Pondering, Yoga off the mat

Impermanence

We try to be aware and accepting of impermanence. Tibetan sand mandalas are probably the most popular example of tangible impermanence, as well as practice in non-attachment.* These painstaking and beautiful pieces of art, created over hours of meditation, are simply blown away.

My toddler likes to “find the rainbows” that the morning light sometimes throws around our house. The spectrum shining on the carpet or the wall isn’t always there, and it always changes and disappears. So young, we begin training ourselves in impermanence.

These are two beautiful examples, but life is about balance. Sometimes things aren’t beautiful. Maybe you have knee pain. Or the world is caving in and it seems you’ve been dealt a “sh!t sandwich” as some might say. We need to remind ourselves that ugly, unpleasant things are also impermanent. Even our own negative thoughts, self-criticism… these moments, these feelings…

Whatever is. Whatever was. Nothing lasts forever.

Note: While I use the sand mandalas as an example to illustrate a point, we can’t forget that Buddhism and yoga are not the same thing.

 

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Home yoga practice, meditation, Music and yoga, Yoga off the mat

Music as meditation

I listen to a lot of music. It occurred to me that music has been my meditation since I was about seven years old. I imagine it’s not uncommon.

The ancient philosopher Plato wrote about music as being “most sovereign because… rhythm and harmony find their way to the inmost soul and take strongest hold upon it… imparting grace, if one is rightly trained… ” (The Republic, III, 399e). As an undergrad, I heard Ted Romberg summarize another of Plato’s views on music, which I remember as, “Music is the most perfect way to divide and account for time.” (Paraphrasing… )

Each time you listen to or play music to indulge, to set or change a mood… that is a form of meditation. Also singing. Putting headphones on as way to zone out, on the sidewalk, or on the train, that is a form of meditation. I started doing it when I was young, as a means to curb social anxiety, but it is what it is.

When we listen to music as we walk or run, it sets the pace, it makes us happy, it distracts us from the slog of the jog. We are training our mind to let go of the boring or painful parts of an activity. Music, to many of us, becomes a focus. It is a meditative device.

As a yoga teacher in training, I take my playlist preparation seriously. Music isn’t required, but it certainly can compliment a yoga class, especially if you like to flow. It is an accompaniment.

About Breathing, Yoga off the mat, Yoga to relieve stress

About breathing, pt 1: It’s hard to breathe

(post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series)

Breathing. We begin in utero, and we spend our entire lives doing it. Maybe you think about breathing when you’re running, but we generally don’t pay attention to our breathing. We just do it.

Have you ever been┬ástressed and noticed your whole body reacting? We all experience stress on the regular. You spilled your coffee. You’re twenty minutes late. The subway construction means your commute will double tonight. Your kid bit another kid at daycare. Something happened at work. You lost your keys. Your mind races, your heart-rate increases, you might sweat, your chest feels tight, you’re breathing hard (or quickly, or shallowly)?

Your body was having an acute stress response. You were in fight-or-flight mode.

Did you notice that when your hart-rate and breathing return to normal? Maybe not, because it just happened. Or maybe when you did realize things were back to normal, you looked back and realized how awful it felt at the peak of that fight-or-flight stress.

What if you could *make* those awful feelings, your reactions to stress, go away?

Poof, gone!

What if you had skills to make the most stressful situation feel almost relaxing? I know this sounds crazy, but yoga can do that. Not overnight. Not over the course of a year. (Or maybe it can for some, but it certainly didn’t for me!) The breathing you practice in yoga can do this.

I have had friends tell me that they tried yoga, but the breathing stressed them out. That was me, for many, many years. A teacher would say, “Inhale, sweep your arms above your head… exhale and fold forward.” And in my my mind, I would say, “whatever, I’m just gonna put my arms up, breathe, and bend over.”

And that was fine. It was my yoga. I was there, on the mat, primarily for exercise. Ok, I’ll admit it. It was all about exercise. I wanted that quintessential “yoga body.” (Ha! If you know me, you know that despite the many hours I spend doing yoga, I never did achieve that “yoga body.” Actually, I AM a yoga body. But I don’t have a ballerina build).

It was many, many years before I actually “got” the breathing.

The first time it clicked, I wasn’t anywhere near a yoga mat. I was 23 years old, in a doctor’s office in midtown Manhattan, in the middle of a medical procedure that would remove what turned out to be pre-cancerous cells from my body. I had never undergone a diagnostic medical procedure, and I was panicked. I found that if I mentally counted while breathing… “In, two, three, four… out, two, three, four,” and tuned out the worries I had in my head, I felt better. Paying attention to my breath gave me something to focus on. Counting the breath made me slow down. At the time, I had been “doing yoga” (generally via books and tapes… yes, VCR tapes) for about two years, and I did not make the connection with yogic breathing at all.

In fact, it would take another ten years of on again, off again yoga practice before I ever really figured out the connection between yoga as exercise and yogic breathing, and exactly how it could lower my reaction to stress when I was off the mat.

Practice. It is all about practice. You can read all you want, you can be as fit as an Olympic distance runner, you still have to practice yoga to get it.

Experiencing yoga “off the mat” was life changing for me. I immediately realized it was a skill I wanted to hone. I have been practicing for twenty years.

Yet, I am still working on it. Believe me. I am still a “beginner” at breathing. Which is why this is the first post of what will be many, many musings about breathing.

post #1 on breathing, part of what will be a series. See series About Savasana here.