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.

Summer Practice

Sunny sky Much as I love summer in Seattle, I usually like to escape the city for a trip or two.  I always take along my yoga mat, but whether it actually gets used is a toss up.  Sometimes I find I just need a break from my routine, which is a lovely thing to give yourself permission to do.  Last summer I discovered that being away was a great chance to develop my own practice.  Morning yoga by the lake before a swim invited a new layer of calm into my being.  I'm looking forward to being back in in that place for a good long while this July and August.

Before the lake in Idaho though, there's always theater.  Last week I was in Southern Oregon for an annual trip to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  Friends who are fellow yogis joined this time and they are both more adventurous about trying new studios than I am.  Emily even wrote about an experience for my blog last summer.  On this trip, she inspired me to walk a couple of blocks from our vacation rental to a beautiful studio on a quiet street in Ashland.  Rasa Yoga was the perfect place to spend the noon hour on a hot summer day.  The breeze teased the filmy curtains as I moved through reclined twists and watched a few high clouds skirt over the bright blue sky.  The teaching was familiar, spoke to the breath frequently, and promoted a balance of effort and ease--something I always appreciate in our over-asana-ized culture.  I get pretty attached to my studio and teachers in Seattle, and this experience was a nice reminder of the larger community of yoga and the benefits to trying something new.

So here's to summer, and a willingness to let go of our strict routines and embrace whatever comes along.

Slow and Steady

Here we are, over the hump of the summer solstice.  Once we actually pass over into summer, the incredible momentum and energy (usually enough to drive me insane) leading up to June 20 gives way to something more mellow.  If we let it, if we give in, summer is here to carry us along at a leisurely pace as it meanders towards autumn. Summer Sun

Speaking of pace of life, I've been thinking quite a bit in the last week about choosing a different path than "full speed ahead."  Not just how much I pack into a day or week, but how I manage and respond to what comes my way.  I think this is actually a harder road to travel.  I find it easy to go to extremes.  It's easier to decide at the beginning of a yoga class that I will practice intensely throughout - no matter what.  Trickier, much more so, is to be open to how I feel and what I need in each moment and then adjust.  This is why I practice.  Yoga teaches me awareness.  This awareness of self is not someplace I arrive at and then stop working towards, it's a continual commitment.  And I find that slowly, over time, it gets just a little bit easier to accept and surrender to.  I learn to trust myself as I know myself better and better.  And it's in this trust that I can approach life in a less extreme manner.

My dearest friends in the world just left Seattle.  They sold their house, packed up all of their things and their dog and their kids and headed east to the Rockies.  The night I said goodbye I experienced a broken heart for the first time in my life.  If you'd asked me before last week I'd have said "sure, of course I've had a broken heart before."  I just figured it was the same as sadness, as intense anguish felt after a loss.  I didn't realize it is an actual, physical pain at heart's center.  It hurt to breathe, I felt ripped apart inside.  Anytime this week that I slow down and sit in quiet, I feel it.  I am overwhelmed by the intensity and I literally can not bear it for too long.  I know myself well enough at this point in my life to recognize that this isn't avoidance.  The sorrow is so great, it must be felt and I simply can't take it on all at once.  What an inconvenience.  Wouldn't it just be easier to totally ignore it or just get it all over with at once?

Doesn't it seem that our culture would tell me to pick between those two options?  We like to fixate on all or nothing, don't we?  We're either lost or found, we're good or bad...  Once we realize we need a change, it has to come all at once, BAM, and then we're on a different path and we don't look back.

What if we adopted a different approach?  We could embrace the challenge that comes with self-awareness and commit to taking it slow, to trust that we will find our way.  Sure, we might have to fuss around a bit, it might not be a straight path (oh how we like our linear roads).  It's harder this way, less gratifying.  And it is also life-giving.  When we slow down - take life as it comes, are willing to let grief come in waves and not race to get it over with - we are rewarded with moments of peace.  We shouldn't be in such a rush to arrive at some perfect state that is painless.  We'll miss the good stuff, the space in between pain and bliss.

In a class I regularly attend, we've been practicing a stair-step pranayama lately.  We inhale for a specific count and then pause for the same count.  And then we inhale again.  This last part is an "echo breath."  It isn't logical.  I feel full of breath before the pause, and then magically, I suspend the inhale and somehow create space for even more breath.  My capacity increases just by pausing.  What a lovely lesson for life.  I take in what I can - be it pain or joy - and then rest.  At some point I will find I can take in more...effortlessly.