The reason some get a thrill out of extreme sports is the same reason why some love exercising or binge-watching television or spending money or drinking alcohol or practicing yoga or getting a massage or ingesting drugs or hanging out with friends or meditating or eating or listening to music or having sex or doing whatever it is that brings them contentment. The elation they feel is the result of releasing the contractions or tensions they have absorbed in the body through the pairing of their thoughts with the events they encounter in their lives. We seek relief and release so that we can let the tensions that have landed in the body as contractions dissolve. This allows our musculature to de-contract, to relax, thereby permitting our breathing to deepen and our mind to stop obsessing over all the details typically keep us busily distracted. These outlets let us breathe deeper than we typically do, which brings about the sensations of ease and peace. When discussing the topic of smoking cigarettes with students recently, a few students who had been smokers told me that they loved their cigarette breaks so much because it was in these breaks that they had the opportunity to intentionally take deep breaths as they inhaled and exhaled. They loved smoking because they breathed deeply.
There will be tension relievers that will be productive and those that will be harmful. There will be those that will carry us safely to a place of well being and others that will have repercussions that would be better anticipated than faced. Remember this: that which brings you release which allows you to breathe deeper does not have to be what instigates your relaxing. You can instigate your relaxing. You can intentionally remember to breathe deeply when tension overwhelms, when situations spin out of control and when your fears and insecurities start to distort your understanding of what really is. If you remember one thing, let it be that breathing deeply when things go any way but the way you hoped will save your life. It will keep you in reaction, perspective and clarity. Simply by breathing deeply.
Give it a try. You will see what I’m talking about sooner than you think.
Shit happens. How many times have you heard that? Better yet, how many times have you said it? That used to be my answer to all the conflicts that would pop up in my life, and it was also the advice I would pass onto friends. As far as advice goes, I thought it was pretty concise…bad things happen, and we have to accept that they happen and move on without letting ourselves get caught up in it all. Good advice, no? Well, as I’m blessed to still be living and learning, I’ve recently expanded onto that to not only my friends and students, but to myself as well!
To a very large extent, I see the events of our lives as pre-existing, and in keeping with that, I can honestly say that I believe that events don’t happen, they already are. They may not have made themselves apparent to us yet, but when they do it’s more of a reveal than it is an occurrence. And so when they reveal themselves, if we know that life is a series of said reveals, then we don’t find ourselves immediately and unconsciously resistant to whatever it is that has made itself apparent. I’ve said before that if we want to change the way we live, then we have to change the way we think. This is a perfect example of that. Re-establishing how we see the events of our lives and the relevance we choose to attribute to them makes all the difference in how we are affected by them. If we can get through the dramas with less shock and stress to our bodies and minds, why not give it a go and see how it works for us?
The best way to infuse this concept with a little light and understanding is to look at every stressful or demanding event that we have experienced. Look at all the sadness, disappointment, resistance and dread that immediately welled up when we were faced with it, and then the subsequent waning of those emotions as we dealt with and lived through whatever was going on. Those initial reactions are no longer with us because they were the products of our approach to life, not the products of the events themselves. Things are. The way we see those things, the way we react to those things, that’s where our attention needs to be. If we knew when the stressful events initially appeared that our negative responses to them would be fleeting and that our initial feeling of apprehension would pass, then we can clearly see that we had the opportunity to move through the suffering from a place of neutrality and equanimity. What this approach allow us to do is to identify adversity as fleeting, which in turn conditions us to not “rise to the bait”…when we see the bait as having less significance then we had previously attributed to it, then we can gain comfort in knowing our reactions and responses to it won’t drum up as much suffering as we had experienced in the past.
So with all that being said, I think that my old expression “Shit happens” has morphed into a new piece of über-advice – “Shit is”….when it is, and how it is remains to be seen…but it is…the key is looking at how we approach it and react to it…
One thing I have been noticing in my personal practice lately is that I’m having more difficulty staying constant with my breath…I’m finding myself getting caught up in the instructor’s words or in my own mind’s mutterings, and then all of a sudden I’ll check myself and bring it all back to the breath, trying to fall back into the steady rhythm I had started the practice with.
I know I’ve said it before, but humour me…it’s all about the breath. Without a long, even, steady, nourishing breath, the practice becomes a test in endurance, seeing if the body will carry us through the series of postures and sequences without giving up…and with an unsteady, erratic breathing pattern, giving up is inevitable. The body cannot function on a breath that doesn’t serve it, so this week I’m asking my students to try to tune me out. I’ll keep my instructions to a minimum, but will constantly direct everyone back to the breath.
