Peaceful Productivity

This reflection on motherhood and the intention of peaceful productivity was written by our prenatal yoga instructor Corinne Farrell. 

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I teach on Wednesday nights….  At some point in the days preceding my class, I start to think about what intention may be most fitting for my beautiful mamas that week and invariably, the intention presents itself to me. It’s a magical process that I have come to trust and rely upon. Whatever the intention, it ends up seeming even more relevant for my expectant mamas, than any other population.  They are, after all, holding the future in their bellies.  

This past week I was still recovering from the madness of Thanksgiving week….my kids were home and extended family filled all the spare bedrooms and couches. It was that exhausted joy one feels after every successful large family gathering! I sat on my mat (after several days without a physical practice) and my beautiful young yoga teacher invited us to set an intention. As I sat there in my breath, peaceful productivity popped in my head.  In truth, Peace by itself is often my intention.  But with the holidays looming, I found myself thinking about navigating it all and vowed to navigate it with peaceful productivity in mind.  As I moved through my day, after the sweet, soothing and soulful class, the concept of peaceful productivity continued to pop in my head.  I realized, isn’t that what yoga (the physical practice mostly) is meant to be.  Peacefully productive.  Yoga teaches us to settle deeply into a pose, yet breathe and relax through the ‘work’. It teaches us we can do much with a calm and intentional manner.  And then… Chitta Vritta, my classic “monkey brain”, continued to bounce contemplatively from application to application. Ultimately, navigating the world in a peacefully productive manner would have deep and far reaching ramifications.  Individual’s personal health and stress levels would decease and how we interact with the world would be kinder and gentler, but also more effective…because things would get done!  

And then, as always, I came back to my mamas! Motherhood….could there be a better two words for the job.  When we invite peace….we invariably invite in joy, love and gratitude, all at the core of motherhood.  And productivity ….whether we like it or not, motherhood (parenthood really…but forgive me for focusing on my fellow mothers!) is a long string of being productive…feeding, diaper changes, safe guarding a space, making lunches, being a bus driver, holding space for our children, sharing their successes and failure, etc etc etc….the list is endless.  If as a mother, we committed to peaceful productivity every day, personal stress would decrease, the environment we create would be more beautiful, the lessons our children learn would be more positive ….and the intention we set out to the world would be contagious.  

More Chitta Vritta… my mind continued wandering and tangential thoughts were abound…. BIRTH….could there be a more appropriate place to embrace the concept of being peacefully productive.  Much of what I teach is to find the ability to relax when tense, to use your breath and have confidence in our ability as women to bring a life into this world.  

So last Wednesday, I invited my mamas to set their own personal intention, but also invited them to keep in mind the intention of peaceful productivity…not only for their practice that night….and every night following, but as they prepared for their baby’s birth and their journey into motherhood.  While every class intention always seems to be especially poignant for my expectant mamas….Love, transition, change, community…this one may linger with me for a while.  Maybe it the time of year with the holidays looming….maybe its just a realization of the nutty life we all live….but being peacefully productive may always be my silent intention lurking in the depths of my soul.   

I truly believe I am blessed to have found my way to teaching prenatal yoga.  I believe, with every ounce of my body, that there is no better time for a woman to be on her mat than with child.  Yoga teaches us intention, patience, breath, focus and so much more. Prenatal yoga allows us to celebrate and embrace slowing down.  It invites mama and baby to start their journey together with breath and intention.  I strive to create a sacred space for my new mamas.  A place that I hope in some small way will be part of the foundation of their peacefully productive journey through motherhood.  

#MindfulMoment - Still Water

HAVE YOU EVER seen yourself in a mirror that distorts the image? Your face is long, your eyes are huge, and your legs are really short. Don't be like that mirror. It is better to be like the still water on the mountain lake. We often do not reflect things clearly, and we suffer because of our wrong perceptions. When we see things or listen to other people, we often don't see clearly or really listen. We see and hear out projections and prejudices. 

We need to make our water still if we want to receive reality as it is. If you feel agitated, don't do or say anything. Just breathe in and out until you are calm enough. Then ask your friend to repeat what he has said. This will avoid a lot of damage. Stillness is the foundation of understanding and insight. Stillness is strength. 

