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Nourishment Beyond Food, A Few Suggestions

What nourishes you?

This is the question in my mind during yoga practice this week. It bubbles up over and over like a fountain churning through the waters of my spirit. In these sessions I feel like I receive necessary sustenance. My stiff, sleepy body needed it and my spirit craved it. So, throughout the day I contemplate the idea of “nourishment” and came up with a few principles for my personal journey. I wish to share them with you.

First, Merriam-Webster defines nourish:

  1. To nurture, rear
  2. To promote the growth of
  3. To furnish or sustain with nutriment; maintain, support

 

At the core is the idea of expansion – a word that has ambiguous meaning for me as an American woman. The expectation for ideal womanhood in this culture is that we limit the expansion of our bodies so that we take up the appropriate amount of space and we limit the expansion of our personalities and maintain a passive countenance. Words like “bossy,” “pushy,” and “loud” stand in contrast with “sweet,” “gentle,” and “charming.” The first set conveys negative sentiments while the second upholds an underlying feminine standard. I cannot tell you how many friends and acquaintances over the years jokingly confessed to not being “feminine” because they are bold.

This is the question: How are we to nourish ourselves if we must also take up as little space (whether concrete or abstract) as we can? How do we expand?

Nourishment is for the purpose of expansion and so it is in support of continual change. It is not restricted to ingesting plants and animals for food. Nourishment applies to every area of our lives: physical, mental, and spiritual. Below are a few of my ideas for nourishing these aspects for expansion:

  1. Eat good, sustaining food. A great rule to live by is eat more plants. You don’t have to give up mea, but when in doubt, eat plants. Eat more of them than anything else.
  2. Drink water. I begin my day with a 20-ounce glass – before coffee, breakfast, or anything else. We are dehydrated after the long night. Starting this practice is easy and it will become a habit quickly.
  3. Move the body. It does not matter what you do, do something. For years I thought to be “fit” meant establishing a workout routine that had me rotating through days of running and lifting weights at the gym. I enjoyed it most of the time, but often I had days or weeks of boredom and would begrudgingly drag myself to the gym. Now, I get excited to practice yoga every day and my body has never felt better! When we align our body with our emotions and find the movement that really fits, our bodies respond.
  4. Be kind to your body. It is yours and no one else’s. Be kind to other people’s bodies for the same reason. We can nourish our bodies with compassion and expand in these areas for greater physical health. Again, our physical bodies respond to the innermost parts of our spiritual bodies.
  5. Expand your brain. Read books. Read smart long-form journalism. Watch documentaries. Challenge your mind and dive into that very clichéd phrase: be a life-long learner! It is a cliché for a reason. Never settle for being the same person year after year, but take the time to dive into what peeks your interest. Lately, I am consuming book after book about yoga and meditation, which eventually pulled me into fourteenth-century Persian religious poetry. I’m not kidding! Hafiz is my homeboy.
  6. Take time to sit quietly. Look, we are all busy. I know. I get it. It is difficult to find two minutes to breathe some days, but the importance of taking just five minutes to focus on nothing else but the sound of your own breath cannot be overstated. Just like finding time to eat and move, our brains, and ultimately our spirit, craves regeneration and nourishment. While establishing daily meditation for 15 or 20 minutes at a time is great, some of us cannot see a way to fit this in the schedule. So, here are a few suggestions:
  • Take the time between the first alarm and the snooze to lie quietly in bed to assess, give gratitude, or just listen. (Suggestion by Faith Hunter.)
  • Before lunch, close your eyes and listen to your breath for thirty seconds to begin mindfully eating your food.
  • Before turning on the television in the evening, take five minutes on the couch to close your eyes and find your center. Your “center” is wherever your mind thinks it is located. For some it is around the heart, for others it is in the brain, and there are those who find their center in the stomach. Listen to your breath, then watch Jeopardy!.
  • Use Yoga Nidra before bed.

 

We must expand. We must grow. We must nourish ourselves.

