Tag Archives: yoga

What Does It Mean To Spiritually Eliminate And Do You Need To Do It?

15 Sep

It’s a well known fact that elimination is vital to life. Without these biological processes, we would die. Our bodies discharge waste through complex physiological processes but do our bodies do this on a spiritual level too?

This question floated through my head during one of the most surreal yoga classes I’ve ever taken. Because focus was being placed on the first chakra, most of the exercises were geared toward the parts of our bodies dealing with physical elimination. “Think of this as spiritual potty training,” the teacher said. Yes, this is LA living. I’m lying on a mat reflecting on my anal sphincter…

The first chakra has to do with being grounded in physical life. It correlates to our physical health, basic survival needs, and personal safety as we navigate through day-to-day life. This particular teacher has been practicing yoga for years and also studied in India. I take her very seriously even though her comments sometimes make me laugh out loud.

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A toddler experiences potty training to learn how to effectively eliminate and to gain increased autonomy from her care-takers. How do we learn to effectively eliminate the “crap” from our lives that stores up as we digest “stuff” throughout the day, week, month and year(s)?

The spiritual correlation isn’t too different from the physical dimensions of our bodies. If we don’t have control over our elimination system, things will get impacted causing constipation and blockage and/or things will move through with no control. What is this crap and how do we discharge it efficiently?

All day we take things in – some of it is nourishing; some is the equivalent of junk food. We take in conversations and information, relationships and experiences. We take in work demands, personal crises, and personal joys. Our systems perceive all kinds of stimuli – positive and negative that needs to be processed, metabolized and released. In today’s modern world, we have the equivalent of spiritual pollution: exhaust from social media, our devices, traffic, arguments, reality t.v., US politics, etc., etc.

Increasingly, I need to gauge how well I’m digesting and eliminating what is not necessary; what is waste; what isn’t vital to my spiritual and nutritional health. It’s part of my health regime. At a certain point, I can’t take in anymore without completing maxing out my nervous system or soul.

Today I went for a hike. I’d had enough of the computer screen and to do list.

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Tonight, I will do a little more work and then power down. Enough.

If we’re wound too tight, we can’t let go.

What helps you unwind? Clear out? And get back to health?

 

Do You Need To Think Less And Feel More?

8 Sep

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The other day I was in a yoga class when the instructor encouraged us to “think less and feel more.” As my mind slowly let go of the endless hours spent answering email and making lists, I felt the peace of that intention. “Think less, feel more.”

As a therapist I often encourage individuals to pause from talking so they can discern what they’re actually feeling. Sometimes the feelings are incongruent with the thoughts, which people always find surprising.

Feeling gets a bad rap in a world where cognition reigns but Daniel Goleman dubbed the term “emotional intelligence” to make a case for the innate intelligence of our emotions. However, “feeling more” as the yoga teacher suggested doesn’t necessarily suggest affective registration or release. “Feeling more” can simply imply scanning the body’s sensations.

I would be completely ruined if I didn’t dial into my body. It is the only way I can regulate my mind, which often operates like a wild horse dancing in frenetic circles as if spooked. When I check in with my body, then the true power of the mind expands like a horse galloping freely in the wind.

The term yoga means union. When we slow down, think less, and breathe more, we start to unite body, mind and spirit. The bifurcation of these disparate parts mends. We feel integrated, whole and at peace again. Petty things stop mattering and what is truly of value rises to the surface. With calm comes clarity.

I Am Not A Damn Smart Phone; I Am A Body!

10 Aug

Today, in an act of defiance, I left the house for a hike and purposely left my cell phone at home. I typically take it with me even though I have a no-talking-on-the-trail rule. I like to have it in case I want to photograph something and because the hills are remote, it’s not a bad idea to carry it. Today however, I couldn’t bear to take the damn thing with me.

I debated at first. During the ten minutes it takes me to walk through the neighborhood to the mountain, I thought to call a friend I needed to get in touch with today. I also contemplated listening to a podcast. I could make use of the time and multi-task, right?

I’m so sick of multi-tasking! We reply to texts while our cars idle at traffic lights, we answer emails while we’re standing in line at the grocery store, and we talk on the phone while washing the dishes and cleaning the house. While all of this makes us extremely efficient, I am so tired of constant device time. I want to hear silence in my head for once and to look at something that is not virtual.

I never want my smart phone to become an appendage. If you look at people walking around these days, phones look like an extension of individuals’ bodies. I want my body to remain what it is – flesh and blood! I don’t want it to grow a selfie-stick or I-Phone.

