Lightness & Luminosity in Yoga Practice & In Life – The Play of the Guna-s

by Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

Do you ever feel that you have a carnival in your mind, heart, or body? 

A stuck emotion here, an attitude lingering, a ruminating thought there, an ache or pain in a joint, tight back or neck muscles – all these possibilities creating either a ‘stuckness’ or a constant motion instead of lightness and clarity.  

The ancient wisdom of yoga says that the natural state of our mind is lightness and luminosity (a state of sattva).  This lightness and luminosity can extend to our thoughts, feelings, memories, emotions, physiology, and physical bodies.  Through yoga practice that is skillful and intentional, we can foster more self-regulation. We can create the conditions to be discerning, less reactive, and positive even in the face of life’s ever-changing reality. 

Our yoga practice can teach us about the nature of things that are constantly changing and that which is always the same. It’s in the quiet space of our practice that we develop the inner muscle of awareness to see what is.  Through a skillful approach to practice, we can feel the universe within us and us within the universe. 

So, what’s constantly changing?  Pretty much everything! In yoga philosophy, we know this concept as Prakṛti.  In their book, Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support, Direction, Space, Ranju Roy and David Charlton, refer to Prakṛti as “outside.”  

Anything with form or substance is changing and is Prakṛti.  That rock, this river, my thoughts, our loved ones, the earth, the universe – it’s all in a state of constantly changing materiality.  The qualities of all materiality are the guna-s. The qualities of the guna-s are described as:

Sattva Guna – Lightness, Clarity, Harmony, Buoyant, Joy, Understanding

Raja Guna – Movement, Activation, Mobilization, Turbulence 

Tama Guna – Inertia, Stability, Stickiness.

In life and on the mat, the play of the guna-s will find us. If we have too much raja guna, we may experience more pain, anger, greed, agitation, and anxiety.  More balanced raja guna will support motivation and creativity for changes that are necessary.  

When tama guna is dominant, we may feel stuck, deluded, indifferent, heavy, ignorant, limited or restrained. When tama guna is balanced, it may provide a sense of stillness, stability, groundedness and structure.  

When we balance tamas and rajas, we come closer to the state of sattva where inner wisdom, discerning awareness, clarity, and a sense of connectedness persist. Our yoga practice can cultivate a sattvic state where we are able to perceive unchanging source, referred to as Puruṣa.  Think of this as “inside.” 

You may have had the experience of taking yourself from a rajasic state (anxious, in constant motion, distracted) or a tamasic state (dull, listless, foggy, sluggish) and landed in a place in your yoga practice where you feel light, luminous, and more knowing of inner truths.  This is the sattvic state and a goal of yoga practice. 

The sattvic state is where we “park” everything – aches and pains, symptoms our bodies experience, the reality of constant change, the drama of our thoughts, feelings, attitudes, moods, reactions, and behaviors. When we “park” everything, we’re not suppressing it. We’re just resting it in the support of our practice so that we experience the light and luminosity of unchanging source.  By parking everything, we can often be more discerning in how we transform through difficulties.  Call this whatever you want for yourself, knowing that resting in the awareness of unchanging source is helpful, healing, and whole.  It is there that we can allow all of life’s experiences to be a source of growth and transformation.

If we can take the time to see the guna-s at play in our lives and then collaborate with them in our practice, we can avoid being trapped or enmeshed by them.  Like often attracts like. If we’re in constant motion, we may be attracted to constant motion and distraction in our yoga practice and in Life.  If we’re dull and listless, we may not even make it to the mat, avoiding the work that may be helpful. Ultimately, a goal of yoga practice is to bring about a sense of lightness, luminosity and clarity. 

Observing what’s happening without judgement and taking a small step in the opposite direction is a start toward creating a more proportionally helpful soup of the guna-s.  We can use the play of the guna-s in our practice and be grateful for what each guna provides in our practice and in our life.  

Tama Guna 

Prepares the structure for our practice

Put supports in place like a chair, the earth, a view of a tree, a candle

Cultivates stability, trust, and groundedness

Raja Guna

Provides a starting point

Puts forth a goal or intention for the practice

Helps us take intelligent steps toward the goal of our practice

Cultivates creativity and change

Sattva Guna

Cultivates illumination and light, spaciousness, and openness 

Provides insight into suffering and the causes of suffering and how it manifests in our life and in our relationships

Provide the means to change habitual tendencies that create suffering

Helps us track progress 

“Sattva is the natural quality of the mind, rajas of the life-force and tamas of the physical body.”

