We are in this new world and culture of confessionalism when it comes to what we share about ourselves and our lives on the internet. I have been thinking lately about the moment when the confessionalism becomes a commodity of sorts. Society urges writers to share as much as they can online, to publicise themselves online in their blogs, youtube videos, and Instagram.
So I wonder, am I creating this blog as a way to publicise myself? As an author? As a "thinker?" As a yogi? Has a writer's private diary been lost in our culture?
I feel myself withdrawing from it all a bit, but I also find myself clinging to the ease of it. The need for it. The need to be heard. To have my existence witnessed, if even for a moment. I want to keep sharing the things I've learned because I know that Yoga is beyond beneficial, but I can't help reflecting on the "why" I share... I just want to make sure I'm coming from a legitimate, selfless place. And if I'm not sometimes, if I get a bit "sharey" or "personal"... is that so bad?
Where will this go? Will I eventually feel write more openly... experiencing once again that feeling of catharsis that results from an open-hearted release of self? Or will I continue to write from the Underground... and from there dispense of my critiques and studies? Or, and dare I say it, will I ultimately expel myself from the internet in total! We shall see. Until then... the new plan is to focus solely on Kriya Yoga and see what becomes of it. ~ Ashley
A Change in Plan
The Art and Science of Relaxation
During Yoga classes, wonderful changes can be seen in people. Many people walk into class with tension written on every line of their faces and on every word they speak. Aggression pervades them. Their bodies are filled with tension, worry, and unhappiness. They start practices, not necessarily difficult ones, and slowly but surely the stress and emotional turmoil begin to evaporate, melt away. They generally don't know it, but the yoga teacher can see the transformation on their faces. The students only realize their realization at the end of the lesson when they find that they are smiling, really smiling, not superficially, for the first time in days, and that they are actually singing to themselves as they walk down the street. They find that in comparison to before the lesson, they are feeling light, carefree, and have confidence in themselves. This is not an exception but the rule. These people, by the systematic process of relaxation techniques, have changed their whole attitude towards themselves, to other people and life in general. This transformation may only last for an hour or so, but it leaves a wonderful impression on the mind and helps to permanently encourage a more relaxed attitude towards life. It is a starting point from which you can fully begin to enjoy mental and physical relaxation as a normal part of your life, whether during intense activity, sleep, or whatever, and not as something that you experience only occasionally, perhaps during yoga practices.
I want your life to be an expression of relaxation and joy. The way is by cultivating the ability to relax under all conditions and at all times. Everything you practice in yoga brings about relaxation and a thorough revitalization of the body and the mind, whether it is by means of asanas, pranayama, meditation practices, or whatever. Yet there are some special techniques which are very simple, which especially bring about relaxation in a short period of time. These will be discussed below and at various stages as we make our way through our Kriya Book. ❤
Yesterday, we came to know our world through our senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting -- and through the knowing faculty of the mind. We did so by eating one raisin mindfully.
As I mentioned in the last blog post and in the first edition of our mindfulness meditation practice, there's another important aspect of this meditation: becoming aware of interconnectedness. It can be helpful to think of mindful awareness as a lens. Sometimes we use it in a very focused way, as we just did with the raisin, using all our senses to observe every detail of our experience. And sometimes we widen the lens of mindfulness so that our awareness expands to take in the bigger picture. We nurture both of these aspects of awareness as we practice.
In this wider, more spacious view, we become aware of the larger context of being, in which we can see how everything is interconnected. Sometimes called, "looking deeply," this aspect of practice helps us become aware of the multitude of causes and conditions that are a very real part of our experience in this very moment. If you would like to experience this more expansive view, I invite you to follow along with a second set of Raisin Meditation instructions.
So, as promised, here is the second mindfulness meditation practice from one of the books we have been working with: Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke.
For this practice, you will need the following:
Reflections on the Raisin Meditation
Was this really a special raisin, or was it the quality of attention we brought to the experience, the face that we were really there for the eating of it, that made the taste so vivid?
Eating can be one of life's great joys. How many such moments of sheer delight are you missing every day because you're not really there for a bite of an apple or the taste of a peach? And how many other moments are you not fully experiencing, like the smell of the morning air as you step outside or the delicate shape of the flower in your neighbor's garden that bloomed overnight? And how many joyful moments of your pregnancy (or this moment of social isolation/solitude) are you missing because you are so busy rushing from one thing to the next?
Regardless of the physical discomforts of pregnancy -- the nausea, the backaches, the shortness of breath -- and all the uncertainties and worries you may be carrying about the future (even if you aren't pregnant), if you take a moment to really see, you will find that in this very moment you are a living, breathing miracle, with a new human being growing inside of you! And if you are missing this miracle, how many more such moments will you miss during the process of childbirth and parenting?