On my hike, I started to feel a peace descend on me that I haven’t felt in awhile. I smelled sage, saw a butterfly cross my path as opposed to my screen, and felt myself sweating profusely in the Southern California sun. It reminded me of surfing because you can’t take your gadget out into the ocean, nor would you want to if you could. Your life depends on paying attention to what you’re doing – watching the tides and sensing the momentum of the waves.

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Our bodies too are like waves. Each inhalation and exhalation is a cycle. We need to be attune to them if we are to live in an embodied state.

For an hour and a half I was free- blessedly free. When I returned, I made breakfast and felt completely in the moment. I didn’t resent my work or my computer when I had to eventually get down to business. My body and mind had needed a break and they got one. I felt refreshed.

Seth Godin recently wrote in a blog post, “Every time I see a toddler in a stroller with an internet device in hand, I shudder.” Me too. Will that kid grow up knowing how to sense his or her body? Or how to access his or her imagination? The other day a friend and I noticed that little kids these days hold picture books and try to swipe the page or press a button. This breaks my heart. Will there come a time when books can’t hold a child’s interest because there aren’t any whistles or bells to stimulate the nervous system? Are we there already?

Technology robs us of boundaries and privacy, if we don’t set limits and reclaim quiet corners of our lives. For instance, when I was writing my book, I refused to answer non-emergency email except for during certain times of the day. I’m trying to get back to that personal protocol. I also have started to power down my devices by 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. unless I’m working on something special. I value my sleep way too much and am not a night person anyway. When I stay away from screens a few hours before bed, I sleep a full eight hours. This is something that matters to me. I am a body; not a machine.

We do everything in front of a computer. We work on-line, we pay bills on-line, date on-line, read on-line, make travel arrangements on-line, etc, etc. etc. Modernity isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. But I can carve out time for my body. I can power down, look around, and sense my surroundings. Because I am not my damn smart phone! I am a body in a human form and that is something that I never want to take for granted.

The Most Monogamous Relationship You’ll Ever Have…

6 Aug

“The most monogamous relationship you’ll ever have is with yourself,” my yoga teacher said to me when I asked her the yogi take on intimacy. After all, the word yoga means union.

How utterly boring I thought.

“The concept of romance just doesn’t exist in yoga,” she persisted.

Even more dismaying.

You learn to stay loyal to your heart.

In yogic philosophy, union stems from integration of the body, mind and spirit. Anything else is an illusion and takes one further from the desired goal of true connection with self and others.

Yet union is always available.

Sigh.

The task of staying present with compassion is the hardest work on the planet.

Yet this is the true invitation to intimacy.

And it is indeed an art form and a practice.

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Just Breathe Through It

18 Jul

Many of us have been in a yoga or exercise class where the teacher serenely says, “Just breathe through it,” while we’re swearing beneath our breath because they have us holding some ridiculous position or are asking us to do endless crunches that make our stomachs burn as if on fire. “I don’t want to breathe through it!” we often scream in our heads. “I just want this *&&^%$ pain to stop!” What do the teachers mean when they say, ‘Just breathe through it,’ like a bleeping mantra? What is the breath and why is it so powerful?

While breathing seems so simple, it’s actually something we resist when we are scared or in pain. For some reason, we’d rather not “breathe through it.” We’d prefer to avoid it – whatever that it is – and breathing makes us feel it.

The irony is that the feeling is there whether we surrender to it or not. If we hold our breath thinking we can by-pass pain, we’re actually deluding ourselves. It requires a considerable amount of energy to keep something down. In fact, pain magnifies when we suppress it. Like damning up a river, once the floodgates open, the feelings will flow forth in full force.

If we weren’t breathing, we’d be dead. Yet if we invite the breath in more consciously and more fully, we ease the process considerably.

Why is a woman in labor told to breathe, breathe, and breathe! Because she’s pushing new life into being. When she holds her breath, she makes things more difficult for herself and the baby. When she breathes, she can push more easily.

All of this sounds nice but when we’re going through excruciating times, we’re like the woman in labor who wants to tell everyone around her telling her to breathe to “f— off!” Transformation is brutal work and sometimes the labor is so long and tenuous it feels like we will die. When the healing needs are global how do we breathe through rape, violence, illness, betrayal and injustice? It’s hard to go all yoga-zen in these moments. How do we as humans endure?

On a practical level we need to actually breathe versus intellectually reflecting on it. We don’t have to engage in fancy complicated breathing exercises. We can simply imagine our breath coming in and out like an ocean wave – back and forth, back and forth. There is nothing to control, fix, stop or judge. There is nothing we have to “do.”

When we “breathe through it”, we can feel the breath’s power to cleanse, sustain and revitalize every aspect of our being. In fact, the words breath in Hebrew (ruach), in Greek (pneuma) and Sanskrit (prana) are synonymous with the words “spirit” or “wind.” This indicates a link between our breath, being, and the divine. Our breath is the life force that helps us fully embrace and enjoy the moment. It is also the conduit of transformation.

