I crane my neck to see the bride come through the doorway. She is petite in stature with a big toothy grin and fierce eyes. As she passes our small enclave of family we all take a collective breath and hold it. There are tears. We are happy for my niece Allison but the tears are because she looks so much like her Mother all of the sudden. We all see it and feel the ache in our lungs that is grief. My Sister Audrey died of stomach cancer back in May of 2014. I didn’t go to the funeral. My biological Mother passed away later that same year also from that bastard cancer. I didn’t attend that funeral either. Anger, denial, and overwhelm eclipsed my judgment. I bottled my grief and it stayed in my chest for years like a paper weight holding down…I’m not sure what. A lengthy depression, an existential crisis of sorts ensued. I lost faith and secretly disliked everyone and everything. If you have studied with me at Mission Yoga, chances are you were around for some of this though I hope I didn’t let on too much. No one wants the person they trust to inspire them secretly feeling deep despair (although you probably should but more on that another day).
Many deep breaths, tears, and a good bit of therapy later, I’m sitting at this wedding finally facing my family, Audrey’s family, and grieving. It’s perfect timing really. The season of Fall is a time to investigate what we are taking in and what we can let go of as we prepare for the coming winter. In Chinese Medicine we are in the house of the Lung/Large Intestine Meridians. Both Spring and Fall are preparation seasons. Summer is our most Yang natural expression and Winter is our most Yin natural expression. Fall is a time to get clear on what is important and to shed baggage, projects, and even people in our lives as we prepare for the dark and cold to come. This season has a bustle to it. The element of fall is metal and there is a charge to the air as briskness sets in. We have a lot to do. The busy quality, though, must be directed towards smart use of time. Minimize your commitments and say yes to less. Follow the intelligence of nature. Drop the leaves and circulate your energy closer to the core. Root down and establish steady rhythms of home and hearth
Now is the time to look at old grief too. You knew I was circling back to that right? Grief is the emotion associated with the Lungs. All human emotions are valid but if we stifle them or let them run wild without context and acknowledgement they create problems in the body, heart, and mind. Grief that is held but not processed manifests in depression, colds, allergies, and asthma. See your acupuncturist, go to yoga and breath deeply, and make some time to engage in the rituals of grieving. They serve a powerful function for us. The energy of grief must be lived through without fear of wallowing or being judged. Loss is part of life and it must be faced. If you, like me, have been too scared to face that pain, know that you are not alone and that this beautiful fall day is as good a time as any to take those deep belly breaths, cry, and feel what you feel.
This is what we’re here to do. We must learn to let go but not before we feel the full ache of each goodbye which clears the way for something new.
BY JAMES WRIGHT
The moon drops one or two feathers into the field.
The dark wheat listens.
There they are, the moon’s young, trying
Between trees, a slender woman lifts up the lovely shadow
Of her face, and now she steps into the air, now she is gone
Wholly, into the air.
I stand alone by an elder tree, I do not dare breathe
The wheat leans back toward its own darkness,
And I lean toward mine.
Think back to how you felt as Spring gave way to Sultry Summer. We were excited by the salt air and warming water, the sand between our toes, and the late evenings that stretched out like a satisfied cat in a pool of light. Schedules were abandoned and children found their wildness. Students migrated and parents panicked to find affordable Summer camps. Summer was fun, full of playful wave after wave of change. But now we are in the Secret Season known as ‘Late Summer’. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, this time of year is associated with a completely different element than summer. We have transitioned from Fire to Earth. Technically, late summer runs from the second half of August till the Autumnal Equinox on September 22nd. It’s generally a short season, but in Charleston, you know the “Indian Summer” extends well into October.
The consensus among my students is that they are hot, damp, anxious, and tired at the moment. They seem surprised by this. It makes sense. When School starts back we think of Fall, that association creates anticipation for a shift that hasn’t happened yet. We are in a moment of pause.
The quality of this time is a heavy fullness. If we can give in to that earth pull we make room for rest and quiet before the Fall appears with its rhythm of preparation and readiness for Winter. Fall has a bustle that is busy but also serious. Winter means death to any who aren’t prepared (from a hunter gatherer standpoint).
The Spleen/Stomach meridians are associated with this season so it is a great time to consider your diet. The hot dogs and beer may have taken their toll. Put down the meat stick (or the veggie dog, because those aren’t great either) and find what is growing now. Eat that. Lay off the processed carbs and let the Rose craze pass. Oh, you only ever drink green smoothies made of self grown produce anyways? Then stop reading because you’re obviously ahead of the game. But for the rest of us who love health but also indulge and commiserate with friends and family through culturally celebrated crappy diets, now is a time to reset. Of course, we will talk again as the Holidays approach.