Perhaps taking a moment to stop and ask, "Where does the joy of living exist anyway?," you may find that it exists in the sweet taste of an orange, the sudden smile that lights up your baby's face, the warmth of a hug from your partner or a friend, or the sweet smell of your baby's skin. When we practice mindfulness we become more awake and alive in the present moment, for ourselves and for our children.
In many ways, the heart of parenting is about being fully present with our children. One way we can learn how to do this is by learning how to be fully present for and connected to ourselves in our own lives right now.
Bardacke, Nancy. Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond. HarperOne, 2012.
When I look at amniotic fluid, I am looking at rain falling on orange groves. I am looking at melon fields, potatoes in wet earth, frost on pasture grasses. The blood of cows and chickens is in this tube. The nectar gathered by bees and hummingbirds is in this tube. Whatever is inside hummingbird eggs is also inside my womb. Whatever is in the world's water is here in my hands. ~ Sandra Steingraber
We come to know the world through our senses -- seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, tasting -- and through the knowing faculty of the mind. So today, we will begin our mindfulness practice by bringing our full attention to these senses, one by one, as we experience eating one raisin mindfully.
You might find this meditation a little odd. However, from a mindfulness perspective a little novelty can serve us well, waking us from habitual ways of seeing that can come between us and our direct experience of living. Thus, we are going to experiment with bringing beginner's mind to this experience, as if you were a newborn baby and had never seen a raisin before because, in truth, you have never seen this raisin before.
So, let's begin. As promised, here is the first mindfulness meditation practice from one of the books we have been working with: Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond, by Nancy Bardacke.
For this practice, you will need the following:
If you followed the instructions above, you have just eaten one raisin mindfully, bringing focused attention to each moment, observing the three pillars of experience: body sensations, thoughts, and emotions. There is much to learn from this meditation, and after you have practiced it, please spend some time processing your experience and perhaps sharing your experience with me in the comments below.
Becoming Aware of Interconnectedness
There's another important aspect of this meditation: becoming aware of interconnectedness. It can be helpful to think of mindful awareness as a lens. Sometimes we use it in a very focused way, as we just did with the raisin, using all our senses to observe every detail of our experience. And sometimes we widen the lens of mindfulness so that our awareness expands to take in the bigger picture. We nurture both of these aspects of awareness as we practice.
In this wider, more spacious view, we become aware of the larger context of being, in which we can see how everything is interconnected. Sometimes called, "looking deeply," this aspect of practice helps us become aware of the multitude of causes and conditions that are a very real part of our experience in this very moment. If you would like to experience this more expansive view, I invite you to follow along with a second set of Raisin Meditation instructions next time, in my next blog post. ❤ ~ Ashley
The World in a Raisin - A Mindfulness Meditation on Interconnectedness
~ IN THE MEANTIME, TAKE A LOOK AT THIS LITTLE YOGI ~
Bardacke, Nancy. Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond. HarperOne, 2012.
It is written in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the ancient text on yoga:
"Life is the period between one breath and the next; a person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly, acquires control of the whole being." ~ Swami Satyananda Saraswati
In yoga it is said that each person has a fixed number of breaths allocated to him. If one breathes slowly then one will live longer, for the number of breaths is allocated for the lifetime; if one breathes rapidly the given number of breaths are used up more quickly resulting in a shorter life span. Whether you accept this idea or not, there is nevertheless a great deal of truth in it. A fast breathing rate is associated with tension, fear, worry, etc. which tends to lead to bad health, unhappiness, and of course a short life. A person who breathes slowly is relaxed, calm and happy, which is conducive to longevity.
Breathing is a process that we rarely give any thought to. It occurs automatically without our awareness, yet at the same time it is often something that most people do incorrectly. If breathing is a spontaneous function of the body, how is it possible to do it incorrectly? The answer lies with our respiratory muscles which become lazy over time and cease to give optimum inhalation and exhalation (23).
How can we change the way we breathe in order to feel more relaxed, calm and happy in our day-to-day lives?
Let's continue with our journey into Kriya Yoga
To update our new readers (Hi Hannah!), over the last many blogs, we have been reading and working through two books. "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Satyananda Saraswati and another book titled, “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond" by Nancy Bardacke. In the last couple posts, we have mostly focused on building a healthy pre-meditation routine via the first yoga asana program found within the Kriya book. One (time) option for the program looks like this:
So far, I have also provided a presentation that includes photos of each individual asana/pose listed above (except for Naukasana - I'll explain that pose soon). Then I followed those items up with a brief demonstration of the poses as well as a quick Q&A regarding it. (Jala Neti information can be found here).
