Time Crunch

Pike Place ClockI'm still adjusting to the recent leap we took to "spring forward" an hour.  I love the extra light in my living room come late afternoon, but I feel behind as soon as I open my eyes each morning.  We're also coming out of a season that is supposed to provide a chance to hibernate and move at a slower pace, but with the holidays and new year's resolutions, winter is often just as exhausting as any other time of year. The shift of seasons (spring starts Friday) give us the opportunity to pause and reflect on what's working in daily routines and what isn't.  As we say goodbye to winter, I'm ready to re-focus my dwindling breath and meditation practice.  Turns out, this isn't just for yogis.  Anyone can feel less rushed and stressed by starting a simple practice. The New York Times recently featured an op-ed highlighting the link between our level of anxiety and our perception of goals.  That we live in a world of constant connection--allowing us to try and juggle numerous things at once--heightens our sense of busyness.  Mental exercises that focus on breath and re-framing how we think about time can actually lessen stress!

Rather than consider this as one more "to do," start small and see if it works for you.  Meditation doesn't have to be an hour-long practice to have benefit.  Five minutes is more than enough, if that's what you feel you can reasonably make time for.  Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier tomorrow, go sit in a quiet place, and set another alarm for 5 minutes.  Connect to each of your five senses in some way.  Then focus on taking three conscious breaths.  Follow the inhale and exhale in and out of your body.  Then think about a time you were at ease - feel the experience of relaxation throughout your body.  Try and stay with the sensation for about 30 seconds.  Go back to your breath and finish with three more slow inhales and exhales.  Repeat the following morning.  See what happens.

Does imagination hinder contentment?

One week into fall and it's really here now.  More gray, less sun, serious rain.  I live in Seattle because I like this kind of weather, but the transition from beautiful bright days isn't usually graceful for me.  I welcome fall with open arms, then mope around for a bit while I get used to my change of wardrobe, sky-high humidity, and the need for lamps. My struggle with transition is nothing new, which puzzles me because I love to orchestrate getting from here to there.  I'm the master of calendars, event planning, and navigating.  I get restless with routine, much as I crave it. Why aren't transition and I a natural fit?

The other day my husband inadvertently pinpointed the root of my issue.  Refusing to see his parents' condo remodel in progress, he turned to me and said, "I lack the imagination to enjoy transition."  At first I felt sorry for him.  I love all the details of planning, the thrill of seeing a work in progress and visualizing what it can be and will be someday.  Much of my life is spent in dreams of the future (along with analysis of the past).  In other words, my imagination is quite alive and well.  Seeing what's right in front of me, without any desire to change it, that's not so easy.  My husband though, he's the picture of contentment.  Life ebbs and flow around him and there he is, just being in it.

As I mulled over his comment, I realized that my imagination, lovely as it is, inhibits my ability to move peacefully through my life as it inevitably shifts and cycles.  I have developed such an ability to see something as other than it is that I've become quite clumsy at being right where I am.

Fall is traditionally a season of celebration, of abundance.  When I lived in Italy it seemed that each week brought a harvest festival for yet another crop.  Everywhere I turned, life seemed full (along with my belly).  We equate full bellies with feeling satisfied, so perhaps this is the perfect season to focus on the practice of contentment (in sanskrit, santosha). To savor what is and then let it go as something else takes shape.

Antara Drishti

I've been studying the fourth chapter of the Sutras with one of my teachers this summer.  It's all about finding our own way.  We each see the world differently. We practice so we can turn down the heat that gets the mind all frothy, so we can take action without an agenda.  Meditation is training for having awareness in the midst of life.  Though there are patterns to being human, though past and present exist for us all, we each have our own unique path.  We must pay attention to find our own way, rather than relying on what works for someone else.  This is lonely, we long for others to "get" us.  We attach to being understood.  I have faced this quite intensely in my life and though I surrendered in a big way several years ago, the desire crops up again and again.  I want to be known and understood deeply!  The ache of loneliness can take my breath away.  And without breath I lose my connection to the present.  In reality, each inhale and exhale draws me into a new moment, a different self than the one just before.  Each breath brings hope and freedom. Tonight I notice the sun setting just a tad earlier and the reality that we're edging towards late summer begins to sink in.  For the first time in my life, I'm in school during this lazy season and to my surprise I'm not at all resentful.  Turns out permaculture is as much about yoga as it is getting my hands dirty.  I'm reading this amazing book - The One Straw Revolution -  which is about life and philosophy as well as agriculture.  I found a passage that seems straight out of the Sutras fourth chapter, if I substitute "yoga/students/practice" for "agriculture/farmers/ farming."  Here's my adaptation:

A truly successful practice requires not so much arduous labor as awareness, observation, connection and persistence.  In today's yoga culture, businesses lure us into products and brands promising that by applying them to our practices according to fixed, prescribed schedules, without much thought about our unique circumstances, yogis can be sure of reliable results.  This might be termed "know-nothing" yoga - very different from "do-nothing" yoga which calls on the self to question conventional practices that may be needless or even harmful to her/his own unique body.  Let's advocate for a curiosity, openness, and willingness to fail so that we can trust.  This is not simple yoga but a more complex, aligned yoga.

Summer is a good time to explore your practice in new ways.  To break out of your usual habits.  What does this look like?  Perhaps the heat of the season poses a significant challenge.  I usually avoid evening class at all costs when the temperature rises above 70 degrees, but this year I've surrendered and found myself loving the heat.  By pushing just a little past my comfort zone I find a whole new depth to my practice.  This isn't by any means the only option.  Why not try out a new class time with a teacher you're unfamiliar with?  Or pull out your mat at home.  Both are opportunities to assess your practice through new eyes.  A vacation can also become a chance to practice alone, to explore asana, pranayama and meditation without a teacher and others surrounding you.  It can be scary and uncomfortable, and it can also be freeing to discover the teacher inside you.  No one knows your body as well as you do, practicing on your own is a way to build trust with yourself.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not calling for an end to group yoga.  There is power in community, in joining together with our breath and intention.  I think balance is the key.  We seek out space to explore on our own so we stay true to self when we come together.  We give up mindless yoga and come to class with an awareness and sense of responsibility for our own journey.  Rather than rely on someone else to point the way, we find alignment from within.