“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
– Pablo Picasso
I'm at a point in my life where I love and appreciate lots of quiet time and space. That can mean many things. It can mean saying no to things I really don't want to do, including being around people who wear me down. It can mean sitting quietly after my yoga practice and just zoning out with nothing going on. Or watching my dog nap. Or staring in space. Fear not, I'm not losing it. I just notice that when I'm quiet and still more often, beautiful things happen. Including a more creative and clear flowing mind. Peace in my heart. More love. When there is too much noise, too many commitments, too much talking and too many people it feels tight and cramped. Full. And when it's full there isn't space. There isn't room for anything, let alone creative flow.
Each of us are in charge of creating our own space. No one will knock on the door and say, "Hi...I'm here to help you create space." If this is a problem in your life, relax. Take baby steps. Start with simple and small things that allow you to feel more confident during the process. I find that waking up earlier helps. Get up and get your routine going but take an extra ten minutes just to zone out and sit quietly. Try not to talk to anyone or hear any media noises. No computer or phone would be on the no-no list. How often do you get up and turn your phone on right away? Or computer? Or TV? Try taking a break from that. All of the news will still be there ten minutes or a half hour or hour later.
Expand on what happens once the space starts to open up. Perhaps a little writing or painting or creating something. Each day find a new time for space. Let that grow. Notice what happens when you start doing this. How does it feel? Where do you feel it in your body? As a yoga teacher I appreciate the art of checking in with my somatic state or "body mood." Gently allow yourself to get off autopilot and come into the now. The now of being with what is happening in this moment. Lovely present moment. Breathing in calm, breathing out peace. Then feel the space that was created during that simple action. Those of us who meditate believe that a regular sitting practice helps to open up space. While that is true, I also find that just doing nothing is dreamy. I find that I have regular creative insights when I'm completed unplugged.
Enjoy the experience-
“Without great solitude no serious work is possible.”
Happy 2014! After the holiday razzle dazzle are you feeling the need for a reset? I spent almost two weeks during holiday season swimming and sunning in Hawaii and other islands in the south pacific. It made me feel buoyant and creative. It was renewing and inspiring. Landing back in Minnesota December 26 and sub zero temps was a shock to my system and my body responded with a nice big head cold. Not motivated to move much lately but gentle yoga felt good. I didn't want to push at anything really.
January always feels like a clean slate to me. I usually have tons of new ideas and things I want to implement. This year is different. I'm going to let it come to me more naturally and see how that goes. I have my goal list but it may have to extend itself a bit longer.
Reading, drinking tea, long walks (weather permitting!) watching old movies, writing and gentle yoga feel just right. I also recently dabbled into baking some pumpkin muffins made with pumpkins from my garden. They turned out pretty good.
Next week will begin my winter teaching session. I love helping students motivate into winter practice. It is the most challenging time of year in our climate. The flowing nature of vinyasa feels perfect for warmth, grounding and toning internally and externally.
OM OM OM
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locusts,
equally the beech, the oaks, and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple, they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
Focusing our attention on the everyday gifts that nature gives can help us cultivate reverence for the earth.
Sit quietly as you take in a few deep inhalations and long slow exhalations.
Allow the breath to return to normal and observe it as it slowly flows in and out.
Bring your awareness to the light in your heart, and notice how that feels.
With each inhalation, observe the light in the heart brighten.
On the exhalation, allow that light to flow out to the earth as love.
Allow the light to expand until it becomes the size of the heart... the whole body... and then let it fill the entire room.
As you inhale, the light brightens; on the exhalation, light flows to the world as love.
Allow the light to expand beyond the room and embrace each tree, plant, and animal.
Let your love fill the streams, lakes, rivers, and oceans, until it merges with the very core of our Mother Earth.
Absorbing this love offering, she makes this healing energy available to all, soothing the entire world.
Now slowly and gently begin to bring your awareness back to your own heart.
From now on, with every heartbeat, light and love are sent out as a wish of peace for all.
As the fifth of the eight limbs of yoga, pratyahara occupies a central place. Some yogis include it among the outer aspects of yoga, others with the inner aspects. Both are correct, as pratyahara is the key between the outer and inner aspects of yoga; it shows us how to move from one to the other.
It is not possible to move from asana into meditation quickly. This would be like jumping from the body to the mind, forgetting what lies between. To make this transition, the breath and senses, which link the body and mind, must be brought under control. This is where pranayama and pratyahara come in. With pranayama we engage our vital energies and with pratyahara we gain mastery over our unruly senses — both quite helpful for successful meditation.
What is Pratyahara?
The term pratyahara is composed of two Sanskrit words, prati and ahara. Ahara means "food," or "anything we take into ourselves from the outside." Prati is a preposition meaning "against" or "away." Pratyahara means literally "control of ahara," or "gaining mastery over external influences." It is compared to a turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell — the turtle’s shell is the mind and the senses are the limbs. The term is usually translated as "withdrawal from the senses," but it’s much more!
In yogic thought there are three levels of ahara, or food. The first is physical food that brings in the five elements necessary to nourish the body. The second is impressions, which bring in the subtle substances necessary to nourish the mind — the sensations of sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell. The third level of ahara is our associations, the people we hold at heart level who serve to nourish the soul and affect us with the gunas of sattva, rajas, and tamas.
Pratyahara is twofold. It involves withdrawal from wrong food, wrong impressions and wrong associations, while simultaneously opening up to right food, right impressions and right associations. We cannot control our mental impressions without right diet and right relationship, but pratyahara’s primary importance lies in control of sensory impressions which frees the mind to move within.
By withdrawing our awareness from negative impressions, pratyahara strengthens the mind’s powers of immunity. Just as a healthy body can resists toxins and pathogens, a healthy mind can ward off the negative sensory influences around it. If you are easily disturbed by the noise and turmoil of the environment around you, practice pratyahara. Without it, you will not be able to meditate.
There are four main forms of pratyahara: indriya-pratyahara — control of the senses; prana- pratyahara — control of prana; karma-pratyahara — control of action; and mano-pratyahara — withdrawal of mind from the senses. Each has its special methods.
Control of the Senses (Indriya-pratyahara)
Indriya-pratyahara, or control of the senses, is the most important form of pratyahara, although this is not something that we like to hear about in our mass media-oriented culture. Most of us suffer from sensory overload, the result of constant bombardment from television, radio, computers, newspapers, magazines, books — you name it. Our commercial society functions by stimulating our interest through the senses. We are constantly confronted with bright colors, loud noises and dramatic sensations. We have been raised on every sort of sensory indulgence; it is the main form of entertainment in our society.
The problem is that the senses, like untrained children, have their own will, which is largely instinctual in nature. They tell the mind what to do. If we don’t discipline them, they dominate us with their endless demands. We are so accustomed to ongoing sensory activity that we don’t know how to keep our minds quiet; we have become hostages of the world of the senses and its allurements. We run after what is appealing to the senses and forget the higher goals of life. For this reason, pratyahara is probably the most important limb of yoga for people today.
That old saying "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak" applies to those of us who have not learned how to properly control our senses. Pratyahara gives us the tools to strengthen the spirit and reduce its dependency on the body. Such control is not suppression (which causes eventual revolt), but proper coordination and motivation. One way to develop this aspect is by practicing restorative yoga poses with guided pranayama. The intention is to allow our bodies, minds and spirit to rest from our over-stimulated lives and return to a place of balance and calm.