Tag Archives: breath

In case you didn’t already know

morning message

It’s just today, again, here for you to take in.

I like to feel good. Stress, typically, does not feel good. Sure, sometimes it’s exhilarating—the thrill of rushing toward a deadline, the zing of taking a risk. But I don’t need a lot to get my fill, and lately I’ve had too much.

The other night I did yoga at home, and that helped, for sure. I twisted and stretched and wrung out some lymph nodes, coaxed my immune system to stay strong. But I don’t always have make time for yoga. Sometimes it feels like there is barely time to breathe.

And that leaves me anxious and afraid. Because, as I’ve noted before in a quote attributed to Fritz Perls, “fear is excitement without the breath.”

I need my breath, because I want to be excited. My writing group is sharing excerpts of our novels-in-progress at a local bookshop tonight. Also, the first printing of Are You My Boyfriend? is officially underway. These things (and many more) are awesome. These things are scary, too.

And so I will breathe. And I will pass along a message.

Ever since my writing group got together in March 2012 and worked through The Artist’s Way, I’ve set aside time to write morning pages every day. The pages are mostly messy brain ramblings, but they’re also a form of meditation, and I often receive information from my version of god/the universe/whatever.

Today, I felt almost possessed—my hand did not belong to my stressed-out self, no, it was guided by something else, and the words on my page shifted from first-person thoughts to second-person assurances. It was a message not just for me, but for you, too, and so I am sharing:

“Just go with it, roll with it, show up and have fun. No expectations, no worries, just do your best…let go and trust, that’s what must happen, it’s the only way this works…I love you so much, I’ve got you and all the others and all of this, it’s fun, it’s supposed to be, breathe in and enjoy it, relax, allow, exist, it’s all right, you’re okay, it’s just today, again, here for you to take in.”

…Just in case you didn’t already know.

A healing state of mind

photo (1)

Bliss can be anywhere. I found it on the bus.

I have a hard time doing nothing. Just in the time it took to type that sentence, my body created (and killed) millions of cells, and that’s only a fraction of the action occurring inside me all the time. No wonder I struggle to sit still.

But stillness is what I need, and since I’m committed to self-care, stillness is what I strive for.

A moment at a time is fine—a breath will always be enough—but as I experiment with daily meditation, I find that minutes are magic.

I’m currently practicing a three-pronged approach: fifteen minutes when I wake, seven minutes before I sleep, and whatever time I uncover in between.

The fifteen minutes is guided by Deepak Chopra—my friend told me about his latest 21-day meditation challenge and I decided to join her for it. I usually find it extra tough to sit still in the morning, since I like to snooze as long as possible and consequently don’t have a lot of wiggle room before work. But knowing thousands of others are hearing the same words and taking the same pause motivates me to sit, and Deepak’s soothing narration provides a structure to the silence that allows me to effectively focus. I’m only a few days in, but I’m enjoying the experience—even if I forget it by the time I get to the office.

The seven minutes is because of a book called The Promise. The author, Mark Whitwell, quite convincingly advocates for seven daily minutes of mindful movement led by the breath. So each night I stand up for seven minutes, lifting my arms with my inhales and letting my exhales float them down. Sometimes it’s the last thing I want to do, but it’s still the last thing I do. Because once I actually start—reasoning that it’s only seven minutes, and practically like sleeping anyway—I end up appreciating the nuances of my proprioception and the serenity of gentle, repetitive movement. And when the chime on my meditation app tells me it’s time for bed, I have no trouble drifting off.

Then there’s the minutes in between. I’ve been addressing my chronic eczema with varied approaches, and I’m especially intrigued by what Dr. Ted Grossbart calls a “healing state,” which is basically a state of deep relaxation that allows for therapeutic visualization. To reach a healing state, you can meditate or use self-hypnosis, but you can also run, or knit, or do anything else that helps you unplug and reflect. The more frequently you enter a healing state, the less stressed you—and your body—will be.

I found my way into a healing state today as I listened to the new Civil Wars album while riding the bus for eighty blocks. I was tired but content, and the sky was a drizzly gray, and I played “Dust to Dust” on repeat, basking in its dreamy melancholy and gauzy comfort. I gazed out the window, peacefully pensive, and before I knew it, I was home.

I am willing to feel great!

Scatter Joy

“With excitement comes possibility, the prospect of unprecedented joy I can generously scatter.”

“This too shall pass” is one of my favorite phrases, because I’ve found it to be very, very true. In good times and bad (and everything between), remembering impermanence helps me appreciate, or at least tolerate, the present.

But what if I could always feel okay? For that matter, what if I could always feel good? Or, dare I say it…great?

