What do you feel when you watch this?
Holding on to something you don’t need? Grief, pain, or guilt that won’t seem to leave you alone? Life requires letting go.
We all experience loss from time to time. Sometimes we regret our own actions or words. Each mistake is a lesson and an opportunity to become a better person. Each loss is a natural part of life that cannot be avoided. It’s important to stay gentle with ourselves. Try this yoga sequence for some relief. Love yourself and let go. Give yourself time to relax. Give yourself permission to cry, to feel deeply, to do what it takes to eventually let the emotion(s) pass.
- Play some peaceful music, if you’d like – here’s some recent relaxation music I discovered
- Cultivate ujjayi breathing, deep ocean breath through the nose. Immerse yourself in breath.
- Hold these poses for several long, slow breaths (5-10 in and out) each.
- Listen to your body. Be aware of all your body parts. Feel them touch the ground, the rug, or the mat you are on.
- Notice the subtle shifts that happen as you hold each pose. Watch your emotions, let them pass. Watch your breath.
- Be with the practice. Be present. Know you are safe and it’s OK to let go.
- Keep your connection to your body. Try not to get lost in thought. If and when you do, as soon as you realize it, come back to focusing on the breath.
- Relax your jaw. Relax your eyes. Envision a warm light of compassion and love streaming into your heart.
What is Yoga? ~ Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Alistair Shearer
Yoga is a way to restore our lost wholeness, our integrity as complete human beings, by unifying the personality around a center that is silent, unbounded, spacious, and joyful.
The techniques of yoga are methods of purifying the nervous system so that it can reflect a greater degree of consciousness and our lives can become an increasingly positive force in the world.
If these techniques are correctly practiced, the whole nervous system is revitalized – the body enjoys better health and more energy, the rested mind is freed from the burden of past experience, and perception is restored to its primal freshness. Thought and activity become coherent and integrated, life becomes richer and more fulfilling.
Yoga is not a religion. Its techniques, however, will gradually lead you to the direct experience of those truths on which religion rests. Yoga is a catalyst that allows us to grow in whichever direction is natural and life supporting.
When and how has your dark side appeared to you?
What behaviors, words, and thoughts have arisen?
What were the triggering situations?
What did you do about it?
Should you have better control the next time that darkness is accessed?
How can you transform “negative” feelings of anger, depression, greed, guilt, jealousy, shame, etc. into something useful?
Yes, it is lovely to focus on light and beauty. The fact that we can consciously reprogram our brains is fascinating and extremely useful. Focusing on so-called “positive” thoughts is a great way to unlearn some of the lies we’ve been told or told ourselves inadvertently. We can transform wrong beliefs to engage in a more productive and enjoyable life.
The truth is, though, we are all made up of both light and darkness. What we often tend to perceive as “good” and “bad.” One cannot exist without the other. We see this reflected everywhere in nature and in the people around us. We judge some emotions as better than others just because they feel good. They are, however, all a part of life. And it’s not healthy to deny our emotions or thoughts even if they are ugly or frightening.
Becoming aware of our true nature is the essence of yoga. That way we can gain some control over emotions and thoughts that may lead to harmful actions and words. We can free ourselves from the stories we make up in our heads, which can seem so true. We can learn to deal with triggering situations and people in a more peaceful manner so we are not left with regret or other “bad” emotions growing inside of us. We can look at ourselves and others with love and compassion rather than judgment or fear.
The Yamas and Niyamas (the first two of the eight limbs of yoga as laid out by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras) deal with how we behave and interact within ourselves and with the world around us. Self-study is a very important aspect of yoga. I offer the questions above as a starting point for self-study. Meditating on similar types of questions can help us become our best selves. Taking mental notes, or much better, keeping a journal, can help us become aware of our reactions. We become aware of the transitoriness of thoughts. We realize emotions arise and then subside. We become more aware of the world around us and hopefully grow into an agent of peace not disaster.
Stress causes all sorts of health havoc. It’s important to know how to handle its inevitable triggers. I learned this following “amygdala reprogramming” exercise from a doctor of public health. Just an idea to try the next time you find yourself in a stressful situation.
The amygdala is in the lower part of the brain and it stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response. When we are exposed to something upsetting, we have about 5 seconds to decide how we’ll respond to that stress. If we don’t do anything, the amygdala will release its stimulation causing the adrenals to release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. Your blood sugars will shoot up as well as your heart rate. Your immune system will be depressed. Your blood is more likely to clot – leading to greater stroke/heart attack risk, etc. These are only a few of many examples of the negative health effects of stress.
