Friday, May 25, 2012

Week 20 for Juliet: Say Yes

Exercise:  In this practice we say yes to everyone and everything that happens.  When you notice the impulse to disagree, consider whether it is really necessary.  Could you just nod, or even be silent but pleasant?  Whenever it is not dangerous to you or others agree with others and what is happening in your life.

This week when I read the mindfulness exercise what immediately rushed into my mind was:  “Say YES to the magical spectrum of life!”  This is practically the mantra of John Friend and Anusara yoga.  I have heard it so many times and taught it so many times, that honestly I am tired of it.  It would be OK with me, in fact preferable, if I never hear that exact phrase spoken again.  With all of the drama surrounding Anusara yoga, practicing saying YES is the last thing I want to do.  I mean I have spent years practicing YES.  What I think I need is more practice saying NO.  (For you lovely readers, bless you, who have no idea of what is going on in the Anusara community, can catch you up on the John Friend/Anusara scandal if you are interested.)

But here is a secret that I learned that I want you to learn too:  Saying yes to something is the same as saying no to something else.  For example, saying yes to the donut offered to you in the meeting, is equivalent to saying no to your commitment to feed yourself healthy food.  Saying yes to an invitation to go out for a beer after work, is really the same as saying no to coming home on time for dinner.  My point is that there is no real yes or no, there are only choices.  Rather than focus on saying yes all the time, the best plan is to weigh the options and make the best choice you can in each situation.  If you make a bad choice own it up to experience and learn to make a better decision next time, but please don't just say yes to everything that comes your way.

I also disagree with the assertion that I should nod in agreement or be silent when someone says something I disagree with.  As a southern girl, I know how to do that already, I have mastered being polite, nodding to things I didn’t agree with, not adding my voice to the conversation.  To this request that I should say yes more often and agree to avoid being disagreeable, even for a week, I offer you a resounding NO.

For your amusement, here is the trailer for the Jim Carey movie “Yes Man”.  As I remember, saying Yes to everything didn’t work out so well for him either.

Week 20, Zanna: Say Yes

The Exercise: In this practice we say yes to everyone and everything that happens. When you notice the impulse to disagree, consider whether it is really necessary. Could you just nod, or even be silent but pleasant? Whenever it is not dangerous to you or others, agree with others and with what is happening in your life.

I truly tend to do this anyway. I suppose I should have made it tougher on myself by telling people what I was doing, but it's been a tough week without the added burden of smart-ass friends and family taking advantage of this "condition" (of course, I do realize it would have all been in fun...I tend to surround myself with people who are really decent people who don't wish harm on me or others... but they are smart-asses, and well, hi-jinks could have ensued).  I'd say, this wasn't a resounding success for me. We went geocaching for the first time in a long time (excluding vacation caching), and we just didn't have fun this time. We've been talking about it for a while, and this weekend we finally said, "let's do it!"  I'm still itching from the red bug hive we managed to find in lieu of finding a cache.  After we said "yes" to giving up, my dear husband decided he wanted to eat at a German buffet which, while tasty, left me feeling bloated and horrible.  Sunday I said "yes" to being a lazy butt and playing Skyrim all day. Finally, even though neither of us have been feeling it lately, Juliet and I said "yes" to writing this blog.  Not sure if we're getting anywhere with it, but at least we're going.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Week 19 for Juliet: Rest Your Hands

Exercise:  Several times a day let your hands relax completely.  For at least a few seconds, let them be completely still.  One way to do this is to place them in your lap and then focus your awareness on the subtle sensations in the quiet hands.

I will confess up front that my mind was somewhat preoccupied during this exercise week and not really focused on the mindfulness task of resting my hands.  I know that my nature is to keep moving and that staying still is difficult for me.  That I can keep a job where I sit at a desk most of the day is pretty amazing.  If it were not for my yoga and meditation teachers, I don’t think I would have learned the importance of being still. 

Even if I don’t have a formal sitting practice during the day, I try to remember to make time for moments to be still and reflect.  I have found that doing this is the equivalent of throwing myself a life raft, something to keep me afloat and above the waves of stress and busyness that want to pull me under.  How did I ever manage without this practice?  So much growth happens for me in the stillness.

Pausing I rest my hands, palms turning upward.  This is the gesture of the Buddha, a being who is known for his qualities of being peaceful, loving, and full of gratitude.  Today and everyday I am grateful for all my teachers and these moments of quiet reflection.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Week 19, Zanna: Rest Your Hands

The Exercise: Several times a day let your hands relax completely. For at least a few seconds, let them be completely still. One way to do this is to place them in your lap and then focus your awareness on the subtle sensations in the quiet hands. 