Regardless of whether or not you’re practicing asana, I’m putting it out there for everyone – this is a call to life, to the breath, back to ourselves. Wherever you find yourselves this week, today, this minute, this second…breathe…deeply…allow the entire capacity of your lungs and your thoracic cavity to inflate and expand, and then exhale until the body’s reflex to inhale kicks in. Do it again. And again.
Don’t underestimate how important the breath is to everything we do…the majority of us breath shallowly, increasing our fatigue, allowing for stress and exterior factors to lodge themselves in our body to create a physical response that tenses up our muscles, tendons and connective tissue. Let is all go…release it…all it takes is a good, deep breath. Keep reminding yourselves to come back to this breath…see if it makes a difference…I strongly suspect it will…
I came back yesterday afternoon from the greatest weekend retreat I could have hoped for – we went to Spa Eastman, a fantastic place to unwind and reconnect with yourself and the peace in and all around you. Our group was 22 people strong, some of whom were not students of Luna Yoga but had heard about the retreat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to practice in such a pampering environment. We were there for less than 48 hours, and when it came time to leave, every one of us felt completely recharged and in disbelief that what had felt like 7 days was only a matter of hours.
The day we got there we had an evening class with a soft practice and we each got the opportunity to introduce ourselves and share why we were attending the retreat, indirectly setting our intention for the weekend. Most of us had come to take care of ourselves, especially those who spent their time taking care of others in their daily lives. Some people were there to indulge in all the spa treatments that we offered, and others were there to experience their first retreat, to find out what it was all about.
As we were working the introductions person-by-person, I noticed that many of us mentioned how long we had been practicing yoga, and usually added “off and on” to the end of their sentence. It immediately resonated with me, as I’ve been practicing for 10 years now, “off-and-on”, and I had somewhat of an epiphany when I kept hearing people use that expression.
My early history with yoga saw me attending classes for a couple of sessions, then veering away from it for a couple more. I’d always find myself back in class within months, and I remember discussing it with my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky. She told me that the path of yoga is a winding one, and that I’d always come back to that path, regardless of the events that were going on in my life that drew my focus away from my practice. And what events they ended up being and continue to be! My pattern used to involve being pulled away from yoga when stressful and traumatic events unraveled around me. It first happened in 2001 when my friend Chantal Vincelli died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11. It happened when my grandmother passed away. It happened when my partner’s apartment building burned down, as well as when I had to euthanize one of my dogs. As these events occurred, I would find myself calling Joan to explain why I wasn’t in class, and after years of this pattern repeating itself, Joan had the compassion and tact to suggest that it was perhaps in these moments that I needed my practice the most. I’ve never forgotten those words. And they’ve since saved me the anguish and anxiety that I was used to letting in during moments of shock and loss. And it was these exact words that have kept me “on” ever since (it also struck me how the term “off-and-on” could apply to “on-and-off the mat”, which was exactly what we were all referring to in our introductions this weekend).
Very few of us can truthfully say that we’ve been doing any one thing consistently for years without small interruptions or small tears in our realities. We are so complex as individuals, and even more so as a collective group of individuals, and so it is inevitable that our paths end up following a (hopefully) long, winding road. We are never only one thing. We may wear many hats and play many roles, but even the sum total of those roles don’t even begin to encompass our complexity, and they certainly don’t define who we are (they barely define what we do). As you know, I’m a big fan of giving the best I can on any given day, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, my best will always change, from minute to minute, day to day. Only through applying what Joan had suggested to me did I find that I was indeed a calmer, more rational person when things seemed to go haywire around me. Only then did my pattern change. I now find myself “off” the mat less frequently, especially given the turn my path has taken, which isn’t to say that what used to lead me astray won’t do so in the future. It simply means I’m more aware of it and have the tools to help myself see those events as happening in my environment, but not necessarily to me. To see the events as temporary fluctuations, however real and horrible they may be. To keep my focus on the unwavering permanence that we are all derived from and that we all share. So if we come and go on our yogic paths, we’re nonetheless
still on our paths, where we should be and we shouldn’t worry about it or reprimand ourselves for not being disciplined enough. After all, practicing yoga isn’t only about being “on the mat”.