Taste

pratyahara play

“We write to taste life twice: in the moment and in retrospection.”

-Anais Nin

When I think of taking a taste, I think of a sample. You want to taste this? someone asks. And then you take a small bite or sip. Sometimes you close your eyes to savor it. Sometimes you need another taste to decide if you like it, or decipher what’s in it.

You might wonder, what does taste have to do with yoga? Continuing with our theme of pratyahara play and the senses, taste is part of the picture and is a fun way to extend a yogic mindset into other activities throughout the day (no, I wasn’t about to suggest drinking a flight of beers or sampling hors d’oeuvres on your mat or meditation cushion! Unless that somehow brings you to a higher state...). 

I’m talking about the simple everyday act of eating, but not just going through the motions of eating - actually savoring what you are consuming. As moms, it is so easy (and typical) for us to scarf down a meal while we feed the baby, or in the 5-10 minutes we have before we have to pick up our kids or take them to school. We spread ourselves thin and disperse our attention. For those of you that would appreciate a reminder from past posts on what any of this has to do with pratyahara, it’s about focused attention on a chosen object. 

Traditionally pratyahara is seen as withdrawing the senses from the outer world to focus on the life and light within you. Sound a little too lofty? That’s exactly why I’ve been putting out this series of pratyahara play. It’s a more down-to-earth approach that still has the potential to bring us to that state of inner focus, but it is more a type of meditation in action rather than a formal seated practice. Usually the breath is highlighted as the best way to bring something automatic (breathing) to our conscious attention. Here I’m taking it a step further to incorporate another activity we need to survive and thrive: eating.

But it’s not just eating for survival; it’s tasting with our full awareness. We - and our minds, bodies, and souls - deserve more than these meals consumed mindlessly (if they are actually nourishing, full meals at all). A meal is so different when you eat it slowly enough to taste it, savor it, and really digest it thoroughly, beginning with the process of chewing. You feed more than your body when you slow down to eat in this way; you give yourself a chance to really be present during an activity we often take for granted.

Even if you feel you don’t have the time to sit and eat each meal slowly and mindfully, at least give yourself the luxury of sitting and drinking a cup of tea or coffee with your full attention. Start with that, at the very least. Taste it, smell it, enjoy it without even the simplest of distractions like reading or watching TV. Start small and get used to that practice of unitasking.

But before you do, it can help to prepare yourself to take in that nourishment with full presence. I was raised Catholic and growing up, we prayed before meals. Much later in my life, when I stayed at Satchidananda Ashram - Yogaville for several months, we prayed before meals, in Sanskrit and English. It’s such a powerful way to prepare your body and mind to receive the food you’re about to eat. If you don’t personally have an inclination to pray, there are other ways to pause and express gratitude before your meals. Even if it takes a few seconds.

If you’re sitting there thinking, “Come on Yoga Mama, I came to your newsletter for tips on yoga!” Mamas, this is real yoga - yoga is only partly about postures. But if you want a reminder or inspiration for the postural part of yoga, as you eat, sit up with a lengthened spine. Feel your feet on the ground, your sitz bones on the chair, your face and shoulders relaxing, and the crown of your head reaching upward. Feel your breath moving without effort as you chew, taste, and swallow. Not just chew and swallow, but taste the food, too. Savor it. Cut out distractions and hone in on the sensory experience of eating. 

That quality of attention to your food is not only a great practice in body and mind awareness, but a perfect moment to remember your connection to other living things as you eat what the Earth has produced! Think of it as a moment to practice gratitude as well as appreciation that your life has come from something bigger than you. Food is the best mundane reminder of this.

And...here’s a nifty trick I learned first at a Yogaville, then learned again through an Ayurveda master class by Hannah Levin: lying on your left side. Not just when you sleep, but for 10 minutes after you eat. Relax. Breathe. I know this sounds marvelous at the same time it might sound unattainable because of the thousand other things we have to do after eating: dishes, clean the kitchen, you name it. But just try it. Maybe not after every meal, but now and then. Tasting and savoring go way beyond the contact of food with taste buds.

Tasting is not just about pleasing the senses. It’s about being present, slowing down, and honoring that the most basic things in life - eating, breathing, digesting, and having good posture while doing all these - are at the core of our yoga practice.

And they don’t require us to schedule a block of time to spend on our yoga mats.