Let's review the breathing/pranayama portion of our Kriya Yoga program before we move on to the second lesson! :) I'm amazed at the progress I've made so far with this book. I literally feel like I am participating in my own yoga training. How do you feel about it? Feel free to comment and let me know :)
Below, you will find either a link (for email subscribers) or an audio tool (for web viewers). The audio includes our first pranayama practice! In the first half (1:00-18:00) of the recording, I take a moment to read the portion of the chapter that discusses the following important pieces of information:
Then lastly, I lead an exploration into what it means to really breathe. We break down what it means to experience abdominal breathing, middle breathing, upper breathing and finally, yogic breathing. Please feel free to skip the first half if you like, but once you get to the descriptions of the different methods of breathing, I suggest a careful listen. Sometimes these lectures have so much wonderful information and context, so if you do happen to skip the first part but are left wondering if you missed something, then perhaps give it a full listen.
A few minutes of yogic breathing daily can work wonders. It will make you much less susceptible to illness, and you will acquire more power, vitality and calmness in your daily activities. Your thinking and clarity of thought will improve.
The deep systematic yogic breathing will tend to retrain breathing nerve reflexes that may have ceased to be active by lack of use. In other words, at present you might be breathing only from the chest, hardly using the abdomen at all. Yogic breathing will start to make you breathe abdominally, intercostally and clavicularly during the day, and therefore, allow you to inhale the full amount of air that your body requires for nourishment and good health.
To develop the yogic breathing as an automatic and normal function of the body, try to develop the habit of consciously breathing yogically for a few seconds or minutes. If you feel tired or angry, sit down, or if possible lie down, and practice yogic breathing. If you can breathe slowly then your mind will become calm and revitalized.
Please, let me know if you practiced the recommended five Yogic breaths to start and how it made you feel. And don't forget, tomorrow, add two more breaths and so on. ~ Ashley
What Are We Going to Do Next?
The World in a Raisin: A Mindfulness Meditation
Saraswati, Satyananda. A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya. Yoga Publications Trust, 2013.
In my last entry, I wrote about how I am rereading two books, "A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya" by Satyananda Saraswati and another book titled, “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond" by Nancy Bardacke. I also talked about my desire to share this re-journey through these books because they are inspiring and accessible. Just like mindfulness and yoga ;) And so, in regards to the Mindfulness Book:
[It's] an invitation to use the life-changing process you are living right now as an opportunity for self-discovery, inner growth, and transformation. After all, you are living through the most transformative period in the adult life cycle, and your life – and the life of your partner – will never again be the same. So why not learn as much as you can from the process. (5)
What I like most about a Mindfulness Practice as described in the book "Mindful Birthing," is that its benefits apply to all people, not just individuals preparing for and/or experiencing labor. In fact, we could technically apply the benefits of this book to every single situation in our daily lives .
So how do we go about using this book? I think that, for the most part, I’ll share information about how the mind directly affects the physiology of labor and how the capacity to be in the present moment can be a critical skill for giving birth. We’ll learn ways to work with pain during labor, for most women in the process of giving birth, whether they intend to use pain medication or not, will experience some powerfully intense physical sensations we usually call pain. We’ll also explore helpful positions for laboring and birthing, partner skills for supporting the pregnant woman through the birth process, breastfeeding basics, and how to manage the physical and emotional needs of the postpartum family. Partners may be coming to understand that they themselves need these mindfulness skills, for they too will be having a birth experience and becoming a parent
[And so what if you’re not a woman or not having a baby.] It’s just that now, the present moment is where your life actually takes place; it’s the only time you have to learn, to grow, and to be fully alive. If you are constantly rehearsing for the future or rehashing the past, you’re missing this moment of your life, which is the only moment you ever really have. (11)
Learning to be fully present is a skill, and like any skill, it takes practice. Sometimes the present moment isn’t an easy place to be – like when you’re laboring to birth a baby. And so we practice meditation to learn how to be present with things as they are, however they are, even when they are challenging. And what we discover is that when we spend more time in the present, life becomes richer, more interesting, and certainly less stressful.
The Foundational Attitudes of a Mindfulness Practice
In the following presentation, I have chosen to read portions from a chapter in "Mindful Birthing" about the foundational attitudes necessary for cultivating mindfulness in our daily life. It's like an Audible recording, but of me reading... and sometimes Isabella babbling in the background. ;) And, as I said before, whether or not you're pregnant or your partner is... whether you practice yoga or you don't.... it doesn't matter. The benefits of a mindfulness practice are for everyone, right now.
I think we should take a look at our Kriya Book and the exercises listed there for our first Asana Program regarding pre-meditation exercises. If you've forgotten what I am referring to, read the previous blog or take a look at this photo. In the meantime, consider reading up on Jala Neti or the reasons why you might want to practice yoga :)
I have been rereading two books. One is regarding birthing with mindfulness, and the other is the most fantastic yoga handbook ever. Let’s talk about the first book first, though. The birthing book is called “Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond.” Noooo, I am not having another baby, but I am rereading this book so that I can be of better service to a pregnant yoga student of mine. (Let’s call this student Nancy, like Nancy Bardacke, the author of the book we are talking about.) Nancy is seven months pregnant with her first child and is new to yoga. I, on the other hand, gave birth to my only child (Isabella) one year and 4.5 months ago and I have been a yoga teacher since 2005. Here is Isa being awesome today.