One thing this exercise made abundantly clear to me, is that I do not know how to relax.  I feel like I am constantly on the edge of my seat, waiting to jump up and deal with stuff constantly.  I'm better than I used to be. Back when I worked for the bank, I had what seemed to be permanent half-moons etched into my palms from constantly clenching my fists.  I'm not really sure what the ultimate goal of this mindfulness blog should be. I guess pointing out my shortcomings (like my inability to get a blog post done by my own deadlines, and of course, my inability to relax) is part of it.  I didn't come up with any insight on how to solve this issue of mine, but I guess knowing is half the battle.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Week 18, Zanna: Notice Trees

Exercise:  During this week become aware of the trees around you.  There are many aspects you can attend to, for example, their different shapes (round or slim, neat or shaggy in outline), different heights, ways of branching, and colors and types of foliage.  Don't let the mind begin analyzing; just notice and appreciate trees. (If you live in a treeless area, you can change this to becoming aware of cacti, bushes, or grasses.)
A good time to notice trees is when you are driving or walking, or when you look out windows.  If you have a chance, walk among the trees in a park, forest, or tree-lined street.  Look at leaves and bark close up.  Be aware that trees are breathing. What they breathe out (oxygen), we breathe in.  What we breathe out (carbon dioxide), they breathe in.

OK.  This is annoying.  I wrote a fairly long post and it just disappeared.  It was rambly and didn't make a lot of sense, but it was done... and now it's gone. I could tell you it was brilliant and insightful, but it wasn't. So I leave you with just this:

No. 1: The Larch. The... Larch

Oh.  And there's nothing funny about trees.  Nothing at all.  Especially the Bansai... or the tall, hard, and mighty Sequoia. Nothing funny at all.  So don't laugh.

Week 18 for Juliet: Notice Trees

Exercise:  During this week become aware of the trees around you.  Don’t let the mind begin analyzing, just notice and appreciate the trees.

The neighborhood I live in is well known for its older homes and mature trees.  In good weather, I love to go for walks enjoying the wide streets and cool shade provided by the trees.  To help me better appreciate trees, I thought I would take a few pictures to share with you.

This first tree comes from my front yard.  When my mother gave me a tree face, the tree in my front yard seemed perfectly suited for it.  Almost like this part of itself had been missing, and it was so happy to finally have its features visible again.  Years ago, when my neighbor’s daughter was very young, she told me that when they went on walks, her daughter would toddle up into my yard and pat the tree and have conversations with it.  I like to imagine that this old tree is quite wise and has been privy to many a conversation.

One of my favorite trees is the Magnolia.  On this tree the flowers are blooming.  Some of the blossoms so large it would take two hands to hold them.  The Magnolia is a true Southern beauty.

My hairdresser/landscape consultant (doesn’t everyone’s hairdresser double as a landscaper?) has drawn up plans for my front yard with suggestions for putting in new plants.  One suggestion was to put in a Japanese Maple tree.  She told me many houses in my neighborhood had them.  She was right.  I just hadn’t really noticed.

These next two plants are trees that I liked.  One because the shape was like a well formed Christmas tree.  The other because I was surprised at how soft and delicate the leaves were.

The office that I work in is pretty large.  On my indoor walks, I noticed these two trees living the life of never having to worry about bugs or the weather.  If I were a tree, I think  would hate living inside all the time.  I know that I enjoy being outside.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Week 17 for Juliet: Entering New Spaces

Exercise:  Bring awareness to transitions between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another.  Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath.  Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.

I love the metaphor of the threshold being the place in the middle; the space between where you have been and where you are going.  That life is a constant movement from one threshold to another.

Spaces themselves hold a sense of energy.  When I walk through the door at City Yoga, I notice the beauty of the space, the colors of the room and the fresh flowers that are always at the desk.  It feels inviting to me, full of people inside chatting and laughing, just leaving class or waiting to go in.

In contrast, I go to work.  Opening the door, I am greeted by a cold blast of air conditioning and walls and carpet of neutral grays and beiges.  The slight hum of the noise canceling sound machine is always present in the background.  The energy of this space feels very different.  My energy here feels very different.  My mood is quieter, more introspective, contemplating what I need to do for the day and how I will work through my task list.

I don’t want to paint the picture that one is good and one is bad.  There is a reason for the design of both spaces.  While a contrast, both have their place.  In both places, I stay present with the breath, watching what arises in me from the inside.

Week 17, Zanna: Entering New Spaces

The Exercise: Our shorthand for this mindfulness practice is "mindfulness of doors," but it actually involves bringing awareness to any transitions between spaces, when you leave one kind of space and enter another. Before you walk through a door, pause, even for a second, and take one breath. Be aware of the differences you might feel in each new space you enter.
Part of this practice is to pay careful attention to how you close the door when entering a new space.  We often move immediately into a new space without finishing up with the old one, forgetting to close the door or letting it slam shut.