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Weird And Uncomfortable Are Invitations…

11 Jul

“Weird and uncomfortable are invitations; pain is a signal,” my yoga teacher said one evening in class. We were lying on our backs with blocks positioned under our rib cages and necks. This left the heart cavity rather open and exposed. We moderns have a tendency to hold the exact opposite posture. Sitting at desks hunched over our computers we often collapse our chests into concave positions. Furthermore, many of us unconsciously guard our hearts by wrapping our arms around our bodies self-consciously.

When we do something new it often feels weird. We can interpret that strangeness as an error. Yet my teacher suggested something entirely different. While pain is always a signal that something is wrong (and that we should stop doing whatever is inflicting it), different or uncomfortable often leads to something better.

Remember that first time you took a sip of coffee or had a bite of avocado or sushi? They might have seemed a little “off.” Well, I can’t speak for you but I worship avocados and sushi and can’t wake up without my morning coffee.

Why then do we resist the weird and uncomfortable? When these could be portals to the unknown, leading to something affirmative and good, what are we afraid of?

When we break patterns we become disoriented. What was once engrained and regular gets deconstructed and then reintegrated into a new form. This is the essence of transformation. It demands that we break outdated modes of being.

Observe children having their first experiences in water outside the womb. Infants being given their first baths often wince in distress while babies at swim lessons cling to whomever is holding them. Yet within moments they’re splashing, laughing and smiling. Suddenly the creatures in plastic diapers are now fish.

My cats used to sit in front of the screen door meowing with longing. They were desperate to chase the birds. Yet whenever I scooped one of them up in my arms and took them outside, my little tigers became terrified of the big wide world.

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All learning requires discombobulation. I remember a school teacher once saying, “Confusion is a sign of learning.” My little mind thought this was a complete contradiction. How could learning be confusing? It was supposed to be clarifying. But not always. On the road to mastery, we scramble our pre-existing knowledge base. We stretch our minds outside of their comfort zones. I once studied Greek and recall saying many times in frustration, “This is Greek to me!” Then suddenly Greek was Greek to me. I could read it. The hieroglyphics made sense.

Weird and uncomfortable are invitations. Pain is a signal.

 

Practice Creates Possibilities

15 Apr

As both an artist and psychotherapist, I have long been interested in the interplay between process and product. While we strive to create a consummate product, so much of life is about the process itself. My personal belief is that honoring and surrendering to the process creates the best outcome.

Is there such a thing as perfect? And do we even want it? The quest for perfection can kill freedom, spontanity, and creativity. Great work often comes from exploratory failures. My acting teacher always says, “It’s your job to throw up. The editor will clean it up.” In essence, just let yourself be open to the flow happening – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

My yoga teacher said a similar thing last night. “There is no perfect in yoga. That’s why we call it a practice. And the minute you think you have “it”, the moment will be gone. Then you open again to the not knowing, the fumbling, the tension, and the pushing. Then you find “it” again but for a moment. The beauty though is that the practice creates possibilities. Without a practice, everything shrinks. There are few possibilities.”

This comment really struck me because there are certain things I’ve been “practicng” all my life, one of which includes acting. Now all that practice is creating possibility. I wrote, produced, and starred in a short film and just acted in my first commercial. The film is being submitted to festivals and I am auditioning regularly for new projects. Step-by-step, or as Anne Lamott would say, “bird-by-bird.” Practice creates possibilities.

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For those of you wondering about the break in these e-newsletters and my blog, I moved to Los Angeles in February and have been getting settled here while placing focus on acting and film production. In addition, I have continued teaching Mental Health First Aid instructor trainings and have maintained my private practice. I also set a firm intention to finally get my book published by 2017.

Yet I am reminded over and over again that we need to practice “being” in the midst of the doing and that ironically when we engage in that “practice” of rest and relaxation, many opportunities emerge from the resulting spaciousness. It’s a constant tension between being and doing, process and product, will and surrender. And it is our breath and spirit that sustains us through these explorations. It is always the journey that gets us to the eventual destination. Namaste.

Valentine to the City

14 Jan

A few days ago I found myself in a hotel room with my legs up the wall in a yoga inversion pose trying to induce sleep because in the city that never sleeps, it’s often hard to dial down from the buzz. Because of NYC’s initiative to train 250,000 New Yorkers in Mental Health First Aid, there will be a number of instructor trainings to meet that said goal and thus, I was fortunate to be one of the trainers who visited here recently.