The current trend is to do a planned “cleanse” or a diet reboot. I am all on board for this kind of experience. I believe we all should re-evaluate our relationship to food every once in a while. A bit of self-restraint can be beneficial to spirit and body. What makes me uncomfortable is the intense focus on food as the primary means of nourishment. It is the most obvious, after all. In this restriction there is confusion about what to put in our bodies. I see product placement and American consumerism and little direction about lifestyle change beyond using a company’s commodity. I see nourishment sold as merchandise for the comfortable middle class and healthy lifestyles turning into luxury items. This is not to say that those who use these products should feel guilty about their nutrition habits. Rather, it is much, much simpler to nourish our bodies with. We are massively misdirected. We receive cues to limit expansion and hear messages that nourishment is something to buy alongside our SUVs, designer yoga pants, and household gadgets. I guarantee that if you try to balance nourishment as a body/mind/spirit practice, you will feel it. Granted, it is not a quick fix. Every day requires work and I am the first to say it is not always easy.

Nourishment means growth and expansion, so we cannot stop.

Love and Grief: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Lately I feel more open to write about personal thoughts without indulging in the details – broad and open. It is more cathartic that way. This blog has become a resource to really process these thoughts and I appreciate those that take the time to read. We are creating community.

During my yoga class yesterday morning the teacher expressed the importance of acknowledging emotion, rather than running from it. “The Divine gave us emotions and we should not ignore them,” Amy Ippolitti says. She asked us to expand outward with our arms and legs in certain poses to let the emotions move through our bodies. While I am getting better at standing back to observe what happens in my emotional body, it is tough.

This week is tough. Someone very close to me is starting treatment for a serious health crisis and we are in a maelstrom. It is also the week that I decided, months ago, that I will end the thirteen-month breastfeeding journey with my son. My body physically feels the effects of loss. While it is not the grief one experiences with the death of a loved one, it is the grief that comes with loss of a previous life.

I want to pause to write a few words about breastfeeding and grief. In the last year I encountered numerous stories from friends and family who experienced some level of grief in their nursing journey. It made me realize that we cannot avoid these feelings no matter how hard we try. There were women who could not nurse past a few weeks, women who needed to discontinue because of health problems, and women who nursed for nearly two years and said “goodbye” to this sweetness – we all experienced some level of grief. Now I have my own. This morning I nursed Arlo for the very last time, and as my sweet little boy patted his small hand against my face, I felt a sense of closure. It is time.

Words can be so insignificant because they are only symbols of actual feelings. They are stand-ins for the real thing. Because of this, the word “grief” will have a different meaning for each person who uses it, no matter the definition in the dictionary. Words come with personal histories, memories, and feelings. When I use the word “grief,” I do not tend to combine it with “despair.” That is another sentiment all together. Grief is a valuable emotion that can illuminate the places most important in our lives. It is a deep form of love.

In less than two hours I leave for my first yoga retreat. I will drive through the glorious Shenandoah National Park to find my way to Yogaville – Satchidananda Ashram for Faith Hunter’s Spiritually Fly: Master Your Soul retreat. I planned this trip months ago, but now it seems incredibly timely. An ashram is a place of religious/spiritual retreat, originating out of the Hindu tradition, but Sri Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) founded this ashram to welcome people of all faiths. The central building is called LOTUS: Light of Truth Universal Shrine, and includes a meditation space for each of the major world religions. He wanted Yogaville to be a place of retreat for all of us.

I feel my spirit called to retreat. While a few weeks ago I looked to this as an opportunity to learn more about Faith Hunter’s work, I see that this weekend is necessary to prepare for the next steps in my life, which include supporting a few people very close to me as they embark on a difficult journey.

 

Here is my prayer for all of us today:
Let us be light. Let us find love in grief and extend it outward. Let us find peace and strength to actively use this love that connects us together.

Volunteers Wanted

Do you like to go outside?
Do you hike? Walk? Meander? Saunter? Are you a Flaneur in nature?
Are you a “mall walker?” Do you use a pedometer at work?
Do you also enjoy new and interesting things on the Internet?

I am looking for volunteers to use the National Park Service’s iHike program to assist in an exploration of the website. The NPS created a fascinating program geared toward getting more people outside under the federal Let’s Move! program, and I want to see how well it works.

iHike, The National Park Service

Please consider participating in a very low-key experience. No particular skills are necessary, just a willingness to have fun in nature and post about it through iHike.