- an excerpt from Your True Home, Thich Nhat Hanh

 

The Invitation

It doesn't interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart's longing.

It doesn't interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn't interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life's betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn't interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it's not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn't interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn't interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn't interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

- Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Wholeness & Oneness

An excerpt from Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are - 

"When we are in touch with being whole, we feel at one with everything. When we feel at one with everything, we feel whole ourselves. 

Sitting still or lying still, in any moment we can reconnect with our body, transcend the body, merge with the breath, with the universe, experience ourselves as whole and folded into larger and larger wholes. A taste of interconnectedness brings deep knowledge of belonging, a sense of being an intimate part of things, a sense of being at home wherever we are. We may taste and wonder at an ancient timelessness beyond birth and death, and simultaneously experience the fleeting brevity of this life as we pass through it, the impermanence of our ties to our body, to this moment, to each other. Knowing our wholeness directly in the meditation practice, we may find ourselves coming to terms with things as they are, a deepening of understanding and compassion, a lessening of anguish and despair. 

Wholeness is the root of everything that the words health, healing, and holy signify in our language and our culture. When we perceive our intrinsic wholeness, there is truly no place to go and nothing to do. Thus, we are free to choose a path for ourselves. Stillness becomes available in doing and in non-doing. We find it lying within ourselves at all times, and as we touch it, taste it, listen to it, the body cannot but touch it, taste it, listen as well, and in doing, let go. And the mind too comes to listen, and knows at least a moment of peace. Open and receptive, we find balance and harmony right here, all space folded into this place, all moments folded into this moment."

#MeditationMonday: The Growth Mindset

This meditation is based on Carol Dweck's TED talk - featured above. After watching, set 10+ minutes aside to take a comfortable seat and call to mind a time when you faced a problem that seemed to be more difficult than you could handle. Visualize yourself in the middle of this problem and allow your emotions to arise naturally. Notice how you feel. Do you see difficulties as a setback or a challenge? Are you able to recognize your thoughts as you confront problems? If you are a "fixed mindset" type person, challenge yourself to think "I haven't learned this yet." or "It is going to take some work to get through this." instead of writing it off all together.

Just think - we all start out with a "growth mindset". When a toddler is learning how to walk, they falls down hundreds of times, but they never think to themselves, "Maybe this isn't for me." Instead, they persevere without judgment of themselves and with the idea "not yet." It takes time, effort, and kindness for us to learn anything that first appears to be impossible. Create a growth environment for yourself and others and see what problems you can overcome. 

#MeditationMonday - Remove Obstacles with Kirtan

There are many ways to meditate: vipassana, metta, moving, mudra, and of course, mantra. Mantra is a method for focusing the mind by repeating a word, idea, or phrase several times. By repeating the mantra, we can manifest the essence of the phrase into our own lives. A beautiful and synergistic form of mantra is known as kirtan. Kirtan is a call-and-response version of mantra that is often set to music or melody. When we participate in kirtan with others, we share in the collective and synergistic energy of the group.

You can use the Ganesha Mantra to work on getting closer to your true Self. Ganesh, or Ganapataye (featured here) resides in the root chakra and is known as the Remover of Obstacles. By singing mantra, we can cultivate an understanding of how to get through opposition and to move closer to where we want to be. Next time you are facing a challenge, awaken a strong sense of self and break through obstacles by reciting the mantra Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha. Try it out loud, repeat it silently in your mind, or sing along to the Edo and Jo version that we love! 

#MeditationMonday: The Lake Meditation

This meditation is an expert from the book Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat Zinn: 

Visualizing a picturesque scene of a beautiful beach is a useful approach to meditation. Images of trees, rivers, clouds, sky can be useful allies as well. The image itself is not fundamental, but it can deepen and expand your view of practice. 

Some people find the image of a lake particularly helpful. Because a lake is an expanse of water, the image lends itself to the lying-down posture, although it can be practiced sitting up as well. We know that the water principle is every bit as elemental as rock, and that its nature is stronger than rock in the sense that water wears down rock. Water also has the enchanting quality of receptivity. It parts to allow anything in, then resumes itself. If you hit a mountain or a rock with a hammer, in spite of its hardness, or actually because of it, the rock chips, fragments, breaks apart. But if you hit the ocean or a pond with a hammer, all you get is a rusty hammer. A key virtue of water power reveals itself to this. 