-David Frawley in From the River of Heaven

 

My teacher, Gary Kraftsow, has advice about cultivating a sattvic mind. He offers recommendations like:

  • Study and understand teachings
  • Cultivate discernment and non-attachment
  • Avoid being excessive in acquisitions and actions 
  • Avoid laziness and too much sleep
  • Practice self-care
  • Watch what you feed your mind
  • Be in good company
  • Practice serenity in the face of praise or blame
  • Be humble
  • Be truthful and respectful 
  • Help others
  • Awaken your faith
  • Endure during times of stress 

The guna-s are always in constant movement, co-mingling in different proportions.  We get our own individual experience of how the guna-s impact our physical bodies, physiology and minds through personality, cognition, emotions, and identity.  We can use our yoga practice to observe the guna-s (aka the carnival!) and gently coax them into the proportions that help us connect to lightness, luminosity, and clarity.  

What is Acupuncture? Ancient Practice For Modern Living

Written By: Dr. E. Reenah McGill of The Healing Energy Center (located inside 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness)

Hi, thanks for taking your time to read this short informative blog. Let me introduce myself as Dr. Reenah McGill. I offer acupuncture and acupressure a form of Chinese medicine, at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness. This will be the first of many blogs to help you learn more about this modality which can help YOU Live, Love and Learn with greater joy and harmony in a PAIN FREE body.

I’d first like to introduce a centuries old method to handle pain to do that.  No, it’s not Yoga, but does work together with Yoga. It is Acupuncture.

Acupuncture has been practiced for over 5,000 years on almost every continent and in many cultures.

What is acupuncture? How might it help relieve you of:

  • pain
  • tension
  • discomfort
  • migraines
  • headaches
  • plus other conditions

Acupuncture is a 5000 year old healthcare system that has proven itself over this time to help people enjoy their life more fully. It does this by re-balancing the energy system, called Qi, and removing blocks of pain that have stopped or slowed you down. It helps you build strong and balanced bodies and minds, especially with the additional use of herbs.

In my practice I use a combination of acupuncture, acupressure, herbs, moxibustion, cupping and other modalities. Together these are known as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). TCM is a preferred form of healthcare based on its effectiveness, affordability and lack of adverse side-effects when compared to Western medicine.

In a nutshell, acupuncture is using very thin needles (which rarely causes any discomfort to you, the patient) and your body so your energy is redirected to a healthier flow bringing balance into your body and mind plus relief from pain and discomfort. 

The very thin needles are inserted in very specific places based on what is bothering you and are left there for 20-30 minutes while you relax.  They are then removed and we review how you are feeling. Many clients find multiple sessions are helpful. I am here to support you in your health intentions.

Learn more about Dr. McGill HERE

Visit her website HERE

Dr. McGill has practiced acupuncture for over 25 years, and has been at 5 Koshas for over 5 years. She shares that “Currently Medicare covers it for low back pain and the VA recommends and pays for it to treat a wide variety of conditions from body pain to better sleep.”

To learn more about these conditions, have questions answered or to schedule an appointment, contact Dr. McGill by calling or texting her at: (818) 378-9882

Harvest: The Gathering of the Crop

By Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

We plant seeds, sometimes with great intention and clarity.  We have a plan and things are working out.  The harvest is bountiful and rich beyond measure.   

The more common situation in life is that seeds are planted but there are obstacles.  We’re still open to the process and looking optimistically to the harvest but we know our methods need to change or be refined. We can avoid harvest failure with the right inputs.  

Other times, we are stuck in the muck, unsure of either what to plant, where to plant it or how to take care of it.  These times are often precipitated by big transitions that may be planned or unanticipated.  Leaving home, getting married, starting a family, a job change, starting a business, closing a business, moving, divorce, retiring, the death of a loved one or friend or a global pandemic are just some examples of things that get us stuck in the muck.  There may be a sense of indecision, a gnawing, an inner discomfort, a disconnection from what feels like an inner alignment, or a frozenness.  

These times of uncertainty will always be part of the journey. When we are in the muck, uncertain of our direction, but knowing that we need to do something different or make a change, the ancients guided us in a few ideas about what to do.    

The Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali are one of the key philosophical texts of yoga that lay out teachings on the mind and how to cultivate mental clarity and discernment.  They had ideas about how to dig our way out of the muck.  One of my favorite sections is 1.32 to 1.39, a list of practical solutions when you are stuck in suffering:   

  • Commit to the practice of a single principle (1.32) – This might be something as simple as committing to some daily journaling to gain clarity when things are not clear.   
  • Cultivate mental attitudes of friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion toward those who suffer, joy towards those whose action are virtuous, equanimity or disengagement from those who act poorly (1.33) – If we can cultivate these mental attitudes, we will be sorting things out from a place of peace, non-grasping and equanimity instead of being pulled by competition, attachments or aversions. 
  • Pay attention to exhale and suspension of exhale (1.34) – We gain mental clarity by working with our breath to reduce the stress response and quiet the mind and emotions so that we have clear discernment in making decisions. 
  • Work on mastery of the senses (1.35) – Our senses can pull us in many directions but typically the senses run in the direction of avoiding aversions and toward attachments. Our senses like to offer up false solutions by keeping us clinging to what offers a short-term ease from the discomfort of growth. 
  • Mediate on that light that is beyond the mind (1.36) – Meditating on light is common in many of the world’s religious traditions and it stands the test of time for cultivating clarity, optimism, and faith.  
  • Meditate on an inspired being or object (1.37) – This is one of my favorite ideas on this list.  What if we invited into the banquet table in our hearts all those who inspire us to seek their wise counsel?  
  • Pay attention to your sleep and dreams (1.38) – My teacher always counseled that the dreams in the wee hours of the morning are the ones to pay attention to.  This is the time when unconscious problem-solving or other weird, way-out things come up to be sifted and sorted. 
  • Meditate on something that is meaningful to you (1.39) – And this is the ultimate wisdom of the ancients.  What works for us may be something very deeply personal.  I personally like to meditate on plants as a representation of the possibility for growth.  From the muck comes the harvest of trees, fruits, vegetables and flowers! 

These teachings are timeless and relevant to situations and times in life where we get stuck in the muck.  Through conscious intention we can plant seeds and apply the tools for gaining clarity and discernment.  We can foster growth.  We can produce the harvest.  

Chocolate

By Heather Van Dalfsen, MEd, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

Habits are always of interest to me. Even though they are part of our human experience, many of us move through life and our habits on ‘cruise control,’ a subconscious auto-pilot, where we don’t stop to see, hear and feel what is happening. 

There are some days we pause. The infamous New Year’s Eve. When we are inundated to at least try at the dawn of every new year to launch the creation of a new habit or resolve a current habit. 

Habit: A routine of behavior that is repeated regularly 

Intention: Commitment to carrying out an action, creating a plan.

So when do we have time to pause and take ourselves off of ‘cruise control’ to review our habits? If that occurs then what happens next?

The reality is habits and intentions are influenced by so many layers of our life

LAYERS: Gary Kraftsow, Yoga Therapist and Founder of the American Viniyoga Institute explores this through a model that invites you to review your habits through the layers of your:

Environment

Society

Co-workers

Family

Physical health

Physiological health

Thoughts, Behavior, Mood 

 

INTERCONNECTED: Even though this can be a lot to process, all these layers of our life are interconnected, giving us many entry points – doorways ‘in’ to continue reflecting, learning and transforming ourselves. 

How do we take ourselves off ‘cruise control?’

LESS IS MORE – Start small. So small that you are able to take a few minutes each day to engage in something from the list below

BE KIND – To yourself. Everyday. This is an ongoing practice and a foundational powerhouse that is always on your side

MOVE – Many experts in the field of ‘Habits’ encourage movement

  • Walk, dance, do yoga, gardening…what interests you?
  • Most movement offers individuals the opportunity to sharpen their attention and be mindful of what they see, hear and feel

THE WORLD OF APPS – While this would seem to be the antithesis of movement, it can offer a fresh perspective on this topic

  • When you take the time to research ‘Apps to Support Habit Change’ the options are plentiful
  • Some are witty, one was created by a Nobel Prize winner, while others are complex, many offer an efficient way to zoom in on your short and long term intentions and systematize your progress

WRITE IT DOWN – Whether using your computer or pen and paper, anchor this time of writing with an existing ritual – while drinking your coffee, before or after your movements or yoga practice, during a pause to eat a piece of chocolate

  • Create a ‘home base’ to support your ritual of documenting your thoughts, observations, intentions

Some questions to keep you curious and engaged:

  • ‘In this season of life what are my habits of speech, actions, thoughts?
  • ‘What habits serve me well at this time as I navigate life? What habits are not as helpful at this time?’
  • ‘What could I add to my daily routine? What could I take away?’
  • ‘What supports me in this review, planning and actions of my life?’

MORNING: Take a minute in the morning to write down a word or phrase that sets the intention and tone for yourself and what you are focused on for the day.

EVENING: Write down words or phrases that ‘distill the essence’ of your day. You could even use the list of layers shared earlier, writing down what you observed about your interaction with co-workers, family and most importantly, yourself!