If you wish to participate, please contact Sarah by May 5, 2017.

 

Pancake Day: Tradition and Ceremony in a Family

Months after my return to work and now that Arlo is settled in to daycare, I see that we are developing a routine around the house. I do not mention my husband, Dave, because his schedule maintained its rhythm and we fell into step with his days. Our household has a rhythm. It feels good.

One of my favorite things about our beat is the Saturday morning routine. Arlo and I call it “Pancake Day.” Dave/Daddy sings in the background as he gets ready for work,
“What do we want? PAN-CAKES!!
When do we want them? NOW!!”
He is a little salty that he cannot be a part of the pancake experience (but to be honest, he gets one as he walks out the door.) However, I know he realizes how important it is to me. Saturdays are my day with Arlo. There is no other day of the week that it is just the two of us anymore. It is like the “old days.” You know, like when he was three months old.

Lately I have been thinking about the idea of tradition and ceremony as it relates to families. There was not a whole lot of ceremony in my family growing up and, in a blended family, I watched as some traditions found establishment in one part of the family structure while bypassing others. Dave and I realized it was important to form our family foundation around traditions and ceremony. Often, in the twenty-first century, we think of tradition as relating to the holiday schedule, but my wish is to have regular tradition fold seamlessly into our family to form the web of security around us. For me, waking up on Saturday mornings and making pancakes with my son adds to this experience. Dave’s singing in the background and partaking in the goods in the few minutes before work, is also a part of it. In my mind, I have the fantasy that Arlo will learn to make the pancakes and over the years we will create new variations and eventually write a “Mom and Son” pancake recipe book. (But that’s just a thought…) So far, he seems to like pancakes. I hope it continues.

The Wanderlust Speakeasy Podcast recently aired a talk with Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga, titled “The Beauty of Ceremony.” It compelled me to begin thinking about the ways we can incorporate ceremony into our family life. Ceremony is another way to create rhythm in our days. It establishes the closing and opening of one situation to another, it binds us to those with whom we participate, and it establishes a sense of security and sacredness in our days. One thing that immediately comes into my mind is finding a brief moment of recognition with my husband and son before one of us walks out the door in the morning. I want to find a flash of mindfulness that cultivates a feeling of connection with each other before the busy day begins. Another common moment of ceremony in many families is the bedtime routine. Sometimes it is a whirlwind of craziness, but altering the angle in which we come into the experience – thinking of it as a brief ceremony before bed – will change the tone.

So tell me, what are the ways you cultivate tradition and ceremony in your life and with those closest to you?

Presently, Joy: Finding Happiness in Mindfulness


The problem is that religious nuts around the world have exported everything that is beautiful about a human being to the other world. If you talk of love, they speak of divine love. If you talk of bliss, they speak of divine bliss. If you talk of peace, they speak of divine peace. We have forgotten that these are human qualities. A human being is fully capable of joy, of love, of peace. Why do you want to export these to heaven?

There is much talk of God and heaven mainly because human beings have not realized the immensity of being human. It is obvious that the very source of life is throbbing within you in some way. The source of your life is also the source of every other life and the source of all creation. This dimension of intelligence or consciousness exists in every one of us. The deliverance of every human being lies in finding access to this deathless dimension.

To be joyful and peaceful within yourself every moment of your life, to be able to perceive life beyond its physical limitations – these are not superhuman qualities. These are human possibilities.

Yoga is not about being superhuman; it is about realizing that being human is super.

– Sadhguru, Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy (2016)

 

There is a lot of talk right now about joy and happiness in the yoga community. Spiritual teachers and yogis across the spectrum are publishing their thoughts on the best ways to free from the things that weigh down the spirit. Actually, a lot has been published in the last ten years about the state of happiness in general. It seems like there is a push towards sincerity and away from the pessimism of the last century. Digital media also allows anyone to publish their ideas online (this blog is case in point) and so if you are looking for direction, it can seem like an overwhelming flood of courses to happiness. But in the midst of the morass of advice, actions can get lost.

I’ve been meaning to write a little entry on the concept of joy, but also did not want to just add to the clutter. Since I am in my own search for joy, I thought I would write a little about that, rather than a few paragraphs of instruction.

