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

Awareness Through Movement: “The Possibilities are Endless”

By Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P.

“Harmonious efficient movement prevents wear and tear.  More important, however, is what it does to the image of ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

What is Awareness Through Movement?

Welcome to increasing your AWARENESS through Movement from “The Feldenkrais Method”.  I’d like to tell you a little bit about my classes offered through 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  Each lesson begins with very easy movements, that you are instructed to do gently, slowly, and repetitively.  As the lesson progresses, interesting, non-habitual variations are weaved in; at this point, it is very helpful to engage your curiosity as you listen to your body following the instructions.

“Learning happens when the brain is confused, out of its habit and then learning can happen.”  (Ruthy Alon)

Guided scans are led in the beginning to enable you to learn more about some of your habitual patterns; later scans allow you to acknowledge changes that are happening throughout the lesson.  The scanning supports your learning process and allows you to adjust the way you are interpreting the instructions.

I remind you to treat yourself with complete self-respect: “do less than you could”, and to “feel, not strain”.  And, when you feel the pleasure of the gains, you’re encouraged to enjoy them and accept them as benefits to your learning experience; this AWARENESS leads to neurological responses, that gradually provide lasting effects or “neuroplasticity”, benefits that you can “keep” or at least, quickly regain.

There are a wide-range of lessons, but, you will find they all benefit your breathing and ability to be in the moment (a kind of “Movement Meditation”); your neuromuscular system relaxes, allowing tight muscles to let go of holding and regain their more normal length; coordination of body parts are reawakened with a sense that your skeleton and muscles are more organized when you stand up, with a more stable base, a feeling of lengthening upright and opening of your upper chest, all leading to lighter, easier movements in your life activities:

“The lessons are designed to improve ability, that is to expand the boundaries of the possible:  to turn the impossible into the possible, the difficult into the easy, and the easy into the pleasant.  For only those activities that are easy and pleasant will become part of (your) habitual life and will serve (you) at all times.”  (Moshe Feldenkrais)

There are many benefits to a wide spectrum of people, the only requirements are an ability to listen with curiosity and an openness to new possibilities.  “The Possibilities are Endless”, words I often heard and embodied with Gaby Yaron; thankfully, she was my trainer in the early 1990’s.  If you have never experienced “ATM” lessons, you do have that opportunity through “5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness”.  And, if you have done “ATM” lessons, previously, wouldn’t you like to do more?

Bette Stephens, P.T., G.C.F.P., teaches Awareness Through Movement Classes at 5 Koshas Yoga & Wellness in Wausau, WI.  You can find her class schedule at https://www.5koshasyoga.com/yoga/class-schedule/

The View From My Yoga Mat

Written By: Janie Martin, 5 Koshas Yoga Student

Photographed above is Janie’s Yoga Buddy Spanky, who watches as she practices daily!

I am a yoga student, usually taking twice a week lessons, for four years. I also practice on my own nearly every day. I consider myself a ranked beginner.

Before I started taking classes, I thought yoga looked easy. My main concerns were not looking silly and keeping up with my classmates the first few weeks. My goal was to remain flexible as I aged; and because my doctor recommended yoga for those who were, like me, at high risk of osteoporosis.

At random, I picked a “beginner” class in Tulsa where I was living and found a gem of an instructor, and a room full of kindred souls.

Even when everyone else was stretching to the right side, and I was inexplicably going left, there were no laughs or corrections. My concerns about looking silly vanished quickly.

After six months it dawned on me that although I was getting (at least most of the time!) into the correct poses, I wasn’t focused on increasing my ability to stretch.

I had heard “go halfway between easy and hard,” from instructor Linda for six months, but that day the lightbulb came on, and I started to feel progress.

As we prepared to move home to Wisconsin two years ago, one of the things that was the hardest to leave behind was my class and instructor.

Finding a yoga studio was a high priority and I was very fortunate to end up at 5 Koshas, in gifted Renee’s class.

Due to the pandemic, I now only see my fun and interesting classmates via zoom, but I anxiously await a return to the studio when it is safe.