MUSIC & MANTRA – Sing, hum, silently create sound in your mind

  • A centuries old strategy that can support your body, nervous system, mind and emotions and this current momentum of life
  • Mantra to support a powerful, short practice – SA TA NA MA
    • Translation: SA-Birth, TA-Life, NA-Death, MA-Rebirth
    • Add movement as you say or sing the mantra – palms open 
      • As you say/sing SA – Thumb and first finger touch
      • As you say/sing TA – Thumb and middle finger touch
      • As you say/sing NA – Thumb and ring finger touch
      • As you say/sing MA – Thumb and last finger touch
      • Repeat to create a shift from ‘cruise control’

Now take a deep beath. As always this is an ongoing practice. So, what caught your attention within the words and strategies shared here? There is so much more to explore, learn and integrate when it comes to habits. For now trust you are in good company with this process. 

And…Don’t forget to grab a big piece of your favorite chocolate!

Remembering

By Heather Van Dalfsen, MEd, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT | Photo Credit: Heather Van Dalfsen

I Remember…

When my 7th grade English teacher offered this writing prompt, I sat up with my attention.

“Short, detailed slices of your life,” he repeated as he moved around the room in his cadenced, heavy-heeled walking pace.

He loved his students, he loved words and he knew how to mine experience after experience from teenagers’ growing minds and hearts.

After watching him walk by my desk, I was ready. Big, bubble cursive letters across the top of my paper read I REMEMBER and I began.

I REMEMBER…

  • Fields of grass
  • Humid summers
  • Bikes, radios, riding horses bareback, no helmets, no watches, no cellphones, no deadlines
  • Big blue sky, clouds, heavy humidity, storms, thunder, tornado warnings, then sunshine and more stifling humidity
  • Shade when in the woods, the white ribbon trail from the white ribbons my best friend’s brother tied on the tree trunks – connecting our houses on either side of the quarter-mile swath of dense pine and maples
  • The tree at the edge of the woods, rising above the roof of my parents’ home, perfect ladder-like branches to the top, sitting there within the tree’s canopy, among initials lost in the texture of the bark
  • Breathing with the tree
  • Listening with the tree
  • Dissolving into the coolness of the breeze through the branches, tucked away, high above everything, quiet, alive

It was then that the loss of time and ease of effort lured me into deeper pauses of presence.

I sensed it and liked it, yet as a pre-teen, wasn’t sure what to do with it. So it was tucked away as memories.

Decades later, I remember. Those moments rise-up with clarity, especially when in the presence of trees, soft winds and humidity of summer. Timeless. Effortless.

Reflections:

  • I ask myself: How has my relationship and understanding with those timeless moments
    evolved?
  • I ask you: What experiences invite you into a few breath cycles or longer pauses of mindful, present awareness?

Doorways In:

  • What movements or moments feel natural and intuitive to you? Walking, biking,
    climbing, time with horses, being in the presence of trees? other examples?
  • Which of your senses supports you in being present?
  • What symbols in nature are you most connected to?
  • Sit down, write, reflecting with: I Remember…. What rises-up for you?

Short ‘Yoga Snack’ Practice to support being mindful and present in the heart and heat of summer:

  • Find a favorite space outdoors or indoors
  • Sit or stand and sense how you are connected to the earth, ground or floor
  • Take three steady breath cycles – breathing in and breathing out
  • When external warm temperatures or a sense of heat within yourself, explore three breath cycles of Sitali or Sitkari Breath – a technique I call ‘cooling – calming’ breath
    o Sitali Breath – stick out your tongue and curl it – another option is Sitkari Breath, tongue softly placed behind the top row of teeth, the bottom row of teeth slightly dropping from the top row of teeth
    o Inhale along wet tongue, ‘sipping in’ inhale
    o At peak of inhale let tongue touch roof of mouth and pause
    o Exhale through both nostrils as tongue relaxes, jaw relaxes, let shoulders relax, sense the soft gravity pull of the earth
  • Practice ‘cooling -calming’ breath for three breath cycles, softening eyes to closure
  • Then Breathe freely
  • Listen to the sounds of the space you are in
  • Notice what you feel through the hands, along the skin
  • Sense the colors and textures of the space, even with eyes closed
  • Continue to breathe freely as you open your eyes

May these reflections and short practice support you in remembering what you always have known – your ability to pause and be present, understand and trust your wisdom and integrate it into your life.