Joy and happiness are found in one’s own search, not in following the leader. Eat, Pray, Love and Wild have their place. I could read thousands upon thousands of pages in inspirational books, but… joy is complicated! It is complex. One person’s journey to joy is drastically different from someone else’s.
I used to believe that line about “happiness is a daily decision,” until I faced postpartum depression. My ideas about happiness and joy were completely obliterated. I tried to make the decision to be happy each and every one of those days, but by four o’clock in the afternoon, with my mind feeling like it was under water, joy seemed elusive.

What I felt was intense love. I also felt intense sadness and intense anger – so much that it was easier to make the choice to feel numb. For me, PPD revealed itself in a force that was too much to bear.

Now that I am out of depression I am trying to take the time to reflect back on the experience, even if I combat feelings of guilt over lost time. That comes with the healing process. One thing I learned, though, is that there was actually joy and happiness in the darkness. I also have a new relationship with both concepts.

Happiness is not a decision one makes, but it is in fact, an action one takes. It lies in being present. When I think about the past or the future, all that comes with it is regret, anticipation, or worry. Even a positive anticipation for a future source of happiness creates the feeling of impatience.

Mindfulness is usually the word used along with “being present.” Looking back on the depression months, my most joyful moments were when I held my son before bed, or enjoyed bath time with him, sat for a quiet dinner at home with my husband, or found twinklings of contemplation in yoga. I remember these moments distinctly, actually. They are like a thread of pearls stringing my months together.

So I suppose in a way, happiness is a decision you make every day, but only if that decision leads to action. Simply choosing to be happy makes you contend with the fierce strength of human emotion. Trying to will yourself to be happy simply will not work! Choosing happiness over anxiety, anger, and insecurity must, must, must come with action. That action is simply: mindfulness.

Like Sadhguru writes in his recent book, humans are fully capable of experiencing bliss and joy here on earth, but we get so overwhelmed with emotion that we feel it is impossible. Our strength lies in the fact that we can look at the moments in front of us for what they are: opportunities for joy. Or not. Perhaps your moment is not joyful, but it will pass. I think the main thing that I am currently learning is that while emotions are legitimate, they do not necessarily reflect full reality. The only way to break through this barrier is through mindfulness, which brings peace.

Can Digital Technology Make Us More Compassionate to the Environment?

When was the last time you took a cell phone out of your pocket to snap a picture of a landscape or sunset for your Instagram account? #nature #mountains #sunset #inspiration #earth #outdoors #tranquility #breathtaking #OMG

Do you ever watch Youtube videos of summit groups on the top of Mount Everest or rock climbers in the High Sierra?

Are you super excited about the new season of the BBC’s Planet Earth?

Why are Americans drawn to experiencing nature through their screen? One could say that this is a natural evolution from the genre of naturalist writing (think: Thoreau) to the medium that most Americans consume today in a visually based culture. As cultural historian Karal Ann Marling writes, the increased popularity of television in the 1950s produced an American popular culture where the visual became the most important of the five senses.[1] The way Americans interact with the world today is directly connected to the visual aspect of things. In fact, reading about and looking at nature are entirely different experiences that may show us a little of what it means to be human. This is not to say that one must be able to see or hear in order to be “fully human,” but the ways we respond to this stimuli reflect our human nature.

Those who view nature through a digital screen attempt to fill a void, or try to solve the problem of separation through experiencing nature in any way possible. In fact, the practice of reading about nature versus looking at nature may have different impacts on the psyche. A study published in 2009 found that simply viewing images of a landscape or being around plants have positive effects on an individual’s intrinsic aspirations, as opposed to extrinsic aspirations.[2] The researchers assert:
“Nature can bolster autonomy directly by affording stimulating sensations (e.g., environmental stimuli that are naturally interesting and personally satisfying an that facilitate orientation to the present) and opportunities to integrate experience by encouraging introspection and a coherent sense of self, and indirectly by providing an alternative to the pressuring elements of everyday life. In either case, nature affords individuals the chance to follow their interests and reduces pressures, fears, introjects, and societal expectations.”[3]
It may be for this very reason twenty-first century Americans seek out the visuals of nature through digital platforms. Researchers found that just viewing images of natural spaces produce positive effects in an individual. The desire is strong and allows us to become more in tune to essential things like kindness and compassion, but does this desire translate to altruism toward the environment, as well? Is there a change in the relationship between humans and nature because of the digital “divide?” Or, rather, is there no real divide at all?

