meditation

Class Recordings, March 20 and 22, 2018

This week I taught students the chant "oṃ śāntīḥ" for our meditation. The yoga practice emphasized forward bending postures and exhale technique for a lightening, relaxing effect. The classes were similar, with the evening option being a little more relaxing to prepare students for winding down at the end of the day.

Tuesday, 10:30 am, 3/20/2018

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 3/22/2018

These recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you can find many free class recordings, as well as full video routines and tutorials. I hope you find them useful!

Moving Inward: Meditation and Breathing for Balance in Winter

One of the things that surprised me most when I started a daily yoga practice was how effectively breathing, meditation, and chanting balance my mood and energy level, and how much more deeply the effect went than a sequence of yoga poses. An added bonus is that the inner practices are often more accessible practices for students, since there are no bendy or strenuous poses to do, and the practices themselves ask very little time to have a powerful effect.

Since they do have a powerful effect, though, it's very helpful to work with a teacher first hand to receive practices that will be appropriate. Different bodies, constitutions and minds have different responses to some of these practices. The practices I've outlined below are generally well-received, but pay attention to how you feel just after practicing and for the next day or so to know if they work for you.

These "inner" practices usually work best if they are preceded by some asana, as linking movement with breath will prepare you for the mental work of prāṇayāma and meditation. See my post on āsana in the winter for ideas on how to build a supportive physical practice.

Here are the breathing, meditation and chanting exercises I most often use in class during the cold months of the year.  In fact, I have two sets of practices, so that the practices respond to and support students when the seasons change. I encourage you to give each of these a try for a few days and see what happens.

Early Winter

I often teach and practice this general type of breathing and meditation from around Thanksgiving or the first hard frost to early January, after the holidays. Early winter season is dry and windy and cold, with a lot of holiday busy-ness and stress, and these practices are intended to be stabilizing and nourishing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Breathing practices in this time of year are almost always long exhale practices to bring some relief and calm into the system. For some students, a pause after inhale and exhale could also be steadying without causing agitation.

2. Meditation

I like to lead meditations on objects that are soft and steady this time of year. Like peaceful water, or warm light, and sometimes a dawn sun for morning classes. The goal of many meditation practices this time of year is to help students feel less frazzled by holiday stress.

3. Chanting

I usually find myself chanting Srisuktam this time of year, as the sounds and meaning are soothing and fill me with a sense of reassurance and contentment. I haven't written a blog post on Srisuktam yet, but here's a snippet you can hear.

Late Winter

Mid to late winter (mid January to mid March) is wet and dark and cold, and feels slow and heavy. To balance this, most physical practices I give have a mobilizing, warming effect, and the breathing and meditation practices are more energizing and focusing.

1. Prāṇayāma

Depending on student needs on the day of practice, I like to teach breathing with an even inhale or exhale and teach a ratio with a long exhale and short pause after inhale. However, most students attending yoga classes are there because they are looking for relief from stress, and challenging breathing practices will only be agitating, so I play it by ear with breathing.

2. Meditation

Light is a favorite object for me this time of year. Sunlight, moonlight, candlelight--it's all warming and uplifting. I also like to use a vibrant tree or other green living plants to help students feel a sense of vitality and energy. Especially around mid-February when students are so ready for winter to be over, connecting with the idea of newly-emerging buds and leaves can be very powerful.

3. Chanting

The Medha Mantra is my favorite chant when I'm feeling lethargic or lifeless, as can happen when the skies are gray for days on end. You can read about the Medha Mantra and listen to it here.

I hope you find these practice ideas helpful and supportive during the winter! You are welcome to listen to my classes to see how these sorts of practices work out in real life.

Class Recordings, January 11, 2018

Please enjoy these recordings from my regular weekly yoga classes on Thursday, January 11, 2018.

Both classes emphasize building upper back strength in forward bending and backward bending poses, with the goal of preparing for twisting poses and the seated forward-bend, janu sirsasana. The yoga poses, breathing and meditation were also designed to give a "cleansing" effect, which is useful at the beginning of the year, after the excesses and disruption of the holidays.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 1/11/18

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 1/11/18

Live class recordings are hosted on my Patreon page, where you'll find many recordings and videos, all for free! 

Yoga Nidra Relaxation Exercise

Yoga Nidra is a style of yoga which emphasizes reaching a deeply meditative state through gentle breathing and visualization exercises. The word nidra in fact means sleep, and state of meditation is described as a waking sleep, in which you are conscious but completely resting in body and mind. The result for most students is attaining a level of relaxation and ease they've never felt.

Here is a simple 10-minute Yoga Nidra exercise in which you move your attention to different spaces of the body in a repeating pattern. You'll begin lying down in a comfortable position, with your head and limbs supported in a way that there is as little strain on your body as possible. (You can find ideas for a comfortable savasana pose here.)