Donna Farhi shares her wisdom that reflects the depth of these practices:
“When we begin Yoga practice, we are signing up for a lifelong apprenticeship with our Self and to the Self. Nothing can replace the minutes, hours and days of practice, observation and just plain old trial and error involved in a lifelong apprenticeship. It is the very slowness of this apprenticeship that is the healing, for in slowing down we fall into a more natural rhythm with life and with ourselves. Thus we gradually change, gradually understand, gradually integrate….” From Bringing Yoga to Life

Reduce Your ‘Coronasomnia’ and Get Your Sleep Back on Track with Yoga

by Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT

When sleep escapes you and fatigue is your daytime companion, it’s time to evaluate what actions you can take to improve sleep.  Your yoga toolbox has many tools, but you need to know which ones to apply to your situation.   

Insomnia was a major health issue across the population before the pandemic.  As routines were disrupted and stress amplified during the pandemic, more people are suffering with insomnia or ‘coronasomnia’.  Occasional sleeplessness is part of the human condition but chronic problems with sleeplessness can take a toll on physical and mental health.

The roots of sleeplessness may be related to stress, age, hormonal changes, pain, digestive distress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, other health issues, medication side effects, lack of exercise or the wrong timing of it for your body, diet, or lifestyle routines.  Yoga is especially helpful for reducing symptoms of stress, anxiety, pain, and digestive distress – all big disruptors of sound sleep.  Yoga also creates awareness around factors that impact the body’s natural rhythms of wakefulness and sleepiness.

The tools of yoga are skillfully applied based on the characteristics of sleeplessness.  Some people have trouble falling asleep.  Others wake in the middle of the night.  The early risers may wake at 4 am even though the alarm is set for 6 am.  And some individuals sleep for 8 – 10 hours yet never feel rested and refreshed.  An assessment of what is happening for you is a first step in applying the tools that may be helpful.

One of the issues that has emerged during the pandemic is drastic changes in personal, work, school, and household routines.  Working parents of school age children have had some of the most drastic shifts in their routines.  These shifts in routines can be a major source of sleep problems.  One way to approach this is to see what is now returning to normal as we emerge out of the pandemic (hopefully!) and what might still be hanging on as a habit formed during the pandemic.  Some habits are major sleep disruptors – caffeine after mid-day, lack of exercise, no outside time or natural light before mid-day, high sugar consumption, and late in the day heavy meals, consumption of alcohol, too much alcohol and use of electronic devices.

Yoga tools that may be used for sleeplessness include yoga postures, breath adaptation in the postures, breathing practices, guided relaxation, meditation, or sound.  If you work with a Yoga Therapist to improve sleep and reduce daytime fatigue, you might work on:

  • Setting the stage for better sleep with lifestyle techniques and environmental controls
  • Unwinding tightness, tension and pain using yoga postures
  • Using yoga postures and breathing to fall asleep
  • Techniques you can use in bed when you wake during the night
  • Ideas for managing waking early
  • Quick and easy techniques for dealing with daytime fatigue
  • Changing attitudes and stress around managing sleeplessness.

One of the most common experiences of sleeplessness is not being able to fall asleep because of stress and repetitive negative or worrisome thoughts or strong emotions.  Keep in mind that the more stressful the day, the more valuable some movement and breathing to reduce stress hormones.  Yoga tools that may be applied in this situation include lifestyle changes, and a short evening yoga practice of simple postures with breath adaptation, a short breathing practice that promotes calmness, and guided relaxation or meditation.

Here’s one scenario for falling asleep at night:

  • Write down any reminders you need to offload from the chatter in your mind to empty yourself of the day.
  • Turn off the electronics.
  • Take a hot shower or bath.
  • Do a few favorite yoga postures slowly and with progressively lengthening exhales through 4 – 6 repetitions. You might start with a standing posture, then do a kneeling posture, then transition to your back to do a few postures.
  • Crawl into bed and visualize a favorite place in nature. Keep that visualization in your mind’s eye.
  • Make your inhale extremely easy such as 4 sec – 6 sec. Then progressively make the exhale longer (4 breaths with each step that you increase the exhale) until it is twice as long as your inhale.

Whether you need better sleep, more sleep, or better energy during the day, your yoga toolbox has options for skillful action.  You can learn how to use your yoga tools for sweet dreams at night and vitality and clear thinking during the day.

Fresh Air, Perspectives & Possibilities

By Heather Van Dalfsen, MEd. C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist and Viniyoga Teacher

Your outdoor ‘green space’ yoga practice invites you to reconnect with the earth, stretch to the sky, inhale fresh oxygen and exhale a sense of groundedness – present for even one breath cycle, especially after such a significant year of change, challenges and growth.