A YouTube video by Brian Johnson has me seriously considering the possibility. In the video, Brian neatly summarizes The Big Leap, a book by Gay Hendricks that, among other topics, addresses the issue of upper limits.

I learned about what Gay calls “upper limits” back when I read Conscious Loving several years ago, and I’ve been pushing past them ever since.

Basically, an upper limit is a glass ceiling of my own creation, a limiting belief that prevents progress. These limits keep me comfortable, but they also hold me back.

For a long time I was afraid to feel good. This sounds silly to me now, but it also makes sense: feeling good was unfamiliar, and I feared the unfamiliar.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with fear, it’s just not often helpful. But you know what is? Breathing. Love.

“Fear is excitement without the breath,” according to Fritz Perls (via Gay Hendricks via Brian Johnson). This may be my new favorite quote, as it resonates with truth straight to the core of my breath-loving belly.

When I breathe into my fear, it fades. And as I learn to let love’s light dissipate the darkness of fright, I learn to welcome the unfamiliar with open curiosity, even with excitement.

And with excitement comes possibility, the prospect of unprecedented joy I can generously scatter.

In the video, Brian recounts an anecdote from The Big Leap:

Apparently when steam-powered trains were a new thing in the nineteenth century, scientists and other thought leaders wanted to cap the maximum speed the trains would be allowed to travel. “They were convinced that human bodies would explode at speeds greater than thirty miles per hour,” Brian says. “How funny is that? Thankfully some brave souls went for it…”

Thankfully, indeed! Can you imagine if no one had breathed through their fears?

It might seem absurd to consider society stuck at 30 mph, but Brian says Gay thinks “we’re at essentially the same place in our own development, in terms of how much goodness we can sustain, how much bliss we can endure, how great we’re willing to feel.”

I’m excited to find out.

Restful release

Some truths transecend typos.

I took a yoga class today that should have been easy. Or if not easy, easily within my asana abilities. And yet, I had to sit out about half of it.

It’s one thing to stay still because you don’t feel like moving, and another entirely to feel forced into immobility. I love my Saturday yoga class; I was eager for the opportunity and didn’t want to miss a moment. But about twenty minutes in, my vision was getting fuzzy, and a mental dialogue ensued.

Although accurately recalling a thought chain is about as impossible as inhaling the same air twice, I know my mind was spinning something like this:

What the hell? Why am I so lightheaded? Is it because I ate an egg and an apple an hour before class? I know better than to eat before yoga. But I had to eat something. And that was such a light meal! Oh, wow, I am kind of dizzy. Am I really going to have to sit down, or is this my brain being lazy? Maybe it’s because I gave blood yesterday. I probably haven’t had enough water since then. But seriously, this is just Warrior Two. I should be able to do this

And that’s when I sat down. Because “should” is a sure sign that the ego is in charge, and I know better than to let it rule. But it is hard, honoring weakness. I have been feeling quite strong, and I was shocked to find my body disagreeing.

I aimed for compromise, avoiding the full surrender of child’s pose and instead sitting tall on my knees, the way I learned to do in Bikram. In the hot room, it seemed borderline shameful to sit down (no matter what the teacher said, the energy told me otherwise), but if you had to, there was protocol: on your knees, head above the heart, focus on the breath.

Focus on the breath, oh yes. That was where I’d lost my way, in the first ten minutes of class. As the teacher guided us through a beautifully modified set of sun salutations I noticed I was panting to keep up. But instead of slowing down, I told myself, C’mon, this isn’t even fast. 

Which, it wasn’t. The pace was perfectly reasonable–all the more reason for my ego to resist defeat.

That resistance, that ego, is how I ended up pretending I was fine and almost passing out before finally snatching at that mental “should” and sinking to my mat. I pressed my palms together at my chest, my mouth closed in a firm line. You’re okay. You’re okay. You have been here before. Just breathe. Keep your heart lifted, your focus strong, and–

“Rest.” The teacher’s hand was on my back, gently pressing me down into child’s pose. “Rest, rest, rest.”

I trusted my teacher’s touch and I relaxed. I let go. I listened to my breath, long and steady with the rise and fall of my spine. I released my expectations and accepted what I was feeling. I soaked in the sounds of the kirtan playing in the background.

I realized as I mentally chanted along with one of my favorite artists that even at rest–maybe especially at rest–I was still doing yoga. I felt my fingertips tingle and I agreed with the lyrics: “I am so thankful, jai, I am so thankful for this moment right now.”

What a gift, what good yoga, to allow for rest. As class progressed, at some points I was able to participate, and at others I again required retreat. Thoughts of failure, of weakness, of inadquacy showed up from time to time, but the music and the mood reminded me to stick with bhakti, the yoga of love and devotion.

I devoted myself to my breath, and I followed it with patience and compassion, and I was grateful.