Recently, during my solo practice at home, I had another blinding glimpse of the obvious, or BGO, as I call them.

I was focused on breath and movement, and suddenly realized I was matching my breath to my body movement, and not matching the body movement to my breath.

This may sound inconsequential, but when I started to let my breath lead, my physical movements slowed drastically.

This after I have heard multiple instructors coach the correct way for four years! The result when I got it right was a deeper sense of relaxation and calm.

Years ago, I enjoyed taking Tae Kwan Do classes with my son. But in contrast with yoga, the focus was on learning a skill set and advancing.

It felt like a pressurized rush to master and move up. Yoga is complex enough that I am still challenged in a “Beginner and Beyond” class.

I am making slow progress, but I am not impatient. Going slow is delivering gains in my flexibility, but also in achieving a relaxed mental state which is almost addictively enjoyable.

Once in a while, I am busy and tempted to skip my daily practice. But when I “adult myself” to the mat, it only takes minutes for me to be glad I am taking this time for myself.

It never fails when I get on the floor at home our two big dogs come to see if I need their help. (I don’t.) Luckily they lose interest quickly, and when they depart, our cats come and lie on the mat corners.

It is unusual for the cats to seek me out during the day. I believe they are attracted by the calm energy I have when practicing. “Calm energy” is not how anyone who knows me would usually describe me.

I am enjoying my yoga journey at a pace that feels right for me. I am adjusting to a new instructor, and as hard as it is to accept change, I know I will have a BGO or two because everyone helps me see or feel something new.

I am inspired by those I take classes with who are older than I, or have physical challenges, yet persist in practicing.

I hope I can be a beginner still unrolling my mat daily for many years to come. You may still see me sweeping left when everyone else is sweeping right, but after all, they do call it “practice.”

Yoga For Better Sleep

by Kerry MacDonald, RYT-200

“Counting sheep to sleep?”

There are so many reasons for sleepless nights.  Many of us are busy and stressed, unable to shut our brains off. Daily stresses build in our mind and cause anxiety. Others suffer from muscle aches and pains that wake them up and keep them up.

Yoga is similar to a meditation session in that it encourages you to bring focus back to your body and breathe, your mind is less distracted. You will find sleep comes easier when negative thoughts are diminished.

Langhana breathing practice is when your exhale is longer than your inhale, this technique relaxes your nervous system and can be calming to your mind.

Exploring different yoga postures to relax tense muscles can be extremely helpful to ease daily aches and pains. Various poses help to stimulate deeper breathing, which in turn relax your body & soothe your mind.

The more you practice the less you tend to think about your breathing techniques because it becomes more natural.

Everyone feels a little overwhelmed and stressed, it’s normal.  We all find ourselves struggling to fall asleep at one time or another.  Being able to calm your mind and get some extra zzzz’s would be a great gift to yourself.

 

Can you learn yoga techniques to sleep better at night?

You can join me on Sundays at 7 PM for Online Pajama Yoga: Yoga For Better Sleep & Tuesdays at 9 AM for Online Gentle Yoga For Beginners & Beyond These classes are intended for beginners and beyond! Everyone is welcome.  Also, these classes will be recorded and are available for 5 days.

Kerry MacDonald RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 5 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is to help students to feel confident and knowledgeable about their practice while exploring all the benefits the practice has to offer and apply it to daily living.

Yoga: Function in Life Over Perfect Form on the Mat

by Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200

“Can you reach that bowl on the top shelf?”

We have all been there.  Up on our tip toes, arm stretched as much as possible.  Needing just another half inch.  “There, I got it!”  It is times like that when I continue to appreciate the functional benefits of yoga for everyday living.

Yoga movements, postures, and breathing practices help to keep us strong and balanced.  Moving our arms, bending forward, lateral bending, twisting and balance are part of everyday living, and part of any yoga practice.