Sip in the sweet benefits of outdoor yoga:

  • Be a Kid Again – sense you are connected to the ground and reach to the sky
  • Practice Concentration – deepen your awareness and your practice of being present
  • Hone Your Proprioception – understanding the advanced sense of your body in space that helps you with stability, balance and movement
  • Plug in to the Totality of the Experience – be one with the beauty from birds to bugs, sun and clouds.
  • Engage Your 5 Senses and Be Inspired – reconnect to what is important to you

For a personal practice, rolling out your mat on your patio, in the grass or beside your favorite water provides a familiar space to take 10-15 minutes to breathe and stretch into your favorite postures and movements.

Group classes in ‘green space’ invites you to find balance with your heightened five senses and to practice a sense of tranquility and calm.

The grass that tickles your hand, the birdsong that makes you look into the trees and the bug that wants to join you on your mat also provide you the opportunity to stop, breathe, observe and be present.

“If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything, it is open to everything. In the beginners mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s mind there are few,” shares Shunryu Suzuki, author of ‘Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.’

Be engaged, be curious, be open to your beginners mind this summer and practice creating fresh perspectives and possibilities that can be supportive through life’s ease and challenges.

You will be welcomed to these Summer 2021 outdoor classes:

Yoga atop Rib Mountain – Outdoor, In-Person class and streamed live June 7 through September 27, 5:30 pm at the amphitheater. A lot of space to roll out your mat, reconnect with people, nature and what you need to re-center. State park sticker needed if parking near the amphitheater. Join Heather Van Dalfsen – Paid pre-class registration appreciated. More Details + Register HERE

Night Out at the Woodson – Yoga in the Sculpture Garden First Thursdays, June 3, July 1 and August 5, 5:30 pm-6:30 pm – Free to all ages. Join Mary Kluz within the expansive space of sun and shade in the Sculpture Garden. More Details + Register HERE

Be Like the Wildflowers: Return to the Core of Who You Are, Rest, Digest, Bloom

By Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT 

How can we emerge from this year?   Let’s just say it.  It’s been a crazy year.  Uncertainty and quickly changing circumstances have dominated our lives.  Situations and events that tear at the heart have happened with greater frequency.  Even the most balanced and steady among us have felt stress, anxiety, loss, and grief.  I’ve been thinking about how wildflowers have some answers for us.  

Every year wildflowers return to the core of who they are, allowing their brilliance and show-stopping displays to whither and return to the earth as compost.  I’m not suggesting that you turn yourself into compost right now, but prioritizing some time to be with yourself in quiet reflection is a great alternative.  Turn off the news.  Shut down the electronics.  Let nature be a therapeutic balm for your senses.  Breathe.  Courageously know yourself.  

One of our students has a ritual of watching the sun rise over the Wisconsin River.  It’s his contemplative time of day.  Rituals of connecting to nature, the cycles of the day or season, and faith are all powerful ways to return to the core of who you are.  

Breathing deeply is also another way of returning to Self, that part of you that is unchanging.  Self is that center that is unchanged by the drama all around.  And the quickest way to return to that core is via the breath.  Even 12 deep breaths can lead you home.    

Wildflowers rest.  In all my years of teaching yoga, teaching teachers, mentoring students, and working with clients on therapeutic practices, I’ve never seen a time where people have been so in need of deep rejuvenating rest.  The chronic stress and anxieties of this last year drain our systems.  We can become like wildflowers without any food, water, or sunshine.  

Movement practices like gentle breath-infused yoga postures, Tai Chi, embodiment, Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) or any movement done in a meditative way are all wonderful ways to slow down and provide nourishment in the form of circulation to muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons, fascia, organs, glands, the brain, and entire nervous system.  It is just like giving a wildflower some oak leaf mulch, warm spring rain and a good dose of sunshine.  Even if you are extremely attracted to a hard driving workout, it’s supportive of your immunity to do a gentle practice at least once a week to rest and rejuvenate.  

Guided relaxation and meditation also help with deep rest.  Even 5 – 10 minutes of relaxing music with legs up on an ottoman or chair or up the wall will signal to your body to do its “rest and digest” function.  This is particularly helpful to our immune system and can support the work of your Covid-19 vaccine.  

Wildflowers digest food, water, and sunshine to emerge in the spring.  We too need nutritious food, water, and light to digest the experiences of this last year.  There are many ways to digest what has happened.  Loss and grief and coping with change looks different for each person.  Prioritizing some time for what helps you is a good start.  As we emerge, we risk jumping back on hamster wheels that are not really our own.  Find what really nourishes you and helps you process what happened this last year.  Some people meditate, some journal, some take counsel in a good friend, some pray, and others return to activities that help them feel like they are contributing to the greater good.  It is enormously helpful to have a process that helps you feel like you are digesting your own individual experience to reflect on what’s been lost, what remains and what feels more important than ever before. 