What is initially perceived as a thing that separates might in fact be instigated by anxieties for the unknown. Will digital culture change us so much that we will be unrecognizable to our great-grandchildren? Is pre-digital life obsolete? If we look at life one hundred years ago we certainly see aspects of culture that faded into the historical record for good reason. I think that we – our society – does not want to think of our ways as possibly irrelevant to future generations. The way we do things now is the best! Right? Perhaps it is not. I think the inclusion of digital culture into our experiences in nature might actually bring us closer to who we are and make us realize that we are actually a part of nature, not separate from it. By using digital technology we bring some aspects of ourselves – our culture – into natural spaces, instead of leaving parts of ourselves behind. We also bring images of natural spaces into our homes through these screens. Does this make us more familiar with the “wild?” Does it make us more compassionate to flora and fauna?

Of course, I have more thinking to do on this topic. In fact, it is the subject of my dissertation! What a coincidence! 🙂

[1] Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994)

[2] Netta Weinstein, Andres K. Przybyiski, and Richard M. Ryan, “Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity,” PSPB 30, no. 10 (Oct 2009): 1315-1329.

[3] Ibid., 1316.

Flight or Fright of Everyday and Developing a Patient Mind

When is the last time you faced challenge? I mean a real deal, in your face challenge? Often I come across this word when reading about 5k race training or when someone discusses the pursuit of higher education – both wonderful ideas. But to talk about challenge as if it only encompasses extraordinary circumstances misses a lot of the beauty in challenge.

Yes. Challenges can be beautiful. To see this requires a change in perspective.

As my husband and I began our parenting journey in 2016 we found ourselves using the word fairly often, and I came to realize that the term was less weighted than it was in the past. In other words, saying, our baby “was a challenge today because he did not want to take a nap” was actually a freeing statement that came with multiple emotions: frustration at a baby’s ignorance of a “schedule,” hilarity at the absurd day we just experienced, and also joyfulness at remembering the smiles of our little one because he would rather spend time with Mama than sleep! “Challenges” became the small hurdles of every day instead of broad planned pursuits on the long-term timeline.

I began looking for challenges in my routine. Please do not get me wrong, I did not try to create unnecessary difficulties. I simply looked closer at my daily life. As I developed a new relationship with struggle, I realized facing everyday “mini challenges” created more introspection and perceptible evidence of growth in my life that I could really appreciate.

Today was one such experience.

Lately I have been experimenting with different forms of yoga and decided to really settle into Kundalini. It speaks to my heart right now and it opened a door for a new meditative encounter. One key aspect of Kundalini yoga is holding or repeating movements for periods of time: two, five, or even eleven minutes. The result is a remarkable focus that prepares the body, mind, and spirit to really settle in to meditation.

Remember: the purpose of asana yoga is to prepare the mind for meditation!

Today’s class was led by the delightful Kia Miller and she asked us to hold archer pose for five minutes and find the drishti (the focus or gaze) over the tip of the thumb on our extended hand.

Five minutes…

I was sore from a pretty intense yoga session last night and wondered if my body could stay in such a dynamic pose for that long. As such, I already doubted my ability to do it. But Kia explained that a pose and focus like this creates in us the skill of being “one pointed,” or super single-mindedness. “Do not even allow the question of coming out of the posture to come into your mind,” she says. “You are cultivating stability.” “Really stand in the posture at full strength. It really takes this level of determination to rise above the old ways of being, to rise above negativity and doubt.”

“Stand in the light of your truth,” Kia says.

This was difficult. But as I focused on the point just past my thumb I thought about how the intensity of this moment does not actually reflect its level of challenge accurately. I should not avoid the aching in my arms because this is a very small challenge with huge benefits: cultivating a focused mind.

