Savasana & Meditation


“Learn how to incorporate meditation into your daily routine, no matter how brief. So much of our suffering, pain, insecurities, and struggles are caused by a disconnection with ourselves and our source. Meditation costs nothing, requires nothing, and can be done anywhere. In order to change your body, you need to change your mind and the way it is hardwired.”

Jennifer Galardi, owner of LivWhole in New York City

I’ve become a big proponent of not letting my cranky ol’ mind run the show.  My mind is really useful at times, don’t get me wrong, but there are times when it seems to be set on driving me nutty crackers.  I was reading lately about how researchers have concluded that we’re hardwired to be cup-half-empty kind of people.

And it makes sense if you think about the survival of the species.  You were more likely to survive if you were looking over your shoulder for a lion or some other angry large-toothed predator.  Being fearful and looking for what’s wrong or missing has probably helped us survive in the long run.  Our flight or fight responses are pretty well honed.  But in our modern day it’s not as handy as it was when we were cave dwellers.

Now the thing we fear might be the next squabble with our boss and how does fight or flight help us there?  We’re probably not going to punch him out.  Although running away may make sense at times.

So the researchers suggest we actively work against the tendencies of our mind to be always looking at the empty half of the glass.   Be grateful, for example.  For all the full-part-of-the-cup things you can possibly think of.   It’s a simple method of replacing the list in your mind of everything that’s “wrong” with everything that’s right.  

Somedays that “wrong”  list seems to run on auto-pilot, “oh yeah see i can’t find a parking place.  And the line-up inside is probably huge.  Do I have the money for this?  I dread seeing my credit card bill.  Just watch,  I’m going to be late and my friend will be pissed.”  and on and on on it goes.

You can also actively work against your cranky mind by telling it the score.  The cup-half-full score.  Whether you believe what you say or not, I find it gets my head into a better space and helps me feel more calm.  And that’s a start to improving my day.  Here are some lines I used in Savasana in yoga class recently:

I am filled with peace, strength and power

All indecision, anxiety, depression and discouragement are dissolving from my mind.

The life force flows freely and harmoniously through every atom of my body.I am complete and perfect now.

I dwell in perfect peace.

 Ecoyogi’s comment on the last post made me think more about how challenging Savasana can be.  I remembered a student from last winter, let’s call her Janice.  She seemed to be wound a little tight.  She was someone who called and emailed multiple times to make sure she completely understood what we’d be doing in class and how it fit with a physical issue she had. 

On the first night of class the first thing she said before we started was that she didn’t think she’d be doing the relaxation at the end of class.  I’d never had someone seem anxious about the relaxation part of class before, often people joke about wanting it first!  I said something lighthearted but was thinking, crap is there any way i can help her at least give it a shot?

So we did the class and as usual I focussed on a slow wind down so people can’t help but feel calmer (thanks yoga!).  And when we got to the relaxation part I had a flash of inspiration for Janice.   I walked over and told her that the floor was a little chilly (it was January) and maybe a blanket would help.  She looked doubtful but she said she’d give it a try.  And i said, i have just the thing.  I went and got Bear. 

Bear is my affectionate name for a King Size black faux mink bed cover.  It’s huge, it’s thick, and it’s warm as toast.  Bear gets dragged out in the depths of winter because I’m a cold person and it is simply the best antidote to the chillies. 

So i drag this monstrous furry black warm thing over to her and she has to laugh.  I say, Janice, meet Bear.  So i covered her up, tucked her in and she did her first Savasana.  She didn’t move.  Bear probably had her pinned to the floor.

I brought Bear out every week for Janice until finally in the spring she said she was warm enough and could go without.  I think she became comfortable enough to do Savasana without props.  Whatever the reason i was happy to have another convert to Savasana.

A woman who’s taken a couple sessions of Power Yoga with me said that my classes are so relaxing.  She said she used to avoid meditation and then she started really looking forward to Savasana in my classes.  Now in her home practice she does it regularly and as a result has been sleeping better.

And it was good feedback to get because I do focus on that in my classes.

