The Practice of Remembering

I spend a lot of time focusing my senses on external things. It’s the nature of the mind to think, to get distracted, to stay busy. I often find myself mindlessly clicking through social media with a vague sense that I’m looking for something.

I never find it, whatever I’m looking for. An answer, a connection, a direction, a purpose.

I don’t find it because it’s not out there. It’s in here.

It’s in here, in the deep dark chambers of my heart where love and fear sleep side by side.

garudasanaIt’s in here, buried in my muscles that hug my bones where tissues and issues embrace.

It’s in here, behind my ribs where my inbreath and outbreath dance cheek to cheek.

It’s in here, hiding in the space behind my eyes where seeing gives way to knowing.

It’s in here, in the attic of my soul and the basement of my body.

It’s in here, in my throat that swells with song and wails with weeping.

It’s in here, in my chest that rises in love and bows in gratitude.

It’s in me, the answer I seek, the connection I seek, the company I seek, the purpose I seek.

I don’t have to find it. I have to remember it. When I do everything falls into place. Everything falls into the place it’s always been in, I just become present enough to see it, to stay with it, to appreciate it, to inhabit it.

This is my practice. Remembering.

Wild Things

wild thingIt takes a brave soul to love a wild thing.

A wild animal, a wild heart, a wild spirit… they all require the same courage.

I didn’t start out brave, but I’m ending up brave because loving a wild thing cracks your heart open one day at a time, not all at once. I didn’t decide when I took my first wild thing home, I’m going to love deeper than I’ve ever known. I just committed to owning something. I called it an animal, but really I was committing to owning my own heart.

Yes, I thought I owned my heart before, but not like this. I didn’t realize this 5-pound animal was stretching my heart strings ever so gradually until one day I saw my heart had opened to her more than it had to any human being.

This kind of open I only trusted to an animal because only she could understand the primal rawness of my heart and how I wasn’t as tough as I seemed on the outside.

Getting to know her introduced me to another wild thing I hadn’t met formally, my heart, and taught me that all wild things need the same stuff: to be seen, to be loved, and to be free.

All my wild things have one thing in common. They understand the natural cycle of high and low, rest and intensity, life and death. They need no explanation for my tears, no definition of my mood, no justification of my worth. They are content to just be with me here, one life sitting with another.

I take them for granted, I love them more than I admit, I hold them close, and I will lose them one day. When their cycle of life is over I will find another wild thing to love. Not because they can be replaced, but because that’s what they taught me: how to love and be loved and that it’s the only way to stay truly alive.

This is the cycle of life that all wild things accept. It’s why they are content with just being, why they’re so shamelessly alive and why they forgive so easily.

They know the secret to life: This is it.

Let’s spend it together.

3 Ways to Redefine Your Relationship with Failure

Have you ever heard anyone praise failing?

What a great job you did failing! I wish I could fail like that. Or, I heard you failed, congratulations!

Failure and me have a long and troubled relationship. I keep trying to ditch it and it keeps chasing me. It makes me feel less than and not good enough. It holds me back from trying new things (because I failed the first time) and keeps me from living freely, authentically, and whole-heartedly (because I’m afraid of failing.)

As it turns out, I owe failure an apology. One of those It’s not you, it’s me apologies, because it actually turns out the problem in the relationship is not failure. It’s me.

I know it’s counterintuitive to think failure can help you succeed, but here’s 3 ways to turn your relationship with failure around:

1. Try to fail.

Steve Levitt, professor of economic at the University of Chicago says, “I always tell my students — fail quickly. The quicker you fail the more chances you have to fail at something else before you eventually maybe find the thing that you don’t fail at.”

At first glance it seems Levitt is a posterchild for success. He was listed as one of Time magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World” in 2006 and is co-author of the best-selling books Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. However, in a recent interview on failure he states, “I’ve mostly failed at everything I’ve ever done.”

Failure has a profound and powerful stigma associated with it. Developing a healthy relationship with failure is challenging. What I’m finding is the more I fail the more comfortable I’m getting with it, the less attached I am to the label and the idea that it defines me somehow. By putting myself out there to fail or succeed I’m having to dig deep for that nugget of self-confidence that can withstand both failure and success.

Thanks to Levitt, these days I can’t fail fast enough. What a relief. I get to throw myself into everything I love because I’m actually trying to fail.

2. Do a pre-mortem.

A pre-mortem is like a post-mortem, where a medical examiner figures out what killed a patient, except it’s done before. Before the patient theoretically dies, but for our purposes before your project fails, before your big effort disappoints, before your product falls flat.