“When Spleen chi is in balance, our cycles are in harmony. This allows all aspects of our life to be absorbed for psychosomatic nourishment . We feel earthy, sensual, full. When Spleen chi is out of balance, the whole body-mind will not receive enough usable energy, causing lethargy, weakness, or dullness.” Sarah Powers
I understand the frantic pull of the season around the corner. When we are out of balance now, we feel anxious instead of easeful, worry takes root. But the earth invites us to pause, take in nourishment, and give a moment of being to our drive of doing.
You know what’s funny? Every season I find a way to spin the forecast and prescribe naps. I’ll do it again. Take naps. Little ones. Go ahead….and after that nap, eat well and savor the fullness of Late Summer.
A soft veil dims the tender skies,
The bronzing tokens of the fall;
A calmness broods upon the hills,
And summer’s parting dream distills
A charm of silence over all.
I spend a fair amount of time contemplating the world that the classical and tantric texts arose from so that I can find context for the teachings and uncover how they might fit into my post-modern mind. Lately, I’ve been wrestling with the practice of Santosha. Taken from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Santosha (contentment) is one of the Niyamas of the 8 limbs of Yoga.
There is a feeling among my students and friends that our world today is crashing, roiling, and imploding. I’ve heard many people voice concerns over a suggested practice like contentment in a time where they feel action and change are required for our very survival. That sentiment is valid, however, the world during the period of Classical Yoga was not some better time where racism, classism, sexism, and mindless dogma didn’t exist. While people of that time were more bound to the cycle of nature and less inundated by streaming distraction pumped in on screens of all sizes, life was brutal, and short, and defined by their birthright or lack there of. Human suffering and isolation, the complexities of of the psyche, were front and center in their lived experience. Just like us. The shit has always been hitting the proverbial fan. If this is true, then Santosha might still be a purposeful practice if we can understand it.
I have heard and even mistakenly described Santosha as a practice of acceptance of what is, a practice of making peace with our external circumstances. This view is fundamentally flawed. The outer world is full of circumstances that create suffering, that wreak havoc on people and the planet. We should perceive these circumstances as problematic. We should feel concern. We can act on that concern. The practice of Santosha, when clearly understood, can help us act more skilfully with the external world.
Contentment is defined as satisfaction, fullness, and a feeling of completeness. In general that feeling of fullness is often associated with fleeting external circumstances, but it doesn’t need to be. The practice of Santosha is a remembering, evoking, and acknowledging of our innate wholeness that is not dependent on any thing outside of our selves. Contentment isn’t something that we do, it is a feeling state, an internal ok-ness that is neither given nor taken away by anyone or anything. We can carry our basic wholeness into all circumstances and find ourselves less driven by fear and lack on a core level. Confrontation can become co-creation and cooperation when navigating problems in the structure and organization of our society. We can be content inside ourselves and work with discontent outside of ourselves. We can say I’m ok, yet this is not ok.
I am complete regardless of external circumstances which will rise and fall away.
Now, by all means, go out there and save the world, but don’t do it because you’re broken. You are not a problem that needs to be fixed.
Echoes, ripples, buzz’d whispers, love-root, silk-thread,
crotch and vine,
My respiration and inspiration, the beating of my heart, the
passing of blood and air through my lungs,
The sniff of green leaves and dry leaves, and of the shore and
dark-color’d sea-rocks, and of hay in the barn,
The sound of the belch’d words of my voice loos’d to the
eddies of the wind,
A few light kisses, a few embraces, a reaching around of arms,
The play of shine and shade on the trees as the supple boughs
The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the
fields and hill-sides,
The feeling of health, the full-noon trill, the song of me rising
from bed and meeting the sun.
The gift of not knowing: How to practice at homeStudent: “Kelly, do you have any video recommendations for me while I travel this summer so I can keep up with my practice?”
Student: “Um Yeah, but…I don’t know what to do!! It won’t be as good. I’m no expert!”
I have this conversation often. Does it sound familiar to you? Let me ask you something. Do you practice yoga at a studio at least twice a week on a regular basis? If yes, then no matter how brilliant your teacher is, you are not only capable of practicing on your own, you owe it to yourself to do it. Home practice isn’t talked about or encouraged nearly enough these days. It is an absoultely pivotal aspect of the practice of yoga. Now, like I said, there are good online sources for classes you can follow along with but that is not what I’m talking about at all.
