Last weekend, I made my husband Bobby go on a scavenger hunt. He was out with the car tending to his sailboat and his route took him past several farm stands on his way home. At each one, no cider. ALAS. Earlier this week, not to be deterred, I went to Whole Foods and found (to my great joy!) a quart of organic apple cider beaming out from the back isle of the produce section. As autumn arrives here in Maryland, there is a craving deep in my bones to curl up in one of my grandmother's quilts and sip cider. Ayurveda has taught me how to navigate the change of seasons and the entry of autumn. It offers a description of this time of year being de-stabilizing for the energies of air and space (vata dosha). The teachings say that we find balance when we take time to ground ourselves, increase our warmth, and let go of what is unnecessary through diet, lifestyle, and yoga practice.
In terms of diet, this looks like adding in more well-cooked meals with warming spices - I personally like ginger and cardamom-laced oatmeal for breakfast, followed by some roasted root vegetables and crockpot stews in the evenings. In terms of lifestyle, it encourages us to consider that with the daylight hours growing shorter we might take an activity or two off of our plates to simplify our schedule. In terms of practice, well I can tell you what we did today in Wise Earth Yoga class... we laid on the earth for 3/4 of the practice! We took long-held postures that increased our circulation and created space in the lower part of our backs and in our hips. We dove deep into our legs-up practice (Check out this tutorial - I'll guide you through getting into the posture, being in it, and coming out.) What a profound effect halting activity and literally putting your feet up has for your soul! You can see in the picture above that my dog, Daisy, is totally into the legs-up-the-wall vibe. Shrouding yourself in blankets adds an extra cozy element to this practice - the warmth and weight of being still and covered are undeniably antidotes to excess air/space/vata.
Because I find that the lifestyle of a yoga teacher inherently increases vata energy, I have created an evening ritual to address my further need for grounding, warmth and simplicity. As I settle into bed each night, I call the word "TUCK" out into our house and wherever Bobby is, he dutifully arrives to tuck me into bed. He arranges the covers, lies down on me, and anchors me into place. We lay and breath together for a little while. Sometimes we talk, other times, we just lay. When the tuck happens, I feel all the extra movement and hustle from the day seep out of me and my body and mind never misinterpret this cue for rest.
I hope this month's guided meditation offer you a similar feeling to being tucked, propping your legs, and cozying up - it offers guidance for grounding your body and a soothing soundscape to draw your mind to the moment.
Lots of Love,
This month feels like some sort of destiny fulfilled for me. Eight months in the making, the 10-session course “How to Embrace Your Unique Nature” was released on the Insight Timer app two weeks ago!
I'm not sure where that "destined" feeling comes from, but it's clear that sharing this course feels like a duty to me. The concepts within it have altered my perspective forever and I feel like I owe it to you to explain where I am coming from when I teach meditation and yoga. I've been exploring the concepts in this course for half a decade, since undergoing more rigorous studies in India's traditional healing system known as Ayurveda. On the surface, you might see me as a calm and pleasant yoga/meditation teacher... but underneath this exterior, I can assure you that I am also an in-the-closet perfectionist and a worry wart!
The subtext of this course is that you are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are as captivating as the moon on a clear night and as awe-inspiring as the endless waves of the ocean. The beauty that you find in nature is no different than your own. If you take nothing else away from the next few words about these teachings, take away this simple truth and run with it.
I've created this course not to "make you better," but as the title suggests, to encourage full acceptance of you as an intelligently-designed part of the species. You have unique strengths and vulnerabilities that will follow you throughout your life. The course involves 10 recorded sessions, each from 8-12 minutes long, in which you get to study these qualities and traits by studying nature. Through several guided meditations, we explore the five natural energies that combine to create your unique nature. Once you have this framework, then we learn the natural strengths and vulnerabilities of each of theses energies. The course concludes by describing qualities that bring balance to your energy when you are feeling off.