I also recognized its relatedness to other small challenges. It is easy to let everyday difficulties build up, one on top of another. Eventually we feel overwhelmed and unable to comprehend it because all is muddled. Standing in archer I had to separate my mind from the situation, as if I was standing outside of it, in order to remain in the pose. In yoga and meditation we call this “observing” the situation. We can claim this exact same mental position in everyday challenges.

Perhaps this is the same as surrendering to God, a concept that is too often repeated, but not very well understood. I heard the phrase “Let go and let God” so often in my 34 years that it sounds weightless, containing little or no real meaning.

I will not give a list of what challenges could be, because everyone has a different experience facing them. In order to deal with them, try mentally stepping aside to observe emotions and your physical state to see what you can learn. Small challenges feel enormous when we let them take over both these aspects of our body. But I guarantee that if you learn to observe instead of react, you start to feel like you are accomplishing instead of suffering.

________

Update:
Challenges are HARD. Tonight is case in point. My dear, sweet boy is having a rough week: major teething, twelve month immunizations, and he has a cold. Nothing is going well, from his perspective. All I want for him to do is eat, because that will be the sign that he is feeling better. Alas, tonight’s dinner did not go well for the two of us. Then it morphed into the highly unusual bath time struggle – normally his favorite part of the day. I nursed and tried to calm him with quiet songs, I settled my own mind. These moments will not last forever. Like the five minutes of archer, I try my best to breath through the intensity.

Please do not think that once I did this all things changed. My husband walked through the door tonight and saw a frustrated look on my face as I cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. But as the evening goes on, I settle in. This is a learning experience.

Life moves. Time continues to flow. We must grow and change and adapt.

Your Body (Image) on Yoga

The experience I describe here is not limited to a yoga practice. However, I believe that yoga in combination with a contemplative practice leads the way to greater self-esteem.

My body and mind have gone through significant changes over the last two years. We will celebrate my son’s first birthday in a week and it is striking to simply look back on the process of pregnancy through delivery to recovery. I recognize each woman’s experience is massively different, but I find myself having a transformation when it came to the way I viewed my body.

I fully expected to go through a slump after Arlo’s delivery in April 2016. I had a cesarean section and knew the recovery would keep me from jumping back into an active life. There certainly were feelings of unfamiliarity with my own body and wanting desperately to fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans again, but at the same time, my pre-pregnancy mindset was not one I wanted to go back to. For as long as I can remember, I stood in the mirror and criticized myself for not being “good enough” – whatever that meant! Holding high expectations and a need to control almost every aspect of myself translated to a constant analysis and review of the curves of my body. I was never comfortable in my own skin, no matter how much I exercised. I also never opened to anyone about this, because after too many strange looks from those I trusted, and responses of, “You are so beautiful! You are so skinny!” I could not find a friend who would let down their guard long enough to really listen. I gave up.

I knew it was wrong. It was unsettling. In my mind, I tried to rationalize and convince myself to stop. No one spoke like this to me, except myself. If we really think about what happens when we criticize our own bodies, we realize how uncanny it is. We should be advocates, not the ones who tear down. It is the most heartbreaking thing in the world.

During pregnancy I felt so beautiful. I felt like my body was in the right place and doing the thing it was created to do. Actually, I was shocked at this revelation. I never dreamed about being a mommy or identified as one whose highest calling is motherhood. I love the women who do. I love the women who do not. We are all goddesses. But, I was surprised at the glory I felt emerging out of this growing belly.

I was worried that after delivery I would go back to the routine of daily self-criticism that threatened to paralyze and kept me from entering fully into the love given by others.

A remarkable thing happened when Arlo was born. Early on, I was too busy to notice my body in ways beyond what I provided for my new baby. This is the fear that some worry about, but for me it was a blessing in disguise. In fact, it was empowering. I continued to see purpose in this body. Previously, I lived like the opinion of others mattered and held myself to a ridiculous standard. In America, young women are cultivated to believe the falsehood that their bodies are for display. Fitness exists to form the body into a perfect physique. It requires blood, sweat, and tears. Now, post-delivery, I completely disagree with a one-dimensional approach to fitness. It should nourish – mind, body, and spirit.

I realized this when I rediscovered yoga. I say, “rediscovered,” though I practiced steadily for nearly twenty years, because it was like I met yoga again for the first time.

