Monday, January 2, 2017

10 Things I Would Tell My “Younger” Yoga Teacher Self

A few years ago I was given the opportunity to reflect on the principles and lessons I had gleaned from several years of teaching yoga. It came to me as a list and was essentially the things I would tell my “younger” yoga teacher self. They also happen to be things that I am still learning.

Perhaps one or more might be useful to other yoga teachers – or to anyone who wishes to offer something into the world, whatever it might be.

1.     Offer what only you can give. That is enough. A wise yoga teacher and friend told me during a teacher training: “You can offer only what you have to give. Let others offer what they have.” We all have strengths and weakness, different interests and passions. While what we may offer is likely to change over time, it will always, and can only, come from our distinct nature, experience, knowledge, and spirit. “Be your note,” says Rumi. “I’ll show you how it is enough.” I am learning to celebrate that.
2.     People may not want what you have to offer. Offer it anyway. This is the practice of vairagya (nonattachment). We make our effort and offering, and then surrender the outcome. According to Sanskrit teacher Nicolai Bachman, “Vairagya is in place when we are OK either way, whether or not our desires are satisfied.” Those who need what you have to offer may eventually find you—or you will find them. Or not. Offer it anyway. I was “fired” from teaching a yoga class when I could not successfully “get the numbers up,” only to be rehired by the same person months later and given a class with the loveliest students.

3.     Find someone to help mentor you through the “mind fields.” You will lose confidence. And perhaps your way. Find some mentor cheerleaders who can gently point out areas to improve, but also encourage and offer reassurance. During a teacher training, I had to be evaluated on my ability to teach salamba sirsasana (supported headstand). Assessments stir up a LOT of anxiety for me. After the class, my reviewer and mentor shared things I did well, and those things to reexamine and why. Because the feedback was supportive, it nurtured growth rather than insecurity.

4.     Have your own practice. It is from this place that you teach. Have a consistent, curious, ongoing place of exploration on your mat. Surround the mat with books/videos that teach, and a notepad as Erich Schiffman suggests to write down your own amazing sequences, insights (“love notes from the universe” as he calls them), and thoughts. Or turn on your smartphone voice memo tool and simply talk as you move through a sequence.
5.     Gather the essential tools. Know the poses—in Sanskrit. Learn basic anatomy. Have three clear cues for a handful of basic asanas – it helps hone what’s most important. Get a basic muscle app – I like iMuscle (it’s the best $4.99 you will ever spend). It is simple, visual, and hands on. Subscribe to e-newsletters and other publications with articles on anatomy, Sanskrit, meditation, and any other yoga-related subject. Take at least one workshop a year with a master teacher whose style, knowledge, or experience interests you.

6.     Cultivate inner awareness. Guiding students into a yoga pose or practice draws from an experience of it in your own body. You can read about poses and ways to get in and out of them and ways to teach them, but until you experience it, what it feels like in your body and mind, and the energy of the shape, it’s challenging to teach. In preparation to teach a pose, for example, figure out the steps into it, get a sense of how it moves a particular muscle or muscle group, what is happening along the spinal column or pelvis, and how it makes you feel. These insights are essential to new practitioners. And test out any props you want to use to assist in a pose (I’ve learned this the hard way).

7.     Open to the experience of teaching something new. Resist the self-doubt or fear that might limit your teaching. At some point, you have to teach an asana or breath practice you work with regularly, but have never taught before. Or, you want to share a sound practice, such as chanting “om” or a bija (seed) mantra. There must always be a first time. I had a good teacher in Doug Keller who would regularly try something out in our class – perhaps new propping or a different way in to a pose. And sometimes afterwards he would say, “Ok, well, that didn’t work,” which drew a lot of knowing laughter.

