Five Ways to Fill Your Well

I am re-blogging this fabulous post from The Practical Mystic because it resonates so much with me right now. Summer days are a time of high energy and activity, days are often full of social activities, events and trips. For me, the clear evidence that I have been letting self-care fall by the wayside is when I begin ruining those otherwise lovely, fun-filled times with friends and family by suddenly becoming a miserable grump and resenting everyone around me, including the dog and the cat (omg, especially the cat).

Part of the commitment to self, as the Practical Mystic points out, is carefully observing what your needs are today, in your body and spirit, and knowing that they will shift from day to day, season to season. My usual strong vinyasa practice is not serving me well right now and in the mornings my body is wanting to move more than be still for seated meditation. As the temperature warms and my life is in the midst of major transition, I am being drawn to more restorative or yin yoga practices, exploring tantric breath work and learning more subtle techniques for moving energy in the body.

I am thankful for the great resources offered in this post and re-commit to exploring new ways of nurturing myself in this season, paying closer attention to keeping my “well” from running dry (and I become a heinous bitch version of myself.)

And if it’s already too late and the train has derailed, don’t worry – here is some emergency first aid. I already used it this morning. (:

The Practical Mystic

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One of the things that has been turning over in my head recently harks back to a recent post, where I wondered how it was that my personal practice could be tweaked so that I could avoid burnout and illness during and after a busy period. On a walking talk with my mother the other day, she suggested that now I am in my 40s, my daily routine may need to be tweaked to reflect my changing life. After all, she said, your 40s are a time of hard work out in the world, and these busy times are likely to become the norm. Your practice needs to incorporate filling your well so that you can embrace this time, a time that you have been preparing for over the last decade and longer, without burning out, getting sick or both.

Aha! The missing piece of understanding clicked into…

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Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhan Pranayama)

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

There are three rhythms in the body: the heartbeat, the breath and the brainwaves. They are symbiotic; if we can effect one we effect all three. The breath is the doorway. It is said that breath mastery is self-mastery.

Nadi: energy channel, Shodhan: clearing, purifying, Pranayama: breathing technique/exercise

Nadi Shodhan Pranayama or Alternate Nostril Breathing is a really effective way to clear and center the mind, release tension and “clear the energy channels” prior to meditation. It is also excellent for anxiety, mental fog and working through anger. It involves coordinating breath between the left and the right nostril, stimulating harmony between the right and left sides of the brain. It works therapeutically with the respiratory and circulatory systems, lowers heart rate and balances the nervous system. <—–

Nadi Shodhan can be done any time throughout the day. When I first learned Nadi Shodhan I hated it. It was awkward and annoying and I couldn’t find a steady rhythm. But I find it an indispensable tool for calming my mind, for mental focus, clarity and relaxation. It’s really amazing.

1. Sit in a comfortable meditation posture, whatever that looks like for you. You can close your eyes or keep them open in a soft gaze ahead. Do your thing.

2. Rest your left hand on your lap or use a mudra (often Jnana mudra is used with this exercise.)

3. Bend your pointer and index fingers of your right hand in toward your palm, extending the thumb, ring and little fingers (Vishnu mudra).

4. Inhale through both nostrils. Bring your right hand to your nose and press your thumb against your right nostril, halting the passage of air.

5. Exhale through the left nostril only. Try to aim for a count of 4-ish but find what is comfortable for you. Inhale again through the left nostril only. Try and match the length of your inhale with the exhale.

6. With the ring and little finger now press against your left nostril and exhale through the right. Inhale again through the right and use thumb to block right nostril while you exhale left.

I have read to do at least nine rounds. The next level is to hold the breath at the top of the inhale for the same length of time as the inhale/exhale (count of 4, for example.) If you have never done it before, it can take some concentration and fumbling around before you find the pattern. Be patient. It is great work just to apply our minds in this way and even just the few moments we spend trying to be aware only of the inhale and exhale in itself is a great exercise.

To breathe in is an act of receiving, of absorbing, beginning again. When we breathe out we give back, we expel, we let go again. In the natural space between these two actions that continues throughout our entire lives, is a moment where we are doing neither. In essence, we just are. This is said to be a portal to the infinite, the space where God lives.

More words about Nadi Shodhan here:

Art of Living – Alternate Nostril Breathing

Psychopsysiological Effects of Nadi Shodhana Pranayama

Why Do Pranayama?

DIY.

There are many styles and traditions of meditation. You can google “How to Meditate” and get an overwhelming amount of info. Karen Maezen Miller offers her own instructions on Zazen meditation. Kundalini meditation, Transcendental Meditation, Guided Visualization, Tonglen, Qi gong…and others, all which offer great benefits and one day I hope to explore each more in depth. The closest “label” for my meditation practice is Vipassana or mindfulness meditation, which has it’s roots in the Buddhist tradition. I am not Buddhist. I am not anything. But I have found the practice of mindfulness to translate the most easily into my every day life. Plainly put, it offers me what I seek.