I've always believed that it is best to lead by example, so, I'll offer a personal story on the idea of how the study of nature and Ayurveda helped me to further embrace my unique nature (I'm not claiming a complete embrace just yet, but I've made some good progress!) One fairly common sign of my energy feeling “off” in my life is absent-mindedness. At its least harmful, this pattern used to make me feel like a space-cadet and at its worst, like I fundamentally lacked intelligence and was destined for failure in life. Forgetting appointments and misplacing my wallet during already stressful periods of my life is a pattern for me. Until I studied the concepts in this course, the most frequent ways I related to this pattern were firstly, to berate myself for doing something so stupid AGAIN, and secondly to hide my mistakes and feel ashamed.
I designed this course for others who feel like they have failed to outgrow patterns and qualities that they’ve owned for years and dislike. These aspects could relate to body image, common mental patterns, or emotions they find themselves meeting again and again in their lives. The concepts in this course have softened my internal reactions of shame and self-criticism, as well as, my external reactions of blame and criticism towards those around me.
I still forget the basic truth that I am whole. I forget all the time. When I forget, I turn to nature to remind me. She has not failed me once.
I look forward to sharing more teachings with you in the months to come, whether its through the course or just through my regular classes and meditations. I've attached Lesson 1 from the course below so you might determine if the teachings are something that you'd benefit from. If the lesson speaks to you, the rest of the course can be purchased and listened to through the Insight Timer app. It's $4.99 to "rent" the course or $19.99 to buy the course. I will receive a fair portion of the fees, which will go directly towards my monthly income for things like groceries, my mortgage, and doggie dental chews for my pup Daisy. As a full-time yoga/meditation teacher, this is significant! I am so thankful to Insight Timer for this opportunity.
Another bonus about this course: if you have questions as you listen, you can ask them in the course classroom and I will respond to them in both text and audio form. This means we have a real virtual classroom so that we can keep learning together no matter how far apart we live!
This month I’m acutely aware of the importance of intentions. Not just setting an intention, but remembering it as a priority again and again - no matter what comes and what goes.
This week, I found myself standing inside of a GIANT tile store. Wandering beside me is the designer my husband and I have hired to choose tiles that compliment our personalities (me: organic, zen, cozy; he: classic, elegant, simple.) She is here to break the tie in crucial decisions. Here to co-create a bathroom design that the next owners of our house (if/when it comes time to sell) will not balk at. I am so thankful for her.
But, an hour into our appointment with tile samples beginning to crowd our cart, I get this overwhelming fatigue. There are too many options and this is taking much longer than I planned. I’m getting seriously hungry - bordering on hangry - and I tell the designer I might need to run to the cafe next door to eat. She offers me her apple, and I gratefully eat it in four bites munching on the soft, mealy fruit. But even after the apple, I feel this funk. I’m in this REAL funk. There is something the apple has not fixed. I feel like I’m spinning my wheels. The designer can show me anything right now and I will just smile and nod. I want this to be over. Just get this over with.
After another 45 minutes, I finally extricate myself to my car and begin driving home. I am blasting classical music and practicing sitali pranayama to sooth my hunger pangs and calm my frustration. In the back seat, a dozen samples of tile are clanking against each other with every pothole I hit. I am struggling to figure out what the heck just happened. I’m mad at myself. I’m kinda mad at the designer. Why did everything feel so unfocused? Why did I get this panic reflex when the options started adding up? Then, it hits me.
I showed up without a clear intention.
No surprise, I got lost.
When I feel lost, I get defensive, frustrated and I want to run (“just get this over with.”)
I begin to envision an alternate morning at the tile store. One where I arrive to the store with my own apple, knowing that this appointment might take time. I see myself walking into the store with some tile colors and shapes clearly imprinted in my mind because I’ve spent the night before envisioning and dreaming about what I want. In this vision, I walk down the aisles with purpose, and the exact tiles I want greet me as I go. Yes, I’ll take that classic white honeycomb for the new floor. Yes, I’ll take that soft green sea glass for the shower niche. At the end of this vision, I see myself walking out of the store with a smile - long before lunch hunger sets in.