8.     Find your sangha (“community”). Surround yourself with like-minded yoga teachers and friends who can create a safe space and refuge for you to practice, share ideas, learn, and explore. While finding a physical sangha at a yoga studio or center may not be possible, a small handful of compatible and companionable yoga mentors and practitioners is valuable to learn and grow in your practice and as a teacher. 
9.     Stay in your asana ("seat"). I’ve learned that I offer my best when teaching from a grounded place—physically, mentally, and emotionally. To be sufficiently rooted requires cultivating stillness and presence. Become aware of what you need to resist being toppled by any wind, whim, or event that might tip you off balance. I find a regular practice of standing poses, long walks among the trees, as well as daily pranayama and meditation are helpful to remain established in my seat.   

10.  Give the gift of all that yoga—and you—have to offer. Many people come to a yoga class because they want some kind of exercise—to stretch, really sweat it out, or relax. There are any number of reasons to practice yoga asana, and everyone starts where they are. As a yoga teacher, however, offer all the teachings of yoga: sound, philosophy, meditation, asana, pranayama, and more. Yoga isn’t just asana, so when you feel ready, begin to introduce one or more practice that will offer a fuller experience of yoga to students.

Finally, here’s a larger portion of Rumi’s poem “Each Note.” Enjoy.

God picks up the reed-flute world and blows.
Each note is a need coming through one of us,
a passion, a longing-pain.

Remember the lips
where the wind-breath originated,
and let your note be clear.
Don't try to end it.
BE Your Note.
I'll show you how it's enough.

Go up on the roof at night
in the city of the soul.

Let Everyone climb on their roofs
and sing their notes!

Sing loud!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Ayurvedic Tips for Weathering Travel

After traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday—which included lots of cold weather, a cancelled flight, reinjuring the meniscus in my left knee, overeating, and a succession of late nights—I returned home out of sorts and with a cold. Too much of everything left me weary and, frankly, a bit teary. 

This got me thinking about the Ayurvedic concept of “dinacharya,” or daily routine, which provides the foundation for a calm mind, cleanses and rejuvenates the body, and sets the rhythm for the day. 

Dinacharya includes such things as regular sleep patterns (waking and retiring), elimination, tongue scraping, use of a neti pot and nasya oil, warm water with lemon upon arising, self-massage with natural oils followed by bathing, meditation, exercise, and proper foods. While the Ayurvedic daily routine can get lengthy, even one or two practices help to arm the body and mind for whatever the day might bring.

While it’s a bit easier to stick to a routine when at home with access to what you need, more control over your activities, and perhaps some discipline, traveling tends to throw all of that into chaos. So, it’s best to decide on just a couple of practices that are a “must” each day when traveling. Some are a must for everyone—like staying hydrated. Others are specific things that support our individual health or prove restorative.

Pay attention to what creates the most irritation for you while on the road, and then look to a simple practice that can counteract—or balance—it. For example, I know I have to stay warm. If I get too cold for too long, it starts a chain reaction—not being able to sleep, sore throat, dehydration, and so on. Consider some of the following, or identify your own “musts” when traveling:
Hydrate - Travel is inherently drying. To counterbalance this, drink more water than usual—warm/hot or at room temperature. Limit caffeine and alcohol (which in excess are dehydrating), or substitute with herbal tea (carry your own tea bags). Keep water at your bedside. Waking up with extreme thirst and not being able to find your way to water and a glass in an unfamiliar hotel room or dark house is a recipe for dehydration. This can lead to headaches, constipation, and a host of other symptoms. Use saline drops for the eyes especially when traveling by plane. And massage your skin and lips as well as inside the nostrils with a natural oil, such as sesame, before bathing.