Finding a quiet spot in an unused room, I placed my yoga mat for the hours in between nursing and playtime. The stolen moments became vital to my well being, and more than ever, I needed a space to connect to myself. Like cultivating the relationship with one’s partner after the birth of a baby, we need to foster the relationship we have with ourselves.

Finding my space on that mat brought me back into relationship with my true self.

How did this happen? Yoga movement asks us to focus on our breathing. We follow the breath and use it to guide the actions of the body, whether fast or slow. We breathe to stretch our limbs and power through difficult poses. We use breath as a timer and as music. With regular practice, we soon notice the breath is a constant companion throughout the day. It is striking that through yoga we come to rely on ourselves – and the Divine within, no matter what name you call it – instead of on others. This kind of self-reliance is not the same as the separation from others for self-protection. It is trust in the self to build and not to destroy. It is a reconnection to the truest and deepest relationship one has in life. The breath takes us to this place within ourselves.

It is amazing how something as simple as focusing on our breathing can create such significant changes in life. Notice I did not describe the level of fitness I attained through the postures, whether or not I can balance in crow pose for five breaths, or the length and intensity of my yoga sessions. These do not matter.

I started to notice small things: putting on an outfit without changing four times, standing taller, eating well and for health instead of stressing over the last meal… smiling in the mirror. My personal shopping habits also changed. I bought fewer clothes to support my self-worth.

Unfortunately, there is not a set plan to get to this place. Of course, though I write this blog entry, I do not think I attained perfection. The goal will be different for each person! It is a beautiful journey. There are so many modes and styles of yoga that one can find the ideal path. Many Americans do not understand yoga enough to know it is not a religion, but a science, and can be placed in line with any religious belief. In fact, I find I have never felt so connected to my spirituality as I do now. The mental and emotional benefits abound.

 

You made it to the end of this blog post. Now, please do me a favor.

Take a deep breath… in… out… in… out… in… out.

Now, do it again. Close your eyes and breathe deeply three times.

That is your breath. Yours. It is no one else’s. It is there for you whether you realize it or not. Divine Love gave you this breath and it follows you through every day of your life. You take in the world as you breathe in and give back to it when you breathe out.
But it is yours. Enjoy it.

Little Daily Mantras

What word do you hold close to your heart throughout the day? What is your mantra? Perhaps without realizing it you latch on to an idea that will set the tone for your waking – and sleeping – hours.

This is not about being happy. Or sad. Both words come with baggage, though they are uselessly flung out of our mouths.

It is not too much to ask that we think about our words, even the words we use internally.

There was a time around the holidays when I would wake up and take ownership over words like, “sad,” “stressed,” “unfinished,” “too much,” “difficult,” “broken”…
I chose these words like a cloak to protect my body from the cold.

The unconscious choosing of words over our lives is a symptom of a broader problem. It relates to a disconnection we create through the constant curation of personas. The more we try to mold outward appearances, the more disengaged we become with the inward self.

Like the slow disappointment that grows between two people engaged in small talk instead of depth, the passive reaching for daily mantras creates small deaths in our spirit if we are not aware of the effect it has over our lives.

You always have a mantra, whether you like it or not.

While it cannot solve concrete problems like encountering morning traffic on the way to work, paying bills, or preventing our dishwasher from breaking, choosing a mantra that is beneficial to our lives instead of destructive will make us resilient. This, in turn, will create joy in our spirits, available to be expressed in ways that correspond with our personalities.

This is on my mind because today I realize I now wake up with the word “creative” on my mind, instead of the previous declarations above. This did not happen overnight. I made a conscious decision to finish the sentence “I AM…” every morning as I start my day. Even if you do not have a daily meditation practice, mindfully decide on a mantra that will create space in your day for possibilities that benefit instead of destroy.

Slowly, my thoughts are turning. Slowly, I feel my spirit return to a true version of myself. I sense a paradigm shift.