The vision ends and I’m left with the realization that I don’t get a redo on the tile store.
But, I do get a chance to set an intention for the rest of the afternoon.
I arrive home to my crazy terrier and I greet her with tile samples in my hands. Together, we enter my practice room and I begin to set out a pallet of blankets and bolsters. I pull out the lavender-filled eye mask that a generous student gifted me. I open Insight Timer to the guided meditation section. I type “yoga nidra” in the search bar.
Yoga nidra is a practice I have turned to for deep relaxation before falling asleep, but it has another use entirely. When I am seeking to plant an intention deeply in my subconscious, yoga nidra offers me a beautiful spade and shovel. My teachers have referred to the yoga nidra practice as a way to plant a seed and to trust that it has taken root. Once the seed is planted, I approach my activities after the practice with an altered approach. It’s as if the intention is a light that catches my eye and glimmers at intermittent moments throughout my day. The glimmer makes me pause. Each action I take is colored by that hint of light.
Back in my practice room, I find a yoga nidra NOT designated as helpful for “falling asleep” and I press play. My guide asks me to state my “resolve” for the practice and I find these words:
I will live today in gratitude and I will find my confidence.
The guide asks me to repeat these words twice more, uttering them in the present tense, in simple language:
I live today in gratitude and with confidence.
I live today in gratitude and with confidence.
My guide takes me through a yoga nidra practice. It is over before I realize it. Upon waking, I open my eyes. I turn my head to the side. My terrier has settled in the crook of my arm and the tile samples rest beside us on the floor. It’s like there’s this light in the corner of my eyes glimmering.
I rise from the earth and pick up the tiles. I walk towards the bathroom.
I got this. Thank you.
In this month’s recording, I’ll guide you through a yoga nidra practice. I hope you enjoy.
It is that kind of morning today. Last night, I sat down on the couch with my super-fancy day-planner. I bought it after watching a promotional video that made me cry. After mapping out a game plan for my week, I anticipated this morning being really focused.
But, Daisy dog is super hungry this morning. She wakes me up by rustling around on my bed. When I am unresponsive, she finally puts her paw directly on the center of my chest -- I both love and fear her intelligence. I know it is before 5:00 a.m. because the birds are not yet singing.
I feed her and provide a sluggish walk in the pre-pre-dawn hours. Upon its completion, my whole body spills back into bed. I don’t wake again until 7:10 a.m. LATE. I skip going to my normal spot for practice, and prop myself up against some bed pillows. My husband is oddly awake (still running on London time after his travels) and he offers to bring me my warm lemon water and a bowl of blueberries in bed. He can tell when I’m struggling. God bless him.
I muddle my way through a shower and drop Bobby off at work. I am still going to get back in time to tackle my carefully-planned goals. But, as I’m stopped at the red light, I look at my gauge and realize I’m running on empty. I head to the 7-11 just down the street. If I can pump this gas in 5 minutes, I’ll be golden. As the gas flows into my tank, I’m cleaning off a stunning combination of bird poop and pollen from my windshield. I suddenly feel really energized. Bumpy start to the morning, but no big deal. You got this girl! I wipe off the last of the dirty windshield water with the squeegee and plunk it in the bucket and turn to open my door. When I tug the handle, it thunks. It’s locked. Through the window, I can see my car keys sitting on the passenger seat along with my purse and cell phone. All I took to the pump was the debit card.
OK, no big deal. This is not my first rodeo with locking myself out of the car. There is a 90% chance one of the other four doors are unlocked because I have manual locks and I forget to lock my doors. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I have attended to locking my doors this week. OK, but the weather has been super nice after a week of rain, so maybe I’ve left the windows slightly open... NOPE.
