Nature's backtracking into winter weather has been like a balm to me this month. It reminded me that taking a backwards step is natural and does not require criticism, judgement or disappointment. For me, backtracking has meant returning to old projects that I thought were complete, but that needed a second look.
For you, maybe it has meant something different. Maybe you were one of those people who got REALLY sick this winter and, although you thought you were better, the healing process took much longer and you expected. Maybe you started a new project only to return to your intention for doing the project and decide it was not meant to move forward. Maybe you took a job thinking it to be your best option, only to find that it was less than what you expected. Whatever winter threw at you, take heart. You were not alone in your backtracking.
Mary Oliver writes in her poem: Spring at Blackwater: I Go Through the Lessons Already Learned
He gave the fish
her coat of foil,
and her soft eggs.
He made the kingfisher's
and her peerless, terrible beak.
He made the circles
of the days and the seasons
to close tightly,
then open again.
In honor of our backtracking, I've re-mastered a guided meditation that people found difficult to enjoy because the sound quality was poor. The practice is a simple 10-minute mindfulness practice to inspire clear vision, deep listening, and embodied presence. May you enjoy it as this season closes and opens again.
My dog Daisy is a master of the art of breathing. If ancient yogis could time travel to 2018 and spend a morning in my living room watching her breathe, I believe that they would nod in approval. Her whole body breathes. When she sighs, it animates her nose to her tail. I’ve been spending lots of time studying near my Daisy and watching her breathe when I’ve grown overwhelmed. I feel like I am literally learning a new language as I study speech language pathology. In just three weeks, I have expanded my lexicon with over a hundred new technical terms related to neuroanatomy and language development. I’ve realized that it’s important to do a little studying every day, and then to put the computer down and breathe.
In preparation for sharing this month’s meditation, which involves guided breath awareness cues, I picked up Donna Farhi’s classic. “The Breathing Book.” In it, she writes:
“The paradox of free breathing is that it is a result of deep relaxation, not of effort. Trying hard through pushing and striving does not help us open to the breath.”
This is a great piece of advice for anyone meditating on their breath. But, this passage hits home on the heels of my decision to go back to school for what could be a 3-4 year process altogether.
A few days ago, I was told that the Year of the Earth Dog (which started on February 16th this Chinese New Year) would be a year of good fortune arriving with less effort. That same prediction was qualified by this advice - be patient, because putting forth less effort will depend upon your ability to trust in right timing. Donna Farhi’s passage and the Earth Dog Year advice just seem to be saying, “Take it one day at a time right now. Enjoy the looooooonnnngggg ride ahead.”
When Donna Farhi talks about breathing, she often uses the phrase “let the breath move you.” Our bodies have minds of their own. I love that actually. I love that when my mind (side note: I could go into which lobes of the brain are related to what we think of as our mind, but that’s a long bunny trail) feels like it has to understand everything right now, I have a balancing point to that perception. That balancing point is found in the simple rhythms of my body. These rhythms remind me that every process - growth, understanding, healing - comes in its own time. A deep breath is given as much as taken.
As you move into what comes next, enjoy the simple yet, incredible breaths within your body. Or watch a dog breathe.
I’ll be delving deeply into the incredible intelligence of our bodies in my final 30-Hour Ayurveda Immersion (early bird registration ends March 1, 2018) and in an upcoming 300-Hour Yoga Teacher Training (details here) later this year. May you continue to delve deeply as well.
The extreme cold this winter has been literally breathtaking. I have stepped outside to walk my dog and found myself uncomfortable within seconds, my shoulders contracting and my breath shortening as I duck my chin down into my scarf to cover my nose and mouth. These are the times I remember a dear friend who lived year-round in Burlington, Vermont telling me "Hannah, you really just have to relax into the cold." At the time, we were walking through the streets of Florence, Italy on our semester abroad and I was realizing that Italy DID get cold in winter and that the houses were not heated like I was used to back in Baltimore, Maryland. I had slept cold, woke up cold, and I was walking cold. I was so uncomfortable that I was cursing at the cold. My friend told me to take a deep breath, stretch my arms up, and interlace my fingers behind my head like I was lying on a beach in Hawaii. I thought he was nuts, but after some practice, his tactics did make me feel better.
I've needed to remind myself about this principle of deeping my breath and relaxing into discomfort as I've become a student again at the age of 37 and am struggling to finance my education and make time for coursework amidst my life as a teacher. In the last months of 2017, as I was going through this exciting, but agonizing process, I came across the poem "Affirmations" by Eve L. Ewing. The first line of which is:
"Speak this to yourself
until you know it is true.