I support finding your own way. We like to have easy formulas to follow, we like to feel like there is a time-tested step by step process to get from point A to C or wherever we want to go. There is a lot of interesting and supportive information to help you get more out of your practice if you have one or are beginning one. But ultimately this is a Do-It-Yourself project.

As of today’s date, the first line in the Wikipedia article on meditation states, “Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit[1] or as an end in itself.”

My interpretation of meditation would read something a little different: My meditation is the practice of training my mind to return again and again to it’s natural state of awareness.

I breathe, I see, I hear, I feel. I am alive in this moment.

The original purpose of yoga postures was in preparation for sitting meditation. In fact only a few of Patangali’s 196 Yoga Sutras (the foundation of the ashtanga yoga tradition) even mentions asanas. The essential meaning of the word Yoga means unity, to join mind and body through breath and to see through the illusion of separation between us and all living things.

I have had a daily yoga practice for some time but in the beginning I frequently found that harnessing my concentration to simply sit and breathe was more difficult than any pose I have attempted to hold. The breath truly becomes the only tether.

The early morning offered the best opportunity for sitting meditation for several reasons. My child is a super early riser, waking before daylight and usually a couple of hours before my partner gets up to ready for his workday. I like to take full advantage of the quiet and stillness to begin the day with my sitting practice. I discovered that there is a sweet little window right after my son has had his breakfast where is he is actually pretty content to busy himself around the house and play independently. Taking this time first thing in the morning instead of plunging headlong into my day changes everything. It is so much easier for me to start my day mindfully than trying to to backpedal later, so even 5 minutes in the morning is helpful even if I get interrupted and have to continue later like during nap time. Of course a toddler offers hefty doses of opportunity to retain the essential qualities of flexibility.

In a snapshot, here is what it looks like:

Closing my eyes I feel my weight supported by the floor beneath me. (I like to sit on a cushion or yoga block, legs crossed with one foot in front of the other). I follow my inhales and exhales to a count of ten. And slowly begin to hone in on what it feels like to be in my body this day and what sensations or emotions have taken up residence in my physical being as well as my emotional body in the last 24 hours. Some simple breathing exercises (pranayama) help me clear and calm my mind and release muscle tension.

As thoughts come, I let them drift by and try my best not to engage them. How quickly and efficiently our minds grope and grasp! Before I know it I’ve traveled down a wormhole again and must draw myself back to the breath. I acknowledge what arises (oh and it does) and practice (key word) unconditional acceptance of whatever feelings I have toward myself, others, circumstances going on in my life.

Natalie Goldberg, a poet, teacher, meditation practitioner and bestselling author writes:“There is no success or failure, no great place you are going. You are ‘just sitting.’ To wander, to obsess, to lust—you get a flavor of the mind, a direct meeting. Without acting on any of the thoughts, you get to see how they rise up and—if you’re lucky–pass away. Sometimes we get stuck. You get to observe the nature of being stuck.”

Part way through this 60 day experiment, I felt inspired to find some venue to share my experience. I was again writing daily, and feeling like my “spiritual channels” were opened up and suddenly I was being flooded with personal insight. I won’t sugarcoat it – there were many mornings that it was very very very hard to be still. There are mornings still when it feels like the last thing I want to do. But more than most these days I crave to be in that meditative space and have found that I can frequently revisit it throughout the day while doing dishes, closing my eyes as my desk for a few moments, or pausing on a walk and looking up at the sky. I am here. It is now. This is what this moment feels like.

My sizable daily responsibilities of working, managing a household and caring for a high-needs toddler did not change, but the way I met each day and moment did.  My life did not get easier, but my own needs and feelings got easier to manage. The tight grip I was trying to maintain on what was beyond my control loosened. I felt a shift in the relentless tendency to focus on what didn’t get done, what I could be doing better, where I had slipped up. There weren’t any miraculously any more hours in the day but the wonder was that I found time. 

Just these precious few snatches of time have reshaped the landscape of my life inwardly and outwardly in such a way nothing else has. I began recording my sessions, much like Kara Leah-Grant and had the vague idea of a blog or post of some kind that might be encouraging or useful to other parents like me.

So now how do I have time to be writing this blog??? I don’t know that I do. But it kept calling to me. And since it wouldn’t shut up I finally paid attention.  And what I discovered is that it brings me great joy. And that I should do the things that bring me joy. And that when I follow joy, I feel indulgent and enthralled and revitalized with energy carries me through the activities that are a little less joy-filled. In essence: when I follow joy, joy follows me. It’s definitely a win.

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A great, short and helpful tutorial on meditation posture but author and Buddhist teacher Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel:

Introduction to Meditation Posture