Nourish and Cleanse – Diet is usually the first to go when traveling. Exhaustion coupled with less control over what may be available to eat make it hard to practice discipline around food choices and eating at regular times. For example, balance an excess of processed foods and sugar with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains when possible. If helpful, carry fruit or a few nuts with you when in transit. Maintain proper digestive fire by eating one-third to one half of the saturation point. Stop short of full to the brim—at least for most meals. Constipation is a common travel problem, but targeted food choices—and more water—can help with regular elimination, which is vital for good health.
Move – Take a short walk, especially after eating, to get things moving—encouraging digestion and elimination. Or try some “in-room” yoga (or even yoga on the airplane). I’ve learned that there is a world of yoga to be had without any of the usual props—mat, block, strap, etc. Warm up with neck, shoulder, and hip circles, lubricating and creating space in the primary joints. A bed or wall space is perfect for a modified down dog—and while you’re there, a hamstring stretch (parsvottanasnaa) and calf muscle stretch. Half sun salutes and tree (vrksasana) require no props. Throw down a clean towel for cat/cow, child’s pose, reclined twists, hip openers (like happy baby pose), and lower back releases like apanasana and supported bridge pose. Finish with a short seated meditation.

Restore - Give yourself permission to take time to recharge: a short nap, a brisk walk, a restorative yoga pose, time with a book, a bath, or any other activity that gives you the right tools to restore and rejuvenate yourself. Make sure it’s the right activity. If you’re sluggish and feeling overloaded with food, a brisk walk may be the antidote. If you haven’t slept and feel exhausted, take a nap or spend 20 minutes in a restorative yoga pose such as legs up the wall or on a chair, block under the sacrum (supported bridge), or supported child’s pose. Or, spend a few minutes in either a reclined or seated practice of nadi shodanam, alternate nostril breathing. This balancing breath is especially comforting and helpful to restore equilibrium to the mind and body.
Finally, practice compassion with yourself and those around you. Ask for what you need, and offer help when you can. These kinds of exchanges will help you keep your equilibrium and equanimity in the face of changing circumstances. And remember to occasionally pause and take a deep breath—enjoy the journey.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Letting Go and Letting Come

I recently heard an interview with Arthur Zajonc, a physicist and contemplative. As part of the On Being episode, titled “Holding Life Consciously,” Zajonc took listeners through a short “singing bowl” bell meditation.
The purpose of this four-part, 10-minute meditation is simply, at least as he described it, “contemplative.” That is, using the sound of the bell as a single source of sensory input to create a locus for meditative attention. But it has proven to have a more robust purpose for me.

I have a large L-shaped desk in my home office that I haven't used in maybe the past two years. I prefer to wander with my laptop from big soft chair to big soft chair, or the kitchen table, or someplace outside when the weather is warm. So several months ago I decided that I might as well move the desk out and make more space for yoga practice and for, well, I wasn’t quite sure what else.

I cleaned out the desk (except for one small drawer), and then simply couldn’t get rid of it. I don’t use it, but somehow I can’t let go of it. I keep telling myself—and others—that I just need to be clearer about how I’ll use the space—and how to store some of what has been removed—and then I can let it go.
This is a reasonable facsimile of the "desk."
But the reality is, I’m not really sure why I can’t free myself of it. Perhaps it’s letting go of what the desk represents, my source of income and security.

So, the bell meditation has become a mini practice for me to learn to fully release, and then open to whatever might come to fill the space. Zajonc calls it “letting go and letting come,” allowing the flow of all things to move both ways.

Perhaps if you’re also afraid to part with something—your own “desk,” an unhappy job or relationship, or an idea of how something should be, this practice may help. Here’s the meditation: 

1.      Sound the bell. Give full attention to the vibration of the bell, imagining the sound fill the room. Zajonc suggests three strikes of the bell, but if you like, allow the bell to sound several times. He uses a Tibetan singing bowl, which has a wonderful echoing after effect, but you could use Tibetan cymbals, or any sound that lingers after being struck. Download a Tibetan singing bowl being struck in succession.

2.      Sound the bell in memory.  Repeat the memory of the bell sound so that you’re filled inwardly with the resonance and vibration of the bell. Move inside the body and saturate yourself from crown of head to tips of the toes and fingers--all parts of the body—with the sound.

3.      Let go completely of the bell sound. Here comes the hard part. Release any holding of the sound. Let go completely. Perhaps visually move through the body, emptying each space of the sound and its afterimage.

If you encounter struggle here, stay with it. I find using a systematic process helpful. For example, go into each “room” inside the body and conduct the equivalent of “cleaning out the closets.” Or, move from crown of head to limbs and toes as if gradually emptying a full container.  