Pre-mortem is a phrase coined by Gary Klein, a cognitive psychologist practicing since 1969 who studies decision-making. Klein illustrates this by having listeners envision a hypothetical failure of a six-month effort at the beginning of the project. The project doesn’t just fail, it’s an outright disaster. He then has participants spend two minutes writing down all the reasons this project failed.

By doing this at the beginning of a project we get clarity that hindsight provides before it’s over. Instead of focusing on all the ways our project (yours, mine) is destined to succeed, he’d have us reverse that process and see all the ways it can fail. He calls this “prospective hindsight,” imagining that an event has already occurred, and says it reduces over-confidence, something most of us have too much of at the beginning of a good idea.

Klein asks participants to come up with one thing that would help the project, which drums up helpful ideas that would have never come to the surface otherwise.

Doing a pre-mortem on a company level takes away the fear of individuals not looking like a team player because everyone is being asked to assume failure instead of one person trying to find the courage to speak up. It also reduces the likelihood that a postmortem will have to be done on a failed project.

3. Celebrate failure.

Our economist mentioned above, Steve Levitt, suggests that celebrating failure is the only way to make it acceptable and shift the stigma.

Yes, celebrate as in throw a party. Tell your friends. Post it on Facebook. I failed!

If that’s too much too fast, try exploring the feelings failure draws up for you from a nonjudgemental perspective or making a list of the positives that come from failure, such as an opportunity to improve the next time.

If we allow for Levitt’s concept that “failing gets something out of the way that keeps you from finding the thing that you’re actually going to be good at,” that’s definitely a reason to celebrate if you ask me.

(As a sidenote I failed miserably in trying to publish this article. I submitted it to two major online sites and was rejected by both. Thankfully it helped me revise it about ten times to make it a piece I’m really proud of. Cheers to that!)

3 Steps to Transition Mindfully

the pathWhen going through transition it can sometimes feel like we bring all of our old stuff into a new place. Kind of like moving houses. Our surroundings change, but we don’t.

I often feel resistant to change because it requires me to get uncomfortable. I sort of grin and bear it until I’m through the ickyness and back in my comfort zone.

When I approach change and transitions this way it feels as if I’m trying to walk through a door carrying five bags with me. Cumbersome, difficult, and frustrating. It’s much easier to walk through the door with one bag or no bags.

To truly transition is to “passage from one state, stage, subject, or place to another.”

It is to transform.

When I find myself at the doorway of change, internal or external, I ask myself these three questions:

1) Where are you now?

Grounding into the present moment and into our reality, whatever that may be, is essential in order to move forward.

Transitions are uncomfortable, awkward, and make us feel vulnerable. Often all we want to do is get away from the discomfort. Yet sitting with our discomfort is one of the most courageous and transformational steps we can take.

David Whyte simplifies it in his poem Start Close In: “Start close in. Don’t take the second step or the third. Start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.”

2) What do you need here? 

In a process of transition and change everything is in flux, including you. What serves you here, where you are now, may be very different from what served you a month ago or a year ago. Relationships that nourished you before may be draining now. This is your opportunity to mindfully clean house internally and create space for new opportunities and experiences to take root.

If it’s one of those five bags holding you back from crossing the threshold, leave it behind. If your glass is already overflowing there will be no room for you to receive more.

3) Where do you want to go?

In yoga there’s something called a drishti. It’s a gazing point one focuses on to stay grounded externally and aware internally. Sometimes it’s external, such as focusing on a spot on the ground in tree pose, and sometimes it’s internal. An internal drishti is when we draw our awareness inward so that we aren’t disturbed by external stimuli.

In order to stay balanced when moving in new and unknown directions the focus has to be internal because everything external is changing. Setting a soft focus on where we want to go while staying grounded in our reality enables us to step clearly in the direction of our choice.

Any transition we may be going through is fertile space to transform. Don’t just endure it. Don’t just survive it. Let it transform you. Let it ignite you. Let it deliver you to a new, unexplored place and a new, unexplored you.

The Secret to Staying Free

Rachel's skeleton

the spine

My chiropractor once shared with me that he took part in a study that observed what happened to the bones after a chiropractic adjustment.

What he saw was that 30 minutes after being adjusted the muscles pulled the bones back into their old, incorrect spot. Then 30 minutes later the muscles moved the bones back into the correct position.

