Evolution

Evolution

Yoga is a practice of liberation. It’s sometimes described as a discipline of freedom in which you learn more and more what it means to be trapped and what it means to be liberated. It is a Wisdom Tradition that draws your own wisdom from the core of your body out through all your limbs, your hands and feet, your eyes, your crown, and covers you with it. Your own goodness, your own wholeness, your own choice to be the way you want to be in the world.

When lying in savasana (resting in corpse pose), I’d hear my dear teacher talk about contentment, our true nature. I thought I knew what she meant. So I began striving for contentment. This is hysterical! I see myself as having chased contentment so much that I literally chased it away the way one keeps driving a puppy farther on by running after it. (You know, you have to get the puppy to wanna chase you, then you run home.)

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Hollowness, emptiness, obscurity, lack. That’s what’s left when contentment’s not around. But these non-feeling-feelings are vague and veiled, so sometimes they can seem like contentment. I’d say it to my own students, too, “Rest in contentment, your true nature.”

I had misgivings about this, about not being sure, exactly, what this true-nature-contentment thing was, so sometimes I wouldn’t say it. But I did know about the pause between breaths, that swirling spaciousness into which the exhale dissolves and from which the inhale arises. And so I’d invite my students to “Rest here, for as long as it lasts, and then enjoy the next breath whenever it comes along.”
This
felt
authentic.

20 years later

Authenticity
feels
full, warm, round.
Like a baby’s belly after just enough milk.

When my babes were growing into toddlers there was always a lot of talk about food. Meals, snacks, bites, feasts. Yoga is like this.

When my toddlers were growing into children, we talked about feeling full, stuffed, hungry, ravenous, and famished (never starving). I offered them “content” as a way of describing the sensation just shy of full. Did they feel (sense) they’d had enough to eat? What if we wait twenty minutes before having more? Did they feel content with what they had? Yoga is like this.

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Memorial Day weekend of 2020 I was on my first ever silent retreat. My first ever silent retreat was fully online. So, not the experience I had anticipated, but one that was rich and layered with new ways relating and new ways of knowing. It was on that Saturday after listening to poetry, feeling it in my body, and understanding the ways metaphor (which is language itself) translates to sensation (through the motor and somatosensory cortex) that I realized I had been selling myself short. Or (and?) selling contentment short.

I began to understand that I had interpreted contentment as a neutral sensation, neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It seems I didn’t have a sense (a sensation) of contentment that resonated or vibrated in my body. Also, I had used the yogic practice of non-attachment as a way of trying to access contentment, and in so doing had separated it from sensation even further. In this way, contentment felt like nothing – no thing – there was no metaphorical/neural connection for me. When I thought or said the word contentment, neither my motor, nor my somatosensory cortex activated. My brain had nothing (no thing) to offer. There was not an embodied experience (a knowing) from which to draw meaning. No texture or temperature, no vision, aroma, flavor, or action. Basically, contentment was dead.

Enticing the Puppy

Have you ever felt a poem in your bones? Has your flesh ever vibrated with a knowing when your friend describes her experience to you? Has your body ever come alive as you describe your own experience to someone else? This happens because language touches the part of our brain that controls our senses and our movement. The only reason we know anything is because we have a body from which to draw meaning.

Through a series of contemplative inquiries, trauma-informed, resilience focused practices, and iRest yoga nidra meditation, I began to understand that contentment could hold really big things, like Ease, Security, and Safety. It was like a door had been opened, or the roof lifted off, and possibility entered in, lifting me like a cloud toward something even bigger – Joy.

I used to think, Joy? Who am I to feel joy? And then, Wait – why not joy? Why rest in contentment when I can rest in joy? Instead of coupling contentment with neutrality, non-attachment, non-touching, non-aliveness, I started connecting it with happiness, serenity, peace, tranquility, and even Bliss – full aliveness.