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Twenty years ago I was a New Yorker. I was one of those starry eyed youth who came to the Big Apple because why not? I will never forgot those years. Once Manhattan has been part of your life experience, it’s always in the DNA. You really can’t understand the city until you’ve lived here; until you’ve been crammed on a subway daily in winter, spring, summer and fall either bundled up in a coat or sweltering in the urine smelling tunnels when it’s 100 degrees underground. You really can’t understand the kindness of the people here until you’ve had the guy at the corner market store chat with you every morning while getting your non-Starbucks coffee in one of the cups you always see in cop shows.

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The city is a heart beat pulsing with life and vitality. I love the rumble of the trains and and the old fashioned glamour of Grand Central Station. I love track lines that take me outside the city to people and places I love and the sense that anything is possible if you put yourself in the right place at the right time and keep your eyes and heart open.

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En route to the airport a few weeks ago, my uber driver was very young. I knew he was relatively green when he put the airport address into his phone GPS when the directions are a pretty striaght shoot. I also knew he was just shy of a kid based on his demeanor, the way he spoke to me, etc. “Today is my first day as an uber driver,” he said. “I just got out of the navy and am at school. I like uber. Everything is a tax write off and I can work my own hours.” And you can also make some seriously good money, kid. Good for you! I was touched by his lack of pretense; his lack of needing to do things perfectly; and his willingness to take life by the horns. He reminded me of a young woman I met in the city who was visiting from Canada. She was here just because. It was her third trip this year because she is smitten with the city.

New York is an old city with a history and yet it retains the joie de vivre of youth. Sure, the city can wear you down. In parts of it, it’s loud and dirty and grey and gross. The rents are high and there are lots of people. Yet it’s also glorious and romantic and wild.

New York is vitamin B for the spirit. You just have to find time for a little legs up the wall to quiet down from the stimuli and to fully appreciate the vitality.

Focusing….

6 Jun

In yoga there is a balance pose that entails wrapping one’s leg around the other while standing with a semi-bent leg and then placing one’s arm over the other arm and twisting them into a pretzel-like shape. The only way to hold the pose without toppling over is to stare straight ahead at a point on the wall and not dare take your gaze away – not even for a second. I am actually quite good at this for some reason. Perhaps it is because I learned a similar technique as a child in ballet where in order to turn without getting dizzy you have to “spot” somewhere on the wall as your head and body spin around in rapid succession.

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Activities like yoga help us practice more than physical actions; they help us apply some of these concepts into our lives. How do we find balance? And how can we execute and accomplish anything when so many things compete for our attention?

I am finding that in this day of cell phones, email, multiple social and work circles, personal relationships and all of the things that compete for our attention, moment by moment I have to ask myself, “Where is the spot on the wall?” There are times when I simply have to tune out everything but the one thing that needs my focus be it a person, a loved one, an animal, or a complex task. Yet more than anything I have to focus on God as my source. He is the spot that keeps me sane and when I remember that, it is easier to concentrate during the day.

Related, Stephen Covey in his very well known book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” writes about the importance of centering one’s life around key priorities vs. abstract tasks. The latter is endless and will always bleed your life force while the former will actually help you stay centered and efficient around what really matters.

I must remember that as long as I spot, I can find my balance. And I must remember that this is a spiritual practice vs. yet one more thing I am attempting to control. Here’s to focusing so intently, the paradox results in surrender.

Creating on the Edge

18 Feb

In yoga, teachers often tell students to push themselves in a stretch only to the point where it is just starting to hurt. One is NEVER to push to the point of true pain for that defeats the whole purpose. Instead, one is told to go just to the edge of where the muscles aren’t used to being stretched and to use one’s breath to ease into new territory. In essence, this is a balance between surrender and will.

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In therapy there is a similar concept referred to as “titrating the anxiety”. This describes when an individual’s anxiety begins to increase because he or she is on the brink of a breakthrough and growth. It is a process of adding an unknown element to a known one and seeing how the two ingredients settle. Yet the resulting degree of anxiety shouldn’t be so intense that it creates terror or paralysis for that serves no one.

These concepts have vital correspondents with the creative process, for in creativity, we want to have a degree of freedom and ease, yet take the necessary risks to excel and grow. Creativity demands that we walk along the edge of the unknown. It takes us into new places, which can scare and inhibit us, as well as delight us. We become like Dorothy, at first terrified by stepping out of one’s comfort zone. Then we start to see life in technicolor as we journey through Oz.

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We live in a society with a common mindset that success results from pushing ourselves to the point of collapse. This of course is the death of creativity. Instead, we want to strike that beautiful balance between rest and motion, and stability and chaos. We also want to recognize when it’s time to slow down and refuel, so that we have the energy, courage and conviction to take new risks in the future.

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