And that brings us to blooming.  Without fail, the wildflowers return each spring.  From delicate, almost Victorian-like preciousness to bold and strong displays, they return.  They have used the gift of returning to their core, resting, and digesting to emerge once again.    

The lessons for us as we emerge are perhaps simple.  Be like the wildflowers:

  • Return to the core of who you are for at least 5 minutes each day.  Take in nature through the senses.  Breathe deeply.  Turn off the drama of the world for some time every day.   
  • Prioritize some rest in a way that helps your body achieve its most optimal immunity.  We all need that right now.  In fact, the entire world is banking on every human building immunity.  Schedule your restful self-care.  
  • Digest and process the experiences of this last year in a way that suits you.  Reflect on what has been lost, what remains and what feels more important than ever before.  And set your sights to that light of inspiration.  
  • As the time comes, bloom!  Don’t feel any need to rush the process of emerging.  Let what is meant to manifest in your life do so.  Honor the cycle that we are in right now as it is likely to be different with some small and large changes.    

May your mind-body practice (and vaccine) support you like soil, food, water, and sunshine nourishes those wildflowers. 

Em.Bodi.Ment: Movement Exploration Of One’s Authentic Self

By Pamela Luedtke: Certified Brain Gym Instructor, Dance Instructor, Certified Pilates Instructor 

 

Read More About Pam Here 

 

When I was first introduced to the idea of dance improvisation at age 13, the idea of moving how I felt seemed abstract. The structure of my dance experience included my instructor demonstrated and my fellow dancers and I would reproduce what we saw the best we could. When asked to improve, I froze and then began with what I thought was asked from me to dance steps that were instructed in a different sequence of my choice. I was curious at that awkward moment of realizing that there was more to dance than being told to move a certain way, I simply never was taught how to move as my authentic self. This was a starting point and the beginning of a personal lifetime quest to not only experience my authentic self through movement but also to develop a process to instruct and share the expansive and healing nature of movement.

My humble attempt to create a starting point to personal movement choice is through repetitive actions. In the movement experience em.bodi.ment offered at 5 Koshas, each Element from the Element Wheel has one action that is repeated multiple times.  Through repetition we can explore choice-making (how slow/fast, big/small do I make this action?), breath integration (breath is the purpose for your movement and is the pulse in which you move to), and internal dialogue (a short affirmation is stated to focus the mind and body).

The single movement that is repeated is a starting point, where your gestures take you is your precious moment of choice and expression of your authentic self. The movements are based on Brain Gym ® and Touch for Health ® concepts of integrated movements. Integrated movements are specific movements that correlate to specific areas of the brain. When we walk, we move through cross-lateral movements which activates both hemispheres of the brain while moving our right arm only, activates the left hemisphere of the brain. The potential of daily movement is not only valuable to our body but also to our brain.

I invite you to explore this movement from the em.bodi.ment class offered as a virtual experience through 5 Koshas Video-On-Demand (VOD). Register Here

In the following video, join me in exploring the one repetitive action from Wood inspired by the em.bodi.ment of the Element Wheel. Watch Video Here

Tips & Steps To Follow As You Watch YouTube Video Experience Wood- Meridians: Gall Bladder and Liver

Part 1: 

  1. Begin by rooting down in the lower half of your body.
  2. Feet place hip-distance apart, root into the surface below you.
  3. Rock the weight of your center of gravity forward, backward, side to side feeling the surface of your feet with soft bent legs receiving the weight of your body.
  4. You may close your eyes or keep them open.
  5. Breath in open your eyes and exhale and close your eyes.
  6. The internal affirmation is “I Act”.
  7. Breath in open your eyes and internally state or speak out loud “I Act”.
  8. Close your eyes and listen to the sonic memory of this affirmation or perhaps a single word might respond. I recommend staying with this response for the duration of the movement experience that follows.

Part 2:

  1. The integrated movement begins by swinging the arms and rotating starting from the push of the feet which rotates the pelvis into the lumbar, thoracic, cervical spine and head. The arms can swing low, middle, or high.
  2. Allow the head to move with rotation, but if you get dizzy, you can keep your head and focus on the center.

Part 3: 

  1. Layer this movement experience with your breath pattern described previously, along with your internal affirmation.
  2. Play an inspiring song and listen to the impulse of choice making.
  3. Move slowly, change a level or travel in space.
  4. Begin at one point, embody every moment of the action and pleasantly be surprised by where you may arrive.
  5. If you feel the inner dialogue of “What do I do next?”, which often takes place, return to the beginning action of the swing to reconnect you to the process of em.bodi.ment.
  6. Finish by arriving in stillness, take a deep in-hale and ex-hale in stillness to conclude. I find value in taking a moment to write and reflect on your movement experience recalling imagery, emotions or inner dialogue drawn out by the affirmation of “I Act”. Observe your reflection through the lens of a witness viewpoint and not as a judgement. Consider exploring this Element over a week span of time.