It’s as if they were reminded of where they were supposed to be and then the body corrected itself.

This reminded me of what happens through yoga. We go to yoga for a metaphorical adjustment. We intentionally adjust our bodies and minds to realign them and we leave feeling great.

But our ingrained habits and traits are very strong. Yogis call these habits samskaras. They’re like the muscle that pulls what we’ve just aligned back into its old patterning over time.

Years of reacting in a certain way can reach out and grab us just when we think we’ve left them behind for good.

Longtime yoga teacher Christina Sell puts it this way: “One fun (and humbling) thing about growing up is seeing how many times I thought I was changed only to realize what I thought was lasting change was simply a moment of freedom.”

Years of practicing yoga, instituting good habits and cleaning house internally can improve our lives externally so much that we sometimes think we’ve been cured. We’re past whatever it was we wanted to get past. We’re free of whatever it was that had us in its grip.

Life has a way of testing the new-and-improved us to see if we’re really walking our talk. How we respond when life meets our expectations is not as revealing as how we respond when it doesn’t.

The practice of yoga is a unifying one, not one of disunity. Through yoga we begin to unveil the inherent unity of our mind and spirit, of our head and heart, of our body and soul.

It’s not that we create the union, it’s that we become present and still enough to observe what’s already there, thumping in our hearts and rushing through our veins.

We are already whole. We are already complete. We are already free.

The more we remind ourselves how to stay aligned, the easier it is to return there when our samskaras pull us out of alignment. This is how we find the freedom hidden in the most compressed situations and how we maintain that freedom when life becomes challenging and intense.

We keep reminding ourselves. We keep creating healthy samskaras. We keep holding space for our self to grow in, whether that means digging through dirt or blossoming in the sunlight.

When our old habits show up we allow for them, we forgive them, and we learn from them. We bathe in the freedom of being ourselves.

Tap into Your Life Force to Re-Energize

“A yogini is a professional of the interior landscape, an expert conservationist of the vital life force, Prana.” -Tenzin Palmo

Maha Prana, or the “great Prana,” is that vital life force.

I think of it as my raw aliveness.

Many of us first experience Maha Prana on our yoga mats. If you’ve ever been unable to sleep after an intense backbend class, found your body shaking midway through a powerful Vinyasa flow, or experienced a strength you didn’t know you had after holding standing poses longer than you thought possible, that’s the pranic energy flowing through you.

As Tenzin Palmo advises, the longer we practice yoga the better we get at containing, conserving, and managing this magnificent force within us.

Although we often feel great after a yoga practice, in the rest of our lives we might find our energy waxing and waning and seemingly out of our control or feel out of touch with our Prana.

When we reclaim our Prana, we reclaim our life. We tap into that great energy within us and guide it where it is most nourishing, most sustaining, and most beneficial for us and the world we live in.

wind powerMaha Prana can be broken down into 5 principle energetic functions. These are called vayus, which translates to “wind.”

If you think about the power of the literal wind when it’s wild and free versus when it’s contained, funneled or focused, you can start to get an idea how powerful these vayus can be.

Cultivating awareness of these vayus can help us stay in touch with our Prana off our mats and in our lives.

The vayus govern, not only our physical energy, but also our emotional and mental energy. Without getting into too much detail, here is a brief summary of the energetic qualities of each vayu:

  • prana-vayu is a receptive, receiving energy that moves inward, towards the center of the body. Think Inhale.
  • apana-vayu is an energy of elimination that moves downward and outward. Think Exhale.
  • samana-vayu is a unifying energy that moves from our periphery to our core.
  • udana-vayu is an expressive energy that moves upward from the throat.
  • vyana-vayu is a coordinating, connecting energy that integrates the whole body and extends from our core to our periphery.

Getting sensitive to the energy we experience in our bodies allows us to then find ways to redirect energy that’s not serving us or unblock energy that is stuck.

I see these vayus most clearly at work in yoga poses. For example, in Warrior 2 apana-vayu grounds my legs and pelvis while prana-vayu lifts and expands my torso and arms. When I hug into my core I tap into samana-vayu and when my head is balanced on my spine and my eyes softly focused over my fingertips I sense udana-vayu. Through vyana-vayu I feel the energy radiating from my core to my fingertips.

Knowing the names and details of the vayus is not the important thing. Sensing them at work in your body is what matters.

How do certain yoga poses and sequences make you feel and how do they affect your mental and physical energy? How does your body feel when you’re depressed or when you’re joyful? What happens to your breath?