I use the 7-11 phone to call Bobby. He assures me that he can come back to meet me via Uber with his set of car keys. His voice momentarily replaces the voice in my head.
In the minutes I am waiting for him to arrive, I berate myself for being so spacy. For inconveniencing Bobby. For mucking up my game plan.
Somewhere deep inside these minutes, however, there is a gift. In these minutes, I realize that I have forgotten.
While I have forgotten, something deep inside of me has known. It knew as it locked my door with my keys still inside. It knew that in embarrassment and helplessness, I would finally check in.
After dropping Bobby at work for a second time, I turn back around, pass the 7-11, and pull into the parking lot at Lake Artemesia.
I follow the tree-lined path to the lake and smell the season’s first honeysuckles. The lake opens up and along its path, red-winged blackbirds hop past and stare from nearby branches. Frogs sporadically croak watching the sun rise higher in the sky. An intersection on the path becomes a cathedral of cardinals; a half-dozen birds swoop in red flashes from tree to tree. Their chirps are as piercing as gospel.
This morning walking the edges of the lake, I feel myself waking up from my forgetfulness.
I am of THIS.
I will forget this simple truth thousands more times.
But I am comforted by this:
Over time, I have learned what my specific brand of forgetfulness feels like. I get better and better at spotting it all the time. All I have to do is tell myself: “You’ve seen the signs, and it’s time,” and I begin the process of remembering.
I pray to remember as many times as I forget.
This Sanskrit mantra is a wonderful reminder:
Purnam adah purnam idam
Purnat purnam udacyate
Purnasya purnam adaya purnam evavasisyate
That is whole; this is whole
From the whole, this whole came
Remove this whole from that whole, what remains is still whole
In this month’s recording, I’ll teach you the mantra. I hope you enjoy.
Last week, I was scared. It was a lingering fear that spread itself out in a thin layer over days. My normally hearty appetite was gone and I worried about what to eat. Thin lines framed the corners of my mouth and teeth marks imprinted the sides of my tongue (both signs of malabsorption according to Ayurvedic medicine.)
At first, I related my indigestion to a lavish meal I took in celebration my husband's 39th birthday. The meal involved a glass of prosecco, an appetizer with goat cheese and truffle honey, a wood-fired pizza, and creme brulee for dessert. Though, I was already full by the end of the appetizers, I could not leave that last bite of creme brulee on the table and it made me hurt.
Two days after this meal however, I was still having no inspiration to eat my morning breakfast. I felt edgy and tense. I had scheduled a craniosacral treatment many weeks before and that afternoon found myself staring at an intake form for my session.
What would you like to receive from your session today?
"Balance" I wrote, and then went on to describe my weak appetite and indigestion.
My therapist came over to review my form. When she asked me what I hoped to receive from my session, I repeated what was written on the form.
Then almost uncontrollably, I vomited the words "and my friend's husband has cancer. He's 35." My eyes grew wet and hot. She nodded. "That is a lot to swallow."
The night before my husband celebrated his 39th birthday, a dear friend told me her husband was diagnosed with stage 2-3 colon cancer. His surgery was scheduled for the following Saturday and depending upon the results of the surgery, he would need chemotherapy treatments. This summer, my friend and her husband (who share the same birthday and got married on their birthdays) are set to celebrate his 36th birthday on their anniversary. Their youngest son is not yet 1 years old and their oldest son is in preschool.
Too much to swallow.
During the craniosacral session, I laid face up on a massage table while two therapists held space for me. Hot tears ran down into my ears, and a Sanskrit mantra came to mind. The mantra was taught to me as a way to reframe my thinking when I felt afraid, lost or overwhelmed:
Lead me from misunderstanding to truth
Lead me from ignorance to wisdom
Lead me from what is limited (fear of death) to limitlessness (knowledge of the everlasting)
For the first time in days, my stomach gurgled and I swallowed.
In this months audio meditation, I will share this mantra with you. I feel great peace believing that it might be sung across a great web of caring souls.
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.
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.