Friday, August 30, 2019

Home Practice

"Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body."
Thich Nhat Hanh

In July, I returned to the beautiful Berkshires of Western Massachusetts in the full bloom of summertime for some much needed rest and relaxation. I booked a program at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health called 'Your Practice, Your life', with Elena Brower. The outcome of this experience, was to develop a meaningful home practice that grounds and balances, bringing you home to yourself. 

As I checked in and settled in, I felt the excitement of summer landing in my body, heart and mind. I gave myself some time before the workshop began to feel into all the elements. I lounged on the grass among the colorful blossoms, and enjoyed the stunning view of Lake Mahkeenac. I took a walk down to the lake and dipped my toes in the water. I felt the warmth on my skin as the sun beamed down from the blue sky. I closed my eyes and breathed in the air to connect with all sensation. It's powerful to be present with everything that rises to the surface.

Our senses open portals, we can stay present in mind and body, while our heart shifts into spaciousness with the breath.

"You are invited to come home to y o u r s e l f. To your radiance. Your ritual. Your courage. Your clarity. Your power. Your purpose. Your strength. Your softness. Your adaptability. Your acceptance. Your endurance. Your excellence."
Elena Brower ~Practice You ~ photo credit: @verredrose

The program was more than I expected, and gave me a blank canvas for re-creating my personal practice. There was nothing too fancy about it; we moved, we breathed, we meditated, we journaled, and we rested. What I took away, was a sense of empowerment, a permission slip to move without pressure of time, or competition within myself or from others. What was left was a feeling of reassurance, to be fully human in the body I was gifted.

The presence and touch of Elena Brower feels like a warm cup of tea on a rainy day, she offers a glimpse of hope for living in our world today. With wisdom and grace, she shared simple techniques as a way to create a daily practice unattached to rigid rules or expectations. We began with stillness in an effort to stay present. We activated breath, and moved gently to explore the many layers of our being through the process of listening.

Fresh off her interviews with Eddie Sterm and Abbie Galvin, Elena shared the benefits of resonance breathing as a base for physiological healing, and the importance of ritualizing your practice to show up for yourself, with teachings that strengthen our internal world to consistently participate in our external world. Her contributions remain humble, true, and realistic. 

Practice You is a map to your highest self; a field guide of your own creation. This link connects you to Elena Brower, her book, her podcast, and her awakening deck. 

So, what does a home practice look like?

A home practice is a personal practice. It is listening, feeling and observing how your body wants to move. It is a being, breathing and sensing process. Yoga philosophy speaks about the eight limbs, yamas (attitude toward our environment), niyamas (attitudes toward ourselves), asana (physical postures), pranayama (focused breathing), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (focused concentration), dhyana (meditative absorption), and samadhi (bliss). Attempting to utilize and incorporate this structural philosophy into my daily practice has become a part of my daily tool kit. There are many creative ways to do this, and that's what makes a practice so personal and unique.

The yamas and niyamas are awarenesses of life, relationship to the self, others and our environment. I bridge these into a daily gratitude practice with a morning meditation I share with my kids. Having time to enjoy mindful movement and meditation is a luxury. I don't take for granted the opportunities I have had to train and teach. Sharing these concepts with my kids is an active process of learning and growing together. 

Practice gratitude with me.

In the space where your mind wakes, but your body is still sleeping, deepen the breath. Place your left hand over your heart and your right hand over your left hand. Hands to heart, heart to hands. Take three deep breaths, inhale followed by exhale. Think of three gratutides for your day. 

This is where the practice begins, with gratitude.

Asana is defined in Sanskrit as "the seat." More commonly, it has expanded from the seated meditation posture into any physical posture within a practice, for which there are many. Movement cares for the body. It is a looking after of your bones, muscles and tissues while helping to keep all your organs, glands and pathways healthy. Keeping an open, internal conversation between my mind and body is a guide for how I want and need to move. For example, morning is not the best time for my body, it is stiff, tight and tense from sleeping. I need a slower form of movement to warm up my muscles, and strengthen my bones. For me, a yin practice is the perfect sequence for my body in the morning or early afternoon.  Moving and stretching slowly reduces the risk of injury, and allows for breath to move in and out of the body, stimulating the circulatory, immune and digestive systems. As the day progresses, I move in a more active, fluid, and faster pace. In the early evening, I like to coordinate my breath with dynamic, vigorous, standing poses to build strength and flexibility, then wind down with a few holding poses that cool the body and relax the nervous system. 

Prepping for my weekly class is a huge part of  my personal practice. Feeling into the month, the week, the day, and the hour is a multi-sensory experience. Just as the seasons change throughout the year, the transitions in body, heart and mind are moment to moment. We can lean into the seasons of our day by taking time to notice what is happening to us and in us through mindful awareness. My practice is deeply affected by what is happening in the world, what's going on with my family, my experiences at work, and the fierce constancy of change found in nature.

Start slowly and see how and when your body likes to move. Choose four or five of your favorite poses and practice them daily. Watch as these poses evolve and change over time.

Pranayama is controlled or focused breathing. Prana is defined as "energy or life force", and ayama translates as "expansion or extension". When used alone or in conjunction with meditation or movement, the breath is the spark of the practice. Deep, focused, breathing can ground a meditation practice, or help to coordinate the rhythm of movement. Taking time to discipline yourself with breathing techniques that feel easeful in your body can shift your perception and perspective.

Breathe with me.

