A post by instructor Kim Neer
As a person with a busy and wandering mind who is easily distracted, I often feel as if I am somehow off track, and I know I’m not the only one to feel this way. It’s easy to get lost in the fog of life’s circumstances, and sometimes we feel as if we aren’t even sure where we are going anymore. From my yoga practice I am continuously learning to bring my focus inward when this happens, and just concentrate on where I am in the present moment, breath by breath.
When practicing yoga asana (poses) in a class setting, it is certainly not to your benefit to let the wandering mind take over; the pace of the practice forces you to concentrate and listen to the teacher. But even more than listening to the teacher, in a yoga practice you must also listen to your own breath. We do this just by following the guidance of the teacher: inhale reach up, exhale forward fold, inhale rise, exhale fold. For me, there is something very soothing to break my practice down breath by breath. I don’t have to think about the poses to come, or what I’ve already done, but I can focus completely on the current moment, allow myself to fully feel the pose and the breath. It comes as a relief to me when I can take refuge in the present moment of my yoga practice, knowing that all I am is a moving, breathing body, and that that is all that matters right then.
Of course, being mindful of the breath and the present moment is much easier to do during a yoga class than it is during almost every other moment in daily life. However, it is possible to take this lesson from the mat and use it during moments of turbulence, confusion, sadness, or even boredom. When I think of all that I’ve accomplished in my life thus far, both big and small, each of those goals were reached by a series of small steps. Whenever I feel lost in something big, it’s helpful to remember that life is nothing but a series of small steps, a series of movements accompanied by the breath.
In yoga, the practice of controlling the breath is called pranayama. Prana means life force, that which fills us. Prana is not good or bad, it just is. The breath itself simply is what it is, a constant rhythm of expansion and contraction, and it will continue to flow, giving us life, whether we are conscious of it or not. The practice of pranayama is a chance to not only learn to work with the breath, but to observe it, to listen to it, and to learn from it. A few minutes of breathing practice can calm even the most distracted minds.
In my personal practice, as I am learning to follow the breath, and to experience it fully with mindfulness, I am learning more and more that what I need to do is just let things happen. Pranayama is about learning to balance between control and surrender. For me, this means when I am feeling confused and lost, I remind myself to consciously take just one step at a time, and trust that the next step will happen, as I need it to.
According to Ayurveda, everything in the world is composed of the three doshas, Vata, Pitta and Kosha. Think of the doshas like “qualities of energy”; each have their own qualities, elements and traits and everything (including you!) is ruled by them. Vata, the energy of movement, is the ruling dosha for the late autumn and winter months- from October to January. Vata is characterized by dryness, light, coldness and mobility, and, as the weather gets colder and dryer, the qualities of Vata become more predominant.
You might notice that through the winter the qualities of Vata effects you, making you more prone to anxiety, dry skin, insomnia and constipation. You might develop a craving for warm, soothing foods, and find you need more lotion for your dry hands. Ok! So now that we know how the changes of the seasons can effect our physical and mental wellbeing, we prepare ourselves for the change. Don’t be nervous, the change might be good for you, especially if you have a Pitta or Kapha consitution (go http://doshaquiz.chopra.com
to find out your dosha), but for Vatas like me, the change in season may bring you out of balance.
Things of the Vata season are cold, dry, windy and rough. To bring vata into balance we focus on things that are warm, moist and consistent. The Vata quality is very airy and can make you want to change your mind all the time, so really try to be as regular as possible with your daily routine, especially eating and sleeping.
Emotionally, the winter can be a time where anxiety sneaks up on us. With all the holiday parties, visiting family and presents to buy, the holiday season can paradoxically become a difficult time to relax and enjoy the fruits of out labor. I’ve personally found that pranayama is extremely effective to combat stress. Practice Nadi Shodhanna (instructions here http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/2487
) and when you feel panic popping up: take 10 slow belly breaths through the nose. Use calming essential oils like lavendor on pressure points to keep the nerves at bay... and meditate! One great meditation during the winter months is to inhale and silently say “soo” and with an exhale say “huumm”. So hum means “I am the divine”, the mantra is grounding and helps to synch us up with the rhythms and harmonies of nature.
Constipation can also become a problem during the Vata season. The Vata diet is soothing and improves digestion, which includes eating a lot of healthy carbs like whole wheat pasta and squash, cooked veggies and fruits and lots of dairy and healthy oils. You can also give yourself a little stomach massage, clockwise with warm oil.
In terms of exercise, keep your routine regular and consistent. Running increases Vatta, so take it easy on the morning jogs, but walking and Yoga are excellent ways to stimulate the digestive system and calm the mind.
The Fall and Winter is a wonderful time; we have brisk fall breezes, nights cuddled up with blankets, we get to enjoy the company of friends and family and relish Holiday treats. Every season has its own unique energetic trademark that effects our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing; once we know how to balance ourselves out we can better take advantage of everything this time has to offer!
BirdWings by Rumi
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, and instead,
here’s the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
if it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
The two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
That is one of my favorite poems. I think it has so much truth in it. You and your life are always changing and when you are lost in darkness, know there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. We often learn the most about ourselves and grow the most when we are in periods of change and instability. Also, the ability to shift and change often comes about more quickly when you are able to stay present with what is happening.
It is often our natural tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Some take this so far as to completely numb out during times of difficulty. However, if you are numb or disconnected it becomes incredibly difficult to move into a new state of being. It also can get to the point where you no longer feel anything at all- good or bad. You may miss opportunities or fail to see things that you can do in order to change your situation. Instead if you can accept your situation for what is it and stay present to all of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, no matter how painful, then you can learn much and in the end move into a better state of being than would have been otherwise possible.
Sometimes the pain you are experiencing may be so deep and you may feel so stuck that you cannot find the shift on your own. Instead of running from the experience, at that point, reach out to others for support. It is much easier to find your way out of darkness with a guide whether that's a trusted friend, a spiritual or community leader, or a professional.
Change is the one certainty we have in life. There will be good days and bad days. There will be days when all your dreams seem to be coming true and days when it seems like your hopes are completely dashed. You owe it to yourself to be able to experience all the days of your life, to live fully and completely. In order to fully savor the days of joy you must also be able to feel your days of grief. They are all a part of life, would you rather be living or avoiding?
More on Jenilee at: jenileesneed.com