This breath is on fire

What up! I felt compelled to share a post that I wrote for a class blog several months ago. It’s all about cultivating inner peace in an often chaotic world. Check it out:

Living a spiritual life in a material world means interpreting and experiencing stress, fear, and chaos in a new way. When we feel anxious about the turmoil in our lives, regardless of the level of intensity of that turmoil, we have the power to choose another way to live, to choose another way to view that turmoil. Instead of letting the turmoil drive us to engage in destructive behaviors (anesthetizing our emotions with food, booze, acting out, sex, etc), we can choose another way. Fortunately, we can turn to ancient spiritual technologies, such as Kundalini Yoga, to help us feel inner peace at all times, even in times of turmoil.

Kundalini Yoga is a “scientific technology for happiness.” When we practice the meditations and mantras of Kundalini, our brains change. Our neural pathways literally change so that we cultivate the capacity to “experience each day with increasing inspiration and joy.” While all of this Kundalini stuff sounds a little trippy, Kundalini is a very simple practice. For example, Breath of Fire, a foundational breath technique in Kundalini, is a pretty easy technology to use, but one that yields MANY benefits.

kundalini-yogis-meditatingBreath of Fire is done by inhaling and exhaling rapidly through the nose while pumping the navel in (on the exhale) and out (on the inhale). This breath is done through the nose with the mouth closed. Regularly practicing Breath of Fire regulates the pituitary gland, which is associated with blood pressure, sex hormones, and metabolism. The rapidness of this breath generates so much heat in our bodies that we release toxins and deposits in the lungs, mucous linings, and blood vessels and cells. Mental benefits of Breath of Fire include feelings of regaining control, feelings of groundedness, clearer and calmer thoughts, and inner peace. A regular Breath of Fire practice can help us see that there is another way to live, to think, to act. We can lean into the idea that we can change our experience of the turmoil in our lives simply by breathing in a certain way.

gabby-meditating-on-street1To put this breath technique into practice, try a Kundalini meditation called Ego Eradicator. Gabrielle Bernstein, my meditation and spiritual guru (she’s freaking awesome), promotes Ego Eradicator as a way to unblock stress and let life flow. I’ve done a 40-day practice of doing Ego Eradicator every morning for 3-5 minutes and while I was often frustrated by having to breath rapidly every morning, I felt my sinuses clear and my mind get quiet. Practicing Breath of Fire with Ego Eradicator is SUCH an easy way to live the spiritual life in a material world.

Boy was I wrong

Happy October, fellow yogis and soon-to-be yogis. Man, folks in the blogosphere go bonkers for this month. When I checked my usual blogs on October 1st, rhapsodies about cider, cowl necks, cool weather, and bonfires abounded. These bloggers revel in the contemplative days of fall. I can get down with that.

Currently sitting in a coffee shop preparing to freewrite my fingers off, as a paper relating blogs to Aristotle’s Poetics looms over me. I shall prevail.

Remember when I expressed some ambivalence about returning to Blue Lotus due to the slow pace of the classes? Scratch that. My ambivalence persists no longer, for I now have a pulling desire to immerse myself in the classes and philosophy of Blue Lotus.

It all started yesterday when I attended a 4pm class. Earlier that day, obsessive, destructive, dark thoughts plagued my mind, causing me to almost harm my body as a result. I felt inadequate in my classes, anxious about looming assignments, and self-conscious in front of others. I saw that Blue Lotus offered a class at a new time, so I booked it over there for some afternoon vinyasa.

Wowza. The slow pace of the class provided me the time and quietness I needed to breathe through my fearful thoughts and choose new ones.  The instructor encouraged us to notice how we transition from pose to pose, how we often focus on the end pose or result and forget about how we actually get there. I felt comforted, protected, and challenged.

In true yoga junkie style, I attended another class this morning. As I sat on my mat waiting for class to begin, surrounded by 40-ish other women, I felt a rush of love envelope me. This is not hippie sh*t. This is real, people. I sat on my mat, closed my eyes, and viscerally felt the collective energy of my sisters. I expressed gratitude for the chance to practice with and learn from them. If I allowed my self-destructive thoughts their druthers, I would have fidgeted on my mat in an attempt to conceal my body from the tiny, fit yoga bodies luxuriating in their thinness/disciplined practice just centimeters away. But I chose to take care of myself, to feel something real, internal. And the love physically rushed in. My breathing deepened, my limbs felt warm. A smile grew on my face.