Find a comfortable position, connect to breath. Inhale followed by exhale.
Let the breath anchor you, settle in, stay. 
Arrive back into your body and find space to listen, notice and pause.
Sit with what arises.
Let the breath guide you back home. 

Pratyahara is a layered feeling of pulling away from your external world (the senses) and deepening into your internal world (the mind). Yoga Nidra "yogic sleep" is my personal choice for embodying pratyahara, and as a form of lying down meditation it gently guides you into dhyarana and dhyana. I listen to Yoga Nidra before bed, and sometimes in the late morning or afternoon if I have time. Yoga Nidra promotes deep rest and relaxation, it is a way for everyone to feel at home within themselves. 

Insight Timer is a FREE application for meditation and sleep.

Dhyyarana (centering) and dhyana (the zone) work together to connect with a form of meditation that feels right to concentrate on. Settle into it and the absorption follows. Inevitably, once you sit, lay down or get quiet in the body, all the things you NEED to remember quickly come back to you. And then there are the distractions; family, friends, noisy neighbors, the dust bunnies on the floor, the dishes, the laundry, and the phone. All I can say, is KEEP GOING. Set your timer for one minute, two minutes, or five minutes a day and see if it can possibly turn into ten or twenty minutes a day. 

I have never been consistent at traditional meditation. Sitting on a cushion, closing my eyes and connecting to breath is a kind of torture for my busy mind and body. My experience with meditation is through the Theraveda tradition of Buddhist philosophy. I have had weeklong trainings in Vippassana 'insight" meditation, where the breath is the main focal point. My mind wanders, I return to the breath. My nose is itching, I return to the breath. I have an ache in my back, I return to the breath. This meditation style offers a clear awareness of what is happening as it happens. Loving kindness or 'metta' meditation is a popular form of Buddhhist meditation. It is the cultivation of benevolence, and more commonly known as compassion meditation. 

I have found that adding in a layer of touch deepens my focus while meditating. This is where Reiki has been a major player in my practice. Reiki is a Japanese healing technique that sends positive intention through the hands. Placing hands over eyes, forehead, crown of head, ears, shoulders, upper chest, upper abdomen, lower abdomen, legs, knees and feet creates a circuit of energy. This electric current brings my mind to the present moment. Sensing my body through healing touch while breathing in and breathing out is a compassionate meditation experience, it is L O V E in action. 

Adding Reiki to loving kindness meditation has elevated my home practice. 

Practice compassion with me.

Place your left hand behind your head and lean back. Place your right hand over your forehead and lean in. Gently find a rhythm to your breathing, inhale followed by exhale. Connect to your experience just as it is.

Saying these words silently or aloud as an intention or Sankalpa, ( a positive vow or statement formed by the heart and mind, made in the present tense) can greatly enhance the experience.

"May I be filled with loving kindness. May I be peaceful and at ease. May I be safe and healthy. May I be happy and free."

Gently move your left hand to your heart space and your right hand over your lower abdomen. Breathe in and breathe out. Reconnect your interior awareness to your outer awareness. Think about your worthy place in this world, your community, your state, your country, and all the humans who reside with you on planet Earth.

Saying these words aloud or silently, in the home of your heart can benefit us all.

"May we ALL be filled with loving kindness. May we ALL be peaceful and at ease. May we ALL be safe and healthy. May we ALL be happy and free."

Samadhi doesn't have to be an epic pinnacle, it can be an awakening, an awareness, and a state of being within one fleeting moment. Every day offers an opportunity to be the best version of ourselves. Extending loving awareness to those around us, sharing our stories, our experiences brings in the act of compassion, a willingness to be available in our present life together. When I take the time to cultivate my practice, I feel whole, balanced and complete. Could that be bliss? Perhaps it is, a returning home to oneself.

"The greatest teacher will send you back home to yourself."
Nayyirah Waheed

Igniting my personal practice with a workshop was just what I needed to reconnect my heart and mind to body and breath. I met some wonderful people who gave their time and attention to the experience, refreshing my home practice. Truly living my yoga soldifies my definition of home; a refuge of security and comfort within oneself. 

This expanded awareness clears the path of obstructions, opening space for a present mind, a giving heart, and a steady breath. 

As a teacher, I am a forever student, reading, listening, observing, and understanding what is all around me. I am influenced and motivated by other teachers and students in my local community and beyond. In Sanskrit, the word Sangha means "association", "assembly", "company", or "community". Practicing yoga within a community that allows you to feel safe and accepted is essential. Yoga classes have the power to unite and inspire. The experience of practicing yoga with others can strengthen a home practice.

For me, the practice is about showing up, and staying present to what is happening now. Being true to myself and teaching from this place of truth allows others to trust, relax, and enjoy an authentic experience. I take great care to plan and prepare the classes I share with others. It is in the space of moving, breathing and meditating that I'll change everything I planned and teach from the heart.  

This is freedom for me. Freedom of expression. Taking time to find a way to make all I want to share surrounding this movement practice that is rooted in yoga, but constantly shifting and morphing, available and accessible to everyone. Connecting with daily rituals, meaningful connections, peaceful practices and inclusive communities are supportive ways to practice home. 

"My yoga. It doesn't matter if everything isn't perfect. My practice is just that. My practice.
It's my time to feel alive, calm and connected."
Jill Conyers

What does your home practice look like?

I am in a constant state of learning about other ways to practice mindful movement. The best way to learn is to share your story with others. Leave me a comment below, I would love to hear about how you move! 

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