A love note to yourSelf

mantra and movement

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

How hard it is to be yourself in modern life, where we are subject to so much pressure to do instead of to feel. People - especially moms, who are busy taking care of others for most of the day - drive themselves into the ground in the name of love. It may be because we care just that much, or we think things will fall apart if we don’t, or we think no one else will do things the way they need to be done. And then we get tired, we get sick, we start wondering what’s missing from our lives, and on the sidelines we hear all this talk of how we need self-love, self-acceptance, and self-care.

But, as Mr. Emerson says, it’s so hard just to be yourself. Who are you? Not just a mom, that’s for sure, even though that’s who you are outwardly for so much of the day. Even if you think of who you were before you became a mom - a doctor, a chef, a truck driver, a stylist, a teacher, a receptionist - that’s just whatever you did. And perhaps it felt like you, but it was just a thing you were doing.

In yoga, one of the practices that can help us get acquainted with that self that we feel we should love, accept, and care for is svadhyaya. That’s a Sanskrit term that refers to self-inquiry: who am I? It’s mentioned as one of the 8 limbs of practice in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. If you begin listing who you are, you get a bunch of roles: mom, wife, all your volunteer gigs, your job (inside/outside of the house, although I heard that ALL moms are working moms), your hobbies. 

But, if you give yourself some time to flow on your yoga mat, moving and breathing, you might notice that yoga can be a poetic expression of assuming many forms. You put your body through lots of shapes and movements, but underneath it, you are the breath. More than that, you are a sort of witness that watches your body and breath practicing yoga. Maybe you take a moment here and there to appreciate that your body can move and do the things it does; that’s one form of self-love. And then sometimes you come up against a pose you can’t fully do and you either come out of it, or back off and do a gentler version as you keep breathing; that’s self-acceptance. So the whole practice of yoga is self-care, but not just the pampering type of self care, but Self-care with a capital S.

A diversion: here is a really nice breakdown of a holistic view of self-care, by Shawn Fink. She includes spiritual, intellectual, and emotional self-care, which often get overshadowed by massages, manicures and mom nights out. Those can be part of self-care, but she also touches on practices that basically fall into a practice of svadhyaya.

Back to the yogic idea of self-love and self-care, let’s come back to the yoga mat. Picture yourself there or actually get on that mat and start moving. As you move through postures, feeling your tight spots and opening the areas that are willing, let yourself focus on your breathing and position so much that all those roles I mentioned above drop away. You are more than a mom, a wife, your job, your volunteer duties, your household responsibilities. You are even more than just a woman - you don’t need self-love because you ARE love. It sounds like airy-fairy hippie talk, but the hippies weren’t the first ones to be into this stuff. 

Two lovely Sanskrit mantras that echo the feeling of self-love are Aham Prema (I am love) and Om Tat Sat  (Om, that truth). The latter might not directly mention love, but it is in line with svadhyaya, and as we come to know that we are more than our daily roles, we come to love that we are the consciousness that watches the breath, the body as it moves through postures, and the light of intelligence that is inspired by yoga practice and the connections it fosters to yourself and others. 

For those of you who don’t click with Sanskrit, there are plenty of affirmations that you can use or customize for yourself: I am love; I am light; I am spirit. Use whatever helps lift you out of the mire of everyday stress. If something like “I am light” feels awkward simply because you don’t feel that way, or you feel sad or depressed, then by all means, get on your mat and do some yoga, or pause and take 3 deep breaths. Go for a walk, journal, listen to uplifting music, have a dance party with your kid(s). Do something that helps you move through that feeling. I’m not at all suggesting sweeping dark emotions under the rug, but moving through them so we realize that we are not sadness, depression, anxiety, stress. We really are love incarnate. Happy Valentine’s Day to me, to you, and to that light that we all embody. Namaste.

Fools of fullness

spontaneous yoga on the Snow Moon

Empty the mind - you might have heard that as a way of describing meditation. 

But what for? Besides, minds are bound to be filled with thoughts, usually dozens; at their quietest, sometimes just one persistent thought. 

That’s okay. Choose the thought well. That’s still better than a schedule that is just way too full. As moms, our lives are too full and sometimes that filler is just the mundane stuff: washing dishes, chasing your kid around as you try to comb their hair, making meals, sending a few emails and paying bills even though the house looks like a disaster.

We become fools of fullness, instead of sensing that we are full. Let’s be full of good things. In yoga, though, it’s not just being full for fullness sake, but filling ourselves up with the things that keep us inspired, grounded, and focused. Sound good? What can you fill yourself up with each day, even if you only devote a couple of minutes to focusing on it?