The Light of Meditation, and a Confession

Follow the breath
In
          Out
In
          Out
In
          Out
Settle slowly in to the depths
                                                            The deep
Go under, where you can find it
What endures in the heart

                                                            Focus on your heart
                                                            The Heart Center

                                                            Focus on your breath
                                                            The Lifeline

The breath is the thread that connects us to what is above and below. It serves as a rappelling rope between the surface of our senses and the depths of meditation. Follow it down, down, down to settle into the space that is not cluttered with thoughts. This is the goal, and so it is difficult to sense the work happening until after it is finished.

The remarkable thing about this kind of meditation is that you quickly discover your breath is always there. It is a remnant of the experience. It is evidence that the deep is accessible. This discovery is one of the most significant of my life thus far.

Lately, I talk about meditation to almost everyone. There is a reason for it, though. It is changing my life.

____

A few weeks ago I started something I never expected to go through: treatment for postpartum depression. At six months, I thought I was out of the weeds. PPD was not on my radar. I experienced other very demanding seasons in my life that I managed with various anti-stress tools. Life is difficult, but I knew what to do when I felt overwhelmed.

In November my husband, son, and I prepared to move to our new home – freshly built in the perfect neighborhood, after many hours of deliberation and work with a talented builder and architect. Everything in our lives was “perfect.” Our baby slept through the night and was incredibly healthy. Our marriage was always strong, based upon a deep friendship. Our finances were secure. I was at a point in my career where I was finally experiencing the fruit of my labor – the development of a dissertation that I was thoroughly excited about. Soon after the move, I began facing debilitating anxiety and would stress over the smallest trigger. Through the first six months I often exclaimed “I have never been so happy in my life!” It was later replaced with,
“Why do I feel so sad?
I feel isolated. I feel alone.
Why is it so difficult for others to understand me?
I feel like I cannot talk to anyone.
I feel guilty for not being happy right now.”

Certainly, I have loving people in my life. I have a network of incredible family members and friends. They say, “Let me watch your baby so you two can have a night out!” Or, “Just call me when you need something.”

But that is not what this is about.

PPD is very different for each sufferer. For me, the constant and overwhelming emotions were not alleviated through the generous assistance of our parents or long talks with my close friends. In fact, I became more anxious when I would prepare for Arlo’s time away from me – pumping breast milk, making his little meals, or packing his bag. Thoughts of going out with friends were quickly shot down by my own internal voice telling me that it was “not possible.” Keeping Arlo with me was just easier. It also kept thoughts at bay of what might happen when he was out of my care. I was on edge. I sensed my days passing by and I had nothing to show for them. My once very productive day turned into a nightly lament of all the things that I could have done, though I felt frazzled and in constant motion. An underlying sadness crept in…

Soon, I found myself waking to the thought each morning,
“Will it be like this the rest of my life?”

At ten months postpartum, Dave and I both realized I needed to talk to someone. My exterior façade was not in line with my interior life. I was in denial and thought that these anxieties were all part of the game. Of course a mother worries about her baby! Of course I am stressed! We had big life changes this year and it will all even out eventually…

After speaking with a wonderful midwife that I trust, I finally felt like I could breathe. It was the first step toward healing.

____

Why did I begin this post with an explanation of my meditation practice?
It is because I began in the midst of the darkness. Though I did not acknowledge the PPD at that point, I knew something was “off.” So, I sat in the darkness searching for the light.

The rector at my church recently gave a message that challenged the idea that “God does not give us anything we cannot handle” – the common, over used, and sadly clichéd line offered to sufferers. She explored the idea that this might not be true, but God actually might set in place a difficult experience in order for growth to happen. A Lenten sermon, the reading was on Jesus’s temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Following this dark point, Jesus went on to perform miracles.

Dark points can coincide with the light. I do not find it odd that I was able to establish a meditation practice while simultaneously suffering from PPD. Meditation is not a magic bullet or similar to taking a pill for a headache. The emotions I currently battle that stem from overactive anxiety and changing hormones are also a part of this new emotional experience I have as a mother. I do not believe it will always be this way, but I also do not disregard it as unimportant or take it on as my identity. I insist on living in the light.

My daily meditation is the place I can go to find peace. I am also learning to take the breath with me throughout my day. It is not the solution to PPD, but is an important part of my life. Feeling my breath enter and exit my body gives me a sense of relief, stability, and a feeling of connection to the divine – to a source of strength.