Becoming sensitive but not judgmental is the balance we strive for when stepping into our skin.

I’ve found the sequencing of yoga poses and the quality of my breath has a major effect on my overall energy after my practice and through the rest of my day, sometimes even the rest of my week.

To that end I try to first listen to what my body actually needs on any given day and respect that by choosing a practice that will balance my energetic body as well as my physical body.

Sometimes that means just breathing without additional movement; sometimes that means a strong moving practice; and sometimes that means an evening of restorative yoga. (Two online resources I love for balanced energetic practices are here and here.)

Reclaiming our Prana is not a matter of charging in and demanding it obey us.

Reclaiming our Prana is a matter of stepping into our body with awareness so we can hear the quiet wind that blows through every cell of our being and gracefully and gratefully navigate the river of life that flows through each of us.

 

photo credit: Chuck Coker

The Mindful Mother

shadow swingYou chose me because you knew.

You knew I would show up for you today
And every day forward
Starting with your first breath
Ending with my last.

No lousy excuses about what I need to do
Or what’s more important
Or not now little one

It is always now for us
This is always the most important moment
This is always where I’m supposed to be
Here with you, right now

When you look at me with those clear eyes that haven’t yet seen disappointment
Or joy
Or loss
Or your own reflection in a mirror

I know you are saying:
Return to me.
Come back from wherever you are

This is why I chose you to be my mother.
Because I knew you could show up for me
I knew you would show up for me

I knew you would choose Here over There
Every time

I chose you.
And you choose me.

Originally published on elephantjournal.

4 Bedtime Poses to Help You Sleep

30 percent of adults have symptoms of insomnia.

5,000 to 6,000 fatal crashes each year may be caused by drowsy drivers.

Sleep disorders are associated with heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, cancer and high blood pressure.

At the end of the day our minds are often wired while our bodies are tight and fatigued.

“Active relaxation” is what happens when we use restorative yoga poses to both stimulate and relax the body so that it moves towards a more balanced state.

These 4 poses can easily be done in bed to calm your central nervous system and prepare your body and mind for deep, quality sleep.*

*****

Legs up the Wall (Viparita Karani)**

This is a gentle leg inversion that allows gravity to work on your lymphatic channels (an important part of our immune system) encouraging lymph fluid to circulate.

  • Viparita KaraniLay on your back and rest your legs up against your headboard or a wall. Alternately, you can lie on the floor and rest your bent legs on your mattress. (This option is great if you have very tight hamstrings.)
  • Bring your attention to your breath and try to lengthen the exhales.
  • Rest here for 5 minutes.

Child’s Pose on a Pillow (Balasana)

This forward fold calms the brain and gives your hips and thighs a gentle stretch.

  • Supported BalasanaCome into a wide-legged child’s pose on your bed with your feet touching and knees wide.
  • Stack one or two pillows in between your upper thighs and walk your torso out over the pillow.
  • Turn your head to one side and rest here 5 to 10 minutes.

Reclined Twist (Supta Matsyendrasana)

Twists are detoxifying and rejuvinating. They release tension in the back and are energizing for the spine.

  • Lie back on your mattress and bend your knees.Reclined Twist
  • Lift your hips and shift them an inch to the right.
  • Bring both legs over to the left and place your right palm on top of your left palm.
  • Keeping the knees stacked, lift your right arm and stretch it to the right.
  • Take 10 to 15 deep breaths here, releasing any tension on the exhales.
  • Repeat on the other side (shifting the hips an inch to the left.)

Left-Nostril Breathing (Chandra Bhedana)

At any moment we are breathing through only one nostril. Which nostril that is changes throughout the day.

Right-nostril breathing is associated with being more energized, increased heart rate and blood pressure, whereas left-nostril breathing reduces heart rate and blood pressure and helps to induce a more restful state.

If you feel very awake, stimulated, or jumpy when trying to fall asleep, try Left-Nostril Breathing to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, which will help your body to calm down and relax.

  • Nadi ShodhanaPlace your pillow under your hips for a comfortable seat.
  • Rest your right thumb gently on your right nostril and your right ring finger on your left nostril.
  • Gently close the right nostril.
  • Inhale through the left nostril.
  • Close the left nostril, exhale through the right.
  • Close the right, inhale through the left
  • Close the left, exhale through the right.
  • Repeat for 10 to 15 breaths.

 

*Consult your doctor before beginning any yoga regimen.