  • Bending forward: think of tying your shoes; bending and reaching into the dryer for that last sock; or weeding the garden.
  • Lateral bending: think of reaching under the couch for that dog toy; or washing windows.
  • Twisting: think of looking in your blind spot while driving; or shoveling snow.
  • Balance: think of reaching that top shelf on your tip toes.

Having strong legs, a strong back, and a strong core all aid in keeping us steady while we walk, climb stairs or anything else we do on any given day.  Moving our bodies stimulates our circulation and lymphatic system, aiding in immunity.  Weight bearing exercise helps to keep our bones strong.  And the mindfulness of yoga helps decrease the stress that everyone has.  This is what we can do for ourselves, this is self-care.

Here are some self-care practices you can try at home:

Balancing Tadasana (balance posture)

Begin by standing with feet hip distance apart.  Feel grounded and steady.  On an inhale, sweep your arms out to the side and up above your head.  At the same time, lift your heals off the floor.  On the exhale, sweep arms back down to your sides, as you bring your heals back down to the floor.  Move intentionally with your inhale and exhale.  Practice this posture 6 times.

 

Ardha Pārśvottānāsana (lateral forward bending posture)

Stand with left foot forward, right foot turned slightly outward, right arm overhead, and left arm folded behind your back.  On exhale, bend forward, bending left knee slightly, bringing chest toward left thigh, and right hand to left foot.  On inhale, lift chest and arm until torso is parallel to the ground.  On exhale, return to the forward bend position.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Moving with your breath. Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Sukasana Parivrtti (seated twist posture)

Start with a comfortable seated position on your mat or in a chair.  Place left hand on right knee.  Place right hand behind your hips.  On exhale, twist to the right, looking over your right shoulder.  On inhale, return to starting position.  Repeat 4 times, then switch sides.

 

Mindful Minute (breathing practice)

Inhale slowly, and think peace

Exhale slowly, and think calm

Take 8-10 slow, deep purposeful breaths

 

Think of that top shelf.

Can you reach your goals for self-care?

You can join me on Wednesdays at 4:15 for the Zoom class “Yoga for Self-Care: Creating Calm with Movement and Breathing.  This class is intended for beginners, but all are welcome.  Also, this class will be recorded and is available for 5 days.

Sally Konkol, RN, BSN, RYT-200, has been a yoga practitioner for 8 years and was certified as a yoga teacher by River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in 2020.  Her yoga teaching is straight forward and practical, helping the practice feel relevant and accessible to new and experienced students. 

 

Non-Attachment Through Yoga Practice: Freedom, Peace, Courage

What have you had to give up an attachment to this year?

Some of the attachments may be more superficial, some more deeply difficult. Your list might be long. Family rituals, friend gatherings, travel, work, school life with in-person contact, in-person volunteer work, shared interest with others in hobbies, sports or causes, in-person entertainment. You may be suffering with those most deeply difficult changes, such as death of someone you love, loss of a relationship that was important to you or major changes in relationships due to the stresses of this time.

We are all living with the reality of our many attachments. The pandemic is like a big mirror, reflecting our attachments and aversions. While this pandemic, in its size and scope, is new for all of us, suffering with attachments and aversions is not. The ancient philosophical teachings of yoga describe these concepts and offer suggestions for managing attachment and aversion.

We can move through life tethered to our identification with things, ideas, opinions, and self-concept. But if we walk courageously willing to examine our identifications, we can experience the fruits of freedom, peace, and courage. Let’s explore these concepts and their relationship to loosening the grip of attachments or aversions.

Freedom

Non-attachment or vairagya “is an ability to remain centered, without being knocked off balance and impelled to behave in ways we may later regret.” It “is the ability to reside in a space without the compulsion to act; it gives us the freedom to choose how to respond,” according to Roy and Charlton in Embodying the Yoga Sutra: Support, Direction, Space.

The pandemic has created a space to explore what we really do not miss. It has also created a deeper understanding of what is most meaningful, what our hearts yearn for.

There is freedom in understanding how we used to spend our time and energy and how we want to spend our time and energy going forward. Observing and exploring attachments and aversions helps us peel back the layers to see our own true nature and to live more fully from that place. As we loosen the grip of things, repetitive patterns of thinking and emotional reactivity patterns, we open ourselves to being more selfless, to serving others and our communities.