Mantra Japa as a Timeless Practice for Conquering Fear

If you take a moment to sit and notice what you are feeling right now, there is probably a mixmaster of thoughts, emotions, beliefs and feelings running around your body and mind.

Continued worries about the pandemic, worry about the future (health, finances, relationships), interacting with people in public again — a mixture of longing and hesitation, seemingly ever-widening polarization of society, wanting to get more involved with extended family, changes that we never anticipated, what comes next? …..worries, anxiety, desire, clinging to the familiar that is now long gone. Uncertainty. Fear. 

Yoga offers many tools to welcome, understand, listen to, and grow from the messages delivered by feelings, emotion, thoughts and beliefs. Those “fluctuations of the heart-mind” have a habit of running around in our heads constantly, telling us our story, keeping us in a self-referenced bondage of our superficial self — our personality, relationships and possessions. Yoga teaches that our deepest self is the Awareness of all these activities of the heart-mind.. And that Awareness is always unchanging, sweet and joyful. Once we calm the activities of the mind, we can notice this subtle Awareness and know that deep down, we are whole, complete and perfect. 

The tools of yoga include yoga postures, breathing practices, meditation, yoga nidra and mantra japa. Mantra japa is the repetition of a word or phrase over and over, calming the mind and helping us be open and aware of our ever-present Awareness. Repeating the mantra evokes the archetypal energy that already exists within us, represented in the mantra. Your mantra japa practice may also have a specific intention.

The topic of this blog is the Mṛtyuñjaya-mahāmantraḥ, the great death-conquering mantra. It is chanted in support of ourselves, family or friends who are going through great difficulty, health challenges, or death. It’s intention is to help us through these difficulties and importantly, to eliminate the fear of the changes that are coming, immersing us in the sweetness of Awareness. 

This mantra is one of a literal handful of mantras that have been in continuous use for over 3,000 years, perhaps 4,000 or more. It is still in use today by millions of people around the world, and so links us to maybe 150 generations of humanity all chanting these very same words, these very same sounds, with the same or similar intention. And since it is a Vedic chant, we chant it even with the same melody. It can provide us a connection to the past that is often missing from our young immigrant / melting pot country. 

It originated, as you would expect, in a very different culture, full of agricultural metaphor and personal deities. The deities, at their root, speak to archetypal structures that all of us have within us, so when we chant to a deity, we call forth that archetype from within. This is a chant to Shiva, the three-eyed one (representing pure consciousness). The archetypal form of Shiva associated with this mantra is Amruteshwara, the lord of the nectar of immortality. 

A literal translation of the mantra is: 

“We worship the three-eyed Lord, who is sweetly fragrant (with awakened consciousness) and who increases well-being. 

Liberate us from bondage to death / fear of death like a cucumber separated from the vine, (i.e., irreversibly and easily) but not from the nectar of immortality.“

That is a bit far afield from our world-view and experience. Since this is a mantra associated with Amruteshwara, we can translate it as follows: 

“We invoke the sweet fragrance of awakened consciousness to increase our well-being.

Forever liberate us from all fear and the fear of death and immerse us in the nectar of immortality.”

So our intention for using the mantra is to be liberated from fear, which is at the root of so much anxiety and suffering, and to be immersed in the sweetness of universal consciousness, which was never born and never dies. We can apply this to specific intentions for health and healing for ourselves and for others. Mantra japa is generally performed in a quiet voice in a space and time where you will not be interrupted. People often use a mālā to further the meditative quality and also track the number of repetitions, perhaps 27 or 54 or 108 repetitions. If you do not have a mālā, you may just set aside a specific time for your mantra japa practice. 

The Sanskrit transliteration of the mantra appears below:

Oṁ tṛya̍mbakaṃ yajāmahe suga̱ndhiṃ pu̍ṣṭi̱vardha̍nam | u̱rvā̱ru̱kami̍va̱ bandha̍nānmṛ̱tyormu̍kṣīya̱ mā’mṛta̎t ||

To learn more about Vedic chant, yoga sutra-s and yoga philosophy, check out the Chanting and Yoga Philosophy Intensive, offered in conjunction with River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School, starting May 17: http://www.riverflowyoga.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ChantingYogaPhilosophy-Intensive_2021-22_012721.pdf