4.     Open to receive. Finally, let come. Be present for whatever arises after releasing all sound of the bell. Be present in a way that can welcome all things. After the clearing out, this is a sweet space, and opens to a lovely, quiet flow of love, energy, and clarity. Receive with gratitude whatever gifts and insights come.

If you’d like Zajonc to guide you through this meditation, listen here. And, read more about how sound heals

Saturday, November 9, 2013

What’s Behind the Yoga Class Afterglow?

A common response when someone takes their first or second yoga class is, “Why do I feel so good afterwards?” It can often feel different than after Zumba, 30-minutes on the elliptical, or other similar exercise, and new practitioners notice.

I’ve been thinking about this because when I get this question, I often respond reflexively, mumble something about the breath, and then think to myself, “Well, it’s more than just that.” But what is it exactly?

I brought this inquiry to my own yoga asana practice and uncovered three things that make it distinct—at least for me—from other kinds of physical activity. It's also a starting place for me to respond to why we can feel calmed and renewed after practicing yoga asana, the third limb of yoga.
1.       Breath and Movement

First, yes, there is the breath, which acts as a bridge to reconnect the mind and body. Taking note of the qualities of the breath, its location in the body, its length, sound, and overall feel, is often used to get centered at the start of a yoga class. It then becomes a point of reference, or reminder, to return to the breath throughout the practice.
More importantly for me, however, is synching breath with movement. While this is most prominent with sun salutations (surya namaskar) or even simple dynamic asanas such as cat/cow, it can also be felt while holding a pose and making subtle shifts and adjustments in concert with the breath.

This synchrony alone is unique in its ability to focus the mind, draw attention to the breath, and often extend the exhale—or at least bring the inhale and exhale into more balance. A balanced, lengthened breath can help activate the parasympathetic nervous system, or start to move in that direction, and initiate a sense of calm.
2.       Poses Contain Their Own Energy

In my own yoga practice, the perceptible movement of energy within the body during asana practice is what I enjoy most, and it plays a noticeable role in changing the way I feel.

Every yoga asana or pose contains its own particular energy, a “specific template” that has evolved over thousands of years for moving the life force through the body, according to Erich Schiffman. He describes the action of these lines of energy to “reconfigure your entire energy field,” and open blocked and tight areas in the body.

Unlocking the energy contained in a pose opens to the expanded space, power, and renewal that it offers. Each configuration has the potential to wake up one or more of the primary energy centers, or chakras, as well as the more subtle energy fields, the nadis. Finding our way in and out of these specific shapes helps to open stuck and stiff places in the body and experience that energy.

This is why I find it really helpful after a pose or a series of poses to take a pause and enjoy this new, open current of energy. It feels exhilarating, but also calm and steadying.

3.       Slowing Down the Mind

Finally, a balanced yoga practice helps to relax and counter agitation in the mind—a ratcheting down of the mind’s hub of activity.

When I first started practicing, I had no idea what I was doing and it took every bit of focus and attention I had to be in the practice. When I’m present for my practice now, it can still be that absorbing.

The laser-like focus required to be present, attend to the breath, and work with the body to create the particular shape of an asana all hone the mind into a quiet kind of stillness. There may even be a sense of flow or being in the “zone.”
Asana practice for me then becomes an ideal preparation to sit in meditation. The body has been strengthened, the spine lengthened, and the hips opened to be able to sit with more ease. Energy paths are cleared and the mind has moved toward stillness.

Coming home to the body in this way is what brings me back to yoga—returning to my deepest self, reconnecting with the present moment, and opening to being right where I am (well, trying to at least).

Friday, October 25, 2013

Balancing Effort and Relaxation in Yoga Asana

In a workshop I attended last year, seasoned yoga teacher Barbara Benagh said about asana practice: “It’s easier to engage than to relax.” This rings true for me—and the students I teach.