I believe that I woke up today
and my lungs were working,
my voice can sing and murmur and ask,
The poem hung out with me for weeks as I doubted myself and studied remedial high school math in preparation for my GRE exams. Because I am planning to study speech language pathology, the lines felt like they were urging me on and telling me: Hey, it's not that dire. You are still breathing! You've got a voice. People need help finding their voices. Keep the faith. The final lines of the poem returned me to a bigger picture outlook and bathed me in gratitude each time I read them:
"....I believe that the sun shines
if not here, then somewhere.
Somewhere it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.
Somewhere inside me, too, it rains,
and things will grow green and wonderful.
Sometimes my insides rain from the inside out.
And then I know
I am alive
I am alive
I am alive."
I was alive and I knew inside of me things were growing green and wonderful even as tears of frustration pooled in the creases of my eyes.
Exam day came and I made my way through as expected - scoring way above average in verbal, below average in math (but with far more correct answers than I would have anticipated given my 22-year absence from the subject,) and right on target for analytical reasoning. I ended the year applying to study the undergraduate prerequisite courses I'll need to have before I apply for a graduate school program next fall. It was an intense time preparing me for what I anticipate will be a continued period of intensity and transformation over the next few years.
I'm looking forward to recording new meditations in 2018, knowing that I'll be simultaneously studying about the mystery of the human voice and the process of communication as I record them. This month, I wanted to share a really simple breath-awareness practice that provides guidance for relaxing your body, becoming aware of the natural flow of your breath and quietly being with your experience. The practice can be done seated or reclining. Use this practice to remember the precious gift of breathing and to affirm: you are alive, you are alive, you are alive.
The practice of yoga nidra is a touchstone for me when autumn rolls around because it allows me to practice what is happening in nature - a deep letting go. This practice is designed to help you relax deeply while also planting an intention deep into your subconscious. This intention can guide you through the days and weeks ahead. Prepare by finding a comfortable position lying down where you will be warm during the practice. This 23-minute guided relaxation and visualization was recorded outdoors at the Vale de Moses Retreat Center in Portugal - May 2016. It will have the sounds of water and birds in the background and in a few instances some audio distortion from the wind.
A few years ago, my life had begun to feel stale. I was terrified of what it would take to make changes and move forward. I didn't think I had the resources to make a new reality work. This practice became a touchstone. This practice may help you if you are struggling with moving forward in your life due to overwhelm, anxiety or fear. It tests the assumption that you do not have enough time/money/skills/talent/support to make things work out. During the 15-minute practice, you will learn Ganesha mudra (hand gesture used to focus your attention) and will work with the mantra (phrase for focusing your attention) "I am Enough." Because there is movement with your hands and arms during this practice, you will find it more natural to be seated in an upright position. The practice concludes with a chime.
We can cultivate courage by meeting suffering with a caring and detached awareness. In this practice, we counter reactions to difficulty that lead us to distract/numb ourselves and to over-consume/burn out. During the 15-minute practice, you will learn a breathing technique to anchor within your own body and how to offer up any suffering that you do not know what to do with. You may be seated or lying down for the practice. The practice concludes with a chime.
This guided meditation is especially relevant if you are having trouble arriving in the moment. Use it to begin embracing the time and place that you are in and to remember all that you are. During the 12-minute practice, you may sit or recline. You will use your senses to welcome the environment you are in and connect with your breathing. You will also use the anchoring phrase (mantra) “I am Here.” The practice concludes with chimes.
The premise of this meditation is to find feelings of gratitude in the midst of difficult circumstances. It is especially relevant if you feel like things are falling apart and you’re losing sight of the good. The 17-minute practice offers guided body and breath awareness leading into a visualization that concludes with a meditation on gratitude while holding the powerful Lakshmi/lotus mudra (hand gesture used to help you focus and harness your mental energy.) You may find it easier to stay alert and to hold the mudra while seated comfortably with your back supported, however, this meditation can also be done lying down.
The premise of this meditation is to see yourself in others and others in yourself - it is especially helpful if you are struggling with forgiving yourself or forgiving another person. During the 20-minute practice, you may be seated or lying down. You will experience progressive relaxation through seven points of energy that rest along on your spine (chakras) and you will embody the practice of loving-kindness (metta) through a visualization. The practice concludes with a chime.
This 14-minute guided practice highlights ways to become more aware of your breath as an anchor for your focus during meditation. Visual imagery and body sensations are used to encourage a sense of appreciation and gratitude for each breath that you take during the practice.
I get tired when I don't take time every day to stop, breathe and listen. The recordings offered here are guided soundtracks designed to help you take a mental time out and reset.