So, to help "Nancy" prepare for the birth of her baby girl, I decided to build classes around the Mindful Birthing book so that she could start practicing Mindfulness now (in Yoga and Meditation), and so that she will be better able to use the practices during her birth and beyond. So far, the experience has been great! Not only do I feel like she is benefiting right now, but I suspect she will continue to benefit from the lessons even after she gives birth. In fact, I now recall how the mindfulness practices taught in this book also helped me after I gave birth to Isabella. Birthing is kind of a big deal. It's a transformational sort of thing. Hard to explain, but take my word for it - any tool you have handy in your proverbial tool bag during and after you give birth is priceless. The lessons found in this book should be one of those tools - for everyone.
However, while rereading the book, it suddenly felt like it had been a very long time since I was indeed “mindful.” That happens. ***Shaking it off *** Here’s how I rediscovered my lack of mindfulness whilst in my self-contained, social distancing experiment I call:
"Hermiting with Yoga and My Loves in Order to Avoid Catching the Plague Known as the Coronavirus -- A Journey & Experiment"
A week ago, after having led "Nancy" through a mindful yoga flow (pregnancy) practice, I went back to my mat and flowed for myself. Having only recently reread the first part of the book concerning The Foundational Attitudes of a Mindfulness Practice, I intentionally started practicing them. Beginner’s Mind. Non-judging. Patience. Non-striving. Trust (as Self-Reliance). Acknowledgment (Moving Toward Acceptance). Letting Be. Kindness. It felt like fresh, coronavirus-free air on my face after having spent much too long in a musty basement. The principles and foundations, to this day, have proven beneficial to me regardless of my being pregnant or not. I thought to myself; perhaps this could also be beneficial to others? I thought that perhaps I would start teaching some of the foundational principles of "Mindful Birthing" with all of my private and small group yoga students.
But then BAM. Coronavirus got even more serious and now I'm having to host our private yoga classes online via Facetime. As a result though, I had all this extra time, so I kept on reading.
My Yoga Handbook
“A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga and Kriya.” That’s a mouth full. But it’s incredible.
“It is a complete work on yoga – a complete course in the practices of integral yoga. It presents a synthesis of the various paths of yoga in a scientific and systematic manner to ensure the harmonious development and unfoldment of every aspect of the individual… [They] have tried to present the book in such a way as to lead one gradually and progressively through the practices as if learning directly from a devoted teacher. If your approach is sincere and you follow your program regularly, the benefits will unfold themselves into all the different aspects of your life” (1).
So, here is what I am thinking. I’d like to not only share with my current students what I am reading about but you guys as well. The book says:
“There are three main parts, divided into thirty-six lessons, containing various topics on both the theoretical and practical aspects of yoga, and eventually a full exposition of the ancient system of yoga. The first book of practices for beginners is intended to systematically prepare the mind and body for the more advanced practices in Book II and eventually to the higher practices of kriya yoga in Book III. The ultimate aim is to progressively lead you step by step through the different techniques so that by the end of this sadhana course, you will have an integrated approach and a full theoretical understanding of kriya yoga, as well as many other facets of yoga” (1).
Okay, so let’s do this. I don’t have much time to write (witnessing Isabella’s life comes first in my world), but as I go along, as I have a moment here or there, I’ll share something here (blog, video, quote) about this re-journey into “Mindful Birthing” and my deep dive into all things Ancient Yoga. And whether you have a child or not, whether you are pregnant or not doesn’t matter. I suspect that there is something in my perusing of these books that will prove beneficial to you. I suspect that mindfulness cultivated through meditation or yoga will help you to develop skills to navigate the uncharted waters that lie ahead with more joy, kindness, awareness, calm, and wisdom than you might have otherwise.
So…. Little by little, let’s build that yoga program together. Hold each other accountable. Learn a little here and a little there.
I wish you joy in your reflections and your journey.
These are the daily practice programs for Lesson One in the Ancient Kriya book. I suspect I'll make a video for you regarding the Yoga practices. Like, explanations of how to do the poses listed and their benefits. I'll basically lead a class. As you can see, there are three programs. You choose the program you'd like to do based on the amount of time you have to spare. The first program takes 53 minutes to complete. The last program takes 15 minutes. This should be fun ;)
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness can be defined as “the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
More on this next time, too.
 Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming to Our Senses (New York: Hyperion, 2005), 108.
For Further Reading Preparation...
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being. ~ Ashley
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