Peace

When we can observe our attachments and aversions without acting on them, we suddenly have a newfound sense of peace. An introspective mindset helps us see the desires, discomforts and motivations that are underneath what we cling to and what we avoid. If we are hooked by attachments, we are also accumulating a lot of maintenance work. If we act less on attachments, energy is freed up for what gives our lives meaning.

You can’t live through an election cycle without some awareness that we are all tethered to our opinions. Social media and group-think amplifies this attachment. Instead of really studying an issue and trying to understand it at a deeper level, there is the tendency to quickly like or dislike or tweet about it.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, author and winner of the National Book Award, said recently in a Washington Post article, “If I’m honest with you, I feel like the need to have an opinion on everything corrupts thinking.”

Peace can wash over us when we dedicate our thinking and talking and writing time to what really matters to us and where we feel we can effect change. Non-attachment doesn’t mean not caring or absolving oneself of responsibility to others and the community. Discerning how to act to effect change is a very individual experience. Snarky tweets and Facebook outrage are typically just amplifying and broadcasting our attachments, while the quiet work of the peaceful warrior is one of steady actions toward goals that will make a difference.

“Detachment is not indifference. It is the prerequisite for effective involvement. Often what we think is best for others is distorted by our attachments to our opinions. We want others to be happy in the way we think they should be happy. It is only when we want nothing for ourselves that we are able to see clearly into others needs and understand how to serve them.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

Courage

We can be pushed around by our aversions, letting them define us, perhaps even limiting our openness to new and enlightening experiences and to love without expectations. I often think of parenting in those first few years of childhood as the ultimate act of being able to let go of attachments and aversions to love and serve another human being without expectation.

Non-attachment or vairagya is an active process, a tending to the smudges on the mirror so that peace and love are more well-established than fear, selfishness, and attachment.

Problem-solving is an important skill anytime but maybe even more so during a pandemic. The less attached we are to our ideas, or the way we’ve always done things, or the way we thought things would be, the more skillful and less anxious we can be in working out solutions. Openness invites the presence of creativity and problem-solving.

Methods to Work with Attachment and Aversion in Yoga Practice – On & Off the Mat

Yoga practice can create a space for working with our attachments and aversions. It provides a space to explore what is, and to strengthen our ability to observe and change attachments and aversions that keep us from peace, freedom and living a courageous life.

  • If physical postures are part of your yoga practice, explore new postures or change up how you do a posture. Use a contra-lateral adaptation, add chanting, or adapt the breath to cultivate openness and curiosity over habitual ways of moving.
  • Start a regular breathing practice if you don’t already have one. Even 5 minutes a day can be life-affirming. Pranayama cultivates focus, energy, and patience – all qualities that help us stay steady through life’s ups and downs. Pranayama also helps reset the reactivity dial every day.
  • Meditate on attachments and aversions. What are the underlying motivations or intentions for those attachments and aversions? Reflect on true sources of happiness. Whenever we can turn from self-serving to selfless, we orient more toward the deeper callings of the heart.
  • Meditate on loss. Examine it. Give it space. Understand the depth of the loss and what attachments and aversions are wrapped up in that loss. Explore what remains as a connection that endures through time. Meditate on what is coming out of that loss. Ask yourself if you can experience your life with all the richness and difficulties and remain open and in awe? As you process the loss, turn your mind in meditation to objects of attention that symbolize what you are trying to cultivate moving forward.
  • Off the mat, try to put a space between what happens to you and how you react to it. Consciously take 3 or more deep breaths, keeping your mind focused on the sound, physical sensation, and length of the breath. Be present with where and what you’re experiencing. Is it an attachment to a certain way of reacting? Are you feeling like you want to run from what you’re experiencing? Any disturbing emotion such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or fear provides an invitation to understand what’s underneath the push or pull for us.
  • When you complain about the way things used to be in the “before times,” or rail against new routines in the “now times,” or feel the attachment to the “after times,” take a few moments to identify what you are clinging to and what you want to run from. What is a ‘feel-good moment’ that you miss and what is the deeper suffering that relates to loss of connection? If we can identify the foundation of the suffering, we can be more effective in a course of action.