It seems that we’re all so good at Doing Stuff.  And the way we do yoga in this culture is to Do Yoga.  It seems to tap into the parts of us that are used to pushing ourselves.  It taps into “getting through long intense day at the office”.  It taps into “running up a hill”. But where is the Simply Being part?  When do we practice just hanging out and breathing? 

That’s why I focus on it my classes.  I want to help people be more OK with just breathing.  And it’s great when i see newbies come into class and they fidget all through Savasana the first few times.  Their body seems to produce itches every 30 seconds.  And they peak around to make sure they’re not missing anything.  I’ve been there.  And then sometime during the session they chill out.  It’s like ahhhhh, Savasana.  They hunker down like they’ve been looking forward to it all week and really relax. 

One of the things I like to have people do, something I picked up in my Kripalu training, is to take in the sensations of their body.  Anything – parts that feel alive, parts that feel numb, their heart beat, the sensations that result from the in and out breath, pain, tension, discomfort – take it all in without judgement. 

I ask them to just notice.  I invite them to see if they can take in these sensations without analyzing or judging any of them.  I believe  it’s called Witness Consciousness. 

It seems like such good training for life off the mat.  When life gets crazy and I get my panty in a knot – it’s usually because I’ve judged events as Really Not OK and I’m resisting them like crazy, making myself crazy as well.  I’m trying to do something new.  When I’m in knotted panty mode I ask myself – what do I need to be OK with this? 

What expectations about life, do I need to let go of here?  Because life doesn’t really ask our  permission before it goes off the rails does it?  Or what expectations of people do I need to let go of?  Because I’ve never had people ask my permission before they do crazy things either.  It all just happens and it’s in my best interest to find a way to be OK with it. 

So I ask myself – where am I rigid that I need to soften?  What have I made my mind up about that I might need to unmake?  What will it take for me to stop shaking my fist at the universe and say “oh well!”?  What will it take for me to find humour in this?  The answers are pretty interesting. 

And what happens is that when I focus on myself and how i’m dealing it totally takes me out of how lousy the people and life events are around me.  I get out of judgement mode.  I’m more likely to look on the people and events with compassion, because that’s how i’m treating myself.

And when I can figure out a way to be OK with it I’m more likely to deal with the situation in a functional way (hopefully) with less stress.   And that makes all that hard navel-gazing work totally worth it.

Byron Katie talks about Loving What Is, regardless of what it is.  Whew.  I dunno if I’m there yet, although I like reading her stuff as a stretch goal.  One day I’ll get there.  Until then I’ll work on dropping the judgements and being OK with what is.

Baby Leo started sleeping through the night and I lost the huge bags under my eyes, i just have delicate little dark circles now.  So I celebrated by doing what any red blooded woman would, i started meditating in the mornings again.  It’s funny because why didn’t i start earlier?  What’s 10 minutes?  But when you’re sleep deprived all you can think about is being horizontal in bed.  Even if you’re just lying there with your eyes scrunched closed thinking, baby’s going to wake any second, baby’s going to wake any second.

I keep it simple, I sit cross legged on the couch and focus on my breath for 10 minutes or more if I’ve woken up early.  I used to have such a hard time letting go of my thoughts (or is that *ignoring* my thoughts, or is that telling my thoughts to go *piss off*), now it feels like such a relief to Not Think.  I know there’s a whole day of scattered thoughts ahead and remembering only half of what i should and doing maybe some of what’s important.  Only following my breath for a few minutes feels like heaven.

What i’ve noticed with meditating is that i’m more clear during the day.  You know how they say you should pick your battles?  And you know how there’s about 500 of them a day when you live with a five year old “asserting his independence” (although  i usually call it other things)?  I used to think that those decisions took time, one needed to think long and hard about whether this was a battle that was getting picked or not. 

Now it’s instantaneous.  Am I making waffles because he’s asked 26 times?  Nope still not, i’m tired and need to stick to my “no”.  Am I going to try to make the baby understand that it’s a real drag when he throws his banana chunks all over the kitchen floor instead of eating them?  Meh, I tried that yesterday and it’ll cheese me off to try again today.  Instead I’m just going to take them away from him before the kitchen floor starts to sprout banana trees. 

