Friday, May 9, 2014

No Cars, No Roads

No cars, no roads.
     Ten days in Alaska. Ten days without the sight or sound of cars. Ten days of eagle watching. With extended daylight hours, ten days has felt more like twenty.

Something about the stillness here at Stillpoint Lodge has amplified my awareness of the noise in my head. This is not a ten day silent retreat, but such retreats have helped me prepare for the drastic transition here. Eventually, I expect the inner noise will grow more quiet, like my surroundings.

A sea otter spiraling through the water reminds me to enjoy the day. It's my day off. There are no shops, nothing to purchase, no admission fees. Away from urban living, I no longer need my google calendar! Life has finally become simplified. I'm still adjusting to the these new found freedoms. Everything feels surreal, some things are uncomfortable. At times, it is hard to grasp spending five months in this remote setting. Thought waves of disturbance try to interrupt the possibility of contentment.

The one constant is nature. The snowcapped mountains have felt welcoming since the moment I spotted them from the plane. They are the anchor for my experience here. Sitting with them, they hold the space for all of my encounters (real and imagined).

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Turn your Commute into a Yoga Practice

Commuting with Kindness
     When driving becomes a stressful, or burdensome task, consider turning your commute into a beneficial yoga practice. Here are some ways to transform your commute:

1) Acceptance: Whether you take the "wrong road," find yourself in heavy traffic, or notice the car is falling apart with each unavoidable pot hole you hit, acceptance is a great way to stop the suffering. When expecting an uneventful commute, a variety of unpleasant circumstances can still arise. Thankfully, most of them are non-emergencies, though our minds often don't know the difference. Accept the pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral moments of a commute, for a powerful way to practice yogic living.

2) Compassion: Shouting at the "idiot"on the road, leaves me feeling like the idiot. When another driver does something hazardous or unkind, instead of insulting their imagined character, try connecting for a moment with the humanity of that driver. This effectively brings about a state of compassion, rather than hostility. Maybe the problem driver is unfamiliar with the area, new to driving, ill, elderly, etc. Instead of assuming the driver is an unintelligent, or terrible person, try having compassion for all drivers (including yourself). Being confined to a machine with wheels can be the perfect space for finding our tender hearted selves.

3) Non-Greed: Needing to be at the front of the lane at all times, cutting in front of someone for a gas pump, or not stopping when pedestrians are present, brings a spirit of greed to the road. We can change an attitude of violence, greed, and stealing (e.g.; running a red light) into an experience of yoga. Non-greed and other important ethical guidelines of yoga are addressed in the yamas. Our commute gives a chance to practice them.

4) Noticing Bodily Sensations: It may be that you are stuck in traffic, despite the extra time you allowed. Whether it is the driving atmosphere contributing to tension, and/or the mental processing of the day, yoga is available to us all! Noticing where you feel tension in your body is a great way to begin the physical practice of yoga. Try tuning into the places that are gripping (jaw, hips, glutes). Become aware of the tightly held areas in your body. Use commuting time to get acquainted with where you feel open, uncomfortable, tight, easeful, etc. Notice how compassionate awareness can transform tension. Turn your commute into a yoga practice by being present in your body.

5) Breath Awareness:  Turning your commute into a yoga practice may feel impossible at times. In this case, there may not be a better time to focus on yoga's chief tool, the breath. That's right, just keep noticing your inhale/exhale. An anxious mind calms down when there is something productive to focus on. Why not let your mind become interested in the act of being alive? Use the breath as a relaxant for the body with natural breathing. Breathing through the nose when possible, allow the breath to be just as it is. Notice, breathe, repeat!

What if you are not the driver?
As the driver or passenger, commuting can be a highly stressful event. As a recovering "backseat driver," it is an on-going struggle to practice yoga from the passenger's seat. Passengers have little say over the driver's style and conduct. For me, it becomes necessary to crank up my practice of acceptance, breath awareness, noticing bodily sensations, and compassion for all drivers. Jack Kornfield has outlined a traditional loving kindness practice, which is not only effective, but feels great.

Practicing one or more of the above suggestions while in a car, will change your commuting experience for the better. Don't forget to give yourself more travel time, share the road, accept present moment circumstances, and develop compassion for all drivers! Once you arrive at your destination, don't be surprised if your practice has a positive impact on the rest of your day.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Stopping & Feeling

Plants adjusting to the season.
     I feel caught between the seasons, as winter takes it's leisurely time to transition. Today, I am aware of an inner sludge like feeling. The dregs of winter are stuck within me. This spring transition is not feeling smooth or particularly cheerful. Yet, somehow I know it's important to experience it all, as it manifests in and around me.

When it comes to plants, we carefully choose the right conditions for their  successful transition to the outdoors. Some people claim that talking to the plants will help with this. Working with children has taught me the most about the importance of transitions. Making a big deal out of a transition involving a child, usually backfires, Trying to sneak by and ignore a transition can be a big mistake too. When children transition, we accept that there may be crying, extreme excitement, heartfelt protest, or falling into a deep sleep. The energy present during transitions of all kinds, seems to be extra charged. Thoughts and talk about the future during a transition often leave us clinging even more, to the present. Letting go of a long winter should be easy, but there is still a transition, and a clearing that needs to happen within.

Ideal conditions for times of transition include slow moving yoga classes, where there is time to feel and experience the spaces between the poses. It feels so life affirming, to sense and acknowledge whatever arises, moment to moment, seasonally, and in all of life's transitions. If a yoga class is not available, there is almost always a space for legs up the wall (viparita karani).

This week I'm giving myself extra permission to play in the muck of my own feelings and surroundings. If may involve guilt-free napping, moving very slowly, not over socializing, quiet meditation, gentle yoga, and anything else that gives me time to feel. I am crawling into spring this year, and feeling my way out of winter.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Circling Back to Alaska

A window display captures wonder.
While contemplating new ways of creating balance in the Twin Cities, an unexpected opportunity popped up. A seasonal job at an Alaskan retreat center was suddenly back on the table. I was reminded that the swirl of life is never final, and accepted the position I'd applied for more than a year ago.

At age 5, I had been in Alaska just long enough to vomit on the capital steps. It had taken us a long time to drive there in a van filled with rotating hitch-hikers. Upon arrival in Juneau, I heard murmurings that we had run out of money. It was already time to turn around! This was clearly a direct experience of life being about the journey, not the destination. I remember thinking that I would just go back another time. Because of this, my inner child is pretty excited to be circling back around to Alaska! My job description includes (teaching yoga, massage, cooking, etc.), but my main responsibility will be caring for a 6 year old girl. Again, my inner child is jumping for joy!

Five months in Halibut Cove is sure to highlight the pain of my attachments too. I will miss the familiar everything of home, but looking at life from a wider lens is always appealing. There will be plenty of time to make friends (or not) with my attachments and aversions. With Mother Nature as my guru, there will be plenty of lessons in flexibility, strength, and trust. I will keep you posted, and hope to hear comments and insights from your "road" too.