These days I fill myself up with: music that inspires me, moments of laughter and joking with my daughter, a quiet moment with my husband on the couch, short meditations (5-7 minutes), reading something that reminds me of how good life is, and enjoying hot drinks during the cold winter. Oh yes, and brief yoga sessions where I do exactly what I feel like doing so that I feel cradled by those short and sweet moments on my mat.

How brief, you ask? Sometimes I’m not even on my yoga mat for these moments, honestly. Sometimes I’m sitting in the bleachers watching my daughter at her soccer practice while I put my ankle up on my thigh to stretch my glutes.

This is all definitely the most real yoga you can do. Not much to do with touching your toes or backbending. It’s about the posture of your mind, a more subtle yoga than just asana.

By the way, happy February full moon! What’s your posture like these days, mentally, emotionally, and physically? What have you been filling your days (and your mind) with, and will you continue in that way or does anything about it need to change?

Don't go rushing out of the darkness yet

midwinter

We all need that slow moment, lingering in the blackness

behind closed eyelids.

Don’t go rushing out of the darkness yet!

Spring is coming, but not for months

It comes a day at a time,

And besides, I’ve gotten used to 

The cold, cozy clothes, and hot drinks.

It’s not all bad.

We all need the shadows of night

as a blank, black canvas for our dreams.

It’s the pause between exhale and inhale,

A moment of emptiness, the void that allows

It contains everything,

gives things a place, a home

like the darkness of a womb, close and warm.

Whoever said darkness was bad?

It isn’t just dreams that unfold in the absence of light;

Seeds, too, begin to grow buried out of sight of the sun;

Fetuses become babies in shadowy womb waters;

A candle flame glows brighter in a darker room.

Eclipses are a special thing

A moment of unusual shadow,

Shadows give us depth and perspective

Don’t go rushing out of the darkness yet.

Midwinter is here. Let’s celebrate our persistence, endurance, 

our inner heat and light that grow and glow despite the dark and cold...

...or maybe even because of it.

Om tat sat

This weekend we have not only Groundhog day, but another special day called Imbolc (also known as Candlemas, Oimelc, and other names depending on the tradition). There’s a whole history there and it’s old, but for me, this time of year is relaxing into that darkness that brings insight, that turns us inward. We all need sleep; we all need a moment to slow down; we all benefit from closing our eyes for a moment, and in that break from the light, feel our breaths, our bodies, and just be in the moment.

How do you deal with this time of year (mamas in the northern hemisphere)? How do you stoke your inner flame and keep your light lit in spite of - or because of - that darkness and cold?

First new moon of 2020

“The moon will guide you through the night with her brightness, but she will always dwell in the darkness, in order to be seen.”

-Shannon L. Alder

Sometimes we go through dark moments; night leads to day, winter leads to spring, and any so-called funk we might find ourselves in won’t last forever. If there’s something that motherhood teaches us on a gut level, it’s the real, felt truth of the old adage, “This too, shall pass.” I love the moon for reminding us that change is a constant, and yoga teaches us how to flow with that change.

On the eve of the first new moon of 2020, I wanted to pause and embrace that momentary darkness, not for the sake of the darkness itself, but to honor the fact that darkness is what makes light possible. A candle seems to shine brighter in a dim or dark setting than it does in full daylight.

Lately my daughter has been afraid of the dark when (or, more like if) she wakes up in the middle of the night. I remember being afraid of the dark as a child as well, and this is what I remember about it: feeling alone, vulnerable, and surrounded by vague or unknown forms (is that a shadow? What is that shadow and it is dangerous?). Now as an adult, I sleep better in a dark room than one with a nightlight. We get used to something once we realize it’s not a threat.

In yoga we talk about inner light, but to sense that inner light we must close our eyes and guess what? That creates momentary darkness. Just some food for thought. Close your eyes when you practice yoga; close them in the shower; close them for a moment when you are resting on the couch; close them when you give someone a hug; close them when you want to sense your body and breath more, even if just for a few seconds. It’s an easy practice, but it brings your senses alive and hits your reset button.

Close your eyes and sense into your deepest intentions on this new moon, just before the energy and light begin to build again. My intention? To pause a few times during the day for one deep breath; that is all. What’s your intention for your yoga practice today? Let the moon remind us of these little, meditative pauses. Om, shanti. 

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