To practice using the lake image in your meditation, picture in your mind's eye a lake, a body of water held in a receptive basin in the earth itself. Note in the mind's eye and in your own heart that water likes to pool in low places. It seeks its own level, asks to be contained. The lake you invoke may be deep or shallow, blue or green, muddy or clear. With no wind, the surface of the lake is flat. Mirrorlike, it reflects trees, rocks, sky, and clouds, holds everything in itself momentarily. Wind stirs up waves on the lake, from ripples to chop. Clear reflections disappear. But sunlight may still sparkle in the ripples and dance on the waves in a play of shimmering diamonds. When night comes, it's the moon's turn to dance on the lake, or it the surface is still, to be reflected in it along with the outline of trees and shadows. In winter, the lake may freeze over, yet teem with movement and life below. 

When you have established a picture of the lake in your mind's eye, allow yourself to become one with the lake as you lie down on your back or sit in meditation, so that your energies are held by your awareness and by your openness and comparison for yourself in the same way as the lake's waters are held by the receptive and accepting basin of the earth herself. Breathing with the lake image moment by moment, feeling its body as your body, allow your mind and your heart to be open and receptive, to reflect whatever comes near. Experience the moments of complete stillness when both reflection and water are completely clear, and other moments when the surface is disturbed, choppy, stirred up, reflections and depth lost for a time. Through it all, as you dwell in meditation, simply noting the play of the various energies of your own mind and heart, the fleeting thoughts and feelings, impulses and reactions which come and go as ripples and waves, noting their effects just as you observe the various changing energies at play on the lake: the wind, the waves, the light and shadows and reflections, the colors, the smells. 

Do your thoughts and feelings disturb the surface? Is that okay with you? Can you see a rippled or wavy surface as an intimate, essential aspect of being a lake, of having a surface? Can you identify not only with the surface but with the entire body of the water, so that you become the stillness below the surface as well, which at most experiences only gentle undulations, even when the surface is whipped to frothing?

In the same way, in your meditation practice and in your daily life, can you identify not only with the content of your thoughts and feelings but also with the vast unwavering reservoir of awareness itself residing below the surface of the mind? In the lake meditation, we sit with the intention to hold in awareness and acceptance all the qualities of mind and body, just as the lake sits held, cradled, contained by the earth, reflecting the sun, moon, stars, trees, rocks, clouds, sky, birds, light, caressed by the air and wind, which bring our and highlight its sparkle, its vitality, its essence. 

In such a day, in September or October, Walden is a perfect forest mirror, set around with stones as precious to my eye as if fewer or rarer. Nothing so fair, so pure, and at the same time so large, as a lake, perchance, lies on the surface of the earth. Sky water. It needs no fence. Nations come and go without defiling it. It is a mirror which no stone can crack, whose quicksilver will never wear off, whose gilding Nature continually repairs; no storms, no dust, can dim its surface ever fresh; a mirror in which all impurity presented to it sinks, swept and dusted by the sun's hazy brush, - this the light dust-cloth, - which retains no breath that is breathed on it, but sends its own to float as clouds high above its surface, and to be reflected as in its bosom still.  - Thoreau, Walden

TRY: Using the lake image to support sitting or lying in stillness, not going anywhere, held and cradled in awareness. Note when the mind reflects; when it is embroiled. Note the calm below the surface. Does this image suggest new ways of carrying yourself in times of turmoil?

Flexibility is not the goal of Yoga

This reflection is from our friend and teacher Samantha

"Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be bent out of shape." A common misconception about yoga is that its main goal is to make you flexible, or that you have to be flexible to do it. Yoga teaches people to connect to their bodies, to use breathing, meditation, and asana to check in. It teaches flexibility of the mind. It allows us to train our minds to control our bodies and check in with our thoughts. It prepares us for life, teaching us to respond and not to react to whatever we encounter on our journey. 