“Wisdom is the ability to rise above perceptions that are clouded by biased self-interest to discern the meaning concealed in a fact or event,” says Reverend Jaganath Carrera in Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

We all have our attachments and aversions. They are the smudges and fog on the mirror that obscure clarity. These wonderfully human imperfections invite us to transform and live more authentically. Through the practice of non-attachment, we can let the big mirror of the pandemic help us see where we were, where we are now, and how much we want a deeper connection to freedom, peace and courage for the future.

Stamina & Soul – Pandemic Ponderings Part 2

“Your Mother is in the closet with the kids.”

I paused and tried to picture this.

My Dad continued, “I’m not sure if she’s teaching the kids something or trying to find a new perspective?” His voice trailed off as I stared at my cell phone.

“Send me a picture Dad. I’ve got to see this.”

Calls and texts have been part of my parents’ communication from Michigan since early September when they began helping my niece and nephew with their virtual learning.

“We hope we are doing this right,” has been their weekly sentiment.

Personal hesitation, uncertainty and curiosity can be revealed within the sphere of daily tasks right up through digesting world updates.

2020 has put the spotlight on how we relate to external situations and internal reactions in addition to reviewing ‘how we used to do things’ and whether we are ‘doing it right.’

A daily check-in can be: “Am I in a teaching moment, learning moment or am I staying the same?”

It takes more than physical endurance to navigate these experiences of life.

Mental health and soul stamina need attention too. Strategies to nurture mind and soul are not always hiding in the closet.

Here are accessible and effective strategies to integrate into daily life:

MIND-BODY RESET
• Stand, sit or move to supine
• As you breathe in and breathe out, wiggle your toes on your left
foot and fingers on your right hand
• Exhale and soften your toes and fingers
• Next wiggle your toes on your right foot and fingers on your left
hand
• Exhale and soften your toes and fingers
• Continue for a few minutes then pause for 4-8 breaths to let your
placement of attention be in your body

CYCLE STRESS THROUGH WITH SOULFUL CONNECTIONS
MoveHow can your body move today? Standing, seated or supine, choose a place indoors or outdoors. Take 5 minutes and move your body. Wiggle, dance, sweep arms into mountain pose, march, walk, yawn, smile.
BreatheInhale & exhale deeply. Stretch while you breathe. Then explore this for at least 4 breath cycles: a 4-count inhale, pause gently at the peak of the inhale, then 4-count exhale, pause gently at the base of the exhale.
ConnectCall, facetime or zoom a friend or family member. If able, reconnect with a favorite person & take a walk. Write a letter & send it by ‘snail-mail.’ Stay connected to your lifelines. We are all trying to figure it out & support systems are vital.
Smile & LaughDo something that sparks your joy. Even if a memory conjures up a chuckle or a full belly laugh. Welcome the endorphins and go with it.

Hugs and stuffed animals. Eventually, I heard the details surrounding Grandma’s closet adventure. Fortunately, she didn’t get a cramp in her foot. Everyone was laughing. For future statistical research, at least three individuals and numerous toys can fit in a 6 x 4 closet quite comfortably. Yet the perspective is much sweeter when all involved embrace in a hug.

Keep Learning – Stay Connected:
Music: Check out Coldplay’s ‘A Head Full of Dreams’ and dance. Listen HERE

Podcast: Brene Brown’s Unlocking Us with Drs. Emily & Amelia Nagoski
on burnout and how to complete the stress cycle Listen HERE

What would you like to add to this list to support each other within our collective, ongoing life practice?
Look for this blog when you visit Facebook at 5 Koshas or Heather Van Dalfsen and Instagram with Heather Van Dalfsen to share your thoughts.

Photo Credit: Photo taken by Heather’s Dad, Jim Thompson