Bing bango, the decisions just make themselves.  And i know you’re thinking, Cor maybe it’s not the meditation, maybe you’ve finally figured out how to navigate your way through the complicated waters of parenthood.  And i say, yup, i don’t care if it the brand of *coffee* i’m drinking, i’ll take the clarity.  I’ll keep meditating too. 

It feels so good to give myself the first few minutes of the day.  Just for me.  And my living room windows face the water and the sun rising so it’s a good place to be in the morning.  Sometimes the baby wakes up while i’m sitting but he doesn’t go into full cry or anything so i just use it as an opportunity to let the sound go.  Baby will be ok for 3 more minutes, keep breathing.  And being thankful that i’m sitting and breathing.

It feels so good to do what feels good.  I’ve been trying to listen to my gut or my intuition or whatever you want to call it  and i think that’s how you best evaluate it.  Does this feel Good and On Track and Interesting?  I worked with someone from California who used to say about someone, “he’s got a lot of Go Energy”.  It’s a funny woo-woo expression, but it seems to capture it – does this thing have a “Go” feeling to it?   It’s a feeling thing and not a thinking thing.  It’s not –  does my head think this should be on the top of my To Do list?  It’s not a “should”.  It’s gotta be a “wanna”. 

I had D K Brainard do a personal astrology reading for me for my birthday this year.  He said that’s what Tauruses are all about, doing what feels good or will feel good.  The reading was awesome.  He really sees stuff in your chart, it’s not just “you’re a very outgoing person”.  It helped me understand myself better.  It was affirming and positive about what’s coming.  He said I need to, “try to let go into feeling good and then life will flow to where it needs to go”.  He said that letting go is my challenge this time around and I’d say, oh yeah it is. 

But on the “doing what feels good” front, there’s still a hardwired puritan bit in me that resists it.  Like it can’t be ok.  Like all the good and proper things to be done in life are the things you absolutely hate.  But that’s silly.  Like people being in jobs they hate because mom wanted them to be a lawyer and they really want to work with kids.  If you have to work 40 hours a week until you retire, you need to do what holds your interest.  Do what feels good.   

A simple example for me is clutter clearing.  I love to clear a good bunch of clutter but I until I’m in the right mood it’s a drudgerous task.  If i try to do it before the mood strikes it’s right up there with cleaning hair out of the drain – yuck.  It’s tough to make decisions about stuff, it takes forever, I drag my feet.  But when the mood strikes, man, those garbage bags are full and the place is organized faster than i can say “wow i haven’t seen the floor in here in ages!”  If I’m in the mood, it feels good to do it and feels even better to have it done.

So you’re saying, yeah ok but what about doing tequila shots until you fall over?  That might feel good at the time but it won’t feel good later.  And I say, maybe it needs to be in a big picture sense.  Like the hangover the next morning doesn’t feel good so maybe that cancels out whatever feeling good happens the night before. 

Or maybe the other tact is the really big picture which is, you fall over this time and suuffer the hangover so the next time someone pulls out the bottle, salt and lime you’ll say – boy there was part of that that didn’t feel so good last time so maybe i’ll play it different this time.  You will make sure you’re staying in a “feel good” place this time and avoid the screaming hangover.  I’m still thinking all that through.  Is it really ok to only do what feels good? 

Sometimes things aren’t black and white.  When I’ve just sat down to eat and my son reminds me he needs a drink, it doesn’t feel good to get up again but knowing he’s got a drink and isn’t going to become a dehydrated raisin makes me feel good. 

My other caveat on the feeling good thing is that it’s gotta feel good for others too.  If you’re making yourself feel good at another person’s expense you can’t be an aware compassionate human being and think that’s ok.  It’s gotta feel good for everyone or you’ll just feel guity.  And that doesn’t feel good.

I’ve found that a big part of doing what feels good is managing my energy, which i’m trying to get better at.  When i was working i had a schedule that i needed to manage my energy around.   But without working it’s a free for all.  Since i’m a morning person anytime I’ve had energy I have it burned up by noon.  Then I have nothing left to stay ahead of Angus after school when he’s ready to take on the world (or *destroy* it, depending on the day) after sitting in a desk all day. 