Studies have shown we can block that amygdala response. We only have 5 seconds to make that decision. Energy levels and sense of wellbeing often dramatically improve once people start automatically stopping that response. As soon as you experience a stressful situation, physically put your hands out and say “stop” – with a smile on your face. Don’t let yourself get caught up in the situation. The whole negative experience goes away.
Consider experimenting with this exercise when faced with stressful situations in your life. Follow these steps exactly – the physical movement, out loud command, and smile are important. The concept is controlling how your mind works instead of going through the autonomic responses, letting your mind control you.
Estés, Clarissa Pinkola. 1995. “Women Who Run With the Wolves.” Chapter 7: Joyous Body: The Wild Flesh (p. 214).
With the June new moon approaching, I’d like to dedicate this post to the new moon ritual.
People throughout history have been guided by the moon. From its role in the creation of calendars and tidal charts to its reputation for its effect on our emotions, behavior, and energy levels, the moon has always had a strong influence on humans. Various rituals have been performed throughout history during different phases of the moon. New and full moons are very powerful times for reflection and celebration, respectively. However small or large the ritual, I try to pay attention to those times. Living life this way can make us feel more alive and grateful. It reminds us of why we we are here and what we are evolving toward and helps us get there.
The new moon is a powerful time for meditation and taking stock of our lives and where we are headed. The new moon is an opportunity to initiate projects, intentions, and goals. One of my teachers calls it “fertile darkness.” The new moon is a great time to plant the seeds of intention. We think about what we are moving toward and what specific steps we need to take to get there. And then we seal that intention with asana practice and meditation. Here are some photos from the last new moon for inspiration (I was lucky enough to be at the beach at the time…)!
Happy June New Moon on Tuesday! I would love your comments and stories if you’re interested in sharing, please!
Meditation enhances our inner peace, our ability to concentrate, our sleep, and our enjoyment of life. It helps us deal with physical and emotional pain gracefully and has even been shown to potentially lengthen our lives. People often think of meditation as a seated practice where they must completely clear the mind. Sometimes this can be intimidating. Our minds are often racing and sometimes it can be difficult to get comfortable in a seated position for a long period. Here are a few ideas for meditations that can help take your mind off your racing thoughts for a while. They are done in communion with our environment or other people and can lead to a powerful transformation – the ability to live life as meditation, to live each moment mindfully.
Find a quiet forest where you will be unbothered for a while. Bring your attention to your breath and slowly walk among the trees. Find a tree that seems to call your attention and go to it. Touch the tree, acknowledge its presence, hug the tree – do whatever you choose to connect with it. Now find a comfortable spot to sit with your back up against the tree – if you prefer to stand you can also stand with the back of your body up against the tree. Close your eyes. Relaxing the breath, bring to mind your ancestors. Ask a question. Imagine the wisdom of your grandmother coming through the tree. Your grandfather. Your parents. Your teachers. See what answer arises. Sit quietly with the tree for 30 minutes – or however long you have – and see what visions arise. Connect deeply with nature and express your gratitude.
Smile Walk Meditation
Smiles are powerful. Just one brief glance at a smile can brighten someone’s day and improve both the recipient and the giver’s moods. I once read about a “lovingkindness” meditation by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In this meditation, you encounter people on the street or wherever in your daily life and genuinely wish them happiness. You cultivate this wish by realizing your similarity with these people, whether strangers or friends. Realize we all deserve and want happiness as a basic human right. Then silently offer this genuine wish with a smile. Bringing this meditation into your daily life can vastly increase your compassion and peace.
How often do we actually take the time to appreciate our partners, friends, and family completely? To really be present with someone is a profound gift, and that’s the idea of this meditation. In a love meditation, take an entire day if possible or at least a half hour to truly be present with your partner. This can be a lover or a close family member or friend. Be silent together for a period of time but interact with gestures, eyes, and expressions. Do something you both love to do together – maybe an art or culinary project, perhaps a walk on the beach. Enjoy a warm, long, heartfelt hug. Gaze into each other’s eyes without looking away. Touch the other person mindfully, thinking of how it would feel if this were being done to you. Be present for the other person while truly appreciating their presence with you.
I hope you enjoy these meditations and look forward to hearing about your experiences or other ways you bring meditation into your daily life. Thank you for stopping by! Sending love to you all.