~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Letter From the Practice Mat #1

July 4, 2020
Hello, my friends!

We've been practicing together virtually now for 14 weeks, and I want you to know how thankful I am that our community has stuck together through this topsy-turvy time. My heart blooms when I see each one of you pop up on my computer screen. I wish we were practicing together in some lovely venue, but as we have been saying all along, good enough is better than not at all.

I have been pondering new ways to keep our connection strong and our practice thriving through the summer and beyond. I have been wondering whether occasional notes from our classes might help cultivate depth and continuity as we practice together. If you've been in class, this letter might remind you of some of the themes we've been exploring. And if you haven't joined us, maybe you will find something here that inspires you to stay strong and resilient in the days and weeks ahead. Here goes...

As we enter the brightest and hottest time of year, our mantra has been, "Easy, easy. Gently, gently." In part this is inspired by my dear friend Linda, who recently told me that when teaching pranayama, her advice is to explore the breath without strain and with a gentle spirit. That way we can stay sensitive to the effects of the practice without overwhelming our minds and our spirits.

As we entire the height of summer, Mother Nature is providing us with plenty of fire and light. We don't need to add fuel to the fire, as they say. We can instead coast gently on the heat that is already all about us. We are invited to let our own furnaces take a break and float with the greater world's blooming light. This feels especially true this summer, when the pandemic already has us a bit fired up. Remembering to tread lightly can be such a sweet relief.

Yoga teacher Victor Van Kooten offers a slightly different twist to this theme. He once told me, "You only get a headache when you try your very best." This summer, perhaps, we can do what needs to be done in our lives without adding friction, stress and unnecessary headaches.

I've taped "Easy, easy. Gently, gently" to my bathroom mirror, and I invite you to do the same.

Practice can be a steadying force in our lives, now more than ever. I've noticed that the days pass more smoothly when our family has a few steadying rhythms and rituals to anchor us. Maybe you've noticed the same?

Many in our group have committed to heading outside in the cool morning light each day to practice the Eight Silken Brocades, an ages-old qigong movement practice. We've been exploring the silky movements in class, along with variations. If you are looking for a sweet and simple morning ritual, please join us. To help us, I've written a primer on the practice that includes three of my favorite guided videos.

We've also taken a tour through the nervous system in recent weeks, reminding ourselves how stress and ease are processed through the body. As long as we feel threatened or in danger, our nervous system stays locked on high alert. Only when we feel safe can our nervous system shift gears into a calmer and gentler way of being.

Mostly, it seems, life conspires to keep our nervous systems stuck with the alarm bells ringing. Our practice helps us reset our bodies and minds so that we can move through life with greater freedom and ease.

We've been exploring the possibility that life flows most freely when our energy is balanced and steady, neither over-stressed nor under-energized. Our practice can help us find a home in that middle place where we feel both buoyantly alive deeply at ease in the world. This is a never-ending journey. As the poet Louise Gluck once wrote, "The extremes are easy. Only the middle is a puzzle."

Throughout this spring we've also taken a deep dive into the breath, exploring practices that keep our lungs strong and resilient. We've explored qigong practices like this one to help keep our immune system strong. We've spent a lot of time on the ground befriending the earth and unsticking our torsos to give ourselves lots of room to breathe deeply and breathe well. (This yoga sequence is similar to the "kneading the body" practice we've been doing in class.)

We've also explored a simple movement and breathing practice called the Breath of Joy, which offers a quick boost of energy when we're feeling sluggish and depleted.

In Monday night meditation, we've been exploring how breathing practices can help us slide gently toward meditation. We've been tinkering with practices that smooth out the inhalation and the exhalation (which can be centering and steadying) and also practices that gently lengthen the exhalation (which can help quiet the mind). And then when we settle into the deep and cool rest of meditation, we let go of shaping the breath and simply ride on its soothing waves. I share four Mindful Breathing practices here that offer a taste of the power of the breath to calm the mind.

I recently wrote a personal essay about a memory that has inspired me this summer, and I am so happy that it has resonated with some of you. I've heard from some that "Best Day Ever" has become a bit of a morning mantra, and that thrills my heart. You can find that essay here.

And I have two book recommendations to share. James Nestor's book Breath has just been released, and if you're interested in how we breathe - and how we can breathe a little more freely - I highly recommend it. And Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer's new book of poems Hush has just been released. If you are looking for inspiration and solace, I highly recommend it!

I miss our conversations as everyone is wandering into and out of the hall each week! I would love to hear how your own practice is going and how you are faring this summer. Please feel free to email me any time to share your thoughts and impressions.

Together we'll continue to tread easily and gently into the weeks ahead. Classes continue online through the summer and likely beyond. Please feel free to join us on Monday evenings for meditation, and on Wednesday and Saturday mornings for movement and stillness. Details can be found here. As usual, my classes are freely offered to all, with deep appreciation to those who are moved to help support my efforts using the "donate" button on my classes page.

If you've been a regular, I'm sure you've noticed that simply showing up keeps us honest and keeps us moving forward, offering us steadiness and grace during this challenging time. And if you haven't yet joined us, please know that we would love to have you any time. All you need is a computer, a Zoom connection, and an open mind.