So I’ve tried to not only do what feels good but do itwith more ease.  I remind myself that I don’t have to do x task or y activity at an 110% pace.  In fact it’s better not to.  85-90% is just great.  Yoga taught me that.  And as I go to classes i see that not a lot of teachers teach that, they feel it’s their job to push you as hard as possible.  Maybe they feel like only lazy people go to yoga.  But the fact is, i can push myself hard enough, I’m trying to do less these days. 

I love trying to maintain ease in yoga.  How can i hold Tree pose without being a rigid stump?  So that the slightest breeze will knock me down?  How can i be a bendy swaying baby birch tree that  responds to the breeze but holds her center?  And fall in and out of the pose with humour?  How can i hold a firm standing leg and core but let my bent knee relax open, let my shoulders fall away from my ears, let the muscles in my face relax and let the thoughts in my head be “la-la-la-tree pose” instead of “IF I FALL IT WILL PROVE I’M TOO STOOPID TO DO YOGA”.  You know?  Holding the pose, with ease.  Hanging out in the pose without rigidity. Doing and not doing.

Now i’m trying to find that ease in everything  i do.  If  i’m walking up a hill pushing 70 pounds of Leo and stroller, sure it’s hard, but can i do it with ease?  If i’m picking up groceries but am short of time can i just ignore a few things on the list and get it done with ease rather than race around like a mad woman and knock over the barbeque display while i’m at it?  

It’s like the ying-yang symbol, some black in the white, some white in the black.  I’m doing stuff, but with ease.   Getting things done because they feel good, and feeling good doing it.

 Are you willing to recognize that thoughts are simply thoughts, beautiful and horrible in their scope and power, yet inadequate in their description of who you are?  Are you willing to investigate this?  If so, I invite you to stop thinking, just for a moment.  Not as an act of repression, but as a refusal to continue feeding whatever thought arises, to stop building thought upon thought.  Whether it is a thought of grandeur or a thought of worthlessness, stop feeding it and recognize it as just a thought.

What can a thought do?  It can define experience.  It can classify and relegate experience.  It can generate experience.  But it cannot be experience.  A thought has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The absolute truth has no beginning, no middle, and no end.  It does not appear and then disappear; it is always here.

I am not against thought.  What would be the point of that?  Thought is here.  Thoughts can be a glorious expression of creativity and understanding – to recognize thought for what it is, is to be neither for nor against it.  But when you are free of the bondage of believing that thoughts are reality, you are free to enter into the direct experience of who you are.  Who you are cannot be captured through thought.  The mind cannot capture its source because the mind is only an aspect of the source, not the whole.  You are the source, and since you are the source, you can discover yourself as that.

The Diamond in your Pocket, Gangaji

Have you done the “Sat Nam” meditation before? It rhymes with “But Mom”.  The Kundalini yoga folks use it alot.  I read that it means “I Am That” and I didn’t really get it before.  It also means “That” as in the “Truth” or the “Divine”.  I don’t really get that either, but it came to mind recently.

At work I was moved to sit next to some geeky guys who I didn’t know from Adam.  I wasn’t happy with the change, not the geeky guys so much as the changes.  I said some not-nice things about my new neighbours.  I was angry.  I was in SERIOUS RESIST MODE.  

I’m not going to repeat what I said in front of the whole interweb but to the dear friends I confide in (ok, let’s be honest it’s “Rant at”) thank you for liking me anyways.

It’s a funny thing about being unkind, we hate being victims of it but we all do it to.  In Leah McLaren’s column on the weekend, she was talking about her body and how one of her breasts is larger than the other which earned her the nickname “Biggy Small” in high school. OK it made me laugh but can you imagine? 

We say kids can be so cruel, but we all can and it’s not nice to see in yourself.  Heck if you think seeing it is bad, try blogging about it.  And that’s the point.  The minute we close ourselves off and say “oh boy that’s so not me” it’s just your Shadow side coming into play.  That’s the icky stuff we don’t really want to see.  You say “I’m A and I’m B and you can bet I’m C, but I sure has heck ain’t D”.  But you are.  Maybe just a little.  And so am I.

Because the fact is, we don’t get to choose.  I Am That means it’s a package deal.  And if it does fold back to the Truth or the Divine (I don’t pretend to understand this, just stumbling through the dark here) it’s because we need to accept it all.  It all just is.  And it’s all good. The Light doesn’t exist without the Shadow.