The instruction on the practice of yoga asana, “seat” or postures, in the Yoga Sutras of Pantajali advises that there be a balance between “steadiness” or effort (sthira) and relaxation or “ease” (sukha). Finding this balance in yoga—or in whatever situation life brings—is the abiding practice.

But Benagh is right. For many of us, the focus on sthira dominates when practicing yoga asana. It can manifest as an intense kind of effort, discipline, and competitive pushing, tipping the scale in this struggle for balance. While all ease in a posture offers no structure or space to relax into, it’s much easier to engage and employ effort in our practice. To feel like we’re “doing something.”

The fruit of working toward more balance, however, is to experience yoga. When the discipline of sthira allows us to be steady enough in a posture to trust and slide into the ease of sukha, there’s a flow of energy, clarity, and stillness of mind. This unitive state, or “moving into stillness” as Erich Schiffman calls it, is yoga.

Moving Into Relaxed Stillness

One method for navigating this journey into yoga through asana practice is the Koshas, described in the Upanishads. The five Koshas, or “sheaths,” are the layers that surround the Self, much like Russian nesting dolls. 

Here’s how the koshas can work as a practical framework for investigating where and how to create more softness, ease, and stillness in a pose. Consider one or more of these techniques when practicing yoga asana--on or off the mat:
1.     The Way In Starts With The Body

The koshas move from outside in. So, the first layer is the physical or “food” body (annamaya kosha), which is manifest in muscles, bones, ligaments, and tendons. This is the primary arena for creating the shapes of yoga poses.

To access this layer in a pose, ask yourself, “Where can I relax?” Scan the body and notice where you’re clenching, forcing, or tightening muscles, or where joints are improperly aligned causing strain. Use simple physical adjustments, props, or conscious intention to release these places of tension and holding (e.g., the neck, shoulders, or belly). For example, something as simple as releasing the jaw or tongue can have a profound effect on relaxing the entire body.

2.       Breathe

Once settled in the outer form of a pose, bring attention to the breath. Are you holding the breath? Is there tightness in the belly? Is restriction in the breath (either inhale or exhale) impacting your level of energy or ability to stay in a pose?

The second layer (pranamaya kosha) is the energy body, the bridge between physical body and mind. This life force, prana, moves throughout the body. Holding the breath or not allowing for a full inhale and exhale can impede the ability to fully relax and enjoy the unique flow of energy contained in each yoga pose.

To access this kosha, release any restrictions on the breath. Coordinate movement with the inhale and exhale to synchronize the body and breath, increasing and moving the flow of energy to create a sense of calm.

3.       Bring Awareness to Thoughts and Reactions

The third layer, manomaya kosha, is our conscious mind, with its automatic habits, impulses, and reactions. The mental body is often where people find themselves. There’s a tendency to get stuck in the mind, space out, or react instinctively or with fear.

Check in with your thoughts and reactions. Are you on automatic pilot in a pose you’ve done hundreds of times? Or are you all in your head, over-thinking or using the force of your will to push competitively into a pose in a mind-over-matter kind of way? Perhaps fear is coming up.

To work with this kosha, balance thought waves and patterns by moving back into the body and breath. Return to the present moment. Bring a sense of “newness” to the asana and move with conscious intention, creating attention and focus to what’s currently happening.

4.       Open to Intuition and Compassion

The vijnanamaya kosha is the part of our personality where we find discrimination, wisdom, and intuition. This more subtle layer into the Self opens when there is enough flow, stillness, and satisfaction in meditation or other yoga asana to access deep wisdom and compassion for self and the larger world. At this point, effort and struggle fall away, and the spirit of the pose starts to emerge. You feel a steady strength and inner power, and the heart opens.
5.       Relax into Stillness

Finally, there is the joy of relaxing in the seat of the Self (anandamaya kosha), or “moving into stillness.” While this layer may seem inaccessible, we’re all likely to have experienced moments of this—both on and off the mat.

Access to this core Self is most likely to occur in mediation—or other focused practice—when there is a convergence with a flow of energy much larger than our own. In some counterintuitive way, this moving toward our own center opens us to a radiant flow of love, connection, and cosmic union.

