts to problem-solve our way forward.

Ironically, keeping busy, always informed and on high-alert can feel comforting because the activity demands our full attention and does not allow us to dive into issues that may be less urgent even if they are just as important. The stress-induced fatigue or even illness can take center-stage. Where do we create space to align with our own creative selves? When do we have time, when on high-alert to explore life’s questions: What am I really passionate about? What is my purpose at this moment in my life? Am I taking good care of myself? Do I feel connected to my spirit? It used to be that we had a day of Sabbath to let the world rest so that we could attend to these bigger questions. Some still hold fast to that tradition. Imagine cultivating a whole entire day of pause?

I recently had to live without my Iphone for a few days when it needed repair and I realized, that despite my  own personal practices, I had become habituated to the constant “hit” of news.  Of course, I now use my Iphone for all things — not just email, texts and social messages. But the time. The weather. My calendar.  My phone had become my other “mind” alerting me what to do next throughout the day. Disabling my ability to allow for inspiration, for following my creativity impulse. Without it, I had to rely on old-school methods. I had to wait until I was next at my computer to check my email. I had to remain quiet when standing in line rather then referencing my news feed. I was living with my own thoughts again.  I was finding my way back to my self.

Cultivating the pause in our days is a practice of mindfulness and matters to our good health, our creativity and the presence and peacefulness that we can then turn to share with others. We do need to solve the problems of the day. We just don’t need to solve them 24/7 at the expense of our being.

Cultivating the pause in meditation is a place to start. But if meditation eludes, we can cultivate the pause in other ways.  Here are a few:

  • Walking. Can you walk to a meeting or for an errand in your day? Slowing down to the walking pace, even walking with your breath, can allow the body and mind to find a moment of pause in the action and reset.
  • Red lights. If cars are your mode of transportation, can you relax at the next red light and attend to the breath? Or simply notice the weather, the landscape?
  • Stand in line. When you’re standing in line for coffee or your next flight, can you take a moment and simply stand in a balanced posture, and conduct a brief body scan?  Feel your feet on the ground. Feel you arms relaxing from the shoulders. Feel your jaw relax. Allow a smile to your face.
  • Take a full breath. Right now even. Take a moment to look away from your device at something beautiful and peaceful. Or simply close your eyes. Place your hands on your belly and breathe your breath into your belly. Feel it fill. Exhale and feel it empty. And once more.
  • Find beauty. Take a moment to enjoy a poem or a piece of music or a sunset or a loved one’s smile.

What do you do to create space in your day? Where do you cultivate the pause?

 

 

“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

Summer Yoga

In the language of Ayurveda, yoga’s sister science, summer is the Pitta season. Pitta is composed of the fire and water elements and relates to the season as well as our own constitutions. In the heat of summer, we want to employ practices that help calm, cool and balance the activity and heat of the season.

Knowing how to use yoga postures (asana), pranayama (breathing) and meditation (dharana) to balance the season’s heat and Pitta’s intense personality can help to cool the system – physically, emotionally and mentally. When you’re feeling agitated, restorative forward bends help relax the nervous system and cool the heat. cooling and calming pranayama such as nadi shodhana or sittali breath can help keep the system balanced and meditation helps settle and clear the mind.

Check out this month’s home practices — cooling restorative practice for those hot summer days, and a post-ride practice for after your favorite summer cycle.

The very real benefits of practice

Kripalu’s Institute for Extraordinary Living (IEL) has produced some pretty amazing research in its nine years — looking at the benefits of yoga, meditation and mindfulness on school communities, with first responders, veterans struggling with PTSD, college students, musicians, and more. The benefits of this research to all of us are a much deeper understanding of the very real and positive effects that a regular practice can have on our lives, our families and our communities.

Read some of the Kripalu’s IEL research here:
http://kripalu.org/blog/thrive/2014/08/25/yoga-research-at-kripalu-the-power-of-possibility/

Thanks to all who have pursued this research and to all who have participated. The research makes such a difference to those of us who are out teaching students and communities what the promise and impact of yoga can be, with regular practice, on our physical, mental and emotional well-being.

A moment of silence….

“Silence is not silent. Silence speaks. It speaks most eloquently. Silence is not still. Silence leads. It leads most perfectly.”

~ Sri Chinmoy

deep peace

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

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

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!

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