And when we’re able to get our heads there it reminds us how much we’re all connected.  Even when life cheeses us off and we choose to focus on how we feel so darn seperate.

So here’s how I know that to be true.  The other day sitting next to my geeky neighbours somebody brought up Firefly which is a favourite cancelled show and then we talked about what Joss Whedon is going to do next and we agreed that it will hopefully be more Firefly than Buffy.  And then we talked about how Summer Gau rocked in Firefly and amazing that fight scene was, it was like an intricately choreographed dance number, and yes, she used to be a dancer, she hurt her ankle and went into acting and no wonder she got picked up for Terminator, she’s been great we haven’t seen her blink once and thanks to the writer strike we finished the “series” by watching her jeep get blown up and since Fox hasn’t said they’re renewing the series (hello! you owe us, why do you think we even turned *on* the TV during the writers strike!?) we may never find out what happened.

(Sigh) So yup, I’m a package deal.  I can be unkind.  I am a geek.  I Am That. 

I’ve noticed more being written about gratitude lately, and the health and happiness benefits of being grateful.  One recent article talked about how it’s not enough just to mindlessly list stuff you like - you need to feel the positive emotions or the emotional connection to the things you feel gratitude towards to really get a benefit.  Here’s a visualization:

Get into Savasana after your yoga practice and take a few deep Ujjayi breaths while you relax, letting your body sink deep into the mat.

1. Place - Think of a place you feel grateful for.  It could be a place you’ve visited,  a place you go to to relax, it could be your favourite place in your home.  Someplace that allows you to be who you really are. See yourself in that place and experience it with all our sense.  See your surroundings.  Take in the colors and the feeling of the place. Feel the texture of whatever you’re resting on.  Feel the quality and temperature of the air on your skin.  Notice if there’s a smell to your special place and take that in.  Notice any sounds.  Take a couple more breaths while you enjoy being in your place.

2. Thing – Think of something you own and enjoy, that you feel grateful for.  Try to think of something that you feel emotionally connected to.  See this object in your mind’s eye.  Imagine yourself holding it, or if it’s a large object, sitting or relaxing with it.  Notice it’s color.  Notice its texture and how it feels.  Notice if there’s a smell or a sound.  Come up with a word that describes the emotional connection you have to this object.  Take a couple more breaths while you enjoy it.

3. Person.  Now choose a person you feel grateful for.  It obviously can be your partner or a family member, but doesn’t have to be.  It could be the person who serves you coffee in the a.m., someone you feel a connection with.   See that person and hold them in your heart center, in the middle of your chest.  Try to feel the connection or the feelings that they bring up for you. 

Bring a feeling of warmth to your chest, making the feeling stronger and bathing them in your gratitude.  Then taking a few more breaths, breathe that feeling of warmth throughout the rest of your body:  fill your torso, let it flow down your legs to your toes, let it flow down your arms to your fingers, feel it flow up into your neck and fill your head.  Enjoy the feeling of warmth throughout your body and let it relax any last bits of stress or tension you might be holding onto.

Then take your next breath a little deeper.  Bring slight movement back to your fingers, and then to your toes.  Rock your head slightly on the back of your mat.  Roll over onto your right side for a moment with your eyes closed, keeping as much of that relaxed feeling as you can.  And then make your way up to sitting.

I had the opportunity to get to a Bikram class last week in Montreal while I was in town to see The Police.  I loved the teacher and I’m sorry to say I didn’t get her name. 

The last time I had a Bikram opportunity, the teacher was like a drill sargeant, I felt sorry for the newbie that she yelled at.  But the Montreal teacher managed to challenge us but also be gentle.  She was respectful of the newbies in the class saying for Standing Head to Knee Pose, “if this is your first time you’re going to hold the posture right here” with foot in hand above the floor. 

I find Bikram teachers talk non-stop which means I inevitably zone, but because this woman was teaching in English and French I had to really focus when it was in English to make sure I got the instruction I needed.  Then I zoned when she switched to French because I understand about zero of it.  I never did learn the words for ‘rabbit’ and ‘camel’ let alone anything useful to yoga instruction.