Then class began. Wowza did I sweat. My muscles shook. I had all of the time I needed to notice how my body felt in each pose and transition, and to breathe through any self-destructive thoughts that entered my mind. It rocked. And like any junkie, I feel addicted, controlled by the class that made me high.

Need more slow flow.

 

Slow that flow

Although I planned to survive my grad school years with the help of Blue Lotus by attending several classes per week, my enthusiasm for patronizing that studio on a regular basis has waned. I attended two classes in the three-ish weeks since I moved to Raleigh and felt…disappointed. Not only did I have to fork over 12 bucks per class (call me unrealistic, but I think that charging more than $10 for a yoga class undermines yoga’s universality), but the folks (they really are great) at Blue Lotus teach a slow vinyasa class.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand the value of a slow yoga practice. In fact, I’ve reaped significant benefits from attending classes with instructors who teach students how to slow the heck down. And I particularly enjoyed the first class I took at Blue Lotus because the instructor spoke about setting intentions before a yoga practice, then had us consciously remember that intention several times throughout class. This I liked.

But I prefer my regular yoga practice to involve copious amounts of sweat and heavy breathing. I revel in the feeling of purity that envelops my body after wringing out every toxin inside of me, a feeling that usually accompanies a fast-paced class. I also believe that a fast-paced practice helps students, especially we college kids, focus on our bodies, rather than our anxious, whirring thoughts. When we move quickly on our mats, our bodies take over and (temporarily, at least) silence our thoughts so that we can follow the instructor. Anytime we can get out of our heads will serve us well, fellow college kids.

Nevertheless, I will return to Blue Lotus…and begrudgingly pay $12 for another class. Maybe slowing our flow is what we need. Between the papers, the meetings, the conferences, and the classes, we college students might benefit from a little slowness.

It all gets done

Wowza, so this is grad school. Wowza. All good, but wowza.

Aside from working with nothing but supportive classmates and professors, I was given a cubicle. And it rocks. Because I have a designated space, outside of my house, to dig myself out of this grad school workload. Plus, my cube serves as a social outlet. With four desks to a cube, it’s close quarters ’round here (workin’ on my accent), so we students have opportunities to hang.

My desk (looks bleak, but it is mine):

I don’t have a particular objective for this post, though I feel somewhat inspired to remind you college kids, especially those who just began fall semester, that it all gets done. It really does all get done. I realize that I’m writing this at a time of year when seminar papers have yet to rear their ugly heads, but I trust that this wisdom will see me through.

Yes, our professors, advisers, etc. give us a seemingly cruel amount of work. But we choose how we react to that amount of work. We can allow that work to overwhelm us and incite within us severe bouts of self-doubt. Or we can acknowledge the assignments before us, schedule our time accordingly, and breathe. Which one sounds more productive?

It all gets done, peeps. When we force that thought into our heads until we actually believe it, we silence those feelings of inadequacy and can tackle that mountain of work AND have time to sleep. For a few hours, anyway. Trust.

What am I REALLY into?

Christian mom blogs.

In all seriousness, this part of the blogosphere feeds my soul. I love me some Christian mom blogs.

Sure, I grew up Catholic. I made my first Communion (and abhored the white frilly dress I was forced to wear), confessed my sins to a priest, and was Confirmed (All hail Joan of Arc). However, after receiving those sacraments that the Church exalts, I don’t particularly identify with Catholicism. I feel disconnected from the faith; or at least not as wholly connected with my religion in the way that these Christian moms demonstrate in their blogs.

These young women (and they are young) have FAITH. And not just faith to their specific religion (which they don’t really reveal). Homegirls have complete, overpowering, consuming, permanent, core-shaking, grounding faith in a higher being, in God. They surrender their hearts, problems, and anxieties to something greater than them. They give Him (Her?) EVERYTHING. What confounds, inspires, and moves me to tears is not only their willingness to release every worry they have to God, but also their total, unwavering trust that God will solve it all. It is futile for us to obsess, to constantly weigh our options, to worry in the way that too many Americans worry everyday. Because God has it covered.