One final thought for embarking on the journey of yoga from Buddhist monk and religious scholar Sheng-yen:

“Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it. Never let it out of your sight. It will take you.”

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Putting Down Roots: Self-Care Tips for Falling into Winter

The philosophy of Ayurveda teaches that the five elements—earth, water, fire, air, and space—are manifest in all things. Each element has certain qualities, attributes, and impacts on the body and mind. Together, these five basic elements (pancha mahabhutas) form a system of classification for all the objects found on Earth, including the human body, the times of day, seasons of our lives, and nature’s seasons.

The transition from mid-late fall into winter is a time of year where Vata predominates. The temperature cools, and the air is dry and blustery. Vata is dominated by the elements of air and space. It’s dry, cold, quick, mobile, irregular, and unstable. In nature, this is seen in the falling leaves as they dry, change color, drop from the trees, and scatter.  

Getting Blown Off Balance

During this “windy” seasonal change, there’s a tendency for the body to take on the imbalances inherent in Vata. This may include a bit more anxiety and restlessness, difficulty sleeping, dry skin, constipation/gas (there’s a reason it’s called “wind”), and a general feeling of being unable to settle.

The primary organ of Vata is the colon, and Vata’s task is movement or “to move things.” This includes the body’s waste and fluids, the mind’s thoughts, and our nerve impulses.

When out of balance, Vata can have an especially strong effect on the nervous system, generating fear and worry, where the mind’s thoughts move quickly or in a circular motion, leaving you feeling scattered and ungrounded. When Vata is in balance there’s an overall sense of happiness, calm, and stability. The mind is clear and alert.

Practices that can tip Vata off balance include exposure to cold and wind, irregular sleeping patterns, travel, too much going on, and unscheduled eating. Digestion can also be upset by continuing to eat the raw and pungent foods of summer, such as salads and other raw vegetables and fruits, and more spicy fare.

Righting and Securing Ourselves

A tree that is deeply rooted in the ground and well cared for can handle the winds of change, the drying and eventual loss of leaves. To keep ourselves from being “blown away” during this season of transition, we also require routines that encourage strong roots and plenty of self-care.

Consider one or more of the following practices when you feel yourself becoming a bit untethered. Perhaps add one or more of these daily. The practice that’s best is the one you will do. The aim is to help restore or maintain your equilibrium during the changeable Vata season.

  • Take a pause. Slow down and reconnect with your breath. This centering can be done anywhere at any time. Begin with awareness, noticing where the breath originates in the body, its texture, and sound. Without creating stress or making a project of it, gradually bring the inhale and exhale into balance—about the same length. Then begin to take a gentle pause at the end of the exhale. This focus on the exhale triggers the para-sympathetic (“rest and digest”) nervous system, bringing a sense of calm and balance to the mind and body. 
  • Give the earth a hug. A simple and extremely pleasurable way to ground the body and soothe the mind and senses is to bring the feet in contact with the earth. This can be done in any number of ways, but one of the simplest is to take a short walk—don’t overdo. Take care to stay warm. Wear shoes and socks. And cover the ears, which are especially Vata sensitive, if there’s a cool breeze.
  • Avoid carrying the irregular schedule of summer into fall. Take advantage of the sun going down earlier. Forego late nights and gradually bring your bed time to somewhere between 10:00pm and 10:30pm. This will allow getting up a bit earlier and at the same time each morning. Eat at regular 4-6 hour intervals, avoiding late night eating. Both of these practices will encourage better sleep. 
  • Shift to warm, cooked foods. Eat more easily digested foods such as soups, cooked root vegetables, rice, almonds, and oatmeal. Limit iced drinks, and eat fewer raw (uncooked), cold, dry, and bitter/astringent (e.g., leafy greens) foods. 
  • Drink up: hydrate inside and out. Drink warming herbal teas such as those with ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. To keep your skin hydrated and the body calmed, a few times a week give yourself a massage with a warm, heavier oil, such as sesame (Learn more about daily self-massage call Abhyanga). Also moisten the nasal passages with sesame oil or a designated Nasya oil
  • Add stabilizing and grounding yoga asanas. If you have a regular yoga practice, add more asanas, or postures, that stabilize the hips and ground the feet. Move slowly and focus on the breath’s exhalation. Stay longer in Tadasana (Mountain pose), Utkatasana (air chair), and Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I). Try a reclined tree pose (Vrksasana) before taking it to standing. And include an inverted pose, such headstand or shoulder stand if these are part of your regular practice. Otherwise, Viparita Karani (legs up the wall, pictured above) is a perfect antidote to a Vata imbalance.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Walking Meditation: Ten Small Steps to a New Beginning