**Do not practice Viparita Karani if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure or glaucoma.

Take Heart

IMG_9958What do you think of when you hear the word courageous?

I think of someone being strong, brave, and trembling. They are not without fear; they are just with courage, which gives them the strength to face their fear.

When we are courageous or when we are encouraged we feel inflated, filled up, hopeful, inspired, and strong. When we feel discouraged the deflation is almost palpable.

The word discourage has the French root des, meaning away. The second part of the word, courage, comes from the Latin cor, which means heart.

To feel discouraged is to lose heart or to have our heart taken away.

The things that discourage us are numerous, but here are four that come to mind:

ILLNESS. When we fall ill or become injured we lose our ability to engage in the world in a physically healthy way. We become limited, dependent on others, and can perceive ourselves as weak.

Weakness is not a quality we’ve been taught to embrace. It makes us more vulnerable, more fearful, and requires submitting to the needs of our body instead of pushing our body to meet the demands of our minds.

REJECTION. Rejection discourages us because instead of receiving rejection as an opportunity to reflect and improve if need be, we tend to use it as a mirror from which we think our true value is reflected. Since our self seems to be of no value to the voice rejecting us, we lose heart.

LOSS. Loss feels like our heart is being torn out of our chest. It’s as if we lose a part of ourselves and not just a person we loved or an object we owned. It reduces us to our neediest and weakest state of being and it can feel like we will never recover.

SHAME. Brené Brown defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling that we are unworthy of love and belonging.” She explains that “there are specific memories that we can recall that can bring up shame for us, but there are also very insidious quiet messages that we just marinate in over a lifetime.”

Shame does the opposite of encouraging us to love and live freely. It makes us feel like we shouldn’t be taking up space in the world and discourages us from speaking our truth.

At their best these human experiences deflate us. At their worst they crush us. They make us question our worth, our value, and bring us face to face with our deepest needs and fears.

When we feel discouraged is when we need summon the courage from deep within to stay mindful, stay attentive, and stay rooted in our experience.

These experiences might appear to be more shadow than light when we’re in them, but just as a literal shadow changes depending on where you stand and how the light falls, so can the dark times in our life change shape depending on the perspective we choose.

The next time you feel encouraged, notice how your body seems to lift itself up from within.

When you are in need of courage, look within and listen quietly until the sound of your own breath is the only thing that whispers in your ears the truth of who you are; a truth no one can give you or take from you.

You were born with that truth and will die with that truth. The only question is what will you do with it in between.

 

We are the Lucky Ones

I was really crushed when I heard about the Malaysia Airlines tragedy.

For a moment. Then I was really angry.

I was angry about a lot of things, but mostly because I could feel the loss in my own heart. It was almost as if I was holding those broken hearts in my hands, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

So I wrote about it. I wrote about it for them and for me and for anyone who’s ever lost someone and for everyone who ever will. I wrote about it for the victims and for the survivors and for those of us who sit comfortably in our homes with our spouses and children and pets. We who get to turn off the TV when we’ve heard enough. We who get to forget about it tomorrow when we go to our jobs and return to worrying about the little things.

We are the lucky ones. We are alive.

May we be reminded of the fragility of life. May we eat differently and converse differently and live differently from here on out. May we live our lives fully while they’re ours to live.

*****

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind. – Gandhi

Those words are easy to say when it’s not your son that’s been senselessly beaten, when it’s not your daughter that’s been raped, when it’s not your parent that was in the World Trade towers, when it’s not your fiancé that was on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

Injustice rubs up offensively against our inherent sense of fairness. We want revenge, we want justice, and we want payback, but mostly we want the hole in our heart to stop bleeding. We want our suffering to end. We want the hurt to stop hurting. We want reality to stop staring us in the face even when our eyes are closed.

We want them back.

And they’re not coming back.

You who have lost, we have lost with you.
You who are howling, we howl with you.
You who are in shock, we are in shock with you.
You who are enraged, we are enraged with you.
You who are crumbling inside, we crumble with you.
You whose scream inside has not yet made it to your lips, we hear you.
You whose world just came to an end, we are here for you.

We are the only ones who are here for each other. I for you and you for me. Wherever you live, whatever you do, however you speak, we must hold each other in loss, in laughter, in life and in death.

Gandhi’s words don’t ask us to stop hurting inside. They ask us to stop hurting each other in response to our hurting inside, because if we don’t we will all end up blind and hurting and unable to help each other when we need it the most.

 

Originally published on elephantjournal.