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#MeditationMonday: Pratyahara

Tonight's meditation was on one of the eight limbs of yoga. Pratyahara is the practice of withdrawing from the senses or gaining mastery over external influences. You may have experienced something like this in a "good savasana" or during a "daydream". When you allow yourself to acknowledge any distractions, they begin to drift away or even disappear. You find yourself in a blissful space where time seems to have almost stopped. Just as a turtle retreats into his shell, you can retreat into your Self. Everything is as it should be. You are doing everything you can do. Just be. We can use meditation as a vehicle to practice pratyahara by quieting the chitta vritti or chattering "monkey brain". These fluctuations of the mind distract us from realizing the present moment. Whether on your mat or at your desk, take a moment to just sit quietly with the breath and observe a shift in energy as the mind begins to organize and calm. 

Not One View

An excerpt from One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism by Joseph Goldstein

"In the understanding of One Dharma, the highest teaching is not one view or another, but what actually works for each of us at any given time. If we understand the various points of view as different skillful means to liberate our minds, then we can actually use each of them to complement each other, rather than seeing them in opposition.

#MeditationMonday: Intro to Chakras 1/7

Our Monday Meditation is an introduction to the chakras. We often see this imagery of colors and symbols associated with yoga, but how many of us actually know what they mean? There are 7 “chakras” or energy centers that are located along the midline of our bodies. When energy flows freely through them, we feel healthy, happy and centered. When any one of them is blocked, we may face illness or distress. You can think of each chakra as a spinning wheel or disk that emits bright colored light. When our energy is unbalanced, a chakra may spin too quickly/slowly or be too bright/dim. It is normal to experience emotional or physical imbalance as a result of your day to day activities and challenges. There are many ways to work on balancing the chakras, including things like specific yoga asanas, meditation, using mantra and even listening to certain frequencies and tones (check out YouTube). The first chakra is located at tailbone or base of the spine. When the chakra is balanced, you feel supported, a sense of connection and safety to the Earth, and grounded.

Try this meditation for the Root Chakra or Muladhara: Sit in sukhasana (easy pose, shown below) and take a few deep breaths. Envision a bright red light shining from the base of your spine. As you inhale, feel the red light travel up the spine and out into your fingers and toes, filling the entire body. As you exhale, envision breathing this light back down into the Earth, creating deep and stable roots. Repeat for several breaths. Then, step back and take a moment to observe how you feel.

#MeditationMonday: For one minute, walk outside, stand there, in silence, look up at the sky, and contemplate how amazing life is.

This week's meditation is a combination of a walking meditation and a nature meditation. It's the perfect practice during for this warm & beautiful time of year. Set aside 15+ minutes for yourself to take a walk outside. Leave behind your sunglasses and headphones for this one. Before you begin walking, stand still for a few moments and make note of how your body feels. Take some deep breaths and set sankalpa (intention). During your walk, observe your surroundings. Notice colors, shapes, smells, lights, shadows, movements, sounds, people. Feel your body as it moves...one step after another; arms swaying. Notice the feeling of your clothes against your skin, the soft breeze, warm sunlight. Observe and be mindful without judgement. Is it hot? Cool? Cloudy? Sunny? Windy? Avoid "thinking" about anything except for what you're experiencing right now. When the mind wanders, just guide it back to the breath. How about taking a few mindful moments on your next hike?

#MeditationMonday: I am Made of All the Things I Choose to Focus On

This week's #meditation is simple to practice on your own which makes it accessible to everyone from first time meditators to experienced ones. This practice will use mantra or a repeated word or phrase that helps you to center your focus. Find a comfortable seat that requires little to no muscular effort (seated, lying down, back against a wall...). Take a few centering breaths and observe how the air fills and empties the body. Choose a quality or characteristic that you would like to bring into your life (peaceful, grateful, willing, tranquil, enough...). As you inhale, repeat "I am" and as you exhale, repeat your word like "happy". Continue to repeat this mantra on your breath for several minutes. The mind will wander - don't worry! This is normal! Just gently guide yourself back to the mantra. Start with a few minutes and eventually lengthen your practice. You can always take a mindful pause in the middle of your day and just use 1 minute to come back to this practice. Make note of how you feel afterward and then carry on with your day!