I began to turn away from striving, and instead began running home to my body. Contentment would follow me, like a puppy, and bring with her all the sensations of enlivenment like tingling, pulsating, vibrating, shimmering. This is Yoga.

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A touching. A coming together. A joining. A yoking. A completeness. A coming home. All of this inside me, coming to life.

The practice of contentment is one of non-grasping. It is deep below the surface where the waves do not disturb it. That’s how this all works. Have the experience of bliss and remain equanimous when bliss passes. Have the experience of spaciousness and remain at ease when spaciousness fades. Have the experience of peace and remain serene when peace dissipates. The depth of the ocean is content to remain in cold darkness, unmoved by the weather so far above.

The Evolution of Practice

Dear one, in the depth of your being be content to rest in joy, your true nature, unmoved by the circumstances of your life. Allow yourself to be breathed by the lifeforce of the universe. Feel the birth of the inhalation and the death of the exhalation. Allow yourself to rest in the spacious joyfulness between breaths where death dissolves and life begins.

Can you feel how big you are? Can you feel light radiating from you? Can you feel it in your blood? Your bones? Your skin? How you are touching Love and Love is touching you? How you are the ocean, how you are Love?

Photo by Irina
Iri

Take small bites. (Three little breaths.)

Nibble. (Have a few cat/cows.)

Just have a snack. (One goooooood sun salute.)

Eat just enough. (Two and a half minutes?)

Sense when you are content. (Relaxation.)

Feel when you are full. (Om.)

Get used to the idea
of being
such an amazing thing
as Joy,
and feast
when it is feasting time.

Contentment is big enough

And so are you.

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Making Space for Presence

This post explores the science of emotions, the research on social aspects of teaching, as well as the work of embodiment and how it can support us in moments of difficulty or overwhelm. At the end you’ll find an offering to create space for empathy & compassion for yourself & others.

Emotions
Dr. Eve Ekman is a contemplative social scientist and teacher in the field of emotional awareness and burnout prevention.  She defines emotion as “a process that is triggered in 1/25 of a second, lasts only about 30 – 90 seconds, and helps us respond to important challenges.”  Emotions get our attention and remind us of our values.  Being aware of our emotions allows us to acknowledge them without criticism and make wise choices about our role in what comes next.

Teamwork

Community 
Community spaces are filled with people, and as such are filled with emotions, as well as lots of triggers!  This is just as true for digital interactive spaces as it is for in-person events.  Whether you’re a leader, participant, student, teacher, parent, child, or all of these and more, spending hours each day in social environments creates an opportunity for emotional exhaustion

Research in education shows that practicing mindful awareness can help decrease burnout and increase an overall sense of well-being.  Because this is true in K-12 learning environments, we can reasonably extend these findings to include a variety of other group settings, such as professional and corporate offices, fitness centers, child care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, and community events – basically, anywhere there are facilitators and participants, anywhere there are people(!)     

Practicing Presence
is the
Seed of Empathy.

Compassion
Practicing Presence within community requires a certain amount of non-reactivity.  Being able to notice and observe our own emotions allows for a space between what activates us (or triggers us) and our next thought, word, or action. The space allows us to respond skillfully rather than react choicelessly.  It also creates pathways to take care of our own needs in the moment.  This practicing awareness of our emotional process gives us insight into the experience of others, precisely because all of us are human. Happily, that new information we gain inside that moment of presence increases the likelihood that we can, and will, envision ourselves in someone else’s situation. 

These are the seeds of empathy.

Teamwork

Empathy leads to another key aspect of mindful awareness, the active partner of non-judgement:  compassion.  What’s great about compassion is that it’s for everyone, including yourself, and it can really help guide challenging conversations and all manner of interactions. 