While I’m an enthusiastic walker, I have rarely had the opportunity to practice a walking meditation or taken the initiative to do it on my own. In traditional Buddhist teachings, walking is identified as one of four meditation postures, along with sitting, standing, and lying down.

But a few months ago, a walking meditation was included as part of a yoga class I attended. While it’s often recommended to practice walking meditation outdoors, in this case, it was a cold, dark winter evening and so we walked inside, together, in barefoot silence.

The instruction was to bring complete attention to the act of slow, deliberate walking, noticing the feet as they touched the floor, heel to toe, and everything in between. At this pace and with this intention, gaze just in front of my feet, these small steps led to an unbidden insight: even moving one foot in front of the other requires a small leap of faith—and there is always a new place to land. 

The Place of Beginning

While it may not be a conscious thought, each step carries a momentum and commitment to move forward—to take the next step. When moving slowly, with laser-like focus, that space between the time the one foot leaves the ground and the other touches down suddenly becomes one that reveals itself to be an ever new beginning.

Like all beginnings, it opens to the unknown. The first sutra (or thread) in the YogaSutras of Pantanjali offers some insight into this place of beginnings. It reads:

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥
atha yoga-anuśāsanam ||1||

While it’s translated in many ways, it might simply be read, “Now, the teachings/practice of yoga begins/is being made.” Implied in this is a readiness or preparation, and a commitment to accept going forward, whatever that might mean. It also brings full attention to the significance of “now,” of beginning, and the power and momentum of the present moment.

There is great force in committing to simply start, to taking the next step. In Nicolai Bachman’s discussion of this first sutra he says, “Whenever we make an important decision, often the universe will energetically support us.” 

A 10-Step Walking Meditation to Bring You to Now

If you’re ready to open to a new beginning, try the following. This 10-step walking meditation will help wake you up to your own mindful “now.”

1.  Find a welcoming setting. Choose a spot, whether inside or out, that offers a peaceful, unhurried environment free from distractions. It’s also ideal to be barefooted. A beach, park, or grassy area is nice, and walking outside has many healing benefits. But a small, quiet indoor space where you can simply walk a few steps one way or the other also works. You don’t have to go far.
2.  Stay in step with your breath. Move with the breath, perhaps lifting the foot off on the inhale and stepping down on an exhale.
3.  Open your heart. Lengthen the spine and open the heart center, allowing for a broadening across the collarbone and relaxed shoulders. Feel the body’s energy from the base of the spine to the crown of the head.
4.  Mind your gaze. Consider keeping your focus on the ground, perhaps just a few feet in front of you.
5.  Keep the pace slow. Be deliberate. Move with intention and stay in the moment.
6.  Inhabit each step. Remain conscious of the bottoms of the feet as they touch the earth, as well as the space between steps.
7.  Walk like you mean it. Spread the toes and fix the bottoms of the feet to the earth—plant them, grow something.
8.  Release any thought of getting somewhere. Enjoy the power and pleasure of being present. As the one monk says to the other in the New Yorker cartoon, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”
9.  Enjoy the support of the earth. Wake up to the feeling of the feet touching the ground, knowing that the earth is always there to support and provide a foundation.
10. Take a leap. Let this simple practice supply the experience and encouragement to take some bigger step in your life.

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