Class Recordings: January 4, 2017

Today was all about connecting with the breath to create space and to bring more freedom and focus to our movements. We are still working on twisting poses in class, as well as some asymmetrical forward bending postures to lengthen the sides of the body (especially the spine and hips). Both classes include pause-after-exhale breathing and a meditation on water.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 1/4/2017

Thursday, 5:00 pm, 1/4/2017

The links above take you to the audio files hosted on my Patreon page where you can listen completely free. Enjoy!

Class Recordings: December 21, 2017

I am working on sharing audio recordings of live classes, and I have a couple from yesterday's class ready to share. I intend to keep them all on my Patreon page, so you can access them for a home practice if you can't make it to class or want to do a guided yoga routine between classes.

Both classes have a similar sequence of yoga poses, and a focus on lengthening exhale. The meditation is intended to bring a sense of lightness and kindness in preparation for holiday celebrations. You will want a chair and a towel or blanket handy for the morning class, and possibly for the evening class as well.

Thursday, 10:30 am, 12/21/17
Thursday, 5:30 pm, 12/21/17

You can stream these audio recordings completely free.If you try the links out, I appreciate your input on the recordings. Thank you, and I hope you find them useful!

When the Yoga is Hard

I consider myself a beginner at meditation. I've been practicing and teaching yoga for years, and for a long time successfully convinced myself that striving for mindfulness in asana or general day-to-day life was sufficient.

And I suppose for a while it was. It helped me feel better in my body and made my stress levels go from "I HATE ALL THE THINGS. WHY IS THIS SO HARD?" to a tolerable "I've got this. It will be OK. I'm sure it will."

Most of the time.

There was still a lot of impatience there though. And if things weren't just right, a lot of frustration and an unnecessary (and unhealthy) amount of effort trying to get them there.

The thing was, I didn't know the frustration and effort fueled by my perfectionism weren't an appropriate response. It made complete sense to me that if my husband shrunk my wool sweater in the dryer I should be annoyed and share that annoyance with him so that he understood what he did wrong. Of course I should be so concerned about how perfect our food is that I don't enjoy sharing it with my family. And if I didn't have time to do something perfectly, then why bother doing it at all?

I'm sure you can see how a tendency toward perfectionism was impacting my life.

At a certain point, I'd gone as far as I could with this way of thinking. I was worn out trying to impress people. I was so tired of trying to do everything the right way. There was no joy. And very little peace.

When I started a daily yoga practice that prepared me for and included meditation, I started to notice that this tendency of thinking was perhaps unusual. And I started to see that it wasn't really helping me, and limiting my happiness much of the time. Not to mention causing stress and unpleasantness to those closest to me.

So now I'm in a place where I see the habit. I'm not exactly pleased with it. But there's a part of me that still holds on so tightly to the identity of being right, good-enough, and perfect-as-possible.

From Wikipedia, here are The Four Stages of Competence:

  1. Unconscious incompetence: The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit. They may deny the usefulness of the skill. The individual must recognize their own incompetence, and the value of the new skill, before moving on to the next stage. The length of time an individual spends in this stage depends on the strength of the stimulus to learn.
  2. Conscious incompetence: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of a new skill in addressing the deficit. The making of mistakes can be integral to the learning process at this stage.
  3. Conscious competence: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, demonstrating the skill or knowledge requires concentration. It may be broken down into steps, and there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.
  4. Unconscious competence: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily. As a result, the skill can be performed while executing another task. The individual may be able to teach it to others, depending upon how and when it was learned.

On the yoga path, you could say there are four stages though which we move toward consciousness* as a life skill:

  1. Unconsciously unconscious
  2. Consciously unconscious
  3. Consciously conscious
  4. Unconsciously conscious

* I wish I knew who to attribute this to. I only know my teacher said it and it was useful, but I don't know who said it first...

So here I am, at level 2 with my perfectionist perspective, and feeling extremely uncomfortable.

This is really not a pleasant place to be. My yoga practice has gone from a feel-good, stress-relieving respite from daily life, to a place where I confront (one of, I'm sure) the roots of the habitual responses that put me at conflict with the world around me. There's a part of me that's urging me forward, and I know that doing the work to get through this hard part is going to bring me to a better place. But there is a stubborn, very loud part of me that says, "NO, YOU CAN'T! YOU'LL LOSE EVERYTHING WE'VE WORKED SO HARD FOR."

But I trust the practice. I trust myself. The path ahead of me is lit by the experience of all the teachers and masters who have gone before and beckon us toward the promise of fulfillment and joy.

Every time I practice is a step forward. Some of the steps are harder than others, I'm beginning to learn. But they say it's worth it, so here goes.