But what I liked best about her teaching is that she encouraged us to enjoy the spaces between the standing postures.  She told us to avoid the urge to wipe sweat, scratch and fidget.  She asked us to just pause and breath.

It was a great way to deal with being overheated, which I find makes me feel edgey and fidgety and then clausterphobic.  It’s like my body thinks it can wiggle away from the heat.  But that’s just resistance talking right?  It was so much better to just stand and breath.  Just suck in the heat.  I felt calmer and cooler. 

We get can get so busy between poses.  It’s like we want to avoid the subtlety of what’s really going on inside.  I love how there are times between Sun Salutations in my own classes where it seems like the whole class finds something to get busy with.  They adjust clothing, blow their nose, play with their hair, line up their mat more perfectly with their neighbour.  Not that any of those things are inherently bad.  It *is* best to avoid having the snot flow when you’re doing Sun Salutations.  And in my Bikram class I did wipe the brow sweat every so often because I knew salt in the eyes was *really* going to harsh my buzz.  It’s just another thing to be aware of.

It reminded me of how they do it in Kripalu too.  The languaging is different, but same effect.  In Kripalu you pause after a strenuous standing pose and literally soak up the effects.  Notice where the energy moving.  Feel the flow of prana.  Soak up the bliss. 

And in Bikram they take it a step further so that you actually enjoy a 20 second Savasana between each of the mat poses.  I originally thought it was to keep you from passing out after an hour of that heat.  Now I’m seeing it probably helps the energy flow and kickstarts the detox process between the twists and sit-ups.  But whatever the reason is, it was delicious and calming. 

It reminds me of how little we focus inward and how powerful it is when we do.

 

Ever get to the cushion for a little a.m. meditation and your body feels like it’s made out of bricks?  And 80 year-old achey, creaky bricks at that?  And because we’re mind/body connected kinda folks, hitting the pillow in that state means you’re going to sit there feeling like a creaky ol’ curmugeon whose family has stopped visiting. 

Sometimes it makes sense to get your body parts moving first so that it’s easier to relax and chill out.  If this seems like cheating to you, like feeling crappy is a great challenge, then get back into your horsehair shirt and stop reading!  If not, here are some suggestions.

When you get to your cushion check out what body parts feel like they were poured full of concrete while you slept.  Then based on what you find, try these:

Neck – if it’s stiff, let your chin drop down to your chest.  Keep your back straight, completely relax your neck and let the weight of your head stretch the back of your neck for a couple of breaths.  Then slide your chin along your collarbone moving the stretch.  Come up on one side with your ear directly over your shoulder (face forward).  Slowly move back and head to the other side.  Repeat until your neck feels looser.

Shoulders – if they’re stiff do some slow shoulder rolls.  If you were sleeping on your side and feel like your chest has caved in,  clasp your hands behind your back, straighten your arms and lift them gently away from your hips.  Hold here to stretch your chest and shoulders.

Back – if your back needs a stretch start with your hands on your knees.  Round your back, pressing your navel into your spine as your drop your chin.  Hold for a moment and then lift your gaze as you press your chest forward.  Repeat both moves until your back moves freely. 

Then side bend by placing your right hand on the floor next to you and lowering your right shoulder toward it.  Keep your left shoulder back.  You’ll feel the stretch up the left side of the spine (your spine should look like a big letter ‘c’ to someone behind you).  Change sides and repeat. 

Then lastly, twist.  With a straight back, press one shoulder back, using your hands to hold you in the twist.  You should feel it all the way down your spine and change sides.  Repeat. 

Hips – if your hips are tight, bend your knees, move your feet apart and drop your knees to one side and then the other, windshield wipering back and forth them until your hips feel looser.  To stretch your ‘sitting’ muscles, bring the outside of your right foot to the top of your left thigh.  Your left leg is bent – enough that you feel a stretch in your right hip, but not so much that it makes your pelvis want to roll back, keep it vertical.  Hold for a couple deep breaths and then change sides.

Do as many of these warm-ups as you need to get your body loosened up for sitting meditation.  You’ll breath more freely.  You’ll feel more loose, calm and comfortable.  

May all the thoughts you let go of, be happy ones.

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