Of course, my small paragraph hardly encompasses the complexities of this comprehensive spiritual philosophy. But I must acknowlegde the contributions of these Christians because they offer us, particuarly we women, another way to live. A peaceful way (college kids, I’m talking to you).

What if we did connect to something greater than us, i.e. God? What if we prioritized God? What if we let God worry about our assignments, deadlines, impressing professors, competing with other students, finding jobs, and making names for ourselves in college? What if we just did our work without the mental/emotional breakdowns and trusted that we will succeed? What if we just do our sh**, then let go and trust with our entire being that God has our backs?

Lurk on these blogs. Like now.

Tiny Twig Goes out on a Limb

Naptime Diaries

Chatting at the Sky

After reading post after post on each blog, I realized that these mamas share the same beliefs as the yogis. So it all connects, folks.

Cool songs that I think we should hear in yoga class

I think my descriptive title can stand alone, so I’ll jump right into it:

Waiting by Madonna: Duh, the first song on my list pays homage to my lady hero. An obvious choice for yoga-like songs would include anything on her Ray of Light ablum, released when lady M started practicing herself. But this song comes from Erotica, an album full of cool, several-minute, contempletive songs that would work perfectly for a yoga class.

Dog Days Are Over by Florence and the Machine: Who doesn’t love this song? It helped me endure a run on the beach I took with my cousin in May. That’s right, the last time I went for a run was in May. Because running is painful and boring.

Us by Regina Spektor: I figure most people in a yoga class have seen 500 Days of Summer, and this song is so beautiful, so I think it could work.

All I do is Win by DJ Khaled: Yeah, I have a very lustful crush on Snoop. And he’s featured in this song. And I think people should play it in class so I can fantasize about hanging out with my man. Plus, this song is all about being a boss, a rockstar. That’s how yoga can make us feel.

Wild Horses by Rolling Stones: Given. I dedicated a blog post to this song.

Strip Me by Natasha Bedingfield: When I think of Natasha Bedingfield, I immediately think of The Hills, which shames me. Because I have major beef with that show. But this song makes me happy, especially if played in a yoga class.

It’s Amazing by Jem: This one inspires and comforts me. The meaningful lyrics coupled with Jem’s haunting voice makes for one cool yoga song.

Young, Wild, and Free by Wiz Khalifa: Another song that showcases my boyfriend’s pipes (dirty?). Drug references aside, this song helps us access our playful, care-free, in-the-moment side, like yoga.

I could keep adding songs to this playlist (though God knows it would turn into an ode to Madonna and Snoop), but I’m content with my selections for now. Stay tuned (ha!).

Any yoga playlist suggestions? 

Keepin the yoga real

Okay I admit it. Sometimes I succumb to my ego and feel very important/”enlightened” because I own several books on ancient yoga philosophy. I felt a surge of (fake) superiority when I bought a copy of the Bhagavad Gita from some dude on campus last year.

When I think with my ego, I take myself to be someone who connects to yoga more deeply than others (ha!), hence my desire to amass several texts on yoga theory. Yet have I even read them? Not a one. Sure, I’ve tried to read them and study the philosophy that I assumed would advance enhance my own practice. But in reality, slogging through the  complicated Sanskrit terms that forced me to refer to a translation guide every few seconds, along with the completely abstract teachings of ancient gurus left me feeling bored, frustrated, and disconnected from my practice.

J. Brown, founder of Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY addresses this very topic. Through his experience discussing the non-physical aspects of yoga, he contends that:

While the ancient texts are valuable and interesting, too often they are presented in a way that seems to confuse and confound rather than be of any practical use. Going about the activities of one’s daily life is a spiritual practice. Engaging asana or studying ancient texts is only so good as it helps us in the effort of living. Reality is spirituality. (Read more)

Preach it like you teach it, J. Brown! Seriously, this guy gets it. Yoga is in the real, concrete stuff we do on a regular basis. We cannot find yoga by viewing it as something esoteric, or something from which we are removed, as many texts on ancient yoga philosphy would have us believe. Yoga consists of us participating in life, in us paying attention to how our bodies feel.

Brown’s video might clear this up a bit:

Feelin me, college kids?