This shortest day, this longest night is the ideal time for turning inward and slowing the monkey mind. The demands of the season often create greater than normal need for stillness and introspection. Honoring the body’s natural tendency to slow down we should turn in to bed a bit earlier whenever possible, eat and drink warming foods, soak in a soothing coconut oil bath and, of course, meditate. Two-minute timed meditations at the transistions of your day are an easy way to stay centered and present with co-workers, co-commuters, family and friends. (Some examples: First thing in the am, before you turn on the ignition, once you arrive at work, before and or after lunch, before driving home, before retiring at night. )
You may want to sit this evening with a warm candle or fire close by and perhaps a plant or festive greenery to remind you of the return of the warming sun in 3 months time. Breathe, settle and So, join the panetary mindfield with a peaceful and open heart, a quiet mind and comfortable body as you settle in to the Yin time of the year.
So, Andrei brought to me a fun beginning yoga book called, Yoga For Wimps by Miriam Austin. I glanced at the pages – my kind of book – lots of photos and not too much detailed instruction unless warranted for the “Fix It” self-healing section. I read the introduction and Author’s notes and was on board with all she said. Then on the last page before the “Instant Yoga” poses she lost me. Folks let’s be clear. Hatha is a wonderful practice. We have all felt it healing, strengthening, and relaxing our bodies. The benefits are very individual and too numerous to list! But it is only one path or practice in the 8-fold path of yoga. I agree with Miriam Austin that we do hatha so that, through the concentration on the activity, the mind quiets a bit. (I am guilty of chat which keeps our neo-cortex wicked active. This is something of which I am painfully aware and working on!) Through the practice we often become quiet, inwardly focused on the body, on the breath and the mind can simmer down a bit. However – and here is where she and I disagree – there is no substitute for sitting in meditation. Period. We need it. It cleanses the mind of old habits and long-seated reactions to similar stimulus (aka “knee-jerk” or conditioned respnses). Hatha prepares the body for meditation by removing the obstacle of physical discomfort as we sit. So, our lovely author has done the world a service by producing a non-threatening introduction to Hatha. Perhaps she discounts meditation in order to draw students in – meditation seems scary at first so some folks are turned off to yoga altogether because of it. “It’s hard to do.” “My mind is too busy.” “My back hurts.” And sometimes the fear is religiously based – “Is it Pagan?” “Anti-Judeo-Christian?!” Of course, it isn’t. In the Bible God says, “Be still and know that I am…” Why do we reisist?
So how to begin?
Try it two minutes before you get in your car or drive from your home. Two minutes in the parking lot before work, two minutes at lunch – in the transitions of your day. Try it one day – see how it goes – and maybe you can begin a scheduled time daily. Just like brushing your teeth, meditation is another healthy habit to practice. Be not afraid of stillness. Stillness is the counter-pose for every day life.
In January of this year, 2017, Harry Dyer of Kenya, Africa was scouting for game and poaching activity near the Mara river. His plane’s wing clipped the trees and sent the plane crashing to the ground. It burst into flames upon impact and in the few seconds before Harry could release himself from the cockpit he suffered burns on 40% of his body. He managed to walk to help, fording the Mara river and found his way home. Harry was admitted to a hospital in Nairobi, Kenya but it had inadequate burn treatment facilities. Once he was somewhat stable he was airlifted to Johannesburg to the one and only Class 1 burn center in all of Africa.
After several weeks in South Africa, Harry’s friends here in Indy had him flown here for treatment at the Eskenazi Burn Center. Here he attended daily therapy sessions for months. Richard was tasked with feeding Harry to help him regain the 40 pounds he had lost while immobilized in hospital.
Harry has survived his wounds and will be working for his whole life to maintain full range of motion in his arms and legs and keep his lungs healthy. Burns are one of the primary injuries suffered by Africans who cook , sterilize their water, and heat their homes with open flame. Especially for children, the scars left by untreated burns can lead to life-long disfigurement, and a lack of social inclusion and employment.
Our newest studio Seva (service) is to raise funds towards the $2,000,000 needed to build a state-of-the-art Burn Center in El Doret, Kenya which is the home of Dr. Joe Mamlin’s IU-affiliated teaching hospital, orphanage and the Umoja project. We will hold a fund-raiser in late August. Meanwhile, if you like you can pay a bit more for class the amount will be earmarked for Harry’s Burn Center. You can also make a donation by cash check or charge anytime. The size is not important. Every penny counts when lives are at stake. Together we can work to help build the Harry Dyer Burn Center in El Doret, Kenya.
Be sure to take time to be still, breathe and be grateful for everything passing through your lives even in the hectic pace of Holy Days. Traffic drama? “I am grateful to be in my car with someplace to go.” Let breath and music create an oasis inside your car! Long lines at the stores? “Thank you for this opportunity to share a laugh with the strangers around me.” Smile! OR carry a book with you wherever you go – it’s a great way to shut out chaos and take a mini break. Remember to practice equilibrium and non-attachment. In other words, keep your emotions out of problems as they arise – it’s not easy and can be our life-long practice. The more we avoid our knee-jerk negative reactions to events and people, the more our minds become fertile ground for peace! Then, as you prepare and shop for these Holy-days and you will find yourself fully charged and ready for all the joy heading your way. Namaste
So much beauty unfolds daily around us at this time of year it feels renewing to spend time outside walking or sitting and breathing deeply the fragrant plants, freshly mown grasses and blooming trees and flowers. Of course, if you suffer with pollen allergies you may need to increase your neti pot nasal cleansing to compensate, but deep exhalation can help to clean allergens out of the lungs and nose. Here is a nice easy practice to try the next time you walk your dog or just walk to your parking garage:
First: Stand and feel your feet anchoring into the earth. Notice the skeleton aligning itself over your feet.
Second: Begin walking and inhale to the count of two steps. Exhale to the count of four steps.
Third: Enjoy the new greenness of the earth as you draw in all of that lovely, fresh oxygen.
Ok, so that title could be a joke! Of course we have to breathe to stay alive, but wouldn’t you like to give your body breath that will help ward off disease? Taking full diaphragmatic breaths releases pressure on major blood vessels that run through the diaphragm muscle. Taking little chest breaths restrict the full expansion of the chest cavity and the release of those vessels. It’s difficult for us to monitor our breathing, but the more we indulge in full inhalations that expand the torso and full exhalations that contract the abdominal muscles we actually increase our oxygen intake, improve circulation between upper body and lower body which lowers blood pressure (!), and tone the abdominal muscles! In addition, complete breaths expel all waste gases so our inhalations give our bodies a real “breath of fresh air!” The yogis tell us that breathing consciously and fully can actually improve our immunity to all things viral by keeping the respiratory system clean. GIve it a try and send me results of your experiment! Of course, breathing may not be as effective as a flu vaccine but it should make you feel great everyday!