We were halfway through our vacation when this exercise started, and it was really perfectly timed.  We spent the earlier part of the week primarily in national parks (Zion and Grand Canyon).  We woke Wednesday in the town of Williams, Arizona. We walked through the door of our room, into the lovely sitting room and then through the door to the kitchen where our hostess made us homemade buckwheat pancakes and poached eggs.  After a quiet and leisurely breakfast we walked back through the doorways we came through to come to breakfast, packed, and walked out the private door to our car.  (We had a great car on our trip.  I'd booked a full size car since it was just a few dollars more, and so that we would be comfortable on our long driving days.  They let us pick a car from several.  They had Nissan Altimas, Chevy Malibus, Altima, Altima, Malibu, Altima, Malibu, Malibu, Altima, Malibu... Dodge Charger.  When we got to the last car, Chris looked at me with a gleam in his eye I've rarely seen before... so I said, "what do you think? Altima?"  He stopped for a second and then said, "I want the Charger". )
We transitioned smoothly in our Charger from the natural splendor of the national park system, by way of Route 66.  Burma-Shave ads and geocaches paving our journey from heaven to hell. 
We were safe in our silver bubble until we exited the car, walked across the parking lot, and opened the door.  The air behind us was pleasant and breezy.  Through the door there were clouds of smoke and a cacophony of bells and sirens and electronoise. 
Miles and miles. Nothing to hit.
It was impossible to not notice the moving from one space in the casino to another.
The most dramatic transition from space to space came Friday.  After a full day of that Las Vegas nonsense, we decided we must get out of town.  Since it was National Park Week, we opted to go to Death Valley, the lowest and driest place in the US.  When we got back to Las Vegas, we quickly got ready and went out to see the Cirque du Soleil show "O" which is about, and takes place in excessive amounts of, water. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Week 16, Zanna: Just Three Breaths

The Exercise:  As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  Then open all your senses and just be aware – of color, sound, touch, and smell.

This was an interesting one for me this week (covering April 18-25) as first half of the week was spent in crying induced sinus infection (some very bad news received) and then crazed elation (previous very bad news tempered) and then frenzied packing and vacation.  I can't go into the specifics yet of the first part of the week, but if you're wildly curious, drop me a note and I'll explain as best I can.  The vacation was to the American west. 

Opening my senses.

The sinus infection made breathing at best annoying, at its worst close to impossible.  I love to travel, but I hate to fly, breathing in the pressurized air.  I had to make conscious efforts to forget about things that were happening outside vacation, so the three breaths meditation was helpful to remind myself to be present where I was.  My unconscious mind didn't get the memo, and I slept horribly, but during the day, I was completely present and able to breathe most of the time. 

It was a wonderful time in Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, but breathing became a bit of a problem.  Between the sinus crud and the elevation, I was frequently shorter of breath than I'd anticipated.  The same levels of effort at my normal elevation aren't a problem.  At 4500ft+ it was not debilitating, but annoying.  

Week 16 for Juliet: Just Three Breaths

Exercise:  As many times a day as you are able, give the mind a short rest.  For the duration of three breaths ask the inner voices to be silent.  Then open all your senses and just be aware – of color, sound, touch, and smell.

In 2002 I was in my first yoga teacher training program when discovered the power of breathing through a book by Swami Rama called the “Science of Breath”. 

I was mesmerized by the story of this man who could control his breath to such a degree that when tested in a lab, he could stop and start his own heart.  I remember learning how closely the breath is linked to the mind.  When we are afraid, our breathing becomes very quiet and shallow; when we are sad and crying, our breath changes to reflect this.  When we are really angry or stressed we tend to hold our breath.  The breath reveals the state of mind.  Conversely doing something as simple as changing your breath pattern can alter your state of mind.  Who knew? 

I never really thought about breathing much until 2002.  I mean everyone breathes right?  How complicated is that?  There are many other books on the market on breathing techniques and the power of the breath, but this one was the game changer for me.  One reason is that it addressed the science behind practicing breathing techniques.  In yoga, the breath is related to prana, or our energetic life force.  These techniques are called pranayama and are key to a yoga practice.  In reading this blog if you only do one of the mindfulness practices we talk about, taking three deep breaths several times a day is the one to do.  Seriously, I think it is that important.

Without getting into the drama other than to say teenagers know how to press your buttons, and that yes, yoga teachers have tempers too, I have really needed this practice this week.  For me this practice gives me the ability to hit the pause button and come back to the present moment.  It has given me a much needed moment of clarity so that my words are not angry or hurtful but hopefully have the right impact.  So when in doubt, breathe, just breathe.