Compassion allows us to see our life-partner, who is “letting the housework go” and seemingly choosing to not asking us about our day or our needs, as a beautiful human being who is fatigued and out of resources – not just someone who doesn’t care.  Compassion also allows us to see the student melting down in front of us as another human, just like us, in need of support.   Compassion can even bring us to a new perspective on the behaviors of our co-workers, family and community members, as well as complete strangers (and even people we might classify as the manifestation of enmity and animus – our enemy). 

Everyone is a human being – just like us. This fact is an excellent reminder that, perhaps most amazingly, self-compassion allows us to see our own selves as deserving of gentleness, acceptance, and encouragement, too ~the hallmarks of empathy.  

SPACE
We experience emotions on a broad spectrum.  There’s a wide range of ways we can know anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and enjoyment.  And knowing that the initial emotional reaction only lasts 30 -90 seconds, it benefits us to wait it out, seeing if it subsides or changes before we say the thing we really want to say (that thing we feel absolutely justified in saying).  The magic in this moment is patience. And one support for practicing patience is to go ahead do something.

Teamwork

Here’s an embodiment practice for that. I call it SPACE because I love talking about, thinking about, and accessing spaciousness as a pathway to loving and being loved.  It’s a way of being present in my body that allows me both to notice and observe my emotions, as well as wait for them to change or subside before I choose my next thought, word, or action.

  • S – settle
  • P – pause
  • A – abide
  • C – center
  • E – expand

Basically, SPACE creates space.  And space allows for compassion. 

First, I settle into my body by feeling my feet and noticing gravity. 
I pause and breathe. 
I abide in the present moment. (Rest.)
I find my center.
And then I expand from there – breathing in and growing my ribcage in all directions. 

By expanding, I’m creating physical space inside my body, bringing about sensations associated with happiness, freedom, and joy.  I’m also creating intangible space between what is said and done, and what is understood and experienced.  No one knows I’m doing this.  I can settle, pause, abide, center, and expand while I am listening to another person speak or while I’m experiencing their actions.  This embodied work allows me to feel grounded and gives me the space to choose what I will say and do, as well as what I will not say and what I won’t do.  

Spaciousness

KEEPING ON

Continue practicing awareness. 
Keep non-reactively observing. 
Carry on with feeling your body and making space. 

If nothing else, the next time you notice a strong emotional reaction, let that be your cue to press and settle into your feet and expand from your center.  The breath will happen.  You will pause and abide, and you just might find yourself and others surrounded by the spaciousness of compassion. 

Your Practice

While you are moving through your unique morning ritual, practicing asana, concentration, or meditation, consider practicing spaciousness:

  • Settle into your body by feeling your feet and noticing gravity
  • Pause and breathe
  • Abide in the present moment
  • Center yourself
  • Expand and grow your spacious heart

Then, take this wisdom with you, out of your practice space and into the world!

(You don’t have to have a ritual that seems fancy or mysterious. Rituals can be practical! You can practice SPACE quite effectively, and beautifully, while you are brushing your teeth or enjoying a shower.)

With Love, Empathy, Compassion, & All Things Spacious

Amy

Universal Yogi

Photo by Diego Madrigal on Pexels.com

Photos credits: Photo by Maria Lindsey Content Creator on Pexels.com, Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com, Photo by Kevin Blanzy on Pexels.com

Honoring & Releasing

Hello, Yoga Friends, Happy today!

Here’s an offering of practices for you.

This class is Yoga for Body-Mind & Heart: Practices for Honoring & Releasing. It was inspired by my teacher, and begins with seated centering, followed by a meditation of honoring and releasing. And then gentle moving, stretching, and opening the front body using the floor as a yoga prop.

Gather some pillows, blankets, or towels and a yoga strap or scarf. These items are not necessary but might make things feel more supportive.

To the casual observers, it might look like we’re just rolling around on the ground, but we’ll know the good playwork taking place. Expect opportunities to stretch the shoulders, chest, hips, abdomen, back, & sides. When you feel like something’s missing. Just add it in!

May you be covered in the blessings you most need right now,

Amy

The Universal Yogi