Home practice is a time when you can do that thing that every teacher tells you to do then doesn’t really want you to do in their class because it would be bedlam. It is a time to deeply listen to your body.
Most of us wash up on the shores of drop in yoga with a very large gulf between awareness and the felt experience of the body and what we percieve as self in our minds. The common response I get when I ask people how they feel:
4. Meh, I feel good…
You will never be able to make good choices for yourself until you get that conversation going. Until then, listen to your body is merely yoga speak for don’t blame me if you hurt yourself.
Your body has so much more wisdom to communicate with you than “Hey, its time to poop!” It takes time, practice, and silence….a lot of silence. It also requires that perfect quality that everyone thinks is a problem. The feeling that you don’t know what to do or how to do it right is called the practice of not knowing. It is where you want to be. Surprise!! Your excuse is actually your invitation into a deep and miraculous unfolding.
It isn’t hard or scary to begin. Here are the steps:
1. Put down a yoga mat or just lay down or just stand there or whatever…you really don’t need anything in particular. I prefer to start on my back with my knees bent and my hands on my belly, but here is the beauty, you can do anything you want.
2. Be still and wait…close your eyes and listen to the breath and wait until some desire to move or curiosity arises. Starting small is best (in my experience).
3. Follow that curiosity. If you need to, set a timer for 10 minutes and move around or lay there for 10 minutes. Pick 3 poses you like (or don’t like) and try them. Try them in different ways. In this kind of practice, less agenda is better. This isn’t the “Master your Handstand” home practice we are talking about.
4. Close your practice with a bow to the deep wisdom that you are inviting to rise and then get on with your day. It is that easy.
I’m sitting in my parked car outside of the studio, fingers curled tightly around my phone, staring at my partner who is trying desperately not to jump out and run from our conversation. Once every three weeks we talk to a therapist via the phone to help us navigate the challenge and opportunity that is US and today, the talk is particularly frustrating. The therapist asks me if I can invite more space into my voice….what she is really saying is that I need to breathe. The quality of my voice is all that she has to go on as far as the subtle subtext of communication and my speech is compressed and shrill. Yes, thats right, 15 years of yoga and I’m still forgetting to breathe.
The first thing you learn in yoga asana and meditation is that the breath is the defining tool of the practice. Why? It is the link between the the conscious choice and the automated functions of our stress response. According to yogic theory it is the bridge between the corporeal and energetic aspects of our being. The breath is also an organizing agent for our structural alignment. If you check in with your breath you will undoubtably readjust your posture to allow for more easeful and fully expressed breathing. That means the spine finds greater alignment and prana flows better.
I remember reading somewhere that when we hold the breath, we hold the soul. In other words, our breath is innately linked to our capacity to connect to our higher self (the aspect of the self that is not as caught in limiting beliefs). When breath flows, our perspective is wide and there is room for conflict and space for resolution.
As a Rolfer, I can tell by watching someone breathe how relaxed or present they are and so, how receptive they will be to the work of structural integration in that moment.
Suffice it to say that the “invitation” from my therapist/teacher to find my breath is a powerful reminder of where I am lacking integration in my yoga practice. If what I do on the mat isn’t translating into my relationships then, Huston, we have a problem!!
Here is my advice to myself as well as any one, new or seasoned to yoga on bringing the breath to the foreground:
PRACTICE AND ALL IS COMING
Patabi Jois famously said this. Now, I don’t mean that you need to do chaturangas 7 days a week at all but daily intentional practice that incorporates conscious breathing is a must. Meditating and breathing exercises as a part of self care can change a lot. Make it a morning practice just after you wake up. Do a few minutes of Pranayama and a short seated meditation. If you have trouble sticking to it…get an accountability buddy. People do that for working out so why not for waking up? Since opening Mission and becoming a Mom, my meditation practice has been spotty at best and I can see the absence of it has had a real effect.
PRACTICE WHEN IN AUTOPILOT
* Its easier to do it in these circumstances than in the most challenging practice of human relationship.
PRACTICE WITH HUMANS
We can not access the love we hold for others or ourselves when our core patterns are in the drivers seat and if you’re human, they usually will be. The breath is the tool always at your disposal that can be the feather that starts a landslide of shift in perspective and communication but we have to be so practiced at tapping in to it that we can remember in these hard times that it is right here…nearest of the near.
DO IT WITH ME NOW…..BOTH FEET ON THE FLOOR, FILL THE LUNGS, BREATHE DOWN AND BACK TO CREATE A MORE BALANCED POSTURE, FEEL THE INVITATION TO CREATE SPACE AND RECLAIM YOUR CENTER……REPEAT.