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

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

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.

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

Yoga for Focus & Attention as the Season Changes

Autumn brings a distraction, more so this year as we navigate the change along with the pandemic and all its twists, turns and complexities.  Have you noticed how your mind and thoughts run around like squirrels gathering and burying acorns?

Squirrel!

It is the season of the squirrel.  Summer has said its last goodbye for the year.  The crispness and color of fall is upon us.  With the season change comes distraction, cognitive fog with fewer hours of daylight and maybe even this year, an accompanying worry about what is next as we are still actively in a pandemic.

The nature of the mind is to have runaway thoughts.   Fortunately, the ancient yogis devised techniques for harnessing thoughts to create focus and improve attention.  At our disposable are simple but effective tools and techniques.

Tips for Yoga Practice for Focus & Attention during Seasonal Changes

  • Infuse yoga postures with the breath.  Each part of a movement is accompanied and powered by a phase of the breath.

  • Do yoga postures with contra-lateral adaptations
  • Adapt the breath in yoga postures to lift energy or calm, depending on what you need.  If you need to focus and lift energy, use a short retention after inhale.  If you need to focus and calm down, extend exhale progressively as you do a posture.
  • Do breathing practices (pranayama), especially with nostril valving such as Nadi Shodana (alternate nostril breathing)
  • Use meditative techniques such as fixing your attention to an image of light in your heart and mind or using a mantra (a word or phrase that is supportive for you).  A supportive mantra at this time of year is Om Jyotir Aham (invoking light within).

When to Get Help

As the season changes, it’s important to work with your health care provider if you get significant symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that deeply impact your life such as having trouble functioning at work or home, difficulty in your personal relationships, or you have significant feelings of depression and hopelessness or anxiety.

Resources

If you are interested in using yoga techniques to help with seasonal changes, contact a Yoga Therapist as they are trained in tailoring techniques for your unique manifestation of seasonal changes as well as other health conditions you may have.

For other writing on yoga and seasonal changes, see past blogs on fatigue and general yoga practice tips for seasonal changes.

Intention

As you move toward the winter solstice, use your yoga practice to support and nourish your focus and attention.  Use your practice to gently harness your attention to do what must be done and cultivate light to burn off any cognitive fog that clouds your day.

Stick figure graphics by Sequence Wiz, www.sequencewiz.com.

Mary Hilliker, RDN, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT is a Certified Viniyoga Teacher and Yoga Therapist and Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist with 5 Koshas Yoga and Wellness Center and River Flow Yoga Teacher Training School in Wausau WI. Mary offers individualized Yoga Therapy in person and online.  She teaches therapeutic and wellness yoga classes, mini-retreats, workshops, webinars and yoga teacher training (200 hr. Yoga Teacher Training | 300 hr. Advanced Yoga Teacher Training for RYT-500).